sjmccreary finally goes to Europe

ForumThe Europe Endless Challenge

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sjmccreary finally goes to Europe

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1sjmccreary
Aug. 17, 2009, 5:49pm

Thanks for the invite to this group, Linda. You know what a sucker I am for a reading challenge, don't you? I may or may not ever actually set foot on the European continent (hasn't happened yet, nor my parents or grandparents or great-grandparents, in fact no one has gone back since the 2-times-greats emigrated to America in the 19th century) but that doesn't mean that I don't have my usual raging curiousity about the place. I don't think I've read anyplace very exotic so far this year, so I will just begin with today. Is the list of places I've seen on the other threads the authoritative list, or am I responsible for coming up with my own?

2lindapanzo
Bearbeitet: Aug. 17, 2009, 6:05pm

Welcome, Sandy. I took the list that GingerbreadMan used in his. I think there were 54 countries on it (including one I had never heard of--Faroe Islands).

3GingerbreadMan
Aug. 17, 2009, 6:01pm

Hello sjmccreary, and welcome to Ye olde world!

Unlike the american states, what constitutes or doesn't constitute a "country" isn't entirely given. Same goes for where Europe actually starts or ends...

I've made the list you see on the other threads. It includes all sovereign countries on the European continent - and then some:

I chose to divide United Kingdom into England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Mainly because I read a lot of books from the UK, and it felt very doable. Also because those four corners of the UK have very distinct flavours as environments.

Faroe Islands and Greenland are both technically part of Denmark, but are self gouverning territories. I included them since I have hunches on where to go with Greenland, but also since I realised I haven't read ANYTHING from Faroe Islands ever.

Kosovo's souveriegnity might still be contested in parts of the world, even if I think all European countries (with the possible exception of Serbia) has acknowlegded it.

Those are the potential question marks, I think. The rest is pretty straightforward :)

Good luck!

4GingerbreadMan
Aug. 17, 2009, 6:03pm

@#2 If you look at the map at the group page, there's a group of islands between Iceland and Norway, marked DK (for Denmark). That's them!

5sjmccreary
Aug. 17, 2009, 6:05pm

I found a list on Wikipedia that includes 50 sovereign states plus 7 nonsovereign territories (including Faroe Islands, but not including Scotland or Wales like GBM's list does). Their list also has 4 partially recognized "republics, territories and regions" including Kosovo, and 2 unrecognized republics, territories and regions that I did not recognize (pun not intended!). My mother and husband would both tell you that I do everything the hard way. I'm tempted to use the frst 3 wikipedia lists - totaling 61 locations, and break out the UK regions the way GBM did, for a total of 65-ish places. Hmm. I need to pick-up the offspring from swim practice so will think more about this later.

6lindapanzo
Aug. 17, 2009, 6:09pm

#4, thanks GBM. With my broken glasses and use of non-bifocal sunglasses for the next week, I think I might hold off a bit and study the map a bit more closely when I can see better again.

7GingerbreadMan
Aug. 17, 2009, 6:19pm

@#5 I tip my hat to you! I'm sure you'll fairly easily find stories set in Isle of Man or Jersey. I suspect Athos or Åland will present a bigger challenge :)

8sjmccreary
Aug. 17, 2009, 6:44pm

#7 Especially since I've never heard of either of them before! And I totally didn't realize that Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan were in Europe. I thought they were all considered to be part of Asia. I guess that goes back to your earlier comment about the uncertainity about where Europe starts or ends. I'm still not certain. I'll compare the 2 lists more closely and post "my" list later.

#6 My glasses and bifocals are intact, and I couldn't see them, either, on that tiny map. Time for a bigger map!

9GingerbreadMan
Aug. 17, 2009, 6:55pm

@#8 Georgia, Azerbajdzjan and Turkey are geographically in both Asia and Europe (as is Russia). The bigger landmass for all these countries are in Asia. Istambul in Turkey is famous for being the world's only (?) city situated on two continents.

Armenia is not in Europe geographically, but is often included politically. And Greenland of course isn't in Europe by a long shot, since it geographically belongs to North America!

I think making up your own list could be a wise thing to do, especially if you are the completist type. Finding whatever definitions work for you.

10sjmccreary
Bearbeitet: Sept. 2, 2011, 10:32am

After some comparisons between different lists, I've come up with my very own official challenge list, containing 55 different locations, with an additional 10 places for extra credit. The main list differs from GBM only in that I've included Kazakhstan and Kosovo and excluded Faroe Islands.

sjmccreary's official European challenge place check list:
Albania
Andorra
Armenia
Austria - The Third Man by Graham Greene 3/18/11
Azerbaijan
Belarus
Belgum
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bulgaria
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Rep
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France - The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, 12/5/10, msg #42
Georgia
Germany
Greece
Greenland
Hungary
Iceland - Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason, 11/14/09, msg #33
Ireland - In the Woods by Tana French 3/10/11
Italy - Dressed for Death by Donna Leon, 1/11/10, msg #30
Kazakhstan
Kosovo
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Macedonia
Malta - The Information Officer by Mark Mills, 12/16/09, msg #29
Moldova
Monaco
Montenegro
Netherlands
Norway - Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum, 10/2/09, msg #28
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Russia - Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi, 9/12/09, msg #24
San Marino
Serbia
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden - The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson, 9/29/09, msg #26
Switzerland
Turkey
Ukraine - Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles, 10/27/09, msg #27
UK - England - Mistress in the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin, 8/27/09, msg #14
UK - N Ireland
UK - Scotland - Death of a Valentine by M C Beaton, 1/21/10, msg #36
UK - Wales - The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan, 10/25/10, msg #39
Vatican City

Supplemental list of places for extra credit:
Abkhazia
Akrotiri and Dhekelia
Aland
Faroe Islands
Gibraltar
Guernsey
Isle of Man
Jersey
Northern Cyprus
South Ossetia

11cbl_tn
Aug. 17, 2009, 8:06pm

>10 sjmccreary: You can get extra credit for Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn! A lot of the action in the book takes place in Northern Cyprus.

12cyderry
Aug. 17, 2009, 9:13pm

I'm going to have to decide which list to use....decisions....decisions.

13sjmccreary
Aug. 17, 2009, 9:28pm

#11 Wouldn't that be a great place to start! Thanks for the suggestion.

14sjmccreary
Aug. 27, 2009, 11:55pm

My first post - nothing like getting the easy ones out of the way first!

Mistress in the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin - (having problems with the touchstone on this one - keeps taking me to The Serpent's Tale, sequel to my book.) UK - England

This is the very popular book which takes place in Cambridge in the 12th century. I always think of the university when I think of Cambridge, but very few mentions were made in this book about the students. Lots of descriptions of the rivers, the fens, the chalk hills, and the people and the town. A wonderful book - a suspense/thriller.

15Jean-Louis
Aug. 29, 2009, 9:28am

Nobody seems surprised to have Kazakhstan listed as a part of Europe !

16sjmccreary
Aug. 29, 2009, 11:16am

#15 LOL! I actually noticed later that I'd left it off the list of surprises, but it didn't seem worth it to go back and mention after the fact. Actually, when I looked at a map, that one was the biggest surprise of all. I knew about where those other places are in western Asia, but I thought Kazakhstan was over by Afghanistan - nowhere near Europe.

17AnnieMod
Aug. 29, 2009, 3:30pm

>15 Jean-Louis: If you ask UEFA, even Israel is in Europe :) So no - I doubt that anyone is surprised to see any Asian country in European list when it is somehow connected to Europe. The ex-Soviet republics can go either way.

18Jean-Louis
Aug. 30, 2009, 11:32am

>17 AnnieMod: If any country were "somehow connected" with the US would you put it on a list of the States ? What makes Europe is mainly a common culture, a common history long enough to create deep cultural ties. In this light, Russia is Europe, Kazakhstan is not.

19GingerbreadMan
Bearbeitet: Aug. 30, 2009, 12:08pm

#18 You make a valid point, but that's merely one way of looking at it. It's implied from the start in this challenge that "Europe" is a much more complex and diverse concept than "the US" is (as is what constitutes "a country" for that matter), which makes this a challenge where you need to make your own definitions. Morocco keeps applying to join the EU. Greenland is a European province located in North America - and so forth.

One possible way of going about this is talking about a common culture, but this is bound to be subjective. Turkey, with it's undeniable impact on European culture or Israel, as a new country rooted in Europe are two examples. One could also argue that according to your definition USA is Europe.

Another way of going about it, which I, for instance am trying to use (for this challenge), is pure geography. In which you could either take in countries COMPLETELY on the European continent (excluding Russia and Turkey amongst others) or go the other way, including also mainly Asian countries with (even small) parts of their landmass in Europe. Like Azerbaijan. Or Georgia. Or Kazakhstan. I'm going in this direction not as a political statement, but mainly to put together a more interesting challenge for myself.

If there even IS such a thing as a European identity is also up for debate the way I see it, but this is not the forum for that discussion. Good luck with your challenge and your definition of Europe!

20sjmccreary
Aug. 30, 2009, 12:52pm

#18, 19 I agree with GingerbreadMan about the point in #18 being valid. After doing a little light research, I would probably not include Kazakstan in a list of European countries that was to have any real consequence. And it is an interesting thought that, taken to some extreme, USA could be considered European under that definition. Obviously, that is not what most of us are going for. So, USA stays off my list, and Kazakstan stays on.

21RidgewayGirl
Aug. 30, 2009, 5:07pm

And if the definition was a "European identity" we would have to omit Britain entirely. Just ask 'em.

I'm going broad with my definition, just because I want to stretch my reading a bit.

Morocco, hmmm. And Algeria has a strong French influence...

22Nickelini
Aug. 30, 2009, 7:59pm

I'm one of the guilty who unthinkingly copied a list into my thread that included Kazakstan. I've now removed it, but it really doesn't matter, because between the books in my TBR pile and the books on my TBR list, it's unlikely that I'll read a book by Kazakstani writer anyway. (Are there any books by Kazakstani writers translated into English?). Furthermore, I believe Kazakstan has had hockey teams in the last few winter Olympics. That makes them pretty European in my books. :-) (before anyone gets miffed at me, it's a joke ).

23GirlFromIpanema
Aug. 31, 2009, 3:41am

#21: "And if the definition was a "European identity" we would have to omit Britain entirely. Just ask 'em."

*snerk* My usual comment: "Vor- und Achterleinen los!" (Cast off bow and stern!).
*ducks and runs*

24sjmccreary
Sept. 13, 2009, 12:27pm

Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi - Russia

This is the first of a series that I'll be reading in the next few weeks - I received the latest book from the ER program and can't stand reading a series out of order, so I'm committed. this was a good but not great book about a Russian veteran of the war in Chechnya who is back in Moscow and living very well selling both illegal drugs and pornography and anything else that could make him money. Except that he draws the line at child prostitution. This book has a convoluted plot concerning the theft of a missing daVinci painting from the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg which takes the reader back to Moscow, then to Prauge and New York before returning to Russia.

I liked the several insights into modern Russia, and its life after communism. Ghefi paints a very bleak picture: "In Russia, progress is measured by the glacial reductions in the collective misery of society." (pg 80)

Describing a street scene in Moscow on a rainy day: "Tourists wearing clothes unsuited for the weather eye the Kremlin's domes and dog-eared guidebooks. Locals move purposefully under heavy rain gear. Predators prowl. Russia's new-breed capitalist, hungry for Moscow's needy. Darting pickpockets. Scheming scam artists. Cooing HIV hookers. 'Come on, baby,' and then you dip your dick in poison, and she kills you slowly with your own blood, or she takes you to a shabby room and her steroid-pumped boyfriend cracks your skull for your wallet. Edgy boys kneading grubby plastic bags filled with bulging white rocks like hard candy cut with rat poison. Armani suits with slicked hair and slicker business plans, ready to exploit the greed of trolling Westerners for cheap labor or plentiful oil or limitless timber for whatever else the resource du jour might be." (pg 185-186)

And most depressing of all, "Russia is always the same, whether she toils under the tsars, the Communists, or the republicans. Vast quantities of vodka are required just to endure the unleavened sameness of it all." (pg 287)

In his notes, the author speaks warmly of Russia and the people he's met there, so I'm hoping that he plans to show a more positive view in his later books.

25sjmccreary
Sept. 25, 2009, 10:24pm

Volk's Shadow by Brent Ghelfi - Russia (continued)

This is the sequel to the book above that I read a couple of weeks ago. This one was better, but would not have made any sense without the first. The focus of this book is on Russia's place in the modern world economy, and its struggle to manage its internal affairs with relation to the oil reserves that they control. Chechnya, and the recent fighting there, has a big role in the book, and a large part of the action takes place there. Too bad Chechnya isn't on my list of places...

26sjmccreary
Sept. 30, 2009, 10:06am

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson - Sweden

What a ride! I liked it even better than the first book. I've posted a review, but the biggest surprise for me is that Lisbeth Salandar is my new favorite character! It stretches credulity at times, but a great read, nonetheless.

27sjmccreary
Bearbeitet: Okt. 28, 2009, 12:41am

Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles - Ukraine

I received this book from the ER program and have posted a review - I loved it. The story of a young woman living in Odessa, Ukraine, who goes to work for a mail-order bride service and comes face-to-face with the grime reality of the matchmaking that goes on there. Part of her duties involves giving tours of the city to the American men who come looking for wives, and (lucky us) we get to listen in as well.

ETA - I think I gave the wrong impression of this book - the reality of the matchmaking was grim, but the book itself is light and funny in places - a very pleasant book to read. Recommended.

28sjmccreary
Dez. 2, 2009, 12:28pm

Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum - Norway

This is the first book in the series featuring Inspector Sejer, and is set in Norway. In this book, the body of a popular, athletic teenage girl is discovered beside the lake in a popular wooded hiking area near the small village where she lived. There are few clues and Sejer must keep digging to learn more about the girl. She was universally well-liked, so it seems that no one would have a motive for killing her. On the other hand, at 15 she was a beautiful young woman who might have captured the imagination of any man in town who could have gotten carried away by a fantasy gone wrong. Suspects include the down's syndrome man who discovered the body and who, as everyone knows, has a "thing" for girls. Or it might have been her sullen boyfriend, 18 years old, whose father died under suspicious circumstances. Or maybe her mother's first husband, a man who was angry at having been denied access to his own daughter. Or it could have been somehow related to the death of a neighborhood boy several months earlier - a hyperactive 2-year old that she used to babysit - the timing of which coincides with an unexplained change in her personality. Or the coach of the handball team that she suddenly quit at about the same time - a man who had earlier served a prison sentence for rape. Or it might have had to do with a secret that she was keeping to herself that was discovered by police.

Sejer methodically plods through all the evidence, interviewing the suspects over and over, uncovering something new each time until the pieces finally all fall into place. Not a fast paced thriller, but it does not drag. Sejer is also introduced, a widower who lost his wife to cancer. He thinks about her often, ponders his relationship with his daughter, and dotes on his grandson. He lives on the top floor of the only high-rise apartment in town and keeps a large dog inside the no-pets building. He is alone, but can't quite decide if he is lonely.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. 4 stars.

29sjmccreary
Dez. 17, 2009, 12:37am

The Information Officer by Mark Mills - Malta

Set during WW2 when Malta was suffering the most intense bombing anywhere in the war. Still ruled by the British (they didn't gain independence until 1964), the island was, as throughout history, a strategic position located, as it is, in the middle of the Mediterrean Sea. In addition to the great descriptions of Malta during the war, this book has a nice little mystery to be solved. I liked it. 3-1/2 stars.

30sjmccreary
Jan. 11, 2010, 9:15am

Dressed for Death by Donna Leon - Italy

The 3rd book in the excellent Commissario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice, Italy, this book opens with the discovery of the body of a prominent local banker dressed in a red dress and red high-heeled women's shoes and dumped in a field in an area frequented by prostitutes. Brunetti's investigation forces him to look closely into the normally hidden world of homosexual prostitution, transvestites, and men who like boys. A world that seems to populated by several prominent, and married, men. Add to this a possible scandal involving a well-known but little understood charity, and stifling summer heat that has Brunetti's family taking refuge in the cool mountains while he is forced to cancel his vacation and stay behind in the city. The result is a fast-paced and intense investigation where the bodies seem to be piling up faster than the clues. Recommended - 4 stars.

I'm not hesitating to list this book, written by an American. The descriptions of Venice, the canals, the buildings, the people, the pace of life are just too vivid to dismiss. In this book, set in the heat of August, the heat and humidity are described in such detail that you can almost smell the foul water and feel the sweat trickle down your back. Plus, I know that I'll be reading other books written by real Italians, so this country is well covered.

31RidgewayGirl
Jan. 11, 2010, 11:46am

Donna Leon does live in Italy and has done for decades, if that helps you justify it.

32sjmccreary
Jan. 11, 2010, 11:56am

#31 Well, I was pretty settled with it, but any additional justification always helps! I knew that Leon has lived in Italy, but was never clear just when or how long that residence was.

33sjmccreary
Jan. 11, 2010, 11:59am

I just realized that I never posted the Iceland book that I read in November!

Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason - Iceland

The latest Erlendur book, this may be the best one yet.

Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is already struggling with a missing person case - the type of case that he has the greatest feeling for. We know from earlier books about how Erlendur, when he was 10 years old, was caught out in a blizzard with his 8-year old brother. They became separated and lost. But while Erlendur was soon found unharmed, his brother never was - nor have any remains ever been located. That experience continues to haunt him, and he has been obsessed with accounts of missing persons ever since.

The main case in this book, though, is not the missing person. This book opens with the discovery of the body of a young Asian boy, lying on the frozen ground in a pool of his own blood near his Reykjavik home. The boy, 10 years old, was the son of a Thai immigrant mother and Icelandic father. With no other leads, Erlendur and his team pursue the theory that the killing was racially motivated. There is a sizable Asian population at the neighborhood school, and not everyone is pleased to have an increasing immigrant community in Iceland.

While the murder investigation continues, Erlendur begins receiving anonymous phone calls - from the woman who has gone missing, he is sure - but she refuses to give her name or location.

Also, his grown children are calling and coming around. Due to a messy divorce when they were young, Erlendur and his children never had a warm relationship, and now he doesn't know how to deal with them. Even more uncomfortably, they are wanting to talk about the long ago incident with the blizzard and the disappearance of the brother.

This story takes place in January - the coldest and darkest time of year in Iceland. Arnaldur conveys the sense of cold isolation so effectively that I continued to pull a blanket around me while reading, even though it was warm in my room. Erlendur is a stoic, private man. Yet he is gradually being revealed without making him seem weak or broken down. I think this series just keeps getting better and better. Highly recomended. 4-1/2 stars

34nans
Jan. 11, 2010, 1:22pm

I love Donna Leon's books, but keep getting confused because all the US Titles vary so differently than the European titles. I've picked up 2 books twice in the library thinking it was her newest, only to find out they are ones I've already read.

Dressed for Death is The Anonymous Venetian for me.

35sjmccreary
Jan. 11, 2010, 1:58pm

#34 It is confusing here, too. When I check on LT for titles in the series, I'm never sure which is the right one. I have to type both titles in the library catalog to see which one is the "real" one! Makes me wonder why Americans and Europeans need different titles.

36sjmccreary
Jan. 21, 2010, 7:41pm

Death of a Valentine by M C Beaton. UK - Scotland

I have a "real" Scotland book standing by that I picked out for this challenge, but then this book showed up. I love the Hamish MacBeth series about a village policeman in the Scottish highlands who isn't interested in fame or fortune or even promotion - he simply wants to be left alone in his little rural police station. Complicating this is his uncanny ability to solve even the most puzzling cases, which brings him to the attention of his higher-up's. He is also hampered by the near hatred that his immediate supervisor feels for him as he tries to sabotage Hamish every chance he gets. It especially annoys him that Hamish is perfectly willing to let him take the credit for his (Hamish's) own work. Lots of descriptions of the Scottish highlands - both rural and city locations. A wonderful series. 4 stars.

37GingerbreadMan
Jan. 22, 2010, 4:34am

33 That was a great review! I don't read much crime and have never read Indridason. Now I think I'll have to!

38sjmccreary
Jan. 22, 2010, 9:11am

#37 Thanks. This is one of my favorite series, and it drives me crazy that it takes so long for his books to become available here.

39sjmccreary
Okt. 25, 2010, 9:23pm

Just to prove that I haven't forgotten about this challenge, I'm posting a new book.

The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan - Wales

I didn't love this book as much as some people did, but I loved the main character - 12-year old Gwenni Morgan - and the setting in 1950's Wales. I might have enjoyed the setting even more if I had gotten an audio book with a reader who could pronounce the unpronouncable Welsh names. (Just to clarify, I read this book in print - not an audio version with a bad reader).

40thornton37814
Okt. 26, 2010, 10:49am

>39 sjmccreary: I didn't like it as much as others either.

41sjmccreary
Okt. 26, 2010, 10:56am

#40 Lori, I've seen several others in the last day or two say the same thing. It's a bit of a relief. Now I don't feel like I totally missed the point.

42sjmccreary
Dez. 6, 2010, 3:40pm

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas - France

The classic story of intrigue set in 17th century France. I've seen a couple of the movies before, but this was my first time reading the book. Now I'm anxious to see the movies again. 4 stars.