Annie's 2023 reading diary

Tämä viestiketju jatkuu täällä: Annie's 2023 reading diary - Part 2.

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Annie's 2023 reading diary

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 3, 12:18 am

That may be the latest I had started my thread in the Club yet :)

I am Annie and after living in Bulgaria for my first almost 30 years, I moved to USA in late 2010. These days I live in Phoenix, Arizona and had been working for the same company as a software architect since before I changed countries.

I read pretty much anything - I am much more likely to read a genre story than a mainstream one (although sometimes the boundary seems to be blurring but you never know what I may decide to read next. I like comics and graphic novels (come visit the Graphic Stories thread I am running again), magazines (and journals and other -zines), short stories and plays. My non-fiction reading seems to go through phases so who knows what will happen this year. I also read poetry although I rarely understand, let alone like, modern poetry (most of the poets I seem to like tend to write in what can be considered older and more conventional styles). I am also a serial series reader so a lot of what I read is series.

I almost never make plans outside of group reads - in most cases the easiest way to know what I would NOT be reading is to see what I had planned to read. I can read in three languages (Bulgarian, English and Russian). I try to keep my Russian alive with some reading in the language and I enjoy catching up with what Bulgarian authors publish (last summer, when I was coming back to the States from Bulgaria, my suitcase contained more books than clothes).

Even though I do not plan to make reading plans per se, I have a few reading projects going on which will probably continue this year
- The Ancient Literature Project - an offshoot of my History project (which is hopelessly stuck in the Ancient Near East but at least it moved from pre-history (kinda...)).
- History from the Start
- Arthurian literature through the Ages

I am also hosting the "Victorian Era Abroad" club threads so I will be spending some time in the 19th century.

I also hope to actually read my own books more (as opposed to reading mainly library books and the books I am buying lately leaving my older books orphaned) and to finish cataloging my books in LT. We shall see how that goes.

Welcome to my thread :) I hope you have fun here -- just don't expect any logic in how I am picking what I read next - sometimes it may be because I literally tripped on a book or it had to be moved for something :)

In case you want to see the books I read ordered differently (a subset of them anyway):
Category challenge:
Alphabet Challenge:
(more links to add later)

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 3, 1:32 pm

Books: anything that is published on its own regardless if it is an omnibus of 10 novels or a single short story or article (Kindle Single for example). The Delphi collections don’t count as omnibuses as I never read them end to end - so their composite parts will be here or down in gone orphaned stories.

=== JANUARY ===
1. Our Lady of Sligo by Sebastian Barry
2. Sight Unseen by Sandra Ireland -- Sarah Sutherland (1)
3. Zarifa: A Woman's Battle in a Man's World by Zarifa Ghafari and Hannah Lucinda Smith
4. The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television by Koren Shadmi
5. A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa, translated from Japanese by Martin Brown and Risa Kobayashi
6. I'm Telling the Truth, but I'm Lying: Essays by Bassey Ikpi
7. Fairy Tale by Stephen King
8. And the Bride Closed the Door by Ronit Matalon, translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen
9. Double Blind by Edward St. Aubyn
10. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
11. Hinterland by Sebastian Barry
12. Avian Illuminations: A Cultural History of Birds by Boria Sax
13. It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken by Seth
14. One Story 296: The Eclipse by Isaac Bashevis Singer, translated from Yiddish by David Stromberg
15. The Bombay Liaison (is Grateful) by Dinika Amaral
16. Middlemarch by George Eliot
17. Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s: Laura / The Horizontal Man / In a Lonely Place / The Blank Wall by Vera Caspary, Helen Eustis, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Dorothy B. Hughes -- LOA (268)
18. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
19. Doctored Evidence by Donna Leon -- Commissario Brunetti (13)
20. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini -- Captain Blood (1)
21. Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
22. Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews -- Kate Daniels (1)
23. Ангелът на атентата by Светислав Басара, translated from Serbian by Рада Шарланджиева

24. The Christmas Stories by Anthony Trollope -- Complete Short Stories, Vol. 1.
25. Bound by Benedict Jacka -- Alex Verus (8)
26. Picture You Dead by Peter James -- Roy Grace (18)
27. Bannock, Beans and Black Tea: Memories of a Prince Edward Island Childhood in the Great Depression by John Gallant
28. Whistling Psyche / Fred and Jane by Sebastian Barry
29. Die Around Sundown by Mark Pryor -- Inspector Henri Lefort (1)
30. Tonight is Already Tomorrow by Lia Levi, translated from Italian by Clarissa Botsford
31. Three Bedrooms in Manhattan by Georges Simenon, translated from French by Marc Romano and Lawrence G. Blochman
32. 1989 by Val McDermid --Allie Burns (2)
33. The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon, translated from French by Geoffrey Sainsbury
34. A Long, Long Way by Sebastian Barry -- Dunne Family (2)
35. Marked by Benedict Jacka -- Alex Verus (9)
36. 32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics by Adrian Tomine
37. People of the Blue Water : A Record of the Life Among the Walapai and Havasupai Indians by Flora Gregg Iliff
38. Treasure State by C. J. Box -- Cassie Dewell (5)
39. Manam by Rima Elkouri, translated from French by Howard Scott nd Phyllis Aronoff
40. The Last Lions of Africa: Stories from the Frontline in the Battle to Save a Species by Anthony Ham
41. Thumbprint by Friedrich Glauser, translated from German by Mike Mitchell -- Sergeant Studer (1)
42. Laidlaw by William McIlvanney -- DI Jack Laidlaw (1)
43. A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install
44. Clyde Fans by Seth
45. China Hand by Scott Spacek
46. Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo -- The Singing Hills Cycle (3)
47. Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner
48. The Impatient by Djaïli Amadou Amal, translated from French by Emma Ramadan

=== MARCH===
49. The Man Burned by Winter by Pete Zacharias -- Rooker Lindström Thriller (1)
50. The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-mo, translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim
51. The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut
52. Fallen by Benedict Jacka -- Alex Verus (10)
53. Forged by Benedict Jacka -- Alex Verus (11)
54. My Heart by Semezdin Mehmedinović, translated from Bosnian by Celia Hawkesworth
55. Bound by Mystery: Celebrating 20 Years of Poisoned Pen Press, edited by Diane D. DiBiase
56. Professor Andersen's Night by Dag Solstad, translated from Norwegian by Agnes Scott Langeland
57. In Memoriam (Norton Critical Edition) by Alfred Lord Tennyson
58. Risen by Benedict Jacka -- Alex Verus (12)
59. Gardens by Benedict Jacka -- Alex Verus (12.5)
60. The Closers by Michael Connelly -- Harry Bosch (11)
61. Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine
62. The Two Doctors Górski by Isaac Fellman
63. Children of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein
64. Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes by Rob Wilkins
65. The Lost Women of Azalea Court by Ellen Meeropol

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 5, 7:25 pm

The orphaned stories and articles - anything I read on its own - online, in a magazine I do not plan to read completely, in a book I do not plan to finish - basically if it won't make it and be reviewed up in the previous list, it gets here.


None. Surprisingly.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 2, 11:58 pm

Some statistics or another. Still do not know what I want to track this year so I just leave that here until I decide.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 3, 12:37 am

So where was I as 2023 rolled in?

I had 3 books going on - two of them were supposed to be my books for the week between Christmas and New Year but things worked differently:

Middlemarch by George Eliot: one of the Q4 Victorian group reads. Earlier in 2022, I read David Copperfield in an edition which showed the original parts and found that an interesting way to read a novel I had read before - stop after a part (the way the contemporaries had to) and give it some time for the brain to make its own connections. It allowed me to see things I had previously glossed over - they don't make much of a difference in the novel but if you stop there, they almost serve as cliffhangers and they actually become a bit more important. So my plan was to read 1 book per day -- except that once I read the first book, I realized that Middlemarch can use more than a day between the books - so the current plan is to read a book per week (usually on a weekend). But we shall see.

In Memoriam (Norton Critical Edition) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson - the second of the Victorian reads. I've read the introduction and the first 45 parts of the poem before the year rolled through and I am taking my time with it.

Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s - I finished the first of the 4 novels (Laura by Vera Caspary) on December 31; 3 novels remaining.

And with that, it was time for 2023. :)

tammikuu 3, 12:35 am

Happy New Year! I loved the movie Laura. How did you like the novel?

tammikuu 3, 1:19 am

sometimes it may be because I literally tripped on a book

This made me laugh. Happy 2023!

tammikuu 3, 8:54 am

I'm still reading Middlemarch from 4th Quarter Victorian too. It's a reread for me, but I still want to finish the reread.

tammikuu 3, 10:35 am

>5 AnnieMod: >8 arubabookwoman: I am happy to see that the both of you are still reading Middlemarch because I am still plodding away at Goblin Market and Other Poems, one of the other 4th Quarter Victorian reads! I don't feel so alone now ;-)

Happy New Year!

tammikuu 3, 10:44 am

>6 FlorenceArt: Very much :) It is a bit too calm for its genre at these times (which is why it is not as popular as some other novels I suspect) but i quite enjoyed it.

>7 rhian_of_oz: Happy to entertain :)

>8 arubabookwoman: It is a reread for me as well (I know I've read it in English before, I am not sure if I did not read in Bulgarian before that). Which is why partially why I can just stop and wait a bit and think (although I will admit that my last read was in my teens and my memories are a bit blurry on the details and I don't even remember some of the characters)

>9 MissBrangwen: I did not even get that one started (still plan to though) :)

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 3, 2:30 pm

1. Our Lady of Sligo by Sebastian Barry
First Performance: Royal National Theatre in co-production with Out of Joint, directed by Max Stafford-Clark; on tour at the Oxford Playhouse on 26 March 1998;
First Theatrical Performance: Cottesloe Theatre (now Dorfman Theatre), London): 9 April 1998
Irish Premiere: Gate Theatre, Dublin: 14 September 1998
Length: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including 15 minutes interval; 64 pages
Publisher: Methuen (1998); Methuen Drama Modern Play
Format: Paperback
Awards: Joint winner of the Peggy Ramsay Play Award
Read: January 1, 2023 - January 1, 2023

The play is almost a companion piece to Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty: it was first staged in the same year in which the novel was published and if you had read the novel, you had already met the main characters of the play - Mai O'Hara, the narrator of most of the story is the sister-in-law of Eneas. We saw her losing her child in the novel but both her and her husband Jack were peripheral characters - their suffering was mostly hinted at than shown. Here, the two of them take center stage and tell a different Irish story of the first half of the 20th century. You do not need to have read the novel to understand the play but I suspect that it may be adding a lot more background thus allowing the characters to seem more alive.

It is 1953 and Mai O'Hara is dying in a Dublin hospital. She lived through 2 wars and the fight for Irish independence, through losing a child and becoming an alcoholic. But she also has a living daughter - and it is the husband, Jack, and the daughter Joanie who come to visit her. Mai believes that she has another visitor as well - her own dead father, coming to take her home. Slowly, it emerges that Mai is dying of cancer, probably at least partially caused by her drinking.

We meet Mai in the last days of her life but we get her complete story. The structure of the play is similar to that of "The Steward of Christendom" before it and of the novel "Annie Dunne" later - flashbacks and memories slowly fill in the gaps of a life. Just like Eneas and later Annie, Mai was born with the century and saw all her expectations fall, all her hopes dashed. The tragedy of the country is tied to her personal tragedies - from the loss of a sister through the loss of a child to the loss of her own self at the bottom of a bottle.

Unlike most diseases, alcoholism is usually considered shameful and getting help for it was never something people could do - especially if the people were women and not wealthy. Women are expected to take care of their families, no matter what. And Mai succeeds - to a point. He daughter may have wished to have had different parents, ones who do not drink and shout at each other, but she is still there when her mother is about to die.

Weaving together personal histories with the bigger history of the nation is one of Barry's specialties and this play is not an exception. And even if Mai remains home (unlike Eneas), she is still lost.

All works by Sebastian Barry that I had read/listened to:
The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998)
Annie Dunne (2002)

The Pentagonal Dream Under Snow (1986) (audio)
Plays: 1: Boss Grady's Boys / Prayers of Sherkin / White Woman Street / The Only True History of Lizzie Finn / The Steward of Christendom including:
- Boss Grady's Boys (1988)
- Prayers of Sherkin (1990)
- White Woman Street (1992)
- The Only True History of Lizzie Finn (1995)
- The Steward of Christendom (1995)
Our Lady of Sligo (1998)

tammikuu 3, 3:04 pm

Happy new year, Annie! Funny coincidence, we seem to have read a book by Caspary at the same time... she's not exactly a household name nowadays! Mine was Bedelia.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 3, 3:05 pm

So sorry--double post...

tammikuu 3, 3:25 pm

>12 LolaWalser: Happy new year! :) It happens that way sometimes :)

I've never even heard of Caspary before but I plan to get back to her at some point. I like the crime novels from the mid-century despite their usual issues with characterization and/or the mores of the day. A lot of these authors are forgotten (and not just the female ones - for example I read The Lying Ladies / The Bandaged Nude / Many a Monster by Robert Finnegan (aka Mike Quin) last year and while the novels were not a masterpiece, I've read enough which were much worse than them but are still in print). It is a good thing we live in the era of reprints I guess.

tammikuu 3, 4:32 pm

2. Sight Unseen by Sandra Ireland

Type: Novel, 70k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2020
Series: Sarah Sutherland (1)
Genre: Historical, thriller, crime
Format: paperback
Publisher: Polygon
Reading dates: January 1, 2023 - January 2, 2023

Once upon a time, Sarah Sutherland dreamed of being an archeologist. Then she met a boy, got pregnant and things got a bit sidetracked. So here she is now - divorced (the ex-husband married a real archeologist), taking care of her father (unlike her, he had his only child when he was older so he is now in his 80s), living alone after her daughter took a gap year and went to Asia, working as a manager in the local superstore and leading witches' walks in her free time.

It is a perfect setup - although it is unclear what for. And that is part of the problem of this novel - it weaves too many stories at the same time and most of the characters come up almost two-dimensional in the process. Add to all of the above two separate crime stories (one in the past and one in the present), an old man's hallucinations and a skeleton (well, part of one) and the novel gets a bit too busy.

Alie Gowdie was sentenced to death as a witch in 1648. Sarah lives in her old house and tells her story during her witch's walk. So when the diary of the man who led the prosecution against her suddenly appears, Sarah jumps at the opportunity to learn more about her story (and not just because it will help her make her walks more appealing and thus win more money). In the meantime, the new cleaner in the store, Mai, appears to have her own issues. The stories that emerge both about Mai and about Alie are both modern and ancient - past and present parallel each other (minus the witches) to the point where one starts wondering if humanity ever changes.

And then there is the personal story. Sarah fires Grant from the store for being irresponsible (well, he technically leaves but...) just to find out that not only she is in love with him but that he is now her father's new caregiver. It is almost too sugary (and the whole romance development was a bit too... cute). So here she is, struggling with her budding feelings for a man who is way too young for her while worrying about her child and her father.

And yet, somehow, the end actually ties the whole mess together. The double narration - by Sarah and by her father John helps by providing details the other may not know and by allowing some ambiguity to trickle in without adding an unreliable narrator. One of the other things which I particularly liked in the novel was the way in which the author led us through the discovery of John's Charles Bonnet Syndrome - an ailment I had never heard of - and the realization of how often it is misdiagnosed and why.

The storyline that really seemed off though was the one around Hannah (the daughter). I suspect that it was left the way it was to allow a sequel to the novel (it is advertised as first in a series) but it does match and Sarah's reactions are just off considering all her other reactions in the novel.

The author's note at the end of the novel mentions that neither Alie, nor the town of Kilgour really exist but they are the sum of every woman (or man) who was called a witch in the 16th and 17th centuries in Scotland and the combination of all the small towns on the east coast of Scotland. When one thinks of witches, it is Salem that usually comes to mind but a lot of people died in the old country as well. And despite the issues I have with the novel as a whole, that aspect works - both the story and the uncovering of the "new" story.

Hopefully if there is a second novel, it will be a bit more even and without slipping into the almost comical in places where it just does not work - adding a lot of cliches at the same time did not help much. I did like the historical part of the novel though and the style of writing is not awful (despite everything) so I may look up some of her older novels.

New author for me; this was her 4th novel and the start of her first series.

Apparently I am on a tour of the islands off the coast of Europe at the start of the year - first small town Ireland with Barry, then small town Scotland with Ireland (a bit confusing with that name of hers - she is born in Yorkshire, England, lived for many years in Limerick (her explanation on her site ( makes me laugh: "After dropping out of uni at 18, I ran off to Éire to live The Good Life (goats, pigs, chickens) before returning to Scotland with two children and a pile of skulls skills I’ll probably never use again", Ireland and now lives in Carnoustie (that detail comes from the book itself), Scotland).

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 4, 5:59 pm

3. Zarifa: A Woman's Battle in a Man's World by Zarifa Ghafari and Hannah Lucinda Smith

Type: Non-fiction
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2022
Series: N/A
Genre: Memoir
Format: hardcover
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Reading dates: January 2, 2023 - January 3, 2023

Zarifa Ghafari had been in the news a lot in the last years - between her work as a mayor in a country where female faces in politics are a minority, fleeing the Taliban when they retook the country after the US troops moved out and then returning for a visit as part of her humanitarian actions, she had been hailed as a courageous woman by some and considered a traitor by others. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle but if you expect this book to tell you where you need to lean, you will end up disappointed.

It is a memoir of a woman who was born in the mid 1990s in Afghanistan and managed to fight for women's rights from inside of the system in a country where most women are expected to stay home, have babies and be obedient. That part of this story is fascinating and adds some details to the story we all know from the news. It did add some insights which were interesting (including the realization that politics is politics, regardless of where they are).

But at the same time, it is an idealized account. Zarifa cannot do anything wrong - she always has the moral high ground, anything she does is the Good Thing. Anything that does not serve the narrative is just mentioned in passing (if at all). Even her treats to self-immolate when she is not allowed to take her position as a mayor are presented as a viable way of forging a path ahead (in a country where this is the only way for most women to die, it feels almost manipulative, even if she indeed planned to do it if she did not get her post). She makes the point a few times that there are two different Zarifas - one who is the unflappable public figure and the other, the woman who is just an Afghani woman. But... while we are told about that a few times, we never see that second one - she is always the one to be right. There are sections which are emotional and make one look around and wish to call their own parents just to hear their voices but even they seem a bit artificial.

The story of Afghanistan in the last decades is one of wars and suffering. Showing that to the world, showing the difference between Kabul and the countryside, showing how sometimes the evil you are afraid of is the lesser evil is important. Certain parts of the book make you think of what we have in the West (even the Eastern part of the West) and about what one takes for granted.

I am not sure how much of the book was written by Zarifa and how much came from Hannah Lucinda Smith - the book is in the first person and the acknowledgement section is written by Zarifa and contain thanks to Hannah Lucinda Smith.

There is a lot to be learned from this book and I am glad to have read it. But you won't learn much more than you will learn from the news or Wikipedia - the whole story feels a bit whitewashed and cleaned up - making sure that we cannot miss who is supposed to be the positive character here.

tammikuu 4, 1:40 pm

Enjoyed your 1st three reviews. The name Sligo caught my attention because it’s the name of a regional rock formation i deal with, but its named after Sligo, Louisiana. Also, I’m glad you read the Zarifa book so I don’t have to. 🙂

tammikuu 4, 2:35 pm

>17 dchaikin: The original Sligo is a coastal seaport and the county town of County Sligo, Ireland, within the western province of Connacht. (from Wikipedia) :) I guess the American one was called after that (unless it was a coincidence?).

A lot of Barry's characters are either from Sligo or connected to it - the McNulty family is from there originally. So it will show up as a name in my reviews again soonish. Technically his book are not a real series but they are connected and characters pop between them (I think most are still readable on their own even if they are better together).

The Zarifa book annoyed me a bit yesterday. I expected it to be somewhat whitewashed but... that thing could have made a wonderful long article and still carry the same information. I like my non-fiction either a bit more information dense or if it is a memoir/autobiography, some of the depth can be replaced with emotional depth...

tammikuu 4, 3:16 pm

>18 AnnieMod: political autobiographies can be very frustrating. In this case, I suspect she’s writing to protect herself from a variety of critics. And perhaps she knows any personal human weakness or actual mistakes will get manipulated and then amplified across political messengering (in this case, by the anti-feminist Taliban)

tammikuu 4, 3:51 pm

>19 dchaikin: Maybe...

I am not sure how much of that was really her and how much was her co-author. It sounded... journalistic - like those portrait/profile features in magazines... Except that these pieces are not in the first person and they can sound a bit too good to be true but you expect them to. Using that style in the first person almost sounds like boasting. Not that she does not have things to boast about - don't get me wrong - her story is extraordinary. But instead of using the tone and style where it makes sense, it is through the whole book. Which by the end start feeling like too much sugar in one's tea - it may be nice for the first two sips but then your teeth start hurting.

tammikuu 4, 5:46 pm


Happy New Year and happy reading. So organized, I admire that. 📚📚📚

tammikuu 4, 6:06 pm

>21 pmarshall: Now that made me laugh. :) This may be the only place on my life where I am organized (well, until I am not) :)

Happy reading this year!

tammikuu 5, 11:22 am

>16 AnnieMod: I've read autobiographies/memoirs like that. It leaves me feeling frustrated at not getting the full picture. How do you know what to believe? Great review!

tammikuu 5, 6:38 pm

>23 labfs39: I don't necessarily expect the complete picture - a memoir belongs to the person who writes it so there will always be the unreliable narrator element. But I expect the personality of the person to show up - warts and all - and that to assist in evaluating the text itself. It is this weird mishmash of journalistic, almost antiseptic, language (which makes you expect a somewhat balanced account) and a memoir (which implies personal touch) that always baffles me. You could have converted the whole book into the third person, sentence for sentence and not lose anything - and that's just not how memoirs are supposed to work. I suspect a lot of people like the style but it just did not work for me... despite being an interesting story (which made it even more annoying).

tammikuu 6, 9:01 am

>20 AnnieMod: I've read quite a few of those "told to" types of memoirs and they often leave me feeling I don't know the person. It is frustrating.

tammikuu 7, 4:36 pm

Hi, Annie I’m a bit late catching up with everyone, but I’ve starred your thread and I will be checking in. I usually wind up with a few wishlist items when I visit.

tammikuu 8, 4:22 pm

Hi Annie, happy reading in 2023.

tammikuu 9, 2:13 pm

Ha, I have visitors :)

>25 BLBera: Yeah... most of them are obvious but that one took awhile to register as one of those.

>26 NanaCC: Sorry? You are welcome? All of the above? :) I haven't even opened some of the threads in the group yet either...

>27 AlisonY: Happy reading in 2023 :)

tammikuu 9, 2:57 pm

4. Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television by Koren Shadmi

Type: Non-fiction, Graphic format
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2019
Series: N/A
Genre: Biography
Format: paperback
Publisher: Life Drawn, an imprint of Humanoids
Reading dates: January 3, 2023 - January 4, 2023

Rod Serling is one of those names that everyone who had ever cared about classic SF TV would recognize (although I would admit that it took me forever to stop reading his name as Sterling). If they don't, they may recognize his most popular show - The Twilight Zone - and the name had become so popular in the modern world that I suspect that even people who never cared about SF had heard of.

Koren Shadmi decided to tell the story of Serling in graphic form. And what better way to do it than to frame it inside of a story -- with a twist at the end, so reminiscent of the show that even if you expect it, you still smile when it comes.

On a long plane ride, Serling's seatmate asks him to tell her a story - and he decides to tell his own life story - from the WWII to finding fame in Tinsel Town. Science fiction was not where he started - he tried to be a serious writer first but it soon became clear that the censors won't allow a lot of what he wanted to say. So he moved his stories to the future, to Mars - seemingly away from the now and here. And yet, as any reader of the genre will tell you, they were the stories of today, of the here and now. At around the same time, the science fiction authors of the Warsaw Pact countries were using the same methods to hide their stories of subversion and critique -- and just as it happened there, the US censors ignored the genre (in a lot of ways, being considered a sub-par genre and something for children and not a serious helped).

Looking back, The Twilight Zone was a phenomenon. Back at the time it aired? It almost killed its creator and its ratings were not where they should have been.

Shadmi does not shy from the serious topics - Serling is Jewish and this did not sit very well with a lot of people. He neglected his family and his health during long stretches of his career and he was always chasing the next thing - more fame, the better review, the next best thing. And yet, he comes out of the story as a human - maybe a bit more talented than most but a hard working man who achieved what he set his eyes on... or almost did.

The art (again by Koren Shadmi) is functional and clean - it supports the narrative without distracting from it. It is mostly black and white - slightly different between the two timelines (the plane ride (where the black/grey turns into blue/grey) and the story the storytellers tells).

Even if you do not care about SF, this may be worth reading. It encapsulates a time that is long gone - the story of Hollywood and the modern television, the story of censors and the birth of a cultural phenomenon. And even if you think you know all about it, there will probably be some surprises.

On another note, I read this one immediately after I read Zarifa. I feel I saw more of the real Rod Serling here than I saw of Zarifa in the book (co-)written by her. Which probably says enough...

tammikuu 9, 3:48 pm

Terrific post on Serling. I’m not familiar with his name, but of course I know TZ.

tammikuu 9, 4:38 pm

5. A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa, translated from Japanese by Martin Brown and Risa Kobayashi

Type: Non-fiction
Original Language: Japanese
Original Publication: 2000 as 北朝鮮大脱出地獄からの生還
Publication in English: 2017 (this translation)
Series: N/A
Genre: Memoir
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Amazon Crossing
Reading dates: January 4, 2023 - January 5, 2023

As with a lot of non-fiction books these days, subtitles can be misleading. While the escape is in the book, it takes the last few pages only. But that's what sells I guess.

After the end of WWII, a huge number of Koreans remained in Japan. Almost none of them were there by choice - some were dragged there as soldiers, some were almost enslaved to assist with the agriculture while the Japanese men were fighting. With the war over, noone was really interested in spending the resources to send them home (plus the Korean war started soon enough, complicating things even more.

So the Koreans settled as best as they could, most of them creating families (sometimes with other Koreans, sometimes with the local Japanese). But in a society as insular and as traditional as the Japanese in mid century, accepting the other was not high on anyone's priority list.

Masaji Ishikawa was born in 1947 to a Japanese mother and a Korean father. The father was a brute; the mother escaped but was convinced to come back (not by her family - her family did all they could to convince her to stay away, despite the children). When in 1960 Kim Il-sung invited the Koreans stuck in Japan to come home, a lot of them decided to believe the promises of good education, better future and a better place to live - even if they were from the southern parts of the country originally. Ishikawa's father was one of these people and he put his wife and children on one of the ships ran by the Red Cross and left Japan for a better future. Except that North Korea was anything but...

The life of the family was never easy in Japan but once they ended up in North Korea, things went much much worse. Ishikawa is careful to only use his own memories (augmented here and there maybe) - we never hear him speculate about what his mother or father thought - he talks about what he thought, about what he was told and what he saw.

The bulk of the book is his story of his life in North Korea. There is little analysis - it is a memoir of a broken man who never had the chance to really go to school beyond the mandatory high school, a man who spend most of his adult life trying to survive, away from the capital and the big cities of Korea. The only ray of sunshine in the whole situation was the father - the brute from Japan suddenly changes to a man who cares about his family. Ishikawa never stops wondering about that change - was that because the father could speak his own language and did not need to prove that he is equal to everyone else? Or was it because the conditions were so hard and he was ashamed from dragging his family into it? The author never learns and we don't either.

Despite the hunger, despite the misery, life continues. Ishikawa gets married, has children and tries to survive. Until things get so bad that he choses to try to get back to Japan. He succeeds in 1996, 36 years after he leaves Japan but his family remains behind, despite his plans.

The book was originally published in 2000 in Japan and you can see some hope at the end of the text. I don't know how much of the current Epilogue was in that first edition - a lot of it are updates on the family from later years so not much could have been there. By the time the current epilogue was completed, more than a decade had passed and the dream of sending money to the family or pulled them out had never worked out. Ishikawa is as much a foreigner back in Japan as he was in North Korea - a man who should have belonged to two countries and belongs to none. His disappointment is palpable in that epilogue.

If you expect sparkling prose, beautifully crafted sentences and analysis of North Korea's economy/social life, look elsewhere. But if you want a heartfelt memoir of a man who survived the hell of North Korea, that would be your book. Ishikawa does not set out to tell you all about North Korea or the reasons for it being what it is. He wants to tell his story - which may as well be the story of a lot of other people, returnees or not. It is repetitive in places but so was his life. And some of the stories inside made me so very thankful for not being born in that part of the world.

And that's what I expect when I read a memoir of a person who went through hell. I am glad I did not read it before Zarifa - or I would have probably never finished the Afghani book.

I rarely read memoirs, let alone 2 almost in a row (3 actually - I have another one I read immediately after this one and the review of this one is coming shortly). It was not intentional - it just happened (I did warn you that this thread can be unpredictable, didn't I? We shall see how that continues through the year - real stories of real people are always harder to read than fiction...

tammikuu 9, 5:04 pm

Enjoyed your excellent review of A River in Darkness

tammikuu 9, 5:24 pm

6. I'm Telling the Truth, but I'm Lying: Essays by Bassey Ikpi

Type: Non-fiction
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2019
Series: N/A
Genre: Memoir, Collection of personal essays
Format: paperback
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Reading dates: January 7, 2023 - January 7, 2023

After the previous memoir, I needed something less real so I escaped into Stephen King's Fairy Tale for a day or so (stay tuned for that review). But then I needed something shorter to dip into while doing some household chores on Saturday (or I would have spent the whole day just reading...) and this essay collection was waiting for me so I figured out I can just read an essay here and there in the next few days. Except that I am not really good at that "read a bit at a time"... Before I realized it, I was halfway through the book so I figured I should just finish it before going back to King's world.

Bassey Ikpi was born in Nigeria in 1976 but her family moved to the United States when she was 4. She has some early memories from Nigeria and as one expects, this story starts with them, but most of the stories in this book are from her adult life.

She does not structure her story as one continuous story - or at least not completely. Each essay is an episode of her life but they all connect, they all make up a whole. And the story that emerges is stark - she suffers from Bipolar II Disorder but it takes a very long time for anyone to admit that or for her to get her diagnosis. The book is her story of living with the mental disease, of breaking and finding the help she needed so much. Knowing the end makes the early signs very clear - but as mental health issues are considered shameful by a lot of people (even Ikpi refuses to accept her own diagnosis initially), those symptoms remain unaddressed.

When one is mentally ill, they don't usually behave as one would expect - they are people with good and bad days and more often than not, they function properly. Until they don't. For Ikpi, the path to finding help went through a breakdown and a steady personal decline after that. For some people, it leads to a suicide, homelessness or to a lifetime of struggle. In her case, a friend saw her by chance on the street and realized that she was really not doing well - which led to a hospital and a diagnosis. But not everyone is as lucky.

While the style is unorthodox (Ikpi is a poet and a spoken word artist and her style gets a lot of influence from that), the story is not. There is someone living through this every day - and most of these people can use someone noticing that they need help, long before they need a hospital bed. Or worse. It is also a reminder that mental health is as important as your physical health - and neglecting either is a really bad idea.

The memoir ends on a high note but it is not a fairy tale. It cannot be - and even if you never heard of her, you may want to read this book. Because it can be you. Or your friend. Or your spouse. Or your child. And the story does not always end well.

tammikuu 9, 5:28 pm

>30 dchaikin: It is kinda funny - it never made it to Bulgaria (as far as I know) so I had heard of it and knew a lot about TZ long before I watched any of it. I am not sure I've watched all of it even - I had been thinking about it and then getting distracted. Maybe I should :)

>32 baswood: Thanks Barry! :)

tammikuu 9, 6:06 pm

7. Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Type: Novel, 214k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2022
Series: N/A
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Scribner
Reading dates: January 5, 2023 - January 8, 2023

"I think all worlds are magic. We just get used to it."

When Charlie Reade utters these words towards the end of the novel, they made me realize that I will never write a better review of it than these two sentences. And yet, I'll try - because giving up was never an option for Charlie and not even trying is going to be disrespectful to the young man who told us the story. So here it goes.

Stephen King had been one of my favorite writers since my teen years - I like his style and I like his storytelling, regardless of the genre he decides to use for his next story. In the last decade or so, I've rarely read him - as I know I like most of what he writes, I tend to leave him for later so I can explore new authors. Which may be fun but I don't read the authors I really like so in a bit of a shift in my reading patterns, these days I try to read the new books by my authors as soon as they come out.

If you expect straight horror, look elsewhere. "Fairy Tale" is a love letter to the fairy tales (not the watered down versions but the original ones) and to the genres which spawned out of them - horror and fantasy.

Once upon a time, there was a boy called Charlie Reade. He lost his mother when he was young and his father found solace at the bottom of a bottle (or 3), leaving his young son to fend for himself. By the time we meet Charlie, in the year that changed his life forever, the father had dried out and the two men had found peace. Until Charlie hears one of his neighbors crying for help and goes to help, falling in love with the man's dog in the process and finding that there is more than one world and his quiet street contains the gateway to one of those other worlds.

The first quarter of the novel is the story of a 17 years old boy helping a cranky old man and a very old dog called Radar. It can be set anywhere in USA and it is as mundane as it can be. But somewhere under it, we start getting some flashes of something else - a hint of a fairy tale here, a mentioned horror book there. Then Charlie decides to do all he can to save the dog's life and the boy and the dog are off to an adventure - to a world that could not exist and yet exists.

There is a curse, there is a princess, there is a talking horse, there is a dungeon and fights to the death. There is another portal and evil. And then there is Charlie - the promised prince, the only chance of a kingdom that had fallen to evil.

Some of the details are gruesome but the novel stays mostly in the fantasy genre and rarely crosses into horror. And while the story itself is compelling and keeps you wanting to read more to see what happens next, it is the references to the stories that came before that make this book really great. Some are mentioned directly, some parallels are just left there, some you see from the corner of your eye. From the Disney stories to the old tales; from Lovecraft to Bradbury - all the old tales are there - in a world where a lot of them may just be. Because what if all of those stories are not born in one's imagination? What if they were real... somewhere?

King is not the first to play with the idea of the fairy tales being real somewhere. He won't be the last. The novel reminded me a bit of Jo Walton's Among Others, albeit a lot more brutal and very different. But the same nod to the old stories and to what came before is there and one can spend hours looking for them and being reminded of the stories that made up a genre.

tammikuu 9, 6:14 pm

>35 AnnieMod: That's a book bullet! it sounds right up my alley. Adding to my TBR.

tammikuu 9, 6:52 pm

8. And the Bride Closed the Door by Ronit Matalon, translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

Type: Novella, Short Novel, 26k words in its English edition
Original Language: Hebrew
Original Publication: 2016 as והכלה סגרה את הדלת
Publication in English: 2019 (this translation)
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary
Format: paperback
Publisher: New Vessel Press
Awards: Brenner Prize (2017) (Hebrew version)
Reading dates: January 8, 2023 - January 8, 2023

There is more than one way to read this novella. You can read it as a comedy. You can read it as a parody. Or you can read it as a commentary of the modern Israeli society. Either way is valid and either way is incomplete.

At the day of her wedding, a bride locks herself in her room and refuses to come out. 5 hours later, with only a few hours left until the wedding (which unlike most Western weddings is in the evening), we find 4 people in front of her door: her mother, her grandmother, her cousin and the groom-to-be. We never hear from the bride directly (except for a poem and a sign saying sorry) and we never meet the woman who chose not to marry in such an unconventional way. What we know about her we know from the people who try to convince her to open the door. The initial 4 we meet are soon joined by the parents of the groom and for the next few hours, we see the interaction of these 6 people who come up with idea after an idea on how to get the young woman out of the room - they call a psychologist from "Regretful Brides", they call a man with a ladder (who happens to be from the Authority and ends up getting arrested because someone calls the police and claims he is a terrorist), they finally call to cancel the wedding.

And somewhere in the middle of that family drama (or comedy if you prefer, albeit from the black variety), emerges a side of Israel which is not often seen - parts of it are ugly, part of it are almost incomprehensible (and probably are a lot clearer to someone locally - the change of the name of the groom's mother a few years earlier fro Penina to Peninit for example does not tell me anything but it probably carries its own message. After I finished the novella, I looked up the name and the Urban dictionary supplied "a strange and large girl usually large in the bust or butt area. Will usually eat anything in sight" while Penina is a traditional name. That description kinda fits in a way but there is probably more to the subtext that I don't understand). It makes one stop and wonder why it is the money and the others' opinions that make the characters we meet change. Noone really seem to care why the bride locked that door -- noone but the groom and even that comes later. In the telling of the story emerge other stories - the other lost daughter, the cousin who was not accepted to serve in the Army (in Israel where everyone does). And in all the craziness, the lucid moments of family togetherness seem even more surreal - the grandmother who everyone believes not to be fully there wanting to pay for the doctor, the groom going through all stages of grief.

We never learn why Margie decided to lock that door. But by the end of the novella, I think I would have done the same if I had to deal with that family. So there is that.

I am still not entirely sure I liked the novella or how I am supposed to take it. But I am glad I read it.

The author won one of the big Israeli awards for it a day before dying from cancer. I've never even heard her name before and I found the style highly readable. How much of it was from the author and how much from the translator Jessica Cohen is unclear but I plan to explore more of Matalon's writing.

tammikuu 9, 6:55 pm

>36 Julie_in_the_Library: Have fun if you get to it (note the length though) :) I had been looking at some of the reviews for it today and most complaints seem to be that it is not what people expected. Well... one of the things I learned with King early on was never to expect anything - besides a good story. :)

tammikuu 9, 8:00 pm

>31 AnnieMod: I bought A River in Darkness a few weeks ago, so I didn't read your entire review. I'm looking forward to squeezing the book in at some point.

Great reviews, as always

tammikuu 9, 9:21 pm

great reviews, Annie. I'm intrigued by And the Bride Closed the Door. That's sad about the author.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 9, 10:11 pm

>39 labfs39: Thanks! It is one of these stories where the details make the story - even if you know how it ends, it still works. Prepare something sunny and cheerful to follow that one though. :).

>40 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan. She was 58 and it was nowhere near her first award - the first Brenner though. From the little I am finding in English, it is one of the big awards, given since 1945 by The Hebrew Writers Association in Israel. I hope she knew she won it before she fell asleep forever.

I really need a lot more cheerful book after the ones above but in one of those weird serendipity moments, my current book has a main character dealing with cancer. I think I will go back to the 1940s suspense novels book after that - they are not what people would call cheerful I guess but noir and suspense tends to cheer me up. Usually. :)

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 12, 7:22 pm

9. Double Blind by Edward St. Aubyn

Type: Novel, 79k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2021
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary, Satire
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reading dates: January 8, 2023 - January 10, 2023

Olivia and Lucy had been friends for a long time. Then their careers took them into different directions after their studies in biology - Olivia remained in academia in Oxford, Lucy went to work for a consulting company in the United States. Shortly before the novel started, Lucy's visa renewal had been rejected and even though her company was ready to offer her a position in their London office, she decided to accept a new job - with a millionaire's tech company. So when we meet the two friends, Lucy is catching a plane to get back to London while Olivia had just met a new guy and is exploring their new relationship.

The millionaire, Hunter, is exactly what you would expect from someone in his position - demanding, annoying and self-centered. The boyfriend, Francis, is a naturalist, living off the grid on a remote farm, owned by friends who had decided to try to implement a wilding project - letting the farm go back to its natural form, with Francis as the man on the ground. Add to this a few scientists, a disgraced professor (well, he gets disgraced at one point anyway), an abbot from Assisi, a Vatican cardinal and a California modern hippie with a lot of money and you have most of the cast surrounding Hunter. To that list, you need to add Olivia's parents (both of whom are psychoanalysts), one of her father's patients and a deadly tumor and the novel starts shaping up.

St. Aubyn does not miss a chance to make fun of something - being it academia (and some of its conventions), big corporations, the Church (which is not much different from the big corporations) or even the seemingly harmless naturalist in the story - nature does not always mean just wholesome things. But somewhere in there is hiding also a very human story of the 2 women and the men who change their lives in more than one way. And even if it is not a romance, the story works as one in its overall story.

I was a bit worried before I started the book because I found the previous two St. Aubyn novels (Lost for Words and Dunbar) to be his weakest. This one is somewhat of a return to his own style and I think it worked better for it. It does not have the single main character as a center of the novel as his early novels did but it has the two friends, Lucy and Olivia, in that spot and that friendship is what ties the story together. The end remains almost open - we never learn if Sebastian is who we (and his psychoanalyst) think he is but it almost does not matter because in the last pages Fate takes over. But then the ending fits - the novel is a "year in the life of" kind of thing and wrapping everything nicely would not have really made sense. Neither it would fit St. Aubyn's style.

And with that, I had read all the novels by St. Aubyn:
The 5 Melrose novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother's Milk (read together as The Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother's Milk) and At Last
The 5 standalone ones: the two nestling between books 3 and 4 from the Melrose series: On the Edgе, A Clue to the Exit and the 3 published after the series was completed: Lost for Words, Dunbar and Double Blind.

(Reviews in all linked works if someone is interested including 4 from today).

As far as I know, he had never written any stories or published any other books (there may be some articles?) so now I need to wait for him to write something else.

He is also an example of why I tend to give authors a second chance even if the first book I read does not completely work for me - as long as something does work. Dunbar is subjectively his worst book (and the first I read). Having read through the rest of the novels, I can see how it fits with his work and I may have been a bit better prepared for it had I read it in its chronological place. But I would have disliked it again - the parts that bothered me are still a problem. So there is that.

It also showed me (again) that I enjoy working through the works of an author (almost) in order - some of the novels would not have worked as well if I had not read the earlier ones (especially "A Clue to the Exit").

On a different note, my current statistics is abysmal in terms of my TBR:

Books: 9
Paper Books: 9
Owned pre-2023: 1
Scottsdale library: 8

Authors (fiction only): 4 books, 4 authors
New to me: 2: Sandra Ireland, Ronit Matalon
Read before: 2: Stephen King, Edward St. Aubyn

tammikuu 12, 8:29 pm

How did you like the Patrick Melrose novels as a whole? Several years ago I read Mother's Milk (I think because it was on the 1001 list), not realizing it was the last of a series. I didn't care for it, but lately I've been wondering if I should go back and read the whole series in order. I've even bought the complete set for my Kindle.

tammikuu 12, 9:02 pm

>43 arubabookwoman: They convinced me to read all of his novels and turned him into one of my favorite authors so that should tell you something. And I generally do not like contemporary fiction. I don't think that they stand on their own (maybe the first can - I kinda went into the second fast enough) - they work a lot better as a whole. But they are very different novels - in different styles and dealing with different times in Patrick's life.

On the other hand though I will be the first to admit that they are not for everyone - Patrick Melrose is St. Aubyn and he did a lot of stupid things in his life. Being born into the Upper class did not help. So in some ways he reads to me like Evelyn Waugh but he is more understandable to a modern reader (or this reader anyway) because I recognize the references (mind you I like Waugh's style but I also know I am missing a LOT when reading him). And he is never subtle when he is making fun of something - his satire can be offensive if one allows it to be. On the other hand, he can be very subtle with human emotions.

The very first novel can be uncomfortable if you do not know the story beforehand but at the same time I found that despite the topic, it is readable... The second is... drug-induced adventures during 36 hours in New York. In some ways, that second one is probably the weirdest of the bunch.

Not much of a help, I know. :) Check my review here: of the first novels if you want (there are some mild spoilers but is mostly clean).

tammikuu 12, 9:37 pm

>44 AnnieMod: I have the five-book Patrick Melrose omnibus, and I do want to read them someday. Drug-induced adventures in New York sounds like a fun topic right around now, when I'm up to my ears in responsibility.

tammikuu 13, 6:46 am

This is interesting. Like you I thought Dunbar was a bit weak and certainly not up to the quality of the Patrick Melrose books. I started Double Blind but couldn’t get into it, so I thought maybe St Aubyn had lost the subject matter that most suited him, with the end of the Patrick Melrose series. I might give it another go.

On Melrose - the first (I think) book in the series starts with a scene where the father of the family gives his maid some instructions. She is carrying an armful of freshly washed linen back to the house - and he knows it is a little too heavy for her (and I presume if she dropped it she would need to wash it all over again), and deliberately keeps her talking for a long time. That little scene tells you so much about his personality. I actually find myself thinking about it quite often.

And the Bride Closed the Door also sounds interesting.

tammikuu 13, 11:29 am

>45 lisapeet: Well, in order to get to that, there is the first. Which I like a lot but it is disturbing in a lot of ways (Patrick's father is not a good man - see also >46 wandering_star: for that early scene).

>46 wandering_star: I've found that St. Aubyn's novel need some time to pull you in - so I just give them time and let them do their thing. Double Blind is deceptively simplistic and almost cliched at the start, then it kinda changed when you blink. :) But then I was not coming straight from Melrose - and sometimes it is a question of degrees and scales - it is better than the last but is it better than the Melrose novels? That I am not so sure about... I enjoyed it but the Melrose novels have each other to assist with characterization...

I had not thought about that scene for awhile but I agree - in some ways, in a novel that escalates to much worse violence (and knowing a lot more about the father by the time we are done with the series), it still chills you when you read it. You don't need to hit anyone or even shout for his whole character to be revealed.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 13, 5:12 pm

10. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Type: Novel, 151k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2018 (In UK as The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle); the first American edition is the same year as The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Series: N/A
Genre: Speculative Fiction (Fantasy/Mystery mix although it may be a SF/Mystery mix as well)
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Reading dates: January 10, 2023 - January 12, 2023
Awards: Costa (First Novel)

There is something to be said about a novel which is obviously speculative fiction but even after you finish it, you cannot determine if it is fantasy or science fiction. And it is even more fun when you realize you really do not care about the mechanics of the action - it won't change how you see the book or the enjoyment of it.

Sebastian Bell wakes up in the woods with no memories of who he is or what he is doing there. Except for a single name: Anna. Before long he hears a woman screaming and then a man, who he believes is the killer of the woman who screamed earlier (who he decides must be the Anna he was remembering), gives him a compass and sends him towards a house. When he reaches the house, it turns out that he is a doctor, the house is in an isolated part of the countryside and he is there for a party.

That's how the novel opens. But that is not the beginning of the story. Because when our narrator opens his eyes on the next day, he is not Sebastian Bell anymore. Neither is he any of the two men he was in those two days on the third morning. He slips between hosts - like a twisted version of Cinderella, midnight brings change but instead of having a carriage turning into a pumpkin, he ends up in a new body and wakes up as someone else, reliving the same day. But every time he wakes up, the memories from the previous day and the memories of the previous life of his host are there - together with the memories of the new host and some of the memories of the narrator. Add to that the fact that it is literally the same day so his other versions are also around and any time he falls asleep during the day he gets thrown into another life and the novel can get very confusing - a mystery on day 2 is explained on day 7 when the narrator see it happening; he often realized what he must do in order for another version of him, an earlier one to find what he did.

So why does he relive the same day over and over? Well, that's complicated. So let's go back and see if we can now find the start of the story.

19 years ago Thomas Hardcastle was killed in the lake next to Blackheath, the house where the whole action takes place. A man got hanged for it, the family never really recovered. And it is the job of Aiden Bishop, the actual name of our host-hopping narrator, to find out who kills Evelyn Hardcastle on the 19th anniversary of her brother's murder. These facts are revealed very early in the narrative but they are just the start. The reader learns most of the rest of the story when Aiden does - both why he must find the killer and why he is hopping between hosts. Plus Blackheath and its current guests seem to have a lot of secrets - and we need to learn them all if the murder will ever be solved. And let's not forget the footman who is set on not allowing Aiden to find out the truth and kills his hosts one by one, any time he can find them. Or the Plague Doctor (or the man behind the mask of one) who seems to know more than he is willing to tell - but who is unwilling to help.

One thing that annoyed me initially was that I could not put my finger on the time the novel is set in. It feels like early 20th but it just cannot be pinpointed (although there is a war mentioned by some of the younger men so it is possibly the 1920s). At one point, I realized that it stopped bothering me that I cannot pinpoint it - it did not matter - with all the action happening in Blackheath and the park around it, it could have been almost at any time before electricity available everywhere, internet and cell phones. The gentlemen are gentlemen (well, of a type), the women are ladies, the maids are maids and there is even a painter doing family portraits in there (which makes me wonder if we are not looking at an even earlier time but there is a car, a beast of a car but still a car, on the property).

The end ties all these threads together and in the process manages to explain all the seemingly existing discrepancies. I'll admit that I was a bit skeptical on the end working out - there were too many parts that did not fit and looked like plot holes or deus ex machina moments. And yet, the last chapters manage to add enough additional story and backstory and explanations to actually explain everything - and without requiring a detective who sits everyone and tells them what happened. A lot of the clues are there and I suspect that a reread may be worth it at some point - knowing where the story leads, looking for the clues in the earlier sections may be worth exploring.

There are some parts of the story that dragged a bit and the narration can get confusing at times. But on the other hand, we also saw multiple events from different perspectives (kinda) when Aiden saw the same thing in different days. The novel never felt flat and the different hosts felt different enough - even with Aiden in them, the personalities were there. And as not all of them were good men to start with, some of these differences drove the story.

Why the title acquired 1/2 in its title for its US edition compared to the UK one is unclear - either title fits but the change is somewhat curious. For a debut novel, this is pretty impressive. Since then the author seems to have published one more novel and I will be curious to see what he does next.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 13, 6:38 pm

>48 AnnieMod: Wow, you make that sound really good. For some reason, I didn't like it. But it did have its merits.

I agree the time setting was a bit of a puzzle, but it had that English 1920s -1930s feel.

tammikuu 13, 6:51 pm

>49 Nickelini: The storytelling is peculiar and it is a weird mix of speculative and undefined historical, sprinkled with a cast of characters one cannot stand (including the narrator in some cases) that can be annoying. I decided to run with it and really enjoyed it but I suspect it won't work for a lot people. Plus before the last 50 pages or so, it does feel like the plot is full of holes and that the author is making it up as he is going and there is no internal logic in the whole mess. It's more a puzzle than a novel for most of the story...

The moment he woke up on the third day, I just decided to let the story carry me where it wants to and not be bothered by contradictions, plot holes and whatsnote - even though I was noting them in my head. I did not notice any that did not get explained later - so there is that.

I will put the spoiler tag on the next paragraph although I am not sure it is indeed a spoiler but it discusses the end and it can be so...
And the end kinda explains why the time frame does not even need to really exist... even though it is strongly hinting at England in the 1920s indeed (I don't think the '30s work - no war for the policeman and the rest of the characters to bond over that I can think of).

It has issues but... right time, right book maybe? :)

tammikuu 14, 8:36 pm

>47 AnnieMod: Good to know - I will definitely try it again in that case.

tammikuu 15, 11:39 am

>47 AnnieMod: Yeah, I do know about that first book in the series... possibly why I haven't gotten to it yet, since I know I'm going to have to brace myself. Also I love an omnibus, but they're heavy to tote around. Then again, I don't leave the house so much these days so I don't know what I'm complaining about.

tammikuu 15, 11:47 am

I've read both of Stuart Turton's books and they both were lots of fun, with creative but over-complicated plots that require a bit of "suspension of belief". But they are so fun that I will probably keep reading his books.

tammikuu 17, 1:51 pm

>51 wandering_star: Have fun

>52 lisapeet: In a weird way, I find that specific act to be the least disturbing thing around the book - the father being sorry that he cannot talk to his friends about it while showing no remorse for the act itself is what really got to me.

And yeah, omnibuses can be... cumbersome.

>53 japaul22: That's a good way to define this one I think. I don't mind overly complicated plots as long as the author manages to actually pull them off and does not end up getting tangled into their own machinations (and some authors use complicated plots to hide their inability to properly complete a book). Good to know that the second one works as well :) As for the required suspension - I enjoy SF from the 50s - so that's my default state anyway ;)

tammikuu 17, 4:20 pm

11. Hinterland by Sebastian Barry
First Performance: Octagon Theatre, Bolton on 17 January 2002 (Royal National Theatre/Out of Joint co-production, directed by Max Stafford-Clark)
Irish Premiere: Abbey Theatre, Dublin: 30 January 2002
London Premiere: Royal National Theatre (The Dorfman Theatre (formerly the Cottesloe Theatre)), London: 28 February 2002
Length: Full length; 2 acts ; 78 pages
Publisher: Faber and Faber(2002); Faber and Faber Plays
Format: Paperback
Read: January 13, 2023 - January 13, 2023

Barry continues his exploration of Irish history via the life of the people of Ireland with his 2002 play "Hinterland". However, unlike the previous two (The Steward of Christendom and Our Lady of Sligo), he does not look back at his own family history for inspiration but introduces us to Johnny Silvester, a fictional ex-prime minister of Ireland who is trying to hold his sanity and enjoy the zenith of his life. If you know any Irish history or if you had paid attention at the news around the start of the century, you will know the name Charles Haughey - the ex-prime minister/Taoiseach of Ireland who got tangled into tribunals and accusations of misappropriation of funds in his later years and you will recognize him as the fictional Johnny Silvester. By not using the actual politician, Barry picks which parts of his life to match - the wife being the daughter of a politician remains (because it is important for his development) but just one of his children shows up in the play; Brian Lenihan is there albeit under a different name and so is his long running affair.

But you do not need to know any of the backstory and the real history to enjoy the play - I checked it after I read the play because I was curious. When we meet Johnny, it is 2000 and he is trying to enjoy his retirement. Except that noone seems to be very interested in what he wants to enjoy - a tribunal to look at his misappropriation of funds is due to start soon, his ex-lover is still upset for him dumping her after a few decades of an affair, his wife is really fed up with him, the ghost of an ex-collaborator who Johnny screwed up keep showing up and his son is struggling with mental health issues. To top it all, he is waiting for a call from his doctor who found something he did not like. Add a butler who cannot hide his disdain for his bosses and a student who shows up with questions about the past and gets more than she bargained for and things don't really go as Johnny expect.

The play itself explores some of the topics Barry had been exploring earlier - mental health, Irish history, family. But unlike some of the previous ones, this one feels less personal - we spend most of the time in Johnny's head and he is a lot less compelling character that Mai O'Hara, Annie or Eneas are. Just like Thomas Dunne in "The Steward of Christendom", Johnny is part of the establishment (in a different way) but unlike Thomas, he is a willing participant and has a totally broken moral compass, without the excuse of a mental disease. And that's what makes him so very different from every other Barry character before him - even when they made a terrible choice or behaved badly, they were mostly good people. Johnny Silvester is not and believes that the world owes him.

As a play based on the life of a real man, the play works. It does not completely work as part of the tapestry of Ireland that Barry had been weaving but then it does not need to. Although, it can be considered just another part of it - it is part of Ireland and not everyone on the country was always decent.

The play came out 4 years before the final reports about the excesses of Charles Haughey came out, confirming most of the rumors. Reading about the real politician makes me feel like the play is too soft, too forgiving in places. But then it does its job in showing that people can be complicated.

All works by Sebastian Barry that I had read/listened to:
The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998)
Annie Dunne (2002)

The Pentagonal Dream Under Snow (1986) (audio)
Plays: 1: Boss Grady's Boys / Prayers of Sherkin / White Woman Street / The Only True History of Lizzie Finn / The Steward of Christendom including:
- Boss Grady's Boys (1988)
- Prayers of Sherkin (1990)
- White Woman Street (1992)
- The Only True History of Lizzie Finn (1995)
- The Steward of Christendom (1995)
Our Lady of Sligo (1998)
Hinterland (2002)

tammikuu 17, 5:00 pm

12. Avian Illuminations: A Cultural History of Birds by Boria Sax

Type: Non-fiction
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2021
Series: N/A
Genre: History, Social History, Art History, Natural History
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Reaktion Books
Reading dates: January 10, 2023 - January 14, 2023

Boria Sax defines the scope of his book on the first page of his introduction: "This is what I call 'avian illumination' - an intense identification of a person, or group of persons, with counterparts among birds". While this is what his intention may be and technically can be used to describe the book, the subtitle actually may be a better explanation what the book is all about - it is all about the connection between humans and birds - from the early days of myths and early representation of birds on cave walls to the movies and conservation efforts of the 21st century and beyond.

The book contains 207 illustrations (129 of them in color), most of them at least half-page (with a lot of them being full page ones). None of them is specifically created for the book - they are reproductions of paintings and statues, photos and drawings from old books. The author tries to separate the book into 3 parts (Birds in Philosophy and Religion, Birds in History and Bird in Art) but they blend into each other and some references show up in multiple parts - sometimes because the work itself belongs to both (where do you draw the line between early myths and history or early art and religion) and sometimes because the work in question may be art (or tied to religion) but it is important in history.

Sax admits early in the book that he cannot cover the whole world - birds had been important for humanity pretty much at any time of its development as humans and each culture on Earth, regardless if it is still existing, seems to have at least a few myths about birds. But he does not let that stop him from bringing examples from everywhere - both from the past and from the present. While it does not make the books exhaustive, it does make it somewhat global and allows the reader to see some connections which are rarely seen - birds, as different as they are across the world, play a similar role for humans by just being there, in the air.

The book weaves a mix of mythology, art history (as it relates to birds), exploration of literature (both fiction and non-fiction) and social history to explore all kinds of relationships between humans and birds - here are the chicken and turkeys (and all other birds we eat), the falcons, eagles, vultures and the parrots, the captive birds and the migratory birds, the dodo and the wren. It starts in the caves of France and moves through the world, stopping by in Mesopotamia and the Far East, Africa and the Americas, Australia and New Zealand (not entirely chronologically in the early stages). It is the later historical times where the books gets more West-centric and explores the relationship between humans and birds mainly from the Western perspective - but then this is to be expected to some extent and it does touch on some other cultures occasionally.

The publisher (Reaktion Books) decided to use the heavy paper stock used usually for coffee table books and images inserts in non-fiction for the complete book which allowed the pictures to be printed where they belonged and to have them interspersed with the text. There are rarely 3 pages in a row without at least one image (the book has 374 pages of text outside of the notes (all of them about sources of specific information), the two indexes (general and index of birds) and the further reading recommendations) and each image has a caption (a few of them slightly incorrect even if the text above them cited it correctly - the editor probably should have taken another pass through the book). Just reading through the captions and looking at the images may be enough to appreciate what the book is about and its scope.

While the book could get repetitive in places (and Sax tried to get the book back to his definition of illumination in a somewhat clunky way occasionally), it is pretty informative and readable. I may have wished more details in some places (and less in others) but the scope of the book is enormous and choices always need to be made.

If one wants to explore further any of the covered topics, the further reading section has not only a pretty good list of books but also an explanation on why that book is there - something I wish more people producing recommendations will adopt as a practice - and is followed by a list of useful sites (with enough details to find them if the site moves one day).

Overall an interesting book if you are looking for the history of the connection between humans and birds - although we don't always end up looking like the more intelligent side of that pair. But then that's not unexpected.

tammikuu 17, 5:32 pm

13. It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken by Seth

Type: Graphic novel
Original Language: English
Original Publication: Serialized: 1993 to 1996 in issues #4–9 of Palookaville; 1996 as a book
Series: N/A
Genre: mock-memoir
Format: paperback
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly (2011, Fifth Printing)
Awards: Ignatz (Outstanding Graphic Novel or Collection, 1997; Ignatz (Outstanding Artist, 1997)
Reading dates: January 15, 2023 - January 15, 2023

I was browsing Drawn & Quarterly's site during the holidays to see what they are planning on publishing and saw that a new issue of Palookaville is scheduled for mid-2023 (the first in 6 years). I've always enjoyed Seth's work so decided to go back in time and reread his work up to this point. And this is probably one of the good entry points for his work - his first longer work which brought him two Ignatz Awards in the inaugural year of the now well-known awards: Outstanding Graphic Novel or Collection and Outstanding Artist (he lost Outstanding Story to Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's "From Hell", a category where the rest of the nominees were Dylan Horrocks's Hicksville, Daniel Clowes's Ghost World and Joe Chiappetta's A Death in the Family (in Silly Daddy)).

A Canadian cartoonist gets obsessed with an obscure cartoonist from the past and tries to find the man and to understand why such a talented man remained obscure. That is the premise of this graphic novel (Seth calls it a picture novella partially to highlight its connection to the past) and on the surface, that's pretty much what you get. Except that the text and the art are full of references to the actual history of the artistic form. If you are unfamiliar with most of it, this edition also contains a picture dictionary -- which may send you back rereading some parts when you realize what part of the story was actually true - while Seth (the narrator here and a namesake of the author), his circle and the cartoonist he gets obsessed with are mostly fictional, a lot of the other people and the rest of the art mentioned are not. And in addition to that, you get the Canadian landscapes, especially the ones showing small and big cities landscapes that are not that common in almost any type of books.

The picture novella is a love letter to the gag cartoonists of the 40s and 50s (think The New Yorker style cartoons). Seth's style is heavily influenced by their style and even if the tale is not biographical, it is based on the real author - the Seth of the novella may not be the real-life Seth but a lot of his actions may have been and the two of them view a lot of things the same way. The art is black and blue on cream pages - Seth rarely (if ever) uses color and this book is not an exception. And if you wonder just how realistic the story looks like - Seth even includes the "discovered" cartoons of his mystery cartoonist.

It was written at the time when the graphic memoirs were starting to get popular in the mainstream and Seth uses the format to its advantage (despite the story being fictional). Since the days this story was published, the format had become more and more mainstream and noone bats an eye anymore when a memoir comes out in graphic format but at the time this one was published, it was not as expected or accepted.

I've read this one before and I probably will read it again - there is always something else to notice, another line to pull on. It does not have the complexity of some other stories but it is still highly readable, especially if you like Seth's art style.

tammikuu 17, 8:50 pm

Three terrific reviews, Annie. There was a time when i would have been off ordering Avian Illuminations, which sounds fantastic. I am however seriously interested in It’s a Good Life, if you Don’t Weaken, and it’s history if the graphic art.

tammikuu 17, 9:03 pm

>58 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan.

Don’t expect full blown history with Seth - a lot of it is there but it is mostly hidden in the hunt for the fictional cartoonist. That’s why I call it love letter - the references are there if you know to look for them but the overall history is not the point - the obscure cartoonists, especially the ones connected to Canada, are closer to the focus. :) But it is fiction and tells its fictional story as well.

The art is pretty much the same as on the cover - Seth has a recognizable style. :) I won’t tell anyone not to check his work (he is one of my favorite graphic artists and writers for a reason) but don’t want to misrepresent him and what he writes. :)

tammikuu 17, 9:25 pm

Wow! I am loving your thread and reviews. I think you got me with Avian Illuminations - as a gift for a birding friend

tammikuu 17, 10:45 pm

>60 nancyewhite: Thanks :) It is a gorgeous book physically, without being a huge coffee table book (it is about the size of a regular hardcover). And for someone who likes birds (both life ones and art with and about birds), it should make a nice present. It surprised me in a good way - I was looking for a book about history and birds for the Reading through Time January topic and did not expect much besides the illustrations and maybe some interesting text around them. I like books that manage to do that. :)

tammikuu 18, 9:59 am

Have caught up on your thread! I admit I skimmed a bit. Such interesting reading and fab reviews.

tammikuu 18, 12:57 pm

>56 AnnieMod: and >57 AnnieMod: both sound very interesting, thanks for the reviews!

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 18, 1:41 pm

>62 avaland: Skimming is ok :) I seem to be having an interesting start of the year.

Now for something completely different (although this is Variety Central - completely different probably does not apply). The first book (well, magazine) to arrive at home in 2023 (posted in 2022 but as it did not make it here before 2023, I count it as a 2023 book). One of the problems of a deep TBR is that new books keep getting stacked. So I am attacking the pile from both ends - if I buy/receive a new book this year, I plan to actually read it... we shall see how it goes.

14. The Eclipse (One Story 296) by Isaac Bashevis Singer, translated from Yiddish by David Stromberg

Type: Magazine
Genre: Literary Magazine
Publication Date: 2022-12-20
Format: paperback
Publisher: One Story
Reading dates: January 17, 2023 - January 17, 2023

One Story closes 2022 with a never before translated into English story by the Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer. Originally published in the Yiddish daily The Forverts on May 27, 1956, it is a somewhat unusual story for him.

Joe McCloskey is an old curmudgeon in his seventies - his ex-business partner pushed him out of his business and noone cares about him so he in turn stopped believing in anything. In the first pages of the story Isaac Bashevis Singer builds a picture of New York to match Joe - lawless and almost hopeless. Until the day of a moon eclipse when he looks up at the sky for the first time in years and realizes that while New York had been changing, nature had not and that sends him on reevaluating his own ideas of the world and his place in it.

Even though the story is not set at Christmas (neither it was published then), it reads like a Christmas story which makes its choice for that specific issue of the magazine especially apt. It is not a holiday miracle but a nature one (or so it seems if you do not understand how the eclipses happen) that makes Joe think back on his life and his own fault in what happened at him. And the last sentence closes the story perfectly and is a perfect counterpart to the start of the story. It is a short story (~4K words on a rough count) and it reminded me of an O'Henry story in a lot of ways (albeit a little grittier at the start).

As usual, the story is paired with an interview (this time with the translator as the author is not available) and some notes by the editor online. Sometimes I wish these were printed in the booklet so I can store them together but I understand why online makes more sense to the publisher (and as they are free, they can serve as advertisement). The interview, notes and an excerpt from the story can be read here:

One Story publishes 12 issues per year and has a policy of never publishing the same author twice. The stories are usually short (between 3,000 and 8,000 words with most of the stories somewhere in the middle of the range) and are never reprints (technically they allow reprints of printed stories which were never published in North America but if there are any of those, I had not noticed them) - just new stories and translations (and those are not common). They are getting close to their 300th issue (they started in 2002). A few years ago (2012) they started a sister magazine (One Teen Story) publishing teen authors and then a bit later folded the subscriptions together so now a One Story subscriber gets these as well. While not all stories are to my taste, most of them are worth reading. So I had been subscribing on and off for years, sometimes for paper editions, sometimes for the electronic ones and not always getting around to reading them (anyone sees a pattern?).

PS: For a few more days, this is the current issue and Kindle/Amazon allows a subscription which starts with a free period as long as you cancel it before it gets charged (In 28 days for this one): - you will stop receiving issues the moment you cancel it so if you want the next one, let it come before canceling. I am not sure when it will change to the next issue (it can be a few days before the official release date).

So if you decide to try the magazine, you can get this issue and the next one in a week or two for free essentially... :)

tammikuu 18, 1:43 pm

>63 FlorenceArt: :) Thanks for stopping buy. Both cannot be more different if they tried. :)

tammikuu 19, 12:31 am

That's a cool choice by the magazine.

tammikuu 19, 9:57 am

That makes me think... a good project for this year would be to read down my One Story backlog. And it would be good for those moments when I need to step away from my desk, which I should really do more often.

tammikuu 19, 11:04 am

>66 dchaikin: Right? I did not expect that type of story from him (shows you how much I know about him...)

>67 lisapeet: They are a nice distraction sometimes. Which reminds me that I need to download the ones I have ebooks for on my kindle for the times when I cannot concentrate on something longer and am out of the house...

tammikuu 19, 12:07 pm

I am still working on Middlemarch in the evenings but it is not the kind of novels you can pick up for 15-30 minutes at a time. So I had been reading shorter stuff in the meantime.

15. The Bombay Liaison (is Grateful) by Dinika Amaral

Type: Chapbook, 34 pages, 11k words (so novelette)
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2015
Series: N/A
Genre: Fantasy
Format: ebook
Publisher: Massachusetts Review, Working Titles (1.1)
Reading dates: 18 January 2023

At the start of this novelette (it is ~11K word), Dinika Amaral appears to be telling us 3 different stories in parallel: 2 set in the present Bombay, India and 1 whose time is not entirely clear from the start but is sometime in the past, pre-colonization.

In the present, 3 young women come to Bombay: 1 of them had had a bad experience in Britain and is here to reinvent herself by becoming a business woman; the other 2 are the daughters of a millionaire from Lichtenstein who are sent to India for a kind of a job interview for the family foundation's head position. They meet only briefly but they may as well have been the same person (even if one of them does not have the money) - ignorant and offensive to the locals, believing themselves to be superior. And yet, their circumstances makes them different. Their guides are as different from each other as possible as well and so is their experience when they end up at the same bazaar in Bombay.

Meanwhile in the past, 3 goddesses are vying for the attention of a mortal man (who is at least as vain as the 3 young women in the other strands of the story).

The story in the present shows India of all its weird glory - the people and the haggling, the monuments and the disrespect for the traffic laws, the servility of some of the people when the ex-colonizers (and their kin) are around and the attitudes of some of the visitors. The story in the past deals with the Indian Pantheon in a way which is almost erotic in places. As is expected, the two stories collide and the end wraps up and explains what really happened (at one point I was wondering if we are heading to an open ending that will let the reader make their own mind of what and how it happened.

It is a modern tale of goddesses and mortals. It falls strictly in the fantasy space for me but it is more of a folklore- and myths- based tale than straight fantasy. And the fact that it actually had a proper ending was almost surprising, in a good way.

The author was born and grew up in Bombay before moving to the States so she is writing about her town from experience. Using the name instead of Mumbai is intentional - one of the characters even complains about the name change. If a local author cannot decide how to call their own city, who can?

Working Titles ( is a digital only project by Massachusetts Review, allowing them to publish stories and essays that are too long for the printed magazine (usually between 7K and 25K words). They are not tied to the issues of the review and have their own schedule and numbering. This is the first of them; they seem to still be going strong.

tammikuu 23, 10:25 am

>56 AnnieMod: I was really attracted to Avian Illuminations for my daughter who is a birder and who has a birthday in February. But when I checked it out and saw the art connections, I am sorely tempted for myself. Very conflicted here as I am trying not to buy too many books.

helmikuu 7, 12:02 pm

>70 arubabookwoman: :) It is as much an art book as it is a book about birds and a book about people's changing perspective in regards to birds. Which is what made it so much fun - almost on the border of getting too busy for its own good and trying to do too many things at the same time but still managing not to fall into that particular abyss.

In case someone is wondering where I disappeared to (and so early in the year), I ended up with a couple of weird weeks. First I spent most the last full week of January in Nashville for a company conference (which is the kind of business travel I like the least - not only you are scheduled from 7 am to late evening (9 am in some days) but you are also supposed to be social so reading was not happening much at all; let alone LT).

Then last week I had a medical procedure - pre-planned and not urgent this time around. I knew I will be on some kind of rest after that with enough pills to be comfortable if needed; what I did not plan for was the restrictions of movement and usage of my wrist (they used the radial artery (the one that goes through one's wrist) as an access point to reach to a kidney tumor to embolize it so once they removed all the wires and what's not, the artery is apparently not a very happy little artery so needs rest. The alternative path is via one of the groin arteries but due to where it is and its bigger size, while more convenient and easy to work with, it apparently has a better chance of developing infections and bleeding post procedure so my doctor prefers the radial one as long as it is big enough (mine was just big enough apparently)).

A lot of reading had been done in the last couple of weeks and I will be posting about it in the next days (and you don't realize how much you use your wrist, even the one of your non-dominant hand, until you are told not to twist it, pull or push with it or lift more than 3 pounds (now up to 5 allowed until the access heals completely)). I am fine though - I can even type now with that hand. :)

helmikuu 7, 1:51 pm

Oh no! Wishing you a speedy total recovery. If only you could forget that arm for a while...

helmikuu 7, 2:24 pm

Yikes, Annie. Take care of yourself. I'm glad you've been able to read, even if you couldn't write.

helmikuu 7, 2:42 pm

>72 LolaWalser: >73 labfs39:


The thing is benign and in a good place but as it was about 5 cm big, they needed to either take it out or stop it from growing and make sure that if it bleeds out, it is not dangerous. So embolizing it in place it was. As Mom says, 20 years ago (or even now in some places), that would have been a surgery. As it is, it was an hour under sedation (they need you conscious so you can breathe or keep your breath while they move the catheter and the wires through the arteries across your chest plus sedation is better than anesthesia for you anyway), a few hours in post-op until the artery could be left without pressure on it and then take it easy on your wrist and in general for a week or two. More annoying than actively problematic. We will be checking in 4-6 weeks and then in 6 months to make sure all vessels to it were fully closed (they can ensure it during the procedure but that will mean zapping a bigger portion of the kidney as well so they go conservative). If the scans are clear, this was it. If something is still leaking, rinse and repeat the procedure to plug/glue the leaking vessels (not often but happens).

Although I'd admit the whole thing still sounds more like a SF story than a real life medical procedure to me :)

helmikuu 7, 2:50 pm

It's incredible when they can do through an artery

helmikuu 8, 11:27 am

I hope you'll get better soon and that you can enjoy reading in the meantime.

helmikuu 8, 11:35 am

It definitely sounds like SF to me, and I am in awe of what is possible in the field of medicine today.
I am glad that you are able to read, it makes things so much better, doesn't it? Best wishes for your recovery!

helmikuu 9, 2:45 pm

Oh my, Annie. That sounds very discomforting. Enjoy as many books as you can, and don’t do anything you are not supposed to be doing. (Said in my mom voice 😄)

helmikuu 9, 3:29 pm

>76 raton-liseur: I am even back at work (from home) so reading had been curtailed a bit :) Thanks!

>77 MissBrangwen: Right? That's one field where I don't usually read in so when something like that comes up, I am usually "you can do that?!?". Thanks! :)

>78 NanaCC: Yes, Mom! :) More seriously though, my boss said the same. I am doing fine - still need to take it easy on the wrist and in general (no exercise besides walking) for a bit but other from that I am off any pain killers (not that even touched the heavy stuff) and I am getting back to normal. I am even cooking again (well, for some value of cooking) :)

Unless I decide to just read the whole weekend, I may even try to catch up with some reviews this week. We shall see.

Thanks again everyone for the good wishes!

helmikuu 9, 5:24 pm

I’m glad you’re ok and wish you as best a recovery as possible. Also, I’m glad you were able to read.

helmikuu 11, 10:39 am

Glad you're OK. Yeah, surgery... it's really changed. Certainly in my lifetime, and a good thing for you, sounds like. Hope you have some good time to rest up (said in my do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do voice).

helmikuu 14, 8:54 am

I add my well-wishes with the others'. Take the time your body needs to recover and enjoy endless (or should we send you some...)

helmikuu 14, 1:23 pm

>80 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan! :)

>81 lisapeet: Yeah. As much as I can be old-fashioned in a lot of ways, this part of technological progress makes me very very glad.

>82 avaland: Thanks!

With that being said - I am mostly back to normal - I am still taking it easy on the wrist but it is almost healed and unless I stress it when it can ache a bit, I almost forget there was something there.

Too bad that work is cutting into my reading time again:) Reviews to follow.

maaliskuu 16, 4:38 pm

And a month later, I am finally getting back to starting to write about what I am reading. I am (almost) back to normal, work had been busy and I am slowly getting back to the Club - I had almost not ventured out from the What you are reading threads this year so a lot of visits are overdue.

Meanwhile, I am almost 2 months behind on reviews so let's get started, shall we?

16. Middlemarch by George Eliot

Type: Novel, 319k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1871-1872
Series: N/A
Genre: Victorian contemporary
Format: paperback
Publisher: Penguin Classics (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
Reading dates: 24 December 2022 - 19 January 2023

This was supposed to be one of my last books for 2022. Then I realized it is worth reading it a bit slower, book by book, and letting it settle a bit. I've read it before although it had been awhile - I was still in high school when I met the denizens of Middlemarch for the last time and my memories had lost most of the details (and curiously enough, some of the characters).

Published in 1871-1872, the story takes place mostly in the invented town of Middlemarch (with a quick stop in Rome, Italy) and is set 40 years earlier (in 1829-1832 to be exact). Using an invented town allows Eliot to set things where she needs them instead of getting all tangled in real geography and history. And yet, in a lot of ways, Middlemarch is England in the early 1830s, much more than any depiction of a real town in other novels.

On the surface, the novel is very similar to the first book by Eliot - the 1858 collection "Scenes of Clerical Life" covers a lot of the same topics and you can even see some of the later novels scenes shadows in the earlier ones. And yet, Middlemarch feels a lot more mature and complete - it is a slice of life story about 4 women and the men they marry and love (not always the same ones) and about the changing England of the 1830s. This kind of novels can end up with characters who read more like types than like real people (and the early stories did have a bit of that happening). But here, all of the characters are fully realized - even the ones we see for a few minutes only - they all are real people with both good and bad mixed into their characters.

I call it slice of life but that does not really do justice to the scope of the novel. It is a romance (or 3). It is a coming of age story. It is a chronicle of a time and place. And it is neither of those things and all of those things mixed into one glorious novel. And it is worth the reread and the time required to actually work through it - because it slows you down and makes you read slower than usual - there is such abundance of details and people that you need time to catalog and acknowledge them in your head - usually without realizing that you are doing it. That verbosity may sound unappealing but every word and detail is necessary and required. And my only problem when I closed the last page was that I had to part from the good (and not so good people) of Middlemarch.

maaliskuu 16, 5:35 pm

>84 AnnieMod: I started listening to Middlemarch on audio recently. I had loved it when I read it 30? years ago and have wanted to revisit it. I had forgotten how funny parts of it are.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 16, 7:59 pm

17. Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s: Laura / The Horizontal Man / In a Lonely Place / The Blank Wall by Vera Caspary, Helen Eustis, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Dorothy B. Hughes

Type: Omnibus
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1940(s)
Series: N/A
Genre: Suspense, Crime
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Library of America (268)
Reading dates: 30 December 2022 - 21 January 2023

Before I picked up this volume, I've only heard the names of one of the 4 authors collected here - Dorothy B. Hughes - and even with her, I am not sure I had read anything by her. I like the period and I like the genre in the period so that is a curious oversight (which has a lot to do with what is kept in print - if you had asked me a few months ago to name 4 female suspense novelists from the 1940s, I probably would not have been able to name even Hughes).

The 4 novels collected here may be in the same genre but they are very different from each other. And while all of them have dated elements, they are no more dated than anything published in the 40s.

Laura by Vera Caspary (originally published in serialized form in 1942 and in a book form in 1943) uses multiple narrators to tell us the story of a murder. Each part is narrated by someone new thus adding new pieces to the puzzle. The murder victim is presumed to be Laura, an advertiser who was not exactly the meek woman everyone expected her to be. Her face was completely destroyed when she was shot - but based on where the body was and what she wore, everyone is pretty sure in her identity. And this is where this novel probably read very differently 80 years ago. These days the destroyed face makes you expect a wrong identification - it had become a cliche in the genre (and a clumsy one at that for the most part). So a lot of the surprise in the novel is lost - when Laura shows up alive and well, it felt expected. And yet, the novel managed to surprise me. Giving one of the voices to the detective assigned to the case who proceeds to fall in love with the woman he believes to be dead gave the story the grittiness it needed.

Of course the format was not new even back then - Wilkie Collins used the same narrative style in "The Woman in White". What makes the format work is managing to create believable voices and keeping track of who knows what when (and who does not know what when). Capary pulls it off - she even managed to surprise me with the end - not because it was illogical but because there were more obvious (and a lot less satisfying) endings possible.

The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis (published in 1946) won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel in its year (it was only the second year for the award). Kevin Boyle, a professor who likes women a bit too much, manages to get himself killed and the novel follows the investigation of that murder. The college president is too worried about the reputation of the college so the job ends up being done by an undergraduate, Kate, and her newspaper reporter friend (who spends half of the book trying to get Kate). It is a somewhat psychedelic novel - at different times it is unclear who is breaking down and who is faking a break down and at various times different characters, from both genders, end up hysterical. While I can see why it got the award in its year, it was my least favorite of the 4 novels in this omnibus (which does not mean that I disliked it). Eustis plays with the expected norms for the genders, bending them out of shape and having characters behave as one would expect a member of the other genre to behave. It feels almost caricaturish in places but then I am looking at it 80 years later.

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (1947) is as noir as a novel can be. The story is told by an ex-airman named Dix Steele had ended up in LA after the war. He connects with a friend from the service who happens to be a policeman now, chasing after a serial killer. And the game of cat and mouse starts - because our Dix had been spending some of his nights strangling women. It becomes clear to the reader early in the novel so one can appreciate the complexity of the novel. Having Dix narrate the story was a brilliant choice - we know he is an unreliable narrator but finding the line between him lying and him not knowing things and having him surprised by events a reader can see coming was delightful. Psychological suspense is a popular genre and there are a lot of modern writers who excel in it - and this novel is probably better than most I had read in the genre.

In The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1947), we meet Lucia Holley - a mother of two, with a husband deployed overseas (the novel is set during WWII), living with her father and children (and the African American housekeeper Sybil) in a big house, away from the big city. Both her father and her daughter are strong-willed and willing to push Lucia as much as possible and trying to deal with a household in the middle of the war shortages is stressing on its own. To find herself in the middle of a blackmail scandal, with a dead body showing up and a man she may be falling in love with despite his past being around, was the last thing she expected. Except that she cannot have the scandal so the timid housewife decides she will do anything she can to save her family - without telling them what she is doing. The novel could have descended into parody but it never happens. And somewhere in the middle of all that, we get to learn a lot more about Sybil and two women who had depended on each other anyway, get closer and closer to a friendship - as unlikely as this may be on the surface.

All 4 novels had been adapted into movies (and some of them in radio-plays as well). I had not watched any of the movies - all 4 stories were new to me. And I greatly enjoyed them. None of them is perfect but none of them feel so dated so that it becomes unreadable either.

Library of America has a companion volume with 4 more novels (from the 1950s) and I plan to read them soon - and then go chasing more of these early stories. LOA put together a site for the series of 2 omnibuses who has (among other things) a chronology of suspense novels by women ( ) and their movies adaptations ( ), reviews/appreciations for each of the 8 novels by a currently working in the genre female author (with one exception - Charles Finch for The Horizontal Man - which is oddly appropriate considering the novel) and Sarah Weinman's introduction to the series and the genre ( ) which LOA decided not to print in the books so if you want it, you need to read it online.

maaliskuu 17, 2:55 am

>84 AnnieMod: I think Middlemarch will be one of the few books I re-read. I read it in 2013 and really liked it, maybe I'll make a mental note to revisit it in the next 5 years or so. :)

maaliskuu 17, 11:29 am

>85 labfs39: I don't think I even saw the humor way back when... A lot of it requires a bit if experience and my teenager self kinda lacked that.

>87 ursula: Yeah, it is rich enough to allow rereading easily even if you don't like rereading :)

maaliskuu 20, 2:05 pm

Great review of Middlemarch, Annie. I've not read it, but you've convinced me that I need to.

maaliskuu 20, 5:26 pm

>89 kidzdoc: You really should. It can be a bit slow (being Victorian and all) but it is eminently readable and enjoyable and may be the best way to get introduced to pre-Victorian England (despite being fiction and all, it is so tied to what happens in the country at the time that it is better than most historical books). And even if you ignore or do not care about that, it is a great novel both on the linguistic level and on the story level - even when it stumbles, it does it well and does not bring the whole thing down. I've forgotten how much I enjoyed it way back when - rediscovering it made me happy. :)

Back to catching up on reviews.

18. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (author and illustrator)

Type: Graphic novel, 272 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2015
Series: N/A
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult (Children?)
Format: paperback
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Reading dates: 22 January 2023 - 22 January 2023

The first (and only?) graphic novel based on the web-comics with the same name, Nimona is the kind of story that cannot fail to make a reader smile. It takes every single convention of the superhero and fairy tales genres and flips them on their head - and have a lot of fun while doing it.

Meet Nimona. She wants to be a side-kick but not to the superhero/protector but of the super-villain. He really does not want a side-kick in any way or form but before he realizes it, he ends up with one. And as it turns out, he is a lot less of a villain than our heroine expects him to be - one would say that he is actually the hero of this tale. Which is not what Nimona expects. Or what people believe.

There is a plan to destroy the kingdom. There are battles. There is the past coming back to bite various people when they least expect it. There are sweet moments back in the castle. And then there are the rest of the secrets - Nimona is not what everyone believes her to be - but then how could she have been in this kind of story - and the powers to be will do everything they can to keep their secrets.

The story ends like most fairy tales - with a kiss. Except that there is no princess in sight - and neither is Nimona interested in that (she is a kid after all).

The story is fun - it is written like a children book and mostly stays clean enough to qualify but there is enough in it to be enjoyed by anyone who had not forgotten what it is to be a child. And even if the illustrations do not completely win you (they are in a style I am not a big fan of), it is still worth reading it. If for nothing else, at least it can provide a few smiles and if you are so inclined, some fun in figuring out just how many fairy tales and medieval romances are hinted at or changed inside of the text.


I have Stevenson's Lumberjanes first volume somewhere in the house - I really need to pull it out. The writing style really made me want to read more from him.

maaliskuu 20, 6:26 pm

19. Doctored Evidence by Donna Leon

Type: Novel, 80k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 204
Series: Commissario Brunetti (13)
Genre: Crime, police procedural
Format: ebook
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Reading dates: 23 January 2023 - 23 January 2023

Nothing like a plane trip for me to read another Brunetti - I am closing in on the ones I had already read (I started with the 20th after having been introduced to the character with the German TV series based on the earlier ones, then started with the first with the idea to read all of the ones I skipped in order back in 2020.

While Brunetti is on vacation, an old woman who noone likes (and for a good reason) is found murdered. Her live-in Romanian maid/housekeeper is missing so Lieutenant Scarpa closes the case quickly - he has a suspect, she is caught at the border with a lot of money and killed while attempting to evade the police. So case closed and Brunetti does not even hear about it.

Until one day, one of the neighbors of the dead woman comes back from abroad and decides to do the most non-Venetian thing ever - she decides to get involved and goes to the police to explain why the Romanian woman could not have been the killer. Scarpa really does not want to hear anything about it and does all he can to intimidate the uncomfortable witness but Brunetti is back in town and hears the altercation -- and decides to deal with the case personally.

And off we go onto another adventure where Brunetti, helped by Signorina Elettra and Ispectore Lorenzo Vianello, finally does what the police should have done from the start - namely: investigate the murder and find some justice for the victim - or at least the truth if justice is impossible.

As with most (all?) Brunetti novels, the crime shares the spotlight with Venice, Brunetti's family and reading and the personal connections of everyone involved. That's what really makes the series much better than the type of crimes it deals with would have made you think it should. And as usual, there is an underlying theme under all of that - in that case, the novel ties to the seven deadly sins - from a chance remark and through the investigation and all the way to the end.

Another solid entry in the series.

maaliskuu 20, 6:42 pm

>91 AnnieMod: Enjoyed your review - it is a good series.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 20, 8:02 pm

20. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Type: Novel, 122k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1922
Series: Captain Blood (1)
Genre: Adventure, Historical
Format: ebook
Publisher: Delphi
Reading dates: 24 January 2023 - 27 January 2023

Read as part of the Delphi collected edition of all the Sabatini work that is part of the public domain (some of his had not entered it yet). I like the Delphi collected editions but as they lack individual covers for each work, here is a cover of another edition that fits the work instead.

When I was growing up, my companions were Karl May, Mayne Reid and Emilio Salgari. Their tales of adventure made me a reader in a lot of ways. Rafael Sabatini should have been in that list but the Bulgarian edition was in 4 hardcover volumes, with white covers (so not books you want to carry in a backpack) and they looked a bit more like the books I was not ready for yet (that changed one summer when I decided to investigate and discovered Captain Blood but I never read any of them more than once as I was doing with the other 3 authors. Add another year and I discovered Science Fiction and the rest as they say is history).

What I did not appreciate back then is how much closer Sabatini was keeping to the actual history compared to the other 3. I did not care really - I was reading them for the adventures and it took me awhile to start looking at novels for their historical background.

The story starts in 1685 in England during the last acts of the Monmouth Rebellion. Peter Blood, an ex-soldier and current doctor, decides to behave like a human being (and a doctor) and helps an wounded man. Unfortunately for him, the man is a rebel and the current laws make Blood a rebel as well so he is arrested and eventually shipped to Barbados as a slave (which may or may not have been an improvement - as he tells the reader, had he been tried a day earlier, he would have been executed). As it is, he ends up in the hands of one of the English governors who believe everyone else to be under them. Peter Blood finds his way - he may be a slave but he is also a doctor and he even falls in love. Then the Spanish show up, things get a bit complicated and he ends up a captain of a pirate ship and his adventures continue at sea before ending up back on Barbados for the end of the novel - although not in a way anyone expects. And I am happy that Sabatini did not decide to give our captain a fairy tale ending - it would not have fit the narrative. He did leave it open enough though.

The novel works both as an adventure novel and as a historical one (if you don't have issues with reading about the battles). It ties together the story of England between the Monmouth Rebellion and the Glorious Revolution 3 years later and the story of the Caribbean islands exploitation and the pirates that spawned at the time. Most of the characters are invented by some are the real people who lived and even most of the invented ones are based on actual people - changed, merged, split or otherwise manipulated but the read like 17th century people. I read a non-fiction book about the Caribbean pirates a few years ago (Buccaneers of the Caribbean: How Piracy Forged an Empire by Jon Latimer) so I had a bit of a background which helped but Sabatini's story covered the same ground in a lot better way in places despite being fiction. Which does not happen often.

Sabatini never continued the story - what is considered a continuation by some is actually a set of stories set during the pirate years of Peter Blood. That leaves the whole Peter Blood story spanning a bit over 3 years (although we hear a lot about the years before that as well). And despite the somewhat open (or unhappy if you want to call it that) ending, I think that was the right choice.

In case you wonder about the Latimer book (which I see I never got around to reviewing), it is old style history which jumps from battle to battle and spends almost no time actually looking at the issues at hand. It is not bad if that is what you are looking for but I did not care about it much - I like old style military history occasionally but did not expect that from that one -- and that's exactly what it read like.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 20, 7:48 pm

>92 baswood: Hey Barry :) Yep - unfortunately I have only 6 more to go and then I am back to "please, go write another one..." mode with that series. Or I can just randomly reread any of them when I feel like it. Or continue through the ones I read out of order. We shall see...

My current plan is to read the remaining 6 this year (part of Annie's big plan to read more of the authors she likes... and we all know how my plans end up working so I am not holding my breath. On the other hand, I am currently finishing another series without getting (too) distracted so who knows).

maaliskuu 20, 8:53 pm

21. Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Type: Novel, 52k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2014
Series: N/A
Genre: Horror, Humor
Format: ebook
Publisher: Quirk Books
Reading dates: 28 January 2023 - 28 January 2023

There are two ways to mix horror and humor - you either write a parody of the genre or you write a humorous horror stories. Hendrix does the latter and does it well.

Orsk, an IKEA knock-off, is one of those big box stores where you can buy everything from a fork to a complete set of furniture for your house, all in boxes and easily stackable (and then even have lunch). Amy is two days away from getting in real trouble over unpaid rent and she really does not care about her soul-killing job. She is trying to get transferred but that can only happen if her current boss agrees on that -- and they are in the best of a relationships work-wise. So when she shows for work in that morning, the last she expects is to be tagged for an overnight shift, together with one of the oldest employees, Ruth Anne. Something weird is happening in the store - and the goal of that night vigil is for them to try to get to the bottom of it. So the two women and their by the rules manager, Basil, show up for the shift - and things start getting weirder and weirder very soon.

As it turns out, there is more that one thing happening and one of them is a very violent set of ghosts. Add that to the usual every day of retail and things connect to each other in places one does not expect - in some places the story of the prisoners of the past (now ghosts) sound better and less awful than the story of the current employees in the store.

The end surprised me a bit -- Hendrix pulls a redemption tale in the middle of the ghost hunt. And interspred with the chapters are advertisements from the store - designed based on the IKEA ones and just as the story, they start as ads for normal items and soon become something else. They tie to the story and better not be skipped though - plus they are fun.

A couple if years ago I read Nino Cipri's LitenVerse novellas and after reading this novel, I had to check the time both works were written - they play on the same topic, albeit in a different way, and Cipri's work is only adjacent to horror and stays in the lighter parts of the speculative genres while Hendrix's is much darker but they are very similar. Hendrix predates Cipri's by 6 years even while I read them in the opposite order - which changes how you react to some things - I suspect that a lot of things would have sounded a lot more original to me if I had read that one first. It did not stop me from enjoying both though.

That was my first Hendrix novel and it will probably not be my last. It is an amusing light horror novel which does not work as a horror novel or as a humorous one alone but the mix works well enough.

maaliskuu 20, 9:51 pm

In case someone is interested in what I had been reading since, >2 AnnieMod: is uptodate. Reviews will be slowly coming in the next days but I suspect most people will get too many in a row when I get in the mood to write them (between reading a lot and having so many late reviews, it will get busy around here - knock on wood) so the list should help you look for specific ones (when they come).

maaliskuu 21, 7:28 am

>90 AnnieMod: Sounds cool! I’ll give it a try since I can access it through my Kobo subscription.

maaliskuu 21, 2:59 pm

>97 FlorenceArt: Have fun. It is cute (and cool I guess but the first word that comes to mind for me is cute). :)

22. Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Type: Novel, 105k words (unclear if this is with or without the story) plus a bonus story "A Questionable Client"
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2007 (2010 for the story)
Series: Kate Daniels (1) and (0.5)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Format: ebook
Publisher: Ace
Reading dates: 29 January 2023 - 29 January 2023

Once upon a time, technology managed to prevail over magic and our world developed the way it did. Some time in the future, magic is coming back causing all kinds of issues - depending on what takes precedence, either technology (all technology) or magic does not work. So if one wants to be prepared, they need to have the ability to use both.

Kate Daniels is born in that world - with the magic and technology constantly shifting and with the world getting crazier by the day with the constant shifts. She is a mercenary - she is hired to solve problems when paranormal entities or actions are involved and she is very good at her job. She is also a bit of an outsider - she does not want to get close to the authorities because she has her own secrets. Until her guardian is killed -- and she needs to find what had happened. Which requires getting involved into what she had spent a lot of time not being involved in.

The story is set in Atlanta, an Atlanta that looks very similar to ours. The way the universe is built allows both our myths and our history to exist into Kate's world - the shift into technology made the myths impossible but once upon a time they were the reality and then our history was the era of technology. Using that as a base means that the series does not need to invent any history or locations - it is a close future to where we are so the locations and the world sounds familiar... mostly.

This first novel was a great introduction both to the universe and the heroine. While investigating, we get to see the factions of the supernatural powers in the city (the vampires controlled by necromancers on one side and the shapeshifters on the other) and because of who her guardian was and what he did for a living, we get a deep look into the conflict between them and the authorities trying to control them. The fact that that this murder seems to be connected to an seemingly escalating chain of other murders gives enough energy to the story to carry the novel despite what could have been too much world building.

And then there is Kate - independent, resourceful, sassy, not exactly what you expect her to be and someone you really want to know (well, maybe not on a bad day). The novel even managed to throw a red herring or 3 - making sure you think you figured out what is going on before pulling the rug out from under your feet and laughing at you for falling for the misdirection.

The bonus story covers some of the same ground as the novel - it is a scene from the novel from the perspective of the other participant - the shapeshifter Lord Curran (who from the looks of it will be Kate's main romantic interest... or at least one of them). It was an interesting way to see the same from someone else's eyes but it probably would work even better if you had not read the same scene in the novel 4 hours earlier.

Overall a good start of the series. Onto the next one.


This was one of the first book I bought for my kindle back in early 2011. The series had been recommended from a lot of people who read in the genre, I knew I will like it (or expected anyway)... and then I never got around to it. It was not the first time I bought it either - I got a paper copy in 2009 (which then I gifted to someone when I moved... I think - it may also be back at Moms) and then I bought yet another paper copy in 2017 (I don't even remember why). Somewhere along the way, Amazon updated my ebook edition to be the one with the prequel story - it was published before I got the ebook but only in the original anthology it was in - it did not get added to the first volume of the series until a bit later (when I bought it, it was still the old edition with the old cover by Chad Michael Ward (the new is by Juliana Kolesova) and without an extra story). Morals of the story: read your books and if you want the exact edition you bought, download it and keep it safe from Amazon's clutches (Kobo is not much better). Don't get me wrong - I like that I do not need to buy the book again to get the story but I also like the other cover more. Oh well. At least I finally got around to it (and the next few in the series are now patiently sitting on my "read next" table).

maaliskuu 21, 3:06 pm

>95 AnnieMod: What a great title! At first I didn’t understand that it was a play on Ikea product names and I thought you were reading in Swedish or Norwegian. I’m not really into horror but I’m tempted by your review.

>98 AnnieMod: I loved the whole series, read it twice. Hope you’ll enjoy it too.

maaliskuu 21, 3:22 pm

>93 AnnieMod: A shame about the Latimer book. I read some intriguing information about pirate societies lately and I was wondering if it would be worth reading, but probably not for me.

maaliskuu 21, 3:24 pm

>99 FlorenceArt: I suspect a lot of people think something like that when they first see the book. Apparently the paper book is designed like an IKEA catalog - I read it as an ebook so cannot say anything about it but the ads between chapters were hilarious even on the kindle. It is more of a ghost story than a proper horror one if that helps - although not completely.

Now that I am done with Verus (I have read the last 5 books from the main series and the follow up novella in the last month and a half...), Kate Daniels is my next supernatural series (after reading the latest in a few I am following in real time probably). So more to follow from that one. It suffered a bit the "I know I will like it so let's keep it for a rainy day" syndrome.

maaliskuu 21, 3:36 pm

>100 FlorenceArt: Nope, there is almost nothing about the societies per se - it is closer to a military/old style chronological history than to social history. Admittedly, the subtitle points in that direction so it was not entirely unexpected when I read it but it got on my nerves a few times with the never ending battles and raids and what's-nots - written in the driest possible way. I don't mind dry history usually -- I have a high tolerance for it but that one was dry even for me. How he managed to do while talking about pirates is beyond me. :)

But that review yesterday reminded me that I had a few more pirate related books lined up in one of my lists in the library so I may decide to go back to the topic... :)

maaliskuu 21, 5:32 pm

23. Ангелът на атентата by Светислав Басара, translated from Serbian by Рада Шарланджиева

Type: Novel, 327 pages in the Bulgarian edition
Original Language: Serbian
Original Publication: 2015 as "Anđeo atentata: tabloid" by Svetislav Basara
Publication in English: Not translated (yet)
Publication in Bulgarian: 2019 (this translation)
Series: N/A
Genre: Satire, Historical, Absurd
Format: paperback
Publisher: Панорама
Reading dates: 30 January 2023 - 31 January 2023

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914 gave everyone the long looked for pretext to kick off WWI. So what better guide through the history of Europe than Ferdinand himself -- sitting in the afterlife, monitoring what Europe had been up to since he died (nothing good) and dictating his memoirs for his posthumous secretary Ferdinand Berhtold (an invented character but the name is not random; neither are the names of anyone else who did not really exist). It is now some time in the early 21st century so these memoirs include not only the life of the Archduke but his afterlife as well (and looking from outside is a lot easier than being in the middle of the actions - no chance of a bullet taking you out for example).

If you expect a historical novel, you get one but probably not the way you expected it to be done. Basara sits on the corner of Satire, Absurd and Parody and the novel fits into all 3 genres. It is politically incorrect, it is offensive (although Basara is equal opportunity offender on that - he makes fun of everyone who shows up on the pages of the novel) and it is hilarious in a way only a satire can be. The subtitle of the original title ("tabloid") tells you exactly the kind of story you are getting here so if you expect a serious novel, you are in the wrong book (and with the wrong author).

Ferdinand is foul-mouthed and delusional with an ego the size of an empire and the years since had not made him any more humble than he was when he died. He is absolutely convinced that he did nothing wrong, that the empire fell because of the influence of culture and the modern thoughts of the early 20th century and that some nations just don't deserve to be considered as equal to the Austrians (among them: the Hungarians, the Serbians and the Bosnian). Plus that whole assassination was all his plan - it almost did not happen and he almost had to kill himself at the end. And don't even get him started on the post WWI and post WWII Europe.

Basara mixes real people and invented personages to make fun of the nationalist movements in the region, of the cultural influences and the state of Europe, of USSR and Tito. The only things he does not make fun are the ones that he does not manage to fit into the novel. Some of the actions (actually a lot of them) really happened - a bit differently but they did happen. That's what makes the novel even more amusing - and the more you know of Serbian and Bosnian history before you read the novel, the more of those you will see (including adjacent local history). Events that are usually held in reverence are not just satirized but twisted to make them almost absurd.

Just in case you miss to connect the dots and recognize what influenced some of the style, Louis-Ferdinand Céline shows up in person a few times. So do Freud, Goethe and Wagner (among others) - in some cases in person, in some cases with their works only - they all have their role to play into the history as Ferdinand sees it. Plus there is also a secret book in there, the favorite book of our narrator and his Bible in a lot of ways (it is called "The Secret History of the Monarchy" which sounds a lot like Procopius's "Secret History" (but for a different monarchy) not just based on its title but also based on the excerpts he cited) - among a lot of references to real and imagined books.

The novel won't be for everyone and I suspect a lot of people will find it crude and offensive. In a way it is. But it is meant to be. It is Basara at his best - and exactly what one expects from him.

The title translates as "The angel of the assassination" although the word used for assassination (атентат (read atentat - read every letter as it is written and don't go all English on it)) has a bit wider meaning in Bulgarian (and the original Serbian) - Ferdinand's assassination, 9/11, an attempt on the life of a president and a bomb under a car set by IRA all can be called with the same word which does not always imply success (although it usually does if you do not qualify it). The title uses that wider meaning to its advantage in the text but going with "attack" leaves it too wide so assassination is probably better. The word used to exist in English but is now obsolete (and everyone lifted it from French who first grabbed it from Latin). More about the word if you are still interested:

And that wraps up January's completed books. Onto February next (despite it being a short month, I somehow managed to cram more books into it than I managed to cram into January).

maaliskuu 21, 6:27 pm

>103 AnnieMod:

I'll look for that. I heard good things about Basara.

maaliskuu 21, 7:00 pm

>104 LolaWalser: I think he is exactly the type of quirky you might enjoy :) He seems to be polarizing - you either enjoy his style (or at least see where he is going with it even if it does not quite click) or you consider him too vulgar, crude and offensive. Which is ok - people like different styles and it will be a boring world if we all like the same things.

maaliskuu 21, 7:42 pm

vulgar, crude and offensive

It's like looking in the mirror... :)

The library has over 20 of his books--I see he was published by The Dalkey Archive, très chic. I requested Anđeo atentata and a few more, see what arrives first.

maaliskuu 21, 8:26 pm

24. Complete Short Stories, Vol. 1, The Christmas Stories by Anthony Trollope

Type: Collection, 8 stories
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1861-1882
Series: Complete Short Stories, Volume 1
Genre: Victorian
Format: hardcover
Publisher: The Trollope Society
Reading dates: 22 January 2023 - 1 February 2023

When one hears the words Victorian and Christmas in the same sentence, they immediately think of Christmas miracles, Christmas trees and a ghost or three. If you expect any of this here, you are reading the wrong author. Trollope used Christmas mostly as a marker of time, as a time for the family to get together but then wrote his usual stories - dealing with people's hearts and their reactions to what was happening to them. Most of his Christmas stories can be moved into another time and as long as one can invent a reason for the people to be together at that time and for the weather to be the same, the stories will still work.

This first volume of the collection edition of all his stories collects the 8 which are considered Christmas ones:

The Mistletoe Bough (originally published in The Illustrated London News, Christmas Supplement, 21 December, 1861; collected in Tales of All Countries, Second Series, 1863) is essentially a love story. Elizabeth Garrow had been happily engaged to the young banker Godfrey Holmes but for some reason, she decides that she is not going to be a good wife and breaks the engagement. Then he shows up in her house, still in love with her as much as she is with him. What follows is almost a tragicomedy - but the season and actual sense prevail.

Christmas at Thompson Hall (originally published in The Graphic, Christmas number, 1876; collected in Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices and Other Stories, 1882) surprised me. I never think of Trollope as a comedic author - he does not seem to have the correct timing in his prose for that - he is always too serious and too busy exploring yet another hidden part of a character's heart. And yet, here he shows that he can get the timing right creating one of those stories that at a later age may be material for a stand-up comedy routine (or a variety show). Mrs. Brown and her sickly husband (well, you will also get sickly if you need to deal with your in-laws when you are married to Mrs. Brown) are traveling from France to her old home at Thompson Hall to meet her sister's future husband. While at a Parisian hotel, the husband takes ill and she decides to make him a mustard poultice - except that somehow in the dark she ends up in someone else's room and gets the concoction on them instead. Hilarity (not for the characters but for the readers of course) ensues when she is discovered and the whole sordid story comes to light. And then the final scene closes the story in the best possible way (my note about the comedic timing should tell you where that story was going even if you did not figure it out earlier).

Christmas at Kirkby Cottage (originally published in Routledge's Christmas Annual, 1870) is another love story of two lovers who had separated - this time because the intended groom, Maurice Archer, had been insensitive enough to tell his future bride that he does not like Christmas (and here I was thinking only the Twitter generation can break up for something like that). A classical case of misunderstanding of who means what when they say Christmas - and all it requires is for both of them to talk and to listen to the other. Replace the setting with Facebook (or whatever the cool kids use today) and that story can happen again.

The Two Heroines of Plumplington (originally published in Good Cheer, the Christmas number of Good Words, December 1882) - set in Barsetshire, it is the only one of the 8 stories that ties to his novels in any way and uses Christmas to resolve yet another love problem (2 of them actually). Two young women had fallen in love with men their fathers do not approve - the bank manager really does not want his daughter Emily to marry one of his cashiers and the local brewer believes that his daughter Polly, who had been raised to believe herself part of the higher class, to marry the malt dealer. Both of them decide to fight their fathers in their own way - Emily by taking ill, Polly by refusing to do all the things she used to and claiming that she needs to stay in her own class. It comes down to the rector at Plumplington to invite both families and both young men for Christmas dinner for the whole affair to come to a head. This is the only one of the 8 stories I had read before and I enjoyed it as much as I did the previous times I've read it.

The Widow's Mite (originally published in Good Words, January 1863; collected in Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories, 1867) ties with the Lancashire Cotton Famine and the efforts (mainly via relief committees) in England to try to assist the people who needed help). Nora Field, a young woman who lives with her uncle Reverend Mr. Granger, is about to get married to an American and had spent the last few years collecting the money for her trousseau. With the Reverend active in one of these relief committees, Nora is torn between becoming a wife in the expected way and giving away her things to people who need the money to survive. The ending is sweet - in a lot of ways. The title itself is a reference to the Bible (Mark 12:42, King James version for the word mite, any version for the reference) and Trollope ties it into the story (by having Nora consider it when wondering what to do and then making her decision).

And while the previous story deals with some of the aftermath of the American Civil War in England, the next one The Two Generals ( originally published in Good Words, December 1863, collected in Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories, 1867) takes us straight to the Civil War itself. The Reckenthorpes live peacefully in Kansas until the war starts and the two sons decides to join - on opposite sites. The fact that both of them are in love with the same woman does not help matters. The story proceeds to show us the two of them on subsequent Christmases - while the war rages and the family is split. In a way, it ends up being a love story again but it is very different in both style and feeling from any of the others in the volume.

Catherine Carmichael; or, Three Years Running (originally published in Masonic Magazine, Christmas number, 1878; never collected?) takes us to the other end of the world - New Zealand. Catherine Baird had been born to a Scottish family which fell on bad times and moved to New Zealand when she was 10. Unfortunately, the life of a miner is a poor one and having a big family does not help. So when she and her siblings lose both their parents, Catherine is a bit too old to be shipped back to an aunt so instead is married to an old associate of her father - a man who is disagreeable to start with and gets even worse as time progresses. He has only one good feature - a young nephew - who unfortunately has no money so Catherine has no choice in whom to marry. And just when she starts to settle, he nephew comes back to the sheep farm. The end was surprising in more than one way - not because I did not expect Catherine to be noble but when life knocks you around as much as it did her, that kind of behavior is unusual.

Not if I Know It (originally published in Life, Christmas number, 1882.) closes the volume with another tale of misunderstanding. A brother-in-law asks for a signature and without asking for details, the man asked refuses harshly thus ruining the so far harmonious relationship between the two. With some nudging from the wife and sister, the two men finally decide to talk and find out what this was all about (and a Christmas sermon helps a bit).

If you like Trollope, you will like these. And even if you don't, I suspect you may find something that suits you. Joanna Trollope's Foreword and Betty Breyer's Introduction are better read after you read the stories - both are interesting but work better after you had read the stories.

maaliskuu 21, 8:45 pm

>106 LolaWalser: Well, it is a good thing there is noone around me - that reaction made me laugh. Loudly.

I've never read him in English - the few I had read had been in Bulgarian. I saw that there are a few English editions (in addition to The Dalkey Archive, Open Letter also seems to have published one - both tend to pick up a lot of good things (and that reminds me to go check what Open Letter had been doing lately)). I may pick some of them at some point - easier to find than the alternative. :) Will be interested to see what you think when you get to him.

maaliskuu 22, 4:10 pm

>103 AnnieMod: I read this book back in December over the holidays, and was surprised by how much fun it was, and then reflected - 'This is Trollope, of course there's humour here'.

>103 AnnieMod: I really hope that at some time this will be translated into English, but fear it is not likely unless someone like and other stories picks it up.

maaliskuu 22, 4:43 pm

25. Bound by Benedict Jacka
35. Marked by Benedict Jacka
52. Fallen by Benedict Jacka
53. Forged by Benedict Jacka
58. Risen by Benedict Jacka
59. Gardens by Benedict Jacka

Type: 5 Novels + 1 novella
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2017-2022
Series: Alex Verus (8,9,10,11,12 and 12.5)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Format: mass market paperback for the novels; ebook for the last novella
Publisher: Ace (and self-published for the novella)
Reading dates: 26 January 2023 - 20 March 2023

Considering that I just finished the series, I may as well just review the whole set of them now and not wait for their time to come while back-filling missing reviews. Spoilers for the book being reviewed will be kept to a minimum but as it is a very connected series (essentially a single story split into volumes in this part of the series), there will be major spoilers for the books preceding the one I am talking about. So be warned.

Book 8: Bound
Alex spent years running away from Richard and the Light Council spent years suspecting him of working for Richard. So the irony of Richard saving Alex at the end of the last book and getting him and Anne to work for the Dark Mage is not lost on Alex (when he can spare any thought on the irony that is - trying to survive tends to be a bit more important). The novel opens where the last one closed - with Alex and Anne walking into Richard's castle and learning what will be expected from them. Which turns out to be a bit surprising.

Alex is appointed as the aide of Morden in the Light Council (the last two ides did not fare very well - they are still looking for some of the bodies... or body parts) and most of the novel deals with that appointment and the thin line Alex needs to walk between betraying Richard (and thus losing the protection which halted the execution - the sentence was never lifted after all) and betraying his principles. Which does not make it a calm novel at all - battles and altercations are everywhere.

This is also the novel where you start seeing the series starting to head towards a definite ending. While most of the previous novels were slowly progressing an overall story, they had their own story line as well which could have led to an unlimited series. Here things start getting tied a lot more and the previous books and seemingly random episodes and characters come back into play. Which may make it harder to read and follow if one does not remember much -- if you are just coming back to the series after a long break, it may be worth revisiting the previous novels.

Just as with the previous one, the novel ends on something of a cliffhanger - things change again for Alex and the people around him.

Book 9: Marked

And here we are - Alex is on the Junior Council (sitting in for Morden who is accused of (and had admitted to) the attack which led to the Dark Mages led by Richard stealing a huge amount of magical items). Not something that was on his 5 years plan. Or any plan whatsoever. The Council is scrambling, trying to find the missing objects and it is Alex who ends up leading a lot of the effort - and trying to stop the mages from going into a full war with the adept community.

The core of the novel is an attempt to trap Richard - which Alex (and because of that the readers) knows will fail - but everyone seems to think that they know better. Much amusement follows and at the end we have Alex having shown his allegiance (not that a lot of people believe that), having burned some bridges and finally admitting that he is in love. Of course, there is also the problem of Morden - finding out why he was so eager to admit his guilt is important to finding out what Richard's plan may be. And as it turns out, everyone had been looking in the wrong direction for a very long time - while Alex realized earlier that Richard was after Anne and not after him all that time, the whole situation finally leads to a mess that puts everyone in danger. Again. At least this time the danger is combined with better feelings.

The end leaves us with Alex and Anne resolving some of their issues but with a secret hanging over their heads - one which may end up being more dangerous than the death sentence earlier.

Book 10: Fallen

Staking your life on people not figuring out a secret is a dangerous business. And Alex and his friends had done exactly that. So when the secret of what Anne has become finally becomes known (not surprisingly, it is Caldera who finally figures it out), things get really uncomfortable for Alex and Anne. By the end of the novel, Alex is finally forced to make choices he had been trying not to - and to drop his niceness - turning into what Richard always wanted him to be and the Council always suspected him to be - a Dark Mage (except that everyone is still up for a surprise - Alex has more cards to play than expected).

Plus Starbreeze is back. Which adds some randomness to the whole thing... as usual.

The novel serves a prequel to the endgame - it gets everyone where they need to be, it gets some conflicts resolved (and some get much worse), it gets the jinns fully into the story and start closing all possible futures but the one that leads to the end. And as the author is preparing to close the series, some dangling threads from earlier books are starting to get weaved back in. It is a good thing this series has a planned ending - a lot of the decisions, choices and deaths in the last books make Alex's story unsustainable as a long running series.

Book 11: Forged

Alex is on the run. Again. Anne had fully merged with the jinn (and it is unclear who is driving - Dark Anne or the marid). The Light Council are now convinced that they were always right about Alex (right... because they were not the ones who pushed him where he is). Richard's plans had been temporarily halted when he lost Anne and her jinn. Luna has Alex's job from the start of the series (the shop, the adepts, the good Mage...). And yet, the whole thing is gearing towards a second Jinn war and there does not seem to be any way for it to be stopped. The only question still open is who is going to be still alive for it and whose side everyone will be.

Anne is going after the people who hurt her and that Anne is not the nice girl everyone remembers (she is locked in Elsewhere, Dark Anne had taken over completely). Alex had added fate-weaving to his divination thus becoming almost unbeatable - if you can not only see the futures but also push a possible future towards happening, you get a lot more powerful very quickly.

I'd admit that I was a bit worried about the powers both of them were yielding at this point. The series had always balanced powers with cunning and common sense and there had never been an overpowered user (Richard notwithstanding - and Alex's realization of what and how his power works is part of the solution at the end) which kept everyone on a somewhat level keel. I did need to worry, the powers were there but they had their internal restrictions and problems and even though they seemed unbeatable, they did not seem to win easily either. Plus we heard only Alex's story - he had been our narrator all along and some random chance remarks from other characters makes you remember that now and then - we know how Alex sees things, we have no idea how clear-headed he is most of the time.

The novel ends with yet another cliffhanger, seemingly redistributing the powers just before the war erupts. And with the jinns possessing multiple people who never had a choice in the matter, the war had turned into even more of a nightmare scenario.

Book 12: Risen

And then there was war. Well, after Anne dealt with Sagash and Richard made his proposal to the Council for an alliance against Anne and the jinn anyway. Alex is moving towards his own death very quickly - the FateWeaver that allows him to try to save Anne and win the war is also killing him. But then what is new?

The novel ties every dangling end still standing, wrapping up Alex's story. All the preparation, all the actions in the last years come into play into a war that holds humanity as its prize - if the jinns cannot be subjugated and locked again, humanity (both magical and not magical) is going to be in real trouble (for the short time everyone lives anyway). And yet, even in the middle of that, Richard plays his games (and Alex needs to learn more tricks of his own magic if he wants to outwit him - as it had become clear by now, the most powerful Dark Mage, the one everyone is afraid of does not yield any of the more powerful sets of magic out there - he is a diviner, just as Alex is).

The end of the novel is bittersweet -- including the fact that the epilogue shifts the narration to Luna. The story of Alex that we started all those years ago is now over - the story of his world is not. As for the war - well, read the series and see what happened.

It was a satisfying end of a series (and I was surprised in just how many thread got tidied up - even in cases where it seemed that it does not matter - Chalice's last favor for Alex and his promise being fulfilled despite him having so many other things to do at the time (like... trying to stay alive)). The series played on the Dark vs. Light story by essentially showing that there is no difference and it is down to the people.

But one needs to always remember that what we got is Alex's version of the story - outside of the single novella in mid series and the epilogue, we never heard anyone else's take on the action. Including his perception of Anne - and his final actions toward her. In some ways, the whole stories can be summarized as Alex found a woman in trouble, fell in love and saved her. And yet, while not untrue, that was just part of the story. Jacka weaved a lot of those normally expected stories into a single tapestry of a story. And while I am glad that it ended and I got to read it, I will miss it and the characters.

Book 12.5: Gardens

The main story of the series is over but the universe it had created did not stop existing when the story ended (spoiler alert: the jinns lost the war again). And here we are, the middle of the winter, a few months after the war ended. A team of adepts is hired to steal a ring from a hut deep in the Romanian woods. What their employer missed to tell them was who owns the hut. Things go interestingly wrong for everyone involved... including the person who hired them.

In his introduction, Jacka puts this novella in a genre adjacent to urban fantasy. I'd still think it fits the genre the main Verus sequence is in - but it also verges on horror. Seeing Anne through someone else's eyes reminds us that we did not really get much of the real Anne in the series - she was always either split in 2 or possessed (or both) and even when she was somewhat herself, seeing her through Alex's eyes, especially in the later part of the series was never going to show us the real Anne. Or the real Alex for that matter. In the aftermath of the series end, none of them was who they once were - both by choice but also because of how the rest of the mages pushed them. It was also interesting to see how the adepts (and possibly even the mages) who were not in the final battle saw the whole battle and war.

If you like your stories to end with the good people being good and the bad being bad, that series was never going to be for you. This novella makes that even more clear than the novels did. And Anne is one scary woman - not that we did not know that of course.

Don't try to read this story as a standalone or before you finish the main series - while the story itself may work, it will be a very weak one without the series as a backdrop and it spoils the end of the series in a major way (or 3).

I am not sure if Jacka plans to write any more novellas or even novels set in the world of this series but I hope he does. In the meantime, he seems to be starting a new series so I will patiently wait to see what he publishes next.

And with that, I am done with a series (hey, a plan that actually worked out!). 12 novels and 2 novellas later, the ending makes sense and made the series better than an open-ended one could be but I will miss the series. If you like urban fantasy, try this series (but start from the first - and give it a chance - the first few books are good but the end goal takes awhile to actually become the focus - it was not supposed to be a series apparently - which explains why the first book finished the way it did - one could have stopped there).

maaliskuu 22, 4:49 pm

>109 SassyLassy: Well, both The Dalkey Archive and Open Letter Books had published Basara before so who knows... If you like and other stories's choices but had never looked at Open Letter Books, you may want to check them as well. If you know about them, great ;)

Trollope can be funny (and seriously funny at that) but as part of a more serious work -- having his timing right for the Thompson Hall story was unexpected. I had an inkling that this is where he was going since the room-swap but I was sure he is not going there - it did not look very Trollope to me. And yet...

maaliskuu 22, 6:23 pm

26. Picture You Dead by Peter James

Type: Novel, 118k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2022
Series: Roy Grace (18)
Genre: Crime, Police Procedural
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Macmillan (UK)
Reading dates: 2 February 2023 - 3 February 2023

What's with the fine art and forgery mysteries these days? It feels like a lot of the long running series I read seriously has a book in that sub-genre around the same time. When I saw that the latest from James is set in the world of forgery, I was a bit apprehensive - while I do not mind the setting, this series tends to deal with murder and serious crime and a forgery of an old painting does not really fit. I should not have worried - not about that anyway.

Harry and Freya think that they won the jackpot when a random purchase ends up being a long lost piece of an art - so long lost in fact that noone had been sure that the painting made it out from the fires of the French Revolution. Their happily ever after never materializes though - as it turns out there are multiple deaths attached to this painting - and a ruthless and very wealthy man who really wants it. And the chase is off.

Roy Grace comes into the story when one of those deaths triggers an investigation. And here is why I said anyway above - the novel spends a lot more time with the people outside of Roy's team - and a lot less with the team. And that changes the dynamic of the book - part of the enjoyment of this series for me is the police procedural aspect of it and here this part was muted and underplayed.

The novel works as a crime novel but is weak on what makes the series what it is. We are still dealing with Bruno's death (the preparation for the funeral and the funeral itself happen in this novel) and that is part of the complete series that never worked well for me - it looks like an attempt to give depth to Roy and it just seems to drag. And just when you think we are done with it, something else happens to get it back into the story. I am giving the author some time with that story-line though - there had been similar cases earlier that get wrapped up in a later novel and make sense (and then the reason for them becomes clear) so we may still get some kind of a connection here. We shall see with the next novel.

A decent, if not particularly sparkling, novel in the series and a very bad way to get introduced to the series if you never read the previous ones - a lot of the characters are little more than outlines and the background and fill-in comes from the past. Now to wait for the next book in the series...

maaliskuu 22, 7:51 pm

27. Bannock, Beans and Black Tea: Memories of a Prince Edward Island Childhood in the Great Depression by John Gallant and Seth

Type: Non-fiction
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2004
Series: N/A
Genre: Memoir
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Reading dates: 4 February 2023 - 4 February 2023

If the style of the drawing on the cover of this book looks familiar, you are not just seeing things. John Gallant may not be a name anyone had heard of but his son's name is well known, especially if you like graphic novels and comics. That also explains why a graphic publisher such as Drawn and Quarterly had published a non-graphic memoir.

Seth grew up hearing the stories which his father shared every time he had a chance. To the growing child, they sounded like adventures and every retelling added more details - as often happens with stories like that. As he was growing older, he started realizing that they are anything but - and that the humor in them is covering for desperation and hopelessness. So he decided to ask his father to start recording the stories and sending them over. Seeing them on paper, arriving sporadically, showed an even starker side of them - the humor which his father injected in the telling was all but gone - the only thing remaining was the reality of growing in poverty in a very rural part of the Prince Edward Island province - the village of New Acadia (later known as St. Charles) in the neighborhood of Rollo Bay in the 1920s and 1930s (but not on the coast itself).

John Gallant was born in 1917 in a family which would have been better off without children - the father was uneducated and frequently without a job, the mother was a housewife who seemed to care about her children but had way too many of them. There were some grandparents in the picture but they were not well-off either and the winters can be brutal in that part of the world. A lot of the early stories in this collection of autobiographical stories contain barely suppressed (and not always suppressed) loathing towards a father who had no job, no prospects, no dreams and yet wanted and had a big family.

I am not sure how much editing Seth did for this book - the stories do not sound like his usual style so I suspect we are actually hearing John's voice in a lot of it. The language and the stories are simple - the way a man who struggled to survive and never had a chance for real education talks and tells stories. But they also show where Seth got storytelling abilities (unless he helped more than it looks like he did).

Each of the stories in the book is very short, usually just a few pages but I dare you to try to read just a story at a time. There is some repetition and the story does not move entirely linearly (and some of the repetition comes from that) but reading it, it feels like the kind of stories family tell around the table or when the children come home. It was not an easy read in places, especially knowing that it happened (let's just say that the exploited children of the Dickens novels had it easy compared to some of what happened here). But it also showed me a part of Canada I am not very familiar with at a time when I am much more familiar with European and US history than Canadian (although admittedly, that may be true for most periods in history).

The short book (120 small pages with a lot of blank space) is the kind of memoirs I like reading - not those of the makers and the shakers of the world but the people who just lived in that area, in that time. These are also the kind of memoirs that rarely get published - this one would have never been published if Seth was not the artist that he is.

In addition to the cover and the editing, Seth also provided an introduction (in the form of a comic) and illustrations throughout the book (and I suspect he worked on the selection of the font and other visual elements).

Strongly recommended if you are interested in how some poor rural people lived during the Great Depression in Canada or if you like personal stories.

maaliskuu 23, 2:29 pm

>107 AnnieMod: I hadn't heard of these so far, great review!

>110 AnnieMod: My husband loves Jacka! I'm not really tempted because I don't think that these are for me, but I am happy to see that you enjoy them.

>113 AnnieMod: This sounds wonderful and I have added it to the WL. The cover is gorgeous.

maaliskuu 23, 3:45 pm

>113 AnnieMod: When I started reading the title, my mind immediately jumped to Newfoundland, but then I saw the subtitle. It could be a book from any of the Maritime Provinces, or from Newfoundland, which was not part of Canada until after the Depression. Great review and all too believable. I suspect things were not too different in Maine.

Gallant is a common family name on PEI. I had to look St Charles up on the map. Even in a small province, that's definitely off the beaten track.

maaliskuu 23, 3:58 pm

>114 MissBrangwen: Maybe for Jacka although you may actually enjoy the first (or the first few). Jacka likes his martial arts and his novels tend to be as far away from the border with paranormal romance as possible. I enjoy both styles so I'd read pretty much anything in the double genres of urban fantasy/paranormal romance - and a lot of series really straddle that border and just stay there.

The Dresden Files are similar in tone but they are less violent and less battle-forward than Alex Verus for the most part for example. But I usually file the two of them in the same bracket in my mind.

>115 SassyLassy: Off the beaten path often makes for the best memoirs. Too bad that we only get to read them when people from there (or their children) make it in the world so they can finance (or get their publisher to finance) the book. I know, I know - I am cynical but...

Plus I learned a new word: bannock. And its not-so-innocent history in Canada:

Always good to learn new things.

I suspect that this was a somewhat common story all over the area - both in Canada and USA, especially in the north -- the addition of a very cold and very long winter to all other troubles is a recipe for a disaster.

maaliskuu 23, 4:57 pm

>113 AnnieMod: I'm a Seth fan, so that's on my wishlist now. I hadn't realized that was where he (or his family) comes from. Also I have a friend who just moved up to the outer reaches of Newfoundland-Labrador and I think she might like that.

maaliskuu 23, 6:00 pm

>117 lisapeet: Yey, another one :) I have Clyde Fans review coming up shortly (well... some time in the next few days anyway). And I have the latest volumes in PalookaVille lined up on my "read soon" table (plus some of his other collections). So stay tuned.

Just his father - Seth never lived in the area - he was born and spent his childhood in Ontario apparently. Which is why we see Ontario in his work of course.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 23, 8:44 pm

28. Whistling Psyche / Fred and Jane by Sebastian Barry

Length: 2 1-act plays: 52 pages and 18 pages respectively
Publisher: Faber and Faber(2004); Faber and Faber Plays
Format: Paperback
Read: 4 February 2023 - 4 February 2023

And back to Barry - the next book chronologically is a collection of two shorter plays.

The two plays collected here are very different but they also have similarities - both deal with pairs of women, both have only 2 characters and both explore what it means to be a woman (albeit at different times and ways).

Whistling Psyche (first produced at the Almeida Theatre, London on 12 May 2004, directed by Robert Delamere) reintroduces us to two characters which most people may have heard of: Dr. James Barry (a Victorian military surgeon) and Florence Nightingale. The two of them met in real life during the Crimean War - one of them towards the end of a career, the other one just starting one (and they disliked each other). And here they are now, in some type of a waiting room, some time after they had died. One of them can see and hear the other, the other cannot. What follows are essentially two monologues (one of them with reactions to things being said) in which both women tell their stories.

If you do not know the story of Dr. James Barry, the play may be a bit confusing until things click. She was born a woman after all and despite living all her life after teenage-hood as a man, she was still a woman (in Barry's imagination, she even gave birth to a child; in real life that event is unconfirmed but hinted at).

Women in medicine in this era are rare - both women changed what women can do in the venue. Some of the story of Dr. Barry is her regret at never getting the same reputation as Miss Nightingale did - after all, she was first and she was a doctor.

It is a nice play although I wish that Barry had gone for a direct dialog - but then it would have been hard for both of them to tell their stories for us. As for the title - it is the name of a pet (or a series of them) but it also fits the play.

According to the notes by Barry, James Barry is not a relative but he was given the surgeon's biography The Perfect Gentleman by June Rose (1977) (the subtitle being "The remarkable life of Dr James Miranda Barry, the woman who served as an officer in the British Army from 1813 to 1859") which served a source for that part of the story. The other half of the pair is a lot better known and the titles he mentions are Florence Nightingale by Cecil Woodham-Smith (1950), the chapter on her in Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918) and the much more recent Ireland and the Crimean War by David Murphy. I had not read either.

This is the second play by Barry that deals with real historical figures (and not the normal people of Ireland as most of his work does) - and unlike Hinterland, everyone in this story is dead (in real life and incidentally also in the play) so it is the first play that uses real people with their own names as characters.

Fred and Jane (first produced at the Bewley's Café Theatre, Dublin in August 2004, directed by Caroline FitzGerald) is much shorter than the previous play - about 1/3rd in length.

Two nuns sit in the ante-room of a convent and talk: Beatrice Dunne, in her sixties, speaking with Midlands accent and Anna Nagle, in her thirties, speaking with middle-class Dublin accent. They don't talk to each other but talk together to a third person - who is not there - the audience, the mirror, take your pick - an interview without an interviewer.

Once upon a time, when Anna was a novice, she met Beatrice for the first time. At a later stage, they got separated, each sent to different places where they excelled at what they are doing - but something was always off. And now they are reunited.

None of them comes out and say what is obvious clearly - because the play is a love story of course. It is never clear if any of the decisions made for them was because of that or if anyone was aware; it is not even clear if there was a love story indeed. But the play tells both their joined story but also the story of a nun during these years (the setting is contemporary or close enough to it) and shows them as women - liking things that you would not expect nuns to. And somehow in such a short play, Barry also manages to show the Dublin/province split which had always been part of the national story.

As for the title? It is Fred Astaire and Jane Fonda of course. :)

The story does not tie directly with the rest of Barry's work but these family names will be familiar if you had some of his novels and plays. They are not on the list of characters (only first names are added there), they are revealed as the play progresses and when they showed up, I was smiling - we may had actually heard/seen something about both of them somewhere before. Or not - but using the same family names makes them feel a lot closer to us.

I enjoyed the play - there isn't as much depth as in his other work but the play is very short. And it still manages to surprise.

maaliskuu 24, 12:55 am

>119 AnnieMod: they sound great.

maaliskuu 24, 2:44 pm

55. Bound by Mystery: Celebrating 20 Years of Poisoned Pen Press, edited by Diane D. DiBiase

Type: Anthology, 34 stories, 443 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2017
Series: A lot of them...
Genre: Crime, mystery
Format: paperback
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Reading dates: 4 March 2023 - 13 March 2023

I was going in order but this one needs to go back to the library tomorrow and I would rather review anthologies and collections while I still can check things in them (spelling of names for example...) so it is jumping the queue.

In 2017, Poisoned Pen Press, a small mystery publisher out of Scottsdale, Arizona, celebrated its 20th anniversary and decided that the best way to celebrate is to get some of their authors to contribute a story for an anthology. 35 of them ended up in the anthology, with 34 stories (one was co-written). For readers of the press, the anthology will be a nice way to revisit old favorites; for new readers, it will be a way to get introduced to the type of stories they publish. Everyone wins. Of course, history being cruel, the independent Poisoned Pen Press did not make it much longer after that celebration - Sourcebooks acquired them in 2018 and Poisoned Pen Press became their mystery imprint (and if you are thinking - well, at least it was not one of the big ones, Penguin Random House acquired 45% of Sourcebooks in 2019 so even though Sourcebooks are still standing as independent, they are almost in one of the big ones). I don't know if the acquisition was already planned for when the anthology was published, there is nothing in the editor's foreword that hinted at it. But be that as it may, the anthology got published and I found it one day while looking at the library stacks.

As most anthologies, some of the stories worked for me and some failed. I've only heard of a few of the authors who contributed (but I plan to check the novels of most of them) and I had read only a couple of them before. I've known of the publisher for awhile (especially since i moved to Arizona and they are practically in my back yard) but never actively pursued their books. That may be about to change after this anthology.

The stories are short (only one crosses the 20 pages marker and not by much) and a few are under 10 pages. Each of them starts with a note by the author - either telling the reader how they became a Poisoned Pen Press author or waxing lyrically about the press. It i a celebration of an anniversary after all. Some of them were more interesting to read than others; if you read too many of them in a row, they start getting repetitive - but then that's expected - there aren't that many way for that story to unfold. And while the introductions were similar, the stories were anything but. Some of them are part of the series that the authors are publishing with the Press, some are independent ones (and some of the ones I did not think are series ones may as well be - I had not read most of these series).

Gold Digger by Reavis Z. Wortham - in 1934, a boy sees a man killed for talking to another man's wife. He grows up (by way of the Pacific Theater of WWII) and when he is back home and some more years pass, he finally figures out why that man died. A sweet story of a regular Joe investigating without even trying to.

Gone Phishing by Tim Maleeny - when a small time swindler gets pressed by the gangs, he decides to use the internet to get back at them. The result surprises everyone, including our swindler. Not an uncommon premise lately but the author makes it work here beautifully and the end of the story made me laugh. Unintended consequences indeed.

Bomb Booth by Charlotte Hinger - kids can be dangerous - especially when they are cute and you are trying to become their step-father and have a secret. Using the wanna-be step dad as the narrator makes the story better.

Be My Friend by Donis Casey - a psychological tale of a man who is convinced that his neighbor is almost stalking him. It verges on creepy in places.

Telling Tales by Ann Parker - based on a real legend from 1879 (it is unclear if is a real story or if a different story kinda changed into that), we have a sheriff trying to find out how the stage gets hit every time it carries money - the days are a secret, only a few trusted people know about the timing and yet, the bandits somehow always know. As it turns out, the explanation was in front of his eyes but it took a tragedy to see it. One of my favorite stories in the anthology.

Lure for Murder by Mark de Castrique, part of the Sam Blackman series - a man is found dead in the river and the investigation hinges on specialist knowledge. Moral of the story: if you plan on killing someone, don't use their hobby as part of it if you do not understand it.

Quito by J. M. Donellan - a man's head is frozen in a cryogenic facility after his death so that he can be revived one day when medicine evolves enough for that. His daughter is not very happy about that for various reasons and decides to do something about it.

Nantucket Plunder by Steven Axelrod - part of the Henry Kennis series. A painter is accused of a set of burglaries (apparently not for the first time). Proving who is responsible requires some creative thinking.

Sunday Drive by James Sallis - one of the authors I had heard of before (but never read). Unfortunately it was also one of the stories that felt flat - I am not sure what the point of it was. It was well written but it is more of a vignette - maybe it makes more sense if you had read some of his novels.

Paternoster Pea by Priscilla Royal, part of Medieval Mysteries - Prioress Eleanor is asked to discover the truth about a maiden's pregnancy, without any bloodshed. Being the wise woman she apparently is, she devises a way.

Olive Growers by Jeffrey Siger - the story is set in Greece just like his Inspector Kaldis series but does not seem to be part of the series. The last independent olive press owner in the valley does not like it when a consortium tries to squeeze everyone and ends up harming a young woman who is trying to help the growers. Of course, his past helps him -- he had not always been an olive grower.

Her Mama's Pearls by Vicki Delany is a ghost story that takes awhile to actually present itself as one. If one pays attention, it becomes clear long before the end of the short tale though.

Chaos Points by Meg Dobson (aka M. Dobson), part of the Kami Files series. The only YA tale in the anthology has a team of teenagers trying to trap a man who preys on young women. The story was a bit too short for its own good.

Two Bits, Four Bits, Six Bits... by Frederick Ramsay - two boys find a gun and a dead man turns out to have been killed with it. I found this one to be one of the better mysteries in the book - while there was an inkling of what was going on, the narrator and the way the story was told worked nicely.

Dodo by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel - another supernatural tale (or is it?) sees a man coming back to the town he was born in - and ending up seeing his brother die under interesting circumstances. He is convinced the death was supernatural, the town has its own explanation which is anything but.

Corazonada by Warren C. Easley - a gun, a woman and a murder. What better way to start a story. Add a set-up and a police force ready to go for the obvious and things get complicated before the truth emerges.

Time's Revenge by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, part of the John the Eunuch Mysteries | Death in Byzantium series. When relying on a clock for an alibi, it may be a good idea to consider the murdered man's hobby.

Taking the Waters by Kerry Greenwood, a Phryne Fisher story (and this is the only series I had read anything from in the anthology). The longest tale in the book (not by much though), Miss Fisher is called to solve the mystery of a missing girl who disappeared close to a sanatorium for men who suffer from shell-shock after the war.

Reading by the Polish Author by Vasudev Murthy is a meta tale about conventions, authors, book sales and what's not presented in the style of Wodehouse. It works... kinda. Not awful but closer to a parody of the style than a homage I think.

Wild by Name, Wild by Nature by Jane Finnis - part of the Aurelia Marcella series, set on Roman Britannia. A gladiator and his manager stop by the inn before a big battle and things don't go as smoothly as expected. I am not sure if the whole series is told in that manner (telling a tale from years ago) or if it is just this story but it worked here - both because it allowed the ending to happen and because it is the kind of story that requires later knowledge to tell properly.

Customer by Laurie R. King - the other author I am familiar with as a name (but never read) gives us a meta story where the wife of a certain detective stops by a certain Scottsdale bookstore. It is a cute little story albeit only adjacent to the genre. But then it fits the anthology. I am surprised they did not close the volume with it.

Reciprocity by Catherine A. Winn - if you are going to cheat, don't let your wife find out. Or pick your lover better. The story is short enough for the surprise ending to work - even if it is a somewhat common scenario in stories and novels lately.

Price of Belief by Dennis Palumbo, part of Daniel Rinaldi Mysteries series. When a man is accused of a crime, he is ready to kill himself - and a psychologist risks his life in the belief that the man is innocent and is unable to kill another human being. I loved the ending of the story - not because of how the crime is solved of how the psychologist reacts to the whole ordeal.

Stranding by Sulari Gentill - a young couple find some coats on the beach in Sidney and decides to investigate (after all she works or a newspaper, even if they are trying to keep her to the society pages now that men are back from the war) - and gets in trouble when the coats are tied to Jewish refugees from WWII.

Mabel, Still Gathering Wisdom by Carolyn Wall is one of the few stories I really did not get the point of. It follows the life of a woman, Mabel Arizona, who seems to talk to the spirits, finds herself a man (despite being too old according to the tribe) and then lives, with the spirits helping (and her ingenuity assisting when they don't). I really have no idea what the point was or what this story is doing in the book. At least it was short.

Game, Set, Match by Zoe Burke starts with a kidnapped woman and ends up with a couple of dead men. I enjoyed the way the story developed and how the truth of what was really going on did not come out until the end.

Hort-Head Homicide by Anne Littlewood (credited elsewhere as Ann Littlewood - not sure if this book or earlier credits were wrong or if the name changed...), part of the Zoo Mysteries series (or adjacent to it) has the narrator, a specialist in animals, do a favor to her injured mother and drive her to a gardener convention. Before long there is a dead man and it does not help that he is a man everyone hates. It takes a gardener to actually solve the mystery. I enjoyed the story but I suspect it will work even better for avid gardeners.

Cry of the Loon by Janet Hubbard is a short tale about friendship and just how much you can push your friends before you end up in trouble.

Judge Jillian by David Moss deals with a celebrity judge with a show who manages to solve a murder while judging a pair of men on another matter. Not bad although the style was a bit too hip in places (but then so is the setting so it fits).

Clear Knights by J. C. Lane (who based on the introduction appears to be Judy Clemens) gives us a company of teenagers who drive people who get a bit over the limit home in their own cars (so they don't need to then remember where the car may be). When one of their potential clients ends up dead, it takes awhile to sort out what happened.

Disguise by David P. Wagner takes place in the Vatican and in Rome where a man is trying to get to the bottom of a secret in the Holy City. It is a very short tale and it works because it is short. Saying anything more will spoil it.

Sage Advice by Kelly Garrett - a woman, a co-owner of a coffee-cart in Portland, ends up trying to find a man while dressed in a wedding dress (it's a long story) and after being roped into it by her sister with a lie. As it turns out, the man has a good reason not to want to be found by the people looking for him. It was a quirky tale with a quirky narrator that was actually enjoyable.

Girls with Tools by Triss Stein - during the War (WWII), girls ended up working everywhere - including at the ship yard. So did men with not exactly good intentions and not just about the girls. Interesting take on the stories of spies in vital industries during the war (well, he may even have succeeded if he had not decided to go after a girl...)

Fox in the Hand by Tina Whittle - a Wiccan is asked for an opinion about a dagger found at a crime scene and that ends up being a bit more complicated than expected.

A few concluding notes:
- There are some reviews online that point out that at least some of the stories are actually parts of novels. As is often the case, it is not clear if the story or the novel came first and it is to be expected in an anthology like that. It may be obvious if one reads the series but all the stories had a beginning and an end and work on their own - and that is the best one can ask for sometimes. I can see some of the author getting the ideas and even the stories and folding them into a later novel though - and I, for one, find that an acceptable thing - why lose a good tale if most of the readers will only read the novels?
- While the stories may be uneven, the overall anthology was enjoyable. Not great, not perfect but if you like the genre, there are worse ways to spend a few days and much worse way to find new authors
- The only bad news is that now my TBR pile of new series is much much bigger than when I started reading this book...

maaliskuu 24, 2:56 pm

>120 dianeham: Barry surprises me with his plays constantly - I knew he is considered one of the better playwrights working today but reading all the plays in order had been rewarding and much better than I expected.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 24, 5:39 pm

29. Die Around Sundown by Mark Pryor

Type: Novel, 80k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2022
Series: Inspector Henri Lefort (1)
Genre: historical, crime
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Reading dates: 5 February 2023 - 5 February 2023

And back to the regularly scheduled reviews which are still in early February.

When I heard that Mark Pryor is starting another series instead of adding books to his already existing two, I was not sure what to expect - the only similarity between his other two series is that they are crime-related one. This one takes the setting of his main series (Paris) but moves it back in time (to the start of the occupation of Paris during WWII for the main part of the story) and picks up the psychological part of his other series (and puts it in a historical context). The main character, Inspector Henri Lefort, is different from the protagonists of the other two series but he has some of the ruthlessness of Dominic and the investigative abilities of Hugo. But you do not need to have read any of Pryor's books before - pulling it back in time makes connections improbable (if anything, if we ever see another Hugo Marston novel, that past may show up there).

It is the early days of the German occupation of Paris in 1940 and the people of the city are still learning how to live with the new power. Everyone who could have moved, had already left Paris but that still left a lot of people to deal with the changes and with feeling unwelcome in their own home.

Henri Lefort is an unorthodox police inspector, a veteran of the previous war and not very likely to play nice with the same Germans he once fought with. When a German officer is found dead in the Louvre, the German command asks for him specifically and gives him 5 days to solve the murder. If he cannot? He dies. In the new Paris, it is easy as that. The Germans are even going to help him - they give him a list of suspects - all of them French of course.

Meanwhile, he had attended a presumed robbery and met Princess Marie Bonaparte (who insists on being called Mimi), a descendant of the Emperor and a psychoanalyst who had worked with Freud and she becomes professionally interested in the troubled man and offers him a deal - she will help him by opening any door he needs opened in the city (even under Occupation, she is an influential woman after all) if he tells her his own story. Each of them has their reasons and Henri is sure he can keep his secrets even while telling her a life story - because telling the complete truth is not something he ever plans to do. Except things go a bit differently. The Princess is a real historical figure, he meetings with the young inspector - not so much. But as in any good historical novel, the merging of the real with the imaginary is flawless - she does not read like a historical figure shoved into a novel to connect it to the times, she reads like any other character in the novel.

The murder becomes almost a background - it will get solved eventually but it shares the limelight with Henri's story of WWI and with the picture of Paris under occupation and the build-up of parts of the Resistance. Despite having a crime at the heard of it, it is more a historical novel than a crime one - in both of its timelines.

And as for Henri's secrets - Pryor manages to handle them well enough to cause a surprise without them coming out of nowhere - he adds enough bread crumbs for a reader to get an inkling of them coming but with enough doubt for one to wonder if this is where the story is going. I also appreciated the details which made the whole scenario possible and believable - while the way Henri ended up back in Paris after the previous war uses a somewhat familiar twist, the details on how it worked back in WWI and how it had worked since are refreshingly believable (and not left with hand-waving explanation of missing years and time passed).

There is already an announced second book in this series so I will be interested to see what Henri gets to next and to see more of occupied Paris.

maaliskuu 25, 9:35 am

>123 AnnieMod: That sounds really interesting! Great review, and another one for my WL!

maaliskuu 25, 2:57 pm

Annie, did you see this? Old God’s Time

maaliskuu 25, 3:23 pm

>125 dianeham: Yep - saw it yesterday while looking for something else. Did not know he has a book coming this year. I am going in order with Barry so it will be awhile before I get to it. Hopefully by the next book he publishes, I will be all caught up. :) thanks for pointing it out though :)

>124 MissBrangwen: Pryor had turned into one of my favorite authors lately. He may not be writing high literature but he is highly readable (for me) so I enjoy his books. Too bad I’ve read all his fiction - I’m considering checking his non-fiction at the moment and neither of them is something I’d usually read (as unbelievable as it is looking at my thread, there are things I almost never read).

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 28, 5:28 am

Great reviews of the plays by Sebastian Barry, Annie. The Almeida Theatre in Islington is one of my favorite venues in London to see plays, and I definitely would have seen Whistling Psyche if it was staged during one of my visits, but I didn't start going there until 2007. Florence Nightingale also had a very difficult relationship with Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States; was she mentioned in the play?

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 27, 1:52 pm

>127 kidzdoc: No, or if she was, I missed the reference. The more familiar story, that of the younger woman (Nightingale), was almost a counterpart and companion for the Barry story. And as I had never even heard of James Barry before the play, I may have missed or noticed in passing and mostly ignored parts of the other story. I will keep an eye for it when I reread it (as I am sure I will) - but as I was reading this one with my phone next to me and googling any name that came up, I suspect I would have noticed it if it was there.

Have you seen any Barry plays?

maaliskuu 28, 5:36 am

>128 AnnieMod: Thanks, Annie. I hope to see Whistling Psyche someday. It was staged in Atlanta in 2014 at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta, a short walk from where I used to live, but I didn't know about it!

I had no idea that Sebastian Barry was a playwright! I have read two of his novels, The Secret Scripture and On Canaan's Side, though.

maaliskuu 28, 1:52 pm

>129 kidzdoc: These 2 are still in my future. :)

If you missed them, I've reviewed all of his plays written and staged before these two (>55 AnnieMod: has the one immediately before these two and links to the rest).

I suspect he is a lot more popular in Ireland (and possibly England) than this side of the pond.

He is also a poet - although as far as I know, he had published only one poetry collection since the ones in the 80s (but then I did not even know about it until a few weeks ago so who knows what else I am missing). Both the poetry and the plays explain a lot about his fiction style as well I think.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 28, 2:34 pm

And continuing with the February reviews. I somehow managed to read two WWII books back to back apparently - although they could not have been more different.

30. Tonight is Already Tomorrow by Lia Levi, translated from Italian by Clarissa Botsford

Type: Novel, 63k words
Original Language: Italian
Original Publication: 2018 (Italian) as Questa sera è già domani; 2021 in English (this translation)
Awards: Strega Giovani (2018) - the Youth/YA off-shoot of the biggest Italian award.
Genre: Historical, WWII
Format: paperback
Publisher: Europa Editions
Reading dates: 6 February 2023 - 7 February 2023

Alessandro used to be considered a genius when he was younger. Then school started and his mother started realizing that he is bright but probably not a genius. This could have been the story of any precocious child with an overbearing mother who thinks her son is the best one and noone is better in anything. Except that this specific family happened to live in Genoa, Italy in the mid 1930s. And the family was Jewish.

The mother had been born and raised in Genoa and her whole family is in the area - providing Alessandro with a grandfather and numerous uncles, aunts and cousins. She believes that she is safe in Genoa and that nothing bad can happen to her at home. The father is a British citizen who had always thought that one day he is going to go back - except that the wife is not really interested in leaving her home so he never did.

And then Italy slowly starts changing the rules - the race laws come into effect and being Jewish becomes a problem. And yet, the family stays - the mother is not ready to admit that she must go and as she makes the decision at home, they all stay. The city is flooded with refugees from Austria and Germany and yet they stay - because it will never happen to them, not in Genoa. When the war really starts, the father ends up being branded as an enemy - that British passport which he always considered his Plan B ends up being less than useless - too late to use it to flee, now it ends up getting him sent to the middle of nowhere in the country (better than a camp I guess). And the rules keep changing.

The novel ends on what seems to be a cliffhanger - but only on the surface. The story which the author set out to tell is told - the story of a family which could not believe that things will go that bad, a family who believed in their own city and country and who ended up losing all in the process. In the next few years a lot more families will lose a lot more but this is a story for another place.

It is a story about how slowly changes happen sometimes and how clinging to the familiar can harm you. Reading the novel you want to shake the mother and tell her to run. And yet, the reality is that noone knew what was coming and even when people thought they knew, they still believed they were safe where they were.

Tucked at the end of the novel is a note by the author that the novel is based on real life events - those of her husband's family, complete with a photocopy of his documentation at the border.

If you are looking for heroics, that is not the novel for you. It is a slow (except for the end of course), almost meditative novel about a family, a place and a time. It sounds almost banal - it could have been any family. But then this is part of the point - it was just another family - which got luckier than most.

The novel won the 2018 Strega Giovani award (the youth/YA version of Premio Strega - the biggest Italian award; this one is awarded by a jury of over a thousand upper secondary school students who get to read the 12 nominated books and vote for the best/their favorite).

Not a perfect novel and most of the characters are nowhere near likeable. And yes, the story is believable, even before you find that author's note. How much of the story is reality and how much invention is unclear but it works as is.

maaliskuu 28, 2:58 pm

31. Three Bedrooms in Manhattan by Georges Simenon, translated from French by Marc Romano and Lawrence G. Blochman

Type: Novel, 176 pages
Original Language: French
Original Publication: 1946 (French) as Trois chambres à Manhattan
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary
Format: paperback
Publisher: NYRB Classics
Reading dates: 7 February 2023 - 8 February 2023

François Combe used to be a relatively well-known French actor. Then he fled France after a scandal with his wife and is now trying to make it in New York and learning that noone really cares about French actors (or at least this one). When we first meet him, he is about to flee his very noisy apartment - he cannot sleep, he cannot think so he goes out to clear his head. Then he ends up in a bar, meets a woman, Kay, and ends up walking the city with her before both of them end up in a hotel room.

It all could have ended here. But instead the two of them get obsessed with each other, each for their own reasons, and their story continues, violent and somehow romantic all at the same time.

The novel is a study in loneliness - both Kay and François are lonely and distrustful and almost cynical. As the story progresses, we learn more of both of their stories although as we see only his viewpoint, Kay's history remains shrouded in places (and her constant refusal to tell the truth does not help matter). Having been humiliated back in France, François is jealous (to the point of ridiculousness) and violent any time when he is unhappy with anything Kay does or says. And yet, they somehow manage to stay together much longer than one expects them to.

The story is based on Simenon's meeting with his second wife and I hope that the violent part were not part of their real life history. Joyce Carol Oates provides an introduction which adds some context (but as usual is spoilery if you never read the novel before).

It is not my favorite Simenon by far but it is a tight psychological novel about loneliness, obsession and what happens when a boy meets a girl and both of them are not at their best.

maaliskuu 28, 4:58 pm

32. 1989 by Val McDermid

Type: Novel, 124k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2022
Series: Allie Burns (2)
Genre: crime
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Reading dates: 9 February 2023 - 11 February 2023

At the end of the first volume of the series, Allie had started to get used to her job as a journalist and finally admitted that she is in love with Rona (to her family's total dismay). 10 years later, the 2 of them are still together, now living in Manchester and both do what they do best - work in their chosen fields of journalism.

But that's not the start of the novel. It starts with a man who sets the stage for someone else's death. We don't know who either of these men are or why one of them needs to die but we know a murder is coming.

Just like in the first novel, McDermid mixes real life events with a fictional history. Allie being an investigative journalist and the head of her newspaper's northern operation helps - she ends up everywhere where something is happening. In a year etched forever in the minds of a lot of people, a lot of things happen before the Berlin War tumbled - from distinct events in Northern England such as the Lockerbie memorial, the M1 plane crash a few days later (later known as the Kegworth air disaster) and the Hillsborough disaster to the broader topics such as the HIV/AIDS crisis in Scotland and England (Allie is Scottish after all) and the media reactions to it and to homosexuality.

Mixed with that is the tale of the fictional Ace Lockhart, the owner of the newspaper Allie works for (and a multi-media empire), and Genevieve, Ace's spoiled daughter who expects to inherit his empire. That tale provides the bridge to Europe and sends Allie to Germany and Poland just when things there start heating up. It is also the part of the novel that drags - it feels almost like a mix of a spy novel and an adventure novel - an escape from Eastern Germany for a scientist, a journalist landing in jail before managing to cross back to the West and Stasi's handling of people they dislike. While the story as such may work, it does not fit McDermid's style as well as the rest of the novel and feels like she had to add it because it was 1989 and people expected it.

And that brings us back to the murder. Who is going to die becomes clear very fast. Why he is about to die remains a mystery for a long time - there are too many reasons and any time one turns around, a new reason shows up. The actual reason starts emerging slowly from the mist of time and when Allie, the only person who is still investigating the murder, finally finds the truth, it ends up showing the dead man in an even worse light than his previous actions had (and by that time, he already looks like a perfect candidate for worst human being ever).

1989 is too close in time for this novel to qualify as a historical novel but it works like one for all intents and purposes. It is a chronicle of a time which a lot of readers may remember, tied around a fictional murder and an actual fictional historical mystery. While certain parts did not entirely work for me, I still enjoyed this installment. And as its connection to the previous novel is just in the characters, it can also work as a standalone.

On a more personal note, despite 1989 being important in Bulgarian history and probably a lot of things happening in school and what's not, my only real memory from that year is Hillsborough. Some of it is because a lot of the things happening later in the year had been told and retold so many time that trying to separate memories from what I had been told is impossible.

I had been a Liverpool fan for a few years by then and that was the first time I realized that people can die while enjoying a football game. Back then (and for a few years after that), I'd be out playing on weekends and come home every few hours for a report on football (soccer for the Americans) results from Dad. That afternoon, instead of a result, there was a serious talk about fans and going to games and death. Years later, I started keeping an eye on the ongoing controversy - but in a lot of ways, it was my introduction to a lot of serious topics. Despite the turmoil in the area, I had a sheltered and protected childhood - my next big shock did not come until my Dad's death more than a decade later. I stopped reading the book for a bit when I realized what disaster Allie was being called for when the sports reporter called her in the book - despite all the years, reading about it still makes me want to stop and take a deep breath. Childhood memories can be weird that way...

maaliskuu 28, 5:46 pm

Enjoyed your review of Tonight is already Tomorrow It poses a problem that many people faced who were not living in the country of their birth, or are deemed undesirable because of race. With the rise of extreme right wing governments I can see this happening again soon.

I always enjoy a review of a book by Georges Simenon.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 28, 6:22 pm

33. The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon, translated from French by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Type: Novel, 216 pages
Original Language: French
Original Publication: 1940 (French) as Les inconnus dans la maison; 1951 in English (this translation)
Series: N/A
Genre: Crime
Format: paperback
Publisher: NYRB Classics (2006)
Reading dates: 11 February 2023 - 12 February 2023

18 years ago Hector Loursat wife left him and their young daughter Nicole (which he is not convinced is his) for a younger man. At the time he was one of the best lawyers - a bright young man who was making his name in the world. That betrayal shattered him and he hid in his house letting himself get fat, drunk and unkempt, making sure that his daughter is provided for what she needs materially but not much beyond that.

And one night he hears a shot and before long finds a dead man in one of the bedrooms of the house. The following scandal involves his daughter and the police soon finds someone to accuse - Nicole's boyfriend. Everyone is ready to close the books on the murder, preserve the dignity of everyone involved as much as possible (as it turns out, while Hector Loursat was hiding from the world, Nicole had her own company and entertained in the rest of the house) and move on with their lives. Except for the old lawyer - he meets the young man and instead of being mad with him for sleeping with Nicole (especially because socially Emile is below the family), he decides to believe that he is not a murderer and tells the police and the magistrate that he is Emile's lawyer.

Except that nothing is that easy. The police had found their murderer so it falls to the lawyer to discover what happened. And unlike Perry Mason, he does not have a detective agency next door and had not spent the last decades solving cases. All he has is Nicole, the daughter who despises him. And yet, the two of them find a way to work together and the man who hid for 18 years finds the truth - despite wanting to crawl back into his rooms and hide again.

The novel is both a crime novel and a psychological profile of a man who lost everything and gave up. The leaving of the house and the opening of his mind to the world work in parallel - the claustrophobic feeling of the first pages of the novel gradually recedes and Hector emerges from his cocoon. The past and the present finally merge and his acceptance of what happened 18 years ago finally bring him back into the world - just on time to show everyone that all the booze had not dulled all his senses.

The novel was published in 1940 but the war is barely there - there is a single action which reminds you of it (a man mentions that he is a volunteer stretcher carrier) but outside of that the life in the small town is almost hidden from the world. It almost feels like a bottle inside of a bottle - the mind of Hector Loursat inside of the house inside of the town, sheltered by the world. Which adds to that initial feeling of claustrophobia and remains one of the general feelings in the novel - everyone seems to be struggling to get out of something.

P. D. James provides a wonderful introduction to the edition I read - as long as you had read the novel before or read the introduction at the end.

maaliskuu 28, 6:00 pm

>134 baswood: Or of their passport (the father was not born in Britain either) - it all works until someone decides they do not want you. The novel has that underlying current of the foreign vs the local - it is really tied to the place and time more than to the characters in a lot of ways - which is weird in a novel about a family but it kinda works. I hope you are wrong but I have the feeling that history will repeat itself in some places...

And I was writing about another Simenon while you were posting (no more of them for now - I read only 2 of his books so far this year but there should be more later in the year) :)

maaliskuu 28, 6:46 pm

34. A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

Type: Novel, 94k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2005
Series: Dunne Family
Genre: Historical, WWI
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Viking
Reading dates: 12 February 2023 - 13 February 2023

The third novel by Sebastian Barry (from the ones still in print anyway; 5th if you count the two he published in the 80s) returns to the formula of the previous two (Eneas McNulty and Annie Dunne) - a child born close to the start of the century in Ireland comes of age and lives through the craziness that follows allowing Barry to explore the lives of the people who lived through all the changes, all the hopes and all the misery.

Willie Dunne cannot wait to grow up. Born to a a policeman, he proves to be too short to become one and instead enrolls into the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and crosses the channel to fight. Except that the war is not the only thing happening - Ireland erupts in revolt at around the same time and Willie finds himself on both fronts.

It is a hard to read novel in some places - the rawness and awfulness of WWI is all here on display and the disillusionment of Willie and his generation is a fitting companion to the bleakness of the landscape - usually lush and full of life but now covered in mud and death. And if you also happened to be Irish, you also had to deal with what was happening back home - the struggle for independence, the attempt to get the English off everyone's neck. Willie has the added burden of his upbringing and his father's lack of understanding for any changes.

If you had read the novel Annie Dunne or you had read or seen the play The Steward of Christendom, you already know how this tale needs to finish. Because Willie is Annie's brother - the boy who came back as a ghost to his father bed-side when the old policeman was slowly losing his mind in the county home, the only son of a man who had to see all he believed in crumble.

If you never read any of them, the surprise may come as a surprise although it fits the novel and no other ending would have worked.

It is a novel about WWI and the Irish in WWI - split between home and the war, trying to fight for their country in different ways. It may be one of the best WWI novels you can find out there - both brutal and lyrical. And Barry manages to weave into the narrative enough personality and personal loss to make it as much a WWI story as the story of a man called Willie Dunne.

maaliskuu 28, 7:10 pm

I'm amused that at all of ten years you were a seasoned football fan. :)

maaliskuu 28, 7:38 pm

>138 LolaWalser: Hey, I was almost 8! :)

Dad never had a son to watch sports with and I liked the game (and Formula 1) so I had been watching both since long before I could read. Most of my early memories are from these moments... And for some reason which is lost to time, I was a fan of teams different from the ones my Dad liked (he was a fan of Chelsea in England for example -- it was a bittersweet moment for when Chelsea finally won the League in 2005 for the first time since before his birth - and he was not around for it). Which he acknowledged and always had the results of my team(s) for me - there were teams you were a Fan of and teams you just liked (years later, the roles got reversed - when he had to be up early and there was a late game because a World Cup was in a weird timezone or because the Champions League and other European tournaments games are just late, I would leave a note on the kitchen table with the results for him so he has them when he gets up at 3 am).

maaliskuu 28, 8:02 pm

In case you are wondering where 35 is, it is up in >110 AnnieMod: (it is one of the Verus novels)

36. 32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics by Adrian Tomine

Type: Collected comics
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1991-1995
Series: Optic Nerve
Genre: slice of life
Format: collected comics in a box
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly (1995)
Reading dates: 17 February 2023 - 17 February 2023

What do you do if you are a budding cartoonist? You put your work online and hope that people will notice it of course (and if you are really good (or if someone likes your style), someone will ask you for some more work and you may have a chance of getting published). But what if this happens in 1991?

Adrian Tomine was still in high school when he decided to share his work with the reading public and in at the start of the 90s that meant producing a mini-comic - a few pages stapled together and sold for #1 (or thereabouts) - and finding comic shops interested in carrying them. You may even win enough money for a lunch once a year or something.

He produced 7 of these before Drawn & Quarterly offered to publish the comics for him and the rest is history. But those 7 issues show the growth of a young man from art which can be seen as a mish-mash between the styles of a lot of artists to what he became later - a cartoonist with his own style.

If you had never seen anything by Tomine, don't start with this one - the first issues are rough and even if you start seeing the familiar style starting to emerge in the later issues, it is still under development. Drawn & Quarterly published the collected mini-comics twice - once as a small paperback (that's how I read it for the first time) and then as a collectable edition - reproduction of the separate comics exactly as they had been published (plus a small note to ensure it is clear they are reproductions), housed in a paper box.

Each issue contains the same type of stories Tomine will continue to write for decades - stories of life as he saw or wish he saw it. They are rougher than what comes later but some of them have surprise endings and nice flows (while others are essentially juvenile attempts which could have used a lot more work).

It is a nice artifact of a career and either edition is worth checking - after you had read at least a few other books by Tomine.

maaliskuu 28, 10:52 pm

> 139

Nice memories.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 29, 7:41 am

>135 AnnieMod: Sounds interesting. I think there was a movie based on that book, at least the title sounds familiar. So does the story.
ETA: yes, there was a movie in 1942. Must be a classic if I’ve heard from it, but I don’t think I saw it.

>137 AnnieMod: I’m starting to think I should read something by Barry. A novel sounds better than a play for me. I will look those up.

maaliskuu 29, 2:35 pm

>142 FlorenceArt: Yeah, Simenon was filmed a lot - not sure if they just did not have other options or if he was just writing in ways which made him easy to put on screen.

Have fun if you decide to try Barry. I started with Annie Dunne and fell in love with his style. It is still my favorite novel from the 3 I've read (but it is also the one where the least happens so there is that). The Long Long Way is arguably the better novel - but Annie has a charm in it which just works better for me. I have his next one lined up shortly (have a play and a poetry collection by him before it so probably in a month or so unless something changes).

Mind you, give him 20-30 pages or so - the style takes some getting used to but once you get used to it, it flows.

huhtikuu 5, 2:22 pm

37. People of the Blue Water: A Record of Life Among the Walapai and Havasupai Indians by Flora Gregg Iliff

Type: Non-fiction
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1954
Series: N/A
Genre: Memoir
Format: paperback
Publisher: University of Arizona Press
Reading dates: 7 February 2023 - 17 February 2023

When Flora Gregg read about the Havasupai, she decided that she wanted to go and work with them - the tribe which lived at the bottom of the Grand Canyon woke up her adventurous spirit. So after a short career as a teacher in a white school, she enrolled in the Oklahoma Territory Teacher's Institute and when she graduated (at the age of 17), she was sent to the Walapai Indian Reservation (these days the tribe is known as the Hualapai) to teach the tribe's children. It was close - the Walapai are related to the Havasupai - but not what she really dreamed of. This did not stop her from doing all she could - and before long, her dream came true and she got a position at the bottom of the canyon - living with and teaching the Havasupai.

He initial posting was in 1900 and she spent the next few years in the two schools until her mother's illness brought her back to the Midwest and she never came back to the Canyon except for short visit. More than 50 years later, she decided to write about her experiences - after spending the intervening years in different postings related to Native American education.

So how do you remember what happened 50 years ago? She is clear from the start - most of the story is based on the letters she wrote diligently to her mother, all of them preserved and existing, with her own memory supplying some details and with most names changed so real people's dignity and privacy does not get harmed.

The memoir is entertaining even in the places where it makes you cringe - the beginning of the 20th century was not really a great time for the relationship between the white settlers and the Native Americans and the time when the book was written (it came out in 1954) was not much better. It is a story of an attempt to destroy and eliminate a culture by branding it savage, of replacing a way of life with civilization as the government and its agents saw it. But somewhere in there is also a story of resistance and of the life on the Canyon, of a disappearing way of life which still somehow kept going and of a young woman's discovery of a world which for most people was as exotic as tales of Madagascar. There is also love (Flora Gregg met Joe Iliff while she taught at both reservations and they fell in love and got married) but also a lot of pain and loss. The tale was not just sad though - there was laughter and completely comical moments but over everything there was the shadow of what had been done to the tribes - and how people's reactions to it had been changing.

If she had written her book while she was there or soon after her return, it would have been a different book. The 50 years and all the work inside of the system gave her a perspective which helped made the book a lot better (or so I think anyway). Had she lived 50 more years and then written the book, it would have been very different again. The book as is shows both the 1900s and the 1950s perceptions and attitudes. As such, there are passages where you want to just make people stop and ask them what they think they are doing. And yet, the story is full of people and lives, laughter and tears, dreams and nature. Because the two tribes live in some of the most beautiful parts of America - and when Flora Gregg (which was to become Flora Gregg Iliff shortly) lived with them, she took note not just of the people, their lives and legends but also of all around them.

Strongly recommended if you want to learn more about the Native American lives in the area and the history of the reservations. Even when it was not an easy read, even when you could see where the author would be considered backwards today, it is a documentary evidence to cultures that had changed considerably under the assault of education and civilization.

More about the two tribes:

huhtikuu 5, 2:43 pm

38. Treasure State by C. J. Box

Type: Novel, 79k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: September 2022
Series: Cassie Dewell (5) or (6)
Genre: Detective, Mystery
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Reading dates: 18 February 2023 - 18 February 2023

C. J. Box returns to his Montana based series (and his publisher finally agrees that it is indeed a series) with the 5th Cassie Dewell novel (or the 6th Cody Hoyt/Cassie Dewell one if you rather count that way).

Cassie has settled as a private detective and gets contacted by a wealthy woman (or one that used to be anyway) after the detective she hired to track a con-man who stole a huge amount of money from her disappeared shortly after reporting some progress. As usual for Box, the reader actually knows more than any of the characters as we see some of the actions from the other side - the detective had indeed stepped into something he should not have had - and is not going to call anyone anymore. But Cassie won't know that for most of the book - so she starts her investigation which not very surprisingly for her leads her straight to the door and in the bad graces of yet another small county's law enforcement organizations.

Interlaced with that is a second investigation - a mysterious poem about a buried treasure which had caused the death of enough people trying to get to the treasure. And that is where an old friend shows up - Kyle Westergaard (who we first met in Badlands), now fully grown up and with his usual zeal for adventures despite his challenges.

As usual, Cassie gets way over her head but never gives up (on either investigation), her mother is the usual source of delight (well, for the readers...) and if you are reading Box's other series, you may recognize her new helper - April Pickett (as I am behind on the Joe Pickett series, I am not sure how that came to be). If you never read the Joe Pickett novels, you won't miss anything here - but I will be curious to see what C. J. Box will do with that connection.

The solutions of both investigations worked inside of the framework of the novel and the author's usage of the different viewpoints with varying timeframes helped build up the tension.

If you had been reading the series, it is a decent entry into it. It may not be the best place to start with Box's work though - it relies on some of the backstory, it spoils the older novels in the series and it can get a bit too wordy and preachy in some places (especially when characters get on the topic of government). But I am still enjoying the style and the stories.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 5, 3:29 pm

39. Manam by Rima Elkouri, translated from French by Howard Scott and Phyllis Aronoff

Type: Short Novel/Novella?, 32k words
Original Language: French
Original Publication: 2019 in French as Manam; 2021 in English (this translation)
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary, historical
Format: ebook
Publisher: Mawenzi House Publishers (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Reading dates: 19 February 2023 - 19 February 2023

Léa is an elementary teacher in Canada and had always been close to her Téta - her Armenian grandmother. But the old woman never told her complete story - Léa knows that the old woman's twin brother still lives in Aleppo, even now, decades after the family immigrated from Syria to Canada, and that they were both born in Turkey but the rest of the story had always been a mystery. And when the old woman dies, Léa decides to visit their ancestral village in Turkey - Manam and learn what really happened. Except that things are not as easy.

For anyone with any passing understanding of the region's history in the early part of the 20th century, the locations of the village and the twin brother tell the story - the tragic part of the history of Léa's family started with the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917 in Turkey. The family fled to Syria and that's where the brother still lives while the Syrian War is raging around him and the region is getting less and less stable (and his letters recount that - while we see them alongside the story of the past, showing that things and times change but people are always people).

Léa gets recommended a guide, a young Kurdish filmmaker, and the two of them go to the area of the village to try to discover what really happened. The tale of that trip and the tale of the past are told in parallel and one sometimes needs to stop and wonder how come we never learned from the past.

We know the grandmother made it out of Turkey, for awhile it is unclear if the granddaughter will be as lucky. The novel reads like a piece of investigative journalism - and that's intentional - that story may not be the truth but there are a lot of similar ones which are true. The Turkey of this novel - refusing to admit that the Armenia Genocide happened, refusing to admit that the Syrian border is unstable, falling down back in time rapidly - reads as the real world Turkey as well.

Novels in which people look for their past are common and when done properly can be a useful way to draw some attention to less-explored parts of history. This novel does that well - with all the bleakness and drama and heartbreak of two different eras. The style is sparse and there is more left unsaid than is actually said - and that works just fine here.

And at the end, I could not stop wondering: Will we ever learn from the past?

huhtikuu 5, 4:16 pm

40. The Last Lions of Africa: Stories from the Frontline in the Battle to Save a Species by Anthony Ham

Type: Non-fiction
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2021
Series: N/A
Genre: Journalism
Format: paperback
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Australia)
Reading dates: 14 February 2023 - 19 February 2023

I grew up with zoos and circuses that always had lions and with the Serengeti documentaries of lions running in the savanna. I had known for a long time that this had wrapped up my perception of the king of animals in multiple ways so Anthony Ham's book sounded like something that may help change that. And it did.

A travel writer and a photographer, he had spent a lot of time chasing the stories in this book. There are 5 chapters, almost unconnected (although later in the book, there are some comparisons that tie things a bit), it tells the stories of 5 areas and the human/lion interactions and relationship there.

For centuries, lions and humans had lived together in Africa - almost never peacefully but together. And then humans started expanding into places they never lived before, expecting lions and the rest of the wild life to just move. Things don't work exactly like that and as most of the tales in this book show, lions don't really understand boundaries. Some of those stories are hard to read because bad things happen to lions, some are hard to read because bad things happen to people. But the underlying story is always the same - lions are lions and short of killing them, they will be lions. And from the looks of it, we are doing a pretty good job of killing them.

The book takes us to 5 countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana) and to 6 National Parks and Game Preserves (Amboseli National Park, Selous Game Preserve, Liuwa Plan National Park, Hwange National Park, Central Kalahari Game Preserve and Khutse Game Preserve respectively - the last two are both in Botswana). Different countries, different conditions, different people... similar issues and problems. Hunters want to kill lions, governments want money and corruption thrives and lions don't understand border and boundaries and if gives a chance, will kill human. The stories are personal - the author was there for all of them, often returning for followups and they could have been a series in a magazine somewhere. Collected together, they trace the inevitability of civilization. Some of the stories made me wonder just who came up with that - a game reserve separated from a national part by a railroad for example - on one side you can kill a lion, on the other he is protected. My favorite one was the author's trip in the Kalahari, looking for the lions.

Because of how the book is built, each chapter is different - depending on how involved the author was with the story and at what stage, some were about things he was told, some were about things he lived through - most of the chapters contain parts of both. He also makes a point not to include Serengeti - it is a well known story. But he also makes a point that what worked there does not work elsewhere - just like people, lions are different and their surroundings shape them.

If you like nature, you will probably like this book. If you want to learn more about lions, you will like this book. If you want to learn more about the history of humans and lions in the area, you will find a lot to like here. If you like reading articles about wild life in magazines, you will like this book. I suspect that most people will like this book. It may be too late for a wake up call and restoring Nature completely but maybe, just maybe, at least in some areas, we may be able to protect the wild life. Maybe...

huhtikuu 5, 4:38 pm

As usual, a wonderfully diverse diet of literature. Great reviews!

huhtikuu 5, 5:29 pm

>148 avaland: Well, "wonderfully diverse" is a better expression than "totally random". Either applies... Thanks!

I am trying to get this thread to 150 posts so that I can start Part 2 with my April reads (and other culture related stuff - I actually saw a play on Saturday) in parallel and work on reviews from both ends - or it will be May before I get to April at the rate I am going :)

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 5, 6:01 pm

41. Thumbprint by Friedrich Glauser, translated from German by Mike Mitchell

Type: Novel, 200 pages
Original Language: German
Original Publication: 1936 in German as Wachtmeister Studer; 2004 in English (this translation)
Series: Sergeant Studer (1)
Genre: Police Procedural, Crime
Format: paperback
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
Reading dates: 19 February 2023 - 20 February 2023

I'd admit that I had not even heard the name of Friedrich Glauser until I read Hansjörg Schneider'sThe Basel Killings which had won the prize named after him - so I went looking. Both authors are Swiss (Schneider was born in the year Glauser died: 1938) and as luck will have it, they were both translated by Mike Mitchell into English.

Thumbprint is the first of his Sergeant Studer series and is set in and around the village of Gerzenstein, close to the Swiss-French border. A traveling salesman is found dead and a local man has been identified as the murderer. Sergeant Studer is dispatched to apprehend the young man and transport him to the prison to wait for a trial - and except for sending a Sergeant where any policeman would have been sufficient, that should have been the end of it. Except that Studer is sure that they got the wrong man so he decides to investigate - despite now being just a Sergeant in the police force of the canton, he used to be an inspector - before refusing to back down from a sensitive investigation and being fired for standing on his principles and actually discovering the truth.

And off he goes - retracing the victim's last days and uncovering the secrets of the village - just as the usual English village in a British mystery story, the village here is full of secrets and half-truths and finding out what happened requires most of them to be aired out for everyone to see. I am not sure if it is the author's style or the translation but some of the narrative sounded almost lifeless - the style gets some time getting used to but even after you do, sometimes things just seem to deflate. But the investigation carries the story to the end - which is enough for a crime novel.

Some of the references make it clear that the story is set in the mid-1930s but other from that, the story does not sound dated. It has its own style and that may not work for everyone but if you like vintage crime, especially European vintage crime novels, it works very well.

Studer comes out as a bit surly - he is one of the original fallen detectives - a man who puts truth ahead of convenience and who is not beyond using a trick to get to the truth. That kind of story had become almost a cliche these days but then that's normal for successful formulas. I hope that some of the secondary characters will show up in later novels - they gave the Sergeant the touch of humanity he needed.

A good start of a series, even when it was flawed, and I plan to chase down at least a few more of them - too bad that Glauser died so young and did not write too many of them.

That's what I needed - a new unplanned series. I blame Lola for this one - it was not going to end so high on my TBR after discovering the name if she had not nudged me to toward it.

And I really need to go back and review the two Hansjörg Schneider books.

huhtikuu 5, 6:39 pm

42. Laidlaw by William McIlvanney

Type: Novel, 65k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1977
Series: DI Jack Laidlaw (1)
Genre: Crime, Noir
Format: paperback
Publisher: Europa Editions, World Noir Series
Reading dates: 20 February 2023 - 22 February 2023

These days "tartan noir" or "tartan crime" are well known terms - Scottish authors, set in Scotland and drawing liberally from Scottish life. Most crime and noir readers had heard the names of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Denise Mina or Peter May (and usually at least a few of them) and know what to expect from them. But the genre had not existed for very long - its start is usually connected to William McIlvanney and his Laidlaw trilogy. I've read most of the modern authors but never went back to Laidlaw - so it was about time for me to finally go and read the novels that started it all.

William McIlvanney is not what you would expect from a crime writer - he won multiple awards for his literary work (including the Whitbread Award (aka the Costa under its old name) before deciding that crime/noir is a good genre to use for his next book. The result was Laidlaw - a novel that won him the Silver Dagger (the second book in the trilogy will win it again - 6 years later).

A young woman is sexually assaulted and after that killed in Glasgow. The eccentric D.I. Jack Laidlaw is assigned to the murder and his unconventional methods takes him around the city, in places where most policemen won't even try to go into. As his bosses know him pretty well, they assign him a new partner, Constable Harkness - who is asked both to assist Laidlaw and to report on him. The relationship between the two men evolve as the novel runs its course - the younger man starts realizing that not everything is black and white. And that is not just about the police work or the criminals - Laidlaw often decides to share his opinions on things they both see - thus providing an almost social commentary of the Glasgow he is creating.

We know who the killer is long before the end of the novel - the murder is almost treated as a springboard to tell the story of Glasgow and the story of how Laidlaw catches the man. In addition to the underbelly of the city where Laidlaw is more respected than the police (or "polis" as they would say locally) is, there is also the complication of the victim's family - who are set on finding the killer and avenging the dead woman.

And then there is the language -- the usage of slang and the local dialects in the dialogues makes the novel hard to read if you are not used to it. They are not unreadable but they take a bit to get used to it (and occasional rereading to see if you got it right). At the same time his language outside of this verges on the poetical (a gritty poetical but still poetical) and that mix can be a bit jarring. But it also shows where the style of some of my favorite Scottish noir/crime authors come from - I can see the influence in almost all of them (it is also a bit hard to get your mind from trying to tell you that this sounds like Rankin or McDermid - just to realize a second later that it is the other way around really).

Not an easy read sometimes and despite it being the first in the genre, it may not work for everyone. But if you enjoy the genre, it may be worth checking it - because it is also a brilliant work of detective fiction - even when it is hard to read.

huhtikuu 5, 7:05 pm

43. A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install

Type: Novel, 79k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2015
Series: N/A (well... kinda)
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: paperback
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Reading dates: 23 February 2023 - 23 February 2023

One morning Ben and Amy find a robot in their garden. He somehow wandered in and he appears to have been damaged. And to top it all - he is a very old model and does not look like the androids that Amy had been talking about and wants to have. So she wants the robot gone - sent for recycling. Ben decides that he wants to keep Tang (as the robot introduces himself) and that adds more tension to a marriage which is on the rocks anyway.

Ben is drifting - his parents died six years earlier, his grief led to his dismissal from the veterinary school, his marriage is dissolving around him and he really sees no reason to do anything. Until Tang that is - for a reason that even he cannot explain, the little robot becomes the center of a recovery and even Amy leaving him does not change his new path. So off they go on a trip around the world to try to find some help for Tang - who appears to be in mortal danger from some of the damage he had sustained.

Ben starts the novel as a looser who blames everyone else for his issues and never fulfills his promises and ends it as a mature man who is ready for anything life throws at him. The almost comical elements (from the dog they meet to the megalomaniac villain that tries to kill them) are mixed with the story of an evolving father/son relationship (Tang behaves like a brat half of the time and as a toddler otherwise) and that combination should not work and yet, it somehow ends up working.

It is a cute novel that can be read as a metaphor for parenthood (and towards the end the author pushes a lot towards that) or as an adventure story. It is both things at the same time, despite some chunkiness and a somewhat uninspired middle. The end makes you smile though - because good wins against evil and all is good in the world (well, mostly).

The novel does not seem to have become very popular in English but the Japanese seem to have liked it enough to publish more volumes in the same series (the originals were never published in English from what I can see).

huhtikuu 5, 9:51 pm

Glad to see Glauser passed. Heh--a murder mystery is the least sad book on your recent list.

huhtikuu 6, 12:26 pm

>153 LolaWalser: That's not unusual for my reading - although looking back, even a Mark Billingham or a Jonathan Kellerman book (both write very violent books) would have been the most cheerful book of the bunch (the robot excluded of course). But then real life books tend to be less cheerful than invented ones. We had really screwed up the world, haven't we?

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 1:10 pm

44. Clyde Fans by Seth

Type: Graphic Novel, 488 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: Serialized: Issues #10–23 of Palookaville (1998-2017); Complete edition: 2019
Series: Clyde Fans
Genre: Slice of life, family saga
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Reading dates: 21 February 2023 - 23 February 2023

Seth needed 20 years to complete his longest work. Not that he spent all his time working on it - he published other things in the meantime but for 14 issues of his comic book Palookaville (which took the 20 years between 1998 and 2017), the main story in each issue was Clyde Fans.

The 5 parts of the story span 40 years although some of the flashbacks go even further in time - from the founding of the business by the father to its final collapse. The story opens at the end and then goes back to fill in the gaps - not linearly but jumping in time.

At the opening, it is 1997 (contemporary to when this part was written) and Abe Matchcard is an old man, living in what used to be the Clyde Fans building and telling the reader about the company his father founded (and then absconded from it and the family) and its history since that day. Once upon a time, it was a thriving business - Electric Fans were in vogue and sold well and "Clyde Fans" had the best products out there. Abe's brother, Simon, was supposed to take care of the business but for reasons which were not yet revealed, he ended up a recluse instead. So Abe stepped up, grew the business - and then watched it collapse when he ignored the rise of air conditioning.

For all intents and purposes, the book could have stopped here - we know the story now, right? But that's where the details come into play - the next 4 parts fill in the things that were just hinted at (or not even hinted at in some places) - from 1957 when we finally learn what happened to Simon (parts 2 and 5) through 1966 in part 3 where the business starts falling and the boys' mother needs to be put into a nursing home to 1975 in part 4 where Abe needs to admit defeat and close the factory. And in between all of that life are the musings of Abe (and Simon in his parts of the novel) about business and people and age. The circling back at the end, filling the last of the puzzle pieces in the very last pages of the novel works unexpectedly well - even though you know what must happen, seeing it happening is emotional.

What emerges is not just a history of a family and a business but the history of small businesses - what happens when new technology comes? What happens when the big stores and companies take over? Nothing good - unless you are willing to change and even if you used to be a risk-taker, remaining one, always being ready to change gets progressively harder. Business and family are weaved together inseparably - and despite the novel being about the business, it is also a family saga. And almost anyone can recognize parts of their own in it.

If you look at the first and last pages of the novel, you will see a change in the style - the art gets more confident as time passes, more mature. But you won't see that change as the novel progresses - it happens gradually, without abrupt changes. Not that the first pages are bad but there is a hesitancy there - more than in the later parts of the novel anyway.

Possibly because of its publication history and probably partly because it was moving so slow, the comics and graphic work awards never gave it even a nod. But the mainstream noticed it when it finally emerged completed - the Giller prize jury longlisted it in 2020 - the first (and only one so far I think) graphic novel to be even considered for the award - a novel is a novel, regardless of its form.

Even if you had never read a graphic novel before, try this one. A story is a story regardless of how you tell it and Seth knows how to tell a story.

huhtikuu 6, 2:47 pm

45. China Hand by Scott Spacek

Type: Novel, 78k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2022
Series: N/A
Genre: Espionage/Spy
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Post Hill Press
Reading dates: 24 February 2023 - 24 February 2023

Andrew Callahan had just graduated from Harvard and has an offer from one of the biggest consulting firms out there when one of his professors offers him a chance of a lifetime - go to China to teach for a year and improve your Mandarin - and the offer will still be there for you when you come back. Having fallen in love with the language, Andrew jumps at the opportunity and in May 1999, he shows up in Beijing, ready to start what is supposed to be a step towards a brighter future.

Before long he learns that the rules in China are very different from what he is used to - and not conforming to them can cause a lot of troubles - from expulsion from the country (which will probably lead to losing that offer for future work) to jail and worse. But Andrew is young and when he falls in love, all precautions and warnings become less important. But that's not this kind of story at all.

Remember that once in a lifetime chance that seemed to come out of nowhere for him? Yeah, about that... As it turns out, his old professor works for the CIA and that whole trip was a part of a plan to assist a defecting general from the People's Liberation Army. And Andrew, already in the middle of everything, is running out of choices - especially because he is not ready to give up the woman he fell in love with.

And that' where the novel actually starts properly. The cat and mouse game between Andrew and his handlers and the government is anything you would expect from a spy thriller. But... somewhere in there the author did one turn too many. Spy fiction has its own rules and surprises and betrayals coming out of nowhere and without proper foundation are a major part of the genre (unlike in mysteries where you never pull one of those off unless you really really have a very good reason for it). So the fact that things were never what one expected them to be was expected. You never knew who talks to whom and who has a hidden agenda - and that worked to a point. Until it almost felt like the author stopped carrying about logic or the story and just tried to cram as many of these turns and surprises into the novel as he could.

That's not uncommon for first time novelists in the genre and I had read a lot of even clunkier attempts at it - most authors need a lot of self-editing (or an editor willing to tell them to cut it) until they find the balance between suspense and loss of credibility. And despite that issue, the novel still works but it would have been a much tighter and better novel if the last 3rd of it had been edited a few more times.

One of the good things in the novel was the description of China in the late 1990s/early 2000s - a country in transition. The author had lived in China in the last 2 decades and started there teaching at an elite university in Beijing - so he draws on his own memories and experiences for the book. And it is a fascinating background - while I am not sure how much is true and how much is invented, most of the background sounds true enough.

The novel is partially based on a real story - it never specifies which one but looking around internet unearths the story of Xu Junping: which matches close enough in time and details.

Not bad for a first novel and if he ever publishes another one, I plan to check it but it could have been so much better.

huhtikuu 6, 4:01 pm

I'm so behind. There's too much to comment on everything, but I've taken many book bullets.

I've not read Middlemarch yet and your review reminds me to nudge it up the pile.

Noting Three Bedrooms in Manhattan - I've not read anything by Simenon, but that sounds like something I'd enjoy.

And Sebastian Barry.... why have I never got around to reading anything by him? Sometimes I get tired of Irish set novels, but still - I need to give him a go.

Great reviews.

huhtikuu 6, 4:33 pm

>157 AlisonY: I am a month and a half behind on reviews here so there will be a lot of reviews in the next weeks (and I hope I did not just jinx myself again) :) Sorry for the BBs (maybe?) :) Hope you have fun if you get to any of them.

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan is a weird duck and I suspect that people either hate it or love it - it is that kind of book. Simenon is a master of the psychological novel - this one is a bit unusual for him (as far as I can tell) but it works as such (as long as some of the violence does not get you off it)... And I am not going to argue about Barry - I will just keep posting about his books to make people notice him. Not that he needs me for that but... :)

huhtikuu 6, 5:16 pm

>158 AnnieMod: Which Barry book would you start with to whet the appetite?

huhtikuu 6, 5:28 pm

>159 AlisonY: Annie Dunne :) However - I had not read his later works (I am going in order) so there may be a better one in there - but I fell in love with his style based on that one and I like it. Technically, A Long, Long Way is probably the better novel of the two - but it is also the harder one and the more violent one and is essentially a war novel. If that appeals more - go for it.

huhtikuu 6, 6:18 pm

The Empress of Salt and Fortune
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
46. Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

Type: Novellas, 21k, 24k and 22k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2020, 2020 and 2022
Series: The Singing Hills Cycle (1,2 and 3)
Genre: Fantasy
Format: ebook, ebook and hardcover
Reading dates: 13 April 2021, 27 April 2021 and 25 February 2023

As I never reviewed the first 2 when I read them, I might as well go and review all 3 while reviewing the latest. The novellas in the series are connected via a framework but are otherwise independent tales so any can be read on its own (although there are occasional references to earlier novellas, there are also references to tales we had not heard yet - so it is not a big problem. I'd still recommend to start with the first one though).

The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Fantasy worlds used to be based on Medieval Europe for a long time - with a few notable exceptions. Then things changed awhile back and these days we see worlds based on pretty much any mythology and empire combinations - and the Asian ones seem to be as common as the European-based ones.

Nghi Vo builds hers using Imperial China as a template - but mixes additional regional elements and invented mythology to create something completely different.

Chih, a cleric and a historian from the Singing Hills Monastery, is traveling around the country with Almost Brilliant, a talking neixin/hoopoe bird with perfect recall, and collects stories. The order Chih belongs to is the memory of the world - and the neixins are the ones which allow the generational memory to survive.

Chih and Almost Brilliant arrive in a supposedly abandoned palace, the home of the now dead ex-empress called In-Yo with the task of cataloging what is still thee. Except that they meet an old woman, Rabbit, and as it turns out the handmaiden of the old empress - and the task of cataloging things turns into cataloging stories. The Empress lived in the palace in the middle of nowhere after being exiled after providing the required heir - she was a princess of the North, married to the Emperor of the South and she was not exactly ready to just submit.

The tales of the old woman and the descriptions of the objects that Chih is cataloging get connected via the details in the stories and what emerges is the portrait of a woman who is ready to fight for herself in a world where women are expected to submit and keep quiet. Rabbit, the handmaiden that seems to be the only one still remembering In-Yo, is also not what you expect from a handmaiden - in more than one way.

By the time the novella ends, you wish it was not that short - the language and the style work. But then it is also designed to be a tale in a much longer sequence - just like Rabbit tells her stories slowly, day by day, this story is supposed to be just one story that Chih and Almost Brilliant hear and remember. Because real history always works that way.

The novella won the Hugo in 2021 although I suspect it got a boost from the next one in the series which came out before the nomination window opened - it stands on its own but adding the second one adds more to the background thus making this one even stronger.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

Chih, a cleric and a historian from the Singing Hills Monastery, is traveling around the country with Almost Brilliant, a talking neixin/hoopoe bird with perfect recall, collecting stories and memories. And one day, they get snowed in with shapeshifting tigers - and Chih gets to hear a story they think they know from a different perspective.

While the first novella in the series was all about women empowerment and choices, this one is all about how stories and truth connect and what makes a story (of course, there is also the actual story under all of that and some not very comfortable moments for our travelers (hungry tigers can be a problem)). Looking back, the first novella touched on that as well - what is remembered vs. what really happened are different things and that is one of the reasons why the clerics of the Singing Hills Monastery travel and collect stories - multiple versions of the same stories because everyone has their own story even when they talk about the same events.

Taken on its own, this novella is a reminder of how easy it is to blame and believe what other people tell you mixed together with a story of survival and grace. Taken together with the first novella, it is a chapter of the history of a magical land that draws you in and make you want to read more.

Into the Riverlands

2 years after the publication of the second novella in the series comes the third and we meet Chih and their talking neixin Almost Brilliant again (and Almost Brilliant is even more amusing than in the previous novels). This time our traveling monk/cleric/historian is headed to the Riverlands to try to record the stories of the apparently immortal martial artists of the area. Just as it happened in the previous novellas and as it happens often in life, there were other people traveling the same route - so they decided to travel together and while traveling, some stories got told (and some battles happened).

I'd admit that I was not sure where this novella was going until almost the middle - the language and the style looked different from the lyrical tales that preceded it. There was a reason for that of course and once the stories of the new companions started to get hinted at, things started to fall into place. Part of the difference came from the setting - the open road replaced the much more confined locations of the previous 2 novellas. Which made me stop and wonder - would the start have bothered me as much if I had never read the first two novellas - was my unease because it was different or because it was generally weaker indeed. I am not sure I can answer that one truthfully.

It also seems like Chih is getting more and more involved with the stories they are collecting - from the almost passivity of the first tale through the tigers to here, there is a gradation (which also corresponds with Almost Brilliant getting more and more entertaining). I am not sure if that is leading to a change in the cycle or we are just seeing the author finding her voice more and more. But the result is a lot livelier and adventurous novella than the preceding ones. Which does not make it necessarily better than them - or worse. Just different.

huhtikuu 6, 6:42 pm

47. Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Type: Novel, 52k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1926
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary with a touch of crazy; supernatural, feminist, who knows what else...
Format: ebook
Publisher: General Press
Reading dates: 26 February 2023 - 27 February 2023

That was one weird novel. It did not start weird though - the first 2/3rds of the novel are a novel about the fate of single women of a certain class at the start of the 20th century. Then the last third comes and ejects all of that out of the window and leaves you wondering if that was meant to be a supernatural tale or a psychological one or if someone somewhere got a bit crazy (the reader? the writer? both?)

Laura Willowes is a dutiful daughter and sister who lives in the countryside with her father and keeps house for him. She is quite happy with her life and independence. Until her father dies and her brothers cannot imagine her living on her own (it is 1902 after all) and she is forced to move to London to play the unwed aunt to her nephews and help run the house of her brother.

If the novel had ended here it would have been a nice albeit short story of the times. But Sylvia Townsend Warner is not satisfied with her heroine loss of self control so Lolly (as everyone calls Laura) starts getting eccentric (isn't that a marvelous word to use when describing someone who is not conforming to the expectations). Everyone is patient with her for awhile - until she meets someone (no, not that way) and decides that her life is her own and she is moving to the countryside - to a new place noone had ever heard of.

And that's where the novel gets a bit... crazy. One way to read it is that the man who helped her throw away the expectations was the Devil. The other way is that our Lolly got a bit touched in the head. Which I usually do not mind in novels but... this one is considered a feminist icon and it just looks a bit weird that the only way for a woman to get free and clear from expectation is either via a deal with the devil or by getting crazy. On the other hand, considering when the novel was set, that may have been really the only possible way for the story to work. If anything, I am surprised her brothers did not try to commit her into a hospital.

So did I like the novel as a whole? I am still not sure. I liked the language and I liked Lolly but the whole thing sounded like a bit of a cheap trick. Of course, I also live almost a century after the book was published and even longer since the time of the action and that is one period I had not read much from. From the little I had read though, that may have been the only way to get a book about a spinster who decides not to do what is expected to be published. And it made me want to read more from the author so there is that.

huhtikuu 6, 7:05 pm

>162 AnnieMod: I was just debating if I want to buy that book or not. Someone on LT recently gave it a glowing review and that had bumped it up my list. Now I'm not sure

huhtikuu 6, 7:35 pm

48. The Impatient by Djaïli Amadou Amal, translated from French by Emma Ramadan

Type: Novel, 41k words in the English text
Original Language: French
Original Publication: 2017 (as Munyal, les larmes de la patience in Cameroon; renamed to Les Impatientes for its publication in France in 2020); 2022 in English (this translation)
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary
Format: ebook
Publisher: HarperVia
Reading dates: 27 February 2023 - 28 February 2023

Ramla, Hindou and Safira were born in Northern Cameroon - the 2 younger women (Ramla and Hindou) are sisters and Safira is destined to be a co-wife to Ramla. They grew up in an Islamic home in which women have only one choice - be obedient, be submissive and be patient ("munyal" is the term used for the latter in the culture and it is what this novel is all about - the struggle of the 3 women with the concept). The novel is built by telling the stories of the 3 women - or parts of it one after the other - although they all intersect and when that happens we see the same story from two different perspectives, adding to the story's depth. Although the depth is where the story suffers a bit - it feels almost incomplete by the end. But that may have been somewhat intentional, tying to the topic of patience...

Ramla wanted to go to school a lot longer than she was allowed to and if that was impossible, at least to marry the man she fell in love with. And she almost gets her wish - until a business partner of her father asks for her hand and her father decides her fate. Her sister, Hindou, gets asked for by a cousin and the father chooses to marry both girls at the same day - for him, this is a huge success - getting rid of two daughters at one stroke. First Ramla, then Hindou tell us their stories - including some of their past and hopes.

The old man Ramla have to marry is already married so she is about to have a co-wife. Her story ends when the two of them meet and get introduced to and the young girl's first impressions of Safira is how that first part of the novel ends. Hindou's story rarely delves in the past - instead we get her marriage story - despite not having a co-wife, being married to a violent and unstable man is not really much better.

The last part of the novel gives us Safira's viewpoint - Ramla' co-wife who is in love with her husband and cannot understand why he needs another wife. The two women clash (who would not?) and interspred with their story, we get glimpses of the story of Ramla's mother and other older wives. By the end of the novel, you wonder who is the villain in the story and if these women had any choice in how they reacted to things - what seems heartless and cruel may also be seen as the only way to protect themselves.

At the end the novel was an interesting view into a culture I knew nothing about but it felt almost too thin. It is cruel and full of suffering and I am not sure how much more I could have read about it but it does not feel like a novel - more like a glimpse at the lives of the 3 women, a slice of life. On the other hand, that is the life of all the girls born in that culture so in some ways, the three of them can be any of them and as such, these stories never end. So if you do not mind an open ending and unresolved conflict, the novel works. Otherwise, it feels... rushed and as if it is missing pieces.

The novel won Prix Goncourt des lycéens - the younger edition of the venerable Prix Goncourt (and similar to the Italian Strega Giovani). 2 years earlier, the winner of that same award was At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop (which then won the International Booker) so while selected by young people, the award does not assume lighter works.

And that's it for February. Looking at March, there are only 12 books with no reviews (due to series reviews and the anthology the library wanted back) but then there are also 3 books already in April. But it seems like I am closing the gap a bit. (knock on wood).

huhtikuu 6, 7:41 pm

>163 Nickelini: It wasn't my cup of tea, it definitely seems to work better for some people. I suspect part of it was expectations - I knew it has fantasy elements but as it had been hailed as a feminist novel, I really expected something different. Without the expectation, I suspect I may have liked it more (which ties back to the Avid Reader question, doesn't it...). Each of the parts is fine on its own, the connection kinda works but put them together and the whole devil thing feels like a cop-out a bit - Lolly finds her independence from the men in her life by getting it from the Devil?

Or maybe my 21st century eye just misses the point completely - I am willing to admit that this may happen sometimes. The writing is good though... :)

huhtikuu 7, 12:53 pm

49. The Man Burned by Winter by Pete Zacharias

Type: Novel, 335 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2022
Series: Rooker Lindström Thrillers (1)
Genre: Crime
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Reading dates: 28 February 2023 - 2 March 2023

Rooker Lindström had been connected with serial killers all his life - his father is one of the most notorious Minnesota serial killers and when Rooker grew up, he became a journalist, specializing in serial killers. Until one day one of them decided to take his son - and Rooker's life collapsed. He left everything behind and moved to Minnesota, to the old crumbling cabin his father left him - and tried to disappear.

Days after the broken man moved to the cabin on Deer Lake, someone started leaving women all over the place - a homage to his father of a sort. Detective Tess Harlow is on thin ice (is there a debut novelist out there these days that does not have their main detective in trouble at the start of their series?) and really needs to find out what is happening - and her path needs to go via Rooker. It does not matter as what - he may be a suspect for most people but he is also well known for getting into the heads of serial killers - and Tess really needs that. Rooker on the other hand is not really interested in returning back to the business of chasing the monsters. Until the murders get even more sinister - not only they emulate his father's but someone knows something about his son's death and killer that they should not have been able to know.

Zacharias is threading a very thin line, allowing the possibility for Rooker to end up either the killer, or an innocent man being targeted for most of the book. The past also emerges - a past he had kept hidden (even from himself) and by the end of the novel, we have a very flawed man with secrets. Somewhere in all that plotting, there is one too many twists - the book needed tightening and editing - especially the middle feels like a draft that still needs to be reconciled with the rest. There are no dangling threads by the end - or none that cannot be sorted out in a sequel.

A decent debut novel - which could have been a lot better - a great premise, good backstory but all of it somewhat marred by a flawed execution. Rooker Lindström is a fascinating character and I will be interested to see a sequel - the last chapters were full of revelations that ask for a continuation.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 7, 1:48 pm

50. The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-mo, translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim

Type: Novel, 60k words (in the English edition)
Original Language: Korean
Original Publication: 2013 (in Korean as 파과; 2022 in English (this translation)
Series: N/A
Genre: Crime
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Reading dates: 3 March 2023 - 4 March 2023

Being a female assassin is hard. Being 65, a female and an assassin is a different level of hard. And yet, Hornclaw somehow is still pulling it off - living in a small apartment with a dog she never planned to have, appearing to the world as a normal Korean grandmother (without a family to call her that). Everyone in her organization expects her to just silently melt into the shadows - she is of age after all. She on the other hand, would rather keep working. Except that these last few jobs had been harder than they should have been - she is tired and getting old but there seems to be also something else going on - it feels as if someone is trying to make her fail. And when someone actually shows her some care, she realizes that for the first time in a very long time she has feelings - and these can be exploited. Getting conscience just when your life depends on not having one is a bit inconvenient...

The novel mixes the assassin story with a story of a woman who is trying to hold off to her job and life while management and the younger coworkers want to push her out. Some of the challenges have nothing to do with her chosen work -- everyone is prone to experience them sooner or later. But adding the unusual job, the extent of which is revealed in flashbacks, makes the novel shine.

I really enjoyed this novel - the mix of Korean culture and almost standard genre elements was seamless.

PS: I've seen a lot of comparisons between this book and Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn. If someone reads one of these and then goes for the other expecting something similar, they will be disappointed - they both have aging female assassins and someone who wants to eliminate them but that is where the similarities end. This book is like a John le Carré spy novel while the Raybourn novel is like James Bond or Burn Notice -- same genre, different niche and style. Both are good - in their own way. And in some ways the two of them complement each other.

huhtikuu 7, 5:56 pm

51. The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

Type: Novel, 76K words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2018
Series: N/A
Genre: Crime, Psychological
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Ecco
Reading dates: 4 March 2023 - 5 March 2023

Frank Lundquist used to be a well regarded psychologist. Being the son of the man who invented the method used by all psychologists to measure potential in children (and patient zero of the method) had not harmed his prospects either. Until he misses the signs in a very troubled child and the story ends in a tragedy. Anyone else would have lost any chance for future work in the field but at least partially because of his father, Frank ends up working as one of the psychologists in a state correctional facility - passing the time and feeling sorry for himself. Until his high school crush Miranda walks through his door - locked up for a heinous crime. And that changes everything.

The chapters alternate between Frank's story and Miranda's story. Before long we learn that what we are reading on Frank's side is a diary, written much later. Which causes occasional issues in the narrative - as both he and Miranda keep secrets from each other, the lack of anticipation when writing in the future does not ring completely true - no matter how much you try, something always slips when you know what is coming - a throwaway line somewhere, changing your own remembered thoughts so you do not look like an idiot, something. The lack of that makes the novel feel a bit lifeless in places - as if it is using the surprises to further the plot instead if integrating them in it.

The expected story here is clear - Miranda is innocent, Frank helps her prove that and gets redeemed that way. Debra Jo Immergut throws away the expectation and goes into a totally different direction. Which saves the novel - had she gone where she was expected to go, the novel would have lost all of its power and became one of the many with a similar plot. Where the writing shines though is the background - Frank's brother and father should have sounded like a cliche but they worked (it also helps that both Frank and Miranda are unreliable narrators who plainly tell us they lied earlier more than once).

It is a slow novel - we spend more time in the characters' heads and their backgrounds than in the story itself. In places that gets a bit annoying - the transitions to the flashbacks are not always clean enough and some of it felt like filler - trying to make it long enough to qualify as a novel. By the end the pace and the story make more sense and work somewhat but it is also easily identifiable as an early (in this case debut) novel - there is a rawness and an attempt to say too much in some places that usually disappears as the author gets more experience (at least with the good authors).

The novel got a nomination for first novel in the 2019 Edgar Awards. That surprised me a bit - I found the novel a bit too flawed for a nomination. But I can see what they saw in it - it is unusual and the deliberate decision not to go where everyone expected the author to go and pulling that off without making it sound artificial is impressive for a first novel. I plan to check what Immergut publishes next (or had published in the meantime) - there is a something in the style that works despite the flaws.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 7, 8:08 pm

54. My Heart by Semezdin Mehmedinović, translated from Bosnian by Celia Hawkesworth

Type: Novel, 54k words (in English)
Original Language: Bosnian
Original Publication: 2017 in Bosnian as Me'med, crvena bandana i pahuljica; 2021 in English (this edition)
Series: N/A
Genre: Autofiction
Format: ebook
Publisher: Catapult
Reading dates: 10 March 2023 - 11 March 2023

The book proudly announces itself to be a novel on its cover so I will call it that. Without that clue, one could have called it a collection of 3 connected novellas. Or a memoir. Semezdin Mehmedinović writes about a man called Semezdin Mehmedinović - not exactly the author but not exactly an invented person either. The best term for what this novel is is autofiction - that genre sitting between autobiography and fiction which always confuses people trying to figure out what parts are true and which are not. Separating them is impossible; believing all to be true is probably unwise.

The novel is built from 3 stories: 'Me'med', "Red Bandana" and "Snowflake". They read like episodes in the life of the same people so they kind of form a novel but each of them also reads independent enough to function as a story.

The story opens on 2 November 2010 when the narrator suffers from a heart attack at the age of 50. While waiting for the ambulance and then being transported to the hospital and then into recovery and back home, he muses about life, memories and his experiences. The family fled Bosnia during the war and through all 3 parts of the novel, the current actions are interspersed with memories of Bosnia before and during the war, memories of life as new immigrants and all kinds of musings about art (mainly Bosnian), life and the universe.

The second part of the novel skips 5 years ahead to April 2015 and gets Semezdin back to Phoenix (the first place the family lived in the States in) to meet his son Harun, a photographer, for a trip through the desert so that Harun can do some work. The story of the past continues but the musings about life are replaced with musings about fathers, sons and families.

A year later, the third story picks up when just as with the first part, the family is in distress. But this time it is Sanja, the wife who helped him survive the heart attack. And unlike that first attack which got his heart, the stroke she suffers seems to slowly steal her memories. So the narrator ties together all the stories he had been telling us, all the memories and thinks about memories and life and what is really important in life.

It is a heart-felt novel which matches pretty closely the author's life. Some parts are very hard to read - the Bosnian part of the story can be hard to understand and accept - humanity is just messed up.

These days the author lives in Sarajevo again - and during all the years of his exile, he never stopped writing in Bosnian. He explains that in the novel as well - while talking about memories, language and life.

The novel can sound a bit unorganized and almost scattered but at the end what emerges is the story of a life - marked by tragedies but held together by love, nostalgia and family.


Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 8, 1:20 am

56. Professor Andersen's Night by Dag Solstad, translated from Norwegian by Agnes Scott Langeland

Type: Novel, 43k words (in English)
Original Language: Norwegian
Original Publication: 1996 in Norwegian as Professor Andersens natt; 2011 in English (same translation; Harvill Secker in UK); 2019 in USA (this edition)
Series: N/A
Genre: Crime, contemporary
Format: ebook
Publisher: New Directions (1455)
Reading dates: 14 March 2023 - 15 March 2023

Professor Pål Andersen had been living alone for the last few years and always doing what is expected from him. Including preparing and eating the usual foods at the time it is expected to eat them, a Christmas tree and even presents under it - even if he does not have anyone to share all that with.

We meet him at Christmas - after preparing and eating his meal, he looks through the window and sees something that looks like murder. Being the responsible man he is, he picks up the phone to call the police but then remembers the few drinks he had had and decides to leave that for the morning. The morning comes and he finds another excuse not to call - now worried that he will not be believed. And so it starts.

For the next few months, that decision eats at him - he keeps looking at the window and trying to decide what to do, reading the papers and waiting to hear something about the murder. At one point, he even meets the man he believes to be a killer.

For a story centered around a murder, there is very little about the murder itself in it. It happens (or may have happened) and it sends the Professor on his anguished journey through his own memories and thoughts but seems like that was its only purpose. The novel is really about what happens when someone who is always proper and right does something unexpected - and then have to live with the choice.

The end comes almost unexpectedly. In some ways Professor Andersen makes a full circle - he finds an equilibrium of a type. On the other, that murder that kicked off everything feels incomplete. But then this is part of the point I suspect - you learn to live with things, even when you are uncomfortable with them.

I am still not sure if I liked this novel or not - it still feels incomplete to me. But I am not sorry to have read it.

huhtikuu 8, 8:19 am

>169 AnnieMod: excellent review, it is now on my wishlist.

huhtikuu 10, 2:41 pm

57. In Memoriam (Norton Critical Edition) by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Type: Poem, Critical Material
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1850 for the poem, differs for the critical material
Series: Norton Critical Editions
Genre: N/A
Format: paperback
Publisher: Norton
Reading dates: 18 December 2022 - 17 March 2023

When Tennyson's best friend Arthur Henry Hallam dies in 1833, the poet start works through his grief the only way he knows - by writing a poem. Or 133. He does not write them quickly - it will take 17 years for him to complete all the parts and publish the book. Neither does he write them in order - ever since the poem was published, a numerous English majors and literary researchers had spent their whole careers trying to parse what was written when and what was edited when why (Tennyson apparently had the habit of reusing notebooks so two passages in the same notebook may have been written in the same day or the latter piece may have been written 4 years later).

It is accepted to call In Memoriam a poem although a collection of connected poems also describes it well. Most of the 133 parts can be read both as separate poems and as a part of the whole -- the ones that do not are usually connected to one or more of the rest thus forming a somewhat connected longer part. But reading each canto on its own loses the big framework of the poem - and part of the reason for the poem to have endured until the 21st century is exactly that framework (the other reason of course is the mastery of the poetic language of course).

The poem takes place in 3 years - the 3 years after the death of Hallam, neatly separated with parts about Christmas and the death anniversary in each year. The timeline does not completely match the real one though - either the lived one or the one of the writing - poetic license always allows for that and Tennyson knew when he can get away with it. There are a lot of cantos which deal with Hallam's death, its influence on the living and his past. But interspersed with it (and often dominating the personal story) are musings about theology, faith, geology, the creation of Earth and pretty much anything else a Victorian may have been concerned with. Tennyson was widely read and used that in his poem - often reshuffling new ideas and putting them against the old orthodoxy. He never claimed to be a scientist but in some of these cantos he serves the same role as the modern popular scientists - take a complicated idea from a long book and present it in a way that can be understood easily and with comparisons to things people would recognize. Inevitably in that era, that meant putting it against the religious dogma. Which had caused the book to be looked at both as an atheist manifesto and as a defense of Christianity. The fact that both sides of the debate could see the book as one of theirs shows just how good Tennyson was in what he was trying to express.

Of course, there is also the topic of love - Hallam was about to marry Tennyson's sister when he died, another of his sisters closes the book with her own wedding. These parallels run through the whole book - death and rebirth of a type. So does the undying love of a poet for his friend. That part had made a lot of people uncomfortable through the years - if one chooses to read it this way, the poem can sound extremely homo-erotic in places. Short of a time machine, the exact relationship between the two friends will remain a mystery but all evidence and understanding of the period point to a friendship - a close one but without the undertone some of the readers may see into the poem. At the end it really does not matter - the poem is an elegy for a lost friend (and one that breaks all rules on how to write elegies - from the selected meter (Tennyson went for iambic tetrameter (ABBA stanzas)) to the lack of the usual good ending that elegies are supposed to have.

The edition I read (I've read parts of the poem before but I think this was the first time I read the whole of it in order) was the Third Norton Critical Edition. As usual, it has very little line by line analysis of the text on its own (it has some notes) but it adds a lot of critical apparatus by citing or excerpting existing critical material - some of which does close reading and others point to things in the poem you may have missed.

Erik Gray's Introduction is a mix of background information (useful to read before the poem) and a commentary on certain elements of the poem (not very desirable if you want to read the poem blind). I enjoyed it a lot more when I reread it at the end of the book - after I had read the whole book (often the NCEs have introductions to the book itself and not to the text they are presenting - this is not one of them).

I am always torn when I am reading these editions if I want to read the background and context section before I read the text itself or after. These are very useful in understanding what you are reading from the start - but they can also be spoilery. On the other hand, a contemporary reader may have been expected to have read/have knowledge of all of these - so the question remains open. In this case, I decided to go into the poem blind (just with the notes - from the poet, from his son or from the editor) and then go chase the backgrounds.

As the poem deals with pretty much any topic you can think of, the backgrounds section is as varied as that: Tennyson's son Hallam's Memoir of his father, the writings of the original Hallam, the poems about and for Hallam Tennyson wrote before the young man died, the usual suspects from the literary world (Catullus, Shakespeare's Sonnets, Milton's Lycidas and Shelley's Adonais) plus the scientific books which the poem borrows from and re-frames (Lyell's "Principles of Geology", Whewell's "The Nebular Hypothesis" and Chambers' "Vestiges of the Natural Order of Creation"). While the literary sources are as timeless as ever, the scientific ones sound naive (and often incorrect) these days - but then that was where science was at the time the poem existed and including the passages from them here help understand where some of Tennyson's weird ideas come from (and some are weird indeed - for our 21st century understanding of science).

The critical section starts with a selection of contemporary reviews (the last one, by George Eliot, seems to have been included mostly because of who wrote it and not because it adds something useful - plus it is the only one from 1855 - all the rest are from 1850 and 1851). Then it is a walk through time and Tennyson scholarship - covering different topics and using different approaches - in some ways as varied as the poem itself: A. C. Bradley talks about the structure of the poem in 1901, T. S Eliot talks about the poetical mastery of Tennyson in 1936, Eleanor Bustin Mattes talks about science and faith in the poem in 1951, Edgar Finley Shannon, Jr. explores the reception of the poem when it was published as part of his book on the reception of all the Tennyson poetry in 1827-1851 in his 1952 book (the excerpt here references a lot of the reviews in the first section of the critical materials - I wish I realized this is here earlier so that I had read that before the reviews as it gives some context the naked reviews are missing), Peter Hinchcliffe writes a very technical essay on elegies and why In Memoriam is not exactly one in 1983, Jeff Nunokawa discusses the representation of the homosexual homoerotic angle in 1991, Sarah Gates goes for the technical side of the poem again in 1999 with an analysis of the form, Aidan Day's essay on the grotesque from 2009 adds more to the science/faith conversation, Matthew Rowlinson stays on the science/history side in 2013 while exploring what is a type, Michelle Geric explores the representation of geology in the poem in 2017 (both literally (Tennyson talks about geology after all) and as a metaphor) and Michael D. Hurley closes the volume with an essay from 2018 about faith in the poem and its connection to the form of it.

Some of these essays (and excerpts) were easier to read than others. Some were mind-numbingly boring (especially the ones analyzing the form of the poem). They all added something to my understanding though - some pointed me to things I missed when I read the poem, some clarified confusing parts.

It is also telling that from the 10 essays/excerpts (I am excluding the one from 1952 looking at the contemporary reviews), 4 are from before 1991 and the earlier ones deal with the form of the poem more than with the meaning of the poem (the one about the meaning in that set tackles he science vs faith line). Editors need to make choices and current scholarship is always preferred but some older material may have bridged some of the more technical essays - some of them talk about older works which I had never heard of and that makes them even less penetrable.

The poem is worth reading - in any edition you can find it. The NCE is useful and exactly what you expect from it - but unless you are in the mood for some very scholarly essays, it may be a bit too technical - more than most NCEs I had read.

huhtikuu 10, 2:44 pm

>171 ELiz_M: Thanks. That was a lucky find - I was scrolling through the newly added books in the virtual part of my library and it caught my eye. :)

huhtikuu 10, 3:16 pm

60. The Closers by Michael Connelly

Type: Novel, 109k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2005
Series: Harry Bosch (11), Harry Bosch Universe (14)
Genre: Crime, Police procedural
Format: mass market paperback
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Reading dates: 22 March 2023 - 24 March 2023

That late into a series (this is the 11th Bosch novel), you either like (or at least tolerate) the author's style and the main detective's oddities (and/or the supporting cast) or you had bailed out a long time ago. Technically this one may be a good place to start into the series (old grievances coming into the open notwithstanding) but as with most modern crime series, it works better as part of the series.

Bosch is back into LAPD, partnered again with Kiz but this time not in the Homicide team proper but in the Open/Unsolved Unit - the LAPD name for the Cold Cases. Early in the book, a character notes that the biggest obstacle to working on these is not time but the department itself - things had been lost (intentionally or not; permanently or not) through the years and solving puzzles with missing pieces is never fun (solving puzzles when someone mixed in pieces from other puzzles is even worse and that is often the case with these as well). As is often the case, that's not there just to fill the pages - it tells you where this story is heading early on - see my note above about the author's style.

His return to the force seems to start very well - there had been a positive DNA match in the murder of Rebecca Verloren 17 years ago, back in 1988. Except that nothing in this case sounds right to Bosch. Cold cases novels can be a bit slow - usually noone is in a particular hurry after all those years. The murder may be a cold case or open/unsolved if you will) but the new investigation opens a lot of old secrets and wounds - in ways that a lot of people would rather not see them open.

As usual, Los Angeles, the city and its history, are an important element of the novel - Bosch cannot exist elsewhere and in a different time. That adds some depth to the story but it also is probably one of the weaker novels in the series - some of the topics it covered sounded like a rehash of the same topics in earlier stories. One thing the novel works for is showing Bosch changing even more - he was the lone wolf who did not care about anyone at the start of the series and now almost feels like a team player (until he does not of course). His professional relationship with Kiz is a lot more strained than the last few times we saw them together - and it is not just because Bosch is being himself.

Overall not a bad entry in the series and I like where Bosch is going (and I much prefer him inside the police than outside of it as in the last few novels).

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 10, 4:21 pm

61. Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine

Type: Novel, 47K words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2020
Series: N/A
Genre: Science fiction, Post apocalyptic
Format: paperback
Reading dates: 25 March 2023 - 25 March 2023

At some point in the future the AIs not only got the upper hand against humanity but exploited it - everyone alive lives because they are let to and when the AI gets bored, it just dissolves them and makes them a part of whatever the AI is doing next - the ultimate wrong place, wrong time case. As everything is mixed up, folklore, literature and reality had collapsed into each other, reshuffled and spit out as history - with the AI's ability to create any person anytime anywhere.

In the middle of this madness, 6 young people receive a golden ticket (and if you miss that reference, Irvine will spell it out at one point). And while we follow the 6 of them first getting the tickets and then embarking on a journey to get to where the tickets lead, we see the America of the times - from the 6 places they each started from to the rest of the country (mostly in passing but not only).

The text is full of literary and historical references - some are spelled out, some are just hinted at. You can spend the novel just trying to recognize all of them (Irvine seems to have dropped most of the current cultural references he wanted to use into a mixer and started the thing on high). Even some real people show up (Mark Twain shows up twice even).

At the end the novel ends up being more about the world than the people or the quest - if one expects a resolution for our 6 lucky winners, they may be disappointed. It is not that kind of novel. It is really a novel about taking a risk by doing something new, about the path taken when you don't think any choices and about consciousness - because after all it is a tale about an AI trying to grasp with humanity - and not by just killing us all.

huhtikuu 10, 5:13 pm

62. The Two Doctors Górski by Isaac Fellman

Type: Novella, 36k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2022-11-29
Series: N/A
Genre: Fantasy
Format: paperback
Reading dates: 25 March 2023 - 25 March 2023

The dates of reading are not wrong - I had a "I am hiding from the world and I do not feel like adulting" Saturday so I finished 2 books (and read parts of 2 more...).

In a world that looks just like ours but has magic in it, Annae had ended up in the same place where a lot of young scientists end up in - having fallen started a relationship with her academical supervisor, she ends up with a damaged career and prospects as soon as the relationship ends. So she flees America and comes to the only person who is willing to supervise her PhD now - Marec Górski.

The problem is the kind of magic both of them are doing - Annae read minds (and cannot stop doing it now - trying not to end up in a position to be hurt again) and Marec is mostly known for splitting the good parts of his own mind into a new person - the second doctor Górski. By the time the two damaged scientists meet, Marec had been alone for a long time (having chased away his second part - even if he does not remember it that way exactly) and Annae's work on finding the triggers of human reactions (such as fear) and emotions and influence them had been been somewhat discredited. If you expect the two of them to find love and heal each other, you are in the wrong book.

As it is though, Annae needs to find a way to understand Marec Górski - even if that means really pissing him off by finding his other part, his homunculus who carries the missing parts of his brain.

The novella is both a commentary on academia and surviving abuse in academia and a study on what happens when we lose our emotions. But it is not as dry as that description sound - just imagine what the mind of a man who can split himself into two viable beings can do - and then add some almost Disney level villains' inclination (after all he did remove the good parts of himself).

While I enjoyed it, it may have worked better as a slightly longer work - novellas may be the best length for a lot of fantasy and science fiction but here it almost feels like the tale was squished to fit the format.

huhtikuu 10, 6:07 pm

63. Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein

Type: Collection, 53k words in 13 stories
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2016-09-13 for the collection, all of the stories were published before (between 2010 and earlier in 2016 - the copyright page claims that only 11 appeared in the same form - the other 2 were in a different form. How different is unclear...).
Series: N/A
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: paperback
Publisher: Picador
Reading dates: 25 March 2023 - 26 March 2023

According to Amazon, I bought this book 2 months after it came out in 2016 and then promptly shelved it and forgot about it. Then it caught my eye while I was moving other books.

13 somewhat connected stories about the possible future(s) - the connections are minimal and if you are not looking for them, you may miss them. They are not needed - each story stands on its own but they make it clear that we are looking at the same future and not just separate independent ideas. And Weinstein's idea of where we are heading is somewhat scary - between the technology and humans being humans, the future is not a very happy place.

In Saying Goodbye to Yang, a family had purchased an android, Yang, to help with keeping the culture of their adopted daughter's real parents alive. And one day Yang malfunctions throwing the whole family into examining their own reactions to him - not very unexpectedly what was supposed to be a machine had turned into a son. I loved the introduction of the neighbors and their interactions with the family - it is not just machines that one does not see when they do not look under the surface.

In The Cartographers 3 friends have a very successful business of selling memories - strap yourself in a chair and you can be back where you want to be. Except they seem to be getting too good for their own sake - separating reality from what they produce is not always easy - after all they succeeded because their memories were so real. The ending was devastating in more than one way - even if one could have seen it coming if they allowed themselves to.

Heartland plays on the love for the land - what really matters when we talk about the land and what happens to the jobs connected to the land when the top soil disappears. And when a man is that disillusioned, can he be the slayer of monsters for his children - or does he turn into one of the monsters?

Excerpts from The New World Authorized Dictionary is exactly what it says on the tin - a few records from a dictionary where the usage examples are from the late 2020s -- showing the world in its downfall. On its own it is a pure speculative piece - a list of ideas - but it also adds some of the connections and support for the other stories.

Moksha has a young man looking for enlightenment in Nepal - as generations of people had done - except that the usual drugs are replaced with technology of course. It was the weakest story for me - both predictable and almost boring.

Children of the New World is a cautionary tale about virtual reality and the risks in getting too attached in it. It is a lyrical and sad piece about what makes us human. I am not surprised that this ended up being the title of the whole collection - in some ways, this is also the most relatable story as well.

Fall Line took me by surprise. A professional extreme skier who ended his career after a really bad fall is trying to survive while the snow seems to be disappearing from the places it always had been falling. It is a life of waiting - people waiting for him to come back, everyone waiting for the snow to come back. Until it does.

A Brief History of the Failed Revolution is an pseudo-academic article (with footnotes and sources) about consciousness in the era of connections. It's very short and just as the Dictionary story earlier in the collection, it is all about the ideas.

Migration is another story of the submersion of the real world into the virtual and what happens when you chose the virtual to be your real one. Similar to Children of the New World in some ways but less nostalgic and sad.

The Pyramid and the Ass shows a world where reincarnation had become common place and not improved things much. What happens if a memory from a life that could not have been start intruding on your consciousness?

Rocket Night was the most horrific of the future tales in this collection and it managed to achieve it without even trying to present anything bad. Once a year, the least liked child in a school is strapped into a rocket and sent to the sky. It is a very short tale and it is not even that action which sends the shivers down one's spine - it is the narrator's attitude towards it.

Openness deals with what happens when you open all your thoughts and dreams to your partner. Ensuring one's privacy is one of the things we are all very conscious about and this story takes that to a possible ending.

Ice Age is set further into the future that all the other tales and probably some time after Fall Line - there are enough indications that the snow that started at the end of the previous story had led to the conditions in this one. The snow just started and never stopped and now the survivors live on top of the packed snow - trying to survive in the few places where it seems possible. Except that one family seems to refuse to fall in line with the rules - and everyone else decides it is time to do something about it. Until it turns out that humans are humans - in all possible way.

An enjoyable collection which makes one think about where we are heading. I am sure everyone is sure that none of these stories will ever be possible - but look deeply into it and you may realize that the kernels for each of them are in our past already.

huhtikuu 10, 6:57 pm

64. Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes* by Rob Wilkins
*The Official Biography

Type: Non-Fiction, 161k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2022-09-29
Series: N/A
Genre: Biography
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Doubleday
Reading dates: 20 March 2023 - 28 March 2023

Biographies, especially biographies of people who had already died, are one of those genres where you know how the story ends - so it is all about the path to that end. But knowing how it ends and reading about it turned out to be very different things when you care about the subject.

One day in the last days of the 20th century, a friend convinced me to read two series - Zelazny's Amber books and the first 4 books of the Watch subseries of Discworld. My relationship with fantasy up to this point had been mostly indifferent - I loved science fiction but most of the fantasy I had seen had been either the never ending tales of someone going on a quest (I bounced really hard out from The Lord of the Rings at one point - it was much later than I saw more in it than the tale of the trip) or the swords and magic part of the genre (think Conan for example). But I suffered of lack of funds and I had read all the science fiction we had at hand so... fantasy it was. Amber made me raise my brow - I was not as enamored with it as she was but I did not dislike it. Guards! Guards! on the other hand had me within 5 pages - and it still had not given up its enchantment on me. At the time I liked mostly dead authors (with some exceptions) or authors' older series (and unlike these days, most of these series did not suddenly get a new book 30 years later...) so liking an author who is not only alive but also still writes books in the series was... fascinating.

That's how my personal story with Sir Terry began and most of the people who liked his stories will have their own. His illness and then his death were one of my first experiences with an author I had started following and reading dying after a protracted illness. So reading his biography was almost inevitable - and it is a perfect way to say goodbye and thanks for all the stories.

Rob Wilkins started as a personal assistant and slowly turned into a lot more. So him telling this story, the one that Sir Terry did not manage to tell himself, is somehow fitting. He mixes what he had seen with what he had been told with the parts of the autobiography that Pratchett managed to write to create the portrait of a human - who turned out to have the gift of storytelling.

But it was not always that obvious - he hated reading (until he did not), he published his first story extremely young (and then took a very long time to actually get to writing the books we know him by). He had a normal job (for some value of normal), he had a family and he had bees. But somewhere in all of that normal life, there were the stories to be told and they started coming. Slowly at first and then much much faster.

I expected that the parts I will enjoy the most in this biography will be the parts about the books but it is the human behind the stories that stole the show. The grief and loss are palpable in the text - the book is nostalgic and heartfelt but also funny - in ways I did not expect. Rib Wilkins spent enough time with Pratchett and transcribed and sorted out enough of the books to catch something of Terry's wit (or maybe he always had it and the relationship made it more pronounced). When the inevitable happened and the diagnosis finally showed up in the book, I wanted to stop reading - it was like losing a friend. And yet, it is part of the story.

A life ending too early is always a tragedy. Rob Wilkins had done a wonderful job in showing us sides of the man we may have not known about. If you are looking for scandals, read something else - not because the life was blameless but because a good man's scandals are never going to be very interesting to people. And Terry Pratchett was a good man (maybe cranky, maybe not always reasonable but a good man).

huhtikuu 10, 7:25 pm

>172 AnnieMod: interesting review of In Memoriam and how the Norton Critical editions work.

huhtikuu 10, 7:39 pm

65. The Lost Women of Azalea Court by Ellen Meeropol

Type: Novel, 59k words
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2022
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary
Format: paperback
Publisher: Red Hen Press
Reading dates: 28 March 2023 - 29 March 2023

In a quiet cul-de-sac next to a closed mental hospital, an old woman just disappears one morning. Her husband and the neighbors in the other 5 houses on the street have their own opinions on what may have happened. So does the police inspector when she arrives to start investigating.

While this could have been the start of a crime novel, Ellen Meeropol uses it as a way to tell a story about a place and about a collection of people who somehow ended up in the same street - each with their own fears, nightmares and stories (including the troubled detective). The street was once used for the doctors and nurses of the nearby hospital and a lot of the people on the street had been connected to it. Others had brought their own trauma from elsewhere.

One thing that derails the tale a bit is that the author tried to make her characters as diverse as possible (including the reasons and details of their trauma). While this is often a plus, the chance of it happening in such a small neighborhood is not very big and it requires a bit of a suspension of disbelief not to get derailed by it. It feels a bit Hollywood-ish - get everyone you need together and don't look too closely at why and how they ended up at the same place. The author does make an attempt at explaining how everyone ended up there but as at least half of these backgrounds were not really needed or used, it felt a bit as diversity for the sake of diversity and some of the characters felt like checklist items (with as much depth as one can get on a checklist as well). Add to that the very weird set of chapters which sound like a chorus in a play and which really does not add anything to the story.

With that being said and ignoring that particular part, the novel actually somewhat works as an examination of mental health management - both in the past and today. It is a tale of old secrets and old crimes, some of them horrific and some of them almost acceptable which makes them even more horrific when you stop to think about them. It tries too hard in some places and there is just this much of a coincidence that I am ready to accept but I did not hate it at the end - mainly because the author did not leave dangling threads I suspect - this kind of novels tend to end abruptly and this one did not.

Northampton State Hospital existed and treated patients between 1858 and 1993. The characters in this novel may be invented but most of the experiences in the hospital were at least partially based on reality. Mental health had always been the red-headed step child of medicine - even today. While the author uses the setting to tell a story about secrets and lies, it also tells the very real story of mental health management in the past and the horrors most of the most vulnerable people in the country had to live through. And when we say the past, it does not really mean as far back as we all think it does (or hope it does).

huhtikuu 10, 7:43 pm

And this is all for March. I am only 9 days (and 4 books - I had been doing other things and not reading much) behind on reviews. I am also going to go and start Part 2 of this thread for my Q2 reading. :)

>179 baswood: I think some of it depends on the particular editor. I like them and I find them a great way to explore the classics but they are also supposed to be somewhat academic and depending on the choices made, some seem to be working better for me than others. :)

huhtikuu 10, 9:42 pm

>169 AnnieMod: Making note of this one. Excellent review.

huhtikuu 11, 5:05 pm

>182 RidgewayGirl: Thanks. :) I kinda expected that a few people will notice this one :)

huhtikuu 15, 6:52 am

Late to the party, but I'm caught up on your wonderfully eclectic reading.

huhtikuu 20, 12:15 pm

It’s been too long since I have last visited your thread, so I enjoyed reading tons of reviews! I won’t comment on all, but I can see you’ve had some nice and diverse readings.

Just one comment on >162 AnnieMod:... I read Lolly Willowes a couple of years ago and had a similar mixed feeling as you, but I think the book stayed with me which, at the end of the day, is a rather good sign.
I love the cover of your edition and its anachronism !

And now, I'm en route to your part 2 thread!
Tämä viestiketju jatkuu täällä: Annie's 2023 reading diary - Part 2.