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RidgewayGirl's 999 Challenge

999 Challenge

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Edited: Aug 13, 2009, 3:48pm Top

Here it is! I'm trying to think of topics that will stretch me, without causing me to give up and go home!

Here are my categories, so far:

Historical Novels
Linguistic Contortions
Encores -- Where I've only read one book by a particular author

Northern Noir -- dark mysteries or thrillers
Neener, Neener, Cheaterpants -- books that don't fit into a category, but I feel compelled to read them nonetheless. My goal here is to have less than nine!

(I've added a tenth list because I can't go a year without reading these!)

Edited: Sep 24, 2009, 12:48pm Top


1. Garnethill The Garnethill trilogy by Denise Mina this will be pure pleasure, but I'm curious to see if I'll love them as much as I did the first time
2. Exile by Denise Mina
3. Resolution by Denise Mina
4. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
5. Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith
6. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
7. Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman
8. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
9. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Edited: Sep 17, 2009, 9:20am Top

Historical Novels

1. The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton
2. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
3. What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris
4. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
5. The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax
6. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
7. The Summer of Naked Swim Parties by Jessica Anya Blau
8. Daphne by Justine Picardie
9. The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Hall

Edited: Oct 2, 2009, 7:59am Top

Linguistic Contortions: Books about Writing, Literature or In Another Language.

1. Verblendung (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) by Stieg Larsson
2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
3. Verdammnis (The Girl Who Played with Fire) by Steig Larsson
4. Stumme Schreie by Karin Fossum
5. So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson
6. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
7. Novel History by Mark C. Carnes
8. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
9. Possession by A.S. Byatt

Edited: Sep 12, 2009, 5:37pm Top

Shortlisted -- prize winners and runners-up for the Booker, Orange, Costa, Pulitzer or any other reasonably well-known prizes.

1. Fall on Your Knees by Anne Marie MacDonald (Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Giller Prize shortlist)
2. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (winner--Booker Prize 2008)
3. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (ALA Best Books for Young Adults 2001)
4. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Booker Prize winner 2002)
5. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Booker Prize shortlist)
6. What Was Lost by Catherine o'Flynn (Costa Award for First Novel 2007)
7. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (Booker Prize longlist 2009)
8. Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
9. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (Governor General's Literary Award, Giller Prize shortlist)

Edited: Apr 18, 2009, 4:35pm Top

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Edited: Aug 13, 2009, 3:47pm Top

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Oct 22, 2008, 6:11pm Top

I haven't read Life of Pi either but it's on the list to hopefully get to next year, so don't feel too bad.

You might want to check out On Writing by Stephen King if you haven't read it already. I finished it not that long ago and loved it. I found some great tips.

Oct 22, 2008, 6:20pm Top

I second On Writing. I enjoyed it very much.

I considered adding an Anne Bronte to my list (and still might). Let me know what you think.

Reading in German - I'm impressed!

Oct 22, 2008, 6:21pm Top

Seeing On Writing on another LTer's page gave me the idea for the topic. That is such a well-written and unpretentious book.

Oct 22, 2008, 7:45pm Top

Recommended -- I respectfully await your suggestions. I'll ask LT friends for help, but please throw titles at me. If you loved a book you read last year and I haven't read it, I'll add it here.

Oct 22, 2008, 9:30pm Top

Nope, you're not the only one who hasn't read Life of Pi - like others here have said, it's on my TBR list but I still haven't gotten to it.

As far as Canadian authors, I love Margaret Atwood and would recommend anything by her.

Good luck with your challenge next year!

Edited: Oct 22, 2008, 11:55pm Top

Just finished the Worst Hard Time. I thoroughly enjoyed it-learned a lot about not just the dust bowl, but politics of the era. I have recommended it to many of my friends, and have put it on my top 5 of 08 list.

Oct 23, 2008, 1:24am Top

Hi, RidgewayGirl!
I also have not read Life of Pi, but both of my daughters highly recommended it, so I am also planning to read this in 2009 -- or maybe sooner if I can just finish up the 888 Challenge. :) Happy Reading!

Oct 23, 2008, 5:38am Top

Another recommendation for Margaret Atwood in Canadian authors, she's a fantastic writer.

Oct 23, 2008, 7:10am Top

#5. I haven't read Life of Pi either.

Definitely recommend Margaret Atwood for Canadian authors.

Wow! History of the World - that's a big book.

Oct 23, 2008, 8:24am Top

No Life of Pi for me either.

Oct 23, 2008, 8:24am Top

Thanks for the suggestion of Margaret Atwood. I've read all of hers (does anyone remember offhand the title of the short story she wrote in which a woman kept the bone and hair cyst removed from her uterus on her fireplace mantle?) except for her latest. Maybe I'll add in one of her really early ones.

Oct 23, 2008, 8:26am Top

Have you read Atwood's Negotiating With the Dead? That would fit into your Books on Writing category.

Oct 23, 2008, 8:37am Top

That may work very well...

Edited: Oct 2, 2009, 8:39am Top


1. Lisa Yee -- Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time
2. Gillian Flynn -- Dark Places
3. Akimitsu Takagi -- The Tattoo Murder Case
4. Benjamin Black -- Christine Falls and The Silver Swan
6. Karin Alvtegen -- Shadow
7. Tana French -- The Likeness
8. Cornelia Read -- A Field of Darkness
9. Simon Beckett -- Written in Bone

Oct 23, 2008, 9:16am Top

I've read quite a few of your Man Booker Prize books mainly because I did a Prize category in my 888.

I loved Life of Pi but know plenty of people who didn't enjoy it - I think it is a love it or hate it kind of book.

I didn't mind The Sea although very little happens, but I didn't enjoy Saturday or The Gathering at all. Again just a personal preference thing and they weren't very long so not too hard to read. I loved Last Orders - really wonderful book, possibly my favourite Booker winner.

Good luck with your challenge.

Oct 23, 2008, 1:44pm Top

Just skimmed Life of Pi. For Robertson Davies, I really enjoyed A Touch of Malice. Very funny, which I wasn't expecting.

Oct 23, 2008, 4:15pm Top

>19 RidgewayGirl:: I remembered reading the story, but couldn't remember the title, so I looked it up. It's from Wilderness Tips and the story was "Hairball" (at least according to the world wide webs :P )

I believe her very latest is Moral Disorder, correct? If so, then definitely read it! It was actually one of my faves.

Oct 23, 2008, 4:24pm Top

Thank you, Fasciknitting! So maybe Wilderness Tips or Oryx and Crake or Moral Disorder. I'm glad I have a few months to make these important decisions!

Oct 23, 2008, 6:44pm Top

Hi RidgewayGirl. Just adding my two cents about Margaret Atwood. The short story "The Age of Lead" from Wilderness Tips is one of my favourite short stories and I re-read it often. I loved Oryx and Crake too though, and The Blind Assassin and The Robber Bride and The Handmaid's Tale. You can't go wrong with any of those books, even if they're re-reads. I haven't read some of her earlier works though, or her most recent ones - perhaps I can fit them in my 999 challenge somewhere. As for Life of Pi, I was in the loved-it crowd, but I agree with sanddancer that it is a love it or hate it kind of book.

Oct 29, 2008, 2:14pm Top

Okay, since two other brave souls have The Brothers Karamazov on their lists, I will add it to my Challenge as well. I think I may need to know others are reading it at the same time, not because it's a difficult book, but because it's soooooo long. This way we can gossip our way through.

Oct 29, 2008, 10:45pm Top

If several others are reading Brothers Karamazov, I might go along. I've brought it home from the library a couple of times - stared at it for a couple of weeks - then took it back without ever opening it up. Just too intimidating. Right now, I'm about half through with Dr Zhivago, and it's going OK, so maybe next year I'll be ready for another Russian. There are plenty of places in my 9 categories where BK would fit. Give me a heads up before you start, I'll need to get it out of the library again. I like your idea of gossiping through it together.

Oct 30, 2008, 6:54am Top

I'd like to add Brothers Karamazov as well - and there are definitely places on my list. We should do a 999 Challenge Group Read! yay!

Oct 30, 2008, 11:59am Top

Brothers Karamazov does not fit into any of my categories but it does fit into my long-term 1001 list ambitions. I would like to join in. I am remembering that this is a challenge!

Edited: Jul 31, 2009, 8:07pm Top

Recommended -- books that have been suggested to me on LibraryThing and elsewhere.

1. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (There's been a buzz)
2. The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees (recommended by A. Angelucci)
3. The Private Patient by PD James (chosen because it was there)
4. Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand (Thank you, VictoriaPL)
5. Children of Men by P.D. James (recommended on LT)
6. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (recommended on LT)
7. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig (stolen from VictoriaPL's library)
8. Beat by Amy Boaz (Early Reviewers book)
9. The Dramatist by Ken Bruen (kindly recommended by jebronse)

Oct 31, 2008, 6:34pm Top

Love your Encores category and the authors in it, especially David Mitchell. I've been wanting to read Natsuo Kirino's books for a while but I've heard they are quite gruesome. Encores is such a good idea, do you mind if I use it too?

On the Booker winners: loved The Life of Pi, hated The Gathering and ambivalent The Sea. You can't go wrong with Margaret Atwood - don't think she's written a bad book yet.

Looking forward to gossiping through BK.

Nov 13, 2008, 4:08pm Top

When are you planning to read Garnethill? I was thinking summer. For some reason I think of mysteries and warm weather together. Maybe I'm just flashing back to John Ball or something. Let me know.

Nov 14, 2008, 12:48pm Top

I think that there is a heat wave in Garnethill (it's in that one or the sequel) which makes it perfect for summer. There's a fantastic description of summer is Glasgow as when pasty white people rush out and turn pink and older women start wearing inappropriately young sundresses, worn with their old, grayish grandma bras.

Nov 14, 2008, 12:48pm Top

I think that there is a heat wave in Garnethill (it's in that one or the sequel) which makes it perfect for summer. There's a fantastic description of summer is Glasgow as when pasty white people rush out and turn pink and older women start wearing inappropriately young sundresses, worn with their old, grayish grandma bras.

Dec 3, 2008, 10:29am Top

Wow you have some heavy reads planned for 2009!! I need to spend a little time finding some more books for my NC theme.

Dec 3, 2008, 2:15pm Top

I loved Oryx and Crake.

I just read King Leopold's Ghost this year and it was amazing. Heartbreaking and upsetting, but still a great read about an area I am learning more and more about (The Congo). That and Blood River by Tim Butcher have really got me excited to read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Dec 3, 2008, 10:34pm Top

I'm reading Barchester Towers too, so it will be fun to see what you think. I haven't read any Trollope before.

Dec 5, 2008, 11:24am Top

Well, I just got my copy of Oryx and Crake and it looks like nothing I'd pick up on my own! There are a lot of books showing up in my categories that I wouldn't have really considered without this planning of my year's reading.

Dec 18, 2008, 11:02pm Top

I would have to say that the book I most enjoyed reading in 2008 so far is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

It's an epistolary novel set just after WWII ends about an author searching for a new topic to write about while going on a book tour and starting a correspondence with someone -- soon several someones -- who found her name and address in a secondhand book.

Funny. Sad. Tart. Sweet.

Edited: Dec 18, 2008, 11:51pm Top


from your ReReads

I'm reading The Tenent of Wildfell Hall in my 999--1st time for me. I read Down and Out this year and have Keep the Apidistra Flying in my 999. I wasn't going to do any rereads in my 999, but I want to read the newish translation of Brothers Karamazov so I've that on my "reserve" list because it has been many years since I read it.

Edited to try to get Apidstra touchstone to work--it indicates that it does but doesn't.

Dec 18, 2008, 11:31pm Top


I haven't read Life of Pi yet, either. I own it so i will wait to see what you think to decide if I should try it.

Dec 18, 2008, 11:40pm Top


Read The Coffee Trader! There is going to be a great group read of that starting January 5th. This group sets a reading schedule of how much to read each week for discussing which makes it easy to read while also working on another, unrelated, book for the challenge. I'm putting it on my challenge for that reason.

Dec 22, 2008, 11:48am Top

Thanks, MusicMom41! I am giving my mother a copy of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for Christmas, so will get to read it later. (Note: does anyone else have the mixed blessing of being expected to give people books as presents? And there is the expectation of perfection?)

I'm probably going to read a few books from each of my encores category, mainly because it's so hard to choose just one.

Edited: Sep 7, 2009, 1:37pm Top

I'm contemplating an extra category because I want it, but can't see getting rid of any of my current categories. Really, really looking forward to the 20,20,20 challenge!


Northern Noir

(dark mysteries or thrillers or novels of psychological suspense from different parts of the world, mostly northern, where there seems to be a higher concentration of dour people)

1. Portobello by Ruth Rendell (England)
2. The Good German by Joseph Canon (Germany)
3. Exit Music by Ian Rankin (Scotland)
4. Honeymoon to Nowhere by Akimitsu Takagi (Japan)
5. Liars Anonymous by Louise Ure
6. In the Woods by Tana French (Ireland)
7. Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell (England)
8. The Dead of Summer by Camilla Way (England)
9. Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain (USA, Oregon)

And let me just plan for this ahead of time:

Neener, Neener, Cheaterpants

1. The Girl of His Dreams by Donna Leon
2. Delusion by Peter Abrahams
3. The Cure for Modern Life by Lisa Tucker
4. Bookends by Jane Green
5. The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine
6. A Stopover in Venice by Kathryn Walker
7. Tethered by Amy MacKinnon
8. Playing James by Sarah Mason
9.Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

Jan 1, 2009, 12:49pm Top

I've begun the challenge with Stumme Schreie (The Indian Bride) by Karin Fossum.

Jan 1, 2009, 7:27pm Top

Good luck!

Jan 1, 2009, 7:59pm Top

You are so good at reading internationally. That's something I don't do enough of.

Jan 1, 2009, 8:53pm Top

This is a VERY impressive list, and I look forward to seeing your progress and your thoughts on the books. I never read Life of Pi. I had it on my shelf for a long time. I never did think it would be my cup of tea, but I felt I "should" read it. Every time I picked it up, I put it back down. Eventually, it became such an albatross that I just put it on bookmooch. Same thing with Atonement. I started it twice, loved the writing, but just couldn't keep going. I just let it go on bookmooch. I figure there are so many people who really want to read it and so many other books I'd love to read more.

Jan 8, 2009, 11:09am Top

The Dead of Summer by Camilla Way

This fits into my Northern Noir category.

Anita Naidu moves from Leeds to a council house in London after the death of her mother. Her father and siblings are uninvolved in her life and she falls in with two other misfits. This is the story of what happened the summer she was thirteen, told in flashbacks to a psychiatrist who dealt with her briefly after the events described.

The book is dark and foreboding and raw and full of descriptions of South East London (Deptford and Greenwich) in the early eighties. Anita's voice is strong and compelling, her narrative is fully that of a confused adolescent, ill at ease with herself and viewing the people around her as strange beings.

I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to more books by Camilla Way.

Jan 8, 2009, 12:52pm Top


Looks like you've got a good start on your challenge. I've finished my first book a couple of days ago and hope to find time to enter it tonight. I'm just taking a break from work now to try and check in with a few of my starred threads. I'm really far behind because I've been swamped since we cam home from our Christmas vacation.

Are you still planning to read The Brothers Karamazov? I found the translation I wanted and now have to decide if I can fit it into my reading schedule! It is such a terrific book I know it will be worth the effort.

Jan 8, 2009, 2:00pm Top

Yes, February will see me freezing in Russia. I'm looking forward to reading this with everyone!

Jan 9, 2009, 10:35am Top

I really, really hate finishing a good book and having to start another one. So here are the next books I will be reading: Heligoland by Shena Mackay (category - Shortlisted), A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (Books by Canadians) and History of the World by J.M. Roberts (History).

Jan 9, 2009, 1:48pm Top

Stumme Schreie (The Indian Bride) by Karin Fossum

This fits into my Books in German category.

A fast-paced and gripping crime novel about the brutal slaying of a woman from India who came to a small town in Norway to join her new husband. Her husband, a quiet, fifty-year-old man, fails to pick her up from the airport when his sister is suddenly hospitalized. By the time he returns home, she is dead. Konrad Sejer, a recurring character in Fossum's books, and his protege, Jacob Skarre, investigate but are hindered by the closed and reclusive nature of the town's inhabitants. Fossum's book ably recounts the impact Poona Bai's murder has on the townspeople, from the grieving widower to a young witness. The story also leaves a small question as to whether the police arrested the right man. A well-written and nuanced story.

Edited: Jan 9, 2009, 10:21pm Top

#54> You hate finishing a good book and starting a new one? I hate it when a good book ends, too, because it's over - I remember being so depressed when I finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy in junior high, or when Harry Potter ended. :) But I also love finishing books. I get a bit compulsive about it. And I love starting new books. In fact, that has landed me in the sticky situation of reading too many books at once!

Thanks for the reviews, btw. I like reading what others think about books; always on the lookout for a new find.

Jan 9, 2009, 11:11pm Top

#56 nmhale

I know what you mean! I finished up 2008 with almost everything done and all these books selected for reading in 2009 and right now I'm trying to juggle 4 books because I couldn't decide where to start!

Jan 15, 2009, 3:33pm Top

I finished a book completely different from what I usually read called Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand. I need a quiet moment to figure out exactly what I think about it and then I'll put it into words.

Jan 16, 2009, 3:50pm Top

In attempting to stretch my reading, VictoriaPL recommended a paranormal novel to me called Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand. It reminded me a great deal of another book given to me by a friend who had loved it called Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. I enjoyed the book, it being both well-written and tightly plotted, but I remain unconverted to the genre, remaining the type of person who rolls their eyes whenever something "supernatural" takes place.

I'm not going to write a review as this book deserves better than the skeptical reception I gave it. That said, I happily stayed up late to finish it.

Jan 16, 2009, 3:54pm Top

On that note, I received word that Tam Lin came in this afternoon and I'm picking it up from the library tomorrow! I'll let you know what I think of it.

Jan 16, 2009, 3:54pm Top


Are we talking Love/Hate relationship here? ;-) (You and the book I mean not the paranormal.)

Jan 16, 2009, 3:56pm Top

In a great, self-indulgent rush, I have read Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain. This is a fun, quick read in a genre I can only describe as serial killer porn, lingering, as it does, lovingly over descriptions of jellied eye sockets and featuring a stunningly beautiful serial killer whose charismatic influence has all but destroyed the cop who set out to catch her. The characters are all well drawn, endearing and individual. The plot was fast-paced, with the inevitable twist at the end startling and unexpected. This was better than her first book Heartsick and I suspect I will be reading the next in the series.

Jan 16, 2009, 5:15pm Top

serial killer endearing? Am I missing something?

Jan 16, 2009, 5:27pm Top

Thanks for the heads up---I can keep that one off the TBR pile. Jellied eye sockets do NOTHING for me.

Jan 17, 2009, 1:20am Top

I'm guessing Verblendung is the first in the trilogy - why, yes it is: the touchstone just revealed it. All three books are really great - full speed ahead thrillers.

I haven't read Liza Marklund yet, but I just Bookmooched one of her books, so maybe it'll be included in this year's challenge. Right now, there's a huge controversy going on with her in Sweden about her book Gömda - kind of a James Frey-type scandal. I'm not following the "drama," so I'm not entirely up to date on the whole thing, though.

For Books on Writing, a couple of my favorites are Bird by Bird and The Writer's Journey in case you haven't read those already.

Jan 17, 2009, 3:28am Top

Yeah, Bird by Bird is really good. It's weird, but I like Anne Lamott's writing about writing better than actually reading her writing--but it could have been the subject of the book I read.

Jan 17, 2009, 3:34am Top

I think I must be the only individual who didn't care for Bird by Bird. Maybe I'll try another one of Lamott's books and give her a second chance.

Jan 17, 2009, 4:09am Top

Well, have to admit that it's been years since I read her book and just remember liking it, but nothing specific. I probably should go look at a book again before I speak out. :-)

Jan 17, 2009, 11:58am Top

>66 bonniebooks:, bonniebooks, I agree. Her writing about writing is much better than her "regualr" writing! :)

Jan 17, 2009, 12:03pm Top

I will take a look at Bird by Bird and The Writer's Journey. Anything to expand my wishlist!

Yeah, the Chelsea Cain series is not for everyone, but if you like that kind of stuff, it's better written than most.

I just finished On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. This one is shorter than most of his but still beautifully, beautifully written. It is one of those books where nothing much seems to happen and huge amounts of emotion seethe quietly beneath the surface. It is the story of the beginning and the end of a marriage and just wrenching in a quiet, British way.

Jan 19, 2009, 10:51am Top

The Girl of His Dreams by Donna Leon, read because I could not anticipate having to wait until I'd finished the challenge to read her newest. I'll fit it in somewhere at the last minute.

Her books are reliably good, her detective melancholy and pragmatic, the mysteries interesting and the setting, Venice, cannot be beat. That said, this was my least favorite so far of the series, mainly because the vital clue was given just a few pages before it was needed and it felt that Brunetti should have remembered it, given that it happened only moments before. But that's just a quibble -- as a whole the mystery was well constructed. Also, the author, who uses the voice of the detective's wife, is getting crankier and more judgemental. Sigh. I guess we're all getting older.

Jan 20, 2009, 11:30am Top

From my Books by Canadians category I just finished A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. I was excited to read this one, it having won or been shortlisted for several awards, including having won the Governor General's. The story concerns a Mennonite girl living in a small town south of Winnipeg, but the narrator's voice sounded more to me like a sophisticated city dweller's idea of what being a rebellious, troubled Mennonite would be like. The book was well-written, but sometimes I would be pulled from the story by a clever turn of phrase. Good and interesting, but not fantastic.

Jan 23, 2009, 4:21pm Top

Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read is truly one of the best American mystery novels I have read in some time. I can see why it was shortlisted for an Edgar; the competition must have really been impressive for this book not to have won.

Madeline Dare is a down-at-the-heels blue blood, married to a working class guy and living in the gritty, blue collar city of Syracuse, NY. She comes across some evidence linking her one normal cousin to an unsolved crime from twenty years earlier and sets out to prove his innocence. She has about as much idea of how to go about investigating the crime as I would have, that is, she is a somewhat hapless Nancy Drew and her attempts to find out what happened and to find a happy ending for herself draw her into danger.

I can recommend this book highly.

Jan 26, 2009, 11:03am Top

Honeymoon to Nowhere by Akimitsu Takagi, which fits into my Northern Noir category, which I will finish in the next few months.

Honeymoon to Nowhere is set in Japan and was written in 1965; the aftermath of the war is present in this book, as is the idea that one's relatives matter, even when they're long dead.

Etsuko, a young (but getting older) woman of no great beauty is instructed by her father to marry Higuchi, a junior lawyer working for her father. She falls in love instead with Yoshihiro, a shy university lecturer, whose dead father and brother are a block to their happiness. She marries him anyway, despite the grim disapproval of her parents, but on their wedding night he receives a phone call and leaves, never to return.

What follows in the investigation into his disappearance, his past and family ties. Etsuko, overcome with grief, nonetheless learns to determine her own fate.

I couldn't put this book down and read it much too quickly. The author, Akimitsu Takagi, was a bestseller in Japan and I can see why.

Jan 26, 2009, 2:28pm Top

I'm interested to see what you think of Worst Hard Time. It sounds like a good story.

Jan 26, 2009, 4:22pm Top

#75 Me, too. It's on my list to read this year.

Jan 27, 2009, 11:37am Top

The Dramatist by Ken Bruen was kindly recommended to me by jebronse. This is a dark, dark crime novel enlivened by an ironic sense of humor. The mystery was not fantastic and seemed secondary to the salvaged wreck of the protagonist and his attempts to stay clean, do the right thing and to come to terms with his troubled relationship with his mother.

This book was very, very good, if you like misery and hard times. The ending was unpleasant, but I can see the author wanting to put Jack Taylor in position for the next book. I don't think that this was the best of the Jack Taylor books, but it left me wanting to read more of them.

Jan 27, 2009, 7:20pm Top

Hello there, I wanted to come see what was up over here and have starred because your reviews are so interesting!

Some of the series you've mentioned sound very interesting, especially the Karin Fossum one, I've added that to my BM WL. The Field of Darkness as well because the protagonist sounds like me trying to solve a crime as well as you ;)

Jan 29, 2009, 10:11am Top

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan had been sitting on my TBR pile for awhile and after some nagging from you lot, I began it Tuesday night. I have had a hard time putting it down ever since. It doesn't seem like a book about the dust bowl should be a page turner, but there you are.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. Concentrating on a section of Texas and Oklahoma in the heart of the dust bowl, it is a social history of the tough, tough people who tried to make a go of the last bit of American frontier, with gentle doses of history, biology and politics thrown in.

Edited: Feb 1, 2009, 3:07pm Top

I am having trouble getting over The Worst Hard Time. I'm pretty sure that friends and family are tired about hearing about the dust bowl, although the kids like the grim details about life in a dug-out.

So I've been unable to read anything except brightly colored chick-lit novels, the kind where the protagonist is inert and insecure and in which clothing is discussed in nauseating detail. I will not list them here as they are the literary equivalent of candy corn.

But The Brothers Karamazov group read is upon us. I'm hoping a brutal Russian winter will put me back on the straight and narrow.

Feb 11, 2009, 4:29pm Top

I did it! All 688 pages of Verblendung (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) by Stieg Larsson, by far the longest book I've ever read in German. That said, it was riveting. The story concerns a journalist, Mikael Blomquist, (who is a bit of a self-righteous narcissist, but not enough to make him unsympathetic) who is convicted of libel and accepts a job on a small island off the coast of Sweden to try to solve a 35 year old murder. The tattooed girl of the title is Lisbeth Salander, an anti-social hacker who works as a researcher and who is difficult and unfriendly and troubled and easily the most compelling element of this excellent novel.

The central mystery is complex and the author deals with it in almost exhaustive detail, which should have been too much, but ended up being refreshing -- nothing was hidden or skimmed over, and, boy, were the secrets and events exciting and startling and each fit so perfectly in with what had earlier been revealed.

I am going to exercise restraint and put a few books between this and the sequel, Verdammnis (The Girl who Played with Fire), but I am soooo tempted to dig right in and make February special as the only month of my life in which only two books were read.

Feb 11, 2009, 8:48pm Top


I've just started Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (in English)--sooner than I would have liked because this is when it came in from my library request. I'm looking forward to it--especially after your review! My biggest problem is that I'm committed to starting Tigana tomorrow (you had asked me to tell you when I planned to read it) so I'm going to have to juggle two chunksters and hopefully finish before the end of next week! I may have to give up my "day job!' :-)

Feb 11, 2009, 10:02pm Top

I got the English version The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a gift (it was on my wish list) and started reading it, and then it was misplaced. I will have to find it again and add it to my non-999 books to read (or as I call it my illicit reading list).

I didn't like the Life of Pi, it was a bit too wierd for me, and I work at a Renn Fest in the summer, and attend a Sci fi convention every year, so I know weird. I am sure that there were hidden meanings or something that I missed but I just found it ridiculous.

It sounds like I would like to read The Brothers Karamazov in the summer, I don't want to read about cold winters in the winter, at least not while I'm in MN.


Feb 18, 2009, 1:22pm Top

A disclaimer--The Good German by Joseph Kanon pretty much combines everything I love to read about into one novel. I haven't seen the movie, either.

The Good German is set in 1945 Berlin as the American Army settles in among the ruins. Jake Geismar, an American journalist, who lived in Berlin for several years before the war, returns to cover the peace and to find his former lover, a German woman lost somewhere in the rubble. Along the way he stumbles onto a murder.

Over half a century on we're finally looking at WWII in shades other than black and white and Kanon's book is more nuanced than most. No one is wholly good or entirely bad, from the American military willing to overlook a scientist's past to the fate of the various German characters, trying to survive in a moonscape of bombed buildings and unpredictable soldiers.

Feb 22, 2009, 11:35am Top

So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson was favorably mentioned on someone else's thread and I would thank that person if I could remember who they were!

Sara Nelson was, until very recently, editor of Publisher's Weekly, although at the writing of this book she had not yet taken that position. She is a reader and her book is for readers, discussing things like double-booking (reading more than one book at a time) and the leaning stack of books next to her bed, waiting to be read. She's married to someone who doesn't read much, whom she is constantly pushing books at and she often neglects other things when a book grabs her. I filled three post-it notes with titles she discussed that I had to add to my wishlist. She liked some books I didn't care for (the complete works of Phillip Roth, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), disliked a few that I loved (Alias Grace) but I agreed with her likes and dislikes more than not. It was good to find someone who could so concisely describe my feelings about books like Tuesdays with Morrie!

Some quotes I stuck post-it under as I read:

"He thinks my compulsive reading and writing as "work" and he doesn't much quiz me on it; I'm not about to tell him that I am, just like Anna and Emma, an adulteress. My books are my secret lovers, the friends I run to to get away from the daily drudgeries of life, to try out something new, and yes, to get away, for a few hours, from him. He doesn't need to know that my books are the affairs I do not have."

"Or as the author Stanley Bing puts it, "I like acknowledgments. They give the reader a taste of the book and get them into it without putting too much pressure on them.""

"Tomorrow I'll go to the bookstore, I think.

Maybe I've finally rubbed off on Leo a little bit; before he went to bed, he asked me to get him a book.

He wants a copy of Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, he said.

It's nothing I would have picked for him. But hey, it's a start."

Feb 22, 2009, 12:48pm Top

"It was good to find someone who could so concisely describe my feelings about..."

Love your review! It makes me want to go check out some of Nelson's comments to see how she matches up with me! :-) Your comment, though, also reminds me that it's partly why I buy any book, including nonfiction--even textbooks that are full of information that I mostly already know--because I love hearing someone else articulate so cogently, so vividly, just so much better than I could what I, myself, am thinking and feeling. It gives me both a feeling of satisfaction ("Oh, that person who is obviously so smart, so caring, so...thinks/feels that way too?) as well as a rush of admiration for what they've accomplished.

I'm saving the quote you selected re: "He thinks my compulsive reading and writing as 'work' and he doesn't much quiz me on it..." It generates so many thoughts/feelings about both past and future relationships with men who read/don't read.

Feb 22, 2009, 12:54pm Top

Sara Nelson's book is one of my favorite books about books. I'm hoping that, now that she's out of a job, she does a a follow-up or writes some other book.

Nelson passionately loves books and reading and it really shows.

Feb 22, 2009, 2:13pm Top

I will definitely be adding The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to my TBR list, although I can't read it in the original German :( I'm so impressed, I would love to be able to read in other languages (I can read easier books in Spanish, Harry Potter and poetry). Do you think it's a different experience to read in the original language versus a translated version? I'm wondering if it would be worth it to learn a language just for the ability to read in that language.

Oh, adding the Sara Nelson book as well. What a fabulous review!

Feb 22, 2009, 2:47pm Top

I loved Sara Nelsons' book too! I didn't always agree with her reviews and some books I'd never heard of but I have taken some of her habits on board: I always take a book to the cinema and have a "car" book for those times when I'm waiting to pick up a family member.

Have you read Nick Hornby's The Complete Polysyllabic Spree or Alberto Manguel's A Reading Diary?

Feb 22, 2009, 3:35pm Top

I didn't read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the original language, which was Swedish, but in German because I'm trying to keep it up having painfully acquired it over several years living in Germany. Crime novels, my literary candy corn, are the best method I've found so far and since I can't really see myself reading books translated from English, the Scandinavians have won.

I must have a book available to me wherever I go, even if there's not much chance of getting to read it. I carry one with me at all times, even when getting together with friends or family. I firmly believe that it cuts my waiting time considerably.

I enjoy reading book reviews that disagree with me almost more than ones that share my point of view. At the beginning of the 999 Challenge someone else (why can I never remember who? Maybe I should star fewer threads.) said that they loved A Complicated Kindness, a book that underwhelmed and disappointed me. It was interesting to read why someone could like that book.

I have put both the Hornby book and the Manguel book on my wishlist, along with Hornby's Housekeeping Vs. Dirt and Manguel's The Library at Night.

Feb 22, 2009, 3:50pm Top

#90 -I enjoy reading book reviews that disagree with me almost more than ones that share my point of view. At the beginning of the 999 Challenge someone else (why can I never remember who? Maybe I should star fewer threads.) said that they loved A Complicated Kindness, a book that underwhelmed and disappointed me. It was interesting to read why someone could like that book.


Interestingly, in your original comments about A Complicated Kindness it sounded like you liked it, although you did sound underwhelmed. I loved it--pretty sure I gave it 5 stars--but then I read it when it was first published, and before the hype. Sometimes hearing too much about a book can just ruin it.

I read So Many Books, So Little Time two or three years ago and enjoyed it very much, although I remember either disagreeing with her a lot, or not having read the books she talked about. Can't remember which one, but I remember the only thing I had in common with her was a love of books.

Feb 22, 2009, 4:02pm Top

And isn't a shared love of books enough to form a connection, even if the books themselves differ? I have several LT friends whose reading choices differ from mine (hi, Victoria!) but I think the essential "thing" is our shared obsession.

Feb 22, 2009, 4:05pm Top

Somehow even before I saw my name I knew you were talking about me! Yes, it would be boring if we all felt the same about everything.

Feb 23, 2009, 12:49am Top

I think that's a great way to put it, RidgewayGirl. My daughter has a friend at school she always argues with about Twilight, but I think they really enjoy the argument because they spend so much time thinking about how to convince the other one that he/she is wrong. (her friend is a boy). I just think it's great that they are spending time talking about books instead of just what was on TV last night.

Besides, it's the passion itself for reading that we all share. How we express it is just a detail.

Feb 23, 2009, 2:41am Top

#94 cmbohn

"Besides, it's the passion itself for reading that we all share. How we express it is just a detail."

That is so well put! It is one of the joys of LT. We can discuss books--passionately-- and "agree to disagree" at times-- without worrying about people getting offended by differing opinions. This seems to me to be such a rare occurrence in our world today--and so refreshing and freeing to be able to do!

Feb 24, 2009, 8:17pm Top

Agreed about having LT friends with differing reading habits. I find myself reading people's threads about books I've never heard of or would never have dreamed of picking up. I mean, I've seen Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in the store, but nothing ever convinced me to pick it up until reading your review and becoming intrigued. And I did not realize it was originally Swedish, thank you for enlightening me! I just don't always have the courage to say something on people's threads if I haven't read any of the books they have...

I did notice you like crime novels :) Have you read Smilla's Sense of Snow? The whole conversation reminded me of it since I've just finished it and it was quite an intriguing mystery. It's a hard book to read, but I found it rewarding. If you haven't read it I recommend it and if you have I'd love to hear you take on it.

As for having a book everywhere, I am the same way. I must have a purse big enough to always be carrying at least a paperback around. I don't always get a chance to read it, but who knows when you'll end up sitting around waiting and would be bored without it?

Feb 24, 2009, 8:27pm Top

#96 Isn't Smilia's Sense of Snow also translated from Swedish? Both it and Girl With the Dagon Tattoo are on my wish list for this year.

Feb 24, 2009, 9:09pm Top

97> Smilla was from Danish, it's by Peter Høeg. I'm so glad you plan on reading it! I'm going to go find and star your thread! I am really interesting in hearing what people have to say about it because it really grabbed me...

Feb 27, 2009, 9:29am Top

I read Smilla's Sense of Snow long ago. It came out roughly at the same time that Perfume by Patrick Suskind and both of them were excellent. I guess our taste for the Scandinavians (is Denmark part of Scandinavia?) is nothing new.

I just finished Exit Music by Ian Rankin. It's the final Rebus mystery and much as I loved him, it was time for him to retire. The problem for a long running series is always what to do with the protagonist over time. Cozies allow them to marry and settle down happily, with much (sometimes too much) given over to the humorous antics of offspring. The noirish mystery series usually go off in the opposite direction, with the detective descending ever farther into despair and bad habits. I love to read about someone else's descent, but eventually there's no place to take them. Rebus has become crankier and more blinkered over time and I'm sure that Rankin has grown a little tired of his bitterness.

The mystery here was the usual well-crafted Rankin mix of colorful characters and corruption in high and low places. It was an enjoyable read, although the ending seemed tacked on, with an interesting new character forced to change personalities mid-flow. I will admit to enjoying the current taste for assigning most crimes to bankers.

Mar 1, 2009, 1:04pm Top

I've been reading Novel History by Mark Carnes for awhile, in between books, and I'm disappointed to have finished it. The book asks about the relationship between history and the historical novel and is set up as a series of chapters about single books. First an historian comments on the book (and often veers off into the larger questions of the role of the novel in teaching history and the importance of accuracy versus the need to alter facts to get at the heart of the story) and then the author (when alive) comments on the historian's article.

Sounds dry? Not at all. The novels are varied; from Gary Jennings's sex romp Aztec to Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible to Cold Mountain to The Great Gatsby. The historians' articles ranged from sycophantic to skeptical, but they were all fascinating. The authors' rebuttals were most interesting for the way they revealed their arrogance, insecurity and defensiveness. This book added significantly to my wishlist and to my understanding of some of the books I've read.

I'll let Tim O'Brien, author of In the Lake of the Woods, sum things up:

"We can and must and certainly do talk about stories. Still, it seems to me that a good story appeals not only to the intellect, but also to the stomach and the scalp and the tear ducts and the heart and the nape of the neck and the back of the throat, the whole human being...a successful story brings the body into agreement with the mind. In the end, sfter discussing a book or poem or short story I have loved, I most often shrug and fall silent, partly out of frustration, partly out of shame, and then find myself muttering, "Anyhow, You've got to read it.""

Mar 1, 2009, 2:20pm Top

Awesome quote! That is bang on, as they say...

Mar 1, 2009, 2:32pm Top


Great review--sounds like one to get!

re In the Lake of the Woods -- if you haven't --"You've got to read it."

Mar 5, 2009, 5:16pm Top

I'm keeping a look-out for In the Lake of the Woods.

I went off-list and read a book I picked out at the library while waiting for the kids to choose their own books. Unusually for me, I chose a book without recognizing the author's name or having heard of the book elsewhere. What a mistake!

Delusion by Peter Abrahams was labeled "a novel of suspense", a genre for which I have a distinct weakness. The central conspiracy was interesting, but it was handled in such a heavy handed way that the murderer, along with his complex motive, was obvious a third of the way through the book. Now, that is not necessarily a fatal flaw, IF the characters are interesting, but...

I think I may just be weary of books in which the "good guys" are all wealthy and connected and, after some danger and a minor wealthy character dying, end up just as pleasantly situated as before. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Greg Iles). I'm also tired of the beautiful woman with a trophy job and a perfect house and family as the main character. Is anyone all that? Is it necessary for the main character to be perfect before the action starts?

So, lesson learned, and I will be more careful of my reading choices in the future!

Mar 6, 2009, 2:27pm Top

>103 RidgewayGirl:, Those are soooo my hot buttons too! :-)

Mar 6, 2009, 2:41pm Top

Now Kay, I'm sure you're on pins and needles just waiting for my review of The Devil's Punchbowl... I can't stop reading Iles, he's a guilty pleasure of mine.

Mar 6, 2009, 3:50pm Top

Oh, I do like Greg Iles, I just went on a reading jag of his books and discovered that the only financially challenged (ie normal) or darker skinned characters were either servants or drug dealers. He writes with great sympathy and understanding, but does everyone need to have a size four (she put on a little weight after she had the two perfect children) blonde wife and a helicopter? He had an FBI agent protagonist with a drinking problem who was interesting, but she married wealth. It's just so boring (she whined), like chick-lit or literary fiction set in NYC; it's been done, people.

Mar 9, 2009, 8:39am Top

I added Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison because my parents are reading it. They can't say the title out loud, but they are reading it. It takes place here, in the town where I live, which doesn't seem to be exactly advertised by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

I read this book years ago, when it first came out, and rereading it, I found it to be a different and more difficult book. It tells the story of Bone, raised in poverty, viewed as trash and abused by her stepfather. It also tells the story of her mother's family, the Boatwrights, a collection of strong, worn-down women and hard drinking, not exactly law abiding men. The last few chapters were difficult for me to read, but the book is excellent, well-written, with a compassionate and unflinching eye for the people and the place. Allison portrays each character with sympathy, but she doesn't let anyone get away with anything.

Mar 9, 2009, 2:33pm Top

Yeah, that was a good book. Well, RidgewayGirl, I was laughing about your post #103 (and mine!) when I scarfed up A Version of the Truth this weekend. True to type, the men were rich and handsome, and the main character was funny, smart and beautiful, though, of course she had to discover that. Total fluff, but fun!

Mar 9, 2009, 5:53pm Top

It's funny, but with chick-lit I don't mind that set-up at all and even expect it. But chick-lit is not supposed to reflect reality (although bits often do) and crime novels are supposed to reflect a darker version of reality, not an affluent fantasy of overcoming temporary, albeit scary, adversity. I'm not going to enjoy a chick-lit novel where the hero has acne and a minor drug habit, but that's interesting in a crime novel, much more compelling than a handsome doctor who enjoys weekends in the Bahamas.

Mar 9, 2009, 8:36pm Top

Good point!

Mar 13, 2009, 10:37am Top

So, contrary to intentions, I read another book I found on the new releases shelf at the library. It looks really good, really substantial, dealing with the ethics of Big Pharma, its relationship with science, poverty and addiction. All of those things were themes in The Cure for Modern Life by Lisa Tucker explored by her characters, two homeless children, their addicted mother, a wealthy pharmaceutical company executive, a PhD in philosophy specializing in medical ethics and a gifted scientist.

The characters and themes, however, were only superficially described, creating a sort of Oprah-lite atmosphere, the accompanying love story unconvincing and awkward. The author was a big fan of the "tell, don't show" school of writing, with key events summarized later by other characters.

The last few chapters were brief summaries, as though the author were running out of paper, so that all the dramatic conclusions and confrontations were rendered in outline form or omitted altogether. For example, here's how the dissolution of one of the central relationships is handled: "What Amelia told him was unexpected and yet sadly predictable. Apparently, the week before, Ben had bolted from the whole father thing." The author had a great, meaty set-up for a novel, with lots of interesting ideas and controversies to explore and she blew it. With less sloppy writing and a bit more time spent to make the characters more than dressed up stereotypes, this could have been a fantastic book. I give it two "mehs" for potential.

Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 12:30pm Top

I'd lost what was lost by Catherine O'Flynn when I was only a few chapters in, but found it a few days ago.

This is a fantastic book and I'm putting it on my imaginary list of my top reads of 2009 (the only other book currently in residence is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

The novel is about the disappearance of a child and the reverberations that the unsolved crime have on two people working in the shopping mall in which she was last seen. The girl, Kate, is that staple of the books of childhood; the plucky, resourceful orphan investigating a mystery of her own. She's fully fleshed out, not in the "perfect, innocent child" kind of way, but as an individual, so that when she goes missing it leaves a wound in the story, which then jumps forward twenty years and we enter the lives of the sister of an early suspect and a security guard with a sadness of his own.

What Was Lost was filled with a sense of melancholy, partially due to the artificial cheerfulness of the shopping mall in which most of the novel is set, but also with an ironic humor.

"Lisa had known many alarm clocks, and she knew that they were not in this world to be liked...She found she got through clocks and toothpaste at about the same rate. The high turnover was due to two factors: first, the natural wastage of any alarm clock: smashed against walls, thrown out of windows, unsuccessfully flushed down the toilet; second, the user developing a natural resistance to the tone and pitch of the alarm itself, rendering it useless."

"Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were maths--all afternoon, maths. Or they were once. About three months ago they had ceased to be maths classes and become the stagnant ponds of despair and hopelessness that they remained today."

Mar 15, 2009, 12:29pm Top

I picked up The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga with very little enthusiasm (I am the person who has not yet read The Life of Pi, after all) and while it looked dauntingly worthy (it won the Booker), it had received some so-so reviews here.

I was surprised to find it a fun, quick read, a headlong rush of a book that never lost its momentum. The protagonist, the "white tiger" of the title is not an entirely sympathetic character, despite his humble beginnings. This is not a feel good book, by any stretch, and the more interesting for that. Balram is the poor son of a rickshaw driver in a rural village, taken out of school early to labor in a tea shop and how he rises to become a prosperous entrepreneur among the call centers of Bangalore. Balram tells the story and he is unflinching in his tale of anger, ignorance, servility and rebellion. This is a good book, and a readable one and deserves the hype surrounding it.

Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 1:41pm Top

I really liked it too! (Disclaimer: I really liked The Life of Pi as well.)

Mar 18, 2009, 8:05pm Top

I just finished Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose and I think I need to think a bit about what I want to say about it.

Mar 22, 2009, 11:25am Top

I took two creative writing classes at University. One was taught by a frizzy haired woman in a purple caftan and involved dream journals and lots of talk about feelings. The other was a rigid pattern of carefully defined assignments and the subsequent evisceration of same during class time. I hated both classes; while they were easy A's (which my GPA desperately needed), they didn't really improve my writing. Since then, I've found that most books about writing fall into one or the other style. A notable exception was Stephen King's On Writing and now this excellent book; Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. Belonging firmly in the show-don't-tell school of instruction, it is full of fragments of novels that illustrate the point she is making. Beginning with words as the subject, Prose continues through topics like gestures, paragraphs and dialogue. It has certainly changed how I read, making me go a little slower, making me notice word choice and how the book is constructed. An amazing book!

Mar 22, 2009, 4:30pm Top


***#@*##@ (naughty words!--I don't even swear well in Typing. :-) ) I have been very successfully turning a blind eye to Reading Like a Writer because I was afraid if I peeked I would have to buy it. You slipped under my radar and now I have to put it on my "to buy" list. Soon! Oh, well, I love Books about Books and it will fit in my 999 category. You are forgiven for writing such an enticing "review." :-D

Mar 22, 2009, 7:52pm Top

I liked Reading Like a Writer too, so I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Mar 24, 2009, 10:33am Top

I am beginning to worry about this deepening obsession that is our hobby. Books about books! If I spent as much time and passion on, say, making custom wedding dresses for Barbie dolls or carving Star Trek themed nativity sets I'd have a thriving home business!

I pulled out Christine Falls by Benjamin Black from somewhere deep in my TBR pile after it was mentioned somewhere in this forum. After Reading Like a Writer I really wanted something I could rely on being well written. And it was. And also gripping and melancholy and really, really good. It's set in Dublin and Boston in the mid 1950's -- a world as foreign and removed from us as the middle ages. Quirke is a pathologist who stumbles onto a mystery when he sees a corpse one night in his morgue that is gone the next day, leaving behind a report clearly falsified by his sort of brother. Quirke is determined to get to the bottom of things, persisting in the face of familial disapproval and violent resistance.

The book is about as cheerful as a rainy afternoon in November and its strength is the quality of the writing. Also, it features Brendan Behan in a small role as Quirke's old drinking companion.

"In the hallway of the house there was the usual smell he could never identify, brownish, exhausted, a breath out of childhood, if childhood was the word for that first decade of misery he had suffered through."

"When she spoke they listened with exaggerated attention, nodding and smiling encouragement, as they would to a child, or a half-wit. She would hear her voice trembling with the strain of trying to sound normal, the sentences tottering out of her mouth and falling ineffectually at their feet. And how they would frown, feigning polite bafflement, when she forgot herself and used an Americanism."

Edited: Mar 25, 2009, 8:34pm Top

After the Benjamin Black book I thought I'd take a light break before tackling The Silver Swan and chose a Chick Lit by a British author, Jane Green, that I hadn't read before. Bookends was light and fluffy, with serviceable writing but tried to do too many things in too short a book, leaving many important plot developments as brief phone calls after the fact to third parties, or worse, as a short explanatory paragraph. The book also became tiresomely preachy towards the end. Chick Lit novels can incorporate difficult issues well (see Rachel's Holiday) but this was an informational polemic and out of keeping with the rest of the book. I should really learn from bitter experience and give the genre up.

Apr 1, 2009, 8:02pm Top

I kept up my search for a light diversion and next read The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. This is a light, romantic novel set in Napoleonic France and concerns dashing British spies with names like "the Purple Gentian". It was well written, honestly fluffy and it satisfied my sweet tooth and I can now happily return to my dark, gloomy tomes.

Apr 1, 2009, 8:49pm Top

No, no, no! Now you have read the others so we can do the latest one together! Then again, you can't feed that sweet tooth too much...

Apr 4, 2009, 2:34pm Top

I disagree with the old adage and firmly believe that you can judge a book by its cover. Clearly, a book whose covers feature raised gold lettering, scantily covered breasts and/or Fabio is not 1) translated from the original Norwegian, 2) a prose poem or 3) a masterpiece of magic realism. Likewise, paperback classics usually have something from the National Gallery on their covers and if the cover is of a woman whose face is not visible, the inside of the book will be that type of women's literary fiction popularized by Oprah.

So the dust jacket of The Monster of Florence misled me. It features a really nice photograph of Giambologna's The Rape of the Sabine Women and some highly pleasing font choices. I suggest you take a look at the cover yourself the next time you're browsing in Barnes & Noble; it is esthetically pleasing. I knew that it featured both Florence and a serial killer and so I was ready to enjoy myself. The author, Douglas Preston, writes the kind of thriller that I usually avoid, but I'm willing to be won over. I was more annoyed than intrigued; although the book had great potential, it was hampered by a narrowness of viewpoint and the fatal failing that the murderer is never found and so no questions are answered. Fiction deals with these issues without breaking a sweat; the author can give us the motivations of the killer, let us witness scenes that only the murderer walks away from and provide a narrative that brings order to chaos. In The Monster of Florence not only are we as ignorant at the end as we were at the beginning, but the book ends before the story does. The author is also deeply involved and therefore biased; I was unable to determine the facts from the opinions. For example, one investigator is well liked because he allows the media free access to everything, another who does not is never mentioned without a few insulting descriptors--he answers questions, but in a boring or pedantic way.

In its defense, The Monster of Florence does give insight into the tangled world of Italian law enforcement and judiciary as well as an insider's view of a few cultural practices. So, not entirely a waste of time, but close.

Apr 4, 2009, 4:32pm Top

Well you are just full of surprises. I never would have thought you would crack open the spine of a Douglas Preston novel. Have you read Eat Pray Love? There's a section on Italy in there you might find interesting.

Apr 4, 2009, 6:28pm Top

The Monster of Florence was non-fiction, of the true-crime genre (or as an old friend used to call them--how to manuals). I had remained unaware of Douglas Preston altogether, until he pointed out his successful writing career partway through this book.

Edited: Apr 9, 2009, 10:23am Top

I was mentally still in Italy when I took my kids to library and returned The Monster of Florence, so I checked out A Stopover in Venice by Kathryn Walker. I followed bonniebooks example and sat down and read the first few chapters and then I had to bring it home.

I loved this book. It reminded me a bit of People of the Book and The Historian in that it was structured as a parallel telling of a modern love story with their research and discoveries of an earlier story woven in. It's a form that, when well done, never fails to please me.

Nel deserts her husband while on a train, disembarking at a rural station in Italy. She boards the next train to Venice, rescues a dog and meets up with a charming cast of characters uncovering a fresco newly discovered in an old house. The story then follows her and then the suspected artist, Giorgione. There is quite a bit of Italian Renaissance art history and Venetian history in the book, well presented and not dumbed down; the author presumes the reader is not an idiot, which was refreshing. Venice was beautifully described and inhabited from the pigeon-harassed tourists in Piazza San Marcos to the tiny alleys and backwaters of the edges of Venice.

Nel's dying marriage was particularly well described:

"Sometimes when I would go through a door, Antony would stand aside and make a courteous little bow. It looked attractive and humble, but as I passed by I felt a cold shiver of hostility that made me want to hit him. I think he loved me more honestly when he slammed doors in my face."

"I didn't have to follow him around carrying resentment like a sherpa, awash in loneliness and disappointment. I could take myself away and become something else."

"I retraced the map and was heading north through the labyrinth when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a sign in the window of a dilapidated house. CHIROMANTE it said and, underneath, for the tourists, PSYCHIC READINGS, TAROT, PALM. Lydia and I would have to come here and find out what Clara's card meant, have our own unconsummated fates revealed. How absurd you are, Nel, you won't believe in churches, but you'll be back to see some old imposter to whom you will give utter credence. We haven't seen her yet, I objected, she may be wonderfully prescient. I certainly prefer intuition to doctrine."

Apr 12, 2009, 11:39am Top

John Banville, writing under the name Benjamin Black, has now written two mysteries set in mid-century Dublin, with the protagonist a widowed pathologist. Christine Falls was excellent and I was pleased to get The Silver Swan as my ER book this time. If anything, The Silver Swan is even better than Christine Falls. I very much hope he keeps writing more in this series.

Black's great skill is in description and since the Dublin of these books is long gone, this is invaluable to picturing what it must have been. He also has the gift of describing a character in a few perfectly chosen words, so that one can picture them and know what they will do next.

"He had that smell, hot and raw and salty, that Quirke recognized at once, the smell of the recently bereaved. He sat there at the table, propping himself upright, a bulging sack of grief and misery and pent up rage..."

"She was reminded of a priest giving a sermon, but he was not like a priest, or not like the priests she was used to, at any rate, with their smelly black clothes and badly shaved chins and haunted, resentful eyes."

Apr 12, 2009, 12:59pm Top

RidgewayGirl, thanks for your reviews and comments and quotes, I've been enjoying them and have added So Many Books, So Little Time and What Was Lost to my list.

Apr 14, 2009, 10:33am Top

Thanks, LisaMorr, while I'm writing my impressions of each book I read in order to fix them in my own mind (having more than once picked up a book and wondered whether or not I'd already read it or bought a book I already owned), but it's still encouraging to know that someone reads them!

I finished The Brothers Karamazov last night and will post a review as soon as I've mulled it over a bit more.

Apr 15, 2009, 4:43pm Top

"The foul quagmire in which he was sinking of his own volition made him sick and, like so many others under such circumstances, he believed in the magic of a change of place--just to get away from this spot, to be surrounded by different people, to be in a different situation, where everything would be new and different!"

I've finally finished The Brothers Karamazov, which turned out not to be the kind of book I could devour at one long stretch, but had to nibble away at the philosophical musings (there was a section called "The Grand Inquisitor" that I'm still thinking through). There were great, rollicking sections of outrageous behavior (head stomping! wench hiring! public collapses!) that would have startled the Coen brothers and a long segment dealing with a holy man so self-congratulatory that I wanted to pop him upside the head, but I may have been under the influence of those wacky Karamazovs.

I first read this book when I was much too young to do more than form rough impressions on which brother was hottest (hey! I was fourteen, what do you expect), so this felt like I was visiting a city that I had once known but that had been substantially altered in the intervening years.

Apr 17, 2009, 9:29pm Top


I loved your review. I read The Brothers Karamazov when I was a sophomore in high school and remember loving it, but that was so many years ago I hardly remember the story (although I do remember "The Grand Inquisitor"). I also remember that there was a sort of mystery, which is probably why I loved it! I recently bought a new translation and plan to reread it either this year or early next year. I like the way you describe "revisiting" it--I'm wondering what I will think now after so many years and so much more life experience. You've made me really want to get into it now.

Apr 18, 2009, 10:37am Top

It's well worth rereading. And I am reassured to know that I was not alone in my teen-age pretentiousness. I should have been listening to Wham! and Duran Duran instead of immersing myself in gloomy Russian novels.

Apr 18, 2009, 11:26am Top

Arghh, I just realized that I accused MusicMom41 of teenage pretentiousness. MusicMom, I was a pretentious teenager for some years. I'm sure you were just lovely and wore far less black eyeliner than I dd.

Apr 18, 2009, 8:09pm Top

LOL Of course I was a pretentious teenager! I would never have listened to "popular" music--only classic. However, in my reading I would read just about anything--and I really did enjoy reading the "classics" for fun and still do. No pretentious--just a "geek." (My son will say I used that word incorrectly--but I think that's what I mean. :-) )

Edited: Apr 19, 2009, 6:17pm Top

"Some of us are just not equipped for suicide. When we're at the bottom, suicide is too creative an act to initiate."

Fall on Your Knees by Anne-Marie MacDonald is grim, grim, grim. Which is not to say there are not humorous passages, or that MacDonald does not have a lyrical voice, that makes the reading of this relentless tragedy worthwhile, even enjoyable, but the moments of grace are overwhelmed by the unending sadness of this story of a family living on the rough edge of Canada during the first half of the last century. I loved it.

"Frances has grown an inch and a half. She is now five feet tall and old enough to quit school. And she would, except that Daddy will not hear of it. Frances wants to get out in the world and garner some practical experience so she can join the French Foreign Legion as a nurse. She wants to cross the desert disguised as a camel driver by day and a seductress by night, smuggling secret documents to the Allies. Mata Hari and her seven veils. Except that Frances would escape the firing squad at the last second. But Daddy only ever has one response regardless of the extravagance of Frances's ambitions: "Even spies--especially spies--need an education.""

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, a rocky land where the mines have finally been exhausted and poverty is routine, is ever present, beating out the last ounces of pity from her inhabitants. "...the armed forces are increasingly an option for the jobless and the working poor looking to get off this cursed godforsaken rock that they love more than the breath in their own lungs."

Apr 19, 2009, 6:46pm Top

I liked that book, and I liked The Way the Crow Flies even more. It has an equally grim topic, yet her descriptions of the everyday lives of these families are so real, so engaging. I loved it because it brought back so many childhood memories. You've got to wait until summer to read it, though, if you haven't yet.

Apr 20, 2009, 11:57am Top

I will have to look for it. I am very much hoping that Fall on Your Knees does not evoke any childhood memories, though.

Apr 20, 2009, 2:45pm Top

No, I'm talking about The Way the Crow Flies.

Apr 20, 2009, 4:49pm Top

Whew! Fall on Your Knees was a great read, but I would be a little concerned if you were able to pull any cheerful childhood memories out of that grim tale! I've managed to mooch a copy of The Way the Crow Flies. Thanks for telling me about it.

Apr 21, 2009, 10:01am Top

"He remembered the old man, the fiddle player, at Indian Springs, up in the mountains, sitting by the spring every day for an hour, playing songs, talking to people who came for water. He'd said the two big invisible life ingredients were hope and fear, and that people took doses of hope from the springs in their jars and sheepskins. That was when Henry had first arrived up there to sell Bibles, and the fiddler told him all about the history of the springs -- the little boy who found it and realized next day that his sore throat was cured by the water, about all the other people cured. He remembered that the fiddle player said he didn't believe in the water but believed in the hope it made. He said fear was hope's brother, that both could do bad and good things to people, just like water and liquor. He'd said water could rot wood and revive plants, and that liquor could rot marriages and revive storytelling."

The Bible Salesman is a funny, slight and comfortable read, about a young man who goes out into the world to sell Bibles and the people he meets along the way, including a crook posing as an undercover FBI agent. I enjoyed it, but thought that it lacked something; themes were forgotten and it felt more like an exercise in writing humorous anecdotes with heart than an actual novel.

Apr 24, 2009, 6:48pm Top

Tethered by Amy MacKinnon was a very different suspense/mystery novel. The narrator, Clara Marsh, is both trustworthy and unreliable. She is also very messed up, as are most of the characters in this novel centered around a funeral home and questions about the unidentified body of a young girl. I love the genre, and MacKinnon followed the rules of the game, while tweaking it. I really enjoyed it, even though it was clear who the bad guy was early on.

Apr 24, 2009, 7:06pm Top

Those Who Save Us is a novel set in Germany during WWII. I will admit that I began this book with a bit of hesitation; I think it is almost impossible to write a nuanced novel about this time. There have been some excellent books written, such as Skeletons at the Feast or even Sarah's Key, this was not one of them. I really disliked this book! I kept reading, hoping she would go beyond the comic book-level characterizations (I swear I could hear the music boom threateningly every time the Nazis were mentioned) but it never happened. Anachronisms abounded, problems that were no longer needed to advance the plot simply vanished and the historical research stuck out alarmingly--I could see where information had been copied in and, a few times, could recognize the book she'd used.

Apr 25, 2009, 12:18pm Top

...beyond the comic book-level characterizations (I swear I could hear the music boom threateningly every time the Nazis were mentioned)

Great way to describe this! I'm going to remember that visual when I have a similar reaction. It's one of the disadvantages (maybe the only one?) of being an avid reader. She may be a terrible writer, but it's made worse by the fact that you've already read some really good books on the same subject. And you're sooo young! It only gets worse as you get older.

Apr 25, 2009, 7:14pm Top

Thanks, bonniebooks, I felt I was really harsh on Those Who Save Us, but I'm determined to be honest in these reviews.

I went to a big used book sale today with my current enabler and lugged home 30 books. I have a few left unread from the last sale and am acquiring books at a faster pace than I can read them. But, oh, they are so lovely.

Apr 26, 2009, 1:50am Top

I really appreciate people's honesty as I'm trying to look at recommendations from people on LT who sound like they have similar tastes in books.

May 1, 2009, 8:02pm Top

It's been so busy that I've had very little time to read. I've been getting up at six so that I can have a half hour before my day starts, but then I'm too tired at night to do more than go to sleep! I've been reading King Leopold's Ghost, which is very readable and very good, but wrenching. I took a short break when I got a copy of What Angels Fear. I have no idea where I heard of it or why I wanted it, but I felt compelled to read it right away, without the usual aging process most of my books are forced to undergo.

What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris is a noirish historical mystery set in England during the Regency. Despite the dark undertones, it's a light and easy read with a bit of romance and characters that were interesting enough to want to know more about them.

May 2, 2009, 4:51am Top

Just catching up on your thread - some great books mentioned here. I've noted Reading like a writer and a stopover in Venice. I also enjoyed What was lost.

May 4, 2009, 10:19am Top

I've just read Garnethill by Denise Mina in tandem with VictoriaPL. I read this a few years ago and was astonished by it and, just like that, I had a new favorite author. I was curious if I could enjoy a mystery as much as I had the first time, but I guess age is on my side, since I didn't remember who'd done it. I did remember loving the characters and Mina's descriptions of Glasgow and I did love them every bit as much the second time around.

Maureen is a Scottish lass with issues -- her family is a nightmare (the most sympathetic of them is her brother, a drug dealer), she's still recovering from a mental breakdown, she drinks too much and then she finds her therapist boyfriend brutally murdered in her own apartment. The police are focusing their attention in entirely the wrong direction and so Maureen sets out to discover who'd killed her boyfriend, along the way finding a sea of abuse and cruel behavior. She has the steadfast help of her brother and her best friend, who works at a shelter for abused women and has a cynical, angry view of the world.

The writing is wonderful. Even the most reprehensible of characters is complex and believable. Mina shows what abuse and alcoholism can do to a family, and doesn't flinch from showing the realities that many people live with as well as the kindnesses that redeem us. The mystery itself is a page turner. I was tremendously anxious to find out what had been left in her hall cupboard!

May 4, 2009, 10:47am Top

Let me just echo Detective McAskill and say "Lass, you don't want to know what's in the cupboard."

Edited: May 5, 2009, 10:41am Top

King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild is only my second history book of the year, but if they continue in this vein, I will have to go on Prozac or hug kittens before the next one. It's a very, very good book, astonishingly readable and the author works hard to find the voices of the victims. He does have a bit of a bias, the people he admires are forgiven their lapses in judgment, the ones he despises are treated in a less than sympathetic way. Still, I can't see anyone delving into the history of the Congo basin without becoming angry. It was a wrenching read.

I feel that I have a bit better understanding of why the area is such a mess today. And the genocide and destruction of an enormous number of people and cultures must be remembered, as well as the bravery of the few who dared to speak out, often at great risk to themselves.

May 5, 2009, 1:38pm Top

Thanks for the review of King Leopold's Ghost. I remember seeing this book when it came out and always hoped to read it. You've motivated me to bump this closer to the top of my wish list.

May 6, 2009, 10:14am Top

My Early Reviewers book this time was Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson. It was a fun, easy-going read about a sub-culture I know next to nothing about. Johnson narrates some truly hair-raising and dangerous occurrences with empathy and sang-froid; he'd be a good guy to have around in a crisis. The most telling story, I found, was one in which he goes on an impromptu road trip to Idaho with a friend and a Spiderman lunch box full of drugs, returning thankfully to his book-filled apartment and Mr. Peepers, his cat.

May 8, 2009, 10:44pm Top

Great review of Garnethill! This is a new author for me and I'll be looking for it this weekend when I go to the bookstore.

May 9, 2009, 9:50pm Top

The reviews of my previous book, Tattoo Machine, compared it with Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. It was on my TBR pile, so I gave it a read.

This is a fun, passionate book about the restaurant industry. Bourdain is profane and opinionated, which made for a highly entertaining book. It's a little scattershot, with chapters about restaurants interspered with chapters about people he's worked with or chapters expressing a firm point of view about some aspect of chefdom. My favorite chapter was called How to Cook Like the Pros and was a surprisingly accessible selection of easy improvements, delivered at a shout:

"Come on! Get in the game here! It takes so little to elevate an otherwise ordinary-looking plate. You need zero talent to garnish food. So why not do it? And how about a sprig of fresh herb-thyme or rosemary? You can use the part not needed for garnish to maybe actually flavor your food. That dried sawdust they sell in the cute little cans at the super market? You can throw that, along with the spice rack, right in the garbage. It all tastes like a stable floor. Use fresh! Good food is very often, even most often, simple food..."

I actually went out today and sowed herb seeds in all my window boxes. A fun read for anyone with an interest in cooking or eating out, although vegetarians and those who don't like truly excessive amounts of profane language may want to give this one a miss.

May 11, 2009, 9:50am Top

I just put Kitchen Confidential on my wishlist. Sounds like a very fun read, and I don't mind being yelled at. :-) I won't be garnishing my food for everyday meals, but I do agree with him about fresh herbs. When I do have to use dried, I use Penzeys, which is a mail-order spice company and soooo much better than the stuff in the grocery store.

Thanks for all of the reviews. I love reading them (even if it is disastrous for my wishlist!), and this is one of my favorite threads!

May 11, 2009, 11:00am Top

I remember liking Kitchen Confidential too. Don't remember anything specific from it, but more an overall feeling that cooks in professional kitchens work hard, have long hours, get burned and cut a lot, are creative, and frequently have addictive personalities (a lot of smoking, drinking, and drugs). I also was left with a general queasiness about what happens in even a good restaurant (e.g., I didn't realize how much professional chefs use their mouths/fingers/hands where I would use spoons, forks or tongs, etc.). But maybe I'm confusing related impressions from Heat.

May 11, 2009, 2:07pm Top

Heat was similar in it's vision of the frantic professional kitchen, however, it was also the book in which the author butchers an entire hog in his tiny New York apartment.

May 11, 2009, 4:54pm Top

Gotta get to Heat! Seems like parts of it will be a little like parts of The Omnivore's Dilemma?

>156 bonniebooks: I also was left with a general queasiness about what happens in even a good restaurant (e.g., I didn't realize how much professional chefs use their mouths/fingers/hands where I would use spoons, forks or tongs, etc.)

Oddly, I felt somehow comforted by that. Weird. At least until he stressed that illness was no excuse for restaurant employees to miss work :( then I got nervous all over again.

May 12, 2009, 12:43pm Top

There's been a bit of discussion about Tana French's book, In the Woods, with some people loving it and others not liking it at all. I had it on my shelf, so I thought I'd form my own strong opinion (and the huge issue of the excessive number of books that I own, but have not read, and the obsessive accumulation of same is another issue that we will ignore).

I'm weighing in firmly in the "loved it" category. This is well written and gripping and tells the story of friendships and how we rely on them and how they change over time. Rob, a murder squad detective, has a tragic past. When he was twelve he went into a small wood with his two best friends; his friends were never seen again. When a girl is murdered in the same area twenty years later he and his partner and best friend are assigned to the case. What follows is a convoluted, high profile murder case, while Rob struggles to remember what happened so long ago. The best part of this book is his complex friendship with his partner, Cassie. He says this about her:

"The girls I dream of are the gentle ones, wistful by high windows or singing sweet old songs at a piano, long hair drifting, tender as apple blossom. But a girl who goes into battle beside you and keeps your back is a different thing, a thing to make you shiver. Think of the first time you slept with someone, or the first time you fell in love: that blinding explosion that left you crackling to the fingertips with electricity, initiated and transformed. I tell you that was nothing, nothing at all, beside the power of putting your lives, simply and daily, into each other's hands."

May 12, 2009, 2:33pm Top

Great - another one In the Woods to put on my wishlist. I need authors to take a one-year moratorium from writing so I can get caught up. At this rate I'm adding faster than I can read!

May 12, 2009, 10:20pm Top

#159 I've just started In the Woods, so I was worried about spoilers and read with only one eye until I got to "loved it", then stopped. I was having second thoughts about, and very nearly took it back to the library unread. I'm not far into it, but so far, so good. Glad to hear you think it's worth the effort.

May 16, 2009, 4:19pm Top

Karin Alvtegen writes the exact kind of gloomy, fraught novels I love and so I was pleased to get a copy of Shame (touchstones not working for this title), and it did not disappoint! Alvtegen writes much like Barbara Vine, and with a dour, Scandinavian outlook that bodes only unhappiness (or worse) for the unlucky denizens of her books. In this one, a four-year-old boy is found abandoned at the entrance to an amusement park. Thirty years later, an old woman dies and the local social worker is given the task of finding any living friends or relatives and arranging her burial. What follows is a well-crafted path, twisted, but convincing, to a dreadful ending, with lots of despair and unease along the way. I loved it, but I admit that I find this kind of psychological suspense cheering in a way and cannot get enough of them.

May 23, 2009, 8:42pm Top

I've been busy with far too much to do, sneaking books in where I can, at night propping my eyelids open in the hopes of reading a few more pages. I have two fantastic books underway: A Jury of Her Peers and Verdammnis, the German language version of The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. It's slow, but enjoyable going, slow because one is dense with ideas and information and the other is long and in German, a language I can read, but at a much reduced speed.

So I took a little break with Kathryn Harrison's While they Slept, a non-fiction account of the murder of three members of a family by a fourth, with a fifth surviving. So a foray into the true crime genre, albeit with the veneer of a "respectable" author and without gory photographs stuck in the middle. I love a good mystery novel, but usually avoid true crime due to the usual pornographic lingering on the depravity of the murders and the inability to get at the inner lives of any of the people involved. This one tried, through many conversations with the surviving daughter, an intelligent woman who has clearly examined what happened while protecting herself. The real protagonist of this book, however, is Kathryn Harrison. You may remember her as the novelist who created a bit of a stir awhile ago with the non-fiction account of her sexual relationship with her father, who she first met as an adult in The Kiss, which she describes in some detail in this book. It wasn't a bad book, but it proved as incapable as any of the more sensational publications of entering into the inner world of either the victim or the murderer. I did learn a great deal about Kathryn Harrison's inner life, though, enough that were I to meet her I would feel slightly embarrassed at the things she's told me.

May 26, 2009, 11:46am Top

I have hit the halfway point! And reasonably on schedule, not that I'm counting, or anything! My mid-point book was the completely forgettable Playing James, which was dull and silly and read purely when I couldn't concentrate on anything worthwhile. And now off to read something that doesn't feel like a waste of time...

May 26, 2009, 12:05pm Top

Congrats Kay!

May 26, 2009, 12:41pm Top

You've turned the corner. Congrats RidgewayGirl.

May 26, 2009, 1:57pm Top

Nice job!

Jun 1, 2009, 12:25am Top

Congrats, I'm also sitting at the halfway point.

Jun 1, 2009, 1:02pm Top

I'm one of those who came down firming on the "loved it" side of the In the Woods debate, enjoying the ambiguity of the ending, so I had to read The Likeness as soon as I could.

The Likeness by Tana French picks up a few months after the end of In the Woods, but the narrator this time is Rob Ryan's ex-partner, Cassie Maddox. She's left the Murder Squad for Domestic Violence and is in a relatively uncomplicated relationship with Sam, the third wheel detective of the previous book. She is called back into Undercover, where she had worked before she joined the Murder Squad. A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Cassie was found murdered and she is asked to become that girl.

I thought this book was even better than In the Woods and for those whose main complaint were the unanswered questions left laying about after the book ended, I can tell you that the bits are neatly tied together at the end of this one. French also develops the characters further, giving us pieces of Cassie's take on the previous events. And Sam is lovely, maybe my favorite character of all; I could hear his soft Irish accent whenever he spoke. I'm not sure how this book would do as a stand alone mystery, I read it after reading the first in the series (oh please let there be a whole meaty series), but I can say it was one of my favorite reads so far this year.

Jun 1, 2009, 2:46pm Top

I might just have to read The Likeness after your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Jun 6, 2009, 8:25pm Top

I have finally, finally finished Verdammnis (The Girl Who Played with Fire) by Stieg Larsson, all 751 German language pages of it.

If you liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you will like The Girl Who Played with Fire, but it is clearly the second book of a trilogy and I wouldn't recommend reading them out of order. Like its predecessor, this book is exhaustive in scope, no aspect of the plot lies hidden. If a character visits an island, there will be a map and a paragraph describing the native flora and main industries. The plot this time is better, dealing with Lisbeth Salander's past and explaining exactly why she was declared incompetent to manage her own life. I don't want to talk about the storyline at all as any details would be spoilerish, just, if it could keep me reading through 751 pages of German, then it's pretty exciting.

Jun 10, 2009, 2:57pm Top

Ruth Rendell has been consistently good for decades. Her best books are brilliant and even her lesser works make for gripping reading. Her newest, The Birthday Present, written under the name Barbara Vine, is one of her lesser works, still gripping and well plotted, but missing that bit extra. It concerns a British Member of Parliament, the "birthday present" he planned for his married lover and the long reaching and disastrous consequences. Vine usually chooses characters from the edges of society, misfits, the psychologically damaged, so the choice of a well-connected, charismatic man as her subject is a bit different, but it does allow her to show off her first hand knowledge of how Parliament is structured, with plentiful details about the private dining rooms, etc...(Rendell is a member of the House of Lords).

If you're a fan of the author, then by all means, read this one, you will be satisfied. If you've never read anything by Ruth Rendell, I would suggest you read A Dark-Adapted Eye, Gallowglass, Grasshopper or any number of others instead.

Jun 11, 2009, 10:50am Top

I received an Early Reviewer book earlier this week and read it right away. Beat by Amy Boaz is the story of a woman who flees to Paris in the company of her seven-year-old daughter to avoid some unpleasantness about the disappearance of her lover's common-law wife. Frances was the most deeply unlikeable protagonist I have ever encountered. Even in The Almost Moon, the narrator had glimpses of self-awareness to redeem her. Frances complained constantly about everyone around her, but remained unconscious of her own reprehensible behavior. She brings her two very young children (2 and 4) with her to a wedding to which they were not invited because she doesn't want to be alone with her husband and then is offended when no special arrangements have been made for them and bitter that she was asked to take a fussy toddler out of the room.

She begins a relationship with a man as unreflective as herself, for all that he is a Buddhist and a poet. As she blithely destroys the lives around her, she remains steadfast in her view of herself as a helpless victim. We are caught helplessly in this collision." she says.

I could not put this book down. It was well written and I kept reading, both to find out what idiotic action she would next take and in the hope that she would meet an especially bloody end. On the other hand, I never had a clear idea of why she wanted out of her marriage, or why she chose such a weak-willed and pretentious man as her lover.

Jun 12, 2009, 10:59am Top

>173 RidgewayGirl: that's wild -- a detestable main character yet the desire to keep reading! Do you think the author was aiming for character "complexity" and overshot, or did she intend that readers would find Frances that unlikeable? It's risky, for sure.

Jun 15, 2009, 4:06pm Top

I'm not sure the author intended to make the protagonist and her lover unsympathetic, but I'm not sure that having a likable main character is necessary to a good novel. Alice Sebold's main character in The Almost Moon is not nice, yet I sympathized with her all the same. Patricia Highsmith managed with her Ripley books. Yet, in all the examples of reprehensible main characters, there was usually a glimmer of something interesting there. With Beat, the character was entirely without redeeming charm, and I'm not sure that worked. The only example of that I can think of was American Psycho and that book was a sad waste of paper and talent.

Edited: Jun 15, 2009, 4:24pm Top

I spent part of this weekend reading a wonderful book called Ella Minnow Pea. It was an unmitigated joy.

In the tiny island country of Nollop, located off the coast of South Carolina, the founder is honored with a statue in the town square. Nevin Nollop invented the sentence "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.", using all the letters of the alphabet. As the letters from the phrase begin to fall, the country's leaders decide that the founder intended them to do without these letters, and issue edicts forbidding the use of same take effect. As the rule of the five councilmen becomes more and more despotic, the difficultly of daily life is beautifully illustrated in the letters written between the members of Nollop.

This book is charming and very, very clever. An easy enjoyable read, I'd recommend it for anyone who wants a good summer read.

Jun 15, 2009, 6:49pm Top

Good to hear that you enjoyed Ella Minnow Pea--it's been on my TBR list for a while. Next time I see a copy, I'm going to snap it up.

Jun 15, 2009, 8:16pm Top

#172. I read The Birthday Present also and agree with you, there was a little something missing. I think however, even a mediocre book by Ruth Rendell is worth reading. I think I will probably grab A Dark Adapted Eye soon.

Jun 16, 2009, 4:12pm Top

I don't usually read Young Adult fiction, figuring that 1. I read enough of it at the appropriate time and 2. I will have to read a quantity of the genre soon enough as my children get older. Millicent Min Girl Genius was recommended in various places enough so that when I saw a copy, I picked it up and read it. It was nice, I will admit, to involve myself in something that took only an evening to read. It was also really good, being both heartfelt and very funny. I look forward to putting this in my daughter's hands in a few years.

Millicent Min is highly intelligent, having skipped several grades so that she is eleven and about to become a senior in high school. She has never had much time for playing and being so much younger than her classmates has left her solitary. This book is about the summer before her senior year, as she takes a college class in poetry, is forced to take volleyball by her concerned parents, tutors a boy in danger of flunking sixth grade and, surprisingly, finds a friend.

"I know they are anxious for me to make friends. When I was a sophomore my grandmother encouraged me to join more extracurricular activities. She's always been a believer in groups. Maddie is a member of NOW, Greenpeace, MADD and Costco."

"All my life my parents have been obsessed with my having a good time. When I was younger, they enrolled me in Tumbling Tots, forced me to take finger-painting lessons, and even purchased me an annual pass to the Rancho Rosetta Children's Theater with the hopes that I might be smitten by the colorful costumed characters on the stage. Mom and Dad even bought me Sea Monkeys, a Mr. Potato Head, and a kite shaped like a butterfly. Luckily, my father likes all those toys, so they haven't gone to waste."

Jun 16, 2009, 6:50pm Top

Just added Ella Minnow Pea and In the Woods to the Bookmooch wishlist. Good reviews RidgewayGirl.

Jun 17, 2009, 9:46pm Top

Added Ella Minnow Pea to my own TBR list, sounds fantastic!

Edited: Jun 18, 2009, 2:23pm Top

For a complete change of pace I have next read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. I was a little surprised to find that I liked this very scary ghost story. I think that if someone writes well, it doesn't matter what they write about and Hill writes well, not exceptionally so, but straightforwardly and with a feel for the details of place and time. His descriptions of the American South, while not flattering, are evocative.

"No plane. Planes are too fast. You can't go south on a plane. You need to drive. Or take a train. You need to watch the dirt turn to clay. You need to look at all the junkyards full of rustin' cars. You need to go over a few bridges. They say that evil spirits can't follow you over running water, but that's just humbug. You ever notice rivers in the North aren't like rivers in the South? Rivers in the South are the color of chocolate, and they smell like marsh and moss. Up here they're black, and they smell sweet, like pines. Like Christmas."

Jun 18, 2009, 2:27pm Top

Alright! A book we agree on! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Jun 18, 2009, 2:31pm Top

Funny how a good quote can entice you. You got me! :-)

Jun 27, 2009, 5:19pm Top

I think I'll have to rearrange what's in each category soon to get everything to fit nicely.

I read What Was She Thinking? (Notes on a Scandal) by Zoe Heller. I really enjoyed her newest book, The Believers, despite the mixed reviews. This book was made into a movie starring Kate Winslet, which I will have to now watch.

What Was She Thinking is about a teacher who enters into a relationship with a student. It's told from the point of view of an older teacher who had befriended her. The narrator is a lonely, stalkerish, bitter woman, the narration thus is unreliable and skewed. A good book, although dark. None of the characters are anybody you'd want to spend time with, but that made for compelling reading.

Jun 30, 2009, 10:39am Top

It's hot and steamy here in the Old South. In honor of that I read No Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs, a mountain climber who distinguished himself by climbing all fourteen of the mountains over 8000 metres without the help of oxygen. He is most famous for appearing in the IMAX film about climbing Everest and for providing essential help when the 1996 Everest disaster occurred (the subject of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air). I'm fascinated by high altitude mountain climbing. I don't like to be cold and really don't understand why people do something so dangerous and uncomfortable, so I read about it. This was a worthy addition to books on the topic. It's not particularly well written, but most mountaineering accounts aren't. There is a little too little about the actual climbs, and what there is has a bit of a gloss over it, but given that the few journal entries read like a teenage girl's diary, if the girl were a climber and the boy was a mountain, this is probably for the best. Viesturs climbs mountains because he loves it. There was also a fair amount of space devoted to describing his own humility, and accounts of how other climbers really admire how modest he is:

Other climbers in my position, out of natural envy, might have given only grudging praise to the climb JC and Alberto had pulled off, but I felt an immense admiration. That's easy to say in retrospect, but you don't usually lie to your diary: "What a climb! 4 days in the Death Zone--not many are tough enough to have done what they did. They walked the razor's edge for sure! Awesome achievement!"

See? Both the laudatory unselfishness and the teenage diary in one example. Still, I really enjoyed this book, although I skimmed the last few chapters, which weren't about climbing, but about inspirational speaking and corporate sponsorship. If you're a fan of the adventurer's memoir and have exhausted the standards, then this is an excellent addition, shedding additional light on the events described in Into Thin Air and commenting on others like Anatoli Boukreev's The Climb and Joe Simpson's Touching the Void. If you're interested but haven't read anything in the genre, I would suggest reading Jon Krakauer's books or Touching the Void first.

Edited: Jun 30, 2009, 10:48am Top

I've got Into Thin Air on the list for my challenge!

If you ever run out of non-fiction books on climbing, you can always start on three of my favorite fictional accounts:

The Ascent, Angels of Light and The Wall by Jeff Long.

Jul 2, 2009, 11:37am Top

Akimitsu Takagi was a best-selling Japanese author who wrote in the 1950s and 1960s. The Soho Press specializes in publishing crime novels in translation as well as interesting crime novels from all over the world. I pick up everything I can find with the imprint. Earlier in the year, I picked up the other novel available in English by Takagi, Honeymoon to Nowhere, and enjoyed it immensely. I found The Tattoo Murder Case, first published in 1948, in my public library.

The Tattoo Murder Case is a classic murder mystery in the old-fashioned, hard-boiled style, with the twist of having been set in a post-war Tokyo. The mystery concerns a body, minus the torso, of a beautiful woman, in a locked room. She was known to have had a spectacular tattoo, something considered both transgressive and prized by a certain class of citizen.

The mystery is interesting and complex, but the real star of the story is the culture of post-war Tokyo, bombed out, people slowly discovering whether friends and loved ones survived the war, American G.I.s everywhere and a sense of defeat palpable. The translator did a fantastic job of explaining cultural references that would have been understood by a Japanese reader of the day, but needed clarifying for the modern American audience.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes vintage hard-boiled mysteries of the 1950s or is interested in Japanese culture or history. It was a lot of fun.

Jul 11, 2009, 8:23pm Top

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. Never was this truth more plain than during the recent attacks at Netherfield Park, in which a household of eighteen was slaughtered and consumed by a horde of the living dead.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has created a bit of a stir. I can picture agents and editors agog with excitement--the concept is so exciting. There are many for whom this book is not written; those who hold Miss Austen's books as sacrosanct, those who have never read Pride and Prejudice, and those with weak stomachs. I enjoyed it; it was a fun read. I also liked that because of the situation with the unmentionable hordes, the characters were allowed to think and speak more explicitly than in the original. I do love Pride and Prejudice and enjoyed seeing how this diverged. Lizzie is here quite blood-thirsty and several characters come to extremely bad ends, often involving pus or incontinence. I enjoyed it, but it may offend the gentler reader.

Edited: Jul 11, 2009, 8:31pm Top

It's RidgewayGirl! Missed you! I heard that most of the book was P&P. Did you find that to be true? I was semi-interested until you mentioned pus and incontinence! ;-)

Edited to add: I finally got Cold Mountain in German, as well as an earlier book by Margaret Atwood. I'm reading Cold Mountain with the English version in hand. Still, it's slow going. I'm going to have to stop looking up every other word and just let the words wash over me.

Jul 11, 2009, 9:15pm Top

#189 Kay

Great review. I went to give is a "thumbs up" but you haven't posted it yet. I've really wanted to know how this book was for Austen lovers--I'm still on the fence but your review made me think I will consider it to read but not buy. I do consider P&P "sacrosanct" but I also have a sense of humor and it's amazing how LT has stretched my reading horizons--and strengthened my stomach! :-D

Edited: Jul 12, 2009, 7:26pm Top

Oh, it's fun to have feedback here! The other author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is said to be working on a book about Abraham Lincoln and vampires.

My other vacation read was Ruth Rendell's Not in the Flesh, her latest in the Inspector Wexford mystery series. She's written dozens upon dozens of books and has managed not to lose her edge, unlike many other popular mystery authors. If you like her books (she also writes under the name of Barbara Vine), you'll be satisfied with this one. If you haven't read any, then begin with her earlier books, most stand alone, but the Wexford books benefit from being read in order.

edited to correct for poor grammar.

Jul 13, 2009, 9:07am Top

I think I'm going to have to get in the queue for P&P&Z!

Jul 14, 2009, 3:30pm Top

Before he died, Ernest Hemingway asked that his writings about his early time in Paris, with his first wife and before he had written his first book, not be published. After he died his wife edited it and had it published. Now a new edition has been released, putting the segments back into their original order and with the addition of everything that had been cut out of the first version. I was lucky enough to get an amazon gift certificate for my birthday and have ordered the new edition--a fine hardcover--but will keep my old, battered mass market paperback. I read the old version as it's one of the books in my rereads category and I wanted to read it before I read the new version.

A Moveable Feast is one of my favorite books. Paris in the 1920s, described in Hemingway's clear, true style and populated with the writers and artists who populated Paris when it was an easy, cheap place to create, from Gertrude Stein to F. Scott Fitzgerald, what could be more magical? And Hemingway talks about writing all the time; how and where he wrote, what inspired him and what kept him from writing.

Edited: Jul 18, 2009, 12:32pm Top

A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most; his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.

So begins Carlos Ruiz Zafon's second installation in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books tetrology, The Angel's Game, a collection of inter-related books, each which can be read on its own, all of which are set in a magical version of 1920s Barcelona. If you've read The Shadow of the Wind, then you really only need to know that this book is every bit as good as its predecessor. Another rip-roaring adventure novel, full of passion, obsession and greed that will suck you in and cause chores and appointments to be neglected in favor of another hour with this literary page turner.

Jul 20, 2009, 1:10pm Top

So glad you liked The Angel's Game!

Jul 24, 2009, 11:42am Top

I've finished one category and am within a book or two of finishing four others. I combined two categories - Shortlisted and Canadians - as the Canadian books I'd read so far this year had prizes to their names. I won't finish by September 9th, but reasonably soon thereafter. What's the plan for next year?

Jul 24, 2009, 11:52am Top

Lisa Yee wrote a charming YA book called Millicent Min, Girl Genius, which was charming and funny and as true as any YA book I'd ever read. Instead of a sequel, Yee wrote about the same events from the point of view of the basketball-playing boy Millicent tutored that summer in Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time. Stanford Wong was a nerd until he discovered a talent for basketball. Now he's catapulted into the ranks of the popular kids and has earned a spot on the basketball A team, which he will lose if he can't pass english in summer school.

Stanford is as amusing and troubled as Millicent and the tale of his difficult summer is beautifully told.

Jul 25, 2009, 9:44am Top

You turned me on to Milllicent Min and I love twists in perspective so am happy to see Stanford Wong too! Then one of the reviews here mentioned a third take on the same summer (must be So Totally Emily Ebers?) Looks like I've got a series ahead of me.

Edited: Jul 27, 2009, 8:25pm Top

The Collaborator of Bethlehem was passed on to me with the comment that the mystery's not great, but the setting is. I thought the mystery was less a "whodunnit" than a trip through the lawlessness and corruption of the West Bank. Omar Yussef is a teacher at a UN-run girls school in a refugee camp. A former student, a Christian, is arrested for murder and Yussef sets out to find out who the killer was and so free his friend. It's a very dark, but still somehow hopeful, journey through life on the West Bank, where death is a daily occurrence, helicopters thud overhead and lawlessness reigns.

Khaled Shukri's intention was to build his hometown into something lovely, to replace the reglected refugee slums with functional new homes and to refurbish decrepit Ottoman mansions as hotels and restaurants. The curfews and gunfights had destroyed his career, murderered his father and made his mother suicidal. This was the reward for his goodness. Yet the gunmen thrived, they whose accomplishments and talents were of the basest nature, they who would have been obliterated had there been law and order and honor in the town. Perhaps Bethlehem was their town, after all, and it was Oman Yussef who was the outlaw interloper here, peddling contraband decency and running a clandestine trade in morality.

Jul 29, 2009, 7:10am Top

Your review makes A Moveable Feast hard to resist. Expatriates in Paris in the twenties, Scott and Zelda, the Murphys, Josephine Baker?

Jul 31, 2009, 8:20pm Top

I was unable to resist PD James's latest in much the same way I couldn't wait to read Ruth Rendell's newest earlier this summer. Like Rendell, James can be relied upon to write a well-written and well-plotted mystery novel despite the fact that they have each written many, many such novels. Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs could learn from these grand dames of the genre.

That said, The Private Patient was clearly written by an aged, upper crust sort of person. James is in her late eighties and it shows. She is of a conservative bent and that shows even more. While still well done, and worth reading, it is a bit of a curiosity to read a book in which only the stately blue bloods are fleshed out into multiple dimensions and the characters are most respected when they hold all emotions tightly within. For example, when the main character, Adam Dalgleish, is visited by his fiancee who has just undergone a trauma, he opts not to hug her or touch her at all, feeling that physical comfort would be inappropriate. In another scene, a man proposes marriage and then decides it would be too gauche to kiss the woman.

So the book appears solidly rooted in the middle of the last century, a period piece despite its recent publication. I would much rather recommend one of her earlier books, written before she became quite so rigid in her views and before she had bestowed a sort of asexual sainthood upon poor Dalgleish. Try An Unsuitable Job for a Woman instead.

Aug 3, 2009, 12:04pm Top

The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax tells the story of Feliu, a cellist whose career spans the first half of the twentieth century. Feliu witnesses the great events of age; the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Franco and the beginning of World War II. He meets many of the great names of the day, both musical and political. Despite all of this, Feliu, himself, remains a cipher, unwilling as he is to take action. The parts of his life where he is most active and involved are skirted quickly, the times he let events and people control him are dealt with in detail. Feliu loves deeply, but never brings himself to declare his feelings. His friends, a pianist and a violinist have exciting tales to tell. In the end, it is Feliu's passivity that keeps the book firmly on the ground, failing to soar with the notes made with his beloved cello bow.

This was a frustrating book. It was set in an exciting time and place, with a protagonist who went places and met famous people and yet it was a slog from beginning to end. Feliu was, well, boring and the author skimmed over the interesting bits, or moved the action away from any character who was in danger of bringing life to the novel's limp pages. And the bits of history were perfunctory and tacked on. I wanted more history or more drama, but got neither. I did finish it, though, in a triumph of stubbornness over judgment.

Aug 4, 2009, 7:58pm Top

I just finished Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman. It was amazing and I have neglected everything to read it, staying up late last night and getting up at six this morning. I need to digest it overnight before I write anything about it.

Aug 5, 2009, 12:57pm Top

Just before Susan Jane Gilman graduated from college in 1986, she and a friend sat in an IHOP in the early morning hours and giddily decided to travel the world together, to the most exotic and untraveled places they could find. This was back before the internet or cell phones, the Berlin Wall still stood, Eastern Europe was still behind its iron curtain and China had been open to Western tourists "for about ten minutes". So, of course they went to China.

I picked up Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven with the strong impression it would be a breezy, humorous chronicle of disaster, with a strong ironic, mocking voice. What I found instead was a stark, nuanced tale of a girl in a situation so completely over her head, who somehow managed to get through it and now writes with honesty about it. Gilman doesn't spare herself criticism, but she writes about the people she encountered along the way with compassion and understanding.

I have to say that this is one of the best books I've read this year.

Aug 5, 2009, 1:35pm Top

My sister, the LTer who is too shy to post on the boards, recently finished Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven and loved it.

Before she mentioned it, I'd never heard of it. I need to add it to the ever-growing TBR pile.

Aug 5, 2009, 2:58pm Top

wow, me too!

Edited: Aug 8, 2009, 1:02pm Top

I was so pleased when I began Dark Places, Gillian Flynn's newest novel. She writes well and Dark Places has a fabulous protagonist, a troubled, depressed, street-smart kleptomaniac, who as a seven-year-old, was in the house as her mother and two sisters were murdered, apparently by her older brother. She's spent her life since then not thinking about that day, but now the money donated to care for her has run out and her only source potential income is a motley collection of crime buffs interested in the notorious Kansas Farmhouse Satan Sacrifice case. And so Libby begins to confront her memories of her family and to talk to people involved in the events of twenty-five years earlier.

Oh, this is a good, nail-biting read. Libby is a damaged, difficult woman, but I was drawn into her life and quite liked her (on paper--I wouldn't want her in my home!). The events of the day in question are doled out in chapters that alternate with the Libby's present-day efforts, showing that everyone lies and building up to the dramatic ending. And that was the problem. The conclusion felt wrong and overly elaborate. The final twenty pages didn't completely wreck my enjoyment of the first 320, but they did temper my enthusiasm for this book.

I will read her next book as soon as it's released, however.

"No." I folded in on myself, ignoring my meal, projecting glumness. That was another of my mom's words: glum. It meant having the blues in a way that annoyed other people. Having the blues aggressively.

After another forty minutes of driving, the strip clubs started showing up: dismal, crouched blocks of cement, most without any real name, just neon signs shouting Live Girls! Live Girls! Which I guess is a better selling point than Dead Girls...There's something disturbing about not even bothering with a name. Whenever I see news stories about children who were killed by their parents, I think:But how could it be? They cared enough to give this kid a name, they had a moment-at least one moment-when they shifted through all the possibilities and picked one specific name for their child, decided what they would call their baby. How could you kill something you cared enough to name?

Aug 8, 2009, 3:19pm Top

I felt exactly the same way about the ending of Dark Places.

Aug 8, 2009, 4:07pm Top

#208 An excellent review - I also enjoyed the book very much. And you chose 2 excellent quotes - they really illustrate the thought processes of Libby.

I'm not sure I totally agree with you about the ending, though. Why do you think it felt wrong? I'll agree that it was elaborate - that scene at the Kearney farmhouse, I mean. But I was willing to accept that because it got us to the resolution, which I liked well enough.

Aug 10, 2009, 11:39am Top

At my children's elementary school there is an unspoken expectation that the parents will volunteer at the school. I'm sure that most don't, and there is a core of mothers who frickin' live there. I help out with the book fairs and once a week in the library. The librarian and I chat about books and she's gotten me reading children's and YA books again. There are some great ones out there. She recommended Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli and I'm glad she did. I'll keep it around for when my two are old enough.

Stargirl is a non-conformist. She starts attending high school in Mica, Arizona, an exurb of Phoenix, her junior year. The school prides itself in its apathetic conformity and Stargirl makes a splash as she parades through school in her long skirts, carrying her ukelele and her pet rat, singing to students and decorating her desk. She becomes popular as the students warm to her unexpectedness and constant friendliness, but turn on her later. All this is told from the point of view of Leo, a middle-of-the-road type guy who ends up befriending her, but who has trouble with the way she stands out.

Aug 10, 2009, 12:03pm Top

Now I, too, have added Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven to my wishlist. Btw, although your reading taste is different than mine sometimes, I LOVE reading your reviews!

Aug 11, 2009, 1:18am Top

I listened to Stargirl this summer when my daughter and I went on our girl trip. We both laughed over and over. She was reading some book later and described one of the characters as a Stargirl. I knew exactly what she meant!

Aug 13, 2009, 4:12pm Top

I've rearranged things a bit -- I had had two extra categories, and have now condensed and renamed things so that I can complete this challenge. I did combine my books about books and writing with my books in German. It's a lumpy category now, but only two books from completion, with a suitable book halfway read. I won't finish the challenge by September 9th; things are too busy for the next few weeks to allow that, but I hope to be done in time to concentrate on the NaNoWriMo in November.

I'm having fun thinking about next year and am beginning to set plans for the 1010 Challenge.

Aug 14, 2009, 12:03pm Top

Mietek Pemper has written an extraordinary account of his life during the second world war in Krakow, Poland in The Road to Rescue. He was part of the story of Schindler's Ark, working as a secretary to the labor camp commandant, Amon Goth, and participating in ways large and small to preserve the lives of many of the inmates of the Plaszow concentration camp. His story is meticulously told, without hyperbole or emotion; Pemper here concentrates on factually accounting the events he lived through. This is not an adventure story; Pemper risks his life repeatedly, but recounts the story in such a way that the reader is not constantly aware of the danger of his position as secretary to a notoriously violent Nazi, who would randomly shoot inmates.

Pemper also recounts his life before and after the war. He testified in war crimes trials in Poland and served as an interpreter. Later, he settled in Augsburg, Germany. Presently, he speaks about his experiences, often to German schoolchildren.

Pemper seems to have survived the unthinkable without bitterness. He closes the book with a chapter on remembering the Holocaust, treating all people as individuals, rather than as members of a good or an evil group and finishes with his personal ethical code which calls for personal responsibility and critical thinking. Altogether an important book and one worth reading.

Aug 14, 2009, 1:34pm Top

Great reviews, as usual. I've added Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven and The Road to Rescue for my lists for next year and have decided against The Spanish Bow which I had been considering for my music category. See how influential you are!

Hope you are having a great trip. Nice to know I'm not the only one who has had to adjust my lists and won't finish by 9/9/09! :-)

Aug 14, 2009, 1:42pm Top

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is on my wish list too. I rearranged my 999 challenge books too, so that I could finish, but September 9? Wouldn't that be a 99999 challenge? As in: 9 books, 9 categories, on the 9th day, of the 9th month, in 2009? ;-)

Aug 14, 2009, 5:14pm Top

Well, 9 is a lucky number, right?

Add The Road to Rescue to my TBR list.

Aug 17, 2009, 9:42am Top

Life of Pi was one of the first books I so confidently listed in my original plans for the 999. After innumerable substitutions and changes, I thought I should read a few from my original version of the challenge, which is better than transferring them all to my 1010 challenge.

Everyone else has already read this book and pronounced it good, which it is, as well as surprising and humorous and charming in the good sense, rather than in the sense of being cloying.

Aug 17, 2009, 10:28am Top

It's been awhile since I read Life of Pi and loved it. "Surprising, humorous, and charming" describe how I feel about it too, though there were parts that were quite dark and surrealistic as I recall. Isn't it great that a book you avoided for so long turned out to be good?

Aug 17, 2009, 1:18pm Top

It is, but finding out a book I'd avoided is actually great is also a whack myself upside the head moment.

Aug 17, 2009, 1:23pm Top

I've had Life of Pi on my shelf for years and haven't gotten around to it. Maybe I should put it on the "to read" shelf before it disintegrates! :-) Thanks for the "push."

Aug 19, 2009, 5:28pm Top

I do love Ruth Rendell. She's written dozens upon dozens of books, under her own name and under her pseudonym, Barbara Vine, and, while they might vary in quality, they are always very good. And that says quite a bit in a world where as soon as an author produces a few bestsellers, the quality of writing and of the story goes right down. And isn't it good to have a few favorite authors whose books are guaranteed to please?

Portobello, her latest, is not her best offering, but it still offers all the hallmarks of a classic Rendell. The characters are quirky and troubled. The plot is well put together and builds to a conclusion that is both shocking and inevitable. The atmosphere is characteristically English, yet menacing.

Aug 23, 2009, 11:35am Top

First, the disclaimer: my biggest pet peeve in historical fiction is when the characters behave and think like modern people, just dressed up in, say, tunics and riding horses, like an extra-authentic renaissance festival. People in the past not only wore different clothes and had bad teeth; they thought differently. Think about how attitudes toward homosexuality, the environment and race have changed in the past twenty years. Even worse, in my opinion, is when the author gives all the "bad guys" the mindset of the time, but the "good guys" are all modern liberals.

So I should have put down Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin after the first twenty pages. The protagonist, a forensic pathologist named Adelia, is not just a proto-feminist, but a full blown Feminist who could lecture Gloria Steinem on the evils of the male patriarchy. She is also shocked at witnessing antisemitism. In the twelfth century.

But, despite all that, it was a fun and diverting read, an interesting mystery full of atmosphere and twists. I would recommend it to anyone who likes historical mysteries and who is able to overlook the anachronisms.

Aug 23, 2009, 11:47am Top

#224 I'm currently half way through this book, and your exact point has been my only complaint so far. Well-written and engaging, but historically accurate? Surely not.

Aug 24, 2009, 7:11am Top

Thanks for the reviews RidgewayGirl. Adding The Road to Rescue to my wishlist.

Another Ruth Rendell fan, I particularly like the Inspector Wexford series, which is less demanding than her chilling psychological novels.

Aug 25, 2009, 9:05am Top

Another disclaimer; I really don't have that many prejudices regarding novels, but there are a few and I have bumped up against another one. I can usually spot a book written by someone who has an MFA in creative writing within twenty pages. It doesn't make a book terrible, and who knows what the author's writing would look like if they hadn't been taught to be creative. Still, there is a cookie cutter effect and The Summer of Naked Swim Parties fits in neatly.

It's not a bad book, the story of a privileged, pretty teenage girl growing up in Santa Barbara in the 1970s, but it never engaged my interest. There are some excellent books about growing up in the 1970s, although most are not fiction--Paul Feig's Kick Me and Tom Perrotta's Bad Haircut, among others, but these leaven the emotional angst of adolescence with a sense of humor. Jamie, the protagonist of The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, pities herself and we are meant to pity her too. Her parents don't understand her and they embarrass her. She has no one to go to the mall with. Her boyfriend's a bit of a boob. And over it all is the overlay of the seventies, which was interesting, but less so than I thought it should have been.

Aug 25, 2009, 10:30am Top

I totally agree with your points about Mistress of the Art of Death. I'm wildly curious now about what tips you off to a writer with an MFA. Can you elaborate?

Aug 25, 2009, 11:07am Top

Great analysis of Mistress of the Art of Death! You expressed exactly my reservations about the novel that I wasn't able to articulate. The story was okay but somehow the characters, especially Adelia, didn't ring true. She might have done better to use Willis' device in Doomsday Book and had Adelia get there by time travel. It would have been more believable! :-)

Aug 25, 2009, 5:40pm Top

jhedlund, I think there is a characteristic style that favors atmosphere over plot, which is not necessarily bad, but I do grow tired of the standard passive, usually female, main character who does not have strong goals or close friends. Secondary and tertiary characters are usually given an unusual feature or tic, but otherwise remain lightly sketched in and undeveloped. There is also a feeling that some scenes are disguised personal experiences of the author.

Not sure that's altogether clear, but the big tell is the lack of the impetus of plot or action--the book is all inside the protagonist's head. With The Summer of Naked Swim Parties I kept thinking "oh, there's the foreshadowing," or "there's the product named to give a sense of time and place."

Aug 28, 2009, 1:07pm Top

Ah, finally a book that was pure pleasure to read. Daphne by Justine Picardie tells the story of Daphne du Maurier as she researches the life of Branwell Bronte and deals with her husband's breakdown. du Maurier's story is woven with a sort of modern retelling of Rebecca, in which a shy, unnamed narrator struggles with her dissertation about du Maurier and comes to terms with her husband's relationship with his ex-wife.

Both stories are well-told and play nicely off each other. It wasn't a feel good book, being primarily about the end of relationships and how little we know the ones we love, but it was so good that it provided the perfect escape during a very stressful week. I haven't read any Daphne du Maurier (although I did see the movie version of Rebecca), and now plan to add at least one of her books to next year's reading.

Aug 28, 2009, 1:58pm Top

>231 RidgewayGirl: Thanks for the comments; I've added Daphne to my wishlist. I read Rebecca when I was a teenager, and have seen the movie a couple of times, and I think My Cousin Rachel but no others.

I was really interested in your comments about MFA novels. Although I couldn't have expressed it so succinctly, I think perhaps you have identified my objections to many of the novels that receive high praise, but that I dislike.

I also found your comments about historical fiction really interesting. Which authors (or books) do you think avoid these pitfalls?

Edited: Aug 28, 2009, 4:32pm Top

Another question that is making me think about my strongly stated opinions. I do love LT.

I had a little think and the titles I've come up with are The Crimson Petal and the White, Corelli's Mandolin (which is nothing like the abysmal movie), The 19th Wife, The Dress Lodger and books by Sebastian Faulks. Probably, adding our modern viewpoint to a historical tale is impossible to avoid, but there is a great difference between authors who make the effort and authors who like to point out how stupid people in the past were. Remember the Clan of the Cave Bear books? That was were I first noticed this--the main character effortlessly invented any tool she needed, making a mockery of the slow progress of human civilization.

edited because of poor grammar. again.

Aug 29, 2009, 3:41pm Top

Now you're making me think!

I guess I didn't really think of Jean Auel's books as "historical." I think I viewed them more as enjoyable fantasy, though I did burn out on them in (I think it was) book 4 -- abandoned it about 100 pages in, and have had no desire to return to them.

As for the others you mention, the only one I've read is The Crimson Petal and the White, which I found fascinating. Most of the historical fiction I read is set much earlier, and I totally agree that modern views are all too often imposed on earlier times. While it makes a good story, the fully independent medieval woman or a serf who rises to the nobility are far from realistic.

On the other hand, (based on my admittedly limited knowledge), it seems to me that the repression of women was far greater after the protestant reformation (Puritan values) into the Victorian era -- which in my opinion caused the backlash that has resulted in our modern views of women -- than it had been in the Middle Ages (and before). Although women were of course treated as chattels, couldn't own property, etc, there are some historical examples of powerful, interesting and somewhat independent women -- of the noble classes, of course, since both men and women of the lower classes had little (or no) freedom.

The Mistress of the Art of Death, which I enjoyed, undoubtedly stretches the actual limitations of the era, and Aurelia's ideas about women have a distinctly 21st century flavor, but I did think that it also presented a good picture of the 12th century -- and a truer picture than stories where chivalrous knights ride around saving plucky, rebellious heiresses.

As you say, it's probably impossible for a modern writer to totally escape the modern viewpoint. And also for an author to present a story that will appeal to modern readers when it is set in a time when attitudes and values were so different from our own. At the moment, I'm having difficulty with Edith Pargeter's The Heaven Tree Trilogy (which has received a lot of praise) for exactly the reasons you have expressed.

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my question. Perhaps I should try some Sebastian Faulks.

Aug 30, 2009, 12:22pm Top

Ah, you'll probably see biases in his work that I missed.

I reread Exile by Denise Mina in an attempt to fill in the remaining categories with books originally chosen for them. Exile is the sequel to Garnethill, which I reread earlier in the year. Mina is just very, very good. She writes well, finding similes and turns of phrase that are new but unforced and her plots are well planned and fit together. Her greatest strength is that she writes realistically and sympathetically about the people on the fringes of society.

Her protagonist in this series is Maureen, a woman with problems of her own. She drinks, she gets involved in inappropriate relationships and she has spent time in a psychiatric institute. She is also willing to fight for people who can't fight for themselves. This story sees her trying to find out who killed a woman, an alcoholic who left behind four small children and a down-beaten husband struggling to cope. The book is set in Glasgow, Scotland and London, England. If you'd like to be a little frightened of those cities and don't mind language or violence, this is the book for you.

Sep 1, 2009, 10:20am Top

I've finished the Garnethill trilogy with Resolution, with its surprising end. I liked this series as much as I did the first time I read it, although I was less astonished by the quality of the writing.

Usually, Glasgow's weather vacillates between freezing rain and not-so-freezing rain but sometimes, on a five-to-ten year cycle, the weather turns and the city doesn't know itself. This was such a time. Unconditional sunshine had arrived one week ago. Virulent, fecund plant life had sprung up everywhere: trees and bushes were heavy with deep green leaves, growth appeared on buildings, between cracks in the pavement, on bins. The city burst into life and everyone began to farm their skin, Water-white cheeks and necks withered and puckered with relentless exposure. Casualty departments heaved under the strain of sunburn and heat stroke. Everyone in the unaccustomed city was dressing as if they'd woken up naked in a bush and had to borrow clothes to get home: old women wore young women's summer dresses, vest tops were stretched over belly rolls, short sleeves showed off straps from industrial bras. Every night felt like Friday night and parties went on too long. Fantastic blood-alcohol levels were attained by conscientious individuals. Everyone was dangerously out of character.

Sep 4, 2009, 9:36am Top

Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis, a young Irish woman, who immigrates to the United States in the 1950s when she can't find work in her small town in Ireland. Eilis is a reluctant American, and intensely homesick, until she slowly accustoms herself to her new life in Brooklyn. She becomes involved with a second generation Italian immigrant and begins to plan for the future when she is called back to Ireland and forced to make an active choice in determining her own life.

Brooklyn is the story of immigration, the newcomer whose longing for home is almost unbearable, the next generation, aware of the past but eager to make a future and the uneasy mingling of diverse cultures on the streets of New York just after WWII.

Colm Toibin's voice is quiet and measured but perfectly describes Eilis's strong emotions. His descriptions of mid-century New York and Ireland are vivid and alive. An excellent, excellent book.

Sep 7, 2009, 1:50pm Top

Five categories finished and seven books to go.

Liars Anonymous belongs to that sub-genre of crime novels that feature a strong but troubled female protagonist, who has her own reasons (not always worthy ones) to find out and punish (not always lawfully) the perpetrators of a crime. In this novel, a woman who was tried but found not guilty of murder returns home to Tucson and ends up trying to discover what really happened during a car crash whose aftermath she was tangentially involved with because of her work as a roadside assistance operator.

The novel is fast-paced and gritty. Jessie moves in unsavory circles, but then she's pretty unsavory herself, sporting a jailhouse tattoo and carrying an illegal weapon as she moves between Mexican gangs, illegal immigrants and shady lawyers.

Sep 12, 2009, 5:44pm Top

I was happily reading Possession, then had minor dental surgery. So, I'm home, taking pain medication and completely lacking an attention span. A.S. Byatt is right out. I read instead, a forensic style mystery novel by Simon Beckett set on a remote island in Scotland's Outer Hebrides called Written in Bone. What I like about this series is that the mystery and the solving of same takes precedence over the personal lives of the main characters. The setting was singular and the story well plotted.

Sep 12, 2009, 6:41pm Top

Feel better!

Sep 14, 2009, 11:51am Top

So, in a continuance of the comfort reading I've been indulging in, I picked up what I thought was a new episode in the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series, and discovered that I'd already read it. Miracle at Speedy Motors is not really the kind of mystery where that matters, so I kept reading and it was comforting. I begin to see the allure of the "cozy" genre of mystery, but only while under the influence of lovely, lovely drugs.

I am better now, although continually freaked out by the presence of stitches and a metal object protruding from my gums, and should soon return to more serious reading.

Only five books to go!

Sep 14, 2009, 1:20pm Top

Hope you are feeling better today. I only have 5 books to go, also, and I've saved mostly "fun" stuff for the end. :-) I'd like to finish by the end of this month if possible.

Sep 14, 2009, 6:28pm Top

Sorry about the sore mouth! No fun at all.

Sep 17, 2009, 9:40am Top

Last year, I read Chlid 44 and loved it. The sequel, The Secret Speech, is newly released and has received mixed reviews. Happily, I liked this as much the first book, in ways more, since The Secret Speech relied much less heavily on coincidence, while retaining the elements of revenge and survival in the Soviet Union.

The Secret Speech refers to a speech given by Nikita Krushchev in which he is critical of Stalin's repressive tactics. Leo, the former secret policeman, has been given a small, secret homicide department. He's living his life as best he can, with his wife Raisa and the two girls they encountered in the first book. Things don't remain hopeful for long, though and the book takes us through Moscow's criminal underworld, the gulag and the Hungarian uprising of 1956.

Sep 20, 2009, 1:07pm Top

So, I did it. I finished Possession and found it to be excellent although it took me 225 pages to start liking the book.

Three books to go!

Sep 20, 2009, 3:20pm Top

225 pages! Okay--I will tackle that book again (3rd time might be the charm) and stick with it this time that far to see if I can learn to like it, too. :-) I've been so disappointed both times I tried it because is sounds like a book I should really love, but I just couldn't get into it.

Are you going to review it?

I have 3 books to go, also. (Actually 2 and 2/3 as I'm working on one now.) Trying to finish before the end of this month. 10 days to do it in!

Sep 20, 2009, 4:18pm Top

There are sufficient reviews, I think, and it's been raining for three days here, which, while desperately needed, has left all of us unmotivated and cranky. My daughter did get bored enough to do her geography homework, though.

My favorite thing about this book was how tremendously Victorian the characters in the historical story were, with no modern views or habits to make them likable to the modern reader. The modern story was more compelling, with the petty competitions of academic life making me turn the pages faster, hoping that Maud and Roland would keep their research secret. The ending was surprisingly harmonious and fun.

Sep 20, 2009, 4:50pm Top

Thanks, Kay. You've encouraged me--especially teasing me with a hint of a "fun" ending! I'm putting it back on the TBR pile. Maybe the first of the year when life is a little slower!

Sep 20, 2009, 5:46pm Top

>248 MusicMom41:, I would have predicted that you would really like Possession because you like poetry so much. I have to sheepishly admit to skipping a lot of the poetry.

Sep 20, 2009, 6:33pm Top

Oh, I skimmed over the longer poems. I loved the doom-laden poems of Christina Rossetti as a teenager, but generally don't have the patience for Victorian poetry, with all the obscure symbolism and mythology.

Sep 20, 2009, 6:38pm Top

The poetry was fine--I couldn't get excited about the two main characters. But it has been about 15 years since I last tried it; now that my children are grown maybe I'll have the time to really get into it and discover its attraction to so many readers! :-)

Sep 20, 2009, 9:22pm Top

3 books to go! You might be done in September...

Sep 22, 2009, 1:01pm Top

The category I found most difficult was, astonishingly, my rereads. I do like picking up an old friend and revisiting a story I'd loved (or struggled with) before, but with all the fantastic unread books crammed onto my shelves, I would rather find something new. Between BookMooch and an astonishingly good public library system, I am spoiled with more new choices than ever before.

So I reread Mrs. Mike, a vintage tale (first published in 1947) about an Irish-American girl sent out to Alberta a hundred years ago for her health and how she met and married a mountie and moved up into the wilderness 700 miles north of Edmonton on the Peace River where she was the only white woman for hundred of miles. Later, her husband was reassigned to a small settlement, but life was always wild and dangerous. I was surprised to discover how good the writing is; here are the first two paragraphs of the book:

The worst winter in fifty years, the old Scotsman had told me. I'd only been around for sixteen, but it was the worst I'd seen, and I was willing to take his word for the other thirty-four.

On the north side of the train the windows were plastered with snow, and on the south side great clouds of snow were whipped along by a sixty-mile gale. There was snow on top of the train and snow under the train, and all the snow there was left in the world in front of the train, which was why we were stopped.

Sep 22, 2009, 1:29pm Top

I'm adding Mrs. Mike to my wish list. I saw the movie ages ago when I was very young--I think it starred Evelyn Keys--and really loved it. I didn't even know it was a book until many years later. You have now motivated me to find it and read it. Thanks for the nudge--and for a nice review.

Sep 22, 2009, 3:24pm Top

I have added it to my 101010 challenge. I can't wait!

Sep 22, 2009, 3:54pm Top

I had the same trouble regarding "Re-reads" as a category--maybe because I was so new to LT as well. I'm still considering it as a category for my 10-10-10. Mrs. Mike sounds good, adding it to my wish list now.

Sep 22, 2009, 4:01pm Top

Y'all are starting to worry me. I have a re-read category for next year's challenge.

Sep 22, 2009, 5:28pm Top

Just adding my 2 cents--

The reason I own so many books is because I am an avid rereader. However, since becoming active on the group threads of LT I notice my rereading has become practically non-existent because I'm always being directed to new reading experiences with the assurance that almost always they will be better than average. I think so far this year I've only had one reread--and it was a book I read so long ago I didn't remember it. My "comfort" rereads have fallen by the wayside so far this year. Can't decide if this is good or bad--but I'm still hanging on to my library!

Sep 22, 2009, 6:22pm Top

That may be it, MusicMom. When such a high percentage of my reading is excellent, the need to reread a favorite book lessens considerably.

Edited: Sep 24, 2009, 1:12pm Top

I heard about the restored edition of Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast with great excitement. It's one of my favorite books, if not the favorite. It was published after Hemingway committed suicide and against his wishes. His third wife edited the book and removed bits here and there and rearranged the chapters to flow more or less chronologically. The idea that there was more made me very, very happy. I reread the first version in preparation and while I found reading the restored edition well worth while, if you're not a huge Hemingway enthusiast (why aren't you, by the way?) the original version is just as magical. What the restored edition does bring are a few paragraphs and a chapter about his relationship with his first wife, Hadley, which are heartbreaking. A Moveable Feast is full of the joy of a young writer, poor, but in love with a woman and a city. The additional bits show how he destroyed his relationship, the remorse he felt and how Paris was never the same. At the very end, the book shows how Hemingway would rewrite a paragraph over and over until it was burnished and perfect. He starts with almost a page about F. Scott Fitzgerald and, after several rewrites, is left with one brief, perfect paragraph. He says earlier in the book that the thing to do is to leave things out and to remove everything unnecessary, especially adjectives, so that the truth of the thing is revealed.

A Moveable Feast is a book about Paris in the twenties, about the artists and writers who lived there, about Hemingway's relationship with his first wife, Hadley, but mostly it's about learning to write. Read this description of Wyndham Lewis:

Walking home I tried to think what he reminded me of and there were various things. They were all medical except for toe-jam and that was a slang word. I tried to break his face down and describe it but I could only get the eyes. Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.

Sep 24, 2009, 1:25pm Top

A Moveable Feast is already on my list for next year!

Sep 24, 2009, 4:25pm Top

>260 RidgewayGirl: very nice! I've wanted to read this and heard lately about the restored edition, but only that parts had been added back in. Your notes about what those parts refer to are very helpful!

Oct 1, 2009, 6:13pm Top

I have spent more than a week doing my best not to read my last book in this challenge. No sense finishing and then bowing out gracefully or anything. I'll have to put some thought into coming up with some good excuses to stay that don't involve doing this whole thing over again. That's next year.

So, I'm about twenty pages from the end of Bird by Bird, which is excellent. While I've been supposedly reading it, I've also read a really dreadful book about a brilliant medical examiner (I know that he's clever because he says so early and often) and a forgettable, but pleasant enough chick lit.

Is anyone else reluctant to finish up and go home?

Oct 1, 2009, 8:15pm Top

#263 Well, that's why I decided to do an overtime challenge - just to fill the time between finishing the 999 and beginning the 1010!

Oct 2, 2009, 8:10am Top

Bird by Bird was an excellent finish to the 999 Challenge.

There are two kinds of books about writing; the instructional and the inspirational. The former features exercises and assignments and I imagine that it is popular with college instructors. The other varies widely in tone, some chatting about their own craft, others filled with encouragement to keep going. The very best of this kind of book make your fingers itch for a keyboard and keep you up late making perfect sentences in your head, which you will have forgotten by morning.

Bird by Bird made my fingers itch, I am happy to report. It is written with a great deal of kindness and understanding, while urging the reader to write honestly, and not as though someday your mother might read what you've written.

Oct 2, 2009, 8:28am Top

Congratulations Kay!!!

Oct 2, 2009, 8:50am Top

With that, my 999 Challenge is complete. I substituted mightily, but managed to tackle books I might otherwise have left to age another year or two.

The best and worst of the experience:

Rereads: this category surprised me by being the most difficult to finish. A crime trilogy and two readings of A Moveable Feast got me through, but I won't be including this category in my 1010. Best was A Moveable Feast, which stood up to being read twice in the span of a few months. Worst was Miracle at Speedy Motors, which was good, just not as good as the others.

Historical Novels: this category is what became of my Classics category. The best book in this group was clearly The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which won by a mile. The loser also stood out; Those Who Save Us was both badly written and exploitative.

Linguistic Contortions: is a mash up formed from the ashes of two others. It was, perhaps, a wee bit overambitious of me to plan to read nine entire books in German. I might have managed it had I not chosen two books weighing in at more than 800 pages apiece. Books about writing also proved to be something I didn't want to read a lot about and so the awkward combination. The best is a tie between Verblendung (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Reading Like a Writer. The worst of the lot was a book I still gave four stars to, but took me over 200 pages to fall into: Possession A Romance.

Shortlisted was enjoyable and almost entirely without a bad book. The best was What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn, but it was hard to decide. The worst was A Complicated Kindness which felt, to me, a little too much like it was written by a clever Torontonian with an MFA.

Non-Fiction started out much more worthy than it ended up, filled with memoirs instead of weighty historical tome. I am forced to declare the best one a tie between The Worst Hard Time, which stayed with me for weeks after I had put it back on my shelf, and Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, which was astonishing. The worst was also a tie between The Monster of Florence and While They Slept. What is it with non-fiction authors who feel compelled to inject themselves into what would otherwise be a gripping tale?

Encores which was comprised of books by authors where I had only read one other book of theirs, was the easiest of the categories. My favorite was The Likeness by Tana French and Written in Bone was the weakest of a strong group.

Recommended: this category was made up of my Early Reviewer books and books recommended to me, mostly by you lot. The best one was Children of Men which was pressed upon me by VictoriaPL. The worst was an ER book called Beat, of which no kind words can be found.

Northern Noir moved southish now and then. The best one was In the Woods, which sent me scurrying to add The Likeness to my encores category. My least favorite was Portobello, a good, but not great book by Ruth Rendell.

Neener, Neener, Cheaterpants, my final category, needs no explanation. I could have filled it with many more books! Still, it had the most lackluster group of books of this challenge--maybe because it was filled up with impulse and comfort reads. The best was A Stopover in Venice. Several were not very good, but the worst was Bookends which was a lazy and uninspired chick lit novel.


Oct 2, 2009, 9:33am Top

Congratulations! Loved your best and worst recap. What now?

Oct 2, 2009, 10:31am Top

What a great recap. I think I will do something similar when (if!) I ever finish my challenge as well!

Oct 2, 2009, 11:56am Top

I enjoyed your recap very much. I have the two Tana French books on my shelf--lokks like I'd better put them on my "short shelf" of upcoming TBRs. As I aid before, youv'e encouraged me to give Possession another try--and stick with it longer, this time!

I finished my 999 reading on Monday and hope to find time today to review the last book and and bring it to a close. If I have time, I hope you don't mind if I borrow your "Recap" idea. I think it is a great way to round off the challenge.

Oct 2, 2009, 12:20pm Top

Congrats!!! I agree with the other voices, the recap was great - I'll probably borrow it as well! And, thanks for your comment on The Monster of Florence - I've been eyeing it for a while, but I'll gladly take it off the list (which is long enough as it is...). :)

Oct 2, 2009, 12:42pm Top

Congrats again, Alison! I loved the Best and the Worst ratings for each category, although it added to my TBR stacks that are really a whole book case now since joining LT.

Oct 2, 2009, 1:01pm Top

Thank you all for your kind words. I haven't decided what to do next. RL is a bit busy, so I'll just wait until things calm down next week and just occupy myself with all my happy little side challenges in the meantime.

Bookoholic13, The Monster of Florence is beautifully packaged and marketed. I couldn't resist it. But you should!

MusicMom, I look forward to posting my congratulations on your completed thread!

Oct 2, 2009, 2:05pm Top


I, too, really enjoyed the recap. Thanks for doing it!

Oct 3, 2009, 2:05am Top

Nice job! And I always love reading the recaps - my favorite part!

Oct 3, 2009, 10:15pm Top

Great job!! Congratulations on finishing.

Oct 4, 2009, 9:47am Top

I thought the freedom to read anything would be lovely, but since I've finished the books I've read (ok, the two books I've gotten into) have not been as good as the ones I'd read for the 999. Also, I've skimmed through a book on being organized, but that kind of book does not count as reading.

I'll think over doing some sort of mini category challenge today. I miss it! I'm still reading your posts, though, and adding to my wishlist.

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