August Book Reviews by Marlene

improving weather(Wow! There are a lot of book review from Marlene this month. I’m lucky to have such a well read friend AND one who is willing to pass along her recommendations. Just a reminder, the green italics are Robin’s two cents worth).

A friend (thanks, A) sent me a list from his friend about great non-fiction books of last decade (Here is the list: )

I found some interesting ones:

The Fate of Africa, A History of Fifty Years of Independence  by Martin Meredith. Whew!  This is a very readable history book but oh so depressing for the fate of Africa is indeed a sad one.  Meredith leads us through many countries, many revolutions,  much violence, many dictators, many despots.  The effects of colonization and the end of colonial rule by the various European countries provide much food for thought.   There is hope when countries win their independence but, alas, most of the rebels-turned-leaders continue to rape the country of its resources for their own wealth and lead to poverty for the masses. There are no happy stories here but it does help with understanding present day Africa.  I entertained thoughts of making a chart so I could keep track of the countries and their wars, politics and dictators.  But it seems these countries pretty much followed the same script  with a few exceptions.    There are a few bright spots but they don’t shine for long.  I recommend this highly if you wish for understanding the recent history of Africa.

Another book on the list History of God by Karen Armstrong didn’t fare so well as  I had to give up and not finish it.  I was intrigued at the description of a it being a study of the three monotheistic religions throughout history and their changing “faces.”  I was particularly interested in the explanation to come about the source of fundamentalism in each of these three religions as that is what I wanted most to understand. Alas,  I could not stick with it.  It was very hard reading and seemed to be a listing of facts and opinions in prose form.   While I applaud a writer for using the exact word with the English translation, I do not like the original word’s continual use without English so that I had to keep going back to the first mention of word.  It all got to be too much for this brain.  Let me know if any of you tackle it and like it.  From me, not a recommend.

The Channings by Mrs. Henry Wood. Oh dear, this author is the very favorite of a friend but I think this is the only one I will read.  It’s a good story and an interesting mystery, well done.  But Wood is a conservative with great beliefs in the value of Christian upbringing.  I found it hard to swallow that that mode of rearing of children guarantees such model children and lack of such brings up less than wonderful people.  Yes, upbringing is certainly quite influential but I have seen too many “bent” people with good parents and marvelous people with terrible parents to subscribe to Wood’s philosophy.  The Christian rhetoric is too much for me but I do applaud her fine writing. You will feel right there in the mid 1850s! Cautious recommendation.

The Terra-Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri.  Now you know how much I love detective stories, especially irascible detectives of foreign places.  I especially enjoy Italian ones as there is always much talk about delectable food and squirrelly politics.  I don’t know who recommended this author but they have to know me!  But alas, I can’t recommend this.  I did enjoy it and I did like the detective but the plot wasn’t enough of a challenge and the story moved at a slow pace. There are too many good books out there, waiting to be read, to recommend this one. (As usual, when Marlene says a book is good, but not good enough, then I always have to read it! I have added this one to my list. Yep, I’m that oppositional!)

Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez.  I was looking forward to this biography as I love his writing.  It is easy to see where some of this ideas come from…his real life!  That was charming but desafortunadamente I had to quit after page 50.  It wasn’t keeping me interested nor moving with the usual intensity as his novels.   Maybe when I am not so snowed under with a pile of books to read, I’ll try it another time.  But for now, of course, I can’t give it a recommend. (So sad to hear this, as he is one of my favorite authors. Because this is NOT fiction, I am not going to add it to my list. But that is just me, the great n0n-fiction avoider)

Machu Picchu, Unearthing Ancient Worlds by Deborah Kops.  You can guess why this was on  my reading list. It’s book for young people but gives a good history of Machu Picchu and has great photographs that Hiram Bingham took in 1900s. Quick but concise read.  Recommend if you are heading that way or even if just interested in a quick overview of the great wonder.

The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa.  I started this book and almost put it down but since Llosa is a most respected Peruvian author I stuck with it. It is essentially a love story against a backdrop of revolutions, resistance alliances and political upheavals but the love story is the driving force of the characters.  There is the “bad girl” and the “good boy,” nicknames the two protagonists have given each other.  But as the story unfolds, we are drawn into their interactions and for a while, get caught up in the drama.  But as the story progresses the worse the “bad girl” gets the less we can understand Ricardo’s obsession.  And for him, the more he puts up with this abusive behavior, the less sympathy we have for him.  It became tiresome because we knew that even though she gets worse, he will love her anyway.   There is much to praise in this book as Llosa indeed earns his accolades but I think I’ll  have to give this a pass on a recommendation and continue with some of his others.

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin.  Here is a cool mystery with an interesting premise:  a woman trained in the Middle Ages as an “agent of death”, an expert in forensic pathology.  It is an engrossing tale, with strong character development and captivating plot.   I am not at all sure that we can rely on any of the premises as historical fact but who cares?  This is a great mystery with characters and plot that will keep you glued.  If you are a mystery fan, a high recommend!  For a good story all around, a recommend!


Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George.  Oh how we get ourselves in trouble with telling lies and keeping secrets!  We meet up with old favorites in the Inspector Lynley series with undercurrents of several social issues woven into an interesting plot.  But Lynley isn’t as likeable as in earlier in the series and I wish there were more of Havers as she is such a lively character.  I could do without Deborah and yes, I do think that if she hadn’t meddled, a tragedy could have been prevented.  Oh yes, the why of Scotland Yard in this mess is far-fetched.  There were times I thought the book was a bit too long and I just wanted Lynley and crew to solve the mystery and get on with things.  But then, new twists would show up and I was involved all over again.  It’s not the best of the series but I am still a George fan and of course, with the hook in the last chapter, I’ll have to read the next in the series.  If you are a Lynley fan, you want to continue reading about the lives of the characters but if you are not, try an earlier book in the series. A cautious recommend.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  There is no problem with a recommendation for this one….great book!  You will meet a number of interesting characters with their flaws and all.  Some will be endearing, others will break your heart when their cruelty is exposed.  But the continuing story of a blind French girl and an orphaned German teenager is very engaging. Yes, it is terribly sad to once again read about the horrors of war (World War II) but these characters and the ones who love them come together to make a story you will find hard to put down. The author brings alive the full range of reality from descriptions of events to thoughts and feelings of the characters.  Listening to it did sometimes take a minute or two where I wished I’d paid closer attention as the story shifts between the characters (that’s easy) as well as time periods (pay attention to dates).  Of course if you read it, you can always flip back! You will wish you knew some of the characters in real life instead of just in the book.  A high recommend! (No less than six people have said I need to read this one! I am on the library hold list.)



  1. Robin Rice says:

    Okay, you have me sold. I’ll go back to the thousands of books stacked around my house. I did say I was going to purge when I got home! xx Robin

  2. I had another friend comment on my review of “The Terra-Cotta Dog” and she agreed with me. It’s a shame to waste time reading a mediocre book when there are so many good ones out there.

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