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Sakerfalcon is still trying to erode Mount TBR in 2019

The Green Dragon

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Jan 2, 8:30am Top

Happy New Year everyone! I hope 2019 will be a great year for us all, no matter what happens in the wide world. I have huge piles of unread books to get me through and, as usual, my aim is to read more of these than I buy during the year.

For anyone who's new to my threads, I read a lot of Fantasy and SF, 20th century women's writing, classic children's books (especially school and pony stories), and I try to read more non-fiction. I started keeping a reading journal a few years ago when I realised that I was reading so many books so quickly that I didn't remember anything about some of them a few months later. I tend to have 3 or 4 books on the go at any time - one for commuting, one to read in bed, one that I'll dip into while checking email and an alternative if none of the others happen to suit the mood I'm in.

I don't really do reading challenges but this year I'll be taking part in the Virago Modern Classics group's monthly themed "Reading the 1940s" group reads. We start this month with "Family".

I live in London, UK and like to travel to new places, both in real life and in books. Welcome!

Jan 2, 8:35am Top

Happy New Year! I wish you many great books and lots of time to read them.

Jan 2, 8:41am Top

My first completed read of the year is Because of the Lockwoods, which I read for the Virago group read. Although published in 1949 the book seems to take place in the 1930s for the most part, and there is no mention of the build-up to WWII. It's the story of two families, the prosperous Lockwoods and their unfortunate neighbours the Hunters. When Mr Hunter died he had very little to leave to his family, and in a moment of kindness Mrs Lockwood offered her husband's legal advice to the widow. Mr Lockwood is grudging, but finds a way to turn the situation to his advantage - it's not really fraud, is it, just unofficial payment for his services .... The two families are set into a close but unequal relationship and over the years all the Lockwoods' advantages and privilege are flaunted to the meekly admiring Hunters. Molly and Martin accept their fates as Mr Lockwood pulls them out of school as soon as they are old enough to start supporting their mother, but young Thea resents the control that the Lockwoods hold over her family and rebels. This is a long novel that just flies by, so compelling is the story and engaging are the characters. The reader seethes with indignation at the condescension of the Lockwoods, and shares Thea's drive to get her family out from under their influence. Although there is nothing of a political nature in the book, it is nevertheless a very good treatment of class and social differences, and the way in which society is starting to change as the old industries decline. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and highly recommend it. An excellent start to the year!

I'm currently rereading The death of the necromancer by Martha Wells, and reading a dystopian novel set in California called Gold fame citrus. In many ways it's very similar to California by Eden Lepucki, but better written and with (in my opinion) more likeable characters (though they are very flawed and I wouldn't want to spend time with them in real life).

I will be starting either Chatterton Square or The little company for the train to work tomorrow, as my next 1940s read.

Jan 2, 8:42am Top

>2 Peace2: Thank you! If only each book purchased came with the time included!

Jan 2, 9:08am Top

Happy New Year! May the mount be finally conquered. Or at least dented.

Jan 2, 9:30am Top

Happy New Year! I'm always interested to see what you've been reading.

Jan 2, 10:41am Top

Happy New Year, Claire!

Jan 2, 10:52am Top

Happy new year, an sincere good wishes for making a dent in Mount TBR!
Not always the easiest...

And of course I'll be peeking over your shoulder. Who knows, you shaving pieces off may add layers to my mountain ;-)

Jan 2, 11:10am Top

Happy new year. I'll be dodging BBs.

Jan 2, 2:43pm Top

Starred! Looking forward to getting hit by your usual deadly accurate book bullets again this year.

Jan 2, 3:08pm Top

Happy New Year!

Jan 2, 3:52pm Top

wishing you peace and joy and 5-star reads in 2019!

Jan 2, 5:47pm Top

>4 Sakerfalcon: Happy new year. :) I am in complete support of your idea that books should come packaged with time for reading them!

Jan 4, 8:56am Top

>4 Sakerfalcon: Oooo, what a thought! That should be at the top of the list when someone invents a working time machine.

Edited: Jan 5, 6:26am Top

>5 Bookmarque:, >6 SylviaC:, >7 kidzdoc:, >8 Busifer:, >9 majkia:, >10 Marissa_Doyle:, 11, >12 Darth-Heather:, >13 YouKneeK:, >14 MrsLee: Thank you all for the good wishes! I'm looking forward to your comments and book bullets in the year to come.

I'm nearing the end of my reread of Death of the necromancer. I'd forgotten just how good a book this is. It's a gaslamp fantasy (Victorian levels of technology, with magic) set in the land of Ile-Rien which feels Central European to me. Nicholas Valiarde is obsessed with revenge upon the man who had his beloved foster-father executed on false charges of necromancy. While pursuing his elaborate scheme, with close colleagues Reynard and Madeline and some useful associates from the underworld, he stumbles into another intrigue and some very dark magic - actual necromancy which is extremely nasty. The plot is twisty and compelling, the characters, both major and minor, are well drawn and realistic, and the setting is outstanding. The city of Vienne comes alive with its noble houses, busy markets, grimy slums and fetid sewers. It reminds me of Ellen Kushner's Riverside. My only complaint would be that I'd like to see more female characters; however, the ones that are present are terrific.

I've also read a YA graphic novel called Roller girl. This was very cute and perfectly conveyed the pain and confusion of growing up and finding that one's friendships change and move on as you discover who you and what you want from life. Astrid and Nicole have been best friends forever, but the year they turn 12 they discover that they don't have as much in common as they always thought. Astrid falls in love with roller derby, while Nicole wants to devote more time to ballet. So they attend different summer camps and develop new friendships. This is Astrid's story; she has more trouble coming to terms with the changes in her life than Nicole seems to, and her journey to self-knowledge is more painful. But it's never too angsty and Nicole's choices are not seen as less valid or important than Astrid's. Anyone who likes Raina Telgemeir's books will probably enjoy this.

Gold fame citrus is an interesting read so far. I would class it as a literary novel despite its dystopian setting. In the near future Southern California has dried up, and most of its population has been evacuated. Those left are living among what was left behind, with limited water strictly rationed. Luz and Ray are occupying the home of a movie actress, now long gone, creating daily "projects" for themselves to give purpose in this formless new life. Ray works on practical chores, such as siphoning gas from abandoned cars, but Luz spends most of her time reading and dressing up in the fancy clothes that were left behind. Neither is especially likeable but both are interesting. One day they discover a little girl, uncared for, and pick her up, almost on a whim. Ig, as she calls herself, is the catalyst leading Luz and Ray to leave their nest and strike out in search of a better place. The desiccated landscapes make for an eerie but fascinating backdrop. Refreshingly the book so far has avoided the survivalist violence of many other similar novels.

I've started The little company as my next read for the 1940s. It's set in Australia opening in 1941, and follows the fortunes of a family of seemingly incompatible people. Gilbert is a writer, committed to Left wing politics, which his conventional, conservative wife Phyllis disapproves of. His sister is also a writer and shares similar views to Gilbert, despising his wife. Their slightly batty but endearing aunt has come to live with them after years of estrangement. These strained relationships were the legacy of an overbearing, religious, politically conservative father who disowned his sister (the aunt) and stamped upon his children's development when it threatened to diverge from what he felt was right and appropriate. Phyllis was the daughter of the housekeeper who moved in after Gilbert and Marty's mother died, and she always strove to please their father. As you can tell from my convoluted description, this is a complicated family and a family tree in the front of the book would be very useful - I haven't even mentioned Gilbert and Phyllis's children who are also important characters! Anyway, this book is so far a slice of this family's life, with news of WWII on the horizon and threatening to come closer. It's a good but quite dense read.

And I've started an SF book, Space unicorn blues which is, as the title implies, a mash-up of SF and magic. The alien Bala are very similar to the fairy tale species of our folk tales - fae, unicorns, etc - and they are magical in essence. Not surprisingly, when humans discover the Bala they set out to exploit them. This book opens when a unicorn (Gary) walks into a bar, released after 10 years of imprisonment for murder, and seeks to reclaim his spaceship. So far the book is strange, unique and quite entertaining. I'm looking forward to seeing where the author is going.

Jan 5, 6:33am Top

>15 Sakerfalcon: I've got Death of the Necromancer and am hoping to get to it soonish. Also have Space Unicorn Blues. I mean, who can resist that title?

Jan 5, 10:04am Top

>15 Sakerfalcon: Space Unicorn Blues sounds awesome for the title alone.

Jan 5, 10:08am Top

>15 Sakerfalcon: I have the first in the Ile-Rien series to get to which will also be my first from the author and with all the praise the author has garnered, especially recently with the Murderbot novella's, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Jan 5, 11:28am Top

I hope Space Unicorn Blues lives up to the title.

>15 Sakerfalcon: - as usual, when I think that sounds interesting, it turns out it's already on my wishlist. Maybe I should star things more often as I re-find them. Or just buy them. Besides who can resist a character called Reynard ;-)

Jan 6, 11:23am Top

I've been a bit reluctant to try any of Martha Wells' works outside the Murderbot books. I enjoyed that one very much, but fantasy is not my top choice for a genre - I almost ever only enjoy it if the classic fantasy tropes are held to a minimum, and I tend to put it down very fast as soon as fairies or other mythological creatures become a too prominent feature.
This here seems like one I might like, though, so half a BB taken ;-)

Edited: Jan 7, 9:26am Top

>15 Sakerfalcon: ooh you got me twice in this post! I'm getting Death of the Necromancer and Gold Fame Citrus and trying to avoid the splash from everyone getting hit with Space Unicorn Blues which I agree has an enticing title :D

It looks like I also need to get The Element of Fire which comes before Necromancer, so does that count as three bullets?

Edited: Jan 9, 4:56am Top

>16 majkia: Death of the necromancer was even better than I remembered. Loved the characters, plot and especially the setting.

>16 majkia:, >17 Narilka:, >19 reading_fox: Space unicorn blues is fun, but also quite dark. The Bala are brutally exploited by humans for the magical properties they possess - think about what people do to rhinos in our world and you have a good analogy, except that Bala bodies really do possess highly desirable powers. The characters are the usual mix of misfits thrown together under less-than-ideal circumstances, with a difficult task to complete. It's like a darker Small angry planet though the prose is a bit clunkier. I'm enjoying it though.

>18 AHS-Wolfy:, >21 Darth-Heather: The first two Ile-Rien books are very loosely linked, taking place a couple of centuries apart. There are some vague references to events from the past in Death of the necromancer but it's certainly not essential to read the books in order. I really liked The element of fire and would recommend it anyway, though it's more of a traditional alt-Medieval fantasy than the later books.

>20 Busifer: For the most part Wells avoids traditional fantasy tropes. The Fae are mentioned but are very much in the background of Necromancer. The female protagonist of The element of fire is part-Fae but behaves like a human. Her Books of the Raksura are also very good, non-traditional fantasy, with no human characters and fantasy races that are more like aliens from SF.

Jan 9, 1:03pm Top

>22 Sakerfalcon: Ah, thanks. Some of her other books may find their way into my library!

Jan 9, 9:14pm Top

Happy New Year, Claire! Hope 2019 is full of wonderful things for you. We seem to share similar taste in books so I'll be stalking following your threads closely. ;o)

Edited: Jan 10, 5:51am Top

Hi Claire, just dropping my cushion off.

I've started the year failing to read only from my tbr mountain, and buying too many books. Something about the beginning of a new year and shiny new things. I have to desist.

I hope 2019 will be a good year for you, and hope to catch up soon for supper. Will be in touch.

Edited: Jan 11, 8:40am Top

>23 Busifer: I hope you enjoy them if they do! Books do have a way of creeping into one's library, whether formally invited or not!

>24 clamairy: Happy new year to you too! I hope it is a great one for you in reading and in life.

>25 Caroline_McElwee: I bought far too many books in December, and have already started off the year with some purchases too. I'm always tempted to buy the books I want most but that weren't bought for me from my wishlist. Must resist! Yes, dinner would be good!

I'm still reading and enjoying The little company, Space unicorn blues and Gold fame citrus, but have decided to add a non-fiction title to the rota as well. Every year I say I'll read more NF, and every year I fail. I'm going to attempt to read one a month. I've started with A miracle for breakfast which is a biography of the poet Elizabeth Bishop. I've read the author's other biographies, which have focused on women thinkers/writers/intellectuals from C18th and C19th America, and thought they were very good, so I'm looking forward to this one.

Edited: Jan 16, 10:53am Top

I've finished a couple more books, both good reads in different ways.

The little company is not the easiest read but it was a very good book. The characters mostly have strong social and political views, and the book shows how their ideologies affect their reactions and responses to WWII when it impacts Australia. I hadn't realised that Australia suffered bombing raids although obviously I knew they were involved in the war. The novel is really a slice of life in the Massey family in 1941 and 1942, propelled by character growth and change rather than external events. The political conversations can get a bit dry, but thankfully they end just in time to prevent them outstaying their welcome. It's also a book about writing - or not being able to write - and the identity of an author. Gilbert and his sister Marty are both writers and hold left wing political views, which clash with the conservatism of Phyllis, Gilbert's wife. Their daughters Prue and Virginia also hold opposing outlooks on life, making for some tense family dynamics. I've previously enjoyed Dark's final novel, Lantana Lane, which is totally different in tone. Both books are well worth reading though.

I also finished Gold fame citrus which was very good overall, although difficult to recommend. I loved the style and the setting of a drought-blasted California but found Luz and Ray frustrating (albeit interesting). Ray disappears from the narrative about 1/3 into the book, as Luz is picked up by a cult-like group of travellers surviving in the dune sea that is engulfing the American SW. Luz mostly drifts passively through life, and when she does make decisions they are often unwise - although I think she wants to do the right thing, especially when the child Ig comes into her life. She is like the early settlers who came to California in search of the three things of the title - gold, fame and citrus - ephemeral luxuries, frivolities even, rather than the elements of a well-rounded life. The book is very definitely literary rather than SF, especially in its dreamlike passages and prioritisation of atmosphere over detail. The narrative is mostly straightforward third-person prose, but some sections are written as if they're non-fiction (including an illustrated primer of newly evolved creatures of the dune sea) and there are a couple of passages written like a play. I enjoyed all that, but I can see it annoying some readers. In style this is probably most comparable to Station Eleven, although I think that is a better book, and in characters and plot it is very like California by Edan Lepucki (though better all around). Something about this book captured my imagination, but the reviews have been very mixed and I understand why. I didn't get on with the author's short story collection, Battleborn, at all, so I will wait and see what she produces next before deciding whether to read more of her work.

Now I'm rereading Barbara Pym's Some tame gazelle, a delightful yet acerbic social comedy of genteel English village life, for a group read. I'm really enjoying the Elizabeth Bishop biography (and dipping into the Complete poems along the way). On my kindle I've started Rosewater, an SF novel set in Nigeria, which is excellent so far. And Space unicorn blues is proving to be an interesting and surprisingly dark read.

Jan 16, 11:34am Top

It's a while since I've read Pym, Claire, and I don't think I've read that one.

I meant to do that with the Bishop biog and poems last year and didn't get to it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

I've got a lurgy at the moment, but will be in touch when I'm better to organise dins.

Jan 22, 5:15am Top

>28 Caroline_McElwee: I hope you get well soon. Winter lurgies are miserable.

Some tame gazelle was Pym's first published novel and it's wonderful. Belinda and Harriet are unmarried sisters living in a small village, and their social lives centre around the church. Harriet adopts each pale young curate as he arrives and jealously guards her right to cook and knit warm clothes for him. Belinda has been in love with the Archdeacon since they were at college together *mumble* years ago, but he is married to the lovely and capable Agatha so Belinda worships from afar ... something she suspects is more satisfying than actually being married to him would be. The arrival of visitors from the past gently disrupts the settled course of life in the village and gives Pym the opportunity to write some wonderful set pieces. My favourite moment in the book is when the Archdeacon is reluctantly preparing for a visiting Bishop and chooses the dullest books he can for the spare room, vowing to lock away his crime fiction which he knows is the clergy's reading of choice! Pym's sly humour prevents this comfort read from being too saccharine while providing a welcome escape from the troubles of our own everyday lives.

The Elizabeth Bishop biography is a very good read. I didn't really know anything about Bishop's life other than that she was friends with Robert Lowell, so I went into this with no preconceptions or expectations. The book is structured in six chapters, separated by six short interludes telling of the author's own encounter with Bishop in the 1970s when she taught at Harvard. My only complaint is that sometime Marshall's sentences rival Henry James for length and complexity, cramming too many ideas together that would be better if broken down. I haven't got the book with me, but I will quote an example when I do.

I finished Space unicorn blues which was a good but flawed read. The premise is that when humanity discovered the alien Bala they immediately began to exploit them for their magical powers and properties. For example, unicorn horn is the only substance that can power FTL travel, so most unicorns were enslaved, held captive for their horn to be ground down at need. Now it's 100 years later and the beings that effectively oversee the universe are returning to see whether the two races have succeeded in living in harmony. Gary is half human, half unicorn, and after 10 years in prison he's looking to reclaim his ship and escape human space. But he discovers that it's fallen into the hands of an old adversary, Jenny, who had previous held him captive to power her FTL drive. The two are forced into an alliance, with the rest of the unlikely crew, as the human authorities seek to capture them all. It's a fun and unusual premise, although the use of magic in an SF setting will be annoying to some. My reservations concern the characters' motivations - we aren't shown why they act or feel as they do. Jenny regrets her past exploitation of Gary and seeks to make redress - but why? She needs his help, sure, but she could just have chained him up again as she did before. What has changed her feelings? Gary is tolerant and forgiving - why? Is this just how unicorns are, or is there a reason for his personality? Despite this, I did enjoy the book and the characters and would read more stories set in this unusual universe.

I'm nearing the end of another SF novel, Rosewater, which is set in Nigeria in the community which has grown up around an alien dome. The book skips between past (2055) and present (2060) but is easy to follow. Kaaro is a sensitive with the power to find lost things and to discern the thoughts of others. This is a rare result of exposure to the micro-organisms which arrived with the aliens. As a child he uses his powers to steal, but ends up working for a government agency. He is an interesting, if not always likeable, character who feels very real. The author introduces ideas and concepts casually without explanation, but we learn from the context and characters' reactions and responses. The worldbuilding is fantastic - Nigeria itself makes for a setting that is alien to many of us in the West, and adding xenoforms into this society makes for a fascinating take on first contact. Unless there's a massive drop in quality in the last 10% of the book this will be a highly rated read.

As those of you who are friends with me on facebook will know, I recently took a short trip to the Netherlands. While there I discovered an amazing bookshop in an old church (for those of you not on facebook I will post a picture) which had an English language section. It would have been rude not to buy anything and so I succumbed, coming home with four new books. One of them was a YA mystery, The cheerleaders, set 5 years after the deaths of five girls within a few days of each other. Two were killed in a terrible car crash, two were brutally murdered by a neighbour, and the fifth committed suicide. All were cheerleaders, and as a result the cheer squad was disbanded. 15 year old Monica's sister was the fifth girl, and she has grown up haunted by the belief that her sister would never have killed herself. The chance discovery of her sister's old cellphone leads her to realise that perhaps there was more to the deaths than she had been told. I read this while in the Netherlands and on my way home, needing something light and compelling to keep me going while I travelled. It was a good choice. The characters are diverse in background and personality and show the complexity of female friendships among teenagers. Monica has her faults but I sympathised with her in her confusion and anger at the world and respected her determination to stand up for herself. There were a couple of times where she jumps to conclusions too quickly and makes unfounded assumptions, but a reader closer to Monica's own age might not read this so critically.

My next book when I finish Rosewater will be Chatterton Square which will be for the Virago 1940s project.

Jan 23, 7:56am Top

Hi Claire! It was really nice to meet you in Groningen, with Anita and Frank. I hope you had a nice second day in Zwolle as well. Good for you, discovering an English language section in the bookshop:-)

Jan 24, 12:53pm Top

(OK, so now I get real curious, but not of book stuff... 20 years ago I spent some time in Zwolle, working. When I mention this people tend to not know where it is (people from the Netherlands excepted.))

Jan 25, 4:35am Top

>30 EllaTim: Hi Ella! It was lovely to meet you and Mark too. I did have another good day in Zwolle, seeing the exhibition of 50 key Dutch artworks since 1960 at the De Fundatie. It was a very interesting exhibition which introduced me to lots of unfamiliar artists. I will definitely be making more trips to the Netherlands in future.

>31 Busifer: I hadn't heard of Zwolle until my friend suggested it would be a good place to stay, as I'd need to change trains there between Amsterdam and Groningen anyway. I like Amsterdam but wasn't really comfortable at the thought of staying there on my own, knowing what big groups of English tourists can be like when they get high/drink. Zwolle was perfect, a beautiful, fascinating town with very friendly people, good places to eat and that wonderful bookshop.

Speaking of the bookshop ...

And this was the moment I knew I was going to love Zwolle:

Jan 25, 7:43am Top

Lovely! Neither bookshop nor the sphere was there back in the 90's, not that I remember, but I did like Zwolle as a whole.
Back then the only decent place to stay was what apparently (had to check Google) nowadays is The Pillow Grand Hotel - was Zwolle Grand Hotel.
I often think it'd be nice to go back, but just casually passing through Zwolle is not going to happen if one live in Stockholm.

As a side I felt even central Amsterdam to be safe; even the central station, which definitely was not the case 15 years ago...

Jan 30, 5:34am Top

>33 Busifer: That's good to hear about your experience in Amsterdam. It's a city I look forward to returning to.

I did finish Rosewater and really enjoyed it. No drop-off in quality at all, and I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel.

I also finished Elizabeth Bishop: a miracle for breakfast which was a very good read. I mentioned before that sometimes the author's sentences were excessively long and complicated; that became less of an issue towards the end of the book, thankfully. I enjoyed the juxtaposition between the chapters about Bishop's life, and the interludes about the author's interactions with her. Bishop's alcoholism and related breakdowns are mentioned, but not focused on; the book is more about her relationships, friendships and, most importantly, her creative processes and struggles. There is generous coverage of particular poems and their genesis, so I found it valuable to have a copy of the collected works to hand to dip into at times. All in all, a very good read.

And I managed to complete Chatterton Square before the end of the month! This was another excellent and perceptive novel by E. H. Young (an author who deserves to be better known). This is the story of two families who live catty-corner to each other on the eponymous Square. The Blacketts and their three daughters are dominated by father Herbert, a wonderfully awful creation whom we spend most of the book loathing heartily. His wife is meek and seems cowed, but has an inner life all her own and a close bond with her middle daughter. Meanwhile, the Fraser household contains mother Rosamund, her five children and her old friend Miss Spanner - but no evident husband/father. It is a happy household with an atmosphere of warm but not cloying affection between its members. Herbert Blackett disapproves, of course, but his wife and daughters start to form friendships with their neighbours, and this along with the growing threat of WWII cause the characters to change and grow in interesting ways. It's a real shame Young's books seem to be out of print, because most of them are very well worth reading. This is one of her best, IMO.

Now I'm reading a dystopian novel, America City, set about a century in the future when climate change is ravaging the world and causing Americans to have to migrate north from the storm-wrecked east coast and the drought-stricken south west. All the rhetoric we see on our news today directed at migrants from Mexico and Central America is here deployed by Americans against their fellow countrymen and women who are fleeing disaster. Senator Slaymaker, a right-wing self-made millionaire, recognises the need to "Reconfigure America" to accommodate this internal migration for the benefit and prosperity in the long term, but he faces opposition from his core base who don't want to give handouts to those they see as undeserving. Enter Holly, a brilliant PR strategist who comes up with ways to sell this unpopular campaign and change the face of North America. This book feels very prescient, not just in its treatment of climate change, but in the technology and techniques used to channel information to shape people's opinions and reactions - again, not much of a stretch from the talk of Russian bots and fake news that we hear today. It's a compelling read that I'm enjoying.

I have yet to choose my next few books, but undoubtedly I'll be starting a couple more very soon.

Edited: Feb 7, 9:53am Top

February has got off to a slow start in terms of reading, as I had a busy weekend and then no commute at the beginning of the week. I am sorely in need of some Do Nothing But Read time - maybe this weekend.

I did finish America City which was an enjoyable read, though frighteningly plausible for the reasons I mention above. I liked the way the main storyline was interspersed with short narratives of ordinary people caught up in climate disasters who become refugees in their own country. This is not the book to read if you want an escape from the current political climate, but it was a good read.

I've also read Bird box, a thriller/horror/SF novel that was cheap on kindle. It's also been made into a film. The premise is that something is causing individuals to abruptly and randomly erupt into violence, killing others and then themselves. Panic spreads as it is suspected that these outbreaks are the result of "something" that the victim has seen. People respond by blindfolding themselves, barricading themselves into their houses with the windows blacked out and subsisting on stockpiled provisions. Just before the panic spreads, Malorie finds out that she is pregnant and after her sister becomes a victim of the epidemic she braves the short journey to a nearly house where people are taking refuge. The narrative cuts between the past I've outlined above, and the present where Malorie is venturing out into the world with her children, now 4 years old. It is certainly suspenseful, though I quibbled a bit over how Malorie and the kids survived for so long when it's not stated that they went out to replenish their supplies, and at how preternaturally competent and mature the children were. It's also very convenient that the power supply never fails, due to it being hydroelectric with the settings at the power plant having left in just the right way for it to keep going. It was a quick and engaging read, not my usual thing but I think it appealed to me because I'd just watched the film The quiet place (where sound rather than sight is the issue but otherwise a very similar premise).

In print I've started reading Red waters rising, the third book in the Devil's West trilogy. I loved the first book, found the second a bit slow-going, and hope that this one will return to the quality of the original. So far it is very good. Isabel and Gabriel are travelling to the city of Red Stick (obviously Baton Rouge) where trouble may be brewing. I love the relationship between these two - no romance, and while Gabriel is the older mentor he respects Isabel's abilities and trusts her to make the right decisions. The writing is also very good.

My commuting book is Mariana by Monica Dickens, which I'm reading for this month's Virago group "Reading the 1940s" theme of Relationships. The book follows Mary as she grows up with her mother and uncle, an only child among many cousins. So far it is perceptive and amusing.

My non-fiction read this month is Stasiland, in which the author uncovers stories of life in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not surprisingly it is grim in places, but very good.

And I'm rereading The wizard hunters which is the first book in the sequel trilogy to Death of the necromancer. Tremaine, the heroine, is the daughter of Nicholas from the previous book, who is now lost and presumed dead. Ile-Rien is under attack by enemies who seem to come from another dimension ... how can one fight such an opponent? I remember the second and third books being much better than the first, but I'm enjoying it more this time around.

Feb 9, 6:08pm Top

>32 Sakerfalcon: I was sure I left a comment, Claire, but I guess it got lost or my memory isn't what it used to be.
It was good to see you again and I am glad you liked your stay in Zwolle. We still haven't seen the exhibition in "De Fundatie", but it is still on our list.

Feb 13, 4:23pm Top

>36 FAMeulstee: I think you'll really enjoy the exhibition. I look forward to hearing what you think about it when you get there.

I managed to finish Mariana once I got time to get into it. It was a good read, although I didn't like it as much as I capture the castle, to which it is often compared. Mary is an interesting heroine in that she is pretty ordinary - average looking, not especially gifted at anything, rather self-absorbed and lacking direction in life. In many ways, I found her mother a more interesting character - left a widow she is determined not to accept help from her in-laws and sets out to earn a living to support herself and her daughter. Not at all usual in a respectable 1930s household. I enjoyed the scenes from childhood most, when Mary spends idyllic summers with her cousins at a country house in Somerset. The interactions between the children and the generations, against a nostalgically beautiful setting, were very well-portrayed. We see all events and people through Mary's eyes, and she is not a kind person - she is critical of her female cousins' appearance and personalities, something that continues into her adult life. The book's strength lies in its depiction of everyday life in a pretty ordinary family in 1930s England, as WWII draws closer.

Next I read The blank wall, also for the 1940s "Relationships" theme (though it would have fit into "family" last month too. This is a thriller that was highly regarded by Raymond Chandler - not my usual genre but I enjoyed it. Lucia's husband is away in the US Navy and she is left at home with her daughter (17) and son (15), her father and their loyal servant Sibyl. Lucia finds herself needing to cover up the accidental death of her daughter's unsavoury boyfriend and this leads her into deep water as some of his gangland associates track her down and try to blackmail her. Her priority is to protect her family and keep them from knowing what is going on, which leads to some very difficult situations while she tries to preserve a facade of normality. Lucia is alternately weak - vacillating when faced with a decision, letting herself be bossed around by her children - and strong - disposing of bodies, standing up to criminals- and she feels like a very real woman of her society. It was very interesting to me to read of life during wartime in America, and how shortages and rationing affected those left at home - this was as intriguing as the plot, to me. At the heart of the story is the bond that develops between Lucia and one of the criminals, Donnelly. We never know his motives as we only see through Lucia's eyes, but it is a moving, if perhaps implausible, relationship. One of the most powerful moments in the book is when Lucia is trying to get away from the house to meet one of the criminals but her family are all pestering her as to why she needs to leave and what is she doing, and Lucia realises that she has no freedom to be herself - her children don't see that she has any right to do something without them knowing and approving. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes American crime from the 40s with a strong focus on the characters.

I should finish Red waters rising this evening. Happily it is at least as good as the first book, without the slow passages of the sequel. Isobel is coming into her own as the Devil's Hand, and we learn more about Gabriel's background in this episode as he is forced to come to terms with his own powers. An excellent alternate Western.

On kindle I've started Blackfish City, which is set in a future when the seas have risen, forcing populations to migrate onto floating cities. The setting reminds me of Company Town and Osiris but so far the plot is better than either.

And I'm still reading Stasiland and The wizard hunters too.

Edited: Feb 14, 5:56am Top

Just to add that I did indeed finish Red waters rising yesterday and it was great. The ending was rather inconclusive and I wonder if she is going to expand this beyond a trilogy. Then I looked on amazon and found a volume of short stories for kindle, so that has been added to my reading list! This series is a slow build, with a very strong atmosphere, characters who learn and grow and fascinating mythology. Unlike one or two other alternative Westerns the native peoples are not erased but play a key role in the world. There is no romance; rather, the two protagonists are mentor and mentee and have something like a brother/sister dynamic based on mutual respect. It's not the series to read if you like fireworks and lots of action, but for subtlety and beautiful writing it's a winner.

I forgot to mention that I just read a YA novel, Dramarama by E. Lockhart. This was a fun read about older teens at summer drama camp, about as different as can be from the other book by the author that I've read, We were liars. I like the musical theatre background, and Sadye's struggles as she realises she's not as talented as her fellow classmates are easy to relate to.

Feb 21, 11:51am Top

I've finished some more books!

Stasiland was an excellent read, though not an easy one. The stories of life in the GDR are often harrowing as the regime became more and more suspicious of its citizens and increased surveillance to the point where anyone might be an informer. The author is an Australian living in Berlin who accidentally started uncovering people's stories from the past. She speaks to both victims and persecutors to get all perspectives on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is a fascinating and important book.

I also finished Blackfish City which was very good. I loved the setting of the floating city in Arctic waters and enjoyed seeing it through the eyes of characters who occupy different places in society. Fill is the son of a rich man, privileged and out of touch with the poor people, though well-meaning. Ankit works for one of the city's bosses (each part of the city has an elected boss although the position is largely ceremonial as the city is run by software). Kaev loses arena fights for a living to make money for his former lover, a crime lord. And Soq is a messenger, scrabbling to make a better living for themself. The arrival of a mysterious woman accompanied by an orca and a polar bear, who seem to obey her, coincides with an increase in the usual unrest and outbreaks of violence. Initially the POV characters are only connected via secondary characters, but as events escalate they are slowly drawn together in a complex web and find that their goals overlap. The worldbuilding is generally strong (though it's not made clear where all the food comes from; I assume that seaweed and kelp are used as substitutes for soil-based crops) and the characters are interesting and rise above mere tropes. It reminded me of Company town and Osiris but I thought it was better than either of those.

And I finished my reread of The wizard hunters. This is a fun read, set in the parallel worlds of Ile-Rien and Cineth (though it's clear that these are only two among many other worlds). Ile-Rien is under siege by the mysterious Gardier, and forces both magical and non are desperately seeking a way to save their land from utter defeat. Our heroine Tremaine, the daughter of Nicholas Valiarde from Death of the necromancer) finds herself sucked into another world while trying to assist the sorcerers with their spells. She and her companions find themselves on the run from the Gardier alongside some of the natives of the place, and start to find clues as to how the Gardier are attacking so successfully. The setting is at a technological level equivalent to the early C20th - there are motor cars, airships and a giant ocean liner - with the world of Cineth seemingly more primitive. When I read this trilogy the first time I thought books 2 and 3 were far better than this volume. This time around I enjoyed it a lot more, so hopefully the later books will be even better too!

I'm now rereading The willow cabin for the Virago group 1940s read. This is the story of Caroline, an aspiring actress who becomes infatuated with a respectable surgeon when they meet at a party. He is married but separated and unable to obtain a divorce. Caroline's life becomes one of waiting on tenterhooks for opportunities to see Michael, dropping any other commitments for the sake of a few stolen moments. Her career, once promising to be spectacular, falls by the wayside as she develops a reputation for being unreliable. But the shadow of Mercedes, Michael's wife, and the arrival of WWII, threaten this precarious relationship. The book is extremely well written and characterised, with events seen not just from Caroline's POV but from that of various secondary characters, who have their own impressions and opinions of the relationship. We only see Michael through the eyes of others, and it's never clear to us what he is really like, or who is/was the dominant partner in his marriage. Caroline's single minded devotion to the relationship which causes her to willingly sabotage her career is frustrating, but believably portrayed. Frankau is one of my favourite writers and I wish more of her books would come back into print.

At home I'm reading Creatures of will and temper, a fantasy/alt-historical novel set in London late in Queen Victoria's reign. It is inspired by The picture of Dorian Gray, with which I am only vaguely familiar. Dorina and Evadne are sisters, very different in looks and temperament, and their relationship is strained. When Evadne is told she must chaperone her younger sister on a visit to London, she is not happy, preferring to stay at home and practice her fencing. Dorina throws herself into London life, soaking up art and culture - and the company of the fascinating Lady Henry. Evadne finds it hard to settle until she finds a fencing academy and is accepted as a pupil. But there are mysteries surrounding Lady Henry and her circle, mysteries which intrigue Dorina and repel Evadne. I'm enjoying this book even though it has many faults in the historical detail and language. For the most part the dialogue reads well, which makes it all the more jarring when a phrase that is too modern or American pops up. But I like that the two sisters are neither wholly likeable or dislikeable, and the plot is interesting. I know Marissa, whose opinion I trust, was not impressed by this book, so I lowered my expectations before starting!

Feb 28, 7:54am Top

Time for this week's update.

I finished my reread of The willow cabin, which is a very well written and well characterised novel. The ending is especially satisfying, as Caroline realises that she has misjudged both her relationship with Michael and those with others over the years. I still like this less than the other novels by Frankau which I've read but it is a good read.

I also just finished Creatures of will and temper which for the most part I enjoyed. The lapses in period style I mentioned above were distracting and irritating, but the nuanced characters of Dorina and Evadne carried the story effectively and kept me reading. Dorina is sensitive and sociable, fascinated by art and culture but also overconfident and vain. Evadne in spite of her love of the physicality of fencing, a sport she practices on equal terms with men, is actually very conventional and judgemental towards her sister. They bicker and misunderstand each other constantly, but ultimately the love they feel for each other deep down comes to the fore and triumphs over their differences. It was a good enough read that I'll seek out more by the author.

I'm currently reading the memoir Educated by Tara Westover, who grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon family, not allowed to go to school or seek treatment from medical professionals, not even registered for a birth certificate until she was 8. Her father was the dominant force in the family, although her mother rebels in very subtle ways if pushed, and Tara and her siblings had to stand up for themselves if they wanted to escape lives spent in thrall to their father's beliefs. She freely admits that her memories of events sometimes disagree with others, but I believe she is being honest and telling her story as truthfully as possible - some reviewers seem to have doubted this. It is a shocking story in many ways, showing the reader a closed world which, thankfully, we are unlikely ever to encounter for ourselves. While often horrific, this doesn't come across as depressing or miserable, perhaps because Tara herself didn't feel that way about her upbringing at the time, as she had little with which to compare it. It's very good so far.

I'm also reading Wash this blood clean from my hand, which is one of the Commissaire Adamsberg mysteries. This is one of the rare mystery series that I like, mainly because the cases have something a bit surreal about them, and because Adamsberg is a very unconventional character. In this book he and his team are sent to Quebec for training in forensic techniques, but while there Adamsberg finds himself the chief suspect in a murder enquiry. The case bears a strong resemblance to a series of earlier killings with which Adamsberg has something of an obsession. I strongly recommend this series to anyone who likes mysteries and police procedurals.

And for comfort reading I've started New house at Springdale, which is the fourth in a series of classic girls' school stories.

Mar 1, 4:20am Top

And I finished Educated last night, which was an excellent read. It's sad to read of the author's struggles with her family and her inner demons in order to achieve the freedom she needs to thrive and be true to herself, a struggle which I sense will never really end. It's easy to think "Why would people make such bad decisions, and repeat the same mistakes over and over?" as you read, but the point is that those with power in the family are firmly convinced that God is in control and that anything which happens is his will, giving rise to a reckless fatalism. A very good read.

In its place I've started The street by Ann Petry, set in Harlem in the 1940s - this is for the March Virago 1940s theme of Women. I'm not expecting a happy read, but I think it will be powerful.

Mar 1, 11:49am Top

>41 Sakerfalcon: I have both of those Claire. I might read Educated next month. Glad you were impressed.

Mar 3, 11:22am Top

Lying here, bleeding out due to the Martha Wells bullets...fortunately, it turned out I already had one on my Nook, so the damage was slightly contained. Slightly.

Mar 6, 7:28am Top

>42 Caroline_McElwee: I will look forward to seeing what you think of Educated. The street is proving to be a good read too, though not a happy one.

>43 Marissa_Doyle: Which one do you have already? Hopefully it's one that you can read as a stand-alone.

I finished Wash this blood clean from my hand and found it to be another excellent entry in the Adamsberg series. The scenes set in Quebec were excellent, and I loved the humour that arises from the cultural differences between the Parisian inspectors and their Canadian counterparts. Adamsberg has been obsessed with a series of killings that took place over several decades, in which all the victims were stabbed three times in a straight line, each time with a suspect immediately apprehended in an open-and-shut case. Adamsberg has his own theory though, believing that one man is responsible for all the murders. After a long hiatus another similar killing occurs - and the fact that the suspect died 16 years ago doesn't stop Adamsberg from believing that he has struck again. Then Adamsberg finds himself accused of murder, with a disturbing blank in his memory of the night in question. Adamsberg, his colleagues and allies come vividly to life in these books and are wonderful characters with quirks that set them apart from the usual cast in books of this genre. I highly recommend the series if you've not come across them before.

I'm still reading The street and finding a very hard-hitting examination of just how badly the system was stacked against African Americans in the 1940s, and how the burdens fell disproportionately upon women. The bleak streets and cramped boarding houses come to life as, sadly, does the hardship and poverty.

I've just started Harbinger of the storm which is the second book in Aliette de Bodard's Aztec trilogy of fantasy mysteries. Acatl, the priest of the god of death, finds himself involved once more in a murder and in addition to solving it, must also try and stop spirits from the other world ravaging this one after their protector dies.

Mar 6, 7:50am Top

>44 Sakerfalcon: I do like Fred Vargas' work and she creates some of my favourite characters in the mystery genre. Still have to pick up the latest couple of releases at some point.

Mar 6, 5:47pm Top

>44 Sakerfalcon: Good to see you are still enjoying the Adamsberg books. I sadly have read them all now, I hope Vargas will write a next Adamsberg :-)

Mar 15, 7:04am Top

>45 AHS-Wolfy:, >46 FAMeulstee: I found a copy of the newest one to be published here (Climate of fear) at my local Oxfam shop and it has prompted me to get back into the series. I also found a copy of The accordionist, which is one of the Three Evangelists books. I really love her work, with its offbeat characters and peculiar cases.

I finished The street which was a great, though harrowing, read. The protagonist Lutie is a single mother who wants to raise her son to a better life than that of the men she sees around her. But being bound by needing to keep up with rent payments, having to work long hours and leave the boy alone, things do not go well. As well as Lutie's story we also get chapters from the point of view of her neighbours and acquaintances which give a rounded view of the traps into which African Americans, and particularly women, fell at this time. Sadly I suspect there are people who still find themselves in this position today due to the high cost of living and being forced to make impossible choices. This is a very powerful and moving novel which I thought should have been on the syllabus of my American Literature degree. As it was, I only came across it because it was reprinted by Virago. I felt it was a hugely important book to read as well as one that was totally absorbing.

My next book for the Virago read this month is Long live Great Bardfield which is the autobiography of Tirzah Garwood who married Eric Ravilious but was an artist in her own right. This is a total change of tone from The street - it's written in a chatty, garrulous tone and is enormous fun to read.

Harbinger of the storm is proving as interesting as the first book. The Aztec world is convincingly portrayed, with no concessions to 21st century sensibilities - lots of animal sacrifice and a male-dominated priesthood which is just part of life for the characters. It's as much a whodunnit as a fantasy, and combines the two genres effectively.

I'm also reading Chernobyl prayer, which is an oral history of the nuclear disaster which had such a devastating effect on large parts of the former Soviet Union. Alexievich speaks to survivors from all walks of life 10 years after the event - clean-up workers, scientists, doctors, farmers, widows, journalists, teachers, soldiers and more - in many cases eliciting not a literal retelling of what happened to them but a philosophical musing on life, death, the past, belief, and the peculiar character of Russians. It is a fascinating and moving book.

I've also read a YA graphic novel, Be prepared, about a Russian American girl at summer camp. It's largely autobiographical. Vera feels out of place with her schoolmates as her Russian background and single parent home set her apart from the richer American girls. When she hears about a camp just for children of the Russian diaspora she is thrilled and begs to be allowed to go. But it's not the idyllic experience she imagines. Obviously there are lessons to be learnt but these are delivered in a non-preachy way and there are plenty of scenes which will resonate even if you haven't been in that particular situation.

I just started to read The girl in the tower, sequel to The bear and the nightingale which I enjoyed last year. This is part of my quest to actually finish some of the series I've started! So far it is as good as the first book, well-written with a vivid background of Medieval Russia.

Mar 19, 8:32am Top

Just to report that I finished Chernobyl prayer which was very good. Obviously not an easy book to read at times, but it was good to hear from "real" people of all backgrounds about how their lives were impacted by the disaster.

Mar 19, 12:28pm Top

I took a bullet on The Street. I see a combined edition with The Narrows, which looks very appealing

Edited: Mar 27, 8:03am Top

>49 Jim53: I hope you find The street as absorbing as I did. The narrows looks good too so I'll be interested to see what you think of it.

So I haven't had as much reading time as usual this week, but I finally had a chance to catch up yesterday and finished three books.

Long live Great Bardfield was a wonderful read, told in the chatty, intimate voice of the author as she tells her life story which takes place during the first half of the twentieth century. Tirzah Garfield was an artist (best known for her wood engravings) who married fellow artist Eric Ravilious and lived among other creative types in the titular village in rural Essex. She is a hugely entertaining narrator; reading her is like listening to a gossipy acquaintance who describes people and things as she sees them - not always flattering to the subject! She tells of her art, friendships, relationships, dwellings, family, local politics, World War II and a myriad of other things that catch her attention. She and Ravilious had many friends in the art world of the day, and it can be hard to keep track of who is who - an index would have been helpful But that is my only quibble with this delightful autobiography. An added bonus is that each chapter starts with one of her engravings or a photograph.

I also finished Harbinger of the storm which I didn't find as absorbing as the previous volume. The setting is as fascinating and vivid as ever, with the Aztec world convincingly portrayed, but I found the plot didn't hold my attention. There was too much politicking among the priests who are the central characters and they all seemed very similar in their disdain for our narrator Acatl. Also, it was disappointing that the two female characters disappeared from the narrative half way through. I might read the last book of the trilogy if it comes my way but I shan't seek it out. I may, however, reread the first book when I want a visit to the C15 Aztec world.

And I also read and finished The Chalet School Annexe, a fill-in title to the classic girls' school story series. Located high in the Austrian Alps the school was known for the care it took with health of its pupils, and it seemed logical to open a branch near the sanatorium to support those girls who were delicate in some way. The Robin is the central character in the story, but Amy Stevens also has a chance to shine and it is nice that there is less of a focus on Joey as the fixer-of-all-problems.

Now I'm reading a collection of short stories from the 1940s, Tell it to a stranger, which are vignettes of life in England during WWII. Most seem to start gently but this proves deceptive as they tend to have a sting in the tale. I'm enjoying them a lot.

I'm also continuing to enjoy The girl in the tower which continues Vasya's adventures through Medieval Russia. The setting is well done and I like the Russian folk mythology that is woven through the novel.

Mar 28, 12:26pm Top

Apr 9, 12:48pm Top

>50 Sakerfalcon:, >51 Caroline_McElwee: Me too, re Great Bardfield - lots of love for that one in the Virago group at the moment.

Apr 10, 6:28am Top

>51 Caroline_McElwee:, >52 souloftherose: I think you will both enjoy it, for the chatty, engaging tone and the references to the art world at the time. It's a great read.

It's been a while since I updated, so let me try and remember what I've been reading.

I finished Tell it to a stranger and The girl in the tower, very different books but both excellent in their way. The short stories in Tell it to a stranger generally don't involve great events or extraordinary people; rather they look at personal moments of crisis in the lives of people during the second world war. A young soldier comes home on leave to find that his mother is so busy with her war work that she has no time for him. A group of expectant mothers arrive at a maternity hospital in a snowstorm, one of whom causes the female doctor to doubt her vocation. A woman whose house has been burgled seeks listeners to hear her story of woe, but things do not go as she expects. These are beautifully written and clearly observed vignettes with characters who feel familiar to the reader.

The girl in the tower was an excellent sequel, following Vasya as she flees her home village and the fate of either marriage or life in a convent. She disguises herself as a boy to travel across Russia, hoping to see the sea and other new sights. But she becomes caught up in the hunt for a group of bandits who have been destroying villages and kidnapping young girls. This leads her to a reunion with her brother Sasha, now a monk and companion of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Her deception becomes dangerous as she is drawn into the circle of men around the Grand Prince and into the politics of the time. The human and supernatural elements are perfectly blended and balanced and Arden brings the cold and colour of Mediaeval Russia to life. This is a wonderful series so far and I'm looking forward to reading the final volume soon.

This month's Virago 1940s theme is "Work", so I've been reading Monica Dickens's memoir of her year as a trainee nurse during WWII. She didn't want to become a mere VAD, but to train and qualify for real; however she soon realises that she may not be a perfect fit for the work. She has many humorous stories to tell about life on the wards and while she speaks harshly of patients and her colleagues, she spares her hardest criticism for herself. We get a good picture of life in a hospital in the provinces, far from the drama of war, and see how hard the life of a student nurse was (and, I suspect, still is). There are a few instances of a now-inappropriate racial term, although it is not used to refer to anyone of that race. This was a very entertaining and interesting read.

I'm currently reading a fantasy, Strange the dreamer by Laini Taylor, the SF novel Moxyland by Lauren Beukes, Joan Didion's essays in The white album and the graphic novel adaptation of The handmaid's tale.
Strange is a beautifully written story about a city whose name is suddenly erased from the minds of all who knew it, and of the librarian Laszlo who has been fascinated by the city ever since he heard about it. Moxyland splits its narrative between four rather unpleasant young people who live in a near-future South Africa where everyone is connected by technology, for good or ill. Didion's essays mainly focus on different aspects of life in California in the late sixties and early seventies, with jaunts to Hawaii, Bogota and other locales along the way. And the graphic novel is superb, with the images and words married effectively to tell the story in a new and powerful way.

Apr 10, 6:40am Top

Hi Claire, yesterday we finally visited the Freedom exposition in De Fundatie. I will put my thoughts and some pictures on my thread later this week.

Apr 10, 7:07am Top

>53 Sakerfalcon: Strange the Dreamer sounds rather like a cross between R. A. Lafferty’s short story “What’s the Name of that Town?” and some of Borges’ stories, possibly combined with Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.

Edited: Apr 12, 8:52am Top

>54 FAMeulstee: I look forward to seeing your pictures and finding out what you thought! I am still thinking about some of the artworks and the space.

>55 haydninvienna: I suspect the author has read Borges and Calvino (two of my favourite authors) but this book is actually reminding me more of the quest for Prester John's realm - we have a group of soldiers and scholars trekking across the desert to a fabled but cursed city that has long been inaccessible to outsiders. There is a parallel narrative from the POV of a character who lives within but apart from the city, one of the only survivors of the carnage that killed her family and their household. It soon becomes clear that she and her siblings are not human. The author reveals things slowly in ways that fit naturally into the story. I'm not sure if this is adult or YA fantasy, but it is very well written and interesting.

I finished Moxyland which ended up being quite disappointing. The four viewpoint characters were all deeply unpleasant and their narrative voices weren't distinctive enough to stop them blurring together. There were some interesting questions asked about dependence on technology and the danger of it being used for social control but ultimately I found the execution to be confusing and the characters to have no redeeming qualities. I often enjoy reading about unlikeable people but these weren't even especially interesting to me.

I also finished The white album which was a penetrating look into American culture and subculture in the 60s and 70s. Didion's writing is superb and she can interest me in things I would never have imagined - traffic control on the LA highways; water flow at the Hoover Dam; a controversial Episcopalian bishop. I slightly preferred Slouching toward Bethlehem but this was still a very good collection.

And I completed The Handmaid's tale graphic novel. I loved the illustration style, which I would describe as "hard-edged watercolours", if that makes sense. (There are extracts available on the web if it doesn't!). Thankfully it was nowhere near as gruesome as the TV adaptation and hewed far more closely to the original novel. This was a great read and I will look out for more work by the artist.

Now I'm reading The consuming fire sequel to Scalzi's The collapsing empire. It was a little slow to start but I'm now drawn into the action again and eager to find out what happens. This isn't the deepest series but it's a lot of fun.

Still enjoying Strange the dreamer, as mentioned above. It's a beautiful book so far.

And I'm reading a contemporary thriller, Fog Island about a young woman who is drawn into a community on the titular island by its charismatic leader. Of course she soon discovers that he and it have their dark sides.

Apr 14, 5:49am Top

>56 Sakerfalcon: I need to get back to Scalzi's latest series before I forget everything that happened in the first book - like you I thought it wasn't the most profound science fiction but the first book was a lot of fun.

Apr 14, 12:16pm Top

>56 Sakerfalcon: I agree with you on The consuming fire. I do think he's a bit serious, though. The way the society reacts to the spaceways falling apart is a parallel to how many react to the threat to our environment, or at least that was how I read it.

Apr 19, 3:17pm Top

>57 souloftherose:, >58 Busifer: I agree that Scalzi is clearly intending a parallel to our reactions to climate change, and I thought there might also have been some references to the potential fracturing of the EU in this latest book too, thought that might just have been the result of too much news coverage here at the moment! But compared to, say, something by KSR, it's primarily an enjoyable space opera, very well done and with compelling characters, but more entertaining than thought-provoking. I am truly enjoying the series though.

Still enjoying Strange the dreamer, though we have the same swoony type of romance that dominated Daughter of smoke and bone although here it's not the main storyline. The city of Weep is a great setting, one that I can picture in my mind.

I've put Fog Island on the back burner for a bit. It's not bad, but I've just been distracted by other things.

For my commuting book I'm reading October which is China Mieville's history of the 1917 Russian Revolution. It's more about how the revolution happened than why - retelling events not analysing them - but I'm finding it interesting. Unfortunately when I skipped ahead to look at the bibliography I saw that the library copy I'm reading has a chunk of pages that were not bound into the book. So the epilogue and most of the bibliography are missing.

On my kindle I'm reading The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo which is the fictional biography of a Hollywood star actress as told to a young journalist. There is clearly a connection between them, which the journalist is not aware of but which will be revealed in time I'm sure. It's quite so far as a portrait of life in the studio system of the ?1930s.

And I'm also dipping into the short stories of Silvia Moreno-Garcia in Love & other poisons. I've really enjoy the two novels that I've read by her and these stories seem to be up to the same standard. They are of the supernatural/urban fantasy genre.

I have a 4 day weekend because it's Easter, so hope to get a lot more reading done while I'm off work!

Apr 19, 3:46pm Top

>59 Sakerfalcon: I agree 100% on Scalzi.

Apr 21, 9:01am Top

I liked The Seven Husbands, but the author needed to ease up on the message. We get it. It was difficult to be homosexual in the early years of Hollywood. Other than that, an engrossing book.

Apr 23, 7:56am Top

>61 Bookmarque: Having finished the book, I agree.

The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo was a good read, and I especially enjoyed the journey through the history of Hollywood as seen through the eyes of our heroine. Her career began in the 1950s so we see how the studio system worked through some 30-40 years of the book. Evelyn is a hard-headed heroine who was determined to escape the poverty and drudgery of her family life and do whatever it took to achieve wealth and security. With her stunning looks, a career in the movies seemed to be a good bet. And it was. Evelyn tells her story to a young journalist, Monique, whom Evelyn has chosen seemingly at random. Her story is structured around the framework of the seven marriages, which works pretty well overall. I felt that Monique was not really developed as character - she tells us how she is changing as a result of talking with Evelyn, but she's really only sketched in in between Evelyn's story. However the reveal of the connection between the two women was well done. This was an entertaining and enjoyable read, though probably not one I'll read again. I did recommend it to my friend who loves the movies though.

I also finished Strange the dreamer which, while a lovely book for the most part, was a bit too long for its plot. Once Laszlo, the Godslayer and the team of researchers reach the city of Weep and its problem is revealed, the story slows down and focuses on the romance between the two main characters. The lengthy, poetic descriptions of kissing were rather too YA for me and went on for too long, when there were more interesting things to be dealt with. But the worldbuilding and atmosphere of the book were stunning, the characters well-realised and the ending of the novel was very moving. It ends on something of a cliffhanger but I may see if the library has the sequel rather than buy it. If you enjoyed Daughter of smoke and bone you will probably like this too.

I've picked up Fog island again, which I'm reading to find out what happens rather than for the characters. Sofia is a rather unengaging, flat protagonist and I couldn't feel the attraction between her and the love interest. We are told what she's thinking and feeling, but it's all quite distant. The other characters don't really rise above stock types either. I'm not sure the cult is very believable, although as the author was a Scientologist for some 20 years she clearly knows more about that than I do! I find it hard to believe why people fall for some of these things, so that may be why I can't relate. Some of these issues could also be due to it being a translated work.

On my kindle I'm reading an old pony book which has just been reissued, Dream of fair horses. It's about 14 year old Gillian who is horse-mad, but her large, poor family have never been able to afford for her to take riding lessons. However, their writer father produces a bestselling detective novel which allows him to buy his old family home in the country ... conveniently located near a field of horses. It's total wish fulfilment but there are lots of details which give this story more depth than the average novel in this genre. Gillian and her siblings are entertaining and interesting characters, and the horsy world is show to be far from perfect.

Apr 24, 11:26am Top

I finished both Fog Island and Dream of fair horses yesterday. Fog Island was just ok. While I wanted the heroine Sofia to succeed in escaping the cult and bringing down its leader, that wasn't because I liked or empathised with her. She was one of those women who is catty and critical of other women (there's a friend, but she doesn't reappear after the first few pages), and inconsistent in her dealings with people generally. I never really felt for the characters; any interest I had in the plot was purely cerebral, wanting to see if the problems would be resolved. It wasn't an awful read, just a bit meh.

Dream of fair horses, on the other hand, was just lovely. Yes, there is a lot of good fortune and wish fulfilment for our heroine Gillian, but it comes with a hard dose of reality. The ending is very moving as Gillian learns the hardest thing about loving. Her siblings, especially Ninian and Fran, are hugely entertaining, and their father is an interesting character too, showing us glimpses of the struggles of a career writer. There is probably a bit too much detail of horse training for anyone but a lover of this genre to want to give the book a try, but it is certainly one of the best girl-and-pony books out there.

I forgot to mention that over the bank holiday weekend I also read The provincial lady in wartime. This is the fourth of the Provincial Lady's diaries, and continues in the same breezy, self-deprecating, unreserved tone. It takes place in the very first weeks after WWII is declared, as many people, including the PL, rush out to offer their services to the war effort. Almost without exception, however, they are told to Stand By and wait until they are needed. Our heroine moves to London and volunteers in a canteen while she waits to be summoned for duty at the Ministry of Information. It's an amusing read that shows an unexpected perspective of the early days of the war.

So I've started A memory called Empire, a new SF novel that I've been looking forward to. It's about an ambassador from a small, independent system to the monolithic empire of the title, and her attempts to navigate the waters of life at the centre of the universe (so to speak).

And on the way to work I'm reading The Penguin book of Japanese stories. As I'm only part-way through the introduction so far I can't really comment on it yet!

I need to finish October by Saturday when it's due back at the library, so I should pick that up again soon too.

Apr 24, 3:10pm Top

I'm looking forward to hear what you think of A memory called Empire. It's on my list but I haven't been by the SF bookshop since I first heard about it.

May 4, 7:27am Top

>64 Busifer: It's taken me a little while to get into A memory called Empire, partly because my copy is a hardback so I can't carry it around and read it as often as I'd like. But it is very good and I'm definitely hooked now. Mahit is a good protagonist, having spent all her life fascinated by the dominant culture of the Teixcalaan Empire, and now finding herself sent there as ambassador. Although she has a fair amount of knowledge she is still something of a fish out of water, so she's a good vehicle for us to learn through. The plot is primarily politically-based, with lots of court manoeverings and doubtful alliances, set against a fascinating formal social structure. It's great to watch Mahit move through this potentially dangerous world, making allies and enemies as she goes.

I did manage to finish October, which was worth reading although overall rather dry. It's a retelling of how the Russian Revolution happened, rather than an analysis of the events. The many different parties and individuals involved, and their constantly shifting goals and alliances, were effectively distinguished and I didn't find it too confusing to keep up with the action, but it wasn't a pleasure for me. However, since finishing I've already seen references to one or two things in other books which I was able to place and understand thanks to having read this book.

I went to see a friend recently and she lent me They were sisters by Dorothy Whipple. So I've read that so as to be able to return it to her soon. It was a gripping story about three adult sisters and their marriages. Lucy, the eldest, is very much the sensible older sister, lacking the beauty and sparkle of her younger sisters, but she meets a man who suits her very well in his pragmatism and undemonstrative affection. Charlotte falls hard for a friend of her brother's, who everyone else can see is a brash attention seeker; but she insists on marrying him and soon comes to regret it. Glamorous Vera marries a good solid man, with whom she soon grows bored. This is a character study set in the years leading to WWII; all the dramas are domestic and the crises are within the families, but no less compelling or devastating for all that. It's a very perceptive, moving book that I found hard to put down.

I also started reading an unusual urban fantasy, A city dreaming. This is more a series of linked short stories than a novel, despite what the very misleading cover blurb implies. M drifts his way though a New York in which one can suddenly slip into alternate realities and parallel universes. Some of these seem benign, others menacing. M has powers of a sort that usually enable him to get himself, and those with him, out of trouble but not without adventures along the way. Not all readers will enjoy spending time with M; he is a slacker who seems to spend his life drinking, taking drugs and picking up women while expending as little effort as possible. But I like the dry tone of his adventures and the surreal nature of this New York which has no discernible rules or logic to it.

This month's theme for the Virago 1940s read is Food, and I have chosen Mastering the art of Soviet cooking, which is a personal history of the Soviet Union told through the lens of food (or lack thereof). The author was born in Moscow but moved with her mother to Philadelphia when she was 14, so most of the memories of the early and mid C20th are from her mother and grandparents. I'm finding the balance of history with memoir to be very satisfying, and the food focus makes it different to anything else I've read on the topic.

May 4, 8:44am Top

OK, I'll definitely get A memory called Empire now - thanks!

As for October I just wanted to say that it's so satisfying to have that happen. I have recently learned things that I didn't know which has had me wanting to revisit certain books that I think will resonate on another level now that I know more about the factual backgrounds or what inspired certain parts of a story.

Edited: Today, 2:03pm Top

>65 Sakerfalcon: I had to return A Memory Called Empire because there was a hold. I wanted to be able to read it slowly, and I waited too long to start it. Ah well, I've placed it on hold again, in hopes I'll tackle it soon. It sounds right up my alley, and it gets great reviews.

Edited: spelling

May 15, 9:19pm Top

>47 Sakerfalcon: I've had my eye on The Bear and the Nightingale for a while now. I'm happy to hear the second one is just as good, so perhaps the next time it goes on sale I'll snag it.

>65 Sakerfalcon: Did the recipes in Mastering the art of Soviet cooking mostly involve cabbage, potatoes & beets?

Yesterday, 10:20am Top

>66 Busifer: I hope you enjoy A memory called Empire as much as I did. It's a slow burn but well worth it. And yes, it was satisfying to see a mention of the Russo-Japanese war and think "Ah, I know what that was!" having read October!

>67 libraryperilous: I think you're right about wanting to read A memory called Empire slowly. It's good to take time to savour and immerse yourself in the world, especially when it is such a crucial part of the story. I hope you get to it soon.

>68 clamairy: I highly recommend it! The writing is beautiful and the way Arden weaves Russian mythology into her own story is really well done. I'm looking forward to getting to the third volume soon.
Re: Mastering the art of Soviet cooking - There was a lot of meat involved in the recipes, most of which I will not be trying to make! (A recipe for each decade is included at the end of the book.) I will have a go at the khachapuri some time though. What could be bad about a dish that is basically cheese-filled bread?

Those of you that are friends with me on facebook will know that I've been away in Vienna for a holiday recently. I managed to finish up the books I was reading before I left. A city dreaming was a strange, dreamlike read set in a New York City that defies all logic. M and his associates are mostly cynical slackers, not heroes, but they save the day numerous times in spite of themselves. There's no overarching plot; rather, the book is a series of linked short stories, which means it's easy to dip in and out of. I'd classify it as a mix of weird and urban fantasy.

Mastering the art of Soviet cooking was a really great read that I'd recommend to anyone with an interest in Russia, history or food. I enjoyed the whole book but found that my pleasure and engagement increased as the book moved forward into more recent times, when the author was recounting her own experiences rather than those of her grandparents generation. Her mother is an awesome real-life heroine and it's lovely to see how much she is appreciated by her daughter.

I also read Good behaviour by Molly Keane before my trip. This is set among the genteelly impoverished Anglo-Irish in the early C20th. The book is darkly humorous, often at the expense of its deluded narrator, Aroon. The daughter of a distant mother and a father who cares only for hunting, shooting and fishing, Aroon grows up socially and geographically isolated with a limited circle of friends and acquaintances. When her brother brings his handsome friend Richard home with him she is delighted to be included in their adventures, sensing that this could be her chance for romance. Yet we the reader can see that something else is going on entirely. The book immerses us in a vanished world, one which we can see is better left in the past, with its snobbery and social divisions. Yet it makes an entertaining setting to read about.

I wanted to take a book about Vienna with me, but I've already read the obvious candidates (Airs above the ground, The star of Kazan, The Hotel New Hampshire) and didn't fancy any of the recommended Austrian classics. So I took an unrelated book, My name is Asher Lev, and my kindle. To my surprise, Vienna is mentioned frequently in Asher Lev, although the protagonist only spends about three days there and he's sick in bed the whole time! The story is deeply rooted in Brooklyn, specifically within the Ladover Hasidic community. Asher shows a precocious gift for art at a very young age, from which his deeply observant parents try to dissuade him. The book follows Asher's struggle to balance his gift with his religion - there is never any question of him giving either one up - as he grows to manhood. It is a very powerful and absorbing read and I will be looking out for the sequel.

I also dipped into a couple of books on my kindle - the Vandermeers' enormous short story anthology The weird and The book of speculation, which I'd describe as magical realism. Both are very good and I will be finishing the latter off soon. The Weird I expect to last me for several months!

Now I'm home I've started Excellent women by Barbara Pym as another food-related 1940s book. It's great to be back in Pym's world of wry spinsters, quirky clergymen and bizarre anthropologists. Her observations of the foibles of humanity are spot on.

And I'm enjoying The black wolves of Boston, which was a book bullet from tardis, I think. It's taken me a little while to get into, as I find Seth and Joshua's viewpoints quite similar, both being late teen boys, but I like the worldbuilding a lot.

I will post some pics of Vienna when I've waded through them all. In the meantime there are lots on facebook - send a friend request to Claire Margaret Shapiro if you wish.

Yesterday, 10:30am Top

Oops! I forgot one! I blew through a YA novel, Tumbling, in two evenings. It follows five young women as they compete for places in the US Olympic gymnastics team. Our feelings for them, and theirs for each other, fluctuate frequently as the drama increases, which seems realistic given the intensity of their situation and the heightened emotions it generates. I love to watch gymnastics and know a bit about it so this book was catnip to me. Each girl had a plausible backstory and realistic flaws which brought this small world to life. Highly recommended to readers of non-fantasy YA.

Yesterday, 10:40am Top

>69 Sakerfalcon: "a book about Vienna"
As I read that I started hearing Anton Karas's zither in the background. Wot? No Third Man?

Yesterday, 11:09am Top

>71 hfglen:

Hugh, you have successfully ear-wormed me and I am about to go into a board meeting.

Yesterday, 11:32am Top

>72 pgmcc: *evil grin*

Yesterday, 12:47pm Top

>73 hfglen:. It was a tough meeting and it managed to kick the ear-worm out of my head.

Your evil grin brought it rushing back.

Yesterday, 3:29pm Top

I loved seeing your photos from Vienna; it looks as though you and Lucy had a blast.

I bought October during Verso Books' end of year sale, when all or most of their e-books are on sale for $1 or are free.

Today, 7:08am Top

>71 hfglen: You're right, that should have been an obvious choice. We even went to see the Reiserad because of it being featured in the movie. But I think I have a mental block about Graham Greene after being forced to read Brighton Rock in secondary school and hating it. However, as I have since enjoyed Travels with my aunt that may be unjustified.

>72 pgmcc:, 73 Book bullets and ear worms, LibraryThing is here to serve!

>75 kidzdoc: Vienna was great, so much to see and not enough time. Looking forward to catching up in person!
I'm very glad I didn't buy October as I doubt I'll reread it. I own a lot of book on Russian history and that period is undoubtedly covered in those, if not in as much detail.

Today, 7:33am Top

>76 Sakerfalcon:

Brighton Rock was the first Greene I read. I can see how it put you off. I have since read The Third Man which I found interesting being a fan of the film; The Quiet American which was interesting as I learned a bit of history; and Our Man in Havanna which I also found interesting and amusing as I love the film. I could not get Alec Guinness's voice out of my head as I read it. If you were to try Greene again I would go for Our Man in Havanna to cure you of the injury inflicted by Brighton Rock.

Today, 10:20am Top

>76 Sakerfalcon: I'm with you on Brighton Rock, Claire. It was my O-level book and I still haven't read to this day. However I have read The Third Man - an audio version, narrated by Martin Jarvis - and I did enjoy that!

Today, 3:58pm Top

>69 Sakerfalcon: I'm glad you enjoyed My Name is Asher Lev you won't be disappointed in the sequel Claire

Edited: Today, 4:04pm Top

>76 Sakerfalcon:, >78 CDVicarage: Brighton Rock was my 'O'-level set text too, and I also loathed it. (In fact, it taught me the art of skip-reading.)

Fortunately my father had already recommended me his copy of The Power and the Glory, which provided a useful counter-influence. I thoroughly recommend it.g

Today, 6:44pm Top

Looks like I'm in the minority as I quite liked Brighton Rock. Though not as much as I enjoyed The Quiet American.

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