Nickelini Reads Her Own Books in 2019


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Nickelini Reads Her Own Books in 2019

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Edited: Dec 13, 2019, 11:15pm

2019 ROOTs

The last few years I've only been able to read around 30 books a year, so I'm setting my goal here for 20 books. Same goal as 2018, and I think I hit it around November, which is perfect for me -- goal comfortably reached by year end, but not so close as to get stressful, and also not so easy that I reach it in June.

My definition of a TBR book is any book I owned as of December 31, 2018.

1. The Surface Breaks: a reimagining of the Little Mermaid, Louise O'Neill
2. The Bulgari Connection, Fay Weldon
3. Switzerland: Culture Smart!, Kendall Maycock
4. The Royal Physician's Visit, Per Olov Enquist
5. English Country Houses, Vita Sackville-west
6. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, Heather O'Neill
7. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John Le Carre
8. The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland, Padraig Rooney
9. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Mona Awad
10. When Life Gives You Lululemons, Lauren Weisberger
11. The Naked Swiss: the Nation Behind 10 Myths, Clare O'Dea
12. Amazing Disgrace, James Hamilton-Paterson
13. When Will There Be Good News?, Kate Atkinson
14. Medea (Hackett Classics), Euripides
15. I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
16. Innocence, Penelope Fitzgerald
17. Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People, Tarnya Cooper
18. 300 Days of Sun, Deborah Lawrenson
19. Italian Neighbours, Tim Parks
20. Autumn, Ali Smith
21. Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
22. Margherita Dolce Vita, Stefano Benni
23. The Finishing School,
24. Storia di Lucca, John Jones

Jan 6, 2019, 11:23pm

1. The Surface Breaks: a Reimagining of "The Little Mermaid", Louise O'Neill, 2018

cover comments: I've heard from many people that they love this cover, some saying that they bought the book for the cover alone. Hmmm. It's fine, I guess. I think as mermaid books go, it's fairly typical and not particularly original or arty. Underneath the dust jacket, however, the book itself is the perfect shade of navy blue, and it has silver scales printed across it. The end papers inside the covers are luxurious paper in Bermuda blue. Delightful.

Why I Read This Now: This was a Christmas gift from my 18-yr old daughter. When I opened this she said "It might not be very good, but it looks sort of interesting, and it's about mermaids in Ireland" (she went to Ireland on a school trip so has a soft spot there). I read the cover and saw that it was a retelling of a fairytale, and I like those (which she knows). Seemed like the perfect book to start off the new year.

Comments: Woot woot! Look at me, Ms Hardly-Reads Anymore has started and finished a book already this year (and no, I wasn't off on holidays--just working like the worker-bee I am).

The Surface Breaks is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid," set in current times off the coast of Ireland. The novel started out with some fairly 'meh' YA writing and storytelling, but happily picked up right at the Pearl Rule point. Whew! I enjoyed this for the most part and was always sad when I had to put it down.

Fifteen-year old Gaia is the youngest of the six mermaid daughters of the Sea King who live in a intensely patriarchal Mer-society. She has no memories of her mother, who she is told, had an obsession with the surface and the human world, and was killed by humans when Gaia was a year old. Now Gaia too is fascinated by the surface. On her first trip she in enamoured by a handsome young man and the story follows the original tale quite closely (not the Disney rewrite), in a modern setting. With her tongue cut out and feet spurting blood whenever she took a step, and with discovering that the handsome man she'd sacrificed everything for was actually quite a bastard, I kept reading to find out how the author would conclude this conundrum. And she did wrap it up. I'm not entirely pleased with this conclusion, but I think the structure of the original tale writes an author into a corner with few options.

One outstanding character was the Sea Wtch ("that's not my name!" she tells us), who deserves a novel of her own.

On the cover flap, it says: " fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens by one of our most talented writers. ... This is a book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallyng cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding." Oh my, prepared to be bludgeoned by feminist tropes, I thought. And some reader-reviewers felt that. I didn't, although I get why they do. I was slightly bothered that all the male characters were one-dimensional and BAD; but then I remembered that this is a fairytale, and fairytales work with archetypes so, okay. (If I wrote it, I would have rounded out some of the males a bit more and included a guy that wasn't a jerk).

I had fun reading this. Yeah, there's things I could pick apart (eg: a naked young woman washes up ashore at your estate and can't walk due to intense pain and can't speak. She opens her mouth to show that her tongue has been cut out. You take her in and give her a room and a maid. Hey, how about call an ambulance? Medical attention? Police, maybe? But it's a fairytale, so you just have to roll with it). Others have criticized that all the feminist bits come at the end, but I think they miss that feminists aren't always born -- sometimes they're made, and we have to live life for a while before we realize what's going on.

Recommended for: Readers who like retellings, mermaid fans.

My cover has a sticker on the back that says "contains adult themes and may be unsuitable for younger readers." Not a good choice if you're looking for a nice little story about mermaids for a 10 year old. There's a question on GoodReads if this is okay for a 13 year old, to which most replies were "heaven mercy no! Give me my smelling salts at the thought!" I was reading adult books at 13, so I say "sure, but depending on the reader." When I read it I figured the objection would have been to the sexual longing expressed by Gaia and her discovering the area between her new legs -- but based on comments on GoodReads, it's more to do with the scenes where males make unwanted sexual advances on Gaia. Not sure why 13 year olds can't read about that--it's certainly a fact of life they will probably deal with soon if they haven't already.

Edited: Jan 7, 2019, 1:38am

Hi Joyce, Welcome back to the ROOTers.

>2 Nickelini: That sounds like an interesting book and I smiled while reading your review. You have a way with words. Hurrah on finishing the first ROOT of the year. Your ahead of me!

Jan 7, 2019, 6:56am

Welcome back! Your first ROOT sounds like an interesting book.

Jan 7, 2019, 1:13pm

Good to see you again. And I agree with Connie, your reviews are always a delight to read, even if I have no interest in the actual book!

Jan 7, 2019, 10:01pm

>3 connie53: , >4 MissWatson: , >5 Jackie_K:

Aw, thanks! You're all lovely.

Jan 12, 2019, 5:16pm

The Bulgari Connection, Fay Weldon, 2000

Cover comments: I'm not much of a fan of this style of art; that doesn't mean this is bad though. I guess it's just not for me? It does work with the novel.

Comments: Look at me! Only January 11th and I've finished two books this year. For years that would have been a huge yawn, but my last two years of reading have been tough, so this feels like my old self again. Anyway,

I bought this when my favourite used book store (call out for Russel Books in Victoria, BC!) didn't have Fay Weldon's Booker-nominated Praxis, but this caught my eye. It opens with:

Doris Dubois is twenty-three years younger than I am. She is slimmer than I am, and more clever. She has a degree in economics, and hosts a TV arts programme. She lives in a big house with a swimming pool at the end of a country lane. It used to be mine...I tried to kill her once, but failed.

And from there we're off on a satirical, fast-paced romp through wealthy London circa 2000. Grace has survived having her world yanked out from under her feet and a stint in prison, but maybe now the winds will blow her way. In her mid-fifties (and poorer than she expected to be at this age) she's not about to get riled by her ex-husband's new wife, "Britain's sweetheart," who is gunning for her. A younger man is smitten with Grace, and their relationship gives him the mature gravitas he craves, and Grace shocks everyone with her increasing youthfulness. In the meantime, despite all their efforts, things aren't going so well for the Ex- and his new Mrs.

This story is undoubtedly slanted in Grace's favour, but the author makes interesting shifts in points of view, and sometimes in unexpected places. Sort of like when you're watching a movie and the camera quickly catches a secondary-character's reaction to something that the main character might not see. It was odd, but it worked.

The other thing that was odd was the names: Doris Dubois (she pulled this surname out of her butt*, it's actually something Eastern European) and the young lover-artist Walter Wells -- these two are around 30, which means they are slightly younger than me (in 2000), and "Doris" and "Walter" read much older. It turns out there was a literary reason for Doris, and I guess the Walter character just really wanted to be older. It took some adjusting from me though. And then there was a secondary character in the same age range named "Ethel." All very odd. The weirdest name, by far, was the ex-husband. Barley Salt. I first read it as "Bailey," but then realized, no, it's Barley. Okay, never heard that given name. And the surname Salt is not exactly common**. Now put them together. They are both things we eat. Oats Pepper. Rice Nutmeg. Like I said, odd.

*sorry, I know the idiom is "pulled it out of her ass" and I'm not a prude--I just don't like the word ass when it's used for the buttocks area. Just a quirk of mine. I'm not shy with vulgar language.

**Maybe the only time I've heard this surname is Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Is Barley her son?

Rating: A fun read without being vacuous. 4.5 stars.

Why I Read This Now: I've been wanting to read this author for years even though I don't know much about her. She's been a judge for the Booker prize, so I figured I'd take a gamble.

Recommended for: People who like social satire. Readers who don't like to read about rich people will hate this.

Jan 17, 2019, 6:36pm

Good luck with your ROOTs this year.
I remember reading The Bulgari Connection when it came out. I recall there being a little something of a scandal about the inclusion of the Bulgari name. But I did have a Fay Weldon binge for a little while.

Edited: Jan 17, 2019, 9:38pm

>8 mstrust: Yes, I noted that scandal on my main Club Read thread -- I wasn't aware of it when I read the book so it didn't colour my opinion. I may have been annoyed if I knew, maybe.

Edited: Jan 17, 2019, 9:56pm

Switzerland - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture, by Kendall Hunter (2016)

cover comments: Red + a clock = Switzerland. Okay.

Comments: This is a small guide book -- 168 pages long, but can fit in the palm of your hand. Part of the extensive Culture Smart! series, Switzerland - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture tells you everything you need to know if you're considering a move to Switzerland or planning to spend a lot of time there. Along with Canada, the Nordic countries and Australia, Switzerland is one of those countries that regularly tops the lists of best places to live and high quality of life. But, as I'm learning, it's very different from all of those, and different from the countries around it.

Kendal Hunter, a Canadian who has lived in Zurich for 10 years, goes over the basics of Swiss life, geared for a UK or US business traveller or new resident. Being heavily fact-based, with minimal personal commentary, it wasn't exactly a scintillating read. More useful than fun.

Why I Read This Now: My daughter recently moved there and I'm trying to get a better picture of what she's dealing with so we aren't completely in the dark about some of the unusual things she says. Also, after our trip there last winter, I'm pretty fascinated by the country.

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended for: read this if you're new to Switzerland and are going to spend a chunk of time there.

Jan 28, 2019, 9:16pm

4. The Royal Physician's Visit, Per Olov Enquist, translated from Swedish by Tiina Nunnally 2001

cover comments: detail of the Rokeby Venus by Diego Rodriguez, 1648, which you can see at the National Gallery (London). Used on the cover, it works with this story.

Comments: In 2003 I inherited my copy of this book in a box of books that I mostly passed along to a charity. This one sat on my "one day" shelf but it took 16 years for that day to come. And then I thought "why didn't I read this sooner?"

Going in, I knew nothing about Danish royalty of the late 1700s. Teenage King Christian VII has become the monarch after the death of his 40-something alcoholic father, and the Danish court is known as "a madhouse." This isn't helped by Christian, who had some serious mental health problems (historians think he may have been schizophrenic, but to me his behaviour sounds like he was high on the autism scale). He was just one of several mentally-ill royals in this novel but the others all have minor roles--I mention this because I'm a bit fascinated with in-breeding genealogy that has been blamed for some of the royal madness. I think in Christian VII's case, whatever was going on with him organically wasn't helped by his messed up guidance and being treated as a divine ruler.

Christian is married off to 15 yr old Caroline Mathilde, who is the youngest sister of England's George III. Along the way, King Christian is attended to by a German physician, Friedrich Struensee, who becomes his closest advisor. And then becomes Queen Caroline's lover. Struensee is a follower of the Enlightenment philosophers, including Voltaire and Rousseau, and slips enlightenment ideas into the laws of Denmark.

This is not a spoiler, as it's mentioned in the first sentence of the novel, and it's history: his radical changes don't go over well with the Danish nobility, and he is executed. The period where he was active is called the Danish Revolution, and the nobility never clawed back their complete control.

Rating: Hmmmm, so close to 4.5 stars . . . I was really intrigued by the first 3/4, but then the end dragged a bit because I knew what was coming thanks to the first sentence.

Also, on the meta-data page the disclaimer "This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the suthor's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental." Typical boiler-plate, but I'm not sure I've noticed this in historical fiction before. It made me do some Googling on these people and events and "entirely coincidental" is actually a bold-faced lie. Anyway, the ending could have wrapped up a bit quicker.

I love to learn when I read, and The Royal Physician's Visit had a lot of new trivia to fill my brain. For example, I didn't know that the non-noble Danish people in 1770 were serfs --basically slaves to the nobility. Also, Queen Caroline's second (and youngest) child is widely believed to be Struensee's. This daughter married into some other royal family, and she--and the commoner Struensee--now have descendants in all the royal families of Europe (the genealogy geek coming out again and I'm thinking in particular that they should be grateful for his fresh bloodlines).

Recommended for: historical fiction fans. It also won some Swedish literary awards, and I was impressed by the writing. Not all readers were -- Enquist has this odd style of repeating simple phrases, but I'm one of the readers who liked that.

Why I Read This Now: Being deep winter, I was in the mood to read a book set in the north.

Jan 29, 2019, 6:38am

>11 Nickelini: There's also a Danish movie based on it with Mads Mikkelsen playing Struensee.

Edited: Jan 29, 2019, 10:35am

>10 Nickelini: How lucky that you'll get to return to such a beautiful country! I promised myself that I'd go back, but I'll have to see it vicariously through you. :-D

Jan 29, 2019, 11:05pm

>13 mstrust:
Switzerland is amazing -- not just the scenery. I'm excited to go back, and hope to go many times. So far things are going well for my daughter, so there's a chance. Who knows, you might get back too.

Jan 29, 2019, 11:14pm

>12 MissWatson: - Yes, I came across that in my googling. I hear it's rather good.

Edited: Feb 11, 2019, 4:00pm

5. English Country Houses, Vita Sackville-West, 1941

cover comments: delightful and perfect for this little book. Love the greyed-periwinkle colour.

Comments: The front flap of my edition says "Written during the Blitz by one of England's most celebrated writers, this text was undoubtedly a morale booster for a British people laid siege to during a time of war . . . " Undoubtedly, or maybe not. She never mentions the war, but does say several times that there really have never been any wars on English soil -- the English like to go elsewhere to fight. Far away places like France, Scotland, and Ireland. And she reiterates that the English people like peace and quiet. Hmmm, okay ....

Anyway! This 92 page book is mostly about the grand English country houses that I love to read about, watch in films, and visit if possible. It reminded me of a similar book that I read years ago and thought was a riot -- Some Country Houses and Their Owners by James Lees-Milne. That one was perhaps more fun because it talked about the eccentric home owners. With English Country Houses, Sackville-West sticks mainly to the buildings themselves for the most part.

At times, the author can be quite amusing. For example: "The English are a rural-minded people on the whole, which perhaps explains why our rural domestic architecture is so much better than our urban. Our cities, generally speaking, are deplorable. There is a lack of design which must make the French smile. When the French hint delicately at this we are apt to murmur 'Bath' and then come to a full stop."

However, far too much of the time she throws out one historical or architectural detail, and then give a long list of the houses that exemplify it. At one point she says, "....and, again restricting myself to the tantalising system of giving a mere list . . . " Yeah, no, not such a tantalizing system, more tiresome.

I wonder who the target audience was who she had in mind --I'm doubting it was the average Brit who was getting targeted by the falling bombs. Did her reader have a familiarity of the places she listed and described? Because I didn't, and would have been completely lost if I didn't google almost every property she mentioned. And I was happy to do that, because that's the sort of thing I call "fun." But it does make the reader work. This book deserves to have colour photos and maps to make it a really great reading experience. There were a handful of line drawings, and they were very nice, but this needs more.

Looking up these places on the internet was interesting to see what's changed with some of them since WWII. A few had links to British tabloids, with articles of people or events that would fall into the category of "misbehaviour of the rich and famous." Others had become museums or hotels, but most seemed to be high-end venues to rent for your dream wedding.

And now I've written a review almost as long as the book. Just one more thing:

Fun fact I learned: Berkeley Castle, in Gloucestershire, has been lived in by the same family for almost 900 years. It seems this family has always been good at having sons that live until at least they can begot more sons. New addition to my future travel list.

Why I Read This Now: it looked like a quick interesting read

Rating: 4 stars

Feb 21, 2019, 10:07pm

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, Heather O'Neill, 2014

cover comments: zillions of worse covers out there, but this one took about 2 minutes to put together. Although hands are deceivingly difficult to draw, so 5 minutes.

Comments: Heather O'Neill is undoubtedly one of my favourite writers, and unfortunately she only publishes books every once in a while.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is the meandering story of 19 year old Nouschka Tremblay, who along with her twin brother Nicolas, has grown up in Montreal in the shadow of her father, a famous Quebecois folk singer. Who had also ended up in jail a few times. The twins have never known their mother, who Etienne impregnated at age 14. Like Baby in Lullabies for Little Criminals and several of the characters in the stories in Daydreams of Angels, Nouschka & Nicolas have pretty much raised themselves and so are a little on the feral side.

I adore O'Neill's writing. I challenge you to name a writer who rocks the simile like she does. As I read, I folded down corners of bits I wanted to revisit, and then copied the best into my reading journal. By the end I had copied out 36 different passages. Eight journal pages.

(yes, I fold down corners in books -- books are tools to take me places. They're not sacred objects to put on a mantel.)

Rating: I didn't like this one as much as Lullabies for Little Criminals, which I rated 5 stars plus, or Daydreams of Angels, which was 4.75. At times, this was a bit of a challenge, because Nouschka makes some bad choices, and she's not 12 like the protagonist in Lullabies. And there were parts that were extremely seedy . . . I already get enough seedy in other areas of my life, so I could stand a bit less in characters I'm trying to cheer for . . . still, in the end, O'Neill just has a way of describing life that no other writer does, and that I love seeing the world through her eyes, so .... 4.75 stars.

Why I Read This Now: I started this a couple of weeks ago when here in Vancouver we had an unexpected and offensive cold snap, and I thought, well! if we're going to have freezing temperatures, I'm going to read a book set in Montreal (where they really know how to do cold). And our cold keeps coming .... I've finished the book, so time for the cold to finish too. But no, more snow expected tomorrow . . . time to find a book set in the tropics I guess.

Recommended for: After 3 books, Heather O'Neill had firmly become one of my top living writers, so I encourage everyone to read her. She writes GritLit, so prissy people won't like her, nor will those with no sense of humour.

Mar 13, 2019, 10:02pm

On my shelf since 2013:

7. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carre, 1974

cover comments: quite sharp, although I'm not sure this event actually happened in the book

Rating: Ugh! This is considered one of the best spy novels ever written, but I give it barely 2 stars.

Why I Read This Now: Le Carre is mentioned in the non-fiction book I'm reading, and that reminded me I've been meaning to tackle this in my interest to read a spy novel. and it's on the 1001 & Guardian 1000 lists.

Comments: This 379 page novel did have glimmers of brilliance--maybe even a complete paragraph here and there, but for me, this was beyond terrible. On the surface, it doesn't seem like something I'd like, but sometimes books like this can surprise me so I like to try. And I made myself read the whole thing. Excruciating. I know lovely, intelligent people who love Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or le Carre's other books. I also know lovely, intelligent people who feel like this about my beloved Jane Austen--it's all even, I guess.

So no one reading this cares what it's about -- Cold War, spies in Britain in the 70s, the decline of Britain as a world power, British class commentary, relationships between spies, blah blah blah.

After about 20 pages, I thought "What am I even reading?" and looked at reader reviews -- everyone said "whoa, super confusing at the beginning but then about half way I really got into it and it was brilliant!!!" I listened to not one but two podcasts discussing the book. Kept waiting for it to click. Nope. Bored until the end. There's a 1-star review on GoodReads by "LeeAnn" who says what I feel, but does it better, so go read her review. Basically, it's slow paced (and if you look at my library you can see I'm not exactly and action plot reader), but this was just a guy reading about stuff that happened in the past with some other guys doing things in between. Everything is said in a weird vague manner (and no, it wasn't too "British" for me--again, look at my library). As LeeAnne from GoodReads says, it's "purposely convoluted and obscure." Characters and places pop in and out without introduction. This is written to build mystery, but the result for me is to think "why should I care about this?"

Through the whole book, I thought: "I understand all these words, but not the sentence." or "I understand this sentence, but why is it here? What is it trying to tell me?"

Fail, fail, fail.

But every once in a while there was a short bit that I thought was amazing. So I can see why some people might like this. Maybe the rest wasn't as much of a muddle for them. One telling thing I noticed in reader reviews is that this book grows on repeated readings. Which I think by definition takes it right out of the "thriller" category (my cover quotes The Spectator: "A great thriller . . . ")

Recommended for: obviously I'm in the minority, but I think this is unreadable, and I'd recommend it to no one.

Mar 14, 2019, 5:00pm

Sorry, that this one didn't work for you.

Mar 17, 2019, 3:51am

8. The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland, Padraig Rooney, 2015

Cover comments: I'm a fan of the vintage travel poster, so this is nothing but great in my books. Apparently this is a reproduction of the poster for the Grand Hotel Belvedere in Davos, 1905, by Hans Eggimann

Comments: Padraig Rooney, an Irish guy (in case you didn't notice his name), fell in love with Switzerland while hitchhiking through it during his gap year in 1973. He's now lived there for a long time, teaching at a private school (of which he occasionally makes the requisite self-deprecating remarks). The Gilded Chalet is his personal tour through the literature that has come out of, and been inspired by, Switzerland. Well, certainly not all of it, but a big chunk of it. It's interesting how writers from elsewhere are drawn to Switzerland (often at the end of their successful careers--like successful film and music stars. Switzerland seems like a great escape for rich people who want to drop out of sight but still be close enough to jump back into the limelight). And conversely, the Swiss authors mentioned in this book tended to leave Switzerland. I have to say I was a bit disappointed that he didn't discuss Swiss writers more, but then it's a country with a small population, and he was looking only at writing translated into English. I was surprised at how many writers he discussed that I didn't know had a connection to Switzerland -- James Joyce, Nabokov, & Patricia Highsmith especially. Others, I knew I would meet (looking at you, Mary Shelley).

One thing I appreciated about this that he did a decent job of spreading himself geographically around the country, and linguistically he covered all the official languages, and 3 of the 4 national languages (not sure why he didn't read the acclaimed Arno Camenisch so he could tick the Romansch box).

If you go to > The Gilded Chalet, you'll find a map of Switzerland, with all the pertinent places tagged with a literary explanation. I just discovered this, but it looks like a time-sink for tomorrow afternoon.

Why I Read This Now: if you read my threads, you'll know I'm focusing my reading on anything Switzerland ever since my daughter did her university semester abroad there in 2017 (and is now back living there). I'm having a bit of a struggle finding Swiss literature that isn't written by old white men, so when I saw that this book existed, I ordered it right away in hopes that it will open reading horizons.

Recommended for: I think this is written for a very specific audience, and I can only recommend it to someone who loves books and is really interested in Switzerland. Reader reviews on it though are really high, so if this is an area of interest, you'll probably love it. It went off on tangents, and I find that a lot of fun.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Mar 17, 2019, 5:08am

I'm glad you had a 4,5 star book after the bad one!

Edited: Mar 17, 2019, 2:54pm

>19 Ameise1: Sorry, that this one didn't work for you., and >21 connie53: I'm glad you had a 4,5 star book after the bad one!

It's all good, isn't it! Soldiering through a book that isn't clicking is sometimes a useful exercise in learning about what we as readers like and don't like, and to then appreciate the really good books so much more.

Edited: Mar 20, 2019, 12:45am

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Mona Awad, 2016

cover comments: I like it -- the attempt to erase the word "fat" is a nice touch

Rating: 2 stars.

Recommended for: For a 2-star read, this was actually well written. It's just that most of the time I was reading, I thought, "Ugh! I hate this book. I hate this character" Also, that sounds EXACTLY like something the main character says throughout the book.

Comments: Having gone though some pretty intense eating disorders many, many years ago, I'm still interested in fictional takes on body image, so when I learned about 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl through the Giller Prize short list (and then Dublin International award or whatever it's called), I immediately wanted to read this.

While I think this is technically a well-written book, and also a quick read, I was definitely disappointed in this. It reminded me of some other CanLit that I absolutely loved --- deeply personal, and squirmingly uncomfortable, but with humour --- I'm talking about anything by the goddess-author Heather O'Neill, or the lesser-known Jenn Farrell, or even Fruit by Brian Francis. But it just didn't measure up to any of those.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is purported to be 13 short stories that tell a story of Elizabeth (who changes names to different variations --Lizzie, Beth, etc -- through the stories). I like this technique a lot, but am not sure how strong any one of these would be on their own. That part works very well for me. Like I said, the writing is definitely solid.

I just don't like what she has to say. The only character you get to know is Elizabeth, and she's not likeable, and grows only a smidgen by the end (although physically she shrinks from a chubby, cranky teenager in the first story to a miserable skinny bitch through the last part).

The problem I had with this overall feel was that it felt mean-spirited. A secondary complaint was that moments were intensely depressing--but not like toddlers traumatized by war depressing, more like people working minimum wages jobs with no other hope (and Wendy's for dinner every night) depressing. And I've read super depressing novels about average people that were wonderful (Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, ah hmm), but not that either. Mostly though, I found it just to be mean. Lizzie in the first story hates everyone, does nothing except focus on her body image, and at the end still hates her body and everyone else and their body.

Why I Read This Now: after the slogging, male Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I thought this looked like a female-centric read I could relate to (see my first sentence about eating disorders)

Edited: Apr 7, 2019, 9:16pm

When Life Gives You Lululemons, Lauren Weisberger, 2018

cover comments: I don't mind the style of this, but it's a bit of a yawn, and there is no scene in the book that this matches. So over all, a bit of a fail. It also reminds me of the art on the cover of China Rich Girlfriend I read a few years ago , so I guess this is just the go-to look for chick lit?

Why I Read This Now: my daughter bought me this for Christmas, and I think she wants to read it, so I read it so I can bring it to her next month.

Comments: This was a fun read. I took it to work to read on my breaks (which requires something that can be read in short bursts) but then I got into it one day and brought it home and finished it in a few days.

When Life Gives You Lululemons picks up with Emily, Miranda Priestly's assistant from the Devil Wears Prada, who is now in her mid-30s and has moved on to a career as a PR-fixer for celebrities. Except suddenly her career isn't going so well. She ends up at her friend Miriam's house. Miriam was a high-powered attorney (why are all attorneys in fiction always "high powered"?) in NYC who has recently moved to Greenwich, Connecticut with her husband and 3 young children. She's having a bit of a struggle trying to fit in with the stay-at-home-lululemon-clad mommies in the new social circle. The third character is Miriam's friend Katolina, and former model who is currently married to a senator who has plans for the presidency.

The novels circulates between the three women, their problems, and how they support each other to reach a happy conclusion at the end. In terms of the Bechdel test, this book passes easily. The friendship between these three was this book's strength. Of the three stories, I found Karolina's, with her bastard of a husband who blindsided her out of nowhere, to be by far the most interesting and the one I was most emotionally involved in.

Readers who dislike this point out the body shaming that is common in these types of books and how reading these lifestyles of the rich and famous books make them feel crappy about themselves. They're not wrong but I don't take these too seriously and I just take them for the fun they can be. Sure, if you look too closely, things don't necessarily makes sense, but it's entertaining and not at all awful.

Recommended for: someone looking for a beach or airplane read.

Rating: 4 stars.

Apr 12, 2019, 11:48pm

The Naked Swiss: A Nation Behind 10 Myths: 2nd Edition, Clare O'Dea (2018)

cover comments: sure, this works -- very contemporary Swiss styling

Comments: My 2nd edition of The Naked Swiss had a bonus 11th myth. Here's the list:

1. The Swiss Are Swiss
2. The Swiss Are Rich
3. The Swiss Are Xenophobic
4. The Swiss Are Brilliant
5. The Swiss Are Sexist
6. The Swiss Are Neutral
7. The Swiss Helped the Nazis
8. The Swiss Are Boring
9. The Swiss Are Crooked Bankers
10. The Swiss Have the World's Best Democracy
11. The Swiss Are European

Clare O'Dea is an Irish woman who has lived in Switzerland for over a decade, and has a Swiss husband and Irish-Swiss kids. She was a journalist for, the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. With each of the points she explores, there is the truth behind the myth, and also examples of the exact opposite of what the myth purports.

When I was young and learning about the countries of the world in children's books, Switzerland was one of famous countries of Europe, symbolized by its snow-capped mountains. It belonged to that select club with France and the Eiffel Tower, Holland (not the Netherlands) with wooden shoes and windmills, England with Big Ben and a red double-decker bus, and if the book was exotic, Italy with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. That was all of Europe. But as I got older, Switzerland faded into the background of my mind, in part because it had a reputation for being an expensive place to visit (true). But now that my daughter is living and working there, and I'm getting ready for my 2nd trip in 16 months, it's back to top of mind. And, as The Naked Swiss shows, Switzerland is unlike any other country in the world. Not only is it unique, the things that make it unique are very interesting and cool. And really, all countries could improve by taking some lessons from the Swiss.

Recommended for: Anyone who has a interest in Switzerland beyond what a tourist needs to know for a week in the Alps.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Why I Read This Now: Switzerland in 19 days!

Apr 21, 2019, 4:09am

Happy Easter weekend, Joyce.

Apr 25, 2019, 11:43pm

Margherita Dolce Vita, Stefano Benni, 2005, translated by Antony Shugar, 2006

cover comments: Europa Editions have notoriously ugly covers, so in that light, this isn't too bad. It's maybe even quite nice.

Comments: Margherita is a teenager who lives on the edge of some unnamed city in northern Italy with her off-beat family -- mother, father, two brothers, and a grandfather. Overnight, a new cube-shaped house appears in the field next to their house, and a fancy rich family moves in. A satire of consumerism and modern life follows, and then there's a super bizarre ending that has some readers upset.

There were some fabulous sentences in this book -- the author is highly talented at sharp, creative observations. But the whole thing together didn't really work for me -- the Margherita character was just too precocious. Precocious children can be great (Coraline) or beyond annoying (The Elegance of the Hedgehog). This one was sliding toward the too annoying end of the scale. And I didn't care that much about the characters or the story.

Rating: a solid okay: 3 stars

Why I Read This Now: I read a short story by the author in 2009 and was blown away and searched out anything else written by him. It's been in my TBR stacks for a few years, and I read it now before my trip to Italy.

Recommended for: reader reviews tend to be more favourable than mine. If you liked The Elegance of the Hedgehog you might like this. Both were published by Europa Editions. I hunt out Europas, but I have to say that they're really hit or miss for me. They often publish unusual slightly zany stories. An Italian book they published that was much better was Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous.

May 3, 2019, 3:21am

Hi Joyce, just passing by to see what you have been reading. I hope you are doing okay!

May 4, 2019, 11:11pm

>28 connie53: hi Connie— I’m doing great, thank you. I’m much closer to you too, as I’m currently in Lucerne Switzerland

May 5, 2019, 2:21am

>29 Nickelini: Nice, I'v never been to Switzerland but I know it's beautiful there. Enjoy!

May 31, 2019, 7:39pm

The Finishing School, Joanna Goodman, 2016

cover comments: Oh, the back of a woman's head, as she looks into the distance. Who would have thought of that?

Why I Read This Now: It seemed like a good book to read on the Swiss part of my vacation.

Comments: Kersti Kuusk is a published novelist living in current day Toronto. She receives and invitation to speak at the prestigious Swiss boarding school she attended as a scholarship student in the 1990s. Memories flood back about her best friend there, Cressida, who mysteriously fell from a balcony at the school. The novel switches back and forth between the time periods as Kersti tries to solve the mystery.

Other readers enjoyed this more than I did. Although it was readable and I loved the setting, there were just so many times I rolled my eyes or thought the author was going in weird directions. The entire infertility subplot didn't work for me, especially its resolution.

And here's a thing: back in the 70s I read a book on how to write mystery novels (may have been by Dean Koontz but I'm not sure), and it said that there is only one mystery that is valid for a mystery novel: murder. I was quite far into this book before I realized that Cressida survived the fall. Yes, she was in a vegetative state (or was she?), but she didn't actually die. If this had been written as a more literary book, a more gifted writer could have made that work. Not here in a mystery novel though.

A fun thing about this reading experience: while reading this, we visited the elite Swiss boarding school that my daughter's boyfriend attended for high school. It was a week day and we snuck in while classes were in progress. He of course ran into teachers he knew and the custodian who used to give him the key to areas he shouldn't have been in, which led to entertaining stories. So I had a really clear picture of what a Swiss boarding school looks like while reading The Finishing School.

Recommended for: readers who like mysteries set in boarding schools. Most readers liked this more than I did.

Rating: 3 stars: a solid "okay." I could have rated this lower, but it worked as a holiday read and I was otherwise having a spectacular time, so I'm being generous. I left this behind on the bookshelf at the VRBO were we stayed on Lake Como.

Jun 4, 2019, 8:53pm

Amazing Disgrace, James Hamilton-Paterson, 2006

cover comments: I guess I'm getting numb to ugly Europa Editions covers because I don't find this terrible. Especially compared to Cooking with Fernet Branca. But still, pretty ugly.

Why I Read This Now: I was traveling to the same part of Italy where the main character, Gerald Samper, lives and since I enjoyed Cooking With Fernet Branca, I thought this sequel would be a fun vacation read.

Comments: In book 2, Gerald Samper is still living high in the hills about Viareggio, Italy, ghost writing autobiographies for sporting heroes and pop stars, cooking sketchy and questionable gourmet meals, and drinking copious amounts of prosecco (neighbour Marta is gone and so is the fernet branca).

Not much plot with this one--Gerry travels back and forth between England and Tuscany, and carries on as only Gerry can do. His opinions and views of the world are unique and specific, and occasionally absolutely brilliant. But in Amazing Disgrace, too often tedious. I read some of the really good bits out loud to my husband, and also told him the whole scene where Samper dearly wants to make a good impression as a dinner guest but then makes a critical error in the loo. My husband correctly identified that Gerald Samper is a bit of a douche. He can be highly entertaining, but this time around, not so much.

Rating: One-quarter of this book is a 5, but the rest of it is a solid 3 stars. Despite that, I will go on to book 3, Rancid Pansies, maybe next year when we go back to Italy.

Recommended for: if you loved Cooking With Fernet Branca, then definitely try this. If you haven't, read that book first.

Edited: Jun 19, 2019, 7:46pm

. When Will There Be Good News?, Kate Atkinson, 2008

cover comments: Artistically I'm not a big fan, but I do like the stormy sky, and the scene pictured here actually happens early in the book, so that's unique.

Comments: The third in the Jackson Brodie series. Former soldier-cop-PI Brodie plays a smaller role here in this novel where multiple storylines eventually come together. Overall I found this a highly enjoyable and satisfying read, particularly the scenes with plucky teen Reggie Chase, who is trying to overcome a stretch of serious bad luck. I love how she endears people to herself.

Rating: 4.5 stars: on top of having some great storytelling, there is also some great writing with a quirky use of literary references throughout. I don't usually read series, but I will go on to read books 4 & 5 for sure now.

Why I Read This Now: book club

Recommended for: a wide audience

Jun 30, 2019, 1:30pm

Medea (Hackett Classics), Euripedes, translated by Diane Arnson Svarlien

cover comments: I rather like this

Comments: Medea opens in Corinth, where Jason has recently booted his wife, Medea, and their two sons, out of his life so he could marry the princess and become part of the royal family. He tells her this is a good thing because now their sons with have royal brothers. Jason gets annoyed when Medea doesn't buy this malarkey and becomes enraged. She plots revenge and carries it out, which ends in her famously slaying both her children.

Although I usually dislike reading plays, I've wanted to read Medea ever since I studied Greek plays in university. I'm particularly interested in strong women characters who do not follow the traditional paths of motherhood and act in ways that most people find shocking. Medea is interesting because, as the introduction points out, it asks: "Do the experiences of Medea expose the oppressiveness of patriarchal Greek culture, or do they affirm every negative Greek stereotype about women?" In thinking about this, we need to remember that the Greek plays were written by men, performed by men, and for the most part viewed by men.

This translation by Diane Arnson Svarlien is highly readable. Look at the clarity and modern feel of this passage for example:

Of all the living creatures with a soul
and mind, we women are the most pathetic.
First of all, we have to buy a husband:
spend vast amounts of money, just to get
a master for our body--to add insult
to injury. And the stakes could not be higher:
will you get a decent husband, or a bad one?
If a woman leaves her husband, then she loses
her virtuous reputation. To refuse him
is just not possible. When a girl leaves home
and comes to live with new ways, different rules,
she has to be a prophet to learn somehow
the art of dealing smoothly with her bedmate.
If we do well, and if our husbands bear
the yoke without discomfort or complaint,
our lives are admired. If not, it's best to die.

It's also pretty stunning that this is still the reality for women in parts of the world and there are men actively trying to bring it back in the US.

Why I Read This Now: I needed a book to read on the train that was small

Recommended for: People who want to read the best of Greek Classics, readers interested in the treatment of women in Ancient Greece.

Jul 11, 2019, 2:37am

>33 Nickelini: Read this book too and loved it.

Jul 13, 2019, 3:34pm

I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai, 2013

Cover comments: lovely and appropriate for a memoir

Why I Read This Now: I bought this soon after it was published, not because I actually planned to read it, but just to support Malala and her important cause of education. I absolutely love how the Taliban tried to silence her, but instead made her an international human rights celebrity and increased her voice by untold decibels. Buying this was my little way of giving the Taliban the middle finger. Anyway, I've been enjoying memoirs this year, so pulled it off the shelf.

Comments: Everyone knows the story of Malala, the teen-aged education-rights activist who was shot in the face by the Taliban, so I'm not going to go into it. This memoir starts with the shooting incident and then goes back to her family's history and slowly to her life in 2013. Lots of bits about Pakistani history and politics makes this a disjointed read.

Rating: 3 stars

Recommended for: people who haven't already read a lot about Pakistan and its oppressed population. This book would be an excellent addition to any middle or high school library.

Jul 22, 2019, 12:19am

`16. Innocence: a novel, Penelope Fitzgerald, 1986

Cover comments: I love it--feels Tuscan. It's Lunetta la Magia by Giusto van Utens, and it's in the Museo di Firenze.

Comments: What even is this? What does this all mean? Why is this a book?

It's 1955 and 18 year old Chiara Ridolfi, the youngest member of a very old aristocratic family, decides she wants to marry the 30ish doctor she met only once. Salvatore Rossi is from the poor south, is a bit of a communist, and is a "just the facts" kinda guy. Actually, I thought he was a complete pill and there is no explanation for their "romance." There are a slew of secondary characters and they're all more likeable than these two twits. The story itself makes little sense.

All was not lost, however. There were entertaining scenes here and there, and some fabulous evocative descriptions of the old villa, farm and the countryside outside of Florence. The opening of the book tells the fascinating history of the family in the 1500s when they were all little people (as in midgets, not dwarfs).

Rating: saved by the evocative bits. 3 stars.

Recommended for: not sure -- if you've read Fitzgerald before and like her, give it a try. This shouldn't be your intro though. This is my 4th Penelope Fitzgerald novel, and not my favourite.

Why I Read This Now: I have 4 Fitzgeralds in my TBR pile, so it was time to read one, and it was set in Italy to the obvious choice.

Edited: Aug 14, 2019, 10:01pm

17. Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People, Tarnya Cooper editor, 2011
Published by The National Portrait Gallery

cover comments: oh yeah, this is lovely.

Comments: This is an awesome little book. The National Portrait Gallery put together a collection of 14 paintings that have been discovered to not represent the person the painting was long believed to represent -- in other words, they found out they have a pile of paintings of unknown subjects. Bring in John Banville, Tracy Chevalier, Julian Fellowes, Alexander McCall Smith, Terry Pratchett, Sarah Singleton, Joanna Trollope & Minette Walters to invent identities and stories for them.

Each story is a couple of pages long, and accompanied by a full-colour copy of the painting, plus a detail. My favourite was by Terry Pratchett and I found it quite funny (Pratchett is an author I've haven't found time to read yet but want to one day). From The Tale of Joshua Easement: "he is a man born under the wrong stars, and has never learned which ones they are." Poor Joshua.

This 95 p book is wrapped up with an essay on the science and art of identifying paintings, and then an overview of the provenance and what is known about each of the 14 portraits.

Rating: FUN! 4.5 stars

Recommended for: art history buffs

Why I Read This Now: it's a small book that was easy to tuck into my bag for work

Thanks to LT friend Cariola for recommending this back in 2013

Edited: Aug 15, 2019, 3:34am

>38 Nickelini: Another hit for the wishlist.

ETA: and, of course, the website doesn't list it any more ...

Aug 15, 2019, 11:05am

>39 haydninvienna:

I bought it in 2013 from the Book Depository. I suspect it was a limited release. BD shows it, but it's not available and they suggest trying AbeBooks. Good luck!

Aug 30, 2019, 1:07am

300 Days of Sun, Deborah Lawrenson, 2016

cover comments: love it -- has the vintage travel poster feel. When I bought this I had never heard of it but the cover pulled me in.

Comments: Jo, a journalist, needs a break from her life and goes to Portugal and enrols in a language class, where she meets Nathan. They get involved in a mystery involving child kidnapping and murder. This story is interspersed by a second story about neutral Portugal in WWII with spies, Nazi gold, and espionage.

I enjoyed this tremendously, although 300 Days of Sun isn't a great literary novel or anything. More of a solid and worthwhile vacation read. I loved the setting in Portugal. Both my daughters were travelling there while I was reading this, and it was fun reading evocative descriptions of where they were. It makes me want to go back to Portugal again. I also appreciated learning about WWII Portugal while being entertained.

I look forward to reading more by Deboarah Lawrenson.

Rating: 4 stars -- very good, but not amazing.

Recommended for: like I said above, this a great vacation read. Also, great for readers interested in Portugal.

Why I Read This Now: it's summer, and this seemed summery.

Sep 10, 2019, 2:50am

20. Italian Neighbours: An Englishman in Verona, Tim Parks, 1992

cover comments: Sure! this works for this sort of book. Looks like Italy, and the white with a muted red and green evoke the Italian flag. If in sort of sullied tone . . . which is accurate.

Comments: Tim Parks is an Englishman who moved to Italy in the 80s, has translated a bunch of Italian authors ---which is where I know him from--- and had a Booker nominated novel years ago (Europa).

I liked this better than most "ex-pat in Italy/France/Whatever memoir, where the locals help the stressed out American or Brit realize that life is just better when you live in a villa watching sunsets every night while drinking prosecco. I've never lived in a villa watching sunsets and drinking prosecco, but I can tell you that I don't need to read your memoir to know it's a good thing.

Anyway, that's not Italian Neighbours. Tim Parks describes his life through the 1980s living in a village in the Veneto east of Verona, and his interactions with his neighbours. Hence, the title Italian Neighbours. He has a keen wit, and his sharp observations make this unique among the "ex-pats lives are better than we who stay behind" genre of memoir (cough - some of them need to be filed under "fantasy and science fiction". )

The vignettes in this about the bits of everyday life in Italy struck me as incredibly perspective, and when I read out loud parts to my Italian husband, he laughed in recognition.

This was published in 1992, the year I took my first trip to Europe and visited Verona, and I finished this in 2019, when I took my second trip to Verona (but 5th vacation in Italy). Verona is a lovely small city, but most of Italian Neighbours: an Englishman in Verona is set in Montecchio Maggiore, about a 30 min drive east.

Why I Read This Now I actually read almost half this book two years ago, and I was enjoying it, but then a trip came up to Switzerland, so I switched to Swiss Watching, a book about an Englishman adapting to life in a new country. Rather different approaches, but too much of the same thing. Italian Neighbours is much more intimate and personal. Anyway, back then I set it aside and recently picked it up because I always meant to finish it.

Recommended for: anyone interested in living in Italy

Rating: mostly I found this overly-long. I don't know what to cut, but 200 pages instead of >300 would have been ideal. Some readers complain about lack of thesis statement and lack of story arc. Okay. It's just sort of day-in-the-life over a year. Whatever. **** 4 stars

Sep 10, 2019, 2:55am

**Please don't send me congrats for reaching my goal . . .

... my aim every year is to calculate how many I can read from my TBR pile, and the achievement or failure to reach the goal needs to be clear no sooner than December. So yes, I reached my modest goal of 20 books in September, but all this means is that I didn't calculate correctly (my lifestyle and habits have been n flux over the past couple of years). Still trying to figure it out.

Anyway, nothing to celebrate here folks, let's move along .....

Sep 26, 2019, 7:19am

>43 Nickelini: Planning/calculating is difficult, each year I also struggle with it. We will see how many you have managed at the last day of 2019.

Sep 26, 2019, 8:15am

>43 Nickelini: just moving along, as asked!

Sep 27, 2019, 12:43pm

21. Autumn, Ali Smith, 2016

cover comments: Subtle and beautiful. I like the covers of this whole series -- Winter is suitably icy blue-grey, Spring is a soft green -- what will summer be, I wonder? Sooooo lovely.

Rating: Is it possible to enjoy a novel that you don't really understand? Over a lot of this novel, I really didn't know where it was going, but I was always happy to go along for the ride. 4 stars.

Comments: This is a bit difficult to describe. Set in 2016 England, just after the Brexit vote, this book jumps through time looking at the relationship of Elisabeth -- now a 30-something art history professor-- and Daniel Gluck -- now 101 and (mostly) sleeping in a care home. Their friendship started when Elisabeth was a child and they were neighbours. I found their conversations charming and it really made the book for me. I also found Elisabeth's mom when she was being zany.

I love to learn while reading fiction, and Autumn introduced me to 60s pop artist Pauline Boty. Thanks, Ali Smith!

Ever since I read and loved The Accidental years ago, I've wanted to read something else by Smith. I hope to read the next in this series, Winter, around Christmas.

Why I Read This Now: We were having an unseasonably rainy and cool September here in Vancouver, and I was thinking "autumn."

Sep 27, 2019, 12:44pm

>44 FAMeulstee: & >45 connie53:

Thanks for dropping by (waves madly)

Sep 27, 2019, 1:12pm

>46 Nickelini: I like the "unseasonably cool" part, but I'm hoping it doesn't rain so much while we're in Vancouver next week. And I hope the trees know it's Autumn. ;-)

Sep 28, 2019, 12:34am

>48 mstrust:
First, welcome to Vancouver! Are you here for a few hours on a cruise ship, or something else? If you're on a cruise ship, I say head right when you get off the ship and over to Stanley Park.

"Unseasonably cool" for September in Vancouver might not mean the same thing for someone from Phoenix. When September is awesome in Vancouver (as it often is), it's the most magical time. Nirvana, paradise, etc. Very civilized temperatures, with sparkling air full of green and blue and gold.

This hasn't been one of those Septembers, although it's still a lovely month. I suggest, if your from Phoenix, pack for cold and wet.

That said, early October is often spectacular. But civilized temperatures, never hot.

Sep 28, 2019, 10:58am

We'll be there for a week, staying in West Vancouver by English Bay.
I've been checking the temps obsessively ;-). We try to take vacations in the fall so we can experience the cool temps and I know it's slated to rain a few days while we're there, but I'm leaving my rain boots behind as they must be the heaviest ever made.

Sep 28, 2019, 1:18pm

>50 mstrust:

I only wear rainboots when I garden. You don't need them.

Nov 1, 2019, 12:44am

Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari, published in Hebrew 2011, published in English 2014

cover comments: yep, that's fine I guess

Comments: One educated guy's idea of the history of today's humans from 70,000 years ago to predictions into the future, all in 416 pages. Blurbs by Barak Obama and Bill Gates, amongst others. Mega best seller, so I'm not going to say much.

This started out very strong, but then faded more as it got into recorded history. I see in reader reviews that others think this too. Some of the conclusions he drew from history made me raise my eyebrows, but then he's capturing everything in fewer than 500 pages, so okay I guess. Pretty much everything he said about humanism was flat out wrong (as also noted in the review by The Guardian) but that's only a bit of the book, and he did probably get some other things perfectly right. His ideas on how humans will evolve into the future are odd but interesting, and not something I've thought a lot about.

Why I Read This Now: my husband read this a few years ago and raved about it but I've been busy with non-fiction about Switzerland where our daughter moved, and a few other more burning topics. And now I finally made time for it.

Recommended for: Parts of Sapiens reminded me of Guns, Germs and Steel, a book that I was raving about years ago. The author actually cites Guns, Germs and Steel, and the author, Jared Diamond, blurbs this. So if you liked that one, you'll love ....

Otherwise, this is an entertaining, wide-ranging overview that covers history, archaeology, anthropology, sociology, etc. that has some interesting ideas. It's a best seller for a reason.

Rating: 4 stars

Nov 17, 2019, 3:14am

Hi Joyce! Perhaps you should update your ticker. ;-)) It says you need 2 more ROOTS.

Nov 17, 2019, 1:53pm

>53 connie53:
I know, but I was planning to do it at the end of December

Nov 22, 2019, 2:23am

Okay, that's a good time to change it.

Dec 2, 2019, 11:23pm

Storia di Lucca (History of Lucca), John Jones, 2000 - printed in both Italian and English

cover comments: sure, this is fine-- nice warm red, nice artwork that shows a definitive scene of the subject

Why I Read This Now: I'm studying Italian and this probably the oldest Italian book I own and one I've been meaning to read for ages.

I think what is most notable about this book is that it's printed in Italian on the left pages and English on the right. My Italian isn't good enough yet to read the Italian side, but it's interesting to glance over now and again to see how things are worded.

Comments: Back in 2000, my husband was the president of the Tuscany society here in Vancouver. That isn't as important and fancy as it sounds, but from a few years of holding that position, he did get a free trip to New York City and one to Florence, Italy for conferences of Toscani from around the world. As part of the contingent of Lucchesi (all his family is from Lucca), he was given this book as a gift.

If you're not familiar with Lucca, it's a charming small city in the NW of Tuscany, between Florence and Pisa. I was last there at the end of my Switzerland-Northern Italy trip last May, and after going through stunning places in the north -- four of the Italian Lakes, the Dolomiti, Verona, and then the Cinque Terre, when we got to Lucca, and I rode a bike to circle the top of the Renaissance walls, I truly felt that THIS was the real Italy for me. I feel very lucky for it to be my Italian home. Anyway, back to the book . . .

For hundreds of years, Lucca was an important city-state of Italy. If you look at historical maps, the areas all over the country change ownership and allegiances, but for the most part, Lucca remains just Lucca, in it's little corner of Tuscany. For hundreds of years, Lucca was a European banking centre and silk manufacturing centre.

Storia di Lucca is roughly divided thusly: Eight pages to get from 2000 BC with the ancient Lugurians, through the Etruscans, the Roman Empire (it was an important Roman walled city, but I guess this isn't the author's area of interest), and the Goth invasion.

These eight pages are followed by 90 pages detailing the intricacies of diplomatic negotiations of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (800 years), which went sort of like this: Lucca teamed up with Genoa against Pisa, then they went to war with Florence, until that group died and then they cut a deal with Florence against Milan and Genoa, etc and so on. Mostly Pisa is the enemy (to this day--I've sent anti-Pisa graffiti in Lucca and my husband's uncle was disgusted that we went there one day).

After that there are 45 pages to get from the 16th century to World War Two. The biggest section of this was the Napoleonic era when Napoleon's sister Elisa, as the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, built her palace in Lucca (which I think I should visit next trip).

I've been to Lucca five times, and I've often wondered what happened there besides the Medieval era, the Renaissance, and the Napoleonic decade. As I thought -- not much!

A note on the author: John Jones had a varied career in England, including being mayor of Abingdon and a bunch of other stuff that led to his being awarded the Order of the British Empire. His ties to Lucca have been close since he was an officer in the Royal Artillery that liberated Lucca in 1944. There is no translator listed in this book, so I'm guessing he wrote both the English and the Italian. Kinda funny, as sometimes the English didn't make much sense and I thought IT was the translation. Maybe he had the book ghost written.

Recommended for: Italian history lovers, anyone enchanted by the city of Lucca (or more it's past politics), a language nerd who wants to read a book in Italian and English at the same time.

The biggest fault with this was that there was a huge lack detail about everyday life, as it only focused on the negotiations of the ruling class and church. What was everyone else doing?

Rating: 3.5 stars for the writing and an extra .5 for the full-colour illustrations = 4 stars

Dec 3, 2019, 12:54am

>56 Nickelini: No mention of Puccini, who was born in Lucca?

Dec 3, 2019, 9:27am

>57 haydninvienna:
Puccini is a very big deal in Lucca, but nope, not discussed. Just political alliances. No culture, no daily life, niente!

Dec 13, 2019, 11:17pm

I actually met my goal of 20 TBR books in August, which just shows that I set the wrong goal. It's a goal for the YEAR, not a race to read 20 TBRs as quickly as possible. It's almost the end of the year now, so I've updated my ticker (I'd have left it for the end of the year, but I know I'll be super busy then and will forget).

Dec 19, 2019, 3:40am

Yeah for you!

Jan 1, 2020, 3:32pm

The Rise and Fall of the the House of Medici, Christopher Hibbert, 1974 **touchstones broken -- may come back and fix later

cover comments: excellent. It's a detail from the fresco 'Adoration of the Magi' by Benozzo Gozzoli, which is at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. The dude on the horse is Lorenzo the Magnificent, apparently painted before he became magnificent but perhaps foretelling the future?

Why I Read This Now: Last month I was having dinner at my mother-in-law's, where she has Italian TV on all day. They were playing season 3 of Medici, which was just released in Italy (it hasn't been released in North America in English yet). I was enthralled and went home started watching season 1 Medici: Masters of Florence and then season 2 Medici: Lorenzo the Magnificent and was obsessed. I remember I bought The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici back in 2003 when I was studying art history, and hadn't had a chance to read it. After reading the History of Lucca I didn't expect to read another history book so soon, but that's life sometimes. Anyway, the TV series is amazing and I wanted to learn more about the Medici.

Comments: This started out strong, with clear descriptions of life in 1400s Florence. It then fell into the standard history book swamp of "they fought these people, and then someone invaded and they teamed up with those guys , etc." Occasionally it would return to some vivid passages that captured the magic of why we're interested in these people, but mostly it was a list of names and conflicts.

Despite the "rise and fall" of the title, this book doesn't actually say how they rose or fell, but just that they did. The family is known before the book starts in the 1360s, when they were bankers and cloth merchants (perhaps the name comes from the family having been doctors, as that's the translation from Italian). Rather amazing that Giovanni, who historians view as the patriarch of the family (and played by Dustin Hoffman in the series -- odd casting) was the great grandfather of Pope Leo X. His great grandson (and brother to Pope Leo X), Piero, was still just a banker, but his son Lorenzo became a duke, and Piero's granddaughter became queen of France (Catherine de Medici, wife of Henry II). That's some pretty successful upward mobility!

"What's so great about the Medici," you ask? Like wealthy people everywhere at all times, they could be a nasty, brutish, self-indulgent & greedy lot. But they also were the main patrons of the Italian Renaissance, and were instrumental in the development of not just visual arts and architecture, but also philosophy, literature and science. Not all the Medici were philomaths, but enough of them were, and they changed the western world.

So why did the Medici fall? See my line above about "nasty, brutish . . . " etc. Actually, the male lineage died out by the mid-1700s. Medici descendants live on today though through the female lines. Apparently half the existing European royalty links back to the Medici, and if my understanding of genetics is right, than a lot of other people from Europe too.

Now it's time to go rewatch Medici season 1 & 2 while I wait for Netflix to release season 3.

Richard Madden stars as Cosimo de Medici in season 1

Daniel Sharman stars as Lorenzo the Magnificent in seasons 2 & 3

The Difference Between History's Account & the Series: oh, loads. Lots of poetic license taken. But if you look at the portraits we have of the Medici, they were all pretty ugly, and everyone in the series is really fabulous looking. I suspect the actors also smell a lot nicer.

Recommended for: Even though it's written in 1974, sources tell me The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici is still one of the seminal books on this subject. So, recommended for those interested in the Renaissance.

Rating: 4 stars