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Archive for March, 2013

We have had a beautiful weekend – doors have been open so the cat feels safe in coming and going (closed doors make it easier for murderers to get kitties), Himself and Eldest were working in shorts and I am currently sitting on the couch sore as anything having moved dirt for two days. We decided to put our garden in this year in raised beds to make it easier to care for and to have some place for the dirt we removed from the front yard in making the patio there. So far I filled one bed, eldest filled another and I will slowly work on the other three over the week.

It was another week of not much reading. A friend is undergoing lots of medical tests and appointments and since I am the scribe for the appointments and the driver for the tests I have been busy. I had to put The Translation of the Bones aside (as it did not lend itself to a start/stop reading pattern) and found a new mystery at the library to put in my bag – Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason. It is pretty good so far.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I have never heard of Elizabeth McCraken but I was interested in learning about her after reading the first paragraph of The Giant’s House: A Romance on Diane’s Blog, Bibliophile by the Sea. McCraken was named one of the 20 Best Young American Novelists by Granta magazine and according to Wikipedia, the only person who reads Ann Patchett’s manuscripts during the writing process. Set in the 1950’s, McCraken’s debut novel is about a 26 year-old librarian feeling life is passing her by and an eleven-year-old boy growing taller and taller. The two are drawn together by their loneliness and over the years develop a relationship.

Nor have I heard of Peter Taylor, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1987 for his second novel, A Summons to Memphis. Danielle of A Work in Progress features this novel as part of her Teaser  A middle-aged man is summoned back to the south by his two spinster sisters to help them prevent their elderly father from remarrying a younger woman. Danielle writes, “This is a story of ‘revenge, resolution, and redemption’.” And it is set in the south as well – sounds like a winner.

Since we are in the south, next is Fire in the Canebreak: The Last Mass Lynching in America by Laura Wexler. While this book is non-fiction, the Literary Omnivore speaks of it as a detective story. In July 1946 two men and two women, blacks were shoot by a mob of white men. Wexler, in her narrative, is search for the truth of what happened as no perpetrator has ever been convicted. In 1991, a white witness came forth but there are a large number of holes in his story as well. This time in history is not as well known to me as the later civil rights era. There were raising racial tensions due to black servicemen returning home from the war, labor issues, as well as political issues and this book seems to be a well-thought exploration of this era.

Happy Reading!

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I have been dreaming of bookcases and books – my mind must be telling me something. I do need more bookcases – I have some books packed away and I am missing them. Not necessarily that I want to reread them, they are just books I like seeing on my shelves. As himself is totally swamped, it is up to eldest and I to build some more shelves which should be an interesting experience. Not a big week for reading. I have started The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay and know already I want to set aside some time to really savor her words. My mother had a birthday this week and received several books that I have called dibs on especially The Colour of Milk by Nell Lyshon. Himself has next week off but will either be prepping for the next set of classes or elbows deep in getting his bonsai trees ready for spring. We did take some time yesterday for the first track meet of the season bundling up in long underwear, winter jackets, and wool blankets – such is spring in the Hinterland.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni sounds  very familiar but I cannot find it on my book lists. Set in 1933 in England’s coal country, it is the story of a motherless child dreaming of the sea, a mysterious woman seeking a lost sister, and the female owner of the deteriorating button factory. The quotes that HeavenAli includes in her review are delightful. The dialect the book is written in and the mystical rumors of witches and mermaids may through off some readers but Heavenali tells us that the novel is much more than a tale of magic, writing:

Ruby’s Spoon is much more, however, than a dark little fairy tale, it is the story of a young girl in need of mothering, the story of a community, with its suspicions, social structure and poverty, that each play a part in the story of Ruby and Isa Fly. I have to say, I think the writing is glorious, the language of this novel is rich and evocative, creating a wonderful sense of place, and shot through with the unmistakable dialect of the Black Country

The subject of fathers has been on my mind lately and Sam Still Reading offers what a short novel called Big Ray by Michael Kimbell. Big Ray is an obese abusive father so when he passes away, his son Daniel is relieved and yet also disheartened. The novel consists of several short entries telling of life with Big Ray and adjusting to life without him. This sounds like a great book group read offering much to discuss about family complexities, roles, role models, and coping with the giant mess life sometimes hands us.

The lovely Mary Whipple of Seeing the World Through Books (I would love to browse her bookshelves) brings a Japanese writer, Teru Miyamoto, to my attention with her review of his only book to be translated to English, Kinshu: Autumn Brocade. Ten years after a public scandal and a dramatic divorce, former husband and wife Aki and Yasuaki briefly come face-to-face with each other. What follows is a series of letters back and forth as they relive their marriage and its demise. Mary describes this as a “quiet” novel – one of my favorite kinds of reads.

Finally Chinua Achebe passed away this week. Considered by many to be one of the preeminent voices of  African literature, his seminal work, Things Fall Apart has long been on my to be read list. Gavin from Page247 has a link to the Guardian’s article on Achebe and Kinna, a reader and blogger from Ghana, West Africa offers her own heartfelt perspective on his passing.

Happy reading!

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The Round House

round houseAs I rounded the corner, I saw the twiggy treelets with their shriveled leaves, still laid out in a row on the concrete to die. I put down my books and gathered them up, one by one, and stashed them at the edge of the yard. It was in me at that moment to feel sorry for the little trees and to be aware also that I dreaded going into my house. I had never felt that before. Then I tried to open the door and found it was locked.

I was so surprised at first that I kicked at the door, thinking it was stuck. But the back door was really locked. And the front door locked automatically – Clemence had probably forgotten that. I got the key from its hiding place and went in slowly, quiet, not banging the door and slamming my books on the table as I ordinarily would have. On any other day, my mother wouldn’t have been home yet and I would have felt the sort of elation that a boy feels when he steps  into his house knowing that for two hours it is all his. That he can make his own sandwich. That if there is TV reception, there might be afterschool reruns for him to watch. That there might be cookies or some other sweet around, hidden by his mother, but not hidden too well. That he can rifle through the books on his father and mother’s bedroom bookshelves for a book like Hawaii, by James Michener, where he might learn interesting but ultimately useless tips on Polynesian foreplay – but there, I have stopped. The back door had been locked for the first time I ever recall, and I’d had to fish the key from underneath the back steps where it had always hung on a nail, used only when the three of us returned from long trips.

Which is the sense I had now: that just going to school had been a long trip – and now I had returned. (pages 21-22)

A few years ago the daughter of a friend of mine was injured while running when a car crossed the center line and hit her. Her companion was killed. While I was following the trial, I had many conversations with my friend about the justice system in our country. Unfortunately, in this situation justice was not the main consideration. Economics (the cost of the trial as well as the cost of incarceration) and expediency played far greater roles in determining the outcome than justice for the death of one person and the injury of another. Justice is also at the forefront of Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Round House.

The novel is narrated by Joe Coutts, a Ojibwe lawyer, relating the story of the summer he was thirteen, a young man coming of age on a North Dakota Indian Reservation. His father, Bazil, is a judge in the tribal courts while his mother, Geraldine, is a tribal clerk. Joe is the only child of the couple and the family has a close relationship with each other.  One Spring weekend, Geraldine is brutally, almost fatally, attacked and sexually assaulted. The story opens with Joe and his father working in the yard that weekend when they notice that Geraldine has not returned from an errand to the office. Erdrich portrays the two’s growing sense of unease as they go looking for her, eventually find her, and take her to the hospital for treatment and from those moments on, things are definitely not the same – a differentiation Erdrich paints so well with passages like the one above when Joe returns home from his first day back at school after the attack.

The role of justice comes to bear because the assault took place on tribal land but the main suspect is white and because of the laws, there may be no justice at all. Erdrich recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about the continuing problem of sexual assault on Indian Reservations and the statistics are staggering. She writes, “More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts.” And, “…federal prosecutors decline to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse cases, according to the Government Accountability Office.”

We know that things for Joe will be okay because the adult Joe is narrating the novel. You might think this takes away some of the suspense, instead, it allows Erdrich to concentrate on the nuances of justice. In the same way, the details of the assault are given to the reader is an almost gentle manner, pieced out with careful language so the assault, while the keystone of the plot, is in the background. Erdrich is much more interested in the aftermath, the way people change from Geraldine, to Basil, to Joe, to other characters. The crime has a ripple effect radiating outwards in a slow movement. This is the language of the novel that I appreciated the most – tiny details like the weeds we heard about in the beginning, left laying softly gathered on the side of the yard, withering away with the passage of summer or Joe’s mom climbing the stairs “ascending to a place of utter loneliness from which she might never be retrieved.”

Through Erdrich’s words we can see the reservation, from the atmosphere to the round house (the spiritual center of the reservation and the place of the assault)

Clear spring shadows spread like water across the road. Down past the quiet slough, engines rumbled up to and away from the liquor store’s drive-up window. From yards invisible behind stands of willows and choke cherry, the short, vibrant cries of women rang, calling their children home. (pages 33-34)

The log hexagon was set up top of of a slight rise, and surrounded by rich grass, vivid green, long and thick. I dropped my bike. There was a moment of intense quiet. Then a low moan of air passed through the cracks in the silvery logs of the round house. I started with emotion. The grieving cry seemed emitted by the structure itself. The sound filled me and flooded me. Finally, it ceased. I decided to go forward. As I climbed the hill, a breeze raised hair on the back of my neck. But when I reached the round house, the sun fell like a warm hand on my shoulders. (page 59)

And we can see Joe surrounded by more than the mere physicality of the reservation. He is surrounded by family, by people who care about him and his parents, by his friends, by his ancestors, by the history and lore of his people. All of which adds layer upon layer to the novel, nuance upon nuance so when Joe embarks upon his own personal journey of justice or retribution, he is not alone.

I loved the symmetry in this novel – how Erdrich would tell part of the tale and then echos of that telling would ripple in unexpected ways. The symmetry in the plot itself gives the novel a tight structure.  The subtitles of the novel allow the discussions of science/mysticism, justice/vengeance, and native spirituality/organized religion to float through the narrative, never intruding yet permeating the words so the reader can follow.

I have never read a novel by Erdrich that was presented to the reader in such a subtle way. Ripples is a good word to describe this book and as you can tell, I liked it a lot. Erdrich has never been one of my favorite authors and I typically have a hard time reading her work (although I did like Shadow Tag) so it was a pleasant surprise to me that I enjoyed this book so much and it is now my favorite work by Erdrich.

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We have sunshine with scattered clouds outside today, himself is working with bonsai trees, eldest is cleaning his room, and youngest is editing a theology paper. I know about youngest because he asked for comments earlier this morning and I now know more about the Anglican faith then I used to. As for reading I finished The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen (the second of the Department Q series). While it wasn’t as good as the first one, I am still hooked and will have to wait until May for the next installment. I am also almost finished with The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds. It is a quick read but has some interesting things to say about religion and faith.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Mary Whipple reviews a book which appears on The Times All-Time 100 English Novels published since 1923 (the year Time began). The books were chosen by Critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo and I have read about a third of them. However I have never read The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. Bowles was an American ex-patriot who lived in Tangiers and The Sheltering Sky is his first novel. He had an accomplished career as a novelist, short story writer, translator, and composer. I have never heard of this author before and after reading his Wikipedia article, I am surprised. The Sheltering Sky is about three Americans traveling in North Africa after WWII has ended. Bowles uses his characters to explore how people are given opportunities to grow but they lack the capacity to do so regardless of those circumstances.

Vishy of Vishy’s Blog continues his year of reading French Literature and reviews Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux, a writer who concentrates on autobiographical narrative using bits of her life to compose narratives. Simple Passion is the story of an unnamed French woman who has a two-year affair with a married foreigner. The story is very short and seems like it would be an excellent introduction to a writer  who appears to be very well-regarded in France. I am a little disappointed that her latest work is not yet translated into English as it sounds perfect for my mom.

Imagine being 23, writing your first novel and winning Italy’s Campiello First Novel Award and being a finalist for The Strega Prize for Fiction. Lizzy’s Literary Life reviews Viola Di Grado’s debut novel  70% Acrylic 30% Wool which contains prose one critic calls “Oriental porcelain”. Set in Leeds, a city of perpetual winter, the story is about Camila and her mother. The father in the home has just died in a car accident with his mistress. Camila has come back to help her mother and as her mother has become mute, they have an invented language of glances. Both Camila and her mother seem to be going mad. I found a brief bit on the NYT website where the author explains her take on literature, “Literature has to make you stop sleeping.” This sounds a novel that would make for good discussions for book groups.

Happy Reading!

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Adding to the Stack

stack of books

I wasn’t going to do it – I swear. I have enough books to read at home and received a very nice selection for Christmas from my dad. So I don’t need any more books and I was planning on avoiding the two books stores in Salem I like going to. But then I had to go to the post office and The Reader’s Guide is on the way back to my mom’s – not the regular way to go but I decided not to be picky and spent a delightful hour or so browsing their bookcases. They had a lot of new material so I had to go through them all. But they didn’t have the one book I really needed which meant while running errands my first day back home, I had to check out Second Look Books and since I have never looked at their fiction I had to check out both their classic section and their general fiction. So now I have eleven new books to add to the stacks of not-yet-read books I already have on my shelves. I ended up leaving the Salem stack with my mom to read as I was flying home and didn’t want to add to my luggage. I will pick them up in May when I drive down with youngest. But the other stack is sitting by the couch waiting for me to find a little reading time…

Here is what I added to my stacks:

The All of It by Jeannette Haien: This is the only book I bought that I did not know either the title or the author. I picked it up on a whim and liked what I read about it on the back, “..a deceptively simple story that has the power and resonance of myth.” A priest is fishing in Ireland and contemplating the recent deathbed confession of a man who, with his wife “…have been sweetly living a lie for some 50 years…” How could I resist.

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore: This book was selected as one of The Guardian’s 1000 books to read before you die. Set in the 1950’s, Moore explores the life of an ordinary woman, a Catholic spinster of diminishing means living in a boarding house in Belfast.

Dagmar’s Daughter by Kim Echlin: I loved Echlin’s last novel, The Disappeared and Dagmar’s Daughter, her second novel, draws upon the myth of Demeter and Persephone. This is the first book my mother has read from the stack and she enjoyed it.

Mrs. Bridge – Evan S. Connell: I mentioned this book in my March 3rd post Sunday Caught My Interest.

The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block: I read Block’s first book, The Story of Forgetting (my review can be found here)and have had his second, The Storm at the Door, on my to-be-read list and grabbed at the chance of picking it up. As the first book explores the effect of Alzheimer’s Disease on both the people who have it as well as their caretakers, this novel focuses on the effects of mental illness. I liked how Block could find hope in a seemingly bleak situation so I have high hopes for his latest.

The Bent Twig by Dorothy Canfield (Fisher): Understood Betsy is one of my favorite childhood books and I was please to find out Fisher was also an accomplished writer of novels for adults. I read The Brimming Cup not too long ago and really want to read The Home-Maker so I was pleased to see this book on the shelf. Fisher was very interested in the Montessori method of education and the heroine of this novel is a strong, independent, passionate young woman raised in a Montessori home. Please note this book is available free for electronic readers.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok: My mother’s book group read this book and had a really interesting discussion so I choose it as my pick for my book group next month. Asher Lev is a young Hasidic boy with a passion for art and this passion leads to a conflict with his family and his religion. The tension between art and religion and tradition and individualism is a subject rife with discussion topics and I wanted a copy of my own to ease note taking.

Fear and Trembling by Amelie Northomb: I have mentioned Northomb a few times lately (here and here). While Fear and Trembling was not on my radar, her books can be hard to find so I picked it up. Set in Japan, this novel is about a young Belgian woman spending a year in Japan trying to navigate a very different culture than the one she was raised in.

The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds: I also mentioned this book March 3rd and Diane (Bibliophile from the Sea) commented that it was one of her favorite books. A fundamentalist church run by the family patriarch, a young girl struggling not to sin, judgement, and God – what a great combination.

The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Tayler: Taylor is a novelist often mentioned by other bloggers and other writers. Antonia Fraser called her “one of the most underrated writers of the 20th century.”  Flora believes herself to be “the Soul of Kindness” and works hard to make sure that others also perceive her that way. Liz, a painter, fails to fall into line with the other worshipers. The blurb on the back calls it “a study in deception”.

Embers by Sandor Marai: This 1942 novel by Hungarian writer and journalist first caught my notice in May 2011. Two elderly men, once the closest of friends, meet after 41 years of estrangement. In the conversation, the two exhume their friendship through “a duel of words and silences, accusations and evasions.”

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Finished up my second week with my mom and flew home this afternoon. Dog is….cat is…I had a very bookish second week attending both my mom’s book groups. The first is called “Read and Share” where everyone goes around and talks about a book they have read. I was reminded that I want to read The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds. The second one discussed Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. The general consensus was that the book was very well done but on the grim side. As for myself I finished The Round House by Louise Erdrich and Canada by Richard Ford. I also read A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers by Michael Holroyd. And in flying home I started the second book in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department of Lost Causes – The Absent One. This one is hard to put down.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Rian Malan grew up in a middle-class Afrikaner pro-apartheid family in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a teenager Rian began to have doubts about apartheid and eventually left the country to avoid mandatory service in the army. He returned in the 1980’s and wrote My Traitor’s Heart: A South African Exile Returns to Face His Country, His Tribe, and His Conscience reviewed here by The Boston Bibliophile. Malan explores his upbringing, his personal relationship to apartheid (he is descended from one of the original architects of the system), and the toll of apartheid on blacks and whites. He does this through an examination of different murders in South Africa. The book was written when apartheid was still in place and sounds very powerful.

The Canterbury Tales is a classic – pilgrims telling a set of stories and it is replayed in modern form in Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta. Thirteen pilgrims are stuck overnight in an airport when their flight is canceled. In order to pass the time, the travelers each tell a story. This debut work by the British-Indian writer is reviewed by Nic at Eve’s Alexandria. She includes many quotes from the stories and says, “The whole thing is endlessly imaginative and marvellous fun, deftly negotiating an impressive variety of styles and tones – and drawing on a wide range of global storytelling traditions – in the creation of modern fables. Highly recommended.”

Finally, from Chrisbookarama, comes this lovely post from The Lonely Planet about The World’s Greatest Bookshops. The list includes City Light Books in San Francisco, Shakespeare and Company in Paris (which youngest has been to and made me green with envy), and eight others.

And Kimbofo has a post on Australian Literature month and she has several links in the post which will give you an excellent overview of Australian literature.

Happy Reading!

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After spending 8 hours at the Spokane airport on Monday I finally made it to my mom’s house for the annual St. Cholesterol celebration Saturday with the Wretched Eve happening the night before. It was a different celebration than in years past (we only have 2 house guests instead of the usual 8) and we were missing key members due to circumstances but a vast quantity of rich food and lots of wine has been consumed with equal amounts of laughter and revelry (not to mention the number of dishes washed). I have managed to squeeze in some reading (helped by the hours in the airport) reading a magazine which is something I rarely do, finishing The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, perhaps better known for The Scarlet Pimpernel. I am over halfway through The Round House by Louise Erdrich and I am getting caught up on past issues of The New York Times Book Reviews.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I was sitting on the couch beside my mom and mentioned that Evan S. Connell’s book Mrs. Bridge seems to be making a comeback. The 1958 novel is reviewed by Savidge Reads who also posts links to three other reviews. I did not know that Connell had been nominated in 2009 for the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement or that in 2010 he won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize: the Robert Kirsch Award, for “a living author with a substantial connection to the American West, whose contribution to American letters deserves special recognition.” Even though he has an impressive career and a large body of work, Connell is not a particularly widely known author. Mrs. Bridge is his first novel which, with its sequel Mr. Bridge (1969) tell the bittersweet story of a couple who live in a modestly affluent existence through the 1920’s to the 1940’s trying to live up to society’s expectations as workers, parents, and members of that society. Perhaps it is time I myself read these two novels to get a sense of Connell’s work.

Jenny from Shelf Love has painted a wonderful picture with her review of The Translator by John Crowley who is mainly known for his science fiction and fantasy work. The Translator (2002) is about an exiled Russian poet and a young girl, a freshman at college, also a poet. The year is 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis has everyone on edge. The two poets develop a relationship which forms the basis of the novel so the author can cover the subjects of translation, the role and impact of writing, particularly poetry, and of language itself. I knew this book would be on my list as soon as I read this from Jenny’s review:

The novel explores what translation could possibly mean in this context, why poetry is so essential (Crowley takes for granted that it is — he is not asking this question), and what language is. It asks, tentatively, whether language and poetry might be minor angels of the nations, and whether they might be able to change events when the great grim gods of the nations are at war. It never dismisses or discounts pain or loss, but it traces, gently, the power of poetry to help us name it, say it, and therefore overcome it.

Looking back on my childhood it seems that there was a great deal of French literature strewn around my house. We had various Dumas novels in the book case as well as other examples of French literature. My mother was a big fan of Collette so her books were always laying about and I remember hearing conversations about Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.  My mom also introduced me to Balzac and Cousin Bette is still on of my favorite books. So I was delighted to see Vishy (of Vishy’s Blog) review One Hundred Great French Books: from the Middle Ages to the Present by Lance Donaldson-Evans. Each book has a two page essay giving an overview of the book, its writer, and any historical context that may impact the plot of the work. This seems like a perfect nightstand book especially for those who wish to expand their reading of French literature.

I haven’t heard much buzz about Ian McEwan’s latest novel Sweet Tooth (November 2012). Perhaps there have been mixed reviews or I just missed them so it hasn’t necessarily been on my radar. That is, until I read Ti”s review on her blog Book Chatter. Set in the early 1970’s, a smart and beautiful Cambridge student named Serena is recruited by the British Government to help them manipulate the work of writers whose work is favorable to the government. Serena first likes the stories of the writer she is assigned to and then the writerhimself which puts her in quite a quandary.. Once again, McEwan is exploring identity and betrayal as well as writing itself. Ti points out that the ending is very well done, one that a reader will want to savor in one uninterrupted bite.

For those of you who like mysteries, two new series have caught my attention. The first, from Tom (A Common Reader), is by novelist Paul Watkins writing under the name Sam Eastland. The series is set in post-revolutionary Russia and features a Finnish detective named Inspector Pekkala. In the first novel, The Eye of the Red Tsar, Pekkala is in the Gulag until Stalin needs his services. The remaining books are: The Red Coffin; Shadow Pass; Siberian Red; and The Red Moth. Tom points out that each book has enough of Pekkala’s background to stand-alone if you should need to read them out of order. The second series is by Lisa Lutz and contains five books with the first one named The Spellman Files reviewed by Jennifer of The Literate Housewife. The Spellmans are a family of private investigators who are closely entwined with each other to the point of investigating members of the family. There seems to be no sense of privacy or boundaries in this eccentric and dysfunctional family and the mysteries sound well put together with a large dose of humor.

Finally, for those of you who enjoy translated fiction, Winston’s Dad posts about his guesses for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist. Winston’s Dad is the blogger I trust the most concerning translated fiction and he says “…2012-2013 has in my humble opinion has been one of the brightest years in recent times…” There are several on his list I would like to read. And if you want to see who was actually nominated, Book Trust has the list – Winston’s Dad did really well (7 out of the 16) and I can see that even more books will be working their way onto my ever growing list of books to read.

Happy Reading!

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