Review: The Room: A Novel by Jonas Karlsson



First, thank you to blogger Finding Time To Write who brought this little gem of a book to my attention!

The Story

Bjorn is a new employee in a Sweedish government agency or department. He displays tremendous leadership, produces outstanding work, and then goes to rejuvenate in a special room. Or does he?

My Thoughts

I loved the review of this book linked at the top, but finding the phrase “this Kafkaesque masterpiece” in the Amazon blurb decided it–I had to read it. I listened to the audio and, the two readers sounding much alike, the story tone not that different, I occasionally forgot it was a new book and thought I was listening to a new tale of hapless Andrew Less from the Pulitzer-prize winning, Less by Andrew Sean Greer that I reviewed here.

I loved this fun little book. I think I’ve been Bjorn, worked with Bjorn, been scorned by Bjorn (sorry–I couldn’t resist that), and have been to that room or been kept out of that room. Like reading a Dilbert cartoon or watching The Office, if you’ve worked in a bureaucratic position you know this story. It’s the perfect quick read for office workers stuck working at home while we all self-isolate. I will definitely enjoy more of this author’s work in the years to come. This was his debut, but he has since written two more such books.

The Room: A Novel by Jonas Karlsson

Review: Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Tobin



My Interest

Like a few other books I’ve read recently, I ran out of time with the library book when it was new and couldn’t get a renewal so it went back on my TBR. Reading Ireland Month was the perfect reason to request it again. I got the audiobook for my daily commute and am so glad I did–I ended up listening to it at home even!

The Story

Eilis Lacey is a young Irish woman who has finished school, shows great promise, but like many, she can find no meaningful employment in post-World War II-era Ireland. So, with the help of her siblings, she leaves her beloved sister and her widowed mother behind and moves to America–to Brooklyn for a job in a department store and the chance to “better herself.”

My Thoughts

I had to laugh as I read this one, remembering the little brother in the oft-shown clip from the movie of the little brother at dinner! I was pleased to see that he was a presence in part of the book. That aside, I loved this book. I loved how Eilis’ reticence combined with a sort of “piss off-ness” gave her an unusual depth for a fictional character. I loved that she just wasn’t sure, but still owned her decisions (as we’d say today).

I also loved that the book so clearly showed how “small town” an immigrant’s community can be–even an ocean away, even in one of the largest cities in the world. That was perfect.

I think the moment I liked best was her penance scene. Just one Hail Mary. One. Just one.

My Verdict

Close to flawless storytelling.


Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Tobin




Reading Ireland Month


#readingirelandmonth20 or #begorrathon20

Review: Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa



My Interest

I’ve enjoyed most of the Japanese literature I’ve read in the last few years, so this year I signed up for the Japanese Literature Challenge and the Year of the Asian Challenge. This book fits the criteria of both and I do not see a problem with crediting it to both challenges since they are only for fun.

The Story

“I began to understand that we were born in order to see and listen to the world. And that’s all this world wants of us. It doesn’t matter that I was never a teacher or a member of the workforce, my life had meaning.” (p. 199)


Released from prison for a routine drug offense, Sentaro has been working in a very small pastry shop selling pancakes filled with sweet bean paste. His life is dull, he has debt, and nothing changes. Then one day an elderly woman, Tokue, asks him to let her make the sweet bean paste. She keeps asking–finally bringing a Tupperware bowl full of the sweet bean paste she’s been making for 50 years. In spite of her crippled hands and her advanced age, Sentaro agrees to hire her. Life begins to change.

“I made all those sweet things for all those who lived with the sadness of loss.” (p.202)


My Thoughts

“The only way to get over barriers…is to live in the spirit of already being over them.” (p. 210)

I did not expect to be so moved by this little book! Wow, it packs quite an emotional punch.

Nor did I expect an education in Hansen’s Disease, aka “Leprosy.” Before reading this book I knew only that it featured in an episode of Call the Midwife and that, back in the day, Queen Elizabeth beat Princess Diana by decades in shaking hands, gloveless, with a patient of a fear disease. When she shook hands with a “Leper,” it lessened public fear of what was by then a treatable, and curable, disease.

Tokue’s memories of her life in the Lepers Sanctuary from age 14 to her present advanced age, evoked images of concentration camps. state mental hospitals, and a lot of other institutions to which people are forced. I was left staggered, trying to imagine knowing no one outside the colony,  never seeing family again and, of all things, having to accept a new name. This last reminded me of colonial children, such as Nelson Mandela, being forced to use a new name to go to school at mostly mission-run schools or of the children stolen from conquered nations and given to SS families by the Nazis.

Tomorrow I have a post on novels set in some of those places (but not in concentration camps).

I’m told the movie adaptation of Sweet Bean Paste [movie link] is also very good.

Now, if I could just taste one of those pancakes with Tokue’s style of Sweet Bean Paste! Or that New Year’s dish!!

My Verdict


Possible favorite book of 2020, too!

Sweet Bean Paste [book link] by Durian Sukegawa

Review: The Green Road: A Novel by Anne Enright. Reading Ireland Month


Welcome to Reading Ireland Month!

I decided to follow the host, 746 Books’ idea of reading a contemporary.

My second contemporary Irish novel


One of the Guardian‘s 100 Best Books of the 21st Century

“With language so vibrant it practically has a pulse, Enright makes an exquisitely drawn case for the possibility of growth, love and transformation at any age.” —People

With hype like this at the top of the Amazon blurb, I was cautious but hopeful. I should have kept moving. My snarky side says this one all that praise for mentioning masochistic homosexual sex. That follows most of a chapter trying to wax eloquent about butchering a chicken, more on disagreeable fictional people’s sex lives than I ever wanted to know, a few teary moments over a friend of mine lost years and years ago to that new illness that became known as AIDS, then HIV/AIDs, a trip to Africa to remember all the folks I knew there who died of HIV or related illnesses, and even more depressing things like, oh,  breast cancer. Yeah. It reminded me of last year’s revolting “real” book–Normal People, which I also loathed for many of the same reasons, but especially because these were just not people I cared to know! I couldn’t connect with any character enough to finish this book.

I will give Anne Enright her due–she can coin a phrase. Her ability to pin a person to a description is likely close to being unrivaled. How many could pull off “her supermarket hair,” or “it was a lived-in face,” and, “her voice had layers.” I loved these phrases! The book IS written in a fine style–it was the subject matter that did me in. It’s not as though I’m unfamiliar with Ireland and Irish culture–although my family came from Ulster, not the south and we are Protestant, there’s a whole lot that’s the same. Anyone not a British aristocrat had a pretty crappy existence anywhere on the Emerald Isle until the late 20th century. But in The Green Road, I just could not like these people (just like in Normal People) and reached a point where I could not give the book one more second of what’s left of my life! DNF. I recommend DNS–do not start!

I listened to the audiobook until disc 6.

My Verdict


If Anne Enright ever writes a book that has a shred of happiness or positivity in it, I will gladly read it.

The Green Road: A Novel by Anne Enright

Epidemics Come and Go: Review of Nemisis by Philip Roth


I’m guessing the last time I read Philip Roth, Ronald Regan was president. I recall reading Portnoy’s Complaint and, after seeing the movie, I read Good-bye Columbus. But this so-slim-it’s-really-a-novella novel leaped off the shelf at me. Well, the cover, being way different than those around it DID really catch my eye. (I’m guessing that’s what the cover artist was going for when he designed it.) The title of the first chapter will possibly stay with me forever: “Equitorial Newark.” Newark–as in New Jersey. I knew exactly what he meant after baking away summers in the mid-west without air conditioning as a child. I’m sure my pastoral suburban home was nowhere near as oppressive as the gritty, high-density apartments of Newark in 1944.

It may be hard for most readers to feel the terror of that one simple word “polio” today….at least until you translate it into today’s terrify-the-parents word, “autism.” If autism were seen as contagious you’d have the terror, the irrationality that besets playground manager Bucky Cantor as he watches the kids who populate his ball diamonds and skip rope on the sidewalk begins to be stricken and die with polio in those hellishly hot days of the summer of ’44. When a group of Italian toughs from a nearby neighborhood comes to the playground itching for a fight they leave a calling card that frightens. So too does the simple-minded man known as Horace.

Bucky is a decent man, striving to do the right thing, to be fair, to do “good.” But it reaches him. First one boy, then another dies. Then, the fabled offer he can’t refuse followed by, to me, a shocking ending. Nemesis by Philip Roth.

From my old blog on  June 27, 2011.

Review: Derby Day by D. J. Taylor


The Story

As the shadows lengthen over the June grass, all England is heading for Epsom Downs’ high life and low life, society beautifies and Whitechapel street girls, bookmakers and gypsies, acrobats and thieves. Whole families stream along the Surrey back-roads, towards the greatest race of the year. Hopes are high, nerves are taut, hats are tossed in the air. This is Derby Day. In this rich and exuberant novel, the mysteries pile high, propelling us towards the day of the great race, as we wait with baited breath as the story gallops to a finish no one expects.

My Thoughts

What I thought this book was about: The Victorian horsey upper-crust attending the Derby with a little mystery and maybe some house party shenanigans thrown in for fun. Perhaps the Prince of Wales and some of his set would feature as characters.

What this book was really about: A mystery that had the husband of the lady daughter of a Marquess as a minor character. The rest of the characters were mostly shady men–including the “unknown” man that marries the Marquess’s daughter’s daughter. And a girl with either autism or severe cognitive impairment.

I started off reading this in print from the library, but couldn’t renew it. I’d forgotten it so only got about 20 pages done when I had to renew it. I needed an audiobook for my commute and also hoped it would go with a topical post I was planning, so I listened to it this time and enjoyed it. It just wasn’t really what I was expecting from the blurb. This book was nominated for the Man Booker Prize and was named as a Book of the Year by the Washington Post. If you would like a Dick Francis novel set in Victorian times, this is your book. I happen to enjoy Dick Francis, but only on audio, so this was a good choice for me in spite of my initial confusion on the story.

Derby Day: A Novel by D.J. Taylor

My Verdict

4 Stars


What a Difference a Cover Can Make


The cover on the left is the one I saw and that interested me in the book. The cover in the middle is likely the most “accurate” cover for the book. I don’t know who or what inspired the miserable scene in the last cover but it brings nothing of the book to mind. A cover can make or break a book–we really do judge books by their cover, even if it is only one element in how we evaluate a book as a potential read.

Review: Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns. Reading Ireland Month


#begorrathon20  #readingirelandmonth20
#reading ireland month

I’m participating in a number of reading challenges, reading “months” etc., this year to vary my reading even more! I’m finally reading print/eBooks again–not simply listening to audios on my commute.


Today, I’m starting Read Ireland Month, hosted by the blog 746 Books. (Check out this blog–nifty premise and fun to see her progress). My first review is of the Man Booker Prize Winner Milkman, by Anna Burns.

My Interest



I annually try to read at least one prize winner just for the sake of it. Add to it that my family came to the U.S. from Ulster via Australia [well, one part of it did!] and though we are protestants my interest in ALL of Ireland is strong. I visited the Republic of Ireland in 1977–exactly the era in which Milkman is set across the boarder during the Troubles.  Add to it the semester I spent reviewing the Troubles in an independent study project in college and you have a ton of reasons to pick this book. (Oh, to have had such a brilliant novel to   intertwine with my research!)


The Story

“It’s disturbing,” the friend explains. “It’s deviant. It’s optical illusional. Not public-spirited. Not self-preservation. Calls attention to itself and why—with enemies at the door, with the community under siege, with all of us having to pull together—would anyone want to call attention to themselves here?”

Unnamed  18 year-old “Middle Sister” is coming-of-age in a British Army-occupied city in Northern Ireland late in the years of the Troubles. Like all cities in that region, in that era, there were clear lines of demarcation–this will be a familiar idea to any who followed the gang warfare in LA or Chicago in recent years. S-S-D-City.

The “Gangs” here are Catholic Irish who want to be in the Irish Republic, and the Protestants loyal to the Queen in that “country over the water.” Just as in any gang situation there is collateral damage. The wrong person gets shot. The wrong car blown up. So Middle Sister is fingered as a romantic partner of “The Milkman”–a paramilitary leader (i.e. gang lord) old enough to be her father. Meanwhile, she’s in a relationship with “Maybe-Boyfriend,” and her widowed mother comes to be romantically involved with the real milkman who actually delivers the dairy products in the area.

Now, just what was Middle Sister doing that was seen as so dreadful in the quote above? Reading while out walking. Reading Victorian fiction. Reading without worry about where she was going. Reading without thought to the paramilitaries or the renouncers or the country over the water or …..

My Thoughts

I loved this book from start-to-finish with one tiny exception that I’ll discuss in a minute. The unique rhythm and linguistic style of this story–told in part almost as a marching cadence “sung” by troops and drill sergeant, was mesmerizing. (I gather many others hated it– but I loved it).

I also loved the other unique aspect of the storytelling–no names were used beyond Chef,  [Mother], Milkman and Real-Milkman. Otherwise all were “Middle Sister,” “Eldest wee sister,’ “Maybe-Boyfriend,” “Tablets-Girl,” “the Country Over the Water,” “the Country Over the Border,” etc. To me, this was like poetry.

The book definitely shines in the excellent audio version–the reader, Bríd Brennan, perfectly voices “Middle Sister.” Like so much of Irish story telling this comes across brilliantly in the spoken word. I’m not sure how well it would fare, though, in print. The writing makes the manners, rules, taboos, restrictions, and realities of life for “Middle Sister” come alive. I could relate to some of her life’s normal issues as we are approximate age mates which made the story that much better. The whole reading issue was just right for my “self” of that time and age, though I didn’t read and walk! I love when a piece of story is a perfect fit for my own life.

I truly admired the talent Anna Burns poured into this book. The effort it took to tell the story in this rigid ‘cadence” this something,  something,  list, story,  story, something, something, list lilting structure took patience and craftsmanship to hone. It was brilliantly done.

The only moment that made me roll my eyes was the now sadly predictable insertion into just about any work of historical fiction of a slug of modern day PC thought. Thankfully it was very, very brief in this book.

The Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns

My Verdict

4.5 Stars

For once an award winner truly lived up to, and perhaps even surpassed, its  hype.

Review: The German Heiress by Anika Scott


I learned of this book via The Cozy Burrow.

I received an advance copy of this book from Net Gallery. The opinions expressed here are mine. I was not paid for this, or any, review.

My Interest

World War II, as I’ve soft quiet often recently, is a huge interest of mine. The period immediately after the war through the end of the Berlin Airlift does not receive as much attention. This book caught my eye since it begins in soon after the war. I am also participating in the Historical Fiction Challenge this year at the blog Passages to the Past.

The Story

Say the name “Falkenberg” in Essen during the War and it would be like saying “Carnegie” in Pittsburgh at the turn of the century. Like their cross-town rival, Krupp, the fabled German Arms producer, the Falkenberg ironworks produced for the Reich. Headed by Theodore, the wealth of the Falkenbergs protected Theodore’s English wife, Anne, and their children–the sons all in uniform,  leaving daughter Clara as her father’s war-necessitated understudy.  Clara, who came to be known as the “Iron Fraulein,” the Reich’s most eligible heiress.

The war is over now, and the British occupy Essen Captain Thomas Fenshaw has studied Clara since she attended a British Union of Fascists rally with her mother in England in the late 1930s. Unlike her father, who is in custody, Clara remains free. Fenshaw is determined to find her.

Clara puts herself at risk trying to find her dearest friend, Elissa and Elissa’s son, Willy. In the after-war chaos of stateless persons, homeless Germans, and occupying armies, this is a risky proposition.


My Thoughts

Forgive me if I spent part of the book giggling “Iron Mädchen” thinking of “Iron Maiden”. Ok, that was silly. Clara’s story reads like a thriller. There are turns and twists, secrets and lies–all the aspects of a well-told, suspense-filled thriller, with just enough romance thrown in to make it that much more interesting.

I felt that while the suspense could have been heightened more for my taste, and that Clara was a bit too 007 once in a while, overall this book exceeded my expectations. One secret I never anticipated! My one moment of disappointment was “the pet.” I won’t explain this as it would be a huge spoiler, but “the pet” was my one big “oh, come on!” moment in an otherwise great read.

My Verdict

3.75 stars

The German Heiress by Anika Scott is available for pre-order, publishing on April 7.



If You Enjoyed The German Heiress, Check Out These Books:


The Women in the Castle: A Novel by Jessica Shattuck


A Castle in Wartime by Catherine Bailey


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.

Down On the Farm! Books with a farming theme!


I’ve spent all but two years of my life in the Midwest. Surprisingly there ARE cities here–Chicago, St Louis, Kansas City come immediately to mind. My mind, though centers on the cornfields, bean fields, and now tobacco fields near my home. I can easily conjure the smells of a feedlot, chicken hatchery, fish farm pools, or a CAFO with little or no effort. I have followed directions given back in the pre-GPS days that go something like:

Turn left at Price’s big machine shed and go straight till you get to the egg and produce stand at the old lady’s driveway. Turn right and go all the way to Yoder’s then hang a quick right at the tobacco barn-it’s about two miles more on your left.

My childhood self was tortured with long boring stories of my Great Aunts and Great Uncles about the farms they grew up on. That same self was rewarded with a ride on a combine or playing tag in cornfields. Many of my high school classmates started their working lives detasseling corn or, where I live now, neighbors hoed or hung tobacco. Farming has an allure in this part of the country, but it is an edgy allure now remembering the foreclosures in the Great Depression and again in the 80s when John Mellencamp sang at Farm Aid.

In Southern Ohio, where I now live, the big tobacco settlement wasn’t good news. Tobacco is still a cash crop here. In my county, school closes for the County Fair each fall. 4-H Club membership is almost a right of passage. Kindergarteners are introduced to the Future Farmers of America with a field trip to the high school and a chance to climb on farm machinery. The antique farm equipment show is second only the County Fair in terms of revenue.

In the last week, a nameless politician made a farming comment so stupid, so out-of-touch that I won’t even repeat it. So, today I’m waxing nostalgic as a prelude to presenting some of the best (and, for balance, one of the worst) farm, farmer, or farming-themed books I’ve read. I culled them from my memory, from Goodreads and random lists found on the internet. I rejected some–My Antonia,  for example, which I loved, but which I felt was more about coming-of-age, but was still on many lists. The wonderful All Creatures Great and Small stories of veterinarian James Herriot I also rejected. They were from the vet’s perspective, not the farmers. Missing, too, is George Orwell’s classic,  Animal Farm, which while told as a farm story is really the story of totalitarianism. I may not be at all consistent in this applying criteria though. Now, here is my list:



A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley is a farm story married to Shakespeare. A retelling of King Lear, the book is set on a thousand-acre Iowa family farm. The three daughters and their father harbor secrets, animosities, and destinies like those in a Shakespearian tragedy. This book won the Pulitzer Prize. Today it requires a trigger warning due to sexual abuse. [I read this when it was released before there was the internet and blogging so I have not reviewed it].






This book had real promise–it started out great. I thought it was like Garrison Keillor’s fabled  Lake Woebegone got real. Billed as a ‘Midwest Gothic’ of farm country life, it derailed with a completely horrific story of bullying and abusing a disabled girl. I’m including it because if you skip that chapter it is a good read. Farmer’s Almanac by Chris Fink.





The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear details the trouble a young farm wife, Kezia–a new bride as well,  has in coping after her farmer-husband volunteers to fight in World War I. As the British Army takes the horses and an even greater amount of her farm produce, she comforts herself and her soldier-husband in letters filled with descriptions of wonderful meals. Her letters become favorites in her husband’s unit–even their Captain enjoys them. But war is war. The meals are fiction. The coping has to continue.




A Day No Pigs Would Die by Richard Newton Peck is a depressing look at a depressing life. When your Mom serves the nuts she took out of the stomach of a butchered squirrel, you know it’s hard times, right?





Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder is the story of Laura’s husband, Almonzo’s childhood in upstate New York. The son of a fairly well-off farmer, Almonzo and his siblings, help on the farm before moving west.







Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons—“They’re have been Starkadders at Cold Comfort….” “Robert Poste’s child,” Flore Poste arrives at Cold Comfort farm and begins to experience first-hand just how crazy a family can be. This is a comic novel that has well-stood the test of time. My full review is here.





I love, love, love ALL of John Goodall’s fabulous, wordless, Edwardian life picture books. The illustrations bring the world alive. I have most of the series. The Story of a Farm is just as lovely as those on upper-class life in the era.




See You in a Hundred Years by Logan Ward, his wife and a baby all ditch Manhattan for a farm as up-to-date as 1900. If it didn’t exist in 1900, they won’t use it. Any romantic notions you may have of “the olden days” can be erased with this book.






Our Homestead Story by Stephen Castleberry When a college business professor takes his large family off to a farm in Northern Wisconsin to lead a more self-sufficient life (one that its influenced by the same teachings followed by TV’s Duggar family of Counting On and the Bates family of Bringing Up Bates) the city slickers have a lot to learn from growing and butchering your own beef to remodeling the house and more. While I do not share their beliefs I did enjoy their story.




Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The best-selling author of Poisonwood Bible and other titles moved her family to an Appalachian farm to grow and enjoy seasonal foods. While I found her tone a tad preachy and was gob-smacked at her children agreeing to whole wheat pizza crust and apparently nothing but balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing, the life the chose to lead inspired me. Whether small scale farming or large-scale gardening, this book is a very modern look at small farm life without the struggles to pay the bills from what the farm earns.



I purchased a used copy of this amazing collection of farming photos while researching one of my manuscripts.  It is fabulous. Farming Comes of Age.


My All-Time Favorite Farm Books


Ok, I cheated! Like Animal Farm, these books use a farm setting to tell the story of the power of Unions and Collective Bargaining! I loved Click, Clack Moo so much I bought it for every member of my family for Christmas the year it came out. My brother worked for a union at that time, so it was a huge hit. I still love these two books. There are more in the series, but these were the best.


Review: A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel


My Interest

By now it should be obvious to readers of this blog that I am fascinated by most aspects of World War II, life under the Nazis and anything else related to this time period. Stories of personal survival are especially interesting to me. Add in a bookshop and I knew I had to read it.

The Story

This is a “rediscovered” memoir of a well-educated and sophisticated Jewish woman from Poland who opens the first French-language bookshop in Berlin in 1921. She weathers the rise of the Nazis and survives their consolidation of power through her protected status as a foreign-business owner. The bookshop, which receives top billing in the title, is barely a part of the story. Eventually, she must abandon her business and leave Germany to seek refuge in Nice where she goes through the trials associated with trying to escape the clutches of the Nazis.

My Thoughts

It is with extreme caution that I say this, for I would never, ever belittle what anyone went through under the Nazi regime.  The author, though apparently not at all religious, was a Jew and the terror she had to have lived with is unimaginable. That said, I have never encountered the emotions this book generated in any other book or memoir of the Holocaust. I couldn’t decide if she was being extremely modest or extremely smug about her situation. Although she was in real danger and was putting others in real danger by hiding her, I never felt she realized this. It could just be her way of writing–her style of  “speaking.”

She had the money to accomplish everything, she had good contacts, and connected repeatedly with various extremely brave French citizens who helped her to a degree not often seen in Holocaust literature. They did so at grave risk to themselves and their own families. Swiss friends put themselves out not once, but three times, to help get her to safety. And yet, she seemed rather self-righteous about her life being worthy of all the heroic acts that helped to save her. Her few last-minute emotions about leaving France seemed put-on or added to the narrative for a touch of poignancy.

Those are hash things to say about the story of a woman facing near-certain death and I am ashamed of thinking them, but that is how her story came across.  How it came across and how she thought she was telling it can be two very different things, of course. That my perceptions may be due to the language she used being poorly translated or that her true and sincere humility came across as arrogance could be another problem.

Her story is fascinating, though the monologue style of the narrative also got a bit tedious. I longed for more of other voices to give more emotion, more urgency, to her plight. Even when being spirited out into the night she never came across as rushed or frightened in the least which was quite strange. Nonetheless, this memoir is an important addition or re-addition to the canon of Holocaust memoirs.

My Verdict

4 Stars

A Berlin Bookshop by Francoise Frenkel



Another “rediscovered” book of France at this time is Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. You can read my review here.