Book Reviews by vicki rock

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Properties of Thirst

by

Marianne Wiggins, Simon & Schuster

Published

August 2, 2022

544

Pages

Book cover image for Properties of Thirst

Rockwell “Rocky” Rhodes and his wife, Lou, raised their twins, Sunny and Stryker, on a California ranch, Las Tres Sillas. He has been mourning Lou since her death from polio years earlier.

His sister Cas lives with him. She came to help with the twins after Lou’s death and stayed on. The twins are now grown. It is the early 1940s.

Rocky has been fighting the LA Water Corporation for years. The authority bought up water rights to land surrounding his ranch, draining his aquifer.

Stryker is estranged from his father and joins the Navy. He is sent to Pearl Harbor not long before the attack. Sunny is interested in cooking. Then the government decides to build a Japanese-American internment camp next to the ranch.

Schiff, an employee of the Department of the Interior, arrives. In time, Schiff begins to understand the horror of what he's been asked to do. He also becomes interested in Sunny.

While it is an interesting historical novel, it is disjointed and too long. The afterword reveals that Marianne Wiggins had a serious stroke while writing the novel, but was able to complete it after a lengthy recovery. Marianne Wiggins is also the author of “Evidence of Things Unseen,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

The Kingdoms of Savannah

by

George Dawes Green, Celadon Books

Published

July 19, 2022

304

Pages

Book cover image for The Kingdoms of Savannah

Luke Kitchens is a white 22-year old. Matilda “Stony” Stone is a Black woman who is 43. They are walking to their favorite bar in their hometown of Savannah, Bo Peep’s. In an hour, Luke will be dead and Stony will disappear.

Ransom Musgrove is called to his mother’s house. Morgana Musgrove is a senior member of Savannah society. Ransom is a homeless alcoholic. His mother sent her accountant to find him in his tent under a highway exit ramp.

Ransom’s late father started Musgrove Investigations, which Morgana still owns. Johnny Cooper manages the business. Archibald Guzman, who was arrested for Luke’s murder, wants Musgrove Investigations to exonerate him. Morgana wants Ransom to drive her to the jail to talk to Guzman.

Morgana is an imperious, demanding and conniving woman. Her older son, David, is a lawyer; one of her daughters, Willou Lutinger, is a Superior Court judge; and the other, Bebe, is a nurse. Morgana’s step-granddaughter, Jaqueline Walker, is a bartender who was friends with Luke. Jaqueline goes to talk to police and meets a friendly detective named Nick Galatas.

One by one, Morgana inveigles her children into helping with her investigation, and soon the family uncovers some truths that will rock Savannah’s power structure.

It is a spellbinding story filled with remarkable characters. It is very entertaining, although the plot moves slowly. It reminds me of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. In the author’s notes Green says that all the history that the Musgroves uncovered is true.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a review.

The It Girl

by

Ruth Ware, Scout Press

Published

July 12, 2022

432

Pages

Book cover image for The It Girl

April Clarke-Cliveden is the first person Hannah Jones meets at Pelham College in Oxford University.

Vivacious and bright, April quickly pulls Hannah into her orbit. Together, they develop a group of inseparable friends—Will de Chastaigne, Hugh Bland, Ryan Coates and Emily Lippman —during their first term. April and Hannah are roommates. April comes from a wealthy family and she is a practical joker.

At the end of the second term, April leaves a cast party to change clothes. When she doesn’t return, Hannah and Hugh go to the room and find her body. Hugh, a medical student, attempts to revive April, but is unsuccessful. She was murdered.

A decade later, Hannah and Will are married and live in Scotland. Hannah works in the Tall Tales bookstore. Will is a junior partner in an accounting firm. They are expecting their first child. Hugh is the only one of the friends that Hannah and Will now see regularly.

The man convicted of killing April, former Oxford porter John Neville, has died in prison. Days before April’s murder, Hannah complained to the dean of arts, Dr. Horatio Myers, about Neville bothering her, and Myers blew it off.

Now, relieved to have finally put the past behind her, Hannah’s world is rocked when Geraint Williams, a reporter, contacts her. He is a friend of Ryan’s. Williams presents evidence that Neville may have been innocent. Hannah’s memories are clouded by what she believes she saw.

As Hannah reconnects with old friends and delves deeper into the mystery of April’s death, she realizes that the friends she thought she knew all have something to hide. Who really killed April?

The writing is excellent. The chapters alternate between before and after. The identity of the murderer and how the murder was done are both a surprise. Another solid hit by Ruth Ware.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a review.

Fellowship Point

by

Alice Elliott Dark, Scribner / Marysue Rucci Books

Published

July 5, 2022

592

Pages

Book cover image for Fellowship Point

Celebrated children’s book author Agnes Lee is now 80 and has been diagnosed with cancer for the third time. She lives in Philadelphia and spends summers in Maine.

She has written six novels and more than 30 children’s books, which she also illustrated. Agnes wants to complete the final volume of her Franklin Square novels written under the name Pauline Schulz, but has writer’s block.

She also wants to permanently protect the peninsula of majestic coast in Maine known as Fellowship Point, which is a bird sanctuary. Loose Properties, owned by Hamm Loose and his sons, is buying land for development. The Point is owned in shares by three families.

Her lifelong best friend, Polly Wister, has led a different kind of life. Polly is devoted to her husband, Dick, a philosophy professor and noted pacifist. They have three adult sons. Polly, much to Agnes’s frustration, invariably defers to her husband. Polly soon finds her loyalties torn between the wishes of her best friend and the wishes of her family, but what is it that Polly wants herself?

Meanwhile, Maud Silver, a single mother who is a book editorial assistant, sets out to convince Agnes to write her memoirs, not realizing Agnes is also Pauline Schulz. Maud’s mother, Heidi, who has a mental illness, lives with Maud and Maud’s daughter, Clemmie, 3. The novel goes back to the 1870s, when Agnes’s family went to Maine.

“Fellowship Point” is a contemplative book. It is good, but long and slow-moving. It is the character-driven story of women who are lifelong friends and how their lives were so different.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

Horse

by

Geraldine Brooks, Viking

Published

June 14, 2022

416

Pages

Book cover image for Horse

In 2019 in Washington, D.C., Theo Northam, a Nigerian-American art historian, is writing a magazine article when he stops to help an elderly neighbor take some of her late husband’s things to the trash. She tells him to take anything he wants. He sees a dingy canvas: a painting of a horse.

Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, manages the vertebrate Osteology Prep Lab at the museum support center. She is asked to find the missing skeleton of a horse. Dr. Catherine Morgan has come from England to research The horse’s remains. Jess is embarrassed that the remains are just labeled horse as the stallion was the greatest racer of all time.

The narrative jumps back in time to 1850 in Kentucky. Jarrett, a slave, has a feel for horses. He is a groom. His father, Harry Lewis, is a trainer who bought his own freedom. Jarrett is owned by Dr. Elisha Warfield. The bay colt is called Darley. When Darley is sold to a syndicate, he is renamed Lexington in honor of the village near Boston, Mass. Jarrett is sold with Darley. When the nation erupts in civil war, Thomas J. Scott, who painted Darley, joins the Union Army.

Then in New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with the painting.

The novel is based on a true story. While Lexington won six of the seven races he started, he is best known as the most dominant sire ever seen in North America. “Horse” is a story of race, power and money. The main drawback of the novel is the multiple threads. You no sooner get caught up in one when the story line shifts to another. It is meticulously researched, but it is slow moving.

Brooks was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her novel, “March,” which was about the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s classic “Little Women.”

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

The Woman in the Library

by

Sulari Gentill, Poisoned Pen Press

Published

June 7, 2022

288

Pages

Book cover image for The Woman in the Library

Aspiring author Leo Johnson, whose book has been rejected by publishers many times, is in the reading room at the Boston Public Library. He writes that he has been corresponding with Australian best-selling author, Hannah Tigone, for years.

He is a beta reader. Beta readers are non-professionals who read a manuscript prior to publishing. Hannah takes his emailed descriptions and incorporates them into her new novel, sending Johnson chapters as they are written. Leo enthusiastically offers comments, culture and location tips, crime-scene photos, plot suggestions, and other literary feedback.

The reading room is quiet, until a woman screams. Security guards instruct everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified. Four strangers, who'd happened to sit at the same table, start talking. They are Cain McLeod, Winifred Kincaid, Marigold Anastas and Whit Meters.

The security guards tell them they may leave and they go for coffee. The cleaning people later find the body of the woman, in the library gallery room. The woman was Caroline Palfrey. She worked for a local tabloid.

Winifred is writing a novel. She tells us upfront that one of these people is a murderer. The chapters end with Leo’s emails to Hannah, which become more unhinged over time.
But which tale is the novel and which is reality? As the book goes on, both stories start to unravel.

Unfortunately, I found the whole thing to be convoluted and slow-paced. I didn’t care for the characters. The dialogue doesn’t sound real and Leo's going off the rails was easy to predict early on. The ending fizzles out.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

The Latecomer

by

Jean Hanff Korelitz, Celadon Books

Published

May 31, 2022

448

Pages

Book cover image for The Latecomer

Harrison, Lewyn and Sally Oppenheimer are triplets conceived during the early days of in vitro fertilization. They can’t wait to gradute high school and go their separate ways.

Harrison is known as the smart one, Lewyn as the weird one and Sally just as the girl. Their parents are Solomon (Salo) and Johanna. The wealthy family lives in New York City.

Salo and Johanna told their children that they met at a wedding, but that isn’t true. They first met a few years earlier at the funeral for Mandy Bernstein, Salo’s girlfriend, who died in a car accident in which he was the driver. Another young man was also killed and a young woman was injured. Nobody blamed Salo for the accident as he wasn’t speeding or drinking. Johanna Hirsch was a high school friend of Mandy’s.

Salo works as a broker for his family’s financial company and he collects valuable paintings. He starts having an affair and is rarely home. Johanna only worked outside the home for a few years. She badly wanted the triplets to be close, but they always refused to do anything together.

The triplets get accepted to college. Lewyn and Sally are both going to Cornell and Harrison is going to an all-male alternative collective for two years before transferring to Harvard.

When the triplets leave for college, Johanna finds out about her husband’s affair. She is now faced with being truly alone and makes the decision to add a fourth child to the family. She has been paying for the storage of one more embryo for 18 years. Will the triplets become closer as they get older? And can the latecomer, Phoebe Elizabeth, bring together this fractured family?

The strongest feature of “The Latecomer” is the great character development. The plot has several good twists and the pacing moves the story along well. This isn’t a thriller; it is an excellent novel about a family in conflict. Jean Hanff Korelitz is also the author of “The Plot,” one of my favorite books of last year. She is now on my “must read” author list.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a review.

The Lioness

by

Chris Bohjalian, Doubleday

Published

May 10, 2022

336

Pages

Book cover image for The Lioness

In 1964, actress Katie Barstow and her new husband, David Hill, owner of a Beverly Hills art gallery, think it will be great to honeymoon in the Serengeti. They bring their Hollywood friends to Tanzania.

Their guests include Katie’s brother, Billy Stepanov, her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the controversial film Tender Madness. The group of nine nicknames themselves The Lions of Hollywood.

They have an entourage of 17 Kenyans and Tanzanians. Charlie Patton is head of the photo safari. Benjamin Kikwete is one of the rangers. Terrance is one of only three Black guests Benjamin has ever worked for.

The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure with amenities including waterproof canvas bathtubs and a kerosene-powered ice maker. What they get is a kidnapping gone wrong after Russian soldiers storm their camp and take them hostage. “The mantra for most of us? Just stay alive.”

This is told from the perspective of travelers and staff. Each chapter starts with a blurb from newspaper or magazine articles as the stories of their pasts unfold. The multiple characters are distinctive enough to keep track of and their points of view are woven together.

As the number of characters dwindle, readers wonder who will be killed by the kidnappers or attacked by wild animals. Sort of like Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” but with lions.

This is an intense, fast-paced, character-driven novel with a shocking, twist-filled plot. The author gives some clues, but you’ll still be surprised by the revelation of who is behind it and why.

Chris Bohjalian really is a master storyteller and no two of his novels are alike. He is the author of 23 books. This is one of the best of his works and one of the best novels of the year. Don’t miss this one.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

Remarkably Bright Creatures

by

Shelby Van Pelt, Ecco

Published

May 3, 2022

368

Pages

Book cover image for Remarkably Bright Creatures

After Tova Sullivan’s husband, Will, died of cancer, she began working as a cleaner on the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium in Washington.

Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she’s been doing since her son, Erik, 18, vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over 30 years ago. Police believe he killed himself. Tova doesn’t think so.

Marcellus is a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Or, as he thinks, being held captive. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine, but wouldn’t dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors. For starters, he can read. He has lived longer than his anticipated life span of four years.

Tova is 70. She has a supportive group of friends in the small town. She talks to all the creatures in the aquarium, but Marcellus is her favorite. One night, Marcellus gets out of his tank and becomes entangled in power cords in the break room. Tova untangles him.

The third character is Cameron Cassmore, 30, who lives in Modesto, California. He can’t hold a job. His aunt, Jeanne, raised him from the age of nine after his drug-addicted mother, Daphne, left him. Cameron is a self-proclaimed loser and Jeanne is a hoarder.

Neither Cameron nor Jeanne know who his biological father is. But when Jeanne gives Cameron a box of his mother’s things, he finds a photograph of his mother as a teenager hugging a boy, Simon Brinks. The photo was taken in Sowell Bay high school. He also finds Brinks’ class ring. He decides to go to Sowell Bay to find Brinks.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces the truth. And now Marcellus must use every trick he can muster to revel it to Tova before it’s too late.

If you suspend disbelief, this is very enjoyable. It is a charming story of friendship. “Remarkably Bright Creatures” is perfect for readers who like quirky characters.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

Our Little World

by

Karen Winn, Dutton

Published

May 3, 2022

352

Pages

Book cover image for Our Little World

It is June of 1985 in Hammend, New Jersey. Bee Kocsis, 12, will soon be in the seventh grade. Her younger sister, Audrina, seems to effortlessly dazzle wherever she goes. Bee feels that her sister is their parents’ favorite.

The Bakers have just moved in across the street. Dr. Jack Baker is a trauma surgeon from Boston. Fran, his wife, is a nurse. Max is 12 and his sister, Sally, is 4.

One day, Fran takes all four children to Deer Chase Lake. Bee is swimming when Sally disappears. A massive search begins. Bee finds part of the charm bracelet Sally was wearing, but doesn’t turn it in.

When school resumes, Bee is suddenly popular because she is friends with Max and she was at the lake when Sally vanished. Sally’s disappearance is no longer in the news and people are moving on.

This coming-of-age story is about sisterhood, jealousy and family dynamics. At the beginning we are told that Audrina is not alive in the present time, but we are not immediately told how or when she died.

“Our Little World” is beautifully written and poignant. The revelation of the person who abducted Sally is shocking. This is an amazing debut novel.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

When We Fell Apart

by

Soon Wiley, Dutton

Published

April 26, 2022

368

Pages

Book cover image for When We Fell Apart

Min Ford was born to an American father and Korean mother. He grew up in California, where he always felt “too Korean” to fit in. He’s moved to Seoul in the hope that exploring his Korean heritage will help him find a sense of purpose. He’s been there for a year and a half.

Kim Yu-jin, his girlfriend, was focused, ambitious and obsessed when she was in high school. She wanted to get into a top university in Seoul and out of her small town. She got into Ewha University, which was her first choice. Yu-jin’s roommates are So-ra, a dance major, and Misaki, who is from a wealthy Japanese family.

Yu-jin’s father is a controlling and powerful government official who becomes Minister for National Defense. He tells her what she must major in at college. After graduation she must apply for the jobs he selects.

The Seoul police inform Min that Yu-jin committed suicide after taking her last university final. They’ve been dating for 10 months. She was 21. He can’t believe it. Devastated, Min throws himself into finding out why. Detective Park is investigating. Min soon suspects that he is being followed.

Yu-jin’s life was much more complex than she chose to reveal. And the more Min learns about her, the more he doubts he ever really knew her at all. Yu-jin’s chapters are told in the first person and reveals what happened. Min’s chapters are written in the third person.

This is about how people can be outsiders, even at home. It is more of a character study and a cultural exploration than a mystery. It is poignant, but is a little long in some places. The scenes of Korea are interesting. This is an impressive debut novel.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

The Children on the Hill

by

Jennifer McMahon, Gallery/Scout Press

Published

April 26, 2022

352

Pages

Book cover image for The Children on the Hill

In 2019, Lizzy Shelley, the host of the podcast Monsters Among Us, is traveling to Vermont, where Lauren Schumacher, 13, is missing. Before she disappeared, Lauren told her friends she met a legendary ghost.

Flashback to 1978. Dr. Helen Hildreth, a psychiatrist, is acclaimed for her work with the mentally ill. She is director of the hospital called The Hillside Inn in Vermont.

Her grandchildren, Violet, 13, and Vi’s younger brother, Eric, live with her since their parents died in a vehicle accident. Hildreth occasionally brings home a patient when she thinks it will help in treatment.

Then one day Hildreth brings home a child to stay with the family. Iris does not behave like a normal girl. Still, Vi is thrilled to have a new playmate who is about her age. She and Eric invite Iris to join their Monster Club, where they catalog all kinds of monsters and dream up ways to defeat them. When Iris reveals she can’t remember her past, Vi starts snooping in her grandmother’s notes to find out what is known about Iris.

The chapters alternate between times. In the present, Lizzy explains that they changed their names after something happened. At first she doesn’t say which of the girls she is. Lizzy has a degree in anthropology and psychology, and a master’s in folklore. Ten girls across the country have gone missing, always the night of a full moon. Lizzy thinks her sister is taking them.

About a quarter of the way through the novel, Julia Tetreault is introduced. She wrote about the Hildreths and the mental health center. As Vi wrote, “But you must ask yourself: Who is the real monster? The creature being made, or the one creating it?”

This was inspired by Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” but it isn’t a horror novel. There are several twists: One I saw coming and others that surprised me. The characters are well developed. The plot builds slowly and races to an amazing ending. Jennifer McMahon’s writing is excellent.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

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