Thursday, August 25, 2016
The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan
The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan is a contemporary/historical novel in which a modern-day adoptee in a closed adoption, Lee Parker, searches for clues to her ancestry while in 1889, Elizabeth Halberlin vacations with her wealthy family at a lake above Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Their two stories are mostly told via alternating chapters, although that pattern is broken a bit toward the end.
I was quickly swept into The Woman in the Photo. The parallel storytelling concept is one that I think has been overdone in recent years and I will sometimes take a break from that particular type of book, but I always return. I don't mind the shifts back and forth; I just find that I tend to prefer one storyline over the other and end up wishing the author had focused on my favorite. I did enjoy the historical storyline more than the present-day storyline, but I also thought the intertwining stories were both well told and wrapped up nicely, if predictably. The Woman in the Photo sucked me in so thoroughly that I didn't give much thought to its minor flaws while I was reading, so I'm just being picky upon reflection.
The historical time and place will ring a bell for those who familiar with the Johnstown Flood -- a devastating flood caused by the collapse of a dam. I read about the Johnstown Flood in Reader's Digest when I was young. Like the story of WWII that first captured my interest, I'm pretty sure it was a "Drama in Real Life", one of Reader's Digest's regular features. I've read a little bit more about the flood, since then, but not a lot. So, much of what I learned about the flood was new to me and I was completely unaware of its cause, the wealthy people who lived on the lake having dammed its spillway to prevent the fish they stocked from going downstream (not a spoiler, since Elizabeth mentions it at the beginning of the book). That and some other details about the flood made it an especially gripping and fascinating read.
Highly recommended - The connection between the historical and contemporary characters is obvious, the romances they both experience predictable, and there were a few minor plot points that I thought were just unnecessary and weird, but none of those things mattered at all to me while I was reading. I thought the prose was very good, I cared about the characters, and the choice of the Johnstown Flood as the historical setting made the story a unique one. I raced through The Woman in the Photo and enjoyed every minute. Five great books in a single week and a book festival combined to knock my reading slump on its knees, so I'll definitely remember The Woman in the Photo fondly for its role in breaking my slump, as well.
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