Wednesday, June 3, 2020

May totals

This month, we had another small number of people logging books --- but we were mighty!!

4 people
Read 35 books
For a total of 10046 pages!!

Regina was our Super Reader this month, logging 21 books!!!!  

Hopefully, we'll get our team back on track (and able to get to the blog to post) in June!! Onward!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

De Finibus

9780434990405: De Finibus (Loeb Classical Library) - AbeBooks ...De Finibus by Marcus Tullius Cicero, translated by Harris Rackham, 251 pages

De Finibus is a set of dialogues "on the ends" of human life, on the goods that give meaning and purpose.  It is explicitly not an original investigation, but rather a survey of the three primary schools of the first century BC - the Epicurean, Stoic, and Peripatetic - intended to serve as a primer for Romans unfamiliar with Greek language and thought.  So successful was this project that Tully's vocabulary became standard Latin and continues to influence the thought of the West, though doubtlessly less than it should.

The three schools considered are in agreement that the end of life is happiness.  Where they disagree is their definitions of happiness, and specifically the relationship - or lack thereof - between material well-being and moral virtue.  Quickly dispensing with the Epicurean view that the two are identical, the chief issue then becomes whether material goods can rightly be considered goods at all.  Tully's conclusion - that the disagreement between the Stoics and Peripatetics is more about words than substance - seems convincing, but the nagging fact remains that he does not even attempt to explain why insignificant material goods ought to be properly classed as goods at all.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Friendship List


 The Friendship List by Susan Mallery  384 pages

Ellen Fox and Unity Leandre have been best friends “practically since birth,” but lately they have been in a rut.

Ellen hasn’t had the easiest of lives. Pregnant at seventeen, she has given up love and sex in order to raise her soon, Cooper, who is now seventeen. They do okay. All she wants out of the rest of her life is for Coop to go to college and not have a great life—for him to fly as she was never able. But one afternoon, she overhears Coop talking with a friend that he may not get to the university of his choice because his mother needs him too much.

But Coop is wrong, Besides Unity, Ellen has Keith Kinne, a coach at the same school where she teaches, and, not ideally, Coop’s coach.  I can’t say I know what sport Coop played, but I’m sure it was mentioned somewhere.  Not only are Ellen and Keith co-workers, Keith also has a seventeen year old, a daughter he is raising on his own after her mother abandons them.

Unity is Ellen’s opposite in almost everything but the rut. She lives in her late husband’s mother’s house, still filled with all his things. She even sleeps in his childhood room, unwilling and unable to let go of her grief. Emotionally she hasn’t progressed much in the three years Stuart was killed in action in Afghanistan.

One afternoon, after a fight, Unity creates “The Friendship List,”  a bucket-like list that will prove to Cooper that she can get along without him just fine. The women “make a pact to challenge each other to use the summer to make some changes.” For Ellen, it all begins with a bus trip to visit colleges with  Keith, Cooper and the rest of the senior athletes.  For Unity, it begins with meeting the great-nephew of one of ther clients and to think about boxing up Stuart’s things.

“The Friendship List” is a fun, breezy read, with a few moments of drama thrown in to make it a complete story.  For me, there were way too many sex scenes, and it seemed that sex domainted the second half of the novel.  Therefore, “The Friendship List”  receives 3 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

A Song of Ice and Fire series

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin  969 pages
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin  1177 pages

It's impossible to summarize these books. So here's the Wikipedia entry.

I have been finding these books to be compulsive reads -- meaning, I cannot stop turning the pages. While these are long books and there are a lot of details to keep track of, I find I love the political intrigue, the back-and-forth in viewpoints, and the storylines that intersect (or threaten to intersect at some point).  I did watch the HBO series before reading these books, so I have an advantage in that I know some of the storyline and relative storylines, and can keep some of that in my head. The books do diverge from the series (which makes sense -- the HBO series had to condense a lot of the books to fit everything!!). So, I can't always predict what is going to happen, which makes the story a lot of fun.



The Doll Factory

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal  336 pages 

"London. 1850. The Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and among the crowd watching the spectacle two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.

When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.

But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening . . .
 "  (summary courtesy of Goodreads)

I found it was easier to use Goodreads than try to come up with a summary that didn't give away too much about the story. This book is a great combination of suspense and real-life details, with unforgettable characters. The author has a rich, evocative writing style and London really comes to life here. If you have familiarity with this time period, as well as some of the well-known artists of that time, this book is a real treat. I found this was a page-turner that stayed with me for a long time after I finished it.

All the Beautiful Lies

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson   285 pages

Right before his college graduation, Harry gets a call from his stepmother, Alice, with devastating news that his father has died. Returning to his father's home in Maine, Harry stays with Alice to help her and also figure out what happened to his father. He's always considered Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in a kind of otherworldly way -- which makes staying with her a little awkward. When Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace, he starts to suspect she knows his family. And, she's not the only one taking an interest in Harry; Alice has now focused all of her sensuality on him. Harry finds he's falling under the spell of both women, but also starts to fear both of them are hiding some dangerous secrets.

This is a story that's like a guessing game, where you learn details as Harry does - so while you may think you know who is telling the truth and what's going to happen, it's hard to really know. There's an obvious edge to this story with the sexy-stepmother angle. But, there's a hypnotic quality to the story and the taut pacing lends itself to the twists and turns here.

The Love Goddess' Cooking School

The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate   338 pages

When Holly Maguire inherits her grandmother's business and cooking school, she knows she has a lot to learn. After all, her grandmother, Camilla, was famous for her Italian cooking . . . and for her ability to tell fortunes and save marriages. Holly knows she needs to learn how to master Camilla's recipes, especially if she's going to take over Camilla's cooking school students, as well. As for telling fortunes? Forget about that.

But, of course, you can guess that the fortune-telling works its way into the story. The four students who sign up for Holly's cooking lessons are all looking for more than how to make Italian dishes. As the class gathers each week, friendships and romances blossom. This isn't the kind of book I read all the time, but sometimes it's nice to have a . . . nice story. The story is set on an island in Maine, which I find appealing. And, the story, while a little predictable at times, was a nice palate cleanser from the other books I've been reading lately.

Dear Child

Dear Child by Romy Hausmann     343 pages (galley)

Lena and her two children live in a windowless shack deep in the woods, prisoner to the rules set by their captor, the father. He says he is protecting them from the outside world, but when Lena manages to escape, she learns the nightmare hasn't ended. Instead, is she really "Lena," the girl who disappeared 14 years ago? Or is she someone else, scarred to look like Lena? And even though she has escaped, why does she feel like someone is still watching her, waiting to take her back into the woods?

This is a chilling, page-turner of a thriller. A blend of psychological thriller with an edge of horror, the author gives us compelling characters and enough unreliable narrators to keep you guessing until the very end.

Good for readers who enjoyed Room, Gone Girl, and who like unreliable (yet relatable) narrators. You may sleep with the light on after you finish this book.

Nickel and Dimed

Nickel and Dimed: On (NOT Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich     244 pages

I enjoyed this book.   People in America tend to lump all poor people into the "Get a job and get off welfare" idea.    Not true.    Barbara Ehrenreich actually goes under cover to investigate to find out if she could actually survive on minimum wage.    The big reveals here are that while people may work, at minimum wage - housing is not always available so many people though employed live in their vehicles because they cannot afford housing.   Most subside on a diet of potato chips or some such junk food obtained from a convenience store at an exorbitant fee because they cannot afford groceries.   The scathing reveal in these pages is a must read for everyone from middle school on up.  People need to be schooled in what they are facing, what they are up against and given the knowledge to discern whether or not they will be able to make it on their own.    This book is a wake up call for those about to go into minimum wage jobs and the employers expecting them to survive on such low wages.   It discusses the struggles deciding whether to eat, or shelter,  transportation, and how society looks down on service workers.   Excellent book   A must read.    We all surely need to tip folks way better than we do.   A good view into the stories behind the people that they don't as a rule tell you.

 - Shirley J.

From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World To Find The Good Death

From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World To Find The Good Death by Caitlin Doughty  248 pages

An interesting book with lots of information as the customs and rituals held in five other countries as well as information on the customs, rituals, history etc. of death handling in the U.S.    Told by author Caitlin Doughty the information is laid out (pun intended) in an entertaining way.   She  knows how to keep the reader's interest and while there are some cringe worthy sections for the most part the reader will come away with deeper insight on how different cultures view their dead.  I feel like giving away snippets here, but, I also feel like if you really want to know reading this book would be best.   I do recommend it.    The material is fascinating if macabre.   I think mature highschoolers could handle it, though, it might go a little too deep with the younger set. 

 - Shirley J.


Books in the Stephanie Plum series

I must confess: Janet Evanivich’s Stephanie Plum series is my feel good place. I didn’t realize how far behind on the series I was until I noticed that I had to catch up on the most recent three books. The characters are quirky and the plots are implausible and each story reeks of every literary trope
known...I love it! There is absolutely no depth to any of these books, which makes them a perfect escape - highly recommend if you're in the mood for silly and predictable.

To anyone unfamiliar with Stephanie Plum, know that what New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum lacks in skill and experience, she makes up for with tenacity, luck, and her true talent... the ability to attract disaster, killers, and general nut jobs. If she needs help there is always her mentor, Ranger, a security expert with a dark past, and Trenton P.D.’s Joe Morelli, a homicide detective who shares a past - and sometimes a present - with Stephanie. Family and romantic partners, friends and colleagues, memeses, and supporting characters - human and otherwise - are all shake-your-head, laugh-out-loud, over-the-top additions to each story. 
Posted by: Regina C.  
by Janet Evanovich   285 pages

Trouble comes in bunches for Stephanie Plum. First, professional grave robber and semi-professional loon, Simon Diggery, won't let her take him in until she agrees to care for his boa constrictor, Ethel. Stephanie's main qualification for babysitting an extremely large snake is that she owns a stun gun - whether that's for use on the wandering serpent or the petrified neighbors remains to be seen.
Events take a dark turn when headless bodies start appearing across town. At first, it's just corpses from a funeral home and the morgue that have had the heads removed. But when a homeless man is murdered and dumped behind a church Stephanie knows that she's the only one with a prayer of catching this killer.
by Janet Evanovich   311 pages

There's nothing like a good deli and the Red River Deli in Trenton is one of the best. World famous for its pastrami, cole slaw and for its disappearing managers. Over the last month, three have vanished from the face of the earth, the only clue in each case is one shoe that's been left behind. The police are baffled. Lula is convinced that it's a case of alien abduction. Whatever it is, they'd better figure out what's going on before they lose their new manager, Ms. Stephanie Plum.
by Janet Evonovich   306 pages

Grandma Mazur is a widow...again. This time her marriage lasted a whole 45 minutes. The unlucky groom was one Jimmy Rosolli, local gangster and heart attack waiting to happen...well, the waiting is over. When Jimmy’s former “business partners” are convinced that his widow is keeping the keys to their financial success for herself, Stephanie Plum has to find them quickly.

Millennium series

I really enjoyed the Millennium series created by Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson. In 2013, the publisher awarded author David Lagercrantz the contract to continue the series with these three books (rumored to be the end) since Larsson died in 2004. There is much debate whether Lagercrantz’s continuation respected Larsson’s legacy, an analysis beyond this simple review, but I do believe that the spirit of the Lagercrantz stories is quite different than the original author intended.  
The (new) Millennium books don't necessarily follow Larsson’s part blistering espionage thriller, part riveting police procedural, and part piercing exposé on social injustice formula. Larsson also introduced readers to Lisbeth Salander, one of the most original inventions in popular fiction. Although Salader remains a vengeful, homicidal, self-destructive love rat (yet surprisingly admirable because of Larsson’s careful attribution of her psychological wiring to survival instincts developed during a terrifying early life), her emotional depth is diluted in Langercrantz’s portrayal. Does this mean that these books are not as good as the originals? Not necessarily; the style and characterization is just different, but that translates into a death knell for purists. 
Posted by: Regina C.  
The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz   399 pages

Lisbeth Salander is Sweden’s answer to Wonder Woman, Stephen Hawking, and Mike Tyson all rolled into one five-foot, 98-pound package. She can debate the finer points of quantum mechanics and number theory with the world’s top physicists and mathematicians, hack her way into the most secure computer system on the planet, punch out a gang of the meanest, nastiest bikers you can imagine - and she has an evil twin. In other words, Lisbeth Salander is completely unbelievable. Yet this novel, and the three that preceded it, are crafted with such skill that you’ll probably get so caught up in the sheer complexity and suspense of the story that you won’t even think about how unlikely it all is.
The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz   347 pages

Lisbeth Salander has never been able to uncover the most telling facts of her traumatic childhood, the secrets that might finally, fully explain her to herself. Now, when she sees a chance to uncover them once and for all, she enlists the help of Mikael Blomkvist, the editor of the muckraking investigative journal Millennium. And she will let nothing stop her -  not the Islamists she enrages by rescuing a young woman from their brutality; not the prison gang leader who passes a death sentence on her; not the deadly reach of her long-lost twin sister, Camilla; and not the people who will do anything to keep buried knowledge of a sinister pseudoscientific experiment known only as The Registry.
The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz   347 pages

Lisbeth Salander has left Stockholm, seemingly forever, and gone to Russia on a mission to finally hunt down, ruin, and kill her sister and nemesis Camilla. Meanwhile, Mikael Blomkvist, suffering from a slump due to a lack of interesting news stories, gets roped into a case involving a homeless man who may have been murdered and who had Blomkvist's phone number on him.
--

Circe

Circe by Madeline Miller   393 pages

I liked The Song of Achilles and cried many tears over it, so it saddens me to share that I did not enjoy Madeline Miller's Circe as much. The novel follows Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios, who possesses the power of witchcraft and a heart kinder than most who dwell with the gods. When Zeus learns of her abilities, he banishes her to a deserted island where she develops her craft in isolation. Over time, Circe learns that she must stand up and fight for what she believes in, lest she be struck down by the same gods who raised her.
Miller tries to give Circe a back story by name dropping the most famous figures in Greek mythology: Hermes, Prometheus, Daedalus, Minotaur, Odysseus. But in this retelling of well known mythology, the characterization feels static and the episodes are disconnected. For those who have already read Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, and everyone else, there’s little new information.
Additionally, I was disappointed by the pacing of Circe. The story line played out at a super slow speed. Once Circe got exiled to the island Aiaia, very few important or seminal events happened across the span of the following 300 pages, and I became unsure of her character's main motivation. I also found it confining that the majority of Circe's growth and passion came from her relationships with men and her role as a mother. I wish that more of her development happened before or in addition to the men in her life, as opposed to the men motivating a lot of her character's trajectory. Overall, a good read I would recommend to fans of Greek mythology and those who do not mind a book with a slower place. 
Posted by: Regina C.  

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller   378 pages

Miller manages to mix the greatest events of the Iliad, including various interpretations of events, and imagine the blanks to create a believable and captivating story. Miller has a way with words and imagery and figurative language in a classic (yet modern) style. Yes, modern. This is not some stodgy read favored by readers steeped in the ancient classics. In fact, its narrative reads like a modern novel, even if the trappings are all ancient. In that sense, believe the hype: Miller breathes new life into old classic!  
Miller’s writing, if often prosey, stays compelling and flows smoothly, capturing these great characters in an honest light. Truth be told, most of the story is dull, but this is not a story of great battles and honors, this is a story of the men behind them; stripped of the sparkling lights of fame, they remain flawed people whose lives were as ordinary and mundane as the rest of ours.
Starting during his childhood, the book revolves around Patroclus as he befriends Achilles, who is fated to be the greatest fighter of all time. Telling the story from the secondary character's perspective was a brilliant choice. Not only was the protagonist relatable, but as Patroclus slowly learns more about Achilles, so do we. The ending was a beautiful gut punch, all the more so since it happened quickly after the meandering story that it had been up to that point. I wish the climax had a few more pages so I had time to process what was happening before it was over.
Students of the classics, of the Trojan War,  of convention, risk disappointment with this retelling because it is, above all else, a love story.
Posted by: Regina C.  

I Was Anastasia

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhorn   332 pages

For those unfamiliar with the controversy that surrounded the basis of this novel, this book will be very interesting. It is a bizarre and fascinating story. I found this fictional version entertaining, but it was difficult to follow. 

This novel follows two characters. Anastasia's story is told chronologically from start to finish while Anna's story is told in reverse, making it very difficult to understand where in the story I was and how exactly the two connect. Perhaps I was just waiting too hard for the connection to happen that I was distracted from the story?

Overall, the descriptions and characters were decent and the story line is entertaining. If you have read other books about the Romanovs and know the outcome of this debate (no spoilers), then this book probably isn't for you. 
Posted by:   Regina C.  

The Great Zoo of China

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly   392 pages

It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years. They have proven the existence of dragons—a landmark discovery no one could ever believe is real, and a scientific revelation that will amaze the world. Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing findings within the greatest zoo ever constructed. A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see these fabulous creatures for the first time. The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that the dragons are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong. Of course it can't.

Does this sound familiar? That’s because as much as The Great Zoo of China tries to be something extraordinary, it is Jurassic Park with dragons. Simply changing the country, species, and purpose doesn't make the adventure any less predictable. Not one of the best novels I've read, but it was an easy to read, action-packed experience. This novel would be better appreciated by people who haven't read Jurassic Park
Posted by: Regina C.