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Chatterbox's Adventures in Bibliomania in 2012 -- Episode Four

75 Books Challenge for 2012

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Edited: Mar 18, 2012, 12:50am Top

The following is adapted from the Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams; it's the discussion about the "music of the spheres" in Act V, Scene I; there are repetitions, cuts, etc., but I think the combination of the words & music is gorgeous.

Here's a recorded version of the music that it was set to. There's also a lovely orchestral version:

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There's not the smallest orb that thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn!
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress' ear,
And draw her home with music.
I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
The reason is, your spirits are attentive –
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted.

Music! hark!
It is your music of the house.
Methinks it sounds much sweeter than by day.
Silence bestows that virtue on it
How many things by season season'd are
To their right praise and true perfection!
Peace, ho! the moon sleeps with Endymion
And would not be awak'd. Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

Edited: Apr 15, 2012, 11:10pm Top

Episode Four!
As ever, look forward to your company and comments as I keep reading!

Here's a running tally of the books I've read in total for 2012:

And here's the number I have read for the current challenge.

I don't include books I will read for the 12 in 12 challenge toward the 75-book challenge, though I'll always report on everything that I have read in these threads: it's a "one-stop shopping" for my reading.

I like to balance my reading between non-fiction and fiction; between "serious" tomes and more frivolous fluffy books that provide great entertainment if little in the way of nutritional value. I'm a big mystery fan, I read historical fiction and chick lit and am tip-toeing into the worlds of fantasy and sci-fi, although VERY selectively. Any kind of book can be a "thumping good read"; I'd rather read a mystery that falls into that category than a much-acclaimed or buzzed-about book that I find pretentious or self-conscious (one in which the author seems more intent on telling the world how smart he or she is than on capturing the reader's full attention.) Good writing, good characters, a great plot are the keys to a good writing -- all need to be present and accounted for. When it comes to non-fiction, my expectations are a little lower -- I can cope with more clunky writing if the story being told is fabulous.

I rate my reading using fractions (eg 1.7, 3.9, etc.) and it's basically to try and capture the nuances. Some guidelines:
1.5 or less: A tree gave its life so that this book could be printed and distributed?
1.5 to 2.7: Are you really prepared to give up hours of your life for this?? I wouldn't recommend doing so...
2.8 to 3.3: Do you need something to fill in some time waiting to see the dentist? Either reasonably good within a ho-hum genre (chick lit or thrillers), something that's OK to read when you've nothing else with you, or that you'll find adequate to pass the time and forget later on.
3.4 to 3.8: Want to know what a thumping good read is like, or a book that has a fascinating premise, but doesn't quite deliver? This is where you'll find 'em.
3.9 to 4.4: So, you want a hearty endorsement? These books have what it takes to make me happy I read them.
4.5 to 5: The books that I wish I hadn't read yet, so I could experience the joy of discovering them again for the first time. Sometimes disquieting, sometimes sentimental faves, sometimes dramatic -- they are a highly personal/subjective group at the top of the pile in my judgment.

I've got a bit of an aversion to memoirs, so if I read one and like it, that's a rousing recommendation. You'll probably come across a number of galleys or advance review copies here as I'm getting a steady stream of these from NetGalley, Early Reviewers, Amazon Vine and the publishers themselves. I also get a lot of books from England, some of which might be harder to find in North America -- apologies in advance...

One of my New Year's resolutions was to get back to blogging, which I got derailed from in the fall when my phone & Internet service were buggered up and Verizon couldn't get them fixed. The blog can be found at www.uncommonreading.blogspot.com. I'm still intending to do this... really...!

1. Before the Poison by Peter Robinson, ****1/2, STARTED 1/1/12, FINISHED 1/2/12 (fiction)
2. The Painted Lady by Maeve Haran, ***, STARTED 12/30/11, FINISHED 1/2/12 (fiction)
3. All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson *1/2 STARTED 1/2/12, FINISHED 1/4/12 (fiction)
4. The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam, ****1/2, STARTED 1/3/12, FINISHED 1/4/12 (fiction)
5. The Man in the Empty Boat by Mark Salzman, ****, READ 1/6/12 (non-fiction)
6. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, ****1/2, STARTED 1/6/12, FINISHED 1/7/12 (fiction)
7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, ****1/2, STARTED 1/5/12, FINISHED 1/8/12 (fiction)
8. Maphead by Ken Jennings, ****1/2, STARTED 1/7/12, FINISHED 1/8/12 (non-fiction)
9. A Long Retreat by Andrew Krivak, **, STARTED 1/6/12, FINISHED 1/9/12 (non-fiction)
10. 66 North by Michael Ridpath, ****, STARTED 1/8/12, FINISHED 1/11/12 (fiction)
11. The Confession by Charles Todd, ****, STARTED 1/11/12, FINISHED 1/13/12 (fiction)
12. God's Jury by Cullen Murphy, ****1/2, STARTED 1/12/12, FINISHED 1/15/12 (non-fiction)
13. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, ****, STARTED 1/13/12, FINISHED 1/16/12 (fiction)
14. The End of Money by David Wolman, ***1/2, STARTED 1/16/12, FINISHED 1/19/12 (non-fiction)
15. The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia, **1/2, STARTED 12/10/11, FINISHED 1/21/12 (fiction)
16. The Sari Shop Widow by Shobhan Bhantwal, *1/2, STARTED 1/18/12, FINISHED 1/22/12 (fiction)
17. The Free World by David Bezmogis, ****1/2, STARTED 1/22/12, FINISHED 1/24/12 (fiction)
18. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, *****, STARTED 1/21/12, FINISHED 1/24/12 (fiction)
19. The Blackhouse by Peter May, ****, STARTED 1/22/12, FINISHED 1/25/12 (fiction)
20. The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg, ****1/2, STARTED 1/23/12, FINISHED 1/27/12 (fiction)
21. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, ****, STARTED 1/28/12, FINISHED 1/29/12 (non-fiction)
22. Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams, ****, STARTED 1/26/12, FINISHED 1/29/12 (non-fiction)
23. Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick, ****, READ 1/31/12 (non-fiction)
24. Catch Me by Lisa Gardner, ***1/2, STARTED 1/28/12, FINISHED 2/2/12 (fiction)
25. Fair Play by Tove Jansson, ****, STARTED 2/1/12, FINISHED 2/4/12 (fiction)
26. The Unquiet Bones by Melvin Starr, ***, STARTED 1/29/12, FINISHED 2/5/12 (fiction)
27. The Forgotten Affairs of Youth by Alexander McCall Smith, ****, STARTED 2/5/12, FINISHED 2/6/12 (fiction)
28. God's Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell, **, STARTED 2/3/12, FINISHED 2/6/12 (fiction)
29. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten, **** STARTED 1/30/12, FINISHED 2/8/12 (non-fiction)
30. Fall From Grace by Richard North Patterson, ***1/4, STARTED 2/8/12, FINISHED 2/10/12 (fiction)
31. The High-Beta Rich by Robert Frank, ****1/2, STARTED 2/10/12, FINISHED 2/11/12 (non-fiction)
32. Stories about Storytellers by Douglas Gibson, *****, STARTED 2/2/12, FINISHED 2/12/12 (non-fiction)
33. The Homecoming Party by Carmine Abate, ****, STARTED 2/12/12, FINISHED 2/14/12 (fiction)
34. Dead Man's Grip by Peter James, ***1/2, STARTED 2/17/12, FINISHED 2/18/12 (fiction)
35. The Caves of Perigord by Martin Walker, ***1/2, STARTED 2/18/12, FINISHED 2/20/12 (fiction)
36. The Lewis Man by Peter May, ****, STARTED 2/22/12, FINISHED 2/24/12 (fiction)
37. The Man Within My Head by Pico Iyer, ****1/2, STARTED 2/7/12, FINISHED 2/24/12 (non-fiction)
38. The Confession by John Grisham, ***, STARTED 2/24/12, FINISHED 2/26/12 (fiction)
39. The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson, ****1/2, STARTED 2/26/12, FINISHED 2/27/12 (fiction)
40. Save Me by Lisa Scottoline, **1/2, STARTED 2/27/12, FINISHED 2/28/12 (fiction)
41. Unholy Business by Nina Burleigh, ****, STARTED 2/27/12, FINISHED 2/29/12 (non-fiction)
42. Take This Man by Alice Zeniter, ****1/2, READ 2/28/12 (fiction)
43. Gossip by Beth Gutcheon, ****, STARTED 2/28/12, FINISHED 2/29/12 (fiction)
44. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, **** 1/2, STARTED 3/1/12, FINISHED 3/2/2 (non-fiction)
45. Justice and the Enemy by William Shawcross, ****1/2, STARTED 3/2/12, FINISHED 3/4/12 (non-fiction)
46. Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett, ****, STARTED 3/2/12, FINISHED 3/4/12 (fiction)
47. *The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey, ****1/2, STARTED 3/4/12, FINISHED 3/5/12 (fiction)
48. The Man Without a Face by Masha Gessen, ****1/2, STARTED 3/5/12, FINISHED 3/6/12 (non-fiction)
49. Lasting Damage by Sophie Hannah, ****, STARTED 3/6/12, FINISHED 3/8/12 (fiction)
50. Restoration by Olaf Olafsson, **1/2, STARTED 3/8/12, FINISHED 3/9/12 (fiction)
51. Rack, Ruin and Murder by Ann Granger, ****, STARTED 3/9/12, FINISHED 3/11/12 (fiction)
52. The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman, ***1/2, STARTED 3/2/12, FINISHED 3/11/12 (fiction)
53. Live to Tell by Lisa Gardner, ***, STARTED 3/13/12, FINISHED 3/15/12 (fiction)
54. London Under by Peter Ackroyd, ***1/2, READ 3/17/12 (non-fiction)
55. Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo, ****, READ 3/18/12 (fiction)
56. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker, **1/2, STARTED 3/19/12, FINISHED 3/20/12 (fiction)
57. Taft 2012 by Jason Heller, ****1/2, STARTED 3/20/12, FINISHED 3/21/12 (fiction)
58. Death at the Jesus Hospital by David Dickinson, ***1/2, STARTED 3/17/12, FINISHED 3/21/12 (fiction)
59. The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, ***1/2, STARTED 3/21/12, FINISHED 3/22/12 (fiction)
60. Winter King by Thomas Penn, ****1/2, STARTED 3/21/12, FINISHED 3/24/12 (non-fiction)
61. Good Bait by John Harvey, ***1/2, STARTED 3/23/12, FINISHED 3/24/12 (fiction)
62. The Redemption of Alexander Seaton ***1/2, STARTED 3/24/12, FINISHED 3/26/12 (fiction)
63. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides ***1/2, STARTED 2/21/12, FINISHED 3/28/12 (fiction)
64. Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton **** STARTED 3/25/12, FINISHED 3/28/12 (non-fiction)
65. Christine Falls by Benjamin Black, ****1/2, STARTED 3/28/12, FINISHED 3/29/12 (fiction)
66. The Best American Essays 2011, ed. Edwige Danticat, ****, STARTED 3/4/12, FINISHED 3/30/12 (non-fiction)
67. Gillespie & I by Jane Harris, *****, STARTED 3/25/12, FINISHED 3/30/12 (fiction)
68. Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear, ***, STARTED 3/29/12, FINISHED 3/31/12 (fiction)
69. *The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, ****, READ 4/1/12 (fiction)
70A. Bearded Lady by Mara Altman, ***1/2, READ 4/2/12 (non-fiction)
71. Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski, ****, STARTED 4/2/12, FINISHED 4/4/12 (non-fiction)
72. Jingo by Terry Pratchett, ****, STARTED 4/1/12, FINISHED 4/5/12 (fiction)
73. Mission to Paris by Alan Furst, ****, STARTED 4/2/12, FINISHED 4/6/12 (fiction)
74. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, *** 1/2, READ 4/7/12 (fiction)
75. A Lion Called Christian by Anthony Bourke, ***, STARTED 4/7/12, FINISHED 4/8/12 (non-fiction)

* - re-read.

Mar 18, 2012, 12:39am Top

Well, am safely home again; no more 5-star pampering!!!

I didn't have a great night, as for some reason (food? migarine? meds?) I ended up very ill last night. The good news? In a 5-star hotel you can call housekeeping at 3 am for new towels and to clean the bathroom...

But felt better this morning (just still tired... not enough sleep) so was able to spend some quality time with a dear RL friend, Glenn (chexmix on here in LT 75er land.) Miss him since he relocated to Boston, but he's happier there, so... We went for brunch near the hotel, then off to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum -- finally made it, 30 years after my first trip to Boston!! Loved it -- eclectic & fascinating. Picked up a copy of Mrs. Jack, a bio of the lady herself, who was responsible for creating. Then off to Cambridge and the Harvard Co-op; I love their book selection and what they choose to showcase. Bought (gulp) six books:

The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald
Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot (a translation of a French historical novel)
Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson (a selection of essays)
The Hemlock Cup by Bettany Hughes -- about Socrates & Athens, looks v. vividly written.

Put down at least six more... Luckily, as I would never have made it home... I also have a massive copy of a giant coffee table book, in a presentation box, signed by the authors, about the Taj Mumbai, the iconic hotel. The guy I'm profiling managed that for years, including during the terrorist attacks in November 2008. His wife and two sons died in that horrific event; he's now in the US, overseeing what the Taj Group hopes will be a rollout of hotels beyond what they already own (the former Ritz in Boston, the Pierre in NYC and a hotel in San Francisco.) It was absolutely fascinating to get a look behind the scenes...

I'll update my reading later. Too tired now. The chef made me a lobster roll & fruit salad to eat on the train home, but I'm still sleep-deprived. And I've got to adjust to the fact that no one is going to show up at my door to draw me a hot bath, start a fire for me in my fireplace or present me with custom made chocolate confections!! (Have sent pics of both the elephant & the book to Paul C., who kindly offered to post 'em on this thread.)

Edited: Apr 2, 2012, 2:23pm Top

My March Mystery Madness ticker: to track my mystery reading this month. I'm hoping to devour 20 mystery novels, as the ticker below indicates... It will update as I make progress!

1. The Jackal Man by Kate Ellis: 3.8 stars, completed 3/5/12
2. The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey: 4.5 stars, completed 3/6/12
3. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George, 3.8 stars, completed 3/7/12
4. Lasting Damage by Sophie Hannah, 3.9 stars, completed 3/8/12
5. Rack, Ruin and Murder by Ann Granger, 3.8 stars, completed 3/11/12
6. Live to Tell by Lisa Gardner, 3.3 stars, completed 3/14/12
7. The Hidden Child by Camilla Lackberg, 3.6 stars, completed 3/15/12
8. Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo, 4.1 stars, completed 3/18/12
9. Death at the Jesus Hospital by David Dickinson, 3.6 stars, completed 3/20/12
10. Good Bait by John Harvey, 3.4 stars, completed 3/24/12
11. The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona Maclean, 3.7 stars, completed 3/26/12
12. Christine Falls by Benjamin Black, 4.3 stars, completed 3/29/12
13. Gillespie & I by Jane Harris, 5 stars, completed 3/30/12
14. Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear, 3.1 stars, completed 3/31/12
15. 1222 by Anne Holt, 4.1 stars, completed 3/31/12

Mar 18, 2012, 12:55am Top

Welcome home, Suz! Can you tell us what publication the Taj profile is for? Or is it all very hush-hush? Would love to read it when it comes out...

Mar 18, 2012, 1:05am Top

Back to normality and a new thread - congratulations Suz you do a great job mixing a busy career, extraordinary reading prowess and maintaining a thriving and very popular thread. Some of us can do two but not manage all three like you.

Thanks for producing some Will (as in Shaky and V-Will) as promised:
It is your music of the house.
Methinks it sounds much sweeter than by day.

From a fellow sleep-challenged night owl - lovely representation of your thread.

Mar 18, 2012, 6:14am Top

Hi Suz - Welcome home and hope you are feeling better. Nice book haul:)

Mar 18, 2012, 9:44am Top

Too bad about the bad night - I'm sure you're glad to be home.

I've got the Sebald in my 'soon soon soon' line-up. It was a book that Janet loved and urged me to read.

Edited: Mar 18, 2012, 2:54pm Top

Pictures uploaded for Suz....sorry a bit tardy but I have been out all day and only just opened my email. First one is obviously our heroine's chocolate book.

Mar 18, 2012, 2:57pm Top

This one a chocolate elephant.

Mar 18, 2012, 3:31pm Top

The elephant is going to Laura (lindascl), who will be able to revel in its glory-- or eat its ears. Apparently it takes two days to make one of these; its blanket is hand-painted on.

Thanks, Paul!!!

Mar 18, 2012, 4:41pm Top

Oh wow I love both of those Suzanne. So since you're not eating the book (and lucky Laura!) how are you planning to preserve it?

Mar 18, 2012, 4:46pm Top

Both of those are amazing creations. I think you're actually lucky not to be tempted to eat it. (Very jealous of Laura, btw!)

Mar 18, 2012, 4:54pm Top

I'm glad that you're back and hope you're feeling better. What an amazing trip!
I can't believe the chocolates!!!
And I'm pretty impressed at your book selections too and eager to hear what you think about them.

Mar 18, 2012, 5:06pm Top

>10 PaulCranswick:: holy cow. I had no idea. I wish I could share it with all of you! I don't believe there's such a thing as too much chocolate but that comes close.

Mar 18, 2012, 5:23pm Top

Love the Shakespeare and the VW - I hadn't come across his setting of those words before.

I've missed a lot obviously on your previous thread - no idea what these chocolate books and elephants (if I understand correctly) are all about, though they look amazing! I'll have to go back and find out more...

Mar 18, 2012, 6:36pm Top

9: Chocolate book is way cool. How long will it keep if you're careful?
15: Now you have a pond AND a chocolate elephant?

Mar 18, 2012, 6:48pm Top

How is this possible!? How do you read so many books? Super-brain power? Energy drinks? I am impressed, jealous, and completely taken with your thread.

Mar 18, 2012, 6:53pm Top

Now I'm glad I didn't put in a bid for the chocolate--I could never have eaten that elephant. Those are works of art!

Glad you are home safely, but agree that it will be an adjustment from all that pampering!

Mar 18, 2012, 8:37pm Top

Great trip and what amazing chocolate creations!

Mar 18, 2012, 9:35pm Top

Thanks for sharing the photos!

Mar 18, 2012, 10:19pm Top

Lots of messages to catch up on here!

I'm not sure what I'm going to do to protect the chocolate... Probably have to find someplace cool & dark to store it as the weather heats up. Otherwise, the beautiful creation will end up as a chocolate puddle!

Genny, yes, this is one of my fave RVW pieces -- amazing to meet that it isn't just as well known as his Tallis Fantasia.

Katie, the profile will be in Boston Common, a glossy magazine aimed at the luxe crowd. There are sister publications in NY and Miami (and possibly elsewhere...) I've done some stories for the NY magazine (colored diamonds; Flatiron district startups) and the Bacardi story I worked on last month was for Ocean Drive, the Miami publication. Shorter versions of it will run in the Boston & NY mags. They don't pay all that well ($1/word) but I've had a steady stream of work for them (new assignment just arrived from Ocean Drive) and it's all novel stuff that I haven't really written about before. Also, it's nice that the NY and Boston mags will pay me for locally-focused pieces based on the main Bacardi feature, so that will push the rate up by 50% for the whole project.

Laura, I'd suggest starting with an ear. I'm not sure how to go about eating that elephant!!

#18 -- Taryn, I've been reading voraciously since I was a child; I spend about 5 or 6 hours a day reading. I work; I read. I don't have a husband or kids, and thus fewer demands on my leisure time. And I'm not the kind of person who is always itching to be out with lots of other people in the evenings. Rather, an evening at home with a book is a v.v. good thing...

Big thanks to Paul for posting the pics!

Mar 18, 2012, 10:39pm Top

...and now, on to the "book report".

93. The Soldier's Wife by Joanna Trollope, while rather predictable to anyone who is familiar with the author's work and wants to sit down and imagine how the return of a soldier from combat might disrupt the lives of friends and family at home might be handled in the way she writes a story. Alexa is the main character; widowed in her 20s, she fell in love with Dan but only now is beginning to realize what it means when someone comes back from war unwilling to recognize that her concerns are valid -- or even acknowledging their existence. Time and again Dan displays that he's oblivious to what is going on. It's all very predictable, but Trollope makes it a better read than most other authors could. Still, this isn't her best -- and it's full of incomprehensible military jargon that I had to try to decipher through the clues she scattered around, like an officer being "pinked", which I assume (from references to promotions and pink sheets listing promotions), has something to do with acquiring a higher rank. 3.8 stars, because it was very readable and I'm feeling generous. For my 12 in 12 challenge.

94. London Under by Peter Ackroyd felt like a collage of bits and pieces left over from two of Ackroyd's recent chunksters, Thames and London: The Biography, that he decided to make money off of by pulling together and publishing separately. By no stretch of the imagination is the results worth the $25 full cover price. There are some fascinating little anecdotes and insights here -- I particularly enjoyed reading about the ways that London's streets follow the course of underground rivers, as well as the early days of the Tube -- but there's no narrative arc, and the whole thing feels like an oddball collection of anecdotes and factoids. London is the city I grew up in, so I enjoyed it, but this isn't a book to read if you don't know the city's history or geography. 3.5 stars; again, I'm being generous. There are some intriguing and fascinating bits and pieces, but just a review of what's going on underneath London isn't enough to do it for me. That said, it whetted my appetite to read more about the hidden cities that still exist underneath where we live today -- I was amazed at what Ackroyd describes having been found as the Jubilee line was being constructed. A short read; get it from the library.

95. Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo is a fascinating and very noir mystery set in Marseilles. Once, as Izzo writes, it was the city that anyone could arrive in -- on foot, by boat, by plane -- and believe themselves to be at home. But now (and Izzo, who died in 2000, wrote the trilogy of crime novels of which this is the first in the 90s sometime) it is a city where the various groups are all at loggerheads with each other. It's a familiar theme in many of the European novels published by Europa -- the culture clashes between immigrants and "natives" in France, Italy, Germany, etc. In this case, Fabio Montale tries to figure what happened to his two childhood friends; like him, they were French-born children of immigrants; while Fabio went into the police, Ugo and Manu chose illicit means to earn a living. Now both of them are dead, and investigating what happened, Fabio finds more crimes and some incredible links between them all. A few of those links stretched my credulity, but this is a very atmospheric mystery, and I really enjoyed the sense of place Izzo creates. As well as the classic American noir, the book reminded me of John Harvey's novels featuring Charlie Resnick -- both 'heroes' are disillusioned, despairing and yet full of integrity and a kind of strength. 4.2 stars; recommended.

Mar 19, 2012, 12:10am Top

Delurking to say hi Suz, and congrats on managing to do it all. I get tired just trying to imagine how your days must be packed wall to wall.

Mar 19, 2012, 12:18am Top

I hadn't heard about When I Was a Child I Read Books although LibraryThing says it is on the shelf at both of my area Barny Noble stores. It is now on my waiting-for-the-paperback wishlist.



Mar 19, 2012, 1:18am Top

I hadn't heard anything about it, either, Robert, and since I wanted to celebrate a rare day of real leisure (no work!!), I decided to splurge. That was my only hardcover purchase, although I was tempted by a few others, including Queen Elizabeth in the Garden by Trea Martyn -- I'm v. interested in the history of gardens, and the connection to court politics in the 16th c. made it that much more intriguing. I think I'll go and check the library.

Hiya, Ilana -- yes, last week was particularly busy, although now that I look at this week, it is taking on similar shape... I'm supposed to be going to DC (Washington, that is) either Saturday or Sunday for a conference that takes place Mon & Tues. Barron's just gave me a new assignment -- a biggish one -- and I've got two magazine stories to do (besides the hotel & Bacardi and condo king items noted above) and two stories for the WSJ's monthly mutual funds report. Plus the usual daily column, and the editing gig. Better to be too busy than not busy enough -- in the latter event, not only do I worry about stuff, but I find I'm actually less efficient in planning my time.

Mar 19, 2012, 1:54am Top

It's good to see you busy again and I love the chocolate photos. How amazing to get your book in chocolate!
I've had to add another book to my tbr - Total Chaos and I'll be looking into the Marilynne Robinson.

Mar 19, 2012, 6:56am Top

Hi Suz- I was not familiar with Total Chaos or Izzo. Sounds interesting. Thanks. Also look forward to your thoughts on the Robinson essays.

Mar 19, 2012, 10:58am Top

>17 qebo:: Now you have a pond AND a chocolate elephant?
Apparently. I suppose I should count my blessings?

>22 Chatterbox:: I'm not sure how to go about eating that elephant!!
Well, you know what they say:

Mar 19, 2012, 12:57pm Top

Total chaos is going on my wish list. Thanks for the pictures - those chocolates are amazing!

Mar 19, 2012, 1:24pm Top

Laura -- one bite at a time, with the right carving knife...

Mar 19, 2012, 10:10pm Top

OK, finished another book.

96. The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner was a book that I read because RebeccaNYC really loved it; while I enjoyed the almost delicate tracings of the life of a community of nuns in the Fenlands of Northeastern England in the 14th century, I don't think I loved it as much as she did. In a way, I found myself thinking that it's almost like looking at the landscape in which the author set this novel -- it at first looks featureless and flat, until you begin to pick out the details of the land against the astonishing expanse of sky. Nuns depart, arrive, die, misbehave; a new priest who isn't really a priest arrives, and lives there for decades; there are plagues, rebels, civil strife, bishops' visitations. In the end, it was some of the small vignettes that stayed with me -- the visit of one nun to a family wedding; the voyage of a young clerk to a leper's chantry en route to the convent, where he discovers a new form of music in the most unlikely setting; Sir Ralph's craving for hawking. Recommended, 4.2 stars, for my 12 in 12 challenge.

Mar 20, 2012, 3:37am Top

The Corner that Held Them sounds good - I'd not heard of that author before. Added to the Wishlist.

Mar 20, 2012, 7:35am Top

I'm glad you liked it, Suzanne, even if not as much as I did. But you captured one of the things I liked, which was that it was sort of featureless, but things happen just like they do in real life.

Mar 20, 2012, 7:58am Top

Suz - the Sylvia Townsend Warner looks extremely interesting and I have to say that I have found Rebecca an extremely reliable judge of less mainstream literature. One point being picky and a Northern Englishman - in no way could the Fenlands be described as belonging to "Northeastern England"!
btw small matter with the photos, a pleasure anytime - did have a heartstopping moment when I first copied the image as it came out in a ridiculously enormous size and I had to delete and re-copy it via my profile page to get a reasonable size.

Mar 20, 2012, 10:50am Top

Suz, you have finished a remarkable number of books. I've not heard of The Corner that Held Them, but based on your discussion with rebeccany, I might see if my library has it. I love your description of it as "featureless" -- it doesn't seem like that would be intriguing, but it is!

Mar 20, 2012, 11:13am Top

Paul, I suppose I was thinking of how to describe the area N. of Peterborough in a context that people would grasp, but of course you're right. I think it's probably slight NE of Peterborough where the novel is set, based on the descriptions of routes that people take to get places, but it's definitely still a fens or march landscape. So maybe north of King's Lynn or near Boston??

Mar 20, 2012, 12:02pm Top

#37 That makes much more sense now. I was trying to think were there any fens somewhere near Northumberland that I hadn't noticed. We once spent an unfortunate weekend in Boston so I can picture it exactly.

Mar 20, 2012, 1:48pm Top

Yes, Lincolnshire -- rather than Norfolk/East Anglia, which is what springs to mind automatically when one says "fens". (eg Ely, flat as a pancake)

Mar 20, 2012, 2:14pm Top

an unfortunate weekend in Boston I spent a happy five years in Boston... and loved the flat landscape because it reminded me of the Dutch polder lands where I grew up. But it's not the most obviously appealing terrain for most people! Yet because of the flatness, any features that there are do stand out and are visible for miles around.

It may not be truly the North East (and certainly isn't from my current perspective), but for my family coming from the Isle of Wight, the Lincolnshire Fens certainly felt a long way North as well as well as East.

I'll obviously have to look out for The corner that held them.

Mar 20, 2012, 3:12pm Top

The reason we went there was I'd seen it on the TV years previously (or so I thought) and I'd always fancied going there. As soon as we got there I realised that it wasn't the place I thought it was. The place we were staying in was awful and we couldn't find anything to eat - I remember driving miles and miles through fields of cabbages looking for a nice country pub.

Mar 20, 2012, 3:57pm Top

It's amazing -- we cherish Dutch painting & Turner's works, and yet a lot of those depend on the vast "skyscapes" that they are portraying, that we find far less appealing in real life!!

Edited: Mar 20, 2012, 6:25pm Top

Book du jour:

97. I wanted to read The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker because it was set in Burma. While Sendker does a great job of capturing the ambiance of a sleepy SE Asian backwater, he has really just crafted a novel about the "power of love" that might as well be set anywhere -- there's nothing much that's distinctive about it. Heavily sentimental, with a core story about a young blind man who learns to see without his eyes, and a young woman who understands that "distances were measured not only in steps". Frankly, unless it's in the hands of a master writer, that kinda stuff makes me wince. The other characters were simply window-dressing. I'm sure lots of people will love this book; I didn't. Not recommended, 2.7 stars.

ETA: My chocolate book just arrived via UPS. Haven't unwrapped it yet, to see how it fared. Need to find the right place to put it.... Where the cats can't reach it, preferably!!

Mar 20, 2012, 7:51pm Top

Suz - Lincoln is one of my favourite cities and is wonderfully hilly considering the terrain all around it. Has a plethora of good bookshops of the used variety which would bankrupt me were I to reside in its environs. Hardly North but getting close to being so!

Edited: Mar 21, 2012, 12:28am Top

I can't remember ever having been to Lincoln, though I admit to being curious. On my next trip, I have do some research into the life of one Eleanor Talbot, or at least the places she lived some 550 years ago, before she died and wreaked (unintentionally) havoc on the Yorkist regime -- that will involve Norwich, at least. (You know of what I speak, I presume, Paul?? *grin*)

Fell asleep on sofa. 13 hour workday today. Hoping tomorrow will be calmer.

Mar 21, 2012, 5:26pm Top

So you will be looking for the Church of the White Carmelites in Norwich Suz? Controversial figure certainly but would have fit with Edward IV ladykilling ways and go toward explaining why the Woodville marriage banns were not proclaimed.

Mar 21, 2012, 6:57pm Top

Suz, those chocolate creations are amazing. So was the 5-star pampering. I'm glad you brought some good books home to ease the transition back to the real world. I put the Marilynne Robinson book on hold at the library this morning.

Mar 21, 2012, 7:11pm Top

Paul, I have an entire theory worked out here -- based on the status of Eleanor's family (her father was a war hero; her sister became Duchess of Norfolk and mother of the Mowbray heiress married off to the younger Woodville prince), the ties of friendship between the duke of Norfolk and "butt of malmsey" Clarence, the mysterious bastard daughter of Edward IV, Grace, who pops up in records only once....

Donna, I want to get to the Marilynne Robinson essays sooner rather than later, but I've got some library books that I can't renew AND some ARCs for here and for Amazon that I must read & review. Not to mention NetGalley. Basically, I'm drowning in unread books. That would be my choice of death, akin to the aforesaid Clarence's selection!! :-)

Mar 21, 2012, 7:32pm Top

Suz - interesting but the fact that Henry VII had most of the documents and people destroyed who could have illuminated some of the machinations - wonderful and plausible theories will always be just that.

Mar 21, 2012, 8:01pm Top

ah, but all one needs for a novel is a wonderful and plausible theory, no?

Mar 21, 2012, 8:26pm Top

Sharon Penman has made a living from well researched and well written historical novels (of that period too) in which she builds a framework to support a "wonderful and plausible theory"

Mar 21, 2012, 8:50pm Top

Hmm, enough to buy a certain bookstore??

Anyway, books du jour report follows:

98. I owe Linda (lindapanzo) a big vote of thanks for mentioning Taft 2012 by Jason Heller. It starts with the premise that the real president Taft wandered away from the White House during the inauguration of his successor, Woodrow Wilson, fell asleep under a tree and was somehow buried alive -- and then revives in 2011, aged 155, to discover an entirely new world, one in which his great-granddaughter is an independent congresswoman. OK, a lot of this is predictable, but it's a very funny satire on politics as practiced in the United States, as seen through the eyes of a Rip van Winkle character. The feel-good narrative alternates with "documentary" evidence in the form of Tweets, e-mails, memos, etc. from the book's characters. Funny, a quick and delightful read, and it gets an extra half-star from me for those qualities. Great timing, too... 4.3 stars, definitely recommended.

99. Death at the Jesus Hospital is episode #11 of the Lord Francis Powerscourt mysteries by British author David Dickinson. This was more intriguing than several of the recent books -- there are three murders, with one tie between the victims and lots of plausible suspects. The eventual solution is very intriguing, but Dickinson loses half a point for letting one of his major hypotheses and plot themes simply drop as Powerscourt embarks on his final chase to capture the villain -- it's as if the author has become a bit bored with the book. 3.6 stars, down from about 4, for that reason alone. Still worthwhile, but only if you've read the series.

I just picked up Winter King by Thomas Penn, a bio of Henry VII that I got from the library. Am very interested in seeing what Penn has to say about Henry, who remains an enigmatic figure to me. Also, the book will be a great segue into Sister Queens by Julia Fox: Henry negotiated the marriage of Catherine of Aragon to his son and heir, and himself briefly thought of marrying Juana of Castile, Catherine's sister.

Oh, gotta go do some more work first!

Mar 22, 2012, 7:59am Top

I do enjoy your enthusiasm for this period of English history!!!!

Mar 22, 2012, 10:13am Top

So nice to see you busy with paying assignments! I'm quite taken with some of your reading, too, especially 'Total Chaos'. I'll look for it.

Mar 22, 2012, 10:51am Top

Hi Suzanne. Like Lucy says, your enthusiasm is contagious - I love that you find such interesting books with which to explore what I think is a very complicated time period in English history.

Mar 22, 2012, 2:01pm Top

How is it possible that you just added 3 books to my wishlist in the 5 minutes I've spent on LT this week?! And one is a series with 11 books! They all sound great...

Mar 22, 2012, 8:57pm Top

LOL Cushla -- only 3 in 5 minutes?? Dammit, I was shooting for a rate closer to one per minute!

Mar 22, 2012, 10:52pm Top

Book du jour:

100. I really wish my hundredth book had been something I loved. Instead, it was merely meh, although I think I'm supposed to have liked Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier a lot more than I actually did. I relished the writing, and the imagination that went into conceiving a whole existence for the character behind Vermeer's famous painting, but I found myself annoyed by Griet and by Vermeer, and I think you have to be able to empathize with one or the other to really enjoy the novel. Vermeer, throughout, was "he" or "my master"; he puts Griet in a position where she is working not only for his wife and mother in law as a maidservant, but also grinding colors for him until late at night. He accepts her sacrifices as his due and yet at the same time seems to pay her more heed than he might an "ordinary" servant, and that was never very convincing for me. I wasn't a big fan of the film, but ended up thinking that it made both characters more vivid and understandable; may have to watch it again. Neither recommended nor "not recommended"; 3.3 stars.

Mar 22, 2012, 10:55pm Top

Congratulations on your 100th book, Suzanne. Sorry it wasn't a better read for you.

Mar 23, 2012, 11:00am Top

Girl with a Pearl Earring is on my TBR shelf, but I won't be moving it up the line any time soon. Thanks for the review.

Mar 23, 2012, 1:16pm Top

Oh I loved Girl with a Pearl Earring - we read it for my Book Group a few years ago and it was a real favourite. I haven't enjoyed any of her other books though. We did get to see the original painting in a trip to The Hague a few years ago and it definitely warranted having a book written about it.

Mar 23, 2012, 5:41pm Top

~meh~ is worse than panther-shrieks of outrage, in my book. Sorry it had to be your 100th.

Mar 23, 2012, 6:27pm Top

Well you gave Girl with a Pearl Earring .3 more than I did when I read a few years back. Nice to come here and not have to add anything to my teetering tower. Nice and highly unusual.

Mar 24, 2012, 10:25pm Top

100 books already Suz - congrats. Tracy Chevalier is not one of my favourites either.

Mar 24, 2012, 11:21pm Top

I liked the writing, but once I got past the novelty of the author creating a story around a painting, the result was meh. I did like Remarkable Creatures, partly because the subject was so different.

Am in DC, am exhausted, so just a brief update. My boss (quasi-boss, as I'm a contractor) for whom I'm attending this conference, bought train tix on her corporate card, but when I got to the station, there was no reservation, despite the fact that I'd had it e-mailed to me. very bizarre.

Hotel room for tonight is just beside a very noisy fan for the A/C in the hallway (it's a renovated old building in central DC.) The place itself is nice -- I think they must have bumped me up from a room to a mini-suite, as I have a living room, and a second wall separates my bedroom from the hallway noise, thankfully. Lots of smell of lemon furniture polish, too, yuck.

OK, now that I have finished whining:

101. Winter King by Thomas Penn was excellent; a very readable history of this much-disliked king who founded a dynasty and who has been overlooked because of his children and grandchildren. Henry VII had good reasons to be suspicious, but even I hadn't realized how that distorted his policy, and how he essentially tyrannized his subjects, putting them in fear to the point where they would confess to things they hadn't done and pay massive fines just to get his minions to stop tormenting them. Penn handles complex material very deftly, and the result is extremely readable. Two minor annoyances; Henry came to the throne in 1485, but the narrative really doesn't pick up until ten or 12 years later, when Edmund de la Pole, a potential Yorkist heir and thus a potential rival for Henry's new Tudor dynasty, decamps to the continent. Yes, some of the gaps are filled in later, but it's irritating. Some of his word choices were rather odd: I don't expect a non-fiction history to avoid anachronistic language in the same way I do a novel, but a lot of times I found his word choices quite quirky -- "boss"? "onside"? In the context of the late 15th & early 16th century, odd. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this book -- fascinating characters, familiar (More, Erasmus, Philip of Burgundy) and unfamiliar ones (such as John Skelton). I don't necessarily feel more sympathy for Henry -- this begs the question of whether he created some of his problems by his very suspicion, or whether he was really trying to craft a new kind of monarchy that was less reliant on quarrelsome aristocrats, and thus alienated that group and created grounds for suspicion -- but I have a deeper understanding of what that era was about. Definitely recommended for history buffs. 4.4 stars.

102. Good Bait is, I think, John Harvey's weakest novel to date. He jumps back and forth between two detectives -- the classic embittered middle aged man who loves jazz (and who lives in Cornwall!) and a woman who has made it to the senior ranks in London despite being female and the child of Jamaican immigrants. The narratives eventually connect, but not until far too late in this oddly unengaging mystery that focuses on various dimensions of the ugly underbelly of contemporary Europe -- asylum seekers, racism, drugs, etc. I finished it, but there were times I found my attention wandering; it doesn't help that this jumps from one crime to another, some of which aren't connected to the main plot. 3.4 stars. Try his other books first.

So, with me (as well as my kindle) I have:

Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd (ARC)
American Spy by Olen Steinhauer (ARC)
Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona Maclean
Siren of the Waters by Michael Genelin
The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley

I think I'll shun the Genelin mystery as it sounds too similar to the Harvey one I've just finished. Hmmm, decisions, decisions.

Mar 25, 2012, 8:40pm Top

Just a quick DC update!! No book reading, just book buying...

Had a lovely brunch with Anne (AnneDC) -- yum, who would have thought bacon and egg risotto could be so amazing? -- then off to Politics & Prose, where I insisted that she buy Death and the Penguin by Andrei Kurkov -- it's all my fault. Then she went off to puppy train and I decided to visit the Newseum. Well, it just goes to show how clannish journalists are. I'm sort of ambling around and who do I spot but Ron Suskind, a former WSJ colleague, signing copies of his new book, Confidence Men. So we swap favorite Goldman Sachs anecdotes for a little while & make plans to catch up again soon (oh, and I support his royalties by buying a copy of the book!) Then I amble back down to the gift shop, where I discover another former colleague who has just started a gig editing at the Congressional Quarterly/RollCall, etc., and who is now splitting his time btwn NY and DC. Then had to scurry back to my hotel to be met by a friend from high school days (waaay back in the 1970s in Belgium!) who took me out to dinner at an Italian place downtown. Now finally checked in to new hotel near conference in Arlington and about to go to bed!

Book total:

Russia Against Napoleon by Dominic Lieven (sale book at P&P)
Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela (prompted by LT raves)
Forgery by Sabina Murray (sale book; never heard of her, looked intriguing)
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (because I needed to add another book...)
Confidence Men by Ron Suskind (as mentioned above.

Hectic social whirl and I've had a migraine all day today as well as yesterday. Really I want to demand a new head. Fed up with this. Can't catch up on threads, etc. till I feel better, and Bernake is scheduled to speak at 8 a.m. tomorrow, so I need my zzzz's tonight!!

Mar 25, 2012, 9:16pm Top

Sounds like you've had a busy day! Sorry about the migraine--I had one yesterday as well, but today has been good. Give us the inside scoop on Bernake tomorrow.

Mar 25, 2012, 11:13pm Top

Here's to hoping Bernanke will wow you to the point you can't wait to get to your computer and write his pearls of wisdom into a paean of deathless poetical virtue.

The shock of it would get rid of the migraine, eh what?

Mar 26, 2012, 6:29am Top

Hope you have slept well and shaken off the migraine at last...

Mar 26, 2012, 8:53am Top

Suz, your trip to DC sounds fun! I just stopped by to let you know we are "enjoying" the elephant and so far have been able to exercise restraint and consume in small doses.

Mar 26, 2012, 12:55pm Top

It was so delightful to actually meet you in person! I hope the rest of your trip goes well and that the headache subsides. (By the way I must say I am impressed with your ability to carry on headache and all.)

Mar 26, 2012, 1:42pm Top

Sounds like a great day in DC, except for the headache. I can't imagine working through one. And I'm so glad you and Anne met up!! Very cool. If I had a list of bookshops to visit before I die, Politics and Prose would be high up on it from the bits and pieces I've read about it.

Suz I am nearly finished a Lord Francis Powerscourt book thanks to you (was in the library the day you posted your review upthread) and it's been just what I was in the mood for.

Mar 26, 2012, 3:23pm Top

Anne, yes it was lovely!! I confess that by dinner, only sheer willpower was keeping me going... It's a pity, as my friend Harlan was saying he felt like he was skipping from one subject to another, just so that we could catch up in the time available, and I was thinking to myself, I feel like I'm going to die... Had a choppy night's sleep, woke this morning with the most amazing bloodshot eyes (!!!!) but no headache, hallelujah. I really think that part of the problem is the generic meds simply don't work as well and have more side-effects then the brand.

Taking a break at the conference while waiting for my computer to recharge. Still v.v.v. tired.

Have to share this sign, posted atop segments of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum yesterday:

"In order to maintain the integrity of the Berlin Wall, please do not touch."

OK, now what part of this is NOT weird? The "integrity" of the Berlin Wall? Now, firstly, it was knocked down, pretty much, 23 years ago. Secondly, the Newseum is dedicated to free speech, etc. etc., so one might logically assume that preserving the wall's "integrity" would not be part of its mission in the first place??? The mind boggles.

Let's just say that economists live up to their reputation. Was stuck between two of them at lunch who talked ACROSS me for the entire meal. Let's just say that by the time Mark Warner started talking, I was v.v. excited at the prospect of a politician's speech... and he was actually quite funny!

Mar 26, 2012, 8:40pm Top

So. Any chance you're able to join us in June for the DC meetup?

Mar 26, 2012, 9:56pm Top

Suz - I think you know that the Penn history of Henry VII is one I have my eye on. Almost bought the hardback version yesterday if truth be known but SWMBO was hovering so I marked it for later.

Mar 26, 2012, 10:14pm Top

Jim -- it's a possibility. It depends on work schedule, finances & having a place to stay. I can sometimes bunk at Harlan's, but he's in Arlington and I don't drive, which is not a great combo. What's the timing on that??

Paul -- it is worth smuggling past SWMBO, or even having a pitched battle over, really, especially given your historical interests & proclivities!!! He is quite clear that Henry's claim was tenuous, but also a bit brisk in dismissing all those Ricardians.

Mar 26, 2012, 10:20pm Top

June 9 for the primary meetup. Some are also meeting June 10. Saturday's plan includes a Library of Congress tour, the Eastern Market and Folger Shakespeare Library.

Mar 26, 2012, 10:32pm Top

#77 -- I will try, if the logistics gods and the journalism gods are in my favor...

Mar 27, 2012, 12:57am Top

Finished another book, somehow...

103. The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona Maclean was an interesting enough mystery set in the Scotland of 1626, a rather gloomy era when the presbyterian ministers disapproved of music and where witch-hunting was a popular pastime. Alexander Seaton had planned to become a minister, but as is gradually revealed over the course of the book, he was forced to confront his own sins (!!) at the last moment, and has spent the last year mired in bitterness. Now he's working as a schoolmaster in the seaside town of Banff, when a young man, a newcomer, is found dead in his schoolroom -- poisoned. It's just the first death, and Seaton finds himself reluctantly dragged into the investigation. A solid mystery, not spectacular, but I may end up seeking out others in the series. 3.7 stars, some of the stars for the novelty value of the setting.

Mar 27, 2012, 8:40pm Top

... and I'm home.

Nothing much more to say, really. Going to eat dinner and SLEEP!!!!

Mar 27, 2012, 8:45pm Top

Welcome home :)

Mar 27, 2012, 9:04pm Top

Rest well, Suz.

Mar 27, 2012, 10:56pm Top

Too bad there were no chocolate elephants this time. Glad you're home!

Mar 27, 2012, 11:02pm Top

Wow! 103 books already?!?

Mar 28, 2012, 4:03pm Top

I hope your sleep is long and undisturbed. What a whirlwind trip you had! And you've completed 103 books. Wow.

I love your comments about the sign on the bits of the Berlin Wall. Irony. Paradox. Delightful.

Edited: Mar 28, 2012, 7:35pm Top

From chocolate to Chinese! Yes, that's right, just got copies of my book in Chinese, from the publisher. A bit of a surprise, as I hadn't even realized it was being released there! Very cool. Too bad I can't read Chinese. If anyone does, the price on it is only 48 yuan! :-)

Mar 28, 2012, 7:46pm Top

I hope it sells. Any prospect of an author's promotional tour?


Mar 28, 2012, 7:51pm Top

LOL, I suspect not, Robert -- although that would be seriously cool. Maybe I should raise it with my publicist??

Mar 28, 2012, 9:46pm Top

Still tired, still very very far behind on work... It's going to be a long week.

104. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides took me a while to plod through. I shouldn't say "plod"; it was just very very easy to put down in late February and then not pick up again until a few days ago. If I had to boil my reaction down to a few words, I'd say this was a novel that said too much about far too little. Add the author's rather distant, godlike perspective on his characters and the result is a book that is well-written and occasionally fascinating, but one in which I never managed to really engage/immerse myself. On the surface, it's one old trope -- a love triangle, combined with a 'marriage plot' -- and there's another one lurking there, the discovery by each of the three characters that the real world they must venture into after graduating from Ivy League institution Brown University isn't necessarily going to be a welcoming place, much less live up to their expectations. In the middle is literature major Madeleine, obsessed with Leonard Bankhead, an alluring but unstable scientist; on the other side is Mitchell Grammaticus (yeah, I know...), an old friend who wants to be more than that to Madeleine, with whom he is obsessed. The action -- much of it inside the heads of the characters -- takes place over the course of roughly a year or 15 months, starting with the trio's graduation from Brown (it opens on the day they are supposed to receive their diplomas) and culminating on a hot summer's day in New York a year later. It's set in the early 1980s -- the end of the last great recession, or a year before I finished college -- so I found that interesting. I relished the prose and the vivid depictions of places and characters. But the narrative arc was always subordinate to that and the author's perspective was so detached that I often could only engage intellectually. 3.7 stars; mebbe 3.8. I have one of his prior novels lurking around unread; I should take a look at that and see if I like it better.

105. Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton is likely to irritate most very religious people as well as some atheists; as an agnostic, I enjoyed it, even while recognizing that it's more superficial than at first it seems to be. The author's basic argument is that we need to take what is valuable from religion (for those of us who can't subscribe to specific theologies, or who see religion as essentially a human construct) and adapt it to our needs: our need to be compassionate and to be understood; to communicate in real terms with others; to view art in different ways, etc. He acknowledges (belatedly, IMO) that he is drawing heavily on the ideas of Auguste Comte, but since Comte is largely unread except by philosophers, why not give the concepts new life? Of course, those who feel most comfortable within a religious tradition will argue that stripping something like a sermon from its context deprives it of its traditional authority and gravitas, but at some point religious sermons were themselves novel. Flawed but provocative and intriguing. Don't expect heavyweight and watertight philosophy; this is classic de Botton, complete with funky book design and lots of illustrations to amplify his arguments. I recommend it, but then I'm probably his target audience. 4.1 stars.

Mar 28, 2012, 11:12pm Top

105 sounds intriguing.

Mar 28, 2012, 11:18pm Top

I'd be very interested in your take on this, Richard, as it argues that if you strip out the theology and get down to the bedrock social ideas lying under all religions, there is a "social utility value" that we would do well to remember and try to preserve, even if we remove from that any concept of a divinity or higher power. I can't be an atheist (that requires the same kind of absolute conviction that religious faith does, IMO), and I do see the value that religion CAN bring to the table, when human beings listen to those basic messages (eg, do unto others). I liked some of his specific ideas, too, like an Agape bistro, where people would be banned from doing anything superficial, but would be encouraged to share a meal with others in partnership, or suggestions for ways in which we can experience awe and a sense of perspective in the absence of a god whose powers are literally incomprehensible because of their magnitude (viz., Job.) I think that to the extent critics charge he doesn't address points raised by Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, etc., they kind of miss the point, as a lot of the stuff raised by the latter are issues with how humans have chosen to use religious beliefs in ways that aren't true to fundamental principles.

Mar 28, 2012, 11:22pm Top

I have Religion for Atheists home from the library at present though I'm more likely to flip through it than read it cover to cover at present. I'm probably more or less the target audience as well.
Still haven't read anything by Jeffrey Eugenides and he's coming to Auckland's Readers and Writers in May.

Mar 28, 2012, 11:28pm Top

I like atheism's conviction, set in opposition to religion's conviction, but I can't share in either, either. It's extremely improbable that there is a god like the one the monotheists posit. Then again, Higgs bosons are extremely improbable, too.

I think de Botton is a mediocre writer, but the topic here is of too great a degree of interest to me to let that stand in my way. It's awaiting me at my local liberry, on hold. *smooch*

Have fun Sunday! I can't go, too much pain. ::sadface::

Mar 28, 2012, 11:32pm Top

WHAT????? You can't go Sunday?????? My dear, get yourself a wheelchair. I will propel, if need be. You can't NOT go, even for an hour or so. We'll talk.

Mar 28, 2012, 11:36pm Top

Tomorrow a.m. is good, you?

Edited: Mar 28, 2012, 11:45pm Top

I'm on conference calls until noon, more or less; try me right after noon & we can sort this out. Heavens to Betsy, as my grandmother would have said.

Mar 28, 2012, 11:48pm Top

Kayo, chickie, as my grandfather the pervy old fuffertut would've said.

Mar 29, 2012, 2:56pm Top

Higgs bosons are extremely improbable, too. Mmmm, not so much any more. A buddy who works at CERN thinks it's pretty probable they've seen 'em and the mass is about 128 GeV. :)

Mar 29, 2012, 3:51pm Top

OK, Jim, I confess that while I may have understood isolated words in your post, I have no idea what any of that actually meant... :-)

Mar 29, 2012, 4:34pm Top

Well, I suppose I should have mentioned I was responding to Richard way back in #93. :)

Higgs bosons are subatomic particles that were invented to make the math work right in quantum field theory so that particles like quarks and electrons can have mass. Physicists believed in them without any evidence, and many suspected that these little suckers would never be found. Except recent experiments at CERN seem to have indeed found them with mass pretty much right where predicted!

Mar 29, 2012, 4:49pm Top

Suzanne, I really appreciate your review of The Marriage Plot. I read Middlesex several years ago, and really liked it, but have been less sure about this one.

May I ask you to elaborate on your comment: "I relished the prose and the vivid depictions of places and characters. But the narrative arc was always subordinate to that..." I typically love authors who excel at evoking place and character, but I'm not sure what you mean by "the narrative arc." I'm hesitant to expose my naivete (or just ignorance).... Are you saying that those two aspects so overshadowed the sense of plot or movement, that it diminished the experience? (I did understand your comment about the author's perspective being so detached that it was hard to engage emotionally).

Mar 29, 2012, 5:17pm Top

Ellen, I'm sorry I relapsed into using jargon! But yes, you nailed it -- the sense of pacing suffered, as Eugenides was always happier to delve into his characters' thoughts, or to offer what felt like a still life description of a place. But the overall pacing felt jerky to me -- and almost as if the events were irrelevent to the thinking and insight. Like you, I love a novel that has characters who are vivid and alive, but this didn't work on that level because the supporting infrastructure -- the story -- was almost AWOL. Yes, Madeleine goes to the Cape to live on a science research station; yes, Mitchell goes to India. But those are things they do to advance what Eugenides wants them to do inside their own heads -- to reach epiphanies or realize something about the world and their place in it. It's an excessively cerebral approach to a novel, which needs a great story to underpin it.

Mar 29, 2012, 6:03pm Top

We read The Marriage Plot in my NCT reading group - suddenly I have 2 face to face reading groups in my life. The other two women in the group loved this one, I was a bit lukewarm about it but don't have lots to say.

Mar 30, 2012, 7:52pm Top

Wow, two face to face groups? That could be great, but some months I struggle to read for one -- something starts feeling like "homework" and thus gets bumped to the bottom of the pack...

Well, I have invested $5 in the Mega Millions jackpot. Apparently, the odds of winning are far smaller than being struck by lightning -- 2 tickets sold for every man, woman and child in the USA. But then, the jackpot is $540 million. And wouldn't it be cool if... :-)

OK, finally catching up on my book reporting; I have been reading and working but not posting.

106. I know some folks were ambivalent about Christine Falls by Benjamin Black, but I have to say I relished every twist and turn in the plot. Black, aka novelist John Banville, is crafty and an elegant stylist, who ensures that by the time another dark fact is presented to us formally, we've already got our suspicions -- but no knowledge. Very well done. This is Dublin noir; the focus is on the various iniquities of the Catholic Church, but the emphasis is as much or more on the characters as the crimes. 4.3 stars; could have been higher some of the plot twists and coincidences not seemed a bit too elegant. This was borrowed from a friend (who borrowed it from a friend of his!) and the former has the entire series, so I'll be swapping this for the next one soon, I think.

107. The Best American Essays 2011 was pretty much what I have come to expect from this series (which I have been reading since 1988, the second or third year of its life....) -- a mixed bag. Some didn't really resonate; others I simply loved. Particularly fascinating were Christopher Hitchens' piece on his cancer diagnosis (which he characterizes as a voyage into a new country, where the food happens to be very bad) and Pico Iyer's book about chapels, which echoed some of the themes in his new book. When good, these essays were as promised, very very good. There are some that don't resonate as much philosophically or stylistically, but are important, like a chastening chronicle of horrible misadventures and crimes in Detroit; these I would describe as reportage rather than essays, but are still intriguing or even important to read. If you like essays, these are decent volumes, even if the individual contents can be hit or miss. I'm looking forward to following this by reading Marilynne Robinson's anthology of essays in April.

108. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris is a tour de force; a tribute to the concept of the unreliable narrator, and a thumping good read. Hmm, how not to give things away? Let's just say throughout this narrative, being penned by Miss Harriet Baxter in London in 1933, apparently light years away from the events of 1888/89 with which it is concerned, we get a lot of reasons to second, third and even fourth-guess ourselves and the narrator -- which could have been bad news had it not been that Harris's hands are very trustworthy ones for any reader to find him/herself in. Literature? Nope. But it's creative and imaginative in a very different and yet familiar way -- combining what feels like a Victorian gothic with a classic suspense novel. I was surprised to see that Politics & Prose had classified it as a mystery -- at that point, I had read the first 60 pages or so -- but now I see why. If all this sounds oblique, it's because to say too much about it gives away some of the joys of discovery. What I most delighted in is the extent to which, even at the end, Harris still leaves a lot to our imaginations. Could it be that...??? 4.8 stars, onto my list of top books of the year.

Mar 30, 2012, 8:13pm Top

>104 Chatterbox: Ooh! I might put aside The Singapore Grip and start Gillespie and I now. There have been so many good reviews of that book.

I'm still amazed that it wasn't chosen for last year's Booker Prize longlist, along with several other books that the Guardian felt were worthy of inclusion.

Edited: Mar 30, 2012, 8:23pm Top

Darryl, I'm not sure I would consider it Booker material -- it's extremely clever and ingenious and even potentially diabolical, depending on how you see it -- but at heart it's very much up for debate as to whether it can be seen as "serious" or "literary". Quite frankly, I don't care -- it was fascinating, well-written and gripping. And very smart, in many different ways. On the other hand, it's excellent material for the Orange prize, which is always a bit more populist.

Mar 30, 2012, 8:44pm Top

Sorry to once again beat a very dead horse, but very few of the books on the 2011 longlist were typical "Booker material", IMO. I'm about to start Gillespie and I now.

Mar 30, 2012, 9:26pm Top

I've read this entire thread without any chocolate sustenance or Higgs bosons shoring up tiny mind. I'm tempted to count it as a book read. Just read tonight that Canadians can buy those Mega Millions tickets but haven't figured out how to do so. 1/30th of that win would shore up the CBC for a year (the amount of the government cuts in the latest budget), so I needs me a ticket.

Edited: Mar 31, 2012, 12:26am Top

Darryl, I'm tempted to lapse into a Monty Pythonesque soliloquy about dead horses, but shall refrain...

Tui, if it weren't $54 million a YEAR, I'd be tempted to help. As it is, my upstairs neighbors and I have determined that the local library will be the beneficiary of our largesse -- we'll be latter day Carnegies! Oh, and my dentist -- I've got another small but nagging toothache that I'm hoping doesn't get worse. Must accumulate a nest egg prior to visiting the dentist, as the cost of the needed work is larger than anything I've ever spent on anything in my life. (Admittedly, have yet to buy a car or house of late, but my only house purchase in the 80s required a smaller downpayment than the dentist will need...)

Mar 31, 2012, 7:26am Top

I know Gillespie and I may not have been Booker material but my God what a book. The fact that at the end you still weren't exactly quite sure...I read it several weeks ago now and still have Harriet in my head. And it was the way Harris just had it all kind of sneak up on you until you were saying, "Wait, what?"

I almost loved The Observations as much.

Mar 31, 2012, 8:33am Top

I can't wait to read Gillespie and I! I think it will be an Orange July book and I'm going to read The Observations before then.

Mar 31, 2012, 8:38am Top

Stephen Batchelor does something similar, not superficially though, with Buddhist thinking in Buddhism Without Beliefs which is more or less a book I live by, keep near, consult often. I'm sure I'm the 'target' too, and I will surely read it at some point as I am fond of de Boton, so far never disappointed.

Mar 31, 2012, 9:17am Top

*sigh* The house is half-empty, and I can't go tomorrow, and it makes me sad. At least my tooth isn't hurting. Anyone know what state sold the winning lottery ticket(s)?

Edited: Mar 31, 2012, 9:23am Top

Maryland, apparently.

ETA: there may be other additional winning tickets - they don't know yet due to the sheer volume.

Edited: Mar 31, 2012, 9:39am Top

According to CNN, three winning tickets have been sold, in Kansas, Maryland and Illinois.

Winning Mega Millions tickets sold in Maryland, Illinois, Kansas

Mar 31, 2012, 10:03am Top

*heavy, heavy sigh* Not New York, then. Boo. Hiss.

Mar 31, 2012, 11:09am Top

R, we tried.... Can you PM me the address again & the times, pls?? tks...

Mar 31, 2012, 10:07pm Top

102> Thanks for the elaboration! Even with all the hype, and having very much loved Middlesex, I may allow The Marriage Plot to languish on the list for a while. On the other hand, Gillespie and I and Christine Falls are going into the must-read pile. (I've had Gillespie and I on hold at the library for a while, now, so it will just stay there).

We purchased just one ticket for the Mega Millions. Not among the lucky ones, but it provided some good fantasy discussion over our Corpse Reviver #2 on Friday evening. :-)

Edited: Mar 31, 2012, 10:52pm Top

In some ways, I think the fantasy of winning might be better than the reality -- that's a lot of money, and overseeing it becomes a full-time job. I'd rather win a much smaller amount, just enough that I didn't need to worry.

Anyway... Fell asleep on the sofa when I got in this evening after a longer day than I expected, so I've been slow to update today's reading. I have another 60 pages or so left of 1222 by Anne Holt, and will prob. finish that as my final book of the month and report back on it tomorrow evening as I'm off to a wedding tomorrow afternoon and then must come and work like a maniac! So I will be awol for a day or so, poss. until Monday.

109. Fly Away Home was the first novel I read by Marge Piercy, shortly after it was published. Found it in the library of the Tokyo American Club, which was one of my few sources of non-purchased books for a few years; a rather limited selection, but I quite liked this one and later got my own copy, which has now officially fallen apart. It's a feminist work, in that essentially it's the story of a woman, cookbook author Daria Walker, who has placed her husband at the center of her world only to discover that he doesn't deserve to be there, and that she must reconstruct that world. It's an intriguing plot tied to the gentrification of Boston in the 80s, social/class issues and gender relationships, but it's also very entertaining and ultimately suspenseful. Daria's husband Ross is sometimes too cliched to be real, in my older eyes, but I still enjoyed this re-read of a book that I haven't looked at for a decade or perhaps even 15 years. Mildly recommended, for my 12 in 12 challenge, 3.9 stars.

110. I'm gradually beginning to codify what gets on my nerves about the Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear, and reading Elegy for Eddie, the newest, just confirmed what it is. The author is rather pedantic; while her plots are interesting, her prose is stodgy, with characters making banal observations and doing banal thinks. I'm always conscious of reading; I never immerse myself in the story. I am glad she's moving on from the aftermath of WW1 to WW2, but this latest plot didn't really grab me much, either. In newspaper mogul John Otterburn she has crafted a rather obvious parallel with the famous Lord Beaverbrook (Otter-burn/Beaver-brook -- get it?!?) but I never really got into it. In addition. Maisie is just so serious and self-conscious all the time -- I'm tired of reading about her earnest musings. I've been reading library copies of her books for a while now, but think I may stop them altogether. What kept me going was the interwar period, which is fascinating, but this is just too heavy-handed for me. A further note: this time around I kept catching all kinds of tiny errors, like spoken references to Maisie's significant other as Viscount Compton -- well, that's wrong, he would have been Lord Compton, which in turn meant his father would have had to be an earl or marquess, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Yes, now I'm being pedantic, but this is stuff that is so easy to check that it's absurd people get it wrong. She places the great Kanto earthquake in Japan in 1933 instead of 1923, and I could go on but it's boring. Actually, the book was a bit of a bore. 3.1 stars; if you love the series I suppose you'll love this, but it's gone flat for me since book #2 or so. Not recommended.

Mar 31, 2012, 11:41pm Top

I can see your point re Maisie although I haven't read the latest. I do like the period between the wars too, which is what attracted me to the series in the first place. I also liked certain characters, like her father and her sidekick (whose name completely escapes me right now). But unless a character really grows, I find that most series begin to pall. I will read Elegy, just to see where she goes next, but I can see what you mean by "stodgy". It began to go a bit pear shaped for me when the gypsy 6th sense stuff got introduced.

Apr 1, 2012, 4:08am Top

Wait - there's gypsy 6th sense stuff in the Maisie Dobbs series? Oh no!!! I have the 2nd book on my Kindle, but it's not grabbing me - and Suz you explained it so well when you said you were always conscious of reading. That's what I felt in the first one, even though I liked it - I was not really in the book.

Apr 1, 2012, 12:17pm Top

Perzackly, madame, perzackly the prob. I had with La Maisie, and a deeply disappointing thing it is, too. I love the time period. I like the *idea* of the character. I can't get past the fact that I'm reading.

Complete opposite experience for me is the Dr. Siri series set in Laos. I am swept into the story, and when it's over, it feels to me like I've awakened from a delightful dream...a little let down that I'm not still there, smiling from the experience, and ready for another one.

Apr 1, 2012, 12:55pm Top

Cush, all of that said, I still like the Maisie series. The era is so compelling. Unless Elegy proves a real clunker, I'll probably keep reading the series. Someone else on LT describes these reads as cinnamon buns for the brain and that really is it.

Edited: Apr 1, 2012, 3:10pm Top

I only tried the one Maisie but your comments capture all the reasons I've not bothered to pick up the series beyond that. It should be an excellent series, but (imo) it's not. Well-written and authentic review, Suz.

Edited: Apr 2, 2012, 3:44pm Top

Finally have a chance to catch up on my own thread; maybe I'll even manage to catch up on some others later on...?

111. My final book of the month was 1222 by Anne Holt, which started off being OK and ended up being extremely good. It's supposedly a tribute to the Agatha Christie style of murder mysteries and to the locked room mystery specifically, but I liked this far more than either, in large part because the reader sees things through the eyes of the first-person narrator, paraplegic former police inspector Hanne Wilhelmson. After a railroad derailment, she and hundreds of other travelers from Oslo to Bergen in Norway are forced to take refuge at a nearby hotel complex, accessible only by rail, as a winter-time hurricane closes in making rescue delayed and nearly-impossible. As the snow mounts up, the buildings are cut off from one another, and then there are two murders... There are all kinds of intriguing characters here -- some skinheads, some schoolgirls, a runaway teenage boy, a racist television pundit, a group of clergymen, a doctor who is also a dwarf, and a mysterious group of people who were traveling in isolation in a special railcar and who are now locked away in their own corner of the hotel. It's just the right degree of claustrophobic and suspenseful, and although Hanne is just as serious and intense as Maisie Dobbs (see #110, above), she's far more interesting a character. Definitely recommended! 4.1 stars, I'll be reading more by this author, for sure. For my 12 in 12 challenge.

112. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin was the first book of April for me; it's at once bizarre, disturbing and hilarious. That said, I think I actually prefer the first film version to the book; in the former, the suspense was even more pronounced. If you know the cliche, then you know the basic plotline of this book; I read it once, maybe in my late 20s. What struck me now was how dated the context felt (thus making me feel old!!) while at the same time how chilling the fundamental premise remains. Go read it; it's short! 3.8 stars.

113A Bearded Lady by Mara Altman was another short book; a Kindle single. (I'll read two more Kindle singles to make it up to a "whole" book and add them to this listing over the next few weeks.) Altman becomes hyper-conscious about body hair at an age long before men have to fuss about nose and ear hair and women have to worry about chin waxing. While her antics in pursuit of a smooth body were amusing, the book itself did have a sobering underlying message about social acceptability that I found a bit disconcerting. Even those of us who may pride ourselves on being individuals have lines that we don't want to cross, and leg and underarm hair seems to be part of that. Neglect any body hair that society deems need to be removed (even when it's not visible) and you're guilty of poor grooming or worse. Food for thought, and the fact that you might squirm at that is another reason to read it! Amazon tells me this Kindle Single can be loaned (usual terms, only once and for 14 days), so the first person to tell me they want to borrow it gets it. It's a very short read, Amazon says 46 pages. 3.6 stars.

Apr 2, 2012, 7:32pm Top

*smooch* to my dear Suz!

Apr 2, 2012, 9:27pm Top

OK, here is a book that you HAVE to read... I have to say that the caliber of this year's Orange Prize longlist is incredibly high. I admit I wasn't as impressed by State of Wonder as by Ann Patchett's other writing, and while Tides of War by Stella Tillyard and The Submission by Amy Waldman were both books I enjoyed, I don't think they were of the same high standard and as utterly innovative as Gillespie and I, Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and now this book:

114. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is utterly mesmerizing; I read it whenever I found a spare moment, wandering up and down stairs with my Kindle in front of me, letting someone go ahead of me in the bank lineup so that I could finish the chapter, holding it in front of me while I walked home through the subway station. If you're familiar with The Iliad, the plotline of Achilles and his close companion, Patroclus, will be known to you, at least in outline. But Miller has succeeded in bringing the story alive in a way I never thought I would see, creating a world that is familiar -- she focuses on the characters and emotions familiar to us today, downplaying the ways in which their lives were so different -- and yet also strange to us, in which the gods are vivid, living presences, including Achilles' own mother, Thetis. Annoying Apollo, for instance, is a fatal error, and all the Greeks know this and will take dramatic action to avoid it. The presence of the gods is as taken for granted as the quest for military glory. Nonetheless, Miller's Achilles is a conflicted warrior: he knows his instinctive talent demands this be his role, but his mortal side clings to his love for Patroclus and the idea of sharing his life with him. Skilfully, the older kings tempt and threaten the two, urging them on to what the Fates have decreed will be their destruction. Even knowing the end of the tale didn't spoil the pleasures of this novel for me. Excellent; it will appeal more to those with an interest in history, the Greek myths, etc., but there's plenty here for all to relish. Intriguing to think that this novel of homosexual love was written by a woman and told through the eyes of a man -- which just adds to her accomplishment, IMO! 4.7 stars, definitely recommended, for my 12 in 12 challenge.

The other Orange nominees that I hope to read this month are:

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding
There but for The by Ali Smith
On the Floor by Alfric Campbell
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick
The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

So by the time the shortlist is announced, I should have finished a round dozen of these! The problem will be figuring out which of 'em to root for -- so far, not a dud in there, or even anything that is over-rated. (With Patchett, IMO, the writing is excellent, but I found the narrative underhwelming and exaggerated in some ways.)

Apr 2, 2012, 11:24pm Top

I see that the Anne Holt is #8 in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, did this matter too much?
I'm hoping to get to Gillespie and I this month, I've had it on my tbr for a few weeks now but must finish The Dovekeepers first. This is my first time reading Alice Hoffman and I'm finding it a real chore to read which makes me doubly mad as I was so looking forward to the idea of this book. And I'll have to add The Song of Achilles to my 'must read' pile as there have been too many good reviews for it.

Apr 3, 2012, 12:50am Top

Suz - a few days away and I cannot keep up with your reading activity at all. Seen the Alain de Botton book in the shops at home but I will have to keep it in the office to read as SWMBO would have a dickie-fit if I brought such profane literature into the household. Looking forward to the Jane Harris which I bought during my meet-up with Caro. I also must say that I agree with you on Christine Falls - I thought it ended up extremely successful as a sort of cross-genre work.

Apr 3, 2012, 1:06am Top

I can't keep up with my life or workload, Paul; reading is kind of a consolation activity, or else displacement. Heaven knows what a shrink would make of it!! I've already been informed that I'm irrational on the subject...

Kerry, usually jumping into a series midway through is a big no-no for me, but in this instance, it never really registered, which is remarkable. That tells me that Holt did an excellent job of explaining Hanne and her background, not assuming that I knew it and thus doing a perfunctory job, or alternatively doing a data dump in the spirit of "let's get the inevitable over with as rapidly as possible." Those tend to be major annoyances to me in later series books, and in this case, frankly, this could have been a series beginning, a stand-alone novel, or one that occurred anywhere along the way in a series. She was very deft in what she tells the reader about Hanne and her background. One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much, I think.

On the Alice Hoffman, I stalled about 8% of the way into the book (it's a Kindle read for me) and have never really felt motivated to pick it up again. Like you, I was intrigued by the idea/setting/time period. I don't know what isn't working for me in practice. Et bien...

Apr 3, 2012, 3:48am Top

The Sealed Letter is a favourite of the 5 I've read. I have Foreign Bodies, as it's currently available in the Amazon Kindle Easter safor a very reasonable 99p. I want to read Ali Smith, Aifric Campbell and Georgina Harding, but library availability is an issue.

Apr 3, 2012, 7:04am Top

I keep hearing great things about The Song of Achilles ... very tempting.

Apr 3, 2012, 11:22am Top

I am well into both Song of Achilles and Gillespie and I and enjoying them both and so skimmed over your reviews warily--I'm not sure I'm supposed to know that Harriet is an unreliable narrator! LOL letting someone get ahead of you in line so you can finish the chapter.

Apr 3, 2012, 11:37am Top

Anne, I'm not sure -- I think that Harriet's rather self-regarding nature emerges pretty early on in the book. The question is whether it's just that she's being honest about her view of herself in the way that most of us have high views and not always objective ones of ourselves, tending to view our actions in the best possible light, or is there something else at work? One of the joys of that book was the way I evaluated and re-evaluated what I had read in light of the events she chronicles.

Laura, yes, Song of Achilles is brilliant. Onto my "best reads of the year" list. I was wary of it as a lot of the books I've read set in the ancient world have been underwhelming, including Margaret George's chunkster novel about Helen of Troy. And I'm not a big fan of the Bernard Cornwell/Ben Kane school of military historical fiction. But this REALLY worked.

After all these fab but intense books, I need something good but lightweight. So I went back to Jingo by Terry Pratchett, which I had hoped to read last month but now will finish this week. And a very serious book indeed -- Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski, which by subject reminds me of Erik Larson's 2011 book, In the Garden of the Beasts, about William Dodd and his family. But while Larson only wrote about one family, Nagorski is tackling a much broader swathe. The result may be less focused and more episodic, but there's some really fascinating material there.

Apr 3, 2012, 7:28pm Top

Loved your appreciation of The Song of Achilles! When Thetis liberated Patroclus, I was ready to cheer the book to the skies!

Gillespie and I is in progress, but am loving it a lot.

Apr 3, 2012, 8:22pm Top

Wasn't that the perfect ending, Richard???

Anyway... For anyone who has a Kindle or who has the Kindle app on their PC or other device, just wanted to note that The rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer is one of this month's cheap books in the US -- $3 or $4, about $10 off what it was when I bought it on its Kindle release last fall... (that'll teach me...)

Apr 3, 2012, 8:30pm Top

Wow, you are doing great working your way through the Orange list.
I've only read The Night Circus but I have my eye on reading State of Wonder, Gillespie and I and now after your recommendation The Song of Achilles

Apr 3, 2012, 10:29pm Top

>136 Chatterbox: Thanks for the nudge Suzanne. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is now happily sitting on my iPad.

Apr 4, 2012, 2:09am Top

Thanks, I was also able to buy this one. I can't access the kindle daily deals from NZ but these specials are available.

Apr 4, 2012, 7:17am Top

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is a remarkable and fascinating book and that's a fabulous price for it. I didn't read it until a few years ago, but I'd had my copy since the early 70s, so it was probably almost that cheap when I bought it!

Apr 4, 2012, 11:21am Top

Rebecca, I think mine dates back to the mid or late 70s (it originally belonged to my parents) but since it's a paperback that is falling apart... I think I read Berlin Diary first, when I was 10 or 11, because growing up in the late 60s and early 70s in Europe, the aftermath of the war was still everywhere, from the Berlin Wall to the sound of emergency vehicle sirens in London (which have since been changed back to the long wail, I think, but that reminded people too much of the air raid sirens in the Blitz.) Apparently the main building on our school complex in Brussels, an 1850s chateau, was used as a Gestapo office. There was a deep valley behind the high school building that a caretaker told us had been used to execute partisans.

Apr 4, 2012, 11:39am Top

I just checked my library, Suzanne, and I actually got it in the early 80s, because it's a hardcover edition from 1981 that I think I got as part of my 10 books for $1 when I joined some book club. I used to do that when you could quit without buying anything more, and I always went for the most expensive books I wanted. My edition had a big swastika on the dust wrapper spine, and I had to take it off because I couldn't stand looking at that swastika when I looked at my bookshelves.

That must have been fascinating to have lived in Europe at that time and to have seen all that with your own eyes. It makes it real in a way that, as much as I've read about both the war and postwar Europe, isn't possible for people who weren't there.

Edited: Apr 4, 2012, 12:12pm Top

Rebecca, yes... I was thinking of this just yesterday, as I'm reading Hitlerland right now. I thought of two experiences, when I would have been only 7. One was being taken to see a movie called "Battle of Britain" in London by my parents (these days, I suspect they wouldn't let children in!) and walking out into the street to realize that all the buildings around us were new -- new, because the buildings that had stood there were the same ones that had burned to the grown during the Blitz that I had just seen on the screen. That summer, we went on our first car trip in Europe, starting in Amsterdam, and my parents took us to Anne Frank's house. I had already started to read maniacally by then, and despite my age, my parents bought me a copy of the diary, which I read in the back seat of the car as we drove up through Denmark. The stop after that was Germany, and apparently (I don't remember this myself) I had such a tantrum that my father had to pull the car off the autobahn -- I was NOT going to go to the country that had killed Anne Frank. Needless to say, I was overruled. That trip ended in Munich and we visited Dachau. Cumulatively, that summer taught me at an early age, young enough to not just know it intellectually but believe it in my heart, that history was real, if that makes sense. It's not abstractions, lost in the mists of time; things that happened in places that existed only on maps. People that I knew and met had firsthand stories of what that war had been like, including a guest in our home (don't remember who he was or why he was there) who pulled up the leg of his pants to show me a bunch of mangled scar tissue and explained that he had been shot down over Germany and had been hiding in a hay rick when soldiers started to look for him by shoving bayonets into one rick after another. He told me he hadn't screamed, but they found him anyway (the bayonet got stuck...) and he spent the war in a POW camp. I wasn't there, but I grew up as a child with imagination, who was curious about history and people, in the places where this had happened. And it shaped the world I lived in. Later, I came to have similar interest in WW1, without which much of the 20th century would not have unfolded as it did, and that was largely as a result of working as a tour guide at a WW1 battlefield, which included the original tunnels and trench systems.

Apr 4, 2012, 2:36pm Top

Amazing stories, Suzanne. I agree with you completely that the war and its aftermath "shaped the world I live in" -- that was the reaction I've had to several of the books I've read over the past few years.

Apr 4, 2012, 8:30pm Top

Dropping by to say hello so you can avoid the migraine image on my thread. No overlap in books so nothing to add.

Apr 4, 2012, 8:34pm Top

So glad to see many of you eager to read Gillespie and I. I read it last year and absolutely loved it.

Apr 4, 2012, 9:17pm Top

# 146 -- Have you read her other book?? I'm now curious about that one!!

quick book update; I'm going to try to get an early night as I've been sleep-deprived for two weeks or more!

115. At first, I figured Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski would be one of those books that doesn't really add anything. After all, there are thousands of books about Nazi Germany and Hitler out there, and with Shirer's magisterial tome (not to mention his diary and memoirs, still in print) does the world really need a book that is specifically about Americans living in Germany during Hitler's rise to power? What could such a book say that was new?? Well, not much when it comes to the big picture -- it's hard to say that the American range of reactions and responses was all that different from those of other nations, with a few logical twists (the presence of second-generation German-Americans, for instance, and the fact that Germany hadn't invaded America, as it had many European nations.) With that (rather large) caveat, this is a rather interesting book on a more micro level, even if it skips from a long-term resident to an anecdote from a tourist with scarcely a pause. Nagorski writes well, and has knit this disparate collection of recollections together with a strong narrative, which helps compensate for the fact that not every anecdote is worthy of inclusion and several are downright repetitious. Still, I hadn't known that it was the American wife of a Hitler acolyte (who himself was educated at Harvard) who foiled Hitler's ostensible suicide attempt in the aftermath of the abortive Beer Hall putsch. You'll get more out of it if you know the history, but you don't have to have read Shirer or Richard Evans's even more magisterial trilogy of histories of the Third Reich to find this interesting. For my part, the first half of the book, dealing with the Weimar years, were the most intriguing, and made me want to seek out a history of that era on its own. 3.9 stars; still not sure this is a book that the world couldn't live without or that I need to own, but hey, it came from the library.

Apr 4, 2012, 10:02pm Top

>147 Chatterbox: I have Suzanne and loved it almost as much as Gillespie and I. I think you would call it a thumping good read;-)

Fascinating to read about your childhood experiences.

Apr 5, 2012, 8:41am Top

147> Yes, I've read The Observations. While I greatly enjoyed it, I don't think it quite matched up to Gillespie and I.

Edited: Apr 5, 2012, 10:12am Top

>143 Chatterbox:: pm on your profile

Apr 5, 2012, 11:28pm Top

Tui, wow, what an experience... will reply properly tomorrow. Long day today; not saving lives like our friend Darryl, but just putting out journalistic fires of various kinds. Am STILL behind on work. Extremely annoying. Am convinced the light ahead is indeed an oncoming vehicle of some kind that will certainly flatten me.

116. After all the intensity in my reading of late, I needed something mindless, and the often excruciatingly bad puns in Jingo by Terry Pratchett fit the bill. It's smart silliness, however, in this latest Ank-Morpork Watch saga. Captain Carrot turns into a Pratchettian Lawrence of Arabia; Leonard of Quim designs all kind of cool gizmos, and Klatch looks like a combination of Carthage, Parthia and modern-day Afghanistan and Iraq, all somehow rolled together. Example of deadpan Pratchett humor: "Oh gods, I arrested an entire battlefield, Vimes thought. And you can't do that. But I've done it. And we've only got six cells back at the Yard, and we keep the coal in one of them." Or when the dictator thinks of Leonard that "he had a world view about as complex as that of a concussed duckling." The perfect antidote to serious books, although this wasn't quite as captivating as the last two in the series. Still hoping to read the next, The Fifth Elephant, later this month, however. 3.8 stars. Recommended to Discworld afficionados. Still amazed that I have joined their ranks.

Apr 6, 2012, 8:38pm Top

Suz, it's ok, you have so much work right now.

Apr 6, 2012, 9:24pm Top

Yeah, but then work becomes an excuse for things I want to do, should do, etc. Sigh.
0o work for Marie Claire will be on 48 Hours tomorrow at 10 ET (in the US only, I think) to discuss a horrible crime she wrote about: a case of honor killing. Here's a link: http://www.marieclaire.com/blog/honor-killing-48-hours. I've known Abby ever since I moved to NY, practically -- 17 years or so?? -- and her brother, as well; we've crossed paths on 3 continents over the years!

Watching Renee Fleming sing at Lincoln Center (couldn't get tix, prob just as well) -- Barber, "Knoxville, Summer of 1915", which I adore. Though I prefer Dawn Upshaw singing it. And I also would prefer watching it without Tigger's head in front of the TV... But I do like seeing the camera zoom in closely on the musicians.

OK, books....

117. Losing Nelson by Barry Unsworth is a slow-paced book, and the narrator, Charles Cleasby, occasionally vanished too frequently and extensively into his past, in which he identifies with and sometimes feels unable to separate himself from one of Britain's greatest heroes, Lord Nelson. Those bits where Cleasby worries away at little details eventually became wearing, and it's far more fascinating to witness his encounters with the "real" world, as the latter challenges his ideals and obsessions. Will he snap -- and if so, how? He is intent on finding evidence that will exculpate Nelson from the only stain on his character, but what will happen if he can't? The final 100 pages are filled with tension. Recommended, but for the patient reader. 4 stars, for my 12 in 12 challenge.

118. Mission to Paris is one of Alan Furst's best spy novels -- this one will be out in June and I got an e-galley from NetGalley. *does happy dance* Frederic Stahl is mitteleuropean in Paris in the late 1930s -- born to Slovenian parents in Vienna, he made his way to the US after WW1 where he became a star in Hollywood. Now Warner Bros has loaned him to another studio to film a movie set at the end of the last war, just as another one is brewing. It's familiar territory to Furst, and he owns it -- he's a master at creating an ominous atmosphere. There are femme fatales (femmes fatales? femme fatales??), spies and crafty studio bosses galore here. Unputdownable, especially if you like this author. 4.2 stars.

Apr 7, 2012, 7:01am Top

OK, the niggly toothache that I've had for nearly two weeks flared up overnight into agony. It hurts to swallow; it hurts to breathe. And all the dentists are closed, because it's Passover & Easter. And I don't trust the clinics, some of them have done real damage to my teeth over the years. I was going to call my guy on Monday, but now am trying to reach him urgently -- despite the fact that he's orthodox jewish and it's Passover. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I suspect an abscess, or just a v.v. bad infection.

Edited: Apr 7, 2012, 9:32am Top

Can you still get oil of clove? It's used to deaden the pain.

Apr 7, 2012, 9:31am Top

Oh, Suz, that's terrible. Crossables crossed. Hope you get some relief!

Apr 7, 2012, 9:59am Top

Well, it finally got late enuf in the a.m. that I could call my dentist's emergency #. He's an impressive dude -- called me back in less than 10 minutes despite the fact that he's standing on a street corner in Florence, Italy. He is phoning in an Rx for antibiotics and Vicodin now, I think. Tui, have been mainlining Orajel, which these days they stock instead of oil of clove (tho the latter tastes a whole lot better...)

Apr 7, 2012, 10:07am Top

Ok and whew! That is an impressive response...Firenze, no less!

Apr 7, 2012, 5:30pm Top

My neighbor is equally impressive. He handled the texting with pharmacy details as my dumbphone collapsed under the challenge; went to pick up food and treats for the cats, and brought me back some soup from a great soup chain -- chicken with veggies for lunch, tomato basil for dinner. Even biting down on a tiny piece of shredded chicken was bad news, though. Vicodin may be dulling the pain, but that's about it.

Sadly, the book I picked up yesterday was less than impressive.

119. If you're going to tackle the topic of violent children who kill, you need to have a distinctive voice and angle on the characters you're writing about, and in The Child Who, Simon Lelic just doesn't deliver. (I picked this up because Foyles had recommended it.) Imagine what might happen when you're a husband and father of a teenage girl and a solicitor who is on duty when the call comes in that someone is needed to represent a 12-year-old accused of killing an 11 year old girl -- and you've got this book in a nutshell. The boy who is ostensibly at the heart of the narrative and who is the catalyst for all the events is never really three dimensional, and the events themselves are fairly predictable. The contrast between that and the horrific nature of the crime is just weird, and the biggish plot movement and final plot twist just exacerbates the strangeness. (Oh, and I saw that twist coming from miles away....) Ultimately, while the writing is good, the story is oddly distancing and even boring, which is a heinous crime for a novel about such a subject. Not bad, but deeply underwhelming. 3.2 stars, for my 12 in 12 challenge.

Apr 7, 2012, 7:46pm Top

*there there, pat pat* re: tooth

hisssssssboooooooooooooooohissssssssss on the read

And a small smirk for Eastre's Day. The Dynamic Duo are going to NJ for some do or another tomorrow, I'm sittin' right here and GLAD of it!

Apr 7, 2012, 8:32pm Top

Theo -- the four year old from upstairs -- was out with his mother today, and they stopped off at a big chocolate confectionary somewhere in Brooklyn. He insisted on buying me a giant chocolate lollipop, "because Suzanne is my friend," he said (according to second-hand reports!) Sadly, I can't eat chocolate and the teeth won't let me investigate hard candy, but the big giant hug I got along with the lollipop was just as good as the Vicodin for making me feel better!!

Apr 7, 2012, 9:47pm Top

Owww and Awww....

Apr 7, 2012, 10:39pm Top

Awwwwwww is right, Katherine! How dear a kid is that one!

Apr 8, 2012, 6:53am Top

How sweet of Theo. Glad you were able to get some antibiotics etc. Suz, and hope you are feeling much better soon.

Apr 8, 2012, 9:12am Top

Wow! Your dentist has gone way beyond the call of duty, Suz. Glad to hear it.

Nothing cures illness or a bad day as well as a cute kid.

Apr 8, 2012, 2:57pm Top

Hope your tooth is better today

Apr 8, 2012, 3:54pm Top

Theo is adorable; curious and friendly and has a very good heart. He just came back from a picnic with my parents and said "Look after Tigger, and have a good afternoon" !!!

Tooth is still painful when Vicodin wears off; right now am just trying to balance the dosage so that I can function and yet not be in pain. It certainly hasn't worsened, so I'm hopeful that an abscess has been avoided.

Apr 8, 2012, 6:54pm Top

Well, with this message, I will have officially finished off the first 75-book challenge!! I'll continue with a new thread, and the first book of the second group of 75 books shortly.

120. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle is the debut mystery featuring Sherlock Holmes, and as it's a RL book circle group, I'll refrain from detailed comments ahead of that meeting, except to say that it's not the strongest, and that I don't actually remember reading this before, despite my Sherlockian mania at 12 or 13. 3.5 stars.

121. A Lion Called Christian by Anthony Bourke came down off my Kindle TBR stacks because of a TIOLI challenge. I had bought it a while ago because I remember vividly hearing about the shop in London a few miles from us where they had a lion living there -- and that the lion in question had been bought at Harrod's, half a block from my home. After that, most trips to Harrod's on weekends to spend my pocket money on books finished up with a trip to the Harrod's Zoo, but I never saw another lion... and my mother wouldn't take me to meet the one who features in this book. It's an amusing if slight narrative: two feckless Aussies in 1969 decide to buy a lion cub at Harrod's with the goal of finding a perfect home for him when he is too big to live with them any longer. That leads them to Kenya and George and Joy Adamson. Christian the lion is fascinating -- the tale of his reintroduction to the wild is equally so, making up in part for the pedestrian tone of the book. 3.3 stars, will be of interest mostly to people who follow issues involving wildlife. It was particularly intriguing to me that both of the authors and co-owners of Christian have remained engaged in wildlife and conservation issues, 40 years later.

Edited: Apr 15, 2012, 11:13pm Top

Actually, it seems I CAN'T create a new thread that people will automatically be linked to until I have reached at least 200 posts....

So I'm artificially beginning my second set of 75 books at the bottom of a thread, instead if a new thread -- very annoying!

Oh well -- here is the new ticker:

And the list!

1. The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, ****, READ 4/8/12 (fiction)
2. The House on Willow Street by Cathy Kelly, ***1/2, STARTED 4/6/12, FINISHED 4/8/12 (fiction)
3. Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick, *** 1/2, STARTED 4/8/12, FINISHED 4/9/12 (fiction)
4. Requiem: A Hallucination by Antonio Tabucchi, ****, STARTED 4/8/12, FINISHED 4/10/12 (fiction)
5. The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot, ***1/2, STARTED 4/6/12, FINISHED 4/10/12 (fiction)
6. *Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, ****, STARTED 4/11/12, FINISHED 4/12/12 (fiction)
7. The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott, ****, STARTED 4/11/12, FINISHED 4/12/12 (fiction)
8. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer, ***1/2, STARTED 4/9/12, FINISHED 4/13/12 (fiction)
9. *Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, ****, STARTED 4/12/12, FINISHED 4/13/12 (fiction)
10. Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg, ****1/2, STARTED 4/12/12, FINISHED 4/14/12


Apr 8, 2012, 7:04pm Top

122. The Sign of the Four is the second Holmes book, by Conan Doyle, and also for my RL book circle. Aside from some horribly politically incorrect representations of Indians, etc. (that were perfectly normal for the late Victorian era in which Conan Doyle was writing...) this was more classic Holmes, with the sleuth relying on everything from a sniffing dog to a steamboat, in a classic chase scene down the River Thames. 3.8 stars; it's the birth of a genre.

Apr 8, 2012, 7:16pm Top

You could manually start a new thread, Suzanne, but it wouldn't be automatically starred, etc., for your devoted thread followers.

Apr 8, 2012, 7:38pm Top

Count me among your devoted thread followers and your well-wishers that an abscess has been avoided. Your dentist sounds like a super-hero!

Apr 8, 2012, 8:09pm Top

Great ticker design!

Apr 8, 2012, 9:56pm Top

169: So I'm artificially beginning my second set of 75 books at the bottom of a thread, instead if a new thread -- very annoying!
Add your voice to the request for continuation at 100 posts: http://www.librarything.com/topic/126131#3333733.

Apr 8, 2012, 10:07pm Top

Done! Too late for this thread, but maybe in time for the next one, and for others who want to do this, too.

Apr 8, 2012, 10:53pm Top

Christian the Lion video. I choked up when I first saw this. The saccharine message at the end can be ignored or absorbed according to inclination.


Apr 8, 2012, 11:44pm Top

Awww.... thanks for linking, Robert!!

They described the filming, and what happened when they went back to see Christian. I don't think they were told he had gone completely wild -- in fact, there had begun to be some battles between Christian and some of the wild male lions. In the book, however, they describe how Christian still tried to sit in their laps -- you can see what that might have been like, given his size!!

Makes me glad my resident felines are so much smaller...

Final book for the day -- this tooth problem has been hell for work, but not bad for reading.

123. The House on Willow Street is mediocre chick lit by Cathy Kelly, an Irish author who usually does better than this. Set in an Irish town, the usual ensemble cast of women with life troubles and romantic troubles and overcoming them. One of the plot lines doesn't work at all this time, so I think the formula is wearing out & getting old. 3.3 stars, only for the author's devoted fans. Her older books are far better.

Apr 9, 2012, 7:14am Top

What a heroine - away for 10 days and despite the most excruciating of toothaches you are somehow able to get to 123 books already. I don't know how you can concentrate your mind enough to read during pain. Worried about the Simon Lelic book The Facility I have on the shelves after your underwhelming response to The Child Who (rubbish book title too by the way). Agreed with you on Losing Nelson which I found to be probably Unsworth's weakest novel (I loved both Sacred Hunger and especially Morality Play). Finished Christine Falls and am also in your camp in that I thought it succeeded in finding a middle ground between literary fiction and thrillers quite satisfactorily.

Btw your dentist really does sound a keeper.

Apr 9, 2012, 9:02am Top

168,176: Top rated comment for the video: "i tried this... now i only have one arm :("
The book goes onto the wishlist.

Apr 9, 2012, 12:00pm Top

Here to help you get to 200.

Oh, and after that review, Song of Achilles immediately went on hold at the library.

Apr 9, 2012, 12:21pm Top

Congratulations on your first 75 - may the next 75 be wonderful.

And I hope as it's Monday you've been able to have someone see to your tooth - I hope it's doing much better.

Apr 9, 2012, 2:12pm Top

I'm trying to hold out until Wednesday, when the dentist is back. Woke up twice in the night needing painkillers, but while I'm awake I seem to be able to control the pain much of the time. The problem is that I can't eat much, which means I get migraines, which is very bad news of a different kind. Oh well...

Apr 9, 2012, 3:02pm Top

How can it be the second 75 when you've already read 123?

Apr 9, 2012, 3:12pm Top

Because I'm not counting books that belong in my 12 in 12 challenge toward the 75 books challenge... :-)

Apr 9, 2012, 4:44pm Top


You're a tougher woman than I am. I'd have counted them twice.

Apr 9, 2012, 6:25pm Top

Ohhh nooo, Suzanne...toothaches are the worst. It sounds like you have a prince of a dentist. I hope you are the first patient he sees when he gets back. I'm surprised you can concentrate enough to read between the pain and the drug reaction. The sign of a True Reader!!! And, however many books you've read, it's a lot. Congratulations!

Apr 9, 2012, 7:10pm Top

Doesn't double counting generate lots of accounting scandals?? Or is that only in the real world, and not cyberspace?? *grin*

Donna, the real test was having to work today. Had a bunch of stuff that I had to edit/rewrite, plus figure out my column for the day (which I still have to write) and then draft a magazine story and some mini profiles that will be out in Barron's in a week or so. And I get to do most of it again tomorrow...

Apr 9, 2012, 11:00pm Top

The book du jour:

124. Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick left me strangely unmoved, even as I was intrigued by the twists and turns of the dysfunctional family, and particularly by Bea Nightingale's almost malicious misleading of her estranged brother, who has emerged after a long silence to demand that she get his son, her nephew (whom she has never seen) to return to California from Paris. The prose, when Ozick is being crisp and focused, is brilliant and yet I remained unengaged: the characters were too much representative of some other thing to take on life in my brain. Perhaps Ozick's writing and her elegant hommage to Henry James have oodles of literary merit, far more than the likes of The Night Circus or Gillespie and I, but reading this actually left me with a sour taste in my mouth. The story is like a heavy blancmange, simultaneously indigestible and over-decorated. Perhaps a triumph of art over story-telling?? 3.4 stars.

Apr 9, 2012, 11:11pm Top

"heavy blancmange, simultaneously indigestible and over-decorated" Oh yuck. And I have a copy coming from AwesomeBooks too..... Maybe I'll like it better than you do?
I hope you're getting some relief and being able to keep soldiering on.

Apr 9, 2012, 11:17pm Top

Art over story-telling...after The Puttermesser Papers, that's been my knock on La Ozick.

Apr 10, 2012, 10:09am Top

From now on when any of us says "it was a heavy blancmange of a book", we'll all know exactly what it means.

Apr 10, 2012, 4:50pm Top

LOL, Tui!! It's hard to describe just what got on my nerves, but something certainly did. There was a tremendous amount of intensity, every jot of which was captured in stylized prose that was impressive, but sometimes less is more. It was distancing.

125. Requiem: a Hallucination is another odd little book; the author, or a thinly-disguised alter ego, rambles through Lisbon and its suburbs (Cascais) while awaiting a midnight rendezvous with a mysterious Guest, a literary gentleman now long dead. But then the lines between the dead and the living blur in this novella, which is rather hallucinatory in tone. You could almost imagine the author falling asleep in the sun on the kind of scorching day he describes, and having one of those half-awake dreams in which he encounters people from the Alentejo all over Lisbon, has a discussion with the Barman in the Museum of Ancient Art and a nap in a whorehouse recommended to him by a dead friend. Late in the novella, the author admits "my whole day has been bizarre in the extreme". Erm, yup. Not as easy to enjoy or relish as Pereira Declares but intriguing and piquant. Oh, and short, so if you do seek it out, it won't chew up too much of your time, or at least it will demand more of your brainpower than your time. 3.8 stars.

126. The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot -- this is obviously going to be the year in which Eleanor and Marguerite of Provence join the Boleyn sisters in the historical fiction hall of fame. There's already one French novel about them (sitting unread on my shelves), and there's another novel that seems likely to be a potboiler type coming out later by an author I don't like much. This was a flyer, an impulse purchase while in Boston, and it was adequate. Perinot focuses on the relationships of the two sisters, one who married Louis of France and the other marrying Henry III of England, between each other and their other two sisters -- also beauties, both of whom also would become queens -- and with their spouses, etc. That makes it banal, I'm afraid. It's adequate historical fiction, but never transcends the genre, despite the fact that the reader follows Marguerite on Crusade. Perhaps the problem was the jerking back and forth between the two sisters and their different points of view, and Perinot should have stuck to writing from Marguerite's perspective -- after all, the book wraps up neatly and tidily before the major challenge Eleanor would face, the rebellion of Simon de Montfort. Mediocre. I don't regret having read it, but rather than read it again I'll look for The Four Queens, a non-fiction history of the period. I didn't particularly relish Goldstone's subsequent book, a biography of Joanna of Naples, but unless the French book is a winner, if I want to know more, I'm not going to be finding it in fiction. 3.4 stars.

Apr 11, 2012, 12:12am Top

And one more...

127. Shatter by Michael Robotham was absolutely unputtdownable, a suspense novel/thriller that is a classic rollercoaster ride. This is an ER book I had put to one side for reasons unknown, and finally decided I needed to pick up, and am glad I did. Will be posting a full review on the book's page, of course, but definitely recommend it to anyone who likes the genre -- it's a classic. Admittedly, there are lots of tropes, including a flawed "hero", psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, but it's a keeper. 4.2 stars. For my 12 in 12 challenge.

Apr 11, 2012, 11:09am Top

I enjoyed your comments on Foreign Bodies, which I also read recently, but after a week of utter idleness have yet to put any thoughts together. Now I will have a hard time shaking the image of "heavy blancmange," though what really resonated was perhaps a triumph of art over storytelling .
Although I liked some things about the book and was interested throughout, it's been my least favorite of the Orange nominees that I've read so far. And, literary merit or no, I will be kinda surprised if it ends up on the short list.

Apr 11, 2012, 9:20pm Top

I wasn't wowed by Ann Patchett's book, either, although I liked it better than Ozick. I am gonna stick with the blancmange description -- weighty and ponderous.... I agree that I was interested, but it wasn't an enjoyable read.

I'm reading something infinitely more entertaining now, or rather, several infinitely more entertaining things. The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott is turning out to be a thumping good read; Hit Lit is hilarious, an "analysis" of what it takes to become a mega-bestseller; Black Sheep is a classic Georgette Heyer romp. And after going to see "The Hunger Games", finally, I was impelled to pick up Catching Fire for a re-read. No nutritional content, but hey...

Apr 12, 2012, 12:15am Top

Just dropping in to mention that The Man Without A Face came in at the library for me today. I'm excited to read it.

Edited: Apr 12, 2012, 6:28pm Top

Free book alert:

Safely Buried by John Pesta is a free Kindle mystery today and for another day or two. The author is a newspaper editor from S. Indiana. I haven't read the book yet (though it's on my Kindle), but he raised two kids who both write superlatively (and win awards for their writing & editing; I've worked with both at the WSJ), so I'm assuming it's not gonna be bad. Especially since it's free.

Edited: Apr 13, 2012, 1:09am Top

I have some high stress stuff going on in my life right now that just erupted, don't really want to go into details here. I prob won't be posting that much, though I'll try to keep up with my reading & come back and post later.

For now:

128. The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott was an immensely entertaining novel, a thumping good read, revolving around what it took to survive, and what survival meant and implied. Those questions weigh just heavily enough on Alcott's characters, real and imagined. 4.2 stars.

129. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins -- a re-read after I saw the Hunger Games movie, as I wanted to read forward in the series. Still my least favorite of the three; it seems to me it serves to bridge the gap between #1 and #3. I'll prob go on and read #3, because the one thing about this series is that I find it impossible to stop at just one... 3.8 stars.

Apr 13, 2012, 4:36am Top

Hope you're OK Suz, and that reading brings some solace (and the migraines stay far away till the source of the stress is gone).

Apr 13, 2012, 6:09am Top

Take care, Suz.

Apr 13, 2012, 9:22am Top

Hope everything is ok. We all understand RL taking over LT time

Apr 13, 2012, 9:28am Top

Yikes. Doesn't sound so good. Let us know if you need some help.

Apr 13, 2012, 9:58am Top

Hang in there, Suz.

Apr 13, 2012, 10:32am Top

Take care. I recommend good books, movies and your comfort food of choice.

Apr 13, 2012, 10:59am Top

More support! Take care of yourself.

Apr 13, 2012, 11:11am Top

*smooch* Hope all shakes out to your benefit, since you have to go through stress.

Apr 13, 2012, 11:25am Top

Take care of yourself.

Apr 13, 2012, 11:43am Top

We're all sending you good energy and best wishes, Suz. Hope you and things are okay.

Apr 13, 2012, 11:59am Top

Can blancmange apply to a life as well as a book and dessert? I hope all the weighty stress lightens up soon. Maybe that's what triggered your toothache?

Apr 13, 2012, 5:34pm Top

Thanks, all. Alas, this is a crisis-provoked stress, no easy solutions. Partly my own fault for letting it escalate. Sorry to be elliptical/coy; it's just not something I want to discuss publicly.

Edited: Apr 13, 2012, 7:24pm Top

Just hang in there. There's always some way to relieve some of it, if not all. Just bit by bit. And, when you need to, take time to read, relax, yell at people, etc.

Edited to change "relive" to "relieve" -- I certainly didn't mean you should have to relive some of the stressful moments!

Apr 13, 2012, 7:18pm Top

Sending good vibes your way Suzanne, hope it helps...

Apr 13, 2012, 8:31pm Top

I hope that there is a quick resolution to your situation, Suz.

Apr 14, 2012, 1:41am Top

Sadly a quick resolution would be the worst-case scenario, oddly enough.


Quick book update.

130. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer. Classic Heyer; for some reason the slang irritated me a bit more than usual, but I still enjoy her Austenesque wit and eye for character, even if it isn't as finely honed as was Austen's. Set in Bath; a niece and her aunt, one being wooed for her fortune and the other for her character. I don't remember having read this one before, even during my Heyer heyday. 3.6 stars.

131. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Went straight on to re-read this after my re-read of Catching Fire. Easily the darkest of the trilogy (which is saying something); the early scenes and the final scenes were the strongest to me; the fighting for the Capitol lost me this time. 3.8 stars.

OK, onto other stuff. Can't sleep.

Apr 14, 2012, 10:05am Top

Hi Suzanne - started The Man Without a Face. So far, a compelling read, hard to put down.

Re: Mockingjay - it's my least favorite of all the books. It felt like a video game sequence to me. Also, Katniss turned into a total whiner and I lost all interest in her by half way through the book.

Apr 14, 2012, 7:11pm Top

Heaving a giant sigh of relief. The documents that sent me into a full-fledged panic turned out to be something different than I had first understood them to be; ultimately, I may actually benefit from this situation (eventually...) The firm of accountants I retained a few years ago to resolve an IRS issue, involving redoing all my tax returns for an eight-year period, was found guilty of fraud (surprise, surprise) and has filed for chapter 11. Now maybe I'll be able to retrieve the documents I need to sort out my own issue -- and a refund of the $$ I paid them.

Apr 14, 2012, 7:27pm Top

I'm glad things are looking up somewhat and impressed that you are able to keep updating your thread.

Apr 14, 2012, 9:18pm Top

Suz - very relieved to see that your stress and scare are not quite as devastating to you as feared. You have a whole host of friends here pulling for you and delighted to have made your acquaintance. Have a peaceful weekend.

Edited: Apr 14, 2012, 10:54pm Top

Anne, it's about all I have managed to do -- well, that and the work I needed to do yesterday, which was a helpful distraction. Today I've been battling a migraine most of the day; really need that to be gone tomorrow as I have several more hours of work to tackle.

Two books to update:

132. Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg is written by a sociologist, but thankfully isn't chock full of charts and statistics as many such works tend to be; it combines the best of narrative non-fiction with solid research, resulting in a thoughtful work on an overlooked topic that should be the target of more policy decisions outside countries like Sweden. Klinenberg addresses the fact of solitary living, whether by choice or necessity (or the least of a variety of evils), and what this implies for the world we live in. What is exciting and liberating for us as young adults can be constraining and isolating as we age, however -- and even those who cling to solo living will have to juggle the consequences of our decisions, just as it will become increasingly important for policymakers and others to devise solutions beyond shoddy nursing homes that address realities. Perhaps not revelatory in any major way -- if you stop and think about the issue, these are the issues you're likely to find yourself pondering -- but a helpful overview done in a remarkably straightforward manner, despite the climate that still views solitary living as somehow odd and those of us who choose it to be odder still. 4.3 stars, recommended.

133. In Mozart's Last Aria, Matt Rees moves back in time and westward in space from today's Palestine, where he has set an impressive series of crime novels featuring a Palestinian schoolteacher, starting with The Collaborator of Bethlehem. This is slightly less fresh or novel perhaps -- it's a murder mystery with the great Mozart at its center as victim, involving a few too many conspiracy theories, and a bit too much racing around by our intrepid heroine, his estranged sister, Nannerl (Maria Anna). Still, it's a good yarn, and Rees does a fabulous job creating a sinister aura in old Vienna and capturing a real spirit of place. I know central Vienna (inside the Ring) reasonably well, and I could almost conjure up the streets and buildings as I read Rees's work. It also helped that I like mysteries, historical fiction and music. 3.9 stars, recommended if you, too, have an interest in these. (Listening to some Mozart wind music -- his fab clarinet concerto -- as I finish this post...) For my 12 in 12 challenge.

Apr 15, 2012, 12:25am Top

Hi Suzanne. Great review of Going Solo. While I recognize that our society does tend to see those who live alone as odd - there might be some envy involved there too. Reality is that a choice is made that results in solitary, or not solitary living and the grass may seem greener either way. I definitely have days when I fantasize about being all alone. :)

Hope a good night's sleep happens for you and the migraine is gone in the morning.

Edited: Apr 15, 2012, 11:50am Top

I think the Danish have a good handle on solo living as well--perhaps the Nordic countries? A friend's Danish mother lived in great comfort and dignity to the end of her days in what was essentially a little community, with care stepped up as needed but her privacy and dignity always respected. She never felt lonely and was very happy with her life. Read an article in The Guardian recently about the increase of people in the last few decades who live solo by choice--interesting aspect of it is that the ecological impact is less for a person living alone in an urban setting (much smaller place, utilizing public transport, etc.) than for a couple living in the suburbs who put a much greater strain on everything.

Nittnut, I hear you! I have fantasies about that shed at the bottom of the garden where I could have an interrupted chain of thoughts.

Apr 15, 2012, 10:46am Top

I think we should all have that 'room of one's own' to escape to, to create in, to recharge in. How Jane Austen did it in the living room surrounded by her family is beyond me, unless she was deaf, or had more concentration than I can summon on my best days.

Apr 15, 2012, 1:31pm Top

I have always seen Jane as plotting out her novels -- doing some of the heavy lifting -- on those long walks that her characters are always taking across country. Walking is incredibly good for clearing the brain and thinking through thorny problems like that. I wonder, too, how much we grow up expecting certain things -- eg time to ourselves; perhaps had we grown up as women in Austen's day, our lived experience would have been radically different and we might have developed the ability to screen out ambient sounds would have been different. Think of people who live for years in large, noisy cities -- they stop noticing much of the background noise.

Jenn, I def. agree with you. Whenever I hear people getting huffy or indignant or judgmental about someone else's life, I always wonder to what extent it's fueled by that grass is greener phenom. Not that most would be willing to acknowledge that...

Headache better, nearly, but am still in a tired fog. Going to do some more reading and then try to tackle the WORK.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2012

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