MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Reviews by Becky H

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As Bright as Heaven
by Susan Meissner
The 1918 Spanish Flu is similar to COVID19 (5/1/2020)
In 1918 there was the Spanish Flu. It was devastating. Millions died. This is the story of how one ordinary family was affected.
The Bright family chooses to move to Philadelphia where they will take over the family mortuary just as the Great War and the Spanish Flu descend upon the city. Thomas and Pauline and their three daughters, Evie, Maggie and Willa, take up residence and intend to have a better life than tobacco farmers. The victims of the flu upend their plans as the mortuary fills and then is inundated with bodies. Disease strikes every family even as the war takes away the young men.
This picture of how a family and a city is changed, gives a realistic picture of medicine and funerary practices as well as family life in a middle class family. Well written and researched, the book is compelling even as Corona 19 claims lives today.
5 of 5 stars
The Prisoner's Wife
by Maggie Brookes
The Prisoner's Wife (2/11/2020)
Based on a true story, THE PRISONER’S WIFE tells of a Czech farm girl who falls in love with the British POW assigned to work on her family’s farm. When it becomes apparent the POW’s will be moved to another area, Izabela and Bill decide to marry and then have Izabela pose as a mute British soldier. The privations and terror of prison camps, hard forced labor, fear of discovery and then a forced march ahead of the Russian Army as the German’s face defeat make up the whole of the book.
The characters are well defined and grow and change as time passes. Each of the POW’s is a complete and complex person. The guards are more “stock” characters. The situations are believable and grab your attention from the first pages.
My one complaint is – I want to know the outcome of all the characters we have become so intimate with, what happened to them when the POW camps were disbanded and they returned to civilian life, were they able to achieve their desires as war’s end? My desire to lnow more confirms the writer’s ability to draw me in to each character’s story.
Book groups might discuss the decision’s that were made, the morality of various deaths, the culpability of civilians, the actions of the guards, the treatment of POW’s in time of war, the endurance of the human spirit, etc.
American Dirt: A Novel
by Jeanine Cummins
You need to read this book (1/6/2020)
This is an important book. Anyone who thinks all illegal aliens are criminals should read this book. It is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. It will grab you at the first page and not let go until the last.

Sabastian is a journalist who writes an expose of a drug boss. His family suffers because of it. His wife and 8 year old son flee to el norte to escape the retaliation. This is the story of their journey to el norte from Acapulco. Along the way they meet kindness and terror, friends and enemies, hunger and thirst, murderers and robbers, and worse.
Read this book.
5 of 5 stars
The Promise
by Ann Weisgarber
A love story with a hurricane approaching (12/28/2019)
If you are looking a book long description of the devastating hurricane of 1900 and its aftermath, this not the book for you. While an accurate and terrifying description of the storm does appear, it is brief and secondary to the love story.
If you looking for a description of life on a hardscrabble Texas farm along with a family story, this is the book for you. The book is well written and well researched. Catherine is clearly portrayed as is Oscar.
Catherine is a pianist with a problem. The man she loves is married and now everyone knows and condemns her. In a desperate effort to get a new start Catherine chooses to marry Oscar, a man she hasn’t seen in years, and start a new life in Galvaston, Texas in August of 1900.
Next Year in Havana
by Chanel Cleeton
Lots of history, a smattering of love (12/26/2019)
A two generation story of Cuban refugees centers on Elisa, 19, when her wealthy family is forced from Castro’s Cuba because of their support of Battista, and Marisol, Elisa’s granddaughter, who travels to Havana when the country reopens to tourists. Marisol carries her grandmother’s ashes with the directive to scatter the ashes in Elisa’s home country.
Secrets abound as the story looks back to Elisa’s activities leading up to the family’s escape and in the present as Marisol befriends a politically active young Cuban. Strong characterizations and a healthy dose of history (not always favorable to America) make this a tale of revolution, passion for freedom, morality, friendship, politics and loyalty.
Complicated love is a strong element that carries the story along for those not so interested in the history neatly interwoven in the tale of family pride and love of country. Book groups will have much to discuss. This would be a good book for teen daughters and their mothers to discuss.
The Glovemaker
by Ann Weisgarber
A compelling tale (12/16/2019)
I almost stopped reading this novel because of the stream of consciousness style of writing and the repetition of a certain phrase. However, by page 20 I was hooked. Samuel is missing and Deborah, his wife, is waiting for his return when she is surprised by a stranger knocking on her door and seeking assistance.
Utah Territory in the 1880’s is the setting for Junction, a tiny hamlet of Mormon saints who are not anxious to have the official LDS church or the law visit them. The mysteries of Samuel and the stranger make a compelling tale. The tension of the community builds almost to the breaking point. Weisberger handles the tension and the setting very well. Deborah, and Nels, her neighbor and Samuel’s best friend, are realistically written. The forbidding climate and terrain become a part of the story as the tension builds.
A good story, a good writer, and interesting, well drawn characters all combine to make this read well worth your time.
The Fountains of Silence
by Ruta Sepetys
An excellent book (12/11/2019)
Sepetys writes teens beautifully and accurately. Her teens are impetuous, naïve, full hearted, empathetic, selfish, quick thinking and foolhardy. THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE tells of teens caught up in the tyrannical world of General Francisco Franco in the aftermath of the Spanish Revolution of 1939.
In 1957 as Spain was beginning to open up to the outside world, a family of American citizens, including their teenage son, entered Franco’s world. Daniel, a camera buff who wants to become a photojournalist, meets Ana, his family’s assigned maid. Ana’s family, formerly professors and Republicans, has been decimated by the Nationalists.
Through Daniel and Ana, Sepetys tells of tyranny, torture, death and bull fighting, friendship, kindness and a people’s yearning for freedom. As good historical fiction does, she teaches us painlessly the truths of dictators and freedom fighters and the good people caught between them.
Written for teens, this book will resonate with adults as well. It offers a multitude of topics for book group discussion. This is an altogether worthy read.
5 of 5 stars
Small Days and Nights: A Novel
by Tishani Doshi
Partly lovely, partly disappointing (11/16/2019)
I so wanted to like this book. And I did – parts of it anyway. Doshi in some places (mostly descriptive parts of the book) is lyrical and enchanting, but in other parts (mostly conversations and character development) she is stilted and unpolished. Did she need a good editor? I also found the general outline of the book to be confusing as it jumped back and forth in time.

That said the maturing of the relationship between the sisters grows and changes in lovely ways. Both sisters and Teacher developed as the book progressed. Mother, however, seemed static, even as Grace reveals more and more of her personality and their relationship. Lucia was my favorite part of the book and was sympathetically drawn. I found my smiling as she made her wants and needs known.

Overall, I give the book 3 out of 5 stars for the parts of wonderful writing and Lucia. It is not a book I would recommend wholeheartedly.
The Big Finish
by Brooke Fossey
sympathetic to the plight of older persons (10/4/2019)
Duffey, the unrepentant reprobate, and his side kick, Carl, are roommates at the "nice" assisted living home. They live in fear of being tossed out and forced to move to the "hellhole" of the only full nursing home in the area. Nora is the nurse who makes life bearable. Anderson is the aide who aids and abets Duffey and Carl and all the other inmates at the 20 bed Centennial Assisted Living Home.

The activities mentioned all ring true as do the shenanigans the inmates get up to. Told in spare and occasionally uncomfortable prose, the tale is filled with gentle humor and lots of empathetic sympathy. The senior citizens are never disparaged except by the home's kill joy and money mad proprietor. When 19 year old Josie enters their life needing a place to stay and help with her life choices, the fun begins and doesn't end until the Big Finish.

Lots to think about and discuss in book groups, especially ones that have a few older members or members with loved ones in assisted living or nursing homes. The importance of hope, honesty, friendship, and sympathetic attention is laid forth with good natured respect.
Thirteen
by Steve Cavanagh
A really good mystery (9/4/2019)
This one will keep you up far into the night. The plot is diabolical. So is the killer.
Eddie Flynn is the one person who believes the actor accused of killing his wife and her body guard is innocent. The bodies are falling fast and thick. The plot twists are delicious.

For a mystery with lots of deaths this one is free of sex, unwarranted violence and curse words. Just a really good story.
The Hundred-Year House
by Rebecca Makkai
I couldn't make it past 150 pages (8/30/2019)
I made it through 150 pages before deciding I didn’t really care about these people and their foibles and meandering progress through what passed for life. A failed writer, a failed artist, a failed mother, a failed son – who cares. The writing is lovely, the story failed.
A Better Man: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
by Louise Penny
A Better Man (8/26/2019)
I have only read one other Armand Gamache mystery. This one convinces me I should read more!

Armand is back at work, demoted and brushed aside for another – his son-in-law! A flood is happening and Three Pines is in the crosshairs. A woman is missing and her husband, who may be a murderer, is unconcerned. A new agent is pushing for Gamache to take over the case. The missing woman’s father is threatening to murder the husband. And then there is the dog.

Oh my – all these plot points and we are only in the first few pages. The tension doesn’t stop until the last page in this engrossing mystery. Penny keeps the tension alive with just enough red herrings and plot twists to compel reading far into the night.

A well written, engrossing mystery with a familiar character in a new and uncomfortable situation.
Ellie and the Harpmaker
by Hazel Prior
Ellie and the Harpmaker (8/26/2019)
This is a lovely book. Ellie, married to a controlling husband, meets Dan, who lives in solitary splendor meticulously carving exquisite harps.

The writing is detailed and engaging. Prior uses words to describe the woods and creatures surrounding the harp barn with great charm. Her characters grow and become clear as the story progresses. Although she never uses any words to indicate Dan is autistic (or at least on the spectrum), it is readily apparent through her word pictures. She writes with sympathy and tenderness about her characters allowing the reader to see them change and develop with her eyes.

As the tale unfolds danger and fear emerge, but the overriding feeling is always sympathy and gentleness.

A good book for groups interested in music, woodworking, nature, personality development, marriage, autism, forgiveness, family dynamics, and love.
You Were There Too
by Colleen Oakley
A different kind of love story (8/10/2019)
This was a different kind of love story. A happily married woman dreams about a man, not her husband, for years. Then she discovers he is a real person who has been dreaming about her! Love, desire, confusion, humor, guilt, forgiveness, and just plain weirdness ensues.
I liked it. Not the best book ever, but definitely an interesting take on human emotions. Well written, likeable characters who show real emotions, who grow and change in the development of the story. You will wonder while reading where this is all going and you will be surprised. Taken all together, this is a good read. I'm glad I read it.
Dumplin'
by Julie Murphy
a sensitive and empathetic tale (8/10/2019)
This book is not PC. A teenage girl is called Dumplin’ by her mother who constantly reminds her how fat she is and how pretty she would be if she just lost some weight.
Dumplin’ and her friends decide to enter the beauty contest Dumplin’s mother runs and had won many years before. Hilarity runs rampant as the young women (one fat, one disabled, one perhaps autistic and one gay) prepare their talent acts and wardrobes.
This could have been awful. It was not. It becomes a sensitive and empathetic tale of young women learning to love themselves and accept others. Oh, and there is also a gentle love story. This would be great book for a mother/parent book club.
4 of 5 stars
America for Beginners
by Leah Franqui
America for Beginners (8/10/2019)
This was a delightful book. A conservative Indian lady seeks closure with her son’s death by taking a guided tour of America.
Pival hires an Indian (she thinks) tour company that is really Bengali. Her “companion” is an erstwhile actress who is tired of life. Her tour guide has never led a tour before. These three mismatched characters, each with their own set of opinions and expectations find themselves and America as they travel. Pival’s son, his chosen lifestyle, his companion, and his life’s work become clear as the tour progresses.
By turns hilarious and heartrending, America for Beginners presents an America like no other. The characters are interesting and well developed. The story line has great depth and insight. While reading, you might consider a tour of America you might arrange – especially the meals along the way.
5 of 5 stars
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.

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