November, 2017--nothing insulates better than a good, thick book
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Starting the new month with short stories, methinks.
Weather turning colder and in the old days that meant searching out the latest LeCarre...
I'm in the midst of John Boyne's The Heart's Invisible Furies and enjoying it very much.
(Sorry, I guess touchstones don't work on my phone)
Gave up on LEAVING THE SEA, a collection of tales by Ben Marcus. Just couldn't connect with the prose.
Then I wrapped up one of my fave non-fiction titles this year, Bill Warren's KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES. It's an exhaustive compilation of 1950s science fiction films. I got it through the library but I'd love to get my hands on a personal copy--it weighs about ten pounds and retails for at least sixty bucks.
Finished Zygmunt Bauman's STRANGERS AT OUR DOOR.
A philosophical examination of the dilemma that refugees represent to Europeans (in particular): conscience dictates they should be welcomed with open arms, yet self-interest and our fear of the "Other" negates those generous impulses. A complex, difficult book but it rewarded slow, careful reading.
Drums of Autumn – Diana Gabaldon
Book on CD performed by Davina Porter
NOTE - If you have *not* read the previous books in this series, there will be spoilers ahead.
Book number four in the bestselling Outlander series, has Jamie and Claire making their home in the colonies, in the mountains of North Carolina to be exact. Meanwhile, back in 1969-70, Brianna and Roger have found additional information about the fate of the Frasers that leads them to some rash actions.
I just love this series. It is nothing like my favorite genre (which is literary fiction), but Gabaldon writes compelling stories with characters I care about. Even the ones I hate (Brianna) keep me interested and engaged. The action is non-stop, and the sex scenes are pretty good – at least those between consenting adults.
I was pretty happy with the way she dealt with the Native Americans in this installment. For the most part they are portrayed as having a complex culture and given respect for their ways. Claire even specifically seeks the counsel of the local Native Medicine Woman and learns a trick or two (Side note: Current medical professionals are actually using maggots to debride wounds in hospitals once again … and also leeches …).
I’m certain one or more of the supporting characters will make another appearance in later books … but if that’s the case, keep that info to yourself. I want to discover this saga all on my own.
Davina Porter is spot-on perfectly fabulous as the narrator of the audio book. She has a gift for voices and accents and is easily able to differentiate the many characters. My only quibble is her voice for Brianna; yes, she was raised by two Brits, but she was born and raised in the USA and should *not* have a British accent. She should sound American.
Felt like a big, fat science fiction book so plucked Alastair Reynolds' CENTURY RAIN off the shelf and devoured it in a couple of sittings.
Great fun, two parallel timelines, plenty of twists and turns...a smart, entertaining read (my favorite kind).
Still working on the Swarm by Frank Schatzing. It's slow going because it is Chris and my reading-aloud current project. I really like this book, it's sort of a hard science fiction thing about the ocean fighting back. Or at least it sort of feels like that, I'm not very far in. ETA >7 CliffBurns: if you like big, fat science fiction books you will like this one.
I am on book 2 of 16 of the 1001 Nights - Burton Translation. (Day 50 or so) It is a lot of fun. I especially enjoy the pompous footnotes and the painstaking translations of the extemporaneous couplets into tortured rhyming Victorian English. No one does it like Burton.
I am taking a hiatus on Godel Escher Bach because I feel like I lack energy to keep working on it. Maybe in the spring.
>8 anna_in_pdx:, I'd like to try tackling GEB some time, just for the challenge.
>8 anna_in_pdx: I've had a copy on my TBR pile for..... decades, probably.
My brain lacks the computational power to comprehend that book--I am in desperate need of an upgrade...
Educating Rita – Willy Russell
From the book jacket: Hairdresser Rita feels that life has passed her by. She wants an education. But does Frank have anything to teach her?
Yes, Frank does have something to teach Rita, but she also teaches him. I love watching Rita grow and change throughout this play. I’ve never seen the play performed, nor did I watch the movie, though I remember it being quite popular back in the early 1980s. I knew the basic premise, however was still delighted to watch it unfold.
Rita is a marvelous character. Witty, and forthright. She does not suffer fools gladly, though t the outset she lacks confidence. She feel “less than” due to a lack of education, and envies the students on the university campus their lifestyle. Rita is not sure what she wants out of life, but she knows she wants more, and she sees education as a means to give her more options.
Frank is a perfect foe … a professor and has-been poet, who has more interest in the contents of the whiskey bottles than the contents of the books that line his office shelves, and behind which he stashes the drink. He’s cynical and has taken this special student only for the money.
But Frank sees something in Rita that sparks his interest. She’s so eager to learn, and he is forced to examine his own thoughts on books and literature and poetry and life based on her questions (and answers). He recognizes in her the spark of desire, and she kindles that spark in him. No, I don’t mean sexual desire … I mean that desire to live, to experience life fully, to learn new things, not because we need them for a job or a career, but because we simply want to live more fully. Rita isn’t certain what path she will choose, but she knows that, thanks to Frank, she now has more choices.
The Hidden Child – Camilla Läckberg
Digital audio performed by Simon Vance
Erica’s mother has died, and when going through her mother’s possessions, she’s shocked to discover a Nazi medal. She goes to the home of a retired history professor to get information about the artifact, but he’s less than helpful and rather evasive. Two days later he’s dead. And Erica’s husband, Patrik, gets involved in the investigation.
This is the fifth book in the series featuring crime writer Erica Falck and Detective Patrik Hedström, in the village of Fjällbacka, Sweden. However, it’s the first one I’ve read; I’ll have to go back to the beginning, though to truly understand the relationships between recurring characters.
Läckberg uses a dual time line to tell this story. There are the events of 1945, when one young couple’s plans are shattered by prejudice and violence. And there is the current-day mystery of an artifact that threatens to reveal long-held secrets. There is also personal drama – a new baby, tensions at work, an ex-wife coming back. It’s a dark story, but Läckberg gives us a few moments of humor to break the tension.
I really liked the relationships between the characters. Delving into Erica’s past in this way certainly gives a different perspective on her current self, as well as illuminate the ways in which she relates to her husband, friends and colleagues. And I loved the interplay between the detectives on the team. I look forward to reading more of the series.
Simon Vance is excellent, as usual, when performing this audio. His voice simply draws the listener into the story. There are many characters to handle, and he is more than up for the task, even doing a good job of the women’s voices.
Bookplate Special – Lorna Barrett
Audiobook performed by Cassandra Campbell
Book number three in the Booktown Mystery series. Tricia Miles, owner of Haven’t Got a Clue mystery bookshop can’t help but investigate when her college roommate, Pammy, is found dead in a garbage bin, a day after Tricia told her to find another “temporary” residence. It’s not just any garbage bin, either … it’s behind Tricia’s sister’s café, which is right next door to the book shop. Angelica had even hired Pammy, after hearing her sob story of how Tricia “kicked her out.”
This is a typical cozy mystery, with a cast of colorful characters, and a nosy amateur sleuth who simply cannot help herself when it comes to investigating a crime on her doorstep. There’s a little romantic tension as well, and a few recipes at the end. (Angelica has written a cookbook, and runs a bistro, after all.) It’s not great literature, but it’s entertaining and a quick read. And, I just love all the references to books.
The audiobook is performed by Cassandra Campbell, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite audio narrators. She has good pacing, and is an accomplished voice artist, able to handle the large cast of characters.
Miss Julia Hits the Road – Ann B Ross
Book number four in the popular series starring Miss Julia, a widow of a certain age. This time she gets her hackles up when she learns that a local slumlord is evicting all the poor African-American tenants, so he can demolish the homes and build a water bottling plant on the land. Miss Julia’s housekeeper, Lillian, is one of those tenants and she decides she will find a way to save the properties.
I just love Miss Julia, who frequently gets embroiled in one scandal / scheme or another when she jumps to conclusions and/or fails to fully understand the implications of what she’s been told. But her heart is always in the right place. This time the big fund-raising effort centers on a motorcycle race, and one donor challenges Miss Julia and “other refined, quality women over age fifty” to ride along as a condition of a major donation. What’s a lady to do?!
Miss Julia is just a hoot, and I was laughing aloud at several scenes.
There are two subplots involving Hazel Marie and Mr Pickens, and Binkie and Deputy Coleman. I think the books can be enjoyed as stand-alone novels, but readers probably should start from the beginning to fully appreciate the relationships between the full cast of recurring characters.
NOTE This is a re-read for me, but I first read it long before I joined Goodreads or Shelfari, so I don’t have the date recorded. I’m guessing it was shortly after this book was published. As I recall, I read the first book - Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind - and pretty quickly picked up the next two or three in the series.
Downloaded The Bad Girl by Vargas Llosa without reading the details. The plot felt light like a novella or a long short story, but it turns out I hadn't downloaded the complete book. Not sure Vargas Llosa's got enough for a complete novel here. We'll see.
Read A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord last week, a brief account of sitting for a painting by Giacometti. One gets the sense that Giacometti was playing with Lord and he didn't realize it.
Also nibbling on the Everyman's Library anthoology of Persian Poets by Peter Washington.
Wrapped up SCARCITY: WHY HAVING SO LITTLE MEANS SO MUCH by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.
An important book, written by a psychologist and an economist. Scarcity affects the mind in demonstrable ways--poverty harms cognition and constricts our capacity to make good decisions.
I heard the authors being interviewed on BBC and immediately thought "I have got to own that book".
I found it convincing and well-argued and it changed my thoughts in terms of a number of issues and viewpoints.
>19 CliffBurns: that sounds really interesting. I think I'll get it from the library if I can.
Finished China Mieville's OCTOBER.
Our colleague Robert has already supplied us with a comprehensive review of that book in last month's thread, so I'll merely say that I found it authoritative and accessible, a rare thing these days. Especially when faced with a subject as convoluted and complex as the Russian Revolution.
The Making of the President 1960 – Theodore H White
Subtitle: A Narrative History of American Politics in Action.
About a year before the November 1960 election, Theodore H White began studying the likely candidates. He focused on a handful of men with aspirations and/or apparent qualifications: Humphrey, Kennedy, Stevenson, Johnson, Nixon, Rockefeller. He travelled from state to state reporting on the primaries or state caucuses / conventions. (In that era, there were only sixteen states that held primaries!) He attended the Democratic and Republican national conventions. And he closely followed the candidates as they campaigned for the presidency.
I was fascinated to learn some of this history, and the first-hand look at the “political machines” that produced these two candidates, and ultimately President John F Kennedy. I also found this a surprisingly nostalgic book … It was published in 1961, shortly after Kennedy’s inauguration, so there is no hint of what is to come in November 1963.
It’s somewhat dated – the process is different more than half a century later. And yet, there is something timeless about this story. Serious issues of race, the economy, potential for nuclear war, etc still plague our country. Good men and women still struggle to find solutions. My face-to-face book club had a fascinating and spirited discussion of this work.
The Magician’s Assistant – Ann Patchett
Digital audio book performed by Karen Ziemba
From the book jacket: Sabine – twenty years a magician’s assistant to her handsome, charming husband – is suddenly a widow. In the wake of his death, she finds he has left a final trick: a false identity and a family allegedly lost in a tragic accident but now revealed as very much alive and well. Named as heirs in his will, they enter Sabine’s life and set her on an adventure of unraveling his secrets, from sunny Los Angeles to the windswept plains of Nebraska, that will work its own sort of magic on her.
The first book by Patchett that I read was Bel Canto, and I was struck with how masterfully she portrayed those characters. Once again, I marvel at Patchett’s skill in drawing fully realized characters. Even the deceased – Parsifal, Phan, Albert – are alive in the way they are remembered by Sabine, by Dot, or by Kitty.
The story unfolds in bits and pieces, much as it would in real life. You don’t tell everything at once to someone you’ve just met, and likewise Sabine keeps some things to herself in describing her years with Parsifal to his mother, and Dot keeps key bits of information from Sabine in relating Parsifal/Guy’s childhood. In this way, the reader feels the same hesitancy as these characters. And yet, their ultimate decisions seem correct and reasonable, even when relayed as abrupt and hasty.
I also really liked how the environment affects their actions. Sabine is a different person in sunny Los Angeles than she is in snowy Nebraska.
Karen Ziemba does a fine job performing the audio book. She has good pacing and a facility for voices that made it clear who each character was.
Finished rereading my Dashiell Hammett collection. Am now working on Scarcity mentioned above by Cliff.
Finished HITLER's PEACE, a great thriller written by Philip Kerr.
Plots abound as the "big three"--Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt--meet in Teheran to strategize about the course of the war.
Credible, literate and a fun read--what more could you ask?
FINAL CHAPTERS, a compilation of how famous authors met their ends.
Aeschylus died when a sharp-eyed eagle or vulture (accounts vary) dropped a turtle on his head.
Did you know that? I didn't.
Authors, it turns out, die just as sadly and tragically as everyone else.
No epiphanies there...
>29 CliffBurns: Yes, the eagle thought his bald pate was an ideally smooth rock.
Victim Six – Gregg Olsen
A serial killer is terrorizing towns around Puget Sound. Kitsap County Sherriff’s Detective Kendall Stark begins the investigation and identifies the common threads linking these murders. Serenity Hutchins is a hungry young reporter intent on making her name on this story, but where is she getting her inside information?
I really liked Kendall as a lead character. I’m glad that Olsen included some of her back story and home life, to give the reader a more rounded character. She is a really strong female lead character – smart, resilient, resourceful, intelligent and compassionate.
I was less enthralled with Serenity. Though I think I understand some of her thought process, given her upbringing, I just can’t reconcile her behavior with that of a committed journalist. I’m struggling with how to describe my dissatisfaction with her as a character, because I don’t want to include any spoilers.
Still, I could barely put it down. This is a tightly-written, fast-paced psychological thriller. It’s not for the faint of heart; it’s about a sexual sadist serial killer, and there are some very graphic scenes.
The Xibalba Murders – Lyn Hamilton
Number one in the Lara McClintoch Archeological Mystery series, takes our heroine from her home in Toronto to the Yucatan peninsula. Lara’s marriage has ended and she’s lost her business, so when a former teacher and mentor calls and asks her to come to Merida, Mexico to help him with an important new discovery, she jumps at the chance. But Dr Hernan Castillo is killed before she can meet with him and now she’s a suspect in his murder. She doesn’t know whom to trust, but is certain if she can find out what Castillo had discovered she’ll solve the murder.
Every chapter began with some explanation of the relevance of the day to the Mayan calendar and Maya gods. Lara dreamed about Mayan deities and used those dreams to guide her actions. I am a fan of magical realism, but Hamilton’s efforts seemed heavy-handed. I also thought Lara behaved in a reckless manner on more than one occasion. I identified the culprit long before she did, but then the book would have been very short if she’d caught on when I did!
All in all, it was a somewhat entertaining mystery … a bit more hard-hitting than most cozies, though Lara IS an amateur sleuth. I did enjoy learning a bit more about Mayan lore.
'Probably, based on the habit of dropping things, a lammergeier or ossifrage. Ancient Greeks didn't know Jack about ornithology...
The Lost City of the Monkey God – Douglas Preston
Digital audiobook narrated by Bill Mumy
Subtitle: A True Story
From the book jacket: A five-hundred-year-old legend. An ancient curse. A stunning medical mystery. And a pioneering journey into the unknown heart of the world’s densest jungle.
My reactions: Wow. Preston is perhaps best known as the co-author with Lincoln Child of the mystery series starring FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast. But he has also written nonfiction, and worked as a writer and editor for the American Museum of Natural History.
I was mesmerized by this adventure story, as Preston recounts the expedition’s efforts to find these ruins in the dense jungle, plagued by weather, poisonous snakes, and biting insects. And I was equally interested in the history (rumors of a lost city of immense wealth date back to the days of the Conquistadors) to the alleged curse that anyone who dares enter the city will fall ill and die.
But this was more than just an adventure of grown men playing at Indiana Jones. Preston also give equal time to political discourse and environmental impact. And the medical mystery of aftereffects of their time in the jungle was equally fascinating, and horrifying.
Bill Mumy does a fantastic job narrating the audio book. He set a great pace and I felt the sense of awe and wonder at the expedition members’ discovery of the ruins, as well as their anxiety and worry over symptoms that puzzled medical professionals.
Chocolate, Chocolate – Frances Park and Ginger Park
Subtitle: The True Story of Two Sisters, Tons of Treats, and the Little Shop That Could
When their father died of a stroke while on vacation, the Park sisters were left adrift. They were in their twenties, and still living at home in suburban Virginia with their mother when they decided to use the inheritance their father had left them to open a boutique specializing in high-end chocolates. This is the story of that “little shop that could,” and of the bond between two sisters.
It’s a charming memoir, but I found it repetitious. While I admit to self-medicating with chocolate, reading about that in chapter after chapter is less satisfying. Co-authored by the two sisters, it is also written in an oddly first-person-plural style combined with third-person references. So they’ll write something along the lines of “We were excited…” Followed by “Francie gave the customer…” I honestly don’t know how else they might have written it, as co-authors, but for me, it just didn’t flow.
Still, they have an interesting story to tell, and I really likeved their relationship with their mother and with their customers.
The Good Lord Bird – James McBride
Book on CD performed by Michael Boatman.
McBride looks at John Brown and Harpers Ferry through the lens of a “freed” slave, Henry Shackleford (known as Onion). Onion narrates the tale, taking the readers from Kansas Territory in 1856 to the events at Harpers Ferry (then in the Commonwealth of Virginia), when abolitionists led by Brown raided the armory in 1859. This was a pivotal event in the onset of the Civil War.
Onion is a fictional character, but there are many real historical figures in the book. In addition to John Brown and his sons, Harriet Tubman, Col Lewis Washington and Frederick Douglass make appearances. And while McBride may have taken liberties in describing “The Railman” and his involvement, it is true that the first casualty of the raid on the arsenal was a free black man.
What brings the history to life, though is the slave boy, Henry “Onion” Shackleford. A chance encounter with Brown in his father’s barbershop goes awry, and in the confusion, he is taken on by Brown, who mistakenly believes the child is a girl. Brown considers Onion a good luck charm, and he cares for the child. Onion continues to live as a girl for the next three years, sometimes being in the direct care of Brown, and sometimes being separated from him. Always, Henry is a marvelous observer of what is going on around him. He doesn’t always understand the ramifications of what he learns, but he does his best.
He believes that Brown is a fanatic and possibly crazy, but he also recognizes Brown’s genuine belief that slavery is wrong and that it should be abolished. He follows Brown’s rag tag “army” helping where he can, but mostly trying to stay out of the way. Related by Onion, many of the events are just plain hilarious; a surprise in a book about slavery. I’ve seen reviews that compare McBride to Mark Twain, and I guess I see that here – an adventure tale that is about a serious event / issue, but that includes room for humor.
I love McBride’s writing, but this seemed ungainly in places. I kept waiting for the “action” to happen, especially in the period when Henry was separated from Brown. And I thought some of the proselytizing that Brown engages in was unnecessary, though I admit that it helps to paint the picture of this MAN-WITH-A-CAUSE. I do not usually round up when I rate a book with a half-star, but in this case I will. There is more that is great about this book than not.
Michael Boatman does a superb job voicing the audiobook. He is able to give unique voices to the many characters, and I particularly like the way he voiced John Brown and Henry. McBride uses vernacular dialect of the time, and listening to that is (in my humble opinion) a bit easier than reading it on the page.
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