Marlene’s July Book Reviews

Ratings: 1-5,

5 = must read, 4= good read and worth your time, but not a blockbuster, 3=it’s not great, but it’s not bad, cautious recommend, 2= some merit but only if you have nothing else to read, 1=don’t bother, 0=don’t even think about it

Ah, great minds think alike!  I started this email at the beginning of the month and now see that RR (who uses my email on her blog) is now using a similar system.  Love it!


A Murder of Crows, A Sir Robert Carey Mystery  by P.F.Chisholm. Set in London, 1592 we get a marvelous glimpse of the dress, habits and flavor of these Tudor times.  It is touted as a mystery but reads more of an adventure story.  Sometimes it is hard to keep characters straight at the beginning of the book and Howard opted out after first CD as language, too, required concentration.  It is part of a series of Sir Robert Carey but tends to leave his sergeant in charge as the plot unfolds.  We meet the charming mother of Sir Carey who is a pirate!  It was not a riveting story but interesting to listen to.    3.5

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving.  Another interesting novel by this talented author.  Here we are steeped in what I believe is called magic realism.  We are reading two stories: the present one of an accomplished author traveling to the Philippines who grew up as a “dump” kid in Mexico and then interspersed with his memory of his childhood.  Let’s throw in some unusual dreams and maybe some not-so-real characters (I could have done without the overwrought sex scenes).  It can be a bit confusing at times but Irving knows how to write dialogue and I was captured with the charm of many a character.   It’s a story to keep you tied to the unfolding of the present day story but only so that the background story is revealed. 4.5

A Trail to the West, Love and the Cactus Kid, Medicine Ground by Louis L’Amour.  What  a fun set of cds as these are not just a plain old reading but actual dramatizations with different actors, mood music and sound effects like gun fire and punches!  The first is the best and you can skip the last story.  We were on the way to a camp out and this length was perfect for the trip. It’s entertaining! Overall 3.5 without adding in the 1 for the last story.

Some Lie and Some Die by Ruth Rendell.  This author is a fine writer and is known for her psychological suspense thrillers but this is part of her Inspector Wexford series.  I have always enjoyed her writing and this Inspector but found this one a bit disappointing.  The characters (other than the Inspector and his side-kick) were flat and so I really just finished the book to see how it all worked out knowing who was the culprit. This story didn’t seem to come to the caliber of her others  Try the earlier Wexford novels.  3.0


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  An interesting premise for the future of health care and gives much to ponder!  Little by little we are let in on the secrets of these three “students” as they develop friendships, love and forgiveness.  Ishiguro has an interesting style here that becomes predictable with the narrator’s “let me first tell you” and the significance of conversations.  As I have said before, I must be a shallow person as I don’t spend so much time analyzing past actions and thoughts but this novel does touch on some issues that need thought!  I become engrossed in finding out the whole story and enjoying reading Ishiguro’s fine prose.  4.0

The Russia House by John Le Carré.  I am trying to clear out my bookshelf and stumbled upon this 1990 publication.  As I have always been a fan of LeCarré, I looked forward to another tense spy thriller.  The background of course is dated but still we get the flavor of the Cold War.  It’s a different kind of story in that there is much more talking and self-examination than in his other novels.  We do have a loveable spy and an interesting twist that you know is coming.  For those still into spy novels:  3.5

Crown of Dust by Mary Volmer.  A wonderful successful first novel. It takes place in my neck of the woods during the gold rush days.  Volmer paints scenes well, gives depth to her characters and keeps the reader turning pages. I look forward to more from this author. (Thanks R for the loan). 4.0

The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood.  Another great story by this talented author.  There are stories within stories to keep you on your toes. Atwood does a marvelous interpretation of characters lives and motives. It’s a good read when you find yourself rooting for some of the characters and at the same time want to throttle some others!   Sometimes I wearied of the sci-fi installments.  **Spoiler alert**I wasn’t surprised by the ending as I had guessed that earlier but still had a hard connecting the young passionate, risk-it-all woman to the staid and dependent 83-yd-old.  **Spoiler over** Overall it’s a captivating story and Atwood tells it well. 4.0

The Vegetarian by Han Kang.  Whew what a dark, sad and depressing story about obsession and the power one has over another human being.  It’s a story that will wring your heart as the protagonist is taken over by those around here and you have to deal with her attempts to break that bondage.  Again Whew!  It’s not a light read but a quick one as not only is the book short, but it is hard to put down.  What will be the outcome of events on both the protagonist and her family?  This won’t make you feel good unless it is to be appreciative of the good life you lead. I’d give it a 5.0 as I think the writing is that good but as it is filled with darkness, violence, sadness, etc, I have to warn you.   4.5

The Miracle by Irving Wallace.  Another one hidden in the bookcase from decades ago, witness the Soviet Union references!  Anyway, one can’t really expect any other ending than Wallace gives us as it is based on too many people’s faith in the miracles of Lourdes.  It was fun seeing how Wallace wound the characters together even with some unbelievable behaviors, but nothing dramatic.  Ending was ho hum and maybe was rushed or Wallace was fatigued after writing 400+ pages.  2.0

Bucking the Sun by Ivan Doig.  Here’s a gripping depression-era story that gives you the intimate details of building an earth-filled dam in Montana.  The reader is introduced to a mystery that ends up being quite a twist at the end!  But the saga of the Duff family is most intriguing as well as the glimpses into life during that time, the wrenching of people from their homes and the saving of many of family when men finally get work.   This is a prequel to The Bartender’s Tale which is even better than this one.  But Doig is a very talented writer and so far, I have never regretted reading one of his tales. 4.0


“I Am Legend” Lots of grisly scenes, explosions, etc. with Will Smith as hero.  At least the studio saved money on cast salaries and maybe even Will Smith paid them for the role.  Don’t waste your time.0.0

“Florence Jenkins” Do watch this tender love story that will delight your funny bone if not your musical one!  It’s a delight to watch once again as the incredible Meryl Streep performs this role a rich socialite who believes she sings as well in real life as she hears in her head.  It is based on a true story but the film manufactures Hugh Grant’s role (he should have been made to look closer to her age).  Simon Helberg is superb as her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon.  4.5

“Norman” A marvelous performance from Richard Gere as a wheeler and dealer about the hotshots of the investment kings.   He is called a fixer but in reality is a shyster.  He just has to find the one person who believes his connections.  We don’t learn much about the private Norman but maybe that is part of the story!. A witty film with some great photo close-ups…those shoes!  4.0

“Fences”  A powerful story about love and forgiveness, sense of responsibility vs living your dream, with an outstanding cast.  It is set in the 1950s but could be today with the ever-present racial biases. But it is more than fighting prejudice and more about the inner turmoil of the damage in childhood not helping to live in the adult world.  The complex  characters are so finely wrought that you just have to believe this could be a true story.  You want to jump in and hug Rose, soothe Troy, encourage Cory and make life easier for Gabe.   It is an adaptation of August Wilson play which won a Pulitzer Prize.  4.5


Happy reading, listening and viewing,