Reviews by Vivian H. (Winchester, VA)

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The Fountains of Silence
by Ruta Sepetys
Beautiful and Disturbing (11/8/2020)
This beautiful novel provides some insights into the Franco regime post WWII, about which I had very little awareness. My familiarity with Franco was essentially limited to the fact he was a dictator and that SNL repeatedly reported that ‘Francisco Franco is still dead’. This book used the repression of the Spanish people as the backdrop to a sweet teen love story. Beautifully written and engaging.
All the Devils Are Here: Chief Inspector Gamache #16
by Louise Penny
Gamache in Paris Still Excellent (11/8/2020)
Armand & Reine-Marie find murder, intrigue, heartache and betrayal while in Paris awaiting the birth of Annie’s & Jean -Guy’s second child. While I missed the eclectic residents of Three Pines, this book did not disappoint. The reader is gifted with insights into the Chief Inspector’ past, including the fraught relationship with his son Daniel. There are convoluted plot developments that seem forced or improbable. However, these are easily overlooked when compared to the coziness and familiarity of spending a few delicious hours with my favorite Québécois.
Piranesi
by Susanna Clarke
Fascinating & Bizarre (8/26/2020)
Piranesi is a fascinating story in an alternative universe setting that was at times challenging for me to plow through. This genre is quite different from my usual preferences. I was intrigued enough to keep reading while questioning why I continued. I was caught up in the labyrinth. Piranesi is a difficult book to describe. I wanted answers. But, the journey was not easy. The book is thought provoking. It caused me to consider the lengths some academics would go to prove a hypothesis. It caused me to consider the effects of environment on mental health. I had to consider whether I was reading someone's fantasy, delusion, dream or incomprehensible reality with uncertain time, place, historical context, or alternate universe. I'm still unsure.
The Last Flight
by Julie Clark
Loved it (7/26/2020)
I really enjoyed this book. It had some fascinating twists & turns. This is an interesting story of the lengths a woman will go to in order to escape from an abusive relationship.
Ruthie Fear: A Novel
by Maxim Loskutoff
Fascinating Coming of Age Tale (6/1/2020)
Ruthie Fear is a survivor, which makes her a heroine of sorts in the beautifully written, albeit depressing novel of a young girl growing to womanhood in the poverty stricken, desperate environment of the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. The writing style is luscious. I wanted to envelope Ruthie in my arms & rescue her. But, at times I struggled with the depths of depression the story caused me to feel. And I just couldn't embrace the 'headless creature' specter.
The Stone Girl: A Novel
by Dirk Wittenborn
Loved This Book (4/12/2020)
The Stone Girl intrigued me from the first page. It is the story of abuse, misogyny, the cruelties of humans, the wide spread influence of the 1 behind closed doors amid exclusive clubs, schools & financial institutions. It is also a tale of survival, fortitude, friendship, family, resilience, generosity, determination and the fact that decisions often fall within those gray areas where there is no true delineation of black & white or right & wrong. This story truly resonated with me.
The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II
by Katherine Sharp Landdeck
Emotional & Inspiring (1/12/2020)
From the first paragraphs I was drawn into this beautiful tribute to the brave, dedicated, inspiring aviatrix that remained unsung heroines for decades, denied the recognition, military status and pensions they had earned because of their sex. The WASP, a select group of 1102 women who earned their silver wings having to achieve far more than male pilots, flew more than 60 Million miles, in 77 different types of aircraft, served as test pilots, trainers, ferried planes, and performed every task other than combat missions that men performed. I was nearly brought to tears on several occasions reading how Congress, the Army, the commercial airlines and the American public marginalized them because they were women. The WASP was summarily disbanded when male pilots began returning stateside. It wasn't until Senator Barry Goldwater promised to advocate for the WASP did they finally achieve military status ....the end of 1977...more than 30 years after they were sent home to return to lives as wives and mothers. It wasn't until the 1970s that an American airline would hire a woman pilot!
These amazing women helped lay the cornerstones of a movement that enabled women of today to enjoy near parity with men in the workplace. Just WOW!
Creatures
by Crissy Van Meter
Dysfunctional Family Values (10/11/2019)
The book begins with a dead, decaying, odiferous whale and a fiancé potentially lost at sea and segues into Evie's relationships with her alcoholic drug dealing father and mother that deserted her. Perhaps because I've previously lived with alcoholics and know the associated dysfunction firsthand, I found this story disheartening. I struggled to finish it. I liked Ms. Van Meyer's writing style, but this felt to me like an Al Anon meeting with Evie telling 'her story'. I read to escape real life.
Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights
by Dovey Johnson Roundtree , Katie McCabe
Inspiring Story of a Civil Rights Heroine (9/13/2019)
Wow! Dovey Roundtree's story drew me into to her world from the first pages describing her childhood in Jim Crow North Carolina, raised by an amazing grandmother who never allowed the degradation and torment she experienced quell her determination to ensure her granddaughters were educated. Dovey's story introduced me to activists with which I was unfamiliar who worked within the system, with the assistance of Eleanor Roosevelt to change the status quo and create an Army officers training program for women of color. Ms. Roundtree was specifically selected for the first class. The distinction she subsequently achieved as a lawyer is a must read for anybody interested in 20th Century American history, women who helped change America, and the determination of activists that lead to the passing of the Civil Rights Act. It is hard to imagine where we as a nation would be today without Dovey Roundtree.
The Silent Patient
by Alex Michaelides
Great First Novel (8/11/2019)
The Silent Patient is a solid first effort in the crowded arena of the psychological thriller genre. It was difficult to put down, nicely paced, with some interesting twists & turns. I did figure out the ultimate mystery before the big reveal. But, that didn’t change my thought about the book.
Miracle Creek
by Angie Kim
Who To Blame (8/11/2019)
This is a rare court room drama that caused me to feel empathy for all of its flawed characters- immigrants trying to give a daughter a chance for success in America, teen rebellion, the cultural strictures for Korean women, the mothers seeking experimental treatments for their disabled children, the guilt & hope they feel, even the protestors trying to shut the operation down. The story is told from multiple perspectives with each chapter peeling away another layer of onion. There is a lot of heartache. I thought this was an excellent first book.
Necessary People
by Anna Pitoniak
Unlikable Characters But Clever Story (8/11/2019)
Necessary People involves unlikable characters who use one another for personal benefit, exploit family connections and several scenarios that stretch credibility even in the cutthroat world of cable news. However, despite the strains on credulity, it was a clever story.
The Word Is Murder
by Anthony Horowitz
Horowitz Cleverly Inserts Himself (7/28/2018)
I've just completed The Word Is Murder and vacillated between 4 stars and 5 stars because the book is better than Good but does not rise to astonishingly excellent to the level of The Magpie Murders. But The Word Is Murder is a Very Good read. I did not deduce the clever twists in advance of the reveal. Horowitz seamlessly inserted himself as a character assisting a disgraced former police officer with the investigation of a curious murder. I truly love Horowitz's writing style and look forward to any new fiction he turns out.
Motherhood
by Sheila Heti
Self Absorbed Author Could Use Therapy (2/8/2018)
Initially the concept of using the I Ching for decision making interested me because I lived in Asia for 5 years and remain fascinated by Chinese divination. After the first few chapters, however, the repetitive questions about ordinary decisions bored me.

Additionally, the author truly appeared to be relying upon faux angst regarding the decision to have children to self indulge in writing this book. I never felt indecision. It seemed as if the author was trying to justify who decision to remain childless to look to the world as if it were agonizing.

Every family has issues, depression, good, bad, ugly, joy....most women who decided not to have children (myself included) did not have to ask dice to give us the answer. We just knew what was right for us.
The Chalk Man
by C. J. Tudor
Engaging Thriller by New Author C. J. Tudor (11/26/2017)
The Chalk Man pulled me into the story from the Prologue on Page 1 which begins "The girl's head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves." The narrative then shifts immediately from 1986 to 2016 when the narrator, Eddie "Munster", reflects on the series of horrific events in the small English village that would haunt him and his childhood friends Hoppo, Metal Mickey, Fat Gav & Nicky for the next 20 years.

I found the story creative with the characters at 12 years age using bits of colored chalk to send one another messages in code. Each member of the gang used a different color to identify who had written the code. Of course, someone discovered the code and began to create mayhem.

There were a couple of Twin Peaks moments that didn't quite ring true for me; and I did not find Eddie to be a sympathetic narrator. Instead he seems a bit of a creepy, dysfunctional alcoholic.

I also found the repeated reference of a Waltzer confusing since I was unfamiliar with the term. I figured out that is must be a carnival ride. But I had to Google the term for confirm that.

C.J.Tudor is an engaging writer. I found it hard to put down for the first 3/4 of the book. Towards the end, however, the story seemed to lose a bit of steam. Ultimately, the ending for me was a bit contrived and unconvincing.

The Chalk Man is one of the better master/thrillers that I have read in quite some time. Despite its flaws, the book is a solid read in the genre and I will happily look forward to reading the next book by Ms. Tudor.
The Stars Are Fire
by Anita Shreve
A Struggle for me to Finish (11/18/2017)
Anita Shreve first entranced me with The Pilot's Wife and I have eagerly awaited the publication of her latest books since that first great read. However, The Stars Are Fire truly disappointed me. I could feel no empathy for any of the characters and the plot felt predictable and formulaic. Not only did I feel not empathy, I just didn't like them. I kept hoping the story would get better for me if I were in a different frame of mind. As such I'd put the book down and come back to it. It truly took me 3 weeks to read. The best of Anita Shreve such as Fortune's Rock's, Sea Glass or Wedding in December transport me to another place and time so that I can't put the book down until I've reached the last word. That is what I expect from one of my favorite authors.
Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 - A World on the Edge
by Helen Rappaport
The Russian Revolution Through the Eyes of Foreigners (10/28/2016)
This book is a wondrous collection of eye witness reports from foreign diplomats, reporters, nurses and other French, English and American expatriates in Petrograd as the Russian Revolution unfolded in 1917.

Helen Rapport has researched letters, diaries, news dispatches, diplomatic reports, memoirs and manuscripts to give us glimpses into memories of people from the outside caught up in events that changed the world and deposed a 300 year old dynasty.

In particular I was impressed with the viewpoints of the women - I was truly surprised by the number of independent foreign women living and working in Petrograd as journalists, nurses, and governesses such as suffragette Elsie Bowman, Canadian nurse Dorothy Cotton, Canadian reporter Florence Harper, and Lady Mureil Paget paint a fascinating picture of how outsiders recognized the coming revolution while the Tsar and imperial family buried their heads in the sand. For anyone who loves 20th Century history and the fall of the Romanovs in particular, this is a must read.
The Tea Planter's Wife
by Dinah Jefferies
Ceylon as the Sun Began to Set on the British Empire (7/8/2016)
The Tea Planter's Wife is a lush tale of 19 year old blushing bride Gwen, who leaves the familiarity of England to join her considerably older husband Lawrence in Ceylon, where he runs the family tea plantation. There are mysteries about the death of Lawrence's first wife Caroline; the beginnings of rebellion by workers; references to Gandhi; caste dissension between the Sinhalese and Tamils; jealousies; family secrets; and the last vestiges of the Raj society. This novel, though flawed, gave me insights into the bravery of women embarking on journeys to new worlds at a time before commercial flight. I felt empathy for Gwen.

While I truly enjoyed the book and could not out it down, a part of me felt this was a novel written in the 20th rather than the 21st century. A few instances of overt racism, while appropriate to the time and place, felt so what manipulative to me and caused me to feel the author took the easy way out in to avoid the characters facing a social and moral dilemma. Overall; however, this was a good read.
The Secret Language of Stones: A Daughters of La Lune Novel
by M. J. Rose
Intriguing Story of Life, Love, Sorrow, the Romanovs and Magic during WWI Paris (4/6/2016)
This evening I completed reading The Secret Language of Stones. This is not a book I ordinarily would have purchased if I'd seen it on Amazon.com. While I love historical fiction, strong women characters and intrigue, this novel also includes elements of mysticism, the occult and witchery, which I enjoyed during the 1990s when Ann Rice wrote The Witching Hour novels, but have long since abandoned.

But I found myself intrigued and completely engrossed in The Secret Language of Stones and plan to read more novels by M.J. Rose. This story centers on Opaline, the descendant of La Lune, a 16th Century courtesan and witch who passed her powers and spells to select females in the line. Opaline has the gift or curse, depending upon one's perspective.

The story takes place in Paris during World War I. Opaline is working as a jewelry apprentice to Russian émigré's who have escaped the Bolshevik Revolution. She decides to use her burgeoning gifts to create amulets or talismans using stones, gold and the hair or bits of keepsakes from dead soldiers who give her one last message to give some sense of peace to the loved ones of those who fought for France.

It did take me several chapters to engage with the story, but I ultimately found myself drawn into it and unable to put the book down. The writing is beautifully descriptive and almost lyrical. I could imagine myself living in Paris 1916 hiding in bomb shelters when the Germans attacked and then defiantly going into the streets to live life.

This book, which will be published in July 2016, is charmingly evocative of early 20th Century Paris mixed with Russian expatriate angst about the fate of the Tsar and his family and hereditary magic. Really enjoyed it!
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins
by Antonia Hodgson
Enjoyable Georgian Who Dunnit! (12/27/2015)
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins will appeal to fans of Anne Perry and C.J. Sansom with the murderous activity occurring during the reign of King George II rather than Victorian or Tudor times.

Thomas Hawkins is a "gentleman" ne'er do well who finds himself strapped to his coffin in a cart jostling along the road to his hanging at Tyburn for a murder he did not commit. While Hawkins pleads his innocence and hopes for a pardon from Queen Caroline for whom he has provided some valuable services, he knows that dead men tell no tales and that his death might prove convenient for the Queen.

The book is well researched, entertaining and gives the reader an intimate look into life in London during the early 18th Century including the filth, seediness, prodigious interest in porn, fetish brothels, spousal abuse, criminal investigations and the pomp and circumstance of executions.
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