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floremolla's ROOTs part two

This is a continuation of the topic floremolla's ROOTs .


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Edited: Dec 31, 2018, 8:54pm Top

New Quarter, new thread...

(2017 thread - https://www.librarything.com/topic/268593)

Reading aims for 2018:

60 ROOTs (i.e. owned before 1 January 2018)
20 Non-ROOTs
At least 10% must be non-fiction
At least 10% must be chunksters over 600 pages
At least 50% must be from the 1001 BYMRBYD list
At least 50% must be female authors
Tackle Infinite Jest, War and Peace or The Forsyte Saga novels
Include a fantasy novel
Track and keep control of acquisitions (hahaha!)
Catalogue my non-fiction I intend to read.

Starting with 162 on the TBR pile.

1. Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson 01.01.18 4.5* ~
2. If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italy Calvino 06.01.18 4.5* ~
3. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson 11.01.18 4*
4. When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro 14.01.18 4*
5. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons 17.01.18 4.5* ~
6. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry 18.01.18 5*
7. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami 21.01.18 4.5*
8. What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt 23.01.18 5* ~
9. Mao II by Don DeLillo 30.01.18 5* ~
10. The Dry by Jane Harper 31.01.18 4*
11. Leviathan by Paul Auster 04.02.18 4*
12. The Accidental by Ali Smith 06.02.18 4* ~
13. Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton 08.02.18 4* ~
14. The Observations by Jane Harris 11.02.18 4*
15. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris 13.02.18 4*
16. The Trick is To Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway 21.02.18 5* ~
17. Hunting Unicorns by Bella Pollen 24.02.18 2.5*
18. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett 04.03.18 3.5*
19. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro 18.03.18 3.5*
20. Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon 24.03.18 4* ~
21. Hotel World by Ali Smith 25.03.18 3.5*
22. The Highland Clearances by John Prebble 28.03.18 5*
23. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke 31.03.18 4.5*
24. Acqua Alta by Donna Leon 04.04.18 3*
25. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler 05.04.18 3*
26. Solar by Ian McEwan 13.04.18 4.5*
27. Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout 17.04.18 4*
28. The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld 20.04.18 3.5*
29. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields 24.04.18 4.5* ~
30. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 30.04.18 5* ~
31. The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman 04.05.18 3.5*
32. The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro 21.05.18 5* ~
33. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang 30.05.18 5* ~
34. The Hemingway Files by HK Bush 07.06.18 4*
35. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville 28.06.18 3*
36. White Oleander by Janet Fitch 30.06.18 3*
37. SPQR by Mary Beard 30.06.18 4*
38. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler 13.07.18 3.5*
39. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan 19.07.18 3.5* ~
40. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
41. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy ~
42. Told in Winter by Jon Godden
43. The Unfortunate Traveller by Thomas Nashe 29.12.18 ~
44. Eve Green by Susan Fletcher 29.12.18
45. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky 30.12.18 ~
46. It's a Battlefield by Graham Greene 30.12.18
47. In the Cage by Henry James 31.12.18
48. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy 31.12.18

~ on the 1001 BYMRBYD list

Edited: Apr 4, 2018, 10:19am Top

Preventing new ROOTs sprouting by reading the books I acquire during 2018.

Edited: Dec 29, 2018, 5:33pm Top


1. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry paperback 10.01.18 ✔️
2. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History by David Christian paperback 16.01.18 (currently reading)
3. The Greek Myths by Robert Graves audiobook 01.02.18
4. A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement by Anthony Powell audiobook 01.02.18
5. Bulfinch's Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch paperback 05.02.18
6. Justine by Lawrence Durrell paperback 07.02.18 ✔️5* ~
7. Invisible Cities by Italy Calvino paperback 07.02.18 ✔️ 3.5* ~
8. Evelina by Frances Burney paperback 07.02.18
9. The Ghost Road by Pat Barker paperback 07.02.18
10. Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes paperback 07.02.18
11. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson paperback 07.02.18
12. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton paperback 07.02.18
13. Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs paperback 07.02.18
14. A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines paperback 07.02.18
15. Winter by Ali Smith hardback 20.01.18
16. The Sorrows of Young Werther by J W Goethe paperback 21.02.18 ✔️3* ~
17. Silence by Shūsaku Endō paperback 21.02.18
18. The Berlin Novels by Christopher Isherwood paperback 21.02.18
19. Ignorance by Milan Kundera paperback 21.02.18
20. Old Filth by Jane Gardam paperback 09.03.18
21. A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne paperback 09.03.18
22. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy paperback 09.03.18
23. Sweet Caress by William Boyd paperback 09.03.18
24. Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson paperback 09.03.18
25. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth paperback 23. 03.18
26. Autumn by Ali Smith hardback 25.03.18
27. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton paperback 28.03.18
28. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison paperback 28.03.18 ✔️ 5* ~
29. The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis paperback 28.03.18
30. Nora Webster by Colm Toíbín paperback 28.03.18 ✔️ 4.5* ✔️
31. A Dry White Season by André Brink paperback 16.05.18 ✔️
32. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky paperback 16.05.18
33. Another World by Pat Barker paperback 16.05.18
34. The Outsider by Albert Camus paperback 16.05.18
35. The Childhood of Jesus by JM Coetzee paperback 16.05.18
36. The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes paperback 16.05.18
37. Libra by Don DeLillo paperback 16.05.18
38. The Boarding House by William Trevor paperback 23.05.18
39. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne paperback 23.05.18
40. Looking for the Possible Dance by AL Kennedy paperback 23.05.18
41. Midwinter Break by Bernard Laverty paperback 20.06.18 ✔️
42. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe paperback 20.06.18
43. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe paperback 20.06.18
44. The Book of Evidence by John Banville paperback 20.06.18 ✔️ ~
45. Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost paperback 20.06.18
46. The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker 01.08.18
47. Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo 01.08.18
48. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford 01.08.18
49. Oblivion by David Foster Wallace 01.08.18
50. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twang Eng 29.08.18
51. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund 29.08.18 ✔️
52. The History Man by Malcolm Bradbury 29.08.18
53. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson 29.08.18
54. The Go-Between by L P Hartley 29.08.18
55. Fear and Trembling by Amelie Northomb 29.08.18
56. Watercolour Painting Outside the Lines by Linda Kemp 14.10.18
57. Chess by Stefan Zweig 19.10.18
58. Nutshell by Ian McEwan 19.10.18
59. Snow by Orhan Pamuk 19.10.18
60. Amok and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig 19.10.18
61. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing 19.10.18
62. A Little Book of Latin for Gardeners by Peter Parker 25.12.18

✔️ = read.
~ on the 1001 BYMRBYD list

Apr 4, 2018, 10:40am Top

Happy new thread, Donna!

You've acquired some good'uns.

Apr 4, 2018, 10:51am Top

Happy new thread, Donna! That's a great list of acquisitions, a little bigger than intended? Happy ROOT prevention!

Apr 4, 2018, 10:57am Top

>4 karenmarie: thanks Karen! I'm still using the 1001 list as a guide but just buying what's available in charity shops rather than buying new, so there's an element of luck involved!

>5 MissWatson: um, yes, bigger than intended, Birgit. ;)

Apr 4, 2018, 11:00am Top

#27 Acqua Alta by Donna Leon (387 pages)

In the Venice apartment she shares with her partner, Italian soprano Flavia Petrelli, American Dr Brett Lynch, is assaulted by two men and left with multiple injuries.

Enter Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice Questura, who is already acquainted with the couple and is instructed to investigate, by the mayor, no less, who is a big fan of the soprano. Brunetti quickly establishes a motive - someone doesn't want Dr Lynch to attend a meeting with Dr Semenzato, director of the museum at the Doge's Palace.

Soon there's another body to investigate, leading Brunetti to a fraudulent racket that involves stealing ancient Oriental artefacts from museums, for rich collectors, and replacing them with fakes.

Unfortunately the perpetrators are not finished with Dr Lynch and when she disappears Brunetti suspects he knows where she is - but the 'acqua alta' (Venetian high tide) is rising as heavy rain batters the city and it's a race against time to save the woman and the artefacts.

I wouldn't normally jump into a series without starting at the beginning, but I think I picked this up cheaply and on the strength of having read positive reviews of Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti Mysteries.

I enjoyed the views of Venice described as Brunetti makes his away around the city, the casual strewing of Italian words and the glimpses into the everyday lives of Venetians. Leon presents Venetians as a little precious of their culture and suspicious and scathing of strangers.

The book (published 22 years ago) felt a bit dated given Italy is now in the Eurozone and subject to the free movement of EU residents - hopefully the Venetians have become more tolerant of strangers. And of homosexuality. I also wish Leon hadn't felt she needed to suggest Flavia, a lesbian, found herself attracted to Brunetti. That felt a bit crass and unnecessary.

Brunetti himself didn't set the heather alight for me, but perhaps his character and charms had been set out in earlier instalments of this series.

The case itself was quite interesting but pedestrian in its pacing - it could have been much punchier if it had been shorter and there had been a better job made of connecting the rising water levels with a sense of rising tension. I didn't dislike the book but didn't like it enough that I'd read any more in the series.

Apr 4, 2018, 1:14pm Top

>7 floremolla: Fun review! You're having a run on fictional sopranos :)

hopefully the Venetians have become more tolerant of strangers
Less, I think! I remember articles last year about residents protesting tourism.

Apr 4, 2018, 2:42pm Top

Happy new thread!

>8 detailmuse: One thing that struck me very strongly when I went to Venice (in 2009) was that I had no sense at all that there were any residents there - although admittedly we were there for Carnevale so it was absolutely rammed with tourists. It was beautiful, of course, absolutely stunning, but it just felt very odd (my husband said it reminded him of Blackpool - all set up for tourists, no sense of the locals at all). I'm not surprised the residents protest tourism, because more than anywhere else I've ever been, it felt 100% tourist-focused, to the extremest degree.

Edited: Apr 4, 2018, 3:15pm Top

>8 detailmuse: I know - no fictional sopranos in a lifetime of reading, then two come along at once!

It was disappointing to me that Brunetti looked down his nose at tourists - but it must be annoying for people living in a world class tourist destination. I've been in Venice when the cruise ships dock and the scale of them is outrageous against the historic buildings - I'd be grumpy about that for starters.

>9 Jackie_K: couldn't agree more!

Apr 4, 2018, 7:39pm Top

>7 floremolla: Coincidentally, I just read a different mystery set in Venice, published only two years before Acqua Alta: Dead Lagoon, by Michael Dibdin. The main character in that one, Aurelio Zen, is originally from Venice and returns to his hometown from Rome to solve a puzzling case. Characters discuss the problem of tourism and of people buying second homes and pricing the locals out of the property market; that particular comment reminded me of Cornwall, particularly St. Ives.

Apr 5, 2018, 4:37am Top

>11 rabbitprincess: I guess Venice is almost as much a character as the hero, and the preoccupations of its residents give authenticity - the author was probably being brutally honest with her depiction!

The 'second home' issue is a real problem in some areas, especially in the south where salaries can be stratospheric and, in some circles, a second home in the country is an obligatory accessory. So-called affordable housing policies seem to have limited success in the face of determined buyers with deep pockets!

Apr 5, 2018, 7:22am Top

We get tons of tourists here where I live and I confess I sometimes get frustrated with them. Sadly, you tend to remember the awful ones and not the very nice and friendly ones.

Apr 5, 2018, 12:58pm Top

>13 majkia: It must be difficult living in a popular tourist destination and having tourists affect your daily life. Our town is a daytripper destination with a lively programme of festivals throughout the year. I don't think the visitors are any worse than some of the residents to be honest. Aside from increased traffic and litter, the main downside is the bakers being wiped out of patisserie!

Apr 5, 2018, 1:03pm Top

#28 A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (465 pages)

Abby and Red Whitshank are getting on in years and showing signs of forgetfulness and frailty - their grown up children begin to concern themselves about how they can support them. Just when it seems a solution has been found, their prodigal son turns up and complicates matters. But then things come to head with a sudden death in the family.

The Whitshank family comprises four grown up children, their partners and/or their children. Abby, a former social worker, also 'adopts' unfortunate people she meets and assimilates them into family occasions, much to her family's dismay.

Tyler portrays the Whitshanks' lives in their everyday conversations, petty resentments and family secrets. This could have made for uninspired reading except that she goes back through time to show how Abby and Red first got together, and how Red's parents made the best of a bad start to their relationship. What binds the whole together is the big old house, built to a high spec by Red's social-climbing father, and the four generations who have come to love it, and who could never envisage it not being in their family.

This is a well structured novel, reaching back into the past and then looping forward again so that the issue that opens the book - Abby's worry over the prodigal son - begins to see some resolution at the end. Along the way there are themes that any family member can relate to - ageing parents, sibling rivalry, the tensions that arise when everyone is gathered together, the collective memories, the history that is not talked about, having to let go...

The characters themselves, especially the main protagonists, are well-drawn, and I particularly liked meeting their younger versions in the flashbacks. An undemanding read that gave me pause for thought about my own family dynamics and the inevitability of leaving our family home some day.

Apr 6, 2018, 10:54am Top

>15 floremolla: I've been interested in this one and your review keeps me so, still hesitating from the length and the 3 stars.

Apr 6, 2018, 12:30pm Top

>16 detailmuse: Depends on your tolerance for family dramas. I'm not a big fan so it did well to get those 3 stars. It was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker prize so perhaps it is a good example of the genre. I enjoyed the last few chapters best, looking back at the two older generations when they were young - there was a nice period feel to the setting, engaging characters and more dramatic storylines.

The length is deceptive - it's an undemanding read, with not too many words per page! :)

Apr 6, 2018, 6:52pm Top

>14 floremolla: I live in Ottawa, which gets more than its fair share of tourists, especially in the summer. Fortunately they tend to stick to Parliament and the Byward Market, so it's pretty easy to avoid most of them. All in all, though, I don't really mind them, as long as they don't dawdle on the sidewalk :P

Edited: Apr 7, 2018, 5:10am Top

>18 rabbitprincess: oh heck, I've been one of those Ottawa tourists! It was 19 years ago though, so hopefully I wasn't dawdling ;)

As I recall we did some sightseeing around the Parliament area and took a ride on an amphibious craft in the river. We were passing through on our way back from white water rafting at Forester's Falls (Owl Rafting). My sister has lived in Ontario since 1981 and I visited her so often I didn't feel like a tourist in Canada, it was like a second home!

Apr 7, 2018, 8:50am Top

>19 floremolla: Haha! It's more the cumulative effect of *loads* of tourists, or a big group, dawdling on the sidewalk such that you can't easily deke around them without stepping into the road ;)

Apr 7, 2018, 9:41am Top

Hi Donna!

>15 floremolla: and >16 detailmuse: That was one of our book club reads last year but I abandoned it. I'm still not sure I want to read it, but yours is an excellent review and if anything could sway me, it would.

My husband and I made a 10-year plan 3 years ago - stay in this house and fix some of the big things (new HVAC, exterior paint, 2 new exterior doors, 4 new windows). We did that and now I really need to get going on cleaning things out. We're not hoarders in the bad sense of the word, but we tend to fill the space we have in closets/attic/dormers with stuff.

Apr 7, 2018, 11:41am Top

>21 karenmarie: Oh that's so true - we have always found we expand to fill the available space, and then some! We haven't quite plucked up the courage to do a plan like that, but this year I think we need to look at what needs doing in the house. We know we won't stay here forever, and I don't want to spend a fortune on it, but I think that if we spend a few grand then it will be worth the investment in terms of the increase in value of the house. So things like laminate flooring, plastering the ceilings (get rid of the horrible artex), repaint throughout and rewire will be worth doing, but I'm not sure investing in a whole new kitchen or bathroom would be (even though it would be nice). And we probably need to get the drains under the house looked at. In the meantime, we can get serious about decluttering what we don't need. I'm not a horrific hoarder, but I do hang on to things for sentimental reasons that I really need to just ditch.

Apr 9, 2018, 2:38pm Top

>21 karenmarie: it's hard to leave your family home - especially if you've lived in it for decades. We've had ours made more accessible for my husband so there's no pressing need to move. Repairs are a nuisance though. You made the right move fixing the big things. I've got a few to tackle this year which will be hard on the wallet and the stress levels but it's infinitely preferable to moving house - I would have to do everything by myself while being a full time carer. I can't even contemplate it.

>22 Jackie_K: the spring cleaning and decluttering season is upon us. I've made a start with a challenge I downloaded from Pinterest, Apartment Therapy January Cure (ok so it's a bit late). Starting with cleaning all floors. I've got about a third of the way through and am flagging already!

You're right to be careful about what you invest in to increase the value of your home for resale purposes. Unless you're in a high value area, I'd stick to cosmetic improvements. Unless you have tradesmen in the family who can give you a good deal. I always thought it a waste my brother became a professional golfer when he could have been useful ;)

Apr 10, 2018, 1:01pm Top

Happy new thread, Donna! (a bit late but hey...)

I need to do some spring cleaning too! I think I will have a go at my clothes and shoes first. And the attic above our garage needs some decluttering too.

Apr 11, 2018, 3:40am Top

Hi Donna!

I got inspired last Friday and cleaned out 2 sets of hanging racks in my closet. I now have some of my late MiL's and my clothes hanging over chairs in the breakfast room. I need to catalog them and get them into bag to take to the thrift shop. I have so many that in case we get audited I want to have a proper record of them. My MiL had some very nice things and although not worth sending to a consignment shop, I should be able to get a donation receipt to apply to our taxes for 2018.

Apr 11, 2018, 10:59am Top

>25 karenmarie: Inspiring work! Don't rule out the consignment shop -- remember that the new tax law nearly doubles the standard deduction and that means a really high threshold for itemizing deductions.

Apr 13, 2018, 12:29pm Top

You get tax breaks for charitable donations? In the UK it's the charity that is able to claim the tax on a donation from a tax payer. Interesting difference. Also most of us aren't required to file a tax return as tax and national insurance (which funds state benefits) are deducted at source - so I think we've got it relatively cushy being free of the annual fear of the auditor!

Edited: Apr 13, 2018, 1:59pm Top

#29 Solar by Ian McEwan (283 pages)

Michael Beard is a fifty-something Nobel prize-winning physicist who hasn't produced anything significant for several decades. Despite being a serial philander of epic proportions, and currently on his fifth marriage, he has recently discovered his wife is having an affair with a plumber. He is still in love with her and continues to share their marital home, but the two don't communicate except to bait each other.

This would be bad enough if he wasn't also under severe pressure at work. As Chief of a development facility working on a grant-funded project to produce domestic scale wind turbines, he has yet to come up with a suitable design, despite having the assistance of six bright young graduates - whom he cannot tell apart and utterly despises for their ponytails and cotton bracelets.

Reluctantly he has to put up with one of the graduates, Tom Aldous, who is assigned to be his driver and who causes Beard great irritation by suggesting that the project is misdirected and the answer lies in solar domestic power, not in wind turbines. Aldous insinuates himself into Beard's life to the point that Beard eventually reads his research and is disgruntled to find that the calculations have some value. Before Beard can consider them further however, Aldous suffers a freak accident that presents Beard with the answers to all his problems at once - a way to frame his love-adversary, the plumber, and start a new life and career in photovoltaics in the deserts of New Mexico.

Beard is a repulsive but fascinating character. He is arrogant and entitled, unable to suppress his basest urges - sex, food, alcohol - and totally lacking in remorse. In fact in his own mind, his crimes aren't crimes, merely justifiable actions against fools.

What makes him fascinating is that he is constantly getting himself into scrapes of all proportions and then finding ways to wriggle out of them. Indeed most of his waking hours are spent scheming and dodging. There's a lot of enjoyment to be had therefore in watching Beard squirm - for instance, when he has to give a presentation to fellow scientists just after bingeing on iffy seafood, and (in a most comedic set piece) take part in an arts conference in the Arctic Circle, for which he is totally unprepared because he hasn't read the papers.

Hilarious stuff, but it all plays out against an impressively informed science background. As well as climate-change issues McEwan references such topics the laws of thermodynamics, string theory, chemical processes, plant-biology, the work of real life physicists and the prevailing political climate and writes with convincing assurance. Against this serious foil, the once award winning Beard stands out as even more outrageous than had he been in another, less 'important' profession - his hubris is such that he claims he is going to 'save the world' and you can't be in a more serious profession than that.

Told over three time frames - 2000, 2005 and 2009 - there's plenty of time for the corrupt and dissolute Beard to redeem himself but, as the novel nears its end, his past crimes, misdemeanours and belief in his own invincibility begin to catch up on him and it's clear there's not much wriggle-room left.

I enjoyed this read very much - a scene in which Beard had to don snow clothes, boots, helmet and gloves in a hurry had me in tears of laughter - and yet again Ian McEwan's literary range impressed me.

Apr 13, 2018, 1:20pm Top

>27 floremolla: I have to fill in a tax return (up till now because I have a rental flat, and from this next return because of my freelancing), and there's a question on it about charitable giving (I think it's declaring how much you gave that you had Gift Aided). I don't understand it, but think the donations are offset against income in some way. The main thing it showed me was how embarrassingly minimal my charity giving is.

Apr 13, 2018, 1:58pm Top

>29 Jackie_K: It's been a while since I filed a self-assessment return and Gift Aid wasn't a thing then - but just checking on the government website, you can only get tax relief on a gift aid donation if you're a higher rate taxpayer, and can only claim the difference between the basic and higher rate - 20%. So you'd donate £100, the charity would get an extra £25 through Gift Aid and you could reclaim £125x20% - £25. So it's only the higher rate taxpayers who get cash back, but ever was it thus ;)

Apr 13, 2018, 2:43pm Top

>30 floremolla: Ah OK. I guess they still ask on the form because they don't know till you get to the end whether you're going to be higher rate or not (I'm certainly not!!).

Apr 13, 2018, 4:40pm Top

>31 Jackie_K: you and me both!

Apr 15, 2018, 8:16am Top

#30 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (164 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD (#4 ROOT Prevention)

In 1941, Claudia and her sister Frieda are young black schoolgirls from a poor but stable home, experiencing the usual petty jealousies and bullying (sometimes as the perpetrators themselves) associated with their age group. One of their classmates, Pecola, is from a much poorer black family, all of whom are considered ugly and looked down upon by other black people. From the opening lines we learn that 12 year old Pecola Breedlove became pregnant by her father and know that a harrowing read is in store.

Told alternately in the first person by Claudia looking back and relating her memories of that time, and in third person where Pecola, her mother and her father's backstories are related, Morrison works backwards and forwards in time to complete a jigsaw that gives the reader a 360 degree view of why the Breedlove family was so dysfunctional.

Overlain on the history of this tragic story are generations of racial prejudice and abuse that shaped the minds of black children to believe that they were inferior and only white people could be beautiful. And then go on to create a hierarchical system among black people themselves whereby they were perceived as greater or lesser according to the relative lightness of their skin, thus perpetuating another level of prejudice. Pecola, being at the bottom of the heap, unloved and uncared for by even her own family, is ultimately a non-person, with little or no awareness of self.

In an afterword Morrison explains that she wanted to expose this cultural phenomenon, on all its levels, through the eyes of its most impressionable and vulnerable members, children - the title and her awareness of the problem was prompted by her own experience of having a black school friend who wished to have blue eyes.

Beautifully written, this short novel packs a remarkably powerful punch.

Apr 15, 2018, 10:42am Top

In the US, charities (and other nonprofit companies that meet specific requirements) are exempt from paying taxes, and people who make donations to them can take the fair-market value of the donations as a deduction to reduce their taxable income. Taxes (federal, state, local, social security) are withdrawn pre-emptively from every paycheck, and filing the annual tax return (due this coming Tuesday!) is the way to figure in those donations (and other deductions, for example property taxes, high medical expenses, mortgage interest; and other sources of income, for example investment interest) and reconcile whether you've paid the correct amount of tax (vs. owe more, or get a refund).

Everyone gets a baseline per-person standard deduction, and if your deductions total more than that, you can itemize them to get them all counted. Starting this year, the standard deduction almost doubles -- a tax benefit for those who don't meet the threshold for itemizing. Tax preparation (everywhere!?) is ridiculously complicated!

Apr 15, 2018, 10:56am Top

Donna, your reviews are beautiful. They make me like The Bluest Eye even more than I did, and they (as well as the premise of every book he writes!) make me want to try McEwan again.

Apr 15, 2018, 4:00pm Top

>34 detailmuse: sounds a pretty similar arrangement to here except with more items included - here health care is free (at the point of delivery) and mortgage payments don't figure in the calcs. We also have a system of fairly generous tax-free savings accounts - so that's another way of keeping the need for tax returns low.

>35 detailmuse: I'm glad you like my reviews but it takes a really awful book, or an author I can't relate to, to make me think negatively about what I read, so I'm usually starting from an upbeat point, looking for what made it resonate with me - always intrigued by what motivates the writer.

Apr 16, 2018, 6:44am Top

>36 floremolla: That's a good frame of mind to take starting a book, to look for the positives. I find that pretty early on I have an idea of how many stars a book is likely to get from me, and then as I get further into the book things might add or detract from that (so the ER travel book I read recently, I was enjoying it so much I thought it was basically a 4.5* book, but then I knocked off half a star because of the typos/missing words which were too intrusive to ignore). Even when I abandon books I try to give them a rating of sorts - both my abandoned novels this year have still got 3 stars from me, because the bits I read in both were beautifully written, I just wasn't in the right place for those stories and can't imagine wanting to try them again. It makes me feel slightly less guilty!

Edited: Apr 18, 2018, 6:17pm Top

#31 Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout (294 pages)

In 1959 New England, Tyler Caskey is minister of a small town church and a widower with two small children. While baby Jeanne is looked after by his mother at her home, Tyler looks after her elder sister Katherine, with the help of housekeeper Connie. Katherine rarely speaks which, together with signs of physical neglect, suggest she is emotionally neglected too. The house is in need of repair and Tyler's late wife has left him with debts but he's too proud to ask the Church Board for help.

When he gets a call from Katherine's schoolteacher about his daughter's challenging behaviour, the tenuous hold he's had on his life, during more than a year of grieving, begins to unravel slowly, and we learn he has a secret which torments him.

While his mother tries to fix him up with a potential wife, he finds an ally in Connie, who is in an unhappy marriage.

Tyler is a gifted preacher, and genuinely caring of his congregation, but his increasingly lacklustre sermons, his inability to control his young daughter, and his refusal to support funding for a new church organ, cause church members to turn against him.

At school, Katherine's teachers dabble with amateur psychological evaluation and declare her to be displaying signs of 'infantile grandiosity'. When Katherine reveals a secret about her father, his congregation begin to turn against him. But whether they will end his ministry or he will end it himself first is a tough call.

Strout captures the zeitgeist of the late-50s era as experienced by a small American town - the Cold War and fear of nuclear attack hang in the background and create uncertainty, paranoia and nihilistic behaviour. Meanwhile housewives gossip and judge as they always have done.

The various threads of the story are pulled together tautly as the story draws close to its end, and the ending itself is satisfyingly apt and complete - because the quality of the characterisation is such that the reader has come to care about Tyler Caskey and his family.

Apr 19, 2018, 2:06am Top

>38 floremolla: I like the sound of this book. And it's translated, so I'm going to search for it.

Apr 19, 2018, 8:58am Top

>38 floremolla: Sounds interesting. Strout's characters often seem prickly but she pursues them with curiosity and sympathy.

Apr 19, 2018, 10:37am Top

Hi Donna!

You've written some excellent reviews, although my glut of book buying at our Friends of the Library Sale recently has left me with a firm resolution to only buy 2 books between now and September's book sale, both for my RL book club.

>36 floremolla: and >37 Jackie_K: I never start a book thinking in terms of a rating. For a 'free-reading book' I start off assuming I'm going to love it; however, I do admit that I don't always start from a totally positive position with my RL book club books. I am not thrilled about the next one - Prayers for the Stolen. I'll probably put it off another week or so (we're discussing it May 6).

Apr 19, 2018, 6:41pm Top

>40 detailmuse: Hi MJ - this is the first Strout I've read and it exceeded expectations!

>41 karenmarie: Hi Karen - I had a book cull before I started ROOTing so kind of expect that what I've kept will be 3.5* or above, but sometimes books surprise me by being better than anticipated...and only rarely are they disappointing.

I feel for you with those book club reads! I have to confess sometimes with my book group I skimmed the ones that didn't appeal to me. With my ROOTing objectives I'm reading some books that are challenging or not my usual tastes - but that's a different thing, being self-inflicted ;)

Apr 20, 2018, 5:21am Top

>41 karenmarie: It's not so much that I start off thinking of a rating, it's just that usually within a few pages I know if I'm going to love it or hate it or something in between. And then as I'm reading, if I read something that I think is particularly important for how I feel about the book, and which I might want to mention in a review, then I will bookmark that page. Most of those don't make it into my reviews (which are usually pretty concise), but it's all part of the reading and 'taking it all in' process for me.

I felt similarly when I was in a book group! Now I'm still nominally part of it but living in a different city so I just see on facebook each month what they've decided to read next, and then decide if I want to read along with them or not (usually not, unless it's a book I already have on Mt TBR or the wishlist) - I can't make it to their get-togethers any more. Usually I just end up joining in on their summer challenge - over the summer holidays, rather than just having one book, they decide on a theme and then we get to choose which books to read which meet the theme. Last year's theme was animals which ended up being brilliant for me, I had loads of ROOTs which could fit so managed to read several of them then. It's a nice way to stay part of the book group and in touch with that group of people, but without the pressure of reading a book I don't want to!

>42 floremolla: I'm thinking of going through my books (particularly fiction) and being a bit harder with the ones I know I'm not going to reread. Ones I've read and given 3* or more can stay. Fewer stars than that, it will depend if I think they are worth my daughter reading or any guests who might be knocking around looking for reading material.

Apr 20, 2018, 11:40am Top

>43 Jackie_K: re your last paragraph - since I made the initial cull about 16 months ago I have also come to the conclusion I won't keep books if they're below 3* or maybe 3.5* unless they're part of a series or an author's work I want to collect. I have the advantage of being able to ask my daughter if she wants them now but she invariably says "just hang onto it for me just now" which kind of defeats the purpose. She's in rented accommodation, so that's understandable, but she hopes to buy later this year. Day one, I'll be on her doorstep with a massive pile of books as a flat-warming gift. ;)

Edited: Apr 20, 2018, 11:41am Top

#32 The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld (522 pages)

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung arrive in New York in 1909 to deliver a series of lectures, and for Freud to receive an award from Clark University. A young psychoanalyst named Stratham Younger is tasked with meeting them and showing them around for a few days beforehand.

At the same time, a beautiful debutante is found bound and asphyxiated in her penthouse apartment and the following night another beautiful heiress, Nora Acton, is similarly attacked. When Nora's traumatic experience causes amnesia and she loses the ability to speak, the group of psychoanalysts is invited to offer their assistance. Freud delegates Nora's psychoanalysis to Younger, a handsome young doctor, a keen disciple of Freud's theories with an equally keen interest in Shakespeare, particularly in the play, Hamlet.

Almost right away, a chief suspect emerges - one of the city's richest and most well connected men, George Banwell. The city coroner is certain Banwell is guilty but the problem is that the body has gone missing from the morgue. Banwell and his associates claim as alibi that he was out of town on the night of the murder.

While Younger's analysis of Nora reveals a complex story that has people doubt her sanity, Jimmy Littlemore, a junior detective tasked with finding the missing body, begins to uncover links to another recent death and to a violent prisoner in an institution for the criminally insane.

Rubenfeld has created an elaborately plotted novel, with many threads moving forward at the same time, while the esoteric issues of Freud's theories of sexual aetiology, the Oedipal complex and the true meaning of Hamlet's "To be, or not to be,..." soliloquy are discussed and examined. There is also a lot of information on turn-of-the-century New York's physical development and some local/social history and real life characters, inventions and events are included.

Rubenfeld provides an Author's Note at the end to set the record straight about which parts are accurate, which have been appropriated from elsewhere in history (under artistic licence) and which are entirely fictional.

This was a fairly engaging and obviously well researched novel but there was a 'jokey' quality to some of the scenes of jeopardy that made me think of tv programmes like 'Alias Smith and Jones' or 'Starsky and Hutch' (showing my age here) where they make wisecracks to each other or raise a quizzical eyebrow when in peril of their lives. This had the effect of taking me 'out of the moment' when reading, thus making a possible 4* read into a 3.5*.

Apr 23, 2018, 8:35am Top

>42 floremolla:, >43 Jackie_K:, >44 floremolla: Thoughtful and insightful answers, both of you. I've still got a few 2.5 and lower reads that I could cull. I also need to go back and cull things that may have higher ratings but that my daughter won't want and that I won't ever reread. That will free up shelf space, too.

I abandon book club books that aren't working for me, frankly. I'm not the only one in our book club who does this, either. I've abandoned two so far this year - A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor and Plainsong by Kent Haruf. Surprisingly, God's Kingdom, which I read and loved, was only liked by one other person in the book club, and that is the person whose book it was. Probably half didn't finish it, which would be 6 of 12.

My daughter's going to get all my books, fortunately or unfortunately. At least they are all cataloged here and set with location tags.

Apr 23, 2018, 11:52am Top

>46 karenmarie: sounds like we're on the same page!

I missed my 3rd Thingaversary last week - busy nursing an ill husband, and giving emotional and practical support to our offspring.

So I think I'm due some special Thingaversary purchases as reward.......and without further ado, I've just bought The English Patient, Kafka on the Shore and War and Peace. The last of these doesn't count as an acquisition because I already have it in other formats (my rules). :)

Apr 23, 2018, 12:00pm Top

Happy belated Thingaversary, it sounds like you definitely needed to splurge on books after a week like that. I hope things are on a more even keel for you now.

Apr 23, 2018, 3:30pm Top

Happy belated Thingaversary! I hope things are improving and you can enjoy your well-deserved haul.

Apr 23, 2018, 6:42pm Top

Thank you both - and thank goodness for books to escape to!

Apr 24, 2018, 1:38am Top

Hi Donna, happy belated Thingaversary! I hope things are settling down for you and the family.

Apr 24, 2018, 5:15am Top

Thanks, Connie, it's been a stressful time and there's more to come (including possible surgery for my husband) so it'll be a while before everything settles (late summer probably) but at least they're 'anticipated stresses' and I can deal with them - I just hope no unanticipated ones pop up!

Apr 24, 2018, 6:50am Top

I'm sorry to hear you've got more troubles ahead. Best wishes that everything works out!

Apr 24, 2018, 9:07am Top

Thanks, Birgit!

Apr 26, 2018, 9:21pm Top

Happy Belated Thingaversary, Donna! Books are a joy and solace for sure.

I'm very sorry to hear about your husband's illness and possible surgery. Take care of yourself, too, as you take care of your husband and children.

Apr 28, 2018, 6:43pm Top

Thanks, Karen, things are moving forward on all fronts. :)

Apr 29, 2018, 2:21am Top

>56 floremolla: That's good to hear, Donna.

Apr 29, 2018, 1:22pm Top

Thanks, Connie!

Apr 29, 2018, 1:26pm Top

#33 The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (346 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD

Daisy Goodwill Flett is born in Canada in 1905 and the circumstances of her birth involve a tragedy that will take her away from her blood-family and re-set the course of her life - a long life that extends over every decade of the twentieth century.

Carol Shields has used this centenarian span as the structure for the novel, which presents 11 decadal chapters of Daisy's life, each focusing on a different subject: Birth, Childhood, Marriage, etc....to its logical conclusion.

This is an opportunity to follow the development of Daisy and her closest family/friends over time and to introduce new characters periodically to stir up the narrative. While there's also reference to real-world history as a backdrop, Shields has chosen not to feature some of the key world events, like World Wars. This seems appropriate because the novel is character driven and could be swamped by such major issues

Shields seems to relish her characters and her descriptions and characterisation reflect this. Daisy's mother is a delightfully rotund person whose topography is deeply appreciated by her father, Cuyler, however - a slight criticism - I found his character development unconvincing around chapters three and four as he seemed to change dramatically to fit the story - one minute he was a poor/talented/quiet little man and the next he was a rich/untalented/compulsive orator who bored for Canada. However that was a blip - the rest of the characters were well portrayed and I liked the prickly daughter, Alice, in particular.

This is the third of Shields' books I've read and unfortunately I didn't care for the first two (Jane Austen (Lives) and Unless). I had higher hopes for this one considering its inclusion on the 1001 BYMRBYD list - as well as the innovative structure following Daisy over the decades of the century this novel is notable for its use of genuine old photographs and an elaborate family tree to portray fictitious lives.

The narrative got off to a good start in the first couple of chapters, wobbled a bit at 'Marriage' but then picked up again. I particularly enjoyed 'Work' where a widowed Daisy finds her metier as a horticultural journalist, having taught herself during two decades of tending her own large suburban garden.

By the end I wasn't sure whether I liked Daisy or not - not that there was much to dislike, it was just that she was rather dull and unfulfilled, apart from her brief career. Perhaps a product of her time - and Shields evidently intended her to be so, given the long list of things Daisy never tried or achieved in her life.

Every chapter has a different style (which is why some worked better for me than others) showing Shields' breadth of ability as a writer, and her observations on relationships and family dynamics are spot on. As you would expect with a story covering an entire life, there's also a fair degree of philosophical observation, much of which was resonant and worthy of further pondering - especially the later chapters dealing with death, religious faith and 'what's life all about anyway?' which merit a reread at some point.

Edited: May 1, 2018, 6:46pm Top

#34 War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1395 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD

War and Peace follows the fortunes of five upper class Russian families during the period of Russia's involvement in the Napoleonic Wars 1805-1812, with two epilogues carrying the story onward to 1820.

The story opens with a society gathering of St Petersburg elite at which PIerre Bezukhov, illegitimate son and heir of a rich count, speaks enthusiastically about Napoleon Bonaparte who is then sweeping eastward across Europe and conquering major cities. The other guests are horrified, seeing Bonaparte as a possible threat to Russia too.

At the same gathering other characters are engaged in gossip and various machinations aimed at securing love interests or positions for their offspring thus giving a flavour of Russian society of the time.

The five families - Bezukhovs, Bolkonskis, Rostovs, Kuragins, and Drubetskoys - are introduced in sequence, with the focus on the younger generation who interact over the years and become friends, enemies, husbands, wives, and amours.

The novel's chapters go back and forth between the various relationships and the war, from its early stages until several years later. The male protagonists are severely impacted by the war, most of them becoming active in different regiments of the Russian army and cavalry, while the women wait at home with the older members of their families.

Tolstoy is not content to describe battles in detail and vignettes of army life but also expounds on the art and science of warfare and takes the opportunity to sideswipe at later historians for their inaccuracies and bemoan the lionising of Napoleon over his Russian counterparts.

If the descriptions of battles and commentaries on war are difficult to follow (a map and some diagrams are at the back and I missed them till the end), or retain in the memory (so many characters, so much happening), the reader still gets the gist as Tolstoy's metaphors stick in the mind - towards the end, the image of Napoleon's beleaguered army as a wounded beast, striking out randomly at its attackers and making things worse for itself, was masterfully stated.

In dealing with the myriad of relationships between the young adults he similarly takes every opportunity to philosophise on the nature of love and marriage, friendship and death.

The characterisation is solidly drawn - Tolstoy does not use one adjective when three will do, nor does he describe a character once when he can mention their looks or personalities a good half dozen times.

These minor gripes aside, the novel is staggeringly complete in its scope. Good and not so good characters have bad things happen to them and the main love stories play out in a satisfying way. Each character has their lapses of morality: Pierre his debauchery, Natasha her betrayal, Andre his inability to forgive, Nikolai his thoughtlessness. Marya alone is steadfast in her religious faith and willingness to forgive but always doubtful. Anatole and Helene are evil personified. Sonia, the poor cousin taken in on charity, must sacrifice her happiness to allow a richer woman to take her place and her rich cousins conclude that that is God’s will.

Religious faith played a greater part than I had anticipated and it was interesting to see Pierre embrace Freemasonry and learn that this institution in Russia had links with Freemasonry in Scotland (this possibly explains the Russians' historic interest in the poet, Robert Burns, himself a Freemason).

Russia’s peasant class did not feature as much as I had anticipated but was depicted in a slightly cliched way - base and not too bright but occasionally some of them would reveal great grace, insight or bravery. The class distinctions were equally as marked whether in the war setting or at home. Pierre alone with his inherent spirituality seemed able to cross the class divide.

The epilogues - were they necessary? Perhaps not to the modern reader but they allow Tolstoy to take his main protagonists forward into the future where marriage and children awaited, to set the scene for their lives in all their familial mundanity but also to hint that Pierre and young Nikolai might become embroiled in political uprising, thus demonstrating that history continues to be made. And finally he adds a philosophical treatise on how history should be recorded and his theory on how great historical events arise as a result of many smaller events and an inverse balance between necessity and free will - a reprisal of thoughts expressed elsewhere in the novel but added here presumably as the final message for the reader to take away and ponder.

Tolstoy researched military history, interviewed elderly survivors, and read widely on related subjects to get as full a picture as possible of the war and its effects on Russian society, especially the aristocracy, of which he himself was part. The novel displays his breadth of scientific knowledge of mathematics and physics, as well as his understanding of war-craft. This is counterbalanced by the 'lighter' subjects - the social intrigues of the characters and his unusual ability to create key moments which are quite cinematic in their descriptions: a wounded Andre lying on his back on the battlefield contemplating his existence, a hunting party's encounter with a wolf, Marya observing her plain face in the mirror while her companion tries to prettify her with ribbons.

All in all a remarkable feat of writing and well-deserving of five stars. I listened to the audiobook, very well narrated by Neville Jason, and read the free Kindle download from Project Gutenberg. Alas the latter had issues with words running into each other, so a paperback version was acquired latterly.

Edited: Apr 30, 2018, 7:36pm Top

April end of month stats:

7 ROOTs completed > 30/60 for 2018 - including War and Peace‬ which was my favourite read of the month.

1 Non-ROOTs completed > 4/20 for 2018
0 Non-fiction completed > 1 for 2018
1 chunkster completed > 4 for 2018
3 from the 1001 list completed > 17 for 2018
50% female authors read > 17/30 for 2018

3874 pages read (12,904 for 2018)

Currently reading:
Think by Simon Blackburn
Maps of Time (still at page 20)

2 new acquisitions > 31 for 2018
LT app TBR count stands at 175 (up 13 from 1 January - partly due to the addition of some books I already owned but I’d missed adding to the TBR category of my catalog)

Yay, halfway towards my target!

Apr 30, 2018, 10:23am Top

Well done on conquering War and Peace! It really is an epic.

Apr 30, 2018, 11:23am Top

Thanks, Jackie, I really enjoyed it but am glad to be freed up for some shorter reads!

Apr 30, 2018, 12:21pm Top

Yes, that's how I felt about it too! (although 'enjoy' might be a bit strong for how I felt about his battle writing and epilogue!!).

Apr 30, 2018, 1:15pm Top

>60 floremolla: Congratulations on finishing War and Peace!
I read it in 2017, and rated it half a star less. Mainly because I really disliked the 2nd epilogue. If I ever get to it again I sure will skip that.

Apr 30, 2018, 6:56pm Top

>64 Jackie_K: >65 FAMeulstee: yes, the second epilogue was hard going - I've been reading a sort of 'philosophy for dummies' book, and still finding the subject hard to grasp I must confess, but I recognised the arguments about free will and wasn't surprised to find out Tolstoy had read Schopenhauer - he obviously had to then go over the whole question of war again, applying the principle. I do have some sympathy for his reluctance to stop writing about a subject he immersed himself in for three years, but more than once I found myself thinking "okay, enough, now you're just showing off".

And did you know his poor wife reputedly wrote the whole text out seven times before he was satisfied with the final version? I don't imagine she enjoyed that so much.

Edited: May 1, 2018, 9:06am Top

I'm so far behind on threads, I apologize!

Re spring cleaning -- I have had a pile of Goodwill stuff to drop off and the day I decided to do that was the same day everyone else did! The line of cars was so long that I decided to heck with it. Went back on a miserable rainy day and was the only car there. . . .

You've been reading some great ones! I have to go find your Strange and Norrell review since you said you mostly don't read fantasy.

Ah! so happy to see you enjoyed it!

Yes, well, Tolstoy -- not a nize person, as we say around here, brilliant etcetera.

I've felt that later Anne Tyler just hasn't moved me much.

Strout is exceptional! Haven't read a bad one yet.

May 1, 2018, 4:23pm Top

>60 floremolla: Congratulations on finishing War and Peace, and writing such an excellent review. I'm sitting here with the "cinematic" scenes in my mind that you say Tolstoy captured so well, and then you captured so well. Honestly, it's a BB I'd never thought possible to hit me.

Keeping you in mind, caregiving is so hard.

Edited: May 1, 2018, 5:01pm Top

Wishing you a belated Happy Thingaversary, Donna. (Maybe LT should create a reminder app for all of us who cannot remember our own Thingaversary each year. I count myself among those who forgets, lol!)

Also, I hope your husband's heath continues to improve.

Congratulations on completing War and Peace and I liked your thoughtful review! :-) I tried earlier this year and only made it through Book 7. For the parts I did read, I also was surprised that religion played such a predominant role in the story.

Edited: May 3, 2018, 7:54pm Top

>68 detailmuse: thanks, MJ - I watched the 2016 BBC adaptation of W&P twice - mainly because my husband had forgotten he'd seen it and wanted to see it again. It seemed like an opportune time to tackle the novel because all the main characters were clear in my mind - and yes, the series did make great cinematic use of the key scenes, so I recognised them in the book and couldn't help admiring how Tolstoy had given screen adaptations a gift with these great visual moments. Alas the BBC adaptation didn't give an inkling of how heavily the author had expounded on war theory.

Thanks for your kind thoughts too - usually we get by ok, but there's not much wriggle room for dealing with additional demands, illnesses or stresses. Fortunately my husband is now under the care of a specialist doctor and there is a plan in place!

>69 This-n-That: Hi Lisa, thank you for your kind wishes!

Ha, I'm not sure about the review, every time I look at it I see a mistake or want to add something else. I think my brain was frazzled by the scope of W&P even though I took the easy route with it, as I mentioned above, watching a tv adaptation twice and then alternating between paperback and a very good audiobook. I think knowing the storyline and characters in advance freed me up to absorb the parts that couldn't be filmed, though even then my grasp on the philosophical analysis of what causes great historical events and how historians ought to record them, was tenuous at best.

I wonder if it's all about timing with a book like this? I certainly wouldn't have tackled it if I hadn't had a good reading year in 2017 and expanded my literary horizons a bit! ;)

>67 sibyx: thanks for dropping by - perusing the threads is a time consuming business, so I’m delighted when someone takes the time.

Ha, your charity drop off sounds like when I take stuff to the recycling centre and it’s so busy that while we’re queuing they close the ‘bins’ so that a new one can be delivered by lorry. The process is slow and boring, like watching paint dry, and leads to very frayed tempers among the recyclers!

Edited: May 3, 2018, 7:58pm Top

#35 The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman (404 pages)

Art gallery owner Ethan Muller comes from a super-rich family who made their money latterly in real estate. Ethan is estranged from his father, David, a cold distant character, and he is not proud of his own past as a spoilt rich boy who couldn't finish school. His only link to his family, other than older and distant step-siblings, is with his father's right hand man, Tony Wexler.

When Tony comes to him with news of a cache of artistic drawings found in a vacated apartment in one of his father's many high rise rental buildings, Ethan reluctantly goes along. What he finds is a unique set of drawings depicting the neighbourhood and the characters who inhabit it, a psychedelic curiosity that fits together like a map. Ethan immediately recognises the sale potential of the drawings as 'outsider art', i.e., from an untrained, self-taught artist. Unfortunately the artist himself is nowhere to be found.

As Ethan begins to prepare the drawings for sale at his gallery, there is some unwelcome publicity, stirred up by his girlfriend, and rival gallery-owner, Marilyn. When he is contacted by retired policeman, Lee McGrath, wishing to speak to him urgently, his first thought is to refuse, but when he relents and meets him, he is drawn into a cold case involving the rape and murder of children whose images McGrath has recognised in the drawings - it seems there might have been a serial killer at work. Could the artist have been the guilty party?

Kellerman alternates Ethan's first person, present day narrative with 'interludes' - glimpses into the past that reveal the history of Ethan's family and the sad circumstances of the artist and key suspect, Victor Cracke.

This novel grew on me slowly from an inauspicious start - the first-person voice of Ethan was highly self-conscious and not very likeable, being a self-confessed narcissist and devoid of any moral responsibility in seeking to profit (substantially) from the art created by Victor Cracke, while failing to make reasonable efforts to find the man. He only begins to redeem himself by getting involved in investigating the circumstances around the child murders and whether Cracke was the perpetrator.

The chapters featuring events from the past were more engaging - the past and present eventually converge, and loose ends are tied up satisfactorily. There are a lot of art references, some of them recognisable, others might have been real or fabricated but I didn't feel moved to investigate further. Good to get this one off the shelf after almost a decade.

May 5, 2018, 9:37am Top

>71 floremolla: Good to get this one off the shelf after almost a decade. Good for you! The longer a book is on the shelf, the harder it is to get around to reading it. I wonder why that is? Maybe newer books seem more appealing.

May 5, 2018, 10:41am Top

>72 This-n-That: I don't know why I've found it so hard to get around to reading these decadal tomes - yes, I think you're right about it being harder to tackle them the longer they've been languishing. Why were they languishing in the first place?! Most of them were bought because they were being pushed by bookshops at the time. I liked the blurb but then couldn't get into them. Plus I had a book group reading list that was taking precedence - not all of those were my cup of tea either.

One of the things I've liked about LT and ROOTing is that I now have an idea of what I want to read and why, and what I want to keep. So I'm very happy finally to be reading these elderly books and letting them go, thus making space on the shelves for more goodies :)

May 10, 2018, 2:18am Top

>73 floremolla: I feel the same about the real old ROOTs on the shelves. I fear I never will start reading them but I'm reluctant to let them go in case...Of what? I don't know. So maybe I need to get more decisive and just take them of the shelves and rehome them. I had this urgency to collect everything an author wrote before ever reading just one book to see if I liked his/her style. Stupid....

May 12, 2018, 9:26pm Top

>73 floremolla: I wish I felt the same about my old books! I tend to be an extreme purger (mostly to combat my husband's tendency to hoard) and willy-nilly donate/sell old unread books only to purchase them again the next time we're in a used bookstore. But the real kicker is that I find them still unread at my next purge, wherein the cycle repeats itself! At this point, I've purchased at least three copies of East of Eden lol!

May 14, 2018, 1:23pm Top

>75 Miss_Moneypenny: We are both hoarders by nature but I selfishly pushed my husband to purge his magazine collection some years ago - and never heard the end of it. He can't hold a book these days because of disability but I happily keep all his football, hillwalking and historical books - they capture a lifetime's interests and to let them go would be to let part of his history go too. Fortunately he can read on an iPad so his collection isn't physically growing!

For myself - I can't be as ruthless as you! But I'm 'honing' my library to classics and 'literature' (the definition of which is whatever I want it to be) and gradually venturing into non-fiction in areas I want to learn about. Sounds like a plan anyway! :)

May 14, 2018, 2:39pm Top

>75 Miss_Moneypenny: >76 floremolla: I am a terrible hoarder but have finally got the the point of Peak Stuff where it's starting to stress me out (not helped by having a 4 year old in the house who keeps getting Even More Stuff). I'm starting to tentatively purge paper books, but using fairly strict criteria. I won't purge something I haven't read, but as I get older I'm feeling better about not finishing books I've started and just don't get on with. As a classic 'completer', this is a really huge thing for me! My husband is much better at a) not letting books build up unread, and b) giving them away when he's finished if he doesn't think he'll read them again. I'm trying to follow his example.

May 15, 2018, 6:03pm Top

>76 floremolla: >77 Jackie_K: A well curated library sounds like heaven to me! Especially with a healthy amount of TBR books in there :D

May 17, 2018, 10:31am Top

Following the discussion here, I feel the ebook special sales are what get me in trouble. Even though I have been choosy this year, I still have too many older books sitting on my Kindle. I finally made an Excel spreadsheet, with the majority of my books listed but left most of the free ebook classics off the list. Adding them in would have made the list more overwhelming and some I probably won't ever read.

May 18, 2018, 3:35am Top

>79 This-n-That: I see how that could happen, Lisa! Somehow I've avoided the free ebook phenomenon, apart from downloading a few free 'collected works' of classics authors - and I'd happily discard those after reading a selected few of the novels from each one. I've also downloaded a few freebies from Project Gutenberg to go along with audiobooks but I delete them when I'm done.

I've mentioned before that I use the 1001 BYMRBYD as inspiration and since I've been reading from that list - I've read over 90 since January 2017 - I've gained a better idea of what I want to read and what I want to keep. If a non-1001 book doesn't measure up, I won't keep it unless it's an author whose work I'm collecting, or for some other reason, like maybe it was a gift.

I'm not getting a lot of reading done just now, not even audiobook, because I'm too distracted with a lot going on in RL - none of it too stressful, but sometimes I need brain-space to just let my thoughts wander. I'm still on track with my targets and hoping to finish a paperback and an audiobook by early next week.

May 18, 2018, 10:42am Top

>80 floremolla: Hoping RL distractions ease up a bit, so you can get back to concentrating on reading. :-)

After posting my comment yesterday, I made a decision to permanently delete some kindle books from the cloud. I have done it before, but very sparingly, as my thrifty side reminds me that digital books don't take up any physical space. I felt better after culling some books though, as I knew I wouldn't read (or reread) some of them. Now my ebook library list is much more manageable.

May 18, 2018, 11:12am Top

Good work, Lisa! :)

May 18, 2018, 11:37am Top

>81 This-n-That: Excellent stuff! I deleted a heap of ebooks from my first ereader (a Sony) when some glitch made it unable to open DRM-protected books (if I remember correctly, Windows decided to update on my computer whilst the ereader was plugged in, and I think it just screwed it up. I can no longer get any computer to recognise it when it's plugged in). I've also deleted ebooks if I've really hated them, but for the moment I still keep most of them even if I'm fairly indifferent to them, as I can't give them to anyone else and unless I hate them I feel bad about discarding them (I know, I clearly have issues!). I do still have a handful of freebies waiting to be read, but I can't bring myself to delete them unread. I won't feel bad if I don't finish them if they turn out not to be great, but I want to at least give them a chance. I've found the Pearl Rule quite a liberating concept!

>80 floremolla: I hope RL calms down a bit for you, Donna. Even when things aren't actually stressy, if there are lots of things happening it all adds up.

May 18, 2018, 3:25pm Top

>83 Jackie_K: It doesn't seem weird at all that you keep most of your current digital ebooks. If anything, I feel like the strange one which is why it was a hard decision. :-) If they were traditional paper books that I could donate, I probably would feel less odd about it.

>82 floremolla: Thanks Donna, and my apologies for going off on a kindle book culling tangent in your topic.

May 18, 2018, 5:13pm Top

Not at all, Lisa, I'm very hospitable in RL, so very happy to have conversations here! :)

May 22, 2018, 10:13am Top

#36 The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro (535 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD

A world renowned pianist arrives at a hotel in an unnamed European city to give a recital and make a speech at a gala performance. From the outset the reader gets a sense of the confusion and misunderstandings that will dog his every move over the two days till his performance.

Ryder - we never learn his first name - is understandably slightly concerned that he does not have a schedule, for he is also expected to put in a few appearances with local cultural groups and notable community leaders as well as trying to get some much needed rest.

When, during an elevator ride, the hotel porter delivers a long monologue on the failure of porters to have society acknowledge their profession as a highly skilled career, the reader notes that the elevator ride must have taken an unusually long time, and begins to get an idea of reality being somewhat skewed.

And so it proves. Gustav, the porter, elicits two promises from Ryder. First that he will champion the porter profession in his formal address to the concert audience, and secondly that he will speak to Gustav's daughter Sophie and find out what is going on with her. Gustav is concerned about her but cannot speak to her. Though Sophie and her father love each other dearly, they have not exchanged a spoken word since she was a young child.

Ryder is in high spirits and self-congratulatory mood - he is generally thought to be the best pianist of his generation. He is feted wherever he goes and expects nothing less. Wherever he goes, people come to him with their life-stories and asking him to do something for them. He agrees magnanimously and soon finds himself feeling that he is some kind of messiah: he must fit these requests in while facilitating the rehabilitation of a drunk and decrepit conductor and revolutionising the community's attitude to music to make it appreciative of more challenging modern forms.

He also finds himself involved with the family of the hotel owner, Mr Hoffman, whose wife, we learn, is a woman who is never satisfied with anything her husband or her son do. Their son, Stephan, is also to perform a piano recital at the gala event and he asks Ryder to listen and critique his performance. Ryder is also asked by Mr Hoffman to peruse his wife's album of cuttings about him because she is a huge fan and he thinks it would make her happy.

Ryder meets with Gustav's daughter Sophie and her young son Boris and is surprised to find that not only do they know him, but they have been looking to buy a home together. Somehow Ryder has forgotten this arrangement. Boris is a typical boy of about ten - fighting imaginary foes and making siren noises - but he is emotionally mature, often supporting his mother. He would love to learn how to do DIY jobs, tiling, decorating and such, and is delighted when Ryder picks up a secondhand DIY manual and gifts it to him.

Over the course of the two days leading up to the gala performance Ryder meets many characters, almost all of whom want something from him, and as his days become overfilled with obligations, anxiety heightens and he begins to feel put-upon. He loses both his cool and sight of his priorities as events become more and more surreal and threaten to lurch out of control, imperilling his gala performance.

It is difficult to categorise The Unconsoled - there isn't a plot as such, it's more of a series of interlinked events, many of them strange and intense. While the novel is probably not meant to be construed as a dream, there is a noticeable parallel, particularly with anxiety dreams where the dreamer is trying to get somewhere and being thwarted. Or opens their mouth to speak and nothing comes out. Or stands up to address an audience only to find they're naked.

Often Ryder is exhausted and just wants to sleep, but he is always disturbed by someone wanting something. Sometimes he is slightly surprised to find that he is back in a setting from his childhood. He seems unsurprised though when he randomly encounters people from his childhood in this foreign city and they chat as if they'd never lost touch.

Not only is time seemingly elastic in this novel, but, as in a dream, distances are often shorter or more extended than seems natural, and Ryder often opens a door to find himself back in the hotel, or at another convenient location, or with a birds eye view of events.

Ryder is the omniscient narrator of the novel, and while sitting in a car parked in the street, can relate a conversation going on inside a house and describe the setting, or he can know a person's back story without them opening their mouth. At one point, when journalists persuade him to climb a hill to have his photo taken beside a monument, he can 'hear' them insulting him. Later he finds that posing in front of the monument has unforeseen political repercussions and he appears to have unwittingly aligned himself with an undesirable character by doing so.

Ishiguro is an intelligent writer who habitually creates multiple layers of meaning in his novels, and it's fair to assume that if he employs these devices they're meant to convey a message, or messages. The context of The Unconsoled is that it was written a few years after The Remains of the Day, the novel that cemented Ishiguro's status and fame as a novelist, and apparently he said that this freed him up to write something 'weird'.

After some thought - and reading others' critiques - I would guess that Ryder's experience reflects Ishiguro's own experience as a world class creative on the rollercoaster of fame and being a visiting celebrity/dignitary: performance anxiety, worry about being 'found out' as not what you're cracked up to be, everyone wanting a piece of you, finding yourself naively being used for other people's agendas....and all the time being aware that your real priorities of family and your creative focus being pushed aside while your time is filled with trying to be all things to all people - people whose lives you will never really improve, and who will remain unconsoled (or is it the artist who is unconsoled?).

In among all of this there are Ishiguro's usual memory-related themes - especially memories we choose to forget, or misremember and replace with our own 'memories'. There's also a recurring theme of characters who fear they cannot live up to their parents' expectations which could be interpreted literally or just as a general fear for an artist wanting to please his audience.

But it's not a doom and gloom novel, in fact it's often quite comedic, somewhat reminiscent of the John Cleese movie 'Clockwise', as our protagonist encounters all sorts of weird characters and surreal interruptions to his day. Finding out that most of the characters with Germanic surnames are named after a German World Cup football squad suggests some level of tongue-in-cheek intention - perhaps Ishiguro countering the negative picture he has painted. Five stars for innovation and a surprisingly enjoyable and thought provoking read.

May 25, 2018, 8:09am Top

Hi Donna!

>86 floremolla: Wonderful review! Having said that, I'll pass because I've read one by Ishiguro When We Were Orphans and that was enough for me.

Edited: May 26, 2018, 12:59pm Top

>87 karenmarie: hi, Karen! Thanks for popping in :)

I’ve read all of Ishiguro’s novels now and When We Were Orphans is his weakest, not just in my opinion but in the author’s too. Maybe his writing is an acquired taste? I like the challenge of trying to understand writing that’s a bit oblique. Reading what other people have written about Ishiguro’s work helps to decipher it a bit, but ultimately you bring your own experience to it and your own interpretation - whether it’s ‘right’ or not is immaterial, I think, so long as you get something out of it.

May 26, 2018, 2:03pm Top

I must admit, Ishiguro is an author who doesn't appeal to me at all. I did try to watch the film of "Remains of the Day", but I couldn't get into it at all and never did finish watching it. The books sound like harder work than I'm prepared to put in!

May 26, 2018, 4:19pm Top

I've read three by Ishiguro, only liked Never Let Me Go, but still plan to read The Remains of the Day sometime. Congratulations on finishing all of his novels!

Edited: May 26, 2018, 5:21pm Top

Sigh, I just wrote and had to delete a huge post about how much I dislike Ishiguro when it's Murakami I was really thinking of! I really like Remains of the Day but I picked up Nocturnes a few years ago (five short stories very loosely connected) and it did nothing for me. I was left with a vague sense of love gone awry, with some music and scenery thrown in but I never felt that the distance between the page and my imagination was fully bridged.

May 26, 2018, 5:13pm Top

Oh dear, not much love for Mr Ishiguro - I'm in the minority! I like how he revisits themes of memory and loss, seeng them from different viewpoints and in different settings, and I enjoyed the sense of playfulness in The Unconsoled that revealed a dry sense of humour. Maybe it's about being on the same wavelength in some sense....or maybe I just want to be? ;)

>89 Jackie_K: I can empathise with that 'harder work than I'm prepared to put in', I apply it to all sorts of books!

>90 detailmuse: thanks MJ, I've still to read Nocturnes and his other short stories but I don't think I'll venture into his screenplays!

>91 Tanya-dogearedcopy: yes, I've committed the cardinal sin of confusing the two and who wrote which book! I've read Norwegian Wood, 1Q84 and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and liked them all but with reservations - Kafka on the Shore is on the TBR - I wish you hadn't deleted your post because I'd've liked to see what you thought!

May 26, 2018, 9:35pm Top

>92 floremolla: Count me in as another Ishiguro fan! I flew through Never Let Me Go and absolutely loved it. I had a harder time with The Remains of the Day but wound up loving it as well. The loss/memory themes stand out to me as well, and the question of humanity in Never Let Me Go has stayed with me for years. For me he's an author definitely worth watching. I'll have to add The Unconsoled to my TBR list!

May 27, 2018, 5:08am Top

>93 Miss_Moneypenny: oh good! I read the first 50 pages of The Unconsoled and thought "I can either go with the flow and see what I make of it myself, or read some professional/academic reviews and see what he's really getting at". However, the only things I picked up from the reviews were the facts that he wrote this novel after The Remains of The Day catapulted him to a different level of success, that he said he was now free to write something 'weird' and that the characters' surnames included a lot of players from a German World Cup squad.

It's a 'love it or loath it book' and allegedly most people abandon it after 50 pages - which is kind of a challenge to anyone who thinks of themselves as a 'serious' reader! I had a notebook and jotted down recurring themes and other notable quirks and devices and came to my own conclusions. I just enjoy trying to work out the writer's intentions when a book is so obviously challenging the norms of literature and also putting something of himself into the novel (reminiscent of Nabokov's Pale Fire). A bit nerdy I guess but to read a long, challenging book and then later find I've missed the point would be mega-annoying!

May 27, 2018, 3:41pm Top

I'm officially in my dotage. I accidentally ordered a book while I was looking up a gardening crossword solution - 'plant hunter Frank' (the answer was Meyer). Amazon advises me my copy of A Plant Hunter in Tibet is on its way. Actually it looks quite interesting, although it's only rated 2* on LT.

The lesson is, don't cheat on crosswords. Oh, and don't leave Amazon on standby.

May 29, 2018, 4:19pm Top

Ooh that's quite impressive, I'm not sure I'd be able to do that with just one click! (I always go the long way round when buying from amazon, I worry if I used the one-click feature that I'd get buyer's remorse!)

Edited: May 29, 2018, 6:21pm Top

>95 floremolla: I think the lesson is to do the crossword online or in an app so you can click "Reveal answer to clue" rather than one-click on Amazon ;) Hope you like the book! I will be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

May 29, 2018, 8:43pm Top

>95 floremolla: Oh my goodness, I am rolling with laughter right now. Advice noted! Enjoy your accidental purchase. :-)

May 31, 2018, 7:23am Top

Amazon makes it too easy, doesn't it, Donna? I'm like Jackie - I never use 1-click. I hope your accidental purchase turns out to be a good read.

Edited: Jun 2, 2018, 2:18pm Top

#37 Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (669 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD

Wild Swans is a memoir of the author's personal experiences, and those of her mother and grandmother, of life in China during the tumultuous political changes of the twentieth century.

Grandmother Yu-fang is the daughter of a poor family, not especially bright but she is a great beauty who captures the eye of warlord General Xue Zhi-heng, a marriage match that is as good as her impoverished parents could hope for. Unfortunately his 'offer of marriage' turns out to be an agreement to join his household as a concubine, for he already has a wife and several other concubines. Yu-fang, as the youngest, is treated abysmally by the wife and other concubines and rarely sees the General. Eventually however she becomes pregnant and gives birth to a daughter, Bao Qin. When the General dies Yu-fang is afraid her little daughter will be taken from her by his household and she will be cast out, so she runs away and arranges for word to be sent to his family that the child had died on the journey. Despite being tainted by her status as a former concubine Yu-fang unexpectedly finds love with the older and kind hearted Dr Xia who treats Bao Qin as his own.

Bao Qin turns out to be a feisty, intelligent and attractive young woman with a strong moral sense that leads her to become interested in politics and eventually become a minor communist party official. When she marries a more senior party official, Wang Yu, little does she realise she is signing up to a life of endurance and misery. Wang Yu always puts party before family, to the extent that he makes life at times almost unbearable for his wife and their children. Not only must they never receive privileged treatment but in times of hardship their suffering must be worse than anyone else's to show they've had no preferential treatment.

Finally, the author describes her own life growing up in the sixties under the reign of Chairman Mao. As rival factions within the communist party come forward with evermore extreme ideas of what constitutes capitalist sympathies and bourgeois behaviour, the family is denounced, split up and sent to forced labour camps - the Chinese equivalent of the Gulag.

While the book focuses on the personal lives of the three generations of women, the everchanging course of China's political regime provides a vivid backdrop. Jung Chang documents her grandmother's life in the dying days of the old feudal order that dictated women must bind their feet to conform to ancient notions of beauty - the life long implications of which are described in horrific detail. But she also alludes to the pre-communist culture where art and beauty were celebrated and manners and etiquette were considered important.

Her mother lives through civil war, the rise and fall of the centre/right Kuomintang Party and the emergence of the Communist Party under Mao Zedong, whose political theory is that everyone must be brought to the level of the peasant for the system to be fair to everyone. Though a staunch supporter of the party she cannot seem to convince the Communist Party of her integrity as a party official and she is constantly a target for denunciation for being bourgeois and having capitalist tendencies, from the party itself initially, and then later from the Red Guard and the Rebels.

Her husband Wang Yu, once a high ranking official, is also targeted after an ill-fated attempt to write to Mao to complain about policies - this action instigates not only reprisals for himself, in the form of beatings and humiliation, but also it will go 'on file' and affect his children for the rest of their lives.

Jung Chang provides an excellent account of the machinations of Mao and the impact of lifelong indoctrination by his propaganda machine on the population, herself included. Despite huge errors of judgement that lead the country into famine, and the Cultural Revolution that saw art, antiquities, gardens, books and ancient performance art swept away, the people continued to act as if Mao was revered because they feared reprisals. Mao had perfected the art of 'divide and rule' - encouraging neighbours to spy on each other and at any moment a faction such as the Red Guards or rebel party members could be given powers to arrest, detain, torture and execute anyone they wished.

Chang gives many accounts of the multitudinous ways in which people suffered - the relentless cruelties of the Red Guard and the Rebels were hard to read - horrific beatings and humiliations, people driven to suicide - but the persistence and tenacity of those who not only survived but went on to leave China and make a life for themselves elsewhere was astonishing, especially given that Chang is only a few years older than me and this was taking place during my lifetime - yet we in the west were ignorant of it, so successful was Chinese propaganda.

As is often the case where people survive unimaginable hardship and oppression, the love of books and learning sustained Jung Chang and her family through their decades of suffering and ultimately, long after Mao's death, were their passports out of China into the Western world. In an epilogue Chang spells out the wonder of living in a country - England - where people are free to voice opinions and art and culture are appreciated. A humbling reminder of what we take for granted.

I alternated between paperback and audiobook - each had its advantages. The book had photographic illustrations while the audiobook provided the correct pronunciation for the names of people, places and certain terminology. The book was beautifully written and the audiobook equally well narrated. The only thing I thought was missing was a timeline of the lifespans of the three women and the events related - it was difficult to keep track of how old each was when the events happened. But that's a very minor criticism of a fascinating book.

Edited: Jun 2, 2018, 2:18pm Top

#38 The Essex Serpent by Sarah Parry (418 pages) Non-ROOT

In Victorian England, Cora Seagrove is less than grief stricken when her husband dies - he was a bully and abuser and his control, together with Victorian social mores that served to restrict women's lives, had made Cora's life unbearable - for she is a free spirit with an appetite for adventure and learning, particularly about the origins of life, gleaned from the discovery and examination of fossils. Their son Francis is an unusual boy, he has trouble relating to people, needs continuity and order in his life, and is curiously obsessed with his collection of objects.

Cora's closest ally is her maid/companion, Martha, a vibrant and spirited woman in her own right, with a strong social conscience. She almost knows Cora better than Cora knows herself.

When an inspirational surgeon friend tells Cora of a strange beast that is rumoured to roam the marshes of Blackwater in Essex, she is convinced it could be evidence of the existence of a dinosaur that has survived the ice age and dares to dream that she could discover it and become as famous as the explorers she admires.

When she sets out to investigate she is soon introduced to the local minister, Will Ransome, and his wife and family, and finds not only warm and welcoming friendship but a much deeper connection with Will that brings their respective worlds of science and theology into uneasy juxtaposition - and tests their moral fortitude.

Parry makes a good job of creating a neo-gothic tale of superstition, hysteria and fear of the unknown - in this case a suspected sea serpent bent on wreaking havoc and ill fortune across an otherwise quiet corner of Essex - nicely counterpointed with various characters' efforts to push forward the frontiers of scientific discovery. Amid the scientific leaps forward she brings in social justice issues, so that the reader gets a sense of great societal changes being instigated at the same time as the frontiers of science are being pushed.

The mystery of the sea serpent hysteria is well resolved but at heart this is a love story. As can happen with period-set novels, I wasn't 100% convinced of the accuracy of the language - it didn't ring true - and some of the protagonists' actions suggested a much more modern context, but despite that this was a good light read.

Edited: Jun 2, 2018, 2:37pm Top

Lesson learnt about one-click, the book hasn't arrived yet, so at least I'm spared the decision of whether to keep it or not for a bit longer!

Not much reading done in May:

3 ROOTs completed > 33/60 for 2018 - including Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China which was my favourite read of the month.

1 Non-ROOTs completed > 5/20 for 2018
1 Non-fiction completed > 2 for 2018
1 chunkster completed > 5 for 2018
2 from the 1001 list completed > 19 for 2018
50% female authors read > 20/38 for 2018

3874 pages read (12,904 for 2018)

Currently reading:
Think by Simon Blackburn
Maps of Time (still at page 20
SPQR by Mary Beard

9 new acquisitions > 40 for 2018
LT app TBR count stands at 179 up 17 from 1 January)

2026 pages read (14,930 for 2018)

Acquisitions slightly ahead of the total number of books read, but I've read five of the acquisitions, which is some sort of mitigation, surely?

Jun 2, 2018, 5:09am Top

>100 floremolla: Ooh I'm really keen to see what you thought of Wild Swans (which I loved, but read ages ago - probably nearly 20 years).

Jun 2, 2018, 8:23am Top

>102 floremolla: The only place I allow one-click is on my library's website, where one click allows you to place a hold that will be sent to your default library branch. So handy, and so dangerous.

Jun 2, 2018, 2:46pm Top

>103 Jackie_K: I loved it too, alternating between finding it hard to listen to, and finding it fascinating. A remarkable story.

>104 rabbitprincess: I'll need to look at switching off one-click purchasing, I didn't know you could do that! At least the library books are free :)

Jun 2, 2018, 4:36pm Top

>100 floremolla: What a wonderful review! You've made Wild Swans jump to the top of my library request list.

Jun 7, 2018, 5:14am Top

>106 Miss_Moneypenny: hope you like it as much as I did!

Edited: Jun 9, 2018, 12:49am Top

#39 The Hemingway Files by HK Bush (354 pages)

The first person narrative of this story is presented as a long account of a professor of American Literature, Jack Springs - now in his forties, but dying of prostate cancer - of a period in his life fifteen years earlier, when he had lived and worked in Japan for three years and become embroiled in an adventure involving rare first edition books and secret letters and notes from eminent American literary figures.

He has sent his account to his elderly former PhD tutor, himself a Professor of American Literature, along with some packages and specific instructions on the order in which they should be opened. The framework of the novel is that this Professor has read the account, carried out all the instructions, has come to know about a literary hoard stored in a monastery on a mountain in Japan, and is now revealing the story and the papers for posterity.

The bulk of the novel however is the account by the young Professor of the series of circumstances that lead him to the job at Kobe University in Japan, his introduction to Japanese custom and language and to a life-changing meeting with a retired Japanese professor of literature, Goto, who becomes his mentor and Sensei (teacher).

Goto is an elderly man of great wealth and many secrets - as an avid admirer of Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Walt Whitman, Willa Cather, and many others, he has a desire to get 'under the skin' of his writer-heroes and know more about what had been going on in their lives while they wrote. He has been acquiring rare literary ephemera for decades and has uncovered secrets with which he tantalises Jack, and then, very slowly, begins to reveal them to him over the course of two years.

Jack, thoroughly entranced, is soon embroiled in travelling abroad and sourcing more material for Goto, but as he comes to understand the almost limitless monetary value of the items, the potential danger he could be in and the dubious practice of not declaring the papers at customs, he feels he has to challenge his Sensei - but fears this will jeopardise their relationship. Also, he's fallen in love with Goto's beautiful niece Mika, and knows he won't be able to see her again if he doesn't continue to work with Goto.

To make matters worse, there's someone at the university spying on him, contriving to bring him down, and he fears they know about his clandestine book dealings....

Having an interest in books, and Japan, I found this an enjoyable read. There was something a little bit Indiana Jones-ish about the tale and I liked the small insights into Japanese custom and culture - the writer taught at a Japanese educational institution himself so it seemed authentic. The pace and arc of the story were well done and I particularly liked the literary revelations and Goto's insights to Moby Dick that make me want to read again (but properly this time as I clearly missed a lot of symbolism).

The one criticism I have is that the writing is very perfunctory - there's no beauty in the language, even when the writer is describing beautiful settings - but then the narrative is supposed to be an 'account' of Jack's three years in Japan, not a novel in itself. I liked the book enough to give it four stars but I'm not sure whether an adventure that revolves around books would have broad appeal. Having said that, with the right treatment it could make a beautiful and poignant film.

Edited: Jun 7, 2018, 6:28am Top

>100 floremolla: I am going to get Wild Swans from the library today.
Not good for ROOTing, but now I want to read it ;-)

Jun 7, 2018, 6:35am Top

I'd definitely recommend anyone read Wild Swans. It was a long time ago that I read it, but it was a 5* read.

Jun 12, 2018, 7:33am Top

Hi Donna!

>108 floremolla: Excellent review, and it's going on to my wish list immediately.

Jun 12, 2018, 10:58am Top

>101 floremolla: Thank you for your review of The Essex Serpent, especially the details about "the accuracy of the language". I love historical fiction but it really bothers me when the language used sounds too contemporary or doesn't fit the time period. This is a book I had been considering buying (on sale) but now I'll take a pass on it. :-)

Jun 14, 2018, 10:39am Top

>108 floremolla: the writing is very perfunctory - there's no beauty in the language
This is an excellent aspect to notice! Did the author keep too much of himself vs writing "in character" -- the first-person narration of a literature professor in Japan ??

Wild Swans has persisted in my wishlist since 2010, surviving many rounds of clean-ups and purges :) I think I may pursue on audio...

Jun 16, 2018, 2:55am Top

>109 FAMeulstee: sorry to divert you from your ROOTs but hope you find Wild Swans as satisfying as >110 Jackie_K: and I!

>111 karenmarie: I liked the sound of this book when it popped up on my Facebook feed - clearly one of these social media analytics systems had sussed out my literary tastes! Hope you like it.

>112 This-n-That: sometimes it's hard to put a finger on exactly what it is with contemporary historical fiction (is that a fair description of the genre?) that jars. Of course we want to read about strong women pushing the frontiers of social and academic conventions but the heroine here was just too modern on too many levels - that, and occasionally feeling the language didn't seem authentic, kept 'taking me out of the story'. Perhaps I'm hypercritical having read a fair amount of Victorian era literature - the book was actually fine as a good yarn.

>113 detailmuse: Hi MJ, it goes to show that being a professor of literature doth not a writer make. On the other hand, anyone can be a critic and I associate reading books set in Japan with lyrical writing for some reason. Anyway it's whetted my appetite for more books set in Japan.

Audio might be the way to go - mine was narrated by Pik-sen Lim who I thought read very well.

Jun 16, 2018, 5:10am Top

#40 Nora Webster by Colm Toíbín (310 pages) Non-ROOT

In the small town of Enniscorthy, in late sixties Ireland, Nora Webster has recently been widowed and is struggling to know how to live without her husband. Maurice has died a prolonged painful and harrowing death, with Nora at his side throughout. She has four children to consider - two adult daughters and two younger sons - and her widow's pension will not provide a living.

Nora is an uncompromising individual but when offered a return to the book-keeping job she'd had with a local company before she got married, she feels she has no option but to take it. Like everything else though, it will be on her own terms.

The novel begins some months after Nora's bereavement when she is still the object of intense local interest and pity - Maurice was a much-loved school teacher - and much to her dismay, people are still coming to her house to pay their respects when all she wants is to be left alone.

When Nora has her hair coloured for starting work she imagines the people of the town judging her and speculating that she's trying to attract male attention. At work old rivalries and tensions come quickly to the surface, for nothing much has changed in the intervening decades, including the staff, and old resentments are still harboured.

As time goes on, Nora must make financial decisions, support a fragile son, make peace with a sister who rubs her up the wrong way and negotiate her way through a job that brings additional pressures on top of the grief that won't abate. Inevitably there comes a point when it's all too much.

Nora's journey through her grief makes for an absorbing read. She's not the most sympathetic of characters - she is quite aware that even her family liked Maurice better than they like her - and her responses to her situation are individualistic, but yet relatable. She also has to go through this in the most stifling of contexts - pre-women's liberation, in a small town in Ireland, with the Catholic Church as a huge, if not intrusive, presence and 'The Troubles' brewing in the background.

Toíbín captures the era and the setting perfectly by 'showing not telling' and his ability to get under the skin of his female characters (as in Brooklyn) is probably at its best here, with the dynamics and the subtexts of female friendships, and relationships among sisters, and between mother and daughters, all being recognisable.

Nora as it turns out, is a talented singer and lover of classical music - once again, the love of art and learning is a touchstone through which a protagonist finds salvation. It also gives Toíbín an opportunity to demonstrate his knowledge of the subject and perhaps even inspire the reader to look up some of the works featured. A good read and not as depressing as it sounds!

Jun 16, 2018, 3:53pm Top

>115 floremolla: I think I'm going to add this one to my library wishlist. I've only read one other book by Colm Toibin (The Testament of Mary) but I really liked his writing (although I do think that ToM wasn't as daring as he thought it was).

Hope you're having a good weekend and weren't washed away with the earlier rain! (it chucked it down here this afternoon. Of course now it's 9 o'clock the sun is out. Gotta love Scotland)

Jun 18, 2018, 8:19am Top

>116 Jackie_K: I hope you like Nora Webster - on the one hand the characters and how they interact is quintessentially Irish, but on the other it felt very familiar to me in the west of Scotland, where there's a strong Irish connection.

I could also relate to Nora's experience of widowhood through my husband having an accident which was life changing for both of us. We don't realise how much we function as a couple until one of the units is gone or unable to function. And we don't know how we'll react to trauma till it happens - I thought Nora's reaction was recognisable but also authentically individual which was good work on Toíbín's part.

Jun 21, 2018, 7:42am Top

Hi Donna!

>115 floremolla: Excellent! I've had Nora Webster on my shelves forever. Your review made me pull it down. I may or may not get it started before I go on vacation, but I would like to read it this year.

Jun 21, 2018, 3:44pm Top

Hi Karen! Thanks for dropping by. My next read also had an Irish connection and I would put it on a par with Nora Webster....

Jun 21, 2018, 3:52pm Top

#41 Midwinter Break by Bernard Laverty (243 pages) Non-ROOT

Gerry and Stella are retired and have flown to Amsterdam for a long weekend break. They're Irish but have lived in Glasgow for several decades, effectively to get away from 'The Troubles'. Gerry was an architect while Stella taught English in high school.

As the novel opens Gerry is in the sitting room listening to music and enjoying an Irish whiskey, while Stella, who has trouble sleeping, is already in bed trying to nod off in anticipation of an early start to get to the airport. So far so normal, but as the novel progresses and the couple settle into their hotel and start to explore the city of Amsterdam, the reader learns that each is holding a secret.

For Gerry it's not very well hidden - he is an alcoholic who sneaks out on various pretexts to refill a duty free bottle of whiskey he consumes in the bathroom while pretending to shower. For Stella, it's that she's having an existential crisis and has arranged this break in Amsterdam specifically to examine an alternative lifestyle with a religious sisterhood. This would mean the end of their marriage.

As they go through the motions of being a couple on holiday, sightseeing and eating out, they are each in turmoil and through their thoughts the reader gradually learns of the traumatic event decades earlier that led them to Glasgow, that lies at the root of Stella's fragile demeanour, and perhaps of Gerry's drinking.

Laverty, as an Irish writer who's lived in Scotland for many years, presents Gerry and Stella as a very believable couple 'of a certain age' (there were several relatable moments!). The couple's professions allow him to flex his esoteric muscles with some literary references and architectural ponderings.

And he doesn't shirk from the politics of The Troubles either - Gerry and Stella have experienced all that was worst about living in Northern Ireland as Catholics, but they have no sympathy for the IRA.

I didn't intend to read this right away, having only just acquired it from the charity shop, but made the mistake of reading the opening page and got sucked in - it's a very readable book (surprisingly, as I had read Grace Notes and remember thinking it was rather highbrow and not an easy read), I was intrigued to find out what had happened to Stella in the past - and learn the fate of the self-deluded Gerry.

Edited: Jun 25, 2018, 7:04pm Top

#42 The Book of Evidence by John Banville (220 pages) Non-ROOT 1001 BYMRBYD

The Book of Evidence is exactly that - the testimony of (fictitious) thief and murderer Freddie Montgomery, to the judge who will try his case. Freddie relates how after living a dissolute life abroad for fifteen years, his debt had caught up with him and his wife and son were being held 'hostage' while he returned home to Ireland to see if he could wheedle some money from his mother.

From the outset Freddie's arrogance and contempt for people are evident in his writing and it's not surprising to find that his people are of once-wealthy privileged heritage. When he arrives at his mother's however, it's clear any money she had has been wasted on an unsuccessful equine business. What's more, Freddie is upset to notice that all the family paintings, which he harboured a notion might have some value, have been sold off in pursuit of the failing venture.

When Freddie encounters a woman with whom he'd once had a brief dalliance, he espies an opportunity to ingratiate himself and elicit some cash from her - her family being one of the richest in the neighbourhood. Freddie is given short shrift however and this being the latest in a series of rebuffs and frustrations, he finds himself carrying out a reprisal that will punish her and satisfy his need for money in one fell swoop.

Banville has created a chilling and yet intriguing character in Freddie Montgomery. As his testimony unfurls he appears to hold nothing back of his motivations, no matter how disturbing, nor his lack of remorse as he perpetrates crimes, petty lies and deceptions to get money out of people. He often describes himself as detached from people and events and claims that he never planned anything, he merely drifted into it and then had no choice in his actions.

Of course, as with all first person narrated accounts, one can never be sure of the extent to which Freddie is concocting a tale designed to elicit sympathy or sow seeds of doubt that he might be deranged and unaccountable for his actions. Banville has Freddie make some revealing references, for example, he misquotes Schopenhauer by claiming that "money brings abstract happiness" whereas Schopenhauer's full quotation is closer to 'when money brings abstract happiness, humanity is lost'.

Freddie also mentions that he moves among people "like Moosburger" a character in Robert Musil's A Man of No Qualities - Moosburger is a murderer and rapist who enjoys telling his story from his own perspective, including giving evidence at his own trial, and displays similar dissociative tendencies, being somehow apart from the rest of humanity. I had to look this up - not sure whether I would tackle Musil's unfinished modernist masterpiece myself - but Freddie's indirect reference (perhaps a Freudian slip) to the book, via the character, is demonstrative of his considerable knowledge and intelligence and a reminder that the reader is dealing with a slippery character and cannot take his testimony at face value.

Banville's writing throughout is pure gold - his descriptions and metaphors are sublime - the story holds the attention effortlessly and the ending is well resolved.

Jun 28, 2018, 11:50am Top

Sounds like you've had a couple of excellent books there - it's good to see all those stars!

Hope you're well and haven't melted!

Jun 29, 2018, 2:37pm Top

Hi Jackie! whats this heat like? I'm really enjoying it, pottering in the garden and reading in the shade - I keep looking at my weather app (obsessively, yes) and it's showing fine weather and high(ish) temperatures for the foreseeable future. Hope you're also getting time to enjoy it - make the most, it's only a matter of time till there's a water shortage ..... :)

Jun 29, 2018, 3:27pm Top

>120 floremolla: Midwinter Break sounds good!

We've had far more rain this year than usual and plenty of sun and warm temps too, so everything is fresh and lush … June must be the most beautiful month.

Jun 29, 2018, 3:56pm Top

>123 floremolla: I know, it's great! I am doing so much washing, because I can hang it all up! And my ice lolly consumption is through the roof, it's the only thing that cools me down!

I hear that Northern Ireland have just put a hosepipe ban in place, so I expect we'll be next. I shall take it literally and continue to water my veg with the watering can - it's not a hosepipe, so it's not banned :)

Jun 29, 2018, 5:11pm Top

#43 The Idea of Perfection by Kate Granville (401 pages)

Harley Savage and Douglas Cheeseman find themselves visitors in the remote small town Karakarook in New South Wales, Australia, on opposite sides of a local community issue. A historic bridge, damaged by floods and decades of neglect, is to be demolished and replaced with a pristine concrete edifice.

Harley is a large and formidable middle aged woman with a remit to source and curate the town's local history through handmade vintage artefacts. She is a renowned textile artist in her own right, specialising in bush quilts - creating modern versions of items that would have been made by poor people from whatever scraps they could spare, made of old suits and wooden socks - not pretty but life savers in cold winters.

Harley also has baggage - two failed marriages and then a husband who committed suicide - and considers herself to have a 'dangerous streak' that precludes her from ever being in a happy relationship.

Douglas is the engineer sent from the roads authority to replace the old bridge, which has been stretched to a curve, like an elbow, by the force of the river. Douglas is a divorcee, lacking in confidence and, unfortunately for a bridge engineer, a sufferer of vertigo which has somewhat blighted his career - hence his being allocated a job in a quiet backwater.

Harley and Douglas bump up against each other in the course of their stay at Karakarook, and each feels a spark of something, but can they surmount their own self-loathing, and their positions on opposite sides of a community battle, to even talk to each other?

Meanwhile there is a resident of Karakarook who strives compulsively for self perfection but risks losing everything when she starts an adulterous relationship.

Granville's characters are very convincing in their professional lives - with a first deconstruction of concrete - and also in their 'hang-ups', but she has all three main protagonists continually obsess about their own issues to the point where it becomes tiresome because it's so repetitious. There's also an annoying quirk of the writing whereby words or phrases are italicised, because the character was thinking about something someone had said, for emphasis, or to highlight a common saying or, frankly, for no good reason.

The effort required to read this novel almost exceeded the enjoyment - it was redeemed by the author demonstrating an equally good understanding of quilt making and bridge engineering, both of which subjects were intelligently, and more interestingly, portrayed than the romance.

Jun 29, 2018, 11:01pm Top

We're having a sweltering weekend as well. Sunday is supposed to be a high temperature of 35, with humidexes (humidices?) pushing into the 40s. Yuck. And it's Canada Day, so there will be a lot of people out in the blazing sun. I will not be one of them.

Edited: Jul 1, 2018, 5:43am Top

>124 detailmuse: >125 Jackie_K: >127 rabbitprincess: temperatures over 20 degrees centigrade aren't that common in Scotland, even in summer, so to have had two long spells of 22-30 degree heat already this year is amazing - I'm loving it! Instead of dropping everything to rush out into the rare sunshine, I've become very casual about it, even sitting in the shade, or pottering in the house with the French windows open. It's perfect, what summer should be - some years we've had 13 degrees in July and the same temperature on Christmas Day, ugh!

>127 rabbitprincess: happy Canada Day! 🇨🇦

Edited: Jul 1, 2018, 7:43am Top

#44 White Oleander by Janet Fitch (390 pages)

Astrid Magnussen is twelve years old when her beautiful mother, Ingrid, is found guilty of murdering a former boyfriend. Ingrid is a poet, an arrogant, self-obsessed free spirit with cynical disdain for much in life. She and Astrid have travelled in Europe and settled in Hollywood, LA. The child is inseparable from her mother and has never known a father; Ingrid will not discuss that aspect of her past.

Astrid is catapulted into the world of foster care when her mother is imprisoned, and so begins six years of harrowing placements with the very sorts of people her mother despises. Though Astrid is never coerced - and as narrator of her own story she can be believed or not on that count - her sexual relationships are with men who are partners of the women who are supposed to be looking after her. As she matures, her attractiveness is a source of worry and jealousy to these women and when, inevitably, she is found out, she is the target of their violent fury.

Overarching all this is her mother's malign presence as she tries to manipulate Astrid from prison, through letters in which she scorns Astrid's foster placements and criticises everything the girl does.

All is not misery, however, as Astrid, besides being beautiful and knowing, is fiercely intelligent, amazingly well schooled by her mother in the finer things in life, and a talented artist. And just occasionally there are people in her life who bring her happiness and encouragement for a time. As her teenage years slip by, with rarely a trusted adult (never mind a 'normal' one) to guide her, she must find her own reason for living and coming out from under her mother's influence.

I found this novel a bit tedious to begin with - Astrid and Ingrid seemed like insufferable arrogant bores, the language was melodramatic verging on purple prose and it seemed like the story was heading into misery-lit territory. However, Fitch has produced an interesting protagonist in Astrid - I wanted to find out her fate, and thought the story was well resolved.

Edited to alter rating - on reflection it didn’t merit being rounded up to four stars.

Edited: Jul 14, 2018, 10:13am Top

#45 SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard (572 pages)

Mary Beard's SPQR opens with a famous Roman legal case, in which Cicero accused a fellow citizen, Catiline, of plotting to destroy Rome - her point is to demonstrate that Rome's legal and political systems didn't differ much from ours and that the Romans were people not unlike ourselves.

The fact we know so much about the Romans and their way of life is owing to their being copious writers, of laws, histories, poems, plays etc, that were copied down through the ages by medieval monks and scholars who, even back then, considered them to hold valuable and important content and insight into ancient history.

Beard then leads the reader through a thousand years in the history of the city of Rome, its rulers and its citizens - from its mythical, or allegorical, origins (the tale of Romulus and Remus), then through its early days, from the seventh century BCE, as an insignificant settlement, and onward to the height of its position as the world's first "global superpower".

She explains how the monarchical system extant in Rome was overthrown and replaced by the Roman Republic in 509 BCE - an entity which was to survive until Julius Caesar declared himself 'dictator perpetuus' in 44 BCE, and the serious and aggressive expansion of the Roman Empire began.

Beard describes the emergence of law and governance with anecdotes based on the writings of real life characters - some of them famous, like Cicero and the Plinys, some of them obscure. As well as being about important people and events of the day, these writings also reveal much about day to day life - domestic arrangements and human relationships, details which could never have been gleaned from archaeological evidence alone.

Chapters are devoted to specific subjects such as 'the poor' and 'childhood' - mutually exclusive since poor children had to work. And 'leisure', which revolved around gaming, bars, hunting and bathing as well as trips to the Circus Maximus - the world's first mass entertainment venue - for athletics, chariot racing, gladiator fights and public feasts.

Running through the narrative like a backbone are the succession of Roman rulers, from the monarchical to the fourteen successive emperors who oversaw the expansion of the Roman Empire - the notable such as Augustus and Marcus Aurelius and the less admirable such as Nero and Claudius.

Beard's style is conversational and the narrative jumps around a lot - it seems that facts occur to her and they must be accommodated to help describe flesh out a character or an event. (Some readers might dislike this but it's a habit I have myself).

Somehow I missed out on ancient history at secondary school (actually all history) - I regretted that for some reason Latin had been taken off the curriculum after a single lesson which I had really enjoyed. So I got a lot out of SPQR in terms of getting a flavour of the growth and development of Rome, life as a Roman, and the wars that won them their empire.

Some readers might feel that is sufficient, others that their interest has been piqued by certain elements that are worth looking into further. I'd like to find out more about the Romans in Britain - I was chuffed when Beard said that a Roman leader had commented he wished his soldiers were warriors like the Scots.

I alternated between the (small font and rather thick) paperback (which has images and a useful timeline) and the audiobook, ably narrated in a genteel English accent by Phyllida Law. I'm giving it 4.5* rather than 5* because I didn't find it *completely* riveting - it was more like a *very* long but interesting lecture.

Edited: Jul 12, 2018, 10:38pm Top

June stats

4 ROOTs completed > 37/60 for 2018

3 Non-ROOTs completed > 8/20 for 2018 - including The Book of Evidence by John Banville, which was my favourite read of the month.
1 Non-fiction completed > 3/8 for 2018
0 chunkster completed > 4/8 for 2018
1 from the 1001 list completed > 18/40 for 2018
3 female authors read > 23/80 for 2018

Currently reading:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Think by Simon Blackburn
Maps of Time (still at page 20

5 new acquisitions > 45 for 2018
LT app TBR count stands at 177 (up 15 from 1 January)

2490 pages read (17,420 for 2018)

Jul 1, 2018, 7:21am Top

>130 floremolla: Looking forward to that one, it's on my TBR.

Jul 12, 2018, 10:36pm Top

#46 We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Rosemary, the first person narrator, is a university student at the outset of this novel, which sketches out her life from a baby till her forties, in a non-linear structure, beginning (as she says) in the middle.

The novel opens with Rosemary's first encounter with a loopy girl called Harlow who creates a ruckus in the university canteen following a tiff with her boyfriend. Rosemary joins her in breaking some crockery and the two find themselves arrested.

Rosemary's parents' reaction is exasperation, as if they've been waiting for her to mess up, and as her story unfolds, it becomes clear that she has been keeping the lid on family secrets including the unexplained disappearance of her sister, Fern, many years before and her brother, Lowell, being on the run, wanted for Animal Liberation Front activity.

Rosemary has chosen to study at U. C. Davies because Lowell was last seen there and she hopes he will make contact with her. Meanwhile Harlow insinuates herself into Rosemary's life, leading to further adventures and brushes with the law before the latter confronts her parents about Fern's disappearance and confirms what she'd feared all along - that she was somehow to blame.

The twist in the tale, revealed early in the novel, is that Fern is a chimp and Rosemary's childhood had been subject to an experiment by her psychologist father and anthropologist mother into human-animal relations.

By starting in the middle of the story - the point at which Rosemary finally finds out what happened to Fern - Fowler is able to take the reader back into her protagonist's childhood, and then to follow her some years into the future so that there is some resolution to the story, including redemption for Rosemary. This worked quite well but the numerous flashbacks grew tiresome for me.

The novel is otherwise well written, with intelligent humour, interesting details about chimpanzees as a species and references to real life experiments where they were raised within human families. There's also some harrowing detail about vivisection and what happens to animals when the experiments are over.

Having known nothing about the subject matter of this book, I had taken the blurb at face value and thought I was about to read a more conventional thriller, about a missing child - perhaps that's why I didn't fully embrace the chimp perspective and rated it only 3.5*.

Jul 19, 2018, 11:21am Top

#47 A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (pages) 1001 BYMRBYD

This is a novel about a group of people whose lives have intersected at certain points - it starts with Sasha and Alex's one night stand when he's in his twenties and she's somewhat older. Each subsequent chapter is set in a different timeframe - going back and forth, past and present - introducing a group of characters and each one is an 'episode' almost like a short story in its own right. Except that the characters are linked and we find out the backstories, such as what happened to cause Sasha's friend Rob's accidental death, and what becomes of Sasha and Alex in later life.

The episodic structure enables Egan to tell the stories from different characters' points of view and to experiment with different styles of writing - for example, one chapter, from the point of view of a young girl, is presented as a series of slides, from whose observations we learn about the make-up and dynamics of her family.

The penultimate chapter is set in a future where people's opinions are shamelessly influenced by social media via their ever-present 'handsets' and even young children have technology at their disposal where they can use 'pointers' to bring up their own entertainment.

I didn't immediately take to the characters in Chapter 1, and initially thought the book was going to be about crazy music business people and their wacky relationships, so I was relieved when it took a different tack and moved on to other people, other times, and other settings - and was sufficiently entertained to give it 3.5*.

Jul 29, 2018, 9:45am Top

Hi Donna!

Lots of good reading and reviews here, I hope the summer weather continues warm for you but not sweltering.

I'm back from my vacation and getting ready to celebrate daughter's 25th birthday (August 3) and host my RL book club (August 5).

Jul 30, 2018, 10:03am Top

Just popping by to say I hope real life isn't too overwhelming and you're getting plenty of literary respite. I must admit my reading slowed right down in the recent heat, although now I'm back and it's a bit more typically Scottish out I'll hopefully be picking up the books again!

Aug 3, 2018, 3:42pm Top

I am way behind on the threads and having reviewed your latest one I see that you are reading lots of interesting books while dealing with taxing RL issues. I hope that everything is going well and it is the reads or some fun RL events that are keeping you busy and limiting your posting time.

Aug 5, 2018, 11:15am Top

Hi Donna, Just catching up on treads after being absent for a few weeks. I hope everything is alright with you and yours.

Aug 25, 2018, 5:12am Top

Hello Donna - I just wanted to touch base and say that I miss you on LT, and hope that things are going OK for you and your family. Sending you strength, good vibes, and (hopefully) good books...

Aug 25, 2018, 9:03am Top

Hope all is well! Missing your thoughtful reviews.

Aug 25, 2018, 1:01pm Top

>134 floremolla: I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad because of the way Jenniger Egan handled language. Each chapter had a distinct voice, it's own vernacular if you will. And that section with the PowerPoint slides? I cried!

I hope the Summer has been treating you well and that everything is alright.

Aug 28, 2018, 10:34am Top

Donna, adding my missing-you. Thinking of you often.

Sep 1, 2018, 5:37am Top

Hi all, thanks for popping by in my absence, lovely to hear from you. :)

I'm about to relaunch myself into LT during a hiatus in a busy summer. The potted version is that I've been repainting, repairing and primping a flat for sale, the proceeds of which are to give our son and daughter a deposit to buy a place of their own. Ive been dealing with the legal side and estate agents and viewing flats with both of our children and helping them with mortgage applications. Our flat sold within eight days, but the buying period has been as long and tortuous as I anticipated. However now son and daughter are both waiting on entry to their new abodes. No doubt they will want my help with moving and setting up but I've got a few weeks grace before then!

Hubby's health hasn't been great lately which added another layer of stress to proceedings. I can't settle down to reading when I'm under pressure so have been listening to music instead but managed to slip in an audiobook - Sapiens - which I'll review tomorrow.

I'll also visit all the threads - a daunting task as there are hunners and hunners (a Scottish expression! ) of new posts to catch up on, but I'm looking forward to it! :)

Sep 1, 2018, 5:38am Top

Sep 1, 2018, 6:27am Top

>143 floremolla: Ah, lovely to see you back, Donna! I'm sorry to hear about hubby's health, and hope that things calm down on that front soon. At least with flat-buying/selling you know there'll be an end to it eventually, although when you're in the middle of it it doesn't feel like it'll ever end! My husband is making noises about looking for somewhere else, but I find it all so stressful that I don't want to move unless (a) we're moving a distance away, and (b) it's to our dream location. And as we haven't yet agreed on where that is, hopefully we'll be here for a while yet!

Looking forward to your review of Sapiens, it's another one that's been on my radar.

Sep 1, 2018, 9:47am Top

Hi Donna! Very nice to hear about kidlet abodes, sorry about your husband's health problems. You have been very busy!

I read Sapiens over the course of 3 months last year and loved it. I'll be interested in your review.

Sep 1, 2018, 5:14pm Top

Welcome back, Donna. That sounds like a frightfully busy time for you. I hope things calm down enough for you to enjoy reading again!

Sep 3, 2018, 10:37am Top

Thank you for the kind welcome - it made me realise how much I'd missed you all!

I got diverted from my Sapiens review yesterday by a warm, dry day and an overgrown lawn needing attention but finally bashed it out between chores today...so it might be a bit disjointed...

Sep 3, 2018, 10:44am Top

#48 Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (466 pages) Non-fiction

Harari's 'brief' history of humankind starts, as one would expect, at the beginning - in fact, before humans existed - with a potted 'Timeline of History' charting a period from the emergence of matter and energy 13.5 billion years ago to an enigmatic 'The Future' where he poses questions about the role of 'Intelligent design' as a basic principle of life, and the possibility of humans eventually being replaced by superhumans.

The book is structured in four parts, each one marking a significant step forward in human evolution: The Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, The Unification of Humankind and The Scientific Revolution.

The first of these takes the reader quickly from the period 'pre-history' to the point at which humans emerge:

" Just 6 million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother".

A somewhat simplified explanation, yes - the physics of creation, the biology of flora and fauna and humans' relationship with the ape family are covered briefly and and then the focus comes quite quickly to the subject of Homo sapiens itself.

From there we learn that Homo sapiens was only one of several animals belonging to the genus Homo, and around the world other variants had evolved to adapt to climate and terrain, such as Homo neandarthalensis and Homo erectus. Sapiens appears to have survived by being at the forefront of evolution - particularly on the cognitive front, which gave them the upper hand in survival. Harari's explanation of the development of cognitive thinking is easy to understand though again, it struck me as somewhat simplified.

The book moves on then to Part 2, the agricultural revolution, the domestication of animals and plants for food, and what Harari terms 'History's biggest fraud' i.e. the appropriation of land and the exclusion of indigenous people. This chapter also introduces other concepts to which which humans have subscribed - the adoption of hierarchies, religion, gender roles, etc. - for better or worse, but usually putting more power into the hands of the already powerful to dominate the weak.

Part 3, The 'Unification of humankind' explores further the beginnings of 'society' and emergence of cultures, using the rise of the Roman Empire as an illustrative example, and the development of 'trust' which enables humans to buy into systems and processes, such as currencies and finance, in which we all must participate in order to live in civilised society - but which, again, put power into the hands of relatively few people who manipulate the many.

In this Part, Harari also looks more closely at organised religion and the emergence of 'humanism', which he claims is based upon believing the human to be god-like. (Not sure I agree with this since I thought the point of humanism was to be without a deity of any kind?)

Finally Part 4 explores the role of scientific discovery, politics and the capitalist system in an effort to quantify where humanity is just now and project where it might be headed.

This was ideal audiobook material for me - easy to dip in and out of, listening to a chapter or two at a time, each with lots to think about. The book is not set out chronologically as such - Harari has to keep going back into history to explain phenomena or pull out useful illustrative examples. This didn't interfere with the flow or enjoyment of the book.

To be clear, this book isn't intended to be an academic treatise on the subject of Homo sapiens, but rather a bringing together of relevant information - most of which you probably already know but with additional context and insight - in an informative yet conversational way and he intersperses the narrative with examples of human tendencies and achievements that will be familiar or understandable to even the least scientically minded reader.

I'm giving Sapiens five stars because I usually have an aversion to non-fiction but found this book very interesting and thought-provoking, so much so, I intend to dip into my paper copy to refresh my memory on some its parts - mainly because my memory fares better with the written rather than the spoken word. And I have Homo Deus on standby for a future audio-read!

Sep 3, 2018, 10:52am Top

Excellent review, Donna! Brava.

Sep 3, 2018, 11:29am Top

Echoing -- excellent review! Harari has been on my radar and it isn't lost on me that today I saw both your review and a morning TV appearance about his newest book, which seems cautionary - https://www.cbsnews.com/news/author-yuval-noah-harari-rise-of-artificial-intelligence-makes-mental-resilience-so-important/

Many wishes for your husband's better health and continuing progress on the house front(s)! Thinking of you, in the center of it all.

Sep 29, 2018, 4:08am Top

Hi Donna, Good to see you again. You have been busy! I hope your husband is feeling better, or as good as is possible. I know how much energy that is asking from you.

Sep 29, 2018, 10:09am Top

Thinking of you and hoping all is well.

Sep 30, 2018, 7:11pm Top

>152 connie53: >153 rabbitprincess: Thank you both!

My husband has been in hospital for a few weeks now with urinary sepsis and then a minor op from which recovery has been slow. Unfortunately he's lost some of the mobility he had. I'm trying to get him into the spinal injuries unit for rehab rather than accept that he now needs two people to move him. Medics and social work are supportive but it depends if there's a bed available. Fingers crossed.

Managed to fit in one long audiobook (Non-ROOT) and one paperback ROOT during the month. Hope things will settle soon and I'll get back on track.

Edited: Oct 1, 2018, 10:03am Top

#49 The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker (670 pages)

Young writer Marcus Goldman finds himself unable to produce a follow-up to his highly successful first book and, under pressure from his publisher and agent, he goes back to basics: remembering the valuable advice his old professor and mentor, Harry Quebert had given him in college, he contacts him for advice. Harry, himself dubbed 'the greatest writer of his generation', hasn't seen much of Marcus since he became famous but has always had a soft spot for him and invites him to stay at his coastal home, in Somerset, New Hampshire.

While Marcus is there, human remains are found in the grounds of Harry's house - they belong to Nola Kellargen, a 15 year old girl who went missing almost 30 years before. Along with the remains is a manuscript of the book which made Harry famous back in the 70s - 'The Origin of Evil' - and with it a note signed "goodbye, darling Nola". When Harry is arrested on suspicion of murder, a charge he vigorously denies, Marcus vows to uncover the truth.

Thus begins a tale which flips back and forth between decades, introducing a fairly large cast of characters, each with their own story, and there is much discussion and narrative about writers and writing. Marcus deduces that Harry's book - 'one of the greatest love stories ever written' - was based on his relationship with Nola, a relationship Harry has never mentioned in all their years as friends.

Under deadline pressure from his publisher Marcus agrees to write a book about what he uncovers. As he sets about questioning the inhabitants of Somerset, and witnesses from further afield, he begins to unravel secrets, lies and menace beneath the wholesome veneer of Somerset, setting himself on a path to great success...or perhaps to humiliating failure.

I can't recall what attracted me to this audiobook. I hadn't heard of it before but it seemed like a good long mystery to divert my mind from current RL stresses. It took a while to get into. When a book features 'great writers' talking about their 'masterpieces' which you haven't read (because they don't exist) there is a certain frustration because you don't know what they're talking about. And when characters seem to have come straight from central casting - such as Marcus's mother, a caricature of an interfering Jewish Momma - it grates somewhat. And when Marcus quotes parts of Harry's book in his own book, it's hard not to raise an eyebrow at its mediocrity. And yet....

Dicker actually does a good job with the '31 pieces of advice' Harry gives to Marcus over the years and that preface every chapter, with the final piece of advice fitting nicely with the novel's conclusion - in effect that the writer should aim to leave the reader with some kind of 'feeling' that persists beyond the final page. (It kind of worked for me - I found myself thinking: Dicker has actually managed to write a novel that demonstrates how to write a novel.)

The strength of the novel lies in the creation of some sympathetic characters and the telling of a labyrinthine story which, after a long slow lead in - and with some suspension of disbelief - twists and turns right to the very end. And then it's all neatly tied up, with not a question left unanswered. So, four star rating for slowly reeling me in, then keeping my attention and, although I'd guessed the perp, a denouement that was still producing surprises right to the last paragraph. (I see it's imminently to be a 10 part tv series - don't know that I'd want to sit through 10 episodes when I already know the ending, but I'd be interested to see how they handle the writerly bits). Nicely read by Robert Slade in a variety of American accents.

Edited: Sep 30, 2018, 7:13pm Top

A Dry White Season by Andre Brink 1001 BYMRBYD

Review pending

Oct 1, 2018, 4:24am Top

>154 floremolla: That's a lot you have going on there, Donna. Fingers crossed for you and your husband

Oct 1, 2018, 4:57am Top

>154 floremolla: Sending you continued good thoughts and wishes that things settle down to an outcome that you can both accept and live with. Keeping everything crossed for you.

Oct 1, 2018, 10:01am Top

>157 connie53: >158 Jackie_K: thank you so much!

Oct 3, 2018, 12:33pm Top

My best wishes that you'll get the care your husband needs.

Oct 3, 2018, 5:38pm Top

>160 MissWatson: thank you Birgit. He was moved to the specialist spinal injuries unit last night and has been settling in today. He's getting the best chance at recovering his mobility (limited though it was), which is a great relief.

I finished another audiobook today, what with all the driving I'm doing - the first part of The Forsyte Saga: The Man of Property. I don't have time to do reviews just now but I enjoyed it very much, except for a rather long drawn out conclusion. I think I'll wait and review the three parts that make up the Saga altogether when I've completed them.

Oct 7, 2018, 2:41pm Top

>154 floremolla: Sorry to hear about your husband’s medical problems, Donna.

>161 floremolla: I’m glad to hear he got in the spinal injuries unit and hope that the treatment he gets there will give back the mobility he had. Fingers crossed for him/you.

You’re getting some good reading in, congrats.

Oct 8, 2018, 1:15am Top

All the best for your husband's recovery, Donna. It sounds like he is in the best place for him no matter how it turns out. Take care of yourself. It sounds like you have a lot on your plate.

Oct 8, 2018, 1:21pm Top

Very glad your husband is where he can work toward improvement. All the best to all of you.

Oct 8, 2018, 2:14pm Top

I'm so pleased he got a place at the spinal unit. I hope that it is a positive time and that you both see a return to his previous mobility levels. Take care - Meg is right, you have a lot on your plate.

Nov 17, 2018, 9:05am Top

Hi Donna!

I hope things are going well for your husband at the spinal unit.

Take care.

Nov 22, 2018, 8:26am Top

I hope all is going well, Donna

Dec 11, 2018, 2:04pm Top

Hi Donna. Just popping by to say I hope all is going well (as well as can be expected) and to let you know you're not forgotten :)

Edited: Dec 18, 2018, 6:52pm Top

Many thanks for the kind wishes. My husband got home from hospital in late October but died on 3 December. I've been trying to find solace in knowing his suffering is over but it's no easier to bear. He was a remarkable man and I was lucky to have him in my life for 34 years.

Dec 18, 2018, 7:07pm Top

>169 floremolla: Oh Donna, I'm so sorry.

Dec 18, 2018, 7:11pm Top

>169 floremolla: I'm so sorry to hear this. Truly, my deepest sympathies.

Dec 19, 2018, 5:17am Top

I am so sorry to hear this, Donna. My deepest sympathies.

Dec 19, 2018, 5:34pm Top

Donna, I'm so sorry. Thinking of you and your children with deepest sympathy.

Dec 20, 2018, 9:23am Top

Oh Donna, I'm so sorry to hear this news. I'm thinking of you and your family as you grieve.

Dec 20, 2018, 5:52pm Top

>169 floremolla: So sorry to read this, Donna, my condolences.

Dec 24, 2018, 3:46am Top

Hi Donna. Such sad news! My thoughts are with you and your family.

Dec 26, 2018, 11:10am Top

Donna, I am so sorry to hear this sad news. My condolences to you and your family.

Jan 1, 4:06pm Top

Thank you all for your kind thoughts. It's been a hard year that ended in the worst possible way. 2019 will be a challenge but I'm surprised over the past few days I've been able to get back into reading. So I'm joining the 2019 ROOTs Group and will see what happens.

Jan 2, 3:40am Top

It must have been very hard for you, Donna. I hope you will continue to be able to read and enjoy books again. Hugs for you.


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