Reviews by BeckyH

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Cherokee America
by Margaret Verble
A Cherokee family tale (6/28/2019)
Verble beautifully creates atmosphere in both culture and land in this prequel to her first (Pulitzer Prize nominated) novel, MAUD’S LINE. Cherokee America, known to all as Check, is the matriarch of a family still remembering the horrors of the Trail of Tears and now facing increasing pressure from Whites to sell, give or abandon their Cherokee Nation land.
Family is paramount to this extended family facing the death of Check’s husband, culture clashes with their white neighbors, disapproval of their employment of a former slave, their friendships across culture lines and family ties and, finally, the betrayal of family members by whites.
The first half of the novel introduces the various family, friends and enemies and establishes the ethnic and “national” background and clash points. The second half deals with the aftermath of betrayal and reads like an engrossing mystery. The cast of characters at the front is extremely helpful in keeping all of the players in this drama straight. The conflict and resolution are satisfying if unconventional.
My one hesitancy in highly recommending this novel is the emphasis on sexual behavior that pervades the entire book.
5 of 5 stars
I Still Dream About You: A Novel
by Fannie Flagg
A romp in Southern charm and skulduggery (5/30/2019)
This fun read still has an emotional punch. Flagg is an expert at creating characters one cares about – even the ones that are not very nice! In this outing Flagg joins a “fat” African American, a midget, an ex-beauty queen, and a thoroughly detestable real estate agent to tell a tale of what might have been, what is and what may yet be.
Pathos and hilarity join forces for a romp in Southern charm and dirty deals. Flagg manages to tell a good story without stooping to vulgar language or explicit sex. Written for the adult female audience I STILL DREAM can be enjoyed by all audiences including teens. There is enough here for an interesting book group discussion that might cover family dynamics, faith, integrity, racial harmony, interpersonal relations and much more.
Similar in feel to FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, this book would also make a good movie.
Death of a New American: A Jane Prescott Novel
by Mariah Fredericks
Death of a New American (5/25/2019)
Jane Prescott, lady’s maid and mystery solver, becomes embroiled in labor disputes, the Black Hand and murder in this entertaining novel set in 1912 New York.
Louise, Jane’s lady, is about to marry the son of a prestigious family. When the Tyler’s nursemaid is murdered and notes are found threatening the infant child of Louise’s soon to be in laws, Jane and newspaperman Michael Behan spring into action.
Between love and the criminal underworld, the tension is palpable. Well written, with interesting situation and characters, this novel will be a welcome addition to book groups and individual readers alike.
The Satapur Moonstone: A Perveen Mistry Novel
by Sujata Massey
Murder, tea and jewels (5/25/2019)
This the second mystery starring Purveen Mistry, a female Indian lawyer practicing in Bombay in 1921. (If you have not read the first, you might want to check it out first, so you know the backstory.) Purveen has been asked to determine if the children of a deceased Maharajah in princely India are being properly cared for and educated, and the royal succession maintained while the two remaining maharanis remain in purdah (seclusion).
Several mysterious incidents come to light as Purveen and an agent for the British Empire join forces to untangle the intricacies of Satapur’s royal aristocracy. Several deaths and more than several possible culprits appear along the way. Massey’s care with the cultural differences observed by the various religions, political entities, and Indian versus British desires become part of the mystery. A bit of romance may even be hinted at if this entertaining series continues – and I hope it does.
Well written with strong characters and intricate plotting make this novel a great addition to the genre.
Beirut Hellfire Society
by Rawi Hage
UNFLINCHINGLY DEPRESSING (5/15/2019)
This tale presents the raw outrage, fear, misery, and indelible sadness of a country at war. The writing is excellent. Unfortunately, it is so filled with sex and depravity that I can not recommend this book. After having to force myself to read past the first few chapters, the book did offer some moments of humor (of the black variety) and the final pages did offer some version of hope after the devastation of hopelessness that war engenders. The feelings of the outcast (religion, societal, employment, mental illness, etc) are clearly shown. I had hoped for a better read.
A Death of No Importance: A Mystery
by Mariah Fredericks
A good mystery with great characters (4/28/2019)
The backstairs folk always see more than the upper class folks think. Lady’s maid Jane sees and thinks. The writing is good with great characterization, good atmosphere, a realistic portrayal of time and place. Fredericks throws in some real people and real incidents to give breadth to her story.
This is the first of a series with Jane as the sleuth in a tightly crafted mystery. The death is pretty gruesome but, for the squeamish, not dwelled upon. Also, no foul language or steamy sex, just a really good mystery with fully fleshed out characters.
The Farm
by Joanne Ramos
Exploitation or a Godsend (4/25/2019)
An idea – pay poor women large sums to be the surrogate for busy, important, wealthy, lazy women who want their own child, but don’t want the bother, time commitment, inconvenience of actually bearing them.
Ramos has written a novel that presents that idea carried out to the fullest extent. The Farm is a lap of luxury prison for the surrogates. Reagan, an idealist asserting her independence from her father but controlling father, Jane, an impoverished Filipina eager for the large financial payout, and Lisa, a wild child with unknown needs, are the three surrogates.
The novel presents many topics for book groups to discuss and casual readers to ponder. Among them – attitudes toward money; styles of parenting; the poor; immigrants (legal or not); power vs weakness, education; exploitation by class, money, education, status, or race; crime and punishment; family; and of course, women.
A question that is not addressed in the novel but should be: What did Reagan do with her bonus and why? Although there is an epilogue, several questions remain of the final outcome for each of the women presented in the novel.

I received an ARC for my freely given opinion.
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

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