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Deern's books for 2010 - Part 2

75 Books Challenge for 2010

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Sep 3, 2010, 9:17am Top

The old thread was getting slow, so here's # 2.

You'll find books 1-85 on this thread: http://www.librarything.com/talktopic.php?topic=87066

Sep 3, 2010, 9:21am Top

86. Frankenstein

I don’t know – usually I am careful when judging the quality of writing in a book I read in a foreign language, but in this case I have to make an exception. I know the author was very young and it’s not her fault that I generally have a problem with the ‘romantic’ literature (how I hated ‘Werther’!). But the first part of this book is so silly and so badly written that I would have put it on hold had it not been for the TIOLI.

The quality of the writing doesn’t really improve throughout the book and it is full of logical flaws. No-one ever acts as could be expected. Frankenstein doesn’t give the impression of a strong male character with his emotions, his nervous fevers and his fainting.

However my mood improved in the second part, when the nameless creature gives his account (though I couldn’t stop wondering how quickly he had mastered the ‘French’/English language to perfection). And yes – this part is really moving and made me quite sad.

In part three, the reader is treated to endless descriptions of ‘romantic’ landscapes. Then there are more victims and Frankenstein reacts as usual with some more nervous fever and fainting.

What would YOU do if a murderer promised you to take deadly revenge on your wedding night, after he has already killed your brother, your housemaid and your best friend? Yep – you’d let your beautiful bride all alone in her room and walk aimlessly around in the house. The when you’d surprisingly find her murdered, you’d just once more faint long enough to let the killer escape.
Spoiler end

Based on a brilliant idea and certainly a horror classic (where is the horror btw?), but this novel has far too many words in the wrong places and not enough where they would be required for the story.

Rating: 2,5 stars

Sep 3, 2010, 10:12am Top

Found you again, Deern. I am thrilled you enjoyed Of Human Bondage so much! I do hope you will try more of Maugham's books.

Sep 3, 2010, 10:23am Top

I'm just finding you, Deern, and starring your thread based on your comments about Frankenstein. (I've been reading Shelley biographies this summer.) I guess that means that I need to go and read through your earlier incarnations here.

Sep 3, 2010, 10:47am Top

#4: I've been reading some of your comments on the Shelley books on your thread. To be honest, I feel a bit guilty about my feelings regarding Frankenstein. It felt like she had so many ideas and just didn't know how to put them to paper (not that I'd know how to do it any better...). And then she herself was probably overwhelmed by the sceneries she saw in Switzerland and elsewhere and tried to put all that into the book...

But sometimes the writing is really quite terrible, for example Elizabeth's letter to Victor (in Ingolstadt), when she mentions Justine (whom the reader doesn't know) and then tells him Justine's whole history just in case he has forgotten her (to provide the information to the reader) - and in the next paragraph she writes that Victor has always liked Justine (so how could he have forgotten how she came to live in his family?).

Sep 4, 2010, 2:35am Top

After my first week with the Kindle it's time for a little résumé: the Kindle itself is great - looks good (in white), is easy to handle, the battery lasts forever, buying books is really easy as I got the software now also on my PC at work and on my Mac at home.

But I am really surprised at how many books I can't buy. Obviously there exists a myriad of books I am allowed to buy in paper form but not as e-books due to some copyright issues. I'd say more than 50% of the books I was interested to get on my Kindle are not available for me simply because I don't live in the US. Among those is the 'Hunger Games' trilogy, but also much older books.

Sep 4, 2010, 2:37am Top

#6: Wow! I am surprised to hear that there are books you cannot get on the Kindle. I was thinking once a book was in e-format you would be able to get it anywhere. What a bummer.

Sep 4, 2010, 3:17am Top

That's what I thought... really, that's quite ridiculous. I just checked some more books from the 1001 list and the only ones I could buy are the classics, which are available for free on Gutenberg anyway.

First they send you from the German to the US site to order the Kindle there (not yet available in Germany) but nowhere they tell you that once you get the Kindle, you won't be able to buy all e-books. And I guess they have most of them on the UK site where they don't sell them to anyone outside the UK.

This copyright thing is certainly not a Kindle problem, I would have had that with the Sony as well, but it's really annoying.

I hope those readers soon become more popular here, because in the end this will be sorted out only by growing demand.

Sep 4, 2010, 3:39am Top

#8: I think I would be contacting Amazon to voice my outrage. If they will not sell you all of the content available for the Kindle, then what is the point of ordering one!?

Sep 4, 2010, 5:00am Top

I just did that - I wonder what kind of noncommittal answer I will get...

I mean I would understand it if the books were not available for me at all, because they haven't been published yet over here or something like that.

But to say 'you can order the paperback (and wait for weeks for the shipment), but sorry we can't give you the e-book' is just impossible. And it's not Italy, it's 'Europe', which means this is an enormous group of potential clients they are excluding..

Sep 4, 2010, 5:02am Top

I will be interested in seeing what Amazon's response is. The thing that would really irritate me is that they do not warn their potential customers ahead of time that they cannot get all the Kindle content. It would be one thing if they said up front "European customers cannot download all e-books" or some such, but to withhold that information until after you have purchased a Kindle is an abhorrent business practice to me.

Sep 4, 2010, 5:16am Top

I am quite sure they hid it somewhere in the very small print. And anyway who'd expect that 'not all' could equal 'none of the ones you'd like'.
I'll send a complaint to amazon Germany as well.

Sep 4, 2010, 5:19am Top

OK. It will be interesting to see what they say as well.

Sep 6, 2010, 1:46pm Top

I've also found the reverse to be true--books that I want to read that are not available in the US on Kindle, but are available in other countries. I, also, was surprised by the relatively limited choice of books on Kindle. There is of course a huge selection, but once you step just a little way off the well-beaten path your Kindle choices are few and far between. I had really expected most, if not all, the 1001 books to be on Kindle, but that's not the case.

Sep 6, 2010, 10:16pm Top

That's what I was about to say, Deborah. It's a moot question for me because I can't buy too much at $9.99 or higher, but I have been prepared to do that a time or two only to see "Not available in US." Do let us know what they say about Europe!

Sep 7, 2010, 10:34am Top

My work and some family issues presently keep me from writing new reviews. I will try and post the next ones before the end of the week.

I finished Giovanni's Room and The Castle of Otranto (both on the Kindle) and am reading Bleak House, which I love, but I only make very slow progress and I keep confusing the names of the many characters.

amazon sent me the expected reply - they are working very hard on getting the copyright problems resolved and on extending the list of books available for their readers.

#14: That was just my expectation - to find at least those 'milestone' books. Quite many of them are not available at all, and the 'not for European readers' tag seems to apply mainly to well-known US titles.

Sep 7, 2010, 12:28pm Top

I hope your work and family issues are resolved quickly, Deern.

Too bad about the Amazon problem. I am glad that they at least recognize the problem and are working on it though.

Sep 7, 2010, 12:33pm Top

Just finished and reviewed Of Human Bondage also. An immensely enjoyable book.

Sep 10, 2010, 11:21am Top

87. Giovanni's Room

This is one of those books that can shake you to the core. It’s rich and brilliant and heartbreakingly sad (!). And what an uproar it must have caused when it was first published.

I got it for my Kindle after reading Nickelini’s great review . It is a short book, I guess it has less than 200 pages in print.

The story is set in Paris in the 1950s where David, a young American, is stranded and where he spends most of his time in the gay milieu, which both attracts and repels him. Trying to convince himself as much as those around him that he is ‘not one of them’ he is steering towards a conventional marriage when he meets Giovanni.
David’s inner fight against his homosexual desires and his love for Giovanni is utterly believable and the results are most tragic. I had my doubts about the book’s message towards the ending, but then it took another turn and that was the point when it felt like my heart was breaking.

Rating: 4,5 stars

Sep 10, 2010, 11:31am Top

88. The Castle of Otranto

Luckily a short book. I don’t want to doubt the importance of this ‘first gothic novel’, but this is one of the classics which are almost impossible to read today.

The plot is confusing, the characters are not acting coherently and the writing style is more old fashioned than I had expected. It was very difficult for me to get into this story and only when I decided to treat it as a comedy (which was definitely not the intention of the author) it became bearable. Everything seemed to be exaggerated, more like a play than a novel. Whenever a character entered the scene I could see the stage before my eyes and also the dialogues sounded like taken directly from a play.

In one of the TIOLI threads I wrote that ‘Lord Manfred’s Mood Swings’ would have been a more appropriate title for the book. He is the main character and I am really glad I never met someone like him. One moment he wants to kill you for no reason, in the next moment he feels pity, only to be back to murderous a second later. I have no idea how his family could bear it. And I have never read a love story as unconvincing as the one in this book.

I rated this with 3 stars because once I went for the comedy I felt quite entertained by it. Actually I laughed a lot (those death scenes where the dying ones keep talking forever and ever and sometimes don't die at all, because the deadly wound was just a scratch...). Sorry, but I can't really recommend it.

Rating: 3 stars (might get downgraded to a 2,5)

Sep 10, 2010, 11:32am Top

Posted two more reviews just before the weekend and I managed to finish Bleak House which has 1031 pages in my German edition. Loved it, review will follow.

Sep 10, 2010, 12:17pm Top

#19: I enjoyed Giovanni's Room when I read it earlier this year, although I think perhaps 'enjoyed' is not really the word I am looking for.

Sep 11, 2010, 10:14am Top

Slow on the pick up at the moment, but found and starred :)

Sep 11, 2010, 6:33pm Top

Going way back to where you were talking about the lack of England language books in libraries/second hand where you are, have you checked whether there is any kind of American (or other English speaking country) cultural center or even some sort of women's or other social organization? When I lived in Brussels, 20 years ago, there was such a thing and it had both a library and a "swap" system.

Sep 15, 2010, 1:45am Top

#24: I don't think there is. This place is really small and the next not so small city is Verona (which is not exactly big either), 200km from here. I am sure something exists at Milan, but that's almost 400km away. But I will check it, maybe I will find something in Austria. Thanks for the suggestion.

Sep 15, 2010, 1:47am Top

89. Bleak House

Now this is what I call a great classic! My 4th Dickens, and from a literary point of view it is my new favorite. However the Christmas Carol will always have that special place in my heart, making me cry whenever I read it (and don’t even get me started on that sappy Muppets movie version – I am the only person I know who wells up as soon as the little green Tiny Tim frog with the crutch turns up… ).

My German edition of Bleak House has 1030 very thin pages with small print which made the reading not always an enjoyment. I wasn’t too happy with the first quarter, confusing all those characters, forgetting their names from one day to the next. But then the ‘big picture’ began to unfold and I just loved it.

For a classic this is quite a complex story. It requires concentrated reading and for once I am glad I read it in German. It has some really strong characters to offer. Esther, the main protagonist, seemed boring at first, but she really grew on my quickly and she might become one of my favorite female characters in classic literature. There was exactly one person I could have done without and that was Mr Skimpole, and I was so happy with Mr Bucket’s characterization of him in the 57th chapter. I found Ada a bit annoying as well, but she made Esther look better, so she is forgiven. And Mr Jarndyce was a bit too good to be true.

I also liked it that not all stories ended happily. Some characters developed differently from what could be expected at the beginning and this added more depth to the whole story.

Overall an wonderful book and a worthy choice for the TIOLO “chunkster” challenge.

Rating: 4,5 stars

Sep 15, 2010, 7:31am Top

90. Nine Lives: in Search of the Sacred in Modern India

As I mentioned before, this year I have been reading several novels set in India or Pakistan. Following Richard’s and Janet’s recommendations I bought this book for my Kindle to get some non-fiction background on the spiritual life in India, hoping to gain a better understanding. It tells the stories of nine people whose lives are dedicated to some particular religious service (for example the idol maker, the temple dancer, the epic singer…) and the difficulties of keeping up those traditions in a modern world where values are changing quickly.

All of their stories are quite fascinating, and in many cases I would have liked to know more. I just found the style a bit tiring. It feels like the author (who has been living in India for many years) had set a certain frame for all the chapters and was filling that frame point by point, always in the same order and in similar length, although some of the stories would have required a little more space than others. So sometimes certain aspects fall short while others are drawn out too long.

Nonetheless this is a very interesting and useful book which I can well recommend. Not a quick read I'd say.

Rating: 4 stars

Sep 15, 2010, 7:58am Top

91. The White Tiger

India again. I read mixed reviews about this book. Though I wouldn’t say I loved it, I really enjoyed it. It’s quite a page turner and I assume it’s close to the truth.

For your sake I just removed 3 parahraphs of ranting about my experiences with outsourcing to India, Russia or even Munich/Germany. So to make it short: the book describes aspects of life in modern India (with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and the tradition of masters/servants) which many of us would like to ignore. I’d recommend it anyway, along with Q & A, which was - as I heard, I didn’t see it – quite modified in its movie version ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ to make it more digestible for us Western movie goers.

Both books are not negative and are indeed quite humorous, both authors seem to love their country. They might just destroy some illusions.

Rating: 4 stars

Sep 15, 2010, 8:00am Top

#26: My only quibble with Bleak House is that Esther was just too namby-pamby for me, but other than that, I really enjoyed the book. I am glad you did as well.

#27: Already in the BlackHole.

#28: Ditto.

Sep 15, 2010, 8:01am Top

92. Daddy Long-Legs

I read this for the TIOLI ‘Back to School’ challenge, because I didn’t get any of my preferred books for the Kindle and because so many others have read it. I didn’t really like this book, but it’s clear that I am not the intended reader, so I will give some credit for that. This is an old book, and if not a childrens' book, then at least a book for young girls in the early 1900s, and I guess it was quite modern in those times.

It’s about a young orphan, Jerusha/Judy Abbott, who is given the chance of getting an education (i.e. going to college). All expenses are paid by an anonymous benefactor who is to be addressed as ‘Mr John Smith’. Her only duty is to write a letter once a month to inform him about her progress on her way of becoming a writer. She knows nothing about him except that he is tall and long-legged, so she calls him ‘Daddy Long-Legs’ in her letters. The letters are sweet , but the whole thing is too sugary and naïve for my liking, and the surprise ending is obvious from a very early point.

I might have liked the book more had she used a different name – but ‘Daddy’? I found that quite irritating. But the sketches are cute. Anyway – 3 stars from me because it didn’t hurt.

Rating: 3 stars

Sep 15, 2010, 10:42am Top

Love your comments about the books you've read lately, Deern! Very entertaining.

Sep 19, 2010, 6:48am Top

93. Rabbit, Run

My first Updike and well, I don’t know…
The style is certainly special, stream-of-consciousness like, very detailed, sometimes quite poetic. But also very detailed when it comes to the disgusting stuff, and this I don’t really need. Sensual in a negative way I’d say.

The story (slight spoilers) : Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom was the star basketball player at his high-school. Now he is just an average man in his twenties, married to an alcoholic wife, having a loser job as a door-to-door salesman, selling a kitchen peeler. He tries to run away from this life, but within hours from his escape ends up in the next loveless relationship, just because it’s kind of convenient. He returns to his wife when she gives birth to their second child. Altogether this is a depressing book, with dislikable characters who show no responsibility for themselves or others. For some reason ‘Rabbit’ is quite popular with everyone, I just found him extremely selfish, immature and manipulating. And I was shocked to read how normal it still was in the 60s to drink while pregnant.

The writing: Updike has a very critical eye when it comes to watching his fellow human beings, mainly the women. There is no beauty, every flaw is noticed and highlighted and I’m glad he never met and described me. And sorry – I am not prudish, but I don’t need those sad, repulsive, very detailed, drawn out sex scenes. Those authors (I am also thinking of McEwan and others here) can’t have a really happy love life, can they? Do they secretly hate women? Maybe it’s realistic, but how much realism do we need? There's one scene that takes up ten pages in the book (and there are some more). Zero passion, zero love. Had I not been reading it at the gym with no alternative book at hand and with about 30 more minutes to go on the treadmill, I would have abandoned the book right there. In fact it was so depressing that I couldn’t keep up my usual speed!

In a crucial scene near the end Updike uses stream-of-consciousness for Janice, Rabbit’s wife, and leaves out most of the punctuation. I quite liked that as a device to show how blurred her thoughts are in her drunkenness, however it might also be a kind of homage to the last chapter of Ulysses (the Molly monologue) to show the basic inability of women to form coherent thoughts.

There are four sequels to this book, two of them are on the 1001 list. I will probably read them because the writing is really good, but I really don’t care about ‘Rabbit’ or any of his relatives.

Rating: 3 stars

Sep 19, 2010, 6:50am Top

#32: I have not read any of Updike's 'Rabbit' books and I think I will continue to ignore them.

Sep 19, 2010, 7:02am Top

94. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (Kindle version)

Okay, so this is satire and a kind of parody of books by Hardy, Austen and Lawrence (this must be the reason they made it a 1001 book). Thanks for telling me in the introduction, because I wouldn't have noticed it. I've read just one Hardy and half a Lawrence, so I can't say much about them. I read a fair deal of Austen and in the beginning the main character Flora reminded me a bit of Emma, but not much.

The orphaned city girl Flora moves to her somewhat retarded relatives who live on a farm in Sussex. She quickly analyzes the situation there and solves everyone's problems. Reading this book felt like a mixture of chick lit (a bit silly) and fairy tale, and it wasn't as funny as I had expected it. I am not even sure if I liked Flora. But it was a very welcome easy read, and it's not really bad, so I am rating it with 3 stars.

Rating: 3 stars

Sep 19, 2010, 7:04am Top

#33: I read the plot of the sequels on wikipedia, and it doesn't look like he (or any of the other characters) will become more likeable. I am in no hurry to read them.

Sep 19, 2010, 7:14am Top

95. The island of Doctor Moreau

This was an unplanned read. It's on my Kindle in an anthology of 50 classic books, and it's short and on the 1001 list.

I'd say it's not bad, but it's not among those classics which translate well into modern times. I am not a sci-fi/ fantasy fan anyway, and Victorian sci-fi is a category I really don't like much.

The protagonist (forgot his name already) is shipwrecked and saved by a guy called Montgomery who is the assistant of Doctor Moreau on some remote exotic island. The island harbours a terrible secret and our hero must learn to survive among the creatures there.

I know this story contains some deep thoughts about the question what makes men men or humans human and how well we hide the beast within us, but to be honest I didn't care much. The book ist short but still seemed too long for me. I am rating it with 3 stars because it's not the book's fault that I don't like the genre.

Rating: 3 stars

Sep 19, 2010, 7:31am Top

#34: I enjoyed that one more than you did, Deern. There is also a film version that is very good.

#36: I have not yet read that one. I will get to it one of these centuries I am sure.

Sep 19, 2010, 7:50am Top

I think I need a really uplifting book next. Last week's books were not too good and I am feeling a bit down for some reasons.

Nothing really grave, especially when compared to others here - at least no-one's ill - , but many small things: my Dad lost his job after 40 years (there will be an agreement with the employer, but the situation is stressful for the family), I lost my most important client because our product is quite weather-dependent and the summer in their region was awful (at least they promised to take us back next year), my parents' dog is dying (but she is really really old and had a wonderful life) and I am suffering from a bit of heartache, but again that's nothing serious. It's just all adding up right now and I know there will soon be better times again.

Anyway - if you know any happy books which don't necessarily contain a happy love story, I'd be most grateful for suggestions. :-)

Sep 19, 2010, 7:51am Top

#37: maybe I was just not in the right mood for a book where every girl gets 'her man'... I will put it into my to be re-read selection :-)

Sep 19, 2010, 7:55am Top

Sorry to hear you have so much going on right now, Deern. I hope all is resolved soon.

As far as happy books go, I appear not to have read any this year.

Sep 19, 2010, 12:08pm Top

I've caught up and got you starred again, Deern. Sorry about the sadness in your life right now. Sometimes those 'little' things build up...

Oh my, in looking over the books I've read this year I've discovered an almost total lack of happy books. The closest I can come is the Louise Penny Three Pines series that may not be happy but is certainly uplifting. I'll be checking back to see if you get any good recommendations that I can stockpile for my own dark days.

I hope you get to read something soon that puts you in a better place!

Sep 27, 2010, 3:19am Top

I guess it's time for some new posts. I just saw that over the weekend I accidentally hit the 100 books mark without noticing it and I did so with a book that wasn't worth it. At least #101 was much better.

A quick update on the personal things: the dog (very peacefully) died last Monday. Though this is quite sad, she must have been one the oldest dogs ever with almost 20 years and she had a wonderful life.
My parents have been here for a visit for 4 days which was really great as I hadn't seen them for several months. This week I will see them again in Germany for my Mum's 65th birthday. We are going to Sylt (Germany's most northern island) and I will stay there for a whole week - my first real holiday since May 2009. I will go there by train on the 30th and I hope to finish all my remaining TIOLI books during that 14hours train ride.

Sep 27, 2010, 3:21am Top

96. At the Back of the North Wind

I feel I have to apologize before posting this review. This is a beloved childrens classic, and I am deeply sorry that I didn’t like it. I might also be the only person in the whole world who had a problem with the Narnia books and abandoned them (I think somewhere in book 3) instead of being enchanted for the rest of my life. And this book here reminded me of the Narnia chronicles – with the difference that I liked it even less. And I wouldn’t even have liked it had I read it as a child, I am quite sure of that.

For one thing I was not able to read the book with the patience it requires, often I was just terribly bored and annoyed by all the sweetness. I found the writing sometimes really awful, especially the dialogues. And I didn’t care at all for those nursery rhymes (never did). I do like books about “good” children, I loved Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden. But this child here, Diamond, was just way too good, and not in a smart way. He was just obedient. And I didn’t like those hidden messages, it all sounded too much like Sunday school for my liking.

However there were some nicer bits – the London episodes which were closer to real life, but also the Daylight fairy tale - just because it was a real fairy tale and not something in between.

Rating: 3 stars, although it felt more like 2 stars for me

Sep 27, 2010, 3:27am Top

97. The Elementary Particles

Thanks to the TIOLI I was finally able to read this one and I liked it more than I had expected. Maybe I should always start books fearing the worst? Okay, I could certainly have done with fewer of those disgusting Bruno scenes, but Bruno was clearly needed as an antithesis for Michel.

I don’t really know whether I liked the writing style, I didn’t even try to get deeper into the science bits. Given my personal situation (running towards the big 40 and feeling terribly old), this was probably one of the worst books to touch, with that repeated mantra about the attractiveness of youth and the sadness of middle-aged women.
Maybe this explains why I liked the sci-fi ending.

Rating: 3,5 stars

Sep 27, 2010, 3:33am Top

I'm sorry about the dog Deern - but you are right, she had a very long life. I don't think any of ours ever got past about 14.

I hope you have a lovely holiday - sounds like you definitely deserve it. Anyway, have a great time and I'll look out for all the reviews on your return :)

Sep 27, 2010, 3:36am Top

98. Fool’s Gold: the inside story of J.P. Morgan

Non-fiction, about the mortgage/ subprime crisis, the viewpoint of a group of J.P. Morgan employees who had been among the first ones to create those specialized derivative instruments back in the 90s. I am not going to write much about the contents of this this book – on the one hand I don’t know enough about the situation in the US to judge its correctness, on the other hand I have been a “banker” myself until my lucky escape last year. It is a gripping read in this typical American 'cover story' style, it's quite informative and I can recommend it.

I have been working in a very different area (IT), but I have seen and heard enough to feel affected by this book. Without the crisis I would have moved to London in 2008 to help developing an IT system for the administration of hedge funds. I guess I am better off now (though I would have loved to spend some time in London).

I never understood the enthusiasm about securities and I was never able to sell people something just because it was good for the bank. That’s why I decided against joining an investment bank after university and opted for IT. IT is where the cynics and non-believers are. Very Dilbert-like. Years ago my Dad asked me how I was able to work in a world where everything was just virtual. It has been bothering me ever since, because he was right. Most of us had that secret wish of leaving the bank one day to do ‘something real’. Let’s just say I am glad it’s over for me. But there will be new bubbles, there’s no end to the greed.

Rating: 4 stars

Sep 27, 2010, 3:39am Top

Sorry to hear about your dog, Deern. It sounds like she had a good, long life.

I hope you enjoy your holiday! It sounds as though you really need one right now.

Sep 27, 2010, 3:41am Top

99. Matchless

I read this to make some TIOLI points in the fairy tale category, and it has less than 400 lines in the Kindle edition, yet counts as a book. Maybe that’s not fair, but with Bleak House in the chunkster category I certainly made up for it.

This is something like an extended re-telling of the fairy tale about the little girl with the matches by Hans-Christian Andersen. The book is quite sweet with all those pictures, but honestly – I don’t think this version was needed and the extension of the main story seems pointless. Should you be hoping for a happy ending for the little girl you will be disappointed. This book cost me 13$ which is quite a lot of money for the e-book equivalent of less than 10 pages of text.

Rating: 2,5 stars

Sep 27, 2010, 4:00am Top

#45, 47: Thanks for the good wishes! I am looking forward to taking looong walks along the beach and to eating lots and lots of fresh fish. :-)

Sep 27, 2010, 4:09am Top

I had never heard of Sylt before, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. It looks lovely. I hope you have a wonderful time!

Sep 27, 2010, 4:10am Top

100. A Horse's Tale

One of those books by a great author where I have to wonder how he could publish something as bad? The ending is much too cruel for a childrens book, but the rest of the story is too silly for adults.

So it’s about the horse 'Soldier Boy', actually Buffalo Bill’s horse. And it’s about a fearless little girl called Catherine. Everyone loves Catherine, all the soldiers, and Buffalo Bill whom she calls BB, and even all the natives, and so does the horse. BB teaches her riding and gives Soldier Boy to her as a present. And then they move to Spain, there is a bull fight, and it all ends badly.

Rating: 2 stars

Sep 27, 2010, 4:14am Top

#51: Looks like I can skip that one. Sorry book 100 was not a better one for you.

Sep 27, 2010, 10:31pm Top

The Rabbit books take Rabbit through his entire life, and he dies an old man in the last volume Rabbit at Rest. I agree Rabbit (and Janice) are often very unlikeable, but the overall series is a compelling story of a man who is supposed to be an "average" American guy, at various times in his life (and slices of American societal norms at those times.) This is probably making the books (and me) sound pretentious (they're not, and I hope I'm not), and I really liked them. If you read on, I hope you'll like the later volumes better.

Oct 9, 2010, 10:27am Top

Back at Merano after a lovely holiday! There were only two rainy afternoons, so I was able to take my beach walks as planned, and I had a great time with my parents.

I finished nine books since my last posting, now I have to get all those reviews done... I'll try and keep them short.

I spent yesterday's 15hour train ride getting through 400+ pages of book no 110, an Italian crime novel (Giorgio Faletti's Niente di vero tranne gli occhi which - as far as I know - wisely has never been translated into English). There are still 70 pages left. Terribly overblown writing and an absolutely incredible plot which could be called funny, but fear the author was completely serious about it. Might qualify for my worst read ever.

Oct 9, 2010, 10:36am Top

Glad to hear you had a great holiday, Deern! Too bad about that last book of yours though. Not a good way to end a holiday.

Oct 9, 2010, 11:15am Top

At least the plot is bad in a way that makes me laugh. I'll write about it in the review - honestly, sometimes I wonder how those stories find a publisher

Oct 9, 2010, 11:19am Top

101. The Perks of being a Wallflower

When the end of the month is coming closer and my planned TIOLI reads are all completed I try to squeeze some shared reads into the remaining days. This is one of them and I am glad I found it.

Charlie is 15 and just started high school. His best friend has died (we later learn he has committed suicide) and Charlie feels lonely. He writes about his first year in high school in the form of letters which he sends to an anonymous reader. All of the usual issues are confronted: drug use, alcohol, sexual issues, pregnancy, true friendship, loss... but as this is all told from Charlies perspective (which is quite naive at times) this is not your usual coming-of-age book. It doesn't have the usual depressive note because Charlie is such a tolerant and accepting observer. Yet I kept asking myself what was not 'in order' with Charlie. The events at the end of the book explain parts of it, but not everything.
I'd say it's one of the better books in this genre and it certainly shouldn't be on any restricted lists.

Rating: 4 stars

Oct 9, 2010, 11:29am Top

102. Casanegra

This one was also a shared TIOLI read, and I quite enjoyed it, though this mixture of sex and crime is not my favorite genre. The main character is Tennyson Hardwick, an ex-TV actor, who used to earn his money as a high paid male escort. Years later he runs into one of his former clients - beautiful Serena who has since made a career as a rapper with a fortune of 30 million dollars. They have sex and the next day she is found brutally killed in an alley. Logically Tennyson now is the main suspect and he decides to prove his innocence by finding the real killer.
This sounds like your usual crime story, but it's surprisingly well written and quite entertaining.

Rating: 3,5 stars

Oct 9, 2010, 11:37am Top

103. Die Biene Maja / The Adventures of Maja the Bee

This is a German childrens classic. The free-minded little bee Maja decides she doesn't want to spend her life collecting honey with the other bees. So she runs/ flies away to go and live on her own. She quickly makes friends with many other insects ( the house fly Puck, the dung beetle Kurt and others), but also learns the dangers of the wildlife when she is caught in the net of the evil spider Thekla.

This is maybe terribly old-fashioned, but it's also sooo sweet. I never read it as a child, but 'Maja' was the first of those Japanese trick film shows I ever watched - in fact none of us children wanted to miss a single episode. I must have about 20 'Maja' audio records stored somewhere in my parents' attic and many comic strip books. My fear of spiders was caused by evil Thekla.
Last year I found this book at a second hand bookseller, a 1921 edition for the price of 2 Euros. The book gets 4 (very biased) stars.

Rating: 4 stars for nostalgia

Oct 9, 2010, 11:44am Top

104. The Life of a Good-for-Nothing

New month, new TIOLI. This was my first October book, for the "long author name challenge".
It's a German classic, and it's a lot like #103 "Maja the Bee", just for grown-ups. The main character decides he doesn't want to do any hard work, so he takes his fiddle and heads for the road. He is picked up by two ladies who take him to their castle to work as a gardener, later as a bookkeeper. He falls unhappily in love, returns to the road and travels to Italy. He meets many people, good ones and bad ones and there is a happy ending. Also old-fashioned, quite short and a bit in the style of a fairy tale by the Grimm brothers.

Rating: 3 stars

Oct 9, 2010, 12:25pm Top

105. Nowhere Man

I read this for the 'Book named after a Song' challenge, it's also a 1001 book. The plot is not easy to describe. Basically there are six chapters, but it's not a continued narrative. It's more like six separate, but interrelated stories. The common element/character is Jozef Pronek, a young Bosnian from Sarajevo, who migrated to Chicago before the Yugoslav war.

The first chapter is written in first person, a man is being interviewed for a teacher job and believes to see Pronek among the students. The second part is a narrative in third person about Proneks youth in Sarajevo, from his birth to the point where he is invited into the US. The third part is written in first person again, from the perspective of a young American. It is set in 2001 in Kiev where a group of foreign students with Ukrainian ancestry is taking a 'back-to-the-roots' trip, Pronek being one of them. #4 is a letter from Pronek's friend who is fighting in the war. #5 again is a narrative about a period of Pronek's life in Chicago, post-war. #6 is... I don't really know.

In each new chapter the reader has to find his place, sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's almost impossible. Chapters end apruptly, just when I got used to the style, just when I wanted to know more. At the beginning of the next chapter I felt lost and somehow uprooted, mirroring the feelings of the migrant Pronek who will never feel at home again.

Apart from Pronek there are other recurring elements in the six stories (sounds, a mouse, smells...). I had some problems with the last chapter, I really couldn't get into it, and this is why the book presently gets 4 stars only.
4,5 stars for chapters 1-5.

Rating: 4 stars

Oct 9, 2010, 12:38pm Top

106. Cry, the beloved country

I don't need to write a long review here, I must be the last person who's read it. This was my TIOLI read for the 'stasia's recommendations challenge' and it is truly a wonderful book.

After the first part I was not too happy with it - I had some problems with the slang language and it was a bit too religious for my liking. But part two got much better (and easier for me) and part three was just perfect.

Keeping in mind when the book was written, this is an incredible work, showing that tolerance and reconciliation are possible even in the most adverse circumstances.

Rating: 5 stars

Oct 9, 2010, 12:43pm Top

107. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Read for the 'not really horror' challenge.
I didn't know the story and have never seen the movie. But somehow I expected more. More story, but also 'more book', not just a short story.
But as an autumn read it was okay.

Rating: 3 stars

Oct 9, 2010, 1:21pm Top

108. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (wrong touchstone)

Read for the 'shared read in previous TIOLI months' challenge and because I had it on my shelf for ages. I always had this feeling I might not like it.

It is difficult for me to review Holocaust books. I could never give a Holocaust book a real bad rating if I had the feeling that at least the author had the 'right' intentions. This is the case here - I am sure Markus Zusak only wanted the best. But he didn't do his research and he went for the childrens book style - keeping it easy, using generalizations, and so not giving a correct picture.
Just a few examples: having brown eyes was 'bad' (no, it wasn't - there are and have been more brown-eyed than blue-eyed people in Germany), 'everyone' was in the NSDAP (for a house painter a party membership was not required, only a small percentage of the Germans actively joined the NSDAP - the majority was silently watching), no mention of other minorities sent to the KZs to be killed, the war was not only fought in Stalingrad, etc.

I have no problem with people reading and liking this book - but it should be read along with other Holocaust literature (which shouldn't solely be The Boy in the striped pyjamas or 'The Reader').

When it comes to the plot - I didn't buy this whole 'written from Death's perspective' device. And I never understood why Liesel should play such an exceptional role for Death. But I did like the descriptions of Liesel's life in the Hubermann family, I loved Papa and Mama Hubermann. I liked how Liesel's friendship with Ilse Herrmann slowly developed. It's those small interpersonal bits that worked best for me.

Rating: 3,5 stars

Oct 9, 2010, 1:29pm Top

109. The Penderwicks

Read for the "old fashioned childrens books challenge". After reading Richard's review I was a bit scared, but I found I enjoyed it. Certainly - this tale about fours sisters and their dog is far from reality and much too sweet to be true
(especially the bit about the dog catching the cute little rabbit and not killing it - the same dog that usually eats whatever it finds, including maps).
But I know that as a child I would have loved it and even now it was a nice and easy holiday read. Didn't hurt.

Rating: 3 stars

Oct 9, 2010, 1:33pm Top

Some really interesting reviews of books that are all on my TBR pile or wishlist. I'm particularly interested in your review of Cry the Beloved Country, as that is one book that I just can't get interested in reading. I keep hearing it's wonderful, but then I pick it up and feel instantly numbingly bored. One day I'll get past it, with the help of comments like yours.

Oct 9, 2010, 1:43pm Top

#66: I took it with me on a looong train ride, as the only non-Kindle book. That helped me getting through the first chapters. Once the Reverend has arrived in Johannesburg and starts the search for his son it gets better.

Oct 9, 2010, 1:47pm Top

Good to know! Thanks. One day I'll actually read it instead of just picking it up.

Oct 10, 2010, 12:08am Top

#62: I am relieved that you ended up loving that one too, Deern! I always worry as to whether or not people are going to like the books I recommend.

Oct 10, 2010, 7:59am Top

110. Niente di vero tranne gli occhi

Thank God - finally finally finished!
This was a recommended to me by my Italian teacher last year, so I bought and started it, but found my Italian still unsufficient and put it on hold. Re-started now because it fit nicely into the police work TIOLI. Faletti seems to be immensely popular in Italy and this book sold 3,5 million copies. Some of Faletti's books have been translated into English, I think this one is not among them. The title would probably contain the words 'truth' and 'eyes', so be warned!

The book wants to be an American style crime/mystery novel, but offers:
- bad writing (half of the book consists of unneccessary fillers and the dialogues are ridiculous),
- bad clichés (New York is a cold and evil city in case you didn't know - oh and it has no soul and everyone wants to get away!)
- and one of the worst plots I ever encountered. A serial killer leaves his victims dressed like Peanuts characters. The police would be lost, but luckily there's an ex-sergeant who finds traces using intuition(!). And there's an Italian police woman who's in NY for a cornea transplant - she receives the cornea of the first victim and then has visions from the victim's life (unfortunately she doesn't see the killer, this could have saved me 300 pages). It's as bad as it sounds, and this is not even half of the story. I read this on my train home from the holidays and often couldn't stop laughing.

I've read some bad books this year, but the other ones at least had the benefit of being short and/or suffering "only" from a bad plot. This one here is bad on all levels and it is 500 pages long. By far the worst read this year!
It's also the most 'controversial' book in my library with ratings between 0,5 and 5 stars. 0,5 I understand, but 5?? Unfortunately there are no reviews, I'd really like to know what people liked about this book. Did I miss something?

Rating: 1 star

Oct 10, 2010, 8:07am Top

#70: Since I do not know any Italian, I am completely untempted by that one! Good thing too.

Edited: Oct 17, 2010, 11:49am Top

I just finished book #111: 2666 by Roberto Bolano. This here is not my review yet. I posted 'some' of my thoughts on parts 1-4 on Peggy's (LizzieD's) thread - actually it's a very long post.
But in the 5th and last part so many new aspects came up that I have no idea how to write the review - I don't even know what to think anymore.

Is it possible to lose one's mind over a book? At one point in part 5 suddenly there were just too many possibilities of interpretation, I felt like my head couldn't process them anymore (the last time I felt like that was many years ago when I finished Foucault's Pendulum).

I rated '2666' with 5 stars, if it were possible I'd give it more.

My next read should be The Inheritance of Loss as a shared TIOLI read, a book I abandoned 2 years ago on my first try. Hopefully I'll like it more this time. And I will try and read The Corrections, but I'm not sure I will manage both books before month end.

Oct 17, 2010, 11:20pm Top

I can't start part 5 tonight, but that's where I am. I've already mentioned Foucault's Pendulum to Stasia in connection with 2666, so that's not a good omen for my feeling some closure by the end. Uh oh. Have you read reviews here? I know some people whom I really respect have written reviews, but I haven't read them since I started the book. It's some book though!

Oct 17, 2010, 11:20pm Top

Hi there, saw you were reading 2666 on Stasia's thread and wandered over, that book intrigues me although I don't think I'm in the correct headspace fo rit at the moment. Good reviews on your other recent reads.

Oct 18, 2010, 12:55am Top

#72: Glad to know you ended up rating 2666 so highly, Deern!

Oct 18, 2010, 2:28am Top

I lost your thread for ages - a month! - but read it all yesterday when I finally had some peace. (Not enough to type anything though!) Your review of the terrible Italian crime novel had me laughing out loud!

I've got The book thief here - it was a present from my SIL for my birthday a few years ago, and I still haven't read it. You're not making me want to bump it up, but I know there are lots of people on here who loved it. And it does fit the one syllable title TIOLI challenge...

Funny LT coincidence for today: I was just trying to find the kids a TV show, and Die Biene Maja was on - I had no idea what it was, then came here and see it is a classic. It got passed over by our 3 yo for the ghastly Thomas the Tank Engine in English.

I'll see if i can find an uplifting book rec from my reading this year or last...hope you're having a good morning over there in Italia! It is FREEZING here, like about 3 or 4 and going to get to 8 today.

Oct 18, 2010, 2:28am Top

#73: This is very interesting - what has been the basis for the connection in your case? For me this happened only at the end of part 5. Maybe I should put Foucault's Pendulum on my to-be-reread list, I have a terribly short memory.
I've read it twice, the first time when the German edition came out almost 20 years ago and again maybe 10 years later. It's one of my all-time favorites that made it impossible for me to enjoy any of those highly popular 'religious conspiracy' books.

Oct 18, 2010, 2:39am Top

# 74: thank you and welcome!
About 2666: just wait till the time is right. I did the same, it was no planned read this month.
I had it on my shelf since February and I only bought it because my small bookshop here had 5 copies in its tiny English section which usually consists of Dan Brown and Agatha Christie books. It caught my eye with its size and I decided to rid the nice booksellers of one copy. A pity purchase that ended up being such an amazing read.

Oct 18, 2010, 2:48am Top

#75: Before I give 5 stars I always compare with other great reads, and (for me!) it was clearly better than my 4,5 star books and even better than most of my 5 star books (one of these days I must reconsider my rating system...).
I don't want to spoil you about part 5, but I was really impressed about the research effort he must have taken for this part.

Oct 18, 2010, 2:50am Top

#79: Peggy and I will be tackling part 5 this next week. I am looking forward to it!

Oct 18, 2010, 3:04am Top

#76: Hi Cushla, it's cold here as well and on Saturday it snowed down to 1400 metres. Bad weather all through the weekend once again, and now that it's Monday the sky is blue and the sun is shining.

The Book Thief also fits the challenge of 'books shared in previous months', that's where I posted it. But if you finish it I can also move my post into your challenge to make some points.
It is not a bad book but I always have a problem with generalizations in Holocaust books. For some people it might be the only Holocaust book they ever read and it just gives an incorrect picture. Only recently - after my review - I read somewhere(?) that the book was not intended as YA by the author. In this case I must say that he could have done better on the research side. Still I liked the characters and 'all the little things'.

Honestly - I understand your kids preferred Thomas over Maja. The Maja show must be at least 32 years old and is certainly not up to today's TV standards. *sigh* I am getting old...

Oct 21, 2010, 6:10am Top

I finished The Inheritance of Loss and can finally check it off my 'on hold' list. I still didn't like it much and can't really recommend it. The review will follow soon.

I am now reading The Finkler Question following stasia's and cushla's recommendations and also The Corrections, because I was curious about all the Franzen hype. My Kindle says I am 16% through The Corrections and though I enjoy it I have to put it down frequently because this guy Chip's behaviour makes me cringe with embarrassment (right now he is in a shop, hiding a salmon in his trousers because he can't pay for it. Do I really want to know how this scene ends?) .

In German we call that 'fremdschämen' (feeling embarrassed for a stranger) and it is mostly used in connection with trashy reality TV shows. If this book was a movie I'd have to watch it through my fingers.

Oct 21, 2010, 6:22am Top

#82: If this book was a movie I'd have to watch it through my fingers.

I love that comment!

I hope you enjoy The Finkler Question. It is one of my top reads for the year. I know Cushla did not enjoy it as much as I did though.

Oct 21, 2010, 7:16am Top

I haven't read The Corrections, but I bought Freedom a few weeks ago. You're not making me thrilled about that decision!!

Hope you're getting into The Finkler Question.

Oct 22, 2010, 4:51pm Top

Fremdschamen describes how I feel when I watch the comedy The Office. I have watched the antics of David Brent through my fingers so many times. I've never seen the US version but I'm sure its the same feeling.

Oct 23, 2010, 11:16pm Top

"fremdschaemen" (don't know how to add the umlaut) is such a great word. I'm going to remember that.

Oct 25, 2010, 6:01am Top

#85: 'The Office' is the perfect example. I love the show (I bought the DVDs from the UK), but I haven't be able to watch a single episode without using the pause button several times to get some rest for my nerves.

I have been quite busy for the last few days and couldn't read much. I am now 75% through The Finkler Question and should be able to finish it in time for the TIOLI, but I didn't make any progress on The Corrections. Reading takes much longer with the Kindle, must be the constant paging.

Oct 25, 2010, 6:05am Top

#87: Are you enjoying The Finkler Question, Nathalie? I hope you are :)

Oct 25, 2010, 6:20am Top

#88: yes I like it, but it's not an easy read for me. Maybe because it is one of those books that require concentrated reading and all I could do during the last 3 days was squeezing in 2 or 3 pages whenever possible.

Oct 25, 2010, 6:32am Top

#89: all I could do during the last 3 days was squeezing in 2 or 3 pages whenever possible.

Not a good way to have to read it at all. I hope you get more time for the book!

Edited: Oct 28, 2010, 6:04am Top

111. 2666

Short review: an exceptional book on all levels I can think of. A great experience I wouldn’t want to miss. Highly recommended, but you have to be ‘in the mood’ and shouldn’t force yourself through it if it doesn’t appeal to you on the first few pages. A long book, but much easier to read than Infinite Jest or Ulysses, though harder than Anna Karenina (at least that was my impression).

Loooong review:

Why I bought it:
It was a mere pity purchase. My bookshop had accidentally ordered 5 copies and I felt sorry for them. Didn’t really know what I was buying and was pleasantly surprised to find it on the 1001 list.

Why I read it now:
Because it stared at me. Literally. My edition has that cover with the little hole and the eye and I swear it started looking at me. It was not a friendly look, actually it looked dangerous but so seductive...

What the reading was like:
On the first night I read just 20 pages, but during my sleep the book must have worked some magic on me because I picked it up first thing in the morning and put it down only when absolutely necessary ( when I really had some work to do). I am not such a quick reader of English, so during the week it took me to finish it I lost many, many hours of sleep. Sometimes I fell asleep at night just to wake up two hours later, ready to read another couple of pages. But calling it a ‘pageturner’ isn’t sufficient. It felt like the book had taken over my will, it dictated that it wanted to be read, and when – and that always meant “now”!

Difficult to describe because it will always sound dreadfully boring. As I wrote on Peggy’s (LizzieD’s) thread, it is like having a plotline on the surface, but below there is some strong undercurrent that drags you through the book. All you can do is reading on and on, even when the ‘official’ plot is annoying you.
Okay, so there are those 5 loosely connected parts (SPOILER ALERT):
Part 1 (early 90s - early 2000s): 4 literature critics, all specialized on the work of the German author von Archimboldi, meet, become friends/ lovers, and follow his tracks to the town of Santa Teresa in Mexico. Santa Teresa has been the scene of hundreds of killings of women over the last 10 years. In Santa Teresa they meet an university assistant called Amalfitano.
Part 2 ( set before part 1) gives us some background on Amalfitano. He moves to Santa Teresa with his daughter Rosa and seemingly starts losing his mind, hearing a voice (his father’s?) in his head. He is worried about the murders and fears for Rosa’s safety. Oh, and he hangs a geometry book on the washing line.
Part 3 (not sure, but must also happen before the critics come to ST): Oscar Fate, an American reporter, comes to ST to write about a boxing match. He hears about the murders, meets Rosa and some suspicious guys and flees to the USA with her, but before that he accompanies a fellow reporter to an interview with the suspected killer Klaus Haas.
Part 4 (1994-1997): Hundreds of pages with hundreds of dead women, interrupted by short accounts on the investigation or the story of people affected by the crimes. I was fearing the worst, i.e. detailed American Psycho like descriptions of the killings and was actually relieved that I was spared that. However this really is a hard chapter and it is the longest in the book. Dark, dark, dark and strangely addictive…
Part 5 (1920 – early 2000s): We meet the German Hans Reiter and follow him through his life as a soldier during WWII, his confrontation with the Holocaust and his decision to become a writer.

What I really liked about this book:
I mean, apart from that interesting feeling of being swallowed by a kind of monster being…
I think Bolano must have been a very meticulous person. This book is not just some ‘stroke of genius’ that fell down from heaven. There was hard work involved and this shows an appreciation for the reader which I absolutely adore. Or maybe he set that very high standard of quality just for himself. He obviously did an awful lot of research, and this becomes most obvious in the last part. Honestly, I have no idea if the historical events are correct (and I am too lazy to check), but they sound correct and believable. Even if all of them were pure fantasy, it wouldn't be the kind of cheap fantasy authors are too often putting us off with. Here is not someone who thinks it suffices to throw in some well-known landmarks – like Stalingrad, Dresden and Auschwitz. Especially the Holocaust story got me – no gas chambers, no concentration camps, but the personal involvement of ‘real’ people, normal people becoming killers.

Bolano was such a great writer, I keep wondering what the book would have been like had he lived long enough to finish it. Could it have been any better?

The book’s dark and strangely seductive atmosphere, the vastness of possible connections and the elaborateness add up to an exceptional reading experience. I can only compare it to Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, one of my all-time favorites. But this one here is clearly the easier read.

Rating: ‘Real’ 5 stars. Not for importance or political reasons, but for enriching my life as a reader

Oct 25, 2010, 7:21am Top

112. The Inheritance of Loss

As I wrote before, this book has been on hold for about two years. Thanks to the TIOLI where it became a shared read, I finally picked it up again and this time I managed to finish it. ( I found it interesting that I felt the urge to put it down again exactly in the place where I had left it last time.)

This is a Booker winner (2006?). The story is set in India during the Ghurkal riots in the Darjeeling region. The main characters are the ‘judge’, his granddaughter Sai, their ‘cook’ and the cook’s son Biju, the latter one living illegally in the US. Sai is having an affair with her teacher, a young Nepali, who takes the side of the rebels (one of the most unconvincing love stories I ever read). This is once again all about the loss of traditions and identity, about the feeling of not really belonging.

The language is sometimes beautiful, but often it sounds designed for effect ("pressure weighed downward like a gestapo boot on her brain"). But what concerned me most – and that was the main reason for not finishing it the first time – was the author’s somewhat disrespectful treatment of her characters, mainly the cook and Biju whom I both really liked. And then there was the overall negative focus. Compared to a book like Half of a Yellow Sun that deals with a conflict at least as disastrous, with death, hunger and violence but shows how people are managing to cope, trying to keep their dignity, The Inheritance of Loss paints a picture of complete desolation, and the last paragraph of the book can’t change that impression for me.

Rating: 3 stars

Oct 25, 2010, 7:29am Top

#92: I think I will be giving that one a pass.

Oct 25, 2010, 9:58am Top


Oct 25, 2010, 11:16pm Top

It's interesting how often I come across prize winning books that the majority of readers only rate as average. It makes you very curious as to the judging criteria.

Oct 26, 2010, 12:04pm Top

I have to admit that I liked The Inheritance of Loss much more than Under the Yellow Sun--they're entirely different kinds of reads.

Oct 28, 2010, 6:18am Top

I added half a thread length of review for 2666 (posting #91).

Oct 28, 2010, 10:02am Top

#95 and 96: Reading is such a personal thing, so it is possible that I missed something important about The Inheritance of Loss (which the Booker judges were able to see) or maybe just something hit an over-sensitive nerve in my case.

Oct 28, 2010, 10:52am Top

Congratulations on a wonderful review, Deern! Please post it on the book page so that potential readers can have an accurate idea of what they are in for and so that I can give it a thumb!
You and Bonnie now have me curious about both *IofL* and *UYS* both of which I own, neither of which I've read. Maybe next year!

Oct 28, 2010, 11:19am Top

#99: Posting that long thing? Should I really? But if I get my first thumb for it... okay! :)

Edited: Nov 15, 2010, 10:16am Top

113. The Finkler Question

Okay, so there are books I can’t wait to finish just to write the review and then there are books like this one. Books which I would much more prefer to discuss with others personally. So if you want to read a coherent review on this book, check out Cushla’s (cmt’s ) thread.

The Finkler Question was recommended by stasia and Cusla and I couldn’t wait to start reading it (it worked as a motivation to get The Inheritance of Loss finished). And I agree, it is a very good book, which is reflected in my rating ( 4 stars).

Spoilers coming:
First the plot: There are those three old friends, Julian, Sam and Libor. After spending an evening together at Libor’s place and reminiscing about Sam’s and Libor’s wives who both recently died, Julian walks back home and gets mugged in the street. And this event changes his view on life, or better: it makes him realize something he has always been missing. And this something is surprisingly “being a Jew” or “Finklerism” (Sam’s last name is Finkler). Libor and Sam are both Jewish, and it becomes obvious that Julian has always felt excluded from their discussions, believing they were sharing ‘something’ he couldn’t have and that something must be, yes, being Jewish. We follow the three main characters through a couple of months, meet the families and via memories also the deceased wives. And I learned much about what Jewish life might be today – there are in fact many different concepts, there is even a community calling themselves ASHamed Jews cofounded by Sam. As Cushla mentioned in her review, the author really brings all the characters very close to the readers, in the end we feel like we have always known them.

Some private bragging, containing plot spoilers:
I had a problem with Julian, and my problem is that I know him. He’s my ex. Okay, he is very much like my ex. So from a very early point (even before the mugging scene) I knew how he worked. Not much sympathy to be expected from my side!
Apart from being my ex, Julian clearly has German characteristics. Very hard to explain. When I write “we” in the following bit, I don’t mean all Germans, but those are things I really noticed very often, and I don’t exclude myself.
Many of us post-WWII Germans are suffering from identity issues, we feel ‘something’ is missing. We can’t go looking for it in our own nationality, because that has not been such a great idea in the past.
So many of us go and look for the answers in a foreign culture, just to realize quickly that having read some books and feeling well-prepared doesn’t make us one of ‘them’. ‘They’ haven’t exactly been waiting for us and our wisdom (I am especially thinking of those German profs who bought farm houses in Tuscany and then explained the local farmers how to make wine and how to separate their garbage). This is a new concept of prejudice – we are no longer looking down on others, on the contrary, we want to be like them, but just like in earlier times we just see the stereotypes. We dive into whatever seems to fill that void in our lives and get disappointed.
And Julian is just like that – first envious of what ‘the Finklers’ are having, then trying to have it as well, becoming an über-Finkler and quickly starting to complain, because the Finklers are not Finklerish enough for his liking. He doesn’t even realize how anti-semitic his behavior is until Libor finally tells him off.
So obviously the Brits are having similar identity issues. Interesting.

End of Julian- and German-bashing. I just realize I am like Sam. “I am allowed to do this, I am one of them”.

Libor was my favorite, I would have loved to read more about him and his life with Malkie. What a wonderful and exceptional gift it must be to find the one and perfect partner for your life and growing old with her/him. I felt deeply sorry for him throughout the novel and wanted to shake his two ‘friends’ for not opening their eyes to his situation, for not being there for him.

Rating: 4 stars

Oct 28, 2010, 11:33am Top

Great review, post it so that I can thumb it please!! And I still haven't read it.

Oct 28, 2010, 11:35am Top

114. Sh*t My Dad Says

Recommended by Carmenere - thank you for that! And for a change this time it really is a short review.
A very funny book, though not as laugh-out-loud funny as I had expected. I couldn’t relate to everything, as my own family is completely different from this one here. But I really liked Justin’s Dad and by the last chapter I adored him. Yes, it’s funny, in a heartwarming way. I wonder how 'Dad' would have talked to a daughter.

Rating: 3,5 stars. Recommended if you need something easy and uplifting, as long as you don’t mind every second word being an expletive.

Oct 28, 2010, 11:39am Top

I posted it, but for some reason LT thinks the review is in German though all my settings should be 'English'. Any idea what I can do?

Oct 28, 2010, 6:21pm Top

I echo the sentiments, great review of 2666.

Oct 28, 2010, 9:13pm Top

Loved your review of 2666, Nathalie!

Sorry, I have no idea about what you can do about the German issue on LT.

Oct 29, 2010, 11:00am Top

#99, 102, 105, 106: Thank you all!!

Oh dear, it looks like today - for a change - might be a good day for my business. A reallyreallyreally good one. This could mean less reading time in the near future, but in the long run also more money for books.

Oct 29, 2010, 11:22pm Top

#107: I hope it does turn out to be a good day for your business!

Nov 14, 2010, 4:57am Top

Back online after two very busy (and internet-free) weeks! I have been to Germany to meet some of my clients, and I feel the trip has been quite successful. New business coming up soon!
I also saw as many friends and family members as possible and spent a considerable amount of my time eating, everyone seemed to have my favorites ready and no excuse was accepted. This means I will have to spend all my free time in the gym for the next few weeks to get back into shape before Christmas.

I spent half a day shopping at Frankfurt and just couldn't avoid my favorite book shop. I bought:
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (wrong touchstone)
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
Atonement by Ian McEwan
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (will be a re-read)
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
and two 'easy' ones against home-sickness:
Nothing for Ungood by John Madison
Heimat ist was man vermisst by Sebastian Schnoy

I didn't read as much as I had hoped, but before leaving I finished The Corrections, just in time to add it to the October TIOLI.
My November reads so far have been The Moonstone (this took me 8 days!), the two last books in the list and "Every Man...". Might finish the musketeers today. I am hopelessly behind on reviews. Started to prepare some, but they are not finished. I hope I will be able to add them one by one during the next days.

Nov 14, 2010, 5:04am Top

Congratulations on the new business coming up soon for you, Nathalie! Sounds like a very profitable (and fun) trip. Nice haul at your favorite bookstore too!

Nov 15, 2010, 10:18am Top

115. The Corrections

I finished this on October 31st at 11:00 pm, just in time to add it to the October TIOLI. Having noticed the hype around Freedom I decided to read this earlier work by Franzen which received great reviews in Germany as well, but was not as successful as it has been in the US.

It took me a while to get through it, not because it was a difficult read (in the Infinite Jest or Ulysses sense of ‘difficult’),but because it was so terribly and painfully realistic. As I wrote in an earlier post, it felt like watching a reality trash show through my fingers. Often I had to put the book aside and take some deep breaths before I was able to continue. Certainly the family in the book is very ‘American’, but they are not so different from my family or people I know. Franzen is an exceptional observer, and even when he exposes his characters to embarrassing situations I could feel that he likes and respects them. The hardest chapter for me was the one on the ship, it quite freaked me out as it will everyone with ageing parents.

Highly recommendable (but everyone will have read it anyway by now).
Rating: 4,5 stars

Nov 15, 2010, 10:23am Top

116. The Moonstone

November is going to be a terrible reading month for me. I am drowning in work (which is good), but my average daily reading time last week has been something like 20-30 minutes. It took me 8 days to get through The Moonstone for the TIOLI (stasia’s recommended books challenge). I read The Woman in White earlier this year and although I had enjoyed it I found it overall too long and didn’t like the one-dimensionality of most characters. The good ones were annoyingly good and terribly boring and the bad ones were just as unbearable.

I can say that I enjoyed The Moonstone much more, although I found it too long as well. But here Collins succeeded in creating believable and likeable characters. None is boring, all of them have their faults and that makes the ‘good’ ones more realistic and I was even able to feel a bit sorry for the bad ones. Again the story is written in the form of reports provided by different characters, but not as many as was the case for WiW, so the whole storyline seems more coherent. There are funny bits (the religious aunt hiding her tracts everywhere in the house or Betteredge with his belief in “Robinson Crusoe”), and I found the medical parts quite interesting from today’s view (I don’t know if the withdrawal from tobacco has really been that different 150 years ago? Or the application of champagne and brandy in case of a fever to awaken the life spirits of a patient). Overall a recommendable read, though a bit old-fashioned.

Rating: 4 stars

Nov 15, 2010, 10:45am Top

117. Nothing for Ungood

The title is a word-to-word translation of the German expression ‘Nichts für Ungut’ which means ‘No offence’. The author is an American who has spent many years in Germany and now compares both cultures. This is quite a funny book, definitely one of the better ones in this genre. Just two things I didn’t like: The author claims there is absolutely no reason to learn German – probably not, but we are ever so happy when someone tries to do it! And the second point: he doesn’t want us (Germans) to learn Oxford English, because ‘chances we will ever meet a British person are minimal while all top movies are American and we should be able to understand the actors’. Well – no, because movies are usually synchronized in Germany. And tell someone from the UK zat vat vee speak is supposed to be British English – I don’t want to hear the comments.

Rating: 3,5 stars

Nov 15, 2010, 10:56am Top

Well! I enjoyed your review anyway, Nathalie! (And I can't find the review of 2666, doggone it. Did it finally end up on the English book page?
Congratulations on the burgeoning business! Long may it flourish! I also am interested in what you add to the discussion of Every Man Dies Alone. I'm sure that I'll be drawn to it eventually, but please, please not yet! I'm drowning in great stuff to read and for whatever reason have less time to read it than usual.
(I have to share the anecdote of a friend who had studied German and was eager to use it on his first visit there. His first morning he walked up to a policeman and said (in German...I find that my one semester of the language 44 years ago has left my spelling inadequate to say the least), "Where is the post office?" The officer replied, "I'm sorry. I only speak German.")

Nov 15, 2010, 11:13am Top

118. Heimat ist, was man vermisst (Home is what you are missing)

Another book about German culture (I was a bit homesick when I bought this one and #117) , but a really good one, this time actually written by a German who spent years abroad, trying to hide all the ‘typical’ characteristics just to find out he can’t help being German (and finally accepting it because it isn’t such a bad thing anymore). Actually the best book I’ve ever read on this topic. I am sure no other nation is doing the navel-gazing as extremely as we do, but we do have our reasons – we don’t know who we are after 2 world wars and the Holocaust, so we are happy if someone explains it to us.

There’s one episode where Schnoy describes a summer spent with his band in Ireland, touring pubs. All of them German they decide for an English band name and sing Irish folk songs. They even speak English with the German tourists. Once asked by the barman to sing a real German folk song for a change they have to admit that they don’t know a single one (as those really old traditional songs also had been misused by the Nazis, they were often not taught anymore to my generation – singing a German folk song was already a suspicious act).

The book is in German, so it makes no sense writing a long review here. Let’s just say it is funny and sad and really quite true.

Rating: 4 stars

Nov 15, 2010, 11:36am Top

# 114: I think the review for 2666 is still hidden somewhere among the non-English ones. :-)

Great anecdote! And I am sure the officer also spoke some nice local dialect. There are similar episodes in the Nothing for Ungood book, the author also having studied German and getting lost already on his way from the airport into town. He explains that we have 24 (or 26?) forms of saying 'the' and a similar number of forms for 'a'/'an'. I didn't even know that. What a nightmare!

I remember a summer spent in Brighton as a language student with my cousin when I was sixteen. One morning we met our host mother in her kitchen, where she was preparing breakfast, knife in one hand. She greeted us with "it's very nice weather today", but pronoucing 'today' like 'to die'. Honestly - we were quite scared of her after that. She was tall and had those big muscles ans several tatoos on her arms...

Nov 15, 2010, 11:40am Top

Glad you're back - and it sounds like you had lots of fun (as well as picking up new customers).

I'm interested in both those books about Germany, but I don't think I could stand the one by the guy who says there's no point trying to learn German. I am surrounded by parents at school who have that attitude, and I find it pretty irritating. (The arguments in Switzerland are a bit better for not learning though - but I speak high German all the time, and the locals are very nice and always speak it back to me.) Speaking the local language gives me so much more idea of what's going on here, and even then I feel like a total outsider. **steps off soap-box now**.

I have Freedom here, so if you are going to read it soon maybe you could tell me and we read it at the same time - otherwise it's going to sit here!

I went to the Basel Buchmesse yesterday and felt overwhelmed by great books in German. I bought 2 novels and 1 book about walking in Basel. The novels are Der Minister-Praesident, which is very good so far (1 chapter), and Das Paar im Kahn by Hanjoerg Schneider. I just have to start reading in German instead of English - I know it will be good for me and not that hard, but it just isn't as relaxing as English!

Nov 15, 2010, 11:55am Top

I've really enjoyed reading your thread! Great books and great reviews. I haven't read any Jonathan Franzen, but I'm thinking of starting with Freedom.

Nov 15, 2010, 11:58am Top

#117: Hi Cushla, I am in a similar situation here. After one year it gets easier for me to understand 'Südtirolerisch', but still everyone tries to speak high German with me - and it is obvious that they can't talk to me as relaxed as to each other. The language sounds a bit like Suiss German, especially the 'melody' and the very hard pronounciation of the 'k' and 'ch'.

Italian... well, it is better than last year. I don't have many occasions to speak it in this region. At least I am now able to get through 'real' literature in Italian, but every page is hard work.

I haven't heard of those two novels, unfortunately I am not well informed about new German books, now that I am getting most of my recommendations here.

I need to finish The Voyage Out and A Clockwork Orange - at least one of them - and then I'd be ready to start Freedom.

Nov 15, 2010, 12:00pm Top

#118: Thank you and welcome! :-)

Nov 15, 2010, 1:27pm Top

Just stopping by to catch up to you! I am glad you enjoyed The Moonstone.

Nov 16, 2010, 3:20am Top

You've posted some good reviews although my german consists of 2 months at university and is barely good enough for me to introduce myself so I'll leave those german books for another day.

I couldn't understand the thinking behind not wanting Germans to learn oxford english. Geography alone dictates you have more chance meeting a brit then an american.

Nov 17, 2010, 4:32am Top

116: Lol! I keep repeating that sentence.

Nov 17, 2010, 4:35am Top

#119 OK, I will aim to read Freedom in a couple of books too then. Yay!

Nov 17, 2010, 6:51am Top

message #115...too bad that book isn't in English. It is one I would love to read.

My partner was stationed in Germany in the 1970's. He loved it there! He is now a retired eye doctor and when he was in Germany in the US Army, he was an officer who ran the eye clinic.

He returned to Germany many times since living there and he raves about it. When he sees someone discard litter here in the US, his favorite phrase is "Now, you DON'T, see that in Germany!

Nov 17, 2010, 7:27am Top

#121: Hi stasia, yes, Moonstone was good, much better than WiW. My book buying ban keeps me from getting any of your recent recommendations.

#122: I didn't understand this argument either. Besides, what is taught in German schools is hardly Oxford English.

#123: whenever I meet my cousin now we still talk about that holiday and some other language lapses that occurred there :)

#124: looking forward to it!

#125: Was he stationed in the Wiesbaden area? We had a huge army base there and I have some good memories of the yearly camp festivals with baseball and 'real American' icecream.
Do you also have those litter boxes in the streets with the compartments for glass, paper, plasic and 'other'? Those can get a typical German into real trouble. Our feeling of guilt doesn't allow us to throw a Starbucks coffee cup into "other", so the cup goes into 'paper' (though with mixed feelings because it isn't exactly 'clean') and the lid and straw go into 'plastic'. And all the time we are convinced that in the end it will all be mixed up again (conspiracy!!)

Nov 17, 2010, 7:50am Top

Eek, I haven't followed your thread since September!
Glad you enjoyed Sh*t my Dad Says. Thanks for the shout out, it's not very often that I see my name and recommended in the same sentence.

Edited: Nov 17, 2010, 11:17am Top

I wonder whether anybody has read Germans by George Bailey. I just looked it up here and found that nobody has reviewed it. I'd do it, but it's been at least 25 years since I read it and I don't have time for a reread. At any rate, I found it quite informative and wonder what somebody who actually knows Germany thinks of it.
Edited to fix a grammar lapse!

Edited: Nov 23, 2010, 3:08pm Top

#114> "(I have to share the anecdote of a friend who had studied German and was eager to use it on his first visit there. His first morning he walked up to a policeman and said (in German...I find that my one semester of the language 44 years ago has left my spelling inadequate to say the least), "Where is the post office?" The officer replied, "I'm sorry. I only speak German.")

That's great, and reminds me (if I may) of a favorite family story from my childhood. I grew up in northeastern New Jersey, and so we had easy access to New York City. Once, when I was a small boy of about 7 or 8, my parents took me to visit and tour the United Nations HQ. We were waiting on line to get in to something or other and I was rattling away to my parents about who knows what. There was a very elegant man in a business suit and turban standing behind us in line. After listening to me for a few minutes (and remember, this is the United Nations building), the gentleman leaned forward to my mother and said in very correct British-accented English, "And what language is the young man speaking?"

Nov 17, 2010, 9:04pm Top

129: LOL! Well, obviously not the "King's English!" ;-)

Nov 17, 2010, 11:00pm Top

Yes, that's a great story!

Nov 22, 2010, 12:07pm Top

I am so sorry I have been neglecting my thread! Those are busy times and my one and only employee is enjoying his well-deserved 2weeks vacation. I spend the bit of free time that's left reading, but not reviewing (as I should). I managed to finish A Clockwork Orange and The Voyage Out.

#128: I'd love to read it, but it seems to be no longer available at any of the amazons

#129: what a great story! :-)

Nov 22, 2010, 2:18pm Top

#132: There you are, Nathalie! Glad to hear your business is keeping you busy. That is good, isn't it?

Reviewing is not required. Just enjoy the books!

Nov 23, 2010, 6:01am Top

*sigh* There it is - the review that isn't really a review and got much too personal and not coherent at all. Sorry!

119. Every Man dies Alone

Just what I needed after books 117 and 118 – another look at the darkest period in our history. I’ll never get over the fact that this happened in my country, and books like this one here help me understand the background. I am convinced that - given a few prerequisites like high unemployment, inflation, a low level of education + some extra element like fear -similar developments are possible again, and almost everywhere. And now that there are not so many real witnesses left, it is even more important to read about that time and to be able to identify the signs of danger.

A little anecdote: 2 weeks ago, back in Germany, I was sitting in the car, my Dad was driving, when I started reading this book. After a few minutes my Dad started a discussion on my reading habits (please note that I am almost 40 years old – some things never change for daughters):
Dad: "You are aware that you are reading too much?"
Deern: "Huh?"
Dad: "Your Mum and I talked about it and you are far from normal in this respect"
Deern: "You can’t be serious?"
Dad: "Oh yes, we are. We are worried you are losing contact with reality, you will start living in a virtual world."
Deern delivers looong speech on how reading good books helps you to cope with reality, how you start looking beyond your own backyard, how you get information about events never really covered by your country’s newscasts, how you are broadening your mind and become a more responsible person.
Dad keeps silent for the rest of the drive and back home finally starts reading ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ (present from Deern)

Back to the book: the story revolves around the couple Anna and Otto Quangel whose son dies early in the war. Otto Quangel decides to show some resistance and with the help of his wife starts to produce postcards with anti-Nazi messages and lays them out in office buildings. The couple is active for more than two years before finally being captured and imprisoned, but their postcards don’t have the desired effect. People are so scared of the Nazis that the majority of the cards is immediately delivered to the police.

This is at once a great and a terrible book and I’d say it is the perfect addition to Anna Segher’s The Seventh Cross which I read earlier this year. Both are set in Nazi Germany, both deal with the lives of normal people faced with the challenge to show civil courage. Segher’s book is set in pre-war Germany and it shows how quickly darkness had fallen over the nation just 3 years after Hitler’s election. In Fallada’s book war has broken out and terror is reigning openly now. The story is based on a real case. Even though the activities of the Quangels seem pointless it is good to see that there has been resistance among the normal people.

Rating: 4,5 stars, highly recommended

Nov 23, 2010, 6:04am Top

120. The Three Musketeers

The Count of Monte Cristo was such a positive surprise when I read it earlier this year, one of the best page-turners ever. I expected The Three Musketeers to be less fun though, knowing there would be far too many sword fights for my liking. I didn’t even know the story, because those endless fights always made me fall asleep when one of the movie adaptations was on TV.

I loved the first half and surprisingly found myself laughing several times. I don’t know if that was intended – it’s just too funny to watch those easily offended men (“you stepped on my handkerchief – let’s fight!”) dueling for no reason at all on every occasion.
But in the second half the book got confusing and too long. Far too many intrigues. I would have forgiven that, but then came that unusual and unexpected ending. Now I feel I have to watch one of the movies to see if they changed the ending there.

Rating: 3 stars

Nov 23, 2010, 6:12am Top

121. A Clockwork Orange

In short: 4,5 stars for the language, 3,5 for the story, makes 4.

I loved the language concept. When I started reading English books many years ago people kept asking me if it wasn’t too strenuous with ‘all the looking up’ of the expressions I didn’t know. Honestly – I have always been much too lazy for that. I found out quickly that you don’t have to understand every single word to get the meaning of a sentence and only occasionally I checked a word that seemed crucial. Reading A Clockwork Orange (in English) was like reading an English book has been 15 years ago. I stumbled over some words on the first pages but then I understood the idea, and in the end parts of that slang language had found their way into my memory. And Burgess used some German or German sounding words as well (kartoffel for potato or tashtook /Taschentuch for handkerchief).

The story (spoilers coming): I never saw the movie but I knew what was going to happen. I don’t know if the idea was all revolutionary in 1962, I don’t think so. The first and second part were really strong, but the 3rd part was a bit of a letdown. I pondered much on that missing chapter in the US edition and I still wonder which version I’d prefer. I think the US ending is too abrupt, but I didn’t really like the UK version either. I am missing real regret on Alex' side, instead there’s just wariness. What would I have preferred? Alex dead? Maybe.

Anyway, this is a must-read – and it's short.

Rating: 4 stars

Nov 23, 2010, 6:38am Top

#134: I hope to get to that one soon too.

Your conversation with your father sounds like some that I have had with mine. You are not alone :)

Nov 23, 2010, 6:49am Top

I have to take a short break on the 'difficult' books and started to reread Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows today. Should I finish it I will list it here but won't review. You can find my ranting on this book in the comments in my library. I used to be a great fan of the series (that was before LT!), but book 7 ended this love quite abruptly and painfully and I haven't even watched movies 5 and 6 so far, I was too angry. I vowed to ignore all sequels J.K. Rowling might produce in the future.
However I do feel a bit tempted by the new movie and I hope reading book 7 again will keep me from watching it.

By far the best I can say about the book is that via a fanfiction page and live journal it lead me to LT and better literature. Maybe I should upgrade it to 5 stars for that?

Nov 23, 2010, 6:57am Top

#137: My parents spend so much time watching crime shows on TV, but I was never worried about them. Maybe I should discuss it with them on my next visit. :)

Nov 23, 2010, 7:29am Top

I give your anecdote a thumbs up, Deern!

I've got the The Three Musketeers lined up for next year. I'll keep your thoughts on it in mind.

Wow, your comments on Deathly Hollows surprise me. I will not be able to find out how this series changes so drastically until I finish 5 (almost done) and six. As a rule, I do not see the movie until the book has been read.

Nov 23, 2010, 8:00am Top

#140: DH is a sore spot in my reading history and I am aware I am over-sensitive here. If a book has ever put me into danger of "living in a virtual world" it would have been the Harry Potter series. Between books I didn't care much and I never bought any of those merchandise things, but whenever a new book came out I acted quite crazy. I remember that after book 6 I spent several nights discussing the possible endings with similarly obsessed friends, deeply analyzing all the important characters (we were basically talking fanfiction). When book 7 was published I was prepared for some disappointment, but so much of it ?

I still love the series though and reread books 1, 3 and 4 from time to time.

Nov 26, 2010, 4:50am Top

122. The Voyage Out

The story is simple: young Rachel (who is already 24) travels to South America with her father, aunt Helen, uncle Ridley and a Mr Pepper (and Clarissa and Richard Dalloway make a short appearance as well - and I really need to reread Mrs Dalloway soon!). The father travels on and Rachel stays at a villa with her aunt and uncle. She meets other English people in a nearby hotel and falls in love with a young writer, Terence Hewet. There’s the sea, there’s amazing landscape, there are numerous conversations and the first glimpses of stream-of-consciousness writing.

This was Woolf’s first novel and after reading mixed reviews and setting my expectations low, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, this is not The Waves or To the Lighthouse, but it is a good book and I enjoyed the reading.

I can’t think of any other book that describes the experience of falling in love as well as this one. That sudden inexplicable restlessness, feeling drawn to someone you might not even like or find extremely attractive, followed by the feeling of loss when she/he is not around – in short that phase before you identify those strange feelings as ‘being in love’.
Later however I guess Woolf chose the most elegant (and easy) way out. I felt suffocated watching how the love between two exceptionally free-minded young people, a love that had just started and wasn’t fully developed yet, was expressed too soon and made ‘official’ and then was pressed into something conventional and interchangeable. As soon as the engagement was announced all passion seemed to vanish and make room for the usual planning – when to marry, where to live, how many children…. As different as this couple was from the other young couple in the book (Susan and Arthur), as identical became the paths that lay before them.

Apart from that, the atmosphere reminded me a lot of Jane Austen’s books – I have always wondered what those upper class English people were doing all day. Nothing much, it seems. It’s interesting how little seems to have changed between Austen’s time and the early 1900s and how much has changed since then, especially for us women. Just imagine having one of those conversations where women are expected to behave stupid and simple (like asking a politician if he doesn’t find politics ‘rather dull’).

This book has some lengths and if you don’t like Woolf’s writing, stay away from it. I am a fan and really liked it. And the book answered a question I’ve had for some time (isn’t it amazing how books are able to do that?).
Rating: 4 stars

Nov 26, 2010, 5:06am Top

123. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Reread + TIOLI. I am considering giving this book an upgrade from 2,5 to 3 stars because I realized I quite liked the first half. I still hated the ending and most of the 'action scenes' (battle of Hogwarts, Gringott's and the scene at the ministery). I found the long camping interlude believable and the scenes at Godric's Hollow and at Luna's house scary and well-written.

I don't know what to read next, I might fill the time rereading something easy and waiting for the next TIOLI challenges.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. After reading the posts on several threads I'd also love to have some turkey, but that's almost unknown here.
Yesterday the Christmas market opened in my town and today it started snowing. I guess I'll go and have some gluehwein tonight.

Nov 26, 2010, 5:10am Top

#142: I also like Woolf's writing (I loved To the Lighthouse when I read it earlier this year), but I have not read The Voyage Out yet, so I will have to do that. Thanks for the recommendation, Nathalie.

Nov 29, 2010, 2:30am Top

124. e Squared /e²

I loved both E: A Novel and The E before Christmas (both wrong touchstones here) by Matt Beaumont when I read them many years ago and they are among my ever-favorite rereads when I need a good laugh. Beaumont tried to write other stuff which wasn't half as funny and now he finally gave in and returned to the e-mail-novel style.

If this reminds you of Who moved my BlackBerry - that's right, it's the same style, but I think (not sure here) the "E"-books were published earlier. And the humour is different - definitely British and clearly and refreshingly non-pc. Quite over-the-top, but really funny, don't-read-in-public books.

E Squared is once again set in an advertising agency in London and soon we meet some favorite characters from the first two books - there are David Crutton (who is now doing meditation/ anger management), Liam and Susi to begin with but soon we also get Brett/Vince (now in Dubai) and Lorraine and even Simon Horne makes an appearance again as does the beloved Pertti van Helden. Times have changed and while the two other novels consist of e-mails only, now we also get SMS, MSN, blogs and voicemail.

This is again a very funny book and as non-pc as can be (smoking is a big issue here). I made the mistake of taking it to the gym and got some strange looks from other people when I couldn't stop laughing during an especially funny scene. However the second half of the book was less good and it never reached the level of the first "E".

Can I recommend it? You should have read one of the other books or you won't get half of the jokes. And to be honest I am not sure if the first "E" if read now is still as funny as it was in 2000. If you have a problem with swear words and very rough humour, better don't touch it.

Rating: 3,5 stars

Nov 29, 2010, 2:34am Top

I think I will skip that one, Nathalie. Glad you enjoyed it though!

Nov 29, 2010, 2:46am Top

Winter has arrived in South Tyrol! It has been snowing all Sunday and hasn't stopped yet - quite unusual in a place where palm trees are growing. Right now everything looks white and clean and peaceful, a very 'Christmassy' atmosphere. I spent yesterday preparing the appartment for my parents' visit (i.e. cleaning) but also had some time for reading.

The snow outside convinced me that the time has finally come for some Russian literature and I opened (and read the first few pages of) War and Peace. I'll try and take my time with it. I am 15 pages in and already confused by the names.

Cushla: I am still ready to start Freedom whenever you are.

My employee is back from his holidays, so hopefully there will be more time for reading and posting again. I'll try and catch up on your threads now - lots to do! :-)

Nov 29, 2010, 3:00am Top

I want snow! Everyone is getting it but me :(

I hope you enjoy War and Peace. I really enjoyed it. This might help you keep the characters straight: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/warandpeace/characters.html

Nov 29, 2010, 3:50am Top

Great link, thank you!
If the snow hasn't melted again when I get home today I will take some pictures and post them on my profile page. I hope you'll get some snow in time for Christmas.

Nov 29, 2010, 3:53am Top

#149: I hope you'll get some snow in time for Christmas.

Not holding my breath on that one. Last year we got snow on Christmas for only the second time in the 36 years I have lived here in Texas. I am looking forward to the pictures!

Glad the link helped :)

Nov 29, 2010, 9:58am Top

Nathalie, I started War and Peace too, put it down, and hope to pick it up in the new year. Maybe we can read it together if it works for us both. Somebody else had also started and stopped....so ..... we'll see. (I got 200 or so pages in.)
Snow. Ha! If we have a few hours once a year, we count ourselves lucky. It's enough to be pretty but not enough to be a bother. I do love to watch it fall though.

Nov 29, 2010, 11:09am Top

Nathalie, I can start Freedom now if you want? I'm in the middle of Running the Books but it shouldn't take more than a few days and I can read them both at once. Yay!!

And Peggy maybe it was me with W&P - I got 200 pages in last year, and was loving it, but feel like I will have to start again. I have a bad track record - I am 8 books through the Aeneid still but need to get back into the mood for it.

Snow here too and it's beautiful.

I haven't posted here since you read Every man Dies Alone (I have been keeping up at reading but not posting) but read your review and am really glad you got so much out of it too. Great and terrible is a really good way to describe it. And I'm sorry your parents see the world like that, it would drive me crazy having to explain why I read. Mine aren't huge readers but they do both read quite a bit, very little overlap with my picks though. But we have plenty of other stuff to argue about!

Nov 29, 2010, 11:54am Top

Ooof - finally caught up on you Deern! Have gotten so behind this month - that'll be NaNoWriMo's fault. Realised I have even completely missed looking at Novembers TIOLI!

You've reminded me that I must pick up The Moonstone again - bought it ages ago and never read it. Quite fancy something old fashioned. MAybe I should finish Bleak House first though...

#150 We NEVER get snow over here - I only remember one white Christmas. But even we have snow this year! It's crazy though because the south east of the island - the town etc, where I live is in large valley and there's no snow left at all. Coming out of town the rest of the island is still white. Got some fab pics of my daughter in it.

Nov 29, 2010, 3:09pm Top

Hi. Just to say I might be tempted by a shared read of War and Peace, too.

Edited: Nov 29, 2010, 3:13pm Top

But Janet, you will finish it and I will get stuck at 300 pages!!

Nov 29, 2010, 3:55pm Top

maybe, maybe not.....

Nov 29, 2010, 4:42pm Top

No, no! We will ALL read it together - maybe for a fairly long time...... At any rate, I will be excited to try.

Nov 30, 2010, 2:02am Top

# Peggy, Cushla, Janet: I'd love to read War and Peace together with you. I am planning to read it in small daily bits (my Proust approach to enjoy it better). Those who are 200 or more pages in would just have to wait till I have caught up. Right now I am still confused with names and titles (how many princes(ses) and viscounts are going to turn up in the first part?), but I guess I'll soon get used to it.

# Cushla: take your time with your other book, I added some shorter books to the TIOLI which I can read before starting Freedom. Just wanted to make sure you don't start without me.. :-)

#153 BekkaJo: I already wanted to ask on your thread but thought it might be a stupid question as everyone else seemed to know - what is NaNoWriMo?

As expected all the snow has melted again here in the valley but the mountains are still beautifully white and the forecast says there'll be more snow tomorrow. Everyone tells me I must learn skiing this winter. Don't know yet, I am scared of breaking a leg or something.

Nov 30, 2010, 3:00am Top

Sorry Deern! I've been so caught up in it that I forget - and not a stupid question at all. I Hadn't heard of it till this year. It's the National Novel Writing Month project - world wide project where you try and write 50,000 words of a novel in November. I finished last night - massive sense of relief! Not that the novel is anywhere near done...

Nov 30, 2010, 3:40am Top

50,000 words in a month? And you made it - congratulations!!!

Nov 30, 2010, 12:15pm Top

#158 - I'm not really ready to start War and Peace right now. I was thinking more like January. so if you guys all want to do it now, no worries, I'll read it later on.

Nov 30, 2010, 12:42pm Top

January's much better for me too Janet.

Dec 1, 2010, 1:36am Top

Janet and Cushla: That's fine with me, too. I want to make W&P my main winter read. I'll go on reading my 3 pages per day along with the TIOLI books and then start in earnest whenever you are ready in January.

It has been snowing again yesterday, so I was in the mood to start my yearly reread of A Christmas Carol. I also started The Journey to the Centre of the Earth. For the latter I compared a German and an English online edition and found they are completely different. Sure it's basically the same story, but the order of events in the first few chapters is not identical, quite strange. My French is terrible, but I need to check the original to see which of the translators (maybe both?) thought he could improve the story by rewriting it.

Dec 2, 2010, 5:00am Top

125. A Little Book of Christmas

I am rereading A Christmas Carol as shared read for the TIOLI 'thinster' challenge, so I needed something else for the Christmas challenge. The search on gutenberg returned a long list of online books and of those I selected this one here.

I tend to get terribly sentimental and sappy this time of the year and a good Christmas story or movie will make me cry. I'll have tissues ready for my yearly rewatch of the Muppet's Christmas Carol with the thin little frog acting as Tiny Tim. I know it's stupid but I can't help it.

Now this book here was okay, but I am sure there are many greater ones. It consists of several short stories and some poems, alltogether less than 100 pages I'd say. The stories are set in the US/ New York in the 1920s or 1930s and usually deal with a poor child or family and some rich benefactor. In one story we get a rich but neglected child who doesn't know how to play with the many toys he owns. The stories are slightly moving, but I was far from crying, so I can't give more than 3 stars. I think I would have liked it more if one of those rich men with nothing to do had given presents to many children, maybe in an orphanage, instead of always showering a single child with a pile of presents and then in most cases disappearing.

Rating: 3 stars

Edited: Dec 2, 2010, 6:26am Top

126. Flush: A Biography

I love dogs and I love Virginia Woolf’s writing. So I expected this biography of a cocker spaniel named ‘Flush’ to be a great read. Sadly, it wasn’t. Okay, but not great.

Cocker spaniels were quite popular in the 80s and 90s and there were several in my neighbourhood. Even my family had one for almost 15 years, so I am quite familiar with them. Ours was the best family dog we ever had. She wasn’t happy when the family was not complete, so whenever I returned home for a weekend from university I received an overwhelming welcome. Until she died (one very sad Christmas day…) she was all joy and energy.

Now I am able to recognize those characteristics in Flush, but they don’t go well with Woolf’s writing style which is beautiful but neither joyous nor vigorous. The book reads like a style exercise for Orlando, but while Orlando might well have been ‘considering’ or ‘musing’ for pages on end, I don’t buy the stream-of-consciousness of the cocker spaniel.

Rating: 3 stars, for real fans only

Dec 2, 2010, 5:46am Top

Snowy greetings to you, Nathalie! A lovely snow is falling where I am too, but that's not unusual for the Great Lakes region. What is unusual is that it waited til December to get here.

Catching up on your reading and want to wish you good luck on W&P. I haven't read it as I'm a little itimidated by the size but it sounds like you have a good system.

Dec 2, 2010, 5:59am Top

Snowy greetings back to you, Lynda! I had a bit of sunny blue sky this morning and could see the mountains, but right now it's snowing again. It's quite lovely, I could get used to it. It has been ages since I had a real winter.

Dec 3, 2010, 12:26am Top

Just waving as I try and catch up on threads. Always glad to see another Muppets' Christmas Carol fan!

Dec 6, 2010, 2:46am Top

127. Silk

I am among the many people who put this book on their tbr list after reading Karen’s (klobrien2’s) review. I got the English version on my Kindle but I’d also like to read the original Italian soon.

The story is set in a French village in the middle of the 1800s. Everyone is working in the production of silk fabrics when suddenly the silk eggs are infected by a strange disease. It is decided that a young man, Hervé Joncour, should travel to Japan (where the disease has not yet arrived) to buy eggs. He makes the acquaintance of a local nobleman and his concubine. When he returns to Japan again the next year, something like a love story unfolds between him and the nameless woman. But love story is the wrong word here, as it is altogether difficult to categorize the story or the style. The book is composed of 65 chapters, most of them considerably shorter than a Kindle page (which is less than a book page). The writing has an almost poetic rhythm which is emphasized by repetitions of whole sections (like the travel route whenever Hervé goes to or returns from Japan). There is sadness, but no despair, there is longing, but no burning passion. When it says in the book that touching Japanese silk feels like grasping ‘nothing’ this is also the effect the book had on me. There is something exquisite but undefinable. Very well done.
It is also a quick read that can be easily finished in one or two hours.

Rating: 4 stars

Dec 6, 2010, 2:47am Top

#169: I put that one in the BlackHole after Karen's review too. One of these centuries I will get to it!

Dec 6, 2010, 2:52am Top

128. The Journey to the Centre of the Earth

I felt like reading a not too heavy 1001 classic and as the title fit nicely into the TIOLI sky/earth challenge, I chose this one here. I didn’t like it much, but that wasn’t a big surprise. Even as a child I always tried to avoid the movies of the Jules Verne books that were often shown on TV on Sunday afternoons. Too fantastic but soulless for my liking.
The story here is simple: a German professor decides to follow the traces of a Scandinavian scientist to a volcano in Iceland that seems to be the entry into the centre of the earth. Accompanied by his timid nephew Axel and the strong and reliable Icelandic guide Hans he starts the journey. On their way they make some interesting discoveries (the subterranean ocean and the forest of mushrooms), but most of the time their journey is terribly boring and I didn’t care about all the pseudo scientific explanations. I am glad it is over and the other book on the 1001list – Around the World in 80 Days – will have to wait a long while before I read it.

Rating: 2,5 stars

Dec 6, 2010, 2:56am Top

129. A Christmas Carol (Reread)

I am done with my yearly crying over A Christmas Carol! :-)

The first time I ‘met’ Scrooge was on our TV screen, I think it was that old black and white version and I remember I was scared. Years later I read the book for the first time, in English which was quite a challenge back then. Then there were more movie and TV versions (I am still extremely fond of the Muppet’s version and 'Scrooged' with Bill Murray, I watch both of them every season). I also made it a tradition to read the book every year, but since that first time I have always read the German translation. Now it’s back to English and I tried to read it slowly, to enjoy Dickens’ language as much as possible. I am glad I did because the writing is amazing.

I know I am biased here because this is such an old favorite of mine, but I’d really say it is a masterpiece and should never have been removed from the 1001 list. I wouldn’t say this is a book for small children. I remember when I read it for the first time that I was shocked by the open descriptions of poverty and meanness (especially in the last part, but also the scene when the second ghost opens his coat). There are many elements that are usually removed or changed in the TV adaptations. And still there is such a magic in the story, I can’t help feeling enchanted whenever I read it. When I recently rewatched Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone on DVD I realized again how many of the elements I liked in both book and movie seem to have been influenced by A Christmas Carol. When the brick wall to Diagon Alley opens it is all Dickens’ London on a Christmas Day.

Rating: 5 stars, no changes here

Edited: Dec 6, 2010, 3:00am Top

#172: 5 stars, no changes here

It is a 5 star book for me too, Nathalie, no matter how many times I read it!

edited for spelling

Dec 6, 2010, 3:17am Top

I will love this one forever! I am planning to read it together with my parents this Christmas eve instead of just watching TV and falling asleep at 9 pm. I hope it works...
(We do the whole gift giving under the tree already on Christmas eve in Germany, so this is our main Christmas day. The 25th and 26th are more like additional holidays, though traditionally spent with the family).

Dec 6, 2010, 3:27am Top

#174: I used to read A Christmas Carol to the girls every year. Now they feel that they are too old for it. I miss doing that, but still enjoy reading the book on my own.

I hope you and your parents have a wonderful time reading it together!

Dec 6, 2010, 4:34am Top

I almost forgot - in case anyone else out there is having St Nicolas day today: Happy St. Nicolas/ Nikolaustag to everyone!!

There I am - almost 40 years old and still getting a stocking filled with chocolates from my parents/ Nikolaus (and what is worse - still waiting for it). :)

#175: Oh, that is sad. But they will probably get back to it in some years? We often return to old traditions when we get older...

Dec 6, 2010, 4:43am Top

#176: I imagine the tradition will be revived when they have kids of their own. At least, I hope it is!

Dec 6, 2010, 6:10am Top

Happy Nikolaustag!

I haven't read ***any*** Dickens. OK, except for the nice ER book I read early this year, On Travel, which was a selection of excerpts of his travel writing. Perhaps I should start with this one...

I was sick over the weekend and managed to get to bed with a temperature very early last night (and leave my husband looking after the kids). I sneaked Freedom into the bed to see what the first few pages were like and even when I wasn't feeling great, the first 25 pages flew by and I couldn't put it down. Do you watch Desperate Housewives? I did for the first 2 seasons or so. It reminds me of that, in a good way. Trouble is, if we read Freedom now the chances that I hit 75 books are pretty low. I need to get through 8 more this month! So maybe you should start and I'll try to catch you up.

Dec 6, 2010, 6:49am Top

Happy St. Nick's Day to you too! My parents passed on the tradition to me and I, in turn, am passing it on to my son. *in a little whisper* I'm almost 50 and my mom still gives me a St. Nick. An ornament from a Hallmark series for the past 30 yrs.

Edited: Dec 6, 2010, 8:41am Top

130. Me Cheeta

I had this book on hold for about two years and once again thanks to the TIOLI picked it up again. I am very glad I finally finished it and don’t have to busy myself with it anymore ever. The review is so long because my disappointment was so big.

Me Cheeta is the pseudo-autobiography of the chimpanzee that starred in the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller (in reality there have been several animals playing the part of Cheeta). As a baby chimp in an African jungle Cheeta is stolen by hunters and then is lucky to make a Hollywood career instead of ending up in a zoo (or being eaten during the great depression). Along the way he meets all the then famous movie stars and now he shares his intimate knowledge of them with us. The whole thing sounds like an original and funny idea. It is obvious that the author, James Lever, did an incredible amount of research – both on the Hollywood of the 1930s and 40s and on the behavior and characteristics of the animals. His effort was rewarded with a nomination for the Man Booker Prize 2008 where the book was even shortlisted. I read about it in the Times (when it was still available online for free), and the review was convincing enough for me to buy the book. Obviously the book was so funny that reviewers couldn’t stop laughing when discussing it.

I didn’t laugh once. I got terribly annoyed after 50 pages and took my long break after 150 pages/ half of the book. This is not a bad book technically, but it’s a book like elevator music. You can enjoy it without thinking for a very short period of time before it gets on your nerves. Reading 5 pages of this book was okay, even entertained me. Reading 10 pages at once always was hard work. I don’t know how to say it, but there’s just no substance, this is all like a big empty bubble. We all know the Hollywood glamour is and has always been superficial. There are drugs, violence, sexual abuse, insanity… no unexpected and scandalous surprises here. But as James Lever can’t really have his information from any of his characters (they are all dead by now) I was asking myself how much of all that is fiction and what is real or at least gossip, just to decide I didn’t really care.

The last quarter of the book is mostly (except for two nice scenes) filled with useless and again completely unfunny babble about life in a sanctuary for chimpanzees. I admit I only skimmed over them, otherwise I’d have thrown the book against a wall. You know those movie scenes where someone is fatally wounded but blabs on and on and on? It’s exactly like it, including the longest ficticious Oscar speech ever. I admire Lever for his patience when he was writing it.
Overall the book is much too wordy, Cheeta might be remembered as the most talkative animal in the history of pseudo-autobiographies. The one and only moving element is Cheeta’s attachment (‘love’) to Johnny Weissmuller and it’s quite sad reading about the time after Cheeta has been removed from a Tarzan set for misbehavior and is forever waiting in vain for his beloved Johnny to come and get him out of his cage and back into ‘the Dream’.

I’d very guardedly recommend this book to people who really know and like the Tarzan movies but don’t mind if the image of some stars gets shattered. Everyone else should better stay away from it.

Rating: 2,5 stars

Dec 6, 2010, 7:06am Top

#180: I think I will pass that one by!

Dec 6, 2010, 7:07am Top

This is such a great review. I'm going off to thumb it now. I am never buying or borrowing this book - and I'm pretty sure this is one that Darryl really didn't like when he read it last year.

Dec 6, 2010, 7:11am Top

#178: Sorry to read you are ill, Cushla. I hope you'll get better soon! I am in no hurry to start Freedom, I also put War and Peace on a short hold to get some other books 'out of the way' first and to wait for you and the others. I only watched the first series of DH but I can well imagine what it'll be like.

I'd say A Christmas Carol is a safe bet. It's short (less than 150 pages) and if you don't like this one which has the typical Dickens' atmosphere you can be quite sure not to like the others and haven't lost too much time on it.

Dec 6, 2010, 7:15am Top

#179: I know it's embarrassing, but the one year I didn't get anything from my parents (well, I was travelling in Australia) I bought myself a St. Nick's present.
I think it's a nice tradition, especially for children, it's like a little pre-Christmas.

Dec 6, 2010, 7:15am Top

#181 agreed!

Dec 12, 2010, 3:57am Top

I haven't posted for almost a week, shame on me! Christmas preparations keep me busy. For the first time ever I had to buy and pack Christmas presents for business partners and clients and to write cards for them as well. And for some reason I decided that each of the many people who helped me here with my business should get individual cards instead of the usual standard texts, so that's where all my writing creativity went last week.

At least I spent a good part of my free time reading, but haven't found the inspiration yet to write any reviews. Most of the books I read or started last week were recommendations, and all of them were/ are great. I finished:

The Adventures of Sherlock Homes (found on BekkaJo's thread + its a 1001 book)
Lavinia which has been discussed on Janet's thread
The Man who invented Christmas, found on the TIOLI Christmas challenge list, an account on how "A Christmas Carol" influenced the way we are celebrating Christmas and changed Charles Dickens' career

I am currently reading
Gotz and Meyer which was strongly recommended by Madeline on the TIOLI thread
Sostiene Pereira/ Pereiea Declares which is a 1001 book and I need to read at least one more book in Italian before the year ends

Dec 12, 2010, 3:59am Top

Despite your Christmas concerns, it looks like you have gotten some good reading in this week, Nathalie!

Dec 13, 2010, 2:54am Top

131. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

This was a very pleasant read. I am usually not a big fan of short stories and never much liked Sherlock Holmes either. I read The Hound of the Baskervilles (which I liked) and two other books (which I forgot immediately) and I always preferred Agatha Christie’s Poirot and his strange little ways, even though he is clearly a copy of Holmes. I remember that I found the cocaine addiction disturbing. But this book with 12 short cases was just what I needed right now. These are very busy days for me which makes it difficult to spare a full hour or so reading during the week. I barely manage to squeeze in a few pages during lunch or just before going to bed, so these short stories were just right for me. One of the stories is set during Christmas time, so the book even fitted the season.
The majority of the cases were interesting and old-fashioned in a nice way. I found that reading all of the Poirot books has been a good preparation for Holmes, because I almost always guessed the solution or at least the direction where the solution could be found. So the book made me even feel good about myself. :)

Rating: 4 stars

Dec 13, 2010, 3:13am Top

#188: this book with 12 short cases was just what I needed right now.

Books like that always have a place. I am glad you found one, Nathalie.

Dec 13, 2010, 5:52am Top

132. Lavinia

Janet and Peggy have been discussing this book on Janet’s thread and that raised my curiosity, so I decided to get and read Lavinia as long as my memories of The Aeneid were still fresh. If you are interested in a very detailed analysis, check out Janet’s thread.

I don’t usually read historical fiction books, but I liked the idea that Lavinia here is constantly referring to the poem (The Aeneid) and the poet (Vergil). It clearly helps to have read the Aeneid first, otherwise some references might not be fully enjoyed. As a stand-alone book I would certainly have rated it lower, as an addition to Vergil it’s quite perfect.

As the book has no chapters it is best read without too many interruptions, to better enjoy the long, continuous flow of narrative. I found Lavinia’s ‘voice’ calming and soothing without making me tired.
The majority of the plot is predefined by the events in the Aeneid, but after the death of Turnus (where the poem ends) Le Guin had some liberty and for the most part I liked and accepted her version of Lavinia’s further life.

Spoiler start:
The only exception for me is her handling of Ascanius, Aeneas’ son from his first marriage with Creusa. The Ascanius I remember from Vergil was a well-educated, sweet-tempered boy. Although it’s believable that he was a bit spoilt (probably being one of just a few children among the Troyans + being the son of the future king) and although I basically didn’t have a problem with Le Guin’s decision to portrait him as being homosexual, I was not happy with her depiction of his almost ill-natured and vengeful character. Especially as it is hinted that those bad characteristics are at least partly founded in his homosexuality. Maybe I am over-sensitive, but somehow I read ‘he is gay and can’t cope with it, that’s why he is mean.’ I checked the mythology on Wikipedia and it’s not so clear if it hasn’t been Ascanius’ line who founded Rome. He was also known as Iulus and might have been one of the forefathers of Julius Caesar which wouldn’t work had he remained without children. So it looks like it was Le Guin’s own decision to take this direction, I can’t remember what the Aeneid said about Ascanius’ future.

I was however glad to accept the turn in Aeneas to modern hero, as from today’s view he wasn’t exactly likeable throughout the Aeneid. It was also interesting how he met his death and it leaves the question open whether the same would have happened, had he let Turnus live.

One interesting aspect was the strong emphasis on religion and piety which fit very well with Vergil’s text. I liked how Lavinia and Aeneas managed to integrate his traditions (and household gods) into his new life in Latium.
End of spoilers

As I said strongly recommended for those who read the Vergil. Rating: 4 stars

Edited: Dec 13, 2010, 6:24am Top

133. The Man who invented Christmas

I found this on the TIOLI Christmas challenge and as I love The Christmas Carol but don’t know much about Dickens’ life it was just the perfect book for me. The author is a fiction writer which is quite obvious. It shouldn’t really be used as a comprehensive Dickens biography nor as a guide about the history of Christmas traditions, but nonetheless it is quite an entertaining read.

First we get a glimpse at Dickens’ youth in poverty and the time he spent doing child labor to get his debt-ridden father (and later rest of the family) out of prison, an experience that clearly influenced his later writing. Then we learn about his first steps as a newspaper journalist and author before taking a detour to the history of Christmas rituals in the UK and US in pre-carol times. The next bit tells us about how the book was written and published and we get a short version of the storyline (and even that one made me cry).

Up to this point the book is great, but afterwards it loses some of its steam, trying to explain how the carol influenced the way we are celebrating Christmas today and how the success of the book boosted Dickens’ career as a writer. Now there are certainly some traditions which might be explained by the popularity of the book (as why the British and Americans eat turkey now instead of goose) and obviously Dickens managed to get some of the readers back he had lost after writing Martin Chuzzlewit. But somehow it shines through that his career would also have prospered without the book and that Christmas had already been in the process of becoming more popular before the book was published, influenced by the import of foreign traditions (Santa Claas from the Netherlands, the German Christmas tree and others). So in the end the book tells us much about Dickens’ life and his works and we learn a bit about Christmas then and now, but the title seems more than a bit exaggerated.

Recommended for “Carol” fans. Rating: 3,5 stars

Dec 13, 2010, 7:03am Top

#190: Nice review of Lavinia, Nathalie. I already have that one in the BlackHole despite my aversion to The Aeneid, which I read many years ago and did not care for.

#191: I already have that one in the BlackHole too. I am dodging BBs right and left today :)

Dec 13, 2010, 5:03pm Top

Nathalie, I think you said a lot of what I think about Lavinia too. Very nice review - will you post it so we can thumb it?

Dec 13, 2010, 6:33pm Top

Please do, Nathalie!

Dec 14, 2010, 7:55am Top

#193, 194: thank you!! I posted it today (and I think I sent it to the correct language section this time).

I finished both Gotz and Meyer (4,5 stars) and Sostiene Pereira/ Pereira Declares (4 stars, or maybe 4,5?) and started Crime and Punishment. I read chapter 3 today and am already depressed and quite disgusted. I don't know what I expected, but someting a bit nicer and 'cleaner'?

Dec 14, 2010, 7:57am Top

#191: I am quite sure you'll like The Man who invented Christmas. What is a BB?

Dec 14, 2010, 8:20am Top

#196: BB = Book Bullet

Dec 14, 2010, 8:36am Top

Hmm... maybe reading Lavinia will redeem The Aeneid for me... I think it might have had something to do with having to translate passages of Latin, but I don't have fond memories of Virgil. Besides, I'm highly biased toward all things Greek, when you really come down to it. :)

Dec 18, 2010, 5:05am Top

Stopping by to say hi. It's all too easy to lose track of threads this time of year. Hope you're enjoying the holiday season!

Dec 18, 2010, 5:16am Top

#199: Hi Lynda! It's new to me and I am a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of new threads, but I like this busy end-of-year atmosphere here at LT. At least my Christmas preparations are almost finished by now - all presents are bought and wrapped, all cards are written. All I need is a safe trip home on Wednesday. The forecast says it might stop snowing just in time.

Dec 18, 2010, 5:22am Top

Have a wonderful Christmas with your family, Deern and safe travels!

Dec 18, 2010, 5:25am Top

#200: I echo Lynda - safe travels, Nathalie! Have a wonderful time with your family!

Dec 18, 2010, 10:55am Top

Oh, yes! Be safe, Nathalie, and have a wonderful Christmas!! (But when I went to thumb your *Created Christmas* review, I couldn't find it on the book page. Somebody should give me instructions.)

Edited: Dec 18, 2010, 11:24am Top

Thank you Peggy - I hadn't posted it as official review but did so now, I had only posted Lavinia.

And thank you all for the good wishes. It's a 750km drive on quite busy roads (most of them German motorways). I am used to it, but I hope it won't snow that day. I am travelling alone, so I will spend the time singing all the Christmas songs I know.

Dec 19, 2010, 12:02am Top

#204: I hope the snow avoids you too, Nathalie! Sounds like a long drive already without having to deal with snow on top of it.

Love the idea of singing Christmas carols all the way home :)

Dec 20, 2010, 4:45am Top

134. Gotz and Meyer

Before coming to LT I had never read any Holocaust fiction. Quite a lot of non-fiction, but never novels. Der Vorleser/ The Reader was my first try and I had mixed feelings about it. Schlink‘s novel is not bad, but I could never get rid of the thought that writing a fictional book about the Holocaust can have something calculating. At least in Germany you are certain to be taken serious as an author if in one way or another you address the issue at an early point in your career. After "The Reader" I read some more Holocaust fiction, by far the strongest and most honest being This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, though that one again was written by an eye witness and could almost count as non-fiction, followed by a chapter in part 5 of 2666. I was not really convinced by The Book Thief and quite underwhelmed by The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

I had never heard of Gotz and Meyer before, but it has been so strongly recommended by Madeline on the TIOLI thread that I ordered it immediately. The narrator, a Jewish schoolteacher in Belgrad, is researching his family tree, the majority of his relatives having been killed during the Holocaust. He discovers the names of two SS officers, Wilhelm Goetz and Erwin Meyer, who were responsible for the killings of almost the entire Jewish population of Belgrad. Struggling to understand what can‘t be understood he becomes obsessed with the personalities of the two Germans and has imaginary discussions with them, while paralelly putting himself into the place of the victims. The book is one long paragraph of 168 pages, which makes the reading a bit strenuous but brings out the restlessness of the narrator whose mind becomes permanently occupied with Gotz, Meyer and his killed family members, to an almost schizophrenic state. The last 30 pages were exceptionally strong.

Like all Holocaust books this is no easy read, but if you are interested in the matter, it is certainly among the very best fiction books.

Rating: 4,5 stars

Edited: Dec 20, 2010, 4:50am Top

#206: I added that one after Madeline's recent review too, Nathalie. I am glad to see that you recommend it as well. Now if only my local library would cooperate and get it!

Dec 20, 2010, 4:47pm Top

> 206

Nathalie, I'm glad you got to read Gotz and Meyer. I found it to be a very moving book both because of the subject matter and my own family history. It was definitely one of the best books I read this year.

Edited: Dec 23, 2010, 10:05am Top

I haven't been online for 1,5 days and now I am drowning in unread posts on starred threads. :-)

I arrived at my parents' home yesterday in the late afternoon after a long drive and was quite unprepared for the winter wonderland that expected me. This is a place where it hardly ever snows, and now there are mountains of snow everywhere. Looks like I will have the first real white Christmas ever(?). It has been snowing on Christmas in the past but it usually melted again on the same day. And the forecast announces even more snow for Christmas Eve. I love it!

My parents and I started our A Christmas Carol reading last night, we got through the first 2 chapters, and it was really nice. None of them fell asleep, and they are looking forward to hearing/ reading more tonight.

Dec 23, 2010, 5:33am Top

I am glad your parents are enjoying A Christmas Carol, Nathalie.

I hope you get your White Christmas!

Edited: Dec 23, 2010, 3:54pm Top

Where are you, Nathalie? (I get confused because you're always reading books in other languages--if that makes any sense). Enjoy the snow!

It's still snowing here in Whistler too. About 30 cm since we got here on Monday night, and another 40 cm expected in the next day. (There was so much snow that I was actually having trouble skiing--I'm only used to groomed runs and I didn't know how to turn when my skis were covered with snow.) We're driving home to Vancouver tonight where it's rainy and mild (winter-mild that is).

Edited: Dec 23, 2010, 3:47pm Top

Glad you're home safely, Nathalie, glad you're reading Dickens, and excited about your snow! I remember two white ones, and we have some chance as opposed to no chance of seeing a little fall on Christmas itself! Wow! Enjoy!!!

Dec 24, 2010, 7:31am Top

#211: I am now at my parents' place in Germany, a small village near Wiesbaden/ Frankfurt. It's quite a warm region, so the snow usually melts away quickly. Not so this year - it's actually snowing again and it looks like we can't leave the house today (which is okay because all the shopping is done already).

Normally I live in Northern Italy where I moved 15 months ago - surrounded by mountains with famous skiing runs, but again in a valley with a very moderate climate where it doesn't snow often.

#212: I do - it can't get any whiter! :-)

Dec 24, 2010, 7:34am Top

As my parents are not that happy with me spending too much time at the computer during my visit here I certainly won't be able to wish you all a Happy Christmas on your threads, so I will do it here:

A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS/ HAPPY HOLIDAYS to everyone! Have a wonderful time!

Dec 24, 2010, 7:41am Top

Thanks, Nathalie! The same to you and yours!

Dec 24, 2010, 12:11pm Top

I am now at my parents' place in Germany, a small village near Wiesbaden/ Frankfurt. It's quite a warm region, so the snow usually melts away quickly. Not so this year - it's actually snowing again and it looks like we can't leave the house today (which is okay because all the shopping is done already).

Normally I live in Northern Italy where I moved 15 months ago - surrounded by mountains with famous skiing runs, but again in a valley with a very moderate climate where it doesn't snow often.

Ah, thanks! I know you'd said this before, but I couldn't remember the details. I love how LibraryThing brings together like-minded people from all over the world.

Dec 27, 2010, 3:23am Top

Back after a very quiet and relaxing Christmas. As expected I didn't get a single book, while I am still trying to convert my parents into readers. My mother got Silk/Seide and Death in Venice, while I tried to tempt my dad with Robinson Crusoe and some Jack London.

We had so much snow that I can't drive back to Italy today as planned, I will have to wait until tomorrow and hope that the roads will then be free.

I will post 3 or 4 more reviews on this thread (Declares Pereira, Crime and Punishment, Jane Eyre and, should I finish it in time, The Elephant on Hollywood) and then move over to the 2011 thread.

Dec 27, 2010, 3:33am Top

Frohe Weihnachten Nathalie!! It's been snowing here too and was -9 this morning (but Teresa is in her sunfrock... we will be staying home I think).

Dec 27, 2010, 4:05am Top

I hope you make it home safely, Nathalie. It sounds like staying put for another day or two is a good plan.

Dec 27, 2010, 8:38am Top

#217 As expected I didn't get a single book

LOL, I was wondering about that after you had that discussion with your dad a few posts back. Hope they did gift you with other usefull and desired presents!

Dec 27, 2010, 11:34am Top

#217 As expected I didn't get a single book. Me either, Nathalie. I didn't even get money with which to buy a new book. Never mind. I received some lovely books from LT friends, and I'm going to see to it that I have a new Kindle download in my near future. Be safe!

Dec 29, 2010, 5:00am Top

Back at Merano/Italy after a very long drive yesterday! The Southern half of Germany is all white and as I saw on the news the Northern half is even whiter. No snow here, but it's cold and sunny. And the local Christmas market will be open for another week till January 6th! My parents are coming tomorrow to stay over New Year and my birthday, so again I won't have much time for reading and LT during the next days. And I am still hundreds of posts behind on all my starred threads...

#220: I got a set of chinaware - a really nice one, all white and neutral. Certainly useful, but not so much desired. I was happy with my old (just as white and neutral) IKEA set. Obviously my mum thought that at my age I need something more 'reasonable'. And she hates IKEA.

Dec 29, 2010, 5:05am Top

At least I found the time over Christmas to write the remaining reviews. The last two however are on my other (private) notebook, I'll post them tonight.

135. Sostiene Pereira/ Pereira Declares

With less than 200 pages this book seemed short enough to be read in Italian and I found it to be a comparatively easy read language wise. The subtitle is ‘una testimonianza’/ 'a testimony' and this is how the book sounds – someone is writing down what Pereira, the protagonist, tells him, or better: declares. Almost every sentence contains the parenthesis ‘sostiene Pereira/Pereira declares’. There is not much direct dialogue, many long sentences, but the chapters are quite short and allow for frequent breaks.

The story is set in Lisbon, Portugal, in the summer of 1938 when fascist governments were ruling Germany and Italy and Portugal was under the right-wing dictatorship of the Estado Novo under Salazar. The protagonist, the widower Pereira, leads a seemingly comfortable but secluded life, almost free of influences from the outside world. Being responsible for the cultural page of a weekly magazine he avoids confrontation with anything political. He moves between his apartment, his office and a café that offers only two dishes. In short: he functions like an automaton, but doesn't really live. Then he makes the acquaintance of the young political activist Monteiro Rossi and offers him a job as writer of necrologies for the cultural page. Though none of Rossi’s pieces can be published Pereira pays him money and even finds a hiding place for his cousin who is persecuted for his activities in Spain. It becomes more and more obvious for Pereira that he can’t keep up his ignorance and there comes a point where a decision becomes inevitable.

What makes this book special is the combination of a simple but strong plot with the (seemingly) simple writing style. It is hard to describe, but it adds up to something really special and I think this is a book I will keep in my memory for a while.

Rating: 4 stars

Dec 29, 2010, 5:07am Top

I should add that 'Pereira' is a book that could well be read for literature classes or in reading groups. It leaves so much room for own interpretation. As a student I would have liked it and preferred it to much of the stuff we had to read.

Dec 29, 2010, 5:17am Top

136. Crime and Punishment

I felt like reading something ‘wintery’ and a classic, and because War and Peace has to wait till 2011 I decided to finally give this one a try. This is a famous book, so my review will be quite short.

I was a bit disappointed at first, because not only is the story set in the Russian summer (and an exceptionally hot one), it also had in my opinion quite a slow start. I was quite disgusted by the description of dirt and smells on the first pages which however seemed necessary for the overall atmosphere of the story.

The crime – a double murder – is committed in the first of the book's 6 parts. And only after the crime, when the punishment starts, it gets really interesting. The killer, young Raskolnikov, is tortured by his actions. First he falls ill and then starts babbling and giving clear hints that he is the culprit. At first it was a bit weird accepting his behavior which nowadays would directly lead to his arrest. But when the book was written, crime psychology was something new and people were suspected for other, more obvious evidence.

Not a quick read and not too easy (the language in my edition was really old-fashioned), but quite rewarding.

Rating: 4 stars

Dec 29, 2010, 5:20am Top

#223: I already have that one in the BlackHole. Not at all sure when I will get to it though as my local library does not have it yet.

#225: I need to do a re-read of that one. It has been far too long since I read it.

Dec 29, 2010, 5:37am Top

Wow, you have been cranking through some great reads, and in Italian as well!!

I'm going to add Pereira Declares (in English) to my wishlist. Thinking about it, I've never read a book set in Portugal, but own Night Train to Lisbon (a birthday present from my husband a few years ago... really should read it soon!). I'm leaving Crime and Punishment till I see how I go with Tolstoy in the New Year.

Edited: Dec 29, 2010, 5:52am Top

#227: I have to force myself to read Italian books sometimes, otherwise I might never learn the language. Still the reading takes so much longer than with German or English books... I only manage books with less than 250 pages.
Night Train to Lisbon has been recommended to me so often, but usually by people who don't share my reading preferences, so I never got it. I might take a closer look at it in 2011.

Dec 29, 2010, 5:57am Top

I enjoyed Night Train to Lisbon when I read it earlier this year. I found out about it from Caroline (cameling).

Dec 29, 2010, 6:09am Top

#229: okay, I'm convinced. :)
The Kindle sample is on its way to my PC... (I should join your book buying ban for the first 3 months of 2011)

Dec 29, 2010, 6:11am Top

#230: The more, the merrier! We have to hold each other up! Someone really needs to hold me up - I do not think I can do it :)

Dec 29, 2010, 10:38am Top

I banned myself earlier this year - and it's kinda held (none but charity shop books bought) but somehow I still haven't made any dent on the TBR Everest :/

Dec 29, 2010, 10:51am Top

Oh gee. I don't think I bought but two new books last year, excepting Kindle downloads. But those used ones make the $ flee too, and then there's PBS where I also usually have to buy credits. I'm hopeless. And I don't really want to change. Alas.
Thanks for the good reviews, and enjoy the extended time with your family, Nathalie. Oh! And Happy Birthday when it arrives! (I married a real New Year's baby - the first child born in the county in 1944!)

Dec 29, 2010, 1:09pm Top

The last reviews for 2010 (I hope I'll manage not to finish any more books this month):

136. Jane Eyre

When I started reading ‚good‘ literature using the 1001 list, Jane Eyre was among the first books I decided to read. I used a free German edition from Gutenberg. After about 2 weeks and a bit more than half of the book I gave up, read the ending and then couldn‘t get back into the story anymore. I was bored to death, deeply annoyed by the character of Jane and creeped out by Rochester. I rated it with 3 stars because, seeing all the positive reviews, I thought I might have missed something.

Now this Christmas season I felt it might be the right moment to give the book a second chance, but this time I read the original English version. I can‘t even describe what a difference that made! I fell in love with the story on the first few pages, even before Jane was sent to school. I don‘t know if the translation had been so bad (which is possible if it was free on Gutenberg - it might have been influenced by certain moral ideals of that time) or if my reading has been so "refined" since my first try or if I have simply "matured" into the right mood for this book. Maybe it was a combination of all three.

I can only say that I found the story incredibly captivating and believable from the first chapter on and almost through to the ending. I didn‘t really need those coincidences with the long lost relatives, but having read some Dickens and Wilkie Collins(es?) I realize that coincidences must have been quite popular with the readers. I liked Rochester much more and believed his deep feelings for Jane. But most impressed was I by Jane, who is a really strong female character for her time. I upgraded the rating from 3 to 4,5 stars and marked the book as one of my favorites now.

I guess that from a literary point of view it is better than Wuthering Heights, but I was lucky enough to have read the latter during my teens when love is still all about drama and its sheer power could fully resonate within me. Wuthering Heights it will remain my favorite Bronte novel, but it is now very closely followed by Jane Eyre.

Rating: 4,5 stars

Is there a good movie/ TV adaptation for this book? I couldn‘t help picturing Rochester like Alan Rickman‘s Snape in the first Harry Potter movie.
I love Rickman‘s voice, but he is much too old (and too stout) to play the young and ascetic Snape who in the first novel can‘t be older than 31/32 and 38/39 in book 7. But 10 years ago he could have played a convincing 40 year old Rochester with a young Keira Knightly as Jane (I am not a fan and she will never be an Elizabeth Bennett for me, but she has the looks for Jane).

Dec 29, 2010, 1:15pm Top

137. The Elephant to Hollywood

I haven‘t seen many movies starring Michael Caine, but somehow he must have left a positive impression because I got this book as soon as I saw it as an amazon recommendation. I was hoping for a nice and easy holiday read and this is exactly what I got. This is Caine‘s second autobiography after What's It All About which was published in 1992, at a time when he believed his movie career to be basically over. Again he gives an overview about his childhood during WWII and his beginnings as an actor and the long wait for the big break- through. About 2/3 into the book we reach the point where the first book had ended and now get a wrap-up of the last 18 years.

This isn‘t a great work of literature, but it has all that can be
expected: the scandal-free name dropping, a bit of old Hollywoood, the humour (a bit of self-deprecating British humour but digestable for an international readership), some insider information about Hollywood but no big secrets revealed. Caine seems to be a nice man and this is a nice book for the times when you need a break from the often sad and heavy 'good' literature but want to avoid the trash books. Nice and comfy holiday read. And I found Michael Caine and I have one thing in common: we use the same recipe for Christmas turkey! :)

Rating: 3,5 stars

Dec 29, 2010, 1:27pm Top

# 231,232,233: I might be able to stop buying books in a shop for a few months but the Kindle is a problem for me. Even if I find someone who locks it away for me for some time, I still got the software on all my PCs at work and at home. And the teasing amazon does with the free samples makes it even worse. In about half of the cases I bought the book after reading the sample and the others are still on the watch list until the prices fall.

#233: I often thought it must be nice to have your birthday on January 1st - you always get the fireworks at midnight and other people might organize your party.

Dec 29, 2010, 2:02pm Top

I'm impressed that you gave Jane Eyre a second chance. And isn't it nice that you were rewarded for your effort. It's one of my favourite books too, but I have a strong dislike for Rochester. Even in English, I find him frustrating and creepy.

I think I've seen two film versions of the story. The first starred William Hurt as Rochester, and I really disliked him in the role but I think the rest of the movie was pretty good. But I prefer the Masterpiece Theatre version, which stars Ruth Wilson. She's a bit pouty and beautiful for Jane, but it's not realistic that they're going to cast an actress who is truly plain, so I can live with it. Hope that helps.

Edited: Dec 29, 2010, 4:29pm Top

There's also a TV mini-series from BBC with Timothy Dalton as Rochester and Zelah Clark (perfectly cast, I thought - small, not plain but not beautiful) as Jane. Dalton is not a great Rochester; in fact, I found him frustrating and creepy, but that's O.K. The filming was done at Deene Park, Deene, Northamptonshire, England, UK, and that was perfect!

Dec 31, 2010, 10:29am Top

#237, 238: Thank you very much for the suggestions! I will have a look at those versions the next time I order from amazon UK (which will be soon, no chance I am going to stick to that book buying ban longer than January 15th...)

I tried to list my best reads for 2010, but there have been too many. 2010 has been by far my best reading year ever. I am looking forward very much to next year's challenge(s) and many new recommendations.

My new threads are:
75-challenge: here
11 in 11 challenge: here

Thank you for your comments and for your support.

I wish you all a very happy New Year!!!

Dec 31, 2010, 11:30am Top

Wishing you a happy new year too, Nathalie! Have a great visit with your parents!

I'm doing 11 in 11 too. Should be quite a challenge!

Dec 31, 2010, 11:31pm Top

Happy New Year, Nathalie! It has been great getting to know you in 2010 and I am looking forward to a wonderful 2011!

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2010

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