Reviews by Becky H

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Honor
by Thrity Umrigar
A tale of conflicts (9/1/2021)
India, a land of contradictions, is front and center in this novel of HONOR and how it can be used to hurt and even kill. Two women share the spotlight, Meena, dreadfully maimed by her brothers because she has brought dishonor to their family, and Smita, an American journalist who has her own reasons for avoiding India and all it has meant to her family and who is charged to write Meena's story.
This book was difficult to read and yet necessary to understanding the conflicting and conflicted women and men is this novel. The modern India of large cities and modern conveniences is balanced by the India of small villages where tribal leaders hold sway over men and women who live in primitive conditions. Muslim India is balanced by Hindu India, two "peaceful" faiths that bring about horrors beyond imagining when they come into conflict.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand the conflicts in India and by extension the conflicts in many parts of the world where men and women, Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim, orthodox and liberal, come into conflict.
Well written and sympathetic, HONOR earns 5 of 5 stars.
At the Chinese Table: A Memoir with Recipes
by Carolyn Phillips
A delight for eyes and mouth (6/23/2021)
This utterly delightful book combines memoir with recipes. The memoir portion consists of a fascinating account of the author’s years in Taiwan sparked by mouthwatering descriptions of the food she eats as she learns Mandarin and falls in love with the country, the cuisines of China and J H Huang. Along the way we are introduced to her imperious future mother-in-law who is won over with a time consuming, challenging recipe for a treat that hadn’t been tasted in 40 years by her now blissful MIL.
Because I love to cook as much as I love to read and eat, I tried several of the recipes. Because I live in a city with a thriving Chinatown I was able to find most of the authentic ingredients. The recipes cover everything from beverages to main dishes to side dishes and condiments to even an odd “dessert” of “Coffee Gelee.” Simple strong coffee gelled with Knox unflavored gelatin and then coated with sweetened condensed milk became an odd favorite of my family. Not so simple but equally appreciated were Strange-Flavor Peanuts, Chilled Winter Melon and Bear Paw Doufu. The recipes were easy to follow once the ingredients were obtained.
I highly recommend this book both as memoir and as cookbook. 5 of 5 stars
Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir
Great ending (5/21/2021)
The sun is being eaten by an alien infestation. Mankind will cease to exist in 50 years. So… Project Hail Mary. Send a crew of scientists to a star that has beaten back the infestation and see how they did it. This being a seat of your pants thriller, things go wrong – quickly. Most of the crew dies. The one left can’t even remember his name, let alone what he is supposed to be doing. Then he meets another alien survivor.
Great story. Believable situations. An intriguing alien society. Good writing. Weir even makes the science understandable. Well worth your time if you like sci-fi, or thrillers, or just a good story with a great ending.
5 of 5 stars
Mrs. March: A Novel
by Virginia Feito
Not for everyone, but great (5/3/2021)
The feeling of portending disaster looms from the very first page, The disturbing adjectives and descriptions add to the malevolence. I hated this book and loved it at the same time. The writing is wonderful. The character of Mrs. March spirals out of control splendidly.
I don’t want to say much more because this book needs to be read without knowing even the basic plot. It is not quite a thriller, not quite a book of psychological horror. It is definitely a book that grabs you and then doesn’t let go until the shocking end. (Yes, I saw it coming, but didn’t want it to happen.)
Did I “enjoy” reading this book. No, unequivocally. But it was a great book. Would I recommend it to my book group, No! Would I recommend it to a very select group of friends that I know well. Yes!
5 of 5 stars
Klara and the Sun
by Kazuo Ishiguro
disappointing (4/28/2021)
Oh MY! I still am not quite sure what exactly was going on in this interesting Sci-fi (I think) novel that is ultimately unsatisfying. Yes, we know what happens to Klara, but we are still unsure exactly what happens with or to anyone else. Is josie happy? Is Rick happy? Is Mother happy? What happened to Melania Housekeeper? What happened to Rosa? What is “lifting? Why was Josie sick? Why was the Father “substituted” and what does that mean? So many questions. So few answers.
This was just a very weird book. It kept my interest but now that I have finished the book I just don’t care about any of the characters (because they weren’t real!).
3 0f 5 stars for a frustrating read
Flight of Dreams
by Ariel Lawhon
Flight of Dreams (3/17/2021)
Using the real people who lived and died on the dirigible Hindenburg, Lawhon tells a fascinating story of what might have occurred during the Hindenburg’s last flight. Impeccable research into the passengers and crew lend credibility to the characters who include an acrobat, a family from Mexico returning home, businessmen conducting business, a spy, a murderer, a stewardess who wants out of Germany, a navigator who loves her, and a 14-year-old cabin boy among others. Her characters sparkle with life.
Although we will never truly know why the Hindenburg exploded, Lawhon presents a credible answer as she relates how a dirigible stays aloft and what it is like to float 600 feet above the ocean in a luxury hotel.
In the author’s notes she gives the website (www.facesofthehindenburg.blogspot.com) that details all that is known about each of the passengers and crew. This is a worthwhile site for those interested in the before and after of each of them.
5 of 5 stars.
Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob
by Russell Shorto
Criminals in the family (2/25/2021)
Lots of individual vignettes are interesting in this memoir. Many individuals and their stories make for a challenging read trying to keep them all straight. Shorto has written a detailed narrative genealogy of his father’s family in an attempt to discover who murdered Pippy and to discover the “real” person who was his grandfather.

I found it difficult to maintain interest in the book as Shorto leapt from person to person and time frame to time frame. A listing of the numerous characters with their relationship to Shorto would have been helpful. I did learn a great deal about small time criminals and how the numbers racket and other “mob” games worked.
I do not think my book groups would be interested in discussing this book, but some folks would find it fascinating as an individual read.
The Last Tiara
by M.J. Rose
The Last Tiara (2/12/2021)
The Russian Revolution plays a large part in this tale of love, betrayal, family, jewels, secrets, privilege and glass ceilings. Like Russian novels, this one has twists, turns, blind corners and secrets galore. Sofia, a young art restorer in Tsarist Russia, is friends with the Tsar’s daughters, Olga and Tatiana. All three volunteer as nurses as WWI encroaches on St. Petersburg and their life of wealth and privilege. In hospital Sofia meets a young soldier who suffers from amnesia. That is where the joys and struggles and secrets begin only to later crop up in 1948 in New York City.
The main characters are, with one exception, clearly drawn and true to themselves throughout. Rose has done her homework and it shows in her descriptions of Tsarist Russia and later the New York architectural, fine jewelry and social scene. Her descriptions of Faberge and the gem studded works they created are spot on. Her depiction of women in the field of architecture shows the glass ceiling in stunning detail.
A lovely novel that book groups will enjoy discussing.
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
by Marie Benedict
I hate timeline jumps (2/7/2021)
Agatha Christie, renowned writer of mysteries, disappeared for 11 days in 1926. Although a country wide search was made, no one was able to find her until she turned up on day eleven claiming amnesia. What REALLY happened – no one knows. Marie Benedict makes an interesting and entirely fictional novel of the mystery. The result is a good yarn that Agatha herself would approve.
My complaint - and it is a huge one – is the two different, and interwoven, timelines. I would just get involved in one timeline and the other would pop up with a different narrator and jump back or forward in time. When I finished the book, I knew why the author chose this conceit. However, there have been entirely too many novels recently with the same “jump around” timeline. It is annoying. Please stop.
The characters are well developed. The plot is clever. The inclusion of true events lends credence to the tale. But still…. Those annoying time leaps.
Book groups will have a field day trying to suss out the real story in their discussion.
The Vanishing Half: A Novel
by Brit Bennett
An Unsettling book (1/27/2021)
Unsettling is the only word I can use to describe this book. Can a person vanish? To themselves? To their family? Can men vanish from society? the world? Can a person vanish and still be physically present? Can a town vanish? Can a person make themselves vanish – even to their own self? What are the repercussions to vanishing? Can a vanished person reappear? And the last question – not are Blacks racist, but what form does it take?
At first, I thought this book was vaguely boring, then a third of the way in, I found it compelling. When I read the last page, I was disappointed. Few of my questions had been answered. And those answers simply produced other questions.
Books groups will either love or hate this book, but a lively discussion will certainly result. My one complaint is the book doesn’t have a conclusion; it just ends.
The Girl with the Louding Voice
by Abi Daré
You should read this book (1/12/2021)
This was a wonderful book – after I got past the dialect the main character and narrator speaks. Adunni, the young Nigerian girl with the “louding” voice, is fourteen as the novel begins. From an extremely poor family, she is sold into marriage with an older man who stops her schooling although she is a good student with the promise of a scholarship to continue her education. The rest of the books deals with the vassitudes of her life.
The dialect improves as the novel proceeds and by the end I no longer noticed the dialect. In fact, the use of dialect enhanced the impact of Adunni’s story. Adunni’s story, unfortunately, is not unusual in Nigeria or many parts of the world.
AN excellent read that would be a great choice for a mother/daughter book group or a group made up of mostly educators.
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11
by Garrett M. Graff
A searing account of 9/11 (1/2/2021)
Subtitled "An Oral History Of 9/11", this is a collection of memories and statements that portray in timeline fashion what happened in the US on September 11, 2001. This was difficult to read. I could only read a bit before I had to put it down. Perhaps those who did not live through that day will have a different reaction. It brought back all the confusion and horror of that day for me.

Photographs of the destruction and incidents of the day are included. There is a lengthy section of notes, acknowledgements and indexes.
We Are Not from Here
by Jenny Torres Sanchez
A terrifying escape to the US (1/2/2021)
Three young teenagers are forced to flee their Guatemala home when they are targeted by the local drug dealer. They travel through Mexico to the United States where they hope to find safety with relatives.

This novel is a searing look at the hardships and dangers of all those who travel illegally from Central America to reach the “Promised Land” and relative safety of the US. Honest and heart wrenching. If you refused – for whatever reason – to read AMERICAN DIRT, this book gives the same point of view from the pen of a Latinx writer.
The Thursday Murder Club
by Richard Osman
A delightful cozy (1/2/2021)
A foursome of retired folk in a senior home get together to take a look at unsolved crimes. Much to their surprise they find themselves embroiled in a real present-day murder.

A delightful cozy with fully realized characters -- and they are characters! Deftly plotted with sensitivity to older citizens and great humor, this may be the start of a series starring the Murder Club members.

A cleverly plotted romp.
5 of 5 stars
The Exiles
by Christina Baker Kline
Transported! (11/9/2020)
Evangeline, a young governess, is arrested on a false charge and “transported” to Australia. Her lover does not rescue her and she bears his child on the ship.
In the 1840’s Britain sent thousands of “undesirables” to exile in Australia. Baker’s book tells the story of jailing and transport from the viewpoint of an educated young woman fallen on hard times and her child. Even after transport, the exiles were still jailed and then “rented out” during the day in what amounted to slave labor until their sentences were served. The hardships of jail life and transport are set forth in detail. A parallel story is the true experience of Mathinah, a young Aboriginal woman taken from her ancestral home and “adopted” by the British governor and his wife. Hers is a sad tale sympathetically told by Baker.
This finely detailed and riveting book tells a little known side of British “transport,” a cost saving solution that also sent thousands of criminals to the present day state of Georgia. Beautifully written and well researched, this book deserves your time.
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.

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