MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Reviews by Becky H

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The Dry
by Jane Harper
A good mystery (4/6/2017)
A tightly woven mystery that jumps back and forth from the present to the past to solve a long ago drowning and now a family murdered. Who lied and why?
Agent Aaron Falk is one of those accused of lying – then and now? Did he? Why did he come back and why does he stay where he is clearly not wanted.
The time jumps are clear by the use of an italic font for the past. The suspicions will keep you reading. Some of the characters are more fully developed than others. The plot is clear and the red herrings are plentiful. This is an enjoyable and clever book.
The Whistling Season
by Ivan Doig
A perfect picture of perfect hardship (4/6/2017)
The picture of hardships on a “dry” farm in 1909 Montana is clearly shown in this delightful story of motherless family trying to survive and the brother/sister couple who answer their ad for a housekeeper.

Homesteading, social life, family life, shenanigans, love, one room schools and the teachers who make them, and secrets, especially secrets, combine to make this a delightful, well-written tale that encompasses humor, fear, sacrifice and boyhood.
Victoria
by Daisy Goodwin
Much better than the TV series (4/6/2017)
This book covers only Victoria’s early life and first few years of her long reign. Goodwin is a writer of historical fiction that borders on “women’s fiction.” She has a tendency to emphasis the more salacious and gossip laden events in the life of the person written about. That said the book is interesting and well researched. The life of a young girl manipulated by those around her and surrounded by great wealth and all its accouterments is discussed in great detail. Victoria is saved by the one scrupulous man in her life: Lord Melbourne, her first prime minister. Early Victorian English society, and the lives of the not-so-privileged, is covered well.
(The book gives much more detail than the TV series and gives a more accurate portrayal of Victorian England. )
4 of 5 stars
A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman
A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman (2/2/2017)
To say Ove was set in his ways would be a gross understatement. But Ove’s wife loved him and he loved her. Life was good until tragedy struck – twice. Now Ove is alone and wishes to kill himself, but life intervenes in the guise of neighbors, friends, enemies and Ove himself.
Strong characters, a sure sense of time and place and a plot that meanders to a well thought out conclusion combine to make a tale well worth reading. Book groups will find plenty to talk about – lonely people, compromise of principle, suicide, anger, family, friendship, neighborliness, and Ove’s signature statement – “What is right is right” always – maybe.
5 of 5 stars
News of the World
by Paulette Jiles
A lovely, spare novel (10/20/2016)
This is a wise book. The story of an old man who has lost all his worldly possessions in the Civil War and now reads the newspapers to folks who cannot read or have no access to papers and the 10-year-old returning Kiowa captive girl who has now lost two families in heart wrenching circumstances is also a tale of love, hope and the unbreakable human spirit. Told in spare prose, the story is itself spare, and that moves the reader more than more florid words could.
Doris, one of the supporting characters says of Johanna and other returned captives, “our first creation is a turning of the soul…toward the light. To go through another, tears all the making of the first… to bits…they are forever falling.” (pg.56) Good and evil live in this book. Good wins and we are gladdened.
A lovely book that I can highly recommend.
5 of 5 stars
Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 - A World on the Edge
by Helen Rappaport
The details of revolt and chaos (10/18/2016)
The lives of the diplomats, journalists, ordinary citizens and foreign expats who lived through 1917 in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), Russia as it fell from Tsarist rule to peasant's revolt to anarchy to Leninism is told in exacting detail by Rappaport. Her clear and compelling writing makes this journey into disaster and terror real and immediate. She is able to carry the reader into the unease that slowly begins to develop into the "practically bloodless" and often times polite early revolution and that then descends into chaos and horror as beatings, death, starvation and cold blooded murder escalate.

As well written as it is researched, the book is surprisingly easy to read. The many (nearly 100) pages of notes will fascinate those of a more scholarly bent. I just enjoyed the clear writing and minute by minute detail. This isn't a book for everyone, but anyone with an interest in Russia or revolution or world history will appreciate this book.
The Underground Railroad: A Novel
by Colson Whitehead
Just not very good (10/12/2016)
My big problem with this book is: it doesn’t know what it is. Is it historical fiction? Yes, and no. Is it science fiction? Yes, and no. Is it alternative universe/history? Yes, and no. I had the uncomfortable feeling all while reading it that I was being played by the author. And that is not a comfortable -- or desirable -- feeling.

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD tells the story of Cora, a plantation slave, and her desire for freedom. In this book, the underground railroad is just that – underground. Many interlocking tunnels with a variety of engines and baggage/passenger cars traverse this railroad. Apparently no one hears or notices these steam engines or the building of the tunnels. The slavery portion of the story is purely antebellum south and rings true. The rest of the story – not so much.

The first half of the book found me wondering why I kept reading. The last half, I just wanted to know how Cora fared in this awkward world. I can’t recommend this book.
2 of 5 stars
The Last Days of Night: A Novel
by Graham Moore
I Love this Book (8/15/2016)
I love this book. I know NOTHING about electricity….but I understand this book. And I am laughing. That is the essence of a great writer: to help me understand difficult concepts and to entertain me while my brain is engaged. This book has it all: humor in large part, terror at times, mystery, legal shenanigans, hate, love, ethics (or a lack thereof), subterfuge, science that is understandable and intrigue. Oh yes, and great writing.

The writing is clear, but still offers illumination to the characters that inhabit the book. Those characters are drawn with great detail and great sympathy both for the character and for truth. Although the novel takes liberties with the time lines, the places of events and even the presence of the various players, nothing is lost either to enjoyment of the book or the science and inventions depicted. The one remaining mystery is Agnes and she shall remain a mystery until you have finished the book and read the after notes.

I thought the quotes that start each chapter added to the depth of engagement for the modern reader – a great addition to the book. This will be a good for book groups to discuss. One question to ponder – How much of a villain was Paul, or was he a villain at all?
The Girls
by Emma Cline
Skip this one (7/27/2016)
What a sad and depressing book! Inspired by the girls who followed Charles Manson and committed vile crimes for him, this book follows a depressed and lonely girl as she falls under the spell of one of the followers of a cult leader in the 1960’s. Although some of the book is written from the perspective of an older Evie, most of it written as present day in the 60’s. Evie as a teen is depressed and depressing. Evie as a middle aged failure is even more depressing. Skip this one! Well written but who needs it.
Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation
by Anne Sebba
Scholarly WWII work (7/18/2016)
This is a very, very dense scholarly book concerning the women of Paris during WWII. I ended up reading it as a collection of brief episodes as it was difficult to follow any one person's activities because of the chronological order of events and the various names used by the women during the course of the war. The "Cast list" was almost useless as women were listed under their family name, or their husband's name, or their resistance name, etc, but not all of them.

There are many French language phrases and words used throughout the book without translation.

You really need a very good working history of France and WWII to understand the enormity of places and events mentioned in passing, ie, the Hiv d'Vel roundup, Ravensbruck medical experiments, the Comet Line and others.
I would not recommend this book to my book group although I did appreciate the work that went into the writing of the book.
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart
First Woman deputy sheriff (7/12/2016)
Constance Kopp, the first woman Deputy Sheriff of New Jersey, is the heroine of this novel. Constance was a real person as are her sisters and the other law enforcement persons. The personalities of each is clearly defined. The story moves slowly, but is interesting with the detailed descriptions of life in 1914 in small towns, large cities and the family farm. The narrative is enhanced by the newspaper articles (real ones) that are interspersed throughout.
Altogether an engaging novel about an intriguing woman and her refreshingly novel family even with a fairly slow start.
4 of 5 stars
The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
by Scott Stambach
An Invisible Life (7/12/2016)
Did I enjoy this book? Hmmm, not so much. Was it compelling reading? Oh yes, absolutely!
Ivan is a teenage boy in a grotesquely deformed body, the result of radiation from a malfunctioning Russian nuclear plant. His mind, however, functions perfectly. Trapped in a deformed body in a rundown hospital, Ivan entertains himself by being as obnoxious as possible until he meets Polina, a recently orphaned teenage girl suffering from a rapidly advancing cancer.
We watch as Ivan and Polina react to each other, their suffocating community and their medical conditions in an unforgiving tale of self-worth, alienation, wonder, love, frustration, ineptness, caring, hope and resignation.
This is a tale that will stay with you, disturb you and, perhaps, challenge you to change things.
5 of 5 stars
The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
by Scott Stambach
A situation you never want to be in (6/26/2016)
Did I enjoy this book? Hmmm, not so much. Was it compelling reading? Oh yes, absolutely!
Ivan is a teenage boy in a grotesquely deformed body, the result of radiation from a malfunctioning Russian nuclear plant. His mind, however, functions perfectly. Trapped in a deformed body in a rundown hospital, Ivan entertains himself by being as obnoxious as possible until he meets Polina, a recently orphaned teenage girl suffering from a rapidly advancing cancer.
We watch as Ivan and Polina react to each other, their suffocating community and their medical conditions in an unforgiving tale of self-worth, alienation, wonder, love, frustration, ineptness, caring, hope and resignation.
This is a tale that will stay with you, disturb you and,, perhaps, challenge you to change things.
Arrowood: A Novel
by Laura McHugh
Eerie and engaging (6/25/2016)
Arrowood is a gothic thriller that starts slowly with mounting eeriness as the main character, Arden Arrowood, is slowly revealed along with the tragedies in her life. Her twin sisters disappeared while she, only 8 years old, was supposed to be watching them. Arden has scars, both physical and mental, from this and other traumas in her past life.
Arrowood, the house, has been in her family for generations, but has stood empty since shortly after the twins disappeared. Arden returns to Arrowood twenty years later when her grandfather bequeaths her the long empty house. The tension mounts as her back story is revealed and various characters from her past, along with an amateur detective who is fascinated by the unsolved mystery of the twin’s disappearance, are introduced.
McHugh is a gifted writer who maintains a firm grip on a story that could easily become maudlin. Instead the eeriness and growing unease builds to a crescendo. The characters are slowly developed into rich, fully portrayed persons embodied in a horrifying story.
5 of 5 stars
The Summer Before the War
by Helen Simonson
The Summer before the War (5/30/2016)
What begins as a lovely and genteel story of discrimination against a “professional” woman in an English village just before World War I, quickly becomes a fascinating tale of honor, class, love, discrimination and village life with all its charm and meanness. The characters are delightfully and realistically portrayed. The situations show the class and gender lines in pre-war England. There is humor and pathos, greed and generosity, refinement and pretentiousness, honor and scandal. But above all, it is a well written, engrossing story.
5 of 5 stars
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things: A Novel
by Bryn Greenwood
Ugly hope (4/27/2016)
The Ugly – Strung out, abusive, uncaring parents who also deal drugs and engage in "open" marriage among other things: relatives who are too eager to condemn and not eager to listen: law enforcement that wants to believe the worst: and more.

The Wonderful – sincere friendship: true, faithful love: caring teachers: and more.
Beautifully written with well developed, complex characters and believable, if truly awful situations, Bryn Greenwoods debut book is mesmerizing. Filled with raw language and rawer sex, it still manages to be filled with love and hope. This book is not for everyone, but for those willing to read with an open mind, the love story of Wavy and Kellen follows them from Wavy's eighth year through her college graduation. This is an unusual book that will find its way to book groups eager to be challenged and willing to discuss drugs, law enforcement, child endangerment, felons, desperation, murder, family relationships, perseverance and hope.

5 of 5 stars with reservations for sex, violence and strong language
The Hired Girl
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Volumes of wisdom (3/26/2016)
There are volumes of wisdom contained in this young adult novel. Joan, 14, is abused and over worked by her father so she leaves home to seek her fortune. Along the way she comes in contact with a young Jewish man who “rescues” her, a Catholic priest who teaches about her own religion, an old woman who teaches her she is worthwhile, a young boy who teaches her she has talent and a family that both welcomes and chastises her.
Well written, with engaging and true-to-life characters, conversation and incidents, THE HIRED GIRL is well worth reading and even re-reading. You will find nuggets of wisdom on almost every page, but the novel never preaches. The world of 1911 Baltimore is clearly shown, especially the world of the well-to-do and the servants who ease their way. Hard work is rewarded, education is valued, love is sought after, faith is paramount, toleration is expected and desired, patience is a virtue, and hope is ever present.
Book groups of varying ages will find plenty to discuss here. Mother-daughter groups will find themselves agreeing that this is an excellent book.
5 of 5 stars
Ashes of Fiery Weather
by Kathleen Donohoe
ASHES OF FIERY WEATHER by Kathleen Donohoe (2/26/2016)
This novel of firemen and their families was hard to read. Not because many of the fireman died, but because the novel was constantly jumping from past to present then back to a different time in the past then back to present – all in the same chapter. The writing is clear and even lyrical in places but the book jumped from character to character so often I was constantly turning back to the family diagram to see who and what time period the story had suddenly shifted to.
After I finished the book, it felt as though there were so many stories there wasn't one story. Each of the various stories felt incomplete in some way. Perhaps a winnowing of the characters and more depth for fewer would have felt more "finished. I enjoyed many of the mini-stories and liked most of the characters, but all in all, I was disappointed in the book.
Salt to the Sea
by Ruta Sepetys
SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys (2/13/2016)
Although a young adult novel, this tale of the end of World War II and the refugee ship Wilhelm Gustloff will also appeal to all who like historical fiction. Sepetys knows her subject well and is able to clearly voice each of the teens fleeing the fall of Germany. Each of the four teens tells their own story in alternating chapters, but the result is a devastatingly clear tale of desperation.
A nurse, a possible spy, a pregnant girl, a sailor aboard the doomed ship -- each adds their part as the story races to its conclusion. Sepetys is an excellent writer of atmosphere and character who is able to maintain tension throughout the novel.
Teens will love this book as will their elders. This would be a good book for a mother-daughter book group or any group interested in World War II and historical fiction.
5 of 5 stars
Out of My Mind
by Sharon M. Draper
A look at "disability" (2/13/2016)
Melody, eleven years old, is brilliant. She also has spastic bilateral quadriplegia (cerebral palsy), is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak. When she gets a Medi-Talker that allows her to communicate, her life changes.
OUT OF MY MIND tells Melody’s story of being confined in so many ways until her Medi-Talker arrives and the changes it makes in her life and the lives of those around her. Told sensitively and with compassion, it also tells of the story of a “normal” pre-teen confined in a disability. Draper writes with clarity. Melody is a well-rounded character as are her mother and father, neighbor and mentor, personal assistant and, most importantly, the other fifth graders and teachers in both her “special” classes and her “inclusive” classes.
Book groups (adult, teen, mother-daughter) will all find many topics for discussion including disabilities, friendship, jealousy, cliques, “special” education and others. Many of the topics will resonate with all teens and pre-teens who struggle with image, self-confidence and differences.
5 of 5 stars

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