In case you missed them! BCM Book Reviews First Quarter 2023

Hey Everyone,

I’ve read some great books so far this year! In case you missed them, here’s a quick look at my book reviews for the first three months of 2023.

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse

The Measure by Nikki Erlick

The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

A Girl Named Truth by Alethea Kehas

Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

“The Hay Bale” by Priscilla Bettis

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

The Giver by Lois Lowry

What great books have you read so far this year? Leave a comment!

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Books from the sea

Read and reviewed

Summer is a great time to read books about water and the sea. Take a look at this mix of classic tales, popular fiction and nonfiction:

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What happens to a group of young British schoolboys when their plane is shot down and they land on deserted island in the Pacific?

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The classic Hemingway story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who has not caught a fish in eighty-four days

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
Light historical fiction and romance written into the history of the Titanic’s voyage, its passengers and the disaster’s aftermath

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
A story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife, who live alone on an island off Western Australia

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Fast-paced, coming-of-age fantasy tale for adults about the mysteries of life, death, nature, the past, and the present

We Are Water by Wally Lamb
A rotating narrative about abuse over time and generations, and its range of effects

The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Touching coming-of-age story about an eleven-year-old American boy living on the island of Curaçao during World War II

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
True survival story of the whaleship Essex, attacked and sunk by an eighty-five foot sperm whale in the Pacific

Read but not reviewed

Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville
A classic Melville story about the battle between good and evil

Jaws by Peter Benchley
Gripping suspense novel about a killer shark off a Long Island beach

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Ahab takes on a killer whale.  Classic story inspired by the whaleship Essex

Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh
Meditations about love, marriage and family written by Charles Lindbergh’s American wife

Old-time classics

The Happy Return by C.S. Forester

Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Shōgun by James Clavell

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Do you have any favorite tales about the sea?

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Book Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White
Wilkie Collins

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for an excellent classic mystery, I highly recommend The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. It was first published in serial form in 1859-60, in Charles Dickens’ magazine All Year Round and in Harper’s Weekly and in book form in 1860. So it’s an old book, set in Victorian England, but don’t be put off by that because the plot is so clever and varied and the characters surprisingly relevant and modern, I never felt bogged down. I should mention that the book is also very long: the print version is 720 pages.

We’ve gotten away from reading long books, don’t you think? We live in a world in which there’s too much content to absorb and talk about. I feel like it all has to be done in the fastest time possible so we can move to the next book, show, movie, song, etc. I’m just as much a victim of that mentality as everyone else, but I also feel myself shifting to a different reading attitude. When readers were first enjoying The Woman in White, they were reading it a chapter at a time and looking forward to the next installment. Just like TV shows that used to be weekly and gave us time between to look forward to what might happen next. Now everything is a binge. Okay, rant over, time to talk about the book!

Set outside and in London, the story begins with drawing instructor Walter Hartright who accepts a position to tutor two young women at their estate (Limmeridge House). Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie are half sisters and they live with Laura’s reclusive and uncle, Frederick Fairlie. The night before Walter leaves for Limmeridge House, he meets a mysterious woman in white who has escaped from an asylum. She asks him to help her and he agrees.

At Limmeridge and as predicted, Walter falls in love with the beautiful Laura and she with him, but the relationship cannot be acknowledged because Laura is betrothed to Sir Percival Glyde, an arranged marriage. Meanwhile, the mysterious woman in white, Anne Catherick, who looks a lot like Laura, is seen around Limmeridge. While that’s one of the mysteries readers will need to be patient about, we learn early on that Anne had local connections and was taken under Marian’s mother’s wing for a short period of time. Now it’s getting complicated, but wait! In a plot to get Laura’s money, Sir Percival and his closest friend, the slick-talking Count Isidor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco from Italy, concoct a scheme with shocking results. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll leave the rest out. There are plenty of twists, close calls, and dramatic scenes to keep you wanting more.

I do need to note that Marian Halcombe is one of the best and most likable characters in the story. No surprise that one of the book’s major themes is about women’s rights, as Marian is a strong woman with a smart mind. I also enjoyed Fosco’s character. You can’t trust him, but he’s extremely accommodating and pleasant and so fun to observe.

Besides being about women and their rights during the mid-1800s, the story is also about class, titles, money, inheritances, land rights, deception, suspicion of foreigners, international intrigue, love and friendship. The book begins and ends with Walter Hartright’s narration, but Collins includes substantial testimonials by Marian Halcombe, Frederick Fairlie, Fosco, solicitors, housekeepers and other minor characters. The last section reads like a detective novel and helps solve the mystery.

I highly recommend The Woman in White. If you don’t have time for the book, there are plenty of adaptations to enjoy.

Have you read this classic? Are you interested now? What’s your opinion of long books and the rush to consume content? Leave a comment.

Interested in more books by Wilkie Collins? Read my review of The Moonstone here.

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Book Review: Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk

Hi Everyone,

I originally posted this review in 2014. Today ‘m sharing an updated version and I’ve included a link to my video review.

If you don’t know already that Youngblood Hawke is my top all-time read, now you do! Before my review, I’m going to give you ten reasons why this book sits on top of my pile:

Youngblood Hawke
Herman Wouk

Rating: 5 out of 5.
  1. Its main character, Youngblood Hawke, is someone you instantly like, despite his flaws and weaknesses. I love his good nature.
  2. The rest of the many characters are weak and strong in different ways and very realistic. A couple of them you will love to hate. Others are good and honorable, but their weaknesses often surface and cause problems.
  3. The dialogue is great, and it’s not just between a few characters. There is a lot of variety in personalities and situations.
  4. There are some serious themes and social and political commentary, but…
  5. It’s not all serious – there are many funny parts, particularly the scenes that involve Arthur’s mother.
  6. The big machine of business in New York and Hollywood is always interesting. The story takes place between 1946 and 1953 and, while times have changed in many major ways, the way people relate to each other as they negotiate these fantastic deals still seems relevant.
  7. There is plenty of romantic drama, though it’s certainly subdued compared to today’s standards!
  8. Youngblood Hawke’s work ethic is awesome! It certainly is his downfall, but it’s fascinating to imagine a writer who is so driven and who has such long view of what he wants to say. He always has two or three future books mapped out in his head, and beyond that a plan to get down to his serious work.
  9. There is a lot of foreshadowing. I enjoy looking back on this and I think it is one of the ways to tie together a great story.
  10. It has a very satisfying ending, not to be revealed here!

Youngblood Hawke is the story of a young author from the coal mines of Kentucky who arrives in New York and becomes a hugely successful and prolific novelist. Publishers, agents, Broadway producers, filmmakers, real estate developers and, of course, women, all want a piece of this larger-than-life, good-natured and ambitious personality. Hawke’s goal all along is to make enough money so that he can really get down to business and write his most serious work, something he calls his American Comedy.

He has a work ethic like no other, writes all through the night, sleeps very little and spends the rest of his time trying to manage his new successful life.

But there are many daytime detours. He’s in love with his editor, Jeanne Green, but he can’t resist the lure of Frieda Winter, an attractive older married woman, who is eager to set him up in the Plaza and manage his affairs. And Hawke can’t resist lots of other women. He also jumps right into a variety of questionable investments, including hog futures and other commodities. And unable to say no, Hawke agrees to a series of risky real estate ventures with smooth-talking Scotty Hoag, an old college friend. There are also movie rights to negotiate, screen plays to write, and plays to adapt. And of course there’s the brownstone he’s gutted and is refurbishing, a major money pit.

Almost all of these characters are pre-occupied with money and success, and also avoiding taxes. Hawke’s mother is obsessed with a lawsuit about mining rights, convinced she was bilked out of a huge sum of money by her dead husband’s unfriendly relatives. No one takes her seriously, but she has a way of sensing a con and is tenacious about getting her due. Scotty Hoag is at the center of this ongoing lawsuit and Wouk shows us how he tries to wriggle free.

Wouk also gives us a good look at the business deals, contracts and the crazy negotiations that take place on both coasts and the huge contrast between Hollywood glitz and New York’s publishing world. His story shows us the difference between money and art and gives us characters that struggle with honor.

This is a huge book and an entire section of the book shows one character’s such struggle with honor as he is forced to testify about his links to the Communist party. Karl Fry’s personal battle against pressure to name names shows the power of his resistance and the personal toll it takes. It’s a battle that brings all the key players together and sets up Hawke’s ultimate challenge.

Pushed to his limits, Hawke ignores recurring symptoms of a head injury from years ago. We watch and hope for the best as he works maniacally and under incredible financial pressure to complete his latest book. His dream is just ahead and we hope he’ll get there.

Youngblood Hawke is 800 pages of thinking entertainment. It’s not exactly a fast read, but it’s lots of fun and well worth the commitment. So go on back to the 1940s and 50s, get to know this terrific character and see if this book makes it to the top of your list!

Want to see this review on YouTube? Watch it here:

And for your listening pleasure, check out this Youngblood Hawke playlist!

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Book Review: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – buddy read with Roberta Writes

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Lately I’ve been in the mood to return to the classics. I’ve always loved Hemingway, but had never read For Whom the Bell Tolls, published in 1940. I’m sure you’ve all either read it or heard of it. Maybe you’ve seen the 1943 movie starring Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman and Akim Tamiroff.

You may not know that the title refers a line of prose by the poet John Donne which begins with, “No man is an island, entire of himself.” Donne wrote those lines in 1624 as part of a larger work entitled Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. The last lines read, “Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” The gist of Donne’s words is that we are all part of a greater whole. And Donne’s bell metaphor reminds us of the short time we have on earth.

These lines are especially meaningful in Hemingway’s story about Robert Jordan, a young American member of the International Brigade who has volunteered to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. The story begins in 1937 and takes place over three days as Jordan contemplates his role in the war and his job to blow up an enemy bridge in the Guadarrama mountains. To blow up the bridge, he must join forces with guerrilla fighters who have camped behind enemy lines. There he meets the group’s leader, Pablo, whose notorious brutality has won them many battles. Although respected for his earlier leadership, Pablo has become disillusioned and jaded. He drinks all day and his unpredictable behavior may prove dangerous to them all.

When Jordan arrives at the camp, he also meets Maria, a beautiful young Spanish woman rescued from enemy capture where she was raped and tortured. Jordan is taken by Maria’s vulnerability and the two form an immediate, intense connection. Pablo’s wife, Pilar, senses the shortness of time and tells them they must take advantage of the time they have together. She knows that the future holds no guarantees.

Jordan also knows this. In his thoughts, he says, “So, if your life trades its seventy years for seventy hours I have that value now and I am lucky enough to know it.” He later tells Augustín, one of the fighters, “What we do not have is time. Tomorrow we must fight. To me that is nothing. But for the Maria and me it means that we must live all of our life in this time.”

Throughout the story, I felt a building sense of urgency, punctuated by waiting, for the bridge must be blown at a precise time, no earlier and no later. Pablo opposes the bridge-blowing, thinking it not enough. He argues that his own success in blowing up trains achieved better results. During the tense discussions, a new and dangerous dynamic emerges between Pablo and Pilar. Pilar, now a leader, would sacrifice her husband to guarantee the success of Robert’s mission.

On the last day, Jordan and the band carry out the plan to destroy the bridge. With success comes casualty, however, and soon Jordan, who is badly wounded, must contemplate his own mortality. “I hate to leave it, is all,” he thinks. “I hate to leave it very much and I hope I have done some good in it.”

I can’t tell you how engrossed I was in Hemingway’s portrayal of a time and place I knew little about. It’s a love story, of course, but it’s also one of war, politics, ideology and culture in which many of its characters think deeply about the value of human life, their purpose in the world and their connections to others.

I had a wonderful time reading this book with my buddy reader, Robbie Cheadle. She has posted her thoughts today, too, with an interesting perspective on leadership. Robbie is a terrific blogging friend and author and posts on two blogs, Roberta Writes and Robbie’s Inspriation. You can find out more about her here. And of course, be sure to check out her review of For Whom the Bell Tolls here!

Have you read For Whom the Bell Tolls? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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What’s That Book? The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Hi Everyone! Today I’d like to welcome Darlene Foster, today’s contributor to What’s That Book. Thank you, Darlene!

I’d like to welcome Kathleen Le Dain as a contributor to What’s That Book.

TitleThe Brothers Karamazov

Author:  Fyodor Dostoevsky

Genre: Classic/Literature

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What’s it about? I have wanted to read this novel for years but found it intimidating. I recently joined a read-along where we read one chapter a day of this amazing book. That was one chapter a day for 96 days! I am so glad I did as it was the best way to savour this incredible story. It is essentially a story of three, possibly four, very different brothers from a dysfunctional family, and how their actions affect each other and the people around them. One brother is a ladies’ man and a spendthrift, another an intellectual and the youngest, kind and religious.

The story covers everything, love, hate, family, religion, history, philosophy, mystery and much more. Every chapter makes you think, some make you laugh and others make you sad. The themes are timeless and as relevant today as they were in 19th century Russia.

As in many Russian stories, there are numerous characters with more than one name. But it doesn’t take long to sort them out and they all play an important part. There are many stories within the story, told by an unnamed narrator who lives in the village the Karamazov family live in and where most of the action takes place. The characters are well developed and the stories cleverly knit together. I was surprised at the humour scattered throughout the book.

At the end, the youngest brother tells a group of school boys, “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home.” This is a book worth reading more than once. 

How did you hear about it? I heard about the Karamazov read-along through Rebecca Budd of Tea, Toast and Trivia. I realized that this was probably the only way I would ever read this book.

Closing comments: It is good for your soul to read a classic from time to time.  A great idea is to read a classic along with one or more readers for encouragement and discussion. Everyone should read The Brothers Karamazov at least once.

Contributor: Darlene Foster, a long time dreamer of dreams and teller of tales, is the author of the exciting Amanda Travels series featuring spunky Amanda Ross, a Canadian girl who loves to travel. All ages enjoy following Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another in unique destinations. Darlene, an avid traveler herself, divides her time between Canada’s west coast and the Spanish Costa Blanca with her husband and entertaining rescue dogs, Dot and Lia.

Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it? Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at for information.

Book Review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ten strangers are invited to visit a luxurious private island off the coast of Devon, England. People are talking about who the mysterious new owner of Soldier Island might be. The curious guests don’t care. Their invitations suggest a vague connection to a person named Owen and they all accept. When they arrive, there is no host, just a message to settle in.

After dinner, a shocking and eerie recording charges each with separate murders. “Prisoners at the bar,” the voice asks, “have you anything to say in your defence?” Although never officially charged with the murders, it’s a new kind of justice on Soldier Island and it turns out that each guest has something to hide:

Something went terribly wrong for one of Dr. Edward Armstrong’s patients. The butler and cook, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, must explain how a woman under their care died. Spinster Emily Brent must account for the death of a young woman. Former detective William Blore lied under oath, and the defendant died. For Vera Claythorne it’s the drowning death of a young boy. Captain Philip Lombard once left twenty-one East African tribesmen without food or water. General John Macarthur sent one of his men to certain death. Anthony Marston’s drunken driving took the lives of two young people. And Justice Lawrence Wargrave abused his influence in court, sending the defendant to his death.

As a storm rages, one by one, the guests die, just like in the children’s nursery rhyme, “Ten Little Soldiers.” They soon understand they are isolated and their supply boat won’t return for days. What to do?

This is my second Agatha Christie mystery and it’s perfectly constructed. Every clue means something (even the red herring!) and the eventual explanation is clever and satisfying. Just like when you meet a stranger, you have to go through the process of learning about the person and understanding his or her motives. Because they each have something to hide, you can’t know for sure if this one has a good reason for having a weapon or if that one has a good explanation for what went wrong in the past. And as the numbers dwindle, their strategies change. Is staying together as a group a good idea? Is it best to lock yourself in your room?

In a twisted form of vigilante justice, the killer makes his/her guests pay for crimes that were untouchable by the law. How they react and how they justify their actions is just as interesting as the mystery itself.

I enjoyed And Then There Were None, but I’m taking off a star because of the occasional racist commentary, which I also noticed in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Can you go back and change the way a classic and famous book is written? I don’t think so, but this story did undergo a couple title changes. You can read my review of The Mysterious Affair at Styles and find links about the subject here.

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Books set in Australia

Wow, I hadn’t realized until recently just how many books I’ve read that are set in Australia! Here’s what I’ve read. Can you add to this list?

Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean – Brett Archibald

The Dry by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Check out these lists for additional books set in Australia:

Goodreads – Best Books Set in Australia

Tale_Away – Books Set In Australia: Australian Novels

Crime Reads – 10 Essential Australian Novels

For even more, visit my post More books set in Australia here.

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Book review: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

The Thorn Birds
Colleen McCullough

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

How do you review a 700-page book that many people have already read? I’m not really sure, but I’m going to give it a try. I’m very late in the game in reading The Thorn Birds, so if you haven’t read it yet (or watched the miniseries-next up for me) and are interested, I’ll try not to give too much away.

Wow, you can’t really tear through a book as big as this, but I have to say, I enjoyed every word of it and looked forward to reading it every chance I got. So in that sense, I did tear through it, but it took about two weeks. Reading this big book reminded me of how satisfying it is to really dig into a story and feel invested in the characters and the plot. So yay for big books and too bad we’re so afraid of them these days.

The Thorn Birds is mostly set in the outback of New South Wales, Australia, but includes storylines in North Queensland, New Zealand, Italy, and England. I very much enjoyed McCullough’s descriptions of the story’s main setting, the fictional area of Gillanbone and the family’s sheep farm called Drogheda. To give you perspective, this is not a small sheep farm. It encompasses a massive amount of land, two hundred and fifty thousand acres, and carries about one hundred and twenty-five thousand merino sheep, whose wool is the finest wool out there.

The story begins in 1915, spans fifty years and follows three generations of the Cleary family. Early in the story, Fee Cleary, whose great grandfather had come to New Zealand from England as a prisoner, and her husband, Paddy Cleary, an Irish immigrant, move from New Zealand to Australia where Paddy will have a job working on the farm owned by his older sister, Mary Carson. The Clearys have five sons and one daughter, Meggie, who becomes one of the main characters in the story. More children follow but Meggie is the only girl. And already at four years old, she’s remarkably pretty, with golden red hair and beautiful eyes.

Another central character is Father Ralph de Bricassart, a young priest who has been assigned to Gillanbone after insulting a bishop. When Father Ralph meets the Cleary family, he’s particularly drawn to young Meggie and, without understanding it, takes her under his wing.

Something important to note: Father Ralph is tall, dashing, athletic and a gorgeous human specimen. These features are also his private curse as he tries to keep his vocation as a priest in front of his earthly existence as a man, particularly as Meggie grows into a young woman. Meggie, too, has developed strong feelings for Ralph.

The Clearys endure many struggles during the Depression and World War II, and emerge from them changed. What’s curious is how none of the Cleary children feel a need to leave Drogheda, and those who do suffer greatly. It takes the third generation to branch out beyond the farm.

Building romantic tension and Ralph’s inner conflict make this story a hot page-turner and the storyline kept me interested from beginning to end. I won’t give the ending away, which surprised me, but when I think back, I see a few hints at the way things develop.

I highly recommend The Thorn Birds  for readers who enjoy family sagas and stories about relationships and conflict. It’s worth the effort and in my mind, is one of those books that younger readers should take a look at, even though it was popular decades ago.

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Book Review: Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Rabbit, Run
John Updike

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rabbit, Run is the first of John Updike’s novels about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a 26-year-old former high school basketball star who leaves his pregnant wife and young son and spends three aimless months trying to either get away from his life or find a way back to it. Set in the fictional Pennsylvania town of Mt. Judge during the late 1950s, Harry and the people around him face individual disappointments and struggle to understand their purpose in life.

The thing that set Harry off was coming home from work and finding his wife, Janice, drinking, again. That and their dreary apartment, his job selling a fancy vegetable peeler and a greater wondering of how he went from being a celebrated high school athlete to a trapped man.

You’re not going to like Harry very much. He’s immature, rash and self-absorbed and he can’t see one minute into the future. And you might not like the people he moves around with, including Marty Tothero, his former coach and Jack Eccles, the Episcopal minister from Mt. Judge. He thinks he can fix Harry’s broken marriage, but Eccles is a complicated man, trapped in his own life in a job you’re not sure he likes. Maybe he thinks if he helps Harry and Janice, this success will justify his own confused faith.

Harry settles the first place he lands, with Ruth, a former prostitute from the neighboring city of Brewer. There’s something likable about Ruth. She’s both easy-going and confident and however things work out, you think she’ll be okay. Janice seems to be okay too. She’s stopped drinking and has moved back with her parents.

The story moves inevitably towards the birth of the Angstrom’s second child. The big question is whether Harry will return. Sometimes you think there’s hope because Harry steps up in small ways, especially with their son, Nelson. But while Harry is a work in progress, and their marriage might survive, it’s too early to know if any of it will stick.

Updike’s themes of marriage, responsibility, sexuality, and faith impact each character in different ways. Harry is on some kind of spiritual edge, believing in God, but not understanding how to apply his belief. He thinks (and so does Eccles) that he will find the answers in his friendship with the minister. But really, he wants to be told, instead of figuring it out himself. Irreversible events at the end of the story will test all faiths, however. Pain and loss cause each to say and do things they don’t understand and might not mean.

Rabbit, Run is a hard book to read. Updike’s writing style is dense and complex, but well worth the effort. I could not believe how I felt while reading the final pages. This is a book that makes you think, long after and I recommend it to readers who like this kind of reading challenge.

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