Second Friday – June Book reviews by Marlene

IMG_6014Some great sounding books and stories in this month’s review. I am headed to the library to get the Lady and the Unicorn right away, because I saw these tapestries in Paris! Thank you, Marlene.

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier After reading Chevalier’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” I have enjoyed a few of her other novels, all dealing with the life an artist.  This book too, follows this pattern and gives you an excellent view into social strata in Paris, including tapestry weaving and life in Belgium in 1490’s.  Chevalier has taken the famous set of tapestries (now in the Cluny museum in Paris)  of the book’s title and woven a wonderful blend of history and fiction to give you the story behind the tapestries, a beautiful maid’s seduction of a Unicorn.  Terry Donnelly reads each female character with integrity while Robert Blumenfeld gives mostly a good performance. You may tire a bit of the randy artist but the characters are finely drawn and the story will keep you entranced.  A recommend!

The Latecomer, a Hmong Family Memoir  by  Kao Kalia Yang.  Here is a heart-rendering account following a Hmong family from their war-torn homeland in Laos, through years in jungle hiding with escape to spend years in Thai refugee camps to finally land in America (a mixed blessing).  It is a joy to read of the strength of this family to stay together and survive.  Yang may have had a hard time learning English but she is a natural with the  written word.  It’s a beautiful tribute of the love and connection she shared with her grandmother as well as the cultural traditions that kept her family moving forward.  This is definitely worthy of a read.  Not only will you learn about the Hmong people but you will be moved by Yang’s telling of the story.

Dear Husband by Joyce Carol Oates.  I have long admired the talent of this author to get into her characters’ minds.  But if you ever harbored the desire to read minds, this will cure you.  It’s not a happy collection of short stories and some are downright depressing!  These are mostly about family and on the surface, life seems to be going along but bam!  JCO’s familiar dark side erupts and you are plummeted into all kinds of creepy scenarios. But, it’s a recommend as this writer is extremely talented and each story will keep you glued to the end (even if you end up wishing for one of those sugary stories that JCO doesn’t write!).  I listened to the audio book and the 3 readers did an outstanding performance.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.  A set of eight stories again concentrating on Bengali-American families (with enough PhDs and ivy league education to skew the outlook) with the interaction of generations and attempts at self-discovery for each.  Several wind together and Lahiri has proven once again what a good writer she is.  In these short stories, you quickly pick-up on the characters and care about how things will turn out in most cases.  Alas, not all are as uplifting as the first one but Lahiri seems to like to show human flaws and again delve into immigrants’ struggles in a new culture.  I especially like the trilogy that had the same characters at different stages of life and would like to see Lahiri turn to novels as that genre seems to give her more depth. That said, I would still recommend this  book.

Spy by Ted Bell. This is a down and out old-fashioned spy thriller, brought up to date with the latest enemies of US but lacking that old Ian Fleming, John LeCarre expertise in the telling of the tale.  There must be a chart somewhere for these kinds of novels.  One must have the infallible hero, always good looking and a romantic interest appears now and then. It is definitely the good guys (in white hats) and the worst of the bad guys.  There is little character development, some very strange behaviors by those who are supposed to be in charge and the plots are beyond credibility but back to the chart:  It helps to have us going in many plot directions at once, knowing all along that they will come together for that big confrontation.  Ooops, no, don’t forget, the hero must save the day!  I am glad I listened to this book (John Shea is an excellent reader!) as I know I wouldn’t have stuck with it if I were reading it.   Apparently it is part of a series with this hero spy but I won’t be seeking any of these books, even being the spy novel lover that I am.  While a reading by John Shea is the saving grace, I will add that descriptions of the physical places were well done, even if author doesn’t know that they speak Portuguese in Brazil, not Spanish.


  1. http://Robin says

    I read The Lady and the Unicorn! (It is a quick read) I loved it. Of course, the fact that each chapter is from a different character’s point of view added to my delight. I do love “flipping” back and forth, be it character, time or place. Thanks Marlene. I wish I could find my pictures of these tapestries. Maybe this weekend when I have more time. Right now it’s back to writing. xx Robin

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