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RidgewayGirl Reads Books in 2019 - Part Three

This is a continuation of the topic RidgewayGirl Reads Books in 2019 - Part Two.

2019 Category Challenge

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Edited: Sep 12, 12:24pm Top

Roughly halfway through the year seems a good time to start a new thread, especially since I need to catch up on reviews. The Tournament of Books Summer Reading Challenge is underway, my two favorite booksales happen in August (when I will bid farewell to reading as many of my own books as I bring home) and the Decatur Book Festival takes place on Labor Day weekend - a book festival I have been looking forward to since drive home from it last year.

Let's hit the road!

Currently Reading

Recently Read

Recently Acquired (fine additions to the tbr)

Books obtained: 66 -- I was very good at the book sales this year, even if the numbers say differently.

Owned books read: 32 -- Yay!

Library books read: 40 -- the goal of reading at least 50% of my own books is not off to a great start.

NetGalley: 15 -- not sure yet whether this was a good idea or not.

Edited: Aug 23, 11:21am Top

Category One.

Around the World

Create Your Own Visited Countries Map

1. Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent (Ireland)
2. Seventeen by Hideo Yokoyama, translated from the Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai (Japan)
3. The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones (Australia)
4. The Years by Annie Ernaux, translated from the French by Alison L. Strayer (France)
5. The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag, translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg (Sweden)
6. Klotsvog by Margarita Khemlin, translated from the Russian by Lisa Hayden (Russia/Ukraine)
7. The Ditch by Herman Koch, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Netherlands)
8. Afterwards by Rachel Seiffert (United Kingdom)

Edited: Aug 22, 10:21am Top

Category Three.

Expats, Immigrants and Works in Translation

1. A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen
2. Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
3. Children of the Ghetto: My Name is Adam by Elias Khoury, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies
4. Second Person Singular by Sayed Kashua, translated from the Hebrew by Mitch Ginsburg
5. Dawn: Stories by Selahattin Demirtas, translated from the Turkish by Amy Marie Spangler and Kate Ferguson
6. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
7. The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

Edited: Aug 16, 10:33pm Top

Category Seven.

CATs and My Book Club

1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (RandomCAT and book club)
2. American Pop by Snowden Wright (book club)
3. Staff Picks by George Singleton (book club)
4. First Execution by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar (June TBRCAT)
5. Past Tense by Lee Child (July RandomCAT)
6. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (August RandomCAT)

Edited: Sep 9, 1:07pm Top

Bonus Category Eleven.

The Overflow

1. Golden State by Ben H. Winters
2. Who's That Girl? by Mhairi McFarlane

Edited: Sep 9, 1:10pm Top

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2019

1 - A book becoming a movie in 2019 -- Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
2 - A book that makes you nostalgic -- The Years by Annie Ernaux
3 - A book written by a musician (fiction or nonfiction)
4 - A book you think should be turned into a movie -- My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
5 - A book with at least one million ratings on Goodreads
6 - A book with a plant in the title or on the cover -- Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
7 - A reread of a favorite book
8 - A book about a hobby -- Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken
9 - A book you meant to read in 2018 -- Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
10 - A book with "pop", "sugar" or "challenge" in the title -- American Pop by Snowden Wright
11 - A book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover
12 - a book inspired by mythology, legend or folklore -- The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
13 - A book published posthumously
14 - a book you see someone reading on TV or in a movie
15 - A retelling of a classic
16 - A book with a question in the title -- Who's That Girl? by Mhairi McFarlane
17 - A book set on a college or university campus -- The Altruists by Andrew Ridker
18 - a book about someone with a super power -- Golden State by Ben H. Winters
19 - a book told from multiple POVs -- Make Me a City by Jonathan Carr
20 - a book set in space
21 - a book by two female authors -- Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
22 - A book with a title that contains "salty", "sweet", "bitter" or "spicy"
23 - A book set in Scandinavia -- The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag
24 - a book that takes place in a single day
25 - a debut novel -- Our Man in the Dark by Rashad Harrison
26 - a book that's published in 2019 -- East of England by Eamonn Griffin
27 - a book featuring an extinct or imaginary creature -- Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
28 - a book recommended by a celebrity you admire
29 - a book with "love" in the title
30 - a book featuring an amateur detective -- The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh
31 - A book about a family -- A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen
32 - A book written by an author from Asia, Africa or South America -- Seventeen by Hideo Yokoyama
33 - A book with a zodiac sign or astrology term in the title
34 - a book that includes a wedding -- Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent
35 - A book by an author whose first and last names start with the same letter -- Snap by Belinda Bauer
36 - A ghost story
37 - a book with a two-word title -- Desert Fabuloso by Lisa Lovenheim
38 - A novel based on a true story
39 - A book revolving around a puzzle or game -- Past Tense by Lee Child
40 - Your favorite prompt from a past Popsugar Reading Challenge

Jul 8, 12:34pm Top

And my new thread is open for business, including the business of catching up on reviews. Which I will be doing now-ish...

Jul 8, 2:10pm Top

Happy new thread, Kay! Those pictures are so very atmospheric!

Jul 8, 2:35pm Top

Happy new thread! You've had some great reading so far this year!

Jul 8, 2:59pm Top

Congrats on at least making it halfway through the year reading just as many books as you brought in. It's funny how one good book sale can just throw everything off. :)

Jul 8, 3:38pm Top

Happy new thread! Very striking black and white photos.

Jul 8, 4:10pm Top

Thank you all!

And here's the answer, at long last, to that burning question we all have as we plan our summer holidays:


Jul 8, 5:11pm Top

>20 RidgewayGirl: Thanks for sharing! Thank goodness for ebooks so you can safely have well over the recommended amount just in case. I tend to have two physical books though just in case and usually end up reading those first. I may have to bump that up though as I'll be flying to Hawaii soon and the eight hour flight might require an extra book or two. :)

Jul 8, 5:15pm Top

>21 LittleTaiko: Not to mention the danger of a delay or a canceled flight! Enjoy Hawai'i!

Jul 8, 5:29pm Top

Sarah and David fall in love. They break up for reasons that remain unclear, but fraught. It's an ordinary story, but supercharged because they are both in a competitive performing arts high school, both as drama students, in a small group that feeds on heightened emotion. And then there's the head drama teacher, who is very involved in the lives of his students.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi begins with this story, one that reminded me of Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal, but twists at the mid-point into a very different book that takes the events of the first half and examines them from a different viewpoint, casting doubt on the reliability of what is communicated in the first half, and an unavoidable skepticism about the events of the second half, taking place when the characters are much older.

I do love it when an author invites the reader to recognize that what they are reading is fiction and to play around with what is and isn't real within both the fictional world they've created and the world of the author writing a book. Choi manages to do this and to maintain interest in what happens to her characters. I was fascinated with what the author was doing and I'm going to be reading whatever she writes next.

Jul 9, 1:39am Top

>20 RidgewayGirl: that did make me smile! I tend to take more than I think I will need, unless I know there's a source of books where I'm going. I've never yet (fingers crossed) run out of books while travelling.

Jul 9, 7:25am Top

Happy New Thread, Kay! I'm one who always worries about how many books are too many to take. So glad I can now do ebooks from the library and other places. I can remember having almost more books than clothes on some vacations.

Jul 9, 10:28am Top

>24 Helenliz: I got stuck once in a long line at the post office without anything to read. The residual effects of that ensure that there is always a book with me! And, yes, I usually end up bringing more books than I read, especially given that I will hunt down bookstores wherever I go.

>25 dudes22: Betty, don't forget to bring a physical book (or six). What if your ereader chooses the start of your vacation to die?

Edited: Jul 9, 11:00am Top

What if your ereader chooses the start of your vacation to die?

This happened to me once with my Kindle and it was traumatic. It was probably the first I ever had and the online support said it would reset. Not on only could I not reset it, neither could the IT person I was traveling with. I have never traveled again without both. I like trade paper backs and if I don't have one in the TBR I actually go to the bookstore a few days before leaving and shop for a few to take. As I told my brother once, I know all the things that are wrong with this but I'm still going to do it.

Jul 9, 11:06am Top

clue, the same thing happened to me. My trusty old kindle died decisively on the second day of a two week trip. It was a sad, sad moment. So now I pack my iPad, loaded with all the books I might want to read, AND all the physical books needed for the length of the trip.

Edited: Jul 9, 11:54am Top

Rachel is taking care of her writing prof's poodle in exchange for a good grade. She also slept with him, but because she wanted to, not for an A. She takes the dog home for the summer, where her mother is still adjusting to life without her husband, who has left her to live in Tribeca with an airline pilot. Zahid, the writing professor, had a successful debut novel but he's spent the advance for his second novel long ago and now needs to find a new teaching position, so he sub-lets his apartment to the sister of his best friend, a woman who works in the male-dominated world of finance.

Very Nice is a short novel with many characters, all of whom get to be the centers of their own chapters. And the novel has a broad reach, from dissatisfaction in an affluent commuter town, to the misogynistic reaches of New York finance, to the inner workings of publishing and academia. So it shouldn't work. The characters should be one-dimensional. And yet, Marcy Dermansky manages to pull it all off. There are a ton of characters, all of them behaving in the most outrageous of ways, yet they all feel very human. Zahid may be sleeping with the mother of the student he once slept with, and to be angling very hard to become her kept man, but somehow I couldn't not be pleased when his writing was going well. Dermansky has a talent for connecting her characters to the reader very quickly, regardless of what kind of self-destructive behavior they are engaged in or how selfish they are and here that talent is able to take a large collection of characters, all behaving badly, in a wide variety of situations, and make a cohesive novel out of it. I do prefer it the intense experience she creates when keeping her writing tightly focused on a single character (The Red Car is a fantastic book) but with Very Nice, Dermansky set her difficulty rating much higher and landed every jump.

Jul 9, 6:19pm Top

>20 RidgewayGirl: Happy new thread! Thanks for sharing the article. My rule of thumb is at least four print books of varying sizes and genres, plus a few audios, plus a few public-domain ebooks, plus magazines on my iPad.

For visits to my parents, I've managed to knock it down to one print book, max, for the trip down, so that I can raid their bookshelves while I'm visiting.

Jul 10, 7:41am Top

I do also take a few books with me and don't rely on my e-reader. Luckily, the place we go in Mexico has a take-one/leave-one shelf of books and in the US, I can usually find a used book store or can check out a local library for their FOL sale shelf. We're going to Fla for a longer time next year and going from there directly to Mexico, so I'm already trying to decide what I should take for physical books which I prefer, actually. That's why I still have books that have been hanging around for years unread on my e-reader.

Jul 10, 12:31pm Top

Happy new thread, Kay. Your opening pictures are giving me a definite desire to pick up a noir mystery! As for >27 clue: & >28 RidgewayGirl: : this is one of the reasons I have multiple Kindles and always travel with at least 2!

Jul 11, 4:00pm Top

>30 rabbitprincess: My Dad raids my shelves, although I make it easy for him now and just pull out books I think might appeal to him. He did drop by to give me Tony Horowitz's last book the other day, so there is some reciprocation. And no matter how many bookstore visits are scheduled, I still somehow always pack as though there is no possibility of obtaining books during the trip and also we might all be stranded there for reasons unknown.

>31 dudes22: How has the take-one/leave-one shelf been for you? There was one of those in a vacation rental last year and it's the entire reason I finally read Lonesome Dove (I had brought plenty of books with me, but a book on the shelf is more attractive than the book in the suitcase).

>32 DeltaQueen50: It's always time for a noir!

Edited: Jul 11, 5:09pm Top

When her husband invites home for dinner a man she knew in high school, 37 year old Maddie is jolted out of her comfortable world of being a Jewish housewife and mother to a teenage son. It's 1966, Baltimore is changing and Maddie wants to be out in the world, living. She moves out, gets an apartment and a secret lover and decides that she wants to become a journalist. But she's too old and the wrong gender to get a job at a newspaper the traditional way, so when the disappearance of a little girl gives her an opportunity, she grabs it. But when her dream job turns into her being a glorified secretary, she finds another missing persons case to dig into, a woman whose body is found dumped in a public fountain. But Maddie is an outsider just learning her job there are people who have a vested interest in keeping her quiet.

Maddie is a fantastic character. She's by turns yearning and manipulative, honest and willing to do what it takes to get what she wants, independent and insecure. I'm not sure I'd like her if I met her, but she is a fascinating person to follow around.

Laura Lippman is that rare kind of bestseller writer, the kind that is constantly improving their work. She's always been good at putting together a suspenseful plot and paired that with solid writing, but she's been expanding her reach. Yes, The Lady in the Lake is set in Baltimore, as most of Lippman's books are, but this one deals with both Civil Rights issues and political corruption. There's a lot more depth here than usual and Lippman is up for it, writing a crime novel that works well in its genre, while also providing a novel rich in historical detail and nuanced characters.

Jul 11, 5:10pm Top

>33 RidgewayGirl: - Last year I got Ordinary Grace by William Ken Krueger which turned out to be my best read of the year and a couple of Craig Johnson's Longmire series that I didn't have. Since e-books, it's not as good as it used to be - they've gone from 2 bookshelves to just 2 shelves (they're using the room it used to be in for something else), but usually I find something.

Jul 12, 7:07pm Top

>35 dudes22: I would be so worried that my only options would be the Twilight series and a bunch of back issues of Gun & Garden magazine.

Jul 12, 7:20pm Top

In a remote Mennonite community in South America, women, girls and even toddlers are waking up with unexplained injuries and coming down with inexplicable STDs. The leader of the community explains it to them that they were violated by demons as the consequences of their own sin, but it is eventually discovered that some of the men are drugging the women and then raping them while they are unconscious. Despite all efforts, the attacks continue until outside authorities are brought in. They arrest the rapists and take them to the city, but the remaining men decide that the best course of action is to go bail the men out and bring them back to the community. During the men's absence, the women come together to discuss what they can do. Women Talking by Miriam Toews is an account of those meetings.

The most terrifying aspect of this novel is that it is based on true events.

Toews presents a group ill-prepared for life outside of the Mennonite community. Unlike men, who receive a very basic education, the women are illiterate and don't even know what lies beyond their own lands. They know that they will be expected to forgive the attackers and struggle with whether this is even possible. This is a thoughtful book, carefully representing a faith community that is little known to outsiders. It's also a very quiet, contained novel, despite the lurid subject matter. In the end, the question the women must collectively decide is whether to stay or to leave, and as they grapple with the possible consequences of both actions, a slow consensus builds.

Jul 13, 4:45pm Top

So Jack Reacher is doing his thing, hitchhiking around, this time heading south for the winter, when he's dropped off in the town his father grew up in. He's a little curious, so he does a little research, which makes him a little more curious. Along the way to satisfying his curiosity, Reacher will play match-maker, learn some things about his father, and interrupt some very bad men, one of whom shares his name.

If you've read any of Lee Child's novels, you'll know exactly what you're getting into. In Past Tense everything is exactly where it's supposed to be. I was disappointed to have correctly figured out what the bad guys were up to immediately, but the contents of a mysterious suitcase were a surprise. I don't know whether it's this installment of Reacher's adventures, or me just being very slow to pick up on this, but many of the characters just happened to share Reacher's unique way of talking and of interpreting the world around him. I've never met anyone like that, and here pretty much everyone in the town shared his unusual way of explaining things. Still, it was a highly enjoyable bit of escapist reading.

Edited: Jul 16, 7:22pm Top

I picked up John Jay Osborn's Listen to the Marriage off of my local library's New Books shelf based on the cover art and the concept -- that this is a novel set in a marriage counselor's office and centers on a single, troubled marriage. And, as happens most of the time when I chose a book this way, the experience of reading this book was decidedly mixed.

Gretchen and Steve are separated, contemplating divorce. Steve's a high powered executive and Gretchen is a university professor. They have two kids. Steve had an affair and Gretchen feels he can't be trusted. Over an extended length of time they meet weekly with Sandy, a somewhat unconventional therapist. In the right hands, this could have been a fascinating character study and a look at what it means to move toward divorce, but the author sticks to the surfaces of his characters. Steve reforms immediately, becoming a dedicated father and thoughtful partner all at once. The entire tension of the novel rests on whether or not Gretchen can forgive Steve enough to move back in with him. They're rich and privileged, in ways that reduce the potential tension of the story -- when Gretchen worries about money, Steve hands her a check for two hundred thousand dollars, childcare is easy with Steve's parents always willing and available.

Still, it's interesting to eavesdrop on marriage therapy, even if I'm not convinced that the therapist's methods were based on any actual therapeutical practices. I did move from being very interested into wishing the sessions were less repetitive, less rehashing of familiar ground. And the writing was straight-forward, with an old-fashioned feel to it that made the novel feel like it could have been set anytime in the past fifty years.

Jul 16, 8:30pm Top

>39 RidgewayGirl: When I saw "John Jay Osborn" I was shocked, truly shocked. I thought John Jay died years ago. I have known some of his family, particularly a cousin he was very close to. It's odd because I've been thinking about her lately, and wondering if she had moved because I haven't seen or heard anything about her for several years. She really loved him and told the funniest stories about him.

John Jay grew up in the small town of Paris, Arkansas about 40 miles from where I live. You've probably read about him, Harvard law school and very successful with his first book The Paper Chase, it was also a successful TV series.

Of course I'll read this although it doesn't sound like something I'll be particularly interested in. I just read online that he based it on his own marriage counseling. He is probably rather wealthy now, his family was pretty well off and as a successful California lawyer I would think giving his wife $200,000 might be something he could do.

Jul 16, 10:11pm Top

>40 clue: How very interesting. I wonder if the book would have worked better as a work of non-fiction?

Edited: Jul 17, 5:14pm Top

Friday Black is the debut short story collection by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. It received a lot of attention and appeared on several "best books of 2018" lists. So as someone who likes short stories and is a sucker for a good book list, I picked up a copy. It really is as good as the hype makes it out to be. The first story, The Finkelstein 5, hits with all the force of a chain saw swung through the air and then immediately follows with an entirely different, but also powerful story called Things My Mother Said.

Many of the stories are set in versions of a dystopian future America and concern events like a Black Friday sale gone violent, a man who works for a company that provides people to engage in live action role-play involving seeing a strange black guy in your neighborhood and a bleak, apocalyptic tale of people having to return to a specific time and place over and over again.

I was impressed with this collection and I look forward to reading more by Adjei-Brenyah.

Jul 18, 12:40pm Top

When Violet Rue Kerrigan is twelve, she comes downstairs in the middle of the night to hear a confusing conversation between two of her older brothers. It will be a few days before she puts together the pieces of a conversation about fixing a car and hiding a baseball bat with the murder of a black high school student. The Kerrigans are a large Irish family with an unpredictable father, whose moods are carefully monitored by the rest of the family, especially by Violet's mother and sisters. Her brothers are rapidly becoming as domineering and prone to violence, although they still defer to their father. As their family, along with the working class Irish Catholic community as a whole, draw together to protect the boys, Violet is feeling increasingly unsafe around her brothers, a fear she shares with a teacher in a vulnerable moment. That moment will shatter Violet's life.

Joyce Carol Oates writes best when she's describing the experience of being a girl growing up in dysfunctional patriarchal households, of being unsafe and knowing that the very men that you love can easily do you great harm, and often do. With My Life as a Rat, JCO is writing to her strengths and the result is a powerful and emotionally resonant novel about belonging, identity and resilience. I don't think I've ever read anything that so perfectly explains why an abused child will desperately try to return to the very environment that endangers her. JCO's singular writing style is perfectly suited to the voice of Violet Rue and while this isn't a novel that pulls any punches with what happens to children removed from whatever security they may have known and the battles Violet wages just to survive, she also tempers this all with grace notes and moments where Violet discovers that she's stronger than she thought she was.

This may well be my favorite work by this author.

Jul 19, 6:25am Top

>43 RidgewayGirl: Have read a couple of Oates and they were meh; but not so bad that I would not give her another try. This book goes on my WL. Great review!

Jul 19, 1:27pm Top

>44 tess_schoolmarm: Tess, it took me a long time to warm up to JCO. But there was a reader I admired who is a fan and she pushed me into trying different kinds of her work -- she so enormously prolific and writes on such a variety of subjects. I started liking her writing after reading some of her short stories.

Edited: Jul 19, 5:40pm Top

Andrew and Eric take their eight-year-old daughter and go on vacation in an isolated cabin on a scenic lake in New Hampshire they're anticipating nothing more than time to unwind, to live without wifi or their phones, to let Wen goof around outside without constant supervision. But they've barely settled in when a man shows up on foot and starts a conversation with Wen, who is in the front yard catching grasshoppers. By the time she runs to tell her parents about the man outside, it's too late.

I picked this up after seeing mentions of how very scary this book is. Horror is hit or miss with me, and usually it misses. It's either so over the top I stop being scared and start to roll my eyes, or it's just not that scary. The Cabin at the End of the World leans towards both simultaneously and so sort of worked for me. Not in the sense that I was scared, but I was interested in what was going to happen next that I kept turning the pages. This is a home invasion story with a twist; the four intruders come armed with the most terrifying weapons imaginable (kudos to Paul Tremblay for thinking up those nightmare-worthy objects) and they are utterly convinced that the world will end unless the family does a horrific thing. These aren't monsters taking pleasure in causing pain, these are true believers. Tremblay does a good job of walking the fine line between presenting the intruders as delusional and of presenting them as being correct. He leaves enough room for the reader to interpret the events how they choose and he ends the book at the exactly right moment. If your secret fear is of being the target of a home invasion, this book will probably be terrifying in all the right ways.

Jul 20, 11:56am Top

>46 RidgewayGirl: Horror stories work much the same way with me as they do with you, nevertheless, it seems I can't stop reading them! I haven't read this author before although I do have one of his on my Kindle, after reading your thoughts it will soon be two on my Kindle. :)

Jul 20, 1:57pm Top

>47 DeltaQueen50: And yet hope really does spring eternal and I keep looking for a book that will frighten me the way The Amityville Horror did the summer I was fourteen.

The first chapters of The Body Lies by Jo Baker had more rising menace than any horror novel I've read recently. I was reading it late at night while my husband is on a business trip and I had to set it aside as I was getting too frightened. It was lovely.

Edited: Jul 22, 6:14pm Top

Marianne writes poetry, but given how lucrative that is, mainly she teaches in an elementary school. When her landlord cancels her lease, her ex-fiance jumps in with a job offer - to be the administrator of a writing program run out of his aunt's defunct motel outside of Sarasota, Florida. With Eric's hedge fund manager brother handling the finances, and Eric joining her later as the fiction teacher, Marianne grabs the opportunity. The thing they think will make this program successful is that they are aiming it at people who want to write inspirational books.

Quickly, things become complex. There are so many more applications than Marianne had anticipated, it's harder than expected to find teachers for the non-fiction and poetry courses and the motel is falling down around her.

The Gulf by Belle Boggs could easily have stuck with making this novel a funny send-up of low residency writing courses and the kind of writers who find themselves making a living teaching people whose work will likely never be publishable, or the ambitious yet gullible students. It is that, a little, but mostly it's about Marianne finding out that she likes some of the students, from the middle-aged home ec teacher who writes poetry about Terri Schiavo, to the R&B singer looking for a new start after he loses control of his own fame. The Gulf is both funny and insightful, razor-sharp and heartfelt.

Jul 22, 7:26pm Top

That sounds really interesting, so BB. I ran a writer's group years ago and there should be a good story just in the kooky stuff people want to get published. Thanks for the review!

Jul 23, 9:15am Top

>49 RidgewayGirl: And that's yet another one on the wishlist! (it is creaking at the seams now!)

Jul 27, 9:25am Top

>50 mstrust: Writing groups of various kinds do provide ample inspiration for a novel. The next book I read, The Body Lies, is about a woman who gets a job teaching creative writing at a small university. I could probably fill my reading time entirely with books set in writers' retreats, MFA programs and writing groups.

Jackie, it's very important to have a long and varied wishlist. Imagine - there are people who have trouble finding a book to read. Fortunately, we do not.

Jul 28, 4:49pm Top

While pregnant, a young woman is mugged by a stranger as she walks home from work late one winter afternoon. While the physical damage is minimal, she no longer feels safe. When her child is a toddler and it's time for her to return to work, she applies and gets a job teaching at a university in the north of England. Her husband is unwilling to follow her and so they begin a sort of half-relationship where he drives up on weekends and holidays, while she and her son settle in to an isolated cottage. She's quickly in over her head at the college, as the head of the department keeps adding to her workload. Her main class is a graduate course on creative writing, where she is shepherding a small group of aspiring writers, one of whom quickly begins to behave inappropriately.

The Body Lies has such a sense of menace and foreboding about it that I often had to set it aside when reading it late at night. Yet, that sense of menace is so subtly created that I questioned, along with the main character, whether there was any reason for my sense of dread. Jo Baker does a fantastic job of writing a thriller. But there's more to it than the usual "woman in peril" trope. Baker examines misogyny from several directions, from the way women are written about, to how women are conditioned to downplay harassment and to not make a fuss. Her scenes set during the creative writing seminars were brilliant, as was her depiction of a woman growing ever more exhausted as she attempts to cope with all the challenges of an overloaded work schedule and the demands of raising a toddler.

Edited: Jul 29, 5:47pm Top

Maya Klotsvog is just doing what she needs to to get by, to get ahead, to have a moment to herself, to put a little aside against the hard times. She's living the Soviet Union, in Kiev, and her passport marks her as a Jew. She spent the war in exile in Kazakhstan and she's all too aware of the precariousness of life for those of Jewish descent in the Soviet Union. She also knows that she's going to have to do what is needed to get ahead.

As Maya narrates her own story, it's clear that she's massaging the details, of her first relationship, then her hasty marriage to her boss, a sad man who lost his entire family to the Nazis, then her second marriage, and the next relationship, meant to make things just a little easier. Maya is self-centered and manipulative, using her beauty to avoid working, or to improve her circumstances, but she uses her relentlessness in service to her family occasionally as well and I was left with the impression of having read about one of the few personality types that could improve their circumstances under an intolerable regime. Just because she left a trail of destroyed lives behind her is no reason not to root for Maya to finally get what she wants, at least until she sees something else.

Margarita Khemlin was a Jewish-Ukrainian novelist and short story writer whose work has not been widely available outside of the former Soviet Union. Columbia University Press has begun publishing untranslated works under the Russian Library imprint. Klotsvog is both a fascinating character study and a stark look a what ordinary life looked like in the middle of the last century in the Soviet Union.

Jul 29, 6:13pm Top

<54 I love stories by Russian authors. This goes on my wishlist!

Aug 1, 3:12pm Top

Having been generously given a copy of Good Omens and since there's a mini-series and all, I finally read it. Clearly, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman had a fantastic time writing this funny novel about the apocalypse. There are an angel and a demon who have become something approaching friends after a few millennia of being co-workers of a sort, each assigned to the same task of influencing humans. There's a socially awkward witch finder, who meets an actual witch and falls in love. And there's the Antichrist, who having been accidentally given to the wrong family, heads up a small gang who specialize in annoying the vicar and in generally wholesome hijinks.

Good Omens is fun. It isn't deep or important or breaking new ground, but it is a solidly told story with some very funny sentences here and there. It's certainly dated, but in the kind of way that adds to it's charms.

Aug 1, 8:16pm Top

>56 RidgewayGirl: I read this in university and don't remember a lot about it. But now that I have Michael Sheen and David Tennant to picture for the protagonists, I just might have to read it again.

Aug 2, 9:01am Top

>57 rabbitprincess: I started watching the miniseries last night and it's fun. The first episode stuck closely to the book, but I'm hoping there will be differences to come as the most interesting part of watching an adaptation is seeing how the visual version differs and figuring out why.

The best instance of this is the BBC adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which stuck very closely to the story (and perfectly cast Rupert Graves as Huntingdon) and then radically changed the ending.

Aug 2, 12:00pm Top

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first in a fantasy trilogy by Marlon James. But to call this a fantasy novel is misleading, it is that, but it's also a literary novel and a novel that revels in being labyrinthine and in upending many of the fantasy tropes it makes reference to.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is told from the point of view of Tracker, the red wolf of the title, a man who can follow people by their scent, no matter how far away they are or how old the scent. He becomes part of a group hired to find a boy kidnapped three years earlier, brought in by his friend (if Tracker can be said to have friends) a were-leopard. But what appears to be the standard set up of a group of mis-matched outsiders going on a quest together is set on its head almost immediately. What follows, and what precedes this beginning, is confusing, maddening, explicitly violent and outrageously imaginative.

This novel is based in an African past much like how countless fantasy novels are based in a sort of medieval Europe, and there are clear references to classic fantasy novels. Here, Tolkien's Lothlorien is reimagined in a horrifying way, faithful companions are as trustworthy as strangers and the very thing these companions are searching for may not be what it seems. I very much loved the sad, yet murderous giant (who gets angry at being called a giant), the wise buffalo, and an odd group of abandoned children who find refuge together.

James has stated that each book of the trilogy will be told from the point of view of a different character, so the picture created by Tracker is frustratingly incomplete. Despite my lack of interest in this genre and utter boredom with battles and magical creatures, I suspect I'll be reading the next books in the trilogy just to see how James fits the stories of the other characters together to build a complete tale.

Aug 7, 7:00pm Top

The following comes courtesy of Judy's (DeltaQueen) thread.

Reader’s Meme

1. The persons who helped me fall in love with reading were:

My kindergarten teacher who taught me to read and my father, who would only read a single chapter of The Chronicles of Narnia each night, no matter how much I wanted more. I took over somewhere in the middle of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

2. One book I love to give as a gift is:

I tailor my book gifts to the receiver. I'd rather gift a book I disliked, but that they will love than a favorite of mine. In fact, I tend not to give copies of books I love as it's too gutting when a friend dislikes it.

3. If I could write like one author it would be

I'd love to write like Ottessa Moshfegh, Denise Mina or David Mitchell.

4. One book I think deserves more attention is

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen. But don't read it unless you promise to love it.

5. The friend(s) I always turn to for reading recommendations is/are

You know who you are and I would like you to stop reading until I catch up (around 2047).

6. What do you do about a book you're not liking

If it's a book by an author with a good reputation, I'll stick with it. If I hate it, my review will reflect that. If the book is badly written, I have no trouble stopping partway through.

7. One book that absolutely shocked me was:

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I expected to be offended and upset and ended up being blown away by its brilliance.

8. My favorite place to read is:

Anywhere quiet.

9. If I could read only one book for the rest of my life it’d be:


10. The books I’m currently reading:

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
The Ditch by Herman Koch
Afterwards by Rachel Seifert

Edited: Aug 9, 9:55am Top

I've spent the past few days helping to set up a booksale for Books for Keeps, a literary non-profit. If you're anywhere near Athens, Georgia on August 15 - 18 or August 24 -25, go check it out. They've got a ton of great books, and I only brought home seven of them.

But that means my days of maintaining a parity between books purchased and books read off my tbr are officially over. I'm going to a local booksale on Saturday with VictoriaPL and then it's time for the Decatur book festival.

Oh, and here's what I brought home:

Aug 8, 10:16pm Top

>60 RidgewayGirl: Great meme answers. Your answer to #1 reminded me of my sister and I begging our mom for another chapter or another story - we didn't sway her either!

>61 RidgewayGirl: Great haul. I finally picked up a short story collection by Joyce Carol Oates and OMG I love her writing!

Edited: Aug 9, 10:11am Top

In her glummer moments, she thought that reading was the only thing she was good at, and what sort of skill was that for an adult to rely on in this world?

The short stories in Polly Rosenwaike's collection, Look How Happy I'm Making You, all concern women of that age when relatives and acquaintances feel free to ask about one's plans for having children. And in each story, a woman deals with pregnancy or not being pregnant, the struggles of having and caring for a baby, or the determination to not have children.

Eve was made of wailing, of banshee mouth and fighter fists. She might well have been called There There, or What's The Matter, or Please Shut Up Already. Two states of being were known to her: fury and sleep.

The women in these stories are intelligent and their concerns don't primarily focus on the quest to have a baby, but because of age and gender, they are forced to reckon with the issue, willingly or not. Rosenwaike is a talented writer and I'm happy to have gotten to know her writing.

Edited: Aug 10, 10:45am Top

Just catching up and took a bullet for >53 RidgewayGirl: - nice review!

Edited: Aug 10, 12:36pm Top

>64 sturlington: It's so good. It's hard genre to get right, and Baker does such a good job of creating a sense of rising dread.

There was a big booksale today and VictoriaPL and I were there when it opened. I was so, so well-behaved, bringing home only this modest stack:

Aug 10, 5:39pm Top

>65 RidgewayGirl: Ooh, Robertson Davies! Nice choice. And I have a different book by Tim Gautreaux on my shelves. Not read yet, of course.

Edited: Aug 10, 8:17pm Top

>65 RidgewayGirl: bringing home only this modest stack

I see reason for concern.

Our library has it's adult nonfiction sale in two weeks and I plan to walk by certain areas with my eyes closed.

Aug 10, 8:34pm Top

>66 rabbitprincess: I pick Davies up when I find him, although the first couple of trilogies were read so long ago that I could reread them now and be utterly surprised by the contents.

>67 clue: I have a tidy amount set aside so that I can buy books at the Decatur Book Festival. I hope you at least peek at the nonfiction book sale. There might be something there you've been looking for.

Aug 11, 3:05pm Top

>53 RidgewayGirl: I think I got hit by a book bullet on that one.

>65 RidgewayGirl: Nice haul. I need to figure out what all is on my upcoming schedule soon. I just heard a couple of things today at church where our choir has been invited to sing in a mass choir. I definitely need to add both of those to my schedule while I'm thinking about them.

Edited: Aug 11, 4:14pm Top

Connell and Marianne start a relationship in high school. Marianne's an outcast, the kind of loner to puts on an air of disinterest in her classmates, but who longs to be included. Connell is part of the popular crowd, but as the son of a single mother who works as a housecleaner, he is painfully self-conscious about his place in the world and wants to keep his relationship with Marianne secret. It's not until they meet again at university in Dublin, where their social roles have reversed, that they begin to see each other openly. But their relationship is fraught by social expectations, by the habits of their shared past, by an inability to converse honestly.

Sally Rooney can write, and she writes conversations better than most, but while her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, dove into the relationships between people, Normal People stays much closer to the surface, substituting drama for insight into Connell and Marianne. I found this book simpler and less interesting than her first, and the repetition of some of the scenes and circumstances (the al fresco dinner at a holiday home, a character believing that being employed was pointless...) made me wish I'd left a longer span between the books.

Aug 13, 11:49am Top

That's a very nice book haul, but congrats on being well-behaved. I think you're going to cut loose at the next one and Decatur won't know what hit it.

Aug 13, 3:13pm Top

>65 RidgewayGirl: A very well chosen haul! Well done!

Aug 13, 9:18pm Top

>71 mstrust: Jennifer, I am planning to buy many books at the festival. And because it's independent bookstores selling books there, I can both indulge myself and support bookstores at the same time. And tomorrow I head to Athens to help with the final quality control of the booksale that starts this weekend there. I may come home with a book or two.

>72 VivienneR: It is! But you should see VictoriaPL's stack. She brought a rolling cart with her and used it.

Aug 16, 8:45pm Top

When Jane and Jonathan each go to work at the Topeka School, a innovative psychiatric clinic, they never mean to make it permanent, but after finding each other and a nice Victorian they could never have afforded to buy in New York, they have a son, Adam, and settle in. The Topeka School moves back and forth between these three characters, and a fourth; a patient at the clinic. The novel is about the three members of the Gordon family, but it's also about the overly close relationships that formed between the therapists working at the clinic, a film project run by Jonathan, the city of Topeka, Kansas in the nineties, Jane's battle with The Men, and a great deal about high school debate tournaments.

Ben Lerner has an easy writing style and and this novel went down easy, despite the broad range of ideas and numerous plot threads. And disjointed as it all felt after a while, he does pull all the seemingly disparate elements mostly together at the end. Given the quantity of different topics introduced, there were some I was less interested in (debate team) than others (all of Jane's chapters), but I was never tempted to skip any of it.

Edited: Aug 17, 12:24pm Top

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips begins with the abduction of two sisters, eleven and five, from a beach in the city of Petropavlovsk, the administrative centre of Kamchatka peninsula. The chapter is told from the point of view of the big sister, bored with summer and having to watch her little sister. Each subsequent chapter follows a character, often connected to the investigation, or interested in the search for the children, but the focus is on what is important in their lives. An indigenous woman from the isolated town of Esso struggles to find her footing at university in the big city, torn between her enjoyment in joining a dance troupe and loyalty to her boyfriend back home. A woman who has learned to trust no one loses her dog. A teenage girl is faced with being ostracized from her group of friends. A woman struggling with being stuck home caring for an infant develops fantasies about the crew of foreign workers working on the building site across the road.

I began the book thinking that it would be the story of how two plucky children survived the wilderness, or escaped something bad, an assumption aided by the book's cover. Then it appeared to be a collection of linked stories about life in Kamchatka and while interesting, didn't seem to fully justify the hype surrounding this book. But the penultimate chapter was just perfectly written, calling back to an earlier chapter, but telling its own story, that I suddenly saw the larger picture Phillips is creating here, and the final chapter pulling everything together into a unified whole. This is a very promising debut and I'm absolutely going to be reading what ever Julia Phillips writes next.

She'll be speaking at the Decatur Book Festival at the end of the month and I'm eager to hear what she has to say about this excellent novel.

Edited: Aug 19, 4:35pm Top

Tensions are high in Lisa Lutz's new novel, The Swallows. Alex Witt takes a job teaching creative writing at an expensive Vermont boarding school because her family's friendship with the Headmaster means her recent past won't be looked into, but finds that her secrets pale in comparison to the ones the boys are keeping. And once the girls start to figure things out, it might just take down the entire school.

This is the kind of book where it's important to start reading early enough in the day that you won't end up losing a night's sleep while you race to finish it. It's a novel filled with rage that runs head first towards catastrophe. It has characters that are believable and who breathe and live and make amazingly poor choices. This novel is what would be written if Curtis Sittenfield and Gillian Flynn collaborated. It's just a lot of hard-edged fun.

Aug 19, 7:14pm Top

I went to a book signing lunch with Joshilyn Jackson today. It was very nice and she came and sat next to me at our table and I was able to tell her about my favorite scene in gods in Alabama, which she signed for me as well as her new book, Never Have I Ever. She did put my location as Georgia instead of South Carolina, but as she said she's been traveling to promote the book for several weeks, I'm giving her a pass.

Aug 20, 11:56am Top

Congrats on meeting and getting to talk to Jackson!

Aug 22, 10:17am Top

>78 mstrust: It's always fun to meet an author!

Aug 27, 5:22pm Top

My son got a package in the mail a week ago and the box was carelessly thrown on the ground. But I can't put it out in the recycling as the cat is spending most of his time in it.

Edited: Aug 28, 7:16am Top

The mayor of Amsterdam is at an obligatory holiday party when he sees his wife laughing at something one of his councilmen has said. His suspicions are raised. He can't believe his wife would even be having a conversation with that man and when he goes over to them he finds their behavior to confirm his suspicions. If you've read any of Herman Koch's other novels, you'll know that his worries about this possible affair quickly overwhelm him. And as he studies his own wife's behavior, his father is having a crisis of his own. He and the mayor's mother want to die peacefully before they become incapacitated.

The Ditch is a novel in which the narrator/protagonist is a very unpleasant man, prone to short rants about everything from recycling to using windmills to produce clean energy (he has negative opinions about both) and while this should make for an unpleasant reading experience, Koch knows how to write a character who is both vile, insecure and charismatic. And as his actions become more and more extreme, the novel becomes harder to set aside. This is an entertaining thriller that has the added bonus of being set in Amsterdam, a city that the protagonist assures us is provincial and dull. I wouldn't want to spend any time with these people in real life, but they do make for a fun book.

Aug 28, 4:30am Top

>80 RidgewayGirl: If I fits, I sits. >:-) Love a cat in a box.

Aug 28, 8:32am Top

>82 Helenliz: Tarzan is obsessed with boxes. If we pull out the pet crate, he's in it and has to be removed before we can take a different cat to the vet. If we use masking tape to mark a square on the floor, he's sitting in the middle of it before we can finish taping the square. (I highly recommend doing that last thing. It's hilarious to watch a cat sitting proudly in an imaginary box.)

Aug 28, 11:52am Top

If we use masking tape to mark a square on the floor, he's sitting in the middle of it before we can finish taping the square.
I so wish that worked on dogs.

Aug 28, 11:54am Top

>83 RidgewayGirl: ha! That's brilliant and I am so going to try that if (read when) I get a cat.

Aug 30, 1:13pm Top

I wonder what it is about boxes that is so attractive to cats. Too big, too small, they are all intensely alluring - even the imaginary ones.

Love the photo. Tarzan is a beauty.

Sep 2, 6:46pm Top

>84 mstrust: That would be useful. Ivy thinks visitors are there to see her and sits in front of them, keeping them from moving about and enjoying themselves.

>85 Helenliz: Helen, cats are free and plentiful. Why not collect a half dozen?

>86 VivienneR: Tarzan knows he is handsome, but thanks you for acknowledging this basic fact.

The Decatur book festival was fantastic and I'll post more about it, along with pictures, when I get a chance. I got Thomas Mullen to sign my copy of The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, which made me very happy. My tbr has received quite an influx of new books, too.

Sep 5, 5:14pm Top

OMG - you read every book I want to read, that's all I can say. I don't understand it. 12 BBs taken...


But as was mentioned above, I'm not one of those people who have trouble finding a book to read.

Sep 6, 10:33am Top

>88 LisaMorr: Hi, book twin! My shelves are groaning, which didn't stop me buying nine (nine!) books at the Festival.

Edited: Sep 6, 12:18pm Top

Lazarus Averbuch survived a Ukrainian pogrom, but in 1908 he's shot by the Chicago Chief of Police in the entry of the Chief's home. A century later, Vladimir Brik, an immigrant from Bosnia now married and living in Chicago, becomes interested in Averbuch and decides to write about him, sending him to Eastern Europe along with an old friend from Sarajevo, a photographer who survived the war there.

It's impossible to communicate how very brilliant and well-constructed The Lazarus Project is without going into far too much detail. There's a lot going on, but it's so well-juggled that each thread shines on its own, and enhances the book as a whole. There's much about the life of Eastern Europeans in Chicago along with the nascent labor movement, the war in the former Yugoslavia and how one man survived, the memory of the Jews of Moldova and Ukraine, the current state of life in those two countries, and a recent immigrant's struggles to belong to the new life he finds himself in. Aleksandar Hemon's writing style is razor-sharp and tinged with a black humor.

I'm eager to read his next book, a memoir of his parents, who immigrated to Canada from the former Yugoslavia. I heard Hemon speak at the Decatur Book Festival and he was motivated to write about his parents' experiences because he wanted to remind us that each and every single refugee, asylum seeker and migrant is an individual with a rich personal history who is every bit as human and marvelous as anyone else.

Sep 6, 1:19pm Top

>90 RidgewayGirl: It takes a fair bit for me to add fiction to my wishlist, but that book has just gone onto it! Great review.

Sep 6, 4:18pm Top

>91 Jackie_K: Jackie, there's so much history, and the exploration of history, that I think you'll really like it. The parts where Brik and Rora are in Moldova and rural Ukraine are brilliantly written travelogue.

Rora walked out of the bathroom, glanced at the TV disinterestedly, and switched on the light: for a moment, the two narrow cots and the socialist-fifties furniture were overlit like a prison cell, until a couple of bulbs hiccuped and died; the air stank of lead-based paint and suicide.

Sep 8, 4:27pm Top

I am in the process of baking a peach bourbon cake and if it tastes as good as the house currently smells, I will be very happy.

Sep 8, 4:41pm Top

I bought some peaches at the farmer's market yesterday and I'm thinking I might make a peach cobbler tomorrow. Hope your cake is good.

Sep 9, 10:05am Top

That sounds really good!

Sep 9, 12:52pm Top

>94 dudes22: My initial idea was cobbler, Colleen, but the peach bourbon cake showed up first on the website I chose (Southern Living) and since I recently bought a good bundt pan...

>95 mstrust: Jennifer, it was delicious! The recipe required three sticks of butter and six eggs, as well as a homemade caramel sauce, so it was very rich and tasty. I made the mistake of taking it out of the pan too early, so it fell apart. I'll make this again and not make that mistake.

Sep 10, 2:57pm Top

After reading Milkman and Say Nothing, I was looking for a book that showed things from the Loyalist/British perspective and Afterwards by Rachel Seiffert was recommended to me.

Alice meets Joseph and they begin to see each other. It's a cautious relationship between two ordinary people. Alice is concerned about her recently widowed grandfather and wishes he was more willing to talk about his time serving in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising. Joseph is maybe not as talkative as she's like, but he's kind, even going over to paint her grandfather's house. Joseph was also in the British army and served in Northern Ireland. An incident there replays often in his mind and he struggles with PTSD, which he handles by disappearing for weeks at a time, a behavior that wreaks havoc on both his employment history and on his relationships.

This is a tonally quiet novel and manages to maintain that air of calm even when both men's experiences are being described. What comes across vividly, though, is how deeply both men have been adversely affected by their experiences. Rachel Seiffert writes so well and so subtly about her characters that I would have happily read another few hundred pages.

Sep 10, 10:53pm Top

>81 RidgewayGirl: Though it had received mixed reviews, I'd really liked Herman Koch's The Dinner. I think I'd like The Ditch as well. Thanks for the review.

Sep 11, 11:54am Top

>98 mathgirl40: I did, too, Paulina. I think it depends on a reader's tolerance for unpleasant and unreliable characters.

Sep 11, 12:53pm Top

Joshilyn Jackson usually writes novels about women set in the South, where the many facets of living in the South, especially in the rural South, are examined with a sharp, but loving eye. Jackson's protagonists belong to families dominated by women, have pasts, and are figuring out their way forward. They're escapist reading for readers who like a little grit and a deep sense of place. With Never Have I Ever, those elements remain, but for the first time, Jackson is writing a straight up thriller.

When Roux shows up at the neighborhood book club meeting, Amy is annoyed. And she becomes more annoyed as she watches Roux take over the meeting, turning it into a drunken party where far too much is said. But Roux is there to do more than have some fun; she's out to get something. And her target is Amy. So begins a game of cat and, well, cat. Roux is an adept blackmailer, but Amy has a family to fight for and she's not willing to go down without a fight.

Never Have I Ever is a lot of fun. It's a well-plotted story, where the elements fit together. It's fun to see a book that focuses so heavily on the minutiae of the daily life of a mother of a young child be so exciting and fast paced. While I prefer Jackson's quieter novels, this one was no hardship to read.

Sep 11, 1:32pm Top

>97 RidgewayGirl: Definitely one for my wishlist.

Sep 12, 9:21am Top

>101 VivienneR: Afterwards is definitely worth reading, and you'll enjoy the time spent with the book. I loved the author's depiction of Alice's grandfather.

Sep 13, 10:43am Top

An unfortunate moment at the wedding of two co-workers has Edie a pariah on social media and convinced she'll have to quit her job. Instead, her boss sends her to her hometown of Nottingham, a place she couldn't wait to leave, to ghostwrite the memoirs of a minor celebrity. She's back in her childhood home, back with her sister who resents her and her sad, broken father.

But Who's That Girl? is chick-lit, that eternally optimistic genre, and Edie is nothing if not resilient, so she finds two old friends who are living in Nottingham and starts to make a temporary life for herself, even if she's ghostwriting for someone who doesn't particularly want to have his memoirs written for him. But either Birmingham has changed, or she has, and her life in London is looking less attractive than starting over in her old hometown.

Mhairi McFarlane writes with the required light and breezy touch, but her heroines are never that interested in shopping and her novels tend to feature strong secondary characters, emphasizing the importance of close friendships and finding one's own place in the world. This novel isn't of great substance, but it is solidly written, featuring a protagonist who refuses to give up and who decides to confront her family's issues rather than avoid them. it was a fun read, if slight.

Sep 15, 3:25pm Top

In 1980, a festival called the Rainbow Gathering was held in a National Park deep in West Virginia's Pocahontas county. Attended by hippies and free spirits, some of the local residents were not pleased with the influx of outsiders. Then two young women on their way to the Gathering were found murdered not far from their destination. The local police quickly reach the conclusion that the murderer was a local, but who the culprit was, in an isolated part of the country where most people know each other and many are related, is no small task.

Emma Copley Eisenberg lived in Pocahontas county after finishing university. She was employed by a camp working to improve educational outcomes among local girls and she found the work both inspiring and frustrating. At the same time, her own life was spinning out of control, even as she fell in love with the people and the landscape of West Virginia.

The Third Rainbow Girl is that odd hybrid of true crime and personal memoir, a new format that includes books like The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich and Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin. It's an odd mix of an intensely personal account of the years the author lived in West Virgina, where her behavior grew uncontrolled and then dangerous, until she moved back to the safety of a big city, and an impersonal account of a true crime. The depth of the one is not met by depth on the account she writes of the double murder, so there's the feeling of reading two different books sandwiched together. The true crime account is hampered by the large cast of characters, who all presented conflicting accounts of what happened and the identity of the likely actual murderer. Eisenberg isn't able to create a cohesive narrative out of the sheer amount of information she has to work with, and all her character studies remain frustratingly superficial. One is left with the feeling that the author would have been better served by writing a long article about the crime and saving her personal story for a later time. The writing was solid and once Eisenberg finds her subject matter, she's certain to write something well worth reading.

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