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Review & Giveaway: The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Woman in the Photo
Mary Hogan

Genre: HistoricalMystery
Paperback: 432 Pages
Publication: June 14, 2016
by William Morrow

1888: Elizabeth Haberlin, of the Pittsburgh Haberlins, spends every summer with her family on a beautiful lake in an exclusive club. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains above the working class community of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the private retreat is patronized by society’s elite. Elizabeth summers with Carnegies, Mellons, and Fricks, following the rigid etiquette of her class. But Elizabeth is blessed (cursed) with a mind of her own. Case in point: her friendship with Eugene Eggar, a Johnstown steel mill worker. And when Elizabeth discovers that the club’s poorly maintained dam is about to burst and send 20 million tons of water careening down the mountain, she risks all to warn Eugene and the townspeople in the lake’s deadly shadow.

Present day: On her 18th birthday, genetic information from Lee Parker’s closed adoption is unlocked. She also sees an old photograph of a genetic relative—a 19th century woman with hair and eyes likes hers—standing in a pile of rubble from an ecological disaster next to none other than Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. Determined to identify the woman in the photo and unearth the mystery of that captured moment, Lee digs into history. Her journey takes her from California to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, from her present financial woes to her past of privilege, from the daily grind to an epic disaster. Once Lee’s heroic DNA is revealed, will she decide to forge a new fate?


Novels that intertwine past and present have the potential to build a world and help us understand how a family has come to be in the present situation. The Taste of Appleseeds by Katharina Hagena and The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende are two fantastic examples of novels that do this well. The Woman in the Photo had the potential to do the same, but the execution and writing fell short of my expectations for a literary work. That said, some readers may enjoy this novel as one to pass away the time.

Elizabeth and Lee are heroines that are catered more towards the YA crowd. They are headstrong and set in their beliefs. Elizabeth in particular is ahead of her time and defiant of the cultural norms that dictate how a young woman from a well-to-do family should act. The similarities are especially striking given how quickly the novel alternates POVs. A scene has barely started when the POV changes. It feels especially rushed in the first chapters, as if the author wants to dump all the backstory on us before jumping into the actual plot.

Frankly, most of the first fifty or so pages could have been cut or the information given to us in small chunks later. Despite all the information that was dumped on us, I didn't feel as if I got to know the heroines at all. It was as if the author had given me fifty pages of paperwork to read instead of an actual story. On top of that, the language and writing is overly simple and immature. While there are detailed descriptions of the character and settings as well as other details that I look for in historical novels, the writing wasn't done well. Mostly, it told me the facts instead of playing it out for me; as a result, the writing didn't engage me, nor did it serve to bring the world to life for me. Modern day readers who have a hard time reading historical dialogue may appreciate the simple, modern language. However, those who appreciate more historical accuracy may not enjoy this novel as much.

Past the first fifty pages, I mostly skimmed the novel. It looks like the novel gets better. I believe readers who are able to get past the drawn-out exposition will get a lot more out of this novel than I did. If you think that you'd be interested in reading this novel but aren't sure if you actually want to purchase it (and also for those who are excited to read this novel!), I have a copy to giveaway for a lucky US or Canadian winner. For more details, continue below.

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review


The Woman in the Photo
Open to the US / Canada

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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