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RidgewayGirl Reads in 2019 -- Part Four

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

Club Read 2019

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Edited: Oct 4, 11:07am Top

Fall is finally here and although it was over a hundred degrees yesterday, there is a hope that someday cool weather will return. For this final quarter of the year, my reading plans are to read without a plan, although I'd like to make sure that my reading is less American-centric than usual. I have a nice stack of books recently acquired at the Decatur Book Festival, and I'd like to read those.

This quarter's picture is from an exhibition called Strange Light: the Photography of Clarence John Laughlin. Often called the father of American Surrealism, Laughlin created odd, unsettling images, of which this is one of the most traditionally beautiful. Lots of creepy pictures of New Orleans cemeteries and decaying Southern plantations, in other words.

Edited: Oct 4, 3:29pm Top


Edited: Today, 3:45pm Top

Currently Reading

Recently Read

Recently Acquired

Edited: Oct 4, 1:33pm Top

Ah, Berlin Noir! Hope you enjoy the exploits of Mr. Gunther. I am about halfway through this series, which I love pretty much entirely.

Edited: Today, 11:10am Top

Akin by Emma Donoghue
The Altruists by Andrew Ridker
American Pop by Snowden Wright
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
The Ash Family by Molly Dektar
Berlin Noir edited by Thomas Wörtche, translated by Lucy Jones
Biloxi by Mary Miller
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Black Light: Stories by Kimberly King Parsons
The Body Lies by Jo Baker
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken
The Children of the Ghetto: My Name is Adam by Elias Khoury
The Churchgoer by Patrick Coleman
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
East of England by Eamonn Griffin
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Golden State by Ben H. Winters
The Gulf by Belle Boggs
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
The Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
Look How Happy I'm Making You by Polly Rosenwaike
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Make Me a City by Jonathan Carr
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
The Need by Helen Phillips
Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
The New Me by Halle Butler
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Paris, 7 a.m. by Liza Wieland
Pursuit by Joyce Carol Oates
Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum
Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
The Snakes by Sadie Jones
Staff Picks by George Singleton
The Study of Animal Languages by Lindsay Stern
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky
The Water Cure by Sophie MacKintosh
We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White
The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh
Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Edited: Oct 26, 6:29pm Top

Nationalities of Authors Read

Samanta Schweblin (Mouthful of Birds)

Shirley Barrett (The Bus on Thursday)
Gail Jones (The Death of Noah Glass)

Aleksandar Hemon (The Lazarus Project) (country of birth)

Jo Baker (The Body Lies)
Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)
Belinda Bauer (Snap)
Graeme Macrae Burnet (His Bloody Project)
Anna Burns (Milkman)
Lee Child (Past Tense)
Diana Evans (Ordinary People)
Eamonn Griffin (East of England)
Kirstin Innes (Fishnet)
Sadie Jones (The Snakes)
Sophie MacKintosh (The Water Cure)
Mhairi McFarlane (Who's That Girl?)
Sarah Moss (Ghost Wall)
Rachel Seiffert (Afterwards)
Ruth Ware (The Death of Mrs. Westaway)

Margaret Atwood (The Testaments)
Emma Donoghue (Akin)
Esi Edugyan (Washington Black)
Michael Ondaatje (Warlight) (Country of Residence)
Heidi Sopinka (The Dictionary of Animal Languages)
Miriam Toews (Women Talking)

The Years by Annie Ernaux

Thomas Wörtche, editor (Berlin Noir)

Liz Nugent (Lying in Wait)
Sally Rooney (Conversations with Friends)

Sayed Kashua (Second Person Singular)

Domenico Starnone (First Execution)

Marlon James (Black Leopard, Red Wolf)

Hideo Yokoyama (Seventeen)

Elias Khoury (Children of the Ghetto: My Name is Adam)

Valeria Luiselli (Lost Children Archive)

The Ditch by Herman Koch

Oyinkan Braithwaite (My Sister, the Serial Killer)

Margarita Khemlin (Klotsvog)

Teá Obreht (The Tiger's Wife)

Sri Lanka
Michael Ondaatje (Warlight) (Country of Birth)

The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

Selahattin Demirtas (Dawn: Stories)

Edited: Today, 11:10am Top

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Friday Black)
Kristen Arnett (Mostly Dead Things)
Lou Berney (November Road)
Belle Boggs (The Gulf)
Alice Bolin (Dead Girls)
William Boyle (The Lonely Witness)
Jamel Brinkley (A Lucky Man)
Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Fleishman is in Trouble)
Halle Butler (The New Me)
Kira Jane Buxton (Hollow Kingdom)
Jonathan Carr (Make Me a City)
Susan Choi (Trust Exercise)
P. Djeli Clark (The Black God's Drums)
Patrick Coleman (The Churchgoer)
Molly Dektar (The Ash Family)
Marcy Dermansky (Very Nice)
Samantha Downing (My Lovely Wife)
Emma Copley Eisenberg (The Third Rainbow Girl)
Julia Franks (Over the Plain Houses)
Bonnie Friedman (Writing Past Dark)
Keith Gessen (A Terrible Country)
Myla Goldberg (Wickett's Remedy)
Nicola Griffith (So Lucky)
Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date)
Kristen Hannah (The Great Alone)
Rashad Harrison (Our Man in the Dark)
Uzodinma Iweala (Speak No Evil)
Joshilyn Jackson (Never Have I Ever)
Patrick Radden Keefe (Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland)
Binnie Kirshenbaum (Rabbits for Food)
Christina Lauren (The Unhoneymooners)
Ben Lerner (The Topeka School)
Laura Lippman (The Lady in the Lake)
Lisa Lovenheim (Desert Fabuloso)
Lisa Lutz (The Swallows)
Janet Malcolm (The Journalist and the Murderer)
Elizabeth McCracken (Bowlaway)
Laura McHugh (The Wolf Wants In)
Mary Miller (Biloxi)
Rachel Monroe (Savage Appetites)
Thomas Mullen (Lightning Men)
Joyce Carol Oates (My Life as a Rat, Pursuit)
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi (Call Me Zebra)
John Jay Osborn (Listen to the Marriage)
Kimberly King Parsons (Black Light: Stories)
Helen Phillips (The Need)
Julia Phillips (Disappearing Earth)
Richard Powers (The Overstory)
Taylor Jenkins Reid (Daisy Jones & The Six)
Andrew Ridker (The Altruists)
Polly Rosenwaike (Look How Happy I'm Making You)
George Singleton (Staff Picks)
Lindsay Stern (The Study of Animal Languages)
Elizabeth Strout (Olive, Again)
Sarah St. Vincent (Ways to Hide in Winter)
Paul Tremblay (The Cabin at the End of the World)
Ocean Vuong (On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous)
Sarah Weinman (The Real Lolita)
Susan Rebecca White (We Are All Good People Here)
Colson Whitehead (The Underground Railroad)
Liza Wieland (Paris, 7 a.m.)
Lauren Wilkinson (American Spy)
Ben H. Winters (Golden State)
Snowden Wright (American Pop)

Ocean Vuong (On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous) (country of birth)

Oct 4, 2:48pm Top

>9 rocketjk: Jerry, this isn't the superlatively good trilogy by Phillip Kerr, but another installment in the Akashic Noir series, this one set in Berlin. It's much more uneven than the others in this series and I will have things to say about it soon.

Oct 4, 3:49pm Top

>14 RidgewayGirl: Ah. C'est la vie. I'll look forward to your thoughts, as always.

Oct 4, 5:43pm Top

Love the photo at the top of your thread.

Oct 4, 9:54pm Top

Happy new thread, Kay. I love your lists. Good luck with the surgery.

Oct 5, 12:17pm Top

>16 avaland: Lois, Laughlin's work is odd. I think that he and John Waters could have made some interesting films together. He has an eye for finding the rot in the beauty and the beauty in trash.

>17 BLBera: Thanks, Beth. According to the stack of books I've set next to the bed, I'll be laid up for a few months. Probably I'll be more or less back to normal in a week.

Oct 8, 6:20am Top

>18 RidgewayGirl: I completely missed the end of your last thread and the mention of surgery; hope it goes well.

Oct 8, 2:31pm Top

>19 avaland: Thanks, Lois. I'm home and able to get around, albeit slowly. Glad it's over with.

Oct 12, 1:04pm Top

Noah is unprepared for the social worker's request; to foster his nephew's eleven-year-old son, at least temporarily. He's about to turn eighty, content with his quiet, well-heeled life as a retired academic and planning a trip to the French city he left as a young boy. He and his wife had cut ties with their nephew after he'd stolen from them to support his drug habit, so Noah had never even met his great nephew. But he can't quite brush aside the request, given that Michael's only other option is to be put permanently into the system, where he'll lose all contact with his incarcerated mother. So off they go, a careful elderly man looking for his roots and a unmoored child covering his loss and lack of security with a fierce bravado.

With Akin, Emma Donoghue takes a few familiar literary tropes (the protagonist looking for his roots, the odd couple, the fish out of water) and approaches them with an unexpected freshness. Every time I thought the novel was falling into a rut, Donoghue surprised me. Noah spends his time in Nice searching for evidence of his mother's years after she'd bundled him alone as a four-year-old to make the long transatlantic voyage to his father in New York, until she joined them after the war. And as he learned both about what happened in Nice during WWII and specifically about his mother, he begins to form a picture of what she was doing in those years. But Noah's research has holes in it, and he's making some big assumptions.

And then there's Michael, a heartbreakingly realistic boy. He's got layers of defense built up and all the habits that seem designed to annoy a cultured old man, from the refusal to eat anything but the familiar to the constant phone time. Donoghue allows Michael to be revealed through Noah's observations and it's beautifully done.

Akin is a quiet, reflective novel about change, whether utter, life up-ending change or as an adjustment in how a relationship is viewed long after its end. Donoghue manages to inhabit the lives of two characters at opposite ends of their life trajectories and to do so with great empathy. A solid novel that I'll be thinking about for some time to come.

Oct 12, 2:51pm Top

>21 RidgewayGirl: I think you got me with this one, Kay.

Oct 12, 5:47pm Top

>22 NanaCC: It's a good one, Colleen. I really enjoyed it.

Oct 12, 5:49pm Top

Perhaps true crime stories are contemporary fairy tales--not the Disney versions but the dimmer, Grimm-er ones, where the parents are sometimes homicidal, where the young girls don't always make it out of the forest intact. We keep following them into the dark woods anyway. Parts of ourselves long for these shadowy places; we'll discover things there that we can't learn anywhere else.

A friend recommended Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe to me when we discussed why we like crime novels so much. What is it about the darkest, more horrible things that one human can do to another that exerts such a draw on our imagination? Her answer was that we're all ghouls, but she also mentioned this book, when I wondered if it was more a way of explaining the inexplicable, of forming a pattern out of disorder. And I have to thank her for the recommendation. Savage Appetites goes further into this topic, one that is often raised and written about, and delivers, I think, some plausible answers, or at least a bit of clarity.

Monroe looks at four women, the first woman, Frances Lee, was born over a century ago. Denied the opportunity of a career or even higher education, she'd eventually throw her full efforts into funding a department of forensic science and then, as she saw herself valued only as a cheque-writer, she created a series of dioramas, intended to teach police officers how to look at crime scenes.

The chapter on Lee was followed by chapter about a woman who insinuated herself into the family of a famous murder victim, eventually taking over the role of speaking on behalf of the family and living in their home; a chapter about a woman who felt so compelled to advocate for a man she saw as being falsely convicted that she changed her entire life into fighting for his release, eventually even marrying him; and finally a look at a woman who contemplated murder herself. Monroe used each case study to examine the different ways women are fascinated by crime, from the readers of detective fiction to those who spend hours running down leads in abandoned unsolved crimes, to the dark corners of the internet where murderers have fan clubs.

Detective stories satisfy our desire for tidy solutions. They make the seductive promise that we can tame the chaos of crime by breaking it down into small, comprehensible pieces. They allow us to inhabit the role of the objective observer, someone who exists outside and above the scene of the crime, scrutinizing the horror as if it were a dollhouse.

Oct 12, 9:13pm Top

Great comments on Akin, Kay. Onto the list it goes.

Savage Appetites also sounds interesting.

Oct 12, 9:28pm Top

>24 RidgewayGirl: fascinating opening quote and interesting thought process/conversation you described. Not sure if this book appeals or not, but great review.

I'm just reading about your surgery. Glad it's over with and wish you a good recovery. Sorry about Woodson (guessing you couldn't go)

Oct 13, 11:20am Top

>25 BLBera: Thanks, Beth. Akin may be Donoghue's strongest novel yet. There's so much depth to it.

>26 dchaikin: Thanks Dan. I did indeed miss the Woodson event. Not happily, but I can still read Red Bone. And I find the whole topic of why crime exerts such a pull on us fascinating. I really enjoy crime novels and why that is is a question I have yet to find a full answer for. It's interesting to look at why crime fascinates women in particular, and I have found some societal and historical reasons for that - most obviously the use of fear of crime in keeping women from participating fully in society, as well as way knowledge gives us the illusion of safety. There have also been a few books written recently on the topic, but this is the first I've found that tries to find answers beyond the obvious.

Oct 13, 12:07pm Top

Berlin Noir is a collection of crime-oriented short stories written by authors living in Berlin. Chosen and edited by Thomas Wörtche, the stories range from solid to very bad, but the overall quality is a bit lower than has been the case with the other books in the Akashic Noir series. The center of the collection is padded with lazy entries, including a few that could have been set anywhere, with a simple alteration in the street names. I will admit that I expected more than this collection given Germany's love of crime novels and Berlin's reputation as an artistic center. Berlin is such a unique and vibrant city and it's a shame that some of the stories could have easily been set elsewhere.

Most of my dissatisfaction boiled down to one story that irked. I fail to see the value of writing a story from the point of view of a violent misogynist if the payoff is just to read a graphic description of the narrator achieving his dreams. It's 2019, and this read as both tired and exploitative, and I question the value of reading the ways a man might find women to be gross and disgusting and murder-worthy. This was an author looking to be edgy, while walking down an well-worn path.

Complaints aside, there were some stand-out stories, primarily Local Train by Mark Annas, in which a group of football fans plan the murder of a fan from the rival team. Their comic ineptness doesn't hide the brutality of what they are doing. I Spy with My Little Eye by Ulrich Woelk concerns a reporter drawn in to the story of a missing schoolgirl and thinking hard about his relationship with his own daughter. This story managed to both show a heart underneath a callous exterior and delivered a surprising ending. And while the ending of One of These Days by Robert Rescue was tacked on as an afterthought, the picture Rescue drew of the working class neighborhood of Wedding was wonderful.

Oct 13, 12:45pm Top

>28 RidgewayGirl: Your review, here, more or less mirrors my wife's take on St. Petersburg Noir, which I bought for her for fun after our trip to that city (a side jaunt from our two weeks in Finland) several years back. I think she gave up on it about a third of the way through, saying the first story was good but the next few weren't particularly well written. Maybe I'll give it a go one day.

Oct 13, 1:29pm Top

>29 rocketjk: Jerry, I've enjoyed reading the various Akashic Noirs - especially when I have a tie to the location and I can clearly picture the neighborhood the story takes place in. They tend to be strongest for the less well-known areas, where you can find some exciting writing by new authors and those who have never been published outside of their country. Mumbai Noir and San Juan Noir were both installments I really enjoyed. Despite their unevenness, I will continue to pick these collections up when I find them.

Oct 13, 2:14pm Top

I love new threads and lists! Yours always adds more to my wishlist - this time Sadie Jones and Emma Donohue.

Oct 15, 2:53pm Top

Helen Phillips's novel, The Need, is a bizarre one and one that left me wondering what really happened. In it, Molly is a paleobotanist, excavating a site behind a defunct gas station where a large number of plant fossils are being found, including some new discoveries. She's also finding some newer, odder artifacts -- items that are just slightly off, like an Altoids box that is shaped differently or little army men with tails. She also finds a Bible in which only one detail is changed, and that is causing an influx of visitors, which is helping to finance the work.

Molly also has two small children and a husband who travels for work. While she does have a full-time babysitter, she feels isolated and overwhelmed by her two children. She's not sleeping well and she's worried that she's overreacting when she hears someone in the house one night. She hides with her children, until she decides she was imagining things, but later that evening her daughter asks about the man in the house and soon after she finds a menacing note in her daughter's favorite picture book.

The Need is playing with two different premises, that an overwhelmed Molly is slowly losing hold of what is real and the idea of an alternate universe, accessible through the dig site, and how the things leaking through are altering the world Molly exists in. It's a lot, and because Phillips is keeping her options open, neither possibility is fully realized. It's certainly a book for those who like things odd and ambiguous. And also for those who are fine with a lot of details of life with very young children.

Oct 16, 10:27pm Top

>32 RidgewayGirl: I've been wondering about that one, Kay. I was underwhelmed by The Beautiful Bureaucrat, but The Need sounds interesting.

Oct 17, 8:30am Top

Beth, you may find it interesting. I was hampered in my enjoyment by my antipathy for the protagonist and her situation. I've done what she did, but without full-time help so while I could empathize with how tiring the task of raising two small ones when one's partner is out of town, she had so many more resources and more help than so many women today that her rapid descent into an altered mental state felt inauthentic to me, however, if the alternate explanation for the events is the real one I still think that a scientist should have been able to react in a less frantic way. So I'd be very interested in finding out what others make of this odd book.

Oct 17, 5:05pm Top

Fishnet by Kirstin Innes I got that in spades. Fiona's sister Rona disappeared from her life, devastating her family who did all they could to find her. Six years after her disappearance, Fiona ends up in the Scottish town she disappeared from and this time, without her parents, she gets more information from her sister's old flatmate, who tells her that she kicked Rona out for working as a prostitute and bringing clients back to the flat. This information sends Fiona into turmoil, she was already not that much fun to be around, but now she alienates her last friends. She is also given a new avenue to search for her sister, a search which consumes her.

Fishnet reminded me of both The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh and Garnethill by Denise Mina. There's a depth to the characters that isn't always present in noir, where the story often takes precedence over character development. Fiona is both off-putting and wholly sympathetic, as she works through her complicated emotions for her sister. The novel also follows Rona to a lesser degree, and while this novel has an agenda (as made clear in the author's afterword), it doesn't overwhelm the story. Innes isn't preaching, just writing about an issue she cares about and which I knew very little about. Fishnet is an outstanding Scottish noir and I'm glad to have discovered this author.

Oct 19, 4:24pm Top

Well, somehow I lost track of your thread and have just found the new one and plenty of book recommendations. Adding >21 RidgewayGirl: and >24 RidgewayGirl: to the wishlist, and hoping that Lagos Noir is better than Berlin... (it's on my shelf waiting to be read). I've read some great crime set / written there - the Turkish / German series springs to mind in particular, but if interpreting loosely I guess also the Bernie Gunther novels? So as you say, a shame this one didn't work so well for you.

Edited: Oct 20, 5:20pm Top

Charlotte, I've found the Akashic Noirs to be best in obscure places. The authors are often not known outside of their country and they seem to put more effort in. Or maybe it depends on the editor and what they can cajole out of writers. It's an uneven series, but I do enjoy them.

I spent today reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. She knows how to tell a story.

Oct 22, 11:43am Top

>37 RidgewayGirl: doesn't she just? I'm in the middle of The Testaments, really enjoying it.

Oct 25, 11:47am Top

Lightning Men is the second installment in a crime series by Thomas Mullen. Set in Atlanta, Georgia in the middle of the last century, the series follows Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, two of the first black police officers hired by the city. It's not an easy job. They work out of the basement of a YMCA, because the white officers will not allow them into their headquarters. And they are denied patrol cars and the right to arrest white suspects. They patrol one of the black parts of town, where previously there had been no police presence, outside of those cops who were running their own criminal activity in a place they could operate unhindered.

In Lightning Men, Smith's brother has managed to buy a house for his family, moving into a white working class neighborhood. There are a few other black home owners and tensions are high. This is also the neighborhood of Denny Rakestraw, a white police officer who has helped Smith and Boggs in the past, motivated largely by his deep antipathy for the Klan. Rake has troubles of his own; his brother-in-law, a Klan member, did a favor for someone claiming to be from an out of town Klavern, but things go very wrong and he needs Rake's help to protect himself. At work, Smith and Boggs are trying to find out who is involved in a enterprise bringing in moonshine and weed to Darktown, the neighborhood they patrol.

There's a lot going on in this book, but Mullen manages to keep all the different plot lines moving and brings them together at the end. It's well-plotted, well researched and well-written. Mullen manages to write characters who are firmly rooted in their time and place, without making them unlikeable. Rakestraw is a fascinating example. By the standards of his time, he's very liberal and open minded, but today's reader can't help but cringe at many of the things he says and things. Mullen isn't afraid to make his characters complex and full of contradictions.

Oct 25, 12:49pm Top

I thought this was really great. Such a good series. I hope the next one comes out in a reasonable amount of time!

Oct 25, 1:57pm Top

>35 RidgewayGirl: That one goes on my wishlist right away. Anyone who is a reminder of Denise Mina is a shoo-in.

>37 RidgewayGirl: I was delighted to see this, when Atwood was recently given an honour by the Queen: https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/atwood-queen-companions-honour-1.5335396

Oct 26, 9:38am Top

I also loved The Testaments, not as much as A Handmaid's Tale, but even less-than-perfect Atwood is still very good.

Oct 26, 6:25pm Top

>40 charl08: Me too, Charlotte. I was expecting one this year. I guess I'd rather have one very well done book than him rushing to write three or four in the same time span.

>41 VivienneR: I'd be interested in finding out what you think of it, Judy. And Atwood is one of our great living authors. I'm glad she's receiving recognition for that.

>42 BLBera: Beth, it's been decades since I last read The Handmaid's Tale. I'm going to try to reread it soon.

Oct 27, 7:31pm Top

I couldn't see the point of a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, when that is such a classic and fully-realized novel, let alone one written thirty years later. I was not going to read The Testaments, and then I read Ann Enright's review, where she comments about Margaret Atwood: She is interested not in how people become degraded, as objects (that is so easily done), but how they became morally compromised. And so my mind was changed and I'm so glad it was. Alongside Atwood's many other skills as an author, she really knows how to pace a novel. I ended up spending a day just reading reading the whole thing, because each section led so naturally to the next, not with the thriller's cheap tactic of cliff-hangers located in the final paragraph of each chapter, but organically.

I'm not sure if the question of whether The Handmaid's Tale is better than The Testaments matters that much. They both, despite the length of time between their writing, illuminate our current age and make a prediction for the future that is hopeful.

If you're interested in the review I read: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/sep/10/the-testaments-by-margaret-atwood-...

Oct 29, 7:26pm Top

A government agricultural agent comes to a small Appalachian town in Georgia at the tail end of the Depression. His wife is also employed to teach the local women about modern housekeeping. Irenie, a lay pastor's wife with a teenage son, is drawn to the freedom Mrs. Furman represents, even as her husband clings desperately to the traditions of his rigid faith.

Over the Plain Houses was a debut novel with a lot of promise, that nonetheless read very much as a first novel. Julia Franks writes well and the setting was well described. She has a talent for describing nature. But there was a simplicity to the characters that left out room for contradictions and complexity. Franks is clearly loves the area she is writing about and those passages a delight to read. I was frustrated by the tidiness of the ending and the way she turned one character into a monster, but I'll still be looking at anything Franks writes in the future.

Oct 29, 8:05pm Top

>45 RidgewayGirl: I love that cover.

Oct 29, 9:09pm Top

>46 lisapeet: Lisa, the cover is why I bought the book.

Oct 30, 6:16am Top

>47 RidgewayGirl: I'll almost always pick up a book with a fox on its cover, not sure why. It's why I read Sasa Stanisic's Before the Feast, which I liked very much, and picked up Lissa Evans's Crooked Heart (this cover, not the horrible new one), which I haven't read yet.

Edited: Oct 30, 8:32am Top

>44 RidgewayGirl: I agree that The Testaments read well, and I was quite interested in the development of Aunt Lydia's character. However, on reflection, I felt disappointed in the novel overall. I wanted more character development of the teens, and wondered also about Comander Judd or the Martha's. Events came together too easily - the breaking of a regime like Gilead seemed too easily accomplished, and little of the cost to those within who may have been resisting was shown.

Atwood is an excellent writer; I just dont think this was one of her best efforts.

Edited to correct typos.

Oct 30, 4:29pm Top

>48 lisapeet: Wow, Lisa. One cover for Crooked Heart is wonderful and I'd definitely pick it up in a bookstore. And I wouldn't touch the second one. And I have another of Saša Stanišic's novels on a list for my husband to pick up in Germany next week. Herkunft just won the German Book Prize in an apparent rebuke to Peter Handke being awarded the Nobel.

>49 markon: I find the way different readers have differing views of the same book so interesting, Ardene. I do think this is one where opinion is more than usually polarized. Maybe I was happier with The Testaments because it's been a good two decades since I last read A Handmaid's Tale. I did download a copy to read soon (I have no idea where my old mass market paperback went) so maybe my delight in The Testaments will fade on reading the previous book. One thing I very much liked about The Testaments was how it resonated with what is going on now.

Oct 31, 9:25am Top

Jessa is doing her best to hold her family together, keeping the family taxidermy business afloat, trying to prevent her mother from sneaking into the shop to put up lascivious window displays, and missing her brother's wife, who left years ago. Her father left a note telling her to keep things going and that's what she does, until circumstances intervene in the form of an art gallery owner named Lucinda.

There is a lot of taxidermy in Mostly Dead Things. A lot. The title is accurate, although also metaphorical as the various family members struggle to rejoin life after the loss of the two people the family revolved around. Kristen Arnett's writing is fine, and she manages to make taxidermy interesting and Florida sound filthy.

Nov 2, 7:26am Top

>44 RidgewayGirl: Enjoyed your comments on the Atwood. That's mostly my experience, too (although I took two days to read it, LOL).

Nov 5, 12:14pm Top

Louis is on the way to the drug store to pick up his diabetes medicine when he sees a sign saying "FREE DOGS" taped to a mailbox and stops to see what the deal is. Then he's on his way home, in the company of a dog named Layla, who "...didn't look particularly smart of energetic or interested in me. In other words, she wasn't anything you might want in a dog." And so begins the story of Louis, a 63 year-old divorcé, who took early retirement on the expectation of a windfall from his deceased father's estate, although the lawyer is no longer returning his calls. He mainly sits in his chair, drinking and watching Naked and Afraid. Can a dog change a life, even one as lackluster and prone to gagging as Layla?

Biloxi by Mary Miller is a novel that relies on the voice of the main character and narrator. Miller's writing is wonderful and she makes what could be a somewhat treacly story a delight to read, rooted in a specific place and full of grit and hope.

Edited: Nov 5, 1:04pm Top

>37 RidgewayGirl:, >38 rachbxl:, >42 BLBera:, >44 RidgewayGirl:, >49 markon:, >52 avaland:, I have a half-hour left in The Testaments and I'm pretty down on it. Interesting all the opinions. Mostly I agree with >49 markon:, but ... well, I'm in the moment and every time I listen I cycle through what I don't like in my mind, reinforcing and making my (negative) response overly strong and one-sided. I'll have to process. But one big thing that bothers me: I think Gilead isn't scary unless it's scary. If it's run by a bunch of morons, then there is nothing of substance to concern us and we can discard the whole thing once the thrill of moment has passed. (A second thing that bothers me is that everyone knows or is related to each other. I have trouble expanding Gilead beyond the size of, say, Charlotte, NC.)

Nov 5, 6:16pm Top

That's interesting, Daniel. I think that my reaction to The Testaments was largely visceral. It felt very personal and real. And the religious underpinnings were likewise very real to me as not that different than what I was being taught as a teenager in an Evangelical church - obviously not as extreme, but Atwood has clearly done her research here. I wonder if being able to read it at a remove changes the experience of reading this novel. It would have to, wouldn't it?

Nov 6, 9:47am Top

I wonder about the audio perspective. For example, Aunt Lydia is read in a stereotypical way - which emphasizes the stereotypical aspects of her as a stodgy but sharp and conniving but outwardly proper old lady. That’s kind of a critical loss in the book, and I never believed her character added to my first impression. But, yes, I never had buy-in. I was mildly entertained, but always at a remove and generally disappointed.

Nov 6, 10:38am Top

>56 dchaikin: Audiobook readers can really make or break a book. Lydia's such a nuanced character in the novel, so much so that I lost my image of her as played by Ann Dowd. She was such a full person in the book. Not sure how to communicate that with voice, though.

Nov 6, 11:53am Top

Acting can invigorate or kill characters. I typically prefer non-acting narration (although there is always some performance). In this case the actors were mostly good, but not perfect. I wouldn’t have minded a more toned down plain reading to let the text give color. But I’m not sure how it really impacted the book. It could simply be the mystery of voice was a critical part of the novel’s suspense. Just having a tone exposes a lot, and maybe told me too much up front.

Nov 6, 8:52pm Top

Creeper is a girl living on the streets of New Orleans when she overhears some men talking. She takes what she hears to an airship captain and together with the captain and her crew, she races to stop disaster. Creeper lives during the late 1800s, in a steampunk New Orleans that exists as a free city on the edge of a Confederacy that fought the Civil War into an uneasy standstill. She also lives with an Afrikan goddess living in her head.

The Black God's Drums by P. Djeli Clark is a novella that packs in an enormous number of elements. The world building here is just fantastic. Clark is an historian and there's a depth of knowledge that informs his alternate world, which he wove into the story in a natural way. And with both Creeper and Captain Ann-Marie, Clark has managed to create complex and interesting characters in very few pages. This genre is not at all in my wheelhouse, but I really liked this and I wanted to learn more about this world.

Edited: Yesterday, 7:16am Top

>55 RidgewayGirl: I went to see an encore screening of Atwood launching The Testaments, and she discussed how both books are based on real events from dictatorships and other corrupt states. That reinforced the power of the book for me (having already recognised some of the examples eg of people bound into the system acting as agents of its downfall to help the opposition.

Edited: Nov 8, 4:54am Top

I’m with you entirely on The Testaments, Kay. I read The Handmaid’s Tale so long ago that I wasn’t really in a position to have an opinion about whether a sequel was a good idea or not, so I came to The Testaments with an open mind. I thought it was marvellous. I’m interested in Dan’s take on Aunt Lydia, through the audiobook; like you (Kay, I mean), I found her to be much more nuanced. I want to read The Handmaid’s Tale again now!

Nov 7, 12:01pm Top

>60 charl08: Charlotte, I'm going to have to hear Atwood's take on what she wrote. I have checked and there are a few interviews with her on the topic available on-line.

>61 rachbxl: Rachel, I was astonished at how much I ended up sympathizing with Aunt Lydia! It really was a masterful portrait on how a person can be co-opted into a system. I'm also eager to reread The Handmaid's Tale.

Edited: Nov 7, 2:23pm Top

In Pursuit, a young woman, on the day after her wedding, steps in front of a bus. As she lays in a coma in the hospital her husband sits by her side, praying for her recovery. Was her action deliberate or accidental? And why might a young woman do such a thing? When Willem meets Abby, he's intrigued. She's kind and very, very shy. She's also extraordinarily innocent, something that appeals to Willem, a young man devoted to his fundamentalist faith. But why is Abby so withdrawn and passive? Could Willem be as sincere as he appears to be?

Pursuit is written by Joyce Carol Oates, so I was ready for things to be more than a little off-kilter. It was certainly that and I enjoyed reading it. This is a novel that could only have been written by Oates; not only is the writing style immediately identifiable as hers, with this novel, she's playing with her usual themes. If you're familiar with Oates's work, you'll find no new insights or ideas here, just the usual patterns of a girlhood spent as witness to a marriage destroyed by domestic violence and the child's feelings of guilt and complicity, abandonment and the less than nurturing care of relatives who are doing their best, but after all, she's not their child, and a young woman who is left to put a life together without family. There's an oddly old-fashioned feel to this story, and although Oates specifically places it in the present and near past, it feels as though it would have been more comfortable situated in the middle of the last century. While this novel does nothing Oates hasn't done before and often and while it will never been numbered among her better novels, it was still an enjoyable read. I'm not sure what so appeals to me about Oates's writing, but I'm always willing to read another of her novels, even one as forgettable as this one.

Nov 7, 2:22pm Top

I've been in the mood for thrillers and trying to find good ones certainly reminded me of how difficult this genre is to get right. There are a ton of them out there, and most are . . . fine, I guess? My Lovely Wife certainly falls firmly into the "ok, fine" category, and while that's no great praise, it should be noted that there are so many worse domestic thrillers out there.

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing is the story of a marriage, a happy one in the husband's assessment. They've had struggles and they could always use a little more money, but they have two children and a shared passion for murder. They're not quite a Bianchi and Buono, or even a Brady and Hindley, preferring to distribute the tasks involved between them, rather than share the experience, but when you've got kids and jobs, it's really the most practical arrangement. But being married to a murderer doesn't always feel safe and while he finds the whole process exciting, he may like it just a little less than his wife.

So this was fine. None of the characters were sympathetic, which might have made for a more interesting book, or at least one that asked for more emotional investment from the reader, but it was well-paced and the writing was fine. I was never tempted to abandon this book, nor did I ever roll my eyes or throw the book across the room in disgust. Downing's plot holds up for the most part and this book was fine.

Nov 7, 2:54pm Top

>63 RidgewayGirl: sounds like another great JCO novel. Can't beat a good tale of dysfunctional family trauma!

I have developed serious FOMO on the Atwood discussions. I think they've pushed me over the edge on reading The Handmaid's Tale - I'll have to keep an eye out for a copy in the secondhand bookshop.

Nov 7, 3:03pm Top

>65 AlisonY: Ha, yes, this is classic JCO and she writes so well about domestic violence from the point of view of a child.

Nov 7, 7:37pm Top

>61 rachbxl: >62 RidgewayGirl: My copy of The Testaments just came in at the library, and I'm in the same boat as you alls—I'm going to need to reread The Handmaid's Tale but I'm going to read this first because it's here (though there's an e-copy of the earlier book available to grab now if I want to binge on reproductive dystopia). But I'm not starting it tonight because I'm super bleary after a two-day conference stuck in the Charleston Airport hoping that my flight that was already delayed two hours doesn't get any later than that, and I'm thinking my reading retention is basically crap.

Which is why I'm working instead, hahaha.

Nov 7, 8:49pm Top

Great conversations about The Testaments here, Kay. It is remarkable how differently people react to the same book.

Nov 8, 10:00am Top

>67 lisapeet: Lisa, I found my decades old memories of The Handmaid's Tale were more than enough for The Testaments. These two books are more companion volumes that books in a series, although The Testaments takes place after the events of The Handmaid's Tale.

And I'm waving to you from the other side of South Carolina and hoping you managed to get home.

>68 BLBera: Beth, it makes for a much more interesting conversation than when everyone agrees a book was great and then we all sit there, wondering what there is to talk about.

Nov 8, 11:09am Top

Bunny is depressed and has been depressed her entire life, although she was usually able to function in the world. She hasn't left her apartment in weeks and bathing is an unsurmountable chore. But she is going to make it to the regular New Year's Eve dinner out with their friends and to the gathering afterward, even though her patient and kind husband tells her, over and over, that she doesn't need to.

Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum tells how Bunny's life has been derailed by her chronic depression, which she can't escape, no matter how many therapists and doctors she visits, no matter how many drugs and combinations of drugs she's prescribed. The novel follows Bunny's experiences and thoughts closely, but this isn't a sad instructional tale. Bunny is too much herself for that - she's not a very likable character, although one can see that she's witty and sarcastic when she's at her best. As she spirals down into needing to stay at a psychiatric facility (not a spoiler, it's revealed in the opening pages) she finds herself making a drastic choice, a choice make believable by how well Kirshenbaum has described Bunny's lived experience.

Kirshenbaum is a talented writer and I'm not sure many authors could have kept me reading about a woman whose life is reduced to a few shades of grey, occasionally colored by annoyance. I thought the final sentence reduced the impact of the novel and I wish it hadn't been there, but complaining about a single sentence is to be looking very hard for things not to like about this unusual and extraordinary book.

Nov 8, 3:31pm Top

( >65 AlisonY: mission accomplished? 😉)

>67 lisapeet: sending you sympathy. Trapped in Charleston sounds nice - but not in the airport.

>63 RidgewayGirl: Enjoyed your JCO review. I’m never sure if I would like her or not. Some day will try.

>70 RidgewayGirl: Enjoyed this review too, has me wondering about Bunny’s motivations, or if “motivations” is the appropriate word. (Also, I’m a little too entertained that it’s Binnie on Bunny.)

Nov 8, 9:11pm Top

>71 dchaikin: I wondered about the Binnie/Bunny name, too, Daniel, especially given there's a scene where a therapist insists that can't be her real name, that it must be a nickname or shortened form of something else.

And JCO was a slowly acquired taste for me. I was convinced to keep trying because of Lois's (avaland) appreciation of her.

Nov 8, 9:46pm Top

>69 RidgewayGirl: >71 dchaikin: Charleston was a lovely place to get stuck for a couple of extra hours, to be sure—I had time to take myself out for a nice meal and walk around a bit, plus the night before I went to a part at the aquarium, which was super cool. The airport, eh. All airports beat my native LaGuardia, so there's that. And once the flight left all went smoothly, though today I'm sooo tired.

>70 RidgewayGirl: I've been wondering about Rabbits for Food—that sounds kind of fascinating in a dark way.

Nov 9, 3:36pm Top

>71 dchaikin:, >72 RidgewayGirl: Exactly the same for me WRT JCO, a taste very slowly acquired, and I only persevered because of avaland. Come to think of it, I haven’t read any JCO for a while; it’s time for another fix.

Nov 9, 4:39pm Top

>73 lisapeet: I like Charleston's little aquarium, but mostly I like that one touch tank full of small sharks (catsharks?) who rub up against your hands with their sandpaper skin. And, in my opinion, Kirshenbaum does a good job describing what depression is like, but that doesn't necessarily make for a fast-paced or upbeat novel.

>74 rachbxl: Rachel, I'm really attracted to her writing style. It's so distinctive that I know immediately that it's her by the bottom of the first page.

Nov 9, 6:02pm Top

In general, books about writing are generally either instructional or inspirational. They might provide guidance in how to outline a novel, or advise on the proper use of semi-colons. Or they create a desire in the reader to put down the book and start writing immediately. Writing Past Dark by Bonnie Friedman manages to do neither. It does use a lot of words to describe the author's experiences in the famous MFA program in Iowa, her childhood relationship with her older sister and how changing her handwriting helped her writing process, but while those stories were fine, they did little to address any of the topics her chapter headings promised would be discussed. It had a good title, though.

Group: Club Read 2019

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