Sunday, July 28, 2013

July Reading Roundup

I realize there are still a few days left in the month, but I'm nowhere near to finishing the books I'm currently reading, so this will be it for July.  Continuing from June with books written this year (and really, for the most part, beach reads), and thanks to a) being down with a seriously pulled back muscle and b) insomnia from said seriously pulled back muscle,  I had a really great reading month. 

 (* = published 2013)

*You Are One of Them, by Elliott Holt
*We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo (read late June)

odd/weird fiction
*The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes (really, a crossover between scifi and crime fiction)
*NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

purely for escape purposes
*Inferno, by Dan Brown (also read late June)
crime fiction/mystery
The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters 
*Countdown City, by Ben H. Winters
Crashed, by Timothy Hallinan
Little Elvises, by Timothy Hallinan
*The Fame Thief, by Timothy Hallinan
Death in Sardinia, by Marco Vichi
*Tomorrow City, by Kirk Kjeldsen
*Two Soldiers, by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom 
*The Killing of Emma Gross, by Damien Seaman
*The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, by Fred Vargas

*Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through a Country's Descent into Darkness, by Alfredo Corchado (discussion in August)

just stuck my nose into
The Kills, by Richard House (judging by the heft of this thing, I'll probably be here a while)
Holy Orders, by Benjamin Black  

And now, the  other book-related stuff:

1) Books I'm giving away this month -- for US readers only.    -- Unlike many other things in life, for you, it is  absolutely 100% totally free;  I'll even pay postage to get it to its new home.  All you need to do is to be the first to leave a comment here, and then email me at with contact info INCLUDING A HOME ADDRESS, PLEASE!! 1st come, first served. No address email, no book:

1. You Are One of Them, by Elliott Holt
2. The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes
3. The Daughters of Mars, by Thomas Keneally (ARC)

 2) Added to the  wishlist this month (subtitled: huh? never heard of those!):
     crime fiction:
The Moving Target, by Ross Macdonald
      general fiction:
The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara
The Days of the Rainbow, by Antonio Skarmeta
The File on H., by Ismail Kadare
Chronicle in Stone, by Ismail Kadare
The Palace of Dreams, by Ismail Kadare
The Siege, by Ismail Kadare
Broken April, by Ismail Kadare
Nostalgia, by Jonathan Buckley
Beggar's Feast, by Randy Boyagoda
the weird, the strange, supernatural etc:
nothing this month

Kansas City Lightning: The Life and Times of Charlie Parker, by Stanley Crouch
I Kiss Your Hands Many Times: Hearts, Souls and Wars in Hungary, by Marianne Szegedy-Maszak
Diary of a Man in Despair, by Friedrich Reck
I Await the Devil's Coming, by Mary MacLane
Boy Detective: A New York Childhood, by Roger Rosenblatt

 3) Books bought this month (subtitled: I read strange books)
  • The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins -- crime 
  • The Benson Murder Case, by S.S. Van Dine -- crime
  • The Tattooed Soldier, by Hector Tobar -- fiction
  • The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border, by Teresa Rodriguez -- nonfiction/reportage
  • No Orchids for Miss Blandish, by James Hadley Chase -- crime
  • After Dark, My Sweet, by Jim Thompson -- crime
  • A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki -- fiction
  • The Testament of Mary, by Colm Toibin
  • The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri -- fiction, (preorder)
  • The Spinning Heart, by Donal Ryan -- fiction
  • 419, by Will Ferguson -- fiction (thanks, Jackie at Farm Lane Books!)
  • The Twyborn Affair, by Patrick White -- fiction
  • Appointment in Samarra, by John O'Hara -- fiction
  • Summertime, All the Cats are Bored, by Phillipe Georget -- crime
  • Farewell My Lovely and The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler -- crime
  • The Green Man, by Kingsley Amis -- fiction
  • The Kills, by Richard House -- fiction
  • The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton -- fiction (preorder)
  • Death in Florence, by Marco Vichi -- crime (preorder)
  • Wreaking, by James Scudamore -- fiction (thanks again, Jackie at Farm Lane Books!)
  • The Summer of Dead Toys, by Antonio Hill -- crime
  • Five Star Billionaire, by Tash Aw -- fiction

4) Currently reading: 
The Kills, by Richard House
Letters From Skye, by Jessica Brockmole

5) The book group is on hiatus for the summer.

That seems to be all there is to say at the moment -- now I'm going to go lay out by my pool and read!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

*The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

Mulholland, 2013
368 pp


"It is a game. It's a destiny he's writing for them. Inevitably, they're waiting for him."

Here's another novel I'm throwing into the category of peachy beachy. The Shining Girls is a mix of time-travel scifi and serial-killer crime fiction,  but don't believe the blurb written by Matt Haig on the back cover that says it's a cross between The Time Traveler's Wife and The Silence of the Lambs,  Even if, in your wildest imagination, you could mix the two, you still don't come anywhere close to The Shining Girls.  Yes, there is time travel and yes there is a nasty serial killer out there, but this killer already knows who he's going to kill and visits his victims beforehand -- and even leaves them a little something to hold on to until he comes back.  Bought exclusively for its summer-read/beach potential, the book didn't let me down; it may not go on this year's list of favorite novels of the year, but it's still pretty good.

In this story, time runs along different chronologies.  The serial killer in this novel, Harper Curtis,  has his own time line -- he jumps in and out of time from the 1930s until 1993  -- and then there's the timeline of one his victims, Kirby, whom Harper mistakenly leaves alive after a brutal attack.  Third, there's the real, historical chronology, time and changing attitudes moving forward in history.   It may seem confusing at first, but it makes sense here. As the novel opens,  Harper Curtis is running from an angry mob in a Depression-era Hooverville.    He runs into a shack, takes a coat and leaves; in one of the pockets is a key.  He is drawn to a mysterious house in the city of Chicago, a jumping-off point into time; a place where his destiny, and those of a group of young women he doesn't even know, is literally written on the walls.  The women are the shining girls of the title, and he is compelled to track them through time and ultimately to snuff out their glowing potential in the world.   Harper  visits each one long before he kills them, leaving some token; years later when it's a woman's time to die, he leaves something else with each of them, something from one of the other victims.  One of them, Kirby Mazrachi, escapes from a savage attack and her destiny with death, but she is left with both physical and emotional scars. She becomes fixated on finding the person who did this to her, determined enough to the point where she becomes an intern on a newspaper that covered the case because of the access to the paper's archives.  She has caught on to the pattern of artifacts left behind, but trying to find someone who will listen to her is pretty much impossible, as is trying to pin down one specific person whom she knows is responsible for a number of other brutal attacks.

On a surface level I suppose you could read this book as another serial-killer novel with a time-travelling gimmick as a hook, but to me it goes well beyond that sort of simplified explanation.  Harper is figuratively plucking the wings off of  women, killing them just as they are starting to make a difference in their present;  cutting off their potential for making  a difference in  the futures of others.  Thinking about that, it seems to me that the author is not only talking about men who feel compelled to keep women down, but also about victims of violence -- where every life taken represents a loss of  future possibilities.  The crazy time loops in this novel help to point out that although time moves on, violence  against women has always been, is, and always will be part of our existence, with effects that ripple ever outward over time.

Overall, it's a good enough novel, one that kept me intrigued,  but there were parts that dragged and I had to read it twice to figure out the House. I'm also not big on graphic violence, which there is plenty of in this book; I get the point -- these were living people with personalities, lives, parents, loved ones -- but sometimes too much is just too much.  The ending, well, since I can't talk about that here, suffice it to say I think the action-packed  empowerment statement was a little too obvious,  but I know lots of people who'll disagree.  This book is getting some excellent reviews, but not everyone is loving it -- I'm somewhere in the middle of all of that.  I'll recommend it as a good summer read -- but read it slowly so you don't have to go through it a second time like I did.

ps/if you don't plan to read the book, there's already a series in the works based on the novel. 

fiction from South Africa

Friday, July 19, 2013

*Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, by Robert Kolker

Harper, 2013
399 pp


I'm not the biggest fan of modern true crime -- my interests in this area really lie in older, historical true crime, but once in a while a book comes along that I just have to recommend.  Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is one of them.  You won't find any grisly details or any sort of recounting of horrendous murders here, simply because the mystery behind the deaths of the five young women around which this book is focused has not yet been solved.  This is a book that from page one will draw you in and keep you there because it's that good. The author's writing and handling of the subject matter haunted me on a human level, and while the book is centered around a series of crimes, it's also a look at how each and every one of these "lost girls" and their families were failed by the system due to officials' indifference toward them, primarily based on what they did for a living.

If you've been on the fence about this one, or if you've been thinking you'd wait to see what other people have to say, wait no more. There is no sensationalism here, no lurid details, nothing you'd find in what I consider crappy true crime books -- on the contrary, it is a book that is intelligent, sophisticated, and one that you will be thinking about long after you've finished it.

You can read more of what I have to say here; as far as I'm concerned, it's one of the best true crime books that's come along in a very long time. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

*You Are One of Them, by Elliott Holt

Penguin, 2013
289 pp


"I was partial to unhappy endings.

Another debut novel bought for my summer readfest of peachy beachies, You Are One of Them is definitely something new and different. Ultimately I see it as a coming-of-age/self-realization story, containing an ongoing examination of friendship and loss,  loyalty and betrayal, set largely in the Cold War years but jumping on into the later 1990s. In this novel, defection is a key term, used in a political sense as well as an emotional one.  The story is told via first-person narrative from the viewpoint of  Sarah Zuckerman, presently in Moscow as a journalist.  While it's  not my favorite novel this year, it's definitely a good read and absolutely perfect for summer.
I said to myself: three days and you'll be seven years old. I was saying it to stop the sensation of falling off the round, turning world. into cold, blue-black space. But I felt: you are an I, you are an Elizabeth, you are one of them. - See more at:

Back in 1982 there was a little 10-year old girl named Samantha Smith, who wrote a letter to then General Secretary of the Communist Party in the USSR Yuri Andropov. She wanted to know if he was planning to vote for a nuclear war against the US.   Pravda published her letter, and some time later, she received a letter back from Andropov who invited her to come visit the USSR.  She and her parents went there in the summer of 1983 for two weeks, during which time they visited Moscow and Leningrad. Samantha also stayed at a Young Pioneer camp, where she made a good friend who spoke English very well.

from Wikipedia , Samantha Smith captured on a postage stamp
 After coming home and enjoying a great deal of press coverage as a Goodwill Ambassador, Smith and her father died in a plane crash two years later.  In You Are One of Them, set in the same time period and beyond,   two girls write a letter to Yuri Andropov -- and one goes to Russia.  That trip will have profound implications for the one left behind. 

Sarah Zuckerman has suffered a number of "defections" in her life -- starting with her sister's death.   In 1980, "the summer of the Moscow Olympics," and the subsequent boycott that signaled rising tensions between the two countries, she becomes friends with the little girl who moves in next door in the Washington DC neighborhood where she lives. To Sarah,  Jennifer Jones has a normal family life compared to hers -- Sarah's father had moved out a year earlier (the second defection).  Her mother suffers from all sorts of paralyzing fears, had panic attacks that could be triggered by mundane things, but most  especially by the thought of  nuclear annihilation, leading her to become an wholehearted anti-nuke activist and to convert their basement into a fallout shelter.  Sarah and Jennifer become best friends, doing everything together, and by the time they're in fourth grade two years later, both decide to write to Andropov à la Samantha Smith.  It isn't long before Jennifer is invited to the USSR, leaving Sarah behind.  After Jennifer's return, as the two girls get older, Jennifer becomes the popular girl while Sarah is once again left behind, and one day in 1985, in seventh grade,  Sarah learns that Jennifer and her entire family have been killed in a plane crash.  Fast forward ten years later, and Sarah receives a letter from Russia from a woman who claims to have been good friends with Jennifer during the USSR visit.  The woman invites Sarah to come for a visit to Moscow, and tells her she can organize a "special tour;" later, an email to Sarah in response to her questions asks Sarah how does she know Jennifer is really dead?  After all, in Russia,  "news is not truth."  As Sarah makes her way to and through Moscow,  she reveals the stories of the girls' friendship, her own life growing up, and ultimately what she discovers about herself during her journey.

There are some wonderful moments here, especially in the author's descriptions of Moscow (although I do have to say that if you've ever read Snowdrops by A.D. Miller, he does it much more vividly).  She is also very effective in linking together both personal and political suspicions on both sides during and after the Cold War.   Her best work, however,  is found in terms of Sarah's character. She comes across as a person believably pained, unmoored, filled with loneliness and loss, and exuding a kind of vulnerability that never lifts throughout the novel.  But somehow, I was left a little unsatisfied --  towards the end I felt like the author was rushing to get to the end of the story, and  after the big buildup of the girls' friendships during their childhood years, I'd expected much more in terms of the novel's climax, for reasons that I can't explain without giving away the show.  All in all, though, the book was a good summer read, one I probably wouldn't have picked up had it not been beach read season, but one that I'm glad I did.  Amazingly, it's the author's first novel, and one I can recommend, especially to readers who like keeping it casual. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

*We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo

Reagan Arthur Books/Little Brown & Company/Hachette
292 pp

(read in June)

"... a country is a Coca-Cola bottle that can smash on the floor and disappoint you.”

Rarely, and I do mean rarely, does a novel come along that actually moves me like this oneSkipping right to the chase, READ THIS BOOK.   Between the stories in this novel and the creative, dynamic  use of language, it was easy sometimes to feel as if I was an onlooker rather than merely a reader looking into other people's lives. It's also a timely read ... at the end of this month, elections are scheduled once again in Zimbabwe, and Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980, is once again a candidate. 

The novel is divided into two parts, the first set in Zimbabwe and the second in the US.  The central focus is on a character named Darling, a young girl who lives with her mother in a tin shack in an area ironically named Paradise. It hadn't always been so -- until their entire neighborhood of brick homes was razed out of the blue by bulldozers whose operators were protected by the police, she and her family had lived a good life until they were displaced due to policies set in motion by the country's ruler.  Displacement is a major theme in this novel, which also deals also with the concept of  identity as people move away from their homes -- in Darling's case, to the United States -- and the ties that keep them connected to what they've left behind.  The first part of the book is comprised of Darling's observations about her friends, her life, and what it's like living in a country where poverty, political corruption and betrayal of a cause are day-to-day realities, while the second part takes Darling to the US, where she lives with her aunt's family and can't return to Zimbabwe because of her visa.

 This is not an easy novel to read on an emotional level. Darling and her friends are hungry and fill their empty bellies by strolling through more affluent neighborhoods and stealing guavas, or finding things to sell.  The schools have closed down, the teachers have all left, attracted by better pay in other countries, and this group of kids spend their days roaming around, playing often bizarre games and observing what's going on all around them. But for Darling, there's a way out -- she is able to make it to the US to the home of her aunt.  Her observations about what it takes to fit into this alien culture reveal painful adjustments and provide a way for Darling to examine her Zimbabwe life, but as time goes on, she comes to the painful realization that while she can stay connected with people in Zimbabwe via the internet and phone, she finds it harder and harder to stay connected with them on a more meaningful level: 
"It's hard to explain, this feeling; it's like there's two of me. One part is yearning for my friends; the other doesn't know how to connect with them anymore, as if they are people I've never met. I feel a little guilty but I brush the feeling away."
While she tries to fit in with her new friends and her new life, she constantly alters different aspects of her outward life while remaining an honest observer of what's going on all around her in her new home.  A lot of it, plainly and simply, is not pretty, either  in her native home or the one she's come to.

There's so much more to this book that but above all, the language the author employs here makes you feel less like a reader and more of an onlooker. There are some sections in this novel  that are incredibly difficult to read, but the ugly realities are not the main focus here -- it's more a case of living in altered realities at particular moments in time and how people adapt -- and the costs of doing so.    For me, the first part of this novel absolutely sings and stuns at the same time -- and though the second half continues Darling's astounding honesty in her observations, for the most part I just didn't find it as compelling as the scenes in Zimbabwe.  I also have to admit to being worried about the author choosing a young girl as the voice of her narrative, but believe me, I was relieved to discover that there's no young adult feel to this book at all -- on the contrary, this is very mature territory.

Super book, and highly recommended.  Funny, but the reviewers who gave this book low ratings seemed to have missed the entire point -- as in this one from Amazon: "Another "poverty African" story to appease Western tastes." Obviously this person has no clue.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

*Inferno, by Dan Brown

Doubleday, 2013
463 pp

(read end of June)

Okay, now you can really scoff at my summer reading choices!   To be really honest, I have no idea why I decided to buy this book (I even preordered it a long time back), because since The DaVinci Code (which was okay because the concept was so new at the time), every time Dan Brown puts out a new book I buy it for escape material,  read it, and come away feeling like I've read the same book over again,  reset in a new location.  Inferno continues that trend, this time in Florence.

The main thrust of this newest installment in the Robert Langdon series is the following: Langdon wakes up one day in the hospital with no memory of how he got there. When he finds out he's in Florence, Italy, he's even more shocked and confused. When he discovers he doesn't have his vintage antique Mickey Mouse watch, he's horrified.  Before he manages to get his wits together, he discovers that someone in the hospital has come in with a gun and is shooting the place up.  His doctor, Sienna Brooks, helps him to escape, but he's not safe even then -- in fact, he walks right into the middle of a mad scientist/evil genius plot but he doesn't know that yet. All he knows is that people are chasing him and Sienna, and that there seem to be two different groups looking for him.  He also has found a strange device sewn into a piece of clothing, with no knowledge of where he got it.  Meanwhile, a group known as the Consortium has been taking care of the above-mentioned mad scientist/evil genius client whose wish was to disappear while he worked on some research. The Consortium makes a great deal of money by clandestinely seeing to the wishes of their clients; this particular client, even though dead, left one last task for the Consortium to undertake.  They are to release a video to the media, one that has the client in a plague mask giving a bizarre speech and showing the world a hidden location where a plaque notes that "In this place, on this date, the world was changed forever." The date: tomorrow.  What he's left behind is obviously not a very good thing, and obviously the plot comes down to Langdon having to decipher a gamut of clues, this time all having to do with Dante Alighieri as well as  Florence and its history, in order to find whatever it is will change the world forever before it's too late.

Plague Doctor, from Alchemipedia
 --sigh-- It really wasn't long before I realized I was in trouble here when on page 18 a Lisbeth Salander type "dressed entirely in black leather...toned and strong with dark, spiked hair," breaks into the hospital and shoots Langdon's doctor.  Honestly, sometimes you can just tell that pop culture icon lookalikes at the beginning of a novel are the beginning of a downward spiral, and all of this before chapter 3. In an escape read sort of way, I  could deal with that, I could deal with the whole sameness of the plot except for being in Florence and using things relative to Dante, and I could deal with the whole twisty, turn the plot on its head direction the novel takes.  I could even deal with the dialogue.  What I had a real problem with was the revelation of what the mad scientist/evil genius character was working on and what he had hidden -- even for a summer novel and an escape read, that was just too much to take. If the book hadn't weighed so much, I probably would have flung it across the room -- after all I'd just been through, the whole reveal was just the proverbial icing on the cake, in a negative sort of way.

Nevertheless, I had pulled my back very badly doing my laundry (don't ask)  so was flat and needed some distraction, and Inferno definitely provided that for me. I can't help it if the plot was too silly for words so as to take the escape fun away from my reading time.  I have to say though, that Dan Brown is definitely someone who's  done his research, and the man certainly can put together some crazy puzzles.  And he's got millions and millions of fans who on Amazon and on Goodreads have awarded Inferno 5-star ratings and who have vehemently defended this book against people who didn't like the book, such as myself.  I'm really sorry, but I did not like this book. A) it's a rehash of plot elements from the other three novels he's written, and B) the horrible thing that is supposed to happen is just plain silly and not even in the conceivable reality zone.  The only really good thing about this book is that it was way better than his Lost Symbol, which currently serves as a doorstop for my guestroom.

Now, don't go accusing me of book snobbery as one reader did on Goodreads, because that's simply not the case. I just wasn't crazy about this novel -- and that's the bottom line. As I said, people are lauding it all over America.  And I bet Doubleday and Dan Brown are dancing for joy with the millions of copies they've probably sold.  If this kind of book is your thing, then you'll probably love it. What else can I say?

*NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2013
692 pp


Scoff if you will at my choice of reading with this novel, but it reminds me that sometimes picking up a novel is an act of satisfying a need for fun and entertainment.  I read enough tough stuff over a year's time that it's liberating to just pick up a book off my beaten path, lay out by our pool in the hot sun and relax.  At 692 pages it may seem like a huge task getting through it, but I've discovered that while reading this book time just flew by.  It's probably going to be the best selling horror novel of the year.

You can read about it at my horror/weird fiction/sci-fi/fantasy page , but let me offer a heads up for anyone thinking about reading this:  I actually found this book less  horror-creepy than psychologically disturbing.  Children are abducted from their homes and separated from parents who meet horrible fates; luckily the author doesn't give blow-by-blow accounts but what he writes is terrifying enough. While the dustjacket gives ample warning, some of what happens to these parents is just downright chilling and not fun to think about afterwards -- just something to consider if you're thinking about buying or borrowing it. Anyway, getting past the disturbing scenes, I liked it. It's good.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

*The Killing of Emma Gross, by Damien Seaman

Five Leaves Crime, 2013
279 pp


I'm always amazed when I find a first novel this well written.  The Killing of Emma Gross is based around the real-life case of Peter Kürten, the so-called "vampire of Düsseldorf" or "monster of Düsseldorf," a serial killer who plied his trade during the days of Germany's Weimar Republic (1919-1933).  The author is quick to point out that the "vampire" label didn't actually originate at the time, but Kürten's crimes were definitely beyond heinous, as he brutally preyed on women and young girls.  While those crimes and the "monster" who committed them are definitely a focus in this novel,  the book examines a detective's quest to solve another murder, that of a young prostitute named Emma Gross, also a real victim, but not one of Kürten's.  He claimed her as one of his, but it was a false confession.  Beware: there is absolutely, I repeat, absolutely no light in this novel, but it is definitely a story worth looking into.  You can read about it here on my crime page -- this one I recommend for readers of really dark & edgy crime.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

*The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, by Fred Vargas

Penguin, 2013
360 pp
originally published as L’armée furieuse, 2011
translated by Siân Reynolds


The Ghost Riders of Ordebec is the latest installment of the Commissaire Adamsberg series set in France. While I had some issues with the last two Adamsberg novels, this one is funny and entertaining, has some interesting mysteries at its heart, and some of the best characterizations I've ever come across in a crime novel, surpassed only by those of Andrea Camilleri and the crew working for Inspector Salvo Montalbano.   You can read about it at my crime page , but first a word: don't let this book serve as your introduction to the series -- start with the first one, The Chalk Circle Man, and read the novels in order. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

June reading roundup, July -- more of the same

June's reading was centered around books published this year, and although I read quite a few books in this category, there are still a lot more sitting on my shelves waiting to be read.  So I'll be continuing along with this self-appointed task through July. 

Here's how things shook out -- I can tell I'm well into summer read syndrome, based on the number of crime novels I've read.
 (* = published 2013)

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar, by Suzanne Joinson
*TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann (read, not yet discussed -- coming soon)
*We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawao (read, not yet discussed -- coming soon)
odd/weird fiction

crime fiction/mystery
Evil and the Mask, by Fuminori Nakamura (Japan)*
Joyland, by Stephen King*
The Square of Revenge, by Pieter Aspe (Belgium) *
21:37, by Mariusz Czubaj (Poland) *
Nairobi Heat, by Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Kenya) *
Black Star Nairobi, by Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Kenya) *

none this month

just stuck my nose into
The Ghost Riders of Ordebeck, by Fred Vargas (France)

And now, the  other book-related stuff:
1) The book group read A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar which we all liked, to a point, agreeing that the historical part of the book was amazing.

 2) Added to the  wishlist this month (as usual, mostly obscure titles most people have probably never heard of):
     crime fiction:
No Orchids for Miss Blandish, by James Hadley Chase

      general fiction:
Roman Elegy, by Sabine Gruber
Our Man in Iraq, by Robert Perisic
Bones, by Chenjarai Hove
Psalm 44, by Danilo Kis

the weird, the strange, supernatural etc:
nothing this month

Lawrence in Arabia, by Scott Henderson
The Last Resort: A Memoir of Mischief and Mayhem on a Family Farm in Africa, by Douglas Rogers
The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe, by Peter Godwin

 3) Books bought this month (subtitled: I read strange books)
  • White Dog, by Peter Temple -- crime 
  • Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, by Bill Dedman (preorder) 
  • Two Soldiers, by Roslund and Hellstrom -- crime
  • The Black Spider (New York Review Books Classics), by Jeremias Gotthelf (preorder)
  •  The Survivor, by Thomas Keneally
  • Where There's Love, There's Hate, by Adolfo Bioy Casares 
  • The Square of Revenge, by Pieter Aspe  -- crime
  •  Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh
  • The Hired Man, by Aminatta Forna
  • Floundering, by Romy Ash
  • Mr. Darwin's Gardener, by Kristina Carlson 
  • The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes
  • You Are One of Them,  by Elliott Holt
  •  The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (preorder)
  • Crusoe's Daughter, by Jane Gardam
  • To Hell With Cronje, by Ingrid Winterbach
  • Treasure Hunt, by Andrea Camilleri (preorder)
  • All the Birds Singing, by Evie Wyld
  • The Orchard of Lost Souls, by Nadifa Mohamed (preorder)

4) Currently reading: 
The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, by Fred Vargas
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and The Woods, by Matt Bell -- Indiespensable pick

****5) Books I'm giving away this month -- for US readers only.    -- Unlike many other things in life, for you, it is  absolutely 100% totally free;  I'll even pay postage to get it to its new home.  All you need to do is to be the first to leave a comment here, and then email me at with contact info INCLUDING A HOME ADDRESS, PLEASE!!

TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann (accidental duplicate)
Evil and the Mask, by Fuminori Nakamura  (ARC)

on to July -- and more new titles!