Cariola's 2020 Adventures in Reading

KeskusteluClub Read 2020

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Cariola's 2020 Adventures in Reading

1Cariola
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 30, 2020, 11:54am



This year's theme is Lost Princes. The portrait above depicts Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset. He was the only one of Henry VIII's illegitimate children to be recognized--hence his surname, Fitzroy, meaning "son of the king." His mother, Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount, had been a lady-in-waiting to then-queen Katherine of Aragon. By the time he was born in 1519, King Henry was already despairing of ever having a legitimate heir, and there were rumors that he planned to legitimize Fitzroy. By the time he was six, he had been made a Knight of the Garter, and his father elevated him to the peerage--something not done for a king's illegitimate son in over 300 years--by granting him the titles and lands of Earl of Nottingham and Duke of Richmond and Somerset. He was granted several official posts, including Lord Admiral of England and, at age 10, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. At the age of 14, young Henry was married to Mary Howard, the only daughter of the powerful Catholic nobleman Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, but, due to their youth, the marriage was not consummated. One of his closest friends was his brother-in-law, the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Fitzroy, only 17, died of consumption in 1536. At the time of his death, Parliament was in the process of passing an Act that would disinherit his half-sister Elizabeth and give the king the right to designate the heir of his choice, giving rise to rumors that Fitzroy would be named heir. One of Surrey's best-known poems, "So Cruel Prison," written while he was awaiting execution for treason, is said to reflect on his happier days as a companion to Fitzroy.

Best of 2020 (so far):
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
Apeirogon by Colum McCann
Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit
Summer by Ali Smith
Stillwater by Nicole Helget
The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

Best of 2019, in order:
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
In the Fall by Jeffrey Lent
Little by Edward Carey
The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M Graff
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
River Thieves by Michael Crummy
I, Hogarth by Michael Dean
Spring by Ali Smith
The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg
The Welsh Fasting Girl by Varley O'Connor
The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Currently Reading:


January
The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
Africaville by Jeffrey Colvin
Elsewhere, Home by Leila Aboulela
Stillwater by Nicole Helget
Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
Go: A Coming of Age Novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro

February
Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim
Our Harlem by Marcus Samuelsson
The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects by Deborah Lutz
Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah

March
Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
Westminster West by Jessie Haas
The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

April
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

May
If You See Me, Don't Say Hi by Neel Patel
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
The Book of Longing by Sue Monk Kidd

June
The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes
The History of Bourbon (The Great Courses) by Ken Albala
Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

July
Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump
Apeirogon by Colum McCann
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

August
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
Home by Manju Kapur

September
Girl: A Novel by Edna O'Brien
The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne
Summer by Ali Smith

October
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Beheld by Tarahea Nesbit
Fifty Shades of Rain by Ashe Lemmie

November
37. The Vexations by Caitlyn Horrocks

December
38. The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
39. Memorial Avenue by Natasha Trethaway

2Cariola
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 8, 2020, 10:48pm



The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

I was hoping to start my 2020 reading with a bang, but instead, this one was a whimper. Which is especially sad as this was a book I had really been looking forward to. The story begins in 2013 when Roya Archer, an Iranian immigrant married to an American, arranges to meet with Bahman Aslan in a senior care center. Now in their 70s, the two had fallen in love in 1953 Tehran in the midst of a political upheaval. The teenagers had met in a stationery shop that also offered a selection of good books, from traditional poetry to contemporary novels. Mr. Fahkri, the owner, brings his two favorite customers together and facilitates their romance, giving them moments alone and later exchanging their letters hidden in a book of Rumi's verse. The two become engaged--against the wishes of Bahman's status-conscious and mentally ill mother--and (as we can guess from the fact that Roya has married another man) tragedy ensues. Kamali inserts a third story, set in 1913: that of the young aristocrat Ali who falls in love with a melon-seller's 14-year old daughter. As the novel proceeds, the links between all three plots becomes clear.

Uprisings against the Shah form the background of the novel. Bahman considers himself an activist, and he and Roya engage in political discussions. Both support the new prime minister, but the royalists are determined to squelch any rebellion. Despite the political facade, however, this novel falls into the category of romance, pure and simple. Bahman and Roya are the Iranian Romeo and Juliet, young, passionately in love, and doomed by Mrs. Aslan's prejudices, threats, and scheming. Call me a sourpuss if you will, but I was bored by all the sappiness and decades of mooning over their lost love, and I felt sorry for Roya's patient, loving husband, Walter. So much in this book was over the top, at least for me. As for plot inconsistencies, we know that Roya came to the US to attend university, but there is never any explanations of how Bahman and his two now-adult children ended up living in a Connecticut town within 50 miles of Roya's home. Does it matter? Well, maybe not. But he tells Roya everything else that happened in his life since the two of them parted, so why not this major development? It's an extremely awkward case of deus ex machina that left me scratching my head.

3SassyLassy
tammikuu 4, 2020, 9:53am

I always look forward to the picture in your first post, setting the tone for the year. This year's theme sounds intriguing - looking forward to it.

4lisapeet
tammikuu 5, 2020, 8:17am

Interesting header story! I'm really intrigued by the War of the Roses and periods following—I haven't read half what I'd like to on it. I also have Africaville on my pile and am looking forward to what you have to say.

That's too bad about The Stationery Shop. I liked the cover, and because stationery shops are one of my favorite places anywhere, I was attracted to the title. But the romance part of the description put me off a bit, and now I'm guessing I dodged a bullet. Still, a really sweet little cover.

5raton-liseur
tammikuu 5, 2020, 8:26am

>2 Cariola: Thanks for the warning... The cover is nice, your summary makes the book appealing, but same as you, I dislike plot inconsistencies. I hope your next reads will be more satifying!

6kidzdoc
tammikuu 5, 2020, 9:28am

Happy New Year, Deborah! I'm sorry that your first book of the year was a disappointing one.

7dchaikin
tammikuu 5, 2020, 1:38pm

Wishing you a Happy New Year and a better next book. Enjoyed your top post on Fitzroy.

8Cariola
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 10, 2020, 8:21pm



2. Africaville by Jeffrey Colvin

This is the story of three generations of the Seabolt family, descendants former slaves who settles in Wind Bluff, Nova Scotia. Legend has it that some of the first settlers back in the 18th century were American slaves who had been put on a ship headed back to Africa that was lost at sea, and these souls made their way back to shore.

By the time the story begins, it's the 1930s, and many newer residents have moved north to look for work and escape from the Jim Crow South. Kath Ella Seabolt has secured a scholarship to a Montreal college when she finds herself pregnant. She believes her life plan is ruined and that she has no choice but to settle down in her home town with her child's father, Omar. Until fate, both tragic and fortuitous, steps in. The first of three parts focuses mainly on Kath Ella, who finds a way to continue her education and marries a white French-Canadian that she meets in Montreal. It seems unlikely that she will ever return to her home town. In addition to Kath's story, this section develops a portrait of Wind Bluff and the nearby towns, also primarily black, and the conflicts among the various groups in the community: people descended from Jamaicans, Haitians, and American slaves who hold differing opinions of one another's culture.

The second part of Africaville follows Kath's son Omar. Raised by his grandmother for the first few years of his life, he's smart enough to secure a spot in a good school but finds himself often challenged by the other boys. The black students, including his cousin, bait him for not being black enough, and the white boys bully him for being black. Talk about identity issues! When Kath marries, Omar is adopted by his stepfather, who insists that he change his name to Etienne. As he attends college and moves out into the world, he accepts that it's easier for him to just accept what people think they see: a white man. His wife, who is white, knows his history, and she is the one who questions why there are no photographs of his mother in the house. While Etienne loves his mother and stepfather dearly and maintains as close a relationship with them as time and distance allows, his life is clearly compartmentalized.

It's Etienne's son Warner, the focal character in Part Three, who longs to connect with his familial past, even taking a job in Alabama near the town where his grandfather Omar's parents lived before they got in trouble with the law and sent him up to Canada to be raised by his paternal grandparents. Like his father, Warner is usually taken for a white man, and for the most part, living in the Deep South, he doesn't object. But he is disturbed by the bigotry surrounding him, and he wants to know more about his great grandmother, who is serving a life sentence for murder, and about his grandmother Kath Ella and rest of the the family in Nova Scotia.

While Africaville is a family saga, in many ways it is also the story of race in North American culture. I really never thought much about what life might have been like for the freed and escaped slaves who ended up in Canada. I found it an interesting book, but the pace is a bit uneven, and the author's use of several repeated motifs to connect the three parts and to show that some things change but others never do may be a bit heavy-handed.

9dchaikin
tammikuu 11, 2020, 7:35pm

Enjoyed your review. Sounds like the books are improving....?? Anyway, fascinating topic in Africaville.

10lisapeet
tammikuu 11, 2020, 7:42pm

>8 Cariola: I've got that on my pile—thanks for the good review.

11kidzdoc
tammikuu 12, 2020, 8:27am

Great review of Africaville, Deborah.

12rocketjk
tammikuu 12, 2020, 8:38am

>8 Cariola: Yes, I enjoyed this review, as well. Will look forward to following your reading this year. Cheers!

13Cariola
tammikuu 15, 2020, 12:33pm



Elsewhere, Home by Leila Aboulela

While I've enjoyed earlier books by this author, I've never been blown away by them, and that pattern continues with her latest release. It's a collection of short stories, most of them set in either Scotland or the Sudan, and most of them focusing on Scottish and Sudanese couples. A young man flies to the Sudan to meet his fiancé's family. An engaged young woman, having trouble with a statistics course at a Scottish university, befriends an awkward young man. A Sudanese woman, divorced because she did not want children, plans her wedding to a Scottish man. More of the same, and more of the same again. It got tedious, although the writing was good. That's all I really have to say. On to something better.

14dchaikin
tammikuu 15, 2020, 9:46pm

Seems like a very specific theme to revisit several times.

15kidzdoc
tammikuu 17, 2020, 5:21am

>13 Cariola: I've read three books by Leila Aboulela, and given two of them 3 stars and the third 3.5 stars. I see no reason to continue reading her works.

16Cariola
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 22, 2020, 12:53pm



Stillwater by Nicole Helget

Set in Stillwater, Minnesota Territory in the mid-19th century, Helget's novel presents a fascinating portrait of America's still-developing frontier in the years before statehood and the Civil War. Clement and Angel are fraternal twins, born in a Catholic orphanage to a girl escaping her trapper husband, an older man who bought her from her stepmother. Lydia has no intention of returning to Beaver Jean and his two Indian wives and leaves shortly after giving birth, hoping that the twins will find adoptive parents. Angel is adopted by the wealthiest family in town--a family whose newborn had recently died under questionable circumstances, but they refuse to take Clement, who appears to be weak and unhealthy. He will stay at the orphanage, raised by Big Waters, an Indian woman who works there. Clement has always felt that there is someone out there who silently communicates with him, and when he meets Angel, both seem to know immediately that they are separated twins. While it would appear that Angel has everything and Clement nothing, things are not always as they seem . . .

Helget brings a number of interesting characters attached to the story. There's Beaver Jean, who, despite his crude nature, seems to truly love his Lydia and sets out to find her and what he assumes is his son. Mother St. John, the youngish nun-out-of-habit who runs the orphanage/infirmary. Big Waters, who devotes her life to the sickly Clement. Little Davis Christmas and his mother, a runaway slave who is trying to get to Canada via the Underground Railroad. Beaver Jean's Indian wives, jealous of Lydia, practical, and devoted to the man who has taken them in. Father Paul, the local priest, who helps to move runaway slaves.

The story takes place over about 30 years, through the Civil War period and beyond. In the course of time, these characters meet and interact, often in very unexpected and sometimes tragic ways. I really enjoyed Helget's unique plot and engaging characters as well as her vivid, sensitive writing. I had never heard of this author before, but Stillwater is the only book that has made my "Best of 2020" list so far, easily surpassing two highly acclaimed recent novels (The Stationery Shop and Africaville) and one by a well-known author (Leila Aboulela).

17dchaikin
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 24, 2020, 10:14pm

Nice review of Stillwater. I'm kind of interested simply because I've been there before once for a wedding, and also because of the bitter history of area in that era - pertaining to relations with native tribes.

18Cariola
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 27, 2020, 10:34am



Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat

Danticat's collection of eight powerful stories focuses, as expected, on characters from Haiti and other locations in the Caribbean, on their struggles with identity, loss, memory, family, and adapting to life in the US. All of them seem to be searching for a sense of home, of belonging. In the first story, "Dosas," Elsie, a home healthcare provider who lost her husband to her best friend, receives a disturbing phone call from her ex. Her reaction shows how hard it is to break the bonds of love. "In the Old Days" focuses on a young woman meeting her dying father for the first time. In "Port-au-Prince Marriage Special," a couple who own a hotel assume financial responsibility when their son's nanny is diagnosed with AIDS. "The Gift" reunites two former lovers years after the tragic Haitian earthquake. "Hot Air Balloons" explores the relationship between college roommates from very different backgrounds. My favorite, "Sunrise, Sunset," focuses on the connections between a new mother who seems to be suffering from post-partum depression and her own mother, who is falling into dementia. The baby's christening marks a turning point for both. In "Seven Stories" (the longest and, to me, the least engaging), a reporter visits a childhood friend, the daughter of an assassinated prime minister who returned to her country and is now married to the current prime minister. "Without Inspection," the story of an illegal immigrant's last but happy days in Miami, is a heartbreaker.

While some stories were more engaging than others, the writing is consistently fine. As always, Danticat is a master at depicting the Caribbean diaspora.

19dchaikin
tammikuu 29, 2020, 1:20pm

This is brand new? It reminds me I should read more Danticat.

20Cariola
tammikuu 29, 2020, 2:28pm

>19 dchaikin: Yes, it came out around Christmas time. It was one of my SantaThing gifts.

21Cariola
tammikuu 29, 2020, 7:03pm



Go: A Coming of Age Novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro

Well, the subtitle should have warned me off as I really hate coming of age stories and angst-filled teenagers. Sugihara, a Japanese-born Korean, is bullied at school (apparently ethnic prejudice is rampant) until his father, a former boxer, teaches him how to fight. But he's not a fair fighter: he's been known to whomp his opponents with a heavy ashtray, punch them in the windpipe, and kick them in the balls. He's a bad student, until he befriend Jeong Il, a studious boy who introduces him to wonderful books. Then he decides to work hard so that he can get into university and eventually move to Norway. He falls in love with a girl who is supposed to be smart, quirky, charming, impulsive and mysterious. I just wanted to smack her. She spins on stools. She has very short hair. She hops fences, trespassing on elementary school grounds after dark. She reads interesting books. She arranges to meet Sakurai and then just walks off, expecting him to follow (off curse he does). I can't tell you her name because she refuses to reveal it and just goes by her last name, Sakurai. Yes, she is Japanese. So you know this is not going to end well when, just as they are about to consummate their relationship, Sugahari tells her that he is Korean. Except that this is a YA book, so of course it does.

It guess it wasn't as bad as it could have been, for those who enjoy this genre. I never read YA, but this book was free, and it was short, and I was trying to get in one more book before the end of the month. If it sounds like something you'd enjoy, I advise you to read reviews either here on LT or on Amazon.

22Cariola
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 2, 2020, 8:17pm



Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor

One of the perks of being an Audible member is that every month you get to choose two new original recordings. Most of the time they don't really interest me, but I was thrilled to see this short early bio by the amazing James Taylor. Since it covers only the first 21 years of his life, I am guessing that there will be more to come.

James starts by giving us some background on his parents' early lives and their marriage, storied that often illuminate issues in his own life. For example, when his father Ike was born--the first child of a love marriage--, his mother insisted that instead of going to a hospital for the birth, her father-in-law, an aging doctor, deliver the child. Two weeks later, she was dead of an infection. Ike's father was too devastated to raise his son on his own and gave him to a married sister. Years later, when his parents' marriage had broken up and James himself was in counseling, the therapist asked his father to come in for a session. When asked why, if he was so unhappy in his marriage, Ike had five children, he replied, "Childbirth killed my mother, so I thought maybe it would kill her." Ouch. Both Ike and James's older brother were alcoholics, and, as you probably know, he has faced his own demons with drugs and depression.

James's early life was a melange of successes, failures, and luck, both good and bad. Along the way, he met, loved and played with a host of famous people: Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Paul McCartney, Peter Asher, Carly Simon and more. Before he reached 21, he had a contract with Apple and a number of top hits. Woven into his memoir are musical excerpts, which make the stories all the more relevant. He tells us how many of his greatest hits came about, most often as reflections on events in his own life: "Fire and Rain" after the suicide of a friend named Suzanne, "Carolina on My Mind" while spending a night on the shore, waiting for a boat, and more.

Taylor is still one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters. If you enjoy his music, you will undoubtedly enjoy Break Shot: My First 21 Years.

23baswood
helmikuu 4, 2020, 4:42am

24Cariola
helmikuu 7, 2020, 1:11pm



Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

I was looking forward to this novel, winner of the 2019 Booker International Award, but I was sorely disappointed. The publisher's blurb describes it as the story of three sisters, Marryam, Asma, and Khawla. Well, sort of, but there are so many other characters that these three are just a small part. Each short chapter focuses on one or two characters--but they also jump through time. In one Abdullah, Maryyam's husband, is advising his daughter London when her betrothal falls apart; in others, he is a child, either burying his face in his nursemaid's bosom or hanging upside down in a well, his father's punishment for taking his gun to kill magpies. There's the story of the nursemaid, who is also her master's mistress; of Maryyam's father, who fell in love with another woman; of the nursemaid's daughter-in-law, who declared her mother mad and and locked her away; of Abdullah's mother, who rumor says died after cutting down a basil bush; of Khawla refusing all suitors, waiting for a cousin who moved to Canada; etc., etc., etc. Some reviewers have praised the novel for its "mosaic-like" structure, but to me, it just seemed like a jumble, and I had difficulty both keeping the many characters and their relationships straight and, as a result, connecting with any of them. In the last quarter, I found myself skimming as I just wanted to get it over with.

25Cariola
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 9, 2020, 7:59pm



Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

The day after Christmas in 2004, Sonali Deraniyagala was vacationing at a Sri Lankan resort with her husband, two young sons, and parents when a tsunami struck, sweeping them all away. Sonali was the only survivor. While this is the story of her survival and loss, it is also the story of recovery, hope, and the healing power of memory. After searching tirelessly for her family, the destruction she saw forced her to realize that they were gone forever, and Sonali fell into despair, spending her days drinking, sleeping, popping pills, and isolating, and her night with guilt-fueled nightmares. But in time, happier memories began to creep in and became her salvation. This is a fearless memoir: the author doesn't hesitate to reveal the truth of her progress through grief in all of its stages.

26Cariola
helmikuu 9, 2020, 8:25pm



Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

Mattie was only sixteen when she was told to leave her baby with in the slave quarters her sister and come up to the big house. She had been chosen to be wet nurse to her mistress's new daughter, Miss Elizabeth. Initially resentful, Mattie learns to love the little girl, and Lisbeth grows closer to Mattie than to her own mother. The bond they form is one that neither time nor distance can break.

For the most part, this is Mattie's story, but it is equally Lisbeth's. While it does recount the painful history of slavery--the separation of families, harsh punishments and living conditions, the indignity of being treated as less than human--, it also explores the effects of slavery on members of the Southern aristocracy. As she reaches her teenage years, Elizabeth is expected to cast aside any affections she had for Mattie, her son, or the other "hands," to accept her God-given superiority, and to set her heart on a wealthy suitor. But it was from Mattie, not her parents, that she had learned to love, and she struggles as she tries to fit into high society and its expectations. Freedom becomes the ultimate goal of both slave and young mistress.

27Cariola
helmikuu 9, 2020, 8:41pm



Our Harlem: Seven Days of Cooking, Music, and Conversation at the Red Rooster by Marcus Samuelsson

This is an Audible exclusive, a collection of seven short programs recorded at Marcus Samuelsson's signature Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster. Each segment explores an element of Harlem society: its original history, the northern migration of blacks, the influence of Southern culture and Latino culture, its significance to the music scene, the lasting influence of the country's first African-American president, and more. In each episode, Marcus makes a dish for his guests that is related to the topic of discussion (recipes are available on the affiliated website) and musical guests offer a bit of entertainment.

Samuelsson is an engaging host, and his guests, for the most part, tell interesting stories about the Harlem community. I enjoyed his memoir, Yes, Chef and expected to like this one, too. Overall, it doesn't disappoint.

28Cariola
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 21, 2020, 8:22pm



The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects by Deborah Lutz

Lutz shapes her biography of the Bronte sister (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) around nine common objects that they owned, including a walking stick, tiny books they created as children, a silver dog collar, a lap desk, a collection of pressed ferns, and more. With some insight, some research, and a considerable amount of speculation, she connects the objects both to known events in their lives and to their novels and characters. The dog collar, for example, may have belonged to Emily's fierce companion, Keeper, but Lutz also connects it to the various dogs in Wuthering Heights: Cathy's favorite dog, Isabel's spaniel, and Heathcliffe's vicious guard dogs, among others. She also spends time discussing the role of dogs in Victorian society: which breeds were most popular, what kinds of dogs were owned by various famous persons, a notorious dognapping ring, etc. One might say that, like Emily wandering familiar territory (the moors), so Lutz wanders through each chapter, keeping her eye on the central object but often straying far afield. It's an interesting approach but might be frustrating to readers who were hoping for a well-researched and detailed biography or those already familiar with the Victorian era and its milieu.

29AlisonY
helmikuu 25, 2020, 3:31am

>28 Cariola: Great to see a review of this as I added it to my Wishlist ages ago when it first came out. It's not top of my 'go-and-buy' list, but still - it sounds interesting enough.

30Cariola
helmikuu 25, 2020, 1:04pm

>29 AlisonY: It was the same for me. I waited until it was on sale for Kindle.

31Cariola
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 25, 2020, 1:18pm



Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" The familiar question is attributed to journalist/explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who came to Africa in search of David Livingstone, a Welsh physician and missionary who had set out to find the source of the Nile but had not been heard from for six years. If you expect Livingstone's story to be the focus of Out of Darkness, Shining Light, you may be disappointed--although his corpse is central to the novel. Gappah gives us two narrators who are among the mourners who accompany the body of "Bwana Daudi" from the depths of what is now Zambia to the coast, so that it may be shipped home for burial. Halima is the explorer's cook, a woman whose mother gave birth to her in a harem. While she constantly reminds us of her privileged birth, Halima had fallen into slavery and was purchased by Livingstone. The other narrator is Jacob Wainwright, a young Indian and also a former slave, who had been chosen to be educated by a missionary group for Christian service. He was one of eight selected to accompany Livingstone to Africa. The chapters he narrates take up the larger part of the book, which is rather a shame since Halima is the more interesting of the two. Jacob's dream is to go to England, where he hopes to be ordained, and then return to Africa to save as many souls as possible. Not surprisingly, his journal is full of pompous sanctimony as he judges everyone around him, apparently so that he can forgive them, and constantly cites examples from the bible. It was rather satisfying to see him fall to his own hypocrisy. Halima, on the other hand, while not always the most reliable narrator, is earthly, garrulous, emotional, and charming. Both she and Jacob are devoted to Livingstone and devastated by his illness and death.

The book describes events after the missionary succumbs to malaria and dysentery. Everyone agrees that his body should be returned home, but the first problem they face is how best to transport a stinking, decaying corpse that will weigh them down. Once that has been resolved, the journey to the coast begins. Along the way, the travelers encounter friendly villagers who offer them food and shelter, many of whom wish to hold ceremonies honoring Livingstone. But all does not go smoothly: there are violent outliers ready to attack, villages that close their gate when the travelers are most in need, and betrayals and jealousies within the party itself. The internal conflicts and what they reveal about human nature are definitely the best part of the novel.

Gappah writes well, but at times I admit to wishing that she would just get on with it. Some scenes seemed to drag on forever, and I found myself skimming the chapters written by Jacob as I was getting tired of his irritating voice. I stuck with it to the end, and it was worth it to find out how everyone--especially Halima--ended up.

32Nickelini
maaliskuu 1, 2020, 6:11pm

>25 Cariola:

I thought Wave was amazing. One of the better memoirs out there

33Cariola
maaliskuu 2, 2020, 8:13pm

>32 Nickelini: I don't read a lot of nonfiction or memoirs, but this was a good one. If you're looking for another good one--but very different--try Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

34Cariola
maaliskuu 2, 2020, 8:59pm



Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout

I've enjoyed quite a few of the books Strout has written, starting with Olive Kitteridge, so I decided to go back to one of her earlier works, Amy and Isabelle. I was less than enthralled. The story takes place in the mill town of Shirley Falls, Maine, which resurfaces in later novels. Isabelle Goodrow is a rather starchy, withdrawn woman who works as secretary to the mill manager, an older married man with whom she is secretly in love. When she moved to the town with her daughter, she slipped on a wedding ring and claimed to be a widow, but it was pretty clear to me that she was never married to Amy's father. Isabelle seems to feel that she is above the other women who work at the mill, and she hasn't really made any friends since moving to the town. Little wonder, then, that her teenage daughter Amy is also an introvert. She's a tall girl that noticeably slouches in hopes of disappearing, but her glorious head of bright blonde curls makes that nearly impossible. Aside from her lunchtime smoking buddy, Stacy, Amy pretty much keeps to herself. Like a lot of teenagers, she is withdrawing from her mother as well and resents her rules and fussing.

Enter Mr. Robinson, a substitute math teacher. It was clear to me from the start that this guy was a real creep. Besides his pretentious beard and a penchant for striking what are intended to be casual poses, he asks the students "cool" and sometimes personal questions in class. Really, is "What do you really want to do with your life?" an appropriate question for the first day in math class? Early on, he questions, "Amy Goodrow, why do you hide your face behind your hair?" Nothing like calling out a shy student's shyness in front of her peers. Amy admires him, then she hates him. Then he starts lending her books of poetry and giving her compliments. When Amy doesn't respond to the latter, he tells her, "A woman should learn to take compliments gracefully." Apparently this is the first time anyone has called Amy a woman. Pretty soon she is staying after school, and then Mr. Robertson is driving her home every afternoon, and you can guess where things go from here.

What I found disturbing, besides the details of predator grooming his victim, was Isabelle's reaction when she finds out what happened. While she is enraged at Robertson, she doesn't do much about it, preferring that no one know what happened, and instead directs her outrage at her daughter. It's understandable, especially considering what we suspect about how Amy came into being, but there is never any discussion between mother and daughter about what happened and why, on Robertson's part, it was inappropriate. Amy sees the two of them as star-crossed lovers torn apart by her mother, and Isabelle reacts by restricting Amy's freedom (but really not enough) and cutting off her hair, a symbol of her blossoming sexuality. It's obvious that Strout meant this to be an exploration of the mother-daughter relationship and Isabelle's coming to terms with her own past mistakes, but I found it hard to get over the way she reacted to her daughter being manipulated by a predator.

So, in other words, not my favorite Elizabeth Strout novel.

35Nickelini
maaliskuu 2, 2020, 9:58pm

>33 Cariola:

Oh, I think I've heard that was good. I'll add it to the list. I sort of rediscovered memoirs last year so I'm trying to read more.

36Cariola
maaliskuu 6, 2020, 11:59am

>35 Nickelini: I listened to it on audio--not a bad way to go.

37lisapeet
maaliskuu 6, 2020, 12:18pm

>34 Cariola: Mmm yeah, Amy and Isabelle had a lot of uncomfortable moments for me. Isabelle reminded me of the worst of the self-absorbed 1970s parents I knew. And some of the evil 1970s teachers I knew, come to think of it. Not my favorite Strout either.

38Cariola
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 12, 2020, 5:39pm



Westminster West by Jessie Haas

Well, if I hadn't seen a different cover, I never would have picked up this book as I am not into YA lit. This really wasn't bad--a bit tedious at times, but it was really short. It's set in 1883 on a farm in Vermont and is based on a true story. Sue Gorham is tired of taking on so much of the household work while her sister Claire is treated like a delicate flower. After an illness, Claire realized that it was great to be pampered and excused from any work, so she keeps playing the hypochondriac, feeding into her mother's anxiety that she will develop consumption. She also gets treated to vacations in the White Mountains by her wealthy aunt, coming home with fancy new clothes and affected airs. Sue finds a brief diary written by her father during the Civil War. She obsesses over it, hiding it under her mattress and rereading it constantly, trying to figure out what exactly happened. This heightens her nerves, and she develops a bad case of vertigo. Suddenly, she is the pampered invalid, and Claire, with the loan of her aunt's maid, is stuck with all the work. Sue enjoys this immensely and even hides the fact that she is starting to feel better.

Meanwhile, a firebug has destroyed several barns and the schoolhouse. When the Gorham's barn is set afire, Sue springs out of bed and into action, riding a horse rapidly through the surrounding area to alert neighbors that help is needed. While she is considered something of a hero, when she returns to the house, Claire has again taken to her bed. At this point, their mother knows that Claire is faking and that she has encouraged her behavior, but she says it is too late to do anything about it, and Sue accepts her lot.

So a simple story of two sisters jealous of one another and trying to get out of work by playing sick. Aside from that, the author gives a good view of farm life in the period. As I said, it wasn't bad, but probably more interesting to someone 12 or 14.

39auntmarge64
maaliskuu 6, 2020, 4:04pm

>8 Cariola: Yay, my library has Africaville! What an interesting subject - going to look forward to the book.

I did have to chuckle at all the books you've read and been disappointed by in the last three months. That's certainly the way it goes sometimes.

40Cariola
maaliskuu 12, 2020, 5:22pm

>39 auntmarge64: I think March is going to be a better months! I just started The Mirror and the Light last night, and it is awesome already. it's the last book in Hilary Mantel's Cromwell series. And today I received an ARC of Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles.

41Cariola
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 12, 2020, 5:27pm



The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

This award-winning memoir got off to a slow start for me, but I stuck with it, and I'm glad that I did. At the center of Broom's memoir is her mother's house in New Orleans East--even though the house itself no longer exists by about mid-book. 'The Yellow House' is not just a personal memoir, it's an exploration of the meaning of home and our need to identify the place where we belong.

Sarah (known to the family as Monique) is the youngest of twelve children born to Ivory Mae Broom. She never knew her father, Simon, who died of an aneurysm shortly after her birth. Sarah, her siblings, and several step- and half-siblings were raised in the yellow shotgun house that her mother purchased when she was first widowed at age nineteen. A proud woman, Ivory Mae managed to make ends meet on a nursing home carer's salary, even scraping together the funds to pay for Sarah's private schooling. At home, she constantly cleaned her house, doing her best to provide a safe and loving home.

I was surprised, then, to learn that no one but family was ever invited into the home. Ivory Mae's reason was that other people wouldn't see it like they did. The reality was that, despite her efforts, the house was falling apart. There were rats, water stains, cracks in the foundation, holes in the drywall, even places where walls were missing. But for the Broom family, it was home--at least until Hurricane Katrina hit.

Sarah Broom tells a brave story of a close extended family dealing with the hands that they were dealt: early and unexpected deaths, teenage pregnancies, crime, addiction, displacement and more. Through it all, Ivory Mae created a loving home in a now-lost neighborhood that was where her children still feel is where they belong. It's bittersweet to watch Sarah and her older brothers Carl and Michael returning to the muddy vacant lot where the yellow house once stood.

42RidgewayGirl
huhtikuu 13, 2020, 12:46pm

How is The Mirror and the Light? I picked up a copy on my last trip to an actual bookstore and yet I've hesitated on starting it.

43Cariola
toukokuu 5, 2020, 4:30pm

>42 RidgewayGirl:. I finished it about a week ago and am about to post a review.

44Cariola
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 6, 2020, 1:07am



The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

It took me quite a while to finish this last book in the Cromwell trilogy. In part, that's because I hated to see the series end, in part because I'm finding it a bit hard to focus on reading in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in part because, honestly, it did drag a bit at times. Some readers and reviewers have remarked that it seemed like Mantel was reluctant to let hr protagonist go--or to let go of any of her extensive research. This book is much more political than the previous two, and that may be what caused it to lag at times. Cromwell is constantly at odds with Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, a man who, in terms of the "blood v. merit" argument, stands firmly on his family's position as 'old nobility.' Norfolk is trying to make amends for promoting his niece, Anne Boleyn, and is now parading another Howard girl, Katherine, in front of the king. While Cromwell had a contentious relationship with Anne, he barely has one at all with the new queen, Jane Seymour, who comes off as little more than a naive, plump dolt. After her death, he negotiates Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves, who, as we all know, was not to his liking; this may have been the start of Cromwell's fall from grace. The court has become vicious, and Henry so vain and vacuous, that everyone is constantly on their guard. Cromwell knows that Richard Rich can't be trusted, but can trust the rest of his protégés?

Somewhat surprisingly, the most intriguing relationships in The Mirror and the Light are between Cromwell and a number of women. He is determined to save the life of Mary, the daughter of Katherine of Aragon, and to reconcile her with her father the king. He establishes such a friendly, protective relationship with her that rumors eventually spread that he intends to marry her and inherit the crown himself. Then there is the mistress of his friend Thomas Wyatt, set to spy on the Catholic Poles, cousins who claim to be the legitimate heirs after Henry (if not before). He also befriends Margaret Douglas, Henry's niece, who falls into disgrace after a secret marriage; advises a prioress whose convent has been disbanded and property seized (a woman who, in a different hour, he might have chosen as a wife); and meets a daughter that he never knew existed. Friends recommend that he marry as quickly as possible to dispel the rumors about Mary, but the only women that interest him--Jane Seymour's sister and Lady Latimer (aka Katherine Parr, who would become Henry's last wife) are spoken for. When the former is widowed, Cromwell chooses her not for himself but for his son Gregory, a move that sets up tensions between father and son.

In between personal conflicts, Cromwell is confronted with rebellion in the north leading to the disastrous Pilgrimage of Grace, and the machinations of the French king and the Holy Roman Emperor. All, of course, while trying to stay in Henry's good graces. As you can see, there's a lot going on in this novel, yet Mantel still manages to give us deeper insight into the heart (yes, he has one) and mind of her protagonist. While Wolf Hall remains my favorite part of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light is definitely up to the task of following Cromwell through his rapid rise and sudden fall, all the while painting a brutal picture of the Tudor court.

45Cariola
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 6, 2020, 1:08am



If You See Me, Don't Say Hi by Neel Patel

Usually I enjoy novels and stories about the immigrant experience and the issue of first generation Americans. For example, I loved The Namesake, Jhumpha Lahiri's novel about a young Indian-American whose identity straddled two worlds. Patel's short story collection covers some of the same territory, but I found them much less appealing. Even more than they deal with ethnicity and intergenerational conflict, the stories focus on class and sexuality. A teenager who lives with his parents above their hotel compares himself to his wealthier classmates. A student destined by good grades and parental pressure is ashamed of his brother who drinks too much, abuses his wife, and hopes only to manage the hotel. A boy visiting his Indian family in Kenya falls in love with a houseboy. A woman who accuses her husband of being infertile thinks he has a mistress, only to find that he is donating sperm to a lesbian couple. An Indian-American college student falls for an Asian-American girl who, after great sex, dumps him; she ends up with a white man that, years later, he has the chance to take revenge upon. So lots of confused, angry, jealous people trying to find their place in the world, most of them not very successfully. I had a hard time empathizing with most of them.

46lisapeet
toukokuu 6, 2020, 7:17am

>45 Cariola: Every time I see that book cover I think of my copy of J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories. It's a clever homage, if that was the point, using colors that (I'm guessing) correspond more to the skin color of the people Patel writes about.



>44 Cariola: I have to admit to skimming your review of this with one eye shut... yes I do know what happens in the larger sense but I don't want any spoilers when I get there (though I have so much reading between now and when I get to it, including a reread of Bring Up the Bodies, that I'd probably forget anything you wrote about it... but still).

47RidgewayGirl
toukokuu 6, 2020, 12:08pm

>44 Cariola: I'm glad it's wordy, honestly. Like Mantel, I am reluctant to let go of her version of Cromwell. I'm thinking seriously of rereading the previous books, something I have never done, but given how long it's been since I've read Wolf Hall and how much I loved it, this seems a good way to draw the entire thing out.

>45 Cariola: It may well be that it's just how my own reading is progressing but it seems that publishers are becoming more comfortable publishing books in which the main character is more than just an immigrant. They now get to be as complex as the rest of us. I'm reading a novel now called You Exist Too Much about the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, who spends her childhood trying to adapt between her American life and summers spent in Jordan and the West Bank, as well as her homosexuality and addiction issues. There is so much going on that there's no way to look at what the protagonist is going through as representative of any group experience and that's for the better, in my opinion.

48kidzdoc
toukokuu 6, 2020, 12:54pm

Congratulations on finishing The Mirror and the Light, Deborah. It's on my list of books to read in June, so I'll wait to read your review until after I've finished it.

49Cariola
toukokuu 13, 2020, 6:33pm

>46 lisapeet: I had the same thought regarding the cover of Patel's collection.

>47 RidgewayGirl: I understand completely--I didn't want to see Cromwell go either. I've been thinking about rereading the others as well. I will definitely be rewatching the DVD of Wolf Hall, which is based on the first two books.

I'm all for complexity, but it would have been nice if at least one of Patel's characters was a bit likable.

50Cariola
toukokuu 13, 2020, 6:35pm



The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

I see this author's name everywhere. She churns out a new book at least once a year, maybe more often. After trying to read this one, I understand how she does it: just keep writing, use stereotypical characters, and don't worry about plot inconsistencies. I didn't finish it, but I'm taking credit because it was so painful to read the first half. The story is set on a posh summer island where the residents are divided into the wealthy summer families and the year-round residents, most of whom are poor Portuguese fishing families. It begins in 1951 when teenager Miranda Schuyler arrives for her mother's wedding to a rich, handsome man. Miranda is a sucker for the dark, hairy type and immediately falls for Joseph Vargas, a young fisherman (and Catholic to boot). Then there's an unbelievably naive Portuguese girl who thinks that having sex with the soon-to-be groom is like communing with God (since she keeps saying he IS God--how can a Catholic girl be so stupid?). Anyway, some tragedy happens and Miranda's stepfather is killed and Joseph gets blamed for it. Miranda defends him and becomes persona non gratis and doesn't return to the island until 1969. in the meantime, she has become a Hollywood star, married to a second-rate director who is abusive and possessive. She has returned after her husband beat her, accused a friend of fathering her child, and caused a drunken accident that resulted in the death of the unborn baby.

So anyway, that's probably all you need to know to understand why I quit this drivel midway. It's a big old soap opera--and not in a good way. The characters are all unbelievable and painted with a very broad brush, and it drags on and on and on. I didn't care what happened to them and don't care how it ended. It represents the worst of what I think of as typical popular "women's fiction." I won't be exploring this author's work again.

51wandering_star
toukokuu 13, 2020, 8:56pm

I didn't finish it, but I'm taking credit because it was so painful to read the first half.

Hear hear! I have definitely felt like this about certain books.

52Cariola
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 1, 2020, 6:02pm

>51 wandering_star: I'm finding it difficult to stick with bad and mediocre books during the stay-at-home order. There's no way I'm going to make 75 books this year, so I'm taking credit for the 5 days I wasted on this one.

53Nickelini
toukokuu 13, 2020, 10:31pm

>52 Cariola:
Absolutely - you put in a book's worth of effort. Some books are 40 pages long, some are 1,040. They all count.

54rocketjk
toukokuu 13, 2020, 11:49pm

>52 Cariola: "I'm finding it difficult to stick with bad and mediocre books during the stay-at-home order. "

I get it. I almost never give up on books. I hate doing it. But I've quit on two already over the past 6 weeks. I'm too restless and impatient to wade through bad writing and/or improbable plots.

55Cariola
kesäkuu 1, 2020, 6:07pm

So reading continues to be slow. It's partly due to a huge upswell in cat adoption applications, partly due to some pretty dull books. Like this one.



The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd takes on a somewhat daring topic here: the private life of Jesus. The main character and narrator is Ana, a headstrong girl from a wealthy family who becomes an outcast due to her passion for writing and refusal to marry the man of her father's choice and, later become his superior's concubine. She and Jesus meet up in the caves where he goes to pray and she hides her scrolls. He ends up marrying her to save her from being stoned as a thief and a loose woman. Life with his extended family isn't all easy, but at least Ana has her aunt, another outcast woman, with her.

Jesus loves Ana, but there's no doubt that he loves God more. He (and Ana's half brother, Judas--yes, that Judas) becomes deeply involved in the movement to oust the Romans from Jewish lands, and it is his eloquence and ability to inspire the common people that give rise to his fame. He is away from home most of the time, often at odds with the law, and Ana herself is forced to flee the wrath of Herod Antipas. Will she be able to return in time to save Judas and Jesus?

Well, that's an oversimplification of the plot, and you can probably tell that this wasn't my favorite novel by this author. My main issue was the very heavy-handed feminism. I'm all for the feminist cause, but I don't want to get constantly bashed over the head with it, as I felt was the case with this book. It left little room for character development and a lot for stereotypes. I found Ana annoying, one of those "it's all about ME" girls. The author's take on Jesus as first and foremost a social reformer who had the phrases "Son of God" and "Messiah" thrust upon him by others was interesting, but not interesting enough to keep me involved. It took me quite a while to plod through this one.

56torontoc
kesäkuu 6, 2020, 1:38pm

Yes- I am impatient with bad books! Although I seem to be interested more in non-fiction these days!
I have to get my winter tires changed next week ( had a lot of trouble finding a place that had a big " waiting room". I am going to take with The Mirror and The Light as the estimated time for service is 3 hours ( twice the normal time)

57SassyLassy
kesäkuu 6, 2020, 6:44pm

>56 torontoc: I had my winter tires changed just before the long weekend and the garage won't let people into the waiting room. You could sit outside on your own lawn chair, or come back later to pick it up. They did do a wonderful job cleaning down the interior of the car afterwards though!

The Mirror and the Light was excellent, but I don't think I could have read it under such circumstances - too many distractions.

>55 Cariola: Sorry about your disappointing trio of books, but then after TMatL, it's hard to find a "next" book.

58Cariola
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 19, 2020, 9:42pm



The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes

I was already reading this one, a Mother's Day gift, when several friends posted about how much they loved it. I can't say that I was quite as impressed, mainly because the topic, Belle Epoque Parisian society (1871-1914) just didn't interest me all that much. The book centers around the life and work of Dr. Samuel Pozzi,the subject of John Singer Sargeant's well-known painting, Dr. Pozzi at Home. Pozzi was a physician who specialized in gynecology and abdominal surgery, and he is credited with bringing Joseph Lister's antiseptic methods to France and with being among the first surgeons to perform a laparotomy. A handsome man, he gained notoriety for seducing a number of his patients, and he had several mistresses, including Sarah Bernhardt. Although he was a society physician, he was also in charge of a hospital that cared for poor patients. He is the most likable person in this social biography, coming across as a kind, caring, generous man and a loyal friend (although falling rather short as both a husband and father).

The book begins when Pozzi accompanies two friends and fellow aesthetes, Prince Edmond de Polignac and Count Robert de Montesquiou, to London for a few days of "intellectual and decorative shopping." They look forward to visiting The Crystal Palace and to meeting Henry James and carry a letter of introduction from Sargeant. These two are--well, shall we say, less admirable than Pozzi? Montesquiou spent his life collecting curiosities (the bullet that killed Pushkin, a tortoise that sadly died after he had its shell gilded and bejewelled), dabbling in poetry, and portraying the dandy to an extreme that surpassed Oscar Wilde (who also comes into play several times throughout the book). He was openly homosexual and not particularly kind to his devoted lover. Polignac, a closeted homosexual, married an American heiress for her fortune; both claimed it was a happy marriage, perhaps because his wife, a divorcée who had threatened her husband on their wedding night, preferred women.

A real plus is the series of photos of prominent Parisians that appear throughout the book. these were originally inserted into candy bars--kind of early baseball cards that people collected. And of course, many paintings of the main figures are reproduced as well as photographs both formal and casual.

The Man in the Red Coat does an excellent job of recreating the era with all its parties, political debates, duels, scandals, excessive spending, and artistic innovation. James, Proust, Sargeant, Bernhardt, Wilde, Whistler and others weave in and out, but the focus is on their social presence, not their art. In the end, I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the details and anecdotes--and not terribly interested in a good deal of them, I'm afraid. Fortunately, Barnes keeps coming back to Pozzi. Excerpts from his daughter's diary are at times heartbreaking: it's clear that she was torn between remaining loyal to her mother and desperately longing for her father's attention. And unlike many of the stories about Polignac and Montesquiou, which I found mostly silly or annoying, those about Pozzi, including several surgeries and accomplishments and his own death, were intriguing and helped to reveal this complex man.

59baswood
kesäkuu 20, 2020, 5:37pm

The issue I have with Julien Barnes is that he always seems to be looking for another angle, a slightly different way of writing a biography. I have recently read Flaubert's Parrotwhere he juxtaposes some event from the time of writing the book with the life of the person about whom he is writing. It leads to a mixed bag, some excellent insights rub shoulders with some fairly inane drivel.

60Cariola
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 20, 2020, 8:10pm

>59 baswood: That's a pretty good explanation of this book's structure and effect, too.

61Cariola
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 20, 2020, 8:11pm

History of Bourbon (The Great Courses) by Ken Abala

An audible monthly freebie. This was a fairly interesting history of how bourbon was originally made by Irish and Scottish immigrants, how it became the quintessentially American liquor, and how it has changed over the years. Albala brings in his own memories as well as details about distilling methods, marketing and advertising, bourbon fads such as "small batch" bourbon, and the differences between some of the most popular brands. I had seen a documentary on bourbon at the Nashville Film Festival, so I didn't really feel that I learned a lot that was new, but it was still an interesting short listen (under four hours). This was part of The Great Courses series.

62Cariola
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 3, 2020, 9:52pm



Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan

Another short freebie from Audible.com. Pollan gives us a quick history of "the most used drug in the world"--caffeine. He weighs the pros (clearer thinking, increased work efficiency) against the cons (disruption of sleep cycle, addiction) and takes us through his personal journey away from caffeine. As always, Pollan makes what could have been a dull topic quite interesting.

63Cariola
heinäkuu 3, 2020, 9:52pm



The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

First in a series of historical mysteries set in Restoration London, this one begins as the city burns. James Marwood is both helping with the water brigade and overseeing the damage when he sees a young boy break through the barriers and head towards St. Paul's cathedral. He catches the hysterical boy and brings him to his rooms to calm him down. He soon notices that the boy is really a girl, and she runs off, stealing the cloak he had covered her with. Cat Lovett is the niece and ward of her uncle by marriage, Sir Henry Alderley, a wealthy goldsmith on good terms with the king. Cat is facing a marriage to a man she neither loves nor respects; what she really wants to do is draw buildings and plan cities. The situation, and the unwanted attentions of her cousin Edward, lead to Cat running away. She lands a servant position in a boarding house. One of the residents, Master Wakely, is working with Christopher Wren on plans to rebuild the city, and he allows Cat (now known as Jane) to assist with minor tasks. But her mind is on finding her father, a member of a religious sect that supported the execution of Charles I and now believes that his son, Charles II, must be taken down in order for King Jesus to rule the world.

Meanwhile, Marwood's employer brings him into the investigation of two murders: bodies have been found with their thumbs tied together behind their backs. In the course of his discovery, Alderley's second wife, Olivia, asks Marwood to find her niece Cat--and the king, be it known through Mrs. Alderley and the King's confident Chiffinch, want to find Cat's father. The situation is complicated by the fact that Marwood's father was a member of the King Jesus group and spent years in prison upon the restoration of the monarchy. Now, feeble and becoming senile, he is dependent on his son, and James is aware that their loyalty is being closely watched.

I am not a big fan of mysteries of any sort, so other readers might enjoy this one a lot more than I did. It was a plus that I know a good deal about this period of English history, and Taylor does a good job of recreating the customs and appearance of Restoration London and of the unpredictable nature of the king. I needed a fairly light read, and this was a farily good one, but I probably won't be pursuing the rest of the series.

64torontoc
heinäkuu 3, 2020, 11:06pm

I love mysteries and historical fiction- I'll put this one on my wish list!
Thanks

65BLBera
heinäkuu 11, 2020, 12:12pm

I enjoyed Ashes of London as well, but like you, I don't know that I liked it enough to read more in a series. I thought it was fine as a standalone.

66Cariola
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 16, 2020, 11:56pm



Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump

Finished the audio version in 2 days. I'm not going to post the usual review here because I know some of you probably support Trump, and we have enough divisiveness in this country already. Mary Trump has written a compelling book, one that, while extremely critical of her uncle, is also somewhat compassionate in that she understands what shaped him into the man he became. When you read about his father, Fred Trump, you will understand why we have seen so little empathy for the victims of COVID-19, why he lies, why he seeks revenge on his enemies, why everyone is either a winner or a loser, and more. It's the combination of Mary Trump's insider position as a member of the Trump family and her training as a clinical psychologist that makes her book so fascinating. And the epilogue is both chilling and devastating. As she says, in a family like this, one becomes either a victim or an abuser, and that "family" mentality seems to have rubbed off onto a lot of Americans.

67avaland
heinäkuu 17, 2020, 4:59am

>66 Cariola: David Cay Johnson touched on the father and grandfather in his 2016 book The Making of Donald Trump; which was enough insight for me, although there was little on the mother. Did Mary Trump talk about his mother?

68Nickelini
heinäkuu 18, 2020, 11:22am

>66 Cariola:
I absolutely never read books like this but I’m tempted. Her professional credentials tip the scale in her favour

69RidgewayGirl
heinäkuu 18, 2020, 11:36am

>66 Cariola: I watched an interview she did with George Stephanopoulos and she's good at communicating clearly and calmly. It's the only book about Trump that I'm even remotely tempted to read.

70Cariola
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 25, 2020, 5:08pm



Apeirogon by Colum McCann

McCann's latest demonstrates the power of empathy--something sadly missing from the hearts of many people these days. Set in contemporary Israel, the novel tells the real-life stories of Rami Elhanon, an Israeli, and Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian, two men who have suffered greatly from the conflicts over the homeland. Raised to view one another as the enemy, these fathers were brought together by personal tragedy and joined forces to work towards a peaceful settlement of the centuries-old dispute. In the 1990s, Rami's 13-year old daughter, Smadar, while shopping with friends, was killed in a suicide bombing. Ten years later, Bassam's daughter Abir, aged 10, was struck and killed by a rubber bullet fired by a nervous (and possibly trigger happy) teenage soldier while coming out of a candy store across the street from her school. The grieving fathers meet at a parents' support group whose members not only offer one another support but who feel compelled to stop the hostilities. Their shared suffering leads to an empathy that allows them to transcend the political and religious differences and centuries of conflict and hatred.

While the novel is structured around memories related to McCann by Rami and Bassam and is enhanced by McCann's research, it is not simply biographical. What he has succeeded in doing is to convey what it must have been like for both men to live in a disputed territory. I had never really thought about how it would be to live in a place where I felt I had to be constantly on guard, worried about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a Palestinian, Bassam was subject to curfews and restrictions as to what roads he could travel, and he could be stopped at a checkpoint at any time where he could be subject to strip searches, beatings, and arrest. He had seen family, friends, and neighbors roughly evicted from their homes without warning, their possessions shattered or confiscated. As a teenager, he was arrested as a terrorist for participating in a protest and spent seven years in prison. There, the kindness of one of his guards led him to learn Hebrew so that they could better communicate, and this, in turn, led Bassam to become a student of the Holocaust. Rami's backgroun was somewhat similar, despite the fact that he is an Israeli Jew. He served his compulsory tour of duty in the Israeli army where he participated in checkpoints, searches, and general warfare during the Occupation. His freedom of movement was also restricted, and, of course, there was the ever-present fear of suicide bombers. But Rami also had men of peace in his family: his father-in-law was an original member of the Knesset but was viewed by many as a traitor because he advocated for a peaceful settlement.

It is McCann's structure, added to his poetic prose, that gives readers of Apeirogon the impression of living inside the minds, hearts, and bodies of Rami and Bassam. The book is written in 1001 chapters that tell their stories not in a typically lineal narrative form but jumping through time and space and from topic to topic. The chapters move from 1 to 500, chapter 1001 marks the middle point, and then we move from 500 to 1. I'm not entirely sure what McCann intended; perhaps 1001 is the meeting point of the two men, two sides, two religions, although these are interspersed throughout. Some chapters are quite long while others consist of a single sentence or a photograph. Some chapters are somewhat dry summaries of history and politics; others are composed of long lists of items of both small and large consequence. But whether he is describing the care and habits of birds, the eating habits of heads of state, the political history of Israel, meetings of The Parents' Circle, Smadar's love of dancing or Abir's love of math, or any other topic, two themes are never far from the surface: the power of the individual to destroy, and the power of the individual to make things whole again.

This is the kind of book that you need to accept on it's own terms and to experience rather than simply read. Feel it rather than analyzing it or searching for a single line of meaning. It's an amazing story, amazingly told.

71janemarieprice
heinäkuu 24, 2020, 6:45pm

>70 Cariola: This sounds really wonderful. Thanks for bringing it to my notice.

72RidgewayGirl
heinäkuu 25, 2020, 2:28pm

>70 Cariola: I also didn't know what McCann's aim was in counting backwards in chapter count for the second half of the book - he seemed to be having fun with structure and format. It's a book I still think about.

73Cariola
heinäkuu 25, 2020, 5:08pm

>72 RidgewayGirl: One thing: he was playing on The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Abir's favorite book. Thinking about the framework of those stories, Scheherazade told one story every night in order to entertain the sultan and stay alive. I think Apeirogon is very much a book about stories, and about staying alive, one night/day at a time. That's all I've got for now.

74Cariola
heinäkuu 25, 2020, 6:07pm



The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Lakshmi, the daughter of an alcoholic village schoolmaster, once had dreams of continuing her education, possibly even going to college to continue her study of art and literature, but life, hardship, and the customs of India set her on another path. At only fourteen, she was forced to accept an arranged marriage to a man she didn't love, a man who turned out to be abusive. The only grace was her mother-in-law, a healer who shared her knowledge of herbs and folk medicine with Lakshmi. After a few years, Lakshmi escapes, settling first in Agra, where she paints henna designs on the bodies of prostitutes, and then in Jaipur, where she sets up a more legitimate business among the well-to-do ladies, using her talents for original henna designs and mandalas. During her appointments, she also dispenses advice and sweet or savory treats infused with herbs to remedy whatever problems her clients might have from barrenness to arthritis. After several women credit her ministrations with long-wished for pregnancies, Lakshmi's is flourishing. Proud of her accomplishments, she decides to turn her talents matchmaking and to invest in building a home of her own. She hopes that once it is completed, she can invite her estranged parents to come and live with her. Although she has been regularly sending them letters and money, Lakshmi hasn't heard from them since she left.

Then, unexpectedly, the husband she feared would come after her arrives with a 13-year old girl in tow: Rashida, a sister she never knew existed. Their parents have both died, and although Rashida was never told about her older sister, she found one of Lakshmi's letters and knew where to find her. The young girl is at first thrilled to have found an older sister who appears to be doing so well, but Lakshmi is concerned that Rashida's village ways and outspokenness will create havoc in her polite, carefully crafted world. She tries to keep the girl busy with cooking, mixing henna, and other tasks but eventually begins taking her along to some of her appointments. One of the younger women who was schooled in England befriends Rashida, taking her on outings and inviting her to spend time at her home. Although she has some concerns, ultimately, Lakshmi is happy to have her sister--who has become surly and accuses her of using her as a house slave--out of her hair. Inevitably, tragedy strikes, and Lakshmi finds her world falling apart.

The Henna Artist develops a number of important themes: the persistence of the caste system and social customs in 1955 India, the importance of family, the resilience and creativity of women, the corrosive nature of deeply kept secrets, and more. Of course, the push-pull of the sibling relationship is at the heart of the novel as well. Lakshmi's new life has been built on her hard work and resourcefulness, but also on a complex bed of lies that continues to fester. When things start to unravel, how will she manage to rebuild her life and, just as importantly, her relationship with Rashida?

75Cariola
Muokkaaja: elokuu 21, 2020, 3:42pm

(Completed July 31).



Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

I enjoyed earlier books by this author (The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, After You'd Gone, Instructions for a Heatwave), but it has been a while since I picked up one of her novels. I definitely need to go back and catch up on what I've missed. Hamnet jumped to the top of my 2020 Best Reads list. Nothing else I've read this year comes even close and it will be very, very hard to beat.

Anyone familiar with Shakespeare's sketchy biography probably knows that he had a son, Hamnet, who died in 1596 at the age of 11. And anyone who knows Shakespeare's works probably wondered about the similarity between his son's name and that of his best known tragic hero, Hamlet. O'Farrell attempts to connect the two.

The cause of Hamnet's death is unknown, but O'Farrell speculates that he may have caught the plague, which was rampant in London at the time and starting to reach rural areas. She begins her novel with the feverish boy frantically looking for his mother, grandmother, or any other adult who might come home and help his twin, Judith, who has suddenly fallen seriously ill. The story back tracks to the meeting and early life of Agnes (the novel's focal character) and her brother's much younger Latin tutor. (In case you wonder, Anne Hathaway has been referred to as Agnes in some early documents. It's possible that her name was pronounced in the French way, AHN-ye, which was transcribed as Anne.) Agnes's mother, a natural healer, died when she was young, but not without bestowing a good deal of her folk wisdom on her daughter, and Agnes, unhappily under the thumb of her stepmother Joan, believes that she receives messages from her. She has a reputation for being an odd woman: she spends her time in the woods, owns a trained falcon, is outspoken, and apparently has no interest in marriage. At 26, she falls in love with the tutor (whose name is never given; he is variously referred to as the tutor, the father, the playwright, etc.), who is only 18. When she becomes pregnant, their families and the neighbors speculate much as Shakespeare scholars and biographers have: Did he deliberately impregnate a woman of higher status, or did she deliberately since a younger man, perhaps because she was approaching spinsterhood? O'Farrell takes a third theory, that theirs was truly a love match, a "marriage of true minds." She follows their struggles to gain their families' approval and on through the early years of their marriage living under Mary and John Shakespeare's roof with their three young children. While their marriage strengthens and their understanding of one another grows, Agnes's husband's discontent grows as well. It is her love for this man that prompts her to encourage him to seek a better fortune in London. And this is where he is when first Judith and then Hamnet fall dangerously ill.

O'Farrell gives us a wonderful character in Agnes, a woman who is strong, intelligent, passionate, loyal, and fierce. While Hamnet is more her story than the playwright's, it is equally the story of a family and a portrait of grief. Grief is a hard thing to write, hard to put into words without spelling it out or falling into maudlin platitudes, both of which diminish the experience. O'Farrell has mastered the old maxim for new writers: Show, don't tell. I can't recall ever reading anything that made me feel so exactly, so overwhelmingly, the the weight of grief and the way it affects an entire family, especially Agnes, Hamnet's twin Judith, and his father. It's exquisitely done here.

Does O'Farrell address the similarity of the name Hamnet to Hamlet. Indeed she does, in a very unique way. I hope that you will read this amazingly beautiful book to discover just how.

76BLBera
elokuu 20, 2020, 4:47pm

I loved Hamnet as well, Deborah. It is definitely one of my favorites of the year.

77AlisonY
elokuu 21, 2020, 8:41am

>75 Cariola: Great review - this one's going further and further up my wish list. I think I'll have to go for it in my next lot of book-buying.

78Cariola
elokuu 21, 2020, 3:08pm

>76 BLBera: Yay! This one has a cumulative 4.5 star rating from LT readers. It should be a solid 5.

>77 AlisonY: Alison, I hope you read it soon and love it as much as I do.

79Cariola
Muokkaaja: elokuu 21, 2020, 3:42pm

(Completed August 6.)



The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue is an author whose work I usually enjoy, but once in a while, she pulls a "meh" on me. The Pull of the Stars is one of those books. Set in Dublin in the midst of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, it focuses on Julia Power, a nurse in charge of a small ward (three at a time) whose patients are pregnant women who are showing symptoms of the flu. The hospital is woefully understaffed, so a young volunteer named Bridie Sweeney is assigned to assist Julia. One patient, a mother many times over, is delusional; another is a very young first-time mother, and the third is a well-off woman who constantly complains that she wants to go home. The novel mainly consists of Julia's interactions with her patents, with Bridie, with the aging nun who acts as her supervisor, and with Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who took part in the 1926 uprising and may be wanted by the police. There are also a few scenes with her brother, a former soldier who returned shell shocked from the trenches in France.

The premise is a captivating one especially as we sit in the midst of a pandemic of our own. The author has done her research on the Spanish flu, on the treatment and care of pregnant women in the time period, on the effects of the war on returning young men--and therein lies the problem. I felt bogged down by the medical details, to the point that they overwhelmed the characters. It was like Donoghue didn't want to let go of any detail that she ran across. If you are a medical professional, all this might fascinate you. If not, you might get bored, as I did, with the shallow, stereotypical characters that the author left room for. Julia is too perfect, Bridie too eager and naive, Dr. Lynn too heroic, the supervising nun too cold and judgmental, and the patients could be summed up as The Rich Bitch, The Frightened Young Mom, The Weary Mother of Too Many, and The Fallen Woman Trying to Hide Her Past. The saving grace is in a few one-on-one conversations between Julia and either Dr. Lynn or Bridie and the scene of Julia's birthday celebration with her brother. For those, and for Donoghue's usual fine writing, I'm giving this book three stars, but overall, it was a disappointment.

80RidgewayGirl
elokuu 22, 2020, 11:18am

I'm waiting for my library hold on Hamnet to come in. I've heard nothing but great things about this book. And I'm going to read The Pull of the Stars because it's written by Donoghue, but I'll go in with lowered expectations.

81Cariola
elokuu 22, 2020, 3:40pm

>80 RidgewayGirl: I'll be eager to hear what you think of Hamlet. And whether you enjoy The Pull of the Stars more than I did. I will also read anything by Emma Donoghue, although this wasn't the first time I was disappointed.

82RidgewayGirl
elokuu 22, 2020, 7:23pm

I think I remember you liking The Wonder far less than I did.

83kidzdoc
Muokkaaja: elokuu 28, 2020, 4:40pm

Great review of Hamnet, Deborah. I've also heard great things about it, and many close followers of the Booker Prize on Goodreads were shocked that it wasn't chosen for the longlist. I'll add it to my wish list.

84Cariola
elokuu 31, 2020, 2:24pm

>83 kidzdoc: It definitely should have made the Booker Long List. The writing is just exquisite, and the story and characters are wonderful as well. The only other long list choices that I've read are The Mirror and the Light and Apeirogon, both of which I really liked, but I think Hamnet is better than either one. As usual, I have no interest at all in a number of the long listed books and wonder how they got there. But then I looked at the list of judges . . .

85Cariola
Muokkaaja: elokuu 31, 2020, 3:43pm



Home by Manju Kapur

Home tells the story of a middle class merchant family, the Banwari Lals, who specialize in the creation and sale of saris and and other traditional Indian garb. The story begins when Sona, the beautiful teenage daughter of another merchant family of somewhat lesser standing, enters the store with her mother, and the eldest Banwari Lal son falls immediately in love with her. Reluctantly, his family agrees to arrange a marriage. Theirs is a love match, and the couple are happily married with one not-so-small problem: after 10 years, Sona has been unable to conceive. Her sister Rupa is in the same situation.

The first half of Home focuses on Sona's adjustment to living with her in-laws and, later, the other sons' new wives and children. As the only childless wife, she is forced to "mother" Vicky, son of her husband's sister whose unhappy marriage ended when she burned to death in a suspicious "cooking accident." Sona dislikes the boy because he is dark-skinned and sullen, and Vicky isn't treated much better by the rest of the family. When Sona finally gives birth, Vicky is more or less left on his own. At this point, the book shifts attention to her daughter, Nisha, a beautiful child who (for reasons left unstated here) falls victim to violent nightmares and is sent to live with her aunt, Rupa, and her husband, who care for her as if she were her own child. As she reaches adulthood, Nisha's longing to be a modern woman clashes with her family's traditional values.

The book started out slowly slowly for me, and I had a hard time empathizing with Sona and her many complaints. Things got better when Nisha was the focus, but unfortunately, the ending was a real disappointment, one that I wasn't expecting and that knocked my rating down by a full point. On the positive side, Home provided some insight into traditioal Indian families and their values and how both are being forced to adapt to social change.

86Cariola
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 15, 2020, 6:01pm



Girl: A Novel by Edna O'Brien

O'Brien's first person narrator, Maryam, is one of the young schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, a radical Islamic group in Nigeria. Hers is a truly horrific tale. The girls, some as young as 12, were used as prostitutes and servants, frequently subjected to torture and starved. Maryam was one of the lucky ones who was chosen to be the wife of one of the fiercest fighters. She gave birth to a daughter that she called Babby, and both were treated fairly well--until her husband died of battle wounds. Eventually, she dares to make an escape, but the journey towards home is equally devastating, ad the home to which she returns is no longer the same.

I've read a lot of criticism along the line of "This should have been written by a young black woman," accusing O'Brien, a 90-something writer who has always been an outspoken advocate of women and the oppressed, of trying to make a buck by assimilating a black woman's story. Hogwash. It's a story that needed to be told, and it HAS been told by a number of African writers, some of whom ghostwrote for victims. Is this a story that can only be told once? I don't think so. And let's not forget, in the midst of our American racist woes, that this is also not a black v. white story or an American story. Both the perpetrators and their victims are black, but of different religions. I believe that writers should have the scope of their imaginations, as long as they have done the necessary research as well in the case of real-life events, and O'Brien has most certainly done that.

(Touchstones not working this afternoon.)

87Cariola
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 27, 2020, 4:28pm



The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne

When a young boy in a small Russian village takes a bullet to prevent an assassination, his life is turned around. Georgy Jachmenev is rewarded with an assignment in the Tsar's St Petersburg palace: to be a watchful companion to the 11-year old Tsarevitch Alexi. Georgy has quite the story to tell, much of it set inside the Romanov court a few years prior to the revolution and into the royal family's exile, but the narrative jumps to several times and places later in his life: settling in Paris as a refugee with Zoya, the woman in his life; their early married years in London and a troubling period as they approach middle age; Zoya's resignation to cancer and 80-year old Georgy's adjusting to living without her. Needless to say, the the Romanov stories are the most fascinating. Georgy becomes close not only to Alexi but to his sister Anastasia and even to the Tsar himself. And he finds himself both repelled by and inexplicably attracted to Father Gregory, the Tsaritsa's closest confidante.

I'm always surprise d by the wide range of subjects, time periods,ad settings that Boyne takes on. As usual, Boyne provides lots of details that bring this story to life, and the plot is full of unexpected twists and turns (although the main one, revealed near the end, was pretty easy to figure out). An enjoyable read, especially for any fans of the Romanovs or late Tsarist Russia and the revolution.

88Nickelini
syyskuu 15, 2020, 9:52pm

>87 Cariola:

That sounds interesting

89Cariola
syyskuu 27, 2020, 4:28pm

>88 Nickelini: I think you'd like it!

90Cariola
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 27, 2020, 11:26pm



Summer by Ali Smith

Summer is the fourth and final book in Smith's seasonal quartet. It's a difficult book to describe. I'll start by saying that it's divided into interrelated sections, each focused on a different set of characters.
Eventually, they all connect with one another, either in the present or through the past, but thankfully NOT in the usual stale formula of someone finding a stash of letters from a hundred years ago or a graduate student learning secrets about the subject of her dissertation.

The first section begins with 17-year old Sacha Greenwell and her younger brother Robert. Their parents have divorced, but their father bought the house next door and moved in with his new girlfriend, a woman who has mysteriously stopped talking yet is writing a book about words. Their mother, Grace, a one-time summer repertoire actress stuck in the land of what might have been, is the kind of flighty parent who wants to be her kids' best friend. Sacha is a dreamer, a would-be activist appalled by what she sees in the world around her, which is clearly our world: Brexit, the pandemic, Trump and Johnson, the rise in racism, nationalism, populism, anti-immigrant actions, and general noise and cruelty. She ponders the situation a lot and makes small efforts towards change, such as writing to an immigrant named Hero who has been locked in a detainment center. Robert has a fixation on Albert Einstein and plays annoying pranks, like hiding the TV remote ( the channel can't be changed without it) and supergluing an hourglass to Sacha's palm. This last prank does not end terribly well, but it brings into the Greenwells' lives Charlotte and Art, environmental artists/activists passing through their town. Art's grandmother has recently died, and she made him promise to take a large round stone to an old friend she has never spoken of and hasn't seen for years. Believing their destination is near the place where Einstein stayed briefly while in England (and also a bit in love with Charlotte), Robert persuades them to take the family along.

When the story shifts to Daniel Gluck, I found myself rather confused--but don't worry, it all makes sense in the end (well, sort of). Daniel is a 104-year old German-born man who lived in England all of his life. During the second World War, he was separated from the rest of his family and sent to an internment camp ( the same kind of treatment that the US doled out to citizens of Japanese extraction). He is being cared for by his neighbor's granddaughter. As with many older people, his thoughts move unexpectedly from the past to the present. This is the book's longest section and in some ways the hardest to stick with despite being also the most moving, especially when the younger Daniel writes a letter to his sister Hannah, not knowing where she is or even if she is alive. (We get an inserted section on what happened to her once the family was broken apart.)

There are other digressions in the novel, such as Grace's recollection of a summer playing Hermoine in The Winter's Tale and the changes in Charlotte and Art's relationship, but it all feels like it comes together in the end. Yet somehow I still ended up feeling that I missed a lot and should read it again, which is typical of my reading of Smith's often experimental style. The links between everything seem to be the experiences of the characters' different summers, which Smith uses to demonstrate that there is still hope in our world if we can put aside hatred and focus on forgiveness. A hard thing to do in the midst of my world at the moment. I wish I had faith that this, too is just a season and will pass. If anything, Summer has inspired me to spend less time on Facebook and watching the news and to spend more time with the things that bring calm, joy, and beauty into my life.

91kidzdoc
lokakuu 4, 2020, 8:45pm

Great review of Summer, Deborah. Is it necessary to read the previous three books before starting it? I've read Autumn. but not Winter or Spring.

92avaland
lokakuu 7, 2020, 5:19pm

>86 Cariola: That 2nd paragraph was well-said. And I agree. i thought it a powerful read.

93Cariola
lokakuu 10, 2020, 10:33pm

>91 kidzdoc: Darryl, I don't think you need to read the quartet in order. Each novel stands on its own.

>86 Cariola: Thanks. I've really liked most of the O'Brien novels that I've read.

94Cariola
lokakuu 10, 2020, 10:36pm



Writers and Lovers by Lily King

Casey has been working on her novel for six years. She waitresses to get by in the meantime and is fortunate enough to get accepted to several writers' workshops. The last year has been particularly difficult because her mother died unexpectedly during a trip abroad. When the story begins, Casey is in the midst of an affair with a guy in her writers' workshop. She soon learns that not only has he been bonking a good number of the other women there, he's also married. She swears off men--but that doesn't last for long. Her friend Muriel takes her to a writers' group meeting where she meets two men who show interest in her: Oscar, the widowed group leader, who has two young sons, and Silas, a hot young writer. Both claim to be shying away from relationships due to heartbreak, but it isn't long before Casey is spending time with them both. Who will she choose? And will she ever finish her book?

This summary tells you all the things I DIDN'T like about this book. I almost gave up on it about halfway through, but I'm glad I stuck with it. Yes, I found Casey's love life rather annoying at times. But Lily King does a great job of developing her characters and getting inside of Casey's head. in a way, this is a delayed coming of age story (and coming of age stories are not really my favorite genre), but it's fascinating to watch, and King delivers with both poignancy and humor.

95Cariola
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 19, 2020, 4:32pm



Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit

Set in the early years of the Plymouth colony, this novel explores the lives of some less prominent settlers, including women and indentured servants. The narrative voice varies from chapter to chapter, but the most frequent speakers are Alice, second wife of the governor, William Bradford, and Eleanor Billington, wife of an indentured servant who was the first person in the colony executed for murder. Nesbit was curious as to why Bradford's account of the colony never mentioned his first wife or the circumstances surrounding her death; other accounts say that Dorothy accompanied him on the voyage but "slipped overboard" and died. Nesbitt speculates that she and Alice were childhood friends and that perhaps Dorothy, depressed over leaving her son behind, committed suicide.

Although most of us know that the pilgrims (or puritans) arrived on the Mayflower, they were not the only passengers. Another ship, the Speedwell, carried tradesmen and their families who were sent by the Merchant Adventurers to support the new community, many of them as indentured servants. When the Speedwell was determined to be unsailworthy, many of these families joined the colonists on the Mayflower. One of these was John Billington. Each male resident of a household was to be granted a plot of land. Billington counted on three plots, one for himself and one for each of his sons, but because one son lived in a different family's home while learning a trade, he was given only two plots. A heavy drinker and frequent troublemaker, Billington's seething resentment eventually erupted into the colony's first murder.

These are the basic historical facts, but the novel is more about the lives of the women and their relationships with their husbands and with one another. Alice, who had arrived a few years after the landing for the specific purpose of marrying her friend's widower, is still adjusting to the prominent role of governor's wife. While friendly with two other women, Elizabeth and Susannah, memories of Dorothy continue to play through her mind. She also clashes with Billington's wife, particularly when her husband sends her to persuade Eleanor that she and John should not attend a dinner for a group of newly-arrived colonists. Behind the scenes, we see the brutality of Miles Standish (especially against the local tribes), the men's jockeying for power, and the investment strategies that were as much a part of the settlement as religious freedom.

Overall, this was an interesting and enjoyable read. The characters well engaging and well developed, and I gained some different views of the Plymouth colonists.

96AlisonY
lokakuu 20, 2020, 7:06am

>95 Cariola: That sounds like the type of book I'd enjoy - taking a book bullet there.

97Cariola
lokakuu 30, 2020, 1:58am

>96 AlisonY: It was definitely a different take on the Plymouth colony!

98Cariola
lokakuu 30, 2020, 2:00am



Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

My thoughts on this one are mixed. It opens in Kyoto, Japan in 1948. A cab pulls up to an elegant home that is almost a palace, and a little girl and her mother step out into the rain. Noriko is surprised to see her family name at the top of the gates, which are open. She is told that her grandmother lives there and that now, she will, too. Her mother's parting words: "Do not question. Do not fight. Do not resist."

One of the first things Nori's grandmother tells her is that she is a bastard and her mother is a whore who disgraced their ancient family. Nori does not remember her father, a black American soldier who died when she was an infant. Although she is given some nice clothes, a minimal education, and a kind servant to look after her, Nori's life in the Kamizaki house is hell. She is not allowed off the top floor, is subjected to painful chemical baths in an effort to lighten her skin, and if she dares to question anything, her grandmother beats her with a large wooden spoon.

The only bright spot is when her half brother Akira, recently orphaned, arrives. As the family's only male heir, he has no fear of his grandmother, and he decides to take Nori under his wing. But because this book is unrelentingly miserable, you can expect that the happier days won't last for long, and they don't. Things get worse, then things get better for a while, then things get as bad as you can imagine. Years after Nori leaves Japan and seems finally to have a chance at happiness . . . well, you can imagine. Although blurbs will claim that this is a coming of age story with a focus on love and loss, the real theme seems to be that the sins of the mother shall be visited on the daughter, over and over and over again. Not exactly the upper I needed as we approach what I hope is the end of this horrific year.

99RidgewayGirl
lokakuu 30, 2020, 3:10pm

>98 Cariola: I'll keep this on my "books to look for" list, but I'll keep in mind to choose the time to read it carefully. Fully in agreement with your assessment of this year so far.

100Cariola
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 19, 2020, 6:49pm



The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks

I usually enjoy books that use several different narrators, as does this one. The novel centers around French composer Erik Satie and three important people in his life, his sister Louise, brother Conrad, and friend Phillipe, an émigré writer-translator from Spain. The Satie children were abandoned by their widowed father, moved from Paris to live with their grandparents in Honfleur; Louise was then separated from her brothers, sent to live with a childless uncle and his wife. Although the youngest, as an adult, Conrad, a perfume chemist, lived the most "normal" life and helped his siblings out of many difficult situations. If you know Erik Satie's music, it probably isn't hard for you to realize that he was a bit of a bohemian in Belle Epoque Paris, focused on producing something new to the musical world. Louise's story is the most engaging. Her musical talent was limited by her gender and her circumstances. She rejected an arranged marriage with a boring doctor who later used every possible opportunity to seek revenge upon her. Eventually, she marries for love, but her happiness is short-lived. On Conrad's advice to put some physical space between herself and her losses, she moves to Argentina, but poverty and loneliness move with her.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and felt that it gave a good representation of the Parisian artistic world and the excesses of the era. It makes the point that everyone, including Conrad, had a cross to bear. It was a bit hard to connect with the character of Erik, but that may have been intentional as Satie apparently had difficulty connecting to others in his real life. Although he is at the novel's core, The Vexations is really more a book about family, friendship and loss than about music. Music is like a secondary character, a lover that impassions and abandons those within its sphere.

101lisapeet
joulukuu 19, 2020, 5:59pm

>100 Cariola: I had the same thought about Satie's character—he was such an odd duck, in his way, that you weren't really meant to get inside his head. Rather, the reader gets as close to him as they can through the other characters (who don't seem to have an easy time getting close to him either). I liked how Horrocks pulled that off.

And I looooved the final part with Louise in the fur coat department. "Hello ghosts. You are so, so soft."

102Cariola
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 30, 2020, 11:59am



The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

I have always been interested in the colonization of Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania and have read some wonderful novels on the subject, including Richard Flanagan's Wanting and Kate Grenville's trilogy, beginning with The Lieutenant. Christina Baker Kline's latest, The Exiles, doesn't quite meet the same bar. Although she has certainly done her research and provides significant detail about the conditions in Newgate prison, on board a convict transport ship, and in the women's prison on Van Dieman's Land, for me, the characters and their stories were rather cliché. Evangeline Stokes, A person's daughter, find herself in financial distress and takes a position AZ a governess. She is seduced and abandoned by the family's eldest son and stands accused of stealing the ruby ring that he gave her. In her panic, she pushes a maid down the stairs and is charged with both theft and attempted murder. Of course, she is pregnant, a condition that makes the journey on the convict ship all the more difficult. Evangeline befriends two fellow convicts Olive, the typical good thwarted but rough tested prostitute, and Hazel, a pretty teenager who fortunately picked up herbal medicine and midwifery from her otherwise neglectful mother. The ship's doctor is another cliché: young, handsome, and empathetic. But the most predictable character is Buck, a former convict, now a seaman on the transport ship. Think of every evil sailor you've encountered in books or films, and you'll know Buck. He resurfaces near the end of the novel. Let it suffice for me to say that I found what happens quite over the top.

While I enjoyed The Exiles more than her last book (the one about Jamie Wyatt's model Christina, which I thought was truly awful), I probably won't be reading her next. Her writing is just too facile and overwrought for my taste.

Edited to add: After posting this review, I realized that I totally forgot a second interwoven plotline, that of Mathinna, orphaned daughter of an aboriginal king who is taken in by the governor's wife. Lady Franklin is a collector of what she considers oddities, and Mathinna is just another one. The governor's wife attempts to acclimate her to English dress and customs, but her project fails. Of course, that failure proves the inferiority of the black race, according to Lady Franklin. Abandoned and left between two cultures, Mathinna's story has a tragic outcome. The fact that I totally forgot about Mathinna testifies to the forgettability of the characters in this book.

103kidzdoc
joulukuu 30, 2020, 12:22pm

Nice review of The Exiles, Deborah. You've reminded me that I need to add The Secret River to my list of books to read in 2021, as several of us saw the excellent play based on the book at the National Theatre in London last year.

104RidgewayGirl
joulukuu 30, 2020, 1:26pm

105Cariola
tammikuu 5, 1:51am

103> I really enjoyed The Secret River.

104> The Exiles has gotten solid reviews from readers, but I was disappointed. I think I'm getting harder to please.

106Nickelini
tammikuu 27, 11:21pm

Deborah - do you have a thread on the 2021 ClubRead? I don't think I've found you this year

107torontoc
tammikuu 28, 11:10am

Yes- where are you this year?

108RidgewayGirl
tammikuu 28, 12:57pm

>105 Cariola: There seems to be a market right now for a certain kind of light history novel maybe? I'm very wary of any popular historical novel until someone whose opinion I trust says it's solid.

109Cariola
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 6, 9:11pm

>106 Nickelini:, >107 torontoc:, >108 RidgewayGirl: I'm back! Not sure exactly why I missed getting my thread up earlier, but I just posted in Club Read 2021.

110Nickelini
maaliskuu 6, 12:40pm

Yay!!!