wandering_star running into a new year, 2023

KeskusteluClub Read 2023

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wandering_star running into a new year, 2023

tammikuu 6, 3:30 am

“i am running into a new year” by Lucille Clifton

i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twentysix and thirtysix
even thirtysix but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

Lucille Clifton, Good Woman: Poems and A Memoir 1969-1980

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 6, 3:40 am

My top reading from 2022:

Fifty Sounds by Polly Barton (memoir about the author's relationship with Japan and the Japanese language)
Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (fiction, starts off like so many books about mid-century unappreciated older women, goes off in a very unexpected direction)
Unmarriagable by Soniah Kamal (South Asian retelling of Pride and Prejudice)
The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley (modern retelling of Beowulf, with the monsters as homeless people and the mead hall an upmarket gated community)

Space Invaders by Nona Fernández (novella about growing up during the Chilean dictatorship)
Winter Work by Dan Fesperman (spy thriller set just after the fall of the Berlin Wall)
The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett (fiction, about families, chosen and otherwise)

(and full thread starting here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/338075)

tammikuu 6, 3:52 am

Hello Club Read friends! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Margaret, I am British but live in Japan, and I read pretty much everything.

My main goal for this year is to read more of the books I already have, particularly the books that have been on the TBR for a while. I think this was probably my goal last year, and the year before...

Looking forward to many lively discussions and book bullets from Club Read this year!

tammikuu 6, 7:32 am

Welcome to Club Read 2023, Margaret! I love your opening poem.

tammikuu 6, 3:27 pm

Happy New Year Margaret. Following…

tammikuu 6, 3:32 pm

Hello, Margaret, happy new year!

Glad to be reminded of Lolly Willowes

tammikuu 7, 4:44 am

Found you!

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 7, 6:37 pm

And the first book of the year is....

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green

This was published in 1878 and I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg in 2016, but picked it up recently because it was recommended by Jennifer Egan in her year in reading (and three cheers for naming old books and not just whatever buzzy reads came out this year - or are coming next year, as people sometimes do).

It's an early mystery novel and features a character who would go on to be the centerpiece of one of the first ever detective series, although in this story a lot of information is ferreted out by the narrator, a young lawyer who has fallen for one of the Misses Leavenworth, prime suspect in the murder of her wealthy uncle.

I stooped and lifted what showed itself at first glance to be the Evening Telegram. It needed but a single look to inform me to what she referred. There, in startling characters, I beheld:

The novel was one of the top-selling books of its time, was apparently used at Yale law school in classes on circumstantial evidence (Green's father was a criminal lawyer so she understood the legal environment well) and inspired both Conan Doyle (who met Green on a visit to the US) and Agatha Christie.

I would class this novel as "sensation fiction" as well as a detective story. It is certainly melodramatic and the pace moves unevenly - possibly due to the fact that it was originally serialised. To a modern reader too, some of the twists can be seen coming from miles away. But the actual plot around the crime and detection is pretty good, and as long as you go in expecting it to be a book of its time, it is an enjoyable read.

tammikuu 7, 7:21 pm

Amazing--I actually read that! Happens so rarely... I don't remember the plot at all, but I liked how the women were presented... https://www.librarything.com/topic/188753#5213381

tammikuu 7, 7:37 pm

>8 wandering_star: nice find...an 1878 mystery! Very interesting and kudos to Jennifer Egan.

tammikuu 8, 8:21 pm

I love the Clifton poem, Margaret. Happy New Year. I hope 2023 is good to you.

tammikuu 9, 2:35 am

>8 wandering_star: Intriguing and my local library has a physical copy. Must .. resist ... requesting. Phew, that was close. The only thing stopping me is I already have a chunkster out from the library plus another two (less chunky) books, plus a book on request, plus a book for bookclub to be read. Maybe in February.

tammikuu 9, 10:45 am

I also think The Leavenworth case sound interesting, but I am resisting as I have too many others on the go right now . . .

Thanks for the Clifton poem!

tammikuu 9, 11:31 am

Hi, Margaret. I was just passing through to see what your plans are for the year, but was drawn to your review of The Leavenworth Case. It sounds quite interesting. I’m going to try to find a copy.

tammikuu 9, 4:35 pm

>12 rhian_of_oz: Isn't that the truth! I came awfully close to starting another book last night. (And I still might...) I mean I have 3 books going now, plus an audiobook in the car. Not to mention the holds I have lining up...

tammikuu 11, 9:20 am

Jennifer Egan's recommendation is interesting, and this is one I have on my shelf. I'll have to dust it off. Great comments.

tammikuu 11, 9:38 am

>8 wandering_star: ...three cheers for naming old books and not just whatever buzzy reads came out this year - or are coming next year, as people sometimes do
Right on!

tammikuu 13, 11:50 pm

I love that Clifton poem... happy newish year!

tammikuu 14, 6:39 am

Lovely to see you all here! And looking forward to some good book chat.

>9 LolaWalser: That is a very good point about the relationship between the sisters - nice and complex.

tammikuu 14, 7:06 am

2. Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So

A collection of short stories, mostly about second-generation Cambodian Americans living in the same community in California. I wouldn't call them linked short stories as such, although some of the characters recur, and one story is narrated by a character whose birth was the focus on an earlier story.

Many of them reminded me of the stories in Denis Johnson's Angels - not as sharply written, but a similar environment of hopelessness and attempts to escape.

One of the stories is actually set at an afterparty (following a flashy wedding), but it's a good title for the collection as a whole - there is a sense in the community that they exist in the aftermath of something - whether that's the escape to the US, or the genocide itself. There is a particularly strong theme around the additional difficulty of understanding and living up to your immigrant parents if what they went through was not just migration but terrible persecution, deprivation and fear.

He was a regular Magic Johnson of badminton, if such a thing could exist; a legend, that is, for the young men of this Cambo hood (a niche fanbase, admittedly). The arcs of his lobs, the gentle drifts of his drops, and the lines of his smashes could be thought of, if rendered visible, as the very edge between known and unknown. He could smash a birdie so hard, make it fly so fast, we swore that when the birdie zipped by it shattered the force field suffocating us, the one composed of our parents’ unreasonable expectations, their paranoia that our world could crumble at a moment’s notice and send us back to where we started, starving and poor and subject to a genocidal dictator.

There are clear autobiographical elements between So and some of the characters in his stories - there are a couple of young gay men, one of whom went to Stanford; there is a father who runs a garage; and in the afterword So mentions that the final story is based on something which happened to his mother. I did not know until just now, sitting down to write this review, that So died (of a drug overdose) just before this book came out. I don’t want to read too much of the author’s life into it, but am now thinking again about the story of the young Stanford graduate who spends a lot of the story conflicted about his identity.

The first story in the collection, one of my favourites, is available online: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/02/10/three-women-of-chucks-donuts

tammikuu 14, 9:44 am

The Cambo hood, huh. Great review, but that’s really sad about the author.

tammikuu 14, 10:08 am

>20 wandering_star: If it reminds you somewhat of Denis Johnson's writing, then it needs to go on my list

tammikuu 14, 11:13 am

>20 wandering_star: He was a real rising star—such a shame. I'm looking forward to finally getting to this collection.

tammikuu 29, 6:23 pm

3. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

This book is divided into two timelines: mid-1980s Chicago, and 2015 Paris. In Chicago the story starts with a group of men at a memorial event for a friend who has just died of AIDS. It's taking place at the same time as Nico's funeral, to which not even his partner has been invited. His sister, Fiona, has ditched the funeral and come to remember her brother among his friends; and she goes on to look after several of them as they, in turn, sicken. In 2015, Fiona is in Paris looking for her daughter, who she lost contact with several years before - the only clue she has to her daughter’s whereabouts is that she was seen in the background of a TV show set in the city.

There is also a third "ghost" timeline, in the stories told by Nora Lerner to Yale, one of Nico's friends, about her life in Paris immediately before and after WWI. She had been studying art, and returned when the war was over. It took me a while to understand how the stories fit together, and Nora is the one who makes it explicit: she talks about what is lost when a whole generation dies, and how almost the worst of it is that the next generations cannot really imagine the impact, because they didn't know the people who were lost. The title of the book comes from an F Scott Fitzgerald quote about his generation - the ones who saw, and the ones who survived, WWI.

"Some of those boys were dear friends. I'd studied next to them for two years. I'd run around with them, doing all the ridiculous things you do when you're young. I could tell you their names, but it wouldn’t mean a thing to you. If I told you Picasso died in the war, you'd understand. Poof, there goes Guernica. But I tell you Jacques Weiss died at the Somme, and you don’t know what to miss.

This might make it sound like a message-y book, but all the characters feel like real people, and I found it very moving and powerful. I was a pre-teen at the time the story is set and I too, like some of the younger characters in the book, had more or less forgotten about the real impact of the AIDS crisis when it first hit. Forgotten may be the wrong word - I know what happened - but it is not the first thing which comes to mind now about the disease. Having read this book I can also understand Fiona's fury with the blithe younger generation, carrying on as if nothing had ever happened - although of course, that is all one can do.

tammikuu 29, 6:47 pm

That Fitzgerald quote is striking. Great review.

tammikuu 29, 8:01 pm

>24 wandering_star: I own this and have been wanting to read it for a while. I really should get to it sometime soon...

tammikuu 30, 6:26 pm

>25 dchaikin: Ah, sorry - that is a quote from the book (said by Nora). The Hemingway quote is:

"We were the great believers ... I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, and saw death ahead, and were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer."

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 30, 7:25 pm

4. Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura

Kokoro is a young girl who is unable to go to school because of social anxiety and fear of being bullied. One day, the mirror in her bedroom starts to grow with a mysterious light, and she walks through it, into a mysterious castle where six other children have also gathered. A young woman in a wolf mask appears and sets them a task - to find a key and gain a wish.

This book is very popular and has been well reviewed by many people, but it was not for me. Firstly, it is very YA - I would say aimed at pre-teens - and I don’t normally enjoy even books aimed at older teenagers. Secondly, while I understand that social anxiety can be crippling, I found Kokoro an irritatingly fretful character. When someone is nice to her, she feels bad; when someone is nasty to her, she feels bad; when someone does not pay particular attention to her, she feels bad.

The publisher’s note/afterword highlights that Japanese children have been ranked second-to-last in an international survey of children's mental health, and says this book has opened up a debate about that in Japan. I am really glad that has happened - it is an important thing for people to think about. But for my personal tastes this was not a great read.

Kokoro couldn’t bring up her own experience. She remembered the School was called Kokoro no kyoshitsu – Classroom for the Heart – with her own name in the title, and so she clammed up. It was just a coincidence that they shared a name, but she knew that if someone pointed it out, she’d die of embarrassment.

tammikuu 30, 7:42 pm

I loved The Great Believers. Makkai has a new book coming out that I can't wait to read.

tammikuu 31, 6:18 pm

>24 wandering_star: >29 japaul22: I also loved (and was moved by) The Great Believers.

tammikuu 31, 10:29 pm

I loved The Great Believers and am excited to see what her new novel is like.

helmikuu 3, 5:00 am

5. Haven by Emma Donoghue

This is an image of St Fionan's monastery, a settlement on the remote and barren island of Skellig Michael. While I was reading Haven, I thought that it was a novel which aimed to reimagine the lives of the first monks who settled there, in the seventh century. The afterword explained that it was in fact an imagining of an earlier settlement, in the sixth century, undertaken by three monks - Artt, a well-travelled priest; Cormac, a practical former farmer who converted to Christianity late in life, after his whole family died of the plague; and young dreamer Trian, who was brought to the monastery by his family when he was a child.

Artt has a dream in which he and these two other monks set sail, with few possessions to weigh them down, to found a new settlement to offer to the glory of God. Initially the other two monks are flattered that he chose them to follow him - but that is before they come to realise the purity (or extremity) of his vision for their lives on Skellig Michael.

In the silence, the Prior nods as if this was all part of his plan; God’s plan. ‘Well, no more fires, then.’
Cormac gapes. He says it before Trian can: ‘What, are we to eat raw stuff?’
A magnificent heave of the shoulders. ‘Jesus told his followers to eat whatever was set before them,’ the Prior quotes. ‘Raw is how all nourishment comes, after all. It’s only worldly affectation to improve its tenderness and savour by cooking. Our food will be itself now, undisguised.’
Trian looks away to hide his face. He watches the ashes that still glow faintly from last night. He should have paid more attention to fire, while they had it; should have memorised the warmth, the dance of light.

I had a rather "meh" reaction to this book. It was perfectly fine - some quite good/interesting bits - but I often found myself wondering why the author had chosen to tell this story, now. And when you consider some of the obscure things I read about... - I think that is probably a sign that the book was not really engaging me very much.

helmikuu 3, 7:20 am

>32 wandering_star: Beautiful photo though

helmikuu 3, 10:29 pm

Yes! I would love to go and visit, although climbing the 618 steep stone steps sounds quite daunting...

helmikuu 3, 10:31 pm

O snail!--climb Mt. Fuji--but slowly, slowly

(Issa, more or less)

helmikuu 3, 11:11 pm

6. Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes

A retelling of the Medusa story. I was not planning to read this, as I found Haynes' previous classical retelling, A Thousand Ships, a little bit unengaging, particularly compared to similar books out there by Madeline Miller and Pat Barker. But I kept seeing rave reviews so I picked it up from the library.

Stone Blind is better than my memory of A Thousand Ships, but it suffers from a couple of the same problems. Haynes likes to tell the story from multiple different viewpoints, but the tone and writing in each one is the same - a sort of sardonic tone which is quite funny when you are writing about the gods, but which didn't work so well for stuff about the way that the gods make humans suffer. So Medusa herself does not really come off the page as a character - just a trope for patriarchy, and the gods picking on the weakest.

Perhaps this is because Haynes also does comedy about classical myths - it feels like she is looking for the point that the story makes, rather than the emotions or characters in the story.

‘He doesn’t learn if we do everything for him,’ she said.
Her father shrugged. ‘He’s human, he doesn’t have time to learn anything important.’

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 4, 8:59 pm

7. The Hopkins Manuscript by RC Sherriff

A man I met yesterday in Kensington Gardens as I was drawing my bucket of water told me that there were only seven hundred people alive in London now, and every one of us can own a streetful of houses if we want them. An old lady who used to live opposite me at No. 10 Notting Hill Crescent has gone to live in the National Gallery. She heard that it was empty, and wanted to gratify her love of art and lust for possession during the last days that remain to her. I went to tea with her today. She lives upon the pigeons that fall dead from the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square. She cooks them over a fire which she keeps blazing with Dutch masterpieces upon the stone floor of the entrance hall. She dislikes Dutch masterpieces and enjoys the fire as much as the pigeons.

Written in 1939, this odd little book has the framing device that it was one of the few written documents ever found from the Great Cataclysm which struck Europe in the 1940s - left for posterity by its writer, and discovered 1000 years later by an expedition to what was by then the barren wastes of southern England. The narrator, Edgar Hopkins, is a Mr Pooter-ish figure, rather pompous and keen for the reader to know that he is actually quite a significant man in the world of British poultry breeding. But as the story goes on, he becomes a more poignant figure, as we realise that he is also rather lonely. He loves the community he finds in the village as they undertake preparatory works for the coming disaster - for the moon has left its orbit and is on a collision course with the earth.

In fact, the moon does not destroy the earth, although it causes plenty of damage - but those affected are able to start rebuilding their lives, and make a good go of it, until an expedition discovers that the fallen moon is full of valuable materials, and human greed drives the rise to power of warmongering demagogues across Europe. Hopkins yearns for the early post-catastrophe years, when every Englishman thought only of rebuilding his own town and making his little world come back to life - and yet, he can't resist a patriotic thrill as his closest young friends go off to war.

The book is uneven in tone and pace, and it's not very believable as a document being written by someone who already knew how it all turned out. But it can be surprisingly moving (on its own terms) and is an interesting historical curiosity when you think about the circumstances under which it was written.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 11, 11:11 am

>32 wandering_star: and >37 wandering_star: Those two books sound promising (and the photo is great!). You make them sound so interesting. Too bad you did not enjoy them as much as you expected.
I'll pass, despite being intrigued.

helmikuu 4, 11:14 am

>37 wandering_star: Not something I’ve heard of. Definitely interesting, especially as you put it in your last sentence.

helmikuu 4, 9:58 pm

I would like to enthuse about an app I have been using for the last few weeks, Readwise (readwise.io). It can collect up text that you have clipped or highlighted from various sources*, and every day you get a random selection of these texts. It's really nice to see again the bits of text that I highlighted in the past, and every so often you get a good juxtaposition - the other day I had two quotes from different books about the river Thames, and today, after an old highlight which talked about prehistoric cooking using hot stones in a pit of water, the same thing came up in the book that I am reading.

It is a paid app (although you can do a free trial) but I am really enjoying it, and I think some others here might like it too.

*It syncs with the various different ereaders, read-it-later apps like Pocket, RSS feeds, tweets, and several other sites such as Goodreads and Medium. I even managed to upload my ancient highlights from diigo, which I haven’t used or even thought about for years. You can also enter text manually, and upload from paper books using a pretty effective photo-to-text function.

helmikuu 5, 4:04 am

Enjoying your reviews, especially The Hopkins Manuscript which I had not heard of before.

helmikuu 5, 9:13 am

>40 wandering_star: I love apps that address the problem of keeping found information found.

helmikuu 6, 5:25 am

>42 labfs39: That's a very good way of describing it!

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 7, 4:30 am

8. Time Song: searching for Doggerland by Julia Blackburn

A fascinating and mostly* rather beautiful book about Doggerland, now under the North Sea, but once a hugely fertile piece of land (there are more remains of mammoths on the bed of the North Sea than there are anywhere else in the world except Siberia). This territory first emerged at the end of the ice age, but as the ice continued to melt, the waters rose and submerged it again - probably over the course of a few generations.

Blackburn is deeply interested in it, and manages to track down and talk to many others - researchers, historians and enthusiasts - who have spent time trying to learn about this territory and the animals and people who lived there. It takes a certain eccentricity to decide to study somewhere so inaccessible, and Blackburn gets some gold out of these conversations. She is also very good at looking at a historical trace - a fossil, an artefact, the trace of a footstep in the clay - and imagining the world that it came from.

We see other cranes walking by in another realm, and the single hoof of a deer and humans that I can more or less recognise from the shape and size of their feet, but what impresses me most of all is the constellation of little pockmarks imprinted on the flesh-like softness of the clay and made by the rain that was falling on one particular day between 5500 and 5200 BC. As I look I can hear the pattering sound and I can feel the wetness of it soaking into my hair and skin. The crane has flown away, the children have gone, but the rain goes on falling.

*Some of her writing about the process of going to meet her interviewees could have been edited down, and the prose sections of the book are interleaved with some truly awful poems, which she calls time songs.

helmikuu 7, 8:27 am

>44 wandering_star: I’ve wondered what we know about this submerged area.

helmikuu 8, 5:23 am

>45 dchaikin: Yes! A surprising amount, it seems, although I think the book slightly elides the difference between things found on the edges of the land around the North Sea and what has actually been found under it. One big problem with the underwater finds is that a lot of them have been brought up by dredging, so you don’t have that clear understanding of placement relative to each other as you would with a proper excavation.

helmikuu 8, 10:10 am

>46 wandering_star: ah, that’s a problem. I always imagine stuff untouched by later humans. Not looting, nothing torn up, built upon, messed with. No early 20th-century criminal archeology. If only we could access it.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 11, 9:27 pm

9. America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

A story about ideas of family, and home - both the ones you start off with and the ones that you choose.

At the start of the book I thought the story was going to be centred around Paz, a nurse who worked her way to California from a dirt poor background in the Philippines, and who now supports a huge extended family in both countries. A few chapters in, though, her husband’s niece Hero (from Geronima) arrives at the family home, and the narrative begins to focus on her.

Hero has recently been released from brutal captivity in the Philippines, with the fall of the Marcos regime - she had been a member of a revolutionary group before her capture. So she has to accustom herself not only to life in the US, but to freedom and autonomy.

The problem that I had with this book is that although Hero's story ought to be interesting, it is much less engaging than the stories of the other characters, so the sections of the book about her sag a bit. I think it is because Hero is her backstory in a way that the other characters aren't - their story is part of them, of course, but but you get more of a sense of what makes them tick.

Despite that, I would still recommend this book. I liked the community of characters that Castillo builds up, and how the story highlights some of the complexities around immigration which are sometimes overlooked - such as in the character of Pol, Paz's husband, whose status is vastly different back home, were he is a from a rich and well-connected family, compared to in California where he is unable to work. And when the writing is good, it is really good.

You already know that the first thing that makes you foreign to a place is to be born poor in it; you don’t need to emigrate to America to feel what you already felt when you were ten, looking up at the rickety concrete roof above your head and knowing that one more bad typhoon would bring it down to crush your bones and the bones of all your siblings sleeping next to you; or selling fruit by the side of the road to people who made sure to never really look at you, made sure not to touch your hands when they put the money in it. You’ve been foreign all your life. When you finally leave, all you’re hoping for is a more bearable kind of foreignness.

helmikuu 11, 10:52 pm

10. Any Way the Wind Blows by Seanan McGuire

Well, this has me wondering what is the threshold for listing/posting a read. This is on my kindle (and actually when I started it I didn’t realise it was only a short story) so I guess I will count it, although when I read short stories online I don’t post/review them unless they are really standout.

Anyway, although fun, this is barely even a short story - it was written to mark the departure of Tor.com from the Flatiron building, and is more of an in-joke than anything else, with some characters at the end who are obviously staff of Tor.com.

She looks up, nods once, and goes back to studying her instruments. “Mammalian,” she says finally. “There are representatives of other populations, but they’re all at what we expect from the human-dominated Manhattans. The avian clusters match my pigeon data, and the insects match up with cockroaches. Mostly. There are a few outliers.” “Are the mammals moving slowly and with confidence, or are they cowering in the subway tunnels?” We once found a parallel where the pigeons had somehow turned carnivorous and bloodthirsty. A flock could pick the flesh off a human’s bones in under a minute, the piranhas of the sky.

helmikuu 12, 7:36 am

>48 wandering_star: That's a great quote.

>49 wandering_star: I'm the same way with children's books. I only mention them if they really stand out.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 12, 6:05 pm

11. Tokyo on Foot by Florent Chavouet

Ironically I am reading this because I am not on my feet - I am recovering from a broken ankle, and so I have been looking at some of the books which are too large to be carried around with me while I am out and about. I bought this ten years ago, well before I actually lived in Tokyo - and though I have dipped into it before, this is the first time I have sat down and read it from cover to cover.

Chavouet lived in Tokyo for six months while his girlfriend was doing an internship here, and he spent a lot of time biking around different parts of the city and sketching what he saw. A lot of the time he seems to have picked views that he could see from a coffee shop - but he has done a nice job of picking out things which are visually representative of the city, especially the little shops that you find in the back streets (and are probably not most people's idea of what Tokyo looks like).

He also draws some of the people that he sees, though these pictures come out a bit more cartoonish (and he is definitely taking out some of the frustrations of being regularly stopped by police because of some traffic infraction as he bikes along). Some of the pages are also like a scrapbook, with tickets, posters, stickers from fruit (he loves these) drawn as if pasted in.

helmikuu 13, 7:56 am

>51 wandering_star: How interesting. When I studied abroad as a college student, I tried to keep a sketchbook-journal. Although I'm not an artist, it was a fun way to record impressions. It would be fun to browse Tokyo on Foot, despite not knowing the city at all.

I'm sorry to hear about your ankle: you and Lois/avaland.

helmikuu 13, 9:16 am

>48 wandering_star: interesting and great review of America is not the Heart

>51 wandering_star: ouch. Sorry about your ankle. And interesting about Tokyo. (It made me realize I have no clue what Tokyo looks like or how most people think of how it looks.)

helmikuu 13, 12:59 pm

>51 wandering_star: I love the whole urban sketching movement, and dearly wish for a more leisurely life where I could set out with my sketchbook and a paint set and draw on the street. In the meantime, I have a lot of nice sketchbook collections for vicarious inspiration.

helmikuu 13, 8:26 pm

>48 wandering_star: I've wanted to read this since I read her collection of essays, which I really liked.

helmikuu 15, 11:02 am

>44 wandering_star: - I grew up on the Belgian coast and I love the thought that there was (is) land where I used to play in the sea connecting it to England. Unfortunately I never came across a mammoth bone or anything like that.
It seems that there is a growing scientific interest in the archeology and geology of Doggerland and its periphery, not only from a historical perspective, but also because of the desire to learn things about sea level rise. Who knows what that research will reveal.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 17, 5:36 am

>52 labfs39:, >53 dchaikin: thanks for your good wishes! (and gosh, I had not seen that Lois was also laid up)

>52 labfs39:, >54 lisapeet: in the later stages of lockdown, when it was possible to do things but only outside, I started going to parks and gardens and doing some sketching there. I don’t think I have a lot of creativity, but it was a really nice way of spending some time in a place and really observing what was around me.

>35 LolaWalser: I think you must have posted this while I was writing the post that comes after it, because I have only just seen it. That is lovely (and perfect for my current circumstances - I am learning patience)

helmikuu 17, 5:36 am

12. History of the Rain by Niall Williams

This is my father’s story. I am writing it to find him. But to get to where you’re going you have to first go backwards. That’s directions in Ireland, it’s also T. S. Eliot.

Ruth Swain lies in her sickbed, under the eaves of the house, and thinks about her family. In the small Irish village where she lives, "everyone is a long story", and to try and make sense of herself and her family, she needs to go back. The narrative wanders through her family - starting with her stern, religious great-grandfather, who handed down the Impossible Standard to his descendants - as well as the more robust strain on Ruth's mother's side. As well as the family history, the novel is also full of the stories to be found in books - her father's huge collection and the books that she has read herself.

It is the way that Ruth talks that makes this book - a mixture of funny and poignant and allusive, looping back to earlier references, joking about the roundabout way she tells the story. There is a love of language itself which comes through in the way that she quotes the way that other characters speak ("That figure ahead of you is Eamon Egan, fattest man in the parish and proud of it, wouldn’t walk the length of himself, Nan says.")

That said, I did sometimes found that the pace flagged and I had to push myself a bit to read on. Ruth herself says "This, Dear Reader, is a river narrative. My chosen style is The Meander." - so this is a key element of the book. For my own personal taste I could have done with about 20% less meandering.

helmikuu 19, 11:59 pm

13. Les Belles Amours by Louise de Vilmorin

This is the story of, not so much a love triangle as a love spaghetti junction, between a young woman (never named) and two men, the wealthy and charming M. Zaraguirre, and young Louis Duville, son of Zaraguirre's closest friends. The plotline could almost be a farce, as the young woman becomes engaged to one man, elopes with the other, and later embarks on a relationship with the first, causing her husband to leave her - but the story is not quite played for laughs. The story really illustrates one thing about human nature, that you always want what you don’t have.

The story is a bit dated and the translation was not great, but it was a fun enough read - and I enjoyed finding out about the author, who was briefly engaged to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and later had an affair with Orson Welles!

Memories of a period that still continues belong to the present and lengthen its duration. Mme Zaraguirre became aware of this. By putting a ban on their life together, her husband had deprived their past of a future, and Mme Zaraguirre, looking behind her, saw their years of marriage break away from the continent of their life to form an island on which she would never again set foot. It is then that thought becomes a ghost, wandering in those places to which destiny has denied admittance; and while this ghost goes from the house to the promenade, from the door to kisses once trustingly cherished, arrows of memory pierce a living heart.

helmikuu 20, 1:45 pm

>58 wandering_star: When I read your review of History of the Rain I thought that it sounded vaguely familiar. I looked at the book's page on LT, and saw that I read and reviewed it in 2014, but even after reading my review I don't remember it at all!

helmikuu 20, 8:35 pm

>32 wandering_star: Haven... why the author had chosen to tell this story, now
Hmm, I have this because I've read Room and The Wonder and the description looked intriguing. Dunno when I'll get around to it. The photo is attractive.

helmikuu 20, 9:16 pm

Caught up again! You always read so many interesting books

helmikuu 24, 7:18 am

>60 kidzdoc: I can definitely imagine that happening with me, too - it was the language and not the story that made more of an impression on me, and the language is less sticky in the memory somehow!

helmikuu 24, 7:24 am

14. Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham

Possibly the best start to a cosy mystery ever:

There are, fortunately, very few people who can say that they have actually attended a murder.
The assassination of another by any person of reasonable caution must, in a civilized world, tend to be a private affair.
Perhaps it is this particular which accounts for the remarkable public interest in the details of even the most sordid and unintellectual examples of this crime, suggesting that it is the secret rather than the deed which constitutes the appeal.
If only in view of the extreme rarity of the experience, therefore, it seems a pity that Brigadier-General Sir Walter Fyvie, a brilliant raconteur and a man who would have genuinely appreciated so odd a distinction, should have left the reception at Little Venice at twenty minutes past six, passing his old acquaintance Bernard, Bishop of Mold, in the doorway, and thus missing the extraordinary murder which took place there by a little under seven minutes.

...and then we rewind 24 hours to meet all the characters in the story, before, at the end of Chapter 2, Sir Walter Fyvie and the Bishop of Mold pass each other at the bottom of the stairs.

Despite this cracking start I did not enjoy this as much as I thought I would. I think because it didn't quite fit with what I was expecting from this particular genre of mystery, veering almost into the psychological "whydunnit" space and ending up an awkward mix of serious and offbeat.

helmikuu 24, 8:30 am

15. Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

The narrator of this novella is an interpreter at the International Criminal Court. She has not been in the job for long, and is trying to make a home in The Hague as well as getting used to the pressures of the work. At first the story focuses on the former - she tells us about the friends that she is making, and the relationship that she is in - but then one day she is asked to interpret for a newly arrived defendant, a politician accused of inciting genocide - and this story becomes mixed in with her personal life.

Our narrator (she is never named) is both there, and not there, in the courtroom. As an interpreter she is supposed to be noticed as little as possible - yet the defence lawyers at the prep sessions find it useful to see her emotional reactions to the crimes and accusations, because they have long since lost theirs.

In a similar way, she is both there and not there in her own life. Her partner invites her to stay in his flat while he goes to visit his children, who are with his ex-wife - but then he does not return, and stops replying to her messages. Her friendships are similarly precarious, and she is racked by doubt as to whether this city will become her home.

There were some interesting ideas in the book - about language and the act of interpretation, about how being observed changes how you feel about what you are doing - but for me, they were undermined by the flatness of the narrator's style - it felt that everything was taking place on the other side of glass, that emotions were only faintly felt. And maybe this is unfair but it also seemed to me that the terrible violence described in the court cases end up being the same scale, for the narrator, as her inability to get to feel comfortable in the city.

In those moments, in the face of the former president’s resolute indifference, in that small, airless conference room amidst the folders and piles of paper, something yawned open inside me. The depersonalized nature of the task—I was only an instrument, and during the hours that I was there I was almost never spoken to directly, in fact the only person who bothered to address me at all was the former president—sat alongside the strange intimacy of the encounter, the entire thing was a paradox, impossible to reconcile.

helmikuu 24, 11:06 pm

>64 wandering_star: that is a great opening.

helmikuu 25, 12:51 pm

>65 wandering_star: I really enjoyed this one. There is so much to think about. Great comments.

I love Allingham and >64 wandering_star: this is a great start.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 4, 11:36 pm

It's a month tomorrow since I had the operation on my ankle and I am able to put a bit of weight on the foot now - which is soooo much less tiring (and more stable!) than hopping around. And I can gradually increase how much I use it, until the next appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon on 23 March which should be when I can get rid of the crutches altogether.

16. When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb (audiobook)

This is about two friends, an angel and a demon, who decide to leave their home (a shtetl so small and out-of-the-way it is just called Shtetl) and go to America - the demon wants to go because all the most interesting young people from the shtetl are making the same journey, and so he persuades the angel that they need to go to look for one of the villagers who has lost contact with her family back home.

The story is at its best when it is focusing on a few characters - the angel, the demon and a couple of their travelling companions - there is a new storyline immediately after they get to New York and my reading energy flagged a bit - but fortunately it comes back to focus on a smaller group again. I really enjoyed the relationships between the characters and their journey across the Atlantic. A very sweet and charming story.

No one was keeping score, but if they had been, they would have been able to tell you that Little Ash hardly ever lost an argument with his friend the angel. Of course, as if the nature of these things, it usually turned out that whatever selfish, mischievous, or destructive impulses he put in the hearts of the people he encountered eventually led to new forms of selfless creation.

maaliskuu 4, 10:08 pm

17. After Midnight by Irmgard Keun

In many ways, the things on Sanna's mind are the same concerns most 19-year-old girls have. She wonders why she hasn't heard from her boyfriend, rolls her eyes at the stupidities and hypocrisies of adult behaviour, worries about her brother's financial stability, and wishes that her best friend Gerti didn't keep taking stupid risks.

But the context is Germany in the mid-1930s, and so the specifics are pretty different. Sanna's brother's financial situation has deteriorated because his books have been criticised as decadent, and Gerti keeps losing her patience and saying provocative things to Party members and SS men. Gerti is also madly in love with a half-Jewish boy (whose Jewish father actually supports the Nazis because he thinks they are better than the Communists), but her parents want her to marry the Party member they owe money to.

I didn't find the storyline of this book particularly engaging, but it is really good at the social atmosphere of fear and conformity - the risks of an off-the-cuff remark, the way that some people are willing to settle incredibly petty personal scores because they know the other person has said or done something which wouldn't stand scrutiny. There are some wonderfully monstrous minor characters, and although the tone is light, there is always an understanding of the oppressive environment.

'Look, be reasonable, will you?' a fairly high-up SA man, drinking coffee from his flask, told the thin, grey cyclist. 'Don't bleat on like that! Just you be thankful to the Führer for his high ideals!'
"That's right,' said the thin, grey man, 'the Führer gets to have the ideals and we get to carry the can.' His voice was trembling; you could tell his nerves were worn to a shred. The people who'd heard him were struck dumb with alarm, and the SA man went red in the face and could scarcely get his breath back. All at once the grey man looked utterly broken, extinguished. Three SA men led him away. He didn't put up a struggle.

This book was published in 1937, when Keun was living in exile, having left Germany after her books were banned by the Nazi regime. (Incredibly, she returned to Germany and lived under an alias in 1940, having either planted or taken advantage of media reporting that she had committed suicide).

maaliskuu 5, 8:33 am

Wow, your broken ankle must have been bad to require surgery. I hope that you get a good report from your orthopaedic surgeon later this month.

Great reviews of When the Angels Left the Old Country and After Midnight.

maaliskuu 5, 12:31 pm

I'm glad your ankle is healing well. >69 wandering_star: I read the wikipedia article on Keun trying to learn why she would want to move back to Germany in 1940. She had quite the life, including an affair with Joseph Roth.

maaliskuu 7, 8:03 pm

Glad you're healing up—here's to ditching the crutches.

>68 wandering_star: That sounds like the kind of conceit I'd really like and the kind of book that would drive me up the wall with the fantastical characters, in equal amounts. My library has the ebook, so maybe I'll give it a try. I do like Jewish old country immigration stories, especially when they end in New York.

maaliskuu 8, 12:02 am

Glad your ankle is healing. Two interesting reviews. Somehow I assumed from the content that Sacha Lamb must be an early 20th-century Yiddish author whose name I had missed. The book is from 2023. :)

maaliskuu 11, 11:13 am

>69 wandering_star: A book and an author that are new to me. I've just found After midnight in an on-line second hand bookshop and I might indulge myself in buying that one.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 15, 10:17 pm

Thanks all for the good wishes - am able to walk a few steps now which is very helpful for things like cooking! - and down to a single crutch.

>72 lisapeet: The fantastical characters are not too whimsical so I think it is worth you trying it!

>74 raton-liseur: I also really recommend Child of All Nations which is narrated by a young girl whose family have fled Germany (and whose father is a literary lion who is travelling all over Europe lapping up adulation but not terribly good at looking after the family). I own The Artificial Silk Girl too which I am hoping to get to before long.

maaliskuu 16, 12:01 am

18. Exiles by Jane Harper

Jane Harper is one of my favourite crime writers. In Exiles, she returns to the her occasional detective, Aaron Falk - he works in financial crime rather than being a frontline officer, but he has enough of the required skills that people sometimes turn to him if they are trying to figure out what has happened.

A year ago, a young mother disappeared from a wine festival, and has not been seen since - although one of her shoes was found in the nearby reservoir. The festival was in the town where she grew up, but she had grown apart from people back home after moving to the city, and after her death various things had come out which made her friends wonder whether they had ever really known her. In a final effort to find out what happened, they make an appeal for new information at the festival, and Falk (in town for a christening) is also drawn in.

For me, this took some time to get going, but for the second half it fully met my high expectations.

Falk thought back to what Gemma had said about her stepson over dinner in that Melbourne restaurant sixteen months earlier. The boy could be trusted, she had thought. On some things at least, such as being left home alone. Still, Joel insisting Kim had not gone through the east exit complicated things, and complications – in Falk’s experience – were rarely welcomed by even the best cops.

maaliskuu 16, 4:20 pm

>18 lisapeet:
Oh, nice! I just bought my first Jane Harper yesterday. I look forward to reading it, especially since she's one of your favourites

maaliskuu 16, 5:49 pm

>77 Nickelini: Which one did you get?

maaliskuu 16, 6:23 pm

>78 wandering_star: doh! I knew you were going to make me look it up :-)

The Survivors. I had ordered it ages ago so I can't remember why I picked this particular one. It might have been on a super sale

maaliskuu 17, 7:40 pm

>79 Nickelini: That's one of my two favourites of hers - hope you enjoy it!

maaliskuu 20, 3:07 pm

>79 Nickelini: I liked that one a lot—a good, propulsive read and the setting—particularly at the end—really lodged in my head.

maaliskuu 27, 8:04 pm

19. The Road: A Story of Romans and Ways to the Past by Christopher Hadley

The title/cover of this book intrigued me when I saw it on my library's "new ebooks" page, and then I heard the author on the Travels through Time podcast (which I enjoy - the format is that their interviewees are asked to pick a year that they would like to travel to, and tell us three interesting episodes from it). He was so enthusiastic and engaging that I decide to borrow the book.

In The Road, Hadley walks along the remains, so far as they can be detected, of a particular Roman road, and as he goes he talks about what we know about the road - including the stories of the various historians, mapmakers and amateur enthusiasts who have helped to uncover the information (or how their monomanias confused the historical picture).

His fieldwork was brilliant and revelatory – he knew that ‘a furrow, grown over with weeds, might be the lasting register of the wheels of chariots on a Roman road’ – and when in 1922 he saw aerial photographs of Hampshire taken by the RAF he realised that you could see the shadows of lynchets, the ancient field strips scored into the earth and now revealing their ghosts to the heavens. It was as though a long-sighted reader had just held a book at arm’s length and watched the characters come into focus, revealing stories that had hitherto been unreadable.

He has a strong sense of the romance around a historical ruin - the idea of walking in the footsteps of many other people across time, and the way some things change and some stay the same.

If the road is part of an unbroken line of communication across space, it is one across time as well. It is a spur to the historical imagination, conjuring carts laden with earthenware made by Matugenus that give way to slabs of venison heading the other way to the table of Edward II, to the lord of the manor on horseback visiting his vineyard, or to carts on market day in the fourteenth century. Ermine Street was a coaching road, a turnpike road and until the bypass was built in the 1970s, the trucks of the Old North Road still thundered down Puckeridge’s pretty high street, rattling the glass out of the casements and threatening to shake the pargeting from the timber-framed inns.

I am fascinated by the period after the Romans left, when the Britons were still using their technology but had no idea how to recreate it. So I particularly enjoyed these parts of the book.

The book is a bit rambling (no pun intended) and I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had been able to dip into it occasionally rather than having to power through and return it to the library. But there is enough interesting stuff in there to make it worthwhile.

maaliskuu 29, 7:30 am

>19 wandering_star: Nice review! I am fascinated by the period after the Romans left, when the Britons were still using their technology but had no idea how to recreate it. I had never thought about this. Interesting.

maaliskuu 29, 11:36 pm

>82 wandering_star: you read the most obscure sounding books that seem to be just my thing!

maaliskuu 30, 1:24 pm

>82 wandering_star: That looks cool, and the kind of thing that might turn up at a good library sale.

huhtikuu 8, 4:19 am

>44 wandering_star: This is fascinating! I only learned about Doggerland when I read Eine Halligfahrt by Theodor Storm last year, which features Rungholt, a sunken town in the North Sea. It sank because of a storm tide in the 14th century.

>69 wandering_star: Great review! I haven't read anything by Irmgard Keun yet, which is a shame. When I was studying German literature the focus was almost entirely on male writers. It seems to change now and I see that I have much to catch up on.

>76 wandering_star: Oh, Jane Harper is another author I really wish to try!

>82 wandering_star: This one sounds fascinating as well!

huhtikuu 8, 3:28 pm

Belated good healing wishes! Been hearing a lot about falls and cracks lately; a neighbour broke her shoulder on March 3 and so I've been helping her with stuff, which is fine but means I get even more behind here.

Louise de Vilmorin was something of a Jackie Collins of her day; hot stuff.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 8, 4:14 pm

>82 wandering_star: fun stuff and that podcast sounds interesting.

"I am fascinated by the period after the Romans left, when the Britons were still using their technology but had no idea how to recreate it." - dark dark age England.

huhtikuu 21, 8:02 pm

>83 labfs39:, >88 dchaikin: I first thought about this when I read somewhere (I think a historical fiction) about Roman fountains which carried on flowing after the Romans withdrew, until they gradually got stopped up with dead leaves and moss and no-one could fix them. There is also a fairly famous Anglo-Saxon poem about a ruined city, believed to be inspired by Bath (The Ruin), which starts:

This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.

>84 Nickelini: That is the best compliment anyone could give me, thank you!!

>87 LolaWalser: I like that info about L de V! I am now imagining her writing somewhere in the South of France with a big floppy hat and admirers waiting at the door.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 21, 8:15 pm

20. The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford

Afong Moy is a real historical character, the first known female Chinese immigrant to the US. She was famous at the time, albeit as a sideshow character.

This book jumps between the stories of Moy and six other women, her imagined descendants, living between the late nineteenth century and 2086. I thought it was going to be realistic fiction until I reached the end of the first chapter, in which a woman, nursing US airmen in Kunming during WWII, goes through the personal effects of a patient who has died and finds a photo of herself that she has never seen before, with "FIND ME" written on the back in her own handwriting.

One of the women, living in the mid-21st century, takes a course of experimental treatment which she hopes will help with her depression and moments of disassociation. It is based around the idea that some trauma is so deep that it can be passed down and, with the right stimulation, descendants of the person who suffered the trauma can "remember" the previous events. Her story starts to bring the other threads together.

From the description this book is right up my street - both in subject matter and the way that the different timelines weave into each other. I really wanted to like it. Unfortunately it is incredibly clunky and I actually found it quite a struggle to finish.

She stopped worrying and accepted that there was something thrilling about the notion of going out to dinner with a billionaire. It felt like being strapped into a carnival ride. She could climb out, but that was dangerous. Instead she would hold on, bracing herself for an arranged marriage with gravity as she spun into the perilous unknown.

huhtikuu 21, 8:36 pm

21. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

I got this from the library after reading KeithChaffee's description of the Wayward Children series (here) as being about what happens after those stories where children go through portals into fantasy worlds - when they are back in the "real" world and no-one believes their stories. The Home for Wayward Children was set up for those children who loved the other world and yearn to go back.

It's a terrific premise and really well brought to life, with some genuinely poignant moments. The story itself - the solving of a series of killings - is perfectly fine, but what I really liked was the atmosphere and environment. A lot of thought has gone into the worldbuilding but it's conveyed naturally through the story and not through lengthy undigested exposition; the children's personality both affected which worlds they gained access to, and is affected by their subjective years spent in that world.

“How are you and Sumi getting on?” asked Eleanor, as they walked toward the tables.
“She’s very … abrupt,” said Nancy.
“She lived in high Nonsense for almost ten years subjective time, and much as you learned to be still, she learned never to stop,” said Eleanor.

huhtikuu 21, 10:09 pm

>91 wandering_star: I've heard good things about this series from Kevin/stretch. Your review reminds me to look for them.

huhtikuu 22, 12:52 pm

>90 wandering_star: Yeah, that was a bit of a chewy book. I enjoyed it, but I also had to read it for a panel so I was just kind of predisposed to get what I could from it and have as good a time as possible. I think it needed some serious tightening, but I liked the premise.

>91 wandering_star: I bought this one a while back because the idea just sounded cool. Not sure I'd want to stay aboard for the whole series, but I'm interested to read the first, anyway.

huhtikuu 24, 5:56 pm

22. Glow by Ned Beauman

In your whole life, how many girls have you seen at raves that you've immediately developed a big crush on?
I don't know, Raf would say.
Ten to fifteen thousand. More if it weren't for the MDMA drought.
So it's statistically almost inevitable that at least one of them was going to turn out to be working undercover for an American mining company.

In the first scene of this book, young Raf is at a rave in a laundrette, wishing he'd been young in the 90s when the drug scene was better. He hears about a new drug called glow and sees a gorgeous young woman across the room, but can't make a connection with either. A series of increasingly surreal things then happen to him - meeting a fox on the bus, finding a network of completely soundproofed warehouses around London which have been used for a week then abandoned, and tracking down conspiracy theories about the noiseless white vans which have started appearing in his neighbourhood and may have taken one of his friends away.

Ned Beauman specialises in plots which start off eye-rollingly ornate and over the top but end up taking you along with them, and Glow is no exception.

huhtikuu 24, 6:10 pm

23. Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin

A John Rebus/Malcolm Fox/Siobhan Clarke crime novel. Rebus is retired and Fox has been "kicked upstairs" to police headquarters, but neither of them can quite break themselves of the detecting habit. A chance interaction leads Rebus to pick up on a cold case, but after one of the people he talks to winds up dead, he follows that trail too and ends up muscling in on a case which is very much ongoing. Fox is sent back to his old patch for an investigation and tries to rebuild his relationship with Siobhan Clarke; as always the push/pull dynamic between the three of them is at the heart of the story.

‘I just thought, after the day we’ve both had, maybe I could buy you a drink.’ ‘Is that because you want to hear all my news, or so you can tell me yours?’ ‘It’s just a drink, Siobhan. We don’t even have to talk shop.’ ‘But we will.’ ‘I suppose that’s true.’

The traditional approach in a modern British crime novel is that if there are two crimes which seem to be connected, they actually aren't, whereas two separate crimes always end up interlinked. This book deals with that trope in perhaps the best way I have seen - the historical crime is a motivation for the recent one, and it sends the police in the wrong direction too. According to LT it's been a couple of years since I last read a Rankin novel - too long!

huhtikuu 24, 6:19 pm

>95 wandering_star: There's been a gap in my Rebus reading, too. I should see what's next and pick it up because I always end up enjoying them.

huhtikuu 25, 2:00 pm

>90 wandering_star: The many daughters of Afong Moy sounds quite interesting. But between your description - "chunky" and Kirkus' pan of the ending, I think I can cross it off my list.

>91 wandering_star: I've read and enjoyed several of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series, including Every heart a doorway, Down among the sticks and bones, and Across the green grass fields. The characters are always interesting, and there is always an odd tilt to the stories.

I ran across Rebus late in the series, and am saving it for one of those days when I can't find anything to listen to.

toukokuu 1, 11:17 am

24. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

Lillian had one decent break in her life - winning a scholarship to a fancy boarding school which should have set her up for the future. But she got kicked out - for something her roommate Madison actually did, but Madison's rich parents paid Lillian's mother to not kick up a fuss. Nothing really went right in Lillian's life after that, but somehow, she and Madison have never quite lost touch with each other, even as Madison ticks off all her life goals up to marrying a wealthy senator.

And then one day, Madison gets in touch with Lillian, with something which is between a job offer and a request for help. The senator needs to take custody of his children from his first marriage, but it's the worst possible time - it's rumoured that he will soon be appointed Secretary of State, and there is an awkward secret about them which has the potential to derail any confirmation hearing. That secret? Well, from time to time they burst into flame. (which by the way is as outlandish in the world of the book as it would be in ours).

Nonplussed, but happy with any reason to escape her dead-end life for a bit, Lillian agrees to help. She quickly realises that she has got herself in over her head - not just with the children, but how she fits in (or doesn't) to Madison's new life, and whether she is a friend who is helping out or another one of the round-the-clock staff.

I feel like I am explaining this book very badly - so maybe I will stop there and just say that I found it surprising, funny, sharp and in the end rather moving. Lillian is a great character and I loved the kids as well. Recommended.

Originally, I had thought I’d just stand next to them for the whole summer and gently direct them toward good decisions. I thought I’d just sit in a beanbag chair and they’d read magazines next to me.
Now it was clear how much this job would require. I was going to have to bend and twist these children into something that could live in that crazy-rich estate back in Franklin. It was going to be like teaching a wild raccoon to wear a little suit and play the piano.

toukokuu 2, 1:23 pm

>98 wandering_star: Interesting quote.

toukokuu 2, 2:59 pm

>98 wandering_star: What a weird and wonderful book that was! It was my introduction to Kevin Wilson and the other of his I've read (Now is Not the Time to Panic) lacked the weird but was just as wonderful. I'm eager to read his backlist.

toukokuu 6, 7:03 pm

>100 RidgewayGirl: I was so glad I read it at last! It's one of those books where every so often I would see a review of it, and think it sounded worth reading, but never quite get round to it. I can't remember who recently posted a review on LT which got me over the line, but I am grateful to them!

toukokuu 6, 7:13 pm

25. The Birds and other stories by Daphne du Maurier

In the distance he could see the clay hills, white and clean, against the heavy pallor of the sky. Something black rose from behind them, like a smudge at first, then widening, becoming deeper, and the smudge became a cloud, and the cloud divided again into five other clouds, spreading north, east, south and west, and they were not clouds at all; they were birds.

A collection of six short stories of hauntings, and murders, and mysterious happenings. The title story of course inspired the Hitchcock film (although apart from the premise, the story is quite different); before the film came out this collection was titled "The Apple Tree" which is probably the other most effectively chilling of the tales, in which a man, recently happily widowed, notices that one of the trees outside his window somehow reminds him of his wife. I enjoyed the whole collection.

toukokuu 6, 7:26 pm

26. The Secret Network of Nature by Peter Wohlleben

A book about all the ways in which different parts of an ecosystem support each other, and by extension the way that human interventions change the natural world.

For example, in a forest where both salmon and bears are plentiful, the bears will spread nitrogen through the forest via the salmon they don't finish eating, and through their faeces, which acts as a natural fertiliser and speeds up the growth of spruce trees. Another example is that trees grow faster in managed forests because they have more access to sunlight earlier on - but this makes them weaker and more prone to rot. Perhaps the most eye-opening example of human intervention was the fact that the British habit of putting bird feeders in their gardens have led to a population of blackcap warblers changing their migration route, going not from Germany to Spain in the autumn but to the UK.

Anyway - many interesting things to learn from this book but overall I found it a bit disjointed. It was also very depressing - because it seems that there is nothing at all that humans can do which is not incredibly destructive of the natural world. Wohlleben freqently makes the point that we don't understand natural systems at all well (by giving one explanation of how everything fits together, and then saying there is another completely different interpretation of the cycle) which just highlights the difficulty of knowing what is the right thing to do.

On a hot summer day, a thirsty mature beech can suck up to 500 litres of water out of the ground. It uses this water in a number of different ways, but most of it ends up evaporating out of its stomata (the tiny openings on the underside of its leaves). Grass would use a lot less. But trees, especially deciduous trees native to central Europe, have an advantage over grass, because they also collect water. They gather rainwater with their upward-spreading branches, which funnel the water to the trunk and down to the roots. During a heavy storm I once stood under an ancient beech – don’t try this at home! – and observed this water collection for myself. So much of it cascaded down the trunk that it foamed up around the base of the tree like beer fresh from the barrel.

toukokuu 6, 7:33 pm

27. Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley

I think of Anthony Berkeley as the Anthony Horowitz of Golden Age detective fiction, specialising in books with some kind of gimmick. In his best-known book, The Poisoned Chocolates Case, a series of crime writers have a go at solving the same crime, each one coming up with a different explanation and murderer. In Murder in the Basement, a corpse turns out to be a young woman who worked at a prep school where one of the other staff was a writer who had turned the relations between his colleagues into a novel - so the middle section of the book (and the information for the reader and the police detective as to the motives of the crime) is the text of his unpublished work.

The time of year being now towards the end of March, the Easter term was nearly over and, from what he had learned about preparatory schools from Roger’s manuscript, Moresby knew that tempers should now be ragged and nerves on edge. He was callous enough to be pleased that it should be so. Well-controlled nerves on the part of the interviewed are little use to the interviewer.

Anyway with Horowitz I often feel that designing the gimmick has been more important than the crime and detection part of the story, making for a bit of an unsatisfying read overall, and I would say the same for Murder in the Basement.

toukokuu 6, 7:55 pm

28. Red Queen by Juan Gómez-Jurado

I like reading crime and thrillers but I prefer them to be at the realistic end of the spectrum - I often stop reading a book if it features incredibly ornate serial killings or a preternaturally gifted detective. It was clear quite early on that Red Queen had both - and for good measure, throws in a mysterious figure who is manipulating one of the main characters (police officer Jon Gutierrez has been suspended from the force after planting drugs on a violent pimp; he is offered the chance to have the slate wiped clean if he can only persuade a woman to get into a car - she turns out to be a super-intelligent woman who was trained to take on the most complex crimes, but who does not want that life any more). Despite this premise, which has everything which normally sets off my alarm bells, somehow I did not stop reading, and it turned out to be a brilliant thriller! So I guess it is possible to write well in any genre - it's what you do with the material. Anyway I enjoyed this a whole lot and am looking forward to the sequel being translated.

Glassy eyes, jaw clenched. The expression that shows her brain is working even faster than normal, faster than she can process. Her mind has to deal with two complex problems simultaneously, and she’s determined to solve them.
Top speed of the Audi A8: 225 kilometers per hour.
Position of the body.
Distance between the trees.
Top speed of a Porsche Cayenne Turbo (she doesn’t know, and curses herself for not having looked it up).

toukokuu 10, 10:27 am

PS As someone who is slightly sceptical of the exoticism of all those lists of untranslatable words, I was delighted to find an example of an English word being held up as something which has no equivalent in Spanish: "to stare - to fix your eyes on someone in a way that makes them feel awkward".

toukokuu 11, 8:38 am

29. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby van Pelt

A sweet and very fun story, partially narrated by a grumpy Giant Pacific Octopus named Marcellus McSquiddles. Yes, it is a preposterous name. It leads many humans to assume I am a squid, which is an insult of the worst sort.

The book involves three slightly misfit humans and the way that their relationships develop - I liked the humans and I liked their stories, but really it's Marcellus that makes this such a great read.

Ah, to be a human, for whom bliss can be achieved by mere ignorance! Here, in the kingdom of animals, ignorance is dangerous. The poor herring dropped into the tank lacks any awareness of the shark lurking below. Ask the herring whether what he doesn’t know can hurt him.

toukokuu 11, 10:58 am

>106 wandering_star: By coincidence I just saw this clip from an interview with Jorge Luis Borges in which he talks about some of the things he likes about the English language which he can't do in Spanish.

toukokuu 11, 11:28 am

>94 wandering_star: Well this sounds interesting. I put it on my library wishlist.

toukokuu 11, 11:36 am

>107 wandering_star: I just read Remarkably Bright Creatures and I really enjoyed it as well!

toukokuu 15, 7:33 pm

30. The Employees: A workplace novel of the 22nd century by Olga Ravn

This book is told in the format of a collection of statements with staff on a spaceship, taken over a period of 18 months. The staff interviewed include engineers, pilots and a funeral director, but the job of the majority of staff is to harvest and look after the mysterious objects which are stored in two rooms of the ship. The ship's staff include humans, humanoids, and - it seems - humans augmented in some way, although this is not explicitly explained.

In fact very little is explicitly explained - the statements are short, ranging from one sentence to a couple of pages. The reader has to work out the shape of the gaps, of what is not being said. At first, the reader thinks that the mystery which the statements are circling around is about what exactly the objects are - described as like eggs, or stones, they have certain smells which cause the human employees to remember their lives on earth, and they seem to have the power to arouse emotions in people who spend time with them.

STATEMENT 012: I don't like to go in there. The three on the floor seem especially hostile, or maybe it's indifference. As if by being so deeply indifferent they want to hurt me. I can't understand why I feel I've got to touch them. Two of them are always cold, one is warm. You never know which is going to be the warm one.

But as time passes, the mystery becomes less about what the objects are and more about the impact they have on the ship's staff - and what this means for the relationships between the humans and humanoids, and their view of the research ship's grand project.

Why do I have all these thoughts if the job I'm doing is mainly technical? Why do I have these thoughts if the reason I'm here is primarily to increase production? From what perspective are these thoughts productive? Was there an error in the update? If there was, I'd like to be rebooted.

Having finished the book I immediately started it again, this time to read more slowly, to think about the wider mysteries of life rather than focusing on the question of what is happening on the ship.

The best blurb comes from Mark Haddon who says that all the reviews will say that the book is about what it means to be human, but "what makes it exceptional ... is the way it explores the richness and strangeness of being non-human".

toukokuu 16, 8:49 am

At my physio session today my physiotherapist saw me walk in and joked, "which ankle was it you broke again?!" - I am still limping if I get tired but otherwise am more or less walking normally, hooray. I even broke into a little run to cross the road before the lights changed - which might not be recommended by my orthopaedic surgeon, but I was happy to be able to do it.

toukokuu 16, 2:39 pm

>111 wandering_star: Wow, this sounds extremely interesting !

>112 wandering_star: Great news, glad your ankle is getting better.

toukokuu 16, 2:47 pm

>111 wandering_star: Glad you enjoyed it - it's a quirky little book, and I quite enjoyed it last year. I think this was one of the finalists for the Ursua LeGuin award in 2022.

>112 wandering_star: Congratulations on walking without a limp, and being able to run if necessary!

toukokuu 20, 10:21 am

>112 wandering_star: I'm glad that your ankle is feeling better, Margaret!

toukokuu 27, 3:52 am

>113 FlorenceArt:, >114 markon:, >115 kidzdoc: Thank you!

31. Intimations: six essays by Zadie Smith

Most of these essays were written in early summer 2020, when Smith, like the rest of us, was coming to terms with the bizarre and unsettling new world that we were living in.

I feel slightly that I am reading this at the wrong time. If I'd read it then, it might have been helpful to interact with someone else grappling with what was going on. If I read it in five years it might bring back that time and help me reflect on everything that has happened since. Right now, it feels like there is nothing new or interesting to be said about the pandemic.

In that context, the best essay for me was the one where Smith describes racism (she calls it "contempt") as a virus - this was strongly felt and actually said something instead of working her ideas out on the page.

One of the quirks of the virus – as James Baldwin pointed out – is that it makes the sufferer think the symptom is the cause. Why else would the carriers of this virus work so hard – even now, even in the bluest states in America – to ensure their children do not go to school with the children of these people whose lives supposedly matter? Why would they still – even now, even in the bluest states in America – only consider a neighbourhood worthy of their presence when its percentage of black residents falls low enough that they can feel confident of the impossibility of infection? This mentality looks over the fence and sees a plague people: plagued by poverty, first and foremost.

toukokuu 27, 4:10 am

32. Spook Street by Mick Herron

Fourth in the "Slow Horses" series about washed-up spies, parked in a grubby annex far from the main office, where they can stay within the fold without causing any trouble.

The challenge with this series is that the slow horses are meant to be kept away from the main stream of intelligence work, so how to keep finding cases which draw them in? In this volume, it starts with River Cartwright's grandfather, a legend of the security service, but now elderly and sometimes confused.

It was he who'd picked the stars by which the Service read its maps. And now he was old, and old spies grew forgetful, and among the things they forgot was remembering what not to say. More covers were blown by the need for a friendly ear than were ever dismantled by opposition hoods.

I think this is my favourite so far of this excellent series. We've recently watched the Apple TV adaptation of this, which is also very good.

toukokuu 27, 4:21 am

33. Women and Power by Mary Beard

The lightly edited text of two speeches by Mary Beard, plus an afterword. The first is on the subject of the silencing of women's voices in the public discourse, which she traces all the way back to perceptions of "appropriate" female behaviour in the classical world - quoting Penelope's son in the Odyssey telling his mother not to intervene:

'...speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power in this household.’ And off she goes, back upstairs. There is something faintly ridiculous about this wet-behind-the-ears lad shutting up the savvy, middle-aged Penelope. But it is a nice demonstration that right where written evidence for Western culture starts, women’s voices are not being heard in the public sphere. More than that, as Homer has it, an integral part of growing up, as a man, is learning to take control of public utterance and to silence the female of the species.

This essay/speech is quite interesting to read but nothing very new; the second starts to look at our assumptions around power, what it looks like and whether women can or should have it. This takes us into more interesting territory, including towards the end where Beard starts to think about what a de-gendered definition of power could look like.

That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not as a possession.

toukokuu 27, 10:46 am

>118 wandering_star: This felt to me like a jumping-off kind of book—it wasn't so much about the content by itself, but where it could lead thoughts and conversation. Which I guess is a long-winded way of saying it was a great book club book (both of my book clubs are very feminist/literary oriented, so it was a good fit).

kesäkuu 19, 5:57 pm

>119 lisapeet: I can definitely see some good conversations coming out of reading this!

kesäkuu 19, 6:45 pm

34. Foster by Claire Keegan

Every review of this novella that I've seen talks only about the premise, not the plot - a young girl is dropped off with distant relatives at the beginning of the summer. Now that I've read the book I can see why - it's a very subtle story, much more about the emotional beats than anything that actually happens - although the summer is transformative for the girl.

As an example of the subtlety of the storytelling, when the girl's father is dropping her off he says something which the girl knows to be a lie. She says nothing - but later on, the woman she’s been left with asks a question which shows that she, too, know the girl's father was lying.

A short book but one which contains a lot.

Now that my father has delivered me and eaten his fill, he is anxious for his tobacco; to have his smoke, and get away. Always, it’s the same: he never stays in any place long after he’s eaten – not like my mother who would talk until it grew dark and light again. This, at least, is what my father says even though I have never known it to happen.

kesäkuu 19, 6:57 pm

35. Ducks by Kate Beaton

A memoir about two years Beaton spent working in the oil sands of Alberta. Coming from the rural community of Cape Breton, Beaton writes that she always knew that she would have to leave home to make a living - and the salaries on offer in the oil industry attract people from all over Canada and the world. It's a brutally hard life though - especially for the very few women who end up at the camps, but it is also dehumanising for the men. Somehow Beaton tells this sad story with both anger and compassion.

kesäkuu 24, 5:58 pm

36. Tokyo Express by Seicho Matsumoto

A murder mystery, in which a detective becomes suspicious about an apparent double suicide because of a single anomaly - why would a man travelling with his lover go to a train dining car on his own?

The solution to the crime was focused on the logistical puzzle - train timetables are a particular focus - and did not really look at questions like motivation. There was however some interest from what the story told us about Japan in the 1950s, a time of social change, for example the woman who died was a rural woman whose marriage broke down and went to work in Tokyo.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 24, 6:17 pm

37. Blue Postcards by Douglas Bruton

Sometimes I wonder if going back to Nice I would find the sky so blue or if the blue that I found there back in 1981 had something to do with being young or something to do with memory.

A man buys a postcard from a street vendor in Paris - he knows, but the street vendor doesn't, that it was originally sent by the painter Yves Klein, whose name lives on today in the colour International Klein Blue. A Jewish tailor, survivor of the Holocaust, secretly sews a lucky blue thread into the seams of every suit he makes. And in the third of the intertwined narratives that make up this book, Yves Klein wears the suit and pushes the boundaries of art.

The book is told in numbered paragraphs, five sections of a hundred paragraphs each, each short enough to fit on a postcard - and each paragraph contains the word "blue" (or "bleu(e)") at least once. There are lots of digressions and musings - about art, about stories and memories, about age. These are the sections I enjoyed. Some of the writing is really lovely - in contrast to the narratives of the invented characters, which are pretty weak.

Swallows are my favourite birds. I watch them from my window sometimes, following the perfectly drawn blue arcs they make in the sky, arcs that as soon as they are drawn are without line but not without shape or colour. Somehow I think Yves Klein would like that idea - shape in colour without edges and without lines.

kesäkuu 24, 6:30 pm

38. Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

At the other end of the street, the hotel modelled on an Indian palace, pink and golden. Two girls in the doorway, displaying their curves. Leather shorts, ripped tights.

Oozing winter and fish, Sokcho waited.

That was Sokcho, always waiting, for tourists, boats, men, spring.

Sokcho is a resort town in South Korea, close to the border with the North. In winter, perhaps, it loses its purpose - like our narrator, a young woman of mixed Korean and French heritage who has returned from Seoul after university, to live with her mother. She wants to be a writer, but her days are taken up with her work in a fleapit hotel. In the depths of a very cold winter, the hotel is almost empty - a young woman is staying while she recovers from plastic surgery, and there is one tourist, a French artist. Our narrator (in a way that reminds me of the Faye Wong character in Chunking Express) spies on him in his room while he draws sketches of an absent woman, getting spooked and spilling his ink before he ever finishes.

While Sokcho itself comes across as colourful and pungent (the narrator's mother runs a stall at the fish market), the Frenchman's drawings are spare, monochrome, full of space. He spills ink while he draws - whereas the ink that she works with comes from gutting an octopus. There is also, I think, a theme about being seen - wanting to be seen for what you really are.

I enjoyed this while I was reading it - again more for the writing than the story - but a few weeks further on, it has not left a strong impression.

kesäkuu 24, 9:36 pm

>123 wandering_star:

I remember this one as a clever way to hide the crime, but the story itself wasn’t very interesting.

kesäkuu 26, 8:33 am

>126 lilisin: Yes, exactly

heinäkuu 4, 8:39 am

39. Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Nominally the third in the Wayfarers series: it’s five years since I read the second, but I don’t think there are overlapping characters - just the same universe.

Record of a Spaceborn Few follows the narratives of several different characters, and it takes a while for their threads to resolve into a coherent picture. The overall story is one of two worlds, adjacent to each other - one of which has money and one of which does not. The latter, the Fleet, is made up of the descendants of those humans who left Earth before civilisation there collapsed. In their escape, and in order to survive their journey, they deliberately created a world based in collaboration rather than competition. You are assigned a role which is necessary for society to function, and in return society provides you with all you need to live on.

Nor do some professions receive more resources than others, or finer housing, or any such tangible benefits. You become a doctor because you want to help people. You become a pilot because you want to fly. You become a farmer because you want to work with growing things, or because you want to feed others. To an Exodan, the question of choosing a profession is not one of what do I need? but rather what am I good at? What good can I do?

The rest of the world has money, and competition, and exciting new stuff (in the Fleet everything is recycled and patched and mended), and the ability to get rich - but also the risk of poverty, and drudgery, and falling through the cracks.

Of course, in each world some people accept it as the most sensible way to live, while others see greener grass on the other side of the fence.

It's actually a great premise but it plays out with very little conflict and a lot of people being very wise. I know that this gentle positivity and progressive attitude is what a lot of people come to Becky Chambers' books for - and there’s nothing at all wrong with that - but personally I prefer something with a little more bite.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 4, 8:57 am

40. Eleutheria by Allegra Hyde

I recently had a short trip to New York - and unusually, did not come back with a suitcase full of new books, clothes and other shopping. The city really felt expensive - and I think the exchange rate was only part of that. Anyway I did hit a couple of good bookshops - McNally Jackson and the Corner Bookstore on the UES - and this is one of the books I bought. (The others were Ex-Wife, Agatha of Little Neon and Mrs S).

In a world that is slightly worse than our current reality, a young woman arrives on a Caribbean island looking for Camp Hope. Camp Hope is a community which is aiming to inspire the world with its positive vision for an environmentally sustainable future, and Willa has stumbled on the manifesto of its founder, and been inspired to come and join. We know, early on, that something went drastically wrong there: and over the course of the book we learn both what happened at Camp Hope, and what Willa was running from when she went to seek the community there.

Crossing the threshold between air and ocean means changing universes. Sound elongates, splinters into light. Everywhere: champagne bubbles, the flick of fins and the crackle of plankton, the blood rush of a dive taken too deep. Underwater, one is on borrowed time. The sea is a place a person can only visit in glimpses.

I thought the quality of writing in this book was excellent, but the message is muddled. There are bits which would be satirical if they weren’t written with such earnestness. Overall I *think* the author wanted the message to be about the importance of optimism and belief, of striving for improvements in the world - but the actual story stacks up on the other side of the argument, on how hopeless it is to try and make anything better. Ultimately the positive message is summed up in one line towards the end of the book: We were going to suffer one way or another. Better to suffer on the way to making something new. I don’t know about you but that’s not quite the uplifting message I was hoping for.

heinäkuu 4, 9:05 am

41. Murder by Matchlight by ECR Lorac

One of the British Library Crime Classics series of golden age detective fiction. Published in 1945, the Blitz is not just the setting of the story but almost a character. It is key to the crime itself - there is a witness present during the murder but because it takes place during the blackout, he only glimpses a few seconds of what takes place when the soon-to-be murder victim lights his cigarette. It's also an important part of both the preamble to the crime, and the process of detection - with houses left accessible because all the residents are headed to the bomb shelter, and witnesses not traceable because they have been scattered to new locations after their houses have been bombed.

"He could tell you more about the folks in Dulverton Place than anyone else. They’ve all scattered, them as survived. You know what it is." Macdonald nodded. He knew.

I quite enjoyed the crime part of the story but it was the atmospheric setting that made this a good read for me.

heinäkuu 4, 11:06 am

Your review of Every Heart a Doorway prompted me to finally request Down Among the Sticks and Bones from the library after being on my wishlist for over four years. I have also taken many BBs so thanks!

heinäkuu 4, 2:03 pm

Thanks for the review of ECR Lorac's book I have added three more books to my 1951 reading list

heinäkuu 5, 8:06 am

>131 rhian_of_oz: Sorry(ish) for the BBs!!
>132 baswood: Oh good - the other one I have read of hers was These Names Make Clues which I thought was great.

heinäkuu 23, 8:46 am

Great comments.

I will take note of the Mary Beard for my book club.

I read the first Becky Chambers and liked it -- and I don't usually read SF, so that was unusual for me. I have meant to read more by her. Thanks for the reminder.

>129 wandering_star: The Hyde book sounds interesting...

heinäkuu 27, 8:09 am

Have caught up on your reading. I loved Foster and all her books. I'm glad the Mary Beard is still being read. Loved that book also. The Becky Chambers is tempting .... Nice reviews, as always.

heinäkuu 27, 10:50 pm

>129 wandering_star: I just bought a copy of Ex-Wife myself. The Rand McNally paperbacks are so pleasing.

elokuu 18, 9:35 pm

When I get really behind on my reviews it's often because I am not sure what to say about a particular book, and that is definitely the case for 42. English Animals by Laura Kaye. Even more so given that it's now a month and a half since I read it... so this is not a review but just an attempt to put something down so I can move on to the next books.

It's the story of a young Eastern European woman, Mirka, who signs up with an agency for cleaning staff and is assigned to a couple who live in a sprawling but tumbledown estate in the countryside. The location is a wedding venue but not a very successful one, and so the couple have other work, and the one that they particular want Mirka to assist with is their taxidermy business.

My main puzzlement with this book is that the English couple are both pretty awful (and there is warning of this - as Mirka approaches the house for the first time Richard is shooting randomly out of an upstairs window) but somehow Mirka is charmed by them. I found them annoying and wanted Mirka to get away from the whole situation!

elokuu 18, 9:41 pm

43. The Etruscan Net by Michael Gilbert

I picked this up because the podcast "Marlon and Jake read dead people" (which features Marlon James and his editor discussing books) recommended the mystery Smallbone Deceased - I checked my library and they didn't have a copy but they did have this book by the same author, so I thought I would try that.

This mystery, set in Italy, revolves around the smuggling (or possibly forgery) of Etruscan antiques. It was perfectly fine but nothing to especially rave about. I will have to get hold of Smallbone Deceased!

The first man out was tall and thin and had a face which first attracted your attention and then made you look away. It was difficult to be certain whether it had been broken up by nature or by hard wear.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 18, 10:03 pm

44. Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E Kirby

A collection of mostly very short short stories. I bought it on the strength of the "sample" on Kindle which gave me the first short story, titled "Shit Cassandra saw that she didn't tell the Trojans because at that point fuck them anyway" which includes:

Words everywhere and for everyone, for nothing but a joke, for the pleasure of them, a world so careless with its words. And not just on T-shirts. Posters. Water bottles. Newspapers. Junk mail. Bumper stickers. Lists. Top ten Halloween costumes for your dog as modeled by this corgi. Top ten times a monkey’s facial expression perfectly summed up your thoughts on NAFTA. Top ten things your boyfriend wishes you would do in bed but is too afraid to say. Cassandra has not noticed a lack of men telling women what to do. Perhaps this will be a pleasure of the future, a male desire that goes unspoken. A desire that is only a desire, and not a command.

There are a few other stories which are first-person narratives of historical or mythological women, including Boudicca, an eighteenth-century female pirate and a nineteenth-century female samurai. Most of the others are contemporary, generally with a feminist perspective, many written in a way that suggests the main character is a sort of Everywoman figure rather than a specific person (see "Midwestern Girl Is Tired of Appearing in Your Short Stories", online in full here).

Overall although there were some good things I was a bit disappointed by this collection. I think the itch set up by the first couple of stories would be better scratched by Where the Wild Ladies Are so let me recommend that instead!

Muokkaaja: elokuu 18, 10:14 pm

45. Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie (audiobook, read by Sam Dastor, who does a good job but probably goes a bit overboard with the accents of non-British characters, especially the Europeans)

This is Rushdie's memoir particularly of the time when he was living under close protection after the Iranian fatwa on him after the publication of The Satanic Verses. It does start earlier, but is structured very much around that incident: Part One covers his life up to when he finishes writing the book, and also talks about his relationship with faith; Part Two goes up to the issuing of the fatwa; and the book ends with the lifting of the close protection and Rushdie walking out of the house and hailing a taxi on a London street.

Most of the rest of the book is about one of two things: the surreal awfulness of life under guard, and everyone who ever did anything to support or fail to support Rushdie himself. I couldn't help thinking how much worse his experience would be if it happened today, with social media - both the abuse and hostility, and the difficulty of staying hidden.

I actually really enjoyed this. I am sure there is a lot of self-serving stuff in there (particularly about the wives, although Rushdie is fairly polite about wives one and three - his second wife Marianne Wiggins does not come out looking well and he is clearly still furious with Padma Lakshmi who does not even get named). But Rushdie is an engaging narrator and some of the details are fascinating - both about the close protection (apparently there is an annual party inside Scotland Yard for everyone who's ever been under Special Branch protection) and about the literary world (one story I particularly liked was about Robyn Davidson who when asked by an interviewer whether one of the horrible characters in her novel was based on Rushdie (with whom she'd had an affair), replied "not as much as in the first draft").

elokuu 18, 11:23 pm

>139 wandering_star:

I like the sound of both. Thanks for the story link.

Regarding Michael Gilbert, I was impressed by his short story collection Petrella at Q. Made me want to collect other in the series (Petrella is the detective main character).

elokuu 20, 10:09 pm

>137 wandering_star: My main puzzlement with this book is that the English couple are both pretty awful (and there is warning of this - as Mirka approaches the house for the first time Richard is shooting randomly out of an upstairs window) but somehow Mirka is charmed by them. I found them annoying and wanted Mirka to get away from the whole situation!

Ah, yes, excellent point. I think that's why the author of English Animals made Mirka both an immigrant and only 19 years old. I mean, when I was 19, I lived in Australia on my own, and in the situation, I might have just gone with it to see where it went. I, however, had a ticket back to Canada and a family that wanted me. Whereas Mirka didn't. She also had really struggled in London, and didn't want to go back to Slovakia (if I remember correctly where she was from). But yeah, their so-called charm would have sent me packing sooner than it did her. I guess in this novel, I just kinda let it go wherever it was going.

elokuu 20, 10:11 pm

>139 wandering_star: Oh, wow, that sounds so interesting . . . until your "meh" at the end. Short story collections can be like that but if there are a few stories I love, I can forgive a lot of dreck.

elokuu 20, 10:39 pm

>140 wandering_star: who when asked by an interviewer whether one of the horrible characters in her novel was based on Rushdie (with whom she'd had an affair), replied "not as much as in the first draft").

LOOOOL that's great. I own Joseph Anton but it's a big book, so I never feel like picking it up. I do want to read it though.

elokuu 21, 9:23 pm

>139 wandering_star: I liked the quote you included in your review, too bad the collection as a whole didn't wow.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 21, 9:23 pm

Duplicate post. Sorry, don't know what happened.

elokuu 26, 8:59 am

>140 wandering_star: Marianne Wiggins does not come out looking well
Hmm. She's from here (Lancaster PA) which gave newspaper articles about the fatwa a twist of local interest. I've never read anything by her and now I'm a bit curious.

elokuu 26, 3:13 pm

Reminds me to push Marianne Wiggins' Properties of Thirst up the list a bit. I read and enjoyed both The shadow catcher and Evidence of things unseen.

syyskuu 3, 9:38 am

>141 LolaWalser: I will look for Petrella at Q, thank you for the recommendation.

>142 Nickelini: Yes, very true! - and of course there is no logic in attraction...

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 3, 10:04 am

So it turns out that Joseph Anton should have been book 46 as I missed out 45. Voyager by Nona Fernández, but it makes sense to review it along with 47. Dandelions by Thea Lenarduzzi as they are both creative non-fiction based around family memoirs.

Voyager is shorter and more poetic, and links the family memories of the author with the public and private memories of Chileans about the years of military dictatorship, with the neuroscience of memory, and with the stars. One of the connections is the Atacama desert, which hosts both a memorial to 26 young people killed by a military death squad, and a great telescope which benefits from the altitude and aridity of the desert. Another linkage Fernández draws is between the way that remembering lights up neurons in the brain, and the way the constellations of stars are memories of ancient stories.

As my mother conjures some unspoken memory, a group of neurons lights up. In his office, the doctor showed us images of active neurons. Though the picture on the monitor doesn't translate those electric sparks the same way, what I see looks like a starscape. An imaginary chorus of stars twinkling softly in my mother's brain, soothing her, steadying her nerves during this test. A network stitching together familiar and comforting sensory details, I guess. Smells, tastes, colours, textures, temperatures, emotions. A neuronal circuit like the most complex stellar tapestry.

This all hung together much better when I was reading it than I can explain now, weeks later.

Dandelions starts with the image of the author's grandmother picking dandelions for food, in a bomb site in post-war London - dandelions being weeds to the English, but delicious (and free!) salad greens for Italians.

We Italians know how good gently wilted tarassaco tastes, once tossed with salt, perhaps a splash of vinegar or squeeze of lemon, and the essential olive oil, which, in England, you had to buy from the pharmacy back then (t'immagini? Can you imagine?). The British, on the other hand, do not. Dandelion and burdock is one thing, they'd say, picking weeds from a wasteland, something else entirely. So they think we're mad and we think they are - they're missing out. Free food! (That dandelion leaves were once a popular garnish among well-heeled Victorians doesn't quite fit this particular story.)

Lenarduzzi explores the history of her family, who moved to the UK and back to Italy several times over the previous three generations. Dandelions are also a metaphor for people who grow wherever they are blown to (and for some populist politicians, these people are weeds rather than the beautiful native flowers). Another theme of the book are stories too - the stories that immigrants tell to ground their family history, the stories that people tell to create an in/out group, the stories which get people behind a political project. Lenarduzzi is writing as someone who was used to moving easily between her two homes, until being hit with first Brexit and then Covid, each in their way putting up barricades between the two countries.

At first I found the book a little bit meh. Lenarduzzi writes well (as you would expect from someone who works for the Times Literary Supplement) but the book somehow felt to me as the product of someone who wanted to write a book, and therefore went looking for stories to fit together, rather than having something she wanted to say and therefore writing a book. Does that make sense? But about halfway through I put the book aside for a few weeks and when I came back to it I really enjoyed it. I don't know if it's because my mood had changed, or my expectations, or what...

syyskuu 3, 10:36 am

48. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The only book I managed to read in August, what with work and visitors and studying for a course I'm taking. It's a fairly classic fantasy novel, set in a medieval-ish world with magic, with a gifted anti-hero protagonist, resistant to authority and with tragedy in his past, accessible to the modern reader but not too wise-crackingly ironic. Nothing very original in the ingredients, but last time I read a fantasy novel I stopped halfway through, thinking "the author has just made up a series of adventures for this guy to have", and that didn't happen here.

We first meet our hero in his retirement, running a tavern in a quiet village which has recently come under attack from supernatural giant murder spiders. He is living incognito, but is discovered by someone who wants to tell his story.

“Everyone thinks you’re dead.” “You don’t get it, do you?” Kote shook his head, stuck between amusement and exasperation. “That’s the whole point. People don’t look for you when you’re dead. Old enemies don’t try to settle scores. People don’t come asking you for stories,” he said acidly. Chronicler refused to back down. “Other people say you’re a myth.” “I am a myth,” Kote said easily, making an extravagant gesture. “A very special kind of myth that creates itself. The best lies about me are the ones I told.”

Sadly we only get the start of his story in the book, which annoys me - I feel like a book should be able to stand on its own, even if it's part of a trilogy. But I did enjoy reading it, and I am grateful to it for being the one book I was able to finish in the midst of all the distractions.

syyskuu 3, 10:43 am

September has got off to a much better start with 49. Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin, an excellent 1950s domestic noir, which very cleverly gets its tension from intra-family dynamics. If one of your sisters is a drama queen who will say or do anything to be the centre of attention, and the other sister frets and worries over the least little thing, and you've wound up on holiday somewhere that is reminding everyone of the most shocking and terrible part of the family history - how seriously do you take their fears of mysterious noises in the night?

"Oh, Meg, surely you remember? You must remember. I know you were very little at the time, but - Meg - you surely remember about - about Uncle Paul?"
There was a short silence; but it was no longer the silence of incomprehension. Sitting there in the hot, dusty clutter of the caravan, both sisters had felt the sudden, ruthless pull of childhood memory. Each of them simultaneously seemed to be sliding back down the years; sliding, slithering, skidding back along the paths of their separate lives, until they landed, together, on the kitchen stairs of the old home.

syyskuu 4, 9:34 am

>150 wandering_star: Voyager sounds interesting. There are no other reviews on LT yet. How did you happen across this book?

syyskuu 4, 2:03 pm

>152 wandering_star: That sounds fantastic and it is now on my wishlist.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 7, 4:22 am

>153 labfs39: Late last year I read a novella by Fernández, Space Invaders, so her name was on my radar - and then Voyager was reviewed on my favourite book blog (here).

Coincidentally I also got the recommendation for Uncle Paul from the same blog, as well as hearing there about the author of the book I am reading now, Janet McNeill.

syyskuu 7, 7:26 am

>155 wandering_star: Wow, that's a wonderful book blog, very international. I've bookmarked it for further exploration.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 17, 6:25 pm

50. The Maiden Dinosaur by Janet McNeill

And was it worse to be fourteen and not know any of the answers, or fifty-two and know them all and that they were inconclusive?

This novella is about a group of school-friends - who still meet up once a month for tea even though they're hitting 50 - and in particular about Sarah, the only member of the group who never married. Sarah, a poet and English teacher, was always the "clever but unattractive" one, and she leans into that description even now, deliberately making little effort with her appearance so that no-one will pity her for trying.

In many ways, her life has not moved on too much from when she was a child. She still lives in her family home, although it's now divided into flats - and the two great emotional poles of her life are her interactions with the ghost of her father, and her close friendship with Helen, one of the schoolfriends. But although many of the trappings of Sarah's life haven't changed, it is impossible to ignore that things are on the move - skirts are short and culture is rebellious and Sarah and her friends feel increasingly out of sync with the times. Sarah in particular knows that to any outside observer she is almost a figure of fun - the solid, sensibly dressed spinster teacher, without any emotional life except that one of her pupils will occasionally have a crush on her.

But with this book we do see Sarah’s inner life and all her human complexities - she adores Helen even though she knows the friendship is one-sided and Helen takes advantage of her adoration - she loved her father very much, although his fecklessness and the affair he had with her mother’s nurse have had significant impacts on the woman that Sarah became. She turns an ironic eye to her friends and their relationships with the men in their life, as well as only herself. And she is fiercely proud of her poetry, even though she thinks of the pride as a beast that needs to be fed, and kept to heel. If you wrote a synopsis of the events that take place in the book, over one summer, they might not look like much; but they are significant emotional touchstones in Sarah’s life.

The cover of the book compares McNeill to Barbara Pym, Anita Brookner and Elizabeth Taylor. Despite several attempts I’ve never gotten into Pym, but I’d agree with the other two, and particularly recommend this to Brookner fans, as it has similarities in both tone and quality with Brookner’s work - although I think that Sarah is a more fully fleshed-out character. (I also really liked the way the book moves seamlessly between different people’s points of view, so that the reader has sympathy and understanding for most of the characters).

syyskuu 11, 1:22 pm

Interesting, I didn't get on with Pym either but I liked the one Taylor I read, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (haven't read Brookner). Pym was too... bloodless for me. Understatement and quiet resignation can be carried too far too.

I think we're almost due for a new sort of single woman to enter literature--maybe when millennials start turning fifty. Women who not only chose to be alone (or but "lightly" partnered) but also never had to justify that to anyone, least of all themselves.

syyskuu 13, 4:46 pm

>158 LolaWalser: I did think as I was reading it that being 50 in the early 1960s felt very different to being 50 today! I always have to remember to take 15 years off my mental image of each Brookner heroine too as it generally turns out they are in their 30s

syyskuu 13, 5:24 pm

51. Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

A story about how a family deals with grief, told in particular through the eyes of a teenage girl, Gopi. After their mother dies, her father is uncertain how he is going to raise his three girls. His sister-in-law tells him that the girls need "exercise and discipline" and as a result, the regular family games of squash and badminton turn into lengthy, tough training sessions. All the girls are good, but Gopi has real talent, and is perhaps too young to rebel, like her middle sister, or to focus her efforts on keeping the family together, like the eldest. She spends more and more time with her father, but the court is not just a place where they come together - it is also a sign of how the family is not fitting into the expectations of the rest of the Gujarati community. Her father likes to smoke and talk with the (white, female) owner of the sports centre - and there is also the question of whether it is appropriate for girls to play squash at all, particularly against boys.

I was trying to discuss what it meant to be wild, in Aunt Ranjan’s account of things. Usually we made lists. Wearing shorts if you were a girl. Running indoors. Running anywhere. Sticking your elbows out of car windows. But Khush wasn’t joining in. She was just sitting there, letting me talk. I stopped. We looked out at the hill.
Khush said, ‘Aunt Ranjan’s afraid of us because she doesn’t know how to find out what we’re thinking.’

There is a lot of reading between the lines to be done in this story, as Gopi describes the behaviour of her family but leaves us to interpret their motivations; there are some big themes in the background but the narrative touches on them quite lightly. I enjoyed it, although I found the ending a little bit unsatisfying - the story ends in the wrong place, and I think it's because the author got to the point where neither of the possible resolutions really works, so had to stop the story before making a decision which way to go. That is a relatively minor quibble for a first novel though.

syyskuu 17, 5:59 pm

52. The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves

The tenth in a series featuring police detective Vera Stanhope, although I haven't read any others (or seen the TV series) - I just picked this up from the shelves in my hotel. It focuses on a group of friends, who meet every five years in the same guesthouse - one where they all bonded as schoolchildren - and which they keep going back to even though one of the group died in an accident during the very first reunion. This year, they are in their fifties, and their lives have changed a lot - but there is another death.

As the evening wore on, they regressed back to the age they'd been in that photograph. Back in the common room, when the meal was over, and the plates washed and cleared away, they played sixties music. They danced. How embarrassing it would be if someone walked past and saw them through the uncurtained window! The old anecdotes were dragged out and, as always, there were new revelations, memories that only one of them held deep in their unconscious, and which had never previously been shared.

There were a couple of things I didn't like about this - there was a bit too much exposition disguised as dialogue, and the solution was less complex than the one I thought of, but it was a good enough read, and in particular it made very nice, atmospheric use of its setting on Holy Island (Lindisfarne), with the causeway which is only passable at low tide - I have been to Lindisfarne so it was nice to imagine the action there.

syyskuu 17, 6:19 pm

Finally caught up on your thread, and what a lot of good reading! I've seen The Maiden Dinosaur around here and there, but I need to remember it because it looks like it would be a great suggestion for my book club.

syyskuu 17, 6:23 pm

53. The Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai

A terrific read about families, and secrets, and misunderstandings. In 1999, two young couples are living in the old carriage house attached to the Laurelfield estate. First Zee, whose mother Gracie owns Laurelfield, moves in with her husband Doug; later her stepfather's son Case, out of work and resources, comes to stay with his wife Miriam. Doug is trying to write a monograph about an obscure modernist poet who he thinks spent time at Laurelfield when it was an artists' colony, but it's not going well - apart from anything else, he can't get into the attic where the papers from the artists' colony are stored - and to make ends meet he's taken on a job writing Sweet Valley High-style teenage serials. When Miriam stumbles on this information, they start to bond over the secret they share, and soon she is helping him in his quest to get hold of the colony documentation. When they do manage to get into the attic, the papers reveal some odd information, and Doug thinks he understands why Gracie has been so cagey about letting him look through them - but when he confronts her with the information, it turns out that her secret is something altogether different.

Once this storyline is over, the narrative goes backwards - first to the time which Gracie's secret dates from, again to the time when the artists' colony was thriving, and with a final epilogue (or prologue?) to the start of the house being built. There are echoes in the behaviour of different people across the ages, and a series of reveals - the second time period gives us the answer to one mystery but sets up others, and there is a lovely bit of misdirection in the third where you expect to find out who a particular person really is - but it turns out that it is a different character whose history is going to be revealed.

As well as secrets and the impact of having them, keeping them, learning them, another theme is the assumptions that people make about each other. In the 1999 timeline, Zee becomes convinced that Doug and Miriam are having an affair - they aren't, but they do have some secrets that she is not privy to - and she sees all their interactions through that prism. In the earlier timelines too, and in the mystery solving, many wrong interpretations are drawn.

I feel like I have explained this all very badly - it hung together a lot better as I was reading it, although I did re-read chunks of the first section when I had finished (and had several aha! moments).

Eddie blushed. Everyone blushed when you said you wanted to draw them. It was perhaps the most flattering thing in the world. Not the suggestion that you were beautiful so much as the implicit revelation: I see you. I really see you.

syyskuu 18, 3:38 pm

>163 wandering_star: Sounds like an intriguing structure, and something I may like. I read The great believers a couple of years ago and really liked it, so I'm adding this to Mt. TBR.

syyskuu 18, 9:02 pm

>163 wandering_star: I remember really liking The Hundred-Year House when I read it, though the details of the story itself haven't stuck with me.

syyskuu 20, 4:12 am

54. Winter in the Air and other stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner

When I started this I was hoping for some of the magic of Lolly Willowes, one of my favourite reads of last year. Thinking about it, one of the things which made Lolly Willowes have such a strong impression on me is that it starts off as one kind of story and ends up as something completely different - which is easier to pull off in a novel than a short story, both because of the length and because you are only doing it once.

The short stories in Winter in the Air are often about the difference between what people tell themselves they feel (or think they ought to feel) and what they really do. This allows them to contain both gentle social comedy and some real emotional moments. In one story, for example, a happily remarried woman visits the village where she lived during her tumultuous first marriage and realises that maybe she wasn't as unhappy then as she remembered. In another, after a former lover has died a man goes to her house to get back his compromising letters, only to be disappointed that she had not kept them - he goes from being embarrassed about the relationship to wishing that he had changed less from his youth.

There are also some very nice bits of writing - some funny paragraphs and some lovely lyrical descriptions of countryside.

Overall though I was a bit disappointed by the collection. Maybe my expectations were too high. But also, a lot of the stories are basically built on the restricted roles available to women in the 1950s, and because they are short stories there is not enough space to see the woman behind the constraints (unlike say in >157 wandering_star:) - so they end up feeling a bit samey. One of the ones which stood out in fact was "Emil", about a family who have an Austrian refugee come to stay with them, and find it more awkward than they expected - I think this was quite similar to the other stories in tone but it felt different because the subject matter was more unusual, and also relevant today when some of the people I know have Ukrainian refugees staying with them. Some of the stories are dated too in other ways - there is one which could be described as a married woman longing for independence but is really I think about class, and a woman who realises she has married "beneath" her.

I also have on the go (but not picked up for months) a book of short stories by Townsend Warner which are fantasy/supernatural themed. One of the reasons I have got stuck on that is that the stories are too slight and a bit samey. Maybe I should stick to the novels in future!

Herself leading a regular life, she liked to read of regular lives - lives of well-conducted prosperity closing in well-attended funerals. In autumn, however, when swallows migrate to Africa and the more delicate public shrubs are wrapped in sacking, she allowed herself to read the lives of opera singers and royal favourites. Such a change was in keeping with the seasonal change from cress sandwiches to buttered crumpets.