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message 1: by Leah (new)

Leah K (uberbutter) | 744 comments Mod
It's the last month of 2018, already! Can you believe it? Neither can I.

Tell us here what books you want to read/ are reading/ have read for the month of December.

Let us know what you think of what you've read!

message 2: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 792 comments Pocketful of Bones by Julie Frayn
Pocketful of Bones by Julie Frayn
4 ★

Finnegan MacGillivray does not live the life of a normal kid. He lives with his single mom whose occupation is quite out of the norm. He spends many nights by himself in his mothers garden while she entertains her "dates". His only friend, Birdie, is an outcast as well and they spend most of their time together, even though her father does not approve of Finn's mom. An unfortunate accident ends the life of Birdie and Finnegan buries her in the garden only to find human bones. A lot of human bones.
Finnegan and his mother are interesting characters. Finn's morbid interest with human bones goes way pass just an interest. It becomes an obsession. For someone who doesn't know the human skeletal system, parts of the book may be hard to follow, although the author does do a fairly decent job explaining where some of the bones are located. Finn's guilt over Birdie's death follows him throughout his life and you can't help but feel sorry for him. The death of Finn's mom brings his obsession to a peak and the ending is not a surprise. The reader can see it coming.
This was a new author for me and I look forward to reading some of her other works.

message 3: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 792 comments John Doe (Rizzoli & Isles #9.5) by Tess Gerritsen
John Doe (Rizzoli & Isles #9.5) by Tess Gerritsen
3 ★

A short story with Maura Isles once again the victim. She remembers meeting a handsome man at a party, but does not remember how she got home. And now Jane Rizzoli is at her door telling her that the man is dead. The whole concept of the story would have made a great novel, but the author did an excellent job putting everything together in 50 (gave or take) pages. There was no lack of mystery either.

message 4: by James (new)

James F | 1396 comments Friedrich Nietzsche, The Pre-Platonic Philosophers: Translated from the German and Edited with an Introduction and Commentary by Greg Whitlock [1872-73, tr. 2001] 287 pages

The text of Nietzsche's lecture course of 1872-73, written between The Birth of Tragedy and Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks; the lectures were never polished for publication and never published separately even in German before 1995, but remained buried in the Gesammelte Werke in an incomplete form and unknown to all but Nietzsche specialists. There are seventeen lectures, which cover all the major Pre-Socratic natural philosophers from Thales to Democritus, as well as the later Pythagoreans and Socrates. Nietzsche has many interesting insights on these philosophers, especially Anaximander, Heraclitus and Anaxagoras, some of which foreshadow modern views of the development of Greek philosophy and others which are more iconoclastic (or even rather strange). I had always wondered why Nietzsche never wrote anything on the Sophists, who seem to me to have some resemblances to his thought, but from the comment on them in the lecture on Socrates it appears he accepts the Platonic denigration of them at face value.

The major importance of the lectures, however, is for the light they shed on his own philosophy and its development. The text is accompanied by an extensive commentary by Whitlock which traces the origins of many of his ideas in the Neo-Kantian materialists such as Lange and Ueberweg, as well as of course Schopenhauer, and the eighteenth century physicist Roger Joseph Boscovich, and also shows how his interpretation of the early Greek philosphers leads to his later ideas of eternal recurrence and the will to power. This book will be a must-read for all students of nineteenth century German philosophy.

message 5: by James (new)

James F | 1396 comments Maryse Condé, Une Saison à Rihata [1981] 214 pages [in French, Kindle]

One of Maryse Condé's earliest novels (I think the second), Une Saison à Rihata is set in Rihata, a regional capital of a fictional West African country. Condé lived for a decade in West Africa, in Sénégal, Guinea, and Ghana. I don't know enough about African history to guess which of these countries the country in the book might be modeled on, although some geographical facts (a former French colony bordering on a former Portuguese one) suggest Guinea; possibly it is a composite of several African nations. The basic outline is unfortunately familiar enough. The novel takes place some two decades after Independence; the first President, corrupt and surrounded by Western advisors, was overthrown by an even more corrupt and brutal military dictator, Toumany, who has ruled for over ten years under the cover of an "African socialism" called "Toumanysm".

The novel begins with the family of Zek (sort of an African Rabbit Angstrom), his alienated and pregnant wife Marie-Hélène (born in Guadaloupe), his mother Sokamba (a representative of traditional African values), his orphan nephew Christophe, and his six daughters, who are in a sort of voluntary exile in Rihata. After establishing these characters and a little bit of their previous history (more of which is revealed in various flashbacks throughout the book), two new characters arrive, who are actually the protagonists of the political action of the novel: Zek's younger brother, Madou, who is a high-ranking minister in the Toumany government, on a secret mission (which of course everyone knows about) and Victor, a guerilla from the North of the country, who is on a mission to spy on Madou's mission. The two plots, the political and the personal, intertwine, together with many flashbacks, in a complex fashion. The two best portraits of the novel are the reformist Madou, originally a radical educated in the Soviet Union, who tries to "change the system from within" and step by step is led to become an important part of the repression he set out to oppose, and the "ultraleft" Victor, also well-meaning, but undisciplined and impulsive, who by his spontaneous individual acts of violence creates most of the disasters in the novel.

If Condé started out with a novel like this, I'm looking forward to reading her later works; I don't know why I had never heard of her before she won the fake Nobel.

message 6: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2290 comments Mod
The Mysterious Benedict Society (The Mysterious Benedict Society, #1) by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Mysterious Benedict Society – Trenton Lee Stewart – 4****
Book number one in a children’s middle-grade series. I can certainly see the appeal for middle-grade readers. There are issues common to all children (and adults) here – what makes us afraid, bullying, learning to get along, and tolerance for other people’s differences. It’s a fun adventure story of friendship and courage.
LINK to my review

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Mrs. Jeffries on the Trail (Mrs. Jeffries, #6) by Emily Brightwell
Mrs Jeffries On the Trail – Emily Brightwell – 3***
Book Six in the Victorian Mystery series has the team investigating the murder of a flower seller. It’s a fun cozy mystery series that I’ll keep reading.
LINK to my review

message 7: by James (last edited Dec 08, 2018 05:53AM) (new)

James F | 1396 comments Dava Sobel, The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars [2016] 323 pages

The Glass Universe is the story of the Harvard Observatory under the directorships of Edward Charles Pickering and Harlow Shapley, that is to say during the last quarter of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, with particular (but not exclusive) emphasis on the role of the women employed first as computers and eventually in other roles. There is also a little bit of context about the role of women in astronomy elsewhere; a major theme of the book is how women broke into academic astronomy. The title refers to the glass photographs of stars, which were taken at the Observatory (and its offshoots at Arequipa and Bloemfontein) and interpreted by the women, although given the preoccupation of the book with the struggle to get women the titles and pay they should have had I wonder if there isn't a subtle allusion to "glass ceiling" as well. The last chapter, though not actually called an epilogue, very briefly covers the period from World War II to the present and just brings us up to date what happened to each of the people dealt with in the book.

Two months ago I read George Johnson's Miss Leavitt's Stars, a biography of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who was one of these computers and who discovered the relationship between the period and absolute magnitude of the Cepheid variables, which allowed them to be used as "standard candles" for measuring the universe. There was some overlap between the two books, but where Johnson focused on Leavitt and what was relevant to her discovery and put the rest in the background, Sobel gives Leavitt about a chapter and places the main emphasis on Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, and Annie Jump Cannon and the development of the spectral classification of stars. There is also something about Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin's discovery of the predominance of hydrogen and helium in the universe. The book also includes many other figures who were not as well-known, who did the routine work but never made significant discoveries of their own. A less expected focus of the book was on the two rich widows, Anna Palmer Draper and Catherine Wolfe Bruce, who financially supported the work of the Observatory.

Another book that is an obvious comparison is Hidden Figures, since the female computers in that book were hired to do the same kind of work as these women. The theme of breaking down prejudices to allow recognition of women's contributions is basic to both, and there are parallels about the struggle to have women supervisors given the actual titles that correspond to their responsibilities, although this book concentrates only on gender rather than race -- all the women here are white and mostly from upper middle class backgrounds. A major difference is that this book contains more actual science since the women astronomers ultimately did original research as well as just calculations.

message 8: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 792 comments Death of a Dapper Snowman (Stormy Day Mystery #1) by Angela Pepper
Death of a Dapper Snowman (Stormy Day Mystery #1) by Angela Pepper
3 ★

Stormy Day has returned to Misty Falls and right into a murder. She finds her neighbor buried in a snowman and takes it upon herself to solve the mystery. Since her dad was a cop and she helped him out sometimes when she was a kid, she figures she'll be good at it. She actually is pretty good at it and gets to know her neighbors in the community while she's at it. She also learns a lot about a couple of new girls in town and a handsome lawyer who has just rented out the other half of her house.
This was a cute cozy mystery with humor and great characters. Stormy is a bit flaky at times, but she gets the job done. I also found her to be very quick to judge people. It may be because of her previous line of work, but it got tedious. She was a very successful business woman, but she doesn't think about things very well. The residents of Misty Falls are a great bunch of people that I hope we learn more about in the upcoming books. There are so many stories there.

message 9: by James (new)

James F | 1396 comments Hwang Sok-yong, The Shadow of Arms [1985, tr. 2014] 576 pages [Kindle]

Another novel by Korean author Hwang Sok-yong, The Shadow of Arms is based on his experiences as a South Korean "ally" during the Vietnam War. The main character, Ahn Yong Kyu, is a South Korean soldier who becomes an agent for the CID, part of the Korean military intelligence service, investigating (and participating in) black market dealings. The black market dealings are complicated and occasionally difficult to follow, which is the one shortcoming of the novel, but the general lines are clear enough. Among the other major characters are members of the Vietnamese Pham family: the older brother, Pham Quyen, who is also involved in black market dealings, is a major in the South Vietnamese army and the adjutant to General Liam, the military governor of Quang Nam province, while the younger brother, Pham Minh, becomes a member of a special urban guerilla group of the NLF. There are no important American characters, so the novel offers a very different perspective on the war from American war novels. In fact, there is very little in the way of combat; the novel is set mainly in Da Nang, in 1968 when the U.S. and allied intervention was at its height, around the time the Tet offensive. At the time, the U.S. and South Vietnamese were still on the ascendant, and yet the novel shows very clearly why they would eventually lose -- only the NLF actually cared about the war effort, while the South Vietnamese officers and the allies were concerned mainly about making money to go home or escape to some neutral country.

If I had realized that this book was translated from the French translation rather than directly from the Korean, I would probably have gotten it in French, as I did with Monsieur Han. It was originally published in two volumes, and previously serialized in a newspaper. The author ran a certain risk in publishing it under the Korean dictatorship of the time, given the resemblances of Korea and Vietnam as countries which were both divided between a Communist north and a capitalist, U.S. supported south. The introduction has a few spoilers and should probably not be read first.

message 10: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 792 comments The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy, #3) by Deborah Harkness
The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3) by Deborah Harkness
5 ★

The third book in this trilogy continues to follow Diana and Matthew as they continue to look for the missing pages of the Book of Life. Diana's pregnancy is going well, but Matthew's brother Baldwin shows up and takes control of the family. Not much as changed since the last book, but Matthew's son, Benjamin, has a bigger role in this book, and it's not a good one. The Congregation is still out to get Diana and Matthew and Peter Knox and Gerbert are still a big part of that. There is a pleasant surprise reunion that warmed my heart. When the pages are found and Diana reunites them with The Book of Life, the response of the book and the resulting action are quite surprising. Overall I enjoyed the whole trilogy. The references to people from the 1590s was interesting and I liked how Matthew's life intersected with many of them. The science aspect of the trilogy was my favorite part. The DNA testing and alchemy was to very intriguing.

message 11: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2290 comments Mod
Sutton by J.R. Moehringer
Sutton – J R Moehringer – 3***
Moehringer tries to bring infamous bank robber Willie Sutton to life in this work of historical fiction. The technique he used to frame the story doesn’t quite work for me. There were scenes that were completely engaging and interesting, and other that just fell flat. I really wanted to like it, but my final reaction is a wishy-washy ‘meh.’
LINK to my review

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Blind Descent (Anna Pigeon, #6) by Nevada Barr
Blind Descent – Nevada Barr – 3***
Book six in the mystery series starring U.S. Park Ranger Anna Pigeon takes Anna to New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns. Much of the action in this book takes place in the confined spaces underground, and Barr spends a lot of time setting up the mystery and going into excruciating detail on the difficulties of exploring such a cave. This is a totally satisfying mystery in a series with a strong female lead.
LINK to my review

message 12: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2290 comments Mod
There There by Tommy Orange
There There – Tommy Orange – 4****
In his debut novel, Orange explores the world of today’s Urban Indian through the stories of twelve characters are planning to attend the Big Oakland Powwow. Their lives are interwoven by coincidence, thin threads of DNA, circumstance, and/or proximity. They are in turn angry, desolate, hopeful, joyous, loving, confused, determined, generous or mean. Orange’s voice is unique and powerful. And I look forward to reading more from him in the future.
LINK to my review

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The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson – 3.5***
On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson escapes from his nursing home and goes on an adventure – or should I say, ANOTHER adventure. This is a fun romp of a novel that reminded me of Forest Gump . Allan’s great talent seems to be going with the flow; he’s rarely ruffled, keeps his wits about him and just enjoys the ride. Readers would do well to follow his lead. Suspend disbelief and enjoy.
LINK to my review

message 13: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 792 comments Angel (Maximum Ride, #7) by James Patterson
Angel (Maximum Ride #7) by James Patterson
4 ★

Fang has left the flock and started his own gang and Max is reluctantly getting closer to Dylan. A new threat is brought to Max's attention by Jeb and Hans, a new generation of mutant kids that want to destroy all humans. When Jeb, Ella and Max's mom go missing, Max and the flock must team up with Fang and his gang to stop the Doomsday group. But Max has to deal with her twin (clone?), Maya, being on Fang's gang and Fang has to deal with Dylan. Kind of the same thing as always. This time though, Angel plays a bigger role. She has grown up quite a bit over the last few books and you can tell by the way she talks. Max is still worried about her though, since she tried to take over the flock some books back. I am enjoying this series, but I get very annoyed by Max and her lack of self-confidence. She is so confused about her feelings for Fang and Dylan that it interferes with her duty to save the world. I would enjoy more fighting and less romance.

message 14: by James (new)

James F | 1396 comments Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon [1977] 341 pages

The third of Morrison's novels, and the one that established her literary reputation, Song of Solomon is the "coming of age" story of a young Black man, Macon Dead III, nicknamed "Milkman", during the era of the Civil Rights movement. After a few chapters about his childhood, most of the novel takes place in 1963; the beginning is rather slow but the most important part of the book is his investigation of his family "roots", which allows him to understand his parents and his aunt Pilate, who is the most interesting character. There are similarities to the previous novel, Sula, in the contrast between Pilate and her family and Milkman's mother Ruth; Pilate, like Sula, defines herself apart from social norms while Ruth, like Nell in the earlier book, defines herself in conventional terms of her relationship to her father, husband and children.

Despite some faults -- the character of Milkman's friend Guitar seems basically just introduced to give opportunities for discussing political issues about race, there are many stereotypes in the minor characters, the light flavor of "magical realism" doesn't entirely work and as in the earlier books Morrison occasionally seems to be trying too hard to be "literary" -- the overall impression is that this is a very insightful book about how origins influence character. I have to admit however that I didn't like it as well as the two earlier books.

Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man [2007] 344 pages [Kindle]

The night before I had to lead a book club discussion on Hogfather, I went back and read the second book in the subseries on Death (the anthropomorphic personification thereof); this comes between Mort and Soul Music and is probably the best in the subseries before Hogfather. The "auditors" contrive to have Death forced to resign; without him carrying on his function of collecting the souls of the dead, they remain as a sort of zombie, and there is a build up of "life force" which is not released properly and causes all sorts of random problems. The book gives the origin of Death of Rats. I can't say too much else without spoilers.

message 15: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2290 comments Mod
A Spoonful of Murder (Soup Lover's Mystery, #1) by Connie Archer
A Spoonful of Murder – Connie Archer – 3***
This has all the elements of a successful cozy mystery series: amateur sleuth, lots of mouth-watering dishes mentioned, a colorful cast of characters to help (or hinder) Lucky’s attempts to investigate, and a potential love interest. I’d be willing to read another in the series.
LINK to my review

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The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri – 5*****
The novel follows the Ganguli family over three decades, from the parents’ arranged marriage in Calcutta to raising their family in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is the type of literary fiction I adore. Lahiri writes with such eloquence and grace, letting the reader learn about this family much as she would do when meeting new acquaintances who become friends over decades. She tackles issues of the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, differences (and conflicts) between generations, and personal identity.
LINK to my review

message 16: by James (new)

James F | 1396 comments Gabriel García Márquez, Ojos de perro azul [1974] 182 pages [in Spanish]

This book is a collection of fourteen short stories written between 1947 and 1955, and originally published in periodicals. Although not technically juvenilia, since he wrote them in his twenties and recognized them by republishing them in this anthology in 1974, they all date from before his first mature novella, La hojarasca. I think it would be true to say that with one or two exceptions they are of more interest for his development than in their own right as stories. They are all difficult to understand; unlike many modernists who began with more realist or romantic styles, right from the beginning García Márquez was seeking a modernist, non-realistic style influenced by writers such as Kafka and Borges, and he had not yet learned how to do that while remaining comprehensible to others. Nearly all of them are in some way about death; the first story is essentially about a consciousness in a dead body, and others are concerned with ghosts and spirits, influences of the dead on the living, and so forth. The stories from the fifties foreshadow his later technique of "magic realism" and resemble his mature works more than those from the forties. Probably the best is the title story, "Ojos de perro azul" about two people who dream together but never meet in the waking world.

message 17: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 792 comments The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
4 ★

Tana wakes up in a bathtub where she apparently passed out at a classmates party at an old farmhouse. She walks out to find that all the party goers are dead from what looks like a vampire attack. All except Aidan, Tana's ex-boyfriend. She finds him tied to a bed in a back room with another boy. A boy she doesn't know who also happens to be a vampire. Aidan has been bitten and is now Cold. Human blood will complete the change. Despite the danger, Tana rescues Aidan and the other boy, Gavriel. Her task now is to get them both to Coldtown, towns that have been walled up throughout the world to keep vampires and those that have been bitten. Tana must make this journey with them without getting bitten herself.
This was truly an enjoyable read with interesting characters and great world building. The author describes Coldtown so well that the reader can almost picture it. Pleasure Island from Pinocchio comes to mind when reading about Coldtown. A place for young people to escape to a place with no rules or parents. A place for parties all day and night regardless of what you may become. But, like Pleasure Island, Coldtown is way more dangerous than whit is shown on live feeds.
The book goes back and forth in time to tell Tana's story and Gavriel's. The back stories really help the reader understand Gavriel and how the vampire "infection" started.
This book would have been a solid 5 stars for me if it hadn't ended the way it did. I was really hoping for more. Hoping for Tana to change her mind and move her story in a different direction.

message 18: by James (last edited Dec 28, 2018 03:06AM) (new)

James F | 1396 comments Toni Morrison, Tar Baby [1981] 306 pages

A very interesting novel which touches on many important questions without answering them: the dilemma of Blacks in both America and the neocolonial world between affirming their own traditional cultures without stagnating in poverty versus assimilating the culture and education of the dominant culture without breaking with their roots and accepting "white" values (and the well-meaning but basically patronizing attempts of white liberals to decide for them); the difficulties in human relations (especially marriages and between parents and children) between people who have different histories, goals and values; the struggle between love and independence, again both in relationships and between parents and children; the thin line between emotional confusion and actual mental illness, with the insensitivity of people to the emotional difficulties of others; and as background to everything else, the unequal relationships between employers and workers, white and Black, Americans/Europeans and the neocolonial world, and men and women.

In this novel, Morrison abandons her previous concentration on her own midwestern Black heritage to widen the canvas to the Carribean, with brief episodes in Florida and New York, although Eloe, Florida seems very similar to the small Virginia rural town in Song of Solomon and plays the same symbolic role. It's also the first to include white characters other than in minor roles. The main action of the book is set on a fictional privately-owned island, the Isle de le Chevalier, in the formerly French Caribbean, during the Christmas holiday, apparently sometime in the mid-seventies; the major characters are an American Black sailor, Son, who has jumped ship, and Jadine (Jade), the visiting supermodel niece of the rich white owner's butler, Sydney, and cook, Ondine (who describe themselves as "Philadelphia Negroes, as mentioned in the book of the same name"). There is also much about the relationship of the owner, Valerian Street, with his wife Margaret, and their relationship to the servants. A number of Caribbean Blacks play minor roles. At times the book seems like a play with poetic passages interpolated between the scenes.

message 19: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2290 comments Mod
Iron Lake (Cork O'Connor, #1) by William Kent Krueger
Iron Lake – William Kent Krueger – 4****
This is book one in a series starring the former sheriff of Aurora Minnesota, Cork O’Connor. The series has become immensely popular and catapulted William Kent Krueger onto a list of the best mystery / thriller writers. The plot is satisfyingly complex, with many suspects, unclear motives, uncertain crimes (Accident? Suicide? Murder?), and more twists and turns than the most fiendish roller coaster. I’ll read more of this series.
LINK to my review

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The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty
The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty – 4****
What an interesting and fresh take on relationships and the psychology of love. What makes us attracted to one another? What holds us together? What happens when one partner moves on, but the other hangs on – desperately, crazily, dangerously?
LINK to my review

message 20: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 792 comments Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse, #11) by Charlaine Harris
Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse #11) by Charlaine Harris
4 ★

Merlotte's gets firebombed, Eric and Pam want to kill the new regent of Louisiana and someone is out to kill Sookie. Just another day in the life of Sookie Stackhouse. As usual Sookie gets pulled into the plans to kill Eric's new master, but this time she has a plan of her own. Sookie has really come into her own over the last few books. She's taking more control of things and I'm liking that. There are some new developments concerning her grandmother and her fairy grandfather that raises more questions and Sookie uses a fairy portal for a very interesting purpose. There is also a very interesting twist in her relationship with Eric. Sometimes I wish she would just meet a nice human and settle down, but then her life would be so boring. Plus, I don't think that would make her happy. Each book in this series gives you a little more back story on characters and makes you look forward to the next book. A quick and enjoyable read.

message 21: by James (new)

James F | 1396 comments Honoré de Balzac, Les deux poètes [1837] 164 pages [in French]

The first book of the trilogy Illusions perdues, which is one of Balzac's major works, and which is probably the most autobiographical section of the Comédie humaine, although neither of the major characters is exactly Balzac. The two poets are David Sechard, who like Balzac was for a time an unsuccessful printer, and Lucien de Rubempré, who like Balzac becomes the protegé of a somewhat older noblewoman. The book shows the difficulties of a beginnning writer in the highly class stratified society of Angoulème. I enjoyed the novel more than some of the other Balzac which I have read recently, but I will hold off on a real review until I've finished the other two books of the trilogy.

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