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My Reviews

 
Inspiring, Informative, Insightful
One person can change the world

My book group loved this book. We learned a lot about Central Asia, its people and the culture. We learned more about keeping promises and how education, especially of girls, can dramatically change an entire village for the better. We were surprised to see how much education can empower people. We saw that one person, however flawed he or she may be, can with respect for another culture/religion can be effective where a government with its impersonal viewpoint cannot.
This book will make you think about foreign aid and who should be in charge. It will also challenge you to assess your lifestyle and creature comforts.
A penny IS worth something!

The Constant Princess (Boleyn) by Philippa Gregory
 
Dramatic, Insightful, Informative
We loved the history and were bored by the (non) love story

Gregory's writing and scholarship are impeccable until she posits that Catalina and Arthur comsummated their marriage. Most scholars (including Gregory!) think Arthur was dying --probably from consumption -- the day of the wedding and would have been unable to maintain or even initiate the love story that forms most of this book. The early life of Catalina and her parents, Isabelle and Ferdinand, during the defeat of the Moors and their life in the Alhambra as well as the life of Catalina in the court of England under Henry VII and Henry VIII was, in contrast, both illuminating and enthralling. Catalina was a fascinating, intelligent, educated and capable woman. However, the life of a Princess in the royal courts of Europe was terrifying in its manipulation in the interest of the STATE.
Read this book for Catalina's constancy to herself, her mother, her faith and England.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp
 
Informative, Inspiring, Persuasive
Kingsolver's family spends a year eating only local foods, most that they grow themselves.

We had an enlightening discussion. We covered the topics of what had grown in the past and what as urban dwellers we can do now. We found Kingsolver's family unique and the information presented was intersting and at times hilarious. We especially laughed at teh descriptions of "turkey love." Their reasons for NOT being vegetarians was compelling for the non-meat eaters among us. The former farm dwellers were amazed at how "big agriculture" has limited a farmer's ability to support his family and/or use the crop he had purchased as seed to re-seed his farm.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
 
Insightful, Dramatic, Interesting
Describes what happens when a child is bullied for his entire life and no one seems able or willing to help

Our book group found this book a catlyst for a great discussion of bullying, parental styles, teenagers and family life. Picoult always offers lots of food for discussions. We found ourselves empathizing with a multiple murderer.

 
Dramatic, Interesting, Informative
one woman's triumph over disaster

The writing is luminous, the story both overwhelming sad and triumphant. A tailor unwittingly brings the plague into the house of the young widow who offers him lodging. The rector of the town church asks the town to seal itself of to save the surrounding countryside from the pestilence. Anna not only survives, she thrives, becoming a healer and friend.

 
Beautiful, Optimistic, Inspiring
4 women write down their wishes and make them happen

This is feel good story that was a lot of fun to read and led to a good discussion. However, several members were put off by the pedestrian writing and one dimensional characters.

 
Beautiful, Insightful, Informative
4 college students and their relationships are followed for 15 years

Well written but with fairly shallow characters. Our "older" members wanted to give the characters a "good talking to", while the "younger' members thought the characters were well defined and believable. Lots of issues for discussion.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Fun
letters can tell you a lot

This charming novel written entirely in letters relates the difficulties endured during WWII on the Channel Islands and in London. You meet interesting and vibrant people who express themselves delightfully. The importance of books to lift the human spirit during hard times is told with charm and elegance.

People of the Book: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
"When a book is lost, a generation is lost."

Our discussion quickly became the importance of books in people understanding people. The book emphasizes how books reveal the ideas and history of the people who create and use books. Brooks uses the history and artifacts connected with this national treasure to tell a compelling story of both the depravity and the luminous morality of various people.

The Shack by William P. Young
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Inspiring, Life Changing
we were split

Some of us loved this book. One person thought it very poorly written.One person thought it confusing. One person found it boring. One thought it beautiful and insightful. One thought it the kind of book to give to everyone you knew.One thought it interesting, but theologically weak. Another found it challenging and a "book to make you think." All in all, we couldn't agree, but our discussion was interesting to all.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Insightful
Learn something while reading an engrossing book

We learned about the little known Vel d'Hiv and were engrossed in the entwined stories of Sarah in 1942 and Julia in 2002

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Inspiring, Interesting
Compelling reading

The maids carry the weight of this book that tells the beginnings of the civil rights movement in Jackson Mississppi from the point of veiw of the maids and their white employers

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Interesting
Shanghai Girls

We had one of our most interesting discussions with this book. Everyone found the book fascinating and informative and were eager to talk about what they had read. We found ourselves referring to today's news on discrimination and immigration and referring to sections in the book. Many of us knew little about Angel Island or the discrimination facing Chinese immigrants. Those who had read See's earlier books found this one more interesting and believable. We especially liked the references to real people and events.

 
Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Fun, Insightful
People CAN change

This is a lovely book that shows the changing relationships between an unbending gentleman, the "foreign" woman who enters his life and his relatives. Starts slowly and builds to show how relationship change over time and how those changing relationship change the people involved.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Romantic
You can die from a scratch

We learned a lot about how dramatically life changed with a the availablity of antibiotics. Life was scary before penicillin! The war looms always in the background. Life photographers took an amazing variety of photographs. Family relationships are confusing, wonderful, supportive and destructive - sometimes at the same time. The drug companies haven't changed much!

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
More journalisn than murder

We liked the way the author builds character and reveals the backstory. We had to look up the introduction story (an elephant's hanging) to assure ourselves of its reality. It took awhile to realize the importance of this tale to the "real" story of the school teacher accused of her father's murder. We found the story that intrigued us the most was how the journalists swayed public opinion and were not at all concerned with truth or accuracy.(spoiler alert! Some were disappointed that we never know if she really did the murder.)

Virals by Kathy Reichs
 
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Dramatic
Virals

A fun and addictive addition to Reichs' books. Although written for teens, I found this book interesting and a bit scary. My teen group loved it. A great introductioon to reichs' adult books.

arcadia by Lauren Groff
 
Beautiful, Adventurous, Interesting
Arcadia

I was sent this book by the publisher. I hated it. The writing itself was often beautiful, but the story was too long and boring. I didn't like ANY of the characters.

 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Romantic, Fun
Strong female character

My teen group loved this tale of a future world where chocolate is forbidden. The "mafia" daughter who is the main character was strong and resourceful. The romance is believable. Ends with one wanting to read the sequel - I'm sure this is only the beginning of this tale!.

Night Road: A Novel by Kristin Hannah
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful, Interesting
How NOT to parent

A helicopter parent runs her twins lives with an iron hand. When faced with tragedy, none are able to move on until a stranger enters their lives. An "easy" read with lots of food for thought.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Confusing
an upper class look at the early 20th century

I really enjoyed this book. After a slow start and getting used to the jumps in place and time, I found House of Velvet and Glass to be a compelling look at the early 20th century. A book group would find the drug use (opium), the early psychology/sociology instances, the expectations for men and women, dress and table manners, and the social class divide/discrimination would all make good topics for discussion. I found the characters believable and the plot flowed easily. The use of "real" people gave color to the events (Titanic & Lusitania) and lent credibility to the story. The descriptions of rooms, clothing, manners and social interactions as well as the descriptions of spiritualism and opium dens added to my enjoyment of the story. I started reading expecting "chick lit" and found something much more substantial. As a high school librarian I think many older teens would enjoy the book. The book would work for a mother/teen book group.

Yellow Crocus: A Novel by Laila Ibrahim
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Fantastic, Informative
Yellow Crocus

This is a story about oppression in the pre Civil War South. Mattie and Lisbeth are the two main characters whose lives are intertwined at Lisbeth's very birth on a Southern plantation. Mattie is the slave woman who takes care of Lisbeth throughout childhood at the expense of not being able to be with her own young son. The story focuses primarily on Lisbeth's and Mattie's relationship as Lisbeth comes of age and Mattie secretly plans her escape to freedom with her husband and children.

The Lifeboat: A Novel by Charlotte Rogan
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Poorly Written, Insightful
Afloat and drifting

This book held my attention simply because I needed to know who survived and who didn't as well as the back story of Grace Winter. The book is well written with believable characters and a growing sense of the horror of the situation on the lifeboat. Unfortunately many answers are simply missing and the reader is left with as many questions (if not more) at the end as when the book began. As a character study, it is excellent, as a mystery, there is a definite lack. A book group would find much to discuss as well as to complain about. If your group needs resolution - avoid this book. If your group thrives on speculation - this is the book for you. (This book was provided free by the publisher.)

Lone Wolf: A Novel by Jodi Picoult
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Interesting
Learn a lot about wolves

I found the "wolf" sections of this book to be much more interesting and compelling than the "organ donation" and "brain death" sections. The family drama was pretty straight forward and only saved by Picoult's signature ending twist. As usual this book is well written and extremely well researched. I enjoyed it, but it is not Picoult's best -- that is still My Sister's Keeper

Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
Hard to read because of topic

Several members had a hard time getting into this book because of the sunject and because, since it was written from Jack's viewpoint, it took several chapters to actually know the situation that Jack and Ma were in.
That said, our discussion was lively and several members who had stopped reading said they would now finish the book. We found ourselves returning again and again in our discussion to the real-life stories of Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart.
Leaders of this book discussion would do well to make sure their members have a good idea of the plot of the book beofre beginning to read.
We began with a "rater this book" where half of the members gave a very negative rating. When we concluded we ended with "Are you glad you read this book." ALL members said said a hearty "YES!"

The Age of Miracles: A Novel by Karen Thompson Walker
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dark, Insightful
A YA book for adults?

As a former 4 - 12 school librarian I was intrigued by this novel that follows a middle schooler - Julia - and how the changes, both internal (she is growing up) and external (the world's rotation is slowing down), affect her actions and reactions to her life, her friends and her family. I could not decide if this was a YA (young adult) novel that would appeal to adults or an adult novel that would appeal to teens. Many of the topics covered - illness, adultery, death, loss of friendships, ecological disaster - are adult topics conveyed in a very adult manner and yet the narrator is a 6th grader dealing with these topics over the course of perhaps two years. There is a certain hopelessness and inevitability to the novel that may be very disturbing to the reader. This novel might be appropriate for a parent/child book group. I appreciated the work on the part of the author to give reality to the science fiction part of the novel. The response of the world and its inhabitants to the rotational slowing felt logical and "real."

Defending Jacob: A Novel by William Landay
 
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
Boring beginning and middle

I almost quit reading this book several times, only the glowing reviews kept me going. The first 3/4 of the book had me wondering why anyone would think this whiney, self-serving and self deluded man would be a good ADA. Jacob and Laurie were simply afterthoughts. Only the last 1/4 was interesting and by that time I knew what the ending would be. If you really, really like psycho babble and navel gazing you might like this book, otherwise skip it.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
Broken Harbor by Tana French

A great mystery that kept me guessing to the end. Interesting characters that grow and change along with the plot. A bit draggy in some spots, but altogether a good book, well written and insightful.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
The Light Between the Oceans

Starting with the seminal moment, this book travels back in time to introduce us to the family isolated on a small island off the coast of Australia where the husband is the light keeper. Part of the story takes place on Janus Rock, home of the Janus Light, and part takes place in the small town of Partageuse on the mainland, hometown of Isabel, wife of the Light keeper. Tom, a survivor of the horrors of WWI, meets Isabel and falls in love with her on his infrequent respites on the mainland. He and Isabel spend idyllic, isolated years on Janus, marred only by the inability to carry a pregnancy to term. When a boat washes up with a dead man and a live baby, the decision to keep the child as their own affects their lives and marriage and the life of the wife of the dead man and mother of the child. As the child grows and the three alone on Janus meld into a family, the bereaved wife in Partageuse descends into depression and madness until a battered silver rattle disrupts the tranquility of the island and the fabric of the town of Partageuse.
A beautifully written tale that uses description to draw the feel of island and mainland, love and depression, fear and deceit. The dread, confusion and fear of a mother torn from her child and a child torn from her mother will stay with you long after you finish the final page as will the love of a man for his wife and child, the devotion of a mother to her child and the web of entangling emotion that seals a family for ever and ever and ever.

 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Interesting, Fun
Return to Willow Lake


Susan Wiggs
Return to Willow Lake is the first Susan Wiggs book I have read. I was expecting a rather sappy romance, but I got a pretty interesting tale of choices, family, and yes, love. Sonnet, the lead character, is surrounded by a well thought out and balanced supporting cast. Illness, pregnancy, life choices, commitment, responsibility and, most importantly, being true to one’s self while respecting others all play supporting roles as well. I was bothered by a pretty unlikely timeline of events for Sonnet's family (being "commander of the first gulf war" at about age 27?”, or being "director of a UNESCO department at less than 27?”).
This book will offer plenty of topics for discussion for a female book group. The mother/daughter relationship, relationship "mistakes", divorce, blended families, felonies, judging others and absent fathers are all presented sensitively. Race is briefly (and not very realistically) touched on also.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Graphic, Insightful
The Midwife of Hope River

The Midwife of Hope River
By Patricia Harman

I usually don’t like books that jump from the present to the past and back again, however, Patricia Harman does it so well in The Midwife of Hope River that I must change my mind. Incorporating births from her own experience as a midwife and seamlessly blending in a framework of history from upper class Chicago at the turn of the century, through union organizing in the coal fields and factories of the northeast and the Great Depression in Appalachia just before WWII, Harmon tells a moving and riveting tale of birth and death. Her well-developed characters and realistic situations carry the reader into harrowing tales of medical practice in an isolated community with sporadic running water or electricity and less money. Yet hope and faith permeate the lives of black, white and ethnic personalities who meet life’s challenges with grace. You will cheer as Patience Murphy grows from a naïve girl to confident midwife.
This book would work well for book groups made of women only, mothers and daughters, medical professionals and even men - who might learn a few things about the women who birthed them, love them and bear their children.

 
Poorly Written, Boring, Dramatic
No Easy Day not very compelling

No Easy Day by Mark Owen is very badly written. You will find clauses that masquerade as sentences and misused words galore. The last 1/3 of the book is the actual story of the raid that killed OBL. The rest is a few chapters with "cliffhangers' to get you to keep reading and many chapters relating descriptions of how "glorious" the SEALs are with a special emphasis on how "glorious" Mark Owens is. If you believe all he writes you will wonder how any SEAL team was able to accomplish anything if he was not along.

In my copy the maps that would have the raid clearer to understand all came AFTER the description of the events. A good editor would have moved those maps or given the page numbers of the maps in the prose. Actually a good editor would have asked him to re-write the book.

If you are really, really interested in SEAL training and the lead up to missions and you are willing to wade through a lot of gratuitous bragging to get to the mission itself, you might find this book enjoyable.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Adventurous
World War II intrigue

I enjoyed this historical fiction thriller/romance/mystery. The main character, Maggie Hope, an English girl raised in America by a maiden aunt, becomes Winston Churchill’s typist after a murder. Although a mathematical genius, she is relegated to typing when she applies for a job as a cryptologist for the government at the beginning of the Battle of Britain. After setting up the situation, the plot moves along quickly and is engaging. This is obviously the introduction for a series of war time thrillers with Maggie as the girl who saves England with her intelligence and pluck.
Maggie and her roommates are carefully fleshed out, but the male characters quickly became confusing simply because they were not clearly differentiated. The “romance” is not as well done as the mystery, possibly because I couldn’t keep the males straight – was it John or David who was falling for her? And then there was Chuck who was really a girl named Charlene.
The historical details were interesting and integral to the plot. The details about Churchill, Number 10 Downing, the Blitz and MI5 added to the story. I’m looking forward to the next installment – at least three are in the works.

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Dramatic, Informative
You can overcome your past

A "feel good" newspaper feature is the link between the horrors of Germany during WWII and two women with secrets in present day El Paso, Texas. Both women's stories are compelling in themselves and as their lives intersect over the delicacies wrought by one and eaten with gusto by the other, the selfishness, cruelties, pettiness as well as the generosity, kindness, sacrifice they and other displayed are slowly revealed. A great book for discussion. Book groups will find a wealth of "modern" issues to discuss.

Fever (Chemical Garden) by Lauren DeStefano
 
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Fantastic, Dramatic
Fever will have you in a fever

Fever is the second book in the Chemical Garden trilogy. Set in a future world where girls die in their early twenties and boys just a few years later, Rhine and Gabriel escape from the Mansion only to enter a world far more threatening than they had imagined. Escaping into a devastated world that has been left to die and crumble into ruin, they seek Rhine's twin and supposed safety in Manhattan taking Lilac's malformed and silent daughter with them. But can Rhine truly escape the evil Vaughn?

Anniina Tatter - Not Just Cloth and Stuffing by Nancy Bandusky, Dorothy Bandusky
 
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Fun, Adventurous
for you and your young daughter's book group to read together

Anniina Tatters is a doll -- a rag doll in a toy store. She is looking for a forever home but tragedy strikes when Anniina helps another toy. Will Anniina find a home where she will be loved? Will her friends find homes?
A delightful book for the 6-12 set and their moms to discuss.

Sweet Tooth: A Novel by Ian McEwan
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Slow, Unconvincing
A spy story that isn't

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

In Sweet Tooth Ian McEwan has used lots of lovely words and strung them together in lots of lovely ways. Unfortunately this does not make a lovely story. It is in many ways a deadly bore. To say that Sweet Tooth is tedious is an understatement. There are too many incidental characters and incidents that have no relevance to the story as red herring or plot line or character development. Perhaps what McEwan really wrote was a very good short story when what he (or his publisher) wanted was a novel. Is the writing good? Yes. Does that make me like this book? No. I finished the book, but I didn’t enjoy it. This is the first Ian McEwan book I have read. I doubt I will read another.
This novel may have been a very good short mystery or short romance. It just doesn’t work as a longer novel. The main character – Serena Fromme – is, to put it quite bluntly, an unlikeable twit. Unfortunately for the reader she is surrounded by more unlikeable twits, self-absorbed males, pompous asses and other assorted denizens of Cold War London. Unlike Serena I actually enjoy the process of reading. I like to savor the characters, imagine the outcome of the plot, thrill at the word usage and become involved with the unfolding of the story. The one character I DID like was Shirley. I wanted to know more about her – why she left MI5, how she came to become a successful beauty, why she made such a generous offer to Serena, her interactions with Max and Tom….. Yet Shirley was given little to do except tie up loose ends in a most unsatisfactory manner.
I found some of the structural parts of the book to be annoying. First I HATED the occasional italic phrases. They were simply a distraction. I also found the insertion of Tom’s current works annoying. They were too long and detailed. Although both of these were explained in the last chapter, it did not help me in the actual reading enjoyment of the book.
I have thought about recommending Sweet Tooth to another. First, no one should ever recommend a book wit

Crewel (Crewel World) by Gennifer Albin
 
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Fantastic, Dramatic
Weaving a new world

CREWEL By Gennifer Albin

While a YA (young adult) novel, many adults will find this dystopian novel interesting, especially if they have an interest or talent with needle arts. In this idyllic new world, woven from substances gathered from the old Earth, everyone’s future is clearly mapped out and no one rebels or is unhappy – or are they? As the book unfolds we learn disturbing facts about this world and the spinsters and crewelers who keep it intact. Adelice, chosen as a spinster, is increasingly aware of terror, rebels and disasters hidden from most inhabitants, including other spinsters.
Although occasionally lacking sufficient detail in the how this world works, the concept is new and interesting. The main characters are generally well formed and consistent even though it is clear who are the bad guys and who are the good guys – at least in this first book of a proposed trilogy. The characters are likeable and their lives have enough back story to generate plot enough for the future books.
I would recommend this book to older teens and adults. Book groups will find many topics for discussion including predetermined futures, forced family planning, rigid control by “authority” through fear, loss of free will, segregation of the sexes, ecological use of nature materials including animals and women’s place in society among others.

The Racketeer by John Grisham
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Dark, Gloomy
Dealing with the feds is a challenge

THE RACKETEER by John Grisham

This vintage Grisham mystery will appeal to fans and new readers as well. The Racketeer is the tale of an innocent (and now former) lawyer who is out to redeem himself by squealing on a murderer and thief. The main character, Malcolm Bannister, posits a scheme to the FBI to gain his exoneration and freedom by giving them the name and motive for the torture and murder of a federal judge and the woman with him.
You will enjoy the twists and turns of the plot as Malcolm enters the Witness Protection system and gradually gives the feds what they want.

The Lace Reader: A Novel by Brunonia Barry
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Confusing
The Lace Reader

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

The Lace Reader begins with an interesting premise, but quickly bogs down in fairly incomprehensible detail of lace reading. Towner is a beguiling character whose personality unfolds as the tale is revealed. She was what kept me reading. The “lace reading” of the title was so shallowly explained that I simply skimmed those parts (which did NOT harm the plot in the slightest). I wondered if the author was any clearer in her understanding or knowledge of lace reading than I was.
Cal, the prime antagonist, is drawn with no redeeming qualities and consequently is quickly boring although necessary as catalyst. The “Calvinist” group he leads is so skimpily explained that you are never sure what they stand for or why they act as they do. Rafferty, the “hero”, is more surely drawn, which makes him fascinating to discover as he is revealed.
I enjoyed the book and would recommend it for book groups. There are many topics for discussion – mental illness, mental and physical abuse, religious fervor, witchcraft, the ties between twins, self-help groups, charismatic leaders (both good and bad) and the influence they maintain over others and their responsibility for the group’s actions.

 
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Dramatic, Adventurous
The Intercept

THE INTERCEPT by Dick Wolf

Be ready for heart pounding excitement when this novel reaches its climax. Jeremy Fisk is an NYPD detective assigned to Intelligence. His job – find out if the terrorist who attempted to hijack the airliner was nut case who was working alone or is he part of a sinister plot to attack the heart of America by killing the 6 intrepid citizens who foiled the hijacker.
If you like intelligent thrillers you will love this first of a series. Great characters, clear plotting, enough clues to keep the mystery fans guessing. Only one small gripe that can’t be revealed without giving away an essential plot detail. So no spoilers here – you’ll just have to read the book!

 
Book Club Recommended
Slow, Insightful, Informative
In the Garden of the Beasts

IN THE GARDEN OF THE BEASTS by Erik Larson

Lovers of history will find this a fascinating peek at Hitler’s Germany. Everyman William Dodd is made Ambassador to Germany in 1933 almost by accident. Dodd, a professor at the University of Chicago, goes to Germany with his wife, an adult daughter in the middle of a divorce and an adult son. The daughter is enamored with the glitz and pomp of the German officers she meets and has a number of affairs while her father is increasingly at odds with the career officers who are supposed to support him and are actually undermining his eyewitness account of events. Dodd, increasingly aware of the persecution of Jew, the censorship of the news and newly instituted and frightening laws, is largely ignored back home by the State Department. The last fourth of the book deals with the mounting terror of the Dodds, the disappearance of friends and acquaintances and finally, the return of the Dodds to the US. Somewhat slow, with many pauses to insert background, the book is still compelling. Give yourself time to appreciate the detail Larson includes throughout the book. History geeks will find the 75 pages of notes especially interesting.

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Beautiful, Dramatic
The World Without You

THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU by Joshua Henkin

Henkin, as in MATRIMONY his first book, is a wonderful writer. Unfortunately, I don’t know ANY of his characters. But more importantly, I don’t WANT to know them. The father is distant, the mother is self-absorbed. Clarissa, who has turned her back on a career as a cellist, is unhappy with her current life and sure a child – HER child, and only HER child - will complete her world. Lily is angry at everyone for unknown and unknowable reasons. Noelle, a wild child to the extreme, has become an orthodox Jew, sure that only blindly following every jot and title of every law will fulfill her. Thisbe, the widow of the only son of the family, valiantly tries to remain normal. Who are these unhappy people? Surely there must be someone Henkin can write about that is at least marginally happy. If there was a happy ending to this book, I could not find it. I was not looking for a saccharine sweet book, I was just hoping for something other than unrelieved unhappiness. I’ll look for another author for my next book.

Seattle Quake 9.2 by Marti Talbott
 
A good book for waiting in line

An okay read. Quick and interesting, but if you are looking for great writing or characters, try another book

 
Book Club Recommended
A great book for kids clubs

HOCUS POCUS HOTEL – THE RETURN OF ABRACADABRA by Michael Dahl

This second book in the series is as much fun as the first. Ty and Charlie join forces to save the hotel and their friend and defeat the bully Theopolis. The “magic” is clearly illusion and the young sleuths combine forces to show that even very different people can become close friends. All in all a good book for middle schoolers to enjoy. The frequent pictures will encourage the slower readers and boys will be attracted to the story line, magic and very “cool” bike!

Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas
 
Book Club Recommended
A great story and great writing

The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas
I loved this book. The writing is gorgeous. I found myself rereading passages to savor the words. That is, until I got caught up in the story! Now I am planning to reread the book so I can appreciate the writing skill that is so evident.
The characters are real. The conversations are real. The situations the characters find themselves in are real. The only flaw (if it is a flaw) is that all of the ends are tied up so neatly – especially Farida and Zahra – that one was just too pat.
The differing marriages that are explored would make a great topic for book groups – what makes a marriage or fail, what is a failed marriage, how are marriages different, what forces do family and culture play on marriage, who is responsible for making a marriage work, etc.
I learned a lot about India that changed my perspective on the current situation with China, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. I also enjoyed learning a bit about World War II and British India.
There were times when I would have appreciated a glossary of the Indian terms and occasions used in the book. I wondered what “afternoon bread” was and how it differed from other breads. A map would have been helpful – I printed one off the Internet, but, of course, not all of the places mentioned were on any one map and trying to overlay them just didn’t work.
I would strongly recommend this book to book groups that are interested in family issues, history, ethnic culture, mystery and just great writing. I could not decide if this was “women’s” fiction, historical fiction, romance, and finally decided literary fiction was the most accurate.
I have a pashima from my daughter’s two and a half years living in Kazakhstan – of course not nearly as elegant or beautiful as Nerys’ - but even with only two colors, the design woven in fine wool threads on my shawl, is different on the two sides so I can appreciate the intricacy of the “Kashmir Shawl” described in the book.

Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Dark, Interesting
GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn

From the moment Nick announces he has lied 10 times, you will wonder! When did he lie? Is he telling you a lie now? Is Amy telling the truth? Is Amy really dead? Has she been kidnapped? By whom? Who is the “bad guy? Amy? Nick? Go? Maribeth and Rand? Anyone of a several other characters? Is there a “good guy?”
Well written and entirely plausible, Gone Girl will keep you guessing to the end. Book groups will find a wealth of topics for discussion – family, siblings, lawyers, divorce, murder, friendship, mental health, marriage, fame, wealth – among others.
Mystery fans and those who prefer love stories or family dramas will find something to love in this psychological mystery.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
Poorly written, but still interesting

The story is interesting and the plot well thought out. The characters are engaging. Unfortunately the author needs an editor. The grammar switches from present tense to past tense and back again with no regard for good writing among other problems. Some of the situations are unlikely, but for a quick read with an interesting and little known historical event this is a good read.

 
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Dramatic, Adventurous
The Bone Bed by Patricia Cornwell

It has been a while since I read a Scarpetta novel so it took
me several chapters to get up to speed on the characters. This was a bit more convoluted than I remember. The red herring was enough to fool me. I was rooting for the wrong \\\"bad guy\\\" for most of the book. I\\\'m still not sure I know who the bad guy was - do I remember him at all???? A good, mystery.

A Good American by Alex George
 
Book Club Recommended
Epic, Informative, Inspiring
A wonderful book

A lovely book that explores 4 generations of a family. Carefully drawn characters and a love of music permeate this novel that begins in Germany in 1904 and ends in Missouri in 2009.

The Aviator's Wife: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
The Aviator\\\'s Wife

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin
This well written fictionalization of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s life from just before she meets Charles A Lindbergh until his death in 1974 is thought provoking. Approximately equal time is given to “the events of 1932” (the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh’s first born child), the early days of the their marriage and Anne’s development as an aviatrix and navigator, and Anne’s life as mother usually left alone as her husband is increasingly absent. Charles’ possible anti-semitism and both of their positive opinions of Germany under Hitler’s early days is briefly touched upon.
The novel is the story of their marriage and Anne’s transformation from naïve and easily compliant young girl to confident, self-reliant woman sure of herself and confident of her ability to write. Charles is portrayed as arrogantly self-confident, selfish and controlling of both his wife and children even while also needing Anne’s unflagging support.
I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to others interested in reading/learning more Anne, her marriage and the early days of “women’s liberation”. This book will provide much fodder for discussing marriage, family dynamics, child rearing methods, news gathering and reporting, and America during the Nazi era and during wartimes.

 
Interesting, Insightful, Optimistic
slow start, okay read

Another Piece of my Heart by Jane Green

After a really rocky start – bad grammar, faulty time line, characters that change personality with the page numbers – Another Piece of My Heart finally finds a real story line by about page 100. A teenager who is selfish and troubled loses her grasp on her family’s love by her parent’s divorce, her mother’s alcoholism and her father’s remarriage. Emily’s alcohol abuse, drug use, promiscuity and, finally, teen pregnancy nearly cause a permanent breach in the family.
I’m not going to tell you that at page 101 it suddenly becomes great literature – it doesn’t – but it is an acceptable chick lit book good for a few mindless days of reading. You will likely figure out the ending (by page 120) but if you are looking for an emotional love story about a marriage with teens and drama, you will like Another Piece of My Heart.

The Burgess Boys: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Slow, Insightful
A great book for discussion

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

After starting slowly, The Burgess Boys became quietly fascinating. I kept reading and reading until I finished it in just two days (with many life interruptions). Although I didn’t like Jim, he was spellbinding in his dysfunction. Bob, the much more likeable brother, was engaging in his own brand of dysfunction. Susan, and her son Zach, were simply damaged by life and therefore potentially damaging to everyone around them. The supporting characters were as carefully drawn as the main characters and compelling in their own way.
I appreciated the way Strout revealed her characters in drips and drabs, constantly leading you further into an understanding their emotions.
The incident that brought all the characters together was never fully explained – possibly because the perpetrator didn’t know – or even have – a reason. The incident that damaged the family was revealed in the ending, but could be inferred much earlier in the book.
This was a lovely book, well written and engaging. The family dynamics would lend themselves to an interesting group discussion. The two “incidents” would also generate discussion. Other topics useful for book groups are birth order, twins, divorce, unfaithfulness in marriage, women’s roles, race relations, criminal punishment, defense lawyers who defend those they know to be guilty and family roles.

Lone Wolf: A Novel by Jodi Picoult
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Insightful
Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

I loved the parts of this book that dealt with the wolves! I learned a lot about the pack: its members, their roles, their calls (howls), how they eat, etc.
The “humans” were just not as interesting, perhaps because Picoult has written this book before. (In MERCY, she tells of a mercy killing with many of the same themes found in Lone Wolf.) The slowly revealed lies and omissions of Luke and Georgie, and, most importantly, Edward and Cara make this book resonate with family drama over the bed of the badly injured Luke.
Joe, Dannie Boyle, Helen Bedd and Zirconia are interesting characters that I hope make further appearances in Picoult’s books.
Picoult writes fiction drawn from headlines with sympathetic characters that tug at emotions AND she does it well. You will find yourself trying to decide “what would I do” in a similar situation. She is careful to make all options appealing and defensible.
The final chapter of this book offers an additional dollop of “what is really happening here” that animal lovers will find intriguing.

 
Book Club Recommended
Love and murder in London

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by Susanna Calkins

I enjoyed this murder mystery with a bit of a love story entwined. The story is engaging with hints dropped carefully without revealing the murderer until the end. I liked the parts about “newspapers” and “police” and thought they added depth and realism to the story. The main character – Lucy, a chambermaid soon elevated to Lady’s maid – is interesting with a backstory and a future that may include sequels to this book. The supporting characters are well drawn and add to the story.
The ending may not satisfy all, but does support the notion of sequels. Possible subjects for book groups might include the role of women in society, the lack of education or the ability to read, religious leaders as role models, how catastrophic illness is treated, marriage as political/monetary entity, the power of the press and the power of money and position.
Restoration England (1665 AD) is carefully portrayed with only one glaring “Yuck” (on page 59), a word that was unlikely to be on the lips of a chambermaid in a wealthy home. The everyday life of servants and gentry is clearly shown.

Out of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Insightful
OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys

OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys

OUT OF THE EASY tells the tale of Josie Moraine, the 17 year old daughter of a prostitute in 1950’s New Orleans. Sepetys gives a clear picture of the brothels, gangsters, and night life of the city while showing the life of a teen who is willing to work and sacrifice for something better. Josie dreams of entering an elite college in the East and leaving her loser mother far behind.
Peopled with a madam who brooks no foolishness, a driver who cares for Josie, a famous writer broken by crime, two honorable male friends, prostitutes who vary from pigtailed to mute to kleptomaniac to sweet and kind hearted, to gangsters who murder and threaten to maim, to a mother who doesn’t deserve the term, to one prominent businessman who is murdered and one who seeks to bring about Josie’s downfall, the characters are clearly drawn with their speech and actions showing their character.
The plot is tight and carries the story quickly along. You will like Josie and root for her to succeed in her aspirations and her choice of boy friend.
Although billed as a young adult novel, this work of historical fiction is not for anyone younger than 14 or 15. Some of the situations and phrases are not for younger teens. This is a good book for cross over to the adult reader. Book groups will find much to discuss, especially the very obvious class distinctions and snobbery. Crime, “juice” loans, college admissions and cost, friendship and loyalty, discrimination and perception are all addressed here.
Those who read and loved Sepetys’ previous book - BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY – will not be disappointed in this new and very different book.

Shadow on the Crown: A Novel by Patricia Bracewell
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Epic, Dramatic
A Queen in jeopardy

SHADOW ON THE CROWN by Patricia Bracewell

SHADOW ON THE CROWN is an intricately plotted historical novel based on the early life of Emma of England, a little remembered queen of the medieval period. Emma, youngest daughter of Richard of Normandy and ancestor to William the Conqueror, is sent to England to marry the newly widowed and much older King AEthelred. The marriage is supposed to prevent the Danish Vikings who are indebted to Richard from sacking English towns.

Instead Emma discovers she is surrounded by intrigue, plots against the King, a Lord\\\'s daughter who insinuates herself into the king\\\'s bed, stepsons who resent her (and one who loves her), a husband who both ignores and abuses her, and in peril from the Vikings.

Well researched and well written, the novel is part mystery, part history and mostly intensely absorbing. You will need the glossary at the beginning of the book for all the medieval words and the cast of characters to keep all the unfamiliar Anglo-Saxon names straight. I longed for a more complete map with both medieval and modern names - who knew Jorvik was really the city of York. You will discover in the afterward that this is the first book of a trilogy which explains why the book stops with Emma still in jeopardy. Then you will wait impatiently for the next book to be published!

 
LOVE BLOOMS IN WINTER by Lori Copeland

LOVE BLOOMS IN WINTER by Lori Copeland
If you are looking for a somewhat interesting book to occupy an afternoon, this is for you. Copeland is a best-selling author in the Christian romance field and a sweet romance is what you will get. By the second or third page you will know who are the "bad" guys and who are the "good" guys and you will know how it turns out in the end. Getting there is the fun part. Mae, the object of the romance, is a long suffering small town postmistress raising her orphaned, brain-damaged brother. The impediments to the romance are a dotty neighbor, a pack of wild dogs, a train derailment, another train derailment, a snow storm, the little brother, a mother-smothered preacher and indecision on the part of the heroine. The "good" guy is unbelievably good and the "bad" guy isn't very bad - mostly because Copeland keeps changing his personality! On one page he is a selfish, churlish, intolerant, chauvinistic bully and on the next page is a misunderstood, smart, savvy and deserving lawyer.

The writing is pedestrian, the characters are cliches, the Christianity is mostly platitudes and the plot is familiar. If this is your cup of tea, you will love it. Otherwise, skip it for a better written, better plotted story.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Dark
A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME by Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash has a way with words. He can make you see a rain storm or love with equal clarity. In A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME he has written a beautiful elegy for love and death, faith and fear, condemnation and redemption. Told in three very different voices, the tale unfolds in starts and pauses and then backtracks on to itself. Occasionally Cash loses his way and the story loses momentum. But stick with him because in the pulsing end, you will know you have found a wonderful new voice.

A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME follows the inhabitants of a small back country Appalachian community. They include an outsider Sheriff and the drunk the sheriff blames for his son\'s death, the drunk\'s son and his church obsessed wife, their two young sons - one a mute, a spellbinding preacher with a hidden past and the area\'s \"healer\" woman. Cash is point perfect in detailing the culture of Appalachia, the speech patterns of his characters and an atmosphere of foreboding.

Book groups will find a wealth of topics including family dynamics, faith and faith that becomes oppressive, guilt and how it can poison relationships, fear of the unknown, outsiders, understanding disabilities, alcoholism, infidelity, and secrets.

All Woman and Springtime by Brandon W. Jones
 
Book Club Recommended
ALL WOMAN AND SPRINGTIME

A mesmerizing book that many will find hard to read. Gi, the main character, changes from a brutalized, terrified 10 year old to a near catatonic teen to a woman of untapped strength in this tale of a North Korean girl condemned and then rescued from a concentration camp. She finds a friend in the orphanage but when it is their time to leave the orphanage and strike out on their own, they are betrayed by Il-Sun’s lover and sold into trafficking in South Korea. When they try to escape they are transported to the US in a sealed container on a ship and become sex slaves. Eventually Gi is able to escape and finds a new life because of her ability with numbers.
North Korea and human trafficking are shown graphically, but not exploitively. The sex (and there is indeed sex) is used to convey the horror and terror of young girls trapped in a life they cannot escape. I read this nearly 400 page book in just two days, compelled to keep reading and sorry when they book ended. Although horrifying, the book is also a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit. Americans may find themselves seeing the homeless and immigrants with a sense of unease and guilt after reading this book.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Dramatic, Inspiring
ORDINARY GRACE by William Krueger

Frank, a thirteen year old on the cusp of manhood, is the main character in William K Krueger’s book “Ordinary Grace.” On its surface it is a tale of death - a murder, an accident, in war, stupidly or deliberately done, of age or illness. On a much deeper level it is the story of a family, the love that binds them together and the faith that sustains them. This is not an explicitly “Christian” book and yet you will finish the book and know why faith is and what it is.
Krueger uses words in wonderful and unique ways to evoke a time and place that will live with you long after you finish reading this book. His description of a mother’s sorrow is expressed “She was flesh without spirit, eyes without sight” (page 182) and setting sun “was caught in the branches of the trees and the light across the lawns was yellow-orange and broken (page 133).
This is a lovely book. Now that I have finished it, I want to read it again – only slowly so I can savor each word. His writing is believable. You know that is just what each character would say or do or think. His metaphors and similes are precise and unique and exactly right, yet they do not make think “oh, he learned that lesson on metaphor well.” Instead you are simply lost in the time, the place and the character.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Finding a family

ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline

This novel will appeal to both teens and adults. Orphan Train tells two interlocking stories. The first concerns a frustrated, angry teen who has been bounced around the foster care system from one uncaring “home” to another, unloved and generally unwanted. Molly, half Indian, has stolen a library book and is now forced to do 50 hours of community service. Through her boyfriend she finds herself helping Vivian, a 90 year old woman who wants help “clearing out” her attic of a lifetime’s worth of boxes and mementos.
Vivian’s story, told in flashback and the more fleshed out of the two stories, is that of an Irish immigrant child orphaned and then sent from New York to the Midwest on one of the “Orphan Trains” organized by the Children’s Aid Society. The children are often no more than “cheap labor” to the receiving families and this is Vivian’s fate.
Realistic in both tales, the novel gives a vivid and accurate portrait of life for unwanted children in two eras. Mother/daughter book groups will find much to discuss - family, adoption, family services, poverty, child labor, education, faith, “acting out”, tattoos, belonging – among others. Adults will likely find Vivian’s story easier to relate to, especially the topic of adoption and seeking one’s birth family.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Graphic, Interesting
Macabre, but fun

STIFF: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

For anyone interested in the “messy” part of human science, this is the book for you. Mary Roach has a unique sense of humor that makes her off beat topics fun to read. You will learn many facts while being amused and bemused.
STIFF tells what happens to the human body after death whether that death is natural or not. You will discover how long decomposition takes and exactly what happens. You will find out who did the first autopsy and the first anatomical dissection and why those activities were and continue to be important. Roach covers plane crashes and gun shots and automobile crashes among other ways humans die. She discusses funeral practices and all the other topics dealing with death that you might (or might not) have ever wondered about.
The style is straightforward, no medical background is necessary. Teenage boys will love it. Girls will be grossed out and parents may be dismayed, but everyone will learn something – rather painlessly

Palisades Park: A Novel by Alan Brennert
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Adventurous
Palisades Park

PALISADES PARK by Alan Brennert

Brennert writes generation spanning novels that are well researched and well written with engaging characters, vivid place descriptions and enticing plots. In Palisades Park he does not disappoint. Although Palisades Amusement Park itself is the main character, Eddie Stopka the main human character, his children and his friends are by no means shorted in either characterization or plotting.
Brennert’s people react the way ordinary folks would in similar circumstances. His plot twists are reasonable but not mundane, exciting but not overwhelming. These are people you know and care about. Their story is arresting and satisfying and you are sorry when the book ends.
One of the things Brennert excels in is incorporating “real” people, places and events into his story line. Even if you are knowledgeable about the actual historical events they are so seamlessly incorporated you find yourself wondering only why you “didn’t remember” the fictional parts. Perhaps because I am from Chicago, I especially appreciated the inclusion of crime and mob influences. He handles racism with sensitivity and realistic drama. World War II and the Korean War are touched on in ways that will resonate with those affected by today’s military incursions. Divorce, women’s roles, faith, bullying, dysfunctional families, immigration and business practices are all timely and timeless topics well covered.
And, if you haven’t yet read MOLOKAII and HONOLULU his two previous best sellers – well, you should!

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Epic
THE DAUGHTERS OF MARS by Thomas Keneally

I had a hard time getting used to the lack of commas and quotation marks in this tale of two sisters who nurse for Australia during World War I. Although slow and quite lengthy, the book held my interest with details of nursing under primitive conditions during war conditions. The most interesting parts for me were the descriptions of life aboard ship on the journey to Egypt from Australia and then in the war zone of Gallipoli. The horror of war was clearly indicated in the details of battle injuries and the care available both in the Dardanelles and later in France. The tragedy of the influenza epidemic of 1919 makes up the later part of the book.
The sisters, their nurse companions and the soldiers they work with and fall in love with comprise the characters in the novel. Book groups will find many topics to discuss including class distinctions, city versus farm life, Quakers and war, biologic weaponry, courage under great duress, disfiguration and disability, and the roles of women.

Calico Joe: A Novel by John Grisham
 
Book Club Recommended
A fun read for Cubs fans

There was not a lot to discuss in this interesting and informative book. I learned a lot about baseball and pitching -howdo they do that?! - but once we got beyond the two very different families, the evils of drink and abuse, and the essence of forgiveness, we were at a loss for continued conversation. So we discussed that afternoons Cubs-Mets game some of us had attended that afternoon at Wrigley Field (The Cubs lost 2 to 3).

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful, Interesting
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

This big, rich novel covers only a year but manages to convey an entire lifetime. Thea, the main character, is a twin, a lover of horses and a girl who wants. Unfortunately what she wants is not necessarily good for her or her family or those she loves. Sent away from her home because of her actions, she spends a year at a “camp” that is actually a cross between a finishing school for wealthy girls and a riding academy. The background of Thea’s infraction is explored in many backflashes as the book progresses. DiSclafani gives us a whole world set in depression era southern Appalachia. Her characters are well drawn and appealing. Her descriptions provide a moody backdrop to a story filled with angst, teen girls and horses. While the characters are teens, this is not a young adult book, but a sizzling sex tale set in a Victorian horse show.
Book groups will find a plethora of topics ranging from teen sex to family roles to education of women to the importance of money among many others.

 
Book Club Recommended
Country of Ash

COUNTRY OF ASH by Dr. Edward Reicher
Dr. Reicher’s memoir tells of his experiences as a Jew in Poland during World War II. He relates the most horrific details in a matter of fact voice. He, his wife and their small daughter all survive the destruction of the Jewish ghetto and the uprising in the city of Warsaw.
For anyone seeking information about Hitler’s edicts and their effect on Jews and Aryans in Poland, this account will be riveting in its details. Because this is a translation from the original French and Polish, readers will notice some awkward phraseology and construction.
Book groups might want to also read Anne Frank’s diary, another account of a German occupied country or even Leon Uris’ Mila 18 or watch the movie THE PIANIST in conjunction with this book.

Sisterland: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Dark
SISTERLAND by Curtis Sittenfeld


Twins, Kate (Daisy) and Violet, are psychic. One of them becomes a wife and mother and denies her ability. The other embraces it and actually earns a living by using her “senses” as a medium. When Violet, and later, Kate become convinced that a tragic earthquake will strike the city of St. Louis, a long simmering estrangement comes to a head.
Sittenfeld has written an engrossing tale that occasionally bogs down in minutia, but ultimately achieves its goal. The ending is unexpected and wrenching. Those who want a “quick read” should find another book. This one will take a while but will appeal to those who are looking for a love story, a coming of age novel or a family story. Does it end happily ever after – you will just have to read it for yourself.
Book groups will find many topics to discuss – distant (and controlling) moms, ESP, fidelity, relationships between sisters, male-female friendship, abortion, premarital and extramarital sex, mothering styles, divorce, Black-White relationships and class distinctions among others.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Fun
GULP by Mary Roach

I always learn something when I read one of Roach’s books. And I usually am laughing when I learn it! Roach has a great (some would say twisted) sense of humor (don’t overlook the footnotes!) that enlivens a book that could be deadly dull. Never fear, Roach will entertain you even while discussing feces and other products of the human body.
Gulp takes the subject of food and its ability to pass through the body while giving nourishment and pleasure to the human (and seventh grade boys a scintillating topic of conversation) and delves into the most intimate phases of digestion and excretion. She finds unique and interesting studies (both legitimately scientific and the just bizarre) and explains what was learned in a way understandable to laymen.
One thing I learned is that 90% of taste is actually smell, so the alimentary canal begins with the nose and ends with the anus (another smell!) Sorry, I couldn’t help it – that is what reading a Mary Roach book will do to you. Enjoy!

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

A skillful recounting of the establishment and operation of Oak Ridge, Tennessee through the eyes of the girls (women) who worked there. The occasional interruption of the story by a companion story of the scientific working to create the atomic bomb was mildly irritating. I read an e-book before publication and there were significant errors of punctuation and numerous “lost” words. I assume these were corrected before publication.
I just bought the "real" book and would recommend that you get this and NOT the ebook. The pictures and other "extras" make a MUCH more enjoyable read. The thumbnail sketches of the "girls" helps keep the characters straight. The book bounces from girl to girl and topic to topic so the sketches are vital to an intelligent read of this book. Lots of information about a part of WWII history that is often overlooked.
The women’s stories were intimate and spared no sensibilities. I was surprised at the rampant racism – Blacks lived in “hutments” and were separated from their husbands and families while white women lived in single family houses with their husbands and families or in single sex dorms. Blacks and women were paid less than males doing the same jobs.
The strain of being separated from community and not knowing anything beyond the basics of job you did was significant. Letters both to and from parents were censored and contained so much “black out” that one parent told her daughter to not bother to write any more because her letters were simply gibberish.
Despite the restrictions what could be said even to other workers, love did find a way to bloom and recreational dances and other events were carried out. One creative woman found a way to use discarded materials to make biscuits and cornbread for workers longing for taste of home.

 
Book Club Recommended
DEADLY STAKES by j A Jance

This is one of the better Ali Reynolds mysteries. Jance's Sheriff Brady and JP Beaumont series are consistently good. This series has been uneven. Ali becomes in two intertwining mysteries. AJ, a teen boy, is involved with a murder when he follows his estranged father's instructions and discovers a dying woman. Chip, a prominent physician, and his girlfriend Lynn are charged with the murder of Chip's ex-wife. Family problems abound in both families - an ex-con father who suddenly has lots of cash, a mother with Alzheimers, an ex-wife preferred over the new girlfriend, a son nearly disowned while a scheming sister is allowed to control the family fortune. Meanwhile Ali and her "partner" rethink their relationship.
The characters are believable, the dialogue is realistic. The pacing picks up as the tension increases. Altogether a good read.
I would have preferred fewer "commercials" - we really don't need to know that B has an Enterprise rental or the brand names of other products. A minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.

Amy Falls Down: A Novel by Jincy Willett
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Fun, Brilliant
AMY FALLS DOWN by Jincy Willett

After a slow start I really found myself enjoying the witty (though very dry) humor in this book. Amy grows on you as you discover more of her character and background. I especially enjoyed the names of the chapters, trying to see if I could find the relationship as I read. Another part I liked was the “topics” Amy lists as story ideas/titles. They give another clue to Amy’s persona. Amy’s students are delightful, clearly and carefully drawn.
While the entire book is a put down of pretentious authors, it is also the story of a very human woman who has great sorrows to surmount. As is true with all good humor, there is also tragedy to provide contrast. Willett deals well with both. (spoiler alert – Maxine’s recovery is the one deviation from realistic outcomes in an otherwise well-paced and plotted tale.)
Anyone who enjoys a “good read” and, equally, a “bad read,” will enjoy this writer’s delight. If you are a potential novelist, there is much food for thought.
Book groups will have a field day with a variety of topics – truth vs fiction, honest criticism, how you see yourself as opposed to how others see you, marriage of convenience, dealing with rude/stupid/ignorant people (and being rude/stupid/ignorant yourself), personal growth and change, phobias and others.

 
Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Informative, Interesting
CHILDREN OF THE JACARANDA TREE by Sahar Delijani


I found this book to be both enormously interesting and vastly disjointed. It was difficult to follow the characters and time lines. Characters came and went with alarming frequency. Time jumped back and forth from the early days of the Iranian Revolution to the present with stops in the middle.
My attention was immediately captured in the first few paragraphs, but then the next chapter moved to another time and place with new characters and I was left lost and wondering. Perhaps this was the author’s intention as those same disjointed feelings were evident in each of the (many) characters.
Delijani captures the sense of loss and “disconnectedness” the characters felt as their lives were disrupted, ended and changed from moment to moment with no clear resolution in sight. The descriptions are lovely. The characters are generally well drawn. Situations are rendered in often harrowing clarity. However, I had a hard time with the younger generation. I couldn’t remember who the parents were or what had happened to them or worse, if I had even “met” them before.
I wish I could say I liked this book and give it 5 stars. I wanted to..…but….. The book needs a list of characters with notes to their relationships. A glossary would help, for example, a “manteau” was defined as a “medieval garment like a coat” in my dictionary, I’m still not clear on what kind of garment was meant.
I read this on an e-reader – perhaps not the best choice for this book. But thank you Net Galley who provided the book in exchange for this review.

The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey
 
Book Club Recommended
The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey

THE SWEETEST HALLELUJAH by Elaine Hussey
Betty Jewel, dying of cancer, is looking for someone to care for her 10 year old daughter, Billie. Someone who is NOT the child’s father. Shakerag, Mississippi, in the middle 1950’s, is a hotbed of racial unrest. When a white journalist hears Betty Jewel’s story and appears to want to raise the black child, both women are in danger.
This is a wonderful story with plenty of twists and turns to keep the plot moving along. The characters are real, speak truly and in character and are people you want to know. This story will live with you long after you finish the book. Friends are a vital part of the tale for both women, both those who stand by them and their decisions and those who vehemently voice their opposition.
Book groups will find this a great book to spark a discussion of racism, friendship, marriage, trust, adoption, journalism, community, illness and hope. A minor theme is music and its ability to heal and support both the music makers and the hearers.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Interesting
THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS by Chris Bohjalian


Follow Elizabeth, a proper Bostonian who is nursing at Syria’s Aleppo Hospital, and Armen, an Armenian engineer who fights with the British army in the Dardenelles, through 1915. The horror of the deportation of women and children into the Syrian desert after the massacre of the older boys and men in Armenia is explicit.
Nevart, an adult woman, and the child, Hatoun, who have both somehow survived the desert, offer a clear picture of the “poor starving Armenians” my grandparents spoke of when encouraging me to clean my plate. You will learn a great deal about the “slaughter you know next to nothing about” through the eyes of those who survived it and in the context of an engrossing tale that covers death, sorrow, despair, cruelty, charity, kindness, hope and love with a dash of mystery.
The intertwining story of the Armenian family in 2010 Boston is peripheral, yet vital to the plot. Well written, with interesting and clearly drawn characters, this very believable story is true to history as well. Book groups will love Elizabeth, root for Nevart and Hatoun, despair with Armen and be surprised by the end.

Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft
 
Book Club Recommended
LOYALTY by Ingrid Thoft



LOYALTY will have your heart pounding right along with “Fina”, the female and only non-lawyer member of the Ludlow family. Fina is a private investigator trying very hard to remain loyal to her family while solving the murder of one of her sisters-in-law and striving to stay alive herself. Occasional clichés notwithstanding LOYALTY is a well written, well plotted, heavy action mystery that will keep you guessing until the final pages. The Ludlows are a family of shady lawyers – ambulance chasers and defenders of disreputable characters -- with some redeeming qualities and a coterie of assorted friends, cops and “helpers.” Fina is the answer to their need for a PI, a hard working, hard living, hard loving female who is intensely loyal to her family even if her brother is the prime suspect. Each character is well defined although you may need a list to keep them all straight at the beginning of this engaging and thrilling tale. By tale’s end you will be hoping Fina and her family appear in many sequels.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot


It seems silly to go over the “plot” of this biography of Mrs. Lacks again, so I will just say that this non-fiction work details how Mrs. Lacks and her family were lied to, misled, ill informed, taken advantage of and used by the medical community after her cancerous cells were found to be able to multiply indefinitely. Without compensating, or even acknowledging, the person from whom the cells were obtained, her cells were first given away, then sold, in order to advance medical knowledge.
The book is exceptionally well written, reading at times like a medical thriller. But at others, it serves as an introduction to medical/scientific ethics and experimentation. Skloot writes clearly enough so that even those who failed high school biology will get the gist of the medical experience of the Lacks family. Author Skloot becomes a major player in the book when she engages Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, as friend, mentor and ally. The author’s involvement in the story and with the central players may become a topic for book groups to discuss. How “disinterested” a writer can an author be when they are so intimately involved in their investigation that they become a part of the story. Would the book have been a bestseller if Skloot was not a part of the story? Could it even have been written?
Book groups will find the ethics of the various medical teams to be incredulous in the face of today’s laws concerning medical privacy. Groups may want to investigate the case of John Moore, a “modern” lapse of medical ethics, mentioned briefly in the book.

 
Book Club Recommended
Slow, Interesting, Adventurous
THE CUCKOO’S CALLING by Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling)


Rowling has written an engaging and tightly plotted mystery. The characters are well delineated and clearly drawn. I was especially impressed by how “true” the characters remained to themselves as the plot thickened (when I thought this was a debut novel). The situations with the paparazzi were interesting in retrospect as I wondered how much her own experience with the press and fans influenced her depiction of them.
We learn enough about Rowling’s damaged detective, Cormoran Strike, to like him and want to know more in succeeding installments of this obvious first in a series. His backstory with military service, marriage/divorce and law enforcement “friends” offer opportunity for additional story/plot nuggets for the future. His Girl Friday, Robin Ellacott, is intelligent and a worthy foil to Strike, although the boyfriend/fiancé is unknowable and likely to quickly disappear from the scene.
I liked that both entirely likeable and entirely unlikeable characters played a part in the plotting. There are several clear candidates for the villain and plenty of red herrings along the way. The ending is always in doubt until the final chapters. It is testament to Rowling’s ability that Lula, who is already dead when she first appears in the tale, emerges in totality even without the benefit of including “back flashes” as the book proceeds.
I hope that Rowling continues writing mysteries with Cormoran and Robin in many future novels.

Inferno by Dan Brown
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Adventurous, Fun
close calls and constant danger abound

INFERNO by Dan Brown
INFERNO continues Brown’s tightly plotted, though rather incredulous, tales. The intrepid Robert Langdon is in Florence suffering from a head wound and amnesia. His foil is the intelligent and beautiful Sienna. Together they must save the world.
Brown’s characters are fairly wooden and never quite become knowable. His digressions to tell us about the history or architecture of the places the unfolding plot takes Robert and Sienna are interesting and generally accurate. It is not necessary to know anything about Dante’s Divine Comedy as we are told all that is needful to follow the plot.
Those who enjoy a convoluted and constantly changing plot line will enjoy this romp through Florence, Venice and Istanbul chasing a flawed master mind out to destroy the world.

Letters from Skye: A Novel by Jessica Brockmole
 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Romantic, Adventurous
A lovely story told in the lost art of letter writing

This was a lovely story with interesting people telling of their hopes and dreams in letters. A bit of a mystery is thrown into the mix in the last quarter. Just as in actual letters sent to strangers the characters become known bit by bit as they write about themselves, their lives, their ideas and opinions. In the same way, you will want to know more than is revealed.
Book groups will find the ongoing discussion of education, choosing a career and choosing a life path a worthy topic for discussion. Other good discussion topics might be courage in attempting or reacting to new things, revealing your past to a child, choosing to serve in the military or not, reactions to loss and family secrets and, finally, how a person's attitudes and dreams change as time passes. A question to consider might be "how long would YOU wait at St. Mary's Cathedral?"
These letters are generally short and deal with only one topic at a time so the comparison to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is not really valid.

The Art Forger: A Novel by B. A. Shapiro
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Self-fulfilling prophecy run rampant

THE ART FORGER by B.A. Shapiro

This book will have you thinking about ALL the times you (or others) are influenced by what you EXPECT rather than what you actually see or hear or experience.
Although Shapiro uses real artist’s names and works, the novel is only loosely – very loosely – based on an actual robbery. Claire has been blackballed because of art work she has done that was attributed to another and hailed as a masterpiece. Now she is asked to copy (forge?) a masterpiece by Degas that is part of the well-known heist of artwork from the Gardner Museum. I enjoyed learning the “art’ of forgery as much as I enjoyed the plot of the novel. Claire is believable and likeable. The work of the artist is written so that even artistic ignoramuses (like me) can understand the process.
The plot is engrossing and keeps your attention even through the art process sections. Book groups will have a field day with self-fulfilling prophecy, ethics in the work place, art appreciation, collecting objects (especially valuable ones from other cultures), family secrets, black balling, stolen art and over reaching police. A visit to an art museum, especially one with several Degas works, would be a great introduction or wrap-up for this novel. A corollary discussion might be our attitudes towards novels by “best-selling” authors.

 
Book Club Recommended
UNDONE by Laura Sumner Truax

If you are not fortunate enough to live near Chicago so you can hear her in person, then read this book. Truax has a preaching gift which is clearly evident in UNDONE. She tells her story, but also gives the reader the support for listening to their own story. With Biblical underpinning, Truax writes of forgiveness, grace, honesty, trust and community. You will hear Laura’s voice, but more importantly, you will hear God’s welcoming and reassuring voice.
UNDONE is eminently readable and can be read and appreciated quickly, but this is a book you will want to keep nearby to refer to often. Laura lays bare her own life giving the reader the gift of looking honestly at their own life. She writes of the freedom and opportunity being vulnerable to God affords. Her illustrations show the hope that vulnerability opens to each person.
(Full disclosure: I am a member of Laura’s congregation and am blessed because of it.)

 
Book Club Recommended
A COOKBOOK CONSPIRACY by Kate Carlisle


Once you have suspended credulity, this is a fun read. The twists and turns continue almost to the last page when you discover who has committed the murderers. In between you will meet a bevy of cooks, two handsome Brits (one a former spy, or is he still a spy?), a mother who is a witch and several police officers (who don’t solve the crime). Bookbinder extraordinaire Brooklyn and her chef sister Savannah are alternately the chief suspects and the chief crime solvers.
Discovering why they have the names they do is just one of laugh out loud episodes in this quick read. A good book for a lazy afternoon or two, this engaging mystery filled with likeable characters will keep you guessing through two mysteries in this continuation of the Bibliophile mystery series.
Book groups may want to do some research in Revolutionary War era spies, chat about food, try a recipe or two and talk about police procedures.

Siege: A Thriller by Simon Kernick
 
Book Club Recommended
SIEGE: Who Will Survive by Simon Kernick



Thriller is an understatement for this fast paced, action-loaded novel with appealing characters and a tight plot. You learn enough about the main characters (Arley, Elena, Abby, Scope, Martin and bad guys, Fox, Wolf, Bear and Cat) to care about who survives and who doesn’t. The story is plausible and works on the several levels and plot lines while keeping you guessing until the very end. The chapters are very short and generally end with a cliffhanger so you keep reading long after you tell yourself “just one more chapter.”
Unusually well written for the genre, SIEGE is still filled with a high body count and numerous episodes of mayhem. Set in a posh London hotel, the book involves M15, a highly trained assault force, a police commander who has been coerced into aiding the enemy, a dying man and a killer along with the many civilians who are caught in the midst of a terrorist’s plot.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Dramatic
FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL by Sheri Fink

FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is two books in one. The first relates, through the eyes of those present, the happenings at Memorial Hospital during and after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Louisiana. The nurses, doctors, visitors and patients tell their stories as they happened with the result that it is sometimes difficult to follow the time line of events as the story shifts from floor to floor and person to person. Nonetheless the horror and fear is palpable as the storm rages and then as flood waters rise trapping those in the hospital for five days of increasing confusion and deprivation. No one appears in charge. No one appears to aid those trapped. Help is not on the way. Decisions are made and rescinded. Offers of help are sent, but do not arrive.
When help finally does arrive, many of the patients are dead and fingers begin to point.
The second part of the book covers the investigations into the allegations of murder or, more charitably, euthanasia, the resultant trial and the aftermath of the verdicts. FIVE DAYS is chilling reading, all the more so because of Fink’s straight forward reporting style. She makes no conclusions of her own, simply letting the participants words and actions speak.
Book groups will find many topics for discussion including euthanasia, DNR directives, patient/doctor relations, decision making in times of extreme distress, preparedness for disaster and governmental readiness.

Rivka's War by Marilyn Oser
 
RIVKA’S WAR by Marilyn Oser

This book should have been really interesting. What is not to like – a teenage girl leaves her prosperous home to “save” her brother from the influence of the Bolsheviks in 1914 and ends up joining the Russian Army in the first all-girl battalion and becomes the companion of a notorious counter revolutionary fleeing for her life. Eventually Rivka finds her way to Palestine.
Except, it just wasn’t very engaging. Rivka was not very sympathetic. She seemed to have no real reason for joining the army. Her brother had no reason for becoming a Bolshevik, just as he never gave a reason for failing to commit to his Jewish faith after his triumph of a BarMitzvah. Yashka, the counter revolutionary beloved by “her girls” was not at all likeable. I didn’t care if she lived or died and certainly wouldn’t have joined her army.
There was a lot of history, but it was boring! There are a lot better books out there. I’ll read them! The one episode that was interesting was with Dudie, the child Rivka “adopts” but is taken from her. Too bad more of the book didn’t involve his story!

 
Book Club Recommended
ALL MY MONEY SAYS IS BYE BYE by Ruth Judy

A cozy mystery with a plot that will keep you guessing and filled with likeable characters, ALL My MONEY SAYS IS BYE BYE is written in a difficult to manage voice. Each chapter presents the omniscient voice of a different character, but the novel succeeds with only a few miss steps. Sue, an apprentice detective; Corrine, a stroke survivor recovering in a nursing home; and Kyle, a college student with detective aspirations, are the lead characters surrounding by a bevy of nursing home residents, nurses, real detectives and police and, of course, the perpetrators of crime.
The various residents of GH (Golden Harvest Nursing home) are presented with warmth and respect even as their challenges with infirmity are clear. Sue, a recent widow of a certain age, is endearingly flawed and persistent. Kyle is impetuous and enthusiastic even when wrong and sure of himself as only the young can be. Corrine is an interesting mix of helplessness and grit.
Devotees of cozies will find themselves looking forward to the next outing of this new voice in the genre.

In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes
 
Book Club Recommended
Living in a Company Town

IN THE KINGDOM OF MEN by Kim Barnes
One of my friends lived in an ARAMCO compound during the 1960’s. The life depicted in THE KINGDOM OF MEN is much as she described it. Gin is running from a constricted life with a fundamentalist grandfather and finds herself living in the even more constricted fundamentalist Saudi kingdom. Even though she and her husband are living in luxurious surroundings, life for Gin is boring and racist for her husband.
By befriending both her driver and her houseboy Gin is in violation of both ARAMCO and Kingdom policies. Mason in attempting to live the ideals of Martin Luther King also violates policy and then uncovers greed and corruption. Both find themselves in fear for their lives and those of their friends. Although the ending is unsatisfying, the novel as a whole is worthwhile.
An interesting story with characters you like (and dislike) teaches a fair amount of history of the Kingdom and oil. Book groups will discuss fundamentalist religions, ethnic differences, the position of women in society, dealing with boredom, whistle blowers and company corruption, Americans in foreign societies, interactions between men and women and the price of gas.

 
Book Club Recommended
Declan’s Cross by Carla Neggers

Declan’s Cross by Carla Neggers

Part mystery, part romance, part Irish travelogue, Declan’s Cross is a satisfying mix. A decade old art heist keeps Emma Sharpe involved, while a new murder keeps Colin Donovan busy. Joining Sharpe and Donovan are Julianne, the other Donovan brothers, an Irish priest, a sheep farmer and assorted denizens of the village of Declan’s Cross. After a slow start, necessary to introduce the several characters and puzzles, the story is engaging and full of twists and turns. The romance travels by fits and starts but is ultimately satisfying. The plot is solid with enough mystery left to encourage a wait for the next book in this series.

 
Book Club Recommended
THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE by Jonathan Stroud


Lucy, Anthony and George are Lockwood and Company, a trio of children who can see, hear and sense ghosts. When ghosts become malevolent and plentiful in London and only children can defeat them, Lockwood and Company goes to work. Delightfully scary, with lots of blood and mayhem, THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE will have middle graders asking for more. A good introduction to the characters and a tight plot make this first in a series a good choice for middle school libraries and a good choice for reluctant readers who will devour the chills and screams. Even older kids will like trying to solve the mystery before our intrepid trio saves the day (and their jobs). The ghosts and blood will appeal to the boys, and the inclusion of a girl in the trio means girls will approve of this series also.

The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Fantastic, Inspiring
THE WEDDING GIFT by Marlen Suyapa Bodden

I’m still not sure where or when the prologue was supposed to take place – perhaps it was a dream?
After some very stilted conversations and an inconsistent use of dialect, the story is interesting and holds your attention to the end. However, there are too many coincidences and the slaves are often well cared for (or allowed a lot of free time) by slave owners we are supposed to be appalled and repelled by. That is not to say slaves were not ill-treated and horribly abused, they were. Just that the depiction is as inconsistent as the dialect.
Fathers in the antebellum South are shown as overbearing, browbeating, abusive scoundrels. Mothers are meek and cowed. Sons are distant and uncaring. In other words many of the characters are caricatures. Still I enjoyed the book.
Book groups will be discussing slavery, abusive husbands and fathers, the role of women, education priorities, gossip and social ostracism among other topics. A comparison with The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird and/or The Color Purple would be an interesting discussion.
Note: I read an Advance Reading Copy, I hope the map appears in the front of the book or in the body of the text in the “real” book.

 
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Insightful, Dramatic
BONES OF THE LOST by Kathy Reichs

Reichs has written an engrossing and detailed thriller that will keep you guessing and turning pages. Her characters are realistic and nuanced. Her plots are full of red herrings, twists and enough mayhem to please the violence prone and enough character, empathy and sensitivity to please the more faint of heart. Her background in forensic anthropology gives realism to her tales.
Book groups might discuss human trafficking, dealing in antiquities and ethnic treasures, women in combat, women’s place in society, court martials and criminal courts, divorce and its aftermath and drug addiction and dealers.

 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Fun
THE WHOLE ENCHILADA by Diane Mott Davidson

I enjoy this series as much for the recipes as for the stories. Goldy is again witness to murders - one takes place just after the victim has eaten one of Goldy’s delicious concoctions. We are witnesses to her acumen as sleuth as well as her talent at cooking. The cast of characters includes her talented partner Julian, her cop husband Tom, her sidekick Marla along with the usual assortment of suspects, witnesses, bystanders and red herrings. This tale has a second plotline with Ophelia, and Ophelia’s father, money and fiancé.
My one gripe with this murderous outing is we are constantly being TOLD what good friends Goldy and the victim were, but are never SHOWN why they were friends rather than mere acquaintances. This is important because of the many times this friendship is used to extract information from others. Tom is even witness to a rather shady extraction that would never be condoned or attempted by real police.
Still, the story is interesting, holds your attention, is solvable if you pay close attention and has enough humor to lighten a dark tale. The ending may signal the end of this series. Not much here for a book group discussion, but cozy fans will enjoy it anyway.

 
Book Club Recommended
W IS FOR WASTED by Sue Grafton

Grafton has written another winner. The characters are real. The conversation is logical. The view expressed of the homeless is very interesting. The mystery is quirky enough to keep you reading. The “new” family members for Kinsey are always a revelation. Not quite sure how this fits with the previous books, but I am happy for Kinsey’s new found wealth. All in all, a good read from a favorite author.

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Dramatic, Adventurous
SECOND WATCH by J A Jance

Jance takes us back in time to relate how beau became a detective and the “one that got away.” Beau’s first homicide was never solved. Now, in the present, Beau revisits that crime. Does he solve it? I won’t tell, but you enjoy the juxtaposition of past and present in this tale of crime and aging knees.
Jance keeps you interested while giving the reader a glimpse in to Beau’s back story. As usual, the writing is crisp, the plotting is well paced and the characters ring true. Another winner for the mystery lover, especially those who have Beau’s career through the years.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Informative
THE HOUSE GIRL by Tara Conklin


Josephine is a 17 year old slave in anti-bellum Virginia while Lina is a twenty something up and coming lawyer in present day NYC. The lives of these two become entwined when a wealthy Black client of Lina’s law firm starts a “slave reparations” law suit that becomes entangled with an art dealer’s contention that Josephine is the true artist and not her widely acclaimed mistress.
Both life in a high powered law firm and life in the slave owning South are presented believably. Lina and Josephine are both sympathetic and well-drawn characters. The story line for both is engaging. While the sub plot involving Lina’s mother is rather thin and too neatly concluded, the artistic element is a link for the two stories.
Book groups will have a variety of subjects to discuss; some very superficial and entertaining and others quite serious and profound. Race relations now and then permeate both stories. The question “Who is Caucasian and who is Black?” may form the body of the discussion. The value of a piece of art and how the artist’s name recognition determines price is another point for discussion. Motherless children and how they and their families cope could form another topic.

The Devil's Bed by William Kent Krueger
 
Book Club Recommended
THE DEVIL’S BED by William Kent Krueger


I became acquainted with W K Krueger’s writing with ORDINARY GRACE. This book (a stand alone, not part of his Cork O’Connor series) is VERY different. From the first page to the last, this is a hard charging, atmospheric, political assassination, psychological thriller. Krueger is a good writer who is able to keep his characters and plot clear throughout numerous twists and turns. The politics are familiar to any reader of the newspaper, but Krueger manages to make it new. The family drama (husband/wife/boyfriend?/father) is an integral part of the plot.
I have discovered a new favorite writer who can deliver thrillers as easily as gentler family dramas.
5 of 5 stars

The Bride's House by Sandra Dallas
 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Dramatic, Adventurous
THE BRIDE\\\'S HOUSE by Sandra Dallas

THE BRIDE’S HOUSE is home to three very different young women across three generations of the same family. Each has a secret. Each generation has secrets. The secrets are eventually revealed (but not by me!) and show how the keeping, or telling, of a secret can affect an entire generation and even succeeding generations. Sandra Dallas is a writer of people, complete with foibles, warts and generosity of character. In THE BRIDE’S HOUSE she has woven a fascinating tale of love, deceit, passion, heartache, callousness, generosity, forgiveness, redemption and the women who are affected and affect others. The three women – Nealie, Pearl and Susan – are complete individuals surrounded by fully fleshed out characters.
The plot is believable and interesting. Book groups will love this book that spans a century – from 1880 to 2000 – and a changing country -- from a rough and tumble mining town to a sophisticated Denver.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Interesting
SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham

John Grisham returns to the Clanton Courthouse of A TIME TO KILL and his hero Jake Brigance to bring a story of money, family dysfunction, racism, and legal maneuvering. Seth Hubbard has died – by suicide – leaving behind two conflicting wills, a black maid, two disgruntled children, four apathetic grandchildren, a dark secret, greedy lawyers and LOTS of money. Grisham manages to make us like old Seth, a genuinely unlikable person, even while we sympathize with his greedy children and root for his maid. SYCAMORE ROW will send you out to write an airtight will as soon as you finish reading, all while keeping in mind that is exactly what Seth thought he was doing. Seth did Jake no favors by ordering Jake, and only Jake, to defend his “final” will, but it does make a fascinating tale.
5 of 5 stars

Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly, Martin Dugard
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
KILLING JESUS by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard

Much more a history lesson than an “execution” story, KILLING JESUS relates in great detail the backstory of Israel, Rome, politics in AD 34, Judaism and Christianity. Sprinkled with numerous footnotes and maps, O’Reilly and Dugard have written a detailed account of the events leading to the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Sometimes gruesome, often too detailed, but nonetheless infinitely interesting, this book will be enlightening for any person of faith (Christian or not) or student of history.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY by Wiley Cash


Two little girls who have just lost their mother to cancer are in foster care about to be sent to Alaska to live with Grandparents they have never seen. Enter their n’er-do-well father, a failed major league pitcher with a dark past and a sudden interest in his daughters. Dad also suddenly has LOTS of money , a damaged baseball player and the FBI following him. A former cop turned guardian ad litem is the girl’s only advocate when Dad kidnaps them and tries to disappear.
Cash shows us that he can write fragile, failed, caring, evil, greedy, selfless, kind, merciless and merciful characters with a tight plot. THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY will have you reading far into the night to find out what happens to Easter and Ruby, the money, and the dad. In Cash’s debut novel, A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME, he gave us an atmospheric Southern gothic novel. DARK ROAD invests more in character in this thriller that at times seems like a friendly family drama – but be not deceived, this novel has true darkness as well as true mercy. Well worth your time!

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Dramatic
THE SISTERS WEISS by Naomi Ragen

Rose and Pearl grow up in an ultra-orthodox home in New York with a Rabbi father and ultra-observant mother. Theirs is a loving but strict family, requiring absolute obedience from the girls and their older siblings. When sheltered and naive Rose (the older of the two) becomes friendly with a new girl whose family is newly observant and extremely permissive, she sees a world beyond her closed society. Sent away from home into an even more strict and confining school, Rose rebels and commits a sin her family considers unforgiveable. Pearl, who adores her older sister, is left behind to deal with a fractured family and her own perceived guilt. The remainder of the novel covers the career and family of Rose and the eventual re-involvement of Pearl’s conservative religious beliefs in her life.
I found the first three fourths of this novel very informative concerning the ultra-orthodox life style. The characters were fully developed and consistent. The writing was clear and presented the various viewpoints with insight and sympathy. The situations were transparently presented and led to the final plot conflict. Unfortunately the final section of the novel seemed hurried, the characters lost their consistency of thought and action, and the ending was contrived and disappointing.
There is much here that book groups will find worthy of discussion, despite the novel’s limitation. The family situation, the effect of religious faith on family life, sibling relationships, guilt, forgiveness, redemption, choice of career, women’s choice’s, family dynamics, unplanned pregnancies, and education are all worthy topics.
3 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Insightful
THE CHOICE by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Much better written than many novels in the “Christian Lit” genre, THE CHOICE presents the life of an Amish community with an emphasis on the helpfulness and “family” feel of the members of the church as well as the all-encompassing structure of the faith. Carrie is fully developed, as are Mattie, Abel, and Esther. Some of the other characters are presented so briefly, or in such a strictly confined way, that they seem one dimensional. The plot is full of tension and is believable. The life of the community is a fully developed character itself and is essential to the plot.
The use of the “dutch” language is sometimes annoying. Often sentences and phrases are immediately translated in italic, but occasionally a word or phrase is not, leaving the non-Amish wondering at the exact meaning. I would have liked to know more about Mattie and Emma’s life after the choices they make, but as this is a part of a series, those stories may be covered in another book. My edition (e-book) did not have any notes revealing the content of other books in the series.
Book group will have a field of topics to discuss – arranged marriage, step-parenting, death of a spouse, faith as life encompassing, medical experiences with chronic disease, bullying, outsider vs insider in relatively closed communities, forgiveness, business fraud and many others.
4 of 5 stars

City of the Sun by Juliana Maio
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Adventurous, Informative
CITY OF THE SUN by Juliana Maio

This book started as a good, well thought out war time spy thriller with a little romance thrown in. Then three fourth of the way through a couple of needless hot and heavy sex scenes appeared that seemed out of character for Maya and unnecessary for the story line. Then the ending just got unbelievable. It seemed as though the author ran out of steam and did a quick and dirty ending with coincidence and unreal situations abounding.
The characters – Maya, a Jewish refugee trying to get to Palestine with her scientist brother; Mickey, an American newspaperman turned spy; Kesner, a German spy looking for the brother, and a host of minor characters - were well fleshed out with clear voices and actions. A number of historical persons and organizations played minor parts (Anwar Sadat, King Farouk, the Muslim Brotherhood) appearing realistically as needed for the plot. Cairo in 1941, festering with a desire for independence and drowning in refugees and foreign soldiers, was a great setting for the story line. It is too bad the ending was so unsatisfying.
I enjoyed the book as a whole but not the ending.
3 of 5 stars

The Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen Grissom
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
THE KITCHEN HOUSE by Kathleen Grissom

In an interesting twist on the pre-Civil War story of slavery, Grissom presents us with an Irish child orphaned on the ocean crossing and delivered into the life of an indentured servant. Because Lavinia is only 6 years old as the tale begins, she is handed over to the “house slaves” to raise by the master of the house. Belle, who ultimately becomes Lavinia’s “mother/sister,” is the master’s illegitimate daughter and receives many privileges because of this relationship. Promised her freedom by the master, Belle unhappily comes under the eye of the master’s son who is unduly influenced by the evil overseer.
Grissom has written an engrossing tale of life of “house slave, “field slave” and bullied and frightened wife. The characters are clearly written, the scenes are believable, the secrets are many. The plot will grab your interest from the first page and keep you reading to the final page. Grissom has a clear vision of plantation life, family relationships, and the fear engendered by powerlessness. The tempo of the story gains momentum as the characters reveal their lies, secrets, loves, hopes and fears as Lavinia grows from child to adult.
5 of 5 stars

A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard
 
Book Club Recommended
Poorly Written, Insightful, Life Changing
A STOLEN LIFE by Jaycee Dugard


Jaycee Dugard suffered unspeakable horror for 18 years. Kidnapped by a pedophile at age eleven and kept for 18 years, Dugard bore two children and came to depend upon her captor all while striving to maintain her “self” and remember her “real” family, especially her mother.
Her memoir tells of her heroism and fortitude in the face of unrelenting adversity. Often the voice of that eleven year old is heard; often the voice of a struggling 19 year old woman and mother is heard. She, at times, voices a maturity earned through pain. She struggles to shield her children from the press even while acknowledging the impossibility of that task. She struggles to heal herself and rejoin the “normal’ world.
It is impossible to read this memoir without suffering with Jaycee. It is also impossible to justify a critical review of this book. 5 of 5 stars

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Inspiring
THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd

Kidd’s retelling of the Grimke sisters and their fight for equality for women and the abolition of slavery is told with sympathy and fact. Although much of the story is fiction, Kidd manages to remain true to the real life story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke in the days and decades before the Civil War. A number of “big names” appear in the sisters’ ongoing struggle to be heard in a male dominated South and respected in a male dominated North.
The tale loses momentum in the middle, possibly because the sisters’ actual lives also stalled in their middle years. The addition of the totally fictional characters of Charlotte and Hetty carry the story well, giving the slave side of Southern life. The horrors of slavery are graphically depicted.
I can recommend this book without reservation for anyone interested in Southern life, abolition, women’s rights, and the life style and treatment of women in antebellum Charleston, South Carolina. Also interesting is the role of the church (in many permutations) in the condoning of slavery and the treatment of women.
5 of 5 stars

Ender's Game (The Ender Saga) by Orson Scott Card
 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Interesting, Graphic
ENDER”S GAME by Orson Scott Card

This young adult book has been out for some time, but I had never read it before. The premise is a child (Ender, age 6) is a genius at war games on the computer and the adults will use him to win a war against the “buggers.” It will soon be a major motion picture. I felt that the story could have been told as a Western or other genre as easily as Sci-fi. The battle scenes were exciting while the psychological scenes were boring and mercifully brief. The book was interesting as a war/battle story but I was disappointed as I was looking for a classic, memorable tale.
Ender is a fully developed character and the reader is allowed to see how his mind is developed and manipulated as the story proceeds and Ender ages from 6 to 15 years or so. The brother and sister are less well developed, the brother only seen through the eyes (mind) of Ender and the sister. Several adult characters also appear in one dimensional form. They serve to guide (or manipulate) Ender through the intricacies of the “game” meant to train him for the coming war.
The end will not be a surprise to the adult reader. Book groups will want to discuss the psychology and manipulation of children. Morality and violence may also be topics as well as fear of others different from the norm.
3 of 5 stars.

 
Book Club Recommended
GAME, SET, and MURDER by Elizabeth Flynn


If you like tennis and you like cozy murder mysteries you will love this book. Detective Inspector Angela Costello is on her first case as a DI when a beloved tennis star is found dead under suspicious circumstances. Costello is a likeable character who thinks carefully through the clues and suspects. Red herrings abound with the suspect tennis players and their friends (enemies?) who are individuals and not stock characters. The plot is full of surprises and twists that will keep you guessing until the final pages..
This is a quick read that is quite enjoyable. I look forward to reading more about DI Angela Costello.
4 of 5 stars

The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Brilliant
THE SECRET OF MAGIC by Deborah Johnson

This is a wonderful book! The book jacket does not do it justice. I almost didn’t buy it. Then I started reading and couldn’t put it down. The writing reminds me of THE HELP or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or IN COLD BLOOD or even MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL – all great books.
A black war hero is returning home to Mississippi after WWII when he is beaten to death and dumped in the river. The story concerns the hero’s father and the two women – one white, one black – who want to see justice served in a segregated Jim Crow South. The characters in this book are real people (fictional) who are shown in both their goodness and their fear, their needs and their disappointments, their triumphs and their failures. The town of Revere, Mississippi, is as much a character as the people who populate the town - the District Attorney, the sheriff, the white lawyer and the black lawyer, the erstwhile lover and his wife and son, the maybe murderess and the ever present sense of fear and “place.”
The story is riveting. You will not be disappointed. Book groups will find a wealth of topics to discuss.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Interesting
THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD by Laura McHugh

THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD concerns what happens when family loyalty blinds one member to the oddities, questions and inconsistencies of another member; when love for a brother leads one to cover up misdeeds in the name of family and to continue for years never admitting the half truths that abound.
This thriller by Laura McHugh starts out mildly unsettling and ratchets up as the pages turn. Carl and Clete are brothers who both fall for the same girl, Lila, an orphan who comes to the Ozarks for work and finds love. After marrying Carl, Lila has a daughter Lucy, who is loved by both her father and her uncle. In short order a town girl disappears and her body is found dismembered and stuffed in a tree. Lila, considered an outsider and perhaps a witch, disappears soon after. The story continues 16 years later with Lila’s daughter and increasing tension between the brothers and in the town.
McHugh does a good job with tension and atmosphere, characterization and ordinariness as the story deepens into horror. Some readers may be disturbed by the subtext of white slavery. Book groups will discuss family secrets, loyalty, the pull of neighborliness, mental handicaps, privacy and small town morals topics for discussion.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Epic, Informative, Boring
THE ROMANOV SISTERS by Helen Rappaport

History and Russian buffs will love this history of the last Tsar and his family. Although the title seems to indicate the book will revolve around the four Romanov daughters more than half of the book is spent with their mother Alexandra and her ills, their brother Alexie who suffers from Hemophilia and the influence of Rasputin. Perhaps because the girls were so sheltered from the public little actual “news” is available to write about them, their lives, their schooling and private lives. The book reads quickly and is interesting, especially as it relates the family to their English and German relatives.
If you are hoping to read the bloody details of the family’s end, you will need to find another book as this one ends with their banishment from public and royal life. You will, however, discover a family that cherishes normality and each other.
4 of 5 stars

The Workhouse Girl by Dilly Court
 
THE WORKHOUSE GIRL by Dilly Court

Sarah, the workhouse girl of the title, is followed from age 6 to about age 20 in this young adult novel. Poor Sarah rockets from one dismal situation after another, extricating herself (or being extricated) only to fall into another awful mess. Along the way we meet several villains and a few heroes and heroines. The characters are stock characters with one “noble rascal” to relieve the standardization.
This is a quick read that moves from one unlikely situation to another, but does eventually reach a not quite foregone conclusion. The writing is okay, the dialogue pedestrian, but the tempo is non-stop. Tweens will love it. Teens will enjoy the action and like the very mild romance. Parents have nothing to fear beyond a few somewhat “bad” words, a few kisses along with some mild innuendo and lots of outright cruelty.
Adults will likely find the believable factor too implausible to read past the middle of the book and may just skip to the conclusion. Then they will discover they have missed several plot points.
3 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
TRICKSTER’S POINT by William Kent Krueger

If you are looking for a literate mystery with well-developed characters and a convincing, challenging plot, this is the book for you. Krueger’s latest chapter in the life of his Cork O’Conner character will have you guessing until the last pages.
Several characters from Cork’s past have reason to kill off Cork’s childhood friend, rising politician Jubal Little. When Little’s life is cut short in the middle of his gubernatorial campaign, Cork is the prime suspect until others reveal their animosity. Cork’s family and friends, as well as a few enemies, all come under suspicion in this tightly plotted mystery leavened with near poetic descriptions of the area around Trickster’s Point. The many layers to the mystery of Jubal’s death are only revealed in the final pages.
An excellent way to spend some time with a fine author, Native American traditions and the northern reaches of Minnesota.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Persuasive, Insightful, Informative
12 YEARS A SLAVE by Solomon Northup

I never thought I would say this but …. Go see the movie. The story is important but the book is ponderous. The writing is old fashioned enough to make it difficult for the modern reader. I was glad I read this on my e-reader so I could easily look up all the many “archaic” words. The punctuation also forces the reader to slow down and re-read portions to understand what is being said in this autobiography.
The book relates the experiences of a free black man who is kidnapped by slavers in Washington, DC and taken to Louisiana where he is sold into slavery. It takes 12 long years for him to be found, released from bondage and returned to wife and children. He suffers under both cruel and mild masters as he shares life with other bound persons. Northup also relates the stories of other persons he suffers with. You will feel Patsey’s pain as she is whipped into submission and suffer with Elisa as her small children are wrenched from her and sold away never to be seen again.
This biography needs to be told. Perhaps another writer will make the story come alive for the modern reader.
3 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
MERCY FALLS by William Kent Krueger

MERCY FALLS is the 5th in the Cork O’Connor series of mystery/thrillers written by William Kent Krueger. The author’s descriptions of the North Woods area of Minnesota are excellent and add greatly to the story giving it a sense of place usually lacking in this genre. Krueger is also careful to detail his characters as real, living, breathing persons instead of the stereotypes and stock characters so often found in mysteries. The tempo and pacing of the novel give the reader (and the characters) a chance to breathe after thrilling and terrorizing scenes. I liked the way reservation life was detailed – accurate but not condescending or demeaning. In short, Krueger is an excellent writer with an engaging and compelling story.
So, why am I only giving this book 3 stars. Because of the loose ends! One of the main “mysteries” isn’t solved! Is this the first of a series inside a series? Does the next book (Copper River) answer the questions that are left dangling? Are we never to know the answers? I am bummed! If there had been a “read the next book” epilogue I would be happier. Instead I feel FORCED to buy and read the next book hoping to find answers that may or may not be there.
3 of 5 stars

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
 
Book Club Recommended
ISLAND OF A THOUSAND MIRRORS by Nayomi Munaweera

I enjoyed the writing which was clear and moving. The descriptions of the island were wonderful, not just the physical beauty but the smells of food, people and nature. I felt like I really knew the characters. I hope the final edition has a “cast of characters” as it was difficult to keep the various families and generations straight, especially as they were seemingly unrelated as the narrative moved from generation to generation and Sinhala to Tamil and back again. I learned a vast amount about the Sri Lankan history of civil violence.
Book groups will find themselves discussing discrimination, arranged marriage, ethnic differences, education, parental desires for their children, the life of the immigrant in a new land, jealousy between siblings, soldier versus terrorist, the effect of violence on people and culture, and the sense of smell. Some groups may find the descriptions of sexuality (including violent rape) disturbing.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
TOMORROW THERE WILL BE APRICOTS by Jessica Soffer

Lorca, Victoria and Blot, three damaged people, populate this novel that touches on Iraq, cutting and drug addiction leavened by lies, secrets and poor parenting. Ultimately hopeful, the book drags a bit after many chapters of discouraged, depressed people. I was happy to see the end.
The three main characters, Lorca’s mother and Victoria’s “best friend” Dottie are all clearly drawn. Each is likeable except for Lorca’s mother who is clearly the villain. Joseph, the only other character, is not so well developed and plays an important, though minor, role.
Cutting and food are also main characters. I learned much about the whys of cutting, coming away with a very sympathetic and empathetic view of those who suffer from this scary disease. Food offers the much needed lightness. Iraqi dishes are presented and prepared by Lorca and Victoria. One recipe is given. I would have liked to have others – the descriptions had my mouth watering!
Because I feel the book is too long, only 3 of 5 stars.

 
Book Club Recommended
THE EXECUTION by Dick Wolf

A great thriller with good characterization and tight plotting. The characters are "real" with back stories that support their actions. The plot is believable and moves along quickly without feeling rushed. The final twist is realistic and right for the characters.
4 of 5 stars

From Bomboloni to Bagel: A Story of Two Worlds by Jacqueline Gmach, Hillary Selese Liber
 
Book Club Recommended
FROM BOMBOLONI TO BAGEL: A Story of Two Worlds by Jacqueline Semha Gmach and H S Liber

This interesting and informative book detailing the life of a Jewish woman born and raised in Tunisia and finally living in America is written in a series of vignettes. The order of the vignettes wanders from Tunisia to France to Canada to Israel and America and back again. The reader often wishes the order were more chronological, but the tales are interesting and follow a thematic message.
The structured life of a very sheltered and privileged family is detailed although the effect of WWII is glossed over initially. When the author moves to France for university we learn more of her life and the life of her future husband as the Shoah (Holocaust) shatters Jewish life in Europe and North Africa. The structured life of observant Jews is detailed and made interesting for the general reader.
Finally the author lives out the advice of her first “real” teacher – If you want to succeed, you can – and finds a fulfilling and very successful life in America, the land of the bagel.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Epic
THE FORTUNE HUNTER by Daisy Goodwin

The Empress Elizabeth of Austria is a leading character in this historical romance that has many historical persons in both major and minor roles. I would have appreciated an epilogue telling what were actual events and which were made up as well as what happened to each of the characters later.
The writing was clear and the story line easy to follow. The characters were true as they were written. I liked learning so much about royal morals and manners and the early method of photography. The horse race and hunting were detailed so you understood what was important even if you knew nothing about either. Queen Victoria actually added some humorous elements.
Altogether an interesting and likeable read. Book groups would enjoy discussing the differences between “now and then,” clothing as it has changed for both men and women, and the changes in photography.
4 stars of 5

Dog Gone, Back Soon by Nick Trout
 
Book Club Recommended
DOG GONE, BACK SOON by Nick Trout

If you like animals and are in need of a good laugh or two, DOG GONE, BACK SOON is just the book for you. The plot has enough twists to keep you guessing. The characters are likeable and clearly drawn. The animals, especially Stash, are quirky and entertaining.
My one quibble is that I occasionally had to read the dialogue a second time and pay careful attention or I would not know who was speaking – and it makes a difference! A few identifying comments would have been helpful.
The romance is of the hand holding, peck on the cheek variety so those who prefer to avoid hot and heavy sex need not fear nor is there any foul language. The supporting characters – both human and four legged – are engaging and amusing.
Altogether an enjoyable read for a lazy summer afternoon or in front of a blazing fireplace.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
IRISH EYES by Mary Kay Andrews

Callahan Garrity, private eye and cleaning lady, loses a former partner and good friend when he makes a quick stop at a convenience store. Callahan, even after being warned off, tries to find the bad guys involved.
The writing is tightly plotted, the story line will keep you guessing, the characters are likeable – except of course, for the sleazy ones. Andrews has another winner in her Garrity series of mysteries. Her fans will love it and new readers, who need not have read any others in series, will find a new author to seek out.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Informative, Interesting
THE ALL-GIRL FILLING STATION’S LAST REUNION by Fannie Flagg

Flagg has moved from the South to Pulaski, Wisconsin for her tale of an immigrant family and the four daughters who take it upon themselves to run the family filling station and take up flying fighter planes during World War II. But never fear, Sookie, a Southern bell who isn’t quite up to snuff according to her domineering mother, discovers she is not a SIMMONS, but was adopted (horrors!) is also a main character.
How these facts intertwine is the story that will hold your attention. The four Polish sisters are based on the actual women who flew airplanes from factory to airfield (and sometimes further) to relieve the “real pilots” for combat duty. Their story makes up the bulk of The All-Girl Filling Station.
Flagg wrote the book to honor the women who sacrificed as much as the men, but until recently were denied the right to military honor and benefits. Their story is compelling.
Sookie’s part of the story offers humorous relief and ties all the loose ends together. You will learn an important part of WWII history and be greatly entertained at the same time. A great story well told.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Addictive
SLOW DOLLAR by Margaret Maron

Fans of Deborah Knott will appreciate this novel that introduces some long lost relatives, visits a carnival and finds murder among the rides and “stores.” You will learn quite a bit about carnivals and the carnies that populate them. Deborah’s relatives are kind, forgiving, mean spirited, long suffering, angry – you name it. They are all here just like in real life.
Maron supplies us with another tightly crafted, engaging mystery. Although the 8th tale in this series, you can read this book without having read any of the others. The family tree is helpful in identifying all of Deborah’s many brothers and their progeny.
A satisfying read. 4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Boring, Interesting
Ruth's Journey

Though the book is related by Ruth (Mammy), the story is really Solange and Miss Ellen’s story. You might ask “Who is Solange?” Solange is Scarlett’s grandmother, but you won’t find her in Gone with the Wind.
Solange is a French heiress who is married off to a second son with prospects in sugar. She arrives in Haiti to find the sugar plantation in disarray and the second son a poor manager. Ruth is an orphan that Solange appropriates for herself. When the Haitian slave revolt becomes a dangerous reality, Solange, her husband and Ruth decamp to Charleston, South Carolina.
Here Ruth finds love and marriage in Jehu, a free black. Unfortunately Jehu finds Pastor Vesey and his church of slaves. When Vesey’s plot to overthrow and murder white slave holders is discovered, Ruth’s family is shattered and the story changes location to Savannah. Here Solange marries for a third time and gives birth to Ellen, Scarlett’s mother.
The last quarter of the book covers Miss Ellen and Gerald O”Hara’s marriage and life at Tara. The book ends with the outbreak of the Civil War.
The book is well written and follows a pre-ordained curve to introduce us to Scarlett and attempt to give us a back story for why Scarlett is who she is. Actual events and people give a feeling of reality to the novel that is a bit too long. Too much of the book deals with Solange and her amorous adventures. If you are looking for a novel of pre-Civil War manners, you will be happy. If you really want to know Ruth and a slave’s life, this is not the book for you.
3 of 5 stars

 
Pointless, Boring, Graphic
SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL by Herman Koch

I made it through 100 pages of this book before deciding I didn’t like any of the characters and I truly didn’t care if Ralph was murdered or it was just a horrible mistake. Marc, the doctor who made the mistake or committed the murder, was an especially unlikeable person. He was selfish and narcissistic to the extreme. Ralph wasn’t much better. They were both lecherous towards the other’s wife within minutes of meeting (apparently not an unusual happening).
There was supposed to be humor somewhere in this book, but it hadn’t occurred by page 100 (out of 385). Marc didn’t like camping and I didn’t like Marc so I guess we are even. Skip this one.
2 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Dramatic, Adventurous
SHOTS FIRED by C J Box

This collection of short stories shows off Cox’s expertise in creating characters. BLOOD KNOT, a extremely short story, gives us insight into six different characters while delivering a satisfying ending.
Joe Pickett, a Box character in 14 novels, makes an appearance in several tales including One-Car Bridge, the opening story that delivers a punch of an ending. If you already are familiar with Box you will like these quick reads. If you have never read his stories before, these will have you eager for more.
You will find humor in PIRATES OF YELLOWSTONE, evil in EVERY DAY IS A GOOD DAY ON THE RIVER and political incorrectness with a helping of retribution in LE SAUVAGE NOBLE (THE NOBLE SAVAGE).
5 of 5 stars

Cop Town: A Novel by Karin Slaughter
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Graphic, Interesting
COP TOWN by Karin Slaughter

This book is vile, racist, anti-women, homophobic, violent, contains foul language and characters of corruption and pure evil. It is also a ripping good story. The main characters are police women (and men) in 1974 Atlanta, Georgia. If you remember 1974, you will recognize the casual racism and ethnic slurs that abounded in southern cities of that time. You will also recognize some of the music and businesses from that era.
Kate is a newbie cop. She is also completely out of her comfort zone. She is Jewish, widowed, rich privileged and educated. The women and men she is thrown in with in “cop world” are working class, racist, anti-Jew, hard-bitten, bullying and for the most part trying to do a decent job under awful circumstances. The writing is sharp, pointed and unflinching. The plot unfolds fast enough to keep you turning the pages long after you should be safely in bed.
You will find yourself sympathizing with macho cops who operate just below the level of corruption. You will figure out the bad guy and the plot twists long before Kate does, but that won’t diminish your enjoyment of this thrilling thriller.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
BONES NEVER LIE by Kathy Reichs

Temperance Brennan is a woman determined to avenge the young girls who are being murdered in Charlotte. When she learned these murders may be connected to “cold cases” where she was never to bring the perpetrator to justice, she is even more determined. When Detective Ryan shows up as well, things begin to be very interesting.
This is Reichs at her best. She weaves people and plot carefully together and brings the conclusion as just the right point in the story. There is enough monstrous cruelty here for the most blood thirsty and enough science for technical in this tale of psychology and murder solved with wit and dogged police work.
BONES NEVER LIE is part of the written series, but can be read without knowing the back story. Those who only know Temperance through television will not recognize the characters but will recognize good writing and detection.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Graphic, Dramatic, Adventurous
THE SILKWORM by Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling)

This second outing for Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith continues the story of Cormoran Strike, an intrepid detective and war hero, and his assistant Robin.
This story is much darker than THE CUCKOO’S CALLING and filled with cruelty and foulness. A failed and failing writer is murdered in a heinous way. Strike and Robin combine to discover who among the many literary folk did the murder and why. The many characters are introduced and their stories filled out nicely. Each of the characters has a possible motive and you will be kept guessing until the final pages. Rowling writes with clarity as she fleshes out each possible murderer. The plot is intricate and you will need to pay attention if you are to solve the mystery before Strike and Robin.
Strike’s physical infirmity becomes a defining part of the story and Robin is forced to step up in ways that make her fiancé unhappy. That portion of the book offers insight into each of the main characters and will allow Rowling to continue the series with continued conflict between Robin, her fiancé and Strike.
A well written, engaging mystery that drags just a bit in the middle when much time is spent defining the characters.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Fun
The OLD BLUE LINE by J A Jance

This novella gives us the back story for Butch Dixon, Sheriff Brady’s husband in many of J A Jance’s books that take place in Arizona.
Butch becomes the prime suspect in the murder of his former wife who had remarried and changed her name after divorcing Butch. How he defends himself is the plot. Although short this is a well-developed story with interesting characters and a layered plot.
Part of the book is a portion of Jance’s next book – REMAINS OF INNOCENCE.
4 of 5 stars

Monday, Monday: A Novel by Elizabeth Crook
 
Dramatic, Interesting, Inspiring
MONDAY, MONDAY by Elizabeth Crook

I was expecting more of a tale about the Texas tower massacre rather than a tale of damaged people and their secrets and the damage those secrets caused. That said the book was interesting for about the first half then I got wearied with all the drama and more drama and more drama that involved Shelly, her lover, her husband, her daughter, her friends, etc, etc.
After finishing the book I decided it was a warning of the all mistakes people make in their lives and how those mistakes affect others far into the future.
The characters were carefully drawn. The writing was clear. The descriptions of life in Texas were interesting. The drama around the Devil’s Sinkhole was engaging and realistic. My favorite character was Dan. My least favorite was Wyatt (or maybe Madeline).
But overall, the book was just……..a book. Neither really good or really bad. So….
3 out of 5 stars

Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas
 
Book Club Recommended
Slow, Inspiring, Insightful
MIRACLE IN A DRY SEASON by Sarah Loudin Thomas

This debut novel is a quick read with a Christian wholesomeness. You will figure out the love story by the second page, but the story is really about people a small town in West Virginia, their prejudices, secrets and the ability to forgive.
Coincidence and misunderstandings abound as the story progresses to its foreordained conclusion. You won’t be surprised but you will enjoy getting there. The characters are likeable. The villain is driven out of town. The good folks find salvation and redemption. The writing is solid.
If you like Christian, family centered novels, you will love this book. If you find them boring and cliché ridden, you should read something else.
4 of 5 stars

The Arsonist: A novel by Sue Miller
 
Pointless
THE ARSONIST by Sue Miller

I enjoyed this very well written book until I got to the end. Then I felt cheated. Where was the conclusion? What happened? Who was guilty? Who died? Who loved?
Frankie and Bud were clearly drawn, likeable characters. Frankie’s life in Africa was detailed enough to make her believable if unknown and unknowable. Bud was always known and knowable. Sylvia and Alfie were good foils for Frankie and Bud.
The fires seemed peripheral to the story, unnecessary even.
Did I like this book? While I was reading it – unequivocally yes! Did I like it once I finished the book – not so much. The last 10 pages seemed like a cop out – I don’t know what to do with these characters and their story, so I’ll just end it. Very unsatisfying.
1 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Insightful
THE PEARL THAT BROKE ITS SHELL by Nadia Hashimi

Two women who were “bocha posh” in their youth are the two heroines of this double story. Rahima is the modern girl who is turned into a boy in order for her family to survive in a patriarchal society where girls/women are forced into the extreme background of life. Shekiba (the great-great-grandmother of Rahima) becomes “bacha posh” because of the deaths of her immediate family and the shunning of her extended family. Both women live in a very structured Aghan society that does not permit females to participate in society.
The intertwined tales follow the women throughout their lives as they transition from girl to “boy” and then back to girl. The second transition is the most difficult as they must adjust from relative freedom to a rigidly obedient life under the complete domination of both males and the older women who can make their lives miserable or pleasant.
Traditional Afghan society is made very clear as we learn the intimate details of Rahima and Shekiba’s lives. Both women make choices that determine their fates as well as the fates of those they love or simply grow to know. The character who connects the two women is Shaima, Rahima’s aunt, who tells the story of Shekiba in order to encourage Rahima to live her life as fully as possible.
Book groups will ponder the fate of the many women who people the book and find much to discuss – husbands, education, the position of women, ethical behavior, the importance of family and, of course, the oddity of “bacha posh” itself.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Adventurous, Insightful
THE DEATH OF LUCY KYTE by Nicola Upson

Josephine Tey is one of my favorite authors so when I discovered that another author was writing using Ms. Tey as her protagonist I was intrigued. In this outing Josephine inherits a cottage in a village still under the influence of a murder that occurred in that same cottage many years ago.
Surprisingly the will that grants Josephine the cottage contains an enigmatic bequest to Lucy Kyte who “may take whatever she wants” from the cottage.
THE DEATH OF LUCY KYTE is an engaging and convincing mystery on several levels. First – who is Lucy Kyte? No one will admit to knowing her – and this in a village of few persons who all know each other. Second – what does Lucy want? Related mysteries abound. The mysteries are all connected and satisfactorily resolved by book’s end.
The characters are clearly drawn. The plot is tightly woven and original. Altogether an enthralling book.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Optimistic, Dramatic
DESIGNATED DAUGHTERS by Margaret Maron

Margaret Maron has written a mystery with heart where some of the miscreants get what they deserve and some get mercy. The Knott family saga continues with more life in the characters and more fun in the tales they tell and live out.
Well plotted and with enough red herrings to challenge the best armchair detectives, DESIGNATED DAUGHTERS tells of young and old, rich and poor, cheated and cheater, but mostly Maron spins a tale of life. Her characters resonate with vitality. Maron fans will find the characters familiar as they age, grow up, mellow and are revealed in this latest novel from a master of the continuing story. If you are reading a Deborah Knott mystery for the first time, you will need the family tree found in the front of the book.

Ladies' Night by Mary Kay Andrews
 
Fun, Optimistic, Insightful
LADIES NIGHT by Mary Kay Andrews

One of my favorite “light read” authors has written a fun take on divorce and retribution with a smattering of romance. You will laugh at the antics of wronged women compelled by a sadistic judge to attend “divorce recovery” sessions with a well meaning but slightly loopy therapist. When one of the attendees turns out to a “wronged man” instead of woman you know you have a few laughs at his expense.
The characters are clearly drawn if perhaps overdone, the “mystery” is solved with the perpetrators brought to justice. The situations are believable and hilarious. Altogether this is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Interesting
A QUILT FOR CHRISTMAS by Sandra Dallas

This is a lovely story by a favorite author. Placed in Civil War Kansas the story follows a young wife is left behind as her husband goes off to fight for the Union. Eliza carefully makes a quilt to ease his bones and keep him warm and sends it off to him with another soldier as a Christmas gift.
Eliza and her two children soon find themselves challenged, first by a Confederate widow and child and then by an escaped slave. Keeping the farm producing is another challenge. Discovering what has happened to the lovingly made quilt is a prime element of a story that contains heartbreak, danger, suspicion, wickedness, love, cooperation and redemption.
The characters are true to life, the situations and conversations realistic. Dallas fans will discover that some of the characters are the grand parents of the characters in THE PERSIAN PICKLE CLUB.
5 of 5 stars

Thief of Glory: A Novel by Sigmund Brouwer
 
Book Club Recommended
THIEF OF GLORY by Sigmund Brouwer

Jeremiah tells his story as an old man remembering the years of World War II when his family was interned by the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies. This is a little known part of the Japanese invasion that is overshadowed by the Burma Death March and the bridge over the River Kwai.
Jeremiah’s family is quickly separated. His father and three older brothers are sent to work as slaves for the invaders. Jeremiah, his two younger sisters and younger brother are left with their mother who suffers from an unnamed mental illness. Laura Jansen and her grandmother and Georgie, a boy about Jeremiah’s age, also figure in the camp years as internees.
The horror of the camp and the privations are clearly shown. Camp life makes up the majority of the book with several incidents proving to affect the lives of the main characters long after the war is over.
The writing engages the reader immediately and doesn’t let go until the end. The characters are fullu fleshed, the incidents believable, the plot and conflict are layered.
5 of 5 stars

The Art Restorer: A Novel by Julián Sánchez
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Beautiful
THE ART RESTORER by Julian Sanchez

A mystery unfolds within this tale of art, artists, writers, secrets and beautiful scenery. The locations range around the world and are delightfully rendered. The characters are well developed and engaging. The mystery is interesting and will keep you guessing until the end.
Because this is a translation, you will find a few awkward constructions, but persevere; this tale is well worth it. The main characters, Enrique and his former wife, Bety, find themselves embroiled in controversy when the art restorer and writer researching Sert paintings disappears. Bety and Craig, the restorer, had become friends while he studied the paintings in the museum/church where Bety worked. Enrique, a renowned writer, is enticed to delve into his disappearance and the secret contained in the paintings.
You will learn a bit of history, a bit of art construction, and a bit of the craft of writing, all the while enjoying the intrigue of mystery.
4 of 5 stars

Gray Mountain: A Novel by John Grisham
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Slow
GRAY MOUNTAIN by John Grisham

This book has something for, and about, everyone – rich people and poor people, innocents and the guilty, environmentalists and clear cutters, big law and legal aid, murderers and the murdered, the cheats and the honest, those who love and those they love. Because Grisham is a good writer he can take all these disparate ideas and combine them into a cogent and quick moving novel.
Gray Mountain used to be a primeval wonderland of pristine acreage in the Appalachian Range, but now, after the land has been taken over by big coal, it is a wasteland of detritus and denuded mud leveled into a “stump” of a mountain. Additionally, big coal is the bad guy in an ongoing dispute over black lung and the minors who suffer loss of health and loss of jobs. The downturn of the recent recession makes its appearance and enables suddenly unemployed, but talented, big city lawyers to become legal aid interns in backwater hamlets.
The characters are human and well developed. The conversations and situations are believable and convincing. The good guys and the bad guys are obvious, so if you are a proponent of big coal or cutthroat lawyers you might find yourself cringing a bit.
Altogether a well written, fast paced mystery with a bit of romance and a lot of environmentalism.
5 of 5 stars

Backyard by Norman Draper
 
Pointless, Confusing, Boring
BACKYARD by Norman Draper

I did not enjoy this book. I didn’t like any of the very unlikeable characters-especially Dr. Spoot, the main character. The story was filled with mean actions and objectionable and deplorable attitudes. (Acting like a Nazi is not funny!) The “gardening” aspect, which was what drew me to the book in the first place, was actually a mockery of gardening. Perhaps this book was supposed to be sarcastic and hilariously funny. If so, it was entirely lost on me. The only somewhat likeable characters were the Fremonts and even there, drunkenness and “peeing” in ones backyard were deemed appropriate behavior.
Skip this one. The writing is pedestrian and the jokes are sophomoric (in the worst sense).

The Job: A Fox and O'Hare Novel by Janet Evanovich, Lee Goldberg
 
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Dramatic, Adventurous
THE JOB by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

If you can suspend belief and think that FBI and CIA folk actually work the way they are depicted in this book, then you will like this take down of a notorious bad guy by an FBI operative and her criminal “charge.” The authors have done a good job of explaining how the take down worked. The characters are likeable and well crafted. The “love story” element is just believable enough to be interesting. There is plenty of action. All the loose ends are neatly tied up. This is a fun and quick read even if not very memorable.
There is one problem with the story. I cringed when I read the arrogant “ugly American” remark in reference to the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. “I know all about them. I saw a special on the Travel Channel...” I have seen the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace in person and a “TV special” could not possibly do them justice. It was a throw away remark, but it jumped out at me as it would to anyone who has been in Istanbul and it would be quite offensive to locals. Evanovich and Goldberg should know better. If they don’t, then their editor/fact checker should have challenged this remark and others.
4 of 5 stars for the genre.

 
Insightful, Dramatic, Adventurous
SECOND WATCH by J A Jance

Jance takes us back in time to relate how beau became a detective and the “one that got away.” Beau’s first homicide was never solved. Now, in the present, Beau revisits that crime. Does he solve it? I won’t tell, but you enjoy the juxtaposition of past and present in this tale of crime and aging knees.
Jance keeps you interested while giving the reader a glimpse in to Beau’s back story. As usual, the writing is crisp, the plotting is well paced and the characters ring true. Another winner for the mystery lover, especially those who have Beau’s career through the years.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Informative, Dramatic
THE REBELLION OF MISS LUCY ANN LOBDELL by William Klaber

This was such an interesting story and yet so sad. Lucy Ann, who lived most of her life as a man, was a remarkable person. Abandoned by a beater husband and left with a small daughter to care for. She returned “home” to an unforgiving family. After donning men’s clothing and cutting her hair she left her daughter behind to establish herself as a “proper wage earner” in a society that did not look kindly on divorce or even spinsterhood.
Klaber’s well researched volume relates Lucy Ann’s life with sympathy and sensitivity. He deals with her misfortunes when discovered to be a woman dressing as a man and a woman living as husband with another woman. The late 1800’s were not good years for a non-conforming woman.
Book groups will find a wealth of topics for discussion – our treatment of non-conformists, religion, woman’s roles, men’s roles, mothers who desert their children, “fallen” women, lesbians, mental illness, insane asylums and many others.
5 of 5 stars

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Adventurous
THE WALLED CITY by Ryan Graudin

The Walled City is a fast moving novel based on the real Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong. The three “heroes” of the novel are Mei Yee, a young girl sold into human trafficking by her father, Jin, her sister who has entered the Walled City posing as a boy, and Dai, a mysterious youth who may or may not be able to help Jin find and rescue her sister. The protagonists are Kuen and his pack of predatory and sadistic youth who bring terror on the inhabitants of the Walled City and Longwai, the gangster who runs the Walled City and the brothel that holds Mei Yee.
Although the basis of this tale is human trafficking, sex is almost non-existent in the book. The horror, brutality and hopelessness endured by the girls who are trafficked is, however, clearly shown. Perhaps this is because the book is being presented as a young adult novel. Nothing is lost for adults because the fast pace and clever plotting hold the attention of the reader and the nuances are clear. The characters are real, the conversations are not strained and the texture of the city and surrounding area all combine to present a gripping story well worth your time.
If you are not aware of the relationship of the novel to Kowloon Walled City (revealed in the afternotes) the novel has the feel of a fantasy. The one small defect is the possibly too pat ending.
5 out of 5 stars.

The Nightingale: A Novel by Kristin Hannah
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Inspiring
THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah

Do not be put off by the “women’s fiction” classification of this book. THE NIGHTINGALE is a well- researched, well written discussion of the realities, cruelties and decisions that face an ordinary family in Vichy France. The book, beginning in 1938 as war approaches, is told from the viewpoint of the surviving sister many years later. The family, father and two sisters, is torn apart by their individual decisions when one sister and her children are forced to house a German officer in the family home in a small village after her husband joins the Allied Forces. The father, remaining in Paris, attempts to continue the family’s bookstore, while the second daughter chooses to join the resistance.
Village life under occupation and the dangers of resistance are clearly shown. The characters and situations are well developed and realistic. The supporting characters are shown to be humans acting under extreme duress – the good are not always good and the bad are not always bad.
I would have preferred to learn more about Rachel and her plight after she is forced from her job early in the occupation. We never quite learn how she is able to survive and seemingly thrive with no money and no way to get any.
Book groups will have a plethora of topics to discuss, including what decisions they would make concerning “outing” Jews, lying to friends and family, fraternizing with the enemy, murder, resistance, and many others.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Pointless, Unconvincing
THE LONG WAY HOME by Louise Penny

THE LONG WAY HOME by Louise Penny
This was my first Inspector Gamache novel and that was a mistake. I should have read the preceding novels first! Even at the end of the book I was still sure I was missing important nuances of plot , conversation and place.
That said, I enjoyed this book. The mystery lurks into being in the first paragraphs and keeps one on edge for the remainder of the book. The characters are well defined. The plot is rich with suspense and is logically rendered. You will care about the characters and be surprised by the ending. There is humor in the characters, especially Ruth and Rosa, as well as humanity and empathy.
If you know a bit about art and artists you will be ahead of the game. If you know nothing about art and artists you will learn a lot about their temperaments and work styles. Neither instance will detract from the story.
5 of 5 stars

The Well: A Novel by Catherine Chanter
 
Book Club Recommended
Slow, Insightful
THE WELL by Catherine Chanter

THE WELL is several buckets of water too long. The first 200 pages of the book were boring. The last 100 were fast paced and absorbing. The question – Are the last 100 pages worth the first 200? If you like many pages of psychological wanderings to get to the real story then – Yes, you will like this book. If you just want your mystery to get to the point with logic, this book will drive you crazy. The identity of the murderer was never really in doubt.
The characters were unknowable until near the end of the book so a connection with the characters was difficult. The one “knowable” person was Lucien. The sub plot of drought was the link that held everything together, unfortunately, the drought was known only through inference. A reasonable explanation of why the drought was everywhere except at the well was never addressed. That leaves one with magic, psychology and an unsatisfying read.
3 of 5 stars for good writing but a plodding plot.

A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings
 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Inspiring, Fun
A MOST INCONVENIENT MARRIAGE by Regina Jennings

This Christian romance is a quick, fun read despite its obvious plot flaws. You will have to suspend belief as you discover a family of Southern sympathizers who embrace a Northern “nurse” claiming to have married their son on his deathbed so she can nurse his ailing sister and tend to the family farm. The tangled mess that ensues when the supposedly dead soldier turns up quite alive and engaged to a neighbor woman gives the plot its tension. The subplot of horse rustlers is much more believable and well thought out.
If you like Christian fiction and a bit of “squeaky clean” romance, you will enjoy this tale. The neighbor children supply a good bit of humor and the love stories have numerous twists and turns. All in all, a fine tale for the genre.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Beautiful
THE ART OF BAKING BLIND by Sarah Vaughan

Vaughan has created five very likeable characters in the contestants for the “Next Mrs. Eaden, ‘ although Mike seems like the required male, an afterthought serving only as a foil for Claire’s Jay. Kathleen Eadon, who appears in back flashes, is the glue that serves to highlight each of the other character’s flaws and perfections. The book is lengthy (over 400 pages) but is a “quick” read. You will want to know the conclusion of the contest, and the solutions to each of the contestant’s (and Kathleen’s) dilemmas. The pronunciation of Kathleen’s last name might lead one to believe that housewifely skills always produce an “Eden” in one’s life -- and one would be wrong.
I hope in the finished book there is a glossary of the British cookery terms – and pictures of the wonderful treats the bakers create. The descriptions of the baking projects are scrumptious and will send you to the kitchen -- or hustling off to the grocery. Book groups will find a “baker’s dozen” of topics for discussion – marriage, motherhood, cookery skills, self-worth, bulimia, miscarriage, contests , love vs sex, perfection and many more.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Persuasive
THE FIFTH GOSPEL by Ian Caldwell

What a great book! The writer gives you a feast for the intellect while presenting a spell binding murder mystery. It might help if you have a bit of Biblical or Christian knowledge, but if you don’t, it will be liberally supplied without preaching. The schism between the Eastern (Orthodox) Church and the Roman Church is a major part of the plot. The schism plays out in the family that is the center of THE FIFTH GOSPEL. One brother is a Roman Priest, the other an Eastern Christian priest. The victim is a lay person who is investigating the provenance of the Shroud of Turin with the help of both brothers.
The writing is clear and fluid. The characters are well rounded and interesting personalities. The plot is slowly revealed through the machinations and hierarchy of the Country that is Vatican City. You will be drawn into the plot, the family, the Vatican and the Church as the tale unfolds.
Book groups will discover many avenues to discuss – family, faith, church, power, crime, punishment, divorce, suicide, among them.
5 of 5 stars

 
Fun
FEBRUARY FEVER by Jess Lourey

If you like trains and cozy murder, you will like February Fever. Mira, the heroine of the story is a librarian with a problem – murder follows her. Every month another dead body is discovered and Mira helps solve the mystery. February finds Mira, her co-worker Mrs. Berns and snowboarder friend Jed on a Single-Mingle Valentine’s Day Train chugging to Portland.
Comedy ensues as the travelers explore the train and engage with other passengers. The train gets stuck in a snow storm and a murder victim is discovered. The plot may be familiar, but the execution is well done. Mrs. Berns ranges from quirky to somewhat annoying, but the other characters are fun to have around. You will enjoy the ride, learn a bit about train travel in the modern era and solve the murder along with Mira and a cast of red herrings.
3 of 5 stars. Enjoyable, but not great literature. The seventh book in the series.

I Am Forbidden: A Novel by Anouk Markovits
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful, Informative
I AM FORBIDDEN by Anouk Markovits

Three children who survive the destruction of their orthodox Jewish communities during WWII are followed throughout their lives. One survives because his Catholic nanny hides him as her son until he is “restored” to Judaism after the war. One survives because that same boy prevents her from following her mother and father to certain death. The third survives because her family is fortunate enough to escape to neutral land and then Paris after the war.
The aftermath of the war influences all the decisions, secrets and separations that follow them all their lives. The Ultra orthodox community is sympathetically rendered as is the decision of one of the three to leave that insular and confining faith.
The characters and faith are presented with clarity. Book groups will discover the lifestyle of the orthodox and its ramifications. A discussion of the decisions of the three characters and the decision of a granddaughter should lead to a lively conversation.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Dramatic
DEAD WAKE by Eric Larson

DEAD WAKE, the beautifully detailed history of the events leading up to and after the sinking of the Lusitania, is written in Larson’s style of presenting well-known facts and events in the manner of a well plotted mystery. Using both famous and obscure persons, Larson fleshes out the event that ultimately leads to the United States entering World War II. He contrasts the tension generated by the ship speeding to disaster with the courtship of the widowed and lonely President Wilson and the discord between Winston Churchill and Jacky Fisher in the British Admiralty. The action moves between the Lusitania, the U-20, President Wilson, and the Admiralty.
Book groups will find the history intriguing and lead to a good discussion of the merits of attacking “innocent” targets during war. Participants will also enjoy a discussion of the courtship between the President and Edith Galt, a “distracted” President during a time of international tension, the safety measures taken on board ship, and the actions (or inaction) of various passengers and ship crew.
A map of the entire area traversed by the U-20 and the Lusitania would be helpful in following the routes. I was frustrated by failing to find points mentioned (and important) noted on the end paper map. A listing of the persons encountered in the book with a brief description would be helpful in identifying the many passengers on the Lusitania when they are re-encountered in widely separated parts of the book. For real history buffs, the end notes are generous and detailed.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Insightful, Informative
MR. SAMUEL’S PENNY by Treva Hall Melvin

This young adult book is a cross-over for adults, perfect for Parent-Child Book Groups.
New Yorker Lizbeth, 14, is spending the summer with her small town North Carolina aunt and uncle. On her very first day in Ahoskie a murder occurs that intrigues her because of the special penny the deceased is clutching in his hand. Determined to discover both the penny and the murderer, Lizbeth discovers the slowness of small town life along with prejudice, compassion, violence, love, greed and generous neighborliness among the residents and relatives she encounters.
Realistic characters and situations carry the slow moving plot along. 1972 in the South is clearly presented. Watching Lizbeth grow in maturity and change over the summer is a pleasant foil to the murder mystery. The importance of family and respect, the keeping and telling of secrets and the surprising revelations are all good topics for discussion.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Fun
RISKY UNDERTAKING: A Buryin’ Barry Mystery by Mark de Castrique

Barry, funeral director and deputy sheriff, finds himself embroiled in a dispute between the Cherokee Indians, the Catawba Indians, the proponents of a casino and possible gangsters when a body turns up on the fresh grave of the mayor’s wife. The Ashville area, the Cherokee and a variety of law enforcement folk turn this enjoyable mystery into a page turner. Generous dollops of humor amid the increasing body count will make the “light” mystery fan happy. There are enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing until near the end.
This is the first “Buryin’ Barry “ mystery I have read and I found the various characters difficult to follow without jotting notes to remind who was who. Readers of the previous books in the series may not find this a problem.
A fun page turner with enough humor amid the mayhem to please both cozy and thriller readers.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Fun, Fantastic
LOWCOUNTRY BOIL by Susan M Boyer

A murder, a mystery, a family squabble over land, another murder, a philandering husband, a contract killer, a ghost – oh my – this plot is thicker than molasses.
A likeable heroine and her ghost friend take on murders, wife beaters, divorced husbands, family disputes and more. If you can abide a ghost who is usually, but not always, in the right place at the right time, you will like this mystery. The characters are well drawn, with a few you will like and a few you won’t. The situations are believable and properly contentious. The mystery will keep you guessing and you may even find yourself rooting for the wrong person as the plot unfolds.
A mystery with a bit of “southern charm” and a lot of twists and turns.
4 of 5 stars

Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas
 
Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Optimistic, Insightful
UNTIL THE HARVEST by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Henry is an immature twit. Margaret is a mature, responsible young adult. Mayfair is a sickly teen who may also be a healer. How these three ultimately get together and grow to form a family is the premise for UNTIL THE HARVEST. Returning to the Appalachian area she explored in MIRACLE IN A DRY SEASON with some of the same characters in new roles, Thomas has written a charming romance. This not great literature, but it is a thoughtful exploration of the meaning of family and the power of family (and love) to elicit change in a person.
Readers who like an exploration of a simpler life without the pulls of modernity will like this book. The hardships and joys of farm life are revealed as the characters go about living. Several characters make significant personality changes during the relatively short span of the book. A willingness to overlook this shortcoming will give the reader an enjoyable read. The book is “Christian” in that the characters make reference to their faith, but it is not a religious harangue. Book groups will find many topics for discussion.
4 of 5 stars

 
Confusing, Interesting, Fun
THE ALPINE ZEN by Mary Daheim

This is Daheim’s 27th outing in the Emma Lord series and perhaps her last. Emma, publisher and editor of the Alpine newspaper, and her Sheriff husband, Milo Dodge, are the hero and heroine of this romp in murder and mayhem. All of the usual characters are present which will please followers of the series, but may confuse new readers. There is so much going on in small town Alpine -- murder, wife beating, missing persons, confused identities, etc., etc. -- that even long time readers will find this outing a bit confusing and disjointed. It appears that Daheim had several “good ideas” still in her Emma Lord file and tried to use them all. If you can keep all the name changes straight the plot thickens and the resolution makes sense.
A good mystery for mystery buffs who love convoluted plotting and well developed characters. You won’t find gore or gratuitous violence, but if you are offended by smoking (often), drinking (before every meal) and sexual innuendo (mostly within marriage), skip this one and find another mystery.
3 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Informative, Dramatic
RESCUE AT LOS BANOS by Bruce Henderson

All of us know about the Bataan Death March, but few know about the civilians who were interned for the duration of World War II at Los Banos Prisoner of War Camp in the Phillippines. Los Banos Camp, situated in a lush agricultural area of the Philippines, was home to thousands of civilians – men, women and children – from a number of countries, but mostly from the United States. When Sadaaki Konishi was made commandant in 1944, conditions in the camp became unendurable. Food rations were cut to starvation levels, cruelty and inhumane practices commenced and the prisoners were scheduled for annihilation. The 11th Airborne was assigned to rescue them in a desperate race against the end of the war and the wholesale killing of all POW’s by the Japanese.
Henderson has written an account of the round-up of the civilians and their experiences in the camps that focuses on several interned families and individuals, the soldiers charged with rescuing them and the cruelty of Konishi. Intimate family narratives carry along the story of courage, daring and fortitude. The fact filled book reads like a well-paced, but harrowing, novel. WWII buffs will appreciate the many notes and appendices, while ordinary readers will be caught up in the daring, and ultimately triumphant, raid.
5 of 5 stars

A Good Family: A Novel by Erik Fassnacht
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Dramatic
A GOOD FAMILY by Eric Fassnacht

I almost quit reading – then I got to page 58 and I was hooked. The four members of this family are damaged, damaged by each other, damaged by their past, damaged by their own actions. The characters are finely drawn, believable and you get to know them intimately. The situations are timely and true. The writing is expressive. These are people and situations you want to know and care about deeply – even when they are being incredibly stupid in their actions. The tempo and tension increase as the book travels to its conclusion. There is sufficient humor to lighten what could be a depressing book.
I especially liked the sections about Barkley and his illustrious Catholic high school. The politics of schools are spot on (I’m a former teacher at a religious school). I rooted for Julie to detach from her stifling marriage and find (re-find?) herself and her dreams. The male writer got women right –Julie, Ginny and Margaret.
Book groups will a plethora of topics to discuss, including the endings for each family member.
5 of 5 stars

Taken by Dee Henderson
 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Inspiring, Insightful
TAKEN by Dee Henderson

TAKEN deals with the aftermath of a kidnap situation gone wrong – for eleven years! The main character was kidnapped at age 16 and held until she escaped at age 27. The book only refers to the kidnapping and focuses on the psychological healing that must take place for the young woman to reenter society as a whole person. The person who helps Shannon heal is Matthew, a former cop and father to another young woman who was kidnapped and held for eight years. The work he did with his daughter is the framework for the present situation. In flashback the book reveals the crimes committed and the horror of captivity of eleven years traveling the country with a crime family.
Although a bit too long, the story held my attention well. I would have preferred to know more about Shannon’s brother and mother with a little less emphasis on the navel gazing psychological conversations between Shannon and Matthew.
This is a Christian author and a Christian publishing house so the murders take place “off page,” the language is Sunday School clean and the only drinking is ice tea. That said, specifically Christian references take up approximately 5 of the 400 plus pages. Both Christian and non-Christian readers will find an interesting and believable psychological drama.
4 of 5 stars

Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful, Adventurous
FALLEN WOMEN by Sandra Dallas

You begin reading thinking you are reading one kind of novel only to discover that you are reading another – much more intriguing and with vastly more depth than you thought. With each page we are drawn more deeply into the lives of Lillie and Beret and Mick. Dallas’s rich character development is apparent in the first chapters and continues throughout as the plot line unfolds. Even minor characters have depth. The title leaves one wondering which women (and men) are fallen.
Public appearance and actual moral character become evident as Beret and Mick proceed with their investigation into Lillie’s death and personality. Moral fiber will become a rich topic for book groups who choose to discuss this book. Dallas gives us many other topics for discussion and one persistent question – What is the story behind Beret’s name-- a question posed but never answered.
5 of 5 stars

Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Insightful
ORHAN”S INHERITANCE by Aline Ohanesian

The discord between the Turks and the Armenians comes alive in Ohanesian’s book that details three generations of those two groups that once occupied the same land. The book begins in 1990 with the reading of a will. Orhan, a Turk, has been left his family’s business, but not the family home, in the will written by his grandfather. The home has been left to an unknown woman living in California. Orhan’s father is enraged. He and Orhan’s Auntie have been left with no stake in the family’s Kilim rug factory and only an apartment building in another town in which to live.
Orhan flies off to meet the Californian, Seda, an aged Armenian, in an effort to regain the family home. The rest of the book is divided between the events in Armenia just after the close of WWI and the meetings between Orhan and Seda.
The connection between the two families is compelling reading. The horror of the Armenian genocide is rendered in a beautifully written tale of love, horror, forgiveness, deceit, discrimination, fear, kindness, anger and, finally, understanding.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Dramatic
SPEAKING IN BONES by Kathy Reichs

If you are looking for an intricately detailed mystery, this is the book for you. Starting with a cry from a confined and beaten woman seeking help to the final denouement, Reichs latest entry in the mystery/thriller genre will please her fans and garner new ones.
The plot in clearly laid out with enough red herrings and twists to keep you guessing. The characters are well drawn. The romantic element will satisfy the fans familiar with the on again romance between the South Carolina forensic anthropologist and her Canadian cop co-worker/love interest.
The “amateur helpers” who seek the answers for the families of missing persons or just for their own “games” is a stimulating twist that introduces intriguing characters and situations.
5 of 5 stars

Zoo by James Patterson, Michael Ledwidge
 
Scary, Graphic, Dramatic
ZOO by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

If you shivered through THE BIRDS, you will have a panic attack reading ZOO. The premise of this one plot book is simple – the animals wake up one morning and realize they hate humans thanks to the manipulation of our environment by scientists and the inaction of Congress.
The one person who sees the scope of the problem of seemingly unrelated animal attacks is the one fully formed character. Attila the chimp is also fairly nuanced. Everything else is pretty one note. This is a quick, albeit terrifying, read.
Patterson has written better books. It will be interesting to see what the TV mini-series soon to come to our small screens will do to flesh out the skimpy plot/story.
3 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Fun, Dramatic
CINNAMON AND GUNPOWDER by Eli Brown

Food and pirates works surprisingly well in this sometimes funny, sometimes scary, sometimes poignant tale of a kidnapped chef and the female pirate who keeps him ala Scherazade until he can no longer make a meal that tantalizes her taste buds. Of course the problem of missing ingredients (what pirate ship carries fresh herbs and truffles?) and a cramped and skimpy kitchen make his dilemma interesting. Chef Owen and Pirate Hannah are clearly drawn characters you will like. The supporting pirate crew is equally well drawn. Life aboard ship is made plain.
The plot also concerns the opium trade with China and the scoundrel British captains who control it. The enemy pirate – The Fox – turns out to be related to Hannah in more ways than one. The final battles are tense with the final ‘winner” difficult to guess.
A good outing for a debut author. I look forward to his next book.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Slow
THE UNDERGROUND GIRLS OF KABUL by Jenny Nordberg

The life of girls who dress and act like boys for the benefit of their families is detailed in this well researched book. Most of the girls – called Bacha Posh – are turned into boys because the families do not have sons. Not having a son is an embarrassment to the family and a failure of a wife. Because girls are kept inside the home and kept completely separate from the outside world, a family with no sons has no one to chaperone the women/girls of the family, no one to shop or run errands and no one to uphold the family’s honor. Most bacha posh turn back into girls shortly before reaching puberty, marry and have children. But some find the return to being female in a strictly regulated, patriarchal society almost impossible to endure.
The family stories are compelling reading, especially that of Azita (herself once bacha posh) who is one of the few female parliamentarians in Afghanistan. Azita is educated and had expected to become a professional before the Taliban and then the mullahs decreed a return to veiled and hidden women. Married into a village family with an illiterate husband, the transition is difficult and only bearable when she is chosen to be a Member of Parliament in the reformed Afghanistan. With 4 girls and no boys, Azita makes the decision to “save face” by turning her youngest daughter into a son. With the resurgence of strict Muslim adherence, her life and the life of her bacha posh daughter, again becomes constrained.
The final chapters of the book detail the psychological and legal repercussions of bacha posh as well as the world wide incidents of daughters being made into boys in patriarchal societies and times. These chapters drag a bit in an otherwise engrossing book.
4 of 5 stars

The Testament: A Novel by John Grisham
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Adventurous, Dramatic

THE TESTAMENT by John Grisham
I started this book thinking “oh no, another bad will, lawyers fighting it out” book. I was wrong. This book is really a character study of two people: one selfless, powerless, kind, gentle, loving, astute; the other selfish, brutish, drunk, egotistical, powerful. It is also about a land – beautiful, treacherous, unforgiving, abundant. When these forces meet, the story begins.
Grisham is a great storyteller; his characters are real, the situations are plausible, the tension is unending. THE TESTAMENT has a clear message, told clearly in a powerful way. This is a story that will stay with you. I’m glad I read it and you will be too.
5 of 5 stars

Buster Midnight's Cafe by Sandra Dallas
 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Insightful, Fun
An early outing from a good writer

BUSTER MIDNIGHT’S CAFÉ by Sandra Dallas
I just finished reading this very early book written by a very good author. If Dallas were writing it today, it would be a better book. This one drags in places, gives us information we don’t need and glosses over information we do need. The ending is a bit ambiguous also.
On the other hand this is a good book with interesting, believable characters. The story is true to the time setting, including some of the brands and slang words used. She uses humor to enliven what could be a very dreary story. There are enough twists and turns to keep you reading through the “draggy” parts. As she does in THE PERSIAN PICKLE CLUB, the “plot” doesn’t become obvious until near the end of the book. That device works better five years later in PERSIAN PICKLE. It is interesting to see her try it out here.
3 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Insightful, Informative

THE MIDWIFE’S TALE: At Home in Trinity #1 by Delia Parr
If you love family stories with interesting characters and a moral, you will love THE MIDWIFE’S TALE. Martha, the midwife of the title, is searching for her runaway daughter and dealing with the new doctor in town who doesn’t think much of midwives. A charismatic “minister” has brought seven orphaned New York City boys to town to reform them. An old friend of Martha’s is no longer a friend. An old love interest is now widowed and interested - perhaps. And there are the babes to be born, friends to tend to and the town of Trinity -- itself a character in the tale.
The plots move along quickly, the characters are believable, the idiosyncrasies of the era are used effectively and the somewhat archaic words are clear from context. My one quibble with the author is the use of action words that occasionally do not fit the actual action, for instance on page 226, Martha “ventures” down a hall in a house she knows quite well. There were others that caused me to stop and reread passages and lose the momentum of the story: a minor thing but one that caused me to notice the writing rather than the story.
A good story that will please readers who desire a Christian story with no overt sex, no violence and clean language.
3 of 5 stars

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach
 
Dark, Insightful, Graphic
Skip This One

WE ALL LOOKED UP by Tommy Wallach
Okay, maybe the teens will love this book. I didn’t. There is an awful lot of bad sex, too much drug usage, gratuitous violence, an absent society, clueless parents, messed up kids, a dying father and, oh yes, buried all the dreck is a rather sweet love story. The actual mechanics of the writing is fine. The story is awful. If you want a good “end of the world” story, read Pat Frank’s ALAS, BABYLON. Skip this one.
1 of 5 stars

The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak
 
Unconvincing, Pointless, Graphic
Not a mystery (or a romance)

THE SECRET SISTER by Brenda Novak

If you read the back of this book, you will think it is a mystery with perhaps a bit of romance thrown in. You would be wrong! This is a romance (if you consider a romance to consist of jumping into bed within 5 minutes of meeting a guy and repeating that quite often and quite explicitly) book with a very shallow, immediately solved, mystery that shows up only in the last few chapters.
The characters are pretty stock. The romance is mostly just sex. The writing is grammatically correct. The mystery is a snooze. The setting sounds like a lovely place to vacation. If you want a beach book to while away a few hours, the book is okay.
2 stars out of 5 (for good grammar)

The Spymistress: A Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini
 
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Informative, Dramatic
THE SPYMISTRESS by Jennifer Chiaverini A Civil War story with very little about battles, soldiers or Generals.

Elizabeth Van Lew is a Southern lady who owns slaves, is a secret abolitionist, supports the Union (secretly), loves Virginia and is a Union spy. Van Lew, a real person, was inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in 1993. Throughout the war she aided the cause of the Union at great risk to herself, her family and friends. Her cleverness in remaining without suspicion is the conflict and plot of THE SPYMISTRESS.
Chiaverini has written a book that makes Van Lew live again. The risks she took to aid Union prisoners held in deplorable Confederate prisons, especially Libby Prison, are clearly set forth. The way she came to be one of the most useful spies for the Union Army is stated so well that the reader, like Van Lew herself, is completely involved before realizing exactly what a dangerous endeavor she has undertaken. Those Virginians who supported the Union and were part of Van Lew’s network of spies are woven into the storyline.
Chiaverini has clearly done her research into the life and times of a heroic woman. The book covers only the war years, but does include an author’s note to tell the reader what happened after the war.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Graphic, Informative, Dramatic
UNDER THE SAME SKY by Joseph Kim

What a harrowing tale Joseph tells in this, his story from early childhood in North Korea to young manhood in America.
His father is a mid-level party worker and his family is comfortable in the 1980’s. Kim, his father, mother and sister, Bong Sook, live with electricity, a TV and plenty of food and snacks. Then the famine in North Korea takes all of that away. His father and mother lose their jobs, then their furniture, TV and even clothing in order to eat. Eventually they lose their home and are dependent upon their extended family for a roof and food. Finally they have exhausted all options. Kim’s mother sells his sister in South Korea, and disappears. Joseph is left on his own as a young boy. The book details the heartrending life he leads as a homeless youth, descending into theft, lies and violence to survive. Written in simple, but graphic terms, he tells how he ultimately loses all hope and faith in communism and North Korea. He sneaks into South Korea at great risk, becoming a refugee from one the world’s most repressive regimes.
The book’s subtitle, FROM STARVATION IN NORTH KOREA TO SALVATION IN AMERICA, gives the story of his life in one sentence. This is a book that will not leave you for many months. You will learn about life in North Korea when things go well and how quickly plenty can turn to extreme want when a government is oblivious to the needs of the citizens – and how citizens continue to defend and love their country long after the country has abandoned them.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Interesting
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

So, when I started this book I could not understand what all the fuss was about. I am still ambivalent. This is a good thriller that keeps you guessing at what is REALLY happening. It is well written. The characters are interesting and challenging to understand. The plot keeps one turning the pages. BUT… Is it a great book? No. It reminded me of the movie THE SIXTH SENSE. Once you learn the twist at the end, it becomes an interesting book that never needs to be read again. A GREAT book can be read several times, each reading adding more to the characters, story, plotting, etc.
If you are looking for a quick read that will keep you turning the pages and you can forget immediately after finishing – this is the book for you.
3 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Addictive
Saved the best for last

LONG UPON THE LAND by Margaret Maron
This last Deborah Knott book ties up some loss ends from other books in the series and tells us the love story of Deborah’s parents. And, of course, being a Margaret Maron mystery, the present day murder has ties to the past. Told in alternating chapters of the 1950’s love story and the present day murder, Maron succeeds in telling two interesting tales in one book. I am sad to see Deborah’s story end. I have grown to care for the family members who inhabit these tales. The land is also an important player.
If you like Maron’s previous books, this one will be satisfying. If you are a new reader, this one will inspire you to search out the others starting with THE BOOTLEGGER”S DAUGHTER. Maron writes tightly plotted mysteries that also have breadth of character and place. This one is no exception.
5 of 5 stars

The Same Sky: A Novel by Amanda Eyre Ward
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Beautiful, Informative
THE SAME SKY by Amanda Eyre Ward

What a sad, hopeful book. No, that is not an oxymoron. This really is an excruciatingly sad book full of hope and faith. A young girl, left alone to care for her even younger brother, must lead them from crushing poverty in Honduras to their illegal immigrant mother in America. Hope and belief carry them until her brother is hooked on glue and she is raped.
A young American couple with everything -- a successful restaurant, enough money, friends, family, an enduring love for each other, but no child to make them complete. Hope and belief seem lost when the child they adopted is taken from them after one blissful day because the birth mother changes her mind.
Told in alternating chapters with Carla, the Honduran child, and Alice, the American wife, voicing their stories. The situations are real, the characters are fully fleshed out, the tension increases as the stories play out. How can this end happily? Does it end happily? Who are the winners and losers?
A beautifully written tale of heart wrenching loss, dashed dreams, hope, love and a place to belong.
5 of 5 stars

 
Interesting, Fun, Dramatic
X by Sue Grafton

The latest in the Kinsey Millhone series of mysteries is a winner. You will keep reading to discover HOW Kinsey keeps from being murdered herself as she investigates a serial killer. Grafton’s fans will not be disappointed – unless it is to realize this series is nearing its end!
4 of 5 stars

Impact (Wyman Ford Series) by Douglas Preston
 
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Informative, Dramatic
IMPACT by Douglas Preston

IMPACT is a combination of political thriller, murder and science fiction peopled by a former CIA agent, a college dropout, a hitman, various political/business bosses and a fisherman. Each chapter (they are VERY short) is from a different character’s point of view. You need to keep track of the various folk you meet in the first chapters or you won’t be able to keep them straight when they pop up again.
The science is pretty easy to follow. The battles between boat and sea, hitman and potential victims are tense and then more tense. The characters are likeable and complex. The plot is interesting and easy to follow although the parts are intricate and intertwined.
Altogether this is an exciting, engrossing thriller that satisfies the reader.
4 of 5 stars

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful, Beautiful
THE LAST MIDWIFE by Sandra Dallas

WOW! What an ending. Sandra Dallas, who is a genius with characters, has written a fascinating tale of a good woman accused of killing an innocent babe. Secrets abound in the vicinity of Gracy, the last midwife. Gracy, her husband Daniel who wanders each year looking for a gold strike and son Jeff who has left his home under strange unexplained circumstances are the main characters in this tightly plotted mystery. The mining town of Tenmile, a desolate outpost in the mountains, and its inhabitants are the supporting cast.
Gracy, accused of murder, staunchly refuses to tell the secrets she is privy to during the labor and delivery of babies when women are at their most vulnerable. Yet there are untold secrets surrounding Gracy and Daniel and Jeff that are only hinted as the tale unfolds.
The hardships and joys of a hardscrabble life in the late 1880’s are clearly stated with no apology and no sense of the desperation that poverty can elicit. These are people who face life with clear eyes and a sense of faith in themselves, their community and their God. Dallas is a sympathetic writer who understands the people, the place and time and is well able to bring them to life.
5 of 5 stars

Orphan #8: A Novel by Kim van Alkemade
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Graphic, Informative
ORPHAN #8 by Kim Van Alkemade

When the book opens Rachel (orphan 8) is a tantrum throwing 4 year-old. At the end she is a middle- aged spinster disappointed with life. Rachel has the misfortune soon after her mother’s death to be the “material” for a woman doctor seeking to make her way in a man’s world. The repercussions of the experiment color all of Rachel’s life. Told in alternating chapters switching between the young Rachel and the middle-aged Rachel, we understand why she is disappointed. We also know that she has had many opportunities most orphans never have and Rachel has failed to appreciate.
Rachel is creatively and skillfully written, unfortunately, we see all the remaining characters through the prism of Rachel. These other characters remain flat throughout and the book ends too early. I would have liked another chapter or two to see the “redeemed” Rachel if, indeed, she is.
Book group will find a number of topics – orphanages, betrayal, family loyalty, medical care/experimentation, women’s opportunities, assisted suicide, lesbianism, charity, revenge – to discuss.
3 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Fun, Adventurous
THE LOST HEIRESS by Roseanna M White

Looking for a fun read with a bit of mystery and a gentle romance? Then this is just the book you want. Brook, brought up as the adopted daughter of the ruler of Monaco, may or may not be the lost heiress of an English fortune and title. Discovered at the site of a carriage accident that caused her mother’s death, she was brought up by the love interest of the man she called grandfather in Monaco’s castle. Her best friend, Justin, himself heir to a fortune and title, is convinced she is the long lost heiress of Whitby Park.
Galloping horses rides, love interests, friends, enemies, and misunderstandings abound in this detailed Edwardian romance with a Christian side and a unifying mystery. You will find no sizzling love scenes and no coarse language. You will find an engaging mystery, a satisfying love story and a bit history in this exciting story.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Graphic, Dramatic
LYING IN WAIT by J A Jance

An oldy but a goody. J P Beaumont is the detective in this J A Jance mystery. Beau’s high school friends and acquaintances make appearances as the murder suspect, the grieving widow and the tortured and burned victim. Sue Daneilson is Beau’s newest partner in this well plotted and devious web of greed, love, addiction, and secrets that stretch back in time and reach forward to ensnare Beau and his new partner.

 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Insightful, Dramatic
DANCE OF THE BONES by J A Jance

Jance brings two of her detectives together in this latest mystery. Brandon Walker in the Southwest is asked by the daughter of a convicted murderer to reopen her father’s case. Combining Native American lore with tough detective work Walker brings J P Beaumont in Seattle into the mystery of two longtime friends, a lost treasure, a scheming woman, a long ago murder and several very fresh murders.
Jance uses the talents of both detectives to advance the story and solve the mystery. Personally, I found the Native American tale sections that began each chapter to be distracting. As usual her plotting is tight and the characters are real as are the conversations. A good read.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Adventurous
I SURVIVED THE JOPLIN TORNADO, 2011 by Lauren Tarshis

Boys especially will like this latest in the I SURVIVED series for early chapter book readers.
Dexter, 11, has been invited to go along with a group of tornado chasers when they are caught by the deadliest tornado in 50 years. The exciting story presents a wealth of information about tornados, tornado chasers, preparedness and safety.
The reading level is about a 3-4th grade level. The story is exciting enough for 6th graders. Girls will like it as much as boys. It is scary enough to be thrilling, but also has a happy ending. Parents and teachers will like the information in the end notes.
4 of 5 stars

The Forgotten Room: A Novel by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig
 
Book Club Recommended
Pointless, Unconvincing, Confusing
THE FORGOTTEN ROOM by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig

I read this as an ebook from NetGalley and the publisher. I wish I had read a print copy. It was difficult to keep the characters straight – which one was Lucy, which one was the doctor, which one the maid, how were they connected……
That said, I enjoyed this three part novel with interconnected heroines. Some of the secrets I guessed, some I didn’t until the big reveal. I liked that the some items became more important (for example, the ruby necklace) as you continued to read. The ending with Prunella was a little too contrived, but it worked for the novel. I wondered if the three main characters were written by different authors, but decided that two must have given expert knowledge and Karen White was the “real” author (Am I right?). I hope the finished copy has a note to answer the question.
All in all, an enjoyable read with several twists. Good character development for the women, the men were more stock characters and not as well developed. The quick romances were a too quick. The art could have been more detailed as it was an important part of the story. The artist of the “second” inferior mural was never really made clear. No one seemed to have the talent or time to create this copy is such a way that it was recognizable as a copy.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Dark
THE SOUND OF GRAVEL by Ruth Wariner

What a sad – and horrifying – life these children had foisted upon them by adults who should have cared for and loved them. It is hard to know where to start – with the father who wouldn’t give his children his name, a mother so blinded by faith she puts her children in mortal danger, a community that lives in abject poverty out of fear? – faith? – stupidity? It also shows the inadequacy of border patrols, government assistance, the safety net for children and women and on and on.
Ruth Wariner’s calm retelling of her childhood living in a cult was difficult to read. The life of this family caught in the blindness of the mother to the toxic and heartbreaking reality of her family’s desperation and danger is written in straightforward prose. Ruth’s ability to ultimately save the remaining children is testament to her strength of character.
I can’t say that I “enjoyed” this book, but it was certainly riveting reading. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t learn more about fundamental LDS, but then that was not the point of the book.
5 of 5 stars
To the publisher: On pages 9 and 28 there is an entire paragraph describing the “swimming reservoir” that is repeated word for word. It was pretty glaring as I was reading.

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham
 
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Gloomy, Insightful
ROGUE LAWYER by John Grisham

NOT a short story collection.
Grisham proves once again that he is not a formula writer – or at least his formula keeps changing – and always for the better! ROGUE LAWYER begins as a collection of apparently disparate short stories centered on a lawyer that is the epitome of NOTHING like a corporate lawyer. By the third “story” you begin to see the possible connections that will quickly become the plot of this tale. Along the way you meet a cast of real characters from the innocent wronged citizen to the “out of the ghetto” up and comer to the most vicious bad guys. This is a page turner that will keep you up at night and just might change your opinion of both lawyers and cage fighters.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Adventurous
thrilling middle grade read

THEODORE BOONE: THE FUGITIVE by John Grisham
This is Grisham’s fifth book in the Theodore Boone series for young readers. Although I detected a bit of “talking down” to his audience, Grisham has the formula down pat for enticing and engaging middle school boys (and girls) to read. Theo is likable and just “rule breaking” enough to engage the young readers and just “law abiding” enough to appease the adults who might choose this thrilling read as a gift. There is danger -- and cliff hangers -- enough to keep the reluctant reader reading when a fugitive is identified by Theo. His “bad boy” uncle encourages him to continue when the authorities want Theo to be on the lookout for the killer and then to actively search for killer Duffy. When Duffy realizes Theo knows his identity and can recognize him, the danger is ratcheted up.
4 of 5 stars for a thrilling middle grade read.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Pointless, Romantic
ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS by Adriana Trigiani

Although the main characters are named Clark Gable and Loretta Young, this book is much more fiction than history. Loretta Young and Clark Gable did have a child out of wedlock (probably) that was later “adopted” by Loretta and that is the extent of the “historical” part of the love story. That said, the book is quite fascinating for the many stories of the beginning of the movie industry in Hollywood. Loretta and Clark were stars in the twenties, thirties and forties. Clark’s movie popularity extended until his death in 1960 reaching its zenith with Gone with Wind. Both Gable and Young were Academy Awards winners for best actor. Young’s career in films slowed considerably in the 1950’s, but she moved to television and achieved great success there also.
The interesting characters of Alda (Young’s assistant and friend) and her husband (a gifted movie scene painter) are entirely fictional. Nonetheless they bring life to the behind the scenes episodes of movie making and are well rounded. Movie aficionados will like seeing the sketches of famous actors, directors, producers and other Hollywood folk interspersed throughout the book.
At nearly 500 pages the book is too long and needed some judicious editing. Many of the scenes detailing Young’s opinions and thoughts, especially concerning Gable, are repetitious and boring.
4 of 5 stars

Front Lines by Michael Grant
 
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Adventurous
FRONT LINES: SHE’s Fighting for her Country by Michael Grant

This novel is alternative fiction that takes place just before and during World War II. The premise is that girls as well as boys must register for the draft at age 18 and serve in combat if called up. The two female leads are both only 17, but lie about their ages and join up when America is attacked at Pearl Harbor. They both expect to serve in “safe” secretarial type units and are surprised and chagrined when they discover they will serve in combat units. The novel covers their experiences training and then in combat in North Africa.
The author shows quickly that he is NOT a female in the early sections of the book. The women’s actions and attitudes just don’t ring true, especially considering the time period is the 1940’s. He gets better when the “action” becomes actual action in war zones. The male members of the unit are both sexist and accepting of women in combat. Although the book is more than 500 pages, only the first few actions of the unit are covered in any depth. The end of the war is quickly summed up in a few foreshadows strewn throughout and then in a final few pages. The very green female sergeant who imbeds herself in a combat action with no battle training and in relative defiance of her superiors is patently unrealistic.
Because the aftereffects on both the men and women in the unit and those at home are not covered the book cannot be considered a foreshadowing of today’s “women in combat” initiatives. The first part of the book drags a bit, but the later war scenes are quite good.
3 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Adventurous
BONE LABYRINTH, A Sigma Force Novel by James Rollins

If you have been following the exploits of the Sigma Force, this book is a tour de force. The team, that now includes former assassin, Seichan, races from peril to peril all while trying to prevent a disaster of epic proportions. In searching for the beginning of modern man, a scientist who works with Baako, an unusually intelligent gorilla, is kidnapped and forced to reveal a part of her work to identify why and how Neanderthals became modern man. Of course there is a demented quasi scientist in the Beijing Zoo who is trying to use the information to rule the world and controls an army of minions ready to die at his bidding.
Exciting, and based loosely on real science, this continuation of the Sigma Force series will satisfy fans and introduce new readers to a new series. Hint: If you are new to the series, jot down the names of each character and a brief description as you meet them. Makes reading this series sooooo much easier, especially when characters (like Gray Pierce) are referred to by both names.
4 of 5 stars

Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Fun, Optimistic
MISS BUNCLE’S BOOK by D E Stevenson

What a fun book! Miss Buncle is a spinster of a certain age in a small village in England during the 1930’s. When she discovers that the world wide depression has caused a serious depletion of her income she decides the only thing to do is write a book. As she admits, she knows nothing about writing a book so she simply describes her fellow village citizens. Miss Buncle, it turns out, has a devastating way of showing her neighbors in all their foibles and, since nothing much happens in the village, she applies a bit of magic and writes their futures as well. She has villagers marry, run away, confess, and expose their worst fears. A visiting grandchild and a publisher provide clear eyes.
Miss Buncle, fortunately, has used a non de plume. Mayhem ensues when the book is a bestseller and the village realizes THEY are the characters in the book. A humorous and gentle book that will delight and entrance.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Adventurous
THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE TRIPOLI PIRATES by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager

Have you ever heard the line in The Marine Hymn that states “to the shores of Tripoli” and wondered what happened in Tripoli? This book will tell you why the Marines are proud their actions in Tripoli and why it might suggest an answer to some of today’s more pressing problems with Islamic nations.
In the early 1800’s, the rulers of Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli and Egypt extracted tribute payments from the new United States as well as other nations. The payments escalated until they were simply too much to pay for unfettered access to the Mediterranean Ocean and the northern coast of Africa. Ships and their contents were being confiscated and the sailors aboard enslaved by the rapacious rulers. Jefferson determined that the cost of tribute was more than the cost of war and sent a nascent navy to the shores of Tripoli to free the Americans held in the Barbary Coast nations and free the seas for all nations.
Much more “history” than “story” the book reveals the machinations, men and navy needed to win the war. Interesting and factual with notes and sources, this book is for the historian and the student of public policy as well as those interested in how the past affects the future.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Adventurous
THE LAST CONFESSION OF THOMAS HAWKINS by Antonia Hodgson

After a thrilling start The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins takes a while before the reader truly cares about Tom, his “trull” Kitty and the other characters in the novel. But, once apprehension for Tom’s life and liberty sets in, the thrill ride begins and doesn’t stop. Hodgson’s characters are engaging and fully formed. The setting and history (London, in the early 1700’s) is well researched and clearly told. The mystery is exciting with many red herrings and plot twists. The picture presented of Queen Caroline is delightful -- and convincingly nefarious.
Readers of both historical fiction and mysteries will be captivated with this book. Although this is a second outing for Tom Hawkins and several other characters from The Devil in the Marshalsea are present, the necessary information from the first is presented logically and without undue repetition.
5 of 5 stars

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
Who can you forgive? Will you?

THE STORYTELLER by Jodi Picoult
A story within a story within a story is the only way to quickly describe THE STORYTELLER. There are three storytellers -- Sage, a baker, who carries guilt and grief that consumes her; Josef, a beloved elderly man, who confesses to Sage and wants her to forgive and then kill him; and finally, Minka, a Polish Jew and resident of a concentration camp during WWII. I found Minka’s story compelling. Forgiveness is the overriding theme of the book. A sentence on page 450 states that you can only forgive someone the wrong they have done to you personally. Sage, Josef and, even Minka, need forgiveness, but who can forgive them and will they – that is the question.
I found this to be one of Picoult’s more challenging and thought provoking books. She is known for addressing timely topics with a twist ending. THE STORYTELLER addresses forgiveness in way that will give you pause for thought, especially the ending. Book groups will have a lively discussion of guilt and forgiveness.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Interesting
AS THE POPPIES BLOOMED by Maral Boyadjian

This bittersweet love story takes place in Turkish Armenia just before and during World War I, a time when the Muslim Turks and the Muslim Ottomans sought control over the Christian Armenians. Hidden away in a mountaintop village, 15 year old Anno, daughter of the village Headman, falls in love with Daron, son of the local merchant. As village life proceeds, war and the Armenian genocide come ever closer.
Boyadajian knows her subject well and relates it with sympathy and clarity. Anno and Daron become people you care deeply about. Conflict within the village and conflict with the outside world illuminate the plot. The village of Salor in the province of Sassoun is the focal point of the struggle between religions and politics. Salor and its inhabitants will live long in your memory.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Informative, Dramatic
CITY OF SHADOWS by Ariana Franklin

What is not to like – the Grand Duchess Anastasia lives, a serial murderer is running amok, Hitler rises in a devastated Germany, an honest policeman is in a warren of corruption and a woman of mystery tries to survive. Although slow getting started, this thriller is truly a thriller. There is enough actual history laced through the plot to give credence to the tale of murder, fraud and corruption amid a search for love, justice and honor.

Esther, who carries the plot, is the woman of mystery, scarred and scared. Nick is the flamboyant owner of the flashiest and finest cabarets in the world’s flashiest city, although a Berlin struggling under the crushing load of war debt. Anna, who may, or may not, be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, survivor of the slaughter of her family and resident of an asylum for the mentally ill, is the center of the plotting and murder that swirls around her. Connecting them all is Inspector Schmidt trying to maintain honesty and humanity is a city devoid of both.

The writing is vivid and shows a city devastated by war and greed and slowly coming under the domination of Hitler and his coterie of murderous goons. Ahh, the murders – the stripper, the good wife, the tale bearer, the innocent and more and more. Who will survive, who will die, will justice prevail, will love triumph, is Anna really Anastasia, and if not, who is she? All questions searching for answers.

5 of 5 stars

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Brilliant
SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys

Although a young adult novel, this tale of the end of World War II and the refugee ship Wilhelm Gustloff will also appeal to all who like historical fiction. Sepetys knows her subject well and is able to clearly voice each of the teens fleeing the fall of Germany. Each of the four teens tells their own story in alternating chapters, but the result is a devastatingly clear tale of desperation.
A nurse, a possible spy, a pregnant girl, a sailor aboard the doomed ship -- each adds their part as the story races to its conclusion. Sepetys is an excellent writer of atmosphere and character who is able to maintain tension throughout the novel.
Teens will love this book as will their elders. This would be a good book for a mother-daughter book group or any group interested in World War II and historical fiction.
5 of 5 stars

Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen Donohoe
 
Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Epic, Dramatic
ASHES OF FIERY WEATHER by Kathleen Donohoe

This novel of firemen and their families was hard to read. Not because many of the fireman died, but because the novel was constantly jumping from past to present then back to a different time in the past then back to present – all in the same chapter. The writing is clear and even lyrical in places but the book jumped from character to character so often I was constantly turning back to the family diagram to see who and what time period the story had suddenly shifted to.
After I finished the book, it felt as though there were so many stories there wasn’t one story. Each of the various stories felt incomplete in some way. Perhaps a winnowing of the characters and more depth for fewer would have felt more “finished. I enjoyed many of the mini-stories and liked most of the characters, but all in all, I was disappointed in the book.
3 of 5 stars

Sister of Mine: A Novel by Sabra Waldfogel
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Interesting, Addictive
SISTER OF MINE by Sabra Waldfogel

Although this novel takes place during the years of the Civil War, it is more a novel of two sisters – one white, one black -- and how they learn to not just tolerate, but love each other. Adelaide is the white daughter of the largest plantation owner in their small town. Rachel is her half-sister, born of her father’s liaison with one of his slaves. Rachel serves as her sister’s maid.
The novel backtracks to cover the earlier life of the family. In flashbacks, the family dynamics, Adelaide’s family’s Jewishness, Adelaide’s social punishment for a broken engagement, her later marriage and the repercussions of failing to love her husband are explored. The Civil War serves to bring the plot to its conclusion.
The novel explores Jews in the South, marriage in wealthy families, the plight of slaves, abolition and slave owners, social conventions in antebellum Southern states, and the dynamics of slaves bearing the master’s children.
The characters are well drawn and act and speak in reasonable terms. Good research has been done. The plot is creative and interesting.
4 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Interesting, Dramatic
THE FORGOTTEN ROOM by Lincoln Child

Here you have it – an exciting thriller with no profanity, no hot and heavy sex and little violence. Well, there is some violence – several murders, a grisly suicide (or maybe not a suicide), a crazy person or two, a secret room with diabolical machines and, of course, the hapless scholar cum detective.
The characters are decently drawn, the plot is clear, the tension is heart stopping. It is easy to see why Child is a bestselling author. If you like mysteries that slowly draw you in and then amp up the tension, this is the book for you. One of the best of the genre.
5 of 5 stars

I Still Dream about You by Fannie Flagg
 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Inspiring, Fun
Southern Charm and Skulduggery

This fun read still has an emotional punch. Flagg is an expert at creating characters one cares about – even the ones that are not very nice! In this outing Flagg joins a “fat” African American, a midget, an ex-beauty queen, and a thoroughly detestable real estate agent to tell a tale of what might have been, what is and what may yet be.
Pathos and hilarity join forces for a romp in Southern charm and dirty deals. Flagg manages to tell a good story without stooping to vulgar language or explicit sex. Written for the adult female audience I STILL DREAM can be enjoyed by all audiences including teens. There is enough here for an interesting book group discussion that might cover family dynamics, faith, integrity, racial harmony, interpersonal relations and much more.
Similar in feel to FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, this book would also make a good movie.
5 of 5 stars

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Adventurous
THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Hazel Gaynor

Combining two stories to tell the life of lighthouse keeping and coming of age make this a charming and intelligent read of historical fiction. Grace Darling was also known as the Heroine of the Farne Isles because of her actions during the wreck of the Forfarshire where many lives were lost, but, because of Grace and her father, nine lives were saved. The companion story tells of Matilda Emmerson, a “disgraced” Irish nineteen year old escaping her family’s judgement to spend time with a distant relative who is a lighthouse keeper in America.
Well researched and written, both tales tell the hardships and joys of “keeping” over the space of a hundred years. Gaynor’s characters come to life as she exposes their lives and work. The terror and beauty of the raw power of the sea tell its own story in masterful hands. The dynamics of family and friendship are exposed as each woman’s story is revealed.
Book groups will enjoy the tales and learn a great deal about “keeping” and also the natural beauty and power of living seaside.
5 of 5 stars

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