Saturday, 31 December 2016

Wrap-Up Post for the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge 2016

Monthly Motif Reading Challenge 2016

Here is the hosting page for the challenge. Here is my sign-up page.

Each month has a motif or theme that you have to read a book in. I completed all of them except for July.

* Who Dunnit? Crack the case and solve the mystery
The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill. Finished January 3
* New Releases. Read a book released in the last year
Where Secrets Sleep by Marta Perry. Finished February 18
* Take a Trip. Time travel or read a book set in a different country than where you live
A Pair of Docks by Jennifer Ellis. Finished March 28 (time travel)
* Best of the Best. Read a book that has won recognition or a literary award
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. Finished April 26
* Story of Survival. Make it out alive, beat the odds, save yourself stories. Think beyond the typical.
Asking For It by Louise O'Neill. Finished May 9
* Girlxoxo Recommends. Check the host site for recommendations
Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Finished June 28
* LOL. Hilarious memoirs, silly chick lit, comedic scifi. Pick a book that is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. [Did not read a book for this category]
* Genre Jumble. Read from a genre you don't normally read from.
You're Not Lost If You Can Still See the Truck by Bill Heavey. Finished August 26
* Steampunk, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. Something from one of these genres.
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. Finished September 25
* Things that Go Bump in the Night. Cozy mystery ghost stories, paranormal creeptastic, murder mysteries - it's up to you.
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley. Finished October 11
* Fiction Takes a Break. Anything nonfiction
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. Finished November 14
* That's a wrap. Finish a series you've been meaning to finish or read the next book in a series you started by never finished.
The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol. Finished December 31

The Slow Waltz of Turtles

Finished December 31
The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol, translated by William Rodarmor

This book is the follow up the The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, which introduced us to Josephine Cortes. Here Josephine has moved to a new apartment in a better neighbourhood, but she doesn't feel at home there, and still goes back to her old neighbourhood to shop. Her younger daughter Zoe lives with her, but Hortense has achieved a place at a fashion school in London and spends most of the year there. Hortense knows what she wants and is driven to achieve it. Josephine's sister has suffered a breakdown and as the book begins is in a mental hospital. Her husband Philippe has taken their son to London and is learning to live a new life there.
Josephine's mother Henriette is obsessed with her estranged husband's new life, refusing to grant him a divorce and working to try and make his lover's life unhappy.
As Josephine learns to be more confident in what she truly wants and to draw lines against those that she begins to understand don't value her as a person, she gains strength and self-awareness slowly. She has always been a woman who puts others before herself, and this is a hard habit to change.
Put off by the snobbishness of her new neighbours, Josephine befriends the concierge Iphigenie, improving her situation as she does.
Early in her new home, Josephine is walking home one evening through the nearby park, only to be attacked by a stranger. Only something she is carrying saves her life, and she grows wary of her new neighbourhood. When a woman she knows is killed, she becomes more fearful. When more murders connected to her new home occur, she begins to eye both her new neighbours and old acquaintances with concern. When she befriends a badly scarred stray dog and names him Du Guesclin, after the Black Dog of Broceliande, one of the greatest warriors of his generation, yet a notoriously ugly man. She takes the dog in, offering love and companionship and enriching her and Zoe's lives.
As we gradually learn the sad story of the deaths, we become aware that what we see of people isn't always the truth, and the secrets people live with are sometimes too much to bear.
The title does have meaning that we only learn toward the end, a bittersweet story of love and cruelty, This book has a bit of fantasy to it as well that adds another layer. A great read.

Wrap-Up Post for Books in Translation Challenge 2016

Books in Translation Challenge 2016

Here is the hosting page for this challenge. Here is my sign-up page.

This challenge ran for the 2016 calendar year.

There are four levels for this challenge. I went for the highest level, Linguist, which means I needed to read 10-12 books translated into English, and I only read nine. So I didn't complete this successfully (despite having many translated books on my shelves waiting to be read!) They did cover 5 languages though, which isn't bad.

1. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang. Translated from Korean. Finished March 13
2. Red Lights by Simenon. Translated from French. Finished April 16
3. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano. Translated from French. Finished September 8
4. A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas. Translated from French. Finished October 10
5. Blitz by David Trueba. Translated from Spanish. Finished November 26
6. Schlump by Hans Herbert Grimm. Translated from German. Finished December 1
7. If Venice Dies by Salvatore Settis. Translated from Italian. Finished December 12
8. Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto. Translated from Spanish. Finished December 15
9. The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol. Translated from French. Finished December 31

Wrap-Up Post for the Aussie Author Challenge 2016

Aussie Author Challenge 2016

Here is the hosting page for this challenge. Here is my sign-up page.

This challenge ran for the 2016 calendar year. I did not complete it successfully

There are three challenge levels, and I went for the lowest one, Wallaby, which required me to read 3 books by Australian authors of which at least one is male, at least one is female, and at least one is new to me. I only read two, both female authors.

1. Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Finished June 28. (female and new to me)
2. Tumbledown Manor by Helen Brown. Finished December 24 (female and new to me)

Wrap-Up Post for Eclectic Reading Challenge 2016

I did really badly on this challenge for 2016.

Here is the hosting page for this challenge. Here is my sign-up page.

It ran for the 2016 calendar year. Books may be in any format. Books can only be used for one category.

There are 12 categories to read in. You have to complete all 12. I only completed three.

1. A book about books (fiction or nonfiction)
     Read This! Finished November 23
2. Serial killer thriller
     Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff. Finished January 9
3. Paranormal romance
4. A novel set on an island
5. Investigative journalism (nonfiction)
6. Disaster fiction
7. Steampunk scifi
8. Any book shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
9. Psychology (nonfiction)
10. Immigrant Experience fiction
11. YA historical fiction
12. A debut author in 2016
     Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. Finished April 30

Wrap-Up Post for Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge 2016

I didn't quite finish the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge 2016. I have started a book beginning with X (The XYZ Factor) and have a couple books starting with V handy, but didn't get to them. It was fun reading though.

Here is the hosting page for this challenge. Here is my sign-up page.

The idea was to read books that begin with each letter of the alphabet. Disregard first words such as 'a', 'an' and 'the'. For the difficult letters of Q, X, and Z, the word does not have to be the first word of the title.  Books can be read in any order.

Here are my books:
A - The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor. Finished July 24
B - The Bob Watson by Greg Bardsley. Finished August 28
C - Chasing Chaos by Jessica Alexander. Finished March 20
D - Drink Dirt Eat Stone by Kyle Fleishman. Finished March 6
E - The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton. Finished July 1
F - Front Runner by Felix Francis. Finished January 31
G - The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. Finished January 7
H - Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff. Finished January 9
I - The In-Between Hour by Barbara Claypole While. Finished January 19
J - The January Dancer by Michael Flynn. Finished April 6
K - A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller. Finished November 24
L - Light Years by Caroline Woodward. Finished January 2
M - Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee. Finished February 13
N - The Northern Queen by Kelly Evans. Finished March 3
O - An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris. Finished October 19
P - Prisoner of Warren by Andreas Oertel. Finished January 31
Q - Quality of Care by Elizabeth Letts. Finished December 17
R - Rosemary Cottage by Colleen Coble. Finished January 14
S - The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill. Finished January 3
T - Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann. Finished January 11
U - The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Finished April 24
W - The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly. Read by Jeff Harding. Finished January 25
Y - The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Finished April 2
Z - Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto. Finished December 15

Wrap-Up Page for Banned Books Challenge 2016

Banned Books Challenge 2016 Wrap-Up

Here is the hosting page for this challenge. Here is my sign-up page.

The challenge ran for the 2016 calendar year.

There are five levels for this challenge. I went for the second level, Trouble-Maker at 3-5 books, but only read two.

1. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, Finished March 9. Proof of banning.
2. Schlump by Hans Herbert Grimm. Finished December 1. Burned by fascists in Germany and banned during WWII.

What's In a Name Reading Challenge 2017

This is always a fun challenge to do, so I'm signing up for it again for 2017.

Here are the basics.

The challenge runs from January to December 2017.
You need to read books in the following categories, and the host gives examples for each category at the host page.

1. A number in numbers (examples: 84 Charing Cross Road; 12 Years a Slave; 31 Dream Street)
2. A building (examples: The Old Curiosity Shop; I Capture the Castle; House of Shadows; The Invisible Library; Jamaica Inn)
3. A title which has an X somewhere in it (examples: The Girl Next Door; The Running Vixen)
4. A compass direction (examples: North and South; Guardians of the West; The Shadow in the North; NW)
5. An item/items of cutlery (examples: The Subtle Knife; Our Spoons Came from Woolworths)
6. A title in which at least two words share the same first letter -- alliteration! (examples: The Great Gatsby; The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite; Gone Girl; The Cuckoo's Calling)

I'm looking towards my shelves now for possibilities.

Wrap-Up Post for What's in a Name Reading Challenge 2016

What's In a Name Challenge 2016

Here is the hosting page for this challenge. Here is my sign-up page.

It ran for the 2016 calendar year.You had to read a book from each of the categories, and some examples are giving at the hosting page. The category has to be in the title of the book.
I missed one of the categories this year, so didn't complete the challenge.

My books:
1. A country [Did not complete]
2. An item of clothing
     Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen. Finished April 10
3. An item of furniture
     Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch. Finished December 14
4. A profession
    The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell. Finished March 12
5. A month of the year
   The January Dancer by Michael Flynn. Finished April 6
6. The word 'tree'
   The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark. Finished April 7

Wrap-Up Post for Literary Loner Reading Challenge 2016

Literary Loner Reading Challenge 2016

This was a new challenge being offered for the first time.

Here is the hosting page for this challenge. Here is my sign-up page for this challenge.

There were two ways to play it: character loners and author loners. I did the character loner version (mostly because I can easily tell if a character is a loner, outcast, recluse, wallflower, or introvert, and I'd have to do research on the authors)

The challenge ran for the 2016 calendar year, and books had to be started after January 1st, so no finishing ones already begun for this. Re-reads were allowed, but I didn't do any. Books could be in all genres, fiction and nonfiction and all formats. Overlaps with other challenges were fine.

You decided your own level for this challenge, so I set mine at 5 books, and I successfully completed the challenge.

My books read:
1. Light Years by Caroline Woodward. Finished January 2 (working as a lighthouse keeper is definitely a job for an introvert)
2. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. Finished January 7 (several of the characters taking main roles in this book are loners)
3. Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff. Finished January 9 (both the FBI agent and the woman he is tracking are loners)
4. The Risk of Darkness by Susan Hill. Finished January 16 (Simon Serrailler is a man who seldom lets others close to him personally)
5. Drink Dirt Eat Stone by Kyle Fleishman. Finished March 6 (Tristan Stonehorse is a man who walks a lonely path)
6. The Maid's Version by Daneil Woodrell. Finished March 12 (Alma Dunahew has few friends, isolated by her pursue of justice for her sister)
7. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Finished April 2 (Bartle is definitely a loner)
8. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. Finished April 26. (Saul Indian Horse is a loner by circumstances more than choice)
9. Asking For It by Louise O'Neill. Finished May 9. (Emma is a loner despite her public persona)
10. Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Finished June 28. (Micah is a loner, partially because of her lying)
11. Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. Finished June 30 (The unnamed narrator lives alone)
12. Lauchlin of the Bad Heart by D.R. MacDonald. Finished August 22 (Lauchlin lives a lonely life)
13. Blitz by David Trueba. Finished November 26 (Beto, the main character is definitely a loner)
14. Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto. Finished December 15 (Zama is a man separated from others by his birth and profession)
15. Miss Jane by Brad Watson. Finished December 18 (Jane is a loner due to her circumstances)

European Reading Challenge 2017

I am joining this challenge again this year.

Hosted by Rose City Reader, this challenge is one I like to do every year. It gets me reading books from or set in other countries and fulfills part of my love of travel in a vicarious way.

Here is the link for the challenge. I will be doing the Five Star challenge again, which requires me to read books from 5 European countries. The challenge host has the details for the challenge requirements.

Looking forward to it once again. Thanks once again Gilion for hosting this.

Wrap-Up Post for European Reading Challenge 2016

European Reading Challenge 2016

Here's the hosting page for this challenge. She does a great job of setting everything out clearly and providing good links for reviews. Here's my sign-up page.

There are five levels that you can participate at, from one book to five books, all with fun names. I did the Five Star (Deluxe Entourage) level, completing it successfully. I'm not really interested in the prizes, I just like doing the challenge.

The challenge ran from January 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017, but since I do it every year, I tend to stick to the calendar year rather than do overlaps. Overlapping with other challenges is encouraged however, and I often do that. Re-reads count, as do books in all formats.

Here are my reads:
1. The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill. Finished January 3 (Spain)
2. The Risk of Darkness by Susan Hill. Finished January 16 (Great Britain)
3. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman. Finished January 26 (Italy)
4. 13 rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro. Finished January 30 (France)
5. The Longest Afternoon by Brendan Simms. Finished February 20 (Belgium)
6. Asking For It by Louise O'Neill. Finished May 9 (Ireland)
7. The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. Finished September 15 (Austria)
8. Schlump by Hans Herbert Grimm. Finished December 1 (Germany)

Wrap-Up of Where Are You Reading Challenge 2015-16

Well, I still didn't finish all the states. I did learn how some states are harder to find books set in, and the preponderance of certain states when it comes to settings, particularly New York and California.
I will still try to find books in the states I haven't yet read (I have a book set in Delaware out from the library right now!), but will close this challenge out officially.

Where Are You Reading Challenge 2015 (plus 2016)

Where Are You Reading
Read books from all 50 states, plus I've added D.C. as well. 

My books are:

1. Massachusetts: Enon by Paul Harding. Finished January 1
2. New York: A House on the Heights by Truman Capote. Finished January 31
3. Wisconsin: Shoot the Lawyer Twice by Michael A Bowen. Finished February 7
4. Washington, D.C.: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. Finished February 25
5. Alaska: The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello. Finished March 7
6. California: Frameshift by Robert J. Sawyer. Finished March 14
7. Florida: Ladies' Night by Mary Kay Andrews. Finished March 28
8. Maryland: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. Finished April 10
9. Texas: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. Finished April 12
10. Vermont: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian. Finished April 27
11. Illinois: C.O.W.L Volume 1 Principles of Power by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Rod Reis. Finished May 4
12. Pennsylvania: Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner. Finished May 7
13. Minnesota: Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. Finished May 7
14. Utah: The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. Finished June 13
15. Oregon: The Wilding by Benjamin Perry. Finished June 17
16. Kentucky: Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy. Finished July 7
17. New Jersey: Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight. Finished July 20
18. New Hampshire: The Arsonist by Sue Miller. Finished August 9
19. Georgia: Yankee in Atlanta by Jocelyn Green. Finished September 4
20. Connecticut: The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine. Finished September 21
21. Colorado: Sweet Dreams by Kristen Ashley. Finished September 27
22. Missouri: The Ragtime Fool by Larry Karp. Finished October 5
23. Iowa: Early Warning by Jane Smiley. Finished October 18
24. Maine: The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron. Finished November 10
25. Oklahoma: Make Me by Lee Child. Finished November 18
26. Montana: The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo. Finished December 5
27. North Carolina: Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash. Finished December 21
28. Tennessee: We Were Brothers by Barry Moser. Finished December 31
29. Alabama: Read and Buried by Erika Chase. Finished February 27
30. Idaho: This Is Why by Leland Spencer. Finished March 27
31. Indiana: Lead Me Home by Amy K. Sorrells. Finished April 9
32. Ohio: Never Come Back by David Bell. Finished August 29
33. Nebraska: Stripped Bare by Shannon Baker. Finished September 30
34. Michigan: Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer. Finished October 3
35. Arizona: The Scoundrel by Lisa Plumley. Finished October 12
36. Arkansas: Sit! Stay! Speak! by Annie England Noblin. Finished October 24
37. Washington: The Rejected Writers' Book Club by Suzanne Kelman. Finished November 1
38. Hawaii: Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. Finished November 14
39. Virginia: The Undertaker's Wife by Dee Oliver. Finished November 17
40. West Virginia: A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller. Finished November 24
41. Mississippi: Miss Jane by Brad Watson. Finished December 18

Wrap-Up of What An Animal Reading Challenge 2016

What An Animal Reading Challenge 2016

Here is the hosting page for this challenge. Here is my sign-up page.

The challenge ran the 2016 calendar year. Animals can be real or fictional and that includes creatures such as mermaids and centaurs. Books can be in any genre or format. Overlaps with other challenges are encouraged.

Books must have one of the following to qualify
  • There is an animal in the title of the book
  • There is an animal on the cover of the book
  • An animal plays a major role in the book
  • A main character is, or turns into, an animal

There are 4 levels for this challenge. I chose Level 2 which is from 7-12 books, and met the challenge.

Here are my reads.
1. Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann. Finished January 11
2. The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly, read by Jeff Harding. Finished January 25
3. Front Runner by Felix Francis. Finished January 31 (horse on cover)
4. Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee. Finished February 13
5. Read and Buried by Erika Chase. Finished February 27 (2 cats on cover)
6. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang. Finished March 13
7. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Finished April 2
8. Old Wolf by Avi. Finished April 24
9. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. Finished April 26
10. Red Stone by Gabriele Goldstone. Finished August 2 (stork on cover)
11. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley. Finished October 11
12. Sit! Stay! Speak! by Annie England Noblin. Finished October 26 (dog on cover)
13. Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. Finished November 14

Tumbledown Manor

Finished December 24
Tumbledown Manor by Helen Brown

This light novel begins in New York City where Lisa Trumperton is having a significant birthday. But when a gift of flowers arrives, she discovers that her husband of many years has been having an affair, and her life is changed forever. Lisa is a writer, and is struggling as she writes a second book in a planned series. Her marriage breakdown doesn't help matters.
She decides to return to her birth country of Australia to put herself in a new environment. She initially stays with her sister in Melbourne, but quickly begins looking for a house of her own. When she finds that the home her grandfather grew up in, an estate a couple hours away, is for sale, she can't resist buying it.
As she tackles the massive renovations needed at the manor and settles into the community, she discovers herself all over again.
This is a story of love, of friendship, and of self renewal. Inspired by the author's observations of friends who underwent midlife changes, this book looks with optimism to a fresh start and an acceptance of others as they are.
There are many minor plots here including the stories of Lisa's two children and the reality of her grandfather's life choices. I found it a fun and refreshing read.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Miss Jane

Finished December 18
Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Watson was inspired to write this novel based on the real story of his own great-aunt. Miss Jane Chisolm was born in the early twentieth-century in rural Mississippi with a genital birth defect. At the time, there wasn't the knowledge to correct the situation and so the local doctor watches carefully for signs of infection and other issues. This defect left her incontinent and unable to participate in the life that would otherwise be expected of her, that of wife and mother.
We see how the local doctor, intelligent and well-trained, asks for advice from colleagues back east in Baltimore and becomes a guiding force in young Jane's life. Her parents are supportive but rely on the doctor to explain things to Jane as she gets older, and Jane's older sister Grace becomes her primary caregiver early on.
Jane is a strong and intelligent girl and woman, curious about life and about her own situation. She would love to be a normal girl, but in some ways she always stands apart from her peers. Her efforts to engage in normal behaviour, from attending school to becoming interested in boys, are intense but ultimately she must rely on herself.
She feels most content on her family farm, living a simple life. I found her a fascinating character for her openness and acceptance of her situation, and her internal strength.

Quality of Care

Finished December 17
Quality of Care by Elizabeth Letts

Clara Raymond is an obstetrician driven by true care for her patients and a drive for perfection. One evening as she is working, a pregnant woman and her husband arrive unexpectedly. All three are surprised to see each other. The couple was just passing through town when the woman had some symptoms that caused her concern. They had no idea that they would encounter Clara, but are pleased to see her. Lydia is a childhood friend of Clara's, one who saved her life during a terrible accident. Gordon is Clara's college boyfriend, whom she hasn't seen since their breakup. She knew they were married, but having mixed feelings for both, hasn't seen either of them in years and didn't expect to. Clara is there to attend a delivery from a young teenage mother, and after evaluating Lydia's symptoms and looking her over, admits her for observation, not thinking there is any reason to be worried. But when things go tragically wrong, Clara feels it strongly because of her personal connection. The aftermath sends Clara back to California, where she grew up and where questions about her father remain unanswered. She doesn't expect that it will be easy to track down the woman she needs to talk to, but when serendipity brings her to Eleanor's doorstep, and she finds herself taken for someone else, she goes along, falling back into old patterns as she reconnects with her past and finds answers not only about her father, but also about the accident that nearly took her own life.
This book is a page-turner, and the character of Clara is well-drawn in her intensity and passion. Thoroughly enjoyable read.

Saturday, 17 December 2016


Finished December 15
Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto, translated by Esther Allen

This novel was first published in Spanish in 1956. The author was Argentinian and worked as a journalist in Mendoza before venturing into fiction. He was imprisoned and tortured in 1976 by the military dictatorship and lived in Spain until 1984, when he returned to Argentina. He died in 1986. This novel is centered around the character Don Diego De Zama, an administrative worker for the Spanish crown posted to Asunción, in remote Paraguay, far from his home where his wife and children remained. While theoretically well-paid, his pay seldom arrives, and finances are one of Zama's big problems. He doesn't have money to send home to support his family, nor enough to live on. The novel is written in three sections, with the first taking place in 1790, the second in 1794, and the third in 1799.
Zama misses his wife Marta, and is consumed by worries about maintaining his image, even as he makes choices that aren't wise. He fights his lust for other women, not always successfully, and holds grudges against those he thinks judge him unfairly. He sometimes lives too much in his head, imagining things that aren't really happening. All of these concerns lead him to a series of bad choices, sinking him further and further in the esteem of those around him and making it less and less likely that he will achieve his dream of getting a posting closer to his family and with more prestige.
This is not a happy novel, but a novel portraying a man's downward trajectory.
The author did months of research before writing the novel, using historical documents to bring a sense of the time and place of his setting and the character of Zama.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Finished December 14
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

This memoir about reading begins the the explanation of why Nina decided to take on the challenge of reading a book a day for a year. Nina's oldest sister Anne-Marie died at the age of forty-six of bile-duct cancer. The cancer moved quickly and Nina took the loss of her sister hard. She found herself stuck in the grief for longer that she realized she would. Books have always been an important part of her life, and she determined that reading would take her through her grief to be able to enjoy life again.
This book isn't a collection of book reviews, but a collection of reflections on what she got out of the books. Each chapter begins with a quotation from one of the books she read, that gives a sense of the topic of reflection for that chapter. From beauty to time, rhythms of life to balms for sorrow, paying attention more closely to enjoying the moment, each chapter gives us an overview of her year of reading in a meaningful way. She did review each book as she read it, with the book reviews appearing on her blog There is a list of the books at the back of this memoir.
The books she read were mostly 200-300 pages, but some were more daunting, and they ranged widely. She started with a pile of books, but also used her local library, and took suggestions from friends, and from people she connected with though her blog during the year.
She was lucky enough that her husband and children took on more household tasks, and she didn't work outside the home during the year she read. Her job for the year was to read and review the books, one she took seriously.
The strategy worked and let her move forward with her life in a positive way. The book list is interesting with both books I love and books I've never heard of.

Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger

Finished December 14
Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger by Beth Harbison, read by Orlagh Cassidy

This light romance novel features Quinn Barton, a young woman who has taken over the wedding dress boutique started by her parents. She makes her own dresses, based on each woman's specifications. The majority of her work is weddings, but she also does work for other formal events. It doesn't make her rich, but it does earn her a decent living. She is good friends with a guy she went to high school with who owns the cheese shop next door to hers. He gets her to admit that she's in a rut and challenges her to do things that shake up her world a bit.
The event that begins the book is the grandmother of an old boyfriend who is getting married again and wants Quinn to make her dream dress. Quinn has never gotten over the boyfriend Burke, after discovering on the day they were supposed to get married, that he'd been cheating on her. She found out from his older brother Frank, and followed up the sudden end of her engagement with a crazy road trip where she did some things she still hasn't resolved in her mind.
As Burke and Frank are now back in town for the upcoming wedding of their grandmother Dottie, and preparing for the sale of the family farm, Quinn is forced to meet both men and finally resolve the events of ten years ago.
This book has humour and romance, and the story sometimes goes back to Quinn's younger days, meeting Burke and starting the relationship and the leadup to what was supposed to be her wedding day and ended quite differently.
Quinn is an intelligent woman, a skilled seamstress, and a romantic at heart, but ten years is a long time to be stuck in the past and it is time she found a way to move forward.

If Venice Dies

Finished December 12
If Venice Dies by Salvatore Settis. translated by Andre Naffis -Sahely

Settis is an Italian art historian, and this book looks at not only the unique city that Venice is, but also at the nature of cities, their worth, and their future. With the rise of theme attractions based on cities does the original city lose its worth? Does it become an open air museum only populated by tourists who don't immerse themselves in true city life. Do cities like Venice become too expensive for ordinary people to live, priced out by those looking for trendy second home and by hotels. Is the city more than the sum of its parts. Does it have a soul.
Does the growing globalization of the world mean that cities become more and more like each other and lose their unique nature made up of their history, architecture, art, and culture. What are the responsibilities of governments at all levels to keep this from happening.
Settis is passionate about Venice in particular, and about retaining the culture each city has in general. He shows us how Venice has lost its citizens, now having only one resident for every 140 visitors. He talks about the power of money over culture and how and why we need to stand up for what is being lost, not only in Venice, but elsewhere.
An interesting read, sometimes becoming an academic lecture, but full of passion and knowledge.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Today Will Be Different

Finished December 3
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

This novel follows Eleanor Flood through a single day of her life. She knows she's been distracted and not living up to what her husband Joe, her son Timby, and herself expect from her. The book starts with an affirmation and intention
Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I'll play a board game with Timby. I'll initiate sex with Joe. Today I will take pride in my appearance. I'll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I won't swear. I won't talk about money. Today there will be an ease about me. My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I'm capable of being. Today will be different.
that she fully intends to live by. She does shower and get dressed in a nice dress, but from the beginning she notices some things aren't right, and when more things throw her plans off-balance she reacts emotionally. From her son needing to be taken out of school because he's sick, causing her to leave her poetry lesson midway through to a lunch bringing up old painful memories, we see Eleanor and her feelings.
She lives a good life. She works as an animator, although not to the extent she did a decade ago. Her husband is a renowned hand surgeon. Her son is intelligent and confident. She is well enough off to buy what she wants. As we gradually understand what her true sorrow is based on, we realize both the importance and the limitations of families.
The middle section of the book takes us back into the past to see how Eleanor came to be where she is now, and that section is poignant with unresolved emotions.
This is a story to make you laugh, make you cry, and make you care. I loved how poetry was used. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Finished December 2
Intelligence-Slave by Kenneth Lin, produced by L.A. Theatre Works

This short play has a full cast, with Josh Stamberg taking on the role of Curt Herzstark, and Daniel Stewart taking on the role of the boy Finn. It tells the story of Herzstark, who was an Austrian industrialist working on the invention of the pocket calculator. He was taken by the Nazis to a concentration camp, and from there to an underground location to complete the work on his device. Also located underground was an armament factory. Herzstark knows that if he completes his device he will be killed, despite their promises to "Aryanize" him. When, after considerable time, the device is still not complete, and the Germans send down a boy, with a talent for mathematics, to "assist" Herzstark, he knows that the boy is also keeping tabs on him and he must be even more careful about his work.
This play is very well done, with believable performances by all involved. It is based on a true story, including an incident told by Herzstark himself about his experience. It is part of the Relativity Series, featuring science-based plays.


Finished December 1
Schlump: Tales and adventures from the life of the anonymous soldier Emil Schulz, known as "Schlump". Narrated by himself by Hans Herbert Grimm, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch, afterword by Volker Weidermann

This novel was originally published anonymously in 1928, based on Grimm's own World War One experiences. It is an anti-war novel, but didn't get a lot of attention at the time, partly due to it being published anonymously. Grimm worked as a schoolteacher between the wars and during World War II, speaking out as much as he dared against the state actions. To continue teaching, he had to join the NSDAP, and later in the war worked as an interpreter on the Western front. Because of his NSDAP membership, he was still prevented from teaching despite support from former pupils and even the mayor about his anti-fascist attitude throughout. HE worked in other jobs, but after meeting with East German authorities in 1950, he committed suicide.
The narrator Schlump is an innocent, a man with a sunny disposition, who tries to get along with everyone. The afterword describes this as an anti-coming of age novel, as despite everything Schlump goes through, he persists in believing that things will turn out okay. His first official position, as an administrator in a small French region is one that lends itself to this. He interacts with the local French populace in a friendly way, doing what he must do, but trying to do it in a way that isn't cruel. But when he makes an error of judgment and ends up at the front, he sees war for real, seeing friends die in terrible ways, and getting injured himself. Yet somehow he still retains his optimism and innocence. Even as he sees that he is on the losing side of the war, he still believes that things will work out, and as he sets off for home, he imagines the young woman waiting there for him.
I found this book engaging, and still relevant. An appreciated novel, recently released in a NYRB edition.

Night School

Finished November 30
Night School by Lee Child, read by Dick Hill

As always, I love listening to Dick Hill read this series. This one reaches back into the past, taking place in 1996, when Jack Reacher was still in the army. He recently completed a mission and as the book opens receives a medal. He then finds himself immediately sent off to a course on interagency cooperation, something that is not considered a prize. His two fellow classmates, from the FBI and CIA, are also fresh off big wins. As they confer, they start to determine that things are not as they've been told.
The case that they have been secretly brought together for is a big one, based on very little information. A sleeper agent in a jihadist cell in Hamburg, Germany, has overhead an unexpected visitor, a courier, indicate that an American is selling something for a very large amount of money. What could he be selling, who is he, and what could be worth 100 million dollars.
Reacher immediately recruits his sergeant, Frances Neagley, who has already figured out something is up, and the three men and their right hand people begin to go through a process of elimination on the way towards identifying the American.
Reacher's instincts tell him that it is better to be in Germany where the last action took place, and the next action may also happen, then in the US where it is very unlikely any of the action will take place, and as things move along, he is proven right. In this book, Reacher takes gambles based on his gut and his experience, and he finds that luck is usually, but not always, on his side.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly and will impatiently await the next in the series.


Finished November 26
Blitz by David Trueba, translated from the Spanish by John Cullen

This short novel begins in Munich, when Beto, a young landscape architect from Spain, in town as a finalist in a landscape-planning competition at a conference, finds himself dumped by his girlfriend, who is also his office assistant. As Beto makes the decision not to return to Spain with her, he engages with others at the conference, including Helga, an older woman who volunteers as a guide/facilitator for the conference. He also challenges a rival, also from Spain, in a way that doesn't help his image.
As Beto reflects on his situation, his actions, and his future, he is forced to deal with the consequences, both good and bad.
Home in Madrid, he moves out of the apartment he shared with his girlfriend and finds himself a job using the skills he has developed. Living in a new city, he finds himself spending too much time alone, and not moving forward in his personal life.
The spontaneous action he takes near the end of the book is interesting and leaves me wanting to know more.

A Killing in the Hills

Finished November 24
A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

This mystery novel features Bell Elkins, prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, West Virginia. Bell is a native of the county as is her ex-husband, also an attorney. They moved to Washington, D.C. for years, but Bell felt that something was missing and coming back to her home county and trying to make a difference there was what called her.
As this book opens, Carla, Bell's teen daughter, is sitting in a cafe in town on a Saturday when someone walks in and shoots three older men sitting together at a table. For Bell, the professional has become personal. Carla is traumatized, but also motivated to do something to help her mother.
Bell works closely with the sheriff Nick Fogelsong, and one of their targets is the drug business. There have always been drugs around as far as Bell remembers, but the business has become more professional, and the poor in the county more targeted.
This latest murder though doesn't seem connected to that. As Nick and Bell dig into the men's backgrounds, Carla also starts digging, looking to connect a face to a name. Carla and Bell have been going through some typical mother-teen daughter disagreements as Carla begins to assert her independence, and Bell is careful to give her space while still trying to keep a protective eye.
We also see the situation from the point of view of the young man who committed the crime, with his situation and struggles a big part of the story.
Bell also has another case she is preparing for trial, a case that seems cut-and-dried, but that Bell has a feeling that there is more to than meets the eye. As she interviews family members, she begins to realize the asserts her two assistants bring to the job as well.
Keller was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist before venturing into becoming a novelist and her writing skills are evident here. This is a story about community, about a struggle for survival and about the difficulties of life in America today. A great read.