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message 1: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2509 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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message 2: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 856 comments A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
All Souls Trilogy #1
5 ★

Diana Bishop is a witch who hasn't used her magic, much, since she was a child. While doing research she comes across an alchemical manuscript that has been enchanted, but she was able to somehow break the enchantment. She returns the book immediately, but not before the library is full of other creatures and the captivating vampire Matthew Clairmont. Diana's life is never the same after this day. Witches, vampires, daemons, forbidden love...almost Twilight for adults. The book is a bit slow in the beginning covering a lot of history, but the characters are so great that you don't even think about it. The characters are the best part. There are so many of them and the author develops them so well. So many different personalities that somehow fit so well together. I look forward to watching Diana and Matthew's relationship grow and hopefully learn more about Matthew's past.


message 3: by James (new)

James F | 1603 comments Stanislaw Lem, The Star Diaries: Further Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy [1957; expanded, tr. 1971] 286 pages

There is, perhaps appropriately, a certain confusion about the chronology of this book. The translator's afterword, which seems to be "straight", unlike the Introduction which is written from within the world of the book, says that it contains the original 1957 stories in addition to some written later in the 1960s and 1970. The stories are in the order of the numbered "voyages", which does not correspond to the order in which they were written. The translator lists the order in which they were written, and says that when read in that order there is a progression from early action stories through political and social satire to philosophical essays; but it seems to me that all the stories are a mix of action, satire and philosophy.

The book is ostensibly the Diary of Ijon Tichy, a freelance spacefarer who travels around the universe (and occasionally gets lost in time as well) in an unreliable spaceship and with erratic navigation skills, exploring strange worlds, trying to survive and occasionally save a civilization or combat evil creatures -- which reminds me of Doctor Who, although with less concern for plausibility and rather more obvious satire and philosophy, I'm tempted to say a cross between Doctor Who and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, although the original stories were written well before either. There is also a similarity to the stories of Jorge Luis Borges. In the end, discussion of analogies is irrelevant; this is pure Lem, although only one of his many styles. In reviewing The Futurological Congress, a later adventure of Ijon Tichy, I said it was not my favorite of his styles, but reading these it sort of grew on me.

This is definitely a good book if you are looking for something which is at the same time a light, entertaining book and one which is also thought-provoking and "intellectual"; and like nearly all Lem's books it is currently free on Kindle Unlimited.


message 4: by James (new)

James F | 1603 comments Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans [2000] 336 pages

With my usual tendency to relate things that don't go together, this novel reminded me of Antonioni's film, L'Avventura, which begins as what every viewer assumes is a classic (i.e. cliche) relationship movie, then suddenly becomes a mystery, then suddenly becomes another sort of love story, and in the end you're not sure what genre of movie you've just watched, only that it was a great one. When We Were Orphans is that kind of book; at the beginning you assume it is either a detective story with a love interest or a love story with a detective as protagonist; then the flashbacks to his childhood start and you assume it's a psychological drama with Ishiguro's usual concern with memory and political guilt; then a new mystery opens up within the childhood flashbacks, then it seems to become a drama of political intrigue and espionage, then a war story . . . and in the end, you're not sure what sort of novel you've been reading, but it was a great one.


message 5: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2509 comments Mod
At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
At the Water’s Edge – Sara Gruen – 2**
Historical fiction / romance … or is that “hysterical” fiction. Maddie gives “hysterical women” a bad name. Still there’s some suspense and Gruen keeps the plot moving. Add the Loch Ness monster and a ghost to the mix. Not to mention World War II happening in the background.
LINK to my review


message 6: by Book Concierge (new)

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We Band of Angels The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese by Elizabeth M. Norman
We Band of Angels – Elizabeth M. Norman – 5*****
Subtitle: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese. The book details the personal stories of the nurses and civilians interred as well as the historical events. Norman did extensive research and was able to interview a number of the surviving nurses as well as the families of others who had passed on. Their story is gripping and inspiring
LINK to my review


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A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
A Thread Of Grace – Mary Doria Russell – 5*****
Russell’s third novel focuses on WW2 and the Italian citizens who saved the lives of thousands of Jews. What a story! Based on true incidents, Russell’s tale draws the reader into the lives of these people. I fell in love with these characters. Russell doesn’t sugarcoat the sacrifices and dangers they faced, nor does she make them saints. This is a war story, so I knew there would be death and destruction. Russell tempers the sadness and horror with moments of great tenderness and even humor.
LINK to my review


message 8: by Book Concierge (last edited May 09, 2018 04:30AM) (new)

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Every Breath You Take (Second Opportunities #4) by Judith McNaught
Every Breath You Take – Judith McNaught – 2**
A typical romance novel – with stereotypical characters and full of clichés. Still, it was a fast read and I was entertained.
LINK to my review


message 9: by James (new)

James F | 1603 comments E.M. Forster, Maurice [1913; pub 1971] 252 pages

This novel is the story of a rather ordinary English boy, Maurice, formed into a mediocre, conventional young man by the British public [i.e. private] schools, who discovers at Cambridge that he is gay (or homosexual, as they said then) and has love affairs with two men, Clive, a student from a "higher" class, and later Alec, from a "lower" class. Maurice was written in 1913 -- set apparently in 1911/1912 -- but because of its open and sympathetic treatment of the theme was not published until after the author's death in 1970, by chance coinciding with the beginnings of the modern gay movement. It became something of an instant classic largely due to the timing, and Forster's previous literary reputation, although it is also a fairly well-written book.

The author admits in an epilogue written in 1960 that the novel was already rather "dated" and would be of mainly "historical" interest, and that would certainly be much more true today. It is difficult to judge to what extent the psychology was true to the time; some aspects of it (Clive's behavior especially) were hard to believe. Only the character of Maurice himself is anywhere near suffiently developed. On the other hand, now that the "scandalous" aspects have receded into the background, it is possible to see other themes in the novel as well; the discussion of conventionality and how it distorts all relationships, the way students are forced into mediocrity in the schools, and the class attitudes, which are themes of his other novels as well.


message 10: by Book Concierge (new)

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Rainwater by Sandra Brown
Rainwater – Sandra Brown – 3***
In 1934 in central Texas, Ella Barron runs a boardinghouse. A new boarder, Mr Rainwater, quickly becomes a leader in the community, and stirs her feelings as well. This is an interesting look at small town prejudice and bullying in tough times. Brown is best known as a romance writer, but it is more of an historical fiction work than a traditional romance. Brown does a credible job of exploring some important issues, though she does tend to rely on some of the romance tropes and stereotypical characters.
LINK to my review


message 11: by James (last edited May 12, 2018 05:05AM) (new)

James F | 1603 comments Stanislaw Lem, Memoirs of a Space Traveler: Further Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy [1971; tr. 2017] 153 pages

These are stories from the 1971 Polish expanded edition of the Ijon Tichy collection, which were not included in the English translation that year (The Star Diaries, which I read last week). Two of the stories in particular, "Professor A. Donda" and "The Twenty-fourth Voyage" are very good political satires; the first is about two neighboring African countries which seem a lot like Nigeria, although parts of it also reminded me of Trotsky's description of the formation of the Soviet bureaucracy, while the second is a send-up of "libertarianism", though the word is never used.


message 12: by Book Concierge (new)

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The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
The Rooster Bar – John Grisham – 3***
Three third-year law students are stunned when their friend and fellow student commits suicide. Grisham knows how to write a thrilling adventure tale. Mark, Todd and Zola are reasonably bright, motivated, and quick on their feet. I found their friendship and loyalty to one another and to the memory of Gordy touching and genuine. I did think that Grisham wrote himself into a hole and was struggling to get out. There’s a significant side plot focusing on one student’s parents. For most of the book I thought this was an unnecessary distraction, then Grisham uses it as the key to the resolution. Kind of a cheap trick, in my opinion.
LINK to my review


message 13: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 856 comments Empty Mansions The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman
4 ★

The book starts off by giving the reader a look at the life of W.A. Clark and his rise in the cooper industry. He was quite the business man. The reader learns about his short time as a senator and his family. It was amazing that I didn't know this name. W.A. Clark helped so many people, including giving the Girl Scouts money to open the first Girl Scout Camp in honor of his last daughter, Andree. The book then moves on to his youngest daughter, Huguette. Huguette is a very quiet, giving person. She was an artist, an expert in Japanese culture and dolls. The money she gave away as gifts was mind boggling. When her mother died she became a recluse, hiding away in her apartment and later in a hospital. The reader learns about the cancer that almost killed her and how she spent the last 20 years of her life in a hospital. Not because she needed to, but because she wanted to. Huguette was an extremely spoiled person, but still loved by many. We bothered me that most was the family the suddenly appeared after her death at the age of 105. Some of them she did not even know existed. They tried to dispute her will, that left them nothing, saying the her attorney, accountant and personal nurse coerced her into signing it. Medical records show that Huguette was in her right mind up to her death. The conclusion is one that I think would have made Huguette happy.


message 14: by Book Concierge (new)

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The Good Nurse A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber
The Good Nurse – Charles Graeber – 3***
Charles Cullen was a registered nurse who worked in a number of New Jersey hospitals; when he worked at a hospital the death rates skyrocketed. This true crime nonfiction is interesting, but not as gripping as some others. Still, it’s evident that Graeber did extensive research.
LINK to my review


message 15: by Terris (new)

Terris | 593 comments Melissa wrote: "Empty Mansions The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a ..."


I enjoyed this one for the story and information. I did think it got a little long, but overall I was glad I read it :)


message 16: by Book Concierge (new)

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Origin (Robert Langdon, #5) by Dan Brown
Origin – Dan Brown – 3***
Brown certainly knows how to keep the reader in suspense and turning pages, guessing right up to the reveal. But … I’m tired of Robert Langdon and his lectures on symbology. I also felt that Brown wrote himself into a corner and took an easy out.
LINK to my review


message 17: by James (new)

James F | 1603 comments John Dover Wilson, compiler, Life in Shakespeare's England: A Book of Elizabethan Prose [1911] 367 pages

Excerpts from Elizabethan writers, loosely organized around a thread of Shakespeare's life and with quotations from his works, to illustrate the life and customs of the time. Of unequal interest; lots of satire, and Puritan condemnations, which tell more about the Puritans than about the actual customs. Not much real context.


message 18: by James (new)

James F | 1603 comments Stanislaw Lem, Tales of Pirx the Pilot [1961] 216 pages {Kindle]

Five stories about the character of Pirx, a space pilot, beginning with his days as a cadet and ending with him as captain of a merchant ship. These are more straightforward and less philosophical than the Ijon Tichy stories; they mostly turn around his solving puzzles based on various equipment failures. The stories are entertaining but not as meaningful as the Ijon Tichy stories; they may be written for a younger (YA) audience, although that isn't explicit in the description.


message 19: by James (last edited May 22, 2018 01:34AM) (new)

James F | 1603 comments Honoré de Balzac, La Rabouilleuse [1842] 443 pages [in French]

Judging by Balzac's novels, the main occupation of the French bourgeoisie of the early nineteenth century was cheating their relatives out of inheritances; this is another novel which is largely concerned with "succession". (Bearing in mind that the word "bourgeoisie" in Balzac does not have its modern post-Marx meaning of "the capitalist class" but rather is an ill-defined term for anyone who is neither noble nor poor, lives in a city or town rather than on a farm, and has a certain amount of property and "respectability" -- more or less equivalent to the even more meaningless American phrase "middle class".) The novel is in the division entitled "Scenes de la vie de province" and the subsection "Les Celibataires"; it was originally titled Une Ménage de Garçon.

Although written in 1842, La Rabouilleuse really resembles Balzac's earliest works in being (in my opinion) somewhat poorly constructed, beginning with fifty or more pages of rather unexciting background and description of the provincial city of Issoudun; the novel then really opens in Paris with the story of the two brothers, Joseph and Philippe Bridau (one of the English titles for the book is The Two Brothers). Joseph is the "good" brother, an artist who appears as a minor figure in several other novels of the Comédie Humaine; Philippe is an ex-dragoon, the "black sheep" of the family (the title of another English translation.) About two thirds of the way through, the story abandons the story of the two brothers for the story of the "Rabouilleuse" ("stirrer-up") Flore Brazier, and the Rouget family (the father and brother of Agathe, the mother of the two brothers). After another fifty pages, Joseph and his mother arrive in Issoudun (followed later by Philippe) and the real plot begins, which is about the struggle between the "Rabouilleuse" and her lover, Maxence Gilet, and the Bridaus for the grandfather's inheritance which is controlled by Agathe's brother Jean Jacques Roget. The ending then shifts back to Paris and focuses again on the Bridau brothers.

As the introduction to the Livre de Poche edition points out, the central character of the novel is neither Jean Jacques Rouget, the "garçon" of the original title, nor the "Rabouilleuse", but Philippe Bridau, in contrast with his brother, so the two English titles are more accurate to the content of the book. As with so many of Balzac's novels, it is a good story once it gets started, but the main purpose is to depict a particular "type", namely the young men who enlisted in the Empereur's "Grande Armée" at the end of the Napoleonic period and considered themselves "cheated" out of their careers by the Restoration.


message 20: by James (new)

James F | 1603 comments William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 1 [1591?] 222 pages

As I have for the last several years, I will be going to the Utah Shakespeare Festival down in Cedar City at the beginning of July; it's a good entertaining event and about the only cultural activity I can get to from here without much traveling. The three Shakespeare plays I will be seeing this year are Henry VI, Part 1, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Othello. (They will also be putting on The Merchant of Venice, but I've already seen a USF production of that and I can't really afford to spend two nights.) As usual, I will be rereading the three plays I will be seeing and perhaps some secondary works.

I read Henry VI, Part 1 this time around in the Signet paperback edition, with an introduction by Lawrence V. Ryan and excerpts from Holinshed and Hall, two of the main sources, and from chapters of three books (perhaps because there aren't a lot of articles about this play, surprisingly for a Shakespeare play -- on Academic Search Premiere I found 18 fairly recent articles on The Merry Wives of Windsor and even more on Othello, but none on any of the three Henry VI plays.)

The play itself is one of Shakespeare's earliest, and some think (without much evidence) that it may have been written in collaboration or based on an earlier play by someone else. In any case, I would agree with Ryan and all three secondary works that it is probably better constructed than most earlier English plays but without the character development and fluent language of Shakespeare's mature plays. It's definitely not one of his best; although it seems to have been popular at the time it is seldom revived except when, as in the case of the USF, it is part of some sort of project (they are working their way through all the history plays in the order of the events, from Richard II to, I assume, eventually Richard III or maybe even Henry VIII. I won't attempt to give an analysis or critique of the play itself; it's theme is that domestic dissension in England (the Wars of the Roses) lost Henry V's conquests on the continent in the Hundred Years War, and it's hardly accurate as history.


message 21: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 856 comments Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1) by Sarah J. Maas
Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas
5 ★

Celaena Sardothien is released from prison into the custody of Prince Dorian. He wants her to compete in his father's competition to be the King's Champion. This doesn't make Celaena very happy since the king is her biggest enemy, but it's either this or die in Endovier. Celaena ends up making a bad situation bearable. There are 2 new characters introduced, Prince Dorian and Captain of the Guard Chaol Westfall. I'm not sure which I like more and neither does Celaena. The competition is going to be hard, but the sudden horrific deaths of some of the champions competing has Celaena meeting ghosts who put her on a mission and fighting for her own life. Although Celaena has spent a year in a work camp she's still a bit self-centered and spoiled. Chaol tries to keep her under control, but she's not one to be controlled. She pushes his buttons many times. Celaena is starting to grow up a bit and I look forward to seeing her grow more. The new characters are interesting and I know many will return. I'm also hoping that more of Celaena's past is told to the reader. Just a little bit more was revealed here, but I believe there may have been a line to suggest something big.


message 22: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2509 comments Mod
Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg
Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Høeg – 2.5**
I really wanted to like this. It’s been on my tbr for ages and it fits a genre I usually enjoy: Psychological thriller / mystery with a strong female lead. And Smilla is definitely a strong female heroine. There are sections of the book that were mesmerizing, but many sections that just bored me to tears. On the whole it was a chore to read, and it took me three weeks to finish it.
LINK to my review

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A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler – 3.5***
A family saga covering three generations of Whitshanks and the familial home that anchors their story. Tyler shines when writing about everyday life and the small dramas that make up American families. I find these characters so believable and relatable, even when their circumstances are very different from anything I’ve experienced personally.
LINK to my review


message 23: by James (new)

James F | 1603 comments Stanislaw Lem, More Tales of Pirx the Pilot [1983] 228 pages [Kindle]

Five more stories of Pirx the Pilot, as a somewhat older man, including the often anthologized story "The Hunt"; the writing is more involved than the earlier stories, but still essentially in a straightforward narrative style and "hard" science fiction about technology.

Shirley C. Strum, Almost Human: A Journey Into the World of Baboons [1987] 294 pages

Strum in this book describes her experiences studying a troop of baboons in Gilgil, Kenya, for something over ten years. Her results contradicted the previous views about baboon behavior; she found no evidence of a clear dominance hierarchy among males, but a definite hierarchy among females; she found that agression plays less of a role than previously thought, and that social strategies play a much greater role. There is much interesting material here both about primate behavior and about the challenges of conservation even in a species which is far from being currently endangered (except in the sense that all wildlife is endangered by the human expansion into their habitat.)


message 24: by James (new)

James F | 1603 comments William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor [1597?] 188 pages

Another Shakespeare play I will be seeing at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in July, another one I haven't seen performed before as far as I can remember, and again not one of his best. This play according to tradition was written on command of Queen Elizabeth in a very short period of time; it was apparently based on an Italian story or stories, although Shakespeare probably turned it around, making the would-be lover (Falstaff, although a rather different character than in Henry IV) rather than the husbands the dupe. A funny little farce and probably it will work better in performance than it does in print.


message 25: by Book Concierge (new)

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhere – Christine Ng – 4****
I cannot help but wonder what Ng has against determined mothers, first in her debut novel, and now with Elena Richardson. I was struck by how the Richardson kids had a mother who believed she was giving her kids everything, but in fact they knew little about how to deal with life. While Mia, unable to give her child much in the way of material goods, had given her the tools for living – self-reliance, observation, determination.
LINK to my review

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City of Bones (Harry Bosch, #8; Harry Bosch Universe, #10) by Michael Connelly
City of Bones – Michael Connelly – 3.5***
Book eight in the popular Harry Bosch detective mystery series. I really like this series, partly because I really like Harry Bosch. He’s a great detective and does his best to circumvent the political minefield of a big-city police department. The action is fast paced and Connelly gives the reader enough red herrings to keep anyone guessing.
LINK to my review


message 26: by James (new)

James F | 1603 comments Stanislaw Lem, Imaginary Magnitude [1973; tr. 1985] 264 pages [Kindle]

This is an English translation of two Polish books; the first is a collection of prefaces and introductions to imaginary books, supposedly written in the future, and the second, Golem IV was a kind of sequel which actually wrote parts of one of the books. The idea of writing prefaces, introductions and reviews of imaginary books of course was not original to Lem, and he was probably influenced by some short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, whom he sometimes resembles, but I think Lem is the first to use the idea in science fiction; this was not the first book he wrote in this fashion, although it is the first I have read (I'm not sure if the earlier ones are even translated.)

Golem IV (with the original prefaces and introduction to it from the first book) makes up the largest part of the book, and the most interesting -- essentially, it is a treatise on the philosophy of evolution from the viewpoint of an intelligent computer, which shows how relative philosophy is to our human frame and experience. Although I would have preferred that he consider other issues than he did, it was very thought provoking, which is the mark of a good book.


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