Book Reviews

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Reader Review: "Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line"

 

by Robert Murray (Smyrna, GA): In a corrupt society where the poor are lumped in the with garbage surrounding them, a boy tries to channel detective skills he learned from TV to solve the random disappearances around him, aided by two school friends. Reading this novel was a delight from start to finish, and it was hard to put it down throughout. The setting and the characters jumped off the pages, making some of the gut wrenching scenes even more powerful. Mix in some humor and the infectious enthusiasm of youth, and you have a great story that I'll think about long after the last page.

Reader Review: "The Vanishing Half"

 

by Karen T (Melborne, FL): Can't put it down! It's our book club's choice this month. Almost finished reading it. Told through multiple perspectives across decades. The characters development was excellent and even though the main focus was on twin sisters and their daughters there are so many side characters. It's emotional and thought-provoking. Addresses issues about identity, family and race in a thoughtful manner it's not harsh, just a genuine perspective.

Reader Review: "The Secrets We Kept"

 

by Anl (Henderson Nv): And yes I am old enough to have seen Dr. Zhivago on the big screen. And read the book. And lived through the cold war spirit of the times. And the Russian regimes. So the book had an identifying interest to me. Her approach to the events and characters is very well done. I did think the book could have been about 2/3 the length. I found myself saying "okay i got this concept, let's move on." And I did giggle at how often the typists could afford to eat out at a restaurant. I recommend you at least see the movie before reading this book. It is a timeless piece, just like Sound of Music or Gone with the Wind.

Reader Review: "The Black Count"

 

by Kymberly East (Santa Cruz): 1790s France was a renaissance of social justice. Though largely forgotten today, 18th century France pioneered the world's first civil right's movement. And at the helm, Pulitzer Prize winner Tim Reiss tells us, stood a figure resplendent in stature, dwarfing Napoleon's own domineering presence and troubling his ambitions, France's pride and heart of the republican cause, the mixed race Haitian born General Alex Dumas. Tim Reiss plunges us into the unfathomable exploits of a black general successfully erased from popular history at the behest of Napoleon Bonapart, whose own rise attracted the sponsorship of the reigning sugar and slave trades that made France a world power. Tim Reiss's Pulitzer Prize winning "The Black Count" beautifully captures the obsession of a son to write a beloved father back into the remembrance of a once adulating public. Reiss's seemingly effortless writing style thrusts us into not only the adventure of this dynamic figure, but also of Reiss's own detective work, which is a story in of itself. Riveting, heartwrenching, improbable, Reiss does for us what Alexander Dumas could not. If you have ever loved The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers-- indeed any of the great author's work--then The Black Count is a must for your personal Dumas canon.

Reader Review: "The Plague of Doves"

 

by Dan H (Illinois): This is a fascinating story – mystery, romance, history – engrossing on many levels. At times, the story is difficult to follow, due to various first-person voices which have no identification. The author presents here a depiction of one of humanity's major flaws, mistreatment of "the other," which is Native Americans in this instance. Lynching of a group of Indian men for the deaths of a white settler family is the starting point. The sequelae are woven into the novel in a masterful fashion, with surprises to the very end. Not exactly a page-turner, but gripping in its own way. I would read it again. Recommended.

Reader Review: "Finding Dorothy"

 

by Kymberly P East (Santa Cruz): Finding Dorothy is a quick, informative read. I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of Letts' parallels, though the hasty feel of the writing style prevented me from developing any real emotional attachment to any of the characters. I was surprised by the frequent appearance of inconsistencies--it reads like an early draft-- and there were times I wondered what kind of audience Letts intended to target. Despite the wobbly and summarizy-feel of the project, and the weaving in and out of a mature to young-adult sound, the subject matter is a winner. In focusing on Maud Baum, Letts has chosen a fascinating, unique perspective on the backstory of Oz, making it a worthwhile, if not an entirely seductive, read.

Reader Review: "Hamnet"

 

by Davida (Israel): For those who don't know, Hamnet was the name of William Shakespeare's only son, who died at the age of 11. In O'Farrell's latest novel, she takes up the scholarly presumption that there was a direct connection between his son's death and his play "Hamlet." To do this, O'Farrell draws detailed portraits of two main people – Hamnet himself, and his mother Agnes (aka Anne) Hathaway. Together with this, O'Farrell also draws a simpler, yet no less meticulous, portrait of Hamnet's father, almost as an aside to his relationship with these two main characters. Goodreads says that this is a "luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss…"

I've read quite a few reviews of this book, many of which have picked up on things I was originally going to write about myself. For example, Shakespeare himself is never named in the book. In addition, there's a whole passage which O'Farrell included here, which ended up being (far too) relevant to our present world pandemic, that being where she traces the minutia of how one wave of the plague reached Stratford. Reading that, and knowing that travel then was nowhere near as popular or widespread as it is now, no one would be surprised that this pandemic we are living through would be so devastating. Mind you, the few lines about how all the London playhouses were closed down as soon as the plague appeared made me think that at least Queen Elizabeth I and her Parliament knew how to handle such things much better than some countries (including the UK) are doing today!

Politics and current events aside, since other bloggers have exhausted all those talking points so nicely, I decided that for this review I'll to concentrate on three less discussed topics. First, on O'Farrell's writing style in this novel. Next, I'll look at her character development. Finally, I will talk about how this book differs from her other novels. Now, as my regular readers know, I've read all of O'Farrell's novels as well as her memoir, and so I believe I'm well equipped to approach this review from these particular angles.

O'Farrell's writing style is what drew me to her books in the first place. What I find to be magical about her writing is how she's able to use her language to build up an atmosphere. In this book in particular, O'Farrell has adapted a slightly more poetic quality to her writing, with highly descriptive passages, many of which felt pensive, dark, and a touch brooding. Yet, there was still an underlying level of lightness here, to keep this from feeling too gray. These descriptions are used to paint pictures of both the characters and the locations, as well as how the former moved through the latter. As someone who visualizes the action of the books as I read, this worked perfectly for me, and I could easily see everything and everyone that O'Farrell put down on each page. In fact, there were a couple of times when O'Farrell described the scent of something where I almost was able to imagine that same smell! If you ask me, that is artistry in writing at its very finest!

This leads directly to how O'Farrell developed her characters. What was most fascinating here, was that my ability to picture each character was accomplished with an absolute minimum of dialog. Usually, a character's mettle is often revealed in what they say, in addition to what they do. However, O'Farrell accomplished this by concentrating more on getting into the minds of the characters than letting them speak for themselves. She showed us their gestures, their moods, their thoughts, as well as how their bodies moved within the spaces where she placed them. We saw them change and grow and develop, much like (pardon the cliché) watching a flower bloom. In the end, while Agnes ends up being the primary protagonist, each character portrayed here – no matter how minor – was believable, and flawlessly developed and formed.

How this book differs from her other novels is twofold. First, this one has a tiny touch of magical realism, where Agnes seems to be a bit of a psychic, which she seems to pass on to one of her daughters. This time, I wasn't bothered by this at all, probably because back then people were very superstitious, and it fit in with the overall narrative and character development. Second, all of her previous books were either contemporary fiction, or had mixed contemporary and historical dual timelines. If I recall correctly even with the historical parts of O'Farrell other novels never went further back than early(ish) 20th century. This novel, however is not only fully and totally historical fiction, it is set far further back in time than any of her other books. And not just by one century, but reaching back to the late 16th century and very early 17th century, no less. Now, I'm a huge lover of historical fiction, especially biographical historical fiction, so this was absolutely no problem for me whatsoever, but this certainly was a departure for O'Farrell. I can only hope that her faithful fans won't find this too startling of a departure, and can still enjoy it as they have done with all her previous works.

Finally, the way O'Farrell concludes this novel, had me weeping like a baby! Now, it isn't often that one reads biographical, historical fiction (where we already know who will live and who will die and even how and when), that something appears in a book that makes you surprisingly emotional, but this one does just that with the last page. Taking all these things into account, what we have here is… well… nothing short of a masterpiece. There is therefore no way I could give this less than a full five stars. I will be recommending this to anyone and everyone, even people who don't like historical or biographical, or women's fiction.

Reader Review: "The Glass Hotel"

 

by Nanette S.: A literary mystery inspired by the Madoff Ponzi scheme. The author has once again intertwined characters having been swept up by Jonathan Alkaitis and his investment firm or the periphery of his actions. We also come across a message having been scrawled on a 5 star hotel window meant to scare one of the guests. The mystery here is which one and why. We are also having to deal with ghosts being seen on occasion by a couple of the characters. All of these scenarios come together to end the story and the relationships between the characters. This one kept me turning pages I finished the book in one day. I really enjoy reading Emily St. John Mandel and will definitely be reading her earlier novels.

Reader Review: "The Color of Air"

 

by Nancy M. (New City): First, of all, I am a big fan of this author. Samurai's Garden is one of my all time favorite books. This book, with it's Hawaiian setting, diverse characters, poignant love stories, swept me away. I read this in one day, and I didn't want it to end. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a deeply immersive reading experience.

Reader Review: "The Splendid and the Vile"

 

by Judith Hodges (Lafayette, LA): I've read several of Larson's book, but this one was the absolute best. He made WC as lovable and wise as he must've been. Such a colorful character, his vision and guidance lead the Brits through one of their "darkest hours", utterly alone at the time, fighting the Nazis. His oratory was undeniable and necessary for uplifting a battered country. Can't think of another leader who would've persevered as he did. Truly loved it; made me laugh as well as cry! Getting ready to read it again, (had read when it first came out) before my Book Club meets to discuss it.

Reader Review: "The Last Flight"

 

by Book Club Cheerleader (NorCal): I loved this book from the premise--and it didn't disappoint! Fast paced, yet great attention to character development and detail. I'm a slow reader, but this one kept me turning the page. Lots to discuss for book clubs: motivation, life-style, strength/ tenacity. Highly recommend!

Reader Review: "Utopia Avenue"

 

by Reid B.: I want to go on record as being a David Mitchell fan. I believe that The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, and Cloud Atlas are all brilliant books. So, when I was offered an advance copy of Utopia Avenue, I was thrilled and couldn't wait to read it. What a disappointment awaited me.

The basic plot is a bit of a cliche: we follow a rock band from their inception in the gleaming eye of a manager, who brings together four seemingly disparate talents into a group which, inevitably, becomes very successful. Herein lies the first problem I had with this novel: this process is, I'm sure, very moving and fascinating to someone directly involved, but to the reader it is all rather dull. How many different ways can you describe the bass player putting down a funky beat, the lead guitarist ripping off an amazing riff, and so on? Not many, I guarantee you.

The era involved is the late 60s, and the scene is rock in both Great Britain and the United States, so naturally famous names show up. Oddly, though, none of them are truly vibrant characters in this story, so their inclusion seems more like name-dropping than anything else. True, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, and Jerry Garcia have a few meaningful lines, but others, including John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and a whole host of others, are merely there to preserve a bit of verisimilitude, but add nothing, which is a shame.

Still, Mitchell is a very talented writer and he has created extremely likeable characters here, so I was willing to go along with the novel to a point (though I was thinking it overlong and in need of editing). There are also a couple of subplots involving, respectively, homosexuality and psychosis (don't worry, these are not spoilers) that have some passing interest, though the supernatural involvement with the insanity plot seems a bit out of place here; still, not truly objectionable (and a neat tie-in to a previous Mitchell novel). So far, so good.

But let me not mince words. I hated the ending. Hated, hated, hated it. Have I made myself clear? Loathed. Detested. Abhorred. Despised. Abominated. Until the ending, I was willing to go along and think of this as a perfectly acceptable three-star read, which to me is a book worth your time, but not worth going out of your way to read. The fact that I could hate the ending as much as I do and still give this two stars is a testament to Mitchell's raw skill. How unfortunate that he chose an emotionally manipulative ending that does not match in any way with the arc of the story he established to that point. Oh, I am aware that he can do whatever he wishes with his characters, and he is welcome to do so, but as a reader I have every right to object, and I do. Give this a miss.

Reader Review: "The Yellow Bird Sings"

 

by Betty Taylor (Macon GA): The author's combination of lyrical and descriptive power enabled me to feel the beauty and love that managed to exist in these most horrific of times. Her superb rendering of the power of music and a child's imagination gave me hope that Shira, a musical prodigy, would somehow be shielded from the horrors that existed all around her.

Rosner's poignant description of the mother-daughter bond was heartbreaking yet also somewhat optimistic. The conditions Shira and her mother endured made me ashamed to complain even one iota about being confined by this Co-vid virus. They hid in a barn loft in Poland unable to move about freely and always having to remain silent. How does a mother et a five-year-old child to remain silent 24-hours-a-day? When they eventually became separated, I was kept on the edge of my seat wondering if they would ever be reunited.

This book addresses the phenomena of hidden children. Many Jewish parents made the heart-rending decision to put their children in the hands of Christian neighbors they trusted, or sent them to Christian schools run by Catholic nuns, or put them on train transports to another country. All this done in an effort to save the children's lives. Some of these children were never reunited with their parents.

An excellent book, very moving. I highly recommend it.

Reader Review: "The River"

 

by RobertaW (Los Ranchos): Best friends Jack and Wynn embark on a river trip which should be idyllic but is not. We know from the first sentence that there is a fire up the river. As they are traveling in their canoe, they meet a pair of Texans who are camping out and who seem unconcerned about the fire. As they head on they overhear a couple having a heated argument.

Thus begins a good action, adventure story. The author is clearly an outdoors man and his descriptions of the river and surroundings are beautiful. I loved the pace of this book which builds into a thriller. You are likely not to put the book down until you are finished.

I do think the author's descriptions of the Texans were somewhat stereotypical and I wanted to know more about the arguing couple (especially the husband) and their relationship. The reasons for violence in that marriage didn't make sense to me.

This book is a great read and one that I think most men would enjoy. I'm always looking for a good "guy" book and The River is now on that list.

Reader Review: "The Beekeeper of Aleppo"

 

by Tired Bookreader (Florida): This book will haunt me for years. Every time a 'conflict' is on the news, the discussion only involves the soldiers. But what about the people who aren't involved in the fighting? The ones who were just living their life and now can't? The ones who no longer have a home, family, livelihood? And, yet, they also have no place to go, to try to find normalcy...whatever that can be after such horrendous events. I will never understand this need to cause a war with no plan for those who just want to have their life. Thank you Christy Leftri for the heart wrenching novel.

Reader Review: "The Color of Air"

 

by K Fox: A welcome panacea to the times we are living in is how I would describe reading this story of Daniel Abe, a successful doctor in Chicago, as he returns home to Hilo two years after his mother Mariko's death. A secret has driven Danial home, though, and I was enchanted by the story Tsukiyama weaves switching between "ghost voices" and "island voices" as the prodigal son and his long-ago community are united again.

A Powerful story of love and pain, told so gently through the eyes of Daniel, Koji, Mariko and Nori, I felt as if I was there, in the lush and abundant fields of Hilo, sharing in the lives of the characters and becoming part of the community. Hoping with each turn of the page that the forces of nature will not destroy their homes and livelihoods and wondering if secrets held so tightly will ever be revealed.

Gail Tsukiyama is the author of six previous novels, including The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, Women of the Silk and The Samurai's Garden.

Reader Review: "Where the Crawdads Sing"

 

by Ruthee (Aptos): I really enjoyed this book. It had a heartwarming ending with a real twist along the way. Very clever story line. I am looking forward to more books by Delia Owens.

Reader Review: "A Gentleman in Moscow"

 

by Ingrid Rinehart: To enjoy reading is a gift. To read a beautifully told story is an honor. Such a story is "A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles. The story surrounds us with the best of human emotions; love, loyalty, respect, friendship and infinite kindness. The book is a beautiful canvas on which each reader can paint and soon become immersed. I thank Amor Towles for this piece of Art and would recommend it to anyone.

FYI: I would be interested in knowing who his favorite authors of old are?

Reader Review: "The Stone Girl"

 

by Kim K. (Portland): My husband read this book before I did, and encouraged me to pick it up as well. When he asked me my opinion, I replied, "Do you want my personal opinion or my technical one?"

From a personal standpoint, I loved this book. It was a perfect dose of escapism and exactly the kind of fast-moving, not-terribly-deep novel I needed right now. As such, it's a 5/5 for me.

That said, I found the plot pretty convoluted and improbable, so if I think too much about it I kind of roll my eyes at the twists and turns it took. From that standpoint it was a good solid 3/5 for me.

... and so my final score is a compromise at 4/5.

Reader Review: "The Paris Hours"

 

by gerrie (camel, IN): This book is composed of brain burning, gasp inducing scenes that will stay with you forever. One day in Paris, four main characters, mystery upon mystery and it all unwinds and just when you think it's over,,,, it really isn't. The Paris Hours is not a long book but it packs one heck of a punch. The writing is beautiful and thought provoking. Humans are human no matter where they are from, where they live, or their station in life. Their paths often intersect as do their secrets, sometimes with disastrous results.

 

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