rachbxl in 2021

ConversazioniClub Read 2021

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rachbxl in 2021

Gen 15, 11:01am

Happy New Year everyone! I'm slow out of the starting blocks this year; I never start my new thread until I've finished my first book of the year, and that took a long time this year.

Last year was a great reading year for me, and I have the pandemic to thank for that - not because it left me with more free time (it really didn't), but because it pushed me to research libraries in the English-speaking world which will lend e-books to non-residents. Without my library books, last year would have been very different. As it was, I read 63 books, far more than in recent years and well over my tentative goal of 50, and, more to the point, I enjoyed many of them.

I tend not to set reading goals but last year I made an exception, and I'm going to carry over 3 of last year's 4 goals:

1. actively seek out more books by writers whose books I've enjoyed instead of intending to read more and never getting round to it. This really paid off last year, taking me back to Anne Tyler, of whom I've become a big fan, Natacha Appanah, Maaza Mengiste, Madeline Miller, Anne Holt, Olaf Olafsson and others.

2. Like last year, I'm hoping to read at least 50 books.

3. Less importantly, but it would be good if I could...read at least a few books off my TBR shelves. I have countless books which I was excited to acquire but which no longer tempt me as much as shiny new books do.

My fourth goal last year was to revive my reading-around-the-world project. In the end I only added 3 countries (Venezuela, Italy and Georgia), taking me to a total of 79. I won't be making this a priority this year, but I may try to add one or two.

Modificato: Ago 24, 10:05am

Books read in 2021:

1. The Sirens of Mars by Sarah Stewart Johnson (non-fiction)
2. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
3. The Switch by Beth O’Leary
4. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
5. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Ghana/USA)
6. Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (USA)
7. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (UK)
8. The BFG by Roald Dahl (UK)
9. Once Upon a Rive by Diane Setterfield (UK, audiobook)
10. Lake Like a Mirror by Ho Sok Fong (Malaysia, translation, short stories)
11. The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu (China/USA)
12. Benediction by Kent Haruf (USA)
13. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
14. The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware (UK, audiobook)
15. The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (UK)
16. Yes to Life, in Spite of Everything by Viktor E. Frankl (non-fiction, translation, audiobook)
17. Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada (Germany, translation)
18. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (USA)
19. Ladder of Year by Anne Tyler (USA)
20. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (Australia)
21. A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell (non-fiction, audiobook)
22. Whose Story is This? by Rebecca Solnit (non-fiction, audiobook)
23. Women and Power by Mary Beard (non-fiction, audiobook)
24. Purge by Sofi Oksanen (Finland, translation)
25. When Women Ruled the World by Kara Cooney (audiobook, non-fiction)
26. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (UK)
27. The Lost Village by Camilla Sten (Sweden, translation)
28. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (audiobook, non-fiction)
29. The Survivors by Jane Harper (Australia)
30. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (USA)
31. Mother May I by Joshlyn Jackson (USA)
32. Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario (non-fiction)
33. Conviction by Denise Mina (UK)
34. Expiation by Elizabeth von Arnim (UK)

Gen 15, 11:11am

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World by Sarah Stewart Johnson

I have an image of myself in my mind's eye, sitting for hours at a time in a comfy armchair reading interesting, mind-expanding non-fiction, storing away fascinating little snippets for later conversations. This bears little relation to reality; I never get hours at a time to read, and I very rarely read non-fiction. Over New Year my mental image became reality, albeit briefly, and I enjoyed immersing myself in a field about which I know very little, research into Mars and life on Mars, presented here in a very accessible way. Unfortunately I didn't finish the book before going back to work, and I found it much harder to read when I was squeezing in a page or two here and there. Perhaps my inner non-fiction reader will come out when I retire (so not for a while); I'd like to hope so.

Gen 15, 12:39pm

Great to see you around. Happy new year Rachel, I hope you'll enjoy your reading year at least as much as last year!

Gen 16, 3:06pm

>1 rachbxl: Good, once again, to see you here, Rachel. I like your goals, I could probably live with those but I've ruled out all goals for myself.

I have one more of both Olafsson and Yoon to read, but I am exploring another new-to-me author, this time a Dane, Jens Christian Grondahl. I really enjoyed his most recently translated slim book, Often I am Happy. Perhaps the other novels will not hold up to that new-ish one, but we shall see.

Looking forward to following your reading this year.

Gen 16, 3:12pm

>4 raton-liseur: thanks! And the same to you.

>5 avaland: Hi, Lois. I really must get to Yoon this year. Grondahl I hadn’t heard of, but he can go on the list too. My Club Read year is starting well!

Gen 17, 4:27am

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

I’m fascinated by the fact that although Shakespeare left us so much, very, very little is known about his life. We do know, though, that he was married to a woman called Anne or Agnes (Agnes here in the book), and that their son Hamnet died as a child, a year before Shakespeare produced his play Hamlet (different spelling, same name). Hamnet is how Maggie O’Farrell builds on these basic facts to create a rich story, one which, despite its title, is more about Agnes than about her son.

I am a long-time fan of O’Farrell, and I had heard such good things about Hamnet that my hopes were high. I found the novel hugely evocative in terms of setting; I can clearly picture the town of Stratford, the little house next to the bigger house belonging to Agnes’s in-laws, the land around Agnes’s family home, her bee-hives, the forest. The characters eluded me, though. They wouldn’t come into focus and were little more than shadows floating through these vivid settings, and as a result I couldn’t connect with the story. I can see that it is very touching, but it left me cold.

Gen 17, 5:07am

>6 rachbxl: re: Grondahl. I can only recommend that one very short novel at the moment.

Gen 18, 1:29pm

>3 rachbxl: I have a similar imagination/reality conflict - with the extra note that sometimes when I get a window with a lot of time to read, reading seems to not be my focus.

>7 rachbxl: well, bummer. But good to have some critical feedback on this

Finally got here, Rachel. Glad you had a good reading year last year. Wish you another one this year - and more fun reading with your daughter.

Gen 18, 3:10pm

I had a similar reaction to Hamnet. I’ve liked the other books by O’Farrell I’ve read, and I could see that Hamnet was well-written, but I just couldn’t connect with it.

Gen 18, 3:28pm

>7 rachbxl: I never read anything by Maggie O'Farrell although I keep running into her books on the shelves of the bookstor. Now I'm sure Hamnet won't be my entry point!

Modificato: Gen 19, 4:58am

>9 dchaikin: Hello Dan, good to see you here. I know exactly what you mean about reading not being your focus even when you do get time to do it. Happens to me too, and it's frustrating. I'll see a couple of hours opening up days ahead and I'll see myself sitting reading...and then I end up cleaning out the garage.

>10 arubabookwoman: After posting my comments on Hamnet here I went to the book page and looked at the reviews, and I saw yours - until then I was feeling very much like the odd one out! Like you, I could see it was well-written (though possibly a touch over-polished at times?) but I just couldn't connect with it. It took me a while to finish because I kept putting it down, hoping that I'd be more on its wavelength later, but it didn't happen. Oh well, wouldn't it be boring if we all liked the same books?

>11 raton-liseur: Well, lots of other LTers have loved it, so I wouldn't write it off just on the basis of my experience! I've read most of her novels and enjoyed them all until Hamnet, though I can't remember details of the individual books so can't say what a good starting-point would be.

Gen 19, 3:23am

Ohhh, interesting perspective on Hamnet. Quite often I'm the odd ball on books that everyone else loves, so I'm wondering if this one would also leave me feeling underwhelmed. I'll still have to try for myself, I guess. Maybe when the libraries open up again.

Gen 24, 10:09pm

Hi Rachel. I’ve think I’ve only read one by Maggie O’Farrell that I can remember. I’ll have to see what’s on my shelf. I’ll be following along to see what you are reading.

Gen 25, 7:39am

>14 NanaCC: Hello Colleen, thanks for the visit.

Gen 25, 8:09am

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

The premise of Beth O’Leary’s second novel is even more preposterous than that of her first, The Flatshare. This time, 27-year old Leena (full name Eileen) Cotton, a 27-year old London career girl, and her grandmother Eileen Cotton, who lives in a small village in the Yorkshire Dales, decide to swap places for 2 months. As if...! The speed with which each manages to bring together the community in which they find themselves is equally unlikely. I know this sounds like a negative review, but actually I loved this book. Just as with The Flatshare, I was more than willing to go along with it (maybe things could happen like this? And if not, I wish they could). As I read about the little Yorkshire village I was reminded of Three Pines (the impossibly perfect (apart from the murders) I-want-to-live-there village in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series); O’Leary’s village lacks the bistrot and the b&b, but it has a similar cast of totally believable characters who accept each other’s quirks and foibles.

As with The Flatshare, it’s not all fun and laughter. Once again O’Leary works in a darker theme, this time grief, handling the death of a loved one. She doesn’t labour it, but it’s a major part of the story, and I liked the way she did it.

This weekend a friend sent me a YouTube clip of Bing Crosby. I was a bit perplexed (we have never discussed Bing Crosby), but only until I watched it. It made me grin from ear to ear, it just made me feel good. And this book does the same.

Gen 25, 2:14pm

>16 rachbxl: I think I’m mainly intrigued that it works.

Feb 3, 5:44pm

Happy New Year, Rachel. I'm glad last year was a good reading year for you. I look forward to following along on your thread again this year.

>5 avaland: I have one Grondahl book sitting forlornly on my shelf: Silence in October. I'll move it up the queue if you continue to enjoy his writing, Lois.

>7 rachbxl: I'm always meaning to read more Maggie O'Farrell. I've only read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which I sped through in enjoyment. I have two of her books on my wishlist: I am, I am, I am and After You'd Gone. I'll leave Hamnet off for now.

Feb 6, 2:51am

>18 labfs39: Great to see you here, Lisa. I was wondering where you were. Have you got a thread? I’ve read all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books except I am, I am, I am and This Must Be the Place, and just like you say about Esmie Lennox, I sped through them all with enjoyment....until Hamnet. I do wonder if that wasn’t me, at least in part (as in, I read it at the wrong time) as I know I’m very hard to please book-wise at the moment. Oh well, I will never know as I am very unlikely to read it (or anything else) again.

Feb 6, 5:25pm

>19 rachbxl: "I am very unlikely to read it (or anything else) again" Oh no, Never read again?! That's very hard to please indeed. ;-)

I didn't have a thread last year and haven't started one this year either. I haven't been reading enough to make it seem worthwhile. I'm skulking around LT a bit more though and will follow your thread.

Feb 6, 7:40pm

>20 labfs39: Still, we think any bit of a thread you create and maintain would surely offer tidbits for us .... (ok, you could also log your daughter's reading...? Maybe your mother's?) :-)

Feb 7, 10:46am

>20 labfs39: Agreeing with >21 avaland:. I miss your thread

Feb 9, 8:10am

>20 labfs39: And I miss your thread too! Go on...not even a little one? On a different note, you made me laugh with your interpretation of me saying I wouldn't ever read anything again!

Feb 9, 8:46am

I've had a difficult start to my reading year. As I said, I'm hard to please at the moment, and I've set aside a higher proportion of books than I normally do (maybe I just keep picking duffers, but I think at least part of it is my frame of mind). I keep thinking of something I said on my thread last year about wanting to 'lose myself in stories', and that's still very much true. I want to lose myself in a story, but as I'm tired (aren't we all, at this point?) I don't want it to ask too much of me, BUT it must still be written for an intelligent reader...and so on. It's a tall order, but I have struck lucky this week with my new/old favourite Anne Tyler, whose 2018 novel Clock Dance is hitting the spot perfectly.

Over the last couple of weeks I've finished 2 novels, Transcendent Kingdom and The Hating Game.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

The book equivalent of a good rom-com, well written and hugely enjoyable (albeit with reservations on my part about one aspect). Following the merger of their respective companies, Lucy and Joshua, assistants to the directors, share an office. They are both ambitious and highly competitive, and when a job vacancy is announced which would be the natural next step for each of them, the atmosphere gets even tenser. They HATE each other...or do they?

The story is told by Lucy, so we only see Joshua through her eyes which is perhaps a shame. I couldn't help thinking as I read of Beth O'Leary's novels with their alternating narrators, and wondering how that would have worked here. The thing is, I felt uncomfortable with some of Josh's behaviour and really I wanted Lucy to run a mile - but that is clearly not how I was supposed to feel, because this is our hero. I don't want to give too much away, but Josh is a bit too macho, masterful, 'manful', his behaviour a bit too much Heathcliff-style brooding, for the hero of a book published in 2016. Some kind of explanation for this does come later on, but too late for me to feel entirely comfortable with it so I was left with the distinct impression that our tall, dashing, intelligent, handsome, romantic hero could at whim become a green-eyed monster capable of behaving in ways that most of us realise are not acceptable. In a nutshell, if Lucy were my friend I would be worried about her. Maybe I'm over-thinking it, but it left me with a bad feeling. To get back to Beth O'Leary, I wondered if having Joshua narrate some sections would have avoided this.

Feb 9, 9:00am

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

A big fan of Homegoing, I picked this up expecting a novel with similar narrative drive (my one quibble with Homegoing was that some of the sections finished before I wanted to leave the characters, which isn't a criticism so much as a sign of how much I wanted to read more about them), and as I started to read I was eager to see where it would go. After about 100 pages I realised that it wasn't really going anywhere - again, not a criticism so much as a realisation that this is a completely different novel. I had to re-adjust my expectations, but that wasn't hard because I like Gyasi's writing so much that I was happy to read on and wait and see. In essence, Transcendent Kingdom is a long monologue from Gifty, born in the USA to parents who had recently arrived from Ghana, who tells us about her childhood (before and after her father gave up on the USA and on his family and went back to Ghana), her adolesence and her life now as a young adult (academically successful scientist with a very limited social life), jumping backwards and forwards in time. When she tells her story, though, Gifty isn't just talking about herself; she's talking about her family's story, which is also the story of endless numbers of immigrants, the story of simultaneously belonging and not belonging. Having lost her older brother to a drug overdose, she also talks about addiction (this is what her research involves), and about loss, grief, being left behind after someone has gone.

I didn't like this as much as Homegoing, but I think that's quite possibly linked to this need for stories in which to lose myself; Transcendent Kingdom is completely character-driven. However, even if sometimes when I put it down I wondered if I should put it aside for now, it always drew me back, and although it's over a week since I finished it I find myself often thinking about Gifty and her family. This is a book that kind of crept up on me and ended up being very satisfying.

Feb 9, 3:58pm

>21 avaland:, >22 SassyLassy:, >23 rachbxl: Aww... You guys are sweet. I'll give it a whirl. Thanks for the encouragement.

Feb 10, 4:08pm

>25 rachbxl: been curious about Transcendent Kingdom. I saw Kay liked it a lot. Appreciate your sense of it in relation to your maybe imperfect-for-this-book mood. Just noting for now.

>26 labfs39: Lisa - hope you do start (or have started a thread). At least give us an excuse to say hello. Nice to see you posting here.

Feb 12, 11:07am

>27 dchaikin: I guess that’s the downside of library ebooks and holds - if I’ve waited several months for my turn, I’m reluctant not to accept the book when the hold comes through (I only really do it when I have too much to read and know I won’t get through it). I do think that if I’d had my own copy of Transcendent Kingdom I wouldn’t have read it when I did. That said, it’s still with me; I still keep thinking about it, and it’s one of those books that’s getting better the longer it is since I finished it.

Feb 18, 8:22am

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

Oh Anne Tyler, I knew you wouldn't let me down. This is classic Tyler, a story about ordinary people and little things. By that I mean that Tyler makes us think about those potentially unimportant actions, those possibly meaningless moments, those decisions which didn't seem very weighty at the time, on which the stuff of our lives hinges. At least, that's my take on it, because Tyler is always so wonderfully subtle and understated; she tells her story and leaves it there for us rather than explaining what she wants us to get from it.

In Clock Dance, 60-something Willa gets a phone call from the neighbour of her son's ex-girlfriend saying that the ex-girlfriend is in hospital and that she, the neighbour, has been looking after the ex's 9-year old daughter but can't cope any more, so she wants Willa, the grandmother, to go and take over. Except that Willa isn't the girl's grandmother; in fact she's never met her OR her mother. The obvious thing to do is to explain this, but Willa is too nice to interrupt the woman on the phone...she'll sort it out later. But somehow she never does, and the woman who has always done the predictable thing suddenly ends up booking plane tickets to Baltimore. What happens in Baltimore is a great study in human nature - Anne Tyler at her best.

Feb 18, 10:01am

Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit

Some of the books I read aloud to my daughter I record here, others I don't, and I have no consistent way of deciding which are which. This one merits a mention here just because it took hours to read and therefore felt like a 'real' book...but also because we both enjoyed it. For me it was a re-read, and it was nice to revive my hazy childhood memories of the four siblings who, in their glorious unsupervised freedom, discover a psammead, or sand fairy, and get into all sorts of adventures thanks to its capacity to grant them a wish a day. I'm always struck by just how much my daughter (7 next week) enjoys these old-fashioned stories. Five Children and It shows its age in some ways (I edit as I go along, leaving out what we now see as sexist comments from the boys to their sisters, etc), but the story itself is timeless.

Feb 18, 10:04am

>30 rachbxl: I do the same - no rhyme or reason to what I report of the books I'm reading aloud to my boys! I alternate nights with them because they are into very different books. My 8 year old son is loving the Little House on the Prairie books. With my 11 year old, I'm reading nonfiction that he is interested in but wouldn't choose on his own.

So glad they both still let me read out loud to them!

Feb 18, 10:11am

The BFG by Roald Dahl

Another read-aloud, which I'm recording here because with this we have read all Roald Dahl's books in the last year or so. His earlier works I'd read as a child, but the later ones were new to me. No matter; I've enjoyed reading them aloud immensely, and my daughter is a huge fan. She summed it up nicely the other day: 'I love Roald Dahl because he makes me feel really scared, but it's a nice scared'. He is a genius for knowing just how far to push it. It all seems so effortless and joyful, too. I think my favourite is Danny the Champion of the World.

Feb 18, 10:20am

>31 japaul22: I know, I love reading aloud! My daughter has the odd night where she announces that she's going to read to herself instead, and I love to peek a look at her sitting up in bed with her book...but I'm also glad the next night when it's back to reading aloud together. I'm planning to try the Little House on the Prairie books with her soon; I think she'd like them.

Feb 18, 10:29am

My library e-books were my salvation last year, but at the moment the holds are getting in the way of good reading (I don't mean reading 'good' books, but enjoying reading the books I'm reading). I said above that I read Transcendent Kingdom at the wrong time because I was excited that the hold came through, and now I'm doing the same thing with The Night Watchman by Louise Erdich. Erdich is a writer I like (I've read a couple of her novels) and I can see (I'm about a quarter of the way in) that The Night Watchman is a novel I would enjoy...some other time. I'm going to return it unfinished and - I hope - come back to it at a later date.

Modificato: Feb 18, 11:32am

>31 japaul22: I read aloud with my daughter for a long time, and she too loved the old classics. The Anne of Green Gables series was a long-time favorite. We even went to Prince Edward Island. She's now 17, but I still miss those days. Fortunately I watch my niece Wren during the week, and she loves to be read to. She's turning one this weekend. Her second word, after Dada, was book.

Feb 18, 6:49pm

>35 labfs39: Oh, what a priceless story about her.

Feb 19, 12:36am

>29 rachbxl: I read Clock Dance last year and enjoyed it very much. Have you read her Redhead by the Side of the Road?. Many people seemed unhappy with it because it was too short but I like short and enjoyed that too.

Modificato: Feb 19, 7:25am

>35 labfs39: Your daughter is 17 now? How time flies! And you have a one-year old niece (happy birthday to her!) to read to - that's lovely. We read Anne of Green Gables together during lockdown, and my daughter loved it. The later books are definitely on our (which means 'my'!) list.

>37 dianeham: I have read Redhead by the Side of the Road, yes. I was a little disappointed with it, but only because I had recently read another of Anne Tyler's books where she treats a similar theme (middle aged man on his own, set in his ways, only for his comfortable routine to be thrown out of the window). It was bad luck that I read them quite close together (I think the other was The Accidental Tourist) because I am quite sure that it wouldn't have bothered me otherwise, and I suspect I would even have found it interesting to see how Tyler revisits her material and makes another story out of it. The last Tyler I read before Clock Dance was Back When We Were Grownups, which I thought was excellent.

Feb 19, 7:43am

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Feb 19, 9:22am

>38 rachbxl: The Anne books had a profound and humorous effect on my daughter's language. She was sitting down to breakfast one morning, I forget what I was serving, but she took a look and said, "I just don't think I can bear it!"

I don't think it was long after that that she became interested in Julie and the Wolves. For years she loved wolves. I remember her having trouble on the playground with the other girls, because they wanted to be horses, and even though my daughter said she was a good wolf, the other girls didn't want to play horses with a wolf.

Feb 20, 12:30am

>40 labfs39: I have a house wolf (German Shepherd) who is almost as big as a horse. Love your playground story.

Feb 20, 11:55am

>38 rachbxl: Have you watched “Anne With An E”? It was based on the book. I watched it before we moved last year, and thought it was lovely. I think it was on Netflix. I loved reading to my kids and grandkids. The youngest is 12 now, and loves to read. I think reading to babies is so important. Not only are they hearing the words, but that snuggle time is so comforting. :)

Feb 20, 1:50pm

>42 NanaCC: My father is watching that now and enjoying it. He would very much have never watched the version with Megan Fallows or read the books, but the added grit in Anne with an E means he's loving it.

Feb 21, 4:25am

>40 labfs39: I often see this kind of thing with my daughter too, particularly as until September, when she started at a school with separate English classes for native speakers, her only source of English other than me was the classic old stories she likes. My family in the UK found it hilarious (especially as she has a UK cousin of exactly the same age who speaks, well, like an average British child of her age). I hadn’t heard of Julie and the Wolves so thanks for that. I love the story about the would-be playground wolf!

>42 NanaCC:, >43 RidgewayGirl: Yes! It’s wonderful. I do like the added grit, and so many of the characters are JUST how I see them in my mind’s eye.

Modificato: Feb 23, 7:13am

>38 rachbxl: My younger daughter, a flaming redhead as it happens, adored the Anne of Green Gablesbooks and she is still a big fan at nearly 39. She loved all the adaptations, even loved the recent series "Anne with an E" (I see Colleen has mentioned that).

Mar 15, 7:27am

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson

In a bid to get out of a reading slump that was threatening to set in for the long-term, I decided to shake things up a bit. I don't, generally, like audiobooks. My mind wanders; I can't follow. (I've always thought this might be work-related; I listen for a living and perhaps I switch off outside of work). I don't know what made me try again now - maybe that I still have this desire which I've expressed on my thread several times in the last year to lose myself in stories, and the idea of someone telling me those stories was particularly appealing (I also have less work at the moment, so perhaps the listening part of my brain isn't so over-burdened). As for why this particular book, I have no idea. I knew nothing about it, but it was immediately available at the library. It turned out to be a good choice, and I really enjoyed both the book itself and the experience of listening to it (Juliet Stevenson is wonderful, and I have put holds on other books read by her that my library has, just because they are read by her). In fact, I think it's a book I enjoyed more BECAUSE I listened to it; it seemed to lend itself particularly well to the form, not least because story-telling is such an important part of it.

In the late 1800s (I think), a bedraggled man staggers into The Swan, an inn on the Thames where people gather to tell and hear stories, with a dead girl in his arms, presumably drowned in the river. He collapses and is too weak to tell his tale...and the small child comes back to life, but she cannot speak. Three different families come forward to claim her - but who is she really, and where does she belong? Setterfield takes her time in answering these questions and leads us off through lengthy back-stories for the characters (other than the girl, who remains a mute enigma). I suspect that had I been reading the book, I might have got impatient and skimmed over some parts, but I was happy to listen to it - to lose myself in it, in fact. I felt that the story was washing over me, swirling around me, sometimes slowly, sometimes speeding up, pulling me down and then lettting me go, just like the river.

Modificato: Mar 15, 10:01am

Lake Like a Mirror by Ho Sok Fong
translated from the Chinese by Natascha Bruce
short stories

The first few stories in this collection took my breath away. They reminded me of Samantha Schweblin's Fever Dream in their depiction of women being pushed as far as they can go, the narrative coming and going, in and out of focus, feverish. I particularly liked the second, "Radio Drama", set in a hairdressing salon, the female customers hanging around and commenting on all and sundry in the manner of a Greek chorus. It's all so everyday, so beautifully observed...until it veers off into the surreal, and then comes back, only to swerve again, before coming back to the mundane. Odd little details come into focus, they way they do when you have a fever, only to drift off again.

The later stories I found harder going. Ho Sok Fong is Malaysian, and I think a Malaysian reader (or one familiar with Malaysian culture) would get out of them a lot more than I could. One of the stories, "Aminah" (this is where things started to get tough) is preceded by a note (presumably from the translator) to explain that "all ethnic Malays (...) must be Muslim. Applications to leave Islam are (...) rarely successful". I didn't know this, so without the note the story, about a woman interned for trying to leave Islam, would have been meaningless to me, and I suspect that there were many more, perhaps equally crucial, things that I missed. I've always enjoyed reading fiction that gives me a window on another world, another culture, that sends me off to look up the events/people/practices/places mentionned, and these stories certainly did that...but there was just too much that I didn't understand for me to enjoy them.

Mar 15, 10:05am

>46 rachbxl: I'm sorry to hear you've been in a reading slump. I'm glad the audiobook was a good one. Narrators can make all the difference, can't they?

Sorry that Lake Like a Mirror wasn't quite as easy. Short stories was a good idea for your reading slump, but too much research required with this particular collection.

What's next? Hopefully something that really grabs you.

Mar 15, 11:08am

>48 labfs39: Yes, I like short stories and I realised that I hadn't read any for a long time, so I thought they might do the trick (and they did, at first).

Another thing I've decided to change is that I think I need to read more physical rather than e-books. My kobo and library e-books were my salvation next year, but I think I've grown weary of the e-reader for now. As luck would have it, I had to take all the books off one of my TBR shelves recently (they are in piles on the floor, waiting to be moved to another, identical, set of shelves) and that threw up all sorts of interesting things which had been hiding in plain sight for ages. I'm halfway through The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu, a quiet, character-driven novel about language and identity which I'm very much enjoying.

Mar 15, 12:55pm

>49 rachbxl: As I unpack my boxes of books, some of which have been in storage for three years, I am finding many I want to read "next." Shifting books around is always good for inspiring new reads. The Lost and Forgotten Languages sounds very interesting. I popped over to its work page to read a synopsis. I'll look forward to your review.

Mar 21, 12:58pm

>46 rachbxl: - I'm sorry to read about your impending reading slump. I have been there and it's no fun. But is was interesting to read that DIane Setterfield's book worked its magic, both the book itself but also the audiobook-experience. I've tried audiobooks a few times, but like you, my mind wanders off or I fall asleep. But maybe I should take my time and immerse myself in an audiobook and embrace it as a whole new dimension. Your description has certainly made me think about audiobooks again.

>49 rachbxl: - I hear you on ebooks. Maybe the touchability of a book is more important than we realize. And maybe it was fate that made you go through your TBR-shelves :-). I'm also eager to read you review of The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai.

Modificato: Mar 26, 10:08am

Stopping by to catch up and say hello. Enjoyed the stories about reading to your daughter. Sorry about your slump, but also glad you found an audio book that worked. I’ve come across several books that I loved on audio that I might not even like in text. Narrator and their performance can add a lot.

>47 rachbxl: this was interesting to me. I’m very curious about Malaysia.

Mar 26, 11:09am

>34 rachbxl: I know this pain all to well. I’ve been struggling to finish off books I’m reading and enjoying because something I’ve been waiting on in my holds list has come up. Can’t seem to get that balance right. One book I was reading and quite enjoyed but didn’t finish is now on hold for 6 months!

Mar 26, 11:33am

>46 rachbxl: I hear you on the reading slump. It's not that I've stopped reading, but more that I'm struggling to find books that I'm really excited about starting. I must have several hundred books on my Amazon wish list that I've added over the years (many from CR threads), and when I went to buy some new books the other night practically nothing was floating my boat. I concluded I was thinking about it too much and just went for it with my selections.

Mar 26, 3:27pm

>47 rachbxl:

This caught my attention too... it's well known that apostasy is a huge no-no in Islam but I had no idea that to be ethnically Malay entails Muslim faith! I wonder how that happened--and how is it maintained? It would have to be legislated.

Mar 27, 10:01pm

I can't manage with audiobooks either. I get distracted. Reading is paradisaical for me; listening is boring.

Mar 30, 6:03am

>51 Trifolia: I'm glad I gave audiobooks another chance, because they've brought me real pleasure over the last few weeks; I'd never have thought it. Maybe they will end up working for you too. I do think fate had a hand in my reorganisation of the TBR shelves! So many gems that I didn't even see any more because I was so used to how they looked on the shelf.

>52 dchaikin: Hello to you too, Dan. Thanks for stopping by.

>53 stretch: That's exactly my problem! Trying to weigh up whether to push myself to finish a book it clearly isn't the right time for, whilst knowing that if I let it go half-read I might not get it back for months...

>54 AlisonY: Yes to the lack of excitement about starting books. That buzz as I stand in front of my TBR shelves or when I get a hold notification about a book I've been looking forward to reading is missing at the moment.

>55 LolaWalser: Exactly! The idea that all ethnic Malays are automatically Muslim stopped me in my tracks. I have kept wondering about it ever since.

>56 sallypursell: I'm getting there with audiobooks. I don't think listening will ever replace reading for me, but for the moment at least it's an alternative.

Modificato: Apr 5, 6:47am

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu

Shanghai businessman Li Jing and his professor father are enjoying tea in a local hotel when there is a massive explosion which sees them both seriously hurt. When Li Jing comes round, although he still understands Chinese, his ability to speak it has disappeared, leaving him able to speak only faltering English, which he had at one time spoken fluently thanks to a childhood spent in the USA before moving back to China with his father. Shorn of his ability to speak their common language, he is severed from his wife and their son, and the successful businessman, popular man-about-town, beloved husband and father, is reduced to an almost invisible shadow. What are we without language?

His doctors are at a loss, and an American neurologist is brought in to help. Speaking no Chinese and knowing nothing about Chinese culture, Rosalyn Neal is as lost in Shanghai as Ling Ji. Having been, several times, a new arrival in a strange country which makes no sense, I enjoyed Ruiyan Xu's gentle descriptions of Rosalyn's failure to understand her surroundings, and whilst I wouldn't say I liked her as a character, I sympathised with her. Perhaps inevitably, a bond is slowly forged between these two lost souls.

I enjoyed the story for its own sake, but as a linguist I also appreciated the meditation on the role of language in our identity (that's what originally made me buy the book several years ago), and on belonging, and what makes us belong somewhere. Ruiyan Xu was born in Shanghai and moved to the USA at the age of 10, so when it comes to speaking two languages and belonging in two places (or perhaps none at all), she knows her stuff.

Mar 30, 12:38pm

It’s so interesting how we all have different feelings about e-books vs paper vs audio. I’ve been reading mostly books on my kindle lately. I need reading glasses, and at night in bed, I can make the font bigger so that I don’t need the glasses. The kindle also makes reading very large books easier to hold. I have so many books on my shelves that I want to read, so I’ll need to wear those glasses once in awhile. I love audiobooks, but for me I think the type of book and the reader are important. There have been times where I’ve started an audiobook and had to switch to the paper because my mind started to wander. Right now, I can’t really define what type of book that might be.

Mar 30, 2:22pm

>58 rachbxl: Fantastic review of Lost and Forgotten Languages. I've been thinking about language development a lot lately, and your review has me thinking about the cultural context. I watch my niece, who just turned one, during the week and find it fascinating to watch her communication skills explode. Like with my daughter, I've been keeping a journal of new words etc. We sign with her a lot, so she is able to communicate much more than she would otherwise. Although she is mimicking sounds, especially animal sounds, and saying some words clearly enough to be understood, she expresses her desires through signs. It's interesting to think about how we are shaping her ability to communicate by which words and signs we teach her (for instance, "book" was her second word. I wonder why?). But she also chooses which words and signs she wants to use. If she's not interested in something, she doesn't bother learn it. Of course she is a product of her cultural environment, but I do think there is some interplay there.

Mar 30, 9:32pm

>60 labfs39: Fascinating post! Language Development is a big interest of mine, although I am just an interested amateur with a better-than-average (for an American, anyway) knowledge of language and languages.

Mar 31, 5:08am

>47 rachbxl: Good to know the Lake Like a Mirror is interesting; it's here on the shelves beside me awaiting my attention.

>49 rachbxl: Funny you should mention moving books around on shelves. I was doing that the other day and found myself re-intrigued by some of the books there.

I recently finished the last Olaf Olafsson novel, and will now sadly have to wait until he writes more. I had started this one, One Station Away, several times before, but this time was the charm. This one was about a neurologist and his relationship with three women: his comatose patient, his aloof pianist mother, and his somewhat mysterious girlfriend. It's about communication and connection. Another for your list.

Apr 6, 10:04am

>59 NanaCC: I've been trying to persuade my dad to use an e-reader for just that reason - he complains that he can't read much these days because he can't see small print (even with his glasses), but he won't have it!

>60 labfs39: Thanks, Lisa. Children's language acquisition is fascinating, isn't it? And what you say about us shaping their ability to communicate (and therefore their understanding of the world?) is something that I have found really interesting with my daughter, who is bilingual but who has quite different language skills in both languages (because she has been shaped differently...), whilst remaining a native speaker of both.

>62 avaland: I've been moving my books around again today, and it's thrown up another few I want to read RIGHT NOW! Perhaps that's the remedy for the next book slump? One Station Away looks good (of course).

Apr 6, 10:32am

Benediction by Kent Haruf

This is the third book in the Plainsong trilogy, but could equally well be read on its own. In fact, it's so long since I read Plainsong and Eventide that I don't remember many details - but I do remember Haruf's trademark quiet, restrained style, and the way he tells stories about real people, stories made up of little details which might seem insignificant but which all pile up to be the stuff life is made of. In Benediction we are back in the fictional town of Holt, on the Colorado plains, where Dad Lewis is dying of cancer, his family and neighbours around him, with one notable absence. His son isn't there, and this is one part of the unfinished business that occupies Dad Lewis's mind as he lies in bed. I have enjoyed all three books in the trilogy, but what I really liked about this last one was the dialogue; like the rest of it, it's sparing. These people don't waste their words and often appear prickly, though their sometimes awkward gestures suggest otherwise.

Modificato: Apr 6, 2:56pm

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
read aloud to my daughter

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit was a book which made a huge impression on me as a child. I never owned a copy, but I borrowed it regularly from the library. It's the (apparently only slightly) fictionalised account of Kerr's (Jewish) family's flight from their comfortable life in Berlin as the Nazis came to power, taking them first to Switzerland, then to Paris, and, as the book ends, to the UK (where Kerr was to spend the rest of her life). Kerr (perhaps better known for her children's picture books, including The Tiger that Came to Tea and the Mog books) explains in the epilogue that she wrote the book because so many people, including her own children, said, 'That must have been awful!' when they heard of her family's plight. It wasn't awful, she says; it was an adventure - but she pays tribute to her parents, who, she realises as an adult, were under huge strain, but who hid it from the children. (The pink rabbit of the title was a soft toy Anna, the girl in the book, had to leave behind, together with most of the family's belongings).

This was the first book I ever read which brought real external events to my attention, and that's been the same for my daughter. Reading it with her has given me a whole new appreciation for this wonderful book, and for how Kerr presents the 'adventure' side of things without ever minimising or shying away from the reason for it. There's nothing in here that a child (mine is 7) can't cope with, and you could just leave it there - but for us it's been an excellent starting point for further conversations.

Apr 6, 11:16am

The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware
Audiobook, read by Imogen Church

20-year old Hal is completely alone in the world following her beloved mother's death in a hit-and-run accident a couple of years previously. Her precarious job as a tarot card reader on Brighton pier doesn't make her enough money, and loan sharks are circling for repayments she can't afford. She is running out of options when a solicitor's letter arrives, informing her that her grandmother, Hester Westaway, has died, and inviting her to the funeral and to the house afterwards. A bit of sleuthing suggests that the house is rather large, so Mrs Westaway must have been wealthy. Hal knows full well there has been a mistake and that this isn't her grandmother, but she is desperate enough to decide to go along with it, in the hope that there might be some small inheritance to be had - even £1000 would get her out of her immediate problems. And so Hal spends her last cash on a train ticket to Cornwall...and the plot begins to thicken.

Apr 6, 12:18pm

The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
Read aloud to my daughter

Another childhood favourite of mine, which we read because after Pink Rabbit, my daughter asked if we could read more books ‘about the war’. This is the story of 4 Polish children who leave the rubble of Warsaw behind at the end of WW2 and set off on foot to find their parents, from whom they became separated when first their Polish father and then their Swiss mother were taken away by the Nazis. The parents had always told their children to head for Switzerland if they lost each other, so that’s what the children do. I’d say that this book shows its age now in a way that Pink Rabbit doesn’t, but what it does very well, and which I appreciated for the first time now as an adult, is portray the chaos that was Europe in the immediate aftermath of the war. But for that I probably wouldn’t have listed it here, but as it is, it’s led me directly on to further reading about that myself, so it deserves a place.

Apr 6, 1:27pm

Yes to Life, in Spite of Everything by Viktor E. Frankl
Translated from the German by
Audiobook, read by

The first book that The Silver Sword led me to. There’s no direct link, just that I was still thinking about Europe straight after the war when this caught my eye. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. Just a few months after being liberated from a concentration camp he gave a series of lectures in Vienna, of which this is the transcription, only recently translated into English. He looks at what gives meaning to life, but he points out that to ask ‘what is the meaning of life?’ is to misunderstand, for there are as many answers as there are people, and what’s more, each individual’s answer will change from moment to moment. He examines the idea that the only way to change things is for each individual to take responsibility for the changes they can bring about at their own level. He looks at resilience and reactions to extreme suffering and hardship, giving clear examples from his work as a psychiatrist, and he says that neither nihilism nor excessive optimism are the key.

I want to think that I haven’t finished with this book. One listen has only scratched the surface; it will bear listening to or reading again and again. It’s interesting and very thought-provoking, not always easy to listen to because of the subject matter (he talks about his experience in the camps where necessary to illustrate a point, but not just for the sake of it), but easy to follow and understand because it’s supremely lucid and well-argued, and much (most?) of what he says is still relevant today.

Apr 6, 1:32pm

Wonderful reviews. Pink Rabbit has been on my radar for a while. I hope to get a copy soon. Your review of The Death of Mrs Westaway leaves me hanging and wanting to know what happens next.

>67 rachbxl: I will be curious to see what you read about post-war Europe as a follow up to The Silver Sword. I've only picked up bits and pieces from the ends of war memoirs.

Apr 6, 1:34pm

>68 rachbxl: Ha! We posted at the same time, and you answered my question from above. I have Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning on my shelf. Your review of the lecture makes me think I should get it down.

Apr 6, 3:15pm

>69 labfs39:, >70 labfs39: I enjoyed Mrs Westaway, but I think I’d have enjoyed it even more if I’d read rather than listened to it. It’s a pretty gripping psychological thriller, and there were parts of it where had I been reading I’d have been turning the pages as fast as I could, and only slowing down again when the tension relaxed a bit - but as I was listening I didn’t get to choose.

Yes, I very much want to read Man’s Search for Meaning now!

The next book The Silver Sword led me on to, indirectly, is Hans Fallada’s Nightmare in Berlin, which I should finish this evening. I’ve been passing over it on my TBR shelf for several years, but this time it was exactly what I was after - Germany immediately after the war. I have found it much easier to read than I expected (for some reason I thought it would be quite heavy going). (I’m almost sure it was you and rebeccanyc that put Fallada on my radar in the first place).

Apr 6, 3:24pm

>64 rachbxl: I've got to get to this sooner rather than later. I left it too long to read book 2 in this trilogy from Haruf, and I'd forgotten just how wonderfully gentle his writing is.

Apr 6, 3:29pm

>71 rachbxl: Possibly, as we both liked Every Man Dies Alone very much. I should look for Nightmare in Berlin, I don't know why I haven't read any of Fallada's other books.

P.S. I miss rebeccanyc...

Apr 6, 3:38pm

>72 AlisonY: It is, isn’t it? Soothing. But not bland.

>73 labfs39: That’s it, you both liked Every Man Dies Alone, the UK title of which is Alone in Berlin. I was delighted to find Nightmare in Berlin in a second hand bookshop soon afterwards, because I thought it was Every Man Dies Alone, and I sort of relegated it the furthest reaches of my TBR shelves when I realised it wasn’t. Anyway, all’s well that ends well because iNightmare in Berlin was the book I wanted to read this week (and now I’ll look out for Alone in Berlin!)

PS Me too, but I love how often we still mention rebeccanyc in CR.

Modificato: Apr 6, 4:23pm

>74 rachbxl: I'm so sorry I never knew her here. She sounds like someone I would have liked.

Apr 6, 4:54pm

>75 lisapeet: She would have added to your TBR pile, that’s for sure ;-) How long have you been in Club Read? It feels like you’ve been here for ever!

Apr 6, 4:55pm

>76 rachbxl: That's a nice thing to say! I've only been here since sometime in 2018... spring, I think.

Apr 6, 7:16pm

>73 labfs39: What happened to rebeccanyc? May I ask?

Apr 6, 7:30pm

>78 sallypursell: Rebecca passed away in the summer of 2017. She was a wonderful person and a large presence here on Club Read and Reading Globally. I admired her greatly for her intellect, writing acumen, and generous personality. Her reviews shaped my reading for many years.

Apr 6, 9:23pm

>79 labfs39: Thanks so much for taking the trouble to answer. I feel the loss of not having known her, so I can barely imagine for those of you who did.

Apr 7, 2:56pm

>76 rachbxl: I still go back and read her threads and her comments when I am contemplating particular books.

Apr 7, 10:13pm

>81 SassyLassy: She would be happy to know that, I am sure.

Apr 8, 7:51am

>79 labfs39: I'm so glad to hear rebeccanyc's "name" still being mentioned. Such a loss.

>82 sallypursell: rebeccanyc / Sibyl was a very private person, but this is who she was away from LT: https://www.aaas.org/news/memoriam-philanthropist-sibyl-r-golden

She was one of the first LTers I connected with way back in 2006 (bookish INFJ introverts, a deadly combo) when LT first added "Talk". A few years later we met up when I was in NYC for Book Expo. She graciously took over both Club Read and Reading Globally from me after I created and ran the groups for a few years, she (and sassylassy) are likely responsible for their longevity of the groups (considering how many groups have come and gone since 2006). I think LT was a real lifeline for her in her last years. She died of ALS.

As Lisa notes, she has been much missed here.

Apr 12, 9:07am

Rebecca was my "book sister", as we shared similar interests in books, and one of my greatest influencers, as she exposed me to several authors from outside the United States who are now favorites of mine.

We met on a New Year's Day in NYC several years ago, when I visiting my parents in suburban Philadelphia, as Book Culture, a bookshop on W 112th St close to the campus of Columbia University, discounts everything in the store by 20 or 25% on the first day of the year. I remember leaving there with an obscene number of books (30? 40? 50+?), which she had to help me lug from there to a nearby French café. We had a lovely long conversation over lunch, and at that time she was seemingly in good health, with no evidence of the illness that would claim her life two or three years later; she must have had a particularly aggressive form of ALS.

Even though we only met once she was a great friend, and I still miss her dearly.

Apr 17, 5:53pm

>83 avaland: Thank you for the information, Lois. What a lovely person!

Apr 25, 7:58pm

Stopping by to say hello. I hope you had a nice weekend

Apr 27, 5:26am

>84 kidzdoc: Darryl, I love that. The image of the two of you staggering to the cafe with all your books is wonderful.

>86 labfs39: Hello to you too! I did have a nice weekend, thanks; hope you did too. The weather here is beautiful and spring-like at the moment, cold, but clear and sunny - it really lifts the spirits. I went to a local market on Saturday morning, and it was great to be surrounded by people for once. I bought a lot of plants to put in my window boxes - another lift to the spirits.

Apr 27, 5:42am

Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada
translated from the German by Allan Blunden

An autobiographical novel that starts on the day the war ends, with writer Dr Doll and his young wife taking refuge in a village in north-east Germany when the Russians invade. The erudite (but lost and broken after the war, during which he couldn't write freely, and persecuted by nightmares) Dr Doll is a misfit here - the perfect man to be appointed village mayor by the Russians, to promote further rifts and conflicts. Before long the couple return to Berlin, hoping to pick up their old life, but Berlin is in ruins and their old flat has been given to others. Unable to cope, Dr Doll and his wife descend into morphine addiction.

I've seen this novel described as the necessary pre-cursor to Alone in Berlin (which I haven't read, and which is the only other book Fallada wrote after the war, before his death in 1947). I found it quite disconcerting to read (not a criticism, just a fact) as it is nightmarish, increasingly so after the couple return to Berlin, and the subject matter isn't always easy to read about...but I was surprised by how in spite of this, it remains very accessible (the flashes of dark humour help).

Apr 27, 5:55am

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

An interesting take on the post-apocalyptic novel (for which I am a sucker) - it only covers a couple of days after SOMETHING happens, and we never find out what that something actually is. It's been a couple of weeks since I read it and I have already forgotten a lot of the detail, but I enjoyed it as I read it, which was what I needed from it.

A Brooklyn family arrive at their holiday rental villa on Long Island. Just as they are settling into their holiday selves, late at night there is a bang on the door...it's the older couple who own the house (or so they say), who were at a concert in New York when a massive power cut hit. Knowing they would be unable to get up to their apartment in the city without the lift, they decided to drive out to their villa, where they feel that they would be safer. But safer from what? What is going on? As I said, we never find out, which didn't bother me in terms of the storyline (that wasn't the point of the story), but did feel a bit contrived - the omniscient narrator keeps dropping in comments about the future ('she doesn't know at this point that she will never see her home again' kind of thing) so clearly DOES know...so why not say? I get that, as I said, this just isn't the point of the book, but it was the combinatio of the omniscient narrator and the deliberate not telling which didn't work for me. However, Rumaan Alam does a good job of building tension and keeping it high, and I was happy enough to suspend disbelief and enjoy this disturbing and gripping book.

Apr 27, 6:33am

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler

Wife, mother and pillar of local society Delia is the glue that holds everything together. She's vital to her family, to her doctor husband whose surgery she has managed unpaid since they married, to the neighbours, to the local community, who all rely on her so entirely that they no longer see her; she has become invisible. On holiday at the beach with her extended family, like every year (they always rent the same slightly rundown house; it's set back from the beach so cheaper), one day Delia goes for a walk down the beach. Without meaning to, she walks and walks, off the beach and out of her life, into a whole new life that she makes up as she goes along. Having hitched a lift inland, she gets out at random and sets up in a small town with nothing special about it. She doesn't mean to, but she rents a room and gets a job. She doesn't mean to, but she makes friends, and gets a better job. She doesn't mean to, but she ends up giving herself a second shot at things (though not in the most obvious way).

I've made no secret here of my admiration for Anne Tyler. What I like most is the way she takes everyday life and spins magic out of it. What I did find surprising here, though (I remember thinking the same about Rebecca, the protagonist of Back When We Were Grownups) is that Delia is supposed to be only 41, which doesn't square to my mind with how she is supposed to be past it and decrepit. She's a few years younger than me, but she sees herself, and people treat her, as an old woman. It was published in 1995 - maybe things have changed in the intervening 25 years, but I don't see myself as she sees herself.

Apr 27, 7:01am

Binny for Short by Hilary McKay
Read aloud to my daughter

Noting this here because it is quite simply one of the best children's books I've ever read, and one of those rare books that have appealed equally to my daughter and to me. I'd say that the target audience is a bit older than my daughter (and younger than me, obviously), but we both loved it. It was a joy to read aloud because of the dialogue (I didn't mention this to my daughter, but she said spontaneously, 'I love the way they talk to each other'), and because it's just glorious story-telling. We laughed a lot, but we also wiped away a tear or two. The setting is vivid, the characters are lifelike, and the situations they find themselves in are utterly believable. In this book there's death (of a parent, a grandparent), loss (of a dog), upheaval (the family has to move several times after the death of Binny's father), step-families (Binny's frenemy Gareth hates his stepmother), and a lot more - in short, there's life, packaged in a way which children can understand but which doesn't patronise. Fabulous.

Hilary McKay is new to me, but she's written numerous children's books (including two Binny sequels) and I'm quite sure we'll be reading more.

Apr 27, 7:21am

>88 rachbxl: Huh, I wonder why Nightmare in Berlin is seen as a precursor to Alone in Berlin? From you description it seems to have different characters and a very different plot/theme. Perhaps stylistically? I hope you don't give up on reading Alone in Berlin, although I would understand if you weren't in the mood for it. It's not a happy book, but it's courageous and heartfelt. No drugs involved.

Apr 28, 2:27am

>92 labfs39: Yes, sorry, I wasn’t clear. I meant stylistically (I think one review I read said something like ‘this is the book he had to write first in order to write Alone in Berlin later, whatever that means), not that Alone in Berlin is in any way a sequel to Nightmare in Berlin. I will definitely read Alone in Berlin because I actually really enjoyed reading Nightmare in Berlin, despite the discomfort.

Maggio 4, 6:32am

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

This started off well. I like the way Moriarty writes, I like her humour (gently amusing without being too try-hard), I like that she starts a book by talking about a menopausal woman (why aren't there more books featuring menopausal women?) Nine people (not perfect strangers all of them, as there is one family and one couple) turn up at a luxury health resort for a 10-day retreat which promises to leave them "transformed". On arrival they are required to surrender their phones and other devices, and their cars are parked they know not where. What if they want to leave? Their questions are met with puzzlement. Nobody will be leaving before the end of the 10 days; nobody ever does.

I expected some kind of modern Australian version of an Agatha Christie-style country house murder mystery, but that's not what I got. I really enjoyed the first half, setting the scene, letting us get to know the characters, but then it went off the rails. Masha, the owner of the resort and mastermind behind the transformation programme, also goes off the rails, and I found her behaviour incomprehensible. Even when her backstory came right at the end of the novel, there was nothing which explained why she would suddenly lose it, and why now. I found events totally beyond belief, so although I finished it I had lost interest by the end. A shame, because the beginning was so promising.

Maggio 4, 7:23am

Some interesting reading, as usual, Rachel! (including the childrens' book).

Maggio 4, 6:13pm

Coming by to catch up, Rachel, and I enjoyed your reading and reporting very much. Thanks for the report on Binny for Short, speaking as the grandmother of two granddaughters. What age would you say is ideal? Binny's age?

Maggio 6, 9:20am

>94 rachbxl: Your review is *exactly* what I thought of this book. Liane Moriarty was an automatic read for me before this but now ... well let's just say she has one strike.

Maggio 18, 3:53am

>96 sallypursell: Sally, my daughter is 7 and followed it without any problem, but to be on the safe side I'll say it's probably aimed at slightly older children (Binny is 11, I think). There are some subjects which some young children might find hard to deal with (Binny's father dies at the start of the book, for example, and the family have to move to a new house). There's also an episode where Binny and Gareth try smoking, which took me completely by surprise; I did my best to edit it out as I read, but actually I needn't have done, as Binny gets her come-uppance a few pages later and learns her lesson (in fact I thought it was so well done that I went back re-inserted the smoking bit as I thought it was a good thing for my daughter to hear in the end).

>97 rhian_of_oz: Right? She wasn't one of my favourite writers, but I would have happily picked up anything she'd written in anticipation of an enjoyable, well-written book - I'll be more wary now.

Maggio 18, 10:50am

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell
Audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson

It was Juliet Stevenson that attracted me to this (having enjoyed her reading of Once Upon a River so much I wanted to listen to other books read by her), and I'm very glad she did. This is the biography of Virginia Hall, a girl from an ordinary family in small-town America who became a key spy for the Allies in France in World War II. That makes it sound easy, though, and it was anything but. Right to the end Virginia had to battle against sexism, held back by the commonly held views of what little women were capable of doing, time and again seeing less competent men given assignments refused to her. How ironic, then, that it was also the very fact that she was a woman that allowed her to go undetected for so long, since the Germans shared the sexist views and assumed a man to be behind the acts of espionage and sabotage Virginia masterminded. Virginia was also helped here by the fact that she only had one leg (her whole story beggars belief) - who would ever suspect a woman, let alone a one-legged one? She lost her leg in a hunting accident in Turkey during an early posting to a lowly clerical job at the US Embassy, and where others would have given up, for Virginia it seems to have been a point of pride not to let it deter her. She must have been quite a character, tenacious, determined, single-minded...but, and I like how this comes across in the book, not fearless; she seems to have been too human for that, and she spent much of the war on a terrible cocktail of uppers and downers to try to get through. She was also, by all accounts, charming; striking because of her height as well as her looks, as well as very intelligent and a gifted linguist. You might think that all of this would add up to make a picture of someone who couldn't possibly go unnoticed, but she managed to work undercover in France for far longer than other agents. Like many others, after such an exciting war Virginia found it hard to settle back into everyday life and a desk job at the Pentagon - and how depressing to read that despite her achievements in France, she was to spend the rest of her career seeing all the opportunities go to her male colleagues.

Maggio 18, 11:26am

>99 rachbxl: I already had this on my wishlist, Rachel, but it would have wound up there after reading your review. Thank you for the reminder.

Maggio 19, 8:22pm

>99 rachbxl: Your review reminds me that I have been wanting to read about Virginia Hall. This sounds like the perfect book with which to do so. If you are in the mood for another wonderful book about a fascinating spy, I would highly recommend Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler.

Maggio 21, 4:53am

>100 NanaCC: Colleen, I'm confident that you'll enjoy it. What a woman. (Though of course what counts just as much here is the way her story is told by Sonia Purnell (and Juliet Stevenson, whom I could listen to all day)).

>101 labfs39: Thanks for that, Lisa. I've put a library hold on it. I find these stories fascinating.

Maggio 21, 6:24am

Whose Story is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters by Rebecca Solnit
Audiobook read by Kirsten Potter

A collection of essays about women (and men), immigrants and climate change which invites us to think about how the accepted version of just about any story (ie white, male) differs from what others involved (women, people of colour, for example) would tell. How is it that so often the voices of the real protagonists (or victims, depending on the situation) are silenced? For example, after so many women have spoken out in the #MeToo era about sexual abuse, how is it possible that some men (and women) still try to focus on how difficult life has become for men rather than calling for change so that yet more women don't have to live through this? Thoughtful, thought-provoking, lucid, even wryly humorous at times, but not angry. I feel (particularly) angry at the moment, but ideas which are calmly and rationally expressed are just what I appreciate right now, rather than more anger.

Modificato: Maggio 21, 6:45am

Women and Power: a Manifesto by Mary Beard
Audiobook read by the author

Gloriously inspiring stuff. I can't vouch for the exact content of this short book (the adaptation of 2 lectures given in 2014 and 2017 respectively) as I'm in a Mary Beard phase at the moment and have been listening to and reading various things in parallel; I'm no longer sure exactly what appears where, and in any case some of the material crops up in more than one place as she uses it to illustrate a particular point, now in a lecture, now in a podcast, now in a book, but no matter. This is another look at how women are silenced - but this is Mary Beard, so it's a look at how women were silenced in Ancient Greece and Rome (just look at what happened to the odd one who spoke out...), and how we are still silenced today, and a look at the different standards to which women and men have always been held, and how people react to any deviation from these standards (Beard herself has famously come in for appalling trolling which is often immediately personal; her male counterparts may find their ideas trashed, but they don't come in for the personal attacks she does).

I am a huge fan of Beard's, and in particular of her style. She is phenomenally intelligent, but she communicates her ideas as though we were sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of tea together.

Maggio 21, 6:07pm

>104 rachbxl:

I love Mary Beard too. I used to follow her blog on the TLS regularly (unfortunately I think that it's not free anymore) and noticed the trolling way back. It's disgraceful what women endure--even Oxford professors!

Maggio 22, 7:57am

>104 rachbxl: This was the first book my book club ever read together, a few years back. Such good stuff, and it sparked some really good discussion. I love Mary Beard.

Maggio 25, 12:23pm

>105 LolaWalser: Isn't it? A couple of years ago I read Sex Object: A Memoir by Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti. At the end, without warning, she includes pages and pages of offensive messages - just a small selection of what she has received. Some of them were eye-wateringly awful, but the one that has stuck in my mind was the page after page after page of 'f*** you f*** you f*** you'. I mean, why? Sure, it will have been copied and pasted and therefore less trouble than had it been all typed out, but still...WHY??? What a supreme waste of time.

>106 lisapeet: She is wonderful, isn't she? That must have been a great discussion, I can imagine.

Maggio 29, 8:22am

>99 rachbxl: I would listen to any book Juliet Stevenson is reading. I bought a huge CD collection of Middlemarch because she reads it.

>103 rachbxl: You remind me that I am behind on my Solnit reading (well, I am behind in all my reading)

>104 rachbxl: I loved that Mary Beard volume, gave it 5 stars. So much in such a small volume.

Maggio 29, 2:48pm

>107 rachbxl:

I think it's a symptom of our living in the circumstances of ubiquitous, generalised and normalised misogyny, while it's mostly a male behaviour because men are still socialised everywhere through antagonism and contrast to women. And a whole lot of men apparently feel diminished and threatened by the sight of any woman in public, all the more when she dares to voice opinions.

Giu 12, 4:19am

>104 rachbxl: I haven’t read anything by Mary Beard (although I do follow her on Twitter). I really must get around to it. We have several of her books around the house, so no excuse not to.

Lug 25, 5:36pm

I can’t believe I have only just found your thread for this year! I am not sure how I missed it. Today someone was telling me about a book whose main character is an interpreter in The Hague and it made me think of you and wonder if you were still active on LT. It is good to see that you are!

Too many interesting books in the thread to comment on, but I’m glad that you seem to be out of your reading slump lately. It’s also nice to hear that Five Children and It has lasted well. I loved it and other E Nesbit books when I was a child - in fact I have a photo of myself at E Nesbit’s gravestone (we didn’t make a special visit to the area, but stopped at the church when we realised the connection with her).

Ago 17, 9:14am

>111 wandering_star: Hello! Good to see you here. I'm afraid that saying that I'm 'active' on LT is a bit of an over-statement at the moment, but I'm hoping to correct that now. I've got a lot of catching up to do, both on my own thread and on everyone else's!

Ago 17, 2:20pm

>88 rachbxl: Thanks for that review. I, too, was very deeply affected by Every Man Dies Alone, but I'd never known about Nightmare in Berlin. I will make a point of seeking it out soon.

Ago 17, 3:27pm

>112 rachbxl: Nice to see you, Rachel!

Ago 18, 9:50am

>112 rachbxl: Wonderful that you have found your way back!! We have missed you.

Ago 18, 12:16pm

Good to see you back here!

Ago 19, 6:45am

>113 rocketjk: I can't say 'hope you enjoy it', but I do recommend it.

>114 labfs39:, >115 avaland:, >116 lisapeet: thanks! Now I just need to cobble together a list of what I've been reading these last months and I'll be flying again.

Ago 19, 7:23am

Here's what I can remember for now. Comments on some of them may follow...

Purge by Sofi Oksanen
When Women Ruled the World by Kara Cooney audiobook, non-fiction (interesting - about the role of queens and female regents in Ancient Egypt)
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (enjoyable psychological thriller, though not very memorable - I had to look it up just now to check if I'd actually read it)
The Lost Village by Camilla Sten (again, an enjoyable but not particularly memorable thriller about an attempt to make a documentary about an abandoned village - would make a good film)
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown audiobook, non-fiction
The Survivors by Jane Harper
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Mother May I by Joshlyn Jackson (yet another unmemorable thriller (I read thrillers when I'm tired), though this one wasn't even particularly enjoyable)
Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario (non-fiction)
Conviction by Denise Mina

Ago 19, 7:44am

Purge by Sofi Oksanen
translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers

I read When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen years ago, and liked it enough to make me want to read more by this Estonian/Finnish writer, but not enough to make me want to read more NOW...which is pretty much how I feel about Purge, too.

In 1992 an eldery woman who lives alone on the outskirts of a remote Estonian village finds a dishevelled, terrified young woman in her garden. She quashes her misgivings and takes in the younger woman, who turns out to be the granddaughter of her estranged sister. Both women are running away from, or at least avoiding, their past, and the enforced proximity makes them face up to things. The older woman was seen as a traitor by her fellow Estonians for marrying a Russian, one of the occupiers, whilst the younger is a victim of human trafficking, pushed into prostitution by her captors, who is on the run.

What I most enjoyed about this novel was the sense of Estonia - the wonderful descriptions of the countryside which chime with the way Estonian colleagues speak of their country, but also the presence of Estonia as an entity even when the Russians had tried to stop it being one. That comes across very strongly. I liked the dip into Estonian history (I've often said on my threads that I like books that send me off to look things up), and I thought that the older woman's story worked well with all of this as a backdrop. For me the younger woman's story didn't add much. Whilst I understand that it tied up some loose ends (what happened to the sister), I felt it added length to a book that didn't need it.

Ago 19, 8:02am

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
non-fiction, audiobook read by the author

Brené Brown is an academic, a researcher into shame, vulnerability and authenticity whose work I first came across a couple of years ago in the form of her TED talk. I've listened to a couple of podcasts and radio interviews of hers and read the odd article, but this was the first book I'd read. It won't be the last, as I find she talks a lot of sense. I like her no-nonsense yet sensitive and intelligent approach to the human condition.

I'm about to start a new job and found this book particularly inspiring with that in mind. It's written around a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt's "The Man in the Arena" speech, a quote I was already familiar with from Brown's work, and a quote that really speaks to me at the moment with my new job in mind:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."

Brown examines what it is to be "in the arena", what makes us pull back (shame), what makes us get back in there. She also looks at the difference between guilt ("I've done something bad"') and shame ("I am bad"). I have noticed since reading this that I am able to be gentler on myself by thinking about what she says, whilst also feeling more optimistic and enthusiastic about being "in the arena".

I think I may have made this sound like a self-help manual but it's not. It's years of academic research presented in an incredibly reader-friendly way (and read by Brown it's even better as she's a born communicator) which is fascinating and illuminating...and which may just help the reader understand themselves and others better.

Ago 19, 8:13am

That's an excellent quote! And one that should be remembered now more than ever in this age of social media.

Good luck with the new job!

Ago 19, 10:58am

>119 rachbxl: I read Purge quite a few years ago and didn't write a review, so my memory is sketchy, but I gave it four stars. What remains with me is the character of the old woman.

>120 rachbxl: I have been meaning to read something by Rene Brown for a while now, but I dislike self-help books. I'm glad to her she incorporates research, rather than platitudes. Someday!

Ago 20, 5:50am

>122 labfs39: I thought the old woman was a great character. Not wholly likeable, which I like. Even just a couple of months on, the younger woman has faded in my mind in comparison.

I share your dislike of self-help books! I think Brené Brown’s TED talk on ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ (sorry, can’t remember how to link) is as good a place to start as any and will give you an idea of whether you want to take it any further.

Ago 20, 5:53am

>121 wandering_star: Thanks! It’s been a few months since I first came across that quote and I keep coming back to it. I hadn’t thought about it in that context, but you’re so right about it being particularly relevant in the social media age.

Ago 20, 6:51am

The Survivors by Jane Harper

Jane Harper should be paid by the Australian Tourist Board; I can't be the only reader she's made want to visit every part of Australia she sets a book in, even when it's drought-stricken rural Australia (The Dry), the impenetrable rainforest in which one wrong turning can have fatal consequences (Force of Nature, or the lonely, arid outback in which a man can die of thirst when he strays from his car (The Lost Man). This time it's the turn of a small coastal town in Tasmania, the kind of place beloved of holidaying families, but where some treacherous rocks at the bottom of the cliffs have seen more than one tragedy...

As ever, Harper's love of her adopted country shines through, and her descriptions not just of landscapes but of the lives lived with those landscapes as a backdrop are gloriously vivid. And of course there's the plot, just as riveting as I've come to expect from Harper. This is ultimately a family drama, and I admire how Harper deals with it - it's quite low-key, not at all showy. It would have been easy to turn this story into a big messy melodrama, but instead it's tight, taut and understated.

Ago 20, 8:58am

>125 rachbxl: Agreed about how enticingly the Australian landscape (or seascape in this case) comes through in Harper's writing. I read this earlier in the summer and enjoyed it—good multilayered plot, a lot to hold your interest while the thriller part unwinds.

Ago 20, 9:41am

>125 rachbxl:, >126 lisapeet: I will happily host any CRers that want to visit my part of Australia!

Modificato: Ago 24, 9:02am

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings

Somehow I had managed not to hear of this book until a friend recommended it recently, so I was unaware of the controversy surrounding it and embarked upon it with no preconceptions. It's the story of Lydia, a Mexican woman who runs a bookshop in Acapulco, and her 8-year old son, forced to flee for their lives after her journalist husband and their entire extended family are assassinated by the drug cartel. Lydia and her son become migrants in their own country, joining the endless hoardes of Central Americans trying to cross Mexico and enter the USA, riding 'la bestia' (goods trains) and constantly at risk from robbery and violence from all quarters, even (especially?) the police and the immigration authorities, as well as those posing as officials, plus petty criminals, gangsters, cartel members, and so on.

I found the story gripping and tore through the first half. At some point, though, I started to have misgivings. I couldn't help thinking that this felt like an attempt at a tick-the-box Big Mexico Novel - what do we know about Mexico? Drug cartel, tick. Migrants, tick. Migrants riding on goods trains, tick. They speak Spanish, so better throw in a few Spanish expressions, tick. Violence. Tick. Migrants being attacked by authorities. Tick. And so on - take all of the above, mix well, and there you go. I want to say again that I found this novel compelling - I really did enjoy reading it - but I was glad I had my question-what-you-read sensors switched on, and that's what led me to investigate, which is how I discovered that this is quite a controversial novel. Much of the controversy centres on the fact that a white American has written a novel about a Latino experience (cultural appropriation). I've thought about this, and I don't think it bothers me per se; I think people can tell the stories they want to tell as long as they're not pushing others out our presenting their own version as somehow more true or real. For me, American Dirt did what good fiction does - it entertained me, it made me think about something I hadn't given much thought to before, and it made me go and find out about it (I appreciate that this is my personal reaction, whereas many other readers who have loved American Dirt may now think they know all about Mexico, Central American migration, the drug cartels, and more). And this is what led me to this next book:

Enrique's Journey: the Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother by Sonia Nazario

Sonia Nazario is an Argentinian-born US journalist who became interested in the phenomenon of Central American parents (mothers in particular, because it's more often mothers) who leave their children behind with family and go to the US illegally to find work. They invariably believe they will only be gone for a couple of years, after which they'll return with enough money to build a house/open a small business, etc., but it never works out like that. The mothers send money and extravagant gifts back (surely their child having those trainers justifies their absence?), and their children struggle along without them, their mothers reduced to a voice on the end of the phone now and then. This isn't rare; in some particularly poor areas, half the children in a given school will be living like this, and in many cases several female members of the same family will have gone. Nazario was aware that increasing numbers of children were deciding to go and find their mothers, undertaking the perilous journey north through Mexico, many of them riding on top of goods trains, and this was the story she wanted to tell. Enrique's Journey is the story of one boy's journey (journey in the broadest sense - unlike in American Dirt Enrique had to make multiple attempts; his first 7 or 8 tries all ended in him being sent back at some point), with his experience corroborated with material from hundreds of interviews Nazario carried out with other migrants, staff at immigration centres, community volunteers, priests, people who live near the train tracks, etc etc. This book is much more effective than American Dirt at conveying the horror of this journey, with its filth, its extreme temperatures, its lack of sufficient food and water, not to mention its beatings, random violence, robberies, rapes, its corrupt officials, its opportunistic criminals...and also more effective at conveying that there are kind people out there too, people who endanger themselves to throw food, water and warm clothes up to the migrants every time a goods train goes past, people who have turned helping others into their lifelong mission...and also more effective at conveying the stress of not knowing who falls into which category.

Ago 23, 4:10am

>127 rhian_of_oz: Wouldn't that be great?!

Ago 23, 8:19pm

>119 rachbxl: A nice revisit of Purge for me through your review, thanks :-)

>125 rachbxl: This reminds me that I miss the Aussies we had here on LT years ago before Facebook carried so many away. They introduced me to many new authors.

>128 rachbxl: Very interesting review of American Dirt. I haven't read it so I can add nothing to your comments, but I enjoyed the review.

Modificato: Ago 24, 10:08am

Expiation by Elizabeth von Arnim

My reading of Elizabeth von Arnim's books prior to this was limited to The Enchanted April (1922), which I read because of interest in Club Read and found quite charming. Delightful, even. I didn't seek out any of her other books, and I think the only one I'd heard of was Elizabeth and her German Garden (1898). I certainly hadn't heard of Expiation (1929) when my daughter's English teacher happened to mention it to me (we were talking about our own reading, not my 7-year old's), but she was so taken with it that I couldn't resist.

The novel opens with new widow Milly surrounded by her grieving in-laws, the Botts, as the men prepare to read her late husband's will. Everyone adores Milly - the perfect wife, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law...everything that a woman should be in the eyes of this appearances-are-everything society. A shame about that dreadful business when her flighty sister ran off with that Swiss hotelier in the early days of Milly's marriage, but the Botts have spent the intervening decades assiduously not talking about it, and now it's almost as if it never happened. Thank goodness Milly isn't like her sister. However, no sooner is the will read than Milly falls sharply from grace as the rest of the family try to guess just why Ernest left his wife only £1,000, why he left the rest of his fortune to a charity for 'fallen women' and just what he meant by the message, 'she will know why'. The ridiculous Botts fall over themselves to prevent even a whiff of scandal escaping from behind their well-maintained walls, driven entirely by the fear of what others will think and say, trying to silence their mother, an elderly lady who has seen it all before but whose kindness and voice of reason strike her children as proof of her madness.

This novel was a wonderful surprise to me. There were glimpses of the charm of The Enchanted April, but for the most part this is a much darker book, a satire about adultery and the prudish English middle classes...dark, yes, but also very funny in a dry, sly way. I found some of it delightfully farcical too - Milly's stock with the family going up and down like a yo-yo, the Botts all running after each other in one direction and then the other (do we like Milly now or do we not? It's hard to keep up). Von Arnim has a gift for wicked observations, and she pokes fun mercilessly at the Botts (and by extension at the English middle classes of the time). I highlighted endless passages just for the pleasure of going back and re-reading them.

Fortunately for me, the easiest way for me to get hold of Expiation was by buying von Arnim's complete works. Watch this space...

Ago 24, 12:52pm

>131 rachbxl: Today has been a busy day of catching book bullets - took another hit here. Sounds great.

Ago 25, 3:28pm

>131 rachbxl: Fortunately for me, the easiest way for me to get hold of Expiation was by buying von Arnim's complete works. Fortunate indeed!

>132 AlisonY: Persephone has recently put out a new edition of this (book 133): https://persephonebooks.co.uk/products/expiation?_pos=1&_sid=6c52d1ae7&_...

Ago 26, 7:44am

>133 SassyLassy: Thanks. Love Persephone editions.

Set 19, 8:42pm

I hope you are doing well, Rachel, and getting lots of interesting reading done.