December 2020 Book Reviews

The Spy by Paulo Coelho.  This one was recommended by Marlene, by avid reader friend! It was a short look into the life of Mata Hari, told in the form of a letter written just before she was executed. I have to look up her story now, but supposedly this interpretation is historically accurate. It was a quick read, nothing super engaging, so I’m rating it 3.5.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. Next in my binge, and yes, I loved this one too! McCann is the master of weaving stories together, across time, across people, across continents. From 1845 to 2011, the stories of aviators, Irish maids, Frederick Douglass, all woven together to tell a tale with the underlying theme of freedom. Rate: 4.0

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner. I like to read this author when I don’t have to think hard…it’s pretty typical women’s fiction…this one a bit interesting because it updated my knowledge of “influencers”….timely when I’m frustrated and ready to give up on any social media…any way the story is about Daphne Berg, plus-size influencer, and her on-again-off-again friendship with rich girl who’s mean…you get the drift. A fast, no brainer read. Rate: 3.5

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Things by Colum McCann. This series of short stories was a good read, although I wouldn’t rank it up with the other binge books I have reviewed. I had to search to see if other folks were as frustrated with me at certain aspects of a story, but I’m not going to go into detail because it’s a definite spoiler. Quick little taste of how his amazing mind works and it’s worth going on line and reading his “Victim Statement” about what happened to him to stimulate writing these stories. Rate: 3.5

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. A fable, really. This was a good book, but the story he rights in his introduction is enlightening. The book didn’t sell, wasn’t noticed, until celebrities started reading it…then suddenly, it took off. There is a lot of philosophy of life in a easy form…but it is what it is…a kind of guide fable for life, not a true “plot”….Rate: 3.5

Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles. Her book “News of the World” is one of my favorites and this story didn’t disappoint either. I feel that her research is good, and she moves beyond history into the true day to day life of the characters in her stories. It’s March of 1865 and the Civil War is winding down. Conscripted soldiers from both sides find things in common (music) and travel together to Galveston, Texas. The difficulties they face are well presented in this story…with no preaching, long explanations, or those things that often frustrate me in historic fiction. Jiles simply tells a story that puts you there and you discover history by living with the characters. Rate: 4.2

Dancer by Colum McCann. This was my least favorite of this author’s books, on which I have been binging during the pandemic. The first have was good, the story of renowned Russian dancer, Rudi Nureyev, unfolding in a bit of an usual writing style. McCann jumps from character to character in sections, with no clear transition. I didn’t mind this and I liked seeing things through a variety of eyes. The story also contained the free association of characters, so that lists and ideas came rapidly. I liked that too. But somewhere around the middle the book was just sluggish to me. The story wasn’t moving anywhere and I felt like I really didn’t need to read one more scene about the parties and the wild life of not only Nureyev, but other well known people of the time. Rate: 3.0

Key for my personal rating system:

5.0 – A book I will never forget, will quote, will tell everyone I know they MUST read it.

4.0 – An excellent book, but doesn’t quite make the best books of all time list.

3.0 – A recommendation, good read, decently written

2.0 – Some redeeming qualities, I finished it, but I’m not likely to seek out more by the author

1.0 – Don’t waste your time.