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Cariola's 2018 Reading

75 Books Challenge for 2018

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Edited: Nov 13, 6:09pm Top

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, by Peter Paul Reubens, 1625

This year's portrait theme is Royal Favorites. George Villiers's mother, the widow of a minor gentleman, determined to secure her son a place at court and sent him to France to be educated in the finer graces, including manners, fencing, dancing, and diplomacy. Upon his return, he drew the attention of a group of courtiers who hoped he would replace King James I's current favorite, Robert Carr. They supplied him with a suitable wardrobe and worked to secure him the position of Royal Cupbearer, which would give him access to the king. Their investment paid off: in little more than a year, Villiers was knighted and made a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. As his friendship with the king blossomed, he continued to reap royal appointments (Master of the Horse, Lord High Admiral) and to rise through the ranks of the nobility until, by 1623, he was named Duke of Buckingham--the only Duke in the kingdom and therefore the highest ranking person outside of the royal family. He was not only King James's most influential adviser but a confidante of his son, Prince Charles. It was Villiers who acted as the heir's dancing master and who attempted to negotiate a marriage between Charles and the Spanish Infanta. He continued to serve as chief adviser to Charles I, but his public popularity waned due to several failed military ventures and the corrupt use of his influence to enrich himself and his family. In 1628, at the age of 35, he was assassinated by a disgruntled army officer.

The portrait below shows the young Villiers displaying his famously "well-turned" legs. He was particularly known for his skill as a dancer and for his sensitivity to the king's moods. During one of Ben Jonson's less pleasing masques, he noticed James becoming restless and irritable, dashed to the front of the stage, and began dancing, inviting his fellow courtiers to join in.

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham by William Larkin (1616)

Best of 2018 (so far):
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Lighthousekeeping by Janette Winterson
Transit by Rachel Cusk
A Slant of Light by Jeffrey Lent
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Florida by Lauren Groff
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Circe by Madeline Miller
Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck
Improvement by Joan Silber
The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam
Winter by Ali Smith
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Mrs. Osmond by John Banville
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Best of 2017
Human Acts by Han Kang
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Outline by Rachel Cusk
Autumn by Ali Smith
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
House of Names by Colm Toibin
A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert
Grace by Paul Lynch
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
The Good People by Hannah Kent
You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

Currently Reading:

1. The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi
2. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
3. Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore
4. Mrs. Osmond by John Banville
5. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

6. Winter by Ali Smith
7. The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

8. After Rain by William Trevor
9. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
10. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck
11. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by John Oliver and Jill Twiss
12. Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
13. The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
14. The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

15. Improvement by Joan Silber
16. Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg
17. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
18. A Higher Loyalty: Truth Lies, and Leadership by James Comey
19. Circe by Madeline Miller
20. The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies
21. The Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

22. A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
23. The Sealwoman's Gift by Sally Magnusson
24. Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots by Nancy Goldstone
25. A Case of Curiosities by Alan Kurzweil
26. War Light by Michael Ondaatje

27. Last Stories by William Trevor
28. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
29. Florida by Lauren Groff
30. Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
31. Noonday by Pat Barker
32. Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir
33. Left: A Love Story by Mary Hogan
34. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
35. Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

36. A Slant of Light by Jeffrey Lent
37. The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory
38. Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
39. The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
40. The Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
41. Transit by Rachel Cusk
42. The Love Object by Edna O'Brien

43. The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson
44. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li
45. Lighthousekeeping by Janette Winterson
46. The Mountain by Paul Yoon
47. The Last Hours by Minette Walters
48. A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

49. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
50. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
51. Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
52. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

53. The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason
54. Young and Fair and Damned by Gareth Russell
55. The House Girl by Tara Conklin

56. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
57. Yes We Can: The Speeches of Barack Obama by Barack Obama
58. Girls and Boys by Dennis Kelly
59. Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets (Audible Original)
60. Have a Nice Day (Audible Original)
61. The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt

Jan 1, 4:22am Top

Happy New Year
Happy New Group here
This place is full of friends
I hope it never ends
It brew of erudition and good cheer.

Jan 1, 7:39am Top

Happy reading in 2018, Deborah!

Jan 1, 11:58am Top

Have a great year of reading in 2018! I think I already wished you that on your Bingo thread.

Jan 1, 12:01pm Top

Hi there, Deborah, many happy books read in 2018.

Jan 1, 12:08pm Top

Happy year of reading Deb. Because you and I have similar reading habits, I look forward to learning what you are reading.

Jan 1, 5:09pm Top

Happy New Year to all of you, too!

If any of you are interested, I decided to lead an English Renaissance Drama group read in September. You can check out the thread here:


Jan 1, 7:35pm Top

Welcome back! Happy new year!

Edited: Jan 1, 9:47pm Top

1. The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi

I've enjoyed several of Kureishi's earlier novels; this one, not so much. The main character, Waldo, is a celebrated director who is now wheelchair and bed bound; he suffers from a multitude of health issues, including MS, prostate cancer, diabetes, an ulcer, the effects of cocaine abuse, and more. He is obsessed with the belief that his much-younger wife is having an affair with Eddie, an old acquaintance who has moved into their flat to help care for Waldo. I quickly grew weary of Waldo's spying, plans for revenge, and perverse sexual fantasies. There's nothing likable about a single character in the book: they are all shallow and self-centered--which may be intentional on the author's part, but life is too short for me to spend time with people (even fictional people) that I find boring and depressing. I made it to the end but still didn't find much that was redeeming, aside from a few clever lines.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Jan 2, 9:52am Top

I'll be interested in your thoughts on the Banville when you finish it. I have thoughts on Banville in general, but I love Henry James. Such a quandary!

Lovely portrait theme. Looking forward to your 2018 thread.

Jan 2, 10:10am Top

Happy New Year! I wish you to read many good books in 2018.

Jan 2, 2:23pm Top

Happy New Year, Deb. Great list of 2017 favorites. I loved many of those as well. Have a great year of reading.

Jan 2, 2:25pm Top

>9 Cariola: Oh HELL no! Sounds horrid. Sad for a yucky start to the reading year, glad that it's out of the way.

Jan 7, 10:36am Top

2. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I almost gave up on this book, mainly because I am not a fan of coming-of-age stories. (Well, I like them well enough, but once you've read a hundred or so, you've read them all.) The first half of the book is mainly devoted to a lot of teenage angst and silliness: I wish I was more popular, I have a crush, I think I'm ready to have sex, I'm the most popular girl in my school, I'm a standout jock, My parents just don't understand me, I'm feeling self-conscious, Who am I and where am I going? The Richardsons' four teens (Lexie, Trip, Izzy, and Moody) live in Shaker Height, Ohio, a seemingly perfect planned community. Their father is a lawyer, their mother, Elena, a reporter for the local paper. Lexie is the pretty and popular cheerleader, Trip is the handsome and popular jock, Moody is the smart and sensitive one, and Izzy is the black sheep. So far, so boring. The Richardsons own a duplex that they rent for extra income. An elderly Chinese man lives in one half, and Elena rents the other half to Mia, a wandering artist, and her teenage daughter, Pearl (enter more angst). Pearl and Moody become besties, and soon she is almost part of the family. Elena hires Mia as a part-time housekeeper/cook, and Izzy becomes attached to her, wishing Mia was her real mother.

Halfway in, we start to learn more about the adults in the novel--a definite turn for the better, and one that also makes the teens' stories more compelling and relevant. When a custody battle breaks out over an abandoned Chinese baby, Mia sides with her coworker, the birth mother, instead of the Richardsons' friends, and Elena decides to investigate Mia's background. Who is she? Who is Pearl's father? Why does she only stay in one place for a short time? How can she bear to live with so few belongings? Her investigation leads into corners that might better have been kept dark, and her actions reveal secrets that shatter her so-called perfect world.

It's Mia, a truly fascinating character, who holds the novel together. Without her, the structure--the first half's top-heavy focus on teens--might encourage readers like me to abandon the book. She kept me going to the rewarding conclusion.

4 out of 5 stars.

Jan 7, 10:40am Top

Happy New Year, Deborah. I hope to see you this May in or around Philly.

Good luck on reading Fire and fury. I look forward to your comment although I myself no longer want to read anything more about 45. I still read the paper and phone headlines, though, to keep informed. It all seems so bleak.

Jan 12, 10:22am Top

>14 Cariola: Interesting review of a book rather favored on the best book lists. I'm not much for coming-of-age books either, although the second half sounds provocative.

Jan 15, 1:29pm Top

3. Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

It's 1789, and all of Europe seems caught up in revolutionary fever. Lizzie's mother, Julia Fawkes, is a well-know activist writer who raised her daughter alone after her young husband's death. Now Lizzy has married John Diner Tradevant, an ambitious builder. Diner (as he prefers to be called) is an overbearing, obsessive husband, jealous of Lizzie's visitors, her own visits to the home of her pregnant mother and her new husband, and even her infrequent ventures into town. (Not exactly a subtle tip-off to where this plot is going.) He wants no children because, he tells her, he doesn't want to share her with anyone else. Diner also has little to say about his first wife, Lucie, except that she died in France. Fears of a war with France have put would-be buyers on edge, and Diner's business is going broke. When Lizzie takes in her newborn stepbrother, things go from bad to worse.

I was quite disappointed in this novel, only the second of Dunmore's that I have read. The story was so transparent that I couldn't wait for it to end. What saved this book from a lower rating was Dunmore's very fine writing and the way she creates a particular atmosphere and an underlying commentary on the persistent influence of mothers upon their daughters.

3 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Jan 20, 3:20pm Top

4. Mrs. Osmond by John Banville

If you are a fan of Henry James, you'll recognize the name in the title, and you'd be right to presume that Banville's latest novel is a sequel to Portrait of a Lady focusing on Isabel Archer. Having discovered the truth about her husband's relationship with Serena Merle and the underlying truth that Gilbert married her solely for her money, Isabel disregards his order that she remain in Rome, fleeing instead to rural England and the bedside of her dying cousin, Ralph Touchett. At the end of James's novel, Mrs. Touchett tells Isabel's longtime suitor, Caspar Goodwood, that she has returned to Rome and her husband, apparently to live a life of misery rather than to defy social conventions.

Banville, however, decides otherwise: his novel opens with Isabel disembarking from a train in London. Hurt, embarrassed, and confused, she has decided to remain there to sort out her feelings, weigh her options, and determine her next move. While there, she visits her friend Henrietta Stackpole, a journalist who has taken up the cause of women's rights. In her circumstances, Isabel has become more sympathetic to the cause, but putting her own affairs in order and securing her own independence from Gilbert Osmond are her chief concerns. She also hopes to keep her promise to Pansy, Osmond's daughter, to return to Rome, and to help Pansy to find happiness and escape her father's control. After Isabel's interference caused Lord Warburton to break off negotiations to marry Pansy, the girl has been sent back to the convent where she was raised to keep her away from the man she truly loves.

The novel centers around the stealth warfare between Isabel and Gilbert. Will she return to her husband and to Rome? How will she keep her inheritance out of Gilbert's clutches? Will she be able to maintain the independence she appears to have gained, or will she give in to society's expectations? How will she manage to protect Pansy? And what direction will her life take from here on out?

Banville does a fine job of replicating James's signature style--the elegant patterns and distinctive pacing. Here's just one random example:

"All through that long hazed-over afternoon the heat of the shrouded sun beat steadily upon the air, until an entire half of the congested sky had been pounded into a swollen lead-blue cloud in the shape of an anvil, tinged along its lower rim with a delicate, sore-seeming redness, like an incipient rash."

My only real criticism of Mrs. Osmond is the ending, and of course, I don't want to reveal what happens. Suffice it to say that the slow, langorous pacing breaks in the last few chapters as the plot takes a number of quick, unexpected turns--turns that aren't all necessarily pleasing, nor are they consistent with what has come before. Still, this was an enjoyable read, and Banville has put me in a mind to return to the original Master soon.

4 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Feb 6, 9:28pm Top

5. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I started listening to this book on audio last summer but gave up. It's just too complex for that format, at least for me--too many voices in rapid-fire conversation, all the quotations from contemporaneous accounts, etc. I just could not keep track of what was going on, but I felt that this was definitely something I would give another try in print. (I actually read it on my kindle.) I'm glad that I did. It was much easier reading when I pictured each character in my mind and heard a distinctive voice for each. I could take my time with each chapter devoted to excerpts (what some have referred to as "all those footnotes") and could simply pass over the citations that were so awkward read aloud. As I did so, I was fascinated by the contrasts and connections between them and began to see how they were part of the novel's themes. In addition, I think the page layout is intentional. It leaves wide spaces between speakers, spaces that parallel the distances between them. (This is something I look forward to exploring further in a hard print version.)

If you've read anything about this book, you probably know that the Bardo is the place (space?) between life and death in the Buddhist religion. It's 1862, the Civil War is raging, and President Lincoln's 11-year old son Willie has just died following a devastating illness (most likely typhoid fever). The action takes place inside Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, where Willie's body has been laid to rest in the Carroll family mausoleum. The speakers in the novel--sometimes in conversation with one another, sometimes as individual narrators--are spirits who reject the fact that they have died and linger in this world due to to their attachments to and regrets made in life. They cannot even accept any words relating to death, referring instead to their caskets as "sick-boxes" and their dead bodies as "sick-forms." The speakers multiply in numbers as the story proceeds, each with his or her own story, but three in particular hold it together: Roger Bevins III, a young man who slit his wrists in despair, then changed his mind--too late to be saved; Hans Vollman, a businessman killed when a beam fell and struck him at his desk; and the Reverend Everly Thomas. These three feel a particular compassion for the youngest among them, including Willie Lincoln, who has just joined them in the Bardo. The spirits in the Bardo have the ability not only to observe but to pass through or enter into the living--including the grieving Lincoln, who keeps returning to his son's tomb. It is their desire to help him move beyond this loss, to help Willie to cross over, and to accept the mistakes and regrets of their own lives as well as the fact that they are far beyond "sick" themselves.

Interspersed with their stories and conversations are chapters consisting entirely of short quotations or excerpts from books, memoirs, and testimonies regarding the Lincolns and the period surrounding Willie's death. Each chapter focuses on one specific aspect: Lincoln's appearance, Willie's illness, the party held at the White House while Willie was in decline, the funeral procession, etc. Sanders has carefully laid out the excerpts in these chapters to demonstrate that what happens is not so much fact as a matter of perception. Some of the observers agree with one another while others present a totally different picture. In one, for example, various observers claim that Lincoln was the handsomest or ugliest man they had ever seen, had a most pleasant or most disagreeable countenance, was strong and well-built or gangly and ape-like, etc. The theme of perception--visual, emotional, and intellectual--plays into the stories of the spirits lingering in the Bardo as well.

It wasn't long before I was totally engaged with Lincoln in the Bardo. While it may not be the easiest read, it is definitely worth the effort required. This is one that will stick with me for quite some time, and I look forward to reading it again in hard copy.

5 out of 5 stars.

Jan 28, 1:01pm Top

>1 Cariola: Thanks for all the information! I still have so many books regarding English history. I vow to read more off the shelf than library books. Thus far this month, I think it is 50/50.

I hope all is well with you.

>19 Cariola: I read Lincoln in the Bardo last year. I did not know where the word Bardod originated. I always learn a lot from you.

After 35 years of Lehigh, I will retire on my 66th birthday in September. My health is one of the top reasons, but truly the university is now run on a business model with little support for academia. Somehow it seems the students, faculty, staff are left out of decisions. There is a lot of change with very little tie in. Sound familiar??

Jan 28, 7:49pm Top

>20 Whisper1: Absolutely sounds familiar. I am so thankful that I got out when I did--the changes in even the last 2 years have been just awful. One of my friends who has been at SU since 1984 is retiring this year at 64. She just can't take it any more. I think you will find life a lot more peaceful once you don't have to deal with the daily pressures of work

Feb 1, 11:44am Top

Great list and reviews. I already have you tagged as one of my "interesting libraries," and I'm looking forward to see what you read this year.

Feb 4, 5:19pm Top

>19 Cariola: - Fabulous review of the Saunders book!

Feb 4, 11:20pm Top

>23 lkernagh: Thank you. Have you read it?

Feb 6, 9:33pm Top

6. Winter by Ali Smith

Ali Smith has a way of drawing you into her world. I always find myself lost in her novels and, when I've finished them, at a loss as to how to summarize them. This review was stretching out way too long, so I'm starting again, paring away the details that you need to discover for yourself.

Winter is both a family drama and a commentary on the changing climate--both the physical climate and the sociopolitical one. The family: three estranged people and a lovable impostor. The commentary: our world, what it is doing to humanity, and what humanity is doing to it. One of Smith's targets is technology and the way it removes us from real relationships, responsibility, and personal authenticity. The egotism and isolation it creates feeds into the populist movements that brought us Brexit and Donald Trump, both of which come under Smith's verbal attack. There's a moment when Art, one of the main characters, reads about a crowdfunding effort to raise money to buy a boat that will repel Italian boats trying to rescue refugees. It's hard not to see in that the support in some American quarters for building a wall on the Mexican border and deporting Dreamers to "home countries" that have never in memory been their homes. And it's no surprise that one main character, Arthur, writes a successful blog, Art in Nature--even though he is never out in nature and is rarely artful; it's all just BS for attention and self-gratification.

The family story: It's almost Christmas, and Art and his fiancée Charlotte have committed to spend the holiday with his mother, Sophie, in Cornwall. But there's a problem: Charlotte, an environmental activist, has called out Art for his lack of any real commitment to pro-nature causes, finally having had enough of the BS. (There's symbolism in the fact that she destroys his laptop on her way out.) But does Art call Sophie and explain the breakup? Of course not. Instead, he hires a young Croatian girl who looks like she could use some cash to pretend to be Charlotte. Lux turns out to be the quiet hero of the novel.

Sophie and Art don't get along. Sophie, a once-successful businesswoman, doesn't get along with her aging hippie sister, Iris, who is always off somewhere saving the world. And lately, Sophie has been seeing things . . . namely, the floating head of a young child. It's Lux who tells Art that he must call Iris and tell her to come at once, despite the sisters' animosity.

Enough said about the plot. The novel moves back and forth among the family members and back and forth in time through their memories, yet it always comes back to the present day, asking, How did we get to this place? Full of Smith's usual wordplay and spot-on metaphors, Winter gives us bittersweet glimpses of the art that once was and the nature that we're losing, yet somehow we're left not so much with a sense of doom as a ray of hope. I can't describe it any better than that without giving away far too much and making it sound like something it isn't. Read it. Find out for yourself. When you're done, you'll want to read it again.

5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Feb 22, 1:57pm Top

The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

I can't help but compare this novel--favorably--to Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, a much awaited book that I found, in the end, disappointing. Both touch on the hot button issue of Kashmir, and both revolve around the cruel effects of religious fanaticism, especially when combined with the government in power. But in this beautifully written novel, Aslam succeeds in giving us characters that are both more believable and more conflicted.

Nargis and Massud are middle-aged architects living in the fictional Pakistani city of Zamara. They have taken Helen, the bright daughter of a Christian servant, Lilly, under their wing. Helen's mother, Grace, was murdered by a man who is about to be released from prison. While they are engaged in moving books from a library, they witness an assassination attempt on an American diplomat (or is he a CIA agent?), and, tragically, Massud is struck and killed by a stray bullet. He dies in Nargis's arms, clutching a book written by his uncle--a book that will figure symbolically as the novel progresses. The government is pressuring Nargis and the other victims' survivors to forgive the American who killed them in exchange of a large cash payment. Under Sharia law, if they make statements of forgiveness, the shooter will be released from prison--and the government can exact rewards and favors from the US in return. Nargis refuses, kicking off a chain of increasingly brutal events.

In a country that we tend to think of as so absolutely Muslim, more complicated relationships exist. Although Nargis married and has lived as a Muslim, we learn that she was born a Christian and that her name was Margaret. She never converted, just accepted a mistake in her name made at school because it made life easier; not even Massud knew the truth. As the story progresses, we learn more about the uncle and sister that she left behind. And Nargis is not the only one with secrets: Lilly, a Christian, is engaged in an affair with the widowed daughter of the local imam. Her husband's brother and his cohorts, radical Islamists who have taken control of the mosque, insist that Aysha, considered a martyr's wife, must never remarry, and they have begun broadcasting citizens' secrets from the minaret, stirring up hatred and violence in the community that lead to further tragedies.

Enter a young man named Imran, a Kashmiri who has fled from an ISIS training camp. By chance, he befriends Nargis and Helen, and after the crowd turns on the women, the three of them help each other to survive. Their story, and other small acts of kindness, bring occasional rays of hope into the novel--hope that fear, hatred, and fanaticism can be overcome, that people can see what they share beyond their superficial differences and learn to respect, like, and even love one another. In the midst of so much anger and horror--both in the book and in our current world--we would do well to remember this. But this is no happily-ever-after fantasy: Aslam brings the ugly truth to his pages. As in real life, some prosper, some do not, and some simply are never heard from again.

The Golden Legend is an important novel that hopefully more Americans will want to read. It is beautiful. It is horrifying. It is hopeful. It reminds us that, despite everything, we must persist.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Feb 22, 12:06pm Top

>26 Cariola: Good review, I have added the Dutch translation of The golden legend to mount TBR.

Feb 22, 1:48pm Top

>27 FAMeulstee: Hope you enjoy it.

Mar 3, 10:12pm Top

8. After Rain by William Trevor

Trevor’s stories are always enjoyable. He had a real knack for presenting ordinary people and events in a way that is somehow engaging. This collection of 12 stories all depict some kind of crisis, but in many cases, it is left hidden or unresolved. In “The Piano Tuner’s Wives,” for example, a widowed middle-aged blind tuner marries a woman who had been pining for him since he wed his first wife years ago, but she can’t shake her jealousy of his first wife, despite his reassurances. In “Marrying Damian,” a couple frets over their daughter’s affair with a thrice-married loser who re-enters their lives. A mother suspect that her disturbed son might be involved in a recent murder. A childless woman hides the fact that she has discovered her husband’s affair. “Lost Ground” focuses on the religious conflicts in Northern Ireland when the teenaged son of a Protestant farmer believes he has had a vision of a Catholic saint in the apple orchard and is compelled to preach about his experience. This story, my favorite in the collection, has a definitive resolution, one demonstrates the depths of hatred and the pressure to conform.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Mar 9, 1:00pm Top

9. Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

Well, it was interesting getting the inside scoop about the chaos and craziness in the White House, but most of the juicy bits have already been released in media reports and Wolff's many interviews. The incompetence, willful ignorance, disrespect and downright meanness are appalling, but nothing more than I expected.

3 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Apr 4, 4:18pm Top

10. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

2018 has been a year of great books for me so far, and this one joins those at the top of my 'Best Books So Far' list. Richard, a widowed German classics professor who has recently retired, feels somewhat adrift, unsure of what purpose his life will have from here on out. He thinks about the wife that he cheated on and the lover who cheated on him; he putters around the house, plays his favorite music, thinks about the man who was lost in the lake behind his house and whose body was never retrieved. He does minimal shopping and prepares simple meals. He watches the news. Richard becomes intrigued by a story of ten dark-skinned refugees who have begun a hunger strike at the Alexanderplatz, a major square in Berlin. Their demonstration features a single sign: We become visible. Richard realizes that he must have passed them on his shopping trip just the day before. Why didn't he see them?

In the following weeks, Richard scans the newspapers and TV for more reports of these men but finds nothing. He begins to realize how callous our society has become, scanning the images before us for their infinite variety rather than their content, rather than doing anything about the horrors that we see. He reads about a school in Kreuzberg occupied by a group of African refugees, and about a tent city another group has set up in Orianplatz. Moved by their plight and their passion, Richard determines to learn more about them and begins daily visits to speak with these men one-on-one. What he learns changes the way he views his government, changes his thoughts about refugees, and changes his life. Instead of being a viewer or reader, Richard becomes an active force for change.

Many of the topics Erpenbeck touches upon are not exclusive to Germany but relate to the immigrant situation throughout Europe and here in the US as well. People are worried for their jobs, concerned that the immigrants will eat up social welfare programs, or will bring an unrealistically feared religion and a strange culture to their country. The author also goes to lengths to demonstrate how a reunited Germany may not be so different from the divided country it was following the second World War. And the writing (and translation) here are exquisite, especially in revealing how Richard, a man who has lived the life of the mind, begins to realize the emotional power of the heart he had suppressed for so long.

Must living in peace--so fervently wished for throughout human history and yet enjoyed in only a few parts of the world--inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it instead so aggressively that it almost looks like war?

In short, this is a wonderful book. I can't recommend it highly enough.

5 out of 5 stars.

Mar 15, 9:01pm Top

You make trying another Erpenbeck sound less like lion-taming lessons than my first experience would suggest it was, Deborah.

Edited: Mar 15, 9:47pm Top

>32 richardderus: Hmm, I didn't find this one difficult at all, but I haven't read anything else by this writer. Sometimes it's the translator; she got a good one this time.

Edited to add: I just checked the Amazon reviews: 79% gave it 5 stars, 19% 4 stars, 2% 3 stars, and none lower. That's a pretty amazing bunch of scores, so Amazon readers seem to agree that this is a really good book. LT readers are giving it an average of 4.38, which is also unusually high.

Mar 16, 8:29am Top

>33 Cariola: I have the book on my TBR pile - will have to get to it soon!

Mar 16, 6:01pm Top

>31 Cariola: Your review makes me think I should move Go, went, gone to the top of mount TBR soon.
I have read and loved her other book The End of Days.

Edited: Mar 21, 1:37pm Top

11. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by John Oliver and Jill Twiss

John Oliver and his gang came up with this cute story about the VP's pet rabbit and released it a day prior to the release of the Pence ladies' children's book. Not surprisingly, it was the #1 best seller on Amazon the next day. This is NOT a satire for adults (although there are a few subtle jabs, like the Stink Bug who tries to dictate what everyone else can do and looks quite a bit like Mike Pence). It's a sweet, gentle children's book that quietly promotes the messages that Love Is Love, that Everyone Is Different, and that Different Is Good, whether that means two boy rabbits falling in love or a badger who eats the crusts on his sandwiches first. The illustrations are adorable--what child wouldn't love two bunnies hopping through the garden and the White House, leaving bunny prints on the kitchen counter, or a wedding with two grooms otters conducted by a lady cat? There's a hedgehog and a turtle to boot. When the Stink Bug tries to halt the wedding--well, I won't give away exactly what happens, but there's definitely a happily ever after ending for Marlon and Wesley.

So why did I, who have no little children and no grandchildren, buy a copy of this book? Well, first, for the same reason I've made donations to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence's name. I'd love to see this book blast the Pence book out of the water in terms of sales. And also because 100% of the proceeds from the book's sales go to two LGBT organizations, The Trevor Project and AIDS United. Although I'm not a member of that community, I strongly believe that all American citizens should enjoy an equal right to be themselves and to be happy, that our Constitution promotes the separation of church and state, and that the government shouldn't be legislating blanket morals for everyone based on prejudice and hatred. I hope that you will share this book with a child in your life (or just enjoy it yourself while sticking it to the Pence family).

P.S. The audio version is read by Jim Parsons and features Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jeff Garlin, Ellie Kemper, John Lithgow, Jack McBrayer, and RuPaul.

5 out of 5 stars.

Mar 25, 2:22pm Top

12. Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

This is a powerful and often horrific book about the persistence of the caste system and the status of women in modern-day India. Poormina is the young, motherless daughter of a weaver who constantly demeans his daughter for her lack of beauty and her dark skin. She befriends Savitha, a beautiful young woman of even lower status. Her father is an alcoholic who has driven his family deeper into poverty, forcing her to take a job as a weaver in Poormina's father's shop. The girls' friendship is the sole source of joy in their lives. So it's no surprise when even this is ripped apart by an act of violence. Their lives take disparate yet equally horrific paths. Tabitha leaves her town rather than being forced into marriage with a hated man and, in order to survive, gets caught up in the sex trade--and even worse. Poormina accepts her fate and marries a man with a deformed hand and a cruel family that holds her responsible for everything that displeases them. She, too, becomes a victim of violence and sets out on her own to search for her lost friend.

The suffering of both women is appalling and stomach-churning, but the reader can't help but admire their strength, cleverness, and persistence. One wonders what they might have achieved in a world where they were seen as equals. In their search for one another, the women cross continents and get the better of the men around them. If I have a criticism of the book, it's that it relies too much on coincidence, both for suspense and resolution.

4 out of 5 stars.

Mar 29, 10:23pm Top

13. The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

This is a quirky little story about love, community, and music. It begins in the 1980s. A man named Frank inherited his mothers collection of vinyl albums (and nothing else) when she died. He opens a music shop on Unity Street, a fading community that includes a Polish baker, twin morticians, a religious goods store run by an alcoholic priest without a parish, and a Mohawked female tattoo artist. Frank equips the shop himself, even turning an old wardrobe into two listening booths. He resists the pressure of his distributors to stock CDs, a then-new format. For him, it's vinyl, vinyl, and nothing but vinyl. Frank has an unusual talent: he seems to know instinctively not what music his customers want, but the music they need. For example, the sad widower who always asks for Chopin is sent home with Aretha Franklin, and it's a life-changing experience for him.

One day, a girl wearing a green coat, green scarf, and green gloves passes out on the sidewalk while staring into Frank's window. When she opens her eyes, Frank, a loner who has avoided any form of attachment for years, is struck with the thunderbolt of love--which, of course, he resists. The rest of the book follows their changing relationship into the 21st century, as well as the pressure a development firm puts on the resident of Unity Street and Frank's coming to terms with memories of his deceased mother and how she has shaped his life.

This was a fairly entertaining novel, but I probably would have enjoyed it even more had I not picked it up right after reading a string of outstanding and more serious novels.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: May 7, 8:28pm Top

14. The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

I won't rate this book because I am giving up on it, mainly due to the pacing and the way that it is written. It just screams "WOMEN'S FICTION!!!"--and not in a good way. Full of clichés about early Hollywood, men, sex, ambitious women, etc. I hated the narrative voice of Frances Marion. The book is more than 400 pages in length, and believe me, it's no worthy epic. I can't imagine sticking with this mess for that long. ( I probably also lost patience with it on the heels of so many fantastic reads in the last few months.) I am interested in Mary Pickford, but I guess I will look for a good biography instead.

It's probably not fair for me to give this book a rating, since I only read about 50 pages before deciding that life is too short to waste on junk. But reading those 50 pages was so painful that I AM adding it to my book count.

Apr 2, 10:55am Top

Great reviews, especially for Go, Went, Gone, which I will have to put on my list of recommended books.

Apr 4, 4:16pm Top

15. Improvement by Joan Silber

Silber's newest 'novel' is more of a collection of interconnected stories--a pattern she has used before, most successfully in my favorite work of hers, Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories. Reyna is a young single NYC mother whose current boyfriend, Boyd, is serving time in Rikers Island Prison for petty theft. He follows the straight and narrow for a while after getting out but soon becomes involved in a cigarette smuggling scheme that ends in a tragedy--a tragedy that is indirectly blamed on Reyna. Kiki, Reyna's aunt, has an interesting past. While travelling in Turkey as a young woman, she fell in love with the culture and decided to stay, marrying a rug seller who, due to political upheaval, soon took her from Istanbul to live on a farm--a life for which she was unsuited. She came back to New York after a few years, bringing with her a collection of Turkish rugs. Individual chapters focus on Reyna, Kiki, and Boyd, and also on the friends involved in the cigarette smuggling scheme, including a young man named Claude; his sister Lynette (Boyd's former girlfriend and an eyebrow shaping artist); and Darisse, a hospice worker, who is Claude's latest and last girlfriend. A series of other intriguing characters-- Teddy, a truck driver who can't seem to quit his ex-wife; and three German artifact hunters, Bruno, Dieter, and Steffi, and, years later, Steffi's daughter Monika and her husband Julian--fill in the gaps. Silber does a fine job of playing Six Degrees of Separation while exploring the way that people and events can change our lives forever. As for the title, all of the characters are seeking to improve their lives in some manner, whether it is through a get rich scheme, finding the right man, doing what's best for a child, hiding the past, or making amends.

I enjoyed this book and find I am still thinking about it and appreciating new things about it even days after I finished reading it. I would still rank Ideas of Heaven as my favorite by Silber; I liked the way the individual stories there were set in different places and time periods yet all linked by blood and faith. But Improvements is coming in at a close second.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Apr 9, 2:41pm Top

16. Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg

I've read a lot of serious fiction lately, so this was a nice break. It's the kind of book that you can pick up, read a few entries, and move on. I bookmarked my favorites as I went along to revisit down the road. Ortberg begins with a series of imagined text conversations from mythological characters (Circe, Dido, and Achilles, for example), then moves on to Hamlet, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, William Faulkner, The Sun Also Rises, J. Alfred Prufrock, Daisy Miller, William Carlos Williams, and more. Be forewarned: you will need some familiarity with the original in order to catch the humor. This wasn't too much of an issue for me until the last entries, which focused on Children's, YA, and some pop novels which (with the exception of Nancy Drew) I hadn't read. The book includes fun drawings of selected characters. Overall, an enjoyable and witty escape.

4 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Apr 18, 6:20pm Top

17. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

Well, I guess I'm just not much of a Flannery O'Connor afficiando, because as some of my fellow readers. As a commentary on the fact that it is virtually impossible for human beings not to believe in something (even if it is disbelief), it has its moments, and it certainly depicts the bleakness of the American South in the 1950s. But I just didn't find myself caught up in the characters or their stories, and I found myself wishing that I was reading Elmore Gantry instead. In all of her work, I get the sense that O'Connor is trying just a little too hard to shock.

Like many veterans of World War II, Hazel Motes has lost his faith in God (despite the fact that his grandfather was a traveling preacher), and he is even further shaken when he returns to his home town, only to find that his family has moved on and the belongings they left have been ransacked. He falls in with an assorted lot of shady characters: a prostitute named Leona Watts whose address he found scrawled on the wall of a men's room; Enoch Emery, a bad boy zookeeper who is more than a little crazy but shares Hazel's atheism; a blind preacher, Asa Hawks, and his teenage daughter, Sabbath Lily; and a man in a gorilla costume. Motes decides to launch an anti-religion ministry. His admirer, Enoch, attempts to establish himself as a kind of anti-John the Baptist to Motes's anti-Christ, and another admirer, Hoover Shoats, rechristens himself as Onnie Jay Holy and sets up his own Holy Church of the Church Without Christ. It's a downward spiral for them all from here on out.

Reading over that description, I need to warn you that this is NOT a funny novel; indeed, it's very, very dark, although it has it's moments that are so absurdly drawn to shock that they may cause you to laugh. Since the book is as old as I am, I will forgive it's somewhat dated style and themes, but I found myself rather bored by it.

3 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Apr 18, 7:55pm Top

18. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey

After my experience with Fire and Fury, I wasn't sure if I would regret purchasing James Comey's much-anticipated book. I don't. The issue I had with Michael Woolf's book was simply that there were no surprises by the time the cable news networks had done their interviews and discussions. There are no Trump bombshells in Comey's book that haven't also been made public in his testimony or his interview with George Stephanopoulos--but the 2016 election and the Trump presidency make up only the last 20-25% of the book, and the rest is very interesting indeed. A Higher Loyalty is an honest memoir, one that looks back at the events and individuals that shaped the former FBI Director's character and values and his concept of what makes a good leader.

In addressing his childhood, Comey talks about a devastating move from a familiar school and neighborhood (his grandfather had been the local police commissioner) where he had been one of the popular kids to another where he suffered bullying. He tells us about a terrifying incident when, as a teenager, he and his brother were held at gunpoint by a home invader later identified as a serial rapist. He recounts some stupid mistakes he made as a grocery stockboy, and of the owner, a man whose example gave him some important lessons in what makes a good leader. Later, we see him discovering the work of Reinhold Niebuhr in a college religion class. (You may have seen Comey's tweets under Neibuhr's name, many of them using the theologist's own words.) He gives us insights into his long marriage to a supportive wife and their tragic loss of an infant son. Along the way, he remembers teachers, colleagues, and others who set an example for the man he hoped to become.

And, of course, there is his long and fascinating career. After a stint as law clerk to a federal judge in Manhattan and a short stint with a private law firm, Comey joined the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York--the same office currently investigating Michael Cohen, President Trump's "fixer." One of the cases he worked on was the Gambino crime family prosecution, and he has a lot of intriguing stories to tell about that experience. He was deputy special counsel to the Whitewater investigation--his first run-in with Hillary Clinton--and, as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, investigated President Clinton's pardon of fugitive Marc Rich, a Clinton campaign contributor facing federal charges of violating trade sanctions against Iran. I had no idea that Comey was the lead prosecutor in the case against Martha Stewart. His discussion of the case and the dilemmas he faced are a fine example of the way he uses his legal experiences to demonstrate his sense of ethics. Years earlier, he had upheld the conviction of a young black assistant pastor who had lied to the FBI in attempting to protect his mentor. If this man served time for his crime, why should Martha Stewart be shown leniency for the same crime and others?

Comey's first headlong plunge into Washington politics came when he opposed the Bush regime's extension of the NSA's domestic wiretapping program, which had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The story of his visit to John Ashcroft's hospital bedside, accompanied by three trusted colleagues, including then-FBI Director Robert Mueller may be familiar They persuaded Ashcroft, the Attorney General, to uphold the discontinuation of the wiretaps, thwarting the wishes of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez. This was not Comey's last run-in with these politicos and others, including Condoleeza Rice. He opposed the interrogation procedures--waterboarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation, etc.--as forms of both physical and mental torture, and he was involved in the investigation of Scooter Libby for lying to the FBI, obstructing justice, and outing CIA agent Valerie Plame. (Is it possible this is yet another reason, in addition to sending a message to cronies under investigation, for Trump's recent pardon of Libby?) Again and again, he stands up for his belief that members of the Justice Department, once appointed, must work independently and not be steered by the Executive Office. He addresses the criticism he received for appearing sympathetic to the concerns of Black Lives Matters and recounts his efforts to increase the percentage of minority personnel working for the FBI, encouraging employees to recruit talented people by telling them about the opportunities the department offers and by "finding joy" in their own work.

And of course, there are the last few years: the issue of Hillary Clinton's private server and lost emails, the concerns about Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and the exchanges with Trump that resulted in Comey's firing. Comey is nothing if not honest about his personal faults and the mistakes he has made, but he attempts to explain the internal conflicts he faced and the rationale behind his decisions. You may not agree with him, but you can't help but agree that he thought he was doing his job to the best of his ability, holding fast to the truth he still believes will set us all free and following the example of his lifelong mentors. (Once his book tour is over, he will be returning to the classroom, teaching courses in effective and ethical leadership.)

I listened to this book on audio and recommend it in that format. Comey is a good writer and a very good reader, and hearing him tell his own story adds credence to it. I enjoyed A Higher Loyalty not as an exposé or even a self-justification, but simply as the story of one man's life and its challenges. I only wish I shared his optimism about our country's future. He ends with a metaphor: when forest fires burn themselves out, there is room for more and better things to emerge from the scorched earth, resulting in a forest that is even stronger than before.

4 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Apr 26, 2:33pm Top

19. Circe by Madeline Miller.

Most reviews of Madeline Miller's second novel, an extended retelling of the myth of Circe, label it as a feminist perspective, and while that is true, this is also a compelling story full of adventure magic, and complex, well-drawn characters. Miller begins by going back in time from the familiar episode in which Oysseus's men are turned into swine, back to Circe's childhood in the palace of her father, the Titan sun god Helios. Considered not pretty enough, too smart for her own good, too willful, too outspoken, and not even in possession of a melodious voice, the young Circe is constantly told that no one wants to hear her speak and that she is "the worst of Helios's children." No wonder she develops a weakness for mortals and underdogs. Her first significant act of disobedience remains a lifelong secret: that she brought a cup of water to her uncle Prometheus, hanging in chains after being whipped for giving the gift of fire to mortals. With her brother (her only friendly companion), Circe begins to study spells and magic, earning a reputation as a witch. She falls in love with a struggling fisherman, Glaucus, and uses her knowledge to transform him into a god, but when he spurns her, she turns her wrath upon his beloved and is brutally punished by Helios. Later, when war breaks out between to Titans and Zeus, Helios agrees to send Circe into exile as one of the terms of a peace treaty. Alone on the island of Aiaia, she becomes the goddess we know from The Odyssey. Her fate and that of her son Telegonus become intertwined with that of Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus.

Miller's genius is in giving us insight into Circe's psyche. Once on the island, none of her actions are taken for pure revenge: there are always mitigating circumstances, including self defense and the protection of loved ones. Certainly the themes of women's lack of power, the silencing of their voices, and their devaluation are at the forefront. Initially antagonists, Circe and Penelope eventually form a bond that also demonstrates the power women can achieve when they join forces. But lest you are put off by the feminist slant, never fear: there are plenty of gods, monsters, and mayhem straight out of mythology, including Daedalus and Icarus, Scylla and Charybdis, Hermes, Apollo, Artemis, Athena, the Minotaur, and more.

Overall, this is an enchanted and enchanting novel, as beautifully written and vividly imagined as Miller's first, The Song of Apollo. I can hardly wait for her next venture into Greek mythology.

5 out of 5 stars.

Apr 25, 3:23pm Top

>45 Cariola: Thanks for this review. Jim and I and Katie all saw her speak with Emily Wilson, who has recently translated the Odyssey, at the New York Public Library. They were both quite delightful, and I'm eager to read both of Madeline Miller's books as soon as I get the chance.

Apr 27, 7:40pm Top

20. The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies

The Fortunes explores the Chinese experience in America through the stories of four different people. The first is that of Ah Ling, a young man sold and transported to work in a gold rush town laundry. Anti-Chinese sentiment is high, mirroring today's political rhetoric as Americans and white immigrants alike blame the Chinese immigrants for taking all the jobs by undercutting their wages. Ah Ling is hired as valet to one of the moguls building the transcontinental railroad, but eventually, his sympathies return to his countryman. The second story is that of Anna May Wong, a 1930s film star who, because of racial prejudice, could never attain a leading role. She played Charlie Chan's daughter and a series of secondary figures, and Davies depicts her as irate that German actress Louise Rainier got the lead in 'The Good Earth.' In 1975 Detroit, Vincent Chin was killed by two white men on the night before his wedding; his story is told by the friend that was with him that night. In the fourth story, a biracial writer and his Caucasian wife go to China to adopt a baby girl. Each of the stories conveys a poignant sense of displacement. Sadly, not much has changed in America over the last 150 years, except perhaps the ethnicity of the persecuted.

4 out of 5 stars.

Edited: May 6, 11:40am Top

21. The Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

Thomas Penn's biography of Henry VII, the first Tudor king, is well researched and competent, if not very exciting. Much of it focuses on Henry's efforts to stabilize and consolidate his power and to rout out possible enemies at court. A pious and sickly man whose early life was dominated by his mother, the single-minded Margaret Beaufort, Henry's main contribution seems to have been bringing together two warring factions by defeating Richard III and marrying the daughter of the Yorkist King Edward IV and producing four children whose marriages united the Tudors to the crowns of Spain, France, and Scotland. He was also known (and hated) for his stinginess and his continual efforts to raise revenues, usually by levying more taxes on an already overtaxed citizenry. Overall, a stolid but rather dull king; no wonder the kingdom celebrated the succession of his heir, Henry VIII.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

May 4, 12:19pm Top

22. A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

Sara Baume has mastered the first person interior monologue, both here and in her first novel, Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither--especially when the narrator exists outside of his or her community and on the edge of madness. Here, Frankie, a young Irish artist, is struggling with depression. She has no friends, had a difficult time of it in art school, and hasn't found any success since graduating. In desperation, Frankie decides to move back to her small home town and asks her mother if she can live in the empty house of her grandmother, who died there three years earlier. Her mother agrees, with the condition that Frankie must see a therapist. The novel's "plot" is simply recounting Frankie's reactions to her day-to-day life, sometimes up, more times down, seeing the world in her own unique way. I found it a bit cloying at times, but Baume's use of precise language is its charm.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

May 6, 5:19am Top

>48 Cariola: I actually quite enjoyed that one, Deborah but I would agree that he was "a stolid but rather dull king".

Have a lovely Sunday.

Edited: May 7, 3:56pm Top

23. The Sealwoman's Gift by Sally Magnusson

This novel is based on a true event when, in the mid-17th century, a Turkish fleet flying under Danish flags raids the small Icelandic island community of Heimat, slaughtering many of the inhabitants but also pirating others away to be sold as slaves. The main character, Asta, is the pregnant second wife of Olafur, a much older priest. Asta gives birth to her youngest child, Jon, during the journey to Algiers. There, the family is split apart, and Asta spends nearly ten years as slave to a Muslim master. During this time, she struggles to hold on to her Christian faith and to reunite with her children and friends. She finds solace in the Icelandic sagas that she loves and also uses them to entertain her master. When Asta learns that her husband (who she had presumed was dead) has finally persuaded the Danish king to ransom the some of the captives, she faces a decision that will be devastating, no matter what choice she makes. She is forced to reassess her life, her priorities, and her values.

Although I enjoyed the novel, I felt that it got bogged down at times, especially when it broke out in romance. Magnusson certainly has done her research and gives insights into the reality of life for Muslim women in the time period: near the end, one character even observes how odd it seems that these women, who had suffered terrible fates as slaves, came home not broken but standing taller and stronger.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: May 31, 12:30pm Top

24. Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Enduring Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots by Nancy Goldstone

Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I (and therefore granddaughter of Mary, Queen of Scots) was married to a lesser noble, Frederick, Elector of Palatine, with the promise that her father would support his efforts to win the crown of Bohemia. James--not exactly know for being fair and honest when it wasn't expedient--backed out of the promise, an act that sent Elizabeth and her family into exile and ultimately led to the devastating Thirty Years War. Despite the loss of his crown and the years of political turmoil, Elizabeth and Frederick got along well; in fact, they produced 13 children, eight sons (two died young) and five daughters (one died at age three). Goldstone's book focuses on the couple's three surviving daughters, the youngest of which, Sophia, ended up named heiress presumptive to the British throne and launches the Hanoverian dynasty, thus fulfilling her grandmother's legacy. The eldest, Elizabeth, was known for her scholarship in languages, mathematics, history, geography, and the arts. She corresponded with and even challenged Rene Descartes, and later, as a Protestant Abbess, befriended William Penn. Both men dedicated books to her. Her sister Louise Hollandine was a talented portrait painter. She shocked her staunchly Calvinist family by fleeing to France and converting to Catholicism at the age of 39; she later took holy orders and also became an abbess. Henriette Marie married a brother of the Prince of Transylvania; sadly, she died of unknown causes at the age of 25, and her husband died only a few months later. Sophia wed the Elector or Hanover. When it appeared that neither William III, now widowed, nor the future queen Anne would produce heirs, Parliament enacted the Settlement of 1701, which required any ruler to be Protestant, making Sophia the heiress presumptive. It was her son Charles Louis who later took the throne of Great Britain as George I.

Goldstone provides many details of life at court and in exile, of the daughters' education and quests for suitable spouses, and of the upheaval caused by the religious wars. Her research is meticulous and exhaustive. Overall, an intriguing look into the lives of four 17th-century royal women who struggles to survive and to find themselves.

4 out of 5 stars.

May 23, 7:48pm Top

>52 Cariola: That is one complicated lineage!

Edited: May 26, 5:18pm Top

A Case of Curiosities by Alan Kurzweil

My reaction to this book was rather mixed. Set in 18th-century France, it's the tale of Claude Page, son of an herbalist/healer, whose initial notoriety is that he bears a wart on his hand that resembles the king. A physician offers to remove it--but takes Claude's finger as well. Claude is sent to live with the Abbé, an atheistic dilettante, who recognizes the boy's talent for drawing and promises to educate him. However, Claude's main duties involve painting risqué scenes inside watch cases for the Abbé's clientele. When he discovers a talent for mechanical movement, he longs to be free to study the craft. Eventually, he ends up in Paris--but things do not work out quite as planned.

I found many of the characters to be both quirky and unique, but the overall pacing seems to be off. I was engaged in Claude's life in Tournay and his early employment with the Abbé, but there were times when the story dragged or felt repetitive. Things picked up when he got to Paris, but, again, I found myself getting bored, especially with all the descriptions of mechanical devices and equipment.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Edited: Jun 16, 2:33pm Top

26. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

To be honest, I gave up on this one after reading about 80%, but I found it so tedious that I'm counting it as a completed book. I simply have no interest in Cold War spy stories. I enjoyed the first third or so, when the narrator and his sister are left by their parents in the care of a man who seems to have a criminal background. But I'm no fan of coming-of-age stories either, which this starts to turn into. As an adult, Nathaniel learns that his parents were spies, and he tries to find out what they were involved in. By that time, I really didn't care.

Two stars for Ondaatje's usual fine writing style. I'm sure others will enjoy this book more than I did.

2 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Jun 14, 1:32pm Top

27. Last Stories by William Trevor

I always enjoy Trevor's short stories. This is his last collection (he died in 2016), but, fortunately, he was so prolific that there are still a large number of his published collections that I have yet to read. As always these stories deal with seemingly ordinary people in seemingly mundane situations, but he conveys an empathy and depth of feeling that make his characters both familiar and unique. It's almost as though the author was eavesdropping on their conversations and inner musings. A music teacher marvels at her prodigy, not yet realizing that he is also a thief. A young girl in boarding school encounters two older women on the grounds who mysteriously show up at her hockey games and theatrical performances, bringing gifts and acting as though they know her. What is the secret behind their strange affection? An amnesiac man finds a key in his pocket; a hooker follows him home. A crippled man hires two foreigners to paint his house; but can they be trusted? Overall, another quietly surprising, satisfying collection from the Irish master.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Jun 7, 12:58pm Top

28. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

In the early 19th century, Lavinia, a young Irish girl who lost her family during immigration, is brought to a plantation as an indentured servant. She is taken to the kitchen house where Belle, a light-skinned young slave, is assigned to care for her. After a difficult adjustment period, Lavinia comes to think of the plantation as home and the slaves as her family. Life isn't always easy for them, but neither is it for the master's family: Martha, his wife, has to deal with her husband's affairs, the separation from her own family in Philadelphia, the loss of several children, and a doctor who pushes laudanum; Marshall, the heir apparent, is belittled and abused by his father and his tutor; and little Sally longs for playmates but is forbidden to socialize with the black children. Lavinia becomes Sally's main companion and the caregiver for the newest baby, but she also relishes her time in the kitchen house with Belle, Mama May, and the other slaves. We see, through her eyes, the hardships and cruelty that both families must endure. When Lavinia approaches her teens, she is sent to live with Miss Martha's sister, where she will receive a proper education and learn behavior more appropriate for a young white woman, but her ties to both families back home remain strong. Her return, however, is not as idyllic as she had hoped.

Grissom creates memorable characters and a story that keeps the reader's attention. As one would expect in any novel that deals with slavery, there are moments that are truly horrific, and even the happy times are always under the shadow of bondage. I'm looking forward to the sequel, in which Belle's son Jamie, now a grown man, moves to the city and passes as white.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Jun 8, 9:22am Top

>57 Cariola: another book for my wish list! thank you!

Edited: Jun 14, 1:32pm Top

29. Florida by Lauren Groff

I've enjoyed Lauren Groff's novels and was very much looking forward to this collection of short stories.. Let me begin by saying that Groff has done an excellent job of creating the environment of Florida. She has done it so well, in fact, that I know that I will never want to live there (nor likely visit either). Oppressive heat and humidity by day, surprisingly chilly nights, swamp dwellers, sinkholes, Spanish moss, hurricanes, tangled vines, transplanted Northerners, drug dealers, drifters, grifters, illegal immigrants, gators, lizards, mosquitos, and a plethora of snakes (even in the toilets): not my idea of home. No wonder the main character in the final story flies off to France with her two children--and yet she chooses a place almost as unpleasant as she conducts research for a novel about the unpleasant man who lived there, Guy de Maupassant.

The stories are, for the most part, female-centric: the protagonists (if we can call them that) are mostly discontented mothers (generally of boys, as another reviewer notes), and there is indeed a sense of sameness about them. Perhaps they are a bit autobiographical (the author herself being a transplant from New England), or perhaps they are based on sketches and notes for another novel. But I think the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere that Groff creates is intentional; it's the framework on which the collection is built, and Groff's marvelous writing fleshes it out, in all of its bleakness. Who else would look at the sun and see "yellow wool," a perfect metaphor that works on more than one of the senses?

So, beautifully crafted, but, yes, bleak. Don't read this if you're feeling rather down; it will only take you deeper. In the bleakest of these bleak stories, a young woman leaves graduate school and her job as an English instructor to live in her car, sneaking into clubs and public libraries to get a wash, eating out of dumpsters, getting kicked off beaches for parking after hours, and just when you think it can't get any worse, it does--again and again. I don't think I've ever felt so depressed after finishing a short story. And I have to credit Groff's writing for moving me that much. Read Florida and appreciate it as art. You'll be carried away--just not quite to the paradise that the Sunshine State portrays in its promotional material.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Jun 15, 11:43am Top

You've been doing some very interesting reading, Daughters of the Winter Queen has been on my radar---I'm glad to see you rate it highly. I devoured Circe, and it's my only 5-star read so far this year. What a story-teller Miller is. Flannery O'Connor certainly is grim much of the time, but I admire her ability to create atmosphere and character. If we categorized her work as "horror", we wouldn't be far wrong. I Pearl-ruled The Kitchen House, and I can't remember why now.

Jun 15, 4:19pm Top

30. Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

I finished Grissom's The Kitchen House about a week ago and was eager to read this sequel. At the end of the first novel, Jamie Pyke learns that the white woman he thought was his mother is really his grandmother and that he was the product of his master's rape of a slave. There's a lot more to the complex, stunning climax, but Jamie has to flee the plantation or risk charges of murder and certain execution. In Glory Over Everything, we learn that Jamie has been passing as white in Philadelphia. When he receives a frantic plea for help from Henry, a black man who helped him when he first arrived, Jamie goes south to find Henry's son Pan, a free boy who has been captured by slavers. But not all goes smoothly for the man now known as "Mr. James Burton." For one thing, he has gotten a young white woman pregnant, a situation that might expose his true identity. And in seeking Pan, he fears that he might encounter someone who knows of his past and might expose him. Of course, there are also other hazards and obstacles to be met in the quest to find Pan and bring him home. Grissom again creates a stark and horrifying picture of the cruelties wrought by slavery and of the dangers faced by those who ran towards freedom and those who helped them along the way.

Although I was engaged with this book, I didn't find it as compelling as The Kitchen House, but I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was that some episodes seemed like more of the same, or perhaps it was the dissolution of the closely knit slave family at the center of the first book, now dispersed. Perhaps it was a few too many coincidences. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the previous novel; just don't expect it to be as good.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Jun 15, 6:05pm Top

Great batch of reading since my last visit!

>24 Cariola: - In answer to your question, no, I have not read Lincoln in the Bardo yet, but hope to find time for it soon.

Edited: Jun 22, 3:25pm Top

31. Noonday by Pat Barker

Noonday is the final installment in Barker's Life Class trilogy (the second book is Toby's Room. The first novel followed art school students Elinor Brooke, Paul Tarrant, and Kit Neville as they face the outbreak of World War I; the second continues as Kit and Elinor's brother Toby hit the front lines, Paul signs on as a medic, and Elinor employs her artistic talent to help shape new faces for war-damaged veterans. Noonday jumps ahead to the London Blitz. Elinor and Paul have married, both work as artists, and they have a house in London that Elinor loves. As the novel opens, she is staying with her sister Rachel in the country, attending her mother's death watch. Both Paul and Elinor have volunteered in the war efforts, she as an ambulance driver, he assisting in rescue efforts. Paul visits the country house on weekends and forms an attachment with Kenny, an odd ginger-haired boy, one of the many children sent away from the city for safety. As for Kit, he is employed by Kenneth Clark's War Artists Advisory Committee--and he is still in love with Elinor.

Barker paints a devastating picture of the Blitz and the damage it did to buildings, bodies, and psyches. Giving us insights into characters involved in the rescue efforts brings even more horrors to the fore. Kenny's story is particularly touching, and Barker gives us another interesting character in Bertha, an overweight medium fulfilling people's need to connect with lost sons, husbands, and fathers. She also explores the dynamics of Elinor's strained family relations and her less-than-perfect marriage.

I would recommend reading the first two novels before this one as it will help you to understand the relationships among the various characters.

(There is no touchstone for this novel.)

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Jun 22, 5:50pm Top

32. Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

This is the third installment of Weir's "Six Tudor Queen" series of novels based on the wives of Henry VIII I need to backtrack and read the one on Anne Boleyn before Anne of Cleves is published). It's a door stopper but still managed to hold my attention, and I even learned a few new things about Jane. I liked that Weir focused a lot on Jane's pre-Henry days and that she didn't make her the passive, saintly, mealy-mouthed woman I've encountered in other novels about her. Nor did she make Jane into an unrealistically strong, influential crusader. She comes across as a believable character, a woman who loved her husband (but not everything he did) and who was, to a great extent, subject to her gender, her class, and the times in which she lived.

More than half of the book is devoted to Jane's life prior to her marriage to Henry. We learn of family secrets that could, if exposed, have been scandalous, of Jane's relationships with her parents and siblings, and of her early hope (undocumented, as Weir notes in her Afterword) to take religious vows. I knew that she had served as a lady-in waiting to Anne Boleyn but did not know that she also served Katherine of Aragon and even went with her in her removal from court. (Henry had a habit of trolling his wives' retinues for his next mistress or next wife.) Henry required her to take Jane Rochester, the widow of Anne's brother George, who also betrayed him by hinting at incest--as a lady-in-waiting. Weir also reveals that Jane was pregnant when she married Henry only a few days after Anne's execution but miscarried this child and another before the birth of their son Edward. Weir admits that she only imagined Sir Francis Bryant as a potential love interest, but he was indeed a friend of the Seymour family and a supporter of Jane. She also dashes the belief, promulgated by broadsides and ballads, that Edward was born by Caesarian section, and that Jane died of then-common post-partum septicemia. In her Afterward, she consults with several medical who reviewed Jane's documented symptoms immediately before and during Edward's birth and her failing health in the days following. Among their theories: that Jane's long lying-in caused a blood clot that was loosened by severe vomiting induced by food poisoning.

Recommended for Tudor junkies and fans of Alison Weir's novels.

4 out of 5 stars.

Jun 22, 5:12pm Top

33. Left: A Love Story by Mary Hogan

Paul Agarra, a respected judge, and his much younger wife Fay are on the last day of a trip to Spain. Fay proposes a quick side trip on the way to the airport, but they soon got lost. They pull into a diner so that Fay can use the rest room and ask for directions; Paul will circle around until she comes out. Except that Paul never returns. Frantic, with no money or cell phone (she had left her purse in the car), Fay finally makes her way to the airport, where she finds Paul waiting for her. He insists that going to the airport without her was the logical thing to do, since they were lost and he knew that she was expected to be there. This is one of the first signs that something isn't quite right with Paul, and the rest of the book tracks his slide into Alzheimer's. Fay struggles with the changes while Paul, his children, and his ex-wife refuse to accept his decline--until one night the police find him wandering in the middle of the night.

This book has been likened by many to 'Still Alice.' Don't believe it--this one is far inferior. Yes, it's about a smart professional who develops Alzheimer's. But whereas Lisa Genova focused primarily on Alice herself, Hogan's main character is Fay, and I found it extremely hard to empathize with her. She's a vain, shallow, pampered woman who is really full of herself. I got tired of reading about her classy outfits, her constant primping, her flashing diamond earrings at doormen to let them know how important she is, her fantasies about younger men that she expected would fall in love with her, her claims that she looked much younger than her years, her insistence that she had the most perfect husband in the universe, yadda, yadda, yadda. By the time she tried to redeem herself, it was too late for me. It also bothered me that, after Paul suffers a serious shoulder injury, the whole family is ready to blame the surgeon and the hospital for his rapid decline. I have great compassion for families having to deal with a relative suffering from this dreaded disease, but I know that there are much better novels written about the issue, ones that make you care about their dilemma. The only likable character is Lola, the dog.

This was an LTER book. Not recommended--even though the author herself gave it five stars on Goodreads. WTF?

1 out of 5 stars.

Jun 22, 6:29pm Top

>65 Cariola: The author herself, eh? What gall.

Jun 23, 11:26am Top

>65 Cariola: "the author herself gave it five stars on Goodreads" Seriously? That would have put me right off the book without your "not recommended". It's always a bit of a relief to be able to slide a title decisively to the "never mind" pile without wasting time on it, though. So, thanks!

Jun 23, 11:52am Top

>66 ffortsa:, >67 laytonwoman3rd: Yes, I was shocked to see her rating her own book. In her comments she said the 5 stars was really for her wonderful editor--but you know she did it to push up the book's overall rating.

Edited: Jun 24, 4:56pm Top

34. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is devastating, both as a personal memoir and as a critique of social attitudes towards overweight women. She traces her struggle with fat to time when, at age 12, she was gang raped by a boy she thought she was in love with and a group of his friends. Gay believes she started packing on weight as a defense mechanism, an effort to make her unattractive to the opposite sex, but when the epithet "slut" continued to be thrown at her, she asked her parents to her enroll in a private school. Here, she hoped that she could create a new identity, and she did: the Fat Girl. Thus began years of moving from one place to another, one relationship to another, in hopes of finding acceptance and--contradictorily--invisibility. As a six-foot tall black lesbian feminist who weighed over 575 pounds, this hasn't been an easy quest, and it still continues. In addition to her personal story, Gay explores social biases and pressure against obesity (especially for women), from reality shows like "The Biggest Loser," "Extreme Weight Loss," and "My 600-lb. Life," to celebrity endorsements of weight loss regimens like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, to the reactions of strangers, ranging from stares of disgust to mocking insults. As someone who has struggled with weight for most of my life, I empathized with her claim that a fat person is never able to relax in public, to remove herself from her body and the feeling (or awareness?) that others are constantly seeing and judging her. I, too, have had those moments of self-hatred, of not daring to share the arm rest on a plane, of being self-conscious about what was in my grocery cart or on my plate in a restaurant. Ultimately, Gay comes to no conclusions. Hers is not a happy before-and-after weight loss story, nor is it a journey towards fat acceptance. If anything, it seeks to expose our society's focus on body image and the damage that can be done when we can't see the person because we allow ourselves to be blinded by the surface. And it chronicles Gay's own continuing efforts to rely on her strengths and positive qualities to give her a measure of confidence, despite what others see.

4.5 out of 5 stars. I listened to the audio version, with the author as the reader.

Edited: Jun 29, 4:49pm Top

35. Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

This is one case where I am glad that I listened to the book on audio rather than reading it in print. A lot of the reviewers complained about descriptions of the stage performances and underdeveloped characters, but neither was an issue with the audiobook, thanks, in great part, to the reader, Thomas Judd. I was probably also at an advantage because I have never read any of Cornwell's other novals, which focus on lots of battlefield and shipboard action. Another advantage: I'm a Shakespearean, so I got a lot of the inside jokes and have a lot of knowledge about what the workings of the court, the theatre, and the London street were like at the time. I felt that Cornwell did an accurate job of portraying them all, and I enjoyed his portrayal of characters who are well-known to me. Here, again, the reader helped; his voice for Will Kemp was hilarious and spot on.

So what's it all about? Will Shakespeare's younger brother Richard flees Startford after thinking he has killed the carpenter to whom he was (unhappily) apprenticed. He's a handsome lad, taller than his brother, and he's soon put to work acting women's parts. He moves from the younger women to the older as his voice changes, but he longs to play a real man's part. As Richard (and Cornwell) take us through the backstage workings, rivalries, quarrels, petty thievery and more, we're party to plans for a performance of a new play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, as the wedding entertainment for a granddaughter of Lord Hunsdun, one of the queen's favorites. And there's a new play in the works, written for the queen: Romeo and Juliet. Offstage, we see Richard falling in love with Sylvia, maid to daughter of the theatre's patron. And when some treasured play scripts disappear, Richard vows to find and return them, but he asks for a particular reward: a good man's part written just for him. There was enough action for me in Richard's run-ins with Puritans and rivals while searching for the manuscript (but then I'm not one much interested in the warfare typical of other Cornwell novels). I'd recommend this enjoyable read to anyone interested in Elizabethan London and the theatre world.

4 out of 5 stars.

Jun 30, 9:11am Top

adding this book to my wish list!

Jul 2, 7:42pm Top

36. A Slant of Light by Jeffrey Lent

I've had this novel in my stacks for several years and am so glad that I finally got around to it. Jeffrey Lent is a wonderful writer, attuned to both the natural world and the human heart. The book opens with a wallop: Malcolm Hopeton, a farmer from upstate New York who has been away serving in the Union Army, comes home to find that Amos Wheeler, the hired man he trusted to watch over the land has not only neglected his duties but has sold off as much as he could and run off with Hopeton's wife Bethany. In the first few pages, the wayward couple return to the farm in a wagon and an enraged Hopeton kills Amos. When Bethany pulls a derringer and fires at him, her husband throws her to the ground, with tragic consequences.

You might expect this to evolve into a typical story of murder and revenge, but these only form the the barest framework. Malcolm Hopeton is, at heart, a good man who was momentarily blinded by betrayal. Once he realizes what he has done, his first act is to take Harlan Davis, a teenage hired hand who was injured when he tried to prevent his boss's attack on the couple, to the town doctor. It's not long after that he is captured and goes willingly to jail to await trial--a trial that he hopes will end in his own death. As for Harlan, he is taken to the home of August Swartout, to recover under the care of his sister Becky, who has been helping the widowed farmer keep up the house. Set in a religious community in upstate New York, the novel explores not only the relationships among the characters but the depths and dilemmas of morality, justice, love, and faith.

This is a beautiful novel, one I will long remember, and I hope to read more works by Jeffrey Lent soon. My only caution--and this is NOT a criticism, to my mind--is that if you are looking for a lot of fast-paced action, you won't find it here. Much of the book describes the natural world, life on a mid-19th century farm, and the characters' memories. For me, these are what makes A Slant of Light such a memorable read.

5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Jul 3, 4:29pm Top

>72 Cariola: Wow....another 5 star novel from Lent. I loved In the Fall, and have had this one waiting around a long time too. In fact I think I have all of his novels, but haven't read any more of them. Always a little uneasy about picking up an author's second book when the first one was SO good. Thanks for the review; I'm going to move this way up the pile now.

Jul 4, 7:29pm Top

So, I asked who had the oldest thread in our group, and DrNeutron confessed to setting us up for lo these many years, but said you were the first to post a personal thread. Good work! I'm glad to know you were there at the start.

Jul 4, 8:21pm Top

>74 ffortsa: Well, that's quite a distinction. Thanks for pointing that out, Judy. Congratulations, Deborah!

Edited: Jul 5, 7:55pm Top

>74 ffortsa:, >75 laytonwoman3rd: Unless I am misunderstanding, that is WRONG. I was the person who originally set up and hosted this group. I had done the 50 Book Challenge the year before and found that I was reading closer to 75, so I established the 75-book Challenge group. So of course, as the originator, I was also the first to post a personal thread. The second year, before I got a chance, Dr. Neutron jumped in and posted an invitation to everyone to join for the coming year. I don't know if he assumed I wasn't going to keep it up because he thought I should have posted by the time he did or what. I let it go as I was busy with other things. Will look for the original post, if it still exists.

Jul 5, 7:47pm Top


75 Books Challenge for 2008
This group has become officially dormant. It happens. If you want to revive this group, or create a new group on the same topic see this page.

In end-of-the-year posts on the 50 Book Challenge, many members found that they had read more than 50 and wanted to challenge themselves to read even more in 2008. I thought about making this a 100 book challenge but decided on this midway challenge instead.

Anyone can join. Just start a thread and begin listing the books you have read in 2008. You don't have to begin on January 1. Last year, some members just listed their titles and authors while others posted a mini-review of each book. It's all up to you.

I found that the previous challenge was a great way not only to track my own reading but to keep up with members whose libraries are similar to mine. I got lots of great reading suggestions from their lists.

Hope you'll join the challenge!

Total members: 137 members

Recent members: elkiedee, break, the_bastard, blackhornet, lyzadanger, CallistaHogan, picnicgal, tututhefirst, ceecilia23, grammyellen, pearlsoflights, age51179, rosboden, cornpuff12, bethers1919, suslyn, bibliotecara, aethercowboy, juliyank, emwelsh, sameerdutt83, higgins66, danikl, kateleversuch, brokenever, GABixler, PamelaA1, graceatblb, Sorrel, anais_a


Your friends: Whisper1, torontoc, TrishNYC
Your interesting libraries: Whisper1, torontoc, TrishNYC, blackdogbooks, scaifea, dihiba, porch_reader
Your top 100 similar libraries: elkiedee
Tags: 2008 (2), 75 (1), challenge group (1), 75 book challenge (1), expired group (1), (show all) — add tags

Administrators: Cariola (creator)

Jul 5, 7:55pm Top


Because it was a new year, Dr. Neutron was able to post it as a "new group" the following year. I don't know when he posted it, but I see member threads started as early as December 4--he didn't give me much of a chance to continue the group I had started! He did decide to add group reads, not something I'm too keen on.

75 Books Challenge for 2009
This group has become officially dormant. It happens. If you want to revive this group, or create a new group on the same topic see this page.

After a successful 2008 challenge group, most of us wanted to do it again. So here's the place!

Anyone can join. Just start a thread and begin listing the books you have read in 2009. You don't have to begin on January 1. Last year, some members just listed their titles and authors while others posted a mini-review of each book. It's all up to you. It turns out we care less about the numbers than we do about the exchange of book info and the community of readers.

We hope you'll join us, but be forewarned. We like to comment on each other's threads and we've found our stacks of books to be read have grown exponentially!

We've also got a few Group Reads going. The threads can be found here:

Don Quixote - http://www.librarything.com/topic/54318
Anna Karenina - http://www.librarything.com/topic/58966
The Stand - http://www.librarything.com/topic/59751
War and Peace - http://www.librarything.com/topic/54191
Friday’s Child - http://www.librarything.com/topic/60388
Til We Have Faces - http://www.librarything.com/topic/63204
Bleak House - http://www.librarything.com/topic/65869

Total members: 541 members

Recent members: Kellie-Demarsh, druidgirl, andrewreads, yeldabmoers, mucker28, KLmesoftly, vetonterttnic1988, glimpseatthesun, sockeye, BethanyBourgeois, harrisonenudi, Steelwolf, elkiedee, break, HighlandLad, Vanye, PrincessBlack, SusieLibrarian, ChrDaisies, TigerLMS, lasprn64, dimaria59, book_in_hand, leighwh, JanCollier, the_bastard, SimonLarsen, scohva, mariaisabe, sourcherry


Your friends: Whisper1, nsg0223, torontoc, cameling
Your interesting libraries: Whisper1, torontoc, brenzi, blackdogbooks, mckait, scaifea, dihiba, porch_reader
Your top 100 similar libraries: elkiedee, brenzi
Tags: challenges (6), 2009 (6), 75 books challenge (2), Reading Challenge (2), Annual Challenge (2), (show all) — add tags

Administrators: drneutron (creator)

Jul 5, 11:22pm Top

Well, I seem to have put my foot in the wrong place again.

Jul 6, 8:24pm Top

No problem, just setting the record straight. You are not the first person who thought or was told that Dr. Neutron set up this group. It wasn't worth it to me then to call him out on it, and it's not worth it to me now to argue with anyone else about it. He has been doing a good job running the group.

Edited: Jul 6, 10:22pm Top

>80 Cariola: Here's what I posted in ffortsa's thread:

I usually have the first threads in each year, but they're the group organization threads. As far as reading threads go, it's usually one of our eagle-eyed members who see that I've made the group and then jump in quickly. Varies from year to year.

The very first 75 Challenge group was started by Cariola, who probably has the oldest thread across all years.

I've always tried to correct folks who have the mistaken idea that I was the originator of the 75 challenge and will continue to do so. If you'd like me to clarify anything over in her thread, I'm happy to do so.

Jul 7, 12:30pm Top

>81 drneutron: No problem, really. As I said, you've done a good job running the group and have added a lot to it. Way back when, I was rather miffed that you posted a new group invitation before I even had a chance to, but it's fine, I probably wouldn't have been able to keep it up as well as you have with all I had going at the time. I just get a bit testy when people forget that I started the 75 Book Challenge.

Jul 7, 3:30pm Top

I get it, and frankly, I jumped in that year without giving thought to how you’d take it. I can be that way sometimes - as an engineer I see something, I solve something. That’s my one regret about all this. But I do think it’s important to let people know the history when I can.

Edited: Jul 9, 12:44am Top

37. The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory

Why, oh why, do I keep giving Philippa Gregory another chance? Especially when her books just keep getting worse? I thought The Other Boleyn Girl was OK, rather liked The Queen's Fool, and I liked Earthly Joys until she stuck in an impossible gay affair that never would have happened (when you're a duke and the king's lover, you don't risk fooling around with the gardener on the side). The rest have been drivel. Yet heer I sat for an interminable amount of time listening to the audio version of this one. Much of the same wretched formula is on display here: Elizabeth I is a vicious bitch and a whore and her other female characters are either so weak and pathetic that you want to slap them, or impossibly strong for women of that era (and strength here=getting their own way, usually a man). Others readers have noted her tendency to pit women against each other; sure, it happens in real life, but I doubt it was a constant, even in Elizabethan days. This one focuses on the three Grey sisters, Jane, Catherine, and Mary. I've never read a characterization of Jane Grey that is quite so boring and self-righteous, and I was glad when her head came off and the proselytizing stopped. As for her sisters, they both made the same fatal mistake: marrying for love without the queen's permission. So one martyr to Protestantism, two for love. Of course, the suffering both endured for this mistake is historical fact, but it didn't make for very captivating reading. As next heirs to the throne, and as ladies-in-waiting who had seen firsthand how the queen responded to such elopements, they should have known better, Gregory plays their patheticness to the hilt. Again, boring boring boring. Halfway through, I couldn't wait for it to be over. I have two more of her books on audio, The Taming of the Queen and Three Sisters, Three Queens. Hopefully it's not too late to return them.

1/2 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Jul 18, 4:01pm Top

38. Leonardo DaVinci by Walter Isaacson (sorry, can't find the right touchstone)

A very solid, well researched biography of the painter, sculptor, inventor, architect, and all around genius. Isaacson delves into the connections between Leonardo and his family, patrons, lovers, rivals, and subjects. In exploring the paintings, he employs a standard art historian approach, analyzing the works and how they demonstrate DaVinci's artistic development. I gained a better understanding and appreciation for the artist, and my knowledge of politics and society in Renaissance Italy was expanded. I listened to the book on audio, admirably read by the actor Alfred Molina. It came with a downloadable supplement that was helpful--but I'd recommend springing for the print version, if you can afford it.

4 out of 5 stars.

Jul 19, 11:43am Top

>85 Cariola: Oh, nice review. I may look for it at the Strand to see if it won't break my budget.

Edited: Jul 20, 10:01pm Top

39. The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

This is the true story of a young girl who survived the Rwandan genocide. When she was only six, Clemantine and her teenage sister were sent to live with their grandmother when trouble broke out, leaving her parents, two a brother, and another sister behind. When the carnage came closer, the two girls went on the run, finally arriving at the first of several refugee camps they made their way to in their six-year search for safety and freedom. While she describes the brutality of the war and the hard conditions in the camps, Clemantine's main focus is on her older sister, whose resourcefulness carried them through. From marrying an aid worker at age 17 because he promised to get the girls out to setting up a number of businesses within the refugee camps (selling eggs, clothing, halal goat meat, etc.), Claire never gave up. Although it seemed at times that she resented having to be responsible for her younger sister, once she had a baby, Clemantine proved to be an asset--more of a mother to young Mariette than Claire herself.

The memoir begins with a guest appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show: the girls had finally settled in Chicago, Claire on her own with three children and Clemantine with a kind family. I have to admit that I found the book a bit hard to stick with, mainly because of its structure. Not only do the chapters alternate between the past and the relative present, but the two threads of the timeline are each presented somewhat non-chronologically. I imagine this was intentional, to demonstrate both the confusion that surrounded the girls for six years and the effect their ordeal had and still has on them. Still, it's a worthy read, especially in what it reveals about a person living in constant fear and hardship, separated from family with no place to call home and not many places willing to take them in. Clemantine notes, for the rest of the world, that the word "genocide" takes the individual out of the experience. Her memoir is an effort to correct that mindset.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Jul 24, 8:18pm Top

40. The Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Overall, I haven't been too enthusiastic about the Hogarth Shakespeare series, updated novelized versions of some of The Bard's best-known plays, but this one is my favorite. Felix, the long-time artistic director of a Canadian theatre festival, is forced from his position by two greedy underlings and retires to a rather shabby cottage to mourn the loss of his position and the continuing loss of his daughter, Miranda, who died in an accident ten years earlier--and to plot his revenge. He offers to teach a class on Shakespeare at the local penitentiary, eventually putting on performances with a cast of inmates. The novel focuses on his piece de resistance: The Tempest. Atwood's characterizations of the inmates, as well as the 'handles' she gives them (Bent Pencil the embezzler, for example), are amusing, and Felix's interactions with them are the best part of the story. After all, how do you get hardened, incarcerated criminals to agree to play "girls" and "fairies"? The author does a great job of paralleling situations, characters, and themes of Shakespeare's original play. It's pretty impossible to outdo Shakespeare or even to update him successfully, but Atwood has given us a novel that, taken on it's own, is a fun read with the same important messages as the original.

4 out of 5 stars.

Jul 24, 9:35pm Top

>88 Cariola: I really liked Hag-Seed too. Not being particularly well-versed in Shakespeare, I have also found some of the other Hogarth re-tellings enjoyable. But taking on the Bard this way is a fraught enterprise; I'm sure a good many scholars and teachers of his work are neither impressed nor pleased with the results.

Edited: Jul 31, 11:29pm Top

41. Transit by Rachel Cusk

Well, I thought I had posted a review of this wonderful book, but I must not have saved it, so I'll do the best that I can from memory. Transit is the second book in Cusk's Outline trilogy. This book is better than the first, so I can hardly wait to get to the third and final installment, Kudos. The main character is a successful female writer. Outline traced her travels to Greece to teach a creative writing course. Cusk used the novel to demonstrate, in a way, the writer's process of outlining her story. The protagonist's role is primarily to listen to the stories of others--the passenger sitting next to her on an airplane, the students in her class--and record them. In other words, the writer's primary task is listening and observing, gathering potentially usable information, then shuffling all the material into the loosely organized shape of a developing novel. Transit focuses more on the writer herself at a point of transition in her own life. She has returned to England, her marriage has fallen apart, she's getting a bit bored with the book talk circuit, and she's ready to reassess and rebuild--much as an author would do while working on a draft. Her rebuilding takes a literal form as she moves out of the central city and into a seedy fixer-upper in a rather unsavory part of town. There are two problems: the contractors who call to give estimates for the essential repairs are dubious as to whether the house can really be fixed up, and the elderly couple who live downstairs are are every neighbor's worst nightmare. She finally settles on a pair of Polish builders who assure her that they can handle both problems. In the meantime, she deals with her two young sons and their not-all-that-involved father, the writer's conference from hell, and friends who just don't understand why she decided to leave the city. While we still see her sitting back and observing the whirl of events around her. we also see the writer herself as a developing character, one taking on the task of rebuilding her life and revising her approach to it and to others.

Cusk seems to be having a lot more fun with Transit than she did with the first novel. There's more humor here (the book festival episode is at times hilarious), and her characters are more defined. The writer herself does a good deal of self-assessment. Terrific writing here as well! I can't wait to read the next installment. I've been stuck in some not-so-great books, so I may just have to spring for the full price rather than waiting for a sale or for a library copy.

5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Aug 6, 2:22pm Top

42. The Love Object by Edna O'Brien

This is a collection of 31 stories published over the last 50+ years. "Love" can be interpreted in various forms: not only husband and wife or two lovers, but also the love between a mother and her daughter, a teacher and his student, a woman and her dogs, a girl and her best friend, a man and his whiskey, and more. The stories run the gamut of what we'd expect from an Irish writer. We encounter nuns, drunks, society women, rebellious children, bullied wives, and flighty young girls. And yet O'Brien manages to move each of them away from the stereotypes, giving each a dash of originality. And her writing, as always, is stunning.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Aug 6, 2:22pm Top

43. The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

I was eager to read this novel, the story of a blind female doctor, a member of the family with whom the Chekhovs spent two summers. It's written in the form of Zenaida Mikhailovna's diary and recounts the friendship formed between the two doctors, she and Anton Chekhov, also known for his short stories and plays. Initially, I got caught up in it, but eventually I found the conversations and musings rather cl0ying and, well, just plain dull. How many descriptions of picnics and walks along the river can you read before falling asleep? And then there's the constant tension of feeling that Zenaida would like something more than friendship with Anton, if only she weren't blind and dying.
The author also decided to employ the overused double plotline: the other involves a modern day translator and the female publisher who has asked her to translate the diary. Both are struggling financially and have hopes that the translation will pull them out their troubles. Ana, the translator, has a problematic past with men, and the publisher's marriage seems to be falling apart. The author twists the ending in a way that I found more annoying than interesting.

Reading what I just wrote, I'm surprised that I gave this one three stars. But it is well written, and some of the descriptions are captivating. I just feel that this trope of the modern-day writer/scholar finding a lost/hidden/forgotten manuscript has become very tired and needs to be put to rest, at least for a while.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Aug 6, 2:57pm Top

44. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

I might have liked this novel a little better if I had read it in print instead of listening to the audiobook. Maybe. But the narrator was annoying. All of the older female characters were read in a cliché "Dragon Lady" voice: whispery, overly-calm, supposedly mysterious and evil. Similarly, the older men all sounded like exiles from old Charlie Chan movies. The novel employs a lot of Chinese stereotypes: the evil, devious, controlling patriarch; the silent, long-suffering wife; the rebellious teenager; the hardworking single mother and the hardworking father, both so focused on making money to give their kids the best they can while the kids resent their absence. It was hard to find anyone likable. I just could not get into it, even though I stuck it out to the very end.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Aug 6, 4:48pm Top

>93 Cariola: sounds yucky

Edited: Aug 12, 2:11pm Top

45. Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

I tried to read one of Janette Winterson's books several years ago. It leaned towards magical realism, a genre I'm not fond of, and I gave up on it. Still, I decided to give this little book a chance, and I'm very glad that I did. I rarely reread books, but I think I'll be returning to Lighthousekeeping.

Outcast from the Scottish town of Salts after becoming pregnant out of wedlock, a woman and her daughter Silver move into an unstable house cut into the side of the rocky coast. When an accident leaves Silver orphaned, the only person willing to take her in is Pew, the blind, elderly lighthouse keeper. There have always been Pews keeping this lighthouse, he tells her, and Pew plans for Silver to take over when he passes on. The two of them bond over Pew's wonderful stories of his ancestors and of Babel Dark, minister and son of a town founder who led a mysterious double life. Among the "real" persons who inhabit the stories are Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Darwin. Pew claims that both visited his lighthouse, and their meetings with Babel Dark both opened possibilities and created conflicts within him. When circumstances force Silver to set out on her own, she becomes a storyteller as well.

Winterson's writing is beautiful, often magical, and the interwoven plots are both quiet and compelling. She injects a measure of philosophy into her tale--something I find that most writers botch with heavy handedness, but her touch is light and therefore all the more effective. It's only near the end of the book that you realize how many themes she has managed to explore: the nature and origin of man, our relationship to God (if there is one), the enduring need for love, the importance of personal history and personal myths, the value of storytelling as a connection between people both past and present, and much, much more. Lighthousekeeping is a short novel with a long and wide-ranging impact. Don't miss it!

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Aug 12, 9:26am Top

Great review of Lighthousekeeping, Deborah. I'll keep my eye out for it.

ETA: The Kindle version is on sale for $1.99, so I purchased a copy of it.

BTW, Madeline Miller is appearing over Labor Day weekend at the AJC Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA, a town immediately east of Atlanta that is 6-7 miles from where I live. I'll almost certainly attend her talk, and mention it on my thread. I'll buy a copy of Circe while I'm there, and see if I can ask her to sign it.

Aug 12, 9:42am Top

Some great reading here as always, Deborah.

I haven't heard of the Jeanette Winterson short novel but I will certainly go and look for it.

Aug 12, 12:20pm Top

>95 Cariola: Thank you for that excellent review. Onto the wishlist it goes. The only Winterson I've read is The Daylight Gate, which I found brilliantly written but too gruesome to say I enjoyed it.

Aug 12, 2:13pm Top

>96 kidzdoc: Thanks for that info, Darryl. I bought it a few weeks ago; not sure if it was on sale then. I'll let some of my reading friends know.

>97 PaulCranswick: Hope you enjoy it, Paul.

>98 laytonwoman3rd: I believe the one I tried to read was The Passion; that one was a bit too fantastical for me, but I loved Lighthousekeeping.

Aug 13, 5:29pm Top

>99 Cariola: I recall reading The Passion, and liking it, so I might try Lighthousekeeping

Edited: Aug 18, 4:10pm Top

46. The Mountain by Paul Yoon

Reading this collection of short stories was--well, it was an experience, and not one that I can say I particularly enjoyed. I will give Yoon credit for being able to create an atmosphere that completely draws you in to each story and overwhelms you. But at the end of every one but the last, I ended up feeling empty and depressed. It was exhausting to read of people living empty, lonely lives, accepting violence, hunger, loss, addiction, pain, exploitation, and poverty as if these were the expected norm. Perhaps they are for many people, and I feel badly for the characters; perhaps Yoon meant these stories to be a call to action. In any case, I was glad to come to the end, and I need to search my TBRs for something a bit more fun or uplifting, something that doesn't keep banging on the same depressing note on every page. I'm not one who always wants a happy ending; in fact, I often find them boring and unbelievable. But this book just plain exhausted me. I am emotionally worn out.

3 out of 5 stars.

Aug 19, 10:23am Top

I hope that you find a book that is different from this last one. ( my strategy is to reread Pride and Prejudice )

Edited: Aug 31, 11:52pm Top

47. The Last Hours by Minette Walters

It's 1348, and the plague has started to spread throughout England. No one knows the cause or the cure, let alone any means of prevention, and distrust of strangers abounds. Lady Anne of Devilish is left in charge when her husband leaves the manor, contracts the disease, and dies. She feels tremendous empathy for the local peasants and uses her knowledge of herbal medicine and her wits to help preserve them from both the plague and the marauders taking advantage of their desperate situation--which is more than can be said of the local priest, a drunkard who lets the young people use the church for sexual rendezvous. On top of everything else, Lady Anne has to deal with her haughty daughter Eleanor, a nasty daddy's girl who never lets anyone forget her superior bloodline. Thankfully, Lady Anne has two trusted servants, her maid Isabel and Isabel's brother, Thaddeus.

If you like a lot of adventure thrown into your historical fiction, then this is the book for you. I found it a little too dramatic and convoluted and the characters a bit too stereotypical. That said, I stuck with it and really liked the character of Lady Anne, plus the book moves at a good pace with a number of twists and turns along the way. I listened to the book on audio, and after 15-1/2 hours, I was rather disappointed that the conclusion was, "To be continued." I'm not sure if I will read the next installment, but we'll see.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Sep 4, 5:53pm Top

48. Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

This is not your usual story of an immigrant family struggling to adjust to life in America--far from it. It's the story of a family whose cultural background just happens to be Indian Muslim, and they share the joys and trials of many other families of all religions and ethnicities. Mirza's novel is divided into four section, each focused on the point of view of one family member: Eldest daughter Hadia, mother Layla, son Amar, and father Rafik (middle daughter Huda, while not given her own section, plays a role in every family member's story) The main conflicts revolve around Amar, the youngest child and only son. While his mother loves him unconditionally yet worries about his "difference" from her other children, his father has raised all three of his children with high expectations that Amar simply cannot meet. His sisters (especially Hadia) also try to protect Amar from their father's harsh dictates and frequent anger and frustration, but eventually, things come to a head, tearing the family apart. Hadia's section is the most straightforward, simply telling what happened in the past and on her wedding day, the event that begins the novel. Layla's story struggles to understand both her son and her husband while considering the sacrifices she has made to come to a new country with her new husband. In his section, Amar presents events from his own point of view, dominated by a the sadness of numerous losses. But it is the final section, Rafiq's, that really tears at the heart. This is a man in pain, a man who simply wanted to raise successful children strong in their faith, but now, late in life, recognizes his mistakes and reveals long-hidden feelings.

Overall, this is a very moving novel, beautifully written. Mirza does a fine job of subtly presenting the differences between Muslim families and others while, more importantly, stressing their similarities. I highly recommend it and look forward to her next book.

5 out of 5 stars.

Sep 2, 3:50pm Top

Wishing you a wonderful Sunday, Deborah.

Sep 2, 9:16pm Top

>103 Cariola: I really keep thinking I should try Walters' medieval stories, but it sounds like I need to make sure to read or listen to them sequentially.

Sep 4, 5:54pm Top

>106 thornton37814: I don't think this one is linked to any of her earlier books, but clearly there is going to be a sequel.

Sep 6, 7:27am Top

Nice review of A Place for Us, Deborah. I'll add it to my wish list.

Sep 6, 12:09pm Top

>108 kidzdoc: I think you'll enjoy it, Darryl.

Edited: Sep 12, 6:02pm Top

49. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Huddled with the other women in the parapet within Lyrnessus's walls, Briseis stands in the shadow of a window and watches the action below. Achilles has already killed her husband and two brothers, and now her youngest brother, barely old enough to fight, is brought down by a spear through the throat. As she watches him die, Achilles raises his head and, she thinks, looks directly at her. By the end of the day, her city will have fallen, and she will be Achilles's slave.

Many novels have been written about the Trojan War, but Barker finds a new way in through the point of view of Briseis, once a queen and a childhood friend of the infamous Helen, now a concubine struggling to make the best of things. The heroics of war take on a new dimension within the confines of the Greek camp where the captive women are assigned to the victors--until they tire of them and are loosed to the general troops. Those too old or unattractive for bed-play are resigned to work in the laundry, charnal house, or hospital, and all of the women take their turns working the looms. Only 19, Briseis tries her best to submit to Achilles's will and is sustained by the unexpected friendship of his companion, Patroclus--at least until Appollo's wrath hits the camp in the form of a plague, and Briseis herself becomes a pawn in both the attempt to pacify the angry god and in the infamous quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon,.

No one examines the effects of war quite like Pat Barker. Regeneration, the first in her World War I trilogy, focuses on the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was found "mentally unsound" in a court martial after publishing a letter denouncing the war and was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital where, under the care of psychiatist Dr. William Rivers, he was supposed to regain his senses and return to the trenches. (The next two books, The Eye in the Door and pThe Ghost Road, follow the war through the experiences of Rivers and another patient, Billy Prior.) A second trilogy, Life Class, follows students whose studies at the Slade School of Art are interrupted by World War I; some enlist, others take on sacrifices and supportive tasks at home, including Elinor Brooke, who assists a renowned plastic surgeon in reconstructing the faces of wounded men. (Toby's Room recounts the effect of the death on battlefield of Elinor's brother, and in Noonday, she and her family endure the London Blitz and its aftermath.) Now, in The Silence of the Girls, Barker takes her perceptive imagination to ancient Troy and into the hearts and mind of the least culpable and weakest of the defeated, the captive women. Again, she examines in depth the effects of war, not only on the women but also on the warriors, who become increasingly dehumanized. Like Briseis, she can empathize with them while nonetheless condemning their actions. This is a powerful, brutal book, haunting and beautifully written, a true modern counterpart to The Illiad that resonates in today's world.

Edited: Sep 18, 11:30pm Top

50. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

A rather dull novel about a single third grade teacher who becomes obsessed with the Lebanese family living upstairs. Their kid is in her class, and she uses him to get closer to first the mother and then the father. Some people just need to get a life. Oh, and I listened to this one on audio; who knew that a Lebanese accent is the same as an Italian one?

1 out of 5 stars, only because it compares favorably to some of the worst books I've ever read.

Edited: Sep 24, 10:42am Top

51. Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

There is a lot to admire in Meet Me at the Museum. For one thing, it's an epistolary novel. I love them, but they don't show up too often these days. The story focuses on the correspondence between a farmer's wife living in northern England and a curator at a Danish Museum. Tina's best friend, Bella, recently died. Ever since they were girls at school and studied the Tollund Man, they planned to go to Denmark to see him, but somehow the time was never right. Tina writes to the museum with some questions and is answered by Anders, an archaeologist at the Silkeborg Museum. Thus begins a correspondence that develops into a deep friendship.

The second thing I really liked about this novel is the way that, in corresponding with one another, Tina and Anders begin to re-examine their lives, their dreams, their life philosophies--in short, their very selves. Writing each letter becomes almost a form of self-exploration. Although these two characters seem very different at the outset, as their friendship develops, we--and they--learn that they are much more alike than it would at first appear.

The third thing I like is that the book demonstrates what it means to have a truly deep friendship. Tina discusses her long friendship with Bella, but we also see her friendship with Anders as it grows.

So what didn't I like? Well, the ending. Unfortunately, in an otherwise unique book, the author took the easy way out and gave us a stereotypical ending, when there were so many other rewarding ways in which it could have gone. That's why I can only give this novel 4 stars, and I was considering going down to 3.

Edited: Oct 6, 1:45pm Top

52. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.

This is an unusual coming of age story focused on six years in the life of a slave on a Barbados sugar plantation owned by the brutal Erasmus WIlde. Wash enjoys the protection of an older mother-figure, Big Kit, who is planning to escape--through death, which she claims will free then and send them back to their true home. Fortunately for Wash, he is taken under the wing of his master's younger brother, an abolitionist inventor of a hot air balloon he calls The Cloud-Cutter. Titch (as he asks Wash to call him) needs someone lighter than himself to launch his contraption, and he persuades Erasmus to let him borrow Wash. This relationship will have both positive and negative results for the young slave, forcing him to embark on a voyage that will be both arduous and wonderful. Along the way, he meets many unique characters, including a shady sea-captain, Titch's explorer father, a world-renowned naturalist and his daughter, a native Arctic guide, a bounty-hunter, and more.

While this may sound like a typical historical novel, it also contain elements of magical realism and--through Wash's internal questions about the nature or freedom, cruelty, friendship, and his own place in the world--philosophy. I was caught up in the first half of the book, but my interested flagged at points in the second half. This book has often been compared to The Underground Railroad, but I found the latter to be a more focused and powerful read.

4 out of 5 stars.

Oct 6, 9:47pm Top

Hi! I'm stopping by to see what you are reading. As always, I find such interesting books here, and of course, your reviews are always so excellently written.

I retire at the end of October...I cannot wait. The latest rumor is that Lehigh wanted to charge employees $600 a year to park. After a very nasty outcry, the powers that do the decision making brought the price down...still unaffordable for some staff.. All employees will be required to park at a designated area off campus. Then, wait in line for a bus to take them somewhere? near their office building. At the end of a long day, the employees will again be bussed to their car. If all is in place correctly, this entire process would take at least an hour more a day...not to mention standing in the cold, the rain, the snow until a bus might arrive. I am so very glad I am out of there at the end of the month. Rumor is that there will not be handicap spaces for those like me who would not be able to endure what this plan proposes. I believe they are going to have some nasty lawsuits. There will be a designated area for us handicaps to park our cars..again this would not be near the buildings where we work.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse!

Oct 6, 10:12pm Top

>113 Cariola: That's one of the Bookers I want to get around to reading.

Edited: Oct 15, 1:05pm Top

53. The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason

When World War I breaks out, Lucius Krzelewski, only son of a Polish aristocrat, is a second year medical student. His father, a former cavalry man, wants to use his connections to get his son a glory-seeking position at the front, but Lucius instead enlists in the medical corps, hoping to gain some hands-on experience. He finds himself assigned to a remote village--as the only doctor on staff. The hospital is run by a young nun, Sister Margrete, whose practical education under the last doctor has taught her more than Lucius could imagine, including how to amputate limbs and drain pressure on the brain. Determined to help and protect injured men, he soon learns that his task is to heal them just enough to send them back to the front lines.

Mason does a fine job of recreating the horrors of war and the physical and mental toll it takes on the soldiers. Lucius is particularly haunted by one man, a Hungarian named Horvath who produces beautiful drawings but can't speak; instead, he produces a loud, constant hum. The characters are very well developed, including the resourceful and independent Margrete, her orderlies, and the hospital cook, as well as Lucius and his patients. I was a bit put off by the love story that dominates the second half of the book. Then again, I can imagine that in such an environment, young men were happy to cling to any hope of a better world. Like many of them, Lucius is haunted by people and events from his war experience that he just cannot shake.

Although I did enjoy this book, I feel that The Piano Tuner was better. Still, a recommended read for those interested in World War I from an Eastern European standpoint who are not too squeamish.

4 out of 5 stars

Oct 15, 1:04pm Top

54. Young and Damned and Fair by Gareth Russell

As a retired English professor specializing in the Tudor and Stuart periods, and a long-time Tudor junkie, I've read many books about Henry VIII, his six wives, and his court (including a few truly dreadful novels--avoid Suzannah Dunn at all costs!). Aside from Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, the king's fifth wife, may be the one about whom least is known. A teen-aged lady-in-waiting to the soon discarded Anne of Cleves, Catherine's vivacity and beauty captured the stout, ailing, middle-aged king's heart--and then broke it. Gareth Russell's biography, while an enjoyable read, doesn't offer much that is new. We know that Catherine had a bit too much freedom in her step-grandmother's house, leading to several flirtations that may have been full-blown sexual affairs. We know that she and Francis Dereham may have thought themselves betrothed, a question of importance during her trial. And we know that she engaged in a flirtation with Thomas Culpepper that included exchanges of letters and gifts and nighttime visits to her chamber that may or may not have been sexual. And we know that, to some extent, she was a pawn in the political games being played by her family members and a group of courtiers who opposed them. Catherine's naiveté, set against this background of vipers, is at the heart of Russell's biography. An enjoyable read, but perhaps more so for readers who know little about this ill-fated queen.

3 out of 5 stars.

Oct 22, 12:05pm Top

55. The House Girl by Tara Conklin

This one started out promising, but it didn't deliver. Lina Sparrow, a junior lawyer at an elite New York firm, is assigned an interesting case: to find a focal litigant for a class action suit demanding reparations for the descendants of slaves. Lina's father is a well-known artist whose agent is promoting an exhibition of the work of Lu Ann Bell, a Virginia plantation owner's wife who painted portraits of her slaves in the 1840s. But is Lu Ann really the artist or, as some critics suspect, is it her house girl, Josephine? Lina decides to search for a descendant of Josephine (if indeed there are any), thinking that the publicity from the exhibition will help to garner support for her case.

So where did this go wrong? Mainly because the author couldn't leave well enough alone and inserted way, way too many side stories, feebly affixed to the main one. Oscar Sparrow also has an exhibition in line, a series of portraits of the wife who died 20 years ago. Lina barely remembers her mother and is confused by the intensity of the paintings. What really happened to her mother? What was her parents' marriage really like? She's also dealing with multiple conflicts--with her father and the fact that he has a new love interest, with her critical boss at the law firm and the overly competitive lawyer with whom she is working on the case, getting over a recent breakup, figuring out her own sense of self, etc., etc. etc. And--of course--she had to throw in a love interest. I would have preferred the simple focus on Josephine's sad story.

This author has a new book out, but I think I will pass.

A generous 3 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Nov 4, 11:11pm Top


56. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Wow, how can so many readers rave about this book? I thought it was just awful. It took me every minute of the two weeks I had it on loan to get to the end. I don't know why I stuck with it as it was painful every time I picked it up; maybe I was in the mood for masochism. So what's wrong with it? Well, for one thing, every page was screaming at me, "This is sad. So sad. SO SAD!!!" I have a strong bias against books that I feel are emotionally manipulating me. As soon as I started reading about The Marsh Girl, I was reminded of 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' a wonderful story of a little girl living alone with her sick father in the swamps. Mother gone, dad drinks too much and frequently disappears, both try to avoid the bad, bad authorities, and both love the natural environment even though it causes hardships--but that's where the similarity ends. 'Where the Crawdads Sing' should hope to be a tenth as good (but it isn't). It also can't decide whether it is a coming of age story or a murder mystery; the chapters jump between telling the story of Kya's life and the investigation of a murder for which she is later tried. And those trial scenes were the absolute most hackneyed that I have ever read. Old Perry Mason scripts were better. Secondary character--with the exception of Jumpin', a black man who runs a tiny gas station/convenience store that serves boaters, and his wife Mabel, are total stereotypes. 1) Jordie, the helpful older brother who quickly disappears, leaving Kya alone with 2) the drunken, abusive dad who isn't all bad when he's sober. 3) The Good Boy, Tate, who becomes Kya's only friend, and 4) The Bad Boy, Chase, the seduce-and-abandon type. 5) The cocky police chief and 6) his cocky assistant and 7) the cocky prosecutor. As to the writing: I love nature as much as the next person, but the writing in the long, long, tedious, repetitive passages describing shells and sea gulls and bird feathers and fireflies were, in my opinion, just plain bad (but not as bad as the trial chapters).

I could go on, but just--ugh.

1 paltry star out of 5.

Nov 4, 11:57pm Top

57. Yes We Can: The Speeches of Barack Obama by Barack Obama

This weekend before the midterm elections, I have felt both hopeful and anxious, so I needed a little inspiration. I had hoped that Michelle Obama's book would be available, but it won't be released until 11/13, so I picked up this audio book instead. There's still nothing quite as uplifting and motivating as Obama's 2004 Keynote Address. Some of the others may be a bit flat by comparison, but it was wonderful to hear a president who wasn't spewing fear and hatred and lies for a change. Here's a small excerpt that's just as relevant today, if not more so:

Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy; our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...


... that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

That is the true genius of America, a faith...


... a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles; that we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm; that we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door; that we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe; that we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution; and that our votes will be counted -- or at least, most of the time.

4 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Nov 5, 12:11am Top

Girls and Boys by Dennis Kelly

Solo performance by Carrie Mulligan. Variety writes: "Riding on Dennis Kelly's rollercoaster monologue Girls & Boys, Mulligan gives a phenomenal, unpredictable solo performance—a proper feat of acting—as a woman so self-assured she might just smash the patriarchy apart single-handedly." It's a tough listen, but not because of the performance. This is the story of a woman's life--love, ambition, marriage, disappointment, violence, parenthood, and above all, a brutal examination of herself.

Edited: Nov 10, 4:28pm Top

59. Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets (Audible Original)

A fun and interesting short audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry, who is joined by a number of experts in Victorian culture, this covers all kind of "secrets": undergarments, toilets and sewage management; laws against crossdressing and homosexuality and the way citizens got around them; the signification of beards; infidelity, sex scandals, and drug use; racial attitudes; prostitutes who were serial killers; fear of being buried alive, and more. Very entertaining afternoon's listening!

4 out of 5 stars.

Edited: Nov 10, 4:34pm Top

Have a Nice Day (Audible Original)

If you enjoy old-time radio shows or the stories on Prairie Home Companion, you'll probably enjoy this audio comedy about a president (Kevin Kline) who meets up with an inept agent of the Angel of Death (Billy Crystal) on the day of his daughter's graduation. It's sort of a contemporary Everyman without the heavy notes. President David Murray bargains for a little more time to put his affairs--the personal more than the political--in order. Annette Bening is cast as the first lady, Dick Cavett narrates; Rachel Dratch and Darrell Hammond from SNL take secondary roles.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Nov 10, 5:03pm Top

Hi Deborah! Dipping in...I'm pleased that we both really enjoyed Circe and emphatically did not enjoy Where the Crawdads Sing. Be well.

Edited: Nov 10, 9:14pm Top

>64 Cariola: I was able to obtain a few of the Alison Weir books at Barnes and Noble. Thanks for this excellent review!
Also, thanks for the excellent review of The Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson. I very much enjoy her writing style.

Nov 10, 11:58pm Top

>124 richardderus: Hi, Richard! We don't always agree, but Circe was wonderful. As to Where the Crawdads Sing how did that get so many 5-star reviews. Ugh--just ugh all around. If you haven't read Florida, I think you'd like it.

>125 Whisper1: Linda, I've enjoyed Weir's series, but I don't think I've learned much new. She has been writing about Henry's queens for a t least 40 years. I have read a few of Winterson's other books, but many of them have too strong an element of magical realism for me.

Nov 13, 5:59pm Top

The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt

My reaction to this collection of ten short stories is mixed. So let me begin by saying that I'm not a fan of magical realism or the fantastic, and there's a large dose of them here. A woman imagines that she becomes a deer at night. Another relates the same story but with a difference; as she says in each, "It's never the same." And as one reviewer observed, the stories are indeed a combination of the weird and the mundane. On the plus side, the writing is superb. Hunt creates characters who, regardless of strange circumstances, are entirely believable--and interesting. (Who knew that checking your partner for ticks might be erotic?) As the title implies, all of the stories are dark, and doubly dark in that they delve into the deepest parts of the character's psyches. I changed my rating from 3 stars to 3.5 based on originality and the fine writing. But this collection will not be for everyone.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2018

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