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Arubabookwoman Reads Her TBR In 20171

75 Books Challenge for 2017

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Edited: Dec 30, 2016, 3:55pm Top

Hello all! I'm Deborah and this is my 9th year in The 75 group. I did a horrible job of keeping up with my thread last year, and I hope to do better this year. Although I followed a fair number of threads last year, I rarely commented, and I hope to do better at that this year as well.

I live in the Seattle area with my husband of 46 years, 3 cats and a dog. Our 5 kids have sadly scattered--3 to NYC, 1 in Houston, and 1 in Palo Alto, CA, although that just means we have to travel a lot. I've been retired since 2010, when the first of our 4 grandchildren was born--I decided it would be more fun to be a grandma than to be a tax attorney. In addition to reading, I'm also heavily into textile arts.

I did a fairly good job last year at reading from my TBR shelves, but I still have a huge number of TBRs lurking. I may start and abandon some of my older books, but hopefully I'll dispose of some books whose only function now is to make me feel guilty.

My "normal" reading is pretty eclectic. Probably the only things I don't like are horror and romance. I read about 1/3 nonfiction, 2/3 fiction; lots of literary and world fiction, some classics, some mysteries, a bit of science fiction (but not usually fantasy), a tad of historical fiction.

Here's to good reading by all this year

Edited: Apr 28, 2017, 6:33pm Top



1. Baumgartner's Bombay by Anita Desai orig. pub. 1988 230 pp 2 1/2 stars
2. Corker's Freedom by John Berger orig. pub. 1964 238 pp 2 1/2 stars
3. Travels In Siberia by Ian Frazier orig. pub. 2010 500 pp 4 stars
4. Donadieu's Will by Georges Simenon orig. pub. 1937 341 pp 3 1/2 stars
5. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley 392 pp 1 1/2 stars
6. The Murderer by Roy Heath orig. pub. 1978 192 pp 3 stars
7. Ship of Widows by Irina Grekova 1981 179 pp 3 1/2 stars


8. Mr. Weston's Good Wine by T. F. Powys orig. pub. 1927 317 pp 3 stars
9. Moon Palace by Paul Auster orig. pub. 1989 307 pp 2 1/2 stars
10. The Dark Road by Ma Jian orig. pub. 2013 384 pp 4 stars
11. The Pigeon by Patrick Suskind orig. pub. 1987 115 pp 2 1/2 stars
12. The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky orig. pub. 2015 320 pp 1 1/2 stars


13. His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme Macrae Burnet (2016) 300 pp 3 stars
14. Bear Island by Alistair Maclean 1971 464 pp 1/2 star
15. Girl on the Train by Paul A. Hawkins (2015) 336 pp 3 stars
16. American Tabloid by James Ellroy (1995) 592 pp 5 stars
17. Jernigan by David Gates (1991) 340 pp 2 1/2 stars
18. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (2016) 304 pp 3 1/2 stars

Edited: Jul 28, 2017, 4:34pm Top



19. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (2017) 224 pp 2 stars
20. The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney (2016) 368 pp 1 1/2 stars
21. Ill Will by Dan Chaon (2017) 480 pp 3 1/2 stars
22. The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt (2017) 320 pp 2 stars
23. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (1940) 288 pp 3 stars
24. Ross Poldark by Winston Graham (1945) 356 pp 4 stars
25. The Vanishing Velazquez by Laura Cumming (2016) 304 pp 3 stars
26. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (2016) 400 pp 4 stars
27. The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (2007) 400 pp 3 1/2 stars
28. Evicted by Matthew Desmond (2016) 432 pp 4 stars


29. My Struggle Book IV by Karl Ove Knausgaard
(2010) 512 pp 3 1/2 stars
30. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford orig. pub. 1945 192 pp 2 1/2 stars
31. Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates (2012) 731 pp 3 1/2 stars
32. Demelza by Winston Graham (1946) 432 pp 4 stars
33. The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu 513 pp 3 stars
34. Coffin Road by Peter May (2016) 400 pp 3 1/2 stars
35. The Return Fathers Sons and the Land Between by Hisham Matar (2016) 257 pp 2 1/2 stars
36. The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble (2017) 337 pp 3 1/2 stars
37. Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino (1989) 560 pp 3 1/2 stars


38. Mozart's Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (2017) 258 pp 3 1/2 stars
39. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016) 480 pp 2 stars
40. The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle (2016) 528 pp 2 stars
41. The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (2016) 608 pp 4 1/2 stars
42. Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham (1950) 304 pp 4 stars
43. The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnson (2016) 288 pp 3 stars
44. The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (2017) 258 pp 3 1/2 stars
45. The Fear Index by Robert Harris (2012) 304 pp 2 stars
46. Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet (2016) 256 pp 1 1/2 stars
47. The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson (2007) 224 pp 2 stars
48. Number 11 by Jonathan Coe (2015) 352 pp 3 stars
49. Darktown by Thomas Mullen (2016) 384 pp 4 stars
50. Arcadia by Iain Pears (2016) 528 pp 2 1/2 stars


Edited: Jan 1, 7:02pm Top



51. Minds of Winter by Ed O'Loughlin (2017) 500 pp 3 1/2 stars
52. How It All Began by Penelope Lively (2012) 256 pp 3 1/2 stars
53. Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves (2016) 272 pp 2 1/2 stars
54. Warleggan by Winston Graham (1953) 480 pp 4 stars
55. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (2016) 592 pp 3 1/2 stars
56. World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters (2014) 320 pp 3 stars
57. Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives by Gary Younge (2016) 304 pp 4 stars
58. The Black Moon by Winston Graham (1973) 560 pp 4 stars

Pages Read July: 3,284 pp


59. Submission by Michel Houllebecq (2015) 256 pp 2 1/2 stars
60. A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar (2014) 320 pp 2 stars
61. $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin (2015) 240 pp 3 1/2 stars
62. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (2017) 384 pp 3 stars
63. The Mandibles: A Family by Lionel Shriver (2016) 416 pp 3 stars
64. The Bear by Claire Cameron (2014) 240 pp 4 stars
65. Kittyhawk Down by Garry Disher (2006) 288 pp 3 stars
66. The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates (2016) 384 pp 3 1/2 stars
67. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (2015) 320 pp 1 1/2 stars
68. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
(2005) 448 pp 3 stars
69. Inheritance From Mother by Minae Mizumura (2017) 464 pp 3 1/2 stars
70. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017) 368 pp 5 stars
71. A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012) 583 pp 4 stars
72. Instrumental by James Rhodes (2017) 304 pp 3 stars
73. I'd Rather Be Reading by Guinevere De La Mare (2017) 96 pp 2 stars
74. How to Be Well Read by John Sutherland (2015) 528 pp 2 1/2 stars
75. In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs by Andrew Blauner (20170 313 PP 4 stars
76. Butterfield 8 by John O'Hara (1935) 228 pp 3 stars

Pages read August: 4,880 pp


77. Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones (2002) 636 pp 3 stars
78. In a Different Key by John Donvan (2016) 688 pp 4 stars
79. The Girl From the Metropol Hotel by Lyudmila Petrushevskaya (2006) 176 pp 3 stars
80. After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh (2011) 188 pp 3 stars
81. The Four Swans by Winston Graham (1976) 592 pp 4 stars
82. What To Do About the Solomons? by Bethany Ball (2017) 208 pp 1 1/2 stars
83. Chain of Evidence by Garry Disher (2008) 368 pp 3 stars
84. Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington (2002) 136 pp 2 stars
85. My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein (2017) 352 pp 3 1/2 stars
86. The Golden House by Salman Rushdie (2017) 400 pp 2 1/2 stars
87. Phantom by Jo Nesbo (2011) 466 pp 3 stars
88. Police by Jo Nesbo (2013) 448 pp 2 1/2 stars
89. Flashforward by Robert Sawyer (2008) 320 pp 2 1/2 stars

Pages Read September: 4,928 pp

Pages read 3rd quarter: 13,092 pp

Edited: Jan 1, 7:04pm Top



90. The Thirst by Jo Nesbo (2017) 480 pp 3 stars
91. The Hole by Pyun Hye-young (2016) 208 pp 2 1/2 stars
92. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017) 238 pp 3 stars
93. Nomadland by Jessica Bruder (2017) 320 pp. 4 stars
94. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013) 316 pp. 3 stars
95. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer (2017) 289 pp. 3 stars
96. When the Air Hits Your Brain by Frank Vertosick (1996) 272 pp 3 1/2 stars
97. Snapshot by Garry Disher (2007) 359 pp 3 1/2 stars
98. They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson (2014) 288 pp 3 1/2 stars
99. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2014) 760 pp 2 stars
100. The Power by Naomi Alderman (2017) 400 pp 3 1/2 stars

Pages Read October: 3,930 pp


101. Unbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) 304 pp 2 stars
102. The Trouble With Poetry by Billy Collins (2005) 88 pp 4 1/2 stars
103. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967) 198 pp 3 1/2 stars
104. To Siri With Love by Judith Newman (2017) 261 pp 3 stars
105. Visual Intelligence by Amy Herman
(2016) 341 pp 4 stars
DNF. The Fold by Peter Clines (2015) 386 pp NR
106. Pandora's Lab by Paul A. Offit (2017) 290 pp 3 stars
107. Dead on Arrival by Matt Richtel (2017) 368 pp 1 1/2 stars
DNF A Crack in Creation by Jennifer A. Doudna
108. The Angry Tide by Winston Graham (1977) 628 pp 4 stars
109. Mortality by Atul Gawande (2014) 297 pp 4 stars
110. Blood Moon by Garry Disher (2007) 321 pp 3 stars
111. The Iceberg by Marion Coutts (2015) 277 pp 3 stars
112. Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett (2016) 368 pp 3 1/2 stars

Pages Read November: 3741 pp


113. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016) 256 pp 3 1/2 stars
114. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (2017) 286 pp 4 1/2 stars
115. The Dry by Jane Harper (2017) 336 pp 3 stars
116. What Doctors Feel by Danielle Ofri (2013) 232 pp 3 1/2 stars
117. Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward (2017) 305 pp 2 stars
118.Sometimes Amazing Things Happen by Elizabeth Ford (2017) 272 pp 3 stars
119. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (2017) 304 pp 4 stars
120. Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke (2017) 320 pp 2 stars
121. The Allegations by Mark Lawson (2016) 404 pp 3 1/2 stars
122. The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth (2016) 337 pp 3 stars
123. Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (2017) 352 pp 3 stars
124. American Kingpin by Nick Bilton (2017) 343 pp 4 stars
125. Staring at the Sun by Irvin Yalom (2009) 320 pp 3 stars

Pages Read December: 4067 pp

Pages Read 4th Quarter: 11, 738 pp

Total Pages Read 2017: 42,942 pp

Edited: Apr 16, 2017, 6:23pm Top

Edited: Dec 30, 2016, 4:31pm Top

2016 Stats:

I read 131 books last year.

20% Nonfiction/80% fiction

48% Female authors

From these countries (in addition to the US, Canada, and Great Britain): Germany, Australia, Italy, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, France, India, Pakistan, Austria, Japan, Iceland, Israel, and Kenya.

The books I read were distributed by year of publication as follows:


Some of my favorites from last year:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Known World by Edward Jones
That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx
The Free by Willy Vlautin
City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
My Struggle Books 1-3 by Karl Ove Knausgard
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Triomf by Marlene van Niekerk
The Bachelors by Henry Motherlant
A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Neurotribes by Steve Silberman
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen
Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins

Edited: Feb 5, 2017, 4:35pm Top

Possible January Reading

From my Kindle:

The Dark Road by Ma Jian
Just Kids
Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson
The Long Prospect by Elizabeth Harrower
Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

From my book shelves:

Sea of Death by Amado
Outlaws by Javier Cercas
XCorker's Freedom by John Berger FINISHED 1/8
XBaumgartner's Bombay by Anita Desai FINISHED 1/3
XTravels in Siberia by Ian Frazier FINISHED 1/19
XShip of Widows by Irina Grekova FINISHED 1/31
XThe Murderer by Roy Heath FINISHED 1/24
XMr. Weston's Good Wine by T.F.Powys FINISHED 2/5
XDonadieu's Will by Simenon FINISHED 1/21
Khirbet Khizeh by Yizhar

Possible 1001's:

The Betrothed by Manzoni
Chrome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
The Living and the Dead by Patrick White
Obabakoak by Atxaga
Shame by Rushdie

I won't get to them all, and may not even get to any of them, but my goal is to have this handy list to choose from for what to read next.

Edited: Apr 28, 2017, 6:34pm Top

I'm trying to read a book in published in every year from 1900 to date. Unasterisked books were read in 2014; books with one asterisk were read in 2015, books read in 2016 with 2 asterisks. I'll denote books read in 2017 with +.

2014 Orfeo by Richard Powers
2013 Command and Control
2012 Gone Girl
2011 Gillespie and I
2010 Methland by Nick Reding
2009 The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor
2008 Goat Days
2007 Young Stalin
2006 Summer of the Apocalypse
2005 *Cinnamon Kiss
2004 Agaat
2003 Pompeii
2002 A Voyage For Madmen
2001 Fury
2000 Biohazard
1999 Cloudsplitter
1998 Dr. Neruda's Cure For Evil
1997 *Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack
1996 The Names of the Dead
1995 Shelley's Heart
1994 Edith's Diary
1993**Bastard Out of Carolina
1992 *Among the Thugs
1991 The Tax Inspector
1990**A Gift Upon the Shore
1988 Prisoner's Dilemma
1987**Knots and Crosses
1984 The Terrors of Ice and Darkness
1983 When I Was Otherwise
1982 The Sunne in Splendour
1981+Ship of Widows
1978 A Five Year Sentence
1977 **Lucifer's Hammer
1976 Children of Dynmouth
1975 *The Eagle Has Landed
1974 Reasons of State
1973 Child of God
1972 Greenvoe
1971 +Bear Island
1970 The Driver's Seat
1968 Day of the Scorpion
1967 Journey Into the Whirlwind
1966 The Jewel in the Crown
1965 **Stoner
1964 Martian Time Slip by Philip K. Dick
1963 The Expendable Man
1962 The Man in the High Castle
1961**A New Life
1960**A Stranger in My Grave
1958 **The Train by Simenon
1957 The Waiting Years by Enchi Fumiko
1956 **Giovanni's Room
1951 The Disappearance
1949 Brat Farrar
1946 Independent People
1945 London Belongs To Me
1941 Timeless land
1940 *Miss Hargreaves
1939 Rogue Male
1938**Beware of Pity
1937*Dead Man Leading
1936*Absalom, Absalom
1934 The Bachelors
1933 **Frost in May
1929*Pather Panchali
1928 House of Ulloa
1927+Mr. Weston's Good Wine
1926 Alberta and Jacob
1924 Orphan Island
1916**The Bunner Sisters
1908 Inferno

Dec 30, 2016, 4:15pm Top

Dropping a star here, Deborah. I look forward to following your travels through the world of books.
I'm planning to revive the challenges I set myself a few years ago, one of them being to read a book from each year since 1900... And currently I'm reading Summer because this year I'll read the years ending with 7. So yours is a thread to watch closely :-)

Dec 30, 2016, 4:37pm Top

Happy reading in 2017, Deborah!

Dec 30, 2016, 8:29pm Top

Great to see you back Deborah.

Interesting set of proposed reads for January. I rate Shame as Rushdie's best.

Dec 31, 2016, 4:29am Top

Happy New Year, Deborah!

Dec 31, 2016, 8:45am Top

Dec 31, 2016, 8:59am Top

I am part of the group.
I love being part of the group.
I love the friendships bestowed upon my by dint of my membership of this wonderful fellowship.
I love that race and creed and gender and age and sexuality and nationality make absolutely no difference to our being a valued member of the group.

Thank you for also being part of the group.

Dec 31, 2016, 12:12pm Top

Welcome back!

Jan 1, 2017, 10:07am Top

Happy New Year, Deborah.

Jan 1, 2017, 10:09am Top

Hello Deborah, and Happy New Year! Your January possibilities look good. I hope you manage to get to at least some of them.

Jan 1, 2017, 9:01pm Top

Happy New Year, Deborah.

Jan 2, 2017, 1:07pm Top

Hi Deborah. Happy New Year.

Jan 2, 2017, 1:18pm Top

Dropped a star, Deborah. Happy reading 2017.

Jan 2, 2017, 1:23pm Top

Happy New Year Deborah!

Jan 2, 2017, 1:29pm Top

Well, I haven't read one of your January possibilities. I look forward to seeing which ones you favor. I do have Travels in Siberia on my wish list.

Happy Reading to you in 2017.

Jan 2, 2017, 5:46pm Top

Deborah, I hope this will be a wonderful year for you, both in life and in books.

Your tentative reading looks great! I'll be following to see what happens.

Edited: Jan 2, 2017, 7:59pm Top

Ah, you have a Club Read thread too... I think I'll star that one and spare us both from confusion.

Jan 2, 2017, 9:23pm Top

Hi, Deborah. I read Baumgartner's Bombay years ago - it was given to me by a lovely Anglo-Indian woman who lived in my building. I'll be interested to hear what you have to say about it.

Jan 4, 2017, 2:28pm Top

Happy New Year, Deborah! Sorry for the late greeting, but I've finally finished with my Christmas and New Year's Day work stretch and now have time to make the rounds. I will follow your reading progress closely this year, as always.

Jan 5, 2017, 1:56pm Top

>10 MGovers: Welcome Monica. I saw from your review of Summer that you liked it as much as I did.

>11 FAMeulstee: Thanks for dropping by Anita!

>12 PaulCranswick: Paul thank you for your loyalty in visiting my oft-neglected threads. I've liked almost everything I've read by Rushdie, so I'm glad you rate Shame so highly.

>13 DianaNL: Best wishes for the New Year to you too Diana

>14 The_Hibernator: Happy New Year to you too Rachel.

>15 PaulCranswick: Lovely sentiments Paul, and beautifully expressed.

>16 drneutron: Thank you Jim. Your work here is much appreciated.

>17 BLBera: Welcome Beth. Happy New Year to you too.

>18 susanj67: Hi Susan--Best wishes for the New Year to you too.

>19 Familyhistorian: Hi Meg, my neighbor to the north--Happy New Year to you too.

>20 TadAD: Hi Tad. Glad to see you back. Best wishes for the New Year.

>21 Ameise1: Hello Barbara. Thanks for visiting.

>22 NanaCC: Hi Colleen. See you over in Club Read! Happy New Year to you too.

>23 Donna828: Hi Donna (or should I say "Super-Grandma")? Thanks for visiting. I think I'll be getting to Travels in Siberia fairly soon--it's one I'm really looking forward to.

>24 bohemima: Hello Gail. Thank you for visiting. I look forward to following your reading as well.

>25 qebo: Katherine--I'll see you over in Club Read!

>26 ffortsa: Hi Judy. Welcome. My review, not so enthusiastic although I'm glad I read it, of Baumgartner's Bombay follows. Have you read it? What did you think?

>27 kidzdoc: Hi Daryl. Glad you have some time to relax after your brutal holiday work schedule. Happy New Year to you too.

Now for the first review of the year:

Jan 5, 2017, 2:12pm Top

There is a comment near the end of this review that some may consider a spoiler.

1. Baumgartner's Bombay by Anita Desai orig. pub. 1988, 230 pp

Hugo Baumgartner is a German Jew who as a young man emigrated to India on the rise of Hitler. His life story, from childhood in Germany, to his internment in India with other German citizens during World War II, to his failed business enterprises after the war, alternates with scenes from his current life as an elderly man in Bombay, living in poverty and begging scraps of food from restaurants to feed the dozens of stray cats he cares for, both in his apartment and on the streets.

I've read other novels by Anita Desai which I've liked very much. She is an excellent writer. However, as I read the first parts of this novel, I was puzzled at why she, an Indian woman, would choose as her protagonist an elderly German Jewish man. It took me a while to suspend belief enough to feel that I was in Baumgartner's mind, not just seeing him from the outside. Also, for a novel with "Bombay" in its title, I didn't find the city itself (or even India--he lives in Calcutta at first) to be much of a presence, as it is, for example, present and permeating the entire lives of the characters in the novels of, say, Salman Rushdie.


My main problem with the novel, however, is that 5 or 6 pages from the end there is an abrupt and catastrophic event that comes out the blue, totally unexpected. I was unprepared, and felt that this just did not fit into the novel.

Although the book was engaging enough that I kept reading, it is not entirely successful, and it is not one I would recommend.

2 1/2 stars

Jan 5, 2017, 4:07pm Top

Great comments on Baumgartner's Bombay, Deborah. I have it on my shelves because I do like Desai, but it sounds like it can stay there for a while.

Jan 8, 2017, 9:52am Top

>29 arubabookwoman: Another fan of Anita Desai whom I think is presently India's best bet for the Nobel prize. I have that one on the shelves too and am intrigued enough by your mixed review to give it a chance.

Nice to see your thread having plenty of visitors - even from the proprietress!

Jan 9, 2017, 2:54pm Top

>30 BLBera: Hi Beth. Most of it was interesting, but I agree there are lots of better books to read

>31 PaulCranswick: Hi Paul. I really liked Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day. This one had some good points, but overall, I think a failure.

Jan 9, 2017, 3:09pm Top

Read this one in commemoration of Berger's recent death. Would also like to read some of his art criticism.

2. Corker's Freedom by John Berger orig. pub. 1964 238 pp

Prim and proper 64 year old William Corker has decided to change his life. He has walked out on his invalid sister, and is moving into rooms above his office to live a life of freedom. Most of the novel takes place over one day. Corker's thoughts and daydreams alternate with the thoughts and observations of his young assistant Alec, who from a viewpoint of youthful naivetee and incomprehension notes Corker's more and more uncharacteristic actions as the day progresses. The inner lives of Corker and Alec alternate with the mundane details of Corker's employment agency business (in the 1960's when the tools of the trade were index cards and notebooks rather than computers). Berger uses these episodes to present incisive portraits of various job-seekers, including a beautiful young woman casing the joint for her burglar boyfriend and an elderly housekeeper who dreads ending her life in an old folks' home so much that she is willing to work for greatly reduced compensation. The novel reaches its climax in the evening when Corker gives a slide show/lecture on his trip to Vienna. This is presented in as series of comments entitled "What Corker Thinks/Wants to Say," "What Corker Knows," and "What Corker Says." There is an epilogue set two years later which shows Corker still "free," but in an entirely unpredictable way.

This is Berger's first novel, and it is a well-written tragi-comedy. However, I can't say I loved it, as it never called to me when I wasn't reading it.

2 1/2 stars

Jan 17, 2017, 11:00pm Top

Deborah--Found you and starred! Nice reviews, even if the books weren't exactly stellar.

Jan 17, 2017, 11:01pm Top

Hmm...sounds like two iffy books. I'll be trying these from the library. I've wanted to read the Desai, never heard of the Berger.

I hope you love your next choice!

Jan 21, 2017, 12:24am Top

>33 arubabookwoman: Interesting choice of Berger to read, Deborah and I must say I am not familiar with it. I will probably read his Booker winner next month.

Have a great weekend.

Jan 24, 2017, 5:32pm Top

>34 Berly: Hi Kim. Thanks. Good to see you here.

>35 bohemima: Hi Gail. As I mentioned above, a better Desai (I think) is The Clear Light of Day.

>36 PaulCranswick: Hi Paul. Thanks. I'd already read G., From A to X and To the Wedding. I had Corker's Freedom, having bought it because the description--the tale of an aging man who decides to break loose--appealed to me. (wrong touchstones for G and From A to X.

I don't know why it took me so long to finish my next book. It was long, but I really enjoyed it.

Jan 24, 2017, 6:25pm Top

This is long (for me). There's a lot I want to remember about this book.

3. Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier (2010) 500 pp

As well-respected travel writer Ian Frazier approached middle-age, he found himself drawn to Russia, particularly Siberia, "the greatest horrible country in the world." Between the early 1990's and 2009, he made five trips to Siberia (in addition to numerous trips to European Russia). This book chronicles, as the title denotes, Frazier's "travels in Siberia." But it is much more, including a history of Siberia, from the Mongol hordes, to the exiled Decembrists, to the Stalin gulags, to the present day Putin's nationalization of the oil companies exploiting Siberia's vast oil reserves.

The book opens with the statement, "Officially, there is no such place as Siberia." For many people, Siberia is not an actual place, but a metaphor. The book's five parts roughly correspond to Frazier's five trips. Part I describes his first trip to Ulan-Ude and Lake Baikul. In this part, he describes the soot, garbage and mosquitos that are ubiquitous, as well as the "unbelievably disgusting" public restrooms. (I travelled to European Russia many years ago and well remember this latter detail.) He also discusses many of the prior Siberian explorers (including Chekov), and quotes liberally from their various journals and memoirs.

Part I also includes his second journey to Siberia, when he flew from Alaska to the province of Chukota on the far northeastern coast of Siberia just across the Bering Strait from America. On this trip, he stayed in the prisoner-built city of Povideniya, now consisting mainly of decrepit and crumbling military installations. He also spent time on the tundra in a fishing camp with some indigenous Siberians.

Part II is mostly devoted to Russia's history, as well as Frazier's preparations for a planned road trip across Siberia.

Part III is devoted to that road trip, from St. Petersburg to Vladisvostok in a tempramental van with Sergei and Volodya, his two Russian guides, who he alternately mistrusts and trusts, and with whom he regularly bickers. He states, "Travel, like much else in life, can be more fun to read about than do....{M}oments of soaring consciousness are rare. Worries and annoyances...tend to deromanticize the brain."

Some of the places visited on this trip:

--Ekatrinaburg--the westernmost Siberian city where the last tsar and his family were killed.

--Tobolsk-the former Siberian capital, where the chemist Mendeleev is from.

--Omsk--"The usual row on row of crumbling high-rise apartment buildings, tall roadside weeds, smoky traffic, and blowing dust." Dostoevsky spent prison time here.

--Novosibirsk--established in 1893 during the building of the Trans-Siberian railroad. Now the third largest city in Russia.

Kuznets Basin--beriddled with strip mines and large scale environmental damage.

Achinsk--where most of Russia's concrete is manufactured. "...an almost dead zone."

--Krasnoyarsk--according to Chekov the "most beautiful city in Siberia."

--Tulun--"When Russian cities are uncheerful they don't fool around, and Tulun was as uncheerful as they come." "...{T}he usual dust and heat and drabness were abetted by a special extramiserable quality...."

Irkutsk--"the onetime Paris of Siberia." Many Decembrists were exiled here.

Chernyshevsk--From Chernyshevsk to Magdagachi there was no vehicle road, and all cross-country drivers had to stop and load their vehicles onto Trans-Siberian railroad car and truck carriers. There was always a bottleneck here, with routine waits of 48 hours.

Volochaevka--where the last battle of the Russian civil war was fought.

Frazier arrived at the Siberian Pacific coast on September 11, 2001. He waited several days (a week?) in Vladisvostok while all incoming air traffic in the U.S. was grounded.

A few years later, Frazier decided that for a fuller experience he needed to travel in Siberia in wintertime. Part IV describes his winter journey in northern Siberia, traveling from east to west. He flew into Irkutsk, and went south to Ulan-Ude. He then drove the Lake Baikul ice road to the railroad city of Severobaikalik on the northern shore of Lake Baikul.

Through-out his trips, Frazier frequently mentions his desire to visit a former gulag camp, only to be discouraged/denied by Sergei, his guide. Finally, at the end of his fourth trip, travelling from Yakutsk to Topolinoe, on the rudimentary road between Tyoplyi Kliuch and Topolinoe, he was able to stop for a short while at an abandoned ruin of a gulag camp. "What struck me then and still strikes me now was the place's overwhelming aura of absence. The deserted prison camp just sat there--unexcused, un-torn-down, unexplained."

In Part V, Frazier discusses his final trip, made in 2009, without guides, to the city of Novosibirsk. Much of this part of the book deals with the state and mood of current (in 2009) Russia--the ascendancy of Stalin's reputation, the vast mineral reserves in Siberia and their exploitation, climate change as it affects Siberia (giant methane gas bubbles and "drunken forests"), Putin, and other issues.

Although Frazier called Russia the greatest horrible country, he states that he no longer tries to reconcile the great with the horrible. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found it to be both fact-filled and entertaining. I did feel that it could have been a bit shorter (with less of what one reviewer called "what the author had for breakfast" stuff). I was also a bit disappointed that Frazier had so little personal contact with former gulag camps, which is the first thing that pops to mind for many of us when Siberia is mentioned. Nevertheless, a fascinating read.

4 stars

Jan 24, 2017, 10:43pm Top

Hi Deborah--dropping by to repay the visit. Thank you for your reviews. I've had Travels in Siberia on my pile for a while now--maybe this will be the year I get to it.

Jan 25, 2017, 7:15am Top

>38 arubabookwoman: Good review, Deborah, I would like to read some more about modern day Siberia/Russia. Sadly this one isn't translated (yet), so I will look around for others.

Jan 25, 2017, 11:47am Top

Good review, Deborah. Unfortunately, my library hasn't got a copy of it.

Jan 25, 2017, 7:31pm Top

Deborah, that was a good detailed review of Travels in Siberia. It has been on my wish list for some time now. I too am surprised he didn't visit more of the work/death camps, although apparently there isn't much to see there. I'll keep looking for a copy and may read Family off my shelf while I patiently wait to run across the Siberian book. (I couldn't locate the correct touchstone.)

Jan 26, 2017, 3:11pm Top

I love your review of Travels in Siberia, Deborah. I will definitely look for a copy.

Jan 29, 2017, 6:26pm Top

>39 AnneDC: Hi Anne. I think you will like Travels in Siberia--I haven't heard anything bad about it.

>40 FAMeulstee: Hi Anita. I understand that Chekov wrote a book about traveling in Siberia. Of course it is quite old. Perhaps that has been translated.

>41 Ameise1: Hi Barbara. Thanks for visiting. Perhaps your library might have another book by Ian Frazier. I know people have enjoyed his other travel books, and I would like to read more by him (someday).

>42 Donna828: Hi Donna. He made a point of mentioning several times that his guides discouraged him/denied him visits to the former camps. From some of my other reading, I believe that many Russians have not quite come to terms with this dark part of their past, and would perhaps prefer to sweep it under the rug. I know Frazier mentions in his book that based on current (2009) polling, Stalin was the third greatest Russian who ever lived (After Alexander Nevsky and Pyotr Stolypin, Prime Minister under Tsar Nicholar II).
Like you I plan to read more by Frazier

>43 BLBera: Hi Beth--I hope you are able to find a copy. It's worth a read.

Don't know why my reading is so slow this year. Well maybe I do. I've been focused on following the news on TV and internet news sites about this disastrous presidency. While it makes me feel bad, I feel I need to know and keep track of all the horrible and unconstitutional things that are happening. And I thought Bush was bad!

Jan 29, 2017, 6:38pm Top

4. Donadieu's Will by Georges Simenon orig. pub. 1937 341 pp

Wealthy Oscar Donadieu, a pillar of society in small town La Rochelle, is found dead at low tide in the harbor under mysterious circumstances. However, this is not one of Simenon's Maigret novels, nor is it even a crime novel, although the cause of Donadieu's death is never determined.

Oscar in life had dominated his family, and they lived their confined lives precisely following his iron-clad rules and practices. But soon their bourgeois façade begins crumbling. Madame Donadieu, Oscar's wife, is stunned to discover she has been disinherited, and she begins meddling in the family business. Eldest son Michel is caught in an unfortunate and complicated entanglement with a secretary. His unconventional wife receives male visitors in her smoky boudoir. Youngest daughter Martine runs off with Phillipe, a scoundrel who is soon scheming to take over the entire Donadieu fortunes. Youngest son Kiki has nervous fits and engages in shenanigans with his "tutor."

This is a novel of the dark psychology of an outwardly respectable family, entirely concerned with appearances, as it accomplishes its own demise. A well-written book and an enjoyable read.

3 1/2 stars

Edited: Jan 29, 2017, 6:44pm Top

>44 arubabookwoman: I'm not sure why, but I find those poll results astonishing for so many reasons. I mean, first that someone viewed by most of the world as a mass murderer would be #3. However, perhaps there's a reverence for a "strong" Russia.

Second, maybe that they put someone who has to be almost mythological at this point (when did Nevsky live...500 years ago? 600?) in the top 3. And maybe third that someone who was a monarchist would be up there with Stalin. It's clear that there's a lot about the Russian psyche I can't even perceive.

Jan 29, 2017, 6:56pm Top

This is the only book I've read this month that was not on my list of proposed January reads. It was an impulse buy of a Kindle Daily Deal.

5. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley 2016 401 pp

A private jet takes off from Martha's Vineyard and 18 minutes later, without apparent cause, plunges into the ocean. Of the ten people aboard, the only survivors are Scott Burroughs, a struggling artist who was only serendipitously at the last minute offered a ride on the plane, and the four year old son of a billionaire media mogul. The novel consists of chapters which alternate between the present aftermath and investigation of the crash, and the back stories, each in turn, of the other victims of the crash. In addition to the billionaire media mogul and his wife and young daughter (for some reason we are treated to the story of her kidnapping several years before), we get the stories of a Wall Street insider about to be indicted and his wife, the pilot, copilot, and flight attendant, and the Israeli bodyguard of the billionaire. As the investigation proceeds a media frenzy led by the media mogul's Fox-like news channel comes up with various conspiracy theories, and stalks the survivors and relatives of victims and alternately charging the surviving artist as a hero and a villain.

This book has had some rave reviews (including the NYT), and I had high expectations. However, as I read, it seemed overly-simplistic, unrealistic and clichéd, with stereotypical characters. I kept thinking that it read like a Grade B movie script. When I reached the end of this totally unsatisfactory novel and read that the book had been sold to Hollywood, and that the author is primarily a TV screenwriter I wasn't surprised. The only good thing I can say about the book is that it can be read very quickly.

1 1/2 stars

Jan 29, 2017, 7:05pm Top

>46 TadAD: Tad--yes it is astonishing. From some of what I've read (The Stalin Archives by Jonathan Brent and Gulag by Ann Applebaum are two books I can remember), there is some speculation that Stalin's ascendancy may have to do with the fact that there was never a formal reckoning with Stalin's crimes, as there was for, say, the Nazis with the Nuremberg Trials. On the other hand, one of the major themes of Frazier's book is that Russia/Siberia and the Russians are sui generis, i.e. "the greatest horrible country," which he no longer tries to explain or reconcile.

Jan 29, 2017, 7:18pm Top

6. The Murderer by Roy Heath orig. pub. 1978 192 pp

This is the story of Galton, a Guyanese man who grows up under the thumb of his repressive mother. He has always wanted to be like his older brother Selwyn, who escaped his mother's influence and leads a "normal" life, happily married with children and successful in business. Galton is not so fortunate. While ultimately he marries Gemma, he and Gemma live unhappily in a wharf-side tenement, occupied by seedy characters like "the Informant." The book records Galton's slow descent into paranoia and his eventual murder of his wife.

Heath is a Guyanese writer, and the novel is infused with a sense of place. Much of the dialogue is in Guyanese dialect (largely easily understandable). He has said that his work is "intended to be a dramatic chronicle of twentieth century Guyana." This novel won the Guardian Fiction Prize for 1978, and is included in the Modern Library: 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950 by Carmen Callil and Colm Toibin.

This is a good book, but I wasn't blown away.

3 stars

Jan 29, 2017, 11:03pm Top

Yikes! Did you know that in Your Account at Amazon you can see how many Kindle Books you have bought? They tell me I have 1339 Kindle Books!

Jan 30, 2017, 12:36am Top

You've done lots of reading recently. No, there is no Frazier book avaiable for me.
>50 arubabookwoman: Have you read them all? ;-)

Wishing you a great start into the new week.

Jan 30, 2017, 2:35pm Top

>49 arubabookwoman: That's too bad. I don't think I've ever read anything from a Guyanese author but, if it wasn't that great, I guess I'll wait.

Jan 30, 2017, 3:09pm Top

>46 TadAD: >48 arubabookwoman: That Nevski was most popular isn't that strange, he lived nearly 800 years ago, but was the founding father of Russia. I don't know very much about Pyotr Stolypin, but he was preparing agricultural reforms when he was shot in the early 1900s.
Stalin is an other story, he was the one who won the Great War and defeated Hitler. When shortly after WW II the Cold War started, the West got mostly negative news about him. I know, being an intelectual in Stalins Sovjet Union must have been awfull and terrible, but he did a lot of good for the country before he got paranoic. The way Russia was forced into capitalism did harm so many people that it isn't that strange many would long for Stalin...

Feb 5, 2017, 7:23pm Top

Just stopping by to say hello. And enjoying the Russian discussion. What an informative review!

I hope your coming week is a wonderful one!

Feb 6, 2017, 5:36pm Top

>52 TadAD: and >53 FAMeulstee: Anita, I think you are right that Stalin's efforts in WW II may have a great deal to do with the esteem in which he is apparently still held. I know that in Travels In Siberia, Frazier mentioned frequent encounters with older people who spoke reverently of WW II. Coincidentally, I just finished a book (which I will review soon), called Ship of Widows by Irina Grekova, which in the foreword states, "In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union attitudes toward the war differ decisively from those of Western Europe. Any visitor to that part of the world knows Russia's impassioned devotion to preserving the memory of the nation's sacrifices, hardships, and victories over the Germans--an ordeal the Russians coopted as uniquely theirs by labeling it the Fatherland War or the Great Political War."

The foreword went on to state, "It would be difficult to exaggerate the colossal scale of destruction visited upon Russia by World War II. Twenty-seven million Soviet citizens perished, the entire western third of the country was laid waste, and the astronomical mortality rate among men transformed Russia into a mainly female population faced with the superhuman task of rebuilding the country and coping with millions of starving and abandoned orphans. Yet, despite the unimaginable ravages, in retrospect, Russians recall the war and postwar years almost wistfully as a time of collectively defended ideals of national solidarity against a common enemy."

On the other hand, I recall reading that when WWII started, Russia was very unprepared because so many of it's leading military brass were in the gulag. Russia's defense couldn't become effective until these generals and other military leaders were released and put back in charge of the military.

>51 Ameise1: Hi Barbara--LOL! Of course I haven't read them all--but I'm trying!

>54 bohemima: Hi Gail. Thanks for stopping by. Glad you're enjoying the Russian discussion.

Feb 6, 2017, 5:44pm Top


I read 7 books, low for me.

2 female authors, 5 male authors

1 Nonfiction, 6 fiction

Publication dates ranging between 1937 and 2016


Great Britain-1

I currently owe reviews for 2 books, my last of January, the above-mentioned Ship of Widows, and the first book I've finished in February, Mr. Weston's Good Wine by T. F. Powys

All January books except for 1 were from my list of proposed reading, so I'm going to make a list to choose my February books from, even though I will not get anywhere close to finishing the list.

Edited: Feb 12, 2017, 12:14am Top


BOOKS (Mostly chosen from the piles around my chair--recently acquired and never put away, or pulled from the shelf at one time or another for prompt reading)

A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr
Betrayed by Rita Hayworth by Manuel Puig
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
Forever Flowing by Vasily Grossman (or one of the other ER books I am way behind on)
Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet
My Struggle book IV by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Sandmouth by Ronald Frame
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
We the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
Tide Running by Oonya Kempadoo


Moon and Bonfires by Cesare Pavese
Shame by Salmon Rushdie
Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
XMoon Palace by Paul Auster FINISHED 2/11
Blood and Guts in High School


Awakenings by Oliver Sacks
Children of Paradise by Fred D'Aguiar
A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk
Second Reading by Jonathan Yardley

Hope I get to more than 7 of these. May not because we are going to Houston for a week in mid-February to visit the grandkids--including the two from NYC who are coming down to visit their cousins!

Today is a very weird day. It snowed all night and has been snowing off and on all day. We have at least 10-12 inches, which is more snow than I've seen since we've lived here. It's pretty wet, though, and temperatures are forecast to go up, so it probably won't stick around long.

Feb 10, 2017, 5:51pm Top

7. Ship of Widows by Irina Grekova (1981) 179 pp

In >55 arubabookwoman: I quoted a couple of statements from the foreword of this book, which provide context for Grekova's novel Ship of Widows. The foreword further notes that after WW II, in Russia there was a widespread system of "surrogate families" created by war casualties, as women assumed increasing responsibility in all-female quasi-familial units. Ship of Widows depicts the lives of five such women (widows) living in a communal Moscow apartment during and after WW II.

Anfisa, who before the war occupied one of the rooms in the apartment with her husband, enlists as a nurse at the front in order to try to be nearer to her husband. She never connects with her husband, but becomes pregnant and returns to the Moscow apartment prior to the end of the war. The loose plot revolves around the birth of her illegitimate son who as he grows up is outrageously spoiled by Anfisa and the four other women who share the apartment. The other widows are Kapa, an extremely religious retired night watchman; Ada, a former opera singer with romantic ideals; Flerova, a former member of the inteliigensia whose career as a concert pianist ended when her hands were injured by a bomb which killed her husband, daughter and mother; and, Panka, a pipefitter devoted to proletarian ideals.

Their stories are set against a background of food shortages, bleak housing conditions, orphanages, military medical units, the post-war enlistment of youth to work in the "virgin lands" (Siberia), sexual mores among Russian teenagers, and so much more. Most of the novel is told from the viewpoint of Flerova, although some chapters are told from the pov of Anfisa or an omniscient narrator. Near the end of the novel, there is a chapter told from the viewpoint of Vadim, Anfisa's son.

I really enjoyed this novel. I did not learn anything startling or new, but it provides a moving immersion into the lives and trials of these five women.

3 1/2 stars

Feb 10, 2017, 6:14pm Top

8. Mr. Weston's Good Wine by T. F. Powys orig. pub. 1927 326 pp

This strange and unique novel has been described as an "idiosyncratic Christian allegorical fantasy", but don't let the "Christian" scare you off--I would say it is more of a pagan pastoral romp.

The novel opens as Mr. Weston, a travelling wine salesman, and his assistant Michael arrive at the village of Folly Down. They apparently have inside knowledge about each of the villagers, and in turn interact with each of the villagers. There is Reverend Grobe, the vicar who after the tragic death of his wife no longer believes in God. His daughter Tamar is waiting for an "angel" to come to town to fall in love with her. The Grobe's housemaid Jenny Bunce is in love with Luke Bird, who believes people are no longer worth preaching to, so he preaches to animals. Then there is Squire Mumby, whose two sons make a habit of ravishing the village maidens, with the assistance of the bitter Mrs. Vosper. The pub owner (and Jenny's father) Mr. Bunce blames everything that goes wrong (i.e. unintended pregnancies of village maidens) on God. Others blame these "tragedies" on meek and mild Mr.Grunter.

Over the course of an evening when time stands still, Mr. Weston and Michael visit each of these villagers as well as others, and one may conclude that as a result of their visits each individual gets his due, and the problems of Folly Down are solved.

It has been stated that T. F. Powys created his fiction out of his "life-long quarrel with God."
I have on my shelves Unclay, another T. F. Powys novel in which, apparently, the devil comes to town.

3 stars

Feb 11, 2017, 2:36am Top

>58 arubabookwoman: Nice review, Deborah. Unfortunately my library hasn't got a copy of it.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend.

Feb 12, 2017, 8:19am Top

Feb 13, 2017, 10:56am Top

>58 arubabookwoman: Ship of Widows sounds like an interesting read.

I love that your Amazon account tells you how many Kindle books you've purchased. When I get my Kindle, I will have to pay attention to that. One thing I fear about moving in this direction is that it will be even easier for me to accumulate more books than I can ever possibly read.

I hope your trip to Houston to see the grandkids is fun. It may slow you down on the reading front but of course time with them is precious.

Have a great Monday, Deborah.

Feb 13, 2017, 3:06pm Top

I've added Ship of Widows to my wishlist, sounds good. Find that period of history fascinating. Thanks for visiting my thread Deborah.

Feb 24, 2017, 8:29pm Top

Ship of Widows does look a good 'un, Deborah.

Have a lovely weekend.

Feb 26, 2017, 2:53pm Top

Delurking to say Hi!

Feb 28, 2017, 10:03am Top

Stopping by to say hi.

You've been reading some wonderful books!

Edited: Mar 5, 2017, 11:52am Top

Is it possible I haven't visited you yet this year?

So far, no reading overlap at all in 2017, but some of my besties of last year are on your last year's list. I am currently reading the 3rd Karl Ove. He must have an eidetic visual memory -- I know it's fiction, but the level of detail is uncanny. Oh that father! He gives me a stomach ache. Very wise that he did not start with this book first, as would have been chronologically logical.

Edited: Mar 17, 2017, 5:55pm Top

>60 Ameise1: Hi Barbara--Just to let you know that I've started rereading American Tabloid in preparation for reading The Cold Six Thousand next. Have you read the book that follows The Cold Six Thousand yet?

>61 DianaNL: Hi Diana--Have a grand weekend!

>62 EBT1002: Ellen--I hope you're still enjoying your new Kindle. It does make it infinitely easier to buy more books, but they (usually) are a bit cheaper at least. After owning a Kindle since 2009, I've finally gotten around to installing Overdrive just this past week, and have now learned how easy it is to borrow ebooks from the library, so I am in even deeper trouble! See you tomorrow! :)

>63 charl08: I'm interested in that era too Charlotte. I recently bought the new book Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich after reading about it on your thread.

>64 PaulCranswick: Hi Paul. I've been following your travails as you wind your Malaysia business down and prepare to move back to the UK. I hope it continues to go relatively smoothly, though I know how stressful it must be.

>65 Berly: Hi Kim--I hope you continue to feel better--Gotta be in A-One shape for the festivities tomorrow! LOL.

>66 streamsong: Hi Janet--I hope your vision is improving. I'm so sorry you can't join us in Portland tomorrow, and look forward to seeing you at the next meetup.

>67 sibyx: Hi Lucy--I think I've said that Book 3 is my favorite of those I've read so far. If I read your comments correctly, it seems that you didn't like it as much as I did, because (at least partly) the father is so awful. I was expecting the father to be awful, and I just loved his stories about all his childhood adventures, and even his childhood anxieties (i.e. his first day of school story).

Mar 17, 2017, 5:52pm Top

I had hoped to finish up my reviews, but right now I need to go through my WL to make a Powell's list, because tomorrow is the great Portland Meetup. I am so excited. We will drive down early tomorrow morning, and join the group at Powells and for dinner. I can't wait!

And then, in 2 weeks, I'm going to London and Paris with three friends of mine. We've been studying art history together for 7+ years, and finally decided a few years ago that we needed to take a "field trip" to some European museums. And now it's coming true. I've never taken such a major trip without my husband, but I know we will have lots of "girl giggles" without our husbands around.

My reading hasn't picked up significantly, but I owe reviews for:

Moon Palace by Paul Auster
The Dark Road by Ma Jian
The Pigeon byt Patrick Susskind
The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Bear Island by Alistair McLean
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Currently reading American Tabloid by James Elroy and Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

Before I leave for London and Paris, I want to read The Bird Market of Paris by Nikki Moustaki

Mar 17, 2017, 6:59pm Top

>69 arubabookwoman: Oh I would love to do that kind of trip. Hope you have a wonderful time.

Mar 17, 2017, 9:58pm Top

Hello, Deborah! Happy weekend :)

Mar 18, 2017, 4:28am Top

>68 arubabookwoman: Deborah, I've read The Cold Six Thousand in January. The other two of this series are still waiting on the shelf to be read. I hope you're enjoying American Tabloid.
Happy weekend and have fun at the meet-up.

Mar 19, 2017, 12:12am Top

It was great to meet you, Deborah. Have a wonderful trip.

Mar 19, 2017, 12:25am Top

Hi Deborah. It was great seeing you again. I wish I had read your thread before our meetup; I would have asked you about His Bloody Project. How did you like it? (I liked it quite a bit.)

And Paul Auster is an author whom I've not yet read (but want to).

I hope you have a great trip to London and Paris!

Mar 19, 2017, 1:16am Top

Hi Deborah. Your trip to Paris and London sounds lovely!

Thanks for the review of Travels in Siberia. It sounds like I'd really enjoy it and I'm going to see if it's in the library.

Mar 19, 2017, 11:25am Top

Enjoyed seeing photos over at Kim's thread of your meet-up with some of the ladies at Powells Bookstore, Deborah.

Looks like you all had a splendid time.

Mar 19, 2017, 7:42pm Top

I'm waiting to see the complete book haul, Deborah.

Mar 19, 2017, 7:56pm Top

>70 charl08: Thanks Charlotte. The trip is like a dream come true. It's hard to believe that we're actually going to do it!

>71 alcottacre: Hi Stasis--Thanks for visiting!

>72 Ameise1: Thanks Barbara. The meetup was great fun--pictures are up on Berly's thread. I was wondering whether you read American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand in English or in translation? The language is so idiomatic and full of slang I think it would be hard for a non-native speaker to read in English, and probably also hard to translate.

>73 BLBera: Hi Beth--it was great meeting you too. And don't worry, I will have a great time on my trip.

>74 EBT1002: Hi Ellen--It was great seeing you too. I hope to have the review up for His Bloody Project this week. I liked it, but wasn't wild about it, and am not sure it deserved a Booker nomination. I'm glad I read it though. Paul Auster is an author I've read a fair number of books by--some I've liked a lot, and some not so much. My sentimental favorite (but probably not considered to be his best) is Timbuktu, told from the pov of a dog owned by a homeless man. I also really liked The New York Trilogy, which some people I know didn't like because it's kind of metafictional.

>75 cushlareads: Hi Cushla. I'm so glad you visited! I agree--I think you would like Travels in Siberia. I hope your library has it.

>76 PaulCranswick: Hi Paul--perhaps you'll be able to make the next Powells meetup! You're correct--a wonderful time was had by all--even my dear long-suffering husband (who bowed out of the photo festivities).

Mar 19, 2017, 8:12pm Top

So here are the books I bought yesterday when the whole gang was at Powells. Most of these were used so this was a relatively inexpensive haul:

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen
The Faculty of Useless Knowledge by Yury Dombrovsky
Birds of Passage by Bernice Rubens
The Well by Elizabeth Jolley
The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Show Down by Jorge Amado
Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End by Leif G.W. Persson
A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene
A Dry White Season by Andre Brink

Then before leaving Portland to return to Seattle, I made a second trip to Powells early this morning, and this is what I bought (most of these are new, but at least I saved the sales tax, since Oregon does not collect a sales tax):

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Ill Will by Dan Chaon
Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon (requested by Mr. Arubabookwoman)
SPQR by Mary Beard
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb
Poems That Make Grown Women Cry edited by Anthony Holden

Now the problem is to decide which one to read first!

Mar 19, 2017, 11:34pm Top

Great haul, Deborah. I've only read one by Rubens, which I liked. Which is your favorite?

Mar 19, 2017, 11:39pm Top

I love that you went back ~~ and your second book haul looks as good as your first one!

Have a good week.

Mar 20, 2017, 12:47am Top

>79 arubabookwoman: It was great to see you yesterday. Loved hearing about all the places you have lived and your fun family stories. Well, after your second spree, you definitely walked away with more books than I did!! Good job. : ) Which one are you going to start with?

Mar 20, 2017, 2:01am Top

>78 arubabookwoman: I've read it in English. It takes me a moment to get into his reading style but once when I'm reading I love it.

Great photos on Kim's thread. You had a wonderful time.

Wish7ng you a wonderful start into the new week.

Mar 20, 2017, 5:38pm Top

Hi Deborah - it was so good to see you again. Your husband was so nice to put up with all of us. Glad you made another Powell's stop before you left town.

Mar 20, 2017, 6:03pm Top

>79 arubabookwoman: Sounds like Terri and me when we have the annual Joplin meet up. We always go back to the bookstore after lunch!

Mar 21, 2017, 5:04pm Top

We almost met again at Powell's. I went back in the early afternoon to see if someone had found my Fitbit, which, as it turns out, I had dropped at the restaurant. No new books to report - in fact, I sat in the window and read my Kindle, feeling incredibly guilty.

Mar 22, 2017, 8:13am Top

>79 arubabookwoman: I thought I'd commented on the haul but obviously not. It looks really good. Returning to the bookshop is also a move of mine. I have The Faculty of Useless Knowledge on the wishlist - will have a look at the library and see if they have a copy. Thanks for the good wishes on my thread - much appreciated.

Mar 25, 2017, 11:25am Top

>79 arubabookwoman: 16 books is an impressive haul, Deborah. I am slightly jealous but do hope to make it there one fine day.

>86 ffortsa: Glad you got your fitbit back Judy.

Have a wonderful weekend, Deborah. xx

Mar 26, 2017, 10:45am Top

What a superb book haul!

And yes, I did love the real boyhood tales - setting fire to the island and so on. I wonder if it is the same there now as here that people don't let their children run wild. We did, he did, but somehow between now and then, that changed. You rarely even see children outside anymore. And never without a parent around somewhere.

Anyway without the boyhood tales I couldn't have read any of it. I was struck too by his intensity, so young, about brand names and clothing in general. I have to admit I was utterly oblivious to anything like that all through childhood and adolescence and half-heartedly tried to care in college and young adulthood and have given it all up as hopeless now. Later in the book when they give him that nickname (which I've blocked) it made me realize there was something truly unusual, the incredible sensitivity, and awareness about him that made him always stand out oddly.

I cannot understand a mother could be so insensitive as to buy her son a bathing cap with flowers on it. Sure, she was "nice" but that blew my mind, shows an obtuseness and insensitivity . . . She does it twice, some other garment was like that, boots or something. Kind of bizarre. A flake? Naive? Really wanted a girl for her second kid? Just weird.

Mar 30, 2017, 3:51pm Top

Some reviews before I answer my visitors. I am beginning to freak out about getting everything ready to leave Saturday!

9. Moon Palace by Paul Auster orig. pub. 1989 307 pp

First sentence: "It was the summer that men first walked on the moon. I was very young then, but I did not believe there would ever be a future."

This opening utterly drew me in, as I, too, well remember the summer of 1969 (which I spent in Singapore) when men first walked on the moon.

Marco Stanley Fogg (MS) lost his mother in a tragic bus accident when he was 11 and never knew his father. His uncle, a traveling musician, raised him, and when he died left MS enough money to get through college. When the novel opens in 1969 as his graduation from college approaches, MS is mentally paralyzed and unable to do anything to move his life forward. After being evicted from his apartment, he sleeps in Central Park and eats food foraged from garbage cans until a couple of his friends rescue him, and nurse him back to a semblance of mental health.
MS is able to get a job as a companion to an elderly eccentric former artist, Thomas Effing. The focus of the novel then shifts to Effing, as he narrates the story of his life to MS (ostensibly so that MS can write his obituary), spanning the 20th century and moving from the Wild West to turn of the century San Francisco to Europe in the 1920's and back to New York City.
The overriding theme of the novel is that Effing has lost a son, as MS has lost (or never known) a father. Although the facts of the story Auster tells frequently seem incredible and there are several highly unlikely coincidences, Auster almost makes it work--almost, but not quite. I just couldn't wrap my head around some of the more unlikely coincidences in the stories of MS and Effing. One Amazon reviewer said there were "enough improbably coincidences to make Dickens blush." Despite this, I do have to say I enjoyed reading most of the story. And at least I've knocked off another book on the 1001 list.

2 1/2 stars

Edited: Mar 30, 2017, 4:17pm Top

10. The Dark Road by Ma Jian

First Sentence:

"The infant spirit sees Mother sitting on the edge of her bed, her hands clutching her swollen belly, her legs trembling with fear...."

Meili and her husband Kongzi live in the rural countryside of China with their young daughter Nanaan. Kongzi is a 76th generation descendant of Confucius, and China's one-child policy conflicts with what he sees as his duty to produce a male heir for the 77th generation. Meili is pregnant with an unauthorized second child, and family planning authorities are cracking down, dragging women who are pregnant without a permit in and violently performing abortions on them. Meili and Kongzi decide to flee their village to find a place their second child can be born into a more hospitable environment. Over the next several years, and several tragic pregnancies, Meili, Kongzi and Nanaan are on the run. They spend a few years on a decrepit houseboat on the Yangze River among other family planning fugitives. Ultimately, they end up in the town of Heaven where corrupt family planning officials are somewhat lenient about unauthorized pregnancies--for a price.

This is a dark portrait of the bleak lives of Chinese peasants. While the horrors and brutalities of the one-child policy are the primary theme of this novel, the havoc wreaked on the environment by China's unregulated industrial revolution is a strong secondary theme. The town of Heaven has become a center for the deconstruction of the world's electronic waste; toxic chemicals are everywhere--the water is so polluted Meili can no longer raise ducks. Babies are born, but many have significant birth defects (which allows corrupt officials to sell them to be used as beggars).

I had previously heard of the one-child policy, but was unaware of the brutality of the measures to enforce it. I found this to be a stunning book, although difficult to read. Amazon states that while Ma Jian was writing it, he traveled through the rural backwaters of southwestern China to see how the state enforced the one-child policy far from the world's prying eyes. He met local women who had been seized from their homes and forced to undergo abortions or sterilizations; on the Yangze River he lived among fugitive couples on the run from the policy.

I am grateful to Rchlbxl whose strong review caused me to move this book to the top of my TBR pile.

4 stars

Mar 30, 2017, 4:40pm Top

11. The Pigeon by Patrick Suskind orig pub. 1987 115 pp

First sentence:

"At the time the pigeon affair overtook him, unhinging his life from one day to the next, Jonathan Noel, already past fifty, could look back over a good twenty-year period of total uneventfulness and would never have expected anything of importance could ever overtake him again--other than death someday.

I loved Perfume by Patrick Suskind, and so was expecting to also very much like The Pigeon, which is on the 1001 list. It is short, and superficially simple, but I'm not sure I understand what it means.

Jonathan Noel has been a security guard at a Paris bank for many years. He lives a solitary life in a rented room on the 7th floor of a nearby boarding house. He is a creature of habit--until the day the pigeon arrived. Following his usual routine, Jonathan's first action of the day would have been to go down the hall to use the shared toilet. But when he opens the door to the hallway, there is a pigeon crouched outside his door, glaring up at him. He finds himself frightened and unable to move. Finally he slams the door, and as we follow him over the next 24 hours or so, his well-ordered world begins to crumble.

I guess you could describe the book as "Kafkaesque", but I think on a much simpler level. One reviewer on Amazon said that if Perfume is a feast, then The Pigeon is a snack. I certainly didn't find much there.

2 1/2 stars

Mar 30, 2017, 4:59pm Top

12. The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky orig. pub. 2015, 320 pp

Dina, an Australian and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, now lives in Haifa, Israel. Married to an Israeli, she has a young son and is pregnant with her second child. She is a doctor, and practices medicine in her own clinic. We follow her for one day, a day on which a bomb warning has been issued, as she moves through her day accompanied by and constantly interacting with the ghost of her critical mother.

I found the novel to be unconvincing. I simply could not believe that Dina was a real person in the real world. Or maybe, if she is a real person, she is a person teetering on the brink of insanity, not the competent professional she is purported to be.

She spends much of her day talking to and interacting with the ghost of her mother. People around her observing this (and some did) were constantly saying , "Excuse me?", and she would come up with some excuse/explanation for her behavior. In my world, she would have been sent for a mental evaluation. Also, Dina was supposedly a dedicated physician, but she spent most of her morning avoiding going to the clinic, though her receptionist phoned her to tell her patients are waiting. Then, during the short time she is in the clinic she also avoids her patients, and soon skips out for more wandering around the city.

Perhaps this was the point--the unreality of it all. I just didn't buy it.

1 1/2 stars

Mar 30, 2017, 4:59pm Top

12. The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky orig. pub. 2015, 320 pp

Dina, an Australian and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, now lives in Haifa, Israel. Married to an Israeli, she has a young son and is pregnant with her second child. She is a doctor, and practices medicine in her own clinic. We follow her for one day, a day on which a bomb warning has been issued, as she moves through her day accompanied by and constantly interacting with the ghost of her critical mother.

I found the novel to be unconvincing. I simply could not believe that Dina was a real person in the real world. Or maybe, if she is a real person, she is a person teetering on the brink of insanity, not the competent professional she is purported to be.

She spends much of her day talking to and interacting with the ghost of her mother. People around her observing this (and some did) were constantly saying , "Excuse me?", and she would come up with some excuse/explanation for her behavior. In my world, she would have been sent for a mental evaluation. Also, Dina was supposedly a dedicated physician, but she spent most of her morning avoiding going to the clinic, though her receptionist phoned her to tell her patients are waiting. Then, during the short time she is in the clinic she also avoids her patients, and soon skips out for more wandering around the city.

Perhaps this was the point--the unreality of it all. I just didn't buy it.

1 1/2 stars

Mar 30, 2017, 5:32pm Top

That brings me up through the end of February. Will try to do at least some of March tomorrow, but may be too busy to get to further reviews til after I get back from my trip. I've been busily reading guide books so we can get the most out of our oh-too-short time in London and Paris.

>80 BLBera: Beth, I've liked most of the Bernice Rubens I've read, but not to say they're masterpieces that have blown me away. Probably my favorite so far was The Waiting Game (life in a retirement home), and I've also liked I, Dreyfous (anti-Semitism) and Sunday Best (a closet cross-dresser can't defend himself from a crime accusation because of his guilty secret).

>81 EBT1002: Hi Ellen--Glad that you got some relaxation time in on your cruise--and hopefully you got some sunshine before returning to our spring dreariness.

>82 Berly: Hi Berly--Hope you are all recovered, though I did read about your ER visit with your son--no fun. I haven't decided what to read first from my acquisitions. I am only bringing my Kindle on my trip, and since I've been back from Portland I've only been reading library books--since I've finally learned how to do Overdrive.

>83 Ameise1: Thanks Barbara. I finally finished my reread of American Tabloid and will soon start The Cold Six Thousand. Since I often found the slang and idiomatic language difficult to follow, and found that I really had to concentrate while reading it, I'm amazed that you read it in English.

>84 SuziQoregon: Hi Juli--It was good to see you too. You are so lucky to work so close to Powells.

>85 alcottacre: Hi Stasia--Yep--great minds think alike!

>86 ffortsa: Hi Judy--I think you showed remarkable restraint in Powells, but I do recognize how careful you have to be when traveling not to add too much weight to your suitcase. Hopefully, we can do the Strand in May, and I will show similar restraint.

>87 charl08: Hi Charlotte--I've had The Faculty of Useless Knowledge on my wishlist forever, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find a used copy at Powells.

>88 PaulCranswick: Thanks for the good wishes Paul. I have no doubt you will make it to Powells one day, and you should have not doubt that I will make the trip to Portland to meet you when you do.

>89 sibyx: Hi Lucy--Yes I did love the scenes of his childhood running wild, with no parents to be seen, which was similar to my own, although 20 years later. Your reminding me of the flowered swimming cap--yes his mother was extremely insensitive. OTOH, it caused me to remember times when my parents were totally tone-deaf to peer pressure and my desire to conform. :)

Mar 30, 2017, 7:36pm Top

Great comments, Deborah. The Dark Road sounds like one I would like. What a lot of reading you've been doing.

Are you back from your trip, or is it still to come?

Mar 30, 2017, 7:42pm Top

Hi Deborah-So glad you figured out Overdrive!! Yay for Kindles, especially on trips. My son was nice enough to share his malady with me, and I am only just starting to recover from that. It's been a rough start to 2017, but hopefully looking up from here. Have fun on your trip and take photos!!

Mar 30, 2017, 10:13pm Top

> 92 arubabookwoman

The Pigeon sounds too depressing to read, but I am intrigued by
Jonathan Noel was frightened by the pigeon...?

Most people, real or in novels, would be moved to get it safely back out
or to see if it was injured and get it help.

Mar 31, 2017, 1:13am Top

>95 arubabookwoman: I have to concentrate myself too, Deborah and that's probably the reason I read only one of him per year and during a holiday. I started with the L.A. Quartett years ago. It's the same writing style. So, I'm not shocked to read this series. I like this style of writing. I came never across another author writing this way.
Happy Friday.

Apr 1, 2017, 4:41pm Top

Safe trip!!

Apr 1, 2017, 5:21pm Top

>91 arubabookwoman: I am adding that one to the Black Hole although the possibility that my local library will ever get a copy is pretty much 0%. *sigh*

>94 arubabookwoman: That one sounds just weird.

Apr 4, 2017, 6:16pm Top

Hope you're having a great trip!!

Edited: Apr 9, 2017, 12:29am Top

I imagine you are having a great time! I hope so.

Paul Auster is an author whose work I haven't read yet but I keep thinking I'd like to.

Apr 15, 2017, 4:57am Top

Apr 16, 2017, 12:13pm Top

Apr 18, 2017, 5:43pm Top

Welcome back! I hope you find time to post at least a list of highlights (but I know the first thing to do is get your body back in this time zone).

Apr 18, 2017, 6:10pm Top

>107 EBT1002: Hi Deborah - I second Ellen. I hope we get at least one picture.

Apr 18, 2017, 6:29pm Top

>107 EBT1002: >108 BLBera: I third Ellen and Beth!

Apr 19, 2017, 11:05am Top

Deborah-- You are a tease!! You posted on my thread that your were back from Europe and I ran over here as fast as I could to look for photos and...nada. Eagerly awaiting news. : )

Apr 22, 2017, 5:34pm Top

Oh Deborah . . . . We need trip stories.

Apr 28, 2017, 2:35am Top

Tapping foot impatiently...! : )

Apr 28, 2017, 2:52pm Top

>112 Berly: Well Kim, since you ask so nicely....

I'm hanging my head in shame at being away so long, and I want to thank everyone who's visited and left good wishes before I tell the stories of my travels.


>97 BLBera:, >100 Ameise1:, >101 Berly: Hi Beth, Barbara and Kim

>98 Berly: Kim--Overdrive has really cut into my reading from my TBR shelves. Close to the majority of my reading since I figured this out has been from the library. Some of it I'm not enjoying because I feel compelled to continue to read a library book I'm not liking because of the due date. I also feel compelled to start a library book right away even if it's not appealing at that moment, again because of the deadline. I have to begin to recognize that if a library book is not working, I can always return it and check it out again later if I want.

>99 m.belljackson: Hello and welcome--that was one of the things that puzzled me about the book. If I found a rattlesnake outside my door I'd be scared--but a pigeon??

>102 alcottacre: Hi Stasia--I hope your library gets a copy of The Dark Road. It's worth tracking down.

>103 SuziQoregon: Hi Juli-- Thanks for the good wishes re the trip.

>104 EBT1002: Hi Ellen, and thanks for the good wishes re the trip. Auster is an author I usually like, but he's not on my list of all time favorites/absolute must reads. My favorite of his is one of his lighter books, Timbuktu, which is told from the pov of the dog of a homeless man. It is on the 1001 List.

>105 DianaNL:, >106 Berly: Thank you for the Easter wishes Diana and Kim!

>107 EBT1002:, >108 BLBera:, >109 alcottacre:, >110 Berly:, and >111 SuziQoregon:--Thank you for the welcome back, Ellen, Beth, Stasia, Kim and Juli!

Edited: Apr 28, 2017, 4:06pm Top

Okay, my travels:

After an overnight nonstop flight from Seattle, we finally arrived in London. Our hotel was centrally located, on the corner of Pall Mall, about two blocks from Trafalgar Square, where the National Gallery is located, so after checking in we walked over to Trafalgar Square to the National Gallery.

When I was a teenager living in London in 1967/68 I thought that I should learn something about art, and so I visited the National Gallery a few times. The first painting that caught my eye there, one which I never forgot, was The Arnolfini Marriage by Jan van Eyck. So one of the highlights of our visit was to see this painting again. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnolfini_Portrait

Since our studies to date have included prehistoric, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greek, Rome, Romanesque, Medieval, early Northern Renaissance, and early Italian Renaissance, we concentrated mainly on the Medieval and Renaissance works in the gallery. Another highlight for me was The Wilton Diptych. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilton_Diptych

We left at closing, walked up the Mall to see Buckingham Palace (2 of the 4 of us had never been to London). Along the way, we passed a film crew filming a new version of Mary Poppins.

The next day was spent at the Victoria and Albert, again concentrating on the Medieval and Renaissance, although I did a quick walk through of the costume gallery. One highlight for me was the Tristan and Isolde quilt. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tristan_Quilt
We had lunch in the lovely museum café done in majolica and peeped into the William Morris café too. http://www.benugo.com/public-spaces/victoria-albert-museum
We got kicked out of the museum at closing time. In the evening we took a night tour of London.

Next day was spent at the British Museum. Before the trip my sister who studies this matters told me our original ancestor who came from England to the US in the 1700's lived at 57 Great Russell Street, right across the street from the British Museum. And there it was! I have a picture of myself standing right in front of 57 Great Russell Street.

Highlights in the British Museum for us were the Elgin Marbles, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin_Marbles
the Sutton Hoo treasures, http://www.britishmuseum.org/visiting/galleries/europe/room_41_europe_ad_300-110...
the treasures from Ur, including the standard of ur, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_of_Ur
and we had a quick glance at the Rosetta Stone.

That night, after an English high tea with scones and Devonshire cream, we went to the theater and saw a Monty Pythonesque farce "The Play that Went Wrong." http://www.theplaythatgoeswrong.com/london
Very Funny!

Our stay in London was entirely too short--we left many museums entirely unexplored, and the ones we did visit were only partially explored.

We took the chunnel train to Paris. It was very fast, and very smooth. I've taken several train trips in the US, and wish we had something like the chunnel train here.

Apr 28, 2017, 3:25pm Top

Sounds fabulous!

Edited: Apr 28, 2017, 5:08pm Top

Our hotel in Paris was also lovely. It was on Ave. George V, just off the Champs-Elysee near the Arc d'Triomf. Our first evening, we walked around the neighborhood, and found a lovely café/bistro right around the corner from our hotel where we ate dinner every night we were in Paris. (This was not a food trip--although we had some excellent meals at this café). The two "younger" members of our group of four (not me) climbed the steps to the top of the Arc.

Next morning we went to the Cluny Museum (the Museum of the Middle Ages). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mus%C3%A9e_national_du_Moyen_%C3%82ge
It is housed in a building with the old Roman baths. Its most famous exhibit is the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, which are beautiful. I sat in the dim room examining them for quite a while.

Next stop was the Musee d'Orsay, which houses pre-Impressionist, Impressionist, and post-Impressionist art. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mus%C3%A9e_d%27Orsay
Even though we haven't reached these eras to study, this is more familiar art to most of us. The Orsay is housed in an old train station, and there are stunning views of Paris from the upper floors. We had lunch and an afternoon tea in the café there, which was quite nice. http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/events/towards-the-nouvel-orsay/the-cafe-campana.ht...
We were there on Thursday, and the museum was open until 9, though we pooped out around 7. During this visit, I was mesmerized by Manet's Olympia. I also enjoyed seeing some of van Gogh's later works, including "The Cathedral at Auvers". A couple of years ago when my husband and I went to France, we visited Auvers, where we saw the cathedral, the city hall, the wheat field and other places van Gogh painted, as well as his grave. http://www.vangoghgallery.com/in_his_steps/auvers.html I wish we had had time to go there again on this trip.

The next day was spent at the Louvre. We chose to go to the Louvre this day because it was a late day as well, and didn't close til 9. Here again we focused on the periods we have studied, though we took a detour to visit the Mona Lisa. We were disappointed because the Vermeer we wanted to see was in a special exhibition that was on at the Louvre at the time which focused on Vermeer, and we couldn't get tickets to that.

On our final full day in Paris we went to the Centre Pompidou, which features art from early 1900's through contemporary art. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centre_Georges_Pompidou The building itself was controversial in that all of its "guts" (structural stuff holding wires and pipes etc) is on the outside painted lots of different colors. It was fun seeing the Matisses, Klees, Picassos, Kadinskys, Delauney's (Sonia and Robert), Giacomettis, Brancusis, and many others.

After the Pompidou two of us went to the Cemetery Pere Lachaise, where Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Chopin, and many other famous people are buried. One of us who is doing an art series called "Guardians" wanted to photograph the angel and cherub statuary haunting the cemetery. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C3%A8re_Lachaise_Cemetery

Again, our stay in Paris was all too short. The one thing we all agreed on was that we need to do this again, and for a much longer time too.

Even though our plane trip back was a day trip rather than overnight, I slept more on the plane trip back than I did on the way there. When I got home I decided to take a nap about 2:30 in the afternoon, even though I meant to stay up until regular bedtime. I went to sleep, and didn't get up until 10 the next morning.

Most of my pictures are of art, but I have one of us standing in front of the pyramid at the Louvre, as well as the one in front of 57 Great Russell Street that I would like to post. However, I have had great difficulty in getting that to work on my computer. When I have some time, I will try to work this out. In the meantime, I'll try to put some links up to some of the highlight art mentioned in these posts.

Apr 28, 2017, 4:52pm Top

What a gorgeous trip. I love all places.

Apr 28, 2017, 5:03pm Top

Maybe a few reviews....

13. His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme Macrae Burnet (2016) 300 pp

This was one of the nominees whose description appealed to me from last year's Booker short list. Seventeen year old Roderick Macrae brutally killed three people in a Scottish farming village in the late 19th century. The mystery is not "whodunnit", but "why?", and whether there is a chance that Roderick's life will be spared in his criminal trial.

The book is formatted as a series of documents, including witness statements taken by investigators, psychiatric evaluations of Roderick's state of mind, trial transcripts and other documents. The heart of the novel is a personal narrative "written by" Roderick himself for his attorney, setting forth his version of the events leading up to and through the crime itself. Burnet did an excellent job of presenting the story of the crime and the trial through a 19th century lens.

My favorite parts of the book were the descriptions of the day-to-day lives and hardships of the villagers, living in what was essentially a feudal society, subject to the whims and cruelties of the landowners, constables and factors. The author vividly and convincingly portrays the hopelessness of their lives.

However, as a 21st century psychological thriller, the book is less successful, I think. While the book uses the technique of unreliable narrators, and presents contrasting and varying viewpoints of Roderick and his actions, in the end, the "big reveal" was a big let-down. In addition, the pacing was rather slow, and I never felt compelled to keep turning the pages to see what happened next.

A Newsweek review describes the book as "halfway between a thriller and a sociological study of an exploitive economic system..." I'd say it's much less than "half a thriller," although it is still a decent read.

I was intrigued by the sound of Burner's first novel, The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau, and liked His Bloody Project enough that I'd pick up his earlier book if I came across it.

3 stars

Apr 28, 2017, 5:28pm Top

14. Bear Island by Alistair MacLean (1971) 400 pp

I wanted to discover a new-to-me thriller writer, but boy was this one big flop!

The murders begin as the vessel Morning Rose carries the cast of movie makers to a remote Arctic island for filming. Our pov character is Marlowe, the doctor for the cast and crew. The first murders are poisoning; some victims survive. Other victims, perhaps poisoned, perhaps not, disappear overboard. Nobody seems to care much--there's too much drinking going on, as well as much discussion as to where the producer of the film has stashed his good liquor, and how to get at it.

The body count continues to rise after the group arrives on Bear Island amidst more drinking. The straw that broke the camel's back for me was when the doctor reveals an important plot point about his identity, (and his former concealment of this from the reader is very unrealistic). This changes the whole focus of the story, and it became (for me) a farce. Stay away. (Unless you're a 12 year old boy born in the 1940's).

1/2 star

Query--MacLean was a prolific writer, and many of his novels were turned into movies. Did I read something uncharacteristic? Were any of his books good?

Apr 28, 2017, 5:38pm Top

15. The Girl on the Train by Paul A. Hawkins (2015) 336 pp (my first library book on Overdrive)

When I lived in England in 1967/68, I took the train in from Surrey every morning to Waterloo to go to school. As the train approached London, the tracks went alongside the backs of houses, and in the early morning light, I could look into the windows of the houses, observe the occupants of the houses, and make up stories about them. So I really connected with the premise of this story.

I'm probably the last person on LT to read this, and everyone by now knows the premise. A young woman riding the train each day, Rachel, observes a young couple breakfasting on their terrace. Herself a divorcee, Rachel romanticizes their relationship in her mind, and tells herself tales of their great happiness. She names the woman "Jess". Then one morning she sees "Jess" kissing another man. When
"Jess" goes missing, Rachel feels she must go to the police.

Although I liked Gone Girl, to which this has been compared, better than The Girl on the Train, it is a competent psychological thriller, and a quick and easy read.

3 stars

Apr 28, 2017, 5:59pm Top

16. American Tabloid by James Ellroy (1995) 592 pp

This masterpiece brilliantly mixes fact and fiction to present a mosaic of America from the late 1950's until the assassination of JFK. Historical characters and facts covered include JFK's run for the presidency; his many affairs, including one with a Marilyn Monroe-like starlet; Bobby Kennedy's investigation of Teamster's Union boss Jimmy Hoffa; the CIA's botched planning and execution of the Bay of Pigs; Howard Hughes; Castro; J. Edgar Hoover; the Mafia in Chicago, Miami, L.A. and New Orleans; and much, much more.

These events engulf the three primary fictional characters, all of whom are amoral, murderous and depraved individuals. Pete Bondurant is a hired gun for Jimmy Hoffa, as well a drug supplier to Howard Hughes, who becomes one of the CIA trainers for the Cubans who will execute the Bay of Pigs invasion. Kemper Boyd simultaneously works for the FBI, the CIA, Robert F. Kennedy, the Mafia, and pimps for JFK. He is loyal to no one. Ward Littel is a former straight-arrow FBI agent formerly obsessed with nabbing the mob (rather than chasing the "reds" J. Edgar was interested in pursuing). He ends up as the ace attorney for Mafioso boss Carlos Marcello. Be aware that the events in this book are extremely violent and brutal.

The style in which this novel is written is truly unique, and takes some getting used to. It is written in short, staccato sentences, and the plot is presented as a series of vignettes. The language is idiomatic, full of slang and (to me) utterly authentic. This may only be a 4 1/2 star book, but I'm feeling generous and giving it 5 stars.

5 stars

This was a reread for me. I first read it around the time it was originally published in 1995. I loved it then, as well. I reread it because after reading Barbara's review of the second novel in the trilogy of which this is the opening book (The Cold Six Thousand) I wanted to continue on with the trilogy, which I never did, I guess because the succeeding books weren't written at the time I read the first one.

Apr 28, 2017, 6:08pm Top

17. Jernigan by David Gates (1991) 340 pp

After Peter Jernigan's wife dies in a bizarre accident on the 4th of July, he drifts through a year of heavy drinking, largely ignoring his teenage son. Shortly after the first year anniversary of his wife's death, he meets and moves in with the mother of his son's girlfriend. She is what is called a "suburban survivalist"--she lives off the grid, heating with a wood stove, largely surviving by eating the rabbits she raises in her basement, growing a vegetable garden, and dumpster diving.

This book was described as "darkly funny," and I also somewhere heard it described as an adult Catcher in the Rye. I found it very sad, although I had a hard time connecting with it. It was not a book that grabbed me.

2 1/2 stars

Apr 28, 2017, 6:30pm Top

18. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (2016) 304 pp

"No risk is more terrifying than that taken by the first root. A lucky root will eventually find water, but its first job is to anchor--to anchor an embryo and forever end its mobile phase, however passive that mobility was."

Hope Jahren is a geobotanist, and this is a memoir of her life as a scientist, interspersed with short chapters on trees, plants and fascinating scientific tidbits about them. Following a brief description of her childhood, in which her interest in science was nurtured by her scientist father, we follow her through graduate school, and as a professor as she establishes labs at first Georgia Institute of Technology, then Johns Hopkins, and finally at the University of Hawaii. Throughout it all she is accompanied by her brilliant lab assistant Bill, with whom she has a unique and fascinating relationship.

I enjoyed her descriptions of life as a scientist--the difficulties of a woman in the field and the difficulties of getting research grants and funding for experiments, lab equipment and staff. This was particularly true for her field, in which she studies plants, trees, soils and fossils of them, and studies nothing that will lead to a better weapon or a cure for cancer. Just pure science. I loved her descriptions of how she approaches the development of topics to study. She also brilliantly describes the "grunt work" and tedium required to gather data and execute many scientific experiments. as well as the exaltation felt when the answers start to come in. I did wonder through-out why Bill, her brilliant assistant, never wanted to get a Ph.D. of his own, or his own lab.

3 1/2 stars

I read this at the recommendation of several people who know that my youngest daughter will be receiving her Ph.D. in genetics probably this fall after nearly 6 years of study. Sometimes when I talk to her I catch glimpses of understanding at what she does. Her latest thing is that she has produced about 20,000 genetically modified strains of yeast, and she is studying the effect of these modifications on other unmodified genes. Yeast is used because many of its genes are the same as human genes, they just reproduce much faster. I will pass this book along to her when I see her in May.
(I also have The Gene in my TBR, which I hope to read before then and also pass along to her.

Apr 28, 2017, 6:50pm Top

This brings my reviews current through March. I might as well do a belated summary of my first quarter reading. I read only 18 books, which is quite low for me.

Male author--14
Female author 4


Places: India, France, Guyana, Russia, China and Israel (in addition to US, Canada and UK)

Best Reads (4, 4 1/2, and 5 stars):
Travels in Siberia
The Dark Road
American Tabloid

Worst Read (1/2 star):
Bear Island

Apr 28, 2017, 6:57pm Top

I owe reviews for the following, which I have so far finished in April:
19. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
20. The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
21. Ill Will by Dan Chaon
22. The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt
23. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
24. Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
25. The Vanishing Velazquez by Laura Cumming
26. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
27. The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

I am currently reading:

My Struggle Book IV real book
Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates Kindle
Evicted by Matthew Desmond Library Book

I will probably finish Evicted before the end of April. The other two are tomes.

Apr 29, 2017, 3:41am Top

>120 arubabookwoman: You're not the last one of the LT group reading this book. It's on my TBR pile and I will read it this summer.

>121 arubabookwoman: Glad to hear that you liked it so much. I still have number 3 and 4 to read.

Happy weekend, Deborah.

Apr 29, 2017, 12:02pm Top

Hi Deborah - Thanks for sharing your trip details. It sounds wonderful! Did you plan ahead for which museum you would see on which day? You sounded very organized.

AND you've been reading. Great comments. I've added American Tabloid to my list. MacLean sounds familiar; I may have read a book or two by him when I was in high school, but I don't remember them.

I'm also reading Evicted right now. I find it riveting although I've had to give up reading it before bed; it was interfering with my sleep.

Apr 29, 2017, 12:58pm Top

>121 arubabookwoman: That one sounds like a must read for me. Thanks for the recommendation, Deborah!

Thank you for sharing your travels. I am glad you arrived back home safely.

May 4, 2017, 8:04am Top

I just saw your remark on Kim's thread about your family gathering in NYC. That's quite a crowd! Jim and I will understand if you don't have time to say hello, but if you can save us a moment for coffee or aperitif, that would be great. If not, have a wonderful time with all your family.

May 7, 2017, 12:17am Top

>113 arubabookwoman: "I have to begin to recognize that if a library book is not working, I can always return it and check it out again later if I want."
I have the same struggle, Deborah. I am trying to remind myself that there is no penalty for letting an eBook expire and/or not downloading it, and then checking it out again later. No penalties. No shame.

Your trip sounds excellent and I love that you all agree that next time you need to spend more time in Paris. When we did our Italy-and-France trip in 2007, we had the same reaction after just four days in Paris. It's an amazing city with so much to see!

I recently purchased a copy of American Tabloid with the sense that it has a strong following. Seeing your comments makes me glad I picked it up and puts it more front-and-center as I think about upcoming summer reading.

May 7, 2017, 2:03am Top

Trust that your NYC trip goes swimmingly Deborah.

Have a lovely weekend.

May 10, 2017, 2:44am Top

Okay, you get full marks on the trip update. So glad you got to see all this amazing things!! So much fun.

Now I am tapping my foot for the reviews!! ; ) Happy Wednesday.

May 11, 2017, 12:53pm Top

Wow! Your reviews are wonderful. Of course I've been hit by several book bullets...

You European trip sounds fabulous. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Edited: May 24, 2017, 2:42pm Top

Hello all, and thanks for visiting!

>115 SuziQoregon: Hi Juli--the trip was fantastic! I just saw on your thread that you visited the Oregon Gardens last weekend. We visited a couple of years ago for a quick weekend trip, and enjoyed it very much. Did you visit the Frank Lloyd Wright house there?

>117 Ameise1: Hello Barbara. We hit the highlights for sure. I would love to visit in more depth, maybe spend a few months.
>126 Ameise1: I think you will like The Girl on the Train when you read it--It's a much faster read than American Tabloid.

>127 BLBera: Hi Beth--We knew beforehand what museums were our top choices to visit in each city (and a few more we wanted to visit if there was time), but we chose the days we would visit when we were there--for example the Orsay on Thursday because it was open late on Thursday, the Louvre on Friday for the same reason. In our studies we have reached the Renaissance, and so, with the exception of the Orsay and the Pompidous, we focused on earlier art, including prehistoric.

>128 alcottacre: Hi Stasia--I hope you like it when you get to it.

>129 ffortsa: Hi Judy--Our time in NY will be pretty full, since our whole family rarely is in the same place at the same time! I'll leave you a pm about a possible meetup.

>130 EBT1002: Hi Ellen--I hope you like American Tabloid when you get to it. It's quite brutal.

>131 PaulCranswick: Thanks, Paul. I hope your business issues are going more smoothly!

>132 Berly: Hi Kim. I hope you are feeling better. Reviews to follow, per your request!

>133 bohemima: Hi Gail. The trip was amazing. Husband and I are planning a trip to Europe sometime next year, probably to Italy or Spain. And my friends and I are already planning another trip in a few years, maybe to Italy when we're through the Renaissance. :) I'd love to see the mosaics in Ravenna, the Giotto frescoes, and all the other major art highlights in Italy.

Well let me try to do a few reviews:

May 24, 2017, 3:28pm Top

No we didn't visit the house - saw it as we went by though. Maybe next trip.

May 24, 2017, 3:31pm Top

19. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (2017) 224 pp Library book

This is the true story of Christopher Knight, who disappeared into the woods of Maine in 1986 and lived there alone for 27 years, speaking to another person only once during that time. He built a campsite for himself in a secluded glen that was surprisingly close to "civilization"--it was near a pond with many summer cabins and a summer camp surrounding it. He survived by stealing whatever he needed, from food to batteries to bedding, from the cabins and the camp. As Finkel tells Christopher's story, he weaves in research on solitude and hermits.

This book has gotten pretty good reviews on LT, but it did not engage me. First, I was bothered by how intrusive the author was. Christopher and his family made it explicitly clear that they did not want to be contacted or to discuss this, yet Finkel persisted, and manipulated his way into a few interviews with Christopher. Finkel's own story, of how he contacted Christopher and developed the story takes up at least as much of this narrative as does Christopher's experiences in the woods. I had no interest in Finkel's investigative techniques, and wanted to know more about Christopher's actions and motivations.

I found there was little or no insight into why Christopher did what he did, or into the psychological effects his solitude had on him. While the author includes his research into solitude and hermits, Finkel does not connect this general research to the particular case of Christopher. Rather than Christopher having intellectual or spiritual reasons for his actions in seeking solitude, it seems more likely that Christopher was merely a mentally unbalanced man who wanted to be left alone. I found much of this aspect of the book to be random and rambling, and it had the feel of the padding necessary to fill a story the length of a newspaper article to book length.

A more minor point is that if the reader is expecting a story of survival in the woods--hunting, fishing, chopping down trees to build a shelter, etc.--this is not that story. Christopher did not really survive by his wits--he stole everything he needed to subsist (including, by the way, reading materials). The owners of the cabins and the summer camp lived for 27 years with the specter of a mysterious burglar targeting their possessions, as well as their peace of mind.

Maybe I wasn't in the right mood for this, but I'm very glad it was only a library book.

2 stars

May 24, 2017, 3:48pm Top

20. The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney (2016) 368 pp Kindle

The Plumb family--siblings Melody, Beatrice, Jack and Leo--have for years waited, dreamed about, and relied on the substantial inheritance, referred to among themselves as "the Nest," which is to be divided among them when the youngest, Melody, turns 40. Melody needs the money to finance an Ivy League college for her twin daughters, and to help with the mortgage on the charming house she and her husband bought despite its being beyond their means. Jack needs the money to shore up his faltering antigues business. Unknown to his partner, he has steeply mortgaged their beach house through unsavory lenders to keep the business going. Beatrice wants to revive her dormant literary career.

Shortly before their access to the Nest is to be realized, black sheep oldest brother Leo, drunk and high on cocaine, picks up a 19 year old waitress, and crashes his car, resulting in the waitress losing her foot (but fortunately not her life). The bulk of the Nest is distributed to the waitress in order to settle any claims she may have and to avoid unpleasant publicity. The other three Plumb sibs are not happy about "their" money being used in this way, and want to know what Leo is going to do to pay them back.

This is not a very good book. All the characters are thoroughly unpleasant. I can handle that. But they are also caricatures, and there is little or no character development. The novel is very formulaic--sex, money, NYC wheeler-dealers. It didn't cause me physical (or psychic) pain to read this book, but it was not really worth the time invested, short as it was.

1 1/2 stars

Edited: May 24, 2017, 4:28pm Top

21. Ill Will by Dan Chaon (2017) 480 pp Hardcover--bought at Powells

"In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation."--- Epigram to the last section of Ill Will

When he was a child, Dustin's parents and aunt and uncle were brutally murdered as he and his cousins Kate and Wave slept. Dustin's older adoptive brother Rusty was convicted of the murders, partially based on testimony given by Dustin and Kate. As the novel opens, now 30 years later, Dustin learns that Rusty has been exonerated by DNA evidence and has been released from prison.

Dustin is now a psychologist and has become involved with one of his patients, Aqil, a former police officer, in trying to solve a present-day mystery. Over the years, a number of male college students have disappeared, usually when drunk, and turned up later drowned. Aqil is convinced that a serial killer is at work, and talks Dustin into helping him investigate, since the police have ruled these deaths as accidental.

The novel is narrated from various points of view, including those of Dustin, Kate, and one of Dustin's teenage sons, skipping back and forth in time from the horrific events of 30 years past to the present, with the release of Rusty and the mysterious disappearances of young college men.

I was totally drawn into this book, and it made for compelling reading. I've read a couple of other books by Chaon, and he is an author I have no hesitation in recommending. But in the end, I was left with lots of questions (see the epigram quoted above), which I can only discuss by revealing many SPOILERS--so skip the rest of this review if you don't like SPOILERS!!!


I was very puzzled by Aqil's motivations. At the end of the novel, Dustin is dead, his son is dead, and Aqil is missing. The reader (me) concludes that Aqil killed Dustin and his son, although some seem to feel that Aqil has also been murdered, although his body is missing. What was Aqil's motivation--was he just "evil" or did he just have "ill will"? Did he pick Dustin out of the blue and lead him on with the "serial killer" investigation or was he aware of Dustin's "suggestibility"? Was there an actual serial killer, or were the deaths coincidental, or did Aqil kill some of the young men to make it appear as if there were a serial killer?

We know that Dustin was/is highly suggestible. He was manipulated by his cousin Kate in the past. Was Aqil aware of this? We are led to assume that Aqil manipulated Dustin into going to Chicago to confront Rusty about his missing son--what was the purpose of this? Did he just want to see what Dustin would do? Did he want harm to come to Rusty?


If anyone has read the book has any ideas, I would love you to chime in with your opinions.

Maybe I'm just used to reading books that are actually in the genre of mysteries/thrillers, and it is a convention of that genre to tie everything down. Ill Will is definitely within the purview of Literary Fiction, rather than Mystery. The up-in-the-air ending certainly had the effect of making me think about it long after I read it.

3 1/2 stars

May 24, 2017, 4:40pm Top

22. The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt (2017) 320 pp Library book

Ugh!! Remind me not to ever again read any celebrity memoirs! This was recommended (not enthusiastically, but nevertheless recommended) as a touching conversation between a mother and son. Gloria Vanderbilt is approaching her 90's when she and her son Anderson Cooper commence a series of email conversations touching on the "big" issues of life, love and loss.

For the most part the book focuses on Gloria's life, a lot of it her really early life as "the poor little rich girl," who was the subject of a sensational custody trial in the 1930's. Her teen years and her early 20's as the lover of Howard Hughes and various Hollywood stars is also covered in detail. There is very little about Anderson's life, and some of the material his mother reveals is new to him. For the most part I found the book superficial and artificial.

I was a little creeped out by a mom discussing her sex life with her son (prude--I know). While I think Gloria means to convey that she was insecure, and is just a "regular" person, but with a very sunny outlook on life, somehow, for me, she never overcame the persona of a spoiled, entitled rich person.

I just don't need to read any more of these celebrity tell-alls in the time I have left of my reading life.

2 stars

Edited: May 24, 2017, 5:20pm Top

23. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (1940) 288 pp PB

Former high party official Nicholas Rubashov (a fictional character) is arrested during Stalin's great purges. Once praised and esteemed, he is now treated as a counter-revolutionary and traitor. We follow his life in prison, as he is pressured toward confession during long sessions with his former friend and colleague Ivanov. As he reflects back on his life as one of the leaders of the Russian revolution, he contemplates where it, and he, have gone wrong, as the regime has become one willing to enforce its belief by any means available, and where the end justifies the means. We know from the beginning that this time Rubashov won't get out alive.

I thought I had read this book as a teenager, but as I read it this time, I had absolutely no recollection of it, so maybe I didn't. It is a book of ideas, and frequently moves rather slowly. Perhaps I've read this after reading too many other excellent books on the Stalin years, including Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov, various works by Solzhenitsen, The Whisperers by Orlando Figes, and Simon Montefiore's biographies of Stalin. In particular, I found The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge, a novel involving a party official arrested on false premises and forced to confess a much more compelling novel. I can see what an excellent book Darkness at Noon is, but it didn't touch or startle me as much as some of these other books, or as much as I expected.

3 stars

May 24, 2017, 5:19pm Top

Everybody's reading this 12 volume historical saga, so I thought I would join in:

24. Ross Poldark by Winston Graham (1945) 356 pp Kindle

This is the first volume of a series exploring life in 18th-19th century Cornwall. We are introduced to Ross Poldark as he returns to Cornwall having fought and been wounded in the American Revolutionary war. He finds that the woman he loves, and had hoped to marry, is engaged to another man, his cousin. His father has died and his family home and estate is in a shambles. I was immediately drawn in, as we are introduced to such real and varied characters as Jud and Prudie, Demelza and cousin Verity, and the various miners and their families living on Ross's estate and eking out an existence.

We can tell right away that Ross, although of a rebellious character, will be a leader and will shape his destiny. Along the way we will learn of farming methods, tin and copper mining, poaching, 18th/19th century medicine, and much, much more. The writing style is straight-forward, but lyrical (I loved this description of the sea: "The waves were shadows, snakes under a quilt..."). I'm looking forward to accompanying the various characters on their life paths.

4 stars

May 24, 2017, 5:39pm Top

25. The Vanishing Velazquez: A 19th Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece by Laura Cumming (2016) 304 pp Library book

In 1845, John Snare, owner of a bookshop in Reading, England, came across a painting offered at an estate sale auction that he believed to be a portrait of Charles I painted by Velazquez in 1623 when Charles I had traveled to Spain as a young man. Velazquez had been the official court painter for the Spanish royal family in the 17th century, and was, at the time Snare came across the painting, just becoming well-known in the rest of Europe. Snare ended up sacrificing everything--his family and livelihood included--for the sake of "his Velazquez."

This was a fascinating combination of art history and criticism with the solving of a mystery, both by Snare, and in the present day. I learned a lot about Velazquez and his world, and also a lot about the world of Victorian England--a time when art was normally only for the very wealthy and many of the great museums we can visit today to see great art were nonexistent.

There was an interesting story about how van Eyck's Marriage of Arnolfini came to reside in the National Gallery in London. It is one of my favorite paintings, and the first to introduce me to art. I first saw it in London when I was 17, and was mesmerized. I was lucky enough to visit it again on my trip in April). It had been residing in Spain, and was looted by Napoleon's armies. As they were fleeing Spain, the French army ran into Wellington, and abandoned some of what was considered "lesser" art on the battlefield. Wellington rescued The Marriage of Arnolfini and took it back to England. Later, the British offered to return the painting to Spain, but Spain declined.

I enjoyed this book.

3 stars

May 24, 2017, 5:59pm Top

26. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (2016) 400 pp Library book

I loved this winner of the 2016 Bailey's Prize. Its complex and exquisite characters are all connected in one way or another with the murder which opens the book. Grandmother Maureen Phelan has just (accidently?) bashed in the head of an unidentified intruder. She calls her son, Jimmy Phelan, Cork crime gang boss, to clean up the mess. He enlists the help of Tony Cusack, a small-time criminal existing on the fringe of Cork's criminal underground trying to raise his children after the death of his wife and while battling an alcohol problem. Tony's oldest son, teenager Ryan, is also a major character as he edges toward a life of crime moving into adulthood. Much of the book deals with his loving relationship with Karine, his girlfriend. Other major characters are Georgie, a former prostitute and drug addict who joins a religious cult after her boyfriend mysteriously disappears, and Tara Duane, Tony Cusack's next door neighbor and nemesis, who is also involved in criminal activities of her own.

The book is dark, for sure, but it is also humorous and touching. It's morally complex, and despite their foibles I was rooting for these people, especially Ryan. McInerney wonderfully depicts her cast of characters--from 70ish Maureen to teenagers Ryan and Karine--and pulls together the dark issues of alcohol and drugs, child abuse and prostitution, poverty and crime. Just don't expect a happy ending.

4 stars

Edited: May 25, 2017, 4:47pm Top

>135 SuziQoregon: It was a surprise to us too when we came across it. We hadn't realized it was there. (H is an architect).

May 25, 2017, 9:25am Top

Hi Deborah - Great comments. The Glorious Heresies is one that is calling my name.

I need to get to the books I bought at Powell's.

May 25, 2017, 4:48pm Top

>145 BLBera: Hi Beth--I highly recommend The Glorious Heresies. I understand that there is now a sequel out in England, which I hope to get to when it makes its way over here.

Edited: May 25, 2017, 5:23pm Top

I read this next one as one of the books for Obama Reads for April. I was quite surprised that he read science fiction.

27. The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (orig. pub. 2007) 400 pp PB--Bought at Powells

This science fiction novel from China treats the theme of first contact with an alien species through the lens of the Cultural Revolution and subsequent Chinese history. The science fiction I read is usually a little lighter on the heavy science than The Three Body Problem, but I still really enjoyed this novel. I wouldn't recommend it to someone who is not already a science fiction fan though.

The aliens in question (who have the "three body problem") are the Trisolarians who reside on a planet light years away from Earth. Their planet orbits three suns, and the resultant unpredictable gravitational pull and climate changes wreak havoc on their civilization. At times they experience stable periods during which their civilization flourishes; at unpredictable times there is chaos with weather patterns, they may broil or freeze, there are violent storms and earthquakes etc., and their civilization is destroyed.

During the Cultural Revolution a dissident scientist sends an unauthorized message to the universe describing earth and its location. Years later, the message having reached Trisolaris, a dissident there sends back a message warning Earth to beware of the Trisolarians. It turns out that the Trisolarians are seeking a stable planet, and are launching an expedition to Earth to conquer and destroy human civilization. The expedition will arrive in 400 years. In the meantime, the Trisolarians have sent special bodies called "sophons" which will ensure that Earth science will progress no further during the ensuing 400 years until the arrival of the Trisolarian fleet.

The Three Body Problem is the first of a trilogy relating to Earth's preparation for an alien invasion. This particular book concerns the initial reactions on Earth, the discovery that science can progress no further, issues about how a life will be lived under a death sentence, albeit one not to be executed until 400 years in the future. I found it impossible to read this book and not continue on with the second volume of the trilogy, The Dark Forest, to see what happens. If you are a science fiction fan, this is a great addition to the genre. (I think it won the Hugo--I will check),

3 1/2 stars

ETA--It did win the 2015 Hugo.

May 25, 2017, 5:55pm Top

28. Evicted by Matthew Desmond (2016) 432 pp Library book

With the "vividness of a novel," this nonfiction book explores the interconnectedness of the rental market and poverty. Desmond, currently a Harvard sociologist but at the time covered by this book a graduate student, lived among the poor in Milwaukee and came to know tenants and landlords alike. The book focuses on both the northern part of Milwaukee, the black ghetto and on the tenants, owner and manager of a deteriorating trailer park primarily occupied by poor white people.

The book opens with Arleen's 13 year old son Jori throwing a snowball at a passing car. The enraged driver chases Jori to his house and breaks down the door. This leads to an eviction for Arleen, Jori, and 5 year old Jafaris, who has asthma. The sheriff shows up, and Arleen has a choice: have her things placed at the curb, or pay $350 plus a monthly fee to redeem her stored goods. Her things are put on the curb.

We follow Arleen's months-long struggles to find a place to live. In Milwaukee the median rent for a 2 bedroom apartment was $600--the cheapest 10% rent for less than $480, and the most expensive 10% rent for above $750. Arleen ultimately has to pay $550 per month--88% of her monthly income. Along the way, we learn about the travails of other poor people in north Milwaukee, including Lamar, whose legs were amputated, and his two sons, Trisha who is mentally ill and illiterate, Kamala who loses her infant in an apartment fire, and Doreen and her children and grandchildren squeezed into a tiny apartment and constantly behind on the rent. We also get to know Sherrena, the landlord for all these people and more.

The trailer park is one which leases the land, not the trailers. What usually happened was that there would be a filthy ramshackle trailer on the premises (left by a former tenant) which the landlord would offer "free" to a potential tenant who would only have to pay rent for the land. This meant that the landlord would have no maintenance expenses for the premises. Among the tenants we meet here are Heroin Susie, Pam, a crackhead with 4 children and one on the way, Scott, a former nurse who is now a heroin addict, and Larraine, a disabled woman whose family refuses or is unable to help her and who when evicted just moves in with another tenant in the trailer park.

Failure to pay the rent is not the only reason for eviction. Arleen lost an apartment when a housing inspector showed up and declared it unfit for human habitation (no water). Another time she was threatened with eviction because an ambulance was called when her son had a major asthma attack. Apparently in Milwaukee there is something called a "nuisance activity report" which the police give landlords if police or ambulances are called too often to a rental unit. The landlord is required to remedy "the nuisance", and usually the only acceptable remedy is eviction. This leads to some female tenants being reluctant to call the police in cases of domestic abuse.

I could go on and on. This reads like a novel, a very gritty and disturbing novel. It certainly opened my eyes and broke my heart.

Highly recommended.

4 stars

May 25, 2017, 6:06pm Top

That brings me up through the end of April, but I'm going to go ahead and review a few May books:

29. My Struggle Book IV by Karl Ove Knausgaard (2010) 512 pp HB

This book covers Karl Ove's life as a 16, 17, 18 year old. After his last year of "high school," he spends one year in a remote far northern fishing village as a teacher, some of his students being only a few years younger than him. We learn a bit more about his difficult relationship with his father, who is now beginning to exhibit alcoholic tendencies. Karl Ove also begins to focus on his writing career, intending to use his time in "isolation" in the far north to produce a body of work for publication.

But for the most part this book focuses on what I gather are the prime concerns of many late teen boys: getting drunk and getting laid, with some drugs and rock music thrown in. This is not a subject that particularly interests me, so I was less enthralled with this installment than I have been with previous ones. However, the writing remains compelling, drawing one to keep reading no matter how trivial the subject. And I really enjoyed the far north ambience, the cold, the darkness, the snow, the ice, and the people whose options often include only the life of a fisherman.

On the whole, recommended.

3 1/2 stars

May 25, 2017, 6:35pm Top

My first exposure to the Mitfords, probably my last:

30. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford orig. pub. 1945 192 pp

This lightly autobiographical comic novel focuses on the life of Linda Radlett and her family, as narrated by her cousin Fanny. Raised in a life of comfort in a large country aristocratic family, Linda marries young (her choice) to a stuffy banker with Nazi sympathies. After a few years, including the birth of a daughter she abhors and utterly rejects, Linda leaves the banker for a scruffy, starving Communist involved in the Spanish Civil War. After a bit Linda tires of him, and leaves Spain for home. When she arrives in Paris, she discovers her train ticket has expired, and she has no funds to buy a replacement. Uncertain as to what to do she sits on her suitcase, fur coat trailing the ground and begins to cry. Of course she is immediately rescued by a French aristocrat who first puts her up in a luxury hotel, then in a sunny apartment with a prestigious address, who buys her jewels, furs and a couture wardrobe, and professes to be madly in love with her.

I found--at least the French aristocrat rescue--to be highly unrealistic. This book seems to me to be very much of its time--like the 1930's black and white movies with madcap heiresses. We only see Linda through the lens of Fanny, the more staid cousin, so in general we're not privy to her inner thoughts. Linda comes across as shallow, vapid, and amoral. Are we supposed to admire her? Or is she a stand-in for the decline of the British upper class?

The introduction to the volume I read said, "For some, Mitford's brazen indifference to big ideas, coupled with her minute attention to the sex and love lives of the privileged upper class, condemns this, and all her other novels, to inconsequentiality."

The writing wasn't bad, but the themes and the characters just didn't interest me. In my mind, I kept comparing Linda to Ursula, the heroine of Life After Life, who is a contemporary of Linda's. Linda is so much less interesting.

2 1/2 stars

May 25, 2017, 6:59pm Top

I am leaving tomorrow for NYC, so probably will be off LT for a while. It is an exciting trip because for the first time in ages all five of our kids will be there (and spouses/partners and 4 grandkids). Daughter and son-in-law and Boden and Madeleine are coming from Houston. Daughter Mia is coming from Palo Alto (where we have just learned she is on track to receive her Ph.D in genetics this fall). Oldest son and his wife and Teddy and Gil, middle son and his wife, and youngest son, all live in NYC, so it will be a grand get-together. We will also meet for the first time Mia's long-term boyfriend. He lives in NYC, and is from India. To top it all off, we will be celebrating our 46th anniversary, so we have planned a nice dinner-party at a restaurant (grandkids will stay home.).

During the weekdays after Memorial Day we are driving down to the Delaware shore. We are currently investigating various east coast venues for retirement in a few years, since that seems to be where most of our kids are. We will return to NYC Friday for another weekend there before we return home to Seattle.

I owe reviews for the following:

Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates
Demelza by Winston Graham
The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
Coffin Road by Peter May
The Return: Fathers Sons and the Land Between by Hisham Matar
The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

I am currently reading:

The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle
Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino

I should finish all these by the end of the month (except for possibly The Gene, which is a massive hardback I'm not sure I want to travel with).

Have a great weekend everyone~

May 26, 2017, 6:40pm Top

>149 arubabookwoman: I am reading that one now, Deborah, I am half way in. Indeed it is a very male book.

Jun 2, 2017, 12:57am Top

Wow! What great reviews! I have several of those in my pile including Evicted and the Three Body Problem and I also have The Gene. I knew I liked you. ; )

Have a GREAT time on your trip. And congrats on your 46th anniversary.

Jun 3, 2017, 11:09am Top

Great reviews, Deborah. I also loved Evicted and had a similar reactions. It certainly convinced me that housing is a human right.

Have fun in NYC and congratulations on your anniversary.

I loved The Dark Flood Rises and will watch for your comments. I want to try The Three-Body Problem even though I'm not much of a SF reader.

I picked up the first May in Powell's and want to read it soon.

Jun 4, 2017, 10:13am Top

Happy Sunday, Deborah. I'm just passing through and waving. RL was/is busy.

Jun 5, 2017, 12:10pm Top

Hope you're having a fabulous trip!

Edited: Jun 8, 2017, 9:58am Top

Trying to catch up! Love the story about the provenance of the Van Eyck! It is indeed a great painting. Good call by Wellington.

I was not so taken with Three-Body as I thought the characters so weak, but I do read for character maybe over everything else.

There is a show-off aspect to Mitford, for sure, but I guiltily admit that I've always enjoyed them. (As in I'm an Hon. and you are not and we have more than you.) My mother had them all and I read them in my teens, which might have something to do with it as they are all rather romantic. Smart entertainment, really. My favourite has always been Don't Tell Alfred.

Her biographies are very good.

Jun 11, 2017, 1:01am Top

If my calculations are right you are still in NYC, Deborah and having a splendid time, I hope.

Edited: Jun 18, 2017, 5:17pm Top

Well, it has been a while since you posted it but I'm way behind and I'm absolutely adding Ill Will by Dan Chaon to the wish list. I haven't read anything by him....

I hope the NYC and Delaware trip was excellent!

ETA: Oops. I was wrong. I read Stay Awake: Stories in 2013 and gave the collection 3.5 stars.

Jul 12, 2017, 2:59pm Top

Back to respond to my visitors in a bit--I'm in a review mood right now, and way behind because I read up a storm in June.

31. Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates (2012) 731 pp

This psychological thriller is written in typical Oates style--a bit overwrought, but you get used to it and it works. Mudwoman is MR (Meredith), who has recently taken up position as the president of a prestigious Ivy League university. She is called "Mudwoman" because when she was a toddler, her mother abandoned her in the middle of mud flats to die. Covered in mud, she was rescued in time, and was lovingly raised by adoptive parents. However, she has always had a fragile sense of self, and constantly strives to be "the best" at whatever she does.

The book alternates the story of her childhood and youth with her year as president of the university, as it gradually becomes apparent that her health is deteriorating. Strange things happen, and the reader is never sure what is real and what is not--whether MR is hallucinating or the events are really happening. Although long, this is a page-turner, and Oates paints an incisive psychological portrait of a troubled, but high-achieving woman. I am a fan of Joyce Carol Oates, and I recommend this to other fans.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 3:29pm Top

32. Demelza by Winston Graham (1946) 432 pp

I continue to enjoy the saga of the Poldarks of Cornwall. Demelza and Ross now have a daughter, Julia. Ross's rebellious nature continues to express itself, and when there is a shipwreck, he helps the starving miners salvage the cargo, which will help feed them through the winter. Enmity continues to grow between Ross and the Warleggans. The antics of Prudie and Jud continue to provide comic relief, and the story of Verity and Blamey continues. A new character and storyline is introduced with Dwight Enys, a young doctor schooled in the most modern medical science, who seeks to study and treat the ills of the miners.

The series only gets better. Highly recommended.

4 stars

Edited: Jul 12, 2017, 11:17pm Top

33. The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu ( ) 513 pp

This is the second volume of The Three Body Problem trilogy. At the end of the first volume, the Trisolarians have left on their 400 year journey across space to conquer Earth. They have stopped technological advances on Earth, and are able to spy on every action taken on Earth to prepare its defenses. This second volume relates the events of Earth's attempts to prepare its defense against the Trisolarians, as well as the initial forays of Trisolarian probes into our solar system.

Since the only advantage humans have over Trisolarians is that they cannot read our minds, the primary defensive tactic taken on Earth is to select 4 brilliant people as "Wallfacers." The 4 Wallfacers are each charged with devising and preparing a strategy for the defeat of the Trisolarians, all the while concealing the plan from everyone else and the Trisolarians, using deceit and evasive tactics as necessary. Three of the chosen Wallfacers are well-known scientists/intellectuals. The fourth, however, is Luo Ji, an unknown Chinese astronomer. The only thing that is known about him is that he is the one person on Earth the Trisolarians want dead above all others. Over the next couple of hundred years, the plans of the three other Wallfacers are exposed (by individuals working for the Trisolarians known as "Wallbreakers") and fail. An advance probe by the Trisolarians destroys most of the Earth's fleet. It is then left to Luo Ji--will he be able to come up with a plan to save the Earth?

When I first finished this volume, I had decided I wasn't going to read the final volume of the trilogy. The story seemed to be becoming focused on space battles and military techniques, which I don't usually care for. However, I have since read several reviews highly laudatory of the final volume, and how it ties everything together, so I will probably finish the series. Recommended for space science fiction fans only.

3 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 4:12pm Top

34. Coffin Road by Peter May (2016) 400 pp

I loved Peter May's Lewis Trilogy, especially the first volume The Blackhouse, so I snapped this one up when I saw it at the library. This is a stand-alone crime novel, also set in the Outer Hebrides, this time the Isle of Harris. As it opens a man has just washed up on shore, unable to remember who he is, where he is, or how he got there. He is greeted by a woman who addresses him as "Mr. Maclean," and from their conversation he infers that he lives in the nearby cottage on the shore. He goes to the cottage, and is greeted enthusiastically by a dog, obviously his. As he recovers from his ordeal in the sea, he must puzzle out his identity and what he is doing on the remote island. The mystery involves science, neonicotinoids, and the death of bees, as well as an isolated lighthouse island from which three lighthouse keepers disappeared without a trace in the early 20th century. There is also a troubled teenage girl who is having trouble accepting the suicide of her father. May ties all the elements up neatly in this well-written mystery.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 4:26pm Top

>161 arubabookwoman: Poldark has been on my wishlist for a while. I love the series on Masterpiece. You've pushed me to look for it soon.

Jul 12, 2017, 4:28pm Top

Hi Deborah - I still have to read The Blackhouse, which I purchased at Powell's. I'm looking forward to this series.

You did read a storm in June.

Jul 12, 2017, 4:39pm Top

35. The Return: Fathers Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar (2016) 257 pp

This Pulitzer Prize winner is a memoir about Matar's return to Libya in search of answers about the fate of his father after the fall of Qaddafi. In 1990, Matar was a 19 year old college student in London when his father, living in exile with his family in Cairo, was seized by the Egyptian secret police and turned over to Libya. The family heard from him, or from others who had contact with him, on a handful of occasions. However, he was last heard from in 1996.

22 years after his father's disappearance, during a brief window between the fall of Qaddafi and the disintegration of Libya into new violence and repression, Matar returned to Libya seeking answers about his father. The conclusion that his father was among the 1250 prisoners brutally slaughtered at Abu Salim prison on June 28, 1996 seemed inevitable, and yet, and yet...

I found this an interesting read, but oddly distant. I never felt fully engaged. Yet it is an informative book about a specific time and place. I found Matar's contacts with Qaddafi's son, who promised information, but never delivered, particularly appalling.

My parents and younger siblings lived in Libya for about 5 years in the late 1970's/early 1980's, and I heard many tales about the horrors of life under Qaddafi.

2 1/2 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 4:45pm Top

>164 NanaCC: Hi Colleen--I have now finished the 4th volume, and am anxiously awaiting my turn from the library for the 5th volume. I have started watching the Masterpiece Theater series, and have rushed through the first season which covers the first three books. It follows the novels pretty closely, but it is wonderful to see the Cornish landscape visualized, and I think the characters are very well-portrayed (except maybe Elizabeth).

>165 BLBera:--Hi Beth--I think you will like The Blackhouse. I did read a storm in June--but I'm still reviewing books I read in May and haven't gotten to June yet. LOL.

Jul 12, 2017, 5:02pm Top

36. The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble (2017) 337 pp

I used to read a lot of Margaret Drabble when I was in my 20's and 30's, when she wrote about women in their 20's and 30's, and I enjoyed her very much. Then, for some reason, I put her aside for many, many years. And now she is writing about women in their 60's and 70's (my age), and I have rediscovered her. Last year I read and enjoyed The Witch of Exmoor, and now I have read and enjoyed The Dark Flood Rises. Perhaps I need to track down her middle-age novels.

Both The Witch of Exmoor and The Dark Flood Rises involve the theme of how we confront aging, with strong female protagonists. Here, Francesca Stubbs is in her 70's, divorced with 2 adult children. She is an expert in housing for the elderly, which primarily involves driving around England to conferences and to visit housing facilities. The story, without too much of a plot, moves among Francesca's interconnected family and friends. Her son is recovering from the death of his fiancée, a documentary film maker, and is spending time in the Canary Islands with a group of British expats including a May/December gay couple facing the decline of the elderly partner. Francesca's daughter is a sort of hippy, Earth-Mother type living in the countryside on a flood plain, concerned with global warming. One of Francesca's friends, Josephine, lives a contented life in Cambridge teaching literature to adults. Francesca has also just reconnected with a childhood friend who is in the final stages of a terminal cancer. Francesca's ex-husband, with whom she maintains a friendly relationship, is also in ill health, and is housebound.

Nothing much happens--it's just life day-by-day--but Drabble paints a compelling portrait of what it means to grow old.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 5:24pm Top

Final book in May:

37. Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino (1989) 560 pp

This is an excellent Japanese crime novel. I have previously read and enjoyed his most well-known crime novel, The Devotion of Suspect X, as well as Naoko, a unique (fictional) psychological study of gender roles.

This novel takes place over many years. It begins in 1973 when some children playing in an abandoned building discover the body of a pawnbroker who has been murdered. Suspicion initially falls upon a woman who had been one of the pawnbroker's clients and her boyfriend. However, after they die in separate incidents, the case becomes a cold case.

Over the course of the novel, we follow the lives of Ryo, the pawnbroker's son, and Yukiho, the daughter of the woman initially suspected of the murder, over the next 20 years as they grow up and approach middle-age. Yukiho, a beautiful and intelligent woman, becomes a wealthy and successful entrepreneur. Ryo, in his own mysterious way, is also successful. The two never seem to meet, but there are connections and coincidences involving them that seem to hint at something more under the surface.

This novel confirms my admiration for Higashino's skill as a writer of intricate and nuanced psychological crime novels. I will continue to seek out his books.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 5:40pm Top

Now to books read in June:

38. Mozart's Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (2017) 288 pp

Legend has it that wandering through the markets of Vienna, Mozart came across a caged starling singing the theme from one of his piano concertos. Mozart purchased the bird, and it became the family pet for the next several years. It is even believed that Mozart held a funeral for the bird when it died, although he did not even attend his own father's funeral. It is also said that the starling's songs inspired some of Mozart's themes.

Nature writer and avid birdwatcher Lyanda Lynn Haupt investigates the truth of this story (for the most part true), and along the way examines the nature and history of the starling, an invasive species (to the U.S.), and almost universally reviled bird. To enhance her study, Haupt rescued (kidnapped?) a baby starling and raised it to adulthood. The bird, named Carmen, became a beloved family pet, and an integral part of her family.

Using the juxtaposition of the story of Mozart's starling and her relationship with Carmen Haupt examines both music and nature. Apparently, starlings have been described as "rats with wings," but Carmen is charming and delightful, and the backstory of Mozart's music and life also makes for good reading. I liked this book very much.

3 1/2 stars

Edited: Jul 12, 2017, 5:56pm Top

39. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016) 480 pp

This book is much beloved on LT, and I don't think I've read a negative review of it. It is the story of Count Alexander Rostov, who in 1917 was sentenced to a life of house arrest at the Hotel Metropol by a Bolshevik council. We follow his life in this luxury hotel over the course of the 20th century until the 1950's, as he encounters and forms relationships with precocious little girls, elegant actresses, party leaders, workers and many others. The story of his life with his adopted daughter is especially poignant. Overall, it is a charming and highly readable book. But...

I could not forget the realities of Stalinist Russia, the purges and genocides, the suspicions, the starvation. And World War II passes with barely a "poof." These horrors were always in the back of my mind as I read this book, and I found the novel to be a bit of a fairy tale. I guess I'm just a curmudgeon who doesn't do well with fairy tales--especially shortly after reading Darkness at Noon. See >140 arubabookwoman:.

Apparently there is a more realistic book, a memoir, called The Girl from the Metropol Hotel, which is more realistic, and which I will seek out.

2 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 6:19pm Top

40. The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle (2016) 528 pp

I like T.C. Boyle. He writes highly readable novels with themes drawn from popular culture, current events, or topical historical figures. In this case, he goes back to 1994 and writes a fictionalized account of life in a biosphere built in the Arizona desert. The three acre biosphere consists of five biomes, an ocean, a rainforest, a savannah, a desert and a marsh. The eight terranauts--four women and four men--are sealed into the dome to live two years in this environment with no outside resources--all food, water, air, and other necessities to be created from within, "Nothing in; nothing out," the group's mantra.

Each of the terranauts has a specialized duty. There is a medical doctor and a marine biologist for the ocean. One tends to the domesticated animals (pigs, chickens and goats), and one is a wildlife specialist. Others have various duties, and all must participate in subsistence agricultural duties. The biosphere is named "New Eden," and is to be the prototype for an eventual off-Earth colony. The terranauts are monitored by outside staff, and observed by tourists visiting the site.

The novel is narrated in alternating sections by three characters: Dawn, the domesticated animal tender; Linda, who trained with the eight terranauts but was not chosen for the mission and who is therefore highly resentful of those inside; and Ramsay, whose primary duties are PR related, and who is primarily a womanizing, party-man.

As in his other novels. Boyle has done his research, and there is a good deal of science relating to the planning and implementing the biosphere, as well the intricacies and hardships of actually living for an extended period in such a closed environment. However, I found much of the novel to be a soap opera, albeit one in an exotic setting. In particular, the female characters came across as bitchy and back-stabbing and the men as sex-starved frat boys. The novel feels like it is more about their messy relationships and jealousies than their scientific endeavors. One Amazon reviewer said this was a novel of "middle-schoolers under glass." I agree.

2 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 6:48pm Top

41. The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (2016) 608 pp

I loved Emperor of All Maladies, and Mukherjee's new book is as well-written and fascinating. He makes the science understandable to this non-scientist, although I did find The Gene to be denser and more requiring of close reading and concentration than The Emperor of All Maladies. I sometimes found I had to reread certain passages to clarify questions in my mind, and also found that I could not read more than a chapter or so a day (my brain got too full), so it took me almost a month to read this book.

Mukherjee organizes the book primarily chronologically, and describes centuries of history and research to identify and analyze the basic building blocks of life, from the ancient Greeks, through Mendel's pea experiments, to the mapping of the human genome and beyond. As our knowledge of the role of genes, and the possibilities of genetic modification grow, the science, and the ethical and philosophical issues raised become more complicated and difficult.

I have to say that before reading this book I was completely illiterate about microbiology, biochemistry and genetics. I didn't know the difference between DNA and RNA, between a gene and a chromosome. Now I can hold a basic conversation on some of these scientific issues with my daughter who will be receiving her Ph.D. in genetics this fall. She was very impressed that I knew what "epigenetics" was, and that I had heard of CRISPR, a technology she uses in her research.

Highly Recommended.

4 1/2 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 6:56pm Top

42. Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham (1950) 304 pp

The compelling saga of the Poldarks continues. The novel opens with Ross on trial for allegedly helping in the "riot" related to looting of a vessel shipwrecked on the shores of his beach. Ross and George Warleggan continue as bitter enemies, with George seeking to ruin Ross in any way he can, as Ross plans to open a new copper mine. Dwight Enys, the doctor, remains an important character, and Caroline Penvennen, a seemingly spoiled heiress is introduced. At the heart of the novel, the relationship between Demelza and Ross continues to be the "star" of this series.

4 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 8:32pm Top

43. The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston

Yes, he's even worse than you think. There's a lot of information in this review because I want to have it handy and this was a library book. You can skip it if you want--it's pretty disgusting.

David Cay Johnston met Trump in 1988 when he was a reporter doing a story on casinos in Atlantic City. He immediately sized Trump up as a "modern-day P.T. Barnum," full of himself, and scamming people. He has followed Trump intensively since then, and wrote this book last year before the election, in the hopes that it would serve as a warning against what has ultimately ensued. He has interviewed Trump multiple times, and his bottom-line assessment of Trump is that he is a man "seeing profit in everything, even politics...."

Trump's family background is shady, and his father was involved with the KKK. When he first started in the real estate business, Trump and his father consistently discriminated in real estate leasing, despite being sued and penalized by the federal government. His father utilized his connections with the NY Mafia crime families, a practice continued by Trump.

Trump was maladjusted as a child. He did not attend the Wharton School as he has often asserted or implied, but had two years as an undergrad at Penn. Nevertheless he has demonstrated that he does not understand basic accounting principles, such as GAAP. His business rules are: Trust No One; Be Paranoid; Get Even. His rule of thumb is "If somebody screws you, you screw 'em back 10 times over. At least you can feel good about it. Boy, do I feel good." Examples of Trump putting this motto to use abound--one time he wanted a favor from a bank executive about a loan which the executive did not feel comfortable about doing and refused. Trump says (and gives examples of), "...now I go out of my way to make her life miserable." When his father died, Trump's brother's children (his nephews) were omitted from the will, and contested it. He took this as a personal insult, and instructed his companies to cut off the medical insurance provided to the nephew as a family member. This was at a time when the nephew had a new born baby with a serious (and expensive) congenital medical condition.

The book also abounds with examples of suits by and against Trump. He is usually unsuccessful, but continues to be litigious anyway. When the Department of Justice sued the Trumps regarding housing discrimination, Trump countersued for $100 million. The countersuit was dismissed and the discrimination suit was one of many settled by Trump--the outcome sealed, so the public is unable to learn the amounts.

When Trump wanted to open his Atlantic City casino, he forced New Jersey to expedite his license approval by threatening to open the casino in NY instead of New Jersey. Theoretically New Jersey casino owners must be clean as a whistle, which Trump is not. At the time he was seeking the casino license, he had been the subject of numerous grand jury investigations. The first in 1979, involving how he obtained the option to buy the Penn Central RR yards, ended because the statute of limitations had expired. On his casino license application, he failed to reveal the Department of Justice real estate discrimination suits, and checked the box asking about any "civil misconduct" as "no." He used mob connections to construct Trump Tower, and as the owner of a team in the US Football League, he advocated behavior and actions that resulted in an anti-trust suit.

Trump sought leniency for a major cocaine and marijuana trafficker with whom he had multiple connections. The case had initially come before Trump's sister, a judge in New Jersey, but she had to recuse herself (3 weeks later). The trafficker provided helicopters to Atlantic City for high rollers (as well as drugs), and Trump could have lost his casino license for even being associated with this individual. When asked about the letter he wrote seeking leniency, Trump said he "hardly knew the man."

When Trump was demolishing the old Bonwit Teller building for a new construction project, he used undocumented Polish workers. They lived and slept in the building while they worked on the project without hardhats and in the presence of asbestos. When Trump refused to pay them, the workers sued. The settlement is sealed. Trump also failed to keep his promises to donate Art Deco elements of the Bonwit Teller building to the Metropolitan Museum.

Trump constantly varies what he says his net worth is--he says it is based on what he feels at the time. Yet he sued his biographer for wrongly reporting his net worth--the suit was dismissed. He also hides his debts. He bought Mar a Lago with a $10 million mortgage that he persuaded the lender not to record. He put up $2800 on the deal. He constantly overvalues his properties for net worth purposes, and undervalues his properties for property tax purposes. For example, he valued one property for net worth purposes at $50 million, but reported to tax authorities that its value was $1 million. He has been and continues to be involved in many local property tax valuation disputes.

It is known that the Trump entities had a debt of $3 billion in 1990, and that more than one quarter of this was personally guaranteed by Trump. As Trump teetered on the verge of personal bankruptcy, many banks complained that they had been unaware that other banks were lending money to Trump on his personal guarantee with no public record of the debt.
In February 1990, Trump began failing to pay many of his personal bills. Liens were filed against the Taj Mahal casino. His airline was bleeding money, and there was not enough cash flow to pay employees and buy fuel. His unpaid bills should have caused Trump to lose his casino license, but didn't. A group of his creditor banks hired an accounting firm to go over his books in an attempt to avoid foreclosure of Trump assets. The accounting firm reported that Trump's net worth was a negative $295 million, and rapidly deteriorating. The banks put Trump on an allowance ($450,000 per month). All of this required approval by the state gambling commission, and Trump was allowed to pay less than he owed on his debts and still keep his casino license which would have been lost had the bank foreclosed. Ultimately, Trump has never filed personal bankruptcy. However he has had six business bankruptcies, in which investors have lost more than $1.5 billion. All this is why Trump now says, "I've borrowed knowing that you can pay back with discounts. And I've done very well with debt."

Beyond property taxes, we know that there are years in which Trump did not pay income taxes. In addition, in the 1980's he was involved in a scheme to avoid sales taxes due on the purchase of luxury jewelry from Bulgari--Empty boxes would be mailed to out-of-state addresses indicating no sales tax due, while Bulgari's customers (including Trump) took the jewelry, and lived in NY and were subject to NY sales taxes. Trump also concocted a scheme to avoid sales taxes on his luxury yacht when he purchased it.

His charities--examples abound of his promises to make charitable contributions and failure to follow through. In the 7 years before 2016, Trump made only 1 gift, and it was of less than $10,000. He is not even the largest donor to his own foundation. During the election, several examples of Trump's self-dealings (illegal) with his foundation were uncovered.

Some minor chicanery--some of his establishments sport awards from the American Academy of Hospitality Services. This organization is owned by Joseph Cinque, a convicted felon otherwise known as "Joey No Socks" or "the Preppy Don." Trump and family members (and Trump's butler) serve on the board. Entities, other than Trump organizations, have been requested to make substantial payments to receive this award. (Sounds kind of like the recently discovered fake Time magazine cover).

Business-related scams and failures also abound. To sell Trump condos in Mexico Ivanka and Don Jr. implied to potential buyers that they would be neighbors. For a Waikiki Beach development Trump was identified as a co-developer. When these, and other developments failed Trump claimed no responsibility, claiming to have merely licensed the use of his name. His explanation, "The word developing doesn't mean we're the developer." Lawsuits on these matters are pending or have been settled under seal.

There's more, but I'll stop here, and note that the book doesn't even begin to get into Trump's "romantic" shenanigans or personal relationships and merely focuses on his business dealings. It was also published before the Russian connections became an issue, and before the "grabbing pussy" tape became public.

Recommended, if you can stand reading about these horrors.

3 stars

Jul 12, 2017, 8:56pm Top

>175 arubabookwoman: I think I've read enough Deborah. How could you stand reading the whole thing? It makes me sick. But I'm not surprised.

Jul 12, 2017, 9:18pm Top

>175 arubabookwoman:

Why wasn't he completely bankrupt with all these business failings?

and why-o-why, didn't the Democrats clearly and skillfully make this all public?

Jul 13, 2017, 1:47am Top

>166 arubabookwoman: I enjoyed this one but I know what you mean about the distance - I appreciated his fictionalised version of his own experience much more than the memoir. How interesting that your family were in Libya. Have you read the graphic memoir The Arab of the Future? The cartoonist's family also spent time in Libya - some of their experiences seem so unlikely, but yet were what he recalls.

>169 arubabookwoman: Added this to the wishlist - I do enjoy crime set in different places.

>175 arubabookwoman: Ick. I'd read some of this in an article by the guy who ghostwrote 'The Art of the Deal'. Seems incredible all this stuff can be public knowledge and yet he still is where he is...

Jul 13, 2017, 1:49am Top

and forgot to add >173 arubabookwoman: Impressive stuff that you can now converse with your daughter on the subject of her thesis. I think I'd need to read the book again as it's gone in one ear and out the other, for the most part (although I'm still a bit boggled about the guy who ran the full DNA check (I've forgotten the proper term, demonstrating my first point!) on his own child, seemingly just because he could...)

Jul 14, 2017, 2:52pm Top

>176 BLBera: Hi Beth--as I said, he's even worse than you think.

>177 m.belljackson: Hi Marianne (?)--I think he teetered on the brink of bankruptcy more than once, but he was always rescued. It's one reason that he later had difficulty getting loans from major banks, and may have turned to riskier forms of capital.
I think a lot of these was known during the election. However, his base didn't seem to care--as trump said, "I could walk down Fifth Ave. shooting people and they would still love me." I just don't understand.

>178 charl08: Hi Charlotte--I haven't read that graphic memoir. I will look for it. I hope you will enjoy the Higashino novel. It's very leisurely, which seems to annoy some people, especially in crime fiction.
I agree--it is amazing, and to me unbelievable, that so much of this stuff was known and people just didn't care.

>179 charl08: Well Charlotte I didn't say my side of the conversation was intelligent. :)

I am really determined to get caught up on reviews, at least through June.

Jul 14, 2017, 3:05pm Top

44. The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (2017) 288 pp

This novel is set in post-Apartheid Capetown. Hortensia (black) and Marion (white) have lived next door to each other for years in a state of restrained enmity. Marion is a former architect, who in fact designed Hortensia's home and envies that it belongs to Hortensia. She has recently been widowed and has discovered herself to be penniless. Hortensia is a world-famous textile designer whose husband is bedridden and dying. Marion and Hortensia exchange polite hostilities in their day-to-day dealings. Then accidental events force Marion to move in with Hortensia and we watch over time as their bickering gives way to friendship---maybe.

I enjoyed this novel of a war of wits between two elderly women.

3 1/2 stars

Edited: Jul 14, 2017, 3:15pm Top

45. The Fear Index by Robert Harris (2012) 304 pp

This is a thriller about a hedge-fund whose trades are guided by computer algorithms. Ultra-rich Dr. Alex Hoffman has developed computer programs to keep track of all events, learn from them and predict how the market will react. When the novel begins, a mysterious intruder has invaded Hoffman's Lake Geneva mansion. He is attacked and wounded the night before he is to make a presentation to his clients about revolutionary new trading techniques he hopes will induce them to invest more in the fund.

The plot doesn't always make sense, and its conclusion is not logical. But the book is a somewhat fun look at the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and a fantasy of computers run amok--in the worst way since HAL.

2 stars

One interesting thing in the book are the descriptions of the main character's wife's art work. She made portraits consisting of multi-layered MRI scans. The book linked to an actual artist who does this, and her website had examples of her work.

Edited: Jul 14, 2017, 4:06pm Top

46. Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet (2016) 256 pp

Anna has run away from her husband in Alaska with her young daughter Lena, and is hiding out in a spooky motel on the coast of New England. While her husband Ned had been adulterous and had ignored their child, there appears to be no reason that Anna would fear him so and have to be hiding out, instead of just filing for divorce.

When Lena was born, Anna had begun having auditory hallucinations. Most of the voices she heard were speaking in an unintelligible language, although Anna understood a word here and there. Inexplicably, the voices stopped abruptly when Lena began to talk. Now at the motel Anna learns that the other guests at the motel have also heard, or are still hearing, voices. She develops friendships with the other guests, and also enters into a relationship with the town librarian.

Ned in the meantime has decided that he wants to run for political office, and therefore needs a picture-perfect family at his side. His hunt for Anna and Lena gets serious. The character of Ned is not very well developed--he is just a cardboard evil villain. And he seems to have all types of knowledge of events to come in the future, and to have no problem keeping tabs on Anna.

This book has been called a "metaphysical thriller." I just didn't get it. There are so many unexplainable things, including the ending. And I'm not sure what the novel is intended to be. Is it Horror? Is it Scifi? Is it a Crime novel? Is it a spiritual/New Age polemic? Is it a domestic drama?

It's not that I need what I read to be totally reality-based. I read and loved Millett's Oh Pure and Radiant Heart. in which Oppenheim, Fermi et al return to life to be horrified at what has resulted from the development of nuclear technology. And, despite my reaction to Sweet Lamb of Heaven, I will still read Mermaids in Paradise. But I can't recommend this one.

1 1/2 stars

Jul 14, 2017, 4:22pm Top

47. The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial by Maggie Nelson (2007) 224 pp

Maggie Nelson's Aunt Jane was murdered in 1969, 4 years before Nelson was born. She grew up knowing about the murder, and as an adult wrote a book about it, "Jane." Over the years it was presumed that Jane was murdered by a serial killer who was convicted for murdering other women. Then, in 2004 just "Jane" was about to be published, new DNA evidence identified Jane's actual murderer. Over the next months, Nelson attended the trial with her mother.

Despite its subtitle, this is not a true crime book, nor is it really an account of a murder trial, which is what I was expecting. Instead, it was more about Nelson's life, loves, and thoughts, which I really wasn't interested in. The New York Times asked, "{D}oes she want Jane's life to matter...or her own?" Exactly.

2 stars

Edited: Jul 14, 2017, 6:15pm Top

48. Number 11 by Jonathan Coe (2015) 352 pp

Jonathan Coe's What a Carve Up, aka The Winshaw Legacy is a satire about life in Thatcher-era Great Britain. This book is a sequel of sorts in which Coe takes on life in Great Britain in the 2000's. However, I don't think you have to have read What A Carve Up before reading Number 11. I have read both, and I enjoyed both, but have the same complaints about both of them. Like the story in What a Carve Up, the events in Number 11 seem too episodic and unconnected to a whole, although ultimately Coe manages to loosely tie everything together. And as in What a Carve Up, Number 11 ultimately goes way over the top, lapsing into a campy horror story with giant underground spiders devouring the evil.

As noted, the book consists of a series of vignettes, beginning when Alison and Rachel as young girls encounter a "mad birdwoman" and ultimately an illegal immigrant laborer. One of my favorite parts involved Alison's mother Val, a has-been former celebrity who in an attempt to revive her career agrees to appear in a "Survivor"-like reality tv show. The contrast between what actually happened and how the editors of the show made certain events appear to happen, is hilarious. There's also a part about the Winshaw Prize-the "prize of prizes," as it searches for ever more obscure prizes to award its prize to. There's a crime section, involving murders of standup comedians, a bumbling Scotland Yard inspector, and a computer-savvy upstart. And then there is the conservative newspaper columnist (a Winshaw) whose rants against "one-legged, black, lesbian women on benefits" comes true.

The take-downs of the new wealthy are particularly funny. Rachel as a grown-up becomes the nanny/tutor to the children of Sir Gilbert Gunn, one such magnate. She is initially charged with ensuring that his oldest son be made to appear "normal" and less entitled, so that he can get into Oxford. This involves eye-opening visits to food banks and Birmingham. Rachel is given quarters in the Gunn's Chelsea mansion, which is being renovated to excavate an 11 story cellar in which amenities such as an in-home cinema and a swimming pool will be installed.

As I said, Coe sometimes seems to use his characters and the plot as vehicles to support his satire, rather than vice versa. And the book isn't successful as a cohesive novel. But it is enjoyable.

3 stars

Edited: Jul 14, 2017, 6:16pm Top

49. Darktown by Thomas Mullen (2016) 384 pp

This unusual crime novel is set in Atlanta in the late 1940's. The city, in response to pressure from returning black war veterans, has just hired its first black police officers. The eight black officers are not given the usual responsibilities and privileges of police officers. They are given their own headquarters in the basement of the YMCA in "Darktown," the black area of Atlanta. They cannot even enter the official police headquarters without a special invitation and an escort. They patrol only in Darktown, and cannot make arrests without calling in a white officer.

The book follows new officers Lucius Boggs, conservative, college-educated son of a minister-colleague of Martin Luther King Sr., and Thomas Smith, more hot-headed and impatient than Boggs, and a WW II veteran. When a young black woman last seen by Boggs and Smith in the company of a drunken white man turns up dead, they discover that the white police are not treating the case seriously and appear to be uninterested in pursuing the perpetrator. Boggs and Smith begin investigating on their own, and stir up a hornet's nest of police corruption and racial animosity.

This is an excellent and well-plotted police procedural, but it is so much more, as it explores the historical and cultural issues of race relations in the context of the Jim Crow laws of our oh so recent past.

4 stars

Jul 14, 2017, 7:27pm Top

Final book of June:

50. Arcadia by Iain Pears

I started out loving this book. It has an intricate and complex concept, and is set in three worlds, with three storylines, and overlapping characters.

First, there is the world of three hundred years in the dystopian future. Scientist Angela Meerson, working on an isolated Scottish island, has developed a machine that enables time travel. When she learns her machine will be sold to an evil technocratic corporate entity to be used for nefarious purposes, she absconds to the past, taking with her many of the secrets to the workings of her time travel machine. After she disappears, an extensive search is launched to locate Angela by any means.

Second, there is the world of 1960's Oxford. Angela has ultimately made her way here, and she is a friend of Professor Henry Lytten, an Oxford Don. Henry has for years been working on a work creating a fantasy world similar to those of his friends Tolkien and the world of C.S. Lewis's Narnia. He is also (along with Angela) engaged in some Cold War spying. Angela must also cope with strangers from the future pursuing her.

The third world is the fantasyland imagined by Henry which is known as Anterworld. Unbeknownst to Henry, Angela has created a portal into the reality of Anterworld. This portal is located in Henry's basement. One day, 15 year old Rosie, Henry's cat sitter, unwittingly passes through the portal into Anterworld, and her adventures there begin.

When Rosie first goes through the portal, I thought that she was entering another time era, probably the Middle Ages, and I was expecting (hoping for?) stories going on in three chronologically remote times. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it soon became apparent that Anterworld was a mere fantasyland to be revealed to us through the eyes of Rosie, a prototype of the spunky teenage heroine much beloved in certain YA novels. I found the parts set in Anterworld to be tedious. The imagined society was stratified and bound by ingrained customs and protocols, and many of its inhabitants were idiots. Again unfortunately, much of the novel was focused in Anterworld, particularly as the novel progressed.

So after a promising beginning, I was ultimately let down by this book. I do think Pears writes very well, and he is the author of a well-regarded crime series and of historical fiction. I was excited to discover a new-to-me author, and I will be reading more by Pears. It's simply that I am not a fantasy fan, and this book did not work for me.

2 1/2 stars

Edited: Jul 14, 2017, 7:45pm Top

I can't believe I'm so caught up on reviews. So far in July I've read
Minds of Winter by Ed O'Loughlin
How It All Began by Penelope Lively
Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves
Warleggan by Winston Graham

Maybe I'll review these before the end of July. :)

I am currently reading (and stalling on) Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer. After 200 pages I still can't decide if I like it and want to continue.

Here's some stats for the first half of the year:

50 Books

Male Author--34 (including 2 each for Cixin Liu and Winston Graham
Female Author--16


Countries other than US/UK/Canada:

India, France (2), Guyana, Russia (2), China (2), Israel, Norway, Libya, Japan, South Africa.


Rather Anglo-American-centric reading. Didn't read many 1001's; didn't read many classics. Need to do better with this.

Jul 14, 2017, 9:59pm Top

>183 arubabookwoman: I liked Mermaids in Paradise much more than Sweet Lamb of Heaven although I always think I should reread Millet. She is an original thinker, and writer.

Lots of good reading. Did you love How It All Began? It's one of my favorites.

Jul 15, 2017, 4:40am Top

Wow, you did some great reading.
Happy weekend, Deborah.

Jul 17, 2017, 1:49am Top

Wow! What a great job on the reviews. Phew.

Jul 18, 2017, 6:09pm Top

>162 arubabookwoman: I've been vacillating about the Liu. I think I'll just go ahead and get the first one and see if I like it.

>169 arubabookwoman: That sounds interesting. I like foreign crime novels.

>181 arubabookwoman: Is this one comedy? Tragedy?

Jul 28, 2017, 2:17pm Top

>163 arubabookwoman: I also loved Peter May's Lewis Trilogy so I'm adding Coffin Road to the wish list. It sounds like a solid read.

I hope you're enjoying this spectacular weather we are having, Deborah!

Jul 28, 2017, 8:51pm Top

>185 arubabookwoman: I always enjoy your reviews Deborah and completely agree with you on Coe's tendency to "go way over the top" in milking his satire.

Have a lovely weekend.

Jul 31, 2017, 5:10pm Top

Lots of potential book bullets in the last set of posts! I reserved Darktown at the library, and they seem to have a lot of copies, so I should be able to pick it up this week. Thanks!

Aug 6, 2017, 2:31am Top

Wishing you a wonderful weekend, Deborah.

Aug 18, 2017, 2:27pm Top

Deborah, I do hope that you'll drop by and update soon. xx

Have a lovely weekend.

Aug 26, 2017, 5:12pm Top

Just keeping the thread warm here. Hope you're back soon.

Sep 15, 2017, 10:05pm Top

Since you are updating on your reads rather than posting, I will take this opportunity to wish you congratulations on passing 75 already!

Have a splendid weekend and I do hope that you'll update us soon (with a few reviews thrown in).

Sep 16, 2017, 2:12pm Top

Oh, I almost missed that, congratulations on reaching 75, Deborah!

Sep 20, 2017, 4:25pm Top

Sorry to be MIA so long. Will respond to your comments in a bit--first going to try to do some reviews. I am way behind--back to beginning of July--and I read a lot in July, August and so far in September. (Yikes--Already September??)

I'm continuing to do most of my reading from the library, so I am reading mostly fairly new books:

51. Minds of Winter by Ed O'Loughlin (2017) 500 pp

This is a complicated novel focusing on polar exploration, and is a blend of fact and fiction. Its impetus was the discovery in London in 2009 of a chronometer from the Franklin expedition, several years before the remnants of the lost expedition were located. A logical and likely factual explanation for the mysterious reappearance of the chronometer is set forth at the end of the novel. However, in the novel itself, the whereabouts and possessors of this chronometer are imagined from the Franklin Expedition through the ages until its discovery in 2009. This takes us along on the Franklin Expedition, some adventures with Crozier, expeditions seeking the fate of the Franklin expedition, the Scott Expedition to the South Pole, the Amundsen Expedition seeking a reverse Northwest Passage, and the doomed expedition ending on an ice floe with the Inuit Ipiirvig and his wife Taqulittnq drifting south. Along the way, there are appearances by Ensign Bellot, for whom Bellot Strait is named, Jack London, and many others, fictional and real, including Amundsen's lover.

The novel begins in the present with Nelson, in Canada's Northern Territory in search of his missing brother, and Fay, who has come to the area in search of clues about the mysterious disappearance of her grandfather years before. Their story is complexly interwoven with the historic polar explorations, and it becomes more and more apparent that their present day searches and the past are all interrelated.

Minds of Winter was long-listed for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for 2017. I enjoyed reading it. I would recommend it for those who have an interest in polar exploration, and probably also some background knowledge of the subject. I had a little background knowledge (not much), and I was constantly googling as I was reading. If this sounds annoying to you, you probably wouldn't like this book.

3 1/2 stars

Edited: Sep 20, 2017, 4:59pm Top

52. How It All Began by Penelope Lively (2012) 256 pp

It is said that Lively intended this novel to be an illustration of the Chaos Theory, or more gently, the Butterfly Effect. It begins when Charlotte, a widowed tutor in English for recent emigrants, is mugged and breaks her hip. Everything else in the novel flows from this event. As a result of Charlotte's hospitalization, her daughter Rose cannot accompany her employer Henry to a conference. Henry asks his niece Marion to accompany him in Rose's stead. Marion must notify her married lover of this change in plans, but her message is intercepted by her lover's wife, with deep repercussions for him and his family. At the conference, Marion meets someone she hopes will save her failing interior decoration business, but the consequences of this meeting are not what she expected. When Charlotte is released from the hospital, she cannot live alone during her recuperations, and so moves in with Rose and her husband. She begins tutoring again, with the result that Rose meets one of her students, a gentle emigrant from an Eastern European country. Long married and seemingly comfortable with her husband, Rose finds herself falling in love with the emigrant. And on, and on, and on...

Lively is a witty writer, and this is a satisfying read. I have liked pretty much everything I have read by Lively, but have never been totally blown out of the water by her slim novels. If her books had to be described as the tortoise or the hare, they'd be the tortoise. I overlook her too much, and should seek out some more of her novels.

3 1/2 stars

Sep 20, 2017, 5:14pm Top

53. Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves (2016) 272 pp

Roscoe and his wife Marie live with their child on a failing farm in rural Alabama in the 1920's. Roscoe is obsessed with electricity, and dreams of electrifying the farm, which he believes will make it more profitable. Without authority, he, with the assistance of the black farmhand Wilson, attaches the farm to electrical lines and begins siphoning off electricity. And for a while, the fortunes of the farm turn around miraculously. When Roscoe's theft of electricity is discovered as the result of a tragic accident, Roscoe and Wilson are arrested. Roscoe spends the next 20 years in prison. Marie and his son never visit, seemingly abandoning him. Nevertheless, Roscoe dreams of his future release and returning to Marie.

This novel had some interesting aspects. There were lots of discussions of rural electrification, and for the most part the depiction of life in the rural south in the 1920s/30s feels authentic. The difference in the penal treatment of Roscoe (white) and Wilson (Black) was egregious. However, I found the depiction of the relationship between Roscoe's family, particularly Marie, and Wilson's family to be extremely unrealistic for its time and place.

This book was long listed for the 2016 Booker.

2 1/2 stars

Edited: Sep 20, 2017, 5:24pm Top

54. Warleggan by Winston Graham (1953) 480 pp

The Poldark adventures continue. This one has some pretty dark happenings. Ross and Francis's mine is not doing well. Dwight's romance with Caroline goes sour and he ends up in a French POW camp. But the most stunning development is an action by Ross, which many readers feel is out of character, and which threatens to destroy his marriage to Demelza.

I'm continuing to read the series as fast as I can check the volumes out of the library, and it's definitely holding my interest. The only problem is that the series seems to have become very popular with patrons of my library, so there are frequently long waits for the next volume.

4 stars

Sep 20, 2017, 5:56pm Top

55. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (2016) 592 pp

"When the destruction of Israel commenced, Isaac Bloch was weighing whether to kill himself or move to the Jewish home."

The theme of this novel seems to be an exploration of what it means to be an American Jew, particularly vis a vis an American Jew's relationship with Israel. But it is all done in a very entertaining and humorous, if bittersweet, way, and one does not have to have any Jewish connection to read and enjoy this book.

The protagonist, Jacob, is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor (Isaac). He is the writer of a successful TV comedy (think The Larry David Show), and is married to Julia, who dabbles in an architecture career. They have three precocious children, Sam, Max, and Benji. When the novel opens, Sam has been expelled from his Bar Mitzvah classes for an unnamed, but apparently horrific, infraction, and will not be readmitted until he apologizes, which he refuses to do. Concurrently, Julia has just discovered evidence that she believes shows that Jacob has been having an affair. She begins contemplating having an affair herself, and takes tentative steps in that direction. Jacob and Julia's marriage begins to crumble.

Jacob's cousin and his son have arrived from Israel to attend Sam's Bar Mitzvah and to visit the grandfather they share with Jacob. Shortly after they arrive, there is a massive earthquake in the Mideast, and much of Israel is destroyed.
Taking advantage of the vast destruction in Israel, its Arab neighbors have begun taking action to destroy Israel once and for all, and armies are massing at its borders. Israel puts out a call for Jews all over the world to come to Israel's aid, creating an existential crisis for many American Jews, including Jacob. Jacob and his family's personal crises are juxtaposed with the global crisis involving Israel to good effect.

This is not a perfect book, but it is a good book, and I did not find its focus to be too narrow or religious. The characters of Jacob, Julia and their sons are all very real, and I cared about their problems. Although it's a fairly long book, it's easy to read, well-written, and the pages practically turned themselves. (Although I do note that I found it started slowly, and took some easing into).


3 1/2 stars

Sep 20, 2017, 6:12pm Top

56. World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters (2014) 320 pp

I finally got around to reading the final volume of The Last Policeman Trilogy. This is a detective series with the twist that the cases are solved against the backdrop of a changing world in which an enormous asteroid is bearing down on the earth promising to end life as we know it.

In this, the final volume, there is one week to go until the asteroid will hit earth. Detective Henry Palace is seeking his sister Nico, who along with a group of cultists, believe they have a solution to prevent the asteroid collision. The novel reads like a post-apocalyptic survival story, since the world has degenerated and society has collapsed as the asteroid approaches. As Henry conducts his search for Nico, he comes across various people and groups who are handling the imminent catastrophe in different ways. I do have to say that if the world has to end, Henry arranged the best possible setting for himself.

I think this would appeal more to science fiction fans than crime fiction fans.

3 stars

Sep 20, 2017, 6:40pm Top

57. Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge (2016) 304 pp

Tragic as the Newtown Massacre is (20 children died that day, as well as some of their teachers), Gary Younge notes that as many children are killed by guns in America every few days, all year long, and their deaths are not thought of as remarkable because they are scattered here and there rather than in one condensed event. He decided to document the deaths of all children killed by guns on one particular day. He chose November 23, 2013, the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Arithmetically, an average of 9 children and teens are killed by guns everyday. Younge was able to discover 10 children who were killed by guns on November 23, 2013. Since there is no centralized reporting, this may or may not be the true number, but in any event the number of gun deaths for children was no less than 10 on that day. (He did not include gun suicides, often unreported, which it is believed average 2 a day for children and teens.)

Younge states that his aim was "to put a human face--a child's face--on the collateral damage of gun violence in the U.S." He includes a picture and a short biography of each child, and describes the events leading to their deaths and the aftermath of their deaths. The deaths on November 23, 2013 occurred in settings from suburban Grove City, Ohio, to urban Houston, Dallas, Newark and Chicago, to rural Goldsboro, N.C. The events ranged from 9 year old Jaiden shot in the head by his mother's ex-boyfriend, to friends playing with loaded guns that went off, to shootings of teen gang members, to children just in the wrong place at the wrong time, to just being poor and living in a bad neighborhood.

This book was the winner of the 2017 J. Anthony Lukas Prize. It's hard to imagine that anyone could read this book and not be changed. Unfortunately, Newtown didn't change any minds for the gun nuts, and I expect they would also fail to be swayed by this book. Unfortunately, it's clear that gun violence in America is an epidemic that's only getting worse.

Highly recommended.

4 stars

Sep 20, 2017, 6:53pm Top

58. The Black Moon by Winston Graham (1973) 560 pp

Winston Graham took a 20 year break between writing the first four novels of the Poldark series and this, the fifth volume in the series. It doesn't show--the Poldark saga continues seamlessly.

Elizabeth is now married to George, and they have a son Valentine. Elizabeth's cousin Morwenna lives with them as governess to Elizabeth's older son Geoffrey Charles. Unbeknownst to Elizabeth and George Morwenna meets Drake Carne, Demelza's brother, and they fall in love. Ross and George remain bitter enemies.

On to the next volume (when it comes in to the library).

4 stars

Edited: Sep 20, 2017, 7:10pm Top

That completes July. On to August:

59. Submission by Michel Houellebecq (2015) 256

Francois is a professor and scholar at the Sorbonne, an expert on J.K. Huysmans. A womanizing bachelor, he is suffering a vague middle age malaise. There is an election going on in France, and Marine LePen's Party and the Islamist Party end up in the runoffs. In the final election, the Islamist Party wins, leading to major changes in French society. Overnight females can no longer teach at the Sorbonne. In fact, males cannot teach at the Sorbonne unless they convert to Islam. In addition, male faculty are encouraged to take multiple wives. Most Jews, including Francois's then girlfriend, leave the country. Francois can't decide what to do, and for the most part doesn't really seem to care.

I've read one other book by Houllebecq, I can't remember which, and I didn't like it at all. I intended never to read another book by him. Then this one came out, and the premise was interesting. This was easy to read, although it is not a novel of plot or character development. I didn't find it compelling. I'm afraid Houellebecq identifies too much with characters like Francois.

2 1/2 stars

Edited: Sep 20, 2017, 7:39pm Top

60. A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar (2014) 320 pp

This is an alternate history noir detective novel. In the alternate history part, the Nazis are ousted from power in Germany by the Communists in the 1930's. The Nazis and other Germans have fled to London, where the British are in the process of electing a Fascist, Oswald Mosley.

In the detective part of the novel, Hitler, under the pseudonym "Wolf" is a struggling private detective, although he has some connections in high society through a relationship with Mosley. In addition, other prominent Nazis, including Goebels, Goring, Hess and Eichmann are hanging out in London. When the novel begins, Wolf is approached by Isabella, a Jewish femme-fatale, who wants to hire Wolf to find her sister Judith who has not made it out of Germany. While Wolf would ordinarily refuse to take on a Jewish client, he needs the money, and Isabelle is very attractive, and compelling.

There's another story involving Shomer, a man in Auschwitz. Wolf dreams of Shomer, a man in Auschwitz who is dreaming of an alternate reality. The thoughts of Wolf and Shomer keep crossing paths. I found it all rather confusing,

This novel didn't really do much for me. I didn't get immersed in the story, and it hasn't stuck with me. Not one I'd recommend.

2 stars

Sep 20, 2017, 7:51pm Top

Great reviews, Deborah! I've had my eye on the Foer; I've liked other things by him.

Jim Jeffries had a great bit on gun violence last night on his show. He rode around with some police in Birmingham, UK, the murder capital of England, with about 10 murder a year, I think. I was reminded of it by the Younge book. After Newtown, I just can't imagine having a conversation about gun control with anyone opposed to it.

It sounds like I should pick up a Poldark one of these days.

Edited: Sep 20, 2017, 8:33pm Top

61. $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin

Back in the 1980's Ronald Reagan popularized the myth of the welfare queen. In the 1990's, Bill Clinton "reformed" welfare, so that very few people would receive assistance in the form of cash. Now, most welfare assistance is received in the form of SNAP, aka food stamps. By 2011, the number of families living on $2.00 a day had doubled in 15 years. Even including the benefits of food stamps, the number of children living in $2.00 a day poverty has increased by 70%.

In this book Edin mixes the personal stories of families living in poverty with political history and analysis. Some salient points are the difficulties that people who have no cash have in finding a job--from lacking a telephone to respond to job enquiries, to lacking decent clothes for a job interview, to lacking transportation to get to the job. The people finding themselves in this position use their ingenuity to raise the funds to pay the rent--they sell their blood, if they are healthy enough. If they have transportation and a storage place, they collect cans and bottles to sell for recycling. One woman in the Mississippi Delta who lives in a housing project in a remote country area pays a friend to bring her to a grocery once a month where she buys supplies to set up a "snack shop" in her living room, where she sells Kool Aid, chips and other snacks at a small profit to other residents of the project. And, it is true that some recipients of food stamps resort to selling all or part of them for cash. Edin finds this to be an unsurprising result of the move to remove cash from welfare benefits--while the food stamps provide a basic level of food for sustenance, there are other expenses, like rent, for which cash is necessary. The food stamp recipient takes a big risk in trading some of the benefits for cash (it's harder now that what the recipients actually receive is something akin to a debit card that can be used for food), and receives a low return--perhaps 50%-60% of the value of the goods purchased with the card, and a potential fine of $250,000 and 20 years in jail. (Note the punishment for voluntary manslaughter is usually around 9 years.)

Together with Evicted, which I read earlier this year, this book is an eye-opening look at what it means to live in poverty in this day and age. Highly recommended.

3 1/2 stars

Sep 20, 2017, 8:58pm Top

62. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (2017) 384 pp

"So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have."

This is a time travel novel with a twist. Tom Barren travels from 2017 to the early 1960's to witness a seminal event--the testing (successful) of a perpetual energy machine. The invention of this machine leads to all sorts of wonderful developments, and the 2017 from which Tom travels is a Utopian society (although Tom does have some personal issues, including lack of a girlfriend, the accidental death of his mother, and some issues with his father).

Unfortunately, when he arrives back at the test of the perpetual energy machine, he inadvertently (and quite minimally) interferes with disastrous results--the perpetual energy machine is not successful and it is abandoned. Tom is able to return back to 2017, but it is a greatly changed 2017. To him it looks dystopian; to us, it is very like the 2017 in which we live. Tom finds his mother still alive, he has a sister, and his father is no longer overbearing. When he falls in love with a girl, he begins to question his plan to return to the past to ensure that the perpetual energy machine is successfully tested, and that the ideal 2017 prevails.

I enjoyed this one--it's original, but not quite as good as The Time Traveler's Wife.


3 stars

Edited: Sep 20, 2017, 10:00pm Top

63. The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver (2016) 416 pp

This is one of the scariest apocalyptic books I've ever read--because it's so real. It begins in 2029, which is pretty much like today, only worse, and grittier, and with a wider income gap. For the most part, the four generations of Mandibles are doing ok. Florence works at a homeless shelter and owns a house in an area of Brooklyn she hopes will soon gentrify. She lives with her boyfriend Esteban and her teenage son Will. Her sister Avery lives in DC, and is a psychotherapist married to Lowell, a prominent economics professor at Georgetown. They have three teenagers, who attend private schools are very entitled. They live a comfortable, even luxurious life. Florence and Avery's brother Jared owns an organic farm in upstate New York.

The family patriarch, their grandfather Douglas, also known as "Grand Man", is extremely wealthy, and lives in a luxurious retirement community with his second, younger, trophy wife, who ironically suffers from dementia, in contrast to Douglas's robust health. Avery and Florence, as well as their parents (their father is Douglas's son) sometimes overtly, but mostly just in the back of their minds look forward to a time when they will inherit some of Douglas's fortune. Douglas also has a daughter in Paris. Aunt Nolly wrote one wildly successful book, and has apparently lived well off the proceeds ever since.

Then, everyone's world turns on a dime. A consortium of nations has introduced a new currency, the bancor, and has replaced the dollar as the standard currency measure with the bancor. They announce that they will no longer accept payments in dollars. The President of the U.S. then declare all U.S. debts null and void, and also outlaws the bancor. The value of the dollar is immediately wiped out, and everyone loses whatever they have saved, large or small. In addition, all privately-held gold is confiscated by the U.S. government. Inflation runs rampant, with food prices being raised hourly.

Shriver paints a real and extremely frightening picture of how our society would fall apart in such a financial cataclysm. The first part of the book covering this transition was totally spell-binding. The second part of the book, a number of years later, after the economy has become more stable, is less engaging, and becomes somewhat of a polemic. Evil big government has taken over--everyone must be "chipped" which allows the IRS to take its due from every cent anyone earns. Not surprisingly, some of our characters want to live free, and take off for Nevada, which has seceded from the union. I didn't care that much for the second part, although it still made for some interesting reading. But I can recommend this book for the first part alone.

3 stars

Sep 21, 2017, 4:20pm Top

I had to leave last night because Rachel Maddow was coming on, and I am a real news junky now. Not that it's making anything better. So I will add a few more reviews, respond to comments, then slurk off for another month or so....or maybe I will try to be more present....

Now, for another frightening book:

64. The Bear by Claire Cameron (2014) 240 pp

Two small children camping in the Canadian backwoods with their parents survive after their parents die in a bear attack. The children, Anna about 5 years old, and her 2 year old brother "Stick" are alone in the wilderness with no food, water or shelter. What I liked about this book is that it is narrated by Anna, and Cameron captures the voice of a young child perfectly. She enters the state of mind of a 5 year old who can worry as much about her doll as the circumstances in which she and her brother find themselves. Anna can want to protect her brother one minute, and the next minute push him away in a fit of juvenile anger, or wander off and forget his existence altogether. Since we are learning the story from Anna's pov, it's sometimes not clear as to what is actually happening, as we can only understand what Anna understands, and sometimes not even that. This is stream of consciousness of a 5 year old's mind.

Cameron got the idea for the novel from a real-life bear attack that killed a young couple in a Canadian park in 1991. There were no children involve in the true event. Lots of reviewers did not like the use of the child pov. I loved that aspect. This book was longlisted for the Bailey's Prize. Highly recommended if you are not turned off by a child narrator. (Note: This is not a YA novel--it's actually quite difficult to read, puzzle out, and comprehend.)

4 stars

Sep 21, 2017, 4:34pm Top

66. Kitty Hawk Down by Garry Disher (2006) 288 pp

This is the second installment in the Hal Challis Australian detective series set on the semi-rural/semi-suburban peninsula south of Melbourne. As in the first volume I read, there are lots of crimes hanging over the police department. An unidentified body has been found in the ocean. There is a serial rapist on the loose. Challis's friend, aerial photographer Kitty Casement is murdered.

I like the series because of the sense of place that Disher creates, and because in this series each of the members of the small police department seems to play a co-equal role with Challis in solving the crimes. In addition, I find that the characters in supporting roles are more developed than in some other crime novels. Those with recurring roles include Ellen Destry, a detective with a teenage daughter and some marital issues; Scobie, a by-the-book bore, who can't stop bragging about his daughter; Pam, a constable who surfs and is having financial problems; John Tankard, a macho chauvinist who is actually quite insecure.

Recommended for crime fans.

3 stars

Sep 21, 2017, 4:53pm Top

67. The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates (2016) 384 pp

As is often the case, this Oates novel has a factual basis. In this case, the inspiration was the famous case of H.M., an amnesiac whose memory was erased every 70 seconds or so. While H.M. remembered his past, any new memories were repeatedly erased: every new person he met was new over and over again each time he met them and every new experience was new again over and over.

In this fictionalization, the amnesiac is Elihu Hooper, who lost his memory at age 37 after suffering high fevers with encephalitis. After his recovery from his illness, he agreed to participate in studies at a university clinic/research facility studying memory. Margot Sharp, a neuroscientist joined the team studying Elihu in 1965, and over the next 30+ years met regularly with Elihu, conducted tests, and ultimately became the chief investigator. Margot also developed an unusual personal relationship with Elihu, and she gradually fell in love with him, while on his part, she is a continually new acquaintance.

I enjoyed this book. Some critics point out that it is unrealistic in that Margot's relationship is extremely unprofessional and unethical. While I agree that the relationship is unprofessional an unethical, Oates does an excellent job of making this relationship characteristic and real for Margot. Margot is presented as a respected and esteemed scientist, but she is also a lonely woman, a monomaniac insofar as her work is concerned. I think this is a dichotomy that Oates has used in the past in her novels--I'm thinking of Mudwoman.


3 1/2 stars

Edited: Sep 21, 2017, 5:39pm Top

I am so annoyed--I just wrote answers to all visitors, but LT ate them. So now I will do it again:

Thank you to all my lovely visitors--and apologies for the long delay in responding to you.

>189 BLBera:; >211 BLBera: Hi Beth. I have Mermaids in Paradise, and I hope to get to it soon. Even though I didn't like Sweet Lamb of Heaven, I have read another book by Millet that I liked very much.
I think you would like Here I Am. I don't think I've read any other Foer, but I would be willing. You definitely should start Poldark. If you don't like it, you don't have to read any of the other 11 books!

>190 Ameise1: Thank you Barbara.

>191 Berly:; >198 Berly: Hi Kim--Thanks for being such a persistent visitor. I don't know how you find the time to be so active on LT on top of everything else you do. Have you turned cool and rainy like we have?

>192 TadAD: Hi Tad--Long time, no see! I think you should try the Liu. I was hesitant at first too, but again if you don't like the first one you don't have to go on. The Woman Next Door was not strictly a comedy or a tragedy. It was more comedy though--a bittersweet comedy. I liked it as much for its observations on aging as those on race relations.

>193 EBT1002: Hi Ellen--I enjoyed Coffin Road almost as much as The Lewis Trilogy. I love the atmosphere of the remote Scottish islands--we visited several on our British Islands cruise a few years ago. I hope P continues to heal and improve from her hip surgery. Gil had that about 10 years ago and the relief was miraculous.

>194 PaulCranswick:; >196 PaulCranswick:; >197 PaulCranswick:; >199 PaulCranswick: Another persistent visitor! Thanks Paul, for visiting so regularly. I hesitated to read another Coe for that reason, but it was only a library book so I went ahead.
And thank you for the congratulations on reaching 75. I forgot to take note, although I will say that #75 was a special one: In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatle Songs

>195 ffortsa: Hi Judy--Have you read Darktown yet? There is a second volume either just out or about to come out, so I guess it's going to be a series.

>200 FAMeulstee: Thanks Anita--As I said to Paul, #75 was a special one--In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatle Songs.

Speaking of the Beatles, a couple of nights ago I received a text message from my middle son in NYC. He was at a Paul McCartney concert, and sent along a little snippet he filmed. I swooned, even though Paul wasn't "my" Beatle--George was. That's probably the closest I'll ever get to the Beatles--Aruba wasn't on their concert tour itinerary ever.

Sep 23, 2017, 6:15pm Top

>202 arubabookwoman: You make this sound extremely attractive. I'll get a copy.

Sep 23, 2017, 10:34pm Top

Great to have you catch-up, Deborah.

>218 arubabookwoman: I regret not ever being able to see John or George in concert.

Have a lovely weekend.

Oct 2, 2017, 12:49am Top

Deborah--Wow! Way to crank out those reviews. Congratulations. I think you are a harder grader on the books than I am, either that or you have had a few rotten apples. 2 and 2 1/2 stars?? Ouch.

Wishing you a great week and more frequent visits. ; )

Oct 5, 2017, 2:18pm Top

BOO!!! I'll bet no one expected me to be back here so soon. I'm usually reluctant to visit my own thread unless I've written some reviews to post, and I have no reviews today. I'll explain after I answer my visitors:

>219 TadAD: I hope you like it Tad. This will sound sexist, but I think ofPenelope Lively as appealing more to female readers than male.

>220 PaulCranswick: Hi Paul. That's a regret of mine too--both died way too young. Stay turned--you are indirectly the reason for my uncharacteristically prompt visit.

>221 Berly: Hi Kim--Are you having a miraculously beautiful week (weather-wise) too? Re my grading system, it may look hard, but to me, 3 stars is a good, decent book, a B or B+, if you will. It's one I think would be a worthwhile read to anyone who is interested, based on subject matter, author, or other reason. 3 1/2 stars is also a very good book, but which had something extra that moved me and which I would have no problem recommending if it piques your interest. On the other hand, 2 1/2 stars is either a book I can recognize as a good book, but which is a book I didn't like, or didn't connect with. It could also be a book with some minor flaws, but which the author still seems to accomplish what they set out to do. 2 stars is a book that has some bigger flaws or is poorly written, but has some successful parts, or isn't totally unreadable. The 4 star and 5 star are rarer books for me, and I frequently find it difficult to delineate between a 4 star or 5 star book. Both are excellent reads, but I think I (unconsciously) factor in such things as whether this was a book I would foist on everyone, or whether it's a book I think should be around for all time. A 4 star book could be a 5 star book when I think about it again in a few weeks. I don't usually go back and change though. 1 stars of course are very bad books, with 1/2 star being basically unreadable.

Oct 5, 2017, 2:32pm Top

So I saw on Paul's thread and a few others people making lists of "book of the year" for each year from the date of their birth to present. I started looking at books of the year for me. The year of my birth, 1950, had some very good books. Then I thought maybe I'll organize my reading next year using this concept--spending a month or so reading books from a particular year, starting with 1950 in January. For 1950, I've read (and I've marked those I wouldn't mind rereading with an *):

*The Wall by John Hersey
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Martian Chronicles
*Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford
*Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
*The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
The Town by Conrad Richter
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Kon Tiki
*The Family Moskat by I.B. Singer
*Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

And then I have the following 1950 books on my bookshelves unread:

L'Abbe C by Georges Bataille
The Drinker by Hans Fallada
The Moon and Bonfires by Cesar Pavese
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake

And then, the Nobelist for 1950 was William Faulkner, and I'm always up for a Faulkner read.

My plan would be to read as many, or as few of the books of the year as I want, and then move onto the next year's books, probably not spending more than a month or two on each year. This will become my lifetime reading project.

Oct 5, 2017, 3:23pm Top

I love your project, Deborah. I don't think I'm disciplined to follow it, so good luck. There were some good books published in 1950.

Edited: Oct 5, 2017, 4:51pm Top

So then I decided that since I was born smack in the middle of the 20th century, I would look at books published during the first half of the century, 1900-1949, and post my books of the year, as well as TBRS (books actually already owned by me):

1900--Sister Carrie by Dreiser; runner-up Lord Jim; children's book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
TBRs: The Hidden Force by Louis Couperus

1901--Buddenbrooks (a desert island book for me); runner-up My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
TBRs: The House With the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown; Erewhon Revisited by Samuel Butler

1902--Five Children and It by E. Nesbit--a children's book, but the only other book from 1902 I've read was a Sherlock Holmes book, which I don't like.
TBRS--The Wings of the Dove by Henry James; The Immoralist by Andre Gide

1903 The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
TBRs--The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Caldwell; The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft by George Gissing; Elias Portolu by Deledda; Typhoon by Conrad

1904--Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson
TBRs--The Late Mattia Pascal by Pirandello; The Golden Bowl by James; Nostromo by Conrad

1905--The House of Mirth; runner-up Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Soderberg
TBRs--I Am a Cat by Soseki

1906--The Man of Property by John Galsworthy (Vol. I of The Forsyte Saga); runner-up The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
TBRs--The Fifth Queen by Ford Maddox Ford

1907--Yikes--I haven't read a book from 1907!
TBRs--The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

1908--The Old Wives Tale by Arnold Bennett
TBRs--Penguin Island by Anatole France; We of the Never Never by Jeanie Gunn; The Iron Heel by Jack London; The Assistant by Robert Walser

1909--another year I haven't read a book from. However, the Nobelist this year was Sigrid Undset, so I'll nominate Kristin Lavransdatter as my book of the year.
TBRs--Tono-Bungay by H.G. Wells; Jacob von Gunter by Walser; and I don't own, but it's on my WL--The Peasants by Reymont

ETA--Just noticed that Undset didn't win the Nobel this year--it was Selma Lagerlof, another Scandanavian woman. Will have to rethink book of the year.

1910--Howard's End by E.M. Forster
TBRs--The Village by Ivan Bunin; Pelle the Conqueror

1911--Ethan Frome by Wharton
TBRs--The Wild Geese by Ogai

1912--The Financier by Dreiser; runners-up: Death in Venice; The Reef by Wharton

1913--Swann's Way; runners-up: Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence; O Pioneers by Willa Cather. Bomb (for me): Le Grand Meaulnes
TBRs--The Lodger by Lowndes; Reeds in the Wind by Deledda

1914--Dubliners by James Joyce; runnerup Kokoro by Soseki
TBRs--The Titan by Dreiser; The Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France; Locus Solus by Roussel; The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

1915--Of Human Bondage by Maughm; runner-up: The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford; also-rans: Victory by Conrad and The Rainbow by Lawrence
TBRs--The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela; Song of the Lark by Cather

Oct 5, 2017, 4:49pm Top

1916--Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce; Bomb: Light and Darkness by Soseki
TBRs--The Home and the World by Tagore; Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells

1917--Under Fire by Henri Barbusse; close runner-up Summer by Wharton
TBRs--The Shadow Line by Conrad; Abel Sanchez by Miguel de Unamuno

1918--My Antonia by Cather; Also-rans: The Roll-Call by Arnold Bennett
TBRs--Patricia Brent, Spinster by Jenkins; The Return of the Soldier

1919--The Secret Battle by A. P. Herbert tied with Within a Budding Grove by Proust; runners-up: The Moon and Six Pence by Maughm; Demian by Herman Hesse

1920--Three Soldiers by Dos Passos; runners-up: The Age of Innocence; Main Street; Also, Vol. II of The Forsyte Saga
TBRs--Storm of Steel by Junger

1921--The Guermantes Way; also good: Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
TBRs--A Dark Night's Passing by Shiga; Chrome Yellow by Huxley

1922--Ulysses by James Joyce; runners-up Babbitt and Siddhartha; Bomb: The Enormous Room by e.e. cummings
TBRs--The Enchanted April by von Armin; Amok by Zweig

1923--The Conscience of Zeno by Italo Svevo; runner-up The Good Soldier Svejk
TBRs--Cane by Toomer

1924--A Passage To India; runner-up Some Do Not by Ford Maddox Ford (volume I of Parade's End trilogy)

1925--The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney by Henry Handel Richardson (part II was published this year); also good:Manhattan Transfer by Dos Passos; The Great Gatsby (I think it's good, but not that good); Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
TBRs--White Guard by Bulgakov; The Polyglots by William Gerhardie; The Professor's House by Cather

1926--Winnie the Pooh; Also read: The Sun Also Rises--not a fan of Hemingway; Lolly Willows--not a book I loved
TBRs--Red Cavalry by Babel; Tyrant Banderas by Ramon Del Valle-Inclan

1927--Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis; also good: Steppenwolf by Hesse; To the Lighthouse; Mr. Weston's Good Wine by Powys; Didn't like: The Bridge of San Luis Rey
TBRs--Therese Desqueyroux by Mauriac; Envy by Olesha; Death Comes for the Archbishop; The Case of Sergeant Grischa by Arnold Zweig

1928--And Quiet Flows the Don by Sholokov; Other books I've read: Point Counterpoint by Huxley; Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence

1929--Pather Panchali by Banerji and The Sound and the Fury--a tie; also very, very good: All Quiet on the Western Front; Look Homeward Angel and A High Wind in Jamaica
TBRs--Dona Barbara by Gallegos; Living by Henry Green (for a reread of a book I read in college and remember nothing about)

1930--As I Lay Dying by Faulkner; also very good: The 42nd Parallel by Dos Passos
TBRs--Her Privates We by Manning; Angel Pavement by Priestley

Oct 5, 2017, 5:34pm Top

1931--The Good Earth by Pearl Buck; and honorable mention to The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer, my first cookbook, a gift from my mother; and children's book The Story of Babar, which is the first book I bought for my first child. I bought it before he was born, and then couldn't bring myself to read it to him for a very, very long time, since I discovered Babar's mother gets shot and killed in the very first pages.
TBRs--The Foundation Pit by Platonov; Chaka by Mofolo

1932--Light in August; honorable mentions: Journey to the End of the Night by Celine; 1919 by Dos Passos; Brave New World by Huxley
TBRs--Little Man What Now? by Fallada; Sunset Song by Gibbon; A Glastonbury Romance by Powys (read half a couple of years ago); The Radetzky March by Roth; The Forbidden Kingdom by Slauerhoff

1933--When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie (not a great book, but it was an "end of the world" book I read as a teenager, and was mesmerized by. Also, the sequel, After Worlds Collide); another excellent book: Lost Horizon by Hilton
TBRS--The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz; Testament of Youth by Brittain; The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Werfel

1934--Call It Sleep by Henry Roth, I, Claudius by Graves, and Independent People by Laxness--tied; runners-up: Burmese Days by Orwell; Seven Gothic Tales by Dinesen
TBRs--A Pin to See the Peepshow by F. Tennyson Jesse

1935--It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis; runner-up: Butterfield 8 by John O'Hara
TBRs--Untouchable by Anand; A Clergyman's Daughter by Orwell

1936--Absalom, Absalom by Faulkner; runner-up: Gone With The Wind
TBRs--Sea of Death by Amado; Death on the Installment Plan by Celine; Joy of Man's Desiring by Giono; The Brothers Ashkenazi by I. J. Singer; Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner

1937--The Citadel by A.J. Cronin; runners-up: Out of Africa by Dinesen; Their Eyes Were Watching God; Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck
TBRs--More Joy in Heaven by Callaghan; Wolf Among Wolves by Fallada; Ali and Nino by Said; The Road to Wigan's Pier by Orwell; The Blind Owl by Hedayat

1938--Alamut by Bartol and Rebecca by du Maurier--tied; also good: Death of the Heart by Bowen; The Sword in the Stone y T.H. White
TBRs--Brighton Rock by Greene; Homage to Catalonia by Orwell; The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By by Simenon

1939--The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck and Johnny Got His Gun by Trumbo--tied. Also very good: Mister Johnson by Joyce Cary; How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn; The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West
TBRs--Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Oct 5, 2017, 6:11pm Top

1940--The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers; runners-up: The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati; Saphira and the Slave Girl by Cather
TBRs--The Old Man and His Sons by Bru

1941--The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson; runner-up: The Aerodrome by Rex Warner
TBRs--Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton; The Wife of Martin Guerre by Janet Lewis

1942--The Stranger by Camus
TBR--Embers by Sandor Marai

1943--A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Claudius the God--tied. Bomb: The Fountainhead
TBRs--The Man Without Qualities by Robert Walser

1944--The Violent Land by Jorge Amado also good: Dangling Man by Saul Bellow; Ficciones by Borges; A Bell for Adano by John Hersey; The Razor's Edge by Maughm
TBR--Kaputt by Malaparte; Transit by Anna Seghers

1945--Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh; also good: Animal Farm by Orwell; Didn't love, but didn't hate: The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric and The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
TBRs--Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi

1946--All the Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren; runners-up: Member of the Wedding by McCullers; Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty; Zorba the Greek by Kazantzakis. And I can't forget that this was the year that Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care was published--the first child care book I read (although it was probably a revised edition).
TBRs--El Senor Presidente by Asturias; That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana by Gadda; Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

1947--Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada; runners-up: Snow Country by Kawabata; The Diary of Ann Frank; didn't like: Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
TBRs--In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes; Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann; Bend Sinister by Nabokov; If This Is a Man by Primo Levi

1948--Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton; runners-up: The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer; The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; Intruder in the Dust by Faulkner; No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
TBRs--Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann; The House of Sleep by Anna Kavan; The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

1949--Nineteen Eighty-four by Orwell and The Second Sex by Beauvoir--tied.
TBRs--The Man With the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren; The Kingdom of this World by Charpentier

Whew--That took a lot longer than I thought it would.

Oct 6, 2017, 4:19am Top

That is an impressive list, Deborah, there are a lot of books in it that I hope to read someday.

I have read and liked: The Buddenbrooks, Kristin Lavransdatter, Winnie the Pooh, The Story of Babar, Brave New World, The Long Ships, Every Man Dies Alone, 1984 and The Diary of Anne Frank. Only one of your list that I have read and disliked: Gone with the Wind.

>171 arubabookwoman: I similair thoughts about A Gentleman in Moscow, when I read it last month.

Edited: Oct 6, 2017, 10:15am Top

>229 FAMeulstee:

Agree on GONE WITH THE WIND - full of racist, hateful, stereotypes.

I recently ordered THE WIND DONE GONE, a mild backlash.

Kristin, Babar, Brave New world, 1984, and Anne Frank were each incredible.

Oct 8, 2017, 8:35pm Top

>228 arubabookwoman: "Whew--That took a lot longer than I thought it would." LOL -- it is quite a project! And a great list, fun to peruse.

Edited: Oct 18, 2017, 6:41pm Top

Wow, what a list! As it happens, I'm a year older than you, so the framework fits really well. And I was so pleased to see so many books I've read on your list. Are you planning to read starting at 1950 or 1900? So many goodies on these lists!

Oct 18, 2017, 7:17pm Top

Fantastic lists Deborah but I would expect little else given your wealth of reading.

Am rather humbled that I may have indirectly given you an idea for an extended reading project. xx

There are some of my favourites too on your first half of the 20th century lists. I have done a similar list somewhere and will scurry off to find it.

Oct 19, 2017, 11:46am Top

I think you've convinced me to start the Poldark series.

Oct 24, 2017, 6:59pm Top

Wow! What lists. I bet you had fun reminiscing and putting it all together. There are definitely a lot of great books that I would want to include that fall pre-birth date year. Keep going--I want to see what your favorites are in later years!

Oct 30, 2017, 1:52pm Top

>225 arubabookwoman: I just noticed Penguin Island on your list for 1908. We are discussing it tonight in our uptown book circle.

Nov 1, 2017, 1:44am Top

Happy Halloween!!

Nov 5, 2017, 12:13am Top

Wishing you a glorious Sunday, Deborah.

Nov 8, 2017, 11:51pm Top

And an awesome Thursday!!

Nov 23, 2017, 7:22am Top

This is a time of year when I as a non-American ponder over what I am thankful for.

I am thankful for this group and its ability to keep me sane during topsy-turvy times.

I am thankful that you are part of this group.

I am thankful for this opportunity to say thank you.

Nov 24, 2017, 12:41am Top

On this day of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for many things, one of them being

Hope your day was wonderful! : )

Dec 9, 2017, 1:12am Top

Wishing you a wonderful weekend, Deborah.

Looking forward to a few of your reviews around here sometime soon. xx

Dec 12, 2017, 4:07pm Top

Hello All--Back again after a long absence. No excuses, just a bit of travel and sloth on my part. I do want to try to review all the books I've read in 2017, though, which may mean I have to be on LT several hours every day from now to the end of the year to catch up, since I have to go back to mid-August with my reviews. There may be some very short ones--esp. for books that are only Meh--

>229 FAMeulstee: Hi Anita. It was fun making the list. I read Gone With the Wind when I was a young teenager, and I'm sure I romanticized it, and was enthralled with the doomed romance between Scarlett and Rhett. I know that its racism and endorsement of slavery would make it impossible for me to reread it today.

>230 m.belljackson: Hi Marianne. I know I would find it extremely unpalatable now. As I said above, I was a young teenager when I read it, and Scarlett was a beautiful, strong, spunky female I was charmed by. Not so today.

>231 EBT1002: Hi Ellen, I enjoyed making the list, and reliving books I've read and reminding myself of books I've yet to read.

>232 ffortsa: Hi Judy--I'm planning to start with 1950 and go forward. Perhaps I'll pick a book every few months from my TBR list for 1949 and backwards, but the structure will be for the books of my life.

>233 PaulCranswick: Hi Paul--I'm very excited by my plan/structure for my next years reading. I have my lists of books by year available, but have not made final selections of which particular books, or how many books for each year I will read or reread. I see this as a multi-year project, and do not expect to get through my lifetime in one year.

>234 SuziQoregon: Hi Juli--Perhaps you can make Poldark a 2018 project. There are 12 volumes, making it a perfect one year undertaking of one book per month. I still have a few volumes to go (mostly due to long library waits), but it has definitely held up through-out.

Edited: Dec 12, 2017, 4:29pm Top

>235 Berly: Hi Kim--I've pretty much decided to do my 2018 reading year by year, although in a very loosey-goosey way, reading from 1950 on. You will see plenty of lists. As I told Paul, I envision this as a multi-year project.

>236 ffortsa: Hi again Judy--I read about your reading of Penguin Island on your thread. It seems that while you felt it dragged a bit in places, overall you liked it. I primarily bought it because it was right there in the bookstore, it was cheap, and I am trying to fill in my Nobel Laureates reading. I haven't read anything by Anatole France, had no immediate plans to, but your review has intrigued me and made me think I might like it and should get to it sooner.

>238 PaulCranswick: and >239 Berly: Thank you to my faithful visitors Paul and Kim, who visit my thread more than I do! :)

>240 PaulCranswick: and >241 Berly: (See Above). Thank you for the Thanksgiving wishes. I actually had kind of a sad day. It was the first Thanksgiving we were not with a single one of our children. I thought I was going to be able to handle it, but it hit me pretty hard on Thanksgiving Day.

>242 PaulCranswick: Hopefully I can get some reviews done over the next few days Paul.

We spent late October and early November in Texas. I had a week at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, then time visiting daughter, son-in-law and grands Boden and Madeleine. They are really growing, Boden is 7 and Maddie is 4. Also visited Austin for the first time. My mother recently (after Hurricaine Harvey) moved to a retirement community there.

After Thanksgiving we went down to Palo Alto for 5 days. The purpose of the visit was to see our daughter Mia defend her Ph.D thesis, which she did successfully. While I could understand only about every third or fourth word, I could tell that her speech flowed, made sense, and was well-prepared. She developed a tool or method for studying the effects of different environmental conditions on gene combinations. In the past, this had to be done gene combination by gene combination, one at a time, and was very time and material consuming. Mia developed a way to study 17,000 gene combinations at the same time (and probably more as her research is continued).

And she has a job! She will be a research scientist at a biomedical research company in NYC studying the brain-gut connection. So now 4 of our 5 kids will be living in NYC--so what are we doing in Seattle??

Well, we are making plans to retire to the East Coast, but probably not for a couple of years. Right now, Husband likes his job too much to retire. He's an architect, and is now working on 2 buildings for Amazon's corporate headquarters in Seattle.

Well, here go some reviews....hopefully more interesting than my boring life:

Dec 12, 2017, 4:54pm Top

There will be spoilers in this review, so don't read it if spoilers bother you (they don't bother me). I couldn't figure out how to adequately explain a low rating for a Margaret Atwood boot without the spoilers.

67. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (2015) 320 pp SPOILERS--SPOILERS---SPOILERS---SPOILERS---SPOILERS

"Then he's unconscious. Then he stops breathing. The heart goes last."

There has been an economic collapse, and Stan and Charmaine, a young married couple, are among its many victims. They live in their car, and struggle to even feed themselves on Charmaine's meager earnings as a waitress. Then they hear about an opportunity that seems almost too good to be true. If they sign up, they will be provided with a house and with decent paying jobs. However, they will alternate between one month living in their house and working on the jobs provided, and one month in prison doing prison work.

The economic collapse Atwood portrays feels very real and feasible, but the main premise made no sense to me. I did not see how any corporation could make money on this business model--giving people jobs one month, and supporting them in prison the next month. I didn't find it believable. What are the economic benefits of a prison full of fake prisoners?

In addition, the job Charmaine did during her stints in prison was totally uncharacteristic of the sympathetic character she has been presented to be. As "Chief Medication Administrator," she administers lethal injections to any "prisoners" who have violated some rule of the corporation. The fact that she is tender-hearted enough to sing the victim a gentle lullaby while waiting for the heart to stop doesn't make this character anomaly any more real.

The end degenerates into a silly farce with Elvis and Marilyn Monroe impersonators in Las Vegas, and a woman madly (and sexually) in love with her teddy bear.

This was a book in which all the illogical and implausible things we have to accept as premise of the story kept bothering me through-out, and I could never suspend disbelief and enjoy the book. I generally enjoy dystopian fiction, and world building for future societies, but this didn't work for me.

1 1/2 stars

Dec 12, 2017, 5:40pm Top

I read this as part of the Group Read. Characteristically, I did not comment much on that thread, but did lurk quite a bit. To learn more about this book, which is puzzling and can have many interpretations, check out the Group Read thread, on which there are some very intriguing comments. I'm very grateful for the group read prompting me to read this book which has been on my shelf since it was published in 2005.

68. Kafka on the Shore (2005) 448 pp

This is a kind of "quest" novel, with two different main characters on separate quests which may or may not ultimately converge. Kafka is a teenage boy who feels unloved by his remote, cold father, a sculptor. He runs away from home, possibly in search of his mother, who abandoned him when he was a young boy, and a possible sister. Along the way, Kafka is befriended by the ambiguous Oshima.

The other main character is Nakata, an elderly man who as a result of a mysterious incident in World War II is simple-minded. He can converse with cats, however, and can cause fish and leeches to fall from the sky like rain. During a search for a missing cat, Nakata comes across one of the most memorable characters in my recent reading (and not necessarily in a good way) who looks like Johnny Walker. Murikami describes one of the most graphic, cruel and horrible scenes I've ever read. This event causes Nakata to take off on his quest, although it's not very clear what he is seeking. Along the way, Nakata is befriended by Hoshino. The novel alternates between Kafka and Nakata as they progress, and their paths begin to converge.

I found the book reminiscent of A Windup Bird Chronicle, which I read years ago, in that magical and seemingly impossible things happen that seem perfectly ordinary and logical to the characters experiencing them. I was puzzled by the book, and while books which blur the boundaries between the real and the surreal often annoy me, in this case I accepted this dreaminess and illogic. Perhaps this is because of the skill of Murakami's writing, which made this book a real page-turner. The book brought me into a different world, and although for me in the end the mystery was not resolved, I still felt while reading the book that everything made sense.

I can't say Murakami is a favorite author. I've now read two of his books, and have a couple of his other books on my Kindle that I expect to read one day. I just have to be in the mood to experience the surreal before I immerse myself in another of his books.

Murakami says of the book, "Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren't any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader."

3 stars

Dec 12, 2017, 6:10pm Top

And here's something political for what it's worth. The other grad students in my daughter Mia's lab at Stanford were teasing her that she graduated just in time. The tax bill proposed by the Senate will require graduate students to include in their income and pay taxes on any tuition waivers they receive. For Mia (and the colleagues she is leaving behind), this would work out as follows.

At Stanford, the grad students (at least in science) receive a stipend and their tuition is waived. The stipend is about $30,000 annually. This is fully taxed, and the student must work in the lab, do experiments, and anything they discover is owned by the university. This is their income, and all living expenses, including expensive Palo Alto/Silicon Valley rents, are paid out of the stipend. (And Stanford doesn't really give the students much of a break off market value on the rent for grad student housing.) Tuition is around $80,000 per year, which means that the tuition waiver would mean $80,000 of additional "income" for the grad student to pay taxes on. So a grad student would receive $30,000 to live on, but have to pay taxes on $110,000--this could actually end up being close to almost all of the stipend itself.

This same tuition waiver income provision would also apply to undergrads who receive waivers based on their parent's employment by the university.

How do we explain this? Repubs just want everyone to be dumbed down.

Edited: Dec 13, 2017, 3:44pm Top

Daily dose of reviews:

I read another book by Minae Mizumura, A True Novel, a retelling of Wuthering Heights set in modern-day Japan, last year or the year before, and really liked it. So when I saw this next book, I checked it out of the library:

69. Inheritance From Mother by Minae Mizumura (2017) 464 pp

This novel explores the role of women in present-day Japan, and while it is quiet and meditative, there are many diverse characters and plenty of action, so it was also a page-turner for me, rather than being a mere philosophical exercise. The focus is primarily on 50ish Mitsuki, a college instructor who discovers that her husband is having an affair at the same time that her mother, with whom she has always had a difficult relationship, is dying. Mitsuki's sister Netsuki also plays a major role in the narrative. Their mother Noriko is a vain and selfish woman who has always favored Netsuki, although the bulk of the burden of her care has always fallen on Mitsuki. Mitsuki finds herself dreaming of a time after her mother has died, when she believes she will have more options to direct her own life. Noriko dies in the first chapter of the book, and Part I of the book goes back to describe the earlier life of Noriko and her ultimate rise in society, as well as the childhood, youth and young womanhood of the two sisters. In Part II, which takes place after the mother's death, Mitsuke goes alone to a hot springs mountain resort to spend several weeks deciding what to do with her future.

This book was originally published as a serial (a common format in Japanese literature earlier in the 20th century), but it still felt cohesive and unified, although there was a small amount of what seemed to be repetition. I enjoyed the characters, and the descriptions of the life and evolving role of a woman in modern Japan.

3 1/2 stars

Edited: Dec 13, 2017, 3:41pm Top

I've long heard that George Saunders is an unusual and impressive writer, and I have been wanting to read something by him for a long time. I've had his short story collection Civil War Land in Bad Decline on my TBR shelf for a while, but I got this out of the library and read it first. I think a lot of people on LT have liked/loved this impressive book. It also won the Booker.

70. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017) 368 pp

The "Bardo" is the Tibetan transitional state between lives.

This experimental novel is set in a cemetery, and is narrated by a variety of voices, primarily the dead who reside in the cemetery and who, for whatever reason, are unable to move on after death. Their narratives are interspersed with various quotations and snippets from historical sources, including diaries, letters, and news reports.

The novel is set during the Civil War in 1862, and President Lincoln's young son Willie has just died and been interred in the cemetery. That night, Lincoln, deeply grief-stricken, both by his son's death and by the war tearing the country apart, visits Willie's tomb (this is a historical fact). The cemetery inhabitants mingle and interact, and want to help Willie transition out, but Lincoln and Willie find it difficult to let each other go.

Saunders has said that this began as a play, and it is very theater-like, particular with its feel of a Greek chorus narrating and commenting on the action. It is experimental and unique, and I've never read anything like it. I strongly, strongly recommend this.

5 stars

Edited: Dec 13, 2017, 4:07pm Top

I'm one of the few people on LT who hasn't read the Harry Potter books and who has no interest in doing so, I think. (I read bits of the first book aloud to my kids, but they mostly read that, and the following books, on their own.) I did enjoy this "adult" novel by J.K. Rowling though.

71. A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012) 503 pp

J.K. Rowling: If this novel had precedents, "it would be sort of 19th century: the anatomy and analysis of a very small and closed society."

This novel revolves around the after-effects of the death of Barry Fairbrother, a member of the town council of the small town of Pogford, as various factions maneuver to fill his seat--the "casual vacancy" of the title--with their favored candidate. Thus are pitted, poor v. rich, young v. old, haves v. have-nots, the honest v. the criminal, social progressives v. staid conservatives, and most of all the genuine (but flawed) v. the hypocritical. One way or another everyone in town is affected by the death, and one way or anther everyone is connected in ways known and unknown. And over the course of the election, various secrets are revealed, and the machinations of the characters succeed or fail.

There are lots of pov characters, a very intricate plot, and the novel is witty and full of dark humor (as I've heard the Harry Potter novels are). Rowling takes on poverty, snobbery, education, politics, child abuse, drug abuse, mental health, bullying, suicide, and much more, all the while maintaining the reader's interest and sympathy. This book is very "intelligent" and well-written, and I really loved it.

4 stars

Dec 13, 2017, 4:42pm Top

72. Instrumental by James Rhodes (2017) 304 pp

(Subtitle: A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music)

James Rhodes is a sexual abuse survivor. He was systematically abused by a gym instructor from the ages of 5 to 10. While adults around him were suspicious, no one intervened at the time. The abuse has led to numerous problems for Rhodes as an adult, both physical and mental. He has had nervous breakdowns requiring extensive hospitalization, and he also suffers physical pain, and has been required to have surgeries due to physical damage inflicted on his body.

Rhodes was also a talented musician on a career path to a successful musical career. However, when he was 18, he abruptly gave up music. This "music--less" period had lasted 10 years when a chance encounter reignited his desire. He began lessons again, began recording, performing on stage, and hosting various musical programs on TV. I had never heard of him, but he is quite famous in the UK.

He sets each chapter of his memoir to a particular piece of music he loves, and recommends listening to the piece while reading that chapter. These may all be heard at


or YouTube or Spotify. I'm listing them here simply for my own recollection:

Bach, Goldberg Variations, Aria--Glenn Gould
Prokofiev, Piano Concerto #2, Finale--Evgeny Kissin
Schubert, Piano Trio #2 in E-Flat, 2nd Movement--Ashkenazy, Zukerman, Harrel
Bach, Busoni Chaconne--James Rhodes
Beethoven, Piano Sonata #32, opus 111, 2nd Movement--Ohlsson
Scriabin, Piano Concerto, Last Movement--Ashkenazy
Ravel, Piano Trio--Ashkenazy, Perlman, Harrel
Shostakovich, Piano Concerto # 2, 2nd Movement--Leonskaya
Bruckner, Symphony #7, 2nd Movement--von Karajan
Liszt, Totentanz--Sergio Tiempo
Brahms, German Requiem, 1st Movement--von Karajan
Mozart, Symphony # 41, 4th Movement--MacKerran
Chopin, Etude in C-major, Op. 10/1--Pollini
Chopin, Fantasie in F-minor, Op.49--Zimmerman
Ravel, Piano Concerto in G, 2nd Movement--Zimmerman
Schumann, Geister Variations--??
Schubert, Sonata # 20, D. 959, 2nd Movement--Lonquich
Beethoven, Piano Concerto # 5, 2nd Movement--Lupu
Rachmaninov, Rhapsody on a Theme by Pagannini--Kocsis
Bach, Goldberg Variations, Aria da Capo

Despite its mostly grim topic, I enjoyed this book, especially the descriptions of the music and the artistic process.

3 stars

Edited: Dec 13, 2017, 4:54pm Top

73. I'd Rather Be Reading by Guinevere De la Mare (2017) 96 pp

This slight book has been described as a book of "art" for book lovers. I wouldn't go that far. It's more like a collection of Pinterest memes than art. Some of them I've seen before (so they must be fairly common or well-known, and probably wouldn't be anything new to most 75'ers), and some I'd never heard of. These were mostly pictures, poems, quotations, etc. A very quick read, and nothing particularly memorable. Maybe worth 15 minutes or so.

2 stars

Edited: Dec 13, 2017, 5:12pm Top

74. How to Be Well Read by John Sutherland (2015) 528 pp

This is billed as a "guide to 500 great novels" and is written by a literary scholar. It contains brief descriptions/analyses of each of the novels. There are, of course, many novels you would expect to see in such a compilation. I found that this volume includes many that you would not. I mean, Jaws by Peter Benchley or Lace by Shirley Conran might be fun reads, but do you need to read them to be "well-read"?

Most of the books included were 20th/21st century, but Sutherland says he didn't include books that he's considered in his other books (i.e. Victorian), and that he tried to include a variety of genres. There were some books I would consider "contemporary classics" and there were some books/authors I haven't heard about that look interesting. As long as you are aware that this book mostly includes popular fiction, it's worth a look. I mostly skimmed it.

2 1/2 stars

ETA--I went back and looked at the list of books I gleaned from this book, and see that it is quite varied and contains a lot of what look to be, or are known to be, very good books. So maybe I am being too dismissive in saying that it "mostly" includes "popular" fiction. I think I was just taken aback by some choices that I found to be unexpected from someone considered to be a literary scholar. I'm not "Not Recommending" this book.

Edited: Dec 13, 2017, 6:34pm Top

And for the 75th of the year, this special book:

75. In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs by Andrew Blauner (2017) 313 pp 4 stars

"Not capable of being confined by British popular music, or psychedelia, or Baroque music, or Indian music, or anything else, but magpies, claiming whatever shiny thing seized them, and refining and repurposing the material."

This book, released on the 50th anniversary of the release of the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart Club album, consists of 29 contributors describing the connection of their personal history to Beatles songs. These "mini-memoirs" are presented chronologically by date of the song's release, from "She Loves You" to "The Two of Us." Some of these pieces are very personal, and we learn a lot about the various authors' lives. Others focus on the song, some on the lyrics some on the musicality. Some focus on the moment in time. Some feel very academic.

I think your reaction to this will depend on how well you know/like the Beatles. I loved it. I came of age with the Beatles, but I was surprised how many of the contributors were children or even unborn during the Beatles era, but nevertheless became fans. And here's a factoid for you: More books have been written about the Beatles than there are Beatles songs (409).

For my own purposes, I am including a list of contributors, the songs they chose, and a brief description of what each discusses. You can skip this if you consider it spoilerish. It's in alphabetical order by last name of the contributor:

Thomas Beller--"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"--this was a song of his childhood in the mid-70's--analysis of words and music.
Peter Blauner--"And Your Bird Can Sing"--much discussion of John's murder, his books, and his way with words.
Amy Bloom--"Norwegian Wood"--Mostly discusses the songs on Rubber Soul Album, which she heard in 1964 when she was 11.
Roseanne Cash--"No Reply"--discusses how a song can tell a sad story. This song is strongly associated in her mind with her parent's breakup.
Roz Chast--"She Loves You"--discusses her personal experiences as the only child of older parents (if you've read any of her graphic memoirs you know what this means), and how the Beatles helped her through.
Shawn Colvin--"I'll Be Back"--heard in 1965 as a 9 year old. Mostly discusses chord structure.
Nicholas Davidoff--"A Day in the Life"--first heard as a little kid while he was at a babysitters. Described as a "collage" of images in 2 folios.
David Duchovny--"Dear Prudence"--musings about the name Prudence.
Gerald Early--"I'm A Loser"--as an African-American, he was not the target audience, but he succumbed. Discussion of black v. white music.
Bill Flanagan--"The Two of Us"--first song on their last album
Adam Gopnick--Comparison of "Strawberry Fields" (John) and "Penny Lane" (Paul), both evocations of a time and better place in the past, one implicit, one explicit, and very different.
David Hadju--"You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" This is said to be Paul's favorite song, but it's very unBeatle-like and strange.
John Hockenberry--"Let It Be"--his daughter loves to sing it.

Continued below:

Dec 13, 2017, 6:32pm Top

Pico Ayer--"Yesterday"--the simplest song, melodically, so he can sing it at karaoke.
Chuck Klosterman--"Helter-Skelter"--born after the Beatles broke up, he's never met anyone whose favorite Beatles song is Helter-Skelter, but he finds it their most interesting song.
Alan Light--"I Saw Her Standing There"--born after the Beatles, and heard this song after his father remarried and his step-mom had a Beatles collection. Nowadays, a father himself, his teenage son is a Beatlemaniac.
Rebecca Mead--"Eleanor Rigby"-she saw this as a work of fiction, a sad story, and has somehow always connected it to a childhood friend whose parents separated and the father moved into a trailer in the driveway.
Rick Moody--"The End (Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight)"--much discussion of chord progressions. This was his mother's record, and it is conflated in his mind with his parent's divorce.
Joseph O'Neill--"Good Day Sunshine"--Mostly a literary analysis of the lyrics. His 3 1/2 year old sister found the Revolver album under a bed in their South Africa home.
John Pareles--"Tomorrow Never Knows"--first heard as a 12 year old in 1966--struck by use of non-Western music and sitar music.
Maria Popova--"Yellow Submarine"--her parents are from Bulgaria (father was born in 1960), where courting couples have a "whistle-call" song to summon each other. "Yellow Submarine" was her parents' whistle call.
Francine Prose--"Here Comes the Sun"--as a teenager, she grew up with the Beatles; George was her favorite. Me too!
Elisa Schappel--"Octopus's Garden"--this was her little girl's fantasy song.
Mona Simpson--"She's Leaving Home"--heard in 1967 as a 10 year old. Based on a true news story. The harpist impressed her.
Jane Smiley--"I Want to Hold Your Hand"--Another one whose favorite was George. Also my age.
Toure--"The Ballad of John and Yoko"--discusses the controversy surrounding John's comment that the Beatles seem to be more popular than Jesus.
Alan Wilkinson--"She Said/She Said (I Know What It's Like to Be Dead)"--told of mysteries and LSD.
Ben Zimmer--"I Am the Walrus"--discusses the source of "Goo Goo Goo Joob," and words and nonsense verse.

I'm sure I could come up with memories/anecdotes for many of these songs. More generally, I remember having to wait months, and months, and months for Beatles records ordered from the US to arrive in Aruba by boat mail. And in the meantime being able to hear the songs only once a week or so when the Voice of America short wave radio played the Top Ten hits of the week. And when the records finally arrived, playing them over and over and over, and giggling with my friends.
Fast forward a few years, and I'm living in London, heart of Beatleland. I remember shortly after the Beatles opened the offices for Apple Records on Baker Street during the winter of 1967/68 going with a friend to hang out outside those offices to see if we could catch anyone coming or going. (We didn't). But that afternoon, even while we were there, London was hit with a massive snow storm. I remember standing in the middle of the street there in the middle of London, with no traffic, several inches of snow surrounding my feet, and the city was deathly quiet, muffled by the still falling snow. Of course, the buses, undergrounds, and trains were all snarled, delayed, cancelled, and I needed all of them to get home. Nowadays, something like that would panic me. But then (ah--Youth), I had no worries or cares--it was all good.

Hope I'll be back tomorrow for my remaining 35 or 40 reviews, or at least some of them.

Dec 13, 2017, 6:47pm Top

Popping in to say that I read your review of Here I Am and enjoyed it very much. It voices much of what I think of the book, which I finished yesterday and will discuss with a book group on Thursday.

And congratulations on hitting 75! Well done!

Lots of interesting titles on your thread. I may return to note them down.

Dec 13, 2017, 6:49pm Top

>255 arubabookwoman: What a beautiful memory of that snowfall!

Dec 14, 2017, 8:46am Top

Congrats on hitting 75! Sounds like an interesting book for hitting the goal.

Dec 14, 2017, 2:09pm Top

Congratulations on reaching 75, Deborah!

Dec 14, 2017, 10:07pm Top

Hi Deborah - Nice to see you back, and your life is not boring. How wonderful that your daughter got a job immediately, and, as you say, just in time. If you enjoy The Daily Show, Roy Wood did a very funny bit on the tax bill: http://www.cc.com/video-clips/s3enqa/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-how-to-sell....

I liked The Heart Goes Last a bit more than you did. I want to reread Kafka on the Shore.

One of these days I'll get to Lincoln in the Bardo... I think I need to retire.

Congrats on reaching 75.

Dec 18, 2017, 12:43pm Top

>256 ffortsa: and >257 ffortsa: Thanks Judy. I'm glad you liked Here I Am. It was my first book by him.

>258 drneutron: Thanks Jim. and
>259 FAMeulstee: Thanks Anita

Of course I am so far behind on reviews, I reached this number back in August. I am nearing 120 now. Not anywhere near your number Anita.

>260 BLBera: Thanks Beth--That WAS very funny--also true and sad. From personal experience, I can recommend retirement (as well as Lincoln in the Bardo).

I've been out and around, but I have a free day today so I hope to catch up on a few more reviews. I will be very disappointed in myself if I don't at least come near to catching up. I have a busy day tomorrow with my Art History study group in the a.m and my annual physical in the p.m.,but the rest of the week is pretty clear until my youngest son arrives from NYC for Christmas Friday evening. The weather says we have a chance of snow then, so I hope that doesn't wreak havoc on his travel.

Edited: Dec 18, 2017, 1:00pm Top

There was a movie made of this book starring Elizabeth Taylor, which I saw for some reason when I was fairly young, and did not understand what was going on. I remembered a scene in which Elizabeth Taylor scrawled something onto a mirror with lipstick, but didn't know what it said. I saw this book at the library, and read it to see if I could finally solve the mystery.

76. Butterfield 8 by John O'Hara (1935) 228 pp

"On this Sunday morning in May, this girl who later was to be the cause of a sensation in New York, awoke much too early for her night before...."

Set in the early 1930's in New York City, this is the story of the downfall of "party girl" Gloria Wondrous. After a night in his apartment with her married lover Weston Liggett, Gloria awakens alone and finds her evening dress torn. She takes off in her slip with Liggett's wife's mink coat covering her.

We learn Gloria's history, from a childhood in which she was sexually abused. She's promiscuous and conniving, using her sexuality to gain power, but she is not unsympathetic. The novel is permeated with the atmosphere of New York City during the Depression, and during prohibition--there are speakeasies, and unspoken class distinctions, and prejudice against Jews. You know it can't end well.

I enjoyed this book, and would like to read more by O'Hara, who Fran Liebowitz describes as "the real F. Scott Fitzgerald."


3 stars

Edited: Dec 18, 2017, 1:23pm Top

77. Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones (2006) 636 pp

Like Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, this novel of historical fiction features the construction of a medieval cathedral. In this novel, however, the construction of the cathedral is less central to the plot, which does not revolve around the details of its construction and financing, but rather centers more broadly on the history and development of Barcelona in terms of its commerce and rulers during this time period. And unlike in Pillars of the Earth, this is a real cathedral, which is still in existence in Barcelona, and can be visited today. See this wiki article:


Arnau Estangol comes to Barcelona as an infant with his father, an escaped serf. As a youth, Arnau becomes a stoneworker, "bastaixo", hauling massive blocks of stone on his back from the quarry to the cathedral site. His good friend and adoptive brother Joan studies to become a priest. As time passes, the Inquisition and the troubles of Catalonian royal succession engulf them, as Arnau rises through society and Joan becomes an Inquisitor.

This is not always the best writing, but it's a grand and epic story of life in the middle ages. Its plot is sometimes a bit far-fetched, but the range is broad, emphasizing the disparity between the aristocrats and the masses. There is war, plague, trade and money exchange, and the treatment of the Jews in medieval Spain. This was an engaging read.

3 stars

Dec 18, 2017, 1:36pm Top

78. In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan (2016) 688 pp

This is a history of autism , beginning in the 1930's with the case of Donald Triplett, who was born in a small Mississippi town, and who was the first to receive an official diagnosis of autism by Leo Kamner, one of autism's early experts. At that time, and for a long while afterwards, the families of children receiving such a diagnosis were told to institutionalize them and to forget they had ever been born.

The history is told over the 20th century and into the 21st through a mosaic of individuals whose lives were and are touched by this condition. Through their lives all aspects of autism are covered, from the era of "refrigerator mothers", to the myriad of controversial treatments that have been devised, as well as research, bogus and otherwise into causes and outlooks for the condition. This book is the history of the battles that the families of those with autism, as well as those with autism themselves, fought and are fighting to live the best lives possible.

I found this book to be extremely readable, and in fact riveting. This was a history of real people, not statistics, and it was presented in an informative and logical way.

Highly recommended

4 stars

Edited: Dec 18, 2017, 1:59pm Top

I read this next one as an antidote to A Gentleman in Moscow

79. The Girl From the Metropol Hotel by Lyudmila Petrushevskaya (2006) 176 pp

Lyudmila Petrushevskaya was born in 1938 at the Metropol Hotel into a family of intellectuals. She did not live there long; some of her family were arrested and some executed as enemies of the people. This book is her coming of age memoir. It is told in a series of vignettes, showing her childhood of deprivation--eating from garbage cans, going without shoes in the winter, living outside in the summer. She tells her life as a child, through a child's eyes--very matter-of-fact, since it's the only life she knows, and thus it must be the norm. As a child's story, it is also not political.


3 stars

Dec 18, 2017, 2:14pm Top

80. After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh (2011) 188 pp

I still don't get short stories, and this collection of slightly science-fictionish stories is no exception. I have no idea of how to review it, so I'll just post a few brief comments about each story:

"The Naturalist"--rather than being jailed, convicts are put in a town with zombies. Most don't survive.

"Special Economics"--A factory girl in China sings rap songs on the street to earn extra money so she can pay off her debt and escape the company to which she is enslaved.

"Useless Things"--a woman ekes out a living in the southwestern desert making life-like dolls, called "reborns", which she thinks are primarily purchased by parents whose babies have died.

"The Lost Boy: A Reporter at Large"--After a Baltimore nuclear terrorist attack, a teenage boy suffers amnesia, and builds a new life. Problems arise when his parents finally locate him, and want him to come home.

"The Kingdom of the Blind"--There is a computer glitch in the power switch of a worldwide system--is the computer doing this on purpose?

"Going to France"--A small boat heads out into the Atlantic to enable its passengers to take off flying from a slightly shorter distance to France. Everyone suddenly wants to go to France, but no one knows why. The narrator buys a ticket to fly to France in an airplane (unlike others), but while waiting in the airport, he realizes that they weren't going to leave. (????)

"Honeymoon"--"I was an aggravated bride." After learning that her new husband had gambled away the money she saved for a honeymoon, she has the marriage annulled. She moves to Cleveland, and becomes a guinea pig in medical experiments to earn money to go on what would have been her dream honeymoon trip.

"The Effect of Centrifugal Forces"--One of Irene's moms is a drug addict, and the other is dying from avian prion disease.

"After the Apocalypse"--a woman and her daughter are walking to Canada, looking for sustenance.

3 stars

Edited: Dec 18, 2017, 2:31pm Top

81. The Four Swans by Winston Graham (1976) 592 pp

The focus of this Poldark entry is on the four women in Ross's life, Demelza, Elizabeth, Caroline, and Morwenna. Morwenna has been married off to the despicable Osbourne Whitworth despite her love for Demelza's brother Drake, and the marriage is even more unhappy than we could have anticipated. Demelza acquires a young admirer, Hugh, a young naval officer, much to Ross's dismay. Caroline and Dwight are working through issues in their marriage resulting from his need for serious work and her need for leisure. Elizabeth continues to blind herself to the machinations of George Warleggan, as he nurtures his suspicions about Valentine's parentage.

4 stars

Edited: Dec 18, 2017, 2:35pm Top

82. What To Do About the Solomons by Bethany Bell (2017) 288

"What to do with the Solomons? The Solomons will do for themselves."

"One day honey, the next day onions."

This novel focuses on the Israeli Solomon family, patriarch Yakov and his wife Vivienne, and their 5 children. They mostly remain in Israel, some on a kibbutz, but Marc, the favorite son has moved to Los Angeles with his family. As the novel opens, Marc has just been arrested and charged with some vague, but serious, financial crimes.

The novel is told non-chronologically in a sporadic manner with abrupt changes of pov character, setting, time and plot points. This makes the novel very difficult to follow and to become engaged in. I felt it to be very scattered and incomplete, with no emotional center, and too many characters and events glossed quickly over--it was like the pilot for what is hoped to be a long-running family saga tv series. I actually read through this twice, the second time making an outline of each "episode" or section, noting the characters involved and the events describe. It didn't make me like the book any better.

1 1/2 stars

Dec 18, 2017, 2:42pm Top

This is book 4 of the Australian Hal Challis detective series. I read it after I read the first one, but accidentally before I read the second and third volumes.

83. Chain of Evidence by Garry Disher (2008) 368 pp

In the fourth volume of this crime series, Hal is in the outback at his childhood home, where he has been summoned because of his father's illness. While there, he decides to investigate the disappearance of his sister's husband several years before, a mystery that has never been solved. That leaves Ellen back on the Peninsula in charge of a child abduction and possible murder. She's missing Hal, and wondering whether she's in over her head, and it's beginning to look like there may be a child pedophile ring and possible police corruption involved.

As noted before, I enjoy this crime series, especially the characters involved in solving the varied crimes they encounter, from Hal down to patrolman "Tank."

3 stars

Dec 18, 2017, 3:11pm Top

Another Australian entry. I saw the excellent movie, and wanted to read the book. It was a better movie than book.

84. Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington (2002) 136 pp

Beginning at the turn of the 20th century and continuing into the 1970's, the government of Australia determined that children of mixed race, usually with Aboriginal mothers and European fathers, would be better off removed from their mothers and raised in institutional homes where they would be trained for the vocations they were deemed worthy of--usually farmhands for the boys and domestic servants for the girls. Doris Pilkington's aunt and mother were among the children wrenched from their others in the 1930's. Unlike many of the children who were removed from their homes, they escaped, and tried to run away back to their home more than 1000 miles away. To navigate, they used the "rabbit proof fence," which is a fence stretching north to south across most of Australia, constructed to contain the rabbits which had been imported to Australia and had multiplied so successfully that they were a major threat to farmers.

Pilkington writes this book, taking a long view, beginning with the history of Australia. Although she had a close relationship with two of the protagonists, who told her their story, she writes of them very distantly. I never felt that I was close to them or their emotions, or experiencing what they were feeling, as I did with the movie. I think this is one of the rare cases where the movie is better than the book.

2 stars

Edited: Dec 18, 2017, 3:54pm Top

85. My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein (2017) 352 pp

"Think where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was that I had such friends."

In 1988 when she was 25 years old, Amy Silverstein suffered sudden heart failure, and she received a heart transplant, which usually provide relief for 10-11 years. When this memoir opens, it is 25 years later, and Amy has lived a full and rich life, happily married with a son in college. Although she has suffered ups and downs over the years, including a myriad of health problems arising from the transplant and the drugs she must take to prevent rejection, most recently cancer requiring a double mastectomy, on the whole Amy feels that her life has been good.

Repeat transplants are apparently much trickier and much more complicated than initial transplants, and Amy's initial transplant team in New York does not feel qualified to perform a repeat transplant on Amy. Thus Amy must go to California, where the doctors are more experienced in such repeat transplants, to await a second heart.

Since she will be away from home (although fortunately her husband will be able to accompany her and work from California, he will not be able to be with her full time), a group of 9 of Amy's friends (Joy, Jill, Leja, Jody, Lauren, Robin, Valerie, Ann and Jane) have agreed to rotate so that there is always at least one of them with her as she awaits her new heart. Her friends share her despair at her deteriorating health and the pain she endures, but they also get silly with her and bring laughter and joy.

This was a very moving memoir. Amy is very candid about her thought processes in deciding whether to go through with a second transplant now that she is fully aware of the downsides and continuing pain and suffering that can be experienced despite having a successful medical outcome. She is also very open about her deteriorating health condition as she awaits a new heart--she doesn't sugar-coat her suffering, or paint herself as a Pollyanna, and is very honest about her mental as well as her physical condition.

Two criticisms I have, maybe neither of which is any of my business. First, I couldn't understand how out of the loop she and her husband kept their son. Although he was still in college, he was an adult, yet he seemed to have been mostly uninformed about how near death his mother actually was, and remained in Ohio while she was in the hospital in California. Maybe there were visits, but I don't recall them.

Second, the book ends when the new heart is found. It goes into great detail about the period of waiting, but there is no information about the operation itself or the recovery period. We know she survived, because she wrote the book, but we don't learn anything about the operation or what she went through during recovery.

Still, this was a very moving and emotional, as well as informative, story.

3 1/2 stars

Edited: Dec 18, 2017, 4:15pm Top

86. The Golden House by Salman Rushdie (2017) 400 pp

Nero Golden, a billionaire, arrives in New York City after escaping some unknown unfortunate circumstances in India, with his three adult sons to take up residence in a mansion backing up onto a secluded park. The narrator of the novel is Rene, a film student who lives with his parents in another house backing up onto the park (which is accessible only to residents whose homes back onto the park). Rene becomes intrigued with the Golden family and begins telling their story as he learns it or imagines it, and along the way, muses as to how he would film it.

The oldest Golden son, Petya, (Petronius) is agoraphobic, alcoholic, and possibly autistic. The middle son, Apu, (Lucius Apuleius) is a charming avant garde artist with a stunning girlfriend who is a sculptor. The youngest son D, (Dionysus) is still finding himself, including trying to figure out his sexuality and gender.

In addition, soon after their arrival, the father Nero marries a beautiful and bombastic Russian, Vasilisa, who wants nothing more than to cement her hold over Nero (and his property) by becoming pregnant with another son.

All this is happening against the backdrop of an unusual U.S. presidential election featuring another NYC billionaire, who has purple hair and is known as "The Joker" who is running for president.

As is common with Rushdie the writing is wonderful and wordplay abounds. There is broad-ranging commentary on contemporary American culture and life. The story is told episodically, and sometimes mythically. If anyone could pull it off, Rushdie could. But I don't think he quite pulls off a successful novel. The language is there, but it never pulled together for me and I never engaged with the novel. I don't regret reading it, but it never called to me, and it's no where near as good as several other of his novels I have enjoyed.

2 1/2 stars.

Dec 18, 2017, 4:39pm Top

87. Phantom by Jo Nesbo (2011) 466 pp

Harry, out of police work for a while now, and sober, returns to Oslo from Hong Kong to take on the only case that could get him out of retirement. His putative son Oleg, son of his former lover Rakel, has been charged with murder, and Harry is determined to prove him innocent.

This one focuses a lot on drugs and drug dealers, and a new drug called "violin" which is more pleasurable than heroin, although it is more expensive. Certain bad guys want to keep their monopoly on violin, and it all gets pretty gory and bloody. There's also a plot/subplot involving corruption in the Oslo police department--all very dark and dismal.

One heads up--this book ends on a cliff hanger, and in addition, many of the plot points in this volume carry over into the next Harry Hole installment. You won't want to wait too long before reading the next book, or you may forget some important plot points. (Or I would.)

3 stars

Edited: Dec 18, 2017, 5:01pm Top

88. Police by Jo Nesbo (2013) 448 pp

Harry has stayed on in Oslo rather than returning to Hong Kong. However, he is no longer on the police force, having settled for the tamer career of teaching investigative techniques at the police academy. Life is good, until indications that a serial killer is a work begin to appear. The victims are all police personnel, and they are all killed at the site of and/or in a manner similar to a previous crime that remains unsolved. Newly installed police chief Mikael Bellman, a morally compromised individual, is getting a lot of pressure from above to solve these crimes, and in turn begins to corruptly pressure Harry to take over the investigation to solve these crimes.

I was annoyed by Nesbo in this book overly using misleading techniques. He would set a scene in such a way that the reader believes it involves a particular character, which would have a number of plot implications, and then later clarifies that it was actually another character, with totally different implications. He totally overuses this technique to try to build suspense, and I found it to be a cheap trick. The biggest one of these occurs from the beginning until well into the novel when a man lies unconscious in a hospital, with a police guard, and it looks like attempts are being made on his life. Harry Hole has yet to make an appearance in the novel, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER (and since Harry was left for dead at the end of the previous novel) END SPOILER Nesbo clearly intends the reader to assume that the unconscious man in the hospital is Harry. This red herring technique occurred so often it interfered with my enjoyment of this book, and it was very annoying. The plot is otherwise so good, there was no reason for this teasing.

As with the previous novel, there are plot points that carry over into the next Harry Hole installment so you should read the next one fairly soon after you read this one.

2 1/2 stars

Dec 18, 2017, 5:07pm Top

89. The Thirst by Jo Nesbo (2017) 480 pp

The latest Harry Hole to be translated into English involves another serial killer for Harry to catch. In this case, it soon becomes apparent that the killer uses Tinder, an online dating service, to choose his victims. And, he chooses a particularly gruesome method of murdering his victims--using "vampire teeth" to ravage their jugular veins so that the victims bleed to death.

A subplot involving police corruption by Mikael Bellman and his sidekick Truls carries through.

By this point you'll know whether you like to read about Harry Hole or not. I still enjoy him, though I do find that in this one Nesbo seems to have endowed him with almost supernatural abilities to power on despite being wounded or suffering circumstances that would have stalled a mortal being.

3 stars

Dec 18, 2017, 5:16pm Top

90. Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer (2000) 320 pp

This science fiction novel was the basis for a short-lived tv series of the same name. During an experiment in a particle collider in Switzerland, everyone in the world "blacks out" for a few minutes and sees or lives their lives about 20 years in the future, and are able to discern how their lives have progressed. If they have died in the interim, they see only blackness.

Along with the story of the scientists trying to figure out what caused this anomaly, the book concerns itself with characters who think about and try to decide if they liked what they saw of their futures. If they don't they want to investigate whether there is anything one can do to change the future--is it already fixed, or can an individual's actions alter what happens? Does free will exist?

There's lots of action in this novel, and lots of characters. Some are realistic and some are not. I enjoyed this, but it's pretty typical science fiction which is sometimes short on character development. A quick, distracting read.

2 1/2 stars.

Dec 18, 2017, 5:24pm Top

91. The Hole by Pyun Hye-young (2016) 208 pp

A car accident that has killed his wife has left Oyhi paralyzed. When he awakens from a coma, he is brought home, where he is to be cared for by his mother-in-law, his deceased wife's mother. Besides being paralyzed, he is temporarily unable to speak. His mother-in-law clearly blames Oyhi for her daughter's death. He is neglected by her, if not abused, as she begins digging up the beautiful garden her daughter had cultivated.

This book was billed as a subtle psychological thriller. Maybe it was too subtle for me, as I found not much happened, and I didn't really understand the meaning of what did happen. However, it is a Korean prize winner, and the writing was quiet and lyrical. I don't regret reading it.

2 1/2 stars

Dec 18, 2017, 7:56pm Top

What a treat it is to visit - all kinds of good books! The two that especially stand out are Cathedral of the Sea, which was also recommended by a friend of mine from Barcelona, and The Girl from the Metropol Hotel.

I haven't read The Thirst yet, but I find that if I read the Nesbø books too close together, I get really annoyed with them. In Police, I spent the first half of the book thinking Harry was dead, so I share your feelings about that one.

Dec 20, 2017, 5:57pm Top

You are closing in on one hundred.....

Dec 23, 2017, 10:33am Top

Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones.

Dec 23, 2017, 5:26pm Top

Happy holidays to you, Deborah!

Dec 24, 2017, 2:26pm Top

(Or in other words, Happy Christmas, to you and yours!)

Dec 24, 2017, 3:05pm Top

It is that time of year again, between Solstice and Christmas, just after Hanukkah, when our thoughts turn to wishing each other well in whatever language or image is meaningful to the recipient. So, whether I wish you Happy Solstice or Merry Christmas, know that what I really wish you, and for you, is this:

Dec 24, 2017, 9:24pm Top

Wishing you all good things this holiday season and beyond.

Dec 25, 2017, 9:18am Top

Merry Christmas from Philadelphia, Deborah!

Dec 26, 2017, 4:02pm Top

Well, I WAS keeping your thread warm until RL swept mw away after Thanksgiving. Wow! What a lot of great books and reviews here. : ) I am sorry Thanksgiving was so hard without the kids. Did you manage to see any of them for Christmas? Hope so!!

And Happy Boxing Day!!

Dec 27, 2017, 3:14pm Top

>278 BLBera: Hi Beth--I think if you have an interest in Barcelona, Cathedral of the Sea is an excellent book--it's "popular" fiction, so the writing is not always the best, but it's very plot and character driven and a page-turner.
I agree with you about the Harry Hole book making it seem like Harry was dead for the first third of the book-it was very annoying.

>279 EBT1002:/>281 EBT1002: Thank you Ellen. I hope you and P are having a wonderful holiday. Did it snow down in Seattle? We had a White Christmas, and the snow still lingers.

>280 Ameise1: Thank you Barbara. Holiday wishes to you too.

>282 SandDune: Thank you Rhian. Merry Christmas to you, J., and Mr. Sanddune.

>283 ronincats: Thank you for the holiday greetings Roni. Holiday greetings and all best wishes to you and yours too.

>284 PaulCranswick: Thank you Paul. I wish you and your lovely family a peaceful and happy season and new year. May it be better than the last for you.

>285 kidzdoc: Hi Daryl--Merry Christmas to you too, and best wishes to you and your family for the new year.

>286 Berly: Hi Kim. I did miss you here, but it seems from your thread that all is well with you and your family. We've had our youngest son here for Christmas and he's here until New Years Eve. We're enjoying his presence very much, and to top it all off, we had a White Christmas.

Best wishes for the new year to all my visitors, and all those on LT whose threads and book recommendations I follow. You all have enriched my life, and I am very thankful.

Now to book reviews. I still have hopes of reviewing all my 2017 books, but I will be very busy the next few days on LT.

Dec 27, 2017, 3:53pm Top

92. Exit, West by Mohsin Hamid (2017) 238 pp

"In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom, and did not speak to her."

Although I liked Exit, West, I liked it less than Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which I loved. As this novel opens, two young people in an unnamed city in the Middle East, Nadia and Saeed, meet and fall in love. As their relationship develops, war and unrest begin to encroach on their daily lives, ultimately leaving them basically housebound They are faced with the difficult decision of whether to abandon everything they have ever known and start a new life elsewhere. Through the story of Nadia and Saeed, the novel focuses on the plight of refugees worldwide as they flee their homelands.

A novel about refugees might be expected to feature the physical journeys they make, but this one does not. There is no harrowing sea voyage in a small dinghy across the Mediterranean, no draining and dangerous journey across the southwestern desert at the mercy of a coyote. Instead, the novel veers into magical realism: those wishing to flee their homeland simply pay a fee and step through a door; on the other side of the door, they are in a new country. These doors pop up periodically at various locations, and when a door opens, the refugee must make a decision as to whether to make a leap into the unknown in the hope of finding a better life.

Hamid's writing is very elegant, and the story of Nadia and Saeed is very moving. However, although they faced hardships in their homeland, and continued to suffer and to face hardships as they emigrated to different countries, somehow the book did not covey feelings of tension, excitement, crisis to me--I'm not sure what the correct word would be. I felt distant from their story. I'm not sure if that was me, or the book. I'm despondent about the politics of these times we're living in, and I feel that I'm sympathetic to the plight of refugees. The thought of a wall between the haves and the havenots of the world disgusts me. I can't figure out why I didn't engage with this book more. Perhaps it has to do with the magical realism device of the doors.

3 stars

Dec 27, 2017, 4:26pm Top

When we were down in Palo Alto in November for our daughter's thesis defense, we noticed what seemed to be an abnormally large number of RVs and campers parked around Palo Alto and surrounding cities. Our daughter told us that it is common for people unable to afford the rents in the area to live in RVs and campers. There is a constant tug of war between these people and city officials. Then last week I heard a piece on NPR about people in LA living in rented RVs or campers because rents are also so high there. The landlords move the vehicles every 72 hours or so (to avoid parking violations) and text their tenants the new location. The LA city council is currently trying to decide how to regulate this new phenomenon. I read Nomadland before these two events, but they certainly confirmed what I learned in Nomadland

93. Nomadland by Jessica Bruder (2017) 320 pp

Nomadland is the story of (mostly) older people for whom their retirement years are not "golden"--they are not technically homeless, but they live in their RVs or vans and traverse the country in search of seasonal, temporary work. Jessica Bruder spent a great deal of time with the people whose lives she portrays in this book.

The jobs they seek and hold range from janitorial/maintenance work at state and national parks during the summer, to farm work during beet harvest season, to work in one of Amazon's mammoth fulfillment centers during the buildup to the Holidays. The common factor is that the work is usually back-breaking, mind-numbing, and low-paying. In fact, Amazon relies on these workers--they have a name and a logo: "The Camper Force." One of the perks of being a Camper Force member is that Amazon provides free OTC pain relievers to these workers to relieve the pain and strain of the heavy lifting and miles walked each day. (I, for one, will be thinking of this each time I order from Amazon in the future.)

The people forced into this new economy include former blue and pink collar workers for whom Social Security is not quite enough to make it on, and also former college professors, software engineers, pastors and other theoretically middle class people. Many of them lost their savings and/or their houses in the financial crisis of 2008.

This is a very sobering book, and I fear that stories like these will become the norm as Congress marches relentlessly on its quest to demolish Social Security and Medicare with the goal of voucherizing Medicare and privatizing Social Security. However, despite the grim outlook, the people depicted in this book are for the most part hopeful and optimistic people who look on the bright side of things, which made it a pleasure to get to know them. Unfortunately, though, we don't need a dystopian novel to see where the future is headed.

4 stars

Dec 27, 2017, 4:36pm Top

A much-needed light read:

94. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013) 316 pp

Don Tillman is a genetics professor who is socially clueless, and probably on the autism spectrum. He wants to get married, but only to a woman who meets his rigorous criteria for a wife. He devises a 16 page questionnaire for potential dates to fill out, and not surprisingly he is having difficulty finding a wife, since almost everyone is eliminated by the questionnaire.

The he meets Rosie Jarman. She is definitely disqualified as wife material on multiple grounds. However, Don is interested, as a genetics scholar, in helping her find her biological father. Everyone but Don knows where this will lead.

This was a cute and quirky book, if somewhat predictable like a 30 minute romantic-comedy tv show is predictable. I enjoyed it though, and will probably read the sequel, The Rosie Effect.

3 stars

Dec 27, 2017, 4:52pm Top

Nice reviews!! I an inclined to skip EW, but Nomadland sounds very good, if somewhat sobering. I loved The Rosie Project and the sequel. Light, fun reads both. Happy Wednesday!

Dec 27, 2017, 5:27pm Top

95. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer (2017) 289 pp

Abdel Kader Haidara collected many ancient and priceless Arabic manuscripts that had been passed down in families for generations throughout the Saharan desert, and placed them in a historic library in the fabled town of Timbuktu in the hope of preserving them for posterity. When an fundamentalist Islamist terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda showed up on Timbuktu's doorstep, the 350,000 or so manuscripts were threatened with destruction. This book is the fascinating and exciting story of how Abdel and his friends, family and colleagues smuggled all of the manuscripts to safety out of Timbuktu, the story of a meek librarian who becomes a world-class smuggler, if you will.

The book combines a thriller/adventure story with the story of the rise of al Qaeda in Africa. I highly recommend it.

3 stars

Edited: Dec 27, 2017, 5:51pm Top

>291 Berly: Hi Kim--Good choice to read Nomadland and skip Exit West. I found Nomadland fascinating and a page-turner.

96. When the Air Hits Your Brain by Frank T. Vertosick (1996) 272 pp

This was an engaging memoir of the medical school and training experiences, from internship to fellowships, of the author on his journey to become a neurosurgeon. It includes some fascinating case histories, but mostly focuses on the author's evolving relationship with and attitude towards his patients.

When he began training, he would find himself emotionally touched by his patients. Then, "Trauma experiences hardened me to death and pain patients made me cynical about suffering. I felt my personality shifting away during this arduous process of becoming 'one of them.' Clinical cases no longer evoked the strong emotions they once had."

"Yet my emotional numbness was still only partial. I still hadn't progressed to the status of true surgical psychopath, wherein one's humanity is placed under general anesthesia."

He also discusses the mistakes made and the effect they had on him in his training. At a certain point, as he became more skilled, he learned he had to guard against overconfidence:

"Before reaching my surgical adulthood, I would again stumble into the inferno of overconfidence. And come perilously close to emotional incineration."

Ultimately (thankfully), the author came to the conclusion that "surgical psychopathy" was not the best way to handle the difficulties of his profession. He learned that some caring is a necessary element to be a good surgeon.

I enjoyed this book, focusing as it does on the emotional development of a surgeon. I recommend it if this sounds interesting to you.

3 1/2 stars

Dec 27, 2017, 6:03pm Top

97. Snapshot by Garry Disher (2007) 359 pp

Psychologist Janine McQuarrie is shot and killed in front of her young daughter in an apparently random incident. It turns out that she is the daughter-in-law of Police Superintendent McQuarrie. It also turns out that she had recently been coerced by her husband into participating into some mate-swapping parties. She had in her possession many photos taken by her that certain prominent people might not want exposed. This is the latest case for Detective Hal Challis, Ellen Destry, and the other familiars at the Mornington Peninsula police department.

This mystery series is a police procedural, but it is very character-driven, starring Hal, but with a very important ensemble cast and with multiple story lines. I really enjoy the series and it deserves to be more widely read.

(This was Book 4; I will soon review Book 5. I need to find and read Books 6 and 7. That will complete the series.)

3 1/2 stars

Edited: Dec 27, 2017, 6:24pm Top

I read this book because in preparation for a future move to the East Coast, I've been eying all our stuff, dreading going through and getting rid of things (especially books and fiber art supplies). I've been finding that unfortunately our kids don't seem to want much of our stuff.

98. They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson (2014) 288 pp

This is a pleasant memoir of growing up in a lakefront house with eccentric, incompatible parents. Plum's father was a British naval officer and war hero who spent a great deal of time in the Far East. Her mother was a Southern belle from an old Virginia family.

After her parents died, Plum was given the job of clearing out the family home, which hadn't been touched in 40 or so years. Her quest to cull the artifacts of her family's life in the home became the device to evoke the family stories told in this memoir.

Some of the stuff Plum unearths is quite interesting, for example, the old naval log her father kept as an officer leading his men in an escape from a Japanese POW camp, or a dispensation one of her father's ancestors received from a marshall in Napoleon's army. Some stuff is humorous: hating their chores, Plum and her brothers had a plaque made that said, "Home of an old Slave Driver, Est. 1953" purportedly issued by the town "Hysterical" Society. This was nailed to their front gate, and became quite a tourist attraction.

At first, Plum resented her parents' stuff, and the fact that they never seemed to have done any culling of their accumulations over the years, leaving it all for their children to go through. But in the end, she decided it was a valuable experience. She felt she came to know her parents better as people, and she says this is what she is going to do to her own kids--leave them everything.

3 1/2 stars

Edited: Dec 28, 2017, 1:16pm Top

99. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2014) 760 pp

I loved Donna Tartt's The Secret History, and The Goldfinch has gotten lots of love on LT and won the Pulitzer Prize, so I was really looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me--it dragged on and on and on. And though I usually like long books, this one took me forever to read.

As the novel begins, 13 year old Theo is on a visit to the Metropolitan museum with his mother when a terrorist bomb goes off. Dazed and confused, Theo grabs the painting he was looking at (The Goldfinch) and makes his way to safety. On the way, an elderly man gives him a ring to return. Theo's mother and the elderly man die.

With the death of his mother, the authorities try to find somewhere to place Theo. They are unable to locate his father, who years earlier had deserted them, and his grandparents, who scarcely know him, do not want to take him in. Theo is taken in by the wealthy Park Avenue family of a school friend to finish the school year. As he begins to recover from some of the trauma he has experienced, he begins to realize for the first time that his taking of the painting, which he has kept hidden from everyone, might have been a crime for which he could face penalties. He also traces the owner of the ring, and thus meets Hobie, an antiques furniture dealer and restorer, as well as Pippa, the niece of the elderly diseased man, and with whom Theo falls in love with.

The next episode begins when Theo's father shows up and takes him to Las Vegas where his father lives with his girlfriend. His father has problems with alcohol and gambling, and is on the wrong side of the mob. While in Las Vegas, Theo befriends Boris, son of a shady Russian.

These first two sections take up maybe a third of the book, and I somewhat enjoyed them. Then the book gets into years and years of drug use by Theo, a criminal undertaking by Theo selling fake antiques, Boris reappearing with Russian mob connections of his own, and then it dissolves into shoot-outs with criminals and on and on. Every once in a while there's a mention that Theo still has the painting hidden away, and him thinking about what he's going to do with it. But mostly the book went off the rails for me, with pages and pages of drug use and drinking and the after effects.

Not recommended

2 stars

Dec 27, 2017, 7:18pm Top

100. The Power by Naomi Alderman

"Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn't.
What is a woman? Whatever a man isn't."

This book is set up as a book written by a male historian in the far future when women dominate men and rule the world. The male historian believes that a world ruled by men would be kinder and more nurturing, rather than a world in which aggressive and violent women rule. The book the historian writes is his thesis about how the world came to be ruled by women, and it is this book that we read.

Almost simultaneously around the world women developed a "power" that enabled them to debilitate or even kill whoever they aim this power, which is similar to an electric shock, at. At first, many women don't know how to use this power, and many of those that do know how are reluctant to use it, but eventually there are wars etc. as women seize leadership roles. The story is told through the experiences of several characters, including Roxie, the daughter of a British crime family, Allie, an American teenager who reinvents herself as Eve, a faith healer and head of a religious movement that spreads worldwide, Margot, a politician who develops training camps to teach young women to use the power, Jocelyn, Margot's daughter, and a soldier in the women's army, and Tunde, a male Nigerian reporter who travels the world, at great risk to himself, to report on the cataclysm occurring as women begin using their power.

This was an interesting and thought-provoking work. I recommend it.

3 1/2 stars

That's it for today. I have 20ish more books to review for the year. Wish me luck.

Dec 27, 2017, 7:47pm Top

Congrats on the 100! Whoohooo!! I love the synchronicity of They Left Us Everything with your life (good luck culling); glad I am not the only one who didn't like The Goldfinch; and I will be reading The Power shortly for my Jan RL bookclub.

Dec 28, 2017, 4:16am Top

Congrats on 100. I'm impressed.

Dec 28, 2017, 2:48pm Top

>298 Berly: Hi Kim--I'll be interested to see what you and your book group think of The Power.

>299 Ameise1: Thanks Barbara.

Well I'm up to November for the reviews, so here goes the daily dose:

101. Unbelievable by Katy Tur (2017)

Subtitle: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History

I watch MSNBC religiously and have followed Katy Tur's career from when she first started covering the Trump campaign (he was a minor candidate, not expected to last long) until now, when she has her own daily hour-long show on MSNBC. She mostly seems intelligent and insightful, which is why I was so disappointed in this book.

This is not a book analyzing the Trump campaign, and it offers no insight into how and why Trump won. Instead, it's a very frivolous book. We hear lots about breaking up with her boyfriend, how to look like you have an endless wardrobe when you're on the road and appearing on TV daily, her fights to get more air-time than other reporters, and more than once she describes the importance of dry shampoo for making her hair look great. Not what I was interested in knowing.

There's a brief chapter on her early life which is interesting--her parents were the original "helicopter" reporters in LA--think the OJ chase. But then there's a whole chapter on her travails of making it to the airport on time to catch her flight to Iowa to cover the caucuses through a huge traffic jam and snow storm--it went on and on ad nauseum, and was apparently meant to be humorous.

I didn't necessarily hate this book--it was just not what I wanted or expected. It is extremely light on political analysis or useful facts.

2 stars

Edited: Dec 28, 2017, 3:36pm Top

I'm trying to understand poetry. Billy Collins seems very accessible to me.

102. The Trouble With Poetry by Billy Collins (2005)

In my quest to understand poetry I read Billy Collins's 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day on and off last year, a few poems at a time, and liked it very much. From what I've read here and there (particularly on LT), Billy Collins is a widely-read, well-loved poet who is very accessible, and this led to my picking up The Trouble With Poetry.

Unlike 180 More, which had many poets and many voices, the poems in The Trouble With Poetry are all by Billy Collins and it is in his voice that the poems speak. I found a great similarity in tone and mood in many of these poems, and I found that comforting. While there were some poems that just didn't speak to me, there were none that I actively disliked or that I found incomprehensible. And there were several poems that I really liked.

As a mother (and as a daughter who made more than one of these at summer camp), I loved "The Lanyard":

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell on the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past--
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that's what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-clothes on my forehead,
and then led me out into the light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift--not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

I also liked how Collins often uses poetry to comment on poetry. (Well, the title of the collection is The Trouble With Poetry, after all.) I particularly liked The Student, which begins:

My poetry instruction book,
which I bought at an outdoor stall along the river

contains many rules....

The final rule, and how the poem ends is

And always keep your poem in one season.

I try to be mindful
but in these last days of summer

whenever I look up from my page
and see a burn-mark of yellow leaves,

I think of the icy winds
that will soon be knifing through my jacket.

The poem I really got a kick out of was The Introduction, with its gentle jab at pretension:

I don't think this next poem
needs any introduction--
it's best to let the work speak for itself.

Maybe I should just mention
that whenever I use the word five
I'm referring to that group of Russian composers
who came to be known as "The Five,"
Balakirev, Moussorgsky, Borodin--that crowd.

Oh--and Hypsicles was a Greek astronomer.
He did something with the circle.

That's about it, but for the record,
"Grimke" is Angelina Emity Grimke, the abolitionist.
"Imroz" is that little island near the Dardanelles.
"Monad"--well you all know what a monad is.

There could be a little problem
with Martaba, which was one of those Egyptian
above-ground sepulchers, sort of brick and limestone.

And you're all familiar with helminthology?
It's the science of worms.

Oh, and you will recall that Phoebe Mozee
is the real name of Annie Oakley.

Other than that, everything should be obvious.
Wagga Wagga is in New South Wales.
Rhyolite is that soft volcanic rock.
What else?
Yes Meranti is a type of timber, in tropical Asia I think,
and Rahway is just Rahway, New Jersey.

The rest of the poem should be clear.
I'll just read it and let it speak for itself.

It's about the time I went picking wild strawberries.

It's called "Picking Wild Strawberries."

Highly recommended,

4 1/2 stars

Dec 28, 2017, 3:54pm Top

103. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967) 198 pp

This is subtle psychological fiction in which the wild, unknown Australian landscape of the early 20th century stands in stark contrast to the veneer of civilization and primness of a small town and how it is affected by the mysterious disappearance of 2 girls and a teacher. The novel begins with an outing on Valentine's Day 1900 to Hanging Rock. Twenty students at the genteel girl's boarding school Appleyard College for Young Ladies are accompanied by two teachers on the outing. Three girls and a teacher decide to take a short hike, and they all mysteriously disappear without a trace. (One of the girls is discovered a couple of days later, but is unable to shed any light on what happened.)

This book has a dreamy and mysterious atmosphere. The descriptions of nature are lush and lyrical. The descriptions of the characters are astute, precise, and evocative. I saw the movie years ago (it is excellent), and perhaps in the back of my mind I had the idea that reading the book might clear up some of the mysteries the movie left unsolved. Not so. The mystery remains a mystery, and that is the best way to read this book.

Apparently the author's first version of the book did provide a solution for the disappearance, but her editors insisted that it be deleted. Lindsay agreed, but specified that the chapter solving the mystery could be published after her death. It is now published and can be searched out and read. However, all the reviewers who read the solution whose reviews I read felt that it really affected the quality of the book, and not in a good way.


3 1/2 stars

Dec 28, 2017, 4:52pm Top

104. To Siri With Love by Judith Newman (2017) 261 pp

Subtitle: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines

This is a memoir of Judith's life with her 13 year old autistic son Gus, and his twin brother Henry, who is developmentally "normal." (Maybe that's a bad word now?) Judith is married to a much older man, and they reside in separate apartments. The boys live with Judith, so most of their care falls on her. The book is mostly a varied collection of anecdotes and vignettes, many of them humorous, of her life over the years with the boys. Her love for both of them shines through, and as far as I can tell she accepts them both unconditionally as they are.

Nevertheless, this book has generated a huge amount of controversy, with many people on the autism spectrum berating Judith as an "Austism Warrior Parent," who are apparently those parents who try to cure or put non-autistic oriented goals on their autistic children. I didn't get the impression that Judith wanted to "cure" Gus--more it seemed that she is trying to help him navigate a world that is often not friendly to people who are different.

The thing that seems to have generated the most controversy is a statement Judith made as she contemplated Gus's future as he reaches adulthood. She states, "I will insist on a medical power of attorney, so that I will be able to make the decision about a vasectomy for him after he turns 18." Many people took this to mean that Judith is an advocate of eugenics and this will lead down a slippery slope to the sterilization of all those who are different. I didn't get the impression that was Judith's intent. At some point in the book she makes the insightful comment that because an individual is delayed does not mean he will never reach certain developmental milestones. I saw her statement about a medical power of attorney as reflecting her opinion that Gus currently does not appear to be developmentally on track to decide whether or not to have children. As demonstrated through-out in the book, she openly discusses many issues of Gus's development and care with him, and listens to what he says. I can see that this is something she would discuss with Gus with regard to a vasectomy. And it is my understanding that she would not be able to get a medical power of attorney without some judicial or other official determination that Gus is unable to make such decisions on his own.

Another criticism of the book was that Judith was exposing the private lives and thoughts of her children without their permission. She does state in her preface that she had many discussions with Gus and Henry about what was going into the book that was personal to them. She states that there were some things Henry didn't want disclosed, and that she left these things out. She states that Gus had no objection to any of the things she put in the book. Arguably, Gus may not have been totally competent to give such permission, but I think Judith and her husband know Gus best, and they felt that Gus's consent was informed. But that's an argument for another day. (And how could Gus be able to decide about a vasectomy, but not able to decide whether to publish this book?)

Well, I liked this book, and recommend it if it sounds like your kind of thing.

3 stars

Dec 28, 2017, 5:04pm Top

105. Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life by Amy Herman (2016) 341 pp.

Amy Herman teaches courses to various groups, includiong FBI agents, other law enforcement officials, and corporate executives, to teach them how to be more observant and aware of their surroundings. She does so primarily with exercises using art--looking at it, observing it, analyzing it. I read this not necessarily because I wanted to be more observant in my day-to-day life, but primarily to hone the skills looking at art that I am developing in my study of art history. This book shows how to look closely at art to train your skills of perception, to develop your "visual intelligence."

The book is divided into four parts. Part I is titled "How to Assess by Close Observation" (Assess)
Part II "Analyzing What You See" (Analyze)
Part III "Communicating What You See" (Articulate)
Part IV "Be Aware of Bias" (Adapt)

I enjoyed reading this book, and I enjoyed doing the exercises. I found my skills of perception were actually pretty good, although there is always room for improvement and patience is a virtue that's hard to sustain in this hurry-up world.


4 stars

Dec 28, 2017, 5:22pm Top

DNF. The Fold by Peter Clines (2015) 386 pp

I read most of this, but did not finish it, so I am not counting it or rating it. It's a science fiction book about teleportation that started out good, but then went off the rails with lots of competing worlds and many versions of the same individual.

106. Pandora's Lab by Paul Offit (2017) 290 pp

Subtitle: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong

Paul Offit asked numerous scientists and doctors to name what they thought were the world's worst inventions or scientific developments. He ended up with a list of 50, from which he pulled the 7 developments discussed in this book. Instead of choosing the ones that killed the most people (gun powder) or those that harmed the environment (Freon), he chose those that were the most surprising to him and whose impact was still being felt today. What he learned from this exercise is that these types of unexpected results which are harmful often result when the experts, the media, the political leaders et al fail to weigh the evidence properly.

This is spoilerish, so skip if you like. The seven inventions Offit chose are:

1. The discovery of "the plant of joy," opium and opioids from poppies to today's opioid crisis.
2. Margarine instead of butter--transfats in margarine are more harmful than butter.
3. Blood from Air--nitrogen fertilizers led to the development of an easy way to manufacture ammonia which led to poison gas in WW I which led to chemical warfare.
4. The Eugenics Movement in the early 20th century.
5. Lobotomies.
6. Banning DDT. There was scant evidence that DDT caused the decline in bird population. DDT is the most effective mosquito control we have. Discontinuing DDT has led to many more deaths by malaria, particularly childhood, than would otherwise have occurred.
7. "Nobel Prize Disease"--failure to challenge our most brilliant scientists when they refuse to admit they are wrong. He uses the example of Linus Pauling who advocated the use of megavitamins to cure cancer.

This was a fairly quick read, not too technical, and I enjoyed it.


3 stars

That's it for me for today. As of today I have 15 more reviews to do, and may finish one or two more books before the end of the year. Can I do it? Some of these final reviews may be mighty short.

Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 6:54pm Top

Ok, I've finished 125 books for 2017. I may finish one more tonight, but I will put it in 2018. That means I have 19 or so books to review before midnight if I am to meet my goal. So here goes:

107. Dead on Arrival by Matt Richtel (2017) 368 pp

This is kind of a throw away made-for-tv for one of the cheaper channels kind of book, an ok thriller that started out ok, but didn't pan out.

The book opens with an airliner landing in Steamboat Springs Colorado, despite having been unable to establish contact with the radio tower, or anyone else on the ground for that matter. As they approach the terminal, the pilot, Eleanor, sees several people lying on the ground apparently unconscious or dead. Fortunately (tongue in cheek), there is an infectious disease control expert on board, and Eleanor asks him to investigate. He believes it looks like everyone not aboard the plane is dead, perhaps the result of some unknown fast acting virus that has erupted.

This first chapter drew me in, but the book got progressively less believable, and there were lots of things that didn't make sense. There is one entirely unbelievable character, Jerry the copilot, whose antics kept interrupting and semblance of plausibility for the plot.

Not recommended.

1 1/2 stars

Dec 31, 2017, 5:31pm Top

view from Zürich's landmark mountain Üetliberg

Dec 31, 2017, 5:47pm Top

I did not finish the next book, so I am not counting it. However, I went back and read some reviews, and it appears that my main complaint about it--I couldn't understand it--applies only to the beginning part where the author is discussing the science of the discovery of CRISPR. Apparently, the rest of the book discusses some of the potential practical applications of CRISPR, including the ethics of various genetics issues, and this was the part I was interested in. So I will probably at some point go back to finish the book.

DNF A Crack in Creation by Jennifer A. Doudna (2017) 304 pp

Subtitle: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution.

I read and loved The Gene. I think Mukherjee does an excellent job of taking a complex subject and making it understandable to the non-scientist willing to make an effort. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the few chapters of A Crack in Creation that I read. I found myself unable to comprehend a lot of what I was reading (and rereading over and over).

Jennifer Doudna is the genetics scientist largely responsible for the development of the CRISPR technology which has revolutionized the study of genetics in recent years. It allows scientists to splice and dice genes with accuracy and relative ease. (My daughter used CRISPR in her studies, and was so impressed I had heard of it. She has been to lectures given by Doudna.) By the way, CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats--make sense to you now?? :)

In the part I read, I found Doudna's writing style to be "scientificese," (similar to "legalese, in which I often find myself writing)--it seemed more like a research paper for publication in a professional journal than something for popular consumption. So, after a few chapters I gave up. However, since the reviews I read indicate that after the initial chapters which are hard-going, the core of the book is a discussion of the ethical issues and some of the uses to which CRISPR can potentially be put. I hope to return to this book.

The LA Review of Books states that the book is, "..an essential start to educating the public...{and} reveal{s} the complex, interlocking, and thoroughly international nature of today's bioscience...CRISPR heralds a new era of massively increased human control over life, one that will affect every person on Earth, directly or indirectly, and much of the rest of our planet's biosphere. If humans have a chance of harnessing its benefits, avoiding its risks, and using it in ways consistent with our values and cultures, then we all--not just scientists, ethicists, and patent lawyers--need to understand something about CRISPR and its implications. A Crack in Creation is a great place to start."

Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 6:46pm Top

Thank you Barbara--Same good wishes to you and your family.

108. The Angry Tide by Winston Graham (1977) 628 pp

The relationships of Ross and Demelza and those around them continue to ebb and flow. I continue to thoroughly enjoy the Poldark series, and highly recommend it.

4 stars

109. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (2014) 297 pp

Subtitle: Medicine and What Matters In the End

I finally got around to reading this widely-read and reviewed book. The subject matter is truly timely and important. I think I was expecting a book focused on medical powers of attorney, living wills, end of life discussions etc. These subjects were touched upon, but the book has a much broader intent. It stresses something I think I already subconsciously knew--that most older people want to live as independently as they can for as long as they can, and that many of our current nursing homes/assisted care living homes stifle the elderly's will to maintain their individuality and independence. There are movements afoot which interest me very much that enable our elders to live independently, but still be able to access assistance when they need it.

The other major point of the book is that in our modern era the care of the elderly has become entirely too medicalized, and this is not a good thing. Rather, the goal should not be strictly to ensure survival, but to "enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive." Every person will have a different definition of "well-being," and we need to start having discussions (and deciding for ourselves) what quality of life or well-being will make our own life worth living.

Highly recommended.

4 stars

Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 6:48pm Top

110. Blood Moon by Garry Disher (2007) 321 pp

Book 5 in the Hal Challis series. This one involves the brutal attack on the chaplain of a prestigious private school who turns out to have many enemies. Then, a government official charged with enforcing land use laws is found murdered. There's humor and romance, in addition to the multiple crimes, major and minor, facing the police department, all featuring an ensemble cast.

I didn't like this one as much as the others I've read, but it was still good.

3 stars

111. The Iceberg by Marion Coutts (2015) 277 pp

I seem to have read a lot of memoirs this year, and I must say this one is a bit different. Marion Coutts is an artist who was married to art critic and writer Tom Lubbock when he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. This memoir is a chronicle of Tom's slow decline, death, and the aftermath for Marion. However, the focus is not on the physical facts, or medical details of his illness. In fact, it could be said that the focus is really not on Tom's illness, though there are occasional glimpses of the various treatments Tom undergoes. Rather for the most part, the focus is on Marion's state of mind--what is going on in her heart and soul as the Tom she knew and loves slowly disappears.

Marion writes in a very literary, stream of consciousness and surreal style. Some readers felt this memoir was self-absorbed. It was difficult to read, but I liked it.


3 stars

(I recommend Tom Lubbock's art books if you are interested in art. He also wrote a memoir of his illness which I might read. It's called Until Further Notice I Am Alive.

Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 10:32pm Top

112. Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett (2016) 368 pp

This was a touching character study of a family whose ethos is intertwined with and impacted by mental illness over two generations. Despite John having a complete nervous breakdown shortly before their marriage, Margaret decided to marry him anyway. Together they have two sons, Michael (who also develops mental illness) and Alex, and a daughter Celia. The story of this family and their evolving stories is told through alternating points of view over 40 years. The portrait of Michael in particular is brilliant--as a child he is precocious and complex, as an adult, his life and potential are hampered by his obsessions and anxieties. The book clearly depicts how all-encompassing the effects of mental illness can be, both on the mentally-ill person and on the family. Despite its realism, this book is not a downer--the family is loving and caring, and these are people you would want to know.


3 1/2 stars.

Dec 31, 2017, 6:53pm Top

That finishes reviews through November. Now starting on my December reads:

113. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016) 256 pp

Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer at age 36 just as he was finishing his fellowship in neurosurgery. This is a moving memoir as he faces his untimely death. There are lots of literary references, as Paul was also a serious reader, considering a Ph. D. in literature at one time. I was most moved by the message he left for his daughter, who was born during his illness, in the closing paragraphs of the portion of the memoir he wrote. His wife wrote an afterword, which is also very moving, in which she states: "What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy."


3 1/2 stars

Dec 31, 2017, 7:11pm Top

This will be one of my best reads of 2017:

114. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (2017) 286 pp

After their mother dies, Isma must care for her younger twin brother and sister Aneeka and Parvaiz. Their father, a jihadist, had died years before, allegedly as a prisoner on his way to Guantanamo. As the novel opens, Aneeka and Parvaiz are adults, Aneeka a law student and Parvaiz gainfully employed, and Isma is on her way to America to continue her interrupted education.

In America, Isma meets Eamonn, the son of an important Muslim politician in England (soon to be Home Secretary). Unknown to Eamonn, his father, a thoroughly secularized and assimilated Muslim, had in the past refused to help Isma and her family with the problems they faced when her father was determined to be a jihadist. Although Isma is romantically attracted to Eamonn, he feels only a brotherly relationship toward her.

While Isma was in America, Parvaiz has been seduced by ISIS recruiters, and disappears. The family are devastated. Then when Aneeka meets Eamonn, who has returned to Englan, they begin a torrid relationship--the question is whether it is true love, or does Aneeka have ulterior motives because Eamonn's family is so politically powerful. Events propel the two families inexorably toward the future, and the reader will have to decide whether the ending is transcendent or tragic. (Hint--Shamsie has stated that the novel is based on the drama Antigone.)

The novel is narrated in several sections, each from the pov of one of the primary characters--Isma, Eamonn, Parvaiz, Aneeka, and Karamat Lone, the Home Secretary and Eamonn's father. It is a thoughtful look at issues of immigration, terrorism, and our reactions (or overreactions) to terrorism and the pain caused to the innocent because of our fears. This is the first book I have read by Shamsie but I will be reading more.

Highly recommended.

4 1/2 stars

Dec 31, 2017, 7:18pm Top

115. The Dry by Jane Harper (2017) 336 pp

This is a stand-alone Australian mystery. I purchased it on a whim after reading rave reviews. I found it adequate, but not rave-worthy.

Aaron Falk, a government investigator in Melbourne, has returned to the small farming community north of there to attend the funeral of his best childhood friend, Luke. The area is experiencing an extreme drought, farms are failing, and Luke has committed suicide, after first shooting his wife and young son, but sparing his infant daughter.

Or did he? Luke's parents believe that there was foul play, and that the family was murdered. They ask Aaron to stay on and investigate. As the novel progresses, it all seems connected to the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl who was friends with Luke and Aaron in their youth, and the lies that may have been told by them at that time.

There were lots of twists and turns, not all of them credible. But Harper creates a palpable atmosphere of drought, heat and flies. This was an enjoyable read, but not amazing.

3 stars

Dec 31, 2017, 7:35pm Top

116. Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward (2017) 305 pp

I loved Jesmyn Ward's first novel, Salvage the Bones, but this one did not work for me, maybe because I do not like "road" novels, and I don't care for ghost stories.

I enjoyed the opening pages. We're in the deep south of Mississippi again with a rural back family. 13 year old Jojo is primarily being raised by his beloved grandparents along with his toddler sister Kayla. Their mother Leonie has a drug problem, too immature and unstable to mother them properly, and she drifts in and out of their life. Their white father Michael is in prison at Parchman.

Now Michael is about to be released, and has asked Leonie to pick him up. She decides to bring the children, along with a ditzy friend of hers for company. A little drug smuggling is also involved. The trip to and from Parchman constitutes the heart of the novel. The trips seemed to go on forever and ever--how long does it take to drive a couple of hundred miles anyway?

The return trip home is aggravated by the fact that in addition to Michael they've picked up an additional passenger--the ghost of a 12 year old boy who has a connection to Jojo's grandfather. Only Jojo can see him, and must make room for him in the already crowded back seat.

Things become more and more unrealistic and fantastical. We'd already been exposed to another ghost, that of Leonie's older brother, Given, who died as a teenager and who Leonie sees and talks to when she is on drugs. I kind of accepted that in the beginning as a literary device. But the introduction of the 12 year old boy ghost was too much--he was an actual character who sticks around and causes certain things to happen.

One reviewer on Amazon stated my thoughts more clearly than I've put them here: "The portrait of a Mississippi family dealing with racism, poverty, incarceration, and drug addiction is well-drawn, but it's hard to take any of it seriously when there are two separate ghosts that keep popping up (one of whom even gets to narrate a substantial portion of the story)."

2 stars

Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 7:44pm Top

117. Sometimes Amazing Things Happen by Elizabeth Ford (2017) 272 pp

Subtitle: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward

This is a memoir by the psychiatrist who ultimately headed the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital reserved for mentally ill Rykers Island prisoners, from when she was an intern up through Hurricane Sandy and the problems of evacuating mentally ill prisoners from a flooded hospital when nowhere else would accept them.

The book was an interesting glimpse into the problems of balancing the authority of the correctional officers with the medical needs of the patients. The author also relates her personal struggles to balance her family life with her professional life, as well as some of the incidents in which she felt her life was at risk. She is certainly a compassionate and empathetic doctor and person. The book was interesting and realistic, but not too much amazing happened, despite the title.

3 stars

Dec 31, 2017, 7:58pm Top

118. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (2017) 304 pp

A teenager on a midwinter holiday with her family is a small English village disappears. We follow the life of that village over the next 13 years, in 13 chapters each covering a year and each beginning on New Year's Eve. The novel is narrated from an omniscient mile-high view of the village. There are many characters, some more important than others, but eventually, despite the seeming distance of the narration, we come to know these characters, their lives and the village. There is also a great bit about the natural cycle of the year through the seasons for the plant and animal life of the village. This authorial technique grew on me, and in its own way the narration is as revolutionary and different as I found Lincoln in the Bardo.

The chapters move quietly, gently and seamlessly from character to character, scene to scene, vignette to vignette, building an intricate and complex whole, all like fragments of a mosaic gradually coming together.

Don't be misled by descriptions of the book--it's not a murder mystery.

Highly recommended

4 stars

Dec 31, 2017, 8:11pm Top

119. Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke (2017) 320 pp

This is another widely praised book that I was disappointed in. I've read all of Attica Locke's books now, and I especially liked her first one, Black Water Rising and her most recent one before this Pleasantville. This one didn't work for me.

It might be that I didn't like the main character, Texas Ranger Darren Matthews. But I think it was more that I didn't find his actions to be credible or believable for someone in his position, and this kept grabbing me out of the story. Darren's actions were frequently self-destructive and didn't make sense.

Darren has come to the small East Texas town of Lark to investigate the possible murder of a black attorney from Chicago by the Texas Aryan Brotherhood. Shortly after he arrives, a second body is discovered, that of the wife of a probable member of the Aryan Brotherhood. Then the attorney's wife arrives from Chicago, and begins to tag along with Darren.

I found it distracting that Darren's reaction to every setback/attack was to drink himself to oblivion each night. His involvement with the attorney's wife didn't make sense either. I just couldn't get past these plot points to fall into the mystery. Nevertheless I point out that this book is on lots of "best of 2017" lists and has lots of rave reviews. The topic had great potential, the execution was poor.

2 stars

Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 8:45pm Top

120. The Allegations by Mark Lawson (2016) 464 pp

Written before the events of earlier this year relating to the "Me Too" movement, this novel explores the issue of harassment, sexual and otherwise, this time from the point of view of the accused. Like Lawson's earlier novel The Deaths which also features somewhat flawed upper-middle class protagonists facing a crisis, I liked The Allegations very much.

Here the two accused are male university professors of history. Ned Marriot is also a television presenter of popular histories, and is therefore moderately well-known and somewhat more financially secure than his friend and colleague Tom Pimm. Both men almost simultaneously are struck with certain accusations which reverberate through their lives, personal and professional.

In the case of Ned, a former girlfriend has come forward to accuse him of rape. The charges stem from a sexual encounter they had almost 40 years ago, which he had assumed was consensual. Tom is accused by the university board of harassing and bullying his colleagues and his "clients," as the board insists on calling the university students. The charges and accusers are vague, but seem to stem from Tom's acerbic wit, his inability to suffer fools, and his disdain for bureaucratic faculty meetings.

In this day and age, when women are finally overcoming their fear to come forward, and are starting to be believed, I feel almost guilty to find both Ned and Tom to be sympathetic characters. Lawson is careful over the course of the book to present the incidents leading to the allegations against Ned--a second woman comes forward with another incident as well--from the point of view of the women as well as Ned's. All this does is make it difficult to decide whether Ned's actions are such that they should be punishable by the law.

It's clear, however, that in regard to the accusations against Tom, the politically correct university board and his unnamed accusers are simply overly sensitive. Nevertheless, the result is that Tom, who annually is voted by the students as their favorite professor, is fired from his job. Lawson's descriptions of the hearings against Tom are worthy of Kafka.

Another interesting thing in this book is that as Ned ponders his plight he reviews, over the course of the book, some of the literature of false accusation, so we are treated to some interesting thoughts on books such as Coetzee's Disgrace, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Boll, The Human Stain by Philip Roth, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, and other works.


3 1/2 stars

Dec 31, 2017, 9:01pm Top

I picked up this book because it's about the history of Austin Texas, and my mother's just moved there, so I thought I'd read it. It was interesting, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it unless you're interested in Austin or serial killers.

121. The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth (2016) 337 pp

This is a narrative nonfiction story about America's first serial killer. He appeared in 1885 Austin, terrorized the town, which was pretty much just a frontier town at the time, for a year, and then was never heard from again, or caught. It has been speculated in some quarters, now mostly disproven, that Jack the Ripper, whose murders began terrorizing London a few years later, was one and the same as the Austin killer.

Sources for the book are primarily the newspaper reports of the time, and one thing that clearly comes through is what a racist time and place Austin was. The first murders were of servants, who were black, and lived in separate quarters behind their employers' houses. At first, authorities assumed that the culprit was the husband or boyfriend of the murdered woman, and those men were frequently arrested, although they all had to be soon let go. It got so that black men began to be afraid to go out on the streets for fear of arrest.

Things reached a high pitch when white women, matriarchs and pillars of society began to be murdered. The murders of all the women were brutal and vicious--the murderer used an axe and knife and frequently skewered the victims' brains with a long steel pole. Forensic methods at the time were extremely primitive, relying on bloodhounds to track the scent of the murderer fleeing the scent, so the police usually had not clues to go on.

This book was okay, but not compelling, Just an interesting look at a time and place.

3 stars

Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 9:21pm Top

This is an Israeli psychological thriller:

122. Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (2017) 352 pp

Eitan Green is a doctor who has been relegated to a hospital in the hinterlands after he attempted to blow the whistle on a superior who was taking bribes. His wife Liat is a police detective. One evening after a long day at work, Eitan goes for a drive in the desert, where he accidentally hits a man who appears to be an Eritrean emigrant. Eitan examines him and sees that there is no way he will survive more than a short time. He fears that if he reports the incident he will face criminal consequences including prison. So he leaves the man and goes home to his wife and young children as if nothing had happened.

The next morning when he is home alone (while his wife Liat at the police station is beginning an investigation of a hit and run incident which killed a man in the desert), the doorbell rings. The Eritrean woman standing there has his wallet which he unknowingly had lost at the accident site. Worse she witnessed the whole thing. She is willing to remain silent, but for a price. Not money, however. Instead, she requires that he provide medical care to the emigrants refugees who pass through or who reside in the area. She requires him to spend several hours or as long as necessary every night in an abandoned building they turn into a makeshift clinic caring for people who feel they cannot go to a hospital but who desparately need care.

A nightmare begins for Eitan. He is now at the Eritrean woman's beck and call. He has to lie to his employer at the hospital, he has to lie to his wife, he has to steal medical supplies from the hospital for the clinic. He is overworked, exhausted, stressed out, unable to keep his lies straight, and constantly on edge. Then it gets worse. It turns out that the man killed in the accident was a drug smuggler, and the package he was to deliver to the dealers went missing. The drug lords assume that whoever hit the man took the drugs. Now, in addition to his wife searching for the hit and run driver, the drug lords are after him too.

Despite its thriller plot, this novel sometimes moves slowly and is not particularly a page turner. There is a lot of angst, and it has been described as a "moral thriller." Overall I liked it.

3 stars

Dec 31, 2017, 9:27pm Top

I've been hearing a lot about bitcoin lately, and wanted to learn more about it. This book isn't really about bitcoin, but it was bitcoin that made the Silk Road website possible.

123. American Kingpin by Nick Bilton (2017) 343 pp

Subtitle: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road

This was a fascinating true crime narrative about how an underachieving college drop-out from Austin came to establish one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises ever. Ross Ulbricht rode high for a couple of years and then made a few seemingly inconsequential mistakes, which, despite many instances of ineptitude and corruption, allowed the federal government to find him and bring him down. I couldn't stop turning the pages.

4 stars

Dec 31, 2017, 9:32pm Top

124. Staring at the Sun by Irvin D. Yalom (2009) 320 pp

Subtitle: Overcoming the Terror of Death

Irvin D. Yalom is a psychiatrist who has written several books. Here he studies the question of mortality--why we are afraid of death, and why we should not be. He uses his personal experiences, the experiences of his patients, literature and philosophy to posit several solutions for us to alleviate our death anxiety.

3 stars

Dec 31, 2017, 9:47pm Top

Well, I missed a book above. This was actually my 116th book, but it is being reviewed as 125. At this point I will be brief, so I'm probably not going to give it justice, since it is a very good book.

125. What Doctors Feel by Danielle Ofri (2013) 232 pp

Subtitle: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine

Ofri a medical doctor, examines a range of emotions, including anger, grief, shame, pride, fear and several others, that doctors may experience in their interactions with patients, and how these emotions, especially if they are unrecognized, can affect the quality of care the doctors give. This book reminded me in some ways of How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman. This is a very personal book, with lots of examples, as well as psychological studies, and it was never boring.

Highly recommended.

3 1/2 stars

That does it for me. I reviewed every book in 2017. Yay me!

Jan 1, 8:20pm Top

Congratulations on all the reviews!!! Now you can start 2018 with a clean slate. : )

Happy 2018!!

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2017

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