Review: Foster by Claire Keegan

My Interest

Thanks to Cathy at 746 Books for hosting Reading Ireland Month aka #begorrathon23 each year.

I listened to her previous book, Small Things Like These, which was also more of a short story than an actual novel. I’m not sure I like this idea of a sort of “micro” novel. Publishers pressure writers to stay under 300 pages now–will they make it under 200 soon?   


The Story

“She puts her arm around me. ‘You’re just too young to understand.’ As soon as she says this, I realise she is just like everyone else, and wish I was back at home so that all the things I do not understand could be the same as they always are.” 

“It’s a hard feeling but as we walk along I begin to settle and let the difference between my life at home and the one I have here be.”

A poor Irish family in the early 1970s sends an older child to stay with foster parents–hence the name, “Foster,” until the mother has given birth to the newest child. The overwhelmed mother and shiftless father do little more than house their children. While she has a few good memories, the girl knows she is just another mouth to feed and not only because her parents say so.

In her foster home she discovers what is to feel loved and valued. But when a gossiping neighbor goes too far, the truth about an “loose lips” and what damage they can do is revealed.

My Thoughts

The story showed both what foster care was meant to be–a temporary “home” in the real, loving sense of the word, and what no access to birth control does to poor families (it was still illegal in Ireland at the time). [The extreme right wing in the USA should take note of the fact that no birth control does not make poverty go away, nor does it stop children being born. Let’s recall Romania under Ceausescu please.] The girl’s feeling of “get it over with” on going home is so heart-breaking. The love and care she’s enjoyed is over and she must go back to a grim family on the edge. Heart-breakingly simple, this story shows loss both homes and most of all in the mind of one child. Fostering and adoption begin with loss. This child, though returned to her rightful home, lost even more.

My Verdict


Foster by Claire Keegan

I listened to the audio version.


Review: The Forbidden Notebook by Alba de Céspedes, translated by Ann Goldstein


Thank you to The Book Jotter for introducing me to this book.

WordPress is still not working the way it is supposed to. I have reached out but nothing has helped. I’m sorry if this isn’t as well formatted as usual.


Thank you to The Book Jotter for introducing me to this book.

WordPress is still not working the way it is supposed to. I have reached out but nothing has helped. I’m sorry if this isn’t as well formatted as usual.

My Interest

The idea of a woman with college-age children keeping a notebook–well, I must say, it grabbed my attention! I love epistolary books–stories told through diaries, letters, e-mails or whatever. That was a bonus.

The Story

“I can’t find peace anywhere. When I am at home, I always have a desire to hurry to the office. And when I’m in the office the happy excitement that animates my every gesture seems duplicitous, so I yearn to go home and feel safe.”

“…his sweet persuasive words reached me if through glass. Glass separated me from everything now….”

Valeria is a woman in Rome circa 1950, whose husband works in a routine job in a bank. He now calls his wife “Mama.” A portrait of his mother is in their bedroom. Valeria works, too, for “the Director” in a company he started as a clerical/secretary/admin. At home she has a daughter and son–both in college, both starting out on adult life. Her daughter is “modern” and is working for a law firm while attending college. She is direct and knows what she wants–and her parents be damned. The son is weak. He has a goal but not really. Valeria’s husband is bored by his job at the bank and amuses himself writing movie scripts when the office is quiet. One weekend, Valeria buys a notebook. She starts writing in it and her life is not the same. Not her marriage, nor how she views her job, nor how she relates to her family–all are changed by her thing things she writes in this new notebooks.

My Thoughts

Post-war Rome must have had many women like Valeria–many were war widows, but some must have been married with children like she was. Working to help support her family gave her a feeling of fulfillment, or power. When she finds herself drawn back to the office on Saturday–the office, where she is seen as “Valeria” and not as “Mama’ as even her husband now calls her, is intoxicating. She is valued and makes real contributions. At home, the mending basket is always full, the spaghetti and eggs she makes after work for the family’s dinner is ho-hum and she knows it. Her visits to her elderly parents on weekends are rushed. Her children get on her nerves in new ways. Her husband no longer seeks her “at night,” but she is “young” in her own mind. Her work life [no spoilers] provides stimulation in countless ways.

I have felt nearly everything Valeria feels! I may be older, but life expectancy is longer than in 1950’s Rome! I wanted to tell her to grab that brass ring! Let the family sort it out their own way. She has too much spirit to be the family’s drudge. The son ….no words. The daughter….at least she’s a survivor and goes after what she wants. The husband….hmmmm……

I LOVED this book. It hit me at exactly the right time in life.

My Verdict


Read what the New York Times had to say about this book

Reading Ireland Month

Cathy at 746 Books is again hosting the wonderful Reading Ireland Month challenge next month in March. I discovered the utterly amazing novel, Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns, by participating in this challenge. I like this type event for one great reason: I discover wonderful book I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

This year, Cathy has the following (optional) themed weeks:

Themed Weeks (if you want)

Intro Week:    1 – 5 March 

Irish Classics Week: 6 -12 March

Contemporary Irish Week: 13 – 19 March

Short Story Week: 20 – 26 March

Non- Fiction Week: 27 – 31 March          

If you need some inspiration, check out Cathy’s list of 100 Irish Novels and 100 Novels by Irish Women Writers. Why not join in with A Year with William Trevor and treat yourself to one of his short story collections or novels?

Please be sure to use these hashtags on your posts/tweets/whatever: #readingirelandmonth23 or #begorrathon23

What I May Read/Listen to


I’ve requested Say Nothing on audio from the library. I had it when it first came out, but it didn’t suit the moment and I sent it back–I’m like that. Foster-I hope so! Some Brian Moore again, too. This one (and a few others) are on sale here in the U.S. for Kindle for $2.99 which, with my new job paying so little, is a very helpful price. The Doctor’s Wife.


What I’ve Read in Past Years

My VERY VERY VERY favorite


The Kindle version is now included in Kindle Unlimited if you have a subscription. I listened to it–I highly recommend listening to it. Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns was my favorite novel of that year.



Currently, Amazon has the audio book for less than the Kindle version–it is very short, too. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan is only 70 pages–an easy way to join in.



Is his name pronounced Brian in the American way or “Bree-ann”??? The Statement: A Novel.


Thanks again, to Cathy at 746 Books for hosting this fun event.


Review: Nuclear Family: A Novel by Joseph Han


My Interest

For once I failed to note where I found this. So, if it was your blog, please let me know, ok? I love to give credit where it is due.

The book captured my attention for a couple of reasons: Hawaii is a state I know really only for Pearl Harbor and Magnum PI (the REAL one with Tom Selleck). And, Korea–I only know my neighbor and our late friend at church were both in the war (“police action”) that spanwed the t.v. show, M*A*S*H). Plus, it was a family story with a family business–that all sounded good.

The Story

The restaurant was louder than Grace could accommodate and process, and working the register was no worse than the sound she detested the most: the scooping of mac salad, squishing, her skull being emptied of a brain, eaten away by the thought of working another hour.

Grace’s parents moved to Hawaii and opened what became a small 3 location chain of “Korean plate lunch” restaurants. A family business. In Hawaii, the US military, Hawaiians, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and mainlanders are all thrown together. Grace though embraces a different culture–she’s a stoner and wanna-be graduate student. Meanwhile, as graduate schools process her application, she is still manning the cash register in one of the family’s restaurants.

Grace’s brother, Jacob, has taken a job teaching English in one of the many after school “schools” (tutoring centers) that Koreans so often make their kids attend. While there he is taken over by the ghost of his grandfather who deserted the family. The family fled from the North to the South during the war. Jacob wrestles with the spirit in much the same way a believer might who feels taken over by Satan could wrestle–like what is plotted in the Screwtape Letters. On a visit to the DMZ Jacob seems to try to go into North Korea. Back home, a little later, a mistake leaves the world thinking North Korea is sending missles to hit Hawaii.

My Thoughts

“,,,this is how I walk the Earth without you….”

Parts of this book were very good. Other parts were very tedious. For example, what was the point of reading long lists of names? Very dull. I recall where ever it was I first read about this book saying they’d have liked the book to be more conventional. I agree a good bit with that. Surprisingly, I was not put off by the ghost part. Usually I’d roll my eyes and pass on a book with that! It was ok. The spirit life line got a bit long though. I’d have liked more of the “normal life” side of the story.

I like Grace more than I Jacob. I thought she was the “smart one” brought back to life [see the spirit part of the book]. One review mention a gender aspect, but I must be too dense or too old or whatever to catch that part. I did wonder why the spanking thing was necessary–was I wrong to take that as  _ e-x–l?

I found the attitude toward the Christianity many Koreans embrace to be respectful, A little tongue-in-cheek here or there, but not rude or derogatory. That was a nice surprise. And, for a book written a few years ago and published finally in 2022 there were not hit-you-over-the-head messages about how awful a certain President was. Sick of that, even if I didn’t vote for him.

I look forward to reading more from this author even if I didn’t find this book as “creative” and all the other gushing words the big reviewers used. He tells a good story and should get even better at it with time. The unusual elements in this book did add to the telling of the story, but a little pruning of them would have helped.

Now I’m desperate for SPAM and kimchi though!

And, isn’t that cover gorgeous!! I love it.

My Verdict


Exiles: A Novel by Jane Harper (Aaron Falk #3)

My Interest

First, thanks to #NetGalley for a free audio version of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Jane Harper has become a “must-listen” author. I like her books on audio to hear them in an Australian accent appropriate to the story. I have enjoyed each of her books. I have dear friends in Australia, so I love getting my hands on books set anywhere even close to where they live. Silly, when you think how big the country is, but I mean well.

Note: I don’t usually review series books–too hard to avoid spoilers. This one, though, came to me via NetGalley, so I am happy to give my review.

The Story

“You see what you expect to see.”

Federal Police agent Aaron Falk is involved with another suspicious death. A new mother leaves her new baby in the stroller in a stroller corral at a festival ride. Her shoe is found later. Her teenage daughter from her first relationship isn’t satisfied with the police outcome. And, what about the boy whose father died in a mysterious way in the same area?

A small town with a typical high school rite of passage–a big boozy party out in the boondocks–just like those held in my hometown or here in my kids adopted hometown. (They went, I couldn’t be bothered). A group of friends, booze, a girl has too much. Fast forward to today and it’s the teenage daughter of the missing mom who is going to party.

The small town also has an annual festival–a big money-maker for small towns the world over I guess. This town, being near vineyards and wineries, gets tourists from all over the country. Did anyone see that mom park her stroller? Or leave the festival? Or be helped to leave…. “You see what you expect to see” Falk reasons with another cop.

What’s the truth? You know my rule–no spoilers here!

But the ending had an element of surprise in addition to the “who-done-it-reveal.” That intrigues me. I want to know what Harper has in mind for this in the future.

My Thoughts

I liked having Aaron back. This was a good mystery for folks like me who don’t read a lot of them or a lot of police procedurals. I’m never good at guessing the outcome of this type book and did not guess this one’s ending.

My Verdict


Exiles: A Novel by Jane Harper releases on January 31, but is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Note: I do not make any money off this blog. The links to Amazon are just for your convenience.

My Reviews of Previous Jane Harper Books:

My Favorite Book of 2022

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This year it was easy to pick my favorite book. One just stood out. Last Summer on State Street: A Novel by Toya Wolfe. (My review is linked). Set in 1999, some may say that isn’t historical fiction–I say it is; it is in the past.

“Favorite” means that I enjoyed it most–it may or may not have received the highest rating of the year (don’t try to understand my brain, ok?).

A Few More Geeky Book Things About my 2022 Reading

Most Frequently Read Authors of 2022

  1. Agatha Christie–4 book
  2. Judy Leigh–4 books
  3. D.E.Stevenson–2 books
  4. Daphne Du Maurier–2 books
  5. Naomi Ragen–2 books


Number of Net Galley Books Read and Reviewed



Translated Books


Original Language:

  • Japanese–3 books
  • Spanish–2 books
  • German–1 book
  • Italian–1 book
  • Norwegian–1 book
  • French–1 book


“New” Countries Visited by Book in my Reading the World Project***


  • Albania (Illyrian Spring) [I hope this is correct]
  • Argentina (Portrait of an Unknown Lady)
  • Guyana (Girl From Lamaha Street)
  • Norway (Sixteen Trees of the Somme)
  • Vatican City (Conclave)
  • Tunisia (The Ardent Swarm)

*** I am doing this by setting, not nationality of the author.

Did you name a “favorite” or “best” book of 2022? Did you do any geeky reading posts with statistics, lists, etc? Leave me a comment or a link(s) to your post(s)–I’d love to compare notes.

Happy New Year!

Review: Ways of Going Home: A Novel by Alejandro Zambra


My Interest

Completing my “journey” of reading a book set in each of the 50 States has led me to make another foray into Reading the World [aka Reading the Globe]. South America is the continent about which I know the least, so when researching books for an upcoming reading challenge I noticed one author identified as Chilean, I requested whatever my regional library owned of his work.


American maps would show the Americas in the middle and Asia divided in two. I like this way better.

The Story

“That I prefer writing to having written. I’d rather stay there, inhabit the time of the book, cohabit with those years….” (p, 39)


This novella is done a bit differently though all of it relates to the idea of coming home. It begins with the story of a young boy and his inner world. After an earthquake he begins to explore his world, agreeing to “spy” on a neighbor for an older friend. He is bright–he reads Madame Bovary in French at 11 or so years old.

“We are united by a desire to regain the scenes of secondary characters. Unnecessary scenes that were reasonably discarded, and which nonetheless we collect obsessively.” (p. 99)

As the story progresses, the boy emerges as the author of the story. The “older girl” he knew as a boy is now more of a contemporary. She has come home for her father’s funeral. She struggles with coming home. She struggles with the idea of names.


My Thoughts

This is a very short book, only 139 pages of the actual story, but it took me a while to dig into it. I expected to read it in an evening, but I found I had to stop and process what I’d read. Was the text as deceptively simple as it seemed? Like with some Japanese novels, I felt I was too stupid to understand all that was supposedly contained in the story both on and between the lines. The brief issue of names did interest me, but that issue neither toyed with long enough nor satisfactorily enough to give me any sense of resolution. I found this to be the longest short book I’ve read in years and one that ultimately left me with a “meh?” or unsatisfied feeling.


My Verdict

3 Stars

Ways of Going Home: A Novelby Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell

Review: Travelers: A Novel by Helon Habila


I learned of this book from City of Asylum Books

Remember: Regardless of which online retailer I link to in my posts, I do not make any money off your clicks. They are simply included for your convenience. Today I am linking to an Indie bookseller–the one that introduced me to this novel.



My Interest

Our world is experiencing an unprecedented flux of refugees. Border policies, immigration laws, and related policy topics are at the forefront of national debates. All varieties of exclusionist Nationalism are rearing their ugly heads all over the place.  Another book, a nonfiction title, Afropean: Notes From Black Europe by Johny Pitts, also caught my eye as I followed the rabbit trail through the internet that led me to this novel. I will review that book another time–if I am able to get a copy through the library.

The Story

Leaving America with his wife so she can do accept a prestigious fellowship in Berlin, a Nigerian graduate student finds life in today’s Europe to be an interesting mix of nationalities–all seeking to better their lives in affluent, well-educated Northern European countries. The various characters that cycle through the story come from different countries–mostly African nations struggling with poverty. Some have been refugees, others have arrived as students. All come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. The refugee experience, whether intentional or from lapsing out of legal status, is what they have in common.

My Thoughts

When Malawi was mentioned I knew I’d read this book. Zambia came up as well as other countries with which I was familiar.  I found the stories poignant, but not cloying. The characters were mostly very believable. One was a bit pc but it made me stop and wonder, if, just if, perhaps things truly have changed enough for that character’s story to be based on reality. The narrative was woven like a tapestry–the different people and experiences overlapping in a way that I enjoyed. The ways people adapted, the places they made into homes, those were the human side of things that we often forget and which the book made so real.

My Verdict

4 Stars

Travelers: A Novel by Helon Habila

I will definitely read more of this author’s work.

Review: ‘Over the Hills and Far Away:’ The Life of Beatrix Potter


My Beatrix Potter story



My own most vivid memory of  a Beatrix Potter tale is over the version broadcast on PBS in 2003. My kids and I were watching The Tale of Samuel Whiskers–suddenly the poor guy is wrapped in pie crust and ready to be baked! My daughter, understandably, fell to pieces. She clutched our beloved big orange cat, Stanley, and wept uncontrollably.  I tried to reassure my daughter that all would be fine and that, more importantly, it wasn’t real and that our big guy was fine. She didn’t let our cats out of her sight for a week. It took hours to get her to sleep–and this was the kid who collapsed so early, I cheated and put the clock ahead so she’d go to bed! No need to tell you that no more Beatrix Potter happened at our house!

Matthew Dennison’s Book

Dennison chose to tell Beatrix’s story a little differently. He anchors each chapter with a quote that goes with the theme of the chapter.  He also tried, whenever possible, to show what aspects of her children’s books came from real life. So we learn of scenery being at real places Beatrix lived or that certain real animals were involved–that real children dear to Beatrix were the first to receive her stories as illustrated letters.

He also tells the story of Beatrix’s isolation. Her eccentric parents went above and beyond the normal Victorian mantra of keeping daughters at home. Starved of company outside her family circle, she turned inward. With no one to befriend, she befriended a menagerie of animals and shared her thoughts in her carefully coded journal.  From childhood into early adulthood she was very lonely.  Her parents kept such a tight reign on her that even as an adult with her own home she was forced to spend most of her time as a sort of lady in waiting to her parents. I found this very sad.

I  loved learning that in addition to her children’s books with their marvelous illustrations she also quite an amateur natural scientist. She was especially fascinated by fungi–mushrooms. Nature journals, were a popular past time for Victorians and Edwardians. They would find specimens, draw or watercolor them and label them beautifully. Her nature drawings were of a professional standard as her parents had at least given her excellent tuition in art from private teachers. The book includes a few color plates with some of her nature drawings. Her love of nature also led her to be an early land conservator–buying up land to protect if from encroaching development.

Having loved the movie Miss Potter,  I was pleased to learn the real stories of her first engagement and later marriage. For having such a lonely, often isolated childhood, she at least found someone with whom to share some aspects of her life.



Finally, I was so pleased to see that the author and published used such lovely endpapers for they were a fixation of Beatrix’s in her own books.







Reading The Globe: Dominican Republic: How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents



My Thoughts on This Book


This is a not-so-typical immigrant-slash-coming-of-age story aimed mostly at young adults. I did skip one story-line that bothered me. Overall, I enjoyed this one. Cross-cultural experiences always hold my attention, and immigrant stories are among the most interesting. This was very well written. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarz. [This review was originally published on my old blog on July 23, 2013.]

A few of my favorite quotes from this book:


“…his eyes lidded with hopefulness….”

“…how we lie to ourselves when we fall in love with the wrong man….”

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

Cover Art

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