My Challenges (timed)

See my list here
Completed 8 of 9

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Completed 2 of 3

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Completed 2 of 4

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Completed 71 of 81

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Completed 9 of 10

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Completed 34 of 50

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 5

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Completed 3 of 5

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Completed 5 of 100

My Challenges (perpetual)

See my list of stories read here

See my list of stories read here

See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here


See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here


New York Times Book Review: 6/40
New Yorker: 0/36
New York Review of Books: 0/20
Vogue: 1/16
Email: 841/1373

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Title: Under the Banner of Heaven

Author: Jon Krakauer

First Published: 2003

No. of Pages: 372

Synopsis (from B&N): "Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God.

At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief."

[My note: In my opinion, this synopsis focuses on only one sensationalist part of this book and fails to mention how much of the book is dedicated to an objective history of the Mormon religion.]

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: I found this book fascinating. I know next to nothing about Mormonism, so the history provided was very educational. I know that the LDS Church had problems with this book (among others) and disputes the historical accuracy of some of the events described. I also know that people outside the Church have stated that the official Church history is sanitized and more interested in promoting peoples' faith than recording the truth of what happened. I don't profess to know which side is right, or if both are to some degree, but I tried to keep an open mind throughout.

The author's writing style is easy to read and the individuals he writes about, both historical and modern, are presented in very realistic ways. No one came across as two-dimensional. Any book dealing with religion is going to contain a certain amount of the author's personal biases, but I think Mr. Krakauer was generally fair and objective. He also made a point of stating the basics of his own beliefs, so that the reader was aware of any particular subjectivity and could take it into account.

Challenges: 999 (Dewey Decimal); A to Z (author "K"); Dewey Decimal (200 Religion); World Citizen (Culture/Anthropology)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Fall of the House of Usher and other stories by Edgar Allen Poe

Title: The Fall of the House of Usher and other stories

The picture refers to the version I actually read, which is titled "18 Best Stories of Edgar Allen Poe". This version includes the following stories: The Black Cat - The Fall of the House of Usher - The Masque of the Red Death - The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar - The Premature Burial - Ms. Found in a Bottle - A Tale of the Ragged Mountains - The Sphinx - The Murders in the Rue Morgue - The Tell-Tale Heart - The Gold-Bug - The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether - The Man That Was Used Up - The Balloon Hoax - A Descent Into the Maelstrom - The Purloined Letter - The Pit and The Pendulum - The Cask of Amontillado

Author: Edgar Allen Poe

First Published: 1839 (applicable to the Usher story only)

No. of Pages: approx. 20 for the Usher story; 287 for overall book

Synopsis (from B&N): "[These stories] range from the poetic to the mysterious to the darkly comic, yet all possess the genius for the grotesque that defines Poe's writing. They are peopled with neurotics and social outcasts, obsessed with unknown terrors or preoccupied with seemingly insoluble mysteries. The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher are key works in the horror canon, while in [The Murders in the Rue Morgue] we find the origins of modern detective fiction."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: I had picked "Usher" to read for several challenges, not realizing that it was a short story and not a full novel, so I decided to go ahead and read the other stories in this book as well. I enjoyed many of them, although not all. In particular, I found "The Balloon-Hoax" and "A Descent into the Maelstrom" a snooze. "The Black Cat" was a bit too gory for my tastes. And I felt that several could have benefitted from additional editing -- it tends to get extremely repetitious to read how the narrators are ordinary, sane beings who don't believe in a lot of hocus-pocus, so you should believe the extraordinary story that they're about to relate.

Among the stories I enjoyed the most were "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether," "The Gold Bug," and "The Masque of the Red Death." But my favorites by far were the two mysteries, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter." I'm never any good at figuring out mysteries, but I love them anyway.

Challenges: 999 Challenge ("through the decades"); A to Z Challenge (author "P"); Decades '09 Challenge (1830's), What's in a Name 2 ("building")

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglophile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country by Joe Queenan

Title: Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglophile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country

Author: Joe Queenan

First Published: 2004

No. of Pages: 240

Synopsis (from B&N): "One semitropical Fourth of July, Joe Queenan's English wife suggested that the family might like a chicken vindaloo in lieu of the customary barbecue. It was this pitiless act of gastronomic cultural oppression, coupled with dread of the fearsome Christmas pudding that awaited him for dessert, that inspired the author to make a solitary pilgrimage to Great Britain.

Freed from the obligation to visit his wife's relations, as he had done for the first twenty-six years of their marriage, Queenan decided that he would not come back from Albion until he had finally penetrated the limey heart of darkness. The result is a very funny, picaresque adventure that will appeal to anglophile and anglophobe alike."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: I wish I could say that this book lived up to my expectations, but unfortunately I can't. To be frank, I had to force myself to finish it. One of my complaints is that it's supposed to be a travel book but there was very little travel in it. Sure, the author went to England and each chapter is purportedly about a different city or region, but almost without exception each chapter devolved into a critique about people or things that were only loosely connected with the place. Which leads to my bigger complaint -- the tone of the book was pure negativity. It's obvious that the author was intending to be funny, but I found it simply irritating. It would seem that there has been no person or group in the last 40 years that he has anything positive to say about, with the exception of the Beatles. No one else has any talent, charm, or intelligence. A little bit of this I could handle; after all, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. But an entire bookful is too much. Examples:

Page 41: "I had been aware of London's stature as a theatrical mecca for philistines ...."

Page 43: "It is just barely possible to imagine a time when Agatha Christie's whodunit [Mousetrap] ... was not rickety, dull, and corny."

Page 45, on attending a musical tribute to Queen: "Not since I attended a Kenny G concert ... had such an enticingly revolting specter of imbecility haunted my reveries."

Further on page 45: "The early 1990's had been a Periclean age of bad taste on both sides of the Atlantic, with Cats, Phantom [of the Opera], Sunset Boulevard, [Les Miserables], and Miss Saigon all playing simultaneously...; moreover, back then Billy Joel, Phil Collins, and the Grateful dead were still going strong."

And that's just from one chapter.

I want to say something good about every book I read, and I will say that the historical tidbits the author throws in were interesting. For instance, there were quite a few items about various kings and queens that I didn't know. But this is the only positive comment I can come up with. I even thought it might be me, that my reaction was the result of a bad day or something, so I intentionally put the book down and tried again (and again) to come back to it with a fresh eye and attitude. It did not help. The sarcasm level and amount of negativity masquerading as humor was just too high for me enjoy this book.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: No. In my opinion, the bad far outweighed the good.

Challenges: 999 (Dewey Decimal); A to Z (author "Q"); Dewey Decimal (900 Geography and History); What's in a Name 2 ("relative")

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Howards End by E.M. Forster

Title: Howards End

Author: E.M. Forster

First Published: 1910

No. of Pages: 319

Synopsis (from B&N): "Considered by many to be E. M. Forster’s greatest novel, 'Howards End' is a beautifully subtle tale of two very different families brought together by an unusual event. The Schlegels are intellectuals, devotees of art and literature. The Wilcoxes are practical and materialistic, leading lives of 'telegrams and anger.' When the elder Mrs. Wilcox dies and herfamily discovers she has left their country home—Howards End—to one of the Schlegel sisters, a crisis between the two families is precipitated that takes years to resolve.

Written in 1910, Howards End is a symbolic exploration of the social, economic, and intellectual forces at work in England in the years preceding World War I, a time when vast social changes were occurring. In the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes, Forster perfectly embodies the competing idealism and materialism of the upper classes, while the conflict over the ownership of Howards End represents the struggle for possession of the country’s future. As critic Lionel Trilling once noted, the novel asks, 'Who shall inherit England?'

Forster refuses to take sides in this conflict. Instead he poses one of the book’s central questions: In a changing modern society, what should be the relation between the inner and outer life, between the world of the intellect and the world of business? Can they ever, as Forster urges, 'only connect'?"

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: This is my second Forster book (I previously read A Passage to India) and I really enjoyed it. What I found interesting is how fiction books are generally either plot-driven or character-driven, but Forster's novels aren't really either of those. There are plots and some character development; but he seems mostly interested in the theoretical aspects of human development and relationships -- for example, the ideas of love, duty, or justice. The plots are just for the convenience of having a setting to put the characters into, and the characters are only described enough so as to have a vessel through which the ideas can be transmitted. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I liked it.

[Normally I would have "Would I recommend this book?" here, but I've decided to do away with that as a general matter. Books that I end up not liking are few and far between, and I generally don't finish them anyway so there ends up not being a review. So from now on, we can all go on the assumption that I'd recommend any book I've reviewed unless I specifically state otherwise.]

Challenges: 999; A to Z (author "F"); Decades '09 (1910's); Lit Flicks; Modern Library's 100 Best Novels; TBR Lite

Friday, January 9, 2009

Chunkster Challenge book list

You didn't think I'd finished signing up for challenges, did you?? The button alone was enough to get me in this one.

Da Rules (from the challenge's dedicated blog, Feelin' Chunky):

*A chunkster is 450 pages or more of ADULT literature (fiction or nonfiction). Don't complain folks, I read all thousands of pages of the Twilight series and they were good, but not a challenge. A chunkster should be a challenge.
*If you read large type books your book will need to be 525 pages or more. I asked around and the average LT book is 10-15% longer or more so I think that was a fair estimate.
*No Audio books in the chunkster. It just doesn't seem right. Words on paper for this one folks.
* You may start any time after signing up. You must complete your reads before or on Nov 15th.*Short Stories and Essay collections will not be counted.
*Books may crossover with other challenges (see option 4 for a collaborative effort with TBR challenge)
*Only option 4 requires that you make a set list of books to complete the challenge

Those are the basics. Here are your options:

*The Chubby Chunkster - this option is for the reader who has a large tome or two to read, but really doesn't want to commit to more than that. 2 books is all you need to finish this challenge.

*Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? - this option is for the slightly heavier reader who wants to commit to 3-5 Chunksters over the next ten months.

*Mor-book-ly Obese - This is for the truly out of control chunkster. For this level of challenge you must commit to 6 or more chunksters OR three tomes of 750 pages or more. You know you want to.....go on and give in to your cravings.

And lastly, in an intriguing collaboration with the wildly popular Miz B of the TBR Challenge we have:

*Too Big To Ignore Anymore - this option is for those chunksters on your TBR list. You may select any number of books over 450 pages but you must LIST THEM to complete the challenge and they must be on your TBR list as well (honor code folk, I don't have time to be the challenge police).

I'm going with Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big? because I've got 3 books on other challenges that will qualify as large and in charge. They are:

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times by Susan Tifft and Alex S. Jones

*** EDIT***

Okay, so the books I planned to read haven't worked out so far. Here's the list of the books I've actually read for this challenge:

Middlemarch by George Eliot -- review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling -- review

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Title: The Time Traveler's Wife

Author: Audrey Niffenegger

First Published: 2003

No. of Pages: 546

Synopsis (from B&N): "This bestselling and innovative debut novel ... explores the perfect marriage, one that is tested by challenges the couple can neither control nor predict. An imaginative extension of everyday life, the story asks: What if two people who loved each other deeply, married, and faced a life in which one person remained constant while the other slipped fluidly in and out of time?

A modern love story with a twist that invites us to linger over questions of how life and love change over time."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: I normally don't care for anything science fiction-related, but this is an exception. I loved this book! Having a character jump around in time could have made for a real mess, but the author was very organized and presented it well. There were times I had to go back a few pages to check dates, but otherwise it flowed along with no confusion. The characters are well-drawn and extremely likable. I especially liked that I'm the exact age of the wife and my husband is the exact age of the husband (obviously this is a coincidence), as it really made me relate to the cultural references. I felt the characters' emotions and motivations were genuine and true-to-life. At the end of the day, I hated to end this one because I felt like my relationship with good friends was ending.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Yes!

Challenges: A to Z Challenge (author "N")

Saturday, January 3, 2009

101 Things in 1001 Days end-of-year project update

I've made some headway into my list this year, although I am having an issue with those goals that are meant to be done consistently over time. More on that later. First, a roundup of the goals I've completed so far:

Goal #6 -- replace all lingerie. No comment needed.

Goal #13 -- try tai chi. I was disappointed by this one. Somehow I had it in my head that it would be more of a workout. I had originally planned to try it at our local Taoist Society until I realized that all the people who go there are significantly older than me (I'm talking numerous decades older) and I didn't think I'd fit in. So I picked up some DVDs instead. I should have picked kickboxing instead.

Goal #18 -- make low-fat cherry cheesecake for husband. I found a recipe online and made it from scratch. It turned out okay, but not much better than the no-bake mixes you can buy in the store. Live and learn.

Goal #23 -- prepare living wills for sister and brother-in-law. I'm a HUGE believer in these documents and urge everyone, no matter what your age, to look into them. They are the best and clearest way to make sure that everyone knows your wishes, should something happen to you. (In case you don't know what a living will is, it's a document that spells out what treatment you want if you are in a vegetative or similar state.) Laws can differ between states, so it's important to know what applies where you live. Check out Aging with Dignity for more information.

Goal #34 -- buy nondisposable shopping bags. Read my prior post here.

Goal #36 -- double my current donation to You can read my prior post abut this goal here.

Goal #38 -- sponsor a child. Read my prior post here.

Goal #41 -- complete RCIA. This is the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and it is what you go through if you are an adult and want to join the Catholic Church. I completed the course this past spring but am not yet able to officially join the church until I receive an annulment. Hopefully it won't be too much longer!

Goal #50 -- catch up on reading the New York Times Book Review. I was almost a year behind at the time. I'm still not caught up completely; they seem to come in faster than I can finish, so I never get ahead. But I'm working on it.

Goal #53 -- complete the Book Awards Challenge. I posted about it here.

Goal #54 -- listen to at least 1/2 of current podcasts. Read my prior post here.

Goal #56 -- read 1 more book in 2008 than in 2007. Last year's total was 51, compared to this year's 59.

Goal #59 -- read Eleanor Roosevelt, volume 2. You can read my review here.

Goal #60 -- read Fahrenheit 451. Never got around to reviewing this one.

Goal #61 -- read The Fate of the English Country House. Read my review here.

Goal #62 -- read French Toast. Read my review here.

Goal #63 -- read The Great Gatsby. Read my review here.

Goal #64 -- read Reading Lolita in Tehran. I thought I reviewed this one, but I guess not.

Goal #65 -- read The Rural Life. One more missing review. I'll see if I can't get caught up soon.

Goal #67 -- go geocaching with my husband. Read my prior post on this here.

Goal #83 -- tried fried Oreos. These are SOOOO good! You cover them in some kind of dough and deep fry, then coat in powdered sugar. I have got to find out what kind of dough to use so that I can make them at home.

Goal #84 -- go river tubing. Husband, son, and I went tubing down the Ochlocknee River here in north Florida. This is not, repeat not, anything close to whitewater rafting (although I want to try that, too). This is slowly floating down the river on inner tubes and is incredibly relaxing. I'll do it again in a heartbeat.

Goal #99 -- find bed linen for my new bed. Here's what I got:

It's from Ikea. I really like the design, but it turns out that the color is bleeding and I don't know how to fix that.

On the issue of goals requiring multiple actions over a period of time, my problem is that the totals are more than required but it's not consistent. For instance, if a goal is supposed to be done once a week, I may do it 3 times in 1 week and not at all other weeks. My intent was to create new habits, not reach some arbitrary number, so I don't really feel like I'm meeting the goal. I'm thinking of compromising with myself like this: if I manage to make it a once-a-week habit by the end of the project, then I'll give myself credit overall (but I'll still give money to charity for goal #40). Some of the multi-action goals I have no chance whatsoever of doing, so I may replace them with new goals that are actually doable (I'll still give money to charity for the goals I don't do).

The greatest challenge ever (i.e., the one we can all complete no matter how lame we are)

My buddy Chris over at Book-a-Rama is a certified genius. She's come up with the I Suck at Challenges Challenge. Here's what Chris has to say:

I always wanted to host a reading challenge but never had a topic in mind. Of course, I realized that my track record with challenges is less than stellar. What a really need is a challenge to complete my challenges! So I invented The I Suck at Challenges Challenge. It's rather tongue in cheek but it might keep some of you challengees on the path to actually completing one or two. Lord knows there's enough challenges starting up now to tempt you all.


The Slackers
(Aka "I will finish the Canadian Reading Challenge, I swear")

I try not to sign up for too many reading challenges but even when I commit to one or two I can't seem to complete them. Last year, I failed miserably at the 1st Canadian Reading Challenge. It appears I'm heading down the same path. Are you like me? Then you are a Slacker.

Join The Slackers if there are a couple particular challenges you are having trouble completing or you know you'll have trouble completing due to your track record. (Only count ongoing challenges that have deadlines of more than 3 months away, you are waaaaaay behind and you are particularly lazy. There's no shame in admitting it.)

The 12 Steppers
(Aka "I can stop whenever I want.")

There's a challenge. You see it. Your palms start to sweat. Mr Linky mocks you. You try to stop yourself but it's too late. You've committed yourself to Books That Start With Q Challenge and you know you'll do it again when the next challenge comes along. The only thing is, how are you ever going to complete them all? Sound like you? Then you are a 12 Stepper. No program is going to help you though; you're addicted.

Join The 12 Steppers if you've signed up for more reading challenges than you can handle.


Sign up anytime between now and February 1, 2009. The challenge ends July 1, 2009.


Leave a comment on Chris's post with a link to your challenge post. Tell me if you are a Slacker or a 12 Stepper and list your challenges.

Then what?

At the end of the month, starting in February, I'll put up a post calling for your progress. Leave a comment telling us if you've completed a challenge (link to your completed challenge post), if you're struggling with any and what ones, or if the challenge deadline came and went and you never finished.

At the first of every month I'll put up a post to record your progress. I'll encourage everyone to visit each other and cheer you on.

Any incentives?

Sure, why not? If you sign up by February 1st, I'll pick a name in a drawing for a little something, like a cute bookmark or something along that line. On July 1st, I'll once again draw once again from the sign in post for a "Surprise" package (it's a surprise to me too since I'll be collecting things throughout the months) of book related do-dads. No penalties if you don't complete all your challenges but please at least try!

Okay, so procrastinators unite! Together we will finish challenges we commit to. Join and add the button to your blog. Have fun!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Books read in 2008

Here's the final tally of books that I read this year. I've included links to my reviews.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain -- review here

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl -- review here

Black Dogs by Ian McEwan -- review here

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton -- review here

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh -- review here

A Confederacy of Dunces by Robert Kennedy Toole -- review here

The Devil and Miss Prym: A Novel of Temptation by Paulo Coehlo

Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim by David Sedaris

East of Eden by John Steinbeck -- review here

Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2, The Defining Years, 1933-1938 by Blanche Wiesen Cook -- review here

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Fate of the English Country House by David Littlejohn -- review here

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters -- review here

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis

French Toast: An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French by Harriet Welty Rochefort -- review here

Geisha: A Life by Mineko Iwasaki

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life by Jon Katz -- review here

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck -- review here

The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- review here

How to Be Idle: A Loafer's Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson -- review here

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison -- review here

King George V by Kenneth Rose

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson

Life of Pi by Yann Martel -- review here

Literary Feuds: A Century of Celebrated Quarrels--From Mark Twain to Tom Wolfe by Anthony Arthur

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

Mayada, Daughter of Iraq: One Woman's Survival Under Saddam Hussein by Jean Sasson -- review here

Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light -- review here

Night by Elie Wiesel

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez -- review here

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt -- review here

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie -- review here

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang -- review here

The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds -- review here

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nifisi

The Red Lily by Anatole France

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

Running with Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs -- review here

The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson -- review here

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson -- review here

The Splendid Century: Life in the France of Louis XIV by W. H. Lewis -- review here

Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener -- review here

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Time's Arrow by Martin Amis -- review here

The Trial of Queen Caroline: The Scandalous Affair that Nearly Ended a Monarchy by Jane Robins -- review here

Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 by Katie Roiphe

We're Just Like You, Only Prettier: Confessions of a Tarnished Southern Belle by Celia Rivenbark

What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should): Timeless Secrets to Get Everything you Want in Love, Life, and Work by Ronda Rich

Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II by J.M. Coetzee