Mini-Persephone Readathon Choices: Which one to pick for the weekend?

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I happen to love the idea of readathons! I have a very bad track record, though, at following through with them. I’m HOPING I can break that curse this weekend. Here are my choices for the Mini-Persephone Books Readathon running from today until midnight Sunday/Monday at Dwell In Possibility. Persephone Books are mostly by women writers and are republished to preserve them and to get them into the hands of a new generation of readers. I love the idea, love the covers, artwork, and endpapers. In fact, their shop is on my bucket list for a future, longed-for return to London.

My Choices

Persephone covers are usually plain now, so I’m showing some older ones and some previous editions.

 

 

Peresphone Books I’ve already read

 

Links to my reviews:

The House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

I did not review How To Run Your Home Without Help

 

#PersephoneReadathon

 

Wanderlust Book Tag!

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I found this fun book tag/challenge at Hammock of Books

I followed the link to Reading by Starlight who originated the tag. She wrote this introduction:

“So, in celebration of immersive settings that transport us to alternative realities I decided to create my very first tag – The Wanderlust Book Tag. And, you guessed it – it’s all about dense world-building and atmospheric settings. So, let’s get this tag started…” (Reading By Starlight)

Rules

  • Mention the creator of the tag and link back to original post [Alexandra @ Reading by Starlight]
  • Thank the blogger who tagged you
  • Answer the 10 questions below using any genre
  • Tag 5+ friends

My Thoughts

I could easily have done an entire post’s worth of books for most of these topics! I tried not to use my usual go-to titles, but it was hard. There are certain books that immediately spring to mind for most topics after all my years of book blogging. I even debated both a fiction and a nonfiction entry!

1.  Secrets and lies: a book set in a sleepy small town

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Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

2. Salt and sand: a book with a beach-side community

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The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

 

3. Here there be dragons: a book with a voyage on the high seas

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The Ocean Liner by Marius Gabriel

 

4. Tread lightly: a book set down a murky river or a jungle

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The Lower River: A Novel by Paul Theroux

 

5. Frozen wastes: a book with a frostbitten atmosphere

 

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The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

 

6. The boonies: a book with ruff or isolated terrain 

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The Dry: A Novel by Jane Harper

 

7. Hinterlands and cowboys: a book with a western-esque setting

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Half Broke Horses by  Jeannette Walls

Sorry, I got my fill of Westerns and cowboys in childhood.

 

8. Look lively: a book set across sweeping desert sands

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Girls of Riyadh: A Novel by Rajaa Alsanea

 

9. Wild and untamed: a book set the heart of the woods

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

10. Wildest dreams: a whimsical book shrouded in magic

 

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Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

I’m hereby tagging anyone reading this post! If you have a blog, give this a try! Tracking your reading at Goodreads.com makes it so much easier to do tags and challenges!

Review: The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock by Jane Riley

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I discovered this book in First Reads [for Kindle] part of Amazon’s Prime.

The Story

Funeral director/mortician/embalmer Oliver Clock is in a rut. He runs the family business, Clock and Son Funeral Home with the unnecessary and overbearing oversight of his mother. He has reached a certain age and has not married, nor is he actively pursuing anyone. He likes to make resolutions in his notebook to occasionally make a change in his well-ordered and very neat and tidy life. Then it happens that his life is thrown for a loop–a loss, new competition, two women, and more make him rethink just about everything.

My Thoughts

This was a fun little addition to what I’ve come to call the “Something, something life of somebody, somebody” genre. Oliver is a good guy and easy to relate to. The story line is simple, curves in the road are easy to spot and the resolution of problems are predictable. In this case, these are wonderful things. This will never be mistaken for a soul-wrenching, trauma-inducing Oprah book. Reece, though, may love it.

I did, however, find it hard to remember that Oliver was a man. He was so woman-like. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” I hasten to add. Instead of Seinfeld, though, I was left thinking of Friends–the one with Ross and “Sometimes I want to take a bath and put on Kenny G.” I don’t know any men of any age who’d admit to using bath bombs! I thought a lot of his reactions were very feminine. Happily, he finally showed me what he was made of and it made me love him all the more.

My Verdict

A Fun 3 Star Read

The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock by Jane Riley

Top Ten Tuesday: The Most Recent Additions to My Bookshelf

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Math has never been my strong suit, so you get a few bonus titles today!

My Kindle Book Shelf

 

One of these has a review coming up very soon.

 

My Nonfiction Book Shelf

 

Some of these I’ve used in so many posts I feel like I’ve already read them!

I’ll be reviewing one of these in the next two weeks.

 

 

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

Review: Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller

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My Interest

I’ve enjoyed all of Fuller’s memoirs of her family’s life in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi due to my own stay in Malawi and visit to Zimbabwe. Her Colonial with a capital “C” mother, her wild father, disowned by his British family, are the sort of people I tend to love–their belief in Rhodesia and all it stood for aside. She has become a “must-read” author for me.

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Zambia–where the family now lives

The Story

Having had a childhood lived in unusual circumstances marks a person, but having such a childhood and having it in the middle of a war, can do real damage. Fuller’s growing up could be called Glass Castle meets Out of Africa. Part abuse, part wild ride, part fantastic adventure. In this installment of her family memoirs, she begins in Budapest with her father’s death while there on holiday. This time the author is narrating the audio version and she voices her mother EXACTLY the way I imagined her, which was very exciting for me.

Having very seriously contemplated staying on in Malawi, I always find the daily life parts of her memoirs to be the best and that continued in this volume. That the author is only about 7  years younger than me makes it all the more relatable. But this time the cracks are showing. The end of Dad is too much–and for the author, there is more in store after that [no spoilers].

Her eccentric parents, who “survive magnificently,” have aged and their daughters, “squaddies [i.e. G.I.s/soldiers] before they were sisters” are in their 50s and time has not helped the wounds of their childhood. The mother whose leaving the house checklist once went something like “Uzi, bullets, lipstick, sunglasses” is still her indomitable Memsiab self, surrounded by her beloved troop of dogs and cats, and after 50+ years of marriage, she and her husband still “do not bore each other” and still do not try to possess each other.

I adore her parents in spite of it all, in spite of a war to keep Africans from ruling their own country. They are backbone of the Empire sorts who let nothing defeat them. These are not the stuffy folks who inhabit the Cricket and Tennis Club, or who run the local Anglican Church and hold the Gymkhanas. These are the real settlers. Give them land, sufficient booze, dogs, books, and an old Land Rover and they will survive. The booze is the key. And cigarettes. Lots and lots of cigarettes–or those “anti-mad” pills Mum gets from the Indian chemist. It IS a rough life.

Her mother with her books and animals has transformed herself time and again and is now a very successful fish farmer, having educated herself for her new role. She may have lost the war, but she’s won the battle–the family survived. Her very Mitford U-ish speech adds to the whole picture of one who can “Keep Buggering On” as Churchill said, quite beautifully even in a war, even after burying three babies. In this book, even she has reached her limit. I could completely relate to her rant about being sick of people telling her she’s strong and that she’d love to just fall apart.

The author’s father, who can hunt from a moving Land Rover, probably could still have played a rugby match at 70, and like any good Colonial Bwana could drink everyone under the table, could also live on beans on toast, alcohol, and tobacco. Like my own father, I’m sure Tim Fuller could have taken the Lord’s name in vain as any figure of speech. (They also saw eye-to-eye on missionaries). He could light a cigarette, fire an Uzi, and keep driving the Land Rover even with a hunting guide on the roof. That’s a manly man. He loved his wife, his family, and his life. [He also loathed “online f—ing banking” to which I say “hear, hear” especially on the passwords.]

It is the sisters though who are doing the worst. Vanessa has been in a clinic in South Africa, both are divorced, Vanessa is remarried, and the author is in a new relationship. No one in the family is at all happy about the books–and, honestly? Who can blame them? While I have loved reading them, I can see it from their side: Why are you telling our secrets? Why is it all reduced to your perspective, your way of seeing it?  The fissures are deep and will rend the family with Dad’s passing.

My Thoughts

The author, though, became whining somewhere along the way. [No spoilers but I am NOT disregarding something I cannot reveal without spoiling part of the book–ok?] The end of the book was a lot New Agey, naval gaze-y, word salad-ish moaning. [Tiny spoiler] That her new relationship wasn’t going to be the love of the ages was about as obvious as Meghan’s “love” for poor, dim Harry. That one she needed to walk it off–follow her Dad’s advice and have a party. Alcohol, her parents believe, lets one suffer successfully. She should have done that and had a splendid and necessary hangover, then reloaded and got back in the war of life.

I found the end of the book [in spite of what I won’t spoil] annoying. It bordered on minor-league narcissism–“Me, me, me–my, my, my–mine, mine, mine]. A girl raised to be a stalwart Rhodesian, able to take what life sends you for Queen and Empire (well, Commonwealth) or just because you won’t take it off any bastard, shouldn’t have grown into such a whiner. It almost spoils the excellence of her writing. I’m very much like her parents when it comes to freaking out over everything. I’d have had to tell her to get over herself and carry on! I wanted to say, “Look, the did the correct first aid, loaded all the guns, loaded you into that station wagon and drove you through a war to the hospital–remember? They CARED.”

The author’s falling apart and her self-absorption [part of which WAS 100% understandable — no spoilers] and the family’s dislike of her books, brings to mind Madeline L’Engle’s Crosswicks Diaries. L’Engle’s children dismissed them as “fiction.” I don’t think that is the case here, but I could see the annoyance so clearly, and equally clearly hear the author’s belief that she was right and saw things right. That was a bit hard to take.

Now? Who’s for a cup of tea and who’s for a g & t? In spite of my feelings on the end, this book is a good read. Need an ashtray? Here–have a dog, or would you prefer a cat?

My Verdict

3.5 Stars

I couldn’t give it a full 4 stars due to the whiney parts.

 

Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller.

 

Alexandra Fuller’s previous books that I have read:

Review: A Castle in Wartime by Catherine Bailey

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My Interest

If you’ve seen Tom Cruise’s film The Valkryie you know that not everyone fully supported Hitler. There was a German resistance movement even within the Wehrmacht. One of the Valkryie conspirators was Ulrich Von Hassell. He was later executed for his part in the plot to kill Hitler. His daughter, Fey, had an interesting war as well. This book tells her story from after the time of Valkryie until the end of the war.

 

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Source
Fey and her sons

 

The Story

Fey Von Hassell was a very privileged young woman who married an equally privilege Italian aristocrat. Not only was Fey the daughter of a Valkryie conspirator, but her maternal grandfather was Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. She grew up on a fine estate and her family’s friends had all been in the Kaiser’s own circle. Her husband’s family had similar connections, only in Italy. After Valkrie, with her husband in Rome in the new Italian government as a cover for his resistance work, Fey is taken into custody and separated from her sons.

As the war grinds to its end, Fey and other “Sippenhäfltlinge” (kin of prisoners) are moved from location to location–sometimes to concentration camps, but never in the same circumstances as the Jewish prisoners awaiting death. They were all Germans, Aryans, but the relatives of “traitors.”

As happens in wartime, miscommunication hampers Fey’s ability to make sense of it all. Arriving at one destination, some of the little party of “Prominenten” prisoners, who by now included prominent POWs such as two men providentially named “Churchill,” but who were, in fact, no relation to Winston,  are reunited with their seized children, but Fey is not. As Himmler uses the group as a bargaining chip, Fey becomes determined to make a change in her life that seems impossible, but that gives her comfort to survive teh moment.

Finally, at war’s end, she realizes the intended change in her life cannot take place and that she must try to find her children again, all the time fearing that they have been given new names and perhaps even been adopted by a new family. Bureaucracies of several nations now stand in her way, yet she and husband Detalmo, are determined to find their boys.

 

My Thoughts

I do not seek to minimize Fey’s very real trauma, but I was somewhat relieved to read her words of angst at having been in the camps, however briefly, and not had to suffer as the Jewish prisoners did. At no time did she go hungry. Occasionally in travel, there were uncomfortable conditions and yes, her life was in danger from bombing and later from execution–an extremely traumatic idea to live under. Unlike those in the concentration camp awaiting their deaths, Fey’s suffering was confined to about a year at the end of the war. Did she suffer trauma? Of course many times over. But nothing compared to the Jews.

She was right to be proud of her father, whose personal moral code could not stomach Hitler. No one could resign a commission under Hitler, so he did what he could and helped plot to kill the man. Her husband, too, worked with the resistance in Italy to end the war. Those are proud accomplishments speaking of the best morals and true courage.

I have read other books on German aristocrats in the war and most leave me wondering “why are you complaining?” [See the bottom of this post for reading suggestions]. Fey, though, had a mother’s greatest nightmare come true and lived through it. That, too, is a proud accomplishment. That the search for her sons was not that arduous compared to that of many displaced persons, does not lessen the trauma the events inflicted on her.

My Verdict

4.0

 

A Castle in Wartime: One Family, Their Missing Sons, and the Fight to Defeat the Nazis by Catherine Bailey

The British edition

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The Lost Boys: A Family Ripped Apart by War by Catherine Bailey.

 

 

 

Another book by a German aristocrat at the end of the war

 

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A World Elsewhere by Sigrid MacRae, link is to Amazon (I do not make any money if you click)

I reviewed this one on my old blog.

 

 

A Novel of about an aristocratic German woman at the end of the war

 

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The Women in the Castle: A Novel by Jessica Shattuck, link is to my review.

Review: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

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A Little Background

I must confess that author and historian David McCullough is a secret crush of mine! His wonderful voice, narrating stories on PBS’ American Experience, his amazing prose in his long list of books–wow. This man is the real deal. But, when this book came out in 2011 I was shocked that I couldn’t stick with it. Had he failed me at last? Fast-forward to last week when I needed an audiobook for my commute.  My heart raced as I read about the audio version in the library catalog: David McCullough AND Edward Herrmann. I’m that geeky–it was a love story for my ears! The late Edward Herrmann is/was also a crush of mine. Sigh. What a difference the format can make.

 

The Story

From the early years of the 19th Century many Americans began crossing the Atlantic to study, sculpt, paint, read, write, wine, and dine, in Paris. From artists to statesmen from doctors to writers, citizens of the young American nation went back to “the old country” or at least back to Europe and straight to Paris to taste a more cultured, less Puritan lifestyle that, by-and-large, agreed with each of them. James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, Senator Charles Sumner, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mary Casssatt, Theodore Roosevelt Sr and Jr, Harriet Beacher Stowe and Augustus Saint-Gaudens are among the many, many people McCullough discusses in this amazing story.  The characters, whether heard from briefly or throughout the book, have their stories woven in and out of the threads of each other’s lives. Teddy Roosevelt, a mere boy on his visit, gets a brief moment. Charles Sumner a long season. It works beautifully.

My Thoughts

What an enjoyable audiobook! I sat both my office parking lot and my own driveway listening longer than I should have nearly every day. I found myself pulling up online maps and photos and quotes to expand the story. I felt guilty remembering my despair in 2011 when reading the print version. I’m pretty sure it was me at that moment and nothing what-so-ever to do with my beloved David’s prose, but having Edward read it was so nice, too.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

 

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My Top Historical Fiction Titles of 2019 and my Favorite of the Year

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This was quite a year for historical fiction reading! Almost any of the books listed here could have been my favorite of the year. There are the mega-hits like Where the Crawdads Sing, a few of my “must-read” authors such as Meg Waite Clayton, Adriana Trigiani, Tracy Chevalier, and writing duo Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, too. Most of all there were such compelling stories! A wonderful love story set in another time and place, a tale of women during a revolution written by a group of women, and a back story piece on the wedding of one of the world’s most admired women! Wow! How do  I pick a “favorite” out of this bunch!!! Can’t I offer a 12-way tie?

Click on the linked titles below to go to my reviews.

  1. Tony’s Wife
  2. Meet me in Monaco
  3. The Stationery Shop
  4. The Last Train To London
  5. Where the Crawdads Sing
  6. When We Left Cuba
  7. The Gown
  8. A Single Thread
  9. The Editor
  10. Quintland Sisters
  11. Ribbons of Scarlet

RUNNERS UP

There were so many GREAT historical fiction books this year. Wow. Here are the runners up.

 

Jennifer Robson and the writing duo Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb have crafted marvelous tales surround two royal weddings. Marjan Kamali has outdone even her excellent Together Tea, which I have been recommending almost from the day it came out. And Meg Waite Clayton has more than “done it again,” giving us characters to break our hearts in the sweetest way. It was so hard to choose just one book, but I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t pick the one I picked. I hope all of these will stand the test of time, to be read after I’m long dead, but the one I was sure of is my favorite.

 

My Favorite Historical Fiction Book of 2019

 

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. What an amazing story! So magnificently told. This is truly one for the ages. I loved, loved, loved it. 4.0 is a HUGE score for me. This one got 4.75. I could have recorded half the prose as quotes in my Commonplace Book–the prose is that beautiful. I loved every single word. This book surpassed it’s hype. Just read it.

 

Note:

This book, and another of my favorites, were both featured in Reece Witherspoon’s Book Club. I check out all kinds of book club lists when I need suggestions of what to read. I track them, as well, keeping list of what I’ve read from major clubs on Goodreads.com

#bestbooksof2019

My Top General or Contemporary Fiction Titles Read in 2019 and My Favorite of the Year

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Here are my candidates in for favorite/best contemporary fiction read in 2019-drawn from all such books I READ this year, regardless of publication date. There are books, such as Daisy Jones & the Six that could be “historical fiction,” but feel too contemporary for that–in large part due to my own age. Then too there are books, like the Poet X, that some would call YA. I’ve started to despise that label because it seems like a “grade level” ranking to me. A sweet romance told through letters written by an older debut author–swoon! Last, there are books in translation that could be in a class of their own. How do I pick one favorite?

 

I liked six of these books so well–though ANY of them really could be called my favorite–that I’ll list them below. I nearly had to draw a title out of a hat to get a winner. (You can click on the linked titles below (and at the bottom of this post) to read my reviews.

  1. Poet X
  2. Daisy Jones and the Six
  3. Convenience Store Woman
  4. Meet Me at the Museum
  5. Red, White, and Royal Blue
  6. Traveling Cat Chronicles

My Favorite General/Contemporary Fiction Choice of 2019

 

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This book, created like a documentary film, was so compelling, so believable, that I had to constantly remind myself that this was fiction! That to me is fabulous storytelling. Whether you agree with calling it contemporary fiction or think it should be historical fiction due to the era of its setting really doesn’t matter. “Fiction” is a category. I listened to the audiobook and loved every second of it. The audio of Lincoln in the Bardo was praised for being so “innovative” using a full cast of voices–this book’s audio version did it way better! I really want this to become a movie–done as a “mockumentary” but serious–a fictional documentary if you prefer. Those of us who remember Fleetwood Mac before they were synonymous with the Clinton campaign song, who remember the Eagles, ABBA, and others love this book. I expect to hear someone has created an album for this book–that’s how real it is.

Taylor Jenkins Reid is a new-to-me author–her previously best-known book is the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo–and while it looks like her backlist could be lighter fare than Daisy Jones or Evelyn Hugo, I hope to read all of her books.  She has become a must-read for me with this one, single, fabulous book.

Daisy Jones and the Six: A Novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 

Links to my reviews of the other books in this post:

  1.  Akin
  2. A Woman is No Man
  3. Girlchild
  4. With the Fire on High
  5. Book of Unknown Americans
  6. The Flatshare
  7. The Library of Lost and Found

 

#bestbooksof2019

My Top Ten Nonfiction Titles of 2019 and My Favorite Nonfiction Book of the Year

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Unlike all other book bloggers, I simply cannot come up with ONE favorite book this year. There were many good ones–both that came out this year and that I happened to read this year. For the next few days, I’ll be posting my favorites in the nonfiction, general/contemporary fiction, and historical fiction categories. All links lead to my reviews.

 

 

  1. Rocket Girl
  2. Save Me The Plums
  3. An American Summer
  4. Hitler and the Hapsburgs
  5. Journey Interrupted
  6. American Prison
  7. Assassination of the Archduke
  8. Berlin 1936
  9. Twelve Patients
  10. Sting-Ray Afternoons

My Favorite

The Best Nonfiction Book Read in 2019

 

Sometimes you really do save the best for last. The best nonfiction book I read in 2019–my favorite, was The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

 

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Even though it had faults, I cannot recommend this book enough. Enjoy! Click on the linked title above the cover photo to read my review.