Reviews by Becky H

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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.
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.

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