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Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2363 comments Mod
Read any good books lately? We want to know about them.

Enter your reading list and/or reviews here. Did you like it? Hate it? Feel lukewarm? Share your thoughts with us.

Happy reading!


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ilikeboox | 242 comments I just read My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent My Absolute Darling. Very disturbing and well written. I didn't know exactly how I felt about it until I saw a video with the author explaining what he tried to achieve. I then gave the book a 5 stars.

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James F | 1474 comments Fred W. Kennedy, Daddy Shape: A Narrative of the Life and Adventures Of Samuel Sharpe, A West Indian Slave Written by Himself, 1832 [2008] 411 pages

Samuel Sharpe, one of Jamaica's "Seven National Heroes", was the leader of a large scale slave rebellion in 1831-32. He was sort of the Nat Turner of Jamaica, and this book, like William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner, is presented as if it were the actual narrative written by the character in prison before his execution. Although the novel sticks to the facts which are known, primarily about the rebellion itself, which is the most interesting part, the early life and many of the details and secondary characters are fictional. The book is unusual for a work of fiction in having notes and a bibliography.

The book is not bad for a first novel, although there are definite faults; the description of the plantation is somewhat stereotyped and has the cliché of the good master/cruel overseer which dates from Uncle Tom's Cabin or earlier. I can certainly believe that slave owners protected themselves from unpleasantness and possible reprisals by delegating the "dirty work" to the overseers, while taking credit themselves for any mercy or concessions, just as in a modern factory the "dirty work" is left to the bottom level foremen and the upper levels of management try to seem benevolent and reasonable. In both cases, however, the reality is that the policies are set by the owners and higher-ups and any overseer or foreman who deviated too much in either direction would soon be out of a job. So while I have no problem with the average slaves being shown believing the overseer rather than the owner is the enemy, I have a problem with the author not undercutting that at all, and with a militant character like Samuel Sharpe being taken in by it.

Other aspects I have trouble with are showing the hero as a kind of Christian version of Ghandi who wants to carry out nonviolent resistance but is forced into violence by extremists among his followers -- this represents more a liberal version of history which is uncomfortable with violent resistance of the oppressed. Although I read it a long time ago, I seem to remember a similar problem in Styron's novel. It may of course be based on the historical documents, but naturally this would be the account that any intelligent slave would give in prison who was trying to minimize his responsibility for what the whites would consider as crimes. In general, I think the white "allies" are given more credit than they probably deserve -- while there may well have been dedicated anti-slavery activists among the whites, I think they should have been shown more hesitant, and in particular the Black leaders should not be shown as taken in so completely -- frankly, I think the Blacks would have been much more skeptical and cautious with regard to white "friends". The impression the novel gives is that the white allies were ultimately, if unintentionally, responsible; which of course was the take of the white propaganda -- Blacks (and workers) are always happy to "know their place" until outside agitators arrive. . . Perhaps all these problems then were a result of the biases of the documents which the author used for his evidently very thorough research; and if these "confessions" were really supposed to be the actual apology of someone trying to defend himself it would be believable, but we are obviously intended to take the narrative as true and not a fiction by Sharpe just trying to get off, which means the author is somewhat responsible for the way things are presented.

Finally, the rebellion, like that of Nat Turner and many others in the U.S., Jamaica and elsewhere had a strong religious ideology, and it is correct to emphasize that from a historical point of view -- Sharpe's rebellion was after all called "the Baptist War" -- but from the point of view of the modern non-religious reader, there were just too many sermons. These were the only places where I lost interest.

All in all, though, this was a good contribution to my understanding of Jamaican history and ultimately an inspiring book, which I would recommend.

Stephen Hawking, My Brief History [2013] 127 pages

A very short autobiography of the well-known physicist. Like all of his later books, much of the space is taken up by photos and white space, so it was even shorter than it looks -- less than a two-hour read. It was interesting to read about his earlier life; the descriptions of his theories were too brief and I think would be unintelligible to anyone who didn't already have some familiarity with his work -- but then, probably anyone who would read this has already read at least A Brief History of Time and other popular works on physics and astronomy, so it probably doesn't really matter.

message 4: by Melissa (last edited Oct 06, 2017 08:32AM) (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 815 comments Dragonwatch (Fablehaven Adventure #1) by Brandon Mull
Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull
Fablehaven Adventures #1
5 ★

Excellent start to a new series. I have been waiting for this Fablehaven spin-off and I was not disappointed. All of the original characters are back and we are introduced to a few new ones. Seth and Kendra are asked to become caretakers of the dragon sanctuary Wyrmroost. It's a very dangerous job right now due to the dragons feeling like the sanctuaries are no longer safe for them and want their freedom. The siblings learn much about each other and the keep that no one has taken the time to find out. The adventure they set out on is dangerous, but needed. There are many possible future adventures mentioned in the book, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they do next.

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Death on the Nile (Hercule Poirot, #17) by Agatha Christie
Death on the Nile - Agatha Christie – 3***
Hercule Poirot may be on holiday in Egypt, but his “little grey cells” are working overtime. There are plenty of suspects and almost as many motives.
LINK to my review

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Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula - Bram Stoker – 5*****
If you’ve seen any of the movies, you know the basic plot, but the original novel is so much more! To begin there is the typical Victorian theme of strong men coming to the rescue of pure damsel in distress. However, Stoker turns the tables a bit when he gives Mina the intelligence, foresight and courage to fight the evil forces in her own way. The novel is wonderfully atmospheric; time and again Stoker puts the reader smack dab in the middle of the scenes.
LINK to my review

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Terris | 561 comments Book Concierge wrote: "Dracula by Bram Stoker

- Bram Stoker – 5*****
If you’ve seen any of the movies, you know the basic plot, but the original novel is so much more! To begin there is the typical Victor..."

Yes, I love the book -- glad you did too! I feel the same about Frankenstein. I think Hollywood has done so much to these stories that it's a pleasant surprise to read the original stories!

message 8: by Terris (new)

Terris | 561 comments The Man Who Knew Too Much The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton by G.K. Chesterton, 4****s
If you like Sherlock Holmes, you'll like Horne Fisher and how he thinks and solves mysteries. Also, Chesterton is the author of the Father Brown mysteries, so that's another reason to recommend this book and this author :)

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James F | 1474 comments Michael Chabon, Moonglow [2016] 430 pages

This novel is the first book I have read by Chabon, best known for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; I read it for a group discussion on Goodreads. Inspired by the stories his grandfather told the author at the end of his life, and a memoir by his uncle, the book has the form of stories told to the narrator (named Michael Chabon) by his maternal grandfather (his mother’s stepfather), supplemented by his own memories and the reminiscences of his mother and others who knew his grandparents. It is not clear how much of this is actually true; some is obviously not plausible and some just seems too novelish to be real life. As the book jacket says, it is “an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir.” The style is deliberately non-chronological, which makes it difficult to get into at the beginning but very rapid-paced when all the strands come together at the end.

The life of the grandfather covers the Second World War through the late 1980s; there are many different aspects but the main connecting thread is the development of rocketry from the V-2 to America’s loss of interest in space exploration in the Shuttle era. The cover-up of von Braun’s role in the production of V-2s by slave labor was enlightening, and the fact that more laborers died building the rockets than were ever killed by them. There is also much about his grandmother, a Jewish emigrant who suffered from mental illness. Although I lived through most of the period of the novel after the war, there were no characters close to my age, so it was difficult to identify with the reactions of the characters to events I experienced quite differently.

The writing was excellent, and if I had read it on a Kindle instead of in print, I would have probably posted a number of quotations from it; but the content, though interesting, was not interesting enough to make it a favorite.

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James F | 1474 comments Honoré de Balzac, Béatrix [1839] 340 pages [in French, on Kindle]

While I like the idea of Balzac’s Comédie humaine, he just wrote too much, and much of it is uneven. This book is one of the full-length novels that anchor the shorter works of the collection, and not the best of Balzac, although oddly it was one of the most popular at the time it came out, perhaps due to the allusions to actual people. It has the double purpose of describing life in Brittany, and describing the life of intellectual women.

After about a fifth of the book comprised of pure architectural and landscape description in which nothing happens but a few games of cards, the protagonist, Calyste, a rather stupid and spoiled young Breton nobleman, becomes involved in a love triangle with two malicious and calculating older women, Felicité and Béatrix. The former is loosely based on George Sands, which Balzac both admits and denies by describing her as “a rival of George Sands”; the latter, and more unpleasant of the two, and her fatuous musician/lover Conti, are apparently based on Marie d’Agoult and Franz Liszt. (I don't know how much actual detail is taken from these real persons beyond the fact that they were artists; biographies of Sands and Liszt are on my TBR list, but so far down I may never get to them.)

In a second part of the novel, added later, Calyste and Béatarix reappear with a different set of secondary characters. There are many “cross-references” to other books and stories of the Comédie humaine. The biggest problem for a psychological/realist novel is that the psychology in many respects just didn’t seem to me to work. I suspected that this was an early work, but if the 1839 serial publication is really when it was written it came after such masterpieces as Père Goriot.

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Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor (Friday Harbor, #1) by Lisa Kleypas
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor - Lisa Kleypas – 3***
I knew going in that this was a cheesy holiday romance. Despite the book jacket’s promised “magic” there isn’t much of it here … unless you count a child’s belief in fairies and Santa Claus as magic. But that’s okay, it’s still a fun read.
LINK to my review

message 12: by Terris (new)

Terris | 561 comments The Invisible Wall A Love Story That Broke Barriers by Harry Bernstein The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers by Harry Bernstein, 4****s
I loved this amazing story written by a 96-year-old man (his first book!). He tells the story of his family living in a village in England in the early 1900's, in which the people who lived on one side of the street were Christian and the people living on the other side were Jewish. Therein lies "the invisible wall." His family was Jewish. He tells of some of the persecution the Jewish families endured in the neighborhood, and he and his friends at school. But the major part of the story was about his family and the traumas and dramas that they went through, many of them because they were Jewish. And, of course, a Jewish girl would never fall in love--would never be allowed to fall in love, with a Christian boy.... but what happens if she does? Well, Harry will tell you.

A lot of the time the story is sad, but somehow Harry Bernstein tells the story in a way that makes you also feel the joy in their poverty-ridden lives, and makes you want to keep reading.

In 1922, when Harry is 12 years old, his family moves to Chicago. Bernstein, at the age of 98, wrote his next book "The Dream: A Memoir" of this time in his life. And I think I'm going to have to read it next! I highly recommend this author!

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In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1) by Tana French
In the Woods - Tana French – 4****
This is a stunning debut. Gripping and suspenseful, with many twists and turns. I guessed the culprit fairly early on, but was still enthralled by the psychology of the characters – whether police, victims or perpetrator.
LINK to my review

message 14: by James (new)

James F | 1474 comments Counting these two as one again, because 21 pages isn't really enough to count as a book by itself.

Honoré de Balzac, La Grande Bretèche [1832] 21 pages [in French, on Kindle]

A well-written but rather unoriginal short story in the "Gothic" mode about an abandonned mansion and the horrible secret it hides. Written early, this was later appended to the mélange called "Une autre étude de femme", perhaps more for economic than artistic reasons.

Honoré de Balzac, Honorine [1843] 70 pages [in French, on Kindle]

A study of marital infidelity presented as a story told in Italy, by the French Consul-General in Genoa, with two of the characters from Beatrix among the auditors, Claude Vignon and Mlle. des Touches (= George Sands.) The novella was written at about the same time as he was writing some of his best novels and stories, and is very interesting, although the moral viewpoints seem very outdated today.

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Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez
Living To Tell the Tale - Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 3***
This is the first in a planned three-volume autobiography, taking the reader from Marquez’s birth in 1927 to his young adulthood in the mid 1950s. In recounting his early life, the author also tells the history of Columbia – the politics, culture, troubles and triumphs of the people. Magical realism is a style that is ingrained in the oral story-telling traditions of Latin America, and I loved those little hints of magical realism in this work. Reminded me of listening to my grandparents recount tales of their own childhoods.
LINK to my review

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James wrote: "Counting these two as one again, because 21 pages isn't really enough to count as a book by itself.

Honoré de Balzac, ..."

I've never read Balzac ... and I think I should.

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Melissa (melissasd) | 815 comments Stronger by Jeff Bauman
Stronger by Jeff Bauman
5 ★

This is the incredible story of Jeff Bauman's life after the Boston Marathon bombing. It is by far the best book I have read this year. The book doesn't focus on the bombing and the bombers. It's more about Jeff and his struggles. To the public eye Jeff remained extremely confident and happy, but he actually got frustrated and mad at times. He has an amazing family and his girlfriend, Erin, was truly a blessing to him. He's funny and takes things one day at a time. He did have long term goals, but realized that he may have been pushing himself. You never really feel bad for him. He is truly an amazing person and an inspiration to others. He stayed humble throughout his ordeal. I look forward to the movie and hope it stays true to the book.

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The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine
The Three Weissmanns of Westport - Cathleen Schine – 3.5***
This is a charming re-telling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility . I had great fun trying to match Schine’s characters with Austen’s, and trying to figure out how certain plot elements might play out. Despite my familiarity with the original, Schine surprised me more than once.
LINK to my review

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Terris | 561 comments The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, 5*****s
Wow! When 16-year-old witnesses her black friend being shot by a white cop, she much decide how much she wants to stand up for what is right. That is just a very short explanation of what this book is about -- there is so much more! It is the sad story of our times, and so well written. It helps the reader to see many sides of what is going on in our current times. Even though this is a YA book, I highly recommend it to all.

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Connie D | 88 comments Terris wrote: "The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, 5*****s
Wow! When 16-year-old witnesses her black friend being shot by a white cop, she much decide how much she..."

I totally agree, Terris. It was poignant and eye-opening, tense, funny, sad, sweet, truly remarkable.

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Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
Double Indemnity - James M Cain – 5*****
Cain is a master of the roman noir. His writing is every bit as seductive as the temptress at the heart of his story. You just know this is going to end badly but you cannot tear yourself away, you just HAVE to continue.
LINK to my review

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Terris | 561 comments Connie wrote: "Terris wrote: "The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, 5*****s
Wow! When 16-year-old witnesses her black friend being shot by a white cop, she much deci..."

Oh Connie, thanks so much for recommending this book to me. It was really an eye-opener. You're right, it is remarkable!

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The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
The Illusion of Separateness – Simon Van Booy – 3.5***
Van Booy tells this interwoven story from different perspectives and in different time periods. Throughout we see how a small act of kindness – or cruelty – can reverberate through time and across continents. The writing is poetic and fluid. I felt immersed in the story, and was never disoriented by the changing perspectives or time lines. I want to read it again, and I would definitely read another book by this author.
LINK to my review

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Terris | 561 comments Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, 4****s
Wow! This YA novel is a fast-paced story that grabs you right at the beginning and doesn't let go!
It is about Jule, the main character, and her friend, Imogen. It tells how they become friends and what happens from there.
But that is too simple of a description. The book is written by starting in the present and each chapter goes backward in time by a month or a week, which kind of explains what just happened and why.
So, as you read, you start to put each part of the puzzle together until at the very end it skips back to the present so that you can figure out what is happening and why -- you think! The way it is written, and the mysterious quality of the story keeps the reader a little off balance and makes for a book you can't put down! I think it would make a good movie too. I had read "We Were Liars" by this author and enjoyed it, so decided to give this one a try. And I'm glad I did!

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The Children Act by Ian McEwan
The Children Act – Ian McEwan – 3***
Fiona Maye is a High Court judge who presides over cases in family court, but while she is dealing with this heart-breaking legal case, her personal life also demands attention. The decisions she makes will have consequences for all. I like the way that McEwan explores hidden emotions and the effects of those feelings on the characters’ decisions and actions. I was interested in the subject, but McEwan lost me as the novel progressed. When it ended I felt like I was missing something.
LINK to my review

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Murder in the Paperback Parlor (Book Retreat Mysteries, #2) by Ellery Adams
Murder in the Paperback Parlor – Ellery Adams – 2**
Number two in the “Book Retreat Mysteries” series set in Storyton Hall, “the perfect getaway for literature lovers.” This has all the elements of a typical cozy mystery: an amateur sleuth, a “cute” occupation / back story, a little romantic tension, and more suspects than you can shake a stick at. The premise of Storyton Hall, however, lost me a little – most likely because I had not read the first book in the series. I did love all the references to books, however. I think I’ll go back and read book # 1 before I give final judgment on the series.
LINK to my review

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Terris | 561 comments The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, 4****s
I so enjoyed this story of the Watson family! They live in Flint, Michigan, and almost the first half of the book takes place there as you get to know this cute, funny family. The story is told in first person by 10-year-old Kenny, the second of the three children; his older brother is Byron, younger sister is Joetta. When Byron starts getting into trouble at school and in the neighborhood, the Watson parents decide that he needs to spend the summer with "Grandma" in Birmingham where Mrs. Watson was born and raised. They feel that a" change of scenery" is needed. However, when they get there -- in 1963-- the church bombing occurs. Several traumatic things happen and the story has several teaching moments.

I don't want to give anything away, so I won't go into any more detail. However, this cute, funny story with the quirky family packs quite a punch without the reader quite knowing it until the realization of the impact of this historical event becomes evident. And, this being a children's book, I feel that it was handled in a wonderful way so that young readers can learn of this history. At the end of the book, there is a description of actual happenings of that day and of that era. I think it is a wonderful teaching tool, and even though it is a children's book, I think all of us would do well to read it! :)
P.S. I listened to the audio version read by LeVar Burton and he did an amazing job! I highly recommend this version!

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Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller
Norwegian By Night – Derek B Miller – 4****
An eighty-two-year-old former Marine suffering from PTSD, leaves his New York home to live with his granddaughter and her husband in Oslo, Norway. Isolated by language, Sheldon still recognizes a bad situation when the neighbor woman is attacked by a violent stranger. He grabs the woman’s small son, and flees. How he eludes both the bad guys and the police, while keeping the boy safe is the central plot. But Miller’s character study of this unlikely hero is what makes the novel shine. A wonderful debut!
LINK to my review

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Terris wrote: "The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul CurtisThe Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, 4****s
I so enjoyed this story of the Watson family! They live in..."

Couldn't agree more, TerriS .... great review.

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James F | 1474 comments Book Concierge wrote:
I've never read Balzac ... and I think I should."

Definitely. I'm working my way through the Human Comedy a book at a time this year, and it's going faster than I thought, so many of the books are actually short stories or novellas.

And I need to get back into Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

message 31: by James (new)

James F | 1474 comments Honoré de Balzac, Modeste Mignon [1844] 401 pages [in French, on Kindle]

One of the longest, latest, and possibly one of the best of Balzac's novels. Technically it is better than most, in that he begins with the intrigue before portraying the scene and the characters, rather than starting with fifty pages of description of people, architecture, furniture and scenery before anything happens, as in some of his books. The descriptions are spread throughout the novel when the characters are introduced. Modeste Mignon is a twenty-three year old woman, who at the beginning is kept secluded under strict observation by her relatives because her older sister had eloped with unfortunate consequences. After the situation is set up, there follows a lengthy epistolary section where Modeste and a man are corresponding, and both are misrepresenting themselves, which leads to a possibly comic, possibly tragic situation, followed by a romantic . . . quadrangle? Pentangle? In any case, there is much satire here of nearly all the classes of French life -- rich and middle bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie, various layers of the aristocracy -- except of course the peasantry and working class, which aren't much in evidence in any early nineteenth century novel apart from domestic servants. There is also much discussion of love, marriage, and social relationships, as well as the nature of literature and the character of poets. Because the reader knows that this is Balzac and not a Harlequin, it is not certain until the end whether it will be a comedy or tragedy, and who, if anyone, will end up marrying the girl.

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James F | 1474 comments Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. An Oral History [2013; tr 2016] 470 pages

An oral history of the fall of the Soviet Union, written in the same style as the author's earlier books about Chernobyl, Afghanistan, and World War II; this is not quite as good, because in those books people were recounting actual experiences, while in this book, at least for much of the time, and especially at the beginning, it's more their impressions of what it all meant, and the average person has no real understanding of history, there or here -- it reminds me somewhat of the discussions about Trump on Facebook, where people just talk past each other or call names in an emotional way. Later in the book, there were more actual accounts of things that happened. The selections were often repetitive, there were alot of reminiscinces of World War II that were similar to the earlier book, and at times I was on the verge of giving up, when I would come across something that shed new light on the problems or events. Of course there is a point to the repititions; while Alexievich is probably honest enough in her reporting, there is no guarantee the people she is interviewing are telling the truth (and some obviously are not), but when the same sorts of things are repeated over and over again the gist is probably true even if not all the details are.

It is interesting in a way, to get a feel for how people saw the events at the time and how they see them today; the opinions are divided between those who put more emphasis on the accomplishments of the Soviet Union, on the idealism and the emphasis on the ordinary worker, on the victory over Hitler, who still idealize Stalin even while admitting his crimes, and on the other hand those who put the emphasis on the crimes of the bureacracy, the persecutions and purges, and saw the overthrow of the USSR as a positive thing at the time -- most of whom now consider rightly that they were betrayed. (One annoying thing about the book, given that people's opinions changed over time, is that the selections aren't strictly chronological and there is no indication of when the various interviews occurred. In fact, I never did figure out what the principle of ordering was, or what the different chapter headings meant.) The best selections try to combine both views, that the Soviet experience had both positive and negative aspects and that the freedom they wanted was confused with or sold out for consumerism. One thing which is said many times in different ways is that what the people wanted was a new, better kind of socialism, not capitalism; but capitalism is what they ended up with, in its crudest and most exploitative "gangster" form. As one person said, with only a little exaggeration, they wanted to become another United States and ended up becoming another Colombia. (Clearly, this shows an illusionary view of what the United States is actually like, but that's another discussion.)

As far as actual experiences go, the book makes abundantly clear that contrary to the belief of most Americans that the overthrow of communism represented a glorious triumph of capitalism and freedom, things actually got very much worse -- while a few people, mostly connected with the state apparatus (of course), got immensely rich, the new economy was a disaster for most ordinary people, with the worst living conditions since the death of Stalin. (Granted, there are virtually no interviews with people who got rich in the nineties.) There was a great deal of violence throughout the country, with gangsters killing people with or without a "political" excuse, ethnic violence -- murder of ordinary, non-political Russians in the newly independent countries carved out of the old USSR, and people of those nationalities by Russians in Moscow, the war in Chechnya and its terrorist reflex in Russia, and acts of individual revenge (though very little justice for the actual victims of Stalinism). And finally, the ex-KGB leader Vladimir Putin (and more sadly, Dmitri Medvedev, a dissident I once had respect for) re-established "law and order." I would recommend the book if only for this, which should be (but probably won't be) an effective antidote to the Reagan-Bush propaganda of our media.

The most powerful selections, and the hardest to comprehend -- the people she interviewed couldn't understand either -- were the sudden outbreaks of ethnic and religious hatred in places like Georgia and Azerbaijan (there is no mention of Bosnia or places outside the former USSR, where similar things occurred), where people just began killing former friends, murdering old women and young children, without any provocation, after having lived together peacefully for decades. Undoubtedly there were economic interests involved, and in the case of the religious violence there seems to be a core of latent hatred in all religions waiting for economic and political conditions to bring it to the fore, but this is beyond my comprehension. Maybe if I understood why so many Americans support Trump, I could understand why people hated each other over there. I don't want to believe that it's just "human nature" or sociobiology, but it's hard to see how people raised their whole lives in the Soviet Union could be changed so quickly by the first experience of capitalism.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the book -- or rather with the reality of post-Soviet Russia, because I have no doubt that Alexievich's selections reflect the actual range of beliefs -- is that there is no analysis (even of a speculative kind) of what went wrong originally. One very indicative comment, in the very beginning of the book, is that the history of modern Russia is divided into four generations -- the generation of Stalin, the generation of Krushchev, the generation of Brezhnev, and the generation of Putin -- there is no mention of the pre-Stalin Soviet Union. "Communism" here means almost exclusively Stalin, with even his successors hardly mentioned. Lenin is named almost exclusively in the phrase "Lenin and Stalin". One person claimed that after the overthrow, "no one dared to mention the name Stalin"; clearly untrue as almost all of the selections in the book mention Stalin, whether favorably or unfavorably. The name which is never mentioned is the same one that would get people killed or sent to the gulag under Stalin and his successors (three or four sentences, one in a footnote, in the whole book.)

I also thought it was unfortunate that the book ended with a selection suggesting that people should live their private lives and avoid the political -- although many of the selections say the same thing, coming at the end, it more or less gave the same impression as the ending of Candide, that we should just cultivate our own gardens.

Reading a book like this, the obvious question that keeps coming to mind is, could it have ended up differently? If people wanted a better socialism, rather than capitalism, could that have happened? Could Gorbachev, a fellow student of Dubcek, have brought about a "Prague Spring" (if that had been his intention, which I doubt; and of course we don't know how Czechoslovakia would have turned out without the Russian tanks either)? Although many of the selections seem to suggest that the interviewees thought it might have been possible, if the movement hadn't been betrayed, I don't really see how. It seems to me that the Soviet Communist Party was too corrupt and bureaucratic, too discredited among the general population, that even the relatively more honest communists were compromised in too many ways, too afraid of real democracy, to have provided leadership for anything like that -- it was sixty years too late; while outside the Party there was no leadership at all, and too many illusions about the West, too much simple envy of Western consumer goods. Perhaps if there had been a non-Stalinist, anti-capitalist revolution in some major country in the West, there might have been hope; but in the timeframe of the 1990's the West was already in the midst of a period of reaction, which the fall of the USSR and the Eastern European regimes only deepened. All Alexievich's books show that the history of the Soviet Union and Russia from Stalin through Putin has been a tragic series of betrayals; the only thing to be added is that it was the tragedy not just of the Soviet people but of the whole contemporary world.

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Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy
Heart and Soul – Maeve Binchy – 3***
This is a story of family, friends, patients and staff whose lives intersect at a heart clinic in Dublin. This was the right book for me at the right time – a gentle, engaging story that focuses on relationships. It is a sort of snapshot of a year in these people’s lives. This is a sequel to Nights of Rain and Stars, with many of those characters appearing here as well.
LINK to my review

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James F | 1474 comments Kei Miller, Augustown [2016] 239 pages

A story that takes place in two times: the present is April 11, 1982, in the Kingston neighborhood of Augustown; the past, presented as a story (merging into a flashback) is December, 1920, when Augustown (a slightly modified version of August Town) was still a separate village far from the city. In the present, we have the Jamaica we have met in Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings, filled with senseless hatred and violence; in the past, under British rule, we have the story of "the flying preacher", Alexander Bedward, the founder of Bedwardism (a somewhat mythical retelling of an actual historical event). Miller says in the book itself, "Look, this isn't magical realism. This is not another story about superstitious island people and their primitive beliefs. No. You don't get off that easy. This is a story about people as real as you are . . ." Of course it is magical realism, but the label is not important; the story of the historic Bedward, true or false or partly both, is a metaphor, or more than a metaphor, for the history of the island and its Black population, which reinforces the modern story of real and symbolic oppression -- or to use the great Rasta word, "downpression".

There are similarities to A Brief History -- this book is also supposedly narrated by a dead person, names are slightly changed from real people and places; and one of the main characters, "Soft-Paws", has the real name Marlon (a kind of footnote, such as I argued in my review that he used in The Last Warner Woman). Another possible literary allusion is that the first time Bedward floats, he is wrapped in the bedsheets -- a possible allusion to the famous floating away with the laundry scene in Garcia Marquez' Cien años de soledad. Miller's style, however, is entirely his own.

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Murder in the Mystery Suite (Book Retreat Mysteries, #1) by Ellery Adams
Murder in the Mystery Suite – Ellery Adams – 3***
Book number one in the Book Retreat Mystery series. This was a delightful cozy mystery. The premise is a bit outlandish, but it makes for a colorful cast of characters. And I love all the literary references.
LINK to my review

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Terris | 561 comments I'm Just a Person by Tig Notaro I'm Just a Person by Tig Notaro, 4****s
This is the inspiring story of Tig Notaro's life and how she dealt with the death of her mother and her own nearly fatal illnesses all at the same time. Her insights into life, in general, is motivating to all of us who are living.

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Terris | 561 comments At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, 4****s
Wow! This was a strange book. It was horrifying, mystifying, death-defying!
However, it was very wordy and I tended to skip over all the lengthy descriptions (I know I shouldn't have -- but I couldn't help it!)
It was exciting though, and a good one to read on Halloween!

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Terris | 561 comments The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 4****s
This is the story of a man who gambles and gets himself into trouble with his loss of money and, of course, a woman. It was interesting because I read that Dostoyevsky himself was a gambler, and in order to pay off a debt, he contracted to write a novel in a certain amount of time or lose all compensation for his writing for nine years. I don't know which book he was writing, but he got it done by the deadline! But I bet he was still a gambler! ;)

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Terris | 561 comments My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, 4****s
Loved it! If you've read Sophie Kinsella, then you have an idea of the main character who gets herself into trouble, usually a job situation, there's a cute guy in the picture, it looks like everything's going down the drain, then ---- she pulls through in the end! She gets the job, smooths out all of the bumpy situations, and gets the cute guy too! That's just what this one was like, but even though it was in the same pattern as several others that Kinsella has written, I enjoyed it just as much. It was just what I expected and wanted. The characters are lovable, the setting is nice, and all-in-all, it was a fun, relaxing read. Exactly what I needed :)

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Sundown, Yellow Moon by Larry Watson
Sundown, Yellow Moon – Larry Watson – 2**
I’ve read several of Watson’s other books and am a fan of his writing, but this was clearly not his best work. The narrator’s inability to let go of a murder/suicide in his home town during his teens, and his inability to connect with those around him make for a decidedly distant experience. At the end I’m left feeling “is that all?”
LINK to my review

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James F | 1474 comments Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore [1979] 209 pages [on Kindle]

A short novel, based loosely on Fitzgerald's own life, about a woman who is separated from her husband living with her two young daughters on a boat in the Thames, about 1960. There is an interesting group of characters very well described. The story ends with a (nearly literal) cliffhanger, but not the sort which suggests a sequel; rather, it is left ambiguous how the character's future life will develop, as life itself is ambiguous. I believe this is the novel for which she won the Mann Booker Prize; it is next month's book on one of my Goodreads groups.

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