Book Reviews

Spell the Month in Books: August

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I love this fun book meme hosted by Reviews From the Stacks.

August?? How?? Sigh. It all goes by to fast!

I’m trying to use books I’ve not used before for this challenge. All books are either on my Goodreads TBR or ones that I’ve reviewed on this blog.

A

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The Ardent Swarm: A Novel by Yamen Manai, translated by Lara Vergnand

U

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An Unorthodox Match: A Novel by Naomi Ragen

G

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Groundskeeping: A Novel by Lee Cole

U

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From my TBR. An Unsuitable Match by Joanna Trollope

S

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The Swimmers: A Novel by Julia Otsuka

 

T

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Another from my TBR. Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men by Jack Caldwell

Did you participate in Spell the Month? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

Book Reviews

Review: Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

My Interest

I learned of this book first from blogger Bookish Beck. This year I was reminded of it by blogger Swirl and Thread. Please be kind and visit their blogs and leave a comment. We bloggers live for comments.

Dervla’s journey took place in 1963–the year after I was born. How interesting to see what the world was like 60 years ago outside of the USA or Europe. I had many strong, independent female relatives and love to travel so I knew this book would be a good fit for me.

The Story

Dervla took off on her bike called Roz and headed to India. This, however, was not completely a bike journey. The title tells it all–“with” a bike, not necessarily “on” a bike. There were times out of politeness, sanity, or politics that she accepted rides or boarded a bus or train to get farther a long. In some countries it was completely against the culture for a woman to be alone. In other places threatening men made it quite an ordeal to be alone. She was brave, resourceful and usually very canny about who to trust.

Dervla developed an affinity for the Afghani people–citing the men as “gentlemen” always. Pakistani men often got her admiration, too. She disliked India. This soon after partition and the creation of Pakistan and India that might been a more common opinion–I’m not sure. She got frustrated, but stayed polite, when people mistook Ireland for part of the U.K.

Her journey was often very physically taxing and dangerous. From snow to heat she experienced it all. I’m sure she wanted to quit many times, but did not record much in the way of self-doubt.

Here are some of the quotes that struck me:

I don’t claim to know the right answer to the under-developed problem, but I feel most strongly that the communist answer is less wrong than the Western.” 

Odd to hear about communism from a non-American perspective and to hear it referenced in a good way, but this was 1962 before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“nothing like religion for spreading ‘brotherly love'”

“having to be noncommittal irritates me more than anything in the world” 

I love that she declared a road “jeep-able.” The motor sport of off-roading was in its infancy then, but she saw it clearly.

Paraphrase: The wealth of the West and the poverty of the East are equally detrimental.

My Thoughts

I’ve left this book un-reviewed for several weeks. I just couldn’t get a good handle on where to start with it. I admired Dervla’s courage and tenacity on her journey. Her political observations (albeit with 60 years of hindsight!!) sometimes seemed very naive–but would they have been thought so at the time? I’m not sure. She was writing in the era in which the First World discovered what was then called the “Third World Countries” and began sending out a new sort of missionaries–Peace Corps volunteers, VSOs, and similar, going forth to boldly proclaim the religion of free enterprise, human rights, and democratic government. Most of those young, idealistic volunteers would have devoured this book and probably agreed with her.

I do plan to read her late 80’s/early 90’s African book as she goes through Malawi at the time I was serving there as….wait for it….a Peace Corps volunteer. (I was a little older than the volunteers of the early ’60s–I would turn 30 months after my service ended).

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel literature about unusual trips though her prose isn’t always novel-like. I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

3.5

Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

Book Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday: Hilarious Book Titles

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I’ve done a few versions of this–either on my own or in previous TTT posts. I really like finding funny book titles. I will link to my past posts at the bottom of today’s list.

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Your Inner Hedgehog by Alexander McCall Smith. One of his that I haven’t read.

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How to Appear Normal at Social Events–this appeals to me. I’m awkward. I bet you never guessed.

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Because who doesn’t want a bilingual cat. I have one who snores like she needs a CPAP machine–I think she’d do well with Welsh. Teach Your Cat Welsh. (There’s a version for dogs, too).

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Cyril is a favorite of mine in this wonderful series. He is artist Angus Lordie’s dog with the gold tooth. An ankle is just so inviting…for the teeth–isn’t it. A Promise of Ankles by Alexander McCall Smith

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Poor Seamas is a little boy when his mother, or “Mammy” to the Irish, dies. He keeps going up to folks at her wake and asking if they know she died. Tough one, but funny. Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Seamas O’Reilly. [Link is to my review].

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Just how would you choose to cook YOUR husband? The African way would have been appropriate in my case for reasons I won’t disclose!! How to Cook Your Husband the African Way by Calixthe Beyala. [Link is to my review].

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This book has some very funny moments. The title is hard to top. A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian. (My review was on my old blog).

Here is my post from 2021’s version of this topic. Funny Book Titles.

 

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Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!

Book Reviews

Review: Haven by Emma Donoghue UPDATED

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Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

I read Donoghue’s book Akin and liked it. My kids read Room in school, but I have not read it. This book sounded interesting so I requested it and was happy to get it.

The Story

“It seems to him that nature is God’s holiest language.”

 

“That’s the problem with the vow of obedience; it tends to make sheep of men.”

Three monks set out to start a monastery where no one else lives, away from worldly temptations. They find an island off Ireland and settle there. Artt, the leader, and Cormac, the second monk, are men of faith. Trian (I constantly read this as “train”) is young. He was given by his parents to the monastery. Once they find their island, they begin to test their ability to obey Artt and to trust God to provide all that they need beyond the minuscule cache of supplies they brought with them in their boat.

My Thoughts

SPOILERS ABOUND HERE–YOU ARE WARNED

I should have known this book was being too nice to religion! There was the “duh, duh, de dum” moment of music when someone mentioned that the young monk had to squat to pass water. “Ugh,” my brain screamed! “Please not another stupid woman pretending to be a man book.” I wanted to quit, but I’m mostly glad I did not.

When, later in the story, young Trian is ill, the monk caring for him finally sees the young man with out his underpants on and gets an eyeful. Annoyingly, like with the mental illness diagnosis in Sorrow and Bliss (unless my eyes rolled too hard and too long and missed it), we are not told exactly what type or combination of genitalia Trian has but the word “androgyni” is bandied about.

“He’s never seen one of these botches that Pliny calls androgyni. Not a true male, made in God’s image, nor a true female, shaped to bear young.”

Did I mention this monk was left-handed? Never any issues in history. [For the unenlightened, the left hand was not allowed to be the dominate hand for centuries. Even well into the 20th Century people forced children to change from left- to right-handed.

So, naturally, once the secret is out it disrupts everyone. The Red State GOP monk, Artt, is horrified and can’t cope. The Blue State Democrat monk, Cormac sides with Trian and they simply must leave the Red State Island. So much for serving a higher purpose. The Catholic Church was founded on the idea that you must “pee like Jesus to be like Jesus,” so I’m guessing old Artt missed the way Trian peed? Could have saved themselves a lot of heart ache if he’d just paid attention before or during that boat ride.

Holy-hit-us-over-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer-Batman! So modern! I found it truly difficult to imagine how Trian had lived? With all the superstition abounding back in that day, you’d think he/she/they would have been left out to die. And, in a Catholic Church that required the Pope to prove he had two you-know-whats and one dangly thing (I don’t want spam) you’d think they’d have checked Trian out when he arrived at that first monastery–wouldn’t you?? Apparently not. Just like in those woman passing as a man books I’ve thrown across the room.

It is not news that there have always been a very few children born with different combinations of genitalia or with deformed genitals. That has happened throughout history. Even today most parents would be shocked to be told of such an outcome for their baby. Today, it can be dealt with through surgery and testing to identify the child’s true gender/sex. Back in 7th Century Ireland, he might have been allowed to live hidden away, but that’s a pretty big “might”. I just did not buy that this young monk would have been alive to go on this journey and that ruined the book for me.

In spite of my strong feelings on the ending, this was another well-written story by the author. It more than kept my attention throughout. I would caution very sensitive readers who love birds and animals–there are some rough spots in this book. Remember, it is a deserted island (no other humans) and the monks did what they had to do to survive.

One more comment: I do not like what I call the “verbing” of nouns. Here is the example from this book: “…he griddles oatcakes.” “To griddle” is now  a verb? (Eye roll). Donoghue is a better writer than this.

My Verdict

4.0

This is based on the writing, not on whether I agreed with the (to me) far-fetched idea that Trian would have been welcomed into a monetary in 7th Century Ireland.

Haven by Emma Donoghue

Book Reviews

Six Degrees of Separation: The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki.

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain. You can read all the rules at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Here’s the blub for this month’s starting book The Form and Emptiness.

I didn’t like the author’s last book, A Tale for the Time Being

One year after the death of his beloved musician father, thirteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house—a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous. At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, Benny discovers a strange new world. He falls in love with a mesmerizing street artist with a smug pet ferret, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice amongst the many. And he meets his very own Book—a talking thing—who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.
 

First Book

Another book with a character named Benny is:

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I was mesmerized by this story when it came out–gosh I was young! “Benny” Hogan–Bernadette, if I remember correctly–a name I always thought would be so cool to have. A Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchey.

Second Book

Another group of friends:

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Unlike Circle of Friends, this group went to Vassar–don’t we all wish we had? The Group by Mary McCarthy.

Third Book

Just after The Group another bunch of friends arrived at some elite colleges…..

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The next generation of Seven Sisters Colleges girls was profiled in The Last Convertible–a favorite of mine. (The 1970s mini-series for TV was also good, but the book was better). The younger sisters, if you will, of The Group.

Fourth Book

When they came home after the war they became….

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…they became the men and women who elected Jack Kennedy President. The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. An outstanding book, but one few will tackle today due to its huge size.

Fifth Book

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Between World War II and Jack Kennedy’s election as President, the men were mostly just men like this–wearing gray flannel suits and taking the train into the city each morning–my Dad included, albeit into Chicago. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson (see the film, too, staring Gregory Peck).

Sixth Book

All of these men wanted to have ….

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The Right Stuff-the “thing” the Mercury Astronauts, and presumably their wives, had that made them special. The movie is superb, too. Think of poor Betty Grissom–greeted with a fridge full of food and a kitchenette–all that could be awarded to “honorable Mrs. Squirming Hatch-Blower.” “No Jackie?”

I hope this chain entertained you!

Next month we’ll start with the book you finished with this month–very unusual, but what a fun idea!

Book Reviews

Women in Translation Month 2022

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Several years ago, noticed that women authors were under-represented in translated literature. To change this she started Women in Translation Month. Her blog, Biblibio tells more about the event HERE. A great many book bloggers, academics, and even publishers, participate. If you are looking for more books in translation just Google “books in translation” or start here with a good, new-ish list from the New York Times, Globetrotting [ lists 77 new books in translation].

This challenge is one I’ve done before, but only once. I got to looking back through my reading, in the years that I’ve been tracking such books, about half of the 43 translated books I’ve read were by women.

Women Authors Read in Translation so far in 2022

Links are to my review.

The Vintage Springtime Club

The Loop

Portrait of an Unknown Lady

New to Translated Books?

If you are intimidated by the phrase “in translation,” her are my suggestions for first-time reading.

These three books are good “starter” books for reading in translation. You don’t have to know loads about the other culture, there isn’t a ton of historical knowledge needed and none of these is very long. Give one a go!

Links are either to my review or to Amazon–I do not make money off your click.

Girls of Riyadh

The Vintage Springtime Club [show at the top of the post with a different cover]

The Housekeeper and the Professor

What Will I Read?

The Girl in the Tree

Easy Life in Kamusari

Bitter Orange Tree

I haven’t chosen yet! Here are two possibilities. Neither is very long and both interest me. Since I have just decided to do this challenge again, it could be either or both or these or a different book(s) all together. Watch this space.

My 2020 WIT Month Reviews

The Boy Between Worlds

Murmur of Bees

How to Cook Your Husband the African Way

Will you be participating in Women in Translation Month this month? If so, leave me a comment or a link to your own post–I’d love to hear about what you plan to read.

Book Reviews

Review: The Hotel Portofino by J.P. O’Connell

Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

If I watch tv (on my laptop–I don’t own a t.v. and don’t subscribe to any streaming service except the pretty lamentable Amazon Prime [no extra channels]) I watch PBS. Masterpiece is a favorite though I don’t watch every show–less and less of them appeal to me these days. I found this book on Netgalley (it was still available even though it was already published) and learned that it was on PBS (I’ve linked below to the trailer). I haven’t looked into whether this is a “real” novel or the “script” novel from the t.v. show. No matter–I loved the script novels of the original Upstairs, Downstairs (I still have them) and of The Duchess of Duke Street (ditto). If it tells a good story, I’m for it.

The Story

How do you cure a tired marriage being lived in a tired country? Move. What to do with an over-age son lingering in the house? Arrange a marriage for him. Bella Ainsworth, husband Cecil and “shell-shocked” son, Lucien, have upped sticks and moved to the Italian Rivera to open a seasonal hotel aimed mostly at British tourists. They’ve brought their servant and her teen-aged son to help them. Along the way, affairs are started, Mussolini’s thugs threaten, art is dubiously sold and much, much, more! And all on the gorgeous Italian Riviera just outside Portofino.

My Thoughts

I listened to the audio and it was a great story! No Dowager Countess, but otherwise fans of Downton Abbey really will like this one. This was a fun addition to my summer and I look forward to bingeing the show! And, apparently the show is going to have a season two–so stay tuned. 

Did you watch Hotel Portofino? Have you read this book? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

Book Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set In a Place I’d Love to Visit (real places or fictional)

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Where would I like to visit? Real or imagined? Hmmmmm…. I’m trying to think of places I haven’t used in similar posts so no Hogwarts Library or something like that today. Different Places.

A Ranch

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Most of this fun rom-com is set on a ranch. Steers, horses, farm dogs, probably some barn cats–sign me up! The BodyGuard: A Novel by Katherine Center.

Portofino, Italy

1920’s Portofino is the subject of my book review tomorrow–The Hotel Portofino. 1960s Portofino is the location of one of my all-time favorite family life/boyhood/coming-of-age novels, the often hilarious Portofino by Frank Schaeffer.

Birding

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I’ve signed up to go birding before, but chickened out every time. I’m the kind of introvert who can talk to a group, but being in a group is hard. As is getting up really early on Saturday. This book is about one of the GOATs of birding–and its a captivating read. Life List by Olivia Gentile.

Berlin and Amsterdam

I was just saying to another blogger how I’d love to retire in Berlin or Amsterdam–cities I’ve never visited, because they seem so livable and do not seem to require a car. Two books I’ve enjoyed set in these cities are The Vintage Springtime Club and The Light of Amsterdam.

On a Cat-Led Book Saving Operation

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Saving the world, one book at a time, led by a cat? Sign me up! This book is amazing. The Cat Who Saved Books: A Novel by Sosuke Matsukawa.

A Cornish Village

There’s more to Cornwall that old Mrs. Danvers at Manderley!! I love the cozy romantic stories set in little Cornish towns. [Though since I live in a little American town, I see them less rose-colored!] Ella’s Ice Cream Summer (my review is coming soon) is the one I’ve read most recently. I’ve loved all of the Cornish Midwife series–the most recent one I’ve read is A Summer Wedding for a Cornish Midwife.

I’d love to visit the folks at the Jane Austen Society and discuss rare book cataloging as well as Jane Austen. My former boss and friend sent me these two tea towels–one is Jane Austen’s home. I’ve been to Bath but that’s it for Jane sites.

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Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!

Book Reviews

Review: The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen

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My Interest

I used to be a big-time international politics junkie. I loved it. Until I didn’t. I realized it made me nervous and affected my sleep and concentration–like social media before social media existed.

Way back in college I had older friends–he was an Israeli by heritage and birth, born the year of independence in Haifa. She left South Bend and immigrated to Israel at age 16. Both served in the Army in the ’68 war. They introduced me to Israeli politics and taught me a graduate level course in Jewish faith, culture, and life. I am grateful.

The Story

“The history in my regular schooling was all about progress, a world that brightened with the Enlightenment and steadily improved; a world that would continue to improve illimitably, so long as every country kept trying to be more like America and America kept trying to be more like itself.”

If the name The Netanyahus sounds familiar it’s due to middle boy in this book–Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu,  twice Prime Minister of Israel. He makes the US evening news sometimes. That’s why it sounds familiar.

The story here is of a fictionalized interview for a professorship at a small Liberal Arts College in New York State that Benjamin’s father went to in the 1959-60 school year. The babysitter having pulled out at the last second, Benzion Netanyaho packs up his acerbic wife and their three total hellion sons–Bibi being the middle one, and drives through deep snow in an ancient borrowed car (the car on the  cover is way too new). As Benzion struts his stuff as an expert on the Spanish Inquitions, his wife offends, his sons wreck havoc and the denizens of Corbin College are given an unforgettable course in what not to do on a job interview.

Benzion’s host, Ruben, a professor forced to take the host role because he is the only Jewish professor at Corbin College,  is a humble man–he puts up with playing Santa at a Christmas party, doesn’t deck the mechanic who feels his head asking “Had your horns checked lately” and stoically other macro-aggressions served up in a WASP-y late 1950s liberal arts college. His wife can only watch in horror as the Netanyahu family destroys her home–including the brand new color TV. She has worked hard to be admitted to the society of the college, to try to make headway at the library and has to stand back and watch an acquaintance destroyed by Mrs. Netanyahu–all with out “losing it.” We won’t even “go there” on the problems of Judy–Rueben’s daughter, and what happens when the Netanyahu brothers come to town!

My Thoughts

“and yet the fact remains that the youth today is more sensitive than ever. I admit I don’t know how to understand this phenomenon and have sought to approach it “economically,” asking the question of whether an increase in sensitivity has brought about a decrease in discrimination, or whether a decrease in discrimination has brought about an increase in sensitivity to when, where, and how it occurs.”
 

The quote above was so “today”–right?

This was in parts hilarious. It was a send-up of all the pretentious b.s. of academic job interviews (been there). It is hard to convey just why so much was funny if the reader does not know Academia. The battles over status, the coveted endowed chair professorships, the endless committees and the lifetimes their meetings waste, the search for ever more arcane subjects to become an expert on–it’s drivel, all of it.

But there is an entire class of workers whose economic livelihood depends on convincing people that yes, in fact, the Spanish Inquisitions–multiple–re-converted the Jews to Judaism. [Trust me, that’s not even on the crazy-o-meter today–you should have to read some of the truly “out-there” PhD dissertations even in a relatively sane subject like business!!] The obscene over-production of PhD degree holders has made finding esoteric niches even harder to find then the long-ago mentioned darter snail in a proposed Tennessee dam sight.

While there was much to laugh at, I did feel the book lost some of its luster near the end. I have no clue what makes a book worthy of a Pulitzer Prize so I cannot comment on whether or not the book truly deserved it.

My Verdict

Summa Cum Laude

4 Stars

Book Reviews

JULY 26: Top Ten Tuesday: Books From My Past Seasonal TBR Posts I STILL Haven’t Read 

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In May we did “Books I Was SO EXCITED about when they were released, but Still Haven’t Read” for TTT. Rest assured, I have STILL not read the ten listed in that post! But, I’ve dug up 10 more from various other posts for today.

From TTT: Books on my Spring TBR:

Click here to read the post. I’ve done shockingly well with this list! One DNF (The Watermen) and only these two left unread.

From TTT: Books on My Summer (2021) TBR:

Click here to read the post. I did well with this list, too. Amazing!  Cave Dwellers and Island Queen were DNFs. Otherwise I read or listened to the others. Here are the books left to read:

From TTT: Books on my Winter 2020-21 TBR

Click here to read the post. So far, Diary of a Young Naturalist is a DNF, but I haven’t given up. Here are the books remaining unread:

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Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!