Cariola's 2018 Reading Log

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Cariola's 2018 Reading Log

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Bearbeitet: Dez. 29, 2018, 8:38pm

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, after Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

This year's portrait theme is Royal Favorites. Robert Devereux was brought to court by his stepfather, the Earl of Leicester, the longtime favorite of Elizabeth I. He was also a first cousin, twice removed, of the queen, his great grandmother having been the sister of Anne Boleyn. An intelligent and accomplished young man who wrote lyric poetry, Devereux distinguished himself in battle by fighting alongside his stepfather in the Netherlands. He was also with the courtier-poet Sir Philip Sidney at the Battle of Zutphen (1586); before he died, Sidney presented Essex with his sword and asked him to take care of his pregnant wife and child; he married Frances in 1590. By then, he had assumed his stepfather's position as Master of the Horse and his royal monopoly on sweet wines, and he was appointed to the Privy Council in 1593. But Essex's pride and rash behavior were constant source of conflict. He frequently argued with Elizabeth's principal secretary, Robert Cecil, during Council meetings. During one such argument, the queen cuffed him on the ear for his insolence, and he reportedly half-drew his sword on her. In 1599, as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he led 16,000 soldiers to crush Hugh O'Neill's rebellion at Ulster; instead, he wasted time, men, and money in several trivial and inconclusive battles in southern Ireland and entered into a truce that many considered humiliating to the crown. In addition, he usurped the queen's right to confer knighthoods (a right she herself seldom exercised), knighting over 500 men. Although the queen expressly ordered him to remain in Ireland, he returned to London and, muddied and stinking, burst into the queen's bedchamber before she had finished dressing. (Contemporary reports say that she had yet to don her wig.) The Privy Council found him guilty of desertion of duties and placed him under house arrest. A later trial resulted in a conviction, and Essex was stripped of his offices and monopolies. Although he was released in August of 1600, he was an angry and desperate man. He began to assemble other discontented followers at Essex House, where they shared complaints about Eliazabeth and Cecil and finally marched into the city of London in an attempt to force an audience with the queen. Essex had counted on the common people to rally to his cause, but few joined them. The queen's troops fired on the rebels, who retreated to Essex House, where they were taken into custody.

If you think Essex looks more like a king than an earl in the portrait below, well, apparently he thought so, too. He was tried for treason in February of 1601; the indictment charged him with "conspiring and imagining at London, . . . to depose and slay the Queen, and to subvert the Government" and to "endeavored to raise himself to the Crown of England." Essex was found guilty and was executed by beheading on February 25, 1601--the last person executed within the Tower of London. Ironically, his executioner was a man pardoned by Essex himself for a crime that called for the death penalty, on the condition that he accept the position of executioner at Tyburn. It seems he may not have been the best man for the job: reports say that it took three whacks to separate the earl's head from his body.

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

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

Currently Reading:

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

Winter by Ali Smith
The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

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

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

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

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

A Slant of Light by Jeffrey Lent
The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory
Leonardo DaVinci by Walter Isaacson
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
The Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Transit by Rachel Cusk
The Love Object by Edna O'Brien

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

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

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

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Yes We Can: The Speeches of Barack Obama by Barack Obama
Girls and Boys by Dennis Kelly
Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets
Have a Nice Day (Audible Original)
The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt
Educated by Tara Westover
Becoming by Michelle Obama

The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles
Christmas Eve, 1914 by Charles Olivier
Emily and Herman: A Literary Romance by John J. Healey
Galatea by Madeline Miller
Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson
Lost Nation by Jeffrey Lent
Kudos by Rachel Cusk

Bearbeitet: Jan. 1, 2018, 10:04pm

If anyone is interested, I've decided to lead an English Renaissance Drama group read in September. You can learn more about it here:

Jan. 1, 2018, 7:33pm

Looking forward to following your reading again, Deborah! I also read and loved Autumn last year. Winter comes out next week, and I think it will be my first purchase of 2018.

Are you enjoying Little Fires Everywhere? I pick it up every time I'm in a bookstore, but I've yet to purchase a copy.

Jan. 1, 2018, 8:59pm

>3 Cait86: I pre-ordered Winter last week!

I'm on the fence about Little Fires Everywhere, but I'm only about 1/4 through. From the first pages, I expected something about family dynamics and perhaps some psychological depth, but so far I've encountered a lot of typical teenage angst (which I am not fond of in my reading fare). I'm hoping it gets better.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 1, 2018, 9:46pm

The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi

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

Jan. 2, 2018, 8:09am

>4 Cariola: Hmmm, okay, I will continue to pass on Little Fires Everywhere. Same with The Nothing. I hope your reading picks up soon!

Jan. 2, 2018, 12:44pm

Hey, Deborah, Happy New Year! Could I possibly get you to introduce yourself over on the INTRODUCTION thread; however much you wish to say. I'm keeping a running list of those CR members at the top of that thread (and you should mention you were the originator of the 75 group!)

Jan. 2, 2018, 6:03pm

Hello Deborah, from another Deborah.

Good review of The Nothing--I'll stay away from it, although I've read a couple of books by Kureishi that I liked.

I have Human Acts out of the library now, so I'm glad to see that you liked it.

Jan. 2, 2018, 6:09pm

>1 Cariola: Ah, Robert Devereux, the inspiration for so many novels. Do you have any recommendations for a good biography of him. He is an interesting persons indeed. And then there was poor Frances.

Jan. 2, 2018, 11:01pm

>8 arubabookwoman: Human Acts is brutal--but then there are some times in our world when we should not turn away.

>9 SassyLassy: So many of the bios romanticize Essex, but a fairly good one is Robert Lacey's Robert, Earl of Essex: An Elizabethan Icarus. I've actually been working on a historical novel loosely based on Frances.

Jan. 2, 2018, 11:52pm

Happy New Year, Deborah. I’ll be following and trying (or not) to avoid the book bullets.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 7, 2018, 2:41pm

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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

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

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

Jan. 7, 2018, 3:55pm

>5 Cariola:, Yeah, I was interested in the Kureishi book at first but after hearing the plot summary, I just can't. I'm tired of men and their issues after this past year.

>12 Cariola:, I'm glad Little Fires Everywhere ended up redeeming itself somewhat for you -- I agree that the teen portions were definitely weaker than the adult portions. What worked for me was the way many of the parents' issues (both their unresolved past issues and emerging issues with each other) drove the kinds of relationships they formed with the various children and then in turn how those adult-child relationships tended to amplify the adult dynamics. I guess that's rather vague, but it's hard to talk about the specifics without spoilers.

Jan. 7, 2018, 4:23pm

>13 fannyprice: Yes, I know what you mean! That's what I was getting at when I said that the adult section made the teen section "more relevant."

Bearbeitet: Jan. 8, 2018, 11:23am

Its a long time ago that I was 'coming of age' and thats another reason why I also get bored with the genre - enjoyed your witty review.

Jan. 8, 2018, 8:50am

>5 Cariola:, >13 fannyprice: I saw Hanif Kureishi interviewed about The Nothing at the Edinburgh Books Festival this year. Despite the interviewer's best efforts to ask questions about the book, Kureishi turned every question into an opportunity to tell what was clearly a well-trodden joke or anecdote about his own life or perspective. Self-indulgent and disappointing.

Jan. 12, 2018, 7:50pm

>12 Cariola: Hmmm... I'm still torn! :) Thanks for the detailed review. I think I'll eventually pick up the book.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 15, 2018, 1:32pm

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

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

I was quite disappointed in this novel, only the second of Dunmore's that I have read. The story was so transparent that I couldn't wait for it to end. What saved this book from a lower rating (I gave it 3 stars) was Dunmore's very fine writing and the way she creates a particular atmosphere and an underlying commentary on the persistent influence of mothers upon their daughters.

Jan. 17, 2018, 5:49pm

Interesting comments, Deborah. I have it in the pile. I have read most of Dunmore's work, and I hear something is coming out posthumously.

Jan. 17, 2018, 10:26pm

18> Hmm...I think I'll skip this one -- sounds like an abusive relationship to me.

Jan. 18, 2018, 1:42pm

20> As I said, the plot is pretty transparent . . .

Bearbeitet: Jan. 20, 2018, 3:19pm

Mrs. Osmond by John Banville

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan. 20, 2018, 6:11pm

>22 Cariola: I agree wholeheartedly with your excellent review. I couldn't find my copy of Portrait of a Lady, so I watched the movie as a prelude to reading the book (just as a refresher). He does indeed capture James's style and I did enjoy the book, but, like you, the ending just didn't do it for me—perhaps it didn't quite fit her character, although I can see why Banville might have thought it should. I think the sequel in another's hands, perhaps a woman author, might have had a bit more imagination there.

Still, the book did make me take a look again at James and pull at least one of his stories and slip it in the TBR pile.

Jan. 21, 2018, 7:02am

>22 Cariola: I reread Portrait of a Lady a year or two ago and I'm always unsatisfied with the ending. I think I'll read Mrs. Osmond even though both you and Lois weren't thrilled with the ending of it. I hadn't heard this had come out, so thanks for the review!

Bearbeitet: Jan. 28, 2018, 7:25pm

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

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

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

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

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

Jan. 28, 2018, 3:41pm

>25 Cariola: Great review of Lincoln in the Bardo.
Are you planning on reading it again in print soon?

Jan. 28, 2018, 6:00pm

>25 Cariola: That is the best review of Lincoln in the Bardo that I have read. It crystalized my view of it. It was one of my top reads last year, and I still think of it.

Jan. 28, 2018, 7:02pm

I'm hoping to read both Lincoln in the Bardo and Mrs. Ormond soon. Excellent reviews - you've made me more eager to get to both of them.

Jan. 28, 2018, 7:28pm

>26 chlorine:, >27 arubabookwoman:, >28 RidgewayGirl: Thank you for your kind comments. I probably won't reread the book in hard copy for a few months; I'll want to let it settle first, and I know I will be thinking about it for some time. Goodreads is currently giving away some copies. Hopefully I will win one.

>28 RidgewayGirl: I think you will enjoy both books, especially Lincoln in the Bardo.

Jan. 28, 2018, 8:37pm

>25 Cariola: Excellent review of Lincoln in the Bardo. I'm planning on reading it, but have been undecided as to whether to try it on audio or not. I think you've settled it for me to go for print.

Jan. 28, 2018, 9:13pm

>30 valkyrdeath: I think you will be glad that you did. It's one of those books that you need to absorb at your own pace. In addition to the issues I mentioned in the review, the audio version has a very large cast of characters, and if you don't like one of the readers, it can spoil your experience. (One of my LT/Goodreads friends mentioned in her review that she hates David Sedaris's voice and it ruined the book for her.) A number of people over on Goodreads said they enjoyed listening along with reading, or listening to the audio version after they finished the book.

Jan. 29, 2018, 4:18am

You have sold me on Lincoln in the Bardo. Still not entirely sure what to expect of it, but that's half the fun.

Jan. 29, 2018, 9:59am

Great review of Lincoln in the Bardo -- must get to it sometime this year.

Jan. 30, 2018, 7:54am

>25 Cariola: Thanks for detailing your thoughts about the different formats! I want to read this eventually, but was unsure if audio or print would be better (have heard raves about both). Now I know that, for me, print will be best.

Bearbeitet: Feb. 21, 2018, 12:24pm

Winter by Ali Smith

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

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

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

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

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

Feb. 7, 2018, 6:28pm

>35 Cariola: Great review of Winter. I'm hoping to get to it before too long after loving Autumn last month. I find it really hard to write reviews of Ali Smith's books since they have such a unique feel to them.

Feb. 7, 2018, 7:38pm

I've been going back and forth on whether to wait for the library to get a copy of Winter or going ahead and using my Christmas gift card to buy a copy. You've certainly made me lean toward "buy."

Feb. 7, 2018, 7:58pm

>35 Cariola: Really interesting. I started reading Winter a couple of weeks ago, but then decided it wasn't suiting me because the style and structure was too similar to Autumn - I think I should either have read them back to back, or with a slightly longer break in between. I have put it on hold for the moment, because I know I will enjoy it if I read it in the right mood.

Feb. 7, 2018, 8:02pm

>36 valkyrdeath: I have the same problem. When you start summarizing the plot, it feels like you are leaving out so much and really not doing justice to the book as a whole.

>37 RidgewayGirl: I think you'll like it!

>38 wandering_star: Well, there's something to be said for the books as a four-part series; I would expect some similarities. And I do think she means these books to be a reflection on our times.

Feb. 9, 2018, 4:27pm

>35 Cariola: Great review of winter, which really makes me want to get to Smith sooner than later.

Do the seasonal books have to be read in order or can they be read independently?

Feb. 10, 2018, 12:50pm

>41 Cariola: There are some thematic connections, but no characters cross over, so I don't think you need to read them in order.

Feb. 11, 2018, 8:18am

>41 Cariola: Good to know, thanks.

Bearbeitet: Feb. 22, 2018, 1:54pm

The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

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

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

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

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

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

Feb. 21, 2018, 8:18pm

Lovely review of The Golden Legend. I will keep an eye out for it.

Feb. 22, 2018, 1:49pm

>44 janeajones: Thank you. I hope you find it soon! I've had such a streak of good books lately--almost afraid to pick up a new one!

Feb. 22, 2018, 5:28pm

Enjoyed your review of The Golden Legend

Feb. 23, 2018, 9:05pm

>43 Cariola: I only read your last few lines. The book is here on the TBR....

Feb. 23, 2018, 9:07pm

PS: Let me know when you are coming up to NH again!

Feb. 24, 2018, 12:44am

>47 avaland: I hope you like it as much as I did. Aslam is such an amazing writer.

Not sure when I'll get back to NH. Maybe in the summer or early fall.

Feb. 24, 2018, 8:14am

>43 Cariola: definitely a BB for me!

Bearbeitet: Feb. 24, 2018, 11:27am

Terrific last three reviews. I struggled with Lincoln in the Bardo on audio, but eventually figured it out and enjoyed it a lot. It did take me an embarrassingly long time to figure why they kept saying “opset”, or what the heck it meant (obviously it was Op. Cit., as in, roughly, “in the work previously cited” )

Feb. 24, 2018, 1:14pm

You’ve hit me with the last two, Deborah. They are now on my overflowing wishlist.

Feb. 24, 2018, 1:57pm

Cariola, Lincoln in the Bardo remains something I want to read . . . someday, just not now. I am putting the Aslam on my list as well - I tried one of his books a few years ago, and keep hearing about him. (Winter is already there; but I haven't even read Autumn yet!)

Feb. 24, 2018, 11:08pm

>50 Tess_W:, >51 dchaikin:, >52 NanaCC:, >53 markon: I have had a wonderful and rare streak of amazing reads! Three very different books but all three just stunning. Hope it keeps going for a while.

Paul, I actually returned the audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo, but I figured I would eventually give it a try in print. I'm so glad I didn't give up in it entirely!

Colleen, I hope you enjoy them both as much as I did.

Ardene, I still have a few more books by Aslam in my TBR stacks. I was really moved by Maps for Lost Lovers. It took him 10 years to finish that one.

Mrz. 3, 2018, 10:10pm

After Rain by William Trevor

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

Mrz. 9, 2018, 1:01pm

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

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

Mrz. 9, 2018, 11:32pm

56> Yup.

Mrz. 15, 2018, 8:41pm

Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

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

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

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

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

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

Mrz. 16, 2018, 1:58pm

>58 Cariola: Thanks for a great review of Google, went, Gone. This seems to be an important book to read at the moment.

Mrz. 17, 2018, 5:15pm

58> Thoughtful, detailed review -- thanks.

Bearbeitet: Mrz. 21, 2018, 1:31pm

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

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

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

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

Mrz. 21, 2018, 1:52pm

Great review of Go, Went, Gone - definite book bullet there.

Mrz. 21, 2018, 2:08pm

>61 Cariola:, I just learned about this whole thing last night and immediately went online to buy a copy of John Oliver's book. Unsurprisingly, it is completely sold out. I think it's one of the top 5 bestselling books on Amazon right now. But I'll get it at some point, and I'm sure I will love it.

Mrz. 21, 2018, 4:07pm

I ordered it for my Kindle Fire; can't see color on my regular kindle. But maybe you want a print copy for a child in your life. It's really darling.

Mrz. 21, 2018, 4:56pm

>61 Cariola: I hadn't heard of this story, thanks for sharing! It's terrific that the book is really a good book, apparently.

Bearbeitet: Mrz. 25, 2018, 2:21pm

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

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

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

4 out of 5 stars.

Bearbeitet: Mai 7, 2018, 8:29pm

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

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

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

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

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

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

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

Apr. 4, 2018, 4:19pm

Improvement by Joan Silber

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

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

Apr. 4, 2018, 7:22pm

Ideas of Heaven! That's the book title I couldn't think of over on the What Are You Reading? thread.

Nice review of the new one!

You might like Paul Yoon's recent excellent collection, The Mountain: Stories. The stories have the feel of being connected; and yet they are not—at least in the conventional way (although I think the first two may be). Hard to explain, but there is a sense that the characters in all the stories are sharing something.

Apr. 4, 2018, 7:32pm

>69 avaland: Thanks for the recommendation. I liked his novel Snow Hunters.

Apr. 4, 2018, 11:12pm

>67 Cariola: The Music Shop sounds delightful. I've put it on my list.

Apr. 9, 2018, 2:40pm

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

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

Apr. 9, 2018, 4:39pm

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

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

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

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

Apr. 13, 2018, 5:12pm

>70 Cariola: Of course! I read that one, too! I did not make the connection. Geesh.

Apr. 13, 2018, 5:28pm

O'Connor is a tremendous writer but to me she exemplifies the worst anti-humanist mean-spiritedness and miserabilism of Catholicism.

It's lovely that you wrote up Marlon Bundo! I bought it for two friends (I'm running low on friends with picture-book age kids) but have yet to get my own copy.

Bearbeitet: Apr. 18, 2018, 7:56pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr. 19, 2018, 10:51am

Very informative review. I must say I've been a bit put off by Comey's somewhat self-righteous posturing in TV interviews. He DID step out of FBI norms in both his announcements about the Hilary case before the election.

Apr. 19, 2018, 10:55am

>77 janeajones: Not only on his last minute statement about Clinton's emails, but in his failure to reveal the investigation of the link between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Bearbeitet: Apr. 20, 2018, 1:33pm

>77 janeajones:, >78 RidgewayGirl: Well, as I said, there's a lot more to the book than the election and its aftermath (although you'd never know it from the focus of TV interviews). I wasn't happy with his actions just prior to the election, and his main rationale is a little shaky: that since he had announced that there was no crime against Hillary (which he probably should not have done), he felt compelled to let Congress know when new possible evidence cropped up (Wiener's computer, with the early emails that had been missing). I guess if there HAD been something criminal there, it might have been worse to ignore it and then bring charges against a sitting president (which can't really be done). As to revealing anything about Trump-Russia collusion, I sure wish he had, but it's not the practice of the FBI to announce who and what they are investigating until they are ready to press charges. There's too much chance of evidence being destroyed, public hysteria, future lawsuits, etc.

I'm not trying to sound like an apologist for Comey. But I agree with one commentator who said that we need to make a distinction between what we see as his bad decisions and his honesty. The book addresses the first but overall supports the latter. And hopefully his honesty will help uncovering the lies and crimes of Trump and his cronies.

Bearbeitet: Apr. 24, 2018, 3:00pm

Circe by Madeline Miller.

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

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

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

Apr. 24, 2018, 3:09pm

Gasp! I loved Wise Blood! I'm a huge fan of both Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers, though, as I've read nearly everything each of them has written.

Fabulous reviews of A Higher Loyalty and Circe! I'll definitely read Miller's novel this summer, and I'll probably read Comey's autobiography later this year.

Apr. 24, 2018, 7:10pm

I found Circe quite enchanting too.

Apr. 25, 2018, 11:57am

I'm so excited to read Circe. I loved Song of Achilles. I'm on the library waitlist, but I may have to break down and buy it!

Apr. 25, 2018, 2:25pm

>83 japaul22: I couldn't wait; I pre-ordered the kindle edition (and I'm glad that I did!).

Apr. 27, 2018, 7:36pm

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies

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

Apr. 27, 2018, 10:41pm

85.> disturbing and poignant.

Apr. 28, 2018, 3:10pm

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

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

Apr. 29, 2018, 9:17am

Nice review of The Fortunes, Deborah. I'll add it to my wish list.

Apr. 29, 2018, 10:58am

Anna May Wong had better luck in Europe but she was there only a few years, at the tail end of the silent era. Still, at least one film survives with her in a leading role, E. A. Dupont's Piccadilly.

In Hollywood the motion picture code prohibited "interracial relationships", even when, as in the case of The good earth, the white actor played in yellowface.

For more racist insanity, consider the case of James Wong Howe, the celebrated cinematographer (more Oscar nominations and wins than Trump has brain cells)--in Paris before the WWII he'd married a white American woman and their marriage wasn't recognised in the US for the next fifteen years, thanks to laws prohibiting "miscegenation". Still in living memory...

Apr. 29, 2018, 4:18pm

>85 Cariola: You hit me with a B.B. for The Fortunes, Deborah. It sounds interesting, and as Jane said, “disturbing and poignant “.

Just an FYI, I think your touchstone is wrong.

Apr. 29, 2018, 10:48pm

I thought Winter King was quite fascinating as it depicted the foundations of the Tudor dynasty. Sorry you found it dull.

Apr. 30, 2018, 8:27pm

>88 kidzdoc: I think you'll find it interesting, Darryl. The Chinese have been a much less vocal group, according to this writer in part because they just wanted to finish their work and earn enough money to go back home. In the end, Ah Ling takes the job of digging up Chinese bones and sending them home.

>89 LolaWalser: Davies addresses all of this--the European work, miscegenation rules on screen, James Wong Howe, etc. He did his research.

>90 NanaCC: Hope you like it, Colleen. I fixed the touchstone--thought I had caught them all.

>91 janeajones: It's probably just me; I've probably read way too much about the Tudors.

Mai 4, 2018, 12:18pm

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

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

Bearbeitet: Mai 7, 2018, 8:30pm

The Sealwoman's Gift by Sally Magnusson

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

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

Mai 10, 2018, 9:38am

>94 Cariola: looks very interesting - I have to add the book to my wishlist!

Mai 23, 2018, 5:05pm

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

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

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

Mai 26, 2018, 8:23am

Enjoyed your review of the Comey book, but I think that's all I need. I have enjoyed listening to memoirs via audio when the author is reading the book. I've read most of Hillary's that way, but also Madeline Albright and Anita Hill's various memoirs.

Bearbeitet: Mai 26, 2018, 5:00pm

A Case of Curiosities by Alan Kurzweil

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

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

Mai 31, 2018, 12:33pm

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

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

I'm sure others will enjoy this book more than I did.

Jun. 1, 2018, 1:38pm

I've only read one Ondaatje novel before, and I found it terribly dull going too.

Jun. 6, 2018, 12:12pm

Last Stories by William Trevor

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

Jun. 7, 2018, 12:58pm

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

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

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

Jun. 7, 2018, 1:52pm

>96 Cariola: I thought this Nancy Goldstone book looked familiar, but I realized I read another book by her, Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters who Ruled Europe. Anyway, I liked that one, so this goes on "the list" as well.

>99 Cariola: I've still not read any Michael Ondaatje, but I've had The English Patient on my shelves for years. Have you enjoyed other novels of his?

Jun. 7, 2018, 9:28pm

>103 japaul22: I had read that book by Nancy Goldstone, too, and it was one reason that I got this new one. Other main reason is that my field of study focused on the Stuart Court, and I had always wanted to know more about James's daughter Elizabeth.

I really enjoyed The English Patient. The only other Ondaatje novel I've read was Anil's Ghost, which I didn't like quite as well. Divisidero is somewhere in the TBR stacks.

Jun. 10, 2018, 2:45pm

Very interesting reviews. Sorry tomhear there was a number of books not enjoyable for you, but The kitchen house does seem very good!

Bearbeitet: Jun. 14, 2018, 1:30pm

Florida by Lauren Groff

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

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

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

Bearbeitet: Jun. 15, 2018, 4:18pm

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

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

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

Bearbeitet: Jun. 22, 2018, 2:25pm

Noonday by Pat Barker

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

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

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

(There is no touchstone for this novel.)

Jun. 21, 2018, 6:14pm

I own a copy of Life Class and you've just reminded me of how much I want to read it.

Bearbeitet: Jun. 22, 2018, 4:10pm

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

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

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

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

Jun. 22, 2018, 5:13pm

Left: A Love Story by Mary Hogan

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

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

Not recommended--even though the author herself gave it five stars on Goodreads. WTF?

Jun. 22, 2018, 6:59pm

>111 Cariola: "The only likable character is Lola, the dog."

The only thing that could make this more damning is if the dog wasn't likable either. Sounds like the author had a clever idea for the intro to the book but not much else. Will avoid.

Jun. 23, 2018, 5:34am

Very interesting reviews. Out of curiosity, what is the unpleasant part of France that one of the protagonists of Florida decides to move to?

Jun. 23, 2018, 12:04pm

>113 chlorine: Yport, in Normandy. I'd have to reload the book to my kindle to find the specific places she visited--places de Maupassant lived .

Jun. 23, 2018, 9:14pm

>111 Cariola: I'm not going to read that. Thanks for taking one for the team on that. My mother had Alzheimer's and my father was the last to see it -- long after the rest of the family had made the adjustment, he was astonished to find out that she wasn't following their conversations.

I just finished Florida today and while it was not at all cheerful, I thought it was very good.

Jun. 24, 2018, 3:44pm

>115 RidgewayGirl: Good choice--avoid Left, it was horrible; I think I'm going to adjust my rating downwards. If I had to describe Florida in one word, it would be "bleak." But I admired her writing and her ability to engulf her reader in a certain atmosphere.

Jun. 24, 2018, 4:47pm

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

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

Bearbeitet: Jun. 29, 2018, 4:49pm

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

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

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

Jun. 29, 2018, 9:09pm

>118 Cariola: You’ve tempted me with this one Deborah. I read Cornwell’s Agincourt a few years ago, and thought he did a pretty good job with the history. Looking at my notes, I said I’d be willing to give another of his books a try sometime. Maybe this is the one.

Bearbeitet: Jul. 1, 2018, 11:04am

>119 NanaCC: He's a very good writer, but most of his fans seem to prefer his action novels--the Sharpe series and others about land and sea battles. That doesn't appeal to me, so it's no surprise that I liked this one much better. It has a good bit of humor, too!

Bearbeitet: Jul. 2, 2018, 7:40pm

A Slant of Light by Jeffrey Lent

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

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

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

Jul. 4, 2018, 7:10am

Is this your first Jeffrey Lent? I have loved his books, both those set historical and the modern settings, although I have not finished the latest (I started it but current events upset my ability to focus on it). We hosted him at the bookstore once or twice. He is a big Faulkner fan.

Jul. 4, 2018, 9:55am

>118 Cariola: I am not normally interested in reading about war/battles but somehow still find Cornwell's stuff enjoyable. I will look out for this one.

Jul. 4, 2018, 12:27pm

>122 avaland: Yes, my first--but definitely not my last. I think he has written only three other novels. The library doesn't have them, but they are all on my wish list now. I expect I will be reading In the Fall before long. A Slant of Light was a 5-star read for me.

>123 wandering_star: Only battles you'll find in this one are street brawls and rivalries. I hope you like it! You'll be a bettter judge than I as to whether the writing and characterizations are up to par.

Jul. 9, 2018, 12:31am

The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory

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

Jul. 12, 2018, 5:38pm

>125 Cariola: I’m always tempted by Philippa Gregory’s books, but your review makes me think I wouldn’t like them. I have The Constant Princess on my shelf, however, it will sit there for another few years before I figure out what I want to do with it. Have you read that one?

Jul. 13, 2018, 2:09pm

>126 NanaCC: Yes--it made me furious. Bastardization of history at its very worst. If you decide not to read it, I'll tell you the truly awful ending.

Jul. 13, 2018, 5:20pm

Why, oh why, do I keep giving Philippa Gregory another chance?

Because she writes about the history you love the most and it always seems as though she's woman-centered? Because hope springs eternal? Because Hilary Mantel does not seem to be finishing her Cromwell quartet anytime soon? Because there are too few authors like Sarah Perry?

Jul. 13, 2018, 8:53pm

>128 RidgewayGirl: Yes, some good reasons. Although I take some issue with her approach to "woman-centered"--they are always destroying one another in her novels.

Jul. 14, 2018, 11:48am

>127 Cariola: Well, You’ve convinced me to put it in the next garage sale. I have too many books on my shelf that I know I’ll love.

>128 RidgewayGirl: I’m reading The Essex Serpent as my bedtime book right now. Totally hooked! I think you and Deborah put it on my list.

Bearbeitet: Jul. 14, 2018, 12:01pm

>130 NanaCC: OK, since you're going to give it away here's my main problem with The Constant Princess. Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur have blissful married sexual relations. On his deathbed, he makes her promise--for the good of England--to swear that she is still a virgin so that she can marry his younger brother Henry and influence him to carry out her and Arthur's 'improvement project' of government. This not only goes against everything history tells us about Katherine and her devout faith and her defense against the divorce, it changes our total view of Tudor history.

I loved The Essex Serpent!

Jul. 14, 2018, 12:21pm

>131 Cariola: I love reading about that time period, so it is disappointing. Who do you recommend for good historical fiction of the time period? I love Hilary Mantel, but...where is the next one?

Jul. 14, 2018, 3:50pm

>128 RidgewayGirl: >132 NanaCC: I too have been waiting for the final instalment, so went looking after reading the above:

I see the article is over a year old, so either I missed it completely (likely as I had just moved that week) or the publisher is downplaying the delay.

Bearbeitet: Jul. 15, 2018, 3:20am

>131 Cariola: Well, I don't think anyone has done the period as well as Mantel, so I guess we will all have to wait a little longer. I think she spoiled me for historical books about the Tudor period; I haven't been satisfied with much since I read Wolf Hall.

I took a spin through my library to see what else I can recommend in the Tudor era. I've read some OK ones and a lot of really bad ones. Here are a few suggestions:

Alison Weir's novels aren't bad, although sometimes she forgets she is writing fiction instead of history, and sometimes her dialogue can be stiled. I thought The Lady Elizabeth and Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Jane Grey} were fairly good. I haven't been too impressed with her novels based on Henry's six wives.

Margaret George has written several books about the period, including Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles, Elizabeth I, and The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers.

A lot of people like Carolly Erickson; I can't stand her florid style.

Entered from the Sun by George Garrett is a great read, but not about the court; it's about the theatre world and, in particular, the murder of Christopher Marlowe. A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess is another book about Marlowe, and he also wrote Nothing Like the Sun which is about Shakespeare. I just finished Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell, which was an interesting leap into the theatre world, too.

Diane Haeger's books are hit and miss, but she's better than most. Focuses more on the Restoration but has made some forays into the Tudor period. I would put Susan Higginbothan in the same category.

C. W. Gortner wrote an Elizabethan spy series that isn't bad.

If you're willing to jump into the next century, Rose Tremain has written two great novels, Restoration and Music and Silence. I also liked a series by Karleen Koen that begins with Through a Glass Darkly; the three books go backwards in time. And I loved The King's Touch by Jude Morgan, which is about Charles II's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. And Diana Norman's The Vizard Mask, which give a terrific portrait of low life as well as high life in the Restoration period.

Jul. 15, 2018, 6:47am

Not a novel, and part (most? can't remember now) of it is pre-Tudor, but Helen Castor's She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth delves into some very readable political intrigue.

Jul. 15, 2018, 10:32am

Thank you for the list Deborah. I have a few of those on my wishlist or shelf already. You probably put them there. I just added the Jude Morgan. I loved Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets.

Jul. 15, 2018, 11:46am

How about C.J. Sansom?
Love his novels- waiting for the next in the series!

Jul. 15, 2018, 12:08pm

>137 torontoc: I’m waiting for that one too! It’s been too long since the last one.

Jul. 16, 2018, 9:37am

>136 NanaCC: I loved that one, too. It was the one that turned me on to Jude Morgan.

>137 torontoc:. I've heard those are good. I'm just not crazy about mysteries.

Jul. 18, 2018, 3:59pm

Leonardo DaVinci by Walter Isaacson

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

Bearbeitet: Jul. 20, 2018, 8:33pm

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

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

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

Jul. 24, 2018, 8:18pm

The Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

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

Jul. 31, 2018, 11:27pm

Transit by Rachel Cusk

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

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

Bearbeitet: Aug. 1, 2018, 12:08am

The Love Object by Edna O'Brien

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

Aug. 6, 2018, 2:20pm

The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

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

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

Aug. 6, 2018, 2:42pm

Transit was wonderful, wasn't it? And, in my opinion, Kudos is even better. I rarely give five stars and Kudos was an easy five for me. She's doing so much, so brilliantly.

Aug. 6, 2018, 2:55pm

>146 RidgewayGirl: I really need to break down and buy it at full price.

Aug. 6, 2018, 2:56pm

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

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

Aug. 6, 2018, 3:19pm

>143 Cariola: >146 RidgewayGirl: I didn't love Outline when I read it, but you guys are convincing me to continue on with this author anyway.

Aug. 6, 2018, 3:55pm

>147 Cariola: I was lucky to have gotten it as a gift for my birthday, but now I'm on the look-out for the other two. I want to re-read them.

Bearbeitet: Aug. 12, 2018, 2:13pm

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

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

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

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

Aug. 13, 2018, 3:13am

You hit me with a lot of book bullets when I caught up on your thread there. The Jeanette Winterson novel sounds fantastic - I've only read Oranges are Not the Only Fruit but I really enjoyed it, and have been meaning to read more work by her.

Noting Jeffrey Lent - I've not heard of that author before.

Aug. 14, 2018, 6:16am

>142 Cariola: Good to know. I can't believe I haven't read it yet.

Bearbeitet: Aug. 31, 2018, 5:43pm

The Mountain by Paul Yoon

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

Bearbeitet: Aug. 31, 2018, 6:05pm

The Last Hours by Minette Walters

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

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

Bearbeitet: Sept. 4, 2018, 5:53pm

Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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

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

Sept. 6, 2018, 10:46am

I've added A Place for Us to my wishlist. And I'm making that lentil soup recipe you posted on Club Cucina a few years ago. It has become a family favorite.

Sept. 6, 2018, 12:08pm

>157 RidgewayGirl: Glad you all like the soup! And I hope you like this book. I was a little put off by the fact that it's sponsored by Sarah Jessica Parker (first in her new imprint), but just put that aside and I think you will love it.

Bearbeitet: Sept. 12, 2018, 6:01pm

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

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

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

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

Sept. 18, 2018, 11:31pm

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

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

Bearbeitet: Sept. 24, 2018, 10:45am

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

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

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

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

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

Bearbeitet: Okt. 6, 2018, 1:44pm

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.

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

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

Okt. 6, 2018, 10:50pm

well, the initial setting of Washington Black sounds fascinating. Too bad it doesn't carry through the book.

Okt. 15, 2018, 11:55am

The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason

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

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

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

Okt. 15, 2018, 12:43pm

>164 Cariola: Interesting. I've been seeing this in a lot of places and I was curious about it, so thanks for letting me know what it's about.

Bearbeitet: Okt. 15, 2018, 1:06pm

Young and Damned and Fair by Gareth Russell

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

Bearbeitet: Okt. 22, 2018, 5:00pm

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

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

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

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

Bearbeitet: Nov. 4, 2018, 11:24pm

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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

I could go on, but just--ugh.

Nov. 4, 2018, 11:56pm

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

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

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


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

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


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

Nov. 5, 2018, 12:10am

Girls and Boys by Dennis Kelly

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

Nov. 5, 2018, 8:21am

I've been looking for a reason to just leave that Crawdads book alone. Thank you for providing it.

The publisher sent me a copy of The House Girl as part of their marketing for the author's next book, so I'll read it someday, but not immediately.

Bearbeitet: Nov. 10, 2018, 4:28pm

Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets (Audible Original)

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

Bearbeitet: Nov. 10, 2018, 4:28pm

Have a Nice Day (Audible Original)

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

Bearbeitet: Nov. 13, 2018, 6:01pm

The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt

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

Bearbeitet: Nov. 26, 2018, 9:39pm

Educated by Tara Westover

This memoir has garnered many accolades, often being hailed as the best book/best non-fiction book of the year. Westover has certainly led an intriguing life, most of it due to her parents' radical Mormon beliefs and distrust of anyone and anything connected in any way to the government. The family lived "off the grid" in Utah, not far from Randy Weaver's farm, where a shootout with the FBI occurred. Tara heard the story so many times that she came to believe that she actually had heard the gunfire. The children were not allowed to go to public school or to play with "outsiders"; the mother was forced to become a midwife, despite her concerns and lack of interest, and later she became an herbalist and "energy healer." Of course, medical attention was out of the question, even for several life-threatening injuries. I found myself extremely frustrated by this attitude that sleep and God will heal a brain injury or salves and prayers will heal a third-degree burn. Tara's father was brutish and ignorant--and probably also bipolar. When he wasn't forcing Tara to throw scrap metal in his junkyard, he was mocking her desire to go to college and using God's punishment as a means to maintain control. Yet he had such power over his children that even after graduating from college and earning a PhD from Cambridge, Tara almost had a nervous breakdown when her father demanded an apology for finally speaking the truth about an violent, abusive brother; if she didn't apologize, she would be banished from the family forever. It's heartbreaking to see moments when Tara's classroom experiences open her eyes to the truth about her parents, only to fall back in line with them over and over again. As the title suggests, it was education that finally changed her life forever--but still not without a sense of loss.

I couldn't help but project many of the ideas of Tara's father onto the most radical Trump supporters, people who believe things not because they have the facts to back them up but because they want to believe them. The Jews are responsible for World War II and created the Holocaust to excuse themselves and make the Nazis look bad. Education is controlled by the government and full of propaganda, and educators are agents of the government (if not the devil). Well, I don't have to say more, you hear the crap that comes out of Trump's mouth every day. I spent a lot of my time reading this book with my gut twisting, just as it does when I have to listen to Trump or his ignorant followers. Which means that it was both frustrating and horrifying. I'm glad Tara got out, but I wish that she had confided in someone who could help much sooner. As Philip Larkin said:

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.”

Bearbeitet: Nov. 27, 2018, 4:26am

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama's memoir was exactly what I expected it to be: honest, thoughtful, endearing, uplifting, and optimistic. Exactly what I needed, considering the current political environment. She walks us through her childhood in Chicago with stories about her brother, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles--the extended family that helped to raise her. Their love and support helped to give her the confidence to apply to several Ivy League colleges, earn her law degree, and practice with a successful Chicago law firm where one of her tasks was to supervise a young legal intern named Barack Obama. As we've heard, it wasn't love at first sight, but Michelle was eventually won over by his enthusiasm and his drive to make the world a better place. She includes a lot of humor in her book, like the night when she turned in bed to find Barack gazing at the ceiling. When she asked what he was thinking about, he replied, "Income inequality"--not exactly the answer that she had expected. Michelle takes us through her days as the spouse of an up and coming politician, her struggles to keep the family connected, adjusting to life in the White House, and the hurt she felt after some ugly and unfair critical comments. It's hard to read this book without stopping every few pages and saying to yourself, "God, I miss the Obamas. I miss the compassion, I miss the decency."

Obviously not a book for Trump fans. But if you find yourself longing for the good old days of, say 2015, you'll enjoy this memoir.

Nov. 27, 2018, 8:41am

>176 Cariola: I joined the very long audio book line at the library for this one, but I'm very much looking forward to hearing her read her book. Glad to know it's what I expect it to be.

Nov. 28, 2018, 8:06pm

>176 Cariola: I’m looking forward to this one. And, yes, I miss them.

Nov. 29, 2018, 10:38am

I've been eyeing up Educated in bookshops for the past while. Hope to get to it soon - great review.

Even from our distance across the pond, I have to agree that decency seems to be a great summing up word for the Obamas. I bought my husband a stocking filler page-a-day desk calendar for Christmas which has a pearl of a Trump quote on every page ('small breasted women will never be a ten', etc. etc.). A Trump supporter in the States on Amazon gave it a 1 star review as they were horrified that it was poking fun at the very esteemed President. Em, they're quotes from his own mouth / Twitter feed?? That's the reality of the man. I don't see the review now. Trump has probably had it taken down, and promoted the reviewer to Chief of Amazon Reviews.

Nov. 29, 2018, 11:58am

>177 japaul22: Good point, Jennifer. I'll use an audible credit and listen to this one. I found it very reassuring and comforting to listen to Hillary Clinton read her book.

Nov. 30, 2018, 2:38pm

>179 AlisonY: I don't know if you get the late night show with Stephen Colbert over there. He and his staff put out a book satirically meant for kids, Whose Boat Is This Boat?, subtitled, "Comments that don't help in the aftermath of a hurricane." Trump is listed as the author because the text consists entirely of his words while 'inspecting' hurricane-torn areas in the Carolinas. All proceeds go to charities helping people affected by the disaster. It has been #1 or #2 on Amazon for several weeks now. At least some good is coming out of his mouth blunders.

Nov. 30, 2018, 4:22pm

>181 Cariola: it's possibly on Sky but I don't have satellite TV. I'm going to check it out on Amazon.

Bearbeitet: Dez. 9, 2018, 1:30pm

The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles

Jiles returns to the American west for this novel, specifically north Texas in the 1860s-70s. There are several main characters, the most prominent Britt Johnson, a historical freed man that Jiles ran across in her research for Enemy Women. Britt, his wife Mary, and three children joined a settlement in Kiowa and Comanche territory. While he was working far from home, the settlement was raided, many slaughtered, and Britt's family, one white woman, and her granddaughter were taken captive. The initial details are horrific: Elizabeth watched her daughter being shot and scalped and a grandson killed, the women were repeatedly raped and beaten, Britt's eldest son was shot, and and the youngest children became dangerously ill. The women were enslaved and the children adopted into Kiowa families. Much of the novel focuses on Britt's efforts to free them, in part with trade items supplied by Samuel Hammond, the Quaker in charge of Indian relations in the district, but even more so with the help of a young brave whose life he had saved. Secondary focus in the novel is on Hammond, whose pacifist beliefs are tried by the brutality he sees around him, and James Deaver, an illustrator-journalist documenting the west for readers back east. Latter chapters focus on Britt's successful transport business: he was one of the few willing to risk driving wagons full of cargo between north Texas towns on a road through dangerous Indian territory.

Jiles does an excellent job of bringing this small corner of history to life. She brings in a lot of interesting elements that I haven't seen addressed in other novels set in the west: what it was like to be a black family in Texas once the Civil War was in full swing and the slaves emancipated; the struggle of men assigned by various religious groups the government put in charge of peacefully turning the Plains Indians into farmers and moving them to reservations as white settlers claimed stakes on the land; the army's efforts to protect the settlers while staying in line with treaties; and the Indians' efforts to maintain their traditional way of life. I found it especially fascinating as so many of the persons in the novel actually existed. I've enjoyed all three of her novels. Captain Kidd, a wanderer who goes from town to town reading stacks of newspapers he has gathered, paid by the listeners to keep them informed of what is happening back east, makes a very brief appearance here but emerges as the protagonist of her next novel, News of the World, which I enjoyed even more than this one.

Dez. 9, 2018, 3:20pm

>183 Cariola: I really enjoyed News of the World, Deborah. I’ll have to look out for this one.

Dez. 9, 2018, 6:09pm

>184 NanaCC: Colleen, if you liked News of the World, you'll like this one, too. Have you read Enemy Women?

Dez. 9, 2018, 6:20pm

>185 Cariola: Another News of the World lover here—noted, thanks.

Dez. 10, 2018, 5:35pm

>185 Cariola: Deborah, the only one I’ve read is News of the World, so I’m adding the other two to my list. Thank you for the recommendation.

Bearbeitet: Dez. 11, 2018, 3:20pm

Christmas Eve, 1914 by Charles Olivier (Audible Original)

Original audio play about a group of British soldiers trying to survive in a trench about 80 yards from the German front line.

Bearbeitet: Dez. 29, 2018, 2:53pm

Emily and Herman by John J. Healey (No touchstone)

I have mixed feelings on this one. I know quite a bit about Emily Dickinson but not much about Herman Melville. I was curious to know if they had ever met and, having read a number of well-researched non-fiction works suggesting that the reclusive spinster had fallen in love with several men in her life, curious to know if, as in other cases, there had been a correspondence that suggested a "literary romance."

So let me begin by saying that if you choose to read this book, you will need to suspend your disbelief--and then some. The story begins in 1851 when Melville, restless after months at home with a pregnant wife, toddler son, and several unmarried sisters and frustrated with the progress of his novel (The White Whale, aka Moby Dick), calls on his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne and persuades him to take a short trip to Boston and New York. On the way, they stop in Amherst to visit Hawthorne's friend, Edward Dickinson. Mr. Dickinson is away from home, but 20-year old Emily and her older brother Austin invite them in for tea. After a lively conversation, Melville invites the two to join them on their journey. Various adventures ensure, including meeting up with the poet Walt Whitman and Willliam, a homosexual preacher/runaway slave, and a glamorous party where Austin is charmed by a beautiful Spanish duchess. Of course, the center of the story is the frank conversations that result in Emily and Herman falling in love. He finds her refreshing compared to his wife, and she finds him exciting due in large part to his travels in the South Seas, but his intellect is also appealing.

I found a lot of this stretched the imagination a bit too far. First, although Austin Dickinson was quite the philanderer, he was very protective of his sisters. I doubt that, even for an assignation with his mistress, he would have left Emily alone for several days in a strange city in the company of two men that he barely knew. Hawthorne, at least, had his principles: according to the story, he intuited the romance blossoming between Herman and Emily and tried to convince Melville to nip it in the bud, but he deserts them when he sees that his moral pleas are hopeless. Emily knowingly abandons her values and sneaks into Herman's hotel room at night, and what follows is a rather painfully written sex scene (well, everything you can imagine but penile penetration). Once the journey ends, the novel turns epistolary, Emily writing of her devotion and Melville complaining about his unfortunate married state. Of course, we can't leave this affair unfulfilled, can we? One last overnight meeting is arranged, with Emily's sister Lavinia as the (unlikely) abettor. In the end, we are supposed to be persuaded that Emily remains devoted to her one true love, which is why she remains happily single for the rest of her life.

What I liked about this book: It gave a fairly interesting view of society at the time and some intriguing background information on the persons represented. I enjoyed the abolitionist elements as Whitman and his companions attempt to help William on his way to Canada. I was less sympathetic to Austin and Herman, both of whom wanted to be considered upstanding citizens while also defying the morals of the day. Austin is engaged to the woman he will eventually marry but is in a passionate affair with an Irish coworker he knows would be an unacceptable wife, and Melville--well, he just wants Massachusetts to be Polynesia. I could ask what kind of man abandons his wife who is in the midst of a very difficult pregnancy and about to give birth to run off on a lark and seduce a young woman of good reputation--but then, of course, we have Donald and Stormy and Karen. I'm sorry, I did not see him as an unfortunate victim of social norms, and I'm really not sure what enthralled Emily, aside from the oft-mentioned dark, curly chest hair. As to the sex scenes, I could have done without all the groping, moisture, and gasping.

I'm not posting this review on Goodreads because the author has gone in to every review to leave comments--mostly asking people to push the book because it has "long been off the radar." Most of the reviewers have been favorable, so I'm sure he wouldn't be happy with mine.

Dez. 29, 2018, 11:45am

I'm not sure how I feel about a clearly fictional work using actual historical figures in ways they'd never approve of, but the really dreadful thing is that the author is butting into reader reviews!

Dez. 29, 2018, 2:52pm

>190 RidgewayGirl: I agree, that's absolutely egregious!

Bearbeitet: Dez. 29, 2018, 4:45pm

Galatea by Madeline Miller

An Amazon single, Galatea is a longish short story, not a novel, written prior to the publication of Miller's two wonderful books, Song of Achilles and Circe. It tells the story of Pygmalion, but from the viewpoint of his statue-wife. Pygmalion had prayed that his most beautiful statue would come to life and be his alone, but once his wish comes true, he is dismayed to find that his beloved is now a lively, intelligent, sociable human being, not merely a work of art. Obsession and jealousy rage, and he locks Galatea in a hospital and puts her under the constant supervision of doctors and nurses. But she is determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that her daughter has the freedom that she has been denied.

Bearbeitet: Dez. 29, 2018, 3:01pm

Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson

Perhaps I might have enjoyed this collection better had I read it in print rather than listening to it on audio; the reader is OK but has kind of an "old lady voice." It's a collection of 12 miscellaneous stories/essays/remembrances by Winterson, most of them concluding with a recipe relevant to the piece, eaten or made by one of the subjects. I didn't really feel like this was a very Christmas-y read for the holidays, and most of the pieces were rather mundane.

Bearbeitet: Dez. 29, 2018, 4:43pm

Lost Nation by Jeffrey Lent

I loved the first two novels I had read by Jeffrey Lent and was looking forward to this one, too. It certainly did not disappoint! It's one of those books that I almost hated to have end. As soon as I finished it, I downloaded the rest of Lent's works to my kindle. He has become one of my favorite authors.

Lost Nation is set in a territory between New Hampshire and Canada in the early 19th century--a territory claimed by both nations. The novel begins with a mysterious man named Blood guiding an ox-driven cart full of merchandise (most notably rum and lead). He's looking for a place to settle, a likely place where he can set up a tavern and live a quiet life. His other piece of merchandise is Sally, a fifteen-year old prostitute that he bought after winning at cards. Even though Sally knows what her job at the tavern will be, she is optimistic, and both she and Blood believe that her life will be better than anything she has known before. Blood chooses a northern community that has been settled by both French Canadians and Americans. His business ventures do well, and he becomes accepted by his neighbors as an honest and thoughtful, if somewhat enigmatic, overly-cautious man. But these are troubling times, and as much as Blood wants to stay removed from political conflicts, he feels obliged to tell the truth and to help his neighbors--and these good intentions eventually get him into trouble. Of course, the reader (and everyone in the story) suspect that Blood has secrets in his past, secrets that he is running from, and when we learn of them, they are heartbreaking--as is Blood's inability to shrug off his guilt.

As usual, Lent's writing is beautiful, his plot stunning, and his characters unique and memorable. Blood seems like a hard man initially, but even as he exploits Sally, he develops a relationship with her that shows his deep sense of responsibility; their friendship, tinged with mistrust, is one of the best aspects of the novel. I loved the realistic portrayal of the hard life these New England settlers lived, and I learned a lot about the history of the period, especially the conflicts between the Americans and the Canadians, British, and Native Americans. The conclusion at first seems surprising, then feels both inevitable and right. In short, I loved this book!

Dez. 29, 2018, 3:49pm

>192 Cariola: Does it hold up to Circe? Which I'm reading now and just loving to pieces.

Bearbeitet: Dez. 29, 2018, 4:43pm

>192 Cariola: It's good, and it shows the promise Miller had as a young writer--but no, it's certainly not as good as Circe. Circe was a 5-star read for me; this one was only 3.5.

Bearbeitet: Dez. 29, 2018, 8:29pm

Kudos by Rachel Cusk

This is the final novel in Cusk's Outline Trilogy, and while most professional reviewers consider it the best, I beg to differ. Don't get me wrong, I really liked Kudos, but I didn't find it as fresh and original as Outline, and it lacked the elements of surprise and humor of Transit. All three novels focus on Faye, a writer. In the first, she is struggling, going to Greece to teach a creative writing course; in the second, she has had some professional success and, post-divorce, has bought a home in a dodgy area of London that needs extensive renovation. In Kudos, she has been asked to be one of the speakers at a self-important writers' conference (meaning, the sponsors and organizers are impressed with themselves and the money they have to bring in some "big names," but it's not really all that prestigious).

The structure (or gimmick, if you will) of all three novels is that the narrative is pretty much a string of stories that other people tell Faye. Both Outline and Kudos begin on an airplane, and we hear one side of the protagonist's conversations with seat mates. Here, most of the conversations are stories told by other authors, guides, and journalists who are supposed to be conducting interviews. Some linking themes are the relationships between men and women, the difficulties of parenting, the changes in both literature and the publishing business, and, as side note, Brexit. The stories are simultaneously intriguing and mundane, the tellers carefully crafted individuals. Even minus any sense of a plot, Kudos held my attention. One thing I missed here was a connection to the process of writing. For me, Outline seemed to represent the way a writer gathers material as he/she prepares to begin, and Transit exhibited the process of writing and revising subsequent drafts. I'm not sure that Kudos fits into this scheme, unless it is a commentary on the rather thankless end result of a successful novel: a series of press stops, conference appearances, interviews, and meetings, none of which are particularly satisfying.

I'm still rather puzzled by the last strange episode in the novel, but I think what Cusk is trying to say is that no matter how successful or strong or independent a woman is, in the eyes of men, she is still, first, and foremost nothing but a woman, meaning that she will always be "less than . . . " Men in all three books--even men like the young, clueless interviewer who insists that he intuits from reading her books that Faye must move to his dull, sunburned city--do keep offering unwanted advice and opinions, as if theirs are of superior value.

I will agree with one Amazon reviewer who also enjoyed the trilogy but felt that this final installment was a bit underwhelming. Still, with her originality and wonderful writing, Cusk won me over for four solid stars.

Dez. 30, 2018, 8:17am

>196 Cariola: Good to know, thanks. I'm definitely going to read Song of Achilles, since I was so bowled over by Circe, but might hold off on that one for now.

>197 Cariola: I really liked Outline but have been a bit hesitant to go on with the next two, just because I'm not always a huge fan of series (with big exceptions—as mentioned elsethread I can't wait for the third in Hilary Mantel's Oliver Cromwell series, and I fully intend to keep working my way through Dorothy Dunnett's Lyman Chronicles, if only at the rate of one book a year). But I'm also fascinated by Cusk's take on interpersonal exchanges, or maybe it's more accurate to say her craft around it, since she's very careful to remove any overt writerly flourishes—a neat effect in Outline, and I would be interested to see where she goes with that.

Bearbeitet: Dez. 31, 2018, 9:21am

>198 lisapeet:. I'm with you on the Mantel. Transit was, for me, the best book in the trilogy--I'd definitely recommend it. Both Mantel and Cusk are wonderful writers, masters of style.

Song of Achilles was excellent, just a notch down from Circe, and quite different from it. If you enjoy it, I recommend The Silence of the Girls. It looks at Achilles and the Trojan War through the eyes of a captive queen.

Dez. 31, 2018, 9:08am

You remind me that I need to try Outline. I've not read anything by Cusk yet, and this trilogy sounds good.