Marjorie's World of Books

I have to admit - I'm terribly addicted to books! Will never live long enough to read all that I want to read. The problem is, authors keep writing more! :) 

Challenge Participant Professional Reader

Interesting true spy story

The Spy Who Couldn't Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI's Hunt for America's Stolen Secrets - Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

This is a very interesting book about an American spy, Brian Regan, who was known as the Spy Who Couldn’t Spell. Regan wasn’t the typical spy.  Most people thought of him as not being very intelligent, mostly due to his dyslexia.  But he was able to amass an amazingly large bulk of highly sensitive intelligence and turned out to be a brilliant cryptologist.  Steven Carr is the dedicated FBI agent hot on his trail.


The book is written in a journalistic style and is very easy to read and understand. I found the spy hunt to be a fascinating one.  I also enjoyed the author’s reconstruction of Regan’s childhood and upbringing in an effort to create an understanding of how a spy was born.  Not quite as fascinating was the prosecution of Regan but it still kept me interested.  


This is not written as a thriller but is more a methodic, years long hunt for a spy. It’s well written and I found it quite frightening to see how easy it was for Regan to accumulate America’s secrets and how willing he was to sell those secrets to our enemies.  I felt much anger at Regan and his desire to betray his country for money and found nothing in his history to give me any sympathy for him.  Congratulations to all those who brought this ignoble spy down.


This book was given to me by the publisher through First to Read in return for an honest review.

Heartwarming Christmas story

Pretty Paper - Willie Nelson, David Ritz

It’s Christmas time in the 60’s in Texas and everyone is hustling along the streets, going in and out of the gaily decorated stores doing their Christmas shopping. On the sidewalk is a man with no legs, selling Christmas wrapping paper and calling out “pretty paper”. His name is Vernon Clay and he catches Willie’s eye. Willie takes an interest in Vernon and is determined to learn Vernon’s story and to help him out any way he can.

For those of you familiar with Willie Nelson’s music, you’ll be well familiar with his Christmas song, “Pretty Paper”. The song was inspired by a real-life street vendor named Frankie Brierton. Willie always wondered who the man was who inspired his song and now Willie has written this charming Christmas tale. It’s written by Willie in collaboration with David Ritz.

Willie Nelson has proved through his music that he knows how to pull on the heartstrings so it’s no surprise what a warm, heartwarming story this is. It’s written in a down-to-earth, forthright manner. It’s hard to say how much of the book is true. At the beginning of the book, Willie is married with three children and he was married with three children in the 60’s. I’ve read, too, that the story he includes about himself and Charlie Pride is true. However, the disability of the real street vendor, Frankie Brierton, was due to a spinal disorder, unlike the reason for Vernon’s disability.

Whatever is true or not true, read this book with the expectation of being charmed. There aren’t particularly any surprises in this story but it sets up a lovely Christmas atmosphere perfect for that time of year.

This book was given to me by the publisher through First to Read in return for an honest review.

A very unique narrator

Nutshell: A Novel - Ian McEwan

You’ll really need to stretch your imagination wide open for this one! Trudy is living in the marital home where she once lived with her husband, John, but now she’s living with his brother, Claude.  She’s 9-months pregnant with John’s baby.  But the love of money must have its way and Trudy and Claude scheme a plot to commit murder.  But there’s a witness to this murder plot – Trudy’s unborn baby, who narrates this whole book.


Now a baby doesn’t know much about this world, right? Well, this baby has been absorbing all of the podcasts and audio books and TV news shows that his mother has been listening to and has gained great insight into the world in which he’s about to be born.  He’s really amazingly educated being such a young age!  However, there’s only so much this little baby can know, not being able to see what’s going on and falling asleep during vital conversations, so he’s a bit of an unreliable narrator but he does the best he can.


This is a very witty, and certainly totally unique, retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I usually steer clear of retellings but I’m very glad I had a chance to read this one. Mr. McEwan has really pulled out all stops with his latest.


I won this book in a Doubleday giveaway.

The power of the past

The Life-Writer - David Constantine

This is a beautiful book about a literary biographer named Katrin, whose beloved husband, Eric, is dying from cancer. I had to marvel at the author’s ability to so movingly depict those last months they have together.  After Eric’s death, Katrin starts reading through his paperwork and old letters and decides to write his life history in the hope that it will help her through her grief.  As painful as it is, she begins to reconstruct the time frame when Eric falls passionately in love with Monique when he was a young man.  Katrin had been so happy with Eric but now she begins to doubt whether their life together could begin to compare with his love for Monique.


Katrin’s dwelling on Eric’s past became obsessive. There were times when Katrin would want to stop reading the letters and just get on with her life and I wanted to selfishly plead with her to please keep reading since I wanted to know more.  This was one of those books that I didn’t want to end and when it did end, I wanted to start from the beginning again and that doesn’t happen often.  This book wrapped its words around my heart and just wouldn’t let go.  Gorgeous writing that touched me in so many ways.


The only negative thing about the book was that there were times when the French was not translated and I had no idea what was being said. There was one vitally important sentence in a letter from Monique to Eric that wasn’t translated which I found very frustrating.  At the end of the book, there was a list of translations with the page numbers, which wasn’t very helpful when reading an e-book.  Plus I wasn’t aware those translations were there until the book had ended.  Since I was reading an ARC of the book, hopefully that will be rectified in the final edition.


Highly recommended.


This book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.

Erotic tale of competition between mother and daughter

French Girl with Mother: A Novel - Norman Ollestad

Nathan is a struggling artist who is able to paint a technically perfect reproduction of other artists’ work but he’s been unable to find the emotional element needed to create masterpieces of his own. Then he meets a young uninhibited French girl, Anais, who may be just the muse that he needs.  He feels there’s a dangerous element to a relationship with Anais but he can’t resist the pull to sketch her so he accepts her invitation to stay at her parents’ home.  Upon meeting and getting to know her parents, he’s drawn into a web of sexual competition and illegal acts.


I thought the first half of this book was so beautifully written. The author does an excellent job of letting the reader experience the acceleration of menace behind this dysfunctional family and concern for Nathan as he gets more and more deeply involved.  While I can’t say that I really liked any of the characters very much, even Nathan, I had to keep reading to see where it would all go.  I feel that the book loses some of its raw beauty in the second half of the book, which degenerates a bit into an art forgery thriller, though there is still the desire to know whether Nathan will choose love of his art or his love of Anais. 


This book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.

Thought-provoking novel

Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult

This book tackles a very controversial subject – racism. A white supremacist couple have requested that the hospital where their son was just born reassign their nurse from Ruth, who is a person of color, to a white nurse.  They don’t want Ruth to touch their baby.  The nurse tells Ruth she isn’t allowed to treat this baby.  But then an emergency comes up and the tragic outcome lands Ruth on trial for murder.


Ms. Picoult has chosen a very tricky subject and has done a great job describing the every-day indignities that people of color experience.   Ruth’s lawyer is white and thinks that she is unbiased and understands the plight of black Americans .  Yet as she and Ruth get closer and create a tenuous bond between them, she is shocked at how little she did understand.  This will be an eye-opening book for many.  There are no easy answers for this moral dilemma. 


Please note that this quote is from an ARC of this book and may be changed in the final edition but it struck such a chord with me that I had to include it in this review: “Equality is treating everyone the same.  But equity is taking differences into account, so everyone has a chance to succeed.”  The author goes on to give an example.  Giving a printed test to two kids is equal but not if one of them is blind.


At one point, I was going to give this book 4 stars as there were some parts of it I found quite a bit slanted. Ruth blamed so many things on her being a person of color when some of those things could just have easily happened to a white person.  But as was mentioned in the book, a white person hasn’t lived the life of a person of color so they don’t have a good understanding of that life and the resentment that builds over time.  Those moments of doubt that I had at the beginning of the book dissolved as the book went on.  The trial is amazingly suspenseful, interesting and unpredictable.  Kennedy and Ruth’s relationship was written so true and honestly.   There is also a twist near the end that I never saw coming.  And the ending was absolutely beautiful and made me cry.


People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.

   Nelson Mendela  - “Long Walk to Freedom”


This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review. Highly recommended.

Who can resist a witch?

The Fifth Petal: A Novel - Brunonia Barry

This book has some of the same characters as in “The Lace Reader” though you don’t necessarily need to read the first book in order to enjoy this one. There are some mention of things that happened in the first book.  Apparently, more of what has happened between the first and second books will be contained in the author’s next release “Bone Lace”.  Although I did read “The Lace Reader”, I don’t remember it all that well so I didn’t quite remember what they were talking about in the mentions of previous happenings but it didn’t take away from the present book.


As said, I don’t really remember much about the first book and I feel that a few months from now, I won’t remember much of this book either. I enjoyed the overall ambiance of the setting in Salem, Mass and all the background information about the Salem witch trials, although I’ve read most of that before.  Also interesting was to learn about present day Salem and the effects the past has had on it.  As for the two witch stories contained in this book, the first surrounded the murder of three young woman known as the “Goddesses” in 1989 and the present-day murder of a teenage boy.  Rose Whelan, a respected expert on the Salem witch trials, was the prime suspect in both murders.  She claimed that a banshee was to blame.


I did like each of the characters in this book and I enjoyed reading the story. However, it was very drawn out and a lot of the book seemed to be just fill in.  I had trouble keeping my attention on the book and it never really hooked me.  But I did enjoy the basic story and I’m sure anyone who enjoyed “The Lace Reader” will welcome this newest addition.


This book was given to me by the publisher through LibraryThing in return for an honest review.


A treasure trove of photos

Photographs from the Edge - Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

What a gorgeous collection of photographs this is! Starting right off with the cover, which isn’t a paper cover but instead the photograph is right on the hardcover book and wraps around halfway to the back.  It’s a striking photograph of Huangshan or the Yellow Mountains of China.


The book is filled with photographs of flamingos, bears, dolphins, whales, tribal celebrations, mountain ranges and erupting volcanos. The photos are fascinating.  But just as fascinating as the photographs are the stories the photographer has written about each scene.  My favorite story is the one about the lemurs.  The author said that these monkeys are so friendly that he has them climb up his tripod, crawl on his shoulder and give him kisses behind the ear.


The author also gives photo tips on how he was able to obtain the special effects of each photo, which I’m sure would be very helpful to those who are interested in photography itself. But for me, the pleasure of this book was getting lost in the extraordinary world that Art Wolfe has captured in his photographs.  This book will be treasured by me and my family for many years to come and will be picked up again and again.  Most highly recommend. 


This book was given to me by the publisher through Blogging for Books in return for an honest review.


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Shocking and heartbreaking

The Other Side of the World - Stephanie Bishop, Penelope Rawlins

This book had quite a profound effect on me. It’s the story of a married couple, Charlotte and Henry, who are living in England in the 1960’s.    Charlotte is an artist, but when she begins to have children, she goes through a depressed period and has difficulty painting or dealing with life as a mother and wife.  Henry, having been born in India and who has never liked English weather, decides that it would help their family to move to Australia and start a new life there.  Charlotte has no desire at all to leave her beloved England behind but is so worn out that she gives in. 


While there was a part of me that could certainly relate to Charlotte’s struggles, my main sympathy was for Henry, who tried so hard to make life better for his family, even throughout his own difficulties.   I can understand Charlotte being homesick as I know I would be, too, if I left all that was familiar.  But home is where the heart is and she had her “heart” with her – her husband and little girls – and I feel that she was almost trying not to adjust to the new country.  Regardless of how I felt about the decisions that Charlotte makes, I also cared for her and so very much wanted the best for them all.  The author developed her characters magnificently and had great insight into their lives.


This is such a beautifully written piece of literature. I truly loved it.  Ms. Bishop has written an honest, no bars held masterpiece.  She knows how to capture her readers’ attention and hearts.   The ending is shocking and heartbreaking and literally took my breath away.   Most highly recommended.


This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.


Eileen: A Novel - Ottessa Moshfegh

I don't think I've ever read a book with a more self-loathing character than Eileen. Oh, how she hates herself and the world! At least she does when she's 24 year old, working in a boy's detention center and living with her alcoholic father. The story is told by Eileen when she's an old woman and apparently she's happy in her old age. She's telling of a particular week in her life, a week before Christmas, when she meets Rebecca and her world is changed drastically.


This is a very character driven book, which is something I usually enjoy. It's also a very dark book, which is also something I usually enjoy. But this book goes a bit too far, to the point of being preposterous. I tend to think that it's supposed to be funny in its absurdness.  If so, I just didn't see the humor. It literally turned my stomach at times.


I will say, though, that the author is a daring one and has created a very human character, albeit a very damaged one. I never wanted to give up on the book and wanted to see what the event is that Eileen keeps hinting about. That event doesn't come about until the last 20-30 pages. While that event was unexpected, it only left me puzzled.


Many people have loved this book and it has won  or has been on the list for some honorable prizes. Unfortunately, I personally cannot recommend it.

Kept me on my toes

The Wicked Go To Hell (Pushkin Vertigo) - Frédéric Dard, David Coward

This is a little gem of a book that was first published in France back in 1956. The author, Frederic Dard, published over 300 thrillers, suspense stories, plays and screenplays.  This book was first written by Dard as a play and then released in a film directed by Robert Hossein in 1955.   The book is a novelization of the film and has recently been translated to English with publication in the US.


The story involves two prisoners, Frank and Hal, sharing a cell. One of them is a spy and one of them is a police officer who has been told to help the spy escape prison, thereby earning his trust so he can learn more about the spy ring.  The reader has no idea who is the spy and who is the police officer.  It’s a short book and kept me guessing and I enjoyed it.  Nothing in depth here with not much fleshing out of the characters but rather a simple straightforward suspenseful story that kept my interest.


This book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.


Entrancing and chilling tale

To the Bright Edge of the World: A Novel - Eowyn Ivey

This book is about an expedition to Alaska in 1885. It’s loosely based on a real-life expedition taken by Lt. Henry J. Allen but I’m sure the real adventurers didn’t encounter what those in this book did.  For those of you who have read this author’s “The Snow Child”, (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) you’ll know that folklore and mythology play a huge role in her work.  While the book feels like a true story since it includes photos, newspaper clippings, drawings, artifacts, diary entries and official documents, the events in this story will fill your mind with wonder as it sends chills down your spine.


Lt. Col. Allen Forrester takes off for Alaska and the Wolverine River with a small team of men to explore the territory. None of the other teams sent out have made it back alive so this is a very dangerous task they’ve taken on.  Cannibalism is rumored among the Indian tribes.  Food will be scarce and the weather is brutal.  As hard as the journey is anticipated to be, none of them can imagine what is actually ahead for them.


Forrester has left behind his wife, Sophie, who is an adventurous soul herself and longs to travel to Alaska beside him.   But an unexpected event stops her from going and she must content herself at home.  The love letters sent between Allen and Sophie are lovely and the author has done an excellent job of fleshing out these two characters and their love for each other.  I especially enjoyed reading about Sophie’s love of birds and her beginnings as a photographer.


There are parts that are a bit slow moving and probably could have been deleted without much of a loss but most of the book flows along quite well and keeps your interest.


This is a beautifully written book. The descriptions of Alaska are breathtaking, the adventures are suspenseful and the witch doctor is nightmare inducing.  Magical and recommended.


This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Haunting and shocking

The Wonder - Emma Donoghue

Anna O’Donnell is an 11-year-old girl living in Ireland in the 1830’s. She claims not to have eaten food for the past four months and is living on manna from heaven.  A local committee has hired Lib Wright, an English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, along with a Catholic nun, to watch Anna 24 hours a day for two weeks to see if they can catch the girl sneaking food.  Is this a hoax or a miracle?  Or is it murder?  Lib is determined to find out as she fights against superstition.


This is a beautifully written book and explores the power of religion over a young person’s mind. I found it to be completely spellbinding and fascinating.  The depth of the bond that grows between little Anna and her nurse is breathtaking.  Ms. Donoghue has pitted love against evil, doubt against faith, and has come up with a powerful and heart wrenching psychological thriller that takes a scathing look into the lives and beliefs of the Irish following the potato famine.


Highly recommended. This has surpassed “Room” as my favorite Donoghue book.


I won a copy of the book through Goodreads with the understanding that I would give an honest review in return.

Thrilling, heart wreching and powerful

Black Water - Louise Doughty

John Harper works as an operative for a black-ops operation. It’s 1998 and he’s staying in a hut in Indonesia in fear of his life.  He’s made an error of judgment which most likely has made him a liability to his employer and unfortunately, John is all too familiar with how his employer deals with failures.  John has plenty of time to remember his disastrous 1965 Indonesian tour.  He obviously has serious regrets about some of his past actions and struggles with his memories.  When he meets Rita, another damaged soul, he shares some of his past with her but she knows he hasn’t told her everything. 


The book bounces back and forth between 1998 and 1965 and when John was a child. John is the son of an Indonesian soldier who the Japanese beheaded and an alcoholic Dutch woman.  The happiest time of his life are the years spent with Poppa and Nina and his little half-brother Bud.  The author masterfully fleshes out John’s character and shows how his childhood has led him to where he is today.  His path has been a long, hard one and I longed for John to find redemption and love.  I literally had trouble breathing during the last few pages of this book.


I picked this book based on the author alone since I thought “Apple Tree Yard” was an amazing book. I hardly glanced at what the book was about.  When I started to read it, I thought I might have made a mistake as it obviously was an espionage book, much like Graham Greene would write, and I’m not particularly fond of that type of book.  But the author’s characterization makes her new book an excellent read and one that I highly recommend.  It’s thrilling, it’s heart wrenching and it’s powerful.

A wonderful first journal for kids

Me: A Compendium: A Fill-in Journal for Kids - Wee Society

This is a delightful fill-in journal for children. The pages are big and bold and colorful.  There are 96 creative pages to get young minds thinking and imagining.  This is the type of book that will be a family keepsake for many years to come.


There’s a page showing a space ship with the words “If I were going to outer space, this is what I would pack”. There’s the inside of a refrigerator saying “What I wish was inside my refrigerator”.  And the robot page with “If I had a robot, I would program it to…”  There are pages to list their best buddies, note how tall they are and what time they go to bed.  And of course they have to fill in the funniest joke they know.  Even the inside of the cover is fun!


The publisher lists the ages for this book as being 4-8 years old. I think it’s more appropriate for 6-8 year olds who have some reading/writing skills of their own.  But it could be read to younger children and a parent could help them write in their answers.  Or they could draw them in.  I can’t wait to give this to my 6-year-old grandson and see what he comes up with.


What could be more fun than a book all about “ME” that kids get to write themselves! Highly recommended.


This book was given to me by the publisher through Blogging for Books in return for an honest review.


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Sure, it's fiction but too unrealistic for me

The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah

Vianne Mauriac is a French woman whose husband, Antoinne, has gone off to war to fight the Germans. When the Nazis occupy France, her home is requisitioned by a Nazi captain.  Vianne has no choice but to stay in the house with the Nazi or risk losing her home altogether.  Her teenage sister, Isabelle, makes her displeasure all too well known and places Vianne and her daughter, Sophie, in danger due to her impetuous nature.  Isabelle leaves the family home and joins the Resistance.


I’ve read many, many books, both fiction and non-fiction, about the Nazis and all of the many atrocities committed by them during World War II. I kept feeling that I had read this book before, mainly because the author included each and every atrocity and WWII story in this book.  There were parts that just didn’t seem realistic.  This is supposed to be set in a small quiet town; however, the whole war seems to be centered on this small quiet town.  It must have been quite an important little town for all that happened there.  Certainly the actions of the Nazis were horrendous.  However, the melodramatic tone taken by the author gave a soap opera feeling to this book.  I’ve heard so many readers say that the ending was so moving; however, I must say that I shook my head in disbelief as I read it.  Too much of this book just didn’t ring true to me.  I could give quite a lengthy list of what struck me as unrealistic but I don’t want to give plot away for those who haven’t read the book yet.


That’s not to say that I didn’t like the book at all because I did.  The most moving parts to me were the sections involving Rachel’s son, Ari.  I applaud the courage that these sisters found deep inside themselves and their bravery.   There certainly were suspenseful moments.  However, the inconsistencies and unrealistic parts jarred my mood and brought me out of the story.  The thought “that doesn’t make sense” occurred to me far too often.


Quite possibly I’ve just read too many books of this type. However, I thought “All the Light We Cannot See” was a beautiful book and so very moving.  It’s hard to give a just-okay rating to a book of this nature since we all do need to be reminded of what happened to the Jewish people in WWII and books such as this are so important.  However, I don’t feel that the author did justice to such a terrible time in human history.