Saturday, August 01, 2020


Happy first of August! I chose this image because it it about 100 degrees in my town today and that ocean looked nice and cool.

I had a great reading month in July. Somehow I finished 12 books. My solution to being behind on reviews is only to post reviews of the books I loved the most or found the most interesting. If you see one on the list here that you wish I would review, please let me know in the comments.

Stats: 12 books read. 11 fiction. 6 written by women. 1 sci fi. 1 thriller. 4 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 2 translated. 1 fantasy. 1 biography.

Authors new to me: Octavia Butler, Mark Guerin, Deb Olin Unferth, David Leeming.
Favorites: Dawn, Barn 8, The Starless Sea, James Baldwin biography, Oligarchy
Least favorite: The Man With the Golden Gun

Places I went: New Orleans, Boston, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Poland, France, Great Britain, Vietnam, Cuba, Caribbean, Off World.

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Have you read any of these books? How did you enjoy your reading in July?

Friday, July 31, 2020


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Dawn, Octavia E Butler, Warner Books, 1987, 248 pp
This was my first time reading Octavia Butler and I found it a great experience. I have been meaning to read her for years. Instead of starting with her first book, I read what I had on my bookshelves.
Dawn is the first in a series she wrote in the late 1980s. The series was originally called the Xenogenisis Trilogy but at some point became called Lilith's Brood.

Lilith Iyapo awakens in a dim room, alone. She has awoken there before on a solid platform that seems to grow from the floor. She does not know where she is, only that she is still confined. This time she finds an alien creature in the room with her. She is completely repulsed by it and frightened out of what wits remain to her.

Gradually Lilith and the reader learn she is on an alien spaceship. There had been a nuclear war on Earth that nearly destroyed all humans. The Oankali are powerful beings who plan to rescue the dying planet by merging genetically with the few humans they recovered.

Lilith is an amazing character, a Black woman from somewhere in the Andes who was attending college when the apocalypse occurred. Now it is centuries later, Earth has become habitable again and the Oankali are wakening the humans. They make Lilith the leader of other earthlings on the ship. What an unruly bunch they are, who test Lilith every step of the way. She is tasked with training them to survive in a feral rain forest where they will live when they are sent back.

Each character, whether human or alien, is fully developed and the conflicts between them make for gripping reading. The humans are as diverse as anything we are dealing with in the present. The Oankali also have their issues. Butler's world-building is beyond impressive though she never lets it overwhelm the story.

I was put in mind of N K Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy many times as I read. Octavia Butler was the first Black female science fiction writer to win recognition. I would bet she inspired Jemisin. Now I plan to read all of her books, soon!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


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The Tortilla Curtain, T C Boyle, Viking, 1995, 336 pp
Somehow I had never read this novel by T C Boyle, though I have read with both interest and many times pleasure several of his others. I have read it now for my One Book At A Time reading group and it provoked an excellent discussion.
It is the story of an undocumented Mexican couple in the Los Angeles area who are scrambling to save enough money for an apartment before their first baby is born. Candido and his wife America are living rough in Topanga Canyon right across the main road leading to a gated community. Delaney and Kyra live there in luxury at the Arroyo Blanco Estates, he a nature writer and she a successful realtor.

When Delaney hits Candido with his car while driving the canyon road, a connection is made between the two men that will threaten both family's lives. T C Boyle spares no chance to contrast the economic privilege of Delaney and Kyra and their neighbors with the desperate poverty of Candido and America.

It is amazing how a book published 25 years ago still feels completely current. The American well-to-do harbor hatred, resentment and fear towards Mexican immigrants, spouting the very same lines we still hear today about how they steal our jobs and live off social benefits paid for by taxpayers. Gates and walls and security cameras abound.

Candido is determined to achieve his dreams for a better life than he could ever provide for his wife and child in Mexico. He makes bad decisions over and over but never loses his will to overcome all the obstacles confronting him.

It is a heartbreaking tale filled with events. With growing disdain for Delaney and Kyra, who also make bad decisions, and growing admiration for Candido and his much beleaguered wife as they use every ounce of strength to catch a break, I found myself wondering how immigrants to America ever make it.

They do though and I suspect most work at least three times as hard as most American citizens. The latest estimates regarding climate change and the accompanying loss of living space, are that immigration will be the next Armageddon for the planet. It won't be pretty but they will keep coming no matter how much the privileged classes of the world don't want them.

The book ends in the most harrowing scene of all with Candido making the most humane gesture of anyone in the book. It made me think of the final scene in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. In fact, the epigraph at the front of the book is a quote from Steinbeck's book:

"They ain't human. A human  being wouldn't live like they do. A human being couldn't stand it to be so dirty and miserable"

Thursday, July 23, 2020


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Reamde, Neal Stephenson, William Morrow, 2011, 1042 pp
This may have been my favorite Stephenson novel yet though in truth, they have all been stellar. The trouble is, I am far behind in writing my reviews. I finished Reamde three weeks ago, gasping for breath at the same time as I wished it would keep going. What? Am I crazy? It was 1042 pages long. I read it in hardcover. I had a stiff neck. I'd been reading it for eight days. Here is my probably too short review for a book packed with so much. I write and post it here for you Stephenson fans out there.
The plot is convoluted and seems to contain millions. The whole time I marveled at the intricacy with which the author braided so many story lines and kept all those characters distinct and alive in my mind. Somehow he kept me trying to figure out how he would do that and how it would come together at the end. Believe me, he did and it did.

This is a thriller spanning both virtual and real worlds, informed by the war on terror, on-line gaming, hackers, social media and peopled by his usual vibrant characters. It took me back to the first decade of the 2000s and reminded me that life is forever fraught with awesome people; awesomely good and bad and unusual people. He also maintains a perfect balance of female to male characters.

The good news is that the one remaining Neal novel for me is his latest, Fall or, Dodge in Hell. It is a sequel to Reamde! See, I knew there had to be more. Can't wait.

Have you read Reamde? If yes, what did you think of it?

Sunday, July 19, 2020


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Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, A Journey Through Yugoslavia, Rebecca West, The Viking Press, 1941, 1150 pp
I am well aware that this book will not be for everyone but I wanted to have a record of my thoughts on it here on the blog. Finishing this book has been my greatest reading accomplishment so far this year. I had attempted to read it twice before but bogged down early both times. Last July I tried again, looked up all the words I didn't know, studied maps and took notes. I set myself a minimal pace of 5 pages at a sitting and 11 months later I finished!
Rebecca West was an infamously successful journalist, political writer, novelist and feminist from 1911 until her death in 1983. I came to her through one of her novels, The Fountain Overflows, one of my favorite novels ever. I first learned about Black Lamb and Grey Falcon in the days of the Bosnian War, a conflict I could never understand no matter how much news I read. It turns out I needed the history of the Balkans and West's book gave that and much more.

She made two extended trips through Yugoslavia, an area also known as the Balkans throughout history. When she visited in 1937 and 1938, the area was a cobbled together country created after WWI at the Paris Peace Conference. Her book follows the second journey taken with her husband. 

Beginning in Croatia, they continued through Dalmatia, Herzegovina, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. These were the countries that made up Yugoslavia at the time. They visited major cities as well as villages and historic sites. If that sounds like a lot to take in, it was for both Ms West and myself.

One of my followers here found the writing style unlikable. She does revel in long sentences, detailed descriptions and somewhat flowery, emotional reactions to what she sees and how she feels about it all. I did not mind that too much. What else would one expect from someone raised on Shakespeare and Dickens?

Whenever I looked up images of the mountains, valleys, cathedrals and monasteries she described, they looked exactly as she had written about them! Her accounts about the people she met brought them to life as would a novelist with her characters.

When she returned to England in 1938, Hitler was on the rise. She had no doubt that another World War was about to begin. She spent the next few years enlarging her already vast knowledge of the history of those countries, from Roman times, through the Byzantine Empire, the conquering Turks, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the debacle that was WWI, and the arrival of communism from Russia. I can't imagine anyone besides a life long historian being able to encompass so much.

Finally she put it all together into Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, two images that recur over and over in the book. She created her perspective on the historical precedents and causes of what by the time of publication was WWII. When I finished the book, even though I had not read an article on the Serbian War or the Kosovo War for over 20 years, it suddenly all made sense to me. 

I don't recommend this tome to everyone. But, if you like to study history, if you have read widely in historical fiction, or you just have an unquenchable desire to understand European history, you might make it through and gain new insights.

Rebecca West was a liberal, a feminist, a humanist thinker, and I can't imagine anyone agreeing wholeheartedly with her politically in 2020. Still, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is a huge contribution to historical and political thought.

If you made it through to the end of my attempt to write about this incredible book, you should do fine with Rebecca West, who towered over me in writing and thinking ability.

Monday, July 13, 2020


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The Sweetest Fruits, Monique Truong, Viking, 2019, 292 pp
I don't remember how I discovered Monique Truong in 2008, but I fell in love with her first novel, The Book of Salt. Her first name rhymes with unique, appropriate because she writes novels that are not quite like any others. I am always on the lookout for such novels.
Ms Truong came to America in 1975 as a Vietnamese refugee at the age of six. She has a BA in Literature from Yale, a law degree from Columbia and works in intellectual property law. She is gifted with a huge imagination.

The main character in The Sweetest Fruits is Lafcadio Hearn, a 19th century writer, but he is only portrayed from the viewpoint of three women: his Greek mother, his first wife (a Black woman in Cincinnati, OH) and his second wife (a Japanese woman he married when he lived his last years in Japan.)

Lafcadio made his living as a newspaper writer but is remembered for his books about Japanese culture, legends and ghost stories.

What made the novel so enjoyable was the voices of each of these women. All three loved him unconditionally despite his many quirks, his unfaithfulness (yes, a man can be unfaithful to his mother) and his domineering personality.

The amount of social commentary indulged in by the author might have overwhelmed the story, but by putting this in the mouths of three women, it comes across with humor and compassion. I don't imagine the world would be perfect if women were in charge but I'll tell you this. If you want to get to the heart of things, ask a woman!

Friday, July 10, 2020


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Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke, Little, Brown and Company, 2017, 245 pp
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Heaven, My Home, Attica Locke, Muholland Books, 2019, 284 pp
 I read these two excellent books fairly close together, so I have combined my reviews for this post.

My Bookie Babes reading group chose Heaven, My Home for our June read. Since it is a sequel to Bluebird, Bluebird I decided to read that first. I had tried an earlier book by Attica Locke but somehow put it down and never finished it. The author is a Black woman born and raised in Houston, TX, who also writes and produces for TV and film. She won an Edgar Award for Bluebird, Bluebird.
This novel is set in Houston and on Highway 59, the main highway between Houston and the Louisiana border in East Texas. Darren Mathews, a Black Texas ranger based in Houston, is in trouble. He has been suspended and his wife has left him. He takes off on his own to Lark, a small town in Hwy 59, where he becomes involved in solving a double murder, one Black man and one white woman.
Attica Locke rivals Sara Paretsky with her large number of characters and her complex plots. After a few chapters, I had to go back to the beginning and make a character list as I read in order to piece together the dark relationships between all those characters. Once I did that, I was consumed by a story that examines race relations in a small town, the Aryan Brotherhood of white supremacists, family feuds, and the relations between the Texas Rangers and the Houston FBI. 

My goodness, it was a great tale that confronts American racism head on. As James Baldwin taught us, it is never simple, always twisted and complicated, always destructive to human life and happiness.

Though Darren Mathews solves the murders, the book ends on a cliffhanger complete with foreshadowing. I was glad to go right on to the next book.

Heaven, My Home picks right up from where Bluebird, Bluebird left off. Without giving too much away, Texas Ranger Darren Mathews realized at the end of the former book that his birth mother, with whom he had always had a fractured relationship, seems to hold an important piece of evidence. This item never came up when Darren was cleared of the charges that had gotten him suspended from the Rangers.

Now he is back with his wife, a situation that is fraught in its own right. On top of that he feels he must pay more attention to his mom lest she get him in trouble again. Part of the deal made with his wife is that he spend more time at home and drink less. 

Bored out of his mind with his current tedious desk job for the Rangers in Houston, he leaps at an assignment to investigate a case of a missing child in another small town on Hwy 59. Pressure builds as Darren tries to keep things cool with his wife and to stay in touch with his mom while he pursues his own agenda in the investigation. 

I am currently reading a biography of James Baldwin which makes it starkly clear the pressures under which Black people live as they pursue life, balancing family, personal ambition, love and pretty much constant discrimination. Such a life delivers bout after bout of negativity and uncertainty about self. Attica Locke weaves such troubles into her main character with the sensitivity of a literary writer while she delivers nonstop action and plot.

As in the first book, things quickly get tense as all get out. Darren is a guy who finds his way around the bureaucratic and political restraints put upon him by his job, all the while dealing with impossible personal issues. He often goes off script and follows up clues that no one else finds relevant. He is always right but causes the reader a good amount of worry. Plus he has a weakness for alcohol.

In addition to having to find a lost child whose stepfather is a small time drug dealer and a White Supremacist wannabe, our hero must sort out the connection to a community of Native Americans living just outside the town. Things do indeed get out of hand fast.

I was so glad I had read Bluebird, Bluebird first. Only one of the Bookie Babes had also done so. The rest were pretty confused about a story that is complex in itself but carries baggage from the earlier book. 

Darren saves the day again but the book ends on another cliffhanger, so I bet there will be a sequel. I wish I had it right now but am more than willing to give Attica Locke time to write it.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020


I was going to try getting a screen shot of one of my reading group meetings, but the group that was to meet yesterday decided to postpone to next week. Yes, we are all still on Zoom and the way it's going in California, probably will be for some time yet. So I'll give you that screen shot next month.

I have already previously read two of the books to be discussed this month but look forward to all of the sharing of viewpoints.

Tiny Book Club: 
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Carol's Group:
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One Book At A Time:
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Bookie Babes:
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How are your reading groups faring these days? Have you read or discussed any of these books?

Sunday, July 05, 2020


Seeing as how I have a hard time knowing what day it is lately and have apparently lost my ability to read a calendar, I completely forgot that July 1st was the 15th Blogiversary of Keep The Wisdom. My first post was on July 1, 2005!

I have had my ups and downs as a blogger including the first few months of 2020 when I just wanted to quit but of course was too conflicted to do so. You probably noticed that it got pretty quiet around here. I used those months to work on my writing and to read some big, long books I had been putting off. Then the pandemic hit. I was too distracted at first to write and I missed people! 

Thanks for putting up with my drama. Thanks for sticking with me. If you are new to the blog, thanks a ton for joining the conversation. Your visits and comments make me happy. I love being in a community of bloggers from all over the world and sharing our thoughts about the books we read.

I will keep going, at least for a while yet. Some of you have noticed I've been posting more reviews (thank you for noticing!) and I will keep that up. I might not review every book I read but when I love a book I want to share it with others who love reading. If you see a book in my monthly Books Read post but don't see a review, it is either because I don't have much to say about it or it is something I read just for me personally.

Here's to a better future coming soon!

Thursday, July 02, 2020


In June, the fourth month of the pandemic in California, where we had many mornings of what is called "June Gloom" because the mornings are foggy, I read my head off!

I hit a milestone when I finished Rebecca West's 1040 pages of tiny print about her journey through Yugoslavia in 1939. I had been reading it for almost a year, a few pages a day. I have wanted to read it for a long time and I learned what I wanted to know. Review coming soon.

Otherwise I read fiction, alternating between page turners and wonderful literary novels.

Stats: 9 books read. 8 fiction. 4 written by women. 2 historical fiction. 3 thrillers. 1 magical. 2 translated. 1 history. 1 for My Big Fat Reading Project.

Countries visited: Mexico, Spain, Chile, Angola, Japan, Yugoslavia, Canada. US cities: New Orleans, Houston, Cincinnati, Seattle.

Authors new to me: Don Winslow, Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Arthur Hailey.

Each book was a favorite in different ways.

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Have you read any of these books? How was your reading in June? Which were your favorites?

Monday, June 29, 2020


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The Society of Reluctant Dreamers, Eduardo Jose Agualusa, Archipelago Books, 2020, 264 pp (originally published in 2017, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn)
This novel was as amazing as it was treacherous. Once I figured out it was set in the African country, Angola, and once I did some research into that country's horrific history and horrendous struggle for independence from European colonizers (mainly Portuguese but also all the major colonizers of the 19th century) then at least it was located for me. I understood why the Angolan author wrote it in Portuguese.
The other challenge was the story of Daniel and his dream lover Moira. When the book opens, Daniel has just been divorced by his wife of many years. He is a journalist; she is descended from a family who collaborated with the Portuguese. His daughter has stayed with her conservative mother, but is just as radical as Daniel.

Daniel dreams. He writes down his dreams as though he were reporting the news.
"I woke very early. Through the narrow windows, I saw long black birds fly past. I'd dreamed about them. It was as though they had leaped from my dream up into the sky, a damp piece of dark-blue tissue paper, with bitter mold growing in the corners."
The above is the opening paragraph of the book. It is a modern novel set in an extremely foreign place. The fight for Angolan independence took at least half a century and the current ruling party as well as its President, though Angolan, are an unstable oligarchy dealing in repression of freedoms.
Eventually Daniel's daughter lands in prison for demonstrating against the government. She is only about 18 years old but leads a hunger strike from within the prison! By this time Daniel has met an old soldier from the wars for independence who is half mad from his experiences.
The two men spend hours together and share the dreams they have had the night before. Enter Moira, an artist from Mozambique, who stages her dreams in her artwork. All of the dreamers seem to merge into a collective unconscious, while Daniel works to get his daughter out of prison. In that way they seek to unravel the lives they have lived and the political reality of their country.
I just had to let go of any preconceived notions I harbor, knowingly or unknowingly, and enter the dream state that constitutes the basis of Jose Eduardo Agualusa's writing. Truthfully, it was not hard to do so. Life in America has become so surreal. What, after all, are happiness, freedom, love, goals? For what do we fight as human beings?

Like Daniel and his daughter, the old soldier and Moira, we yearn for happiness, freedom, love and achievable goals. Sometimes we get those dreams. Sometimes we get nightmares, awake or asleep.

Friday, June 26, 2020


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A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende, Ballantine Books, 2020, 314 pp
For the third time this year I was once again immersed in the effects of the Spanish Civil War. The first was Serge Pey's The Treasure of the Spanish Civil War. The second was The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. And now Isabel Allende has told another branch of the story. 
Through these novels I have finally gotten a better understanding of the causes of that war. I think the first time I read about it was in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. When I read that in 2002, I did not understand why so many Left Wing people from the Americas and Europe became so passionate about the struggle. I am finally getting the picture.

A Long Petal of the Sea is quite simply a wonderful story. I think Allende is always at her best when writing historical fiction. Victor Dalmau was a young medic in the war. He and his brother's pregnant lover Roser, a gifted pianist, along with his mother are finally driven to escape from Spain. How many stories have I read about desperate journeys across the Pyrenees Mountains? Certainly a few. That border between Spain and France has hosted many refugees going in both directions, not to mention advancing and returning armies.

Victor Dalmau's mother does not make it, but Victor, Roser, and her baby do. They end up in Chile, thanks to Pablo Neruda who chartered a ship to bring 2000 refugees to his country. Though these people were not wanted there, Neruda was so beloved in Chile that he pulled it off.

Each chapter of the book begins with some lines from Neruda's poetry. In fact, Victor and Neruda become friends. The lives of Victor and Roser in Chile span decades, with numerous developments and adventures where politics and art are always intertwined, where the opposing forces of freedom and fascist tendencies battle.

Though it is such a long and involved tale I was never lost. Allende's sure hand with history and her deep but somehow lighthearted fascination with the power of love are the anchors. Definitely one of her most wonderful novels.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


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The Power of the Dog, Don Winslow, Alfred A Knopf, 2005, 542 pp
I have been intending to read Don Winslow for many years. Now I finally did and I am hooked.
The Power of the Dog is the first of his three books about Mexican drug cartels. If you are curious about this scourge of criminality your curiosity will be entirely rewarded. It is a fairly long book but I read it in a little over three days. Winslow can do propulsive, addictive plot with the best of them.

Art Keller, DEA agent, began with a loyal commitment to the US War of Drugs. His concurrent disillusionment with the agency and obsession with taking out the key family in Mexico's drug empire contribute equally to the demise of his marriage and his success in the mission he sets for himself.

Just as in real life, the development, the evolution from pot to heroin to cocaine to crack is complex, driven by greed for wealth and power. The Power of the Dog could have been just another thriller about organized crime. In addition to his serious writing chops though, Winslow manages to convey the intricate intersections between the criminals, the law, and the citizens who dance around each other.

He shows us the violence that is as big a part of life as the hopes and dreams of mankind. I was impressed and left with much to ponder.

Friday, June 19, 2020


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The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich, HarperCollins, 2020, 444 pp
This is the best book I have read so far this year. Three of my reading groups chose it so I am having the experience of discussing it with a total of 14 women. In the two discussions I have had so far, everyone loved it and a common statement is, " I didn't want the book to end." This is a testament to how much Louise Erdrich gets the reader involved with her characters.
She based her story on her grandfather, a factory night watchman and resident of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. His fictional name is Thomas, he is a Chippewa, a man of great courage and intelligence but most of all persistence.

Thomas learns of a new "emancipation" bill on its way to Congress, a bill that will terminate the rights of his people to land "given" to them by a United States treaty that stated it was to last "for as long as the grasses grow and the rivers run." It is 1953. Should the bill pass not only will they lose their land but also their identity as Chippewa people.

Thomas spends his hours at night on the job, between regular inspections of the factory, reading the bill until he understands its words and its intentions. He then involves the people of the reservation in a bold plan to go before Congress and fight against the bill's passage.

Despite their poverty and the forces that have driven some to alcohol, have driven a daughter to run away to Minneapolis and become lost, the tribe includes characters who work against terrible odds to better their families and keep them together. One of these is 17 year old Patrice, who goes in search of her lost sister and sets in motion events that will affect the entire tribe, including a ghost!

Louise Erdrich writes with such smooth yet fiery storytelling. She shows how an oppressed people can use skills forced on them by the White man to their advantage in overcoming that oppression without losing the beliefs and understanding of their connection to their land and each other.

She gives new meaning to intelligence, compassion and courage. All the while she injects humor and a certain kind of magic trickster into this incredible tale of survival and triumph.

Sunday, June 14, 2020


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The Labyrinth of the Spirits, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, HarperCollins, 2018, 805 pp (translated from the Spanish by Lucia Graves)
I have now read all four books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Thanks to blogger friend Marianne in Germany at Let's Read, whose review of this book reminded me that I had never finished the series. This is the longest of the book but I did not mind. I wanted to stay with those characters for as long as I could.
In The Labyrinth of the Spirits, Zafon introduces a new character, Alicia. She is as badass as they come and works for Spain's secret police in Madrid. She wants out so her handler says if she does one more assignment, she can walk away. 
Of course the assignment is tough beyond any she has ever had and will test every strength she has. It leads her to Daniel Sempre (the central character in The Shadow of the Wind) and to Daniel's best friend Fermin, who we learn for the first time saved her life during the Spanish Civil War when she was nine years old. Her assignment is to find the former director of the Montjuic Castle prison, featured in the third book, The Prisoner of Heaven. In that prison were certain authors and the one who is still alive may hold the key to the mystery of that former director's recent disappearance. 
Alicia is a fascinating and complex character who puts most spies I have read about to shame and also loves to read. Spain is still under the autocratic rule of Franco meaning that crime and oppression wait at every turn.
By the end, every mystery in the Sempre family has been solved. The bad people get what is coming to them. Best of all Daniel finally finds out what really happened to his mother. As in every book, reading and literature and authors and bookstores and the librarian of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books play pivotal roles.

Should one read these books in order? Carlos Ruiz Zafon claims that is not necessary but I found that each book circles around to the previous ones, always expanding this wonderful tale. Many people read The Shadow of the Wind and then felt let down by The Angel's Game. I admit that was a dark and scary tale with no relief but now that I have read The Labyrinth of the Spirits, it makes complete sense why he had to write it as part of the series.

Here are my reviews of the first three books:

Have you read any of these books?

Monday, June 08, 2020


I really couldn't use one of those cute reading group images this month. This is how all my reading groups begin these days. The good news is that four of my six groups are now meeting on Zoom, which isn't perfect but is way better than not meeting at all. I am so grateful for this user friendly technology and for the member of each group who manages the invitations and all that.

This month two of my groups are discussing the same book: The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. It is such a wonderful read about Native American life that I am thrilled to have two chances to discuss it.

Here is the lineup:

The Tiny Book Club and Carol's Group:
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One Book At A Time:
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I have read and discussed this one in another group a few months ago, but since it is a book that seems to evoke many and various reactions in readers, I am sure it will be interesting to discuss it again.
Bookies Babes: 
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This is a sequel to Attica Locke's earlier book, Bluebird, Bluebird, which I took the time to read first. The setting is East Texas contemporary times and delves into the precarious life of a Black Texas Ranger.  Heaven My Home follows with a later part of his story. Full of the complex tangles of racism, it is a pretty darn appropriate read to accompany the ongoing protests.
Have you read and/or discussed any of these books? If you are a member of a real life reading group, how are you coping? Do you meet on Zoom or discuss through email or text? And what books have you been discussing lately?

Thursday, June 04, 2020


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The City We Became, N K Jemisin, Orbit, 2020, 434pp
When I learned that N K Jemisin (author of The Broken Earth Trilogy, for which she won the Hugo Award three straight years in a row, a book a year) had a new novel, I was excited. Better yet, I was not disappointed.
Reading The Broken Earth trilogy was not unlike being taken somewhere you have never been by adults who drag you along without explaining anything. You are left with only your ability to observe the things and people around you while you try to figure out what is going on. Your hand is not held except to grasp it and pull you forward. The world she built in those books had only the barest resemblance to anywhere or any time period I had ever experienced.
The thing was, she also made me care and suffer along with her characters. She made me want to understand so much that I would not give up reading. I don't know that I have ever wanted the good guys to win more badly in any other fiction I have read.
The City We Became is different because it takes place in America's biggest and possibly best known city: New York. Then again, this novel is similar to those earlier books in that the stakes are just as high. Also, it is fantasy. Also, it is the first in a new trilogy she calls The Great Cities Trilogy.
The author takes her time introducing her characters, all the while creating an intimate picture of each of New York's five boroughs. You have heard of all five: Manhattan, Staten Island, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn. Unless you have actually lived in NYC though, you may not know that each borough has a distinct essence, one that has changed over time for sure but distinct like five siblings from the same family.
For each borough is a main character. By the time you have met them all and gotten a feel for their individual stories and wondered where all this is going, you have also realized, as each character did, that they are human avatars for their respective areas and that something very weird is going on. Something about a city being born. If these five avatars don't connect and unite, it will be a still birth and any hope for the good things of life, such as dreams, creativity, justice, safety and security will be overcome by nightmares, destruction, injustice and danger.
The climax of the story is exciting and tense and propulsive.
I won't say more because I don't like rehashing plots and if this sort of book doesn't appeal to you, it would be a waste of your time. If what I have told you so far does appeal to you, you are best off discovering the wonders of The City We Became on your own.
Here are links to my reviews of those earlier books:

Monday, June 01, 2020


My reading in May was so wonderful, I hardly knew I was living through a pandemic. Of course, I did know but these novels took me away to other times, lives, and places even to the point of making some sense of it all. Possibly because eight of the nine books I read were written by women. What do you think?

Stats: 9 books read. 9 fiction. 8 written by women. 1 for my Big Fat Reading Project. 1 written for children. 2 translated. 1 speculative. 1 crime. 2 historical. 

Places I went: Columbia, Chile, Spain, United States.

Authors new to me: Juliana Delgado, Attica Locke

Favorites: All were wonderful, worthwhile reads. The Night Watchman and The Labyrinth of the Spirits stood out though.

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Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

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Did your reading in May help you get through? Which were your favorites?