Marlene’s July Book Reviews

Veggie 1AUDIO

By Nightfall, Michael Cunningham.  This author won the Pulitzer Prize for his The Hours but this was available so I listened to this, very well read by Hugh Dancy. This is one of those novels that takes place mostly in the heads of the characters with a little help from some action on their part. It’s a placid, ordinary world on the surface and that seems to be where the relationships dwell. There are several characters who share their thoughts but the main character, Peter, takes precedence and frankly, became quite boring with repeated thoughts and lack of intellect that belies his success as an art dealer.  There have been many accolades for Cunningham so I will give him another try and read The Hours.  I’ll reserve my view on him as an author until after that one.  With just this one, I’ll have to give it a no on the recommendations.  Then again, you might want to give it a go as I seem to be swimming against the tide with some of the authors who gain Pulitzer Prize status.  Isn’t that supposed to be the best of the best? From Robin: I think about how many books I have rated the total opposite of my book club members. Often after someone explains to me some main trick or something that I totally missed I like the book more, but shouldn’t that be obvious when I read it? I think it might have to do with what the individual reader has experienced in his life. Somethings call out to you, while others don’t. I’m going to read The Hours first!

Innocent Victims by Minette Walters, read by Simon Prebble.  Here are two interesting novellas that will keep you glued to the final denouements.  They are both worthy as chilling suspenseful tales and delightful who-dunnits!  Recommend.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  Here I thoroughly agree with the Pulitzer Prize award with this novel that appeals to the heart as well as the intellect. There is a wealth of material dealt with a talented hand. You will learn about the art world , PTSD that affect children, antique restoration, etc as well as the  force of friendship, loyalty of love, redemption, betrayal and so on. So, it has to be a long book to fit in all this drama  and soul-searching life questions: Do you believe in fate? Why don’t we do what we know we should do? What shapes/makes the person and can that be changed? And so… is a powerful book with only a few blips of not-so-great writing .  But overlook those and meet these well-defined characters and follow the story of The Goldfinch. High recommend.  I listened to the audio and David Pittu is a superb reader with voices to match the characters so  you always know who is speaking. I loved this book too! One of my favorites.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.  What a crazy cast of characters who will take you on a wild ride through family turmoil, career upheavals, urban renewal, blasts from the past and all the rest in an Oakland neighborhood. Sometimes it might be hard to keep track of who is who but overall a delightful romp! Again, there will be characters who you will just want to shake in some common sense  I had the feeling that the author has all these bits of paper with marvelous descriptive terms that comes to him now and then so he can gather them all for his next book. It was amazing that he didn’t ever say a simple sentence like, “The woman walked down the street.”  A friend who also read the book says that Chabon is a bit of a show-off and I tend to agree as the plethora of his metaphors can be distracting. It’s a recommend with this caution and the challenge of character tracking.  If you have read Chabon you might be willing to wade through this one. If you haven’t experienced this fine writer, start on one of his others (The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay or Wonder Boys) as they are better. From Robin: Marlene, I disagree with you on this one! I really liked this book and didn’t find it hard to follow. I LOVED the one sentence chapter, but of course, that’s me. I think of Chabon as moving from a traditional quilter to an art quilter, in the art of writing.

The Final Cut by Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison. Oh give me a break! The story starts off with a very plausible and intriguing set of characters. Then unreality and incredibility reigns with the good guys getting such unheard of breaks in the pursuit of the criminal that it becomes just too easy and so unrealistic. Security measures  at several locations are so loose and amateurish as to raise red flags and interrupt the flow of the story. I have no problem with suspending belief to take in the magic of the diamond but the day-to-day machinations are too incredible for total enjoyment of the book.  Not a recommend.


Kitchen Confidential, Adventure in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain.  This inside look into the restaurant business will convince you never to open your own and to be wary of Sunday brunches and fish on Mondays. It is more than that though. Bourdain writes with humor and wit as he bares all the dismaying events that are normal to that special cult of the those who are professional cooks.  You will be appalled but definitely entertained with this romp through the less elegant antics of the culinary trade. This is autobiographical and Bourdain does admit that not all kitchens are this crazy. Bourdain’s love of food shines through and although his prose may be too coarse it is witty!  A medium recommend as it’s not great literature but it was a fun ride!

Mountain Time by Ivan Doig.  I have read other novels by this master storyteller but this was a bit of a disappointment. It took a while for me to get engrossed in the story and I almost quit. But it did start to engage me and the characters became a bit more real. There are good examples of what baby boomers are facing: aging parents, parents’ whims about death, impact of divorce, impending job loss etc.  The descriptions of nature are great but there were times that I thought that Doig had come up with these descriptions, stored them until he could fit them in and then put them ALL in. Maybe I was hoping for just straight-forward description instead of the heavily-laden word flows.  The last part of the book was the best and kept me page-turning but it was a slow start.  A so-so recommendation.  Try one of his other books if you haven’t ever read him.


“Life of Pi”  I loved the book and I love the movie!  It is such a delight!  You will love the characters, especially Pi, a real sweetheart!  You get to choose which is the real story but do watch it and enjoy the adventure!

“The Soloist”  This is based on a true story of a LA Times columnist, Steve Lopez, who befriend a homeless man, Nathanial Ayers. Ayers is a gifted musician but developed schizophrenia. Lopez thinks he wants and knows how to help but the tables are turned and Lopez has a bit to learn about the homeless. As we all do!  A powerful story and well done.  It is slow in parts which subtracts from the force of the drama but still a recommend.



  1. Marlene says:

    Robin…Maybe reading the Chabon book was easier than listening to it! Glad you liked it. I do have to admit I enjoyed the ride on Telegraph Avenue.

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