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RidgewayGirl Reads in 2019 -- Part Three

This is a continuation of the topic RidgewayGirl Reads in 2019 -- Part Two.

Club Read 2019

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Jul 6, 5:53pm Top

Summer is well underway as is the Tournament of Books Summer Reading Challenge. And when that wraps up, there's the Decatur Book Festival, which I've been looking forward to since driving away from Atlanta last Labor Day.

This quarter's picture is from the Princeton University Art Museum, where I recently saw a special exhibit entitled Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States. Retablos are small paintings, traditionally painted on tin, to commemorate an event in a person's life that was miraculous. The pictures collected for this exhibit centered on the migrant experience, with thanks being given for things like the safe return of a family member from the US, or a successful crossing of the border. It's a powerful collection that spans more than fifty years.

Edited: Aug 19, 7:09pm Top

Currently Reading

Recently Read

Recently Acquired

Edited: Aug 18, 12:48pm Top

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Friday Black)
Lou Berney (November Road)
Belle Boggs (The Gulf)
Alice Bolin (Dead Girls)
William Boyle (The Lonely Witness)
Jamel Brinkley (A Lucky Man)
Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Fleishman is in Trouble)
Halle Butler (The New Me)
Jonathan Carr (Make Me a City)
Susan Choi (Trust Exercise)
Patrick Coleman (The Churchgoer)
Molly Dektar (The Ash Family)
Marcy Dermansky (Very Nice)
Keith Gessen (A Terrible Country)
Myla Goldberg (Wickett's Remedy)
Nicola Griffith (So Lucky)
Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date)
Kristen Hannah (The Great Alone)
Rashad Harrison (Our Man in the Dark)
Uzodinma Iweala (Speak No Evil)
Patrick Radden Keefe (Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland)
Ben Lerner (The Topeka School)
Laura Lippman (The Lady in the Lake)
Lisa Lovenheim (Desert Fabuloso)
Lisa Lutz (The Swallows)
Janet Malcolm (The Journalist and the Murderer)
Elizabeth McCracken (Bowlaway)
Laura McHugh (The Wolf Wants In)
Joyce Carol Oates (My Life as a Rat)
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi (Call Me Zebra)
John Jay Osborn (Listen to the Marriage)
Julia Phillips (Disappearing Earth)
Richard Powers (The Overstory)
Taylor Jenkins Reid (Daisy Jones & The Six)
Andrew Ridker (The Altruists)
Polly Rosenwaike (Look How Happy I'm Making You)
George Singleton (Staff Picks)
Lindsay Stern (The Study of Animal Languages)
Sarah St. Vincent (Ways to Hide in Winter)
Paul Tremblay (The Cabin at the End of the World)
Sarah Weinman (The Real Lolita)
Susan Rebecca White (We Are All Good People Here)
Colson Whitehead (The Underground Railroad)
Liza Wieland (Paris, 7 a.m.)
Lauren Wilkinson (American Spy)
Ben H. Winters (Golden State)
Snowden Wright (American Pop)

Jul 6, 6:05pm Top

And my third quarter thread is now open for business!

Jul 6, 6:05pm Top

Marie is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, knowledgeable and dedicated. But it's 1986 and Marie is a young black woman, so the FBI doesn't know what to do with her, leaving her to fill out paperwork and cultivate assets she'll never be allowed to use. She's seen a family friend sidelined and she's intent on avoiding his fate. So when the CIA comes knocking with an assignment that sounds too good to be true, she's cautious, but very interested. And so Marie becomes involved in the workings of the government of Burkina Faso and with American interests there that may or may not be above board.

This is a well-plotted spy thriller that respects the parameters of the genre while blowing them away with a clear-eyed look at how our government's agencies worked to destabilize foreign governments and how racism and misogyny kept them largely composed of clean-cut white men. Which is not to say that American Spy isn't full of action-packed scenes or fascinating geopolitics. Lauren Wilkinson has managed to write a novel that is a fast-paced thriller and a nuanced exploration of what it means to be a black woman working in a field dominated by white men.

Jul 6, 8:48pm Top

Following along. Happy reading!

Jul 7, 2:29am Top

American Spy sounds fantastic!

Jul 7, 7:35am Top

Hi, Petroglyph! Welcome to my thread.

w_s, it is a lot of fun.

Jul 7, 9:35am Top

>1 RidgewayGirl: That picture looks like it was part of an interesting collection.

>12 RidgewayGirl: This also looks interesting.

As usual, I’m along for the ride.

Jul 7, 10:23am Top

Happy new thread, Kay. Love the lists! I'm just too lazy to make them. Are you enjoying Good Omens - I laughed aloud in parts. And I thought the TV adaptation was very good as well. Excellent acting.

Jul 7, 11:05am Top

I love looking through your lists! I know you read lots of new books, but your publication year break down really makes that obvious. I had to do a double take!

Edited: Jul 7, 12:09pm Top

Colleen, it was fascinating. I hadn't known about this part of Mexican culture and the pieces, with the way they commemorated ordinary lives had a surprising emotional force to it. People have been moving back and forth across the US-Mexico border for decades and decades.

Beth, Good Omens is a lot of fun. I'm holding off on watching the mini-series until I've finished the book. I thought about how all CDs in Crowley's car eventually end up being Queen's Greatest Hits when I turned on the radio yesterday to hear Europe's The Final Countdown. It's not Queen, but it's certainly in the same wheelhouse.

Jennifer, having given up on corralling my reading into anything but what I want, this is what has happened. I'm sure I end up reading a fair number of books that will be forgotten in a few years, but I'm enjoying it.

Jul 8, 3:48pm Top

>19 RidgewayGirl: I'm delighted to see the popularity of the TV series is bringing so many people to read Good Omens for the first time. I read the book shortly after it came out, and am wondering if it's time for a re-read, but I loved the show so much that I'm genuinely happy for that to be the version in my head for now. (BLBera is right, the acting is fantastic. Just absolute perfect casting.) Reading the book first does mean you'll be in on at least one joke, though, as the show never does explain why all Crowley's CDs play nothing but Queen.

Edited: Jul 8, 5:36pm Top

Sarah and David fall in love. They break up for reasons that remain unclear, but fraught. It's an ordinary story, but supercharged because they are both in a competitive performing arts high school, both as drama students, in a small group that feeds on heightened emotion. And then there's the head drama teacher, who is very involved in the lives of his students.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi begins with this story, one that reminded me of Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal, but twists at the mid-point into a very different book that takes the events of the first half and examines them from a different viewpoint, casting doubt on the reliability of what is communicated in the first half, and an unavoidable skepticism about the events of the second half, taking place when the characters are much older.

I do love it when an author invites the reader to recognize that what they are reading is fiction and to play around with what is and isn't real within both the fictional world they've created and the world of the author writing a book. Choi manages to do this and to maintain interest in what happens to her characters. I was fascinated with what the author was doing and I'm going to be reading whatever she writes next.

Jul 8, 9:18pm Top

>19 RidgewayGirl:
Good omens (the book) was one of my favourites as a teen, and I think it still holds up today. That bit about Best of Queen has been firmly lodged in my head since I first read it and it just pops up at random intervals. I don't know why: it isn't a particularly important bit in the book, but to me it's one of the defining jokes.

Jul 9, 12:32am Top

>1 RidgewayGirl: That must have been an excellent exhibit. I get the impression that it would have been very poignant.

Looking forward to another quarter sharing your reading.

Jul 9, 11:03am Top

>22 Petroglyph: It sticks in your head because it's funny and because who hasn't noticed that Queen songs appear much more often than one would expect. I'm enjoying Good Omens quite a bit. It's clear the authors were having fun when they wrote it.

>23 VivienneR: It was a fantastic exhibit and it went well with the long article in Harper's by William T. Vollmann that I was reading about what life is like for migrants and asylum seekers on the border.

Jul 9, 12:06pm Top

Rachel is taking care of her writing prof's poodle in exchange for a good grade. She also slept with him, but because she wanted to, not for an A. She takes the dog home for the summer, where her mother is still adjusting to life without her husband, who has left her to live in Tribeca with an airline pilot. Zahid, the writing professor, had a successful debut novel but he's spent the advance for his second novel long ago and now needs to find a new teaching position, so he sub-lets his apartment to the sister of his best friend, a woman who works in the male-dominated world of finance.

Very Nice is a short novel with many characters, all of whom get to be the centers of their own chapters. And the novel has a broad reach, from dissatisfaction in an affluent commuter town, to the misogynistic reaches of New York finance, to the inner workings of publishing and academia. So it shouldn't work. The characters should be one-dimensional. And yet, Marcy Dermansky manages to pull it all off. There are a ton of characters, all of them behaving in the most outrageous of ways, yet they all feel very human. Zahid may be sleeping with the mother of the student he once slept with, and to be angling very hard to become her kept man, but somehow I couldn't not be pleased when his writing was going well. Dermansky has a talent for connecting her characters to the reader very quickly, regardless of what kind of self-destructive behavior they are engaged in or how selfish they are and here that talent is able to take a large collection of characters, all behaving badly, in a wide variety of situations, and make a cohesive novel out of it. I do prefer it the intense experience she creates when keeping her writing tightly focused on a single character (The Red Car is a fantastic book) but with Very Nice, Dermansky set her difficulty rating much higher and landed every jump.

Jul 10, 7:48am Top

>25 RidgewayGirl: This one definitely goes on the WL. Great comments, Katy.

Jul 10, 11:38am Top

Thanks, Beth. It was very entertaining.

Jul 10, 1:05pm Top

Finally visiting your new thread. A bit mesmerized by the artwork in your initial post. Of course I enjoy tracking your reviews, you’re often the first one to point a new interesting book out to me. And...you do go through a lot books.

Jul 10, 4:29pm Top

>25 RidgewayGirl: And it is available through my library. I reserved it.

Jul 11, 12:11pm Top

>28 dchaikin: Daniel, I'll admit to feeling instantly defensive about the number of books I've been reading lately, like somehow it's a bad thing. I'm going to have to think about why that is.

>29 BLBera: Beth, I'm eager to hear what you make of it. It's a good summer read.

Jul 11, 12:23pm Top

>30 RidgewayGirl: That’s not the way it’s supposed to work...

Edited: Jul 11, 5:10pm Top

When her husband invites home for dinner a man she knew in high school, 37 year old Maddie is jolted out of her comfortable world of being a Jewish housewife and mother to a teenage son. It's 1966, Baltimore is changing and Maddie wants to be out in the world, living. She moves out, gets an apartment and a secret lover and decides that she wants to become a journalist. But she's too old and the wrong gender to get a job at a newspaper the traditional way, so when the disappearance of a little girl gives her an opportunity, she grabs it. But when her dream job turns into her being a glorified secretary, she finds another missing persons case to dig into, a woman whose body is found dumped in a public fountain. But Maddie is an outsider just learning her job there are people who have a vested interest in keeping her quiet.

Maddie is a fantastic character. She's by turns yearning and manipulative, honest and willing to do what it takes to get what she wants, independent and insecure. I'm not sure I'd like her if I met her, but she is a fascinating person to follow around.

Laura Lippman is that rare kind of bestseller writer, the kind that is constantly improving their work. She's always been good at putting together a suspenseful plot and paired that with solid writing, but she's been expanding her reach. Yes, The Lady in the Lake is set in Baltimore, as most of Lippman's books are, but this one deals with both Civil Rights issues and political corruption. There's a lot more depth here than usual and Lippman is up for it, writing a crime novel that works well in its genre, while also providing a novel rich in historical detail and nuanced characters.

Jul 11, 5:55pm Top

>32 RidgewayGirl:
Sounds interesting. Good review!

Jul 11, 9:47pm Top

>32 RidgewayGirl: I took a bullet on this one.

Jul 11, 9:48pm Top

>32 RidgewayGirl: Hmmmm. Sounds like a definite maybe for me. I’m adding to my wishlist. :-)

Jul 11, 10:23pm Top

>32 RidgewayGirl: I never had any thoughts about Laura Lippman or her books, but I saw her speak at the Carnegie Medal Awards in DC last month and she was great—very smart, funny, pleasingly library-geeky. Funny how that can spark interest even though it shouldn't really have anything to do with the books she writes. But, there you go. And now I'm a little motivated to try something of hers—this new one sounds good.

Jul 12, 5:36pm Top

Are the lists in messages 7 & 8 “best of” lists?

Edited: Jul 12, 7:05pm Top

>37 avaland: Just books I've read this year arranged by year of publication. It certainly highlights how focused I am on newer books.

Jul 12, 7:23pm Top

In a remote Mennonite community in South America, women, girls and even toddlers are waking up with unexplained injuries and coming down with inexplicable STDs. The leader of the community explains it to them that they were violated by demons as the consequences of their own sin, but it is eventually discovered that some of the men are drugging the women and then raping them while they are unconscious. Despite all efforts, the attacks continue until outside authorities are brought in. They arrest the rapists and take them to the city, but the remaining men decide that the best course of action is to go bail the men out and bring them back to the community. During the men's absence, the women come together to discuss what they can do. Women Talking by Miriam Toews is an account of those meetings.

The most terrifying aspect of this novel is that it is based on true events.

Toews presents a group ill-prepared for life outside of the Mennonite community. Unlike men, who receive a very basic education, the women are illiterate and don't even know what lies beyond their own lands. They know that they will be expected to forgive the attackers and struggle with whether this is even possible. This is a thoughtful book, carefully representing a faith community that is little known to outsiders. It's also a very quiet, contained novel, despite the lurid subject matter. In the end, the question the women must collectively decide is whether to stay or to leave, and as they grapple with the possible consequences of both actions, a slow consensus builds.

Jul 13, 1:07am Top

That sounds chilling.

Jul 13, 9:55am Top

>39 RidgewayGirl: I've loved other books by Toews. This does sound interesting.

>32 RidgewayGirl: This does sound good. Your description reminds me of Sara Paretsky, whom I love. I'll have to give this one a try.

>30 RidgewayGirl: Your comment about being defensive about the number of books you've been reading strikes a chord; I never tell people how many books I read in a year. Isn't that interesting.

Jul 13, 11:57am Top

>40 wandering_star: It was gently and thoughtfully told, but it was impossible to forget the great harm done. It also highlighted what happens to women in patriarchal religious groups.

>41 BLBera: Beth, I wrote up a few comments and then realized that I grew up with the constant refrain of "you read too much," at least all through elementary and middle school. It's just the stupid stuff implanted in my brain and I'm happy with the amount of time I spend reading, and wish I could scrape a little more time out of each day for it honestly.

Jul 13, 4:48pm Top

So Jack Reacher is doing his thing, hitchhiking around, this time heading south for the winter, when he's dropped off in the town his father grew up in. He's a little curious, so he does a little research, which makes him a little more curious. Along the way to satisfying his curiosity, Reacher will play match-maker, learn some things about his father, and interrupt some very bad men, one of whom shares his name.

If you've read any of Lee Child's novels, you'll know exactly what you're getting into. In Past Tense everything is exactly where it's supposed to be. I was disappointed to have correctly figured out what the bad guys were up to immediately, but the contents of a mysterious suitcase were a surprise. I don't know whether it's this installment of Reacher's adventures, or me just being very slow to pick up on this, but many of the characters just happened to share Reacher's unique way of talking and of interpreting the world around him. I've never met anyone like that, and here pretty much everyone in the town shared his unusual way of explaining things. Still, it was a highly enjoyable bit of escapist reading.

Jul 14, 10:38am Top

>38 RidgewayGirl: I know what you mean. My Publishers Weekly digital subscription expired in May, I think, but they keep sending it to me, so I shop away in their reviews section. I have books ordered into the fall. Sometimes, I think that the culture is changing; moving so fast these days that fiction written 10, 20 years old might seem quaint. I admit that the dating of a JCO collection of "allusive comedies" (stories written in the late 60s, early 70s) I read recently, certainly added an extra bit humor to the reading. I got into the habit as a bookseller, but maybe, at this moment in history, it's because of something else....

Jul 16, 7:26pm Top

I picked up John Jay Osborn's Listen to the Marriage off of my local library's New Books shelf based on the cover art and the concept -- that this is a novel set in a marriage counselor's office and centers on a single, troubled marriage. And, as happens most of the time when I chose a book this way, the experience of reading this book was decidedly mixed.

Gretchen and Steve are separated, contemplating divorce. Steve's a high powered executive and Gretchen is a university professor. They have two kids. Steve had an affair and Gretchen feels he can't be trusted. Over an extended length of time they meet weekly with Sandy, a somewhat unconventional therapist. In the right hands, this could have been a fascinating character study and a look at what it means to move toward divorce, but the author sticks to the surfaces of his characters. Steve reforms immediately, becoming a dedicated father and thoughtful partner all at once. The entire tension of the novel rests on whether or not Gretchen can forgive Steve enough to move back in with him. They're rich and privileged, in ways that reduce the potential tension of the story -- when Gretchen worries about money, Steve hands her a check for two hundred thousand dollars, childcare is easy with Steve's parents always willing and available.

Still, it's interesting to eavesdrop on marriage therapy, even if I'm not convinced that the therapist's methods were based on any actual therapeutical practices. I did move from being very interested into wishing the sessions were less repetitive, less rehashing of familiar ground. And the writing was straight-forward, with an old-fashioned feel to it that made the novel feel like it could have been set anytime in the past fifty years.

Jul 17, 5:16pm Top

Friday Black is the debut short story collection by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. It received a lot of attention and appeared on several "best books of 2018" lists. So as someone who likes short stories and is a sucker for a good book list, I picked up a copy. It really is as good as the hype makes it out to be. The first story, The Finkelstein 5, hits with all the force of a chain saw swung through the air and then immediately follows with an entirely different, but also powerful story called Things My Mother Said.

Many of the stories are set in versions of a dystopian future America and concern events like a Black Friday sale gone violent, a man who works for a company that provides people to engage in live action role-play involving seeing a strange black guy in your neighborhood and a bleak, apocalyptic tale of people having to return to a specific time and place over and over again.

I was impressed with this collection and I look forward to reading more by Adjei-Brenyah.

Jul 18, 7:41am Top

Well, I've just added 3 books to my wishlist, thank you! I wasn't as sold on the Lippman as you - although the writing was good, I think I felt a bit misled by the genre description - I was expecting more of a plot and instead there was more character and a bit of a genre-defying twist. Not many crime novels where the victim isn't dead!

Jul 18, 8:52am Top

>47 charl08: With me, the thing with Laura Lippman is that I trust her. With crime fiction, I don't know how many times the ending didn't hold together, or the tension in the novel depends on the main character behaving in an uncharacteristic or stupidly reckless way. But I know when I read a Lippman novel that the characters will be well-developed and the resolution will make sense. Which means I just enjoy the experience and, unsurprisingly, I end up liking her novels.

I'm reading Jo Baker's The Body Lies, and it is fantastic so far.

Jul 18, 12:19pm Top

>48 RidgewayGirl: Oh, I'm jealous. Hoping to get hold of this one soon.

Jul 18, 12:43pm Top

>49 charl08: It's so good. I'm doing my best not to rush through it.

Jul 18, 12:50pm Top

When Violet Rue Kerrigan is twelve, she comes downstairs in the middle of the night to hear a confusing conversation between two of her older brothers. It will be a few days before she puts together the pieces of a conversation about fixing a car and hiding a baseball bat with the murder of a black high school student. The Kerrigans are a large Irish family with an unpredictable father, whose moods are carefully monitored by the rest of the family, especially by Violet's mother and sisters. Her brothers are rapidly becoming as domineering and prone to violence, although they still defer to their father. As their family, along with the working class Irish Catholic community as a whole, draw together to protect the boys, Violet is feeling increasingly unsafe around her brothers, a fear she shares with a teacher in a vulnerable moment. That moment will shatter Violet's life.

Joyce Carol Oates writes best when she's describing the experience of being a girl growing up in dysfunctional patriarchal households, of being unsafe and knowing that the very men that you love can easily do you great harm, and often do. With My Life as a Rat, JCO is writing to her strengths and the result is a powerful and emotionally resonant novel about belonging, identity and resilience. I don't think I've ever read anything that so perfectly explains why an abused child will desperately try to return to the very environment that endangers her. JCO's singular writing style is perfectly suited to the voice of Violet Rue and while this isn't a novel that pulls any punches with what happens to children removed from whatever security they may have known and the battles Violet wages just to survive, she also tempers this all with grace notes and moments where Violet discovers that she's stronger than she thought she was.

This may well be my favorite work by this author.

Jul 18, 9:45pm Top

Glad to see the good review of American Spy, I'm looking forward to that one.

I've been meaning to read something by Miriam Toews, and that one does sound really interesting. Likewise Joyce Carol Oates. Thanks for the reviews! Too many books to get to.

Jul 18, 9:57pm Top

>46 RidgewayGirl: I was really knocked out by Friday Black. Not every single story, but the ones that were home runs were deeply and strikingly so, and I wouldn't say even the lesser ones were weak. Given that this is his debut, I'm excited to see what he does next.

Jul 19, 1:33pm Top

>52 mabith: There are always far too many books that I want to read. It may well be a problem that every single member of Club Read shares.

>53 lisapeet: Lisa, by the time I was halfway through the second story I was convinced that Friday Black was an extraordinary collection. I'm not a huge fan of dystopian lit, but he really managed to create vivid worlds very quickly and then do something interesting. There were a few I was less enthusiastic about, but none I thought were lackluster.

Jul 19, 5:38pm Top

Andrew and Eric take their eight-year-old daughter and go on vacation in an isolated cabin on a scenic lake in New Hampshire they're anticipating nothing more than time to unwind, to live without wifi or their phones, to let Wen goof around outside without constant supervision. But they've barely settled in when a man shows up on foot and starts a conversation with Wen, who is in the front yard catching grasshoppers. By the time she runs to tell her parents about the man outside, it's too late.

I picked this up after seeing mentions of how very scary this book is. Horror is hit or miss with me, and usually it misses. It's either so over the top I stop being scared and start to roll my eyes, or it's just not that scary. The Cabin at the End of the World leans towards both simultaneously and so sort of worked for me. Not in the sense that I was scared, but I was interested in what was going to happen next that I kept turning the pages. This is a home invasion story with a twist; the four intruders come armed with the most terrifying weapons imaginable (kudos to Paul Tremblay for thinking up those nightmare-worthy objects) and they are utterly convinced that the world will end unless the family does a horrific thing. These aren't monsters taking pleasure in causing pain, these are true believers. Tremblay does a good job of walking the fine line between presenting the intruders as delusional and of presenting them as being correct. He leaves enough room for the reader to interpret the events how they choose and he ends the book at the exactly right moment. If your secret fear is of being the target of a home invasion, this book will probably be terrifying in all the right ways.

Jul 20, 4:57pm Top

>51 RidgewayGirl:

That JCO sounds great, but I have 6 of her books in my TBR pile so I must ignore it.

Jul 20, 6:22pm Top

>56 Nickelini: I do, too, but there it was on the New Books shelf at the library and then it was on the front seat of the car next to me as I was driving home. Who knows how that happened.

Okay, I looked and I only have three unread books by JCO, so taking her newest one home was a rational act.

Jul 20, 6:28pm Top

>56 Nickelini:, >57 RidgewayGirl: I haven’t read a lot of JCO, but I’ve enjoyed the ones I have. I thought that Blonde was terrific, but I haven’t been able to tempt Lois.... 🙂

Jul 20, 7:31pm Top

>57 RidgewayGirl: but there it was on the New Books shelf at the library and then it was on the front seat of the car next to me as I was driving home. Who knows how that happened.

LOL! It must be magic. Book magic.

Edited: Jul 21, 12:48pm Top

Hi, Kay! I can't remember if I told you that I'll be able to attend the Decatur Book Festival, as I'm off from Friday through Sunday of Labor Day weekend.

Nice review of Friday Black; I enjoyed it as well.

Jul 21, 5:39pm Top

>51 RidgewayGirl: I have never been a big JCO fan; I've never managed to finish one of her books. But, if this is a good one, maybe I'll give her another try.

>55 RidgewayGirl: This sounds pretty scary to me, and I don't like to be scared!

Jul 21, 8:16pm Top

>57 RidgewayGirl: AKA "It followed me home!" I tell my husband this all the time.

Jul 22, 4:34am Top

>51 RidgewayGirl: I love a bit of JCO, so noting this one. I agree - she's best at writing about dysfunctional families, and I do love a good angsty family drama.

Jul 22, 11:15am Top

>58 NanaCC: I haven't read Blonde, either. My Dad came by to raid the shelves and left with We Were the Mulvaneys, which I'm pretty sure he will not enjoy, but maybe he'll become a huge JCO fan. That would be weird, though.

>59 Nickelini: Joyce, it happens to me all the time. That the New Books Shelves have to be walked by to get to the Holds shelf has got to be part of some nefarious plan.

>60 kidzdoc: Hi, Darryl! I'm very excited about the festival. I've picked up a few books to read ahead of time. I'm hoping the schedule is released soon. There are so many authors I'd like to hear speak that I really need to see the schedule to decide what is possible. I'm also looking forward to some fantastic and lively meals!

Jul 22, 11:20am Top

>61 BLBera: Beth, JCO is an acquired taste. I'm so glad that Lois (avaland) kept pushing me to try different books by her - if you don't like her gothics, you may like her short stories, or her books about girls growing up in hardscrabble families in upstate New York.

>62 lisapeet: Seriously, Lisa, this is a problem affecting many people today. But it's a good problem.

>63 AlisonY: Yes, I think that's the topic she writes most authentically about.

Jul 22, 1:40pm Top

>58 NanaCC:, >64 RidgewayGirl: Blonde was hard to get in the UK for a while some years back and as a result was quite expensive for even used paperbacks. It seems to be more available now - it must have gone out of print here for a while at some point. I've read great reviews about it so must grab a copy at some point. Seems quite different to the usual JCO fodder?

Jul 22, 5:47pm Top

>62 lisapeet: That's a good one!

Jul 22, 6:14pm Top

Marianne writes poetry, but given how lucrative that is, mainly she teaches in an elementary school. When her landlord cancels her lease, her ex-fiance jumps in with a job offer - to be the administrator of a writing program run out of his aunt's defunct motel outside of Sarasota, Florida. With Eric's hedge fund manager brother handling the finances, and Eric joining her later as the fiction teacher, Marianne grabs the opportunity. The thing they think will make this program successful is that they are aiming it at people who want to write inspirational books.

Quickly, things become complex. There are so many more applications than Marianne had anticipated, it's harder than expected to find teachers for the non-fiction and poetry courses and the motel is falling down around her.

The Gulf by Belle Boggs could easily have stuck with making this novel a funny send-up of low residency writing courses and the kind of writers who find themselves making a living teaching people whose work will likely never be publishable, or the ambitious yet gullible students. It is that, a little, but mostly it's about Marianne finding out that she likes some of the students, from the middle-aged home ec teacher who writes poetry about Terri Schiavo, to the R&B singer looking for a new start after he loses control of his own fame. The Gulf is both funny and insightful, razor-sharp and heartfelt.

Jul 23, 6:45am Top

>66 AlisonY: I haven’t read enough of her stuff to know what her usual fodder would be. When I read it, I had read Marilyn by Gloria Steinem, and my daughter said that I should try Blonde for a totally different perspective. I just looked back, and in my comments I said, Where Steinem handled Monroe's story with kid gloves, Oates' version lets everything hang out, warts and all. Both books were great by the way.

Jul 23, 10:03am Top

>69 NanaCC: great - look forward to getting to it. I think I'd like the warts and all version :)

Jul 24, 6:11am Top

>51 RidgewayGirl: Great review of the JCO, Kay. Just read an old 1974 collection of "allusive comedies" where her focus is on academia. Insecure & anxious professors, mostly male.

>64 RidgewayGirl: We Were the Mulvaneys, another I have not read! But, I'm fairly certain the 40 or so I have read, probably covers some of the same territory, so I haven't felt pressured to read it. My obsession in JCO began just after this book came out in the late 90s, although I had an close encounter with her back around 1980, a sign of what was to come.

>58 NanaCC: Now, Colleen, don't underestimate yourself! You have indeed reminded me that her "masterpiece" is still unread. And the copy is on an accessible shelf...it's just that it's a big book, and likely a sad story in the end, and what with current events and all.... (I have read three JCOs this year, not anywhere near my record of 9, but I will get to it eventually....:-) She is certainly good at the "warts and all," isn't she?

Jul 28, 2:17pm Top

>69 NanaCC: JCO's specialty is focusing on the warts, isn't it? She's not one to gloss over unpleasantness.

>70 AlisonY: Colleen does make it look intriguing, doesn't she? I'm already eying JCO's newest book, Pursuit, because why read the books on my shelf, when there's one just about to be published?

>71 avaland: Given that JCO published at least two books a year, it will be some time before I'm rooting through the more obscure offering in her oeuvre, but your review was interesting.

Jul 28, 4:51pm Top

While pregnant, a young woman is mugged by a stranger as she walks home from work late one winter afternoon. While the physical damage is minimal, she no longer feels safe. When her child is a toddler and it's time for her to return to work, she applies and gets a job teaching at a university in the north of England. Her husband is unwilling to follow her and so they begin a sort of half-relationship where he drives up on weekends and holidays, while she and her son settle in to an isolated cottage. She's quickly in over her head at the college, as the head of the department keeps adding to her workload. Her main class is a graduate course on creative writing, where she is shepherding a small group of aspiring writers, one of whom quickly begins to behave inappropriately.

The Body Lies has such a sense of menace and foreboding about it that I often had to set it aside when reading it late at night. Yet, that sense of menace is so subtly created that I questioned, along with the main character, whether there was any reason for my sense of dread. Jo Baker does a fantastic job of writing a thriller. But there's more to it than the usual "woman in peril" trope. Baker examines misogyny from several directions, from the way women are written about, to how women are conditioned to downplay harassment and to not make a fuss. Her scenes set during the creative writing seminars were brilliant, as was her depiction of a woman growing ever more exhausted as she attempts to cope with all the challenges of an overloaded work schedule and the demands of raising a toddler.

Jul 29, 7:00am Top

>73 RidgewayGirl: you sell it well - sounds great. Is this a newish novel?

Jul 29, 2:37pm Top

>74 AlisonY: It's brand new here, but I don't know if it was published earlier in the UK.

Edited: Jul 29, 4:46pm Top

>32 RidgewayGirl: Just catching up, here. The Lady in the Lake looks very good. I've never read any Lippman. Don't know if you're a baseball fan at all, but a lot of what I know about Baltimore circa 1966 I learned through reading Black and Blue: the Golden Arm, the Robinson Boys and the 1966 World Series that Stunned America by Tom Adelman. In 1966, the Baltimore Orioles were in the World Series for the first time in a long time, playing the LA Dodgers in Sandy Koufax's final season. Anyway, the book goes into the social conditions in Baltimore that year by way of describing the season leading up to the Series. For example, before the season started, the Orioles traded for Frank Robinson, already a huge star in the game. Everybody in Baltimore was very happy to have Robinson on the team. But he was black. So no one would sell him a house in a good neighborhood. The mayor had to make a public speech basically begging someone to come forward to sell Robinson and his wife a house to live in.

>45 RidgewayGirl: "They're rich and privileged, in ways that reduce the potential tension of the story . . . "

It's always an issue for me when fictional characters, in books or movies, have their problems smoothed over for them by their bank accounts.

I'm looking forward to following along with your reviews going forward.

Jul 29, 5:54pm Top

Hi, Jerry, I'm enjoying your reviews quite a bit. Lippman is an interesting author -- she writes bestselling crime novels, but she's also continually improving her craft and diving into issues like race and her historical novels are very well researched. She's fun to read.

And you've hit my main annoyance with many novels. What is the point of writing about people for whom life is lived at the easiest possible setting. I want the full complexity, not something pretty.

Jul 29, 5:54pm Top

Maya Klotsvog is just doing what she needs to to get by, to get ahead, to have a moment to herself, to put a little aside against the hard times. She's living the Soviet Union, in Kiev, and her passport marks her as a Jew. She spent the war in exile in Kazakhstan and she's all too aware of the precariousness of life for those of Jewish descent in the Soviet Union. She also knows that she's going to have to do what is needed to get ahead.

As Maya narrates her own story, it's clear that she's massaging the details, of her first relationship, then her hasty marriage to her boss, a sad man who lost his entire family to the Nazis, then her second marriage, and the next relationship, meant to make things just a little easier. Maya is self-centered and manipulative, using her beauty to avoid working, or to improve her circumstances, but she uses her relentlessness in service to her family occasionally as well and I was left with the impression of having read about one of the few personality types that could improve their circumstances under an intolerable regime. Just because she left a trail of destroyed lives behind her is no reason not to root for Maya to finally get what she wants, at least until she sees something else.

Margarita Khemlin was a Jewish-Ukrainian novelist and short story writer whose work has not been widely available outside of the former Soviet Union. Columbia University Press has begun publishing untranslated works under the Russian Library imprint. Klotsvog is both a fascinating character study and a stark look a what ordinary life looked like in the middle of the last century in the Soviet Union.

Aug 1, 3:15pm Top

Having been generously given a copy of Good Omens and since there's a mini-series and all, I finally read it. Clearly, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman had a fantastic time writing this funny novel about the apocalypse. There are an angel and a demon who have become something approaching friends after a few millennia of being co-workers of a sort, each assigned to the same task of influencing humans. There's a socially awkward witch finder, who meets an actual witch and falls in love. And there's the Antichrist, who having been accidentally given to the wrong family, heads up a small gang who specialize in annoying the vicar and in generally wholesome hijinks.

Good Omens is fun. It isn't deep or important or breaking new ground, but it is a solidly told story with some very funny sentences here and there. It's certainly dated, but in the kind of way that adds to it's charms.

Aug 1, 5:55pm Top

>73 RidgewayGirl: Is this the Jo Baker who wrote the Pride and Prejudice spin off, Longbourne? Sounds like a very different book, if so.

Aug 2, 3:48am Top

>78 RidgewayGirl: noting this one - that sounds really interesting. I'm currently reading a non-fiction book that's a literary travelogue around the Soviet Union, and it's definitely piquing my interest in learning more about everyday life there.

Aug 2, 9:20am Top

>80 japaul22: Yes, it is. I love authors who can entirely change directions from one novel to the next and now I'm eager to read her novel about Samuel Beckett, A Country Road, A Tree.

>81 AlisonY: This project by Columbia University Press - to translate and publish novels written in Russian and previously unavailable to English-language readers, is an interesting one and I've signed up to be notified whenever another book in the series is published.

Aug 2, 11:17am Top

>73 RidgewayGirl: >78 RidgewayGirl: The Baker and the Khemlin both look really interesting, and neither was on my radar before—thanks!

Aug 2, 12:07pm Top

You're welcome, Lisa. Was your "books to read" list getting uncomfortably short?

Aug 2, 12:07pm Top

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first in a fantasy trilogy by Marlon James. But to call this a fantasy novel is misleading, it is that, but it's also a literary novel and a novel that revels in being labyrinthine and in upending many of the fantasy tropes it makes reference to.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is told from the point of view of Tracker, the red wolf of the title, a man who can follow people by their scent, no matter how far away they are or how old the scent. He becomes part of a group hired to find a boy kidnapped three years earlier, brought in by his friend (if Tracker can be said to have friends) a were-leopard. But what appears to be the standard set up of a group of mis-matched outsiders going on a quest together is set on its head almost immediately. What follows, and what precedes this beginning, is confusing, maddening, explicitly violent and outrageously imaginative.

This novel is based in an African past much like how countless fantasy novels are based in a sort of medieval Europe, and there are clear references to classic fantasy novels. Here, Tolkien's Lothlorien is reimagined in a horrifying way, faithful companions are as trustworthy as strangers and the very thing these companions are searching for may not be what it seems. I very much loved the sad, yet murderous giant (who gets angry at being called a giant), the wise buffalo, and an odd group of abandoned children who find refuge together.

James has stated that each book of the trilogy will be told from the point of view of a different character, so the picture created by Tracker is frustratingly incomplete. Despite my lack of interest in this genre and utter boredom with battles and magical creatures, I suspect I'll be reading the next books in the trilogy just to see how James fits the stories of the other characters together to build a complete tale.

Aug 2, 12:53pm Top

>84 RidgewayGirl: Hahahahahaha.

Aug 2, 3:29pm Top

I loved A Country Road, A Tree and look forward to the new Baker. Since I plan to read it soon, I skimmed over your comments.

I'm on the fence about Black Leopard, Red Wolf; I've heard it's ultraviolent...

Are you planning to watch the Good Omens miniseries? I quite enjoyed it. The actors were very good. Jon Hamm has a small part but is hilarious as Gabriel.

Aug 2, 4:48pm Top

Beth, it is explicitly violent and the violence is fairly unrelenting and often directed at women and children.

I've seen the first episode of Good Omens and liked it a lot. I do love Jon Hamm, but I have trouble seeing him as a good guy. He always has the air of someone getting away with something.

Aug 4, 2:31pm Top

I am another fan of A Country Road, A Tree. Look forward to hearing what you make of it!

Aug 9, 9:59am Top

>89 charl08: I've shelved it where I can see it when I sit down to read. But the stacks of new books keep growing...

Aug 9, 10:12am Top

In her glummer moments, she thought that reading was the only thing she was good at, and what sort of skill was that for an adult to rely on in this world?

The short stories in Polly Rosenwaike's collection, Look How Happy I'm Making You, all concern women of that age when relatives and acquaintances feel free to ask about one's plans for having children. And in each story, a woman deals with pregnancy or not being pregnant, the struggles of having and caring for a baby, or the determination to not have children.

Eve was made of wailing, of banshee mouth and fighter fists. She might well have been called There There, or What's The Matter, or Please Shut Up Already. Two states of being were known to her: fury and sleep.

The women in these stories are intelligent and their concerns don't primarily focus on the quest to have a baby, but because of age and gender, they are forced to reckon with the issue, willingly or not. Rosenwaike is a talented writer and I'm happy to have gotten to know her writing.

Aug 11, 4:17pm Top

Connell and Marianne start a relationship in high school. Marianne's an outcast, the kind of loner to puts on an air of disinterest in her classmates, but who longs to be included. Connell is part of the popular crowd, but as the son of a single mother who works as a housecleaner, he is painfully self-conscious about his place in the world and wants to keep his relationship with Marianne secret. It's not until they meet again at university in Dublin, where their social roles have reversed, that they begin to see each other openly. But their relationship is fraught by social expectations, by the habits of their shared past, by an inability to converse honestly.

Sally Rooney can write, and she writes conversations better than most, but while her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, dove into the relationships between people, Normal People stays much closer to the surface, substituting drama for insight into Connell and Marianne. I found this book simpler and less interesting than her first, and the repetition of some of the scenes and circumstances (the al fresco dinner at a holiday home, a character believing that being employed was pointless...) made me wish I'd left a longer span between the books.

Aug 13, 7:34pm Top

>68 RidgewayGirl: I just finished The Gulf after seeing it here and enjoyed it.

Aug 13, 8:32pm Top

I've heard really varying opinions about Normal People, Kay. I loved it, but I haven't read Conversations with Friends, so I can't compare them. I thought she portrayed really well the ups and downs of a relationship.

Edited: Aug 13, 9:12pm Top

>93 Jim53: Hi, Jim. I'm glad you liked it. I'm interested in what Boggs writes next.

>94 BLBera: Beth, I think that if I'd read Normal People first, I would have liked it more. I do think that Rooney is a talented writer and I'll probably read whatever she writes next.

I'm getting ready to attend the Decatur Book Festival in a few weeks and there are more interesting sessions than I can attend, especially given that many take place at the same time. I am ridiculously excited.

Aug 14, 11:52am Top

The book festival sounds great, Kay. I googled it and am jealous. I need to retire, so I can attend these things.

Aug 16, 10:45am Top

>96 BLBera: This one is convenient - over Labor Day weekend and just a few hours drive away. I'd happily attend many more book events if I could! This one also has become a chance for a close friend and I to get together. As she lives in AZ and I live in SC, we have to work at it.

Aug 16, 9:21pm Top

When Jane and Jonathan each go to work at the Topeka School, a innovative psychiatric clinic, they never mean to make it permanent, but after finding each other and a nice Victorian they could never have afforded to buy in New York, they have a son, Adam, and settle in. The Topeka School moves back and forth between these three characters, and a fourth; a patient at the clinic. The novel is about the three members of the Gordon family, but it's also about the overly close relationships that formed between the therapists working at the clinic, a film project run by Jonathan, the city of Topeka, Kansas in the nineties, Jane's battle with The Men, and a great deal about high school debate tournaments.

Ben Lerner has an easy writing style and and this novel went down easy, despite the broad range of ideas and numerous plot threads. And disjointed as it all felt after a while, he does pull all the seemingly disparate elements mostly together at the end. Given the quantity of different topics introduced, there were some I was less interested in (debate team) than others (all of Jane's chapters), but I was never tempted to skip any of it.

Aug 17, 12:25pm Top

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips begins with the abduction of two sisters, eleven and five, from a beach in the city of Petropavlovsk, the administrative centre of Kamchatka peninsula. The chapter is told from the point of view of the big sister, bored with summer and having to watch her little sister. Each subsequent chapter follows a character, often connected to the investigation, or interested in the search for the children, but the focus is on what is important in their lives. An indigenous woman from the isolated town of Esso struggles to find her footing at university in the big city, torn between her enjoyment in joining a dance troupe and loyalty to her boyfriend back home. A woman who has learned to trust no one loses her dog. A teenage girl is faced with being ostracized from her group of friends. A woman struggling with being stuck home caring for an infant develops fantasies about the crew of foreign workers working on the building site across the road.

I began the book thinking that it would be the story of how two plucky children survived the wilderness, or escaped something bad, an assumption aided by the book's cover. Then it appeared to be a collection of linked stories about life in Kamchatka and while interesting, didn't seem to fully justify the hype surrounding this book. But the penultimate chapter was just perfectly written, calling back to an earlier chapter, but telling its own story, that I suddenly saw the larger picture Phillips is creating here, and the final chapter pulling everything together into a unified whole. This is a very promising debut and I'm absolutely going to be reading what ever Julia Phillips writes next.

She'll be speaking at the Decatur Book Festival at the end of the month and I'm eager to hear what she has to say about this excellent novel.

Aug 19, 4:37pm Top

Tensions are high in Lisa Lutz's new novel, The Swallows. Alex Witt takes a job teaching creative writing at an expensive Vermont boarding school because her family's friendship with the Headmaster means her recent past won't be looked into, but finds that her secrets pale in comparison to the ones the boys are keeping. And once the girls start to figure things out, it might just take down the entire school.

This is the kind of book where it's important to start reading early enough in the day that you won't end up losing a night's sleep while you race to finish it. It's a novel filled with rage that runs head first towards catastrophe. It has characters that are believable and who breathe and live and make amazingly poor choices. This novel is what would be written if Curtis Sittenfield and Gillian Flynn collaborated. It's just a lot of hard-edged fun.

Aug 19, 8:11pm Top

I see we've been sharing reads with Disappearing Earth, Kay. Great comments.

The Swallows sounds good as well. I've read Lute's Spellman files books, which are entertaining, but not suspenseful.

Edited: Aug 19, 8:26pm Top

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Edited: Aug 19, 8:37pm Top

>100 RidgewayGirl: Oh, The Swallows sounds good. Dysfunctional Vermont boarding school is always a selling point, since I went to one. Library's got it, but I'm going to hold off for a bit because I have some books to read for review (and really, I should read off the physical and virtual piles around here... Disappearing Earth would fit that bill, actually).

Aug 20, 2:10am Top

>99 RidgewayGirl: That was pretty much my experience with the book also.

Aug 20, 9:16am Top

>101 BLBera: Beth, The Swallows was very hard to put down, less because of the suspense, and more because the reader can see everything heading towards a collision and watching the characters either do nothing to stop it, or trying to amplify the effects. I haven't read any of her Spellman books as I prefer stand-alones, but The Passenger is also a solid thriller and we all know that well-crafted thrillers are hard to find.

>103 lisapeet: Ha! I hear you about the piles of books that need to be read right now, and I don't even have a job that requires a reading list. I went to a book signing for Joshilyn Jackson's newest book yesterday and I'm tempted to leave the ARCs and library books in order to just sit down with the newest, shiniest book now. And I may do that.

>104 avaland: Disappearing Earth is really sticking with me. Oh, and my father grabbed a JCO (We Were the Mulvaneys) off of my tbr shelf a few weeks ago and took off with it. And he recently returned it and told me he'd loved it. This is a man who often hands the crime novels I give him back to me with the complaint that they dwell too heavily on the dark side of life, so I was astonished to find him responding to JCO, who never meets a flaw or uncomfortable situation that she doesn't lovingly examine.

Yesterday, 11:14am Top

>100 RidgewayGirl: Did someone say Curtis Sittenfeld? Sold! This thread is exponentially increasing my TBR pile.

Group: Club Read 2019

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