September Book Review by Marlene

Book Reviews – Marlene was busy this month!

doorwaysNoah’s Compass by Anne Tyler.  Did you think about Noah having a compass on the ark?  No, he didn’t need one because he wasn’t going anywhere and this seems to be what is going on with Tyler’s main character.  But Tyler is a master as the subtle turn of the word, the inner feelings and directions life takes us and how interconnected we all are, especially in a family.  This is not  a page turner but a thoughtful book.  We feel for Liam, the protagonist who seems to let life happen to him and when he does take charge, things end badly. But we are rooting for him and we watch the slow maturity of this character, inch by inch (I did warn you it’s not a page turner) as he reaches the final pages, only to realize what life is all about and it continues after the last page is turned.  Or rather, the last track as I listened to this book, read admirably by Arthur Morey who seems to have zeroed in on how the characters would sound.  Yes, a recommend for a thoughtful, leisurely read.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry.  Here are these two very interesting females, hiding their intelligence from the world.  They may seem pretentious at first but they will worm their way into your heart and you begin to care for them.   While I enjoyed reading about their insights and comments on the world, the philosophical lessons from Renee’s reading and Paloma’s observation of her society, I was disappointed that the real action didn’t get started till the book was more than half over and then I couldn’t put it down.  Things just warm up and bam! the book ends.  How sad, I think there is a lot of lost potential. There are great gems of wisdom and clever humorous lines that will delight you. Although I have my disappointments, the book is still a recommend.  The writing is superb!

Presumed Guilty by Tess Gerritsen. Okay enough of those thinking novels and give us some fast moving, light reading.  It’s gets smaltzy with too predictable romantic developments but it’s an interesting and fast mystery.  While I don’t agree with the “over-the-top” ratings of “riveting, plenty of depth in both plot and characters” etc. it was a fast fun read. (Question from Robin – Is this another Rizzoli and Isles? I loved them,until I started watching the TV show. Now the characters have changed for me.)

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli.   What a powerful story!  This is a high recommend and many thanks to which ever of you recommended it to me.  This will literally transport you to the wilds of Vietnam, immerse you in the inner turmoil of photo journalists and wring you out, both emotionally and mentally.  That old question about this war and too many others, WHY? will rear its ugly head. The characters will keep you glued to the story as you trace their involvement as well as evolvement as people in a war zone.  It’s beautiful, tragic, heart-wrenching and heart-warming.  Besides all the drama you will also be enthralled with the country itself as Soli does a magnificent portrayal of the land and its people’s culture.  A must read!!!!

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.  A delightful start to a new series, set in London, after WWI where we meet the intrepid Maisie Dobbs, PI!  A woman ahead of her time and of course, parts of this are hard to fathom in that time period but what an entertaining stroll through this novel.  We are given her history that led to present state of affairs.  While the plot isn’t any great shakes, you will be enchanted with the characters.  It’s not great literature but certainly a fast, pleasurable read.

In One Person by John Irving. Irving is a master at telling a story from a unique perspective and this book may not be to everyone’s liking, even with the superb writing as it deals with explicit sexual relationships in the gay world. But it is a look at a side of life that  you may know little about and this will introduce you to that world in a “safe” environment.  I did reach a few points where I was crossing my fingers and saying “too much information” but overall it kept me going.   It’s not a climactic ending but a series of endings throughout the book. The section on the Aids epidemic is treated well and again adds to knowledge about a subject I know little about. This is also a book of humor as some of the characters and situations in the story will make you chuckle. You can just “see” the scenes unfolding.  You will come to care about the characters although there are puzzling parts. A recommend?  With caution, as I said because the subject matter may not piqué your  interest but the writing is wonderful and I did care that the characters would make it to a satisfied life.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton.  Here is a story within a story and both will keep you motivated to learn the outcome. It’s a clever device that builds suspense while just telling a good yarn.  It’s an Upstairs/Downstairs novel, set in England between the two world wars, while the story opens in 1999. Grace, the main character will endear herself to you as she unfolds the secrets of the past while dealing with the present. Character development is well-done as well as talented writing. It is hard to believe it’s a first novel and thus, we’ll be looking for her second. A recommend. (Marlene, she has a bunch of books now! I read them all)

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This is not my usual fare and almost gave up once I realized it was going to be a vampire story. But I was on a trip with only this audio so I carried on. The premise is interesting, the characters are developed well and although I really wasn’t interested in whether or not Dracula was going to be found, I did find the premise of historians on the hunt intriguing. A cautious recommend.  If you are into the vampire cult, you will thoroughly enjoy this different approach.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I thought it was well written giving great insight into an immigrant’s overwhelming and scary introduction to American culture, especially the idea of being “black”.  “I came from a country where race was not an issue, I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.” Her main character’s blogs on being non-American black compared to American black give many a thought-provoking episode on racism as well as characters’ time spent as ex-pats. There is much to contemplate in this book and I was totally immersed as the story traveled along until the ending. I am not sure how else it could be resolved but I think that is the weakest part of the story, but the ride there was great!  It is worth a read as Adichie knows well how to bring forth explorations on inequality, whether it be by race or gender.  A recommend.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  What a delightful visit to this unusual bookstore. And the intriguing secrets it holds. A 500-year-old cult hanging on to old ways meets modern technology (yes, Google is a major player) at warp speed. You’ll adore the players and get caught up in the chase to a solution. It will stretch your credibility but what a romp!  A fast, charming tale. Yes, a recommend.

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien.  It is the mark of a good author if he/she can put the reader into the place and time seamlessly. Oops, that works too well here and I had to stop reading when it got to describing the events around the My Lai Massacre. O’Brien has received many kudos for his writing but I could not handle this. I know, I’m a wimp, but there it is. Too much carnage, too much sorrow, so much unnecessary acts.  It is a novel but he includes descriptions that we know must be true and it is too horrible to imagine. I also had the distinct feeling, early on, that we were never going to know what happened to Kathy and so that just made it easier to put down. What we do to our young men and women by sending them into war is criminal.  This is another example of the disaster we make of their lives when they return.

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