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

Amor Towles has surpassed his debut novel with this one

A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel - Amor Towles

It’s 1922 and the Bolshevik Tribunal has sentenced Count Alexander Rostov to house arrest due to writing a revolt-encouraging poem.  He’s considered a hero to some or otherwise he would have been shot.  His current residence is the Metropol so there he’s sent to serve his sentence.  If he sets foot outside of the Metropol, he will be shot.  He’s taken from the beautiful suite he was living in and is put in a small attic room.  The hotel is a large one but as time goes on, the walls shrink in as Count Rostov longs to join the rest of the outside world.  Count Rostov has gone from being a privileged aristocrat to a “Former Person”.


This is an intelligently written book that manages to grab your heart as it teaches you about the Russian world and people.   The cast of colorful characters are all absolutely delightful.  There is much more humor in his newest effort than in his first book.  This is also a very personal insight into the horrors of Russian rule.  But the horrors don’t take center stage in Mr. Towles’ latest; rather the indomitable human spirit is in the spotlight and truly shines in this compelling book.  


Amor Towles has surpassed his debut novel with this one and I don’t say that lightly as I loved “Rules of Civility”. I long to see “A Gentleman in Moscow” made into a PBS series.  An uplifting, wise, completely charming novel and one of my personal favorites of 2016.  Highly recommended.


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

Sci-fi version of "It's a Wonderful Life"

Dark Matter: A Novel - Blake Crouch

Jason Dessen is a teacher with a wife, Daniella, and a teenage son, Charlie. Both Jason and Daniella have given up promising careers when their son was born with some medical problems.  While sometimes they regretted not having pursued their dreams, they were content with their lives.  Then Jason is abducted by a masked man and is knocked unconscious.  When he comes to, he’s no longer in a world that he recognizes.  His wife is not his wife nor does he have a son.  He’s told that he’s a renowned quantum physicist who discovered something incredible.  Should Jason believe that his memories of his life with Daniella and Charlie were real or is this his real life?


Most of us at one time or another have wondered what our life would be like if we had taken a different path. What would our life be like now?  Would we be happier?  These are the questions this book asks us to think about.  What I particularly liked about this book is that it isn’t just a science fiction novel and it isn’t just a love story and it isn’t just a suspense thriller, though it does a great job as being all of these.  It makes you think and it’s a bit of a wake-up call, much as “It’s a Wonderful Life” is.


I very much enjoyed this fast-paced novel though I was a bit surprised that the main mystery was disclosed so early in the book. That didn’t take away from the fun of finding out where all of this was leading and there certainly were some major surprises ahead.  Jason, Daniella and Charlie are very likeable characters.  Blake Crouch certainly knows how to write an addictive story and I recommend this fantastical journey to all.


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


Well-crafted tale

Dear Mr. M: A Novel - Herman Koch

I enjoyed the newest book by Herman Koch very much. I think it’s his best yet.  It’s the story of Mr. M, a well-known author who wrote a successful novel based on the real-life possible murder of a high school teacher by two of his students.  Parts of the book are told by Mr. M, while parts of the books are told by his spooky neighbor, who has a tremendous interest in Mr. M and his family and doesn’t miss a second of watching them.


The author does a very good job of structuring this interesting story and building up the suspense. The sense of menace you feel with the first chapter just keeps growing and growing.  He kept me guessing all the way to the surprising end and I never saw it coming.  This is another of those books where I hesitate to say anything much about the plot as I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises ahead for its readers.  I’ll leave it up to the author to tell his tale.  Some reviewers are saying that they found the book to be confusing and hard to follow but I didn’t have any difficulty.  It’s one that you do have to pay close attention to, though, to keep the rather complicated plot straight in your mind.  I read it almost straight through without many breaks which I’m sure helped.  I was pretty much glued to it.


A well-crafted tale. Recommended.


I won a copy of this book in a LibraryThing giveaway.

Unfortunately not for me

A Time of Torment: A Charlie Parker Thriller - John Connolly

I have had this author’s books on my TBR list for quite some time and always intended to start off with the first book of the series and read them in order.  However, when this book was released, it caught my eye and I decided to give it a try. 


Jerome Burnell has spent five years in prison for possession of child pornography.  He says that he’s innocent and was framed and hires Charlie Parker to track down who framed him.  Charlie is led to the Cut, a murderous group lead by The Dead King. 


When I read about this series, I was under the impression that the main character, Charlie Parker, was an emotionally damaged private investigator who was haunted by the ghost of his daughter and who would be a bit like Kurt Wallender only with a supernatural twist.  I was wrong.  I had no idea how supernatural these books really are and how violent and dark and hard boiled they are.  I had expected to have compassion for Charlie but the character never touched my heart at all in this book.  Possibly if I had started at the beginning of the series, I would have understood his life and past more fully or possibly this book just wasn’t one of the author’s best.  Unfortunately, this one was not for me.  While the book didn’t win this reader to be a new fan, I’m sure those who have enjoyed the rest of the series would be much more appreciative of it.


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

Likeable story

Truly Madly Guilty - Liane Moriarty

This in-depth look at a group of neighbors makes for an interesting read, although it starts off way too slowly. Six neighbors and three children get together for a barbeque when something goes wrong.  The tease of what happens at the barbeque isn’t revealed until halfway through this lengthy book.  The telling of the story fluctuates between the time period after the barbeque and the day of the barbeque.  During the first half of the book, you can see the effects of whatever happened on these people but you don’t really understand why until half way through the book.  I found that to be annoying.  I think the author would have been better off if she had started the book by telling about the day of the barbeque and then went into how it affects everyone and the divisions and guilt that are exposed.  For some reason, the first half of this book reminded me of the TV series, “The Slap”, and I kept wondering if something similar had happened at this barbeque.  At least with “The Slap”, the incident is revealed at the beginning.


That being said, don’t let the slowness of the first half of the book discourage you completely. There is more to the book than what actually happened at the barbeque.  Even after that is revealed, there are other facts to be disclosed. I found the characters to be likeable and I cared about them, even while I sometimes found them to be immature and a bit irritating. There are many layers to this book. The complex relationships between these people, their marriages and their pasts are quite intensely explored and I found some of those sections very interesting and enjoyable.  I just felt that the structure of the book wasn’t the best means of presenting the story.

An OK beach read

The Couple Next Door - Shari Lapena

Anne and Marco Conti are the blessed parents of a beautiful little 6-month-old baby, Cora. But Cora is a fussy baby and Anne is having problems with postpartum depression and Marco’s business is on the skids.  There’s a party next door one night but the babysitter cancels.  The baby is left home alone, being checked on every half hour by alternating parents.  Oh, did I mention the grandparents are filthy rich?  Without too much imagination, I’m sure you can figure out what happens next to Cora.


The blurb of this book said it would leave me breathless. It didn’t but it did keep my interest and yes, there were plenty of twists and turns and some surprises as lies and secrets were disclosed.  But there wasn’t much depth to the story or characters.  I didn’t have much sympathy for any of them except baby Cora and the ending seemed a bit unrealistic to me.  It was a light summer read that kept me occupied and interested to see how it all turned out.


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

Excellent psychological suspense

Watching Edie - Camilla Way

Edie is 33 years old, alone and struggling to adapt to being a mother to her infant. Heather is a friend of hers from high school, who appears back in Edie’s life after 16 years of separation.  Heather longs to prove to Edie that she still belongs in her life and is willing to help Edie through this difficult time.  But the former relationship between Edie and Heather is a very complicated, dark one and will have a serious impact upon their current relationship.


The author does an excellent job of building up the suspense and fleshing out the characters, both today and in the past. She gives Heather the job of telling the story of the past while Edie is the present-day narrator. Both are haunted by the past, about which the author drops tantalizing crumbs until the final reveal.  I hesitate to say more about the plot of this book in fear of ruining the author’s careful and slow build up.  This is a better-than-usual psychological suspense thriller about obsession and deception and the strong desire to be loved.  It’s a gripping, intense story and one that I recommend.


I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads contest.

Great cookbook!

Pure Delicious - Heather Christo

This cookbook has over 150 allergen-free recipes, without gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish or cane sugar. I’m not allergic but am trying to go vegan so was interested in these recipes for that reason.


This is much more than a cookbook. It also tells the author’s story of how she transformed her cooking for her family after her daughter’s scary allergy attack.  It then goes on to describe in detail what a food elimination diet should be, how to set up your kitchen, how to help children transition, tips on eating out and 8 weeks to a new normal.  My favorite substitutes that she suggests are coconut milk for dairy, beet sugar instead of cane sugar, garbanza bean flour as a thickener and pumpkin and sunflower seeds instead of nuts.


It’s a beautifully designed cookbook with gorgeous photos that will spike your appetite. I don’t cook much in the hot summer but I did try the zucchini chickpea fritters with red onion marmalade that was very good.  There are quite a few meat recipes and being a vegetarian, I won’t be making use of those.  But there are plenty of others that I’ll be trying once the weather cools down.  I’m particularly looking forward to the spicy tomato, lentil and rice soup, which I’ll probably make less spicy, sweet corn and yellow tomato soup, quinoa with oven-dried tomatoes and smoky tomato vinaigrette and green onion sweet potato biscuits.  There are lots of unique pasta dishes, too.  And an awesome chocolate zucchini bundt cake.


All in all, this is a winner!


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

Summer Beach Sweepstakes. Feel free to REBLOG




Funny, sad and suspenseful

As Good As Gone - Larry Watson

Calvin Sidey is an old cowboy who abandoned his two children when his wife, Pauline, died. He’s living out in an old trailer, estranged from almost everyone who knew him.  His son, Bill, asks him come to his house for a week or so to keep an eye on the kids while Bill’s wife, Marjorie, has surgery.  What follows is quite an eventful visit from Grandpa.  His 17-year-old granddaughter, Ann, is receiving unwanted attention from an old boyfriend and his 11-year-old grandson, Will, is trying to avoid a confrontation with his rowdy friends.  Calvin may be old but he’s the same tough, no-nonsense man of his youth who hasn’t stopped living the Old West cowboy beliefs.


I’ve only read one other Larry Watson book, “Orchard”, and based on that experience, I had expected something much darker. This is written in a lighter manner with quite a bit of humor throughout.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its suspenseful moments.  The author is an expert at bringing his characters to life.  He writes down-to-earth, very true-to-life stories and is a gifted storyteller.  I couldn’t help but root for Calvin even as I cringed at some of his decisions.  I loved each and every one of these characters and hated to see the book end.  I will definitely be finding some time to read more of this author’s work and am very glad I was given a copy of this one.  It’s funny, sad and suspenseful.  Recommended.


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

A thriller with heart

Before the Fall - Noah Hawley

There’s a private jet that takes off from Martha’s Vineyard on a foggy August night. 11 people board the plane, most of who are wealthy.  Scott Burroughs, a struggling artist, has befriended one of the wives, Maggie, who has invited him to fly to New York with them.  16 minutes after taking off, the plane plunges to the sea.  One of the men survives, along with a 4-year-old boy.  This is the story of their survival in the ocean and the search thereafter for the plane debris, bodies and the reason why the plane went down.  The media, of course, pounces on the tragic ending of these wealthy people.


The book starts off with the plane crash and lightly touches on the passengers. After the crash and the exciting aftermath of the ocean dangers for the man and boy, the book goes back to enlighten the reader as to each of the characters involved and their individual stories.  The book fluctuates between the back stories and the time after the crash.


The highlight of the book is the relationship between the surviving man and the little boy and the bond that the tragic event created between them. I loved these two and longed for healing for them both.  I also very much enjoyed the descriptions of the artist’s paintings and wish they really existed so I could see them, especially the tornado painting.  What I didn’t care as much for was the author’s writing of conversations between the characters.  He structured his conversations by using broken fragments, which I think was his effort to make the conversation sound authentic since we don’t often speak in full sentences.  But the effect was annoying to me and actually made the conversations seem phony.


If you’re looking for an exciting thriller with lots of action, you’d be disappointed with this book. But it has a well-written plot which could have ended up in several directions which will keep you guessing, though probably not right up to the end.


It was a fun, enjoyable read. Recommended.

Fact or fiction?

War and Turpentine: A novel - Stefan Hertmans, David H. McKay

The author, Stefan Hertmans, is a well-known Flemish poet. Apparently there is some debate over how much of his book, “War and Turpentine”, is fictional and how much is true.  Indeed, the main character in the book, Urbain Martien, is the author’s grandson and he did bequeath his memoirs to him, which took Hertmans 30 years before reading.  When questioned, the author has said that he only lightly edited his grandfather’s memoir.  And yet it isn’t advertised as a memoir.


The book starts out with Turpentine (his grandfather’s young days as a poor European). Part of the section is told by Hertmans as recollections of his grandfather and part is told by his grandfather and includes his recollections of his own father.  I enjoyed this section the most as it dealt with the art produced by Urbain and his father.  It beautifully portrays the life of the poor a century ago.  I especially enjoyed the photos of the artwork referenced and the personal photos contained throughout the book.  There are also essays and mediations contained in this section.


Then there is a long section, the war section, told by Urbain. This is probably the best written part of the book and I tend to think this may have been the bulk of the grandfather’s writings, though it’s written with the heart of a poet, which Hertmans is. It’s a horrific accounting of Urbain’s experiences in the war.  What struck me most about this section were the parts when Urbain would recount what he was seeing in front of him and compare it to his beautiful memories of the country, lighting up the stark difference. There were parts that were difficult to read due to their nature.


The book then goes back to Turpentine and tells of Urbain’s life after the war and his marriage to Gabrielle. This section has a sad story to tell.


As well as this book is written and the beautiful poetical prose throughout, I just never really seemed to connect with the characters. In the Turpentine sections, the author jumps around quite a bit between the author, his grandfather and his great-grandfather and would sometimes lose me.  There were many relatives that I couldn’t keep straight.  I think if I had read it as a memoir, it would have given me a different perspective than reading it as fictional based on fact.  I found it a bit disconcerting not knowing what was true and what wasn’t.


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


Very moving debut

With Love from the Inside - Angela Pisel

This is the tragic story of a mother accused of killing her infant son, William, and the terrible cost of the accusation to her husband and daughter. Although she adamantly proclaimed her innocence, Grace was convicted of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome and after serving 17 years is now awaiting execution. She hasn’t seen her daughter Sophie for 11 years and longs to see her one last time.  Sophie has been living a life of lies due to her shame over her mother’s imprisonment.  There’s a clock ticking the days and hours away until Grace’s execution.  Is it too late for this mother and daughter to reunite and forgive?


There are stories within stories in this well plotted book. There’s the story of Grace and her connection with other women prisoners with each of their unique tales and the terror when the date of her execution is announced.  There’s the story of Sophie and the relationship with her husband that is marred by the lies she has hidden behind for so many years.  There’s a story of a little boy named Max who has severe medical problems and is abandoned by his mother but who has gained Sophie’s love. 


I think this is an excellent debut by this author and I’m interested in reading any future work by her. I cared very much for each of the characters and my heart was racing during the last few chapters as I waited, along with the characters, to learn whether the governor would grant Grace clemency.  The author has a very deep understanding of women in prison and did an excellent job of bringing out all of their humiliation, fears and hopes.  Recommended.


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


More of a character study than a suspenseful thriller

Listen to Me - Hannah Pittard

This one was a bit of a surprise to me. I expected it to be more of a thriller.  But instead I found an in-depth character study of a man, Mark, and his wife, Maggie.  Maggie has recently been mugged and has become paranoid and fearful.  She spends too much time on the internet reading stories of the evil men do to others to Mark, who doesn’t want to hear them.  She tries to make Mark see the evil in the world.  Mark is struggling with the changes that the mugging has brought into their lives. They set off on a trip to visit Mark’s parents and run into violent storms and they end up in an out-of-the-way hotel with no power.


The suspense is very slow building but the menace is felt throughout the book. I had chosen this book because I read that it was a Hitchcockian tale.  It is in the sense that the danger is implied and your imagination fills in what may happen but it isn’t a horror book.   I felt an edgy uneasiness as I read.  It’s not only what’s happening to this couple during the trip that gives chills – the storm, the dark roads, the menacing characters, the possible dangers around the corner – but it’s also all the turmoil and angst within them that kept me glued to the pages.  It’s a very quick read that even includes commentary on the perils of our technological world and how technology has impacted our relationships with each other.  There’s not a lot of action in this book.  It’s slow moving and reflective.  I enjoyed this surprising little book and do recommend it. 


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

Truth definitely is stranger than fiction

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness & Family Secrets  - Luke Dittrich

This is a non-fiction book about Patient H.M., whose name was Henry Molaison. It’s a tragic story of a man used as a human guinea pig for decades.  He was only 27 years old when he received a radical new lobectomy to cure him of epilepsy, which left him with short-term amnesia.  He then became a live research study for the rest of his life, until his death at age 82.  Interestingly, the author of this book is the grandson of William Beecher Scoville, the man who performed the lobectomy on Henry.  Dr. Scoville went on to perform surgery on thousands of other patients.  As the author delves into the work of his grandfather, he learns of his own family’s dark secrets of madness.  And last but not least, there’s even a battle for poor dead Henry’s brain and who is belongs to.


This non-fiction book reads like a horror story. It not only covers the story of Henry Molaison but it also tells of the beginnings of studies on the human brain in ancient times, takes you into insane asylums when they were at their worst with patients being tortured in the name of a cure and tells of the horrendous experiments done by the Nazis.  It’s an interesting book but tough to read.  The author doesn’t hold back anything and explicitly details the experiments and surgeries performed.


Luke Dittrich has written a very brave and personal book. He has turned Patient H.M. from a research object to a human being.  He bares the ruthlessness of the scientific world in this well-researched and humane study of medical research.


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

Will entangle you in its web

Siracusa - Delia Ephron

A group of friends travel to Italy together.  Michael, a Pulitzer-winning author, and his wife Lizzie, a journalist, together with Finn, a restaurant owner, and his wife, Taylor, and their 10-year-old daughter, Snow.  Taylor has a quite odd relationship with her daughter and interprets shy Snow’s weird clucks and grunts and speaks for her.  Finn and Lizzie have a past history together as they were once lovers.  Taylor is enamored with Michael and is thrilled when he starts to show Snow special attention.  She feels he will help Snow out of her shyness. Snow is pulled into the drama going on between the four adults and their lies and secrets with catastrophe inevitable.


The book is told by each of the four adults in alternating short chapters, which I enjoyed as it gave the reader an excellent understanding of each character’s view of events as they unfolded.  It’s a sinister, dark read with some light touches along the way.  The author knows how to entangle the reader into her story’s web and keep you there.  The writing reminded me of Patricia Highsmith.


The added attraction of this story is that it all happens in Italy, far from the characters’ safety zone of home.  The lack of familiarity of the area adds to the vulnerability of the characters.  Michael in particular longs to sort this all out when they get home rather than have it all unravel in a strange place.   I loved the authors’ description of Rome and Siracusa and felt that I was there with them all, enjoying the food and the sights. 


There’s a good buildup of tension and suspense; unfortunately, I did figure out where the book was headed well before I think I was supposed to, so no surprises for me.  But it was still a fun read to see how the author would plot it all out and I had a hard time putting it down.  Recommended.


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