Hauntingly Beautiful

4.5 stars rounded up to 5. Only the Beautiful is a poignant historical novel set during the 1930s and 1940s that masterfully intertwines the lives of two remarkable women. The story begins in 1938 with sixteen-year-old Rosanne, whose life is shattered by the tragic deaths of her parents and brother in a car accident. Taken in by the owners of the vineyard where she has lived her entire life, Rosanne soon uncovers a dark secret about her new guardians. The narrative then shifts to 1947 Austria, where Helen Calvert witnesses Adolf Hitler’s ruthless pursuit of racial purity. Upon returning to her brother’s vineyard in California, Helen unravels the mystery of […]

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The Traitor Beside Her

This book had potential but ultimately fell short of expectations. Set in 1944, it follows 21-year-old Justine Byrne, who is recruited by US Army Intelligence, to work at Arlington Hall, a code-breaking facility to uncover a traitor. Initially, the premise promised a gripping WWII espionage thriller. Unfortunately, the execution didn’t live up to that promise. The pacing was inconsistent, with the plot dragging in places where it should have been tense and thrilling. The characters, especially Justine, lacked depth and development. Though portrayed as an intelligent woman, she came across as flat and one-dimensional. The historical setting was well-researched, but it often overshadowed the plot. The repetition of words throughout […]

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A Stirring Historical Mystery

Clark and Division by Edgar Award-winner Naomi Hirahara brings readers into the poignant struggles of a Japanese American family in 1944 Chicago. After spending two years in the Manzanar internment camp, twenty-year-old Aki Ito and her family face another blow—the mysterious death of Aki’s sister, Rose, ruled a suicide by police. Convinced of foul play, Aki is determined to uncover the truth, thrusting us into a tale woven with historical intricacies and the harsh realities of racism and displacement faced by Japanese Americans during and after World War II. Hirahara’s portrayal of 1940s Chicago is rich in historical detail, offering a vivid backdrop to the personal and communal challenges Aki […]

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Science Novel Critique

Her Hidden Genius by Marie Benedict tells the story of Rosalind Franklin, an unsung hero of science who braved the storm of gender bias to map the structure of DNA, despite constant harassment and undermining in the late 1940s and 1950s. As an X-ray crystallographer, Franklin battled not only the complexities of scientific discovery but also the demeaning attitudes of her male colleagues in academia. Despite her pivotal contributions, the theft of her work shadowed her achievements by other scientists who later won a Nobel Prize. Benedict, who has a knack for bringing the stories of overlooked women in history to light, paints Franklin as a tenacious and intelligent trailblazer. […]

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Haunting Mysteries and Historical Intrigue

“Right— we’re the good Orientals now. But I still can’t buy a house outside Chinatown. That’s ‘all men are created equal’ for you.”—Amy Chua, The Golden Gate. In 1944 Berkeley, California, presidential hopeful Walter Wilkinson is found dead in his room at the Claremont Hotel, launching an investigation by Homicide Detective Al Sullivan. Early evidence points to the three granddaughters of wealthy socialite Genevieve Hopkins Bainbridge and links to the 1930 murder of 7-year-old Iris Stafford, rumored to haunt the hotel. The Golden Gate, written by Yale law professor Amy Chua, is an old-fashioned detective novel rich with California history and real-life figures. The story alternates between Genevieve’s deposition and […]

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The Echo of Old Books

Bookbinder and rare-book dealer Ashlyn Greer’s affinity for books extends beyond the intoxicating scent of old paper, ink, and leather. She has a unique gift for sensing the emotions of a book’s previous owners. She is intrigued when a man named Ethan Hillard donates a pair of books to the store. Both are bound in a similar fashion, but there is no author information or publisher data. Her gift becomes an obsession. As Ashlyn researches the mystery of these books, she uncovers a decades-old romance between two authors. Hemi and Belle’s conflicting accounts reveal a tragic love story shaped by political agendas and social dynamics. (I couldn’t help thinking how […]

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Mastering the Art of French Murder

Tabitha Knight arrives from Detroit for an extended stay with her French grandfather. Thanks to her neighbor and friend Julia Child, she is learning how to cook for her Grandpère and Oncle Rafe. The night after Child’s sister, Dort, hosts a party at Child’s apartment, a guest named Thérèse Lognon is discovered dead in the basement. The murder weapon is a knife from Julia’s kitchen. When Inspector Merveille reveals that a note, in Tabitha’s handwriting, was found in the dead woman’s pocket, Tabitha conducts her own investigation to find the actual killer before she or one of her friends ends up in prison. Much to the inspector’s consternation, Tabitha gathers […]

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Go as a River

“Just as a single rainstorm can erode the banks and change the course of a river, so can a single circumstance of a girl’s life erase who she was before.” Shelley Read, Go as a River. At the tender age of twelve, Victoria Nash finds herself thrust into a world of loss and responsibility. Her mother, aunt, and cherished cousin tragically die in an auto accident, leaving Torie to shoulder the household duties for her father, angry brother, and an embittered war-wounded uncle confined to a wheelchair. They live on a flourishing peach farm nestled in the very real town of Iola, Colorado, near the serene Gunnison River. Torie’s existence […]

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September 2022 Picks and Pans

No five-star reads this month, but The Happiest Man on Earth was definitely life-changing. I gave one novel a 2-star rating, which is rare for me. I read two books set in the Philippines, which is totally random. I’ll be curious to hear what you have to say. Circle back to Facebook and let me know!   The Happiest Man on Earth By Eddie Jaku “Life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It is up to you.” Eddie Jaku, The Happiest Man on Earth. In this uplifting memoir in the vein of The Last Lecture and Man’s Search for Meaning, a Holocaust survivor pays tribute to those who […]

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