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review 2018-04-20 16:02
Forbidden Bread by Erica Johnson Debeljak
Forbidden Bread - Erica Johnson Debeljak

This is an interesting memoir by a former New York financial analyst who moved to the newly-formed Slovenia in 1993 for love. I read it because it’s set primarily in Slovenia, and in that respect was rewarded: it provides not just a vibrant snapshot of a particular place and time, but information about culture and language and history. I learned more about the most recent war in the Balkans from this book than from any other that I’ve read. As a memoir and especially as a love story, though, I found this a bit lacking.

This book is mostly about Erica Johnson Debeljak’s first year in Slovenia, but it begins by tracing her relationship with her future husband, Aleš, in New York, and the final chapter, set in 2008, puts her experiences in context and reflects on how dramatically the country has changed. An outsider’s perspective gives her a sharp eye for detail, but being married to a local and living in a country that was not a destination for westerners at the time means the author isn’t a typical expat: her in-laws, who grew up in a small village and lived most of their lives under communism, are involved in her life, and she lives in a working-class area and spends time with Aleš’s rural extended family. She even gives birth at a local hospital, where the judgment of whether a childbirth is successful seems to depend mostly on the mother’s making no noise (epidurals aren’t even mentioned, though surely they must have been common in New York by 1993?).

But the book is rather lacking in emotion for the first 2/3 or so, up until the author’s decision to have a child. Perhaps she really did take moving to a newly-formed country bordered by war in stride, but this doesn’t let readers get to know her very well. The emotion snaps into focus toward the end, as pregnancy and childbirth put her in conflict with traditional Slovenian beliefs and practices (this is apparently a country where people wouldn’t open car windows in the hot summer because All Drafts Are Deadly), and as having a child brings home the fact that her decision is permanent.

There was something oddly unsatisfying about the author’s personal story, though, because her depiction of her relationship with her husband is so charmless. He’s a renowned womanizer, and their early relationship seems to revolve entirely around sex. While she’s clearly pleased with the sex and seems to find him excitingly exotic, that doesn’t explain why she would keep pursuing – ultimately across an ocean – a man who routinely pushes her away, insisting the relationship won’t work out. A few months into their marriage, she’s pleasantly surprised that he’s been a good husband, because it turns out her greatest fear in moving to Slovenia was that he’d cheat on her within a few months. I’ve seen memoirists depict relationships with exes with more charm and sweetness than this author brings to the marriage for which she gave up a career and moved across the world. In the end I wasn’t sure whether to attribute the lack of romance to secret unhappiness on the author’s part, or simply to her storytelling: perhaps she was afraid of seeming sentimental or felt the romance was self-evident. But she didn’t provide enough to make me root for them as a couple or understand what drew either of them so strongly to the other and to this relationship.

At any rate, I did enjoy book for the author’s depiction of her life in Slovenia, and even looked forward to reading it. It’s accessible and interesting and I learned from it. It is a good choice for anyone interested in Slovenia, though perhaps not ideal for those seeking a love story.

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review 2018-04-18 15:40
Corvus / Harold Johnson
Corvus - Harold Johnson

Eighty years have passed since flash floods, droughts, and tornadoes ravaged the North American landscape and mass migrations to the north led to decade-long wars. In the thriving city of La Ronge, George Taylor and Lenore Hanson are lawyers who rarely interact with members of the lower classes from the impoverished suburb of Regis and the independently thriving Ashram outside the city. They live in a world of personalized Platforms, self-driving cars, and cutting edge Organic Recreational Vehicles (ORVs), where gamers need never leave their virtual realities.

When Lenore befriends political dissenter and fellow war veteran Richard Warner, and George accidentally crash-lands his ORV near the mountain-sheltered haven of a First Nations community, they become exposed to new ways of thinking. As the lives of these near-strangers become intertwined, each is forced to confront the past before their relationships and lives unravel.


The author of this book will be coming to the annual When Words Collide conference here in Calgary in August. I try to read at least one book by each of the guests of honour before the conference and since I am a birder, how could I resist a book called Corvus?

I really enjoyed the book—Mr. Johnson is a talented writer. I loved how many threads he managed to weave into this story, everything from Aboriginal issues to climate change to poverty issues. He also painted an intriguing and rather grim view of the future. I loved his Organic Recreational Vehicles, developed from birds—swans, ravens, hawks, etc. One of the main characters, George Taylor, purchases a Raven ORV and true to Raven’s mischievous nature in Aboriginal tradition, George is taken on some unexpected adventures.

Some of Johnson’s themes are really overt—there are a couple of places where I was dismayed with the bludgeoning of the reader with his opinions (even though I agree with them). That prevented this from being a higher rated read for me—your mileage may vary.

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text 2018-04-05 16:16
TBR Thursday
The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel - Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
Corvus - Harold Johnson
The Dirty Book Club - Lisi Harrison
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - Haruki Murakami,Alfred Birnbaum
The Dragon Reborn - Robert Jordan
Unbuttoned : a History of Mackenzie King's Secret Life - Christopher Dummitt
Heir to the Empire - Timothy Zahn

So, I skipped ahead in my reading queue last week and read two "just picked up books" instead of what had been sitting by my reading chair for a while.  (Burn Bright and Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?)   As a result, four of these books are repeats from last week's TBR post.


Finally, Unbuttoned has arrived at my library!  Mackenzie King is one of the most intriguing Prime Ministers that Canada has ever had.  He never married, he was devoted to his mother and his dog, and (as the book blurb tells us) he communed with ghosts and cavorted with prostitutes.  Plus he left detailed diaries which let us in on all the weird details. (Never trust someone else to burn your journals!)  There's been a long wait-list for this one and its available for me at the library!


Also, there are two more titles for my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project--The Dragon Reborn and Heir to the Empire.  Its great to be getting back to this project a bit more seriously and there's some fun reading ahead.


What else is new?  Well, I bought a new toilet last night.  I've been meaning to get one that would use less water for some time now and a notice from my condo management company got me moving on it.  My current toilet was one of the originals when the building was constructed (1979) and some of them apparently have flaws which occasionally cause catastrophic failures.  They are urging us to change them out asap.  So, I have a date with a plumber on Monday. 


Have a good weekend, everyone!



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review 2018-04-03 19:30
Good, though error-ridden single-volume LBJ bio
LBJ: Architect of American Ambition - Randall B. Woods

Few presidents generate as much debate today as Lyndon Baines Johnson. From relatively humble roots in Texas, he rose to the pinnacle of power in American politics.  Brash and domineering to the point of obnoxiousness, he turned the position of Senate majority leader into the key office in that body through a mastery of wheeling and dealing that served him well as president and ensured the passage of a vast range of legislation that transformed the nation. Yet all of this is weighed against the controversial involvement in the Vietnam War, a topic that still triggers fervent discussion.


All of these elements are present in Randall Woods’s new biography of LBJ. He chronicles Johnson’s life from his Hill Country roots to his last ailment-plagued years on his iconic ranch. He begins with Johnson’s parents, Sam Early and Rebekah Baines, both of whom played a critical role in shaping young Lyndon as he inherited his father’s politics and his mother’s idealism. From his early years, Woods goes on to chart Lyndon’s rise in American politics, from his emergence as an ardent New Dealer in the 1930s through his famously narrow victory in the 1948 Democratic Senate primary to his role as Senate majority leader in the 1950s. Throughout it all he details Johnson’s relationships with other political “fathers”, most notably Sam Rayburn and Richard Russell – men from whom Johnson learned about the workings of Congress and who he courted and cultivated for their enormously influential support.


As impressive as Johnson’s achievements were, however, he would be satisfied with nothing less than the highest office in the land. Here the author introduces us to the clash between Johnson and Robert Kennedy, a clash that would define much of the politics of the 1960s with its bitterness and political maneuvering.  While the younger Kennedy would argue that his older brother named Johnson as his running mate as a publicity move, Woods makes it clear that Jack Kennedy offered the vice presidency to LBJ because he didn’t think he could win the White House without the Texan on the ticket.  Yet JFK’s recognition of Johnson’s political indispensability did not extend to a broader respect for the man, as Johnson found himself the subject of much contempt and derision from the Kennedys’s “Irish mafia”. Johnson was so miserable as vice-president, Woods argues, that he was preparing to tell Kennedy of his intention to not seek renomination as his running mate when an assassin’s bullets suddenly propelled him into the presidency.


Thrust by circumstance into the office he long sought, Johnson was determined to make the most of the opportunity. Woods is generous in his interpretation of the programs that constituted the Great Society, seeing it as a reflection of Johnson’s genuine concern for the disadvantaged and a product of a coherent political philosophy. This was especially true for civil rights, where Johnson knew his efforts would prove politically damaging in the traditionally Democratic South.  But the president persisted because he knew it was the right thing to do, and his Congressional experience proved indispensable in getting the necessary legislation passed.


Yet in spite of his ambitious domestic agenda and his considerable success in transforming it into law, Johnson’s presidency would be defined by his disastrous policies in Vietnam. Here Woods displays his strengths as a historian of American foreign policy, examining LBJ’s reluctant commitment to intervention in the Vietnam War within the broader context of the Cold War. For all of his appreciation of the realities of the situation and despite his skepticism of the military’s optimistic assertions, though, he was unable to stop events from spinning out of his control. Increasingly embattled by the growing opposition from Congress and the public towards the war, Johnson withdrew from the 1968 presidential race and retired from politics at the end of his term, living out his final years shunned and aware that his considerable achievements never met his even greater ambitions.


Thoroughly researched and convincingly argued, Woods has produced the best single volume biography of Johnson, one that presents a convincing interpretation of the man and his accomplishments. Throughout it he takes a favorable tone towards his subject, judging Johnson sympathetically yet not uncritically. Its greatest strengths are in his depiction of Johnson’s relationships with the key people in his life (particularly his mother, Rayburn and Russell, and his wife Lady Bird) and his analysis of Johnson’s broader foreign policy, which is often overshadowed by Vietnam in other accounts. Yet for all of its many strengths, the book is plagued with persistent factual errors, mistakes that could have been corrected with even a modest editing effort. Though a minor problem, it detracts from what is otherwise an excellent study of the life and times of a fascinating man and controversial president.

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review 2018-03-31 18:35
Room For A Bride, Faith Johnson
Mail Order Bride: Room for a Bride: Clea... Mail Order Bride: Room for a Bride: Clean and Wholesome Western Historical Romance (Busy Brides of the West Series Book 2) - Faith Johnson

I really enjoyed this Historical Western Romance. I voluntarily chose to review this and I've given it a 4.5* rating. This pulled at my heartstrings from the beginning. This heroine has lost so much and yet she pulled herself together and decides to move on, literally to the west for a new start. It was a lot different than she was used to, but it didn't stop her. A wonderful ending. This is also the 16th book of the Sweet Romance Collection. So on to the next.

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