Nickelini's categories in 2020

Talk2020 Category Challenge

Join LibraryThing to post.

Nickelini's categories in 2020

Dec 3, 2019, 12:09am

Excited to be back again -- I think I first did this in 2008 (I haven't participated every year since but I think most years). I've been making my list all year, and will update this thread over the next month so I'm ready for January 2020.

Edited: Sep 9, 2020, 11:26pm

1. The Steppes Are the Colour of Sepia: a Mennonite memoir, Connie Braun

2. Forgiveness, Mark Sakamoto

3. Becoming, Michelle Obama

4. I Remember Nothing, Nora Ephron

5. Don't Stop Believin', Olivia Newton-John

6. The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East 1978 - 1984 , Riad Sattouf

7. The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

Edited: Dec 31, 2020, 3:53pm

Fairy Tales, Myths, & Ancient Lore

1. Once Upon a River, Diane Setterfield
2. Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone, Stefan Kiesbye
3. The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Borges
4. Tinder, Sally Gardner
5. Taaqtumi, various
6. Starve Acre, Andrew Michael Hurley

DNF: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne Valente

Edited: Nov 15, 2020, 3:14pm

Everything Italy

1. A Tranquil Star, Primo Levi
2. Italy Out of Hand, Barbara Hodgson
3. Hollow Heart, Viola Di Grado
4. The Temptation of Gracie, Santa Montefiore
5. The Decameron, Boccaccio
6. The Breaking of a Wave, Fabio Genovesi
7. The Summer Villa, Melissa Hill

Edited: Dec 31, 2020, 4:06pm

Lugano, Switzerland

So Switzerland

1. Cold Shoulder, Markus Werner
2. The Finishing School, Muriel Spark
3. To the Back of Beyond, Peter Stamm
4. Last Vanities, Fleur Jaeggy

Edited: Nov 15, 2020, 3:16pm

1. Once Upon a River, Diane Setterfield
2. Forgiveness, Mark Sakamoto
3. Becoming, Michelle Obama
4. Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss
5. Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

Edited: Dec 10, 2020, 11:30pm

Non-fiction Reads

1. Souvenir of Canada 2, Douglas Coupland
2. Soap and Water & Common Sense, Dr Bonnie Henry
3. The Devil's Picnic, Taras Grescoe
4. French Women Don't Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano

Edited: Dec 21, 2020, 10:20pm

New Books

1. The Temptation of Gracie, Santa Montefiore
2. Soap and Water & Common Sense, Dr Bonnie Henry
3. Confessions of a Former Fox News Christian, Seth Andrews
4. My Sister the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite
5. The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt, Riel Nason
6. The Devil's Picnic, Taras Grescoe
7. The Ghost in the House, Sara O'Leary
8. Enya a Treatise on Unguilty Pleasures, Chilly Gonzales
9. Miss Iceland, Audur Ava Olafsdottir

Edited: Jan 6, 2020, 1:20am

This message has been deleted by its author.

Edited: Jan 6, 2020, 1:20am

This message has been deleted by its author.

Dec 30, 2019, 12:05pm

Wishing you a happy 2020!

Dec 30, 2019, 1:24pm

Dropped my star and looking forward to following along in 2020.

Jan 2, 2020, 3:14pm

Happy to see you back for another year, Joyce!

Jan 5, 2020, 1:31pm

Happy 2020 reading!

Jan 9, 2020, 9:58pm

Another resolution is to keep up in 2020 with all my friends on LT. Happy New Year!

Jan 19, 2020, 2:16pm

Souvenir Of Canada 2, Douglas Coupland, 2004

cover comments: Yep, that's a Doublas Coupland early-2000s cover

Comments: This is the sequel to the author's successful 2002 Souvenir of Canada. Same idea -- a series of essays on things that are uniquely Canadian and document our history and developing national identify, with unique photos to illustrate his vignettes. Some topics this time include Eaton's, Moose, Plywood, & Scary Bank Calendars.

Rating I see I rated the first one 4 stars back in 2013, and this wasn't quite as good, so 3.5 stars then.

Recommended for: Coupland is always a good read, but you'd also have to be interested in the topic.

Why I Read This Now: it's been kicking around my house for years, and I'm bogged down in the overly-long novel I'm reading. A quick break.

Jan 19, 2020, 2:33pm

>16 Nickelini: I usually have more than one book on the go and try to always have one that's on the lighter side in order to give me a break from the heavier stuff.

Jan 19, 2020, 2:48pm

>17 DeltaQueen50:
I often do that too, but right now I want to finish my tedious novel and I do so little reading these days as it is, so I'm just trying to focus on it.

Jan 20, 2020, 10:38am

>16 Nickelini: That sounds like fun, and something to go on the WL. And I'm looking forward to your review of your tedious novel.

Jan 31, 2020, 11:33pm

Once Upon a River, Diane Setterfield, 2018

cover comments: Full marks for this -- absolutely lovely and evocative. Definitely draws me in.

Comment: here's the blurb on the back cover: "It was the longest night of the year when the strangest of things happened . . . On a dark midwinter's night in an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door burst open and in steps an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child. Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. . . . "

Well, that just sounds like something I'd love. And I enjoyed (but didn't love) the author's earlier novel The Thirteenth Tale. When I read the 5 star reader reviews on this, I think "Yes! this is the book for me." I loved the setting of the upper Thames, where I spent part of my of my 2009 holiday in England.

Unfortunately, it really wasn't. maybe wrong book, wrong time? It was overly long. From page one. I started it early December and just couldn't do it--even though it seemed like a good Christmas holiday book, and I had book club meeting on it in mid-January. I picked it up again at New Years and found it a slog. Some parts were absolutely lovely. But it just wasn't working for me.

Recommended for: not sure -- the 5 star reviews really make it sound like my sort of book. It's only 416 pages long, but it felt like 1,416 to me.

Why I Read This Now: it was a book club book that I was enthused about. The meeting was in the middle of January and I had only managed to get a quarter of the way through by then. Happened to be a week of bad winter weather, and the meeting was 35 km away, so I bailed. The meeting went ahead because a group of members lived close. I stuck with the book, but was determined that I'd not be reading it into February! So here I finish, Jan 31. I considered quitting it 4 pages from the end.

Rating: 3 stars. It was fine. Didn't work for me. I had to force myself to care.

Edited: Feb 1, 2020, 2:12am

>20 Nickelini: I had loved the thirteenth tale. When Bellman and Black came out I wanted to jump on it and then other books got in the way and then I saw the ratings were not that good and I still haven't read it.
Your review makes me unsure whether I would like Once upon a river or not. I guess I'll focus on books that I'm more excited about for the time being.

Feb 1, 2020, 11:16am

I feel like congratulating you for pushing through!

Feb 1, 2020, 1:39pm

>21 chlorine:
Well, if it crosses your path, I would say give it a try. But there are so many books out there, so no pressure or anything ;-)

>22 mstrust:
Thanks! I'll take it.

Feb 2, 2020, 5:51pm

>20 Nickelini: Yes, congrats on finishing it even though it didn't work for you! I did love The Thirteenth Tale but wasn't as fond of Bellman and Black, and I haven't tried Once upon a River yet. I don't think I'll mind giving it a miss!

Edited: Feb 13, 2020, 11:46pm


Cold Shoulder, Markus Werner, 1989; translated from German by Michael Hofmann, 2016

cover comments: this isn't actually my cover, although are similar and clearly done by the same publisher. I like mine better. Both seem very Swiss, except for the use of a serif font

Why I Read This Now: Since my daughter moved to Switzerland, I've been trying to learn as much about the country as I can. Ideally, I want to read contemporary female authors but there aren't many or any translated into English, so this is what I get.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Comments: Through most of this, I thought it was pretty good -- some parts were amusing, and some a bit boring, but overall it was a 38 yr old white guy jabbering on about his mediocre life. I asked myself why some published in 2016 decided they needed to translate this 1989 novel. Was it just that the author was considered one of Switzerland's literary stars? Did the English reading world need another novel about a middle aged white guy navel gazing? But there on page 22, that said middle aged white guy started talking about navel gazing: "he lay there gazing at his navel, . . . He couldn't quite manage to think of himself as an embryo, but he thought he could understand why 'navel-gazing' was a term of disapproval . . . " Hmmm, to devote a whole paragraph to 'navel gazing' in such a short book made me think the author was doing something else here. Also, I'm interested to learn that this is an expression that is known in German. Google Translate shows "Nabelblick." I wonder if it's in other languages too? A quick check of Google Translate gives me the French word "Nombrilisme" so I think "yes")

Anyway, this short book (117 pages, but they are dense pages because conversations are all blended into a paragraph, unlike what we do in English language books) tells about a few days in a hot Zurich summer when Moritz Wenk, "a moderately unsuccessful artist", goes about his day interacting with his dental hygienist girlfriend Judith, an unhappy friend couple, a dinner party, and a few other people. All fine, and then --wham!-- the last 25 pages had a big, dark, sad twist that I didn't see coming at all. Maybe I was lulled by the ho-hum Swiss few days and there was foreshadowing that I missed. I guess I'll have to reread this one day. Yeah, so the end sort of blew me away.

Recommended for: Sure, some readers will say, "but it's still a middle aged white guy and his problems." Fair enough, if you're beyond drowned in those books, I hear you. Yet, for me, the amusing bits and the ending made me like this more than I expected to.

Feb 17, 2020, 1:51pm

4. A Tranquil Star, Primo Levi, 2007 -- translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein, Asessandra Bastagli, & Jenny McPhee

cover comments: fine, whatever

Comments: A collection of short stories that were published in various magazines during the author's lifetime. The first five, the "Early Stories," were published between 1949 and 1971, and the "Later Stories" were from 1973 to 1986, for whatever that's worth. Of the early stories, I only liked the first one, "The Death of Marinese," which was a straight forward war story, written in 1949. By far not my favourite genre, but still a good story. Levi is a writer who is famous for his books about the Holocaust, so I was surprised that the remaining stories were seemingly unrelated to WWII. Many of them reminded me of the type of story you'd see on the TV show The Twilight Zone. My favourites of the collection were "The Magic Paint," "Gladiators," "The Fugitive," "The Sorcerers," "Bureau of Vital Statistics," and perhaps my very favourite, "Buffet Dinner." This last one is probably also the oddest. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but then it became clear that this was the story of a kangaroo going to a dinner party. It's really quite complicated, and I felt for the poor guy.

Rating Short story collections are difficult. The reader is constantly figuring out and building new worlds, and then stopping and starting again. There are almost always some duds, or some I don't understand, or some I just don't like. A Tranquil Star was no different. However, there were enough stories that I deeply enjoyed to give this book a high rating. I also really liked the length of the stories -- all about 5 pages, which to me is a good length for a short story (as opposed to those long 67 page short stories). 4.5 stars

Why I Read This Now: I'm working my way through any Italian authors I have in my TBR pile.

Recommended for: fans of The Twilight Zone

Mar 1, 2020, 3:44pm

The Steppes Are the Colour of Sepia: a Mennonite Memoir, Connie Braun, 2008

cover comments: quite nice

Comments: Author Braun worked from her father's memories, family photos, and historical documents to weave together this "memoir " of her grandfather and her father's struggles in 20th century Europe. They were part of the Russian Mennonite community--that is, German speaking people who had immigrated from Prussia the century before and established farms in what is today Ukraine. And so not Russian at all. By the late 1800s, the writing was on the proverbial wall that things were not going to go well for them under the new Soviet order, and they began the exodus out of the region, mainly to North and South America. This mass migration continued through the 1920s. Braun's grandfather, a pastor, believed that things would settle down, and so he stayed to minister to the people in the Ukraine. He also travelled to Siberia to help the people who had been sent there, all under cover as practising religion was illegal. The 1930s were a horrible time of famine and purges under Stalin, but somehow this family survived. During this period, Braun's father was born.

The second half of the book tells of the family's suffering in WWII. When the German's invaded, life improved for them, as the invading army assumed these fellow German speakers were allies, but life was also dangerous as their Russian and Ukrainian neighbours assumed they were traitors. When Germany retreated, they took the Mennonites west with them to basically be slave labour. Braun's family ended up in what is today Slovenia. At the end of the war, the Yugoslavian army wanted to annihilate them, but the Soviets began repatriating everyone back to Russia. Lots more suffering. Eventually they ended up in eastern Austria, where they kept their heads down and prayed they wouldn't be sent back to where they heard things were even worse. Then finally, a stroke of luck -- the USSR and Britain swapped territories, and they were suddenly in the West. Now the surviving members of the family could immigrate to Canada.

I've read quite a bit, and of course heard family stories, about the horrors that Mennonites experienced during the Russian Revolution. I was much less familiar with what happened to the people who didn't get out until after WWII though, so I appreciated learning about that, even though most of it was terrible. Although this book is fact-filled and historical, Braun is a poetic writer at times. She says she was influenced by the novels Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels and The Russlander by Sandra Birdsell, and it shows.

Recommended for: readers interested in daily life for people in Stalin's USSR and surviving WWII, readers interested in Mennonite history.

Rating: 4 stars

Why I Read This Now: I'm trying to read more memoirs, and this one was physically at the top of my pile

Mar 2, 2020, 1:05am

>27 Nickelini: I barely even had heard of Mennonites before reading your review so I feel like I learned a lot just by reading it.
I'm curious about the fact that people started fleeing what was the Russian empire (if I'm not mistaken, I'm terrible at history) in the late 1800s. We're they aware of the revolution before it occurred?

Mar 2, 2020, 10:05pm

>28 chlorine:

I don't think you're mistaken, and it's a good question.

My dad's parents migrated while they were both children, and it would have been the very late 1800s. My grandmother immigrated to Oregon in the US first before ending up in Saskatchewan. But my mom was 6 months old when she came to Canada in 1927. Her family went through terrible suffering. Their farm was taken from them, and my mom's grandfather and aunt were murdered by Russian revolutionaries while the rest of the family hid. They had neighbours who were murdered. I used to ask my parents why dad's family knew to move even though it was years before the Russian Revolution, and they said that the writing was on the wall. Things that were very important to these Mennonites was the freedom to practice their religion and to be pacifists. I think the Russians were starting to renege on the promises Catherine the Great had made when she invited them to farm in Ukraine.

Mar 4, 2020, 8:47am

>28 chlorine: The pogroms first began in 1881 in Ukraine, so I would say that is why they would have left.

Mar 5, 2020, 12:42am

>29 Nickelini: Very interesting, thanks for sharing! My grandfather left Russia with his mother when he was a child but as far as I understand this was because of the general turmoil during the Civil War that followed the revolution and they were not part of any minority.

>30 JayneCM: Weren't the pogroms against jews? Do you think that has gotten a warning to other minorities?

Mar 5, 2020, 12:15pm

Hi Joyce, I noticed on my main page that it is your 13th Thingaversary today - Happy Thingaversary! :)

Mar 6, 2020, 1:26am

>31 chlorine: The pograms were mainly targetting the Jewish people but other minorities often became targets or included as well. I think it would definitely have served as a warning that Russia was not sympathetic to minority religions.

Edited: Mar 7, 2020, 3:32am

>30 JayneCM:
>31 chlorine:
>33 JayneCM:

I've never heard "pograms" used connected to Mennonites, but it makes total sense. The movie "Fiddler on the Roof" came out when I was in elementary school and I, and my family, bonded with it. Every time I watch it I feel strong elements to my family's story. JayneCM,thanks for connecting those dots.

Mar 7, 2020, 3:43am

>32 DeltaQueen50:
Wow, 13 years! It's part of my life -- hasn't LT always been here?

Apr 19, 2020, 5:03pm

The Finishing School, Muriel Spark, 2004

cover comments: seriously ho hum

Comments: Nina Parker and Rowland Mahler run a finishing school in Ouchy, Switzerland. The married couple is still in their 20s, and I think that's pretty presumptuous that they think they have any finishing techniques to share. At any rate, the school is rather experimental and they sort of wing their way through it. One of their students, Chris, is writing a novel about Mary Queen of Scots, and he's getting attention from publishers and movie producers. Rowland is also trying to write a novel, but becomes obsessed with Chris; Chris in turn becomes obsessed with Rowland. Nina does her own thing. Everything is resolved neatly at the end.

Rating: a solid 3.75 stars. Readers who liked this say it's hilarious. Readers who dislike this find it thin and undeveloped.

Recommended for: people who like books set in boarding schools, Muriel Spark competists. It's only 123 pages, and is a breezy read.

Why I Read This Now: I love books set in Switzerland.

Apr 25, 2020, 10:25am

>36 Nickelini: I had no idea what a finishing school was! Not sure I want to read about them now that I know what they are, but as I understand this book is a satire. :)

Apr 25, 2020, 5:25pm

>37 chlorine:

Yes, the book is satire, so not your typical finishing school novel. For some reason I read a lot of books that involved finishing schools back in the '80s (Judith Kranz? Jackie Collins? I'm not sure). Funny thing -- my daughter refused to learn how to use a napkin properly or other various finer points of table manners, and I used to threaten to send her to finishing school in Switzerland (in novels, they're always in Switzerland). Then she did her semester abroad and ended up going to university in Switzerland, and now she lives there. So my threats kinda came true. Her Swiss boyfriend went to a highly prestigious boarding school, which of course I had to go see when we visited. Life imitating art, almost. (And I always tease him about playing basketball at school with Kim Jong Un even though they're years apart in age and they didn't go to the same school)

Apr 26, 2020, 6:12am

>38 Nickelini: Aha thanks for sharing! :) Did your daughter's table manners improve after she moved to Switzerland? ;)

Apr 30, 2020, 7:41am

>38 Nickelini: Why are they always in Switzerland?!

May 1, 2020, 1:04am

>40 JayneCM: Why are they always in Switzerland?!

Good question, and there are several reasons.

- Switzerland has a long reputation of having an excellent education system (going back to at least the 1800s), although most Swiss students don't go to the prestigious boarding schools -- they tend to cater to foreign students
- rich people trust Switzerland to hold their money, and likewise their children (fun fact: you can get safety deposit boxes in Switzerland that are vaults in mountains that can only be reached by helicopter)
- The Swiss are famous for their discretion
- European royalty has long sent their children to these schools, English aristocrats sent their children so they become fluent in French; rich Americans to give their kids some European cache; and the Iranian & middle e astern wealthy (and North Korean) for various reasons, some of which have to do with avoiding their own governments -- also, the country is officially neutral, so if you can pay, welcome
- banking is a major industry in Switzerland, and the executives need schools for their children
- Switzerland is the safest place in the world in the event of a war (office buildings and apartment buildings have bomb shelters, all the roads into the country are booby-trapped, etc.)
- It's full of ski resorts, which are popular with rich young people, and it's central location in the middle of western Europe makes is close to everything

May 1, 2020, 1:09am

>39 chlorine: Did your daughter's table manners improve after she moved to Switzerland?

?? I think? Better than she was, anyway. I hope. She's 23, so I've given up

May 1, 2020, 10:57pm

Forgiveness, Mark Sakamoto, 2014

cover comments: I find this very attractive -- both the Japanese writing and the colours. The author is credited for the cover photo, but no where could I find a description of what it represented. The motif is repeated at the beginning of each chapter, so it means something. Is it "forgiveness" in Japanese? Or something else? I wish I knew.

Why I Read This Now: book club and I've been wanting to read the memoirs on my TBR stack anyway

Comments: : I bought this right after it won Canada Reads 2018 "One Book to Open Your Eyes." Mark Sakamoto's paternal grandmother was a Japanese Canadian who had her life ripped out from under her in WWII when the Canadian government forced her and her family to abandon everything to become basically slaves on a farm in Alberta. Sakamoto's maternal grandfather, at the same time, was a soldier who was shipped to China to fight in the war, but was quickly captured and spent four years in various Japanese POW camps. Horrible, horrible things happened to both of them. This part of the book was pretty bleak, but interesting. After the war , they both restart lives for themselves. Fast forward to 1968 and the children of the soldier and the internment victim meet, fall in love, marry, and have Mark and his younger brother. Their lives aren't happy either.

This was a quick, interesting read, but the book was extremely flawed. Many have noted the proofreading errors, but the editing problems were bigger than that. It is quite choppy, and too often I wondered why the author was including information that he did. Themes were flat and unexplored. I'm surprised that it was even nominated for Canada Reads, let alone a winner. That said, it was indeed interesting for the most part a compelling read.

Rating: The editing definitely pulls this down -- 3 stars seems low, so maybe 3.5 stars?

Recommended for: people who like unusual memoirs, or readers who don't know anything about Japanese POW camps or Canadian internment of the Japanese during WWII

May 7, 2020, 8:55am

>41 Nickelini: Thanks - great info!

May 13, 2020, 9:58pm

Becoming, Michelle Obama, 2018

cover comments: a predictable middle-of-the-road cover for a memoir of a famous person. The colours are lovely though

Comments: When Becoming was tearing up the best seller lists in 2018, and everyone was raving about it, I was happy for her success but I had no interest at all in reading this memoir. But then my daughter gave it to me for Christmas, and it popped into my TBR pile after all. I've also rekindled my interest in memoirs, and then when my book club suggested this, I was happy to read it. Anyway, ...

Obama's memoir is divided into three sections: "Becoming Me," "Becoming Us," and "Becoming More." I was fascinated by her childhood story and how she went from the South Side of Chicago to get two ivy league degrees and a lawyer job at a fancy firm with an office on the 47th floor in a building in the centre of Chicago. This is where she met Barak, when he was a law student and she was appointed as his summer mentor. I didn't know this story and so I found it very interesting. The whole bit about Barak getting into politics was less interesting, although I was surprised to hear that she only said "okay" to him running for president because she was sure he wouldn't get close to winning. In the final third of the book, I was amazed at some of the details of their life in the Whitehouse.

I admire Michelle Obama for her dignity and integrity, her love of fun, and her dedication to her daughters and to girls' education.

Rating: Overall, this was a good read. Not life changing or anything, but a good read.

Why I Read This Now: bookclub

Recommended for: a wide audience. It's a positive and hopeful book, so if you need one of those right now, consider this one.

May 16, 2020, 12:56am

Italy Out of Hand: a Capricious Tour, Barbara Hodgson, 2005

cover comments: perfect

Comments: Barbara Hodgson is an artist and author who produces illustrated books -- sometimes fiction, sometimes non-fiction. In Italy Out of Hand, she guides the reader through Italian cities, starting in Genoa and zigzagging across and south to end in Catania in Sicily. Everywhere she stops, she highlights some of the more obscure sites and figures from Italian history, with a focus on cemeteries, museums you've probably never heard of, and famous foreigners who visited and lived in the country. Scattered throughout are small Italian language vocab lists that pertain to the city -- some of the words are regional slang, I had fun trying these out on my Italian-speaking husband.

Why I Read This Now: I've owned Italy Out of Hand since it was published 15 years ago and I was happy just to browse through it and look at the unusual illustrations. Hodgson's books are always beautiful and a pleasure just to hold. I recently dusted my shelf of my most beautiful books, and started actually reading it this time.

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended for: fans of illustrated books (Nick Bantock is another similar writer-artist, and in fact the two are friends), people who like odd Italian history. This is a book to dip in and out of rather than to read straight through.

Edited: May 16, 2020, 2:50pm

the Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne Valente

cover comments: looks good!

Comments: A sassy girl named September gets whisked out of her boring home in Omaha and mysteriously taken to Fairyland. I was hoping for charm and delight, but was just disappointed. It was over-written and I constantly had trouble envisioning the scenes. It was just a series of convoluted silly conversations between September and various odd characters. I should have known I was in trouble when I kept seeing comparisons to The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. I Pearl-ruled this one.

Why I Read This Now: This has been in my TBR stacks for years, and I finally pulled it out because I thought it looked fun, and I can use FUN right now. The title held a lot of promise.

Recommended for: readers looking for a 21st century Alice in Wonderland

Rating: DNF says it all, but I'm far from the target audience, so I will refrain from assigning or not assigning stars

May 17, 2020, 9:21pm

>47 Nickelini: I have also had this one in the stacks for years and have never had the urge to pull it down. I think this may be one that simply pass along unread to the second hand store.

May 18, 2020, 3:03pm

Isn't it wonderful that LT can help us decide what to do with those books that languish on the shelves for years.

>45 Nickelini: I too loved Michelle Obama's book. She is an inspiration to African American young women who have a hard time making progress. Anything is possible.

May 18, 2020, 4:59pm

>47 Nickelini: Oddly enough, your review has encouraged me to get to this one sooner rather than later! I was planning on reading it for the "weird title" Bingo square, and the sooner I read it, the sooner I can (probably) remove it from my shelves!

May 31, 2020, 1:54pm

Hollow Heart, Viola Di Grado (translated from Italian by Antony Sugaar), 2015

cover comments: I love this so much. Great art, and the colour is fabulous -- a dark, inky indigo that in some lights looks like dark violet. Europa Editions usually have the fuglyiest covers ever, so this one is a pleasant surprise.

Comments: Most of Dorotea Giglio's narration takes place after her suicide in July 2011, with some flashbacks to her life in Sicily before. On both sides, she's depressed, lonely, and a little bit emo. Now a ghost, she meanders through her apartment and city streets, and goes to her old job regularly, where her boss can still see her. She also likes to go into her coffin and report on the details of her decomposing body.

Rating: I like the uniqueness of this story and the Italian setting; but overall it perplexed me and I struggled with the world building. Dorotea has no body, but she talks about eating and drinking, and she's able to move things around, but at the same time can float through walls. She says she can't read anymore, but certain parts only make sense with written language. Her life after death wasn't all that different from when she was alive, and we don't know why she committed suicide. It all seemed a bit pointless. So 3 stars for a decently written novel plus 1 star for being creative and unusual.

Recommended for: There are many glowing reviews written in English over at Goodreads. There are also many negative reviews written in Italian. The Italians seem to call BS on this one and say it's boring and repetitive (a tratti noioso a tratti ripetitivo! Italian sounds so much nicer than English), and has no plot.

Why I Read This Now: chipping away at my Italian TBR pile.

Jun 1, 2020, 2:18am

Vampire Film Study

Since this isn't about books, this post is mainly for me to keep a record of the films I've watched this month. But I'll throw this out here and if anyone has anything to say I welcome a conversation.

My 20 yr old daughter had planned to come home from university this summer and work, hang with her friends, and have fun. COVID had other ideas, and work fell through, so she decided she might as well take some online university courses and knock off some elective credits. She took a one month condensed course on vampires (Germanic Studies program -- this is not her area of study; my older daughter went to the same uni and took a Germanic Studies course on fairy tales). She's reading Dracula, and had to watch the following movies. Since I'm staying home too, I've watched them all with her:

1. Nosferatu (1922) -- this silent film was surprisingly good, and really the blueprint for vampire movies to come after it. She really liked it and wrote her essay on it.
2. Dracula (1931) -- Bela Lugosi! (Nosferatu was better)
3. Nosferatu Phantom der Nacht (197?) -- liked this one too -- really good creepy scene with people dining in an outdoor square with many, many rats
4. Interview with the Vampire (1994) -- I had seen this back in the 90s, and read the book Interview with the Vampire not that long ago, so it was interesting to rewatch. Kirsten Dunst is the best thing about this movie
5. Perfume (2006) -- I was happy to see this because I read and enjoyed the book Perfume a few years ago
6. Let the Right One In (2008) -- I'd never heard of this Swedish "horror romance". Her classmates didn't like this one -- I think some people just struggle with subtitles. My daughter, husband, and I all really liked it a lot. IMDb says it won about a jillion awards. Should I read the Let the Right One In?
7. Lost Boys (1987) -- I saw this in '87 and loved it, and have seen it several times since. It still holds up, and it's a fun movie. Compared to Let the Right One In though, you can see how the Swedish film raked in awards, and Lost Boys raked in $$
8. Bram Stoker's Dracula -- such a great cast (Gary Oldman! Winona Ryder wasn't terrible-- good, even) -- like the book Dracula, the movie had a few awesome moments, but overall . . . . hmmmm, meh

That's a lot of vampire in a month, but it's been fun watching these and discussing them with her. Sounds like the online lectures were interesting.

Jun 1, 2020, 3:18am

Your daughter might also be interested in reading Dracul by Dacre Stoker & J. D. Barker. One of my fellow booksellers read it, and says it's supposed to be the story Bram Stoker wanted to tell, based on his notes. Instead, what was published was a heavily edited version that wasn't necessarily true to Stoker's vision.

Jun 1, 2020, 2:11pm

>53 ReneeMarie:
thanks! I'll mention it to her, but she's writing her final today so I have a feeling she'll be done with vampires for a while after tonight

Jun 13, 2020, 7:25pm

To the Back of Beyond, Peter Stamm, translated from German by Michael Hofmann (2016)

Cover comments: Yeah, this is really good. I like it. The English title I don't quite like as much -- a direct translation of Weit uber das Land is "Far Across the Country." I guess the one they chose is a play on words, as the protagonist doesn't just go across the country, but also acts in a way that is beyond what is acceptable. However, the term "back of beyond" is just true-blue-dinky-die Australian and in my view, "back of beyond" only works in an Aussie context

Comments: From the book's blurb: "Happily married with two children and a comfortable home in a Swiss town, Thomas and Astrid enjoy a glass of wine in their garden on a night like any other. Called back to the house by their son's cries, Astrid goes inside, expecting her husband to join her in a bit. But Thomas gets up and, after a brief moment of hesitation, opens the gate and walks out." The 140 novel has no chapter breaks, but switches back between Thomas going walking through Switzerland, and Astird at home with the kids.

There was something about the writing that drew me in and kept me fascinated. Stamm's style is somewhat sparse and unemotional, but at the same time terrifically evocative. I loved all the little details of their day-to-day movements. The book was the perfect length for this style, although the end was perhaps a bit rushed and could have been another ten pages or so. And until the end, I had no idea how this was going to finish off. I also loved all the Swiss details, large and small. It wasn't until half-way thought the novel that the author started putting in place identifiers, but once he did I started following on a map of Switzerland where the characters were going, and I was delighted when I recognized a place I knew (geography geek coming out again) .

The author also did some tricky things with time. The one that stands out the most is that most of the novel was clearly set around the time it was written, and at one point Thomas reads a newspaper story that happened in September 2014. But then near the end of the book, things move quite quickly, and the children age at least a dozen years from the beginning of the book, and maybe even more. So it goes on past the publication date, which is somewhat unusual.

I think overall the translation was well done, but two things stood out for me. One was that the translator chose to Americanize the novel. Switzerland is a metric country, and I think most Americans reading this would be able to grasp the basic ideas of Celsius and kilometres. And the other quibble was occasionally he'd use an English word in a way I've never seen before. I know that when I use Google Translate with German, the results are sometimes quite rough, especially compared to translations of Italian or French. Maybe German is a trickier language to translate and sometimes the results are a bit odd.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommended for: If you like contemporary European novels, and this one sounds interesting, try it. There are lots of poor reviews over at GoodReads, and these generally complain that 1. the reader never learns the characters motivations, 2. the characters aren't particularly likeable and it's difficult to empathize with them, and 3. "OMG, how can he just abandon his family?" My favourite of these reviews says, "Despicable bastard goes on a hike." Okay, they're not wrong. I just don't care.

I do find it interesting how some readers absolutely freak out about abandonment novels. I have 8 books tagged "disappearing mother" in my collection, and of those that are about a woman who left her family, all have scathing reviews about what the character did (as opposed to how the book is written). In the case of To the Back of Beyond, many complained that his behaviour was never explained, but I've read books where it is explained and then people just say "that's no excuse" or "she should have found a different solution." We all have our trigger issues, but if parent abandonment upsets you, rather than tearing into the author for writing about it, how about read something else instead. Maybe that's just not the book for you.

Why I Read This Now: When I started this, I had reservations to be in Switzerland that were then COVID-cancelled. So I had to be there vicariously through literature.

Jun 13, 2020, 8:30pm

Wow, you just hit me with quite the book bullet. I went looking for To The Back of Beyond and picked up a copy for my Kindle. While there I found myself purchasing two more "Back of Beyond" titled books! One is about the Australian Flying Doctor Service while the other is set in Scotland and appears to be about a social worker trying to escape to a quieter place to restore his mental state. Thanks for the triple hit! ;)

Jun 13, 2020, 8:40pm

>56 DeltaQueen50:

LOL -- book bullets for books I've never even heard of! You can't teach that.

Edited: Jun 15, 2020, 1:53am

14. Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit: a Son remembers, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, 2003

cover comments: Hello! Audrey Hepburn. Nothing but lovely.

Rating: 4.5 stars (as just a picture book, 5 stars)

Why I Read This Now: A few years ago, my husband installed some built-in bookcases around our fireplace and under our stained glass windows (I live in a 1913 Craftsman house, so I think he was replacing what was probably once there) and that's where I keep all my prettiest and most special books. I go months without actually going into these bookcases because my TBR isn't there, but for some reason I saw this and pulled it out. Sadly, I hadn't thought of Audrey Hepburn in too long.

Disclaimer: To stop myself from fangirling too much, I'll say this up front: I think Audrey Hepburn might be the most perfect person from the 20th century: Yes, she was born into privilege in 1929, but her parents were inadequate, and then at the eve of WWII, it was decided that she'd be safer in Holland than England. Her key growth years were spent in the middle of a war zone. She worked for the resistance, almost starved to death, and the malnutrition in those important years caused lifelong health problems. Then somehow she ended up staring in films, and won all the awards -- the Oscar, BAFTA, Emmy, Grammy, Tony, etc. and so on. She was the muse of Givinchy, and is still a style icon. Then she walked away from it all to raise her sons, and later went to work for UNICEF (who had helped her at the end of WWII). She speaks elegantly in English, and is also fluent in Dutch, French, Italian, and Spanish (I also suspect that she speaks pretty good German-- between occupied Holland and living in Switzerland for most of her life). She is the epitome of grace, kindness, compassion, intelligence, and beauty. (She's pretty much the direct opposite of Donald Trump)

For my honeymoon in 1994, we went on a Princess cruise. The robo-voice in the elevator sounded very Audrey Hepburn. I loved it. Usually, I'm a stair-taker, but on this trip I'd go with the lift just to hear it (her) say "Lido Deck". Believe me, those words sound so much nicer in Audrey's voice than . . . well, who do YOU want to hear say "lido deck" ?

Years ago I bought an Audrey Hepburn rose (it's the pink of her shirt on the cover, above). I'm a gardener, but not a rose person, so tend to ignore them. Somehow, I haven't killed it yet.

Comments: I bought this when it was published in 2003 because it was written and created by Audrey's oldest son, Sean. This coffee table book went into my LT library with a 5-star rating, even though I hadn't read it, but because it was chock-full of photographs and detailed captions. Many fabulous photos, some that we've all seen before, and many family photos. On top of that are copies of important letters (such as her appointment as the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador), art from her childhood, and also when she had a bedridden pregnancy, and her birth certificate, childhood passports, and her United Nations passport from 1988. This is why I rated it 5 stars.

Now that I've read the text portions, I came away moved, but maybe not for the reasons the author intended. Near the end, he reprints a long speech as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to the UN in Geneva in 1989. In this role, and as herself, she's hopeful and optimistic. It's sad to read something written about children in 1989 from a 2020 perspective. Downright depressing, actually. But that's not the author or book's fault. The following section about her dying of cancer, was personal and also very sad (especially since she was only in her early 60s). The earlier parts of the book, before the author was born, were scattered and unsatisfying. He was better at the personal.

Another complaint I direct at the book designer over choice of typeface, which was difficult to read. They used a fine sans-serif, and when used in italica, was almost unreadable except in the brightest light. This, and the size of the book, made it physically difficult to read.

Recommended for: Her fans, anyone needing a break from Donald Trump culture.

Jun 28, 2020, 3:12pm

The Temptation of Gracie, Santa Montefiore, 2018

cover comments: The general design of this cover is the kind I generally walk right past at the book store because it signifies a kind of book I never read. The picture itself, which is simply labelled "photograph of villa," also doesn't look Tuscan, where this novel is set. Despite all that, I love this cover. It reminds me of my trip last year to Lake Como in Lombardia.

Rating: 4.5 stars. Perfect and much-needed escapism

Comments: If you want a one-line review, I'll say: Art! Food! Tuscany! Forbidden love! Castles! and my top favourite: Secrets!

Gracie is a 68 year old widow who lives a comfortable life in her Devon village. One day flipping through a magazine, she discovers a cookery school in a castle in Tuscany, a castle that she knew intimately in her earlier life. When she enrols in a week-long class, she alarms her neighbours, who alarm her workaholic daughter in London. Gracie's daughter and granddaughter accompany her to Italy where unbeknownst to anyone else, she had worked as an art restorer in her teens and early twenties. The novel switches from this 2010 story line back to 1950s-60s Tuscany. I could have dismissed this as "British person leaves their grey life in England and is magically transformed by the colour of Italy" but it has so much more. Multi-generational mother-daughter relationships, young love, healing, and second chances are all explored.

The Temptation of Gracie is full of lush writing, likeable characters, fabulous locations, and even some little humour. Several of the 5 star reviews at GoodReads comment "this is not the kind of book I usually like, but I loved this one" and I have to add a "me too" to that.

Why I Read This Now: I'm always saying I need to read more light, fun books. But then there's something else that I think I need to read first. 2020 decided to be a horrible year (and we're only half-way through), and I set out to find all the light, fun books in my TBR pile, and I sadly learned that in the stack of over 900 physical books, I didn't have much to choose from. So I went poking around online and found The Temptation of Gracie. My May trip to Italy, where I had planned to taking a cooking class, was cancelled, so this novel jumped out at me. I also adore books set in large country houses.

I thought I'd never heard of the author before, but when I entered this in my LT catalogue, I saw that I'd picked up one of her other novels from a sale table a few years ago. Hope it's as good as this one.

Recommended for: readers looking to disappear into a compelling summer read, armchair travellers looking for a trip to an Italian villa

Jun 29, 2020, 6:45pm

>59 Nickelini: This sounds like an author that I would enjoy when looking forward a lighter read. I've added a couple of her titles to my wishlist.

Edited: Jul 1, 2020, 3:42pm

The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio, 1352. Translated by Mark Musa & Peter Bondanella, 1982

cover comments: the painting is lovely and suitable, but the arrangement of the whole is less than artful

Why I Read This Now: I bought this book in 1984 when I was studying Italian history, but then my studies took me elsewhere and I never got around to it. It's been on my to-read list for the last two years as I've been travelling (and trying to travel) to Italy. I started this the weekend in March when Italy slammed shut for the COVID-19 lockdown. What better time to read a book set during a plague in Italy than during a pandemic in Italy? (Now I'm finished and COVID-19 can be finished too, please and thank you.)

Comments: It's 1348 and the Black Death is raging through Florence. A group of wealthy 20-somethings (seven ladies and three gentlemen) decided to self-isolate in a country villa. To ward off the boredom of eating and drinking, they set up a game of each telling ten stories ("Decameron" is ten-days in Ancient Greek). The tales cover characters from all aspects of Medieval life, and many of the stories are rather humorous and often bawdy.

My favourite story, by far, was "Sixth Day, Fourth Story," in which "Chichibio, Currado Gianfigliazzi's cook, turns Currado's anger into laughter with a quick word uttered in time to save himself from the unpleasant fate with which Currado had threatened him". I loved it so much I read it out loud to my husband and daughter.

My mass-market paperback edition was just under 700 pages of tiny smudgy print crammed onto pages with the narrowest of margins. Physically, it was an unpleasant read. That's part of the reason I read the publishers suggested list for university professors who want to teach an abridged version. This still resulted in me reading 54 stories, introductions, summaries, etc, and still reading close to 400 pages of the text. No one needs to read every single word.

Recommended for: if you liked The Canterbury Tales, you'll love The Decameron. Chaucer visited Italy in the 1370s where he may have met Boccaccio, but whether he did or not, his writing was distinctly influenced by the Italian.

The Shmoop Tough-o-Meter says "If you stick with a good translation, the toughest thing about this work is the length."

Rating: 4 stars

Jul 12, 2020, 8:12pm

Soap and Water & Common Sense: the Definitive Guide to Viruses, Bacteria, Parasites, and Disease, Dr. Bonnie Henry, 2009 w/2020 updated intro

cover comments: perfect for a popular science book that highlights handwashing to prevent disease

Comments : Dr. Bonnie Henry is a local rock star at the moment. She's the Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, and the local face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like Dr Fauci, she appears on TV regularly to give scientific and medical updates on the pandemic; unlike Dr Fauci, the government stands back and follows her guidance. Hence, in a province of just over five million people, as of mid-July 2020 we've had just over 3,000 COVID-19 cases and 187 deaths. There are currently 16 people hospitalized with the virus. Every day, she appears on the news with her updates and advice, and her signature phrase, "Be kind, be calm, and be safe." She is cool, reasonable and truthful, and everyone loves her. In 2020, an epidemiologist is one of the most popular people in Canada. Who would have expected that?

This book itself is a lay persons guide to diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, and parasites. There's a bit about the history of the disease, the current state (well, as of 2009), and best practices to prevent catching it. Dr Henry worked with WHO in Pakistan, was on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic in Uganda, and then the SARs epidemic in Toronto. She specializes in public heath and epidemiology, and is also a professor at UBC. While I think this book is great, I realized when I read it that I've already educated myself on a lot of these diseases. I didn't realize this was one of "my topics", but over the years I've read several books on the Black Death, and books on Ebola, vaccinations, small pox, venereal diseases, flu epidemics, ecoli, malaria, and so on. What I was looking for were a few more stories about her experiences in the trenches as disease-fighter. Oh well, after all her praise, she'll likely write a memoir.

Dr. Henry's fame moments:

- The Vancouver fashion shoe designer Fluevog noted that she liked to wear their snazzy shoes, so they designed a Dr Bonnie Henry shoe. When it went on sale, their website crashed
- In May, Bloomberg published an article about her: "Behind North America’s Lowest Death Rate: A Doctor Who Fought Ebola"
- The New York Times praised her as "one of the most effective public health officials in the world" in their article "The Top Doctor Who Aced the Coronavirus Test"
- she was featured on CNN recently
- last week she launched a ship with the swinging champagne bottle move

Recommended for : people looking for an easy to understand overview of infectious diseases

Why I Read This Now: Other than being in the midst of a pandemic, I was doing some local book shop online ordering and they were promoting this book. I figured I'd rather buy a $19 book than a $300 pair of shoes I didn't particularly like, while still supporting someone who is doing the right thing

Rating: 4 stars due to already knowing a lot of this info

Jul 13, 2020, 2:49pm

I am thankful that the province of B.C. has Dr. Henry and that we are doing so well against this virus.

Jul 15, 2020, 10:20pm

I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections, Nora Ephron, 2010

Cover comments: Nice colours

Comments: I adore Nora Ephron. After she died in 2012, I turned my trip to New York City into an Ephron-themed event. I even found an Upper West Side apartment to stay in, and we pretended to be New Yorkers for a week.
When I’m feeling funny, I think my humour is similar to hers. I like to think that if we’d known each other we’d have been great friends. Now that I’ve read I Remember Nothing, I see that I have almost nothing in common with Ephron. She’s a New York secular Jew who grew up in Hollywood where her parents were both screen writers and they often had glamorous people in her living room. Somehow, I can still relate to all her quibbles and share some laughs.
This very loosely structured memoir covers key points in her life. Near the end, she wrote “The O Word,” (O as in old), which I found to be bittersweet, as it was about growing old and dying. Overall though it was a fun read.

Recommended for: a reader who wants to spend a couple of hours reading a clever, breezy book.

Why I Read This Now: I want to read more memoirs, and this one had been on my shelf for years

Rating: 4.5 stars

Jul 16, 2020, 12:53am

>64 Nickelini: A reader who wants to spend a couple of hours reading a clever, breezy book? Absolutely. It's on the list.

Jul 16, 2020, 12:17pm

>65 pamelad:
Glad I can help!

Aug 2, 2020, 3:34pm

The Breaking of a Wave, Fabio Genovesi, 2015, translated from Italian by Will Schutt

cover comments: it's okay by regular cover standards, but rather nice by Europa Edition standards

Rating: 4.5 stars -- It was going to be a 5 star read, but then around the 3/4 mark I got a bit bored. This novel is almost 500 pages long and should have been 350-400. Interesting to me was that online reviews by Italians are rated much lower than reviews written in English.

Comments: The Breaking of a Wave is set in the off-season Tuscan beach town of Forte dei Marmi, and tells the story of a loosely connected group of loners, eccentrics, and misfits. The centre of the story is 13 year old Luna, a clever and likeable girl who also has albinism. She struggles with the death of her older, and much-loved, brother and her mom's depression. She also befriends an odd boy named Zot. Their lives are tied in with 3 friends who are all single men in their early 40s, who each still lives with his mother (an Italian phenomena known as "mammoni" or "bamboccioni", which translates to "big babies." But I digress). I have to admit defeat and say that I cannot adequately describe what this novel is about.

I loved it because I found it refreshing and unusual. I loved the writing, even though many Italians thought the writing was appalling. I loved the story of contemporary Italian lives (as opposed to the US/UK fantasy versions), and I loved the setting of Forte dei Marmi, in the province of Lucca. This is the area of Italy that I know better than any other, and I learned a lot of little things about the place and it's culture. I can't count the number of times I had to stop and read passages out loud to my husband (who spent his childhood summers here).

Recommended for: readers who like current Italian fiction, or who like unusual books with quirky characters. I should mention though that there are some gritty parts, and several scenes of nasty bullying. So it's not all light hearted fun, if that's the impression I gave.

If I ever find other Genovesi books translated into English, I will buy them in a heartbeat. If not, I guess I'll have to improve my Italian language reading skills.

Aug 5, 2020, 11:44pm

. My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite, 2018

cover comments: I've seen many online comments that people loved this cover. I'm not sure I do, but I think my problem is more with the book's title than the actual cover. I see on the meta page that an earlier version of this had been published in Nigeria with the title "Thicker Than Water," which I think is a MUCH stronger title. Why did they change it? Anyway, I guess in the end I like the woman's face, but maybe not the bright green blocky text against the dark background. Overall I like it more than I dislike it. I see that the hardcover takes the image to the back page and she's holding a bottle of spray cleaner. That's clever. My trade paperback doesn't show that.

Why I Read This Now: I remember when there was a lot of chatter about this here at LT, probably around it's Booker nomination. I was fairly interested in reading it, but then I forgot about it. Recently I listened to my favourite book podcast while watering my garden ("Overdue Podcast" with Craig & Andrew) and they got me interested. Lucky me, two days later I went to Munro Books in Victoria and picked up a copy. Also, they said it took them 1.9 hours to read, so that sounded good (love a quick book). (It took me more like 4 hours.)

Comments: Korede gets yet another phone call from her sister saying that OOPS! she knifed her boyfriend to death. Help me clean it up. Cleaner-extraordinaire and enabler older sister drops everything to assist her sister, Ayoola. It's an uncomfortable but tenable way of life until Ayoola drops by the hospital where Korede is a nurse, and catches the eye of perfect Dr. Tade Otumu, the same doctor that Korede has been crushing on. Like every other man, the doctor is immediately smitten with Ayoola. Now where do Korede's loyalties lie? This is not a "crime novel" or a thriller, but a kinda crazy look at family and abuse.

I loved the quick pace, the amusing writing (unlike other readers, I can't quite call this "funny"), I love the Nigerian setting, and mostly I liked how this was a unique story, unlike anything else I've read.

Recommended for: overall, reader reviews of this are high. It's a quick read, so not much risk. I hear the audiobook is superb.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Aug 6, 2020, 12:49pm

>68 Nickelini: I loved My Sister, The Serial Killer when I read it. It's unique subject matter and skillful writing really delivered a book that was a fun, quick and different read.

Aug 12, 2020, 12:37am

Don't Stop Believin', Olivia Newton-John, 2018

cover comments: Excellent cover, because it immediately reminded me of the album cover below. The title comes from her 1976 song and album, and is not a rip off of the significantly more iconic Journey song of the same name which came out in 1981.

Comments: In the summer of 2012, my friend asked me if I wanted to go see Olivia Newton-John at the PNE (our big regional fair here in Vancouver). “Sure . . . okay!” I had been a huge ONJ fan when I was 11 and I hadn’t thought about it, but seeing her live had always been on my bucket list. So a week later, on a summer evening, I stood in a crush of people with my friend, her sari-wearing mom who didn’t speak a word of English, and her sister Brinder with her engineer wife with their adopted baby, belting out songs and dancing. So much fun. When I was young and Olivia’s biggest fan (I loved horses! She loves horses!) , my 4 older brothers and their wives mocked me for liking her. Now I was an adult and I didn’t care.

Actually, looking back, I really only liked her early, country stuff (and no, I don’t listen to any other country music) – “Let Me Be There” and “If You Love Me, Let Me Know,” and “If Not For You.” (I also liked her version of “Banks of the Ohio” but even at 11 I was a bit disturbed by singing “I held a knife against his breast . . . he cried “my love, don’t murder me! I’m not prepared for eternity.” My grade 6 self sang that loud and I have never yet knifed anyone.) Anyway, by the time Grease came around, I’d moved on.

That long personal introduction is my explanation to the expected “WHY WOULD YOU EVER READ THAT?!”, which I know you’re all thinking.

Now on to the book. OMG. Right from the “Prologue” I was stunned by the bad writing and atrocious editing. It never got better. Do you know why you rarely see an exclamation point in the books you’re reading? Because Oliva Newton-John took them all and used them here! As for the structure, it’s kinda chronological, and kinda thematic, but everything jumps around in an awkward way, so much that it sometimes didn’t make sense. Soooo many internal-contradictions. Soooo many missing details, or things that have no connection. Soooo many details that add nothing. She really doesn’t like to add dates or markers to help the reader along. Usually the date will come at the end of a page-long story. Both in the text and in the captions of the pictures include lists of people who she thinks are amazing, and nice to recognize them, but it breaks up the flow of the story. Except when she wrote about meeting the pope—a page long and she didn’t say WHICH pope.

My husband noted how many times I was sighing while I read this. My hand was twitching to grab a red pen and mark it up and send it back to the publisher and her manager with a note: “what is this schifo!”

And the name dropping. Shallow, meaningless. At the same time, she won’t say a bad word about anyone. Everything is positive! The best people! The best event! Best! Best! Best! Can you say “Pollyanna”? This is a woman who has gone through a divorce, 3 rounds of cancer (she’s on her 4th now), had a boyfriend “disappear” mysteriously, and her only child went through public episodes of addiction, eating disorders, and extreme plastic surgery. Okay, she’s a very private person. That’s fine. But the sunny paint on Every. Single. Word. Yikes. So her saccharine image might actually be the whole package. She likes to think she’s both Sandy #1 and Sandy #2 from Grease but really, she’s only the first Sandy.

A reader on GoodReads said something like “reading this was like a day spent doing nothing but eating marshmallows – airy and sweet.” Captures the whole experience, I’d say.

I was a bit alarmed at the end of the book. Even as a child, I saw that she was a bit shallow and cringe-worthy (I remember when I lived in Australia in the early 80s and whenever I mentioned her to Australians, they all had a negative reaction.). Maybe several rounds of cancer will do this to one, but she’s into woo-woo, and has married a guy who is an “expert” on Amazonian healing herbs (no mention of whether he has any credentials or education). She loves him madly, but everything I read screamed “con man!” At least she still mixes her new age treatments with science-based, double-blind placebo treatments and healthy habits. (Hey, Olivia! Do you know what they call alternative medicine that has been proven to work? It’s called “Medicine”)

I would love to quote examples, but I think I’ve rambled on far too long. I write these comments for me, and if anyone else reads them, well, thanks for sticking with me. At the end of the day, she’s flaky, but I’ll always have a soft spot for her. She does have a good heart.

Why I Read This Now: I'm trying to read more memoirs and this one seemed light and breezy. It also reminded me of why I stopped reading celebrity memoirs all those years ago

Rating: For writing and editing, it's a 1 star read. But I was interested, and always happy to pick it up, so I guess I'll give it 3 stars.

Recommended for: True-blue ONJ fans will love this and not notice any of the major flaws. This book gets very high reader reviews because her big fans have blinders on to anything but their adoration of her. The rest of us are on our own with this one. I'm not sorry I read it.

Aug 12, 2020, 3:08am

>70 Nickelini: golly! I think I might give that one a miss.

Aug 12, 2020, 3:14am

>71 Helenliz:

LOL I don't know why!

Aug 12, 2020, 2:28pm

Luckily, I was never a fan so have no urge to read about her at all, but I certainly can relate to the inner 11 year old who croons to the tunes of artists that she wants to ignore in her later life. For me it was the countless groups coming out of England in the 60's - Herman's Hermits, Freddy and the Dreamers, the Dave Clark Five, the Swingin' Blue Jeans - I could go on and on!

Aug 12, 2020, 4:21pm

>59 Nickelini: That's a BB for me!

>62 Nickelini: I'm another of Dr. Bonnie Henry's fan club. I love her shoes too, but they are out of my price range.

>68 Nickelini: Braithwaite's book is on my reading list this month. Good to hear your opinion.

Aug 18, 2020, 1:45am

I've caught up with your thread. Thanks for very interesting reviews as usual.
The part about the exclamation points in the ONJ book made me laugh out loud!

Aug 21, 2020, 2:18am

The Arab of the Future: a Childhood in the Middle East 1978 - 1984, Riad Sattouf, translated from French by Sam Taylor, 2015

cover comments: not a fan of this aesthetic, but it fits the book perfectly

Why I Read This Now: My daughter checked out a stack of graphic novels from the library this summer. She wanted me to read this one.

Comments: Riad Sattouf was a columnist at Charlie Hebdo and is a political cartoonist, so of course when he decided to write his memoir, he created a graphic memoir (like a graphic novel, but a memoir). This first volume (of four) covers his early childhood years before starting school. He was born in France to a French mother and a Syrian father who met as students at the Sorbonne. When we first meet Riad's father, he's a sympathetic character -- a foreigner being shunned by the French students. One of his goals was to help create a new Arab world with the "Arab of the future", based on education and secularism. He's a man full of contradictions, but as the book went on, he became more and more traditional. Riad's father was his hero, and started out as a great, admirable figure who turns into a smaller man as Riad gets older.

When Riad was two, his father got a good paying job teaching at a university in Libya, where life was rather horrible. Then they popped back to a rural village in Brittany, France. After a short stint there, they moved to his father's home village in Syria, which was even worse than Libya. The father views everything through rose-coloured glasses, his mother doesn't say much, and little Riad reports what he's observing in a matter-of-fact manner wise beyond his years. The illustrations tell a different version of the story, and are often where we find the humour.

This was an interesting, sometimes funny read, and I learned details of life in Libya and Syria.

This is rather far out of my usual reading sphere, so I'm struggling how to describe it.

Rating: 4 stars. I enjoyed this a lot. The only reason I'm not giving it a higher rating is that the characters (other than Riad) where all terrible people, and the places he went were all awful. I would have preferred some nuance.

Recommended for everyone. This is entirely unlike anything I normally pick up, so if I liked it, you might too. It's a quick read.

Edited: Aug 22, 2020, 2:58am

>76 Nickelini: I really was fascinated by this one and its sequel. I haven't had the occasion to read the third book (and I think there's a fourth one?) but I'm really intrigued by the mother's character because things get a lot bleaker in the second book and it's hard to guess what she thinks about the situation.

I'm following his other series, Les cahiers d'Esther (Esther's notebooks) which follows one of his friend's daughter and tells one page stories about her day to day life, starting from age 6. I don't know if it's been translated to English or if it might appeal to you. For me the appeal lies in discovering how school in France is similar and different from when I was a child. Also I have a godson who's a bit younger than Esther and I like to read about what he may experience at school.

Edited: Aug 22, 2020, 3:32am

>77 chlorine:
Well that's all very interesting! Yes, I was fascinated and disappointed by the mother. I hear she finally says "basta!" and leaves, I think in the 4th book. I will look out for the others, but I'm not hunting them down, I don't think. (So much other stuff to focus on, although back in university I was interested in the French-Arab world, so it might bubble up again)

Aug 22, 2020, 3:58pm

The Summer Villa, Melissa Hill, 2020

cover comments: Whoa, this is the type of cover that I never even glance at usually. But 2020 is a different year--a year that stole my Italian holiday. I know when I see bougainvillea that I'm far away because it doesn't grow here in Vancouver. Bougainvillea! This cover says "perfect vacation" so while there is nothing unique or arty about it, it did manage to grab me and say "read this book!"

Why I Read This Now: A couple of months ago I read and enjoyed The Temptation of Gracie, which is the kind of book I don't normally read. But I needed something light and fun for a change. At that time, a HarperCollins ad for this book kept popping up on my social media. This one looked even less like my kind of book . . . but it promised to be a light, fun read, and it's set in Italy, and there's a villa. Tick, tick, tick, sold! Two of these in a few months means that I can't say this isn't my type of book any more.

Comments: This is the story of three young women: Kim, a trust-fund baby from New York City; Colette, a young woman from England who has recently nursed her mother through cancer; and Annie, a hair stylist from Dublin who has finally run into some good luck. They all meet at a shabby villa on Italy's Amalfi Coast, become friends, have some vacation romances, and reset their lives. Six years later, they meet back at the villa. The novel jumps back and forth through time and between the three women.

Light, fun to read, lots of gorgeous, summery Italian scenery, and an unexpected but satisfying end. And now I really want to go back to the stunning Amalfi Coast.

Rating: Sure, I could criticize this book, and I certainly have lots of suggestions for the editor. But I knew what I was picking up, so I'm not going to be that person. It was fun. I didn't get a real vacation this year, so I have to escape through books. 4 stars.

Recommended for: readers looking for some beachy escapism

Aug 24, 2020, 11:41pm

We all need to read books that are just for fun every now and again. I find this kind of books helps offset my 1,001 Reads when they get to be a bit of a slog.

Sep 5, 2020, 10:07pm

>70 Nickelini: Your review of Olivia Newton John's book was so entertaining that it is undoubtedly a more worthwhile read than the book itself! I can't say I'm a fan of ONJ, but my pre-teen self loved Grease and I'd listened to the record album so much that I'm sure the rest of my family wanted to throw it out.

Edited: Sep 9, 2020, 12:39pm

The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi, originally written in French

cover comments: I don't read many graphic novels because I'm not a fan of the art, so this just isn't interesting or compelling to me

Date: Original French editons, P1 2000, P2 2001; P3 2002, P4 2003; in English,The Story of a Childhood 2003, translator Mattias Ripa, and The Story of a Return 2004, translator Blake Ferris

Why I Read This Now: My daughter took out a stack of graphic novels from the library with a loonng due date. This classic was in the pile and I’ve always meant to read it. However, I hadn’t set out to read the Complete Persepolis. Just a taste was fine for me. However, I was not able to determine when I got to the end of Part 1. I could, however, figure out the end of the English language edition (after much online searching, found it here at LT), which is Part 2. But that’s when it got good. So I read the whole thing.

Comments: the classic graphic book, which has even been made into a movie. Always on my TBR list. It begins with the author’s childhood in Iran, before the revolution. Lots of details about late 20th century Iran – history, lots of themes of traditional vs modern, gov’t vs. The people, and so on. I found it a bit of a tough go from the start. The art was stark black & white, and not very subtle. And the very small text outlined historical happenings, along with some detached family details (“then this happened, then that happened, then a family friend showed up and told us of his torture, and then later he was beaten to death”). I’ve read about the Iranian revolution. Back in the late 80s my friend dated one of the US Iranian hostages so I guess because I knew him I researched it a bit more than the average person. Anyway, I found the lack of narrative and the crude art to be a bit of a bore.

Because it wasn’t working for me at all, I tried to find out the end of the first book, which I couldn’t. But I did figure out the end of the 2nd. And that’s exactly where the story got interesting. The last half of the book (The Story of a Return) was so much more engaging. I find the weakness of this is when she veers off her life and goes into political facts.

Pro The second half, which goes into detail of her life in Austria as a teenager without parents, or any real adult guidance; and then back in Iran as someone who doesn’t fit into either world

Con: The absence of divisions between the 4 original books (noted above) was a fail for me. Otherwise, the first half was much weaker. That part was more like taking medicine than anything else. Also, I don’t like the art. It’s black and white with no subtleties. See my comments on The Arab of the Future, which I think was a better book.

Rating: After the first half, I was thinking 2.5 to 3 stars max, but then the last half was 4 stars, so I guess that’s a 3.5 stars in the end.

Recommended for: readers looking for a crash course in 20th century Iranian history, readers wanting to hit the classics of graphic novels, people interested in the traditionalist-modern world dichotomy

Oct 4, 2020, 11:39pm

Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss, 2018

cover comments: I was puzzled by this cover when I compared it to the title and what I knew of the story, but once I started reading, I got it. And I like it. Don't love it, but I like it.

Rating: This came so close to being a 5 star read for me, but in the end, I'll give it 4.5 to 4.75

Comments: Silvie, a working class teen from northern England, goes along with her parents to an archaeological re-enactment of life in iron age Britain. Her bus driver father has a passion for pre-Roman life. They join an experimental archaeological professor and his three students for two weeks of trying to live as early Britons. Her father imagines himself a pure descendant. They wear rustic tunics, forage for their food, and attempt to imagine what prehistoric people thought. Silvie is controlled by mental and physical abuse by her tyrannical father, as is her mom, and they follow the iron age life strictly. Silvie is fascinated by the students, who sneak off to to town to grab snacks and visit the pub, and realizes she has choices. Things go bad, and then very bad. Many readers have noted Lord of the Flies.

There were many reasons Ghost Wall was just my thing. I found the writing to be beautifully concise-- so much said with so few words! And also often beautiful to read. Also, 15 years ago or so, I was very much into reenactment reality shows where a group of people tried to live authentic historical lives. My favourite, and the one I best remember, was a group of people trying to recreate iron age Britain. I think they were in Wales, and their goal was to actually make iron. Anyway, I too am fascinated by ancient Britain and I regret I didn't get to study it when I was at university. What keeps this from being a 5 star read for me was that the oppressive father was drawn as all-bad, all-the-time. Although I found his abuse completely realistic, in reality, a man who is abusive to his family is better at hiding it from those outside his abuse circle. There needed to be scenes where he was viewed as having some sort of community or intellectual value, and where others thought well of him.

Overall, this was a terrific read.

Recommended for: if it sounds interesting to you, try it. It's short. When I really like a book, I sometimes learn more when I read negative reader reviews. In this case most of them just make me raise my eyebrow in puzzlement. I guess different strokes? Some readers complain about the absence of quotation marks around dialogue, and that's something that has irritated me in other books, but I didn't even notice it here. This may be because I've been reading a lot of translated European fiction, where it is the norm.

Why I Read This Now: I've wanted to read it since I heard about it, but initially it wasn't that easy to find. And now it is, and it's my book club read for October

Oct 6, 2020, 12:11am

After I read and enjoyed Cold Earth by Sarah Moss, I immediately got myself a Kindle copy of Ghost Wall - now I need to fit it into the reading schedule!

Oct 6, 2020, 12:38am

>84 DeltaQueen50:
I had some problems with Cold Earth, but it's stuck with me in a good way. I think I might reread it. I was happy to revisit this author. And I'll definitely track down some of her other books.

Edited: Nov 2, 2020, 12:18am

Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone, Stefan Kiebye, 2012

Kiebye is a German author, but he's lived a lot of his adult life in the USA. This novel, set in NW Germany, is clearly German, even if he wrote it in English

cover comments: I have two minds on this one. It drew me in, but it also drew in people who would never like a book like this one. First, I stumbled on this book at the sale shelf of a book store. I did like the horror picture of the child (a character who isn't in the novel), and based on disappointed reviews, this drew in horror fans who were outraged that this wasn't a horror novel. But, secondly, I paid money for it because of the orange bottom and Penguin logo, which told me it was chilling literary fiction. Which it was.

Also, and this is cool, if you move the novel in the light, there is shadow text that says "If you tell on me, you're dead." Impressive

Rating: Yep, sticking with 5 stars

It’s a good novel when I finish it and immediately go back and reread the Prologue. Watching all the blocks fall into place like a successful round of Tetris is so satisfying. I want to reread this, and see what I missed. I had started it last year but quit after the first few pages threw so many characters at me (in a novel only 198 p long). Second time around, I “enjoyed” it from the beginning, if you can say that about such a nasty book. This time I made a character list while I read the Prologue and that covered almost everyone who appears in the book. Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone opens 40 years after the events of the novel with Christian, Alex, Martin and Linde meeting at the burial of their friend Anke. The rest of the novel is told in linked vignettes by Anke, Linde, Martin and Christian. Their stories all share their coming of age in an environment thick with chilling casual violence. This book tells some pretty messed up stories.

“Time is of no importance” is the opening sentence, and establishes the mood. By the technology, it appears the novel is set after WWII, yet perhaps due to their poverty, it feels older. In the end, I found this anachronistic aspect added to timeless feel that gave this a bit of Grimms Fairytale atmosphere.

Set in the fictional isolated Hammersmoor, in NW Germany, the village is a backwater at the end of an abandoned rail line a ways past Bremen and Hamburg. The locals dig peat, and other than one family, everyone is poor or almost-poor. Several times they mention things in town that commemorate the 30 Years War. I had to look this up: it happened all over Europe from 1618-1648. The local battle was triumphant, and it seems nothing important had taken place since.

While reading, my question was always “what is driving all of this darkness? Other than the black tongue story early in the book, none of the nefarious acts are actually supernatural, despite the Gothic feel. I didn’t actually expect an explanation at all, so I was delighted by the succinct reward at the end.

I think to appreciate this novel, the reader has to have an understanding of how trauma can affect not just the person it happened to, but their child too. My grandparents experienced murder and gang rape in the Russian Revolution, and I know this in turn traumatized my mom. I’ve read about studies that show horrific trauma can change DNA, and it reflects in descendents. Having that knowledge in my pocket was crucial to getting this.

Recommended for: readers looking for a dark, dark literary novel. Not recommended for people looking for a a horror novel.

Why I Read This Now: I like to read creepy books in October

Oct 18, 2020, 1:16pm

>86 Nickelini: This sounds like a book that I would like to read nd a quick check shows that it is available at my local library - hopefully I will be able to squeeze this one in soon!

Oct 18, 2020, 1:50pm

>87 DeltaQueen50:
Have fun - it's DARK

Oct 19, 2020, 12:20pm

>88 Nickelini: That's a good thing - I love dark!

Nov 2, 2020, 12:18am

The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt, Riel Nason, illustrated by Byron Eggenchwiler

cover comments: fabulous

Comments: I don't usually review picture books, but iThe Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt calls for one.

This beautifully and cleverly illustrated Halloween book tells the story of a ghost who was a quilt in a world of white sheet ghosts. Apparently he had an ancestor who was a checkered tablecloth. It's a lovely Halloween story, but goes beyond that to tell a story of feeling like an outcast, but then using your uniqueness to do something special (along the lines of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer). There are many lovely details in the illustrations -- perhaps my favourite is the nod to Canadian trick or treaters with the children wearing ghost sheets -- one with ski mittens, one with a jacket over the sheet, and one with a toque on top of his head.

The author, Riel Nason, who I know from the adult novel The Town That Drowned, is also a quilter. What a great result of her combination of talents.

Recommended for: anyone looking for a charming and kind Halloween story, and quilters everywhere

Rating: 5 stars

Nov 2, 2020, 10:58pm

The Devil’s Picnic: Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit, Taras Grescoe, 2005

Cover comments: I like it. Strong colours. The snake is symbolic of the serpent tempting Adam & Eve.

Comments: This title is misleading, and so is the subtitle. What this book is really about is prohibition; specifically prohibition of things we ingest. Grescoe travels the world and explores various substances that are illegal, and how in most cases how the laws prohibiting them are often misguided, and while we’re all told the laws protect people, in fact, the impetus is actually to protect corporate interests.

1. Aperitif – Hjemmebrent – Norwegian moonshine and alcohol prohibition
2. Crackers—the author sneaks poppy seed crackers into Singapore, where poppy seeds and chewing gum are illegal
3. Cheese – raw cheeses in France
4. Main course- Criadillas – a hunt through Spain for bull’s testicles. Along the way he eats a whole lot of offal.
5. Smoke – Cuban cigars smuggled from Montreal to New York and San Francisco, and an examination of smoking laws
6. Digestif—absinthe in France and Switzerland
7. Dessert – chocolat mousseux – chocolate in France
8. Herbal tea – mate de coca – a trip to Bolivia to chew coca leaves
9. Nightcap – pentobarbital sodium – suicide tourism in Switzerland (medically assisted death)

This was a fascinating piece that was a bit travelogue, a bit foodie writing, and a lot of other information about drugs and alcohol and laws and a hundred other subjects. I spent as much time off on google searches as I spent actually reading it.

Why I Read This Now: I’ve recently developed a taste for reading about food, which I thought was the main topic of this book.

Recommended for: readers interested in these topics

Rating: 4 stars. I had to knock off half a star for verbosity. Although this was only 357 pages long, each page was stuffed full – not much white space here. I found each section longer than it had to be. But otherwise, I found it to be terrific.

Nov 15, 2020, 2:49pm

Confessions of a Former Fox News Christian, Seth Andrews, 2020

cover comments: my initial reaction to this was "meh, not really my aesthetic," but on closer inspection, it's rather clever: the robot has the bright investigator's light shining on him, and he's breaking the robot-face with a slight smirk of a human.

Why I Read This Now: I'm a regular listener to the author's podcast (he has a great voice, btw) and I bought it to support him, even though I couldn't find a copy in Canada and had to order it from the Book Depository in the UK (US readers can order it from Amazon). I just started reading it when it arrived.

Comments: Seth Andrews grew up in a fundamentalist family in Oklahoma. He attended private Christian school and had an early career as a broadcaster on Christian radio in Tulsa. He was an avid listener to Rush Limbaugh. But then he broke out of that bubble.

In the fairly short, snappy chapters, Andrews gives the background of these topics, and why the white Christian far-right think the way they do:

1. The Fox Phenomenon: Roger Ailes, the GOP Playbook, and the Rise of Fox News

2. The Rush to Anger: Conservative Talk Radio and the Angry White Male

3. The Reagan Revolution: Christian Nationalism, Communism, and the Cold War

4. A Pledge of Allegiance: Loyalty Oaths and the Freedom of Speech

5. We're Number One: National Pride and American Exceptionalism

6. This Means War: Manufactured Persecution in Defense of Christian Privilege

7. Out of My Cold, Dead Hands: America's Love Affair with Guns

8. Traitors in our Midst: Patriotism and Protest When America Goes to War

9. An Eye for an Eye: American Justice and the Death Penalty

10. The Bible Tells Me So: The Reality behind Christianity's "Good Book"

11. Abortion: Science, the Soul, and the Question of Personhood

12. The Gay Agenda: Biblical Bigotry and the Myth of the Traditional Family

13. The Looney Left: Liberals Aren't Immune to Bad Ideas

I got all of my religious training in Canada and Australia, so I've always found a lot of Americans ideas of Christianity to be bizarre to say the least. I guess that's why I'm interested, although I've now read enough about them and I don't think I'll ever really understand.

Recommended for: this is one of those books that the people who should read it won't touch it. So yes, the Fox News Christian. Otherwise, it's a good collection of information for people who don't remember or don't know where the Fox News phenom came from, and how it steered white Christians in the US. For the reader who thinks this is just a pile-on against this group, it's not. Andrews was one of them, and understands their POV. And the final chapter talks to the extremists on the "other" side (it's not truly binary, and I'm using shorthand here).

Rating: A lot of this was repeated info for me, so 4 strong stars. For someone who's learning this for the first time, it could be a 5 star read. It's a concise collection of the top issues.

Nov 15, 2020, 3:11pm

Book Club

Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid, 2019

cover comments: suddenly this year I've noticed covers like this everywhere. I guess that's what book designers do. Strong colour contrast is very 2020. I'm fairly neutral on it at this point.

Comments: I didn't really know what to think when I finished this. Overall, it was a good read. Going into it, I thought of this one as "that book where the black babysitter gets accused of kidnapping the white child she's minding by some racist by-stander," so I was confused when that happened right in the beginning of the book, and the video of it was kept private. Now what's going to happen for the next 300 pages? It was pretty interesting, fairly quick paced, and much lighter than I expected. Almost like a chick-flick or a romcom. But there were serious tones too - to steal some phrases from other readers' comments: "preformative allyship," "white saviour complex," "the racism of nice people," and "the influence and destructive power of well-meaning white people."

A few things didn't make much sense. For one, why was Emira's white boss, Alix, so obsessed with her? And Alix and Kelley's joint story line was too much of a coincidence to be believable. And also, "Briar"? Is that one of those made up names that rich white people think are cool? I'm surprised the other daughter wasn't named Thorn.

Rating: I'll generously give this 4 stars, but I have to say I was shocked when I found out this morning that this was nominated for the Booker Prize. No wonder I don't follow that award anymore. Really glad I got a library copy and didn't have to shell out $35 for the hard cover.

Why I Read This Now: book club

Nov 21, 2020, 4:04pm


The Ghost in the House, Sara O'Leary, 2020 (touchstones aren't working)

cover comments: well....... the white shirt and script print are great, but at first I was taken aback by the bright colours. I know this is The Look for books published in 2019 & 2020, but it didn't seem to have any place in the mood or theme of this book. By the end though, I can go along with it because the main character often talks about her love of bright and rich colours. Not a complete disaster then.

Rating: 4.5 stars. I had never heard of this novel before I picked it up while browsing in the divine Armchair Books in Whistler Village. It's a small bookshop, but excellently curated, so trusting their buyer, I took a chance on this unknown. Definitely a win!

Comments: Much to her surprise, Fay finds herself in her house, where her husband is now living with a new wife and teenage daughter, and her house has been redecorated. Turns out she had died five years earlier. The teenager can see her, and they can have conversations, and then her husband begins to see her too, and they communicate. This isn't a scary ghost tale at all, and it's really a story of grief, memories, and moving on. But none of that does the book justice. It's quite bright, and funny in parts, and definitely compelling.

On a personal note, most of this book is set in a 100-year-old Craftsman house in Vancouver, and I live in a 100-year-old Craftsman house in a (different part of) Vancouver. I read this over two Saturdays, sitting in my sunny window seat. So that was nice.

Why I Read This Now: Seemed like the perfect book for my mood, and I didn't want it to get swallowed into my expanding TBR pile.

Recommended for: people who think this sounds good. Although there are only two reviews (both good) her at LT, there are many rave reviews over at GoodReads.

If you decide to read it, I suggest starting it when you have a nice block of time, as it would be easy to read this in one sitting (I divided it into two)

Edited: Nov 25, 2020, 1:27am

The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges, 1967 - translated from Spanish by Norman Thomas di Giovanni

cover comments: I love this Vintage Classics edition. However, when I ordered it from the Book Depository, based on what I clicked on, I expected this other even more gorgeous cover:

Rating: 2 stars

Comments: This is a book past its Best Before date. It's a bestiary that covers fantastical creatures from mythology and literature, including the well-known and the obscure. I also introduces a bunch from single and recent pieces of fiction (like Kafka & CS Lewis). Good representation of Europe and Asia, not so good (to non-existent) coverage of indigenous people of the Americas, Australia and assorted islands.

Great concept, but without fabulous full colour illustrations, this can be better covered with a google search. Wikipedia has a perfect synopsis for this book, so I'd recommend reading that instead. This was a book I'd pick up and read an entry or two and it took me ages and ages to get through because the writing was overwhelmingly dry and uninteresting. It did have some moments, but I had to read a lot of boring words to get to it. Illustrations would have helped because the text wasn't evocative enough to spark my imagination.

Recommended for: creative people looking for inspiration and who live in 1967.

Why I Read This Now: Well "now" doesn't actually apply, as I'm sure I started reading this in 2019. Possibly 2018. But I did read the whole stale 197 pages and finished it today.

Dec 4, 2020, 2:32am

French Women Don't Get Fat: the Secret of Eating For Pleasure, Mireille Guiliano (2007 edition)

cover comments: this title says "do you like chicklit? If so, try this book." I actually think it's quite cute. Could use an Eiffel Tower somewhere

Comments : This is a very unfashionable book to read in 2020. The author is incredibly privileged -- when this was published she'd had a 20 yr career in PR for Veuve Clicquot champagne. She divides her time between New York, Paris, and Provence. She grew up in a charming village in eastern France with an apple orchard on her property. (BTW I checked the price last time I went to the wine shop for the standard version - CAN$75 a bottle).

Still, it was a fairly interesting read. Did I learn a lot? No, because I've heard all this before. But I liked it because she likes to talk about food, and so do I. There were lots of recipes. They weren't terribly difficult or weird. Despite all my guffaws, I mostly enjoyed reading this book. She's clearly aiming this at a US audience.

The author makes a twist of The French Paradox (why do the French not have a heart disease problem despite all that lovely rich food?): Why are French women usually slim, despite all that yummy food? At the end of the book, on page 254, she gives a 44 point summary of the rest of the book. Some are just silly, but generally, according to this author, French people eat what they want, but only the best quality, and in small amounts. They eat a wide variety of foods and flavours instead of large servings of one or two dishes. They walk a lot more every day than people in the US do. They drink wine everday, but only with food (except Veuve Clicquot, which seems to be okay a sip at a time, anytime). And a bunch of other stuff, but that's those are the main points. Well, okay then. Apparently the answer isn't Gitanes.

Why I Read This Now: Not sure. Interested in reading about food, and I have wondered about the French paradox, I guess.

Recommended for: who knows? People who want to read about food from privileged French women?

Rating: Boh? (oops, that's Italian . . what's the word for that French "I don't know" shrug?) It was a pleasant read so 4 stars.

Edited: Dec 6, 2020, 6:14pm

Tinder, Sally Gardner, 2013

cover comments: oh wow, well this cover is why I bought this book. I had never heard of it when I saw this at a book store shortly after it was published, and I was immediately sold.

Comments: This is an illustrated novel, which is one of my favourite things. The awesome drawings boost this to the next level, and are essential to making this the book it is.

Tinder is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "the Tinderbox," which is one of his more obscure stories. Unusual for a fairy tale, this book is set in a definite and real time and place, that beng Saxony, Germany in November 1642. Otto Hundsebiss (whose surname is German for dog bite) is a young soldier who has just survived the second battle of Brietenfeld in the Thirty Years War. He has just left the army when he meets a myterieous half-man, half beast and then the magic begins and continues up to the twisty ending. There are werewolves. As is common with fairytales, exploration of character and character developement is scant. The beauty of the writing is in the rich and evocative atmosphere.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommended for readers who enjoyed A Monster Calls and books by Emily Carroll. There are YA tags on this book, but it's definitely more Adult than Young.

Why I Read This Now: It seemed like the perfect book for the period after Halloween and before Christmas.

Edited: Dec 11, 2020, 12:11am

Enya: a Treatise on Unguilty Pleasures, Chilly Gonzales, 2020, originally published as "Chilly Gonzales uber Enya" in German

cover comments: Well, on one hand, this looks like the publisher had no budget for cover design but there's an executive assistant on the 2nd floor who can fix anybody's PowerPoint presentation, so maybe she can put something together. On the other hand, the Canadian publisher, Invisible Publishing, is a not-for-profit publisher looking to publish diverse voices. So I'm not going to fault them on the lack of cover design. Besides, it's a "treatise," so, really, could look like a White Paper.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Comments: I remember exactly where I was driving on a sunny afternoon about 10 years ago when the CBC Radio2 afternoon program played "Dot" by Chilly Gonzales and that song shot to the top of my "I need to find that song NOW" list. (You can listen to it on YouTube: and a more manic and arrogant, but fabulous live version here: Since then, Chilly Gonzales Solo Piano and Solo Piano II have been the soundtrack for my a lot of my life. Don't know what to listen to? Those are my go-to albums.

As for Enya, I haven't listened to her much during that same decade, but 20 years ago she was my drug that got me through a tremendously stressful and depressed period of my life. Even though I don't listen to her much anymore, I'll always love her.

So when I heard last month that Chilly Gonzales wrote a book about Enya, I could not get home fast enough to order it. What an unusual combination of artists! Yet - both have played the soundtrack to my life (when the film is made, their music will be in it for sure. And I would like to be played by Tilda Swinton. If she's not available, maybe Emma Thompson, although both are older than me. Hmmm. Have to think about this)

Enya: a Treatise on Unguilty Pleasures is about 60 pages. I read it in one sitting. It's entertaining and thoughtful. The German publisher that asked Chilly Gonzales to write a book was looking for his memoir, and some of this is that. There's a theme of being true to yourself and not liking things because you're told you should. Not a lot about Enya herself (she's an intensly private person who rarely gives interviews and doesn't tour), but there are some details about how her musical sound (and other artists' sounds) are made. All of it was interesting.

Recommended for: if you've read this far because you want to know all about Enya, this is not your book. Otherwise, if you think it sounds interesting, spend an hour or two with it. The bits that talked about the technical aspects of the music reminded me of How Music Works by Talking Heads David Byrne.

Why I Read This Now: I couldn't wait to get to it, but needed to find a couple of hours when I'd be free of internal and external interuptions

Dec 13, 2020, 2:41am

The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware, 2019

Cover comments: there are all the code elements for a thriller-mystery-crime novel here, so you know what you're in for. In general, this genre doesn't do much with their covers, and this is just fine in playing within the rules. Readers know what they're in for here. Somehow I ended up with the "new" mass market paperback edition, which is the first time I've read one of these narrower but taller books. The text was crammed right into the inside margins, and the spine was stiff, so it was a bit of a chest & arms workout to keep the book open ;-)

Comments This was a fun read. I had taken this book to work to read on my breaks, but when I was 3/4 finished on Friday, I brought it home to finish over the weekend because I didn't want to wait until Monday.

Rowan, a childcare worker in London, comes across an ad for a too good to be true nanny job in the Highlands of Scotland. The large Victorian mansion has been upgraded to a smart home by the architect couple who own it. Upon arrival, Rowan learns that there have been a long series of nannies who have left abruptly. The children are clearly troubled. The smart home seems to have a mind of its own. And there are too many unsettling and unexplainable events. And the coolest thing: it also has a poison garden.

The title Turn of the Key immediately reminded me of the Henry James classic, Turn of the Screw. Like that book, a nanny arrives at her new job at a beautiful but isolated house. After the initial interview, the parents are absent and difficult to reach. Like the classic, the children are either innocent, or very much not. And like the classic, the nanny doesn't know if she's losing her mind or if there is something actually sinister happening.

This was a well-paced thriller, and all the mysteries were explained at the end. Several good twists to keep things interesting. The weakness, for me, is that at the beginning we know the nanny is in prison for the murder of one of the children, and she swears she's innocent. She tells her story in a long letter in an attempt to solicit a better lawyer that the appointed one. This structure of the long letter, I think, should have been done differently. No one writes a letter to a lawyer that sounds like a novel. In the end, I understood where it came from, but it didn't quite work. Beyond that, it was a ripping yarn (I've never used that term before, but it sounds kinda Scottishy)

Rating 4.5 stars

Why I Read This Now: I enjoyed the author's In a Dark, Dark Wood a few years ago, and I thought this mass market paperback would make a good book to read at work. It was indeed.

Dec 20, 2020, 2:25pm

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories - various authors, 2019

cover comments: this cover is gorgeous, as is the book itself. If you can't see it in the thumbnail, there is a black raven on this cover, with the title in stylized dark red print. There is more of this art between earch of the short stories.

Rating: Until I read the last few stories, I was ready to give this 5 stars for concept and production, but only 3 stars for the actual stories. But then a couple of the last ones I read were very good, and one was excellent, so in the end I'll give this 4 stars.

Comments: Taaqtumi is published by Inhabit Media Inc., who (from their website) is "the first Inuit-owned, independent publishing company in the Canadian Arctic. We aim to promote and preserve the stories, knowledge, and talent of the Arctic, while also supporting research in Inuit mythology and the traditional Inuit knowledge of Nunavummiut (residents of Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory). Our authors, storytellers, and artists bring traditional knowledge to life in a way that is accessible to readers both familiar and unfamiliar with Inuit culture and traditions."

I like that on their website About page, they show their office on a map:
Who knew there was such a company on Baffin Island, and one that could produce such a beautiful product? One of the nicest things I've learned this month.

Anyway, on to the stories: As with any anthology, this is a bit of a mixed bag. There were a few that I quite liked, "The Haunted Blizzard" by Aviaq Johnston, "The Door" by Ann R Loverock, and "Sila" by KC Carthew, but the endings didn't work for me. But then near the end I really liked "Utiqtuq," which was about a pandemic and zombie apocalyse -- not a genre I usually enjoy, but this one was good. And the one that blew me away: "The Wildest Game" by Jay Bulckaert. I actually had a look of horror on my face as I read this first-person story of a cannibal. It was just masterfully executed. The kind of story that Stephan King might read and think "Wow, I wish I'd written that."

Taaqtumi includes a glossary of Inuit words for those who are interested.

Recommended for: readers who like stories set in the Arctic, or who want to read Inuit literature. Squimish readers will probably need to pass this one up -- most of the stories include brutal descriptions of wild animals attacking humans and humans attacking wild animals. They are described as horror stories, so don't expect cosy mysteries and cute puppies.

Dec 21, 2020, 10:19pm

Miss Iceland, Audur Ava Olafsdottir, 2018; translation from Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon, 2020

cover comments: Well . . . both the title of this book and the cover are misleading. They both suggest this is chick lit, and it's not. However, the cover jumped out at me from the shelf at the bookshop and something about it intrigued me. I think in retrospect that I've been looking for books in translation by contemporary women writers that are lighter or more fun than the usual important literary novels that I usually come across that have been translated. Maybe some Icelandic chick lit would be fun. But I'll have to continue to look, because this isn't it.

Comments: It's 1963, and Hekla, who was named after a volcano, moves from the countryside to Reykjavik. In a country full of male poets, her only desire is to become a novelist. To survive she gets a job as a waitress, where sexual harrassement from the customers is part of every day. Hekla has two friends from home who also live in the city. Jon John is gay and wants to design costumes for the theatre, but can only find dangerous work on fishing boats where he is harrassed by his coworkers. There is also Lydur, who is 22, pregnant with her second child, and living in a basement apartment with her barely literate husband. She also wants to write, but struggles to fit it in after caring for her family. Hekla gets a boyfriend--a poet who struggles to write but can never think of anything to say, and at first she hides her more successful wriitng from him. These three characters are made miserable by the mid-20th century hetero-normative and conservative expectations of Icelandic society. Finally, Jon John and Hekla escape to mainland Europe, but life is a struggle there too.

Rating: Miss Iceland took me a little while to get into, mostly because I didn't know what to expect. It's told in short vignettes. By 3/4 of the way I was absolutely loving the writing and the story. The ending was a bit too abrupt and went in an unexpected direction. 4.5 stars

Recommended for: people who want to read Icelandic fiction that isn't about crime and murders

Why I Read This Now: I've been wanting to get to it since I bought it in summer

Dec 22, 2020, 10:30pm

Taaqtumi really intriges me - did you find it in a local bookstore, Joyce, or have it specially ordered in?

Dec 23, 2020, 12:33am

>102 DeltaQueen50:
LOL - do we have bookstores in this city? I haven't found a good one in years. Sort of kidding, but I bought this in 2019 after hearing about it on CBC radio. I'm guessing I ordered it from Chapters-Indigo. One of my booktubers from the UK talked about it so I think it must be available to a general market.

A city--unlike ours-- that does have good bookstores is Victoria, and I see that Munro's has 6 copies in stock:

I've been ordering from them quite frequently since COVID (because I want them to still be there in the future). Their service has been top-notch and they have free shipping to Vancouver for orders over $75. I think free within greater-Victoria, so perhaps you could have it sent to your relatives and then pick it up whenever you see them.

If I'm wrong about bookstores in Vancouver, DO let me know. I used to go to 32 Books in North Van, which is small, but I could usually find something. I never get over there anymore. We had a Black Bond Books here in New Westminster until they got pushed out a few years ago and I could find some things there that were decent. Certainly I miss them. But I don't know anything like Munros or Russel in Victoria. Arm Chair Books in Whister is awesome for such a small spot, and I'll go there next week. It would be nice have something decent in our city of 2 million people other than Chapters (I really miss Duthies)

Dec 23, 2020, 2:02pm

When I stop and think about it, you are so right - we are definitely lacking a few really good bookstores in the Vancouver area. I do have a local bookstore here in Tsawwassen that will order books in so I might go that route - I want to keep the local stores open! We used to have a Black Bond Bookstore in Ladner but it's been gone a few years now. :( If they can't get it then I might just go the Munro's route. Thanks for the info.

Dec 31, 2020, 3:49pm

Starve Acre, Andrew Michael Hurley, 2019

cover comments: I love this cover, and in fact, it sold me on hunting down this book. I suppose I saw it on some corner of Instagram, and after reading the description Starve Acre, I ordered a copy from England since I couldn't get it through any of my Canadian sources, even What a loss to Canadian readers. Anyway, both the hare and woodblock prints are key elements in this story.

The hardback release had this cover, which is also gorgeous, and also relevant to the book:

Rating: oh, sooooo close to a 5 star read. 4.75 stars. A lot for me to like here, but when I compare it to my 5 star read from earlier this year, and somewhat similar book Your House Is On Fire, Your Children Are Gone, it didn't quite make the full 5-star grade. But very close.

Why I Read This Now: Mostly set in freezng cold December and February, this was the perfect book to curl up with on the last days of the year.

Comments: Richard and Juliette are in grief over the sudden death of their five year old son Ewan. They live in an old house outside of a small village in Yorkshire, where Juliette had envisoined a buocolic family lifestyle, but things had gone terribly wrong. The writing is evocative and deeply atmospheric, and the strangeness creeps as the story progresses.

Honestly, I can't do the book justice without thinking about it for a few days. Alas, it's December 31 and I want to wrap up this thread and move on to next year. I encourage you to flip over to the book's main page and read the excellent 5 & 4 star reviews over there where people are much more articulate than I can be now.

I want to say though that I noticed some "horror" tags on Starve Acre, and for the first half of the book I dismissed them. But the second half definitely went into the horror realm. I don't think of myself as someone who reads horror. Every Halloween I watch a couple of those very stupid movies like Amityville Horror VII or Nightmare on Elm Street XIV. Mostly they make me laugh, and that's what I think of when I see the word "horror." And when I look at the books with this tag on LT, I see many really great books. So I guess I like horror after all. Who knew? Further, this book is also tagged "folk horror," which I'd never heard of but is an intriguing sub-genre.

Recommended for: Readers who liked Ghost Wall and Your House Is On Fire, Your Children Are Gone. We recently watched the Swedish film "Midsommer" and there were similarities with that too. It makes me sad that this book isn't better known as I think a lot of people would like it (and I think it would make a great horror movie).

Dec 31, 2020, 4:05pm

Last Vanities, Fleur Jaeggy, 1994; translated from Italian by Tim Parks 1998

cover comments: understated but rather apt - a seemingly nice pearl broach with an image of a perfectly-nice eye that has some sort of diseased pustules growing near it. Symbolizes the book well.

Comments: This short collection of seven short stories is the second book I've read by this author. As in the novel Sweet Days of Discipline, Jaeggy writes about simple nice Swiss lives, but with a dark, dark twist. I love her writing and am sad she didn't write more.

Except for one story set on Lac Leman in French-speaking Switzerland, these stories are all set in German-speaking areas. I find this interesting because Fleur Jaeggy writes in Italian.

Rating: 4 stars

Why I Read This Now: I was in the mood for some Swiss literature

Recommended for: people who like dark, atmospheric, and somewhat ambiguous short stories.