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RidgewayGirl Reads in 2017 -- Part Three

This is a continuation of the topic RidgewayGirl Reads in 2017 -- Part Two.

Club Read 2017

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Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 4:49pm Top

A fresh thread for the final quarter of the year.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, like his fellow artists of a certain age (he was born in 1880), fought in WWI only to see his life's work declared degenerate when the Nazis rose to power. Over 600 of his paintings were destroyed by the Nazis and in 1938 he committed suicide.

Kirchner used and reused his canvases. He would paint over earlier paintings or restretch the canvas so that he could paint on the back of an earlier painting.

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Edited: Dec 30, 2017, 12:08pm Top

2017 The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
The Answers by Catherine Lacey
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates
Chemistry by Weike Wang
The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Dimestore: A Writer's Life by Lee Smith
Dis Mem Ber by Joyce Carol Oates
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Girl at the Baggage Claim by Gish Jen
Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
Ill Will by Dan Chaon
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
Leavers by Lisa Ko
Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann
The Long Drop by Denise Mina
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Marlena by Julie Buntin
Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
The Patriots by Sana Krasikov
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
A Separation by Katie Kitamura
Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash
Strange Weather by Joe Hill
Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan
Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
The Visitors by Catherine Burns
The Weight of this World by David Joy
What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Edited: Dec 27, 2017, 1:32pm Top

Books Arranged by the Nationality of the Author

Samanta Schwein (Fever Dream)

Sarah Schmidt (See What I Have Done)
Charlotte Wood (The Natural Way of Things)

Jef Geeraerts (The Public Prosecutor)
Stefan Hertmans (War and Turpentine)

Belinda Bauer (The Beautiful Dead)
Catherine Burns (The Visitors)
Lee Child (Night School)
Rachel Cusk (Transit)
Deborah Kay Davies (True Things About Me)
James Lasdun (The Fall Guy)
Jonathan Lee (High Dive)
Alex Marwood (The Wicked Girls)
Mhairi McFarlane (You Had Me at Hello)
Nick Middleton (An Atlas of Countries that Don't Exist)
Denise Mina (The Long Drop)
Maggie O'Farrell (My Lover's Lover, This Must Be the Place)
Stef Penney (Under A Pole Star)
Sarah Perry (The Essex Serpent)
Max Porter (Grief is the Thing with Feathers)
Noo Saro-Wiwa (Looking for Transwonderland) (country of residence)
Ali Smith (Autumn)
Gabriel Weston (Dirty Work)

Emma Donoghue (Frog Music)
Steven Price (By Gaslight)
Iain Reid (I'm Thinking of Ending Things)
Gina Sorell (Mothers and Other Strangers) (country of residence)
Madeline Thien (Do Not Say We Have Nothing)
Katherena Vermette (The Break)

Can Xue (Frontier)

Gabriel García Márquez (Love in the Time of Cholera)

Emmanuel Carrère (The Adversary)
Hubert Mingarelli (A Meal in Winter)

Yaa Gyasi (Homegoing) (country of birth)

Vivek Shanbhag (Ghachar Ghochar)
Deepak Unnikrishnan (Temporary People)

Tana French (The Trespasser)
Siobhan MacDonald (Twisted River)
Eimear McBride (The Lesser Bohemians)
Colum McCann (Letters to a Young Writer)

Dorit Rabinyan (All the Rivers)

Ties by Domenico Starnone, translated by Jhumpa Lahiri

Han Kang (Human Acts)

Edited: Dec 30, 2017, 12:09pm Top

Alvaro Enrigue (Sudden Death)

Noo Saro-Wiwa (Looking for Transwonderland)

Mohsin Hamid (Exit West)

Hanna Krall (Chasing the King of Hearts)

South Africa
Yewande Omotoso (The Woman Next Door)
Gina Sorell (Mothers and Other Strangers) (country of birth)

Pascale Kramer (Autopsy of a Father)

Sana Krasikov (The Patriots) (country of birth)

United States
Charlie Jane Anders (All the Birds in the Sky)
Ramona Ausubel (Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty)
Derf Backderf (My Friend Dahmer)
Lou Berney (The Long and Faraway Gone)
Julie Buntin (Marlena)
Wiley Cash (The Last Ballad)
Michael Chabon (Moonglow)
Dan Chaon (Ill Will)
Hillary Rodham Clinton (What Happened)
John Darnielle (Universal Harvester)
Sarah Dunn (The Arrangement)
Michael Eric Dyson (Tears We Cannot Stop)
Jennifer Egan (Manhattan Beach)
Helen Ellis (American Housewife: Stories)
Jeffrey Eugenides (Fresh Complaint)
David France (How to Survive a Plague)
Siri Hustvedt (The Blazing World)
Amy Johnson Frykholm (Rapture Culture)
Roxane Gay (Difficult Women, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body)
Kaitlyn Greenidge (We Love You, Charlie Freeman)
Yaa Gyasi (Homegoing) (country of residence)
Gabe Habash (Stephen Florida)
Joe Hill (Strange Weather)
Nathan Hill (The Nix)
Samantha Hunt (The Dark Dark)
Joe Ide (IQ)
Eowyn Ivey (To the Bright Edge of the World)
Joshilyn Jackson (The Almost Sisters)
Gish Jen (The Girl at the Baggage Claim)
David Joy (The Weight of this World, Where All Light Tends to Go)
Joseph Kanon (Leaving Berlin)
Rachel Khong (Goodbye Vitamin)
Katie Kitamura (The Separation)
Lisa Ko (Leavers)
Sana Krasikov (The Patriots) (country of residence)
Catherine Lacey (The Answers)
Paul La Farge (The Night Ocean)
Shari Lapeña (The Couple Next Door)
Min Jin Lee (Pachinko)
Edan Lepucki (Woman No. 17)
Kelly Link (Get in Trouble)
Patricia Lockwood (Priestdaddy)
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (The Fact of a Body)
Philipp Meyer (American Rust)
Lydia Millet (Sweet Lamb of Heaven)
Ottessa Moshfegh (Homesick for Another World)
Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Refugees) (country of residence)
Joyce Carol Oates (A Book of American Martyrs, Dis Mem Ber)
Dexter Palmer (Version Control)
Tom Perotta (Mrs. Fletcher)
Donald Ray Pollock (The Heavenly Table)
Francine Prose (Mister Monkey)
James Renner (True Crime Addict)
Michelle Richmond (No One You Know)
Emily Ruskovich (Idaho)
Lee Smith (Dimestore: A Writer's Life)
Rebecca Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me)
Dana Spiotta (Innocents and Others)
Elizabeth Strout (Anything is Possible)
Michelle Tea (Black Wave)
Amor Towles (A Gentleman in Moscow)
Weike Wang (Chemistry)
Kayla Rae Whitaker (The Animators)
Emily Winslow (The Whole World)
Gabrielle Zevin (Young Jane Young)

Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Refugees) (country of birth)

Oct 5, 2017, 8:31pm Top

Where do you get the time???

Oct 6, 2017, 7:58am Top

Jane, it looks bigger all spread out like that.

Oct 7, 2017, 1:02pm Top

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is Roxane Gay's book about what it's like to live in the world as an obese woman, approaching the experience from both universal and starkly personal angles. She's so honest and unflinching in her examination of her own weight, as well as why she is fat, that the book is often difficult to read; I felt that I really shouldn't be privy to such personal information. But Gay is unable to not be completely open, and it's that rawness that makes this book so powerful.

Gay ties her very personal experience to the wider one of how society treats larger women, pulling from her own life to demonstrate how ill-equipped and judgmental we are of people who we perceive as lacking control, and especially of women who take up more space than they should. Gay is also a tall woman, at 6'3" making her even more conspicuous than she would be at an average height, making ordinary things difficult, from airline seats to finding clothes.

While she was on a book tour for this book, she traveled to Australia and did an interview with a website which subsequently wrote an article about the unique problems accommodating Gay's size posed for them, from having to find a sturdy chair to the onerous task of checking how many pounds the elevator could carry. It was amazing how very much a publication which intended to be sympathetic missed the mark and the whole sordid tale proved Gay's points. It should be noted that had this company planned an interview with a man of similar size, they would have gone about their preparations with a great deal less hysteria and certainly never considered it fodder for an article.

Oct 9, 2017, 1:28pm Top

Frontier is an experimental novel by Chinese writer Can Xue set in on the northern border in Pebble Town, an odd city dominated by the mysterious Design Institute. Each chapter follows a different character or group of characters, but the story centers on Liujin, a woman living on her own since her parents retired to Smoke City. As she, and those she comes into contact with, go about their lives, odd things happen.

Frontier is described as surreal and there is a folk tale feel to this novel, with wolves and snow leopards wandering through the marketplace, a garden floats and young woman's hand occasionally transforms into a scythe. Sometimes the bizarre is remarked upon, at least by newcomers, but mostly the residents of Pebble Town continue to live their odd lives and think their random thoughts. Most of the book has the feeling of a dream sequence, where events occur unrelated to the events that precede or follow. Time and space are equally unstable.

This book defeated me. I read the entire thing, but each new, weird occurrence left me increasingly disconnected from whatever Can Xue was trying to communicate. The writing was stilted and varied between short lyrical segments interspersed with jarring, technical-feeling language. I'm uncertain of what was the intention of the author and what is the result of a tone-deaf translation. I have other issues with the translation, which leads me to think that the translators did the author a disservice beginning with the odd decision to give half of the characters random westernized names. What I'm left with is having slogged through a novel-length first draft of someone's dream. I suspect that had I a decent knowledge of modern Chinese literature and folklore, or had read this as part of a class, I might have been able to find the substance in this vaporous vision. It was interesting to venture so far from what I usually read, but I can't call the experience a rewarding one.

Oct 9, 2017, 10:54pm Top

14> Too bad it was disappointing. The folk tale aspect sounds intriguing.

Oct 13, 2017, 7:18am Top

Jane, it was disappointing for me, but I lacked the necessary background to make this book understandable.

Edited: Oct 13, 2017, 10:59am Top

Interesting review of the Roxanne Gay memoir, thanks.

I saw over on the "What are you reading?" thread that you are still, like me, listening to the Clinton book. I just listened to the chapter "Those Darn Emails," a chapter I thought I might skip (we've heard it all, haven't we?), or at least not like rehashing it all, but I found it very honest and certainly interesting for various reasons. I sometimes forget that she is older than I by 7 or so years and much less digitally-adept.

Oct 13, 2017, 11:23am Top

Lois, I found the email chapter to be hard to listen to. She was honest and forthright and it just felt lousy to listen and think that this is a large part of why we have who we have in the White House.

Clinton has a lovely, lovely voice. While she's clearly not a professional reader, the voice is one I enjoy listening to. And the chapters on policy, which is clearly where she shines and what she's interested in, were so much fun.

Oct 13, 2017, 12:38pm Top

>17 avaland:, >18 RidgewayGirl:

I am so dispirited by the election I thought I'd skip Clinton's book, but you've both make me think I should try it. I can't say I thought her public persona was all that inspiring, but good lord, who cared about that when she had so much experience and knowledge, and so many connections? Right now I'm reading Ta-Nehisi Coates's We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, which is enforcing for me the reasons we ended up with the clown: racism and misogyny, pure and simple. So now we have a man who hates anyone darker than himself, anyone poorer than himself, and anyone who has ever dissed him, turned him down for something, or voted against him. IOW, almost everyone, and especially Obama, who fits most of these categories. Oh, and of course a man with no knowledge, experience or connections. Sigh.

So do you all think listening would be better than reading Clinton's book?

Oct 13, 2017, 1:32pm Top

Marge, she's not a great reader. It's pretty clear she's reading her book. But it is in her voice and for me it's easier to hear her story in her voice than it would be to read it on paper. And while I'm a terrible audiobook listener - I rarely get audiobooks because my mind wanders as I listen - but this book holds all of my attention while I'm listening.

I just finished listening to the episode of the NYT Book Review podcast where Pamela Paul discusses What Happened with former NYT editor Jill Abramson and it was both an interesting and frustrating experience. Abramson has covered the Clintons since Bill ran for Governor of Arkansas and she stated that while Clinton is a trustworthy and honest person and that everything she says in the book about Russia, Comey, etc... was true, Clinton is unfair to the NYT who covered the emails exactly perfectly. So a funny blind spot there.

I've got the Coates' book on a shortlist of books to read soon, so I'm looking forward to your thoughts on it.

Oct 13, 2017, 5:31pm Top

The Dark Dark is a collection of short stories by Samantha Hunt that were often weird and always a little off-kilter, some stories veering directly into George Saunders/Karen Russell territory, and other stories remaining superficially more ordinary, but with an undercurrent that hints of something else.

This was an excellent collection of stories, where each story felt completely different than the one before. The book begins and ends with two variations on the same story and were the strongest of the stories, although there wasn't a dud to be found. And while the stories stand out for how imaginative they are, Hunt never fails to make her characters fully realized individuals or to give the stories a beating heart.

Oct 13, 2017, 9:31pm Top

Finding myself very interested in all your comments here. You left me really interested in Roxanne Gay and her issues (and it has me thinking of the memoir I recently listened to my Jennifer Weiner). Frontier has me wondering about Chinese culture. Your comments on HC has me thinking about trying it (where as previously I wasn't interested, no clue why not). And The Dark Dark sounds terrific. Anyway, enjoying your thread.

Oct 14, 2017, 10:06am Top

>22 dchaikin: Funny you should mention your reading of the Jennifer Weiner book, Dan, because as I was reading the Roxanne Gay review above, I thought about your review.

>19 auntmarge64:, >20 RidgewayGirl: I agree completely about her voice. Maybe it's just that it's the extreme opposite of the voice and language coming out of the White House these days, and/or maybe I just found her voice comforting. I will tell you that I unexpectantly fought back tears in the first 20 minutes of listening... I listened to Clinton's 2nd book via audio because she read it, but not the previous book to this one, which she only read a bit of. I've also listened to Madeline Albright and Anita Hill reading their own memoirs, both were excellent.

Oct 19, 2017, 12:28pm Top

This is a book. Going in, I knew that it was a modern classic of South American literature and both Worthy and Important, after all, I've had a copy for at least three decades, the bookmark sitting sadly between page 36 and page 37. I was unprepared, however, for the experience of reading it. Reading Love in the Time of Cholera is a brilliant, immersive, frustrating and fabulous experience.

Set a hundred years ago, in a coastal city in Colombia, Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, from the moment Florentino first catches sight of Fermina and falls madly, desperately in love, until they are both elderly. It's not an easy path; Florentino is awkward and weird and Fermina's father disapproves of the relationship. She marries another, and while his heart remains hers, he spends much of his time juggling a number of lovers as he waits for her to become free.

First published in 1985, Florentino's sexual ethics are presented as laudable and perhaps by the standards of the time and place, they are. But by modern standards, many of his relationships are coercive, if not blatantly abusive. This is the dead insect in the glorious feast of this book. Which is not to negate the importance or the beauty of this excellent book. I'm eager to read Marquez's other novels now.

Oct 20, 2017, 6:52am Top

I've been playing with the idea of reading through much of Marquez next year (I've never read anything by him before). So, read your review with interest...this review is really encouraging.

Oct 20, 2017, 10:29am Top

Daniel, I could not put it down. I hope to read One Hundred Years of Solitude next year.

Oct 21, 2017, 9:27am Top

The premise for Joe Ide's debut novel, IQ, is unbeatable. Sherlock Holmes in the form of a young black man living in the 'hood, more specifically, East Long Beach. Isaiah Quintabe is an orphan, his brother dying suddenly while IQ is in high school and seemingly bound for better things. Scrambling to find a way of supporting himself, he makes a life for himself solving crimes in a neighborhood the police would rather not enter, being paid with whatever his client can afford. He's broke and has a debt to pay, when an old roommate resurfaces with a job offer from a wealthy rap singer, who wants to know who is trying to kill him.

The central mystery is pretty thin, and most of the book is made up of IQ's backstory, which is more interesting than the mystery in any case. Ide concentrates on the setting and atmosphere, vividly describing life in the grittier corners of Los Angeles in a way that allows the reader to hear the freeway noise and see each location as though watching a movie. On the other hand, Ide falls back on stereotypes to create his characters, who all seem pulled directly from a list of stock characters, none of whom ever make an attempt at individuality.

The book was a mixed bag for me. I loved the setting, which isn't one often encountered, but the thinness of the plot compared with the dullness of the characters made reading this book less enjoyable than I had hoped it would be. Still, there is the kernel of a good series here and the first book in a mystery series is rarely the strongest. The second book in the series has just been published, so I'll be waiting to see if Ide develops as an author and breathes some life into his characters and creates a plot worthy of a Holmes-inspired character.

Oct 23, 2017, 9:56am Top

The Visitors by Catherine Burns is a tense novel in the style of Barbara Vine and Minette Walters. It builds slowly, so that the first half is spent describing Marion, a socially phobic middle-aged woman who is nearly house-bound, living in her childhood home with her brother, watching treacly movies and the house decay around her. The novel looks at her grim childhood and takes its time with the story, slowly piling on hints that something is very, very wrong.

it's not easy to build a buzz for a debut novel as slow-building as this one, and so the publisher went with the strategy of revealing the bad thing on the back cover summary. While it didn't ruin the book, I think it would have been much more fun to have gradually figured out what was going on, rather than going into it looking for the clues. And while the central storyline is fantastic and creepy and terrible, this is a debut novel, with issues with pacing and character development. Still, Burns is an author to keep an eye on and I don't think anyone will disagree that the literary world is always in need of more literary suspense novels that really deliver in unexpected ways.

Oct 23, 2017, 12:12pm Top

>28 RidgewayGirl: You have piqued my interest with The Visitors, Kay. I’m adding it to my list to check out.

Oct 23, 2017, 1:42pm Top

>27 RidgewayGirl: Intriguing....

Oct 23, 2017, 8:42pm Top

Colleen and Lois, the bare bones of this one were such that I was going to read it, no matter what. While it had flaws (mostly, I think, those of a debut novelist still learning her craft) it was a book that had me along for the ride.

Oct 24, 2017, 9:28am Top

>31 RidgewayGirl: I think Colleen and I were intrigued by different books :-)

Oct 24, 2017, 9:45am Top

Sorry, Lois. It was another book where the premise sucked me in, though.

Oct 24, 2017, 12:44pm Top

Oh, well, either way, the sooner he took care of their questions, the sooner he could get back to his music. He was right on the verge of finishing his first original composition, a slow, mournful piece in eight movements meant to capture the educator's dread of returning to the classroom after the bliss of the summer break. Tentatively titled, "Might as Well Hang Myself," he had been working on it off and on for the past several years.

Brace yourselves, because The Heavenly Table is not a novel for the faint of heart. Set in 1917, it tells the story of the Jewett Gang, three brothers living in excruciating poverty on the Georgia-Alabama border until events send them on a bloody crime spree, and they move ever northwards, hoping to escape into Canada. In their path lies the farm of the hapless Ellsworth Fiddler and his wife, Eula, who are struggling to get by after being swindled out of their savings and their son ran off to join the army, which is establishing a base in the nearby town of Meade, Ohio, preparing volunteers to fight in Europe.

Donald Ray Pollock has never been a writer who shields his readers from the world he's creating and in The Heavenly Table he describes every smell, every misdeed and every bodily fluid with a vividness that makes even ordinary daily activities less than pleasant. And here he's written a book full of less than pleasant individuals, most of whom spend their days involved in vile and/or unhygienic activities, all of which Pollock describes in a sort of cinematic technicolor. But don't let the violence fool you; Pollock is a talented writer and here he's also humorous. It's a fine tightrope to walk, to write a book that can make the reader cringe and laugh in the same paragraph, but Pollack has done it.

This book is a bloodbath, and it's a bloodbath where a serial killer who tortures his captives to death and collects their teeth in a jar is a minor player. And yet Pollack also manages to add just enough heart and grace to humanize this novel. A killer who finds terrorizing a lone black man entertaining is the same person who realizes that the prostitute he visits has had a harder life than himself and who pitches in to help an old man with the harvest. The characters here may be very bad men, but you can't help pulling for them, or at least seeing them as people.

Oct 25, 2017, 7:11pm Top

24> I love Garcia Marquez -- especially One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. As you said, each book is a feast -- and a very Caribbean one at that.

Oct 26, 2017, 11:30am Top

Ties by Domenico Starnone received extra exposure in the English-speaking world by being translated by Jhumpa Lahiri, who has spoken at length about the experience. This extra bit of publicity got a copy onto the shelves of my local library, so I'm grateful. Lahiri's translation is lovely.

This short novel tells the story of an unhappy family, in the form of three segments, one less than a decade into the marriage, when the husband leaves his wife and two young children for a younger woman. The second and meatiest part of the novel takes place when the couple are in their seventies and a traumatic experience throws old secrets into the open. The third section is the weakest and wraps things up a little too neatly through the eyes of their two now-middle-aged children.

Despite the tidiness of the ending, this was a powerful novel about how the fault-lines in a marriage may be smoothed over and life continued, but how those fractures remain under the surface, ready to reveal themselves at moments of stress. And how parental discord affects children, who have no say in the way things play out but who are nevertheless the people most affected.

This wasn't a cheerful book, but it was compelling and thought-provoking.

Oct 29, 2017, 4:28pm Top

>34 RidgewayGirl:, >36 RidgewayGirl: terrific reviews. Pollock sounds like he has a sliver of Cornac McCarthy in him.

Oct 30, 2017, 12:22pm Top

Daniel, I saw The Heavenly Table described as written as though McCarthy had a streak of black humor, so maybe? I've only read The Road, although I have my brother's complete collection of McCarthy novels on the shelf.

Nov 1, 2017, 6:30pm Top

Under a Pole Star is a novel about polar exploration in the Victorian era. Written by Stef Penney, an author I like a lot, I had high hopes for this novel and it almost met them.

When her mother dies when Flora is only twelve, her father, the captain of a whaling vessel, takes her on board. They spend years sailing to the western edge of Greenland, where Flora becomes accustomed to being on board a ship and to the Arctic. She makes friends with Inuit children and loves her life of freedom. When she grows older, her father abruptly returns her to Britain, leaving her alone with the desire to back to the north and no way to get there. Jakob is the son of an engineer working on the Brooklyn bridge until his accidental death sends Jakob and his older brother to live with unwilling relatives. Raised in tight spaces in a crowded immigrant neighborhood, Jakob dreams of wide open spaces, eventually becoming a geologist and working in the west, but always with the dream of joining an Arctic expedition.

For the most part, this is a solid novel about early Arctic exploration, with a focus on how the whalers and explorers interacted with the local population. It did falter though, in the central story of the relationship between Flora and Jakob. It threw the balance of the novel out of kilter, with way too much of the ins and outs of their complicated love affair and too little of what made the book so interesting - Flora's unique experience of being a woman in what was then seen as solely a man's world and how she dealt with that. And sex scenes, like any other events in a novel, should serve to move the story along. While a few did illuminate the relationship between Flora and Jakob, many of them seems to just exist to pad out an already substantial book.

Still, it's hard to beat a well-researched novel about explorers in wild places.

Nov 3, 2017, 2:46pm Top

>39 RidgewayGirl: Under a Pole Star does sound interesting (although I do prefer Antarctic tales). I'll keep an eye out for it. I do wonder why writers sometimes feel the need to ruin the flow of their novels with extended romance descriptions. I've seen it wreck more than a few books and always end up angry at the author.

Edited: Nov 4, 2017, 11:13am Top

>39 RidgewayGirl: I think I'll enjoy this one primarily through your review, the geology aspect does interest me.

Nov 4, 2017, 12:09pm Top

Marge, it is an easier way of indicating that two people like each other than dialogue, I guess? Still, it was interesting and I enjoyed reading it.

Nov 4, 2017, 4:28pm Top

>42 RidgewayGirl:. Maybe that's what the author thinks, but if that's the case, I want to shout, "Use Your Words!".

Nov 10, 2017, 11:13am Top

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry is a Victorian novel in both setting and style. A meaty, substantial book filled with interesting secondary characters and a riveting central story, this book made me happy.

Cora is a widow with a young son, recovering from a bad marriage, she turns to science and the hunt for fossils. She has friends and allies, from her socialist companion working to raise awareness of the conditions of the working poor in London, to the irascible, talented surgeon who attended her husband in his final days, to the wealthy and politically connected Ambroses, they all revolve around her. When she becomes fascinated with the reemergence of a local myth about a giant serpent, she is introduced to Will Ransome, a vicar, and his family, who live in the coastal village of Aldwinter, at the center of the rumors about the serpent.

While things happen and the writing is beautiful, the real stand-out in Perry's novel are the characters, who are each worthy of a novel of their own. Cora, herself, is less interesting and admirable than all of her admirers in the novel believe her to be, but with all the fascinating people she surrounds herself with, the gap is easily filled. I'm very much looking forward to Perry's next book.

Nov 10, 2017, 1:22pm Top

>44 RidgewayGirl: I’m wishlisting this one, Kay. You’ve made it sound really good.

Nov 10, 2017, 6:31pm Top

>44 RidgewayGirl: Uh, oh, fossils - I'll have to read this sooner than later.

Nov 14, 2017, 10:27am Top

Centered on the Second World War, Manhattan Beach tells the story of three people; a merchant marine third mate as he works on ships sailing dangerous seas, a mob boss negotiating stormy seas of his own and a young woman who grows up in Brooklyn during the Depression and who finds her feet when she gets a job working in the Naval Yard, eventually fighting for the chance to become a diver. Their lives intersect in important ways, but their relationships with each other are almost tangential to their own stories.

This is a solid, well-researched historical novel. There is none of the innovation or surprise of Jennifer Egan's best known work, A Visit from the Goon Squad. Egan uses instead a traditional approach to this traditional tale. And while I thought the novel lost intensity towards the end and was irked by an uncharacteristic and stupid action by one of the central characters, readers who enjoy solid historical fiction about WWII will find Manhattan Beach to be an excellent read.

Nov 14, 2017, 9:36pm Top

>47 RidgewayGirl: this belongs on my wishlist!

Nov 15, 2017, 9:51pm Top

Loved Goon Squad. I'm eyeing this one for audio. Long library wait list though.

Nov 16, 2017, 3:38pm Top

You had some good reading, it seems. I'm keeping an eye on it.

Nov 16, 2017, 5:40pm Top

Colleen, I look forward to finding out what you make of it.

No kidding, Daniel. I put my name down for this one while it was still just a title on the "on order" list and I had to wait some weeks.

Lois, I think the years spent here have had a huge impact on the quality of the books I read. It's made me a lot pickier, too.

Nov 19, 2017, 3:55pm Top

Where All Light Tends to Go is David Joy's debut novel. I really enjoyed his second book, The Weight of this World, which was also a dark, crime-ridden tale set in the hardscrabble Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Where All Light Tends to Go tells the story of Jacob McNeely who, as the son of a prominent meth dealer, deals with being viewed as trash everyday by upstanding folks. His mother is an addict and his father is more dangerous than nurturing and after dropping out of high school, Jacob figures he's trapped in this dead end part of the world forever. But his ex-girlfriend has been accepted to a college way out in Wilmington and he'll do what he can to help her get there. And maybe even dream about joining her.

So this was a debut novel. While I could see hints of what he'd be able to write just a book later, here the story is simplistic and the characters stay carefully within their assigned stereo-types, from the perfect, pure girlfriend to the slimy lawyer. Jacob had a few moments along the way where Joy seems to be pointing out the naivety of an eighteen-year-old boy's ego and the story itself was certainly fast-paced, but this is clearly the work of someone still learning their craft. Joy will be a writer to watch, but this book is not a strong one.

Nov 19, 2017, 4:06pm Top

Sorry that this book was a disappointment for you. I like the title very much.

Nov 19, 2017, 4:10pm Top

It is a great title, chlorine. And I did love his next book, so I'm watching to see what he writes next.

Nov 24, 2017, 12:30pm Top

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash tells the story of workers in textile mills in the South in the late 1920s. Ella May is raising four children alone. She's got work, but her 72-hour work week pays less than enough to even feed them everyday. Her youngest is ill and when she stays home to care for him she'd told that if she misses another shift, she'll be fired. So when news comes that unionizers are to come to nearby Gastonia she's desperate enough to hope.

Told from several viewpoints, from the wife of a mill owner to a black union organizer terrified to be back in the South, Cash tells the story of one brave and desperate woman and also of the textile mills of the piedmont region of the Carolinas. It's fascinating stuff, and Cash clearly spent years in immersive research.

Nov 24, 2017, 3:18pm Top

Strange Weather is a collection of novellas by horror writer Joe Hill. Unlike many collections, this isn't just a group of stuff he wrote, but nor is it inter-linked in any way except that weather plays some role in the plot. The novellas are also nothing alike: the first, Snapshot is horror in the style of his father, from the adolescent protagonist, to the clear depiction of a specific time and place, to the creepy and imaginative evil dude. Loaded was the best of the bunch, without an ounce of the supernatural, it was easily the most terrifying in the bunch. The ending was horrible and perfect at once. The third, Aloft has a terrified young man's first parachute jump go horribly awry. This one's got aliens of a sort and a more prosaic (and to me more interesting) story at its heart. The last story, Rain is an apocalyptic story that obeyed all the usual tropes of that over-written genre, but felt fresh and new.

This is an excellent collection that really shows that Hill is a writer who is a master of his craft.

Nov 24, 2017, 3:22pm Top

>55 RidgewayGirl:, >56 RidgewayGirl:: Very interesting reviews.

I'm taking particular note of Strange Weather as I'm starting to suspect that I might be a horror fan without realising it: I've began thinking about it some weeks ago and the more I think about it, the more I want to read some. But since I never need any I'm badly in need of recommendations.

Nov 24, 2017, 3:37pm Top

I'm not a great person to ask for horror recommendations. I like horror like I like science fiction and chick lit - there are a few authors I like and I'll read something if certain people here write an intriguing review, but that's it. Still, Joe Hill really knows the genre and he writes well. There are worse places to start.

Nov 24, 2017, 6:52pm Top

Dimestore: A Writer's Life by Lee Smith is an odd mix of essays, some about her childhood, growing up in a small, Appalachian coal town where her father owned the local general store, some about her later life, some about writing and some about teaching. By far the strongest portion were those about her childhood - this section was the most vivid and honest. She also came to life talking about some of her writing students.

This wasn't a particularly strong book, but it was interesting enough and it did make me want to take a look at a few of her novels.

Nov 24, 2017, 7:17pm Top

Always enjoy catching up here. I was interested in your comments about Joe Hill and that you liked his stories so much.

Nov 25, 2017, 9:25am Top

Daniel, you should know by now that I'm indiscriminate in my book choices. As long as the writing is good, I'll read it.

Nov 26, 2017, 2:54pm Top

Early one morning, in the dead of a Polish winter, in the middle of WWII, three German soldiers set out to hunt for Jews in hiding in the woods. They requested the task, having reached the point of being unable to continue with the shootings. They set out, on that cold morning and walk for some time. During the day they will encounter two men, one of whom will walk away. They will also share a meal with those two men.

A Meal in Winter by French author Hubert Mingarelli is a novella of surprising depth. It's a simple story, told straight-forwardly, but it leaves a lot to think about.

Many thanks to avaland for mentioning this book on her own thread.

Nov 27, 2017, 11:22am Top

By the way, I never mention her weight because I don't want her to end up with a complex. I was overweight when I was her age, and my mother discussed it exhaustively. And yes, as a result, I would say I am the proud owner of several complexes. But who isn't? When you think about it, isn't a person just a structure built in reaction to the landscape and the weather?

Young Jane Young tells the story of Aviva, a young woman interested in a career in politics who interns for the re-election campaign of a congressman. The congressman is charismatic and friendly, Aviva is insecure and determined to change her life. When their relationship is discovered, Aviva is the one to take the fall, while the congressman is able to continue his life as usual.

This book reminded me of Where'd You Go, Bernadette? in its tone and structure, but with less obvious humor and a warmer heart. The narrator shifts between Aviva, her mother, her daughter and the congressman's wife, and the changes in perspective give the book a wider view of what happened and how Aviva managed to rebuild her life. Despite the extreme relevance of the novel's subject matter, Gabrielle Zevin manages to both build nuance and to keep the tone from becoming too somber or angry.

Nov 27, 2017, 10:16pm Top

>61 RidgewayGirl: I think that is discriminate...or whatever the opposite of indiscriminate is.

>62 RidgewayGirl: hmm. Noting.

Nov 28, 2017, 6:08pm Top

Just finally caught up on your thread. So many interesting books. I'm particularly noting The Dark Dark and Manhattan Beach. You've also got me interested in the Joe Hill book. I don't read a lot of horror, but I do enjoy it on occasion when I stumble across particularly good books in the genre.

Nov 29, 2017, 2:19pm Top

I've enjoyed all your reviews - you've had lots of good reading since I last checked in. The Essex Serpent is one that is going on my wishlist!

Nov 30, 2017, 1:13pm Top

>55 RidgewayGirl: The Wiley Cash book sounds intriguing; I may have to pick ite up at the bookstore during my hours tomorrow. I have read quite a lot about the New England mills in the 19th century, many of which went south in the early 20th century (although not all, as my great grandmother and grandmother worked in the Maine mills in the early 20th century as did my mother during WWII). I also have lived very close to Lowell, MA and love the preserved history there.

Did you know Where'd You Go Bernadette has been made into a movie being released this year?

>62 RidgewayGirl: You're welcome! I still think about that book from time to time.

Dec 1, 2017, 7:19am Top

Lois, the textile mills of New England are more well-known, but their history down here is worth reading about.

I didn't know about Where'd You Go, Bernadette being made into a movie, but it makes sense as Maria Semple is a television writer as well.

And A Meal in Winter was such a perfect, small book. I'm glad to have encountered it.

Dec 2, 2017, 6:19pm Top

I just borrowed A Meal in Winter from the library. Thanks for the recommendation.

Dec 3, 2017, 11:53am Top

Maggie, I look forward to finding out what you think about it.

Dec 3, 2017, 11:53am Top

After listening to an interview with Derf Backderf, the author of My Friend Dahmer, I found myself reading a graphic novel about the high school years of a serial killer. I don't generally like graphic novels, but the format was ideal for the subject matter. Derf went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer and they were a part of the same group of friends. Dahmer was an outcast until his humorous routine as a man with cerebral palsy won him a place on the edge of a group of boys. Dahmer lost his hold on whatever gave him stability in those years and Backderf's main question is "Where were the adults?"

And that's not an easy answer. It was the seventies, a time before teachers watched their students for signs of alcohol or drug abuse, when kids ran wild with very little supervision and when parents were focused on their own changing lives. But Backderf says that Dahmer's deterioration was so obvious that someone should have noticed. And his parents were absent, his father and mother were divorcing and the process was drawn-out and acrimonious. Dahmer and his younger brother were left living with their possibly mentally ill mother, a woman unable to care for them. And so he had no one to help him as the warning signs became ever larger and brighter.

Backderf is an excellent guide through these years of Dahmer's life. In addition to the time and effort he made in remembering those years, he also spoke to friends, classmates and teachers, putting together an account that is both insightful and centered in what it was like to be a teenage boy in that time and place.

Dec 3, 2017, 6:35pm Top

>67 avaland: >68 RidgewayGirl: Persephone Books has just reissued Emmeline from 1980 about a young woman in the Lowell mills, calling it A page-turner from beginning to end, Emmeline is unusual because it is a fascinating, in some ways almost documentary, book about the life of the mill girls in Lowell More here:


I haven't read it yet, but it is on my shopping list.

Dec 3, 2017, 10:55pm Top

>71 RidgewayGirl: fascinating and chilled by your review of My Friend Dahmer.

Dec 4, 2017, 5:07am Top

>71 RidgewayGirl: That sounds interesting. Thanks for mentioning it, I would never have found it myself.

Dec 4, 2017, 10:02am Top

SassyLassy, that looks interesting. Hmm...

Daniel and Simone, it was surprisingly insightful. Still thinking about it. As a parent, there are so many ways to fail.

Dec 4, 2017, 10:03am Top

The New York Times Book Review podcast features a short discussion about what they're reading each week and all summer long they were, one by one, falling for French author Emmanuel Carrère. My library system owns a single book by Carrère and so I read The Adversary, which is a non-fiction piece about a murderer.

Jean-Claude Romand was a prominent doctor working for the World Health Organization in Geneva, and who lived in a pleasant village where he had good friends and was respected across the border in France with his storybook family. It was also all a lie. He'd never taken his first set of exams in medical school, but had simple continued along as though he were doing well. Once his class had graduated, he married his college sweetheart and continued the masquerade for years, leaving to attend important conferences, buying a home, even taking a Parisian mistress.

The reasons why he murdered his family are clear; he was running out of options and realized that the careful illusion he had created was soon to be shattered, but how he managed for so long makes for a fascinating story.

Dec 4, 2017, 4:43pm Top

>72 SassyLassy: That is interesting, might have consider that one. Most of my mill reading has been nonfiction of one kind or another (or lots of visits to preserved mills...), although there was a mystery I read called Death of a Mill Girl by Clyde Linsley that was a bit of fun.

Dec 11, 2017, 12:36pm Top

Usually in a collection of short stories by a single author there are a few duds; stories that you begin forgetting as soon as you've turned the last page. And there are a few that are fine and at least one that knocks your socks off and leave you light-headed. In a good collection, they'll be a few stories of the knock-out variety and in a great collection, there might be three or four. Fresh Complaint, Jeffrey Eugenides's collection of short stories falls short of even the first variety. Composed over several decades, the stories in Fresh Complaint are often stale, usually forgettable and in a few cases, misguided to an unsettling degree.

Eugenides is a great novelist, one who does amazing things when given the room to develop his characters and his story, but when restricted to a minimal length, he shows that he's not able to create characters that are anything other than one-note. His stories (with a single exception) center on white middle-aged men of the hapless variety. It's not a type that lacks for representation in American literature, but fine, Eugenides is writing-what-he-knows or something like that, but these sad sack men are written so carelessly as to make any sort of connection or sympathy for them impossible to achieve. I watched them flail and didn't care much one way or the other how things panned out.

There were things I did like. Eugenides writes well, and the stories that involved characters from The Marriage Plot and Middlesex had interest for me as someone who loved both those novels, although they brought nothing new to the table, it was at least interesting to see Eugenides develop his ideas. And the single story that wasn't about a middle-aged white dude had a little meat to it.

Were that it, this would be a lackluster, but fine collection by an author whose heart doesn't beat for brevity. But there were two stories that were much worse than they should have been. One, Capricious Gardens concerns a well-off middle-aged divorced man who picks up a hitch-hiking tourist, an attractive young woman, and offers her lodging at a house he occasionally lives in. Unfortunately, the attractive young woman has a traveling companion who is less attractive and who thwarts the guy's plans of conquest. The story appeared to be aiming for screw-ball comedy, and ended up feeling skeevy, with the middle-aged man's attempted seduction of a woman half his age. But this was written decades ago, and a pass of sorts might be given for a story written in the 80s. Inclusion in this book, however, is less excusable. And, finally, the newest story in the collection involved a teenage girl sexually preying on a much, much older and more powerful man. There was just so much wrong in this tale of a married man who innocently begins a sexual relationship with a teenager that it soured my view of the author.

Dec 13, 2017, 1:57am Top

>78 RidgewayGirl: Ugh. Sorry you had to go through this book, but thanks for the warning to stay away from it!

Dec 13, 2017, 7:42am Top

>78 RidgewayGirl: it’s not going on the wishlist. (Whereas it might have otherwise)

Dec 13, 2017, 7:51am Top

chlorine, there are positive reviews. And I'll admit to having very little patience with the whole well-off-middle-aged-guy-feels-unfulfilled story. I've read so many novels and stories about this that in order for me not to be bored, the author has to do a good job of it.

Daniel, Eugenides has written some very good novels.

Dec 13, 2017, 4:06pm Top

>78 RidgewayGirl: Well, that's a shame.

Dec 13, 2017, 6:13pm Top

>81 RidgewayGirl: I liked Middlesex a lot. I haven’t read anything else by him yet.

Dec 15, 2017, 9:43am Top

Deming is twelve when his mother disappears. He'd been secure and happy, although he knew his mother, an undocumented immigrant had her worries and money was always tight. But in his neighborhood everyone was poor and from someplace else and he had a best friend and a mother whom he adored. Her disappearance and his subsequent adoption by a pair of white university professors is traumatic, even as he tries to fulfill his new role as Daniel Wilkinson.

There's a lot going on in Lisa Ko's debut novel, The Leavers, which addresses immigration, integration, adoption, cultural dislocation and growing up as a permanent outsider. At it's heart, though, The Leavers is a story about a mother and a son and their love for each other. It's a lovely novel, well-told, that fully deserves all the attention and awards its receiving.

Dec 17, 2017, 2:16pm Top

In Chemistry, Weike Wang's debut novel, the unnamed narrator recounts events that were set off by her abandonment of her chemistry doctorate. Working at an unnamed prominent university in Boston, the narrator buckles under pressure and retreats. As she thinks back over her childhood, raised by parents unhappy with each other, and as an immigrant to the US who always felt like an outsider, she is a woman who is not quite at home anywhere. Her difficulties extend to her boyfriend, an fairly uncomplicated white guy who loves her, even as he plans to go on with his life, accepting a faculty position in another state.

This is a hard book to describe. it's a slender book, told in brief segments of memory and experience, all from the narrator's perspective. The book deals with everything from the pressures of competing and performing at an elite university, to the experiences of someone who immigrated to the US as a child, to how childhood is experienced by someone whose parents are unhappily married. And the book is charming; the narrator's viewpoint is a unique and fascinating one and her relationship with her dog and how she relates to her best friend's baby lend a lightness to what might otherwise be heavy-going. She's a mess, but it's easy to see why the people around her are drawn to her.

Dec 18, 2017, 7:43am Top

Grad school is hell. (Well, Ok, at least my grad experience was) I’ve wondered about this book, and this is the first review that makes me think I’d really like it.

Dec 18, 2017, 10:59am Top

Daniel, you might really like it. I keep thinking about different bits of it.

Dec 19, 2017, 7:01am Top

>84 RidgewayGirl: I've been on another planet for several months so The Leavers and all the attention it's been getting had passed me by. Your review caught my attention, and I just downloaded a sample - looks like my kind of book. Thanks!

Dec 19, 2017, 1:10pm Top

>84 RidgewayGirl: Darn, another book to add to the wish list (The Leavers).

Dec 22, 2017, 1:45pm Top

>88 rachbxl: and >89 auntmarge64: I think that The Leavers is well worth reading and I hope it gets a lot more attention. I'm pleased by how much excellent fiction is currently being written about the experience of being an immigrant.

Dec 22, 2017, 1:45pm Top

In The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso tells the story of two elderly women living in an affluent neighborhood in Capetown, South Africa. Marion, a white woman, runs the neighborhood committee and has a hand in everything going on. Hortensia, a black woman who moved to the neighborhood with her white husband after Apartheid ended, is stand-offish but she attends the committee meetings. Hortensia and Marion are constantly in disagreement and have never gotten along. After Hortensia's husband dies and they are both widows, circumstances push them together.

This isn't a feel-good story about old enemies becoming friends, or at least not quite. The gulf between the two women and the shared weight of their personal histories doesn't allow for a glib ending. Instead, there's a nuanced story of two women who lived through tumultuous times and were shaped by the places they'd lived. Omotoso does a wonderful job of portraying each of the women with equal nuance. It's not an easy thing to write a sympathetic and critical character study of a racist old woman, but Omotoso has managed to make Marion not only into a living, breathing woman, but to make her reactions and thought-patterns understandable.

Dec 22, 2017, 8:54pm Top

Mrs. Fletcher is Eve Fletcher, divorced mother of a college freshman. She's determined to get out there and become involved in life again, and she signs up for a class at the local community college on gender identity as a way of making friends. Along the way she discovers internet porn and becomes friends with a woman she works with. Meanwhile, her son has trouble adjusting to college, where he's no longer a big star and where he's stymied by both his college roommate and the challenge of starting a romantic relationship.

Tom Perrotta's novel explores the sexual mores of contemporary Americans in much the same way works by Updike and Cheever did a generation ago. Touching on everything from how porn affects how a person approaches relationships, the difficulty of starting over after divorce, transgenderism and how different generations react differently to similar situations, Mrs. Fletcher is written with Perrotta's characteristic sensitivity and humor, although it does seem less focused than his other novels.

Edited: Dec 23, 2017, 10:35am Top

Kay - from your comments, both sound well done, although the plots hint at the chick lit genre. Noting both.

Dec 23, 2017, 12:26pm Top

Daniel, nothing chick-lit about either book.

Dec 23, 2017, 12:45pm Top

Thanks. My library has Mrs. Fletcher on audio...

Dec 24, 2017, 5:17am Top

>91 RidgewayGirl: Noting The woman next door - I’m trying to steer the South African member of our book club away from picking another depressing Coetzee, and this one sounds like a book that would go down well with the group.

Dec 24, 2017, 8:54am Top

>91 RidgewayGirl: The Woman Next Door sounds wonderful, if I can get my head around deliberately reading about a racist main character. Your observation about being able to understand how such a person can be likable anyway made me think of Driving Miss Daisy, but also about my best friend's uncle, whom I adore but to whom I once had to say, "You're a racist pig, you know". And his delightful reply, and why I still love him, was, "Yes, but let me tell you why." Not that his explanation made sense to me. For him it's a logical position to some extent, or at least he justifies it that way. He's very well read, a physics teacher by trade, and just a lovely person to be around - except when he makes some horrible comment - so I don't get it, really. I steer him away from politics when possible, or sometimes argue with him outrageously (he is my senior, after all), but there's just something about him that makes him still worth being around.

I'll put the book on my list and give it a try.

Dec 24, 2017, 11:58am Top

Daniel, I'd be interested in what you make of it.

Mark, given the subject matter and the directness with which Omotoso approached it, it was a surprisingly upbeat book.

Margaret, it's a conundrum. I've cut off contact with a wing of my extended family because, in the end, their good points and shared blood are not enough to override the complicity I felt every time I attended a family event and folks got to comfortably talking.

Dec 26, 2017, 9:12pm Top

>70 RidgewayGirl: A Meal in Winter was phenomenal. Thanks so much for reviewing it.

Dec 26, 2017, 9:20pm Top

And The Leavers sounds like something I really should read. Chiming with dchaikin, I'd say parts of my grad school experience were a new circle of hell.

Dec 27, 2017, 1:28pm Top

Maggie, A Meal in Winter was phenomenal. I'm so happy avaland drew my attention to it. And The Leavers deserves to be widely read.

Dec 29, 2017, 4:19pm Top

Chasing the King of Hearts tells the story of Izolda, who meets Shayek in Warsaw during WWII and marries him. They live first in the ghetto until Izolda, who is unrelentingly resourceful and determined, smuggles herself out. She manages to get Shayek out too, as well as their parents but the war is harsh and unrelenting and over time their family members disappear or are arrested. Shayek is eventually arrested and all of Izolda's ingenuity is focused on getting to him. She endures much and survives because of her ability to think on her feet and to take any chances she sees.

From the beginning of the story we know that Izolda survives. There are segments set long after the war, when Izolda is an elderly woman living in Israel trying to tell her story to her grandchildren. The reader knows that she lives, but how she survives makes for quite a story. Izolda is a real person, who found the author, Hanna Krall, and asked her to write her story for her. Krall is well respected as a journalist in Poland and documents people's experiences in a narrative style much like Svetlana Alexievich. Here, she tells Izolda's story in a straight-forward way, eliding much of the harsher moments, but without omitting them. The reader knows Izolda is raped or that the conditions of her imprisonment were harsh, but these events are presented as facts, less important than her overriding need to find her husband.

She follows the policewoman.

The nearest station is on Poznanska Street. Not a good place, getting out won't be easy.

She has her pearl ring. She thinks: Should I give it to her right away? And why did she say you're all alike? By all she means Jews. Excuse me, Ma'am, she risks the question. What did you mean by all alike? Stop playing dumb--the policewoman now makes no effort to be polite. I'm from the vice squad, now do you understand?

Now she understands.

They're not taking her for a Jew but for a whore. What a relief, thank God, they're just taking me for a whore.

The sheer number of close calls and daring escapes experienced by this single woman would sound unlikely in a novel, but Izolda's personality and determination made each unlikely moment feel inevitable. This is an extraordinary story.

Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 5:41pm Top

>91 RidgewayGirl: Great review of The Woman Next Door; it made me think back to the story.... I first heard of the book ahead of publication in a Publishers Weekly article about authors to watch. The other book, I bought from that same article was Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, which is in the mega-TBR pile.

Dec 29, 2017, 6:36pm Top

Lois, there seems to be more African lit reaching the US, or maybe I'm just more aware of it. In any case, I've enjoyed everything I've read from that continent lately, especially all the novels written by women.

Dec 29, 2017, 8:06pm Top

Mothers and Other Strangers has a killer opening line: My father proposed to my mother at gunpoint when she was 19, and knowing that she was already pregnant with a dead man's child, she accepted. It's hard to beat an opener like that, and impossible for the rest of the book to live up to the promise of that one perfect sentence.

Elsie is thirty-nine, but still living under the shadow of having been raised by a neglectful, self-involved woman. After her mother dies, she goes back to Toronto to clear out and sell her mother's apartment. The act of being back brings back memories and brings her back into contact with the odd, Scientology-like sect her mother had belonged to. They break into her mother's apartment, looking for something they don't find, but it's the tentacles they've left in Elsie's mind that prove to be the greater danger. Elsie was born in South Africa and still has vivid memories of the fire that killed her father and separated her from the woman who cared for her. Elsie is then raised in Canada, without any contact with any relatives in South Africa and as she finds clues in her mother's things she realizes she has to confront not only the religious sect that took over her mother's life, but also the past left behind in South Africa.

In many ways, this is a typical novel of the kind that involves a woman in peril who has to follow clues to resolving her past while protecting herself from nebulous dangers. But Gina Sorell writes well and the plot is unpredictable and eventful enough to keep the pages turning. It was impossible for any debut novelist to fulfill the promise of the opening sentence, and the ordinariness of the resulting novel was a disappointment, but Sorell shows enough promise there for me to look forward to whatever she writes next.

Dec 30, 2017, 4:40pm Top

Stephen Florida is a college senior, a wrestler who has one last shot of winning the championship. He's focused on that one aim, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. He has one friend, another dedicated wrestler, but it's an odd relationship. He meets a girl and there's another connection to tether him to the world for a time, but the isolation takes a toll and Stephen Florida is losing it.

So I'm not generally a fan of novels about angry white dudes, or of sports novels, or of novels that put a lot of emphasis on bodily fluids, or, frankly, books that are so unabashedly male in their outlook. I would not have read this at all had it not made the Tournament of Books longlist, and while I often wondered why I was reading this, it did capture my interest in the end. Stephen's not a nice guy, but he's also not a bad guy, for all the petty gross stuff he does. He's just a not entirely stable guy who lacks anyone who could ground him and he's utterly committed to winning at wrestling. There's only a single sketchily-drawn female character, and she remains largely an idea that Stephen holds on to, but a story told from inside Stephen's head was never going to be balanced.

I'm glad to have read this book, even though I was not always happy while I was reading it. I really, really dislike snot and there was a lot of it in this book. But Gabe Habash shows promise and I'll be interested in at least see what he does next.

Dec 31, 2017, 2:18pm Top

That is quite an opening line by Sorel. Have you completed or come close to completing the tournament list? I don’t know how many books are involved.

Dec 31, 2017, 2:57pm Top

Daniel, the longlist for the Tournament of Books is very, very long -- 72 books. I've read 22 of them, mostly by happenstance, since I like a new, shiny book so much.

Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 3:31pm Top

Time to assess my reading this year. Overall, it's been great and I'm content that I did increase the diversity of my reading and will continue to work on that as it never fails to also increase the quality of what I'm reading.

A few statistics:

64% of the books I read were by women.

I read books by authors from 23 different countries, although the vast majority (62) were American.

Most of my reading was newer books, with only two books published in the last century and none before 1985. A whopping 36% were published in 2017. This is what happened when I realized that not only to I love new, shiny books but I also realized that that's fine and I should read the books I want to. I'm happy with that -- I enjoy the conversations going on around new books. That said, the books waiting on my shelves to be read were neglected and I'd like to read more of them.

The best books I read this year were:

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The Trespasser by Tana French

Autumn by Ali Smith

Transit by Rachel Cusk

And the very worst were:

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapeña and Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald - this is me eternally learning that when it comes to crime novels, an intriguing blurb is not a guarantee of good writing or even a decent plot.

That's all folks. It was wonderful spending time with all of you and I'm looking forward to the books we'll read next year.

Group: Club Read 2017

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