I’m Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork

Finding another rather dark Scandinavian thriller is pretty fun and the 1st of a series,   too.  It’s good – a lot of the same elements as other Scandinavian thrillers including child endangerment, the horrors of fundamentalist churches and detectives with troubled lives.  But there are also some new ones here – the place of journalism for instance.


I’m Traveling Alone
by Samuel Bjork  – Norwegian
2013 (2016 English) / 400 pages
read by Laura Paton
rating:   A- / crime 
(#1 in the Munch and Krüger series.

This first in a series almost feels like it’s a couple books into the series as there is a fair amount of talk and background.  Some of the main characters on the Oslo squad have relationships which are obviously in progress but I think that’s because we’re  deliberately dropped into some situations.

The major characters are Oslo police investigators Holger Munch and Mia Krüger – they work with an interesting group including a wonderful young computer nerd/hacker,  Gabrielle Mørk, who is very capable.  Another focus character is Lucas, a young man who works with a strangely pious minister and although there is quite a lot of character development for Lucas,   but the pieces are all connected  isn’t revealed until the end. It’s like who did what –

The story line has to do with little 6-year old girls who are found dead – it’s a serial killer thing which I usually detest but this time was fine – not too gritty and no sex  – the crimes themselves are not detailed.

There’s a certain amount of predictability,  but the eventual twist and then the untangling of it all was well done.

The second book in this series,  The Owl Always Hunts at Night,  is due out in English in June, 2017.

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Time Travel: A History by James Glick

The idea of time travel is so cool.  I’ve read sci-fi since I was a kid,  age 9 or so.  I know I read  “The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet” (1954) and the sequels by Eleanor Cameron when we lived in Winona,  so I know I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade.   I loved them and looked for others like that.   In the 5th or 6th grade I found “When Worlds Collide”  by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer (1933)  and loved it.   I kept looking and reading although I was mostly mysteries – Nancy Drew and then Agatha Christie.   My husband loved science fiction so from about 1968 I read some he recommended.


Time Travel: A History 
by James Glick
2016 / 352 pages
read by Rob Shapiro 10h
rating:  9.25  /nonfiction

Time travel is something else though – frequently not much science, but a lot of fiction in future-fiction but the imagination is set free.

I can’t remember my first time travel book – depends on your definition of time travel I suppose –  Does “Rip Van Winkle” count? How about Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”?    I read those as a kid but I don’t thikn they really count.   I never have read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.   I think I must have been a young adult – late teens – but I have no idea what book it might have been.

I’ve  enjoyed the “time travel” books I’ve read,   but I haven’t read that many.   – Time Traveler’s Wife,  11/22/63, Doomsday Book,  A Wrinkle in Time, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Kindred,  11/22/63,  and a bunch of others.   I’m most interested in how the authors have their characters take this journey but what they find is sometimes pretty curious and well done.

Actually,  I’ve read a couple time travel books just recently –  this past year it was Remembrance of Death (a trilogy) by Liu Cixin (2016 – 2016 in English), The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray (2016) and, of course,  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843).    Remembrance of Lost Time is more about space travel than time travel, but there is by necessity some Rip-Van Winkle type time travel in there.

So anyway,   along comes Glick to explain in his very entertaining way the history of time travel both as a concept and as a subject for fiction.   Yay!   The book is really about time,  what it is (and what it’s not),   who invented “time travel” as a concept, and what have authors,  scientists, and philosophers done with the idea over time.   I was familiar with quite a number of the books he referred to although missing several scientists and philosophers.

As to Glick’s question  I’d rather go back in time mainly because I don’t want to see how I die.  That said,  I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a bit of advance knowledge about the stock market, etc.  (Or how our current prez-elect handles it all?)  But to see the Vikings set out for Greenland,  or get a peek at Robespierre – well … fascinating – and   the past sounds safer.

Many authors played with the idea of futurist stories in general prior to H.G. Wells.   That author though was fascinated by radio although he decried the pathetic use to which it was put.   After H.G. Wells the idea of using machines for time travel spread quickly and some scientists and philosophers were also interested.

Time can be loosely defined,  but not very specifically.  It’s highly unlikely (let’s call it impossible) we can ever achieve the reality of time travel because, scientifically,  there is no one cosmic clock – not of God and not of Newton.  This plus a couple of details also means there is no universal “now.”   All that plus the fact that cause and effect definitely does seem to be a  in operation,   we each have to appreciate our own “now.”

Still and yet,  it’s fun and freeing to imagine traveling in time.   I know I didn’t get all that’s packed into this book so I may be reading it again within the month.  🙂

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LaRose by Louise Erdrich

I don’t really keep TBR piles for the last few years but I’ve had this on my shelf (in Kindle library) for months since I got it on sale.  I’ve never had time until now.  Erdrich is one of my favorite women authors in part perhaps because she’s Native American and has ties to the northern North Dakota Turtle Mountain reservation.  But she’s also a go-to author because some of her books are simply exquisite reading – (Go for Love Medicine (1984) which I’ve read multiple times but there are other books in that non-chronological series as well as some stand-alones – I wrote a whole post about her books!)

by Louise Erdrich
2015 / 384 pages
read by Louise Erdrich
rating –
(both read and listened)

As with Round House (2012) and The Plague of Doves (2008) ,  LaRosetakes place on the reservation mainly in contemporary times.  The primay plot set-up is that while he’s hunting an Ojibwe man named  Landreaux accidentally shoots the young son of his neighbor.    The story then mostly revolves around how Landreaux sends LaRose, his own son, to take the place of Dusty, the shooting victim.  LaRose is  6  years old,  the same age as Dusty and his good friend.

Nobody is really happy with this situation,  not Landreaux certainly,  but neither are Peter and Nora Ravich, Dusty’s parents,  and Dusty’s mother, Emmaline, is devastated.    Maggie,  Dusty’s sister, is okay with it and LaRose’s siblings are supportive of their brother.  LaRose himself is certainly not happy.  It’s a windy story – sides are taken from the top to the bottom of the pecking order.   Is this permanent?  Or is it open to change?  And this is a huge part of the plot.

Meanwhile,  interspersed with the LaRose narrative are other much shorter stories.  One is a tale set in 1839 where a young Native girl is left by her mother at an Ojibwe trading post for Mackinnon, a white trader.   It’s a trade of sorts.   But Mackinnon also leaves the girl, who is about 11 years old and she’s then found by young Wolfred Roberts, another white man at the post.  This story was published in the New Yorker with the title, “The Flower.”  (2015).

Another interwoven story in the contemporary world is that of Father Travis, a conservative priest in a liberal community.  Everyone goes to see Father Travis.

Meanwhile Romeo Puyat is a thief and an alcoholic-addict who craves power has his own tale winding through the book.

The whole narrative is broken into many sections of varying lengths as it winds through all these generational stories taking place from 1836 to 2010.   There are Parts and chapters and even sub-chapters.    The Parts are divided by time frame with the first being called “Two Houses” and taking place in 1999-2000.   Part 2 is called “Take it All”  and backtracks to 1967-1970 for  start of the background story on a couple of the characters.  Part 3 is “Wolfred and LarRose” without dates but the story follows Part 2.    Part 4 is 1000 Kills” 2002-2003 and the final Part is “The Gathering” – also undated.   –   After the first introduction of the main characters the story-lines weave in and out through time frame Parts  to further a storyline or develop a character there.  It’s an intense book and the reader needs to pay attention.

This is very much a “show don’t tell” book.  We see how Landreaux, Nola, LaRoas, Romeo, and many others think and react – there’s not much of a narrator and it works to tell us anything more than what the characters do,  interpreting is up to the reader and it’s fascinating.

Erdrich loves genealogies – in fact that may really be a theme in her books – so many of her characters are related in different ways.  They know each other and their mothers knew each other.   Many of the characters are very well developed.

Many of the themes are the usual for Erdrich,  the historical issues of the Natives,   interwoven genealogies and the difficulties of the fathers are visited upon their descendants,  life on a small reservation or just outside its boundaries historically and today,  families,  and the continuing issues of health problems and addiction.    But love and grief are also huge themes here – and well done.

Lastly,  about Erdrich reading her own stuff for audio-books –  her voice is too soft.  It’s  more suitable for intimate readings in cozy bookshops than for trying to hear on your earbud over the din of the gym or traffic.  And it always sounds “sweet,”  not like the narrative.  Oh well – I think she’s getting better and I’ve got the Kindle version here too.

  • Landreaux  Iron – the man who shot Dusty – LaRose’s natural father – a physical therapist
  • Emmaline Iron – Landreaux’s wife – LaRose’s natural mother –  1/2 sister of Nola- social worker
  • Snow Iron – Landreaux and Emmaline’s daughter
  • Josette Iron – Landreaux and Emmaline’s daughter
  • Larose Iron – Landreaux and Emnaline’s natural son
  • Peter Ravich  –  Dusty’s father – LaRose’s “adopted” father
  • Nola Ravich- Dusty’s mother – LaRose’s “adopted” mother – 1/2 sister of Emmaline
  • Maggie Ravich – Peter and Nola’s daughter
  • Dusty Ravich -Nola’s natural son –  shot by Landreaux – deceased
  • Mrs Peace – Emmaline’s mother – daughter of Bily Peace,  teacher of Landreaux, local  informal historian.
  • Romeo –  old friend of Landreaux
  • Hollis – Romeo’s son
  • Randall – an old friend of Landreaux and Romeo


  • Mink –  Indian woman,   beaten and looking for booze and tobacco
  • Mackinnon – a trader in the area – Mink’s source for her needs
  • Wolfred – another trapper with Mackinnon
  • Larose – age 11  Mink’s daughter –

Brad Morrissey is mentioned towards the end of the book and there is a family clan of Morrisseys in “Love Medicine.”

LA Times:

Christian Science Monitor:


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The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Really having a hard time finding something to read right now – A Naked Singularity was so good and the political news right now is so bad – getting a focus on any book is really hard.   But finally I thought this short novel might do the trick.  It won the Man Booker International prize for 2016 and I’ve had it on my wish list since then.

Okay – it took me out of my Trump-trauma,  but although it was totally worth is,  it does get pretty graphic and horrific.


The Vegetarian 
by Han Kang
2007 in South Korea/ 2015 in English – 208 pages
read by Janet Song, Stephen Park  5h 14m
rating – 9  /  contemp fiction

Han Kang wastes no time cutting right to the chase.   The opening chapter  is told by  two people the first of whom is Mr Cheong.  He is the husband of Yeong-hye, a woman  who has decided to be a full vegetarian on account of a dream.   He witnesses his wife change from a non-descript South Korean housewife and a good cook into someone who does not conform to what he expects.

A secondary narrator in Part 1 is  Mr Chang’s wife who describes the dream, some background material, and  her own physical responses.   I think these are her thoughts although some of them are directed toward him.  She’s determined and a bit over-wrought.

Part 2 takes place a couple years later and  is from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law,  her sister’s husband.   He’s an artist who is striving for more artistic freedom and he is fascinated by Yeong-hye.

Part 3 is told with the point of view of In-hye.  Yeong-hye’s elder sister,  and again is some time later.

The story is told using language as slender as Yeong-hye becomes – there is no extra padding,  no adjectives or other flourishes.   The characters also have a flat aspect – they often seem without emotion.  They have enough to make them human,  but they’re definitely distanced and the story has a surrealistic effect all of which puts me in mind of the novels of Haruki Murakami although in many other ways it’s not at Murakami at all.

At first the characters,  except Yeong-hye, seem to be overly concerned with what others think.  They are Koreans and conformity and success mean everything. .   The tension builds around what Yeong-hei will do next and why is she doing these things.  There’s some symbolism or something in there I don’t think I quite understood.

********** SPOILER! ***********
About themes – well – mostly mental illness I suppose and what it is and what it does to families who are determined to conform to social conventions.  Maybe it also deals with what too many  social conventions do to people.    And then there’s some concern with what artists do with the subject of mental illness and to people with that. (What society does to people with mental illnesses!)    Another idea revolves around  whether people should really have the  freedom to do what pleases them even if they are considered mentally ill.

Fwiw,  a Mongolian mark is a blue -grey birthmark.

NY Magazine:  http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/12/the-vegetarian-and-the-puzzling-link-between-diet-and-mood.html

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/24/the-vegetarian-by-han-kang-review-family-fallout

Words Without Borders: http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/book-review/han-kangs-the-vegetarian

Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2016/02/han_kang_s_the_vegetarian_reviewed.html

Inuth: http://www.inuth.com/lifestyle/books/the-vegetarian-han-kang-rejects-more-than-meat/

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A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava

First off,  and as many have said,  this brilliant debut and originally self-published novel desperately needs an editor.   It’s a smart, funny, big, baggy,  fascinating look at … well … probably everything – genre-wise I’ll call it a very literary legal thriller.

On the most surface level it’s about a young good-guy defense attorney in New York who lets himself get entangled in some dangerous and very illegal activity by  a friend who has never lost a case.   On the level of plot-line it’s a very good legal thriller with court-room procedurals plus plot twists and turns topped of by a fair page-turning action scene.  But you have to get towards the end before that part really kicks in.naked

A Naked Singularity 

by Sergio de la Pava
2010 / 688 pages
read by Luis Moreno 27h 19m
rating:  9.5  /B+  literary legal thriller 

On the “it’s about everything”  underneath the set-up of life in a New York public defenders office are the ideas of winning and losing,  justice,  God,  Ralph Kramden, philosophy,  perfection, and  imperfection  professional boxing, personal values, war, dreams,  race,  capital punishment,  family, love, ears, drugs, money,  and … well …  you get the picture.   It’s about “T”ruth, freedom,  justice – and love.   (How’s that?)   It’s been called a novel of ideas and I certainly agree with that.

This is the kind of novel which results from a young ambitious writer trying to get every idea he has into the one book he figures he’ll ever write – ( I think that’s already been said somewhere.)  – Note – don’t let the boxing sections get you down – they totally tie in later.

Our protagonist,  Casi, is a 24-year old public defender in the Brooklyn judicial system and in the opening chapter we are introduced to a cross-section of his clients who are mostly black and have pathetic lives and drug related crimes.  There is an occasional difference  in the bunch like the Chinese man selling batteries in the park.

As the child of Colombian immigrants Casi thinks about a lot of stuff a lot of the time, but he deals with his assigned law-breakers in very good faith (so we know he’s a good guy).  With his friends, neighbors, family and even himself,  Casi gets into long philosophical discussions – and sometimes the themes of these discussions interweave with the nature of his job or predicament at the time.

Fortunately or not,  de la Pava enjoys a good digression which is the source of most of  the tropes dealing with  sex, crime, drugs, race,  literary figures,  philosophical ideas pertaining to happiness,  free will, the basis of knowledge,  money, and all manner of interesting ideas.

Anyway,  one of Casi’s fellow attorneys,  a rather creepy guy named Dane,  entangles Casi in the philosophical arguments for and against joining up and conducting the perfect crime – a big bad one.   Dane is obsessed with the idea of a perfect crime.  His one major attempt at perfection (in the courtroom) failed,  but now he’s got another plan. So he plans and plans and studies up and researches every aspect he can think of.  It all gets a bit much for Casi who caves,  but it is often very, very funny.

The best part of this book is the humor – omg – it’s laugh out loud funny in places.  The writing itself is a close second or tied.  It’s usually perfect pitch for a young and intellectually inclined lawyer.   Casi thinks a lot and those parts are in stream-of-consciousness style.  On the downside some of these digressive scenes go on too long and it seems as though the author is his biggest fan of the sound of his own voice.

The author wrote this while working as an attorney and after getting a dozens of rejections from publishers decided to self-publish. One of these self-published manuscripts made its way to the desk of an editor at The Quarterly Conversation who wrote a glowing review.   This tweaked the beaks of the University of Chicago press and the following year the press-published book won the PEN award.   It’s slowly built a  following.   It as recommended to me by some friends whose tastes I respect.   They’re right – it’s worth recommending to folks who enjoy Pynchon,  David Foster Wallace,  Don DeLillo and others authors of big wonderful novels.

This is the review which started the buzz:







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Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

I haven’t read a book by Anuradha Roy since God of Small Things back in 1999 or so.   I enjoyed that well enough and I don’t know why I haven’t read her more recent works.  Then Sleeping on Jupiter made the Long List for the Man Booker Prize (2015).  But it took a long time to get published in the US so I wasn’t able to read it and then I procrastinated.  Now it’s come up for a reading group.  (smile)


Sleeping on Jupiter
by Anuradha Roy
2015/ 256 pages
read by Deepti Gupta 7h 45m
rating:   6
The tale opens with the 1st person tale of Nomi,  a 6-year old girl whose family was brutally murdered when a group of guerrilla fighters attacked their village.  She is taken to an “orphanage” and then to an ashram.  There the guru whom everyone adores molests her and other orphaned girls  in really disgusting ways.

This section is followed by the story of four older tourist women visiting the Ashram and which is followed by Nomi again but as an adult visiting India and the Ashram along with a film crew.   These stories are interwoven regularly along with those of  a couple other minor characters.

Because we know early on that Nomi has been adopted by a family in Norway we know she survives – the tale is about betrayal,  revenge and closure along with Roy’s determination to enlighten her readers on the reality of child abuse in India.

Why did I give it such a high rating? –  It’s well written and there is a good supply of tension.  It’s simply disgusting imo.  I don’t think you need all those details and graphic descriptions to raise awareness.   Maybe it was there to impress the judges of the award givers – they seem to appreciate it going by the last few years.

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The North Water by Ian McGuire

What is with the Booker Prize judges these days?   Do they think gentle books are for wimps and that they have to choose the grittiest and most violent of the nominees to get attention?    Thank goodness this only made the long list – I’m reading it because it was chosen by a group.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind a good dose of violence in appropriate places and where the literary qualities of the narrative outweigh the brutality.  Blood Meridian is one of my favorite books of all time –  McGuire is no McCarthy.   He’s not even a Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings).  There seems to be no point to the violence of The North Water –  just showing how much the human body and mind can bear?


The North Water
by Ian McGuire –   England
2016 / 272 pages
read by John Keating
rating – 4
(Man Booker Long List – 2016)

What could be more violent than a whale chase in the waters off Greenland with bad-ass seamen of the 19th century?  Well – add a serial murderer to the crew and then what could be more violent? – Okay  – have said murderer be a serial pedophile and boy-child murderer.  So when the low points of the novel really set in there seem to be no limits.    A Little Life by Hanya Yanahigihara is pretty bad but it’s graced by such wonderful bonding between the friends.   We have none of those warm fuzzies in McGuire’s book.

I understand that McGuire is a professor of American literature at Manchester University in England.  I guess he thinks can be by putting one extremely violent scene after another and have a winner.   He’s an academic but I guess he specializes in violence.

Independent:  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/ian-mcguire-the-north-water-subtle-as-a-harpoon-in-the-head-but-totally-gripping-book-review-a6856011.html


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