Carmel Valley Library

Book Reviews

Book Reviews

“Second Best” by David Foenkinos

Second Best by David Foenkinos imagines the life of the young actor who was runner-up for choice of the character of Harry Potter in the 8 movies following the success of the books by J K Rowling. Martin Hill is ten years old, crazy about Arsenal and through no real desire of his own makes it to the final two in the casting for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In the end, the other boy is picked and a devastated Martin tries to move on with his life. Whether you loved Harry Potter or not this book deals brilliantly with rebuilding life after huge disappointment and supposed failure. Translated from French by Megan Jones.

“Lessons” by Ian McEwan

The best novels take you on an unexpected journey and make you stop and think and relate on so many levels. This was one of those! Lessons covers so many aspects of history, politics, culture, family dynamics, marriage, love, loss and grief all through the life experiences of one man – Roland Baines. I was particularly moved, disturbed and fascinated by his wife leaving him and his young baby to enable her creative self to fully function. This would make a fantastic book club choice – so many things to discuss!!

MCFL has Lessons available as a physical book and audiobook, check it out here.
And be sure to check out many of Ian McEwan’s other books here, including Atonement which has received many awards.

“The Lost Heir” by Tui T. Sutherland

Wings of Fire, Volume 2
Summary: A group of dragons traveling to find their family and their part of a prophecy to end the war that has been going on for twenty years.
Favorite Character: Tsunami is the main character and is slightly over protective.
Favorite Part: My favorite scene is when Tsunami meets her mother for the first time. It was heartwarming.
What I learned: It taught me not to protect too much.
Recommendation: It’s very heartwarming.
Overall I liked this book because it was very entertaining. It was heartwarming and exciting. I think you would enjoy this book.

“The Wishing Spell” by Chris Colfer

The Land of Stories, Volume 1
Summary: The Land of Stories is about a pair of twins who use their grandmother’s story book and accidentally travel to a strange world. They have no idea they are about to walk into a danger beyond their imaginations.
Favorite Character: Alex, I like her because she is smart and polite.
Favorite Part: My favorite part is when the twins help Goldilocks defeat the wolves.
What I learned: I learned that it is important to work together.

“Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr

Summary: Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land is a modern classic following Anna and Omeir in 1453 Constantinople, 17 year old Seymour, 80 something Zeno in modern time, Konstance who is 14, and a multi generation spaceship in its 65th mission year. This seemingly random cast of characters has one thing in common: the love of an ancient greek story called Cloud Cuckoo Land.

“Keeper of the Lost Cities” by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities, 6 Volumes
Summary: A girl moves to an elvin world, where she learns everything she knows is wrong.
Favorite Character: Sophie Foster, she is the main character.
Favorite Part: Fitzphie (romantic/platonic pairing between Sophie and Fitzroy)
Recommendation: It’s just great.

“Worlds Collide” by Chris Colfer

The Land of Stories, Volume 6
Summary: Alex and Connor have a problem. Nothing is going right. The masked man and his fantastical army are attacking the Otherworld, Connor has school problems, and Alex can’t figure out why she’s losing her memory. They need to figure this out before it’s too late…
Favorite Character: Alex, because she is a twin, just like me and she is generally really cool.
Favorite Part: I can’t decide. The whole book is amazing. It was just really fun to read.

“Nightfall” by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities, Volume 6
Summary: It is about a girl who has an entire group after her, and has a lot of trouble deciding between 3 boys.
Favorite Character: My favorite character is Dex Dizznee because he is always forgotten.
Favorite Part: Sodex (romantic/platonic pairing of Sophie and Dex)
Recommendation: Because I LOVE it!

“Mr Wilder & Me” by Jonathan Coe

I loved this unique novel about a Greek film composer remembering the impact on her life of meeting and working with film director Billy Wilder during the filming of Fedora, set on the island of Corfu. There is her own coming of age story, a touching friendship between two generations, and the story of the end of the golden era of Hollywood. There are lots of references to Wilder both his early days and later life, together with his relationship with his writing partner Iz Diamond. Beautifully written.

By the same author: You might like What a Carve Up!, The Rotters Club, Bournville and Middle England.

“The Romantic” by William Boyd

William Boyd is a brilliant storyteller. His novels are always entertaining and surprising and so satisfying! My first introduction to him was through his book Any Human Heart. His latest The Romantic tells the story of Cashel Greville Ross, born in 1799 who travels the world experiencing an incredible array of tragedies and good fortune. He is a soldier, farmer, a prisoner, a writer, a father and lover. We find him in Ireland, France, Zanzibar, Massachusetts and Italy. So cleverly put together – hard to put down!

By the same author: Too many to list but I loved Any Human Heart, Restless, Waiting For Sunrise, Ordinary Thunderstorms, Love is Blind and Sweet Caress.

“Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese

It is almost 15 years since Stanford Professor of Medicine Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone hit the NYT bestseller list and it has been well worth the wait!! 

This epic multigeneration saga set in Kerala from the 1900s to 1977 is full of the sights, smells, sounds, history and culture, of the region with the story centering around Big Ammachi, the matriarch of a family, whom we first meet as a 12 year old bride to be. Without giving anything away, Big Ammachi’s family is afflicted with a peculiar condition relating to water. There were shocks, surprises and lots of medical references and while the book is long (over 700 pages) the beautiful writing just takes you from page to page and generation to generation effortlessly. It kept me intrigued right to the last page. Loved it!

Get in line to check out this book here, and be sure to look into these similar books available from MCFL:

“Four Letters of Love” by Niall Williams

I can’t believe I have only just discovered Niall Williams and feel I should apologize for picking yet another Irish author but I simply cannot help myself. This debut novel was first published in 1997. The writing is beautiful, and the story mind-blowing. And what’s more I have just learnt that it is being made into a movie this year! The setting is Southern Ireland and the story centers on two young characters Nicholas Coughlan and Isabel Gore who live on opposite sides of the country. The plot twists are totally unpredictable, both heartbreaking and heartwarming right to the very end. If I say anymore I will get carried away and ruin your enjoyment. I LOVED this book!

Here’s a couple of other books by Niall Williams that you can borrow from MCFL:

“The Gospel of Orla” by Eoghan Walls

This debut novel by Northern Irish poet Eoghan Walls is simply wonderful! Unusual, funny, tragic and totally convincing despite some strange goings on. Orla McDevitt is a grieving teenager who, while cycling across England to visit her aunt in Ireland, meets an unusual man called Jesus with a particularly unique ability. A hilarious coming of age story that also encompasses the tragedy and mystery of faith and loss.

“Eoghan Walls manages to make every single emotion Orla feels—every thought, response and action—utterly convincing and fresh and original” –COLM TOIBIN

This book isn’t available in the MCFL catalog today, but there are very similar, popular books available today that you can check out. Check out the following list:

“Still Life” by Sarah Winman

There is nothing more satisfying and uplifting than reading a book that is not just beautifully written, full of unforgettable and loveable characters, and tells a captivating story, but one that also encompasses so much about art, life, love and family. You will be transported back in time to the East End of London and the Tuscan countryside after the Second World War and follow the life of Ulysses Temper for four wonderful decades. A truly fabulous novel!

Want to read this book? You can borrow the ebook from MCFL here!

“A Dangerous Business” by Jane Smiley

Carmel Valley’s very own Pulitzer-winning Jane Smiley has a rollicking brand new mystery out – and it is set in 1850s Monterey. The protagonists are two young prostitutes – best friends Eliza and Jean – who investigate the murders of several young women in town. There are lots of wonderful historical details and familiar streets and landmarks, and like all good historical fiction forces you to compare life to the present day. Fun references to Edgar Allan Poe too!

You can borrow “A Dangerous Business” from MCFL here! You’ll have to get on the wait list since this new book is so popular, but while you wait, you can borrow other Jane Smiley books from MCFL here while you wait.

“The Wind Rises: Book 1 of The Alma Series” by Timotheè de Fombelle

From Europe to Africa to the Caribbean, this first installment in the Alma trilogy (for ages 8-12) tells a gripping story of hope, perseverance, and love.
1786. Isolated from the rest of the world, thirteen-year-old Alma lives with her family in a lush African valley. She spends her days exploring their blissful homeland. But everything changes when her little brother finds a secret way out of the valley.

Alma sets out to find him, but she soon must face terrible dangers in a continent ravaged by the slave trade. The journey to bring her brother home becomes a harrowing adventure to save herself, her family, and the memory of her people.

Meanwhile, in Lisbon, Joseph Mars, an orphan turned petty thief devises a great plan to land himself aboard a slave ship, The Sweet Amelie, on the ultimate quest—to find a pirate’s treasure in the far reaches of the Caribbean. But as time passes, he learns he is not alone in his hunger for the treasure, which forces Joseph to rethink the true purpose of his presence aboard The Sweet Amelie.

The destinies of a large cast of characters, including Alma and Joseph, become intertwined both on land and at sea in this unforgettable adventure of resilience and compassion as de Fombelle quietly elucidates the slave trade and the infamous Middle Passage for middle grade and YA readers.

“The Martins” by David Foenkinos

Go out into the street and the first person you see will be the subject of your next book.

This is the challenge a struggling Parisian writer sets himself, imagining his next heroine might be the mysterious young woman who often stands smoking near his apartment … instead it’s octogenarian Madeleine. She’s happy to become the subject of his book – but first she needs to put away her shopping.

Is it really true, the writer wonders, that every life is the stuff of novels, or is his story doomed to be hopelessly banal? As he gets to know Madeleine and her family, he’ll be privy to their secrets: lost loves, marital problems and workplace worries. And he’ll soon realize he is not the impartial bystander he intended to be, but a catalyst for major changes in the lives of his characters.

The Martins is such a great read. A clever take on the blurred edges between truth and fiction.

(translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

“Heritage” by Miguel Bonnefoy

Heritage is a fabulous family saga, brimming with poetry and passion, that skillfully weaves together the private lives of individuals and major historical events in South America and Europe.

The house on Calle Santo Domingo in Santiago de Chile, with its lush lemon trees, has sheltered three generations of the Lonsonier family. Having arrived from the harsh hills of France’s Jura region with a single grape vine in one pocket and a handful of change in the other, the patriarch put down roots there in the late nineteenth century. His son, Lazare, back from World War I’s hellish trenches, would live there with his wife and build in their garden the most beautiful aviary in the Andes. That’s where their daughter Margot, a pioneering aviator, would first dream of flying, and where she would raise her son, the revolutionary Ilario Da. Like Lazare before them, they will bravely face the conflicts of their day, fighting against dictatorship on both sides of the Atlantic. In this captivating and surprisingly short novel, Miguel Bonnefoy paints the portrait of an endearing, uprooted family whose terrible dilemmas, caused by the blows of history, reveal their deep humanity.

‘Three’ by Valérie Perrin

From the international bestselling author of Fresh Water for Flowers, a masterly crafted and suspenseful story about the ties between friends and the choices that make us who we are.

1986: Adrien, Etienne and Nina are 10 years old when they meet at school and become inseparable. They promise each other they will one day leave their provincial backwater, move to Paris, and never part.

2017: A car is pulled up from the bottom of the lake and a body discovered inside. Virginie, a local journalist with an enigmatic past, follows the case. Step by step she reveals the extraordinary bonds that unite the three childhood friends. How is the car wreck connected to their story? Why did their friendship fall apart?

‘Love and Saffron’ by Kim Fay

In the vein of the classic 84, Charing Cross Road, this witty and tender novel follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really does connect us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine.

When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter–as well as a gift of saffron–to fifty-nine-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a writer for the newspaper food pages. Imogen lives on Camano Island outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine, and while she can hunt elk and dig for clams, she’s never tasted fresh garlic–exotic fare in the Northwest of the sixties. As the two women commune through their letters, they build a closeness that sustains them through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the unexpected in their own lives.

This charming novel provides a brief respite from our chaotic and troubling world, a reminder that food and friendship are the antidote to most any heartache and that human connection will always be worth creating.