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Laura (lauralkeet)'s 2017 Reading - Part 4

This is a continuation of the topic Laura (lauralkeet)'s 2017 Reading - Part 3.

75 Books Challenge for 2017

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Edited: Oct 20, 8:53pm Top

Fiona the Hippo, the happiest thing on the internet
I’ve been obsessed with Fiona since she was born 6 weeks premature in January. Her care team at the Cincinnati Zoo worked around the clock to keep her alive, and now she is normal size for her age, doing normal hippo things. She has also been successfully reunited with her parents. It’s such a lovely story and warms my heart especially when it seems everything else in the world is so messed up. A brief timeline of Fiona milestones, with more photos & video, can be found here.

2017 is my 9th year in the 75 Books Challenge. I started out as a highly structured reader, organizing my life around resolutions, challenges, and monthly reading plans. After a while, it all got to be a bit much and I’ve been happier with the “read what I want, when I want” approach, joining the occasional group or theme read when it strikes my fancy. That said, there are a few things I’m planning for 2017:
- Monthly author reads in the Virago Modern Classics group
- Continuing the Virago Chronological Read project, to read VMCs in order of original publication date
- Making progress on my active series, and no doubt starting some new ones :)
- Outside of LT, participating in the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club, which reads primarily contemporary fiction
- Knitting! This is one of my other major hobbies, and I have a thread in the Needlearts group for anyone interested

My 2017 threads can be found here:
Part 1 (books 1-14) | Part 2 (books 15-35) | Part 3 (books 36-57)

Books completed ("details" jumps to my comments on this thread)
58. Together and Apart - details
59. A Trick of the Light - details
60. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage - details
61. Birds of a Feather - details

Edited: Yesterday, 8:25am Top

Series Progress

Active series as of October 1:

My series list is courtesy of FictFact, which allows you to select the series you wish to track. They do a reasonable job of maintaining current series, although in some cases they have added books that I don't consider a legitimate part of the series (e.g., the Harry Potter prequel). The above snapshot is a view of my active series sorted on the "progress" column.

Series completed/current in 2017:
* The Palliser Novels, by Anthony Trollope (March)
* The Frank Bascombe Trilogy, by Richard Ford (August)

Series started in 2017:
* The Frank Bascombe Trilogy, by Richard Ford
* Inspector Gamache, by Louise Penny
* Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear

Series abandoned in 2017:
* Dr Siri, by Colin Cotterill: I read the first one and it just didn’t grab me.
* Inspector Rebus, by Ian Rankin: I read four, they were just okay and my interest has waned
* Transylvanian Trilogy, by Miklos Banffy: I read the first one, it was okay, but I don't see myself picking up the remaining two.

Edited: Oct 5, 9:04am Top

My two most recent reviews, copied over from my previous thread

56. Young Jane Young ()
Source: My local library
Why I read this now: Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club - October selection

Aviva Grossman is lucky to land a prestigious internship with a US Congressman, and after a couple of initial missteps becomes a valuable member of Aaron Levin’s team. Unfortunately, the Congressman also notices some of Aviva’s other attributes and before you know it, the two are having an affair. Naturally, it all blows up in the media; Levin escapes unscathed with his career and marriage still intact, but Aviva’s future is ruined. Even though the case garnered only local attention at the time, the internet left a trail of information sufficient for prospective employers to learn about Aviva’s past. Suddenly she can’t get an interview, let alone a job, and is forced to take dramatic action.

Aviva’s story is told through a succession of narrators, beginning with her mother Rachel. We also hear from Levin’s wife Embeth, a woman named Jane Young, Jane’s daughter Ruby, and finally Aviva. Their voices are all fresh and memorable, and the reading is breezy and fun despite the serious subject matter. Unfortunately, the most important character and the continuous slut-shaming she endured are the least developed aspects of this novel. While Young Jane Young tackles other gender stereotypes and double standards in a mostly effective way, the author’s failure to tackle the central issue and generate intended levels of outrage and sympathy caused this book to fall a bit short for me.

57. Sing, Unburied, Sing ()
Source: On my shelves -- a recent purchase
Why I read this now: I’ve loved all of Ward’s previous books

Jesmyn Ward’s novels draw on her experiences as a black woman growing up in rural Mississippi. In Sing, Unburied, Sing 13-year-old Jojo is forced to grow up far too early. His father, Michael, has been in prison for years and his mother, Leonie, is an addict whose presence at home is intermittent. Jojo shoulders day-to-day responsibility for his 3-year-old sister, Kayla. The children live with their maternal grandparents who thankfully provide a loving and stable home. When Michael is released from prison, Leonie takes the children on a road trip to bring him home. Through Jojo’s eyes we see the impact of Leonie’s addiction, as she stops along the way to support her habit.

Their journey is interspersed with accounts of past events that have shaped the family; ghosts accompany them on the trip but only Jojo can see them. These stories are dramatic, often violent, and together with the present-day narrative show the immense challenges facing those marginalized in our society. Ward’s writing is brilliant. Her stark portrayal of the American south makes for emotionally difficult, but important, reading.

Edited: Oct 5, 9:05am Top

Currently Reading

- Together and Apart, by Margaret Kennedy, the Virago group's October author
- This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett, October American Author Challenge

Oct 4, 7:43pm Top

Happy new thread, Laura.

Hipp, Hipp, Hipporay!

Oct 4, 8:23pm Top

>5 PaulCranswick: ha ha, hello Paul! Thank you for christening my new thread.

Oct 4, 9:42pm Top

LOVE the hippo!!

Happy New Thread. :)

Oct 5, 3:48am Top

Happy new thread, Laura.
Fiona the Hippo is adorable!

Oct 5, 7:46am Top

Hello Liz & Anita! I'm glad you both love Fiona. She has definitely taken the world (well, maybe just the US) by storm. I've added a link in >1 lauralkeet: to a short article with a timeline of major milestones, and lots more photos & video clips if you want more hippo love!

Oct 5, 8:40am Top

Thanks for the link, Laura, I had completely missed Fiona taking the world ;-)

Oct 5, 8:51am Top

Happy New Thread, Laura!

Fun to see Fiona. And it looks like you’ve had some great reading.

Edited: Oct 5, 9:34am Top

Happy New Thread, Laura. Great review of Sing, Unburied, Sing. Big Thumb. I did not review it yet but may guide others to yours, instead. Smiles...

Thanks for chiming in on the Patchett reads.

Oh yeah- Yah, for Fiona. What a cutie.

Oct 5, 11:07am Top

Lovely pictures of Fiona, I'm glad she will be keeping an eye on your reading Laura!

Oct 5, 12:54pm Top

Nothing like hippos to drive traffic to your thread, lol! Hi everybody !!!!

>12 msf59: Thanks for the comments on my review, Mark, and I'm happy for my review to do double duty!!

Oct 5, 2:28pm Top

Happy new thread!

Oct 6, 9:48am Top

*waves* I'm not here for the hippo, just so ya know!

Oct 6, 8:01pm Top

Nice new thread, Laura. Love your hippo.

Oct 8, 7:27am Top

>15 drneutron:, >16 laytonwoman3rd:, >17 NanaCC: * waves to Jim, Linda, and Colleen *

Thanks for visiting!! I might have to post more Fiona the Hippo photos from time to time ... :)

Oct 8, 7:27am Top

58. Together and Apart ()
Source: My Virago Modern Classics Collection
Why I read this now: Margaret Kennedy is the Virago Group author for October

Betsy Canning has decided she and her husband Alec should no longer be married. In 1936, this decision was unusual, difficult to accomplish, and bound to result in scandal and stigma. Alec understands Betsy’s point of view and while not as headstrong, supports the idea. The two waffle back and forth but some maternal meddling catalyzes their plan. Betsy naively believes this is a simple matter between her and Alec, blithely assuring their three children that life will go on as normal for them.

But of course it doesn’t, and Margaret Kennedy expertly shows the ripple effects of a. divorce as seen through the eyes of Betsy, Alec, their teenage children Kenneth and Eliza, and others in their extended family. It wasn’t preachy or dramatic, and the characters were all “normal” people with strengths and flaws. It was as if Kennedy was saying, see this can happen to anyone, perhaps even you, and you’d better think it through first. The strong message, expertly delivered in a gentle “show, don’t tell” style, made for an excellent reading experience.

Oct 8, 7:37am Top

Morning, Laura. Happy Sunday! I plan on starting Manhattan Beach later today. It has been getting some nice buzz. Are you a fan of Egan?

Oct 8, 7:58am Top

Happy Sunday back at ya, Mark! I've been cheering for the Cubs and was sad to see them lose last night. But once they are on home turf ... well, I have high hopes!

I haven't read anything by Jennifer Egan, but I've seen her latest is getting high praise. I eagerly await your thoughts.

Oct 8, 10:48am Top

>19 lauralkeet: I have a couple of Margaret Kennedy's novels on that green shelf...not that one, though. It sounds very good. I need to read a Virago pretty soon.

Oct 8, 4:58pm Top

>22 laytonwoman3rd: I've enjoyed our monthly author reads in the Virago group this year. I tend to only read 1 VMC per month and it helps me choose what to read.

Oct 8, 6:25pm Top

I LOVE the hippo topper photos! What a great story.

I'm in the library queue for Sing, Unburied, Sing but your review makes me want to just buy it. Jesmyn Ward just keeps earning my respect over and over again. I think she is becoming one of our best writers of our time (that sounds so hollywood market-y but you know what I mean).

Oct 8, 9:29pm Top

>24 EBT1002: Ellen, I was also in queue for the Jesmyn Ward, but then I happened to be in a bookshop ... and ... well, I caved. But I'm glad I did! I agree with you about her evolution as a writer. She's fabulous.

Oct 9, 5:59pm Top

I'm still reading Ann Patchett's This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, but find it really works best to read one, no more than two, essays at a time. I'm waiting on Home Fire from the library and it's taking ages. I plan to read another Margaret Kennedy this month but don't want to read her books back-to back.

So today I needed reading material, stat. I grabbed my Kindle where I knew I could find Inspector Gamache #7 & #8. I started reading and it was only after about 45 pages when I stopped to add the book to my "currently reading" collection that I found I was reading #8, not #7. A major development with one of the regular characters was revealed in the first few pages and surprised the heck out of me, but I thought well okay, maybe I should have seen that coming. I'm pretty sure it will develop at a more appropriate pace in book #7. I'm a little sad I know about it already, but so it goes.

That's a long way to say that in addition to This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, I'm now reading Louise Penny's A Trick of the Light.

Edited: Oct 9, 9:32pm Top

I'm reading This is the Story of a Happy marriage too. She has me wanting to check out so many other authors now...

Oct 10, 6:34am Top

>27 laytonwoman3rd: Yes! I'm really enjoying the book. There's only one essay so far that I thought was a little weak. I have to keep reminding myself these essays were all published elsewhere first, and across a long period of time, which accounts for references to certain events or situations that appear in multiple essays.

Oct 10, 9:22am Top

>26 lauralkeet: Louise Penny was recommended to my wife by our daughter, and on a used-book foray I spied a Penny and brought it home. 'Twas How the Light Gets In. She read, she liked, she got #s 1, 2, and 3 for her birthday (a month ago). I found #s5 and 12 on another used-book foray, and she read those. Last week, I checked out #s 4, 6, and 7 from my birthtown library and she raced through them.

She just finished rereading #9 last night, and she commented to me that it made a whole lot more sense to her, having now read all but one of the preceding novels.

See? Reading a series in order makes a positive difference.

Oct 10, 10:30am Top

>29 weird_O: great story, Bill! With series, there are some that have lots of continuity from one book to the next, and others where each book can stand alone, and everything in between. I'm a little particular about starting a series at the beginning even if I'm told it doesn't matter. I think the Inspector Gamache books would be enjoyable on their own because each mystery is self-contained, but the characters' lives definitely evolve from one book to the next.

I'm moving faster through this series than is typical for me. I'm really glad your wife is enjoying them too.

Oct 10, 11:16am Top

Congrats on the new thread!! Too bad about reading the Gamache out of order. Oh well! I want to get to Sing, Unburied, Sing sooner than later. November?? Happy Tuesday!

Oct 11, 6:37pm Top

>26 lauralkeet: Bummer about the confusion but you are handling it with due aplomb. I have the third in that series queued up for Kindle reading very soon.

Oct 11, 7:16pm Top

Hi Kim & Ellen, I'm surviving my Inspector Gamache mixup, lol. I'm zipping through #7 and I'm sure I'll read #8 soon, especially since I read enough for the mystery to capture my attention.

Oct 12, 11:59am Top

>28 lauralkeet: She absolutely forced me to order a copy of Grace Paley's collected stories, which arrived yesterday!

Oct 16, 4:49pm Top

I've been AWOL for a bit due to a weekend trip followed by a hot water heater spewing all over our basement. But before that all happened, I finished two books!

Oct 16, 4:50pm Top

59. A Trick of the Light ()
Source: On my Kindle
Why I read this now: I needed something to tide me over while waiting for library requests

When a woman is found murdered in the village of Three Pines, Inspector Gamache and his crew are immediately on the scene. The victim had apparently come to the village to attend a celebration of an artist's exhibit, which was mysterious since attendance was by invitation only. It turns out the woman had connections both in the Canadian artistic community and in Three Pines, and of course everyone at the party immediately became a suspect. As Gamache and his senior team members Beauvoir and LaCoste gather evidence and interview persons of interest, readers are treated to a tour through Canada's art scene as well as some interesting personal developments in the lives of favorite, familiar characters.

This was yet another satisfying entry in the series. On to #8

Oct 16, 4:52pm Top

60. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage ()
Source: On my shelves
Why I read this now: Ann Patchett is the October AAC author, so that wa as good excuse to read this book.

These days, Ann Patchett is best known for her novels, but she began her writing career as a journalist, mastering the art of short non-fiction. This collection of essays, originally published in the New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, and other major media outlets, represents some of her finest work in the genre.

These essays are highly personal, and collectively describe a life with all of its ups and downs. Patchett discusses her writing career, her romantic and family relationships, her dog, the decision to open a bookstore, and her friendship with Lucy Grealy (covered in depth in Patchett's memoir, Truth and Beauty).

Many times, an essay took hold of me, prompting anything from nodding in agreement to outrage to tears. I couldn't possibly mention every one of these moments. One that stood out was her 2007 piece about her 2006 appearance at Clemson University. Truth and Beauty was assigned reading for the incoming freshman class, to the outrage of many parents and alumni who wrongly deemed it pornographic. Patchett endured their public shaming, and to its credit the university did not cancel their invitation for her to address the class. Her powerful address, "The Right to Read," follows her essay about these events. The final essay in this collection, "The Mercies," is about an aging nun and at first seemed out of place. But as I turned the final page, I realized it was a perfect way to end this book while leaving room for more books like this in the future.

Oct 17, 8:29am Top

>37 lauralkeet: I just finished the Patchett essays last night, Laura. What a wonderful collection it is. I've been mostly resisting her fiction for years, because the descriptions of her novels never strike me as "my thing". But now that I've read This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, I see that I cannot resist her writing, and that I can probably trust her to tell a good story, even if it isn't a story that seems to call to me. I'll be checking out the novels soon. (I did read Taft a while back.)

Oct 17, 8:31am Top

>38 laytonwoman3rd: I was really happy to see your comments as you read the essays, Linda, because I could tell they "spoke" to you, as they did to me. Have you decided which novel to read first?

Oct 17, 2:06pm Top

>38 laytonwoman3rd: >39 lauralkeet: Thanks gals, you know how I love essays! Bullet. Ouch.

Oct 17, 3:06pm Top

>40 Caroline_McElwee: our work is done here. :)

Oct 17, 5:59pm Top

>39 lauralkeet: I took Bel Canto out of the library, Laura.

Oct 17, 7:04pm Top

>37 lauralkeet: Great review of This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Thumb! You remain one of my favorite reviewers. I loved this collection too. Glad you could join us for the AAC.

I started Commonwealth. She really knows how to shift gears, doesn't she? I like it so far...

Oct 17, 8:02pm Top

>42 laytonwoman3rd: that was my first Ann Patchett. I hope you enjoy!

>43 msf59: thank you Mark, you're very kind. I loved Commonwealth and hope you do too.

Oct 17, 8:10pm Top

>37 lauralkeet: I like the look of that one, Laura. I haven't read too many essays in the last couple of years and I used to so enjoy them.

Oct 20, 8:52pm Top

61. Birds of a Feather ()
Source: My local library (Kindle loan)
Why I read this now: I requested it from my library ages ago, and it was finally available.

This is the second book in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series. The first book was mostly back story, with a bit of mystery, and laid a foundation by establishing a set of likeable characters in Maisie’s personal life. In Birds of a Feather, Maisie now has an established private investigation practice, and is hired to track down Charlotte Waite, a young woman who has gone missing. At the same time, three murders take place, and the victims are all women about the same age as Charlotte. The missing person case turns out to be fairly straightforward, but when Maisie makes a connection between the missing woman and the murdered women, she faces a challenge in trying to convince law enforcement they’ve arrested the wrong person. Meanwhile, Maisie’s father is hospitalized, her assistant, Billy Beale, is coping with severe pain from his war injuries, and Maisie is struggling with a bit of an identity crisis.

The Maisie Dobbs books lean towards the cozy, and there’s little in the way of violence or blood and gore. Maisie is the quintessential plucky heroine, and always seems to have just the right outfit for the occasion, be it work or social. Partway through this book I had my doubts, as everything is so neat and tidy, but then the pace picked up, there was a bit of a twist, and the novel ended with a little cliffhanger that makes me want to read the next one.

Oct 21, 12:29pm Top

Ok you got me with the Patchett essays!

Ugh to hot water heater blow-out. We just replaced one -- when the plumber, here for some other reason, said it was time. Dodged that bullet.

Edited: Oct 22, 11:46am Top

>47 sibyx: yay, I'm happy to have found another potential Patchett essay reader. I'm going to pass my book on to my daughter. Patchett won the Kenyon Review Literary Award one year when Kate was still in school & she helped out with the event so she's already a fan. The essays about Patchett's early writing career will definitely resonate.

Speaking of dodging bullets, as much of a hassle as it was, we are glad it happened while we are still living in the house. A home inspection would likely have identified the need to replace the hot water heater, but the real bullet is the possibility of it going KABLAM after we move, and before the house sells, when who knows how long it would go undetected. That's the stuff of nightmares.

Oct 22, 9:51am Top

Yes, that is the nightmare scenario.

Oct 22, 10:40am Top

Happy Sunday, Laura. Thanks for all the delicious info on Patchett. It really enriched the experience of reading Commonwealth, which I am close to wrapping up. I think Patchett has hit her fictional stride with this novel. Impressive on so many levels.

Edited: Oct 22, 11:48am Top

>49 sibyx: I hope it doesn't keep you up at night, Lucy! :)

>50 msf59: I agree, Mark. I gave Commonwealth 5 stars last year.

Speaking of 5 stars, John Green's latest, Turtles all the Way Down, blew me away. Review coming soonish.

Oct 22, 12:02pm Top

I just finished Commonwealth and I am going with 5 stars too. Awesome read. Love these characters.

And hooray for Turtles!!

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2017

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