Marlene’s September Book Reviews

AUDIO:

Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo. I kept thinking that I needed to stop listening to this story with so many characters that were pitiful, so full of self-doubt and self-loathing.  It was not a happy book at all!  But I couldn’t give up on a Russo novel as he is one fine writer and sure enough, he does come around and redeem his characters and give us some up-lifting final chapters. This is a sequel to Nobody’s Fool. You don’t have to read it first but pulling from my memory, I think I enjoyed Nobody’s more than this one. Russo is known for his many-faceted characters and this novel falls short with too much repetition of thoughts instead of actions.  It’s still a good read but don’t start your Russo reading with this one.  Try Empire Falls. This one started out well but was too depressing so 3.0 by the end.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingslover. While I have always loved this author’s work, this novel was disappointing.  She gives many insights into a  part of our culture that isn’t often in the forefront of knowledge but the story was too long and the words too plentiful.  It came to such an abrupt end that I was left startled!  What????  Anyway, I was glad that the female protagonist finally got her act together and stopped all her whining but maybe I should have called up more sympathy.  Wait, that’s the author’s job!  Go to her other books instead of wading though this one.  It does get preachy about environmental concerns and condescending to those of religious bent but good insight into the lives of people eeking out a living in the Appalachian region.  2.8

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.  I picked this up as TIME magazine gave it a glowing review.  It’s a two for one deal!  Murder mysteries, plethora of suspects, bounteous clues and deceptions but both the detective and the editor acting as detective reveal all and the clues fit nicely, maybe just a tad too easily.  The ending(s) are predictable and there are many references to British mystery writers and characters which those of us who are PBS Mystery fans will recognize.  It’s a long book and it seems that a lot could have been cut out without sacrificing the novel.  3.7

Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough.  Non-fiction.  Burrough gets access to the full story behind the start of the FBI and dispels with passion the myths that Hoover put forth about the inner-workings of the FBI, especially the bumbling at the beginning that Hoover didn’t want to reveal.  The author follows a range of well-known criminals (although I wasn’t familiar Machine-Gun Kelly I had heard of Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Dillinger and Ma Barker and gang) from their start in crime all the way though FBI bungling to final denouement.  Whew, this isn’t for the faint-hearted as Burrough paints a grim picture of many bloody scenes and does so it well that it is hard not to see them in your mind’s eye.  Here a lack of imagination might help. He gives a true account instead of the Hollywood version.  It’s a very interesting read (listen) 3.7

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton.  I was surprised that this was published in 2010 since the talented writer died in 2008.  It is not as in-depth as his prior novels so maybe it was an unfinished manuscript?  No matter, get ready for a bawdy pirate story, set in mid-1700s on the island of Jamaica, when pirates were known as privateers, meaning their governments gave them their blessing.   You’ll get quite a taste of several interesting characters (really, a Harvard educated pirate?), sail with the hardiest of them, through unforgiving weather and gruesome battles and wait with baited breath while threads of several scenarios play out.  Quite a tale and worth a fast read (listen).  4.0

A lonely Death by Charles Todd. This is another Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery.  This dear Inspector is haunted with WWI memories as are many of the characters in this ongoing series.  The powers that start these atrocities should be reading novels like this about the survivors of wars.  So sad and heart-wrenching.  Amidst this trauma, there is a mystery to be solved.  I have always enjoyed novels in this series and the Todds (a mother-son duo author) have a handle on character development.  I did find a couple of avenues that the book took that seemed out of place and didn’t add to the story but I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.  These authors live in USA so it is a blessing that they paint the English countryside with such a fine brush!  For mystery lovers!  4.0

BOOKS:

Spider Woman’s Daughter by Ann Hillerman.  The author’s father was the very talented writer, Tony Hillerman, and many people encouraged Ann to continue on with the series of his Navajo police characters and insights into the Navajo culture.  This is her first attempt and while enjoyable at some level, it was a bit tiresome as the Navajo culture information wasn’t woven artfully into the story and often felt more like a lecture.  The characters needed more fleshing out  and the strength of them relied on readers being already familiar from her father’s  novels.   Tony’s shoes are hard to fill and perhaps this got published because of author’s relationship and not as a hot new mystery writer, sadly!  I hope that with maturity and experience in the genre will help Ann hone her skills. 2.5

An Accidental American by Alex Carr. Ah, a book right up my alley: a good ole spy novel.  The many voices and the flashbacks against the confusing curtain of Middle East turmoil keep a steady pace but I found it tiring to decipher all that was happening. The author does give an account of the attack on the American Embassy in Beirut and the novel is a reminder of mess the Allies created in carving up the Middle East.   But I wasn’t in the mood to entangle the many webs but still enjoyed the suspense. 3.0

The Sense of Paper by Taylor Holden.  I was reading this in the same time frame as listening to Flight Behavior and the contrast is great.  I can’t believe this is a first novel as it seems the author is very familiar with how to keep the reader involved, how to develop characters and devise an engaging plot while filling the pages with wonderful prose. 4.5

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan.  Billed as a suspense mystery this first novel is well written with many beautiful descriptive phrases but after a great start, the story got a little bogged down and coincidences were too contrived to be believable.  Still, I had a hard time putting it down and I loved the puzzle Joey left for Lydia to solve.  But I couldn’t feel empathy for Lydia even with her nightmares as I could never understand why she cut off herself from the people who loved her. Since some of these characters still come now and again to my mind, I’ll have to grant the writer with more credit.  It’s not great but it’s an easy, fast read.  3.5

The Owl Always Hunts at Night by Samuel Bjork.  Whew, what a dark story!  The characters all have glaring flaws that seem to get too much attention but their portrayals kept me glued as well as the suspense of the mystery.  I found it hard to pin down Mia, who was touted as such a great investigator.  She asks a lot of questions but I didn’t see much of her “inside track to darkness” being much help until her good police work at the end, which the other investigators should have zeroed in on early in the case as well as other holes in their investigative work.  It doesn’t follow the usual excellent police procedurals I have found with other Norwegian novelists.   This is a sequel to a first in the series, which got more acclaim that this one.  Not sure I’ll pursue that one as Bjork writes a  dark, dark novel!  He does bring us characters that will grab your attention. 3.5!

Buhari – A Family Odyssey in Nepal by Linda Schuyler Horning.  Buhari is Nepalese for daughter-in-law. What a delightful read!  It’s the story of an American woman and her husband traveling to Nepal to meet their son’s bride and the trek on the Annapurna Circuit as a four-some.  Horning writes so well you are there on the scene with her:  experiencing the cultural awakening, the physical challenges as well as her facing her emotional roller coaster.  This is a happy book and the characters have only minor flaws that makes everything hunky-dory, even with the challenges.  May they all continue with their wonderful relationships as I know the author and her family.  It’s a novel but it is based on author’s experience of her son’s wedding and the ensuing trek in Nepal. 4.0

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