Marlene’s Final Review

Hello dear followers, some of you for years!  This will be my last monthly review but I will do a yearly email with the “Best of the Year”.  This is a magical year for me as I turn 75 this month and I promised myself to revamp my use of time so I will be downsizing my “projects” and this is one of them.  I have enjoyed writing this and especially receiving recommends from you.   It’s been a fun ride!

Books:

A Cup of Friendship by Deborah Rodriguez.  (Now published under the title The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul) This book received lots of kudos for the content:  an American with a coffee shop in Kabul, Afghanistan where many different cultures clash as well as work things out together.  It seemed “preachy” at times as I thought that some conversations were solely to put her viewpoint out there, although it must be recognized that the author DID live there.  There are some interesting characters, some believable and others not so much. Am I such a cynic that I don’t believe that love can change a person so quickly?  I was just discussing with a former Peace Corps volunteer the dilemma of a foreigner living/working in a foreign country:  what are the habits, thoughts, viewpoints that you should be working to change and what are the things you should honor in their culture.  That is a good question to hold in your head as you read this novel.  I liked the strength of many characters, the loyalty to friendships that was evident and the deft descriptions of life in this interesting but oh so different culture. 4.0

Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh.  A powerful story of a woman who returns to Kenya when it is in the throes of political turmoil with the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950’s.  She left as a young girl and returns to find her place once again on the farm in a remote area only to find that is also in turmoil, although more subtly.  Her own inner conflicts among these backgrounds keep you glued to the pages.  McVeigh writes about Kenya with love and transports you there with clarity while pulling at your heartstrings.   It’s an historical fiction that moves me to learn more of the history and also to read more fiction by this writer.  I do offer a warning as some of the violence is very graphically described.  That said, it is a good read! 4.5

Irish Gilt by Ralph McInerny.  This author has written a plethora of novels based around his beloved Notre Dame University and this is the 9th in the series with the Knight brothers, private investigators.  Because I am jumping in at this stage, there seemed to be too many characters to allow depth to be developed or enticement to become involved in them.  A reader of the series from the beginning may already be comfortable with the main characters and so this book may have garnered higher praise.  For me, it was an okay mystery, too many characters as I mentioned but there was a great “walk” around the university and interesting lore presented.  Frankly, I was looking forward to finding another mystery series to invest in but alas, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more in this series, unless of course, I am desperate. 2.8.

Hiddensee, A Tale of the one and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire.  Here is the author of the delighted Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, an author who delights in taking classical tales and developing a different reality rooted in the fantasy world.  It is not everyone’s cup of tea and although Wicked remains my favorite, I did enjoy this one, even with the flavor of the noir genre.  There are slow parts and some scenes that don’t seem to move the story on or add to the development of the character but still the story kept me reading and cheering on poor Dirk, the creator of the nutcracker. 4.0 (I’m excited about this one…I love this author and didn’t know he had a new story out! Robin)

Murder in Saint-Germain by Cara Black  This is one of series about Aimée Leduc, private detective, set in Paris.  I have read one other in the series so was tempted to try another one.  I only finished it because I had it with me on vacation.  I was not happy with the Leduc personality as she didn’t act as smart as she was supposed to be. I was continually saying “oh get real!”  We heard more of her thoughts on fashion than deductive reasoning.  We are beaten over the head about her single parent-hood so that’s gets tiring.  The author does a fine job of presenting the environment but the use of French seemed to be pretentious rather than natural.  I don’t mind foreign words being used as long as they are in the flow of the narrative.  The series and this one in particular get high praise but I was disappointed.  I wanted a strong, intelligent protagonist. 2.5

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. A delightful, fanciful and thoroughly engrossing story to life your spirits. It’s marked at a Juvenile book for middle graders but I think it’s like the Harry Potter books: good for everyone!   You will be captivated by the charming characters, boo the unsavory ones and cheer on the brave   Fantasy is not my usual genre of choice but I LOVED this book.   Barnhill weaves several threads of plot lines into a beautiful tapestry.  The prose is wonderful and you’ll be taken to this lovely place and of course best of all, it has a happy ending!  With current events, we need to escape and feel good! Naturally I have to add that it’s the journey not the destination!  Don’t be bashful being found with a J book!   5.0

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. Ah, another teenager that has captured my heart.  This delightful young man tells a compelling story of love, friendship and loyalty.  It has its share of bullies and crazies (some of these are loveable, too!).  The prose is outstanding and captivating.  For example: “Order and chaos are slippery concepts.  They’re like a set of twins who like to swap clothing from time to time.”  Fans of Kurt Vonnegut will be happy with the many quotes and conversations about his work.  This was such a delight that it’s the best of the month!  4.9

Transatlantic by Colum McCann.  The story travels through the decades, amidst several families,  and across the Atlantic several times to finally be pulled together.  This author is a master of words.  He doesn’t use long sentences because he can write just a few words and the scene, feeling or concept pops forth. There were so many instances that made me want to think ” Wish I’d said that!” It’s not strong on plot but rich in detailing how war/violence affects us and how these women dealt with it.   You could just read it for the prose but you’ll enjoy the story line, too and how it all is connected. 4.8

Audio:

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve. Usually I sing the praises for an Anita Shreve novel but I am not singing so vociferously on this one.  I found the characters weak, whose actions seems completely incompatible with reasonable adult behavior.  Sydney does a lot of whining and although she is supposedly “moving on and forward” I found her shallow.  The relationship between her and Jeff seems weird and the surprise ending too. Judge for yourself. If you are a fan of Shreve, you will probably enjoy this one.  She does an excellent job of taking you to a place that will come alive in your reading.  If you are new to this author,  choose one of her other books such as The Pilot’s Wife or Sea Glass. 3.5

The Woman in Cabin 10  by Ruth Ware.  Now just what exactly is going on?  Can we care about the protagonist with her alcohol/anxiety and lack of common sense?  It’s an okay plotline with some sense of a thriller until the obvious becomes, well, obvious.  I would rather have had a stronger female lead, at least someone who deserved her employment and had her act together.  But I was entertained.  A fast, easy read. 3.5

I was lucky with so many good reads this month and they were all recommends from friends.  Thank you!!!

May many good books come your way!

Marlene

Ratings: 1-5,

5 = must read

4= good read worth your time,  but not a blockbuster

3=it’s not great, but it’s not bad, cautious recommend

2= some merit but only if you have nothing else to read

1=don’t bother