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Laytonwoman sticks her nose in a book, and another book, and another...

75 Books Challenge for 2015

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Edited: Jan 3, 2016, 2:31pm Top

"When I can’t end a story, I usually find that I’ve actually written past the ending. The trick of course is to go back and decide where the last line hits." Louise Erdrich

Last year I topped my threads with photos of some of my favorite authors at work and at play. After trying to come up with a "theme" for this year's toppers, I decided not to mess with what works. To begin, I have picked one of the American Author Challenge authors, Louise Erdrich, who we will read in April.

For those who do not know me yet, I am Linda, born 63 years ago this month, during a snow storm that people still talk about in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I have worked for a mid-sized lawfirm since 1976, and these days look forward to retirement in a couple years. My husband (flamingrabbit) has been retired for nearly 3 years already, and he is now the self-styled "house serf". We have one daughter, lycomayflower, who lives in Virginia. As she has pointed out on her thread, we tend to banter a bit here on LT, as we do in RL, and it sometimes amuses people. It amuses us too. I don't remember not being able to read, and losing that ability is the stuff of nightmares for me. My reading tastes are fairly broad, although I proudly proclaim a deep love and affinity for American literature above all others, and I tend to need superior recommendations and encouragement to read anything that smacks of fantasy, science fiction or horror.

2015 will be my 7th year keeping track of my reading with the 75'ers. Before that I logged my reading in the 50 Book Challenge for 2007 and 2008. I didn't know my own strength! I finished 100 books in 2014, a new high for me.

Here is my end-of-the-year sum-up of my 2014 reading.

Challenges Completed
msf59 Mark’s American Authors’ Challenge
I only left out one author, Philip Roth, and that was because I felt I had already read as much of his stuff as I care to. I read something by each of the other 11 authors chosen for the challenge: Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, and Larry Watson.

I also completed a sort of a challenge I set for myself to listen to all 7 Harry Potter novels on audio.

I resolved to read at least 35 books off my own shelves in 2014, and I did that. I also resolved to clear some books from the shelves that I won’t read again (or ever), and I had some success with that as well, although I did not keep a strict count. I know I hauled at least 3 heavy boxes off to the library for its sales.

I discovered a handful of new authors who I look forward to visiting with again and again: Susan Hill, Wiley Cash, Kent Haruf, Charles Todd, Ruth Rendell, Christopher Fowler.

Top Five Fiction reads (Not necessarily in order of wonderfulness)

The Crocodile Bird
Go Tell it on the Mountain
My Antonia

Best non-fiction read
Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America by Jay Parini

(I did not read nearly enough non-fiction in 2014.)


Total Books Read: 100
Female authors: 46
Male Authors: 51
Combinations: 3

Author nationalities (counting each author only once, even if I read more than one of that author's works this year, meaning the total won't come up to 100)

American 49
British 14
Canadian 1
Australian 1
French 1
Irish 3
Welsh 1
Romanian 1
Italian 1

Books read in translation: 3 (1 French, 1 Italian, 1 Irish)

Fiction: 78
Non-Fiction 15
Other/Combinations: 7

Books of poetry read: 2, but I’d like to count A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Under Milk Wood as well, because they are as near as it is possible to get to poetry while being technically classified as something else.

Graphic Novels read: 2

Audio Books completed: 10

Early Review Copies
Won: 6
Rec'd: 5
Read: 4
Reviewed: 3

You can visit my 2014 threads if you like, by starting here, and following the links backward to the beginning.

Edited: Nov 7, 2017, 1:19pm Top

EDIT 11-7-17 Tickers removed due to McAfee warning about TickerFactory.com

Edited: Nov 21, 2016, 12:57pm Top

In this post I'll keep a list of the books I finish sorted by months, with the most recent on top. The titles on this list will link to the post below where I review or at least comment on each particular book.
* Indicates a book borrowed from the public library.
LOA means I read this selection from a Library of America edition
ROOT means it qualifies for the count on the second ticker in No. 2 above, that is, it's from my own shelves, and has been waiting to be read for over a year.

MARCH Mystery March, DuMaurier for the BAC, and possibly Richard Ford for the AAC

25. The Secret Place by Tana French
24. Canada by Richard Ford
23. The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler LOA
22. The Upstairs Wife by Rafia Zakaria ER
*21. Wings of Fire by Charles Todd
20. The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy

FEBRUARY Short month=short books

DNF Pepper, Silk & Ivory by Marvin Tokayer ER
19. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh Audio & print, BAC, ROOT
18. Bayou Suzette by Lois Lenski
*17. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
16. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters OK, not so short, but a fast read just the same. For the BAC, ROOT
15. The Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett
14. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri ROOT
13. The Aspern Papers by Henry James LOA, for the AAC, ROOT
*12. A Little yellow Dog by Walter Mosley


11. Life & Death on the Loxahatchee by James Snyder ROOT
10. Negotiating With the Dead by Margaret Atwood ROOT
*9 Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke
*8. The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively for the BAC
*7. If You Ask Me by Betty White Audio
6. The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
*5. Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
4. A Commonplace Book of Pie by Kate Lebo
3. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers LOA, for the AAC, ROOT
2. Practise to Deceive by Frances & Richard Lockridge
1. Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island by Will Harlan

Edited: Apr 2, 2015, 2:48pm Top

2014 marked the first annual American Authors Challenge, hosted by our favorite mail carrier, Mark, msf59. We all had such a good time with it that he agreed to do it again, and chose the following authors, with some input from participants, for 2015. I have begun to fill in my probable reads for each author, from my own shelves. This is tentative and incomplete at the moment. I have unlimited choices for Henry James and Flannery O'Connor, as I own the Library of America collections of their works, so I will choose based on my inclinations when the time comes.

January Carson McCullers -- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter finished 1-15-15

February Henry James --The Aspern Papers finished 2-7-15

March Richard Ford -- Canada finished 3-21-15

April Louise Erdrich -- The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

May Sinclair Lewis -- Dodsworth?

June Wallace Stegner -- Angle of Repose

July Ursula K. Le Guin

August Larry McMurtry

Sept. Flannery O' Connor

October Ray Bradbury

November Barbara Kingsolver -- Flight Behavior

December E.L. Doctorow -- City of God?

Edited: Apr 2, 2015, 2:56pm Top

PaulCranswick will be hosting a British Authors Challenge in 2015, which I won't commit to entirely, but I will be following along to see what's going on, and will dip in and out as the spirit moves me. I'm not about the total planning thing, especially when it comes to reading. He has picked some interesting authors, though, and I'll keep track here for my own ease of reference.
(You'll note there is one male and one female author for each month.)

January : Penelope Lively & Kazuo Ishiguro
February : Sarah Waters & Evelyn Waugh
March : Daphne Du Maurier & China Mieville
April : Angela Carter & W. Somerset Maugham
May : Margaret Drabble & Martin Amis
June : Beryl Bainbridge & Anthony Burgess
July: Virginia Woolf and B. S. Johnson
August: Iris Murdoch and Graham Greene
September: Andrea Levy and Salman Rushdie
October: Helen Dunmore and David Mitchell
November: Muriel Spark and William Boyd
December Hilary Mantel and P. G. Wodehouse

I've gone so far as to make a list of what books by the selected authors I already have in my library and unread. It's not quite as many as I had thought, but with the American Authors Challenge also on my plate, I will pick from the books on hand, and participate as far as that allows. So my potential choices look like this:

Penelope Lively -- Read The Ghost of Thomas Kempe
Sarah Waters -- The Little Stranger finished 02-16-15
Evelyn Waugh -- Brideshead Revisited Listened to the audio version narrated by Jeremy Irons in conjunction with some print reading. Finished 2-26-15
Daphne duMaurier -- Julius currently reading
Somerset Maugham -- Of Human Bondage
Beryl Bainbridge -- Watson's Apology or short fiction from Mum and Mr. Armitage
Virginia Woolf -- Three Guineas, A Room of One's Own, or Mrs. Dalloway
Iris Murdoch -- The Green Knight, The Red and the Green, Acastos, Under the Net, The Book and the Brotherhood
Graham Greene-- This Gun For Hire, The Ministry of Fear, The Confidential Agent
Salman Rushdie-- Midnight's Children
Helen Dunmore -- A Spell of Winter
David Mitchell -- Cloud Atlas (The copy I have is my daughter's, and circumstances may take it out of my possession, or I may decide to read it sooner than October 2015)
Muriel Spark -- The Mandelbaum Gate, Symposium or Territorial Rights
Hilary Mantel An Experiment in Love or, I hope The Mirror and the Light, which I will buy, if available in time, and make an exception to the "off the shelf" nature of my reading for this challenge.
P. G. Wodehouse -- Oh, my, the choices here: Meet Mr. Mulliner, Joy in the Morning, The Clicking of Cuthbert, or The Brinkmanship of Galahad Threepwood, Lord Emsworth and Others

EDIT: Well, the latest word from the author herself is, it could be another 18 months or more before The Mirror and the Light sees the light. *sigh*

Edited: Apr 2, 2015, 8:20am Top

Reserved for new acquisitions. (This one scares me...I haven't kept track this way before.)

Books Acquired in March
The Secret Place by Tana French

Books Acquired in February

1. Death's Half Acre by Margaret Maron
2. The Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett
3. Bayou Suzette by Lois Lenski
4. Judy's Journey by Lois Lenski
5. The Upstairs Wife by Rafia Zakaria (An ER book)
6. The Essential Tales of Chekhov Edited by Richard Ford
7. Winter's Child by Margaret Maron
8. Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery
9. Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth by Richard Fortey
10. Hard Row by Margaret Maron
11.- 14. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings leather-bound boxed set
15. Burning Bright by Ron Rash (e-book)
16. The Town by William Faulkner First UK edition, because I NEEDED another copy of this novel!
17. The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy
18. Dreams of My Russian Summers by Andrei Makine
19. In the Salt Marsh by Nancy Willard (poetry)
20. A Bit on the Side by William Trevor
21. My Old Sweetheart by Susanna Moore

Books Acquired in January

1. The Christmas Carol Murders by Christopher Lord
2. Fear and What Follows by Tim Parrish
3. Children of the Dark House by Noel Polk
4. The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case by Michael A. Ross
5. Rituals of the Season by Margaret Maron from PBS
6. A Commonplace Book of Pie by Kate Lebo

Dec 26, 2014, 10:38pm Top

Welcome back!

Dec 27, 2014, 12:58am Top

>6 laytonwoman3rd: I kept track of acquisitions for the first time in 2014. The scary part is that the books coming in exceed the books being read by a hefty margin. Not sure how to fix that other than to buy less books (like that is going to happen)! Oh well, I wouldn't want to run out of reading material.

Dec 27, 2014, 5:09am Top

Nice to see you back again for 2015, Linda.

Dec 27, 2014, 8:21am Top

*waves at Linda*

Dec 27, 2014, 11:11am Top

Happy 2015, Linda!

Dec 27, 2014, 1:00pm Top

I promise to come out of lurking mode this year, Linda. I enjoy the types of books you read and your comments on them. A Happy New Year of Reading to you!

Dec 27, 2014, 7:11pm Top

Starred for 2015! Looking forward to another year of fascinating Linda recommendations!

Dec 27, 2014, 7:16pm Top

Visitors already! So glad to see you all here. It's so exciting to begin fresh, isn't it?

Dec 28, 2014, 8:06pm Top

Hi Linda! I know what you mean. I love the fresh start of a new year! I look forward to seeing what you read in 2015!

Dec 28, 2014, 8:17pm Top

Hi Linda! I'm excited about the new year and the new reading challenges for 2015!
Starring your thread so I can follow along.....

Dec 28, 2014, 9:34pm Top

Adding my star, Linda. I've had some great additions to my reading thanks to you. May the bullets fly!

Dec 28, 2014, 10:24pm Top

Hi Linda - I've been lurking on and off, but am dropping a star here so I can find my way back and be a more regular visitor. Happy new year!

Dec 29, 2014, 8:31am Top

All you lurkers, speak up this year! I love visitors, and you don't need to cringe behind the door like Boo Radley.

Dec 29, 2014, 12:00pm Top

Hi Linda - impressive plan for the year. Good luck.

Dec 29, 2014, 12:02pm Top

Hi Linda :-) You've got some good plans for the year.

Dec 29, 2014, 8:16pm Top

>19 laytonwoman3rd: Yes, ma'am! *salutes*

Dec 30, 2014, 3:44am Top

Hi Linda - starred you for 2015!

Dec 31, 2014, 10:35am Top

Happy New Year, Linda!

Dec 31, 2014, 11:11pm Top


Happy New Year from your friend in Kuala Lumpur

Jan 1, 2015, 9:45am Top

Happy New Year, Linda.

Jan 1, 2015, 9:48am Top

Happy New Year, Linda! A lurker de-lurks.

Looks like you've got some great reads ahead of you this year.

Jan 1, 2015, 1:10pm Top

>5 laytonwoman3rd: I haven't read all of Sarah Waters, but of the two you have my pick would be The Night Watch, personally I hold all other of her books to that standard. And London itself is a leading character.

Jan 1, 2015, 3:46pm Top

Happy New Year, Linda!

Jan 1, 2015, 5:07pm Top

Happy New Year, Linda!

Jan 1, 2015, 6:02pm Top

Wishing you all the best in 2015, Linda!

Jan 2, 2015, 11:47am Top

Thanks for visiting my Club Read thread, Linda. I have your thread starred as well.

Jan 3, 2015, 6:47pm Top

Hi Linda, I'm dropping a star.

Jan 3, 2015, 8:54pm Top

Happy New Year Linda!

Jan 4, 2015, 2:30pm Top

*Starred!* Happy New Year!

Edited: Jan 6, 2015, 9:02am Top

Welcome, welcome, all you nice people! And thank you for the good wishes. AND, I've finished my first book of the year. But I lost the entire review I just spent twenty minutes composing. *unprintable explosive verbiage*

Edited: Feb 5, 2015, 3:12pm Top

1. Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island by Will Harlan
A fascinating and troubling read, chronicling the life of Carol Ruckdeschel, a primarily self-taught biologist and naturalist who has spent over 40 years living quite primitively on Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia, while attempting to preserve the wilderness ecology in general, and the highly endangered sea turtle in particular, on this largest and most biologically diverse barrier island in the United States.
The author, a sometime volunteer ranger with the National Park Service, spent a good part of 2 decades following Carol around her island--observing her as she performed necropsies on hundreds of dead turtles that washed up on its shores; interviewing her and many of her adversaries who included National Park Service directors, local residents from Carnegie descendants to shrimpers, and even members of her own family; reviewing her field notes, journals and research papers; and sharing evenings with Carol and her husband while sipping lethal “White Peggies” (a concoction of moonshine, grapefruit juice, triple sec and lime juice) on the porch of the cabin she rebuilt using driftwood and salvaged materials.
Thanks in part to Carol’s efforts before she settled on Cumberland Island, portions of two rivers in Georgia had received Wild and Scenic status, protecting the waterways and their shores and bluffs from pollution and development. She had a powerful friend and ally in Jimmy Carter, who as state senator and later governor joined her on rafting adventures on the Chattooga and Chattahoochee Rivers, and as President of the United States was a strong advocate for the environment. She has fought efforts by the NPS and the Carnegie family to bring more tourism, vehicular access and development to Cumberland Island, and was instrumental in bringing about the ultimate designation of a portion of the island as true wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964. She has made at least as many human enemies as friends, and has rarely yielded to the pressure of threats or circumstances. Even now, at the age of 72, after undergoing open heart surgery several years ago, she continues to live her mostly solitary life pursuing further knowledge and understanding of the ecosystem of Cumberland Island. Her dedication and accomplishments will undoubtedly earn her a place alongside Jane Goodall, Dian Fosssey, and Rachel Carson in the annals of nature research and preservation.

Harlan did an excellent job of presenting Ruckdeschel’s life in context of the scientific, historical, political and social realities within which she has carried out her crusade. The result is highly readable, if feeling at times a bit too much like a non-fiction novel in its detailed narration of unrecorded conversations, and events no one really witnessed or is likely to have remembered so clearly decades after the fact. Chronology also seemed to take second place to smooth narration, but I wasn’t even aware of that being the case until I sat down to try to compose a coherent summation of events for this review. Harlan is sometimes a little vague or possibly purposely obfuscatory about dates. (For example, Carol’s last husband, Bob Shoop, died in 2003. Although this is a significant event in her life, I had to find his obituary on-line to determine the date. In the book his death seems to have happened less than a year before Carol’s heart-related illness, which my calculations put somewhere around 2011, based on various references to her age.) It’s not an interfering factor while reading, certainly, but as documentation, it leaves something to be desired. The source of her financial freedom is another hazy subject; although she “didn’t need much”, as the author frequently tells us, living off the land, she obviously requires clothing, ammunition for the shotgun with which she dispatches feral hogs, gas for her decrepit Jeep and supplies for her photography and lab work. Where it has come from is scarcely addressed in this book. Another minor quibble is the failure of the copy-editing process; seldom have I encountered a published book with quite so many spelling errors, some of which would surely have been caught if the text had simply been subjected to a basic spell-checking program. Negativities aside, this is an interesting and important biographical work that should appeal to anyone with an interest in natural science, a concern for the health of our planet, or a simple need for a cracking good story. I found it hard to leave alone, and I’m sure it will be impossible to forget. 4 stars.

Jan 6, 2015, 12:27pm Top

>36 laytonwoman3rd: I hate that!!!! It just happened to me recently

Jan 6, 2015, 12:33pm Top

Dropping off my star- Happy to see your thread.

Jan 7, 2015, 7:26am Top

>37 laytonwoman3rd: Oh, no! That stinks that you lost a review. Now, I always do my thread responses in a notepad file. I've lost so many over the years, mostly from absentmindedly navigating away from the page or accidentally closing my browser. I usually do my reviews in a special Gmail account that I have, dedicated to book stuff. I use it like a journal.

Jan 7, 2015, 8:21am Top

>40 DorsVenabili: I'm pretty sure what happened with this one was I let my left wrist bump the "Windows" key on my keyboard, and it did me in. When I'm doing more than just rip out a couple sentences of comment, I almost always compose in the Word program.

Edited: Jan 8, 2015, 8:18am Top

If you're interested, I've finally posted my review of The Marauders by Tom Cooper, an ER book I finished last year. You can read it here. It was a good one, and it's on offer again in January from the ER program.

And I've re-created and embellished the lost review in >37 laytonwoman3rd: above.

Jan 7, 2015, 5:36pm Top

>37 laytonwoman3rd: and I gave you a thumbs up for an excellent effort!

Jan 7, 2015, 6:46pm Top

>37 laytonwoman3rd: Looks like a good one, despite the flaws.

I lost the entire review
Grrrrrr! I compose reviews in email, because it's simple and always in front of me. I'm in the habit of saving about every 5 seconds, which can get to be ridiculous with backup copies proliferating.

Jan 7, 2015, 7:38pm Top

Hi Linda! I think this is my first time over here! Happy New Thread. Looking forward to sharing another terrific reading year with you. Glad you are on board with the AAC again.
That is an excellent top 5 list! Lila made mine too!

Jan 8, 2015, 4:01am Top

Fabulous review of Untamed, Linda! You've certainly earned a thumb from me, especially since you had to rewrite your review.

After a couple of lost reviews due to page refreshes while typing on my iPad I've gotten into the habit of saving each paragraph in a file in Notes, which has kept me from losing reviews, or long messages, on multiple occasions.

Jan 8, 2015, 8:20am Top

Thanks, everyone. I won't lose another review for a while, I don't think. With this one, I found I had more to say than I realized, or I would have been working in my word processing program from the beginning.

Jan 8, 2015, 5:28pm Top

Great review of Untamed, Linda. On to the list it goes.

Jan 8, 2015, 8:21pm Top

Ah, Beth...do you need a bandage for that bullet wound?

Edited: Feb 5, 2015, 3:18pm Top

This meme goes around about once a year, and it's fun to play with. Using titles from your 2014 reading list, answer the following:

Describe yourself: The Pure in Heart

Describe how you feel: Twenty years A’Growing

Describe where you currently live: Rainbow Hill

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: A Land More Kind Than Home

Your favorite form of transportation: Parnassus on Wheels

Your best friend is: Jane Eyre

You and your friends are: Quilting

What’s the weather like: The Wake of the Wind

You fear: The Deathly Hallows

What is the best advice you have to give: Go Tell it on the Mountain

Thought for the day: Without You There is no Us

How I would like to die: In Pursuit of Spenser

My soul’s present condition: The Patience of the Spider

Edited: Jan 10, 2015, 6:53pm Top

2. Practise to Deceive by Frances and Richard Lockridge A Captain Heimrich mystery, with all the niftiness of the Hudson Valley setting, devious scheming murderers, and his burgeoning romance with Susan Faye, alternately aided and interfered with by the morose Great Dane, Colonel, who misses his boy terribly in this one (off to camp for the summer, don't you know). This is one of the Lockridges' best efforts, and although I'm quite sure I must have read it before (I've surely read them ALL more than once in the last 50 years), I didn't recall it at all.

Jan 10, 2015, 6:30pm Top

>51 laytonwoman3rd:. Sounds like yet another series to add to my ever growing list.

Jan 10, 2015, 6:31pm Top

Hi Linda - Francis and Richard Lockridge are a blast from the past. I know I read books by them years ago. Do they have other series, Heimrich doesn't sound familiar?

Edited: Jan 10, 2015, 8:12pm Top

>52 NanaCC: These are vintage mysteries, Colleen. They may be hard to come by these days. I discovered them in my public library when I was in junior high school, devoured all that they had, and have spent the rest of my reading life trying to accumulate every title, sometimes in multiple editions, and some in the magazines in which they were originally published. There are about 80 mysteries. After Frances died, Richard wrote by himself, including a couple non-fiction works. Then he married again, and he and his second wife wrote a book called One Lady, Two Cats. (He and Frances were cat fanciers; Hildy, however, had to be convinced to cozy up to the felines.)

>53 BLBera: You may remember the Mr. and Mrs. North series, Beth. There was a TV series based on those back in the 1950's, I think. I have some videotapes of it; it wasn't very good! The Norths had Siamese cats, who were always prominent characters in their stories. Their good friend William Weigand was a New York City homicide detective, and they were always conveniently finding bodies. There were also books featuring recurring characters, NYPD Detective Nathan Shapiro, DA Bernie Simmons, and some totally stand-alone titles. Heimrich is a NY State Police captain, later an Inspector.

Here's a link to my Lockridge Collection, which doesn't include my duplicates and paperback editions.

Jan 10, 2015, 8:24pm Top

Thanks Linda. I think I read some of the Mr. and Mrs. North series.

Jan 11, 2015, 9:12am Top

Oh, I remember the Lockridge mysteries, I had forgotten about them.

Great review of Untamed

Jan 11, 2015, 12:32pm Top

>37 laytonwoman3rd: Adding that one to the BlackHole. Thanks for the recommendation, Linda!

Jan 11, 2015, 10:15pm Top

>55 BLBera:, >56 sibyx:. I'm always happy to learn that other people know about the Lockridges. They are total comfort reads for me.

>57 alcottacre: Hey, there, Stasia! I'm glad you have time for a visit.

Edited: Feb 2, 2015, 12:23pm Top

3. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers For January AAC
This is a novel full of lonely people, missed chances, broken dreams and bitter ends. Yet the author keeps us all at arm's length from her characters, who are very well drawn, but who do not draw us into their lives. This detachment is essential, because otherwise the sadness would be awfully hard to take. I believe we are meant to engage our minds, as the characters themselves do so extensively, to assess what's happening in their lives, without getting emotionally involved. This means, of course, as so many readers have pointed out, that it is difficult to "like" or "care about" any of the characters. As each of the main characters is isolated from society, we find ourselves isolated from them. John Singer is deaf, and communicates minimally with those around him. Mick Kelly is an adolescent who closely guards her inner life, and engages only as necessary with the outside world. Biff Brannon is utterly conflicted and confused, unable to connect with his wife, or himself. Jake Blount is lost, unstable, frequently drunk, convinced that Marxism is "the answer", but unable to apply that conviction even to bring about a coherent dialog with another like-minded individual. Even Dr. Copeland, who devotes his life to selflessly providing medical care for his people, fails to love and connect with his own children. Something about this reading experience reminds me of the way I felt when reading Russian novels for the first time in my teenage years--fascinated in a Spock-like, almost clinical way by the lives I did not recognize or sympathize with. Now, my human half wants to chide them out of their existential funk by urging them to look around at the beauty that's out there...to love something regardless of whether you get loved in return...to make life happen instead of waiting for it to happen to you. So, no...I did not have a lot of sympathy for McCullers' characters, although I will admit to a hope that Mick Kelly persists in her dreams, clings to her music, and never lets herself lose access to that "inner room". I was entranced with the wonderful writing, the fugue-like structure of the novel, and the not-quite fulfilled promise of genius.

Edited: Jan 15, 2015, 9:21am Top

4. A Commonplace Book of Pie by Kate Lebo I'm a fan of pie for breakfast, and I read this entire little book of poetic reflections on pie before breakfast this morning. What a treat! It's one of the beautiful little editions put out by the Chin Music Press, and has exquisite illustrations by Jessica Lynn Bonin facing every page of text. It also has extremely practical advice on pie-baking from an expert. And recipes. Buy it. It will do you and the world good.

Jan 15, 2015, 10:12am Top

>59 laytonwoman3rd: I'll be back to read your thoughts on The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I've had this one sitting on my shelf for years, and not sure why I haven't read it.

Jan 15, 2015, 10:19am Top

I agree that pie for breakfast is one of the best things about life, really. Love the look of that book, too.

Jan 15, 2015, 10:25am Top

>62 scaifea: If you bake pie, or eat it, you owe it to yourself to have your own copy. Chin Music Press I just realized I read and reviewed the book before I even added it to my catalog!

Jan 15, 2015, 10:34am Top

>63 laytonwoman3rd: I love baking pies - consider it added to the wishlist!

Edited: Jan 16, 2015, 1:30pm Top

5. Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski A favorite author from my childhood, revisited because someone here was reading her (Belva rainpebble). My library doesn't have many of her books, and the one I borrowed has seen better days, but it was a joy to read it again, and to discover how very good Lenski was. Two "Cracker" families in Florida struggle with poverty, in very different ways. One with industry and good nature, the other with attitude and alcohol. Well, it's a children's story, so the good wins in the end, and that part is a little too pat, but the story is a good one, and the characters are fuller and more interesting than I expected. There are a couple other titles I remember that I will try to find and re-read. This one won a Newbery.

Jan 16, 2015, 10:29am Top

I have a couple of the Lockridge mysteries on the shelves; I'm almost afraid to read them, lest their remembered spell be broken. I have the book about his second wife as well.

Must read the Lenski book! I love stories about old-time Florida.

Jan 16, 2015, 3:56pm Top

>65 laytonwoman3rd: - Oh, I loved that book as a child. I had totally forgotten about it, but the title rang a bell, so I clicked on the touchstone. That's exactly the edition I had and remember it so clearly!

Jan 16, 2015, 5:09pm Top

>59 laytonwoman3rd: I just finished up Heart after stretching it out over 2 weeks. I should write a short review also, although I doubt I have any great thoughts on such a classic.

Edited: Jan 16, 2015, 5:12pm Top

>66 bohemima:, >67 katiekrug: it does give me pause to re-visit old favorites. Although with the Lockridges, I've never stopped reading them...so I know I'm not in for any nasty shocks. Only one of them ever really disappointed me, and that was Encounter in Key West. I'm not as keen on the ones Richard wrote alone, as those they wrote as team, though.

Jan 16, 2015, 5:23pm Top

>68 RBeffa: It's always hard to address the classics. I hope I can come up with a thought or two worth sharing over the weekend.

Jan 17, 2015, 2:48pm Top

>69 laytonwoman3rd: - I can understand that. I tried to re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn last year, and it just didn't work for me. I ended up not finishing it and deciding to just remember liking it when I was 11 or so!

Jan 19, 2015, 9:21pm Top

6. The Cutting Season by Attica Locke A suspenseful tale of murder old and new on a restored Louisiana plantation. The protagonist, Caren Gray, is general manager and event co-ordinator for Belle Vie, a combination museum/historical site/event venue where her ancestors have served for generations, going back to a man named Jason, who was a slave there at the time of the Emancipation. Modern agribusiness has its eye on Belle Vie, and its future is uncertain. Caren's past is a bit messy, and her future is none too clear either. When an undocumented migrant worker from the adjoining cane fields is found dead just over the fence line on Belle Vie property, life becomes even more complicated for the whole plantation "family". There are just a few too many story lines going on here, the most interesting of which, in my opinion, was given short shrift. But the setting was fascinating, and the pages seemed to turn themselves. A solid three star read that could have been a 4+, if the story had been either tightened up as a pure murder mystery, or expanded to develop the 19th century elements into a true historical novel.

Edited: Jan 20, 2015, 12:50pm Top

7. If You Ask Me by Betty White Audio I really only borrowed this from the library to test my new Kindle Fire as an audiobook listening device. I figured it would be the kind of thing I wouldn't mind having to fuss around with until I got the hang of the equipment, etc. Nothing deep, complicated, engrossing. I was right. It's divided into very short chapters, each of which stands alone very well. I love Betty White, and she delivered this reading like the pro she is. It's very lightweight stuff; some of it is funny, some of it is touching. She made me choke up twice, damn her sneaky little 89-year-old hide. (Well, she's 93 now, but she wrote this back in her younger days.) If you like Betty too, she's good company on the commute.

Jan 20, 2015, 12:51pm Top

Love Betty. I should check to see if my library has it on audio...

Jan 20, 2015, 1:26pm Top

>73 laytonwoman3rd:. How does it work, Linda? I didn't think of that as an audio device. How is the sound?

Jan 20, 2015, 1:57pm Top

>72 laytonwoman3rd: That does seem promising, yet problematic. You had me until you pointed out the flaws. :-( It sounds too complicated for an audiobook, which is how I like to consume my mysteries.

Jan 20, 2015, 1:59pm Top

Well, it's fine if you're just sitting in your living room listening to it, Colleen. The sound is OK. But I don't do that---I only listen in the car, and for that purpose, it was useless. It just doesn't have enough volume to overcome the road noise, etc. So it took some tweaking, but luckily I have an in-house tekkie. We tried connecting the Kindle to the car's audio system directly, but again, not enough oomph; I still couldn't crank up enough volume to listen comfortably. We tried ear buds--unsatisfactory and awkward, and as my daughter pointed out, illegal in PA while driving. Bluetooth might have worked, but my car isn't equipped. The solution has been a tiny FM transmitter, which plugs into the audio output of the kindle and transmits on an unused frequency to the car radio. Both devices fit quite nicely into the center console of my Subaru, and I can adjust the volume with the radio controls. Tough to do any bookmarking, etc. while driving, but otherwise, this is workable for me. The same frequency might not work well on long-distance drives, of course, but I'm doing most of my traveling within a 50-60 mile radius, and so far it's been fine. I wanted this to broaden my borrowing options, as I've sort of depleted my library's stock of books on CD; now I can download, and there are more choices.

Jan 20, 2015, 2:01pm Top

>76 DorsVenabili: I'm not sure it wouldn't have worked just as well on audio, Kerri. It wasn't complicated to follow, exactly; I just think the author hadn't quite decided what story she most wanted to tell.

Jan 20, 2015, 2:06pm Top

>78 laytonwoman3rd: Got it. Sort of like Lost then. :-)

Jan 20, 2015, 2:11pm Top

My car wasn't equipped with anything that I could plug my iPod into, but I went to an audio place that installed a connector that goes through the radio like yours on an unused station. I've been able to use it all the way up to Maine with little interference unless there is a college station with a pretty wide range. There is about a 15 mile stretch where Rt 95 meets Rt 93 in Massachusetts where the interference is so bad I have to turn it off, but I've been pretty lucky otherwise.

I don't have any bookmarking capability on my iPod, but it always knows where to start, and I do know how to go back if I want to re listen to something. That is really just a guessing game though.

Edited: Jan 22, 2015, 7:30am Top

8. The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively This is a "juvenile" title I borrowed from the library to satisfy the January British Authors Challenge. I have some Lively books...somewhere. Couldn't find them, and I'd heard something good around here about this story. A young boy has a little trouble with a poltergeist. Of course, no one else in his family believes in ghosts, and he is the prime suspect when the crockery gets broken, or when odd things get painted on fences in the neighborhood. But when fire breaks out in an elderly neighbor's house, something has to give. This is well-written and engaging; I enjoyed it until it just sort of petered out at the end. I guess I won't spend the $$ to own the Folio Society edition they've been tempting me with. It did make me want to read more of Penelope Lively's work. Perhaps I have my own ghost that's hiding her books from me somewhere in my house?

Jan 23, 2015, 6:40pm Top

Hi Linda - Have you read Black Water Rising? I've heard good things about that but am wondering now that I read your comments about her other novel.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe sounds fun -- what age group would you say?

Jan 23, 2015, 6:42pm Top

Happy Friday, Linda! It looks like another Lively, that sounds interesting. Funny, a couple months ago, I had never heard of her.

Hope all is well and you have a nice weekend planned.

Jan 23, 2015, 6:53pm Top

>82 BLBera: It was indeed fun. My only quibble was a sort of "meh" ending. I'd say readers 8 to 12 (I realize that's a big range, but so much depends on the individual child's reading level and taste). I have not read Black Water Rising, but I might, one day.

Jan 24, 2015, 8:30am Top

I liked Black Water Rising, it was not only a thriller, but had a lot to say about racial experience I thought.

Jan 24, 2015, 10:18am Top

I agree Caroline, it was pretty good.

Jan 24, 2015, 6:11pm Top

I liked Black Water Rising too. It is a much more conventional (not in the negative sense of that word) mystery novel. I picked up The Cutting Season thinking that it was the second of a series featuring the same characters as Black Water Rising, but the two books are entirely stand alone. I agree with your assessment of the shortcomings of The Cutting Season, and liked it less than Black Water Rising.

Edited: Jan 24, 2015, 6:34pm Top

Well, that's three votes for Black Water Rising... Deborah, your comments make me think I will definitely want to read it.. And very nice to see you here!

Jan 26, 2015, 5:36pm Top

Whew. I've caught up! I liked your reviews, especially the one about 'Untamed'.

Jan 28, 2015, 9:24pm Top

Hi, Judy! Untamed: America's Wildest Woman and the Fight for Cumberland Island was a very interesting read (and a very difficult touchstone to call up!).

Jan 29, 2015, 9:22pm Top

Rod McKuen has left us today. :(

Jan 29, 2015, 10:01pm Top

>91 RBeffa: Oh...no. I hadn't heard that. Another piece of my youth gone.

Jan 30, 2015, 6:58pm Top

Mine too.

Jan 31, 2015, 8:47pm Top

9. Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke comments to follow.

Edited: Feb 1, 2015, 12:54pm Top

10. Negotiating With the Dead by Margaret Atwood I started this book before, and had trouble getting into it. All I can say about that is, the timing must have been wrong. I loved every word of it this time. Margaret Atwood writes about writing. How could it NOT be wonderful? (The only Atwood novel I have read---or even been tempted to read---is Alias Grace. I admired it, enjoyed it, and wished the subject matter of Atwood's other fiction was more to my taste, because her writing was exquisite.) This book grew out of a series of lectures Ms. Atwood gave at Cambridge in 2000. There were six lectures, so there are six chapters in the book, each dealing with a different aspect of the writerly existence. Roughly translated and conflated a bit, the topics are "what is a writer, anyway?", "the duplicity of being a writer", "who or what are you writing for", and "the writer's quest for immortality". Or, as Atwood says, with a wit that delighted me throughout the book, "Perhaps I have reached the age at which those who have been through the wash-and-spin cycle a few times become seized by the notion that their own experience in the suds maybe relevant to others." Despite her disclaimer that she is "not a scholar or a literary theoretician", she knows an awful lot, and dispenses a good bit of that knowledge in Negotiating With the Dead, in a manner both enlightening and entertaining. I expect I will return again and again to this collection, and that I will, notwithstanding my general aversion to dystopian fiction, read another Atwood novel before too long.

Edited: Feb 1, 2015, 1:34pm Top

11. Life & Death on the Loxahatchee by James D. Snyder This was a short and fairly engaging read about the life of a man known as "Trapper" Nelson, who lived a semi-solitary life in a wilderness setting along the Loxahatchee river in Southeast Florida from the middle of the Great Depression until his death in 1968. For much of that time, he operated what he called a Zoo and Jungle Garden which attracted day-trippers and even some campers to rent the few guest cabins and rowboats he had to offer. He played the role of a latter-day Tarzan for the benefit of his customers, but in fact he was a fairly shrewd business man who watched the tax sales, amassed hundreds of acres of property, and left an estate worth nearly 1 1/2 million dollars when he died of a shotgun blast on his own beach. The author tries to make a mystery of his death, and apparently it has been the subject of speculation by area residents, friends and family members, but the evidence is pretty clear that it was a suicide. Some questions do arise, but there just isn't any real or circumstantial evidence for any other explanation. I wouldn't call it "mysterious", and neither did the officials who conducted his inquest. For a journalist, this author has some peculiar writing style issues, like his habit of beginning sentences with the verb, and a tendency to erratic spelling (which, of course, some editor should have dealt with). I much preferred Untamed, and would rate this one a bare 3 stars.

Feb 1, 2015, 11:15am Top

>81 laytonwoman3rd: - Too bad this fizzled out. I've considered purchasing some of her children's books for my great-niece and great-nephews, because I just think it would be cool to give them Penelope Lively books. I think I read a review of another one recently, but can't remember the title.

>95 laytonwoman3rd: Looking forward to your comments on this one...

Edited: Feb 1, 2015, 12:54pm Top

>97 DorsVenabili: The story is fun, and I think kids would enjoy it---I probably analyze too much, you know?

And...>95 laytonwoman3rd: here you go.

Edited: Feb 2, 2015, 9:55am Top

>95 laytonwoman3rd: Great summation of Negotiating the Dead, and glad you enjoyed it Linda. I remember gobbling it up when it was first published and wishing it were longer. I've just ordered her latest 'On Writers and Writing' (no touchstone at the minute).

Feb 1, 2015, 2:40pm Top

I've never read Atwood, although I do have a couple of her books on the TBR pile. I know I'll get to her some day. I keep thinking The Blind Assassin is where I should start.

Feb 1, 2015, 4:52pm Top

>100 NanaCC: Colleen, personally I would recommend starting with The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace. Both are classic Atwoods, and demonstrate her two very different styles (the first is dystopian, the second is historical fiction). If you get on well with those two and like dystopian and/or sci-fi, then The Blind Assassin would be a good next choice. Or Oryx and Crake, which is the first in a trilogy ...

Feb 1, 2015, 6:00pm Top

>101 lauralkeet:. Thank you, Laura. Chris has both The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace. I'll ask to borrow them. If I were to pick just one of those, I would probably go for Alias Grace, as I like historical fiction better than dystopian.

Feb 2, 2015, 10:51am Top

>95 laytonwoman3rd: Oops, I'd better put that on my writers-on-writing list. thanks

Feb 2, 2015, 6:51pm Top

Hi Linda - Nice comments. Negotiating with the Dead sounds wonderful. I just realized I have the ebook Black Water Rising, so I'm going to check that out.

Edited: Feb 3, 2015, 12:12pm Top

Hi, Linda! Some very interesting reading here. I may take a BB or two away from here . . . The The Cutting Season sounds interesting. I have her Black Water Rising on my list already.

Feb 5, 2015, 2:50pm Top

12. A Little Yellow Dog by Walter Mosley Easy Rawlins has a steady job as supervisor of maintenance at Sojourner Truth Junior High School in LA. His adopted kids are doing well, and he'd like to keep living his ordinary life. Unfortunately, an unguarded moment with a needy woman promises to dump him right back into the streets, where he needs all his smarts to survive. I love Mosley's writing, as always, but there are a few too many peripheral characters to keep track of here, and the plot takes a little too long to develop. Still, good stuff to escape into; always fun to watch Easy work. Easy may have found a good woman this time, but he may also have lost his best friend Mouse, for which he will blame himself. But Mosley leaves us hanging in suspense on both those points at the end of the book.

Feb 5, 2015, 3:29pm Top

Linda, You've reminded me that I need to try Walter Mosley again. I tend to like most of your recommendations, so I am assuming that my choice last year of The Man in My Basement was a bad first pick.

Feb 5, 2015, 3:44pm Top

>107 NanaCC: I thought I had that one, Colleen, but it isn't in my catalog, and I know I haven't read it. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is a great stand-alone Mosley, and it's one of the best of his that I've read.

Feb 5, 2015, 4:16pm Top

>108 laytonwoman3rd:. You may be remembering my less than lukewarm review of it from last year. I added The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey to my wishlist after that based upon your suggestion to keep trying. I just have to follow through, and I know that the Easy Rawlins series has a great reputation as well.

Feb 7, 2015, 3:31pm Top

13. The Aspern Papers by Henry James For the AAC. This novella length story is pret'near perfect in its composition. A scholar working on the definitive study of a poet named Jeffrey Aspern travels to Venice, where he hopes to persuade Aspern's one-time lover, an elderly recluse, to grant him the use of letters and other papers pertaining to the poet, which are presumed to be in her possession. Previous attempts by others to gain access to the woman have failed, requests for the papers have been met with silence, or with complete denial of their existence by her niece and companion. Our scholar has infinite patience, and hopes to join the Misses Bordereau's household as a boarder, thereby eventually earning their trust, their confidence, and their permission to use or even take control of "the papers". James's prose is dense with words, although not in an obscure way. His descriptions of Venice are delightful, conveying both its deteriorating beauty and its formidable drawbacks (the BUGS!! the HEAT!! the SMELL!!). I anticipated each of several plot developments shortly before they were revealed...I'm not sure whether that was because they were just obvious in general, or whether James set them up so well that they felt inevitable...I'm not inclined to think about that very much. It worked, for me. I have yet to try a longer James work (if you don't count the abortive attempt to read The Ambassadors for an American literature course decades ago). I'm hoping that having positive experiences with a few of his shorter tales will prime me to appreciate more.

Feb 8, 2015, 4:07am Top

I really think that I should have followed suit with The Aspern Papers, Linda. What Maisie Knew would appear to be how to be verbose! Hopefully it will improve for me.

Have a lovely Sunday.

Feb 8, 2015, 12:17pm Top

>111 PaulCranswick: *snork*, as Amber would say! He is a wordy son of a gun, that's for sure. The Henry James Volumes in the Library of America take up a whole shelf in my library, and I have some of them double-shelved.

Edited: Feb 13, 2015, 11:00am Top

14. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri Four stars. Still thinking about what to say beyond that.

Feb 9, 2015, 8:34pm Top

15. Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett A simple, lovely and very familiar story. I had a paperback copy of this book when I was a teenager, but have no idea what became of it, and I don't think I ever read it then. I did see the movie from 1964, starring Sidney Poitier; loved it then, love it now. Homer Smith, a black man recently discharged from the Army, sets out to see a bit of the American West in his new (to him) station wagon, stopping here and there to pick up a few days' work from time to time to keep body and soul together. When he happens on a group of German nuns in the desert, struggling to build a fence, raise a few vegetables and start a school for young "Spanish" (read, "Mexican") boys in trouble, Homer finds himself drawn in to their projects, and somehow committed to building them a "shapel". Delightful, quiet humor and compassion. Short and sweet in the nicest possible way.

Feb 9, 2015, 10:09pm Top

>114 laytonwoman3rd:. I thought I had this one on my shelf, but LT doesn't show it. I know that I enjoyed the movie way back when.... I'll have to look when I get home.

Feb 9, 2015, 10:21pm Top

>114 laytonwoman3rd: One of my favorite movies as a youngster.

Feb 10, 2015, 8:44am Top

Feb 13, 2015, 10:03am Top

>110 laytonwoman3rd: This is the 2nd favorable review of this one I've read, and I think I'll definitely read it over Washington Square this month. I also have not tackled a longer James work. Hrm. Someday.

Feb 13, 2015, 11:01am Top

>118 DorsVenabili: I enjoyed Washington Square, too. Did you know it was the source material for the movie "The Heiress", with Olivia DeHaviland and Montgomery Clift? Probably...it's been discussed here and there.

Edited: Feb 16, 2015, 7:08pm Top

>110 laytonwoman3rd: That's what I'm planning on reading for the BAC as well. His Portrait of a Lady is one of my favorite books, and on the other end of the spectrum there's The Golden Bowl. *yawn* He's one of the few classic authors I can think of off the top of my head that seems to have fans of only certain periods of his writing, instead of all of his works in total.

>119 laytonwoman3rd: Have you seen the film version from the 90's? I've seen that version, but not the one with DeHaviland.

Feb 16, 2015, 8:59pm Top

>120 LauraBrook: I didn't even know there was a 1990's version. Must check it out!

Feb 18, 2015, 2:19pm Top

16. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters This was just a good old-fashioned creepy Gothic tale, with all appropriate elements in place, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nothing much to debate or discuss. Perhaps the deteriorating dark and dreary manor house known as "The Hundreds" is haunted, or perhaps its occupants are all slowly, and one at a time, going mad. Either way, the pages of The Little Stranger seem to turn by themselves, and before I knew it 500 of them had sped by me.

Feb 18, 2015, 2:36pm Top

>122 laytonwoman3rd: I'm not in the mood for any biggish books at the moment but I've wondered about a Sarah Waters book. LT tells me: LibraryThing thinks you probably won't like The Little Stranger (prediction confidence: very high)

and yet it recommends it to me based on 2 books I liked quite a bit and some of the reader recommendations connect with me. Maybe someday ....

Feb 18, 2015, 5:12pm Top

I enjoyed The Little Stranger too, especially the gradual revelations about the narrator.

Feb 18, 2015, 10:36pm Top

I haven't read anything by Sarah Waters, but I do have The Little Stranger and The Paying Guests in my library. I'm getting closer.

Feb 19, 2015, 9:02am Top

17. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson There's been a lot of buzz on LT over this book, and it's all justified. It's a free verse memoir/coming of age story, classified as YA. Don't let any one of those elements put you off; if you have reservations about any of them, set them aside, do yourself a favor, and READ THIS BOOK. As a child growing up in Ohio, South Carolina and Brooklyn, Jackie Woodson knew she was as good as anybody, but not brilliant like her older sister, not a singer like her older brother. She had a little trouble at first learning to read, but before long realized that words were like air to her, and her dream of being a writer became a living presence in her life wherever she went, whatever happened. Her story is full of ordinary people living through extraordinary history in the America of the 1960's and '70's. It is not free of trouble, but it is not fraught with tragedy, violence, abuse or grinding poverty either. Her memories are of a happy childhood, spotted with the losses and griefs that come to everyone, but protected as much as possible from the mean and the ugly by strong, wise adult guidance, and always, always warmed by love and the dream. A book that I will want to return to, as some of its "chapters" are exquisite stand-alone poetry. The whole thing is a gift from a brown girl who once thought she was not gifted like her siblings. Five stars.

Feb 19, 2015, 11:40am Top

>126 laytonwoman3rd: Yes yes yes yes .... so glad you liked it.

Feb 19, 2015, 11:51am Top

>126 laytonwoman3rd: If it is ever warm enough to stick one's nose out the front door again, I'ma go see if I can get that one at the library.

Feb 20, 2015, 6:50am Top

>126 laytonwoman3rd: Gah. I'm still waiting for this one to come in at the library for me. Still. Waiting.

Feb 20, 2015, 7:58am Top

>129 scaifea: I was surprised to find there was no waiting list for Brown Girl Dreaming at my library when I went looking for it, but >128 lycomayflower: you might want to check and see if you need to put your name on a list.

Edited: Feb 22, 2015, 5:56pm Top

18. Bayou Suzette by Lois Lenski Another regional story for young readers by one of my favorite authors from childhood. I had never read (nor even heard of) this one, until I came across it while perusing Lenski's author page here when I re-read Strawberry Girl. It's a bit hard to come by; my county-wide library system failed me...there was supposedly one copy in one of the branches, but it couldn't be located when I requested it. I tried ILL too, but it was taking so long for the request to be honored that I figured it probably wasn't turning up at whichever library was purported to have it, AND, the more I thought about it, the more I felt I'd probably want to own a copy of it anyway. Given my affinity for all things Cajun-related, you know. So I found a reasonably priced copy on abebooks.com, and ordered it.

I think I understand why this one may be hard to find, and suspect it wasn't one of Lenski's most popular offerings, although I loved it almost without reservation. It is the story of Suzette Durand, daughter of a disabled fisherman living with her extended family on Bayou Barataria, south of New Orleans. Papa Jules was shot in the back by one of the Broussards on a hunt 2 years before this story begins, and he has been mostly laid up ever since (although Maman chides him for a lay-about, telling him it's time he got back out there and earned some money to feed the family). The incident resulted in a feud between the Durands and the Broussards, with the usual inevitable loss of childhood friendships and a forbidden romance. Still, nothing about this story is especially predictable. An orphaned Indian girl, Marteel, comes in and out of the picture, forging a friendship with Suzette that her mother and grandmother are vehemently opposed to. After a relentless spell of heavy rain, a crevasse in the levee results in widespread flooding that sends the residents of Suzette's Little Village to the only high ground there is---an ancient Indian burial mound. (I suspect this is a reference to the great Mississippi flood of 1927, the same one Faulkner used in his "Old Man".) Gently, without hitting us over the head, Lenski shows how prejudice exists at all levels, how loyalty is supposed to work, how pre-existing notions about "the other" are usually wrong, and how they can be overcome. My biggest reservation lies in the ending. Despite showing us repeatedly that she respects the culture and lifestyle of the Houma Indians who are Marteel's people and bringing her characters around to do the same, Lenski eventually has Marteel happily declaring that she is a "white girl now" as she is finally adopted wholeheartedly into the Durand family. As Walker Percy has said, "it is hardly proper to judge a (wo)man's views of the issues of (her) day" by the ideological standards of another time. For 1943, when this book was written, Lenski's treatment of Marteel, her habits and her beliefs, must surely be counted as liberal. The story has tender moments, excitement, suspense, humor and wisdom woven in well. I'm afraid it makes little allowance for what I would assume would have been the average young reader's total lack of experience with the Cajun dialect. Any dialect is difficult to render on the page, but if the reader has a frame of reference, a decent effort will make the language work. Having lived in Louisiana, and been immersed in local culture, I can hear this unique patois in my head; Ah kin talk it putty good, too, me. But for anyone who can't, this book, I'm afraid, would be a real chore to read, although Lenski's effort is better than decent. Young readers, even today, I'm sure, would find it fairly baffling. And that's a shame. I'm thrilled to have added this to my Louisiana collection. I think it's a treasure, albeit one that may not be fully appreciated by its target audience.

Feb 22, 2015, 5:43pm Top

Hi Linda - I loved Lenski when I was a kid. I'm not familiar with this one, but it sounds great. I have to start looking for some of these for Scout.

Edited: Feb 24, 2015, 8:00am Top

>132 BLBera: I'm so happy to have re-connected with Lenski, and to have discovered that, as much as I loved her as a kid, she's even better than I knew. The research that she did for this regional series was terribly impressive. And I didn't mention her illustrations, which are quite distinctive.

Feb 22, 2015, 5:55pm Top

Hi, Linda! Brown Girl Dreamingsounds like an excellent book. A bb for sure.

And must look into Lenski.

A good week to you!

Feb 23, 2015, 5:10am Top

Great review of Bayou Suzette, Linda!

How did your batch of red beans and rice turn out?

Feb 23, 2015, 7:28am Top

Hi Linda! Hope you had a nice weekend. I am so glad you loved Brown Girl Dreaming. It is such a special book.

And please read Doc!!

Feb 23, 2015, 7:35am Top

>131 laytonwoman3rd: I hadn't heard of that Lenski before - I'll have to keep an eye open for it...

Feb 24, 2015, 1:22am Top

I had to thumb up your Lenski review. Even I recall reading some Lenski as a child. I'm pretty sure I read San Francisco boy (where I was born) from the series your Bayou Suzette is in. All I remember is it was in Chinatown there, a place in SF that was magical to me when I was young. I'm going to have to keep my eyes open and see if I come across any of the oldies. What fun to reconnect for you to a favorite childhood author. I'm going to go look in our box of kids books to see if perchance we have any.

Feb 24, 2015, 8:03am Top

>134 bohemima: Thanks, Gail. Thanks for visiting!

>135 kidzdoc: I thought the red beans and rice were pretty good, but they took a lot longer than I anticipated in the slow cooker, and I ended up saving them for Monday night (Monday's traditional anyway!). I think all together they cooked for 12 hours. I re-heated them on the stove Monday to reduce the liquid, because they were pretty soupy.

Feb 24, 2015, 8:14am Top

>136 msf59: Your recommendation has put Doc on my virtual TBR pile, Mark.

>137 scaifea: If your library has a copy, tell them it's a valuable item, and they should take very good care of it!

>138 RBeffa: I'm glad I could spark some memories and possibly renew an old acquaintance with a fine author. Let me know if any Lenski titles turn up in your stash!

Feb 24, 2015, 12:04pm Top

>139 laytonwoman3rd: That is a long time to cook, Linda. I'm glad that they turned out well.

I can't find the recipe that the resident gave me. I may look for one on the GoNOLA.com web site if I can't find it by the end of the week. I'll probably make Heather's crawfish étoufée, with the blonde roux, either tomorrow or Friday.

Edited: Feb 28, 2015, 8:54pm Top

19. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh For the BAC. I did a combination of audio (Jeremy Irons---fantastic) and print with this one in order to finish in February. As I only listen to audio in the car, I don't get through a book very quickly that way.

What a schizophrenic little novel this is. The story, in reminiscence, of the youth and young adulthood of Charles Ryder, a painter currently in the British wartime Army, making bivouac at a manor house he once frequented in "happier times", it is at times lovely, funny, touching; at other times melodramatic, monotonous, cringe-worthy. To be fair, Waugh does warn us with his subtitle, "The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder".

I think my greatest objection to the whole book is that it isn't a "whole". It's just parts. Things don't develop, they just happen. Our narrator is all about Sebastian (and just what does he SEE in him, anyway?) for 200 pages and then suddenly Sebastian is out of the picture, left to his inevitable disintegration apparently without qualm, and Charles has a wife we've never heard of before. Oh...wait...she's Boy Mulcaster's sister, just by the way. We've met Boy...but did he have a sister? Didn't matter if he did. But now it does. Then, suddenly, there's Sebastian's sister Julia back in Charles's life. And passion ensues. Inconvenient wife and unseen children dispatched easily enough...very little fuss. Younger sister, the lovely, delightful little Cordelia (who might have been the inspiration for Alan Bradley's Flavia DeLuce) has grown up quite changed, for the author's convenience, I suppose, as again we do not SEE any development there...just the end result. But she's necessary to tell us, in a tedious monologue, just what's become of Sebastian while our backs were turned.

I enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the audio, for the first two-thirds; the final book, however, was a trial. Irons was still excellent in his narration, but even he couldn't make Julia's "living in sin" monologue palatable in any way. As a portrait of dissolute Sebastian Flyte, Brideshead works very well. As a "mannerly" novel, again, much of it is fine, fine, fine. But as Story, it failed utterly for me. I wouldn't care if it hadn't seemed to be trying to tell a story.

Edited: Feb 27, 2015, 2:47pm Top

What exactly are we supposed to do with a world that no longer has Spock in it? He was, and always will be, our friend.

Feb 27, 2015, 5:07pm Top

Wow! I'm getting old. No more Mr. Spock.

Feb 27, 2015, 6:57pm Top

Have you seen the dramatization of Brideshead with Irons as Charles Ryder? It's excellent ... So excellent I'm afraid to read the book.

Feb 27, 2015, 7:08pm Top

I agree Laura. I did read the book though, which may have been more palatable because I could see Irons as Charles and Anthony Andrews as Sebastion, and we must not forget Aloysius.

Spockless is painful.

Feb 27, 2015, 9:27pm Top

>145 lauralkeet:, >146 Caroline_McElwee: I think I may have seen it years ago, but I'm not positive. And I'm afraid Aloysius is one of the reasons I took against Sebastian.

Feb 27, 2015, 9:33pm Top

Great review of Brideshead, Linda. The book worked much better for me, although I do agree with some of your observations.
The ending with the father dying was the only drag for me.

Feb 28, 2015, 9:58am Top

>142 laytonwoman3rd: Oh dear. I still need to get it read. *whiimpers*

Feb 28, 2015, 10:29am Top

>148 msf59: I'm glad I read it, Mark. I was quite engaged with Jeremy Irons' performance on the audio, and laughed out loud several times at some of the preposterous characters.

>149 Morphidae: Ooh, I hate to put you off if you're determined to read it. It really does have its fine points, and it's a pretty fast read. Chin up.

Mar 1, 2015, 6:49pm Top

I enjoyed your review of Brideshead Revisited, Linda, even if I don't wholly agree with it. Or rather, I find myself thinking I liked it better than you did, overall, despite the flaws you pointed out and that I agree with. Isn't it curious how that works? I'd like to read more Waugh in the future, so if you've got any recommendations let me know.

Edited: Mar 2, 2015, 7:43am Top

>151 rosalita: Scoop is quite good fun. And Vile Bodies is good, though it is years since I read them.

Edited: Mar 2, 2015, 2:44pm Top

>151 rosalita: I think I liked it better than it sounds from my review, Julia. Many of those observations came from looking back after I'd finished it. I wasn't wishing for it to end as I went along, or anything, and I'm not sorry to have spent the time reading it. Wonderful parts, no-so-wonderful sum.

>152 Caroline_McElwee: Thanks, Caroline. I haven't read anything else of Waugh's. I may give Scoop a try one of these days, as several people have mentioned it favorably around the BAC.

DNF Pepper, Silk & Ivory by Marvin Tokayer This was an ER selection from several months ago. I've been slogging through it, one chapter at a time, but I've decided it's enough already. The stories should be fascinating, if not "amazing" as the subtitle insists. Unfortunately the writing is worse than mediocre, and Rabbi Tokayer is just not the "consummate storyteller" he's billed as, at least not in print. This reads like a bad textbook, not like absorbing narrative fiction. I got through a little more than half the chapters, and since each one stands alone, it isn't as though the story might pick up later on. I've never given up on an ER book before, but I felt perfectly justified in doing so this time, AND in writing a review based on what I did read. I'm afraid my experience with books published by Geffen has been that the authors rarely do justice to the subject matter. This was the worst, and I don't think I'll request any more of their books in the future.

Edited: Mar 2, 2015, 2:33pm Top

20. The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy Conroy has told us a lot about his dysfunctional family (a term he had no familiarity with when he was growing up in one) in his fiction. Here he tells us about his parents' back stories (much of which he knew nothing about as a child either), the lives of some of his siblings (there were 7 Conroy children), the various relationships that developed and collapsed among family members, especially after his parents divorced, and the circumstances and effects of the deaths of each of his parents. (Unlike the movie version, the real Santini did not go down in a blaze of heroic glory.) It's fairly disturbing stuff, and often I felt like Conroy was sharing way too much, but it's also mesmerizing, like watching an earthquake, or a hurricane wreak its havoc. Despite the tumultous upbringing, Conroy and his siblings remain a family unit, with extremely strong ties, and ultimately most of them made peace with their father, who seemed to turn into a relatively decent human being after his retirement from the Marine Corps. But the residual effects of their emotionally overwrought and physically abusive childhoods are still being felt decades later by Don Conroy's offspring (at least 3 of whom attempted suicide, and 1 succeeded) and his wife, Peg, doesn't come off as blameless either. Pat Conroy's point is obviously that while humans are complex and sometimes impossible to understand, love is always possible, and forgiveness is always liberating. Still, I wouldn't approach this bunch except between the covers of a book. They're all crazy.

Mar 2, 2015, 2:23pm Top

>142 laytonwoman3rd:. I think I enjoyed Brideshead Revisited more than you did, Linda. The ending really didn't bother me. I've never seen the dramatization, although someone did mention it when I commented about the book on my thread. I just don't know why I can't get to everything I want to see or read. :)

>154 laytonwoman3rd:. I'm pretty sure I read something by Pat Conroy years ago, but for the life of me I don't remember what it was. Maybe The Prince of Tides.

Mar 2, 2015, 5:34pm Top

I really enjoyed Conroys book on books My Reading Life, and years ago his novel Beach Music, I remember liking the tone of the latter.

Mar 3, 2015, 8:37am Top

My Reading Life was a treat for me, too, Caroline. But as I recall, I was disappointed in Beach Music, and can't remember another thing about it now! I thought The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides were remarkable storytelling.

Mar 6, 2015, 12:24pm Top

21. Wings of Fire by Charles Todd Second installment in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series. This time, Rutledge is sent off to Cornwall just as a "new Ripper" killer is terrorizing London. The Home Office has requested that The Yard look into the recent deaths of half-siblings Olivia Marlowe and Nicholas Cheney, which were marked down as a double suicide by the local constabulary. Another half-sib wasn't satisfied with that finding, and her family had enough standing to get the Yard involved. But Rutledge knows HE was chosen for this thankless, probably fruitless, task to keep him out of the way of the Ripper investigation, which could make someone's career. Furthermore, it comes to his attention that the dead woman was, in fact, the famous and highly regarded war poet, O. A. Manning, a fact which even her closest family had not been aware of until recently. Was it the poet who had to die, or Olivia Marlowe? Is it possible Nicholas was really the author of that so-unwomanly poetry? Or are there family skeletons hidden in the many many crannies of The Hall that could cast light on these deaths and others? Rutledge has his hands, and his head, full with this one, as O. A. Manning's poems were important to him on the battlefields of WWI, and the ever-present ghost of the late Hamish McLeod will not let him relax his guard for a moment. Great stuff, with an intricate plot that holds together, this one made me desperate to know "What happened?" and didn't let me down at the end.

Mar 6, 2015, 1:23pm Top

>158 laytonwoman3rd:. I really liked Wings of Fire, as well. Reminds me that I should look for the third. :)

Mar 7, 2015, 6:53am Top

Catching up to my thread reading. I don't remember Lenski from my childhood, but my son was entranced by Cowboy Small when he was about four. We wore out the library copy and I eventually found one on abebooks. I should look at some of her work for older folks.
I like the Charles Todd series. My husband has read most of them, but I'm farther behind.

Edited: Mar 7, 2015, 8:50am Top

>159 NanaCC:, >160 Helenoel: have either of you read any of Todd's Bess Crawford series? I see those compared to the Maisie Dobbs books, which haven't really captivated me after reading 3 of them.

Mar 7, 2015, 8:52am Top

Morning Linda! I also enjoyed My Reading Life and I have been meaning to read more Conroy. I did read and I enjoyed The Prince of Tides, but that was 20-plus years ago. I've been wondering if his writing holds up. I wonder if it is a bit overblown.

Mar 7, 2015, 9:05am Top

>162 msf59: Hi, Mark! Yes, Conroy can be a bit, shall we say, "emo"? I don't think I'll go back and re-read Santini or PoT, because they just might not work for me now.

Mar 7, 2015, 9:12am Top

I would still like to go back and read a couple of his earliest books, just to see for myself. There are so many great authors out there, that it is tough to make room for a MOTR one. LOL.

Edited: Mar 7, 2015, 11:13am Top

>161 laytonwoman3rd: he has read several of them and likes them. Not yet for me. I do like Maisie but can't offer a comparison.

Mar 7, 2015, 11:55am Top

>161 laytonwoman3rd: I have read the first two in the Bess Crawford series, and find it inferior to the Ian Rutledge series. And Beth(BLBera) agreed with me when I was making a comment about it not being as good as Maisie Dobbs. (I do like the Maisie Dobbs series.) Beth called it light Maisie Dobbs light.

Mar 7, 2015, 12:16pm Top

Just dropping by to wish you the loveliest of weekends, Linda

Mar 7, 2015, 12:25pm Top

>166 NanaCC: Thanks, Colleen. I'm going to run with that, and cross Bess off my "maybe" list. Lord knows I don't need them to keep me busy!

>167 PaulCranswick: Thanks, Paul. I see we're about even in TC for the moment!

Mar 7, 2015, 1:05pm Top

>168 laytonwoman3rd: Yep a couple of tight tussles, Linda. One win each. I must admit that the quiz is improving my Americana a fair bit.

Mar 8, 2015, 4:17pm Top

>161 laytonwoman3rd: I enjoyed your review of Wings of Fire, Linda; I love the Ian Rutledge series a lot. I only read the first Bess Crawford and liked it OK but not enough to keep going with the series. It seemed much shallower than the Rutledge in terms of the depth of the main character in particular.

Edited: Mar 22, 2015, 7:00pm Top

Hi Linda. I am another who read some Conroy a couple of decades ago and enjoyed his work but have had the sense that it wouldn't hold up. Your review of The Great Santini is intriguing.

And, regarding Charles Todd, I read and enjoyed the first. P loves them. Here's my confession: I get hung up on the fact that Charles Todd is two people (a mother and son writing team, I believe). There is something about that which activates my inner literary snob. I'm not saying that's a good thing, but I'm doing a bit of true confessions. Maybe it's Conroy's influence.

I hope you have a great weekend!

Mar 14, 2015, 11:15am Top

Is it the mother-and-son part, or collaboration in general that puts you off, Ellen? You know Ellery Queen was two people, right? And my favorite mystery writing couple will always be Frances and Richard Lockridge, husband and wife.

Mar 14, 2015, 11:45am Top

22. The Upstairs Wife by Rafia Zakaria An ER selection. I must cogitate for a real review. I will say, 4 stars, and a lot of thought provoked.

Edited: Mar 14, 2015, 11:22pm Top

Happy pi day, everyone. In honor of that, and of my Grandmother's birthday, I did this today:

Grandma would be 112 today, if she were still baking with us. She made wonderful pie, and bread, and afghans.

Mar 14, 2015, 7:29pm Top

Yum that pie looks good. Happy Birthday Grandma, I hope you get pie wherever you are.

Mar 14, 2015, 7:43pm Top

>174 laytonwoman3rd: Hope the pie tasted as good as it looks. What a lovely way to remember someone.

Mar 14, 2015, 8:21pm Top

sticking my nose into things I think I have developed a slight aversion to co-authored books over the years. I know I didn't feel that way when I was younger but I think it developed as I encountered more and more co-authored books where someone else basically writes the story presumably from an outline by a famous author.

speaking of Lockridge, guess what I found at the Friends book nook at the library today - a book as old as I am.

Mar 14, 2015, 8:25pm Top

>174 laytonwoman3rd: My grandma made great apple pie and cinnamon pears from her trees and great afghans also and tons of great crafty stuff. I still have a number of afghans of hers. She would be 105 in a few days. I miss her always. So sweet to bake a pie.

Mar 14, 2015, 10:17pm Top


Edited: Mar 14, 2015, 11:25pm Top

>175 Caroline_McElwee:, >176 charl08: Thank you. The pie was very good. >178 RBeffa: Apple was Grandma's best, but I was in the mood for cherry today.

>177 RBeffa: Ah...I don't care for that type of co-authored book as a general rule either. But authors who work together in active partnership, that's OK by me. (Robert B. Parker did what you're describing with a story Raymond Chandler left unfinished, getting two books out of it. I'm inclined to give him safe passage as well, since he's a favorite of mine.) I have several Lockridge paperbacks of that vintage that I've found in second hand shops over the years. (edit: 14, I just counted.) In fact, I have an Avon paperback of Death Has a Small Voice, but it has a different cover than yours, and the cover price is 25 cents.

Mar 15, 2015, 8:30am Top

>174 laytonwoman3rd: Love that picture of your grandma because it's a nice picture of someone I wish I'd gotten to meet but also because I recognize so much of the furniture in it!

Mar 15, 2015, 8:37am Top

Happy Sunday, Linda! I LOVE the look of the pie up there. Yum!! I hope you have an R & R day planned.

Mar 15, 2015, 11:05am Top

>180 laytonwoman3rd: cherry pie ... I'm hearing the Twin Peaks theme, is that you Agent Cooper?

Mar 15, 2015, 11:21am Top

thumbs up for the Harlan review. I somehow lost your entire thread, so am slowly catching up.

Mar 15, 2015, 12:43pm Top

>181 lycomayflower: Yeah, she would have liked you, and I think she would approve of your crochet stitches. She might even have been able to teach you a few new ones!

>182 msf59: Thanks, Mark. Lazy Sunday breakfast with the newspaper and CBS Sunday Morning, as usual. Now off to lunch and a few shopping errands.

>183 Caroline_McElwee: 'Fraid I totally missed Twin Peaks, Caroline!

>184 tiffin: I'm prone to losing track of threads myself, especially those I lurk on without commenting. Welcome back!

Edited: Mar 17, 2015, 7:52am Top

23. The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler Somewhere recently I read something that brought this lesser known Chandler title to my attention. It feels like it should have been in Slightly Foxed, but I don't see it in either of the two latest issues, so that' unlikely. In any case, having read it, I see both why it's a bit lesser known, and why it was touted by whoever it was. (If it was one of you, please speak up so I can say thanks, okay?) This is classic stuff, reminding me why Chandler is the acknowledged master of a literary style that should get wider respect for its beauty, its cleverness and its essence. He throws around those phrases that would be corny, except that no one else ever said it just that way: "She sat in front of her princess dresser trying to paint the suitcases out from under her eyes”; "It was as restful as a split lip"; "A shave and a second breakfast made me feel a little less like the box of shavings the cat had had kittens in." It's full of tough cops, beautiful scheming women (who, no matter how smart they are in other ways, never quite get that trying to seduce Philip Marlowe is a waste of their talents), no-'count brothers, ice picks and ivory-handled .32's , and tangled plot lines. No, actually, the plot in this one is fairly simple; it's just buried in a lot of tangles to make it look complex. And then there are these brilliant touches...the references to Mozart and Bach, and comparisons of the way Schnabel and Rubinstein deal with them. "Rubinstein?" "Too heavy. Too emotional. Mozart is just music. No comment needed from the performer." The description of a city hall worker: "one of those ageless women you see around municipal offices everywhere in the world. They were never young and will never be old. They have no beauty, no charm, no style...They are safe...They are civil without ever quite being polite and intelligent and knowledgeable without any real interest in anything. They are what human beings turn into when they trade life for existence and ambition for security." Lovely.

Mar 17, 2015, 11:38am Top

>186 laytonwoman3rd:. The Little Sister sounds good. I think you hit me again.

Mar 17, 2015, 11:45am Top

>186 laytonwoman3rd: love your quotes Linda. When it is done well it is sooo good. My grandfather was a big fan and I read several of the novels a couple decades ago. This old school detective stuff was about his favorite thing to read.

Mar 18, 2015, 9:28am Top

Mom was a great Chandler fan. I know I read them when I was a sprout because they were lying around but it didn't register what a dab hand he was with a simile.

Mar 21, 2015, 9:06am Top

I don't think I read any Chandler in my early years. I remember reading Rex Stout and Agatha Christie, and some Ellery Queen as a teenager, and I read the complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in one volume, cover to cover after receiving it for Christmas one year. I didn't get into the "hard-boiled" stuff until later, and then I was hooked for life.

Edited: Mar 21, 2015, 9:18am Top

I don't think I'll rush to read this, but it is interesting: Previously unpublished Tennessee Williams story to appear in Strand Magazine.

Mar 21, 2015, 11:07am Top

>191 laytonwoman3rd: might take a peek at that later Linda, thanks for posting. Unpublished stuff can be hit and miss, but can still offer something interesting about the craft or process of the writer.

Edited: Mar 21, 2015, 12:16pm Top

Happy Saturday, Linda! Thanks for the Chandler reminder. I've been wanting to read or reread him for ages. Maybe, I can squeeze one in for M & M.

ETA: Erdrich next month! Yah!

Edited: Mar 21, 2015, 3:00pm Top

>192 Caroline_McElwee: It's not the story itself, Caroline, just to be clear. The link is just to a press article about it. It sounds like not my kind of thing, so I doubt if I'll read it. I think there's probably a good reason why it wasn't published, as is so often the case with such things.

Mar 21, 2015, 3:01pm Top

>193 msf59: YES, Mark....looking forward to Erdrich. I'm surprising myself by enjoying Canada a lot, right now.

Mar 21, 2015, 5:24pm Top

>195 laytonwoman3rd: I don't think I will get to Canada until the last few days of the month. I'm slacking so early, but my excuse is I'm not into fiction so much at the moment. Normally I'm a good half-and-half reader, but I get odd times when it is one or the other.

Edited: Nov 4, 2015, 1:50pm Top

24. Canada by Richard Ford for the AAC. 4 1/2 stars

After hesitating to try it at all (comparisons of Ford to John Updike really put me off), and then being disinfected* by some style issues in the first few chapters, I found myself totally engrossed with this novel, in which Dell Parsons, from a perspective of 50 years hence, tells us about a presumably formative period of his life--the year he was almost 16, when his parents, by stupidly attempting to rob a bank, effectively abandoned Dell and his twin sister, Berner. In order to prevent her children's ending up in the hands of the juvenile authorities in the event of her arrest (which she seems to have had wits enough to realize was inevitable), Mrs. Parsons arranged for a friend to spirit them away to Canada where presumably they could start life over without the inconvenient baggage of convicted bank robbers for parents. Berner had other ideas, but Dell ended up under the dubious protection of a big fish in the mighty small pond of Fort Royal, Saskatchewan, a place where nothing much happened other than goose hunting, and where he had plenty of time to ponder questions that had already started to bother him: does a man's character show in his face? are you destined to be who you become by some fundamental element of your makeup? does it really matter what happens to you, or will you become your true self regardless? It's a quiet journey Dell takes, despite a bit of violence here and there, and ultimately he believes he ended up precisely where he would have, had his parents gone on with their "ordinary" lives, sent him to college and never dreamed of robbing a bank or sending him off to be fostered by strangers in a strange land. I'm not sure when I stopped minding Ford's style, or if he dropped the awkward quirks that broke my reading stride early on, but by page 75 or so, I was just caught in the story, and that part of my brain that is aware of the author was sound asleep in a corner somewhere. I'm docking the novel 1/2 a star for the rocky start, although that may have been my own fault. I am very glad to have made Richard Ford's acquaintance, and am happy to say I find him much more in affinity with John Irving (Last Night in Twisted River came to mind) than with Updike.

*cf Bucky Katt:

Mar 22, 2015, 2:42pm Top

>197 laytonwoman3rd: Now that is interesting. A couple of weeks ago at the library I sat down with Canada and read it a bit and I was certainly not impressed. It reaffirmed an earlier attempt of mine years ago to read Ford and I had written both Canada and Ford off for the AAC. So now we have one of those rare books that is the exception to the pearl rule. I've had them before, but they aren't common.

Good for you.

Mar 22, 2015, 2:52pm Top

>198 RBeffa: I think I wanted to give Ford the benefit of the doubt, because he's Eudora Welty's literary executor, and edited the two volume Library of America edition of her work.

Mar 22, 2015, 7:04pm Top

>197 laytonwoman3rd: Hm. Well. I have barely dug into The Sportswriter but haven't been feeling compelled to read more. I think I had a similar reaction to yours: he has been compared to Updike so many times that I'm prejudiced in my approach. Your comment that Canada, at least, put you more in mind of John Irving, who is definitely a favorite of mine, has me rethinking. Maybe I should try to find a copy of Canada and take The Sportswriter to the nearby little free library for a neighbor to read.

*waves at Linda*

Mar 22, 2015, 7:09pm Top

>200 EBT1002: *waves back at Ellen* I'm getting the impression that Frank Bascombe compares to Rabbit Angstrom in many readers' minds. On the strength of Canada, I may try more Ford, but I probably won't read the Bascombe novels unless I fall head over heels for the guy from his short fiction or something else.

Mar 22, 2015, 8:37pm Top

>197 laytonwoman3rd: I'm glad you enjoyed Canada so much, Linda. I can't say I recognize my reading experience of it in your review. I love John Irving and I don't think comparing him to Richard Ford would have ever occurred to me in a million years. But that's the beauty of individual reactions!

Mar 22, 2015, 8:57pm Top

Happy Sunday, Linda. Good review of Canada. It has been a couple of years since I read it but it fell a little flat for me in the 2nd half. I may have to revisit it one of these days.
Thanks for your contributions to the AAC. It is very much appreciated.

Mar 23, 2015, 3:38pm Top

Two things:

1) I *need* to get round to Chandler soon.
2) I *love* Bucky!

Mar 23, 2015, 3:44pm Top

>202 rosalita: Well, bear in mind I've only read the one Ford novel, and it only made me think of one John Irving novel (and he's all over the place, really, so hard to compare to anyone).

>203 msf59: Hmmm...and I just felt it got better as it went along. I'm so thrilled you took on the American Authors Challenge; I've read some people I really needed to get around to because of it, and Ford is one of them. Thank YOU.

>204 scaifea: 1) Oh, yes.
2) How could you not?

Mar 25, 2015, 1:14pm Top

The references to John Irving are also reminding me that I have a couple of his works that Ive not yet read. I absolutely loved Garp and Hotel New Hampshire when I read them way back when. And Owen Meany! We studied Garp in a college course I took on "the modern American novel" (I recall also reading Ursula K. LeGuin and Faulkner... I don't recall the rest of the syllabus) and we had great discussion about it as a feminist novel. This was in the early 1980s, mind you. Anyway, I still need to read In One Person and I think I skipped The Cider House Rules when I was working my way through his novels.

Mar 25, 2015, 1:49pm Top

I think I would like to have heard that discussion of Garp---and I might need to read that one again. I barely remember it, except for that one excruciating scene... I've found some of his novels wouldn't catch fire with me--The Fourth Hand and Son of the the Circus. And others I've simply not been moved to try. But when I love him, I really love him. The Cider House Rules is wonderful. You should definitely get to that one.

Mar 25, 2015, 7:03pm Top

Sometimes it's just the right time to read a certain book and it gets in. You might read it on another day and it wouldn't seem like the same book at all. I actually love when that happens.

Mar 25, 2015, 7:39pm Top

I would love to do a reread of Garp, (it's probably been 30 years!) which is my favorite Irving and I agree with you on The Cider House Rules, which may be my second.

I wonder if we could find room for him, on the AACIII?

Mar 29, 2015, 1:03pm Top

>209 msf59: I'd be very much in favor of adding Irving to the AAC at some point.

Edited: Mar 29, 2015, 1:14pm Top

25. The Secret Place by Tana French A tour de force, this one. French goes inside a Catholic girls' school in Ireland, and inside the heads of the teenaged women coming of age there, as one of students from the brother school across the way is found murdered in the grounds. Back and forth in time and perspective, from the revival of the cold investigation a year after the murder, to the events leading up to and immediately following the death; from the detectives trying to work out the crime to the young women trying to work out Life itself, it takes close attention from the reader, and must have been the divil to plot and present, but it's beautifully done. The exploration of friendship, loyalty, deviousness, and deception is brilliant. If you're not dead in your soul, it's likely to wreck you, especially if you were once a teenaged girl.

Mar 29, 2015, 1:30pm Top

Excellent review of The Secret Place. I can not wait to get to this one. It will be perfect for M & M.

Edited: Mar 29, 2015, 1:31pm Top

Have you ever listened to the Bookworm podcast? I just listened to an episode, featuring Richard Ford discussing Frank Bascombe and his latest work. It's is really good stuff:

Mar 29, 2015, 2:15pm Top

>211 laytonwoman3rd: I've not read any Tana French so far Linda. I might drop that into my kindle, despite not being a big fan of novels about teens or coming of age characters.

Mar 29, 2015, 2:58pm Top

>211 laytonwoman3rd: I'm glad you liked The Secret Place, Linda. Tana French can certainly write a good story. I hope she does another fairly soon. :)

Mar 29, 2015, 4:03pm Top

Ooh that Tana French sounds like a good one!

Mar 29, 2015, 8:50pm Top

Sending smooches, Linda3rd!

Mar 29, 2015, 10:23pm Top

Grand to have you stopping by, RD!

Mar 30, 2015, 6:42am Top

I've not read any Tana French, but maybe I should do something about that...

Mar 30, 2015, 8:49am Top

>219 scaifea: oh yes, you should! In the Woods is her first and while they don't have to be read in order, you do meet several characters on the law enforcement side who appear in later novels.

Mar 30, 2015, 3:04pm Top

>220 lauralkeet: Okay, then. In the Woods goes on the list!

Apr 1, 2015, 9:08pm Top

I have seen a few positive reviews on Tanya French's books on the threads. I have added her name to my long list of books to search for.

Apr 2, 2015, 3:42pm Top

It's the end of the first quarter, and time for a new thread. Please follow the link below, and let's go readin'!

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2015

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