What are you reading the week of January 2, 2021?

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What are you reading the week of January 2, 2021?

Editado: Jan 2, 11:15am

We made it! Well, most of us. :-( Another six or seven months and maybe things will return to something resembling normal. Fingers crossed.

I finished up the excellent Moscow 1937. It was a little long and occasionally uneven. The author, Karl Schlogel, does a good job of describing life in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. He's the first writer that I've encountered who explains the purges of 1937-8 as a political response to the new 'Stalin' constitution. The new constitution restored, in theory, voting rights to all citizens of the USSR. Once again, in theory anyone could run for office whether they were a member of Communist Party or not, and everyone was free to vote in secret. To guarantee his hold on power, Stalin purged the party of anyone who might challenge him and killed or imprisoned anyone who might support non-party candidates. I had made the connection between the new constitution and the Terror on my own several years ago, but Schlogel is the first historian I've read who explicitly makes the connection.

I've started It's Only a Joke, Comrade! by Jonathan Waterlow. The author went digging through NKVD files in the archives looking for jokes collected by the police as part of their efforts to gauge the mood of the people. He also scours the files looking for individuals who were arrested and either imprisoned or executed for making jokes.

Jan 2, 6:50am

Moscow 1937 sounds like a very interesting read, tho I am not sure how much new I'd get from it; learned a lot about that time reading in college, and then there was 1984 and Animal Farm in HS. But I will pick it up on your rec and try it :)

BTW you might be interested in reading Twenty Letters to a Friend written by Stalins daughter after her asylum to the united states. I remember reading it in college; I seem to recall her continued denial of her father's crimes, but it was still an interesting first person account of that time period.

Finally getting around to reading The Decameron Project and realizing that I really need to reread the original book and cant seem to find my copy.

Editado: Jan 3, 2:29pm

Apart from what I mentioned last Saturday I've already knocked off 1177 B.C., am paging through Spoils of War: The Fate of the Enemy Fleets after Two World Wars (it's really a reference book, not a narrative history), and have just dipped my toes in The City We Became. Moved If Then to the top of the list.

Jan 2, 11:17am

Happy New Year!

I just started Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King. It's going to take me a few weeks to read it, but I love the series!

Jan 2, 3:13pm

Happy New Year to you all!

I'm pleased to say that I had a goal of 80 books in 2020, and read 88. I'm going to go with an 80 book goal in 2021 as well.

Currently reading A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. It is the second in the Hugo-winning Wayfarer series, and I'm liking it so much.

Jan 2, 4:24pm

Happy New Year, everyone!

Still reading Mansfield Park by Jane Austen and Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green.

Editado: Jan 2, 4:38pm

Happy 2021 to all!

I’m reading Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs. It’s very different from what I was expecting but I’m enjoying it very much.

>5 ahef1963: Wow, that’s great!

Jan 3, 12:12pm

Happy 2021 to all!

I am currently listening to Tyll and reading Flowers of Mold: Stories .

Jan 3, 1:03pm

>3 Shrike58: What did you think of 1177 BCE, I've been thinking of reading it, but I can't decide.

Editado: Jan 5, 10:48pm

Mine Till Midnight
by Lisa Kleypas
(the Hathaways, book 1/OverDrive audio)

Editado: Jan 3, 2:31pm

You know, I need to stop trying fables, even well reviewed ones, like Tyll. Ugh.

Next up for listening is Death In Her Hands by Otessa Moshfegh.

Jan 3, 2:34pm

>9 fredbacon: I rather liked it but keep in mind that 3/5s of the book is devoted to setting the stage, about 1/5 is spent on what we actually can know, and the last 1/5 is devoted to the actual collapse. Some folks have come away thinking that the book is over-hyped and I can understand why. The impression I'm left with is that of a systems collapse of a system that was always rather fragile, with the Sea Peoples being the folks left out in the cold who decided to cut themselves a break after the "great kings" brought the roof down on their heads; something about a war in Western Anatolia involving the Mycenaeans and the Hittites.

Jan 3, 7:29pm

Am about 3/4 finished with Mythos by Stephen Fry. He's essentially retelling the ancient Greek myths in contemporary language and imposing some narrative flow, via noting that This God did this act which caused That God to do the other thing in what are frequently presented as two different and unrelated tales. He does a particularly good job, early on, in untangling the complex familial relations of these extremely prolific (if not particularly discriminating) deities.

The early part of the book was fascinating. At this point, there is less narrative flow and more short, unconnected vignettes. Without that flow, it's lost some momentum and I picked up Indian Givers last night just to take a break.

Next up is Chances Are, by Richard Russo, for my F2F club meeting next week.

Jan 4, 11:02am

The Twenty-One Balloons – William Pène du Bois
Audiobook performed by John McDonough

This is a classic of children’s literature, for which du Bois was awarded the Newbery Medal. It’s a fantastical adventure story featuring Professor William Waterman Sherman, who leaves San Francisco on Aug 15, 1883, in a balloon, with the intention of going across the Pacific Ocean and enjoying some solitude. Three weeks later he’s picked up in the Atlantic Ocean clinging to wreckage. Once rescued he insists on being transported to San Francisco where he will tell his tale – once and only once – to the Western American Explorer’s Club.

What a fun story! Professor Sherman, despite his apparent forethought and preparation for any eventuality, still manages to run afoul of several unanticipated problems … from seagulls to sharks to volcanoes. His time spent on Krakatoa is extraordinary and hard to believe; even in his telling of it, Professor Sherman seems amazed and incredulous.

The illustrations (also by du Bois) help by providing a visual representation to go along with some of the detailed descriptions of the various inventions. I think parents and teachers would have a great time allowing children to explore their imaginations, while explaining the realities of science. But I WOULD like that bed with endless clean sheets! (And having already cut and polished diamonds handily about would be pretty nice as well…)

John McDonough does a marvelous job of reading the audio version. His dramatic performance lends a sense of awe, amazement, excitement, and danger as the scenes require.

Editado: Jan 4, 2:10pm

Greetings, all, and Happy New Year! Last night I finished my first book of 2021, started just before the end of the year, the thoughtful and entertaining The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen by Herbert Tarr. Published in 1963, this humorous novel follows the adventures of a Jewish chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. A product of it's time, for sure, but still I found this a worthwhile reading experience. You can find my more in-depth reactions on the book's workpage and on my own 50-Book Challenge thread.

Next, I will be continuing, and in fact completing, my longtime tradition of starting each calendar year with the reading (or, in most cases, a re-reading) of Joseph Conrad novel, in this way reading through all of Conrad's novels in chronological order (of their publishing). I've started my reread of Conrad's last novel published during his lifetime, The Rover.

Jan 4, 8:03pm

Finished Lady Chevy by John Woods. Deliciously plotted, totally original, disturbing and, underneath it all, a picture of what fracking can do to a small town. The first in my attempt to read Marilyn Stasio's Ten Best Crime Novels of 2020 (She writes the Crime column in Book Review of NYT). Next up Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen.

Editado: Jan 5, 9:26am

The Best of Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson
5/5 stars
This is a collection of Matheson's short stories, a few of them I recognized as being made into TV episodes and films. Matheson's imagination never disappoints as you wonder where this story is going to end up, from the church organ who doesn't want to be replaced and the man who woke up only speaking French which he never studied in his life. Highly recommended!

Jan 5, 9:54am

The Growing Season – Sarah Frey

The subtitle is all the synopsis you need: How I built a New Life – and Saved an American Farm.

Frey’s memoir begins with her childhood on the family farm in southern Illinois. The youngest of her father’s and mother’s combined 21 children, she was far from the pampered “baby” of the family. Yes, her four older brothers doted on her and protected her, but they also challenged her to go hunting and fishing with them, and to do the heavy chores required to keep the family’s farm running. Still, her father’s con-man mentality and “big dreams” kept the family in precarious financial shape. Like her older brothers, Frey could hardly wait to escape “the Hill” and lead a normal life.

But when she was walking the last horse off the property and facing a foreclosure auction, she found she just couldn’t let the land go. So, she decided she would buy the farm and make it into a viable business. Today Frey Farms is a thriving multi-million dollar a year agribusiness. And some of the deals she has negotiated have become case studies used by the Harvard Business School.

In many ways, this reminded me of Tara Westover’s Educated. But where Westover’s father and brothers were abusive, Frey was surrounded by love and support. Frey’s parents valued education and insisted that all their children attend school AND do well in their studies. Her upbringing gave her confidence in her ability to do anything if she put her mind to it and put in the work. She also was a keen observer and determined not to make the mistakes her father made.

I found her story interesting but somewhat repetitive. Still, on my next trip to the grocery store, I’ll be checking the pumpkins and melons to see if they have the Frey Farms sticker!

Editado: Jan 5, 2:37pm

Finished Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green. Liked it.

Added Nexus by Ramez Naam and Where Oblivion Lives by T. Frohock to my reading rotation. The latter book I received for review.

Jan 6, 1:44am

Enjoying a re-read of The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis I have reserved from my local library another of her books The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing sounds good, she has only written two novels.

Jan 6, 7:47am

I finished The Serial Killer's Daughter by Lesley Welsh yesterday. For those who enjoy thrillers: this is a good one.

I have two "to-dos" for 2021. Every month I will read a piece of classic literature, and every month I will read a book by a person of colour. I'm reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte at the moment, and it's SO boring. It's supposed to be letters written by one of the characters to a friend, but there were never any letters like this, stilted and dull and minute in description. However, I intend to complete it.

Jan 6, 7:49am

>13 LyndaInOregon: I didn't finish Mythos. I listened to the audiobook, and it was nice having Stephen Fry's plummy voice to listen to, but after an exciting first third I found it uninteresting.

Jan 6, 9:52am

I just finished listening to Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks. It coaxed the expected tears at the end of it. I am reading The Old Success by Martha Grimes on my i-pad, and the paperback version of The Guest List by Lucy Foley. It seems I always have three books on the go, so I will be looking for another audio book later today.

Jan 6, 7:50pm

Simon the Fiddler – Paulette Jiles
Digital audiobook performed by Grover Gardner

Simon Boudlin made a brief first appearance in Jiles’ The News Of the World. In this work, he is the focus of the story. Set in Texas at the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the reconstruction period, Jiles follows Simon and his band of iterant musicians as they try to stay alive and out of trouble, and as Simon tries to win the heart of Doris, an indentured immigrant Irish lass, who works as governess for the family of a Union officer.

I love the way Jiles crafts these stories. While the plot focuses on the characters and their reactions to events happening around them, the atmosphere is enhanced by her descriptions of the landscape, the food, and culture of the times.

Simon is a marvelous character. Intelligent, quick witted, resourceful, determined and head-over-heels in love with the charming Doris. Their path is not an easy one and there were times when I feared for their safety and, even, their lives. Still, I was cheering him on in his quest to win her heart and establish their future success.

The supporting cast is equally memorable. Damon Lessing, whom Simon meets when they are conscripted into the Army and assigned to the “band,” is a piper. Patrick O’Hehir is the drummer boy who is the youngest among them. And Doroteo Navarro, a Tejano guitar player, who has some experience as a fisherman and is therefore invaluable to at least one leg of their journey. Together they form a good team, supporting one another and surviving a number of altercations and dangers.

Jiles manages to put me right into the heart of this landscape and time in history. Of course, I’m sure it helps that this is the territory in which I grew up, and I’m very familiar with many of the locations she uses, but I think her writing makes the images equally vivid for those who have never experienced this landscape.

Grover Gardner does a fantastic job of voicing the audio book. I felt as if I were listening to an old-timer recall adventures of his youth. His somewhat gravelly voice is that of an older character, but he was still believable, even when interpreting the female characters.

Jan 6, 8:22pm

I'm currently re-reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, which I last read 5 years ago. It is literally my favorite book of all time.

Jan 6, 10:35pm

Finished: Stephen and Matilda's Civil War by Matthew Lewis
An accessible history about a turbulent time in 12th century England and how Anarchy became the term by chroniclers.

Now: The Rightful Queen by Isabelle Steiger
Sequel to The Empire's Ghost published in 2017. I didn't know she'd written a sequel (published summer 2020) until this month!

Jan 7, 11:11am

I finished my first book of 2021, The Library Book, the story of the LA Central Library, history, people, building, and investigation of a devastating fire. Lots of interesting information and great descriptions of places and characters.

Jan 7, 1:29pm

The Lilies of the Field
William Edmund Barrett
4/5 stars
A sweet novel about a young African American, Homer Smith, who on his travels ends up working for a convent of nuns and helps them build a church. This was made into a film with Sidney Poiter and I thought the film was very faithful to the book.

Jan 7, 1:29pm

>27 snash: I loved that book- I read it last year.

Editado: Jan 8, 12:34am

Finished listening to the poignant, imaginative Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh.

Next up for listening is Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang.

Editado: Jan 8, 12:05pm

Skin and Other Stories
Roald Dahl
4/5 stars
Dahl has a vivid imagination and does not disappoint in this collection of odd short stories. One of my favorites was Skin, a tale about a man whose back was tattooed by a famous artist and the lengths people will go to have it. I enjoyed it.

Jan 8, 10:35pm

Ashfall– Mike Mullin

From the book jacket: Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano, so large that the caldera can only be seen by plane or satellite. And by some scientific measurements, it could be overdue for an eruption. For Alex, being alone for the weekend means freedom from his parents and the chance to play computer games and hang out with his friends without hassle from his mother. Then the supervolcano erupts, plunging his hometown into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence. Alex begins a harrowing trek, searching for his family.

My reactions:
As post-apocalyptic novels go, I found this one is pretty interesting, engaging and compelling. I was quickly drawn in by Alex and his situation. Harrowing is certainly the right word for Alex’s journey in search of his family. But he’s smart, resilient, and trained in taekwondo. He also happens on a few people who will help him. He is, after all, only fifteen (“almost sixteen” he reminds us). First, his neighbors who take him in when his house is hit by a large piece of molten rock, and later by townsfolk and strangers who agree to share their own meager supplies in return for his labor.

Make no mistake, however, the journey is difficult in the extreme, and he runs into many dangerous people, including some who one would think would be helpful. Fortunately, at a critical point he comes across Darla Edmunds and her mother, who are managing (just) on their farm, thanks in part to Darla’s gift for mechanical invention.

Darla and Alex make a great team. Where one is weak, the other is strong. Where one is rash, the other is deliberate and cool under pressure. More importantly, they are fiercely loyal to one another.

Although this ends in a sort of cliff-hanger (it’s the first in a series), I forgive Mullin for that. Mostly because I want more of Darla. She is one strong female lead!

Jan 8, 10:58pm

Just finished Indian Givers, which had a ton of interesting facts in it about contributions to the "civilized" world made by the natives of the Americas. That said, it was sometimes hard to grind through the verbiage to get at the good stuff. I understand this is in frequent use as a text for American studies. It will probably go on the reference shelf, but I can't see myself re-reading it cover to cover.

Just started Chances Are for the F2F book club meeting next week. (Though our "F2F" has been largely virtual for many many months now!) I'm a big Russo fan, and interested in seeing how members will respond to this one. (The facilitator / book-picker-outer and I have very different tastes.)

Jan 9, 12:25am

The new thread is up over here.

Jan 9, 5:01am

The "Darkening Age" by Catherine Nixey!

Jan 9, 5:02am

And the "Empires of the World. A Language History of the World" by Nicholas Ostler.

Jan 10, 9:50pm

I've been reading back to back thrillers with sad, wimpy heroines who can barely pull it together to save themselves. The first was In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. I don't want to offend anyone who read it and liked it but, honestly, I wanted to throw the book against the wall. An absolutely ridiculous motive; it was simply unbelievable that anyone would commit murder over such a paltry reason. Every character was unlikable but particularly the main character.

I've just now finished To Tell You the Truth by Gilly MacMillan and this one was even more unbelievable and with another crybaby main character! Again, the book was entirely populated with unpleasant characters. I longed to tell the main character to pull up her socks and get on with it!

Both were library books so I had the satisfaction of returning them.