December Book Reviews by Marlene


Yes, she’s back! With plenty of audio book reviews from her long road trip.




The Piano Player by Carolyn Niethammer.  It is always enjoyable to read about places you know or have visited but added pleasure is when the story is written by a personal friend.  Carolyn is already an accomplished writer with many non-fiction books under her belt but this is her first foray into fiction and I hope she continues with more novels!   Feisty, independent, intelligent Frisco Rose relates via her journal the many adventures, mishaps and challenges she faces as she travels around the west (think 1880s Tombstone, Mexican jail, Klondike gold rush, and many more!!). The research behind the story is a real plus as you learn some history along the way as well as a glimpse of what life was like in our Wild West.  We also meet up with another strong female character in the colorful Nellie Cashman, a women of many talents.  These two women are well ahead of their time and admiration grows for their struggles as you go on this enjoyable ride with them.  Go for it!  You can purchase the book on Amazon but go here to read more about Carolyn:

Life in a Jar, The Irene Sendler Project, by Jack Mayer.  Have you heard of the ZIP program? Our library received a second-year grant for new books, ordered at request of borrowers.  The book is sent to the patron and after it is read, it is given to the library.  What a deal!  So this is my first ZIP book and I am delighted with the program.  I was turned onto this book before my travels to Poland.  It’s a double story:  the present day history project by two girls, who come with their own challenges and the object of their project, Irene Sendler in her work with saving 2500 Jewish children from the Holocaust.  It is moving on both levels.  It is wonderful what these young women did with their project, bringing recognition (finally!) to Sendler as well as the work Sendler did during the Nazi years with great personal risk, bravery and cleverness.  Kudos to Sendler and the girls.  A high recommend.

When’s the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle.  Bah, I couldn’t finish this one.  The author came highly recommended so I might try one that has more positive reviews.  I do have to admit that after I gave up on it I was glad to see I wasn’t alone in my panning of the novel.  The characters are flat and painted with a stiff brush so that I could never identify or even understand either the gung-ho environmentalist scientist or the brash animal saver.  The book is loaded with much preaching for both sides and just too much verbiage!  Proceed at your own risk.

*The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.  I didn’t realize that this is part of a trilogy so I haven’t read the first, Oryx and Crake which might help lessen the confusion upon starting the book.  But I think it stands on its own as its own special nightmare.  The world as we know it is gone and the two main characters are survivors who have to figure out what to do next, if there is a next.  There is a band of survivors called The Gardeners and their leader has sway with many people but to tell the truth we skipped his sermons and songs as the religious bent was too much for us.  We listened to this book on audio so that was easy to do.  It is not a blockbuster but I do dare you to close the book as Atwood is a master story-teller and her characters are real, dimensional and engaging.  A recommend (even with the preaching).

*State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  Patchett is an author I greatly admire and was happy to read another (Thanks, R!).  I feel she might  have been rushed into publishing this as it isn’t up to her usual good writing. This  contemporary story is set in the Amazon and Patchett takes you there so that you hear the insects, feel the brush of vines and can almost smell the water-laden atmosphere.  It is an intriguing plot about using tribal traditions for modern medicine.  So,  yes there is the big bad corporation that is ready to exploit what this nearly hidden tribe has to offer (this is presented with quite a bit of criticism of drug companies, even if partly deserved.). We are taken into the plot directly, mysterious and intriguing, but also follow some of the characters with their own emotional journeys to conquer.  The main doctor, Dr. Annick Swenson is a bit unbelievable but certainly aides the drive of the plot.  The single most glaring minus to the story was the dismissive, demeaning and condescending manner of talking about the natives. Too sad!  So is it a recommend or not, you ask?  Hmm, I can’t make up my mind. We were captured by the unfolding of the story but at the end were deflated with the implausibility of the scientific studies . . . I won’t spoil it for you but really, who would want that drug anyway?   So-so recommend.

*Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin.  Here’s a wild ride, a century long, among a plethora a zany characters and fantasy gone beyond the pale.  At times it was hard to keep track of who and when but it was an enjoyable ride that will put your body and senses right in the thick of a fanciful New York with actual day-to-day events. Peter Lake is endearing and it’s his  desire to make love last forever that drives the story.  We were always delighted when he next appeared on the scene. There are parts that drag a bit but all in all, it’s worthy of a read or listen (the audio is done very well).  However, it might just be better to read the book as it shouldn’t be read fast. There are many stories  and scenes to savor. I just might have to read it one of these days!   A recommend for this epic novel.  Enjoy! (I stopped working on the blog to put this one on my list! Sounds like a must read to me.)


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