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Category Archive for '1-2020 Reviews'

Each year I enjoy looking at the statistics for my website to see which reviews have garnered the most interest. Reviews which have been on the site for several years have the advantage of popular recognition which newer books have yet to receive. This year, in a big surprise, the first twenty books, in terms of reader interest, are evenly divided. Ten books reviewed here are new to the site within the past five years, and ten books have had reviews on the site for six to ten years. The newer reviews from the past five years have been posted separately. Here are the oldies-but-goodies that have remained in the Top Twenty Reviews for six to ten years.

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Each year I enjoy looking at the statistics for my website to see which reviews there have garnered the most interest. Reviews which have been on the site for several years have the advantage of popular recognition which newer books have yet to receive. This year, in a big surprise, the first twenty books, in terms of reader interest, are evenly divided. Ten books are new to the site within the past five years, and ten books have had reviews on the site for six to ten years. Here are the newer reviews, with links. The older reviews will be posted in a separate list.

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With two main characters who have little to suggest that their stories will become the charming, funny, insightful, and un-put-down-able chronicles that eventually evolve, Irish author Rónán Hession demonstrates his own creativity and his own ideas regarding communication and its importance or lack of it in our lives. He ignores the generations-old traditions of boisterous Irish writing and non-stop action in favor of a quiet, kindly, and highly original analysis of his characters and their unpretentious and self-contained lives. Leonard and Hungry Paul, both in their early thirties, are serious introverts with few friends, but events occur which inspire each of them to become just a bit more social. For Leonard, it is a young woman; for Hungry Paul, it is the realization that a new job comes with the possibility that he may have his own apartment, not live at home. I cannot remember when I have read a book which so thoroughly and honestly touched my heart. The writing is intelligent, memorable, real, and very funny, and I am already impatient for Rónán Hession’s next novel.

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This superb historical novel focuses on the power of words to change lives. In 1923, Curon, situated near the head of the Adige River, about ten kilometers from the meeting point of Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, is part of an autonomous Italian province in the northern mountains. The hardworking farmers and herders of Curon do not speak Italian, however – they have always been German speakers. When Mussolini becomes prime minister, Italian suddenly becomes the required language for the entire area, and the requirement is rigidly enforced. The fascists have occupied the schools, town halls, post offices and courts throughout the area, and “nothing is ours anymore.” Most importantly, the Italians under Mussolini now plan “to get the [Curon] dam project going again,” taking advantage of the river’s current to produce energy. The dam, as planned, will drown their farms, churches, workshops, and pastures, but it will allow the fascists to turn Bolzano and Merano, the two largest cities in the province, farther along the river, into industrial centers. The building of the dam takes over a year, and affects the entire community. “Slowly, inexorably, [the water] rose halfway up the bell tower, which from then on looked out over the rippled surface of the water like the torso of a castaway.” Author Marco Balzano has created a gem of a novel which deals with essential themes related to power, compromise, and choices and the ways people address the future – with words or with actions, or both.

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Author Irmgard Keun firmly established her reputation in Germany in 1932, with the publication of the hugely popular pre-Nazi era novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, a celebration of youth and the fast life lived to its fullest. Almost a generation and a world war later, Keun published Ferdinand, The Man with the Kind Heart depicting the aftermath of the war and the separation of Germany into two nations, East and West. “Ordinary” citizens of this time and place do not know what to expect in the future, what goals make sense in this destroyed society, and how to live a real life. These are some of the very real goals of main character Ferdinand Timpe. A former POW and fiancé of a girl who is almost a stranger to him, Ferdinand himself is not intrinsically very interesting, but author Irmgard Keun is such a high-powered, energetic writer, so wild in creating scenarios filled with irony, humor, and constant surprises, that once a reader starts exploring her novel, it becomes all-encompassing. Her tornado of images and actions never lets up, bringing even Ferdinand to reluctant life.

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