June Book Reviews by Marlene

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Marlene was busy this month! Lots to catch up on, as she has more than her fair share of must read reviews.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris.  This guy is a charmer and such a delight to listen to him read his short vignettes of life in his family and also some wild stories for your entertainment.  I always enjoy his humor and his challenging jibes at those who think too straight-laced for his liking.  Yes, a recommend for a  wonderful view into Sedaris’ realm.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.  This marvelous writer comes through again with a rather extraordinary story!  We follow two very interesting personalities, both of whom are trying to find their place in their world.  They “sort of” meet and a love story unfolds while you are on the edge of your seat in waiting to see what happens next.  You are rooting for Coralie to escape the clutches of a rather sinister and manipulative father and for Edward to come to terms with his past.  There are a few more extraordinary people thrown into the mix to give us a capitulating mystery, love story and  a unique view into 1911 New York City.  Hoffman is a master at character development and engages the reader from the start.  There are several unsavory characters but hope winds its way through the story and good over evil wins the day.  A recommend!

Midnight at Marble Arch by Anne Perry.  I am a huge fan of Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series.  While I enjoyed this one, I don’t think it is her best.  Set in Victorian England with much emphasis on the power of the rich to cover up crimes, it deals with  sexual assault, but from a modern view that was not what I expected as I wanted the perspective in that particular era.  Clearly, while we agree with the oft-repeated views of the crime of rape, we didn’t need to hear it over and over.  I got the sinking feeling that the author maybe had a quota of words?  There are several threads of plot intertwined, which dragged on a bit and their coming together seems a bit contrived.   I still enjoyed it but if you are new to Anne Perry’s writing,  I’d suggest others before this one.  Not a recommend.

Deafening by Frances Itani.  Fascinating story about a young girl who becomes deaf from scarlet fever and how she not only copes with her deafness and people’s reaction to it but reveals her inner beauty and keen intelligence. She meets a guy who is off to fight in WW1.  While it was interesting reading about the regular soldier’s plight I was more interested in Grania’s life. The noise and roar of war does provide a sharp contrast to Grania’s silent world and perhaps that is part of the purpose in including so many chapters on Jim’s sojourn as stretcher-bearer.  Itani  writes well and vividly giving us insight into different worlds than the ones we populate.  Excellent characterization and moving story.  May every child have a loving grandmother who understands and loves unconditionally.  A recommend.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.  Wow, what a fun adventure of love and war, family and feuds, triumph and tragedy, sorrow and comic relief, magic and realism!  This is a MUST READ. It’s a mythical town with heavy references to the history of Columbia in particular and Latin America in general. I wanted to read it in the original Spanish – Márquez’s writing is so picturesque, lyrical and he never wastes a sentence!  One does have to pay attention as it can get confusing with repeated names (keep a bookmark on that family tree page!), flashbacks and wild happenings.  It’s not a feel-good story (history isn’t pretty) by any means and not for the faint-hearted, but it is well worth the careful reading. It will not be to everyone’s cup of tea but it is a HIGH recommend.  I can’t sing its praises more than to say, I will read it again and that is from a woman who has too many books yet to read!

The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell.  It’s another horror story about a fear-mongering action committed by our government. This is about an internment camp that imprisoned whole families and some not even living in the US with an eye to trading in a prisoner exchange.  Due process of law?  Not when we are threatened!   Russell aptly tells the story by means of several family scenarios (German and Japanese), through the eyes of the teenage girls of these families.  Although it’s a story that needs to be told, I found it got rather tedious with repeated passages about camp life and the writing begged for some sophistication.  While it received high praise, I am going against the tide and giving it a NO on the recommendations.  I think a long magazine article (as in “The New Yorker” or “The Smithsonian”) could have told the story with more punch.

Make it stick, The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel.  An interesting and novel look at how we learn that may surprise you.  They debunk current myths about how we learn and appear to have the empirical evidence behind their ideas.  It is well worth a read if you are tackling a new subject and certainly you’ll want to pass on the tools to those in your life still in school.  If you are a teacher, read it without fail!  I was introduced to it by a polyglot as I am always searching for ways to study better instead of harder in reaching my goal of becoming fluent in Spanish.  A recommend for learners.  (Isn’t that all of us?)   (Hmmmm. Marlene, you make me want to read this one, but it feels too much like work. Perhaps I’ll come out of retirement just long enough to find out the “new math.”)


The Known World by Edward P. Jones.  Whew, here is another look at slavery and I find it hard to fathom.  I mean, the whole idea of slavery is appalling but for former slaves to own their own slaves is very disturbing.  Jones, a Pulitzer Prize winner for this book, takes the subject and delivers a powerful story.  His characterizations are so finely tuned you will feel you have met and talked with these people.   These are genuine people, no heroes or villains (although for a few we have to work hard to find the good) who struggle with daily life and the challenges of “managing people” or “being managed”.   We gain insight into the psychology and cultural influences working on these people at this time in history.  There are many characters to keep track of but it is well worth the experience. This audio is read very well by Kevin Free and be sure to listen to the author interview at the end where Jones explains how he came to choose this topic.   A definite recommend! (Marlene, I loved this book. Actually bought a copy after I read the library version.)

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.  Here is another Pulitzer Prize winner but I must admit that it has me baffled on why it won so many awards.  I couldn’t finish it and was even regretting the number of CDs I listened to before finally crying “Uncle”.  It’s about people that I couldn’t’ care about, a world of punk rockers and drug addicts that didn’t peak my interest and a story line that went who knows where.  Obviously there are a lot of people who thought this was a fabulous book but I am not one of them.  I like views into different worlds, zany characters and unusual writing techniques but this supposedly “clever” novel left me very disappointed.  Not a recommend.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  Now I know why the librarian said, “Oh good” when I picked up this audio.  It is very intense mystery that shifts with who is narrating the story.  We have alcoholism and cynicism, adultery, loyalty and betrayal plus a whole rash of characters who don’t appear as we see them or rather as we wish to see them. It’s a psychological mystery that will have you intrigued and once you are on the path to figuring it all, you have to keep reading to find out how this will all end.  You may lose patience with Rachel and some of the other characters and may not be very fond of them but you will be involved. Hawkins, a journalist by trade has done well with her debut fiction. A recommend for those of you who like mysteries.

Death of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm. This has been touted as a psychological thriller but the zing didn’t appear.  It is very predictable and so gets a bit of ho-hum.  We know who did it, who will solve it and who will fall in love.  I finished listening to it because of airport waits and was mildly curious to see the final denouement.  Not a recommend….there are too many good thrillers out there (see my former reviews).

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson.  An engrossing tale of life in the North Korean dictatorship as told through one man with a past that haunts him.  I came to admire the courage and loyalty of this young man, even as he performs his gruesome tasks.  It’s a story of hardship, torture, domination and a host of other horrible situations under a fierce dictatorship. I could not but help cheer on our Pak Jun Do as he finally takes on the leader and keeps his love and loyalty true. It is read marvelously by a number of readers so that each character’s voice is clear and definable. This was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and I heartily agree. Johnson captures you from the beginning and won’t let you go!  A recommend.


“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
― Mark Twain

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