CBL's European journey

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CBL's European journey

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Ago 17, 2009, 7:43 pm

What a great idea! GingerbreadMan, thanks for starting this challenge, and lindapanzo, thanks for letting us know about it in the 50 States challenge. I probably read more books set in Europe than I do in the U.S., and most of them are set in England!

I've physically visited several European countries. I lived in England for a few years and have spent time in England, Wales, and Scotland. I've also been to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg (just drove through without stopping), and Netherlands (for about 15 minutes driving through a small corner).

Ago 17, 2009, 7:47 pm

I decided to use the list of countries I found on the U.S. State Department's Web site. I'll follow GingerbreadMan's example and divide the United Kingdom into England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. I'll count books I've read since the beginning of 2009.

Ago 18, 2009, 3:10 am

Using your gouvernment's definitions is a very clear policy. Welcome aboard!

Ago 21, 2009, 9:47 pm

I added a book for Wales to my list - The Earth Hums in B Flat. For some reason, I've ended up reading a lot of books about 12 year old girls this summer. They've all been good.

The setting is integral to the story. If it had been set anywhere else, it would have been a different book. I loved the way people were referred to in the book -- Mrs. Sergeant Jones, Mrs. Edwards the Bank, Jones the Butcher -- to distinguish among people with the same surname.

Ago 22, 2009, 6:07 am

Mrs. Edwards the Bank :)! Sounds very welsh to me! I find myself thinking about Under Milkwood.

Ago 23, 2009, 2:30 am

@#9 Just realised we have that book! My wife Flea bought it earlier this summer. So it might well turn out to be my welsh selection too :)

Ago 23, 2009, 8:32 pm

>11 GingerbreadMan: I think it's a great choice for Wales. It has elements of several genres, so I think it will have a broad appeal for readers of many types.

Ago 23, 2009, 8:39 pm

I counted Dissonance by Lisa Lenard-Cook as my New Mexico book in the 50 States challenge, but I'm also going to count it as my Czech Republic book for this challenge. In the novel, Anna Kramer, a piano teacher in Los Alamos, New Mexico, inherits journals and music from Hana Weissova. Hana was a survivor of the Terezin concentration camp in then-Czechoslovakia. The historical parts of the novel describe Prague in the days before the round-up of the Jewish community, and the conditions at Terezin, where many Jewish musicians and artists were imprisoned and used for propaganda purposes.

Ago 24, 2009, 3:58 am

Books set in more than one location are more a rule than an exception, I think. This "problem" will likely occur many times down this reading trip. Seems very fair to me that you counted this book for both challenges.

Ago 26, 2009, 9:47 pm

Oh my gosh, I've been to Terezin! That's it, "Dissonance" is going on my list!

Ago 27, 2009, 10:15 pm

>15 LauraBrook: I hope you enjoy it. I've never been to the Czech Republic, but the book made me want to go there.

Ago 27, 2009, 10:25 pm

I added Sonata for Miriam under Poland. The book started in New Zealand a year after the death of Adam Anker's daughter, Miriam. Adam then traveled to Krakow to learn about his birth there in 1941 to a Jewish mother. He then traveled to Sweden to see the mother of his child for the first time in 19 years.

I decided to count the book as my Poland read because Krakow had the most vivid descriptions in the book. Most of the action (if you can call it that) in Sweden took place on an island in the winter -- very isolated with lots of ice and snow. The island and the cold were Metaphors, and the author could have set that part of the book in any northern country with long, cold winters.

The book wasn't my style, but a lot of other people have enjoyed it, judging by the ratings and reviews.

Set 12, 2009, 11:16 am

I certainly didn't need yet another book set in England, but I went ahead and listed the book I just finished, In a Dark House by Deborah Crombie. Her series about London detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James is my favorite in the police procedural category. I always find them hard to put down, and this one was no exception. Most of the action takes place in the London Borough of Southwark and features members of the fire brigade in addition to police and Scotland Yard. I gave this one 4 stars.

Set 25, 2009, 10:06 pm

Still stuck in England. I'm trying to get caught up on Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. Water Like a Stone gets them out of their London environment into the north of England, in the charming town of Nantwich. Place is integral to the novel. The plot involves canal boats. I've dreamed of taking a trip on the canals of England ever since I first saw boats on the canals many years ago. After reading about the Christmas service at the church in Nantwich (the book takes place over the Christmas holidays), I'm ready to go! I gave the book 4 1/2 stars.

Out 18, 2009, 5:45 pm

In case anyone's wondering, I'm still wandering around southern England. I had a very good reason this time! I just finished a re-read of Sense and Sensibility for a book club discussion coming up later this week.

Out 19, 2009, 1:27 pm

England is a hard place to get out of! It seems like every interesting book I pick up is set in England and so superfluous to needs.

But rereading Austen is never a waste of time.

Out 19, 2009, 3:49 pm

I agree, and wander around England as much as possible (mostly in literature, but in real life when I can get there!)

Out 19, 2009, 4:37 pm

A huge percentage of the books in my TBR stacks are set in England. It's going to take a lot of effort on my part to get to some of the other places on my lists!

Nickelini, I love to wander around England in real life whenever I can, too! I suppose that's why I enjoy reading about it so much.

Out 27, 2009, 8:06 pm

I'm still in England, but I've changed locations! This time I've been hanging out in Cambridge and the surrounding countryside. I just finished Anne Perry's No Graves As Yet, the first book in a World War I series. I really like both of Perry's Victorian mystery series, but found this one disappointing. I don't think her writing style works well with espionage stories. I think I'll just stick to her Victorian series.

Nov 2, 2009, 11:12 pm

I've done it again. I just finished another book set in England, Edmund Crispin's first Gervase Fen novel, The Case of the Gilded Fly. I guess it's only fair to give Oxford equal time, since I had just read a book set in Cambridge. I would classify this as a locked room mystery. I figured out right away who the murderer must be, but not the means or the motive. The theatrical setting reminded me of some of Ngaio Marsh's novels. I gave it 4 stars.

Nov 6, 2009, 10:46 pm

I'm still in England, this time in 1930s Kent following Maisie Dobbs on an investigation in An Incomplete Revenge. I've been in the hop fields during picking time, and in a gypsy camp near the village. It's the best book yet in a very good series. I gave it 5 stars.

Maisie is a WWI veteran, having served as a nurse in France, and the books in the series explore the after-effects of the war on the men and women who served and the families and friends of those who didn't return home. With Veterans Day/Remembrance Day coming up next week, it was a timely read.

Nov 7, 2009, 5:49 am

I know Wolfy is doing a sub-challenge to his European one, where he's reading books from every county in England. He has a map and everything! Might be worth checking out his thread?

Nov 7, 2009, 11:03 am

I read a lot of books based in the UK so thought it would be useful. The site I've been using for the map seems to be in a state of flux though right now so I've just been uploading it to my photobucket account.

Nov 10, 2009, 4:19 pm

I love the Maisie Dobbs series and the Maisie Dobbs character in particular. Her last two books are still unread for me, and I feel all warm and cozy inside when I think that I have those yet to enjoy.

Nov 10, 2009, 6:17 pm

>27 GingerbreadMan:, 28

I think I'll be leaving England, at least briefly, in the next couple of weeks. I just finished an ER book set in the Belgian Congo. It doesn't count toward any of my challenges, but at least it got me out of England! I'm currently reading a non-fiction memoir of a Newfoundland family for my Canada challenge. Next up are books set in Germany and Greece. I'm sure it won't be long before I end up back in England, though!

Nov 10, 2009, 6:19 pm

>29 nans:

I like the way Maisie's character grows from book to book. I only have one more to go before I'm caught up with the series. Then I'll have to wait impatiently for the next one!

Nov 16, 2009, 9:12 pm

I finally made it somewhere other than England! I spent a few hours with Elizabeth Peters's Vicky Bliss in a castle in Rothenburg, Germany, looking for a missing Renaissance shrine. Borrower of the Night is a gentle spoof of the gothic novel. It worked well as a distraction that kept me from getting too nervous while my teams were playing some tough opponents yesterday. (Both teams ended up winning!)

Nov 21, 2009, 3:19 pm

I added Barbara Cleverly's The Tomb of Zeus as my Greece book. It's a historical mystery set on the island of Crete. I had read and enjoyed a few of Ms. Cleverly's Joe Sandilands mysteries set in 1920s India, and thought I might enjoy her new Laetitia Talbot series. The book has a strong sense of place, but the characterization and dialogue are weak. I gave the book 1 1/2 stars. I don't think I'll continue with this series.

Nov 29, 2009, 10:02 pm

I just started on my Christmas reading and finished yet another book set in England - Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn. It isn't heavy reading, but it's fun. Lady Julia Grey is one of ten children in the March family. Several family members and guests gather in the family home, a converted monastery, for the holidays. A ghost roams the halls at night, valuable jewels go missing, and one of the guests is murdered. It has a lot of Gothic elements, and also the feel of an English country house mystery.

Most of the other Christmas books I have lined up are set in the U.S., so it will be a while before I make it back to Europe.

Dez 10, 2009, 8:35 pm

Thanks to the ER program, I just finished visiting Turkey in The Winter Thief by Jenny White. I didn't even have to interrupt my Christmas reading since the book's action began on the Orthodox Christmas in January of 1888.

I suppose you could call the book a 19th century legal thriller. In a way it was like some of John Grisham's books. We know who the bad guys are. The big question is what strategy the magistrate/"good guy" will adopt and if there will be enough evidence for a conviction.

I liked the book well enough to want to read the two earlier books in the series. I gave it 4 stars.

Dez 10, 2009, 11:18 pm

#35 This one sounds very interesting - excellent review, too

Dez 11, 2009, 2:18 am

I second post 36!

Dez 11, 2009, 7:52 am

>36 sjmccreary: & 37 Thanks! I struggled to describe the book and my reaction to it without giving too much of the plot away, and I'm not sure I've done it justice. I've been lucky with ER books. Most of the ones I've received have been very good, and I've discovered new authors whose work I enjoy.

Dez 13, 2009, 9:17 pm

I've been drawn back to England again. I wanted to read Cranford before watching the series on PBS starting next week. (It's a re-run, but I missed it the last time around.) I was charmed by the women of the village, and I look forward to seeing how well the TV version lives up to the book.

Jan 9, 2010, 5:36 pm

I went to Spain with The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, thanks to my LibraryThing secret Santa! It started off a bit slow for me, but the last half of the book went quickly. One of the secondary characters stole the scene from his first appearance on, and he's probably the character that will stay most firmly fixed in my memory. Even though a second reading won't provide the same experience as the first time through, I think this is one book that I'll want to read again at some point. My copy has a map with a walking tour of Barcelona in the back, so I'll want to hang on to it in case I ever make a trip there. I rated it at 4 stars. My review is here: http://www.librarything.com/work/5174/reviews/54130307

Jan 9, 2010, 7:51 pm

I'm glad you liked Shadow of the Wind. It remains one of my favorite books. Fortunately, The Angel's Game is equally good and Zafon is planning two more books centered around the cemetery of forgotten books.

Jan 9, 2010, 8:03 pm

The Angel's Game is on my wishlist. I'll probably wait for the paperback release, though. I'm glad I still have 3 more to look forward to. I wasn't ready to leave that world at the end of The Shadow of the Wind.

Jan 10, 2010, 8:09 am

Flea bought and read Zafron's book a few years ago, but wasn't blown away (though I cannot remember why now). And so I've never really been close to picking it up. But here it seems to have a large following...Hmm, perhaps in 2011?

Jan 10, 2010, 1:54 pm

>43 GingerbreadMan: The book was different than I expected. I think the jacket summary was somewhat misleading. I expected more of a supernatural aspect to the book, and it didn't develop that way. As a result, I liked it more than I thought I might because I'm wary of books with supernatural elements. However, if that's something you look for in a good read and you were expecting it in the book, I can see where it would be disappointing.

RidgewayGirl mentioned that Zafon is planning two more books, making a total of 4 that will have something to do with the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. I did a little more reading after I saw her message and it seems like Zafon conceives of the four as an interrelated whole rather than as a series. The set of four, taken as a whole, may end up being better than any one of the books. I think it might be interesting to read all four together after the final book is published.

Fev 13, 2010, 9:15 pm

For now, I'm counting John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps as my Scotland book. Parts of the book take place in London and southern England, but a good bit of the action takes place in Scotland. I do have other books set in Scotland on my TBR shelves that I'll get to at some point!

Even though I've always enjoyed espionage novels, for some reason I had never read Buchan's classic. I had only experienced it through the Hitchcock movie. With a new version airing on PBS's Masterpiece in a couple of weeks, I decided to do what I should have done a long time ago: read the book. Even though I had recently seen the Hitchcock version on TV, the movie plot had been altered enough that it didn't serve as a spoiler for the action in the book. I didn't have any more idea of what was coming next than the first person narrator did. If anything, I probably felt more dread than the narrator did. As the action started in May of 1914, he only feared what might happen given the current state of world affairs. I knew what happened just weeks later in the summer of 1914 that launched the world into a Great War. Buchan doesn't waste a lot of words in telling this story, so reading it doesn't involve a huge time commitment. I would encourage all mystery, thriller, and espionage fans to read this classic of the genre.

4 out of 5 stars.

Editado: Mar 8, 2010, 9:49 pm

God's Spy by Juan Gomez-Jurado - Vatican City

When I saw a thriller set primarily in the Vatican at a book sale a couple of months ago, I grabbed it for this challenge. Early in April 2005, Pope John Paul II dies. People from all over the world flock to Rome to pay their respects and to share their grief with other mourners. Members of the College of Cardinals gather for the funeral and the conclave in which the next Pope will be chosen. However, the conclave will be a few members short, for a serial killer is picking off the cardinals one by one. Police Inspector Paola Dicanti, a trained criminal profiler, leads the top-secret effort to track down the killer before he strikes again. Her team includes a member of the Vigilanza, the Vatican police force, and an American priest with unusual knowledge and skills.

The author convincingly describes the atmosphere in Rome and Vatican City in those April days of 2005. I felt the urgency of the search, the lack of trust between several of the main characters, the terror of the unknown, and the weight of responsibility. The quality of the prose is uneven, and some of the weaker passages dilute the novel's suspense. I would not recommend this book to squeamish readers as there are some graphic descriptions of the killer's handiwork as well as some violent scenes. Some Catholic readers might find several of the characters and the author's underlying assumptions about the Church offensive.

I had a hard time settling on a rating for this one. I ended up giving it 2 1/2 stars. I think this is one of those books where the ratings will vary a lot, depending on your taste in thrillers.

It would be nice if I included the title!

Mar 20, 2010, 6:40 pm

Denmark: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Ten-year-old Annemarie learns about bravery as she helps to save her Jewish best friend, Ellen, in Nazi-occupied Denmark. Many children's authors try to blend education with entertainment, but the resulting works are often predictable and filled with stereotypical characters. This book shows how well it can be done. Lois Lowry skillfully weaves history, geography, and moral education into a story that will both thrill and inspire young readers. Highly recommended to readers of all ages.

5 stars

Mar 24, 2010, 6:12 pm

Nice little review there!

Mar 24, 2010, 8:55 pm


Abr 2, 2010, 10:47 am

My Belarus read was inspired by the episode of NBC's Who Do You Think You Are? about actress Lisa Kudrow's family history. Her great-grandmother was one of thousands of Jews in what is now Belarus who were executed by the Nazis. Nechama Tec's Defiance was on my shortlist of books to read for my Belarus selection, and I was eager to get it and read it after watching that show.

Defiance tells the story of a group of Jewish partisans, led by Tuvia Bielski and his brothers, who survived World War II in the forests of Belarus. It covers an aspect of the war that I was not familiar with previously. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in books about the Holocaust or World War II. I gave it 4 stars. My review is here: http://www.librarything.com/work/249342/reviews/58254570

Abr 4, 2010, 6:33 pm

Now reading The earth hums in B flat, which I once got recommended on this thread. About 120 pages in, and enjoying it a lot so far!

@50 Great tip for a difficult country! Definitely making a not of that one.

Abr 5, 2010, 8:39 am

>51 GingerbreadMan: I'm glad you're enjoying it so far!

Abr 11, 2010, 2:21 pm


I listened to The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas on a weekend trip. The context was established by a fictional account of the historical events of August 1672 culminating in the deaths of Johan and Cornelis De Witt at the hands of an angry mob. William, Prince of Orange, plays an important role in the story. Cornelis's godson, Cornelius van Baerle, is unknowingly caught up in these events and imprisoned just as he is on the verge of succeeding in the cultivation of a rare black tulip. His jailer's daughter, Rosa, helps him continue his experiments in secret. The two fall in love in the process, but the success of their experiment is a long shot.

More than anything, this story reminded me of the biblical book of Esther, with the young Cornelius in the role of Mordecai, Rosa in the role of Esther, William, Prince of Orange in the role of King Ahasuerus, and Cornelius's envious and bitter neighbor, Isaac Boxtel, as Haman. My suspense grew as I hoped the story would end as happily as the book of Esther, but feared that it would not.

I listened to the audio version of this book while I was on the road. It turned out to be well suited for listening while driving. Since the book originally appeared serially, the beginning of each chapter briefly summarized the events of the preceding chapter. When characters from earlier chapters reappeared several chapters later, the author included brief reminders of what the characters were doing when they last appeared in the story. I miss the occasional passage when road conditions require intense concentration, so I appreciated the brief reminders of characters and events interspersed throughout the story. Had I read the book instead of listening to it, I might have viewed those same features as interrupting the flow of the story.

I gave this 3 1/2 stars.

Abr 13, 2010, 6:39 pm

I already had a book for France and added another one. I received an Early Reviewer book set during France's Reign of Terror in 1793 and 1794. The action alternates between England, France, and the English Channel, but Paris is the primary setting for the book.

Seth Hunter's The Time of Terror doesn't quite live up to A Tale of Two Cities or The Scarlet Pimpernel, but it's still a very enjoyable historical novel. There's enough naval action to appeal to fans of nautical fiction, but the sea scenes don't dominate the book.

I gave it 3 1/2 stars. My review is here: http://www.librarything.com/work/7475260/reviews/58501442

Abr 24, 2010, 11:57 pm

I finished a delightful travel autobiography by Shirley Deane, The Road to Andorra, about her family's residences in Andorra and Ibiza in the 1950s. I already have a book for Spain, so I'm counting it just for Andorra.

The author seems to have had a natural curiosity, an optimistic nature, and a view of difficult circumstances as challenges rather than problems. Her perception is equal to an anthropologists. She weaves facts about Andorran and Ibizan history and culture into an entertaining tale of her family's experiences in both places. Her attitude toward the local residents is respectful rather than condescending.

This book reminds me of one of my favorite books, Betty MacDonald's The Egg and I. I enjoyed this one every bit as much.

I gave it 5 stars. My review is here: http://www.librarything.com/work/9451635/reviews/55503681

Abr 25, 2010, 9:42 am

Wow, a 5 star book about Andorra! Who'd have thunk it?! Do you think you would have read it if it wasn't for this challenge?

Abr 25, 2010, 2:13 pm

>56 GingerbreadMan: I'm sure I wouldn't have read it if not for this challenge. I doubt I'd even have heard of the book or any of the author's other books that are now on my wishlist. Thanks for starting the challenge!

Abr 26, 2010, 8:36 pm

I'm just catching up on here. I agree that it's hard to get out of England sometimes, at least for me. I seem to get stuck on an author or a pattern or something. I have several from France and Germany as well. I just wish there were more that weren't about war.

Abr 26, 2010, 8:42 pm

I have a feeling that I'm going to be reading a lot about WWII especially for this challenge. I'm trying not to read too many WWII/Holocaust books in a row so I don't burn out on them.

Jun 24, 2010, 8:22 pm

I've been "traveling" outside of Europe for the last couple of months, but finally made it back with Charlotte Brontë's Villette. Even though it's set in a fictional city/country, it is largely based on Brontë's experiences at a school in Brussels, Belgium. I may add another Belgium read later, though, if one crosses my path.

I like Villette even more than Jane Eyre. I know I'm probably in the minority. I wouldn't have felt the same way if I had read Villette when I was younger and had less life experience. I think I read it at the right point in my life.

I gave it five stars because the scale doesn't go any higher, but I'd give it more if I could! My review is here: http://www.librarything.com/work/3113/reviews/60255597

Editado: Jun 25, 2010, 2:03 am

Great review! I'm one of those who prefers Jane Eyre, but when I was reading Villette, I also read that one of my favourite authors--Virginia Woolf--considered V a masterpiece. So you're in good company. And that helped me keep an open and positive mind on it. (Still prefer Jane Eyre though.)

Jun 25, 2010, 11:11 am

Now I'll have to move Villette up on my TBR list! Thanks for the review!

Jun 25, 2010, 1:12 pm

Well, Lucy doesn't have Jane's plucky charm--she's quite prickly. I did like her, though.

Jun 25, 2010, 1:25 pm

I'm drawn to the slightly imperfect heroine, I think. My favorite Jane Austen novel is Emma, and I know for many it's their least-favorite Austen book.

Editado: Out 22, 2011, 3:50 am

Wow, I didn't even know that Villette was set in Brussels. Your review lit the spark.

Jun 25, 2010, 8:33 pm

Just ordered Villette because of your review. Thanks.

Jun 28, 2010, 5:41 pm

I literally just five minutes ago talked about how I haven't read Charlotte Brontë on another thread. I think I'll start with Jane Eyre, but this definitely sounds interesting (plus I have good experience of follwing your advice within this challenge:))

Jun 28, 2010, 8:51 pm

>67 GingerbreadMan: Jane Eyre is quite good, too!

Jul 15, 2010, 9:54 pm

It didn't take me long to get back to Belgium thanks to Early Reviewers! I was lucky enough to snag an ER copy of Stealing the Mystic Lamb by Noah Charney. It's about one of Belgium's art treasures.

Stealing the Mystic Lamb traces the history of one work of art, the Ghent Altarpiece. According to the author, this work has been stolen more times than any other work of art. That's not an easy feat since the painting is massive, consisting of twelve painted wooden panels. It's not the sort of artwork that could be spirited away by slipping it underneath one's clothing. Stealing even a portion of the work would require detailed planning and the cooperation of several conspirators.

Charney describes the many threats to the safety and integrity of the Ghent Altarpiece from Calvinist iconoclasts, censors, the French Revolutionary Army, the German army in two world wars, and civilian thieves. Individual panels were stolen and hidden so many times that the story started to seem like the literary equivalent of a shell game. It became difficult to keep track of which pieces were where.

Art crime must be a difficult topic to write about. The circumstances of the theft of a particular work must be understood in the context of contemporary attitudes about art, the psychology of collectors and collecting, and the psychology of the then-current owner or custodian of the work. The narrative occasionally strays from a focus on the Ghent Altarpiece, but Charney eventually works his way back to the central topic. The book is both educational and entertaining and is recommended for readers with an interest in art history, European history, military history, and true crime.

The ARC I received from the publisher didn't include the 8 page color photo insert that will be in the finished copy. I assume that the photo spread in the published version will include photos of the altarpiece.

3 1/2 stars.

Editado: Out 22, 2011, 3:51 am

#69 That sounds interesting! I know the Ghent Altarpiece. It is a beautiful piece of art and one of the "top-treasures" of Flemish art. More info can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent_Altarpiece
I'll definitely will try to find a copy of that book, because this work of art intrigues me like few others do. I've read a book on the meaning and symbolism of the painting and one on the theft of a part of it and since then, it's enchanted me, apart from the fact that it's a true masterpiece of painting. The details are just so incredibly beautiful.

Jul 16, 2010, 7:57 pm

>70 Trifolia: How wonderful to live close enough to see the work in person! Photographs are better than nothing, but there's nothing to compare with viewing art in person.

This book a worthwhile read, especially for someone who lives as close to it as you do. The first couple of chapters (about 60 pages) provide biographical information about Jan van Eyck and discuss the painting and its symbolism. The rest of the book is devoted to its history of thefts, confiscations, and near misses.

Jul 28, 2010, 3:20 am

You're doing really well with this challenge, ticking off some hard ones! (Saw mention of Montenegro on your 1010 thread too!)

Jul 28, 2010, 6:05 am

I've identified a book for every country. It's going to take a while to acquire and read them all, though!

Ago 5, 2010, 8:59 am

I didn't need yet another book for England, but thought I'd post my latest book here anyway! Dark Fire by C. J. Sansom is set in London during Henry VIII's reign.

In 1540 London’s early summer, lawyer Matthew Shardlake races against time to fulfill a commission for Thomas Cromwell. Will he locate the rumored stash of an ancient weapon of war, “Dark Fire”, before time runs out?

Author C. J. Sansom successfully conveys the atmosphere of political and religious uncertainty of the time. Reformer Cromwell’s influence with Henry VIII is waning due to his facilitation of the unsuccessful marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves. The Duke of Norfolk’s influence is on the rise, helped by Henry VIII’s fondness for the duke’s young niece, Catherine Howard. The break with the Roman Catholic Church is less than a decade old. Will Norfolk’s influence lead to a reunion with the Roman church, endangering the lives of those who have openly embraced Reformation views?

The development of the mystery surrounding “Dark Fire” and Shardlake’s secondary investigation of a criminal case had so many twists and turns that it lost me for a while in the middle of the book. Shardlake was racing against time, yet it soon became difficult to keep track of the days. One day seemed to run into another. The only clue to the passage of time came from the occasional reminders from Shardlake’s assistant about the number of days remaining to solve the mystery. Adding dates to the chapter or section headings might help the reader to keep better track of time, and might create more suspense for the reader.

According to the historical afterword, the summer of 1540 was the hottest summer recorded in the 16th century. In the midst of our current heat wave in the South, it didn’t take a lot of imagination for me to sympathize with the characters in their heat-related misery!

3 1/2 stars

Set 25, 2010, 8:15 am

I'm back to wandering around England again. I recently read Death and the Jubilee, set in London and the south of England. I was disappointed with the quality of the writing and wouldn't recommend it. I gave it 1 1/2 stars.

I enjoyed the book I just finished much more. I won A Very Private Grave by Donna Fletcher Crow in the August ER batch. The central characters are a student and a lecturer at an Anglican theological college. The mystery takes them on a tour of sites connected with Saint Cuthbert, mainly in Northumberland. I went on a group tour of England and Scotland several years ago, and some of my favorite places we visited on the tour are in this book: the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Bamburgh Castle, and Durham Cathedral. I guess I was predisposed to like the book! It's Christian fiction, but not the "preachy" sort. It has an intellectual depth missing in a lot of Christian fiction, and I found it refreshing. I gave it 3 1/2 stars. Full review here: http://www.librarything.com/work/9467205/reviews/64644416

Set 29, 2010, 9:44 pm

Yet another visit to England, this time to Yorkshire with Henry VIII's progress to the North in 1541 in C. J. Sansom's Sovereign.

C.J. Sansom overlays Henry VIII's 1541 progress to the North with a conspiracy that endangers the life of lawyer Matthew Shardlake. Once again, Shardlake reluctantly accepts a commission on behalf of his country. Shardlake and his assistant, Jack Barak, are to meet the progress in York, where Shardlake will help to process petitions to the King from those with grievances against local officials. Shardlake is also charged with ensuring the safety of a prisoner in York, a suspected conspirator against the King. Shardlake must see that the prisoner survives the trip from York to London, where inquisitors at the Tower will press him for details of the conspiracy and the names of his co-conspirators. Shardlake soon learns secrets so dangerous that their knowledge may cost him his life.

I loved Dissolution, the first book in the series, but was a little disappointed with the second book, Dark Fire. Sovereign is every bit as good as the first book in the series. The plot is tighter and better paced than that of the second book. Sansom's descriptive storytelling pulls me completely into the world of Henry VIII. It's one of my favorite eras of English history, and one reason I like this series so much. I love the way Shardlake's character has developed across the series. In a way, he's like a sheep among wolves. He isn't naive about the evils of Tudor society. It's just that, because of his physical deformity, he clings to his integrity as his only source of dignity.

I highly recommend this series for all historical fiction fans. 4 1/2 stars.

Out 16, 2010, 7:11 pm

I finally ventured out of England for a visit to Sweden with Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Although a couple of scenes take place in England, in a town I lived in for a year!)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was entertaining, but it wasn't a page-turner for me. I was able to put it down when I needed to do other things. In some aspects, it reminded me of some of John Grisham's early novels, like The Firm, but without the little details that produce the suspense in Grisham's novels. When I read Grisham's novels, I remember feeling like a participant in the action and fearing that the criminals would discover the fact that "we" knew what they were up to and come after "us". I felt like an observer while reading Larsson's novel, and I felt like I learned of Blomkvist and Salander's discoveries after the fact rather than as they were made. There just wasn't the same level of suspense.

I don't know anything about Swedish politics or the economy, so I didn't connect with the references to politicians and past political and financial scandals. I think it may have been a mistake for the author to include detailed specs of state-of-the-art technology. It may not be long before the book seems dated. I was frequently puzzled by vague pronoun references, perhaps a problem just with the English translation. At one point I was shocked to read that a man had a past affair with his brother's daughter, but realized after re-reading the sentence that "he" referred to another person and not to the uncle.

I liked the first book in the trilogy well enough to eventually read all three. However, I'm not in a big hurry to continue with the series, even though the second book is already among the TBRs on my shelves.

3 1/2 stars

Out 25, 2010, 9:24 pm

Kosovo: The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo by Paula Huntley

Paula Huntley calls her memoir in journal form an "accidental book". It grew out of the journal she kept during her eight months in Kosovo, and the emails she sent to her friends who forwarded them to their friends, finally coming to the attention of an agent.

Huntley's adventure began when her husband, Ed, took a leave of absence from his work to volunteer with the American Bar Association's Central and Eastern European Law Initiative to help with the formation of Kosovo's legal system. Huntley took a TESOL training course and, shortly after the couple's arrival in Kosovo, she was hired to teach intermediate English at a private English language school. Huntley soon became a mentor for the students in her class, and she devoted additional hours to individual tutoring, conversational practice, and, eventually, a book club in which the whole class participates. Huntley chose Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea for the club's first book simply because it was the only English-language book that was available. It was a fortuitous find. Hemingway's spare writing style was suited to her students' level of English, and the book's theme of persistence in the face of adversity resonated with the ethnic Albanians who had survived persecution and the terrors of the recent war in Kosovo.

Huntley's journal entries tell a complete story from the couple's arrival in Kosovo; finding a home to rent; Ed's legal work; their exploration of the capitol city; the formation of friendships with their landlords, Ed's colleagues, and Paula's students; the gradual revelation of the students' wartime experiences; and the bittersweet goodbyes when Ed and Paula returned to the U.S. Huntley compared their experience with that of many of the internationals in Kosovo, who "seem(ed) to be a melancholy lot." She attributed the difference to the time she and Ed spent making friends among the local Albanians, while "after working fifty- to sixty-hour workweeks, (the internationals) escape for long weekends in Greece or Vienna whenever they can, and they seek each others' company in restaurants almost every night."

Huntley writes with intelligence, empathy, and, above all, humility. I've been blessed with opportunities to travel internationally, to live in another country and to experience different cultures, so I could relate to Huntley's experiences in a new place and culture. Before I read this book, I knew almost nothing about the war in Kosovo and the conditions following the war. The book filled a gap in my knowledge of the world. The main weakness in Huntley's story is one that she recognized. In the eight months she spent in Kosovo, she never met a Serb. She writes "I have gathered many pieces of the tragic puzzle that is Kosovo, but the picture could never be complete without the pieces held by Serbs."

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in international volunteer service, in teaching English as a second language, or in learning about the Albanian experience of the war in Kosovo and its aftermath.

4 1/2 stars

Nov 7, 2010, 8:51 pm

Russia: Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland

Ten years after the Russian Revolution, the Tsar's trusted investigator, Pekkala, is abruptly released from confinement and called into service by the new government. The combination of Pekkala's skills and his knowledge of the Tsar's inner circle uniquely qualifies him to track down the killer(s) of the Tsar and his household.

The author gradually reveals Pekkala's history by interweaving flashbacks with the current investigation. The flashbacks provide essential background information without interrupting the pace of the story. Eastland avoids the mistake made by many other writers who over-tell their stories by including descriptions and scenes that divert the reader's attention from the central thrust of the novel. Eastland's writing is focused. He provides just the right amount of detail to build tension and reach a satisfying conclusion within a reasonable number of pages.

Pekkala's re-introduction to society after a decade of isolation wasn't quite convincing. Pekkala seems to quickly shake off his initial awkwardness. I couldn't help comparing him to Dickens's Dr. Manet in A Tale of Two Cities, who was permanently scarred after his time in the Bastille and who suffered a number of relapses during his recovery. I think Dickens's portrayal is probably the more realistic of the two.

Pekkala's background in osteology is an interesting twist for the historical suspense genre. If the author develops that aspect of Pekkala's investigative technique in subsequent books, the series might appeal to quite a few readers who enjoy the forensic novels and television series that are so popular right now. Enthusiastically recommended.

4 stars

Nov 9, 2010, 9:01 am

I have just gotten my copy of The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo. Thanks for your excellent review.

Nov 9, 2010, 10:22 am

>80 RidgewayGirl: Thanks! I'd never heard of the book until I started searching for books for this challenge. One of the best things about these challenges is that they broaden my reading and help me discover books I otherwise wouldn't have read. I've picked up a few duds in the process, but also quite a few gems.

Nov 9, 2010, 1:29 pm

I find it very convenient--you find the gems and then I read them. Carry on!

Nov 9, 2010, 5:28 pm

80 Just wanted to second this. It's very very likely to be my Kosovo choice (in 2012 or so...).

Nov 21, 2010, 7:38 pm

Back to Russia with the second Pekkala book, Shadow Pass by Sam Eastland.

Formerly a special investigator for the Tsar, Pekkala now fulfills the same function in Stalin's government. He and his assistant, Kirov, operate outside the boundaries that define other agencies. A discreet inquiry into the sudden death of the developer of a top secret weapon is just the sort of investigation that requires Pekkala's skills.

I loved the first three quarters of the book -- the setting, the characters, and the history. I was disappointed with its ending. While investigating the murder, Pekkala discovered a larger conspiracy. The conspiracy plot was less cohesive than the murder plot. Although the killer was fairly obvious, the motive and characters were interesting enough to compensate for this. Eventually the conspiracy plot overshadowed the murder plot, to the detriment of the murder plot. I would have enjoyed the book more if there had been more emphasis on the motive for the murder, the psychological profile of the suspects, and the forensic examination of the victim and crime scene. The first book in the series spent some time setting up Pekkala with a background in osteology. I had hoped that this would be a defining characteristic of this series, and I was disappointed that it didn't figure more in this book.

Although this is the second book in a series, it can be read as a stand-alone. The author provides some background information from the first book, but avoids spoilers. There is a good bit of gore in the book, but it leans toward the clinical rather than the sensational. If you can handle the visuals on shows like CSI and Bones, you'll probably be OK with the descriptions in this book.

This review is based on an advanced reading copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

3 stars

Jan 5, 2011, 10:42 pm

Even though I've already got Wales covered, I just had to add this book, too: Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Framed is a wonderfully quirky book about the unexpected effects of famous works of art on a small town in Wales. The book is narrated by Dylan Hughes, the only boy left in Manod so with little hope of a pickup game of soccer. Other Manod residents include the Misses Sellwood, who drive to town every Wednesday with blind Miss Elsa behind the wheel while Miss Edna steers; Daft Tom, a child-like man obsessed with the Ninja Turtles; Terrible Evans, who signals her crush on Dylan by poking him in the eye whenever he's within reach; and Dylan's younger sister, Minnie, whose fascination with crime and criminals may signal trouble ahead.

Cottrell Boyce gets 9-year-old Dylan's voice just right. Dylan's Manod seems like the center of the world, and it's someplace I'd love to visit. Of course, I'll be stopping at the Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel for a latte and a Crispy Choc Constable while I'm there. Maybe I'll even kick a soccer ball around with Dylan, if he wouldn't mind playing with a girl.

4 1/2 stars

Jan 8, 2011, 12:27 pm

Hungary: Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi

“You wouldn't like it, it tastes like coconut” is what I always tell my diabetic father whenever I indulge in a sugary dessert in his presence. We both know that's not true. However, I know he doesn't want me to give up something I enjoy because he can't enjoy it, too.

The Vajkays don't live like that. For years, Mother and Father Vajkays have denied themselves things they enjoy out of sensitivity for their daughter, Skylark, a spinster of uncertain age. They live with the fiction that they don't enjoy those activities, and they speak disparagingly of those who do. When Skylark goes away for a week's visit with relatives in the country, her parents tentatively rediscover the delights of things they'd given up for years, and they confront some unspoken truths. The ordered lives they lead with Skylark stand out against those of other inhabitants of the town who indulge their passions with abandon.

Nothing of great consequence happens in this short novel. The action is mostly internal. Even the minor characters are interesting. While on the surface this is a lighthearted novel and there are several humorous scenes, the underlying mood is one of melancholy, disappointment, and resignation, with a tinge of apathy. The main weakness of the book is that the author leans a little too much toward “telling” rather than “showing”.

My edition tells me that two of the author's other works are available in English translation. I've now added two more TBRs to my mushrooming list. Recommended warmly, especially to readers of literature in translation.

4 stars

Jan 8, 2011, 5:15 pm

You're doing really well with this challenge! Perhaps a strong contender for "first finished", even?

Jan 8, 2011, 6:55 pm

I left room in my 11 in 11 challenge for books for this challenge and for the 50 states challenge. I hope to make good progress with this challenge this year, but I don't think I'll finish it. I think I'm closer to finishing the 50 states challenge, and I'm making an effort to do that by the end of the year. I have one more geographic challenge I'd like to do, but I want to wind up at least one of my current challenges before starting another one. I'd like to read a book for every member country of the Commonwealth of Nations. Maybe a challenge for next year!

Fev 13, 2011, 5:04 pm

Switzerland: Swiss Watching by Diccon Bewes

If the quality of travel writing can be measured by the strength of desire it inspires in a reader for travel to that destination, then Diccon Bewes's Swiss Watching is very good. The book is part travelogue and part introduction to popular culture. The more I read of it, the more eager I became to make a return trip to Switzerland. (In my college years, I spent a couple of days in Switzerland on a camping trip from London to Italy's Adriatic coast.)

Bewes is a UK citizen who now lives in Switzerland. He's been in Switzerland long enough to notice things about Swiss culture and geography that most short-term tourists wouldn't notice. His writing is mostly complimentary, and the occasional criticisms have an air of affectionate amusement rather than arrogant superiority.

The book is heavy on cultural comparisons between Switzerland and the UK. I lived in the UK for several years, so I had no difficulty with the British English and cultural references. Americans with less exposure to British English may be puzzled by references to places/things like Sainsbury's, OBEs and Clapham Junction.

"Extras" include maps hand drawn by the author, an alphabetical list of cantons with demographic, geographic, and cultural statistics, and a recommended reading list helpfully divided between books about Switzerland, books set in Switzerland, and books by Swiss authors available in English translation.

Recommended to readers looking for popular travel writing a step above a basic travel guide. Since Bewes writes as an outsider, readers interested in a deeper study of Swiss culture will want to balance it with books written by cultural insiders.

This review is based on an electronic copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

4 stars

Fev 16, 2011, 6:01 pm

Interesting. This might be a Christmas gift to my Irish friend who has married a Swiss guy and is living near Olten. My favorite Swiss story from her is that when you are expecting a child, you have to register with a hospital and provide them with a female and male name for the baby to be. The hospital will not accept you if you're in labor until all the paperwork has been filed. Apparantly you can change the name of the child afterwards, but it's not so easy.

This is to compare with her story of a friend of the family in Ireland. There you have (or had at the time) 3 months after the birth to register the name of your baby. At the last minute, the family changed the child's name and therefore still has some baby items they'd received as a gift with the preliminary name of the baby from the first 3 months.

She felt like she went from one extreme to the other.

Fev 16, 2011, 8:54 pm

That's interesting. This book doesn't get too much into that side of life, but it did mention that the baby names have to be approved, and there are guidelines that must be followed for selecting names.

Editado: Mar 14, 2011, 9:37 pm

Slovenia: Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy by Marie Chapian

I grabbed this book when I spotted it in our library book sale last year. I figured Slovenia was going to be one of the harder countries to find a book for.

This book's title comes from the “great faith chapter” in Hebrews, which starts with these words: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Beginning with Abel, the chapter lists the heroes of the Old Testament and the things their faith enabled them to do. The list ends with the unnamed and countless men and women who were destitute, homeless, tortured, imprisoned, and murdered for their faith, and it testifies of their character that the world was not worthy of them. To this number, author Marie Chapian adds Slovenian Christians who suffered greatly during World War II and the post-war years.

The central figure in Chapian's story is Jozeca , the wife of Baptist evangelist Jakob Kovac (not their real names). Chapian writes of the courtship and marriage of this unlikely couple who, despite the 35-year difference in their ages, were drawn together by their shared faith. Although Jakob often worked in the coal mines, evangelism was his primary calling. He traveled throughout Yugoslavia to preach to groups of Christians, who often met in homes. Jozeca became known as the praying woman, and people in trouble called her to come and pray for them when they had no where else to turn.

The war years were difficult in Slovenia. Some Slovenes sided with the Germans, while others formed partisan groups loosely organized under Tito. Control of villages passed from side to side, often ending with the massacre of entire populations in retaliation for assistance provided to the previous occupiers of the villages. Families were split apart by imprisonment or conscription into partisan military activities. Food and shelter were scarce, and work was difficult to find. Things didn't improve much after the war, as jobs, food, and shelter were still in short supply. Jakob and Jozeca's faith sustained them through their years of suffering.

Jozeca prayed about the great problems she faced, and she never forgot to thank God for answering her prayers. Jozeca's example reminds me to be grateful for the small blessings each day brings. Her story is recommended for readers of Christian biography, particularly those with an interest in Baptist missions.

3 stars

Mar 16, 2011, 10:15 pm

I revisited a favorite country (Italy) with Michael Dibdin's Ratking, the first book in his Aurelio Zen series.

When a friend of kidnapped businessman calls in some favors to ramp up the seemingly stalled local investigation, Police Commissioner Aurelio Zen is recalled from his banishment to a dead end desk job. The businessman's family has been uncooperative with the local police, and they aren't likely to be more cooperative with an outsider. Zen can't expect much help from the Perugian police, either, who will resent his interference in their territory. Zen seems to be in a no-win situation, yet unlike everyone else involved with the case who are willing to do only what needs to be done to preserve their own reputations, Zen keeps digging for the truth.

If I hadn't known when I started reading that this is the first book in a series, I wouldn't have detected it from the quality of the writing. This is a strong series debut. It has a wonderful sense of place. I've been lucky enough to travel to Italy a couple of times, and Dibdin's descriptions brought back memories of things I had noticed during my travels that I thought I had forgotten. Although the book was first published more than 20 years ago, it doesn't feel too dated, except for a noticeable absence of cell phones.

Zen has to do more than just identify the guilty; he has to outwit those with wealth and political power who try to use their influence to direct the investigation to their own ends. It might have cross-over appeal for readers who enjoy political thrillers.

3 1/2 stars

I've already added book 2 to my list of library TBRs.

Jun 4, 2011, 11:26 am

I made another return visit to Italy with Vendetta by Michael Dibdin.

Multiple vendettas play out in this crime novel that at times is more action thriller than police procedural. Aurelio Zen is caught up in events triggered by the death of a billionaire at his remote Sardinian compound. The fast-paced action somewhat masks a plot that relies a little too much on coincidence.

Zen has to contend with the politics of Italy's power structure as well as with the crimes he is assigned to investigate. Zen always seems to be reacting to events, rather than in control of them. He gets credit not so much for solving crimes as for successfully picking his way through a minefield. The book has a bit of a retro feel since it was written before cell phones came into widespread use.

3 stars

Jun 5, 2011, 8:26 pm

Still in Italy with The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

A dead politician is discovered in his car in a place he shouldn't be. Did he die of natural causes, or was he murdered? There are enough questions about the circumstances of the death that Inspector Montalbano keeps the investigation open, despite pressure to close it quickly.

Montalbano seems to maintain an ethical standard in an environment with an international reputation for corruption. More than once Montalbano is in a situation where others might give in to temptation and he resists it. Since I just finished reading one of Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen books, I couldn't help comparing Montalbano to Zen. Montalbano is more self-assured and positive than is Zen. If I were a crime victim, I'd prefer to have Montalbano working the case.

I listened to this one on audio, and it took me a while to warm up to it. The last two audio books I listened to had exceptional readers, and this one was just average. I might have liked the book a little more if I had read it rather than listened to it.

3 1/2 stars

Jun 30, 2011, 9:16 pm

Moldova: Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks

It started out as a bar bet. Tony Hawks, and his buddy, Arthur, were watching a football/soccer match between England and Moldova. Somehow, by the end of the game, Hawks had bet that he could beat all 11 of the Moldovan football players at tennis.

The rest of the book is the story of Hawks' quest to win the bet. He had lots of obstacles to overcome, starting with getting a visa to visit Moldova. Since Moldova issues visas only to people who have been invited by a citizen, Hawks had to find a citizen to extend an invitation to him. He would cross one hurdle only to find another one in his path. He spent most of his time in Moldova trying to make contact with team officials and/or the players themselves. At the time of his visit, Moldova had been an independent nation for only half a dozen years, and there were deficiencies in its infrastructure. No task, even a phone call, was simple. The Moldovan acquaintances he accumulated during his visit were pessimistic that he would succeed in his quest, yet they went to great lengths to help him.

This would have been a dull book if it had been nothing more than a description of 11 tennis matches. However, much of the book is filled with Hawks' experiences with his translator and his host family. He spent most of his time in Moldova with at least one of these five people, and it's through their conversations and shared experiences that he (and we) glimpse what life is like for the average Moldovan. Hawks' skills as a comedian are well suited for observing a different culture. Hawks finds humor in situations, but not at the expense of others.

I don't have any more desire to visit Moldova after reading this book than I did before I read it, but I do have an appreciation for the Moldovan people, and I hope that their economic condition has improved in the decade since Hawks' visit.

4 stars

Jul 15, 2011, 9:20 pm

Another Vatican book: Cabal by Michael Dibdin. Although the whole book doesn't take place in the Vatican, it's central to the plot. The initial murder occurred there.

A man falls to his death from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Is it suicide or murder? For appearance's sake, the Vatican calls on Italian authorities to undertake a parallel investigation. Aurelio Zen's initially perfunctory investigation takes a surprising turn when it appears that a mysterious Cabal may have been behind the death.

This book was better than the last book in the series, and I'm glad I stuck with it. Dibdin surprised me with this one. Just when it seemed like it was going to be a typical conspiracy novel, he threw in an interesting twist. Zen didn't do anything in this book to make me like him any better. He'll never be among my favorite fictional detectives. However, the settings in various parts of Italy and the irony in the series provide enough motivation for me to continue with the series.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 16, 2011, 3:31 pm

97> Aurelio Zen, that name rings a bell. Isn't he the main character in a tv detective series by the BBC? (Which would then be based on these books, I guess)

If he is the same, I might check out the books for my mother, as she's been raving about the tv series since it started showing in the Netherlands.

Jul 16, 2011, 3:49 pm

Yes, it's the same as the series. Our local PBS station will be running episodes based on the first three books in the series starting tomorrow night. I wanted to read the books before watching the series. I'm looking forward to seeing the Italian scenery.

I won't know until I actually watch the series, but I think this could end up being a series where I prefer the TV adaptation to the books.

Jul 17, 2011, 6:43 am

99> That doesn't happen a lot, that the tv series is better than the books. I'll be curious to hear what you think of the series.

Jul 17, 2011, 10:49 pm

I was wrong. The books are better. I think I like Zen's personality better in the TV version than in the book version. However, the plot had to be simplified a lot for the TV version. Zen spends a lot of time in the books thinking about motives - not just of criminals, but of co-workers, superiors, etc. There's a meaning beneath the surface of every conversation, and everyone seems to have an agenda (usually self-advancement at everyone else's expense). That aspect of the books didn't translate well to television.

Jul 18, 2011, 6:30 pm

Reading The Map of Time set in England.

Jul 18, 2011, 6:31 pm

Finished A Kingdom's Cost that started in Paris and ended in Scotland.

Set 4, 2011, 2:55 pm

Another book for Turkey: Gardens of Water by Alan Drew

An earthquake in Turkey displaces two families who lived in the same apartment building, connecting them forever at that moment in time, yet creating an unbridgeable distance between them. In a sense, both families were already displaced when the earthquake hit. Sinan Basioglu and his family are Kurds living outside the Kurdish homeland, while Marcus Hamm and his family are Americans affiliated with an American missionary school.

The teenage romance between Sinan's daughter, Irem, and Marcus's son, Dylan, is predictably tragic. The Hamm family's effect on Sinan's young son, Ismail, is more surprising. Points of tension include Muslim and Christian, fundamentalist and moderate, East-West/Europe-Asia, American worldview vs. Middle Eastern worldview, parents and children, male and female. This novel illuminates cultural divides without imagining resolutions for them.

3 1/2 stars

Out 10, 2011, 9:24 pm

Another Scotland book: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Jackson Brodie and his actress girlfriend are in Edinburgh for the Festival. Jackson has lots of time to kill while his girlfriend is in rehearsals. Maybe too much time. Trouble seems to find him wherever he goes. He's on the spot to witness an incident of road rage, and without meaning to, he gets pulled into events triggered by the incident. He can't even enjoy a day trip to the coast without stumbling across a crime victim, and his efforts to help land him in deeper trouble.

I liked, but didn't love, Case Histories, Kate Atkinson's first Jackson Brodie novel. I'm glad I kept reading. I loved this second book in the series. As in the first book, the plot and interrelationships among the characters hinge on coincidence. The coincidences seem to run much deeper in this second Brodie novel, yet they don't feel as forced as they did in the first novel. Maybe I, like Jackson, have just come to expect it so that they no longer surprise me. As the plots and characters began to converge, I didn't even try to figure out where Atkinson was headed. Whatever I guessed wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining as what Atkinson created.

4 1/2 stars

Out 22, 2011, 5:23 pm

Iceland: The Fish Can Sing by Halldor Laxness

I was was enchanted by the story of Alfgrimur, a young orphan growing up in a fishing village near Reykjavik. Alfgrimur is happy in the home of an elderly man and woman he calls grandfather and grandmother. His uncertain origins don't seem to bother him. When he discovers he has an aptitude for music, he is satisfied to develop his talent for his own pleasure. He dreams of nothing more than becoming a fisherman like his grandfather. Will his encounter with opera singer Gardar Holm, Iceland's most famous native and some sort of distant relation to Alfgrimar, change his perspective?

Iceland is as much character as location in this story. While Alfgrimar is discovering his identity on a personal level, Iceland is discovering its national identity. During the time of the story, Iceland is still under Danish rule. Some of the Icelanders in the book seem to view themselves as the “country cousins” of the more sophisticated Danes. Will Iceland embrace its cultural traditions, or exchange them for those of their “city cousins'?

Although this book isn't considered magical realism, it reminded me of the few books I've read from that genre, particularly Midnight's Children and One Hundred Years of Solitude. If you you've read and enjoyed either of those books, you might want to give this one a try.

5 stars

Nov 2, 2011, 9:04 pm

Latvia: The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell

The bodies of two murdered men turn up in a lifeboat on Sweden's coast. Who were these men, where did they come from, who killed them, and why were they killed? Those are questions that detective Kurt Wallander and his colleagues must answer. The investigation ultimately takes him to Latvia, a country just emerging from decades of Soviet control. As he pursues leads in Latvia, he senses that he's being manipulated, but he's not sure who is doing the manipulating. He's suspicious of everyone, and his life as well as others may depend on who he chooses to trust.

The book has all of the tension of a cold war drama. It was written during Latvia's transition from Soviet control to independence when it wasn't yet clear whose vision for the country would prevail. This is the first book I've read in the series (although I've seen several episodes of the TV adaptation), and some aspects of the book were different than I expected. One thing that surprised me was the absence, for the most part, of strong language. I had mistakenly formed a “tough guy” impression of Wallander from things I had heard about the books. What I discovered instead is a character who thinks more than he speaks.

I listened to the audio version of the book. I thought it was odd that the reader's accent sounded American, yet the English translation uses British English. I noticed that Wallander bought “petrol” rather than “gas”, and he lived in a “flat” rather than an “apartment”. I would have preferred listening to British English read by someone with a British accent.

This is the second book in the series, and there are several references to incidents from the first book in the series. Most readers would probably want to be familiar with the events of the first book before reading this one. I haven't read the first book in the series, but I had seen the TV adaptation, and that was sufficient for me to understand the references to the crime in the first book.

3 1/2 stars

Nov 3, 2011, 5:48 pm

Catching up on your European adventures! I enjoyed Salka Valka as my Icelandic title, and can very much relate to what you say about Iceland itself being a character.

Nov 10, 2011, 7:14 pm

Another book for Northern Ireland: An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor

Newly qualified doctor Barry Laverty had a successful month working under Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly in the Northern Irish village of Ballybucklebo. O'Reilly seems to be ready to offer Dr. Laverty a permanent position in his small practice. However, repercussions from a case gone wrong may damage Dr. Laverty's reputation in the village beyond repair. The results of a postmortem will either condemn or exonerate him. Meanwhile, Dr. Laverty's interest in Patricia continues to grow, but there's a problem. Patricia's got her heart set on winning a scholarship to Cambridge, far away from tiny Ballybucklebo.

This book picks up right where the first book ended. In fact, the action starts on the morning after the last scene in the first book. Several of the patient visits are follow-ups to visits in the previous book. It had been a couple of years since I read the first book, and I wish I hadn't waited so long to read the second one. I had forgotten some of the details that it would helped to have had fresh in my memory. This series is a good choice for readers looking for nostalgic comfort. To get the most out of it, the books need to be read in order and fairly close together.

4 stars

Jan 20, 2012, 9:15 pm

Another book for Russia: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Leo Demidov has everything. He's an MGB officer in Stalin-era Russia with a beautiful wife and enough influence to provide his parents with a comfortable home. He's never thought much about the system he's a part of, until he's confronted by circumstances that cause him to question everything he thought he believed in. When he realizes that a serial killer is brutally murdering children in various parts of the country and that the authorities are covering up the murders for ideological and political reasons, he launches his own secret investigation. At this point, he has little left to lose. Will he be able to stay under the state's radar long enough to track down the killer?

The atmosphere of Stalin's Russia that Tom Rob Smith recreates in this novel is as much psychological as physical. Paranoia is essential for survival. It's dangerous to trust anyone, including spouses, parents, children, and siblings. Leo's transformation seems too abrupt to be believable, as is the connection between the murderer and other characters in the book. Readers willing to suspend their disbelief will be rewarded with a suspenseful thriller filled with memorable characters.

This is the first book of a series. Based on the descriptions I've read of subsequent books, I think readers will want to start at the beginning of the series rather than somewhere in the middle.

3 1/2 stars

Jan 22, 2012, 7:44 pm

Ukraine: The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn - Although the American author travels to several countries in the course of the book, he's interviewing former residents of the town of Bolechow, which was part of Poland before World War II and is now the Ukrainian town of Bolekhiv.

My interest in family history came from listening to my paternal grandmother's stories, which were often sparked by one of the objects that belonged to one of the relatives – a plate, a piece of jewelry, a photo album, a scrapbook, a diary. Daniel Mendelsohn's interest in his family's history seems to have developed in much the same way. His maternal grandfather told stories of the Jäger relatives who had emigrated from Bolechow, at the time a Polish town, to the U.S. His grandfather treasured the pictures and letters that were the only reminders left of his oldest brother, Shmiel, and Shmiel's wife and four daughters. While the rest of the family made new lives in the U.S., Shmiel decided to stay in Bolechow, where he was a “big fish in a little pond”. Shmiel and his family perished in the Holocaust along with almost all of Bolechow's Jewish residents.

Years of research allowed Mendelsohn to fill in many details on his family tree. As he filled in more and more details about other family members, Mendelsohn began to feel that he needed to learn more about his great-uncle Shmiel to complete the family tree. In order to find what could still be known about Shmiel's family and their fate, Mendelsohn needed to talk with the surviving remnant of Bolechow's Jews who were old enough to remember the Jäger family from before the war. Accompanied most of the way by his photographer brother Matt, Mendelsohn traveled to Australia, Israel, Sweden, Denmark, and Ukraine to meet people who had been there and to find out what they knew and what stories they had heard.

I was particularly struck by this passage:
It's different to write the story of people who survived, because there's someone to interview, and they can tell you these amazing stories. As I said these words, I thought of Mrs. Begley, who had once looked coldly at me and said, 'If you didn't have an amazing story, you didn't survive.'

My problem, I went on..., is that I want to write the story of people who didn't survive. People who had no story, anymore.

That passage sums up how this book differs from other books I've read about the Holocaust. It's not a survival account. It's about six individuals who didn't survive.

This is an inspirational book despite the grim subject matter. Mendelsohn frames his journey with meditation and commentary on weekly Torah readings (parashat) from Genesis. Along the way, he develops a stronger bond with his brother, forms new friendships, and discovers long-lost relatives. The journey is as meaningful as the destination. Highly recommended for readers with an interest in family history, Jewish genealogy, the Holocaust, and the history of Ukraine (formerly eastern Poland), particularly the town of Bolechow/Bolekhiv.

5 stars

Fev 26, 2012, 12:21 am

Bulgaria: Under the Yoke by Ivan Vazov

The cover of the library edition I read calls this a “Bulgarian classic”. Written about a decade after the events, this novel tells of the months leading to the uprising of 1876. The book ends with the Ottoman defeat of the Bulgarian rebels in 1876. However, news reports of the Turkish massacre of Bulgarian villages swayed public sympathy toward the Bulgarians, ending to Bulgarian autonomy just a couple of years later.

The conflict was both ethnic and religious, with Bulgarian Christians and Turkish Muslims occupying neighboring villages. Not all Bulgarians supported the rebellion. Some Bulgarians were content with their lives and were sympathetic toward the Turkish officials, and some were even willing to spy on and betray their Bulgarian neighbors. There are no sympathetic Turkish characters in the story. In fact, the Turkish characters don't have much personality at all. They're just violent and cruel. The heroes, cowards, and villains are all Bulgarian.

Most of the characters were identified at various times by different forms of their names. Some of the characters also assumed aliases, and the aliases also had different forms. It was hard for me to keep all of the characters straight, although I had worked out who was who pretty well by the time I reached the end of the book.

Recommended for readers who enjoy 19th century Russian literature, historical fiction, and adventure novels.

4 stars

Fev 27, 2012, 8:39 am

We had missionaries from Bulgaria at church yesterday. They work with orphans there. There's a team from our church going there later this spring to assist in fitting the orphans with shoes. Apparently another group cancelled on them, so our church said we'd do it. I wish I could go, but it's at a bad time. Interesting timing on your review!

Mar 2, 2012, 6:03 pm

Monaco: Good Morning, Irene by Carole Nelson Douglas

Rumored dead in a train accident, Irene Adler and her husband, Godfrey Norton, are alive and well and lying low in Paris. Irene is suffering from boredom since her “death” means the end of her opera career. She finds a new outlet for her creative energy in the unraveling of a mystery that spans several years and at least two countries. When Irene and her friend, Penelope Huxleigh, view the body of a drowned sailor recently pulled from the Seine they immediately notice similarities to the body of a drowned sailor they had viewed in England years earlier. Both men had unusual tattoos and were missing one finger. Irene and company encounter a missing girl, mysterious pursuers, a famous actress, the royal family of Monaco, rumors of hidden treasure, and the renowned Sherlock Holmes in their quest to solve the mystery.

Irene, Godfrey, and Penelope work well as an investigative team, with each contributing valuable skills and talents to the group effort. While Irene Adler's character is borrowed from one of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, the characters in Douglas's novel are strong enough to stand on their own. The competition between Irene and Sherlock Holmes to solve the mystery is a distraction rather than a help to the plot. Penelope compares favorably to Watson as a first-person narrator. Although she might miss some of the clues that Irene spots, she's not often very far behind, and she doesn't necessarily jump to the wrong conclusion. However, there were a few places where I felt like I had missed something because Penelope hadn't been present to describe an event as it happened.

This book will appeal to many fans of historical mysteries, particularly those with husband and wife investigators like Robin Paige's Sir Charles and Lady Kathryn Sheridan or Tasha Alexander's Colin Hargreaves and Lady Emily Ashton. However, Sherlock Holmes aficionados might be disappointed.

The book starts in Paris, but by 1/3 of the way into the book the action moves to and stays in Monte Carlo. The plot involves the heir to the throne of Monaco. Since Monaco is so small, I don't know that I could find a book I'm interested in reading that is set entirely within the country. I'll count this one at least for now.

3 1/2 stars

Mar 3, 2012, 9:26 am

I think for rare settings like Monaco, 2/3 of a book set there is very good. In fact, I'm adding this book to my novels by setting list under Monaco.

I read Monte Carlo by Stephen Sheppard, which was set almost entirely in Monaco, except for one (maybe two) small daytrips the main character made to just over the border. It's a historical, WW2 novel that you might find interesting.

Mar 3, 2012, 9:47 am

Thanks for the tip! I'll have to check and see if my public library has that one.

Mar 5, 2012, 9:54 pm

Georgia: Red Station by Adrian Magson

After an operation gone wrong, MI5 agent Harry Tate becomes the fall guy for the agency. He's sent to a remote outpost in the nation of Georgia known as Red Station. He joins a small crew of other agents in exile. It gradually becomes apparent that the powers that sent them to Red Station don't intend for them to leave it alive. Meanwhile, Russian troops are on the move heading south across the border with Georgia.

The story and characters were good enough to make me regret the few problems that intruded on my reading experience. I never quite understood what made Harry so dangerous to the agency that he had to be removed, and why the same reasoning didn't apply to another character who had been involved in the same failed operation. The unusual location was intriguing, but I wish the sense of place had been stronger. Most of the characters in the book were part of the international community of intelligence operatives, engineers, and journalists. The book could have been set in any number of countries in eastern Europe. Nevertheless, I had trouble putting the book down, and book two of the series is already on my TBR list.

3 1/2 stars

Mar 18, 2012, 9:40 pm

Montenegro: The Black Mountain by Rex Stout

Nero Wolfe becomes his own client when his lifelong friend, Marko Vukcic, is killed. Wolfe's search for Vukcic's killer takes him back to his native Montenegro and to Vukcic's connections in an underground political movement. Since it would be dangerous for Wolfe to appear in Montenegro as himself, he and his assistant, Archie Goodwin, use assumed names and identities. Between the physically demanding terrain and the risk of discovery of their true purpose and identities, will Wolfe and Archie survive their adventure?

I am a huge fan of the Nero Wolfe series starring Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton, but I hadn't read any of the books until now. If one book is anything to judge by, the TV series captured the essence of the books. Archie Goodwin is the first-person narrator, and I heard Timothy Hutton's voice in my head as I read. In this book, Archie was dependent on Wolfe as a translator since he doesn't speak a language other than English. Archie's thoughts during conversations he couldn't understand provide comic relief in some tense situations.

It never occurred to Wolfe or Danilo to give a damn whether I had any notion of what they were talking about, which I hadn't, but Meta couldn't stand a guest at her table feeling out of it, so about once a minute she turned her black eyes to me just to include me in. I was reminded of a dinner party Lily Rowan had once thrown at Rusterman's where one of the guests was an Eskimo, and I tried to remember whether she had been as gracious to him as Meta Vukcic was being to me, but I couldn't, probably because I had completely ignored him myself. I resolved that if I ever got back to New York and was invited to a meal where someone like an Eskimo was present, I would smile at him or her at least every fifth bite.

This might have been my first Nero Wolfe novel, but it won't be my last!

4 1/2 stars

Mar 20, 2012, 2:59 pm

I don't like to start in the middle of a series, and to read 22 books to get to the one that's set in Montenegro seems a bit excessive to me, but I've added it to my European Settings in Fiction list for those who don't mind. It does sounds like a good book...but no, I do NOT need another series on my TBR list!

Mar 20, 2012, 6:06 pm

You're making great headway here, ticking off difficult countries left and right! You might well be the first one to finish this challenge.

Mar 20, 2012, 10:20 pm

Lori may finish before I do. She's trying to read 3 books for this challenge each month. I'm trying for at least one per month, two if I can manage it. I only have 3 this month because I couldn't quite finish one of them before midnight Feb. 29!

Speaking of difficult countries, anyone who hasn't yet filled in Azerbaijan might want to consider joining next month's 12 in 12 group read of Gentlemen of the Road.

Mar 21, 2012, 6:34 pm

Of course, I was much further behind Carrie Beth so I have no clue if I will finish or not. I've still got lots of countries to go. I've also added a few islands to the mix that aren't on her list so we'll see.

Abr 15, 2012, 7:28 pm

Azerbaijan - Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

The Gentlemen of the Road in this medieval adventure story are an odd couple of Jewish soldiers of fortune – a smallish Frank with some medical knowledge and a large Abyssinian with a tragic loss in his past. Following a chance encounter at an inn, the pair end up with a young Khazar prince in their charge. They have been commissioned to escort the prince, who has survived an attack on his family's home, to safety with relatives. However, the young prince would rather pursue the attackers and avenge the destruction of his home and family. The adventures that follow require as much wit as physical strength. There are plenty of surprises in store for the pair as they discover more about the young stranger whose fate has become entwined with their own.

This pairing of characters and setting is unusual, but it works. The audio version was a little difficult to follow because of the unusual vocabulary of the time period and geographic setting. However, actor Andre Braugher's narration was as good as I had hoped it would be, and it was worth the extra effort required for listening to this tale.

4 stars

Abr 16, 2012, 8:22 pm

Another book for Poland: Night by Elie Wiesel

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel recalls the horrors of life in the Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps. If you've read other Holocaust memoirs, many of the details will be familiar, yet each survivor's story is unique and each tragedy is personal. One of the themes of Night is God's silence in the face of extreme suffering, a theme echoed in Shusako Endo's Silence. Wiesel experienced a crisis of faith due to the unspeakable things he witnessed and the suffering he endured. This is probably the most widely known Holocaust memoir, and it should be on everyone's “books to read before you die” list. As the number of Holocaust survivors shrinks with the passage of time, books such as this will be increasingly important for preserving the memory of this great tragedy and making sure that it never happens again.

4 1/2 stars

Abr 17, 2012, 4:13 am

>123 cbl_tn: I took note of this when the group read was announced, and I understood it was set in Azerbadjan. I've read two books by Chabon - liked Kavalier and Clay, but thought The Jewish Policemen was weak despite an interesting setting. Glad to hear this was an enjoyable read for you. A very likely candidate for a difficult country for me!

Abr 23, 2012, 4:53 pm

Another book for France: Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling

Max Berenzon grew up in Paris between the wars as the privileged only son of a well-respected Jewish art dealer. Max's only ambition was to follow in his father's footsteps. However, his father doubted his instinct and ability to succeed as an art dealer and tried to steer him in a different direction. Max is both jealous of and attracted to Rose, a young Louvre employee who has become the latest of his father's live-in assistants. When it appeared that France would fall to the Nazis, the Berenzon's stored their collection for safe keeping and went into hiding. Upon their return to Paris, they discover that their entire collection has been looted. Max becomes fixated on the single goal of finding his father's lost paintings. Will Rose be an ally or a foe?

This is unusual for Holocaust novels in that it skips the war years almost entirely. The focus of the novel is on what was lost during the war. I was surprised by the intensity of the outrage I felt as Max scoured Paris after the war looking for traces of the lost collection. Non-Jewish art dealers had profited from trade in the art works left behind by Jews who had been deported or had gone into hiding. The survival and return of the former Jewish owners was at best inconvenient. Because Max was not in Paris during the Nazi occupation, he had to hear about it from other characters who had lived through and witnessed the events. These long conversational information dumps diluted the novel's emotional impact for me.

This novel may appeal to readers with an interest in art and/or art history, World War II and the Holocaust, Paris, and father/son relationships.

3 1/2 stars

Abr 30, 2012, 10:09 pm

Slovakia: Katarina by Kathryn Winter

8-year-old Katarina's life in 1942 Slovakia is almost perfect. Although her parents died when she was very young, she's being raised by an aunt she adores, and who indulges her love for games and stories. She has a best friend to share her secrets with. Katarina doesn't understand when Aunt Lena tells her they must move. Katarina and her aunt are non-observant Jews, and Aunt Lena has shielded Katarina from most of the rumors about what has been happening to Jews in surrounding countries. Since Katarina's aunt hasn't provided any Jewish religious instruction for Katarina, their Catholic maid fills the void, and Katarina considers herself to be Catholic.

As conditions become more dangerous, the family is forced to go into hiding. Eventually Katarina is separated from her family. Her story becomes one of survival as she moves from place to place, and of a journey home at the end of the war. Katarina's resilience keeps her story from becoming too bleak.

This fictional story is based on the author's experience as a Jewish child in Slovakia during World War II. The recommended reading level is grade 6 and higher. Because of a brief description of sexual activity and another incident describing inappropriate touching of a child by an adult, I would not recommend the book for younger readers who read above their grade level. This well-written novel would be good supplemental reading for social studies, and might also be a good book group selection. It should stimulate some interesting discussions.

4 stars

Maio 12, 2012, 10:00 am

Albania: The Successor by Ismail Kadare

The Designated Successor was found dead in his bedroom at dawn on December 14. From this starting point, Kadare moves both backwards and forwards in time, looking dispassionately at the event from multiple perspectives, including that of the Successor's family, the Guide (Albania's aging, blind dictator), the new heir apparent, the architect in charge of the recent renovations of the Successor's house, and various unnamed foreign intelligence agencies. Did the Successor commit suicide, or was he murdered? If he was murdered, who killed him, and who will be blamed? (These are not necessarily the same person.) Is it possible to discover the true facts about the death? What are the implications for the future? It's a fascinating psychological study of Albanian politics in the Cold War era, perhaps best summed up by the anonymous intelligence agency analysts: The only way you can get a grip on a place overcome by paranoia is by becoming a little paranoid yourself.

4 stars

Jun 21, 2012, 8:27 pm

Norway: Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum

The investigation of the disappearance of a young girl in a small Norwegian town results in the discovery of a body. Who killed this seemingly-well-liked girl, and why was she killed? If Inspector Sejer and his partner, Skarre, can unlock the secret of her personality, this might lead them to her killer.

I was pleasantly surprised when the story went in some unexpected directions. Its ending was unpredictable until I had read well past the halfway point. Fossum cast suspicion on a number of credible suspects. The problem is that some of the suspects were cleared of suspicion by events or circumstances that weren't fully explained. Still, it's a strong start to a series that's become popular with fans of Scandinavian crime fiction.

The relationship between middle-aged Sejer and the younger Skarre reminded me a bit of the relationship between Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir in Louise Penny's Three Pines series. They're not quite as charismatic as Penny's duo, but the dynamic is similar. This might be a good series for Penny's fans to experiment with while waiting for the release of the next Three Pines novel.

3 1/2 stars

Jun 24, 2012, 5:12 pm

Macedonia: The Miss Stone Affair: America's First Modern Hostage Crisis by Teresa Carpenter

A middle-aged, single missionary seems an unlikely person to be at the center of a foreign crisis, yet that's what happened to Ellen Stone in the fall of 1901. While traveling in Macedonia with a group of Christians, Miss Stone and a young Bulgarian woman were kidnapped by a group of men who had been lying in wait for the party. The men demanded a ransom that was the equivalent of several thousands of dollars. The unprecedented kidnapping caught U.S. officials by surprise. In the past, the U.S. had dealt with citizens taken captive by pirates on the sea, but they had no policy for dealing with American citizens who were kidnapped in foreign countries. It hadn't happened before. The government's response was further complicated by a domestic crisis – the shooting of President McKinley on September 6, just 3 days after Miss Stone's kidnapping.

Several groups had an interest in Miss Stone's rescue, and more often than not they were at cross purposes. The U.S. government and the mission agency both initially refused to raise and pay the ransom, so Miss Stone's family appealed to the public through the media. As week after week passed without a resolution of the crisis, the government and the mission agency gradually accepted the need to pay the ransom, particularly since there was so much public sympathy for Miss Stone and her companion, who, to everyone except her husband's surprise, was 5 months pregnant at the time of the kidnapping.

This account of the kidnapping, although written for a popular rather than an academic audience, is at times difficult to follow. Although Carpenter used archival sources as well as contemporary newspaper accounts, I'm sure it was difficult to separate the facts from the speculation and misinformation surrounding the incident. As new participants entered the story, Ms. Carpenter shifted the focus to the new arrival and his or her involvement with the rescue effort. This resulted in a lot of backtracking. I think a chronological approach might have worked better, although, given the nature of Balkan politics, the intricacies of the story would be difficult to describe in any format.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 11, 2012, 7:32 am

Hi, I've been neglecting your thread far too long which is a shame, because you've read so many interesting books for this challenge. I started the Inspector Sejer-series last year or so but although most people seem to like the books as the series gets along, it's just the opposite for me. I loved the first books though!

Jul 11, 2012, 6:26 pm

The first Inspector Sejer book I read was from the middle of the series - The Indian Bride (U.S. title) - and I liked it better than this one mainly because of the somewhat open ending. I liked the experience of reading a crime novel where everything didn't resolve neatly at the end. I do want to continue with the series, but my TBR list is so huge that it may take a while to get to the next one!

Jul 13, 2012, 1:16 pm

I do want to continue with the series, but my TBR list is so huge that it may take a while to get to the next one! I recognize the feeling all too well. I've made a list of all the books in series I like to read competely. I counted the books I still need to read but I stopped counting when I reached 185. Even for a thriller-and-detective-addict like me, that's too much. Now I just continue reading without counting.

Jul 14, 2012, 11:28 am

Luxembourg The Expats by Chris Pavone

Working mother Katherine Moore sees her family's move to Luxembourg as an opportunity to reinvent her life. The new “Kate” Moore is learning the joys and frustrations of being a stay-at-home mom as well as learning the ins and outs of the expat community in one of Europe's financial capitals. Kate and her husband, Dexter, develop a friendship with another American couple, but Kate soon becomes suspicious that Bill and Julia are not what they seem. Even more disturbing, Kate discovers that Dexter may have his own secrets. Just what are Bill and Julia after? Is it related to Kate's past – or to her family's future?

Kate is a likeable heroine. Although the plot is a little far-fetched, it never crosses the threshold of unbelievability. This fun thriller will have strong crossover appeal for fans of other genres. Romantic suspense fans might enjoy this even though Kate is happily married. Kate's spirited personality may resonate with chick-lit readers. It's equally suited for beach reading or for curling up with by the fireplace on a snowy day.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 29, 2012, 5:27 pm

First of several more books for Germany: City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin

Nazis, Romanovs, Communists, German and Eastern European Jews, and expat Russians provide plenty of dramatic potential for this stand-alone historical mystery. Franklin uses the real-life Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, as the focus of a serial killer. Once she is aware of the danger, Russian Jew Esther Solomonova does everything in her power to protect Anna, even if it means supporting Anna's claim to be Anastasia when Esther is convinced that she isn't. Esther joins forces with a German policeman who risks everything important to him to uncover the truth.

I think Ariana Franklin must be one of those authors who, for whatever reason, just doesn't click with me despite her popularity among readers with similar tastes to mine. A few anachronisms jumped out at me as I read, such as a woman described as a “silent film star” in the part of the book set in 1922-23. (Since all films were silent in those years, I think people of the era would call her a “film star” without the qualification.) I was also annoyed by Franklin's overuse of the “f” word. It's just not right for otherwise intelligent characters to have such a limited vocabulary. Although Esther very much reminded me of Maisie Dobbs, she didn't have Maisie's appeal.

Possible Spoiler
Franklin had the bad luck to release the book just months before the remains of the last two Romanovs were conclusively identified through DNA analysis. All of the Romanovs have now been accounted for, and none of them survived. Since the possibility that one of the Romanov daughters survived is integral to the plot, readers need to be willing to overlook all of the evidence to the contrary.

2 1/2 stars

Jul 29, 2012, 7:05 pm

Another book for Germany: My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss

Luisa Weiss is a third culture kid, having been born in West Berlin to an American father and an Italian mother. After her parents' divorce, she shuttled between Boston and Berlin through her school years. Sometime during her youth she began reading and collecting cookbooks and recipes, and spending more and more time in the kitchen. The kitchen became her home, where she could create familiar tastes and smells. Her life-long interest in cooking led her to a career in the cookbook publishing industry and a successful hobby as a food blogger. The “love story” of the subtitle is not just about meeting and marrying her soul mate. The book is filled with the people and places Weiss loves – her parents, extended family, girlfriends, New York, and Berlin.

Each chapter includes a recipe related to the memories shared in that chapter. The nice thing about the recipes is that Weiss includes tips about what the food will look like at various stages of the preparation process, as well as mistakes to avoid. Her recipes don't just tell the cook what to do. She also explains why the steps are important for achieving the desired result.

This review is based on an electronic advanced reading copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley. I liked it well enough to want a copy for my permanent collection, and it's fairly high on my wish list. I've also added the author's blog to my RSS feed.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 29, 2012, 8:06 pm

And another for Germany: Death in Berlin by M.M. Kaye

I had read all of M.M. Kaye's Death In series by the time I finished college, and I remember being sad when I finished the last one because there weren't any more to read. However, it's been so long since I've read the books that I don't remember much about them. Since I was planning a couple of days in Berlin while on vacation in Germany, I thought this would be a good time to re-read this one.

I liked this one, but perhaps not as well as I did the first time I read it. My reading tastes have changed, and romantic suspense doesn't appeal to me as much as it did when I was a young adult. The mystery plot was well done and reads a lot like a Christie novel. The author's husband was briefly stationed in Berlin in the 1950s, and the description of the bombed-out city has an authentic feel. There's an undertone of class consciousness that was uncomfortable for me, and that I didn't remember from my first reading of the book. It seemed odd for the English/British expats to refer to Germans as “foreign” in Germany. They don't realize that they are the foreigners. I suppose that attitude is authentic to the era but it just feels wrong.

3 1/2 stars

Ago 3, 2012, 8:44 pm

Still another book for Germany: Suddenly Everything Was Different compiled by Olaf G. Klein

This is a collection of oral history transcripts documenting the lives of twelve former East Germans before and after reunification. The individuals whose stories are included in this collection represent a variety of age groups, occupations, and political views. Some had been supportive of the East German government, while others had been opposed to it. They all seemed to agree on one point. Even the interviewees who desired a change in the structure of government wanted their country to remain independent. None of the interviewees seemed to be in favor of reunification with West Germany. They all experienced an identity crisis in various degrees resulting from the loss of their national identity.

Readers of the English translation shouldn't skip the translator's preface. The translator describes some of the loaded German terms used to refer to the transition period and explains her choice of words for the English translation.

3 1/2 stars

Ago 3, 2012, 9:20 pm

Still in Germany: Berlin Game by Len Deighton

Worried about a traitor in the highest ranks of British intelligence, Brahms Four, one of Britain's most important and most secret East German sources, wants out. Bernard Samson is the only current agency employee who has ever seen Brahms Four, but he's no longer a field agent and he would like to keep it that way. As he is reluctantly pulled deeper and deeper into the crisis, Samson races against time to identify the traitor among his colleagues.

This spy thriller from the early 1980s seems to reflect some of the uncertainties in the Eastern Bloc that would result in revolutionary changes by the end of the decade. I enjoyed reading about Berlin locations that I had visited right before I read the book. The plot was occasionally difficult to follow, and Samson didn't reveal all of his suspicions to the reader. Samson is a likeable hero, and I'll look for more of his adventures when I'm in the mood for this genre.

3 1/2 stars

Ago 3, 2012, 9:50 pm

I listed this one under Germany, although the house & garden at the center of the book is now in Poland: Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

This is a book for book lovers. Whether or not gardening is your thing, if you're even a little bit introverted, you'll identify with Elizabeth's longing for the peaceful solitude of her garden. It's a perfect spot for reading (although leaving your books there overnight is a no-no).

My favorite part of the book tells about Elizabeth's uninvited holiday guests. Her friend Irais is the most congenial of Elizabeth's friends and neighbors, and together they entertain themselves at the expense of the unwelcome Minora. (No, this isn't how a hostess should treat her guests, but Minora is so obnoxious that it's hard to see how Elizabeth could have done otherwise!)

This book belongs on every book lover's TBR list. It's fairly short and, thanks to Project Gutenberg, is freely available to anyone with Internet access. It's well worth the time and expense.

4 stars

Ago 4, 2012, 3:53 am

I'm getting lots of good ideas from your posts. I particularly like Elizabeth von Arnim and I believe I have this one.

Ago 4, 2012, 6:48 am

Glad to help! I do need to try some of Elizabeth von Arnim's other work. The Enchanted April is one of my favorite books, and I really liked this one, too.

Ago 4, 2012, 8:43 pm

I will download Elizabeth and Her German Garden soon. It sounds like a great read!

Ago 22, 2012, 6:49 pm

Croatia: The Heart of Danger by Gerald Seymour

When the body of a young British woman is discovered in a mass grave in a Croatian village, her mother hires former MI5 private investigator Bill Penn to find out what led to her daughter's death. Through his investigation, Penn learns that the young woman was a victim of a war crime. The book was fairly interesting up to that point. Everything past that point was unbelievably stupid. Penn put himself in danger of his own making. There was nothing urgent about the situation. Penn wasn't racing against the clock to prevent something terrible from happening. The crime had already been committed. There wasn't a single likeable character in the book, except perhaps the headmaster of the school in the Serbian village. I'm sure there are better books, probably non-fiction, about the war in Croatia, the plight of the refugees, and war crimes and criminals.

1 1/2 stars

Set 2, 2012, 8:47 am

Liechtenstein: Stamping Grounds by Charlie Connelly

If, like me, you like to root for the underdog, you'll enjoy Charlie Connelly's sports/travel narrative about his year following Liechtenstein's national soccer team. Liechtenstein is one of the smallest countries in Europe with a population of just over 30,000. The team is realistic about their chances against teams from much larger countries with lots of professional players to choose from. However, their goal is to improve the quality of soccer in their country and the skill level of their young players, and playing in the qualifying rounds for the World Cup is a means to achieve that goal. The plan is already working by the time Connelly comes along. The team he follows through the qualification matches for the 2002 World Cup includes a handful of professional and semi-professional players, as well as several amateurs.

I became a Liechtenstein fan in the course of reading the book. I was impressed by the character of the players and by their outlook on life. Even the professional players realized that there's more to life than soccer, and they all had goals for life beyond soccer. They all seemed to be aware of the incredible opportunity that being on the national team gave them to play against some of the best players in Europe. While they might be a little star-struck, they weren't intimidated, and their defensive style of play forced the other teams to work hard for each goal.

Connelly seems to have had a genuine admiration for most of the people he met in his travels to Liechtenstein. His humor is just as often at his own expense as anyone else's. His frequent trips gave him plenty of time to see all the country has to offer, and his book is as much travel narrative as sports journalism. Highly recommended for both sports fans and readers of travel literature.

4 1/2 stars

Set 6, 2012, 8:55 pm

Finland: Snow Angels by James Thompson

In the days leading up to Christmas, the disfigured body of a Somali immigrant actress is discovered in a Finnish field. Inspector Kari Vaara and his team are on the puzzling case. Is it a sex crime, a hate crime, or both? As the evidence is unearthed, it points closer and closer to Vaara's circle of family, friends, and community. Is it possible that person who committed this horrible crime is someone Vaara knows?

The book gets off to a promising start, but it begins to fizzle somewhere near the middle. The author tried to do a bit too much with this first-in-series novel. It seems like he introduced more suspects and clues than he was able to handle. I liked some aspects of the book. It was interesting to read about the dark days of winter when the sun never rises above the Arctic Circle and the psychological effect this has on the people who live there. I also learned about a conservative Lutheran sect I'd never heard of before, the Laestadians. However, the excessive use of coarse language is a turn-off for me, and it's enough to put me off of the rest of the series.

3 stars

Set 7, 2012, 12:45 am

I know exactly how you feel. I'm reading the next in the series Lucifer's Tears and it has the same problem. I expect a mystery to have minor storylines going on at the same time as the main event, but Thompson seems to have got carried away with intricacies. And the profanity has put me off completely. Too bad, this one had promise.

Set 7, 2012, 6:27 am

>147 VivienneR: I thought the series had potential for improvement, but it sounds as if book 2 is just verse 2 of the same song. Too bad.

Set 30, 2012, 10:08 pm

Malta: Treason's Harbour by Patrick O'Brian

Treason's Harbour finds the crew of the Surprise in Malta while the ship undergoes repairs. Malta is crawling with spies, keeping Stephen Maturin particularly busy with espionage and counter espionage. Orders send Captain Aubrey and his crew on missions that could be compromised by leaked intelligence. Will the combination of Aubrey's nautical skill and Maturin's sharp mind keep the Surprise and its men from falling into a trap?

I've wanted to try this series for a while because I've heard so many good things about it. Normally I wouldn't start in the middle of a series, but I picked this one up because I needed a book set in Malta. Enough of the series back story is included so that I didn't feel like I was missing information crucial to the plot. I thought the ending was rather abrupt, leaving some major plot threads unresolved. I liked it well enough to want to read more in the series, but I'm torn between continuing from this point in the series so I can find out what happens next or going back to the beginning of the series.

3 1/2 stars

Out 31, 2012, 8:20 pm

Armenia: Passage to Ararat by Michael J. Arlen

Michael J. Arlen's father, Michael Arlen, rarely talked about Armenia or Armenians. By the time young Michael was born, his father had traded his Armenian name for a more English sounding name. Arlen thought of himself as English, then American after the family moved to the U.S. and he became an American citizen. Armenians were something “other”, not a group he felt he belonged to.

Who are the Armenians, and how did they become what they are today? A couple of decades after his father's death, Arlen set out to discover his Armenian roots. He talked to Armenian Americans such as writer William Saroyan. Finally, Arlen and his wife traveled to Soviet Armenia. Arlen spent is days seeing the country with local guide Sarkis and spent his nights reading histories and reference works.
Arlen struggled with his reaction to what he learned about and saw of Armenian history and culture, particularly the Turkish genocide that has shaped Armenian identity since the beginning of the 20th century. His father never spoke of this, so Arlen hadn't internalized this event that shapes a particularly Armenian worldview.

It was difficult to read about the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians and the suffering of those who survived. It was chilling to realize that the Germans had a presence in Turkey during the First World War, and that the things they witnessed and heard about might have influenced what the Nazis did to the Jews of Europe. Arlen's position as an “outsider” allows him to write somewhat dispassionately about the events. The bare facts are overwhelming enough.

My only disappointment with the book is that, although Arlen mentions a number of histories and quotes extensively from some of them, there isn't a bibliography to help interested readers dig deeper into Arlen's source material. Recommended for readers interested in family history, Armenia and Armenians, and memoirs.

4 stars

Nov 7, 2012, 5:39 pm

Romania: The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller

Because we were afraid, Edgar, Kurt, Georg, and I met every day. We sat together at a table, but our fear stayed locked within each of our heads, just as we'd brought it to our meetings. We laughed a lot, to hide it from each other. But fear always finds an out. If you control your face, it slips into your voice. If you manage to keep a grip on your face and your voice, as if they were dead wool, it will slip out through your fingers. It will pass through your skin and lie there. You can see it lying around on objects close by.

The unnamed female narrator paints a picture of life in Romania under a dictatorship. The narrator and three male friends, all college students from provincial villages, come under surveillance for an unspecified reason. The four are aware that they're being watched, and their fear and paranoia increase with the passage of months and years as they await their uncertain future. Their friendship disintegrates as the few freedoms they have are gradually taken away from them.

This wasn't an easy read. The author uses a lot of symbolism, and I'm sure I missed plenty of it. It probably didn't help that I was reading the English translation, my only option since I don't speak German. I suspect that this was a difficult book to translate because of the nature of the book. Language seems to be an important aspect of the book, and the author most likely used words for a specific purpose for which there isn't an exact English equivalent. More experienced readers of this kind of fiction will be able to appreciate this novel more than I did, particularly if they're able to read it in its original German.

3 stars

Nov 18, 2012, 2:54 pm

Lithuania: The Search for Major Plagge: The Nazi Who Saved Jews by Michael Good

After examining many survivors' stories, I came to a new realization: that each Holocaust survivor represents a miracle of life and that almost all survivors owe their lives in small or large part to someone else's kindness, bravery, or courage. Thus, for many survivors of the holocaust and their descendants, an examination of the war does not necessarily lead only to the bloody horrors that mankind is capable of: it can also point to the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Dr. Michael Good's book started out with a family trip to Vilnius, Lithuania, with his parents, wife, and children. Both of Dr. Good's parents were among the few Vilnius Jews who survived the Holocaust. During the trip, Dr. Good's father was reunited with two local families who gave him shelter during the war at great personal risk. When Dr. Good's mother told her story, she attributed her survival and that of her parents to a Nazi officer in the German army who made an effort to protect the Jews in his work camp. Major Plagge is credited with the survival of 250 Jews, almost 25% of those assigned to his work group. Overall, less than 2% of Vilnius’s Jews survived the Holocaust.

Dr. Good became intrigued by this German army officer who was spoken of so highly by his mother, grandfather, and other Holocaust survivors. What happened to this man after the war? Did his descendants know of his actions that resulted in the survival of so many Jews? After returning home, Dr. Good began making e-mail inquiries to archives, genealogical groups, and other organizations that might be able to answer some of his questions. As his e-mails spread to a wider network of colleagues and acquaintances of the original recipients, Dr. Good began to receive offers of assistance. Eventually, an official working group was formed, consisting of both survivors of Major Plagge's work group and Germans with archival skills or specialized knowledge of the German army and the post-war denazification process.

Once I started reading this book, I didn't want to stop. Major Plagge's story is revealed little by little in the same order that the research group made its discoveries. It's both a deeply moving and an inspiring account. By insisting on the humane treatment of the Jews, Poles, and other defenseless prisoners under his care, Major Plagge didn't just save many of them from certain death. He also restrained the Germans serving under him from committing acts of cruelty that would surely have haunted at least some of them for the rest of their lives. Although I pray that we'll never again see anything like the Holocaust, it's impossible to know what the future might hold. Stories like that of Major Plagge are important to remember as an example and an encouragement to choose good and resist evil.

4 1/2 stars

Nov 22, 2012, 9:17 pm

Estonia: Tania: Memories of a Lost World by Tania Alexander

Tania Alexander's memoir is supposed to be about her childhood in Estonia between the world wars. However, Tania's mother, Moura Budberg, somehow dominates the story. Moura came from a wealthy Ukrainian family, and, as the youngest child, was spoiled by both parents. Tania's father was a member of the Baltic aristocracy in Estonia and the heir to a large estate. Although Tania was born in Russia, after the Revolution, she and her older brother went to Estonia with their father, while her mother remained in Russia. Tania's father was murdered not long after their move to Estonia. Tania and her older brother, Paul, continued to live in what had been the summer home on their father's estate with various cousins, aunts, uncles, and household help that included an Irish nanny.

Tania didn't see her mother again until 1921. From that point on, Moura made twice yearly visits to Estonia to see her children and family, but she continued to live apart from the family, first in Russia and then Italy as the secretary and mistress of Maxim Gorky, then in England as the mistress of H.G. Wells. Tania's childhood memories include a visit to Italy to visit her mother and Gorky and H.G. Wells' visit to Estonia with her mother.

Alexander and her mother didn't appear to have a strong mother-daughter bond. Alexander refers to her mother as Moura throughout the book, never as “mother” in any of its various forms. It's clear from Alexander's description of her mother that she had a difficult personality. Moura always needed to be the center of attention, and she seems to have been a pathological liar. I think it's to Alexander's credit that this book is not, like so many memoirs of children of celebrities, the story of how her mother's behavior ruined her life. Alexander seems to have accepted her mother as she was, and she writes of her with affection.

Alexander addresses the widespread claim that her mother was a spy. She explains why she doesn't believe these claims are true, and she offers evidence to contradict some of the stories told about her mother. Alexander acknowledges that her mother's propensity to lie and to make up stories about her past had fueled the rumors that circulated about her.

Although Alexander spent her formative years in Estonia, she seems to have had little contact with Estonians. Her Baltic uncles had all married Russian women, and it was the women who had the most influence in the household. Tania thought of herself as Russian. A surprisingly small percentage of the book is actually about Estonia. Alexander writes as much, if not more, about her mother's time in Russia and Italy and their years together in England after Tania finished school. While Moura certainly led and interesting life, I would have preferred more about Estonia and less about her.

3 1/2 stars

Nov 24, 2012, 5:15 pm

San Marino: A Freak of Freedom by J. Theodore Bent

If you're curious about the history of the Republic of San Marino, a tiny country in the middle of Italy, this is one of the few English language options you'll find. Fortunately, it's fairly readable and, thanks to Google's digitization of works in the public domain, it's easy to access. The author repeatedly refers to documents in San Marino's archives, and it appears that these documents were the author's main source of information, supplemented by secondary histories in various languages referenced in footnotes scattered throughout the text. The book is more than a century out of date, so if you want to know what effect the wars of the 20th century had on this tiny nation you'll need to look elsewhere. The OCR software didn't seem to handle the typeface well, so if you read the Google version, you'll need to be prepared to see “Eimini” for Rimini and “Eomagna” for Romagna, etc. I finally figured out that the abstract illustrations that appear on many pages were the left-hand fingers of the person holding the book in place as it was scanned. Since San Marino has such an unusual history and form of government, the book might be of interest to political science students, as well as to travelers headed for northern Italy.

3 stars

Dez 29, 2012, 10:07 pm

Serbia: White Eagles Over Serbia by Lawrence Durrell

Although he's supposed to be on vacation, Methuen agrees to a reconnaissance mission in Serbian territory in Yugoslavia. One agent has already died trying to discover the meaning behind recent activities in the area. Unlike the dead agent, Methuen speaks the language well enough to pass for a native. Will he be able to find out what's going on and get back to the safety of the British Embassy? Even more important, will he be able to indulge in some fly fishing in the rivers he remembers so well from his earlier visits?

The story leans more toward adventure/survival than espionage. The plot is fairly simple, yet it leaves some weighty questions unresolved. At the time the story takes place, Tito had not yet broken ranks with Stalin. Would the British government side with the resistance movement or with Tito's Communist government? The book would make an entertaining evening escape for readers who enjoy spy or adventure novels, as well as anglers.

4 stars

Mar 19, 2013, 1:43 pm

Portugal: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler

Berekiah Zarco, a young man of about 20, is one of Lisbon's New Christians – Jews forced by the Portuguese to become Christians in 1497. At great risk, Berekiah's family continues to produce Hebrew manuscripts in secret. In addition to training him as an illustrator, Berekiah's Uncle Abraham is also training him in kabbalah. During Passover in 1506, Berekiah's uncle sends him on an errand. Berekiah returns home to find that Lisbon's Old Christians are massacring the “New Christians” (i.e., Jews). He is grieved to find his uncle's slain body in the secret cellar where the manuscripts are hidden. After he examines the body, Berekiah realizes that his uncle was not a victim of the massacre. He was murdered by a fellow Jew, one of the handful of people who knew about the hidden cellar and its secrets. Berekiah resolves to hunt down his uncle's killer, but he'll have to escape the massacre in order to have his vengeance on the murderer.

I knew little about kabbalah before reading this book, and I hadn't heard at all of the massacre of the Jews/New Christians in Lisbon. The setting provides plenty of tension. The “New Christians” are in a precarious situation. Berekiah's family as well as other families continue to practice Judaism in secret. Some of the “New Christians” have completely converted to Christianity, while others keep one foot in each camp. It's risky to trust anyone. Berekiah questions his faith during the events of that Passover week, but what he questions seems to be something other than kabbalah. His faith seems to be in himself and in his uncle/mentor rather than in God. Some parts of the book touch on occult matters, and there is one scene describing demon possession. Although I generally books with a strong supernatural/occult element, this one stayed just within my comfort zone.

This would be a good fit for readers who enjoy historical mysteries/thrillers. It has a similar feel to S. J. Parris's Heresy and Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost. Readers who liked either of those books might want to give this one a try.

4 stars

Mar 19, 2013, 1:44 pm

This completes my European tour! I enjoyed my virtual travels, and I look forward to following on with everybody else's progress through Europe.

Mar 19, 2013, 5:46 pm

Congrats on finishing your European tour!

Mar 19, 2013, 6:05 pm

Congratulations on finishing the tour! You read some very interesting books, I enjoyed following your travels.

On now to the Commonwealth...

Mar 19, 2013, 8:18 pm

Thanks Vivienne! I read a lot of very good books and not too many duds. I'll see you over in the Commonwealth group!