Recent “Reads”

Recently I read several books that were recommended to me by reading friends.  Here is a review of one of them:

IN THE SHADOW OF THE BANYAN by Vaddey Ratner, a novel which earned 41/2 stars on Amazon.  The story is told by Rami, the 7 year old narrator (whose experiences  are based on those of the author of the book). The story takes place during Cambodia’s civil wars and “killing fields era”, approximately 1975-1979.

The author has a definite “gift for language” as one critic noted. Her writing is often pure poetry, especially in her descriptive passages. The reader feels she is in the time and place and is experiencing what the protagonist is experiencing.

It is “a story of survival, a story of horror and beauty, all at the same time.” It was a wonderful read which I could not put down. It would make a good book-club-read.



Review of All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I must confess straight out that it took me three attempts to successfully finish this novel. The first time, I was teaching and had precious little reading time, and allowed a book club friend who gave up to influence me, and I did the same after reading six or eight chapters.

During the Christmas break, I checked it out from the Alvin library again and immediately was engaged by the main characters, who are skillfully drawn. One is  a blind French girl of superb intelligence and perception who is being raised by her museum curator father on his own. One is immediately drawn to MarieLaure, cares about her ,and appreciates the loving relationship she and her father have.

The second character (most of the book has a chapter about her, one about him, the next about her, etc.), Werner, is a German orphan who is skilled and totally self taught in electronics.  His fascination is with the new invention, the radio.  When he reaches 10 or 12, he is told the Fuhueer needs his skills and is absorbed by a rigorous training program for elite “Hitler Youth”.

No, the two do not meet until the very end of the book, and the outcome is definitely NOT what the reader expects.

The writing is amazing, poetic ,yet flowing at the same time, but it is extremely detailed, and once again, I quit.

After the book had been on the New York Times Best Seller List and had a spike at Christmas when many people gave it to someone as a gift, I decided there “must be something to this book” and checked it out for a final time.

By now, WWII was ending, Marie was in a tiny town where her eccentric and mentally disturbed (thanks to WWI) uncle lived, and her father was in prison.  From the last 1/3 of the book, it became the most suspenseful book I have ever read!

Take a look at this random excerpt: (I literally opened the last 1/4 at random and pointed a finger and copied…)

“…the voices stop. She can hear (remember Marie Laure is blind)a scuffle and then a shot comes…

Footsteps hurry across the landing and enter the room.  There is a splash and a hiss, and she smells smoke and steam…

She can hear…as he runs his fingers along the back of the wardrobe (where she is hiding).  She tightens her grip on the handle of the knife.”

One last word that must be added.  The book is definitely of literary quality in the truest sense of literature.  (As a lit major in my graduate studies, I feel qualified to paste that label on this novel.)

I am so glad I finished this book.  It is the best, bar none, book I have read (or finished, technically)in 2016 so far.




Review of The Cradle by Patrick Sommerville

This novel was recommended as “a novel that comforts,” and it certainly lives up to that.  The Chicago author, with a reputation as a short story writer, tries his hand with his debut novel.  I love “collecting” debut novels and was able to find this 2009 publication at 1/2 Price Books.

Any author who selects his idea/title from the beginning of a Walt Whitman poem already earns an “excellent” rating as far as I’m concerned.

And then, the “read” itself…mystery,real love, trying times, and the quest/journey to find the cradle are handled well. What “happens” in the novel is unpredictable and avoids being “formulaic.”  The author keeps his reader turning the pages with expectation and curiosity to see what happens next. Secrets are revealed, interesting people make appearances, and “connections” and serendipity abound.  It is a good “read.”

I give the novel a 4 1/2 out of 5 for its ingenuity and the way the reader feels when she finishes it.

Review of two delightful cozy mysteries

As a break from my reading to give my overstimulated mind a rest, I read two light, light whodunnit, cozy mysteries.

The first was Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran, which is the first in a new culinary cozy series.  The recipe in the back of the book was for buttermilk pie, a specialty at the bookshop/cafe where several book clubs met. At the cafe/bookshop, books are sold, three meals a day are served by the owners/waitresses who share a life, are roommates, and , of course, solve a murder.  The victim, “Miss Delia,” one of the older women’s book club’s charter members, is found bludgeoned by a dull, heavy object and totally dead. We are on the “outskirts” of the mystery wondering what “Skully”, a local homeless man was doing skulking ( pun intended) around Miss Delia’s house.  I, an amateur Sherlock, just knew there was a “connection” but still got the “connection” wrong.  Excellent twists and turns, treasure hunters on motorcycles known as “wreckers”, and a touch of romance make an excellent summer read for anyone who loves books, belongs to a book club or just likes to read about food.  Available in paperback.

The second, Spell Booked by Joyce and Jim Laverne, a husband and wife mystery writing team, is again, the first in a series of books, the Retired Witch Mystery series.  It has great promise even though I am a good Christian and don’t like reading about witchcraft of any kind, even those as hilarious and delightful as these three witches. The book was a gift, and I enjoyed it very much.  It has a simple, but original plot. Three witches who realize they are now eligible for AARP, must “conjure up a retirement package” and find three young recruits to take their place. A big plus for me is that it is set in Wilmington, N.C., near my original “home state” of Virginia and near Beaufort, N.C. where my husband was born and raised until the age of five.

Olivia, one of the witches winds up dead near the beginning of the book, and the witch hunt (pun intended again) is on!  This is a fast read, an amusing read, and for any reader who likes humor, loves books and thrives on twists and turns.  This book is written by a very talented “team”. Available in paperback. 2014 publication.

Both books are my recommendations for beach reads, escape reads or  a “just- plain take-a-day-off-and- read- a -book- day”.  Both are  also easy to read as a “pick up and put down” book as well.







Review of The Kashmir Shawl

Kashmir Shawl was my Third Tuesday Book Club Selection for the month of May.  I had never heard of Rosie Thomas, and probably would have not read a “romance” on my own, but it was “assigned.”

I soon came to realize that as one member said, “Oh, it is so much more than a romance.” And oh my, it is!

The author, a wonderful gifted writer swept you away to India to the extent that I felt I had been there in that time during the Second World War. The descriptions and characterizations were exceptional, and the theme of the shawl was very vivid as the modern day girl searched out how her grandmother had come to own such an exquisite item, and  unfolded the grandmother’s “secret story.” I could feel the texture and see the colors of the shawl as I was seeing India and its former beauty.

As far as the romance, what woman wouldn’t be swept away as well by the Magician-hero with his tawny mane and his “leonine appearance?”

All in all it was a good read, perfect for summer and get-away-from-everything reading.

Book Review: Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River by Leif Engle is one of the best reads I encountered so far in 2016.  It was recommended by a friend who had borrowed it from the library, and she wanted me to read it so badly, she sent an Amazon copy to my front door (good friend!).  One of the blurbs on the book said, it “serves as a reminder of why we read fiction to begin with.”

The Land family,consists of  father-Jeremiah, Davy-older brother, Ruben-narrator and wonderful but asthmatic middle child, and Swede- the blonde haired blue eyed baby of the family, whom one reviewer compares to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.  The story is set in Minnesota and travels to the Dakota badlands as the story progresses.  The characters are unforgettable and the plot is suspenseful to the point where you discover you are holding your breath as you read.

There is a peace, as mentioned in the title, constantly searched for and finally attained by both the characters and the reader. One reviewer called the novel, “the perfect book for an anxious time,” referring to both the decade of the novel and today’s times which often require the total immersion in a good book to “make it through.”

I wholeheartedly recommend this book as a good investment of your reading time.