Marlene’s January Book Reviews

Two books for the American history buffs: The Signers of the Constitution by Robert G. FerrisJames H. Charleton: a short glimpse at the make-up of the 39 personalities that signed the final document of our constitution.  Given the background, loyalties and attitudes, it is indeed a miracle that the document got written let alone signed. Now read Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits and the Struggle for the Constitution by Lawrence Goldstone for the details of the  nitty-gritty negotiations, compromises and heated debates that went on while these delegates hammered out the wording of that revered and reviled but long-lasting document that has been our backbone!  The Constitution is a shining example of pragmatic compromise for the sake of a union.  You will gain a new appreciation of the “Founding Fathers” and learn of lesser-known men who were instrumental in forming the final document while also viewing their shortcomings.  We have succeeded in getting rid of slavery but regionalism, states sovereignty and financial ambitions of politicians are still forefront  A. RECOMMEND for both.

HHhH by Laurent Binet.  Here is a novel and clever format: the author is telling you a story but he talks to you along the way about his own observations and inventions. It is basically the story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrick, “The Butcher of Prague” who launched too many tragic plans of the Holocaust and was one of the architects of The Final Solution.  It can be hard reading but the interspersed comments relieve the tension as Binet grapples with his attempt to find a way to tell the story so that the characters come to life.  Strangely I was jolted at times and forced to remember the author is male as there were distinctly sections that presented women’s points of view   While the history will keep you reading, it is the author’s story that makes this A RECOMMEND

The Book of Speculation by Ericka Swyler.   The family saga is told in two voices and very cleverly carried out.  Simon, the present day voice tells his story while Amos, the voice of a prior generation is told in the third person. This works well and you pass between the worlds as the family curse is revealed.  Oh you will have to suspend credibility while immersed between the pages of this book, but no matter.  The characters are charming and you begin to care what happens to them. You’ll visit behind the scenes of a circus but also become intimate with the feelings one can have for water.  A dilemma: Yes, let’s get this resolved but oh my, I don’t want the book to end!  This is a first novel and the writing so impressive, I can’t wait for her next one. A RECOMMEND

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman.  This guy can write.  I laughed myself silly with his first book A Man Called Ove and alternated between laughter and tears with his second My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. With this one, I had more tears.  It is a beautiful story of a 60-year old discovering she counts.  There are parts that will make you smile as Backman can describe a scene so well you feel yourself there. If you are a fan of soccer, you will be even more in tune with the story.  But there were many places I was brought to tears for the tender and sad times.  I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t stop rooting for Britt-Marie.  A RECOMMEND

Voice of the Violin by Andre Camilleri.  After reading the heavy books I already plowed through this month and a depressing election day, I needed to leave reality and the country so enjoyed a lovely time with one of my favorite inspector, Montalbano of Sicily.  You’ll not only enjoy his sense of humor and quickness of mind but his love of food that will drive you to crave some good Italian food.  It’s not a block buster but a fun read, clever plot and of course, an engaging character.  RECOMMEND for mystery lovers.

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith.  Here is another delightful week in the life of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in Botswana. There are no fast-paced, intense mysteries but rather a pleasant visit with some interesting characters. It is light reading and a rather refreshing break from the tension of our politics this month.  A RECOMMEND

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  Thanks SIL for this book!  I loved it and didn’t finish it in any sitting as I’d fall asleep.  You might call it a coming-of-age book but it is a tender love story that shows us the many kinds of love in the world.  Brunt does such a marvelous job with her character development that you want these people in your life.  I am getting emotional just writing this. This story is set in the mid-80s when AIDS came to the forefront but about which we knew so little. The narrator is superb as she grapples with life’s tragedies and rewards.  There are times when you want to throw the book at some of the characters’ behavior but that is another indication about how well Brunt write.  This is a first novel and I look forward to more from her.  A RECOMMEND

The Sound of Glass by Karen White.  When you are in charge of writing the story, you get to make things work your way, even if a bit of a stretch for your readers.  Do you believe in coincidences?  Was there a mastermind between all these lives intersecting with people in the right places to help those that needed help?  Okay, put that aside and enjoy a good yarn.  It deals with domestic violence at its core but with a few other heavy issues thrown in. I liked the character development but had to keep re-adjusting how I first pictured them from first introduction to later revelations about their personalities.  The art of the author is to have her character live and change through a story and White is an expert at that.  Also, she can bring forth the richness of the South Carolina coastline to make you want to get up and go experience the place and the culture.  It can get a bit smaltzy and predictable but a delightful read.  A RECOMMEND


The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, read  by Mark Deakins.  I can’t make up my mind about this.  At first I was a bit turned off by it being a post apocalyptic book but The Road was excellent so I gave this one a try.  I did become enticed to figure out how they coped and where this story would lead.  Unfortunately it doesn’t lead to any plot line and character development was weak.  And  I became tired of his repeated enthrallment with the perfect woman.  But it gets wrapped up to a sort-of end (make up your own, in fact) and family is redefined and life is good (well, sort of). It’s a stream-of-conscience story-telling and it can be jarring when you learn what was said was only thought.  Many readers  were critical of this kind of mishmash of our language but listening to the performance of Mark Deakins flowed over the disjointed prose. The book has won awards and many fans but after all my thoughts while summarizing I can’t recommend.  So I cop out and It’s an ON YOUR OWN. Apologies!  (PS The Road is a RECOMMEND).

The English Spy by Daniel Silva.  As you know by now, I like spy novels but I was disappointed in this one.  Oh there is the usual hunt of the bad guy, plenty of gore and dead bodies and references to prior books in the series.  This is the first I have read of the Gabriel Allon and sadly, I won’t be pursuing others.  The majority of the book deals with spies who are out for vengeance and seemingly the others are ones who can be trusted with the hunt.   Then towards the end of a long drawn out chase,  the bad guy gets away! After all that!  Oh wait, it’s not over until we cram in a finale in the last chapter or so.  Bah, a waste of time. This is supposedly a modern day novel but other than the nod to cellular phones, it could have been a good read during the cold war when so much of this was new to us.  Now it’s old hat and boring.  It’s time for Silva to retire his spy and find another approach to story-telling.  NOT A RECOMMEND

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian.   Another Bohjalian book to read.  The story swings from war-torn Italy, overrun with Nazis and Fascists to current murders ten years later in Rome.  There is a love story, a tragedy and a mystery.  But with so many characters, some depth goes missing.  But Bohjalian is an excellent writer and he brings you along all the paths, keeping our interest is how this will all work out.  A RECOMMEND

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty.  Whew!  What a ride of emotions!  Moriarty is great with character development and pulls you into the fray with the ups and downs of love, marriage, friendship, parenthood, careers, neighbors, age, mental health. Get the idea? Do people actually live with all this?  Moriarity likes to entice you with the aftermath of some life-changing event but you have to wait for it.  At some point, I looked at the amount of CDs to go and thought, Dammit, get to the BBQ!  Then we learn what happens but oh no, she is not going to let it go then and you are grabbed time and again as the story continues. The real mystery is who of all these characters or relationships is going to survive in the aftermath.  Moriarty is a clever writer and her technique here works most of the time but it is a long wait that is too often filled with useless information.  But it is hard not to want to keep reading to see if the characters are going to sink or swim! With the caution of the long wait until the BBQ, A CAUTIOUS RECOMMEND