Tuesday, February 13, 2018

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

If on a Winter's Night a TravelerIf on a Winter's Night a Traveler
by Italo Calvino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"But how to establish the exact moment in which a story begins? Everything has already begun before, the first line of the first page of every novel refers to something that has already happened outside the book. Or else the real story is the one that begins ten or a hundred pages further on, and everything that precedes it is only prologue. The lives of individuals of the human race form a constant plot, in which every attempt to isolate one piece of living that has a meaning separate from the rest--for example the meeting of two people, which will become decisive for both--must bear in mind that each of the two brings with himself a texture of events, environments, other people, and that from the meeting, in turn, other stories will be derived which will break off from their common story." (p. 153)
This book was tremendously clever and was definitely the most meta book I have ever read. It is about a reader, you, who is reading a book that is being written by another character in the book, and possibly translated by yet another, but it keeps ending abruptly and when the reader finds another copy it is another book. There is another reader also reading the same book as you. In the capable hands of Calvino this isn't confusing.

Back in 2013 Avid Reader's Musings hosted a readalong of this novel, so check out those posts for more points of view about this book.

This book is from my classics club list, but was written in 1979 so isn't old enough to qualify for the back-to-the-classics challenge. It does count toward the What's in a Name challenge as the title contains a season.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Glass Houses

Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #13)Glass Houses by Louise Penny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The latest in this wonderful mystery series focuses on Quebec's Surete and the opioid crisis. All the usual characters  are there and much of the book is set in Three Pines. The structure of this story was quite different from earlier books as it jumps back and forth from a trial in which Gamache is testifying to the events that led up to the trial. This was not my favorite of these books, but was still an excellent novel.
I am counting this toward the Canadian Book Challenge as it is both by a Canadian and set in Canada.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Biographer's Craft

The Biographer's CraftThe Biographer's Craft
by Milton Lomask
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Katherine Anne Porter, speaking of fiction, could have been speaking of biography when she said that a human life 'may be almost pure chaos' and that 'the work of the artist, the only thing he's good for, is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning.'" (p. 39)
This slim volume contains lots of useful information about the writing of biography including ideas on selecting a subject, organizing your material, sources of information on your subject, discussion of what makes a good biography, and info on what makes good writing. It is an older book and the concept of online research is not part of it, but that info can be found elsewhere.

An example of the advice about structure:
"...every opening should do at least four things. It should (1) announce or foreshadow the main theme of the work (2) meet whatever objections potential readers may have to your subject, (3) orient the reader as to time and place, and (4) engage his mind and heart." (p. 53)
I am counting this book toward the 2018 non-fiction reading challenge.





Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Flight of the Falcon

The Flight of the FalconThe Flight of the Falcon by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It wasn't as amazing as Rebecca, but this was an enjoyable novel set in Italy about a man returning to his past and realizing that it wasn't as he thought it had been.
There were quite a few twists and turns in the plot which kept things moving (not easy in a book that takes place entirely in one man's head).
This is my first book for the 2018 What's in a Name Challenge as it's title contains the word "the" twice.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

By its Cover

By Its Cover (Commissario Brunetti, #23)By Its Cover by Donna Leon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This mystery focuses on the theft and vandalism of rare books in a Venetian library. It was very Brunetti-focused, much more so than many of these novels which have more interaction with other characters than this one did. This struck me as kind of a quiet novel. It was excellent however, with lots of observations of the world and fabulous sounding meals. Who has time to make gnocci with ragu for lunch? Paola Brunetti makes time.
This story is set in Venice so I am counting it as my Italian title for the European Reading Challenge

Sunday, January 7, 2018

No Fond Return of Love

No Fond Return of LoveNo Fond Return of Love 
by Barbara Pym
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Dulcie always found a public library a little upsetting, for one saw so many odd people there, and it must be supposed that a certain proportion came in because they had nowhere else to go. Others were less easy to classify and less worrying. Why, for instance, was a reasonably prosperous-looking middle-aged woman--the smartness of her clothes detracted from by the dowdy laced-up shoes that told of bad feet--so anxious to get hold of a pre-war Kelly's Directory of Somerset?" (p. 52)
I found Miss Dulcie Mainwaring a delightful character. Very proper and respectable on the outside, but with a sharp observational wit which she mostly keeps to herself.  This novel is about a group of people living in and around London (mostly in a suburb near Kensington) and the daily concerns and events of their world. At the start of the story many of them don't know one another, but through the book Pym shows how they are interconnected or brings them together in ways that seem inevitable and connections are made. There are lots of vicars, oceans of tea, and a charming sense of the absurdities of life.
This book counts as my British title for the European Reading Challenge

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Extra Woman

The Extra Woman: How Marjorie Hillis Led a Generation of Women to Live Alone and Like ItThe Extra Woman: How Marjorie Hillis Led a Generation of Women to Live Alone and Like It
by Joanna Scutts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marjorie Hillis wrote self-help books beginning in the 1930s for women living alone. This volume looks at the world in which Hillis' books were created and read and the life their author led. More a portrait of a time and place than of a specific person this book was interesting and depressing at the same time. The world that seemed to be on the horizon for white middle class women in 1930s America never materialized and was essentially beaten into submission by the post-WWII boom. Among many other topics Scutts touches on was poet Margaret Fishback, the real life inspiration for Lillian Boxfish. This is a very readable and scholarly work which includes an extensive bibliography.
This is the 1st of the 12 non-fiction books I pledged to read this year for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.


Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 Reading Challenges

I have decided on 5 reading challenges for 2018 (in addition to the Canadian Book Challenge which ends on Canada Day):

#1 - Non-Fiction Reading Challenge hosted at Doing Dewey

I am challenging myself to read at least 12 non-fiction books this year.

#2 - What's in a Name 2018 hosted at The Worm Hole
This will require reading 6 books, one for each category:

  • The word ‘the’ used twice (The Secret By The Lake; The End Of The Day, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time)
  • A fruit or vegetable (The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society; The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake)
  • A shape (The Ninth Circle, The Square Root Of Summer, Circle Of Friends)
  • A title that begins with Z – can be after ‘The’ or ‘A’ (Zen In The Art Of Writing; The Zookeeper’s Wife, Zelda)
  • A nationality (Anna And The French Kiss; How To Be A Kosovan Bride; Norwegian Wood)
  • A season (White Truffles In Winter; The Spring Of Kasper Meier; The Summer Queen; Before I Fall; The Autumn Throne)
#3 - Back to the Classics 2018 hosted at Books and Chocolate
For this one I will need to read at least 6 and up to 12 books all at least 50 years old. No more than one for each of the categories:


  • A 19th century classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.
  • A 20th century classic - any book published between 1900 and 1968. 
  • A classic by a woman author
  • A classic in translation.  
  • A children's classic. 
  • A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction. 
  • A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction. 
  • A classic with a single-word title. 
  • A classic with a color in the title. 
  • A classic by an author that's new to you. 
  • A classic that scares you. 
  • Re-read a favorite classic. 

#4 - 2018 European Reading Challenge hosted at Rose City Reader
This will require reading 5 books by different European authors or set in different European countries (Deluxe Entourage level)

#5 - I am also participating in the GoodReads 2018 Reading Challenge with a goal of reading 100 books.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Murder in the Mystery Suite

Murder in the Mystery Suite (Book Retreat Mysteries, #1)Murder in the Mystery Suite by Ellery Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Tucked away in the rolling hills of rural western Virginia is the storybook resort of Storyton Hall, catering to book lovers who want to get away from it all. To increase her number of bookings, resort manager Jane Steward has decided to host a Murder and Mayhem week so that fans of the mystery genre can gather together for some role-playing and fantasy crime solving."
Suspension of disbelief was definitely needed for this mystery novel, but it was entertaining and clever and had an abundance of both literary references and appealing characters. I would love to spend a week at Storyton Hall! An author to read more from.
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