Monday, December 31, 2012

"Zorro" by Isabel Allende. ****

  • Originally published 2005
  • Peruvian author
  • Review:  Allende, as always, is a wonderful storyteller

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"The Sculptress" by Minette Walters. ****

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published. 1995
  • English author
  • Review:  I really enjoyed this novel.  The characters were engaging, the multiple storylines were well handled, and i liked the way the plot started with a murderess in prison and worked, essentially, backwards.  The crisp prose made the story move along at a good pace, and there were just enough surprises to keep me on my toes.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Noah's Compass" by Anne Tyler. ***

  • Audiobook 
  • US author 
  • Originally published 2009
  • Review:    A nice, quiet Anne Tyler novel.  An unprepossessing man struggles to makes sense of his life and winds up working in a preschool.  Starting over? A quiet, pleasant read.

"The Final Martyrs" by Shusaku Endo. ****

  • Part of year long read of Endo's works on LibraryThing. com
  • Originally published 1959
  • Japanese author
  • From Foreword by the author:
    • "...a good deal of time passes between the point when I drive the chisel into the block of ice and the moment when I can first sense that my characters have begun to move."
    • "...even a character who appeared only once in a short story waits now in the wings, concealed by the curtain, for his next appearance on-stage."
  • Quotes:
    • p.129..."Sometimes as I look into the mirror, I think this face must be what in Buddhism is called the 'face of dark delusion'.  A world where I search for salvation but have yet to discover the light; .....". 
    • p.130..."The appropriate level of darkness and the appropriate clamminess in the room provide me with the same feeling of liberation as that of being in my mother's womb." - describing his ideal writing environment
  • Interesting ideas:
    • room size is described by number of mats.....i.e. a "four-and-a-half mat room"
    • his description of death anxiety mirrors mine exactly!!
  • Review:  The themes in these stories included Endo's usuals:  Catholicism in Japan, martyrdom, loyalty, aging, facing mortality, parental conflict, and disappointment in the frailties of humanity.  The foreword to this collection was written by the author.  He indicates that many of the characters went on to be featured in his novels.  He also confirmed that much of his writing is autobiographical, which adds an interesting layer to the understanding of the themes.  Frankly, I think Endo is a very good writer, but was clearly driven to seek resolution to his own philosophical, spiritual, and personal issues.  Consequently, his plots, characters, and themes are repetitive, more so than other authors, in my opinion.  So, just read a couple of novels and you will be satisfied without being frustrated.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"The Vanished Man" by Jeffrey Deaver ****

  • Audiobook
  • Mystery/Suspense, Lincoln Rhymes series
  • US author
  • Originally published 2004
  • Review:  This installment of the Lincoln Rhymes series was fast paced and well done.  The evil magician and the novice match wits and the magical tricks really make this a good read!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"The Last Kind Words" by Tom Piccirilli ***

  • Audiobook
  • Mystery/Suspense
  • Originally published 2012
  • US author
  • Review:  I liked this story quite a bit and will read more by the author.  Generally, the notion of struggling with being a member of a family of criminals and trying to prove that his brother only committed some of the murders he is being put to death for is a unique plot.  What codes of honor exist in families and among criminals is an interesting question. Sometimes I thought too many issues were being tackled at once and the story seemed jumbled.  Definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Women of Algiers in Their Apartment" translated by Assia Djebar *****

  • Short stories
  • Algerian
  • Originally published in 1980
  • Vocabulary:
    • laterite:   a reddish ferruginous soil formed in tropical regions by the decomposition of the underlying rocks.
  • Quotes:
    • p.21..."Hatred! the painter hissed as he brought both tea and whiskey,  We suckle it with the milk of our exploited mothers!  They've understood nothing:  it's not only colonialism that's at the root of our psychological problems, but it's the belly of our frustrated women!  When we're just fetuses, we're already damned!"
    • p.34..."Gold coins don't need to go looking for takers!"
    • p.47..."I see no other way out for us except through an encounter like this:  a woman speaking in front of another one who's watching; does the one who's speaking tell the story of the other one with the devouring eyes, with the black memories, or is she describing her own dark night with words like torches and with candles whose wax melts too fast?"
    • p.48...." this strange city, drunk with the sun but with prisons high up on every street, does every woman live first for herself or for the chain of women once locked in, generation after generation, while the same light, an unchangeable, rarely dimmed blue, continues to pour forth?"
    • p.50..."For Arabic women I see only one single way to unclock everything:  talk, talk without stopping, about yesterday and today, talk among ourselves, in alll the women's quarters, the traditional ones as well as those in the housing projects.  Talk among ourselves and look.  Look outside, look outside the walls and the prisons!...The Woman as look and the Woman as voice....".
    • p.64..."The sobs outside seemed more muffled, but I could still distinguish their singsong.  Their gentle singsong.  This is the moment, I said to myself, when grief becomes familiar, and pleasurable, and nostalgic.  This is the moment when you weep almost voluptuously, for this gift of tears is a gift without end."
    • p.69...:I knew my part, it was one I'd played before; stay mutelike this, eyes lowered, and patiently let myself be examined until the very end:  it was simple.  Everything is simple, beforehand, for a girl who's being married off."
    • p.70...."...for life never comes unaccompanied to a woman, death is alway right behind, furtive, quick, and smiling at the mothers....".
    • p.73..."There are those who forget or who simply sleep.  And then there are those who deep bumping into the walls of the past.  May God take pity on them!"
    • p.121..."Ramadan is the truce of all grudges."
    • p.133..."Thus, Morocco is revealed as the place where dream and its incarnation of an aesthetic ideal meet, the place of a visual revolution."...referring to the paintings of Delacroix
    • p.134..."In these brief and graphic or written annotations, there is an almost feverish hand at work, an intoxicated gaze:  a fugitive moment of evanescent revelation standing on that borderline in motion where dream and reality converge."...
    • p.151/Closing line...."Only in the fragments of ancient murmuring do I see how we must look for a restoration of the conversation between women, the very one that Delacroix froze in his painting.  Only in the door open to the full sun, the one Picasso later imposed, do I hope for a concrete and daily liberation of women."
  • Review:   The title of this collection refers to a painting by Eugene Delacroix, which was allegedly inspired by a brief visit inside the harem of a home in Morocco.  The painting and the stories in this collection depict the emotional and intellectual state of women hidden within walls and the veil.  It is also a collection comprised of haunting, evocative prose which stirs the deepest aspect of the reader's self.  The yearnings, fears, coping mechanisms, faith, belief, and suffering of the women in these stories will forever be imprinted in my heart.  I have rarely read such a marvelous collection.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"A Natural Woman: A Memoir" by Carole King ***

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published 2012
  • Review:  Carole King has led a life unlike many "stars".  The memoir  is quiet and humble, much as one imagines Carole herself after listening to her narrate the audiobook.  Clearly, a woman who struggled with being dominated in unhealthy relationships, she also was content to compose for others until her peers almost dragged her into performance.  It was a nice book about a nice woman who was huge in my music world.  Glad I read this!

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn ***

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published 2012
  • USA author
  • Review:   Well, where to start?  Double-double crosses?  Meta-metaphor for gamesmanship between the sexes?  Between husbands and wives?  A tale of mental ill health?  A clever murder-non-murder mystery?  Despite being somewhat overblown, I was very engaged in this story.  Some sections made me cringe a bit with gratuitous graphic sex...don't mind non-gratuitous graphic sex, but it seemed contrived at several points.  I think the clever plot twists merit the attention this title has received, but the writing is otherwise run of the mill.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Back to Blood" by Tom Wolfe *****

  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Originally published 2012
  • Review:   Tom Wolfe weaves a wonderful story!  Starting with characters like the Russian who buys his way into Miami high society by endowing an art collection comprised completely of forgeries, a young Cuban American police officer who just tries to do his job and seems unable to avoid publicity, the lovely starry eyed Cuban American ingenue who cannot seem to get her priorities clear, and the W.A.S.P. editor of the local paper who dreads having to print a story which may upset his wife and/or his social standing.  If that doesn't draw you in, perhaps the themes which are embedded in the roiling, cross-cultural morays and expectations in an American city filled with a a wide range of ethnic, financial, and social strata will do it.  It is just a well written story which illuminates issues we see everyday in our lives as Americans.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Gabriel's Gift" by Hanif Kureishi *****

  • British Pakistani author
  • Originally published 2001
  • Vocabulary:
    • plimsoll:   canvas shoe with a rubber sole; gym shoe; sneaker.
    • percipience:   perceiving or capable of perceiving.
  • Quotes:
    • p.12..."At night even the most conservative of us becomes an avant gardist....".
    • p.23..."Why would anyone think they could achieve something?  Only because someone believed in them."
    • p.29..."Afterwards she had become too careful with Gabriel, not letting him live for fear he might die."...interesting concept 
    • p.67..."Talent might be a gift but it still has to be cultivated.  The imagination is like a fire or  furnace; it has to be stoked, fed and attended to.  One thing sets another ablaze.  Keep it going."
    • p.67..." dreams the maddest connections are made!"
    • p.96..."Children understood tyrannies, he thought, living with those vicious moody bosses called parents, under a regime in which their thoughts and activities were severely constrained."
    • p.103..."Children always noticed the underneath of things; for a long time, like foot soldiers and servants, they only saw the world from below, a good position for noticing how things worked."
    • p.154..."If you've got it, you get it from yourself and don't you forget it.  You can inherit an old tie but not a gift, that's one thing I know."
    • p.172..."Once hatred is expressed, love has a chance."
  • Notes:
    • the greatest gift in life is imagination or talent
    • the educational system was coercive and "failure was the only sitinction; conformity was a kind of death."
  • Review:  Absolutely loved Kureishi's writing. In a matter of a few sentences the reader is whisked into the mind and heart of an adolescent boy trying to understand the roller coaster which is life.  At the core of this novella is the question of how to hold onto imagination?  How to hold onto losses...a twin, a marriage, the truth, ideals?  Wonderfully crafted, this book is a gem!

"The Crystal Frontier" by Carlos Fuentes *****

  • Mexican author
  • Originally published 1995 in Spanish
  • Quotes:
    •  p.19 ..."...she was seeing only the naked desert, but her life could be like that enchanted city on the other side of the frontier:  golden towers, crystal palaces."
    • p.25..."Properties, customs offices, real estate deals, wealth and power provided by control over an illusory, crystal border, a porous frontier through which each year pass millions of people, ideas, products, in short, every (sotto voce:  contraband, drugs, counterfeit money, et cetera)"
    • p.33..."Now it's late fall, and the forest is denuded, the trees on the mountainsides look like burned toothpicks, and the sky comes two or three steps down to communicate to all of us the silence and pain of God in the face of the fleeting death of the world."...winter in Ithaca
    • p.40..."But prejudices could not be removed over night; they were very old, they had more reality--they did--than a political party or a bank account."
    • p.53..."You have to earn heaven by giving yourself over to it:  paradise, if it does exist, is in the very guts of the earth, its humid embrace awaiting us where flesh and clay mix, where the great maternal womb mixes with the mud of creation and life is born and reborn from its great reproductive depth, but never from its airy illusion, never from the airlines falsely connecting New York and Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific, in fact separating the lovers, breaking the marvelous unity of their perfect androgyny, their Siamese identity, their beautiful abnormality, their monstrous perfection, casting them to incompatible destinies, to opposite horizons."
    • p.60..."The depressing lesson of the movie 'Forrest Gump'.  To be always available for whatever chance may bring...".
    • p.65..."A good Mexican, Dionisio conceded all the power in the world to the gringos except that of an aristocratic culture...".
    • p.110..."What new mixture of oblivion and remembrance awaits them on the other side?"
    • p.188..."They spent several minutes looking at each other that way, in silence, separated by the crystal frontier." executive and a window washer in a high-rise.
    • p.239...".....but Mario knew very well that as long as a poor country lived next to the richest country in the world, what they, the Border Patrol, were doing was squeezing a balloon:  what you squeezed here only swelled out over there."
    • p.266..."...poor Mexico, poor United States, so far from God, so near to each other."....closing line
  • Notes:
    • references to Ithaca, Cornell University, "itaquitas", produced at the local pistol factory and used as the official sidearm of the army of El Salvador
    • Reference to "Being There" as story of a man who only knows what he learns from tv and goes on to become considered a genius
    • narrator refers to only two known Mexicans who speak decent is Carlos Fuentes....those two seem suspicious to the narrator......a little tongue in cheek humor
    • One character crossed the border, ended up in  mall, never found his way out
  • Review:   Just for starters, imagine a man who conjures a different woman to devour for each course of his meal, a racist border patrol officer, a man whose lover is his daughter-in-law, and a woman thwarted in her determination to prove her theory that Mexicans are lazy.  Now, add vivid and compelling prose.  Now add the discomfort of absorbing a lambasting of the ethics, hypocrisy, power, and destructiveness of your home nation.  This is a must read novel, published in 1995 and very relevant today. Guaranteed to make you squirm, to make you think, and to make you feel.  Absolutely a remarkable literary work!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See" by Robert Kurson ***

  • Non-Fiction
  • Originally published 2006
  • Story of blind man's journey towards sight
  • US author
  • Review:  A very interesting story of a very interesting man.  The blending of narrative, biography and medical information was done very well.  Satisfied the desire to know as much as possible about the man and the medicine. Sometimes it was difficult to believe all the "crashing through" stories, but I guess there really are some folks who live life in the extreme from childhood on.  Good read!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Notes From The Underground, White Nights, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man and selections from The House of the Dead", by Fyodor Dostoevsky ***

  • Russian author
  • Originally published in 1860s....this collection in 1961
  • Review:   Generally I like Dostoevsky very much.  However, "Notes From Underground....." is darkly discouraging.  The best way I can describe this collection is as a series of philosophical snapshots taken at distinct periods in the author's life.  Clearly he was eternally struggling to make meaning of life and it was an anguish filled process.  Apparently I prefer the author's storytelling to his autobiographical philosophizing.

Monday, November 12, 2012

"The Informationist" by Taylor Stevens **

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published 2011
  • US author
  • Mystery/Suspense
  • Review:  The protagonist in this novel was overdone.  In my opinion she was too hard, too tough, too over the top in every area.  The reader from the audiobook was awful.

"Garment of Shadows" by Laurie R. King ***

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published 2012
  • US author
  • #12 in the Mary Russell series
  • Review:  Not one of my favorites

Friday, November 2, 2012

"The Bone Bed" by Patricia Cornwell ***

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published 2012
  • US author
  • Review:  A good Kay Scarpetta installment, although I like them better when Marino and Lucy are more actively involved in the events of the story.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Sing You Home" by Jodi Picoult - **

  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Originally published 2011
  • Fertility/Infertility issues, gay marriage
  • Review:  Felt too much like a story designed around the issues in order for the author to educate the reader.  Not what I was hoping for.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"The Empty Chair" by Jeffrey Deaver ***

  • Audiobook
  • #3 in Lincoln Rhyme series
  • Originally published in 2001
  • US author
  • Review:  Not bad, not bad at all.  I do enjoy this series.  I liked the setting of this one, in North Carolina.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"The Bat" by Jo Nesbo ***

  • Audiobook
  • !st Harry Hole mystery
  • Originally published in 1997
  • Norwegian author
  • Set in Australian, about the death of a Norwegian woman
  • Review:  Very good intro to Detective Harry Hole.  Jo Nesbo's prose is crisp and engaging.

Monday, October 22, 2012

"The Eustace Diamonds" by Anthony Trollope *****

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published 1873
  • #3 in Palliser series
  • English author
  • Review:  Trollope continues, in this third installment of his Palliser series, to poke fun at the aristocracy.  It is really more than poking fun, but the writing makes one laugh while also clearly identifying the vanities, hypocrisies, and various other frailties of the
    English upper class in the mid 1800s.  Lady Eustace, the melodramatic, manipulative, narcissistic widow will stop at nothing to hold onto her beloved diamond necklace, while desperately seeking a new spouse in the poetic incarnation of a corsair.  In the course of pursuing her nefarious goals, she lies, cheats, double-crosses, perjures, and uses everyone in her path.  I won't tell you what happens to the necklace or her love life, because that would spoil half the fun. I look forward to the next volume and what antics will occur there!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Defending Jacob" by William Landay ****

  • Audiobook
  • Mystery/Suspense
  • US author
  • Originally published 2012
  • Review:  A tense murder mystery which totally engaged me.  Did he or didn't he?  Even if he didn't, he may be quite demented.  Wait a minute.......did the other guy do it?  Uh oh........what the heck is going on?  Is there a "murder gene"?  Hmmmmm...........

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Claiming Ground" by Laura Bell ****

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published 2010
  • Autobiographical
  • US author
  • Review:   I really enjoyed this memoir. Laura Bell is a somewhere between a lost soul and a free spirit when she goes to live in the mountains of Wyoming as a sheep herder. The telling of her life story takes the reader down unexpected, non-traditional paths. The reader is allowed to be witness to the joys and sorrows, loves and losses of this one woman's life. It is an incredible journey with the magnificent backdrop of the Wyoming landscape, rugged and much of life!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce ****

  • Audiobook
  • English author
  • Originally published 2012
  • Setting:  English village and English countryside
  • Harold finds out an old friend and begins to walk to see her in hospice care, believing in walking there he may save her
  • Review:   What exactly is a pilgrimage?  Merriam-Webster says, "a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion".  Well, in this quiet, lovely tale, Harold Fry inadvertently embarks on one and the reader walks along with him.  So begins a journey of the body, of memory, of marriage, of loss, of spirit.  The reader accompanies Harold as he journeys many miles and deeply within himself. I suppose it is best to describe this as a coming of age story, although not in the traditional sense of a young person becoming an adult, but in the sense of an adult seeking to accept the next and final stage of his own life.  Again, it is a quiet tale.  Enjoy the journey!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Tell The Wolves I'm Home" by Carol Rifka Brunt ***

  • Audiobook
  • Debut
  • US author
  • Originally published 2012
  • Review:   This is a very nice coming of age tale which tackles themes such as loss, love, sibling relationships, and the early years of public awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Good story.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot ****

  • Audiobook
  • Non-Fiction
  • US author
  • Story of first set of human cells ever to spontaneously reproduce, and the way they have impacted medical research and treatment worldwide, and continue to do so.  It is also the story of the woman who died, yet whose cells live on and the impact on her extended family
  • Review:   A fascinating book.  The author fairly adeptly weaves two true stories together, one of medical history being made and the other being the impact of that historical event on the extended family of Henrietta Lacks.  Both sides of the story involve a difficult medical ethics question about patient rights and their limits, along with the commercialization of scientific/medical research.  The audio version I listened to included an interview with the author at the end which was very interesting as well.

Friday, September 28, 2012

"Beautiful Mystery" by Louise Penny *****

  • #8 in the Inspector Gamache series
  • Audiobook
  • Canadian author
  • Setting:  St. Gilbert Entre des Loups, a monastery in isolated area of Quebec, home to a n order of Monks whose primary purpose is to sing Gregorian chants to the glory of God
  • Interesting survival v. spiritual survival, power of faith, the destruction caused by ego
  • Review:   And the hits just keep on coming!   How does Louise Penny consistently write such marvelous stories?  Without any spoiler...I cried at the end of this one!

"Swamplandia" by Karen Russell **

  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Originally published 2011
  • Setting:  island off coast of Florida....."Swamplandia"...home to an alligator amusement park
  • Review: Great opening and it was downhill from there.  Overblown metaphors, fable wannabe, disjointed plot.  Just did not hold my interest. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

"The Hummingbird's Daughter" by Luis Alberto Urrea *****

  • Originally published 2005
  • Audiobook
  • Mexican author
  • He was an Arts & Lecture author 
  • His novel, "Into The Beautiful North" (reviewed elsewhere) is the 2013 "If All Rochester Reads......" selection
  • Historical Fiction
  • Review:   Urrea's reading of this piece of historical fiction is magnificent.  I felt like I was listening to an epic poem rather than prose.  The story of Saint Theresita is stirring and spiritual.  It compels the reader into the world of Mexican mystery, religion, history, superstition, and faith, just as Theresita compels more and more followers and believers.  I might have given this novel four stars, but the reading itself merits five! 

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Sarah Orne Jewett's Best Short Stories" by Sarah Orne Jewett ****

  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Originally published 1994
  • Review:   This is a collection of precious gems, short stories which illuminate the character of the classic New England elderly lady.  Ever concerned about her image within her community, avoiding growing old, facing death, and keenly observing those around her.  The stories fit a stereotype which may well have been fairly accurate in its day, and some of which may still hold true.  Jewett writes superbly and has a subtle touch in her caricatures.  Very nice.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"The Art of Hearing Heartbeats" by Jan-Phillipp Sendker ****

  • Book Club Selection for September 2012
  • German Author
  • Originally Published 2002
  • Review:  A lovely story about a daughter discovering the story of her father's true love. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

"The Guinea Pigs" by Ludvik Vaculik *****

  • Open Letter Series
  • Czech author
  • Originally published in 1968
  • Author was banished from the Communist Party during the Prague Spring of 1968, writing was censored, and he was persecuted for decades
  • Characters: 
    • Vasek, the father , bank employee
    • Eva, the mother, a schoolteacher
    • Vasek Jr, interested in underground networks
    • Pavel, younger son,
    • Mr. Maelstrom, lives under the train bridge, works at bank, shunned for his prediction of impending economic doom
    • Mr. K, tells Vasek that guinea pigs have a purpose and Vasek tries to figure it out....they feed weasels (metaphor....workers feed Communist leaders aka weasels?)
    • Three guinea pigs: Albinika (first, female), Red (second, male, red), Red the second (male, saved from weasels,most well behaved and submissive)
  • Vocabulary:
    • monophyletics:   consisting of organisms descended from a single taxon.
  • Quotes:
    • p.5...."Sometimes, though, man departs from some of his intentions, while he follows alternate routes in the interest of maintaining his standard of living.".....a touch of foreshadowing
    • p.10......"He had become accustomed to a life of danger, he didn't want to live any other way.  If it cost him his life, nobody would hold an investigation or bear him any ill will, only a few cats will bear a few litters of young ones, more or less, for a while after he is gone."......Vasek's observations about their kitten......again, foreshadowing
    • p.12......."The position of a poor sap like that, at the bottom stratum of the social structure, is typified by his absolute helplessness  The one at the bottom is unhappy because everybody, and there is no one to obey him.  But if he finds that he has at least one creature even one creature lower than himself, the world takes on an entirely different aspect.  Social structures expand, and the bottom stratum retreats by a horse's length, by the height of a crow, by the breadth of a dog."......Vasek's experience with the guinea pigs?
    • p.14....."The hardest thing in the world, girls and boys, is to change your life by your own free will.  Even if you are absolutely convinced that you're the engineer on your own locomotive, someone else is always going to flip the switch that makes you change tracks, and it's usually somebody who knows much less than you do."
    • p.47...."Nothing turns out as bad as it seems at the start:  every dish of  porridge ultimately cools off, according to an old Czech saying.  Most clouds don't bring rain, most rifles don't have any effect on the steamrolling of highways."
    • p.57...."Fear of death prior to death is something that has been reserved for mankind."
    • p64....."Speak up or shit letters!"
    • p.70....".....the dying need to concentrate on their departure, and as long as they are not forcibly brought back to consciousness--which at best means an awareness of their pain or their concern--they no longer suffer."
    • p.74......"there are excellent ideas that become unfeasible by the very fact of their having been proclaimed on the street.".....hence the need for an underground network
    • p.146...."As long as he knew that the guinea pig was in the water, he couldn't think that he wasn't..  And also, he was the only person in the world that knew it.  From this fact the banker deduced that if there is a God,as He is guilty, even if no one, not even a mouse, in this whole world believes in Him."
    • p.175....."When decay causes everything to give up its will and wishes like fine wisps of smoke, for whom is the sacrifice being burnt?  And what is being asked?"......and then he the time the guinea pigs are born......
  • Ideas:
    • God as the best type of observer, never intervenes  p.22
    • economic depression as a whirlpool, or maelstrom......p.41
    • music calmed the dying guinea pig, just as it did my dad
    • can only pass a judgement about someone after having witnessed their first "deed"
    • switched from first to third person narrative when ashamed of his actions...p.145
  • Review:  The nearest I can figure is that this novel is about the process of decay and loss of will caused by the tight controls placed on human beings under Communist regimes.  The protagonist's experimentation seems to represent the playing with humanity by regimes and an uncaring God.  The guinea pigs are the example of how paralyzed and unthinking, how devoid of wishes and dreams, people become when socially, economically, culturally, or otherwise confined.  A powerful, thought provoking novel, by an author from the Czech Republic who himself was persecuted and ostracized for the expression of his independent thoughts.
  • Link sent to me which has a good review:

Friday, September 7, 2012

"Tenth of December" by George Saunders ****

  • Early Review edition for LibraryThing
  • US author
  • due to be published January 2013
  • short stories
  • Review:  This collection of short stories is deceptively simple and then broadens into a collection which will stick with you for quite a while.  Plots include returning veterans,a suicidal man saving a boy's life and consequently his own, a world where drugs can induce and reduce any emotional state desired, and more.  If pressed to find the thematic thread which connects them, I think it is both the fear and reality of loss of self.  Very good read!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Children in Reindeer Woods" by Kristin Omarsdottir ****

  • Open Letter Translation
  • Icelandic author
  • Originally published 2012
  • Setting:  An isolated valley in a country at war
  • Characters:  Rafael (paratrooper, tired of war, wants to be a farmer, but has a little problem stopping himself from killing), Billie (11 year old girl, only person spared from shooting death at a children's home by Rafael), Abraham (Billie's father, believes he is a puppet whose strings are held by hands from another planet, writing a book of laws to send to the other planet)
  • Vocabulary:
    • orgulous: haughty
  • Quotes:
    • p.43....."365 days is an acceptable length of time for a lover yto wait, but once the earth returns to the same place it was when the waiting began, it's over, the waiting ends."
    • p.69...."...a theater of the absurd, a summerhouse of loneliness."......great description of the novel
    • p.70..."The problem with war is that one doesn't know what to do with the children."
    • p.78..."Each person should thread her own crow-path." 
    • p.127....."She was getting practice in contradictions."....single killing is murder...millions is was
    • p.132..."Each person has to go and thread her own crow-path.  Giving is another way of loving.  The heart fills the sail with air.  The number of fatalities is unknow.  Justice is a goddess.  If you want something you can achieve it.  Soon better times will come, there'll be flowers in the meadow.  The well of wisdom never runs dry.  I am alone but I am not lonely.  I must stop wearing a mask."....Phrases Rafael repeated to himself when he got headaches after killing.
    • p.135...."Rafael scattered manure and assorted tinctures over the bed in a struggle against weeds.  He called this "depression medication for vegetable0-growing," since, he explained, "depression is like weeds around the spirit."
  • How many men need to be killed for it to be murder?
  • Review:   This modern day fable has a dramatic, frightening opening and is then followed by a strange tale of a soldier who is tired of war, and an 11 year old girl who is wise beyond her years yet still a child, and how they help one another.  It is a disturbing and thought provoking story by an Icelandic author whose work I haven't read before.  I will be looking for more!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"The Samurai" by Shusaku Endo ****

  • Part of the year long author read on
  • Japanese author
  • Originally published 1980
  • Quotes:
    • p.24..."These people are like ants.  They will try anything!  When ants are faced with a puddle of water, some of their number will sacrifice their own lives to form a bridge for their comrades.  The Japanese were a swarm of black ants with those very instincts."
    • p.26...Once again the image of a great swarm of black ants crossing a puddle of water in search of food flashed before his eyes.  In pursuit of profits from trade with Nueva Espana, the Japanese were at last on the verge of crossing the Pacific like black ants.  The missionary sensed that he could use their greed to benefit the missionary cause."
    • p.43..."He tried to persuade himself that his dream of becoming Bishop was not the product of worldly ambition.....".   The Japanese sacrifice themselves, while the ambitious sacrifice others.
    • p.46...."But the peasants looked up with dull eyes that exp0ressed neither excitement nor surprise.  They were like old dogs who regarded all the affairs of men with apathy."
  • Review:   This is the fourth novel by Shusaku Endo which I have read as part of a year long read of his works by a group of readers on 

    I have now started this review three times because I am not quite sure what to say.  This story is another effort on Endo's part to illuminate the failure of Christianity to take hold in Japan.  It is the story of a samurai who remains faithful to his mission to the death.  It is the story of a priest who remains faithful to his mission to the death.  It is the story of their disillusionment with their leaders.  It is the story of the search for a way of life which will allow a person to live a life of integrity and honor and compassion.  It is, in the end, a story of trying to maintain faith in the face of duplicity and abuse practiced by governing groups to obtain their own ends at all costs.  Ultimately, I believe this is a story about each person's personal journey to find something to believe in beyond themselves.  The writing is powerful and the imagery is outstanding.  I do not think I have come across an author such as Endo before, who repeats the same theme so deliberately across very different story lines.  He was, himself, a man obsessed with a theme.

"Mission To Paris" by Alan Furst ***

  • Early Review edition for
  • US author
  • Originally published 2012
  • Actor in Paris in 1938 gets caught up in political warfare between Germany and France, just prior to the German invasion
  • Review:  Furst's historical espionage novel, set in 1938 Paris, just prior to the German invasion, was interesting in terms of the workings of "political warfare", but was average in terms of plot and characters.  Sometimes I read a book which makes me feel as if the author wanted to educate and explain a historical phenomenon and had to come up with a plot to fit it.  It ends up becoming an uncompelling story with quite compelling historical content.  I prefer when both are compelling.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"The Warden" by Anthony Trollope *****

  • English author
  • Originally published in 1855
  • Summer Sub Club read with Beth
  • Characters:  Mr. Harding (the warden), Eleanor (unmarried daughter), John and Mary Bold (brother and sister, John loves Eleanor), the archbishop (warden's son-in-law), Punce (loyal bedesman), Pessimist Anticant (all negative philosopher), Popular Sentiment (author of popular novels)
  • Vocabulary:
    • precentor:  a  person who leads a church choir or congregation in singing.
    • appanage:  land or some other source of revenue assigned for the maintenance of a member of the family of a ruling house.
    • bedesman: a person kept in an almshouse
    • bosky: covered with bushes, shrubs, and small trees; woody
    • glebe: the cultivable land owned by a parish church or ecclesiastical benefice.
    • Puseyism:  the religious opinions and principles of the Oxford movement, especially in its early phase, given in a series of 90 papers called Tracts for the Times,  published at Oxford, England, 1833–41.
  • Quotes I Like:
    • p.30....."The bishop did not whistle:  we believe that they lose the power of doing so on being consecrated; and that in these days one might as easily meet a corrupt judge as a whistling bishop.....".
    • p.42.....The tone of our archdeacon's mind must not astonish us; it has been the growth of centuries of church ascendancy; and though some fungi now disfigure the tree, thouch ther be much dead wood, for how much good fruit have not we to be thankful?"
    • p.57.....beautiful passage describing the warden's violoncello along with other instruments as they perform a musical piece.....lovely!
    • p.66....."We must express an opinion 6that nowhere but in the Church of England, and only there among its priests, could such a state of moral indifference be found."
    • p.145...."Nobody and everybody are always very kind, but unfortunately are generally very wrong."
    • p.149...."The artist who paints for the million must use glaring colours, as no one knew better than Mr. Sentiment when he described the inhabitants of his almshouse; and the radical feform which has now swept over such establishments has owed more to the twenty numbers of Mr. Sentiment's novel, than to all the true complaints which have escaped from the public for the last half century."
  • Interesting ideas:
    • p. 100....the difference in perceptions of Eleanor's plea to John Bold between women under twenty and over sixty compared to women of 35!
    • the notion of private influence holding no sway over what newspapers publish
    • the absurdity of legislation at times.....searching nuns for Jesuitical symbols?!
  • Review:  I absolutely loved this gem of a novel and am glad that it is the first of the well-known Barchester series by Trollope.  How can you go wrong with a melodrama and a morality tale blend along with characters with names such as Dr. Pessimist Anticant, Mr. Popular Sentiment, and Mr. Quiverful?  This is the story of a man beset by doubts as to the validity of his source of income.  A meek, mild, honorable man, he takes one of his first strong stands about what he believes to be right, even though those who questioned him in the first place had backed down.  Themes include:  honor, loyalty, the nature of friendship, the absurdity of pundits, and the willingness of people to make judgements based in their own personal interests with limited information.  Certainly sounds like issues which are still relevant today!

"A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories" by Flannery O'Connor *****

  • August 2012 book club selection
  • Originally published 1955
  • US author, from the deep south, devoutly Catholic, diagnosed and died from lupus at young age
  • Short Stories
  • Great character names
  • Themes:  inevitability of darkness, evil touching all lives, moments of grace, deception, distrust, I question whether O'Connor may have been latent homosexual and struggled with the Catholic homophobic doctrine, perhaps even seeing her lupus as God striking her down for it
  • Vocabulary:  no new vocabulary
  • Quotes I Liked:
    • p.3..."In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady."......grandmother on why she dressed so nicely when going in the car
    • p.21..."I call  myself  "The Misfit" because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment."
    • p.33...."They looked like the skeleton of an old boat with two pointed ends, sailing slowly on the edge of the highway."...Mrs. Connin and the children waling along the highway on a summer afternoon
    • p.52...."He seemed to be a young man but he had a look of composed dissatisfaction as if he understood life thoroughly." does too?
    • p.57...."......the monks of old slept in their coffins!"....."They wasn't as advanced as we are,' the old woman said."
    • p.95...."She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick."
    • p.131......"He understood that it (mercy) grew out of agony, which is not denied to any man and which is given in strange ways to children."
    • p.163..."He didn't have any use for history because he never expected to meet it again."
    • p.177...."Besides the neutral expression that she wore when she was alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used in her human dealings."
    • p.179...."Mrs. Hopewell had no bad qualities of her own but she was able to use other people's in such a constructive way that she never felt the lack.".......LOL
  • Review:  Hard to believe I have never read Flannery O'Connor's stories before!  She was an absolutely amazing writer.  Her stories are dark, distrustful of humanity, and clearly support her belief that "A Good Man is Hard to Find".  The author's early diagnosis of lupus and her devout Catholicism are a matter of record, and the impact of these two aspects of her life is clear throughout the stories.  There are a few moments of grace, there are frequent religious symbols, portents, and consequences.  Bottom one is immune to tragedy, to darkness, and to disillusionment.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.....I know....who would want to read such dark stuff?  I say, anyone who appreciates clear, well-crafted prose.  And, believe it or not, there are phrases which are drop dead funny that appear every so often, and O'Connor has that delightful Dickensian ability to choose great names for her characters! 

Friday, July 20, 2012

"I Am An Executioner", by Rajesh Parameswaran ****

  • Short Stories
  • Audiobook
  • Indian author
  • Originally published 2012
  • Debut
  • Story #1:  Tiger as narrator, accidentally kills a keeper, eventually develops "instinctive" killing
  • Story #2:  Simple man decides to masquerade as a physician, with disastrous results
  • Story#3:  Simple minded, yet wise executioner tries to understand his wife
  • Story#4:  Narrator, created based on an old photo of a relative of the author's, tries to understand a man considered crazy, also, he speaks to the author, even yells at him regarding the conclusion to the story
  • Story #5:  Boy who speaks "Engliphant"
  • Story #6:  Woman kills one pays attention...metaphor for alienation she feels since moving from India to the USA
  • Review:   This is a tough review to write.  This collection of short stories is well worth reading, yet inconsistent in quality.  There are fabulous characters, including a tiger as narrator, a man masquerading as a physician, an elephant and a boy who speaks "Engliphant", an alienated immigrant, and more.  The plots are distinct yet connected by the thread of what it means to be an animal....human or otherwise.  Warning...not an uplifting, upbeat collection; rather an intense and thought-provoking collection.   This is a debut collection and I am definitely interested to see where this writer goes with his talents from here!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel **

  • Audiobook
  • Tried reading this one other time, but was in the wrong frame of mind.....want to try again
  • English author
  • Originally published 2009
  • Man Booker Prize winner
  • Review:   Bored stiff.....did not finish...and I had the same reaction both times I tried reading it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"The Botany of Desire" by Michael Pollan ***

  • Audiobook
  • Non-Fiction
  • US author
  • Originally published 2001
  • Review:  What an interesting perspective....Take the desire for control, intoxication, beauty, and sweetness.......look at the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato......listen to Michael Pollan's interesting theory that plants manipulate us into helping them survive.   Yep....very interesting!

Friday, July 6, 2012

"Matters of Honor" by Louis Begley ****

  • #4 Summer Sub Club read with Beth
  • Polish author, born in a part of Poland which is now part of the Ukraine
  • Originally published 2007
  • Author Info: 
    Begley was born Ludwik Begleiter in Stryi at the time part of Poland and now in Ukraine, as the only child of a physician. Using forged identity papers that enabled them to pretend to be Polish Catholics, his mother and he survived the almost wholly successful German attempt to kill all Polish Jews.
    He lived with his mother at first in Lwów, and then in Warsaw until the end of the August 1944 Warsaw uprising. By the time World War II ended, they were in Kraków, where they were reunited with Begley’s father.
    During the school year 1945/46, Begley attended the Jan Sobieski gimnazjum in Kraków. It was his first experience of formal instruction since kindergarten during Soviet occupation of Stryj, which followed German invasion of Eastern Poland in 1939.
    The family left Poland in the fall of 1946 for Paris and, in late February 1947, left Paris for New York, arriving March 3, 1947. After graduating from Erasmus Hall High School, Begley studied English Literature at Harvard College (AB '54, summa cum laude). Service in the United States Army followed, the last eighteen months of it in Göppingen, Germany, with the 9th Division.

    Career as a lawyer

    In 1956 Begley entered Harvard Law School. Upon his graduation in 1959 (LL.B. magna cum laude), he joined the New York firm now known as Debevoise & Plimpton as an associate. He became a partner January 1, 1968, while serving at the newly established Paris office. Upon his return to New York, Begley headed for many years the firm’s international practice. He retired from the firm on January 1, 2004.


    In 1956, Begley married Sally Higginson. They were divorced in May, 1970. In March 1974, Begley married his present wife, Anka Muhlstein, born in Paris. A historian and biographer, Anka has been honored twice by the French Academy’s prize for history, for her biographies. These biographies include the eighteenth century explorer, Cavelier de La Salle, and her ancestor James de Rothschild, the founder of the French Rothschild bank. Muhlstein has received the Goncourt prize for biography for her work on the French writer Custine, which is available in English as A Taste for Freedom: The Life of Astolphe de Custine. Anka’s other works are Par les yeux de Marcel Proust, Denoël, 1971, La Femme Soleil, Denoël, 1976, Victoria, Gallimard, 1978, Manhattan, Grasset, 1986, Reines éphémères, Mères perpétuelles, Albin Michel, 2001, Les Périls du Mariage, Albin Michel, 2004, and Napoléon à Moscou, Odile Jacob, 2007. Her Garcon, un cent d’huîtres, a study of the role of gastronomy in the novels of Balzac, was published by E
  • Epigraph:  "Les morts, les pauvres morts ont de grandes douleurs..... ", Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal
  • "Jewism", the term the boys used for describing Henry's version of being Jewish, of assimilation
  • Quotes:
    • p.31..."All the same, so long as there are people who care whether I am a Jew pretending to be a Gentile, I have to remain a Jew, even though inside I feel no more Jewish than a smoked ham.  If the question is asked, I'm obliged to say that I'm a Jew--unless the consequence is ending up in a concentration camp or dead.  I consider it a debt of honor, an odd one for someone like me, who doesn't believe he owes anything to anybody.  Otherwise, I've no intention of making a show of being Jewish"..........key to title?
    • p.37..."Disrespect does away with many a barrier to conquest" a quote!!!
    • p.51..."But practically speaking, non of this is about what we were before the war, or what happened during the war.  It's about what we are now.  We have become a different species.".....perhaps true after any war
    • p.53..."I now realize that all three of us--Henry, Archie, and I--used the word "Jew" with restraint, holding it gingerly with two fingers far away from the body, as though it gave off a bad smell.  It was an embarrassing word to utter in polite company, especially if a Jew was present--unless like old Gummy, you were telling jokes about Weisberg, Goldberg, and the like.  In that respect it was not unlike "homosexual" or some of the less antiseptic variants in use at Harvard:  queer, fairy, queen, pervert, faggot, fruit, and pederast."
    • p.54..."If you want to know what it's really like to be a Jew, let Shylock tell you."
    • p.67..."...clearly setting yourself against the opinions of other was easier if you were rich and occupied an impregnable social position."
    • p.209..."We're not self-hating anti-Semitic Jews.  We're only snobs."...Margot
    • p.289..."I've read somewhere that survival of the species--at least of the higher orders--reposes on a single anomaly:  until senescence, neither the male nor the female tires of orgasms.......(a friend just told ma about a woman, aged 88, who read ":Fifty Shades of Gray" and told someone that she didn't realize her body could still "react like that".
    • p.290..."I had come to the land of the free so I wanted to be free, and that meant ridding myself of the chains, the weight that held me back:  Krakow and the morass of Jewish history and Jewish suffering before, during, and after the war.  All of it.  All the Jewism,"...Henry
  • Interesting notion of the difference between pragmatic and symbolic truth.....p.207
  • Circle of hell devoted to children who were not dutiful to their parents....all would be there....LOL...p.275
  • Review:   This is a sleeper of a novel.  On the surface it is simply a tale of four post-WWII Harvard freshmen and their coming of age with typical life struggles in the arenas of career, family, and relationships.  However, Begley's writing subtly draws the reader into a much bigger theme which is self-invention and re-invention.  We meet Sam, our narrator whose parents were not up to snuff by many standards.  We meet Archie, who is a burgeoning alcoholic who refuses to transform.  We meet Margot who has it all and yet has nothing.  We meet our very dear Henry, a Polish, Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, who is gifted in the area of re-invention.  So, the novel resonates for anyone who has wanted to re-invent themselves, leaving behind those aspects of their identity which are distasteful, socially unacceptable, frightening, and/or which stand in the way of what we seek in life.  There were a few sections which seemed to drag, perhaps not feeling quite necessary to the forward motion of the story, and the use of language was subtly powerful, but not exquisite enough for a 5 star rating.  Very good novel!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Say You're One of Them" by Uwem Akpan *****

  • Audiobook
  • Short Stories
  • Nigerian author
  • Story #1:  poor family living in a shanty scrounges for something to make Christmas festive, and also about the sacrifices made for one of the children to go to school....even a sister prostituting herself...finally the boy chooses not to go to school
  • Story #2:  Children whose parents are dying of HIV/Aids live with their uncle, who proceeds to attempt to sell them into slavery, although finally, out of guilt, he stops his plan
  • Story#3:  A Muslim boy tries to travel across country in a bus full of Christians and during the journey he learns that all lives are sacred, that different does not necessarily mean bad
  • Story #4:  A family tries to protect itself from the violence of civil war
  • Review:  This is an intense collection of stories about what it is like to live in Africa in the countries torn by religious conflict, political conflict, and violence.   Each story is hopeful and despairing at the same time.  Mr. Akpen's writing is very matter-of-fact regardless of the intensity of actions and situations in the stories, which somehow makes it all very readable.  Themes addressed include:  Muslim v. Christian conflict, family loyalty, desperation of poverty, HIV/Aids,  survival instinct, conflict between tribal rule, dictatorships, and democracy, and the desire for peace. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

"The Night Strangers" by Chris Bohjalian ***

  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2011
  • Review:  This was a pretty good story if you enjoy the horror genre.  There is an unexpected ending, which helped a lot, even if it was disturbing.

Friday, June 29, 2012

"Pot Pourri: Whistlings of an Idler" by Eugenio Cambaceres **

  • #3 in Summer Sub Club with Beth
  • Argentinian author
  • Originally published in 1882, first published anonymously
  • Author info:  
    Son of a French chemist father who immigrated to Argentina in 1833 and a mother native to Buenos Aires. Cambaceres went to secondary school at the Colegio Nacional Central and then went on to receive a law degree from the Universidad de Buenos Aires.[1]
    Quickly launching into politics, he was elected to the Argentine Chamber of Deputies and was named secretary of the Club del Progreso in 1870, and in 1873 became Vice President of said organization. However, his denunciations of fraud within his own party led to his downfall, and although he was re-elected to the legislature in 1876 he soon resigned his post and left public life to devote himself to literature. From his career as a liberal politician, perhaps his most important contribution was a controversial tract in a local magazine advocating the separation of Church and State that was quite polemic at the time.
    As a writer, he combined the naturalism of Émile Zola and the Goncourt brothers and a localized realist character with four novels of a pessimistic nature. His first two novels were Pot-pourri (1881) and Música sentimental: Silbidos de un vago [Sentimental Music: Whistles of a Lazy Man] (1884). Both lack a precise plot and leave many threads hanging, containing stories of adultery within a pessimistic and weary atmosphere. The novelty of dealing with such a lurid topic and in such a crude manner provoked a scandalous repercussion and critics did not hesitate in directly attacking Cambaceres. This changed the composition and style of his later works, which were much better received.
    In 1885 he released his most significant novel, Sin Rumbo [Without Direction], where he offered good descriptions of the landscape of sexual pathology, including interesting anecdotes. The year before he died 1887, he published En la sangre (In the Blood), a story about the son of Italian immigrants of humble origin that advances his social standing by marrying the daughter of a wealthy estate, only to squander his fortune and end up with a miserable life. Through his writing, Cambaceres dealt with the problems associated with the arrival of Immigrants to Argentina and the social changes of his time, but ended up taking the perspective of the high bourgeoisie that critiqued the lower classes and European immigration.
    Eugenio Cambaceres travelled to Europe and was in Paris when he died at 45 years of age, in 1888. His daughter, Rufina Cambaceres, was only four years old.
  • Author's Foreword: 
    • p.2..."...I think the mere display of those blemishes now corrupting the social organism is the most potent antidote which can be used against them
    •  p.3..."As I was saying, I had the material before me, but it being carnival time, when everything is transfigured and becomes distorted, my lenses were probably also distorted, leading to slightly altered negatives with a dash too much shade."...Yep
    •  p.4..."After each sentence, each word, each comma, and even in the blank margins, instead of the carefree whistlings of a flaneur, they have heard, .....the whizzing of poisoned darts that I, perverse bastard son, have plunged with parricidal hands into the bowels of our common mother." 
    • p.14..."Turn the page and lend your ears to a collection of melodies, proof and testament to my thesis, that have been arranged as a concerto for whistles, a pot pourri of whistlings and catcalls composed by ear and on impulse - sans embellishment or variation--from the monumental music of the world."
  • Review:   I was very disappointed in this novel.  The author paints a sarcastic, caustic picture of society in Buenos Aires in the 1880s.  The intensity of his invectives crossed some sort of line for me, moving from literature to nasty caricature.  The intense negativity caused me to tune out any sociopolitical substance.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"The Coroner's Lunch" by Colin Cotterill ****

  • Audiobook
  • 1st in Dr. Siri series
  • Originally published in 2004
  • Story takes place in Laos, during late 1970s, under Communist rule, Dr. Siri is a pathologist
  • English author
  • Colin Cotterill was born in London and trained as a teacher and set off on a world tour that didn't ever come to an end. He worked as a Physical Education instructor in Israel, a primary school teacher in Australia, a counselor for educationally handicapped adults in the US, and a university lecturer in Japan. But the greater part of his latter years has been spent in Southeast Asia. Colin has taught and trained teachers in Thailand and on the Burmese border. He spent several years in Laos, initially with UNESCO and wrote and produced a forty-programme language teaching series; English By Accident, for Thai national television.


    Ten years ago, Colin became involved in child protection in the region and set up an NGO in Phuket which he ran for the first two years. After two more years of study in child abuse issues, and one more stint in Phuket, he moved on to ECPAT, an international organization combating child prostitution and pornography. He established their training program for caregivers.  All the while, Colin continued with his two other passions; cartooning and writing. He contributed regular columns for the Bangkok Post but had little time to write. It wasn't until his work with trafficked children that he found himself sufficiently stimulated to put together his first novel, The Night Bastard (Suk's Editions. 2000).

    The reaction to that first attempt was so positive that Colin decided to take time off and write full-time. Since October 2001 he has written nine more novels. Two of these are child-protection based: Evil in the Land Without (Asia Books December 03), and Pool and Its Role in Asian Communism (Asia Books, Dec 05). These were followed by The Coroner’s Lunch (Soho Press. Dec 04), Thirty Three Teeth (Aug 05), Disco for the Departed (Aug 06), Anarchy and Old Dogs (Aug 07), and Curse of the Pogo Stick (Aug 08), The Merry Misogynist (Aug 09), Love Songs from a Shallow Grave (Aug 10) these last seven are set in Laos in the 1970’s.

    On June 15 2009 Colin Cotterill received the Crime Writers' Association Dagger in the Library award for being "the author of crime fiction whose work is currently giving the greatest enjoyment to library users".

    When the Lao books gained in popularity, Cotterill set up a project to send books to Lao children and sponsor trainee teachers. The Books for Laos programme elicits support from fans of the books and is administered purely on a voluntary basis.

    Since 1990, Colin has been a regular cartoonist for national publications. A Thai language translation of his cartoon scrapbook, Ethel and Joan Go to Phuket (Matichon May 04) and weekly social cartoons in the Nation newspaper, set him back onto the cartoon trail in 2004. On 4 April 2004, an illustrated bilingual column ‘cycle logical’ was launched in Matichon’s popular weekly news magazine. These have been published in book form.

    Colin is married and lives in a fishing community on the Gulf of Siam with his wife, Jessi, and ever-expanding pack of very annoying dogs.(less)  
    Review:   Wonderful tongue-in-cheek tale of Dr. Siri, a coroner in Laos in the late 1970s.  He is out of date, suffers lack of resources, but most of all faces the sometimes ludicrous machinations and beliefs of the Communist regime.  Despite all, he out-maneuvers and outwits his opponents to emerge victorious in the search for truth. Oh....did I mention that he channels spirits of the departed?  A really fun read!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Post Office Girl" by Stefan Zweig *****

  • #2 Summer Sub Club read with Beth 2012
  • Austrian author
  • Originally published in 1982
  • Quotes I Like:
    • p.15..."But still: a little bit of security, a roof over your head, room to breathe, just barely; might as well get used to it---after all, the casket's an even tighter fit."
    • p.19..."She tries harder, this twenty-eight -year-old woman, to remember what it is to be happy, and with alarm she realizes that she no longer knows, that it's like a foreign language she learned in childhood but has now forgotten, remembering only that she knew it once."
    • p.22..."Without meaning to she grows silent."...the result of the onset of WWI and the changes it wrought in her family's life
    • p.28..."For this quiet, unprepossessing , passive man who has no garden in front of his subsidized flat, books are like flowers.  He loves to line them up on the shelf in multicolored rows; he watches over each of them with an old-fashioned gardener's delight, holds them like fragile objects in his thin, bloodless hands."
    • p.32..."She tries to think, but the monotonous stuttering of the wheels breaks the flow of her thoughts,  and the narcotic cowl of sleep tightens over her throbbing forehead--that muffled and yet overpowering railroad-sleep in which one lies rapt and benumbed as though in a shuddering black coal sack made of metal."
    • p.34..."This contact with the overpowering is her first encounter with travel's disconcerting ability to strip the hard shell of habit from the heart, leaving only the bare, fertile kernel."
    • p.66..."In this instant, shaken to her very depths, this ecstatic human being has a first inkling that the soul is made of stuff so mysteriously elastic that a single event can make it big enough to contain the infinite."
    • p.139..."There's an inherent limit to the stress that any material can bear.  Water has its boiling point, metals their melting points.  The elements of the spirit behave the same way.  Happiness can reach a pitch so great that any further happiness can't be felt.Pain, despair, humiliation, disgust, and fear are no different.  Once the vessel is full, the world can't add to it."
    • p.175..."But 'must' is a hard nut to crack, and it doesn't always fall from the tree no matter how hard you shake it."
  • Vocabulary:
  • General Notes:
    • Brilliant juxtaposition of pivotal moments.....the drab, routine of the post office with the arrival of the telegram, the joy of girlhood with the arrival of WWI 
    • I was so touched by the maps which Franz Fuchsthaler made for Christine, unfolding "accordion-like"
    • p.36..."Once shame touches your being at any point, even the most distant nerve is implicated, whether you know it or not; any fleeting encounter or random thought will rake up the anguish and add to it.  This first blow marks the end of Christine's un-selfconsciousness." true
    • p.122..." her presence he sees that one generation's painfully acquired mistrust of life is fortunately neither understood nor credited by the next, and that each new wave of youth is a new beginning." true, maybe even evolutionarily (is that a word?) adaptive 
    • p.216..."The vast power of money, mighty when you have it and even mightier when you don't, with its divine gift of freedom and the demonic fury it unleashes on those forced to do without it...". 
    • Summary on back of my edition says that this novel "lays bare the private life of capitalism"
    • the notion of the marital suicide pact....raised between Christine and Ferdinand....foreshadowing in Zweig's own life
  • Review:   As I read this novel by Stefan Zweig, the image of a roller coaster ride surfaced in my mind repeatedly.  You know the way the car climbs slowly to the summit of each curve then shoots down the slope at high speed, then repeats the pattern again and again?  This novel follows that pattern.  Zweig's writing is brilliant!  He juxtaposes long descriptive, contemplative passages with mind-boggling pivotal moments in the lives of the characters.  The small roller coaster is the string of post WWI experiences of the protagonist, Christine, and eventually with Ferdinand as well.  The meta-roller coaster is the sense of loss, lack of meaning, and search for meaning experienced by all who were touched by the war.  Zweig's use of language, his characters, and his plot make this a memorable read!

Friday, June 22, 2012

"Dead Souls" by Nikolai Gogol *****

  • Summer Sub Club read w/Beth
  • Russian author
  • Originally published 1842
  • Quotes I Like:
    • p.14..."the fat know better than the slim how to handle their affairs in this world" - the fat sit reliably and firmly....OK...
    • p.20..."He like not so much what he was reading about as the reading itself, or, better, the process of reading, the fact that letters are eternally forming some word, which sometimes even means the devil knows what."...Petrushka
    • p.219..."...a woman is like a sack, she holds whatever you put in it..."...nasty
    • p.278..."Acquisition is to blame for everything; because of it things have been done which the world dubs not quite clean."
    • p.278..."Numberless as the sands of the sea are human passions, and no one resembles another, and all of them, base or beautiful, are at first obedient to man and only later become his dread rulers."
    • p.366..."Age-old experience has proven that man in his agricultural quality has the purest morals.  Where ploughing lies at the basis of social life, there is abundance and well-being; there is neither poverty nor luxury, but there is well-being."
    • p.373..."One ought to begin with a kopeck."
  • Humorous:
    • Petrushka slept without undressing and like to keep a smell about him of where he slept
    • p.27..."And in boarding schools, as we know, three main subjects constitute the foundation of human virtue:  the French language, indispensable for a happy family life; the pianoforte, to afford a husband agreeable moments; and, finally, the managerial part proper:  the crocheting of purses and other surprises."
    • p.103..."Wherever, across whatever sorrows our life is woven of, a resplendent joy will gaily race by, just as a splendid carriage with golden harness, picture-book horses, and a shining brilliance of glass sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly goes speeding by some poor, forsaken hamlet that has never seen anything but a country cart, and for a long time the muzhiks stand gaping open-mouthed, ....though the wondrous carriage has long since sped away and vanished from sight."....beautiful girl goes by
    • "It is well known that there are many faces in the world over the finishing of which nature did not take much trouble....."
    • p.123..."A knowledge of hearts and a wise comprehension of life resound in the word of the Briton; like a nimble fop the short-lived word of the Frenchman flashes and scatters; whimsically does the German contrive his lean, intelligent word, not accessible to all; but there is no word so sweeping, so pert, so bursting from beneath the very heart, so ebullient and vibrant with life, as an aptly spoken Russian word."
    • p.123..."Aptly uttered is as good as written, an axe cannot destroy it."
    • p.149...:...he fell asleep soundly, deeply, fell asleep in the wondrous way that they alone sleep who are so fortunate as to know nothing of hemorrhoids, or fleas, or overly powerful mental abilities."
    • Funny names at times, i.e.....Lousy Arrogance from Cockyville
    • p.234..."Hindsight is the Russian man's forte."
    • p.239..."However you push and pull, you'll never get milk from a bull."
    • p.257.."Not like mother, not like father, but like Roger the lodger."
    • p.291..."And only when it became so unbearable that it even prevented the master from doing nothing, would he send to tell them to make their noise more quietly."
  • Characters:  Chichikov (protagonist) , Selifan and Petrushka (his servants)
  • Vocabulary:
    • britzka:  a long horse-drawn carriage with a folding top over the rear seat and a rear-facing front seat
    • finical:  finicky
    • shalloon:  a light, twilled woolen fabric used chiefly for linings.
    • chibouk:   a Turkish tobacco pipe with a stiff stem sometimes 4 or 5 feet (1.2 or 1.5 meters) long.
    • empyrean:   the highest heaven, supposed by the ancients to contain the pure element of fire
    • quitrent:  rent  paid by a freeholder or copyholder in lieu of services that might otherwise have been required.
    • emendation:   a correction or change, as of a text
    • gammer:   an old woman
  • General Notes:
    •  After the triumph of Dead Souls, Gogol came to be regarded by his contemporaries as a great satirist who lampooned the unseemly sides of Imperial Russia. Little did they know that Dead Souls was but the first part of a planned modern-day counterpart to The Divine Comedy. The first part represented the Inferno; the second part was to depict the gradual purification and transformation of the rogue Chichikov under the influence of virtuous publicans and governors — Purgatory
    • Gogol burned his copy of the "Dead Souls" manuscript just prior to dying
    •  Many references to Germans as role models.....
    • Many anti-Semitic comments, primarily financial
    • Liked the idea of a "storied" person, someone who leaves with a story of something having happened wherever they go
    • The "Tale of Captain Kopeikin"...he sank into the "river of oblivion"......Chichikov's fate as well
    • I usually don't like the author speaking to the reader, but I liked it in this novel
    • p.279 - Gogol expresses his belief that we would have liked Chichikov if he had not dredged up his dark side
    • constant reference to hemorrhoids a bit weird
    • p.381..."Sometimes, really, it seems to me that the Russian is somehow a hopeless man.  There's no willpower in him, no courage for constancy.  You want to do everything - and can do nothing."....Gogol was anti-Imperialist
  • Review:   I am sorry I had not read Gogol before now!  His writing is a blend of Dostoevsky and Dickens.  Absolutely hysterical characters manage to highlight a satiric view of Russian country life in the late 1800s.  The protagonist, Chichikov, manages to persuade a variety of landowners to sell him the names of "dead souls" or workers who have died. Certainly Gogol was attempting to make a statement about the state of his nation and it is done with such satiric wit and wonderful prose!  I think, perhaps, the best way to sum up this great piece of literature is by using a quote from one of the characters, "You must love us black, anyone can love us white."  No person is blameless in this life! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"The Expats" by Chris Pavone ****

  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Originally published 2012
  • Review:   Cross, double cross, triple cross and more.  This complex espionage story falls just short of being overdone.  Pavone's lead character is a just ex-CIA employee who cannot suppress her spy tendencies, which leads to dilemmas as she tries to reconcile the life of a spy with being a wife and mother.  Is she imagining dire plots everywhere she goes or is there something to it.   Noooooo, I am not going to tell you!  However, this story also deals with the eternal theme of marital trust and betrayal, and how much of each a marriage can sustain.  Good read!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Pravda" by Edward Docx *****

  • Book Club selection June 2012
  • English author
  • Originally published in 2007
  • Author's online bio:  Edward Docx was born in the north of England. He grew up in Manchester and London. After school, he went to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he read English Literature and was Junior Common Room President. He began his professional writing career working on the national newspapers. In 2003, his first novel, The Calligrapher, was published to widespread acclaim. It was selected by the San Francisco Chronicle as a Best Book of the Year and was a finalist of The William Saroyan prize at Stanford University. It is now translated into eight languages.
    In 2007, his second novel, Pravda (entitled Self Help in the UK), was published; it was long-listed for the Man Booker and went on to win The Geoffrey Faber Prize.
    In 2003 and then again in 2007, Docx travelled in South America as part of the research for his third novel, The Devil's Garden, which is published in paperback this year.
    Edward Docx has written for The Times, The Telegraph, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Observer, Vogue and The Independent. His most recent journalism appears in The Guardian and Prospect Magazine. He lives in London very close to MI6 and the river Thames.
  • Characters: Maria (Russian, wife to Nicholas, mother of Gabriel and Isabella, defected to England, loved St. Petersburg, gave birth to Arkady, illegitimate and put in orphanage), Nicholas (Maria's husband, abusive father, gay, living in Paris, miser),  Gabriel (married to Lina, has lover, Connie, brother to Isabella, found mother dead in her apartment in St. Petersburg), Isabella (Maria's daughter, Gabriel's twin sister), Arkady (pianist, illegimtimate son of Maria), Henry (heroin addict, roomate of Arkady, trying to get enough money together for Arkady to complete study at music institute), Alessandro (Nicholas' young Italian lover who only wants money)
  • Epigraph:  "The truth was obscure, too profound and too pure, to live it you have to explode."  Bob Dylan
  •  Part II Epigraph:  "Pardon me if I lie, all you who understand love."..Susanna, Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro
  • Part III Epigraph:  "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life, and his relations with his kind."...Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto
  • Opening line:  "He was relieved to be again among the Russians.  Nothing to do with his head, or even his heart, but in his soul; some kind of internal alignment or tessellation."
  • Quotes I Like:
    • p.19..."Abruptly, and with a sickening feeling, she realized that her heart had a false floor and had been concealing its contraband throughout:..." 
    • p.49..."Half the world is screaming for water and freedom when the other half is ordering cocktails and complaining about the service."...Nicholas
    • p.50..."Honesty--Masha, is it not the most monstrous piece of excrement that mankind has ever come up with?"...Nicholas
    • p.50..."At the end of each of the culs-de-sac down which his mind careered, there was, he knew, a gaudy theater wherein savage satires were ever being staged."...Nicholas
    • p.51.."Nicholas still could not make up his mind which was more annoying, the guile of straight women or the wiles of gay men."
    • p.52..."The naked body of this other human being entranced him, engrossed him, bewitched him like a river god rising in vapors of jasmine and myrrh with a different violin sonata for each of his senses."
    • p.55..."In so many brief years we become strangers to our own blood."
    • p.59..."In art we are in conversation with ourselves across the generations, Gabriel, this is the lodestar of our humanity.  The rest is chasing food and money....".  Maria to Gabriel
    • p.71..."And what was conscience but mood wearing a uniform?"
    • p.79...description of Arkady's relationship to his piano.....
    • p.89..."Somehow he had become a fugitive from his own decisions--a boy in an adventure story, locked in the basement, stock still, ear to the door, listening to the baddies decide what they were going to do with him
    • p.100..."So here--we bequesth yout his desperate, flailing, lopsided world, in a worse and better state than we ourselves received it.  We ask only that you look after it as best you can.  And make sure that when your time is over, there's something to pass on.  For truly, Izzy, this unlikely blue ball is it.  This blue ball is all there is."....Maria to Isabella
    • p.148..."One day they may just about persuade you to believe that business is the engine and money the fuel, but whaever they say, you can be absolutely certain that neither is the journey and neither is the view."...Maria to Isabella
    • p.153..."The artist's vision without the accompanying artistry:  the cruelest curse of the gods.:...Nicholas about his own work
    • p.189..."He watched her a moment, thirsty as a hermit for her beauty and her being."...Gabriel watching Connie
    • p.338..."The truths within the lies, the lies within truths, thoughts within feelings within thoughts--they were all so many beguiling matryoshka dolls to him
  • Interesting Ideas:
    • p.5..."The difference between the Russian character and the Western is that we Russians have learned to live our days in the full knowledge that whatever transpires in the interim, the sun will eventually expand and humanity will be incinerated. It's a way of life precisely opposite to the American Dream.  Call it Russian fatalism if you like.  But it gives us a sense of perspective, a sense of humor, and perhaps a certain dignity."
    • p.8..."Democracy is difficult for us.....In Russia we are required to live within the pathologies of the strongest man--whatever he titles himself.  That way we all know where we are and what we are doing.  However bad it gets."
    • p.9..."Duplicity, hypocrisy, and cant, the primary colors he once would have scorned, he now saw in softer shades.  Perhaps this was the aging process; bit by bit truth grows faint until she vanishes completely, leaving you stranded on the path, required to choose a replacement guide from those few stragglers left among your party--Surly Prejudice, Grinning Bewilderment, Purblind Grievance."
    • p.10..."We have--all of us, the whole world--we have all lost our belief in our bewtter selves.  And the great told-you-so of capitalism will roll out across the earth until there is no dining place.  And every day that passes, Marx will be proved more emphatically right.  And all the men and women waking in the winter to the slavery of their wages will know it in their heart." 
    • p.149..."When a parent passes away, the family demons do not retreat but rise from their sarcophagi and move out across the borders of the mind, swearing in their puppet regimes as they pass."
    • three levels of internal war.....conscious (cigarettes, food), war against the father.....the war against despair
    • p.166..." and love are like two principle dancers of the ballet:  sometimes they aremagnificently, beautifully indissolubly together,,,,,,but sometimes the one will dance while the other watches in the wings; or sometimes they will dance in parallel, on opposite sides of the stage, together yet apart, a curtsey for a bow, an arabesque for a tendu...................."
    • the first time one sees oneself thinking or behaving like one of one's parents...."like a whetted knife slicing out of the fog......p.186....Gabriel
    • p.188..."...there are infinite infinities in just one infinity.  This is the great paradox in the laws of our universe, and this is also the great paradox of the human heart.".....Gabriel's love of both Lina and Connie
    • p.237..."Very few people have their inner and their outer selves aligned in any kind of meaningful way."...Grandpa Max
    • p.238..."That's the secret, and that's what all great leaders do.  They somehow let their people know that they understand the inner as well as the outer human life and that it's all right by them."....interesting
    • 326..."Life is about ignoring the fact that life isn't about anything.  That's it.  Get used to it.  And stop looking for excuses."...Gabriel to Isabella.....very existential
  • Vocabulary:
    • tessellation:   form of small squares or blocks, as floors or pavements; form or arrange in a checkered or mosaic pattern.
    • quiddity:   the quality that makes a thing what it is; the essential nature of a thing.
    • purblind:   nearly or partially blind; dim-sighted.
    • steatopygous:   extreme accumulation of fat on and about the buttocks, especially of women.
    • contrapposto:   a representation of the human body in which the forms are organized on a varying or curving axis to provide an asymmetrical balance to the figure.
    • kraken:   legendary sea monster causing large whirlpools off the coast of Norway.
    • viscid:  having a glutinous consistency; sticky; adhesive; viscous.
  • Reference to "Pravda": p.103

  • p.235....Wonderful description of Grandpa Max
  • Themes:  parental loss, national identity, family secrets, multiplicity of emotions
  • Review:  I think this is a marvelous piece of literature!  The plot, characters, and writing are all marvelous. I keep a reading journal, in which I include quotes that I like along with interesting ideas from a novel.  The list is equally long for this book.  Docx starts with the death of a wife, mother, and mystery.  He then sets up pairs of characters who play off of each other through a difficult, soul-searching period of their lives.  The pairs include twins, two gay lovers, an ex-seminary student/heroin addict and a brilliant struggling pianist, the past and the present, childhood v. adulthood, mother v. father.  I might normally give a novel 4 versus 5 stars because there are a few slow, overly drawn out periods in the story, but the vast majority of this novel merits 5 stars for story, ideas, characters and some lovely prose!