AlisonY: 2020 More Random Rambling

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AlisonY: 2020 More Random Rambling

1AlisonY
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 6, 2020, 6:02pm

Happy New Year everyone! This is my 6th year on CR - thank you to all in CR who hugely expanded my reading knowledge in 2019, as well as putting far too many new titles on my wish list / TBR pile! I look forward to talking all things books (as well as other random digressions) with old friends and new in 2020.

My reading taste is mixed - I love literary fiction (old and new), as well as non-fiction books on various subjects that just happen to catch my attention. This year I've no reading plans beyond continuing to enjoy turning plenty of pages.

Last year I read 66 books (I still need to catch up on one last review), of which about two-thirds were fiction / one third non-fiction. You can find my 2019 thread here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/305765



2AlisonY
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 2, 2020, 5:58pm

2020 Reading Track

January
1. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - read (3.5 stars)
2. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan - read (3 stars)
3. Perfume by Patrick Suskind - read (3 stars)
4. The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West - read (3.5 stars)
5. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo - read (4.5 stars)
6. Judas by Amos Oz - read (4.5 stars)

February
7. The Memory Illusion: Remembering, Forgetting, And The Science of False Memory by Dr. Julia Shaw - read (2 stars)
8. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd - read (3.5 stars)
9. Blindness by Jose Saramago - read (4.5 stars)
10. Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy - read (3 stars)
11. The Snow Geese by William Fiennes - read (4 stars)
12. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford - read (4 stars)

March
13. One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten - read (4 stars)

April
14. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann - read (4 stars)
15. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons - read (4 stars)
16. Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc - read (5 stars)
17. Trugs, Dibbers, Trowels and Twine by Isobel Carson - read (3 stars)

May
18. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy - read (3.5 stars)
19. Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ by Guilia Enders - read (3.5 stars)

June
20. My Struggle: The End by Karl Ove Knausgaard - read (4.5 stars)
21. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World by John Mark Comer - read (4 stars)
22. The Dutch House by Ann Pratchett - read (3.5 stars)
23. Live a Little by Howard Jacobson - read (3 stars)

Fiction titles to date: 16
Non-fiction titles to date: 7

3mabith
tammikuu 2, 2020, 4:02pm

Happy new year! Hope it's a good one for books.

4valkyrdeath
tammikuu 2, 2020, 6:17pm

Just popping in to follow your thread again this year. Hope you have another great reading year!

5AlisonY
tammikuu 3, 2020, 3:55am

>3 mabith:, >4 valkyrdeath: thank you both, and happy new year! Look forward to following your reading this year also. I'm back to work today, so back to getting some peace and quiet to read on my commute again. At Christmas my reading goes completely out the window despite hopeful plans.

6ELiz_M
tammikuu 3, 2020, 7:50am

Happy New Year! I am looking forward to following where your rambling takes you this year.

7NanaCC
tammikuu 3, 2020, 10:57am

Hi, Alison. I hope your holidays were full of fun. I’m looking forward to following you again this year.

Can’t wait to hear what you think of Olive. I think she was a great character. I’m looking forward to the new book.

8Simone2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 3, 2020, 11:40am

Happy new year Alison! You’re starting off great I think, with Olive Kitteridge and I am looking forward to follow along. Dropping my star ⭐️ and wishing you all the best for 2020!

9AlisonY
tammikuu 4, 2020, 9:03am

>6 ELiz_M:, >7 NanaCC:, >8 Simone2: thanks for stopping by all! Look forward to more great book chat in 2020.

I'm almost done with Olive. There's a lot going on at the moment which is eating into my reading time.

10kidzdoc
tammikuu 4, 2020, 1:39pm

Happy New Year, Alison!

11AlisonY
tammikuu 4, 2020, 2:27pm

>10 kidzdoc: and to you, Darryl!

12BLBera
tammikuu 4, 2020, 2:43pm

Happy New Year, Alison. I was a fan of Olive and am looking forward to my turn at Olive, Again

13AlisonY
tammikuu 4, 2020, 2:46pm

> Happy new year, Beth. I fear I'm not fully in the Olive fan club, but I'm not far from the edge of it.

14dchaikin
tammikuu 4, 2020, 5:30pm

Hey you, Happy New Year. Will be following as well as I can. You got me to take my Hardy off the shelf last year...I mean I held it, carried it around, put it on the bedside table...then forgot about it again...then finally put it back on the shelf...(the Tess novel) Well, maybe this will be the year I stumble into actually reading him.

15AlisonY
tammikuu 5, 2020, 10:02am

>14 dchaikin: Happy New Year, Dan. Please take Tess back off the shelf again - I'd love to hear your thoughts on Hardy!

16dchaikin
tammikuu 5, 2020, 11:02am

Could happen! 🙂 (and I just saw Stone Henge - isn’t that in Tess?)

17rachbxl
tammikuu 5, 2020, 11:34am

Happy New Year! I’m looking forward to following your reading again this year. (I have that quote in your first post, ‘she is too fond of books and it has turned her brain’ on a fridge magnet, sent to me by a friend).

18rocketjk
tammikuu 5, 2020, 12:30pm

I'm in the gang, too! Happy reading in 2020.

19AlisonY
tammikuu 5, 2020, 3:32pm

>16 dchaikin: indeed. Have you been on a UK trip?

>17 rachbxl:, >18 rocketjk: thanks both. Happy New Year, and look forward to good discussions this year.

20dchaikin
tammikuu 5, 2020, 3:51pm

>19 AlisonY: long story. Yes- London over xmas with a day trip to SH and Bath. But my daughter caught a flu and was bedridden for 5 (!!) days of our trip. 🤦🏻‍♂️

21AlisonY
tammikuu 5, 2020, 4:42pm

>20 dchaikin: ugh - that's dreadful (the flu, not London / Bath). Unfortunately the flu did seem to hit a lot of people through December in the UK. I think I read somewhere that they got the flu jab wrong this year for the northern hemisphere in terms of the strain they plumped for. Sorry to hear your daughter caught it on your holiday - that's such a pity.

22AlisonY
tammikuu 5, 2020, 5:12pm



1. Review - Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

And she's off! First book of the year under the belt.

Now, I don't like to start the year off being contentious as I know many of you loved this one, but although I liked Olive Kitteridge, I didn't love it just as much as I'd hoped.

For those who haven't read it, this novel is a series of interlinked short stories which alternatively feature the character Olive Kitteridge in either starring role or bit part role. I assume Strout was using the stories where Olive was a minor character to (a) give a 360 degree view of Olive, by including the assumptions / views other people in the town had of her, and (b) to widen the scope of subjects / subject matter for her examination of life's trials and tribulations. It's most certainly a book about life - the hard things in life, such as the bumps in the road that marriages face, the unexpected disappointment of the choices your adult children take, dealing with a spouse's mental and physical decline.

On the positive, I thought Strout created something quite unique in this book, choosing unexpected stories and outcomes which were very cleverly executed. There's something for everyone to sigh over with a heavy heart in this book (plenty to dread in the latter stages of life - thanks Strout!). The main characters were excellent and I connected with them much better than I did with those in her My Name is Lucy Barton novel.

My moan with this book is Olive, or rather the lack of Olive consistently throughout each story. I loved the stories she was the focus of: I could picture her so clearly, and I loved her character - a big spiky woman on the outside but with a heart of gold inside. With the alternate stories where Olive was a very minor character, I lost some of the momentum I'd built up with her and her family's story. I'm not a natural lover of short stories - I find them harder to connect with, and in this case they created a a disconnect in the narrative that I didn't really want.

I don't know if the sequel, Olive, Again is in story or novel format. If the latter, then I look forward to picking up with Olive again. If the former - hmm, I'm not sure I'll actively seek it out.

3.5 stars (4 for the Olive stories) - a great book of human insight. Just a shame (for me) that it was in short story format.

23dchaikin
tammikuu 5, 2020, 5:32pm

>21 AlisonY: - yes, dreadful waste of what was supposed to be a major vacation. Oh well.

>22 AlisonY: So... I read OK as a LibraryThing Early Reviewer, with a ARC copy. Like you, I kind of liked it, but that was all. There was one story that really bugged me - a shooting in grocery store or something like that. Anyway, it's been interesting since then to read all the love of Olive and Strout...whereas I've been hesitant to try her again (even though I'm a very different reader now. This was pre-CR for me). Anyway, I was nodding along with your review.

24NanaCC
tammikuu 5, 2020, 5:36pm

>22 AlisonY: I was one who loved Olive, the character, but also loved the book. I don’t usually like short stories, but I agree the ones where Olive was the main character were the best. I don’t know if you could get access to it, but there was a mini series starring Frances McDormand as Olive. I think it was on HBO. It was very good.

25japaul22
tammikuu 5, 2020, 6:28pm

I didn’t like Olive Kitteridge at all. The format did not work for me. I looked at what I wrote when I reviewed it and I was pretty emphatic about it!

“I found the writing well-done, but my confession is that I really didn't like this book that everybody seems to love. I found the format of linked stories maddening. In so many of them you don't even get the whole story of what is going on and then it's on to the next sad life. There is some linking between the stories and a few answers, but I would have rather just read a straight ahead novel about Olive. I think that linking them so that you see the same characters over and over but don't get any development was just torture. Ok, you get some subtle development, but it could have been so much more in a different format!”

26BLBera
tammikuu 5, 2020, 6:45pm

>25 japaul22: Jennifer was pretty emphatic. I am smiling as I read the comments, because the thing that bothered you was one of the things that I loved about the book. I liked the unfinished sense of the stories. This is one of the things that makes it fun to discuss literature - there's always more than one opinion.

Great comments Alison.

27arubabookwoman
tammikuu 5, 2020, 11:10pm

I liked Olive Kitteredge, but I think it was mostly for the character of Olive. And so I will read Olive Again to spend more time with Olive. I probably shouldn't say, but she reminded me of my grandmother, and that's who I kept picturing as I read the stories.
The TV adaptation (HBO I think) was wonderful, and perhaps provided more continuity than the format Strout used in her book.

28AlisonY
tammikuu 6, 2020, 3:54am

>23 dchaikin:, >24 NanaCC:, >25 japaul22:, >26 BLBera:, >27 arubabookwoman: I just love it when a book splits opinion - makes for the most interesting comments / debates!

Colleen / Beth / Deborah - do you normally enjoy short stories? I'm wondering if loving / not loving the short story format in general is the make or break with this book. As you loved it I'm interested in whether it might be that you naturally enjoy short stories more than those of us who didn't entirely feel the love.

I did notice with this book that halfway through when I went back to work and started to read it in (relative) quiet on the bus without distraction that I started to 'get' it much more. Perhaps it's a book that needs that type of quiet savouring and reflection. When reading the first half in snippets with my kids chittering in my ear and 101 things to do over Christmas I wasn't feeling it at all. I was half-tempted to immediately go back to the first half again when I'd finished as I felt a re-read might be necessary for that reason, but too many books and all that....

29NanaCC
tammikuu 6, 2020, 8:24am

>28 AlisonY: I don’t generally like the short story format, Alison, but I think it was the character that made me love the book.

30arubabookwoman
tammikuu 6, 2020, 2:01pm

>28 AlisonY: I am definitely not a short story fan. I generally can tolerate them when they’re described as “linked” though, since I find there’s a bit more closure. The draw for me with Olive was the character.

31AlisonY
tammikuu 6, 2020, 5:04pm

>29 NanaCC:, >30 arubabookwoman: that goes that theory then!

32AlisonY
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 25, 2020, 3:45pm



2. Review - Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

Well, this one may date back to 1998 but the Booker judges surely did it again - as we've seen countless times before, right author, wrong book.

Amsterdam opens with two friends and ex-lovers of the same woman meeting at her funeral. One is a successful composer, the other an editor of a British newspaper with a declining circulation. I can't bring myself to tell you the basic plot between the two as it's so preposterous I wouldn't know where to begin.

I was quite excited for the first quarter of this book. It had the feeling of building up to McEwan when he's at his best, when you get that McEwan special sauce that gives you a tingling sense of foreboding. I was practically rubbing my hands with glee after having been less enthralled with my last few reads of his. And then... well, it went a little flat. Somewhere along the way there'd been a slow puncture. I didn't see it coming, but the book was gradually deflating.

By the time I got to the middle it was a little stagnant, but I had my McEwan rose-tinted glasses on. "Don't worry, Al", I told myself, "you know your buddy Ian - he'll throw a curveball right when you're least expecting it. This little so-so patch is just to catch you unawares". So, I continued on, waiting for the metaphorical Bogeyman to jump out. And out he came. But it was hardly the jump from the dark I'd been waiting for. More like he'd been standing in front of me in supermarket-esque fluorescent lighting for a good half hour in a ridiculous child's dressing up outfit before shouting 'boo' at me in a bored fashion. (Are you still with me here, or have I lost you somewhere in the inner recesses of my gobbledygook thoughts?) What I'm trying to say is that the twist was ludicrous and about as suspenseful as Trump visiting a tanning shop.

McEwan's Enduring Love the year before? Utterly fabulous. Creepy, edgy, unique. OK, I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek here with Amsterdam - it wasn't the worst novel I've ever read, but it certainly wasn't up there with McEwan's best, and by the end of the novel that slow puncture had turned into a totally flat finish. It certainly wasn't worthy of being a Booker prizewinner.

3 stars - I kept turning the pages OK, but in all it was a dud plot. Ian, I'm very cross with you.

33AnnieMod
tammikuu 6, 2020, 5:52pm

>32 AlisonY: This review made me laugh :) So... which McEwan would you recommend to someone who had never read him? (no idea how that happened...)

34AlisonY
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 6, 2020, 6:10pm

>33 AnnieMod: this is McEwan #12 for me, so let me see... Enduring Love is probably my favourite, but I also really loved On Chesil Beach. The two are very different. Nutshell and Solar I also very much enjoyed, but I don't think I'd start with them. I also loved The Cement Garden, but it might not be to everyone's taste.

35thorold
tammikuu 7, 2020, 3:11am

>32 AlisonY: I never managed to see the point of McEwan somehow, and I found Atonement so pedestrian it more-or-less destroyed my desire to explore any further, but people I respect keep telling me how brilliant he is. Maybe I’ll give him another chance...

36AlisonY
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 7, 2020, 3:25am

>32 AlisonY: Atonement isn't one of my favourites of his - I felt it droned on for too long in places. When he's at his best he can be utterly brilliant and discombobulating, and some of his best work is very different to Atonement in style. At other times he gets too caught up in his own cleverness and can fall a little flat (a bit like Hollinghurst does from time to time). Out of the 12 I've read, I've only given 5 of them 4 stars or more, but some of those have been so utterly brilliant that despite my own stats being skewed against him I still consider him to be one of my favourite authors. To be fair, he's quite a prolific writer, and had he written less my rating stats would probably be more favourable. I think I've read his best now, and am down to the B sides (despite the Booker win).

37ELiz_M
tammikuu 7, 2020, 8:05am

>32 AlisonY: Huh. I have no memory from reading Amsterdam, but I do know that I never bought into Enduring Love because starting a novel with a hot air balloon incident was so ridiculous I never believed the setup of the rest of the story.

38AlisonY
tammikuu 7, 2020, 9:26am

>37 ELiz_M: It was very off the wall, but I enjoyed it's bizarreness and unexpectedness. I'm guessing it's not inspired you to read more McEwan!

39NanaCC
tammikuu 7, 2020, 9:41am

>32 AlisonY: Great review, Alison..one of these days, I will take another go at McEwan. I can’t remember which book I gave up on, it was before LT, but I’ve never been tempted to try again. Your praise may get me there some day. I’ll just avoid this one.

40ELiz_M
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 7, 2020, 1:27pm

>38 AlisonY: that was my fifth McEwan. I'm not inspired to pick up another, but that could change if a future book strikes my fancy.

41OscarWilde87
tammikuu 7, 2020, 1:51pm

Happy New Year and happy reading! You're already well underway, I see.

42dchaikin
tammikuu 7, 2020, 2:01pm

This bored bogeyman sounds so cute. I’m afraid I started and quit McEwan with Saturday. Guess I could try again. But I’m not very nice to new authors (See Girl, Woman, Other - and, when I post on it, 10 minutes 38 seconds etc etc)

43AlisonY
tammikuu 7, 2020, 2:21pm

>39 NanaCC: thanks Colleen. I'm having a split personality moment over him just now.

>40 ELiz_M: you've probably covered his best if you've done 5. He's getting very political of late in his books which doesn't overly appeal.

>41 OscarWilde87: thank you! Yes, I'm off the starting blocks now. We'll see what this year's pace ends up like. I expect to be very busy in work.

>42 dchaikin: look forward to the 10 minutes 38 seconds review. Haven't been tempted to pick that one up yet, but I have been curious. You're teasing us making us wait for your new thread - it'll be a dramatic late entrance given your reading plans for the year!

On McEwan, Saturday's a bit of a dull book that doesn't go anywhere. He's definitely done better other work, but I don't feel in the frame of mind to recommend him to anyone this week.

44Caroline_McElwee
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 7, 2020, 3:48pm

>32 AlisonY: it's years since I read it, but I felt pretty much the same as you Alison. And I agree re Saturday too, there were things in that novel that were just not credible.

The Cement Garden and Enduring Love are my favourites, of those I've read.

45mabith
tammikuu 7, 2020, 4:22pm

I've had Olive Kitteridge on my 'eh, eventually' list for a while, and this discussion certainly hasn't helped! Too many books on the to-read list anyway though.

46kidzdoc
tammikuu 7, 2020, 4:32pm

A very good — and very entertaining — review of Amsterdam, Alison. I completely agree with your assessment of it.

McEwan has been a hit or miss author for me. My favorite books by him are Black Dogs, The Cement Garden, On Chesil Beach, and (apologies) Saturday.

47dchaikin
tammikuu 7, 2020, 5:40pm

>43 AlisonY: Teasing?... No, just scatter brained. I tried yesterday, but my thought process was everywhere and nowhere. I probably won’t be very nice or fair to 10m38s. I didn’t like it. Just need to figure my thoughts out.

48AlisonY
tammikuu 8, 2020, 4:27am

>44 Caroline_McElwee: The Cement Garden was my first McEwan I think, Caroline. It was a good few years ago - I wonder would I love it as much second time around (I think I probably still would).

>45 mabith: It is enjoyable - I just wouldn't completely rave about it. The good parts were very well done.

>46 kidzdoc: No apologies needed, Darryl - if we all raved about the same books our threads would be a dull place!

>47 dchaikin: I'm just messin' with ya! Sounds like a controversial review with a book you didn't like is a great way to start your thread!

49BLBera
tammikuu 8, 2020, 3:14pm

I also quite liked Saturday. His other books were -- OK, I guess. He isn't someone I will search out, so many others I prefer.

50AlisonY
tammikuu 9, 2020, 5:20am

>49 BLBera: He seems to have some weird hold on me even though many of his books haven't been a big hit for me. I think I'm still in hope of more elements of brilliance from him.

51Caroline_McElwee
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 9, 2020, 2:52pm

>48 AlisonY: A lot of people found The Cement Garden too dark, but it made total sense to me from the characters' perspective. It is years since I read it though. On to the reread list.

52baswood
tammikuu 9, 2020, 6:00pm

>32 AlisonY: I agree Enduring Love was the book that should have won.

53SassyLassy
tammikuu 10, 2020, 3:45pm

Another of those hit or miss McEwan readers here. I think the word I would use for his writing is clinical. It is all so precisely measured for tone, plot and language, yet at the same time manages to rise above any fill in the blanks ideas the reader may have in anticipation of what comes next. This may be what keeps the reader going. It's a technique that really came out in Saturday, which I thought was well done - I don't think "like" is a word that applies to his writing: possibly "admired", due to the aforementioned technique. However, I can use like in a negative sense, and say I really really did not like On Chesil Beach.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned The Children Act, which I think was his best book in a long time.

54sallypursell
tammikuu 10, 2020, 3:47pm

>53 SassyLassy: That one sounds great, SassyLassy.

55Simone2
tammikuu 10, 2020, 5:12pm

Great review of Amsterdam. I felt annoyed by it too (also because he pictures the Dutch mentality so cliche and not realistic). I am always a bit nervous when starting a McEwan. He is always a hit or miss for me. My favorites are The Comfort of Strangers, On Chesil Beach and The Children’s Act.

56AlisonY
tammikuu 12, 2020, 8:20am

>52 baswood: I suspect that if the Booker committee were completely honest they'd agree.

>53 SassyLassy: I'm the opposite - I loved On Chesil Beach (and thought the recent film adaptation with Saoirse Ronan was very good). The Children Act left me a bit disappointed. Maybe that's the secret to McEwan's success - he writes very different novels that appeal to different people for different reasons. I think there's a certain masculinity that comes through in his writing, and agree it's very controlled and concise.

>55 Simone2: yes, his interpretation of Dutch euthanasia law was erring on the ridiculous. You've reminded me that The Comfort of Strangers is probably one I've not got to yet but would enjoy. I forgot about that title - I must look out for it in the used book shop.

57AlisonY
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 13, 2020, 3:57am



I didn't get much reading done at the weekend (my husband likes to be super busy, and has a gift for making me feel terribly guilty if I sit down with a book rather than 'doing' something). On a semi-literary note, I did get to see the Little Women film on Saturday, and really enjoyed it.

Saoirse Ronan is fast becoming my favourite actress. I feel like she'll be the Meryl Streep of her age.

While I'm on adaptations of books, I'm sure I've said this before on my thread at some point, but if you have kids of the 8+ age then I highly recommend the Anne With an E series on Netflix. It's a fabulous, slightly dark adaptation of Anne of Green Gables - we're all addicted to it in our house. Season 3 just got released a week or so ago in the UK, and I notice that it's been moved from a PG rating to a 12. I suspect this is because there is at least one episode of loss which is a real tear jerker, but other than that I think it's fine for younger kids.

58rachbxl
tammikuu 14, 2020, 2:31am

>57 AlisonY: Anne with an E is wonderful, isn’t it? I watched season 1 with my daughter, and although it was rated 7+ here and she was only 5, my only concern was that it was too complex for her to follow. She loved it, though. It disappeared from Netflix before we could watch season 2, but it’s back now. Thanks for the warning about the rating of season 3; if we get that far I’ll maybe have a look myself before I let her watch it.

59AlisonY
tammikuu 14, 2020, 3:37am

>58 rachbxl: generally we've found season 3 along the same lines as previous seasons (although we're only 3 episodes in), but one episode (I think it was 3) was extremely sad from start to finish, going into some depth on adult emotions of loss that aren't generally dwelled upon in children's films / dramas. I suspect that's probably the reason for the 12 rating, albeit we don't know what's yet to come in the remaining episodes. Having said that, my 10 and 12 year old seemed fine watching it (I wish I could say I also stayed composed....!).

60rachbxl
tammikuu 14, 2020, 3:54am

>59 AlisonY: The image of you wiping away the tears whilst your children watched stoically made me smile! I don’t know about elsewhere, but I find the Netflix Belgium ratings to be pretty unreliable. If we stuck to things that they rate as being suitable for my daughter, she’d be restricted to Peppa Pig (which she does still watch sometimes, to be fair) and lots of fluffy stuff about fairies.

61AlisonY
tammikuu 14, 2020, 5:44am

>60 rachbxl: I find them not too bad in the UK. Most films on there with a 12 rating usually include a bit of swearing that the PG's don't have, and I would generally agree they're the next level up in age appropriateness (Daddy's Home movies, etc). Below 12 there's not really an age rating. We have PG (Parental Guidance), and most of these are suitable for any age but there might be a slightly darker / scarier theme (my two were both a bit scared of Lemony Snickett). U is Universal for your Peppa Pig's and fluffy Disney happy-happy movies. Sounds like your 7+ rating is equivalent to our PG rating, which my kids have generally had no problem with from a very young age.

62mabith
tammikuu 14, 2020, 3:00pm

I do love a Little Women film, so I'm excited to get to the new one.

Ratings are less important than knowing your kids, I think. My parents always made a distinction between films with swearing and sex references and films with vivid violence. Though obviously there were far fewer options then.

63pmarshall
tammikuu 15, 2020, 11:40am

>57 AlisonY::
Anne with an E will end with season 3, it was announced on tv in the fall of 2019. I don’t know why. I think they should progress beyond Anne of Green Gables to using material from the later books, e.g., Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of the Island. It is time for her to grow up.

64AlisonY
tammikuu 16, 2020, 6:54am

>63 pmarshall: Oh no!!! I'm devastated! It's such a great series. We'll have to ration this series then. What a shame.

65AlisonY
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 21, 2020, 3:19pm



3. Review - Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

Warning - if you thoroughly enjoyed this book (which most reviewers on LT seemed to), the following review is going to disappoint (more minority mumblings - I feel a new thread name coming on).

I really wanted to love this book. The idea behind it was highly original - a man born with no scent of his own yet possessing an extremely enhanced olfactory system which puts him on a murderous path in the pursuit of the optimal scent (no spoiler: the title says it all). I also enjoy fiction that educates and informs on the skill of certain crafts or art forms, and the world of perfumery was a terrific backdrop. On paper, therefore, this novel should have been just up my street. But... but... but.... I just couldn't connect with it.

I think my main gripe was that I couldn't feel any dramatic tension. Here was this unpleasant character up to all sorts of no good, and I couldn't feel remotely bothered about it. There was no particular lead up to what should have been the most dramatic parts of the novel, and the last couple of chapters were preposterous.

3 stars - just OK.

66sallypursell
tammikuu 19, 2020, 6:59pm

>65 AlisonY: Alison, I didn't like it either.

67dchaikin
tammikuu 19, 2020, 8:55pm

Perfume was not on my reading trajectory, and this won't change that. But sorry it worked so poorly.

68AlisonY
tammikuu 20, 2020, 3:14am

>66 sallypursell: I think we're in the minority, Sally! Most of the LT reviews are very positive.

>67 dchaikin: It's certainly not the first book I'd be recommending to you, Dan.

69Caroline_McElwee
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 20, 2020, 11:18am

>65 AlisonY: I read this when it first came out Alison, and really liked it, but remember it didn't hold up as well for me on a reread years later.

70AlisonY
tammikuu 20, 2020, 5:53am

>69 Caroline_McElwee: When I read the reviews on LT I feel I must be missing something, Caroline, but for me it was just OK.

71thorold
tammikuu 20, 2020, 6:41am

>65 AlisonY: etc. — I was another of the "negatives" — I found it nasty and creepy when I read it in 2009, although I was also reluctant to condemn it out of hand when so many people were raving about it, hence my rather sitting-on-the-fence review.

72BLBera
tammikuu 20, 2020, 9:08am

>65 AlisonY: Hmm. I've been on the fence about this one, but from your comments, I think maybe it's not the book for me. I don't like creepy, as a rule.

73raton-liseur
tammikuu 20, 2020, 9:18am

>71 thorold: You spoke my mind, except that it was a pre-LT read, so I did not wirte a review. I even think I did not manage to finish the book, so I'm on the negative team as well...

74AlisonY
tammikuu 20, 2020, 10:53am

>71 thorold:, >72 BLBera:, >73 raton-liseur: great - I won't have to rename my thread to Al's Minority Mumblings after all :)

75raton-liseur
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 20, 2020, 10:59am

>74 AlisonY: It seems a vast minority, after all!

76mabith
tammikuu 20, 2020, 12:21pm

I wasn't going to read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer anyway, but I did greatly enjoy the disparity of the New York Review of Books review and The New York Times review on the LT book page.

77lisapeet
tammikuu 20, 2020, 1:15pm

I’ve got the ebook, but it’s not super high on my virtual pile. I may read it yet, but probably not too soon.

78AlisonY
tammikuu 20, 2020, 3:14pm

>75 raton-liseur: indeed!

>76 mabith: I missed those first time around. Oh my goodness, NYRB has nailed it exactly! That is precisely why it doesn't work. That reviewer was just much better at explaining it than I was.

>77 lisapeet: it's fine to pass a few hours, but I wouldn't rush towards it.

79Simone2
tammikuu 21, 2020, 2:29pm

>65 AlisonY: I liked this one a lot but I read it in my teens, I can imagine I’d think different if I’d read it now.

80AlisonY
tammikuu 21, 2020, 3:16pm

>79 Simone2: I think I'd be that way on a lot of books too.

81AlisonY
tammikuu 21, 2020, 3:44pm



4. Review - The Edwardians by Vita-Sackville West

I abandoned this book 120 pages in a couple of weeks ago, but my abandonment was grating on me so I went back to pick up where I left off.

Second time around I was much more in the mood for it. Although not difficult prose to read, I found it needed a certain amount of concentration, and I think background distraction on my commute originally meant I was drifting in and out of the subject matter and not connecting with it enough. I'll stand by my original opinion of the first third of the book, in that it felt like Sackville-West had the characters lined up ready to throw them into the story one after the other, and didn't think too hard about good plot devices for introducing them.

Eventually, once she'd found a flimsy excuse for lining up all the characters in front of the reader, a story did at last begin to emerge. In all it was light-hearted, poking fun at the first world problems of the elite class in the early 20th century. It was particularly interesting to be reading this at a time when there's all the furore over Harry and Meghan; I couldn't help but draw parallels between the young duke Sebastian, who feels very sorry for himself in terms of the pressure to fall in line with expectations for his position, and our own young Duke of Sussex.

Sackville-West wasn't afraid to poke at the unwritten rules and hypocrisies that existed amongst her own class, so in this regard there was something very fresh in her approach. However, ultimately she was no Jane Austen in terms of prose.

3.5 stars - I'm glad I went back to finish it as I enjoyed it well enough, but I doubt I'll think about it for too long.

82dchaikin
tammikuu 24, 2020, 8:52pm

Kudos for giving it a second try. Elite first world problems is an entertaining description. If I were to read this, not saying I will, but not saying I wouldn't, I would be thinking about the window in that pre-wwi UK (from, presumably a tainted perspective).

83AlisonY
tammikuu 25, 2020, 2:45pm

>82 dchaikin: yes, it was a very interesting window into the upper class in that pre-war era. It certainly sounded dull as ditchwater if you were a woman especially, although I guess the opulence may have provided some level of solace.

84AlisonY
tammikuu 25, 2020, 3:30pm



5. Review - Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Katherine Boo immersed herself in the Annawadi slum of Mumbai for three years, getting to know individuals, their stories and the underworld politics at work in a place of abject poverty. I expected a well researched non-fiction book of commentary on the life of people living in these slums, but instead this is a meticulously crafted story that reads like a Khaled Hosseini novel. Indeed, so gripping was the narrative that I found myself skipping to the author's note at the back to check that I'd got it right and it was definitely a piece of non-fiction.

The book centres on three main intertwined stories, opening with the young teenage Abdul hiding from the police because of a terrible incident that has happened to One-Leg, his bitter next door neighbour who is dangerously jealous of his family's modest success in the scavenger business. In the mix is also Asha, a corrupt wannabe politician and slumlord who is desperate to raise herself up out of the slum by any means.

This book wowed and horrified me in equal measure. It wowed me in terms of the gripping narrative that left me turning the pages wanting to know more, yet the reality of the desperate, desperate poverty was hard to read at times. It really is an utter hell on earth. Children with bald heads caused by worms escaping from infected rat bites. People left to die in agony by the side of the road because the fear of getting into trouble by getting involved is stronger than the desire to help. Open sewers. Days spent scavenging local rubbish to bring in the equivalent of a dollar a day. Relentless, inescapable, grinding filth and destitution. As if that wasn't horrendous enough, there is also corruption at every turn. A police force whose statements are either incriminating or exonerating depending on how much you can afford to bribe them. Doctors and hospitals whose level of care depends on how much money they're given under the table. Fellow neighbours who want money to sort out neighbourhood problems or money to stop creating them. Colleges where bribes are expected to get the questions for exams. Everyone has a price, yet ultimately no one has anything.

The Annawadi slum is tucked behind Mumbai airport, hidden behind a wall with the 'beautiful forever' slogan running along it's length. The stark difference between both sides of the wall is hard to process. For those on the Annawadi side of the wall there is no future to look forward to. Life is an endurance, and some manage to endure it for less time than others, but happiness is the most rarest of commodities.

For an outsider to bring this level of depth and insight to her subject is commendable.

4.5 stars - this will be staying with me for a long time, but oh how I wish it was simply a great gripping story and not actual real life.

85dchaikin
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 27, 2020, 4:20pm

I found myself skipping to the author's note at the back to check that I'd got it right and it was definitely a piece of non-fiction.

I couldn’t do that, since I used audio. But I had keep reminding myself this is being reported as fact, not fiction. A surreal kind of insane.

86AlisonY
tammikuu 28, 2020, 3:15am

It's insane, and it's heartbreaking. I saw in this Saturday's Times that someone has written a new book about lots of street children going missing (i.e. murdered) in slums across a number of Indian cities. I was glad I read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, but I think I would find it hard to immerse myself in further tales of horrendous slum poverty and injustice. I'm sadly aware how first world privileged that sounds.

87BLBera
tammikuu 30, 2020, 3:39pm

>84 AlisonY: I've had this one on my shelves for a long time; it sounds like one I would appreciate (I hesitate to say "enjoy."). Great comments.

>81 AlisonY: My reading is very mood related as well. Some things I need quiet so I can concentrate, while others I can dive into at any time.

88AlisonY
tammikuu 30, 2020, 4:03pm

>87 BLBera: thanks. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is definitely worth a read, although it will break your heart.

89AlisonY
tammikuu 30, 2020, 5:25pm



6. Review - Judas by Amos Oz

Judas is a quiet yet intelligently multi-layered book. In some ways nothing much happens, yet at the same time everything happens.

After having his heart broken, a young Israeli student drops out of university and takes a live-in job as part-time companion and interlocutor to an old man who lives with his aloof daughter-in-law. At a fork in the road, his plans are aimless beyond finding respite from the world in the cocoon of this oddly reclusive house.

As a coming of age story evolves between the student and the older woman in the recent shadow of the new State of Israel, the novel considers the morality of the displacement of Israeli Arabs by the new Jewish settlers. The student revisits his abandoned thesis on Jewish views on Jesus, and as he debates with the old man whether Judas Iscariot deserves his label as the ultimate betrayer for inciting anti-Semitism, parallels are drawn with the daughter-in-law's father, who was considered a traitor by Jews for opposing the creation of the new State of Israel over peaceful cohabitation of Jews and Arabs. Were both men abject traitors to Judaism, or were they in reality true antiheroes?

I enjoyed this gentle yet thought-provoking novel much more than I expected to. It quietly raises hugely profound questions whilst sweeping you up in its beautiful prose. Oz's tender perception and human insight reminded me of Marilynne Robinson's writing in many ways. I'm not sure how his other translated books stand up to this one, and how much of his own apparent political leanings towards the Palestinian cause feature in his other works, but I'll certainly be looking out for more by him.

4.5 stars - gentle yet powerful, I'll be thinking about this book for quite some time.

90raton-liseur
tammikuu 31, 2020, 2:19am

>89 AlisonY: Thanks for this review. it seems an interesting and nice book to read. Judas seems to be the last book of fiction published by Amos Oz.
I read some time ago Elsewhere, perhaps, which is from the beginning of his career, and I can definitely recommand it. It takes place in a kibutz, so there are some political elements as well.

91AlisonY
tammikuu 31, 2020, 3:28am

>90 raton-liseur: thanks - good to get a recommendation as he seems to have been a fairly prolific writer. No doubt there's unevenness in terms of how good each is.

92rocketjk
tammikuu 31, 2020, 10:46am

>89 AlisonY: My wife read his memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, a year or so ago and thought it was very good. Terry Gross reran a couple of interviews she'd done with him on her Fresh Air radio show on the occasion of his death that are very thoughtful and enlightening about his character. I know they're available to listen to online. A quick google search would probably turn them up.

93thorold
tammikuu 31, 2020, 12:39pm

>92 rocketjk: You posted the link to that interview in the Mediterranean thread last year when we were talking about Oz: https://www.librarything.com/topic/301914#6702571

Judas sounds good — on my list it goes. A tale of love and darkness is an amazing book!

94AlisonY
tammikuu 31, 2020, 1:52pm

>92 rocketjk:, >93 thorold: noting A Tale of Love and Darkness - not that my wish list needs any more titles added to it! Thanks for the link - I'll take a look at that this weekend.

95VivienneR
tammikuu 31, 2020, 3:10pm

Hi Alison, I'm still trying to catch up with threads, a seemingly impossible task!

>81 AlisonY: Sorry this was one of the more difficult books for you to get through. Sackville-West is one of my favourite authors and I loved The Edwardians, not least because it reflected her own life.

>84 AlisonY: Excellent review. We are inclined to forget about the level of corruption and staggering poverty in India because so much is made of the economic rise. Katherine Boo has written a reminder of reality. Brilliant, but so very sad.

96rocketjk
tammikuu 31, 2020, 4:07pm

>93 thorold: Thanks for that! I remembered posting the link but was too lazy to go in search of it.

97avaland
tammikuu 31, 2020, 6:47pm

>57 AlisonY: I've finally got over here to see what you are reading. Great reviews!

Just want to add another thumb's up for "Ann with an E, " which was recommended to me by my red-headed, freckled, 37 year old hardcore Anne of Green Gables fan. She told me to watch it and think about it as Anne of Green Gables fanfic, rather a straightforward adaptation of the books. I really enjoyed it (although, that 3rd season couldn't possibly have crammed any any more melodrama, could they?)

I thought I might have had something to say about Olive Kittredge but it's been a long time since I read it. Being a born & bred Mainer I perhaps assessed it a bit differently, but then, I didn't write a review so...

98AlisonY
helmikuu 2, 2020, 9:48am

>95 VivienneR: Hi Vivienne. I think I got there in the end with The Edwardians, but alas it's not going to be one of my favourites.

I'm still thinking about the Boo book, and the desperate acts that come with that unthinkable level of poverty.

>97 avaland: My 10 year old daughter doesn't seem to be as into this 3rd season of Anne with an E - I suspect she's not enjoying the more depressing emotions that are in this one compared to previous seasons. Some of the episodes are quite sad.

Maine is still on my bucket list. I've been hankering for a trip there for a long time. Maybe when the kids are slightly older (i.e. will whine less during the long flight / long road trips).

99japaul22
helmikuu 2, 2020, 11:09am

Trying to catch up here. I felt quite the opposite from you on Perfume and Behind the Beautiful Forevers. The originality of the idea of Perfume and the exploration of scent really drew me in, though I certainly agree that the ending was ridiculous!

And I disliked Behind the Beautiful Forevers for the same reason you liked it. I felt the extreme narrative nonfiction, reading very much like a novel, trivialized the horrors of what she was trying to depict because it was too easy to pretend these weren't real people. And I thought her extensive research that formed the background of the book was too far in the background. So I agree that it was an important book and done with a lot of skill, the writing style just didn't match the subject for me.

I feel like we've had so many books we agree on in the past that our differing opinions this year have really stood out for me!

100AlisonY
helmikuu 2, 2020, 11:19am

>99 japaul22: I did like the originality and setting of Perfume - it just didn't draw me in.

Interesting perspective on Behind the Beautiful Forevers. I didn't think of it in that way when I read it, but I do certainly get your point.

Good to have your debate on these. You're one of the people on LT that I share most library titles with - I guess we can't agree on them all! :)

101japaul22
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 2, 2020, 11:24am

>100 AlisonY: I did agree with you on The Edwardians. While it was a pleasurable reading experience for me, I remember virtually nothing about it a couple years later.

102AlisonY
helmikuu 4, 2020, 3:42pm



7. Review - The Memory Illusion: Remembering, Forgetting, and the Science of False Memory by Julia Shaw

I wanted to love this book, but it just didn't do it for me. Generally I enjoy a bit of popular science reading, but this one seemed to drag on and on. The basic premise was that our memories are extremely fallible and extremely vulnerable to the power of suggestion, but there was a huge amount of scientific test padding to stretch this out for a book. While that may be of interest to psychology / science purists, it left me skimming over the pages somewhat. I'd have preferred more case studies than endless test groups.

2.5 stars - I gleaned a few interesting snippets (if someone's relying on memory to pick you out of a line up there's a fair chance you're screwed), but beyond that I was delighted to get to the final page.

103AlisonY
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 4, 2020, 3:44pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

104OscarWilde87
helmikuu 7, 2020, 12:07pm

>102 AlisonY: When I read the title I instantly thought 'I might want to read this'. After your review I'm not so sure anymore. So thanks for reading it for me.

105dchaikin
helmikuu 7, 2020, 1:19pm

Oh, Amos Oz pops up here. I do want to read Judas. I’ve read three books by him, the best being the nonfictional Tales of Love and Darkness. But they were all great. He’s always thoughtful and psychologically penetrating, and he tends to forefront the tensions of the Israeli experience. Also, I really enjoyed your review of Judas.

>102 AlisonY: interesting about Shaw. I want to try Evil on audio. Noting your warnings on this one. Still, it interests.

106AlisonY
helmikuu 8, 2020, 6:08pm

>104 OscarWilde87: I wouldn't like to put anyone off this one as I think it's possibly a personal taste thing. If you're really into science you'll probably enjoy it. I just felt I could have grasped the main takeaways in a lot less pages (and it's only an average sized book).

>105 dchaikin: thanks for the heads up on the other Oz title to especially look out for. I think you'd like this Judas, Dan. I thought I'd put it on my wish list after one of your reviews - now I'm wondering who it was in CR that drew my attention to it.

Again, this Shaw title could definitely work more for others. You're science orientated, so you'd probably take more from it than I did.

107AlisonY
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 8, 2020, 7:26pm



8. Review - The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

I have had to accept that I'm perpetually going to confuse this book with The History of Bees even though they're very different novels. The titles are just too similar for my increasingly challenged grey matter.

At it's heart this is a story about racial discrimination in the era of the American Civil Rights Act told through the eyes of a white teenager. The current furore about American Dirt did make me think about about this book in a different way. Could this novel also be said to be guilty of cultural appropriation? I believe at the time of publication (and also release of the movie) there were some comments to that effect. I honestly don't think Kidd set out with any ill intention. Rather, I expect that she wanted to put a spotlight on prejudice from a different perspective, through the eyes of a young white person who has secondary experience of the impact of this racism due her close relationship with the black characters in the novel. However, the schmalzy-ness of the book detracts from those good intentions somewhat, and I can see where the counter argument that she created stereotypical black characters offering up salvation to white characters comes from.

I think Kidd tried to handle a very difficult subject with (pardon the pun) kid gloves, but in doing so put her coloured characters on an impossible pedestal through a fear of portraying them flaws and all. Yet perhaps she simply wanted to show good coloured people through the eyes of a good white person, and that not everyone is inherently racist.

I'm not meaning to reopen the debate from Darryl's thread, but I'm glad that discussion made me think a little more critically about what I read in this area.

At an uncritical level, I wanted some easy comfort reading and this book delivered on that front. It was an easy and enjoyable but fairly forgettable page turner.

3.5 stars - a warm-hearted novel, but not without its flaws.

108Nickelini
helmikuu 9, 2020, 2:50pm

>57 AlisonY: Saoirse Ronan is fast becoming my favourite actress. I feel like she'll be the Meryl Streep of her age.

Right?! I adore her. Even in the terrible Mary Queen of Scots movie. I'm happy she works so much too, so there are lots of chances to see her. I also like that she works quite often with Timothee Chalamet, who is probably my favourite young male actor.

Perfume - I'm one who liked it, but I expected to dislike it, so it was a surprise for me.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers - and this one I disliked, although I can't remember why anymore. I think part of it was the white foreigner writing it. I also thought that A Fine Balance already covered the horrors of trying to get out of the Indian slum much better (although that's a bit silly -- nothing wrong with having 2 books about a similar topic)
Secret Life of Bees - I read this for my book club a thousand years ago and liked it well enough at the time but it immediately left a bad taste in my mouth afterwards. "Schmaltzy" is a good way to describe it, but not all bad.

109AlisonY
helmikuu 10, 2020, 1:48pm

>108 Nickelini: thanks for stopping by. You're another Club Reader that I share a lot of books with! Shame Saoirse didn't get anything this time around in the Oscars, but I'm pretty sure she'll get one before too long.

110RidgewayGirl
helmikuu 10, 2020, 5:59pm

>107 AlisonY: ...but I'm glad that discussion made me think a little more critically about what I read in this area.

Yes, absolutely. I've been thinking about this a lot lately and trying to figure out how to make my own reading more inclusive (and probably less comfortable.)

111Nickelini
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 11, 2020, 12:37am

>108 Nickelini: Shame Saoirse didn't get anything this time around in the Oscars, but I'm pretty sure she'll get one before too long.

I think so too. She's only 26 and has been nominated 4 times already. That said, I was cheering for almost everyone in that category, and wasn't sad that Renee won.

112lisapeet
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 11, 2020, 7:41am

>107 AlisonY: As I think I've mentioned before, I'm allergic to "Bees" in a book title—it always makes me think of something a suburban book club would want me to read. Unfair, I know. And I actually enjoyed Laline Paull's The Bees. But I'm always hoping to have my mind changed in a radical way. Maybe not this one, though...

113AlisonY
helmikuu 11, 2020, 3:03pm

>110 RidgewayGirl: I agree. It's easy for me to get disconnected from those types of issues as we have so little diversity in NI (we're too caught up fighting about religion...).

>111 Nickelini: I love Renee too (even if she doesn't remotely resemble herself anymore).

>112 lisapeet: The Secret Life of Bees could definitely be called suburban. Not so The History of Bees - it was quite clever.

114Simone2
helmikuu 11, 2020, 9:45pm

>187 I agree with your review about it being an enjoyable though forgettable book and keep thinking about your remark about inclusive reading. I have never given it much thought to be honest, just reading what I felt like and without asking myself the questions now raised by American Dirt. Kidd’s book is a good example. I’ll have to scan my classics, there will be more, undoubtedly.

115AlisonY
helmikuu 12, 2020, 5:37am

>114 Simone2: to be honest I was exactly the same. As I said on Darryl's thread when American Dirt was being discussed, I come from a country with an extremely low level of ethnic diversity, therefore I just wasn't tuned into a lot of the issues raised before.

116markon
helmikuu 12, 2020, 6:22pm

>89 AlisonY:: Excellent review of Judas. I haven't read anything by Oz yet, though he is on my radar. Anyone have recommendations on a good place to start?

117Nickelini
helmikuu 12, 2020, 8:53pm

>112 lisapeet: I'm allergic to "Bees" in a book title—it always makes me think of something a suburban book club would want me to read.

LOL - yep, the only reason I read it was because my suburban book club wanted me to. Guilty!

118AlisonY
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 16, 2020, 9:44am



9. Review - Blindness by Jose Saramago

Blindness is a dark, tight, tense novel which follows a group who are the first to have been affected by a blindness epidemic that has spread throughout the country. Quarantined in a disused mental asylum guarded by soldiers, the novel develops in a 1984 / Lord of the Flies flavour. As their treatment by the army becomes increasingly reactive and unjust, a band of violent hoodlums emerges from a new intake of blind detainees, and their detention becomes a fight for survival against horrific violence and starvation.

This is a very clever dystopian novel which takes you on a journey with constant shocks and surprises. The spread of the disease causes the normal running of society to collapse like a house of cards, and Saramago gets you thinking beyond the novel about the extent of repercussions following this level of catastrophic event (indeed, it was interesting / slightly worrying to read it as the Coronovirus epidemic continues to gather momentum).

Saramago very much plays with narrative form in this novel. It was good practice for Ducks, Newburyport, as he writes without paragraphs in very long sentences with few full stops. The dialogue between characters is differentiated only by commas, not quotation marks, and the narration jumps around between character's heads and that of an independent narrator's perspective as it suits to reveal different viewpoints. As such, it's a novel that requires close, attentive reading, and I found that the dense prose style meant that I took more breaks when reading this than I normally would.

I keep telling myself that I'm not a lover of the dystopian genre, yet I've now read a few of the greats and have enjoyed them all. Actually, 'enjoyed' probably isn't the right word as they tend to be dark and tense, so perhaps it's the depressiveness of dystopian novels that usually makes me avoid them. However, Blindness has given me renewed hope that I probably would get a lot out of reading The Handmaid's Tale.

I don't think I'm in a hurry to read the sequel to this novel (Seeing). This story was gripping and kept the tension to the last, and an ending that leaves you wondering what happened next is often the best ending of all. I suspect that reading 'what happened next' could detract from the standalone brilliance of this novel.

4.5 stars - I debated giving this 4 stars, as in times of plot inaction the dense narrative form detracted from my reading experience. However, when the plot was running along, as it mostly did, the play with form felt hardly noticeable, and I expect without it the dramatic tension may not have worked as well as it did. My greatest respect for this is that it is a novel of superlative imaginative execution. It may not be the book I enjoy most this year, but it will certainly be up there in terms of those that I respect and no doubt keep thinking about for some time.

119thorold
helmikuu 16, 2020, 5:38am

>118 AlisonY: I love Saramago, but that one is my least favourite, in the same way as I'm not a great fan of The handmaid's tale.

I think you get a much better idea of what he's about from Baltasar and Blimunda, The elephant's journey, The stone raft or — my favourite so far — The history of the siege of Lisbon.

120AlisonY
helmikuu 16, 2020, 9:43am

>119 thorold: interesting. Do you feel his style is different in Blindness? I was wondering if dystopia is his usual style, or if like Atwood he covers a few different styles.

121Nickelini
helmikuu 16, 2020, 1:29pm

>118 AlisonY:
I hated Blindness with a passion. Originally I had lots of reasons when I read it years ago, but now I just remember the gratuitous rape scene that was just done so . . . wrong. Because of hating this book, I've dismissed The History of the Siege of Lisbon, which has been in my shelves for years. Maybe I will give it a chance after all.

122thorold
helmikuu 16, 2020, 3:42pm

>120 AlisonY: He does a lot of quite different things in different books, maybe most often he’s playing around with elements of historical fiction and magic realism, but there’s all kinds of other stuff in there as well, often in playful, comic ways. And a lot of satire aimed at religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular.

123Caroline_McElwee
helmikuu 16, 2020, 5:04pm

>118 AlisonY: I thought this an extraordinary novel Alison.

124AlisonY
helmikuu 16, 2020, 5:10pm

>121 Nickelini: I found the rape scene horrific, but felt it was an important pivotal point in the novel rather than gratuitous. Hard to read, but it worked with the general escalation of horrors - just when you thought things couldn't get any worse... etc.

>122 thorold: Some of those elements I don't overly enjoy (magical realism especially), so I'll gen up before plumping for another of his books at random.

125AlisonY
helmikuu 16, 2020, 5:13pm

>123 Caroline_McElwee: Hi Caroline. Me too. Like I said in my review I doubt it will be my most enjoyable novel this year, but it definitely was extraordinary.

126dchaikin
helmikuu 16, 2020, 9:32pm

>107 AlisonY: OK, I read The Secret Life of Bees in 2005, before joining LT and remembering liking quite a bit. But...I couldn't tell you what it's about anymore... so, interesting to read your perspective and wonder at my own then.

>118 AlisonY: Prep for Ducks? Hmm. (Think you just need some long lists). The variations on the response in everyone's posts are really interesting. Glad you enjoyed. I didn't like the Saramago I read, but it was gimmicky, it just retold the bible with snark, called Cain. (I don't mind the snark, but I know/knew it well enough that I found it a boring recap.) I'll try him again. Good conversations you have going here.

127lilisin
helmikuu 17, 2020, 2:41am

>118 AlisonY:

Blindness remains one of my top novels. Horrifying but appropriately so given the situation. The book engrossed me so much that I still haven't read another Saramago as don't know if Blindness could be topped. I haven't read any Latin American fiction in years though so I wonder when will be the day I read him again.

128AlisonY
helmikuu 17, 2020, 3:30am

>126 dchaikin: Cheap shots at the Bible don't grab me, so I'll see if there's anything else of his that's of interest, but I'm in no rush.

>127 lilisin: Horrifying but appropriately so given the situation.

Yes - that's how I felt about it. Totally horrifying, but electric as a result.

129lilisin
helmikuu 17, 2020, 3:42am

> 128

I remember when the movie came out in theaters and next to me were sitting a couple probably no more than 22 years old. Everyone else in the theater had come to see the movie by themselves like myself so I kept looking at the couple throughout the movie to follow their reactions and they looked absolutely horrified/confused. After the movie I went home and watched the trailer and saw that the way it was advertised made it seem almost like an action movie. Poor couple! That was most definitely not a good date movie!

130AlisonY
helmikuu 17, 2020, 7:52am

>128 AlisonY: No I can imagine it wouldn't be the best date movie! I was hoping it was on Netflix as I think my husband would enjoy watching it (and although usually not my type of movie I'd enjoy seeing it after reading the book), but alas no sign of it.

131BLBera
helmikuu 17, 2020, 9:45am

>107 AlisonY: I'm glad I'm not the only one who confuses titles. And it seems like there are many with "bees" in the title these days. Your comments go along with my thoughts on the novel. I read it years ago, remember enjoying it and remember little.

>118 AlisonY: I think I'm due for a reread of Blindness. I loved it the first time I read it. The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorite novels. It is very prescient, and consider the fact that she wrote it in the 80s.

132AlisonY
helmikuu 17, 2020, 10:49am

>131 BLBera: Maybe this will be the year I finally get to The Handmaid's Tale!

133markon
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 17, 2020, 2:02pm

>122 thorold:, >126 dchaikin: Have either of you read The gospel according to Jesus Christ? That's the only Saramago I've read so far, and I liked it a lot. It follows some basics, but has a different backstory for Joseph than I've ever seen, and raises what I think are interesting questions about power & good & evil.

I have to ration my reading of distopias, so between labfs39's and thorold's recommendations of The elephant's journey, I'm bumping that one up my list.

134VivienneR
helmikuu 17, 2020, 2:53pm

>118 AlisonY: Interesting conversation! I have Blindness on the shelf but now I'm having second thoughts. The lack of quotation marks etc are annoying at first but I've found that I can soon get used to it. However, dystopian novels are generally not my reading of choice. After I read Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale it was years - no, decades - before I picked up another Atwood. My loss, of course.

135thorold
helmikuu 17, 2020, 3:46pm

>133 markon: Yes, it was one of the first I read. Don’t remember it very well, but I was impressed. This is what I said about it in 2011: https://www.librarything.com/review/72172013

136dchaikin
helmikuu 17, 2020, 4:21pm

>133 markon: Not me, I've only read Cain. I like the title, though (and the ideas you and Mark, in his review, mention)

137valkyrdeath
helmikuu 17, 2020, 5:56pm

Just enjoyed catching up on your thread, since all my intentions of keeping up with LT this year have fallen apart already!

>84 AlisonY: The events of Behind the Beautiful Forevers have really stuck with me since reading it a few months ago. The novel-like structure really worked for me. I also really appreciated the fact that Boo didn't insert herself into the book, since I've read far too much non-fiction recently where the authors were more interested in talking about themselves most of the time than the actual subject of the book.

>102 AlisonY: The Memory Illusion sounds an interesting subject but judging by your review I think there's probably better books on it. Sounds like there wasn't enough information there to justify a full book.

138sallypursell
helmikuu 17, 2020, 8:25pm

Catching up, and enjoying all your comments and reviews.

139AlisonY
helmikuu 18, 2020, 3:22am

>134 VivienneR: I don't know, Vivienne - you might like it. I would also usually say I don't like this genre, but I thought Blindness was very clever. Dark and shocking, but unique and well done.

>137 valkyrdeath: thanks for stopping by! Yes, I liked the novel-esque structure of Boo's book too. Rather than soft-coating the horror of every day life in the slums, I found I became much more emotionally connected because she took the time to set up the back story in novel-like prose.

I may be unjustly putting people off The Memory Illusion, but there have been other 'science-for-the-masses' books about the brain that I've found much more engaging.

>138 sallypursell: thanks Sally. I expect the chat will stop for a while when I dive into Ducks, Newburyport with a few others in March!

140Simone2
helmikuu 19, 2020, 9:31pm

>118 AlisonY: Very good review. This book has stuck with me for quite some time. I kept thinking of how fast humanity receded and was shocked by this probability. Smart writing. I also enjoyed the plot but somehow I never picked up Seeing.

141AlisonY
helmikuu 20, 2020, 5:09am

>140 Simone2: thanks, Barbara. Perhaps that's what's so shocking about it - that it seems entirely plausible that humanity could recede at such a rate if a debilitating epidemic struck.

142AlisonY
helmikuu 20, 2020, 6:08am



10. Review - Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Under the Greenwood Tree was the first of Hardy's Wessex novels, and his first commercially successful novel after his first novel Desperate Remedies flopped. First published in 1872, in the 20 years subsequent he updated the book several times when it was republished by different houses, mainly to bring it more in keeping with the topography and social networks of his subsequent and more popular Wessex novels. This Penguin edition was the original text (save for corrections of spelling and punctuation), and I appreciated reading it in its original intended form without the later polishing.

It's easy to spot this as an early Hardy novel; it bears none of his later hallmarks of tragedy or the country descriptions that envelop you so completely in novels such as Tess of the d'Urbervilles or The Return of the Native. I missed the prickle of the furze and the squelch of the turf which transport you back to a bygone era in his other novels. Moreover, I heartily missed the usual Hardy tragedy that cuts you like a knife.

Under the Greenwood Tree is a gentle pastoral novel that focuses on the day-to-day lives of regular country inhabitants. The plot typifies the inconsequential happenings in a rural parish - a new, attractive schoolmistress puts the noses of the men of the church quire out of joint as the entranced vicar allows the equally enchanted church warden to persuade him that the new schoolmistress should now lead the church music on the organ. Meanwhile, the tranter's son has also fallen head over heels for her charms, but can he win his heart given his lowly social position in comparison with the wealth of the churchwarden or vicar?

It's the shortest of Hardy's Wessex novels, and gratifyingly so as it meanders and weaves with no real plot surprises. Compared to his other Wessex novels it disappoints, but there's enough there to while away a few enjoyable hours on a rainy day.

3 stars - interesting enough, but I'm afraid Hardy has set the bar too high in his later novels for this to warrant much attention.

143thorold
helmikuu 20, 2020, 6:55am

>142 AlisonY: Quite agree about it not being up to the standard of the big Hardy novels, but somehow it’s always been one that I enjoyed re-reading. Rural schtick triumphing over literary merit, perhaps...

144AlisonY
helmikuu 20, 2020, 7:30am

>143 thorold: Yes, it was interesting that the main characters in this novel were perhaps the kind that would have been in the background in his other novels. I did miss the furze, though. And the drama.

145AlisonY
helmikuu 23, 2020, 7:50am



11. Review - The Snow Geese by William Fiennes

Spending a long time rehabilitating at home following a serious illness, in his confinement William Fiennes develops an interest in his father's hobby of bird watching, and rediscovers a book about a snow goose from his boarding school days. When finally his convalescence is complete, Fiennes is no longer interested in applying himself to his abandoned PhD, feeling the need instead to rediscover life through an adventure. Fascinated by the migration arc of snow geese and unable to shake the story of the snow goose from his mind, he embarks on a journey to follow the spring migration path of hundreds of thousands of geese from Eagle Lake in Texas to their nesting site at Baffin Island in NE Canada.

Although Fiennes' story is about following the journey of the snow geese, in reality the geese are more of a minor plot device to give purpose to his travelogue. They are a catharsis for rediscovering life after illness has stolen time and life choices from him, and as he journeys he muses also about home, what it has meant to him through his convalescence and what it will mean to him in the next turn of life.

I thoroughly enjoyed my armchair ride up through the States and deep into Canada with Fiennes. Most often his travels brought him through sleepy hollows and towns off the tourist beaten track, where the fascination was in the ordinary life stories of the local people he met and stayed with on his journey. These were places I've not been to - North and South Dakota, Riding Mountain National Park, Winnipeg, Churchill, Baffin Island - and whilst nothing of any great excitement happens on his travels, he evoked great feelings of wanderlust in me through his writing. There's a wonderful fascination that travelling out of your own normal and into the complete unknown of other people's lives and environments brings, and it is the ordinary conversations and observations which make this book so enjoyable.

As a first book it's not perfect. In early chapters at times he gets completely carried away with his physical descriptions of people he meets and places he stays, overdoing the detail in a way that feels amateurish and distracting. A few chapters in and he seems to get into his writing stride, writing quite beautifully at times, so I feel irritated that his editor didn't demand a rewrite on the rookie parts of his early chapters.

All things considered I enjoyed this quiet, gentle journey, and if you enjoy a good travelogue I'd recommend it.

4 stars - imperfect, but enjoyable nonetheless.

146AlisonY
helmikuu 29, 2020, 10:46am

,,

12. Review - The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford

Written in 1914, with the title The Good Soldier you'd be forgiven for expecting this classic to be a war novel. However, the nearest we come to notions of war in this novel are those of the domestic strife kind concerning two couples who Ford refers to as "good people".

Ford Maddox Ford was an interesting character. Rubbing shoulders with the literary greats of the time, he co-wrote several novels with Joseph Conrad (touchy subject - Conrad got all of the credit from the publishers), published works in The English Review (which he founded) by the likes of Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells, Conrad, Ezra Pound and Yeats, and in Paris published work by Hemingway, Joyce, Jean Rhys and Gertrude Stein in The Transatlantic Review. Despite prolifically writing his own memoirs, poetry, novels and critical essays, Ford was ultimately left disappointed and disillusioned that so many of his writing contemporaries, whose work he had championed as a publisher, left him in their wake with their much greater literary successes.

That being said, so much about this book fascinated me, despite at times befuddling me. In the introduction (written post it's original publication), Ford claims it was his best book, and I think it deserves to be remembered alongside the much better known publications of the era from his contemporaries. He insists that the book was in his head for 10 years, but as it was about personal friends he had to wait until they'd passed before being able to tell their story. Knowing as we do his own backstory of extra-marital affairs, one suspects that you might not have too look too far to find where his "friend" inspiration came from.

Originally Ford wished the novel to be called The Saddest Story before his publishers put their foot down, given the already sad enough reality of being a country at war. This theme plays out throughout the novel as the narrator reflects on the wasteful tragedy of the spiralling events that take place, and the sadness of a story where none of the characters ultimately find happiness.

The Good Soldier has been both criticised and revered for the manner in which it is narrated, a chronological hotch-potch that skips back and forth and round and round rather than being a linear retelling. Although I had to check back every now and then to make sure I hadn't missed something important, I'm definitely in the 'it works' camp. The narration style creates complex layers which definitely make you work as a reader, piecing together disjointed narrative which segues and digresses between what was known at the time and what was discovered later by the narrator to be true. However, in making sense of the story as you read it takes you on what feels like quite a literary journey, and when I reached the end and the last piece of the puzzle slipped into place it felt like I'd just experienced a pretty fine novel.

4 stars - I doubt that this will be my favourite novel of the year, but it was a good read nonetheless.

147avaland
helmikuu 29, 2020, 2:02pm

>142 AlisonY: Nice review of the Hardy novel.

I have only read a wee bit of the The Memory Illusion but have set it aside to finish that history (which is a slower read). Having read your review, I'll give Shaw a bit more slack re the science dumps if need be (and it's a short book)

148thorold
helmikuu 29, 2020, 2:13pm

>146 AlisonY: I found The good soldier very interesting, too, but I think Parade's End grabbed me a lot more when I read that a few years later. It has a good claim to be the best British WWI novel.

149AlisonY
helmikuu 29, 2020, 2:26pm

>147 avaland: You might thoroughly enjoy The Memory Illusion, especially if you're more naturally science-orientated than I am.

>148 thorold: Good to know. Now I think about it I've read far more novels set in WWII than WWI, so noting this one.

150dchaikin
helmikuu 29, 2020, 10:59pm

>146 AlisonY: great review. I don't know anything about FMF, so everything you said here was quite fascinating to me.

>147 avaland: The Snow Geese sounds terrific. Another great review. Making a mental note of this, might be the kind of book I can use at some point.

>142 AlisonY: Once I get to that first Hardy, I'll hopefully understand your last comment. Got a lot from your review.

151AlisonY
maaliskuu 1, 2020, 9:35am

>150 dchaikin: I think you'd enjoy the FMF, Dan. It's quite dense, so despite being a slim book it took me a bit of time reading it, but in the end I got a lot out of it.

The Snow Geese I really enjoyed, if I ignore the few awful bits of writing in the first few chapters that I mentioned.

Hardy you MUST get to! But don't start with Under the Greenwood Tree.

152AlisonY
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 28, 2020, 10:21am



13. Review - One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten

In 2013, Gene Weingarten, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, asked strangers to pick a random day, month and year from a hat. The day they picked was Sunday, December 28, 1986, and this book is a collection of stories about what happened to ordinary people on that day in America.

It's a simple but clever idea, and as he works through a random set of 24 hours Weingarten unearths some fantastic stories. Not all of them grabbed me (I glazed a little at the story of action replays in American football), but some of them were truly gripping, such as the murder-suicide which resulted in the first heart transplant in the Washington area, and the story of the now millionaire ice hockey player's life on the run with his parents as a child after his father skipped bail for almost beating his mother to death.

The crime stories gripped me most as Weingarten lifted the hood on the real family stories behind a number of terrible tragedies. Some of the stories you probably need to be American to fully appreciate the context, but all in all this was an enjoyable insight into how one day can be so ordinary for so many, but so unforgettable for others.

4 stars - an interesting insight into the real stories behind the news headlines.

153rocketjk
maaliskuu 27, 2020, 6:32pm

>152 AlisonY: Wow, that looks very interesting, indeed1

154AlisonY
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 10:20am

>152 AlisonY: It is, Jerry. Some of the stories are stronger than others, but still - worth a read.

155BLBera
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 11:53am

>152 AlisonY: That does sound interesting, Alison. It's a great idea.

156AlisonY
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 12:46pm

>155 BLBera: it really is. Weingarten was gutted when the date was first pulled out, as not only is a Sunday usually the quietest day of the week, but also that week in between Christmas and New Year is usually the quietest of the year. However, he manages to pull it together. Not all of the events happen exactly on the day - there are a few tenuous links back to the date in some of the stories, but it still works OK.

157lisapeet
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 4:31pm

>152 AlisonY: Ooh that does sound interesting, and wan't on my radar at all. Thanks!

158NanaCC
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 5:28pm

>152 AlisonY: It looks like you got a lot of us with that one, Alison.

159AlisonY
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 6:25pm

>157 lisapeet:, >158 NanaCC: It's a 2019 publication. I came across it on a list of recommended non-fiction books a couple of months ago, and my library was wonderful enough to buy it upon request.

160sallypursell
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 8:34pm

>149 AlisonY: >148 thorold: You might consider going to Project Gutenberg to check out One Man's Initiation--1917, a project of which I am proud of being Project Manager. It is from John Dos Passos, and is a short but very effective novel based on his time in the ambulance corp of WWI, most of whom were conscientious objectors, I believe. If you do go to look for it, you might notice my name in the introductory credits. I found it sad, as you might expect a war novel to be, but also immersive.

Dos Passos became famous for his USA trilogy a little later in life. The second novel in that trilogy, 1919 also concerns WWI. I have not yet read this, although it is in my TBR list, but apparently it concerns similar subjects, and I assume was an expansion of 1917.

161sallypursell
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 8:39pm

>139 AlisonY: Alison, would you tell us what are some of those books about the brain that you found engaging?

162sallypursell
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 8:50pm

>151 AlisonY: So far I have found Hardy rather laborious, but I feel motivated to try again. If I should not start with Under the Greenwood Tree where should I start?

163rocketjk
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 10:41pm

>160 sallypursell: That sounds like a fascinating project.

Another early Dos Passos about World War One is Three Soldiers, which I read a year or so ago and thought was very good.

164AlisonY
maaliskuu 29, 2020, 5:00am

>160 sallypursell: Thanks Sally - I'll make a note of that one.

>161 sallypursell: On brain books, one that I enjoyed a few years ago was Into the Grey Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death by Adrian Owen. It was very well written - a good balance of science and social impact.

Another was the classic The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks - that was full of fascinating but tragic stories about brain disorders and injuries and their impact.

I also enjoyed Ruby Wax's Sane New World: Taming the Mind. If you can get past Wax's usual sardonic tone, this is an interesting book about the impact of negative chatter on the mind and body, and how to 'tame' those thoughts in the brain. Although not a book on the brain per se, there is plenty of information about how it works, and where depression manifests from. I did note when I reviewed it that I don't suffer from depression so I can't advocate for how useful it is on the front if you're really looking for some answers, but it was an interesting read nonetheless.

>162 sallypursell: Re. Hardy, oh please do give him another try, Sally! I would start with The Mayor of Casterbridge. The first 50 pages or so do feel a little laborious, but then it develops into the most wonderful novel. I actually cried over it.

165sallypursell
huhtikuu 3, 2020, 1:39am

Alison, thank you so much for your time and attention. I have read that Oliver Sachs book at least three times already--once more won't hurt! And I will look for the others.

Regarding Hardy: I will try the one you suggest, of which I had heard, of course.
I just worked my way through The Deerslayer, and the first part of that was laborious, too. I was so glad I had read it though, and after the first third it went swimmingly.

166AlisonY
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 2020, 5:56am



14. Review - Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

Ducks.... where do I start. I feel like I've just completed a marathon, and true to the analogy am feeling some sort of giddy elation at having crossed the finish line. Reading doesn't feel like enough of a word to describe this novel - perhaps 'reading experience' captures it better.

This isn't a relaxing book to read. Oddly, it's not the lack of full stops that creates any issue - it's surprising how quickly you get into the reading groove and forget about that, and also stop seeing the plethora of 'the fact that' phrases on every page. What demands your attention is rather the sheer volume of information constantly thrown at you - lists of words, anxieties on US societal issues, family worries - and the interchangeability of these topics, often changing continually between commas. There is also no obvious timeline, and from one comma to the next it can skip hours or days (we're never quite sure).

The narration is the interior monologue of a mother of four who is plagued by worries, anxieties and loss. It's different to stream of consciousness in that it perhaps more accurately conveys the erratic nature of our thought process. We don't think in nice concise sentences - our mind flits all over the place, and this is what Ellmann tries to convey in the narrative voice.

This novel is also something of a political stance, or perhaps rather an anti-politics stance. Our Ohio mother rails against many aspects of modern day American society - Trump, deliberate acts of environmental sabotage (dumping of chemicals into rivers and drinking water, nuclear material knowingly left to leak, etc), gun crime and the NRA. So much of the information imparted was horrendous (yet stood up to Google fact checking). In that sense it is perhaps the most brutally honest American novel I've read, although I'm still chewing that over in my mind and trying to figure out if it's honesty or over-sensationalism.

Interwoven in the story is the tale of a mountain lioness and her quest to find her missing cubs, which was not as random as it sounds. It weaves very nicely into the mother's own interior monologue, and at a reading level offers much appreciated respite as it breaks up the narrative.

Back to my marathon analogy, this is a long book that requires close reading, and somewhere in the middle I hit 'the wall' and found it difficult to keep picking up my feet (or rather picking up the book). However, I'm glad I prevailed, and even returned to really enjoying the book in the last few hundred pages. It's a tour de force, a book of admirable achievement when you start to appreciate that it's not just a load of random phrases but actually an immense piece of work that's meticulously sewn together.

4 stars - a vast book in all senses, but one that deserved a few weeks of my time.

167japaul22
huhtikuu 5, 2020, 8:25am

Congrats on reaching the finish line! I'm glad you found the book something to appreciate. It's given me a lot to think about and I enjoyed the experimental writing style. Glad you did as well!

168AlisonY
huhtikuu 5, 2020, 1:14pm

Jennifer at many times I couldn't decide if I loved it or if it just felt like a chore, but having given it 5 weeks of my precious reading attention I'm glad it all came together for the last couple of reading stints.

169kidzdoc
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 2020, 4:54am

Congratulations on finishing Ducks, Newburyport, Alison! Real life problems have kept me from participating in Dan's group read, but I plan to get to it in June. I'm glad that you liked it.

170AlisonY
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 5:54am

>169 kidzdoc: thanks Daryl. I look forward to your thoughts when you get to it.

171dchaikin
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 9:55am

It’s so nice to read your thoughts on this. I still have 5 hours of reading left according to Bookly App (but that includes the indexes as part of the page count, so actually a significant amount less) - but I’m pretty far along and still don’t know what I make of it. I suspect, like you, I’ll be pondering on how to process the political/pollution aspects - “natural” native world vs corruption polluted current world. But I’m really glad you enjoyed it and crossed the finish line (should come with a🏅... or a 🦆🏅 ).

172AlisonY
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 10:00am

>171 dchaikin: I hope that you feel the same by the time you get to the end, Dan. I definitely felt more into it than I did somewhere around week 2 or 3. But I can't lie - it felt quite a relief to finally reach that last page.

173dchaikin
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 10:12am

Yeah, understand. I have other books calling me. And the pandemic didn’t help my reading. i associate Ducks with its practical onset.

174rachbxl
huhtikuu 8, 2020, 1:52am

I’m not tempted by Ducks, Newburyport, but I enjoyed your review. And I’m impressed that you could stick with something that sounds quite demanding right now (at least lockdown meant you didn’t have to carry the book around!)

175japaul22
huhtikuu 8, 2020, 7:29am

>173 dchaikin: I will definitely also associate Ducks, Newburyport with this pandemic!

176AlisonY
huhtikuu 8, 2020, 8:13am

>174 rachbxl: It probably wasn't the best book to read during these stressful times, but no matter - glad I did (and glad to get on to other books as well!).

>175 japaul22: indeed!

177AlisonY
huhtikuu 13, 2020, 5:30am



15. Review - Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Well that was a fun little segue away from thoughts of Coronavirus. I'm sure I'm last to the party reading this one, but better late than never.

Cold Comfort Farm was not at all what I was expecting. I thought that the central characters would be the inhabitants of the farm, so Flora Poste - the sassy, cultured, no-nonsense Londoner - was a surprising delight. What a wonderful character! Nothing remotely phased her or derailed her plans, and her polite but acerbic retorts to the rustic Starkadder Motley crew as she whipped them all into shape were hilarious.

An enjoyable satire, although probably not a classic that will stick in my mind for too long. For some reason, the considered normalcy of cousins marrying each other sticks with me in this novel - I'm glad that we've since changed our minds on that one (at least where I come from).

4 stars - enjoyable and fun, but nothing earth shattering.

178thorold
huhtikuu 13, 2020, 7:32am

>177 AlisonY: A wonderfully funny book. I think you've nailed it: Flora's ruthless efficiency and the way it makes the problems go away so effortlessly is what makes all the Starkadders' pretensions to rural tragedy so funny.

179Nickelini
huhtikuu 13, 2020, 12:27pm

>177 AlisonY: That's still on my TBR stacks. Don't know why I never get to it.

180AlisonY
huhtikuu 13, 2020, 12:35pm

>178 thorold: She was a really fun character. I haven't seen any of the movie adaptations, but I'm sure she's a great role to play.

>179 Nickelini: I was the same. It's been on my TBR for ages, then my childminder borrowed it a while, and then it languished on my TBR again when she returned it to me. Entertaining - worth a read.

181RidgewayGirl
huhtikuu 13, 2020, 12:43pm

>177 AlisonY: I'm glad you liked it. Now is the ideal time to discover a comedic classic.

182AlisonY
huhtikuu 13, 2020, 12:59pm

>181 RidgewayGirl: Definitely. I think we're all finding we have to be a bit more discerning at the moment re. what we reach for off our TBR pile.

183thorold
huhtikuu 13, 2020, 4:14pm

>180 AlisonY: John Schlesinger did it for the BBC in 1995 with an amazing cast. That’s worth seeing if you ever come across it.

184AlisonY
huhtikuu 20, 2020, 7:18am



16. Review - Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Random Family was written over 10 years by LeBlanc who immersed herself in the lives of an extended family of Puerto Ricans living in serious poverty in the Bronx. As a non-fiction book this is a little old now in relation to it's subject matter (written in 2003, chronicling from 1985 to 2000), but no matter - it's still incredibly powerful stuff.

As an immersive piece of fly-on-the-wall piece of journalism (LeBlanc was trusted and welcomed into the lives of those she chronicled), this book is so affecting because of the extended length of time the author spent with her subjects. We don't just read about the 'whats' in their lives - by really getting under the hood of their world we start to understand a little more about their 'whys' in terms of bad choices made.

At its heart this is a story about abject poverty in an area overrun by crime. Depressingly, although each generation wants better for their children than their own upbringing, the cycle gets endlessly repeated again and again. Young mothers (14, 15, 16) end up with large families from different fathers while they're still adolescents themselves. Families typically have no firm roofs over their heads, drifting between small, rundown apartments belonging to extended family members that often have multiple adults and children already living in them. Adults most usually are unemployed or ensconced in the drug trade. Addictions are the norm, child molestation is common but not dwelled on (there are so many adults on the scene figuring out the culprit is often near to impossible), and kids are generally neglected by their families and schools despite good intentions. Young girls typically end up bearing the brunt of the work in bringing up their younger siblings (before starting motherhood themselves), and young boys - lacking guidance from fathers who are usually not involved in their upbringing and typically in jail by their late teens or murdered - eventually get into trouble on the streets, with tough attitudes and uncontrolled anger leading quickly to involvement in gangs, drugs and serious crime.

LeBlanc started writing this novel after following the trial of notorious young drug kingpin Boy George, who, before being sent down for life, was living the high life with Bentleys, jewellery, furs and beautiful women. One of those girls was Jessica, a knockout girl from a poor slum in the Bronx, and it's starting with Jessica that LeBlanc weaves this true story. Within 15 years, Jessica will have gone from rags to riches to a 10 year prison sentence back to rags, becoming a mother of 5 and grandmother of 1 in that same period. We also follow the story of her brother Cesar and his inevitable spiral into crime, and that of Coco, mother to 2 of Cesar's children who extracts herself from the Bronx but ultimately can't escape the grinding poverty that keeps her stuck in the same cycle as previous generations.

As a white, privileged reader, many of the life choices made seem utterly crazy - more babies when they can't cope with the ones they already have, money windfalls (from robberies or insurance claims) frittered away within weeks. However, LeBlanc is pretty successful by the end of the book in helping us understand that when living in this level of extreme poverty, amid everyday violence and dysfunction, there are few support structures, few reliable people to guide or help, and few opportunities to do the right thing when the day-to-day grind is like quicksand.

This is not a book of hope and light at the end of the tunnel - it is a book of stark realism about those living in the poorest sectors of society.

Were it written today, I wonder would LeBlanc be accused of writing a story that is not hers to tell. I think in this case that would be an unfair argument. In researching Random Family she spent a significantly long time immersed in her characters' lives, and it's doubtful that any of her characters would ever have been in a situation privileged enough to have been able to write their story themselves.

5 stars - thoroughly engrossing, albeit incredibly tragic.

185dchaikin
huhtikuu 20, 2020, 9:52am

Terrific review. Definitely a book I want to read.

186kidzdoc
huhtikuu 20, 2020, 10:22am

Fabulous review of Random Family, Alison! I'm interested in reading it as well.

187AlisonY
huhtikuu 20, 2020, 10:29am

>185 dchaikin:, >186 kidzdoc: it's a book that really quickly draws you - it feels like it starts from a run. Hope you get to it as some point.

188ELiz_M
huhtikuu 20, 2020, 7:45pm

>184 AlisonY: Excellent review. I read this a while back and also think highly of it.

I suspect LeBlanc was influenced by an insightful trend in sociology popularized by All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community which explores exchange networks among the poor in a poverty-stricken Midwestern Black community, where a sudden influx of money is dispersed amongst family and friends in need -- those whom have previously helped you when you were in need. So an individual, like Coco, will never escape poverty unless they severe ties with family/friends, as any gains made are expected to be shared by all.

189AlisonY
huhtikuu 21, 2020, 3:24am

>188 ELiz_M: You're right. Even when she doesn't have enough to feed her own family there is an accepted moral obligation to feed and house any friends, families and hangers on who appear at the door.

Sudden influxes of money were also blown on what would seem to those who don't live in poverty as frivolous and wasteful - 'live for the moment' non-essentials, such as leather coats. I believe there are social studies around that need for social status symbols too, with a fine coat on your back giving an immediate sense of achievement and better place in the neighbourhood hierarchy compared to, say, investing in a much better apartment to rent.

190AlisonY
huhtikuu 23, 2020, 3:40am



17. Review - Trugs, Dibbers Trowels and Twine by Isobel Carson

This is a filler book in all senses of the word - it's a classic Christmas 'finish off a present' type of book, and was a quick 'between books' filler for me this week.

It's a quick book to read, with interesting tips here and there, such as best roses to plant on an arbor (rambling, not climbers), how to get rid of slugs (coffee grounds and eggshells), etc. It's a book where I'd love to remember the handful of tips that were relevant to my own garden, but let's face it - chances are I'll never dip into this little book again. You rarely do with these kinds of books.

3 stars - nicely set out and an enjoyable quick skim of a book, but you know these sorts of books will never be earth shattering.

191AlisonY
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 2, 2020, 11:39am



18. Review - The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things is a dark Indian novel woven around the themes of caste, family and the complexities and misunderstandings that so often surround love (both familial and sexual).

I found it a difficult novel to get into, but thankfully eventually my reading persistence was rewarded. In the first third I almost bailed. It took a long time to get going, and my attention kept drifting. With complex relationships between the characters I found I kept having to go back a few pages to remind myself who was who, and the story just wasn't grabbing me.

Finally, when it did get going, it became a decent page turner, but a dark one at that. We know from the beginning that a tragedy has occurred resulting in the death of a visiting child cousin from England, and as the novel develops we finally discover all the off-shoots from the tragedy and the full story emerges. The narrative alternates between the lead up to the tragedy and the present day repercussions of it within the family, which usually works very nicely for this kind of novel, but the present day side of the story didn't really go anywhere.

All in all, I'm a bit conflicted on my thoughts around this novel. It's a Booker Prize winner, and in the first third I was eye-rolling and thinking this is exactly why I often hate Booker novels (over-complex narrative lauded for its very dullness and pomposity). But it did have sparks of genius at times, and when it was good it was excellent. I just don't think I can forgive the dullness of the first third, though, so for that reason it's not on my 'one to recommend' pile. It's also a book laced with anguish and evolving horrors, so it felt somewhat a relief to get to the end of it.

3.5 stars - Marilynne Robinson darkness but without the narrative gentleness.

192AlisonY
toukokuu 7, 2020, 8:19am



19. Review - Gut: The Inside Story of our Body's Most Under-rated Organ by Giulia Enders

My gut unfortunately fell out with me around 3 years ago, and whatever I did to upset it, clearly it's not forgiving me any time soon. I therefore hoped upon hope that this book would have a "Yes! That's it!" moment for me, but sadly (and not overly unexpectedly) there were no such revelations.

Still, it's an interesting, popular science read, and I did learn a number of new things along the way about this most complex of organs and how it works when it's working well. Particularly interesting was the new research which points to the relationship between the health of our gut bacteria and mood / depression.

I'd hoped that within these pages would be some new insights of the 'got this symptom? Perhaps check out x, y, z', but this is more of a popular gallop through the gut with a light touch on some general dysfunctions. An interesting read, written in a light and entertaining way, but nothing ground-breaking sadly.

3.5 stars - informative but not life-changing.

193japaul22
toukokuu 7, 2020, 9:19am

>192 AlisonY: Have you tried a probiotic, Alison? I got norovirus about 4 years ago and after that I started having gut issues every 6 weeks or so. This had never been a problem for me before. My doctor recommended taking a probiotic called Florastor. I felt immediate relief and have had zero issues since I started taking it a few years back. I think it's certainly better to get probiotics from foods which I also try to do (kombucha, yogurt, fermented veggies, etc.), but the pill keeps me feeling good even when I'm not getting a ton of natural probiotics. I know there is very little research about probiotics, but my anecdotal evidence is that it has really helped me!

194dchaikin
toukokuu 7, 2020, 9:20am

>191 AlisonY: interesting last sentence description. I was happy to read your review because I’ve wondered about this one and how it relates to her kind of melodramatic public persona (which had scared me off the novel).

>192 AlisonY: - this book sounds fun, anyway. Sorry for what you’re dealing with.

195AlisonY
toukokuu 7, 2020, 11:25am

>193 japaul22: I had quite good results with VSL3 for a month, Jennifer. Then I read lots of stuff on the web about how they've taken the trademark of the original company and aren't using the original formula, so I went to the other company (Vivomaxx), but I've not been consistent at taking it daily. It doesn't dissolve well in comparison with the VSL3, and it's been putting me off a bit as it's awkward to take. That was one thing I took from the book, though - a reminder to get back to the probiotics. It's expensive, though - £50 a month. It used to be available for free on the NHS until last year, but they removed both products as there wasn't enough scientific evidence to back up their being prescribed. I will try it again consistently now this has given me a reminder of the benefits I felt from the VSL3. Maybe I need to go back to that brand. I'm noting Florastor - my doctor didn't mention that name to me.

>194 dchaikin: I've never seen Roy interviewed, so interesting! It's not a book of joy, so I find it hard to recommend. I usually need a little bit of light in the tunnel somewhere in a book.

196baswood
toukokuu 13, 2020, 7:29am

>191 AlisonY: Glad you got to finish The God of Small Things I found it a five star read because of the prose style that captured for me the essence of Southern India. A special book for me, but I can understand why other readers are not so enthusiastic.

197AlisonY
toukokuu 13, 2020, 3:10pm

>196 baswood: It was a funny book for me. At the points when it was working for me I really got into it, but it just felt like it took a lot of time to get there.

198AlisonY
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 4, 2020, 8:12am



20. Review - My Struggle: Book 6 - The End by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Noooooo!!!!! I can't believe the My Struggle series is finished for me. This is beyond the usual book hangover - someone get an IV drip line set up.

So this final instalment was the biggest yet (1,153 pages), but was also a change in many respects from the form of the previous 5 books. As Knausgaard is writing Book 6, the previous books are now at various stages of being published, so this volume feels more like a real-time memoir as opposed to the novelised form of an embellished memoir that was typical of the previous books. In many senses, Book 6 feels like mental closure for Knausgaard on the series - his opportunity to come full circle on the project, setting the record straight on the truth and intent of it amidst members of his wider family are becoming embittered and litigious on what has been written as the books start to be published.

Divided into 3 sections, the first section is very much centred around the stress of Knausgaard's uncle Gunnar's reaction to Book 1 when he receives a copy before publication. As he faces the reaction of those who are detailed in his books for the first time, self-doubt begins to surface. Does he have the right to write about his own past? Has he remembered the key aspects of the past truthfully?

As Gunnar pushes for anonymity for himself and his brother (Knausgaard's father), the second section becomes a complete departure from form, taking the topic of the importance of a name into a 400 page philosophical essay segue on the topic of the critical differences between I, we and they, and the impact of anonymisation on the perception of someone as an individual. Some 70 pages of this were devoted to a line-by-line, word-by-word analysis of a Paul Celan poem, which acts as a prelude to an examination of Hitler's rise and anti-semitism in Nazi Germany, interwoven with biblical analysis. At a high level in this section, Knausgaard is examining the interplay between art, politics and religion, but the subtle subliminal message is his argument for not anonymising his father in the book.

Section 3 then brings us back to usual Knausgaard writing style. Time is further accelerated with more books published, and as he begins to focus on the completion of Book 6 his wife Linda enters a period of serious mental illness.

Three very different sections which felt in many ways like 3 separate books, although Knausgaard successfully ties them together. In the first section, Knausgaard comes across as a bit of a self-obsessed bore who is selfish with his self-wallowing time and introspection. In the first few books he humorously comes across as a bit of a dick as a youngster. By the end of the first section of book 6, I was beginning to think he might just be a bit of a dick full stop.

The first part of section 2 didn't work for me. He opens up by stating that he's always felt inferior because he doesn't understand poetry, yet then goes off on a 70 page examination word-by-word of the Celan poem. This felt like a selfish departure from the main thrust of the novel, a chance for Knausgaard to prove to himself and his readers that he does deserve respect as a credible examiner of literary text. Whilst I could put forward a similar argument for the Hitler segue, I found this part really interesting as I've not read in detail about Hitler's life before. On one level I could be unkind and accuse Knausgaard of simply bringing a number of texts on Hitler together (including Mein Kampf) - he relies on much of the actual text from other books in this section - but overall I think that would be doing him a disservice. His analysis of the popularity of Hitler and the important differences between the viewpoints of I, we and them was extremely well done, and I can see how he has successfully gone on to write other books which are of a more philosophical and critical nature.

The third section was probably my favourite of the three, but the one that gives me the most personal doubt. Was it right for him to have written in such graphic detail about his wife's mental illness? Does this cross a moral line, or was it necessary to maintain the truth of his project right to the end?

In all, l this was a rollercoaster finale to the series, that takes the reader in all sorts of unexpected directions. Does the series finale need a 400 page philosophical critique taking up a third of it? Does it work? Yes. No. I can't decide. It's so out there, and so at odds with the rest of the book and the series, yet at the same time I think he might just have pulled it off. Would I ultimately have preferred to have read section 2 as a separate book? Quite possibly, but then wouldn't that just have been something more ordinary then?

For sure this is a series I'll have to come back to again at some point. It deserves re-reading, multiple times. Knausgaard successfully concludes the series, to the detriment of us readers. How will we cope with not reading in his words about his subsequent divorce from Linda, his move to London and his new partner? Don't we deserve to keep spying on his life indefinitely?!!!

4.5 stars - my literary crush remains intact. Knausgaard is joining Bowie in my personal true-love-lasts-a-lifetime wall of fame.

PS - So is he a dick? In conclusion, yes there is a strong chance he is, as this project has ultimately been a selfish and self-absorbed journey, but still - we've all got our crosses to bear ;)

199Caroline_McElwee
kesäkuu 4, 2020, 8:20am

>198 AlisonY: I've had the first volume of this self-analysis onthe shelf for a while. Maybe it will get nudged up this year. Glad you have another lifetime love to get you through Alison. I love Bowie too.

200AlisonY
kesäkuu 4, 2020, 9:39am

>199 Caroline_McElwee: Please read it, Caroline. I've yet to see someone on CR who's read it and not enjoyed it. But I warn you - you'll be hooked!

It's taken me a few years to get through the series (I was actually rationing them a little as I loved the books so much). Now I wish I'd read them closer together, as Book 6 refers back a lot to the previous books, and I couldn't remember clearly the issues that were being raised.

201thorold
kesäkuu 4, 2020, 10:07am

>198 AlisonY: Wow! That sounds like grounds for a serious post-book crisis. As long as you can fight the urge not to start again re-reading Vol.1 in the light of what you now know... :-)

K does sound interesting, I'm sure I'll get to him sooner or later, but I really don't need something that size on the TBR now.

202kidzdoc
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 4, 2020, 10:11am

Great review of Book Six, Alison! I had intended to read the last two books and finish the series this year, but I now think that won't happen until sometime next year (my massive copy of Book Six is now glaring at me contemptuously). Like you, I will almost certainly re-read the series sometime in the future, and those books will undoubtedly travel with me to my retirement home in Portugal. *fingers crossed*

I'll probably read his most recent book, So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch, especially since a group of us LTers saw the Munch exhibition at the British Museum last year.

I've attended two of Knausgaard's talks at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and in person he comes across as surprisingly humble, warm and funny. It was a joy to listen to him speak and read from his books.

>199 Caroline_McElwee: What Alison said in >200 AlisonY:. Hooked, indeed.

203AlisonY
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 4, 2020, 10:20am

>201 thorold: They're not all huge tomes, Mark. The series is 3,600 pages in total, so this last book was a serious heavyweight. Hope you get to it at some point.

>202 kidzdoc: Any of the reviews I've seen of Knausgaard's Munch book have been really good, so will be interested in your thoughts on that one.

Fantastic that you've been able to hear him talk in person. I've had to make do with watching a few interviews from the literary circuits on You Tube, but I agree he always come across as very personable. I'm still convinced that in private he's probably quite a difficult person to be in a relationship with given how he thinks, but hey - that's not our problem!

204kidzdoc
kesäkuu 4, 2020, 10:25am

>203 AlisonY: Exactly! I'm happy to read his books as long as I don't have to live with him or read about myself.

205thorold
kesäkuu 4, 2020, 11:00am

>202 kidzdoc: >203 AlisonY: The Munch book is not really about Munch, it's about Knausgaard writing a book about Munch. But I quite enjoyed it, and it's on a manageable scale.

206AlisonY
kesäkuu 4, 2020, 11:20am

>206 AlisonY: Oh really? He seems to like writing books about himself writing books...!

207dchaikin
kesäkuu 4, 2020, 1:41pm

>198 AlisonY: congrats Alison and fantastic review. And sympathies for the coming hangover... I bought book 1 just recently. It’s possible I could get to it this year. ( I’ve read his A Time for Everything...but didn’t really like it. So I’m a touch nervous.)

208AlisonY
kesäkuu 4, 2020, 4:48pm

>208 AlisonY: If it helps, I don't really fancy the idea of A Time for Everything either. Book 6 perhaps veered into that a little through it's big philosophising chunk, but really the rest of the series (and book) are very different.

209VivienneR
kesäkuu 7, 2020, 1:30pm

Congratulations on completing the Knausgard. It is obviously one of those books that you will remember forever. I'd be tempted but I'm too old to take on such a huge commitment. :)

210AlisonY
kesäkuu 7, 2020, 1:43pm

>209 VivienneR: It feels more of a selfish indulgence than a commitnent, Vivienne!

211VivienneR
kesäkuu 7, 2020, 2:38pm

And I forgot to mention that your review is excellent!

212AlisonY
kesäkuu 7, 2020, 3:40pm

>211 VivienneR: You're too kind! It was such a monster of a book I feel like I've been off LT for ages!

213AlisonY
kesäkuu 7, 2020, 4:36pm



21. Review - The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World by John Mark Comer

Terrible for me to say as a regular church goer, but I'm not one for normally picking up a religious book as my reading book of choice.

Our minister sent me this book recently in thanks for something I've been helping the church out with (the joy of receiving an unexpected book gift through the post!), and when I had a quick flick through it I was pleasantly surprised at the style - it felt young, relevant and above all not remotely preachy.

Now that I've read the whole thing, I actually got a lot out of it. Even if you're not remotely religious, I think Comer gives a lot to think about around how increasingly busy and exhausting life has become. We're all hurrying to try to do more and to obtain more, and in doing so are often increasingly worn out, cross and far from our best version of ourselves. We've no time for ourselves, little quality time for our loved ones, and not much time (for those who are Christian) for God.

Comer puts forward a good case for reclaiming the Sabbath as a day of rest and... wait for it... enjoyment! This seemed so far from my 1970s upbringing in which the Sabbath felt like it was supposed to be almost a day of drudgery. In Comer's head, the Sabbath - if you plan it properly - should be the best day of the week, the one to really look forward to with all chores and work shelved and time with family, friends and God prioritised, doing things that remind us of just how good our lives really are (including wine - hurrah!).

In all, as the title says, this is a book challenging us to be ruthless about eliminating hurry from our lives, and not just hurry but also the exhausting desire to always be striving to obtain more things rather than learning to live much more happily with less. I do get what he means by that - when we go on holiday I often muse how we can be happily sufficient for a couple of weeks with just what we've been able to carry in a suitcase, and I'm quite sure there is a lightness to be had from purging one's house of all the crap that we accumulate over the years. But... easier said than done.

Cromer is a pastor so of course there is a religious subtext to the book, but this was written in a really fresh way which gave me plenty of food for thought about how I could do much better on all fronts. I liked the chatty style - it felt non-judgmental and above all modern and relevant. Cromer's a young guy and he gets that times have changed since the biblical Middle East, so his arguments for slowing down were in the context of the reality of the world we now live in.

4 stars - mindfulness for the time-drained and a good 'entry book' for those curious about (re)finding God in the modern world.

214VivienneR
kesäkuu 7, 2020, 9:02pm

>212 AlisonY: Yes, I wondered where you were. Thought maybe you were still grappling with work and home-schooling under lockdown.

>213 AlisonY: How nice to get a gift book by mail. However, I'll skip that one, I've been a staunch atheist since my teens.

215AlisonY
kesäkuu 8, 2020, 4:36am

>214 VivienneR: bit of both, Vivienne. I normally read everyone's threads 3 times a week when I'm in the office early before anyone else arrives. Now that time is eaten up with making breakfasts and getting my youngest set up for the day with her schoolwork.

216BLBera
kesäkuu 9, 2020, 11:15am

>213 AlisonY: Great comments, Alison. This is the kind of book that I normally wouldn't look at, but your comments make it seem worthwhile.

217AlisonY
kesäkuu 10, 2020, 8:38am

>216 BLBera: Thanks Beth. Not normally my thing either, but I'm glad I read it.

218AlisonY
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 17, 2020, 4:05am



22. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

I can't help feeling underwhelmed by this book. Did I speed through it? Yes (sort of), so I can't say I didn't enjoy it on some level, but the minute I reached the back cover it felt instantly consigned to a 'forget about it' chute in my brain. It just all felt a little... well, silly.

I like a book that pulls on my heart strings, but The Dutch House was so faintly preposterous I never got near feeling anything towards the characters. Patchett seemed to pull all the things she liked out of her favourite books and try to squash them all into one novel.

The house itself, the linchpin of the story, was such that I struggled to form a picture of it in my imagination. I just couldn't imagine this house of Manderley significance somehow shoe-horned into a regular residential street. And with a ballroom on the third floor? Really? The more she described it the more bizarre it became in my head. Add in a wicked stepmother and a long-lost mother and that was it - my memory bank had already flicked the switch to 'don't bother'.

This is a perfect don't-have-to-think-about-it-too-hard beach read and a bit of fun, but for me nothing more than that.

3.5 stars - readable but forgettable.

219thorold
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 4:51am

>218 AlisonY: Spooky! Almost as though we were reading the same book...

Weirdly enough, third-floor ballrooms (i.e. second-floor ballrooms, for non-Americans) do seem to have been a real trend, there's even someone who blogs about them: https://myomahaobsession.com/2019/08/05/i-have-a-ballroom-in-my-house/

220AlisonY
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 6:15am

>219 thorold: Oh I stand corrected on the ballroom, then. Ever since Maria danced with Captain Von Trapp the ballroom has always had to be on the ground floor in my imagination.

221japaul22
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 7:52am

>218 AlisonY: These old houses do exist in Philly! And when the majority of the upper middle class fled cities for suburbs in the 1950s they really were up for grabs. City neighborhoods took a big nose-dive in pricing and opened up for the lower middle class who were still on their way to financial security. One thing I love about Philly is the enormous random houses. These also exist in two other cities I'm very familiar with - Cincinnati and Cleveland. These houses are making a comeback and being restored in many cities. This brings a different conversation of the pluses and minuses of gentrification, but for good or bad, it is occurring

The setting of this book ended up being my favorite part, though I agree that some of the other parts, like the character believability, were less well done than some of her other books. I really liked it overall though.

Here are two articles from Philly papers about the setting.

https://www.inquirer.com/arts/the-dutch-house-ann-patchett-interview-elkins-park...

https://www.broadstreetreview.com/books/the-dutch-house-by-ann-patchett#

222AlisonY
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 8:04am

>221 japaul22: That helps - thanks! I just couldn't imagine it the way she'd described it. And Elkins Park a real place too - how about that!

223AlisonY
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 8:12am

>221 japaul22: The wonders of Google Earth - now I've been able to kerb crawl down a few avenues in Elkins Park! Ah, I get it now what those streets are like.

224rachbxl
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 8:12am

>218 AlisonY: Sorry this one didn't work out for you. You know, I really did enjoy reading it, but I already can't remember much about it (although I do still have a vivid image in my head of the house and neighbourhood, probably nothing like the real thing in >221 japaul22:!) I had the same experience with Patchett's Bel Canto, enjoyed it (though not as much as The Dutch House) when I read it, then couldn't remember it at all.

225rachbxl
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 8:13am

So you've finished My Struggle...! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the last book. How's the hangover?

226AlisonY
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 9:10am

>224 rachbxl: I can't say I didn't like it as I did turn the pages fairly quickly - it just wasn't as good as I'd hoped it would be.

>225 rachbxl: I'm wondering when I should start again at Book 1....

227dchaikin
kesäkuu 18, 2020, 11:53am

>218 AlisonY: maybe it was better with Tom Hanks. Enjoyed your comments. Hopefully I didn’t build up too much, because I really enjoyed it and gushed in my review

>221 japaul22: thanks for these.

228AlisonY
kesäkuu 20, 2020, 2:45pm

>227 dchaikin: I enjoyed it well enough, Dan - just not as much as I thought I might.

229AlisonY
kesäkuu 29, 2020, 3:25am

I'm getting very behind with my reading, especially as recently I've got into 2 TV dramatisations of books in my limited amount of free time. The first was BBC's adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People which was fantastic. If sex on screen isn't your thing then it's perhaps not for you as there was a LOT of it, and pretty full on too, but the chemistry between the two lead actors who played Marianne and Connell was electric.

The second was a serialisation of Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, featuring and produced by Reece Witherspoon. Very different to Normal People but hugely gripping.

I've not read either of these but now I'm sorely tempted. I was disappointed in Ng's Everything I Never Told You, so I'm curious as to whether Witherspoon has just done a great job with this series, or if Ng got into her stride with Little Fires Everywhere.

230thorold
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 29, 2020, 5:58am

>229 AlisonY: I’ve been hearing good things about Normal people as well, but I couldn’t get past the first episode. It just seemed to be pressing so many obvious class and gender buttons. Maybe I saw it on the wrong day...

231AlisonY
kesäkuu 29, 2020, 8:53am

>230 thorold: It's definitely preposterous in many ways but I loved it. My husband supposedly hated it and found it dull as ditchwater, but he did shout "he doesn't want to settle down yet" at the tele a few times so I think he got more into it than he'd admit. Having said that, I binge-watched the last 5 episodes from 3am one night I couldn't sleep and he doesn't seem too bothered about catching up.

232AlisonY
heinäkuu 2, 2020, 5:55pm



23. Live a Little by Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson's latest novel is about two nonagenarians who find unexpected new life when they find each other.

They couldn't be more different; Shimi, a most private bachelor, forgets nothing and ruminates relentlessly over every shameful transgression that's ever occurred in his life, whereas Beryl, who has left multiple lovers in her wake over the decades, cares little of what anyone thinks of her but is infuriated at her increasing forgetfulness of words. She's delighted that for the first time she's met a man who realises he has flaws, while he's delighted to have met someone who doesn't mind.

The pair only cross paths in the last third of the book, which is a shame. The first two thirds didn't overly work for me. Having heard Jacobson talk about this book, he described Beryl as the character he's had most fun with ever, but the humour in the first part of the book felt too try-hard. Beryl's a privileged white old lady who's constantly making sardonic colonial-esque quips at the expense of her African and Eastern European carers, and whilst the joke was on her and her ignorance rather than condoning racism it just felt wrong time for these types of remarks. The story wasn't going anywhere beyond her constant sharp tongue, and equally Shimi's story wasn't pulling me in.

Once the pair become friends the book shifted up a gear and became much more enjoyable. Through their meeting of minds we discover hidden depth to Beryl, and there's plenty of gallows humour between the two as Beryl encourages Shimi out of his shell of shame, and he in turn brings new light to her life.

3 stars - an enjoyable last 100 pages, but I can't forgive a book taking for taking too long to reel me in.

233AlisonY
heinäkuu 2, 2020, 6:02pm

Halfway through the year - time for a new thread. Don't forget to pop over for a chat, now.

234sallypursell
elokuu 16, 2020, 7:29am

>221 japaul22: St. Louis has lots of big houses like that--complete with ballrooms.
Tämä viestiketju jatkuu täällä: AlisonY: 2020 More Random Rambling Part 2.