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Ursula, Reading and Maybe Posting in 2018

Club Read 2018

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Edited: Jan 23, 10:28am Top

Hello all! I have been missing from Club Read for nearly a year and LT as a whole for about 6 months or so. I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things as I miss having book talk and my husband can listen to only so many of my rants about books. I'll post something more about myself as soon as I think of what to say in the Introductions thread.

Last year's reading, as broken down in a bunch of charts pulled from a spreadsheet:

Edited: Apr 2, 6:13pm Top

В настоящее время читаю:
(Currently reading):


The Origins of Totalitarianism

Читай в 2018:
(Read in 2018)

Syndrome - finished Jan. 2 (104 pages)
Under the Udala Trees - finished Jan. 10 (352 pages) ****1/2
The Terror - finished Jan. 11 (769 pages) **
Casual - finished Jan. 14 (281 pages) **1/2
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said - finished Jan. 19 (249 pages) ****
Temperance - finished Jan. 22 (240 pages) ****
The Once and Future King - finished Jan. 24 (639 pages) **
A Student of Living Things - finished Jan. 25 (256 pages) ***1/2
Terms of Endearment - finished Jan. 29 (371 pages)

Books read: 9
Total pages: 3261

The Boy on the Bridge - finished Feb. 3 (400 pages) ***
The Drifting of Spirits - finished Feb. 6 (246 pages) **1/2
The Charterhouse of Parma - finished Feb. 13 (528 pages) ****
The Bell - finished Feb. 19 (316 pages) ****
The Book of Speculation - finished Feb. 21 (339 pages)**1/2
Kill My Mother - finished Feb. 27 (150 pages) **

Books read: 6
Total pages to date: 5240


The Guns of August - finished Mar. 1 (19h 10m) ****
The Orphan Master's Son - finished Mar. 3 (443 pages) ****1/2
Saraya, The Ogre's Daughter - finished Mar. 7 (210 pages) ***
Atmospheric Disturbances - finished Mar. 14 (240 pages) **
The Populist Explosion - finished Mar. 15 (184 pages) ***1/2
The Heart of the Matter - finished Mar. 17 (306 pages) ****
The Story of the Stone, Vol. I - finished Mar. 18 (542 pages) ****
Dear Thief - finished Mar. 20 (256 pages) ***
The Bean Trees - finished Mar. 23 (232 pages) *****
An American Marriage - finished Mar. 29 (320 pages) ****

Books read: 10


The Wildings - finished Apr. 2 (320 pages) ***

Jan 5, 7:03am Top

Yay! Glad to see you back here. I always enjoy following your reading. Looks like you had a good reading year in 2017.

Jan 5, 7:35am Top

Gracious, from Italy to Michigan to Fresno in one year? No wonder you disappeared from LT for a while. Welcome back! I'm impressed with the amount you've been able to read in the meanwhile. I see you read a fair amount of Mishima, which was your favorite?

Jan 5, 10:17am Top

>3 japaul22: Thank you for the welcome! I was wondering if anyone would remember or care who I was (that comes across more emo than I intended, I just feel a bit like I'm slinking back into the group). I will be by to see what you're up to as well, it'll be good to catch up.

>4 ELiz_M: Well, when you put it that way ... ;) It's true though, in May 2016 I was living in Italy, in May 2017 I was in Michigan, and now (well before May) I'm in California. It's been maybe even more of a whirlwind than usual? Although we did actually lay it out for ourselves and since mid-2013, we've lived in Denver CO, Ghent Belgium, Antioch CA, Padua Italy, Sault Ste Marie MI, and Fresno CA. That is ... a lot of moving.

The Mishima was my year-long 1001 books project, so I read the Sea of Fertility tetralogy. It was maybe a smaller year-long project than usual but probably for obvious reasons! Realistically, I rated them all 4 stars but I bumped up The Decay of the Angel just because it is the one that brings it all together. I am looking forward to reading more Mishima. I spent a lot of time reading the books feeling the uncomfortable parallels to his own life. It was an odd reading experience because of that. But I enjoyed them a lot.

Jan 5, 10:20am Top

More info on my 2017 reading:

My favorite books in no particular order were -

The Sea of Fertility tetralogy
A Fine Balance
Cancer Ward
March, Book 2
Dark Matter
The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks
Human Acts

My least favorites -

A Bend in the River
The Red Queen (Drabble)

Jan 5, 11:23am Top

Hi Ursula! You've been missed!

Hope it's okay if I sneak over here occasionally to see what you're reading...

Jan 5, 11:49am Top

Hi Ursula. Welcome back. Will you be posting any of your artwork?

Jan 5, 1:40pm Top

>7 katiekrug: Hey Katie! Good to see you! You are absolutely welcome to sneak over whenever you want. I considered the 75ers but the mere thought exhausted me so I'll be hiding out here. :)

>8 NanaCC: Thank you! Another familiar face! I may in fact post some of my work, a lot of my missing time has been taken up by various art projects.

Jan 5, 3:09pm Top

>1 ursula: Those charts are freaking awesome.
>2 ursula: Love the variety of books here! Under the Udala Trees looks very interesting.

Welcome back!

Jan 5, 4:34pm Top

I'm so glad you're back Ursula--I missed following your reading (and your photos). Did you finish your drawing/painting of your bookshelf of your year of reading? Would love to see it.

Evicted was one of my favorite books of last year too, and A Fine Balance is one of my favorite books of all time. It's been years since I've read it and I may want to try a reread at sometime in the future.

Jan 5, 7:49pm Top

>10 Cait86: I can't take credit for them! I got them from someone else and did some aesthetic remodeling. If you are a spreadsheet/Google sheets person, you can find the original here. It's view-only so you can save it to your own account and fiddle with it. If you're not one of those people, you can ignore all of that. ;)

I try to keep the variety going so that I don't have a hard time switching between books. I am liking Under the Udala Trees so far (about 20% in). That reminds me though, I wanted to peruse the Wikipedia pages about the Biafran war.

>11 arubabookwoman: Thank you! I did, although it's not handy at the moment. I will try to remember to post it soon.

I didn't mess around with any sort of thread decoration this time because I figured it would just be another thing that would keep me from actually starting the darn thing! So I'm hopefully going to add in some things along the way.

I was a little apprehensive going into A Fine Balance - not only the size, but I seem to remember a lot of people talking about how grim it was. But I don't know, it didn't affect me that way.

Edited: Apr 2, 6:16pm Top

This thread is going to be a mess, instead of a carefully-curated object of beauty. So I'm just gonna lean in to it. I'll track my progress (or lack thereof) on my challenges here.

Here's the list of prompts in the Popsugar Reading Challenge.

1. A book made into a movie you've already seen
2. True Crime
3. The next book in a series you started
4. A book involving a heist
5. Nordic noir

►6. A novel based on a real person - The Terror
7. A book set in a country that fascinates you
8. A book with a time of day in the title
9. A book about a villain or antihero
►10. A book about death or grief - A Student of Living Things
11. A book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym
►12. A book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist - Under the Udala Trees
►13. A book that is also a stage play or musical - The Once and Future King (Camelot)
►14. A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you - Under the Udala Trees
15. A book about feminism
►16. A book about mental health - Atmospheric Disturbances
17. A book you borrowed or that was given to you as a gift
18. A book by two authors
19. A book about or involving a sport
20. A book by a local author
21. A book with your favorite color in the title
22. A book with alliteration in the title
23. A book about time travel

►24. A book with a weather element in the title - Atmospheric Disturbances
►25. A book set at sea - The Terror
26. A book with an animal in the title
27. A book set on a different planet
28. A book with song lyrics in the title
29. A book about or set on Halloween

►30. A book with characters who are twins - The Drifting of Spirits
31. A book mentioned in another book
32. A book from a celebrity book club
33. A childhood classic you've never read

►34. A book that's published in 2018 - An American Marriage
35. A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner
36. A book set in the decade you were born
37. A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn't get to
38. A book with an ugly cover
►39. A book that involves a bookstore or library - The Book of Speculation
40. Your favorite prompt from the 2015, 2016, or 2017 POPSUGAR Reading Challenges


1. A bestseller from the year you graduated high school
2. A cyberpunk book
3. A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place
4. A book tied to your ancestry
5. A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title
6. An allegory
7. A book by an author with the same first or last name as you
8. A microhistory

►9. A book about a problem facing society today - The Populist Explosion
10. A book recommended by someone else taking the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

And here are the Book Riot Read Harder prompts:

1. A book published posthumously
2. A book of true crime
►3. A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance) - The Once and Future King (fantasy)
►4. A comic written and drawn by the same person - Kill My Mother
►5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa) - Casual (Russia), The Wildings (India)
6. A book about nature
7. A western
8. A comic written or illustrated by a person of color
9. A book of colonial or postcolonial literature
10. A romance novel by or about a person of color
11. A children’s classic published before 1980
12. A celebrity memoir

►13. An Oprah Book Club selection - An American Marriage
14. A book of social science
►15. A one-sitting book - Syndrome
16. The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series
17. A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author
►18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image - Syndrome
19. A book of genre fiction in translation
20. A book with a cover you hate
21. A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author
22. An essay anthology
23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60
24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

Edited: Jan 6, 9:18am Top

On the dangers of picking books at essentially random:

When I go to the library, I often pluck something off the graphic novel shelves without giving it much thought. So I brought home Syndrome and read it. It's a dark story about a mad scientist type who has some thoughts on how to cure evil, and some other thoughts on how to test that cure. It was pretty decent, the art was okay if not overly inspiring, and the storyline was good, but the ending felt sort of abrupt and unsatisfying to me.

Then I was searching out something about it, and I realized that I had read about this graphic novel before, involved in the very grim story of some trust fund baby (Blake Leibel) who killed his girlfriend in LA in an extremely grisly way. He was credited as having written Syndrome, although it turns out he didn't do the writing, he just provided the ideas for it. One of which is a murder that takes place in the book which is a bit like the way he later killed his girlfriend.

So uh, yeah, that was an awkward discovery which obviously makes it essentially impossible to judge the book on its own merits.

Jan 5, 9:44pm Top

>13 ursula: - In case you need some inspiration, I started a thread for people doing the PopSugar, Book Riot, and other challenges... https://www.librarything.com/topic/279363#.

Jan 6, 8:31am Top

>12 ursula: Whoa! Thank you for this spreadsheet! I'm am playing around with a copy right now :)

If you haven't read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, it is also about the Biafra war - and it is excellent.

Jan 6, 8:37pm Top

It's really nice to see you back, Urs. Sorry about Syndrome...well, freaky really.

Jan 7, 1:34pm Top

>15 katiekrug: Thanks! I've been following threads on GoodReads for inspiration for some of the topics, but I will also check that out!

>16 Cait86: You are very welcome! I have not read Half of a Yellow Sun, although I do intend to at some point.

>17 dchaikin: Thanks! Yeah, it was kinda weird and eerie, even just looking at that cover now that all of that has happened. Well, onward! (Not that I'm enjoying anything I'm reading at the moment, but the year has to get better from here!)

Jan 7, 8:52pm Top

Good to see your name in this group again! I'm looking forward to more artwork and more reviews--I've always loved your recommendations. Are you still minimalist in your book buying?

Jan 7, 9:37pm Top

>19 ipsoivan: Hey! Thank you for the warm welcome. I am, in fact, still pretty minimal. I mean, a couple of months after we got to Fresno I found out about a friends of the library book sale and I managed to find a few (haha) books there, but I am reading my way through them and getting rid of them as fast as I can.

One day, one day we'll have a house in a place we are going to stay for a decent amount of time and I'll buy some nice editions of books I really love, but that day is still a ways off probably.

Jan 8, 4:16pm Top

I started and abandoned the audio book of Lab Girl. I remember a lot of people liking the book, but I could not deal with her voice/style of reading the book. Her quavery, near-crying voice as she talked about the leaves of plants that didn't need to die....

I stuck it out for about half an hour but there's no way I'm going to listen to that.

Jan 10, 7:12pm Top

Under the Udala Trees

I liked this a lot. It's the story of Ijeoma, growing up as the Nigerian Civil War is winding down. After the death of her father, she is sent away to live with another family while her mother settles into a new home in a new town. Ijeoma meets and falls in love with another girl. Family and society opinions on homosexuality leave Ijeoma puzzling out what she wants to be, what she should be, and how she can find her way in life.

I didn't really enjoy the epilogue, but I did understand why the author wanted to include it. And fair warning - there's a lot of bible quoting.

Jan 10, 9:54pm Top

Hi Ursula: Happy New Year. You have a great list of favorites from last year. I really enjoyed The Russian and Ukrainian Notebooks. Thanks for the recommendation.

Jan 12, 9:28am Top

The Terror

Well, that was certainly something. I love polar/arctic exploration nonfiction, so I was interested in this popular fiction book about what might have happened to the mid-1800s Franklin expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. At the time when this book was written in 2007, one of the ships had not even been found (they found it last year I believe). So there's a lot there to mine because the fates of the Erebus and some of the crew was known, but the Terror wasn't where it would have been expected to be, and a number of bodies were never found. And while one could write a fictional account of their probably real deaths by starvation, disease and exposure, why not instead write about a mysterious monster that is stalking them and killing them? Don't get me wrong, plenty of people die by those other causes too - this is the Arctic after all. But there is also this monster.

All right, I'm down for some fantasy/supernatural horror. I was actually sort of excited at the prospect of reading about some sort of sea monster being after them. But the book I was excited for was not this book. It took a turn for the really dumb around page 300, and that made me really mad. Why wait until nearly the halfway point to get stupid? Now I felt invested, and I had already read the length of another book so I didn't want to abandon all that reading and not be able to use it for any of my challenge categories! So I slogged on, like an arctic explorer in 8 layers of sweaty wool half-frozen to my body, manhauling a loaded sledge across uneven ice. And then it took another turn for the hopelessly stupid. So I started skimming, and after that things didn't get much better but they did at least get much quicker.

Things I liked:
One character, John Irving. He died ignominiously, of course.
The physical atmosphere was actually pretty okay.

Things I didn't like:
The stupid monster. I get why he went the overall direction he did, but he didn't have to make so many of the details dumb.
Any other character not named John Irving.
Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier. He was the captain of the Terror and boy did Simmons love his full name. Every chance he got, he threw it in there. So annoying.

But, it's done. All 769 pages of it. And it gave me my "book mentioned in another book" too, in a funny and coincidental way. It mentioned The Vicar of Wakefield, which I had intended to read last year, and was actually sitting on the nightstand directly under The Terror!

Jan 12, 9:36am Top

>23 BLBera: Hello and happy new year! Ah, I'm glad to hear you read the Russian and Ukrainian Notebooks! Hope all is well with you. :)

Jan 12, 3:35pm Top

Hi Ursula

Good to see you back, I was concerned when you disappeared last year.

Jan 12, 9:27pm Top

>24 ursula: I am also a fan of books about polar exploration but I gave up on The Terror part-way through. Have you read The Voyage of the Narwhal? My absolute favourite of the novels I have read with a polar exploration theme, in fact one of my favourite books generally.

Jan 12, 10:13pm Top

>24 ursula: Sorry... I've done this, forced my through a book that was fine, and then was terrible. It sucked. I've also given up on books like this and felt good about that...but of course, I don't know those ended.

>21 ursula: This made me laugh. I liked Lab Girl and her reading, but I know exactly what you mean.

Edited: Jan 12, 10:14pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Jan 13, 8:51am Top

Dan Simmons writes a lot of science fiction/fantasy and so I am guessing that something from this genre was the stupid thing that happened halfway through the book. I have read Carrion Comfort by him and it was overlong in my opinion.

Jan 13, 9:23am Top

>26 Caroline_McElwee: Thank you Caroline! It's kind of you to have been concerned. I should have realized that it was thoughtless to just disappear.

>27 wandering_star: Was there a particular reason you abandoned? I can imagine that up to a point it might have been abandon-worthy because nothing in particular seemed to be happening. For me, the turn that nearly made me consider it was the reveal that the creature could blow down into the woman Eskimo's throat and play her vocal chords like a flute. I mean, seriously? My eyes couldn't roll hard enough.

No, I haven't heard of that one. I looked it up but my library systems don't have it.

>28 dchaikin: Same. Once upon a time, I would force my way through books I wasn't enjoying no matter what. Now, I usually only do that with 1001 Books list books, because I am searching for some further value, even if it doesn't involve being enjoyable. Non-list books I have to have reasons to continue with - and hate reading can be a good enough reason at times. I do abandon books though, even after investing a significant amount of time in them. I abandoned Where'd You Go Bernadette? about halfway through, and last year I also abandoned Girl Waits with Gun, though much earlier. It was clear that was not going to be a book I loved to hate, just one that I hated.

Glad you got a laugh about Lab Girl. I'm shuddering again thinking about that voice!

>30 baswood: See above spoiler in response to wandering_star if you're curious. To some extent, I realize that all supernatural-involved horror/fantasy ideas are probably a bit eye-rolling at the bottom of it, but there are ways to handle it to minimize that. Simmons ... went the other direction.

Jan 13, 9:09pm Top

>31 ursula: That does sound pretty terrible! Unfortunately I read it in 2013 so I can't remember why I ditched it.

I wish I'd also ditched Girl Waits With Gun!

Often if I'm not sure about a book I have a look at the LT reviews to see if it gets better or changes from the thing that I don't like. On the other hand, I've just finished American War, which I found a slog to read but I kept going with because I did think it was an interesting idea and worth giving some time to.

Jan 14, 1:02pm Top

Sorry about The Terror. That's a long book to finish out of sheer bloody-mindedness. I have finished more than one book only because of the review I would then be able to write.

Jan 15, 12:43am Top

>32 wandering_star: I'm sorry you suffered through Girl Waits with Gun but I admit I feel a little extra vindicated in dumping it now! :)

It's a rare case that I'll look at the reviews, since I try to always know as little as possible about a book. I do it when I'm really desperate though. (Impressions of Africa drove me to LT reviews, GR reviews, online reviews, everything I could find.)

>33 RidgewayGirl: Well, I did skim at least half of it. So while it was still an investment, it was less of an investment. And it fulfills multiple categories on my challenge. I definitely have finished some books just so I could really give it a good skewering afterward!

Jan 15, 9:26am Top

I’m the same re reviews Ursula. I skim enough to know whether it is for me, before putting it aside. I only revert to a review to see what it said if I’m disappointed in a book. But I don’t always bother then either.

Jan 16, 11:03am Top


Billed as a "Russian Desperate Housewives", I suppose this gives you about as much insight into Russia as Desperate Housewives does into the US. The women are super-rich and the men are mostly in the background. They spend their days lunching, being seen and shopping, and their nights in clubs getting wasted. The main character also spends her days trying to build a buttermilk empire (no, seriously) to distract herself from her husband's murder, the event which opens the book. Bodyguards, guns and drugs are everywhere, as well as corrupt cops and money flowing in all directions for bribes, both official and personal.

I wish this had been more fun than it was. The characters were all unlikable, which is fine, but they didn't have other qualities to make you love to hate them. And the writing was choppy to the point of feeling like the author had been instructed to write in sentences of no more than 8 words. Or maybe it's the fault of the translator - it does read a bit like what you get when you try to literally translate Russian sentences!

Edited: Jan 16, 11:50am Top

Thanks for taking the hit on this one Ursula. Not for me.

Jan 19, 1:03pm Top

>37 Caroline_McElwee: No problem. :) It's the price I pay for picking books by women essentially at random from the library shelves.

Jan 20, 9:43am Top

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

My third Philip K Dick book. I read it now because my husband checked it out of the library. In a society where everyone is tracked with endless paperwork and identity cards, a famous singer and tv personality wakes up one day and somehow has ceased to exist. I mean, he's still there moving around, the people he knows are still there, but no one knows him anymore and he doesn't exist in the many databases. He's gone from being in everyone's living rooms on Tuesdays at 9 to being an unperson, subject to being sent to a hard labor camp. Things get weird, of course, because this is Philip K Dick, but overall the idea holds together pretty well (which is not always the case in his books). I didn't like the epilogue, of the variety where we find out absolutely everything that happens to absolutely everyone. Ending your book with a tedious laundry list is anti-climactic.

Edited: Jan 20, 10:12am Top

>39 ursula: This sounds interesting. Reading all of Dick's work is something I would like to do in the long run, but from your review this one will not be high on my list. The next one I plan to read is The man in the high castle, though I see you gave it a lower rating than this one (BTW LT lists you as having read five of his book, if I understand correctly ;)

My two favorite of his are A scanner darkly and Ubik.

Jan 20, 1:51pm Top

>40 chlorine: I'd say this is a pretty good one of his, actually. Valis is good but all-over-the-place-weird. I've read 4 of his books, I guess. I tried to read the graphic novel adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but I abandoned it.

I was cranky about the epilogue, but it's only 3 or 4 pages long.

Jan 20, 6:01pm Top

Enjoyed your review of Flow my Tears

Jan 23, 10:24am Top


Do you ever read something and you know you liked it but you're not sure what you just read, really? That was my experience with Temperance. It starts off with two girls in the forest with "Pa," who is cutting down trees and ranting about enemies. The girls are clearly afraid of him and one, Peggy, keeps saying, "he's nobody's Pa," so you start to wonder if he really is their father. The other girl, Minerva, seems both scared of and devoted to Pa. Shortly we find out that Pa has started a community called Blessedbowl, where his followers are preparing for a war against unknown enemies.

The details of exactly what happens from there are better discovered on your own, I think. But I was left with many thoughts after reading this book - is it an allegory about man's affinity for war? Or about good and evil forces at work inside individuals? Or is it an allegory about religion? I'm not sure, exactly. But it had me thinking about all of those things.

Here are a couple of examples of the art style, which I found unique.

Jan 23, 3:52pm Top

>43 ursula: Huh, that looks intriguing!

Jan 24, 11:18am Top

Welcome back Ursula! We were beginning to wonder what had happened to you in deepest, darkest Michigan!

Jan 24, 7:21pm Top

The Once and Future King

Ugh. Just ugh.

At least I can check it off the 1001 Books list.

Jan 24, 9:01pm Top

*curious now*

Jan 25, 2:08pm Top

Me too! Sorry it was an ugh for you though.

Jan 25, 3:35pm Top

King Arthur, knights of the Round Table, Merlyn, etc. Told in a stupid, jokey way for the first two books and then in a bloody, unlikable, boring way for the other two.

Jan 25, 3:49pm Top

>49 ursula:

OK, I'll ask - what did you expect the book to be about? It is one of the classic Arthurian novels...

Edited: Jan 25, 4:42pm Top

I knew it was about Arthur. It was a stupid telling of the story, as if the first two parts had 5-year-olds as the intended audience. And the second two parts made me wonder why anyone was intrigued by any of these characters. They were weak (Arthur) or just awful (every single one of the knights).

Jan 25, 4:50pm Top

>46 ursula: Maybe this is why it has sat on my TBR for so long. I may still keep it there, but at least I won't feel guilty.

Jan 25, 4:59pm Top

>51 ursula:

That's an interesting opinion. I do not find the first parts as juvenile as you do but then it may be just down to expectations. It may be time to pull this one out from the shelves and reread it. Too bad you did not like it :( Hopefully your next book will be closer to your preferred style.

Jan 25, 6:11pm Top

>51 ursula:

Sounds quite like the one book by White I read, The Master. Very much kiddie stuff, not in a good way.

Jan 25, 8:18pm Top

>52 SassyLassy: I'm certainly not going to throw any guilt your way!

There's a shoe for every foot, though, so who knows?

My husband said that since I'd sold the book to him so well, he wants to read it, haha.

Jan 25, 9:02pm Top

In other news, I started The Charterhouse of Parma and in his foreword, Stendhal says that in 1830 he had been billeted in Padua, "a charming town in Italy." He goes on to say that he had passed through there later and met up with some of the family with whom he had stayed. "Several people came in and we made a long night of it; the nephew ordered an excellent zabaione from the Caffè Pedrocchi."

And just like that, nostalgia. *sigh*

Although I will admit I only went to Pedrocchi a few times, as it is expensive and tourist central during the appropriate months. But I did go sometimes because it was one of the only places that made a "fancy" drink, with mint in it. I looked through my photos from Padova and I only found two even vaguely of Pedrocchi, although there were lots taken standing right in front of it or next to it, just facing the other way!

I did find this one, which features the back of Pedrocchi in the distance (the reddish one with all the pointy bits).

Anyway, the rest of the book has nothing to do with Padova, I'm sure, but that little mention hit me all the more because I wasn't expecting it.

Edited: Jan 26, 8:15pm Top

A Student of Living Things

This was one of my random-book-by-a-woman-author pulls off the library shelves. I liked this a whole lot more than I've liked any of my previous selections.

Claire and her brother Steven live in a post-9/11 Washington DC that is just slightly different than what happened for us. There is a higher state of alert, some shootings, some bombings. But while you are reminded here and there that it's not quite the world we live in, it's not so radically divergent from that one that it's jarring. Anyhow, Claire and Steven are students at George Washington University, she in biology, he in law. They are close, and meet daily to study together in the afternoon. One day as they're leaving the library, Steven is shot and killed on the stairs outside.

This throws Claire completely out of equilibrium, along with the rest of her family. Each member of the family (her mother, father, uncle, and cousin Bernard all live together under one roof) has their own response to deal with, as the FBI tries to figure out if Steven was assassinated on purpose or if it was a random act. Claire spins out of her own control, which is sometimes exhilarating although it leaves her wondering if she can even recognize herself anymore.

I thought the ending was tied up a bit too perfectly, with all the tiles finding an appropriate slot to fit into, but overall I enjoyed the reading experience.

Fits into challenge spot for "a book about death or grief"

Jan 27, 6:54am Top

Yay for random library pulls! :)

Jan 29, 2:28pm Top

>58 chlorine: :) I've had lots of not-yays too so it's definitely nice to have one that hit the mark!

Jan 29, 2:30pm Top

Terms of Endearment

Liked it, mostly. Didn't love it. I have read 3 McMurtry books and the shortest one (The Last Picture Show) worked the best for me.

Haven't ever seen the movie of Terms of Endearment, oddly enough (I guess I was a little young when it came out to have it be of interest to me but I feel like all of my contemporaries have seen it). I'm planning to watch it sometime in the not-terribly-distant future though for the sake of comparison.

Feb 1, 8:59pm Top

February will undoubtedly be a slow reading month for me. I've already been doing a couple of daily drawing exercises, and then I added another one. In addition to that, it's InCoWriMo (International Correspondence Writing Month), so I'm also writing and sending out at least one piece of mail every day this month. Doesn't leave much time for reading!

If you're curious, this is one of the daily exercises I'm doing - a small ink drawing every day, of whatever subject strikes my fancy that morning. The boxes are 2 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide.

Edited: Feb 1, 10:38pm Top

Love your drawings.

(I actually saw Terms of Endearment as a kid. Too young to not find it boring, but it left an impression. )

Feb 2, 3:40am Top

>61 ursula: Those drawings are great!

Feb 2, 9:03am Top

>61 ursula: - Wonderful drawings!

Feb 2, 9:52am Top

I'm with you on random mentions of specific places triggering a strong nostalgia.

And for me random library choices work out for me so seldom that you'd think that I'd have learned some sort of lesson, but no, it's the rare successes that keep the habit alive. A Student of Living Things does sound interesting, though.

Feb 2, 10:44am Top

Your drawings are lovely, as always.

Feb 2, 1:10pm Top

Great drawings! I love this kind of black and white drawing and try to do some sometimes, but I'm closer to one drawing every three months than to one a day! How much time does it take you to do one?

Feb 2, 3:22pm Top

>62 dchaikin: I just remember thinking it looked like it involved a lot of crying. But maybe I've got it somewhat mixed up with Steel Magnolias, which I've also never seen.

>63 .Monkey.:, >64 katiekrug:, >66 NanaCC: Thank you!

>65 RidgewayGirl: Same, about random library books. I don't learn. But I am stubborn about trying these books by women without relying on "best of" type lists.

>67 chlorine: Thanks! I don't really time myself, although I usually do them first thing in the morning. So I get up at 6, and then I start thinking of what I want to draw, look for reference images, do a light pencil sketch, and ink. I'm done by 7.

Feb 2, 5:07pm Top

Great drawings Ursula.

Feb 2, 6:01pm Top

>60 ursula: For me, Terms of Agreement was a tear jerker. I saw it in the theater when it came out. I took my mother to an afternoon show. I remember coming out of tHe theater and looking in the car mirror to see my tear stained face. It was rather embarrassing. I’m fair, and can’t hide the fact that I’ve been crying.

Feb 3, 9:42am Top

>61 ursula: Love the drawings, Ursula. Interesting that I'm reading a book right now, Halsey Street, where the protagonist draws something every day.

I have fond memories of The Once and Future King, but I think I was 9 or 10 when I read it. I wonder if it would stand up to rereading?

A Student of Living Things sounds good.

Feb 5, 12:30am Top

The Boy on the Bridge

The sequel (or rather, prequel) to The Girl with All the Gifts. So you know, it's a dystopian zombie world. This one takes place in an armored tank/scientific lab that's going around trying to collect scientific caches left by a previous expedition. The small cast of characters include Dr. Khan, a scientist who shouldn't be pregnant during this expedition but is anyway; Stephen, an autistic teenager who is along at Dr. Khan's insistence; and the dueling commanders of the expedition, one civilian and one military.

I really loved The Girl with All the Gifts, so whether it's because of that or in spite of it, I'd say I liked this one about half as much. It was okay.

Feb 5, 2:09pm Top

>72 ursula: hum, I only liked The girl with all the gifts so if I like this one half as much, that doesn't bode well. I think I'll skip this one.

Feb 5, 2:40pm Top

If I remember rightly, Terms of Endearment was part of that era of double-bill movies in which at least one person always died tragically and in a long, drawn out manner that had your eyes swollen for days afterwards.

Edited: Feb 5, 5:18pm Top

>24 ursula:, I read The Terror back in the days when I was barely tracking my reading much less keeping notes on it -- I apparently gave it four stars, but the feelings you described about it seem very familiar to me. I can't remember how it gets stupid though! They are making a TV show about it, which makes me somewhat nervous -- yay for probably amazing scenery and the creepiness of explorers stranded and paranoid, but I worry about shows with supernatural things because it's always less scary when they show it.

ETA: And I just read the spoiler in a subsequent post. Yes, that was really stupid, lol.

Feb 5, 10:54pm Top

>69 Caroline_McElwee: Thank you!

>70 NanaCC: That was me when I went to see Whale Rider. I'm an ugly crier. :)

>71 BLBera: Thank you! Interesting about the character. I draw pretty much every day anyway, but not with such a structured output in mind (meaning in a specific book, and a specific amount of space).

>73 chlorine: Well, I liked The Boy on the Bridge less than a decent number of people seemed to. On the other hand, I didn't see anyone say they liked it more than The Girl with All the Gifts, so probably a safe bet to skip it.

>74 AlisonY: It does seem like '80s movies were full of long-drawn-out death porn, now that you mention it.

>75 fannyprice: Ha. I admit to being a little intrigued about the tv show ... Also funny you mention that about it being less scary when things are shown. My husband and I agreed that Simmons would have been well-served to go a little more HP Lovecraft with "things too terrible to name", haha.

Feb 7, 6:23pm Top

I saw this collection of maps of Italy (link is to a public photo on Facebook) and all the ways it can be divided and it made me smile.

I miss living in the hydrological risk, blasphemous, wants to separate from the south, butter-using, existent, no cup of water (this is a travesty, though, I have to be honest), rich, beautiful fog part of the country.

Feb 7, 9:06pm Top

The Drifting of Spirits

Random pick of a woman-authored book from the library shelves.

The book takes place on the island of Guadeloupe, in the first half-ish of the 20th century. It's one of those family sagas where the story is mostly anchored with one generation, but the one before and the one after get their parts too. The main tale is about Leoncé, a man who is in love with a girl in his village, but he has a club foot so is not considered a suitable husband. He vows to build her a cabin to make himself a viable option for marriage. When he does, she marries him in spite of objections from her family.

The back of the book talked about "magical realism", but I don't really think that's apt because the non-realism parts were really about spirits and curses and cures, so more cultural traditions than magical realism. Reading this book was an odd experience for me because I really didn't like it at all, but I quickly started to wonder if that was due to the huge cultural gulf between the characters and me. Not that one can't enjoy reading about people very different from oneself (I do it all the time), but I felt like I was just not getting it to some degree. There was an afterword which addressed most of my suspicions about that - mentioning the near-obsession with sex and sexual descriptions, the language that felt more like the spoken rather than the written word, etc. It is apparently part of a Créolité movement in Caribbean literature, celebrating the unique linguistic and cultural environment of the islands.

So, I didn't like the book, but I also think that it was a significant reader-book mismatch.

Feb 8, 1:54pm Top

I guess I'll just keep posting my daily pages. I am not fishing for anything here, drawing is just what I do. :)

In other news, I'm at the halfway point in The Charterhouse of Parma and somewhere around there in Volume I of the Story of the Stone as well. I'm keeping up with my letter-a-day task for February, simultaneously enjoying it and looking forward to the end of the month.

Feb 8, 3:29pm Top

You have actually drawn my cat.... Exact same markings.

Feb 9, 9:54am Top

Shame about the book Ursula. It happens.

Continuing to enjoy your drawings.

Feb 9, 8:42pm Top

>80 AlisonY: You didn't know your cat had a modeling career? :)

>81 Caroline_McElwee: Oh yeah, mismatches definitely happen. There's always another book!

Feb 14, 1:13pm Top

I finished The Charterhouse of Parma. I really enjoyed it, although it was not really what I was expecting. It started off very 19th-century heroic, kind of ... talking about young Fabrizio as "our hero" and following his adventures in trying to run off to fight with the French. The "kind of" is because they were mostly misadventures and he was rather naive and accident-prone. After that, the story moves into court intrigue and love triangles, but Fabrizio does not play the usual role in it. The book often amused me, especially Stendhal's ironic comments on the Italian character, clearly made from a place of affection.

Here was a quote that also made me laugh:

"But the reader is perhaps a trifle weary of these procedural details, no less than of these Court intrigues. From all such matters, the moral can be drawn that the man who approaches a Court compromises his happiness, if he is happy, and in any case risks making his future depend on the intrigues of some chambermaid.

On the other hand, in America, in the Republic, one must waste a whole day in paying serious court to the shopkeepers in the streets, and must become as stupid as they are; and over there, no opera."

Feb 14, 7:05pm Top

>83 ursula: nice quotes and even nicer drawings at >79 ursula:

Feb 15, 8:34pm Top

>83 ursula: Wonderful quotes!

Feb 16, 3:05pm Top

>83 ursula: Thanks for the review.

I read this book when I was in high school and have only the tiniest memory of it, other than I liked it. It was at a time of my life when I was beginning to read other genres than science fiction and fantasy, and discovered the classics were not necessarily boring.
Reading the title in English I realise that I had never understood what the Chartreuse in the original French was. I thought she was a lady living in Parma. :p

Feb 16, 9:03pm Top

>84 baswood: Thanks, I appreciate it!

>85 janemarieprice: There were more than a few good ones but that was the one I had the presence of mind to make note of instead of just reading them out loud to my husband.

>86 chlorine: I still am surprised when books from the early 1800s are genuinely good and fun to read, not just important. :) I was surprised when I saw "Chartreuse" in the original title - I only know chartreuse as a color. But when I was in Italy, I went to the Certosa San Martino and didn't know what a certosa was ... charterhouse!

Feb 17, 2:19pm Top

Haven't finished another book yet (getting close-ish...), but here is another page:

Feb 17, 2:36pm Top

These are fabulous. Are you taking a photo of your drawing book or drawing these on a PC?

Feb 17, 4:09pm Top

I draw them on paper and scan them.

Feb 18, 8:59am Top

>87 ursula: I wasn't aware that chartreuse could be a color! :D

The sense I'm most familiar with myself, actually, is the liquor that is being made inside these abbeys - not that I drink any on a regular basis. :)

Feb 18, 2:56pm Top

>91 chlorine: And I wasn't familiar with the liqueur! But looking at it, that's about the color chartreuse - a bright yellow-green.

Feb 18, 4:43pm Top

>91 chlorine: Ooh, I got to try that for the first time while I was traveling this year. It was delicious, at least a few sips was. It's an intense flavor.

Feb 19, 2:45pm Top

>92 ursula: Aha, if the liquor has this color, that explains it!

>93 japaul22: I'm not even sure I've actually tasted Chartreuse, actually. I hope I'll have an occasion sometime!

Feb 20, 7:13pm Top

The Bell

This is my second book by Murdoch (A Severed Head was the first), and in both cases I felt like the characters were characters rather than people. In this one, a group of people are living somewhat separate from society as a lay community associated with a Benedictine abbey. There's a young wife who is returning to her husband after having left him in London; a male/female pair of twins, the female half intending to enter the abbey as a nun; a man who has entertained intentions of becoming a priest but is struggling with his homosexuality; a young man who is there for some sort of retreat before going off to Oxford; and a bunch of other people who aren't terribly fleshed out.

It's a slow-moving book, and I had difficulty relating to the characters or perhaps more relating to them in the way it seemed I was supposed to. And I know that sounds really negative but I gave the book 4 stars - all I can say is that I thought it was well-written and it kept me going till the end, but I wasn't entirely satisfied with it.

I did like this quote, though:

"Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port."

Feb 22, 7:48pm Top

The Book of Speculation

Not my favorite. It's one of those one-chapter-in-the-present, one-in-the-past books. The chapters in the present follow along with Simon, a librarian who receives in the mail a mysterious old book in which is transcribed his grandmother's name. It's the log book of a traveling carnival from the late 1700s, and although Simon isn't sure of the connection, his family does have a history of working in carnivals - in fact, his younger sister is currently in one. She reads tarot cards, while their mother was a "mermaid" - a breath-holder. She taught both her children to hold their breath for excessively long times as well, but she herself drowned in the ocean near their house when she was in her late 20s.

You know, there's the mystery of what's going on, a possible curse, some magical realism thrown in, a lot of day-to-day "drama" centered around Simon's job at the library and the state of his parents' house, which he lives in.

It reminded me of a less skillful Night Circus. Simon was a cipher, which was a big part of what was wrong with the book. But the parts in the past had their problems as well, mostly heavy-handedness and repetition. I feel like this could have been a great book, or at least a really fun and engaging one, but instead it just sort of thuds along without any real excitement.

Feb 25, 4:09pm Top

>96 ursula:, Oooh, your thoughts on The Book of Speculation make me sad, because the overall description of it sounds intriguing. Perhaps one for the library....

Feb 26, 9:22am Top

Another page:

Feb 26, 9:23am Top

>97 fannyprice: Yeah, every once in a while I get maybe extra annoyed because I feel like the author used a good premise and ruined it (to varying degrees) with clumsy execution.

Feb 27, 6:13pm Top

Kill My Mother

It was supposed to be noir, but it was kind of a confused mess, honestly.

Mar 3, 9:50am Top

The Guns of August

Highly detailed account of the first month of World War I. Although I normally listen to nonfiction on audio, this was probably not the best choice of format for this one. There were a lot of place names, a lot of foreign names ... it made it hard at times to keep track of everything. But oh, the ability to really get in there was worth it. The mistakes and wrong assumptions as they're being made ... those French uniforms from 1870, when being seen wasn't a huge problem since you were quickly out of range of weaponry ... the complete misreading of the Belgian character.

Mar 3, 9:53am Top

I really must read some Tuchman. Glad this was a good one Ursula.

Mar 3, 11:24am Top

>101 ursula: TY for reminding me of this book. It was on my radar for sometime and then for the last few years I had forgotten about it. On my wishlist it goes!

Mar 4, 9:45am Top

Time for another page:

Edited: Mar 4, 6:25pm Top

>102 Caroline_McElwee:, >103 tess_schoolmarm: It's one of those books I kept meaning to read. I picked up A Distant Mirror at the library book sale last year, but The Guns of August came up as an available audio book through the library's website so I got to that one first.

It's incredible to think that it's 19 hours/600+ pages about the first month of the war, but there was so much that happened and of course it laid the groundwork for the rest of the disaster. And the sheer numbers of soldiers who died ... hm.

Edited: Mar 4, 10:53am Top

>105 ursula: I know, when you realise thousands of men were lost in one day at different times during that war (and few were career soldiers), learning that a thousand were killed over a whole war is heartbreaking, but has to be taken in context.

>104 ursula: continuing to enjoy these. That gorilla has mischief in his eyes. Love the lock.

Mar 4, 6:24pm Top

>101 ursula: I read The Proud Tower a couple of years ago and although I found some of her portraits of the leading figures a little annoying, she is great at making history come alive. I am tempted by The Guns of August

Mar 4, 6:51pm Top

The Orphan Master's Son

I suppose I'm probably one of the last to read this book. I had some misgivings about the apparently white author writing a book about life in North Korea, but I don't know that there are a lot of North Koreans (ones who have escaped, I mean) writing fiction. I've read some non-fiction accounts, and the overall feel of this novel tracks with those.

So, just judging it by the reading experience I will say that the first part had me entirely enthralled, when we're finding out about the life of Pak Jun Do, the title son, and the dirty jobs to which he is assigned. Then the narrative shifts a bit and I was not as enamored for a while, but I will say that I feel like it was all worth it as the story drew closer to the end. There's a lot about truth and fiction, and what it does to your psyche when those terms are twisted, when "truth" or "fiction" depends solely on who you're talking to and what the purpose is.

A couple of quotes I marked:

""Where we are from," he said, "stories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he'd be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.""

"How could he explain to her that it was better this way, that yes, an object could hold a person, that you could talk to a photograph, that you could kiss a ring, that by breathing into a harmonica, you can give voice to someone far away. But photographs can be lost. In your sleep, a ring can be slipped from your finger by the thief in your barracks. Ga had seen an old man lose the will to live - you could see it go out of him - when a prison guard made him hand over a locket. No, you had to keep the people you loved safer than that."

Mar 4, 6:58pm Top

>108 ursula: So in general, you are of the opinion that racial makeup determines an author's suitability to write about a locale, or did I misinterpret?

Mar 5, 10:10am Top

>101 ursula: >107 baswood: Another of Tuchman's books that is well worth while although perhaps less read is Stilwell and the American Experience in China.

Mar 14, 3:57pm Top

Atmospheric Disturbances

A psychologist, Leo Liebenstein, is working with a patient who has delusions about working with the Meteorological Society in a secret capacity to control the weather. Meanwhile, Leo comes home one day and is convinced that his wife, Rema, has disappeared and been replaced by an impostor. His journey to find his "real" wife, and his relationship with the replacement version of her, come into strange contact with his patient and a mysterious scientist who works (or worked - he is maybe dead, as it turns out) for the Meteorological Society.

So if that confuses you, and it probably should, it gives you an idea of what the book is like. Holy unreliable narrator, Batman. It had blurbs from some people whose work I really like, including Nathan Englander, but I didn't enjoy this book very much.

Mar 14, 4:50pm Top

>111 ursula: Too bad you didn't like this one. The premise seemed very appealing, from your description.

Mar 14, 8:39pm Top

>112 chlorine: I don't know, it's possible that other people would like this a lot more. I found it unrewarding to try to follow, but maybe others would disagree. At least it fulfilled a category in my reading challenge: a book about mental health. And maybe "a book with a weather element in the title" too.

Mar 20, 4:28pm Top


Finished a bunch of books recently.

The Story of the Stone, Vol. I - this is my year-long 1001 books project. One book down, 5 more to go I think. It's actually pretty interesting and funny for a book written in China in the 1700s. There are a lot of allusions, puns and poetry that either go over my head since I don't have the necessary background or are untranslatable, but it's not really diminishing the reading experience for me.

The Populist Explosion - mostly history on populist movements, both on the left and the right, in the US and Europe. Written before Trump's election and in a tone of "of course that won't happen" which sort of depresses me now. But it's a nice overview of how history repeats itself and why. Probably super-basic for anyone who actually has a strong interest in politics and political history though.

The Heart of the Matter - my second Graham Greene (The Honorary Consul was the first). In colonial Africa, Scobie is a British security officer. His marriage to his wife Louise is essentially emotionally over, partially due to the loss of their young daughter in the recent past. There is an affair between Scobie and a young woman rescued from a ship sunk in the war, which throws him into complete despair in trying to reconcile it with his Catholic faith and to see a way out that he can stand.

There are multiple storylines about love, or "love", but the remarkable thing to me is how little these people know about love. One could walk away from this with a very cynical view of the entire concept going by these examples. But the interesting thing to me was that just on a one-man level, Scobie clearly didn't have any idea how to love anyone or anything - women, other humans, God. It's a sad state of affairs.

Mar 25, 12:16am Top

Started and quickly abandoned The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. I wanted to kick every character by page 9, so after reading about 15 pages total, I put it down to try another day. Picked it up a few days later and made it to page 22 - still wanted to kick everyone. Closed it and it's going back to the library.

Mar 26, 6:04am Top

Oh I hate that desire to kick the characters Ursula. Good call to set the book aside.

Group: Club Read 2018

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