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RidgewayGirl's Categories, Part Four

This is a continuation of the topic RidgewayGirl's Categories, Part Three.

2013 Category Challenge

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Edited: Dec 10, 2013, 7:15am Top

The last quarter of the year!

There's snow on the ground here, which my children greeted with the excitement of deprived Southerners. While they remain surprised that school goes on despite almost an inch of snow on the ground, I'm sure they will come to take it for granted soon enough.

Here I am with 70 books read so far this year and 30 to go. I should make my goal, since the big interruption (the move) is over and while we're planning lots of travel, there should be ample reading time.

Edited: Dec 25, 2013, 8:59am Top

Currently Reading (or about to begin)

Edited: Dec 10, 2013, 7:18am Top

Books with Titles

There's been some kidding about how to make one's categories easy to fill, but I do like this. I think that there are several books that I have right now that will fit this theme nicely.

1. Black Dahlia & White Rose by Joyce Carol Oates
2. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
3. The End of the World As We Know It by Robert Goolrick
4. How to Survive a Natural Disaster by Margaret Hawkins
5. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
6. All That I Have by Castle Freeman, Jr.
7. Border Songs by Jim Lynch
8. The Other Woman's House by Sophie Hannah
9. Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda
10. Welding with Children by Tim Gautreaux

Edited: Dec 23, 2013, 11:57am Top

Books by Dead People

You know, older books, where the author just got really old and died. Not at all a paranormal category.

1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
2. The Collector by John Fowles
3. Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock
4. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
5. Dear Enemy by Jean Webster
6. From the Jaws of Death by Brogan Steele (this is cheating a bit, because the compiler is presumably still alive, but many of the contributors are not)
7. Right Ho, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse
8. Roseanna by Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall (another slight cheat as Per Wahloo is dead, but his co-author, Maj Sjowall is not)
9. Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman (Pullman is still alive, but the original authors are not)
10. The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley

Edited: Dec 18, 2013, 2:03pm Top

Edited: Nov 18, 2013, 6:46am Top

Books Covered in Dust

Actually, I do dust my books. And I rearrange them enough to keep them from looking furry or causing anyone to sneeze. But some of those books have been dusted and rearranged several times, if you know what I mean (and I think you do).

1. The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates (obtained July, 2011)
2. The Liars' Club by Mary Karr (owned before I joined LT and kept track of such things)
3. Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (obtained September, 2011)
4. Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (purchased September, 2011)
5. How to be Alone by Jonathan Franzen (Added September, 2008)
6. Mrs Kimble by Jennifer Haigh (bought on vacation in July, 2011)
7. A Hell of a Woman edited by Megan Abbott (added September, 2011)
8. Go With Me by Castle Freeman, Jr. (added December, 2011)
9. Girls by Frederick Busch (added October, 2011)
10. Kittyhawk Down by Garry Disher (Purchased September, 2011)

Edited: Nov 12, 2013, 1:55pm Top

Books with Due Dates

Actually, this is not a category for pregnancy guides, although that would be clever, wouldn't it? But also terrifying because I have plenty of children wandering around here. We might add a cat or two (but I would call that a cat-egory). And a non-pregnant woman reading pregnancy books would be creepy. Less creepy than a guy, but still. I'm referring here to library books, or books borrowed from someone or promised to someone else.

1. Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith
2. Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton
3. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
4. Astray by Emma Donoghue
5. The Burning Air by Erin Kelly
6. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
7. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
8. Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
9. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
10. Paris Was Ours by Penelope Rowlands

Oct 1, 2013, 4:01am Top

Books to Talk About

Group reads, tandem reads and Early Reviewer books.

1. Black Irish by Stephan Talty (Early Reviewer book)
2. Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl (Early Reviewer book)
3. The Cat by Edeet Ravel http://www.librarything.com/work/13194798 (Early Reviewer book)
4. Son of a Gun: A Memoir by Justin St. Germain (Early Reviewer book)
5. The Philadelphia Quarry by Howard Owen (Early Reviewer book)
6. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (Group Read)

Edited: Dec 25, 2013, 9:00am Top

Books to Read with the Title Prominently Displayed

Books that were shortlisted or that won awards. You know, the ones that theoretically might impress someone were they to notice you reading it. So probably I won't include Fifty Shades of Grey or anything by Dan Brown here.

1. A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
2. There But For The by Ali Smith
3. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
4. Dear Life by Alice Munro
5. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
6. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
7. NW by Zadie Smith
8. Tenth of December by George Saunders
9. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro

Edited: Dec 3, 2013, 4:06am Top

Books that Go Places

Books set in a foreign country or written by a foreign author. A country can be represented only once.

1. My First Murder by Leena Lehtolainen (Finland)
2. Cell 8 by Anders Roslund (Sweden)
3. The Dinner by Herman Koch (The Netherlands)
4. Five Bells by Gail Jones (Australia)
5. Nineteen Seventy-Four by David Peace (Yorkshire, Britain)
6. A Crack in the Wall by Claudia Pineiro (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
7. This Must Be the Place by Anna Winger (Germany)
8. The Expats by Chris Pavone (Luxembourg)
9. The Collected Traveler: Paris by Barrie Kerper (Paris, France)
10. In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century by Geert Mak

Oct 1, 2013, 4:46am Top

When Kate's husband comes home one night and tells her he's had a great job offer in Luxembourg, Kate is more than ready to give up her own job and move out of the house which needs renovations they just can't afford. Kate's job, the one she's eager to leave, is a desk job with the CIA. She had been out in the field for years, but now she's a mother to two young boys. They move and Kate learns to negotiate life in another country, even as her husband works long hours for a company he will not name and grows secretive. They meet another couple, but soon Kate's training tells her that everything isn't aboveboard with the friendly Chicagoans they keep running into everywhere they go.

The Expats by Chris Pavone is a thriller, a genre I'm largely unfamiliar with. There are secrets and double-crosses and elaborate plans. Things move along quickly. The characters remain thinly drawn, but I guess that's a secondary thing in a thriller. There were extended explanations of each person's role in the book, which weighted down the final chapters, but this was a fun, if forgettable book.

I do have a quibble with this book; the author has chosen to make his protagonist a woman, but he's not really up to the challenge. Kate was a man in a woman's body. The book would have been just as effective and possibly more interesting had the roles been reversed and the main character a man whose wife was offered the job in Europe. It's a pretty common thing now, but not written much about. Also, Kate was a working mother whose family was struggling financially at the start of the book. Yet the parts of the book where the author talks about daily life are largely full of Kate's boredom and outrage at the responsibility of laundry, cooking, cleaning and childcare, tasks she would have been doing in addition to her job in the US. In a man who had previously little to do with these activities, this reaction would have felt authentic. As it was, I kept wondering how she'd avoided cleaning a bathroom or folding laundry beforehand, especially when it was casually mentioned that her husband had never done much around the house.

Edited: Oct 1, 2013, 5:53am Top

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella is a chicklit novel of average quality. It's a silly, but fun diversion that I will have forgotten by early next week. Sophie Kinsella is no longer putting as much effort in as she used to.

Oct 1, 2013, 9:41am Top

I agree -- Wedding Night was fun but very forgettable. Nice review of The Expats also.

Oct 1, 2013, 12:12pm Top

"Kate was a man in a woman's body."
I can see how a write would want to take on that challenge, but perhaps a male writer should check with a woman before guessing at how we think. :)

Oct 1, 2013, 1:59pm Top

It always amazes me when an author chooses to write a main character whose gender is different from their own and does it well, like David Weber or Lois Mcmaster Bujold.

(Bruce's evil twin :-))

Oct 1, 2013, 2:52pm Top

It is hard to write from the POV of the other sex. It can be done, but it requires both imagination and observation. I couldn't write a casual conversation between two men or describe the rhythms of their conversations. He also tripped up on describing a friendship between two women. It just seemed like they remained acquaintances--there was no emotional connection. Do men find that friendship is just proximity? Enjoying activities together may make two women friendly but not necessarily best friends.

Oct 1, 2013, 5:45pm Top

One more thread to finish out your year. I think maybe you should capitalize The Big Interruption.

Oct 1, 2013, 6:17pm Top

Happy new thread! I love the fall colours in your first post.

Oct 1, 2013, 8:49pm Top

Found your new thread and settling in.

Oct 1, 2013, 9:48pm Top

Just visiting the new thread. Love the photo in the first post.

Oct 2, 2013, 4:22pm Top

Checking into the new digs. Like you, I won't finish this year's challenge until December somtime. Unlike you, I won't be reading 100 books...

Joining the happy cringing over The execution of Noa P. Singleton. That's some awful writing right there. As for Fifty Shades of Grey, my favorite comment remains (although I can't remember who said it): "I'm offended. Both as a librarian and a pervert."

Oct 3, 2013, 4:16pm Top

I think if the writer creates a fully rounded character with beliavable reasons for actions/reactions what gender they are will matter less. Depends on what the story/character aim is mind. I mean close friends always have emotion I guess the author needs to decide how to show it, acts or conversation.

23 love that quote

Oct 7, 2013, 6:46am Top

Welcome to the thread everyone, thanks for visiting. Now to catch up on reviews - the drive to Venice was good for reading, but I have some threads to catch up on.

I took my family to the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice this weekend. Before entering the museum proper, I took the kids to the gift shop and had each pick out three postcards and then told them to find the art on the postcards in the museum. This worked well, at least at the Guggenheim, which was small and busy with people getting out of the rain. My ten year old son really enjoyed the experience, got a little excited about pointillism and he adored this painting:

My daughter on the other hand, took her influence from her father and while she started out excited, she soon started complaining that any little kid could paint those. Next time I'm leaving my husband home, but in the meantime I picked up Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That. In it, Susie Hodge looks at 100 works of art that have been controversial and puts them in their historic and artistic context, explaining why each one is important and worth looking at and not something a child could come up with. The artists represented range from Munch, Matisse and Picasso, through Twombly, Warhol and Pollock right up to contemporary artists like Hirst, Emin and Gilbert & George.

The author does a fine job explaining the influences on each artist and on each represented work as well. The entries are fun to read, with each artwork reproduced in color and then the rest of each two page spread broken into brief blocks of text. Other artworks by each artist are suggested. My daughter enjoyed paging through the book and looking at the works that caught her eye. I liked the clear and concise explanations of each work and how the author put each work in context. I would have liked a less American/British focus to the book, but that's a small quibble. The book could also have used a bit more of a sense of humor, after all much of the art represented here was painted to poke fun at the art establishment.

Oct 8, 2013, 2:02am Top

Sounds like a good idea for an artbook.

Oct 9, 2013, 10:47am Top

I love the idea of buying a postcard and then trying to find the painting it depicts! Definitely stealing that idea for if/when I have children and take them to museums. :)

Oct 9, 2013, 11:13am Top

Anders, it is a good idea. I'm keeping my copy, mainly to remember to keep explanations short and colorful. I tend to get bogged down into stuff that fascinates me, but bores others, like who influenced who.

Christina, I got the idea from some old guidebook or another. It worked well for my two, who needed something more structured than "go look at the nice paintings". It did mean that they really only focussed on "their" three artworks, but three is better than none. They did also like one large Picasso, spending time looking at it and talking about it. This one was a hit:

One thing to remember about taking children to an art museum is that it will be no fun for you. You don't get to look at anything. I saw a Bonnard (he's one of my favorites) as I crossed a room rapidly in pursuit.

Oct 9, 2013, 12:49pm Top

Great reviews, and a great idea with kids! I can see how you wouldn't necessarily spend much time looking at art yourself, though. Still, I'll be stealing that idea for the next time I watch my friends kids for longer than an hour or two.

Oct 9, 2013, 5:58pm Top

That is a great idea! Heck, I think I'll do that myself next time we go to an art gallery. (On family vacations, my mum likes to go to art galleries and wander around them for hours, but I prefer to go in to look at specific pieces and then leave.)

Oct 10, 2013, 6:55am Top

Venice: The Collected Traveler is not a travel guide in the usual sense. Instead, Barrie Kerper has collected a selection of articles about the city and the surrounding area and presented them according to topic. I read several of the articles while traveling to Venice and there were a few that did enhance our time there, especially those on the food and wine of the region. There was also a wonderful essay by Jan Morris about a day on Torchello that was worth the price of the book, although we didn't visit that island. There were fewer articles about Venice than I expected because the author wanted to include a large area around Venice, explaining that she wasn't going to do a full book about the region, but wanted to include the articles she'd collected. The first two hundred pages of the book are taken up with an abbreviated traditional travel guide to Venice, giving not enough information to serve instead of a travel guide, while taking up space that could have been used to include more interesting articles. There was some good information in this first section, but it could have been covered in an article written by the author, omitting all the repetitive items and things best covered elsewhere.

In short, this is a good book to use to prepare for a trip to Venice, but not one to carry along with you. It suffers from a lack of focus, but many of the articles in the book are worth reading.

Oct 13, 2013, 12:15pm Top

Castle Freeman, Jr. is a very good writer. So good that you never notice that his writing is any good at all; you're too busy following the rapidly moving plot, in which the tension is gradually mounting and things are about to go very wrong. You don't even notice the pitch perfect tone of the dialog because it sounds just like ordinary people sound, while talking about ordinary things. The cadences and patterns fall so perfectly that they are invisible and all you notice is a couple of old guys shooting the breeze.

In Go with Me, Lillian sits in her old car in the parking lot behind the sheriff's office. Armed with a paring knife, she waits to tell him that Blackaway's after her. He's killed her cat and he's coming after her. The sheriff sends her to the old mill to ask Scottie for help. What she gets isn't him, but an unlikely pair of protectors who set out for the backwoods of the lost towns to find Blackaway and get him to leave her alone.

Go With Me is a short book, but it's full of atmosphere and foreboding. There's not a wasted word in the book and each character is fully fleshed out in so few words, they shouldn't feel as fully alive as they do. Set in a forgotten corner of rural Vermont, Go With Me is close to perfect.

Oct 13, 2013, 2:50pm Top

I already have All That I Have by this same author on my wishlist, probably placed there by you. ;) I am now adding Go With Me.

Edited: Oct 13, 2013, 6:24pm Top

"So good that you never notice that his writing is any good at all"
I've read a few of those too and I tend to be forgiving since I've been taken on a really great ride. There are a few movies I can think of who fall into that category too. :)

ETA: And, congrats on the Hot Review!!

Oct 15, 2013, 6:50am Top

Floating icebergs below. The roughly furrowed sea. They know there will be no turning back. It is all mathematics now. To convert the fuel into time and distance. To set the throttle for the optimum burn. To know the angles and the edges, and the spaces in between.

Colum McCann's Booker longlisted novel, TransAtlantic, begins with two men preparing to fly a repurposed British bomber from Newfoundland to Ireland, attempting to be the first to cross the Atlantic ocean nonstop. The novel follows them as they get ready, assembling their Vicker Vimy and waiting for the weather to be right. And then the story ends, moving on to a new one about Frederick Douglass on a trip to Ireland to raise funds for the Abolition movement in 1845, just as the Irish Potato Famine was taking hold. The final story of the first section involves Senator Mitchell as he works to reach what will be known as the Good Friday Accords.

But this isn't a book of short stories, or even short stories of famous men traveling to Ireland. The second part of TransAtlantic draws those seemingly unconnected stories together in the lives of the women of a single family, from Lily, the illiterate daughter of alcoholics working as a maidservant in a house that hosts Frederick Douglass during his stay and who is inspired to take a brave step by the former slave, to her daughter, who is a journalist reporting on the transatlantic flight from Newfoundland and her daughter, who photographs the intrepid aviators and on to Lily's great-granddaughter, the last living member of her family, living in Northern Ireland and looking back to the tragedy of the Troubles.

What shines in this book is the language, which is almost lyrical, while staying firmly grounded. It takes a strong structure here to hold McCann's writing, but it all works so brilliantly here. Moving from important men involved in great events to the most ordinary of women's lives is a beautifully effective method to bring forth the unexpected influences of big events in small lives and impact of the ordinary, small things on world-shaking events.

When I sat down beside them, their silence was lined with tenderness. We have to admire the world for not ending on us.

Oct 15, 2013, 7:02am Top

Good grief, yet another BB! And it will fit into this year's challenge...

Oct 15, 2013, 4:49pm Top

I'm glad Transatlantic was already on my list so I could dodge that bullet! It may push it up on the priority list though.

Oct 15, 2013, 4:57pm Top

I loved Transatlantic - such beautiful writing.

Oct 15, 2013, 5:15pm Top

Transatlantic's been on my wishlist for a while, but it seems to be popping up all over lately. I'm looking forward to getting it soon-ish. Glad to hear you liked it.

Oct 15, 2013, 11:24pm Top

Great review of Transatlantic. I've been reading a number of the Booker nominees this year but I haven't gotten around to that one yet. Sounds like one I should not miss.

Oct 22, 2013, 7:57am Top

I'm glad you liked it, too, Stacy. I'd avoided Let the Great World Spin because it looked floppy to me, but I'll have to get a copy soon.

I'm beginning to see that I may not succeed in reaching my goal this year. Things happened and now that I should be racing to the finish line, I find myself choosing enormous books. Go figure. Still, I'm keeping the same goal for next year and hoping for improvement.

Oct 22, 2013, 12:38pm Top

>32 RidgewayGirl: Great review! I'll be looking for that one.
Btw, love the story of taking your kids to the museum. When I was a kid my mom would take my sister and I to the L.A. County Museum of Art. I grew up loving art and museums. My sister grew up hating them. ;-)

Oct 22, 2013, 9:49pm Top

I know I'm not going to hit my goal for the year bookwise. I read 240 or so books last year; at my present rate, I'll be lucky to hit 160 this year.

Edited: Oct 23, 2013, 1:45am Top

Jennifer, I've watched so many parents and children in art galleries. The good ones were showing the kids fun art and not getting to look at anything for themselves. Then there were the parents with a child hanging on them, begging to leave, while the adult said,"wait, Mummy's not finished looking." I was certain I'd be one of the latter types, therefore blighting my offspring's ability to enjoy museums forever. Surprisingly, I've managed to be of the first variety. No one was more surprised than me.

Of course, when we go to Paris next week for Fall Break, we'll do a few places together, but I also plan to send my SO and children off to the science center while I visit the Pompidou. And I need to find a positive way to tell my SO to stop making fun of modern art. Or we can not look at anything less than seventy years old.

Lori, how does that happen? I've had years, recent years, in which I passed a hundred books in early autumn. And why can't I just pull out a bunch of short books and get this done? Why is every book that looks great suddenly 800 pages long?

Oct 23, 2013, 4:23am Top

I was certain I'd be one of the latter types, therefore blighting my offspring's ability to enjoy museums forever. Surprisingly, I've managed to be of the first variety. I'm one of the unsuccessful ones I'm afraid. We've successfully taken J round loads of different museums but art galleries have not been a success!

Love your review of Transatlantic by the way - it sounds like something that I would really enjoy.

Oct 23, 2013, 4:41am Top

The postcard thing works, in that they will at least look long and hard at the works they have postcards for. And my daughter wants to see the Mona Lisa, because she had this amazing art teacher in fifth grade who based a lot of their artwork on various masterpieces. And she asked about going to see sculptures. I'm thinking we'll visit Monet's Waterlilies. The museum is small and the paintings are enormous and fun. Followed quickly by hot chocolate at Angelina's. I am planning this trip to death.

Oct 23, 2013, 7:41am Top

I still have fond memories of my son dragging me to an art museum in Tulsa after a school field trip there when he was in third grade. He wanted to show me the Dali they had as well as the gardens!

Oct 23, 2013, 8:05am Top

It's great that you take your kids to museums and art galleries! When my kids were young, we bought family memberships to Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. It was cheaper for out-of-town residents. Whenever we went into Toronto for visiting friends or shopping, we'd stop into the museum for one of two hours. Now that my kids are teenagers, they have the interest and stamina to do a full visit to a museum or art gallery, but when they were small, the frequent short visits worked really well for us.

Of course, a museum like the ROM has more interactive displays and children-friendly activities than many art galleries. When my kids were older, we bought family memberships to the Art Gallery of Ontario, and that worked well too, but I'm not sure they'd have liked it as much at a younger age.

Oct 23, 2013, 8:38am Top

I like the idea of visiting the places that inspired famous works of art. I have Guide to Impressionist Paris: Nine Walking Tours to the Impressionist Painting Sites in Paris and I thought that it might be fun to do some of the walks, maybe with pictures of the paintings to compare how things have changed etc.

I like it to be more 'personal', like reading a murder mystery that takes place in the place that I am visiting. Or visiting the place that inspired a painting.

(Bruce's evil twin :-))

Oct 23, 2013, 9:50am Top

#44 - I totally get what you're saying about which kind of parent you'll be. My kids took school field trips to the local art museum and we occasionally would take trips down there, too. Since it was free admission, I didn't have a problem leaving the minute they started getting restless. I never knew whether it was doing any good or not, until I heard the kids - grown now - talking about going to this or that exhibit. I even overheard 2 of the kids making plans to go see an exhibit together! I was so pleased!

Your postcard idea is genius.

Oct 23, 2013, 10:20am Top

The postcard idea is from some old, out-dated guidebook. I wish I remembered which one -- it might have other good ideas!

And if I could get my kids to the point yours are at, I'd be so happy.

Oct 23, 2013, 6:55pm Top

I'm just jealous that you are able to plan a Paris get-away! Paris!!!

Oct 23, 2013, 9:55pm Top

Kay, I am on my 3rd book of more than 600 pages this month. It's no wonder that I'm not making much headway, but I've got a lot of other things that are slowing me down too.

Oct 24, 2013, 3:41am Top

Judy, I'm so excited, too. It's nuts that this week is as close and easy to arrange as the family trips we took from SC.

Lori, isn't real life sometimes inconvenient? I never take it into account while planning my reading year and I think it has poor manners with the way it just barges in.

Oct 24, 2013, 3:01pm Top

Yes. Of course, sometimes the intrusions are welcome ones that add a little spice and variety to life.

Edited: Nov 5, 2013, 5:31am Top

We spent last week in Paris. It was Fall Break at the school and Paris is less than an eight hour drive, so off we went. We had a wonderful time, even if the catacombs were closed the day we went.

In preparation, I read Paris: The Collected Traveler by Barrie Kerper. The Collected Traveler series is intended to give a visitor a feel for the place through a collection of articles. It's not supposed to take the place of a guidebook and it's not supposed to be too time sensitive. I wish the author had reminded herself of that while she was putting the book together. It's a largish book, but a third is taken up with the sort of things one uses a guidebook for; packing guidelines, currency tips, etc.. I think that Kerper, traveling as frequently as she does, wanted to help out the first time traveler, but the result is a lot of filler that is organized better in any Fodor's or Lonely Planet guide. Then there were the articles, several of which were interesting, like the one on how to greet people and how to ask for the bill. The ones on food and wine are always fun, although I was disappointed to find that some were merely a series of restaurant reviews, again something done better by a proper guidebook.

I recently read Kerper's book on Venice and found the same flaws. The concept is amazing, but it's disappointing how poorly it was executed. Every so often, though, an article would be wonderful, full of the kind of history and observations that really makes a trip more interesting, but there is so much more dross than gold.

Nov 4, 2013, 9:43am Top

That's one of the things I miss about living in Europe - an eight-hour drive and you're in a completely different country. I'm a two-hour drive away from Mexico, but that's about it for feeling international. :)

Nov 4, 2013, 9:48am Top

I'm enjoying it so much, Eva. And the language thing is fun, until I answered my daughter's German dentist in french. I need a few days between languages. My daughter is going to a soccer tournament in Switzerland at the end of the week and she's very pleased to be visiting her fifth country since we arrived.

Nov 4, 2013, 9:52am Top

"until I answered my daughter's German dentist in french"

Nov 4, 2013, 2:04pm Top

>56 RidgewayGirl: Too bad about the poor execution, as that kind of book would really be handy.
The more I read, the more authors I find that excel as "concept" people rather than writers. But then you have to dig in the dirt to find the diamonds too. ;-)

Edited: Nov 5, 2013, 5:48am Top

I picked up Frederick Busch's Girls: A Novel hoping for a reasonably well done crime novel and got so much more than that. It was wonderfully written; Busch has the astonishing knack of making his words both eloquent and spare. His characters became people I knew, complex and interesting and the setting, a private university in upstate New York during a harsh winter, was so clearly drawn as to make me pull on gloves. Busch writes a little like Castle Freeman, Jr., which suits perfectly the setting of the book, but also with an understated descriptiveness that reminded me a little of Hemingway.

And, for all that, this is an unpretentious book about how a girl gone missing from a small farming community impacts the life of a man with the sorrow of his own daughter's death. Jack works as a university security guard, protecting the pampered children of well-to-do families as they do their best to misbehave. His wife and he are not doing so well; although they both wish their relationship was better, improving it seems to be impossible. Jack isn't a talkative man and his closest relationship is with his dog. When an acquaintance asks him to look into the girl's disappearance, he is reluctant to get involved. The state police know what they are doing and his investigating days never amounted to more than getting drunk servicemen to admit to their acts of violence. He slowly becomes obsessed with the missing girl, as she becomes mixed in his mind with his own daughter.

As much a psychological study of people handling more than they're equipped for, the plot nonetheless is well put together, creating a book that is both an entertainment and worth thinking about afterward.

Nov 6, 2013, 6:30pm Top

Whoops! I forgot to don my flak jacket before visiting and now I have taken a major book bullet for Frederick Busch's Girls.

Nov 7, 2013, 4:58am Top

Dear Enemy is Jean Webster's follow up to the successful Daddy Long Legs. It follows the adventures of Judy Abbott's flighty socialite college friend, Sallie MacBride, as she works to renovate and reform the grim orphanage Judy had grown up in. Sallie doesn't look like the kind of person who would be able to be an orphanage superintendent. She is, by her own admission, silly and too much in love with having fun. But she's goaded into taking the job by the laughter of her boyfriend and now that she's installed in the superintendent's ghastly living quarters, she's going to give it her all to improve the lives of the 113 orphans in her care.

This is a childhood favorite of mine, that I reread every few years. Written as the collected letters and notes of Sallie as she gets settled and learns how very much needs to be done, it's amusing in the best possible way. What's interesting as an adult is the picture of how things like genetics were viewed a hundred years ago. There are references to the cutting edge work of that time, including the fantastic The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness, which is both laughable and frightening to modern eyes, but was seriously considered in the eugenics movement of that time. So that in between the silly capers and misadventures of Sallie and her orphans and the light romance between Sallie and the dour Scottish doctor is a heap of information on how people back then thought orphanages ought to be run and the role of a child's background in his or her future chances.

Nov 7, 2013, 9:51am Top

Great review of Dear Enemy! I have been meaning to get to both of the Webster books. I really must remember to add them to the reading pile.

Nov 7, 2013, 9:54am Top

Lori, I think you'd enjoy them. While they are available for free as ebooks, it's worth finding a copy with the illustrations, which are integral to the story. My ebook version omits them.

Nov 7, 2013, 10:20am Top

I've got an ebook version of Dear Enemy...I hope the illustrations are included! I really enjoyed them in Daddy-Long-Legs.

Nov 7, 2013, 11:34am Top

Sallie's drawings are suspiciously similar to Judy's.

Nov 7, 2013, 5:31pm Top

Love all the stories about visiting the art museums! We haven't been to one (as a family) since our baby girl started refusing too long sits in the stroller. We just don't trust her around art. But we went quite a lot to the Modern Museum when Elis was smaller. We quickly found that going to contemporary art exhibits worked much better than classic paintings. He had a great time with all those video installations and concept pieces.

Nov 8, 2013, 8:59am Top

Yes, modern does appeal more to my kids, too. There was a temporary modern art exhibit at the Conciergerie (where they put prisoners during the Revolution) that we went to accidentally. The kids were both really into one exhibit that had motor driven wheelchairs that moved randomly around, with dictators and world leaders sitting in them as very old men. They also liked a video installation which had Australian children talking about their mental illness on one wall and an old film version of Joan of Arc being interrogated on the other.

While we only managed a quick visit to the Louvre (getting the pass where you can go to any museum and skip the lines is totally worth it, if only because you don't have to worry about wasting money if your offspring only manage an hour at a time. Also, skipping the sizable lines was nice) because the kids decided they wanted to see the Mona Lisa, I did take a day alone to go to a few museums. It made me very happy.

I ran into this painting, which I had previously only seen as reproductions. Odd to run into it in Paris.

Nov 8, 2013, 11:31am Top

Ah, yes. The great dustbowl of Provence! ;-)

Nov 8, 2013, 2:41pm Top

I am going to be reading Dear Enemy next year (it was one of my grandson's picks for me) so it was nice to see such a lovely review of it.

Nov 8, 2013, 6:04pm Top

Whoa, interesting painting! Reminds me somewhat of The Persistence of Memory.

Nov 10, 2013, 6:59am Top

Mamzel, exactly. Although why it surprised me is a mystery. It's not like I'd be astonished to find a European painting in the MoMA. And, RP, it was in a string of rooms filled with expressionists and other art of the first half of the 20th century, so Dali was just a few rooms earlier.

Judy, I can't wait to find out what you think about it! Just remember that the early 20th century, not having seen the effects of Nazism and other horrors, had a very different view of things like eugenics.

Nov 13, 2013, 6:38am Top

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda was a frustrating read for me. By turns, I couldn't stop reading and was somewhat bored. Telling the story of three people who have had difficult relationships with their parents but who find a tentative happiness as roommates in an enormous old Paris apartment. The three main characters were interesting enough. There's Philibert, the stammering, history-obsessed postcard seller, who has the apartment while his family fights over a will, Camille, the sensitive artist who has given up art and is working as a cleaner in an office and Franck, the tempestuous sous-chef who is run ragged between his arduous job and his grandmother, who lives hours away and may not be up to living on her own any more. Predictably, they become stronger as a group of misfits forming a sort of family.

There's a lot to like about this book. The setting is Paris and Camille, Franck and Franck's grandmother are quirky, endearing characters. The third resident of the apartment remains thinly drawn, to the point where his transformation and independence occur entirely off the page. And it's sometimes self-consciously quirky, as though the characters' actions and traits are there more for the effect they will have on the reader's heartstrings than fully realized parts of themselves. I like that in the aftermath of the success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, more books seem to be making the leap from French into English translations. I just wish a better book had been chosen, but much of my dissatisfaction with this book is my dislike of whimsy and charm. Not everyone dislikes a happy ending.

Nov 13, 2013, 1:30pm Top

See, I thought Hunting and Gathering did have a happy ending! Although if you're not into whimsy and charm, I can see why you didn't like it so much.

Nov 13, 2013, 1:58pm Top

Christina, an awful lot of people loved this book. It just wasn't a good book for me.

Nov 13, 2013, 2:50pm Top

Good review. It's detailed enough that we can make our own opinion about whether or not the book is worth a read. Sounds like the characterization didn't go far enough. "Whimsy" isn't a bad thing, but when it's the main description of a novel??? I think I'll pass.

Nov 14, 2013, 1:57pm Top

Mainly, I liked the characters in Hunting and Gathering, but it's not going down on any "best" list of mine. Can't remember how it ended, but my review says that I wished that the epilogue had been left off. :)

Nov 14, 2013, 10:50pm Top

I'm just catching up with your thread, enjoying the stories of your visit to Paris and the reviews of the Paris-themed books. The museum visits sound lovely.

Edited: Nov 16, 2013, 9:32am Top

I left the house today without a book, which necessitated a side trip to the giant bookstore Hugendubel downtown. I picked up Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin, Night Film by Marisha Pessl and Europe Central by William T. Vollmann.

And there are Advent calendars for everyone here. I saw an aromatherapy one (a new scented oil everyday) and an herbal tea calendar (which also smelled nice) and my SO wants the beer calendar, which has got to be heavy -- how do you hang 24 bottles of beer safely on a wall?

Nov 16, 2013, 10:25am Top

A beer advent calendar? That sounds very tempting. (Also, now I have the "24 bottles of beer on the wall, 24 bottles of beer..." song stuck in my head!) Enjoy the Rankin!

Nov 16, 2013, 11:13am Top

…and a beer, in a tree...

Nov 17, 2013, 4:21am Top

Years ago, I read the title story in Tim Gautreaux's collection, Welding with Children: Stories and it stuck clearly enough in my mind that when I ran across a copy of the book, I wanted to read it. Considering that I have forgotten entire novels, this is notable. The story remained much as I had remembered it; the first person recounting of a day spent caring for his daughters' children, and the realization that he is not free from blame in his daughters' life choices. Set in a small town in Mississippi, there's both a strong atmosphere of people not quite getting by, of cars rusting in side yards next to decaying porches, and an undercurrent of hope.

That sense of resilience is, along with rural Mississippi, the common themes of this excellent and diverse selection of stories. Gautreaux takes set-ups that with Daniel Woodrell or Donald Ray Pollock would end in a blood bath and steers them in unexpected directions. In one story, a desperate criminal's home invasion is written with an off-beat humor, as he is thwarted by the elderly woman he finds in the house, and as her neighbors notice something is wrong. In another, an old man, disoriented in the Wal-Mart parking lot, is kidnapped by a carelessly cruel opportunist. This is the harshest of the stories, but there is a bright note in the man's desperate attempts to remember his past. Other stories deal with the remnant of a leading family, living in her decaying house and relying on the piano tuner for company, a priest whose drinking problem and inability to say no lead him into illegal acts and middle-aged man attending a writing workshop finds that he may be the only attendee with a desire to improve his writing.

I'll be looking for more by Tim Gautreaux. He's a fine writer with a strong sense of place.

Nov 17, 2013, 6:47am Top

The Missing has been on my WL for a while. Maybe I should bump it up.

Nov 17, 2013, 12:53pm Top

Welding with Children sounds so good and that author is new to me. It's going on the list. Thanks for the great review!

Nov 18, 2013, 6:56am Top

Kittyhawk Down by Garry Disher is the second in a series following a group of officers and detectives working in a coastal region near Melbourne, Australia. This police procedural was solid and interesting, with lots of the atmosphere of Australia, from the main detective's spotting of a kangaroo in the opening paragraph, through the description of a chilly April, full of the promise of the coming winter. While some of the secondary characters are a little thinly drawn and the main characters have had an unlikely amount of dramatic events in their lives, this series is an enjoyable one. I'll be reading more.

Nov 19, 2013, 5:48am Top

Another BB...Kittyhawk Down goes on the list.

Nov 19, 2013, 5:53am Top

The first in the series is Dragon Man. But the books don't need to be read in order.

Nov 19, 2013, 8:18am Top

I like starting at the beginning, thanks!

Nov 19, 2013, 8:18pm Top

Advent calendars should be filled with chocolates! Accept no substitute. :)

Nov 21, 2013, 11:13am Top

In The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox Maggie O'Farrell dumps the reader into a complex story somewhere in the middle and moves out in both directions. There's the present day story of Iris, who owns a vintage clothing store and has few close attachments outside of her dog and her step-brother. She is informed of the existence of an aunt she never knew about when the institution her aunt has lived in for the past sixty years is closing. And then there's the story of that aunt, Esme Lennox, beginning with her childhood as an energetic and imaginative girl in India.

O'Farrell manages to pack quite a bit of dramatic occurrences into a slim novel, without falling into melodrama. There aren't a lot of quiet moments here; there simply isn't room. I enjoy O'Farrell's talent for drawing the reader into the intimate lives of her characters. She manages to make the story believable. I might have liked to have understood a few of the secondary characters a bit better, but this was a book I had a hard time putting down.

Nov 21, 2013, 10:16pm Top

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox sounds good. So is the tight, hit you over the head plotting of current YA making it to adult fiction now? The cover doesn't look like that kind of a book.

And I have to ask what kind of Advent calendar you decided on. Do they have a whiskey chaser calendar to go with your 24 bottles of beer on the wall?

Nov 22, 2013, 10:00am Top

I'm clearly choosing an Advent calendar featuring chocolate, although the Body Shop one is tempting. I'm with Eva on this one. I will try to find the beer one my husband saw for him and let the kids pick their own. Charlotte will choose something chocolate, but Max is talking about the Lego one.

I'm looking forward to all the Christmas markets. They are so much fun -- full of really beautiful handmade things and plenty of gluhwein (spiced hot wine) and delicious snacks and often music. The stalls have been set up in the main square (Marienplatz).

Nov 22, 2013, 10:34am Top

From the Jaws of Death is a collection of true stories of wilderness survival edited by Brogan Steele, which I'm pretty sure is a made up name. I read several chapters at random during a long car trip, so I can say with some authority that the ideal audience is a ten year-old boy. The poor writing in several of the stories did not detract him from the adventure. The stories range from the very old, (Such as Pierre Viaud's tale of being stranded on the Florida shore in the early eighteenth century with only a woman and a slave. They ate the slave.) to a few relatively recent accounts set in Alaska.

The clear star of the collection is Ernest Shackleton's account of a desperate journey in an open boat with just a few other men to find help after his ship, the Endurance, is crushed in the Antarctic ice. His matter of fact telling of a horrific and dangerous journey is spell-binding. I will be reading the full account soon. And there lies the weakness of the book. Because it's a collection of stories, many of which are pulled from the full accounts written by survivors, there's a let down at the end of many of the chapters. To follow Shackleton's story, or Owen Chase's story of being stranded in a small lifeboat with inadequate supplies, for just long enough to be invested in their survival, only to have the chapter end and the rest of the story summarized in a few sentences is disappointing. I'm sure it will lead to many of these original accounts being read in full, but to the person reading In the Jaws of Death, it's like being pulled out halfway through a movie and having to be satisfied with someone telling you the ending in the car on the way home.

There were also a few duds. No one expects someone who has lived through some death-defying adventure to also write eloquently, but several stories were taken from two collections of Alaskan survival tales in which the authors wrote down the oral stories of survivors. And they were the worst written stories of the bunch, with oddly placed quotations (Above him, Tunks took in the "magnificent" vision of the H-3 aircraft "exuding power"…) or a whiny tone that might have gone unnoticed if I hadn't just spent time with Shackleton surviving much, much worse with a cheerful stoicism.

If you're fascinated by how people survive under difficult conditions, then I recommend reading the accounts many of these stories were drawn from. If you're a ten year-old wanting an adventurous story or two, this book is perfect.

Nov 22, 2013, 1:11pm Top

The Swedish Christmas fair here in Cali is this Sunday, so I'll be stocking up! :)

Nov 22, 2013, 3:43pm Top

95. Sounds lovely. What do they have there? I'm going to a Christmas market in two weeks, it's an old-fashioned one and really cozy. It's one of my favourite parts of the holiday season (I go every year even though it's a bit of a trek getting there).

Nov 22, 2013, 7:04pm Top

>94 RidgewayGirl: Gotta admit, when I saw the title my first thought was "ya, a book about "Jaws!" But I like survival stories too, and I've read some of Shackleton's. Stoic is the perfect word for him.

I spent a Christmas season in Sweden years ago and discovered the beautiful Christmas market in Stockholm, along with glogg and saffron cookies.

Nov 23, 2013, 9:54am Top

97. Saffron cookies? That sounds nice. I love saffron, so I tend to gorge on saffron buns this time of year. And glögg is the drink of gods. With or without alcohol (though obviously alcohol is always a plus).

Nov 24, 2013, 10:38am Top

->96 PawsforThought:
It's normally a pretty good one with the usual Swedish (and some Norwegian) accoutrements - it's run by SWEA so everything stays pretty genuine. IKEA is unfortunately the main source for the food, but there's a Danish bakery out here that'll make a showing as well, so I know the pastries will be great!

Nov 24, 2013, 6:25pm Top

99. Sounds great. Mmm, Danish pastries. Norwegian goodies are nice - it's been ages since I had lefser, I should really make a few some day soon.

Edited: Nov 26, 2013, 4:24am Top

John Rebus is retired, sort of. He now works cold cases, sorting through dusty cartons of old files, looking for the missed clue or the piece of evidence modern technology might be able to unlock. It gets him up in the morning, limits his drinking and gives shape to his life. In Standing in Another Man's Grave, Rebus is drawn into a current investigation when a series of disappearances is shown to be possibly linked. Rebus is both part of and excluded from the investigation. He's no longer a real police officer and the center of the crimes being investigated is in the north of Scotland, not in his familiar turf of Edinburgh. But he's the one who drew the connections to the eyes of the investigators and he has a talent for hanging around where he's not officially supposed to be. His old-fashioned methods may be frowned upon, but they show results, even if those results might not hold up in court.

I'm probably alone in this, but when Ian Rankin announced that Rebus was retiring, I thought that it was none too soon. I've loved Rankin's books about the cranky detective who alienates many of his colleagues and isn't adverse to a wee bit of violence from the beginning. But Rebus grew jaded over the years and his cutting of corners had less and less to do with necessity than habit. Rankin began a series featuring a new investigator, Malcolm Fox, who looked into the criminal and unethical behavior of cops and who was as different from Rebus as it was possible to be. I liked Fox, tightly wound and diligent, and I was enjoying getting to know him. He and Rebus were, under the skin, more similar than either would admit; both dedicated to their jobs and lonely. I began looking forward to the new Fox novel in the way I had once anticipated the new Rebus.

Then Rankin brought Rebus back with Standing in Another Man's Grave. The short break has done both author and character good, with this novel being among the best in the series. I'd be happy if Rankin divided his attention between these two characters, but this book indicates that this will not be the case as in it Rankin has transformed the complex and diligent character he spent two books developing into a one-dimensional bad guy who jumps out of dark corners to threaten Rebus while twirling his villain's mustache. So while I was happy to have a solid crime novel to enjoy, I'm disappointed with what Rankin has done to his new protagonist. Ian Rankin has some 'splaining to do.

Nov 26, 2013, 7:30am Top

Interesting developments in Rankin's series .... I'm only partway through the Rebus series but mean to finish it eventually and had heard very good things about the Fox series too.

Nov 26, 2013, 12:03pm Top

I recently saw Rankin's appearance on the "Well Read" series. He discussed this book in particular and Rebus as a character. His Scottish accent is lovely.

Nov 26, 2013, 12:30pm Top

Paulina, you have lots of great reading ahead of you.

Jennifer, every Scottish accent is lovely. Have you heard Robert Carlyle speak? Or Ewan MacGregor? Or Alan Cumming? Seriously now, have you heard an unlovely Scottish accent?

Nov 26, 2013, 12:41pm Top

>104 RidgewayGirl: Unlovely? No. But indecipherable? Yes!

Nov 26, 2013, 1:21pm Top

Do you really need to understand what they are saying?

Nov 26, 2013, 2:15pm Top

104. James McAvoy!

Nov 26, 2013, 5:07pm Top

Mmmmm James McAvoy. And David Tennant! I love when he gets to use his regular Scottish accent.

Re Standing in Another Man's Grave, I loved the setting but thought the very end left something to be desired. Still, very good book overall and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Nov 26, 2013, 6:14pm Top

Scottish accents are one of the best accents on earth, IMHO! (Especially coming out of David Tennant!)

Wish we had a Christmas Fair around here (Milwaukee, WI), but I don't know of any, and if I did, I can't think of anyone who'd go with me. I need someone with me to talk me out of spending every last cent I have on any- and everything I can see!

Nov 27, 2013, 1:35am Top

Scottish accents are one of the best accents on earth, IMHO!

I second that! It was one of the first things that attracted me to my other half - along with his red-blond hair, his striking blue eyes and his gentleman manners - such a dangerous combination for a woman (or at least me) to encounter. ;-)

Nov 27, 2013, 1:58am Top

RP, your review for Standing on Another Man's Grave was excellent. I'm also dubious of the looking-into-a-man's-eyes-to-determine-guilt thing. Rebus isn't a superhero and it wouldn't surprise me if he gets it badly wrong if he continues along his current path. Maybe Rankin will have him sharing a cell with Big Ger.

And back into the shallow end of the pool -- don't forget Irish accents.

Nov 27, 2013, 9:40am Top

Oh yes, they're lovely too. And British. And French...

Nov 27, 2013, 6:19pm Top

>111 RidgewayGirl:: Thanks, RG! My mum also read the book and she said that she would have been much happier with the ending had there actually been a clear-cut statement of guilt. It felt like Rebus's gut instinct was much more obvious in this one than in other books in the series.

Nov 28, 2013, 2:05am Top

I wonder if Rankin's edging into literary fiction territory? I'm used to that kind of book ending vaguely and like it, but not sure it works with a crime novel. I'm not convinced the guy was guilty. Maybe we'll revisit that in a later book when the murders start up again, and Rebus is responsible for not only the conviction of an innocent man, but the later murders as well.

Nov 28, 2013, 5:45pm Top

That would be an interesting take on the situation. I hope that's what he's planning.

Nov 29, 2013, 1:12pm Top

I am so behind on all these books, I held onto what was meant to be the last "Rebus" book for years cause I didn't want to say goodbye. And now here he is back again. A part of me is glad to see him back cause I worried about how he would handle retirement, I pictured him sitting in his chair, listening to music and getting bladdered every day. I haven't read the Malcom Fox books yet either, so will probably start there - Soon.

Dec 3, 2013, 4:18am Top

Every so often it's very enjoyable to just lean back and let PG Wodehouse tell me another story about Bertie Wooster, gay boulevardier and carefree man-about-town, and his fish-eating manservant Jeeves. In Right Ho, Jeeves, Bertie must contend with a bossy aunt, a friend who can't quite summon up the courage to tell the girl he loves how he feels and a manservant who disapproves of his new, natty jacket. Wodehouse tells essentially the same story in each of his Wooster and Jeeves books and that is a part of the charm, along with some of the funniest dialogue ever written and main character with a gift for creating outrageous messes, while remaining utterly ignorant of his effect on others. Right Ho, Jeeves was, like every other book in the series, an absolute delight.

Dec 3, 2013, 7:03am Top

I love Wodehouse and the Jeeves and Wooster books are some of my favourite books of all. Always makes me smile.

Edited: Dec 3, 2013, 10:01am Top

Or snort ungracefully in public places! Humorous writing is really hard -- with it often feeling really forced. But with those books the entire book is hilarious and it never feels forced, no matter how convoluted the situation.

Right Ho, Jeeves is the one with the scene at the prize-giving ceremony at the village school. It is masterful.

Dec 3, 2013, 11:40am Top

I'm so looking forward to Wodehouse month in February 2014! RG, your review is making me wish it would get here sooner!

Dec 3, 2013, 1:12pm Top

I've read some Wodehouse books in the past, but I really don't remember which ones. Maybe one of these days, I'll get back to reading them.

Dec 4, 2013, 3:58am Top

The Wodehouse February read slipped my mind, but it must have been lurking about subconsciously to have me pulling out my Wooster and Jeeves. I'm glad to have an excuse to read another soon.

Dec 4, 2013, 5:01am Top

In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century is an awe-inspiring book. Author Geert Mak spent 1999 traveling around Europe looking to understand and tell its common history. What does someone from Stockholm have in common with someone from rural Poland, or the coast of Portugal? Beginning in Amsterdam at the dawn of the twentieth century, and winding up in December of 1999 in Sarajevo, Mak draws together the disparate threads of each country's history, into a broad picture of what has made Europe what it is today. I loved this massive book. It pulled together all those bits and pieces I've acquired through the years, from classes, newspapers, articles and books, and showed me where they belongs in the bigger picture.

Mak travels from place to place, centering each chapter on both a location and an event from the twentieth century. He talks to and looks at both ordinary people and those at the center of great events. He looks at how an event is both influenced by what had happened before and how it, in turn, shapes what occurs later. He looks at those obvious pivotal moments, like those fatal shots fired by Gavrilo Princip on the quayside in Sarajevo, as well as more obscure things like what happened to Jean McConville of West Belfast. The great moments are made personal by telling the story of someone caught up in it all, whether the son of a former ruler or a young mother trying to keep her family safe.

I had to read this book slowly. It is thick with connections and how the hurried decisions of a government can affect the lives of ordinary people forever. It was also an emotionally wrenching book. I'm not sure how he did it, but Mak managed to make both troop movements and strategical decisions intertwine with how that would have been experienced by an ordinary soldier or a civilian watching his house burn.

Geert Mak is Dutch, and so a little removed from the patriotic tales woven into the lives of the citizens of great powers. He was able to look at one side of a conflict then drive on a few miles and look at that conflict from the other side. He doesn't look to find bad guys or good guys, but to find out why people acted as they did, on imperfect information influenced by their own histories.

I'm a little sorry I've finally finished On Europe, but I'm looking forward to deepening my understanding of Europe's last century as well as someday rereading this book.

Dec 4, 2013, 6:12am Top

>123 RidgewayGirl: That one keeps moving on and off my wishlist. I've even held it in my hand in a bookstore a couple of times and ended up putting it back on the shelf, intimidated by its size.

Dec 5, 2013, 6:49am Top

I think you'd like it, Carrie. It's such a good synthesis of all the different disparate details. I had a similar experience when I read Danton: A Life by David Lawday --- the author managed to make all the different factions and who belonged where clear in my mind, so that with the next book I read about the French Revolution I could concentrate on the details, since I knew where everything and everyone fit in the broader picture. Does that make sense? I'm planning to read more about twentieth century European history soon -- In Europe has me all motivated. I'm thinking of starting with Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder.

Dec 5, 2013, 7:00am Top

Thanks for the Wodehouse review. It reminds me that I need to find something for the February group read. I'm really looking forward to that. I loved the Jeeves & Wooster TV series but have not yet had the pleasure of reading the books.

Geert Mak's book sounds really interesting. I should suggest it to my daughter, who's living in Germany this year and hoping to do lots of travelling around Germany and the neighbouring countries.

Dec 5, 2013, 7:07am Top

The body is found in a canal near Lake Vattern. Martin Beck is sent from Stockholm to lead the investigation. But the body is all they have and it seems impossible to even find out who she is. Roseanna is the first in a series of books written by Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall and featuring Martin Beck. First published in 1965, Roseanna is a snapshot of a very different world, one where everyone smoked like chimneys and a Transatlantic phone call was an event.

Police work was also unrecognizable. Stakeouts depended on the undercover officer being able to find a public phone when he needed to. Getting information from somewhere else depended on digging through physical files and sending them by mail. Beck is dogged in his pursuit of the murderer of the young woman, but unlike a modern crime novel, there's quite a lot of hanging around doing nothing going on. Hunches take weeks to follow through. The great fun in reading this book now is in enjoying all the period details. This is a solid police procedural written long before the Scandinavian crime novels became popular.

Dec 5, 2013, 11:39am Top

Nice review of Roseanna! I am planning to read it next year for the Nordic MysteryCAT. I've read one Beck mystery already, The Laughing Policeman, and I too was struck by the descriptions of police work in 1960s Stockholm. Looking forward to going back and starting the series from the beginning!

Dec 5, 2013, 11:55am Top

I'm hoping to read Roseanna next year too. It was revolutionary when it was published - it was the first Swedish crime novel where police procedurals and detective work was depicted in a believeable way. The Martin Beck book series is the reason why "ScandiCrime" exists at all today.

I saw an interview with Maj Sjöwall last year where she talked about writing them and how they were able to write that way because of how closely they worked with the police and at police stations. It was really interesting (and would never be allowed today!).

Dec 5, 2013, 7:40pm Top

Great review of Roseanna - I still haven't gotten around to Martin Beck, but he's on Mt. TBR beckoning at me. :)

Dec 5, 2013, 11:30pm Top

Sounds like another series that I may have to add to the evergrowing list!

Dec 6, 2013, 7:57am Top

I've definitely enjoyed the first two books of the Martin Beck series that I've read so far and am looking forward to continuing in future. Glad you liked your first taste of it.

Dec 6, 2013, 11:19am Top

I think I need to add Roseanna to the TBR list.

Dec 6, 2013, 12:18pm Top

Roseanna 's been in my wishlist for awhile now.

Dec 6, 2013, 2:15pm Top

And yet, a new crime series is the last thing most of us need! But a good one is irresistible.

Dec 8, 2013, 8:37am Top

I like the Martin Beck series very much, and I've read 6 of them so far. I'm glad you enjoyed Roseanna. What I find interesting about this series is seeing some of the elements that might have influenced current Scandinavian crime writers.

Dec 12, 2013, 8:59am Top

Robert Goolrick is best known for A Reliable Wife, which I thought was a fine, if not fantastic, book. Despite this, I picked up a copy of his memoir, The End of the World As We Know It, which he describes as "scenes from a life", because I read the first paragraph and was hooked. Goolrick sucked me into the story of his relationship with his parents and didn't let go until I closed the book. This book, which takes events from his life, or themes, and places them into non-chronological chapters that could be read in any order, although the way he has set things up is to show elements of his life, the alcoholism, say, or the stay in a mental hospital, and then to later put them into the context of his childhood, which was not a carefree one.

This is a horrifically difficult book to read, and a compulsively readable one. Goolrick's writing is simultaneously gorgeous and unflinching. I probably would not have picked up this book if I'd known the contents ahead of time, but I'm very glad to have read it. Don't read it if you would prefer not to look at the worst of humanity, but also avoid it if you're a fan of the "misery memoir". This book avoids sugarcoating anything, but there are also no vicarious thrills or moments where love conquers all. It's a very, shockingly, honest account from a damaged and difficult individual, who writes with immense skill.

Edited: Dec 13, 2013, 6:30am Top

In Saints of the Shadow Bible, John Rebus finds himself back on the force, but demoted to a lowly DS and relegated to working with his arch-enemy, Malcolm Fox, as they look into shady dealings in the cop shop Rebus worked in back when he was just starting out as a DC. In those days, Rebus joined forces with a group of detectives who weren't opposed to cutting corners or knocking heads if that's what it took. It's an uncomfortable place for Rebus to be; he's still not above going around the law when it suits him, but he's made uncomfortable by just how far his compatriots went and is torn between his loyalty to them and his desire to do his job. Of course, things become more complicated than just revisiting an old inquiry. Siobhan Clarke, his former subordinate, is now his boss, and she's doing a good job. Fox is moved back into regular detective work, but he oddly has Rebus at his side as they both end up working together and maybe even developing a respect for each other.

The old series has benefitted from the shake up. Clarke is better as Rebus's boss and it's good for Rebus to be held to account by someone who knows him well. And Fox, who was thinly and unpleasantly drawn in the last book, is reclaiming three-dimensionality. I hope Ian Rankin continues to develop Fox as a real character. I'm also interested in the way he's highlighting Rebus's own willingness to skirt the law whenever it's not working fast enough for him. Rebus is becoming a likable, but unpredictable anti-hero. I'm looking forward to where Rankin takes things next.

Dec 13, 2013, 5:33pm Top

Can't wait to read this one! :) Glad to hear that Siobhan is able to keep Rebus in line a bit.

Dec 13, 2013, 6:29pm Top

#138, 139: I've read the first two of this series and wasn't impressed. Not sure I'll try a third.

Dec 13, 2013, 11:53pm Top

I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Saints of the Shadow Bible - I am a devoted sucker for Rebus!

Dec 13, 2013, 11:59pm Top

Bertie must contend with a bossy aunt, a friend who can't quite summon up the courage to tell the girl he loves how he feels and a manservant who disapproves of his new, natty jacket. I was thinking for a second that I would remember exactly which story you were talking about. It's about time for me to dig into some Jeeves and Wooster too. I love the Fry & Laurie BBC version too.

Dec 14, 2013, 3:28am Top

majkia, like many other mystery series, the Rebus one benefits from not starting at the beginning. Rankin was still getting his feet under him as a writer and the beginning books are the weakest. And there's no real need to read the books in order. Try Fleshmarket Close (published in the US as Fleshmarket Alley or Let it Bleed or any other of the mid-series books. Or, if you like to start series at the beginning, try The Complaints, which features Malcolm Fox.

RP, it is good to see Siobhan moving forward. And having her to exert a tiny amount of control over Rebus, mainly because he does respect her, is useful.

Eva, a new Rankin novel is always good news. Now, I either have to go back and fill in the ones I skipped when I was unhappy about how grumpy Rebus was getting, or wait for the next one.

Katie, that description applies to every Jeeves and Wooster novel! Which is a great deal of their charm. What do you think about the Sebastian Faulks pastiche in which Wooster falls in love?

Dec 14, 2013, 4:24am Top

Hang on! I thought Rebus was dead! I have the first ten waiting to be read - I want to read them next year. I have read a couple of his non-Rebus books and really enjoyed them.

In Europe looks really good, your review has made me add it to my list! I read Danube last year, written just before the Wall came down and the war in Yugoslavia, but the author could see it all coming. Very interesting, but as with your book, a slow one to read as you had to read it in chunks. Thanks for another good tip.

Dec 14, 2013, 4:59am Top

Thanks for the mention of Danube, soffita. I'm hoping to concentrate a bit on reading about Europe in the twentieth century next year, and that would fit right in.

Dec 14, 2013, 9:41pm Top

->143 RidgewayGirl:
Probably should try to fill in the missing ones since Rankin is taking a year off (but who knows when he'll really be back).

->144 soffitta1:
Not dead, luckily, just retired.

Dec 15, 2013, 12:55am Top

Ah! I didn't know the Sebastian Faulks book existed! Wishlist time!

Dec 15, 2013, 10:50am Top

In Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm Philip Pullman has taken some of the most familiar tales, such as Cinderella and Red Riding Hood, some of the not-so-familiar, like The Goose Girl and The Bremen Town Musicians and several of the least known stories, like Faithful Johannes and Hans-My-Hedgehog and retold them. This isn't a reworking or a collection of imaginative stories based on Grimm's fairy tales, but a faithful retelling. At the end of each story Pullman adds notes about the origins of the story and how he chose to tell it.

It was enjoyable to revisit those old tales and Pullman's writing does justice to them. The stories I had never encountered before were, for me, the most interesting, but the real meat of the book is in Pullman's brief notes about each tale. I read several of these with my ten year old son and he was astonished by the sheer bloodthirstiness of several of the stories. Grimm's fairy tales are very different than the carefully inoffensive Disney versions, often containing a strong religious influence, but also reflecting the harshness and capriciousness of the world in which they were told.

Dec 15, 2013, 11:01am Top

148. I might have to buy that one. Our old battered copy of The Tales of the Brothers Grimm was one of my favourite books as a child. Despite being a rather squeamish and nervous child I had no problems with the violence and gore in those stories (and they were not particularly watered down). I guess that's part of the beauty of literature, you can imagine things just as gory as you can stomach them being.

Dec 16, 2013, 5:11am Top

Paws, this would be an excellent version of Grimm to have on the shelf. I'm keeping my copy. It was funny how into the stories my son got, especially one called Faithful Johannes, which I had never encountered before.

Dec 16, 2013, 9:48am Top

In Saints at the River by Ron Rash, a twelve year old girl vacationing with her family wades out into the Tamassee River and is swept over the falls downstream. Now her parents want to recover her body and local environmentalists, fisher and kayakers are worried that the method suggested will damage the area around the river and set a precedent allowing for developers to move in. Maggie Glenn is a photographer with a Colombia-based paper, sent to cover the story with a reporter because she is from Oconee county, where the accident occurred.

The story circles around the motivations of both groups, with neither being identified as good or bad. Well, the developer was pretty close to a stock villain, with his habit of simply paying any nominal fines for pollution rather than taking the more expensive and time-consuming measures to fix things. Even Rash's notable writing talents did not stretch that far. There's a secondary story about Maggie's broken relationship to her father and her conflicted feelings about being back in her hometown. This was as early novel by Rash, and so it lacks some of the complexity and nuance of his later works, like Serena, but it was a well-written and highly readable book beautifully set in the mountains of South Carolina.

Dec 16, 2013, 10:30am Top

I'm glad that you enjoyed Pullman's retelling of the fairy tales and Rash's book. Did Rash's book make you homesick for Greenville?

Dec 16, 2013, 11:15am Top

A little, Lori. Nostalgic, at least. And I knew exactly what he was talking about when he mentioned, for example, the humidity of high summer. I've been through the area the book is set in a few times and he describes it well.

Dec 19, 2013, 6:56am Top

Somehow I managed to click on the "ignore" and lost this thread right from the beginning. Just spent an enjoyable time catching up and taking a few BBs along the way.

Dec 23, 2013, 3:39pm Top

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson tells the story of Arlene Fleet, who is living, happily enough, in Chicago having made a deal with God that if one event is kept a secret then she'll always tell the truth, give up fornication and never return to Possett, Alabama. When an old schoolmate shows up at her door, asking the wrong questions, Arlene figures all promises are broken and she heads south with her boyfriend to fix what needs repair.

Jackson is both a Southern writer and a very funny one as she casts a familiar eye over small town Alabama life. From a disapproval of Arlene's church-going habits -- she's attending a Baptist church but not a Southern Baptist church, leaving serious questions to be asked about her spiritual health, to her family's consternation at her boyfriend being African American -- as Arlene tells Burr, "They aren't like Ku Kluxy, but…", to the woman next door who has an odd relationship with her pet chicken, Jackson's novel is funny, even as she guides the reader through some very tough situations.

Dec 23, 2013, 4:46pm Top

And ...there's another one :)

Edited: Dec 24, 2013, 8:45am Top

I think you'd like it, Betty.

So, while I may finish a few more books this year, I've already started two books that I know I won't finish before the new year. Time for my end of the year assessment!

I liked my categories this year, although I may have set the bar lower than I needed to. A little bit of effort is a good thing, and this year's categories didn't really push me. I read fewer books than usual this year, due to both an international move and a tendency to prefer longer, more involved books. And that's fine, I'd rather read better books than fill up on slight novels to get my numbers up. So while 100 was my goal and is again next year, I'm not going to make that too important a consideration in choosing my books. I filled, within a book or two, each of my categories except the group read category. I put a few group reads in other categories and just didn't do as many as I thought I would. So, next year I'm featuring the CATs instead of group reads as they allow more flexibility. I like group reads, but not enough to make a category of them.

My Ten Best Books of the Year:

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov -- I read this as part of a group read and I'm so glad I finally read this. Nabokov's narrator is unreliable and vile, but the language and writing, as well as Nabokov's understanding of the damage done to the titular character, make this one of the best books I have ever read.

The Collector by John Fowles -- I read this because of the happy coincidence of SantaThing bringing me the book and a Fowles in February themed read. This is a chilling and masterful story and while the setting is very much England in the 1960s, the events and the justifications of the main character are just as apt today.

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James -- Seriously, you guys? Group reads are the best thing for getting me to actually get to those books I always mean to read but am distracted from by lighter fare. And Victorian novels are always awesome. I need to read more of them.

Economix by Michael Goodwin -- Who would have thought that a comics explanation of economics would be both so clear and readable. If you'd like to understand how we got to where we are but find that the mention of Keynesian or supply side economics sends you instantly to sleep, this is the book for you.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides -- This was largely a case of the right book at the right time, but Eugenides's third novel is both well-written and utterly compelling, with three main characters I felt I knew as well as my best friends.

Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington -- Covington takes the world of snake-handling, poison-drinking Pentecostal churches in southern Appalachia and treats it with curiosity and respect. It's utterly fascinating.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers -- Another group read. McCullers's tale of sad and lonely people in a small, Southern town is utterly heart-breaking and unforgettable. She doesn't pull a single punch.

Tenth of December by George Saunders -- Not only is this collection of short stories incredibly diverse, ranging from internal domestic tales to dystopia at it's harshest, but Saunders is at the top of his game. We'll be seeing a lot more of this author.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann -- McCann ties together three historic characters with ties to both Ireland and the new world through the women they interact with. His language is poetical and the interconnected stories shine.

Dear Life by Alice Munro -- This was my introduction to the Nobel prize winning author and I'm hooked. Her stories are quiet domestic tales with an uncomfortable underbelly. She's subtle but intense.

And because there are always a few stinkers out there:

A Few Terrible Books I regret having Wasted Time On

The Execution of Noa P Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver -- This is the most laughably bad novel I have encountered -- and I've read my share. The writing makes submissions to the Bulwer-Lytton contest sound like Chekov.

Black Irish by Stephen Talty -- Proof that just because you're a respected non-fiction writer, doesn't mean you can write fiction. This one features every bad cliche in the book and winds up making no sense at all.

Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry -- With a protagonist who essentially kidnaps a child on a whim, then moves in with a man she suspects of murder, not a single action taken in this book makes the slightest sense.

I'm looking forward to jumping into next year's reading, although I still have a few more books to wrap up this year with.

Dec 24, 2013, 4:57pm Top

Have a great holiday season, Kay.

Edited: Dec 24, 2013, 6:18pm Top

Happy Holidays Kay! I'm intrigued by Dear Life, it's on my 2014 list. I was supposed to read Portrait of a Lady for the group read, maybe I will get around to it in 2014 as well.

Oh and I forgot I thought Lolita was very well written even though the subject matter was icky.

Dec 24, 2013, 7:01pm Top

Merry Christmas! I hope Santa brings you some good books for next year's reading!

Dec 24, 2013, 7:59pm Top

Season's greetings to you too! Glad to hear Sherlock is popular in your household. Re Castle, my mum watches it and has reached the point where she can predict the dialogue!

Edited: Dec 25, 2013, 2:01pm Top

Thank you all. We're having an interesting holiday here with my son coming down with a stomach bug (now with extra vomit!) a few days ago and the rest of us falling like dominos, one a day after the other. I succumbed late last night. Only one person to go, although we're hoping it skips my daughter since friends arrive tomorrow and we start an ambitious travel schedule. We don't want them to get sick!

Other than that, it's been lovely. I got some fantastic books -- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng and Piercing Time: Paris after Marville and Atget 1865-2012 by Peter Sramek -- no idea why the touchstone doesn't work for that one. It's a gorgeous collection of before and after photos of Paris, in 1865 (before and as Hausmann was creating the grand boulevards) in 1909 and in 2011.

This bug is the worst, but I'm feeling up to reading so I think that's what I'll do. Happy Holidays everyone!

Dec 25, 2013, 7:26am Top

Merry Christmas Kay! Funny to read about your Christmas books when we're still sitting having coffee before we begin. Hope you're feeling better soon so you can enjoy your traveling.

Dec 25, 2013, 8:05am Top

I'm so sorry to hear about your unwanted "gift". One of my worst childhood Christmases was the year we passed around a tummy bug at Christmas. I had it first so I was over it by Christmas day. My brother, who was probably about 4 or 5, got it on Christmas Eve and he went long enough without being able to keep anything down that my parents had to take him to the ER on Christmas Day because he was dehydrated. It kind of ruined everyone's Christmas but his. He thought it was exciting-- at least, after the fact.

Dec 25, 2013, 8:54am Top

It all adds to the memories, right? No photos were taken this year, for obvious reasons.

Dec 25, 2013, 6:09pm Top

Here's wishes for everyone to be 100% by New Years!

Dec 25, 2013, 6:50pm Top

It's really a shame that illnesses pay visits during the holidays. Hope you feel better soon.

Dec 26, 2013, 5:22am Top

Thanks, hailelib. We are on the mend. I'm feeling fine now, just delicate. With friends arriving from Greenville, SC today, I've tidied up and am taking a short break before they arrive and we go out to show them Munich. And then on to Prague tomorrow. So we'd better all be 100%!

Lori, on the bright side, no one missed school or work and I didn't have to try and get the kids ready for school while ill. Christmas on the sofa wasn't terrible, although the kids were disappointed I wouldn't try the tea they'd bought for me, or the marinated artichokes.

Edited: Dec 26, 2013, 7:51am Top

Have fun visiting with your friends.

Dec 26, 2013, 8:47pm Top

Sorry to hear about the unexpected visitor in the form of stomach flu(?). Here is hoping that the worst is over an the visitors were unaffected over hte holidays.

Dec 27, 2013, 11:37pm Top

Merry Christmas, RG, and I hope you and your family are well now!

Dec 29, 2013, 7:52pm Top

Sorry to hear about your illness, but glad to see you got some terrific new books to read. I'm about a quarter of the way through The Goldfinch and it's a really compelling read so far.

Jan 1, 2014, 4:59am Top

Happy New Year, everyone! I'm moving the conversation over to here:


I'm looking forward to another great reading year! See you over in the 2014 Category Challenge.

Jan 2, 2014, 9:54am Top

Happy New Year to you too! See you in the 2014 CC!

Group: 2013 Category Challenge

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