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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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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

 

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Review: The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting, translated by Paul Russell Garrett

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#TheSixteenTreesoftheSomme #NetGalley

My Interest

Say the words “The Somme” and you generally have my attention. World War I ends one of my favorite historical periods. That battle is one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century. The loss of life is beyond fathoming. Add to that a Norwegian author (translated into English) and a country I haven’t yet “read” in my reading the world project and you have a book I had to read. I’m so glad I did. Not only did it introduce me to the Shetland Islands, but this story weirdly incorporated a part of a character’s story in one of my own works in progress.

The Story

“If you look at life as a whole, most of our conduct is second-rate.”

At the Somme battle site from World War I there is a group of trees affected by an apparently one-time use of an odd poisonous gas. The grain and coloration of the wood is some of the finest ever. An Edinburgh timber merchant has a big financial stake in this wood–it is perfect for the bespoke sporting guns British aristocrats lust after and use to shoot grouse on the Glorious 12th and other birds throughout the year.

In 1971, a small boy goes missing for a few days after his parents are killed by an unexploded shell at the forest area containing the trees. The area is cordoned off by signs and barbed wire due to the unusually large number and close proximity of unexploded shells from World War I. 

Two Norwegian brothers take different paths in World War II. One, who farms the family farm for a living, fights for the Nazis in the Norse Legion. The other is killed in the French resistance, or by the French resisitence…or…is he?

Why would the “caretaker” of a grand house on a Scottish Island be so reluctant to gossip about her employers?

My Thoughts

Wow! This story takes twists and turns that amazed me. Admittedly, I’m not a big murder or mystery book reader, but wow all the same. And for once a contemporary author did research and put much of it into the story without boring the reader to death. I learned more about the Somme tragedy, a good bit about the natural environment in the north of Norway and on the Shetland Islands, as well as more about bespoke shotguns [see the bottom of this post]–all of which kept me paying rapt attention. The characters were believable, the story was told in a very compelling manner and there was no ridiculous “oh, look, old Uncle Whoever’s secret stash of letters” to start us off. The story was told in the present and the events of the past were uncovered in the present. I really liked that. One more cheesy dual-timeline story would have sent me over the edge. Both the author and the translator did a great job of conveying atmosphere and of pacing the story in a way that kept me wanting more each time I had to stop listening.

Note: There are 3-4 sentences later in the book that will be distressing to pet lovers, I was ok and I’m a big pet lover, but some may not be.

My Verdict

4.0

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme: A Novel by Lars Mytting, translated by Paul Russell Garrett

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Reading the World: Guyana: The Girl from Lamaha Street by Sharon Maas

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My Interest

  1. I discovered this book via Cathy’s review on her blog, What Cathy Read Next. Won’t you be nice and click the link and read her review, too?
  2. The book is set in two countries–England (Harrogate) and in Georgetown, Guyana–then British Guyana or “BC” to the locals. I’m reading my way around the world and Guyana is a country I hadn’t “visited” yet.
  3. In college I took a great literature course (thanks, Mom, for picking it when I was overwhelmed) on self-discovery. This book seemed like it would be a great fit in that course.

The Story

Sharon is born to a very independent mother and a father who’d prefer a traditional wife. Both her parents are very politically active in the rising independence movement in 1950’s British Guyana-the Guyana of today. Sharon is a quiet child, in part due to being tongue-tied (physically) and in part due to being a deep thinker. She is always trying to work out who she is and why she is this way or what her place in the universe is–those sorts of questions. After a few years of marriage in both London and Georgetown, her parents separate. She stays in Guayana, as does her father (though she does not live with him) and her mother returns to London for a while. Sharon is buffeted from this storm and it’s after-effects to some degree by the large, loving extended families on both sides of her family tree. The auntie and the granny and all the cousins envelope her and love on her.

“To the right, the beautiful stained-glass windows in the chancel provided the only light, lending to the atmosphere of hushed sanctity.”

“Was it brainwashing, this deep sense of peace and reverence that washed through me, not only the sound of that [hymn] singing, but induced by the very atmosphere of the chapel? I couldn’t help it. It was just there, and I felt it, and it was deep and enduring.”

In spite of this love and protection, Sharon develops a sort of identity crisis and insists on being called “Jo” and insists the only thing for her is to go off to a traditional English boarding school where she can ride horses. Her mother, thanks to an unusual windfall, can and does provide this. For a few years, “Jo” is happy. She thrives on the structure, order, rules, uniforms–they are a scaffolding she needs at that point. She even enjoys the normally forbidden religion and church attendance, and what she learns in church and religion class expands her questioning of herself. As a child I felt that reverence in the 19th Century Presbyterian Church building we in which we attended services for a few years. The stained glass windows, the fine wood, the quiet. I understood what “Jo” felt. I understood how religion classes were the one thing she’d give up her free reading time for. In my 30s I would do the same.

We see Jo grow up through the experience of boarding school, of becoming a (locally) successful competitive rider, and by experiencing some of the peace God grants. We see her endure overt racism on a skiing trip to Austria, too. Up to that point, she has been a child, not really seeing that she stood out in every crowd. The English, at least those at her school or in her holiday foster home, treated he politely whatever their inner feelings may have been. We see her truly “connect” with a book, My Friend Flicka (a favorite of my Dad’s)–seeing herself in the book and riding wave upon wave of emotion in reading it. We see her “find” herself.

Eventually, though, homesickness, or perhaps just maturity and security in her own identity, overcomes her and she asks to go home over Christmas vacation. Once home she knows that the “Jo” period of her life is over and she is “Sharon” once again. Her identity has been firmly established by exploring that other “home”–England and trying out the life of a privileged school girl in that coveted tweed skirt and house tie. She knows who she is now.

My Thoughts

“I learned that loving is an act of will. That love is a decision.”

This was an amazingly frank memoir. I admired her for her honesty–and for not just blaming her parents for all that was wrong in her life, though that would have been somewhat understandable. I related to her story almost from the first word–in fact the very title was why I read it. I went through a long yearning for horses–we’d had them when I was too young to enjoy them. And, unbelievably, a girl in middle-of-no-where-Indiana wrote off to English boarding schools wanting a chance at a “real” education even though I got homesick on the school bus even in high school! I understood both “Jo” and “Sharon.” The “Sharon” in me is the person who decided I live “here” and it is “home” now and I will not move again. 

I knew people in Malawi who were or had been as passionate about Independence–at least at the time it was granted, and were caught up fully in trying to end the rule of a dictator that replaced British rule and build a modern democracy. That helped me to understand her parents’ intensity in their careers. My Mom and my Uncle were sent home to stay with their Grandmother after two years abroad with their parents. Neither was ever the same after living abroad, but both suffered a degree of alienation from their parents when sent home. Like Sharon it manifested itself in different ways in both of them. A loving grandmother, a second, more distant grandmother, and aunt, younger cousins and a host of extended family could not fill the gap of one rather cold (by today’s terms) mother and a father consumed by work. I could feel what Sharon went through due to this experience in my own family. The “desertion” of Sharon’s mother–even though she was in no way “giving up” her daughter, was too much. Even when they reconciled there was distance.

Mostly, I loved Sharon’s joy in the ponies and their care and in her books. I loved her chapters on these topics. They were so “me” that I felt we were “sisters born to different parents.”

My Verdict

4.0

The Girl from Lamaha Street by Sharon Maas

Scenes from colonial British Guyana as it was in Sharon’s early childhood.

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Review: Honor: A Novel by Thirty Umrigar

My Interest

I love to read stories set elsewhere–in this case India. I also wish American women could appreciate how amazingly privileged they are! We can dis our men all we want, but most of them do try to help at home, do spend time with the kids, and do appreciate their wives. American women are usually taken seriously when they report rape –even rape in marriage. Battered women in America can generally find help–their plight is taken seriously. We have control, oh sorry! We have “agency” over our lives (that means we have choices we can actually make). That is unheard of in so many places. We in American DO still have freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, in spite of efforts from both sides of the political spectrum to encroach on them.

Last year I had the goal of reading more from Reese Witherspoon’s book club, but mostly struck out. Honor is the pick for January 2022 and I was lucky that my library had the e-audio available with no waiting. I hope this book opens the eyes of so many who think they have it so bad. You haven’t met “bad” until you’ve seen what women go through in many other nations.

The Story

Smita, an unbelievably privileged and woke young journalist living in a fashionable area of NYC (the only place she could thrive–her parent’s Ohio college town just didn’t understand….[Must not have been Yellow Springs, eh Smita?]) agrees to help out a friend stuck in the hospital in India by finishing a series of stories on the treatment of a young woman, Meea, who marries out of her faith.

“Nobody taught us what I know today – the most dangerous animal in this world is a man with wounded pride.”

Her brothers, to defend the family’s honor (a concept we in America have largely decided can slide) have burned down the hovel in which Meena and her husband were sleeping. The husband is killed, Meena, though disfigured and somewhat disabled lives and gives birth to their daughter.

“Because a woman can live in one of two houses—fear or love. It is impossible to live in both at the same time.”

A big city women’s advocate gets Mina to go to court and try to have her brothers found guilty of murder. If you think American justice is screwed up, you ain’t seen nothing till you’ve stepped into a court room in any former “3rd World” country. (India is a 1st World country in commerce and a 2nd World or 3rd World country in other ways).

But, Mina’s is not the only story to be unraveled. Smita, too, has quiet a lot on her mind from her own childhood in India. She left the country at 14 with her family and landed in that stifling college town in (dear god, why?) Ohio. Smita is assisted by Mohan, who was her friend’s ( you remember, the journalist in the hospital?) translated and often necessary male companion. Together they set out to wait for the verdict in Mina’s case. They get to know her, her daughter, and the mother-in-law who both hates Mina and needs her.

The story ends in ways that will leave many American women stunned. (No spoilers).

My Thoughts

The oh-so-woke Smita thankfully gets a huge wake-up call (or should that be a “woke-up” call?) after even telling a woman in India that her “privilege is showing.” Yeah. But Smita redeems herself in more ways than one. Her own story is as gripping as Mina’s (no spoilers). I actually came to like and care about her–which I certainly did not see coming in the early chapters. I liked Mohan and was shocked that his story was not woke in any way. As for Meena, her story was not news to me. But I loved that she considered her time with her husband to be the happiest in her life. She, and the countless women like her, deserve more than just a token few months of happiness.

This is a great book for suburban book clubs and for those who genuinely care about the fate or women and children around the world.

My Verdict

3.75

I couldn’t go all the way to 4 stars because I am sick to literal puking of the seemingly mandatory screed against the most recent ex-president inserted into nearly every contemporary book these days. I am no fan of his AT ALL, but let him be history. We do not need a woke litmus test for publishing that includes a screed against him or anyone else.

Honor: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar

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Review: Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki

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My Interest

I learned of this book on Twitter. The title went so well with my goal of reading seasonally that I found an e-book version on from my library and started to read it right away. An additional interest was that it is set in Greece. Not being fascinated by mythology, I haven’t read much set in or about Greece unless you count biographies of the late Danish-Greek Prince Philip. Add to this the fact that a few of my favorite book bloggers have/are reading it this summer and you can see why I wanted in on the story.

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The Story

“That summer we bought big straw hat. Maria’s had cherries around the rim, Infanta’s had forget-me-nots, and mine had poppies as red as fire” (p. 6).

Set in pre-World War II Greece, the story centers on three sisters,  Maria, Infanta, and Katarina–the daughters of a divorced couple who live in the country. It is that time in life when boys go from being a girl’s friend to being her future. Each of the girls has her own personality, her own dreams, and desires.

From the awakening of sexual desire through to motherhood the girls travel at their own pace, plotting their course to womanhood with guidance, wanted and unwanted, from their mother, a maiden aunt, their grandfather and friends.

“The scent of dung and milk, thyme and billy goat met her. It rose and mixed in with the heat until it became something you could actually touch” (p. 52).

So much of the writing is so beautiful, it is hard to remember that this is a translation. As I read the descriptions of the landscape, the scents, the way of life, I felt I was there.

[Some] were saying dissatisfied women live in their own imaginary world, that is, they’re deluded….Dissatisfied women are simply unsuccessful women” (p. 105). 

Ouch, I thought. A discordant note.

I loved the way the secrets unfolded gradually and in a manner consistent with real life. I liked too that these were real girls–they went off in huffs, they flounced out, they fell in love, they daydreamed, they escaped the control of their mother whenever possible. All perfectly normal. I loved that. And then one would remark, “I like life a lot” (p.198) and another would stare out a window “as if to ask the night why life was so strange” (p. 108).

My Thoughts

On the surface this is a lovely story, but underneath, in the thoughts of the boys, one can see just how radically different the thinking was back then. While men may still think like this in the deepest recesses of their minds, most do not verbalize, let alone, act on such thoughts.

“The more she restrained herself, the more angry he grew. He wanted to beat her. If only he dared….” (p. 127).

Every woman’s life is a search for a master. Ah, the thirst for submission, the thirst for submission….” (p. 127).

“And that head of hers that she carried so high…He must break her, make her lower it….”

These sentiments, it is true, are surrounded with the man’s love for the girl, with his expression of desire, and of how he would enjoy her, but it is very unsettling to read such statements today.

“You should see…on really hot days, when you lie out on the ledge of the cistern and close your eyes, and then open them a little later, how a thousand little suns leap up and down before your eyes and all around water is reflected o the trunks of the pines, trembling and golden, like little waves, and everything glows, everything, and it makes you want to laugh” (p. 226).

In spite of the beauty of the language, I just did not connect with this book they way I thought I would. There were times when I grew bored and restless and put it down. Yes, it could be the every-present COVID reading-ennui, but I think this time it was the book. My rating means it is a perfectly good book, well worth reading–especially for the excellence of the translation. I’m certainly glad I kept at it–it was worth it to see Greece at that time and to see how alike girls are regardless of their era of history.

My Verdict

3.0

Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki, translated by Karen Van Dyck

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Books With a Car as a Character–or almost a character

I spend a lot of my time in the car. I live where there is no public transportation and, once again, I have my 70–80 minute (one way) commute twice a day (but only 3 days a week now). So, cars are kind of a big part of my life. From my first little mini Honda wagon to my current mini-SUV my cars have all had character. I got to know them before there were things like “check engine” lights. I knew their “healthy” and “unhealthy” sounds, smells and shudders. My recent change in vehicles promoted this post.

The best of them all–The Empress

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“The Empress” as the 1938 Packard Super Eight convertible was named, not only carried the crew of Harvard friends and their girlfriends, it became scholarship boy George’s prized possession. This book is so fabulous I cannot put truly into words all that it is to me. I love it–I’ve read it several times and it makes me want to know and hug all of the characters including that car. The Last Convertible By Anton Myrer is very, very sadly (and wrongly) out-of-print but widely available used for a reasonable price. The tv mini-series was good, too.

The Family Car

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“Foolish Carriage” was the name efficiency expert (industrial engineer) Frank B. Gilbreth, Sr., gave to the family’s cantankerous touring car. He alone could start the engine. The others had to just hop in and hold on for dear life. Foolish Carriage has a role throughout the first book, Cheaper by the Dozen, and a cameo at the start of the second book, Bells on Their Toes, both by two of Gilbreth’s twelve children (11 of whom lived to adulthood), Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. The original Cheaper by the Dozen movie with Clifton Webb is good. The Belles on Their Toes movie is also good, but takes more liberties with the story. Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

The Magical, Flying Car

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James Bond creator Ian Fleming, who wrote the original James Bond novels, became a father fairly late in life and by today’s terms he pretty much sucked at it. He and his wife left their son in London with nanny while they went to Jamaica each winter so he could write the new book. Their son tragically died of a drug overdoes. The one moment of parenting greatness that Fleming had was writing Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang for son Caspar. Today, it has been bastardized into a series–like so many once great stand-alone children’s books. That always makes me sad. If the original author had wanted a series he or she would have written a series. I like this cover best for it echos the vintage sports car Fleming owned and loved. Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang The Magical Car by Ian Fleming.

The Other Magical, Flying Car

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Seriously, did anyone NOT love Ron and Harry’s joy ride in The Chamber of Secrets? Mr. Weasley’s car was the star of the show to me. The Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling.

 

The Original Mom-mobile that became an Icon

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Not every car gets an actual biography written about it. Confession time: I am a VW bus freak. I own this “biography” and have dipped into it from time-to-time. It is surprisingly readable. I will finish, and review it, eventually. [See the bottom of this post for more on my love of the VW bus]. The VW Camper Van: A Biography by Mike Harding.

The One I Want to Read

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This is likely much more about the drivers, but….. Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best by Neal Bascomb.

Do you have a favorite book with a car as a character–or almost a character? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

Other Car Posts

Bussed [My Obsession with the VW Bus]

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Life Magazine cover found here

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Review: The Mountains Sing: A Novel by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

I received an audiobook version of this book free from Net Galley in exchange for a fair review. I make no money off this blog, not even from the links I post to Amazon.

My Interest

Some of my earliest memories involve seeing the Vietnam War on the nightly news. I was born during the Kennedy administration so Vietnam has been a part of the American lexicon my entire life. My parents did not try to distract us when watching the news–instead, they let us join in and talked with us about what we saw. We grew up politically aware and advanced for our age. In the early 1970s, my mother’s cousin went to Vietnam as an officer, resigned his commission, and finished his tour as an enlisted man. Later, he made his career as a psychologist specializing in the care of Vietnam vets with PTSD. Later still, I worked in a library with a large number of Vietnamese employees–all refugees of the war. Knowing a few of their stories fueled my desire to begin learning more about the war in the 1980s.

The Story

What my uncle said made me think. I had resented America, too. But by reading their books, I saw the other side of them–their humanity. Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other, and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war on earth.”

“What my uncle said made me think. I had resented America, too. But by reading their books, I saw the other side of them–their humanity. Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other, and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war on earth.”

In the 1920s what we know as Vietnam was part of the French empire. French culture, architecture, education, Catholicism, and language dominated especially the southern part of the colony. The story features Trần Diệu Lan, a woman born in 1920, and her family is the focus of this multinational look at Vietnamese history. From the land reform movement to the war to beyond. The stories of the different family members “humanize” the struggle to survive under each regime, and throw the forcible taking of wealth, the reduction, the after-effects of Agent Orange, and much more.

My Thoughts

I don’t know why I put this one off so long. It was really engrossing. This is the kind of multi-generational saga I loved before I let social media devour my attention span. Listening to it brought back all the joy of reading those big books of family sagas. I admired the resourcefulness of each generation in this family. There were true heartbreaks, joys, and moments when I wanted to hurt someone–all sings of a very well-told story.

My Verdict

4 Stars

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Where I Read in 2020

Thank you to blogger, The Book Stop, whose post inspired this one! And also to the original blogger, A Year of Reading the World, who inspired me to  start keeping track of the countries I read several years ago. I am also working my way around the world in books. I’ve tracked my progress for years in a simple composition book. This year I also participated in several reading challenges that pushed me to read books in translation or books set in a certain country. So, my list has grown. Also this year, in January, I completed my Reading Across the U.S.A. journey! I had to research books set in North Dakota, Rhode Island a few other states, but the rest just happened in the course of my reading during the last several years.

The Countries I Visited This Year & The Books That Took Me There

 

2020 books are in purple. Past years are in purple or red. I marked the UK but I no longer track all of the books I read set in the USA or the UK. I forgot to mark Chile and Haiti and maybe another one or two places.

Newly “visited” countries are in bold. I am working on a list by country like several other bloggers keep. It is very helpful to find such blogs when you are trying to travel around the world by book. I am also trying to update the tags in my reviews so you can locate all of them by country. Meanwhile, in the word cloud on the left side, you can click on any of the various names for Reading The Globe or Reading Around the World, etc., to see all the boos that way. Not all that I count are in this blog–I have counted those read at any time in my adult life.

 

  1. Australia
  2. Cuba
  3. Denmark
  4. Dominican Republic
  5. France
  6. Ghana
  7. Germany
  8. Haiti  Everything Inside: Stories by Edwidge Danticat
  9. Hungary
  10. Iceland
  11. Ireland and Northern Ireland***
  12. Japan
  13. Mexico
  14. Pakistan Unmarriageable: A Novel by Soniah Kamal
  15. Spain  This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets
  16. Suriname   The Boy Between Worlds: A Biography by Annejet van der Zijl and trans. by Kristen Gehrman
  17. Syria
  18. Zambia

***  I know this is not right! Northern Ireland is part of the UK, but I’m simplifying for this list!

The Others–I’m not linking to all the reviews, but nearly all are reviewed on here. I do not generally review series books.

Where did you visit by book this year? Do you track your reading by state in the USA or by country? Leave me a comment or link to your post!

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Review: The Hygge Holiday by Rosie Blake

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My Interest

This is my pretend add-on book to the box from the Bibliophilic Excursions box I’ve been reviewing this week. I chose it because it went with the Danish theme and was on my Kindle not being read. That it sounded similar to Beth O’Learys books made it even more appealing.

The Story

“She’d changed Louisa’s sheets, the new cream duvet cover smelling of lavender washing powder, the duck-feather pillows impossibly soft. She had unearthed the softest grey cashmere rug [throw] from the top of the wardrobe and had it draped over the duvet. She lit a candle by the side of the bed, pulled out a dog-eared novel from her rucksack and nestled down under the covers. Despite the heaven she’d created, however, she barely slept….” (p. 52)

“He looked at the table set with placemats and napkins, a glass filled with spidery branches and curling leaves in the middle, candles dotted around. ‘I don’t normally….'” (p. 116)

“He thought about her explanation of hygge and knew that was a philosophy for the way she lived her life. He had paid so many professionals to help him find a way of being happier with his lot. Had he missed something so simple?” (p. 154)

Clara Kristensen has arrived in Yulethorpe and lands at the only place in town that has a room to rent–the pub, of course. There she meets some of the locals including Louisa, owner of a nearly dead toy store and the one in the village best known for starting wild schemes and not finishing them. When Louisa makes good on her threat to just go to Spain and enjoy the sun she suddenly decides to let Clara house and toy store sit for her. Oh, and pet sit–she has a cat and an parrot who doesn’t filter.

In the background is a town that has slowly died. The joy is gone. Even the mothers of toddlers have to make do with the nursery school gate and a pilates class. No place to gather and talk and enjoy their expensive coffee drinks. Also looming is Louisa’s driven London high-flying son, Joe. Danish Clara has a cure for all of this: Hygge, the Danish form of cozy, heart-warming, love-draping atmosphere. She sets out to hygge the toy store, hygge and village, and maybe even hygge herself a guy!

My Thoughts

While there was one single line that stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the book–one line probably put there for that seemingly mandatory list of things that are required in a book today even if they do not fit the story. The conflict seemed unnecessary–again as though put in to meet some arbitrary requirement. I do not understand why conflict is so necessary.

This was a sweet, fun book. I loved the emphasis on homey details–the homemaking notions and atmosphere creation that are essential for that hygge-feeling. Ok, it’s not too believable that someone would dump their home and business on a stranger, but hey, who cares, right? It’s a story and a well-told one. And, what’s not to love about building a vibrant community where once there was only defeat? Or eating cake. Or draping soft blankets and lighting candles and enjoying being with good friends and doing fun, ordinary things?

My Verdict

3. 5 Candles

The Hygge Holiday by Rosie Blake currently $2.99 for Kindle