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Becky1

Books, Books and More Books

Stop by and read a few sentences about the books I love and the books I hated. Leave a comment or two. I am a former librarian and a voracious reader.

THE WAR OUTSIDE by Monica Hesse

The War Outside - Monica Hesse
THE WAR OUTSIDE by Monica Hesse
 
Texas was the site of Crystal City – an internment camp for “Enemy Aliens” during World War II. Crystal City was for those people of German, Japanese or Italian ancestry that the government believed might be spies.
 
Haruku and Margot both accompanied fathers who were suspects. They lived on opposite sides of the camp but became friends – sort of. This story gives a glimpse into the reality of their lives and that of the others interned at Crystal City. They were American teenagers, but because someone in their family was suspect, they had been uprooted and sent to a hot, dusty, ill equipped prison. They were enemies to each other and to their country.
 
Hesse writes clearly of young people confused and conflicted and does it extremely well. Margot and Haruku live and breathe.
 
They become friends - and enemies. They trust each other - and break that trust. We learn of their families – their love, their politics, their fears, their coping – and their NOT coping. Engrossing, terrifying, moving, sweet and bittersweet – all these and more.
 
Ultimately a story of betrayal and forgiveness, THE WAR OUTSIDE is thought provoking and well worth reading.
 
5 of 5 stars

 

Lines We Leave Behind by Eliza Graham

The Lines We Leave Behind - Eliza Graham
THE LINES WE LEAVE BEHIND by Eliza Graham
 
Maud/Amber is a young woman in a secure mental facility charged with a crime. As she speaks with her psychiatrist we learn what led her to the hospital as she “remembers” the past. She was a special agent for the Allies in the Balkans during WWII ….. or was she?
 
Told in flashbacks, this very interesting tale winds itself out in drips and drabs. The infighting between the Partisans, the Chetniks, the Home Guard and the Germans for control of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia is clear as Maud/Amber carries out her assignments.
 
Modern day ethnic strife is foreshadowed as the various parties and their doctrines become clear. The land and peoples of the Balkans are well developed and made clear. The personalities of the various players clash believably.
 
Well researched and well written, this tale is enjoyable and engrossing as the reader tries to determine what is true and what is result of trauma.
 
Family ties, partisanship, politics, spying, secrets, women in war, and mental health treatments are all topics for discussion by book groups. 4 of 5 stars

 

A WELL BEHAVED WOMAN by Therese Anne Fowler

A Well Behaved Woman - Therese Anne Fowler
A WELL BEHAVED WOMAN by Therese Anne Fowler
 
Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont was anything but a well- behaved woman.
Left near penniless as she approached marriageable age in the 1870’s, she set her aim for a wealthy man. William Vanderbilt, a younger son in the ultra-wealthy but socially ignored family, caught her eye, as she caught his.
This fictionalized account of her life as a philanthropist, sufferage activist, society hostess and intelligent, opinionated woman is a bit too long, but is vastly entertaining.
Alva, her sisters, her children, her husbands, the Vanderbilts, the Astors and others of upper crust New York society are clearly, and unsparingly, drawn.
The day to day life of Gilded Age society is the backdrop and conformingly repressive constraint her friends and “frenemies” endured.
Told with clear eyed sympathy, the novel follows Alva from age 17 to her death in 1933. Book groups will enjoy discussing the differences between women today and the women who found themselves painted, pampered, polished, packaged and utterly controlled by their fathers and husbands.
4 ½ of 5 stars

 

EVERLASTING NORA

Everlasting Nora - Marie Miranda Cruz
EVERLASTING NORA by Marie Miranda Cruz
Nora, 12, lives in her father’s grave house in a Philippine cemetery. Written for middle graders, this novel will be eye opening to adults as well.
 
Nora and her mother have descended into crushing poverty and survive because Nora makes and sells flower garlands to visitors to other graves. Her friend JoJo, 13, and his grandmother assist as well as they can when Nora’s mother becomes quite ill.
 
Nora is well defined as a normal child who wants normal things. American preteens will easily identify with her and also with JoJo, a child who has never attended school and is his grandmother’s support. The “bad guys” (who are truly bad) are somewhat glossed over.
 
Friendship, initiative, caring, hope, forgiveness, determination are all traits exhibited by those Nora learns to trust. A heartwarming story that is ideal for a parent/child book club.
 
5 of 5 stars

 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah
 
THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah
 
 
Which would you rather do? Die by freezing, starving or being mauled to death by “Alaska” or die at the hands of your abusive, PTSD addled father?
 
 
Hannah has written a tense, terrifying love story. But is it a story of love for the beautiful wildness of Alaska or the wildly beautiful love of a father for his wife and daughter?
 
Leni’s father has decided the family will move to Alaska where he will finally be happy. They are woefully unprepared for the rigors of homesteading in America’s last wilderness. Taken under the wings of Large Marge, a successful homesteader and formerly successful big city prosecutor, the family quickly learns to be relatively self-sufficient. Leni learns to love Alaska and the “wild” life style her father has decreed for the family. Unfortunately, Leni’s father is friend and compatriot with Mad Earl, a rabid anti-government survivalist. Matthew, a classmate of Leni’s, becomes her only friend.
 
The wildness of nature and the difficulties of surviving in Alaska during the 1970’s and 80’s is made excruciating clear. The terror of living with an out of control abuser suffering from PTSD after surviving as a POW in Viet Nam is also clear. The relationships between mother and daughter, mother and father, Leni and Matthew, father and Mad Earl, among others, are clear and determine the vector and velocity of the plot.
 
5 of 5 stars


Duel to the Death (Ali Reynolds Mysteries) - J.A. Jance
DUEL TO THE DEATH by J A Jance
 
I love Jance’s Brady and Beaumont mysteries, but am not so enamored of the Ali Reynolds series. Consequently, I have read a few of the series, but not all. I picked this one up because I was in need of a book and away from home. This one was available, so I gave it a try. I liked it – a lot!
 
 
Ali is now married and no longer a journalist. She and her husband, along with a few others, run a cyber security firm. They find themselves in the midst of a mafia/drug lord war when their unassuming, slightly shy, perhaps autistic, computer genius employee finds himself suddenly possessed of a fortune in bitcoins – likely all the profits of said drug lord/mafia kingpins. The twists and turns of this – how to get rid of said bitcoins without going to jail or getting killed – makes a great mystery.
 
The computer stuff is understandable. The danger is palpable. Now I want to go back and read the preceding novels to discover the character development I missed.
 
5 of 5 stars

 

FIELD OF BONES by J A Jance

Field of Bones - J.A. Jance
FIELD OF BONES by J A Jance
 
Joanna is on maternity leave, but her responsibilities as Sheriff keep getting in the way. A group of teenagers find, and then hide, a human skull. When a parent discovers the skull, Joanna’s leave comes to a screeching halt. A serial killer is on the loose. In the meantime, Joanna is reading her long dead father’s diaries and discovering traits she would rather not know.
 
Jance writes intelligent mysteries carried by her carefully drawn and fully fleshed out characters. You could read this as a stand alone, but the nuances of plot and character will be better understood if you are familiar with the series.
 
5 of 5 stars

 

The Wrong Child - Patricia Kay
THE WRONG CHILD by Patricia Kay I
n the midst of a blizzard, in an understaffed hospital and when the only labor and delivery nurse has a heart attack and dies, two infants are switched. Years later the awful truth comes out.
This tale tells what happens next. Several startling instances of happenstance and the plot thickens. The story is interesting. The characters have life to them. The plot is a tearjerker – but then you knew that, right?
There is no foul language. There is one sex scene. Altogether, not a bad way to spend a lazy afternoon or two.
3 of 5 stars

 

The Daisy childre by Sofia Grant

The Daisy Children - Sofia Grant
The Daisy Children by Sofia Grant
I’m disappointed in this one. I was imagining a treatment of the tragic explosion in a Texas school that killed most of the children in the town of New London 1937. Unfortunately this tale was only superficially about that and much more about a dysfunctional family and the unfortunate choices they made.
The “love” story is barely there, the characters are stock, the story could take in Anytown, USA.
The one redeeming feature is the twist that is revealed in the last few chapters. Is it worth reading the other 300 pages? I don’t think so.
2 of 5 stars

 

tense and exciting

Girl in the Blue Coat - Monica Hesse
THE GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT by Monica Hesse
A young woman living in Holland during the Nazi Occupation is forced into smuggling and utilizing the Black Market in order to feed her family and friends. One of her “regulars” asks her to find “the girl in the blue coat” and that is where the mystery begins.
 
Secrets, betrayals, lost friendships, disappearances, dead lovers and danger on all sides makes this a compelling and tense read. Everyday life in an occupied city is made real and horrific.
 
Although billed as Young Adult, this novel will appeal to anyone interested in WWII and the resistance, especially in Holland.
5 of 5 stars

 

THE INDIGO GIRL by Natasha Boyd

The Indigo Girl - Natasha Boyd
THE INDIGO GIRL by Natasha Boyd
 
In South Carolina in 1736, 16 year old girls were expected to be sweet, compliant and marry well. Eliza Lucas was anything but the normal Low Country girl. She was intelligent, educated and ambitious. Eliza was left to run to her father’s three plantations while he pursued his military career and jeopardized the family’s wealth and position.
 
When her family faced financial ruin it was left to Eliza to coerce an arrogant, incredulous male “consultant” and to befriend the family’s slaves to help her discover how to produce indigo dye all while discouraging suitors for her hand (and property). Her solution – teach the slaves to read (illegal) if they helped her.
 
Well researched and well written, the 5 years Eliza Lucas Pinckney ran her father’s plantations did not save her family’s lands but did secure South Carolina’s place in world trade and provided the fledgling United States with two astute politicians. Eliza’s actual letters to her friends, father and lawyer are interspersed throughout.
 
5 of 5 stars

 

Too long but worthwhile (maybe)

The Twelve-Mile Straight - Eleanor Henderson
THE TWELVE-MILE STRAIGHT by Eleanor Henderson 
Oh my, incest, moonshine, sharecropping, KKK, lynching, twins (one white, one black), chain gangs and everything else bad about 1920’s Georgia. It is all here along with a meandering timeline, numerous plots and sub-plots and the “N” word. If this sounds exhausting – it is. There is just soooo much going on in this 540 page tome that it is WORK to read it.
There is an interesting and valuable story here. The characters include a moonshining sharecropper with a problematic background, a teenaged daughter and a teenaged live-in black “maid.” Juke (the sharecropper/moonshiner) hires a black male farmhand. The farmhand has a relationship with both daughter and maid. Daughter has a relationship with the farm owner’s son that ends badly. Both teens are pregnant. The farmhand is lynched and dragged down the twelve-mile straight roadway to the delight (for a time) of the entire town. The son is accused of the murder and disappears – and that is just the beginning section of the book.
The characters are clearly drawn. The time and place are well defined. The situations are believable. But the whole thing is sooo long and the time meanders from before to after and back again with no clear delineation. The final resolutions are clear and satisfying. Dates at the start of each event would be helpful. A little (a lot?) of editing would help.
3 stars for length and confusing timeline

 

Definitely Women's fiction

The High Season - Judy Blundell
THE HIGH SEASON by Judy Blundell 
 
 
This is definitely “women’s fiction.” 
 
 
The writing is okay. The characters are okay. The plot is slow moving and heavy on feelings. The house plays a big part in both the feelings and the plot.
 
 
You will figure out the ending as soon as Adeline shows up.
 
 
Not much here. If you like to read for immediate pleasure and don’t mind stock characters and stock plot, you will like this book. If you are looking for a “mind stretch”, this one is not for you. It is a little long.
 
 
3 of 5 stars

 

Shelter in Place

Shelter in Place - Nora Roberts
SHELTER IN PLACE by Nora Roberts
SHELTER starts out as a horrific massacre in a shopping mall but quickly becomes a combination love story (an intelligent love story) and a thrilling search for a murdering mastermind.
Roberts has a genius for writing characters her readers fall in love with. SHELTER is no exception. Simone, CICi and Reed, the lead characters, are richly endowed with personality complete with interesting quirks. The supporting characters, while not as intimately drawn, are fully developed. The Maine coast is a major player in the tale. You will hear the waves crash and smell the flowers. Two of the main characters are artists and their talent is clear from the text as are their methods of expression.
The plot is terrifying and builds to a crescendo of a climax.
Readers of mysteries will enjoy the twists and turns of the plot. Readers of love stories will watch as the characters grow into a satisfying relationship. If you are squeamish, you may find the violence off putting, but it is necessary to the story line. The sex is present, but not overdone or gratuitous. Foul language is present, but, again, fits with the character and story line and is not omnipresent. Altogether an enjoyable read.
5 of 5 stars

 

SALT HOUSES

Salt Houses - Hala Alyan

SALT HOUSES   by Hala Alyan

The meaning of the title is noted three fourth of the way through the book when the family patriarch, Atef,  reminisces, “the houses glitter whitely…like structures made of salt before a tidal wave sweeps them away.”  His family – 4 generations – leave behind houses as war follows them from Palestine, to Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Boston, Manhattan and back to Lebanon.  One of the daughters in trying to identify her heritage is at a loss. Is she Palestinian – she has never lived there. Is she Lebanese or Arab or Kuwaiti or……..

 

And that is the essence of this tale. What is our heritage?  Is it the place of our birth, where we live NOW, where we lived before, how do we define ourselves?

 

Alyan describes loss and heartache in beautiful prose.  Her characters live and breathe.  The sense of place is palpable.  Although this tale is specifically Palestinian, the rootlessness of the refugee is timeless and placeless.

 

You will need the family tree at the beginning of the book to keep the generations straight. The time and place notations at the beginning of each chapter help the reader keep track of the family’s migrations and the time frame of the various wars and tragedies from just before the 6 Day War through the current Middle East uprisings.

 

Lots for book groups to discuss here.

5 of 5 stars

A satisfying read

The Patchwork Bride - Sandra Dallas
THE PATCHWORK BRIDE by Sandra Dallas
Dallas writes characters especially well. They live and breathe as naturally as you and I. In this book , a modern young woman is a runaway bride, unsure of her love and commitment. The woman she runs to tells her the story of a turn of the century runaway bride – one who runs three times!
This story within a story is the “real” story of this book.The tension grows as the young woman falls in love (or like) and then is disillusioned each time. We watch her character change while she grows in maturity as heartache after heartache consumes her. Each time she (and we) learn a bit more about her character, her needs, the time she lives in and the men she chooses, or who choose her. The modern runaway learns as well.
The middle of the book drags a bit, but stick with the story. There is a surprising twist near the end. The opportunities open to women and the strictures they live under are presented with sympathy for the characters, the place and the time.
This is not Dallas’s best, but it is a satisfying read. You will be glad you stuck with it.
4 of 5 stars