Reviews by BeckyH

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Maud's Line
by Margaret Verble
Absorbing and thought-provoking (4/6/2019)
Maud, her father and brother live on Maud’s mother’s allotment in the former Indian Territory. Her family is (mostly) Cherokee. Maud has a desire for better things. Electricity, a refrigerator, an inside toilet. It is 1928.
This tale of Cherokee families living in Oklahoma after enduring and surviving the Trail of Tears is filled with fully realized characters, Indian traits, hard scrabble lives on dirt farms, snakes galore, family and mean neighbors. Richly told, Verble has created a world complete. Maud is a captivating heroine. Her family is filled with abundant well-developed characters. The plot, while simple, is richly detailed.
An absorbing and thought-provoking novel, especially for a first novel. Very satisfying. 5 of 5 stars
Daughter of Moloka'i
by Alan Brennert
Daughter of Moloka'i is here! (3/14/2019)
The long awaited sequel to MOLOKA’I is here! Rachel’s daughter Ruth, taken from her the day Ruth was born, is the main character in this family tale that extends from Hawaii to California to Japanese internment camps and back to California.
Brennert excels in incorporating actual people and events into his stories. DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I is no exception. The discrimination against Japanese (Rachel is adopted by a Japanese couple) in the early part of the twentieth century, the difficult life of “foreign” farmers in the lush farmland of California and the internment of hapless Japanese during WWII make up the bulk of this novel. The final portion relates the difficulty of adoptees and their birth parents in locating each other and the repercussions that follow. Brennert’s empathy finds expression is his clearly drawn characters, skillful conversations and deft handling of conflict.
Book groups will love this historically accurate account of difficult episodes., especially those who have read and loved MOLOKA’I. Groups interested in immigration/emigration issues will find much to discuss.
D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II
by Sarah Rose
This is "real history" (3/12/2019)
I had to keep reminding myself that this was "real non-fiction" and keep reading. Unfortunately I had just read a fictionalized account of the resistance in France that covered many of the same women/events in this book.
D-DAY GIRLS is well researched and well written. It does jump from person to person and event to event with only a new chapter title to give warning. I found this disconcerting and jarring. The notes are wonderful and enlightening.
Odette, whose exploits begin in the early days of the "Firm" and continue to end of the war, was a fascinating woman. The angst of the old guard in deploying women to danger and possible death is a continuing story even today.
History buffs will love this book. The minutia, letters and intimate details will carry them through. A person wishing a lighter tale or more "plot" should find another book covering the same era.
4 of 5 stars
The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel
by Jeanne Mackin
Fascinating couture and politics (2/23/2019)
I was fascinated by the personalities of Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli and the intricacies of Haute Couture and politics in Paris just before and during WWII. But I was also intrigued by the daily life of various classes of people (upper class, middle class, merchants, professionals, wage workers, spies, artists, military, etc.) during that same period. Even the Ritz Hotel and the various cafes became a part of the story.
I was so curious about the gowns being designed, constructed and worn that I looked them up on Google. Yes, they are all there! I hope the finished book has photographs of Lily’s first Schiaparelli dress and the “tree” costume.
At first I thought this would be just another mildly interesting romance with clothes. I was delightedly mistaken. THE LAST COLLECTION is well worth your reading time and would be a good choice for book groups.
The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding
by Jennifer Robson
Rich details make this book come alive (2/20/2019)
The intimate details of every day life in 1947 England, still suffering from the austerity required by the devastation of WWII, are clearly rendered in the lives of two embroiderers working on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown. One woman will become world famous, the other will be lost in obscurity when she emigrates to Canada.

Richly detailed scenes in ordinary home life (rationed, food, clothing, housing), education, and the workplace make this tale of historical fiction come to life. The reader comes to care about Ann and Miriam as they toil day after day on the peculiarities of embroidered flowers and motifs at Hartnell, a haute couture house of fashion.

Robson has done the research. She ably and seamlessly weaves real events and real people into her story. Book groups and history buffs will both find much to love and discuss in this tale.
The Word Is Murder
by Anthony Horowitz
Is it murder..or suicide? (1/30/2019)
A woman plans her funeral in great detail, leaves the funeral home and six hours later is murdered – or maybe it was suicide. The writing form used for this book (the actual author is a pretend/actual author telling the tale) is a bit off putting, but once you get beyond that the mystery is engrossing. Perhaps I read too many of Horowitz’s Alex Ryder books to be interested in his ruminations as the pretend/actual author. I wanted him to just get on with the murder/suicide and tell his tale.
Well drawn characters, several possible murderers, a convincing possibility for suicide – so which is it? Get beyond his conceit and the mystery is a good one.
3 of 5 stars
Lethal White: A Cormoran Strike Novel
by Robert Galbraith
Complex characters and murder most foul (1/30/2019)
LETHAL WHITE by Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling)
Although very long (647 pages) this outing for investigators Cormoran and Robin is compelling. Strangled children, murder, crooked politicians, assumed identities, money and reputations, horses, and conflicted personal relationships keep the story moving along. There are lots of red herrings and white horses to keep you wondering. Robin and Cormoran continue to present themselves as complex characters.
Galbraith is a master of plotting and characters. Set aside a goodly amount of time to savor this read, but it is worth it in the final moments of this tale!
5 0f 5 stars
Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens
Don't miss this one! (1/3/2019)
WOW! Just WOW! This is a great book. Murder, abandoned child, growing up alone, nature, young love, sex, ecology, love, poetry, betrayal, education, redemption, forgiveness, treachery -- it is all here. Well written with strong characters and even stronger biology, Owens debut novel is clearly a winner.
The North Carolina coastal region and the animals, birds, flowers, grasses, etc. are as much a character as the human in this book. Kya, Chase, Jumpin’, Mabel and Tate are the main humans in this beautiful elegy to nature and the human spirit.
Saying too much more will spoil the “mystery” in the book, so just know that is a book that should not be missed. Book groups will find much to discuss and ponder. Biologists and sportsmen/women will appreciate the accuracy of the science.
Vox
by Christina Dalcher
Vox --- a thrilller (12/11/2018)
The United States has been taken over in an election by seriously ultra conservative politicians. Laws have been passed restricting females to just 100 words per day and enforce this directive with punishing electric shocks for every word beyond the allotment. The novel starts with this interesting premise and then has a rather boring first 100 pages as we learn about the wife who is quite an acclaimed scientist and feminist but is married to a go-along, get-along politician husband high up in the conservative government.
The plot finally gets going when she is coerced by the government to restart her science project and discovers a sinister plot against women all over the world. The last two thirds of the book is an interesting and well plotted thriller.
Overall, readers who are looking for another “Handmaids Tale” will be disappointed. Readers looking for a thriller and make it through the first third will be pleased. The characters are clearly defined and remain in character for the entire book. The premise and resulting government action is full of holes but with a suspension of reality, the novel as a whole is satisfying.
3 of 5 stars
The Last Year of the War
by Susan Meissner
A must read (11/4/2018)
Well-written and well-researched, this book is one that should not be missed. Mariko and Elise, both American citizens, meet at an internment camp for aliens suspected of being Nazi or Japanese sympathizers because their fathers have been wrongly accused. Although one is German and one Japanese, they forge a friendship across the divide.
The teens and their families are believable and fully developed. The atmosphere of the camp in hot, dusty Texas has a climate that reflects both the weather and the resentment and resignation of those interned. Both families are involuntarily "repatriated" to countries under siege during the final terrifying days of the war.
The interning of American citizens is clearly shown as is the fear the war wreaks upon ordinary citizens in a war zone. In light of the current debates on immigration, this book sheds light on an aspect most American never consider – what happens to ordinary people caught in untenable situations.
Book groups will find much to ponder here. Parent/child book groups might find a companion book in a YA book by Monica Hesse. THE WAR OUTSIDE covers the same camp and some of the same incidents in a manner more appropriate for middle graders.
5 of 5 stars
A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts
by Therese Anne Fowler
Money isn't eveything, but it helps (10/12/2018)
Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont was anything but a well- behaved woman. Left near-penniless as she approached marriageable age in the 1870’s, she set her aim for a wealthy man. William Vanderbilt, a younger son in the ultra-wealthy but socially ignored family, caught her eye, as she caught his. This fictionalized account of her life as a philanthropist, suffragette activist, society hostess and intelligent, opinionated woman is a bit too long, but is vastly entertaining.
Alva, her sisters, her children, her husbands, the Vanderbilts, the Astors and others of upper crust New York society are clearly, and unsparingly, drawn. The day to day life of Gilded Age society is the backdrop and conformingly repressive constraint her friends and “frenemies” endured. Told with clear eyed sympathy, the novel follows Alva from age 17 to her death in 1933.

Book groups will enjoy discussing the differences between women today and the women who found themselves painted, pampered, polished, packaged and utterly controlled by their fathers and husbands.
4 ½ of 5 stars
The Great Alone
by Kristin Hannah
a terrifying love story (10/3/2018)
Which would you rather do? Die by freezing, starving or being mauled to death by “Alaska” or die at the hands of your abusive, PTSD addled father?
Hannah has written a tense, terrifying love story. But is it a story of love for the beautiful wildness of Alaska or the wildly beautiful love of a father for his wife and daughter? Leni’s father has decided the family will move to Alaska where he will finally be happy. They are woefully unprepared for the rigors of homesteading in America’s last wilderness. Taken under the wings of Large Marge, a successful homesteader and formerly successful big city prosecutor, the family quickly learns to be relatively self-sufficient. Leni learns to love Alaska and the “wild” life style her father has decreed for the family. Unfortunately, Leni’s father is friend and compatriot with Mad Earl, a rabid anti-government survivalist. Matthew, a classmate of Leni’s, becomes her only friend.
The wildness of nature and the difficulties of surviving in Alaska during the 1970’s and 80’s is made excruciating clear. The terror of living with an out of control abuser suffering from PTSD after surviving as a POW in Viet Nam is also clear. The relationships between mother and daughter, mother and father, Leni and Matthew, father and Mad Earl, among others, are clear and determine the vector and velocity of the plot.
Girl in the Blue Coat
by Monica Hesse
THE GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT by Monica Hesse (8/7/2018)
A young woman living in Holland during the Nazi Occupation is forced into smuggling and utilizing the Black Market in order to feed her family and friends. One of her “regulars” asks her to find “the girl in the blue coat” and that is where the mystery begins. Secrets, betrayals, lost friendships, disappearances, dead lovers and danger on all sides makes this a compelling and tense read. Everyday life in an occupied city is made real and horrific.
Although billed as Young Adult, this novel will appeal to anyone interested in WWII and the resistance, especially in Holland.
5 of 5 stars
The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel
by Eleanor Henderson
Too long, but worthwhile (maybe) (7/25/2018)
Oh my, incest, moonshine, sharecropping, KKK, lynching, twins (one white, one black), chain gangs and everything else bad about 1920’s Georgia. It is all here along with a meandering timeline, numerous plots and sub-plots and the “N” word. If this sounds exhausting – it is. There is just soooo much going on in this 540 page tome that it is WORK to read it.
There is an interesting and valuable story here. The characters include a moonshining sharecropper with a problematic background, a teenaged daughter and a teenaged live-in black “maid.” Juke (the sharecropper/moonshiner) hires a black male farmhand. The farmhand has a relationship with both daughter and maid. Daughter has a relationship with the farm owner’s son that ends badly. Both teens are pregnant. The farmhand is lynched and dragged down the twelve-mile straight roadway to the delight (for a time) of the entire town. The son is accused of the murder and disappears – and that is just the beginning section of the book.
The characters are clearly drawn. The time and place are well defined. The situations are believable. But the whole thing is sooo long and the time meanders from before to after and back again with no clear delineation. The final resolutions are clear and satisfying. Dates at the start of each event would be helpful. A little (a lot?) of editing would help.
3 stars for length and confusing timeline
The Weight of Ink
by Rachel Kadish
Good, but too long (7/14/2018)
This somewhat disturbing tale is the story of a young Jewish girl living in exile in Holland (Amterdam) in 1660 when tragedy forces her to live with an aging Rabbi in England. Ester’s own father, also a rabbi, had encouraged Ester’s education in defiance of community norms. In England, Ester continues her education and is employed as scribe to her protector rabbi. Unbeknown to her employer, she embarks on a philosophical correspondence with a number of renowned philosophers including Benedict Spinoza. The interwoven twentieth century tale concerns an aging professor who finds her letters and is determined to publish them.
The characters are skillfully defined and brought to life on the pages. The political climates of Jewish diaspora and England between Cromwell and the renewed monarchy are clear. The tension between the rival philosophies is palpable. Although VERY long, the well-researched story holds one’s attention. Ester is a likable, although obstinate and often misguided, personage. Her plight will resonant with today’s feminist sympathizers.
4 of 5 stars because of the 600 page length.
Salt Houses
by Hala Alyan
Salt Houses (6/14/2018)
The meaning of the title is noted three fourth of the way through the book when the family patriarch, Atef, reminisces, “the houses glitter whitely…like structures made of salt before a tidal wave sweeps them away.” His family – 4 generations – leave behind houses as war follows them from Palestine, to Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Boston, Manhattan and back to Lebanon. One of the daughters in trying to identify her heritage is at a loss. Is she Palestinian – she has never lived there. Is she Lebanese or Arab or Kuwaiti or…

And that is the essence of this tale. What is our heritage? Is it the place of our birth, where we live NOW, where we lived before, how do we define ourselves?
Alyan describes loss and heartache in beautiful prose. Her characters live and breathe. The sense of place is palpable. Although this tale is specifically Palestinian, the rootlessness of the refugee is timeless and placeless.

You will need the family tree at the beginning of the book to keep the generations straight. The time and place notations at the beginning of each chapter help the reader keep track of the family’s migrations and the time frame of the various wars and tragedies from just before the 6 Day War through the current Middle East uprisings.

Lots for book groups to discuss here.
Varina
by Charles Frazier
I should have loved it! (5/30/2018)
The person is eminently interesting – the wife of the Confederate President. The era is interesting – the decades before, during, and after the American Civil War. The episodes are fascinating – a Southern white woman raising an enslaved child as her own: the escape of fugitives in a devastated land: the marriage of a 17 year old to a 40 year old. So why didn’t I like it?

The episodes are just that – episodes that jump from decade to decade with no cohesion. The story is not a story – there is no plot. The tempo and pacing are erratic at best.

BUT… the writing is wonderful. The conclusions are insightful. The characters are real and well presented.

YOU might like it. I didn’t.
Music of the Ghosts
by Vaddey Ratner
Lovely writing (4/2/2018)
Oh my goodness! What to say about this book. First the good. The writing is lyrical. Some phrases are exquisite. The word usage is wonderful. Then there is the story. I am SOOOOO confused. I tried very hard to like this book, but just couldn’t do it. The Old Musician and his reminisces wander all over-- future, past, present -- all in present tense.
Somewhere around page 200, the story began to make sense. If you can make that far -- this tale of Cambodia and Khmer Rouge, death, love, life, hate, perseverance, family, faith -- becomes full of life and forces one to engage its loveliness and its heartbreak.
Teera and the Old Musician enter your heart and mind and take up residence. They stay with you long after you have read the last page.
Still, only 3 of 5 stars for the slow start, the initial confusion, the ethereal sentences.
The Widows of Malabar Hill: A Mystery of 1920s Bombay
by Sujata Massey
Murder and India (3/14/2018)
If you like historical fiction, especially India in early 20th century, and learning about different cultures and ways of life, you will like this book. While it is a murder mystery, it is also an exploration of the various cultures active in India from 1915 to 1922. The heroine is a young woman Parisi (Zoroastrian) who has trained to be a solicitor (lawyer) at Oxford and is working in her father’s firm when three widows, Muslims who live in Purda or complete seclusion from men, need a lawyer. A murder occurs, and Perveen, the untried female lawyer, is the only one who can enter the widows’ seclusion.
The situation of women of all faiths becomes integral to the plot, as do marriage customs, inheritance, family practices, the law, the role of the English in India, Indian independence, class strictures and even education and employment for women. While the plot moves slowly, the descriptions of a way of life unknown to most Americans, keeps the reader interested and reading. Besides a murder, there are also two kidnappings, financial shenanigans, jewelry theft, families in crisis, and other plot devices to keep interest high.
The noises, smells and flavors of Bombay and Calcutta set the scene. Clearly drawn characters and lively writing add to a tale well worth spending time with tea, curry and Perveen as she navigates the path forward with three widows who are clearly not sisters of the heart.
4 of 5 stars
Small Great Things
by Jodi Picoult
Thought provoking (3/13/2018)
I haven’t read any Piccoult for a while (a little tired of the “disease of the month” rut she seemed to be in), so I had avoided this book also. But I kept hearing really good things about it. People who didn’t read Piccoult LOVED it. So, I gave it a shot.
All those good things I heard were true. This is a good book! The tale revolves around an African-American nurse. She is a good nurse with a sterling reputation until she is Labor and Delivery nurse to the wife of a white supremacist. This IS a Piccoult book, so, of course, something terrible happens to the baby. Now the tale becomes sympathetic (yes, sympathetic) portrayals of a white, racist, perfectly awful man, his white racist, perfectly awful wife and a here-to-for unbiased, wonderful person African-American nurse and her honor roll student , off to Yale son.
You will learn more medical jargon than you ever wanted to know and, maybe, discover a few of your own biases and prejudices. This is a good story, well told, that will keep you wondering about yourself until the final pages.
5 of 5 stars

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