Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" by Michael Chabon *****


  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2005
  • Review:  A marvelous coming of age tale as can only be told by Michael Chabon.  I think he is an incredible storyteller.  He creates iconic characters, uses language masterfully, and is very witty.  It was fun to read his first novel after having enjoyed all those which followed!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"A Piece of the World" by Christine Baker Kline ****


  • Audiobook
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:  A beautifully written story by the author of "Orphan Train".  The story is about the Christina of Andrew Wyeth's painting, "Christina's World".  The tale of a woman with a physical disability and the life that ensues is a poignant, difficult portrait in words.  What would it be like to live a life in which one is never seen?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

"Every Man Dies Alone" by Hans Fallada *****


  • German author 
  • Originally published in 1947
  • Written in 24 days
  • Review: It is difficult to believe that this novel was written in 24 days!  A story of resistance to the Nazis by German citizens, based on a true story, is immediately engaging.  The characters are memorable, engaging, and evocative.  Perhaps the most memorable was a detective who was the only convert based on the subversive notes written and distributed by Otto & Anna.  Ultimately, the reader must come to terms with the reality of resistance.  It may or may not have the desired coercive impact, yet what matters more is the principle behind the act, and the effort to remain "decent" in the face of evil. Great novel!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

"The Underground Railroad" By Colson Whitehead *****


  • National Book Award winner
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Review: This is the second novel by Colson Whitehead which I have read, and my original opinion stands.  He is a gifted writer.  In this instance, he creates a character, Cora,  who is so engaging that the reader can survive the horrors of her life.  The blend of historically enlightening details about the Underground Railroad are masterfully combined with a gripping plot.  I learned more about the nature and timing of the railroad journey and I felt tremendous humility in the face of the courage and determination of the slaves and the "stationmasters".  Tragic though it is that such powerful drives were requirements for the railroad to work, it is a piece of American history to feel proud of.  I wish it did not feel as if we might need it again in some form given the current political climate.

"We So Seldom Look On Love" by Barbara Gowdy **


  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Short Stories 
  • Originally published in 1998
  • Review:   As always, Barbara Gowdy's characters are a tad freakish and mostly likeable.  However, some of these stories were just too weird for me.  cannot recommend it.

"The Women In The Castle" by Jessica Shattuck ****


  • Audiobook 
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:  Yes, yes, yes, yet another WWII story.  Well....wait a minute.  This one is from the perspective of German women who live together after the war, after the brutalites both witnessed and subjected to, and finding a way to live with the consequences of being German.  It is a story of shame, solidarity, survival and the toll it takes.  Very good!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"In The Wake" by Per Petterson *****


  • Norwegian author 
  • Originally published in 2002
  • Review:  Reading this novel about life in the wake of loss was a viscerally painful experience.  Having lost parents and two young siblings in a ferry disaster 6 years prior to the start of the story, two brothers are trying to survive the seemingly never-ending ripples of grief from destroying their lives. Patterson evokes the soul deep experience of grief so magnificently that the reader aches along with the brothers.  Watch out, folks.  This is an intense read!

Monday, August 14, 2017

"Thunder Dog:The True Story of A Blind Man, His Guide Dog & The Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero" by Michael Hingson ***


  • Non-Fiction
  • 9/11 story
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2011
  • Review:  This is a good book with insight into the life of a blind man and the life of guide dogs.  The successful escape from Tower 1 on 9/11 was also interesting.  

"Compass" by Mathias Énard ****


  • French author
  • Originally published in 2015
  • Prix  Goncourt Winner
  • Review:   This was a difficult read, yet I was compelled to push through it.  The unique structure, 12 hours of insomnia driven musings, and the stream of consciousness narration, made for a dense read.  The primary theme, as noted by other readers, is the rich outcome when people are exposed to "other".  In this the focus was on the Oriental influence in the arts of Europe.  From Mozart to Balzac and more, the book enriches the understanding of how important it is to be open to and try to develop understanding of differences.  Quite timely!

Friday, August 11, 2017

"The Japanese Lover" by Isabel Allende ***


  • Audiobook 
  • Chilean author
  • Originally published in 2015
  • Review:   A good story.  Well written, if a bit choppy.  Set in a private nursing home, the reader is audience to the life stories of two women.  A love story, a story about relationships and their varied forms, and a story about end of life.

"When Nietzsche Wept" by Irving Yalom *****


  • Summer Read with Beth
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2005
  • Review:  A fantastic novel!  An imagined transactional relationship between Josef Breuer and Friedrich Nietzsche takes the reader on a journey of existential angst.  As a psychotherapist myself, I found this story utterly believable.  The author creates a story which is historically accurate in terms of the status of the field of psychology in 1882, and addresses the central existential kernel which is present for each of us.  At times I had to stop and reflect on my own life choices, and I deeply appreciated the ability of the author to evoke that desire to reflect.  Marvelous! 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Rencontres sous X" Didier van Cauwelaert. ***


  • Reading in French
  • French author
  • Originally published in 2004
  • Review:   This is a somewhat daring story about two people who meet while filming an X-rated movie.  I think the primary theme is that it is extremely difficult to be genuine when the eyes of others are upon us.  Good book.

"A Gentleman In Moscow" by Amor Towles. *****


  • Audiobook
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Review:  I absolutely loved this novel. Historically informative and consisting of a marvelous plot, I enjoyed every minute of it!  A member of Russian aristocracy is sentenced to permanent house arrest in a magnificent hotel in Moscow.  The reader is then audience to escapades, deep relationships, and  unexpected twists and turns of events.  Count To stir is witty, intelligent, loving, creative, and above all is able to become "master of his circumstances before they become master of him."  Memorable read!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Intensive Care: The Story of a Nurse" by Echo Heron ***


  • Autobiography
  • Non-Fiction
  • Originally published in 1987
  • Review:  I am interested in medical stories, so I found this to be quite interesting.  The author shares the trajectory of her career in nursing, from nursing school to being a dually placed Cardiac Care Nurse and ER Nurse.  The patient stories were very interesting and gave much insight into the author's emotional response to various situations.  Not bad.

"Nostromo" by Joseph Conrad **


  • Ukranian author
  • Originally published in 1904
  • Review:  I did not finish this book.  I have thoroughly enjoyed Conrad's other novels, but after 100+ pages and no sign of a plot, I gave up.

Monday, July 31, 2017

"Finding Nouf" by Zoe Ferraris. ****


  • Audiobook 
  • Originally published in 2008
  • Review:  I enjoyed this book on two levels.  The murder mystery was engaging and kept my interest right up to the resolution.  Even more fascinating to me was the opportunity to learn so much about the intricacies of living behind the veil in a Muslim society.  The perspectives of Muslim men and women were represented, incorporating the strictly observant as well as those who question certain aspects of the rules.  A good story and a cross-cultural experience all in one.  Looking forward to the next in this new series.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"The Hunger Angel" by Herta Muller *****


  • Romanian author
  • Nobel Prize winner
  • Originally published in 2009
  • Review:  Profoundly disturbing, exquisitely evocative, heartrending.  I do not know how else to characterize this magnificent piece of writing. Muller uses language (and I read this in an English translation) as few writers I have ever read have been able to.  I felt as if I was inside the soul of Leo, a young man sent to a Russian work camp at the end of WWII.  I am anything but a squeamish reader, yet I repeatedly had to set this book down because of the pain evoked by the author's prose.  Just as Leo is haunted for the rest of his life by the hunger angel, I will be haunted by this powerful novel!

Friday, July 28, 2017

"Tales of A Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World" by Rita Golden Gelman ***


  • Autobiography
  • Non-Fiction
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2001
  • Review:  Ms. Gelman's travel stories are more than travel stories.  They describe the lifestyle of a person with a true zest for life and living.  I found the stories to be interesting, particularly the manner in which the author crossed over from visitor to resident in each location.  I have no yearning to wander, but I share the love of people and admire the trusting nature which allowed her to pursue her dreams. I did find myself wondering about the trusting souls who did not fare as well as she did in their journeys into the unknown.  Very good book.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"The Balkan Trilogy" by Olivia Manning *****


  • Summer Read with Beth
  • English author
  • Originally published in 1960
  • Characters:  Yakimov, Clarence, Guy, Harriet, Charles, Lord Pinkrose, Alan
  • Review: Reading this novel was a deeply satisfying experience. I learned about WWII actions in Romania and Greece that I had not known about. The author's take on the life of government workers living abroad during a time of war came from her own experiences, so I felt that they were authentic. The characters represented types to be found everywhere, but were brought to life so that I felt connected to them. The theme of commitment, whether in marriage, in political or personal beliefs, or to community was thoroughly explored, and was thought provoking. Most of all, I felt I gained some insight into the experience of being at the mercy of the fortunes and misfortunes of war. Entire countries, not just the characters in the story, lived with moment-to-moment anxiety of which way the proverbial wind would blow, and whether their troops would prevail, and what their choices were if they did not. I certainly was reminded to be grateful for the stability of my life in the United States. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"The Woman In The Dunes" by Kobo Abe. ****


  • Japanese author
  • Originally published in 1964
  • Review:   For me, this novel is a mix of the "Myth of Sisyphus" and "Waiting For Godot".  An entomologist becomes ensnared in a Japanese village in sand dunes.  A life of pointless repetitions drive him nearly mad as he plots many escapes.  I found myself rooting for him and then wishing he would just accept his fate.  This is a well-written, profoundly thought provoking existential tale.  Not a light, summer beach read by any stretch of the imagination.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"The Earth Hums in B Flat" by Mari Strachan ***


  • Welsh author
  • Originally published in 2009
  • Debut novel
  • Review:  A lovely debut novel.  I imagine this book being kept on the shelf of a summer cottage for adults and youths to pick up and read.  It would be just the right tone for vacation. The perspective of a young girl who is inquisitive, intuitive, exquisitely sensitive, and who flies over her town in her sleep is a delightful one.  Gwennie is full of questions.  Some of the answers are tough to handle, but then again, so is life.  Charming and insightful.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"The Second Mrs. Hockaday" by Susan Rivers. ***


  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Debut Novel
  • Review:  This story, told in the now ubiquitous style of non-chronological narrative, was quite good.   I am weary of the style, but the characters and story were compelling.  Set during the Civil War,  and told via diaries and letters, it is the tale of a young woman on her own, trying to run her new husband's plantation while he is at war.  Events transpire in a mysterious manner which require the majority of the novel to clarify.  The mysteries of family history comprise the central theme.  Nice novel.

"Madame Zero" by Sarah Hall. *****


  • English author
  • Early Review edition for LibraryThing.com
  • Short Stories
  • Review:  Run, don't walk, and read this short story collection! Unique stories, tremendous human understanding, marvelous characters,  and just good reading! I will definitely check out more of this author's work.  i particularly liked the story of transformation, "Mrs. Fox".

Saturday, July 8, 2017

"Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America " by Michael Eric Dyson ***


  • Audiobook
  • Non-Fiction
  • Book Club
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:  Complicated reaction to this "sermon".  I have to say that I felt challenged and interested.  I do not like the shaming that went on.  I am no more ashamed of being white than I am of being a woman, than I am of being fat.  So I will not be shamed for who I am.  But neither should anyone else be!  Clearly there are systemic issues which need to change and I am sure that I have some of the subtle bias that many people have trouble seeing in themselves.  I just have to say that I feel fear as a woman that transcends race.  It is all complexly part of who I am.  I just keep trying to speak out, do better, and embrace differences.  Tough read!

Friday, July 7, 2017

"The Thirst" by Jo Nesbo. ****


  • Audiobook 
  • Norwegian author 
  • Mystery/Suspense 
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:   I think this may be my favorite Harry Hole novel yet!   Excelkent pace, Harry doesn't screw up a happy relationship, and there is a significant hint of future events.  Excellent!

Monday, June 26, 2017

"The Dry" by Jane Harper. ****


  • Audiobook 
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Australian author
  • Review:   An excellent debut suspense novel!  A tautly written story set in a small town in Australia.   A tragic multiple murder, small town secrets,  and a hazy past combine to engage the reader quickly, and the tension builds steadily to the climax of the novel.  I  look forward to her next novel!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"The Life of Elves" by Muriel Barbery. ****


  • Moroccan author 
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Fable
  • Review:   I DO NOT LIKE FABLES! However, this gets 4 stars for its exquisite prose!

"Curious Minds" by Janet Evanovich ***


  • Audiobook 
  • Mystery/Suspense 
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2016
  • 1st in Knight & Moon series
  • Review:  I have to be honest.  They should not have used the narrator from the Stephanie Plum series for this book.   I  could not get past hearing Stephanie's and Lula's voices.  The plot was so-so. I will stick with the Stephanie Plum series! 

Friday, June 23, 2017

"Death in Spring" by Mercé Ridoreda. **


  • Summer Read wth Beth
  • Open Letter series
  • Catalan author 
  • Originally published in 2009
  • Review:  Understanding that this novel is a metaphor for Franco's Spain,  I just could not engage.  Historically, I  do not connect well to fables.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"Al Franken, Giant of The Senate", by Al Franken. ****

  • Audiobook 
  • US author
  • Non-fiction,  autobiographical 
  • Originally published 2017
  • Review:  I have read a couple of Al Franken's books and found them slightly extreme for my taste in reading.  This book, which I listened to as the author read it, was a much better experience.  It covers Franken's SNL years and his burgeoning interest in politics, and brings the reader to present day.  The focus is on the nuts and bolts of running for office, and being in office.   Franken's wit is definitely present and thoroughly enjoyable, without the over the top feeling. Humor enhances his point, rather than being the point.  I was extremely impressed!

Monday, June 19, 2017

"The Duke"s Children" by Anthony Trollope *****


  • Audiobook
  • English author
  • 6th and final volume of the Palliser series 
  • Originally published in 1879
  • Review:   So, I finished this sixth volume in the Palliser series.  I  loved it!  Yes, it is sexist in many ways.  However, I focus on the fact that it was written over 100 years ago.  A grieving widower feels the burden of settling his grown children financially amd socially.  Being a single parent is a timeless theme.  Other themes included coping with the changes of the younger generation, the death of the aristocracy, fathets and sons, fathers and daughters, and more.  Women are  described as limited in their ability to chase their dreams, and must wait for life to happen to them at the whim of others, yet using feminine eiles to manipulate men.  Frankly, I just enjoyed the character of the father, trying to cope with grief and change, not an easy pairing.  Wonderful series!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Fearless Fourteen" by Janet Evanovich ****


  • Audiobook 
  • Mystery/Suspense 
  • 14th in Stephanie Plum Series
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2008
  • Review:  Another excellent installment of the Stephanie Plum series.   The introduction of a couple of delightful teenagers, and Lula's impending nuptials add lots of zing to the story.  Great series!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"The Passenger" by Lisa Lutz *


  • Audiobook
  • Mystery/Suspense
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Review:  Didn't finish it.  Ugh. Dull.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"In The Shadow of The Banyan" by Vaddey Ratner ****


  • Audiobook
  • Cambodian author
  • Semi-autobiographical
  • Originally Published in 2013
  • Review:  A somber, spiritual, partially auto-biographical story.  The daughter of a king in Cambodia survives 4 years in work camps, loses family, loses hope, is tortured and starved. Somehow she survives, and this book is written to memorialize the horrors wrought by the Kmer Rouge.  A tough, yet touching read.  It is hard to face the cruelties which are wrought, and continue to be wrought in our world, upon fellow humans!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante ****


  • Audiobook 
  • Originally published in 2012
  • Italian author
  • Volume One in a four volume set
  • Review:  I wasn't sure at first if this was going to turn into a sappy, girly friendship, happy ending story.  Nope!  I kept feeling drawn onward and ended up being impressed.  It is a relationship story between two girls starting in childhood, yet it is much more.  It is the story of two smart girls caught in their local culture which strives valiantly to keep them from leaving socially and intellectually.   Such an emotional, subtle battle! It is the story of the superficial versus the profound, of emerging whole versus being subsumed,  and of the painfully confusing process of sorting it all out. How does one allow the life of the mind to fly freely while simultaneously finding a way to remain among one's cultural home and stay sane.  I wholeheartedly look forward to the second of this four volume set.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"Thousand Cranes" by Yasunari Kawabata ****


  • Japanese author 
  • Originally published in 1958
  • Nobel Prize winning author
  • Review:  There is a unique rhythm to the prose in a Japanese novel which I enjoy tremendously.  This novella is a tale of the inextricable ties that bind the dead and the living.  A young man's father dies and yet the tangled web of his life continues to entangle the son.  The story revolves around the ancient rite of the tea ceremony with a focus on the vessels created by early masters.  Kawabata seems to reveal the ties from ancient times carried forward, in both tea ware and relationships.

"The Murder of Mary Russell" by Laurie R. King. ****


  • Early Review edition for LibraryThing.com
  • #14 in the Mary Russell series
  • US author
  • Mystery/Suspense
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Review:  This was the best installment of the Mary Russell series in a while.   The reader is treated to a return to the basic characters with the added treat of some hitherto unknown personal histories.   Full of secrets, gasps, tension and daredevil adventure, this read is delightful!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"Abahn Sabana David" by Marguerite Duras *****


  • French author
  • Originally published in 1970, translation in 2016
  • Open Letter Series
  • Review:  Reading this novella was an experience akin to reading "Waiting For Godot".  I was left feeling confused and disturbed, with only two certainties.  The world is full of chaos and uncertainty, and communication is everything.  The plot, as nearly as I could make out, was about assassins sent by the Communist party to execute a Jew who had discussed the concept of freedom with one of their members.  Duras is a master of language and intentional prose.  I do not think she misplaces a single word.  Powerful, difficult to decipher and to take emotionally, and remarkable in its impact!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Ill Will" by Dan Chaon. ***


  • Early Review edition for LibraryThing.com
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:  This would have been a 4 or 5 star psychological thriller based on the plot.  However, I am tired of the now ubiquitous jumping around in time.  If it adds to the story, great.  I think it detracted in this case.  The plot was psychological, taut, and immediately engaging.  The characters were psychologically fascinating.  Couldn't put it down!

"Pnin" by Vladimir Nabokov *****


  • Originally published in 1957
  • Russian author
  • Review:  What can I say about a writer who can take the time to include the following sentence after his two characters fall asleep for the night: "Presently all were asleep again.  It was a pity nobody saw the display in the empty street, where the auroral breeze wrinkled a large luminous puddle, making of the telephone wires reflected in it illegible lines of black zigzags."  He is eloquent, lyrical, evocative and more.  That doesn't even touch on the story itself, which is an apparently timeless tale of an immigrant, a nostalgic and brilliant one, who is eternally underestimated and made a caricature by his intellectual peers & colleagues.  Pnin is a sort of Charlie Chaplinesque figure. (in fact, Nabokov writes of Pnin's own scorn for Chaplin)    Only the narrator seems to communicate a sense of the tragi-comic nature of Pnin's life.  A bittersweet read, with a message to us all!

"Work Song" by Ivan Doig ****


  • Audiobook 
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2010
  • Set in Butte, Montana
  • Review:  Good golly!  Ivan Doig sure knows how to tell a story!  Set in Butte, Montana, this is the story of a character I would describe as an all grown up Yom Sawyer.  Morry has a big heart, a daring spirit and is a quick thinker which tends to get him into and out of tricky situations.  The story pits a copper mining company against the union in a bit of a "high noon" atmosphere.  It all comes down to a song...yep, a song.  It has a love story,  lots of tense situations, an urban legend librarian and more.  Wonderful read!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

"Journey Into The Past" by Stefan Zweig ****


  • Austrian author
  • Originally published in 1987
  • This novella was found in Zweig's papers after his death 
  • Review:  The manuscript of this novella was found in Zweig's belongings after his suicide.  Apparently it is partially autobiographical.  As is common with other books of Zweig's, the plot is deceptively simple.  It consists of the story  of a young man and woman who fall in love, but due to her marriage and his work they cannot be together, and the are separated on separate continents during WWI.  The inevitable reunion is thrilling, then tentative, and then sadly unlikely.  I think the primary is about all that was lost during the war, on a much deeper level than a first love.  It was about the loss of individual and national identity, the loss of lifestyle and about society's very fabric coming apart.  Zweig's prose is simple, yet emotionally evocative.  Certainly his writing improved in his later novels, but the seeds are all here!

"Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne" by John Keats. ***


  • Non-Fiction, Poetry, letters
  • New Zealand author
  • Keats died at age 25
  • Review: John Keats died at the young age of 25.  This collection of love letters and poetry capture the fevered passion, which seemed heightened by the social, financial, and medical obstacles in the path between these two lovers, at least from his viewpoint.  I am not a huge fan of his poetry, but enjoyed the juxtaposition of the poetry and the letters.  Nice.

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Ella Minnow Pea" by Mark Dunn *****


  • US author
  • Originally published in 2001
  • Review:  Oh My Gosh!  I had heard about this book several years ago and had it on my "Book Recc" list.  Now I certainly know why and it was worth the wait.  Readers can fully enjoy this at the level of a really clever story about a fictional island community who gradually decree a ban on letters of the alphabet.  The entire book consists of written communication between islanders.  It can also be appreciated for its humorous highlighting of the precious value of words as a means to connecting people to one another, and even as a means to human existence.  On the most profound level, the reader understands how horrifying it would be to live under a set of rules set by close minded, megalomaniacal leaders who refuse to listen to scientific facts.  Sounds a bit more relevant than expected?  Marvelous story and disturbingly vital message!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Natural Novel" by Georgi Gaspodinov *****


  • Bulgarian author
  • Originally published in 1999, translation published in 2005
  • Debut novel
  • Review:  This novel is unique, it is a somewhat stream of consciousness tale, it is a tale of disconnection, both interpersonal and literary.  This is Gospodinov's debut novel, and I found it to be witty, original, and wonderfully creative.  In fact, as the reader, it felt as if I was in the inner mental workings of the writer's mind.  A man struggles with impending divorce and his emotional world is reflected in the novel's character and his efforts to disconnect from unnatural writing.  Sometimes I felt deeply moved, sometimes I laughed out loud, and sometimes I felt disturbed.  Excellent read!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Aracoeli" by Elsa Morante *****


  • Summer Reads with Beth
  • Italian author
  • Originally published in 1982
  • author's final novel
  • Review: "This one, unlike the other, was not the herald of weeping, but certain individuals are more inclined to weep for love than death."  This is the final sentence of this amazing novel. The reader is lured into a tale of the cataclysmic meeting of past and present, of a psychopathic love of son for mother, of the despair of lonliness, and of a single love beginning in the womb and coming to rest in the mythic El Almedral, where the mother's life began.  Cryptic enough? Reading this novel is like participating in a lifelong fever dream which is inhabited with deep fears, monomaniacal love, and the depths of despair.  The writing is magnificent and emotionally descriptive to a degree I have rarely seen.  This is a translation that uses the highest level of vocabulary in English.  I wish I read Italian!!  The intensity of the protagonist can be a bit overwhelming, but what the heck.  It is an Italian novel after all, isn't it? (I write that with the greatest affection!)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky" by Lesley Nneka Arimah **


  • Audiobook 
  • Debut
  • Short Stories
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:  I found these stories very difficult to listen to.  In all fairness it may have been the readers.  The stories struck me as unnecessarily harsh.  Is there really so much anger in all these relationships?  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Chronicle of a Blood Merchant" by Yu Hua *****


  • Summer Read with Beth
  • Chinese author
  • Originally published in 1995
  • Considered one of the top 10 works of Chinese fiction
  • Review:  Xu Sanguan is an unforgettable character.  He is the chronicled blood merchant, who literally and figuratively gives his life's blood for his family.  Yu Hua wends this story beautifully, if starkly.  It is the tale of a man and his family, while simultaneously providing a window into a culture.  I found many facets of this novel to be quite striking. Having read several different Chinese authors, I am struck by the harsh familial culture in China.  Horrific verbal slurs can be slung at one another, along with physical harm.  However, it seems to be part and parcel of family life and does not necessarily lead to rifts.  I am struck by stories of people living through multiple regime changes in one lifetime, and the survival skills spawned by those experiences.  I have been fortunate to live in a country whose government has its issues, but whose basic values and expectations have remained static for over two hundred years. I am struck, as always, by the deep abiding love of family, of children for parents and vice versa.  Love rules above all.  Great book!

Monday, April 17, 2017

"We Should All Be Feminists" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ****


  • Nigerian author
  • Essay
  • Originally published in 2014
  • Review:  Ms. Adichie, as always, writes clearly and well.  Given the current status of women in Nigerian culture specifically, and cultures at large, it would be interesting to know more about her personal path in life.  This essay on feminism does not necessarily reveal any new, earth shattering sociological information, yet I set it down feeling that this is an excellent primer for young people, boys and girls.  I will acknowledge that I had fallen into the habit of thinking of myself as a humanist, wanting equal rights for all.  However, using the author's cited definition: "a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes", I am a feminist.  Adichie notes that as long as significant inequalities persist, this term remains relevant.  Sold!

"Human Acts" by Han Kang *****


  • Early Reader edition for LibraryThing.com
  • South Korean author
  • Originally published in 2014, English version 2016
  • Review:  Set during the labor uprisings in South Korea during the 1980s, this is an utterly profound, albeit grisly and stark, tale of what it means to be human.  Using multiple perspectives as a structure can be distracting unless the reader just gives themselves over to the flow of the novel and just absorbs the story.  Gruesome torture and absolutely incredible determination, along with the human will to survive.  I must continue to ask myself, how is it possible that a creature like a human being can be so coldly sadistic when also capable of such altruistic drives.  What makes the difference?  What sets a person on their side of the equation? To sum it up?  This novel is profoundly terrifying and profoundly hopeful.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" by Mohsin Hamid *****


  • Audiobook
  • Pakistani author
  • Originally published in 2013
  • Self-help format
  • UCR Book Club
  • Review:  Hamid's writing is brilliant!  The unique approach of a novel constructed as a self-help book is really clever without feeling at all gimmicky.  The dark humor is delivered perfectly in this audio edition of the book, read to us by the author.  Hamid's use of language is nothing short of masterful!  This novel mocks the dream of wealth and the path one might be forced to travel in order to achieve it.  The overall effect is a smart, tongue-in-cheek denouncement of a life spent seeking riches, a somewhat frightening perception of corporate dark machinations, and a resounding socio-political statement!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

"Cockroaches" by Jo Nesbo ***


  • Audiobook
  • #2 in the Harry Hole series 
  • Danish author
  • Originally published in 2014
  • Review:  Not my favorite Harry Hole . I am glad this series improved over time. Not sure I would have continued with the series if I had read this earlier.

"A Strangeness in My Mind" by Orhan Pamuk *****


  • Summer Read with Beth
  • Turkish author
  • Originally published in 2015
  • Review:  I will be honest and say that until about page 250 I felt I was dragging myself through the book a bit.  Suddenly, and OMG moment and I was glued to it right to the end.  The tears are still drying on my cheeks as I write this review.  Tears for love, for loss, for change, for intentions of the heart and intentions of the word.  Mevlut, the dear boza selling protagonist takes us through the streets of Istanbul over fifty years of his life.  Somehow he remains pure of heart despite the dramatic political, religious, economic, and sociological changes which occur during his lifetime.  I will not soon forget this lovely, lovely man. I have a powerful yearning to walk the streets of the Istanbul neighborhoods in which he has walked nightly for fifty years, in which he found peace with the strangeness in his mind!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

"In This Grave Hour" by Jacqueline Winspear ****


  • Audiobook 
  • #13 in Maisie Dobbs series
  • English author 
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:  As World War II erupts, Maisie Dobbs and her family and friends must cope with all which that portends.  Once again, the author works her magic with regards to creating the feelings associated with the period of history via characters the reader can identify with.  Excellent installment of this series!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Lab Girl" by Hope Jahren ****


  • Audiobook
  • US author 
  • Memoir, Non-Fiction
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Review:  This memoir was simultaneously poignant, inspiring, lyrical, informative, and full of the science and unscientific aspects of life.  I am struck by the modesty with which the author describes her struggles with mental illness and her determination.  I am struck by her quiet amity to love unconditionally.  Absolutely lovely!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel ****


  • UC-R Book Club selection
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2007
  • Graphic novel
  • Review:  This is the second graphic novel that I have read.  It is very well done.  This is exactly as titled, a tragicomic.  The memoir is about family and it's secrets, about identity, serial and overall, about the tragedy of having good to hide one's self hood, about mental illness, and so much more.  I felt honored to read such an open, forthright account of one woman's family.  I personally believe that without humor life would be unbeatable, so I appreciate the manner in which this author tells her story!

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Exit West" by Mohsin Hamid *****


  • Audiobook
  • Pakistani author
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:  The stark reality and fearsome uncertainty of regime change meets the need for human intimacy in this powerful novella by the marvelous writer, Mohsin Hamid.   Reality and posdibilty fuse in a story of the present and the future.  We are all time migrants.  What a concept!  Hamid is gifted with the ability to communicate in great depth with minimal prose.  He is a master of the precise use of language, and his skills result in a profoundly moving and provocative story. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

"My Life On The Road" by Gloria Steinem ****


  • Audiobook
  • Autobiography 
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2015
  • Review:  I found this memoir fascinating on multiple levels.  As a history of feminism it was enlightening, as a story of a humanist and activist  it was inspirational,  and as a memoir of a nomad who discovers the value of "and" it resonated with me.  I was most engaged in the friendship with Wilma Mankiller.  What a life Ms. Steinem has led!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"Behind Her Eyes" by Sarah Pinborough ****


  • Audiobook
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Mystery/Suspense 
  • Review:   An excellent mystery......clever twist at the end!  Love, obsession, mystical powers

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Trespassing Across America: One Man's Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland" by Ken Ilgunas. ****


  • Audiobook 
  • Non-Fiction 
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:  A long, long walk? A political statement?  A rite of passage?  A spiritual awakening?  A sociopolitical education?  Yep.  A very engaging tale of a walk along the Keystone Pipeline.  The author waxed poetic at times with lovely prose.   He shares the trials and tribulations of his journey, the wonders of it, the generositues and hostilities he encountered along the way.  Enlightening for the author and the reader.  Excellent read!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"The Mortifications" by Derek Palacio. *****


  • Early Review edition for LibraryThing.com
  • Cuban-American author
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Debut novel
  • Review:  Merriam Webster dictionary defines mortification as " the subjection and denial of bodily passions and appetites by abstinence or self-inflicted pain or discomfort."  Palacios debut novel is absolutely lovely.  It captures the immigration experience and the mortifications which ensue in a manner purely Cuban and, yet, also American.   The stark and the mysterious try desperately to co-exist until one side wins out and, of course, I will not say which!  The themes of love, yearning, spirituality, fear, life and death all run fluidly with the plot.  I am definitely looking forward to Palacio's next novel!

Monday, February 13, 2017

"Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and A Culture in Crisis" by J. D. Vance ****


  • Audiobook 
  • US Author 
  • Non-Fiction,  Memoir
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Review:  This was a fascinating memoir of growing up a hillbilly and becoming a Yale Law School graduate.   I guess to sum this book up, I would draw on the author's own statement that the white working class has lost optimism.  This is Vance's story about the optimism nurtured within him by his beloved grandmother, Mamaw. Fascinating story accompanied by the author's and others' policy lessons regarding key issues needing to be addressed to bring about change.  I think this book is timely and relevant to our recent election results. Gotta love Mamaw! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"Chronicle of A Last Summer" by Yasmine El Rashidi ****


  • Debut novel 
  • Egyptian author
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Review:  
  • Three glimpses into a young woman's life, in Cairo, Egypt:  1984, 1998, 2014. Three different leaders of her country:  Sadat, Mubarak,  and Morsi.   This novella takes glimpses of a culture which seems in perpetual revolution and filters them through the experience of a 10 year old girl whose father disappears for 30 years, a young college film student who wants to capture the life quotidian with her camera rather than revolt, and a mature woman who is still finding her political voice....all one and the same character.  The structure and plot of this piece of historical fiction are interesting.  The writing is not quite as I would hope in terms of richness and emotionality.  The theme of the degree to which one can committ to change was interesting.  It was most heartrending to imagine the decay and increasing distance which the family experienced from within one home over time.  As rivers often symbolize life, and fences, overgrown & neglected shrubbery,  increasingly block the family's sense of connection with the Nile, so does their sense of cultural identity seem to flow away from them.
  • Very interesting novel.  

"The Children's Home" by Charles Lambert *


  • Audiobook
  • Originally published in 2016
  • Review:  Ugh!

Monday, January 30, 2017

"From Ashes Into Light" by Gudrun Mouw **


  • Early Reviewer book
  • German author
  • Review:  This book did not read well.  The concept of the plot was intriguing, but the flow was very choppy.  I recommend some serious polishing!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Prisoner B-3087" by Alan Gratz. ****


  • Audiobook
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2013
  • Review:  10 concentration camps!   He survived!  And it is true.  The horror of the Holocaust never ceases to amaze and horrify.  Yet, the human spirit is resilient beyond belief!  Good book. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"33 Revolutions" by Caney Sanchez Guevara


  • Author is Che Guevara's grandson 
  • Originally published in 2015
  • Cuban author
  • Review:  This stark novella, written by the grandson of Che Guevara,  is almost an epic poem.  Just as a vinyl records revolves at 33 revolutions,  so does the life of a Cuban, according to the author.  Droning, proscribed,  and repetitive. Anything unusual is equated to a skip. Even the number of chapters is 33.  The protagonist, ironically enough, identifies his love of reading as the source of his demise.  Judge for yourself.  Again, beautifully written, stark, and troubling!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Fever Dream" by Samanta Schweblin **

●  Audiobook
●  Argentine author
●  Originally published in 2017
●  Review:  "Fever Dream" is an apt title for this story.  Frankly, it was an unpleasant experience to listen to this.  The rambling went on so long that I stopped caring about figuring what the heck was going on.

"Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" by Haruki Murakami *****


  • Audiobook
  • Japanese author
  • Originally published in 2013
  • Review:  Once again, the eloquent Haruki Murakami, has crafted a dream-like tale about alienation, relationship, and the existential search for meaning.  Our traumatized protagonist works through an adolescent trauma which had shaped his life for many years.  It is through a new relationship that he finds the courage to confront the past.  Great narrator for this and many of Murakami's audio book as well.  I am consistently enamored with his writing!

"The Most Wonderful Tales of the Year: Holiday Memories" , Written and Performed by Our Favorite Narrators ***


  • Audiobook
  • Non-Fiction
  • Essays
  • Each story is a favorite holiday memory of Audible narrator, told by themselves.
  • Review:  A sweet little collection of personal holiday memories told by some of Audible.com's narrators.  Perfectly enjoyable.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Rock,Paper, Scissors" by Naja Marie Aidt *****


  • Summer Read with Beth
  • Danish author
  • Open Letter Series, first translation into English
  • Originally published 2012 in Denmark
  • Review:  What comprises the key which unlocks the door to our darkest selves?  What is the trigger which can start a downward spiral into fear, shame, and despair?  Perhaps the key, the trigger are different for each person?  Perhaps, it is a unpredictable as a game of rock, paper, scissors. This debut novel explores the process in a profound and evocative manner.  I felt dread from early on in the story, and it mounted throughout the book, until the very last sentence.  Make no mistake, this is not a lighthearted novel in any way!  A random discovery leads the protagonist down a steep slope into suspicion, distrust, horror, shame, and loss.  The final scene leaves the reader with uncertainty, to say the least!  So, read this amazing piece of literature, but only if you can tolerate the emotions it evokes!

"Commonwealth" by Ann Patchett **

"Commonwealth" by Ann Patchett


  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2016
  • REview:  Very disapppointing.

"A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara *****

"A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara *****


  • Summer Read with Beth
  • US author
  • Review:  Four friends, one with a stark, horrifying secret past, and beyond that I am somewhat at a loss for words.  This is a phenomenal novel about love, the enduring, unconditional kind of love.   It is about love that survives anger, betrayal, and completely unsolvable sorrow.  The characters are followed over their adult lives in a realistic trajectory over time. I could not put this book down, despite some horrifying scenes which were anything but gratuitous. The author needed the reader to come as close to despair as possible, in order for the reader to most fully understand the psychological dynamic in the group and in each character.  Brava!