Book Reviews

Women in Translation Month Review: The Florios of Sicily: A Novel by Stefania Auci, translated by Katherine Gregor UPDATED

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My Interest

I was looking for an audio book and saw this cover–that was it! I had to listen. (FYI: The painting on the cover is Reading By the Sea by Vittorio Matteo Corcos). That it fit the bill for Women in Translation Month was just gravy.

The Story

Beginning in the late 18th century, we follow the upwardly mobile Floiros from a dull, uninspiring life in a rural village, to the mid-19th century when they have become extremely prosperous and important. The begin with spices/medicinal herbs and catch each new wave of innovation, riding it to a handsome profit.

Small Spoiler Alert

Vincenzo, son and nephew of the original men is the main mover and shaker. He and his mistress, Giulia, make up much of the story. She waits and finally achieves what she wants–marriage to Vincenzo after the birth of a son. Their daughters know they do not matter to their father and express themselves on the subject to their very dear little brother.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed this book, I just didn’t “love” it. I actually did love the sound bytes of Italian history interspersed within the story. I know very little history of that entire region so those were fascinating. The information on medicinal use of spices and herbs was also interesting. This was based on a true story which helped me stay interested. This was a sort of Sicilian version of Taylor Caldwell’s The Captains and the Kings, but sadly pretty dull. None of the characters really “came alive” in this book. I’m not sure if that was due to the author or the translator. At nearly 500 pages, it was a job to stay with it once I discovered no one was really firing my imagination.

Annoying thing: Unless “valet” means “butler” in Italian, the translator messed this up. I’ve never heard of a valet serving at table unless maybe the butler was just murdered and Hercule Piorot hasn’t figured it out yet! A man who looks after another man’s wardrobe, shaves, and possibly even barbers and helps dress him, wouldn’t know a lot about saucing the fish at table.

My Verdict

3.0

The Florios of Sicily: A Novel by Stephania Auci, translated by Katherine Gregor

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Historical Fiction

 

Book Reviews

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

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. 

My Verdict

3.5

Hotel Portofino by J,P. O’Connell

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

Historical Fiction

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Book Reviews

Review: The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen UPDATED

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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.

I learned of this book via this post at A Life in Books. Won’t you click and read her post, too? Bloggers live for comments.

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

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Historical Fiction

Book Reviews

Review: The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

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Thank you to #NetGalley for giving me a free copy of the audio version of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

This sounded fun and a little Stephanie Plum-ish so I requested it. Happily, I was right.

The Story

Hannah Brooks works as what is usually called a bodyguard (executive protection agent). Jack Stapleton is a Hollywood mega-star–the object of many fantasies for his rugged good looks and his role in blockbusters like The Destroyer. When Jack’s mother is diagnosed with cancer he goes home to Texas to be with her and, you guessed it, Hannah is assigned to be his bodyguard. When visiting with his family they must fake a dating relationship to keep from worrying his mom about him needing security. 

Meanwhile, a Hollywood bombshell with a personality similar to that one royal’s American wife, whose surgically enhanced looks are called “weaponized beauty,” is known to be Jack’s girlfriend. And then there’s the Corgi breeder-stalker. Yeah, who’d have thought someone who loves adorable Corgis would be a stalker? 

But after the first few days are Hannah and Jack faking it or are they really falling for each other?

My Thoughts

This is a fun, clean book. No “ick” anywhere! I think it has what they call a “trope”–right? Faking a relationship is a “trope, right?” Cool. There is nothing to dislike in this book though I thought the ending and epilogue could have been a tad less preachy in tone and a little shorter but it isn’t really a big deal because it wasn’t political preaching. I loved Hannah and Jack and adored Jack’s parents. I really, really liked Clipper. But Bobby (he prefers Robby)–keep him, ok? This is the perfect beach or pool rom-com for Summer 2022.

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center releases on July 19, but is available for pre-order.

Book Reviews

Review: The Messy Lives of Book People (UK: The Book Share) by Phaedra Patrick

Today I’m in a collaborating with The Reading Ladies blog to help readers find their One Must Read Book of Summer 2022!! Click this link to go to The Reading Ladies blog and see all the great book suggestions!

My Interest

So much to love–let’s see: In the UK, but not in London; someone who works a normal job and has a normal life but rises to a challenge that helps reach a goal she maybe thought was now unreachable. I’m in! That she isn’t a 20-something, but a 40-something married with two young adult kids is just gravy.

 

The Story

Liv Green married and became a Mom young. She’s taken jobs to make money for her family–not gone after a career and certainly not a career as a writer. A while back Liv wrote to ask for a job with a favorite writer, local celebrity Essie Starling. as a cleaner (not a “maid” as the blurb says! Someone who comes in just to clean is not a “maid”) and was surprised to be hired. As their relationship, never a “friendship,” just a working relationship grows, Essie discovers that Liv knows her Georgia Rory books well–has the details down cold, details that the author herself sometimes has to stop and think about. When the author dies her last wishes insist that Liv finish her work in progress. A handsome, but somewhat stuffy, attorney shares the news with her–news that could change her life in more ways than one. But is the attorney hiding something?

Meanwhile, Liv’s husband, Jake, and young adult sons Mack and Johnny, are at home wondering what’s up with Mum. Jake’s business is struggling and he is being evasive about it–often taking calls from his sister about the family firm while hidden away in the coat cupboard. Understandably, their marriage now is not all that it could, or should be, due to the secrets being kept.

As Liv works to finish the book she gets to know folks who knew Essie. She also learns about writing and about herself. As she “gets into character” to write more of Georgia Rory’s adventure, she experiences new adventures that were denied her as young mother on a tight budget. She grows and changes in ways she never expected.

My Thoughts

Like in all such books you must accept a few amazing coincidences, but that’s part of the fun. Yes, I figured out the big secret, but like the coincidences, that’s just how such books work. None of it detracts from a good story.

I loved Liv, Essie, Jake, and Anthony–they were so real and believable.  Liv and Jake truly cared for each other and for their boys. Anthony’s emotion was real and raw. Liv was sincere and hardworking and for once that was handsomely rewarded. While she was only around 40 or 42, (says I from the lofty perch of “only” 60) I loved that an “older” writer got a break in a story–that was so encouraging to me even if she is fictional.

I loved the image the author painted describing tears as having “waterfalled down her face.” (On the flip side of creativity, if she’d written “socked foot“–as in sock-clad foot, one more time I’d have screamed. Someone should have caught the repetitive use of that phrase. Picky, picky, picky me!). Hank’s bar theme was perfect for a crime writer–very creative idea to toss in there. He was perfectly dressed in his jean jacket and t-shirt. Finally, I liked that the story mentions Liv listening to Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen and a few other books that I’ve liked (sorry–I lost my note with the titles). Those were fun additions to the story and made me relate even more to Liv.

I’ve enjoyed each book by this author that I’ve read so far–so much so that she has become a “must-read” author for me. I don’t understand though, why her publishers seem to think the UK and US markets need such different titles and covers for her books. Either title, either cover, this is a wonderful story.

I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

4 Big Stars

(If you are new here, I have rarely given a 5 star rating. This is a great rating for me).

The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick

aka The Book Share (A play on the best selling book The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary, eh Marketing Department?) in UK is currently on sale for £1.99.

My Reviews of Other Books by Phaedra Patrick

Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

The Library of Lost and Found: A Novel by Phaedra Patrick

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Book Reviews

Review: Lost Summers of Newport

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My Interest

The Gilded Age is a favorite of mine and the Cottages of New Port are on my Bucket List. I really enjoyed Lauren Willig’s Band of Sisters (click for my review) last year. (I’ve read one book by Karen White but have no memory of it–it’s just in my Goodreads “Read” list. I haven’t read any by Beatriz Wiliams though I started one and ran out of library time). Plus, I was intrigued by the idea of a committee of three writing a novel (apparently it is their second novel written as a trio).

US map showing Rhode Island credit  Photo Credit for Cottages Photo

The Story

The book cycles through alternating chapters telling the story of three members of the Sprague family (or their staff) in their Newport “Cottage” (i.e. mansion). Ellen, in 1899 (the Gilded Age) is music teacher to Maybelle Sprague whose brother wants her married off to an Italian Prince (this is the era of the Dollar Princesses–aka, Cora Crawley of Downton Abbey or Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome and his cousin’s wife, Newport’s own Consuelo Vanderbilt). In 1957 we have Maybelle’s great-granddaughter the oh-so-helpfully nicknamed “Lucky,” the 50’s upper-class party-hosting wife (JFK and Jackie are guests) of hard-drinking, Mad Men-ish skirt-chasing Stuyvesant Sprague, and daughter-in-law of secret-holding Dudley Sprague. In the present day (2019) we have TV host Andie who interacts with Lucky’s grandchildren while filming a reality show around the rules of “Don’t go near the boathouse” [cue the warning music] and “Don’t try to talk to Lucky” [more warning music]. Secrets, of course, abound!

My Thoughts

This is THE historical fiction beach/pool book of the year! Exactly what I needed for my commute, too. Never mind that enough clues are dropped that even I guessed one of the big secrets! Or that there are eye-rolling things happening everywhere. This was a darned good read from start-to-finish. Improbable? Sure, but why let that spoil any of the fun? It’s a beach or pool book — just roll with it (like the waves of the sea).

A few annoying things:

But why, oh why, do people try to voice children with crap like “I founded a worm?” or have them stuff crap up their noses when they are school aged?? Ugh!! And can’t anyone do anything to show affection to a little boy but tousling the kid’s hair? (It’s as annoying and ubiquitous as the guy always “tenderly” tucking a lock of hair behind the woman’s ear). The kid things were made worse by the reader doing super annoying speech impediment of w for r for the kid! (Hopefully he’s getting help for this at that school he’s always puking to get out of attending). More reader problems included pronouncing the Latin “Pater” as “Patter” and can’t decide if Joanie says “Ma-Ma” or “M’ma” (ala Prince Charles)–I didn’t think even the Preppy-ist of 50s era Preps said “M’ma” but who knows, right? 

My Verdict

3.5

Lost Summers of Newport: A Novel by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White

Book Reviews

Two Reviews: A Real-Life Odyssey and a Nonfiction Thriller

These two books were what people used to call “real pills”–as in trouble. Trouble to review that is. I decided to quit trying to review them in my normal way and do a shorter version.

Candace Millard’s books are must-reads for me (though I skipped her Churchill book). She can tell a whale of a story. This time out is no different. Her portraits of her characters are vivid and full of life. (Though her strong prejudice against Speake came through a little too loud and clear). The adventures chronicled in this book are better than an Indiana Jones movie. But why was it important for us to know about one person’s pornography collection and porn sharing club?? This is the kind of crap that takes serious history down to the level of a bodice-ripper. Happily, that was a tiny blip in the book. Just about every human emotion is in here somewhere and believably conveyed, too.

River of the Gods by Candace Millard

The Special Air Service, SAS, was Britain’s covert paratroop unit in World War II. These men deployed via parachute behind enemy lines in France to wreck havoc any way they could to aid the Resistance. Unfortunately, things do not always go as planned on such covert operations and some were killed, others taken prisoner. Sadly, these men, though in correct uniform, were not treated as POWs by the Nazis–they were treated as spies and tortured. This is a true thriller–true in both it meets the criteria for the thriller genre and that it is a true story. The courage and heroism displayed here was extreme.

Churchill’s Band of Brothers by Damien Lewis

Book Reviews

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

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My Interest

I was trolling thru my Kindle looking for something different and landed on this short novel. I’m counting it in my Reading the World project as “Tunisia” because the author is Tunisian, it draws on the culture of that country and though set in am unnamed country, the story could be set there. CIA World Fact Book–Tunisia.

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The Story

(Don’t be put off by the first chapter). Sidi is a beekeeper who keeps to himself, takes good care of his bees and his donkey and minds his own business. He lives outside a small village in an undeveloped (“backward”) part of a poor North African country. The country is ruled by “the Handsome One.” One day everything starts to change in ways Sidi and his rural neighbors could not imagine. Largely illiterate they are faced with a new challenge–electing their own leader. Religious leaders arrive in the village and teach them to vote for their party by it’s symbol. To reinforce their voters’ learning they bring crates of food, clothing, blankets, and other necessities to the very poor villagers. A voting booth is put up. A village with no electricity or running water, no school, now had a voting booth. A voting booth where they could vote for the pigeon symbol instead of learning to read and think for themselves.

Soon after Sidi’s bees are violently attacked by a strange black hornet the likes of which no one has ever seen before. Society changes as rapidly as the life in the beehives. Suddenly women are covered head-to-toe, men dress differently too, and many carry rifles or even semi-automatics. The religious leaders make pronouncements. The professor Sidi goes to see about his bees suffers greatly from this new regime (trying to avoid spoilers). What will become of the bees and the people?

My Thoughts

This novel (novella in length), told in the style of a parable shows what can happen when people don’t pay attention to what is going on around them. Sidi, shows the difference one man (my “one” vote that people refuse to cast because it is “useless”) can make. 

I found it chilling to read this book at a time when many (I am not divulging my political opinions) feel the USA is now going the way of Sidi’s country–to a theocracy. It also brings to mind the famous quote about the Nazi’s

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

(Martin Niemoller)

“After the revolution, the time had come for democracy and journalism, but what came was and endless media debate in which politicians blamed one another for all that ailed the country.” (p. 114)

Too often today people want to ignore politics, to live in their own “bubble.” New is skewed totally to the opinion of one party or the other. “Serious” journalists now take only a Liberal point of view. It is too easy to tune it all out and focus on a ridiculous prince and his horrible wife or on real housewives or sports or (fill in the blank). We must be awake in life. As anxiety-producing and anger-invoking as politics can be, we must not turn a blind eye to it. We must not let corrupt politicians drive our nations an internal cataclysm of “us” versus “them.” We must unite to save ourselves from those corrupt politicians of we, too, will have the fate of the professor Sidi consults. Wake up, America. Unite.

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

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Book Reviews

Midyear Reading Challenge Update: The Ongoing Challenges I’m Doing

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#ReadNonFicChal

One of the options in this challenge is to read by the following categories. While I’ve chose the option to just read and review any nonfiction, I thought as part of my half-way update I’d see how I’m doing on the categories without trying.

Total Nonfiction Books Read January 1 to June 30, 2022

CATEGORIES

1. Social History   After the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport 

2. Popular Science 

3. Language

4. Medical Memoir

5. Climate/Weather

6. Celebrity

7. Reference

8. Geography [I’m seeing Geography as set in another country] Girl From Lamaha Street (Guyana)

9. Linked to a podcast Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Seamus O’Reilly of Griefcast (podcast)

10. Wild Animals The Puma Years by Laura Coleman

11. Economics 

12. Published in 2022  Valor by Dan Hampton

I have one more I’m currently reading that should be finished by the end of June, but I’ll leave it off.

20 Books of Summer

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#20booksofsummer22

June 1, 2022 to September 1, 2022

Here is the link to my original 20 Books of Summer post with my list of possible books. I don’t like a set reading list–it gets to be like homework. So these are just possibilities. 

Update from my possibilities list (link above):

  • The School for German Brides arrived very early, so isn’t counted. Click to read my review.
  • The Good Left Undone–DNF
  • The No-Show–DNF for now–I got several audios in at the same time. This one didn’t make the cut, but I’ll try it again later.
  • Entangled Life–DNF, but only because it took too much concentration for a commuting audio.
  • Haven–I’m reading it from NetGalley right now.

Read For 20 Books of Summer

I only do challenges that allow using books in multiple challenges–it’s more fun that way.

  1. River of the Gods by Candice Millard–review coming soon
  2. Churchill’s Band of Brothers by Damien Lewis–review coming soon
  3. The Puma Years by Laura Coleman Click to read my review
  4. Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Seamas O’Reilly Click to read my review
  5. Mary Churchill’s War by Mary Churchill [Soames].Click to read my review

I will finish a few more before June ends.

Audio Book Challenge

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Thanks to my long (2 hours+) commute, I listen to a ton of audio books!

I will finish a few more before June ends, but this is when the post fit in my blogging schedule!

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Historical Fiction

    1. The School for German Brides
    2. Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson
    3. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier
    4. Mary Anne by Daphne Du Maurier
    5. Far Country by Nevil Shute 
    6. Angels of the Pacific by Elise Hooper 
    7. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell 
    8. Under the Golden Sun by Jenny Ascroft 
    9. River of Earth by James Still 
    10. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn 
    11. The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

I debate some books–if they were written as contemporary (like Spring Magic below or another older book that I’m reading now) are they historical fiction? Who knows! I’ve probably missed a book or two as well. I may finish one more before June ends.

50 European sovereign states 

Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

NOTE: Even with Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, part of Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. One book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom.

ERC 2022

  1. The Statement (France)
  2. The Sixteen Trees of the Somme (Norway)
  3. The Vintage Springtime Club (Germany)
  4. The Conclave (Vatican City)
  5. Small Things Like These (Ireland)
  6. The Secret Life of Albert Entwhistle (UK as one country) 

Possibly one or two more countries by the end of June, depending on what I finish reading.

 

Countries: Ireland, Norway, Germany, Vatican City, France and UK**

** I don’t agree with the UK representing just one country. I see England, Scotland, Wales. and Northern Ireland as unique. My page. My rules.

  1. Spring Magic (Scotland)
  2. How Green Was My Valley  (Wales)
  3. Sorrow and Bliss (England
  4. Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? (Northern Ireland)

Aussie-Author-Reading-Challenge-2022

Far Country by Nevil Shute 

I found this challenge late, so I’m not off to a great start.

Coming up during the rest of the year

The next Classics Club Spin is a definite as is October’s 1929 Cub read. I’m not sure about the Aussie lit month this year, but the others should be a “go.” I haven’t put in a Christmas book challenge even though I enjoyed one last year that’s way too mood-driven to predict.

What about you? Are you participating in any of these challenges? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

Book Reviews

Review: The Puma Years: A Memoir by Laura Coleman

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My Interest

I think this was a World Book Day freebie for Kindle. Anyway, it has cats. No matter the size, they are cats. It sounded like “Peace Corps With Cats.”

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The Story

I came to Bolivia wanting to transform. I wanted to be a butterfly. Maybe I should have been hoping for something else. A botfly, perhaps. (p. 217)

Laura comes from an apparently privileged background. Nothing wrong with that. She is afraid of life (or so it seems). By her own admission, she quits everything. Eventually she lands in Bolivia at an animal sanctuary–a very primitive animal sanctuary where howler monkeys and big cats are among the animals being “saved” through good-faith efforts at therapeutic rehabilitation. The animals have been wildly inappropriate pets (pun intended) and then were dumped or rescued. The shelter has a few Bolivians who run it, but it relies on the sort of young volunteers typical of Peace Corps. (FYI: My Peace Corps group was a-typical. We were mostly over 30 and had professional experience in addition to our degrees (sometimes multiple degrees). Laura has never had a cat–only dogs. When she meet Wayra, a Puma, she falls in love. So much so that she extends her trip. And, then returns again and again. Warya helps Laura conquer her fears and feel connected.

“‘MeowI copy tentatively.” She meows back….I collapse next to her. “That’s the first time she’s ever meowed at me!” I exclaim. I push my arms through [the cage] and she grinds her face against me, starting to purr….(p. 218).

My Thoughts

In my ancient day, the teachers (I was not a teacher) in Peace Corps, often went to very remote schools in places much like Laura’s animal rescue park. Isolated. Remote. Primitive. Like Laura, those who didn’t quit often “found” themselves and had a professional epiphany and got their lives together. I liked seeing Laura grown in this way–she found a way to go home and be successful

But, I loved reading about Wayra more–how utterly cat-like she is even though she is so much bigger than my own cats. even bigger than a Maine Coon Cat. The snuggles, the bathing and grooming, the preening, the little noises, the ‘squinching‘ (as I call it) her paws, the  ‘kneading” with her paws, the desire to just be with her person–so real. The “meow” scene was so wonderful. Back when my little cat was young enough to stay outside all day (she loved it and don’t worry she had food, shelter, water) she would be on her steps to greet me when I got home. A meow, a head butt against my leg, then she’d grab at my pants with her claws (nicely). I’d pick her up and she’d rub her face against my chin and then hop down. She still does these things, but in the kitchen before blasting outside to tour the yards. Her sister has similar rituals, but those have always happened on my bed because she is shy. I loved all the “normalcy” of Wayra’s relationship with Laura and the few glimpses we were given of the other cats with their volunteers.

My Thoughts

I rejoiced when Laura called her Mom on the eve of going home and said she wanted to stay. I rejoiced with each bit of understanding of herself and of cats that she gained. The world isn’t so scary any more once you’ve gone swimming with a Puma! Her love for Wayra was real–I felt it, too, as was Wayra’s love for her. I loved the trust she developed with “her” big cat and how she was welcomed back after her trips away. While Wayra wasn’t Elsa of Born Free (if you are too young to know this reference then please Google it), but with Laura’s help and love Wayra, too, stopped being afraid of everything.

Animals are so amazing in the ways they interact with us. The certainly can “heal” in my belief. Not in any weird way, just by letting us feel loved and growing through that.

I was saddened by only one thing. When Laura went home and moved to an island off Scotland, Laura got…a…D-O-G for companionship. I felt that was a slap in the face to poor Wayra, but I know it was most likely that she couldn’t bear to have another cat. Wayra was her one and only. 

My Verdict

4.0

The Best “free” book I’ve had for Kindle. Don’t miss the photos at the end of the book–they are superb.

The Puma Years: A Memoir by Laura Coleman