Member Profile

Gender : Female
Occupation : Editor/Editorial Staff

My Reviews

Book Club Recommended
A Pleasure

What a pleasure THE UPRIGHT PIANO PLAYER by David Abbott is to read! The publisher compares this to books by Ian McEwan, which I love, but I doubted this book could be that good before I read it. I can tell you, though: yes, Abbott’s style is similar to McEwan’s. And THE UPRIGHT PIANO PLAYER is even better. Honest.

THE UPRIGHT PIANO PLAYER begins with a tragedy. But, although you can then expect description of a man broken by heartache, you will want to keep reading. This is how Abbott is like McEwan. Their writing, alone, warrants the read.

But beautiful writing does not necessarily make a page turner. And this book is.

The second part of THE UPRIGHT PIANO PLAYER begins before the tragedy occurred, when Henry Cage, a divorced man living alone, is retiring from a company he built. He had been forced out, and now he is lonely. Through frequent flashbacks, you will learn why this is so.

Then Henry is a retired man taking a long walk home from a friend’s new year’s eve celebration. The crowds on the streets are great, and he is accidentally shoved into man with a violent history. The man learns who Henry is and where he lives and subsequently stalks Henry, vandalizing his home on several occasions.

During this time Henry learns that his ex-wife, who he threw out because his pride was hurt, who still loves him, will die soon of incurable cancer. And the way he learns this is part of the story, too: Henry received a letter from his son, who he also had not seen or heard from since the divorce, who he had rejected long before the son rejected Henry. And while he is later on his way to see his son, he discovers that he also has a grandchild.

Henry made his bed but now is not the same Henry and doesn’t want to sleep in it. I didn’t want him to, either; I rooted for Henry.

Pay attention to the quotation that precedes the story: "The consequences of our actions take hold of us, quite indifferent to our claim that meanwhile we have improved." This is Henry’s problem.

I have a short list of authors whose books I’m sure will be good enough to preorder even before they’re published. David Abbot has been added to my list. I hear he’s writing another, and I’ll preorder it as soon as possible. But “as soon as possible” may be when has it because I might not be able to wait until it is available in the United States.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
Slow, Boring, Poorly Written
Too Much Padding

ONE GOOD TURN by Kate Atkinson begins with a road rage incident involving one crazy guy beating a man with a baseball bat and another man, a wimpy writer of popular crime novels, knocking the crazy guy down with his laptop computer. From there we meet all sorts of seemingly unrelated characters who all become connected.

It's actually a pretty good and simple story. But here's what I guess happened.

My guess is that Atkinson had a pretty good short story. Someone (publisher, editor, agent, whoever) told her she had to give them a book-length novel. So she took this perfectly good short story and padded it. And the result is ONE GOOD TURN.

Open this book to almost any page (except the last few), and you'll see it. One line, occasionally one or two paragraphs, of the story sandwiched between paragraphs of padding. Whatever happens reminds a character of something else that reminds the character of something else. Then back to the story soon to be followed by more padding.

I had intended to read another book by Atkinson. Now I won't.

The Lace Reader: A Novel by Brunonia Barry
Interesting, Dramatic, Confusing
She's a liar

THE LACE READER by Brunonia Barry begins with the narrator, Towner Whitney, calling herself a liar and warning the reader to suspect everything she says. So you have to wonder as the book progresses if any of her first-person accounts are true. But, at times, the book does switch its point of view with the accounts told in third person and from another perspective.

The setting is Salem, Massachusetts. Towner has been gone for the last 15 years but has retuned to Salem because her great aunt was missing. Turns out, though, she’s there for her great aunt’s funeral.

Now come pages and pages of character description, each reminding Towner of her history with them: her twin sister, who committed suicide and the mysterious reason; her mother, who doesn’t go to the funeral because she’s so solitary and the mysterious reason she gave up Towner’s twin; the circle of lace makers, abused women who her mother leads; a policeman who’s interested in Towner and usually has a hard time coming up with the right words; her brother and his fiancé; her uncle who makes her sick and the mysterious reason; and the rest of the mixture of Christians and Calvinists and witches who inhabit the town.

In keeping with the notorious locale, Towner’s family all have some degree of paranormal ability, at least according to Towner. She reads minds whether she wants to or not. She mostly doesn’t want to. But there it is anyway.

This is a relatively short book, but more than 70 pages of it are character introductions. Little by little, Towner is reminded of the history she tried to forget by escaping to California 15 years ago.

Later, though, THE LACE MAKER finally gets interesting, then un-put-downable. Mysteries are upon mysteries are upon mysteries, the biggest one being Towner, herself. Another big one is the reason Towner’s twin committed suicide. And there are the mysteries of why Towner’s mother won’t leave the island and why she gave up Towner’s twin. Or is Towner misunderstanding? And did Towner’s uncle kill her great aunt? And what went on between him and Towner’s twin? Or was that just Towner’s imagination? And what went on between Jack and Towner’s twin and between Jack and Towner?

There are so many more questions, and they’ll keep catching you up. But you have to be careful when you try to figure the mysteries; remember, Towner is a liar (and, as you will come to see, somewhat crazy) and the policeman’s opinions are partly based on Towner’s writings.

While I like Nancy Pearl’s “Rule of 50” (read to the bottom of page 50 and then give up if the book still isn’t good), I obviously read further, and it turned out to be the right move. Although Berry’s writing style, divulging facts in a scattered manner, slowly and little by little, was sometimes hard to follow, it also perpetuated mystery and finally sucked me in.

It seemed to me that when the story confused me, when I wasn’t sure whether it was in the past or present, Massachusetts or California, Towner, herself, was confused.

Although Barry tried to wrap up the story in the end, she still left some unanswered questions.

The first 70 pages rated two stars; the rest rated four. So I guess that makes three.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
Wrong Title

THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake takes place in the early 1940s, shortly before the U.S. entered World War II. But it was raging in Europe, and Londoners were enduring continual German bombings.

I don’t know why this book is called THE POSTMISTRESS because the postmistress is just one of the main characters. (By the way, there’s no such thing as “postmistress” in the U.S. She would nave been properly called “postmaster.”)

There’s also a young doctor who feels a mysterious need to leave his new wife and go to London to help the victims of the German bombings.

And there’s the young wife left behind who, of course, is left pregnant. (Isn’t that almost a cliché?)

And there’s the Austrian man who everyone thinks is German. He’s Jewish, but he doesn’t tell anyone. And, to show how mean we are to people we think represent the enemy, most everyone is suspicious of him.

And there’s the postmistress’s (postmaster’s) boyfriend who watches for U boats.

And there’s an American radio reporter in London who gets an assignment to travel on trains across Europe and record refugees trying to get out.

I thought the book was a bit dull at first but got better with the story of the radio reporter in Europe recording refugees on trains. But when the story moved back to the US, it was a bit syrupy for my taste, with people having premonitions of bad news.

Blake tried too hard to remind the reader that this was the 1940s, so different from the 2010s. Everyone smoked at every opportunity, and she even went so far as to describe a woman having her period in the time before tampons. Blake even described the woman's use of a kotex belt rather than the oh-so-modern adhesive.

Gimme a break; that was more than I needed to know!

The book wasn't bad, but it didn't live up to the recommendations I read.

Fun, Adventurous, Interesting
It put me to sleep

On the basis of its high ratings and, finally, of seeing it billed as one of the best of 2009 on, I purchased THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley. I'm sure now that Bradley must be a very nice and well-liked person. How else could his ratings be so high?

I expected a mystery. But enthralling, which it was called, it was not. Rather, it was meandering.

A dead bird shows up on the doorstep. What does this mean? Who is it meant for?

A man is murdered in the backyard. Who is it? Why was he murdered and by whom?

What do these two incidents have to do with each other?

So, yes, there's the mystery. But the book meanders, says so much of little consequence, it put me to sleep.

Once Upon a River: A Novel by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Unconvincing, Pointless, Informative
It didn’t grab me

ONCE UPON A RIVER by Bonnie Jo Campbell begins with description of the natural surroundings in the rural Michigan area where the story takes place and Margo Crane’s interaction with them. Margo is a teenager. Maybe because I’m an adult and teenagers who aren’t my relatives bore me, this wasn’t a good beginning for me.

The book continues with Margo’s story.
• She’s gorgeous.
• She doesn’t talk much.
• She is exceptionally good with a gun.
• Her grandfather Murray had one of his children, her father, out of wedlock. His other son, Cal, and Cal’s family live right across the Snake River from her family.
• She has a beautiful mother who hated the life in rural Michigan so took off, promising to return for Margo, except she didn’t.
• Margo lives with her very short father who did work at a metal shop and now works at a grocery store for much less money.

That Margo is gorgeous turns out to be a problem. While most would count this as a lucky asset, in her case, it just means trouble. That’s because, in this book, too many grown men in rural Michigan can’t keep their hands off beautiful teenage girls.

And Margo says nothing. Her father (who Margo thinks of as Crane, their last name) wants to go to the police in one instance, but she will say nothing. And she continues to say nothing when she should be speaking up, maybe yelling, kicking, and screaming, throughout the book.

Many writers use this device, but it is not a good sign. That is, when a character is wronged but refuses to talk about it or defend herself, it seems that the author couldn’t think of a better reason for what happens next. Besides, this device is terribly frustrating and makes the story predictable.

Other readers of ONCE UPON A RIVER post mostly praise for the book on the Internet. So I think it must be a good book for some. But it’s not for everyone.

My trouble with this book is that it didn’t grab me. That’s because no character, Margo in particular, was given enough depth for me to care about her. If you think, as I do, that this style is more appropriate for a short story, then this book may not be for you.

Play Dead by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Harlan Coben's first book

Harlan Coben's first book, PLAY DEAD, had been out of print. It's reissued in paperback now.

A gorgeous model marries a Boston Celtics basketball player who disappears and is supposedly found dead. But something's going on that's fishy-fishy.

And so the reader is taken for a ride as everyone seems suspect of something. And another basketball player shows up whose moves on the court are mighty suspect.

Coben prefaces this book with a plea for readers who haven't read his other, later books: please don't read this one first, he says,

So I was all set to dislike PLAY DEAD. But I didn't. It kept me up reading until late at night, and that's a good book, I think.

I looked for something to be wrong, and here were my problems with it:

The awful brother
The end

If you like Coben's books, you will this one, too. Don't be put off by his preface.

Live Wire by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Dramatic, Interesting
Is this the final Myron book?

LIVE WIRE by Harlan Coben is the tenth book in his Myron Bolitar series.

A few years ago I went to a Harlan Coben event in St. Joseph, Michigan. At that time he mentioned that he was considering ending this series. I spoke out from the audience to say, please don’t. He’s written two Myron Bolitar (with his indispensable friend Win) novels since then, so I guess he was listening.

But is this the last in the series?

As a former basketball great and now co-owner of an agency that represents sports and entertainment personalities, Myron is visited by a client, Suzze, former tennis star. She wants Myron to find her husband, Lex, rock star and also Myron’s client. Lex ran out on Suzze, pregnant and all, when he saw an anonymous post on Suzze’s Facebook page: “NOT HIS.”

Right off the bat this book disappoints. Who would take seriously an anonymous post on the Internet? Everyone knows that anyone can say anything on the Internet.

But if you just go with it and not think about that, LIVE WIRE does have Coben’s typical plot and subplot, twists and turns, and Win. So Myron Bolitar fans can count on that even if the book doesn't quite measure up to Coben's others.

Myron, who can’t help but become involved in his clients’ lives, finds Lex in a nightclub and, coincidentally, also finds his long-lost sister-in-law, Kitty. Or is it a coincidence?

Kitty, another former tennis star, is now a mess. She's a heroin junkie so far gone she’ll do anything, I mean ANYTHING, to get a fix. And she’s at this nightclub without Myron’s (also long-lost) brother, Brad. Where is he?

Myron’s father wants him to find out. One thing we love about Myron Bolitar is that he loves his parents. So Myron, in spite of great danger, finds out. After all, he has Win.

While Myron looks for Brad, Myron finds his 15-year-old nephew, Mickey. And, wouldn’t you know it, Mickey is tall like Myron and a basketball player.

Does this introduction to Mickey signal the end of the Myron series? Is Myron now retiring? Clues seem to indicate that.

I love Myron, and I love that he’s getting older just like me. But could his age be reason to retire him?

Lots of readers have loved this series, and I think they should read this. It’s not Coben’s best, but they’ll want to know what's happening with Myron. I think they, like me, will not be happy that Myron might be banished to the sidelines in favor of a teenager.

Caught by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Adventurous, Difficult
A Can't-Put-It-Down Book

Short and simple: Dan Mercer is set up; he is lured to the home of a troubled teenager only to be accused of pedophilia. Although a judge throws out the case in court, the accusation, alone, has ruined Mercer's life. Or so it seems.

And, although they are all now in their 40s, it seems that Mercer’s old college roommates are similarly accused of crimes they did not commit, each similarly ruined as a result.

Wendy, a TV news reporter, tries to get to the bottom of this. She’s the person who caught Mercer in the act, but now she’s not certain that she really caught him in the act.

As usual with Harlan Coben’s books, CAUGHT is full of twists and turns that I just condensed to three little paragraphs. It’s really not short and simple. It’s about blame and revenge and forgiveness. It’s up-to-date, involving the Internet, Google, Facebook, GPS, etc., unlike so many other authors’ thrillers that have only begun mentioning cell phones. It is honestly a book you won’t want to put down.

My only criticism of CAUGHT is when Coben describes one of the former roommates, Phil. He has been laid off his job and has been unemployed for a long time but not for lack of trying. Each morning he dresses in a suit and tie and sits at a restaurant perusing the classified ads in the newspaper. There’s my problem. It’s obviously been a long time since Harlan Coben has had to search for a job.

Harlan: a college graduate no longer searches a newspaper’s classified ads for a job. Harlan: consider rewriting that paragraph in later printings so that Phil brings his laptop to a restaurant where he can get on the Internet and search for a job.

In spite of that one gaffe, if you haven’t read a Coben book before, CAUGHT might be a good one to start with.

Hold Tight by Harlen Coben
Book Club Recommended
May Be Coben's Best

Everyone likes a not-put-downable book, the kind that keeps them up at night, the kind they even bring to the dinner table. Harlan Coben's novels are like that. The first of his that I read, No Second Chance, has always been my favorite. But in some ways his Hold Tight may be his best.

Before I read Hold Tight I thought it was about parents spying on their teenage son's computer use. It is. But there's also a story about kids spying on their parents, another about two sadistic nutcases, another about a child dealing with her classmates' cruelty, another about parents' search for a kidney donor for their son, and many subplots.

Hold Tight may be Coben's best because it asks questions parents today are asking and may be afraid of.

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Fantastic, Dramatic
Going Out Witih a Bang

Michael Connelly's latest book, THE SCARECROW, involves a soon-to-be-laid-off long-time LA Times reporter Jack McEvoy, who decides to "go out with a bang" by writing an investigative story about a black boy from South LA who may be wrongfully accused of murder. McEvoy finds a heck of a lot more than he thought he would as a high-tech company and some techno savvy employees there try to thwart his investigation. As a result, although the kid from South LA gets out of jail, McEvoy and his gorgeous (of course) FBI girlfriend nearly lose their lives every few pages.

THE SCARECROW may sound corny, but it really is a fun read. I hadn't read a Connelly novel before and wasn't expecting much but was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed it.

If you haven't read Connelly before but enjoy authors such as Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline, Stephen White, or Lee Child, you'll like THE SCARECROW. You'll probably want to read some of Connelly's others, too. I do.

Comment: I was pleased that Connelly didn't strive to be politically correct in his book. I know many authors would have described some of these characters differently so they didn't offend anyone.

Comment: The beginning of the book has a reporter with less experience than McEvoy who will take his place because she makes a lot less money. But she does have news writing experience between undergrad and grad school with a newspaper in Florida. And she does have a masters degree in journalism. Yet she has to ask McEvoy what it means to put "30" at the end of an article.

Give me a break! You can't take a single college journalism class and not know what that means!

Irritation: McEvoy is smart and performs as a smart person would--except when he is around his FBI agent girlfriend. She is unbelievably all-knowing. Whenever they're together, she bosses McEvoy around, and he meekly takes direction from her, suddenly out of his own ideas and dependent on her brains.

Because I read an uncorrected advance proof, I noticed many editorial and typographical errors. It would be interesting to see if these were all caught in the final published copy, especially one of my pet peeves: misuse of "ensure," "assure," and "insure."

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Fun
Difference Between Guilt and Pure Evil

THE LINCOLN LAWYER’s ”Lincoln lawyer” is so named because his office is the back seat of his Lincoln. His real name is Michael (Micky) Haller.

This defense lawyer believes everyone is guilty but defends them just the same. And his clients almost always get away with it or at least have their sentences greatly reduced. But he worries that he will not recognize innocence when he sees it.

Haller thinks his current client, Louis Roulet, will bring him lots of money. Roulet is very rich and is accused of rape and attempted murder. He insists he’s innocent in spite of evidence to the contrary and will not agree to plead guilty for a reduction in his sentence.

So it looks like this case will go to trial. Haller loves it; that means more money.

In the meantime, though, Haller not only finds more evidence of Roulet’s guilt; he also sees the difference between guilt and pure evil. And he finds there was a time when he did not, in fact, recognize innocence.

This Michael Connelly book is so different from his other two books I read, I wouldn’t have thought they were by the same author. I wouldn’t have bothered reading this one except that this movie was coming out. I enjoy movies based on books I’ve read.

I was more pleased with THE LINCOLN LAWYER than I expected. So now I’m anxious to see the movie, out now.

Book Club Recommended
Identity Theft

Not worried about identity theft? Read THE BROKEN WINDOW by Jeffrey Deaver. You will be.

A serial killer has gone undetected because he has been able to pin the crime on some innocent person each time. The killer “knows everything” about his murder victims and so is able to get close to them and then plant evidence that proves the guilt of innocent people because the killer "knows everything" about them, too.

But how does he do it? How is he able to know everything about these people? Where does he get this information? And who could have access to it?

Enter Lincoln Rhyme, a recurrent character in many of Jeffrey Deaver’s novels, and his partner, Amelia Sachs. They get involved when Rhyme’s cousin is arrested for a murder and soon find that the real killer has access to both the cousin's and the murder victim's personal data. That's when they learn about data mining. In the process, so does the reader.

Data miners store personal data about everyone all the time--everything they do. Rhyme and Sachs learn that this is the only way the killer could “know everything.” So they investigate a large data miner and speak with the few people who can access all the data. The reader realizes that these people must be suspects.

But which one is it?

Whoever it is accesses Rhyme’ and Sachs’ personal data now, too, and can even use data mining “predictive software” to know their next move.

If you like thrillers/mysteries and have never tried Deaver, as I hadn’t, this would be a good book to start with. The privacy issues it deals with will really scare you and make you wonder how much of it is real. Deaver lists several Web sites where you can get further information.

Romantic, Informative, Beautiful
Boring Flashbacks

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, Jamie Ford’s first book, tells the touching story of Henry Lee, a Chinese-American, and his childhood friendship with and ongoing love for Keiko Okabe, a Japanese-American.

The book begins in 1986 with a discovery in the basement of the Panama Hotel of the old belongings of Japanese-American families who were taken from their homes and interred during World War II. The hotel is located in what was, before the Japanese-Americans were rounded up, Japantown and stood between there and Chinatown in Washington state.

Subsequent chapters in HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET are divided into flashbacks to the 1940s and continuation of 1986. In this way we discover Henry’s and Keiko’s story and a love that never ends or is forgotten in spite of bigotry, ages-old traditions, lies, and years of separation caused first by internment, then also by deception.

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is praised by many. It was because of all the rave reviews that I read the book. But, while I don’t consider it a waste of my time, I have to admit that I was bored by the many flashbacks to 1942 with Henry’s bigoted father and nasty classmates at his “all-white” school where he went “scholarshiping” at his father’s insistence. I also found the flashbacks to be too slow and predictable.

Even so, that’s me. I’m sure most readers will find satisfying what I thought was predictable. The book is well written and full of accurate historical details. And, although I was not surprised at the ending, I think I would have been unhappy if it had been any other way.

Insightful, Interesting, Informative
A Story Within a Story

Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a story within a story. One is the clever telling of the other.

At a café in Pakistan, a Pakistani man tells his story to an American man. The men are strangers. We learn about the Pakistani man through his narrative. The American remains a mystery man throughout. In paragraphs between parts of the Pakistani man’s story are hints about the American man, the purpose of his encounter with the Pakistani man, and perhaps even the Pakistani man’s purpose in telling his story.

In this short novel, the Pakistani man tells of coming to America to attend Princeton and then work for high wages at a New York company. He falls in love with an American who’s in love with a dead person. But she’s rich and gets him into all the right places. He’s living the high life.

Then, surprise, he decides on 9/11 that he’s disillusioned with America. He now sees America as that big, bad, obnoxiously rich and power-hungry nation that waves its flag as if it can’t get over itself and is stuck in some black-and-white movie. He smiles at the sight of the destruction of the Twin Towers.

I wouldn’t have bothered reading more. But I had read so many reviews of The Reluctant Fundamentalist that were favorable and praised its suspense. I figured something must be about to happen that would justify all this, and it was such a short book I stuck with it.

The Pakistani man continues to describe his disillusionment with America and his doomed love affair. He goes on to explain why he is back in Pakistan and what he is doing there. I guess the reviewers referred to the mystery American when they mentioned suspense.

The Pakistani man speaks of the necessity of knowing history but obviously knows little history himself. He complains more than once about the awful Americans invading Afghanistan for no reason and of Pakistan helping America but the Americans refusing to take their side when they go to war with India. He, of course, doesn't mention the Taliban in Afghanistan and their promise of another 9/11. He also forgets (I don't know how since he lived there) that Pakistan and India have been going at it with each other for years and that this war with India was a frequent occurrence.

So the Pakistani man’s story is told, and he and the American man are still at the café at the end of the day. And then comes the ambiguous end. My guess is one of two possibilities.

I can’t recommend this book.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Dramatic, Fun, Beautiful
“Best friends for life”

“Best friends for life” they called themselves. Kate and Tully met when they were in junior high and became friends shortly after when Tully was raped. They both lived on Firefly Lane.

They were in high school in the 70s. Tully was beautiful with her Farrah Fawcett hair, and she claimed to Kate, “I have a gift,” as Tully streaked Kate’s hair with blond. Kate had been a wallflower, but Tully took care of that; she was popular and, by extension, now so was Kate.

Kate and Tully really did remain best friends for life, even though Tully chose one path and Kate chose another.

Although they both graduated from the same college with the same major, Tully pursued her career more aggressively and Kate fell in love with their boss. (Yes, Tully ensured that they both worked for the same TV station.) Although their boss, Johnny, was interested in Tully, not Kate, and tried hard to snag her, Kate snagged him by . . . . Well, I’m not going to tell you, but she sure isn’t a great role model for teenagers.

In the meantime, Tully continued to pursue her career aggressively and ended up . . . . I’m not going to tell you that, either. But, although she was a big success, you wouldn’t want your teenager to live like her, either.

FIREFLY LANE is chick lit. I thought I’d never read chick lit before and, from the sound of it, I never wanted to. But I did.

It surprised me to learn that I sort of had read chick lit before. Some of the books I read when I was in high school could have been called “chick lit,” I guess, except girls didn’t pick up men in bars in the books I read. And they sure didn’t snag their husbands the way Kate did, either.

Maybe chick lit is the modernized version of what I read when I was 13, 14, and 15?

So I didn’t think I’d like what I outgrew. You could say I did enjoy it, though, in the same way I still enjoy catching an episode of “General Hospital” once a year.

For readers who like chick lit and Lifetime channel movies, this book is good. I don't recommend it for teenagers, though.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Adventurous, Interesting
A 13-Year-Old's Seaerch for His Sister

A 13-year-old boy, Johnny, and his friend, Jack, search for Johnny's twin sister, Alyssa, a year after she has gone missing, after everyone else, it seems, has given up. "It seems" because the case still haunts police Detective Hunt as well.

Jack has described his last sighting of Alyssa: because her father forgot to pick her up, Alyssa was walking home at dusk when a car stopped and she walked up to the open car window, smiling. That's when she was grabbed and pulled into the car, and the car drove away.

Johnny's mother blamed his father for Alyssa's abduction, and he has subsequently walked out on Johnny and his mother. So Johnny is now trying to put his family back together by finding known pedophiles in his county and spying on them, determined to find Alyssa alive. In the process, he uncovers another crime.

John Hart is a great author. THE LAST CHILD, his latest, is a page turner. But I can't praise it as I did DOWN RIVER, Hart's 2006 book, because THE LAST CHILD has a flaw that comes up again and again throughout the book. That is, Johnny's mother, Katheryn, and Detective Hunt's infatuation with her.

Katheryn is described as beautiful. Yet she is also described as addicted to all sorts of drugs, rarely combing or washing her hair, and always unaware of her dirty home and of Johnny's absence. That doesn't sound beautiful to me.

But Detective Hunt is drawn to her even as she disgusts the reader. And at the same time, he is described as smart and capable, seemingly the best detective in his police force. The two descriptions, Hunt's infatuation with a disgusting woman and his high intelligence, just don't jive for me.

Something else that irritated me but probably won't bother most other people: Hart's use of the word "that" when he should use "who." This, too, occurs throughout the book and I would think should have been caught by an editor.

But don't skip this book because of that one flaw or because of what I see as an editorial error. I bought it at Borders and don't feel cheated, that coming from a person who feels cheated when she pays $2 for a bad book. I'm still anxious to read Hart's KING OF LIES, his first book.

The King of Lies by John Hart
Book Club Recommended
Who killed the king of lies?

In John Hart’s first novel, a lawyer, ”Work” Pickens, is accused of murdering his father, Ezra, when his body is found. It seems clear to the police and the district attorney that Work had seen his father’s will and wanted the $15 million being left to him before Ezra changed his mind. And Work, sure that his emotionally disturbed sister, Joan, did it, is willing to take the rap for her.

Work and Joan had been raised in a dysfunctional family with a very rich, very despicable father who hated girls/women. He always domineered over Work’s life and still did even when Work was an adult and able to make his own choices. As he put it, he “lived Ezra’s truth,” letting his father choose his career and his wife, and even allowing Ezra to alienate Work from Joan.

As the book progresses, we see Work realize more and more how he has been living the “truth” of the king of lies.

Because I had read and loved Harts later novels (DOWN RIVER and THE LAST CHILD), I expected THE KING OF LIES to be at least as good. I was right.

Down River by John Hart
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Romantic, Dramatic
I loved this book

Without giving away too much of the story, I'll say that John Hart's Down River centers on a young man, Adam, who had been accused of murder five years before, was acquitted, moved out of town for five years, and is now back in his hometown. I won't say why because that's one of the mysteries that makes the book enjoyable.

Back in Adam's hometown are his father, a very, very rich farmer, who owns millions of dollars worth of farmland; his stepmother, who testified against him at his trial five years before; his stepbrother and stepsister, twins; his father's best friend and foreman of the farm and the "grandaughter" he is raising; some of the townspeople, including the police, who remember and hate Adam; and Adam's former lover. All these lives, we learn, are entwined.

Half the town wants Adam's father to sell his farmland to a power company; some want it desperately because it means money for them. Adam's stepmother still resents him, probably hates him. The stepbrother and stepsister don't hate him but they each have serious issues that have affected Adam in ways that the reader will come to see. And the reader will find mystery upon mystery upon mystery with all the characters.

Down River is a mystery and thriller, but it's more than that. It's also literature. I loved this book.

My words aren't adequate to describe how good this book is. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Iron House by John Hart
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Graphic, Beautiful
It will suck you in

IRON HOUSE by John Hart begins with Michael and his pregnant lover, Elena, but soon switches to flashback so we understand what he means when he worries that she doesn’t really know him or know about all the horrible things he’s done. We learn that Michael and his brother, Julian, were partly raised in an orphanage, Iron House. It was a miserable place, for Julian especially. He was a very weak person, but he did have Michael to protect him. And here is where Michael learned to be tough.

Julian is adopted by rich parents, and Michael is not. He ends up, instead, being raised in a Mafia-type mob. Then he meets Elena, and he wants out.

But Michael kills, an act of mercy, the dying “old man” he loves. The “old man” was the head of the mob, the person who rescued Michael when he was a boy. So Michael becomes the mob’s enemy. They hunt for him. And, he learns, the mob is also trying to get to Elena and Julian, who Michael hasn’t seen since Julian was adopted.

In the meantime, Julian lives with his adoptive parents, even now as an adult. But, in spite of every material advantage and his mother’s love and devotion, he never does well. He is permanently scarred by his experiences at Iron House. And he doesn’t have Michael to protect him anymore.

Now Michael and Elena are on the run for their lives. Rather than leave the country, though, Michael insists they find Julian so all these years later he can once again protect him.

IRON HOUSE, like Hart’s other novels, will suck you in right away. And you won’t be able to put it down easily, either. I tried. A book arrived in the mail after I had started IRON HOUSE. I needed to read the other book in 3 days. I couldn’t.

IRON HOUSE got better and better, right to the end. Whatever I guessed turned out to be something else.

Few authors can write a thriller like Hart does. While most are plot driven and formulaic, Hart’s are character driven as well plot driven and far superior. So it not only keeps you up at night like a great thriller should; it also makes you care about the characters.

Michael is the star of this story, and of course you’ll love him. But I wonder if I don’t love Julian’s mother even more.

A Disappointment

Written in 1950, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train is said to be a classic among thrillers. Alfred Hitchcock even based a movie on this book. But I was disappointed.

I don't like to say too much about a book's story because I resent book flaps that give it away and don't want to do the same. It's enough to know, then, that Strangers on a Train begins with two men meeting on a train. One immediately becomes obsessed with the other and stalks him throughout most of the rest of the book, although, of course, a book written in 1950 wouldn't use the word "stalked."

Most of the rest of Strangers on a Train also consists of the other man's thoughts, his feelings of guilt that seem to be on the brink of driving him crazy. He feels guilty about actions he took that he feels were forced on him. And his many thoughts that went on and on and on with endless repetition were so monotonous and difficult to read that I found myself skipping paragraphs.

I'm also not a fan of this book because everyone but one detective is stupid. Granted, because the book was written in 1950, the dialog sounded exactly like a 1940s movie, in which I always thought characters (with the exception of Jimmy Stewart's characters) didn't talk the way people really talk. But that isn't to say they sound stupid. In this book, they do.

The man being stalked, especially, makes one stupid decision after the other. And then, in spite of the stupidity of everyone in the book, the one exception I make, a detective, miraculously understands what happened with the two strangers on a train. Yet nowhere are we told how he figures it out other than his prior understanding of the stalker.

Although I thought I saw all the Alfred Hitchcock movies, I don't remember seeing this one. So I'm going to borrow this DVD from the library and see what Hitchcock did with it.

Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Dramatic, Informative
It’s a can’t-put-it-down book that will keep you up at night

UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand (author of SEABISCUIT) is nonfiction. I’m afraid many readers will miss this book for that reason. They think nonfiction is dull. But I promise, UNBROKEN is not dull. It’s a can’t-put-it-down book that will keep you up at night.

Louie Zamperini was a track star in the 1930s. He was good enough to go to the 1936 Olympics in Germany, and all expected, with more experience, he would be a medalist in the next Olympic games. Instead, World War II interfered, and Louie was drafted into the Army Air Corps.

Then Hillenbrand relates his life as a wartime flier. But Louie’s experiences, even compared with other fliers who saw combat, weren’t typical. Although “war is hell” is true for everyone involved, Louie’s hell was progressively worse. Just when I thought, this is more than a person can take, it got even more hideous.

Somehow, in part because Louie was so physically fit, he kept going. But he wouldn’t have if not for amazing mental strength as well.

If you expect a summary of what happens, I’m sorry. It would be unfair to you. I found the book un-put-downable just because I wasn’t familiar with Louie’s story. I would be doing you a disservice by summarizing the book’s various parts.

Do yourself a favor: don’t read the book flap or other reviews, either, until you’ve read the book yourself.

I can tell you this. UNBROKEN begins with a prologue. Louie and two other men are floating on a rubber raft in the ocean. They’re starving to death and weak when a jet flies low over them. Louie thinks it is American, and they are about to be saved. But it’s not. What happens on that ocean is really bad. But after the prologue and after the story begins with Louie’s early life to his experiences as a runner to the Olympics to the military, it then keeps getting worse.

Even so, I didn’t think this was a depressing book. I’ll admit, sometimes it was hard to read, and, if you’re like me, you may get so caught up in the story you’ll even get a headache at times. I wanted to keep reading because, even though bad kept happening, Louie kept overcoming.

Hillenbrand continues the story after Louie’s military service, and we see his (and others who were with him) ability and inability to cope. We see lives forever changed, often disastrously.

And we also see . . . . Well, I can’t continue without giving away what you should read and not anticipate because of something I said. But hint: I learned some unpleasant facts about Japanese civilians during World War II and after, even to present day.

Although I read slowly, I read a lot. I usually find one, maybe two, books a year that are so wonderful I can’t speak highly enough of them. This is one of those books.

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
Slow, Unconvincing, Poorly Written
Frustrating Story

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG by Andre Dubus is a frustrating story because everyone is stupid. And they just keep piling on the stupid, one stupid action after the other.

Part 1 is full of sex and stupidity. That's a sign of a bad, at least second-rate, writer. It seemed he padded the book with sexual details that were unnecessary to the story except to show the reader that two of the characters didn't think with their brains.

Although the author seemed to be trying to get the reader to sympathize with all three main characters, I just couldn't. What was to like?

Part 2 gives glimpses of good writing. It made me wonder if two different people each wrote a different half of the book.

Although everyone except the Iranian teenager is stupid in Part 2 as well as Part 1, the author did make the reader sympathize sometimes in Part 2. For example, when Lester considered his kids (but was so stupid he didn't do that for long), when Behrani's wife's headache was so bad the description actually made my head ache, and especially when Behrani's thoughts were given during and after the episode with his son and Lester.

Unfortunately, the book didn't get good until the second half of the second part. These were the few pages of exceptionally good writing when the author described Behrani's devastation.

Stardust: A Novel by Joseph Kanon
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Confusing
Historical Fiction as Thriller/Mystery

It’s post-World War II, and Ben Collier, on leave from the U.S. Army Signal Corp in Germany, has come to Los Angeles. His brother Danny, a director there, has fallen from a balcony and is now in a coma and near death. Danny dies soon after Ben's arrival, almost immediately after Danny awakens to beg Ben not to leave him.

Ben discovers that this was not an accident and not attempted suicide. Danny was somehow involved in the beginnings of the “witch hunt” for Communists in Hollywood, and someone wanted him dead. Now Ben tries to be Danny and hunt for Communists, hoping he will learn who murdered him.

At the same time, Ben is putting together a documentary. He wants the world to see what had been going on in the concentration camps during World War II. He has convinced an owner of one of the Hollywood movie studios to provide him with what the Army could not so he can produce this. Therefore, he is intimately involved with the goings on at the studio and with the people who worked with Danny there.

Joseph Kanon, who has written four previous novels of historical fiction (THE GOOD GERMAN, LOS ALAMOS, THE PRODIGAL SPY, and ALIBI), once again presents historical fiction as thriller/mystery. So this book is action packed and hard to put down while the reader learns about this historical period.

And once again I give Kanon’s novel an A.

Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Adventurous, Insightful
Author's Ancestors' Lives in Ireland

Mary Pat Kelly’s GALWAY BAY is a 551-page story of the Keeley and Kelly families beginning in Ireland in 1839 all the way to their lives in Chicago and their get-together at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. While the book is fiction, it is based on the lives of Mary Pat Kelly’s own ancestors and stories told to her by her cousin, Sister Mary Erigina, who lived to be 107. She grew up on these stories told to her by this book’s narrator, Honora Keeley Kelly, who really was Mary Pat Kelly’s great-great grandmother.

But GALWAY BAY isn’t just stories of Mary Pat Kelly’s ancestors. You want to read this for its accurate historical details that Kelly researched for 35 years in both Ireland and the U.S. It covers so much that I thought I knew but didn’t. And the advantage to its being historical fiction rather than a history book is that the reader can feel how people lived through these times.

For example, I learned details about living through the Irish Potato Famine that I never knew before. I was ignorant to think the Potato Famine is capitalized because of a terrible blight that killed the Irish potato crops. That, alone, wouldn’t have been enough to send them packing for Canada and the U.S. or to merit capitalization. It was the blight three years in a row combined with English laws that seemed designed to wipe out the Irish and, indeed, did lead to so many deaths they were almost annihilated.

GALWAY BAY is full of many other examples of historical events and people. It might make you want to learn more, especially if you, too, have ancestors who lived through this. That’s what I plan.

Informative, Boring, Dark
Not Just Pat Tillman's Experience in the Army

I preordered Jon Krakauer's WHERE MEN WIN GLORY so I could read it soon after it came out. I expected to read details about Pat Tillman’s experience and that this book would be as well written as Krakauer's previous books.

Pat Tillman, for those who many have been living in a tunnel a couple of years after 9/11, was the NFL football player who gave up a $3 million job to join the Army Rangers not long after 9/11. He was killed in Afghanistan by what the Army claimed was enemy fire only to admit later that Tillman was killed by “friendly fire,” by men from his own platoon.

I thought WHERE MEN WIN GLORY dealt with this, and it does. Unfortunately, though, it also wasted a lot of time telling me things I didn’t care about.

Most of the first 200 pages of WHERE MEN WIN GLORY told me more than I wanted to know about Tillman. I didn’t care about the high school football jock or about his scores in his college games. I also didn’t need details about how the mess in Afghanistan got started; I already knew.

But if you persevere and get to about page 250, Krakauer does deliver what he promised. And I can honestly say I’m glad I stuck with the book that long. It was worth it to read the details of what happened with Tillman’s platoon that lead to his death in Afghanistan, to know who said what, and to discover how the Army dealt with it for years after.

I recommend the book for it’s later chapters but warn you that you may be in for some preliminary bordom.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
Informative, Interesting, Adventurous
A Page Turner It's Not

THUNDERSTRUCK by Eric Larson tells two stories, and you won’t know what one has to do with the other until almost the end.

On one hand, there’s Marconi. He’s from Italy but lives in England. Marconi made possible (although that is contested by others from the start) practically instantaneous ship-to-shore communication.

On the other hand is Dr. Crippen. He’s from the United States but lives in England. He killed his wife.

Although THUNDERSTRUCK gets good reviews, I found it tedious. It went on and on about every little inconsequential detail. This was more than I wanted or needed to know.

And Larson knows it. He prefaces the book with a warning that he does this.

Somewhere I read that this book is a page turner. It’s not.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Germany Pre-World War II

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS by Erik Larson, author of DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, is the nonfiction story of the Dodd family in Germany, pre-World War II, beginning after Hitler came to power there. The Dodds are Americans, William, the ambassador to Germany, with his wife and two adult children. The accountings are largely taken from or based on the writings of William and his daughter, Martha; Larson also adds background so the reader is aware of of what the Dodds’ witness.

When he was offered the ambassadorship, William had been looking forward to having extra time to spend on his farm in Illinois and to work on a book he was writing. Instead, he and his family were transported to Germany, totally unaware that this was a new Germany, not the same place it was when William lived there years before. Gradually, so gradually it was maddening, he came to wonder if everyone there had gone mad, how there could be all around him such a "strange indifference to atrocity."

After the Dodds' first year (1933 to 1934) in Germany, William was struck by the "willingness of the populace and the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest. It was as if he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended."

Martha was also slow to accept that she was witnessing evil. Long after she should have known better, she was happy to see that Germany was only trying to better itself. So she enjoyed herself: as a 24-year-old divorcee, she partied often and had affairs with several men, one the head of the Gestapo, another an official from the Soviet Union. (And she became a spy for the Soviet Union; but that's another story.)

In the meantime, William, new to government work, came to be disliked by many other American government officials and representatives, in large part for his frugality and his criticism of their lack of it. At a time when most Americans were living with or just getting over the Depression, the American representatives in Germany had servants, cooks, chauffeurs, mansions, and new clothes for every occasion. Of course, they shot back with their own criticism that William’s frugality was possible at the expense of the Jewish man who owned the home the Dodd’s were renting so cheaply.

And once he took off his own blinders about the state of affairs in Hitler’s Germany, William also came to be critical of America for being so unwilling to acknowledge what so many witnesses were reporting, so unwilling to criticize the new Germany.

Larson, himself, poses this question when it was still 1934:". . . why were the State Department and President Roosevelt so hesitant to express in frank terms how they really felt about Hitler at a time when such expressions clearly could have had a powerful effect on his prestige in the world?"

So many books have been written about Nazi Germany, I wouldn’t have been anxious to read this one if not for its author. Larson is a master at getting it right and making it readable. Again, with IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, he’s a historian who wrote not a history book but a book of history that was a page turner.

This is particularly true after William and Martha see Germany as a mere visitor there could not.

But this book of history was, as all history books are, significant because history repeats itself. Or we learn from it and avoid the same mistakes.

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane
Book Club Recommended
Another Great Dennis Lehane Book

MOONLIGHT MILE by Dennis Lehane is a continuation of his Patrick-and-Angela series. Lehane had said he’s all out of ideas for this series, and this book even sounds like it may be his last. Lehane fans, fear not. I mean his last in the series, not his last book. And I even might be wrong about that.

Patrick and Angela are private investigators. In this book, they’re married and have a 4-year-old daughter. Consequently, they’re a bit more careful than they used to be. And Patrick hates his job.

If you’ve been reading this series, you remember when Patrick and Angela found a child who had been kidnapped from her neglectful (and trashy) mother. It turned out that the little girl had been taken by a loving couple who the child would have been better off with. The couple went to jail. Against Angela’s wishes, Patrick returned the child to the awful mother.

Now it’s more than 10 years later, and Patrick and Angela revisit this case. The girl, now 17, is again missing. And, although Patrick and Angela can’t afford it, Patrick gets sucked into the case.

Speaking of “can’t afford it,” our country’s sorry economy is a theme in this book.

This is another great Dennis Lehane book. It was a quick read because I didn’t want to put it down, which is as all books should be but so few are.

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane
Book Club Recommended
Read it before you read the reviews on

Don't read reviews of A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR on before you read it. They give too much information and spoil the story.

Dennis Lehane’s A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR introduces two PIs, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. They’re hired by a politician to find a cleaning lady who he claims has stolen some important documents from him. That’s all the politician wants. Once they find the cleaning lady, their job will be done. But Patrick and Angela learn there is more to those documents, and more than one person wants them.

Their exploits as they learn more and more make this book a true mystery/thriller you won’t want to see end.

But take heart when end it does. A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR is just the first book in a series about Patrick and Angie. And they’re all excellent. I can tell you because I read them all. But this book, in particular, is probably my favorite in the series because of Lehane’s comments spoken through the voice and thoughts of Patrick.

So now I’m sad. I read the series out of order (which you can do with this series because Lehane writes so well) and, although A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR begins the series, I already read the rest of the series. And I also already read every standalone book Lehane wrote. And now there are no more until he writes another.

Unconvincing, Slow, Dark

I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE by Laura Lippman begins with Eliza living a typical housewife life. The story continues for another 40 or so pages with descriptions of Eliza’s interactions with her children and her remembrances of growing up with her jealous and nasty sister. But what does all this have to do with the story, you wonder. Not much.

Then Eliza receives a letter. It is written by a female hand but is from her rapist.

Eliza had been abducted when she was 15-years-old. Her abductor was trying to find a girlfriend. Really. He grabbed countless, but at least three, girls and killed all but one—Eliza. He raped Eliza.

Now, shortly before his scheduled execution, he wants to speak with Eliza. So he dictates a letter to a woman who is against the death penalty, who has befriended him, and she mails the letter to Eliza. Really. It’s that easy for a rapist to contact his victim from prison, at least in this story.

Eliza, rather than contacting the authorities about this, goes through the trouble of having a separate telephone line installed in her house just for the rapist’s calls. Really.

And, remember, prisoners must make their calls collect. She accepts the charges. Really.

But now he says he wants to speak with her in person. So she arranges a last-minute-before-they-execute-him visit because her sister just happens to know all the right people. Really.

Eliza thinks he’s going to be honest with her. Really.

I was so disappointed in I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE! This story made me want to scream at all the characters. They all do stupid things. I list only a few here. (The least stupid is Eliza’s sister, the one who she remembers as such an awful person.)

Besides, every single page of this book has something wrong with it: if a character isn’t doing something stupid, something implausible is happening or paragraphs are rambling on and on about something that has nothing to do with the story.

This is an honest review of a book I won from the Early Reviewer program. It was an early look at the paperback edition of the book.

Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Interesting, Unconvincing
Not Great Literature But Enjoyable

I recommend only books that I found not-put-downable, and I recommend What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman. This book came with me to the dinner table, and I didn't put it down to go to sleep but fell asleep with it in my lap (so lost my place and left the light on). It's not great literature, but I enjoyed it.

What the Dead Know is about a woman who claims to be one of two sisters who disappeared in 1975, the five-day investigation into her story, and memories. She's so mysterious, you'll be trying to figure her out and changing what you think every couple of pages.

Slow, Boring

Joyce Maynard is the author of TO DIE FOR, a book of fiction based on the Pamela Smart case in New Hampshire in which Smart has her teenaged lover murder her husband. In INTERNAL COMBUSTION, Maynard again is interested in a case of a marriage gone so bad that a woman wants her husband dead. Only this time she sticks with the facts, nonfiction, as she saw them over her summer’s-long investigation plus a few shorter trips before and after. And this time the unhappy wife does it herself.

This is partly the story of Nancy Seaman’s murder of her husband, Bob, in 2004; of Seaman’s murder trial; and of the effects of the Seaman marriage and murder on their two sons, Jeff and Greg. They lived in an upper-middle-class Detroit suburb, Farmington Hills, Michigan, and weren’t wanting for material things but were a tragic family nevertheless.

As previously stated, though, that story is only part of the book. More than that is the story of Maynard’s investigation into the lives of Nancy and Bob Seaman, including their childhoods. Along the way, she interviews and gets to know many different people and not only those in Michigan. But she never meets with Nancy, Greg, or Nancy's coworkers. Still, it is through this process that she comes to a decision not about Nancy Seaman’s guilt, which is certain, but whether she was justified, as a "48 Hours" episode had claimed.

Maynard should have stuck with the story of the Seamans, relating fewer incidents that exemplified their horrible marriage. It got tedious. But even all those examples aren’t as bad as going completely off the subject, which Maynard does several times.

At various points, Maynard sticks in her little jabs at Oakland County (where Farmington Hills is) and Farmington Hills for their racism and tells little stories of her trips to the city of Detroit, none of which have anything to do with “THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE AND A MURDER IN THE MOTOR CITY” (the book’s subtitle, which is inaccurate because Farmington Hills is not the motor city.)

I grew up and still live (minus a 20-year-long stay in California) right in the area Maynard speaks of. I even grew up in the same city where her ex-husband did. That’s why I picked up this book. I lived in California at the time this took place and moved back to Michigan around the time the trial ended. So I was unfamiliar with the story other than what I had seen on TV in California.

Although Maynard's impressions of Detroit and area suburbs are interesting, they have nothing to do with the reason I wanted to read the book. So I found it maddening that they were stuck throughout the book, kind of like padding.

Maybe if Maynard had been able to speak with Nancy, her son Greg, and the teachers Nancy worked with, she could have stuck with “THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE AND A MURDER IN” Farmington Hills.

Solar by Ian McEwan
Book Club Recommended
Comic and Serious

Although the two reviews of SOLAR that I read would put off a less die-hard McEwan fan, I found it to be, first, a comical view of the irony of global-warming and environmental activism, later, still ironic but a more serious consideration of this subject.

The first part of SOLAR shows the ironic life of a nobel-prize-winning scientist. He is the head of a center bent on exploring some politically correct discovery involving wind turbines even if they know it is useless. But he doesn't really run the place, and he doesn't really care, anyway.
Besides, he has more urgent matters to attend to such as his fifth marriage to a gorgeous woman who is running around on him. Although he's had several affairs, he cares when the tables are turned.

Suddenly, the scientist comes home to his wife's lover, someone the scientist hadn't expected, someone who has a theory that may truly impact energy conservation and global warming. And so ends the first part of SOLAR.

The second part of SOLAR skips ahead a few years. The scientist is a convert to the environmental movement. His fifth wife is gone, he vows never to marry again, and he lives a disgusting life while he gives speeches to would-be investors in his new-found technology that will save the world.

I love Ian McEwen's writing. He writes beautiful sentences. And I'll always want to buy his books as soon as they're available as a result.

But a page turner this is not. I felt like I had to read it slowly because he was implying something. I never was sure of what it was, though. So I read more reviews of SOLAR, hoping to find a reviewer who would give me some insight. No luck.

The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula Mclain
Interesting, Informative, Insightful
Fiction That's Mostly Fact

Hadley Richardson Hemingway was Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain is Hadley’s first-person account of their life together before, during, and after they were married. But this is a novel, not an autobiography.

Hadley and Ernest met when her friend Kate invited Hadley to Chicago, where Kate lived. It was party, party, party all the time there. Poor little Hadley from St. Louis, where her life was dull, boring, and anything but a party, was happy to return again and again, particularly because Ernest was there. He was 8 years her junior, but he was full of life, and she yearned for that now because she had missed out on so much when she was younger. So, although most 29-year-olds might have thought a 21-year-old was too immature for them, Hadley was attracted to Ernest right away.

Eventually, Hadley and Ernest began writing to each other between visits. When Ernest’s letters told Hadley about his intention to go to Europe to further his career as a writer, she was disappointed. Then he told her that he wanted her to come with him as his wife, and she jumped at the chance with little thought to what she might be getting herself into.

So not long after they married, they went to Paris. They met and interacted with various writers and other artists there and became friends with the likes of Gertrude Stein and her partner and Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Although Hadley liked them, they bothered her, too. My opinion: they were a strange gang. They partied and drank all the time and hoped they’d sell books. How did they do it? They were either independently wealthy or, like Hemingway (“Hem”), they shared their wife’s trust fund.

But Hadley had assured Ernest before they were married that she’d never stand in the way of his writing career. She told him that she would only be his partner and encourage it. So she didn’t usually complain but went along with everything. That even included threesomes for a time. No kidding. Hadley was miserable but felt one with Ernest and didn’t know how to live without him.

Ernest’s actions were not a result of Hadley’s neediness, though; I think they were because of Earnest’s association with the eccentric (read self-centered and hard-drinking) writer community in Paris. Their marriage was doomed from the beginning of their lives there.

McLain says that this book of fiction is mostly fact. That makes THE PARIS WIFE interesting. Still, I couldn’t take it in large doses because of my disgust with Ernest and the rest of those expatriate writers in Paris and also with Hadley. While I could understand how a wife could be a sap for her husband, I couldn’t sympathize with her plight when she was putting up with threesomes every day, even in her bed.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Beautiful
Edith and "the Sisters Blyth"

THE DISTANT HOURS by Kate Morton first introduces us to Edith. Edith is an editor who gets stuck having to, needing to, or wanting to unravel various mysteries throughout the book. All of them in one way or the other have to do with “the sisters Blythe” and their author father.

There are three “sisters Blythe”: two twins and their much younger half sister. We meet them first in 1940s England, during World War II. They live in a castle with their father. And we get snippets of their lives in both flashbacks and the 1990s as the story progresses. In this way, we learn more and more about each of them and the castle’s hold on them.

The Blythe family is strange. But Morton tells their story well, so well that by the second half of the book, I didn’t want to put it down.

But I had to get through the first half first. It was all interesting and told me what I really did need to know about the Blythe family history. But I could have done with fewer details.

The second half, though, is outstanding. I’m very glad I stuck with it.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Interesting, Dark, Pointless
The Ghost in the London Flat

HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY by Audrey Niffenegger begins in a hospital room. A woman, Elspeth, dies and immediately thereafter watches her lover, Robert, mourn her. Somehow after that, though, her ghost is confined to her flat in London.

Edie, Elspeth's twin sister, lives in America with her husband and twin daughters, Julia and Valentina. Elspeth and Edie are estranged, and the truth of that is eventually revealed.

In the meantime, Elspeth has left a lot of money and her large London flat to J and V. And, as already mentioned, that's where Elspeth's ghost is.

Note, also, that J and V have a strange relationship with each other. Although it's understandable for twins to be close, their dependence on each other is quite strange.

Then V decides to do something about that. She could simply live her own life, but that's not enough. Instead, she and the ghost cook up a plan.

THE NEW YORK TIMES gave HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY a good review while the reader reviews I read were bad. I'd say it's someplace in between.

The book seemed pretty corny to me. But I stuck with it because Niffenegger’s fantasy, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, seemed corny, too, but still grabbed me. HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY didn't grab me.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Interesting, Beautiful
Love Over Time

Put shortly, Audrey Niffenegger’s THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE is the story of Claire and Henry. Claire meets Henry when she is 6-years-old and Henry is an adult. But in real time he is only 8 years older than she is. Henry is a time traveler.

Because Claire is not a time traveler, she is always in real time and grows up with Henry at various ages, sometimes older, sometimes younger. Sometimes they're both in real time. And we watch as their love develops.

But Niffenegger has put together a beautiful love story, not something drippy as love stories almost always are. And this certainly is not a romance novel. But THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE is also, obviously, science fiction.

After I began reading THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, I thought it was going to be monotonous even if not a silly love story. The dialog was so well written, though, I continued to read it. But I’m not the love story type, so I still wasn’t optimistic.

It was the continual time travel that I thought would get monotonous. Instead, I became attached to Claire when the story was told from her point of view, then attached to Henry when it was told from his.

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
Slow, Boring
You're supposed to trust the author

In Catherine O’Flynn’s WHAT WAS LOST, a 10-year-old girl, Kate, fancies herself a detective. She watches people, makes up stories to herself about them, and takes great care with her notes about following them. Then one day she disappears.

The police’s immediate and only suspect is a young man, Adrian, who was her neighbor and had befriended this lonely little girl. When he could bear the suspicion of neighbors and his family no longer, he, too, disappears.

Flash forward 20 years. Adrian’s little sister, Lisa, now an adult, is an assistant manager at a music store in a huge mall, the largest in England. Also working at the mall is a security guard, Kurt.

And now we spend the rest of the book trying to figure out what either of them has to do with Kate, who we assume is the subject of the story. But as we continue to read, we have to wonder why we keep getting off the subject, exploring Lisa’s feelings of uselessness and Kurt’s imaginings. Isn’t this about the disappearances of Kate and Adrian?

I read several good reviews of this book. So I wondered what was wrong with me. Why did I skip paragraphs because they were dull?

O’Flynn does a lot of character examination in the second part of the book. It was too much for me because she doesn't point out the connection to Kate until almost the end. I guess I was supposed to trust her

The Map of Time: A Novel by Félix J Palma
Unconvincing, Interesting, Fun
Iis this book a joke?

THE MAP OF TIME by Félix J. Palma, Nick Caistor (Translator), begins with the tale of Andrew, spoiled son of a rich man in Victorian England. Andrew is an adult who’s never had a job, never done anything productive. He falls in love with a prostitute upon viewing her portrait.

To make matters worse, he then has to borrow his servant’s clothes so as not to be noticed when he searches for her where she lives, Whitechapel. You mean Andrew has nothing but finery to wear? You mean he does nothing that might require casual clothing?

Once he finds the prostitute, he pays her fee, and they have sex. (She mentions that she has to get her husband out of the house, but this information doesn’t seem to phase Andrew.) And so it goes every night thereafter. They don’t talk much except when she expresses her concern that Jack the Ripper is lurking around Whitechapel and dissecting all the prostitutes there. And, of course, she was right to be concerned because Jack gets her next.

Although these characters are shallow and the author doesn’t give the reader one good reason to like or even care about them and although the prostitute never gave Andrew one good reason to like or even care about her, he spends the next eight years (yes, EIGHT years) in mourning. When he’s on the very brink of suicide, we get to the reason the book is called THE MAP OF TIME.

This story made me wonder, is this book a joke, or is Palma serious? I wasn’t sure.

Anyhow, that’s just the first story. Other reviews of this book say it contains three stories. That’s because the book is divided into three parts, each a separate (but sort of connected) story. But within each part (story) are stories within stories. This first part contains at least five stories, and at least two of them are spoofs.

For example, in the first part, after Andrew’s story (which we get back to), this part of the book continues with the stories, first, of Andrew’s father and, second, of the man Andrew and his cousin hope can send them back in time. Then that man tells a story, then H.G. Wells enters, and we get his story, then back to Andrew when H.G. Wells gets involved, and so on.

By the end of Part 1, I realized, I think, that Palma really is joking. Andrew’s story was too ridiculous to be serious.

At this point, I read various reader reviews of THE MAP OF TIME. I hoped they would verify my suspicion that Palma isn’t being serious. But I found to my dismay that the other readers were in even more fog about this book than I am. And the crazy thing about it is that they don’t even know they don’t understand.

I continued with Part 2, the story of Claire falling in love with a man from the future who really isn’t from the future. More ridiculousness, especially about everyone not realizing that they’re being spoofed, that it’s really not possible to time travel. This makes it even more obvious that Palma is joking. But other reader reviews didn’t see it that way.

Onto the third part. It seemed excessively wordy. But maybe that’s because I was getting pretty tired of all the nitwits in 19th century England who were so enamored with the possibility of time travel that they believed it was possible.

This is an honest review of a prerelease (but finished) copy of THE MAP OF TIME, which I received from Atria Books/Judith Curr.

Adventurous, Slow, Confusing
Reads Like a YA Novel

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penny is a mystery that is very different from your usual mystery. That's why I read it.

The story takes place in Canada around the time of the U.S. Civil War, maybe a little before then. People from various parts of Europe have come there to brave the elements and live in a settlement together, all speaking English but with lots of different accents. A French trapper has been murdered, and the obvious suspect is a 17-year-old who has fled the settlement.

Most of the book involves the boy's mother, a halfbreed Indian, and an employee of the Hudson Bay Company hiking across Canada in a search for the boy.

The mystery is, at first, who killed the French trapper. It turns out to be more than that, though.

Yes, this is quite different from your usual mystery. But, frankly, most of it bored me. It was so darned slow! There isn't anything thrilling about it.

I wouldn't have read the whole book but for two factors: 1) it wasn't a long book and 2) the book was a gift.

I also felt like this book was beneath my reading level. That is, it seemed to be a book I might have liked when I was in the eighth grade.

It's possible, though, other readers will disagree.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Insightful
1942 Alternating With 2002

A Jewish 10-year-old girl is rounded up with her family and all the other Jews in 1942 Paris, but she locked her little brother in a cupboard, where she thought he would be safe. She thought she’d be right back to let him out.

An American woman works as a journalist in 2002 France. She’s lived there for years and has a French husband and daughter. Her article for an upcoming issue of a magazine involves research into France’s 1942 roundup of Jews who were then sent to Auschwitz.

Chapters alternate between Sarah, the child in 1942 France, and Julia, the adult in 2002 France.

It was difficult for me to read some of the Sarah chapters with their upsetting details about children being torn from their mothers and the horror the children lived in.

But then the book got very good. Julia, the 2002 journalist, is researching for her article and finally learns of Sarah in particular.

Still, the book would have been better with more character development, especially of Sarah. There was some character development of Julia, but it was pretty soap operaish, in my opinion. Carly Simon’s “Your So Vain” could have been written for her husband, but who cares?

The last couple/few chapters about Julia trying to find Sarah are full of characters saying and doing too many implausible things with contrived coincidences. Another writer could have done more with this storyline.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Beautiful, Difficult
Unusual Style

In unusual writing style moving from the end of the story to the middle to the beginning to the end throughout the book, finally ending in the middle, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things tells a story of a well-off Indian family, most of it from the perspective of one or the other of twin children, one a boy and the other a girl. It’s a dysfunctional family, of course, and just about everyone in it is more or less nuts.

Except I’m looking at it from the perspective of an American, not an Indian, so what may seem nuts to me may be a cultural difference. But Roy does seem to criticize Indian culture, herself, when she shows us how a culture with a history of touchables and untouchables affects lives and personalities.

The style as I speak of it sounds confusing and mixed up, but the book is not difficult to read at all. As a matter of fact, its back-and-forth movement leads to more suspense as Roy gives more and more hints about the middle and the end.

The God of Small Things received many great reviews in the last decade (or more). And it is a very good book. But I wouldn’t rate it a five out of five because I have a big problem with it.

From the very beginning, Roy points out a difficulty with one of the characters and comes back to it again and again. Yet she never answers the question she presents to the reader. Most readers will be surprised when they get to the end of the book and may think they have a defective copy that ended in the middle because the character’s life and readers’ questions are unresolved.

The book also annoyed me because Roy used so much pointless capitalization. At first I thought it did have a point: from a child’s perspective, some words are a lot bigger and more important; they’re proper nouns. But she did this so much, so often, even when we were seeing the story from an adult's perspective, that all those caps lost their intended meaning, whatever it was.

I know there are many readers who loved this book. I liked it.

Doc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Fantastic
Fiction Based on Fact

In DOC by Mary Doria Russell, John Henry Holliday is introduced as an only child whose father was a military officer rarely at home and whose mother doted on him. When he was still a child, his mother died, and he was subsequently raised with his aunts and uncles and many cousins in Georgia. He became a dentist and planned to open a practice in Georgia with his cousin. But he had to move out West for health reasons. He was in Texas (where people began calling him “Doc”) for a while.

But our story really begins after Doc moves to Dodge City, Kansas, with the whore (“Big Nose Kate”) who has become his friend. And the story concentrates on his time there, before the famous shootout at the OK Corral in Arizona.

Dodge City is wild and unruly, where saloons abound and gambling is rampant. Although Doc is the only dentist there, he is forced to supplement his income as a card dealer. He makes a lot of money at this but feels guilty taking it.

In walks Wyatt Earp. (Actually, he was there before Doc, but Wyatt was on a manhunt.) He has several brothers, and they all stick pretty close together. Wyatt, alone, does not drink or gamble. He becomes a policeman in Dodge City.

An extremely intelligent and well-liked “black Indian” boy died in a barn fire. Before Wyatt was back in Dodge City, the county sheriff, Bat Masterson, pronounced the death accidental. But Doc saw signs that it wasn’t. Doc tells Wyatt and his brother Morgan, also a policeman, that the boy had suspicious-looking injuries to his head, injuries sustained before the boy died.

This is the mystery: who is guilty of the murder?

I loved this book. And I loved that Russell’s Web site has pictures of the real characters.

Although the book is fiction, it is more fact than I expect most historical fiction to be. Russell even says as much when she thanks the various people who helped her research. So names I’ve known and have seen in movies of the old West for years are now presented after research into who they really were and how they really lived. Heck, even the toothbrush is described (because, after all, Doc is a dentist), which is a foreign object to so many people in Dodge City. Really, Wyatt has never seen one, and Doc has to teach him how to use it. Just think of all the rotten teeth and bad breath in Dodge City!

I’ve read all of Russell’s books, beginning with THE SPARROW. Although all but the first two (THE SPARROW and CHILDREN OF GOD, which is a continuation of THE SPARROW) are different from each other, I’ve noted a couple pleasant similarities.

First, in all but one of her books (DREAMERS OF THE DAY), one of the characters is a priest, a Jesuit. I’m going to have to ask her why the next time I attend one of her book events.
Second, all her books begin with the cast of characters. The fictitious names are italicized. I wish all authors did this.

Did I say I loved this book? Now I’ve added “My Darling Clementine” and “Gunfight at the OK Corral” to my Netflix queue.

Insightful, Interesting, Informative
Boring Book, Interesting Story

Adventurous, Interesting, Dramatic
Too Put-downable

In Lisa Scottoline's DEVIL'S CORNER, Vicki is a U.S. prosecutor trying, first, to find the killers of her partner and of a potential wittness. Then somebody else is murdered, and she takes it upon herself to find that killer, too. She's aided in her quest by Reheema, a gorgeous woman who just got out of jail.

The majority of DEVEL'S CORNER involves Vicki's and Reheema's exploits. Scottoline does a great job with their dialogs, and you've got to enjoy the book for that. But it's not her best.

Another story going on in the book is the romance between Vicki and another prosecutor, Dan, a married man she spends too much time with after work. It's predictable.

Overall, I'd say it isn't a bad book, but it is disappointing. I know Scottoline can do better--and she does.

Although DEVIL'S CORNER is a who-done-it with great dialog, I didn't find it thrilling; it's too put-downable.

The Vendetta Defense by Lisa Scottoline
Book Club Recommended
Seemingly Unsolvable Legal Dilemma

Lisa Scottoline’s novels present interesting legal dilemmas.

In Scottoline’s THE VENDETTA DEFENSE, an old Italian man, “Pigeon Tony,” who lived in prewar Italy under Mussolini and the Black Shirts and fled to America with his young son, is now accused of murdering another Italian-American, Angelo Coluzzi. Coluzzi is a rich man who is corrupt and has ties to the Mafia.

During flashbacks in the book, we see why their ages-old feud, back to their lives in Italy, where Coluzzi was one of the Black Shirts, led to the killing. And, according to Pigeon Tony, that’s what it was—killing, not murder.

THE VENDETTA DEFENSE is one book in Scottoline’s series about a Philadelphia law firm. One of the associate lawyers in the firm takes on this case, made more difficult by Pigeon Tony’s ongoing insistence that he tell the judge that he did, in fact, kill Coluzzi. Pigeon Tony was sure the killing was justified because it wasn’t murder; Coluzzi killed Pigeon Tony’s wife in Italy many years ago and his son and daughter-in-law more recently in Philadelphia.

While this book wasn’t a not-put-downable thriller, it was interesting and did make me want to keep reading. Scottoline seems to like to set herself up to solve unsolvable legal dilemmas.

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Adventurous
A "Not-Put-Downable" Book

Lisa Scottoline's thriller, LOOK AGAIN, tells the story of a journalist who adopts a baby only to discover three years later that the adoption may not have been legal and that the child's biological parents may still be searching for their missing son.

This was my first Scottoline novel, and I expected it to be another less-than-thrilling thriller, as I think most thrillers are. So-called thrillers usually spend the first 100 or even 200 pages painting a picture of the thrills to come. Not so with LOOK AGAIN.

As every book that bills itself as a thriller should do, this thriller started the suspense on page one. LOOK AGAIN is one of those rare "not-put-downable" books, and I highly recommend it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
Informative, Interesting, Fun
Dishonest Reviews?

Mine is a different opinion of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

I had been reading reviews of this book for a year or so. ALL raved, practically drooled.

Here's what I learned before I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: it is made up of a series of letters written after World II through which the reader will both fall in love with the people of Guernsey and learn history they probably never knew.

That's mostly true, except for the falling-in-love part. Because this book is a series of letters, the reader never really knows much about any one character. How can you fall in love with someone you don't know? I guess you could argue that people do all the time. But I don't really think so.

The fact is, the book is just plain silly and predictable. Also, because this book is written the way it is (as a series of letters), it never grabbed me and made me anxious to read more.

It's nice that it ended the way it did, but I'll bet you can guess the ending after you read the first few letters.

So why did this get such great reviews? I can only guess why, but it's obvious to me that most weren't honest.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot is part examination of the HeLa cell, a cell taken from (not donated by) Henrietta Lacks when she was being treated at Johns Hopkins for cervical cancer. The other part of this book tells the story of Henrietta, and her family both before and after her death.

During the 1950s Henrietta Lacks had a two-timing husband, five children, and several medical problems that she left untreated, including syphilis. When she learned she had cervical cancer, she also ignored that for as long as she could but eventually went to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she could receive free treatment.

Shortly before Henrietta died, Johns Hopkins took a tissue sample from her cervix. As was routine and perfectly legal in the 1950s and for many years later, no one asked for her or her family’s permission. And no one acknowledged her for her “donation” when the resulting HeLa cell made possible so much medical research and discoveries.

I should mention that Henrietta was black because that fact has everything to do with her children’s reactions years later.

Because the HeLa cell could live indefinitely, which other cells could not, HeLa was reproduced in large quantities. Johns Hopkins gave the HeLa cell to just about anyone who asked all over the world at no cost.

As a result, medical research was advanced, but for years Henrietta’s family was never aware of any of it. No one was deliberately hiding anything from them; but no one felt it necessary to tell them. The first the family heard of it was when Johns Hopkins wanted to test their blood 20 years later. And there began the first of many, many misunderstandings.

Day, Henrietta’s husband, got the call but understood that they wanted to get blood samples from Henrietta’s children to test them for cancer. So they all gave blood samples, then became angry when they were never given results of the “tests.”

The Lacks family was angry with Johns Hopkins Hospital and University and the researchers working with HeLa cells for more than 30 years for various reasons, all misunderstandings. And they most often didn’t change their minds, even when told otherwise.

The author of THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, Rebecca Skloot, had the patience of a saint! She gave up years of her time in pursuit of information for this book, much of it wasted because of the family’s misunderstandings. And even when things appeared to be going well, a family member might suddenly mistrust her, again as a result of a misunderstanding (that she was working for Johns Hopkins, who they also mistrusted as a result of misunderstanding). Once, one of Henrietta’s children, Deborah, even went so far as to physically attack Skloot because of a (you guessed it) misunderstanding.

So much of this book is devoted to clearing up misunderstandings, I found it mostly frustrating. However, Skloot did clear up the misunderstandings and, in doing so, told interesting stories within this story, for example, the actual history of Johns Hopkins, so mistrusted by not only the Lacks family but many other black people as well.

Skloot also related science in easy-to-understand language. It was a pleasure to read for that reason but also because, although I was aware of the various research projects she mentioned, I had not known how a minute cell had made them possible.

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith
Book Club Recommended
Fiction With Factual Background

Tom Rob Smith’s The Secret Speech is the sequel to his Child 44, in which Leo Demidov is a state security officer with the MGB (later called the KGB) in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Leo gets to the bottom of a series of crimes, serial murders of children, at a time when murders were not talked about and denied because of the claim that there was less crime under Communism.

The Secret Speech is three years after the end of Child 44 with Leo, his wife, and their two adopted daughters. It is 1956, Stalin is gone, and Khrushchev has replaced him. Khrushchev is more liberal and criticizes Stalin’s rule and tactics. And now the people who were persecuted, jailed, and tortured under Stalin are looking for revenge.

I praise The Secret Speech just as I did Child 44. Like Child 44, The Secret Speech is historical fiction at its finest, i.e. it’s a not-put-downable novel that is so well researched you might find it difficult to distinguish fiction from fact.

I advise that you read Child 44 before you read The Secret Speech. You’ll appreciate more the feelings of Leo’s wife and daughters, which are key to understanding The Secret Speech.

Inspiring, Insightful, Beautiful
Too YAish

When I get another dog I’ll talk to him or her more and I’ll turn on the TV whenever I leave the house so he or she can watch it. I never thought about doing these things until I read THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by Garth Stein.

The book’s title refers to the love and respect Enzo, a dog, has for his master, Denny, a race car driver. As Enzo narrates the story of his life with Denny and his wife and child, Enzo continually speaks metaphorically about the need for someone to act in a certain way that a truly great race driver, as is his beloved Denny, knows. So, as Enzo tells of Denny’s wife’s death and his subsequent dealings with his in-laws, he shows over and over why he knows that Denny the race car driver is brilliant.

And Denny always talks to Enzo. It’s because of this and what Enzo has learned from the TV that he is sure this life of his is not the end, that he will return as a human. And he is preparing himself for that eventuality.

So if you are apprehensive about reading Enzo’s life story because you know that a life story must necessarily end in death, I don’t think you should worry.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Inspiring, Interesting
Don't pass this up!

Two black maids and one young white woman in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, alternately narrate THE HELP, a fictionalized account of the production of a book of true accounts. The white woman, Skeeter, is writing the book. Various black maids tell her stories of their everyday lives working in white households.

The civil rights movement is going on; apparently, though, some rich society women are slow to catch on. So the reader can easily forget that these are the 1960s and not the 1860s as black women not only cook and clean six days a week for white families; they even raise the white children.

I admit this put me off for the first few chapters. I grew up during the 1960s, and I sure never saw evidence that black women knew how to raise children better than white women did.

But I'm not from Mississippi; and all was not as it seemed to me at first. I now know that Stockett's accounts are fair. At times I even doubted this is fiction.

More than that--I found, although before I read THE HELP I thought it might bore me, I was, instead, enthralled with it. I hated to see it end. But Stockett does, afterward, explain her truth and motivation for writing this book.

THE HELP is an exceptionally good book. You don't want to pass on this one.

Ripped From the Headlines

As they say in advertisements for “LA Law,” this story was “ripped from the headlines.” FACE OF BETRAYAL by Lis Wiehl (one of the Fox News commentators) and April Henry sounds like the Chandra Levy case.

In this book a Senate page, last seen as she was setting out to walk her sister's dog, is now missing. The case is receiving national attention and, maybe because of all the 24-hour cable news coverage, it has even gone worldwide. People speculate on the relationship the page had with the senator who sponsored her, their affair is uncovered, and the senator is then accused of attempting to hide the facts by murdering her.

Sound familiar? It should unless you were living in a tunnel when Chandra Levy dominated the news.

I was reminded so much of the Chandra Levy case, I found the story in FACE OF BETRAYAL tiresome. News coverage of Chandra's case, although not unjustified, became so repetitious I wasn’t interested in hearing it all over again.

To be honest, the two cases aren’t identical. In FACE OF BETRAYAL the 17-year-old page was a little curly haired blond, and the story ends differently.

Most of all, the cases differ because of the “Triple Threat” in this novel: Cassidy, Nicole, and Allison. Cassidy is a local TV news reporter, Nicole is an FBI agent, and Allison is a federal prosecutor. Together, they work to find the missing page. But I didn't exactly find them threatening.

I read this book out of curiosity because I love Fox News and I love Lis Wiehl on Fox News. But I have to admit my suspicion about that station: they seem to have a publish-or-perish rule; it looks like all Fox News regulars write books.

At least this book was fiction. The nonfiction books written by others, such as Bill O’Reilly and Dick Morris, on Fox News are like reading transcripts of the shows I already watched.

I give this book only three stars because of its predictability. The best mysteries/thrillers build anticipation throughout and surprise the reader. I don't think I should be able to guess the end when I'm only halfway through the book. Nothing surprised me.

One Good Dog by Susan Wilson
Optimistic, Inspiring, Insightful
Should Be Market to Young Adults or Even Children

ONE GOOD DOG by Susan Wilson is the story of Adam, a highly paid business executive who has a breakdown and loses everything as a result, including his marriage. He gets stuck with a pit bull and ends up loving it.

I admit: I'm a sucker for good animal stories. And many other dog lovers had given the book high reviews. I believed them. That's the reason I bought ONE GOOD DOG.

But I am a well read adult who appreciates truly good books and depends on truly honest reviews. None of the reviews I read bothered to mention that ONE GOOD DOG is a children's book.

It's marketed to adults, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. This is a book I may have liked when I was 12. Even then, I think, I would have noticed how predictable everything in the story is. I knew what was going to happen pages before it happened. Everything, no kidding, was predictable.

Seriously, Susan Wilson would be better off with a publisher who would market this book to younger readers.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Dark

Last September (2008) I found Oprah's book pick, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, astounding not because it wasn't a good book but because I agreed with her, and I so seldom do. As a matter of fact, I can think of only one other time when I agreed with her, Night by Elie Wiesel. Others I thought were just OK or terrible.

If you haven't read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle yet, I assure you, it's wonderful.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Inspiring

Although LEFT NEGLECTED by Lisa Genova is fiction, it is about living with a real affliction, left neglect. Left neglect occurs after damage to the right side of the brain. The affected person is unaware of the left side of their body and the left side of everything around them. Therefore, she can’t process or perceive anything on the left side of her body or environment. Yet, this is not because of blindness or paralysis or even lack of sensation on the left side.

In LEFT NEGLECTED Sarah’s brain damage happens when she is on her way to work, preoccupied with locating her cell phone. Her car flipps. The next thing she knows, she’s in the hospital. She had been in a coma for about a week and would soon discover the symptoms of left neglect.

Before her accident, Sarah had been quite a busy working mother of three. Not only that, but her job as vice president of marketing was so time consuming, it was a wonder she had time for her family at all. Somehow, this superwoman did. But all that was about to change at least temporarily.

While I’ve been seeing much praise of Lisa Genova for her skillful writing about this medical condition, I give her hats off, too, for her ability to describe for pages and pages the life of a busy mom while still keeping me interested. I think you’ll enjoy, as I did, Genova’s humor as Sarah deals with each child before and after work.

Soon, though, Sarah has her car accident and is in the hospital. Now we see her begin dealing with her left neglect and with the people working on it with her. I can assure you, her descriptions are accurate. And, yet, both Sarah and the author keep their humor throughout.

When it’s time for Sarah to go home, though, will Genova be able to retain her accuracy or just keep trying to be funny? I was pleased to see that, yes, she still does both.

As I said, I can assure you that Genova is accurate in her descriptions of the feelings and thoughts of a brain injured person forced to live with this unexpected and, put lightly, inconvenient condition. Although brain injuries vary and do not all involve left neglect but some other result, the thoughts and feelings of the afflicted person and the reactions of nonafflicted people around her are common

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic
Not Your Formulaic Thriller

LEARNING TO SWIM by Sarah Henry begins, you guessed it, in the water, Lake Champlain, specifically. Troy (female) jumps into the lake from her ferry boat when she sees what appears to be a child falling from a passing ferry boat. This not-very-good swimmer somehow manages to find the drowning little boy, resuscitate him, remove his sweatshirt that ties his arms, then swim to shore with him.

The rest of Chapter 1 bugged the heck out of me: while Troy does call the police, she won’t give them her name or tell them where she is. Then she calls her boyfriend to explain why she isn’t coming over, but she doesn’t tell him what happened, either. I didn’t have high hopes for the rest of the book.

But I was pleasantly surprised. Turns out, Troy had reasons for not telling anyone. This issue was not ignored, as I had feared.

Now she has quickly become attached to the boy, who finally tells her his name, Paul. Troy later meets Paul’s father, Phillipe, and becomes personally involved with their lives in Canada and law enforcement there.

Throughout the story is the question: who tried to drown Paul? Troy has other questions as well, but that one question is what they all boil down to. The book becomes more and more suspenseful as every character, particularly Phillipe and his brother-in-law, is suspect and as Troy’s willingness to help Paul threatens to put her in danger.

This is a good thriller, and my initial impression was proved wrong. After Chapter 1, I was no longer aggravated by Troy’s mishandling of the legalities of Paul’s situation, and the story became more and more suspenseful with every subsequent chapter.

I was, however, aggravated that the book contained several grammatical errors throughout. Perhaps these stood out for me because I'm a technical editor, and most readers won't even notice. Regardless, Henry did say on her Facebook page that these will be corrected in the paperback edition of LEARNING TO SWIM.

I recommend this to readers who love thrillers and would appreciate a change from what they normally read, the formulaic mysteries/thrillers. This is different. And I’m happy to tell you that Henry plans a sequel.

Book Club Recommended
Fun, Inspiring, Interesting
I read it, and I loved it

DEWEY: THE SMALL-TOWN LIBRARY CAT WHO TOUCHED THE WORLD by Vicki Myron, Bret Witter (Contributor), was published in 2008. Obviously, I didn’t read it right away. That’s because I was afraid it would be a tear jerker. But the cover picture of that cat finally proved irresistible when I found the book at a used book sale. I read it, and I loved it.

If you like cats, you’ll love this book, too. And there’s enough description of library work that librarians would also enjoy this book, regardless of how they feel about cats. But a librarian who is also a cat owner absolutely should not miss DEWEY.

Some of DEWEY is funny, all of it is touching. But it’s more than a MARLEY-type book, with descriptions of crazy incidents.

DEWEY begins with a book depository. That’s where Vicki Myron, the director of the Spencer, Iowa, Library, finds the 8-week-old kitten one freezing cold morning. He was near frozen to death, and his paws were frostbitten. But he loved her and everyone else who would hold him immediately. And all the librarians there loved him back. So, of course, they kept him.

And now you might expect the remainder of the book to describe cat antics. But Myron actually tells us how Dewey helped so many people on a daily basis, truly helped them. He even improved the library. And it even may not be a stretch to say that he gave some status to the small town of Spencer, Iowa. Sure, cat antics are in there, but they’re part of the stories of a cat who loved everyone and helped the lives of so many.

I highly recommend this book. It’s just as good today as it was in 2008 when it was getting so much publicity.

Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Interesting
It’s full of suspense from beginning to end.

You won’t have to wait a chapter or two for something to happen in Under the Dog Star by Sandra Parshall. It’s full of suspense from beginning to end. And the suspense doesn’t take long to become edge-of-your-seat.

Rachel is a veterinarian. She lives with her boyfriend, Tom, a police captain. Both are involved with a problem in their county—a pack of feral dogs is roaming at night onto private property, sometimes injuring or killing livestock. Rachel wants to capture the dogs along with Animal Control. She knows that they were people’s pets, many of them stolen recently from backyards. Tom needs to stop some of the citizens from killing these dogs before Rachel can do that.

It isn’t long before a man is killed by a vicious dog. But Tom knows this was not a dog from the pack. This was a murder by dog. In other words, some person instructed the dog to attack. And those who blame the feral dogs need to be convinced of that.

Tom suspects that the vicious dog is part of a dog fighting ring. But he needs to find it before he can confirm it.

Because the murdered man’s own dog was with him when he was attacked and is now hurt himself, Rachel makes house calls to attend to his injuries. During these visits, she sees how dysfunctional that family is and worries, especially, for the welfare of one young adopted daughter. During Tom’s investigation of the murder, he, too, notes this and becomes frustrated with the uncaring attitudes of all but the youngest child.

And now Tom, as I said, a police captain, makes a deal with an attempted murder and vandalism suspect. I think this book needs a prosecutor.

Under the Dog Star is the fourth book in a series about Rachel. Because I haven’t read the first three (yet), I can’t say when Tom becomes part of the series. But I can tell you that, in this book, Tom is as much a main character as is Rachel, maybe more.

I was very pleased with Under the Dog Star. If the only thing I can criticize is the lack of a prosecutor, you can be assured that this book is a great read, suspenseful cover to cover. I recommend it.

The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Fantastic
The Best Kind of Thriller

Sometimes I just can’t wait to blurt it out: THE SLEEPWALKERS by Paul Grossman is an outstanding thriller. Like Joseph Kanon’s books, this is excellent historical fiction as well.

The setting is 1932 Berlin. The body of a young woman has washed to shore. Willi, a Jewish police detective and former World War I hero, famous already for solving another huge case, is called to the scene. He notes that she was beautiful. But her legs are horribly deformed, almost as if they are backward. And her hair has been shaved. She is also missing both wisdom teeth, indicating she was probably American. She’s dubbed “the mermaid.”

Before he has a chance to get anywhere with this case, Willi is given another, higher profile assignment—to find the missing princess of Bulgaria, who had been visiting Berlin with her husband. According to the doorman at the hotel she walked out of, she looked like a sleepwalker. Willi’s subsequent investigation finds many more missing persons cases involving sleepwalkers.

With his assistant Gunther, Willi uncovers more and more evidence that the unthinkable may be going on in Germany. And it may all begin with a hypnotist.

I highly recommend THE SLEEPWALKERS. But I admit I did have a problem with Willi’s prostitute. She’s a friend of the American he feels may be “the mermaid.” But she soon becomes a love interest to Willi. He turns off his brains when it comes to sex because he hasn’t had any in 2 years. Is this reason enough to leave a prostitute alone in his apartment all day while he goes to work or to trust her with details of his cases? This tarnished an otherwise fantastic read for me.

In spite of that one criticism, I still insist that THE SLEEPWALKERS is the best kind of thriller. If you hesitate to read it because you aren’t familiar with Grossman, it’s time to expand your horizons and read a new author. He’s so good that I’m preordering his next book, CHILDREN OF WRATH, due out in February.

Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Informative, Dramatic
Thoughts and Feelings of a Brain Injured Person

Although LEFT NEGLECTED by Lisa Genova is fiction, it is about living with a real affliction, left neglect. Left neglect occurs after damage to the right side of the brain. The affected person is unaware of the left side of their body and the left side of everything around them. Therefore, she can’t process or perceive anything on the left side of her body or environment. Yet, this is not because of blindness or paralysis or even lack of sensation on the left side.

In LEFT NEGLECTED Sarah’s brain damage happens when she is on her way to work, preoccupied with locating her cell phone. Her car flipps. The next thing she knows, she’s in the hospital. She had been in a coma for about a week and would soon discover the symptoms of left neglect.

Before her accident, Sarah had been quite a busy working mother of three. Not only that, but her job as vice president of marketing was so time consuming, it was a wonder she had time for her family at all. Somehow, this superwoman did. But all that was about to change at least temporarily.

While I’ve been seeing much praise of Lisa Genova for her skillful writing about this medical condition, I give her hats off, too, for her ability to describe for pages and pages the life of a busy mom while still keeping me interested. I think you’ll enjoy, as I did, Genova’s humor as Sarah deals with each child before and after work.

Soon, though, Sarah has her car accident and is in the hospital. Now we see her begin dealing with her left neglect and with the people working on it with her. I can assure you, her descriptions are accurate. And, yet, both Sarah and the author keep their humor throughout.

When it’s time for Sarah to go home, though, will Genova be able to retain her accuracy or just keep trying to be funny? I was pleased to see that, yes, she still does both.

As I said, I can assure you that Genova is accurate in her descriptions of the feelings and thoughts of a brain injured person forced to live with this unexpected and, put lightly, inconvenient condition. Although brain injuries vary and do not all involve left neglect but some other result, the thoughts and feelings of the afflicted person and the reactions of nonafflicted people around her are common.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Poorly Written
A Don't-Miss-It Novel

I’ll say it right up front: ONLY TIME WILL TELL by Jeffrey Archer is a don’t-miss-it novel, the first in a series that will continue the story of the Harry Clifton family and the Barringtons. It will make you anxious to read the next installment.

Harry is growing up without a father. He died when Harry was just a year old, but Harry doubts the cause of death that everyone gives him—a war injury. This is the novel’s first mystery.

A child with a “voice of an angel,” Harry receives a choral scholarship to a school attended by rich boys and encounters so much snobbery and mistreatment he runs away. But, at the urging of “Old Jack,” the mysterious man who lives in an old train carriage, Harry returns in time for breakfast.

He does become good friends with two boys at school. One, Giles Barrington, is the son of Hugo Barrington, Harry’s dead father’s former employer. Hugo Barrington is ONLY TIME WILL TELL’s bad guy.

The book is told in parts, each part a different character’s point of view. In this way, we learn more and more. And the mysteries surrounding different characters are cleared up or built up.

ONLY TIME WILL TELL follows Harry, his mother, “Old Jack,” and the Barringtons from 1920 to World War II . At each stage, we see how far Harry’s mother will go to see that he attends the best schools and wants for nothing and how far Hugo Barrington will go to see that Harry does not attend the best schools and is unsuccessful.

Family sagas such as this book can be overly long and boring, especially for readers who enjoy books of thrills and suspense. I’m betting, though, that even those readers will love ONLY TIME WILL TELL. What saves it is Archer’s style. By telling the story from different character’s points of view, he keeps adding mysteries and solving them, building suspense by way of Hugo Barrington and the limping former policeman he employs. Still, this is a family saga, not a thriller.

Also, Archer’s method, telling the story from various points of view, rounds out his characters. You’ll love some of them and care about them. So, even though the last part of the book is predictable and, I think, a little corny, you’ll still hate to see the book end. Your consolation is remembering that, while this book ends, the story continues.

Slow, Boring, Informative
Reads like a series of deleted scenes

SECOND SIGHT: A PAUL CHRISTOPHER NOVEL by Charles McCarry is a well-written novel. And that kept me reading it long after I otherwise would have given up. McCarry seems to be, in SECOND SIGHT, at least, a great writer but not a good storyteller. This is because it takes so long for anything to happen. At page 122 I almost stopped reading. I almost stopped again at page 145.

But some readers who have read SECOND SIGHT have given this book high marks. That’s because this is the seventh in a series, and they read it in order; I started with this one. A couple of reviews even stated that, to appreciate SECOND SIGHT, you have to read the other six novels in the series first. So I kept reading.

Unfortunately, SECOND SIGHT goes here and there, back and forth; no story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. This book is mostly well-written background material. As one reviewer back in 2008 said, it reads like a series of deleted scenes from the first six books.

Dark, Interesting, Informative
Jonestown massacre

A THOUSAND LIVES: THE UNTOLD STORY OF HOPE, DECEPTION, AND SURVIVAL AT JONESTOWN by Julia Scheeres surprised me. I thought the story of Jim Jones, his cult, and the mass murder-suicide (which, according to what is now known, was actually a massacre) that ultimately occurred was an old one, that nothing new could be said about it. Most of us know Jim Jones was a cult leader who lead his followers to a mass murder-suicide at Jonestown. But there’s so much more to know now, and that new information is related in this book.

First of all, A THOUSAND LIVES doesn’t use the word “cult.” Why not? Scheeres says something like, no one practicing a religion thinks it’s a cult.

Jones wasn’t always a creep. His life reminds me of a long-time politician’s life. They start their careers as good and sincere and honest, but the power they have over others’ lives eventually goes to their heads and corrupts them. It’s interesting to see Jones as good and sincere and honest and then become the creep who lied to his followers and became more interested in his power over them than in improving their lives.

But Jones became more than a creep. He became a mad man and was far worse than we knew.

And the book contains so much more previously unknown information. But I don’t want to give it away here; as some reviews will. Just believe there is more here for you to learn now.

Some of the information Scheeres divulges left me with more questions: how could so many adults, including several politicians and people in other positions of power, have been fooled by a monster? And how could so many of them do ANYTHING at his command?

I say “monster,” and I know you’ll agree with me that Jim Jones was after you read this. I remember what was said when the massacre happened. It wasn’t called “massacre” then. Read this, and you’ll see that it was.

Scheeres has gathered together this new information in a way that she can get more personal. She examines the lives of specific members of the cult, especially when they lived in Jonestown, Guyana. It was difficult to read sometimes but definitely more interesting than just a recitation of information. It even gets frightening as cult members try to defect and leave but can’t. They were trapped. Were they also drugged? Were they hypnotized? Scheeres presents evidence that they were but says not.

If I were gathering together this information, I would have organized it differently. And I would have posed my questions someplace near the beginning and then tried to answer those questions. But what a job it must have been to sift through everything now available to her! So much disgusting information that I’m sure will make you see some aspect of the Jonestown massacre differently.

I won an ARC of this book through’s First Reads program. This is an honest review.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful, Interesting
A Pleasant Surprise

WHEN SHE WOKE by Hillary Jordan was a pleasant surprise for me. From what I had heard, I had expected a futuristic book about a world where abortion was a crime punishable by turning the criminal’s skin red. Yes, there’s that. But there’s so much more to it. And Jordan’s writing is superb.

You can believe me. This comes from a pro-lifer.

Because the first part of the book deals with a young woman, Hannah, who had had an abortion and was, subsequently, sentenced to 16 years as “a red,” I thought my expectations were accurate. But, although pro-lifers in this book have tunnel vision and are cruel, which might have irritated me, the story has so many twists and turns, I really did enjoy it.

And it’s about more than abortion. “Reds” might have committed other crimes, and there are also other colors to signify other levels of criminal activity because this is preferable to over-crowded prisons.

My biggest surprise about WHEN SHE WOKE was that so much happens in a relatively short book. I say “relatively” because most books that have this much action are twice as long as WHEN SHE WOKE. I have always felt that too many authors love the way they write so much that they write too much and subject the reader to many paragraphs that can easily be cut without detracting from the story. Jordan has cut the garbage paragraphs in WHEN SHE WOKE. Don’t skip. Jordan’s writing is concise, and all of it is necessary.

22 Britannia Road: A Novel by Amanda Hodgkinson
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Dark
a wonderful book

22 BRITANNIA ROAD by Amanda Hodgkinson is a wonderful book. It was rated one of the best of 2010 by, but I just got around to reading it. Hodgkinson manages to tell four stories at once without confusing the reader. Instead, her organization of the four stories to tell one story creates more drama.

This is the story of a Polish couple, Silvana and Janusz, and their baby/child, Aurek, during and after World War II. They were separated for 6 years when Janusz went off to join the Polish army. Therefore, Silvana's story of her experiences during the War is told separately from Janusz's story of his experiences at the same time.

In chapters between these chapters are the stories of Silvana, Aurek, and Janusz after they are reunited in England. These stories are told from Silvana's point of view and Janusz's point of view.

Sound confusing? It isn’t.

I'm so glad I didn't read many reviews of this book because reviews often say too much. I promise I won't. But, as a teaser, I will say that there comes a point in Silvana's story after the War when she divulges a secret that just about knocked my socks off. You may do as I did and page through what you already read, looking for a clue. It's there. I missed it.

Petroplague by Amy Rogers
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Interesting, Informative
Real Science

On the basis of having read two books by Michael Crichton, I will tell you that if you like his books, you’ll like PETROPLAGUE by Amy Rogers, M.D., Ph.D. Except, in some ways, PETROPLAGUE is better.The book begins with an environmentalist who wishes he could do something really big. From there, we move to the main character, Christine, a biologist and Ph.D. candidate, working the La Brea Tar Pits. There’s an accident. Then there are further accidents in and around Los Angeles. All are the result of oil gone bad.
An eco-terrorist blew up an underground storage tank at an abandoned gas station, and now genetically modified bacteria is in the Los Angeles fuel supply. It’s eating up the fuel, causing accidents and halting the area transportation systems. And the environmentalist who wanted to do something really big now knows the really big thing he can do: spread the bacteria to other parts of the world so that no one can use oil, the root of all evil.
This idea of unintended consequences of environmentalists sounds so much like a Michael Crichton idea, I’d have sworn that Rogers cowrote this book with him if he were alive. But, even though I almost never think a movie based on a book is better than the book, I did feel that way with Crichton books. I don’t think that about PETROPLAGUE. It’s not that this book wouldn’t make a great movie. I’m sure it would, and I’d love to see it. But PETROPLAGUE is based on science, and probably because of Rogers’ credentials in microbiology and immunology, all of her book sounds possible. It’s not science fiction. When the accidents happen and cars and airplanes stop working, these really don’t sound like a stretch. This is compared with a Crichton book I read, STATE OF FEAR. Although this book, too, has to do with ill-informed environmentalists, its action scenes seemed to me to be quite a stretch. How could some of his characters go so many places and endure so much in one day? Christine tries to stop the petroplague in believable scenes. They are all based on real science.

Interesting, Fun
Great YA Novel but Not Good Book Club Read

SHELTER, Harlan Coben’s first young-adult novel, is a spinoff from his Myron Bolitar series, adult novels. Now we have the beginning of a new series based on the exploits of Myron’s 15-year-old nephew, Mickey Bolitar. As was Myron, Mickey is a high school basketball player. And as was Myron’s series, Mickey’s series is mystery/thriller.

Mickey and his mother were introduced in Coben’s last Myron Bolitar (adult) novel, LIVE WIRE. All you fans of Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels who are unhappy that this was Coben’s last because he has switched to YA and feel that Coben has abandoned the readers who made him--not totally. In this first installment of the Mickey Bolitar series, Mickey lives with Myron. Mickey’s father (Myron’s brother) is dead, and his mother has been an inpatient at a drug rehabilitation hospital. Mickey dislikes his Uncle Myron because of the way Myron treated Mickey’s mother. (And you know that can’t last. We love Myron)

Now Mickey is a new student at the high school that had been attended by his father and uncle. He’s a hunk so right away attracts girls and is attracted himself to one in particular, Ashley. But soon, without a goodbye, she disappears. This is the setup for one mystery.

As faithful Coben readers already know, his books are always mystery upon mystery upon mystery. Here’s another.

An old woman who lives down the street from Myron’s home opens her door one day to smile at Mickey and tell him his father isn’t dead. In Mickey’s quest to learn more from her, you guessed it, he runs into even more mysteries.

And just as Myron had his sidekick Win, it looks like Mickey has a sidekick, or maybe two or three. Maybe we’ll see more of “Spoon,” the announcer of random facts, and Ema (with a long e), the fat girl in black. There’s also another gorgeous 15-year-old girl for Mickey who may be a regular.

I am one of the fans of Coben’s adult novels, his standalones as well as his Myron Bolitar series. I wasn’t happy about his switch to YA and figured that LIVE WIRE was not only his last Myron Bolitar novel but, also, Coben’s last novel that I would read. Then along came an advanced reader copy of SHELTER (through Early Reviewers program).

My primary concern with this new book was not whether it would appeal to young adults. Personally, I don’t care. But because I’ve loved and bought every one of Coben’s adult novels and felt I was rudely abandoned when I read about his switch to YA novels, I cared about whether they might be suitable alternatives for his adult fans.

I’m here to tell you that Coben hasn’t completely abandoned us. This YA novel still contains recognizable Coben elements. I enjoyed it, although I wish I hadn’t been able to guess who some people really were early on. That’s a deviation from Coben’s adult novels.

I was also surprised at the violence in this YA novel, but what do I know about that? Maybe young adults nowadays are desensitized to violence.

So, although I expected to dislike SHELTER, I didn’t. But I do still think Coben owes us more adult novels. And he can do that without giving up Mickey’s series. SHELTER is a quick read, and I’m sure other books in the series will be, too. Coben will have plenty of time.

Since I wrote the above review, I received an email update from Coben's Web site. Apparently, he DOES plan to continue writing adult novels as well as this Mickey Bolitar series. He even has a standalone coming out next spring. And, surprise, he MAY write more Myron Bolitar books.

Lovesick by Spencer Seidel
Unconvincing, Boring
It's obvious who the bad guy is almost from the beginning

LOVESICK by Spencer Seidel is two stories. One is the story of Lisa, a psychologist and former abused wife. The other is the story of Paul, a 17-year-old who is accused of murdering his best friend, Lee, a crime Paul doesn't remember because of a head injury he sustained at the time.

Lisa is working with Paul's attorney to try to help Paul remember the crime. The attorney is a former policeman who worked with and was a friend of Lisa's former husband.

Lisa feels that the best way for Paul to remember is to have him recount his friendship with Lee. And so about half the book is about what Paul calls his "friendship" with Lee and the love triangle they were both involved in with the mysterious Wendy.

Paul's story is not told in first person, as you would expect. It's in third person, maybe so that it could be more detailed and stand on its own as a story separate from Lisa's. Whatever the reason, this third-person narrative did not seem at all like it came from a high school kid.

Paul's story was a good one, and Paul should have told it.

Another problem with this story was that it came across as one I would have liked when I was a teenager. My taste has evolved since then along with my reading level.

While Lisa listens to Paul's story of the high school kids' love triangle, her own memories that she's worked hard to forget make her consider giving up on trying to help Paul's memory. On top of that problem is a TV reporter telling lies about her, hundreds of other reporters trying to get her to talk, men harassing her, and a weird college student obsessing over her.

It was plain to me who the bad guy was almost from the beginning of Paul's story, yet Lisa didn't guess it until the evidence slapped her in the face.

Big Miracle by Tom Rose
Boring, Insightful, Informative
Nonfiction story of a nonevent

BIG MIRACLE by Tom Rose is the nonfiction story of a nonevent (Rose’s word) in 1988 that became so huge it captured the attention of the world and just about preempted a presidential election in the United States. In Barrow, Alaska, “the tip of the world,” three whales were trapped beneath ice and couldn’t migrate south to warmer waters as they did every year at that time. They would die when a hole in the ice froze over and they were unable to breathe.

This was a nonevent, says Rose, because it was not uncommon; whales became trapped under ice and died every year for thousands of years. This was wildlife. But it still became an event because the media made it an event.

Rose initially makes the mistake of subjecting readers, who probably expect the story of the whale rescue, to many long descriptions of whaling and the whaling industry and many long paragraphs of historical detail about whaling. While that interests some of us, it isn’t the animal story readers expect. Although Rose could argue that these details are necessary to understanding the story of the three trapped whales, I still insist that he overdid it. He could and should have stated simply that a long-time whaler in Barrow, Alaska discovered, just by chance, three whales trapped under the ice.

Rose is a successful journalist. But he wrote this book like he didn’t study journalism in college. Keep it brief, simple.

Although Rose continues with stories that were less dull, stories of life at the top of the world and how the media, the rescuers, and the players in the rescue did their jobs there, BIG MIRACLE is still easy to put down. Background information about most participants in the rescue, and even some of the reporters, added context to the story, but much of the historical was unnecessary. And so was the repetition. Sometimes I wanted to scream, too much information, Tom!

So, if you think this book is strictly about three trapped whales and the efforts to save them, think again. Rose also has a valid point to make: real news stories were ignored in favor of this nonevent. Rose was one of those reporters.

Book Club Recommended
Are you a sucker for animal books?

If you love animal books, particularly those about dogs, you’ll probably love ROAM by Alan Lazar. A curious dog roams too far from his “Great Love” (master) and just keeps roaming, encountering many different types of people along the way, always remembering his Great Love. It’s a darling story, and people who love animals usually are suckers for darling animal stories. I’m one of those people.

So I loved the story. But I didn’t like the children’s storybook feel to it. It even has a storybook ending.

How could it be any other way, though? The story is told from the dog’s perspective just as was another book before it, THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by Garth Stein. That book, too, sounds like a storybook.

Since I was 8 years old I haven’t liked books that sounded like storybooks. But that’s just me. THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN was and still is popular with many other people, and ROAM should be for the same reasons.

So ROAM gets four stars for the suckers for animal books.

One More River by Mary Glickman
Book Club Recommended
I cannot recommend this book highly enough

I cannot recommend highly enough ONE MORE RIVER by Mary Glickman. I’ve been calling people to tell them to read it. I even convinced someone’s book club. Plus, ONE MORE RIVER is a 2011 National Jewish Book Award finalist in fiction, first runner up to Aharon Appelfeld's UNTIL THE DAWN'S LIGHT.

ONE MORE RIVER begins in the 1960s in Vietnam. That’s where Mickey Moe Levy is, associating what is around him with what he knows from home in order to live through his time there. In so doing, he recalls his family’s past.

Mickey Moe remembers especially meeting his wife, the beautiful Laura Ann. And now we need some background.

So we go back to Mississippi in the 1930s and 1940s before Mickey Moe was born. His mother, a beautiful high-born southerner, was somehow attracted to his father, an unattractive man with an unknown past but lots of money. They married, raised a family, and lived in a huge home in a swanky neighborhood and gave lavish parties. They always had lots of money, and were unaffected during the Great Depression.

But then Mickey Moe’s father died in World War II, and his mother couldn’t locate his money or his relatives. Mickey Moe was only 4 years old at the time. But it wasn’t until he was 25 that he bothered to look into the mystery that was Bernard Levy, Mickey Moe’s father. Mickey Moe needed to prove to Laura Ann’s parents that all his family history would meet with their approval.

So ONE MORE RIVER tells Bernard Levy’s story, beginning with his childhood. In alternating chapters, Mickey Moe recalls his and Laura Ann’s search for the truth about Bernard Levy. This is two stories, one mystery.

The writing is superb, the style original. At least, I can’t think of another author whose writing style is like Glickman’s. This book made me wish I could read it nonstop, with no interruptions, no need to go to work.

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
a fantastic read

THE INVISIBLE ONES by Stef Penney is, no exaggeration, a fantastic read. This mystery/suspense book is a keeper; get it in hard cover. And if you’ve read Penney’s other book, THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES, this book, THE INVISIBLE ONES, is better.

Ray Lovell is a private investigator in England. The book begins with him in the hospital, but he doesn’t remember why he’s there. He’s mostly paralyzed, and he’s delirious. No one knows why. This is the first mystery.

Chapters with this hospitalized Ray alternate throughout the rest of the book with chapters about how this situation came to be. These chapters are told from two points of view: some chapters are of the earlier, able-bodied Ray and other chapters are of JJ, a 14-year-old gypsy.

A man whose daughter had been missing for almost 7 years hired Ray to find her. The man and his daughter are gypsies; Ray, himself, is half gypsy. The daughter married into a gypsy family, of course, so most of the investigation is of them. One of the members of this family is JJ.

Ray finds mystery upon mystery upon mystery. You’ll be guessing throughout, first one guess, then another. You’ll think you’re sure of one solution, then guess again. All your guesses will be wrong.

I loved this book. Really. I’m not easy to please, but THE INVISIBLE ONES is something special, not simply a plot-driven mystery/suspense book.

If you were to force me to say something negative about this book, it would have to be Ray’s attraction to one of the members of the gypsy family. I just don’t see our hero going for that combination of dyed black hair, red lipstick, and red high-heeled shoes, I guess. And he trusts her more than I would; he keeps telling her things that I wish he would keep to himself.

This review is of an advanced reader’s copy of THE INVISIBLE ONES, obtained from Putnam Books through Early Reviewer program.

The Lost Book of Salem by Katherine Howe
Unconvincing, Interesting, Informative
interesting take on Salem Witch Trials

THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE by Katherine Howe is an interesting take on the innocence of the women hanged as a result of the Salem Witch Trials. History has shown that they were all victims of others’ hysteria. But what if one of the accused really was a “cunning woman”? That is the supposition of this book.It’s 1991. Connie is a Harvard student working on her doctoral dissertation. At the same time, she’s living in the very old home left by her grandmother, supposedly getting it ready for sale. The home is near Salem, Massachusetts. Connie finds “Deliverance Dane” written on a piece of paper inside a key inside a very old bible in the house. Her curiosity about the name leads to an investigation, which leads to the subject of her dissertation: a “recipe” book used by Deliverance Dane to cure the ailments of local people and animals. (It should be noted that Deliverance sometimes failed in spite of her book.) Connie needs to find that book.
When she hits a wall and she thinks she can trace it no further, her advisor, a professor at Harvard, becomes furious with her. He seems to be taking Connie’s investigation personally. Why? What does he have invested in this? When this story deals with historical events, even those that are fiction, it’s enjoyable. Sometimes this is Connie’s research that so concerns her advisor. But sometimes we flash back to the 1600s and 1700s so that we see Deliverance’s book change ownership. In this way, we’re always a step ahead of Connie’s investigation.This story also has magic, but it’s not as annoying as you might think. Even though it doesn’t seem at first to add to the story line and even if the magic does seem silly at times, it’s not just padding.But other parts of the story did irritate me, especially Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned old home with no heat or electricity. It’s just too easy for Connie and her dog to live there. For example, at one point she makes a pot of pasta for dinner with a guest. How did she make it with no gas or electricity? And what about

I was never made angry, sad, touched, or happy for anyone.

ACROSS MANY MOUNTAINS: A TIBETAN FAMILY'S EPIC JOURNEY FROM OPPRESSION TO FREEDOM by Yangzom Brauen is made up of descriptions of one Tibetan family’s progression through different cultures, beginning in Tibet before the Chinese invasion and ending in Switzerland until they do a complete circle and return to Tibet many years later after the Chinese allow them back in. Each culture the family moves to is more technologically advanced than the last. This book is about their ability to cope in each new culture and how they view Tibet on their return. At least, that’s what I thought Brauen intended.
Actually, only two members of the family, the mother and daughter, make it all the way. The daughter’s daughter, Brauen, did not make the journey as the title and cover picture imply. She was born and raised in Switzerland but likes to call both Switzerland and Tibet her countries. Although she did go to Tibet with her mother, grandmother, and Swiss father many years later, their return wasn’t permanent.
But the book doesn’t end there. Maybe it ought to. Instead, it continues. Notice, I say the book continues, not the story. That is because my impression was that the continuation was another story, that of Brauen’s protests against oppression of Tibet and her hope that Tibet not be forgotten.
I have a problem with books that have no dialog, with unemotional, impersonal descriptions of people and things. That’s how this book is, especially in its first half. It contains so many details it drags. Details should enhance a story. But here they mostly don’t because the author tries to cover too much.
This is the risk I find in most nonfiction. Although I prefer nonfiction over fiction, most nonfiction fails for me because most authors don’t know how to write it other than to state the facts.
Although the second half of this book is better than the first, it, too, is made up of many impersonal descriptions. I was never made angry, sad, touched, or happy for anyone.
This book has received many favorable reviews on

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Dark
forces the reader to become tense with suspicion

In BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson, Christine wakes up every morning with no memories. Every day her husband tells her who they are and what happened to cause this memory problem. This book is about Christine regaining memories, little by little. At first, it sometimes seems slow and repetitious because of Christine’s same routine every day. But it’s also more and more mysterious with each new memory. Some things are implausible. For example, Christine keeps a journal. Every day she describes that day, so she knows what happened in the days before. BEFORE I BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is her journal. How does she have the time to both write it (in longhand) and then reread it every day along with anything else she does that day? But I just went along with it.Then Christine starts remembering enough to be suspicious. And just as she goes back and forth suspecting Ben or her doctor or her old friend, then suspecting her memory instead of them, I, too, went back and forth with my own suspicions. It truly became a thriller. BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP forces the reader to become tense with suspicion. It is this aspect that I think must be the reason the book is such a bestseller and garners so much praise. I can tell you that this is what won me over and is the reason I rate it so highly.

No Mark upon Her: A Novel by Deborah Crombie
Book Club Recommended
the best kind of mystery/suspense novel

Although NO MARK UPON HER: A NOVEL by Deborah Crombie is the 14th in a series, it’s the first book by Crombie that I read, and I really enjoyed it. Obviously, it can stand alone. But, although I don’t feel like I missed information vital to this story, I’m now anxious to read the previous 13.

This takes place in England and centers on the murder of an Olympic-class rower and Met detective, Becca Meredith. She was a difficult person, loved by some, hated by others. And those people all had roles in this story. Plus, there were Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, who investigates the case and who the series is based on, and dogs.

NO MARK UPON HER is the best kind of mystery/suspense novel. It has many twists and turns, and it keeps the reader guessing until nearly the end. Just when you think you have solved the cases (yes, there's more than just Meredith’s murder), something else comes up

I highly recommend NO MARK UPON HER and thank for it.

Beautiful, Interesting, Adventurous
It's a fairytale

THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey doesn’t live up to the many reviews of it that I read. It is simply a retelling of a Russian fairy tale.

But I would think that, in doing so, the author would have filled in the blanks, i.e., she would have made the tale seem more realistic by showing how the unrealistic might really have happened. And she does seem to be trying to do that. But the reader still needs a willing suspension of disbelief. The book is full of unanswered questions.

I knew THE SNOW CHILD was based on a fairy tale. I learned that that’s not all—-it IS a fairy tale.

I won this book from Freda's Voice blog.

Defending Jacob: A Novel by William Landay
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
The raves are true--this is fantastic

How can I adequately review DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay without spoiling the story? You need to have the story unfold just as the author writes it. I can promise you this: all those raves you’ve already read about this book are true. I’m adding it to my list of favorite books.

Read it. See what happens when the 14-year-old son of a district attorney is accused of murder. Watch as the DA and you both discover more and more about Jacob. And, even though the story is narrated by the father, pay attention to the mother’s reactions.

Slow, Informative
Narrator rambles so much that story is buried

PRAGUE FATALE by Philip Kerr is mystery/thriller-historical fiction. The book’s official synopsis describes a murder investigation at the home of Reinhard Heydrich in 1941 Czechoslovakia. But, it turns out, that’s not where the book begins. Bernie Gunther, the narrator, doesn’t even get there until well after 100 pages.

From page 1, this book is full of details about the people, places, and events in Germany and Czechoslovakia in the early 1940s. That could be why it’s reviews are so good. I take another view because I read this is also a mystery/thriller. But the story is overtaken by all the historical details as Kerr RAMBLES ON AND ON with Gunther’s thoughts about them. As a result, the story gets buried and is slow, not thrilling.

If you’re looking for combination mystery/thriller-historical fiction, better choices are any book by Joseph Kanon.

PRAGUE FATALE is one book in a series. This is the only one I read, though, and there are many reviews that are to the contrary of mine from people who read the series. I won it from the publisher through

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
Historical Fiction as Thriller/Mystery--no one does it like Kanon

This book is historical fiction, and it’s a page turner. That’s because this book is also a thriller. Other people have tried it, combining historical fiction with a thriller, but no one in my experience does it like Kanon.

If you don’t know much about Turkey after World War II, you’re in for a learning experience because that’s when and where the story takes place. But, unlike some authors of this genre, you will never forget that this is also a thriller. Other authors would have you wait for the thrills while they paint you a picture. ISTANBUL PASSAGE won’t have you wait long for action and mystery to begin. And it never quits.

An American living in post-World War II Turkey gets unintentionally involved in politics and spies after he accidentally commits a murder. He learns that no one is really who they say they are in post-World War II Istanbul.

The Art of Forgetting: A Novel by Camille Noe Pagan
Interesting, Optimistic, Dramatic
This, in my opinion, is YA or chic lit

THE ART OF FORGETTING by Camille Noe Pagán is a young adult novel, and my three-star rating is for a YA book. I made the mistake of assuming it was a more advanced book, which I prefer, and would give it one star that. But I don't think one star would be fair just because I accidentally picked the wrong book for me.

I call this YA, but I'm over 50, and the term "chick lit" is new to me. I suppose that people more familiar with "chick lit" would call it that. But THE ART OF FORGETTING is one of the types of novels I read as a young adult. Therefore, I call it YA.

The reason I say it would not be approrpiate for a book club is that it is YA. I don't think I would want to belong to a book club that reads YA books.

I've read a couple of Kristin Hannah's books for book groups. These are YA/chic lit, and I didn't like them; at the same time, I know that this style is popular with many. If you are one of these, you'll like THE ART OF FORGETTING.

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Interesting, Dramatic
a wonderful mystery

What an excellent book! Alternating between one year from 1999 to 2000 and another year from 2012 to 2013, and told from three characters' perspectives, this book is a mystery about students and faculty at a private school. But it's a different type of mystery: who are the characters, really? What are their motives, really? What happened to Justin, really? Although this book is billed as a YA novel, a style that always bores me, Miller uses language and suspense in THE YEAR OF THE GADFLY that appeals to me. It is surely a novel for adults. I only have two problems with this book: Miller's descriptions of two "initiations." The first was so maddening and, I thought, unreal, that I could barely read about them.The second initiation description almost made me throw the book against the wall. But it is a wonderful mystery in spite of these two parts.

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman
Poorly Written, Gloomy, Confusing
I didn't like this book at all.

The book is about North Korea. It was difficult to read about such a hellish country and the sorry state of everyone in it. But it is also difficult to read such choppy writing. As a result, I thought throughout that I was missing something as I tried to get a handle on the orphan master's son, Pac Jun Do. In my opinion, someone did some great marketing of this book and put out there some stupendous reader reviews that really sold the book to a lot of readers who believed them. In reality, it's difficult to follow. It is hard to tell if description is imagined or true. The writing is clumsy. First Jun Do is here, then he's there, then you can't tell where the heck he is. Too much is left unsaid, left to the reader's imagination. Yet torture scenes are described in awful detail.

I didn't like this book at all.

Lake Country: A Novel by Sean Doolittle
Slow, Boring
I believed an author recommendation

I know better. But I believed an author recommendation of this book. Obviously, I did not enjoy it. I thought it was a thriller. And it could have been. But it takes 150 pages to get to anything thrilling. First are introductions to the characters and the beginnings of their stories. There’s a TV news woman who keeps coming in handy to the police and gets herself involved in the investigation. There’s a guy trying to bully his way into the action. There’s the beautiful college girl who is kidnapped by a guy who is mad at the girl’s father; the kidnapper was a Marine and in Iraq with a guy whose sister was accidentally killed by the girl’s father. (HUH?) And we have our good guy Mike, a friend of the kidnapper, who tries to make things right.

When the book finally gets to thrills, it’s only thrilling off and on; other chapters containing boring stories are stuck in here and there.

The end felt like “the end”; it leaves lots of questions and is as if the book is missing a final chapter.

I won this book through the Early Reviewers program.

The Conviction by Robert Dugoni
Book Club Recommended
If you like thrillers, you'll love this one

If you like thrillers, you'll love this one. THE CONVICTION by Robert Dugoni is a bring-to-the-dinner-table, stay-up-late, can't-put-it-down thriller. If you haven't read a Dugoni book and are hesitant to read this for that reason, throw your caution out the window. This will make you want to read his other books.

Every time I got to a part in this book that seemed to be a place where Dugoni wrote himself into an unanswerable question or a corny incident, he writes himself out of it by coming up with an answer or explanation. That is, all except once, and I let him slide on this.

One of his characters excuses his bad acts, including murder, with the very unequal bad act of the government: they took away his retirement package. It's not a good excuse so I hoped Dugoni would undo this somehow, but he didn't. But let it go because everything else in this book is a thriller the way all thrillers should be

Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Dark, Interesting
Looks like author didn't know how to end it

Right up to the second-from-last page GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn is a five-star book, i.e., it deserves the highest rating. Every page of the book builds more and more tension. It really is the best kind of book: unputdownable.

But the end: I didn't like it. It is as if Flynn couldn't think of an end to the story so just stopped.

The book's chapters alternate between Nick and Amy, husband and wife. The first chapter, Nick's chapter, hints of impending doom.

Amy's chapters in the book's first part are her diary; so we get flashbacks of Nick's and Amy's relationship and marriage. Nick's chapters remain in the present. The combination builds tension with every page.

After the first part, both Amy's and Nick's chapters are in the present. Now Nick has a better understanding of Amy. And every page builds tension. Amy is no ordinary person.

Personally, I think the end should be rewritten. This is a five-star book that loses a star because of the last two pages.

Thank you to for giving me this book.

TripTych by Karen Slaughter
Believe it, this book WILL grab you, although not right away

The many reviews that praise the thriller TRIPTYCH by Karin Slaughter must be based, I think, on the second half of the book. If so, then the praise is justified. But a book review should be based on a book’s entirety, and Slaughter paints a picture of characters and background for almost 200 pages before she gets to the suspense. She risks losing readers after page 50. But if you stick with it, it not only gets better; it gets great.

TRIPTYCH is the first book in a series about Will Trent, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. But the book doesn't begin with him. It begins with a newspaper clipping from 1985 about the murder of a 15-year-old girl in Georgia. This is why you may disagree with my opinion. Because the book begins with a murder, you might say, it begins with suspense. Maybe. But that little clipping wasn't enough for me.Especially in the case of that 1985 murder, the details are hard to read because they are so infuriating and frustrating. What needs to be said is never said, what needs to happen never happens.
One reader review of this book complains that the murderer is apparent halfway through the book. That person doesn't get it. True, we can figure out the mystery 200 or so pages in, but the suspense is just beginning. After we know who the murderer is, the book gets un-put-downable. Believe it, this book WILL grab you. But the last couple chapters may turn off some readers because it is so violent.

Bullying and sexual harassment in this book are not believable

This book is not what many of its reviews claimed in 2010 and 11. In every witness account of what led to and the day of a mass shooting, pages and pages of this book are nothing but wasted words that had nothing to do with anyone or anything that mattered to the story. All the accounts of bullying and descriptions of sexual harassment lead to nothing.Not a single character is this book is believable, and most seem exaggerated. Bullying and sexual harassment are real problems that need no exaggeration.This is an honest reader review.

Interesting, Romantic, Slow
Well written sentences don't add up to good story

BEL CANTO sounds promising at first. Patchett writes beautifully, leading her reader to believe that her description of a large, formal birthday party held at the home of the vice president of some South American country is the beginning of an engrossing story. When terrorists interrupt the party, though, fantasy begins. It's not so bad being a hostage in Patchett's story. Over the several weeks that the terrorists keep their hostages in the vice president's home, some of them, both terrorists and hostages, even feel they were never happier. What follows, then, are monotonous, unrealistic, even ridiculous descriptions of hostages' friendly relations with terrorists. Patchett's terrorists are sympathetic. They are poor, deprived people who don't want to hurt anyone. Patchett may have been trying to describe a real psychological phenomenon, hostages who end up caring for their captors, a type of Stockholm syndrome (capture-bonding). These feelings are understood to be irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims.

Playing Dead: A Novel by Julia Heaberlin
Book Club Recommended
good mystery

PLAYING DEAD by Julia Heaberlin is a good mystery/thriller. Tommie searches for clues about the secrets her mother and father kept from her all her life. Along the way, she discovers mystery upon mystery, a mark of excellence in this type of book and the characteristic that kept me turning the pages.But, assuming Heaberlin will write more books, I'd like to see a couple of changes. First, the story contained some unanswered questions. Successful mysteries/thrillers tie up loose ends. Second, I had to make myself accept that Tommie could be a highly educated psychologist and PhD candidate who walks into situations she knows to be dangerous. I'd like to reconcile Tommie's actions with her intelligence. In spite of those two problems I have with PLAYING DEAD, I did enjoy the story. Plus, the title intrigued me throughout. Thanks to Vera at for this giveaway.

McGrary Contrasts His Two Lives

People who like and care about animals are nicer people, I say. Brian McGrory, author of BUDDY: HOW A ROOSTER MADE ME A FAMILY MAN, is one such person. He loved his dog.

But loving a dog is pretty easy because dogs are people pleasers, even dogs not as perfect as his Harry. The second half of the book asks: what about a rooster?

This is the test: the woman he loves, his dog's veterinarian Pam, and her two little girls have a rooster named Buddy. McGrory doesn't like the rooster; Pam and the kids love the rooster. Now what to do?

So McGrory gives us accounts of his dealings with the rooster. That includes his experiences with Pam's daughters and his efforts to become a member of their family. These stories are funny and touching, and they're a pleasure to read especially if you, too, have struggled to find happiness and contentment with your husband's or wife's children or if you, too, have observed the lengths some divorced parents will go to to satisfy their children.

But back to Harry: almost the first half of the book is devoted to him. I loved reading about Harry but was wondering when I'd learn what he had to do with the title character. Turns out not much, although McGrory does try to relate the Harry accounts with the Buddy accounts when he says that Harry was the reason he met Buddy. Even though that's true (because Pam was Harry's veterinarian), the Buddy stories and the Harry stories are separate in time.

So this is pretty much what the book is: nonfiction presented in many short stories, first, about Harry, then about Buddy and family, all in chronological order. McGrory contrasts his two lives, and often recalls Harry during the Buddy stories.

I would have preferred that this book was one story rather than a series of episodes. It could have flowed very well from lonely McGrory after he lost his dog to McGrory's efforts to become a family man when a rooster is part of the family. That's what McGrory tries to do but in episodic form.

Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Interesting
A Piece of American Literature

In SERENA by Ron Rash, Serena is married to Pemberton, co-owner of a lumber company, in 1929 North Carolina. From the start, you will see that the two deserve each other; they are both ruthlessly ambitious. Eventually you will see that Serena is much more than ruthless, and Pemberton, as mean as he is, didn't know what he got himself into.

Although Serena’s heartlessness is obvious to the reader, other aspects of this character are mysteries. For example, of her past we know only that she grew up out West with her father, also owner of a lumber company. After he died, she burned down their house and moved to Boston. That’s it.

Throughout the book Serena is mysterious. I expected answers to the mysteries, but that’s not Rash’s style.

For some reason, another character is often overlooked in most other reviews of this book: Rachel. Rachel is a former kitchen worker for the lumber company. She is also the sixteen-year-old who Pemberton impregnated, then left to fend for herself after he killed her father.

Rash writes beautifully and that may keep you reading long enough to see that SERENA is American literature. But this literature has the problem I find with several other books of literature: it lacks enough story, at least in the first 200 pages. Throughout the book, Rash describes characters and scenery so well, but he doesn’t do much with plot until after a couple hundred pages.

However, please DO STICK WITH IT. There IS plot as well as character development. It is an excellent story, and it DOES get unputdownable.

The end was no surprise to me, though; I expected it. But I didn't expect that to be the end. I wanted the story to continue. Good books end too soon.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Inspiring, Interesting
Hildegard's thoughts, psychological insights, and dialog and keeps the reader's interest more than a biography would

ILLUMINATIONS by Mary Sharratt tells the story of Hildegard von Bingen, recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches and as a prophet by the Lutheran Church.

Hildegard's divine visions were likely the reason her mother gave her to a Catholic monastery when she was a child, where she was forced into a tomb-like existence for 30 years. Her visions continued her entire life. When she was sure they came from God, she saw the importance of writing a book about them. Further synopsis is in the publisher's comments.

ILLUMINATIONS is based on documented fact, but it is not a biography. Here, Hildegard's story is told as a novel. In so doing, Sharratt interjects Hildegard's thoughts, psychological insights, and dialog and keeps the reader's interest more than a biography would. For readers like me, that makes this book more readable, and that is why I rate the book so highly.

Toby's Room by Pat Barker
Book Club Recommended
This is literature and a pleasure to read!

What a surprise! I had never read anything by Pat Barker until TOBY'S ROOM. It is not simply a novel; this is literature. And what a pleasure it is to read!

Please read the synopsis above.

This book is apparantly a sequel to LIFE CLASS. But I read TOBY'S ROOM first and loved it anyway. Now I'll have to do it out of order and read the first book second.

If you are not familiar with Barker but you appreciate fine writing, pick up one of her books. I can vouch for TOBY'S ROOM.

Cascade: A Novel by Maryanne O'Hara
Beautiful, Insightful, Dramatic
Too Much Rumination

This book would be perfect for the reader who likes well-written romances that are far and away better than most books called romances. CASCADE has a story that does not depend on descriptions of sexual gymnastics. Still, I wanted again and again to skip through paragraphs and pages. A couple times I even considered giving up on the book entirely. That is because O\\\\\\\'Hara makes the common mistake of what I call \\\\\\\"too much rumination.\\\\\\\" The main character, Dez (Desdemona Hart), thinks, at length, too much. If the purpose of a novel is to capture and hold a reader\\\\\\\'s attention, to entertain them, CASCADE wanders from that intention too often with excessive narration. I believe that is the reason one reviewer said she could not finish this book. She thinks the reason is Dez. She thinks that Dez is too unlikeable to care about. But who says a reader has to like a main character for a book to be a success? Granted, Dez is detestable. She marries a good-looking successful pharmacist, Asa, just so she and her father have a home. At her every mean and selfish act, Asa forgives, even goes out of his way to be kind. How could she not love someone like that? Instead, she chases after another man, one she continues to love for years and years.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Interesting
DARK PLACES is every bit as good as GONE GIRL

DARK PLACES was written by Gillian Flynn before she wrote her 2012 smash success GONE GIRL. Although the two books are different, DARK PLACES is every bit as good as GONE GIRL, and I encourage you to read it. It\\\'s a five-star book. DARK PLACES should have been the success that GONE GIRL is. Who knows why it wasn\\\'t; it really is that good. But I predict that it will be recognized more now when readers of GONE GIRL become curious, as I did, to read Flynn\\\'s other books. Thanks to for sending me this book.

The Orchardist: A Novel by Amanda Coplin
Slow, Insightful, Gloomy
not much characterization or readability

THE ORCHARDIST is a lovely book, and many people rave about it. So you might not want to pay attention to my criticism. Maybe they're right and I'm wrong. But I have two problems with this book.
First, the author, Amanda Coplin, never lets her readers know any character. She glosses over everything.
Second, Coplin uses too many sentence fragments, and she doesn't use quotation marks. This is a device, I'm sure, but for what, I'm not sure. I only know that the result for the reader is choppy sentences that are difficult to read.
I won THE ORCHARDIST through blog.

Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Slow, Boring

Everyone is wierd, there\\\'s something wrong with everyone. So says SHINE SHINE SHINE, a good read, not a great one.

You could say that some parts are great because they\\\'re imaginative and unlike what you\\\'ve read before. And dialog between characters is funny.

But all the characters and scenery (including home scenery) seem sketchy, almost comic bookish. This sketchiness seems deliberate, a device. But it doesn\\\'t work for me, not enough for me to agree with the majority of reviews that insist this book is great.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Dark, Dramatic, Interesting
starts off excellent but becomes unbelievable

A RELIABLE WIFE starts off excellent but later contains circumstances that cheapen it. This book becomes too unbelievable. Although many would argue that, as fiction, it should not need to be believable, the fact is, the highest ratings go to those novels that grab readers and suck them in because they believe it. Even science fiction presents a story that readers come to believe, at least as long as they\'re reading it.

But A RELIABLE WIFE grabs the reader initially with its story of a lonely man who writes a personal ad for a reliable wife only to be deceived. He gets his wife, but she\\\'s not who she says she is, and her motives aren\\\'t pure. From there, though, the story disappoints. It\\\'s not bad, just not as good as its beginning promises.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Dramatic
nonfiction the way all nonfiction should be

FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is nonfiction the way I wish all nonfiction books were: detailed without letting the details get in the way of an honest-to-gosh edge-of-your-seat story. This is an outstanding book, and any description of it won\\\'t do it justice.

You may think you know this story of New Orleans\\\' Memorial Hospital, its staff and patients, during and after Hurricane Katrina. But there\\\'s so much you don\\\'t, and it looks like Sheri Fink, the author of FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL, has done the digging for us and found it all. And her presentation won\\\'t bore you, either. Yet all the details are there, with a journalist\\\'s skill of maintaining objectivity; Fink gives us no opinion, just the facts.

The first half of FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is the five days at Memorial, hard to stomach but necessary to really understand what doctors and nurses were faced with and what patients, particularly the severely ill, endured. The second half involves mostly how various staff (doctors, nurses, therapists, etc.) reacted to their experience and presented their reactions to law enforcement, newspaper reporters, medical societies, etc. And we can also finally understand what went on with the intended prosecution of one of the doctors, how the media influenced the outcome.

During a book event with Sheri Fink that I attended at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, Michigan, she stated that this story all comes down to how ill-prepared our hospitals are for emergencies such as this hurricane. Of course, that\\\'s true. But it might not be enough to entice you to pick up the book.

Really, it\\\'s about so much more than that. And you want to read it; you really do. Not many books of nonfiction do more than make you smarter. FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL will grab you until the end. And you won\\\'t want it to end. Gees, I\\\'m hoping the paperback will continue the Epilogue.

A Wilder Rose: A Novel by Susan Wittig Albert
Slow, Interesting, Informative
A WILDER ROSE is about Rose

A WILDER ROSE would interest past readers of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series of children\\\'s books. The publisher\\\'s description that I read on the ARC I won from Kirkus says that this tells the story of Rose\\\'s and Laura\\\'s collaboration on the Little House books, which should come as a surprise to readers who always thought they were written by Laura. But, in fact, A WILDER ROSE is about Rose. Although A WILDER ROSE does describe the \\\"collaboration,\\\" that is not what the book is about. Her work on the Little House books was a part of her life and only parts of A WILDER ROSE. I had a hard time sticking with this book and found it too easy to put down.

The Buried Giant: A novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
Inspiring, Confusing, Slow
Most adults will be bored

Honestly, THE BURIED GIANT disappoints. That\\\'s an understatement. Obviously, this tells the story of an old man and his wife traveling (walking) to where their son is (anxiously awaiting them, they are sure) in post-King-Arthur England. Most reviews call this a fantasy, probably because of the dragon and sprites in the story. Actually, though, as James Wood says in THE NEW YORKER, this story is an allegory. I think Ishiguro was experimenting. I also think this experimentation failed. Most adults will be bored and may not want to finish this.

Almost Perfect by Diane Daniels Manning

This is a darling story that I would have loved when I was 11. That is not a negative comment unless you were hoping for adult reading material.

Because ALMOST PERFECT is a book for young people (younger than young adult), I can't review it adequately. I can only comment as an adult reader: I was bothered that the main character, 14-year-old Benny, talks, thinks, and acts like he is 11.

I think Manning's point is that immature Benny matures with responsibility. Good point, but, in the meantime, the kid sure did irritate me.

However, this book deserves a high rating for young readers.

In Wilderness: A Novel by Diane Thomas
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Fantastic, Beautiful
You want to read this

You want to read this. Please believe me: it\\\'s outstanding. This book is not a thriller, but you won\\\'t want to put it down.

I feel so lucky that I picked IN WILDERNESS from\\\'s list of giveaways the same way I always feel lucky when I\\\'ve just finished a great book. By \\\"great book,\\\" I mean one that is both well (in this case, beautifully) written and can\\\'t-put-it-down terrific.

But resist reviews that want to tell you the story. You\\\'ll love it so much more if you do. Let this suffice: It is the 1960s. Katherine, a 38-year-old woman with a successful career, buys a cabin and property deep in the wilderness and moves there alone, unaware that Danny, a Vietnam vet, has been squatting in the cabin and now is squatting in an abandoned home not too far from there. (Please don\\\'t object to Danny\\\'s thoughts, as some do, because they tell us who he is.) That is all you need or want to know until you read it.

Missing You by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Scary
MISSING YOU didn't grab me until the end of Chapter 1, not bad but not up to Coben's old standard

He's done it again. Harlan Coben has once again written a winning mystery/thriller in MISSING YOU. Or should I say "mysteries/thrillers" (plural)?

MISSING YOU has more than one mystery going on, one characteristic of all Coben novels. These mysteries all involve Kat (Katerina), a New York police detective whose father, also NYPD, was murdered 18 years ago. Of course, that's one of the mysteries: who did it? Kat also searches for a missing woman, who, it turns out, is one of several people who trust someone they met online, in another of the mysteries. And another mystery has Kat finding her old fiance, who now goes by another name, on that same online dating site.

As usual, this Coben novel is a can't-put-it-down thriller. And, as usual, I repeatedly wondered as I read it, how can Coben keep writing himself into seemingly unsolvable mysteries, only to solve them satisfactorily every time?

One disappointment: although MISSING YOU gets interesting sooner than most books, it is missing one characteristic common to all Coben novels until the last few years. That is, his novels were always tnrilling right away, from page 1 or 2. MISSING YOU didn't grab me until the end of Chapter 1, not bad but not up to Coben's old standard.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Interesting, Informative, Insightful

The concept of this book is a good one: fill in the missing details of a bible story, in this case, the story of Jacob and his family as told by his daughter Dinah. But there were problems with Anita Diamant's retelling that I couldn't stand and so gave up after Part 1 plus two pages of Part 2.

To quote a Goodreads reviewer, Stefani, this book is the "chick flick of biblical revisionism." I don't like chick lit. Those who give this book a high rating apparently do.

Also, as an adult, I don't care for young adult novels. And the writing in this novel seems to aim for the sixth grade reading level.

Again, to quote Stefani, while this book elaborated "on the amazing sisterhood and bonding that happens around the red tent," it implied "all the way that women have all the power, men take all the credit." It irritated me.

Book Club Recommended
I now look forward to more books by Greg Iles

Although I already have 40-some books in my wishlist, I now have to add at least one, maybe five, more. I like this book a lot.

THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL is my first Greg Iles book, which is the third in a series about the Penn Cage character. While Iles is good about supplying background information, so a reader can start these books out of order, THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL ends on a cliffhanger. Now I want to read the next and maybe the next and the next (still to be published) in the series.

In this book, Cage is the mayor of Natchez, Mississippi. A casino there, which he had hoped would help revive Natchez's faltering economy, is owned by a corrupt Irishman who is bilking Natchez out of tax money, running dog-fighting rings, and supplying his customers (and himself) with prostitutes. Cage gets wind of it when his old friend, who had worked as a dealer in the casino, is murdered, and the murder is apparently tied to the casino.

A couple parts of this book (descriptions of dogs and rape scenes) were hard for me to read; they were too graphic for me. But you can skim those if they bother you, too, and not lose track of the story.

One other criticism has to do with two of the other characters: Cage's friend Daniel Kelly (note Iles' use of a good-guy Irish-American to balance the bad-guy Irishman) and girlfriend Caitlin Masters. They seemed superhuman to me, especially Kelly. He was a Bruce-Willis-type character. She could kick off a tin roof with her bare feet after she walked up a wall and while she was upside down. They are both a little too amazing.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to more by Greg Iles.

Cover of Snow: A Novel by Jenny Milchman
Book Club Recommended
Boring, Confusing, Slow
This is a grabber

Nora's husband had been a policeman in the small town where they live. In her quest to learn why he committed suicide, she learns some disturbing secrets about the police department. She also finds out more about her husband's past and how both his secrets and those of the police department are linked.

Although it has some faults, this book really grabbed me. That is, it kept me reading instead of eating and late into the night. I didn't want to put it down.

That grab-me factor is the biggest test of a good book but not the only one. While, it seemed to me that Jenny Milchman was careful not to overwrite, go on and on when a simple sentence or two will do, I sometimes wished for more description. For example, her emphasis on the cold and the small-town surroundings were excellent, but some of Nora's finding's about her husband's past and the people from his past were a little confusing.

Also lacking are good transitions from present to past and vice versa, differentiation between the past of 25 years ago and more recently, and careful use of pronouns. But these are not overwhelming and just mean the reader sometimes had to read sentences more than once.

No Book but the World: A Novel by Leah Hager Cohen
Book Club Recommended
Boring, Slow
This story, if true, might break your heart

This story, if true, might break your heart. Even as a novel, NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD will leave you sad and angry at the waste of a life.

Ava and her younger brother Fred have been raised by two parents who are free thinkers. They believe that most school systems are confining and putting a name to mental difficulty is labeling so also confining, not free. Therefore, they run their own school and do not get Fred, who clearly has mental difficulties, the help he needs.

Ava begins her story as an adult. Fred is in trouble with the law and hundreds of miles away. The book then consists, alternately, of her point of view and that of her best friend/sister-in-law, husband, and, finally, poor Fred.

The book goes back and forth from present, while Fred is in jail, to past. Descriptions of their childhood were overwritten sometimes. But the reader does need to know and understand how Ava and Fred were raised, how Fred dealt with his world, and how his parents, as free thinkers, just let him be.

The writing is beautiful. It made me think of Ian McEwan.

Sister: A Novel by Rosamund Lupton
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Slow, Interesting
This is get-nothing-else-done, stay-up-late unputdownable

Rosamund Lupton's SISTER is told in a manner unlike other novels, that is, as the past-tense story of Beatrice's learning about and investigation into the death of her sister Tess, as related in her present-tense statement to the prosecuting attorney (as we would call him in the U.S.) Mr. Wright, all within a letter to Tess. Yet it does not confuse. Rather, the structure adds to the tension in this excellent novel.

Beatrice, unlike police, detectives, even her own mother, is sure that Tess was murdered but by whom and why? With her investigation, Beatrice suspects everyone, and so does the reader. This much, alone, is thrilling, but there is also an underlying tension whenever we are in the present with Mr. Wright.

This novel has an ending that shocks as only a handful of novels do. It is also my favorite kind of novel for another reason: it is get-nothing-else-done, stay-up-late unputdownable.

The Fever: A Novel by Megan Abbott
Unconvincing, Poorly Written, Pointless
Seems YA but Good Mystery

The first several chapters of this book make it seem to be a young-adult novel, The last few chapters of THE FEVER turns out to be a darned good mystery. That is better than just a good mystery. Add \"darned\" because everybody is suspect, anything could be it, and the solution is a surprise. Because it seems, at first, to be YA, it may bore readers who shy away from \"easy reading\" and prefer more complex novels that deal with adults and adult situations, But THE FEVER becomes very good, but its main characters are teenagers and it\'s an easy read.

High school girls are having seizures, getting sick, and talking strange, one after another. There are lots of high school settings and teenager dilemmas. So, if you shy away from YA, it will be tempting to skim some of the story. If you do, though, you may miss clues to what is to blame. Abbott sticks clues everywhere, in many teenager conversations and situations.

Even though this seems to be YA reading level, if you like good mysteries, you may still enjoy this one.

Informative, Inspiring, Interesting
seems to be written for a young adult

To be fair to this book, I have to review it for a young adult. Then I can compliment its historical fiction that does not delve so far into the history of the Civil War, the Underground Railroad (UGRR), and Sarah Brown's role in the UGRR that it turns off the early teen who is reading for enjoyment, not history class.

THE MAPMAKER'S CHILDREN also holds young adult interest by alternating historical fiction chapters with chapters about a modern-day couple who are unaware they live in a home along the UGRR in West Virginia. These chapters do have some problems, though, that may not bother a young teenager as much as they would an adult.

I particularly was not happy with the modern-day Eden. She was so unlikeable in the first few August 2014 chapters that I couldn't like her even in the later chapters. I think a young teenager will feel Eden redeems herself.

It is particularly pleasing, though, when present and past stories are connected. We see this mostly at the same time we see Eden try to make us like her.

The First Counsel by Brad Meltzer
Unconvincing, Boring

This is a ridiculous story with a dumb main character, a lawyer working at the White House, and a deranged and spoiled First Daughter. I dislike it so much that I forced myself to read half the book, then could go no further.

It doesn't seem fair to rate a book I have not entirely read,but Book Movement gives me no choice.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
Making Choices and Dealing With Consequences

Although THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is set mostly in the 1910s and 1920s, Parts 1 and 2 of this book seemed sort of Jane Austenish to me. These two parts involve the reader in the lives of Tom and Isabel, who marry and then live on a small, uninhabited island. Tom is the keeper of the lighthouse there.

The couple see other people (other than two men who come occasionally on a supply boat) only once every three years. This is the perfect setup when they find a rowboat washed ashore their island, with a dead man and a live baby. This presents a dilemma because Isabel wants to keep the baby and Tom loves and adores Isabel. She gets her way, but Tom\'s conscience never stops eating at him.

Part 3 is unputdownable as Tom and Isabel deal with consequences. It\'s also sad, a tearjerker. My questions throughout this part were, how can this have a good end and how will the author write herself out of this.

So Cold The River by Michael Koryta
needs better editing to eliminate the unnecessary wordiness

Michael Koryta has written several books. I\'m told that SO COLD THE RIVER is not a good one to start with because it is so different from the others. But I did begin with this one.

SO COLD THE RIVER reminds me of a Stephen King novel. That is not to say that if you like King, you\'ll like Koryta. You might, but I found a problem that I don\\\\\\\'t have with King\\\\\\\'s novels.

This book starts out promising. Eric, a failed filmmaker hoping for a comeback, is hired to make a movie about an old, dying man. So Eric begins in the cities where the man grew up, West Baden and French Lick, Indiana. The cities and the great hotel in West Baden are not fiction, but the supernatural properties of the water there, obviously, are.

Koryta has a good story going. Problem, though: he is just too wordy. Many paragraphs in this book should have been whittled down to a sentence, or they should even have been eliminated because Koryta was only repeating himself.

But Koryta\\\\\\\'s writing is good; I\\\\\\\'d like to try his other books. SO COLD THE RIVER only needs better editing to eliminate the unnecessary wordiness.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Beautiful, Epic
If you've never liked westerns, Russel will make you love one

Normally, can’t-put-it-down books are thrillers. So I am surprised to say that a novel about the men who were in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral turned out to be unputdownable. This from a person who never liked watching or reading westerns. But I've liked everything else written by Mary Doria Russell, so I read EPITAPH, only expecting that it would be as engaging and as well researched as her other books.

Now the trick will be convincing you that EPITAPH is more than a western, that this is literature. I began unconvinced. Then it sucked me in.

EPITAPH is a historical novel. All the characters (including Wyatt Earp; his brothers James, Virgil, and Morgan; their friend John (Doc) Holliday; and their “wives”) really existed. And, as Russell says in her “Author's Note,” the main elements of the story are based on real events.

All but the last chapters take place in Tombstone, Arizona. The city is full of dirty politics, unethical politicians, and criminal Cow Boys (as this term is spelled in the book) who steal cattle, drink, and stir up trouble. Here is the really true story of how the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, but particularly Wyatt Earp, try to maintain order there and deal with lawlessness that led to their gunfight at the O.K Corral.

If you've never liked westerns, Russel will make you love one.

Slow, Boring
Read This Series in Order

HUNTING SHADOWS bored me, and I finished reading it only because it was a book group choice and I will be leading the group this month.

If you\\\'ve never read Charles Todd, as I hadn\\\'t, I would not suggest you start with this book, number 16 in a series. My friend started with number 1 and liked it. Perhaps it would have made a difference if I had read the series in order, but number 16 bored me so much that I don\\\'t want to read anymore of Todd\\\'s books.

The setting is various cities in England in 1920, shortly after World War I. Two murders and one attempted murder have occurred, and Scotland Yard\\\'s Inspector Ian Rutledge has been brought into the investigation. So we follow Rutledge (along with Hamish, who is never adequately explained in this 16th book in the series) as he tries to solve the murders, which seem to all be committed by one person.

But Rutledge encounters many suspects and many other characters along the way. It may be a trick for you to remember them all. Also, you will have to pay close attention to seemingly unimportant comments Rutledge makes early in the story; late in the book, he discovers what he wondered way back then.

This may be more interesting if you read the previous 15 books in the series first.

As Night Falls: A Novel by Jenny Milchman
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Scary

AS NIGHT FALLS is Jenny Milchman\'s third book. Although I\'ve read her first, I haven\'t read her second. It doesn\'t seem to matter if Milchman\'s books are read out of order. Each stands alone, even though the location and police are the same.

I liked Milchman\'s first book, COVER OF SNOW. I expected AS NIGHT FALLS to be just as good, but, SURPRISE, it\'s better. The story takes place (with several flashbacks) one evening (as night falls), one tense, seemingly endless evening.

Some would say they couldn\'t put the book down, they read it in one sitting. AS NIGHT FALLS really is that good, but let\'s be real: in the normal course of life, you have to put your book down, you have to get up to care for your children, answer the phone, clean the kitchen, whatever. But, I promise, when you put this book down, you will be anxious to pick it back up.

What a great book! I have only two problems with it that won\'t bother a less critical person.

First, Sandy\'s memory. Sandy is the wife and mother in this story. Without giving it away, I\'ll say only that I question her memory. I found it a little hard to swallow.

Second, some of the determinations made in this story are, I think, stupid. No examples because everything in AS NIGHT FALLS is better left a surprise.


Ruin Falls: A Novel by Jenny Milchman
Book Club Recommended
A rare review with nothing to spoil the suspense

If you liked Jenny Milchman's first book, COVER OF SNOW, and even if you didn't, you should like this, her second book, RUIN FALLS. I didn't read other reviews, though. If you read reviews before you read the book, you're taking the chance that something written may spoil the suspense you might have enjoyed discovering on your own.

So, to make a long story short in order not to give away what isn't mine to give, another resident of Wedeskyll finds herself in another predicament. This is a standalone story, though. In this one, a woman's children have been kidnapped, and she looks for them herself rather than passively wait for others to do it for her.

That's all you need to know. You'll thank me later.

Book Club Recommended

I initially read CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE only because its author, Owen Laukkanen, is to be part of a panel of authors I will be seeing at a book festival later this month. Turns out, though, this book is very good; I enjoyed it so much it made me put off doing things, such as sleeping, in favor of reading. I even suspect that Laukkanen kept the book's chapters short so that his readers could convince themselves they could read just one more little chapter.

Seriously, Laukkanen's two- and three-page chapters added to the feeling that so much was happening in a really short time. A regular guy turned bank robber to preserve his family's swank lifestyle, then turned murderer, and finally turned psycho. He is pursued first by Carla Windermere of the FBI. Then, by coincidence, Kirk Stevens, a state investigator, gets involved. Apparently, the same two characters are also partners in an earlier book, THE PROFESSIONALS.

But, although CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE is the second book in a series, it can be read as a standalone (one sign of good writing). I had no trouble. I did, however, wish I had read the first in this series simply because I enjoyed the second so much.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Epic
good but not unputdownable

Although NATCHEEZ BURNING is fiction, much of it is based on actual cases involving racial crimes in Louisiana and Mississippi during the 1960s. Add the typical Greg Iles style with thrills and suspense, and this book is a winner.

Penn Cage, a lawyer and mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, must save his father after he is accused of murder not once but twice. Natchez and close-by areas are full of corrupt characters, including city and state officials and even senior citizens. Penn is sometimes at odds with his fiance, Caitlin, an ambitious newspaper reporter and publisher who wants to write the story of these people and expose their crimes dating back to the 1960s to the present. Of course, Penn and Caitlin become personally involved and subject to (too much) violence.

Penn and several of the other characters in this book are continued from three previous books. But NATCHEZ BURNING is also the first in a trilogy. And the end does leave questions unanswered to be continued, I assume, in the second book.

This thriller is good but not unputdownable. It deserves high ratings because of its basis on real cases.

Slow, Informative
Detroit 1960s History

ONCE IN A GREAT CITY is a history book, and it reads like a history book. In other words, it contains lots and lots of information, but it's not a page turner. I want to read page turners, so perhaps this review is not fair to David Maraniss, considering all the extensive research he did for this.

But I saw this book on at least one best-of-the-month list and read that it told how, even with all the greatness of people and events in Detroit during the early 1960s, there were signs that the city was going to fall apart. This is not how I understand the book.

Granted, there are examples throughout of the city's greatness in the early 1960s, mainly the rise of Motown music, cars (particularly the Mustang), civil rights, and unionization. But so much of that ends up being political. And the political discussions are, as political discussions always are, the way some people, not all of them, saw what took place. A reader should be suspicious of an author's objectivity when he writes about politics or, at least, the objectivity of his sources.

The only discussion I see of signs of the city's downfall is a Wayne State University prediction. Yes, when Detroiters, both black and white, had the means to do so, they moved to the suburbs. But why? Something Maraniss presents as great wasn't. That's what should be discussed. What was wrong and could have been prevented?

The Martian by Andy Weir
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Dramatic, Fun
I didn't expect to like it but did

As a reader of both fiction and nonfiction but never science fiction, I truly enjoyed THE MARTIAN. I sure didn't expect to and was reading it only because my husband bought it for me so that I would go with him to see "The Martian" movie.

Mark Watney, an astronaut left for dead on Mars, did not die, after all, and spends more than a year managing to both stay alive and find a way to get back to earth. Sound corny? I thought so, too. But by the time I was halfway through the book, I agreed with the WALL STREET JOURNAL that it was brilliant. Yes, a lot of reviewers incorrectly describe books that way, but in this case, you'll see why it's true.

The story is told alternately in first and third person; that is, Watney logs his efforts in first person and NASA and the rest of the world root for him in third person. Watney's are the brilliant parts of the book. And, if you thought when you were in school that math was a useless and unnecessary subject, Andy Weir puts the lie to that here.

Now I'm anxious to see the movie.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic

I found this book to beQ too slow, too difficult to keep my mind on it. Interesting history, but nothing much happens for too long a time. However, most of the rest in my book group said that they liked this book.

Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Insightful, Dramatic

Because ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE won a Pulitzer Prize and because this book has so many great reviews, you may expect too much. I did. Because this book has been summarized so many times before, I skip that and, instead, describe my disappointment.

First understand, I do not claim that this book is bad, only overrated. It is not a five-star book, which a Pulitzer-Prize-winning book should be.

More than 400 pages of this book are snippets of information about the lives of a blind French girl and German boy-electronics-wiz, given in alternating chapters, in alternating years. This all seems to be building up to something. As a result, you will wonder for 400 pages how their lives will interact and what is the significance of a diamond. That's a big buildup. Then they finally come together for, what, a day? That's it. Then we're back to the snippets. Then the snippets skip decades. And that's it.

The second disappointment are all the skippable paragraphs. Many authors have this problem. They seem to be too in love with their writing. I compare it to a woman who is so in love with her beauty she wastes hours gazing at herself in the mirror.

So now you are warned. You will probably enjoy ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE more than I did because your expectations have been lowered.

In spite of my opinion, maybe because of it, this is a great book for book clubs. Most people love it, and an opinion like mine leads to some great discussion.

The Art Forger: A Novel by B. A. Shapiro
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Detailed descriptions of copying and forging art

This review of THE ART FORGER contradicts most other reviews of the book. Honestly, though, more than half of it is boring unless the reader is an artist or art historian. For the rest of us, it is too full of details about composing a painting, a copy of a painting, and a forgery of a painting.

Half of the second half is interesting, but it still isn't a page turner. Claire, the main character, is an artist whose ambition has gotten her involved in the forgery of a painting she knows to be a forgery, not the original. Things have now come down to her lover being jailed for stealing the original and Claire's search for the original to prove that the (illegal) forgery is really a (legal) copy.

The other half of the second half (the last quarter of the book) is a page turner. So, considering that three quarters of the book is just ho hum, I can't say I liked it.

The rest of the members in my book club, however, said they did like it, so I gave it a thumb's up for that reason. They found it informative and interesting.

Slow, Boring

As you read WHERE MY HEART USED TO BEAT, you may wonder, where is this going. If you were to ask me, I'd say, no place interesting. Although Sebastian Faulks must have a point to this story, he's so slow in making it that he lost me.

This story is several stories within a story as the main character remembers episodes from his past, beginning with his boyhood, to his days as a student, to his World War II experiences, to his love life. Sometimes the stories alternate. They are slow.

I asked for and won this book from I wanted to try Faulks, a new author for me. I'm sorry because someone else who wanted this book didn't win because I did.

Slow, Boring, Interesting
It didn't grab me

THE WILD INSIDE has all the elements required for a winner.That's why I kept reading in spite of my disinterest. I thought it must be my fault, not the author's.

This is a novel of suspense.Ted Systead, an agent for the Department of the Interior, investigates a murder in Glacier National Park, and the reader accompanies him throughout.He is haunted by a bad memory that happened to him when he lived around there when he was a teenager.

But the story never grabbed me, made me anxious to read further.I did only because the story seems to actually be a buildup to a story that will finally grab me. But it didn't happen for me as much as I would have liked.

Book Club Recommended
Scary, Unconvincing, Difficult
Cold is setting but, also, determines everything characters do

While THE QUALITY OF SILENCE isn't quite as superior a story as was SISTER, Rosamund Lupton's first book, which won awards and was highly praised all over the world, I would still agree that she rivals Tana French. SILENCE made me cold, high praise considering that cold is not only the setting of the story but, also, the motivator the characters in this story work with and around, determining everything they do. I, too, was cold; I felt like I was there because of Lupton's convincing and powerful descriptions.

A mother and 10-year-old deaf daughter from England have come to Alaska to join their husband/father, who is in northern Alaska creating a wildlife film. But authorities there have determined that he died in a fire. Not believing this, mother and daughter, by EXTRA extraordinary means, travel to find and save him. The farther they get, the colder they (and I) got. Cold is the great driver, even more so than the suspicious blue headlights following them from a distance.

Here is my only criticism. While the main characters properly use words and expressions that are what I call English English (such as "cooker") because they are English, when Americans are speaking, their words and expressions should be American English (such as "stove"). But they aren't always. That sort of irritated me.

Another irritation, so I guess that isn't my only criticism. Lupton and her editor need to learn the difference between "further" and "farther."

I'm still anxious to read AFTERWARDS, Lupton's other book. Thanks to, I was able to read THE QUALITY OF SILENCE, her latest, still unpublished, as an ARC.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Beautiful, Insightful
this grabbed me right away, all the way through to the end

THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE was such a relief for me to read after two stinkers in a row. I admit, I no longer give books much of a chance beyond page 50, so maybe I missed really good second halves, but I'm too old now to wait that long. THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE grabbed me right away.

This is two related stories, although, yes, it is one novel. In one, two mysteries are going on: who is trying to intimidate a woman who has inherited a nightclub, and who committed mass murder at a movie theater in 1986, leaving only one employee alive? The other story involves just one mystery: what happened to a missing teenager the 1986 evening she left her 12-year-old sister alone at a fair?

More than that I won't go into. Too many book reviewers forget that a book is meant to be discovered as the author, not the reviewer, wrote it.

But I will tell you what every reviewer should, that is, whether THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE will keep grabbing you to the end. Yes. You want to read this one.

Thanks for this to Library Love Fest, the HarperCollins Library Marketing team.

The Guest Room: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Informative
Best of 2016?

Easy prediction: THE GUEST ROOM will be on many, even most best-of-2016 lists.

Richard gives his brother a bachelor's party that takes a couple of unexpected turns when the girls he thought were just strippers offer sexual favors to a bunch of drunks. It gets worse when there is a murder and it is soon discovered that the girls are sex slaves from Russia.

The majority of this book then examines how Richard, his wife, Kristin,and his nine-year-old daughter, Melissa, deal with the aftermath. Alternate chapters are written in first person by one of the girls, "Alexandria." She tells us that she is Armenian and describes how she was kidnapped and brought to Moscow to learn the sex trade. Eventually, she is brought to America.

Alexandria's chapters are difficult to read, at least until she leaves Moscow. Richard's, Kristin's, and Melissa's chapters are careful and thoughtful. The story is riveting, and I hated for it to end.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Dark, Addictive
last bit of this book is the part I liked best

Daniel's father tells him that his mother has had a psychotic breakdown. Then Daniel's mother tells him that his father is dangerous. What follows is a four- out of five-star book. And that's generous; I considered three stars.

Most of THE FARM, that is, more than 3/4 of it, is Daniel's mother's story since she and his father retired in Sweden, as she perceives it. Page after page Daniel patiently listens to her paranoia. She is so obviously paranoid, even to the point of believing she knew what people were thinking, that I didn't believe a word of it. Daniel does, though.

The last bit of this book is the part I liked best, no more paranoid story. Something really happens. The story is such a surprise that I gave it four rather than three stars.

Don't think that THE FARM is the book that finally measures up to Tom Rob Smith's first one, CHILD 44. Not that THE FARM is bad. Maybe it's that CHILD 44 is so excellent that we expect too much.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Beautiful, Insightful
Sad Story Based on Fact

Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be publicly beheaded in Iceland. She had been convicted, along with two other people, of murder. BURIAL RITES is based on years of research into Agnes's life both before and after the conviction. While the book is a novel, even what Hannah Kent imagined is based on likelihood. Much is true.

While this book has received many five-out-of-five-star ratings, I found the entire book to be depressing so can only give it four. Every bit of this story is sad, but the writing is excellent.

The Codex by Douglas Preston
Slow, Boring

One person in our group said she liked the book, but not until after she had read 100 pages. There was very little to discuss.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Romantic, Dramatic
1940s Sensibilities

The flowery (for lack of a better word) language that Daphne DuMaurier uses in JAMAICA INN (as well as her other novels) and the gender discrimination scattered here and there irritated me in 2016 while I accepted both when I read DuMaurier's REBECCA in 1969. But, after a while, I just enjoyed the story and accepted it as it was written in the 1940s.

Mary, the main character of JAMAICA INN, has come to Jamaica Inn to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother's death. Her uncle turns out to be a horrible man who Mary comes to detest. Mary learns, usually through deliberate snooping but sometimes against her will, her uncle's business.

DuMaurier clearly intended to show that Mary is above the usual role cut out for the 19th century woman. Even so, in order to enjoy this novel, the reader still has to accept that it was written with 1940s sensibilities.

Book Club Recommended
Slow, Interesting, Informative
Historical details interesting, not characters

This is historical fiction, an "accurate portrayal of the everyday details and social habits" of Jewish people, American Indians, and black people, beginning in 1828 North Carolina. The main character is a traveling peddler, so the areas covered extend beyond North Carolina and, through his eyes, the reader witnesses the injustices of the Indian Removal Act.

While this novel deserves high marks for its obviously careful research, the depiction of the Jewish peddler's life on the road is often silly enough that I suspected while I was reading that Mary Glickman, the author, was being sarcastic. I was never sure whether this was deliberate or my misunderstanding. I would like to have cared more for him and the other characters, but only their historical details interested me, not their personal stories.

If you read AN UNDISTURBED PEACE, start with the "Author's Note." Although this is at the end of the book, I wish I had read it first.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Adventurous, Interesting
INTO THE WILD was a great beginning

Jon Krakauer is one of the best writers of nonfiction. He first proved that in magazines, but his books began with INTO THE WILD in 1996.

If you haven't read this book about Chris McCandless, who, at 24, tried to live in Alaska wilderness and failed, you may be under the impression that this is the story of that attempt. But too much is unknown because McCandless did it alone.

Instead, Krakauer tells us right away that McCandless lived for four months by himself in the Alaska wilderness and ended up starving to death. So that isn't a spoiler. The rest of the chapters are examinations of how McCandless came to be the type of person who would want to do this, of other people who were this way, of whether he had a death wish, of whether he was stupid or naive. Krakauer even puts himself in some chapters when he compares one of his own exploits to McCandless' and when he visits the old bus that McCandless lived in. Krakauer finally makes some conclusions about McCandless, some guesses based on the evidence he has laid out.

INTO THE WILD was a great beginning to a string of Krakauer's other books of nonfiction. Those, too, are at least as good, some even better. And, we can assume, more is to come.

Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott
Slow, Confusing, Boring
It is too easy for a writer of fiction to explain mysteries with ghosts

This book is said to be a thriller, but it isn't. Instead, what could have been an intelligent historical novel was spoiled by supernatural silliness.

Lydia was ghostwriting the last couple of chapters of a scholarly work on Newton and alchemy that was being written by Elizabeth until her death. Cameron, Elizabeth's son, asked Lydia to do this. Cameron and Lydia are former lovers, and Lydia narrates this story as a letter to Cameron.

But the author lost me when she went supernatural, when Lydia visited a psychic and when she began to notice too many coincidences. It is too easy for a writer of fiction to explain mysteries with ghosts.

Book Club Recommended

Mahtob Mahmoody is the daughter in NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER, a book written in the late 1980s by her mother, Betty Mahmoody, about their escape from her Iranian father, his family, and his country. If you haven't already read that book, do it now, before you read MY NAME IS MAHTOB. Otherwise, the latter book will be dull.

If you have read NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER, you will appreciate Mahtob's view of those circumstances. Betty's account of their supposed "two-week vacation" to Iran took place when Mahtob was 4 to 6 years old. And Mahtob does remember that time in flashes, as most of us do, although her flashes were, perhaps, more memorable.

As an aside, I hope Mahtob somehow sees this review of her book so she can read my apology. Recently (February 2016) I went to her book event at a bookstore in Okemos, Michigan. I asked her how she could remember that far back. She explained (as she does in the book, although I had not gotten that far yet). All is believable, and I'm afraid I sounded like a skeptic when I asked that question.

MY NAME IS MAHTOB continues to her adulthood -because their story of terror does not end with their escape to freedom. As long as her father was alive, she and her mother had to be cautious of their every step because he never went away and neither did his threats to kill Betty and to kidnap Mahtob.

Slow, Boring, Interesting
Not as described

This book is not as described. The official description on such sites as,, and is way off what I just read. It's as if we're talking about two different books.

In the book I read, told in third person but from the point of view of the youngest of three children, the oldest of the three goes missing. Then the book goes on and on about the goings-on of the three children before then and petty politics, all unrelated to the disappearance.

I can't think of a book that bored me more than this one.

I won this book through

The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor
Dark, Confusing, Boring
Not a Thriller

This book is not nearly as thrilling as reviews by others would have you believe. In fact, the suspense they all mention is pretty ho-hum.

Hannah and Lovell have a fight. The next morning all seems normal, but Hannah disappears after that. So the rest of the book, told alternately from Lovell’s and Hannah’s points of view, consists mostly of their memories. Sometimes they remember different occasions during their marriage, sometimes they remember when their kids were younger, sometimes they even think about their own childhoods. You can safely skim the latter; they don’t seem to contribute to the story.

Reviewers’ mentions of suspense probably refers to Hannah’s chapters during the final third of the book. I won’t tell you Hannah’s error, but I will say that I caught it long before she did.

I won this book through Thoughts in Progress blog (

Adventurous, Fun, Dramatic
Clever but not a thriller

This book is a mystery, and the mystery is presented well. But it is not a thriller. Mysteries-thrillers can be unputdownable. Minus the thriller element, this book is merely clever.

The author does an excellent job of carrying on the story of Sherlock Holmes as it had been written. It wasn't a thriller before, either. But Holmes was clever before. He still is.

Does Crosswhite need a rest?

IN THE CLEARING is a continuation of Robert Dugoni's Tracy Crosswhite series. She's a detective with the Seattle PD, and in this book she is involved in two cases, one outside her jurisdiction as a favor to a friend. Each case is a mystery to be solved.

The unraveling of mysteries is interesting, so that kept me reading to the end. Unfortunately for me, though, the stories were too easy to put down. And while they did contain suspense, it wasn't enough to make me anxious to pick the book back up. I liked it, though, just not enough to read it quickly.

This disappoints me because I know Dugoni can write a story that is unputdownable. Probably he should give Crosswhite a rest and write a standalone or get back to David Sloane's great courtroom drama. We need more like THE CONVICTION.

The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Good historical fiction but Poor depiction of religious fundamentalism

Two stories are going on here. One is historical fiction and quite interesting, the other is a simple mystery with problems. The book is supposedly written as a master's thesis.

The historical figure presented is Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young's wives. She was miserable as a plural wife, ran away, and became famous as a speaker against polygamy.

The mystery has to do with a woman accused of murdering her husband. They are members of a Mormon fundamentalist sect in the 21st century, and theirs was a polygamist marriage.

Ann Eliza's story really begins with her mother, Elizabeth, near the beginning of Mormonism. So the early history of this religion is described by way of her experiences until Ann Eliza enters the picture.

The murder mystery is too simple and too easy. Even the characters are too simplistic. It is a fact, though, that such fundamentalist sects exist.

Eventually, you will understand how the two stories are related. The book deserves high ratings for its historical fiction but is downgraded because of its poor description of the ongoing real problem of Mormon fundamentalism.

Afterwards: A Novel by Rosamund Lupton
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive

I just added another book to my list of favorites, the second book by Rosamund Lupton included in that list. But I still haven't decided whether the word "afterwards" refers to after the loss of consciousness or after death.

There is a fire at a private elementary school. Whose fault is it and is it arson? Two of the people hurt in the fire watch the investigation while their bodies are unconscious. One of those people describes it for her husband.

That puts simply a most involved story with twists and turns that will keep your attention and have you guessing throughout. As soon as you are pretty sure, Lupton changes your mind and makes you sure of something else.

Plus this is the best type of mystery/thriller-- literary.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Dark

Wow! And to think I almost passed this up. Had it not won a Great Michigan Read award, I wouldn't have read STATION ELEVEN and wouldn't have known how excellent it is.

Put simply (which the book isn't), the Georgia Flu eliminates just about everyone, some directly, others because the care they need for another ailment is now unavailable. We see lives before and after the Georgia Flu.

Throughout the book are mentions of two comic books/graphic novels about Station Eleven, who created them and under what circumstances, and who possessed each over the next 20 years. It is a story within a story, each parallelling the other in several ways.

The main story goes back and forth in time and contains many characters, with no single main character, although perhaps a main group of characters. It would be confusing if an author less skillful than Emily St. John Mandel had written it. I found it easy to follow. I recommend STATION ELEVEN.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Scary
Literary thriller

You can always depend on John Hart to write an outstanding literary thriller. And he's done it again with REDEMPTION ROAD.

Various mysteries are going on here. Mainly, though, we're given the character Elizabeth. She's been a member of the police force for 13 years, and she's the daughter of a preacher who she hates. Why does she hate him? A former member of the police force, Adrian, is getting out of jail after 13 years. Was he guilty of the crime he was convicted of? Elizabeth didn't think so 13 years ago and did her best then to find proof of his innocence. Now the identical crime is happening again. Is Adrian guilty, or is he being set up? Those are only some of the mysteries in REDEMPTION ROAD.

The story is both character driven and plot driven. That's the best kind of thriller, and that's why you want to read this. But it isn't flawless.

REDEMPTION ROAD doesn't get my highest rating because of one character, Gideon. He is a 14-year-old boy. Hart speaks of him and has him act like he is 8. Hart even mentions Gideon's toys near the end of the book, when he could be 15. That irritated me.

But that's me. It may not bug other readers. I sure would feel better, though, if Hart would at least delete that reference to toys and if the person in charge of punctuation would delete all the commas after "but." (As a technical editor, "but," makes me cringe.)

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline
Interesting, Informative, Insightful
Stupid Main Character

I couldn't get over the style of MOST WANTED, which I think of as immature. It's a style I used to like when I was a teenager, so my review of MOST WANTED would probably have been different then.

If you like her style, for you MOST WANTED deserves a slightly higher rating than I give it. Still, though, it's missing the thrills that Scottoline books normally begin at the beginning or close to it. If you're looking for thrills, you can skip a couple hundred pages that describe the lean and muscular husband, the wonderful best friend, trips to the doctor's office, disagreements between husband and wife, and manipulation by an innocent or guilty man.

After a couple hundred pages, although thrills begin during an investigation into that man's innocence or guilt, I was so sick of the stupid main character allowing herself to be manipulated, it was too late for me. Whether it turned out she was right or wrong, she did one stupid thing after another so I didn't even care by then.

The Mask by Taylor Stevens
Unconvincing, Boring, Interesting
superwoman to too hard to swallow

THE MASK is not the first in a series about Vanessa Michael Munroe; rather, it is well into the series. But it passes my test: a book in a series should be understood without requiring that the previous books have been read. So that's one good point.

Another is its comments about Japanese society and laws, particularly when they are compared with American society and laws. And that's what the story is about: why Munroe's boyfriend was arrested for murder, why it is practically impossible to get him out of prison, and how to investigate what really happened.

Unfortunately, the majority of this book describes that investigation, and here is the problem with that: Munroe. She is superwoman and too hard to swallow.

If you are familiar with Lee Child's Jack Reacher, I would say that Munroe is a female version of Reacher. Like Reacher, Munroe is successful at most anything she tries to do. And boy does she, like Reacher, kick ass. In other words, she always wins a fight, even against a man, even against three men, even against three men with pipes and guns.

Just as unbelievable is Munroe's ability to be Vanessa or to be Michael. She can switch from a desireable woman to a man who can wear her boyfriend's clothes and fool everyone into believing she is Michael. No explanation is given about how she must have changed her voice. The reader is told only that she gets away with this because she is tall.

For these reasons, the book is boring and seems too long.

I won THE MASK through

Of Irish Blood by Mary Pat Kelly
Book Club Recommended
Slow, Interesting, Informative
Full of interesting historical detail, but didn't grab my attention

OF IRISH BLOOD is Mary Pat Kelly's continuation of GALWAY BAY. Both books are historical fiction based on the lives of her ancestors. While GALWAY BAY took place mostly in Ireland during the 19th century and concentrated on her great great grandmother Honora Kelly, OF IRISH BLOOD's main character is Mary Pat Kelly's great aunt, also Honora Kelly but called Nora. This book takes place in the early 20th century and begins in Chicago but moves to Europe, Paris mostly. There Nora takes up residence after her life is threatened (fiction) in Chicago and works with many (real historical) people for Ireland's independence. Mary Pat Kelly does know that her Great Aunt Honora moved to Paris, but the rest is fiction.

This book, like GALWAY BAY, deserves highest ratings for its historical detail. Fans of historical fiction will love reading about all the historical characters that Nora comes in contact with and the accurate descriptions of Ireland's struggle/fight with England before, during, and after World War I.

The rating for OF IRISH BLOOD is downgraded, though, because it does not have a story that grabs the reader and keeps her engaged. Sometimes after a few paragraphs I was happy to put this book down. Too much struggle, too much fight, not enough drama. Although the struggle and fight were real, since the book is fictionalized, why not add enough story to make the book unputdownable? Instead, Nora and the fiction seemed nothing more than vehicles to present history. Although that is enough for many historical fiction fans, I want the characters as well as the history to grab me.

I Am No One: A Novel by Patrick Flanery
Difficult, Insightful, Informative
Good story, but sentences are too long

I AM NO ONE is a book about privacy.

Patrick Flanery tells a good story about a college professor, Jeremy O’Keefe, whose life and experiences sound like they may be somewhat autobiographical (NYU, Oxford, film, Irish in England, etc.). Someone is watching O’Keefe and nosing into the private details of his life but who and why?

The book could have been cut in half, though. The story is simple, but it is told with too many sentences, and the sentences are too long. They are so long that, often, by the time I got to the end of one, I forgot the beginning.

I haven’t read Flanery’s other books, so I don’t know if this is his usual style. If not, I suspect that all the long sentences, all the reflection, were used to make the reader feel what O’Keefe is feeling. Maybe that was a good idea, but it sure makes this book difficult to read.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Beautiful
Excellent Mystery With Boring First Chapter

For the most part, THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS is an excellent mystery, the kind readers will be anxious to keep reading. It is a murder mystery, yes, but as the best mysteries are, this book is much more than that. It examines lies and relationships and the possibility of miracles. Plus, the substory of a separate character in need of a miracle is placed in this story to make it even more complex.

But it's a 4- out of 5-star book. THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS loses a point because its language is simple, sounding more like a young adult than an adult novel. This is especially true of the first and the last couple chapters. The book begins with teenage sex and their silly situation, neither of which do much for an adult reader. The last chapters tie everything up neatly, reminding me, again, of a YA novel.

Adults will still enjoy this, though, even the hard-to-please readers. It keeps you guessing, then guessing again and again.

YA Novel

COMES THE END would be perfect for the young adult scifi fan. While at first it seems to be another this-is-the-end, the-aliens-are-coming-to-get-us story, a YA reader will enjoy the suggestion of devils who befriend the main characters and the awareness of who the aliens really are.

It is easy to see this first book in a series as a television series. I heard that is planned, and I certainly look forward to it.

Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Insightful, Persuasive
Would I like Austen as much now as I did when I 14?

It's been many years since I read a Jane Austen novel. Would I like her as much now as I did when I read her PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and EMMA? I was 14 then. Answer: no. Or is it fair to compare those novels to PERSUASION, which was published after Austen died?

I don't remember needing to reread many paragraphs in order to understand them when I read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and EMMA. But that is exactly why it took me a week to read PERSUASION, which is short and should have been a quick read.

Another problem with PERSUASION was probably also the same in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and EMMA. That is, the whole story is about nothing but romance. When I was younger, that appealed to me. Now I want more.

Maybe Austen intended to do some rewrites on PERSUASION before she published it. We'll never know.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Beautiful
One Novel, Two Stories, Three Periods

If you, like me, do not know or care much about the art world, including art history, painting restoration and sales, art museums, etc, you will still probably enjoy THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS. I sure did.

This novel is two stories: one of Sara de Vos, a 17th-century painter in Amsterdam, and the other of Ellie Shipley, also an artist but working as a painting restorer, and Marty de Groot, the owner of a painting by Sara de Vos. The story of Ellie and Marty is during the 20th century, beginning during the 1950s in New York, then skipping to Australia in 2000. We move around among these three periods--the 1600s, the 1950s, and 2000—throughout the book.

While this devise Dominic Smith uses of skipping around from one story to another and one of three periods to another may seem difficult to pull off, he does so. This method is so effective that most readers will love the stories in all three periods. And they will think about these three characters even when they are not actively reading the book.

My book group at the Romeo (Michigan) District Library won copies of THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS from

Security: A Novel by Gina Wohlsdorf
Unconvincing, Slow, Boring
Nothing is gripping, shocking, or thrilling

The book flap description of SECURITY dares to compare its writing with that of Steven King. If I were King, I'd sue. It goes on with phrases like "gasp-inducing terror," "brilliant narrative puzzle," and "multifaceted love story," none of which are true. Characters in this book are shallow and even cartoonish. Nothing is gripping, shocking, or thrilling.

Perhaps Gina Wohlsdorf did suceed in showing the irony in calling a hotel private and secure because security cameras are everywhere. In fact, security and privacy were defeated by the security cameras.

I won SECURITY from Algonquin Books' LibraryThing Early Reviewers giveaway.

Slow, Boring
Fourth in series cannot stand on its own

Although some authors can write a novel in a series to also work as a standalone so that the reader can enjoy it, even out of order, PANTHER'S PREY is not one of them. This is the fourth in a series about Leo Maxwell, a lawyer working as a public defender, and too much of this novel depends on your understanding of previous books.

Most of PANTHER'S PREY, however, can be understood. Leo has worked alongside a young woman, Jordan, defending a client who confesses to crimes he did not commit. Leo has a week-long affair with Jordan--ONE WEEK. In the majority of the book, then, Leo risks his life numerous times to learn what happened to Jordan. It would be easier to accept Leo's actions if they were on behalf of a wife of 30 years.

The story drags, i.e., it is slow. It is not thrilling. I didn't much care about any of the characters, even Leo, even Jordan's father. These two characters, especially, should have more personality. Instead, they bored me.

I won PANTHER'S PREY through

Leaving Berlin: A Novel by Joseph Kanon
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Interesting
Kanon has written another winner

Joseph Kanon has written another winner. LEAVING BERLIN is a post-World War II novel that I would call historical fiction/thriller. Here is Berlin four years after the Nazis, now not yet totally Stalinist but divided into sectors. Alex Meier, a socialist who left Berlin before the war, has returned. He lives in the Russian sector.

But this book is, most of all, a thriller. Meier is recruited by the Americans to spy on his old girlfriend and, not much later, he is recruited by a German Communist. And, my, what a tangled web! Meier gets a real good idea of what life in East Germany is becoming.

This is an intelligent can’t-put-it-down book, both plot- and character-driven. I need a sequel.

Thank you to for the lovely hardcover copy of LEAVING BERLIN. It's a keeper!

Dark Matter: A Novel by Blake Crouch
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Interesting, Addictive
Excellent Sci-Fi Thriller

If your favorite books are those that you don’t want to put down, that keep you up at night, read DARK MATTER. Even if you are not normally a science fiction fan but do love thrillers, read DARK MATTER.

This excellent novel presents happily married Jason who has a son and a job as a professor at a small college. He sometimes wonders what his life would have been like if he had taken a different path 15 years ago when he married his wife, Daniela. Don’t many of us wonder the same thing, how the road not taken might have changed things for us? Jason got an answer to that question.

DARK MATTER is Stephen Kingish. Some of his books do not have monsters or clowns but are about normal people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. DARK MATTER is like those.

Or maybe Crouch should not be compared to King. Crouch is not a new author. He wrote the WAYWARD PINES trilogy, the basis for the TV series of the same name. But I did not read it; Crouch was new to me, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked DARK MATTER.

I won this book through

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Slow, Dark
deeply researched

As usual, Jon Krakauer has deeply researched his subject, rape and the justice system in Missoula, Montana during, mostly, 2008 through 2012. He presents specific case studies of acquaintance rape when the victims came under suspicion, a common result if a victim dares to report this crime to the police.

The University of Montana (UM) in Missoula is where the victims were students. The alleged perpetrators in most of these cases were football players for UM. Therefore, Krakauer also examines Missoula’s seeming adoration of the UM football team.

Although Krakauer’s research is impeccable, his arrangement of the facts seemed somewhat haphazard during the first half of the book. Well, maybe not haphazard but not the way I would have done it. The organization sometimes confused me until I got to Part Four.

Also, I found this book to be a lot like the research papers I wrote in college, lots of facts but easy to put down. MISSOULA does, however, clearly show a problem going on in this country: rape is prevalent on college campuses, and victims don’t want to report it.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Addictive
best mystery/thriller in recent years

All the reviews I have read of BEFORE THE FALL have praised it, some going so far as to say that it’s the best mystery/thriller of 2016. Believe it.

BEFORE THE FALL is the best mystery/thriller in recent years. No kidding. GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, the 2015 books that so many other mysteries/thrillers since then have been compared to, don’t hold a candle to BEFORE THE FALL. That is, BEFORE THE FALL is much better than those earlier books, much more literate and unputdownable at the same time.

A reviewer on, although she named this book a “Bets On Pick,” said that if she had edited BEFORE THE FALL, she would have cut more. I disagree. I didn’t want the book to end, so the more the author, Noah Hawley, told me about the characters, the better.

Simply put, the story begins with a plane crash into the ocean. There are two survivors. BEFORE THE FALL examines the backgrounds of each passenger and crew member. It also shows the experiences of the survivors after the fall. The mystery throughout: why did the plane crash and was someone responsible?

NOTE: One of the passengers on that ill-fated plane was a top executive at a 24-hour cable TV news station that is obviously meant to be Fox News, although the fictional TV station, per policy, makes (rather than just reports) news. And one of the news show hosts, who ”reports” recorded (bugged) telephone conversations of one of the survivors, is NOT, I’m sure, meant to be Bill O’Reilly.

Alias Grace: A Novel by Margaret Atwood
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Brilliant, Interesting
don't be put off if beginning is boring

If you haven’t read a Margaret Atwood novel before, as I hadn’t, you might be put off by ALIAS GRACE if you give up before page 43. I almost did. Luckily, I reminded myself to give it a few more pages. It becomes a page turner after page 43.

Grace Marks was a real person, as are some of the other characters in ALIAS GRACE. (Atwood discusses the fact and fiction of this book in the “Afterword.” I read it first.) Grace was accused of murder in 19th–century Canada. Atwood fills in where the facts are not known.

Even if Atwood’s writing about Grace’s life before she moves to Canada (when she lives in Ireland with her parents and siblings) sounds monotonous to you, stick with it. You’ll be glad you did.

The Cove: A Novel by Ron Rash
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Dark, Beautiful

In the book THE COVE, the cove is a place where nothing good has ever happened to anyone who lived there. At this point in history, the end of World War I, can that be changed?

THE COVE begins with a mystery in the prologue, then soon after another mystery makes you forget about the first one.

Allow yourself to discover this mysterous story as it was meant to be discovered: as you read it. Don't read reviews. Don't even read the book flap or the back of the book until after you've read it.
THE COVE is an exceptionallly good book because it is mysterious. But I made the mistake of reading reviews of this book before I read it, and most of them revealed the solution to one of the mysteries. So I was deprived of the pleasure of slowly discovering the story as it was revealed. I might have given THE COVE five stars otherwise.

If you don't make that mistake, you'll love THE COVE.

Arrowood: A Novel by Laura McHugh
Interesting, Dark, Dramatic
What a disappointment!

What a disappointment! I was so happy when I won ARROWOOD from Laura McHugh's last book was so well received and had so many favorable reviews, I assumed ARROWOOD would also be good.

My two biggest complaints about this book: people keep saying and doing implausible things, and too much of the book describes boring events that seem to have nothing to do with anything (such as a too-long description of cleaning an old home). Is that three complaints?

I should have given up on this book when I got to page 50.

Book Club Recommended
A Character-Driven Novel

The IRISH TIMES says that Lisa McInerney is “arguably the most talented writer at work in Ireland today.” Most readers will probably agree after they read THE GLORIOUS HERESIES.

This is a character-driven book. And the dialog sounds so authentic and is so good that McInerney doesn’t waste paragraphs on descriptions of people and their surroundings, as so many authors do. Most of it is contained in the dialog. Also, McInerney assumes that her readers are intelligent and will understand her allusions.

The only problem with such a character-driven novel is that it can leave the reader wondering about the plot. The best novels, in my opinion, are usually both plot- and character-driven. I say “usually” because THE GLORIOUS HERESIES is so exceptionally written that I cared about most of the characters (even the crazy arsonist and the prostitute) and was as anxious to read it as I am the best plot-and character-driven novels. This book is the exception to my rule.

You’ll care about one character more than the others. For this character’s sake, by the time you read half of THE GLORIOUS HERESIES, you may be angry that nothing good ever seems to happen. It does get difficult to read bad news all the time. I’d like to read something by McInerney that deals with normal people who have jobs.

Another irritation: THE GLORIOUS HERESIES mentions several times the horrible economy in Ireland that some of the characters blame for their states in life. But they never consider that the problem could be the other way around. That is, maybe the way they live their lives is keeping the economy down.

Read THE GLORIOUS HERESIES. It may be the only character-driven novel that makes you anxious for the author’s next.

I won this book through

The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni
Boring, Unconvincing, Confusing
Good but not as good as THE CONVICTION

THE 7TH CANON is a pleasant change. It is not part of a series; it is a standalone novel that Robert Dugoni has had around for a long time; he wrote the first draft 20 years ago. That made some things out of date in 2016. So he set the story in 1987.

A priest who ran a home for homeless boys in San Francisco is accused of murdering one of those boys. His lawyer decides that the only way to a successful defense is to prove the priest’s innocence and find the real murderer. Although I was pretty sure who the real murderer was early on, it was still fun following the lawyer’s investigation. Turns out, some of the characters he interacts with are based on real people in Dugoni’s life.

I’ve read several Dugoni novels. None has impressed me as much as the last book he wrote in his David Sloane series, THE CONVICTION. I’ve been watching for another to grab me like that did. His Tracy Crosswhite series wasn’t doing it, so I welcomed THE 7TH CANON. But, although it’s good, it’s not that good. Dugoni needs to return to David Sloane.

The publisher Thomas & Mercer sent me this book at my request.

Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman
it didn’t thrill me

SPILLED BLOOD would be classified as a thriller. I liked the story, but it didn’t thrill me.

There are a lot of lawyers in this book. One of them, Chris, is divorced from the mother of his teenaged child, Olivia. His ex-wife, Hannah, calls him to the small town where she and Olivia live because Olivia has been arrested for murder. For the rest of the book, Chris investigates who else may have committed the murder. I must have missed what “spilled blood” has to do with this story. But Brian Freeman chose those words for his title, so they must be in there someplace.

Others were thrilled by SPILLED BLOOD. So maybe you should listen to them and not me. But I think much of the story is predictable. Don’t worry about the final solution, though; it’s a surprise, although the very end isn’t.

June: A Novel by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Unconvincing, Boring, Slow

JUNE disappointed me.

A young woman, Cassie, lives alone since the death of her grandmother, June, in the big, old home that has been in her family for years. When Cassie is told that she has inherited millions of dollars from a dead movie idol, Jack Montgomery, the mysteries begin.

This book is two stories: Cassie’s is the present-day story, and the other, for the most part, is of June and Jack in 1955. Here is the first disappointment: we are to believe that Cassie dreams the story of June and Jack. Another thing: the house is alive and making Cassie dream these dreams. Really.

Both stories are hard to swallow, and each has a nice, neat conclusion.

The Stranger by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Adventurous

Once again Harlan Coben has written an unputdownable novel.

As always, Coben gives us a multilayered story that is actually story upon story upon story. That's what makes it unputdownable, but that also makes for lots of characters names to remember. So pay attention and don't read it too fast.

The main story is about Adam and Corinne. A stranger has revealed to Adam a secret Corinne has kept from him for a couple of years. After he confronts her with it, she disappears. Now the mystery(s) begins.

Every one of the stories involves a devastating secret and usually blackmail. They are all intertwined, and each builds on Adam's mystery. Each also keeps the reader trying to guess the solution. But I've never been able to guess the solution to Coben's mysteries. I didn't guess here, either.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Dramatic

I discovered another author! That is what I say, usually to myself, when I want to read everything written by the author of a book I just read. And that’s how I feel about Amor Towles after reading RULES OF CIVILITY.

Simply put, this book is about a year in the life of a 25-year-old woman in New York in 1938. Her story begins when she is living in a boardinghouse and working as a secretary in the typing pool at a law firm. She soon becomes involved with people who have plenty of time and money to drink and party--and not just on weekends.

A story like that may not sound appealing. It didn’t to me. But in the hands (head?) of Towles, you should be pleasantly surprised, as I was.

RULES OF CIVILITY actually begins in 1966 when that woman attends an exhibition of photographs at the art museum. By chance, two of the pictures are of an old friend. So most of the rest of the book is her flashback, with that friend as one of the major influences on her year.

I never get emotional about a novel. It’s fiction. But at two points in this book, I got choked up, almost cried. It’s that good.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Persuasive
character-driven mystery

Although Ian Caldwell is non-Catholic, THE FIFTH GOSPEL is full of details about the Vatican and the priesthood. This is a literary mystery--who killed a religious scholar and why, is the Diatessaron really the fifth gospel and where is it, and is the Shroud of Turin really what is claimed and who does it belong to?

What fine character development in this novel! In particular, two priests, brothers, one Roman Catholic, the other Greek Catholic, are the main focus. Told from the point of view of one of them, Alex, this story is his investigation of these mysteries after Ugo, the religious scholar, is found dead, apparently murdered. Ugo had been studying the Diatessaron and found allusion there to the Shroud of Turin. Is this the reason he was murdered?

Catholic readers will appreciate all the research Caldwell did on the Vatican and the priests and bishops there. I'm not sure, however. if a non-Catholic would. I think THE FIFTH GOSPEL might have bored me if I were not a Catholic.

Or maybe I'm wrong about that. Maybe the reader will appreciate this novel for its character-driven mystery when so many mysteries/thrillers are simply plot driven.

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Addictive, Beautiful

The recent presidential campaign reminded me that I still haven’t read ALL THE KING’S MEN. It’s been in my parents’ bookcase all the while I was growing up, and I even tried to read it when I was in high school. I never finished it then through lack of interest. Forty years later the subjects of this book do interest me and I can understand why it won a Pulitzer prize in 1947,was rated the 36th greatest novel of the 20th century by Modern Library, and was chosen as one of TIME magazine's 100 best novels since 1923.

Even if you haven’t read ALL THE KING’S MEN, you must have heard of it. Your impression may be like mine was: this is a book about a politician who began with good intentions only to grow into a man who acts out of a lust for power. But while this IS one of the characters (Willie Stark), his story is really the background for Jack Burden’s story.

Burden narrates. He begins when he was a reporter who came across the young Willie Stark, then goes back and forth in time, studying how he acted as Stark’s right-hand man and how he related with old friends and family. You may want to reread this; Robert Penn Warren discusses so much, you may catch the second time what you missed the first time.

ALL THE KING’S MEN doesn’t get my highest rating for that reason. I don’t like to reread. But I think I need to. Robert Penn Warren took many breaks from the story to discuss and philosophize. This went on for many paragraphs before he resumed the story, causing me to forget it.

This is a style that can be good, especially if the discussions are as thoughtful as Warren’s. The problem I have here is the length of the discussions. His tangents are too wordy.

But this is minor. The book is exceptional.

Almost Missed You: A Novel by Jessica Strawser
Dramatic, Interesting, Boring
lots of secrets and lies

Just last evening an alarm sounded on my iPhone, signaling another Amber alert of a child abduction, probably a parental kidnapping. That is the main subject of ALMOST MISSED YOU. Violet’s husband, Finn, has left her waiting on the beach while he has taken off with their 3-year-old son. She did not see the problems in their marriage that led to this because of his lies of omission. And Violet realizes that she, too, kept quiet when she should have spoken up.

Meanwhile, Violet’s and Finn’s good friends, Caitlin and George, have hidden problems of their own, not to mention Caitlin’s lies of omission that contributed to Violet’s and Finn’s troubles. And, like Violet and Finn, Caitlin and George are each lying to the other by omission.

Fans of women’s fiction, which I am not, will love ALMOST MISSED YOU. The novel explores, mostly, the two couple’s friendships, marriages, and lies of omission that threaten to tear it all apart. This subject matter is too soap operaish for me, but is popular with so many people that the term “women’s fiction” was coined just for them.

So ALMOST MISSED YOU contains lots of secrets and lies, and that is essentially it. A story like this doesn’t appeal to me. Yes, lots of people would disagree with me. I would have disagreed, too, when I was a young adult.

Dramatic, Addictive, Dark
Don't read other reviews; they tell you too much

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS tells you by its title that something is going on at home that puts the lie to outward appearances. So it’s safe to say that this book is about a bad marriage. But my calling it a “bad marriage” is like the author Mary Kubica calling it “unsettling.” Both are understatements.

A woman gives up her career because her fiancé, a busy lawyer, fears he will hardly ever see her after they are married. He is happy to share responsibility for her younger sister who has Down Syndrome. But what does he have in store for them?

The story is simple, no great shakes. It could be told in a segment of a TV series like “Law and Order.” It isn’t, as some reviews have called it, “unputdownable.” For me, it was the opposite. I found it so unsettling and repetitive that I had to put the book down after I ended each chapter.

I won this book from St. Martin’s Press through a special contest.

Pretty Girls: A Novel by Karin Slaughter
Book Club Recommended
Graphic, Dark, Dramatic
One of 2016's best

Of the Karin Slaughter books I’ve read, PRETTY GIRLS is by far the best. For that matter, PRETTY GIRLS is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

The pretty girls in PRETTY GIRLS are three pretty sisters. When the book begins, one of those sisters, Julia, has been missing for almost 20 years. The family, including her two younger sisters, Lydia and Claire, and her mother and father, have never felt closure. Lydia and Claire, as a matter of fact, have felt ignored by their parents as a result.

Eighteen years ago, Claire married Paul, a genius-level architect. They are rich and happy together. That happiness is not to last. First, Paul is murdered. Then, when Claire is going through his personal belongings, including his home offices and computers, she finds evidence that Paul had been leading a hidden life. And she is to discover much, much more. Paul had been committing and was responsible for horrors.

Since Julia went missing, Lydia became addicted to drugs, let herself go fat, and is estranged from her family. But when PRETTY GIRLS opens, she has gone straight, has a daughter, now a teenager, and has an ongoing relationship with the man who lives next door. Claire involves Lydia in the horrors.

I will say no more about this story. Doing so would deprive readers of learning what Claire and Lydia do while they are doing it. If readers don’t know their discoveries ahead of time, most will find this book can’t-put-it-down good.

To contradict myself, I should say this much more: some scenes involving torture are hard to read. But they are not gratuitous; they ensure that readers feel as horrified as they should.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Dramatic, Boring, Insightful

I did not want to rate this book because I did not read the whole thing. It bored me so much I had to put it down.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Addictive, Scary
French has another winner with THE TRESPASSER

No one writes a story like Tana French. Her style is original, not like any I’ve read elsewhere. And her dialog: it’s so good I feel like I’m there—in Ireland—and she even has me feeling at home with all the Irish slang. She also doesn’t waste space or my time with paragraph upon paragraph describing the atmosphere in which her story takes place, as so many authors do.

So much for French’s books in general. As for THE TRESPASSER in particular, while it’s not as good as her BROKEN HARBOR, which blew me away, it’s up there with FAITHFUL PLACE, which is her second best. I’ve read all her books, so you can take my word for it.

All her books, so far, are about different characters, detectives mostly, on the Dublin Murder Squad, although each stands alone and doesn’t depend on the last book. In THE TRESPASSER, two of the characters, partners Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran, have also appeared in other books, although here they are main characters.

Conway is the narrator. Throughout the book we see what Conway sees and read how Conway feels about it. She is having a hard time as the only female on the squad. But the careful reader will sometimes suspect her perception.

She and Moran are tired of always getting the domestic murder cases handed to them. When they are given a case involving the murder in her home of a single young woman, they are sure it’s another cut-and-dry Domestic, easy to solve, even too easy. But this turns out to be more. This may even have the rest of the Murder Squad hating them.

Conway and Moran also have to deal with Detective Don Breslin, who seems to be trying to steer their case toward the victim’s new boyfriend, even after Conway learns details that point in another direction. When he speaks with Conway and Moran, they almost telepathically know what the other is thinking (evidence of a good partnership) and speak to Breslin accordingly.

French has another winner with THE TRESPASSER. I highly recommend it and only do not give it my highest rating because I gave that to BROKEN HARBOR.

I won this book from

Interesting, Dramatic, Addictive
Inspired by true-life story

In 1965, the two toddlers of Alice and Edmund Crimmins were found dead, and she was later found guilty of their murders. Her experience was Emma Flint’s inspiration for LITTLE DEATHS. Although the book is fiction, many of its details are the same as the real-life story, especially the opinion that Ruth Malone (the fictionalized Alice Crimmins) was convicted on the basis of her looks and her sex life. LITTLE DEATHS could have been a good story.

Ruth is a red-headed cocktail waitress, separated from her husband, Frank. She wears tight skirts and lots of makeup (to cover acne scars), and she sleeps around. So, when her two children disappear, Ruth is immediately suspected of hiding them because she and Frank are battling over their custody. When the children are found dead, she is immediately suspected of murdering them because of her appearance and her morals.

Part of the problem with LITTLE DEATHS is the reporter, Pete. He begins covering the story just like every other reporter, misjudging Ruth. Eventually, though, he decides she is telling the truth, then he becomes attracted to her. His actions are never explained adequately, so he is not understandable.

I guess I could say the same about all the characters in this book. That’s because the whole thing seems rushed, like there isn’t time to explore any of them. This is especially true of the last few pages. The end leaves the reader hanging. Not good.

I won this ARC from Hachette Books through

The Burn Palace: A Novel by Stephen Dobyns
Book Club Recommended
a book that any lover of mysteries/thrillers doesn’t want to miss

THE BURN PALACE is a book that any lover of mysteries/thrillers doesn’t want to miss. Several mysteries are going on at the same time, all in and around one small town

What happened to a newborn baby kidnapped from a hospital?

What is the significance of a snake in the baby’s place?

Why was a man scalped and who did it?

Why does the mother of the kidnapped baby hate him?

Why does this small town suddenly have a problem with cougers prowling the area and attacking humans?

Why are old people suddenly dying at a greater rate?

And more mysteries continue throughout. Stephen Dobyns skillfully brings them all together and solves each one.

However, be prepared for an overly long book. It could use more editing to eliminate a few redundancies. An even greater challenge to the reader is Dobyns’s use of SO MANY characters. I literally had to use a yellow highlighter to mark each new character name so I could leaf back a few pages when I needed a refresher of who was who.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
Dramatic, Addictive, Interesting
too YAish for me

On the recommendation of a friend who loves my book recommendations, I read THE LIFE WE BURY. I am not as impressed with it as she is but not because it isn’t a good book. I found it too young adultish. Although many adults like YA novels, I mostly don’t.

Joe is a young college student who has escaped a lousy home life. His slovenly mother drinks too much, spends too much time at bars and casinos, and does not seem to care for her other son, Joe’s autistic half brother who is physically abused by his mother’s boyfriend. But that’s just a side story. The real story begins with Joe’s assignment for his English class.

The assignment is to write someone’s biography. So Joe finds in a nursing home an old dying man, Carl, who has spent the last 30 years in prison for a crime he claims he did not commit. Now the real story begins when Joe becomes convinced that Carl is, indeed, innocent. So he takes it upon himself to prove it.

I almost forgot Joe’s female college-student neighbor. Of course, you guessed it, they fall in love and she helps.

The blog Bookpage calls THE LIFE WE BURY “compulsively suspenseful.” Some will agree. I found it predictable. Yet, I did enjoy most of the book. Even if it is predictable, it goes the way I want it to.

This is Allen Eskens’s debut novel. He’s written a couple of others since THE LIFE WE BURY, and I’m going to try one. I read an excerpt of his THE GUISE OF ANOTHER, and it doesn’t sound YAish.


North of Boston: A Novel by Elisabeth Elo
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Interesting, Dramatic
Great story, great characterization

I won NORTH OF BOSTON from two years before I finally read it. I didn't know what I was missing.

The book begins after Pirio is in a boating accident. She, alone, survives after floating for four hours in water temperatures that would have killed most people . She learns that a much larger boat collided with the one she was on and then left the scene – – it was a hit-and-run accident. Even worse, she later realizes that this was a case of murder; someone was trying to get rid of the captain of the boat Pirio was on.

Who was responsible, and what were they trying to cover up? Pirio wants to get to the bottom of it. Most of NORTH OF BOSTON is about her endeavor to do that.

What a great story, with such creative characterization! If you haven't read this yet, please don't put it off any longer.

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien
Dark, Difficult, Gloomy
made me feel stupid

Because THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS takes place at first in Ireland, I expected it to be about Irish people. And it seems so at first. But this is really about the mysterious foreigner, “Dr. Vlad,” who comes to a small village in Ireland. Who is he really? Why is he able to mesmerize so many of the people who live there? That’s at first.

Then this book is more and more about a beautiful woman there, Fidelma, who is married to a much older man and has tried and failed to have a baby. She wants one badly and gets help from “Dr. Vlad.”

By this point in the story, it is evident that THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS is not about Ireland but about the Bosnian War and its atrocities. But O’Brien just says this in bits and pieces.

There is also no character development in this story, even the two main characters. O'Brien leaves too much unsaid.

O'Brien seems to like to make the reader doubt her memory and deduce what she means. Therefore, THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS is difficult to describe.

I didn’t enjoy reading this book because, frankly, it made me feel stupid. I still have questions I don’t know the answers to and wonder if I somehow missed them or didn’t make the correct deductions. And I wish someone would at least tell me why the heck Fidelma is referred to twice as “Jenny.”

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Brilliant, Dark
Surprise and disappointment of end was also funny

Some books, like BEHIND HER EYES, present situations that make the reader ask, how will the author write herself out of this? And then sometimes the author does, but other times the author uses what I call "the easy way out" and makes the impossible possible with paranormal abilities.

BEHIND HER EYES really had me going for the majority of the book. Louise makes a few poor decisions when it comes to Adele and David, the first and probably worst being her inability to tell Adele that she (Louise) was sexually involved with David and to tell David that she (Louise) had become a friend of Adele's. Louise didn't want to give up either. So she made a whole lot of trouble for herself. This sounds like a silly romance novel, I know, but really it isn't. It is quite a page turner.

Where BEHIND HER EYES goes wrong is in the last couple of chapters. Whereas others say this end is a surprise, I would add that it is a disappointment. It is too easy to use paranormal abilities as explanations. So, while others gasped in surprise and then gasped again, I laughed.

Now I wonder, did Sarah Pinburough mean for the last chapter to be funny? Because, after the surprise/disappointment of the previous chapter, I think it is.

This review is of an ARC sent to me by the publisher.

Slow, Boring
tedious and predictable

Here is why I don’t trust blurbs written by authors about other authors’ books. They describe Swan Huntley’s WE COULD BE BEAUTIFUL as a thriller and a page-turning mystery. First, I would not call this book thrilling. As for mystery, sure, a little bit, but not until after about 200 pages describing a woman’s excesses with all her money, more than she knows what to do with.

Speaking of “woman,” Catherine is 43 years old but sounds like a teenager for most of the book. When she doesn’t sound like a teenager, she sounds like a 5 year old.

Catherine thinks it’s about time she found a husband. So she finds the ideal (at least he looks ideal) man, William, at an art show. About halfway through WE COULD BE BEAUTIFUL William says and does some unsettling things that may raise the reader’s suspicions. And Catherine’s mother (who suffers from Alzheimer’s) acts standoffish at mentions of William or his family. These are mysteries but certainly not engaging much less page turning.

This story had potential. It could have been a mystery/thriller. Instead, though, WE COULD BE BEAUTIFUL is tedious and predictable.

The Sleepwalker: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Slow, Insightful
Another winner

Chris Bohjalian never disappoints. With THE SLEEPWALKER, he has again written a novel that is both plot- and character-driven, heavier on character. He gives the reader a can’t-put-it-down engaging story and examines its main characters as we, along with the narrator, try to figure out what happened to a missing wife and mother, Annalee.

THE SLEEPWALKER is told from the viewpoint of Lianna, one of Annalee’s daughters, years after the incident. When Lianna’s college professor father goes to a conference for the weekend, she and her younger sister wake one morning to discover their mother is not in the house. Immediately, they (and soon most everyone else) suspect that their mother had wandered off while she was asleep. Annalee has a history of sleepwalking.

In the remainder of THE SLEEPWALKER, Lianna observes the main characters. While her father and sister seem to be sure Annalee had died after sleepwalking, Lianna only suspects this. She becomes involved with a detective on the case, Gavin, and wonders about his involvement with her mother even while Lianna is more and more attracted to him.

Adding to the mystery are the italicized lines at the beginning of each chapter. Who writes them? Although Lianna narrates this story, those paragraphs are obviously special clues.

Perhaps some readers will not like the relationship between Lianna and Gavin. She is only 21 while he is 33. That age difference would have been illegal if they were a little younger, and you might think he would have considered her out of bounds. So maybe the story would work a little better if she was older. But maybe not; this way we can be suspicious of his guilt and his intentions.

Bohjalian’s THE SLEEPWALKER is another winner.

I won this book from

Our Souls at Night (Vintage Contemporaries) by Kent Haruf, Alan Kent Haruf
Beautiful, Insightful, Inspiring
Reading this book was too much work

Although OUR SOULS AT NIGHT appears to be a quick read because it is a short book, it is not. That is, the book seems much longer than it is. Even a slow reader like me should be able to finish such a short book in less than a day. But no. I looked for excuses to put it down. The end did not come soon enough.

OUR SOULS AT NIGHT has an interesting beginning. Addie proposes to her neighbor, Louis, that they keep each other company in bed at night. From there, the book continues: something happens, then something else happens, then something else happens, then something else happens, etc. It’s not much of a story.

But the story does seem to try to anger the reader a couple of times. Instead, though, I was angry with the author for writing such ridiculousness: Addie’s and Louis’s adult children reprimanding them, both in their 70s, for wanting to be together at night. RIDICULOUS!

To make matters worse, Haruf uses punctuation marks sparingly and quotation marks not at all. Why do some authors do that, regress to the time before people thought readability was important enough to invent those marks? I usually read for enjoyment. Reading this book was too much work.

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Adventurous, Addictive
lots of mysteries going on

As is the case with all Harlan Coben novels, FOOL ME ONCE is a thriller with many different mysteries going on at once. And that’s what makes this book, all his books, unputdownable. Since I began reading this book, the only constructive thing I did was finish it.

We follow the beautiful but tough Maya, former army captain, a helicopter pilot, as she investigates and gets to the bottom of two murders, first of her sister, then of her husband. The reader will suspect everyone yet still be surprised at the outcome. It’s typical Harlan Coben.

It is also typical of Coben to grab the reader right on page 1 or 2. So I was disappointed that FOOL ME ONCE didn’t grab me until page 63. Still, other readers may differ because the story is interesting right away.

Book Club Recommended
This book leaves you with a lot of questions

I guess you could call I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS a creepy book, Hitchcockian.

It is short and takes place in just one evening. Jake and his girlfriend drive two hours to have dinner with his parents in their old farmhouse. She is thinking of ending things with him and ruminates on that throughout the book.

Everything that evening is strange. The farmhouse is strange, Jake's parents are strange, the girls at the Dairy Queen are strange, and their detour to the big school is strange. You'll be searching for correct explanations through it all.

Between chapters are discussions that are clues to what is really going on. When you finally figure it out, you'll probably want to go back and re-read those clues.

Or you might not figure it out. You might think, as I did, that you figured it out until you talk about it with your book club. Then you realize this book leaves you with a lot of questions.

I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS is Iain Read's first novel, although he has written two award-winning books of nonfiction. I'll be keeping my eye on him now.

Gloomy, Boring, Dark
Looking Forward to Novel

Anthony Marra is one of our best writers. He’s so good, I like to read his sentences over again for their cleverness. He proved that with A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA and proves that again with THE TSAR OF LOVE AND TECHNO. Even so, TSAR is not another CONSTELLATION.

CONSTELLATION is an excellent novel in every way. TSAR isn’t a novel; it is a collection of short stories, which I usually avoid because they necessarily lack character development. Also, while short stories may be interesting, they are not able to grab me, pull me in so the book becomes unputdownable like a novel can.

TSAR’s short stories seem to try to have these qualities of a novel. The stories are interconnected; the book has a cast of characters who may appear in more than one story, and the places and certain objects remain the same. Therefore, some character development happens, but it’s not enough and left me disappointed.

So TSAR bored me. But I’m hoping that this book is just something Marra put out there to tide his readers over until he has the time to give us another great novel.

Ill Will: A Novel by Dan Chaon
Pointless, Difficult, Adventurous
After page 300, this book is great

ILL WILL does not have one main character. I would say there are five:

Rusty spent 25 years in jail after he was unjustly convicted of killing his adoptive parents. He’s now free, thanks to the Innocence Project.

Dustin, Rusty’s adoptive brother, had testified against Rusty and even now refuses to speak to him. He is now a psychologist.

Aaron, Dustin’s younger son, is a junkie. Dustin doesn’t notice. Dustin doesn’t notice a lot of things.

Dennis, Dustin’s older son, is a college student. He is extremely frustrated that his brother is a junkie and his father doesn’t notice his surroundings, acts spacey, and indulges one of his patients by going along with his search for a serial killer.

Aqil is that patient, later Dustin’s friend. He is a former policeman, whose quest for a serial killer appears clearly nuts.

Perhaps Dustin, of all these characters, is the primary because he ties them together.

ILL WILL is a very detailed psychological study of all these characters, in particular, of Dustin. How ironic that the character with the greatest psychological problems treats patients with psychological problems.

This is an overly long book.It doesn't get good until around page 300, which is about halfway. That's too many pages of details to call this a good book.

Until that point, about page 300, ILL WILL is, essentially, a setup of what will happen after that point. But if you can get past that setup, the book truly does redeem itself. Probably this is why a book that is only half good gets so many high ratings.

I won this copy of ILL WILL through

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Addictive, Dramatic
Better than most books about women's issues

BIG LITTLE LIES is a surprise to me. Although the subject matter, women’s issues, normally bores me, I was pleased that Moriarty built up suspense everywhere she could, particularly with the chapter titles and with the gossipy-sounding witness comments at the end, sometimes the beginning, of each chapter.

This book has three main characters, all women, each with a typical issue.

** Madeline has three children, one by the husband who left her, the other two by her second husband. Her oldest child has chosen to live with her father. He has not kept an eye on their child’s online activity.

** Jane, new to the community, has a child as a result of a one-night stand. The child is accused of being a bully.

** Celeste has twins and is dealing with domestic abuse.

All three of them have children in the same kindergarten class at Pirriwee Public school.

That much would have been enough to turn me away from BIG LITTLE LIES. But right from the start, the book contains chapter headings to indicate when events take place in relation to Trivia Night, a costume party for parents of children at Pirriwee Public school. So I knew that something big was coming up on Trivia Night and, because one of the commentators at the ends of chapters is a police detective, that the big thing had to do with the law.

Moriarty also injects suspense into the lives of each of the three main characters. What will become of Madeine’s oldest child? Will other mothers drive Jane from the community? And, especially, will Celeste leave before her husband kills her?

Another reason this women’s-issues book didn’t turn me away is that I enjoyed its dialog. It is quite witty, especially when Madeline is speaking.

So, even if you don’t enjoy books about women’s issues, you may want to give this one a try for its buildup of suspense and its dialog. If you do enjoy books about women’s issues, you’ll enjoy this one more than most.

Difficult, Dark, Graphic
Could Not Finish

HUMAN ACTS is translated from Korean. That is my problem with it, not that the translation is bad but that good writing and good writing style differ in different languages. So when I read a translation that is good at capturing the writer’s intended voice, I’m hearing a voice not intended for the English language.

At least I think that’s the reason I found this book so off-putting. I could say the writing is bad, but it’s more likely the problem is unique to me. HUMAN ACTS has received many favorable reviews by English speakers.

I won HUMAN ACTS through I could not finish it.

A Gentleman in Moscow by AMOR TOWLES
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Brilliant, Insightful
a pleasure to read!

What a pleasure to read! The writing in A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW is delightful.

Sentenced in 1922 to house arrest for a poem he wrote, the gentleman, Count Alexander Rostov, may never again leave his home, a grand hotel in Moscow. But the hotel certainly is grand--the count befriends various employees there and becomes involved with so many aspects of life there. We see him make a large life for himself.

This book is full of elegant language, reflecting, I assume, the language of a gentleman; stories of the count’s past and of the lives of others in the hotel; friendships to last 30 years; and plenty of sarcasm. But don’t expect that this is similar to Amor Towles’ excellent RULES OF CIVILITY.

Frankly, I read A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW because I loved RULES OF CIVILITY. They aren’t alike; A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW is better.

I received my copy of A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW from

The Middlesteins: A Novel by Jami Attenberg
Book Club Recommended
Unconvincing, Confusing, Interesting

I didn't like this book but others in my book group did. The discussion was quite lively. So I suppose I should recommend it for a book groups.

Here and Gone: A Novel by Haylen Beck
Book Club Recommended
HERE AND GONE is what I call a “grabber”

HERE AND GONE is what I call a “grabber.” In the first chapters, you’ll want to know what is happening. Then, at about the halfway point, this book will grab your attention so tightly you will want to read late into the night.

Audra and her two children are traveling cross-country when they are stopped by a local Arizona sheriff. He plants evidence, says he suspects her of a crime, and arrests her. A deputy arrives to take the children to “a safe place.” Audra is put in jail and awaits a hearing.

I wasn’t happy with these chapters. The whole situation with Audra and the sheriff is too frustrating (she isn’t as smart as her 11-year-old son), and child abduction is too horrible. But the chapters are short and necessary to the story.

Next are chapters about Danny, the kind of person he is, and how he came to be that way. His child, too, was abducted in much the same way as Audra is claiming.

These chapters are necessary setup. Again, they are short.

After that, while HERE AND GONE is somewhat predictable, it is still a grabber. But this review will not take away from your enjoyment of this book by providing anymore details. It grabbed me because I didn’t read reviews.

I won this book through

Addictive, Dramatic, Adventurous
mystery depends on alcohol and drugs

Now I’ve read another of these selections, THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10. I’m afraid it’s just so-so, no great shakes. But others disagree with me.

Many reviewers say that THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 is better than Ruth Ware’s last book, IN A DARK, DARK WOOD. That is true if you don’t count the first two thirds of CABIN 10. The last third of that book is, indeed, nailbiting. And that is good enough for most reviewer’s, I guess.

All in all, though, I would say that CABIN 10 is about average. If the entire book was as good as the last third, I would give it a four out of five.

The mystery depends on alcohol and drugs. What a disappointment!

The Breakdown: A Novel by B. A. Paris
Addictive, Dramatic
Maybe Yes, Maybe No

If you expect, as I did, that Paris’s THE BREAKDOWN is an improvement on her last book, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, I would say, yes and no. The two books have in common a husband who appears to be deeply in love with and devoted to his poor, unsuspecting wife. After that, THE BREAKDOWN is better or worse than BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, depending on how you feel about the latter. I thought THE BREAKDOWN was better AND worse.

In THE BREAKDOWN, the wife, Cass, is concerned about both a murderer on the loose near her home and her forgetfulness. She and her husband, Matthew, fear she is suffering from early onset dementia. But this book isn't sickening as is BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, which is so sickening in the cruelty of the husband that I had to put it down frequently.

However, most of THE BREAKDOWN is an enumeration of the seeming symptoms (forgetfulness and paranoia) of Cass’s breakdown. It gets tedious.

Worse, THE BREAKDOWN is predictable. It is so predictable, I knew right from the beginning who was pulling tricks on whom. So most of what happened made me angry that the character could not see what was so clear to me.

If you like stories about rotten marriages, maybe you’ll like this. I sure didn’t.

Book Club Recommended
Unanswered questions could lead to lots of discussion

ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS has many five-star reviews. Perhaps that’s because the writing style and the first-person narrator’s voice are so engaging. I enjoyed reading this in large part because of Mastai’s writing; it reminds me of Harlan Coben’s style.

But I disagree that ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS is worthy of five stars. Why?

You could say the first third of the book is downright boring. It is at least putdownable. The second third, however, is much better. So I had high expectations of the last third. But it is "eh"—except for the narrator, Tom. I loved him.

Tom claims that ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS is not a novel but a memoir of his experience traveling to an alternate 2016. He claims that the 2016 he comes from is the right one and the alternate, our 2016, is wrong.

So Tom attempts to convince us of this by, first, describing the right 2016. It doesn’t sound that great to me except the part about no war. But he never adequately explains why a machine that generates lots of energy leads to peace all over the world. This is one of several questions I have about this book that are not adequately explained.

Could it be that Tom thinks his first 2016 is the superior one because it is the first one? The first anything seen as the best is one of the many subjects he ponders.

But the alternate 2016, the one we live in, is the 2016 that Tom is happiest in even though he sees it as the wrong 2016, full of corruption, wars, dirty politics, etc. So another quandary: is it fair, he wonders, that the world is stuck with the wrong 2016 when he has the power to switch back to the right 2016?

This isn’t a bad book. But its putdownable beginning and the unanswered questions I have about the story downgrade its rating from five to three stars. But I give it four stars because it will generate lots of discussion in book groups.

The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic
combines fact and fiction

THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER is a perfect combination of fact and fiction. While presenting actual “events [that] are forgotten footnotes in the history of the Second World War,” Brian Payton tells a story of two people who might have been caught up in them.

In this excellent, unputdownable novel, John Easley is a journalist who was in the Territory of Alaska when the Japanese bombed a naval base and an army base on islands there. Although the U.S. government orders all press corps out of Alaska, ensuring that civilians are mostly unaware that the war has come to the U.S., John feels they have a right to know and it is his duty to sneak his way back in. On his third try, he gets in and then accompanies an aircrew running sorties over the Japanese-occupied village of Attu. The plane crashes. What a mix of fact and fiction!

THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER continues to mix fact with fiction as it tells, in alternating chapters, the stories of John’s survival while he evades enemy detection and of his wife Helen’s determination to find him.

This book truly grabbed me. Wherever I went, whatever I was doing, THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER was with me until I finished reading it. I not only enjoyed John’s and Helen’s stories; I also learned of this attack on the U.S. that the government mostly succeeded in keeping quiet.

This novel gets my highest rating. I didn’t want it to end so read the Acknowledgments and the Author’s Note to put it off.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Confusing, Addictive, Dark
A Good Try

INTO THE WATER is complex the way the best thrillers are. Various mysteries are going on, all interrelated, resulting in a smooth storyline.

* Why does Jules hate her sister Nel?
* Did Nel commit suicide or was she murdered?
* Are Nickie’s accounts of murder reliable or is she just a nut?
* Why did Katie, a 15-year-old girl who seemed to have everything going for her, commit a most unlikely suicide?
* Are Nel’s stories of all the women throughout history who have jumped or been thrown into the river fact or fiction?
* Why does Patrick maintain the cottage by the river? What went on at this site?
* What is Lena hiding that might give more insight to the reason Katie would commit suicide?
* Why does Helen have Nel’s bracelet? Does this mean she murdered Nel?
* And why has the river that runs through Beckford been the scene of the suicides or murders of so many women there? Why is it alluring?

These are only some of the mysteries going on in this book.

This complexity is good. But don’t expect INTO THE WATER to be like Paula Hawkins’ other novel, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. They’re not alike at all. That is not only in storyline. While I criticized THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, I also admitted that it is unputdownable at times. INTO THE WATER isn’t, ever.

Partly that is because most chapters of INTO THE WATER are first-person, some third-person, accounts, each by one of the characters in the story. While the book thus moves along, you may find, as I did, that this becomes an exercise in memorization. There are so many characters, each with his or her own viewpoint and mysteries, that I spent most of the book trying to keep them all straight and remember who did and said what. Many times I had to page back to previous chapters to remind myself.

INTO THE WATER is a good try. But, probably, readers who liked THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN will be disappointed in INTO THE WATER

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Interesting

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich went to Harvard Law School, although she didn’t practice law long before she began writing full time. The title THE FACT OF A BODY, though, is based on something she learned as a first-year law student: (as I understand it and in my words, not hers) we have the fact of a child’s dead body. But where does the explanation, the story, for that dead body begin? Does it begin with that child entering his friend’s home and then being strangled? Or should the story begin sooner? A year sooner? Thirty years? Maybe even before the person who caused the death was born?

So Marzano-Lesnevich tells the story of both a murder and what led to the murder. That is, we learn of the murderer’s life and we learn, because this may be relevant, what happened before the murderer was born, even the circumstances of his mother’s pregnancy.

Should the story go back that far? Two different juries had to decide.

Interrmingled with these chapters about the murder and the murderer are chapters about Marzano-Lesnevich’s own life with a family that kept secrets in a home that was full of both pain and love. Throughout the book she compares her experiences and the inactions of her family members to the murderer and his story.

These comparisons are a stretch. Of course, pedophiles can be compared to each other. But it seems, to make that a book-length comparison, Marzano-Lesnevich compares her family members to the murderer’s.

These are the parts of the book that bored me. When Marzano-Lesnevich tries to compare her family life and the murderer’s, she seems to be trying too hard to make the two separate stories go together. Her effort is book length, though.

But THE FACT OF A BODY is probably TOO long. Worse than that, the book is haphazard, with both stories told first in one year, then another, sometimes back, sometimes back further, sometimes forward, up, over, etc. (“Up” and “over” are how it felt.)

Marzano-Lesnevich put together a book that might hove worked better if she left the comparison to her grandfather and the murderer. She could also cut out much of her irrelevant family life and try to keep to a timeline that is easier for the reader to keep track of.

Yet, this would be a good book for a book club. It would lead to lots of discussion and some may like it more than I did. This book already has plenty of great reviews.

I won an advance readers copy of THE FACT OF A BODY from the publisher, Flatiron Books.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Informative
Historical Thriller About the Dreyfus Affair

AN OFFICER AND A SPY is historical fiction about the "Dreyfus affair," which is the tragedy that occurred in France during the 1890s when a man in the French army was falsely convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment at Devils Island. The story is told in first person by the officer, Georges Picquart, who discovered the error and tried to convince his superiors that Alfred Dreyfus was innocent.

After the original trial, Picquart had access to the documents that convicted Dreyfus. Picquart found in the secret files forgeries and handwriting that matched another suspect's. But the more he made his superiors aware of this, the worse they treated him.

This is, essentially, what Part 1 of AN OFFICER AND A SPY is about. Then Part 2 is unputdownable as Dreyfus is retried and Picquart strives to prove his own innocence and re-enter the army.

Just don't forget that, although this book is fiction, it is based on facts. And facts are not always pleasant. One gross injustice is piled upon another and another and another. That can make it hard to get through some of Part 1. But Part 2 is engrossing.

Part 1 of AN OFFICER AND A SPY gets tedious so is easily put down. I would give it three stars. But Part 2 is definitely worth five stars, making this a four-star book.

Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Beautiful, Insightful
when I got to the end of this long book, I didn’t want it to end

Although I haven’t read John Boyne’s other books so can’t speak for them, his THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES is truly a winner, some will even call it wonderful. Coming from me, this is a compliment you can believe.

This book is partly a coming-of-age novel. If this type bores you, as it does me, you’re in for a surprise. Boyne’s dialog (and THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES is packed with it) is so enjoyable, so clever, I promise, you won’t be bored.

I’m not sure if Boyne exaggerates when he describes Ireland in the 20th century or of Catholic priests there. The book begins in the 1940s when a 16-year-old Catherine is denounced by a Catholic priest in front of her church’s congregation, including her family. She is thrown out of her small village, and Catherine travels, penniless and pregnant, to Dublin.

So begins the life of Cyril, Catherine’s son. We meet him when he is 7 years old and follow his life in seven-year increments thereafter.

Throughout THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES, Boyne seems to exaggerate. All Catholic priests in Ireland are cruel, Cyril’s adoptive parents are ultra-distant and insist he realizes that distance, his father and his father’s lawyer invite a jury for dinner, etc. But Boyne’s greatest seeming exaggeration in this book is 20th-century Ireland’s treatment of homosexuality. I say “seeming” because he probably doesn’t exaggerate there.

So it turns out that this book is about growing up through adulthood as a homosexual male in 20th- and 21st-century Ireland. Again, this subject may bore you, as it usually does me. It may even put you off. But in this case it won’t do either.

Boyne is such a skillful writer, he won me over, even with put-offish subjects. THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES is the best kind of long book: when I got to the end, I didn’t want it to end. Now I want to read his other books.


Defectors: A Novel by Joseph Kanon
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Informative

All of Joseph Kanon's books are intelligent literary thrillers/historical fiction, and every one is great. But his latest book, DEFECTORS, is outstanding.

In 1961 a publisher, Simon, travels to the Soviet Union to edit the "memoir" of a former US citizen who defected to Russia in 1949--his brother, Frank. "Memoir" is in quotation marks because the truth of that book is suspect. The truth of anything Frank says is suspect.

So, when Frank tells Simon he wants to return to the US but can only do so with his help, Simon is on his guard but cannot refuse.

I will spare you further details so you can enjoy discovering them on your own. And you will.

Partly, that's because every word counts in this novel. Kanon never goes on and on with unnecessary descriptions, tempting his readers to skim, as so many authors do. Kanon never wastes his readers' time.

If I had to pick my favorite of all Kanon's previous books, it would probably be THE GOOD GÈRMAN. DEFECTORS ranks right up there with that book and may even surpass it.

Since We Fell: A Novel by Dennis Lehane
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Adventurous, Dramatic
Old Lehane is back

The old Dennis Lehane is back. Thank goodness SINCE WE FELL is not another of his historical mafia books. Looks like he’s done with those.

But SINCE WE FELL doesn’t begin like one of Lehane’s older novels. The first half of this book is a study of Rachel, the main character. It does not grip the reader almost immediately, as you might have expected of Lehane before his mafia books.

Instead, we learn of Rachel’s discontent with her mother, who refuses to tell Rachel who her father is/was. Eventually, Rachel looks for him on her own. This leads to her initial meeting with Brian, a supposed private detective, who refuses to take her money for a job he knows he can’t do.

We also learn a lot more about Rachel, maybe more than we need to know sometimes. For various reasons, though, she is frequently afflicted with panic attacks. They disrupt her life so much that she becomes almost totally housebound.

The second half of SINCE WE FELL is Lehane as we used to expect. Now we come to know Brian better. Is he all that he seems? Who is he, really?

There’s more plot to the second half. But the character study in the first half is what makes the book more than a plot-driven thriller.

I Found You: A Novel by Lisa Jewell
Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Dark, Dramatic
A Safe Place to Start

If you haven't read a book by Lisa Jewell yet, I FOUND YOU is a safe bet to start with. This book was my introduction to Jewell, and believe it, it's unputdownable.

The story begins when Allison notices a man sitting on the beach in the rain. She befriends him. He has lost his memory so does not know who he is or where he comes from. Her child has dubbed him "Frank."

Then other chapters tell the story of a young woman, Lily, who has married an older man who has suddenly gone missing.With his friend, Lily searches for him.

Obviously, these are the same story.

And so it continues from different viewpoints. But we also see what happened in 1993. So now we wonder: who is this man who has lost his memory? Is he good, or is he a murderer? We have the advantage of knowing both Frank's snatches of recovered memories and Lily's few discoveries.

I thoroughly enjoyed I FOUND YOU. Plot-driven novels can be shallow, but this is an exceptionally good one.

I received an ARC of this book through

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Insightful, Epic, Romantic
Fiction That May Cause Hard Feelings in Book Club

AMERICAN WIFE is fiction. Be sure to remember that, although the American wife in AMERICAN WIFE is based on Laura Bush. Just remember that she really is a character of Curtis Sittenfeld’s imagination. Then you may enjoy the book properly because you understand what it really is.

This book is mostly a soap opera. That should not put you off. After all, I call Tolstoy’s ANNA KARENINA a soap opera.

Just like a soap opera, AMERICAN WIFE takes time to get into, to grab you and make you care. So the chapters describing Alice’s (Laura’s) childhood and adolescence can be boring, as it was for me. But later, particularly when she becomes first lady, her first-person accounts are absorbing.

Because Alice tells her own story, she is also able to ruminate and does so frequently. The story does not progress during these times when she tells you what she really thinks and feels. This is when you need to be most conscious that Alice is a figment of Sittenfeld’s imagination.

Unconvincing, Boring
Simple mystery

is not what it claims to be, a novel of suspense. It is a mystery, yes. But suspenseful? Not really.

This book begins with a young woman, Maggie, visiting a doll maker/repairer, Sorrel. When Sorrel lays her eyes on Maggie's doll, she insists repeatedly that Maggie tell her where she got it.

The story actually began 40 years before the book does. Elisabeth and Janey, Sorrel's seven- and four-year-old daughters, were outside playing. When Elisabeth ran off to follow a puppy, Janey disappeared. Neither she nor her doll were ever found again until Maggie appeared with the doll 40 years later.

Now Elisabeth is an adult. She lives with her mother and has an adult child of her own. Together they try to find Janey or at least find out what happened to her, but the various mysteries they encounter lack suspense. Partly that is because they are predictable. Also, the book reads like a young adult novel. As an adult, I feel beyond that. So I was bored.

I won this book through

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Romantic
A Pleasure to Read

What a pleasure THE STARS ARE FIRE is to read! This book, although not a thriller, is so full of suspense, it is unputdownable and will keep you reading until late at night.

The great fire in Maine in 1947 really happened. The book's descriptions of causes and effects are fact. The story of Grace and her children could have been real.

Before the fire Grace feels trapped in a loveless marriage with Gene, although they both love their two small children. When the fire spreads out of control, Gene has been helping a group of men trying to prevent the fire’s spread to their homes. He is one of many who go missing. Now Grace and her children are homeless, they have no money, and their source of income is gone. Now, also, Grace does not know whether her missing husband is dead or just using the fire as an excuse to leave his family.

All Grace can do is wait. In the meantime, she does what she has to do to take care of her family, including her mother. She also becomes involved with men, both far better than her husband. You'll wish for an easy outcome. But no book as good as this one ever takes the easy route.

I found a new author. Anita Shreve is new to me, and I’m so impressed with her writing. Now I want to read her backlist of books.


The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Book Club Recommended
Pointless, Unconvincing, Insightful
Observations of Reactions

THE LEFTOVERS is about the lives of people in one small town after millions of people all over the world suddenly disappeared. Many people think it was "the rapture," the belief among some Christian religions that all Christian believers will rise into the sky and join Christ before the end of the world. Rather than "the rapture," others call this the "sudden departure" because the phenomenon was random, i.e., it involved non-Christians as well as Christians.

The town is full of different reactions: cults develop and some people join them. Others are full of guilt or are upset because they, too, were not taken. One woman in town lost her entire family, and she sometimes seems to be the most confused of all. Many people in the town, people like Kevin, the Mayor, and his daughter Jill, have not decided what happened, but they want to get back to their lives as they were before. They have varying degrees of success.

This is a thought-provoking book. If I lost someone like this, if they just up and disappeared, would I figure they were gone forever? Or would I keep the faith that they might come back, that they could suddenly reappear just as they suddenly disappeared?

I did not want THE LEFTOVERS to end. Even so, I've decided that it's a 4-star novel, not 5. Why?

Although its observations about the human condition, all the possible reactions to life-changing events, is well written and right on, although this book is a page turner, it didn't grab me the way 5-star novels have. It kept me expecting something more.

All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve
Book Club Recommended
a story of obsession

ALL HE EVER WANTED is a story of obsession. It is fiction written in the form of a memoir by a man who had been obsessed with his wife.

I felt sorry for this man, Nicholas, for about the first two thirds of the book. I forgave him his faults when (as I see from previous reviews I’ve read) others did not because it was apparent to me that this memoir is Nicholas’s confession. He now sees his errors and is sorry. Later, though, I wondered: is Nicholas sorry because of what he had done or does he just feel sorry for himself.

Throughout ALL HE EVER WANTED, Nicholas gives hints of the outcome. Even so, this “memoir” is unpredictable. I didn’t know, while I read the last third of the book, why he was writing this. Was it meant to be a memoir, a confession, or a justification for bad acts.

I’m afraid that some other reviewers gave this book a low rating because they found the narrator/main character to be despicable. As I see it, Anita Shreve’s INTENTION was to, first, show what a sap Nicholas was and, later, horrify the reader with Nicholas’s actions. I don’t rate a book on the likability of its characters.

Book Club Recommended
Difficult, Brilliant, Pointless
FOURTH OF JULY CREEK is about much more than Fourth of July Creek

What a great book! I’m not alone in thinking this, either: since FOURTH OF JULY CREEK was published in 2014, it has won numerous awards.

But, right up front, I want to say I have two issues with this book: its genre and its title.

I do not agree with the genre the book is classified under (at least at my library), Mystery and Suspense. To call it that is a stretch. Although part of FOURTH OF JULY CREEK wonders what became of a family, that is only a part. The book is literature more than it is mystery and suspense.

And FOURTH OF JULY CREEK is about more than Fourth of July Creek.

The book centers on Pete Snow, a social worker in Montana. Fourth of July Creek has to do with one of his cases that begins with the discovery of a filthy and somewhat wild boy, Benjamin Pearl, who lives in the wilderness with his father, Jeremiah, a paranoid man, suspicious of everyone, always afraid that his freedom is threatened.

Pete seeks to gain their trust so they will accept his help and, in so doing, learns the Pearl family also consists of a wife and several more children. Where are they?

But that is just one of Pete’s cases featured in FOURTH OF JULY CREEK. Also, issues in his own life make up half the book, with a runaway daughter who resorts to prostitution because she thinks she is maintaining her freedom and a brother who is evading prison.

All the parts of FOURTH OF JULY CREEK, Pete's social work and his personal issues, have in common the desire for freedom.

Smith Henderson is an author I’ll be watching for. His writing is brilliant, a word that may be overused but, in this case, is applicable.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Romantic, Dramatic
Suspicions and Suspense

Although I liked this book very much, as did everyone but one person in my book club, Daphne du Maurier did not outshine herself, i.e., her book REBECCA, which she wrote in 1938, is better than MY COUSIN RACHEL, which she wrote many years later, in 1951.

This story is told in first person by Philip, who is first concerned for his sick cousin Ambrose and his mistreatment by the woman he married, another cousin, Rachel. Twenty-four-year-old Philip hates Rachel, sight unseen. But after his cousin dies, Philip quickly and immaturely falls in love with her and gives her everything he inherited from Ambrose in spite of Ambrose's letters of discontent.

Throughout MY COUSIN RACHEL are displays of Philip's immature pining after Rachel and Rachel's suspect behavior. Suspicions fill this book and even end it. Different readers have different understandings of it.

Book Club Recommended
Slow, Unconvincing, Interesting
Depressing becomes unputdownable

Although the first third of THE PILOT'S WIFE is depressing, it is so well written you won't want to give up on the book. Then it becomes unputdownable.

Kathryn's husband, a commercial airline pilot, is killed when his jet explodes over Ireland. So most of the beginning involves her dealings with the airline union and newspaper and TV reporters. She almost comes to depend on one union representative, Robert, in particular.

When Kathryn finds small clues that something suspicious may have been going on with her husband in England, THE PILOT'S WIFE becomes so suspenseful you may not want to eat or sleep until you finish reading it.

Anita Shreve is known for her portrayals of strong women. And Kathryn sure is that. She lives through a nightmare that keeps getting worse.

This was written pre-9/11. I wonder if the story would have been different 10 years later.

No more Angie, please

THE KEPT WOMAN is the eighth in Karin Slaughter's Will Trent series. I also read the first book (Triptych) in this series. Although I've read and enjoyed some of Slaughter's books outside this series, I won't be reading the other six books in this series.

Here's the simple reason why: Will Trent and his series concentrate too much on Angie Polanski. And that aggravates me.

Polanski is Trent's wife but not in the normal sense. She flits in and out of his life, and she just causes trouble. So how can such a character last? Yet seven books later, here she still is.

Trent is with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He is investigating a case of apparent murder, with a couple of unidentified bodies. Throughout THE KEPT WOMAN it appears that Polanski is dead, then it doesn't, then it does, then it doesn't.

Will this series ever be rid of her?

I love Slaughter's writing and am anxious to read more of her books. But she has taken this Angie-Polanski-the-ball-buster theme too far. I'm sick of reading about her.

I won this book through

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative
Real Science and Historically Correct Story

I’m so impressed! Amy Rogers keeps getting better. In the past I’ve likened her books to Michael Crichton’s. Now I compare THE HAN AGENT to Richard Preston’s fiction (THE COBRA EVENT), an even greater compliment .

First, the Han agent is not a person. Think chemistry.

An ambitious Japanese-American scientist, Amika, is hired by a pharmaceutical company in Japan. The members of the family who own the company descend from World War II war criminals who were in the process of devising a chemical agent to obliterate the Han Chinese when the war ended and they had to pack up and leave. But Amika is sure all that is in the past, that the family should not have to pay for “the sins of the father.” So she gets along with them, particularly her boss, even when things begin to look suspicious.

As in Rogers’ other books, the science here is real. But THE HAN AGENT is also, for the most part, historically correct. That’s what makes this book better than her previous books.

Final Girls: A Novel by Riley Sager
Dramatic, Addictive, Dark
It could have worked

It could have worked well. The last few chapters of FINAL GIRLS are a surprise. It’s structure, divulging the past little by little while characters in the present deal with the aftermath, each in her own way, has worked well in other novels.

So why doesn’t FINAL GIRLS deserve a high rating?

The first third of this novel is nothing but an introduction, first to Quincy’s hellish past, her run through the woods into the arms of a policeman, then to her seemingly normal present. It drags.

Then Tina/Sam enters the picture. Tina/Sam comes across as a suspicious person. Now FINAL GIRLS doesn’t drag as much. But Tina/Sam and Quincy do so much, while Jeff, Quincy’s live-in boyfriend, sleeps through it all. It is so unlikely.

The story progresses. Quincy learns more and more about Tina/Sam and the other final girls. It gets good. But the end is too neat and leaves me unhappy with its improbability.

I won FINAL GIRLS from

Local Girl Missing: A Novel by Claire Douglas
Unsatisfying Mystery

LOCAL GIRL MISSING has all the right ingredients for a great mystery. More than one mystery is going on simultaneously. Each mystery presents many possibilities and keeps the reader guessing. Although the reader might guess the end before the end, it won't be a sure thing because of so many alternatives.

In spite of all the right ingredients, though, it isn't a satisfying mystery for this reader. The story is questionable in several places.

Frankie goes back to the town she grew up in to investigate the death of Sofie, who had been Frankie's best friend when she lived there, at the request of Sofie's brother, Daniel. Sofie had died 18 years ago, and the police just now found a foot wearing what may be Sofie's tennis shoe. This suddenly makes Daniel believe she was murdered.

That is the first questionable area. If I were Frankie, I'd ask Daniel, why now after 18 years does he think this can be investigated as a murder. It wouldn't have convinced me to go back there.

I also have a few other questions, such as why did Sofie not tell Leon what she morally should have told him? But they would be spoilers. And I don't do that.

The point is, though, this wouldn't have happened except on paper. Frankie wouldn't have gone back to that town, and Sophie would be with Leon in England.

I won an ARC of LOCAL GIRL MISSING through

The Wife Between Us: A Novel by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Addictive, Dramatic

If you, like me, dislike romance novels or even romantic thrillers, I promise, THE WIFE BETWEEN US is neither. Although it does describe a love triangle, it doesn't exactly. It seems the ex-wife is stalking and terrorizing the girlfriend, but then it doesn't.

No one in this book is as they first seem. It will feel like you are constantly having to revise your understanding of people and events. As a matter of fact, halfway through the book you may want to stop and reread everything you have read so far.

And it won't seem that you are reading a romance novel, promise.

I won an ARC of this book from St. Martin's Press.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
A true mystery and detective story

This is a detective story, and it’s a mystery, and it’s true. Steve Luxenberg, a journalist, investigates the life of the aunt he never knew or knew of and the secret his mother kept to her dying day.

Luxenberg hears it first from his sister. Now adults, both their parents dead, it seems their mother, Beth, had a sister, Annie, who they had never heard of. And so begin the mysteries: Did Beth really have a sister? Why had she kept this secret? What was Annie’s story?

So he takes time off work at the WASHINGTON POST to investigate. He lays it out in chronological order, and the reader follows as he learns that, yes, Beth did have a sister named Annie who lived in an insane asylum in Detroit for more than 30 years until her death. And they never knew. But who did? Why was Annie left there, and why didn’t Beth want anyone to know?

ANNIE’S GHOSTS is so interesting, even mesmerizing. I’m glad I read it and only wish I had when it was named a Michigan Notable Book in 2009.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Informative
This book won me over

Before I review THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO US, you should know my attitude going in: I resisted reading it. I had read the THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY and did not like it. So I did not want to read another book written by Annie Barrows. But Barrows had really been a co-author of GUERNSEY, whereas she is the sole author of THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO US. And what a difference that makes!

It's 1938 and Layla has come to the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia, to write a book on the history of that town. She rents a room from a once prominent family in Macedonia, including 12-year-old Willa. Willa adores her father and wants to learn everything about him.

So while Layla investigates and discovers Macedonia and writes her book, Willa sneaks.

I read THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO US only because my bookclub was reading it. But it won me over with its snappy dialogue and its different perspectives on what Layla and Willa find.

Addictive, Fantastic, Adventurous

PINES is The first of trilogy. It is definitely a nailbiter, and you'll enjoy it if you read the entire trilogy. But just this one book is not good enough for a book group.

After a secret service agent is in a car accident and regains consciousness in a small town, he can only think of returning to his wife and son in Seattle. But, for some reason, no one in the town wants him to leave, and when he tries to escape, he finds there is no way out.

The limited-time TV series, "Wayward Pines," was based on this trilogy. Probably, if you haven't already seen the TV series, you'll enjoy the books more. I base that opinion, though, on my own preference for reading the book before I see the TV show or movie. You may feel differently because the books and the TV show are not exactly the same.

Penguinization: it may make you cry

Everyone knows that a well written book about an animal will make you cry or at least come darned close to it. And THE PENGUIN LESSONS is that good. That's fair warning.

Tom, an adventurous young man who grew up in the English countryside, has secured a job as a teacher in Argentina. He spends his breaks traveling as much of South America as he can afford. It is during one such break in Uruguay that he comes across hundreds of dead penguins on a beach. They had been victims of an oil spill.

But, wait, did he see one of the penguins making small movements? He comes closer. Yes. He picks up the penguin, decides to clean it up, and there begins his story of Juan Salvador, his pet penguin.

This is a small book, and it is a quick read. What it lacks in characterization, it makes up for in penguinization.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Interesting
More Praise

The reason fiction is often preferable to nonfiction is that nonfiction tends to read like a textbook. Not so with HILLBILLY ELEGY, J.D. Vance’s own story of his life as and among Appalachian hillbillies and his analysis of the hillbilly culture. Vance has already received so much praise for this book, it seems unnecessary to heap on more. But I am.

Even though HILLBILLY ELEGY isn’t like a textbook, you’ll learn from it and take something away from it. In my case, this book contributes to my understanding of some of the people around me. Although I am not from the South, many hillbillies have migrated north and west for better jobs. The people I know are their children and their children’s children in Michigan and Arizona. I see some of what Vance describes.

I won’t give my interpretation of what Vance says. That would not be fair to what he wrote here or to your understanding of it.

Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin
Beautiful, Insightful, Slow
Well written, but not much happens

I haven’t seen the movie based on BROOKLYN. How can they do it unless they rewrite the screenplay?

BROOKLYN starts in Ireland. Eilis is a young lady with no job prospects or male companionship. She moves to America (Brooklyn, specifically) when she is assured that her job prospects there, at least, will be better. What I just said in 2 sentences, Colm Tóibín says slooowly in more than 50 pages. Then he tells us about Eilis’s simple life working and going to school in Brooklyn.

That’s the problem. Although BROOKLYN is well written, not much happens in it. And what does happen is slow and so-whatish. There’s nothing here that makes you anxious to turn the pages, not even the love interest. Sure, when the story is almost over and about 1/10 of it is left, you may find yourself rooting for someone, but, in the end, even that is pretty ho hum.

I’m anxious to see what the movie does with BROOKLYN.

The Hush: A Novel by John Hart
Dramatic, Interesting, Addictive
If it's not broke, don't fix it

Because John Hart's first five novels are all excellent, I trust him to write a winner every time. So I had high expectations for THE HUSH, his sixth.

If you've read Hart's THE LAST CHILD, you will be familiar with the characters and setting in THE HUSH, although it can be read as a standalone novel. Jack and Johnny are no longer teenagers; it is now 10 years later.

Sometimes, as usual, Hart's writing shines. But with THE HUSH, he has tried a new genre, fantasy. And it doesn't work for me.

Johnny now lives in Hush Arbor, which is magic. Sometimes the magic is good and sometimes it is evil. Police are convinced that he is murdering trespassers who mysteriously die on his property.

Jack is now a lawyer trying to defend Johnny. Jack is very smart, but he is having a hard time understanding all this magic.

John Hart, please leave the fantasy writing to other authors like Stephen King. You were on a roll with your first five novels. If it's not broke, don't fix it.

Little Auction Annie by Marcie Cornett
Optimistic, Fun
A Delight for Young Adults

What a delightful little book!

LITTLE AUCTION ANNIE by Marcie Cornett is about a recent college graduate, Annie, who has earned a degree in interior design. She inherits an old home and decides to not only live in it but also use it as a showcase for her design talent. So she starts hitting up auctions in her pursuit of furniture, drapes, utensils, etc. for her home.

Descriptions are detailed and should interest a young adult who has considered an interior design career. Plus the story is fun and even includes a little love interest.

This book is delightful in large part because, at a time when so many books, even the best of them, include sex and foul language, LITTLE AUCTION ANNIE doesn't. Instead, it only hints at them while still managing to convey its story.

I'm not sure that this is appropriate for a book club, though. Its subject is too simple and quick to encourage much discussion.

Home by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Interesting, Dramatic
Coben never disappoints

Even if you normally prefer character-driven novels, Harlan Coben's novels should be the exception. His are plot driven, but, oh, those stories! They're witty without being comedic and so smart you'll wonder how Coben thinks of these things. Best: the beginnings grab you from page 1, and the solutions to the mysteries are always a surprise.

That describes all Coben's novels but his Myron Bolitar series in particular. And HOME is a return to this long-neglected series.

Win's cousin's young son and his friend were kidnapped 10 years ago when they were 6 years old. One of the boys suddenly appears in London, England. Once again, Myron Bolitar and his best friend Win take on criminals, creeps, and normal people in extraordinary circumstances. And, again, every time you think you've figured them out, you haven't.

My Coben novels are on a bookshelf alongside other "C" authors such as Cather, Cohen, and Cooper. But unlike those authors' books, ALL of Coben's books are there. He's never disappointed me.

Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Interesting, Fun
Riveting Literary thriller

Chris Bohjalian's THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT is a riveting literary thriller. That is an understatement. It's the best kind of book: the kind you can't put down so you put off doing anything else, including sleeping.

The main character, Cassandra, is the flight attendant. She sleeps around with strange men, and she is a raging alcoholic. She disgusts even hersèlf. But that isn't enough to make her stop.

As a result, she wakes up one morning with a dead man. And her problems keep escalating daily from there.

Although Cassandra is an unsympathetic character, she does redeem herself in my eyes. She cares for cats in an animal shelter every chance she gets. Besides that, she watches reruns of "The Big Bang Theory."

I read an advanced copy of this book. It's a safe bet for preorder.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Epic, Brilliant
Read this historical fiction

So far, I've read nine Chris Bohjalian novels (including his latest, THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT, coming in March 2018). Some have been historical fiction, some suspense/thrillers, all literary. I've been impressed by every one. For example, his 2008 SKELETONS AT THE FEAST. This book is another great one.

SKELETONS AT THE FEAST is historical fiction. It is not exactly based on the diary of Bohjalian's friend's grandmother, in particular, the part that describes her 1945 terrifying journey, beginning where she lived in East Prussia, westward to escape the Soviet army. As Bohjalian said, this novel had its origins in this diary.

Near the end of World War II, 18-year-old Ann, her mother, her little brother, and the Scottish POW who has been working on their farm in East Prussia begin such a journey. Along their way to what is now West Germany (to, they hope, the American and British lines), a German soldier joins their group, or so they are led to believe. This newcomer is actually a Jewish man wearing a German uniform.

At the same time, another story is also going on, that of a group of Jewish women under the control of sadistic guards in a concentration camp. Eventually they, too, travel west by foot.

Although each of these two groups lives under terrible conditions, with their lives constantly at risk, it is the description of the Jewish women that is difficult to read.

But do yourself a favor and read this historical fiction that you may not have known about. Bohjalian's novels don't disappoint.

The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens
Slow, Boring
Mystery that lacks suspense and is not a thriller

This book has a great mysterious-sounding title. And THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING really is a mystery. But it lacks suspense and is not a thriller.

You might want to finish reading this just to find out what the main character discovers. But his process of discovery may bore you.

Nutshell: A Novel by Ian McEwan
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Interesting, Difficult
Lovely Language in This Literary Fiction

Ian McEwan writes beautiful sentences, the kind that make you want to reread them because they’re so well crafted. That’s why I’ve read all his books. Some have more interesting plots than others, but all are lovely.

NUTSHELL is one of those with an interesting plot in addition to lovely language. (Yes, it’s English but lovely English.) Still, I can’t believe McEwan was brave enough to attempt this.

A couple, Trudy and Claude, live in disgusting squalor in a home worth millions of dollars. The home belongs to Trudy’s husband John, who is also Claude’s brother. Trudy is nine months pregnant with John’s baby. As Trudy and Claude devise a plan to murder John, the baby is listening.

If you are familiar with McEwan, I’m sure you can imagine that the baby does more than listen. The baby wants to thwart the plan, of course. But he really cannot do much more than ruminate. And McEwan is so good at ruminating! But he bravely has the baby think about what he cannot see and cannot know. Sometimes it tests your willing suspension of disbelief.

Typical of McEwan, NUTSHELL is short. The story takes place in a couple of days.

Black Out: A Novel by Lisa Unger
Somewhere Between a Great Book and a Stinker

Lisa Unger has written some great books and she’s written some stinkers. BLACK OUT is somewhere in between.

Ophelia grew up with unloving parents. Her father was mostly absent, both physically and mentally, and her mother seemed too stupid and selfish to be able to love her. As a result, Ophelia became unhinged, mentally ill. And it got worse while she willingly and unwillingly accompanied a murderer through several states. She was traumatized and unable to save herself.

Now Ophelia is Annie. She is happily married and has a child. (Speaking of which, both Ophelia/Annie and her mother pick names for their children like most people pick names for their pets. Victory?) Her mental illness, seemingly, continues.

Because I love this type of book, mystery/suspense/thriller, I often must have a willing suspension of disbelief. But BLACK OUT asks for too much. Why were Ophelia/Annie and her husband so duped? This is never adequately explained, at least not enough to suit me.

Worse, though, are the loose ends, Ophelia/Annie’s friend Ella and the detective. Who was Ella? Why is the detective there and suddenly not? No answers, just possibilities.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Slow
Cannot speak highly enough of this book

This review of WE ARE NOT OURSELVES is a test of my writing skill: how can I speak highly enough about this book? It’s not a mystery/thriller, usually the genre that can be riveting, yet I was stuck on this book. I even skipped dinner for it and read late into the night.

But this is not a feel-good book, either. From about the halfway point, every page is emotional. You won’t want to rush through a single one.

Yes, you can say that WE ARE NOT OURSELVES is about an Irish-American woman from the time she was a little girl. The book begins by painting the background of Eileen. But I could not tell its purpose and was afraid, at first, that the entire book would be nothing but incidences about her life.

That type of book does not tell a story. Rather, it is a book of short stories connected by a character(s).

WE ARE NOT OURSELVES more than redeems itself as Eileen grows and begins her own family. You will see later how necessary is is that you know that background.

You will also see that WE ARE NOT OURSELVES is about much more than Eileen. She and her family face what so many families are confronted with. And no one does it perfectly.

I’m afraid to say more than that. To describe it further would take away from the anticipation you need to feel to appreciate WE ARE NOT OURSELVES as much as I do. So, please, don’t read any other reviews, not even the book flap.

Book Club Recommended
Persuasive, Interesting, Informative
Much like the style of Jon Krakauer

So much has already been said about A DEADLY WANDERING, especially since Matt Richtel won a Pulitzer Prize for this book, I hesitate to repeat. But I will say this: if you talk on your cell phone or text while you drive, even if you use a hands-free device, you may not want to finish reading A DEADLY WANDERING because you won’t like what it says. Richtel would say that you are in denial. If you don’t talk on your cell phone or text while you drive, you know people who do, and this book will absorb you. Maybe you will want to highlight lines throughout the book.

I am one of those people who does not use my cell phone while I drive, and I don’t understand how this could be controversial. But Richtel tells the true story of Reggie Shaw, who, at first, proclaimed that he was not guilty of causing the deaths of two people even though he had been texting while he was driving. How could there be any question that he was distracted? And why do people insist that they can multitask while they drive?

Richtel proposes that some people are that addicted to their cell phones. And he backs it up with scientific proof.

But A DEADLY WANDERING does not read like a science book. The style of this book reminds me very much of Jon Krakauer's books. Here Richtel tells personal stories, some of people directly connected to Reggie’s story, others of the scientists who study the issues Reggie’s story brings up.

Everyone should read this.

Insightful, Inspiring, Fun
Perspective on Growinig Old

THEY MAY NOT MEAN TO, BUT THEY DO is worth reading because of its perspective on growing old (as in 80s) and dealing with adult children. They may love you and mean the best, but they demean.

That pretty much sums up this short book. It’s a quick read if you skip the occasional boring paragraphs.

The Other Mother: A Novel by Carol Goodman

Part I of THE OTHER MOTHER is Daphne, who has a 6-month-old baby named Chloe, talking about her new friend, Laurel, who also has a baby named Chlo?. (Note the special character on the “?” in Laurel’s baby’s name.) It is some year in the 2000s. Interspersed with these first-person accounts are pages of Daphne’s journal from the 1970s. Every character (Daphne’s husband, Laurel, her husband, even Daphne, herself) may not be who they seem to be.

It’s kind of corny.

Then comes Part II. Now Daphne’s accounts are interspersed with pages from Laurel’s journal. This part gets interesting. Who is Daphne, really?

Finally comes Part III and back to the corn. Interspersed throughout this part are pages from the journal of Edith, a mental patient at a psychiatric hospital who supposedly ditched her newborn baby, left him for dead. And the closer we get to the end, the more unlikely Part III is. The end is too wonderful.

I won this book through

Interesting, Dramatic, Fun
Convoluted mystery

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is pretty much what I expected. Passengers are temporarily trapped on a train. A murder occurs. Hercule Poirot, one of the passengers, investigates.

Agatha Christie could sure put together a convoluted mystery!

This is a classic. But I don't think a book written today could follow this same formula with as much popularity.

Wicked River: A Novel by Jenny Milchman
Book Club Recommended
This story is truly a thriller

Although all Jenny Milchman's novels (so far) take place in or around the Adirondacks and may share a character or two, each is a standalone and can be read in any order. So, if you haven't read her books, WICKED RIVER would be a great place to start. Or, if you have, if you loved her first book so followed as she wrote subsequent books, you will be impressed with WICKED RIVER and you may even decide this one is her best.

Natalie and Doug, just married, honeymoon on a river and in a forest in the Adirondacks. But nothing goes as planned. First Natalie is horrified to learn what Doug's had intended to do and wonders if she knew who she married. Then as they become more and more lost and near death in the forest, a stranger comes along. But what does he really want and what will he do to keep them?

Suspense in WICKED RIVER begins even before Natalie's and Doug's "honeymoon," even at their wedding. No kidding, the reader will be sitting at the edge of her seat throughout this book. Even if some may feel that the end is a little corny, no one will deny that this story is truly a thriller. We should be seeing it on the bestseller lists.

Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
DON’T LET GO is another safe bet.

Harlan Coben’s plot-driven novels are some of the few that you can always feel safe spending your money on, even preordering, because you know they’ll be unputdownable. DON’T LET GO is another safe bet.

Nap, a policeman, lost his girlfriend, Maura, and twin brother, Leo, at pretty much the same time when they were all seniors in high school; Leo and his girlfriend, Diana, died, Maura disappeared. That was 15 years ago. Now Maura has resurfaced, and the circumstances of Leo’s and Diana’s deaths have come into doubt. Nap, still single, girlfriendless, and living alone, thinks the disappearance and deaths were related and strives to get to the bottom of them.

During his investigation, Nap discovers more and more about an old military installation in the neighborhood where they grew up. The deaths and, Nap believes, Maura’s disappearance seem to have something to do with what was going on there, some other government work. He learns more and more that Leo and Maura had not been telling him everything as he assumed.

Coben’s books are never a waste of time or money. So I’m happy to recommend that you do yourself a favor and pick up DON’T LET GO.

Adventurous, Boring, Insightful

I have a rule, "the rule of 50." After I have read 50 pages of a book, if I am terribly bored with it, I stop. So, after 50 pages of TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD, I stopped.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Inspiring, Informative

Maybe you, like me, have read so many World War II novels you’re feeling “oversaturated” (did I make up that word?) with them. SONS AND SOLDIERS is different. First, it’s fact, not a novel. Second, it should make you want to turn its pages like it is your first World War II book because this is probably a story you haven’t heard before.

This is a true story about the “Ritchie Boys,” six of them in particular. They were Jews who grew up in 1930s Germany when it was being changed by the Nazi party. SONS AND SOLDIERS follows these six from then to their escaping Germany for the United States to their eventual service in the U.S. Army. At Camp Ritchie in Maryland, each of them learned to interrogate German POWs (and French people in some cases). In this way, these men become heroes for the valuable information they extracted that helped us win World War II.

SONS AND SOLDIERS is not just a book about war and it’s not even just a book about the injustices the Nazi party imposed on Jews. This book is also full of real incidences in the lives of each of the six Ritchie Boys from the time they entered the army to the end of the war with Germany.

Read SONS AND SOLDIERS for its look into the little-known experiences of the so-called “enemy aliens,” Jewish Germans who became U.S. citizens to interrogate German POWs.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Adventurous, Brilliant, Dramatic
Slow Going

Although my two nephews, both in their 20s, loved this book, I hated it and could not finish reading it. I read 100 pages, and it was slow going.

This is about living in a world that is almost all online. So I think the problem is a generational one.

Bodily Harm: A Novel by Robert Dugoni
Book Club Recommended
Part of the David Sloane series, this book can stand alone

BODILY HARM is a book in Robert Dugoni’s David Sloane series. I’ve read other books in this series, but I haven’t read any of them in order. So I went backwards to read this one. But the mark of a good series is when any one book does not depend on another; it can be read as a standalone. And BODILY HARM, as with the other books in this series, can stand alone.

Sloane is a lawyer, and this book is a legal thriller. He is dealing with two cases here. One is a custody issue; he wants to adopt his wife’s son. The other begins with the end of another case, which he won. Now he discovers that he shouldn’t have.

The latter case is involved with twists and turns that make it a satisfying mystery and thriller. I’m not easy to satisfy, so don’t take this as blasé. I’m impressed.

Yet, Dugoni has neglected the Sloane series since, I believe, 2012, in favor of his Tracy Crosswhite series even though the Sloane series is so much better. Dugoni should give Crosswhite a rest and return to Sloane. I want a comeback.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Interesting, Beautiful
You will probably love this book

NEWS OF THE WORLD is a nice little book, nothing earthshaking but still a good book and one you'll want to read.

In post-Civil War time, Captain Jefferson Kidd travels to small towns in Texas where he is a reader, that is, he reads the news of the world to gatherings of people there. At one of his stops, he is given a 10-year-old girl to deliver to her aunt and uncle. The little girl, Johanna, had been stolen by the Indians when she was 4 years old. Now she is Indian, herself, having lost all traces of European language and manners. We travel across Texas along with the captain and Johanna and watch as they grow to love one another, the "old man" and his "little warrior."

You'll probably love this book. Most people do.

Beautifully written, but it meanders

Peter Trachtenberg is a very good writer. In his ANOTHER INSANE DEVOTION, every paragraph is beautiful. But it meanders.

Trachtenberg writes in first person about, mostly, his cat Biscuit and his wife, F. He and F. have had and have more than one cat, and Trachtenberg TELLS us about more than one. And he tells us about more than cats.

Here’s the structure of this book as I see it: Biscuit is missing. Trachtenberg is out of state and has left his cats in the care of an irresponsible pet sitter. In between paragraphs about this dilemma, Trachtenberg inserts paragraphs about his wife, his other cats, and, also, many other reminisces, reflections, and ruminations.

It was too much for me. But I finished ANOTHER INSANE DEVOTION to learn the fate of Biscuit.

A who done it

THE BAD DAUGHTER is the only book by Joy Fielding that I've read. From this one example of her writing, I would say that it is similar to that of Lisa Scottoline. If you like one, you'll probably like the other.

Robin's father married her best friend, Tara. Now Tara and Robin's father, along with Tara's 12-year-old daughter, have been found shot and near death. And the mystery is: who did it?

That's basically it, a simple who done it. If you really, really try, you can probably figure it out before the end of the book. I didn't really, really try, but the end still was not a surprise.

Book Club Recommended
Fun, Interesting, Informative
You’ll never read or watch a movie about the 19th century without picturing their unmentionables again

First, UNMENTIONABLE is more than interesting. Because of Therese Oneill’s presentation, this book is also laugh-out-loud funny. I loved it for putting the lie to all the fiction, in both books and movies, about the 19th century, especially about the lives of women then.

Oneill begins with women’s clothing. Just think of the beautiful 19th century dresses we see in movies such as “Gone With the Wind.” (Although Oneill usually refers to “Victorian” rather than “19th century,” I think “Victorian” sounds so England, and I am most concerned with the United States. I choose "19th century.”) I never imagined everything Scarlett O’Hara would have gone through to look that way. And I never knew that she probably wouldn’t have looked that way for long.

UNMENTIONABLE brings up all sorts of unmentionables, too, such as “Bowels Into Buckets,” bathing in the 19th century, menstruation then, birth control, and “Being a Good Wife.” And did you ever think about how dirty the 19th century was? Just walking down the street was filthy, including the air.

The last few chapters are mostly about women’s expected behavior during the 19th century. Oneill discusses women’s expected behavior in both England and the United States but does not differentiate between the two. I would have liked the differences to be more clear sometimes, but that is my only complaint.

Read UNMENTIONABLE. You’ll never read or watch a movie about the 19th century without picturing their unmentionables again.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Brilliant
YA Hisorical Fiction at its Finest

If you read SALT TO THE SEA, it would be easy to understand if you do not realize this is a young adult book. But among the many awards it has won are at least four for best YA fiction.

SALT TO THE SEA is historical fiction. It is almost the end of World War II, and the Soviets are advancing. People are fleeing the Soviets’ unspeakable atrocities. In this particular case, a young female nurse, a handsome young man of mystery guarding his secret pack, a woman who is almost a giant, an old man who was a shoemaker, a girl from Poland, and a little boy are all headed for the coast. They intend to board a ship that will take them to the relative safety of Germany.

This is the story of a little-known maritime disaster that was bigger even than the disasters of the Lusitania and the Titanic.

And this is YA historical fiction at its finest. It is appreciated by adult readers as well as teens.

Book Club Recommended

The first half, approximately, of STONER reads like a summary. Therefore, it is quite dull. But I recommend it to book groups because it contains a lot to discuss. .

Essentially, this is a story of a boy, then a man who goes through life not defending himself and, with rare exceptions, choosing to do what others want rather than what he wants. It is a frustrating story that even gets disgusting when he allows his hateful wife to take over the life of their child.

STONER, written in the 1960s, is praised as “the most beautiful book in the world” and “almost perfect” and, now, even has a 50th anniversary edition. Must be good, right? That’s what I thought. But I found it to be otherwise, although it might have been better if I read it with no expectations, if I had ignored that over-the-top admiration.

So, beware.

The Chalk Man: A Novel by C. J. Tudor
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Graphic, Addictive

THE CHALK MAN is a good book. But it has been overly praised. You will enjoy the book more if you don't let all of the five-star reviews set your expectations too high.

Probably it's the end of THE CHALK MAN that grabs so many great review13ts. Although the reader knows already that a certain character is flawed, the ending italicizes and boldfaces "flawed."

I thought this end was funny, though. I know the author did not intend this reaction. But see if you don't agree with me.

I won this book through

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Slow, Informative
Literary Fiction

If you prefer literary fiction to plain ol’ fiction, you can’t do much better than Adam Haslett. And if you would be happy to find modern-day literature that can hold its own with the old masters, again, Haslett’s writing does that. His IMAGINE ME GONE is “literature of the highest order,” as Peter Carey said.

You might be put off, though, by too much detail. It may seem sometimes that, although Haslett goes on and on, the storyline is not advanced.

That storyline involves a family, including a father, John, with mental problems and his eldest son, Michael, who inherited them. Also included are the mother, a daughter, and another son. The thoughts and feelings of each of these characters are contained in alternate chapters.

IMAGINE ME GONE is one of those books without much action (which I think of as story). Instead, it’s a thoughts-and-feelings kind of book. Although you will, at some point, realize that most thoughts and feelings are either directly or indirectly about Michael, all the great detail makes it tempting to skip paragraphs.

I might have stopped reading IMAGINE ME GONE when I was only halfway through if it hadn’t been my book club’s selection this month. If I hadn’t read the last half, though, I would have missed explanations for each family member’s behavior, particularly Michael’s.

Book Club Recommended
Graphic, Dramatic, Gloomy
I look forward to reading the second book in trilogy

Although I loved Stephen King's horror novels when I was younger, I now apprciate his thrillers that do not include horror, even if they do have some magic (such as his 11/22/63). MR MERCEDES is a thriller minus horror, minus magic. Maybe this is not the stereotypical Stephen King novel, but those of us who are tired of the horror and the supernatural like it just fine.

Put shortly (and so as not to say too much, which most reviewers do), Bill Hodges has retired from the police force but manages to perform a whole lot of illegal activity in his pursuit of a homicidal maniac. Granted, this crazy guy went after Hodges first. But why didn't he just call the police, as a police retiree would be expected to do? Shucks, that would be no fun!

And it is entertaining to see this supersmart crazy person being outsmarted by the old retiree and his friends. I look forward to reading the second book in King's Bill Hodges trilogy.

1922 by Stephen King
Book Club Recommended
Wilfred's Confession

1922 is a novella. It is part of Stephen King’s FULL DARK, NO STARS book, but 1922 is also a standalone as an e-book.

This novella is Wilfred’s confession. He is a Nebraska farmer who owns 80 acres of land and some cows. He has a wife, Arlette who just inherited 100 acres of adjoining land. They have a 14-year-old son, Henry, who is in love with Shannon, a girl on a neighboring farm.

Arlette wants to sell the 100 acres; Wilfred wants to add it to the 80 acres and farm it. Neither will change their mind. That’s where the trouble begins.

Wilfred involves Henry in the action he decides to take with disastrous results. And Wilfred blames himself for everything that happens thereafter. That includes even Henry’s actions.

Many horrible things happen to Wilfred. The reader can understand these events in two different ways: 1) they might be supernatural or 2) they could be the imagination of a good man (who has a Conniving Man (King’s caps, not mine) in him) with a guilty conscience. I chose to believe the latter. Either way, it’s pretty creepy.

King never explains how we can read this confession. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you get to the end.

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Beautiful, Dramatic
This book deserves a comeback

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, first published in 1939, deserves a comeback. It is a wonderful novel that is almost forgotten nowadays as readers try to keep up with all the novels currently being published.

This book came to the United States in 1940 and won the National Book Award for favorite novel that year. The 1941 edition was in my parents’ bookcase for many years before I finally picked it up to read. Before long, I was asking myself, what took me so long, because it could be the best classic I ever read.

The story, narrated by Huw Morgan, is about years of his family’s life in a Welsh mining community during the reign of Queen Victoria. As an older man, he has finally decided to leave and is reminiscing. If all coming-of-age tales were this mesmerizing and this touching, I wouldn’t avoid them as I do.

Particularly attractive is the English the narrator and other characters use. While the reader is to understand that they are really speaking Welsh, their sentence structure is distinguished from English English. I loved the sound of it the way I love the sound of a Tana French novel.

Although Richard Llewellyn’s descriptions of the valley may seem wordy, the reader should understand the necessity of emphasizing its beauty and how mining operations were destroying it. This destruction is the reason Huw is leaving.

Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Scandinavian crime fiction has become very popular in the last few years. Ever since Stieg Larsson’s THE-GIRL-WHO books, it seems like an author need only be Scandinavian for readers in the United States to clamor for his books.

A case in point is THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS by Sara Blaedel. This book has received many reviews dripping with praise. But, although the main characters are adults and some of the descriptions are not appropriate for young people, this book reads like a YA novel. Perhaps that is because it is a translation. Whatever the reason, this book is too easy to put down.

Other opinions of THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS seem to outnumber mine. So maybe you should believe them.

Tony and Susan by Austin Wright
a story within a story

TONY AND SUSAN is a story within a story. At least it’s supposed to be. Susan is reading a book written by her ex-husband.

Most of TONY AND SUSAN is that book, the story within the story. It’s about Tony, a college professor, whose wife and child are abducted and murdered. The story starts out pretty good, although Tony is quite a wimp. But then the story degenerates; it gets tedious and dull. Worse is the end of the story within the story. It is quite a letdown.

Worse than the story within the story is the story, Susan reading. I cannot figure out why these parts of TONY AND SUSAN even exist. I call it “the story,” but is it really if it makes me wonder, so what? Again, I don’t know why it’s there. And again, the end is a letdown.

Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dramatic, Interesting
Read until it gets difficult to put down

The first 140 pages of THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW seem like too much buildup. But please read them because this is one of those books that's worth the time it takes up front. I give it four out of five stars because THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, after that 140 pages, is difficult to put down and, when I had to put it down, made me anxious to pick it back up.

The woman in THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, Anna Fox, lives alone in a great big house that she never leaves. She drinks too much. (You might even say the descriptions of her drinking are overdone.) And she spends her days online or watching DVDs of old movies or keeping an eye on her neighbors from her window.

I was immediately reminded of REAR WINDOW, one of the old movies in Fox’s collection. Even though THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW is updated with more recent technology, Fox still uses a camera with a telephoto lens, just like Jimmy Stewart. I knew then that Fox, like Stewart in REAR WINDOW, is looking for trouble.

Along with that prediction, I easily predicted a couple of other mysteries in THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW. But the book is still a thriller because it contains other mysteries that I didn’t predict. For this reason, I am careful not to discuss particulars. Enjoy this book: discover the mysteries as they occur in the book rather than anticipate them because I told you to.

One comment, though: A.J. Finn, the author of THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, uses the best device to show me how bad the bad guy is—hurt the cat.

Book Club Recommended
This makes me want to read more in Grant County series

BLINDSIGHTED, Karin Slaughter’s first novel in her Grant County series, leaves me surprisingly pleased. I’m surprised because, although her two standalones that I read (COP TOWN and PRETTY GIRLS) are excellent, I was dissatisfied with the two books I read in her Will Trent series. But this series is just different enough to make me want more. So I’m happy that I started this Grant County series at the beginning, i.e., with "Grant County, #1." Now I intend to read the rest of the series in order.

Told from the perspectives of three people in Grant County (Sara, the coroner and a pediatrician; Jeffrey, the police chief and Sara’s ex-husband; and Lena, a detective), BLINDSIGHTED’s plot involves their hunting down and interaction with a serial rapist. But there is more to this novel than that. As with all Slaughter’s novels, BLINDSIGHTED is not only plot driven. The three main characters also have personal stories, including their thoughts and feelings throughout. It is these personal stories that, in the end, leave the reader hanging just enough to make her anxious to read Grant County, #2, KISSCUT.

Confusing, Boring, Beautiful
You may end up love me and this author

As fiction, this book probably would not work. However, the truth of Tom Malmquist's experiences could well make you love him.

You may hear that IN EVERY MOMENT WE ARE STILL ALIVE is Malmquist's story of the death of his long-time girlfriend and his learning to become a single father. But it's not so simple as that.

He also describes, in great detail, staying by his girlfriend's side; dealing with the bureaucracy of Sweden's healthcare system, courts, social services, etc.; reminisces; and his father's death so soon after his girlfriend's. It may be more then you want to know.

And if you care about readability, Malmquist, apparently, doesn't. That is, he doesn't use quotation marks and his paragraphs are long, sometimes pages long. More often than not, whole conversations are in a single paragraph, with no quotation marks. So it's difficult to know who is talking when. I don't think this can be blamed on the translation from Swedish to English.

Even so, you can't help but love this guy. He was so devoted to his girlfriend and, now, to his baby girl.

Sometimes I Lie: A Novel by Alice Feeney
Confusing, Addictive, Dark

SOMETIMES I LIE isn't a bad book (although it does irritate me that so many book titles contain the "lie" word lately). But this book is overrated.

Amber is in a coma, although she can hear what others around her are saying. First she feels one way, then she gradually remembers more and more.

Claire, Amber's sister, seems fine, then not fine, then good, then bad, etc. And so it goes with all the characters in this book, including Amber. Also, most of the characters, including Amber, are unlikable.

Told In "Before," "Now," and "After" chapters, including diary entries, SOMETIMES I LIE should have you confused about everyone in it. But it is not unputdownable. If you've heard that it is, lower your expectations.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Dark
Does not read like a novel

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and The New York Times 10-Best-Books award, BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS examines three years in the lives of slum dwellers in India while the rest of that country is showing the world that it is undergoing great economic change for the better. The author, Katherine Boo, is a journalist.

My three biggest impressions:

* Nearly everyone is corrupt (the police, the politicians, medical workers, voter registrars, etc.), which makes me wonder whether this is the experience throughout India.
* Rather than get together to try to effect change, people in the slum consider only their own situations and how they can get something from someone else.
* All is always sad, hopeless, and depressing.

Some have said that this book, although nonfiction, reads like a novel. I disagree. While I’m glad to have read this book for its superior reportage of important and interesting subject matter, it reads more like a journalist’s nearly successful attempt to change her observations from reports to narrative nonfiction.

If BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS really did read like a novel, it wouldn't have ended like it did. A newspaper report just stops; a novel finishes. This book just stopped and left a story unfinished.

The Bishop's Wife (Linda Wallheim) by Mette Ivie Harrison
Too YAish

THE BISHOP’S WIFE is about a Mormon bishop’s wife, Linda, who gets overly involved in the lives of people living in her ward, which is the bishop’s responsibility. She is so nosy (when she should be minding her own business) that she insinuates herself right smack in the middle of two simultaneous mysteries.

A man dies, leaving his second wife and two adult sons. The mystery is his first wife. How did she die? Did he kill her? Why did he take such meticulous care of his garden?

At the same time Linda involves herself in that, she finds another mystery going on with another family in her ward. In this case, another wife and mother has died but more recently. And the child is just 5 years old. Her husband and father-in-law are conservative, even more conservative than the usual Mormon. So it’s easy to suspect them. Besides, her parents are sure her husband murdered her. Did he? Linda finds out.

Both mysteries are good enough that I wanted to finish reading the book, although Linda is ridiculous. Partly because of Linda, THE BISHOP’S WIFE seems like a young adult novel, although it is meant to be a novel for adult readers. Also, the writing style is too YAish.

For these reasons, I do not rate THE BISHOP’S WIFE highly. But readers who really are YA would rate it higher.

sure winner of a Michigan Notable Book Award

A sign of a well written series is the ability of any one book in that series to stand alone. Jane Haseldine’s WORTH KILLING FOR is one such book in her Julia Gooden mystery series. Although this is her third book in the series and I haven’t read either of the first two, Haseldine did not leave me in the dark but ensured that I always knew at least what Julia knew. There, again, is a sign of a good mystery, that the reader makes discoveries along with the main character.

Julia is a newspaper reporter. Her parents abandoned her, along with her brother and sister, when she was 7 years old. Her 9-year-old brother, Ben, was kidnapped, and she never saw him again. With the sudden appearance of her father, it now looks like she may be able to learn what happened to Ben. She is assisted in doinig so by her boyfriend, a detective with the Detroit Police Department, and they run across all sorts of crooks. But, until the end, it's never apparent who’s a bad guy, who’s a friend, and who’s telling the truth or only part truth.

WORTH KILLING FOR is a sure winner of a Michigan Notable Book Award. The locations in this story are all in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties in Michigan.

Just Between Us: A Novel by Rebecca Drake
Poor Decisions, Implausible Results

JUST BETWEEN US reminds me of BIG LITTLE LIES with suspense. Not that the storylines are alike, but both books are about friendships between women and their lives with their husbands and children. That sounds dull to many of us. But, remember, JUST BETWEEN US has added suspense. Yes, Rebecca Drake has made this subject matter a thriller.

Heather, Julie, Sarah, and Alison are friends who regularly meet at a coffee shop. When Heather appears to be abused, the other three friends want her to leave her husband. In the meantime, Julie loans Heather her gun. Predictably. that’s where trouble and, shortly thereafter, the suspense begin.

The problems with JUST BETWEEN US are the friends’ decisions. They’re pretty stupid throughout. Plus, their antics and the results of their antics are implausible.

I won this book through

Book Club Recommended
Pleasant Surprise

Many reviews of TWO GIRLS DOWN compare its female main character, Alice Vega, to Jack Reacher (the main character in a series by Lee Child). Therefore, I was expecting an unreal superwoman who could accomplish almost anything even with one hand tied behind her back. But I was pleasantly surprised.

Vega is a private investigator out of California with a reputation for locating missing persons, mostly children . When she is hired to find two little girls in Pennsylvania, she offers Max Caplan, a former policeman there, a job as her partner in this pursuit. Together, Vega and “Cap” visit a lot of lowlife and unravel the mystery.

Vega’s superpowers , unlike Jack Reacher’s, are limited to her online contacts with a person who has superabilities to find addresses and to hack into banking records. Yes, she does always win fights but not unscathed. Vega didn’t turn me off, as I had expected.

So I was surprised to find that I enjoyed this book. Vega and Cap are logical as, step by step, they attempt to solve the mystery. I expected silly, but it isn’t.

I won this book from Penguin Random House through First Look Book Club.

4 3 2 1: A Novel by Paul Auster
Confusing, Epic, Interesting
Good and Bad

Simply put, 4 3 2 1 presents Archie Ferguson's four possible lives. That is, one Ferguson is born, but his life might have gone one way or another or another or another. 4 3 2 1 examines each way his life might have gone.

I liked 4 3 2 1, and I didn't like it. Its references to history, literature, and movies are superb. But the length of the book combined with the disjointed presentation of Ferguson's four possible lives often leads to confusion.

Addictive, Dramatic, Interesting
Craziness and Lies

Two young women in their 20s rent a home that is an architectural masterpiece controlled by the architect.

First Emma moves in because the rent is so cheap. But in exchange for the cheap rent, she agrees to the architect’s ridiculous demands for maintaining the home and completing periodic personal questionnaires.

Later, after Emma is gone, Jane comes along. She, too, agrees to the architect’s same demands and moves in.

Emma’s and Jane’s stories of craziness and lies are in short alternating chapters.

The psychological conditions presented are real and possible, I suppose. But who would really agree to the architect’s ridiculous demands? That spoiled the story for me.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Insightful
Interestinig but depressing

THE LAST BALLAD is historical fiction about a poor female textile mill worker who one day in the 1920s walked off the job and joined the National Textile Workers Union. It is also about a certain one of their strikes in 1929 in North Carolina. The ex-mill worker was Ella May Wiggins, and that particular strike was the Loray Mill strike. These we know to be true because Wiley Cash says so in this “Afterword.”

Historical fiction always has some truth to it. That’s what makes it so appealing. But what about THE LAST BALLAD is true other than what Cash writes in his “Afterword”? I wanted to believe, especially, in Richard McAdam, the enlightened but weak mill owner, and Hampton Haywood, the black Communist from the North. So I did some research, and it looks like the other characters in the book just aid the story and are straight from Cash’s imagination.

Not only does Cash write well enough to make the reader want to believe his fiction; he also tells a balanced story. That is, for example, Ella is dirt poor, barely able to feed her children, but well-off Katherine McAdams wants to and does help her. Cash also shows both the good and bad characters in the police and in the strikers.

This is an interesting story of a little-known part of American history.

I won this book through the JATHAN & HEATHER website.

Punk Rockers' Contribution

The subtitle of BURNING DOWN THE HAUS, PUNK ROCK, REVOLUTION, AND THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL, may lead you to believe, as it did me, that this book makes the case for punk rockers causing the fall of the Berlin Wall. But no, not exactly. Rather, the messages in punk rock songs and the attitude of the punk rockers contributed (just partially or in large part depending on who tells the story) to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Tim Mohr’s research for this book was mostly through his contacts with punk rockers and former punk rockers. Therefore, the book was written from their perspective and sometimes even sounds like a punk rocker wrote it, swear words (particularly the F word) and all.

Maybe their attitude, their messages incorporated in their songs, was the beginning. So Mohr introduces us to a few punk rockers and writes about how they suffered for those messages yet persevered. Then he shows how more and more punk rockers found each other and, so, became louder over the years.

They didn’t want to leave East Germany; they wanted for fix it.

Mohr takes the reader all the way to the early 1990s, to post-Berlin Wall. The punk rockers’ ideal life did not come to be, but their attitude was part of the revolution that caused the demise of Communism in their country.

Pieces of Her: A Novel by Karin Slaughter
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Inspiring, Insightful
One of Slaughter's best

I always like Karen Slaughter's novels. Sometimes, though, I love them. And this is one of those times. PIECES OF HER is one of her best.

First is the story of Laura and her 31-year-old daughter, Andrea. After Laura is attacked by a stranger wearing a hoodie, Andrea goes on the run. During her travels, she learns more and more about Laura, and the immature Andrea grows up.

Every other chapter is another story, 32 years earlier. Mainly, this one deals with Jane and Nick and the cult-like group of anarchists that Nick leads.

Watch as the two stories become one.

This book isn't just another thriller. Slaughter obviously did some research and presents real facts along with her fiction. Plus, it's unputdownable.

I won an ARC of this book from the publisher, William Morrow.

Baby Teeth: A Novel by Zoje Stage
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Dramatic, Gloomy

I almost quit reading BABY TEETH after the first 50 pages. It seemed to be a tale of a child's misbehavior and her two wimpy parents, which aggravated me. But I'm glad I kept reading.

You, too, may find that your interest is not captured right away by this book. Read on. It turns out to be unputdownable. That's why I give it three stars rather than one or two.

Hanna is a 7-year-old who resents her mother. More than that, Hanna wants to kill her mother.

Suzette, the mother, realizes that Hanna is a problem child but doesn't really get it.

Worse is the father, Alex. He is in total denial.

That's it. But, somehow, this little dysfunctional family really will grab your attention if for no other reason than to see how each of them turns out.

I won an ARC of this book through The Book Diva's Reads blog.

Dramatic, Addictive, Interesting
Long on mystery, short on story

THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is like an Agatha Christie novel. That is, it has lots and lots of twists as one character after another is suspect, first this guy, then that guy, then that guy, then back to one of those guys, then on to another guy, etc. And more and more of the mystery is solved until the surprising reveal. Except THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR doesn't end the story there. A bit of what-comes-next follows and a not-so-surprising but, I think, funny end.

It's not a bad book. But it's not so good that I'll be reading more of Shari Lapena. That's because, like the Agatha Christie novel's I've read, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is long on mystery but short on story. If you are an Agatha Christie fan, you may rate this higher than I do.

Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Interesting, Informative
The Donner Party Desensationalized

We all think we know the story of the Donner Party. But few of us really do. Over the years it has been sensationalized. Daniel James Brown desensationalizes it in THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE.

Brown also adds modern-day knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, to help the reader understand what the Donner Party went through. With understanding comes empathy.

The book begins with one family in Illinois. It is interesting but not a page turner in the first few short chapters. Although we read about hard times right away, it isn’t until Part Two, about page 75, that we learn of the deception that led the Donner Party astray and to worse and worse trouble.

Then we get to the story that has been sensationalized. Yet, life for the Donner Party needs no sensationalism; it was already more awful than most anyone could manage.

Around page 75 I was hooked. Now I needed to read more and more of what I thought I knew but didn’t. It turned out to be worse. But instead of making me sick, it made me hopeful.

Probably, Brown should not have tried to concentrate on a single member of the Donner Party. Too little is known of this person. But this is a minor point about such an amazing, well-researched book.

The Great Alone: A Novel by Kristin Hannah
Adventurous, Dramatic, Addictive
The Point of View of a Teenage Girl

THE GREAT ALONE is said to be a second departure for Kristin Hannah, the first being THE NIGHTINGALE. Her other books that I've read are what I call “chic lit,” young female centered and, to one degree or another, revolving around their love lives and petty issues like their need for a new hair style or outfit. While some women like that type of book, I don’t.

I can’t yet speak for THE NIGHTINGALE, but THE GREAT ALONE is different, mostly. A married couple and their 13-year-old daughter flee Washington state and move to the wilds of Alaska. We read about their struggle to survive in such a harsh environment. The man gets violent often, especially during the winter, when days are short. That’s not chic lit.

But most of the story is told from the point of view of the teenage girl. Although it is in third, not first, person, Hannah refers to the adult main characters, the parents, as “Mama” and “Dad” and uses their names only in dialog. It made feel like I was back in 8th or 9th grade.

For that reason, even though THE GREAT ALONE is not chic lit, I give it only three out of five stars. I admit, though, I would have given it four stars when I was younger.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Slow, Dramatic
This may desearve five stars

I am tempted to give MANHATTAN BEACH five stars. It deserves five stars for its historical accuracy and writing style. But only it’s second half is both plot- and character-driven.

The first half of MANHATTAN BEACH lays out its various characters, especially Eddie, Dexter, and Anna. But where’s the story, I wondered. Many character-driven novels neglect plot, and it looked like this book was going that way. But I continued because the writing was so much better than I had read in a long time.

The second half of MANHATTAN BEACH made the wait worthwhile. Little by little the mystery surrounding Eddie is revealed. His relationship with Dexter causes the relationship between Dexter and Anna. And what a story! The plot is convoluted, and the book becomes unputdownable.

So I want to give MANHATTAN BEACH five stars. But in all honesty I give it four.

I won this book from

I Know You Know: A Novel by Gilly Macmillan
Book Club Recommended
Good Mystery Could Lead to Good Discussion

I KNOW YOU KNOW is it a mystery. It is not an exciting one and seems pretty bland at times during the first half of the book. But it becomes more and more of a page turner until the last couple of chapters become a delightful surprise.

Twenty years ago two boys were murdered. Although someone was found guilty of the murders and put away, was he really responsible?

Now a 20-year-old skeleton of a man is unearthed near where these murders occurred. Are they related?

Although the subject matter is definitely meant for an adult, the writing style often sounds young adult, which bores this reader. Some adults prefer “easy reading,” so this may not detract you. It is, however, one of the reasons I do not rate I KNOW YOU KNOW highly.

I prefer books that are not so easy to put down as this one is. But, because it does become a really good mystery with an unpredictable finish, I am tempted to call I KNOW YOU KNOW a four-star book. In all honesty, though, I have to consider that it bored me in the beginning. So I rate it three.

If you are not put off by a book with a YA writing style, consider this, and try I KNOW YOU KNOW.

I won this book through

Book Club Recommended

Although Lou Berney’s NOVEMBER ROAD is not at all like his award-winning THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE, this is sure to be another winner for him. It is his writing style that will get you now just as it did then.

Charlotte is unhappy with her life and Frank wants to simply stay alive. They’re both on the run when they meet. They interact for a short time, so short that Charlotte’s children don’t even remember much of it 40 years later.

My only criticism of NOVEMBER ROAD, and anyone who has been married to a drinking alcoholic will agree, is that the explanation for Charlotte’s unhappiness is inadequate. Her reason for suddenly taking off with her two children does not seem to be enough. Berney says that Charlotte’s husband frequently stays out late and comes home drunk but does not show how this has impacted his family’s lives.

But NOVEMBER ROAD is a great story otherwise. It looks like Berney is another go-to author for me.

Cross Her Heart: A Novel by Sarah Pinborough
Dramatic, Addictive
Thrills in last couple chapters

Why do so many reviews give books high ratings because of their last couple/few chapters? Case in point: CROSS HER HEART.

Just about all of CROSS HER HEART is figuring out secrets. Normally that’s OK in a mystery/thriller, which CROSS HER HEART is. But most of the secrets in this book are kept from the reader. I prefer to learn what is going on AS a main character does, not AFTER.

Sarah Pinborough does have Marion, one of the characters in CROSS HER HEART, solve mysteries at pretty much the same time as the reader. But the main character, Lisa/Charlotte, is a mystery to the reader until the last several pages.

Three quarters of CROSS HER HEART is frustrating, not thrilling . But that last quarter is not frustrating and is more thrilling than what comes before. That’s not good enough for a high rating.

Still Life with Monkey by Katharine Weber
Book Club Recommended

STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY may not be what you expect. But it is such a lovely novel I give it my highest rating, and I seldom do that.

The story opens with Duncan, a quadriplegic architect in his 30s, after he is first introduced to Ottoline, a small helper monkey. You may expect, then, that STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY continues the story of “life with monkey.” Yes and no.

STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY is a character-driven novel that studies Duncan and the people closest to him, his wife, Laura, and his twin brother, Gordon. Ottoline is part of the story, but she’s not the story.

Katharine Weber makes her characters seem so real because, as she says, she uses “real-world information,” including architecture, art conservation, Sears kit houses, infertility, quadriplegia, monkey helpers, the right to die, twins, and Chinese porcelains. And she makes it interesting as you learn more and more about Duncan, Laura, and Gordon.

Author Ann Packer says that this book is “a meditation on the question of what makes life worth living.” Maybe, but I understood the opposite: what makes life worth dying.

I love this book and wish I read Katharine Weber sooner.

Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Interesting

Even if you think you’re sick of World War II novels, try this one because THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE is more than that. Jessica Shattuck has assembled what SEEMS to be a story of three German women, survivors who were married to heroic men of the Resistance. But little by little we learn these women’s secrets.

Together, Marianne, Ania, and Betina, the women in the castle, survive the aftermath of World War II. Their stories continue through 1991, all the while revealing Betina’s and Ania’s secrets, and those of the people they were and are involved with. THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE examines guilt and moral culpability. It is not as simple and cut and dry as Marianne believes.

THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE goes back and forth in time, but it is not confusing if you pay attention to chapter headings. Rather, you will find, when you are taken back in time, you will understand more. You may find that you identify with Marianne and see German guilt for what they did or didn’t do before, during, and after World War II, even for just what they thought, in a new light.

The Third Hotel: A Novel by Laura van den Berg
Pointless, Difficult, Adventurous

The book flap on THE THIRD HOTEL calls it “surreal” and “mystifying.” I think that is a nice way of saying “unintelligible” and “confusing.” The story made little sense to me. I read and reread paragraphs, hoping that the problem was my own inattention. Perhaps Laura van den Berg said something that I missed, which was certainly possible; she snuck details into paragraphs that seemed to have nothing to do with anything.

I could be wrong when I describe this story. I can only say this is how it seemed.

Clare seems to be having a nervous breakdown after her husband died. I doubt my impression about this, though, because she also didn’t seem with-it in some of her flashbacks from before he died.

Clare travels to Havana, Cuba, to attend a horror film festival, a trip her husband had planned. Regardless of the number of times I reread paragraphs, I couldn't figure out why. I guess she thinks she will learn something about him.

While in Havana, Clare sees her husband. For most of the rest of the book, she follows him around. Remember, he’s dead.

Clare does a lot of weird, crazy things, and the people she encounters often seem unreal. Heck, everything seems unreal.

This book made me feel stupid.

The Wife: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer
I wasn’t surprised

THE WIFE, for the most part, is a diatribe on the unfairness of it all, of being married to a selfish man and of the uselessness of a woman’s trying to make it in a man’s world.

Joan and Joe meet when she is a student at Smith College and he is her professor. They have an affair, and Joe leaves his wife and infant daughter for Joan. No surprise, he continues to have affairs throughout their marriage, although he never leaves her.

Joe has never wanted anything more than to be a writer. But, so far, he has published only a short story in a small periodical. After he marries Joan, though, his career picks up. (It was at this point that I predicted the “surprise.”) Joe becomes a successful and highly praised author. As a matter of fact, when THE WIFE opens, he and Joan are flying to Finland so he can receive a prestigious international award.

It is during this trip that Joan remembers their marriage in a series of flashbacks, and she reflects on the unfairness of it all. Yet she never seemed to want fairness until now, when she has finally had it with Joe getting all the praise.

When the “surprise” is revealed in one of Joan’s flashbacks, I wasn’t surprised.

Slow, Confusing

Although the title of Heidi Sopinka’s THE DICTIONARY OF ANIMAL LANGUAGES and its (loose?) basis on the life of artist Leonora Carrington are intriguing, this does not read well. That is, this is a confusing book.

First of all, this would have been easier to read if Sopinka had used quotation marks. What is it with some authors nowadays and their elimination of quotation marks? They are an aid to the reader so she knows when thought ends and voice begins, so she understands the author’s intended meaning. When quotation marks are missing, the author has done a disservice to her reader.

Also, this book has many sentence fragments, further instances of disservice to the reader. Again, subject and predicate, along with punctuation marks (besides the period), aid understanding. Although Sopinka doesn’t need to go back to school for a basic English grammar class--many of her paragraphs and sentences are constructed correctly--she seems to think the sentence fragment is a writing device that conveys meaning. I didn’t get much of it, so the device failed.

Sopinka’s use of present tense, even in flashbacks, is also confusing.

THE DICTIONARY OF ANIMAL LANGUAGES begins with Ivory Frame, 92-years-old, talking with Skeet. Although Sopinka does not say who he is, it seems that he is an old friend. I have read elsewhere exactly who he is, but Sopinka doesn’t say so. However, her use of present tense here is appropriate.

Then flash back to past tense, then to present, then we are suddenly in another flashback where Sopinka still uses present tense, so the reader doesn’t know she’s in the past. Maybe she rereads the last few paragraphs to find an indication of when Frame left the conversation with Skeet and landed in Paris. It seems this is a much younger Frame, so this must be a flashback.

Then the same thing happens in reverse. Now the reader is in the real present. Frame wants to tell Skeet about a letter she received informing her that she has a granddaughter. So that will probably make the reader further intrigued so she will want to read more.

Or perhaps all the confusion, all the work the reader will have to trade for enjoyment, will deter her.

I won this book through

You: A Novel by Caroline Kepnes
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Addictive, Dark
A Tale of Two Mentally Unstable People

YOU is a tale of, primarily, two mentally unstable people, one more dangerously so than the other. While I normally would skip a book with as much sex in it as this one has, the story of these two main characters and the extreme obsession the one has for the other kept me turning the pages.

The APPARENTLY normal Joe works at a bookstore and is well read, intelligent, and funny. He meets (Guinevere) Beck, referred to as Beck. Joe is attracted to her so learns where she lives. After he observes her strutting about her apartment, windows uncovered, naked, he becomes obsessed with her, DANGEROUSLY obsessed. Joe stalks Beck and, as the story continues, he becomes more and more dangerous and more and more obsessed.

I’m not going to describe more of the story. That would be doing the reader a disservice. I resent most other book reviews, even the book flap, that say more. Readers enjoy the story more when they do not anticipate what someone already told them is going to happen.

However, I will say that the last two chapters of YOU are a bore. Don’t worry, they’re only a few pages. But they should have been shorter.

Book Club Recommended
Good Mystery

Lisa Unger has written some very good novels, and that’s why I am willing to check out any of her others that I haven’t read yet. Sometimes I’ve been disappointed in her, though, so I don’t begin her books expecting to be awed.

In the case of BEAUTIFUL LIES, Unger has written a good mystery. While it doesn’t awe me, it did keep me guessing throughout.

The mystery begins with Ridley’s act of heroism. This gets her picture in the paper, people recognize her, and secrets are revealed. What makes this book better than the usual plot-driven mystery are Unger’s psychological insights.

I also enjoyed her presentation. That is, not only does she write this novel in first person, but she truly speaks to the reader in a conversational manner.

BEAUTIFUL LIES isn’t up there with IN THE BLOOD, but it’s certainly better than some of her later novels that deal in the supernatural.

Blindness (Harvest Book) by Jose Saramago
Insightful, Brilliant, Interesting

BLINDNESS could be the worst book I ever read. That is not because of the language used in the translation and not because of its storyline. Rather, it is just plain sloppy.

Using simple language, BLINDNESS describes a country dealing with a highly contagious epidemic in which people are going blind for an unknown reason. It’s a great premise and reminds me of the epidemic in Stephen King’s THE STAND.

But considering how difficult BLINDNESS is to read, I wonder how it won a Nobel Prize and THE STAND, a far more intricate and absorbing book, didn’t. It must have been a case of Portugal’s (where the author, José Saramago, is from) turn to win.

“Sloppy” describes the way Saramago presents BLINDNESS. Not only are paragraphs unnecessarily long, they are incorrectly long. They contain entire conversations between at least two people, no quotation marks, and haphazard punctuation (usually commas where periods should be).

BLINDNESS is, therefore, difficult to read. There is no indication of when someone stops talking and another person begins or when a character is thinking rather than talking out loud. Truly understanding this book requires rereading.

A Piece of the World: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Interesting, Beautiful
Historical Fiction About Woman in Andrew Wyeth's Painting

A PIECE OF THE WORLD is historical fiction about Christina Olson, the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s painting CHRISTINA’S WORLD. According to Christina Baker Kline (the author, not the Christina in the painting), Christina Olson and many of the other people in this novel were (and some are, she says) real people. Kline did a tremendous amount of research on them, and A PIECE OF THE WORLD is based on the facts she found. But she did have to let her research go at some points and present this book as fiction.

This novel can be slow when farming details and life running a household on a farm are described. Also, I get bored when I read about children’s meanness to other children, something I think is common and experienced by all children to one degree or another. This is given too much attention in too many books.

But once Christina is a young adult, her story is absorbing. Warning, though: Christina’s life is sad, too. I may have found it even more so. As a handicapped person, I experienced some of the same events that Christina did.

One paragraph in this book describes the way Christina feels about her chronic pain. It exactly explains the way I feel, so exactly that I wonder how Kline knew enough to write it. Perhaps this is something she found in her research.

That is the problem I have with historical fiction. Although I love it because it is more real than other fiction, I always want to know what in particular is fact and what did the author imagine.

Book Club Recommended
Continuation of BEAUTIFUL LIES

SLIVER OF TRUTH is Lisa Unger’s second novel. It is a continuation of her first novel, BEAUTIFUL LIES. You’ll understand and enjoy SLIVER OF TRUTH more if you read BEAUTIFUL LIES first.

This continuation begins, probably, a year or two after BEAUTIFUL LIES ends. Ridley Jones thought all her troubles were over, but they get even worse now. Not only are there more secrets and lies but one, in particular, sure is a surprise.

Who is Ridley’s "Uncle" Max? How important is he and to whom? Did he really die? Plenty of people don’t think so and hope Ridley can help them find him.

Again, SLIVER OF TRUTH Is both plot- and character-driven. And, again, Lisa Unger writes in first person and in a conversational manner, as if Ridley is talking just to you.

Book Club Recommended
Superb writing and presentation

Once you read one of John Boyne’s books, you will probably want to read all of them. That was the case with me after I read THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES. I was happy to find his older books, including CRIPPEN, a book of fiction about Dr. Hawley Crippen, an actual person who really was accused of murdering his wife in 1910. Many of the facts in this novel really did happen, and many of the characters really did exist. But, again, CRIPPEN is fiction, and most of it comes from Boyne’s imagination.

And what an imagination! CRIPPEN is superb.

The Crippen in the book CRIPPEN is a wimp with a questionable character, maybe a result of his questionable upbringing. As an adult, he’s more a wannabe doctor than an actual doctor. Still, he’s prepared himself as best he could to practice medicine when he leaves Michigan (where he meets and marries his second wife) for New York and then leaves there for England.

Crippen’s second wife, Cora, is another wannabe. She is a not-so-good music hall singer who fancies herself great enough (with a little coaching) to sing before the queen. She is a miserable hellion and abuses Crippen both physically and verbally.

So you probably won’t feel bad about the way she ends up. You may even root for the murderer.

But what will keep you following this story, including Crippen’s attempt at escape on an ocean liner to Canada, is Boyne’s writing and his overall presentation. Although the word “genius” is overused in performance reviews, no other word better describes how Boyne arranges the story the way he does here. Because of this arrangement, you will be surprised again and again.

Book Club Recommended
Unconvincing, Pointless, Slow
Mysterious Neighbors

In THE GIRLS IN THE GARDEN, Lisa Jewell starts by presenting many mysteries and builds up to the main who-done-it of the book. I enjoyed trying to figure it out; Jewell made me suspicious of everyone. Then, when I thought I knew, she added a twist. Her best twist of all left me undecided but in a good way. I ended up thinking how crafty of Jewell to do this to my imagination.

What the English refer to here as a garden, I would call a park with gardens in it but also playground equipment. Encircling this 3-acre private park are what I imagine are different types of condominiums and apartments (although this is not what they are called in the book). I would refer to this arrangement as a complex. Because of this complex arrangement, neighbors are involved with each other perhaps more than they might otherwise be.

So we learn enough about some of them to be suspicious when a tragedy occurs. And we learn more and more as one of the neighbors investigates and as a very smart 11-year-old questions what she sees.

Although THE GIRLS IN THE GARDEN involves several children who are 13 and under, which you may think would bore you, the story contains enough adult characters and material to keep your attention. I recommend it.

Social Creature: A Novel by Tara Isabella Burton
Difficult, Dark, Addictive
How could anyone like this weird book?

I've read 85 pages, but I can't get further. I give up. It's not interesting. It's not thrilling. It is boring, boring. It is not well written. I wish I could rate it zero.

I can't imagine how anyone could like this weird book!

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Addictive, Dramatic

THE PERFECT MOTHER is a surprise. And then it's a surprise again, and then it's a surprise again, and then it's a surprise again, etc. The first surprise for you may be, as it was for me, that this is more than just a book about young mothers and the trials of motherhood. THE PERFECT MOTHER contains so many twists and turns that it really is a pleasure to read.

The epigraph Aimee Molloy puts at the beginning of the book refers to three blind mice, a hint of what is to come. Three young mothers (Collette, Nell, and Francie) with newborn babies are members of a "mommy group," a support group for, yes, mothers of newborn babies. They become determined to help another member of the group (Winnie) when her baby boy is kidnapped.

This is not only a plot-driven novel, though. Molloy also goes into the thoughts, difficulties, backgrounds, and secrets of each of the "three blind mice." In other words, THE PERFECT MOTHER is a character-driven novel as well. It also involves the hidden characters of a couple other people (more surprises), although the character at the end could have used more development.


The Anita Shreve books that I have read have been historical fiction. A WEDDING IN DECEMBER, though, is what the title sounds like, a book about a wedding, in this case, a wedding weekend. This book does, however, CONTAIN historical fiction, a story within a story.

The main story is a bit soap opera-ish. The story within the story was short on history, long on cliché.

They were a group of best friends when they were in high school, all except one. That was the one member of the group who died before they graduated. Although the others are now in their 40s, the death of the one hangs over their reminisces during that Friday through Sunday they meet for the wedding of two members of their gang.

Each of the seven members of the former high school gang has issues, and these are explored over the weekend. This is the main story.

One of the members of the gang, Agnes, is now writing about a doctor who was a hero when an explosion occurred in the city of Halifax during World War I. Here is our story within the story. This might have been great historical fiction if Shreve had stuck with the devastation and the doctor’s efforts. And it does begin that way. But it turns into cliché with a whining wife, a long-suffering and selfless husband, and an affair on the side.

Nothing really happens in the main story unless you count the arrival of a daughter from a former marriage or a sexual liaison. So you may be disappointed if you expect more.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Scary
A Return to an Old Theme

In FINDERS KEEPERS, Stephen King returns to one of his old themes. In his book MISERY, a character was obsessed with a certain author’s books, and here King repeats that theme.

As a young man, Morris commits a crime because of his dissatisfaction with the way that certain author, John Rothstein, has ended his book series. Morris then buries a trunk full of notebooks containing Rothstein’s stories, poems, even novels that no one has read yet. The idea is that Morris would come back for them later; the notebooks would stay there waiting for him.

Thirty-plus years later Pete, who coincidentally also loves Rothstein’s novels, unearths that trunk. Pete has also found lots of trouble.

Now come Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson, three of the characters from King’s MR. MERCEDES, to the rescue.

This second book in King’s MR. MERCEDES trilogy is delightful. At the same time, though, although FINDERS KEEPERS does allude to the MR. MERCEDES killings throughout, King takes a little too long to have the Hodges trio enter the story.

But that is just my opinion, and you may find no problem at all. King is great, and it’s hard to criticize anything he writes.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Interesting
A Good story, a shock in the end

My description of Mary Kubica's THE GOOD GIRL will probably not do it justice. It is much better than it sounds.

Mia, a young woman from a rich family, is abducted. The story is told from different characters’ viewpoints in “Before” and “After" chapters. Mia would probably be surprised at how much her mother loves her and is afraid for her. But she would not be surprised about her father‘s attitude: uncaring.

When you think you have come to the end of the story, you really haven’t. There is an “Epilogue,” and it is a shock. I had to read it twice to believe what I was reading.

Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dramatic, Scary
His Side, Then Hers

The first half of LIE TO ME is Ethan’s side of the story, the second half is mostly Sutton’s. They’re a married couple, both writers, well known, especially him. But she has a secret past.

Consequently, when Sutton disappears, mysteries abound: Is she dead or alive? If dead, at her own hand or murder? If murder, who did it? Of course, Ethan is the first suspect. Is he guilty or is he being set up? If he’s being set up, by whom and why? That’s the first half.

The second half is less mystery than answers. Therefore, the first half is more absorbing. But there certainly are some attention-grabbing answers.

I enjoyed LIE TO ME but found the end somewhat perplexing. Therefore, it rates 3.5 stars more than it does 4.

Interesting, Informative
Historical Fiction, Not Engaging

MISS KOPP JUST WON’T QUIT is historical fiction, the latest in a series about Constance Kopp, a deputy sheriff in New Jersey at a time, 1916, still early enough to refer to her as “lady deputy sheriff” rather than just “deputy sheriff.” Most of the characters in this book really did exist, and most of what happens is based on actual events that occurred either to these characters or to someone there at that time.

For these reasons, MISS KOPP JUST WON’T QUIT is a worthwhile read. But I didn’t find it engaging. In other words, it is not a page turner.

Many people give high ratings to books that don’t grab them as long as those books are otherwise commendable. I don’t.

My bookclub received ARCs of MISS KOPP JUST WON'T QUIT through

Book Club Recommended
Graphic, Dramatic, Addictive
Back to Horror

As a Stephen King fan who has been reading his books for the last 40 years, I admit that nowadays I’m less captivated by his monsters. So I enjoyed the first two books in his MR. MERCEDES trilogy and expected END OF WATCH, the final book in the trilogy, to be the same (no monsters). WRONG

Brady is back. Yes, in MR. MERCEDES he was a monstrOUS bad guy. But in END OF WATCH he is literally a monster with awful supernatural powers. And the entire book involves the threesome, Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson, trying to find Brady and put an end to his destruction of vulnerable lives. But they first have to accept that he is doing it and then figure out how he does it from his hospital room, where he is in a semicomatose state as a result of the head injury he received when Holly whacked him in MR. MERCEDES.

I didn’t like END OF WATCH as well as I did the first two books ( MR. MERCEDES and FINDERS KEEPERS) in the trilogy. That is not to say that I didn’t like it at all. I just wish Bill could have had his “end of watch” with a monstrous bad guy rather than a monster.

The Huntress: A Novel by Kate Quinn
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Dramatic, Interesting

THE HUNTRESS is historical fiction (during and after World War II), with chapters devoted to the separate stories of three people: Nina, Russian fighter pilot, Ian, journalist turned Nazi hunter, and Jordan, teenage photographer. All three seek the huntress. Therefore, before long their stories come together as they have the common goal of seeing that the huntress is brought to trial.

Jordan’s chapters are too young adultish. Nina’s chapters are too wordy. Ian’s chapters often portray Nina as a joke. All chapters sometimes strain the imagination.

But ignore that and you’ll enjoy the story.

I won an ARC of THE HUNTRESS from William Morrow through

The Squirrel Manifesto by Ric Edelman, Jean Edelman
Book Club Recommended
Beautifully Illustrated Book With Theme of Financial Responsibility

THE SQUIRREL MANIFESTO is a five-star book for its illustrations, which are the reason most kids pick up a book in the first place. And its theme of financial responsibility is a good one, although I don't agree that preschool-age children need to be concerned about paying taxes. That seems ridiculous and, so, downgrades the book's rating to four stars. It could have been three stars if those illustrations weren't so darned cute.

Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Interesting, Beautiful
Do yourself a favor and read this

If you can get your hands on a book by John Boyne, do it. I’ve read four, and they are all great. Now I’ve read another, A LADDER TO THE SKY, and it proves once again what a master he is at writing both plot- and character-driven literature. Every sentence is so well written I wanted to reread it.

This novel is about a bad guy, a really, really bad guy, a psycho: Maurice. He lurks among the writing community. He fancies himself a great Prize [sic]-worthy author of fiction. And he is a good writer, but his stories are boring. So he cannot become a recognized author who can at least get on the short list for The Prize [sic] unless, as he sees it, he inserts himself into the lives of successful authors. He uses and abuses, as the saying goes. And he’ll do anything. (I capitalized "The Prize" because it is spelled that way in the book.)

Through his characters, Boyne often says what I often say when I review a book: the writing may be good, but that is not enough. A good book is also driven by a plot. Without that, the book is boring. And that is Maurice’s problem: he cannot come up with plots. He needs story ideas. And he’ll stop at nothing.

A LADDER TO THE SKY is, in a way, difficult to read because one bad thing after another happens. Now and then, though, someone is wise to Maurice. Unfortunately, his beauty attracts both men and women, so he gets away with years of exploitation.

Do yourself a favor and read A LADDER TO THE SKY.

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica
Slow, Dark
Too YAish

Many people love Mary Kubica’s books. I’m not one of them. I’m sorry to say that because I always want to love what I’m reading. However, after reading two of her books, I’ve decided she’s not for me.

WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT strikes me as a book for young adults, one I would have liked when I was a teenager. So, if you’re a teenager, try it. But I’m way past YA.

Three stories are going on here, all connected but in different timelines. Two are Eden’s stories, the other one Jessie’s. It’s easy to figure out how Jessie and Eden are connected long before Kubica spells it out.

Eden’s stories are too soap opera-ish, too repetitious. She wants a baby and thinks she will do anything to get one.

Jessie is sleepy all the time in her story. Much of it doesn’t make sense, but I decided that was because of lack of sleep. And I’m sure that is what Kubica meant for the reader to think so she would be surprised in the end. But I wasn’t just surprised; I was disappointed to put it mildly. To be honest, I was angry because I felt like all the time I spent reading Jessie’s story was wasted.

If you are one of the readers who likes Kubica’s books, pick this one up. Then you’ll see what I mean.

I won this book through [email protected].

Informative, Interesting, Slow
YA, Rather Than Adult, Novel

THE ATOMIC CITY GIRLS is not for me, and that is why I give it only three stars. However, it is very good and deserves all the praise it has received for readers of young adult novels, be they teenagers or adults who enjoy that writing style.

This is easy reading, which I did like when I was a teenager. And I also consider this to be a YA novel because most of the main character’s chapters, which deal with her love affair with a much older scientist, are predictable and so immature that even her period is discussed at one point. Frankly, periods are a bigger deal to teenage girls.

Even so, THE ATOMIC CITY GIRLS is full of historical fiction. Readers get an overview of life in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, when that city was built to help create the atomic bomb, which, in turn, helped end World War II.

But this book’s title, THE ATOMIC CITY GIRLS, is inaccurate. Yes, the main character, June, is an 18-year-old girl. But June’s scientist/lover, Sam, is also prominent in the book. And another main character is Joe, a black man working in construction and living in a “hutment” in an area separate from living quarters for white people. Although another girl, Cici, figures in the storyline, Sam and Joe give the lie to the book's title.

And no character, male or female, is portrayed in depth. This is mostly a plot-driven YA story with a little more sex than they had back in the 1970s.

Varina: A Novel by Charles Frazier
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Slow
Historical Fiction or Just Fiction?

Historical fiction appeals to many people because they take for granted that it teaches them history but in a novel (as opposed to history book) form. But what if a book, billed as historical fiction, deviates from the truth, not just a little but a lot? Is that OK because this is, after all, fiction? If a publisher/author claims it is historical, shouldn’t the reader expect a reconstruction of past events?

That is my problem with VARINA by Charles Frazier. I’m not sure of its accuracy and don’t know if I can be without reading another book about Varina.

Varina was the second wife of Jefferson Davis, the president of a nonexistent country, the Confederacy, during the American Civil War. Although she is not WELL known, many facts about her life are known, and most readers of VARINA assume they are incorporated into this novel. I did. Now I wonder.

VARINA begins long after the Civil War, when Varina is living in the North (which she really did). She reunites with a man who she saved when he was a child. (He really did exist, although they never really reunited.) Now she remembers for him her life before, during, and after the Civil War.

Whenever I read historical fiction I want to know what parts of it are fiction and what parts fact. Usually the author adds notes to make this clear. But Frazier did not add notes to VARINA. So I looked them up on the Internet.

I found an article by Kimberly J. Largent from Ohio State University called “The Life of Varina Howell Davis: First Lady of the Confederacy” ( Much of it differs from VARINA, in particular that Jefferson Davis never got over his first wife and was not a good husband to Varina. According to Largent, they both loved each other very much, and she was not jealous of the first wife at all. Also, when Varina tried to escape with her children to Cuba after the war, the book VARINA has Jefferson meeting with her only once, when they were captured, whereas Largent says he met with them often, off and on during their escape attempt.

So who’s right? I rate VARINA with four stars because I give Frazier the benefit of the doubt that he wrote HISTORICAL fiction, not just fiction. But if the OSU article is correct, I downgrade that to two stars, maybe one.

Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison
Book Club Recommended
Liked it; didn't love it

I liked TEAR ME APART; I didn’t love it. That makes it a three-star book. Yet it’s better than many other books I’ve rated with three stars. So this one gets four.

This book is mystery upon mystery upon mystery, etc. Maybe the biggest mystery throughout: who is really who.

It begins with two mentally unstable teenagers committed to “University Hospital.” Then the book skips years to teenage Olympic hopeful Mindy and her parents who seem like a normal little family if “normal” includes a well-known star of Colorado’s ski slopes and a devoted mother who lives for her daughter. There’s also the mother’s sister, Juliet, a doctor who is a DNA tech and lab manager for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Later we meet a widower, Zack, in faraway Tennessee, trying to solve his wife’s murder and find his kidnapped infant daughter, who would now be a teenager.

Who are they really? In the race to save the life of her niece, Juliet discovers more mysteries. And Zack’s quest leads him, along with Nashville police, to Colorado and the CBI. Mysteries are solved as more are discovered.

I enjoyed the mysteries, although a couple were pretty obvious. It was still fun to see them solved. But a book reviewer does readers a disservice when she says too much. And “too much” in this case is more than I have already said. You will enjoy TEAR ME APART like I did if I leave it for you to discover the mysteries on your own.

Secrets of Eden: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
Mesmeriziing Literary Thriller

I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful SECRETS OF EDEN is. Every sentence is so well written, and the story is arranged so well.

SECRETS OF EDEN begins with the first-person account of a Baptist minister, Stephen. After he baptizes one of his parishioners, Alice, she says, “There,” and Stephen forever blames himself for not realizing what she meant by that word and for not saving her from her husband.

Part II is the account of the state’s attorney, Catherine. She suspects that Alice’s husband did not commit suicide. She then suspects Stephen and looks for evidence against him.

Eventually Stephen meets Heather, an author of inspirational books about angels, who helps him and Alice’s daughter, Katie, with her first-hand knowledge of wife abuse, murder, and suicide. Part III of SECRETS OF EDEN, is Heather’s first-person account.

The final part of the book is Katie’s first-person account.

Every part of SECRETS OF EDEN sounds like it really is written by that person who narrates it. The writing and the story are mesmerizing as each part builds suspense, adds clues, and moves the story further. This is one fine literary thriller.

Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Addictive, Beautiful
didn’t grab me right away, but I loved it in the end

John Boyne writes so well he makes me want to reread his lovely sentences. This is one of the biggest reasons I've given five stars to all of his books that I've read so far. And I would have given five to THE HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE, too, but for its beginning. While Boyne's writing is as beautiful as ever in this book, it seemed to me in the first quarter that this was going to be a character-driven story with little plot, less a story than a series of incidences.

Later I realized these incidences are what the story depends on.

Also, Boyne skips from one year to another, sometimes back and sometimes forward. I didn’t see the logic of that at first. It seemed haphazard. But it wasn’t.

I saw how skillfully Boyne builds anticipation in this way. Rather than just present a story, he manages his presentation.

In the end, I love this book as much as his others. But I rate it with four stars rather than five because it didn’t grab me right away.

Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Interesting, Adventurous
Tedious Becomes Tense and Unputdownable

Two stories are going on in THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER. One story is Helena’s past when she grew up with her father, dubbed “The Marsh King,” after he kidnapped and raped her mother; the other is Helena’s present after she learns of her father’s escape from prison.

At first, I thought I was not going to like THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER because the first quarter of the book contains too many details that do not advance the story. But I continued reading because of Karen Dionne’s skillful descriptions of life among Michigan’s Upper Peninsula’s marshes and navigation in the area. Throughout THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER I wondered how she was able to do this so well that I felt like I was there, even getting cold when Helena fell in the marsh and when she was forced to spend three days in a well.

But, I promise, the two stories do become tense and unputdownable. Dionne’s ability to describe tracking someone in the marshy area does this in Helena’s present-day story of searching for her father (although I wasn’t convinced she couldn’t have left this to the police). And the story of Helena’s interactions with “The Hunter” and of bringing her mother and herself to safety is equally as tense and unputdownable, especially because Dionne tells both stories at the same time.

So I was glad I finished reading THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER and upgrade my original rating of three stars to four.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative
Effect of Cases on FBI Agent Who Worked Them

Although I was concerned that IN THE NAME OF THE CHILDREN might turn me off by its subject matter, I thought wrong. This book concentrates on the effects of child abuse cases on Jeffrey Rinek, the FBI agent who worked them, more than it does on the cases, themselves. I’m very glad I read it.

The book begins with Jeffrey Rinek as a boy and gives the reader an idea of why he was the way he was as an adult in the FBI. When he fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming an FBI agent, he was assigned many child abuse cases and cases of missing and murdered children. He was found to be a successful interviewer/interrogator because of his compassion, and that compassion was almost his undoing. He is now retired from the FBI.

Rinek was strongly affected by his cases, and IN THE NAME OF THE CHILDREN describes several of them and why and how each affected him. So you could say that this is both Rinek’s memoir and a true crime book.

Thank you to I wouldn’t have read IN THE NAME OF THE CHILDREN if you hadn’t sent it to me. I was so pleased with this book, I even emailed Rinek to tell him. Now I hope to convince others to read it.

Book Club Recommended
Dark, Slow, Interesting
Long Book That Seems Too Short

It’s difficult to put simply a synopsis of such an involved book as THE GOLDFINCH. There’s so much to say about it! But suffice it to say that the narrator, at 13, is the victim of a museum bombing. His mother is killed, and at the insistence of a dying old man, he leaves the museum with a painting, saving it from possible ruin. Both these results, along with PTSD, affect his life for many years after the bombing.

If you read other reviews of THE GOLDFINCH, you know that people either love it or they hate it. I’m at the positive end of the scale, i.e., I loved it. But I understand the negative remarks. I just don’t agree.

Most of the negative reviews complain that the book is too long, the narrator’s thoughts go on and on and on. Yes, THE GOLDFINCH IS long, 771 pages. That’s too long for some people and too long for some books. Some people are put off by a long book because some books aren’t good enough to make them want to invest that much of their time in it. It might have seemed that way to them as it did to me at first.

The story didn’t get off to a good start for me because its narrator is a 13-year-old boy, and most books about kids bore me. But I found this book is the exception; Donna Tartt’s writing is that good. Besides, he doesn’t stay 13. I was sorry to see his story end. Maybe some people gave up too soon.

I was happy to read that some reviewers compare this to Dickens’ books because I thought that, too. Except THE GOLDFINCH is a modern Dickens book (and better, I think).

Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Interesting, Informative
News to me and maybe you, too


I’m almost at a loss for words to describe AN ELEGANT DEFENSE and emphasize not only how important but also how interesting this book is. So I begin my comments with an exclamation (wow).

This is a science book. But (whoa, don’t go away) it is probably unlike any science book you’ve had experience with. It is casual and easy to understand. And even though it does contain scientific words, Matt Richtel occasionally reminds the reader what they mean and how they are applicable to what he then describes.

I am not a scientific or medical person. I only decided to read this because Richtel is a Pulitzer Prize winner for his A DEADLY WANDERING. And was I surprised that someone could make the science of the immune system so darned interesting. Honestly, it was as if I was reading an exciting thriller last night when I stayed up reading this book until I fell asleep sometime past midnight. Maybe that’s because he gives real-life examples of what he is talking about.

Richtel divides AN ELEGANT DEFENSE into five parts, each perfectly named (as are the chapters). First he introduces us to four people, examples of “the extraordinary new science of the immune system.” Next comes the science, which Richtel still manages to keep casual, even humorous at times. And he sometimes adds to this part other real-life examples. The remainder of the book concentrates more on the people he began with.

Much, maybe most, of AN ELEGANT DEFENSE is personal. Yes, I learned a lot. But I think, even with these readable explanations and examples showing how our immune systems are so important to everything about our bodies, this book absorbed me because Richtel makes it personal, especially Jason. Jason is the reason I stayed awake past midnight last night.

I won the ARC of AN ELEGANT DEFENSE through

Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dramatic, Poorly Written

In Rene Denfeld’s THE CHILD FINDER, Naomi is known for her ability to find children, sometimes dead but more often alive. She, herself, escaped something when she was a child, something she forgets, and was subsequently raised in a foster home, with her foster brother, Jerome.

That is one of the mysteries: what does Naomi forget?

The main mystery of THE CHILD FINDER, though, involves Madison, who was lost in the woods when she was 5-years-old. It is now three years later. Chapters alternate: mostly Denfeld concentrates on Naomi’s search for Madison and the present state of Madison. But two other stories are also going on: Naomi’s other job—finding a missing baby whose mother is in jail for her murder—and Naomi’s relationship with Jerome.

There are some problems. Every character in this book is so one dimensional the reader never really knows any one of them, even Naomi. That means this is a plot-driven, rather than character-driven, story. Also, Madison is only 5- to 8-years-old in the chapters that describe her, yet most everything she does seems way beyond a child that young.

Other than these two problems, though, THE CHILD FINDER is an engaging book. I stayed up late to finish it last night so, obviously, am glad I read it. As I understand, this is the first in a series, and I’ll be looking to finding out about her next case and whether, this time, she investigates alongside Jerome.

Interesting, Confusing, Informative

Don’t expect too much. LOST GIRLS has received so many great reviews, even a NEW YORK TIMES notable book award for 2013, I expected to be mesmerized. Don’t make the same mistake. Then you’ll more readily see what outstanding reporting Robert Kolker does with this book.

Not only does Kolker investigate the mysterious deaths of five young prostitutes on Long Island, he also looks at their lives, how they grew up, who loved them, how they chose their “profession.” He provides so many details you might come to understand them. I almost did.

My biggest problems with LOST GIRLS were a) too many names and b) too many details. I just couldn’t keep track of all of them.

Because LOST GIRLS is nonfiction, all the names are necessary for accurate storytelling. A good reporter is accurate, above all. Fiction can concentrate more on keeping the story readable with fewer names and fewer people who share the same name. But, with LOST GIRLS, at first I was paging back to remind myself who belonged in which girl’s life. Eventually, though, I gave up.

Same with all the details. They may be necessary, but I had a hard time remembering which belonged with which story, and I eventually gave up.

It would have been an enormous help to have a list of names, with reminders of who is who. Then guess what I found at the end of the book: a list of names, with reminders of who is who. WHAT THE HECK IS THAT DOING AT THE END?

So, while I admire Kolker’s investigative reporting, as a book, I can’t give it a high rating. At this length, it is too confusing.

I won this book from

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Adventurous, Interesting
Better Than Le Carre

This is a test: can I write well enough to convince you to read THE EIGHTH SISTER, to make you believe, if you’ve read Robert Dugoni before, that this is his best and, if you haven’t, that this first book in his Charles Jenkins (who you may remember from the David Sloane series) series is a great place to start? I finished reading it last night in the middle of the night, when I should have been sleeping. And I’m a picky reader. And I write honest reviews.

Part 1 of THE EIGHTH SISTER places Jenkins in Russia after he believes he has been reactivated as a CIA agent. His objective is to find the identity of the eighth “sister.” The other seven “sisters” are CIA spies. Already, two have been found out and probably killed. Can Jenkins help prevent a similar fate for the other five “sisters”?

Before long, though, Jenkins learns that all is not as he had been told.

Descriptions of Russia and Turkey sound so authentic that I wondered throughout this part where and how Dugoni got his information. (Read the “Acknowledgements.”) These details, along with Jenkins’s struggles there, make this the best kind of book, i.e., the unputdownable kind, the kind you have to keep reading, even during lunch and dinner.

I never describe a book’s plot so much that the reader’s enjoyment might be spoiled. Therefore, I don’t describe Part 2 because it might say too much about what happened in Part 1. (Warning: Don’t read other reviews unless it isn’t important to you that you experience this book as the author intended.) But David Sloane is back in Part 2 and so is his stepson, now a law student. Let’s hope Sloane continues in the rest of the Jenkins series.

Other reviews compare THE EIGHTH SISTER to books by LeCarré. In my experience, THE EIGHTH SISTER is better. Really.

Something in the Water: A Novel by Catherine Steadman
Addictive, Dramatic, Dark

I determine what I read by books’ reviews. SOMETHING IN THE WATER has plenty of great ones, including from Reese Witherspoon and her book club. So I expected this book to be “thrilling and thought provoking,” "deliciously dramatic,” and “a dark glittering gem of a thriller.”

But I was disappointed. It bored me for the most part.

Erin and Mark, as young newlyweds on their honeymoon, find “something in the water” that changes both of them for the worse. It took until page 230 to get to that, though. Before they found “something in the water” are 229 pages of buildup. Even after they find “something in the water,” the story is predictable, including and most of all the end.


Slow, Difficult, Adventurous

THE DOUBTER’S ALMANAC is a good story, but the storytelling is dull.

Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Informative, Romantic

“We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.” That is Detroit’s motto. And it is so appropriate, also, to this book, three different stories about three women, all related but each a different generation.

Elizabeth Balsam is presently a reporter for the DETROIT FREE PRESS. She is contacted by a black man about photographs of the 1967 race riots in Detroit. They are in his possession, he says, but rightfully belong to Nora Balsam Rich, a white woman who had been married to his uncle, William Rich, the photographer of the photos. Elizabeth learns that Nora is her great aunt and goes to Nora’s home, a big white house in Lapeer County, Michigan, to discuss the photos. Over time, Elizabeth learns Nora’s story and, through Nora, the history of this house and her great great great grandmother who also lived there.

Nora’s story begins during the 1960s when she is young, but an adult, living a life financed by her father. They are from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. But Nora is disowned by her parents when she marries a black man from Detroit, William Rich. Nora and William end up living in the big white house in Lapeer County.

Mary, Nora’s great great grandmother, lives in the big white house in Lapeer County during Civil War times. While her husband is away in the army, she takes care of their farm, and her home is part of the Underground Railroad. One escaped slave becomes so invaluable she couldn’t run the farm without him.

Although I picked up this book because it is about the part of Michigan where I live, I found much else to like about it. The book not only tells about two different points in history and the racism that existed then in Michigan; it also adds the mystery of William: What happened to him? Did he abandon Nora? When did he die? Or is he alive?

My only problem with this book is that a couple coincidences seem to be a bit too much of a coincidence, so unlikely.

There, I haven’t given away any of the plot. But see if you don’t agree.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Slow
Historical Fiction About Early Movie-Making Business

THE ELECTRIC HOTEL is historical fiction that goes all the way back to the beginning of silent movies (which was in the 19th century in France) to the 1960s showing of “The Electric Hotel.” But the book begins with an old man in 1962 and the PhD candidate who is interviewing him for his dissertation on “innovation in American silent film before 1914.” Nearly everything else is flashback as the old man, Claude, tells his story.

The first and longest flashback deals, mostly, with Claude, a movie maker, and Sabine, the actress he loves. This part, more than half of the book, is both interesting, as the reader learns how and where this movie business began and what obstacles they had to deal with, and boring, as Dominic Smith is often too wordy.

But after Claude’s production of “The Electric Hotel,” the story is both interesting and engaging, even for someone who doesn’t particularly care about the movie making business. I know I’ll never feel the same way about Thomas Edison again.

I expected to love THE ELECTRIC HOTEL because I loved Smith’s last book, THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS. I didn’t. But I did like THE ELECTRIC HOTEL a lot. I must have because now I want to watch some silent movies. And I wonder if anyone asked Smith whether he modeled Claude and Sabine on real people.

I won this book through

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful

Although every bit of the story is predictable, THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE is impressive for its descriptions of a part of the world that few of us know anything about and of the people who live there. Also notable are the explanations of tea, its history and industry. It might make you want to trade your coffee for tea.

The story begins in China in a remote village up in a mountain. The reader watches a young girl, Li-yan, grow up there. The descriptions of her family life, her interactions with friends and others in the village, and especially her growing involvement in the tea industry are all interesting, and that was enough to make continue reading.

Almost from the start, though, I was horrified with the villagers’ superstitions. This is probably an accurate portrait of life there, but some of it is hard to read.

Li-yan’s story and the story of the tea girl of Hummingbird Lane (not Li-yan) are, as I said, predictable throughout. But, even if you pretty much know what’s going to happen to them, it also pretty much goes the way you want it to go. So the story is satisfying even if it's too coincidental.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful, Interesting

So many great things have already been said about THE GUEST BOOK by Sarah Blake that, I felt before I read this book, it was sure to be a letdown. Too much praise leads to high expectations. This was especially true because Blake’s previous bestseller, THE POSTMISTRESS, disappointed me after all its complimentary reviews.

But THE GUEST BOOK deserves every word you have heard about it. It is as if the two books were written by different people.

Mostly, THE GUEST BOOK is about secrets. Three generations of a well-to-do family are described, including the secrets kept by the first two and the eventual unraveling by the third.

This story is sad. To me, that is partly because the secrets are not only about wrongs committed but also about the shame that accompanies them. Also, what appears to be racial prejudice is sometimes something else.

Even though I am delighted with THE GUEST BOOK , some of it does irritate me:
a) This would be more reader friendly if chapter headings are years rather than consecutive numbers.
b) Stories of different family members depend on a few too many coincidences.
c) Perhaps this is just my misunderstanding, but it seems silly that Americans, even though they are New Yorkers, use English affectations, e.g., “mum” and “pram.”

But overlook these. Most people can.

I won an ARC of THE GUEST BOOK from the publisher, Flatiron Books.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful

I’m glad I read “A Note From the Author” (at the back of the book, before the “Acknowledgements”) before I read BEFORE WE WERE YOURS. I appreciated more the chapters of this book that otherwise would have seemed exaggerated.

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS is told in alternating chapters, some in present day told from the point of view of Avery Stafford, who is being groomed to take over her father’s senate seat. The majority of the other chapters begin in 1939 and are told from the point of view of Rill Foss, the eldest of five children who were stolen from their parents and experienced the horrors of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage and corrupt adoption practices.

Rill’s chapters seem over-the-top exaggerated. But, although Rill and her brother and sisters are fiction, their experiences at this orphanage are all based on the experiences of people who really were orphans there. And Georgia Tann was real; although she seems too horrible, she really was.

These chapters that are based on fact make BEFORE WE WERE YOURS worth reading. The other chapters seem more like a sweet story you might see on the Lifetime channel. (I guess they do serve as relief from Rill’s very depressing life.)

The Risen: A Novel by Ron Rash
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful, Fantastic

THE RISEN may not have been promoted as much as Ron Rash’s other books. I hadn’t heard of it until I found it two years after its publication. And what a find it turns out to be!

Two brothers, Bill, a successful neurosurgeon, and Eugene, a failed writer and an alcoholic, learn that the body of an old acquaintance, Ligeia, has been discovered. Eugene tells the story of the summer 46 years ago when they met Ligeia and of their present predicament. Who killed her?

This is my favorite of all Rash's books. It’s short but leaves quite an impact.

Absolutist by John Boyne
Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Dramatic

It is so difficult to talk about THE ABSOLUTIST without saying too much. Safe to say, Tristan tells the story of his friendship with Will after they have enlisted in the army during World War I. He simultaneously tells the story of his going to meet Will’s sister after the war to deliver letters to her but also to tell her a secret.

I wonder how many readers caught the allusion to the Judas story when Tristan denies his friendship with Will three times.

This is another example of John Boyne's fabulous writing. At the same time, though, the story of what Tristan regrets in the end is unlikely, not that he regrets it but that he did it.

Saints and Villains: A Novel by Denise Giardina
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Adventurous

I hadn’t heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But I should have. He was a German theologian and Nazi resistor during the 1930s and 1940s who always showed moral courage from the time he was a young man. He took part in various attempts to kill Hitler and was hanged as a result at the end of World War II just as the Allies were coming to occupy Germany.

SAINTS AND VILLAINS by Denise Giardina is a novel based on the truth of Bonhoeffer's life. From the time he was 14 he knew he wanted to study theology. As a Christian, Bonhoeffer couldn’t justify what he saw happening to his country when the Nazis came into power. He (and his family) hated what he saw the Germans doing to the Jews much earlier than others acknowledged it.

Bonhoeffer's moral courage was obvious as early as his seminary days in New York. But it was in Germany that he spoke out against Nazis, often in sermons, even when it seemed the majority of Germans supported Hitler.

This should not have been a new story to me, and I’ll always remember it. Do yourself a favor and read this book.

Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Addictive
Great book that can be read out of order

A SERPENT'S TOOTH is a book in Craig Johnson‘s Walt Longmire mystery series. It’s the first book in the series that I’ve read, although it is not the first book in the series; I am reading this series out of order. I think one of the tests of a good series is whether you can pick it up at any point and enjoy it. The Longmire series passes the test.

Longmire, a county sheriff in Wyoming, investigates what first seems to be a Mormon fundamentalist cult . With the help of his undersheriff, deputies, and good friend, he finds that what seemed like a cult later seems to have more to do with the CIA and oil. Whoever they are, they’re dangerous.

I enjoyed this book so much that now I intend to read the rest of the series and wish I had read it in order. Although Johnson ensures that you never have to depend on an earlier book to know what is going on, sometimes he uses three different names for the same person, which confused me. Maybe if I had read the series in order, I would understand right away who the pet names were referring to.

But even if you can get your hands on this book first, I promise, you’ll enjoy it.

Informative, Dark, Scary

I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK is billed as true crime, which I guess it is. But not really, not as most of us think of it. It is actually the investigation of the investigation of true crime.

Michelle McNamara, the author, became interested in the case of a serial rapist, then murderer, who began in Northern California in the 1970s and worked his way south to 1986. She liked to think that she could assist in the investigation more than 10 years later. But she actually wrote about her investigation of the investigation of the crimes.

I am not giving anything away when I tell you that McNamara died before she could finish writing the book, before she could identify the rapist/murderer herself. But the way I heard it before I read the book was that she died before the case could be solved. I was given the impression this was an open case when it was actually a cold case.

I feel like I was fooled because this book is not at all what I expected. Dates were all over the place, and the true crimes were not given in any type of order. I was confused throughout.

Could it be that its great reviews are mostly because McNamara died before she could finish her book?

The First Mistake by Sandie Jones
Dramatic, Interesting, Addictive

Sometimes I accidentally read chic lit. That’s what I would call THE FIRST MISTAKE by Sandie Jones. I don’t like chic lit, and I rarely pick it up on purpose. But if you do like chic lit, this is probably one of the better ones I have accidentally read.

The book is divided into three parts.

Part 1 is Alice’s part. She is emotionally unstable and paranoid. She is on husband number two after husband number one was lost in the mountains. Husband number one seemed perfect, then didn’t; husband number two seems perfect, then doesn’t, then does, then doesn’t, then does, etc. Then there is also Alice’s best friend, Beth. She seems perfect, too, then doesn’t. Is all this due to Alice's unstable paranoia? Maybe so, maybe not.

Part 1 is SO predictable.

Then comes Beth's Part 2. Now we see some things that happened before Alice came into the story. But who is this man Beth has picked up? Part 2 is predictable, too, but less so than Part 1.

As much as I dislike chic lit, I have to admit, Part 3 is unpredictable. Alice suddenly becomes a businesswoman, making her own decisions about her own company. Beth and Alice figure everything out but not before lots of surprises.

If you are a fan of chic lit, Part 3 makes this a five-star novel. If you, like me, are not, Part 3 upgrades this to a two-star novel.

Fantastic, Dramatic, Brilliant

If you look for trouble long enough and hard enough, you’ll find it. That’s what A CONSPIRACY OF TALL MEN says, at least in part.

We are introduced to Linus and his two friends, all conspiracy theorists. They’re always on the lookout for trouble. And, boy, do they find it when Linus's wife is killed. She was on a plane she shouldn’t have been on with another man, and someone bombed the plane.

Many twists and turns abound as we follow Linus on the one hand and his friends on the other as they figure out the mysteries. In the middle of the book I was sometimes confused and had to re-read some paragraphs. But all in all I enjoyed the book and it’s dialogue very much.

But I wonder if anyone besides me is curious about Richard Preston, the name, not the character. I read reviews of this book but have seen no one else bring it up. When I saw that name, I immediately thought of the author Richard Preston. How amusing that his name was used for a character so concerned with a plague.

I read this because I liked Noah Hawley’s latest book, BEFORE THE FALL, so much. I see with A CONSPIRACY OF TALL MEN that he was writing five-star books even 20 years ago. (His picture from back then makes him look like he was about 12 years old when he wrote it.)

Slow, Boring, Beautiful

Did Casey Cep do in FURIOUS HOURS what Harper Lee could not? You could say that, but Cep doesn’t really. She does more, though .

Lee was Truman Capote‘s assistant when he gathered material for his book IN COLD BLOOD. So, after she had such success with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, she thought she could successfully write narrative nonfiction, too.

The perfect case presented itself, Lee thought, with the Reverend Willie Maxwell. He was accused of murdering five people for insurance money.

Cep divides this book into three parts. Each part tells a separate story, one for Maxwell; another for Tom Radney, the lawyer who represented Maxwell; and another for Harper Lee.

Probably because she could find so little biographical material on Maxwell, Cep goes into too much detail with her history lessons in the first part. So she almost lost me.

She does better with the second part, where it is obvious that she likes Radney and his family very much. But maybe that is why she does not adequately explain why, after representing Maxwell, Radney then represents his murderer, except to say that everyone is entitled to a defense.

Lee's part is obviously why FURIOUS HOURS is so highly rated. Here Cep presents a biography of Lee and tries to figure her out. Through extensive research, Cep gives several probable reasons that Lee never wrote another book after MOCKINGBIRD, and most particularly why she never wrote her book I on Maxwell.

Lee was unable to tell Maxwell‘s story in a way that would capture a reader as fiction does. Cep does present his story, but she does not seem to be so concerned about capturing the reader as she does with ensuring that everything is factual.

Words between Us by Bartels
Unconvincing, Optimistic, Adventurous

THE WORDS BETWEEN US is Erin Bartels' second novel, following WE HOPE FOR BETTER THINGS, and it is probably the better of the two. I would categorize it as a young adult novel. So it is as YA that I praise it.

In alternating ”Then” and “Now” chapters, the main character, Robin, gives first-person accounts of her past and present until the two finally meet.

Robin begins her "Then” chapters when she was 14-years-old and sent to live with her grandmother after both her parents landed in jail. She went to a new high school and met Peter, the love of her life. But first the two became friends when he gave her books and she paid for each with a poem.

The “Now" chapters are 18 years later, after Robin fled her new hometown, Peter, and the law. She owns a used bookstore and is suddenly receiving unsigned packages in the mail. They are obviously from Peter because each package contains one of the books he gave her so many years before.

It’s a YA love story, the kind I used to read, with no teenaged sex, just sweetness.

Interesting, Informative, Slow

You may think you already know the story of Patricia Hearst. I thought I did. It was a big news story back in the 1970s. I’m about Hearst’s age, so it interested me at the time.

I knew that Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and soon thereafter became a member of the SLA. Along with the SLA, she robbed a California bank at gunpoint. It became apparent to most adults around me that she was a spoiled rich girl gone way bad. She was eventually arrested and jailed, but she was then pardoned by, I thought, President Carter.

Read Jeffrey Toobin‘s AMERICAN HEIRESS, and you will know a lot more about this story than I did. You may even think that it is sometimes more than you need to know.

From what I can tell, Toobin just relates the facts of the case and does not give his opinion except to sometimes be sarcastic. But I was disappointed that he barely brings up the possibility that Stockholm Syndrome caused Hearst to act as she did with the SLA. That’s what she claims. So why not?

The Dry: A Novel by Jane Harper
Addictive, Dramatic, Interesting

Its title refers to a drought. The setting of THE DRY is a small farming town in Australia, and everyone is suffering because of the drought. God-awful things are going on in this small town, and often the drought is being blamed.

But Federal Agent Aaron Falk knows better. He and his father left there when he was 16 years old because it was such a nasty place, with some really bad people making them miserable.

So why is he back now, 20 years later? It appears that his best friend there has shot himself along with his wife and five-year-old son. But Falk and the town sheriff, Raco, are finding that all is not as it appears.

So that is that mystery. But there is another, the reason Falk and his father left the small town all those years ago.

THE DRY is unputdownable. The mysteries have twists and turns on every page. But you also want to watch every page for clues. Believe it, this is a book you will be sorry to see end.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Addictive, Interesting, Dramatic

Although you’ll find THE SILENT PATIENT in bookstores on shelves with psychological thrillers, it isn’t. THE SILENT PATIENT is a character study.

The silent patient is Alicia, who refuses to talk since she shot and killed her husband. Her psychotherapist, Theo, is so interested in Alicia that he managed to get a job at the hospital where she is now being kept, and then he managed to be assigned to her case.

Theo learns more and more about Alicia's life by means that are certainly unbelievable, i.e., by interviewing her friends and family in their homes and offices. At the same time, we also learn about Theo’s life.

So, unlike a psychological thriller, THE SILENT PATIENT is a study of these two characters. But this book is also not a psychological thriller because it contains no twists and turns, which I expect when I read a thriller, until nearly the end.

For a psychological thriller to be literary, as the best of them are, it is character-driven as well as plot-driven. But I would not say that of THE SILENT PATIENT. I will not give a book a high rating just because it finally grabs me near the end.

Give me more than character study, and grab me right from the start. That is what I require of a highly rated book.

The Widow by Fiona Barton
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Dark
Good, Not Great

THE WIDOW is good, not great.

We know right away that a woman is being hounded by the press because her husband, who has done something bad that everyone is interested in, has died suddenly. So the rest of the book is mostly flashback.

Turns out, the police and most other people believe the husband, Glen, kidnapped a 2-year-old girl and probably murdered her. His wife, Jean (the widow), stood by him for four years. The police and most other people believe she has been lying for him. But now that Glen is dead, will the widow come clean?

Not only is the story told mostly in flashbacks but, also, from various points of view. So the reader has to pay close attention to the date at the beginning of each chapter. But I found it easy to follow. Also, though, the story is easy to guess at. No result is a surprise.

Persuasive, Informative, Adventurous

THE REAL LOLITA by Sarah Weinman tells the true story of Sally Horner and shows again and again how that story influenced Vladimir Nabokov and his creation LOLITA.

I can’t imagine a more tragic story than Sally Horner’s. She was kidnapped in New Jersey when she was just a child and repeatedly raped by a 50-year-old man for nearly 2 years before she was rescued at the other end of the country.

This occurred in the 1950s, when Nabokov was writing LOLITA although under another title. He began the book but then was stuck and could not finish it until he read newspaper accounts about Sally Horner.

Weinman proves that Lolita and Sally are the same little girl. She points out so many examples in Nabokov’s book, yet he denied many times that his fiction was based on truth.

The problem I have with THE REAL LOLITA Is that Weinman is repetitive in the sections that discuss LOLITA. Plus, reading these sections is too much like reading academic papers. They get tedious.

But Weinman does convince me that Lolita is Sally.

The Accomplice: A Novel by Joseph Kanon
Brilliant, Dramatic, Fantastic

Every time I review a book by Joseph Kanon I say the same thing: he’s done it again. That is not to say the story is the same, but THE ACCOMPLICE is Kanon’s usual historical fiction/thriller with characters in situations I’m sure they can’t get out of but always do. Presentation is always smart dialog, no long paragraphs describing scenery as in so many other novels. This book is, as Kanon’s books always are, excellent.

Aaron Wiley feels obligated to find Otto Schramn, a doctor who performed medical experiments on Jews during World War II. It is now the 1960s, and Aaron’s uncle Max Weill, who has been tracking and turning in Nazis since his imprisonment at Auschwitz, has spotted Schramm in Germany but dies soon after.

So Aaron deduces that Schramm has left for Buenos Aires and follows him there. With assistance from a German newspaper reporter, an Israeli agent, a CIA station chief, and even Schramm’s daughter, Aaron hunts for Schramm, a monster turned crazy man.

A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh
Addictive, Dramatic, Fantastic

Although A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE is referred to as a thriller, it really is more mystery than thriller. And what a surprise that it is quite good coming from an author, Nalini Singh, who is known for her many paranormal romances. So this is a departure for her, and I was not expecting it to be so good. She wrote this like she’s been writing mysteries/thrillers for years. She should have been.

The story is told from the perspectives of Anahera and Will. They live in a small New Zealand town where everybody knows everyone else’s business, or at least they think they do. Then it almost gets like an Agatha Christie novel when a beautiful young woman goes missing and everyone becomes suspect.

I’m sure I will not be the only one who hopes Nalini Singh writes more mysteries/thrillers.

I won an ARC of A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE from a Berkeley sweepstakes on Facebook.

My Dark Vanessa: A Novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Dark, Difficult, Gloomy

MY DARK VANESSA is really a two-star book for me because of its subject matter. I would have and maybe should have stopped reading the book after the first chapter. But I wanted to figure this girl out. So, for that reason, I think other readers might not be so put off and rate the book with three stars.

Vanessa is a lonely 15-year-old. She doesn’t have friends. She eats by herself in the cafeteria. Then her male English teacher gives her some attention. It begins with a pat on the knee. She likes it. You can guess where it goes from there.

Chapters alternate between her high school and college years and when she is about 15 years older. Otherwise, I could not have finished the book. As it is, I still have not figured her out.

I won an ARC of MY DARK VANESSA from William Morrow Books.

Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Beautiful, Inspiring
Even an adult will appreciate this

I’m in my 60s, and I just read A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN for the first time. So many people told me they loved the book. But they read it when they were youngsters, and I didn’t know how I would feel about it as an adult.

After one short chapter I could tell that this is a book I would have loved when I was 11 or 12 years old. But I thought this would bore me now. I kept reading, though.

I can’t say I loved it, but I will say I appreciated it quite a bit. And there was a point in the middle of the book when I felt like crying and again at the end.

So if you’re an adult who hasn’t read A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, I think you should give it a try. Definitely give it to an 11 or 12-year-old. It’s timeless.

Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Beautiful, Dark

ABOVE THE WATERFALL is a literary mystery, above all, literary. It is a character-driven novel with plot. It is poetic, especially in its descriptions of the natural setting in which most of the story takes place.

Les, a sheriff, and Becky, a park ranger, are the two main characters in ABOVE THE WATERFALL. They share a love for the natural world they work and live in. But Les also sees the scum of the earth, including methadone addicts and their "labs." Les’s and Becky‘s first-person accounts are in alternating chapters throughout the book.The mystery: who dumped kerosene in a stream, killing trout important to the livelihoods of a resort owner and his employees?

This is a beautiful novel. Ron Rash's writing is gorgeous. Although he emphasizes character, he also gives the reader an intriguing mystery his characters deal with, each with their own baggage.

Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger
Boring, Difficult, Unconvincing
OK But Not Great

At the recommendation of Dana Perino, Fox News anchor and cohost and former press secretary for President George W. Bush, I purchased GIRLS LIKE US by Cristina Alger. It wasn't bad, but I wish I had borrowed it from the library, instead. Perino is a smart beauty with an impressive resume, but our tastes in writing style don't quite agree.

Nell, an FBI agent with an office in Washington, DC, comes home to Long Island for her father's funeral. He was a police detective who died in a motorcycle accident. But Nell becomes suspicious about her father's death and of all the people he worked with. So she doesn't return to Washington as soon as she had planned.

I was put off by all sorts of little details such as a sentence I could have sworn I read elsewhere and Nell's statement that prostitutes don't choose that profession. But it isn't a bad book, just not good enough to make me seek Alger's other books.

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline
Book Club Recommended
Difficult, Dramatic, Unconvincing

The last several chapters of AFTER ANNA are so good they're unputdownable. For many book reviewers, that's enough for a five-star rating. But the first half of the book, for me, was frustrating to the point it was sometimes difficult to read. Unless I like a book from beginning to end, it doesn't get five stars.

AFTER ANNA is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of Noah and Maggie, a happily married couple, at least â??before Anna.â?

Anna is Maggie's daughter. Maggie hasnâ??t seen Anna since she was a baby, when Maggieâ??s first husband had her declared unfit and moved with Anna to France. Now Annaâ??s father has died, and she is back in Maggieâ??s life. For Maggie, this is wonderful. But for Noah, who was originally happy to have Anna join their family, Anna is not who she seems to Maggie.

Noahâ??s chapters are â??after Anna,â? that is, after Annaâ??s murder. Heâ??s on trial. Maggieâ??s chapters are before Annaâ??s murder. In both cases, the truth of the matter is obvious and, therefore, the first half of the book is frustrating.

But when Maggie travels to Maine with her friend Kathy and her stepson Caleb (yes, Noah's 10-year-old son), the story is no longer predictable and becomes one of Lisaâ??s Scottolineâ??s finest. My only criticism is when Maggie talks like a junior high school girl and introduces Kathy more than once as her "best friend.â?

The Current: A Novel by Tim Johnston
Adventurous, Addictive, Dramatic

Itâ??s been a while since Iâ??ve read a five-star book. THE CURRENT by Tim Johnston definitely is one, though.

This book is outstanding. When itâ??s sad, itâ??s not just sad; it makes you want to cry. And so much is sad. But the story will still grab you and wonâ??t let go, even an incident between Audrey and the bad guy (no spoilers here) that stretches the possible and the probable.

There are two mysteries going on here, each 10 years apart. In both cases, girls drown in a river, probable murder or attempted murder. One girl, though, lives to investigate.

But there are other stories as well, the stories of the girlsâ?? families and of other families also affected, how they live with what happened. And thereâ??s a heartwrenching story of a sad old dog.

Johnston doesnâ??t waste words. His style is to not tell the reader everything directly. Maybe you will have to reread some paragraphs, but youâ??ll get used to it.

Addictive, Dark, Interesting

Of the four Lisa Jewell books I’ve read, THEN SHE WAS GONE may be the best. She calls the story "bizarre," herself.

Laurel and her husband Paul were in their 40s when their daughter Ellie went missing. Ten years later some of her bones are found. So they know she is dead, but for how long? And how did she die? Was she abducted or did she go willingly?

By this time, Laurel and Paul are divorced. Paul has gone on with his life, but Laurel cannot. Then she meets Floyd. As the two spend more and more time together, you should be on alert for too many coincidences. Laurel notices them and, before long, she puts two and two together, to her shock and dismay.

I won’t say more to spoil a good read except to remind you that Jewell calls this story bizarre.

Once Upon a River: A Novel by Diane Setterfield
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Dramatic, Beautiful

Diane Setterfield's ONCE UPON A RIVER is four mysteries with the Thames River as the backdrop. The foremost mystery is that of a nearly drowned (not really "returned to life," as explained in Setterfield's "Note") four-year-old girl. No one knows who she is, and she doesn't speak. The other three mysteries are of girls who have gone missing, feared drowned in the Thames. Could the unknown, nearly drowned girl be one of the three missing girls?

This book is told in the writing style of a fairytale, which turned me off for the first 60 or so pages. I almost didn't continue reading until I read in Setterfield's "Note" that one of the characters is based on an actual photographer of the Thames at the time of this story. After I read a few more pages, I got used to this writing style and found I enjoyed the mysteries.

But I admit ONCE UPON A RIVER does sound as corny as a fairytale sometimes, and I even expected "and they all lived happily ever after" at the end. Sure enough, the last chapter is called "Happily Ever After."

I won this book from Atria Books.

Dramatic, Addictive, Insightful

Although one third of all book reviews are fake, i.e., they are written either by people paid to write good book reviews or by friends of the author, this is not one of them. You can believe it: MIRACLE CREEK is probably the best book you will read in a long while.

Although the book flap says that the main characters are a family and a single mother, the book is actually told from the viewpoints of several characters, and I would say that each of them is also a main character.

Simply put, two people die in MIRACLE CREEK, and a single mother is put on trial for the murders. But what really happened?

Several characters have chapters devoted to their viewpoints. Turns out that lies and secrets abound among all of them. There are so many lies and secrets that I sometimes lost track. You may end up thinking the no one person was responsible.

Dramatic, Beautiful, Adventurous

A book with many great reviews does not necessarily mean you will like it. In the case of WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, though, you can believe it. It certainly does live up to all the praise it has been receiving.

This is the story of Kya. When she is just a child, her family leaves her, one by one, to fend for herself. (Although a small voice in me kept saying, no way, I chose to just go with it, a good decision.) She grows up in the natural world of the marsh, becoming expert in it, although living a very lonely life.

I won’t tell you the story. I’ll let you read and enjoy it as I did. I will tell you that the descriptions of nature are wonderful and that the story involves a murder mystery with a good twist in the end.

I wonder, though, if I missed something or if the author, Delia Owens, left an unanswered question. What about Pearl?

Book Club Recommended
Epic, Dramatic, Beautiful

Wilkie Collins was a contemporary of Charles Dickens, they were friends, and I expected something like a Dickens book. But I found Collins’ THE WOMAN IN WHITE to be more in the style of JANE EYRE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS than any of Dickens’ books that I have read. I loved JANE EYRE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS when I was 12 and 13 years old, and now I know that I still would if I read them again. That is to say, I loved THE WOMAN IN WHITE.

This book is considered to be the first detective novel, called “sensation fiction“ at the time. Walter Hartright, the main character, presents both his investigation of the conspiracy crime against Laura Fairlie and testimony of various witnesses. In this way, Collins uses multiple narrators to tell his story.

Fairlie is the young, innocent, and beautiful blond who marries the scoundrel, Sir Percival Glyde, even though she loves Hartright. Glyde and his friend, Count Fosco, scheme to take Fairlie's fortune. Hartright takes the law into his own hands to restore Fairlie’s name even if not her money. Of course, there’s much more depth to the story. But this is the center around which the mysteries revolve.

THE WOMAN IN WHITE is not only plot driven, though. The evil Count Fosco and the brave, intelligent Marian Halcombe are especial evidence of the characterization in this novel.

Remember when Collins described his characters, though, he was writing from the perspective of a male in the 1850s. So when he said, for instance, that Halcombe was masculine, he was probably referring to her qualities of bravery and outspokenness.

Fairlie is a character whose description Collins probably thought was positive. Yet her innocence during the 1850s would be seen as childish today. I thought she seemed stupid as well, frankly. (Other Fairlies are in THE WOMAN IN WHITE, but this review refers only to Laura Fairlie.)

But if you just accept Collins' characters and go with the story as written, with long sentences and too many commas, you'll know why it's a classic and love it as I do.

The Wicked Sister by Karen Dionne
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Scary
Another Winner for Karen Dionne

I predict that THE WICKED SISTER will be another winner for Karen Dionne. But remember: its title lets you know what you're in for.

The title refers to Diana. She was diagnosed as a psychopath when she was a little girl. But her parents loved her and chose to deal with it as best they could. They moved to an ideal place to do so, far from other people for Diana to hurt.

But through most of the book I wanted to scream at them, no, no, no! You have another child, Rachel, to consider!

In alternating chapters, this story of the family's past is told by the mother, Jenny, while the present is told by Rachel, now incarcerated in a mental institution. Believe me, Rachel's chapters will come as a relief after you read the sickening and frustrating chapters about a family that was ruled by Diana's desires.

Without telling you the story, which you should read for yourself, I will say that Rachel thinks she killed her mother but realizes her memories of doing so and of the following two weeks are incomplete. We learn what really happened as her memories come back to her. We also understand the family's history by now and know what Diana is capable of.

Try not to wonder how Jenny, who is supposed to be dead, can tell the story of the family's past. And try not to be too horrified during her descriptions of Diana's misdeeds (including murder and attempted murder) and manipulations. Then you will see that THE WICKED SISTER may be even better than Dionne's bestseller THE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER. And you will appreciate all her descriptions in THE WICKED SISTER of Michigan's Upper Peninsula with its wide expanses of woods and nature. These may even remind you of another author's book, WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

Recursion: A Novel by Blake Crouch
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Addictive, Insightful

I dislike science fiction and fantasy. Blake Crouch makes a liar out of me when I say that, though. Case in point: his novel RECURSION. It's science fiction. But once I began reading this book, I never wanted to put it down.

Seeking to help her mother's dementia, Helena invents a technology that lets people preserve their memories. In doing so, she accidentally makes it possible for people to actually go back to reexperience their memories and redo their lives. But what seems like a good thing, she learns, really isn't.

One bad effect of this accidental technology is False Memory Syndrome (FMS). After Barry, a New York City detective, decides to look into FMS, he meets Helena, and together they work to eradicate the technology.

The title of this book is RECURSION because that is exactly what Helena's and Barry's work entails. Again and again and again they return to a memory and relive their lives, hoping they can do it right this time.

The reason I don't like science fiction and fantasy is that I find it just plain ridiculous, usually. But RECURSION and the other Blake Crouch books I read, DARK MATTER and PINES, are intelligent science fiction while also can't-put-it-down books.

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
Interesting, Insightful, Difficult

VIRGIL WANDER is about inhabitants of Greenstone, Minnesota and about Greenstone, itself, narrated by Virgil Wander. While it is a novel, I wouldn’t call it so much a story as stories about each character. I usually give this type of construction a poor review, but in the hands of Leif Enger, it shines. His writing is delightful. There is no better adjective. And you’ll see the store Virgil Wander puts in good adjectives.

VIRGIL WANDER begins with Virgil’s accident, when he and his car end up in Lake Superior. From there he gives example upon example of how this has made him a changed person. You’ll delight in his descriptions of the “new" Virgil Wander's interactions with the people of Greenstone and in each one of their stories.

The Escape Room: A Novel by Megan Goldin
Dramatic, Addictive, Unconvincing

If you are the type of reader who quits a book after 50 or 100 pages if it hasn’t grabbed you by then, you might regret this in the case of THE ESCAPE ROOM. It gets better in the second half.

Most other reviews of this book say that it is can’t-put-it-down good. But they aren’t speaking of the first half. If you can wait 150 or so pages, you really will see why they say that.

Sara gets a job in finance on Wall Street. She’s making six figures so doesn’t want to quit even though her coworkers, four of them in particular, are so unfriendly, even nasty.

Sara’s story is in chapters that alternate with those of her four coworkers. Sam, Jules, Sylvie, and Vince are caught in an elevator, which they assume is an “escape room,” their employer’s idea of a training exercise.

Even though the second half of THE ESCAPE ROOM is better than the first half, most readers will find some difficulties in the latter part of the book as well. The most glaring of these is the impossibility of Sara’s revenge.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Slow, Interesting
A Peculiar Small Town

My former coworker liked John Connolly books so much that, even though they are published in the UK about a year before they are here in the US, he couldn't wait to read them so was willing to pay the postage to get his hands on them sooner. I decided to find out what all the fuss was about.

If Connolly is really that good, I feel I should be able to jump right into the middle of a series and understand the characters and what is going on with them. THE WOLF IN WINTER is well into the Charlie Parker series. I didn't feel lost.

While this novel's beginning is about Parker and his investigation into the whereabouts of the daughter of a homeless man, that soon leads him to a peculiar, even Stephen Kingish, small town in Maine. This town, Prosperous, rather than any single person, is the main character and this is what the book is really about.

Connolly mixes fiction with fact throughout THE WOLF IN WINTER. That's good, but sometimes, as a result, this book is a slow thriller. Does "slow thriller" sound like an oxymoron? It really is both. But I didn't mind the slow because it was so interesting.

The Second Mother by Jenny Milchman
Fantastic, Addictive

The highest compliment I can pay a book: I couldn’t put it down; I was up way past my bedtime so I could finish reading it. That’s what happened last night. I just had to finish THE SECOND MOTHER before I could go to sleep.

Like all Jenny Milchman’s novels before, which either take place in or are about someone from Wedeskyull, a small town in the mountains of New York, THE SECOND MOTHER begins there. Julie, a niece of the disgraced ex-chief of the Wedeskyull police, is grieving the death of her baby girl. She wants to get away from Wedeskyull so decides to resume her teaching career on a small island off the coast of Maine. There is where she experiences even greater trouble.

The island is full of secrets and lies. Has Julie become incarcerated in a mental institution?

Disregard a job application that asks marital status and number of children. Accept the unlikely abilities of elementary-school-age children. Go with it. Then you have here a most excellent and suspenseful story.

An Anonymous Girl: A Novel by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dramatic, Interesting
This book is can't-put-it-down good

This second novel by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen is even better than their first. AN ANONYMOUS GIRL is can’t-put-it-down good.

Jessica becomes involved, overly involved, in a morals study being conducted by Dr. Shields. The study pays well, and Jessica needs the money for her family. So, in spite of some qualms, she continues as a "subject" of the study, which delves into more and more of her life, even after she is no longer A subject but THE subject. Jessica should have followed her instincts.

Both Jessica and Dr. Shields tell this story in alternating chapters. Dr. Shields's chapters are written in passive voice. At first the use of this style seems to add to the mystery: Is this Dr. Shields speaking, or is someone else conducting this study with her? Later, though, it is obvious that Dr. Shields is emphasizing the people she is acting on.

A third novel by Hendricks and Pekkanen is about to come out. I can hardly wait to read it.

The Child by Fiona Barton
Dramatic, Adventurous, Addictive

If you read Fiona Barton’s previous book, THE WIDOW, and wonder, as I did, if THE CHILD is a continuation of that story, it is not. The two books are connected only by the character Kate Waters, a newspaper reporter. And this is the better of the two investigative news stories.

The child in THE CHILD is the skeleton of a baby found buried behind a home being torn down in England. The mystery is: whose baby was it? Kate thinks this is a potentially great story if only she can get to the bottom of it.

THE CHILD is the best kind of story, one that is both character- and plot-driven. Along with Kate, you will learn more and more about the characters and come to a conclusion, finally, with the help of science.

I also like the treatment of age in Barton’s books. If you think about the main characters in most stories, doesn’t it seem that they are usually in their 20s or 30s? It is as if to say that someone older than that is no longer interesting. So I love Kate Waters. She’s my age.

Book Club Recommended
Second Half Better Than First

(3.5 stars)

The second half of THE NEW HUSBAND by DJ Palmer is what gets this book high marks and great reviews. But you have to be patient when you read the first half and hope that the second half will be good enough to make it worth the wait. It is. (But I rate on the basis of both halves, not just the second.)

When this book opens, Glenn has been missing for nearly two years, leaving his wife, Nina, and two teenage kids, Conner and Maggie, to wonder what happened to him and how they could live on the little savings he left. Simon stepped in to woo Nina soon after Glen's disappearance. He has promised to take care of the family financially so won Nina over too quickly. Now he and Nina have purchased a home, and Simon wants to marry Nina. Conner likes Simon; Maggie despises him.

The first half of THE NEW HUSBAND establishes Simon's obsession with Nina and Maggie's hate of Simon. Although Nina does not ignorantly go along with every one of Simon's sweet-sounding demands, she still cannot see what 13-year-old Maggie does. Although Palmer doesn't explicitly say so, if the reader is the least bit perceptive, she will realize that Simon is, indeed, a bad guy and young Maggie is smarter than her mom. Admittedly, though, Nina does finally look into Simon's past before the halfway point of the book. This isn't a complete exercise in frustration.

So this goes on for 170-some pages. In the second half of the book, the reader sees just how bad Simon really is.

I've said enough. I'll say no more. But I'm glad I read both halves.

I won an advance reader's copy of THE NEW HUSBAND from St. Martin's Press.

Interesting, Informative

If you liked Ann Rule's true crime books, you will be happy to read A TANGLED WEB, written by Ann's daughter Leslie Rule. This is the true story of a woman obsessed with a man. She met that man on the computer, and she used the computer to feed her obsession.

Shanna “Liz” Golyar and Dave Kroupa met through a computer dating service. Kroupa made it clear that he wanted to stay single and date no one woman exclusively. Golyar seemed to agree. Instead, though, she became obsessed with Kroupa.

When Kroupa met Cari Farver through that same dating service, Golyar made an excuse to interrupt them at Kroupa’s apartment. Shortly after that, Farver went missing. And Kroupa came to hate her as she bombarded him with horrible emails and texts. At least they seemed to be coming from Farver.

Of course, Golyar received similar emails and texts, supposedly from Farver. And she and Kroupa became closer that way. So began the four-years-long harassment, not only of Kroupa but, also, Farver’s mother and other relatives and friends.

Rule lays out all the manipulation, the whole mess, so neatly that it will be hard for you to believe no one figured it out sooner. Why wasn’t it obvious to Kroupa right away? Why didn’t police figure it out when they downloaded Golyar’s cell phone?

This story attracted a lot of attention, including from the “Dateline” TV show on NBC in 2017. You can access it on the computer. But you’ll want to read this much-more-detailed book first.

Universe of Two: A Novel by Kiernan Stephen P.
Book Club Recommended
Boring, Interesting, Informative
Romance and Work on Manhattan Project

Stephen P Kiernan alternates chapters in UNIVERSE OF TWO: every other chapter is a third-person account, historical fiction about Charlie Fish (said to be based on the actual mathematician Charles Fisk) and his key contributions to building the atomic bomb. And every other chapter is the first-person account of Brenda Dubie and her romance with Charlie Fish, a story that is, as far as I can tell, fiction with some real historical details thrown in here and there.

Charlie's chapters are full of true history. I have a problem, though, with how much of the real Charles Fisk is portrayed by Charlie Fish. Kiernan says that Fish's life follows the skeleton of Fisk's, that is, where he went to school and what he worked on. But what about his continual crises of conscience? That is really what the whole book is about, all the chapters. Was any of that true?

We know that there really was dissent going on during the Manhattan Project. And these chapters mention some actual cases. But how did Fisk feel about the atomic bomb? Did he see it as the only way to end the war and save thousands of American lives? Or did his conscience bother him, as it did the fictional Charlie Fish, because of the many thousand Japanese lives lost? (He didn't know about the dangers of radiation exposure yet.)

Brenda's chapters bored me. Charles Fisk actually was married twice. I doubt that Brenda was based on either of his wives. She was probably just a handy way for Fish to begin his work with organs, which Fisk actually did end up doing.

I won an ARC of this book through

Force of Nature by JANE HARPER
Book Club Recommended
Convoluted Literary Mystery

The best kind of novels are both character-driven and plot-driven, not one or the other. That’s what we get with FORCE OF NATURE. This is a mystery in which we learn a tiny bit more and a tiny bit more as the story is told from various characters’ points of view. FORCE OF NATURE is a literary thriller.

Although FORCE OF NATURE isn’t quite as thrilling as THE DRY, Jane Harper’s first mystery/thriller, it does continue with Aaron Falk, the Australian federal agent who is also a main character in THE DRY. Plus, FORCE OF NATURE, while maybe not just as, is still an unputdownable book.

This story involves a missing-person case in which a woman, Alice, has disappeared from her employer-sponsored hiking/camping trip. Although the federal government would not ordinarily bother with a case at this level, Alice has secretly been providing documents to Falk that he needed for his investigation of her employer. He is concerned that her disappearance had something to do with this.

The more we learn about each character and what she did during their hiking/camping trip, the closer we come to an answer. But it is so convoluted, you will only come close.

The Woman in the Park by Sorkin Teresa; Holmqvist Tullan
Confusing, Slow, Adventurous

A review of this book says it is a thriller. It isn’t, although it tries to be in Part 2. First you have to get through Part 1, which is more than 100 pages. It bored me terribly.

Sarah is delusional. At first her delusions are believable. Her husband spends too much time at work because he is having an affair with his secretary. Then Sarah meets Lawrence in the park. He is secretive.

By the time you get to Part 2, Lawrence is not believable at first, but Sarah’s psychiatrist is. And sometimes you think Sarah’s husband loves her and sometimes you don’t. In Part 2, you won’t know what is and what isn’t believable. But it’s still better than Part 1.

I cannot recommend this book.

The age of innocence by Wharton Edith
Romantic, Adventurous

THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is about the silly manners followed by the very rich New York society in the 1870s. While the book is romantic, the romance serves to show the absurdity of the “rules” they lived by.

Newland Archer is a part of this society yet sees the absurdities. But he’s a young man in his 20s and just goes along with it. He becomes engaged to May, a girl from another wealthy New York family. May is an innocent who follows the rules and believes in them. She is not a snob; she knows no other way.

Then Newland meets May’s cousin, Ellen. Ellen disregards many of the rules. And that attracts Newland. He falls in love with her.

Although I’d like to see this movie, a book about romance and wealthy New York society can sometimes bore me nowadays. I found myself rereading paragraphs because I would forget what I read immediately after I read it. My mind wandered while I was reading, not a good sign.

The Michigan Murders by Keyes Edward
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting
Pictures, Updates, and Real Names on Internet Nowadays

During 1967 to 1969, a string of horrific murders took place in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Michigan. All the victims were girls in their teens and 20s. And all the murders had other similarities as well. A serial killer was loose in the area, and THE MICHIGAN MURDERS is the story of his apprehension.

We see the frustration of the police as more and more murders happen and they are unable to find the murderer. One newspaper even refers to them as the Keystone Cops.

A 22-year-old rookie policeman’s report marks the beginning of their focus on one young man. He’s a handsome guy, athletic-looking, and a motorcycle enthusiast. It’s easy to see why girls would want to trust this stranger.

This story is true with the exception of many of the names. This was Edward Keyes‘ effort in 1976 to protect many of the people presented in this book. Nowadays, though, we have the Internet. It’s easy to look up. You can find updates and lots of pictures there, along with everyone’s real name.

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Dark, Dramatic, Difficult

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is not what I was expecting. I expected a book about a teenager who committed a mass school shooting. But WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is also about life with an evil child.

This is the mother’s tale told from the beginning—the very beginning—of that child. She writes it as a series of letters to her husband. So, throughout the book, the reader is kept guessing about where her husband is now.

But the mother’s story isn’t just descriptions of life with Kevin. Each of her letters is long on psychology and philosophy, too.

The mother’s big question: whose fault was it? Certainly, the reader has to wonder whether the mother’s own attitude contributed to Kevin’s evil nature. But it seems to me that the father was even more at fault. I think, as a matter of fact, he was a big part of the problem.

And then there’s Celia. She doesn’t appear until later in the book, but she serves to emphasize Kevin’s God-awful evil.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is probably a five-star book. I give it only four stars, though, because the evil is so difficult to read that I had to put the book down often.

Book Club Recommended
This story should be a movie

The entire time I read THE DEAD GIRL IN 2A I was seeing it as a movie.

The opening scene would be on an airplane, row 2. There, Jake and Clara would meet by chance. Or is it by chance? They each think they recognize the other; they must have met before but do not remember where or when.

Turns out both have issues with their lost memories. Clara tells Jake she plans to kill herself. After they deplane in Denver, they each go their separate ways, but you know they’ll meet again.

The remaining scenes would mostly be lovely, with the mountains as a backdrop. This is where Clara and Jake find and face their memories. But there are men from long ago, a past neither remembers, who want those memories.

I even have a picture of Jake in my mind. He looks just like Carter Wilson, the author of THE DEAD GIRL IN 2A. Clara would be someone a little too thin, which could be almost any actress in Hollywood.

Although I see this book as a movie, maybe a limited series on one of the television networks would work better. Someone really should pick it up as one or the other.

The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
excellent book of historical fiction

THE WOMEN OF THE COPPER COUNTRY is another of Mary Doria Russell’s excellent books of historical fiction. She keeps the story not only engaging but historically accurate, taking into account that a few characters are composites or complete fiction to show more of the nonfiction.

The Copper Country of the book’s title is Calumet, a copper-mining town in Michigan‘s Upper Peninsula. But it isn’t really a town. It is really an area consisting not only of the mines but also 40,000 residents, homes, a fine business district, library, medical facilities, etc. It is owned entirely by the mining company, Calumet & Hecla, the employer of most of the men in Calumet.

During 1913 and 1914, Annie Clements organizes and leads the women of Copper Country whose husbands are members of the Western Federation of Miners union. She was even arrested during one prolonged strike that became violent when C & H sent in their strike breakers. She was also a survivor of a fire in Copper Country that killed 73 people, mostly children.

James MacNaughton is the general manager of C & H. He is so obnoxious and evil he seems to be a fictional character to make Annie and her women seem all the more saintly. But he really was that awful, according to Russell.

Russell introduces us to more characters, of course. In so doing, she shows us several different perspectives on life in Copper Country.

A review cannot do this book justice. Read it. You will learn so much, and you’ll enjoy doing it.

I am anxious to hear Russell speak about this. Some parts of the book seem almost unbelievable, and I’d love to ask her about them.

I had an event with her all arranged at my library. Then the pandemic and the lockdown preempted that. Michigan’s governor has started to open things up but not libraries yet. So we’ll see if and when we can rearrange it. Fingers crossed

The Silence: A Novel by Allott Susan
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Informative, Dramatic
A Debut Novel That's a Safe Bet

Because THE SILENCE is Susan Allott’s debut novel, I am sure she is a new author to you. She was for me, too. But you don’t need to be apprehensive about picking this book for your next read, as I was. It's a safe bet.

Maybe the biggest reason is that this is not a simple story. It is multilayered, as the best stories are, but I would say there are mainly three things going on here.

First, Isla (pronounced EYE-la), a 35-year-old Australian now living in England, goes back to Australia to look into the police suspicion that her father killed their neighbor, Mandy, 30 years ago. So there’s that mystery, which you’ll learn about little by little, from beginning to end of this book.

Second, one of the secrets Isla discovers while she is in Australia is about Mandy’s husband and one of his shameful "duties” as a policeman. This actually is a sad part of Australian history.

Third is the issue of alcoholism and its effect on all other issues and families. This is one of Isla's family's secrets.

Go ahead and try THE SILENCE. I recommend it and look forward to Allott's next book.

Thanks to for this great read.

Frog Music: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
Adventurous, Informative, Slow

I'm sorry I entered and won the contest for FROG MUSIC from If I hadn't, someone else could have won this book. They might have enjoyed it. I didn't.

Other reviews of this book say it is one woman's investigation of the murder of her friend. I found that is untrue. Blanche, a dancer and whore, did not actively try to solve the mystery of who killed Jenny, the pants-wearing (a crime in 19th century California) woman who ran into Blanch with a "two wheeler," the tall bicycle with the big front wheel. Rather, Blanche figured things out when facts presented themselves.

The good: this is historical fiction and almost all the characters are real. Although their details are fiction because historical records are unclear, they really existed at that time.

The but: too much repetition and too much wordiness. I was bored.

Slow, Beautiful

A PARTIAL HISTORY OF LOST CAUSES by Jennifer duBois had been an unread book in my bookcase for long enough; I finally read it. But I must have expected too much. I remember all the reviews gushing over this book, but I was underwhelmed.

So much has already been written about A PARTIAL HISTORY OF LOST CAUSES, I won't summarize it here. But I will say that duBois' writing is beautiful, really beautiful. It should make you want to continue even when the story is dragging.

And that is the problem: the story is slow. In my mind, I was urging duBois to get to the point the whole time I was reading the book.

Also, there isn’t much depth to either of the main characters. Therefore, points that should be sad or nerve wracking aren’t.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Unconvincing
Bravery of English Citizens As Well As English Military During World War II

EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN is about bravery. Most of the book takes place in England at the start of World War II and before the United States joins them. Mary wants to join the war effort right away so is assigned teaching duties. Later she joins her friend Hilda as an ambulance driver. London is a dangerous place to live, and they choose to volunteer for even greater danger.

At first I found these chapters to be too young adultish, especially those about Mary's romance with Tom, a school administrator. But the chapters about Tom's roommate, Alistair, after he joins the army are excellent. These kept me going for about 100 pages, until I loved it all. (That is in spite of Mary's strange family. They are very rich. Mary's father never appears. Her mother seems untouched by the war. Neither parent seems to care much about Mary. Sometimes she lives with them, sometimes not. That doesn't seem to concern them, even when she is only 18.)

EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN shows us the hardships of the beginning of World War II not only to the English military but also to English citizens. What a relief it is to them when the US arrives.

You Can't Catch Me by McKenzie Catherine
Boring, Beautiful

YOU CAN'T CATCH ME is a novel that is easy to put down, although most of the story is engaging if you accept an unlikely premise.

Jessica Williams is a common name, and this story has five of them or so it seems. And one of the Jessicas is trying to scam the others.

Another one of the Jessicas ("Jessica 1") tries to catch the bad Jessica ("Jessica 2"). But Jessica 1 tells lots of lies to her lover, Liam, who saved her once and could and would save her again if she would tell him the truth. We learn in the end that she has not been telling us the whole story, either.

And what a disappointment the end is! It seems to me a lazy way to tell a story.

I won this book through

The Captives: A Novel by Immergut Debra Jo
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Brilliant

THE CAPTIVES is written unlike any book I’ve read before, and I‘m happy that I did.

At first I thought it might bore me because it seemed to contain more rambling than
action. But I came to realize what you should know beforehand: although there isn’t much action in this book, what action there is is important and is dependent on the rambling thoughts of both the psychologist and Miranda. Pay attention. The rambling should give you a clue.

Every other chapter is the psychologist at a women's minimum-security prison who failed at private practice, who seems to have failed at much of what he has ever attempted. Perhaps this is why, when one of his patients at the prison turns out to be a woman he had a crush on in high school, he becomes obsessed with saving her.

In every other chapter are remembrances of that woman, Miranda. She seems to have had a normal childhood until her sister was killed in an auto accident. Little by little, we learn of her bad choices from then on and what she did and what she said and what she really intended.

The end may surprise you but probably shouldn't.

The Law of Similars by Chris Bohjalian
Optimistic, Dramatic, Addictive

Five stars again for Chris Bohjalian. I have read nearly all his books, and most are five-star, some four. This one, THE LAW OF SIMILARS, is a book he wrote nearly 20 years ago.

Leland is a deputy state prosecutor. He is also a widower with a four-year-old daughter. For what appears to me to be psychological reasons, he develops a sore throat that just won’t go away. This leads him to Carissa, a homeopath.

In short order (ridiculously short order, in my opinion), Leland falls in love with Carissa (or maybe mistakes sexual attraction for love). He is so overwhelmed by this love (attraction) that he ignores all ethics of his profession when she is investigated for the murder of one of her other patients.

For a book to merit five stars, it must be unputdownable, and this one is. Even though I say that Leland doesn’t think with his brain, it’s still a darn good read.

The Exiles: A Novel by Kline Christina Baker
Informative, Dramatic, Interesting

While many people will feel THE EXILES is a five-star book and while I would have felt the same several years ago, my taste has evolved. I didn’t love it. I liked it, but I don’t have the heart to give it just three stars. It was such a nice, if somewhat predictable, story.

After Evangeline’s father dies, she becomes a governess in early 19th-century London. But after she has an affair with the adult son of the household, she ends up pregnant and in Newgate prison. From there, she is shipped with other prisoners to Australia.

On board, Evangeline meets Hazel, a midwife and herbalist. It is Hazel, not Evangeline, who plays the largest part in this story.

But this book is also about a third female, Mathinna. She is an Aboriginal child, taken on a whim to live among white people.

I read that this is to be made into a TV series. It is sure to make great television.

I won this advanced copy through

Daisy Jones & The Six: A Novel by Reid Taylor Jenkins
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Fun, Addictive
Great book, but you have to get used to the format

DAISY JONES & THE SIX may take some getting used to at first. It is not in a novel's usual format. Taylor Jenkins Reid's intention was to write a novel that comes across as a documentary. But understand: this is a novel, fiction. It took me about a quarter of the book to decide I liked it.

Something else that may lead to misunderstanding is the cover. That is a picture of Daisy Jones, but the book is really about the whole band, including Daisy. It would have been nice to see, instead, the back cover of their hit album.

Every band member, including Daisy, tells their story. A few others, such as the writer for ROLLING STONE and The Six's manager, also chime in.

Daisy is a fabulous singer. The Six is a fabulous band. But, until they get together, neither has a hit song much less a hit album. Together they are magic.

But just about everyone in the band, especially Daisy, has problems they deal with. Probably, their biggest problem is all their drinking and drugging. They tell us about what they accomplish in spite of the problems and what brings them down because of them.

Somehow, Reid made me like this story a lot in spite of its format that I didn't like at first. I would suggest, though, that she include at the front of the book a list of characters with who each is.

Slow, Boring, Dramatic
Feels like reading a comic book

If a book doesn’t grab you by page 50, you shouldn’t feel bad for abandoning it. But SO BRAVE, YOUNG, AND HANDSOME should grab you right away with Leif Enger's typical writing style. However, I found that this book doesn’t live up to its promise.

Monte Becket is an author. He has written a bestseller, and everyone is anticipating what comes next. But he doesn’t have it in him, whatever “it” is. So he leaves his ever loving wife and child to join his neighbor, Glendon Hale, who is headed for Mexico. Glendon wants to apologize to the wife he left there many years before, and Monte wants to find "it."

What follows are chapter upon chapter upon chapter of unlikely events. This is how Monte gets from here to there, and the heck with his wife and child, who want him home. He ends up in California, where Glendon‘s wife has remarried and settled with her new husband. (It doesn’t spoil the story to tell you that.)

The book bored me to tears. I did not care about any one character. The whole thing is just plain silly. It felt like reading a comic book.

Difficult, Slow, Informative

THE LAST STONE is a difficult book to read for more reasons than one. Mostly it’s the subject matter.

Two little girls, 12 and 10, go missing in 1975. In 2018 Lloyd Welch is finally convicted of their murders. It is what happened to those little girls, which Lloyd tells us over and over again, that is a horror to picture as we read.

Mark Bowden structures the majority of THE LAST STONE with actual transcripts of Welch's interviews with police over nearly 2 years. They are repetitive, tedious. And for all that, the whole truth is never learned, just enough to convict him.

In the end, police can only theorize about what actually happened. So that is how Bowden concludes his book, with the various theories. They are all heartbreaking.

Finding Mrs. Ford: A Novel by Goodrich Royce Deborah
Book Club Recommended
Two Very Different Girls Who Become Friends

Trivia: Remember Erica Kane’s sister, Silver, on “All My Children”? She was played by Deborah Goodrich Royce, author of FINDING MRS FORD.

Review: FINDING MRS FORD Is about two girls in their 20s, Susan and Annie, who become friends while they both work at a women’s clothing store. Together they leave that job for waitress jobs at a disco, which is where their troubles begin. It is 1979.

Cut to 2014. Susan is living a cushy life in New England, in a very large “cottage," with two little dogs and a housekeeper. Her life is ideal until visitors from the FBI question it.

The first half of FINDING MRS FORD alternates between these two years. In 1979 Susan and Annie become involved with Middle Easterners, and Susan finds she must still deal with them in 2014. Is there no escape?

At the end of the first half, right about the midway point of the book, comes a twist. Everyone loves a book with a twist, and this is the high point of FINDING MRS FORD.

The second half of the book explains what happened between 1979 and 2014. Although one aspect of FINDING MRS FORD seems implausible to me, the twist along with the circumstances in 2014 make for a lot of suspense. No doubt, this book will make you anxious to read Royce's next, coming in 2021.

By the way, the names and places in 1979 suburban Detroit are accurate. I'm just about the same age as Susan and Annie, and I also lived there then. The book even mentions the store across from my high school, the church I attended for 17 years, and the cemetery where my uncle is buried.

Book Club Recommended
Marcia Clark really is an author

Although Marcia Clark has written several other books, FINAL JUDGMENT is the first one I read. I thought her books would be a waste of my time. I believed that Marcia Clark won a little fame, and she was now depending on her name recognition to sell books.

Surprise! When I read the copy of FINAL JUDGMENT that I won through, I found that it is a well written and truly engaging mystery.

This is the fourth book in a series about defense lawyer Samantha Brinkman. But it reads like a standalone. Don’t worry about reading it out of order.

Samantha’s lover Niko is a murder suspect, and she is trying to find out what really happened. Her investigation leads her to secretly believe that he might, indeed, be guilty. But what bothers her even more than his possibly being a murderer is that he has been hiding so much from her.

You may find that a little hard to stomach. But even worse is what you learn about Samantha halfway through the book. Or maybe you already knew this if you read the previous books in this series.

I’m happy to tell you that Marcia Clark really is an author.

The Falling Woman: A Novel by Farrell Richard
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful
You should enjoy this book; I did

Read THE FALLING WOMAN. I enjoyed it, and so should you.

A jet with 123 people on board has experienced turbulence and crashed. Only one person survives, the unknown and unaccounted for ”Falling Woman," who somehow survived the fall of several miles to earth and walked away.

But this book is only partly about her. THE FALLING WOMAN is also about Charlie, the National Transportation Safety Board investigator assigned to find “The Falling Woman.”

"The Falling Woman” is Erin. She is dying of pancreatic cancer and wants the rest of her life to remain private. So she goes into hiding.

We read about Charlie’s frustrations and Erin's misgivings. We follow both their stories and, on the one hand, want Charlie to locate Erin and learn her identity while, on the other hand, we root for Erin and her wish for privacy.

How can both of them get what they want?


Book Club Recommended
Dark, Unconvincing, Dramatic
Good But Violent

One of the best authors I’ve read, John Hart has again written a book to win me over. I feared this might be more like his Johnny Merriman books, which seemed to be experiments that didn’t work for me. But now, with THE UNWILLING, he is back.

The story takes place in the 1970s, during the Vietnam war. There were three brothers: one was drafted and died in Vietnam; another, Jason, enlisted, served three tours, came home addicted to heroin, and served time in jail; and the youngest, Gibby, is a senior in high school and determined to help Jason. And, then, there are their parents: the quite strange and unnatural mother, who considers both of her older sons to be dead, treats Gibby (a childish name) like a child, and is rarely part of the story; and the father, a police detective, who seems less unnatural but has also given up on Jason.

On the one hand, this is a coming-of-age book. That is, many parts of it are devoted to Gibby and his friends as they deal with their teenage anxieties. But it is his wish to help his brother that propels the story.

On the other hand is all the violence. Much of it is VIOLENCE in caps, so much violence that it gets tedious, and I found myself skimming some of these paragraphs.

And there are the hard-to-believe parts with “X" and his dominion over the prison, including the warden, guards, and other prisoners. I like to believe in characters even in fiction.

All in all, THE UNWILLING is good. But Hart goes too far with the violence this time. Also, I would have preferred a storyline that did not revolve around the unbelievable "X."

Watching You: A Novel by Lisa Jewell
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dramatic, Interesting
A Murder Mystery

Lisa Jewell is one of my go-to authors. In other words, I can trust I will like her books before I even know a thing about them. In the case of WATCHING YOU, though, I was initially afraid I made a mistake, that it was just going to be another MY DARK VANESSA by Kate Elizabeth Russell, a book I did not enjoy.

But I should have known better. Yes, it does involve a handsome, charismatic male teacher. And, yes, there is the suspicion that he preys upon young girls. But this is a murder mystery, a who-done-it.

The story begins before the text begins, with a picture of an actual diary entry of a student who states she is in love with her teacher. Then the text begins with a murder investigation on March 24 and interviews with various suspects/witnesses on March 25. But most of the book is flashback beginning in January.

The flashbacks continue moving forward to March 25. Who had reason to commit the murder? Lots of people. So who did it? It’s possible that you’ll guess it before the end but not likely.

Two of the suspects/witnesses are a crazy lady and a lonely boy, who watched the neighbors the whole time. Thus the comparisons to “Rear Window” (although I would compare it to THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW.) And thus the title.

Inspiring, Beautiful, Addictive

Although ALL THINGS WISE AND WONDERFUL has been out since the 1970s and although this book is the third in a series, it is the first of James Harriot‘s books that I’ve read. I loved it and wonder what took me so long.

Most of us know of Harriot's books even if we haven’t read them. They’re classics. He was a country veterinarian in England, and his books are stories of, mostly, his work with the various animals. Plus he also throws in some people stories here and there. In ALL THINGS WISE AND WONDERFUL, while he is training to be a pilot in the Royal Air Force, he remembers his time as a veterinarian during the 1930s.

While many readers like myself are easily bored by books of stories, this one is absorbing. Harriot‘s books were best sellers, and people all over the world love him. Now I do, too. I only wish he were still alive so I could tell him.

Rose Madder by King Stephen
Boring, Difficult, Beautiful

ROSE MADDER doesn't rate near the top of all the Stephen King books I've read. Only one part near the 300-page mark was quite a page turner, but that tense feeling it elicited didn’t last long enough.

A 32-year-old woman named Rosie (not Rose Madder, a color) has been married for 14 years to an abuser, appropriately named Norman because he's also insane. And he is a police detective.

One day she finally leaves their home in an unnamed state and takes a bus to an unnamed Midwestern state. There she finds help and is beginning to get her new life together.

But crazy Norman uses his police training to look for her. Most of ROSE MADDER is about his search and find and Rosie's response.

Stephen King is normally such a great writer, this book, with its silly boring stretches, surprised me. There is nothing wrong with the premise, but he could have made it so much better!

The parts taken up with Norman's viewpoint (italicized) certainly emphasize his insanity, but they are overly long and repetitive. The rest of ROSE MADDER is better, but too much of it is spent inside a painting. While everyone knows that King can deal well with life inside a painting (or a drain or a hole in the ground, etc.), he doesn't in this case. It is too ridiculous.

ROSE MADDER was published in 1995, but I had never heard of it for more than 10 years. Now I know why.

The Good Daughter: A Novel by Karin Slaughter
Addictive, Graphic, Dramatic

Karin Slaughter's THE GOOD DAUGHTER is so absorbing and unputdownable, I cannot recommend it highly enough. So how can this review do it justice? I’ll try.

Certainly, the most important factor is that this is both a character-driven and plot-driven novel, not one or the other. Although Slaughter has written plenty of great books with that characteristic, this one may be her best or at least one of.

Two sisters, Charlotte (Charlie)13 and Samantha (Sam) 15, and their mother are involved in a home invasion. The mother is killed, and the daughters endure horrors that affect the rest of their lives. Therefore, although the story continues with the aftermath and the sisters’ lives 28 years later, that one event stays with them and affects nearly everything they do.

When Charlie and Sam are in their 40s, both lawyers but in different states, they are again brought together. Their father Rusty, also a lawyer, has been stabbed, probably because of a case he is working on. Sam temporally takes over.

There has been a school shooting. Rusty’s client is the apparent shooter, and Sam and then Charlie discover more about her and about the case. Can it be somehow tied to their own home-invasion case of years earlier?

There is so much more to this story and to the characters, but this is the general plot. Remember, though, that THE GOOD DAUGHTER is character driven as well. They are mysteries as much or more than the circumstances.

This short review doesn’t do justice to such a great book. Maybe that’s because I’m always careful to not include spoilers. But do yourself a favor: read it.

Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Fantastic, Addictive
Another of James Herriot's Feel-Good Books

Although James Herriot was a farm veterinarian in the English countryside and dealt mostly with large animals such as cows and sheep, he also took care of dogs and cats. He wrote a series of books popular the world over about his veterinary experiences with all the various animals he treated. But JAMES HERRIOT’S CAT STORIES is a collection of his touching stories about the cats, exclusively.

This is a small, illustrated book. Each story is a selection from one of his books in the series. I love his series and so, of course, I loved these cat stories. This is another of Herriot’s feel-good books.

The Nightingale: A Novel by Kristin Hannah
Dramatic, Informative, Inspiring

Although I was pretty sure I would disagree with the majority of other readers who said that THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah is an excellent book, I can now honestly tell you to believe it. I had read two other books by Hannah and was not impressed, so I doubted that she had it in her to write like this. I was wrong.

This book has been reviewed so much already, it is sufficient to say that it is a piece of historical fiction that highlights the remarkable women of France when the Germans occupied that country during World War II. The story concentrates on two sisters, one based on an actual person, the other based on the lives of many women in France at that time.

So many books have been written about World War II, you may tend to avoid reading more. But this is one you don't want to miss.

Vanishing Girls by Lisa Regan

After my initial poor reaction to Lisa Regan’s VANISHING GIRLS, I'm pleased to say that it is an excellent mystery. I now recommend it.

When the story opens, Josie Quinn has been suspended from her job as a detective for the Denton, Pennsylvania police force. Yet she involves herself in the cases of some missing girls. This seemed a stretch to me, so I did not have high expectations for the rest of this novel.

But Regan proved me wrong. Quinn finds mystery after mystery after mystery. And the case of the vanishing girls, she finds, is convoluted. Almost no one is who they seem to be, most particularly the police.

VANISHING GIRLS is the first in a series about Quinn. There are more, so you can binge if you have not already done so.

There There by Tommy Orange
Dark, Insightful, Boring
Can't Finish

Sorry to say that this book bored me. I'm not wasting anymore time on it. I wouldn't have rated it, but I had to.

The Nightingale: A Novel by Kristin Hannah
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Inspiring
Believe it: this is an excellent book

Although I was pretty sure I would disagree with the majority of other readers who said that THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah is an excellent book, I can now honestly tell you to believe it. I had read two other books by Hannah and was not impressed, so I doubted that she had it in her to write like this. I was wrong.

This book has been reviewed so much already, it is sufficient to say that it is a piece of historical fiction that highlights the remarkable women of France when the Germans occupied that country during World War II. The story concentrates on two sisters, one based on an actual person, the other based on the lives of many women in France at that time.

So many books have been written about World War II, you may tend to avoid reading more. But this is one you don't want to miss. (less)

Run Away by Harlan Coben
Dramatic, Addictive, Fantastic

Rest assured, RUN AWAY is, as all of Harlan Coben‘s books are, a page turner. You can be certain of this even before you begin reading it.

So many mysteries are going on here, beginning with Simon’s drug-addled daughter, Paige. How did such a good girl get that way? And why did she run away from Simon? Then she disappears.

But hers is not the only story. There are at
least four more. And every story involves so many mysteries.

This is typical of Coben‘s books, each containing multiple stories with even more mysteries. But all the stories join in the end.

Over the years I’ve read all of Coben's standalone books and his Myron Bolitar series. Although it’s true that his books always have many mysteries, I also began to notice that they are now more mature. It seems that, with age, he understands more about the human condition and he writes more about it.

Street Cat Named Bob by Bowen James
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Fantastic, Beautiful
What a sweet story!

What a sweet story! And it’s all true. It wouldn’t be believable if it were fiction.

A recovering heroin addict, James, finds a cat on the streets of London. They become best friends. James names the cat Bob, and they go on to experience together a hand-to-mouth life. A STREET CAT NAMED BOB Is James’ account of those experiences until Bob becomes a famous cat on YouTube.

James says that, because of Bob, he has changed his life around. Bob gave him a purpose and a sense of responsibility.

If you shy away from books about animals because, in the end, they always die, don’t worry. Bob doesn’t die.

Also, if you enjoy movies based on books you have read, you’ll be glad to know that "A Street Cat Named Bob” is now a movie.

The Half Wives by Stacia Pelletier
Difficult, Insightful, Addictive

THE HALF WIVES is the excellent story of a former Lutheran minister, Henry, his wife Marilyn, his lover Lucy, and his eight-year-old daughter by Lucy, Blue. The entire book is a day in their lives, the anniversary of the birth and death of Henry’s and Marilyn’s child. The predicament they are in is obvious and is seen, chapter by chapter, through the eyes of one of these characters or the other.

That is what makes this book great. Stacia Pelletier presents all the various viewpoints and makes you understand and care about each character, even as they seem to be working against each other.

At the same time, there are problems with the way Pelletier has chosen to present the story. This has downgraded the rating that I give it.

First is the lack of quotation marks. Quotation marks were invented to aid readability. That is, quotation marks make it easier for the reader to understand. It is, therefore, rude of a writer not to use them. Pelletier doesn’t.

Second, as each chapter is written from the viewpoint of one of the characters, Pelletier has chosen second-person presentation. As a former technical writer who used the second person regularly and properly, I do not understand why she uses it in fiction. It put me off.

The entire story leads to what the reader thinks is an inevitable end. I was disappointed when I finally got there. The end leaves the reader to guess. I guess you can write it yourself however you like.

Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Interesting
Book 5 in James Herriot's Well-Known Series

I am reading James Herriot's well-known series of books out of order. The five books are about his life as a veterinarian, mostly of large animals such as cows and sheep, in England. EVERY LIVING THING is the last book in the series. I read the third book in the series first and loved it so much that I grabbed EVERY LIVING THING when I found it on the shelf in a used bookstore. This book, too, is wonderful.

Each chapter of the books in this series contains a separate incident, an example from Herriot’s everyday life. Although I do not normally care for books of short stories, in the case of this series, the stories are at least in chronological order and they are so touching they’ll make you wish you could hug Herriot.

The stories in EVERY LIVING THING took place during the 1950s. Happily, by this time, antibiotics and other new drugs were now being produced. So veterinary medicine was more advanced by this time than it was in the earlier books in his series, and Herriot continued to learn. Also, his assistants, new veterinarians just out of college, knew more than he did when he graduated from college, also helpful to his practice.

Although EVERY LIVING THING is the last book in the series, Herriot, thankfully, does not end it with the end of his career. That would have been too sad.

Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Brilliant, Inspiring
Character-Driven Novel With Well-Written Dialogure and Careful Analyses

While you will find THE DEARLY BELOVED shelved among many other novels, this one should stand out. It is character-driven, which can be a good sign, but plenty of authors get it wrong. Cara Wall doesn’t.

THE DEARLY BELOVED is about four people, James and Nan, Charles and Lily. James marries Nan, a devoutly religious daughter of a minister. Lily reluctantly marries Charles. James and Charles become ministers and preach together for 40 years. Each of these four people is examined over 50 years.

Character-driven novels always run the risk of becoming boring. That is partly because they often contain little or no plot. This could be said of THE DEARLY BELOVED, but Wall has included in it topics that other novels shy away from such as discussion of faith in God (and lack of it), living with a mentally deficient family member, and good marriages that endure. Her careful analyses and well-written dialogue will keep you engaged.

The Witch Elm: A Novel by Tana French
Boring, Brilliant, Addictive

Don’t believe any fewer-than-four-star reviews of THE WITCH ELM by Tana French. It really deserves five stars for its many layers and thoughtfulness. Maybe they just don’t get it.

Toby has always been a lucky guy. Then two burglars break into his apartment, steal a few things, and beat the living daylights out of him. But he lives. So people say he is, again, lucky.

The worst of Toby’s injuries is to his head. Some readers may not realize that his limp and other physical manifestations are results of his head injury. But Toby's messed-up brain is also controlling his memory and language skills.

Because of all this, Toby is having to deal with a new life. His thoughts are constantly going here, then there, then there. Plus the reader can see signs of PTSD all over the place. But he doesn't look as bad as he is.

So this is the Toby who goes with his girlfriend to live with his dying uncle. While they are there, a skull is found inside the trunk of a tree in the garden, and later the police find more. Toby deals with detectives and gradual revelations from his cousins as they insinuate that he might be guilty of murder. He can't remember.

While all French's novels are very good, both in characterization and plot, THE WITCH ELM is one of her better ones. It is full of intelligent introspection, and it takes you places you don't expect.

Insightful, Beautiful, Addictive

The first two books in the five-book series by James Herriot are so touching, so lovely that I hated to see them end.

These books were written back in the 1970s and are about the experiences of a veterinary surgeon in Yorkshire, England, beginning in the 1930s. Although the stories in the books are fiction, they are, in fact, based on the author's own experiences.

I have already read the third and fifth books in this series, but after reading the first two, I wish I had read them in order. While it’s certainly possible to read them out of order and still appreciate them, I think it would have been more satisfying to read them as they were meant to be read.

Mother May I: A Novel by Joshilyn Jackson
Unconvincing, Dramatic, Interesting
Grabs you after page 90

Although I don’t believe that someone my age should waste her time reading a dull book beyond page 50, I continued reading MOTHER MAY I even though it was still boring me at that point. But sometimes, if you stick with it, books get better. In this case, that turned out to be true around page 90.

An old woman kidnaps Bree’s infant son, motivation unknown. Of course, her husband is out of town and she cannot go to the police. I say “of course” because this is so common in mysteries/thrillers, too common and too convenient (for authors).

Joshilyn Jackson, the author, lets the reader know early on what’s going to happen with two important characters. That is, the mystery is predictable.

As I say, though, the story will grab you beginning somewhere around page 90, if you can wait that long. After Bree tries to follow the kidnapper’s instructions, she finally enlists the help of two people, one a former cop and the other a lawyer. This is when the story gets good, and I applaud Jackson for not doing what too many authors do: insist their main characters keep secrets. (She still doesn’t go to the police, though, but could Jackson have written this book if she did?)

The former cop, Marshall, is (another “of course“) in love with Bree. But he is (of course) a master at finding kidnapper and kidnappee. It still wouldn’t be nice, though, if he took Bree away from her husband, would it? Can you predict what will happen? I could.

The end, too, is convenient and predictable. Jackson could have stopped sooner.

Insightful, Dramatic, Adventurous

I predict that ALL THAT WE CARRIED will be one of the winners of the Michigan Notable Books award in 2022. This book not only tells the story of two sisters on a hiking trip in the wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it does a great job of describing the beauty and the dangers of that wilderness.

Olivia and Melanie have been estranged for 10 years. They are attempting to reconcile on this hiking/camping trip. Neither is from the UP or familiar with the area they are hiking. So I knew right away that they were asking for trouble.

And trouble they sure do find right from their first night. But they find themselves a guardian angel. At least that’s what I decided he must be.

Olivia and Melanie cautiously befriend a fisherman. He’s mysterious from the get-go; he knows their names before they introduce themselves.

At that point, I thought that ALL THAT WE CARRIED would turn out to be a thriller. But, no, it is not. Still, that fisherman remains mysterious right to the very end.

I hope someone in Hollywood runs across ALL THAT WE CARRIED. It would make a great movie, especially if they film it on location, in the wilderness of the UP. In a movie, I would concentrate less on the reconciliation and more on the mysterious fisherman.

Mistaken Identity by W. Michael Sherer

If you haven’t read a Michael Sherer book yet, MISTAKEN IDENTITY would be a good place to start.

This is, essentially, a story of a great chase from Washington DC to Wisconsin. That description, though, it’s quite a simplification of a novel that presents itself from several different points of view, with more than one pursuit to keep track of.

Jenny, a veteran and an FBI agent put on leave for unfair reasons, is temporarily leaving her home in Washington DC for the home where she grew up in Wisconsin. Her father and brothers are all policemen, and her mother and another brother are dead. She has a husband but hasn’t seen him or her family in more than 10 years. You’ll learn snippets of her background throughout the book, but you won’t know her whole story until you get closer to the end.

Then there is Dana. She noticed that someone was stealing money from the charitable foundation she worked for, so she made copies of the files and decided to get out of town with them. This is how Dana and Jenny are on the same train. And this is where the mistaken identity begins.

Dana is a witness to a murder on the train. But the murderer, Sykes, mistakes Jenny for Dana. So, in his attempt to rid himself of the witness, he and his chauffeur chase after Jenny. Eventually, a couple of Russian thugs join the chase.

At the same time, Dana’s former boss,Toby, is after her. We learn more and more about the two of them as the chase continues.

You should know that MISTAKEN IDENTITY is the second book in a series. The first is STOLEN IDENTITY, which you may wish you had read first, although MISTAKEN IDENTITY can easily be read as a standalone.

Tangerine: A Novel by Christine Mangan
Beautiful, Dramatic, Confusing

TANGERINE has been compared to an Alfred Hitchcock movie, and I guess you could say that throughout most of the book. The last few chapters, however, spoil that likeness.

Alice has been living of late with her husband in Morocco, Tangier, specifically. She is English and isn’t comfortable there, to say the least. Throughout the book the reader will learn in flashbacks how she has come to be so unhappy.

One day, her old college roommate, Lucy, an American, arrives unannounced at Alice’s door. Through the flashbacks we learn more and more about Lucy and why she has come to Tangier.

I have to be careful about divulging too much about the flashbacks because learning about these characters little by little adds to the anticipation and is how, I’m sure, the book is meant to be read. But suffice it to say that the reader will come to understand the evil of one and the complete naïveté (or, as some may come to feel, stupidity) of the other.

The last few chapters of TANGERINE are difficult to read. So much is left unsaid that the reader just may feel like throwing the book across the room. Maybe a sequel is coming to explain all the loose ends.

Boring, Dramatic, Beautiful

MY HUSBAND’S WIFE is a difficult book to review because I changed my mind about it so many times. I was bored at first, then it was absorbing, then everything was tied up too neatly.

But one really great thing to say about this story is that you will change your mind over and over about who is good and who is bad. This is what will keep you reading to the end.

First Carla is a nine-year-old and Lily is in her 20s, a newlywed. You will feel sorry for Carla because she is bullied in school. Then you will see how she manipulates the adults around her. In that, she is much like her mother.

Next is Lily the lawyer, who is married to Ed and cannot quite believe how she got so lucky. She is new to the law and allows herself to be taken in by (and taken with) her client, a prisoner arrested for murder.

Carla and her mother live in the same apartment building as Lily and Ed. Every Sunday Carla‘s mother claims to have to go to work when she leaves Carla with Lily and Ed.

Cut to about 12 years later. Carla and her mother have been living in Italy, but Carla has returned to England. She has a plan to find Lily and Ed and hit them up for money. At this point, the book didn’t bore me anymore.

So the lives of four characters, Carla, Lily, Ed, and Lily’s client, who never goes away, are forever intertwined. And the reader won’t be able to decide whether each of them is good or bad as evidence keeps mounting.

I am in a similar dilemma about the book. That is, for the most part, I guess, it’s good but not great.

Dear Daughter: A Novel by Elizabeth Little
Unconvincing, Beautiful

You won’t understand the title of DEAR DAUGHTER until nearly the end, and in the end you’ll be left hanging. I haven’t decided how negative to feel about that. Maybe three stars isn’t enough. After all, I did enjoy it until the end.

Jane has been in jail for the past 10 years. She was convicted of her mother’s murder, but she doesn’t think she did it. She doesn’t remember. But she does remember finding the body and hiding in a closet while she heard someone say things.

Because evidence was mishandled in her case, Jane’s lawyer, Noah, gets her out after 10 years. She decides right away that she needs to find out who murdered her mother. So, on the basis of things she overheard while she was in the closet, she travels to a small town in South Dakota. And now Jane has a mystery to solve.

This entire book takes place in about a week. Everyone Jane meets in the small South Dakota town, with one exception, has lived there all their lives. That’s not very realistic, but just go with it. It’s a neat little mystery. I didn’t find it predictable at all, my problem with many other mysteries. So I enjoyed it.

But it left me hanging. I had too many questions in the end.

Addictive, Adventurous

In preparation for the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit," I read THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT first. But I don’t play chess, don’t even understand the game. And I don’t normally enjoy books involving coming of age. Yet THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT is full of detailed descriptions of games of chess and a chess player growing up and into a chess champion. Even so, I did enjoy it.

Beth is an eight-year-old orphan when she comes upon a janitor quietly playing chess by himself in the basement of the orphanage where she lives. She is intrigued and picks up on the game just by watching him regularly. Eventually, he teaches her more and more, and she finds that she can easily analyze a game in her head and predict another player's moves.

So begins the story of a chess prodigy. After Beth is adopted and her new mother discovers that Beth’s talent can make them money, the two of them travel around the country (at Beth’s expense) to chess tournaments. (And Mom gets 10 percent of the winnings.) She is still a teenager when she is competing, and winning, big-time in spite of drugging and drinking that just about fries her brain before she is even 20.

If you haven’t seen the Netflix series yet, I suggest that you, too, read THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT first.

Informative, Insightful, Interesting

Maybe my expectations were too high. Or maybe I'm tired of reading the overabundance of World War II novels. But THE LAST GREEN VALLEY bored me for the most part.

This is historical fiction about the experiences of an ethnic German family in 1944 as German soldiers led them, along with many other ethnic Germans, westward from their homes in Ukraine. What a predicament they faced: were they running from Stalin just to be "protected" by Nazi wolves?

I'll say this for the book: it is interesting. And that's a good reason to read it. But I want historical fiction to be more than that. A history book is interesting.


Anywhere for You: A Novel by Abbie Greaves
Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Optimistic
book will generate lots of book club debate/conversation

Don’t get me wrong. ANYWHERE FOR YOU is a book I would have liked very much when I was in eighth or ninth or even tenth grade. But nearly 50 years later my taste has evolved. Now this is not for me.

I won this book through, but I don’t think I requested it, at least not deliberately. Sometimes, with my iPhone, I accidentally press buttons that I don’t mean to. That’s what must have happened because I would not deliberately request a romance book, which I think ANYWHERE FOR YOU is. But I’ve won so many great books through, I felt I owed it to them to read and review this one, too.

Turns out, this book is a mystery as well as a romance. Mary and Jim have been living together for six years when he suddenly disappears. Why and where did he go? Is he alive? Even after seven years, Mary still hasn’t given up on him. But her friends Alice and Kit believe she deserves an answer so look for him.

If I had been Mary, I would have assumed that Jim had either died or did not love me anymore. But, if I had thought he was alive and still loved me, I would have gone looking for him myself. But, if my friends had looked for him, I could have predicted everything that happened.

Although the romance in this book isn’t for me nowadays, the mystery is. Or, at least, it would have been if it wasn’t so darned predictable. But I give it a thumbs-up because I'm sure this book will generate lots of book club debate/conversation.

Interesting, Brilliant, Scary

I can’t speak highly enough of THE RED LOTUS.

?If your preferred genre is thriller but so many books billed as "psychological thriller" don’t do much for you, if you want a literary thriller and one that is intelligent, THE RED LOTUS is for you. This book is a 5-star can’t-put-it-down read, and Chris Bohjalian obviously assumes his readers are smart.

Alexis, an ER doctor, and her boyfriend Austin, who works at the same hospital but on the administrative end, are visiting Vietnam on a bike tour. When Austin takes off for a solo bike ride but does not return by the appointed time, police in Vietnam begin their investigation. Soon thereafter Austin’s body is found, and a thrilling mystery begins.

Even after Alexis returns to the United States, the police captain in Vietnam continues his investigation. But Alexis can’t just sit and wait; she hires a private investigator to look into what happened and why.

Remember as you read this: almost no one is who they seem.

A Faint Cold Fear by Karin Slaughter
Dramatic, Addictive

A FAINT COLD FEAR is the third book in a series by Karin Slaughter. I, however, read it out of order. And I enjoyed it. That is one of my tests of whether an author is a good writer: can their books in a series also be read and enjoyed as standalones? Slaughter passes my test.

Because I had read the first book in this series, I was already familiar with the main characters: the chief of police in a small town in Georgia; his ex-wife, a doctor; and his former employee who is now in Security for the college in this town. Put simply, college Security, headed by a creepy man, and his new employee, Lena, the former police detective, have called the police to come to the scene of a crime at the college. Someone has either committed suicide or was murdered. Soon other murders occur as well, and the police race to solve these and prevent more.

Jeffrey, the Chief of Police, suspects that Lena knows more than she is saying. Unfortunately, Lena has anger issues and is not forthcoming when police question her. Sara, Jeffrey‘s ex-wife and the medical examiner in town, sometimes acts as a buffer between them. She is seeing Jeffrey again but is not ready to remarry him.

Of course, there are many side stories involving others in town. These add mysteries to the main story.

Although I enjoyed this book as a whole, I did not enjoy Lena‘s anger issues and misbehavior. I hope these do not continue to be a problem later in the series.

Making Hearts by Jack Getze
Optimistic, Insightful, Adventurous

After I read a few pages of MAKING HEARTS, I was reminded of Ian McEwan‘s NUTSHELL. Both stories are narrated by an unborn child who is aware of what is going on around her/him and her/his mother. But MAKING HEARTS‘ baby is soon born and continues narrating the story from the perspective of a newborn. As in NUTSHELL, MAKING HEARTS' baby, Noelle, makes judgments and knows more than is possible. But Noelle does insist that babies are more aware than adults realize. And I suppose that is possible.

After Noelle is born, she is so intent on making her mother’s family love her that she smiles at them even before she is a day old. Although her 17-year-old unwed mother is not so easily won over, HER mother, Mama, is.

Then a custody battle ensues. And we see all from the perspective of a helpless baby who turns out to be not so helpless.

I received a copy of MAKING HEARTS From the author.

The Boy from the Woods by Coben Harlan
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Addictive, Unconvincing
Another Pleasure From Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben’s books are such a pleasure to read, all of them, including THE BOY FROM THE WOODS. Even better, Coben does not shy away from including characters who are capable, smart, and gutsy senior citizens. This is unlike most other popular fiction, as if anyone over 40 could not be interesting.

No spoilers: the boy from the woods, Wilde, is a grown man now, looking into the disappearance of a teenager at the request of the teenage son of Wilde’s best friend, the now-deceased son of Hester. You’re probably already familiar with Hester if you’ve read any of Coben’s other books, especially those in his Myron Bolitar series. She is the lawyer who has made appearances in Coben’s books for years. In THE BOY FROM THE WOODS, Hester is now a senior citizen and one of the main characters.

As usual in Coben’s books, THE BOY FROM THE WOODS has so much going on. Another teenager, same age, same school, also goes missing. Hester and Wilde both become involved in these cases, which are first one thing, then another, then another. Somehow, a politician who works with the father of one of the missing teenagers is also involved, and that’s another story. There are twists and turns and more to the stories right to the end.

I wonder if I missed something, though: what about the guy in Sing Sing?

THE BOY FROM THE WOODS is a standalone book. I’ve read suggestions that Coben make this the beginning of a new series with Wilde. But it looks to me like Coben made that unlikely. Still, he did leave something about Wilde hanging in the wind. That's not like him.

White Ivy: A Novel by Susie Yang
Dramatic, Interesting, Adventurous

WHITE IVY begins when Ivy is a child. She is Chinese but wants to be white and hang out with the white crowd at school. When she spends one summer in China, at first with rich relatives, she develops a high opinion of herself and a hankering for the rich life. Back in the United States, she dates only white boys. Ivy has a crush on one boy in particular: Gideon.

Ivy and Gideon are pretty much at the center of this story. But so are Ivy and Roux (pronounced Roo), a Romanian who grew up in the neighborhood where she did.

As an adult, Ivy’s desires haven’t changed much. They’ve been amplified. She still wants Gideon and gets him to a point. But something isn’t right. She sees what she wants to see, and Roux is what she settles for when she can’t be with Gideon.

I read WHITE IVY while I was (and still am) quarantined because my husband has COVID-19 and I might have it. I had nothing to do but read. So I read this book more quickly than usual, taking breaks only to sleep. I wonder if I would have enjoyed WHITE IVY otherwise.

I came to detest Ivy. So will you.

I won this book from Simon and Schuster during a Facebook Live event with Susie Yang.

Addictive, Dramatic, Interesting

Of the five Lisa Jewell novels I have read, I think THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS is probably my favorite. Not that it’s a nice story. You could definitely say it is sickening. But it is so absorbing and quite a page turner.

Libby learns that she has inherited a home worth several million dollars. But she also learns, little by little, what went on in that home and who her true family really is.

Libby hears about the rich family—mother, father, son, daughter— who lived there back in the 1980s. And she learns the story about another family who moved into their attic bedrooms— temporarily, they said. But the people upstairs stayed and stayed. Not only did they not leave, the father of the family upstairs, David, took control of the lives of everyone in the house.

So what does this have to do with Libby? Is she the baby left behind? She will discover all this and how she is related to these people.

The Plot: A Novel by Hanff Jean Korelitz
Interesting, Adventurous, Dramatic

If you are a writer or work in the publishing industry, THE PLOT is for you. As a matter of fact, the good reviews of this book that I’ve seen have been written by people in the publishing industry.

As far as I can tell, though, this book is not for anyone else. It bored me. I am sure it will bore most people, maybe even some writers and those who work in the publishing industry.

Jake has written a highly successful novel that he based on a plot written by one of his students. The student is now dead, and Jake has rewritten the story. Jake did not really steal it from anyone, but he feels that he did. So does someone else who is badgering him online about it. Who is this? That’s what Jake sets out to learn.

I read several good reviews of this book before I decided to read it. I feel cheated. Although most reviews warn that the book has a slow beginning, they also assure the reader that it gets suspenseful, thrilling. Believe me when I tell you that, yes, THE PLOT does have a slow beginning; BUT it continues to drag right up to page 300.

If you can delay your gratification that long, go for it. I don’t know any people who can do that. No one should have to.

Even after page 300, you’re bound to be disappointed. The whole mystery is solved in the end, and I could see it coming long before I got that far.

The Wife Upstairs: A Novel by Rachel Hawkins
Interesting, Dark, Slow

Rachel Hawkins has written several young adult novels. THE WIFE UPSTAIRS is her first attempt at an adult novel. But I found its reading level to be YA with lots of swearwords and a little sex added to make it adult.

"Jane" has a secret. First of all, that’s not her real name. Little by little as the book goes on, more and more of her secret is divulged.

I’m not sure if we’re supposed to like Jane or if she is a joke. She works as a dog walker in a very swanky neighborhood, where she resents all her clients because they have more than she does. Apparently, she feels that a dog walker should make as much as a business owner. Whatever.

She does manage to snag a man who lives there, though. Little does she know, this is a guy with an even bigger secret, a wife upstairs.

As the book continues, it is sometimes told from Jane‘s perspective and sometimes from the perspective of the wife upstairs. Whenever we hear from Jane, she is usually proclaiming her bitter resentment of everyone who lives in the neighborhood where she has chosen to live herself.

Sometime after Chapter 30, we finally hear from the man with the wife upstairs. And this is the point where the book gets interesting.

Obviously, I am not impressed with THE WIFE UPSTAIRS. It is too full of silly resentment of people who can afford to live in a nice neighborhood. Boo-hoo.

If you heard that this book is modeled after JANE EYRE, forget about it. It’s not even close.

I won this book through

You Are Not Alone: A Novel by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Fantastic, Addictive, Dramatic

If you liked THE WIFE BETWEEN US or AN ANONYMOUS GIRL, both by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, you’re sure to like YOU ARE NOT ALONE by the same authors. Even if you haven’t read their other two books, I’m betting that you’ll like YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Hendricks and Pekkanen have devised a story of a lonely woman who is happy to accept the friendship of two sisters after she witnesses a suicide. But could a cure for her loneliness be making her vulnerable to bad intentions?

Shay is unlucky in love, in the job market, and even in finding friends now that her best friend has a baby. Then she watches a woman deliberately jump to her death from a subway platform. But, lucky for her, Cassandra and Jane befriend her and help her turn her life around.

That’s the way it looks to Shay. The reader has the advantage of several other chapters in the book that show parts of Cassandra and Jane that Shay does not know about.

Cassandra and Jane run a PR firm, but they also head a group of women who all have something to do with the suicide victim. That’s what Shay doesn’t know. She is too happy with her new friends and with how they are helping her create a new life.

Will Shay be able to outsmart them? That’s what makes this book unputdownable.

I won YOU ARE NOT ALONE through

The Paris Library: A Novel by Skeslien Janet Charles
Interesting, Informative, Epic

I read THE PARIS LIBRARY because it is historical fiction, but I thought it would be written for an adult. It seemed, however, to be a lower reading level, closer to what I would have liked when I was in the eighth or ninth grade.

Some chapters of this book are about 1939 Paris; the other chapters are about 1983 Montana. I found both to be boring.

In 1939 Paris is young Odile, who works at the American Library in Paris. This part is boring mainly because it is so, so slow. We hear about every little bit of her life and are left to wonder, when will something happen, for too long.

The Montana chapters are told from the perspective of Lily, a junior-high-school-age girl, who becomes a friend of her next-door neighbor, Odi?e, now an older woman. These chapters, too, are slow and made me wonder, what is their purpose, for too long.

I cannot recommend this book to most adult readers. However, I do recommend it for some teenagers.

I won this book from Atria Books.

Interesting, Informative, Beautiful

I read JAMES HERRIOT’S YORKSHIRE because I wanted to see all the beauty Herriot spoke of in his ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL series. His descriptions of his veterinary work in Yorkshire, England made me want to visit there. But he was talking about the 1930s in his series, and I’m sure much has changed since then. Everything looks gorgeous in the pictures in JAMES HERRIOT’S YORKSHIRE, but even this was written in the 1970s. I wonder how much has changed since then.

Herriot accompanies the photographs (by Derry Brabbs) with his memories, some of his veterinary work in those locations, some of his visits there with his family, and others simply noting history. I admit to getting a little bored when he describes the scenery at length.

After finishing this lovely book, I still want to visit Yorkshire. But here I am in the United States and I don’t know how likely that is. I have to keep reminding myself that we have beauty over here, too, and I haven’t seen all of it yet. The

Adventurous, Interesting, Insightful

Why don't authors of, especially, historical fiction put their "Notes" before, rather than after, the story? Most seem to follow some rule that author "Notes" go at the end.

WHERE THE LOST WANDER follows that seeming rule. But I learned through experience to check the back of the book for "Notes" so learned right away that two characters in the book really did exist. Knowing this while I read it made the story more interesting.

Most of WHERE THE LOST WANDER is about members of a wagon train headed west for California, told from the viewpoints of Naomi and John. Naomi is traveling with her family and one of the wagons; John, part White, part Indian, did not intend to go all the way to California but changes his mind. Naomi and John take turns telling the story of their trip, incidents that happen along the way. That is until their experiences are no longer with the wagon train.

By the second half of WHERE THE LOST WANDER, Naomi and John have married. One of Naomi's little brothers accidentally kills an Indian. The Indians retaliate by attacking the wagon train and taking Naomi and her newborn baby brother prisoner. Now this book is more than just incidents.

Will John be able to find Naomi? Can they get the baby back?

Insightful, Informative, Brilliant

I put off reading ALEX AND ME because I heard it was a tearjerker. It isn’t. And I am glad I finally read it.

This book is nonfiction about a scientist, Irene Pepperberg, trying to determine the intelligence of parrots, Alex in particular. She worked with other parrots as well, but her longest relationship was with Alex, and Alex's demonstrated intelligence outshone the others.

Over Alex’s 30 years, Pepperberg continually faced a scientific community that denied her claims. For the last few years of Alex‘s life, though, they were beginning to accept that a parrot with a bird brain the size of a walnut could do at least what a chimp could, I.e., communicate.

Alex became somewhat of a celebrity with his demonstrations of intelligence. Most impressive, though, was Alex‘s ability to show that all animals have intelligence and can think.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Brilliant
This is not a happy book, but do read it

After reading three undesirable books in a row, I hit gold with Alice LaPlante's TURN OF MIND. It's not a happy book. It may even break your heart. But it's well written, and its subject matter, at least some of it, hit home and should concern anyone who has a mother.

TURN OF MIND is such a unique literary thriller. It is told from the point of view of Dr. Jennifer White, a 64-year-old orthopedic doctor who specialized in hand surgery. White is now unlicensed because she is suffering from dementia. (Sixty-four seems like early onset to me, but what do I know?) Some days are better than others, but it's getting progressively worse, horrifyingly worse.

White's good friend and neighbor, Amanda, has been murdered. Also, for some reason, four of her fingers have been removed in a surgically precise way. Of course, this points to White. But two other members of White's family, her son Mark and daughter Fiona, both adults, also may have had reason to murder Amanda.

Throughout TURN OF MIND, we learn more and more, through White's sporadic remembrances, about Amanda, Mark, and Fiona. Who is guilty of Amanda's murder, and why did they do it? Why were her fingers removed? Does White ever remember?

More than that, the reader sees the story as a dementia victim, one who is getting progressively worse,would see it. White's remembrances are always confused, and she can never articulate them, at least not so they are understandable.

What will become of White?

My only criticism of this book is its lack of quotation marks. There is no good reason for this. LaPlante italicizes when someone other than White is speaking. It was sometimes difficult for me to tell whether White was speaking or thinking. In my opinion, quotation marks add to a book's readability, and it is rude for an author not to use them.

TURN OF MIND is LaPlante's first. She wrote it a few years ago, so you may have already read it. If not, do.

Interesting, Slow, Beautiful

The title of WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING promises more than the book delivers. It contains too much foul language and bitterness and way too much whining. I resented the time I spent on it.

Dear Edward: A Novel by Ann Napolitano
Interesting, Optimistic, Dramatic

DEAR EDWARD refers to a boy who used to go by “Eddie.” He was Eddie before he was the lone survivor out of 191 passengers on a jet that crashed in Colorado. While he is in the hospital and after he comes to live with his aunt and uncle, he decides to go by ”Edward," instead. The accident is the dividing line: one life before, another after.

Ann Napolitano does a fabulous job describing how Edward deals with his new life. But I don’t think of this as a single story. Rather, this is many stories, all Edward’s.

Most of those stories involve Shay, the girl who lives next door to Edward‘s new home. Shay keeps him sane right from his first night there. And she helps him read and respond to all the letters that the other passengers‘ families send to him (thus the "dear” before “Edward" in the title).

In spite of its sad beginning, DEAR EDWARD turns out to be a story of kindness.

The Institute: A Novel by Stephen King
Boring, Slow, Dark

I’ve read enough Stephen King books to say that most of them aren’t silly like most horror books are. Most of King's horror does not involve monsters or vampires; his books have a premise that I can swallow as long as I can accept, just for the sake of the story, a bit of the supernatural.

THE INSTITUTE is one such book. If you can accept that there are children all over the world with telekinetic and telepathic powers, then you can enjoy it and won’t think it’s silly.

Luke is 12 years old. He has slight telekinetic powers, but that is enough for him to be kidnapped, his parents murdered. He is brought to the Institute (in Maine, of course), where children with telekinetic and telepathic powers are put through horrendous ordeals to enhance their powers.

Because stories about children usually bore me, I admit that my favorite parts of this book involve adults, the nice ones. And there are some, although most of them are taking advantage of and discarding the lives of these children. The good guys are in a small town in South Carolina, and the best one is Tim.

Although my favorite Stephen King novel is still 11/22/63, THE INSTITUTE is good and I enjoyed it, although it would have been better without the political comments.

In Five Years: A Novel by Rebecca Serle
Romantic, Beautiful, Fun

Although Rebecca Serle did not intend IN FIVE YEARS to be a young adult novel, it still has a YA feel to it. The main characters, although adults in their late 20s, early 30s, refer to each other in YA terms (e.g., "best friends,” "besties"), and their circumstances almost always concern their love lives (also very YAish). That may put off some adult readers.

The real problem with this book is what, at first, seems like a good thing because it sparks your interest and draws you in.

Dannie has a dream that seems very real. Probably nothing will come of it, but maybe it was a premonition. So the entire book leads up to that particular day. And for the entire book you will be expecting an explanation of the dream/premonition. If it is a premonition, how and why did it happen?

That, alone, kept me interested in this story. Otherwise, IN FIVE YEARS is just a typical live-with-her-boyfriend-for-five-years-and-look-forward-to-marrying-him YA book. But there is that dream/premonition that sets it apart.

In the end, though, the story is unsatisfying. I still have questions and don’t feel like anything was explained.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Brilliant, Dramatic, Addictive

Jane Harper’s THE LOST MAN is one of the best mystery/suspense novels I have ever read. If you read and loved THE DRY, one of her previous books, you’ll love THE LOST MAN. If you haven’t read THE DRY, you’ll want to after you read THE LOST MAN.

Nathan, the eldest of three brothers, discovers the body of Cameron, another one of the brothers, in the outback desert. There begins the mystery: how did he end up in this predicament when his car is loaded with supplies to sustain him? Was this suicide or was it murder? If murder, who had cause to hate him this much?

You would expect that a Harper book would take place in Australia. But her descriptions of the outback, in particular, where the brothers and the rest of the family live and work, made me actually see its vastness and feel the desolation, danger, and heat they dealt with.

Here is a book you won’t want to end. When I got there, it felt too soon.

Beyond Reach by Slaughter Karin

If you are familiar with Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series, then you know Lena Adams. She’s a police detective in Grant County. She’s in the small town where she grew up with her blind sister and her addict uncle. This is where most of the story takes place, not Grant County this time.

Jeffery Tolliver, the police chief of Grant County, has come to Lena’s rescue as she sits in a jail cell, suspected of murder. Jeffrey has brought Sarah, his wife, with him. You should also be familiar with these two characters, who have also been part of the Grant County series.

Of course, Jeffrey and Sarah get themselves involved in Lena‘s troubles. They begin with her uncle, who has been trying to clean himself up. But the meth business has been going on for too long in the small Georgia town. And they got him again.

Who has been involved with this awful business, and who is willing to murder to keep it going? Everyone in this town is suspect.

Again, Slaughter has written a thrilling story of secrets and lies and good guys and bad guys. This series is so well written that you’ll even enjoy it if you read it out of order.

I must admit, though, I had a little trouble, at first, understanding that Lena’s chapters occurred before Jeffrey’s and Sarah‘s. Don’t be confused. Lena's chapters explain how she came to be in jail.

Dramatic, Brilliant

Not many authors could have written MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS as Joshua Henkin did. The story of Pru and Spence might have been a bore. But Henkin ensured, simply, that once you start this book, you'll want to finish. Although this story is not thrilling or suspenseful, it's a page turner just the same.

Part 1 of MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS is what I think of as introduction. Granted, for an introduction, it's long. But, again, Henkin ensured that it doesn't seem overly so, that it isn't a bore. He introduces us to Pru and Spence, who is Pru's college professor and, not much later, her husband. Spence is probably a genius, and the courses he teaches are so popular that students will camp out all night to be first in line to sign up for them.

In subsequent parts of MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, the reader sees Spence's downfall. When he is in his 50s, he is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. It began to creep up on him, Pru thinks, maybe as early as when he was still in his 40s. She deals with it alone at first, eventually hiring help when she can’t do it anymore. This gives her a little time for a life outside their apartment, especially for a job, but also including a short-lived affair.

Different parts of the book also concentrate on Sarah, Pru's and Spence's daughter, and Arlo, Spence's son from his first marriage. Arlo is also a genius and had a difficult relationship with his father. Although he later comes to his father’s rescue, there can be no relationship now, no mending it.

Somehow, Henkin makes MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS a story you will want to read.This is the first of his books I have read, and now I’m anxious to read his earlier books.


The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
Dark, Dramatic, Addictive
Why all the great reviews?

Why do all the reviews I’ve read for THE MAIDENS by Alex Michaelides praise this book? I kept reading it after the first 100 pages of boredom only because I did not want to miss whatever won over so many other readers. I have now finished reading it, and I still have not found an answer to my question.

Right from the start the reader is made aware that the main character has decided that Edward Fosca is a murderer. But as I read more and more of the novel, I wasn’t so sure.

Mariana, a widow and a practicing psychotherapist, has a niece, Zoe, she dearly loves who is going to school at Cambridge University. When Zoe calls Mariana because she is distressed that her friend was murdered, Mariana leaves the next day for Cambridge to console her. But her plan to spend just one night there changes when Zoe tells her something that makes her suspect Fosca. Now she has to play Nancy Drew, and one night becomes more.

Another murder, then another occur at Cambridge, and Mariana is equally sure that Fosca is guilty of these. And so the novel continues with her insistence of Fosca’s guilt. She drives people crazy, including the police. But this is not why I disliked the book.

THE MAIDENS is slow, s-o s-l-o-w. Between the few things that happen is so much of Mariana's thinking and remembering and repeating and repeating.

I do applaud Michaelides' insertion of so many other possible murderers into the story. Even though I suspected early on that Fosca was not guilty, several characters seemed like they might be. So I never did decide who the true culprit was until the end of the story.

Manhattan Road Trip: Short Stories by Meloy Robin Goldsby
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Adventurous

I have a bad attitude toward books of short stories. That’s what MANHATTAN ROAD TRIP is. So I surprised myself by reading it cover to cover. Robin Meloy Goldsby pulls it off really well.

Short stories in some books are all connected and make up a greater story. MANHATTAN ROAD TRIP does not do that, but the stories do have things in common. Each is about one type of musician or another. And if you pay attention, you may find that each is related in other ways as well.

The book begins with a story about a concert pianist lamenting her middle age and all that has changed as a result. If you aren't impressed with this story, as I wasn't, keep reading, anyhow.

That story is immediately followed by a story about a Lady Gaga-like character. Her name is Baby. Get it? Baby says googoo gaga?

Other stories are about other types of musicians who play other types of instruments, even one who uses his hands as musical instruments (which I think is stretching it a bit). One musician, whose instrument is her lovely voice, who gave up following her own career in favor of her husband's, ends up killing her husband on church steps. (I'm not spoiling anything for you. The story lets you know right away.)

I am not a musical person. But it doesn’t take one to enjoy these stories. I did.

The Suspect by Fiona Barton
Book Club Recommended
Third in Kate Waters Series

THE SUSPECT is the third book in a series about journalist Kate Waters. Although all three books are good, this one is certainly Fiona Barton’s best.

Although Kate is English, most of this story takes place in Thailand. Two English girls are there visiting but have not been in touch with their parents. Something must be wrong. Kate goes there to cover the story during the slow month of August. Bob Sparks, an English police detective and another regular in this series, also goes to investigate at the request of one of the girls' mothers. Coincidentally, Kate's oldest son, Jake, has been living there, too.

Turns out, an English boy/young man is accused of murdering the two girls. He is in a Thai prison, and, of course, Kate beats Bob there to interview him. It is at that point in the prison that this story becomes full of twists and turns and some surprises.

I enjoyed this book as I did the two previous books in the series. But I liked this one more partly because Kate steps out of her journalist role here. She’s a mother.

Also, I think you’ll agree with me that the twists and turns are more twisty-turny, the surprises more surprising in THE SUSPECT.

Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Addictive, Informative
One of Scottoline's Better Books

Lisa Scottoline is a popular author; many of you have read most her books. But if you haven't read her EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES, do. It's not her latest, but it's one of her better books.

Maybe the biggest reason for that is all Scottoline's careful research. For example, the main character, Eric, is a psychiatrist. His various cases were researched so their descriptions are according to real science. Not only that, but the psychiatrist himself was researched, how he thinks and acts. EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES is a novel, but so much of it, including the legalities of a hospital system, sociopathy, police procedures, and criminal law, is authentic.

Eric is the chief of the Psychiatric Unit at a hospital. More awful things happen to him than many people could deal with. His marriage has failed, the wife of a patient in his department has threatened to sue him, a medical student has accused him of sexual harassment, etc. But he also has another issue that has to do with one of his private patients, a teenage boy, Max, who Eric has met with only three times. Yet, throughout the book Eric acts as if he knows him and what he is capable of. This does not seem real to me. Especially unreal are the lengths Eric will go to for Max's sake, all based on knowing him for those three hours.

In spite of that, I truly enjoyed EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES. That's because of, as I said, Scottoline's research. But the other big reason is simply the way she writes dialog. First, as in all her books, this is full of dialog rather than one paragraph after another of description, a problem with so many other author's books. And I like the dialog in this book because Eric usually says just the right thing, his lawyer always says just the right thing, and I learned so much about all the characters through their dialog, alone.

The Glass Hotel: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Adventurous, Dramatic
Great Book Once You Get Used to the Writing Style

In a comparison of Emily St. John Mandel's previous book,STATION ELEVEN, with THE GLASS HOTEL, the subject matter and the type of story differ but her writing style is the same. Although both books are good, I had to read a few chapters of them before I got used to her style. It came across at first as haphazard.

Right from the initial chapter of THE GLASS HOTEL, you know that Vincent (female) falls overboard and is drowning. Most of the rest of the book is flashback, starting when Vincent is 12 years old. It seems at first that her half-brother Paul will play a major role in her story. He is a drug addict/musician who needs her when she is in her early 20s. They work at the same hotel, but then he mostly disappears until much later.

Vincent is a bartender at the hotel. That's where she meets Jonathan, the owner of the hotel and a financial manager. Of course, he's wealthy, and gorgeous Vincent becomes his pretend wife. In the 3 years they are together, she never knows how he really comes by his wealth. She doesn't know because she doesn't want to know.

Now we also see how the lives of some of Jonathan's clients are changed when his secret is revealed. And we also see what happens to several of his employees who have been in on the scheme.

Obviously, Vincent drowns, and now we see how that comes about. She is working as a cook on a ship, where she went to escape land and the people she didn't want to see. Was her death accidental, or was she pushed?

You should know that this book has a lot of characters to keep track of. Pay attention to each, even those who don't seem to matter; their names will come up later. I find it easiest to mark each name with highlighter the first time it appears. That way I can more easily leaf back to find the name if I need a reminder of who is who. Unfortunately, my copy of THE GLASS HOTEL was a library book, and I only mark in books I own.

Book Club Recommended
Delightful Memoir

A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS is delightful. Dave Eggers has a writing style like I’ve never read before. What would otherwise be, for example, sad or serious, he lightens. My gosh, he even makes the copyright page enjoyable reading! And I'm glad I read a hardcover copy and could see the cover minus the dust jacket. Check it out if you can.

This is a memoir. Eggers explains that he wouldn’t really call A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS a true story because he made up the dialog. And sometimes that dialog is obviously his invention, such as when a 9-year-old boy talks with the maturity of a 30-year-old man or when he begins with his MTV interview that turns into something else. I sometimes had to re-read to understand what he was doing.

Before the beginning of A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS Eggers notes all the parts you can safely skip. But that made me want to read them all the more, and I didn’t skip anything. I admit, though, after 100 or so pages his style sometimes aggravated me, his constant repetition, so I did skim some paragraphs. Even though I could tell that those paragraphs represented his private thought processes, I sometimes found them disjointed and monotonous.

Most reviews of this book concentrate on only part of the story, he and his little brother. Yes, Eggers raises his much younger brother, Toph, after their parents died. And, of course, Toph is a big part of the story, occupying Eggers' thoughts most of the time.

But he also emphasizes all the energy he simultaneously expends on a startup magazine. Poor Eggers is always exhausted.

Also running throughout his story are his remembrances of his mother, beginning near her end. Yet he doesn't have much to say about his father, apparently an alcoholic.

Eggers' memoir has three main subjects, not just one. Probably most readers find his relationship with Toph to be the most touching.

The Searcher: A Novel by Tana French
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dark, Informative
Unusual for Tana French, this is not a five-star book

Reviews of Tana French books rarely rate them with fewer than four stars, and I’m usually inclined to give them five. In this case I’ll stick with four, though.

THE SEARCHER is a bit of a departure for French. That is, the main character of this book isn’t Irish. Cal is American, a retired cop who has come to live in a small town in Ireland. He thought it would be a quiet place to live.

A 13-year-old, who Cal mistakes for a boy, has asked, practically demanded, that he look into the disappearance of her brother. This is what Cal thought he was leaving behind when he moved to Ireland. Even so, he does get involved in this case, just like old times.

Cal learns that small towns in Ireland can have the same trouble as big cities in the United States. There is no escaping it.

I don’t give this book five stars because I didn’t like the way Cal talked. Although French writes wonderful dialogue between Irish people, she doesn’t quite get it right with Cal. I understand that she wanted to make clear that he isn’t a big-city guy. But sometimes he talks stupid. There is a difference between sounding country and sounding stupid. He clearly is not stupid. So he does not sound authentic as the Irish people do.

I also was unhappy with the end. How could he stay? Although Cal does consider moving back to the United States, he also decides to get a new puppy. Wouldn’t it be cruel to make a dog fly all the way to the United States?

Magpie Murders: A Novel by Anthony Horowitz
Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Interesting, Slow

What a clever book this is! Really, MAGPIE MURDERS is two books, a book within a book. And both books are MAGPIE MURDERS.

The narrator of Anthony Horowitz's MAGPIE MURDERS, Susan Ryeland, describes her experience with the book within the book, MAGPIE MURDERS, written by the fictitious author Alan Conway. Ryeland is an editor for the publisher of Conway's books. MAGPIE MURDERS is the ninth in his series of who-done-its, and, although Ryeland dislikes Conway, she likes his who-done-its.

Now we read what Ryeland reads, the MAGPIE MURDERS written by Conway. It feels like reading an Agatha Christie novel. If you own the MAGPIE MURDERS written by Horowitz, I suggest you read it with a highlighter nearby so you can mark the first occurrence of characters' names. There are so many! I needed to do that so I could leaf back to remind myself who characters were. And, speaking of names, I will never be able to read a book again without wondering whether the names of its characters have some significance. You will understand what I mean later.

Before the murders are solved in the copy of MAGPIE MURDERS that Ryeland is editing, the story ends. It is missing chapters, and Ryeland is determined to find them. But she can't just ask Conway for them. Her firm's biggest money maker, Alan Conway, is dead. It looks like he jumped from a tower, committed suicide. But, during Ryeland's search for the missing chapters, which takes her to various areas in England, she decides that he didn't jump but was pushed.

So Ryeland not only needs to find the missing chapters so that the murders in Conway's MAGPIE MURDERS are solved; she also feels she needs to solve Conway's murder.

Every bit of this book, of both books, really, is clever. I'm so anxious to see what PBS does with it in 2022.

Book Club Recommended
An Analysis

ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL really is what its title says it is: an anatomy, or analysis, of a scandal. The story is told from the viewpoints of the various people who are involved in the scandal, directly or indirectly, although the actual scandal is not dealt with until about page 200. You might say, then, up until that point is setup that goes too long. You would be only partially correct. If this is to be an anatomy of a scandal, analyses of these people and their backgrounds are necessary.

James is a handsome, charismatic politician in England. His is the scandal to be analyzed. So we go back to his college days and those of his future wife, Sophie, and some of the people they went to school with. These are people in the 1990s who will be directly or indirectly involved in the scandal about 20 years later.

In 2016 James is accused of rape by a woman he had been having an affair with. The case goes to trial, and the viewpoints of various characters, including the prosecutor, Kate, are given postscandal as well.

I was surprised by Kate. I feel like I shouldn’t have been, though. You may catch it before I did.

I enjoyed this book, although perhaps the word really shouldn’t be “enjoyed.” The subject matter wasn’t exactly happy.

My only criticism of ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL is its punctuation. Semicolons are misused all over the place. I am a retired editor, and these errors glared at me.


THE STRANGER BEHIND YOU is a clever story within a story. But I would call the main story a mystery, not a thriller.

Jean is a journalist who has written a newspaper article, 3 years in the making, exposing a high-profile man as a sexual predator. The night she comes home from a party celebrating the article's publication, she is attacked in her home, leaving her with a serious head injury. Yet she refuses to contact the police or go to the hospital. Yes, she has an excuse. But it sure is not good enough.

Soon thereafter, Jean is offered a book deal, enabling her to move to a safe apartment. There she meets her neighbor, an old woman named Lillian who tells her her story. If you think Lillian is odd and she seems suspicious, just go with it; she makes sense in the end.

Lillian‘s story has many similarities to Jean’s. This is what makes THE STRANGER BEHIND YOU above the average mystery.

While Jean is learning to live in her new safer apartment, contending with the results of a head injury, the wife of the sexual predator she exposed is secretly trying to expose Jean’s “lies.” Apparently, she is the stranger in THE STRANGER BEHIND YOU.

Although this book is predictable in a few places, it certainly is a convoluted mystery.

Interesting, Confusing, Addictive

The confusion begins with the title. First, it implies that Evelyn Hardcastle is who this story is about. But it isn’t, really. Second, the title also implies that Evelyn Hardcastle will die 7 1/2 times. But no.

That’s OK. Titles are often mysteries. But even now that I’ve finished the book, I’m still not sure about those 7 1/2 deaths. I’m confused because I think there were more.

A man who we eventually learn is Aiden Bishop finds himself at a large estate that is in severe disrepair. He doesn’t know why he is there; he has no memories. He doesn’t even know who he is.

I don’t want to describe the story in much detail because different parts confused me throughout. I may describe something in one way, but you may read it and understand it in another way. It’s that confusing.

I know this, though. Bishop is tasked with solving the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. But who has given him this task? By the end of the book there will be a sort of answer. But even that person has superiors, and we are never told who they are.

Bishop inhabits the bodies of several guests at the estate. In this way, he sees Evelyn Hardcastle and the goings on of many other guests at the estate from many perspectives so he can solve the mystery of her murder. He even tries to prevent it.

This story contains so many characters it is difficult to keep track of them all. And it is especially difficult to remember who did what. If you are one of those fortunate people who can sit and read a book all day, I think you may have a chance at avoiding confusion. But if you have to put the book down to go to work or to go to sleep, you are bound to be confused. Thank goodness someone was thoughtful enough to include a list of characters near the front of the book.

I don’t know if this author reads reader reviews, but he should learn about a repeated editorial error that a good editor should have caught and corrected. Turton and his editor should learn the difference between "intended on" and “intended to.” "Intended on” is a mistake that is repeated throughout this book. No one intends on doing anything; they either intend to do it, or they plan on doing it.

The Hidden: A Novel by Melanie Golding
Book Club Recommended
This is not a corny book, even if descriptions sound like it is

Don’t be put off by descriptions of THE HIDDEN that mention its being steeped in local legend or fable. While that is true and is the reason I thought this story would come off as corny, it really does not. Although the end is a little too neat and clean, I suppose it could happen that way, and I really did enjoy this book.

Why is a two-year-old girl found alone outside a store? The background to this begins a few months before then, when Ruby rents an apartment and becomes friendly with a neighbor, Gregor. He’s good looking and considerate and shy, or so it seems. A strange woman, Constance, lives with him. They were romantically involved but no longer are because she is mentally unstable, he says, but they have a child, Leonie, so he does not throw her out.

When Ruby overhears Gregor yelling at Constance and mistreating her, she and Constance begin their plan. And that is how Leonie comes to be found outside the store.

Why doesn’t Ruby ever call her sister/mother, Joanna, a detective sergeant, to ask for help with their predicament? That would have made sense to me, regardless of their family situation. I guess the story wouldn’t have been as exciting if she had.

Still, Joanna gets wind of what’s going on with Ruby through police reports. So Joanna puts her career in jeopardy to find and help her.

I’m relieved to say that the elements of this story that incorporate fable are not corny because they do not have to be believed. The characters other than Constance sure don’t.

I won an ARC of THE HIDDEN through

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Dramatic, Fun
Excellent story even if the end is rushed

I admit, I did not expect to like SUCH A FUN AGE. On the basis of its description on the book's flap, I thought it was a book that concentrated on racism, which every-other book seems to be about lately. So I would have passed it by if my book club hadn't chosen it.

Joke's on me. I shouldn't have read the book flap.

Emira is a 25-year-old black college graduate, part-time typist, part-time babysitter, who longs to be more adult with a job more like her friends' jobs. But she loves the little girl, Briar, she takes care of three days a week. The mother, though, is pretty hard to figure. (By the way, they're white.)

First of all, the mother calls herself Alix, which she pronounces "aa LEEKS," even though her name is actually Alex. After she hired Emira, their relationship was impersonal, limited to comments, questions, and instructions about Briar's care. That changes after a late-night incident in a grocery store. Emira is there with Briar when she is stopped by a security guard. He and another customer are suspicious that she has kidnapped Briar, a little white girl. This problem is soon straightened out, but Alix is now determined to become Emira's friend. I think that is probably because of a racist comment that her husband made on TV during a newscast. (Speaking of which, this is the reason Emira and Briar were in the grocery store. Some junior high school-age boys threw an egg at their window because of the comment, so Alix and her husband called the police. They didn't want Briar there when the police came.)

Questions I had about that: Why would someone call the police because boys threw an egg at their house? And why would they get their toddler from her bed at 11 p.m. so she could get out of the house? And why would they call their babysitter at 11 p.m. for such a ridiculous reason?

While Alix is determined to be Emira's friend, Emira begins dating Kelley, another white customer in the grocery store that night. Kelley filmed the incident with his smartphone and wants to publicize it but doesn't. Emira doesn't want to and insists he delete the video from his phone.

As the story continues, we see more and more the kind of person Alix really is, especially after she meets Kelley.

I won't give away more of the story. I will say that SUCH A FUN AGE is excellent, mostly because of the dialog, especially little Briar's and Kelley's. It didn't offend me and shouldn't offend anyone, if that is your concern. The end, though, was too rushed.

Migrations: A Novel by McConaghy Charlotte
Book Club Recommended
Unconvincing, Adventurous, Dramatic
Depressing But Great Ending

After reading MIGRATIONS, I understand why it has received so many good reviews. But, although it has a promising beginning, the bulk of the book is slow and depressing. It also seemed choppy to me until I got used to it’s going to and from various periods of time.

All is bleak, with nearly every animal species extinct and those not extinct close to being so. This is the world when Franny takes it upon herself to follow Arctic terns as they migrate from the Arctic Circle all the way to the Antarctic.

During her journey, we learn more and more about Franny through many flashbacks. They give the impression that she is a selfish person. But keep reading. As her secrets are divulged, your impression may change. And the secrets also make for a great ending.

As a matter of fact, I think those last couple chapters are the reason for all the good reviews and high ratings, although it is true that Charlotte McConaghy’s writing is beautiful throughout the book. Plus, her descriptions of the Arctic and the Antarctic made me cold.

But the story never addressed to my satisfaction how nearly all animal species could be extinct while human beings are just fine. All species depend on other species for their lives, including the human species.

Unconvincing, Fun, Adventurous

AN OBVIOUS FACT Is the twelfth book in the series about Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. I have read other books in the series and have enjoyed them, as I enjoyed the TV series on AMC (now on Netflix). This book, though, is both good and not so much.

The good:

Craig Johnson writes very good dialogue.

Johnson includes lots of interesting trivia.

In AN OBVIOUS FACT, a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle plays a part. I used to edit MRAP manuals for the army.

The not so good:

Not that a women can’t be tough, but Johnson seems to try a little too hard to make Vic, Longmire's undersheriff, both tough and feminine and expert at everything she does. She comes across as unreal.

All the bad guys are also caricatures.

Therefore, the story was a sleeper for me.

The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian
Book Club Recommended
Good, Not Fabulous

THE BUFFALO SOLDIER is good, as are all of Chris Bohjalian's books. But most of them go beyond good; some are even fabulous. This one is just good.

It’s a pretty simple story, really, starting with the death of Laura‘s and Terry‘s twin daughters. Their grief is immense, even after 2 years. Then they become foster parents to a 10-year-old boy, Alfred. Their neighbors give Alfred a book about the buffalo soldiers.

This story is about Laura‘s and Terry‘s marriage, their feelings for their foster son, and their foster son’s feelings for them. Saying more than that would be giving too much away.

Unlike most author's books, Bohjalian’s are both plot- and character-driven, not just one or the other. That’s why he is one of my favorite authors. But I expected more of this book and, so, was disappointed. Believe me, though, it really is good, especially the scene when Alfred rides the horse into the village when the weather has caused mass flooding. THE BUFFALO SOLDIER won’t be a waste of your time.

My only specific criticism of this book is it lack of quotation marks. Why do authors do that? Quotation marks make a book more readable. Therefore, not using them is a disregard for your reader.

Slow, Boring, Brilliant

THE UNQUIET DEAD Is a mystery with a promising premise. A man has died falling from a bluff, an apparent suicide. Yet, detectives are asked to investigate. That is because the man is suspected to have committed war crimes in Bosnia in the 1990s. If he did, then there are many people who would like to see him dead. So the detectives must determine whether the suspicion is true and, then, who killed him.

It’s a great premise, but I expected more of the investigation. It should not have bored me, but it did.

All American Christmas by Sean Duffy Rachel; Campos-Duffy
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative
Christmas Memories

ALL AMERICAN CHRISTMAS is a book of Christmas memories of some of the crew at Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network. For me, it was a quick look into the lives of some of the people I get my news from nearly every day.

I enjoyed the writing but was a bit disappointed in some of the pictures each of them contributed. For example, Dana Perino showed a picture of her with her dog and not her husband (although I suppose the picture of Santa Claus may have been her husband). I also can’t imagine why Emily Compagno would have thought I’d be interested in pictures of her parents when they were children.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Beautiful, Boring, Addictive

Could not finish this book

Interesting, Informative

INTO THE SUFFERING CITY is historical fiction. As with all other books of historical fiction I have read, I wondered throughout the book what was true and what was fiction. Although Bill LeFurgy, the author, does provide some author notes at the end of the book, I still wondered, especially about the men who wanted to run for mayor of Baltimore. Were these the actual people?

But that certainly is not a criticism of the book. It only goes to show that it was interesting enough to make me want to know more.

Sarah is a high-functioning autistic doctor and Jack is a down-on-his-luck private investigator. When both have an interest in the same case, they join forces.

Sarah wants to find justice for a dead showgirl, and Jack is being paid to prove that someone is not the murderer. That someone is one of three people who intend to run for mayor of Baltimore.

Their investigation reveals that the good old days really weren’t so great. They deal with many of the big problems of the day, e.g., racism and sexism, with some of the misunderstandings still prevalent in the early 20th century, e.g., what we now know as autism and PTSD, and even with some of the aggravations then, e.g., horse manure in the streets and all the undergarments women had to wear.

As a matter of fact, I was most impressed with LeFurgy's historical details. They are far greater than those of most other authors’ historical fiction.

Before the end of the story, Sarah and Jack truly admire each other. Will more come of these feelings? And will they continue as detectives together?

We can assume the answer to that second question. LeFurgy has continued with another book in their series.

Chicago: A Novel by David Mamet
Boring, Confusing
I give up

After 101 pages, I give up. This is one of the most boring books I ever read. I wouldn’t rate it but insists. Other people have said it gets better, but I haven’t gotten to the better part yet and I don’t know how much more I have to read before I get there. I have other books to read.

Undone (Grant County) by Karin Slaughter
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dramatic
two book series come together

Karin Slaughter has two book series, the Grant County series and the Will Trent series.The two come together in UNDONE.

Jeffery Tolliver was murdered in the Grant County series. Now, three years later, his widow, Sarah Linton, has moved to Atlanta and is a doctor at Grady Hospital. Will Trent and his partner, Faith Mitchell, are there to investigate the case of one of Sarah's patients, a severely battered woman. She had been hit by a car after escaping her kidnapper who had repeatedly raped and tortured her. The story is about their investigation.

But the story is about more than that. Typical of Slaughter's books, characters are as important as plot. Sarah is still upset about Jeffery's death and blames his coworker. Will stays calm and collected and still can't find it in himself to get rid of his mostly absent wife. And Faith worries about losing her job when she becomes pregnant and develops type II diabetes. Sarah wants to be useful to the investigation, which, at first, aggravates Faith.

The investigation soon becomes convoluted when more women who have been kidnapped, raped, and tortured are discovered. These three main characters' lives are always part of the story. This book is both plot driven and character driven, the kind of novel that will grab and retain your attention.

Better yet, UNDONE, as with Slaughter's other books in her series, could stand alone. That is, even though it continues the stories in the series, you can enjoy it by itself. For example, because I buy Slaughter's books as they become available at used book sales, I read them out of order. Ideally, I'd read them as she writes them, but this works, too.

Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Informative, Unconvincing

?Although I didn’t expect to like THE NATURE OF FRAGILE THINGS, I did. This is historical fiction that deals with the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. But what I heard about the fiction built around it sounded implausible to me. Maybe some parts of it are, but I liked the story.

Sophie, an Irish 18-year-old who has been in New York for about three years, answers an advertisement from Martin for a mail-order bride. She wants to escape poverty; he claims that he wants to appear respectable. Sophie goes to San Francisco, and they immediately marry, even before going to his home there and meeting his six-year-old daughter, Katherine (Kat).

Martin never acts like a proper husband, but Sophie is not concerned. It does bother her, though, that he never acts like a proper father to Kat, who she soon comes to love.

When a pregnant woman appears on her doorstep one day while her husband is gone, Sophie learns the truth about Martin. He is guilty of far more than infidelity. And she will come to suspect even more. But, first, the earthquake.

Sounds like an old-fashioned soap opera. That’s why I was, at first, turned off to this book. But, as with modern-day soap operas, you may get caught up in this story in spite of yourself.

Win by Harlan Coben
Fun, Interesting, Dramatic

I am always happy to be reading another Harlan Coben mystery/thriller. They are never simple; several mysteries are always going on.

WIN is a continuation of Coben's Myron Bolitar series and it’s not. Myron doesn’t even make an appearance. He just gets a few mentions.

If you are familiar with the Myron Bolitar series, you will know that Win is Myron’s best friend. Win is always a part of these thrillers, always helping Myron and his endeavors. That’s why throughout this book I was expecting Myron to show up at some critical moment. But no. This one is all Win. It’s the beginning of his own series.

Apparently (I would probably have known this if I had read Coben’s young adult series about young Mickey Bolitar), Myron is now married and living in Florida. This leaves rich, handsome, violent, and unbelievably successful Win on his own. Ordinarily I’d be turned off by the violence, but it is in the name of justice, and Coben somehow makes it fun.

A couple of disappointments: (1) as I already said, this story has no Myron, and I missed him, and (2) I was disappointed in myself for not highlighting each new name. Because Coben’s mysteries/thrillers always include lots of characters, I find that it’s best to highlight each name the first time it appears. This aids my memory when they show up later in the story. I didn’t do that this time, forcing me to search previous text, sometimes unsuccessfully because the names were not highlighted.

So is Myron now retired? At a presentation more than 10 years ago, Coben said he was considering this. I told him that wasn’t a good idea then, and I still don’t think so now.

Hour of the Witch: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian
Book Club Recommended
Slow, Interesting, Insightful
Another Masterpiece Novel by Chris Bohjalian

HOUR OF THE WITCH is another masterpiece novel by Chris Bohjalian. This one is historical fiction about the Puritans in 1662 Boston. With this subject matter, Bohjalian has also written a thrilling page turner. After you read this book (and maybe while you are reading it), you'll want to research what you thought you knew about the Puritans, including even the words they used, and you won’t want to put it down.

Twenty-four-year-old Mary has an abusive husband, Thomas. When he tries to impale her hand to a table with a fork ("the devil's tines”) she attempts to divorce him, but the magistrates of the community will not allow it. So the abuse continues, always out of the site of witnesses.

Much of this novel is taken up with Mary’s plots to leave Thomas. Her first try is the one I liked best. I never thought I’d see myself rooting for murder.

But it is the courtroom drama that had me riveted. I saw not only how Puritan law worked but also how useless were a woman’s accusations and defense.

So HOUR OF THE WITCH is sometimes difficult to read. Both Thomas’s abuse and Puritan hypocrisy are often frustrating. But Mary is smart, and she defends herself to the magistrates so well that you may find yourself rereading what she says to them.

The end is satisfying, but I found the epilogue to be a bit too expected.

Fallen: A Novel (Will Trent) by Karin Slaughter
Fantastic, Dramatic, Addictive

The most well-written book series are those that do not require the books be read in order. I’ve been reading Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series and Will Trent series out of order. And I still love both of them.

FALLEN is a continuation of the Will Trent series, which grew out of the Grant County series. Sara has left Grant County (and the Grant County series) after her husband’s murder there and is now a doctor in Atlanta. She met Will Trent earlier in the Will Trent series. But FALLEN is more about Will’s partner, Faith, and her mother, Evelyn, a former captain in the Atlanta Police Department.

Evelyn has been kidnapped. No one knows where she is, who took her, or even why they took her. Most of this book is about finding the answers to those questions. Will is in most of the scenes, be they working on this case or being a conundrum for Sara to figure out. But Faith and her mother are the story, with Will’s and Sara’s slow-but-sure romance being an ongoing side story.

Yes, it probably would have been more fun to read both series in order. But Slaughter
ensures that the reader always knows what is going on so that each book, including FALLEN, can be read as a standalone.

Insightful, Dramatic

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, by my estimation, rates three or four stars out of five. I’ll give it four.

It starts out dull, a book about suburban teenagers. I’m an adult; teenagers bore me nowadays. But this book eventually turns out to be about adults, too. So it gets better.

As a matter of fact, it’s hard to say who the main characters are; there are several possibilities. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE is a mystery told from the points of view of different characters, both teenagers and adults.

Blurbs I read call this book a thriller, but it’s not. I think some people use the words “thriller” and “mystery" interchangeably. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE is a mystery: Who lit the little fires everywhere? And the phrase ”little fires everywhere" is treated both literally and nonliterally in this book.

The story starts out with the fire, then it’s flashback. Different mysteries go on then, all leading up to the fire.

The flashback begins with Mia and her teenage daughter who come to Shaker Heights, Ohio with all their belongings fit into their VW Rabbit. (There’s another mystery for you: that VW Rabbit is 20 years old, and they’re still driving it cross country. Really?) The landlady of their apartment they settle in also lives in Shaker Heights in a beautiful home and has four teenagers of her own. If I had to pick the main characters, they would be these six people.

Everyone has secrets from one another, and sometimes the secrets are mysteries to the reader, too. Some of the secrets come out and the mysteries are resolved. My criticism of this book, though, is that I had too many questions in the end. At least we learn who lit the little fires everywhere.

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Addictive, Informative

At a neighborhood picnic last summer, one of my neighbors introduced himself in his accented voice and said that he's from Romania. "Have you heard of it?" he asked.

I was surprised he asked me that and said, "Of course!"

He told me that most people he talked to in the United States didn't know that Romania exists, let alone its history.

And that is why Ruta Sepetys wrote I MUST BETRAY YOU. People need to know about Romania and its little-known history, in particular 1989, when, after many years of Communist rule and Stalin-like repression, its citizens finally revolted and overthrew Ceau?escu.

But I MUST BETRAY YOU is historical fiction. It is about a 17-year-old boy, Cristian, who lives in Communist Romania and takes part in the revolution. While Cristian is fiction, the history is fact.

Cristian lives with his family in a concrete apartment block, where the Communist rulers have decided they and their neighbors should live. Communist rulers make all decisions; there is no freedom. There is also very little heat and electricity. And no one can trust anyone, not even their own family members.

Just before Christmas 1989 Cristian hears that others are revolting, and he joins them. Many years later, when archives are accessible, he learns hard facts about his family, facts they felt were necessary for their safety under Communism.

Although I MUST BETRAY YOU is classified as a young adult novel, Sepetys is known as a crossover author. That is, adults as well as young adults read and enjoy her books.

As an adult, I can honestly say, I found this book both interesting and unputdownable. And that, from me, says a lot. I have not enjoyed young adult books since I was 13. I resisted reading Sepetys's other books for that reason, but now I will.

I won this book from

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase
Boring, Addictive
reminded me too much of stories that appealed to me when I was a child

BLACK RABBIT HALL is two stories that, for the first half of the book, only seem to be related by photographs showing one story's main character, Lorna, as a child standing in front of Black Rabbit Hall, where everything takes place in the other story. So that's the mystery for the first half of the book: why was Lorna at Black Rabbit Hall when she was a child? Both stories bored me. They were wordy; that is, descriptions went on and on. "OK," I thought, "I get it. Get on with it, please!"

In one story, Amber lives at Black Rabbit Hall in the 1960s with her brothers and sister and their beautiful, perfect mother, soon out of the picture to be replaced by an evil stepmother. Oh, and with her comes a handsome stepbrother.

In the other story, present-day Lorna and her fiance explore wedding venues, Black Rabbit Hall being Lorna's choice because of the aforementioned photographs. Black Rabbit Hall is now owned/managed by the old evil stepmother, and Lorna spends the night there, alone with the evil stepmother and a maid.

When the two stories finally do come together, BLACK RABBIT HALL is less boring. It is not an original story, though; it is ages old: an evil stepmother, the suffering children, a baby given up for adoption, reunification, even a kind of comeuppance for the evil stepmother. Haven't we all seen this story over and over? Heck, I even remember watching Shirley Temple in this story on Sunday mornings. And, of course, the end is wonderful for all left alive.

I'll say this for BLACK RABBIT HALL: the second half of the book has more mysteries. Even so, this book made me feel like I read and saw it before. It reminded me too much of stories that appealed to me when I was a child.

Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Gloomy, Interesting
thoughtfulness is undeniagly great

Although I differ with some blurbs I've read calling NOTES ON AN EXECUTION a thriller, I do agree that this book is excellent. And, although I think the couple lines of Danya Kukafka's antiracist comments (inserted as a character's thoughts) contained in this book are unnecessary, NOTES ON AN EXECUTION is undeniably great in its thoughtfulness. It's a five-star read.

The lives of not only a condemned man but, also, of the women crucial to his life are explored right from his beginning. While I disagree with Kukafka that people romanticize a serial killer and forget his victims, NOTES ON AN EXECUTION is the most thoughtful and maybe even the most interesting exploration of their lives and feelings that I've read.

But there is more to this book: Kukafka grabs a reader's attention with her presentation of the stories. Her organization is, I think, why some people call NOTES ON AN EXECUTION a thriller. It really isn't, but the order in which the stories are presented does add tension.

The Mason House by Bertineau Marie T.
Dark, Beautiful

THE MASON HOUSE is T. Marie Bertineau's memoir, a compilation of memories. She grew up with her three sisters, a brother, and alcoholic parents in many different homes in many different school districts in a few different states. Their upbringing was unstable and obviously difficult.

I was under the misconception that Bertineau grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP) because that's where the Mason house was. It was her grandmother’s home, where she spent part of her childhood, in Mason, Michigan. But no, only the first third of THE MASON HOUSE takes place in the UP, although Bertineau does continue to have ties to this area.

Maybe, then, THE MASON HOUSE really isn't the right title for this book. After all, 2/3 of it barely mentions the Mason house. My impression is that this book is about the instability of growing up with alcoholics.

Confusing, Adventurous

I never thought I’d say this, but KLARA AND THE SUN is too mysterious. By the end of the book, I’m still not sure I solved all the mysteries. Kazuo Ishiguro alludes; he doesn’t give answers.

Klara, the narrator, is a robot. Ishiguro is pretty clear about that from the beginning, but he still leaves a lot of unknowns about her. What does she look like? Someone about halfway through the book calls her cute, whatever that means. Is she intelligent? Again, he doesn’t say so outright, but throughout the book Ishiguro speaks of her keen observational abilities. I suppose that means she is. But if she looks and acts like a human being, which it sounds like she does, how could her owner store her in a utility room or leave her in a junkyard?

Klara’s owner, 14-year-old Josie, is tired and weak almost all of the time. She is sick to the point of death. Ishiguro never says why. But he does allude to the answer, of course, once the reader gets well into the book. It seems that children who are “lifted” often get sick like this. But he never says what "lifted" is. For my own satisfaction, I assume it means that they were made smarter.

Klara’s job, as Josie‘s companion, is to watch over her. So Klara innocently observes and accepts everything almost always without question while the reader questions everything and tries to figure it out. I found it frustrating.

The title, KLARA AND THE SUN, lets you know that the sun is important to Klara. It’s rays rejuvenate her. I imagine that Klara’s sitting in the sun‘s rays is like my plugging my iPhone to its charger.

Because Klara realizes her life depends on the sun, she worships it. She also talks to it, probably the way people talk to God. She is sure the sun can work miracles, and in the end maybe it does. Ishiguro never makes this clear.

KLARA AND THE SUN bored me. It’s not as bad as Ishiguro’s last book, but I still know he can do better. Let’s hope he writes a more adult book next time.

Klara and the Sun: A novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
Slow, Interesting, Adventurous

I never thought I’d say this, but KLARA AND THE SUN is too mysterious. By the end of the book, I’m still not sure I solved all the mysteries. Kazuo Ishiguro alludes; he doesn’t give answers.

Klara, the narrator, is a robot. Ishiguro is pretty clear about that from the beginning, but he still leaves a lot of unknowns about her. What does she look like? Someone about halfway through the book calls her cute, whatever that means. Is she intelligent? Again, he doesn’t say so outright, but throughout the book Ishiguro speaks of her keen observational abilities. I suppose that means she is. But if she looks and acts like a human being, which it sounds like she does, how could her owner store her in a utility room or leave her in a junkyard?

Klara’s owner, 14-year-old Josie, is tired and weak almost all of the time. She is sick to the point of death. Ishiguro never says why. But he does allude to the answer, of course, once the reader gets well into the book. It seems that children who are “lifted” often get sick like this. But he never says what "lifted" is. For my own satisfaction, I assume it means that they were made smarter.

Klara’s job, as Josie‘s companion, is to watch over her. So Klara innocently observes and accepts everything almost always without question while the reader questions everything and tries to figure it out. I found it frustrating.

The title, KLARA AND THE SUN, lets you know that the sun is important to Klara. Its rays rejuvenate her. I imagine that Klara’s sitting in the sun‘s rays is like my plugging my iPhone to its charger.

Because Klara realizes her life depends on the sun, she worships it. She also talks to it, probably the way people talk to God. She is sure the sun can work miracles, and in the end maybe it does. Ishiguro never makes this clear.

KLARA AND THE SUN bored me. It’s not as bad as Ishiguro’s last book, but I still know he can do better. Let’s hope he writes a more adult book next time.

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

The story is promising. Actually, THE SUN DOWN MOTEL appears to be two stories at first, one Vivian's in 1982, the other Carly's in 2017.

In 1982, Vivian runs away from home and ends up in Fell, New York, with a job as night clerk at the Sun Down Motel. She disappears later that year and is presumed dead. In 2017, Carly, Vivian's niece, is curious about what happened to Vivian and why no one noticed she was missing for four days. So she goes to Fell to find out. Chapters of THE SUN DOWN MOTEL alternate between these two stories.

Turns out, this is really one story with a then and a now. Both are of the same locations, most of the same people, and even the same ghosts.

And about those ghosts: They spoil the story. Not many authors can successfully write a ghost story for adults. Stephen King can do it, and I wonder how he does it every time I read one of his books. But Simone St. James should stick with real life and forget about the supernatural or paranormal.

The story: In 1982 Vivian is bothered when she learns about the deaths of three (later four) women in Fell. She investigates and becomes convinced of one man's guilt, a frequent guest of the Sun Down Motel. She sees ghosts during her night shift there. She is frightened but not enough to quit. In 2017, after Carly gets to Fell, she takes the same job that Vivian had, night clerk at the Sun Down Motel. She conducts her own investigation of the murders of those same four women because Vivian, Carly thinks, was a fifth. She also sees some of the same ghosts.

I would have rated THE SUN DOWN MOTEL higher if not for those silly ghosts. But another thing also irritated me: St. James speaks of 1982 as if it were ancient times. Perhaps that was before she was born.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Addictive
Historical thriller spares no words

Every time I finish reading a Joseph Kanon book, I'm afraid he might retire and not write another. I feel that way now after reading his THE BERLIN EXCHANGE. Please, do it again, Joe!

From 1962 to 1989, West Germany traded (exchanged) goods or money for political prisoners in East Germany. That is the background of THE BERLIN EXCHANGE.

Martin, an American who was a KGB spy and has been in an English prison for the last 10 years, is swapped for three political prisoners in East Germany. He was not forced but has chosen to go there because his ex-wife, Sabine, and son live there, even though he has heard nothing from her during the entire 10 years and even though she has divorced him and married an East German. This is the trouble I had with Martin: he cares too much for that long-gone wife. I expected nothing good from her and was always suspicious of what she said and did.

Martin wants out of the spy business now, but that seems to be why the East Germans want him there. Then again, itâ??s hard to tell who wants him there and why. Martin doesnâ??t know if anyone in East Germany can be trusted.

After Sabine's East German husband commits a crime and it looks like Martin may be implicated, he knows he needs to get out of that country. All his spy training comes in handy as he plans his escape into West Germany with his son and ex-wife.

This is a great historical thriller with that Kanon style. He tells much of the story through dialogue, and he spares no words.

Intimacies: A Novel by Katie Kitamura
Pointless, Slow
What's the plot?

Katie Kitamura's INTIMACIES is character driven, and that’s good. She is a fine writer, and I loved her paragraphs. But I cannot rate this book highly because, it seemed to me, it is without plot.

I normally describe the story when I review a book. In this case, though, I could not figure it out. There are several things going on with the nameless narrator, an interpreter working in The Hague, but what’s the point?

Worse yet, INTIMACIES is hard to read. Kitamura uses commas all over the place when a semicolon or a period would be appropriate. Also, she uses no quotation marks, even when more than one person is speaking in a single paragraph.

Punctuation marks were invented to aid readability. When an author does not use punctuation marks or uses them incorrectly, she is being rude to her readers.

The book is short. Otherwise, I could not have finished it.

Falling: A Novel by J. T. Newman
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive
suspend disbelief and you won't want to stop

If you can suspend disbelief here and there, you'll really enjoy FALLING. I did, and so did everyone else in my book group. FALLING is a fast read because you won't want to put it down.

Terrorists have given an airline pilot a choice: crash his plane with 140 "souls" onboard and save the lives of his kidnapped family, or land the plane, saving passengers and crew but resulting in his family's deaths. His answer is that neither the people on the plane nor his family are going to die. At that I admit that the book is ultimately predictable, but it was so much fun to read about how everyone--the passengers and crew on the plane, the pilot's wife and two children, the two (yes, just two) terrorists, the FBI, the air traffic controllers, the President of the United States, and even the baseball players and fans at Yankee Stadium--learned about and dealt with this terrorist threat.

My criticism is T.J. Newman's waste of time describing the pilot's dreams. They add nothing of consequence to the story.

Others poke holes in this story and criticize its authenticity. I don't at all. I'd be willing to bet that, once you start FALLING, you'll be willing to suspend disbelief and you won't want to stop.

Carolina Moonset by Matt Goldman
Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Dramatic, Addictive
Superb writing grabbed me right away

Don't you just love it when you read a really good book by a new-to-you author, and now you get to read his previously unknown-to-you books? That's how I feel now. I just read the really good CAROLINA MOONSET by Matt Goldman, a new-to-me author who previously wrote four books I now get to read. And, if author blurbs mean something to you, I'm joined in my praise by William Kent Krueger.

Joey, a 45-year-old divorced father from Chicago, is visiting his parents in South Carolina. His father is suffering from dementia, and his mother needs a break. While there, Joey meets Leela, the daughter of his parents' next-door neighbors. She is also in her 40s and divorced, and she also has children. Together they discover secrets about long-ago unsolved murders in this area. Then another murder occurs, and the police want to accuse Joey's father, who is not only physically and memory impaired but will die in a few years. So Joey and Leela investigate further and find even more secrets in this town, most from long ago, all involving his father and friends and rich brothers and their women.

Oh, so what if parts of the story sound a bit soap opera-ish.

From CAROLINA MOONSET's first page, I knew I was going to like the book. Goldman's writing is superb, and it grabbed me right away. Pay attention, even in Chapter 1, to every little thing. These are clues to what comes later.

I won an advance reading copy of CAROLINA MOONSET through

Fragile: A Novel by Lisa Unger
Dramatic, Life Changing, Addictive

?Lisa Unger is one of those authors whose books I know I’ll enjoy even before I start reading them. And once again she has proven me right with FRAGILE. This book is a quick read not only because it’s relatively short; also, you won’t want to put it down.

FRAGILE is set in The Hollows, a fictional town in upstate New York. The Hollows is a mysterious place where people grow up and never seem to be able to leave, at least not for good. So most everyone knows everyone, went to high school together, and judges each other on the basis of who they were back then.

Maggie is one of those long-time residents who left for a while but then felt compelled to return. So she married another long-time resident, Jones. He had been the handsome football star when they went to high school together. Now he’s a police detective and Maggie is a psychologist in private practice.

Their son’s girlfriend is missing. Because everyone in town knows everyone, everyone is concerned, even if only because they knew her mother in high school (because, of course, everyone attended the same high school).

For many residents of The Hollows, the investigation into this missing-person's case brings up the memory of another missing-person's case back when Maggie and Jones were in high school. Questions about this old case are finally answered during the investigation into the present case.

It’s probably a little too convenient that most people in town grew up together. I suppose that makes it unrealistic. Also unrealistic is Maggie’s practice as a psychologist. Both the good guys and the bad guys are her patients, and that, too, seems a little too convenient.

But FRAGILE's Prologue is one of the best prologues I’ve read. It seems to me that most authors add a prologue to the beginning of their book in an effort to make it interesting right away. That usually doesn’t work well for me. This time, however, it did. I kept thinking of that prologue while I read the rest of the book. It was the hint of something that is not fully clear until nearly the end.

Accept the conveniences and, maybe, disregard the psychic, and you’ll enjoy this story of a small-town psychologist and her cop and their involvement in two missing-person’s cases.

The Paper Palace: A Novel by Miranda Heller Cowley
Dramatic, Difficult, Adventurous

“A magnificent page turner“ THE PAPER PALACE is not, although the author of THE PLOT wrote that blurb that appears on the cover of THE PAPER PALACE. Consider the source, I guess.

I admit, though, many others have also reviewed this book favorably. So you may choose to believe them and not me.

I found THE PAPER PALACE slow and drawn out. It is almost 400 pages of alternating parts of chapters examining, on the one hand, one day in which Elle has sex with her old friend Jonas and, on the other hand, the rest of her life. The book could have been and should have been half as long.

I understood that the parts about the rest of Elle’s life are to explain her history with Jonas and what led to this day when they have sex. Yet all those parts are not only about her history with Jonas. So why are they there? It felt like padding.

Besides, too many awful things happened in Elle’s life story when she and her sister should have spoken up to their parents to let them know what was going on. But, even as children, they dealt with too much alone. I found myself wanting to scream at them to say something. It was so much frustration.

Small World: A Novel by Jonathan Evison
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Epic, Adventurous
It's a small world

What an appropriate title! "Small world" really is what SMALL WORLD is about.

But know this right up front: SMALL WORLD has lots of characters, so many that you may have a hard time remembering who's who. This book should include a list of characters with who each is. Because it doesn't, I suggest, if you own your copy, keep a highlight marker handy and highlight each name when it first appears so it's easy to flip back and find that name if you forget it by the time it next shows up. My friend keeps notes on borrowed books.

You will probably need one of these tricks to help your memory because this book has several stories going on:

One story is about twins who came to New York from Ireland in the 1850s and were each adopted out to different families in different parts of the country, with another story about their present-day descendant, a train engineer about to retire.

There's a story about a Chinese man in 1850s California and another about his present-day descendant (whose husband may have descended from Irish people who helped the Irish twins in New York).

Another story is about a black slave in the 1850s who came with his rich Kentucky owner to Illinois and escaped, and another story is about the former slave's present-day descendants, a mother and her giant teenaged son who excels in basketball.

And, yes, there's another story about an (American) Indian girl/woman in the 1850s who ran away from her adoptive parents, and, yes, another story is about her present-day descendant who is escaping her abusive boyfriend.

All the main characters from the present-day stories are on the same train. How did they all come to be there at the same time? What are their stories?

Throughout SMALL WORLD are occasional coincidences, such as the blue locket that young Finnegan, one of the Irish twins in the 1850s, kept his whole life to give to his twin Nora when he found her. Yet the present-day story about the Indian girl running from her boyfriend mentions that she now has that locket. Somehow, a character from one story came in contact with a character from an unrelated story. It's a small world.

I won SMALL WORLD from the publisher through

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
Addictive, Adventurous, Dramatic
Good Mystery, But . . .

WE BEGIN AT THE END is the best kind of mystery. It involves many twists throughout, not just one. Plus, although there is one main question (who killed Star?), which isn't truly answered until practically the end, even though you may think you have it figured out several times before then, more questions emanate from that one.

Simply put, Star and Vincent and Martha and Walk were a teenage foursome in their small California town until, when they were 15, Vincent accidentally killed Star's little sister Sissy. He was convicted of manslaughter as an adult and served time in an adult prison, where he murdered another prisoner. Now it's 30 years later, and he's out. When someone kills Star shortly thereafter, Vincent apparently did it, so he goes right back to jail, even to the same cell.

But Walk, now chief of police in that town, is sure his old friend is innocent. So he sets out to prove it. He investigates while Martha, now practicing family law in another city, prepares a defense.

Initially you'll agree with Walk, then you may not be so sure. Then maybe you will agree again when it looks like it's someone else. Then Walk, himself, isn't so sure. Then you may think you have it figured out. But maybe not.

At the same time all this is going on, we follow 13-year-old Duchess and her little brother Robin. These are Star's children, now orphans sent to Montana to live with their grandfather. Duchess is tough and in trouble. Will she be found by the person who thinks she has what they are willing to kill for? Can she protect Robin? Will she make it back to California to take care of the person who she thinks killed her mother?

From the first chapter of WE BEGIN AT THE END, this book reminded me of books written by one of my favorite authors, John Hart. So I was delighted when I watched a Zoom interview with Chris Whitaker, and he said that Hart influenced him. Whitaker also thanks Hart in the Acknowledgments.

That said, I found some irritations and some mistakes that irritated me.

*Constant irritation: Duchess talks like a 10-year-old. She calls herself "outlaw" to nearly everyone, often. But she contrasts that childishness with her use of the F word every other sentence.
*WE BEGIN AT THE END contains many, many runon sentences, each using a comma where one sentence should have ended and another begun. Misuse of punctuation is more than irritating. It can ruin a reading experience.
*I think I'm a smart reader, yet I didn't feel so smart while I was reading this book. I had to reread too many sentences; they seemed deliberately evasive.
*Although Whitaker said during the Zoom interview that copyeditors fixed all what he called his "Englishisms," I found many. For instance, he called a doctor "Mr." In America, we call doctors "Dr."
*I didn't like the end, what ultimately happened with Duchess and Robin.

Finally, I wish I had been able to read WE BEGIN AT THE END before I saw the Zoom interview rather than after. I would have asked Whitaker why he chose the book's setting to be in California and Montana rather than the UK and why all the characters are Americans. Most writers write what they know.

I purchased this book with a gift certificate I won from Page & Pairing.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Brilliant, Addictive
Characterization far exceeds the supernatural in importance

I read ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR because I heard that Netflix based a movie on it ("Things Heard and Seen"). Now I think I will be disappointed in whatever Netflix did with it because it couldn’t possibly be as wonderful as this book.

Right away the novel lets you know that Catherine Clare has been murdered in her home, her four-year-old daughter, Frannie, was there at the time of the murder and for hours after, and her husband, George, may have done it. Flashbacks make up most of the rest of the book. Was George, in fact, guilty? Is he a sociopath, maybe a serial killer, or did he just cheat on his wife?

I heard that the movie concentrates on supernatural happenings in the old farmhouse where Catherine, George, and Frannie lived much more than the novel does. Maybe that's why their titles differ. But throughout the flashbacks in ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR, Catherine did suspect that the ghost of the woman who had previously lived there was in the same room with her.

My impression of the novel is that characterization, especially of George but also of Catherine, his colleagues, and their neighbors in the small town of Chosen, far exceeds the supernatural in importance. You’ll learn more and more about each but especially about George as the book continues. And the more you learn, the worse you’ll feel about him.

Although I loved this book, I still say that the author was inconsiderate not to include quotation marks.

The Night Strangers: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Unconvincing, Scary
Not Quite as Fantastic is Bohjalian's Other Books

I thought I had already read everything written by Chris Bohjalian, but I missed THE NIGHT STRANGERS until a few days ago. I love Bohjalian's books but might not have read them if I had started with this one. That is not to say this book is poorly written. It was the subject matter that didn't appeal to me. I would still call it a four-star book; it just isn't worth the five stars I usually give him.

After Chip Linton, an airline pilot whose plane crash landed in a lake, and his wife, Emily, and twin daughters move to an old home in New Hampshire, he begins experiencing what appeared to me to be hallucinations. One of their new neighbors, Anise, regularly brings them her homemade food, and I believed she was spiking it with a hallucinogen.

It's easy to understand why I believed that. Anise is among a group of especially friendly and helpful neighbors who are all herbalists with greenhouses in their backyards where they grow both normal and exotic herbs. Each member of this group is even named after an herb.

THE NIGHT STRANGERS is about Chip seeing and speaking with the ghosts of dead passengers on his ill-fated plane but, also, about this group of herbalists. Are they a cult?

The book is told from the points of view of various characters, mostly of the family members, including the 9-year-old twins, Hallie and Garnet. It is these girls who are in danger throughout THE NIGHT STRANGERS from both their father and his ghosts and from the herbalists.

If I had ever known for sure that Chip's ghosts were all in his head and certainly not real, I might have taken this story more seriously. More than that, I didn't see how the end could be as it was written. To me, it is unacceptable, especially Emily, who finally understood the danger of the herbalists if not of her husband.

Under My Skin by Lisa Unger
Boring, Beautiful

Lisa Unger has it in her to write a really great book, and I have read several. But UNDER MY SKIN isn’t one of them. It’s not bad, though. So, although I didn’t enjoy it, you may.

UNDER MY SKIN irritated me right away because its main character’s name is Poppy, which I think is a silly name but which is not a good reason to dislike a book. And it didn’t make me dislike it. It’s just a warning that my irritation may have contributed to my estimation of it.

Poppy’s husband, Jack, was murdered. Other reviews will tell you that UNDER MY SKIN is about her search for the murderer. Wrong. Part 1 of the book, that is, approximately the first half of it, is constant repetition of her love for and memories about Jack and her drug–induced dreams/memories. Unger also manages to tell you several times that Poppy dislikes her mother and loves her lifelong friend Layla.

Because of all the repetition in Part 1, I could easily skip paragraphs here and there. I got it already. Part 1 could have and should have been half as long.

Part 2 is where Poppy searches for her husband‘s murderer, but this part was mostly silly. I often felt like I was reading a romance novel. And it was so, so predictable.

UNDER MY SKIN could be called romantic suspense. That’s a genre many readers like. But not me.

Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Optimistic, Inspiring

How can I express how good THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL is? Can I write that well? I've read a few other Robert Dugoni books and they're good, but this has to be his masterpiece. Here is what I'm going to do: Even though I already read the library book, I'll buy a copy of it just to loan to my recommendees. It's too good not to share.

Sam Hill (not really Hell) has ocular albinism, so his eyes are red. As a result, he gets lots of funny looks from people, and his classmates make fun of him and don't include him in their activities. Even some adults discriminate against him, including the principal of his Catholic school.

One of those mean kids bullies Sam, nearly kills him. That's David. He's a sociopath, maybe a psychopath, and he continues to plague Sam until much later in life.

But Sam has two lifelong friends, Ernie, the only black kid in their school, and Mickie, a loudmouth girl who is unlike the other girls in school. More than that, Sam has wonderful parents, particularly his mother. You'll love her.

Dugoni takes the reader from there to their high school and college years and beyond. All the while, Sam waits for that extraordinary life his mother promises God has in store for him. THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL is unputdownable.

Do yourself a favor and read it.

Run, Rose, Run: A Novel by Dolly Parton; James Patterson
Adventurous, Romantic, Fun

I didn’t expect to like RUN ROSE RUN, but I read it out of curiosity, and I did, in fact, like it. It didn’t blow me away or anything, but I liked it.

This book has three main characters: AnnieLee, a young 20-something woman who comes to Nashville hoping to become a country-music sensation; Ethan, the guitar player who becomes her bodyguard; and Ruthanna, the queen of country music, now retired. Each of them is hiding secrets, AnnieLee most of all.

It’s a pretty simple, easy read with lots of dialogue. There is nothing smutty here, no bad language, no graphic sex. All three main characters are likable.

My only criticism of the book is when AnnieLee falls from a fourth-floor hotel room. She does an awful lot of thinking on her way down. As someone who has skydived and had several thousands of feet to fall, I can assure you: it happens real fast!

Interesting, Informative

If you like historical fiction because you learn from it, then DEFENDING BRITTA STEIN is for you. The story within a story is more facts than fiction, even down to the names of the major players in Denmark’s dealings with the Nazis. Go to the back of the book before you even begin it, and read Ronald Balson’s "Acknowledgments" for his explanation.

This story is, apparently, the sixth in a series about fictional lawyer Catherine Lockhart, although I have not read the other five. Now I will.

Catherine is defending a 92-year-old woman, Britta Stein, who is accused of and admits to writing defamatory words on the walls of a bar/restaurant about its 95-year-old owner, Ole. These words accuse him of being a Nazi collaborator and traitor just when he is about to receive an award for being a war hero. But a legal defense of defamation is truth. So Catherine defends Britta by attempting to prove that the words are true.

Within this story is the story that Britta tells Catherine about the Nazi occupation of Denmark during World War II. Both Britta and Ole lived there. Britta was Jewish; Ole assisted the Nazis, as did a minority of Denmark residents. Although Catherine, Britta, and Ole are fictional characters, Denmark’s story of majority heroism is true.

Once Britta's story is told and Catherine defends her case to a jury, maintaining that Britta's accusations are true, DEFENDING BRITTA STEIN gets fun to read. I loved the courtroom drama.

I really did enjoy this book because I learned from it and because of the final courtroom scenes. But I had to ignore that a 92-year-old woman could not supply such a detailed story of her and her family's experiences 80 years ago. While it is possible that much of it stuck in her memory, not all of it could have. But that's OK; you can easily ignore it like I did. You'll be glad to and you'll be rooting for Britta.

The Good Sister: A Novel by Sally Hepworth
Addictive, Dramatic, Adventurous

THE GOOD SISTER was a pleasant surprise and my first Sally Hepworth novel, the reason for my surprise. The book met my number-one requirement of a good book: it must be one I don't want to put down, even to eat or sleep.

Rose and Fern are twin sisters. Fern has issues with sensory perception. She also takes everything said to her literally. Perhaps she has a high-functioning form of autism, although the book never says so. But, apparently, Rose has always taken it upon herself, even when they were children, to watch out for and protect Fern. We know this from a journal Rose is keeping now that they are adults.

In alternating chapters we see Fern's and Rose's lives from Fern's perspective. She feels indebted to Rose. So, because Rose wants a baby but can't have one, Fern decides to have one for her. Once she gets pregnant, though, we learn more and more about Fern's and Rose's lives, and it becomes more and more difficult to determine who is the good sister.

I've heard THE GOOD SISTER called "women's fiction." That term is such a turnoff for me! Please don't call it that. I just call it a really good book. And now I get to read Hepworth's backlist.

I won this book through

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Brilliant
The true Mystery of a Murderer

BLOOD WILL OUT, though a true murder mystery, is not the murder mystery you would expect. Although there is a murder and many mysteries, particularly about the man who committed it, the author, Walter Kirn, plays a big part in this story, too. Not only that, but Kirn theorizes about the mysteries, and his theories are good, almost certainly correct.

Kirn does not begin with the murder or even what led to it. Instead, he begins with how he met the murderer, Christian Gerhartsreiter. Except Kirn thought he was meeting Clark Rockefeller, yes, of THE Rockefeller family. Turns out, "Clark Rockefeller" was only one of Gerhartsreiter's many aliases. (Kirn makes, in my opinion, the mistake of calling him Clark throughout the book because, Kirn says, that's how he knew him for a long time.)

Other books have been written about the man known as "Clark Rockefeller," but it looks like Kirn was careful to be different. He begins with his drive from his home in Montana to "Clark's" home in New York to bring him a crippled dog he wanted to adopt. Upon their meeting, "Clark" started dropping several clues that his stories were not true. And Kirn berates himself for not catching the lies at the time, with just being impressed with his new friend. For friends they did become. And Kirn continues to berate himself for that.

But good people tend to trust that most people are good. Most people ARE good. Gerhartsreiter is the exception. I hope Kirn has stopped being angry with himself for being one of the good ones.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Informative
You may not realize that this is YA historical fiction

If you read SALT TO THE SEA, it would be easy to understand if you do not realize this is a young adult book. But among the many awards it has won are at least four for best YA fiction.

SALT TO THE SEA is historical fiction. It is almost the end of World War II, and the Soviets are advancing. People are fleeing the Soviets’ unspeakable atrocities. In this particular case, a young female nurse, a handsome young man of mystery guarding his secret pack, a woman who is almost a giant, an old man who was a shoemaker, a girl from Poland, and a little boy are all headed for the coast. They intend to board a ship that will take them to the relative safety of Germany.

This is the story of a little-known maritime disaster that was bigger even than the disasters of the Lusitania and the Titanic.

And this is YA historical fiction at its finest. "Finest" because it is appreciated by adults as well as teens.

The Old Man by Thomas Perry
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Fantastic, Addictive
Perry surprised me with his good writing

I pretty much ignored Thomas Perry, the author of THE OLD MAN, for years. But I started watching the TV series based on this book and was unclear about things that I was sure the book would explain. Yes, it did. And I was also surprised: Perry is a darned good writer.

The man we first know as 61-year-old Dan Chase seems at first to be a regular old man living with his two big black dogs in Vermont. (I assume that Perry was quite a bit younger than 61 when he wrote this, or he would not have said this is old.) But he has let his guard down. An attempt is made on his life, and he goes on the run. Again. And he changes his name again, too.

Next he is in Chicago. Little by little we learn why he is running and who he is running from, although the who isn’t clear, even to him at first.

He soon moves into an apartment In Chicago with a woman, Zoe, who falls in love with him and who he pretends to love back. For him, Zoe adds a look of normalcy to his life, the better to evade his enemies. She eventually learns the truth about his background, and they are on the run together, both of them changing their names.

Speaking of background, Perry could have come up with a better one for Zoe. Granted, it doesn't have much to do with the main story and it isn't even mentioned until nearly the end when she and the old man are separated, but Perry wrote a pretty lame, unbelievable background for Zoe.

Even so, this book really is better than the highly rated TV series based on it. And although in some ways the book differs from the TV series, the book does give some needed explanations. But I doubt the TV series will go the same way the book does, with the old man always keeping to himself. If you are familiar with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, you will see the similarities between the old man and Reacher.

Although, as I said, this book is superior to the TV series, I have one more problem with the book: Perry's math. He says the old man is 61 years old. He wrote it in 2017. That means the old man is the same age I am. Perry also says that the old man served in Vietnam in 1972. In 1972, I was 15 and 16 years old. No one my age served in Vietnam. Is Perry’s math wrong, or did I miss something?

Fantastic, Dramatic, Addictive

? I found another great Irish writer: Stuart Neville. I should have found him a long time ago, although I did, unknowingly, read him once before when he wrote under the pen name Haylen Beck. That was a four–star book; this definitely gets five stars.

THE FINAL SILENCE is the fourth book in a series, but I'm relieved that Neville’s next series continues with one of the detectives who plays a major role in this book. I would suggest that you start with Neville's first book in this series (also his first novel), THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST. I wish I had. The majority of THE FINAL SILENCE can be enjoyed as a standalone story, but I think I would have understood the main character better if I had known more of his backstory.

The book begins with a man's suicide. We know he was a bad man but not much more. Later, his niece, Rea (pronounced Ree in the United Kingdom, I learned), a woman in her 30s, finds in her uncle's home a sort-of scrapbook filled with the names of people, notes about murdering them, and keepsakes from each, such as locks of hair. She also finds an old picture of six men, including her uncle and her father. Rea's father is now a politician.

Rea wants to notify the police, but she first calls her parents. Her father's only concern is how this will affect his career, so he doesn't want the police involved. But she does call an old boyfriend, Jack Lennon, a detective with the Irish police, to ask for his advice. Except Lennon is off duty, maybe to be suspended, after what sounds like a previous shootout with another officer. (That's part of his backstory that I would have understood if I had read the earlier books in the series.) He hears her out but doesn't quite believe her.

The story continues with more death, convincing Lennon of what Rea told him. But now no one believes him. Then another detective is introduced to the story: Serena Flanagan. She is convinced Lennon is guilty of murder, and he tries to convince her otherwise while he searches for the true murderer.

The problem with reviewing a five-star book is that you want to write the review well enough that the book sounds as good as it is. But I am also concerned about writing too much and spoiling it. I would rather say too little. Just read it.


MISSING, PRESUMED's story is a mystery. An upper class 24-year-old woman is missing, and police detectives search for her. But MISSING, PRESUMED is more than its plot.

The story is told through the eyes of various characters involved. Not only that, but the lives of these characters apart from the story are also examined. You might even say the book is more concerned with character development than it is with telling the story.

Although the best books develop both character and plot, the first half of MISSING, PRESUMED can be tiresome because of its concentration on the characters’ lives almost to the exclusion of plot. For this reason, I almost rated it three stars. But I think this is better than most three-star books.

Give this book a try. You may be glad to know that it is the first in a series.

The Keep by Jennifer Egan
Confusing, Brilliant, Addictive

THE KEEP is more than one story. Because I am always so careful not to listen to a possible spoilers before I read a novel, I wasn’t expecting this, and I had to reread some paragraphs to understand it at first. But once I got it, I enjoyed it so much! It is such a different book from any other I’ve read.

There’s the story of Danny, who has come to a castle in an unnamed country in Europe at the request of its owner, his cousin Howard. So much about his presence there is unknown to Danny, and he is paranoid and afraid of Howard's plans for him.

There’s an old woman living on the castle grounds, in the keep. Danny meets her at one point but has trouble deciding whether she was just a dream.

Suddenly another story begins in first person. This is the story of Ray, a prisoner, and his writing teacher, Holly. Danny’s story is Ray’s creation.

I never did understand the usefulness of the style that Jennifer Egan uses: no quotation marks. Why? When authors do that, write with no quotation marks so the reader can’t tell where a quotation begins and where it ends, I resent it. The author is being rude and hindering readability. Heck, why not go all the way and get rid of periods?

But could she have left out quotation marks to differentiate her style from the fictional Ray's? Maybe Ray writes that way.

Then there is the story of Holly. Now Egan uses quotation marks. Because now it her style, not Ray's? Maybe someone smarter than I am understands why she didn’t and now she does.

In the end I felt like I was left hanging with unresolved issues. Yet, I still rate this book highly for its originality and for making me anxious to read it.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative

How could I give THE SEWING GIRL'S TALE less than five stars? Every bit of it, down to the smallest detail, is provably true, even though the facts took place during the 18th century. And it is all so interesting I read the appendix just to learn how he could be so sure.

Yes, this story begins with the rape of a 17-year-old girl, Lanah Sawyer. But, although descriptions of THE SEWING GIRL'S TALE give the impression the entire book is about that and its aftermath, I would argue that it’s more.

John Wood Sweet first gives us background. But that involves not only what led to the incident. He also explains the thinking during the late 18th century and how that would have dictated how Lanah, her family, and the community acted and reacted. He gives examples to prove his claims.

The rapist was a "gentleman," meaning his family had money. Lanah's family was working class. That mattered. Some would say it still does. I think of the OJ trial and how money could buy a team of expensive lawyers.

Most of the rest of the book is about the aftermath, including legalities. Although the legal background is interesting, this is where it is sometimes tedious. But I didn’t want to skip one line of it.

THE SEWING GIRL'S TALE is not just based on a true story; every bit of it is true. This includes, as Sweet says in his Appendix, descriptions of ". . . the dynamic world of the emerging American republic: the social history of the rapidly expanding, economically stratified, racially divided, and politically tense city; the cultural history of an era preoccupied with the dangers and attractions of romantic love, sexual double standards, and public battles over honor and the nature of truth; and the legal history of sexual harms . . . ."

Here is a picture of evolving America, where Lanah Sawyer could "embrace the possibility of a different future," where she could feel "she had a right to a revolutionary dream of human equality."

I won this book through's Early Reviewer Program.

All the Dirty Secrets by Blum Aggie Thompson
Book Club Recommended
A Convulated Mystery

ALL THE DIRTY SECRETS is a convoluted mystery, meaning it's more than just a mystery; it's mystery upon mystery upon mystery, and that's the best kind of mystery. So I appreciated it. But it wasn't for me. That is not to say anything negative about this book. It would have been for me back when I was in high school. It would have been a four-star book then.

Although this is one novel, it is made up of more than one story/mystery. Mainly, there are three, two taking place during beach week in 1994, one during present-day beach week. All three are about teenagers who drowned or are assumed to have drowned. And there's also another mystery of a man who was a track coach in 1994 at the teenagers' private school and is somehow now the head of that school.

The problem for me is that much of ALL THE DIRTY SECRETS is about teenagers, a subject that often bores me nowadays. Although the mysteries are told from the perspectives of different characters, including Liza as an adult, she is trying to solve mysteries that happened when she was a teenager.

This book would have been more appropriate for me when I, too, was a teenager.

Northern Spy: A Novel by Flynn Berry
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Insightful
an Irish Mother and Her Baby

Other reviews will tell you that NORTHERN SPY is about two sisters in Ireland who become involved with the IRA. While that is true, this book centers even more on one of those sisters, Tessa, and her baby, Finn; their relationship is emphasized. It is through Tessa's eyes that the reader sees the stress of life in Northern Ireland and her resulting concern for Finn's future.

As a producer for the BBC, Tessa one day sees security footage of an IRA robbery. Her sister Marian is one of the robbers. Tessa goes from disbelief to anger to becoming involved herself, although reluctantly. She never approves of the IRA's tactics; they frighten her. But she does what she does for eventual peace.

NORTHERN SPY is my first Flynn Berry book. Now I'm eager to read her previous two books.

Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Addictive
A Mystery/Thriller With Lots of Twists

Alex Finlay's EVERY LAST FEAR is a mystery/thriller with lots of twists. I loved reading it, didn’t want to put it down, and certainly didn’t want it to end.

The story is told from several different perspectives. Each contributes to the several mysteries going on.

We begin with Matt, who's away at college when an FBI agent informs him that his parents and sister and brother have died in Mexico. Why were they in Mexico? Were their deaths an accident? Could this be a murder suicide, or could they have all been murdered? Either way, why? Who might be involved?

Matt travels to Mexico to have his family's bodies released and sent back to the US. In Mexico he encounters trouble over and over with the incompetence of the police but, also, with a beautiful girl he meets and is unwittingly fooled by.

The FBI agent who gives Matt the news about his family is investigating this case. She had been intending to interview Matt's father, Evan, about his former employer. Could the deaths of Matt's family be somehow related to this company under investigation?

Matt also has another brother, Danny, in prison for the murder of his girlfriend, a crime his family and many other people do not think he committed. Matt secretly feels otherwise because of something he thinks he saw the night of this murder. But Danny confessed to the crime under extreme duress. Was it, therefore, a false confession? Could the murder of Danny's girlfriend and his imprisonment be somehow related to his family's deaths?

We learn more and more mysteries from others as well: Matt's teenage sister who has investigated and continues to investigate Danny's supposed crime; Evan, who also refuses to give up on Danny; Matt's mother, who loves her husband but still involves herself with an old boyfriend, the soon-to-be governor of Nebraska, who is also big on proclaiming Danny's innocence; and others.

I'm anxious to read more of Finlay's works. Plus, because "Alex Finlay" is a pen name, I'd also like to read books he wrote using his real name. He doesn't seem to want to share that, but I think it's Anthony Franze.

Anthem by Noah Hawley
Slow, Confusing, Boring

Ostensibly about a post-pandemic plague of teenage suicides, ANTHEM is really about politics. The book flap calls it thrilling; it’s not. Does Noah Hawley not realize how boring this is?

Haw?ey seems to try to not take sides at first. But if you can read 100 pages, his political persuasion is clear. Does Haw?ey really think this book is a winner if he alienates at least half his readers?

Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Interesting, Dramatic

Leif Enger’s writing is, in a word, delightful. A simple story of a boy and his younger sister and father searching for his outlaw brother becomes so much more in Enger's hands.

PEACE LIKE A RIVER, narrated by 11-year-old Reuben Land, begins when he is born, and a miracle occurs. First he appears to be dead. Even the doctor has given up on him. But his father orders him to breathe. He does and lives to tell the tale. He continues to witness and hear about other miracles his father is responsible for.

Now it is 1962. Two high school boys continually cause trouble for the Land family after Reuben's father, a janitor at the high school, catches those two boys starting to rape a girl. One day when the Lands are all in bed and sleeping, the two boys break into their home. But when they get to the bedroom that Reuben shares with his 16-year-old brother, Davy, Davy is ready for them. He shoots them both but more times than is necessary.

So Davy ends up in jail. But he breaks out and goes on the run. And the Lands, including Reuben's little sister, Swede, go looking for him.

PEACE LIKE A RIVER is about their adventures. Reuben's descriptions, especially those of his father and Swede, deserve my highest praise.

I'm still trying to figure out, though, how Swede, three years younger than Reuben, has the vocabulary and writing abilities of a college graduate.


Anthony Marra‘s A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA was so wonderful that I read his second book, THE TSAR OF LOVE AND TECHNO, without bothering to first read its reviews. So I was disappointed; it did not measure up to CONSTELLATION. Still, when his most recent book, MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS, came out, I bought it. And, again, it doesn’t measure up to CONSTELLATION “Fool me twice, shame on me."

If you want to read MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS because you loved CONSTELLATION, be warned that you will be disappointed.

Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Beautiful, Addictive
The Last Book in the ALL CREA TURES GREAT AND SMALL Series

I’m sorry to say that I’ve come to the end of the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot. I read the books as I found them in used bookstores so out of order. But this book, THE LORD GOD MADE THEM ALL, really is the final book in the series.

Each of the books in this series consists of lovely stories written in first person by a Scottish veterinarian in Yorkshire, England. The time spans from the beginning of his career in the 1930s to this last book in the 1950s and 1960s. Although the stories are fiction, Herriot based them on his own experiences. So, they are largely books about animals, but they are really a series about a country vet.

These books have been around since the 1970s, but they are just as touching now.

The Outsider: A Novel by Stephen King

THE OUTSIDER is a difficult book for me to review. All Stephen King books are difficult for me to review because I don’t want to say too much and spoil his plots.

A police detective, Ralph, publicly arrests a man who he is convinced is guilty of a most heinous crime. There is irrefutable evidence of his guilt. Yet there is also irrefutable evidence of his innocence. How can one man be in two places at the same time?

Ralph joins a group of people who want to investigate this seeming impossibility. One of these people is Holly Gibney of King’s MR MERCEDES series. While she works on convincing Ralph and the rest of the group to believe the unbelievable, they travel out of state to confront the unbelievable.

As usual, this is another long Stephen King book that did not feel long. It is that well done.

Dark, Scary, Addictive
First half too easy to put down

3 1/2 stars. The first half of THE WHISPER MAN rated 3 stars, the second half 4.

The mystery in this book is good. Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake are learning how best to live since Rebecca, Tom’s wife and Jake’s mother, died. So they decide to move to a house that will not remind them of Rebecca, especially Jake’s memory of his mother's body at the bottom of the stairs. It is their move to that particular house that involves them in the mystery of the whisper man.

In the city where Tom and Jake have moved, the whisper man has taken the lives of several young boys. The body of one of the boys killed 20 years ago has never been found.

The whisper man of the 20-year-old crimes has been found and is now in prison. But he seems to have had an accomplice, although he will not say so or indicate who it is. Is this other whisper man now coming for Jake?

Even though this mystery is good, I did not find it spooky, as other reviewers have, and the first half of THE WHISPER MAN is not thrilling and too easy to put down. Mysteries and thrillers should be unputdownable books.

Faithless by Karin Slaughter
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive
A Book in Karin Slaughter's Grant County Series

FAITHLESS is a book in Karin Slaughter's Grant County series. I’ve read most of her books, which is a testament to what a great writer she is, particularly of mysteries/thrillers. But I read them as I find them in used bookstores, so out of order, and I still enjoy the heck out of them. But good for you if you can read them in order.

The three main characters in this series are Jeffrey Tolliver, Grant County’s police chief; Sara Linton, Tolliver's ex-wife, a pediatrician, and Grant County's coroner; and Lena Adams, a Grant County detective who works for Tolliver. All three become involved in the workings of a church (or is it a cult?) after Tolliver and Linton stumble across the body of one of its members in a coffin buried in the woods. She had been buried alive. Did she suffocate? Or was she poisoned? Have other church members suffered the same fate?

Both Tolliver and Adams investigate, while Linton mostly acts as Tolliver's sounding board, although she too becomes involved to a lesser extent. They find a church run by a particular large family. Now can they find out why the dead woman, a member of this family, was buried alive and who did it? As a result of their investigation, they find so much more about the church and about the family that runs it.

Because I’ve been reading Slaughter's two series out of order, I’ve already read the next book, BEYOND REACH. Luckily, I have it in my bookcase so I can skim through it to remind myself of what happens next.

Winterland: A Novel by Rae Meadows
Interesting, Adventurous

WINTERLAND is fine historical fiction about the life of a gymnast in the Soviet Union during the 1970s. The reader is meant to understand this as typical.

Anya is an eight-year-old girl living in Siberia. Her parents chose to live here in their zeal to support the great Soviet Union. Yet her mother has disappeared, and her disappearance becomes the great mystery running throughout this story.

When the Soviet Union chooses Anya for gymnastics training, although she is happy and excited, her life is taken over by the state as if she no longer belongs to her father. And her trainer cares more for how she represents the Soviet Union than he does for the life of this child. Her life is not hers. This is how she grows up.

Note that, although Anya herself is fiction, some of the other gymnasts in the story are real, and you may recognize their names. One of her friends, Elena, is based on an actual gymnast.

Although I tend to favor page turners, this book is not that. But it is so interesting and even touching in some parts that I give it high ratings.

The Golden Couple: A Novel by Sarah Pekkanen Greer; Hendricks
Addictive, Slow

Not much happens in Part One (112 pages) of THE GOLDEN COUPLE. It pretty much sets up the story. So I was disappointed until I got past that. But then I saw that all that introduction was meant to plant doubts and suspicions in my mind.

Avery is an unethical therapist. She’s smart and lovely, and you’ll like her, but she is practicing as an unlicensed therapist who injects herself into the lives of her patients. She thinks that’s OK as long as she doesn’t call herself “therapist."

Although the reader meets a few of Avery‘s patients, THE GOLDEN COUPLE is mainly about two of them: Marissa and Matthew, the golden couple. But there are so many other characters to also consider throughout the story. You’ll find yourself suspicious of all of them at various points. So the slow beginning turns into quite a good mystery.

Book Club Recommended
I'm glad I kept reading even after I wanted to give up

The most appropriate word I can think of to describe the main character, who narrates LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE, is "bitch." At least I thought so at first and beyond the 50-page mark, when I usually give up on a book that hasn't grabbed me by then. I even checked others' reviews of the book at this point to see if they agreed with me that reading about a bitch gets tiresome. And most did. But I kept reading anyway because it is a movie now on Netflix. And I'm so glad I did.

It seems that Ani (as in TifAni) has an attitude problem. She doesn't seem to like anyone, including her fiancé. But he is her achievement, with a good name and lots of money. You may be tempted, as I was, to quit reading a book that seems to be about Ani's incessant bitchiness. But don't.

I didn't get it. Ani DOES have an attitude problem, but why? How did she come to be that way? She has achieved everything she wanted, so what's the problem? I came to understand, so get through the description of what it seems she turned into.

LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE is an excellent book. It's too bad, then, that I can rate it only three stars. The beginning, the look at the bitch that Ani has turned into, goes on and on for too long. A lot of it should have been edited out because it turns off too many readers. All they will ever know of this book is that Ani is a bitch.

The Mother-in-Law: A Novel by Hepworth Sally
Book Club Recommended
A Misunderstod Mother-in-Law

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW is about a misunderstood mother-in-law. It’s also about whether she really killed herself and who might be responsible. The story is told in both past and present from the points of view of, of course, the mother-in-law and of, of course, the daughter-in-law.

Diane and her husband Tom were rich and in love. Tom died first, and now Diane is dead too. Their daughter Nettie will do anything to have a baby, and their son-in-law Patrick is cheating on her. Their son Ollie owns a failing business, and their daughter-in-law Lucy has been dealing with her hateful mother-in-law for 10 years. They all have reason to kill Diane. Heck, even Ollie’s business partner, who was counting on Ollie's inheritance, might have done it. But it appears that she killed herself.

This is quite a convoluted mystery, and more and more mysteries continue to show up throughout the book. The main mystery I told you. But to tell you more might spoil any of the other mysteries. I can tell you this, though: I didn’t see any of them coming.

Sometimes a book that is a mystery is a thriller as well but not so in this case. That may be the reason that it wasn’t a page turner for me. But I would say the same of an Agatha Christie novel. So, although I would give it three stars for its pace, I give it four stars for its convoluted mysteries.

I won this book through

Confusing, Difficult, Fun

The confusion begins with the title. First, it implies that Evelyn Hardcastle is who this story is about. But it isn’t, really. Second, the title also implies that Evelyn Hardcastle will die 7 1/2 times. But no.

That’s OK. Titles are often mysteries. But even now that I’ve finished the book, I’m still not sure about those 7 1/2 deaths. I’m confused because I think there were more.

A man who we eventually learn is Aiden Bishop finds himself at a large estate that is in severe disrepair. He doesn’t know why he is there; he has no memories. He doesn’t even know who he is.

I don’t want to describe the story in much detail because different parts confused me throughout. I may describe something in one way, but you may read it and understand it in another way. It’s that confusing.

I know this, though. Bishop is tasked with solving the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. But who has given him this task? By the end of the book there will be a sort of answer. But even that person has superiors, and we are never told who they are.

Bishop inhabits the bodies of several guests at the estate. In this way, he sees Evelyn Hardcastle and the goings on of many other guests at the estate from many perspectives so he can solve the mystery of her murder. He even tries to prevent it.

This story contains so many characters it is difficult to keep track of them all. And it is especially difficult to remember who did what. If you are one of those fortunate people who can sit and read a book all day, I think you may have a chance at avoiding confusion. But if you have to put the book down to go to work or to go to sleep, you are bound to be confused. Thank goodness someone was thoughtful enough to include a list of characters near the front of the book.

I don’t know if this author reads reader reviews, but he should learn about a repeated editorial error that a good editor should have caught and corrected. Turton and his editor should learn the difference between "intended on" and “intended to.” "Intended on” is a mistake that is repeated throughout this book. No one intends on doing anything; they either intend to do it, or they plan on doing it.

Indelible: A Novel by Karin Slaughter

Fourth in Karin Slaughter's Grant County series, INDELIBLE is two stories. Both are about Jeffrey Tolliver, chief of Grant County police, and Sara Linton, pediatrician and Grant County coroner. A little more than halfway through the book you’ll learn that one other person is common to both stories as well.

Sara is visiting Jeffrey at the police station when two armed men suddenly appear and hold hostage everyone there. No one knows why.

Now cut to another story 10 years ago. Sara and Jeffrey had not been seeing each other for long. They decided to vacation together in Florida, but on the way Jeffrey decided to stop by the town where he grew up. And what a nightmare that turned out to be!

Both stories are told at the same time in alternating chapters. Both stories are tense and make this a true mystery/thriller. My only criticism is that, in one of the stories, in three instances, someone gives a full confession. That felt a little contrived to me, although I guess you could say that all fiction is contrived.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Brilliant, Addictive
You can believe that this is true and important

For about the first half of EDUCATED, Tara Westover's autobiography, she describes the circumstances she grew up in. Her father was a survivalist who did not trust the government. So he didn't do things like register his cars or send his kids to public schools. Westover's mother made a stab at home schooling her seven children, but, to say the least, it was inadequate. Luckily, Westover's older brother taught her to read. Her father was also careless with his family's safety and didn't trust doctors or hospitals. So, when they were hurt, often as a result of his carelessness, the family depended on their mother's homeopathic remedies, even for severe burns and head injuries. Westover also had a dangerous brother who was defended and supported by both her parents.

With this background, Westover sought education, beginning with Brigham Young University. She had never even gone to high school much less graduated. But she got in when she was 16 after (pretty much) teaching herself enough to pass the ACT. (Her explanation of this doesn't sit well with me. My college in Michigan would never have let me in without examining my high school transcripts and diploma.) She soon discovered how ignorant she was of even the most well-known history such as the Holocaust and Martin Luther King's civil rights movements. But she learned as much as she could on her own and ended up impressing her professors enough to continue her education in spite of not being able to afford it. Westover kept going to various schools in the U.S. and abroad and now has her PhD in (of course) history.

Throughout the years she devoted to her education, Westover made annual trips to her home in Idaho. She wanted her parents' approval, but her father and, therefore, her mother insisted she was siding with the devil and needed to stop sinning and accept their reality, not hers. They have tried (and have been successful in most cases) to convince the rest of her family to stop associating with her until she admits she is wrong and her father is right.

Although I generally suspect that memoirs are written by people who incorrectly assume that their life story is important, in the case of EDUCATED, you can believe that it is. Also, I call this an autobiography in my first paragraph rather than a memoir because she has convinced me through her footnotes, Acknowledgements, and endnotes that it's all true.

Adventurous, Insightful, Dramatic

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY is the story of a detour from a plan to travel the Lincoln Highway west from Nebraska to California. Of the three books by Amor Towels that Iâ??ve read, RULES OF CIVILITY, A GENTLEMEN IN MOSCOW, and now THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY, this one is by far his best.

After Emmettâ??s stint in jail and his fatherâ??s death, he and his little brother Billy decide to move to California. But after two of Emmett's old bunkmates, Duchess and Wooley, show up, Emmett and Billy have to first take them to New York, in the opposite direction. And this is their story, an adventure told by each one of them, plus some chapters told by Emmett's and Billyâ??s friend, Sally.

I loved their different perspectives of the same situations, I loved their dialogue, and I loved Towlesâ?? humor. Every bit of this is unpredictable, especially the end.

What a pleasure this book is! Its only negative is Towlesâ?? lack of quotation marks, which I think is rude to the reader.

Dramatic, Beautiful, Interesting

Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful

Addictive, Interesting, Confusing

INVISIBLE GIRL is another winner by Lisa Jewell. This one, though, is a little less so than the others.

Owen is in his 30s, lives with his aunt, and appears to most people to be a "creepy” guy. As a result, he ends up in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

Saffyre is a teenager who has gone missing. It seems that the last anyone saw her was Valentine’s Day night. Owen becomes a suspect in this case.

Roan is a child psychologist. I won’t say much more about him so you can anticipate the rest. Except that he was Saffyre's psychologist for years.

Joshua is Roan’s son. He and Saffyre eventually  become friends. While his part in the story at first seems minor, he ends up being my favorite character.

These characters and a couple others who play supporting roles each are given separate chapters in which we see things their way. But here’s the problem: the timeline is confusing.

Jewel makes it clear that first there was an incident, then PART ONE is before the incident and PART TWO is after the incident. But Saffyre's chapters confuse the before and after.

You need to realize that, although everyone, including Saffyre, is in the before in PART ONE, Saffyre's chapters are before everyone else's before. Jewell does not make this clear. She just sticks Saffyre's chapters in with everyone else's. Then in PART TWO, when everyone else is in the after, Saffyre is still in the before. Finally, in PART THREE, all really are in the timeline Jewell says they're in.

If only Jewell would fix this issue, maybe with a little rewrite or reorganization or even by just relabeling the parts, INVISIBLE GIRL could be a five-star book.

Snow: A Novel by John Banville

Several of my favorite authors are Irish and now, with SNOW by John Banville, I have just added another to my list. This is a whodunit that kept me guessing from beginning to end.

SNOW is a mystery that takes place in Ireland at Christmas time when snow and ice and inclement weather prevail. (Coincidentally, that’s when I read it, with much the same weather.) These are the conditions when Detective Inspector St. John (pronounced "sinjun”) Strattford investigates the gory murder of a priest. As the story continues, you will see that many characters might have done it; some even had good reason to. But the Catholic Church and, therefore, the majority of the police department want to hush this up and call it an accident.

What a great mystery this is! The only part I did not enjoy reading was a short section in the middle that describes the priest’s habits (for lack of a better word).

Locust Lane: A Novel by Stephen Amidon
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive
A Can't-Put-It-Down Book

I’ll say it right up front: LOCUST LANE is can’t-put-it-down splendid. It is a well written, character-driven story with a plot (which so many character-driven stories seem to lack).

And if you think this is a young-adult book because you’ve heard it is about teenagers—WRONG. First, it’s not YA. Second, while at the center of the story is a crime that was probably committed by one or more of the teenagers, LOCUST LANE isn’t about them as much as it is about the reactions of the adults around them.

A teenage girl, Eden, has been murdered after spending the evening with three other teenagers, Hannah and Jack and Christopher. Hannah and Jack are girlfriend and boyfriend. Christopher has a crush on Eden. Christopher is a suspect from the start. But it is their parents and their reactions and the drama of their lives that are the story.

Of course, they want to protect their children. But that issue is complicated. For example, Hannah‘s mother is actually her stepmother whose marriage to Hannah’s father isn’t going well. So she’s having an affair with Christopher's father.

More drama: Hannah’s stepmother and Jack’s mother are friends who become enemies when Jack’s mother learns of the affair. After all, she wants to protect her own child, not Christopher.

Eden’s mother also has a place in this story. And so does the man who hits Eden’s dog in the Prologue.

Oh, I know, this description makes LOCUST LANE sound like a soap opera. Honestly, though, this is so suspenseful! I was surprised and didn’t want to put it down. You won’t either.

Warning: you may hate the end or you may find it hopeful. You certainly will see how far some parents will go.

The House Is on Fire by Rachel Beanland
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Fantastic

THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE is historical fiction about a fire that occurred in a Richmond, Virginia theater in 1811, the worst urban disaster in US history at the time. That makes the book interesting, certainly more so than an account of the fire in a history book.

But it’s more than that. This historical fiction is thrilling.

Rachel Beanland tells the stories of four actual people who survived the fire. Gilbert is a slave, who is also a hero the night of the fire. Cecily is Gilbert’s niece. Sally is a white woman who escaped the fire but only after helping others when men wouldn’t. And Jack is a young theater hand, just a boy.

In telling their stories, Beanland creates a thriller when she explores possibilities. Who was responsible for the fire? Also, couldn’t a slave who was at the theater that night have escaped but just be counted as one of the dead?

I often find historical fiction to be dull. But in the case of THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE, I found a page turner.

This book will be available in April 2023. I read an ARC.

This Tender Land: A Novel by William Kent Krueger
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Beautiful, Inspiring
As a YA book, this is excellent

This is the first person account of “the four vagabonds,” told by 12-year-old harmonica-playing, storytelling Odie. It is 1932, in the midst of the Depression, and Odie, his older brother, Albert, their Indian friend, Mose, and six-year-old Emmy are traveling by canoe to what Odie hopes is home in St. Louis. All four are orphans who had been living in unacceptable circumstances at an Indian boarding school in Minnesota with its vicious superintendent. The life they are leaving is based on what really did go on at many Indian boarding schools.

Yes, the four are trying to escape their present environment, but the three boys are also running from the law. It is mistakenly believed that they have kidnapped Emmy.

They are paddling their canoe down rivers to their destination, often with no food. Along the way they meet people both good and bad.

Although Odie is angry with God, one person he meets who becomes his friend is a woman of God who heads religious crusades. She has the gift of being able to see someone's past. As time goes on, she recognizes that Emmy also has a gift, being able to see someone's future and sometimes being able to alter it slightly.

Of course, they meet others, too, such as a horrible man who forces them at gunpoint to work on his failing farm. They also meet many families living in "Hoovervilles," groups of people living in makeshift tents or shacks, and befriend some of them. The four vagabonds find friends to help them get where they're headed and foes trying to find them.

Although the depicted treatment of Indians and Indian boarding schools is accurate, I found other parts of this story too hard to believe. And those parts, for me, made this book seem young adultish, not meant to be questioned by an adult. As a YA book, though, this is excellent.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Adventurous

The beginning of THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS seems like a fairytale. Yona has lived deep in a forest, away from society, since she was 2 years old, when she was stolen from her German parents in the 1920s. The almost magical woman who took Yona brought her up to be well read and well prepared with survival skills. She seemed to know ahead of time that Yona would one day need those skills to lead a group of desperate Jews in hiding from the Germans in the 1940s. Even the book's tone sounded to me like Kristin Harmel was telling the story to a youngster. So I thought when I read this fairytale-like beginning that I would not like the rest of it.

After the woman who raised Yona dies, she lives by herself in the forest until she encounters a small group of Jews who have escaped the ghetto and come to the forest to hide. But they don't know how to survive in the woods. Yona teaches them. She knows instinctively when they are in danger and need to move. As time goes on, more Jews in hiding join their group. They endure and survive because they have Yona, and, for the first time in her life, she feels like she has family.

The majority of THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS is based on truth. In the 1940s groups of Jews really did hide from German soldiers deep in the forest, they really did use those survival techniques, and they really did endure the hardships and persevere as described in the book. So I thought wrong when I decided too soon that I wasn't going to like it.

Also, be sure to read the "Author's Note" at the end of the story.

Book Club Recommended
Persuasive, Beautiful
Beautiful Writing

SAINTS AT THE RIVER begins with its main issue, the issue at the center of the story. I think of it as prologue, although that’s not what Ron Rash calls it. As always, he writes it beautifully and it was promising, the way all prologues should be. It made me anxious to read more.

A girl drowns in the Tamassee River in a rural town in South Carolina. This becomes a big controversy, not only in that town but in the country because divers cannot get to her body without first damaging the riverbed. Doing so would violate conservation laws, and, say environmentalists, set a president for others to cause more damage when it is in their business interests.

But the girl's parents want to give their daughter a proper burial. So they need to get her body out of that river, and they find someone who claims to be able to do that.

But the townspeople know the river better than these “outsiders.” They know that trying to alter that river is flirting with danger.

One large newspaper covering this story sends its star reporter to that town, along with a photographer who coincidentally grew up there. They try not to take sides. But the reporter, Allen, recently lost his wife and daughter in a car accident so tends to sympathize with the girl’s parents. On the other hand, a few years ago the photographer, Maggie, was an environmentalist working alongside the protesters. But even she tends to sympathize with the girl’s parents. Maggie at least understands both sides of the issue.

Although townspeople warn of the danger of tampering with this fast–moving river and although doing so is against the law, a man is permitted to erect a temporary dam in hopes that divers will be better able to get to the girl’s body.

Then all hell breaks loose. And Maggie, who has been understanding both sides of the issue, has now earned the wrath of most of her old friends and neighbors and, especially, of her old lover.

SAINTS AT THE RIVER is Rash's second book. I am so glad I finally found it.

Trust by Hernan Diaz
Confusing, Insightful, Persuasive

TRUST is a really difficult book for me to review because I�¢??m not sure that I understand it correctly. Here is what I know.

TRUST can be considered to be a novel written by Hernan Diaz. It consists of four stories: a novel written by the fictitious Harold Vanner, an autobiography (actually more fiction) written by the fictitious Andrew Bevel, a memoir (actually more fiction ) written by the fictitious Ida Partenza, and a diary (again, more fiction) written by the fictitious Mildred Bevel. These stories make up the entirety of TRUST. They are not just stories within a story but, rather, stories that are the story. They are accompanied by no explanation but leave the reader to guess and not fully understand until almost the end. At least, I think I now understand, although maybe not fully.

I would say that Ida is the main character. You won�¢??t know that until you are more than halfway through the book, though.

The novel BONDS is presented first because, you will later realize, this is the story that Ida reads first. It is the story of a filthy rich man who made out like a bandit during the Depression and is thought by some to have caused the Depression. You will later understand that BONDS is considered to be the real-life story of Andrew Bevel. The problem is, you are left to understand later too much. That makes for a frustrating read.

Next comes MY LIFE, the autobiography written by Andrew Bevel to correct the implications in BONDS. This is an unfinished manuscript. You will understand in the next story that MY LIFE is actually ghost written by Ida. And you won�¢??t understand why it is unfinished until you read the next story. There are similarities between MY LIFE and BONDS, but you won�¢??t be sure that the husband and wife in MY LIFE are the husband and wife in BONDS until you read the next story. I was still frustrated with a lot of unanswered questions.

Lots of questions are answered in the next story, A MEMOIR, REMEMBERED by Ida Partenza. Now Ida explains much of what I didn�¢??t get.

FUTURES, Mildred Bevel�¢??s diary, explains what Ida didn�¢??t get but not until years and years later. Although Ida already understood that Mildred, not Andrew, was the main character in MY LIFE (and BONDS), she didn�¢??t understand to what extent until she read FUTURES.

TRUST talks a lot about finances leading to the Great Depression. I found it frustrating more often than not. I�¢??m still not sure what point Diaz was trying to make; he surely was trying to make a point.

Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Dramatic, Addictive
Dangerous Caves and High Tides are almost another character in this murder mystery

It’s not for nothing that Jane Harper is one of my favorite authors. I can pick up anything she’s written and know I’m going to love it. This has been proven true once again by her book THE SURVIVORS.

As with all of Harper’s books, this one is both character- and plot-driven. And there’s so much going on in the small-town community of Evelyn Bay in Tasmania.

The main character is Kieran, who has come back to Evelyn Bay with his girlfriend and their baby to help his parents pack to move. The very evening they arrive a murder occurs, and he and his old friends, who all still live there, become involved as either suspects or friends of suspects. Either way, all seem to be hiding secrets.

Could this have something to do with the possible murder in a missing-persons case that happened 12 years before? Gabby, the missing person, was Kieran‘s girlfriend's best friend and the younger sister of one of his old friends. (Can we call her an old girlfriend?)

(How convenient for the story that so many of Kieran‘s old friends still live in Evelyn Bay.)

Another theme running throughout THE SURVIVORS is the guilt Kieran has been carrying around since that day 12 years ago, when a big storm hit Evelyn Bay. It seems that Kieran‘s older brother went searching for him on his boat and drowned.

You should also note the repeated mentions of all the caves and the dangerous high tides. These play big roles.

The end was a surprise to me, but it makes perfect sense. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Exiles: A Novel by Jane Harper
Brilliant, Addictive

EXILES will grab you from page 1. Here is another of Jane Harper’s literate mysteries/thrillers and further proof of her writing skills.

Aaron Falk is again the main character when he visits his friends the Racos to be their son’s godfather. While he spends a week in this small Australian town, he solves two mysteries.

Kim, the ex-wife of one of the Raco brothers, since remarried, has been missing for a year. Most presume that she is dead. Falk looks into this case at the insistence of his friend’s niece.

Another case, now six years old, involves the dead husband of a woman he meets there. Her stepson still wants to find the hit-and-run driver who killed him.

I’ve read all of Harper’s books and anxiously await her next one. But I heard her say that she is dropping Aaron Falk as a recurring character. I hope she changes her mind, and I think she might. She seems to have made an opening so she can bring him back if she wants to.

I won this book through

Book Club Recommended

BROKEN is a book in a series I've been reading out of order, and I enjoyed it so much. I've read all of Karin Slaughter's series books out of order, and I've always enjoyed them. No one book depends on another; each can be read as a standalone. That’s the best kind of series, each book well written and complete.

This book combines Slaughter’s Will Trent series with her Grant County series when Sara, a doctor at an Atlanta hospital in the Will Trent series, is visiting family in Grant County, where she formerly practiced medicine. She becomes concerned about the apparent suicide of a former patient in the Grant County jail.

Trent, as special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, is assigned to investigate the suicide. He normally lives and works in Atlanta and is already acquainted with Sara. Together and separately they encounter resistance from the Grant County police, not only in their investigation of the suicide but, also, in the department's own dealings with other cases. The corruption in that department is quite different from how it was run when Chief Jeffrey Tolliver, Sara's husband in the Grant County series, was alive.

In the meantime, although Trent and Sara are not romantically involved, the beginnings of something are hinted at. This is probably mostly because Trent is married. Because I've already read books later in the Will Trent series, I know how awful she, Angie, is and how lucky I was that she did not appear in this book.

If you think you are familiar with Angie because you watch the Will Trent television series, you're not. The Angie on TV and the Angie in the books do not look alike, sound alike, or act alike.

Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Fantastic, Beautiful

Last September (2008) I found Oprah's book pick, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, astounding not because it wasn't a good book but because I agreed with her, and I so seldom do. As a matter of fact, I can think of only one other time when I agreed with her, Night by Elie Wiesel. Others I thought were just OK or terrible.

If you haven't read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle yet, I assure you, it's wonderful.

Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Brilliant, Beautiful

Last September (2008) I found Oprah's book pick, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, astounding not because it wasn't a good book but because I agreed with her, and I so seldom do. As a matter of fact, I can think of only one other time when I agreed with her, Night by Elie Wiesel. Others I thought were just OK or terrible.

If you haven't read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle yet, I assure you, it's wonderful.

Unseen: A Novel by Karin Slaughter
Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Addictive
I did not want to see UNSEEN end

UNSEEN is a book in Karin Slaughter's Will Trent series. But two of the characters in this book, Sara and Lena, were originally in the Grant County series. Sara now practices medicine at a hospital in Atlanta and is Will Trent’s girlfriend. Lena is now a police detective in Macon, Georgia, which is where the story in UNSEEN takes place.

Will is an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) in Atlanta. For now, he is working undercover in Macon, trying to infiltrate a drug ring. Sara doesn't know where he is. Coincidentally, though, she comes to Macon when her stepson, Jared, who lives there, was shot numerous times during a home invasion. Also coincidentally, he is married to Lena, who Sara believes caused her former husband's death.

In addition to Lena's job as a detective with the Macon police, Jared is a motorcycle cop there. They don't know whether this has anything to do with the attempts on their lives.

Now Faith, normally Will's partner, is also working in Macon. As a GBI agent, she heads an investigation there at the request of the Macon police.

Will's undercover job, the attempted murders, and Faith's investigation are, really, one case. UNSEEN is full of twists and turns as Will, Sara, Faith, and Lena face what men will do for the money that comes from drugs.

I’ve read most of Slaughter’s books. As with every one of them, I did not want to see UNSEEN end. I guess that’s why it’s a good thing this is part of a series.

Inspiring, Adventurous, Informative

Although it took about 100 pages before Jojo Moyes’ THE GIVER OF STARS was a story, in the end, I liked it. This is historical fiction about packhorse librarians in Depression-era Kentucky. Mainly, two stories are going on, both about particular librarians. Although the packhorse-librarian program was fact, I assume each of these stories is fiction. At least I can't find anything on the Internet about an English packhorse librarian in Kentucky or a packhorse librarian accused of murder.

As I read THE GIVER OF STARS, I was irritated that this is the third book my bookclub has read this year about librarians. And two of those books, one THE GIVER OF STARS and the other THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK by Kim Michele Richardson, are both about packhorse librarians in Kentucky. As a matter of fact, while I was researching how much of THE GIVER OF STARS is true, I learned that Richardson accused Moyes of plagiarism.

At any rate, although I did enjoy THE GIVER OF STARS, I wasn’t wowed by it. The historical parts are fine, but some of the details in the librarians’ stories seemed implausible to me.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative

FREEZING ORDER is a book everyone should read. I cannot speak highly enough of it, and I am impressed as all get out with its author, Bill Browder.

This is a continuation of Browder's description of his experiences with Russians, both good and bad, that began with his book RED NOTICE. In FREEZING ORDER, he works to do the right thing in countries around the world as he convinces more and more of them to enact the Magnitsky Act while Russians collude with Vladimir Putin to thwart him. Browder's efforts are ongoing.

Here is a man I would like to meet if for no other reason than to get an update. Therefore, I unthinkingly submitted a question about his book tour through the "Contact" page on his website. First, the book is a year old, so any touring for it would be over by now. Second, Browder cannot announce his tour dates and places for safety reasons. He isn't paranoid to be afraid of Putin and friends. They've made it clear that they want to get rid of him. And yet Browder continues.

My only criticism is that Browder should have included an acronym list and a list of the many names (especially Russian names) in the book along with a description of who each is.

Thanks to for having Simon & Schuster send me this book.

The Widow Nash: A Novel by Jamie Harrison
Slow, Adventurous
Enticing Storyline But Too Much Detail

Once I passed page 300, I enjoyed THE WIDOW NASH. Up to that point, it interested me, only. I kept thinking that something was going to happen to grab my attention. And something did. It just took too long.

Dulcy was engaged to her father’s handsome business partner. But she found in time that he was a creep so broke off the engagement. He didn’t like that. He needed her to help figure out where her father hid their business earnings.

Rather than get stuck with this horrid man, Dulcy decides to disappear. She travels west and becomes the widow Nash.

This was an enticing enough storyline to keep me reading. But I had to put up with paragraph upon paragraph of unnecessary detail until I passed page 300.

Fantastic, Life Changing

I loved William Landay's DEFENDING JACOB but didn't know what to expect of MISSION FLATS, his first novel. Surprise: I think I loved MISSION FLATS just as much.

Young Ben Truman is the chief of police in a small town in Maine. The story begins with his discovery of a dead body, which he learns was a Boston DA. When Ben notifies the Boston police, they immediately come to Maine and take over the case. I'm not sure how realistic that is, but I went along with it.

Ben and his new friend, a retired lieutenant with the Boston police, go to Boston to investigate. In the 17 days they are there, the two discover, if not the true murderer, the unknown details of a 10-year-old case that appears to be connected to this one.

If you can overlook the corny bits about the night stick that the retired lieutenant carries wherever they go, always spinning and slapping it, this is a great story. Landay won a best-first-crime-novel award for it.


Karin Slaughter and Lee Child got together to write a short story about Will Trent and Jack Reacher, and the result is CLEANING THE GOLD. If you're looking for a quick read, this could be it. I would warn, though, you should already be familiar with Will Trent and Jack Reacher to appreciate this story.

The two of them are both working undercover at Fort Knox, although, really, Reacher is only sort of undercover. Neither of them knows the other is undercover.

Reacher is there to find evidence to convict a known bad guy in the army who works there. Trent is there to get a DNA sample to catch Reacher. They think

I wondered how they could possibly work together, and I enjoyed it. But I think that is only because I understood the characters to begin with. They are so totally different they couldn't work together for long, so only a short story would work.

The Woman Inside: A Novel by T. M. Edvardsson
Book Club Recommended
Simplistic Writing But Good Mystery

THE WOMAN INSIDE takes place in Sweden as its author, M. T. Edvardsson, is Swedish. So it's a translation. And with translations we run the risk that they will not read the way the author intended. So maybe I would have given THE WOMAN INSIDE more than three stars if I were Swedish and had read this in its original Swedish. As I see it in English, though, the writing style seems too simplistic. But the story is a good mystery.

Steven, a doctor, is married to Regina, who is sickly and spends most of every day in bed. She takes lots of drugs. Steven and Regina are wealthy.

Karla is a law student who also works as a maid (which is called "cleaner" in Sweden) twice a week for Steven and Regina.

Bill is down and out. His live-in girlfriend, who had been supporting him financially, died, and he now is always short on money. So he is always borrowing money, which he doesn't pay back and which he usually gambles away. But his intentions are good. He cares more than anything about his 8-year-old daughter, Sally. Yet (and I wonder if this is a Swedish thing that isn't looked down on in Sweden), he sleeps in the same bed with Sally every night. Edvardsson speaks of this casually, as if it is a normal thing.

Bill rents a room to Karla.

Jennica (a compromise between "Jennifer" and "Anica") is a student who meets Steven online. They meet in person and become romantically involved. But he tells her his wife died.

When Steven and Regina are found dead in their mansion, police suspect Bill. They interrogate him and various other people, including Karla and Jennica. Throughout the book are these interrogations interspersed with the story in chapters told from the points of view of Karla, Bill, and Jennica.

This organization adds to the mystery. You won't know who killed Steven and Regina until almost the end. And then it doesn't end. The story continues.

I won an ARC of THE WOMAN INSIDE through

Reef Road: A Novel by Deborah Royce Goodrich
Book Club Recommended
A Clever Mystery

My mother read REEF ROAD and gave it just one star. I don't know why. I disagree. This story is a very good mystery and clever, besides.

Linda, the wife of gorgeous, well-to-do Miguel from Argentina and the mother of two young children, is dissatisfied with her marriage. One day a man makes a surprise visit to their home in Palm Beach, Florida. He turns out to be Miguel's long-lost brother, Diego, now an illegal immigrant. Diego stays in hiding in their home for a year, during which time Linda and he have an affair.

Interspersed with these "The Wife" chapters told in third person are "A Writer's Thoughts" chapters told in first person by Noelle, the fictitious, crazy writer, not Deborah Goodrich Royce. (In other words, Noelle is the writer who Royce has invented for our story.) These are the chapters that might have caused my mother's low rating. It is only after reading several of these chapters that you will know for sure the connection between the writer and the wife. I, however, had no problem with this organization. I just went along with it. My mother didn't like trying to figure it out. I did.

You shouldn't know more of the story ahead of time. Royce's organization of "The Wife" chapters and "A Writer's Thoughts" chapters is her clever way to keep you surprised. You need to learn the story as she presents it.

However, I will admit that the organization sometimes seemed choppy. And that, I'm sure, is what my mother's low rating was for. Whereas many authors successfully write books with two different timelines, REEF ROAD's dates seem scattered in the first half of the book. "The Wife" chapters have specific dates, not just years or even months and years. And those specific dates go back and forth so much that I had to keep paging back to remind myself what the wife knew and did when. That was kind of a pain in the neck but not enough for me to lower my rating.

You should agree with me that REEF ROAD is a clever mystery. I would like to know, though, Diego's story, of his past and of where he went with and what he did with Linda's kids. Royce needs to write another book about him.

Beautiful, Difficult, Adventurous

LIKE THE APPEARANCE OF HORSES is the third book in a trilogy. But I cannot compare it to Andrew Krivak's other books because this is the first of his I've read. I had no problem reading it as a standalone, though.

The first main character, as I think of him, is Jozef Vinich. We learn about his serving in World War I and are told about his life. But I know from reading other reviews that Jozef first appeared in an earlier book.

A few years after Jozef is back in the US after World War I, Bexhet appears at his door. He is only 15 years old and has traveled from Hungary in search of Jozef. Apparently, he was with Bexhet's mother when she gave birth to him and died. Jozef brought the newborn Bexhet to his grandfather, a gypsy. Bexhet's father is unknown. When Bexhet's grandfather saw that trouble was coming to Europe, he sent Bexhet away. So Jozef takes him in and loves him as a son.

Becks (as they call Bexhet) ends up marrying Jozef's daughter, Hannah. I think of him as the second main character. He is in World War II and serves more than honorably but is jailed as a deserter. We learn how that came about. After 2 years, he is released and goes home. He and Hannah have two sons.

Samuel, the second son, is the third main character, as I think of him. He joins the Marines and is sent to Vietnam where he eventually becomes a POW. Much changes with his family back home. They assume after a year that he is dead. But when he comes home and sees all the changes, he doesn't handle them well. He ends up leaving and, after traveling (accidentally) west, going to see a fellow Marine in West Virginia.

I'm surprised that I wasn't already familiar with Krivak. He really is quite good. So I would have said this is a five-star book but for some problems I had with it.

This is a character-driven story presented in a unique way. He starts with the end of each story, then goes back to tell the story from the beginning and fill in your questions. Sounds like something you won't like, I know, but it somehow works. It might drive you crazy until you understand this presentation style, though.

Krivak is inconsiderate to his readers in some ways.

*Many of his sentences are so long it is difficult to remember the subject and to find the predicate. Those sentences lose their meaning until you re-read them.
*He does not use quotation marks, which were invented to aid readability.
*Some sections are way too detailed and risk losing the reader.

But Krivak is considerate to his readers in other ways. He did something that can aid you considerably and that keeps LIKE THE APPEARANCE OF HORSES from becoming just a three-star book. He provides a list of characters, along with who each is, at the end of the story (or stories as I think of them). I wish all authors would do this.

Read this book in spite of its problems. You should be glad you did. I am.

Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney
Adventurous, Beautiful, Addictive

Don't let the length of UNDER A POLE STAR put you off. I put off reading it for years, and now I wish it hadn't taken me so long. Even though it's a hefty book, when I got to the end I wanted it to be longer.

This is historical fiction, not a mystery, no matter how your library may classify it.

I would never have thought that a book about Arctic exploration during the late 19th century would interest me. But this is the setting, mostly. On a personal level, you'll learn about living in these extreme circumstances. You'll understand what the characters loved.

I dislike romance novels, and this is not that. Yet this story revolves around Flora, who heads a British expedition to Northern Greenland, and Jakob, a geologist with an American expedition. Their love works best there, and you'll wish they never left.

It's important that you understand: this is not a romance novel. There, I repeated it. It can be a tearjerker, though.

UNDER A POLE STAR is splendid historical fiction, and I don't know how anyone could rate it anything less than five stars. But, because the library, mine, anyhow, calls it a mystery, anyone who picks it up and expects that genre will be disappointed.

Slow, Adventurous, Beautiful

THE COLD DISH Is the first book in Craig Johnson's Longmire mystery series. It seems to serve as an introduction to the characters who appear throughout the series. I say "it seems" because it is so full of description that I get the impression Johnson meant for this to be more introduction than story.

What story there is centers on a dead young man. Most likely, Longmire feels, he was murdered. And it makes most sense that he was murdered because of the part he took in the rape of a young, mentally deficient girl. So, as sheriff, Longmire investigates.

This book contains too much description of not only the characters but of every little thing. Perhaps Johnson was trying to humanize Longmire but, for me, there were so many inconsequential details that I immediately forgot some paragraphs, not a good thing to do when you're reading a mystery. You never know which detail might matter.

The Match by Harlan Coben

I've read most of Harlan Coben's books, and to all I've given four- or five-star ratings. So I usually begin reviews of his books with something like "He has done it again." THE MATCH is another winner (which is another way of saying, he's done it again).

THE MATCH is a continuation of Coben's series with Wilde. This time the subject matter involves DNA websites and reality TV shows. Because Wilde knows nothing about his past, he finally decides to submit DNA to one of those websites in hopes of finding a match to a relative. That leads him to a possible match with a reality TV star.

As usual, Coben fills THE MATCH with so many twists and turns you may forget a few. But don't worry, he never leaves you hanging and he never leaves holes.

This book rates four stars rather than five only because it did not grab me right away the way his older books did.

Gloomy, Slow, Adventurous

It was slow going, but I made it to the end. What a disappointment this was! I had read so many good reviews of THE WRITING RETREAT, my expectations were high.

This has a good premise. Alex, a writer, is invited to a writing retreat at the secluded home of a famous author who she has greatly admired for many years. So she quits her job, goes on the retreat, and meets the four other female writers who were also invited, one who she has known intimately. Yes, our female Alex is discovering her sexuality throughout the book.

Right away it gets creepy. But Alex and the others are so enamored with their hostess, the famous author, that they accept what I think should be unacceptable. And, of course, they get snowed in, so they can't leave, anyhow.

What could have been exciting is slow and stretched out. I truly cannot recommend THE WRITING RETREAT.

Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Interesting, Adventurous

What a terrific mystery THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME is. I am so pleased to recommend it.

Hannah is married to a man, Owen, who has a teenage daughter, Bailey, from a previous marriage. We learn in Hanna's flashbacks about Owen, especially that he would do anything for his daughter. In Hanna's flashbacks we also see what she now understands were hints of what was to come.

Now Owen is gone, and Hannah needs to know why. One thing she does know is that Owen would never leave Bailey unless he thought he had no other choice. So the two of them, Hannah and Bailey, try to unravel this mystery.

Hannah realizes that Owen has left his daughter in her care and she must protect Bailey above all else. So here's what I don't get: why does Hannah want Bailey to have contact with the people they discover in Texas? How is this protection?

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME is a great mystery that has a perplexing end.

The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Dark, Dramatic, Insightful

After I read the first few pages of THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN, I recognized a young adult story, which is no longer to my taste. I would have liked this book when I was 13 or 14, but now it bored me. I continued to read it only because it was my book group's choice for this month. Now I am glad I did because THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN turns out to have a lot more to it than a story of a little girl who was sold to the circus by her evil mother.

Two stories are going on here. One is Lilly’s and takes place in the 1930s. She's the one who was sold to the circus after being kept prisoner in an attic all her life. The other is Julia's story in the 1950s. She is solving the mystery of who Lilly was and what happened to her. Julia's story does have a twist near the end, which I probably should have seen coming.

So I did like THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN, after all, but it left me with too many questions, which I probably would have just accepted if I read it when I was 13. It was saved by breaking up Lilly's story with Julia's. This kept THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN interesting enough to keep me up at night. I call that a success.

(And, yes, elephants really do cry tears.)

Unconvincing, Slow
OK But Not Impressive

Rain, whose real name is LAHraine but has also been known as Lara, was a journalist who is now trying to make it as a stay-at-home mom. Her husband is handsome, thoughtful, and all-forgiving, so much so that he seems unreal. Rain has a troubled past that affects her even now as an adult. When she was 12 her two friends Hank and Tess were abducted by a mentally unstable man, Kreskey, who seriously hurt Hank and murdered Tess. Rain was mauled by Kreskey's dog but escaped abduction.

THE STRANGER INSIDE moves among, essentially, three periods: the present, during and after the abduction, and the time of Kreskey's murder, all three sometimes in the same chapter. I didn't have a hard time following the story, but I can see how some people might. I did find a lot of repetition, though, which made me want to skip paragraphs.

As adults, both Hank and Rain seem to have a stranger inside. THE STRANGER INSIDE is about them and their strangers and how the four of them deal with their past.

It's a putdownable book. Not that it is bad; it just did not impress me the way many Lisa Unger books do.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Brilliant, Addictive
Inside a Militia/Antigovernment Group

This excellent book, another great one from Karin Slaughter, gives us a look inside a militia/antigovernment group/community. This also continues the Will Trent-and-Sara Linton story. But Slaughter writes this series well enough that you really don't need to read it from the beginning to understand what's going on. It's just more fun that way.

The last time I read a book in this series, Linton was a doctor at a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Now she is a medical examiner with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) along with Trent and his partner (and Linton's good friend), Faith, investigators with the GBI.

After a scientist with the Centers for Disease Control is kidnapped for unknown reasons by unknown assailants and after (a month later) two bombs go off in important areas of Atlanta and after Linton is then kidnapped, the FBI and GBI finally deduce that the kidnappers in both cases belong to a militia/antigovernment group that no one knows much about. But Trent goes undercover to infiltrate the group for both personal (to save Sara) and professional (to prevent a suspected plan to take hundreds more lives) reasons.

The group is up in the mountains somewhere. After she is kidnapped and brought there, ostensibly to provide medical care to their many children who have the measles, Sara sees a community of women, children, and mostly young men, really just boys playing soldiers. She also sees that the guy running the show is Dash. He preaches constantly antigovernment rhetoric and considers himself a Constitutional expert.

But then Trent arrives and plays along as one of Dash's followers. Can he prevent the coming massacre? Can he save Sara?

If you've been reading the Will Trent books or the Sara Linton books or the Trent-and-Linton books, and even if you haven't read any of the series, you're sure to enjoy this book. Even though it is a continuation, Slaughter always reminds/tells you background information about the characters.

Beautiful, Fun, Optimistic
It didn't grab me

Maybe you shouldn't take my word for it; most of the members of my book club liked this book. But I prefer books that grab my attention, and THE ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF LENNI AND MARGOT didn't.

I can say this for the book: it is cute. But that isn't enough to grab me.

Informative, Interesting, Dramatic

I didn't see how Angie Kim could do better than her earlier book, MIRACLE CREEK. But I'm happy to tell you she did. I'm amazed with HAPPINESS FALLS and in more ways than one.

Mia tells the story that begins with her missing father. During her family's search for him, they learn many partial truths. Did they really know him as well as they thought?

Even more so, this book is about Eugene, Mia's younger brother. He is autistic and also has Angelman syndrome, which is so misunderstood both in this story and in real life. They did not know Eugene as well as they thought.

HAPPINESS FALLS deals not only with a missing father but, also, a suspect brother who cannot communicate. In so doing it amazes as it takes on many issues and surprising twists.

And in the end, is there really a determination?

This review is of an advanced copy of HAPPINESS FALLS.

Interesting, Informative, Insightful
Writing style didn't grab me

Although THE LIONS OF FIFTH AVENUE is a novel meant for adult readers, the writing style is too young adult for my taste. This story is about adults rather than teenagers, and as far as I can tell, this, alone, distinguishes it from YA. Dialogue, especially, is off; to me, it often sounds a bit formal, not the way people normally talk.

But many adults like what I call "YA writing style." Proof of this fact is that THE LIONS OF FIFTH AVENUE was a Good Morning America book club pick. It is true, the story (or, more accurately, stories) is a good one.

THE LIONS OF FIFTH AVENUE is two stories. One is about Laura Lyons, whose husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library in 1913. The other is about her granddaughter, Sadie Donovan, a curator at the New York Public Library in 1993. In alternating chapters, we learn more about the circumstances of Laura and Sadie. Honestly, I was bored at first.

Later, though, valuable books are stolen from the library in both Laura's and Sadie's stories. So there are mysteries to solve: who did it and how? Better yet, both stories are connected by one of the thefts.

Although the writing style in THE LIONS OF FIFTH AVENUE did not grab me, the stories did.

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Beautiful, Informative
Fabulous, Lovely, and Not Long Enough

This is, in a word, fabulous. How can I adequately review THE COVENANT OF WATER to convey just how fabulous it is? This book is lovely from beginning to end. It's a big one, but, honestly, you'll wish Abraham Verghese had made it longer.

THE COVENANT OF WATER is mostly about a certain family in India, from the time a 12-year-old girl is made to marry a man in his 40s. He turns out to be a good and kind man, but he has a physical "condition" that runs in his family. This condition is real, by the way, and has a real name, but it is a mystery throughout this story.

THE COVENANT OF WATER also has another main character, a man from Scotland who comes to India to practice medicine. His story is dramatic, but after a time Verghese seems to forget about him. Don't worry (as I did), he'll be back.

If you have been wondering what Verghese has been doing in the years since CUTTING FOR STONE, here it is, one of the best books you'll ever read (along with CUTTING FOR STONE, probably).

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive
Slaughter does it again

THE SILENT WIFE is a book in Karin Slaughter's Will Trent series. But if you've read Slaughter's Grant County series, you will probably be glad to know that Jeffrey Tolliver, the chief of police in Grant County before he died, is back in THE SILENT WIFE. And, no, Chief Tolliver has not come back to life; rather, many flashbacks in this book pertain to a case worked and thought solved by Chief Tolliver. Now the case of a suspected serial killer has come to Atlanta. And perhaps it was not solved, after all. Now Will is working it with the rest of his team in Atlanta, including Sara.

Of course, you can always count on Slaughter to produce an excellent thriller. Here with THE SILENT WIFE she does it again.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative
A Story That Needs To Be Told

In BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, Ruta Sepetys describes how, even as the Soviet Union opposed Germany during World War II, they were ripping people from their homes, taking everything they owned, and exiling them to extreme hardship in Siberia. Her characters are fiction, but the book is based on fact.

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY begins in Lithuania when the Soviets took over in 1941 and erased it from the map. Lena is 15 and her brother is 10. Simply because their father is a university provost, they and their mother are sent to Siberia, their father to prison. Sepetys describes the next two years of their lives.

My only criticism of the book is the babyish way in which Sepetys refers to some of the characters. For example, one of the children who has also been deported to Siberia is referred to throughout the book as "the girl with the dolly." Sixteen-year-old Lena (her age by the story's end) apparently never considers that "the girl with the dolly" has a name. The same goes for "the man winding his watch," "the bald man," and various other characters who she lives with for 2 years. Granted, this is a novel written for young adults. But this sounds more like it is for 3 year olds.

More importantly, though, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is a story that needs to be told. Not enough people remember it or are aware of it, even today. As an adult, I read and enjoyed it; this is a crossover novel, meant for both young adults and adults.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Interesting
exceptionally good historical fiction

THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS is exceptionally good historical fiction about two people, Eddie and Coralie, with very different backgrounds who find each other and fall in love in early twentieth-century New York. This is not a romance story. Rather, the majority of the book concentrates on each of their lives before they even knew each other, at various times telling of Coralie's life, other times Eddie's, sometimes in first person, other times third person.

Coralie is the "deformed" daughter of the owner of Coney Island's Museum of Extraordinary Things, what we would call a freak show. Coralie, herself, is on display as an extraordinary thing because of her webbed fingers.

Eddie is a Russian immigrant who came to New York with his father when he was a child. He is good at finding people and is eventually hired by a man to locate his daughter. When Eddie finds her dead body, the man again hires him to solve the mystery of who did it and why. In the process, their two lives, Eddie's and Coralie's, come together.

So, more than a story of Eddie's and Coralie's love for each other, this book is the story of Coralie's life as a prisoner of evil and the story of Eddie's life as both a finder and a photographer. Editorial: Thank goodness for Coralie that Eddie found her.

Dramatic, Informative, Brilliant

How can a smart and industrious person suddenly be crazy? There are several possibilities, but Susannah Cahalan was lucky enough to be in the right place with the right doctors at the right time. They fixed her. How many other people who were put in psychiatric wards and institutions might also have been fixed if they were in the right place with the right doctors at the right time?

This is what Cahalan asks in BRAIN ON FIRE, her book that examines what happened to her when she was a 24-year-old writer for THE NEW YORK POST, living in an apartment with her cat in Hell's Kitchen, and dating a guy she used to work with (who I fell in love with).

After days with indications that something was wrong with her, Cahalan went to the hospital, where she really did go crazy. She went through test after test while doctors tried to discover whether her state of mind had some physical cause. It did, and now they had a name for it: anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis.

No one knows what caused Cahalan's disease, but her decent into madness was fast. And over her 28-day hospital stay a team of doctors discovered why and how they could fix her. BRAIN ON FIRE is a scientific thriller as Cahalan explains what happened.

This is truly a five-star book. Now I'm anxious to read her next one.

Dead to Her: A Novel by Pinborough Sarah
Boring, Adventurous

I'm surprised I finished this book. I should have given up on DEAD TO HER after the first 50 pages.

This goes on and on and on for much too long about the paranoia of two women who come from humble backgrounds and are now married to rich men. What a bore!

False Witness: A Novel by Karin Slaughter
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dark, Graphic
Another Excellent Thriller From Karin Slaughter

The best thrillers are made up of situation after situation that make the reader wonder how the author can write herself out of it. Of course, FALSE WITNESS does that. I say "of course" because it is another Karin Slaughter thriller, and you can always count on her to write the best.

Two sisters, after murdering the pedophile who victimized them when they were in their early teens, are living different lives 20 years later. Leigh is now a lawyer; Callie is a junkie hooked on heroin. The sisters continue to love one another, and each tries to protect the other.

Leigh has now been put in the position to defend the pedophile's son who is accused of rape, a charge he is guilty of. This son, it turns out, is much like his father.

Although Callie is a drug addict, she works off and on for a veterinarian. She is an animal lover. (Some of my favorite parts of this book are the names Callie comes up with for cats and fish.)

The pedophile's son, Leigh learns, is guilty of much more than the rape. But she must continue to defend him because he can prove that she murdered his father.

Once you start reading FALSE WITNESS, you won't want to put it down. Promise

Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Interesting
A Crossover YA Novel

FIREKEEPER'S DAUGHTER is billed as a young adult novel. I'm an adult and YA novels usually bore me. But FIREKEEPER'S DAUGHTER didn't. As a matter of fact, it kept me reading late into the night. What a pleasant surprise!

Told in first person by the main character, Daunis, this book is the story of an 18-year-old girl who is half white and half Native American. After her best friend is killed by an ex-boyfriend high on meth, Daunis becomes a confidential informant for the FBI, trying to help solve the drug problem that is hurting her community and friends. FIREKEEPER'S DAUGHTER is a nail–biting mystery/thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat as Daunis becomes dangerously involved in drug operations both inside and outside her tribe.

I read a borrowed copy of this book. Now I plan to buy it so I can attend an author event and have Angeline Boulley sign it.

Next of Kin: A Novel by John Boyne
Fantastic, Dramatic, Addictive

Always anxious to read anything I can find by John Boyne, I wonder how I could have missed NEXT OF KIN for the last 17 years. I think this might be my favorite of his books.

Historical fiction that is also a thriller, NEXT OF KIN is set in England during 1936, when Edward VIII was King of England and then abdicated the throne. At the same time as his birthright was being discussed all over the world, when he might have felt that it was being stolen from him, another man, Owen Montignac, is SURE that HIS birthright was stolen from HIM.

Owen is a member of the upper class and has lived a very palatial life with his aunt and uncle and cousins in a beautiful mansion that he feels was stolen from his father, the firstborn son. That mindset leads to so much trouble! Unlike the king, he refuses to just step aside.

Boyne is critical of the upper class and not only of the Montignacs. Another family in the story, not quite so rich but still upper class, enjoys the lifestyle because the father is a judge. The 24-year-old son, Gareth Bentley, has graduated from college where he studied law. He now sleeps in late every morning and spends the rest of every day doing pretty much nothing at his father's expense. But Judge Bentley finally gives him an ultimatum: get a job or else. Then Gareth meets Owen.

Gareth thinks Owen is his friend so is easily led into Owen's get-rich-quick scheme. As a result, the lives of two families are changed forever.

NEXT OF KIN could be the best of John Boyne. If you, too, missed reading it, grab it now.

Dramatic, Adventurous

THE FAMILY REMAINS is Lisa Jewell's sequel to her book THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS. I read THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS long enough ago that I forget much of it. That detracted from my enjoyment of THE FAMILY REMAINS even though it is just as well written as Jewell's other novels. Although I dislike rereading novels, in this case it would have been better if I had reread THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS immediately before I read THE FAMILY REMAINS.

So, if you haven't read either novel yet, I would suggest you read THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS first, then read THE FAMILY REMAINS soon after. This would be ideal.

The claim on the back of the paperback copy of THE FAMILY REMAINS is that it works as a standalone. But that would not be nearly as suspenseful and might even be confusing. I was confused throughout the book about why the family had to keep their lives secret and why they had to use fake passports. This is why I wouldn't recommend it for book clubs.

THE FAMILY REMAINS is the only book of Jewell's that rates as low as three stars. That is because she fails to remind the reader what came before. This is something basic, something other thriller authors such as Harlan Coben and Karin Slaughter are so good at. Jewell is a writer in the same caliber as they are, but she fails here.

Girl, Forgotten: A Novel by Karin Slaughter
Unconvincing, Dark, Interesting

Karin Slaughter is a wonderful author. She not only writes well; she also puts together a great story--always, I thought. Maybe this time is an exception, though.

GIRL, FORGOTTEN is a continuation of Andrea's story from PIECES OF HER. She's more mature now and a US Marshal in a small town outside Baltimore. She and her partner are assigned to "babysit" a judge there who has received death threats.

Also, this is the town where Andrea's father, the psychopath in PIECES OF HER, grew up. Although she and her mother now feel safe knowing that he is in prison, Andrea wants to be sure he stays there.

The judge Andrea has been assigned to guard is the mother of a teenager who was murdered back in the 1980s. Andrea has assigned herself the job of determining whether the murderer was her father. That would keep him in jail for life.

Slaughter alternates chapters between the teenager in the 1980s and Andrea in present day. The problem is with the experiences of the pregnant and unmarried teenager. If you were born before 1980 and especially if you were the same age as this teenager during the 1980s, her experiences will not ring true. They are unrealistic. The 1980s are described as backward, as if they are the 1930s. I knew pregnant teenagers back in the 1970s who were not ostracized by friends and family. They were not thrown out of their public school. Their doctors acted professionally. Their parents, though angry and upset, did not find it necessary to keep them as prisoners in their homes.

The teenager's mother, the judge, had been appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan. She was afraid her daughter's pregnancy would ruin her career. That is especially unrealistic, considering all the trouble Reagan had with his own kids.

All this and more about these 1980s chapters irritated me so much that I had a hard time enjoying Andrea's chapters. I'm not even looking forward to the next book in this series, although I will read it if Slaughter writes it. I won't drop her as a favorite author for this one mistake.

Veil of Doubt by Sharon Virts
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Interesting
Exceptional Historical Fiction

VEIL OF DOUBT Is exceptional historical fiction. Plus, it is mostly true.

Emily Lloyd was a wife and mother of four children until, one by one, they died. What would you think? The townsfolk think it is obvious: Mrs. Lloyd killed all five of them. She is taken to jail.

Powell Harrison is a well-known lawyer in town. He, along with two other lawyers, defends Mrs. Lloyd. At first they want to declare her innocent by reason of insanity. Eventually, though, they defend her as simply innocent; either someone else did it or it was an accident through no one's fault.

Throughout the story is the mystery of Lara and Lilith. They are the two women who live in the "twin home" next to Mrs. Lloyd. (I imagine this is what we call a duplex nowadays. Lloyd lived on one side; they lived on the other.) Both before and during the trial, Harrison tries in vain to speak with them. They never seem to be home.

An "Authors Note" is at the end of VEIL OF DOUBT. Do not make the same mistake I did and read it first. It spoiled the mystery for me. But do read it.

I'm so glad I read this book. I won it through

Confusing, Unconvincing, Beautiful

Lisa Unger has written some great novels, so I'm always anxious to read her latest. But THE NEW COUPLE IN 5B is not her best.

The first 200 or so pages of this book are very repetitious and pretty ho-hum, i.e., boring. Rosie tells us over and over how she resents her upbringing by parents who were superstitious fakes. At the same time, she tells a silly ghost story.

Unger's main premise is that Rosie and Chad, a married couple, have inherited an apartment in an old building that seems to be cursed. Throughout the years many of its residents have died there, some murdered, others APPARENT suicides. But the ghosts: the story would have been better off without those. They only made the suspense feel silly.

I did enjoy that every character (except Rosie, who tells the story in first person ) is suspect throughout the novel. That's what made me keep reading to the end.

I also liked that Unger slips in references to her older books here and there. For example, Chad, an actor, was given the starring role in a TV series about The Hollows.

But THE NEW COUPLE IN 5B is a disappointment because I know Unger can do better. That's why I'll still be on the lookout for her next book.

The Christie Affair: A Novel by Nina de Gramont
Book Club Recommended
Pointless, Interesting, Informative
Imagined Twists and Turns

I started THE CHRISTIE AFFAIR with the wrong expectation. I expected this to be a reimagining of Agatha Christie's 11 days when she went missing. While that's true, THE CHRISTIE AFFAIR is even more about Christie's first husband's mistress, Nan. She is really the main character, and she tells the story that is so full of thrilling twists and turns, I enjoyed it more than I ever enjoyed an Agatha Christie novel.

Christie's first husband is spoiled and selfish and wants to dump her in favor of Nan. So your immediate impression of Nan isn't meant to be a good one. However, that will soon change with her story of hardship and romance with an Irish boy/man.

And then there are all the secrets. Four people, including Christie, know what really happened during those 11 days. But everyone keeps her secret because she is keeping their secrets of murder and deception.

As Nan also tells it, Christie, too, has a romance during her 11 missing days. Are her and Nan's romances doomed, or can Nan rewrite the ending?

NOTE: Several other reviews of this book complain that Nan couldn't possibly have known everything she wrote about what happened during the 11 days. This may be their reading comprehension. Nan says more than once that she IMAGINES much of what happened based on what the others told her.

Book Club Recommended
Persuasive, Interesting, Informative
Everyone Should Read This Book

Everyone should read ISRAEL by Noa Tishby. Most people NEED to read it. As her subtitle says, it's "a simple guide to the most misunderstood country on earth." I'm not Jewish, and I don't live in Israel.

Many times I've tried to read other history books or books pertaining to present-day countries in other parts of the world but gave up on them before I finished.They were like homework. Not ISRAEL. Every sentence interested me and kept my attention.

Rather than repeat what Tishby tries and succeeds in making clear, I'll say that ISRAEL is an easy-to-read book that corrects misunderstandings.

Read it. You may end up wanting to buy a copy for everyone you know.

Matrix: A Novel by Lauren Groff
Beautiful, Difficult, Poorly Written

I give this book only a one-star rating because I could not finish it. I did read half of it, but the writing style annoyed me terribly. Other reviewers call this writing style "gorgeous," but I did not find this to be true at all.

I was able to read as much as I did only because I read elsewhere that the main character really did exist, although not much is known about her. This could have been interesting If the writing style was less choppy.

I would have thought that Lauren Groff used this writing style as a sort of imitation of the way life felt in the abby. But I know that was not the case because she used a similar writing style in her last book, FATES AND FURIES, which I also tried to read.

Daughter of Mine: A Novel by Megan Miranda
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Slow
A Pleasant Surprise

DAUGHTER OF MINE was a pleasant surprise for me. I hadn't read any of Meghan Miranda's previous books. If you haven't either, this is a good one to start with.

The daughter in DAUGHTER OF MINE is Hazel. She has two brothers. But when their father dies, he leaves his home to Hazel, alone. Why?

Turns out, her father wasn't really her father, and her brothers aren't really her brothers, which makes it even more confusing or, I should say, mysterious. And there are so many more mysteries going on in this book, so many twists and turns!

What was really going on with Hazel's father's first wife (before Hazel)? Could Hazel be mistaken about her mother (her father's second wife)?

Is there some significance to her father's to-do list stuck to the refrigerator? What is the meaning to Hazel's discoveries around the house?

Can Hazel trust anyone? Everyone is suspect in this excellent thriller.

Small Mercies: A Novel by Dennis Lehane
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Brilliant, Dark
Here is some of the best character-driven fiction I have ever read

Here is some of the best character-driven fiction I have ever read. Now at the end of 2023, I may be changing my choice for "best of the year" to Dennis Lehane's SMALL MERCIES.

Background: the summer of 1974 in the housing projects of (Lehane's favorite) Boston, Southie to be exact. Everyone's upset about the new busing plan, that many white children will be forced to go to schools in black neighborhoods and that many black children will be forced into schools in their neighborhoods. This background is true.

The story: Mary Pat Fennessy's 17-year-old daughter, Jules, goes missing after meeting with friends one evening. So Mary Pat looks for her, and she's not afraid of anyone. As time goes by and we learn along with Mary Pat what has probably become of Jules, we see how tough Mary Pat can be. And she's just beginning.

During her search, Mary Pat learns of the death, maybe accidental, maybe not, of her black coworker's 20-year-old son. Little by little, she hears about Jules' possible involvement.

Working this case of possible murder is Homicide Detective "Bobby" Coyne. Separately, he and Mary Pat both come to know what really happened. They each are examples of a parent's love for their child. And she is an example of a mother's vengeance.

SMALL MERCIES is great character-driven fiction in part because it also has plot. Plus, I've read few authors who can write a character-driven story as well as Dennis Lehane.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Romantic
Not Only for Young Adults

Of the four Ruta Sepetys books that I've read, I would rank THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE as her best. All four of the books bring light to history that is not widely known. But THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE is even more than that. It is unputdownable, a book that I did not want to end.

18-year-old Daniel and Ana (about the same age) meet when he is visiting Spain with his parents in 1957. Franco is dictator there, and Daniel's father, an oil businessman, has come to make a deal with him. Ana is their hotel maid. Daniel is an aspiring photographer. He takes many pictures of life as it really is for the people living under Franco and his regime.

So you would think these two main characters and their quick romance is what this book is about. But I found the main subject of THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE is really the approximately 300,000 babies who were stolen from their parents and sold to adoptive parents. Sure, we meet Ana's brother and sister and cousin, each with their own story, but they all come down to this, the babies stolen from parents who the government deemed unsuitable, "Red."

Although THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE is classified as young adult, as are all Sepetys novels, she is a "crossover" author, and adults as well as young adults will enjoy and benefit from this book.

The Outsider: A Novel by Anthony Franze
Interesting, Dramatic, Addictive

When I learned that Alex Finlay, one of my go-to authors, also writes under the pen name Anthony Franze, I read the Franze novel, THE OUTSIDER, to find out why. Is there a difference between Franze and Finlay novels?

The obvious difference I see in THE OUTSIDER is the subject matter. Here the concentration is on the lives of lawyers and judges and their work (and escapades).

Grayson is a young lawyer who grew up in a rough neighborhood and did not graduate from an Ivy League school. But he got his foot in the door of the Supreme Court of the United States by working there as a messenger. He really wanted to be a law clerk.

That happens when Grayson interrupts a mugging of the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Now he is a law clerk. But he soon finds that the FBI is investigating whether the mugging is somehow related to other crimes that were all committed on the fifth of the month. And, of course, he gets himself involved.

The subsequent mysteries are convoluted and not predictable. This Franze thriller is every bit as good as a Finlay thriller.

Don't forget to read the author's "About Authenticity" after the story ends. You might even want to read it first.

Book Club Recommended
Another Step Up for Erin Bartels

Erin Bartels––she just keeps getting better. Her books, I mean. THE LADY WITH THE DARK HAIR is her latest and her best.

For most of the book, two stories are going on, one set in Europe during the late 19th century, the other in present-day East Lansing, Michigan. The stories are connected by the belief that a little known but great artist is the ancestor of the owner of an art museum in East Lansing.

In 1880, Viviana, a servant, becomes a painter, first trained by her employer, an artist. When she has to leave to evade the law, she goes with the tradesman, Francisco Vella.

Nowadays in East Lansing Esther runs a museum that caters in part to the great art of an ancestor, Vella. After her former professor questions whether Vella really did paint The Lady with the Dark Hair, she travels to Europe to speak with another Vella descendent and take ownership of another Vella painting. There Esther learns the true story of Viviana and Vella.

Although I was sad that Viviana didn't love Vella and although I was aggravated with Esther's actions after she learned more about her supposed ancestor, I can honestly say that this is a lovely story and another step up by Erin Bartels.

Her writing style reminds me of that of Ruta Sepetys, who is known as a "crossover" author, i.e., a writer of young adult novels that adults also enjoy. This is especially true in THE LADY WITH THE DARK HAIR. Maybe, because the main characters in this novel are not teenagers, we could say here that the crossover is from adult to YA. It is certainly appropriate subject matter as well as style for both age groups.

The Delusion by O T Paine

I wasn't familiar with T. O. Paine, but I found him on Facebook, and now I've read an early copy of his latest book, THE DELUSION. I am pleasantly surprised, i.e., because I hadn't heard of the author before, I wasn't expecting much; but the book exceeded my expectations.

Emma is part of a team working on an award-winning psychology research project. When the team leader is kidnapped, Emma learns that someone wants their information.

In alternate chapters that take place in the 1990s, Trey is trying to find employees and financing to start his business of "making the world a better place" through computer programming. But what are his plans, really?

Eventually, Trey's chapters catch up with Emma's. She sees a good-looking guy who is filthy rich and interested in her. But her perception turns out to be wrong.

I'll admit, these later chapters have some corny parts, especially those that have to do with Emma's friend Alyssa. Even though she is an adult, she doesn't usually talk like one. But, on the whole, I enjoyed THE DELUSION.

The Last Flight by Julie Clark
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Adventurous
An Unputdownable Book

The first thing you need to know about THE LAST FLIGHT is that it is an unputdownable book, and you really will be glad you read it. It's the first Julie Clark book I've read, and now I want to read her others.

Claire is the abused wife of rich, well-known, and loved philanthropist Rory. He is dangerous, and she has so far been unable to leave him.

Eva is a former chemistry major who now produces methamphetamine in her basement. She hates this life but feels stuck in it and unable to escape.

They meet in an airport and trade identities. This is how each can leave her old life behind.

Most of the book is told in dual timelines. One is Eva's backstory; the other tells of Claire's experiences as Eva, her new identity.

The title of this book may lead you to believe that it is about an airline flight. Yet, you won't know for sure if Eva got on that ill-fated flight until the end.

And in the end, will EITHER survive? You'll be rooting for both.

Beautiful, Interesting, Informative
easy reading with no thrills

My library, the Romeo (Michigan) District Library, has a program they hold every year called "Romeo Reads" in which a book is chosen to be read librarywide, and events around the book's subject matter are planned for two months, ending with an author appearance. This year's book is THE RECIPE BOX by Viola Shipman, the pen name for Wade Rouse. (Viola Shipman is his grandmother's name.) If not for Romeo Reads, I would never have read this book because this author's writing is not for me.

Sam (for Samantha) has always lived in northern Michigan. Her family owns a cherry and apple orchard (with donuts and cider and pies) there. When she is in her 20s, she moves to New York and goes to school there to become a chef. When she finds that life far from home is not as fulfilling as she expected it to be, she comes back.

Shipman is popular with many readers but certainly is not with me. I find his writing too simplistic and his dialogue unrealistic and syrupy. The writing style reminds me of what I read when I was 12 years old.

For that reason, I would have rated the book with two stars. But I give it three because of its saving graces that are probably the reasons my library chose this book: it describes the beauty of Michigan throughout, and the story celebrates life on an orchard/cider mill, which is so like what we have here in Romeo.

If you like easy reading with no thrills and especially if you are from Michigan, you might want to give this book a try. My three-star rating is for my taste and not necessarily for yours.

I Will Find You by Harlan Coben

I WILL FIND YOU is another Harlan Coben book written in his usual style. That might sound negative, but it's not. I love Coben's style and so do an awful lot of other readers. So why change a winning formula?

Almost all of I WILL FIND YOU is a chase. David, who is in jail for killing his son, Mathew, manages to escape with the help of friends. He didn't do it and is convinced his son is alive. So now the chase is on as FBI detectives and police go after what they think is an armed-and-dangerous child murderer. And David gets closer and closer to learning the truth of what really happened.

As usual with Coben's books, you need to suspend your disbelief at times. Do that, and you will enjoy the heck out of I WILL FIND YOU.

Don't look now by Daphne Maurier Du

DON'T LOOK NOW is a book of Daphne du Maurier's short stories, the first of which has that same title. This review is of that short story, "Don't Look Now." (Warning: I don't particularly like short stories. That's why I read only the first one in this book.)

The story begins with the quotation "Don't Look Now," as John and Laura are having lunch at a restaurant and joking together about other restaurant guests. They are a married couple vacationing in Italy. John is relieved that Laura seems to be coming out of the depression she has been in since their 5-year-old daughter died.

But two of the guests they were joking about turn out to be psychics. And so begin misunderstandings and confusion.

A movie based on "Don't Look Now" was made in 1973. I found a more recent remake of that movie. Let's see what they did with this short story.

Golden State: A Novel by Stephanie Kegan
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Dramatic, Addictive
Thoughtful and Perceptive

I've had GOLDEN STATE hiding in my bookcase since 2015. I forgot about it. But now I've finally read it and can only wonder why I haven't heard more about Stephanie Kegan, this wonderful writer who I just discovered, since then. She seems so thoughtful and perceptive about her characters, and what a character study this book is!

Kegan's main character, Natalie, is a teacher, happily married to lawyer Eric. They have two daughters. They live in California, she has always lived there, her father was a California politician, and her ancestors were involved in California's development. But she's just realized that her brother, Bobby, may be a criminal, the "California bomber," responsible for seven deaths.

GOLDEN STATE is an examination of these families, Bobbie's mental health problems that are obvious now, the possible signs they chose not to see, and the damage this ordeal may be causing to Natalie's immediate family and to her marriage. From the time Natalie brings her suspicions to Eric's attention to the final verdict, the reader lives inside Natalie's head, sees and remembers everything from her point of view. I felt for her to the point that I was nervous when she was. You may wonder, how did Kegan imagine all this, because it sounds so real, like she really does know.

If you haven't read this almost-10-year-old book yet, do. It isn't out of date. But I do wonder why I haven't been able to learn anything current about Kegan. I want her to write another book.

Schroder: A Novel by Amity Gaige
Dramatic, Slow, Confusing

I let SCHRODER languish on my bookshelf for years before I finally got to it. I didn't know what I was missing. This is a book I can readily add to my list of favorites.

SCHRODER is more than a story of a divorced man who kidnaps his six-year-old daughter for a week. It is Eric Kennedy's (a.k.a. Erik Schroder's) explanation to his wife not only of what happened during that week and why; this letter to Laura also tells her some of his history that he has been hiding from her all along.

Although the name–change explanation sounds implausible, especially since Eric/Erik got away with it for so many years and never adequately explains how he did that, just go along with it. You'll not only love his story; you'll love the way he tells it.

Book Club Recommended
Great Book for Animal Lovers

If you are an animal lover, UNSAID is a great book for you. No, it's not great literature. But it's a great novel about animals and their people. The best word I can think of to describe it is "sweet."

The narrator of the story is a dead veterinarian, Helena. The main character is her devastated husband, David. She also left behind a household full of animals, both inside and outside.

David is a lawyer. A little more than halfway through the book David takes on a case unlike any other he has defended before. Helena's dear friend Jaycee, another veterinarian, may go to jail because she tried to kidnap a chimpanzee, Cindy, that belonged to the government.

Jaycee had been in charge of an attempt to teach Cindy to communicate by sign language. Jaycee raised Cindy for four years, from the time she was an infant. But now the government wants to put her back in the general population, where she may be subjected to experiments and torture. According to the government, this communication experiment with Cindy has failed; according to Jaycee, it hasn't.

According to the author, Neil Abramson, there's a difference between unspoken and unsaid. And that is one of David's defenses.

My only criticism of this book is that Abramson doesn't make clear whether Cindy's communication abilities are ever publicized. It would be nice to think so.


Mostly I enjoyed THE REAL MICHAEL SWANN. That is in spite of a few instances that are a little bit ridiculous and hard to swallow. I see other reviewers give it a bad rating for that, but I see it differently.

Julia and her husband, Michael, are talking on the phone when they're suddenly cut off. There begins Julia's search for Michael. And she's not the only one; the rest of the world is looking for him, too, because they're convinced he's the terrorist who set off the explosion that interrupted Julia's and Michael's conversation and killed and hurt hundreds of people.

One of the reasons I give this book a high rating is the clever way Bryan Reardon sets it up. About half the chapters are written in third person from Julia's point of view while the other chapters are the first-person account by an unnamed man. They're trying to find each other.

Although I suspected early on the twist that Reardon obviously intended to surprise the reader in the end, I still found myself fighting sleep at night just so I could read another page. That's the kind of book that deserves a high rating.

Granite Harbor: A Novel by Peter Nichols
Book Club Recommended
Nichols desereves applause for this unputdownable story

GRANITE HARBOR is unputdownable. That makes it a five-star book.

Mostly, GRANITE HARBOR is about Alex, an English writer of two books who hasn't been able to come up with a third. Now he's a small-town detective in Maine. With little training and no experience with tough cases, he is now up against a serial killer of young people, his daughter's friends.

Some of the chapters are about an unnamed boy. These chapters are flashbacks. The boy grew up in unfortunate circumstances, was befriended by a mentally sick man, and absorbed his sick teachings. The boy grew into a man who seemed sweet and thought he was sweet.

The reader figures it out pretty much as Alex figures it out. That's what makes GRANITE HARBOR unputdownable.

But warning: Peter Nichols' detailed description of the treatment of a coyote may be hard for some people to stomach. It sure was for me.

And a criticism: it is too easy for a writer to solve even a small part of a case by adding a clairvoyant character to the story. A writer as talented as Nichols should have been able to come up with something better. It just seems lazy.

Even so, Nichols deserves applause for his unputdownable story.

The Lioness: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Dramatic, Addictive
Is this a kidnapping? Why and by whom?

Everything Chris Bohjalian writes is very good and exceptional. In the case of THE LIONESS, it doesn't start out that way. But if you keep reading, it does get there.

It is 1964. Katie, an actress, takes her new husband, brother and pregnant sister-in-law, and five friends on a safari in Africa. Almost immediately the group of campers is besieged by Russian men, who kill their African guides but not the Americans. It looks like the Russians intend to kidnap them.

What follows are the Americans' experiences from each of their points of view. Their African porter's POV is also included. All the while you and they wonder whether this is a kidnapping, why, and by whom. Every segment of every chapter has clues, but the clues point in different directions. The mysteries might be solved in several ways.

Some survive, others don't. Each of the Americans is up against not only the Russians but, also, wild animals. You'll see who is tough (and who "the lioness" is).

The Power Couple: A Novel by Alex Berenson
Dramatic, Addictive, Fantastic

Do you often doubt book reviews you read online? You can believe all the five-star reviews of THE POWER COUPLE. This is one of the most well-written and surprising thrillers I've ever read.

The book begins with a "Prologue," and you won't know who's speaking. You'll have to read all the way to the end. Then you will know, and you can re-read the "Prologue."

Rebecca and Brian take their two teenage children, Kira and Tony, on a vacation in Europe. In Spain, Kira disappears. What follows is the search for her, but that's not all.

This is also the story of a marriage, but it is not a romance story. Rebecca is an FBI agent; Brian is with the National Security Agency. Their history is revealed in flashbacks. They may shock you. They definitely will surprise you.

But the end of that story isn't the end of the book. There's more.

This is my first Alex Berenson book. Don't you just love when you find a great author and get to read his backlist?

Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Informative, Insightful, Beautiful

Although THE FOUR WINDS is marketed as a novel for adults, for me it's writing style is more young adult, which is not usually to my taste anymore. That is not to say that this is a bad book. It is just more to my 13-year-old taste, especially since many of the chapters are written from a teenager's point of view. THE FOUR WINDS reminds me of a John Jakes novel I read when I was 13.

This novel begins before the Great Depression. Elsa has grown up lonely and unloved. She later marries a younger boy and moves to his parent's farm in Texas.

Skip a few years now to the time of the Depression. Elsa has two children, and her husband has run away. She stays there on the farm with his parents and tries to fight the horrible drought and dust storms. After her son is hospitalized with dust pneumonia, Elsa and her children move to California. But their life there becomes even worse. Out of necessity, Elsa becomes involved with Communists who want to strike against the field owners, who were not paying their workers enough to feed their children or pay rent.

Prepare for a depressing read from beginning to end. Once or twice a good thing happens, such as when a security guard gives Elsa $5.

I wasn't pleased with THE FOUR WINDS, but you may be, so read other reviews.

Unconvincing, Addictive

I've had THE DRIFTER in my bookcase for a while. I put off reading it because I hadn't read a Nicholas Petrie book before and thought I wouldn't care for it. But I was pleasantly surprised for more than 100 pages.

This is the first book in a series about Peter Ash, a war veteran with PTSD who has been living in the mountains because he can't bear living indoors. But now he has come back to civilization to help the widow and two children of a good friend he served with in the Marines.

While clearing debris from under the widow's front porch, Ash finds a suitcase full of money. And there begin, first, the mystery of the money and, then, thrills and suspense as Ash discovers who wants the money, their big plan, and what they'll do to accomplish it.

Petrie does a fine job of setting up the story. He made me wonder why I hadn't read this a long time ago.

As the story progresses, though, it can be annoying that Ash seems to deliberately goad people while they have him at a disadvantage, e.g., when they have his hands tied behind his back. Also, near the end, I found the story dragging probably because of the way Petrie was portraying panic attacks. I have had panic attacks in the past and know that they cannot be managed; you cannot just power through them and become suddenly stronger as a result.

Since THE DRIFTER, Petrie has written other Peter Ash novels. So I wonder, what will Ash do with his life now.

The Soulmate: A Novel by Sally Hepworth

Sally Hepworth has done it again. THE SOULMATE is the best kind of mystery, with plenty of twisty-turny plot AND characterization.

This book is actually several mysteries written in present and past chapters, told from the viewpoints of two of the main characters. It is easy to follow.

Pippa is in love with her extremely handsome husband, Gabe, in spite of his erratic behavior. Amanda learns to love her filthy rich husband, Max, and asks only for his fidelity. Pippa and Amanda each see the mysteries that make up this story differently. And, more and more, these mysteries are unraveled as the story progresses.

The main mystery involves the cliff outside Pippa's and Gabe's home. This is where many people come to commit suicide, Amanda among them, apparently. Did she really mean to commit suicide? What did she say to Gabe before she jumped or fell? Was this really a murder? What is each of the four of them hiding?

Other reviews of THE SOULMATE call Pippa and Amanda "unreliable narrators." This is true only because they don't know all the facts. Neither does the reader. Even as you try to put them all together, you probably still won't know. THE SOULMATE keeps you guessing.

As past gradually explains present, Hepworth brings the reader closer and closer to the truth. You can try, but I'll bet you don't figure it out until nearly the end.

I won a sweepstakes for THE SOULMATE from AuthorBuzz and the publisher.

Book Club Recommended
Likes and Dislikes for This Book

A STOLEN SEASON is my first book by Steve Hamilton. Although it comes in the middle of his Alex McKnight series, it is also my first book in the series. So I can say this for Hamilton upfront: it takes skill to write a book in a series as if it is a standalone. That's how it was for me, no confusion.

But I wasn't entirely happy with A STOLEN SEASON. First, the two main crimes in this novel seem like too much of a coincidence to each other. Even though I decided to just go with this storyline, I still had some problems with it.

Sometimes the story drags. I found myself skipping through some paragraphs, as a result, especially when he describes McKnight unloading boxes of guns.

More than anything, though, McKnight is a terribly frustrating main character. Over and over, he butts in, insists on taking things into his own hands when he should be leaving it to the police. I think Hamilton means for the reader to sympathize with McKnight, and I mostly did. But because he is always looking for trouble, I just wanted to clobber him sometimes. If I were one of his three friends, especially Vinnie, I would steer clear of him.

If you enjoy reading about Michigan, that's a good reason to try a Steve Hamilton book. I liked that about A STOLEN SEASON, although I wish Hamilton concentrated more on the Lower Peninsula, which I am more familiar with.

Kisscut: A Novel by Karin Slaughter
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive
I'm glad I found this older book

Karin Slaughter wrote/writes two series: first the Grant County series and later the Will Trent series. KISSCUT is the second book in her Grant County series. It's an older book, and I'm glad I finally found it; Slaughter's style is just as evident in KISSCUT as in her later books.

Sara, a pediatrician and medical examiner in Grant County, and Jeffrey, Grant County chief of police, are both involved in what first appears to be an individual tragedy but turns out to be a case of child abduction, child mutilation, use of children for sex, and more. Also working on this is Lena, a detective who works under Jeffrey. Lena is trying to get past an attack she experienced (in Slaughter's previous book, BLINDSIGHTED). She sees how her victimization can be related to the experiences these children are living with.

Ideally, you will be able to read Slaughter's books in the order in which she wrote them. But I'm not. I buy most of my books at used book sales, so I read them in the order in which I find them. This is possible because Slaughter writes so well you always understand backgrounds and you never feel lost. I've read most of her books, and I've loved every one.

The Hunter: A Novel by Tana French

THE HUNTER is Tana French's continuation of THE SEARCHER and its story of Cal, an American retired detective who has moved to a small town in Ireland; Trey, a teenaged girl in that town who is still set on righting the wrong that was the subject of THE SEARCHER; and the rest of Cal's neighbors, most of whom made me wonder at the end of the last book why he did not just leave and still make me wonder if he will. He should.

I've read all of French's books, and they normally rate five stars. But I don't rate THE HUNTER that way for two reasons: first, unlike most of French's books, this one has a slow beginning. Second, THE HUNTER assumes you have already read THE SEARCHER and remember all the particulars of the murder in that book. I did read it but did not remember everything. This was troublesome.

But (and this is a big but) French's writing, especially her dialogue, is as first rate as ever right from the start. You'll never want to give up on this book.

So you'll read about Cal and Trey and their neighbors again, including Lena, Cal's love interest who shares his concern for Trey, and Mart, the neighbor from hell, in my opinion, who pretends to be neighborly.

But there's not much action until another murder occurs almost halfway through the book. Anyone in the town could have done it, even someone from outside the town; the victim, Rushborough, was a despicable man.

Another man the town would like to get rid of is Johnny, Trey's father, who has come back after a 4-year absence, a man who loves no one but himself. He and Rushborough had come up with a scheme to sell these people on the idea that there was gold on their land. They were almost successful.

All in all, this town does not seem like a good place to live. I don't understand why Cal doesn't just get out of there. It's a beautiful piece of Ireland but full of trouble. If French continues this series, I think she's going to have to deal with that.

Insightful, Dramatic, Addictive

THE THIRD WIFE is the best kind of mystery; it involves three mysteries: who is writing horrible letters to Maya, did Maya kill herself or was her death an accident, and who is the woman who seems to be stalking Adrian?

Maya is Adrian's third wife. The book begins with her death when she is hit by a bus (which would be an odd choice for suicide, in my opinion).

Before Maya, though, Adrian had two children with his first wife and three more with his second. They have all been getting along and getting together for holidays and vacations. They still do after Maya becomes the third wife. They all appear to love her. Then Maya begins receiving horrible letters with details that only someone from the family could know. Did this lead to her death?

Then a woman pretends to want Maya's cat after she has died. For a while she keeps reappearing and seems to be a stalker. But she suddenly stops. Adrian searches for her, hoping to get answers.

Lisa Jewell wrote THE THIRD WIFE a decade ago. I was lucky to have found it. You'll enjoy this one as much as you do her later books.

Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Insightful
Slow to start but well worth your wait

LONG BRIGHT RIVER is slow for a while at first. But you want to keep going anyhow. It's well written and obviously setting up a story that will be worth your while. It turns out to be unputdownable.

Most of the book is centered on Michaela's search for her sister, Kacey. Michaela is a cop; Kacey is a drug addict living on the streets. The story is told in alternating THEN and NOW chapters. So you gradually understand more and more of the sisters' background and how the NOW came to be.

LONG BRIGHT RIVER is full of mysteries and unexpected results and solutions. The answers I expected were most often incorrect.

I am so glad I didn't read other reviews of this story before I read it. If I had, I probably would have been given synopses of the story and been unable, then, to anticipate its mysteries as the author had intended.

This is the first time I've given five stars to a book that is slow to start. Believe me, it will be worth your while to read and remember it.

Informative, Interesting

Around 2003 Tom Kizzia, a newspaper reporter in Alaska, first spoke with Robert Hale, better known at that time as "Papa Pilgrim." Papa Pilgrim lived in the Alaska wilderness with his wife and 14 (or was it 15 by then?) children. He was having a property rights dispute with the National Park Service. Many, maybe most, locals sided with Papa Pilgrim and his enchanting family.

It is soon clear to the reader that Robert Hale was not the devout Christian and family man he proclaimed himself to be. He inflicted the worst kind of abuse on everyone in his family, even the youngest child, barely 2 years old. I found it difficult to read some of the descriptions. They were truly horrific.

But that was not clear to anyone outside the family at that time. They could only see Papa Pilgrim and his musical pilgrims, so quaint in their old-fashioned clothes.

Kizzia's nonfiction book about Papa Pilgrim and his pilgrims, PILGRIM'S WILDERNESS, tells their story and also gives some of Robert Hale's background in Texas and New Mexico. PILGRIM'S WILDERNESS shows how easily people can be fooled by outward appearances.

This book is a great piece of nonfiction. But here's where I think PILGRIM'S WILDERNESS might go wrong: it can be difficult for the reader to follow. This is surprising given that Kizzia was a newspaper reporter. Newspaper style aims to be simple and easy to read. But in this case the timeline seems to go back and forth haphazardly and is difficult to keep track of. Plus, when Kizzia begins to relate one incident, he often veers off to explain the history of another person or incident. It can be confusing. Probably PILGRIM'S WILDERNESS could have used an outline.

Remember me

Now serving over 80,000 book clubs & ready to welcome yours. Join us and get the Top Book Club Picks of 2022 (so far).


Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...