Cariola's 2020 Quest for Excellent Books

Discussão75 Books Challenge for 2020

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Cariola's 2020 Quest for Excellent Books

1Cariola
Editado: Dez 30, 2020, 11:56am



This year's theme is Lost Princes. The handsome young man in the portrait above is Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales, the son of James I and his wife, Anne of Denmark. He was born in Scotland, where his father was King James VI before he succeeded his second cousin, Elizabeth, as England's monarch. James was not the most popular king; he was pedantic, styling himself as a scholar, brought an entourage of Scottish nobles into the English court, and was overly influenced by a series of male favorites. As a result, many looked to young Henry as their hope for the future. He was athletic and enjoyed fencing, jousting, hunting, and hawking from an early age, and he was a keen student of military and state affairs, often openly disagreeing with his father on policies. Perhaps indiscreetly, he made no secret of his dislike for Robert Carr, one of James's longtime favorites (and most likely lover). Many contemporaries commented at the time that James seemed jealous of his son's popularity with the English nobles and the general public. Henry admired Sir Walter Raleigh and was an adviser to the affairs of the Virginia Company's colony in North America. He was also interested in efforts at reconciliation with the Earl of Tyrone, who had led a rebellion against Ireland's English rulers.

Henry's death at age 18 was sudden and unexpected, and the country went into deep mourning. He had fallen ill after playing a few rounds of tennis and died within days. Rumors spread that his father had poisoned him; to dispel them, a post-mortem was ordered and the results made public. Although the exact cause of death was not determined, Henry's symptoms, added to the autopsy findings, suggest that he had contracted typhoid fever. His body lay in state at St. James for four weeks. Over 1000 mourners followed the cortege to attend his funeral at Westminster Abbey. His brother Charles acted as chief mourner, King James refusing to attend. Unfortunately, Charles did not have the same promise as his older brother. As king, he spent effusively on lavish entertainment, ill-planned wars, and other ventures, constantly raising taxes to pay for them. Ultimately, his unshakable belief in his absolute power led him to dismiss Parliament--a move that led to the English Civil War and his own beheading for treason. One wonders what might have happened had Prince Henry lived to become king.




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
1. The Stationery Shop by Majan Kamali
2. Africaville by Jeffrey Colvin
3. Elsewhere, Home by Leila Aboulela
4. Stillwater by Nicole Helget
5. Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
6. Go: A Coming of Age Novel; by Kazuki Kaneshiro

February
7. Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor
8. Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi
9. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
10. Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim
11. Our Harlem by Marcus Samuelsson
12. The Bronte Cabinet{ Three Lives in Nine Objexts by Deborah Lutz
13. Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah

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

April
17. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

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

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

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

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

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

October
34. Writers and Lovers by Lily King
35. Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit
36. Fifty Words for 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

2arubabookwoman
Dez 31, 2019, 5:10pm

The Great Believers will probably make my best of list this year, and The Vagrants was definitely on my list when I read it several years ago. Olive Again is waiting patiently on my Kindle, and I anticipate liking it as much as I did the first Olive book.

3Cariola
Dez 31, 2019, 5:12pm

>2 arubabookwoman: I liked Olive, Again even better than Olive Kitteridge. I hope she makes it to a third book!

4FAMeulstee
Dez 31, 2019, 6:12pm

Happy reading in 2020, Deborah!

5DianaNL
Dez 31, 2019, 6:42pm

Best wishes for 2020!

6PaulCranswick
Dez 31, 2019, 7:59pm



Another resolution is to keep up in 2020 with all my friends on LT. Happy New Year!

7drneutron
Dez 31, 2019, 8:50pm

Welcome back!

8richardderus
Jan 1, 2020, 12:12am

Happy 2020 reading, Deborah!

9BLBera
Jan 1, 2020, 10:00am

Happy New Year, Deborah. I look forward to following your reading in 2020.

10ffortsa
Jan 2, 2020, 12:23pm

Happy New Year, Deborah.

11jnwelch
Jan 2, 2020, 2:51pm

Happy New Year, Deborah!

12Cariola
Editado: Jan 8, 2020, 10:49pm

Happy New Year, everyone!



1. 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.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

13lkernagh
Jan 3, 2020, 5:56pm

>12 Cariola: - Well, like, darn. Here is hoping your next read is a goodie.

14thornton37814
Jan 5, 2020, 9:22pm

Enjoy your 2020 reads!

15Cariola
Editado: Jan 10, 2020, 8:55pm



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 n 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.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

16Cariola
Editado: Jan 15, 2020, 12:34pm

Double post.

17Cariola
Editado: Jan 22, 2020, 12:36pm



3. 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.

3 out of 5 stars.

18PersephonesLibrary
Jan 15, 2020, 4:06pm

Happy reading, Cariola! I am afraid I will find quite a few books I want to read in your thread!

19richardderus
Jan 15, 2020, 5:20pm

>17 Cariola: I've read one Aboulela book, The Translator, and never thought to pick up another one. It wasn't *bad* I just don't care if I never read another one. I suppose because it read, to my male eyes, like another "man must be shown how to be A Good One by the sad, religious lady who deigns to love him" genre that I find so intensely objectionable.

20Cariola
Jan 15, 2020, 8:27pm

>19 richardderus: Richard, I can understand where you're coming from. For me, her books are just "meh"--they don't leave much of an impression one way or the other. I will say that the women in this one aren't all saints, but for the most part, they try to appease their parents, husbands, boyfriends, and you definitely get the impression that they view relationships more as financial necessities than love.

21richardderus
Jan 15, 2020, 8:59pm

>20 Cariola: That's a sad reality, and an objectionable one in today's world. Many, many women I've known in my life have said they stayed married "for the kids" but are still married to people they dislike when they're grandparents. Hmm.

22Cariola
Editado: Jan 22, 2020, 12:54pm



4. 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).

5 out of 5 stars.

23Cariola
Jan 27, 2020, 10:35am



5. 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.

4 out of 5 stars.

24Cariola
Jan 29, 2020, 7:05pm



6. 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.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

25Cariola
Fev 2, 2020, 8:19pm



7. 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.

4 out of 5 stars.

26CDVicarage
Fev 3, 2020, 5:24am

>25 Cariola: That sounds great, but, annoyingly, not available from Audible UK.

27alcottacre
Fev 3, 2020, 6:04am

>15 Cariola: Adding that one to the BlackHole. I recently read Barracoon and Africaville was where the protagonist lived.

>22 Cariola: >23 Cariola: >25 Cariola: Adding all of those to the BlackHole. Thanks for the recommendations, Deborah!

28Cariola
Editado: Fev 9, 2020, 7:59pm



8. 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.

2 out of 5 stars.

29Cariola
Editado: Fev 9, 2020, 8:01pm



9. 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.

3.5 out of 5 tars.

30Cariola
Fev 9, 2020, 8:26pm



10. 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.

4 out of 5 stars.

31Cariola
Editado: Fev 9, 2020, 8:43pm



11. 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.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

32Cariola
Fev 21, 2020, 7:51pm



12. 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.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

33alcottacre
Fev 21, 2020, 9:50pm

>28 Cariola: Sounds like I can safely skip that one.

>29 Cariola: I went to add that one to the BlackHole only to find it already there. Unfortunately, my local library still does not have a copy.

>30 Cariola: Adding that one to the BlackHole.

>32 Cariola: I will give that one a shot!

34Cariola
Fev 22, 2020, 10:28pm

>33 alcottacre: Happy to give you a few suggestions here.

35Cariola
Editado: Fev 25, 2020, 1:17pm



13. 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.

3 out of 5 stars.

36Whisper1
Fev 25, 2020, 8:46pm

Hi There. I haven't stopped by in awhile. I loved your opening photo and background information! Thanks. I hope all i well with you!

37Cariola
Fev 26, 2020, 6:01pm

>36 Whisper1: Hi, Linda. How is retirement? All is good here. Cats, book, sleep, life is good.

38Cariola
Editado: Maio 5, 2020, 8:35pm



14. 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.

3.0 out of 5 stars.

39Cariola
Editado: Maio 5, 2020, 8:36pm



15. 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.

2.5 out of 3 stars.

40Cariola
Editado: Maio 5, 2020, 8:36pm



16. 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 carrer'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.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

41alcottacre
Mar 12, 2020, 5:35pm

>34 Cariola: I always find suggestions on your thread, Deborah, as you read the most interesting books. My problem is the availablity of the interesting books at my local libary.

>35 Cariola: Adding that one to the BlackHole.

>38 Cariola: Too bad about that one. I own it, but have not gotten it read yet. Sounds like I needn't bother.

>40 Cariola: I already have that one on hold at the local library and am just waiting for it to come in. I hope I enjoy the book as much as you did.

42Cariola
Mar 12, 2020, 5:50pm

>41 alcottacre: March is going to be a great reading month for me. I just started The Mirror and the Light and am enthralled already. And today an ARC of Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles arrived. Lucky me!

43alcottacre
Mar 12, 2020, 5:53pm

>42 Cariola: I am going through the first two books in the trilogy before I get to The Mirror and the Light since it has been so long since I read them. I am chomping at the bit though.

Congratulations on Simon the Fiddler! I have seen nothing but good reviews on it here in the group.

44PaulCranswick
Abr 5, 2020, 8:16am

Have a lovely, peaceful, safe and healthy weekend, Deborah.

Couldn't find you for a while because Jim's link to you on the directory page is wrong.

45PaulCranswick
Abr 12, 2020, 3:55am



I wanted my message this year to be fairly universal in a time we all should be pulling together, whatever our beliefs. Happy Celebration, Happy Sunday, Deborah.

46Cariola
Editado: Maio 6, 2020, 12:44am



17. 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.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

47torontoc
Maio 5, 2020, 11:19pm

Great review- I have the book on the top of my book pile/tower. Hilary Mantel was interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel on CBC radio programme" Writers and Co" last Sunday- the talk is available on the CBC website

48Cariola
Maio 6, 2020, 12:44am

>48 Cariola: Thanks, Cyrel. I will look for that.

49Cariola
Editado: Maio 13, 2020, 3:44pm



18. 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.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

50PaulCranswick
Maio 6, 2020, 1:54am

>46 Cariola: I would second the comments of Cyrel, Deborah. A very balanced and excellent review of Cromwell's swansong.

51Cariola
Maio 13, 2020, 4:01pm



19. 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.

1 out of 5 stars.

52alcottacre
Maio 13, 2020, 5:15pm

>46 Cariola: Great review, Deborah. I hope I enjoy the last book in the trilogy as much as you did.

>51 Cariola: Giving that one a wide berth and sincerely hoping that your next read is better for you after a couple of duds in a row.

53PaulCranswick
Maio 24, 2020, 6:17am

Wishing you a restful long weekend, Deborah.

54Cariola
Editado: Jun 1, 2020, 6:12pm

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.



20. 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.

A rather generous 3 out of 5 stars.

55Cariola
Jun 19, 2020, 9:21pm



21. 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.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

56Cariola
Editado: Jun 20, 2020, 8:12pm



22. 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.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

57Cariola
Jun 20, 2020, 9:00pm



23. 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.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

58PaulCranswick
Jun 27, 2020, 10:29pm

>56 Cariola: I have never been a huge fan of bourbon, Deborah preferring my Irish and Scots single malts but I recently discovered a bourbon in a cafe/bar I stop off at on my way home from work which really hits the spot.

>57 Cariola: Now, caffeine is my constant companion!

59Cariola
Editado: Jul 16, 2020, 11:55pm



24. 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.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

60PaulCranswick
Jul 4, 2020, 11:21pm

In this difficult year with an unprecedented pandemic and where the ills of the past intrude sadly upon the present there must still be room for positivity. Be rightly proud of your country. To all my American friends, enjoy your 4th of July weekend.

61thornton37814
Jul 7, 2020, 9:03am

>59 Cariola: I read that one a couple of years ago and only gave it 3 stars. I love mysteries, and I love historical fiction. It just came up short.

62Cariola
Editado: Jul 16, 2020, 11:55pm



25. 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.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

63Cariola
Editado: Jul 24, 2020, 5:53pm



26. 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 chapter 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.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

64Cariola
Editado: Ago 20, 2020, 12:06am



27. 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?

4 out of 5 stars.

65Cariola
Editado: Ago 21, 2020, 3:45pm

(Completed July 31).



28. 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.

5 out of 5 stars. I'd give it six if I could expand my scale.

66torontoc
Ago 20, 2020, 7:14pm

>65 Cariola: In Canada the book is called Hamnet & Judith Do you watch " Upstart Crow" - it is a half hour comedy/satire on Shakespeare- created of course by the BBC- I am watching reruns on Sat night on PBS-The last one had Hamnet dying of the plague.

67Cariola
Ago 21, 2020, 3:44pm

>66 torontoc: Hi, Cyrel! I think I've seen a few episodes of 'Upstart Crow' but didn't stick with it. Maybe I should give it another try. I think you'd really enjoy this book!

68Cariola
Editado: Ago 31, 2020, 3:44pm

(Completed August 6.)



29. 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.

3 out of 5 stars.

69torontoc
Ago 21, 2020, 7:18pm

>67 Cariola: I read that the music for" Upstart Crow" is original to the times of Shakespeare.

70Cariola
Ago 31, 2020, 3:43pm

>69 torontoc: I will have to check it out!

71Cariola
Editado: Set 9, 2020, 6:25pm



30. 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.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

72Cariola
Editado: Set 9, 2020, 6:27pm

Mensagem removida pelo autor.

73Cariola
Editado: Set 9, 2020, 6:28pm



31. 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.

4 out of 5 stars.

74Cariola
Set 15, 2020, 6:02pm



32. 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.

4 out of 5 stars.

75Cariola
Editado: Set 27, 2020, 11:36pm



33. 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.

4 out of 5 stars.

76Cariola
Out 10, 2020, 10:39pm



34. 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.

4 out of 5 stars.

77Cariola
Editado: Out 30, 2020, 2:02am



35. 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.

4 out of 5 stars.

78richardderus
Out 19, 2020, 4:41pm

>77 Cariola: Deborah, this sounds like something I'd enjoy quite a bit. I'm glad to see it got such a good rating from you.

Now that I'm no longer on Facebook, I can find your thread again!

79PaulCranswick
Out 29, 2020, 11:32pm

>77 Cariola: Agree with RD, Deborah - that looks one heck of an interesting read.

80Cariola
Out 30, 2020, 2:07am

>78 richardderus:, >79 PaulCranswick: Definitely something different for me, and different from the usual pilgrim fiction. Hope you both read and enjoy it!

Richard, it seems that a lot of folks have dropped off LT, whether to move over to facebook or Goodreads. I still prefer the more substantive conversation and more thoughtful reviews here, although I miss a lot of my reading friends who have moved on.

81Cariola
Editado: Dez 19, 2020, 1:57pm



Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

36. 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.

3 out of 5 stars. It kept me reading, but sheesh!

82PaulCranswick
Out 30, 2020, 3:53am

>80 Cariola: You are right in every respect, Deborah. So many of our pals have dropped off in the last few years that I do occasionally get disheartened yet this is still the place I prefer to communicate. Like RD I am not really a one for FB and for many years my wife ran my FB account for both of us. Since she set up an account for herself I don't much bother with it other than to see if I can steal some of her photos for my threads!

83PaulCranswick
Nov 26, 2020, 9:57pm



This Brit wishes to express his thanks for the warmth and friendship that has helped sustain him in this group, Deborah.

84Cariola
Editado: Dez 19, 2020, 6:50pm



37. 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.

3.5 out of 5 stars. (Finished in November 2020.)

85richardderus
Dez 21, 2020, 2:50pm

Tachyon Publications, an SFF house, posted this on Twitter. Says it all, no?

86Cariola
Dez 24, 2020, 3:23pm

>85 richardderus: Absolutely! It's going to take a while--probably half the year--to start seeing thing get better, but at least the Orange Menace will be out of the White House.

87PaulCranswick
Dez 25, 2020, 2:32am



I hope you get some of those at least, Deborah, as we all look forward to a better 2021.

88Cariola
Editado: Dez 30, 2020, 11:47am



38. 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.

3 out of 5 stars

89PaulCranswick
Dez 31, 2020, 9:58pm



Deborah

As the year turns, friendship continues

90Cariola
Jan 5, 1:49am

I need to get my 2021 page up!