Marlene’s July Book Reviews

IMG_4505This month I had some great recommendations from you lovely folks but I have to admit that I didn’t always remember who gave me the recommendation. So, in general, thanks and keep those recommendations coming!


The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith.  I have been introduced to an astute and talented author who balances three time periods and three continents with great skill.  We are taken into the world of art restoration and forgery as well as some valuable historical facts about Dutch painters.  Sometimes when an author employs this device, the reader can get lost with weak transitions between elements but Smith is a master at this.  I was especially drawn to the Sara De Vos character but thoroughly enjoyed the suspense of the forgery.  A RECOMMEND

Pack Up the Moon by Rachael Herron.  Whew, this one will grab from the beginning and run you ragged through many emotions.  You will want to comfort the characters at times and shake them silly at other times but you will be engaged in this griping story.  It is so sad at times that it can be depressing but Herron makes sure to give us a glimmer of hope. Thanks R!  A RECOMMEND

Poldark: Ross Poldark by Winston Graham.  Now I do remember who recommended this one (Thanks S).  This is the first of 12 books about this irascible but somewhat lovable protagonist of late 1700s in Cornwall, England.  There are the bad guys and the good guys but it is the good/bad ones that are captivating. Or rather it is the quest to figure which camp a character falls into.  There are enticing family conflicts, loves found and lost, rich history of the area and great description of the times and places.  I am not sure I can stick with a 12-book series but this first one is a good one. Of course, you have to put up with an ending that begs to be continued.  There was a 1975 PBS filming of two episodes that the author apparently disapproved as there were too many liberties taken but his son did approve the recent BBC series. Well, I know this can sound like a soap opera but Graham reaches higher levels with his marvelous prose.  A RECOMMEND

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Do you like spy novels but are tired of cold war settings?  Welcome to an interesting and intriguing glimpse into communist spies in Vietnam.  It’s not a pretty picture no matter whose side you are on.  Americans may be somewhat humbled by the listing of our less than admirable actions in Vietnam but it is a good look at the workings of the human mind from the oppressed to the victorious.  A sobering novel so don’t think you are going to uplifted by reading this.  But you will be intrigued.  A RECOMMEND

Arctic Chill  Arnaldur Indridason.  I have reviewed other books by this author but had to have another dose as we are going to his part of the world, Iceland. What I like about so many foreign detective stories is that there is always a detective with profound depth to his character that is the underlying interest.  They are not always people of sterling character but they seem to embrace much of real human traits.  It is also a glimpse into the Icelandic culture with racial and immigration issues woven into the story.  The characters of detective Erlender and his investigative team is further developed in this 5th novel in the series. It isn’t as great as Jar City but well worth a read.  A RECOMMEND

The Night in Question by Tobias Wolff.  Here is a marvelous collection of short stories, so good that you wish they wouldn’t end.  They are stories of ordinary people going about dealing with everyday life. Each will be someone’s favorite but I’d be hard put to name mine as I liked them all. I am delighted I finally read some of this writer’s excellent writing. A RECOMMEND

A Walk in the Dark by Gianrico Carofiglio.  Oh goodie, I have discovered another foreign author of mysteries. I couldn’t put this book down so it’s a good thing it’s a short book.  The author is a judge and the label isn’t ever without the “anti-mafia” description attached.  This book is part legal thriller and part humanist story of the intricacies of survival that plague some of the characters.   While the primary focus is on the courtroom drama it is the look into a slice of Italian everyday life, which is actually universal, that is a draw. A RECOMMEND

Moloka’i b Alan Brennert (Thanks to the other R for the tip!) Whew!  This was a teary and heart-wrenching novel about the leper colony on Molokai. It again brings out the cruel things we do out of ignorance.  It is fiction but Brennert did a lot of research so that much of the story is fact or an amalgamation of different people’s real experiences in the community. Brennert does a better job with putting you truly in Hawaii and giving us the story of the colony than with character development.  The main protagonist is strong and embodies the survival instincts but many others were flat. I was left with several threads that got dropped and others included that didn’t advance the story.  I sort of got the feeling that this was going to be an epic novel but partway through, Brennert decided against that.  Rachel’s early life is in detail but after the second half of the book, the speed is increased and whole spans of time are skipped. But still it is worth a read. A RECOMMEND

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig.  What a delightful read about a one-room schoolhouse, a brainy kid and a host of interesting characters just after the turn-of-the-century in rural Montana.  Doig is a master of the turn of the phrase and I had to slow down at times to enjoy the details of his writing.  There is a tie-in to modern day (well, 1957) as well as a mystery that gets solved.  But it is the everyday happenings in this small part of Montana that will capture your heart.  A RECOMMEND


“Whiplash” Talk about a tense film.  This is a story of obsession (the jazz drummer with a bottomless pit of ambition) and power (the violent, angry teacher who had to control all).  There is not a calm scene in the movie and it is thoroughly intense.  There is plenty of raw language and some heart wrenching scenes. Kudos to Miles Teller for some fine acting and great drum scenes and to JK Simon for making us believe he is real (talk about character acting)!  This movie is so intense that it will be a while after viewing it before you will begin to react to “what is the price you are willing to pay for excellence”?  RECOMMEND

 “Capturing Ice” Since we are going to Iceland, I had to get this film that covers not only scenes of glaciers in Iceland but also Greenland, and Alaska. The acclaimed National Geographic photographer James Balog sets out to give documentation to the existence and danger of global warming.  He recognizes that enough people are not paying attention and sets out on a venture to use time-lapse cameras to capture the changes to our glaciers.  While the point of the story is to put a strong wake-up call to all, especially those who deny, and is quite powerful, the awesome photography will blow you away.  This film took over 4 years in the making and the project involved dozens of people.   Each Congressman should have a copy as well as each corporation contributing to the problem and each of the nay-sayers.  Balog set out to get proof and he does so magnificently. A RECOMMEND


The Zahir by Paulo Coelho. I loved this author’s The Alchemist .  However, this book seemed to drag on and on without engaging the reader in caring if the narrator ever found his Zahir (obsession or great love).  This is supposed to be a soul-searching quest and it becomes a humdrum narrative about people we care little about.  It was a chore to get through this book but I kept hoping it would blossom into wonderful  enlightenment.  Not a glimmer.  NOT A RECOMMEND but do try others by same author.

The Red Door by Charles Todd.  Another Inspector Rutledge of Scotland Yard.  Again we are treated to an involved mystery but this novel is delving more into the personality of the Inspector, still suffering from PSTD (although then it was called “shell-shock”) from service in WWI.  There are stories within stories and the main plot can become tedious with its myriad twists and turns but it is still a good read.  A RECOMMEND.

I Still Dream of You by Fannie Flagg.  A recommend from two friends in the same week, thanks to A and T.  This author is best known for her Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and she will engage you again in with her southern charm, humor and witticism with delightful characters in a murder mystery and love story combined.  There are drawbacks as the main character just whines too much and the plot is weak but it’s fun entertainment. We can’t even get depressed about someone wanting to commit suicide because we know it won’t happen.  Much of what does happen is predictable but as I said, it’s a fun romp in Birmingham, Alabama.  And my realtor friends will love it!  A RECOMMEND

Euphoria by Lily King.  This book promised much but had many undeveloped ideas or events unexplained.  Supposedly it is based on Margaret Mead’s life but I would guess that she was a much stronger woman than Nell appears to be, although tribute is paid to her accomplishments.  There are three main characters who become quite entrenched in one another’s lives and the tribal life examination by the three anthropologists is quite interesting in their various approaches.  But that isn’t enough to save the book for me.  NOT A RECOMMEND. (This was our book club book and we liked it!)

Happy reading, listening and viewing!


“I read because life isn’t enough and in the page of a book I can be anybody.” 

―Richard Peck