Marlene’s June Book Reviews

IMG_4558The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama.  I have previously reviewed two other books by this author and this one is the best so far!  It is a gentle story of a melding of cultures and emotion-laden scenes done beautifully.  There are indeed some very sad and tragic parts to the story but you, too, will be calmed by a visit to the samurai’s garden.  Tsukiyama develops her characters so well you feel you could sit down with them over a cup of tea and feel at home.  The evidence of unconditional love permeates the story and carries the burden of our imperfections.  It is a wonderful story that will stay with you, even though there are many clichés in the book, some of them still ring true.  A RECOMMEND

Betrayal  by Karin Alvtegen.  Well, this month seems to be old home week as I review yet another author who has previously appeared in my reviews.  And this physiological thriller was very difficult to put down as you follow along on the demented lives of the characters.  There doesn’t seem to be a redeeming soul among them (other than the grandparents and the kid) and the undercurrent of betrayal flows through the lives of people you don’t want to know.  It will reaffirm the value of good communication in relationships but don’t expect to be feel warm and fuzzy after a read of this dark novel but this Scandinavian writer knows how to write.  A RECOMMEND

Open Season by C.J. Box.  I have to admit that I am glad that I had read a later Joe Pickett novel as this one might have turned me off.  This writer has definitely matured as a writer as later books in this series are much better, both in characterization and plot.  There is a bit too much transparency and predictability in this one and Pickett comes across rather weak for a hero.  Yes it is okay to be human and flawed but fortunately, the later Pickett also has matured it seems.  This is a good introduction to the series but don’t give up on the author is this is your first read.  A CAUTIOUS RECOMMEND

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante.  This is the second in the Neapolitan novels (see review of first April 2016).  Again, Ferrante uses her considerable talent to invite us along as these neighbor pals grown in young adulthood.  Their paths diverge and then come together again, giving us the angst of adolescence, the pain of dealing with violence and petty jealousies and the trauma of young love all set in the aftermath of WWII principally in Naples. These are strong characters but there are many so this book has a helpful index of characters but there are some that become indelible on your mind. You may not like the characters but Ferrante tells their story with such deep felt emotions it is hard not to want to know about them and the on and off again relationships. It was difficult to put down and only closed the book when it hit me on the nose.  A RECOMMEND

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.  It is an interesting story concept and structure but I found myself thinking it was a fairy tale pretending to be a real-life drama.  The novel switches between California and Mumbai, India, between mother, the daughter and other family members.  I was intrigued at the beginning but oh my, it became so predictable and a bit preachy.   As  woman without children I don’t like being told I am not fulfilled as a woman. Oh yes, career concerns are mixed up in there but it was just too contrived and definitely too saccharine for my taste to recommend the book.  I did like the descriptions of Indian culture and family life but even that was a bit too much.  So many problems and conflicts resolved so easily!  The Indian family was too perfect.  I don’t think there is a family on earth that runs so smoothly but have I become jaded in my old age?  This is a first novel so I have hopes for the author’s maturity but for now: NOT A RECOMMEND

The Empty Chair by Jeffrey Deaver.  I have enjoyed previous Lincoln Rhyme detective novels so was looking forward to this one.  However, it falls short and I only read to the end because it was a full day of traveling. Deaver’s tactic of cliff-hangers at the end of the chapter, complete switch to different topic with next chapter and then a flashback to tell you what really happened was very tiresome.  The suspense in this thriller was spoiled with this too-oft repeated structure and incredible time sequences detracted from what suspense was present.  The Bone Collector is the best in this series so read that one if you want to get in on this unlikely pair of investigators.  But the plot here is weak, some of the many characters are flat and the ending very disappointing.  NOT A RECOMMEND.

The Stranger by Harlan Coben. Right, this is “#1 New York Times Bestseller” but I am not going to waste many words on this one.  Flimsy plot, poor character development and disappointing ending.  What a waste of time. I have read other Coben novels that make it hard to believe he wrote this one. NOT A  RECOMMEND.


The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie.  This is excellently read by Firdous Bamji.  This will be an adventuresome ride through the days of the Mughal Empire of India to the streets of Florence, Italy, although the descriptions of the Mughal empire outshines all else. It is a fairy tale with historical reference that become enchanting as the princess.  It might prove quite a challenge to keep the names and characters in their proper places but overall the important ones will hold well in the narrative.  It is a sweeping story that demands attention while listening but the traveler will charm you also with his tale.  Take a leap and enjoy the ride with another outstanding novel by this writer.   A RECOMMEND

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane.  This is quite an epic story with 20 CDs, read well by Michael Boatman with his many accents!   This takes place in Boston after WWI and follows the story of two families:  one white and one black and of course, their paths have to cross.  There is a ton of history in here (maybe too much crammed in) but listening to the hate pouring out of the characters, the cruel and merciless treatment of our fellow human beings and the misguided and harmful actions of politicians and those in power were sometimes very hard to take. Oh I know that life is not fair and people haven’t learned from their mistakes, that compassion and tolerance are still in short supply and that politicians haven’t changed all that much but it was hard to hear it over and over. This isn’t quite as epic or colossal as those of Uris, Follet or Michener but is a captivating book with Lehane’s gift of painting the Boston scene at that time period.  Still A RECOMMEND

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova.  Wow!  This is an in-depth look at Huntington’s disease and it is heart-wrenching to see the effects on a family.  You will have a greater understanding of this disease.  The novel part gives some different views on how people deal with it but I got a mite tired with the Katie character and her endless worst-case-scenarios.  Joe, the Boston cop seems a bit too good to be true but I guess there are strong souls like his.  Overall it was a good read especially as I didn’t know a lot about the disease and a good friend of a good friend was just diagnosed.  The family part was interesting too as I think that Genova as a neurosurgeon must have come across families like this one. It’s not on the top of my recommendation but still  A RECOMMEND  Note, Genova is the author of Still Alice, a beautiful and informative story about Alzheimer’s.

The Last Oracle by James Rollins. Here’s a merry ride of thriller that will have you glued to the pages (or CDs as the case may be).  You will have to suspend credibility a few times but it is worth the ride even though it is a superfluous novel.  There are tidbits of history tucked into the fast-paced novel of the good guys versus the bad guys. I especially liked the treatment of Romas but can’t find out if it is true history.  Oh yes, some of it far-fetched but enjoy the escape into a different spectrum of reality. This is third in a series about the secret Sigma group but is a stand-alone as I wasn’t aware of it being a continuation of another book.  It will not be everyone’s cup of tea but I enjoyed the ride.  It kept from thinking too much about all the daffodils I had to dig up!  A RECOMMEND for certain readers.

The Litigators by John Grisham. Wow, a likeable, ethical lawyer that you want to even root for!  Here’s a good story about litigators, those tort lawyers who go after the multi-million lawsuits against large corporations.  But it has its quirky lawyers too that make the story more interesting. Grisham does a good job of zeroing in on the personalities of his characters so that you have to like ‘em, admire  but don’t like them or just shake your head at the ambulance chasers.  It’s a legal thriller that will make you chuckle but you won’t be hanging onto the edge of your seat as you might have been with earlier Grisham court dramas as the handwriting is on the wall but it is entertaining.  Have fun!  A RECOMMEND.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.  Another author revisited this month.  Remind me never to move to this town and be a Kindergarten mom!  You will be introduced to a cast of characters that will worm their way into your heart as well as some that will have you tearing out your hair in wishing to shout at them and tell them to grow up!  It is a mystery about a murder.  As you become engrossed into the lives of these characters you keep hoping for an outcome you will be okay with.  Oh please, not her, you will say!  There were times that the listening got tedious with the small-mindedness of some of the characters but it is well worth plowing though as other characters will become dear.  But I can bet you will be screaming too at the unfairness of it all!  Okay, I am going on too long here.  Moriarty shows us again what a fine writer she is so of course this is A RECOMMEND.


“Dope”  (Thanks to P for recommendation) A well done film with an intriguing mix of the non-stereotypes with tried and true gangsters.  You will be rooting for the darling teenagers and marvel at the cleverness of the plot. The casting is perfect!  You might get a bit lost with the hip-hop and 90s reference but overall a good evening’s entertainment.  High-schoolers as well as those into hip-hop would love it!  A RECOMMEND

“Brooklyn”  This film is worth seeing just for the performance of Saoirse Ronan who superbly transforms from young, naïve Irish girl to a confident young woman.  There were times I thought I was watching a Hallmark performance   The treatment of homesickness is brilliant and will touch many a heart.  How love can anchor you or throw you for a loop is played well and tenderly.  There are many touching quotes that will stay a while with the viewer.  It can be slow at times but overall well worth time spent viewing.  A RECOMMEND

“Mr. Turner”  We watched a preview of this movie about the renowned English painter, J.M.W. Turner but were profoundly disappointed in the film.  It’s possible the gruff, scowling artist was this same way but it was next to impossible to follow the dialogue in many scenes.  I have to say the only redeeming thing about the movie was that cinematographer gets high marks for making the scenery in the film so representative of the artist’s canvases.  Beautiful  but alas, not enough to spend your time on watching this wreck of a film  NOT A RECOMMEND

Happy reading, listening and viewing!



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