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StellaB

StellaB

Joined August 2021

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Fateless by Imre Kertesz
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Can Animals Be Persons? by Mark Rowlands
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StellaB
Nora Webster | Colm Toibin
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Mehso-so

Nora has lost her husband and is slowly finding out who she is as a single person and mother. She‘s an interesting character, strong willed and with an avoidant personality but stuck in a village where everyone knows everyone else‘s business. I came to this after reading Brooklyn, which I loved and to which this book is loosely related. By comparison I found this a little disappointing, it‘s a much simpler story and Nora remains a bit of a mystery

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StellaB
Noonday: A Novel | Pat Barker
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Mehso-so

This is the 3rd book in a trilogy about 3 artists, now middle aged, living through WWII. There were some memorable scenes and wonderful dialogue. But throughout the whole trilogy I felt that the author knew the characters deeply, but I never did. In this 3rd book, their identifying features seem to have disappeared almost completely. But it‘s a powerful account of what it meant to live in London during the war, with a lot of historical detail.

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StellaB
Toby's Room | Pat Barker
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Pickpick

This is the second book in a trilogy following a group of young artists during the 1st half of the last century. This one covers the latter part of WWI and continues the themes started in Life Class, such as exploring different perceptions and experiences of the war. The central character Eleanor is working through a complex relationship with her brother. Some of the characters I found hard to like but they come across as real, complicated people.

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StellaB
Life Class | Pat Barker
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Pickpick

The story follows a group of young aspiring artists whose lives are impacted dramatically by WWI. The different characters experience the war very differently and this done very empathetically. I did feel a little detached from them and this wasn‘t helped by different actors reading the same character at different points in the audiobook. But overall the sense of the war as something no one chooses but that changes everyone‘s life stayed with me.

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StellaB
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Pickpick

I loved this! Three stories in which the main character tries hard to connect with someone but eventually fails - though not for lack of trying. The stories focus narrowly on his travels and travelling companions, revealing exactly what we need to know, never more. The storytelling is detached yet deeply emotional, it‘s fascinating how the author pulls this off. I can only recommend this.

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StellaB
Arctic Summer | Damon Galgut
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Pickpick

A very sensitive and empathetic portrayal of E.M. Forster. The main focus is his emotional life shaped by the men he loves and the underlying sadness caused by them. The novel follows his extended travels to India and Egypt, his open minded willingness to ‘only connect‘ and the slow taking shape of A Passage to India. I greatly enjoyed this, including the very British voice of Finlay Robertson who reads the audiobook.

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StellaB
April in Spain: A Novel | John Banville
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Pickpick

I didn‘t know this was part of a series but greatly enjoyed it and found it easy to read as a stand alone novel. A person who everyone thought had died years ago seems to suddenly reappear. The story progresses very slowly, and it‘s as much about the people and the scene setting as it is about the mystery. But I was in an it‘s-almost-holiday-time frame of mind, and the slowness and the Spanish beach setting were perfect for that.

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StellaB
The Crow Road | Iain Banks
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Pickpick

The story follows Prentice and his family as they deal with various deaths and other tragedies. I really appreciated the dialogues, which felt very natural, and also the humour and cleverness in the writing. At times I found the text a little indulgent, covering things in detail that were tangental at best, but overall very enjoyable.

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StellaB
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Pickpick

The first of many crime (and other) novels by this writer, all of which I‘ve greatly enjoyed over the years. Found this one on a friend‘s shelf, re-read it and loved it.

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StellaB
The Impostor | Damon Galgut
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Pickpick

I came to this having really enjoyed The Promise.
Adam has lost his job and while staying at his brother‘s remote holiday home meets an old school friend. From there begins a gripping story of mystery, crime and self-discovery. I loved the well-crafted storytelling, and the characters are complex but very credible. Perfectly read and performed by Humphrey Bower, who reads the audiobook.

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StellaB
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Mehso-so

Hill has interesting things to say about social mobility and about Russia. These two topics already make the book slightly disjointed. The middle section is about Donald Trump and his populist government, which again doesn‘t really fit with the rest. So unfortunately only a so-so from me. I enjoyed listening to her speaking so authoritatively on her areas of expertise, but too much of it concerned things that have already been written about a lot.

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StellaB
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Mehso-so

Mary, the mother of Jesus, looks back on the days of her son‘s rise to popularity and his death. The book is very short and feels underdeveloped, but Mary‘s memories, her scepticism and her take on her son‘s followers offer an interesting perspective. It can‘t be easy to decide how to tackle this subject, and the book is certainly thought provoking.

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StellaB
Crow Lake: A Novel | Mary Lawson
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Pickpick

A very human, empathetic story of four siblings who lose their parents early. Each has to make sacrifices and come to terms with a life that they‘d imagined very differently. The writing is always tinged with a degree of sadness, but the author is deeply interested in people, and I did not want to stop reading.

Cathythoughts Lovely review! I enjoyed this one too and I have others of hers I want to read. Time! 🙄😁 2mo
StellaB @Cathythoughts Thank you, yes she has such a lovely writer‘s voice hasn‘t she. 2mo
15 likes1 stack add2 comments
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StellaB
The Heron's Cry | Ann Cleeves
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Pickpick

A bit of light reading, enjoyable as always. I like how the author writes so empathetically about characters that are difficult and often have unlikeable traits.

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StellaB
Death in Her Hands | Ottessa Moshfegh
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Pickpick

This was my second book by the author after Eileen, and again I loved everything about it except the ending 🙂 Vesta finds a mysterious note while walking her dog. The note triggers her rich imagination as well as memories, emotions and questions about her identity. As the story unfolds the distinction between her mind space and ‘reality‘ become more blurred. The reader Anne Marie Lee beautifully captures the many facets of Vesta‘s personality.

BarbaraBB Such a good book 2mo
StellaB @BarbaraBB I agree, I loved it 🙂 2mo
9 likes2 comments
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StellaB
F | Daniel Kehlmann
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Pickpick

The story of three brothers who all live ‘fake‘ lives, where they profess things they don‘t believe in and deceive the world about who they are. The ways they get to this stage are all understandable, they just go a little further than most people perhaps would. I enjoyed this very much, also the sarcastic look at society and the clever way the story closes all its circles in the end.

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StellaB
Daheim: Roman | Judith Hermann
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Pickpick

A woman has left everything behind to move to a remote coastal area. The people she meets are complicated like her, and gradually she makes new connections and renews some old ones. I thought this was masterful, nothing was commonplace or banal. The audiobook is read by the author, who reads with a continuing rising tone, as if the whole text was one long sentence. This took some getting used to but was an interesting listening experience.

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StellaB
Brooklyn | Colm Toibin
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Pickpick

I thoroughly enjoyed this and found it moving and hard to put down. Eilis grows up in 1950ies Ireland but emigrates to the US when the opportunity arises. In a gentle, straightforward style the writer tells us of her love for her family, her growing maturity, and the difficult decisions she has to make. Much is shown and not told, which I appreciated. This was the second book I read by the author after The Magician, and I‘ll definitely read more.

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StellaB
Streulicht: Roman | Deniz Ohde
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Pickpick

This book received a lot of praise and won several awards in Germany a couple of years ago. It tells the coming of age story of the daughter of a Turkish-born immigrant mother and a German-born working class father. I found it very memorable and impressive for a first novel.

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StellaB
The Sign of the Four | Sir Arthur Doyle
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Pickpick

Great fun, perfectly read by Stephen Fry. I read Sherlock Holmes a lot as a young person, I‘m not as much in love now as I was then. But it‘s great comfort reading (and listening!).

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StellaB
The Man Without Qualities | Robert Musil, Sophie Wilkins, Burton Pike
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Pickpick

I made it! Just under 63 hours of funny, sarcastic and deeply intelligent philosophising about Europe at the turn of the last century, leading up to WWI. The ‘man without qualities‘, Ulrich, does not allow himself to take anything seriously and is therefore loved by all. Clearly this can‘t be reviewed in a few words, but certainly a book that deserves to be called a masterpiece.

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StellaB
Eileen: A Novel | Ottessa Moshfegh
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Pickpick

Eileen is a unique character, likeable and unlikeable at the same time. She lives with her alcoholic father and is waiting for her life to begin. The story has a very narrow focus, a few days in Eileen‘s life leading up to a climax (which I found less interesting than everything leading up to it). I loved her and her story and read this almost in one go.

19 likes1 stack add
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StellaB
China Room | Sunjeev Sahota
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Mehso-so

A story told across several generations, focusing on Mehar, married off as a 15 year old to a man she doesn‘t know - and continues not to know for a good while; and a young man who grew up in the UK but returns to India to recover from drug addiction. I enjoyed the writing style, but the characters never grew on me.

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StellaB
The Lacuna | Barbara Kingsolver
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Pickpick

The story of a man who grows up in Mexico as a very lonely boy, then finds himself working for artists and revolutionaries, and finally becomes a celebrated and controversial writer in the US. Set in the first half of the last century, it‘s very political, and BK is outspoken as always. At times I would have wished more focus on the people and less on the politics, but as a whole it‘s a masterful book that will stay with me for a long time.

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StellaB
The Promise | Damon Galgut
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Pickpick

My favourite book so far this year. It tells the story of a family and a country, South Africa, at a time of change. The writing is individual and insightful, and I could easily have spent more time with the characters. Not surprised it‘s received so much praise.

14 likes1 stack add
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StellaB
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Mehso-so

A biographer is given 148 diaries that were dumped after a house move. I loved the premise of the book, a biography of a complete stranger; and I loved the diarist and their writing very much. But I would have preferred to read more from the actual diaries and less about the biographer‘s own journey in working on them, and also less of his opinions about the diarist. I certainly had a much more positive appreciation of their life than he did.

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StellaB
The Sweetness of Water | Nathan Harris
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Pickpick

A post civil war novel about the struggles of people recently freed from slavery, but also about white Americans with different loves and priorities from the majority. I found this lyrical and insightful, very impressive for a first novel. Some parts of the story are a little idealistic, inspiring a belief that a fairer society is possible, but also not quite believable. But the narrative is beautifully constructed and really drew me in.

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StellaB
Murder at Mallowan Hall | Colleen Cambridge
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Pickpick

An easy going old fashioned detective story, set in the home of Agatha Christie. Her housekeeper Phyllida Bright solves the murder mystery while running the magnificent Mallowan Hall with charming efficiency. We listened to this while driving on holiday, and it was perfect for that.

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StellaB
Murder Most Unladylike | Robin Stevens
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Pickpick

My lovely young neighbour lent me this book, and I found it very enjoyable. A murder mystery in a girls‘ boarding school, so almost all important people (good and bad) are women, and many life lessons have been learned by the end 🙂

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StellaB
The Baby-Snatcher | Ann Cleeves
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Pickpick

I like these early crime novels by Ann Cleeves, this one is from the Inspector Ramsay series. They are shorter and more concise than her later books. And in this one, the solution arrives (almost) naturally, which is great. Often, when her stories approach the revelation of the murderer, she suddenly withholds the detectives‘ knowledge from the reader despite having shared it fully before, which I find a little clumsy. Not here, which was a joy.

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StellaB
Thursday Murder Club | Richard Osman
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Pickpick

A murder mystery set in a lovely retirement community. I really enjoyed this, glad I finally got to read it.

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StellaB
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Mehso-so

A psychiatrist writes about her work with violent offenders. The book consists of 11 case studies that are based on real people‘s lives. The writer advocates through all of them a ‘radical empathy‘ for even the most violent criminals. The writing is very detached, and the empathy is presented as an intellectual rather than emotional process, which is probably appropriate. I didn‘t really warm to the book, but it‘s quite informative.

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StellaB
The Magician | Colm Toibin
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Pickpick

A biographical novel about the life of Thomas Mann. I appreciated the close examination of how different family members respond to their country turning to fascism and war. The characters are all very detached, from each other and from the reader, so I‘m not sure I really cared much about any of them. But it‘s an insightful and enlightening read nevertheless.

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StellaB
To Paradise | Hanya Yanagihara
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Pickpick

This writer really knows how to do ‘vulnerable‘. Three stories that cleverly echo one another, all with main characters that have zero agency. As in ‘A Little Life‘ the writing is full of compassion for human suffering and weakness, but unlike Jude these characters are completely dependent on others. I enjoyed the imagined past and future worlds, which are written as an intelligent commentary on our present.

AnneCecilie Love your review. I‘m almost finished reading and this sums up my feelings too. 5mo
StellaB @AnneCecilie Thank you, looking forward to your review. Overall I‘m glad I‘ve read this, all 700+ pages of it… (edited) 5mo
16 likes2 comments
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StellaB
Vernichten: Roman | Michel Houellebecq
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Pickpick

A civil servant who works for the French government during an election campaign rebuilds relationships with his family as his father falls ill. The book combines some of the things this writer is known for, such as his acid tongue, interest in French politics and very masculine view of the world, with some softer notes about intimacy and relationships. No English translation yet, the French original is called ‘Anéantir‘.

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StellaB
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Pickpick

The book follows 3 generations across 3 countries (Burma/Myanmar, India, Malaya/Malaysia) during the 1880ies-1990ies. I learned a lot about Indian and Burmese experiences of colonialism. The characters grew on me, but while they have their highs and lows they are mostly either born or self-made well off. I would have loved to hear from the exploited Indian workers who are always in the background of the story but who don‘t have a voice in the book

13 likes1 stack add
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StellaB
His Only Wife | Peace Adzo Medie
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Mehso-so

A young Ghanaian woman‘s journey to self love and independence. This read a little like a young adult novel and reminded me of The Girl with the Louding Voice‘. Sort of charmingly child-like and a bit of a fairy tale. I personally prefer more nuanced books, so only a so-so from me.

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StellaB
Hidden Depths | Ann Cleeves
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Pickpick

Another entertaining Vera novel. As so often with these I don‘t find the solution at the end particularly convincing, but Vera is an interesting creation. Definitely one of my favourite detectives.

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StellaB
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Pickpick

The story of the days before and after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, told through the life of a Jewish solicitor. He believes himself safe in his Austrian identity until it‘s too late. The prose is original and insightful, I read many sentences more than once, they were so full of imagery and meaning.

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StellaB
Books of Jacob | Olga Tokarczuk
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Bailedbailed

This is a truly great book, describing a Jewish community and religious movement in Poland in the 18th century. But I have to admit the vast number of characters and the prospect of over 1000 pages (ebook version) defeated me. I‘d like to return to this at a quieter time of year.

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StellaB
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Pickpick

At age 73 Edgar Selge (a well known German actor) looks back at his early life growing up with parents who had put their faith in Hitler and had to come to terms with reality after the war. He writes about his complex relationship with his violent father and his deep wish to respect him. I found this very moving, an incredibly honest book.

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StellaB
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Pickpick

Last in series and you can tell some extra effort has gone into it. For example, the way the killer is revealed is more coherent than in some of her other novels, where there‘s often an abrupt change towards the end in what the reader is given access to. Not my favourite series but a very pleasant read.

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StellaB
West: A Novel | Carys Davies
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Pickpick

This is a beautifully crafted short novel about a man who has lost his wife and, after reading about the discovery of some unknown animal bones, leaves his young daughter in the hands of his sister to search for these mysterious animals. The writing is very sophisticated, with a great feel for what needs to be told in detail and what can be left to the reader‘s imagination. Highly recommended!

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StellaB
The Silence: A Novel | Don DeLillo
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Panpan

This received rave reviews, but I found it really disappointing. It‘s a very stylised story of a global crisis where all phones and computers stop functioning. 5 people are stuck in an apartment together while this is happening. The dialogue reminds me of a contemporary theatre play, and in a way it‘s easiest to read the book in that way. But I can‘t say that I enjoyed it.

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StellaB
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Pickpick

No cover image because my dog destroyed the sleeve, so I had to pay a library fine but got to keep the book 😳😀I was tempted to give up on it initially, because it‘s written in that tough masculine thriller style that I don‘t normally go for. But the story about a father who loses his son to drugs and the Native American theme that is there without being in the forefront were worth sticking with, and towards the end it became a real page turner.

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StellaB
The Most Precious of Cargoes | Jean-Claude Grumberg
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Pickpick

The imagined tale of a Jewish child‘s escape from a train on its way to a concentration camp. The short, beautiful story tries to grapple with the horror of the holocaust through the simplicity of a fairy tale.

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StellaB
Great Circle | Maggie Shipstead
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Pickpick

I can see how this is wonderful storytelling. I personally didn‘t really connect with the main characters and so became less and less interested in their stories. But the different story strands are very convincing, and beautifully human.

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StellaB
Crossroads: A Novel | Jonathan Franzen
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Pickpick

Probably my favourite author, and I was really looking forward to his latest book. I found myself wondering, once again, how it‘s possible that a single writer can portray so many human experiences, emotions and thought processes, and so realistically.
One side effect of getting to know the characters‘ weaknesses and vulnerabilities so very well is that they become a little difficult to like 🙂 But overall this is an incredible achievement.

Brimful I got this one for Christmas- looking forward to it 7mo
StellaB @Brimful Enjoy! 7mo
15 likes2 comments
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StellaB
Oh William!: A Novel | Elizabeth Strout
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Pickpick

I love Elizabeth Strout, and this is another wonderful, if rather short book. I didn‘t always find Lucy‘s voice as convincing as in My Name is Lucy Barton, but the storytelling is once again beautifully nuanced. I really like how the characters‘ internal workings are rarely spelled out, which leaves much for the reader to discover for themselves.

Brimful Great review 7mo
18 likes1 comment
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StellaB
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Mehso-so

I love Vera, the detective of this series, because she is such an original character. She is the complete opposite of any feminine stereotype, and in the other novels I‘ve read she is a very rounded human being. Here I felt she disliked everyone around her, which gave the book a cantankerous tone at times. It‘s also even more drawn out than usual. So only a ‘so-so‘ from me for this one.