Torontoc reads a lot of books in 2018
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My goal in 2018 is to read 30 books from my shelf ( tower, pile) that have been there for six months or more!
Happy reading this year! And Happy New Year, and STARRED, and all those other lovely new-group-new-thread things. :D
Thank you all- I might try to create a ticker!
1. The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee I had read an earlier novel by this writer and was looking forward to this book. The narrator- Jessica- is helping her father clear out stuff in the family home just after the death of her mother, Donna. They are horrified to discover the bodies of two teenage girls at the bottom of the deep freezers in the basement. The two girls, Casey and Jamie had been living with Jessica's family as Donna took in foster children who were considered difficult. They had disappeared on weekend and nothing was heard from them until the discovery of the bodies. The reader learns about Jessica's life as a neglected child and how she tried to create a life that was an answer to feelings about her mother, Donna's own life and Jessica's quest to find out what happened to Casey and Jamie. The reader also learns about their troubled home history. However,spoiler we really don't have an ending that answers questions. I liked the writing but was a little disappointed in the plot resolution.
2. Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories by Italo Calvino. I was looking through my TBR book pile and found this book of short stories. I loved Invisible Cities by the same author but was disappointed by this collection. Earlier stories and pieces from 1943- 1958 was short, pithy and made their points quickly. There were tragedies that spoke of earlier Fascist rule and exploitation of the working class. The later works ( 1968-1984) were more " wordy" and in some cases more obscure. Calvino used subjects that were familiar and some that were not- an imaginary interview with Henry Ford, the Aztec Montezuma and Casanova. This book was a little disappointing.
>16 torontoc: I was plannng to read more of Calvino's work, so this is helpful, thanks!
3. The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig. This is very sad story. Christine is a poor young woman who works in a small Austrian town as a post office worker in years after the first world war. Her life is changed when her very rich aunt and uncle invite her to stay with them at a resort in Switzerland. Christine is not prepared for the wealth and lifestyle of the people who stay at the resort. Her aunt acts as a fairy grandmother to her. However the visit is cut short when various guests learn how poor Christine really is. After the shock of being force to return to her home and life, Christine becomes very bitter. After impulsively visiting her sister in Vienna, she meets Ferdinand, a former soldier who spent time in Russia as a prisoner,.He was wounded, could not finish his education and now has very little resources. Christine and Ferdinand become friends and perhaps lovers. They cannot see any hope for them to succeed in Austrian society. Their solutions are very extreme. In a way this novel has a 21st century feeling as Zweig doesn't give a final answer to the choices that the two must make. Zweig does use the story to present an argument for the hopelessness of the future for many people in Austria after the first world war.
4.Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi I really enjoyed this novel about the descendants of two half sisters from Ghana- one-Esi is captured and sold as a slave and taken North America and the other- Effia lives a life of of relative ease in Ghana. The story follows the children and their children of both Effia and Esi through hardship and tragedy. The reader sometimes will find out what happened to the character described in a chapter but sometimes not. The information about the warfare in Ghana between the two major tribes and the horrible injustice done to Blacks in the United States before and after the Civil War is eye-opening. Each character has to deal with the forces that change their lives. The author traces historical events that shape the world of Blacks in Ghana and the United States. This book is well-written and touches upon themes that are really universal.
I've had a couple of books by Yaa Gyasi recommended to me, I really like the sound of them.
>21 Jackie_K: Oh- I will have to look them up- thanks!
5. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. This is the third in the series of four books that tell the stories of Lina and Elena. These times of their lives are filled with drama. Elena marries, has two children but seems to have lost her focus for writing. She does get involved in the lives of her contemporaries who are part of the student movement and the later protests against aspects of Italian society. Lina becomes involved in the more real problems of the working class. Her time spent working in a sausage factory reveals the terrible conditions. Her fellow workers and friends in the union movement actually make life difficult for her. Both women escape from their present situations but both are not likely to have a better life. I can see how the next book will reveal what happens to Elena and Lina and the choices that they made.
6. The Assassination of Trotsky by Nicholas Mosely. I like reading history books. I pulled this one out of my TBR pile because I was curious about the subject. However I had to wade through a lot of rambling thoughts on theory( Marxist and others) and some vague research( the names of the assassin, and his possible handlers). The book was written in 1972 and served as the basis for a screen play on the subject- I am not interested in looking up the film. Well. on to the next. I should have stopped reading this book but didn't.
7. House of Spies by Daniel Silva. Every once and a while I crave a good mystery or spy story. I have been following this series and lately I find the plots starting to blend in to each other with similar characters. I think that sometimes when an author writes a continuing series, the first books are the best and the later ones not so much. I feel this way about Alan Furst's series about the second world war- the first books were amazing and the most recent - a little disappointing although I continue to read them and hope that the stories will get better. So John Le Carre is still the master storyteller. This book- too much violence and the plot-mmm -similar to past books.
>24 torontoc: I think it happens when authors have a formula that works for the first novels and they don't add new things to the later ones.
>25 connie53: agreed- that is why I have abandoned a number of detective series.
Finally- I am reading some books from my TBR towers instead of new books!
8.The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by MG Vassanji The novel is about one man's life in colonial and then independent Kenya. The story is narrated by Lall as he is in exile in Canada, recalling his career and family's life as part of the Indian population living in the town of Nakuru and later Nairobi. Lall's grandfather came over to Africa in order to work on the construction of the railway. The immigrant Indian population were treated better than the Africans by ruling British. However, they still faced discrimination even though their children were born in Kenya. The pace of the plot is seamless as the story moves from the present to the past. The reader might wonder if Lall is the unreliable narrator especially as he talks about his business life. The heart of the story is about the relationships of Lall, his sister Deepa, his best friend Njoroge, his father and mother. There are many betrayals of friendship, and much corruption in the ugly world of politics. Lall is witness to brutal Mau-Mau killings. the corrupt regime of Kenyatta in free Kenya and finally his own implication of money laundering. The narrative is so well done. This book won the Giller Prize in 2003. An excellent read.
9. Small Crimes In An Age of Abundance by Matthew Kneale. This slim book of short stories is very well written. Each one focuses on an event gone wrong or the wrong choices made by ordinary people. Sometimes the reader has a sense of " finish" to the episode. Sometimes the ending is not so clear. The plots are skillful but not always satisfying. I have mixed feelings about this grouping.
10. Granta 106 New Fiction Special edited by Alex Clark. This issue is noted for the interview that Jhumpa Lahiri conducted with Mavis Gallant. Some of the short stories were not so interesting to me although I liked Amy Bloom's "Compassion and Mercy" and Ha Jin's "In The Crossfire". I alway liked to see what authors that the magazine would select
Good to see you are back ROOTing, Torontoc. I know new and shiny ones can get a hold on you.
11. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. I did enjoy reading Margaret Atwood's last three books that had a science fiction theme. This one didn't thrill me as much although the narrative was fast paced and I did want to follow the characters through the plot. Stan and Charmaine are living in their car. Charmaine has a job at a bar and Stan lost his job after an economic meltdown. The society that they live in is dangerous with burned out buildings, no jobs and threatening mobs. They sign for a new initiative. They will live in a gated community in a very nice house with jobs for both of them. However, every other month they will leave their home and go to live and work in a prison in the community. This system goes sideways when Charmaine is tempted into a torrid affair with another man. Stan is drawn into a situation where he is targeted by a small group that is trying to change this community system. Both Stan and Charmaine become key players in a very Marx brother type plot to smuggle out evidence. There are threats of killing for body parts, creating robotic dolls, and using fake Elvis and Marilyn Monroe bots. The story is easy to follow but I liked Atwood's earlier novels on dystopian worlds better.
12. The Warburgs The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family by Ron Chernow. This was an amazing biography of the multiple descendants of the Warburg family- a German Jewish family that can trace their ancestors to 1600's Germany. The biographies of the many cousins seem very complex. ( and long -over 700 pages)Chernow traces the stories of the two major branches of the family -the Alsterufer and Mittelweg Warburgs as they create a very important banking dynasty in Hamburg and later London and New York. The first sentence in the Prelude says it all-"The German Jews were a people shipwrecked by history." Chernow shows how the family were German first in their beliefs and Jews second. Their culture , while at the beginning was Orthodox Jewish, later became more German. However, the family was still conscious of the problems of anti-semetism. In fact, Chernow shows how the leaders of the family confronted the rise of Hitler in the 1930's. It seems to the reader that Max Warburg, who insisted that Jews should remain in Germany as Hitler would soon be gone from the leadership, was a hypocrite as at the last moment he and his family was able to leave Germany because of his son's American citizenship. One branch of the family perished at Auschwitz. The ties that Germany had for the family led some of them to come back to Germany after the war. Many did stay in the United States. The striving to create businesses in New York and London was a major push for Sigmund Warburg. Eric Warburg returned to Germany to reclaim the family firm with great difficulty. The section on the charitable endeavours was very interesting as the Warburgs did support Jewish charities for Jews all over the world but in the 1930's they had differences with Chaim Weizmann over the idea of the state of Israel. The Warburgs believed that Jews should not look to Israel exclusively but become citizens of other countries " in a quiet way". The idea that as citizen one should be " careful" leads the reader to look at the psychology of their lives in Germany- where they had some financial power but were always looking over their collective shoulders to see that they did not offend. The conflicted loyalties of the Warburgs is a very interesting theme in this very, very good biography.
13.American Gods by Neil Gaiman. This story is similar to an odyssey. Shadow is a man who has just been released from prison. He is looking forward to seeing his wife Laura and taking a job in their home town. However, Shadow's life changes drastically when he learns that his wife died in an automobile accident. Soon Shadow meets a man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. Shadow works for him and drives him to various places in the US. The reader learns that Mr. Wednesday is a Norse God and he is in a struggle with other newer gods. Wednesday is trying to get older gods to join with him to fight a battle for supremacy. Shadow is followed by some of the opposing forces and he is helped by the ghost of his wife who wants to return to life. Shadow has some powers of his own and the reader learns about his past and relationship to the present struggle. A really good novel- I have been meaning to read it for a while!
14. The Witches of New York by Ami McKay The author is a great storyteller. This novel takes place in New York City of 1880. Adelaide Thom who used to go by the name Moth( in McKays' previous book The Virgin Cure has opened a tea shop with a young woman who is a " keeper of spells". Adelaide and Eleanor St. Clair produce potions in their shop and are patronized by women in the upper classes of New York. A young woman comes into their life- Beatrice Dunn and soon all three women are involved in seances, threats from sinister individuals and more ghosts and spirits. A very good novel and there is soon to be a sequel as there were some interesting plot lines left to develop.
15. Defiant Spirits :The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven by Ross King I like the work of this author. I did read this book for the July Non-Fiction Read. King looks at the time in Canada in the early 20th century when a number of artists developed what has become known as the painting style of the Group of Seven. He shows that the artists who came from very different backgrounds, were influenced by theirs studies in Europe, a ground breaking art show by Scandinavian artists in Buffalo and most important, sketching and painting in Northern Ontario. These artists were not the first to go up north on canoe trips to search out a wilderness that was distinctly Canadian. King writes about the support of the director of the fledgling National Gallery of Canada, faithful benefactors, and the terrible reviews of the Canadian art critics. Under much duress and with a lack of sales of their work except for the National Gallery, the artists looked to change and perfect their style to describe the landscape. Two of the group were soldiers during World War 1. Their experiences in battle and recording the effects of war certainly had a effect on their lives. King does chronicle some of their lives although he does end his account at about 1931. The reader learns about the tragic end of Tom Thomson's life. King believed that this group of painters " were at the forefront of a cultural awakening in English Canada". His argument about their importance was so coherent- I gained more of an understanding about the role these artists have played in the creation and recognition of Canadian culture.
>37 torontoc: Your review reminds me that I have this book on my to-read list! Will have to check if the library has it.
>38 rabbitprincess: I like all of Ross King's books!
16. French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano O.K. This is a terrible title. I was looking through some books to see if I had any to give to a friend running a yard sale for a charity.
Actually, although the first chapter is slightly patronizing and maybe parts of the last chapter as well, the majority of this work has some common sense advice. The book reads like a study in how to eat and live in a more healthy way. The advice- eat more fruits and vegetables, eat three meals a day slowly and make it an occasion, drink more water, walk more every day, look for seasonal fruits and veg and do more cooking. In fact there are some nice recipes.The author advises enjoy food and look for the best in the your area. So the book has merit- except for the title.
17. Granta 81 Best of Young British Novelists 2003 edited by Ian Jack Well I dug deep into my book tower. It is interesting to see which of the twenty writers have made their mark- so Monica Ali, Rachel Cusk , David Mitchell , Sarah Waters, Hari Kunzru, Rachel Seiffert, Zadie Smith and Nicola Barker are on the list. The short stories- as with any collection, some are really good and some not so good.
18. Personal Velocity by Rebecca MillerSo I picked out some books to read that were on the bottom of one of my book towers. This series of short stories was made into a film a number of years ago. ( I didn't see it). I probably should have stopped reading but curiosity led me to finish. Too many victimized women in bad situations. Theoretically the women came from different background-rich and poor- but they seem to sound and act the same.
19. Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue by Mark Kurlansky The author is noted for his non-fiction work. This novel has too many characters in it for me. The stories of Jews, Puerto Ricans, Italians and Dominicans passing as Puerto Ricans have too many plot lines to follow. The stories centre around the Seltzer family who live on the Lower East Side, The father, Harry, manages many buildings that were owned by his wife's family. However, Harry almost never collects rent and likes to sponsor musicians. Harry's son Nathan has a copy shop and is married to Sonia, a masseuse, who is writing a play about Emma Goldman and Margarita Maza Juarez. Nathan has a number of issues- he wants to give his young daughter swimming lessons and he has become claustrophobic. He also lusts after the daughter of the German baker. And someone is killing people in the area. The stories pile one on top of each other and do resolve. It was an exhausting read but there are some great recipes in the back of the book.
20. No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay. This was a very fast paced and interesting thriller although I did guess who one of the killers was before the end. A fourteen year old -Cynthia- wakes up in the morning after drinking too much with a boyfriend and being yelled at by her father. She finds that her brother and parents have disappeared. The story then continues 25 years later. Cynthia is married to Terry and has an eight year old daughter Grace. However she is still haunted by what happened. As a result Cynthia is over protective of Grace. There is some conflict between Terry and his wife. Cynthia is certain that someone has been following her. After appearing on a television programme that publicizes unsolved crimes Cynthia and her family receive clues about the mystery surrounding her family. As well, there are some murders. Terry tries to find out what happened and his detective work lead to answers. The novel is highly constructed so that the reader is really carried along with the clues. A good book to read all at once
>45 torontoc: I thought that was a very good book too. So is everything by Linwood. If I'm right this is one of the standalone books that take place in Promise Falls.
21.Granta 110 Sex edited by John Freeman I really dug into my book tower for this one. I thought that it would qualify for the August non-fiction read but it really doesn't. There are some memoirs in the collection but the majority of the material is fiction. The stories are -some good and some not so good. The best in my opinion was the story at the back of the book by Jeanette Winterson. Her take on the Greek gods was really fun to read.
22. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. I can see why this book won the Man Booker Prize. There are many voices in this novel about the attempted assassination of the " Singer" in Jamaica in 1976. The author uses the stories of some of the gunman, the leaders- drug and political, a journalist, and a rejected lover to show the atmosphere, grinding poverty and the life in the slums of West Kingston. The " singer" is supposed to be the late Bob Marley- who is never named but understood to be the real subject. The story covers about 30 years as some of the would be killers move to New York to control the drug trade there. There are connections to the actions of the CIA, the Cubans, and the Medellin Cartel. Some or many of the actions are terrible to read- killings and the casual destruction of many lives. However the voices of the many characters compelled me to read this very big( 686 pages) book. An excellent read.
23. Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss. This novel is really two stories- about a man,Jules Epstein, who makes radical changes in his life and a young novelist who makes a trip to Israel to think about her writer's block and her failing marriage. Epstein has divorced his wife after a long marriage, sold his paintings and travelled to Israel. Here he meets a young woman who is making a film about King David.He also looks to making a significant donation for a suitable commemoration to his parents. The novelist meets a retired professor who tells her a fantastic story about what really happened to the writer Kafka and ask her to complete a secret project. The novelist thinks about her life and the ramifications of her actions. She also reflects on the work and meanings of Kafka's writings. The novelist might be a fictional depiction of the real author as many details are similar to the Krauss's life. The book's ideas give the reader a lot to think about and invite return reading on specific passages. A book that is not an easy read but one worth pursuing.
24. The Assassin's Song by M.G. Vassanji. I really like the works-both fiction and non-fiction by this author!.Karsan Dargawalla is the son of the " saheb or keeper" of the shrine at Pirbang. The shrine is dedicated to Nur Fasal- a thirteenth century mystic sufi. Karsan's family have been the guardians of this place for many generations. But Karsan doesn't want this position - he just want to be a " ordinary" boy. The pressures to take on this role lead Karsan to look to applying for educational opportunities outside India. He is accepted by Harvard on full scholarship. Karsan's family are not really pleased by this move but agree. After a few years, Karsan writes his father to reject the role that was set out for him. The fall out- estrangement from his father and family- and Karsan's new life as a professor in Canada- lead to many years of isolation from the life that Karsan led as a boy. After many years and some tragic events in his new life, Karsan travels back to India to explore what happened to his family and to research the story of the sufi. The meetings with his brother, Mansoor lead Karsan to learn more about family history and the dangerous role that Mansoor is taking on. The book's chapters alternate with past and present as Karsan thinks about his own beliefs.This is an excellent book.
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