Weekly Book Roundup – January 1-7 2020

I am starting the year with a mix of fiction and one incredible memoir. Two books I completed for book clubs and all fit one or more Goodreads Challenge I am participating in. So let’s get straight to it. I am going to give away the “real” books I read this week, so scroll to the bottom to find out how you could receive one of the books I review here (it is as easy as leaving a comment).

Weekly Book Roundup – January 1-7 2020A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler
Published by St. Martin's Press on October 16, 2018
Pages: 400

A novel of a family as they rule Gilded-Age New York, Alva Vanderbilt will build mansions, push boundaries, test friendships, and marry her daughter to England's most eligible duke or die trying. She means to do right by all, but good behavior will only get a woman so far. What is the price of going further? What might be the rewards? There's only one way to know for certain...


My first completed book of the new decade! An apropos choice given the subject matter describing an era, the end of an era and the beginnings of a new one. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as it explored the lives of the New York affluents during the Gilded-Age. I have visited the Newport RI mansions and been awed by the grandiosity and, frankly, waste of resources, but did not know much about the families and possible motivations behind all that pomposity.

Much fiction and history published on the Gilded-Age focuses on the titans of industry and much less on the women. I appreciated this novel for the latter. I also imagine what the US would have been like if women had possessed even a modicum of rights, much less equal rights, during the era of industrial expansion. Much different I expect.

Nonetheless, seeing a glimpse, even fictional, into this world where a woman had to exert her powers through socially accepted means (mostly) was compelling. It drove me to seek out The Google and look up other persons, events and places to get more background. I love books that inspire me to do this.

In short, if you are a Downton Abbey fan you will likely enjoy this novel.

That said, the book is a good exploration of the downside of extreme affluence – of what can happen when there is a monopoly or extreme concentration of resources to a select few. We mock the Gilded Age now, or many do, but what will be the perception of our current Gilded Age in the future.

I am now reading Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth – going back to the most famous woman author writing fiction during the Gilded Age. I’ll review it next week.

We have our own Vanderbilts and Rockefellers in the making. An interesting example of history repeating itself. Now, instead of a string of ocean facing “cottages” we have the super-wealthy vying for literal moon shots.

For our lack of interest in learning or understanding history, we get the pleasure of repeating it. (less)

I read A Well Behaved Woman for the book club run by my favorite Indie book store, Run for Cover Bookstore. It also covered a topic in the Goodreads Challenge, Around the year in 52 Books. This is run like a book scavenger hunt, and I am using this book for the prompt, “A book between 400-600 pages“. I am not sure yet if I am going to retackle reading a book from all 50 states, but if I do I am going to use this one for Rhode Island.

Weekly Book Roundup – January 1-7 2020Me Before You (Me Before You, #1) by Jojo Moyes
Published by Penguin Books on July 30, 2013
Pages: 369

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Giver of Stars, discover the love story that captured over 20 million hearts in Me Before You, After You, and Still Me.
They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .
A Love Story for this generation and perfect for fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?


This is a good romance with a strong ethical dilemma. I don’t read loads of romances – they have to have more in them than just light romance. This book does. I realized after I started the book that I watched the movie version some time ago. Both are good.

This book is the January pick for my Neighborhood Bookclub. I started this club 3 years ago to meet friends in the neighborhood. Two women showed up, and continued to show up every month since October 2017. We are now close friends. We have similar reading tastes so never struggle finding a book we all enjoy. We either meet for a potluck dinner (often themed to coordinate with the book) or sometimes for coffee.

I am also using this book for the 52 Books prompt, “A book where the author’s last name is one syllable”.

Weekly Book Roundup – January 1-7 2020Honolulu by Alan Brennert
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 3, 2009
Genres: Asian American, Fiction, General, Historical, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 360

From the bestselling author of the “dazzling historical saga” (The Washington Post), Moloka’i, comes the irresistible story of a young Korean immigrant bride in a ramshackle town that becomes a great modern city


I loved Brennert’s [book:Moloka’i|3273] so much I sought out more of his books. Honolulu was written before Moloka’i and tells the story of the growth of that city through the early 1900’s. It is written from the perspective of a Korean picture-bride.

While not quite as compelling as Moloka’i, Honolulu did not disappoint. The story kept me engaged and I was drawn to keep reading and reading and reading – or listening in this case. That is always a sign of a good book. As I also find with exceptional books, I pulled out my iPad often to look up the real events described by the author. The book looks particularly well researched, as I would expect after Moloka’i.

I listened to the Audible version of the book and liked this narrator more than most (I am not very picky about narrators and have only experienced a couple I really disliked). This narrator did a great job with the voices and even sang at one point – a rarity with Audible, usually song lyrics, when included, are just read like a poem. She had a beautiful voice.

This book also took me to my music app to bring up more traditional Hawaiian music. I even created a playlist featuring a few of my favorite Hawaiian songs. I felt closer to our 50th state after reading this book and it reinforced my desire to visit, because, yes, I am one of the few Southern California residents that has not been to Hawaii. Maybe this year…

Honolulu for the 52-Books prompt “a book with no A, T or Y in the title” and of course, will check off Hawaii in my 50-State travels.

Weekly Book Roundup – January 1-7 2020The Old Man Who Read Love Stories by Luis Sepúlveda
Published by Mariner Books on July 14, 1995
Pages: 144

In a remote river town deep in the Ecuadoran jungle, Antonio José Bolívar seeks refuge in amorous novels. But tourists and opportunists are making inroads into the area, and the balance of nature is making a dangerous shift. Translated by Peter Bush.


This is my first 5-star read in 2020. It is one of the last books I need to complete my “equator-challenge”: to read a book from every country on the equator, this time Equador. I agree with 28% of the raters who also gave the novella 5 stars. this was a unique, interesting, fun and emotional book. I never would have read it if I was not deliberately challenging myself to read around the world.

One reason I read literature is to “travel” to unknown places. To experience them through the eyes and words of authors. This book gave me an exceptional experience, a true sense of place. Amazonia was brought to life (and death) through Sepulveda’s descriptive writing. It wasn’t glamorized, but real and harsh and alive.

The hero, who is as described, an old man who reads love stories, is a unique, multidimensional character. I loved everything about him.

The other people in the book, some rather stereotyped caricatures, still resonate with personality and are made vivid by the unique, sometimes sarcastic, descriptive language of the author.

This fit the 52-Book prompt, “a book about a place or time you would not want to live in.” The Amazon, like the polar regions, is a place I rather keep in my fantasy bucket – no need to experience the mosquitos.

Weekly Book Roundup – January 1-7 2020Kabloona by Gontran De Poncins
Published by Carroll & Graf Publishers on December 1, 1988
Pages: 339

Kabloona is a true story of a journey into the North. This extraordinary classic has been variously acclaimed as one of the great books of adventure, travel, anthropology, and spiritual awakening. In the summer of 1938, the Frenchman Gontran de Poncins traveled beyond the "Barren Lands" north of the Arctic Circle to Kind William Island, an island of ten thousand square miles. The entire population of the island consisted of twenty-five Eskimos, their primitive lives untouched by the civilization of the white man. For fifteen months Gontran de Poncins lived among the Inuit people of the Arctic. He is at first appalled by their way of life: eating rotten raw fish, sleeping with each others' wives, ignoring schedules, and helping themselves to his possessions. But as de Poncins's odyssey continues, he is transformed from Kabloona, The White Man, an uncomprehending outsider, to someone who finds himself living, for a few short months, as Inuk: a man, preeminently.


Wow. I almost give this book 5 stars because the topic was so enthralling. The culture and behaviors of the Inuit were so different from any I have experienced or heard described. The descriptions and stories were just so interesting – definitely a lot of “they eat what?”, “OMG’s”, “ewwwww’s” and “how cold?”

Some author reflections were very astute as he grappled with his growing comfort and respect for the people he lived with. He noted that no one could imagine the experience without living it – he could describe it but not transmit his intellectual and emotional experience to the reader. I believe that, but the book still left an impression.

The other aspect of Kabloona is how the reader’s perception of such a unique culture challenges them to ponder if there are any absolute truths about humanity?

Leave a comment if you want to win one of the books I read this week

Now — the offer. I read Audible, Kindle, library books and real books too. In my desire to not keep a lot of stuff, with rare exception, I give away the paperback and hardcover books I read.

I decided to give my completed books to my readers

This week I have copies of A Well Behaved Woman, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories and a book I read last year, Peoples of the Lake. The first two are like new paperbacks, the last a reasonably loved paperback. If you want one of the books leave a comment stating which one(s), sign up for my news letter (so I know how to contact you) and I will randomly pick a winner for each book. I will contact you privately by email and mail you the book. I’ll do this every week.


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