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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.

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

 

Varina -- I should have loved it

Varina - Charles Frazier
VARINA by Charles Frazier 
 
The person is eminently interesting – the wife of the Confederate President. The era is interesting – the decades before, during, and after the American Civil War. The episodes are fascinating – a Southern white woman raising an enslaved child as her own: the escape of fugitives in a devastated land: the marriage of a 17 year old to a 40 year old.
 
So why didn’t I like it? The episodes are just that – episodes that jump from decade to decade with no cohesion. The story is not a story – there is no plot. The tempo and pacing are erratic at best.
 
BUT… the writng is wonderful. The conclusions are insightful. The characters are real and well presented. YOU might like it. I didn’t.
 
3 of 5 stars

 

The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews

The High Tide Club - Mary Kay Andrews
THE HIGH TIDE CLUB by Mary Kay Andrews
Andrews is one of my favorite “women’s lit” authors. Her characters speak and act like real people. Her plots are intricate and satisfying. Her settings are richly described. The tempo is fast enough to keep up interest and yet slow enough for a well-paced read. HIGH TIDE CLUB does not fail!
Murder, illegitimate babies, broken engagements, crotchety old ladies, absent boyfriends, a private island, a mean sexual predator, a vast fortune, a dying heiress and skinny dipping under a full moon -- what more could one want in the ultimate beach read .
This one is fun and will keep you guessing till the last pages, although one of the many mysteries I was able to figure out early on.
5 of 5 stars

 

Ember by Brock Adams

Ember - Brock Adams
EMBER by Brock Adams
Oh dear, what to say? First while science fiction IS fiction, it should also be reasonably believable. A dying sun that in 3 years turns the Southern hemisphere into a block of ice should also have drowned all of Florida. It didn’t in EMBER. A snowstorm that appears suddenly like a tidal wave and then is over in bare minutes dropping feet of snow, is simply not believable, or survivable. The hundreds of nuclear bombs sent aloft by hundreds(???) of co-operating countries, don’t work to restart the sun. The US government is hiding in Iceland and Lisa, the main character, turns from loving wife to capably murderous fiend in hours. Oh, and befriends her philandering husband’s lover in the process.
The bad guys are truly bad. The “good” guys are only semi-good. The world is coming to an end, but there doesn’t seem to be an actual conclusion in this book. Apparently this is the first of a proposed series.
I won’t be reading any further.
2 of 5 stars

 

a 17th century feminist philosopher

The Weight of Ink - Rachel Kadish
THE WEIGHT OF INK by Rachel Kadish
 
This somewhat disturbing tale is the story of a young Jewish girl living in exile in Holland (Amterdam) in 1660 when tragedy forces her to live with an aging Rabbi in England. Ester’s own father, also a rabbi, had encouraged Ester’s education in defiance of community norms. In England, Ester continues her education and is employed as scribe to her protector rabbi . Unbeknown to her employer, she embarks on a philosophical correspondence with a number of renowned philosophers including Benedict Spinoza. The interwoven twentieth century tale concerns an aging professor who finds her letters and is determined to publish them.
 
The characters are skillfully defined and brought to life on the pages. The political climates of Jewish diaspora and England between Cromwell and the renewed monarchy are clear. The tension between the rival philosophies is palpable. Although VERY long, the well-researched story holds one’s attention.
 
Ester is a likeable, although obstinate and often misguided, personage. Her plight will resonant with today’s feminist sympathizers.
 
4 of 5 stars because of the 600 page length.

 

The Librarian of Auschwitz - Antonio G. Iturbe, Lilit Zekulin Thwaites
THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ by Antonio Iturbe, translation by Lilit Thwaites
 
I wanted to love this book. It is the true story of a 13 year old girl, imprisoned at Auschwitz Concentration Camp, who protects the few books that have been smuggled into the camp.
 
The infamous Doctor Mengle and other well-known Nazis and Resistance workers play supporting roles in what should have been a fascinating and terrifying look at man’s inhumanity to man. Instead it is almost boring.
 
The writing is flat, perhaps a problem with the translation. The characters have no life to them and so the reader is not engaged.
 
Well researched, with a postscript and “what happened to them” appendix that gives the reader the results of the bravery of the resistance workers and prisoners and the cruelty of the Nazis, the book could be a source for history buffs and casual readers.
 
However, as it intended for young adults, the book simply cannot be recommended because of the uninteresting writing. 2 of 5 stars

 

HOT MESS

HOT MESS - Emily Belden
HOT MESS by Emily Belden
Well, the title is correct – this book is a hot mess. If you can get past the f bombs and constant sex, one dimensional characters and thin plot, there might be a half way decent short story good for an hour or two on a long plane ride.
So, what is good about this book. There are complete sentences. There is a plot with a beginning, middle and, thankfully, a conclusion. Once Benji is out of the picture so to speak, the book improves.
The story concerning the restaurant is not half bad. The love story is juvenile and unbelievable. So – if you don’t mind the language, the immaturity of all the characters and the constant focus on sex, this book might, repeat, might, be worth spending an otherwise boring afternoon with it.
By the way, even though this book is about food and cooking and restaurants , there are NO recipes or even lucid discussions about actual food.
1 of 5 stars

 

MUSIC of the GHOSTS by Vaddey Ratner

Music of the Ghosts - Vaddey Ratner

MUSIC OF THE GHOSTS BY Vaddey Ratner 

 Oh my goodness! What to say about this book. First the good. The writing is lyrical. Some phrases are exquisite. The word usage is wonderful. Then there is the story. I am SOOOOO confused. I tried very hard to like this book, but just couldn’t do it. The Old Musician and his reminisces wander all over-- future, past, present -- all in present tense.

 

Somewhere around page 200, the story began to make sense. If you can make that far -- this tale of Cambodia and Khmer Rouge, death, love, life, hate, perseverance, family, faith -- becomes full of life and forces one to engage its loveliness and its heartbreak. Teera and the Old Musician enter your heart and mind and take up residence. They stay with you long after you have read the last page.

 

Still, only 3 of 5 stars for the slow start, the initial confusion, the ethereal sentences.

This is a good one!

Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult
GREAT SMALL THINGS by Jodi Piccoult
I haven’t read any Piccoult for a while (a little tired of the “disease of the month” rut she seemed to be in), so I had avoided this book also. But I kept hearing really good things about it. People who didn’t read Piccoult LOVED it. So, I gave it a shot.
All those good things I heard were true. This is a good book! The tale revolves around an African-American nurse. She is a good nurse with a sterling reputation until she is Labor and Delivery nurse to the wife of a white supremacist. This IS a Piccoult book, so, of course, something terrible happens to the baby. Now the tale becomes sympathetic (yes, sympathetic) portrayals of a white, racist, perfectly awful man, his white racist, perfectly awful wife and a here-to-for unbiased, wonderful person African-American nurse and her honor roll student , off to Yale son.
You will learn more medical jargon than you ever wanted to know and, maybe, discover a few of your own biases and prejudices. This is a good story, well told, that will keep you wondering about yourself until the final pages.
5 of 5 stars

 

TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER by Tamora Pierce

Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles, Book One) - Tamora Pierce
TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER (Book One in The Numair Chronicles) by Tamora Pierce
 
Pierce is one of my favorite authors for young adult fantasy and this outing is one of her best. She has created a world that is fully populated and nuanced with peoples, animals, gods and Gods, as well as climate, flora, and laws of both nature and man.
 
Her main character this time is male, unusual for Pierce who is a creator of strong females. Arram is an eleven year old mage student when the book opens, and is joined by Ozorne, a Prince of the Realm, and Varice, a female kitchenwitch, both also mage students. There are plenty of fully realized supporting characters including teachers, gods and Gods, gladiators and other students.
 
This first book in the new series covers the lower and upper years of The Imperial University of Carthak (The School for Mages) and sets up the themes for the following books. Themes indicated are friendship, use of power, loyalty, the role of government, slavery and gladiators, justice and revenge, and kindness.
 
One item that shows Pierce’s attention to detail is the use of Arram’s class schedules to introduce each new season. Each schedule shows us the progress of Arram’s studies, introduces faculty members and details the breadth of Arram’s Gift. Each also reinforces the sense of reality Pierce creates in her Tortall World.
 
Several interweaving plots carry the reader quickly through the more than 400 pages. A glossary at the end is helpful for newcomers to the Tortall World. You will be sorry this book has ended and be anxious for the next to be published.
 
5 of 5 stars