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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.

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

 

TAKE OUT by Margaret Maron

Take Out - Margaret Maron

TAKE OUT by Margaret Maron

 

I love Maron’s Deborah Knott books. This is only the second Sigrid Harald novel I have read. I was unfamiliar with the recurring characters, so I was often to turning back to see “who is this”, especially considering there are three separate plots and three sets of characters to keep straight.

 

 

Once I got familiar with them, all the plot(s) moved along quickly.

 

 

The New York setting was on point with a number of neighborhood businesses and interest points used. Lt. Harold’s relationship with artist Oscar Nauman is part of the plotting along with a gallery, a mobster’s family and an aging opera star. The plots are intriguing and keep you guessing (I did quickly figure out one point, yea, me) with enough ambiguity to keep you reading.

 

Good reading, but I still like the Deborah Knott books better.

4 of 5 stars

Hope in the Holler

Hope in The Holler - Lisa Lewis Tyre

HOPE IN THE HOLLER by Lisa Lewis Tyre This delightful middle grade novel features a plucky 5th grader who has just lost her mother to cancer. Wavie is sent to live in a tiny Appalachian hamlet with an aunt she didn’t know existed. Wavie acts and speaks like a real 5th grader. So, too, do the other young people in her new town. Her aunt, Samantha Rose, is a horror and her cousin isn’t much better. An uncle and a weird old man make up the rest of the main characters in this lively novel. A mystery and secrets lead to the plot which moves along quickly. Middle graders will love this book that emphasizes honesty, pluck, determination, kindness, friendship and bravery. This would be a good book for a parent/child book club or an all student book group. Even boys would like it as there are several interesting boy characters in the plot. 5 of 5 stars

NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland

Need to Know: A Novel - Karen Cleveland
NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland
 
WOW, this book takes you for a ride with the FBI, CIA and Russian spies. Cleveland has written a page turner that will keep you wondering how Vivian, a CIA analyst, and Matt, her husband and possible Russian sleeper spy, will keep the Russians and the Americans at bay AND keep their family intact (and out of jail)!
 
The fast moving plot will keep you on the edge of your seat and those pages turning. Vivian is a bit naive and one wonders how she became so trusted with so much top secret information. Her husband starts as a mild mannered house husband and good as gold Dad – and maybe he is… or maybe he is a Russian spy. Someone is.
 
Discovering who is the spy and who are the good guys has this book littered with red herrings, threats, secret identities, plain black cars and more.
 
4 of 5 stars

 

French Exit by Patrick DeWitt

French Exit - Patrick deWitt
FRENCH EXIT by Patrick DeWitt
I just couldn’t get interested in this book or the characters in it; Frances, a middle aged widow, and her son, Malcolm. While clearly drawn, neither was likeable or very interesting.
 
Their situation (about to become bankrupt) and their reactions were also not interesting. I finished the book all the while wondering why I kept reading. I can’t in good conscience recommend this book.
 
Frances is a snide, snobbish and selfish person. Malcolm is a man/child who has no ambition and no desire to do anything including attend to his long suffering fiancé. The entourage they acquire is made up of misfits and ne’er-do-wells.
 
The conclusion is a relief.
2 of 5 stars

 

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