AuntMarge64's Arm Chair Travels - Europe

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AuntMarge64's Arm Chair Travels - Europe

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2auntmarge64
Editado: Jul 10, 2012, 8:09pm

Albania

Andorra

Armenia

Austria
F: Chess Story by Stefan Zweig **** 4/16/10

Azerbaijan

Belarus

Belgium

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bulgaria

Croatia

Cyprus

Czech Republic

Denmark
NF: Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment by Phil Zuckerman **** 1/11/10

England
F: By John Wyndham, whose books I am working my way through: Seeds of Time ****, Chocky ***½, Consider Her Ways ***½, Trouble with Lichen ***, The Midwich Cuckoos **** (read since 09/09)
F: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins ***** 2/23/10
NF: Facing Unpleasant Facts by George Orwell **** 2/4/10
F: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths **** 7/7/10
F: The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths **** 7/17/10
F: Time Among the Dead by Thomas Rayfiel **** 7/23/10
F: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins ***½ 9/2/10

Estonia

Finland
F: Snow Angels by James Thompson ***** 2/7/10
F: The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna ***½ 7/10/12

France
NF: Historia Calamitatum by Peter Abelard ****½ 3/5/09
F: Women in the Wall by Julia O'Faolain **** 5/5/10

3auntmarge64
Editado: Feb 17, 2012, 9:15am

Georgia

Germany
F: Eifelheim by Michael Flynn ***** 1/17/12
F: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak ***** 2/16/12

Greece
NF: The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories by herodotus:Herodotus ***** 7/20/10
NF: The Landmark Thucydides by Thucydides ***** 8/21/11
F: Prey on Patmos by Jeffrey Siger *** 8/19/10

Greenland

Hungary
F: Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten ****½ 7/16/10

Iceland
F: The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason **** 3/24/10
F: Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indriðason *** 9/18/10
F: From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón *** 12/23/11

Ireland
F: Haunted Ground by Erin Hart **** 7/4/11
F: Lae of Sorrows by Erin Hart **** 9/26/11

Italy
F: City of Fear by David Hewson ***** 6/7/10
F: Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon **** 9/11/11
F: Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon *** 1/6/12

Kazakhstan

Latvia

Liechtenstein

Lithuania

Luxembourg

Macedonia

Malta
F: The Information Officer by Mark Mills **** 5/30/10

Moldova

Monaco

Montenegro

4auntmarge64
Editado: Ene 17, 2012, 5:49pm

Netherlands

Northern Ireland

Norway

Poland
NF: A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos by Dava Sobel *** 1/9/12

Portugal

Romania

Russia
F: Child 44 Tom Rob Smith ***** 5/13/09
F: The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith ****½ 5/22/09
F: Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland ***½ 3/18/10
F: The Holy Thief by William Ryan ****½ 12/17/10
F: A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois ***** 12/18/11

San Marino

Scotland
F: When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson **** 12/23/09
F: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson **** 1/7/10

Serbia

Slovakia

Slovenia

Spain

Sweden
F: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ****½ 3/15/10
F: The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson **** 3/30/10
F: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson ***** 4/4/10

Switzerland

Turkey

Ukraine

Vatican City

Wales
F: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs ***** 6/21/11

5auntmarge64
Editado: Ene 26, 2010, 9:40am

I'm including the following possibilities in a separate post in case I run across something, but I'm not going to consider them part of the challenge proper for the moment.

De facto independent areas and semi-autonomous regions:

Abkhazia (Georgia)
Akrotiri and Dhekelia
Aland (Finland)
Chechnya
Faroe Islands (Denmark)
Gibraltar (UK)
Guernsey (UK)
Isle of Man (UK)
Jersey (UK)
Kosovo
Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan)
Northern Cyprus
South Ossetia (Georgia)
Svalbard & Jan Mayen Islands (Norway)
Transnistria (Moldova)

6GingerbreadMan
Ene 28, 2010, 4:55pm

Welcome aboard! We're a small but sturdy bunch here, stubbornly moving towards a very distant completion...

7auntmarge64
Editado: Feb 4, 2010, 8:26pm

ENGLAND

Facing Unpleasant Facts by George Orwell **** 2/4/10

This is a collection of Orwell's narrative essays about his experiences in the 1920s-1940s. Several concern remote locations such as Burma, but the greater part is taken up with his thoughts on various areas of British politics and life, especially the home front during WWII.

Orwell must have been quite an interesting individual to know. He traveled as a tramp and managed to have himself arrested briefly, both in order to write about the experiences. His wartime journal, here covering part of 1940, is full of man-on-the-street observations of life under the threat of Nazi invasion. The most interesting to me was a lengthy memoir of his time at a boarding school. His observations on how children see the adults in charge of them were priceless. Orwell also fought in the Spanish Civil War and served as a colonial policeman in Burma, and he describes, among other events: shooting an elephant because of pressure from townsfolk, the hanging of a prisoner, life as a soldier in the trenches, his treatment as an indigent patient in a French hospital. Fascinating in parts, fairly dull in others, as when he ponders the various political forces in England and Europe during the time period. Many of the essays were published in small socialist presses of the time and express views which now seem overly optimistic in their hope for societal change.

8auntmarge64
Editado: Mar 16, 2010, 12:22pm

FINLAND

Snow Angels by James Thompson ***** 2/7/10

In northern Finland above the Arctic Circle, the snowfields of a rural reindeer farm are the scene of a gruesome murder. The victim is a minor celebrity, a gorgeous Somali immigrant film actress. The chief of the small local police force could bring in the national police but instead keeps the case and works with his Christmas-holiday depleted staff while balancing life with his newly-pregnant American wife, his dysfunctional birth family, and, for that matter, his completely dysfunctional town: it's Kaamos, the pre-Christmas polar night, when there is darkness 24 hours a day.

While there are many suspects and more bodies to come, overhanging all is the character of a land where people are often driven to drink, violence or suicide by the lack of light. It pervades the book and is an extraordinary addition to the ambiance. I found myself depressed just reading and imaging the characters' lives, thinking about how humans came to live in such a place over the eons while slowly moving outwards from the warmer areas of the world. Along with a gripping mystery which kept me glued to the pages, the ever-present darkness of the landscape pushed me to finish and get my mind into the sunlight again, even though I was reading in a sunlit room myself.

The author is an American who has lived in Finland for the last decade, but while there is an American flavor to plot, the culture and lifestyle of Finland is a strong presence. I'll certainly be looking for a sequel, but maybe I'll read the next one in the summer. Highly recommended.

9sjmccreary
Feb 15, 2010, 3:28pm

#8 I already had Snow Angels listed to read someday for Finland. I can see why reading it in summertime might be a good idea! Thanks for the recommendation.

10auntmarge64
Editado: Mar 16, 2010, 12:22pm

SWEDEN



The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ****½ 3/15/10

This was a totally unexpected pleasure. I'd started it 2 or 3 times, reading the sample from Amazon on my Kindle, and each time I decided I really, really wasn't interested in a disgraced financial journalist/publisher and his woes. But LT readers kept posting rave reviews, so I finally bit the bullet, downloaded the entire book, and started it in earnest. It was wonderful.

It quickly becomes clear that the journalist, Mikael, is probably not guilty, but he still has to face several months in prison and a stiff fine. He resigns from his magazine, and while awaiting the beginning of his sentence he reluctantly takes a private job investigating the decades-old disappearance of a wealthy industrialist's niece. His investigation leads to much darker crimes. Meanwhile Mikael meets an investigator who has done a private report on his own life for his new employer, and she is one of the most interesting characters in recent fiction: technically an adult ward of the state, she is also an extremely antisocial techno wizard who leads two lives and turns her attention on both what Mikael is working on and the court case in which he found himself in trouble. It gets quite complicated, with each storyline both interconnecting and dividing out into further mysteries. It's easy to see why it took 600 pages to tell the story. I can't wait till I can start on the next.

I don't know much about prisons, although certainly my views have been colored by what I've read about or seen described on TV about the huge, violence-plagued prisons in the U.S. I was therefore struck by the description of Mikael's time in the low-security goal to which he finally goes: He never did quite understand the technical reasons behind his release, but it may have had something to do with the fact that he did not use any holiday leave and the the prison population was forty-two while the number of beds was thirty-one....The daily routines reminded him of living in a youth hostel. Holiday leave? Youth hostel? Population forty-two???

Larsson was a Swedish journalist whose life was repeatedly threatened and who died of a massive heart attack at age 50 in 2004. This book was meant to be the first of 10, but only three were finished and sent to the publisher before he died. He is sadly missed by legions of fans.

11GingerbreadMan
Mar 16, 2010, 5:14pm

Oh, we do have our high security bunker prisons in Sweden too. Hard places I'm sure, but nothing on the scale of what you have in America, in size nor attitude.

12auntmarge64
Mar 16, 2010, 5:55pm

>11 GingerbreadMan: Yup, we've got 'tude, that's for sure :)

What is the attitude there about Larsson's death? Do people generally think it was of natural causes? (I've been reading Wikipedia.)

13GingerbreadMan
Mar 17, 2010, 3:41am

12 No debate if the death was of natural causes here. In fact, the Wikipedia article is the first place I see even a hint of suspicion that it would have been murder. Seems a bit speculative to me.

If nothing else, the Scandinavian extreme right, who were responsible for threatening Larsson (Expo magazine was dealing specifically with mapping racist and nazi movements) aren't exactly knows for subtelty, and faking death by heart attack seems a little beyond them.

14auntmarge64
Mar 17, 2010, 10:43am

>13 GingerbreadMan: I figured, but a massive heart attack at 50 + threats + Wikipedia made me pause. A sad story, in any case. Thanks for the followup.

15GingerbreadMan
Mar 17, 2010, 1:29pm

I agree. To me, the saddest thing seems to be the lagacy thing. With no legal will, Larsson's brother and father, with whom he seemed to have had very little contact are now owning the rights to the books, milking them for all they can. While his life companion didn't even get to keep the flat where they had lived for 20 something years, becuase they weren't married.

Enjoy the other two books! I liked the first part best myself, but they are all seeeeerious page turners.

16auntmarge64
Mar 19, 2010, 3:32pm

RUSSIA



Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland ***½ 3/18/10

This story has the makings of a terrific thriller and historical novel, but there are some unfortunate problems with it. It's exciting, and the mystery lasts up to the end, but ....

As the Tsar's most trusted confidant, detective Pekkala was raised far above his roots as a rural undertaker's son and apprentice. The fall of the Tsar sent Pekkala to the gulag, where, at the start of the story, he has labored in the forest for 12 years in a job expected to have killed him long ago by a combination of starvation, loneliness and exposure. Now Stalin has decided he wants to use his particular skills and has had him recovered and put on an assignment. This far I could suspend disbelief for the sake of a good tale.

The problems start right at the beginning, where Pekkala is described as having strong white teeth. This phrase is used at least twice more, and such repetitive phrases stand out badly. But there is an additional problem with describing Pekkala this way: as a middle-aged man who grew up a semi-peasant and spent years in the gulag, he would be lucky to have any teeth at all. It's an unnecessary dissonance at the very start of the story, setting him up, I presume, to be more romantically appealing during the series. (I've written the editor about this, so perhaps the publisher will see fit to remove the description before publication.) Then, after all these years in solitude, he burns down the rude cabin he had made for himself without a thought that he might be sent back (which is made clear to him in the beginning), is thrust into a Soviet civilian reality in which he has no experience, and flawlessly picks up his detective work as though he had left it days earlier. It's just too smooth. There is practically no attention paid to the difficulties of resuming a normal life, and the entire book takes place over only a few days, during which he takes charge, solves the puzzle, and is taken before Stalin who, as luck would have it, was also the interrogator during his torture. (I'm not giving much away in the way of plot - the author description states the next book in the Pekkala series is already in the works.) There is little depth in the characterization, and even Stalin doesn't raise much of a specter of fear.

So basically, this is a decent suspense novel without the depth and care that made Child 44 so special. In the latter book, there is meaningful attention paid to the main character's flaws and his struggles with his actions (which are morally equivalent to Pekkala's) and his thoughts on Stalin and what has happened to his country. I had hoped for something of that sort here, but instead this is but a fun read for a long winter's night. Entertaining, but don't over estimate what you're getting.

17auntmarge64
Editado: Mar 24, 2010, 10:59pm

ICELAND



The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason **** 3/24/10

In an Icelandic lake which is draining out via recently-opened fissures, a decades-old body is found, head bashed in and weighted down with Soviet-made spy equipment. Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson and his team investigate the case, which leads them to a story of Cold War espionage and a group of socialist Icelandic students drawn to study behind the Iron Curtain. The tale is told from two points of view: that of the present-day Inspector as he investigates disappearances from the late 1960s, and that of one of the students, who recalls his disastrous experiences in a 1950s Leipzig under constant interactive surveillance (being spied on by one's friends and family, and being expected to do the same).

I find mid-century Communism and espionage depressing and rather dull to read about, but the mystery here is intriguing, and after a while I couldn't put the book down. Overall the translation is good, even idiomatic, although there were a few terms which didn't make the transition to American English very well (I read the U.S. edition).

I'll be watching for more of this series, for both the mystery and the insights into life in Iceland.

18auntmarge64
Editado: Abr 4, 2010, 8:56am

SWEDEN



The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson **** 3/30/10

Second in the Millennium Trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson, again starring Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. The action and story are excellent, but there was too much talking and explaining in this one. Had an editor taken out a quarter of it, it would have been an airtight thriller.

19auntmarge64
Abr 4, 2010, 8:55am

SWEDEN



The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larrson ***** 4/4/10

A superb ending to the Millennium Trilogy, a suspense series involving a Swedish investigative journalist (of "Millennium" magazine) with an extremely troubled computer genius whose past and present weave a tale of a secret government agency so devoted to protecting a vicious spy that it will go to any length (including murder and illegal imprisonment of a child) to guard the secret of his existence. This book is an extension of book 2, and they must be read together. Book 1 is also an excellent suspense read and introduces the characters, and I strongly recommend that the reader take the three in order.

20auntmarge64
Editado: Abr 16, 2010, 4:16pm

AUSTRIA



Chess Story by Stefan Zweig **** 4/16/10

I think this one is going to take a bit to settle before I have much of a comment to make.

The novella, a story within a story, is about a chess match aboard a ship around the time of the beginning of World War II. The author, who killed himself shortly after mailing this off to his publisher in 1942, was convinced that the Enlightenment was at an end, and he apparently couldn't live in the new world he saw. The two protagonists here, a lumpish, almost idiot savant, chess champion who has no imagination, faces off against a man recently released from a prison where he was kept in isolation and sensory deprivation and maintained his sanity, at least for a while, by imagining chess games and playing against himself in his mind. A third party learns both back stories and is present for the game, and he relates how it unfolds.

21auntmarge64
Editado: mayo 5, 2010, 4:43pm

FRANCE



Women in the Wall by Julia O'Faolain **** 5/5/10

This is an incredibly depressing book. It takes place in 6th century Gaul (France) and is based on historical characters. The story centers on two women of royal birth, one forced to marry the Frankish king who killed her family, and the other a younger woman given to her as a child for her to raise. Together they found a convent, at which most of the story takes place.

Life in a 6th century convent was brutal, although probably not as brutal as outside the "walls". Here, the world intrudes infrequently, but when it does it usually brings disruption, chaos, or death. The most disturbing part of the story is told in first person by a nun who has chosen to become an anchoress, a nun literally shut up between walls in the convent. No human contact, no light but the slit through which food and water are silently passed, no hygiene, or medical care, or even "facilities". In this case, the cell she occupies is too small to allow her to lie down. Being an anchoress was a life commitment. The practice was allowed because the presence of an anchoress brought renown to the convent and, it was thought, good fortune. Not to the poor soul immured in the wall, of course. Here, as she slowly goes insane, she tries to remember to offer up her suffering to God.

Actually, a lot of the book is concerned with the characters excusing suffering by offering it up to God while their civilization is disintegrating, and as fear and uncertainty breed superstition to explain the world to a people needing something, anything, to get through their lives. Signs and portents were seen everywhere, as guides to decision making, proof of guilt or innocence, and explanations for why things happened. The violence and the excuses for it are appalling. But as horrifying as the story is, O'Faolain holds the reader's interest up to the end. Just don't expect a happy ending.

22auntmarge64
Editado: mayo 30, 2010, 4:15pm

MALTA



The Information Officer by Mark Mills **** 5/30/10

A tense and atmospheric murder mystery which takes place in Malta over eight days in 1942. A British Information Officer (military propagandist), Max Chadwick, becomes aware of a serial killer who may be a British officer. Malta at the time was part of the British Empire and, because of its strategic position just south of Sicily and the presence of Allied submarines and airfields, it was under constant bombardment by the Germans and Italians. With the Maltese population becoming restless over the lack of resources to protect them, the murders threaten to further undermine cooperation. Max decides to investigate, even when it is made clear military authorities would rather the problem was concealed.

23Mr.Durick
mayo 30, 2010, 7:03pm

Well Women in the Wall is not available from Barny Noble, but I have put it on my wishlist anyway inspired by your review.

Thank you,

Robert

24auntmarge64
Jun 7, 2010, 10:08pm

ITALY



City of Fear by David Hewson ***** 6/7/10

Hewson keeps up the superior Nic Costa series, with Costa's team from Rome's Polizia di Stato investigating a series of escalating terrorist threats occurring as the city prepares for a G8 summit. Italy's president (an old family friend of the Costa family) gives them a private assignment to look deeper, but each step they take increases official threats against them by the Italian intelligence community. Then one of their own is gunned down in front of them by the apparent terrorist, a follower of an Etruscan devil. All hell breaks loose as Rome is put under martial law and the team realizes that someone in the government is pulling the strings. This is a change of direction for the series, which usually centers on complicated murders, but it's among the best Hewson's written.

25auntmarge64
Jun 10, 2010, 10:04pm

Bosnia and Herzegovina



The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway ****½ 6/10/10

Four residents of Sarajevo during the siege of 1992-1996 respond to the changes in their lives, the deaths of those around them, and the almost constant bombardment of the city. Inspired by a real event, Galloway tells of a cellist who witnesses 22 of his neighbors killed by a mortar as they line up to buy bread. For 22 days after, he sits in the street where the attack took place and plays in full view of the snipers on the hills around him. The other three main characters include a young woman sniper who is charged with protecting him, a young father running a deadly gauntlet to cross town and fill water bottles for his family, and an elderly man who risks his life each day to go to the bakery where he works and get bread. Each of the three crosses paths with the cellist, whose music helps them make decisions about how they will live their lives in this new reality, where all they have known is being destroyed around them. Compelling, memorable, and beautifully written.

26auntmarge64
Jul 7, 2010, 9:18pm

ENGLAND



The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths **** 7/7/10

A great beginning to a new mystery series starring Ruth Galloway, an almost-40 year old, somewhat overweight, professor of archaeology who lives by a salt marsh in rural northern England. Called in to identify and date bones found in the marsh (which turn out to be Iron Age), she becomes deeply involved in the search for two missing little girls, one taken 10 years ago and the other recently. Ruth is a wonderful character (emotionally strong, honest about herself, smart, and interested in the world around her) and the marsh and sea are described vividly. Much of the text is pitch perfect. An example is Ruth's arrival home one day, meeting one of her cats as she goes to the front door: Flint appears on her doorstep mewing piteously for admittance even though he has his own cat-flap and has, in fact, been snoozing inside all day. Yup, that's a cat.

There is one major problem: the map provided is very out of scale, and it took me most of the book to get a sense of the distances. Because of this I had a hard time understanding why some of the important plot developments were so difficult for the characters to achieve. Still, I will be looking forward to more from this new crime novelist about Ruth and her friends (feline and otherwise). (Actually, I'd like to have her as a friend myself.)

27auntmarge64
Jul 16, 2010, 12:43pm

HUNGARY



Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten ****½ 7/16/10

A charming folktale set in a modern-day hamlet in Hungary. Valeria, an older spinster who loudly criticizes just about everything and everyone around her, suddenly falls in love with the village's widowed potter. She has a rival, however: the middle-aged barkeeper with whom the potter has been "carrying on". Neither woman is shy about manipulating the townsfolk to achieve their goals, and the arrival of a randy itinerant chimney sweep sets in motion a whirlwind of moves and counter-moves to win the potter's hand. Funny and somewhat vulgar (literally ALL the villagers are obsessed with sex and body parts), the story pulls the reader merrily along till the satisfying conclusion.

28GingerbreadMan
Editado: Jul 16, 2010, 6:13pm

27 Sounds like great fun! Any idea how Marc Fitten (who I'm assuming from the name isn't Hungarian) came to write a book on spinster sex life on the puszta!?

29auntmarge64
Jul 16, 2010, 9:21pm

>28 GingerbreadMan: No idea at all. He did, however, spend much of the 1990s in Hungary.

30auntmarge64
Editado: Jul 19, 2010, 7:05pm

ENGLAND

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths **** 7/17/10

The second in the Ruth Galloway mysteries, starring the forensic archaeologist from Norwich, England, who is now pregnant and in the center of another case of recovered bones along with Harry Nelson, the chief investigating officer and the baby's married father. Easy reading, interesting characters, neat mystery mingled with obscure Roman cult customs. Very much looking forward to #3, "The House at Seas End".

31auntmarge64
Jul 20, 2010, 11:22pm

GREECE



The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories by Herodotus ***** 7/20/10

This is a superb edition of the classic by the "Father of History", even (or maybe especially) for the non-specialist. I read the Kindle edition simultaneously with the print version (950+ pages), the first for ease of use, the second for the hundreds of maps, which don't show up well in e-ink.

This edition, one of the Landmark translations of classical literature edited by Robert B. Strassler, begins with 50 pages of introductions and prefaces, a dated outline of the text, and then the 9 books, each heavily footnoted, sourced and laced with maps. The maps alone make the edition worth its hefty price tag, but following the text there are 23 appendices (each footnoted and sourced), a glossary and bibliography, a 100-page annotated index, and a directory to place names mentioned in the text.

Appendices include:
The Athenian Government in Herodotus
The Spartan State in War and Peace
The Account of Egypt: Herodotus Right and Wrong
Herodotean Geography
Herodotus and the Black Sea Region
Rivers and Peoples of Scythia
The Continuity of Steppe Culture
The Ionian Revolt
Classical Greek Religious Festivals
Ancient Greek Units of Currency, Weight, and Distance
Dialect and Ethnic Groups in Herodotus
Aristocratic Families in Herodotus
Herodotus on Persia and the Persian Empire
Hoplite Warfare in Herodotus
The Persian Army in Herodotus
Oracles, Religion, and Politics in Herodotus
Herodotus and the Poets
The Size of Xerxes' Expeditionary Force
Trireme Warfare in Herodotus
Tyranny in Herodotus
On Women and Marriage in Herodotus


This will be the translation to read for many years to come.

32auntmarge64
Jul 23, 2010, 10:20pm

ENGLAND



Time Among the Dead by Thomas Rayfiel **** 7/23/10

This short novel is told in the form of a journal, written by the elderly Earl of Upton in late Victorian England. As he faces his decline, he dredges up long-buried memories of his dysfunctional birth family while trying to guide and connect with his estranged grandson and heir. The only false notes arise when the narrator addresses future readers, a device which doesn't ring true. However, this is a very small percentage of the whole, which I found moving and memorable.

33auntmarge64
Editado: Sep 18, 2010, 10:30pm

GREECE



Prey on Patmos by Jeffrey Siger *** 8/19/10

An enjoyable third Inspector Kaldis mystery, set primarily on the Greek island of Patmos, where Saint John wrote the Book of Revelation. A beloved elderly monk is murdered, and as Kaldis and his partner investigate, all trails lead to a conspiracy to influence the future location of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (at either Mount Athos in Greece or somewhere in Russia). The mystery is secondary here to island and church history, described in interesting detail by various characters. In fact, I'd say read this book for the setting more than the mystery. The characters are a bit too quick with repartee to be completely believable, but the book is great beach reading or entertainment for an evening before the fire. (Read in galley format via netgalley.com. The book will be published in January 2011.)

34auntmarge64
Editado: Sep 18, 2010, 10:30pm

ENGLAND



The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins ***½ 9/2/10

I loved The Woman in White, but this one didn't work for me nearly as well. It seemed to run on forever, and at least one of the most interesting mysteries, the life story of the doctor's assistant Ezra Jennings, is left unresolved. So, just not my cup of tea, I guess.

35auntmarge64
Sep 18, 2010, 10:28pm

ICELAND



Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason *** 9/18/10

This latest in the Inspector Erlendur series doesn't have a great deal of action. Most of the mystery concerns whether a murdered Icelandic/Thai child was targeted because of his race, a question the main characters spend most of the book considering. There is a secondary mystery which interferes with Erlendur's focus but doesn't add too much to the suspense. All-in-all, somewhat ho-hum.

36auntmarge64
Dic 17, 2010, 9:13pm

RUSSIA



The Holy Thief by William Ryan ****½ 12/17/10

What a great beginning to a new detective series! It's 1936 Moscow, and amid the early stirrings of Stalin's purges, a police captain catches a series of nasty murders which quickly involve him with the NKVD (later the KGB) and international art smuggling by the government. It's a depressing and unnerving setting, but the characters and mystery are interesting and the dialogue is perfect. There's quite a bit of vivid victim detail, so this is not for the squeamish.

One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the captain's internal musings on the new Soviet system. Unlike the main character in Child 44, who has experienced WWII and been a knowing participant in Stalin's atrocities, the detective here still has hope for Communism, as well as a willingness to suspend judgment of Stalin's methods in hope that life will improve for ordinary citizens. The 21st-century reader, of course, contributes a sense of doom and wonderment that people could have been so naive in the face of such already-evident evil.

37auntmarge64
Jun 21, 2011, 7:06pm

WALES



Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs ***** 6/21/11

What a treat this book is! Part suspense, part fantasy, and beguilingly unique.

A teenage boy (Jacob) finds his grandfather dying - the grandfather who used to tell fantastic stories of his childhood at a strange island orphanage in Wales and illustrate his tales with photos of odd-looking children and descriptions of monsters. The grandfather pleads with him to go to the island, where he'll be safe, whispers some enigmatic phrases and then "I should've told you a long time ago", and dies, and as Jacob copes with his grief, he determines to travel to the island and search out the truth. What he finds will forever change his life.

Magical, thrilling, and lovingly illustrated with the photos and letters described in the story. This is one of those books that will appeal to adults and older kids equally, and I'm going to pass it on to my 11- and 20-year old nieces and see what they think.

38auntmarge64
Jul 4, 2011, 10:27pm

IRELAND



Haunted Ground by Erin Hart **** 7/4/11

The first in a mystery series set in Ireland and starring an Irish archaeologist and an American pathologist. Here, the head of a woman is found in a bog, drawing the two scientists into a search for her ancient identity as well as into a more recent mystery: the disappearance of the young wife and child of the local landowner, upon whom suspicion has centered. The historical background, and especially the details concerning bog bodies, is very interesting, and the book has a wonderful final twist. The characterization is not quite as successful, with some less-than-convincing explanations of behavior which seems rather gratuitous. However, I enjoyed this quite well enough to read the sequel, which is already on my shelves.

39auntmarge64
Dic 19, 2011, 8:21pm

RUSSIA



A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois ***** 12/18/11

In 2006, Irina, a young American professor facing the imminent onset of hereditary Huntington’s disease, says goodbye to all she knows and travels to Russia to ask a question of Aleksandr Bezetov, a middle-aged chess champion and dissident challenging Putin in an upcoming election. The question concerns how one proceeds in the face of certain defeat, and years earlier her father, as his own disease was upon him, wrote to ask this of a much younger Bezetov. Bezetov never answered the letter, and Irina sees her quest as a means of giving some focus and meaning to her life. She also needs time to think about how to handle her certain decline: specifically, how to decide when to end its progression so she does not die as her father did, with mind and body long depleted. Irina’s narrative begins in 2006 and Bezetov’s in 1979, and they are told in alternating chapters which come closer in time as the book proceeds.

At first it seems Aleksandr’s tale will be the more memorable of the two, with its marvelous description of life in the late Soviet era and the awakening of his political consciousness, and with Irina’s simply a framework for his story. But Irina’s question, and her musings about life and death even as she struggles to make sense of modern Russia, become extremely meaningful for both characters and for the reader. Irina and Alexsandr are delineated fully, and I came away feeling I knew them both very well. Irina’s search and Alexsandr’s answer move them towards their individual destinies, and the story resolves with a wholeness which feels perfect. Very, very highly recommended.

40auntmarge64
Editado: Dic 24, 2011, 9:40am

ICELAND



From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón *** 12/23/11

A bleak tale of early 17th century Iceland, told by an old man banished to solitary exile after his conviction for witchcraft. The story is told primarily in a stream-of-consciousness, and there is little that is positive or beautiful in Jónas Pálmason's mind or memory. I think there are some readers who will find this story fascinating for its imagery and imagination, but I could not appreciate the unremitting grimness.