torontoc's attempt to read from the existing book towers
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Oh, SqueakyChu--don't make this too hard! 7 books in 6 months surely leaves room for one or two new books...
I probably will do more from the book piles but don't want to give myself any stress- that's why the low number. And new books are irresistible!
O.K. I am starting now to topple those towers. I read
1.The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips. My review is in my 75 Books Read in 2009 Group thread. It has been in one of the towers for a while. It was .. o.k...not great but competent. The book is the kind of book that would be good to read on a plane-keeps you entertained but you could put it down.
"the kind of book that would be good to read on a plane"--that is a very good description. I fly a lot and I do sometimes pick books to take specifically because they are "interruptable." Congrats on your first completion!
Thanks! You always need the kind of book that you can put down easily and yet keep you occupied during plane rides or long waits.
2. The Jewel Trader of Pegu by Jeffrey Hantover. I picked up this book at a remainder book store. Ii had originally been included in the Early Reviewer programme here at LT-but I didn't get it there. I do like historical fiction but this had a very thin storyline. The history was interesting. An ok. afternoon read. One more gone from the tower!
I must admit that I am tackling my TBR pile or tower in the next week. The next book was the subject of a lot of praise on LT.
3. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. I think that this mystery/ story about lace readers, some witches and an extremist cult centred around a family in present day Salem is a good read.Some of the family relationships are a little difficult to figure out and play an important role in the solving of the plot's puzzle. The character development left a few holes in the depiction of several secondary family members of Towner Whitney-the main narrator. Is it a great book? No. I have read better mysteries but I would recommend it. I don't think that I would rave about this book, however. Another book to take on the plane or read in the doctor's office!
4. The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. Penman has written a very detailed historical fiction account of the life of Richard III and his family. Unlike other histories that paint Richard as a villain, this book shows him to be empathetic and really at the mercy of some other nobles. The book is well written. I will be looking for more of Sharon Kay Penman's works.
5. The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes. This book had a great start as a distopian take on present day London where a secret society has been fighting the House of Windsor since the mid 1850's. The anti-hero, Harry Lamb , blunders into the plot as a result of his grandfather's actions. The beginning and middle of this book work really well. However, I wish that there was a programme for " authors who can't write a good end to their plots." This indeed is one of those books where the ending is the easy way out. I am not going to go into details and give spoilers but many readers have seen and read similar plots. There is a way of ending a book where the reader is cheated out of a rational or interesting summing up. I finished this book feeling very grumpy. Now I know why it was in the middle of the book tower.
Torontoc, The Sunne in Splendour is on my TBR pile too - hopefully I'll get to it soon!
6. The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa. This is a well written novel about classes-the very poor and the very rich in Amritsar, India. Ramchand is a clerk in a sari shop. He is given the opportunity to see how the rich live. Ramchand is inspired to self educate himself,buying books and learning English. However the injustices of life for the lower class and poor women leads to choices and decisions that impact on Ramchand's life. Recommended.
7. Granta 91: Wish You Were Here. I finally have started to read some of my older issues of Granta. I remember reading a few stories and then setting it down. This issue has memoirs by Simon Gray on Allan Bates in his last years, Said Sayrafiezadeh on his father, small pieces on weather by Margaret Atwood and other writers and some short stories.Granta issues always have material that makes you think.
Well, I have more than 7 books in my book towers- so I will add 7 more to my challenge!
I will read 14 books from the book towers in the next 6 months!
8. Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro. I didn't read Alice Munro's books for many years. I probably know why- it has something to do with meeting people who could have come from her books in my first years of teaching. But I started reading Munro's work in the past two years. The stories are excellent- and this book from 1971 is so interesting. The short stories are all about a young girl, Del, and her family who live in a very small town in south western Ontario. Del's life and character development are the themes. Munro's depiction of Del's family and friends and her use of language demonstrate why this author must be read to understand Canadian literature. ( and the life of small town Ontario in the 1940's and 50's)
I received this book from Bookmooch last year. What I didn't realize was that the book had some ink circling of paragraphs! Ugh!
9. The Garden of the Villa Mollini by Rose Tremain. I should remind myself not to read two books of short stories in a row-especially if the first collection is by Alice Munro. This book of short stories by Rose Tremain does suffer in comparison. I found that many of the stories ended abruptly- which may be true in life but as a reader I want some resolution or punch. As a whole I was more impressed with the collection when I finished and could appreciate the craftmanship.
10.The Scandal of the Season by Sophie Gee. I have mixed feelings about this historical fiction novel. The story, about a real scandal in 1711 Britain, relates how the poet ,Alexander Pope. uses the story of Lord Petre and Arabella Fermor as the inspiration for his poem-The Rape of the Lock.The threats faced by Queen Anne and her government from the Jacobites and the tension between the Catholics and Protestants also play a signifcant role in this novel. I liked the plot but found that the actual writing lacked the richness of description that I expect. The dialogue had the feeling of the times but I needed more information on the setting and place. Interesting book.
12. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. I heard so much about this book- I had to read it. Walls tells the story about her parents and their unbelievable life. The book does seem a little like Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes. The big difference to me is the incredible resilience of the children and their survival.Walls is a talented writer and I look forward to reading her book about her grandmother.
13. First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde. This novel continues the story of Thursday Next. Thursday is now living with her husband , Landon and their three children. The eldest, Friday, should be joining the ChronoGuard but he wants nothing to do with the time travelling agency. Thursday is working for Acme Carpets, a cover for the Special Operations group. She is also involved with Jurisfiction, and now has to train a copy of herself from a book on her life. Sound confusing? Ffforde's fantasy adventure stories pay tribute to reading and books. I found this one fun and amusing.Fforde makes some apt comments on literature and public taste
14.The Lodger Shakespeare by Charles Nicholl. This is an interesting book about a very specific time that Shakespeare spent as a lodger in the household of Christopher Mountjoy.Shakespeare also gave evidence in a lawsuit that Mountjoy's son-in-law initiated for non-payment of dowry. ( Stephen Belott had married Mountjoy's daughter.) The author is really writing about the social history of the times. Nicholl also tries to find evidence of any sources that Shakespeare might have used in his plays. I found the beginning of the book caught up in minute detail. Later, the chapters were summed up nicely and I enjoyed the reading more.
Glad to hear your ideas on this book (The Lodger Shakespeare), since it's in my collection, but I haven't tackled it yet.
15. Purity of Blood by Arturo Perez-Reverte. I love a good adventure historical fiction novel series. I have followed some of the Bernard Cornwell series and started reading the adventures of Captain
Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte. This book is the second in his series about the adventures of a swordsman in Madrid during the reign of King Phillip the Fourth. Unfortunately, while the background of the feuds and the role of the Inquisition is interesting, this book has a very slim plot. I enjoyed the first book more but will read the next in the series as they are in my TBR pile. I also saw the movie made about the series although the film did cover the whole series. Interesting adventure but I find that Bernard Cornwell and Barry Unsworth write more complex plots in one book than Perez-Reverte.
16.This Boy's Life: a memoir by Tobias Wolff. I really enjoyed this memoir about the author's (wait for it ..) disfunctional upbringing. Wolff's mother took him from city to city in the west avoiding unsuitable boyfriends. Finally she married a man with three children who really was a bad stepfather to Wolff. As a young boy he had a loyalty to his mother. Wolff stole and drank but he also tried to follow his stepfather's instructions. ( belong to the boy scouts, take a paper route) Wolff wanted approval and eventually found a way out of his deadend life. I have some of his other books of short stories and memoirs that I hope to read this year.
Isn't dysfunctional just another word for interesting?
At least when it comes to memoirs?
I believe that "dysfunctional" is the new "functional," and the only truly unusual family is the normal one.
I've never met a "normal" family. I thought they only existed in books.
>15: Cyrel, it's the oddest thing about Munro, isn't it. I did exactly the same thing for probably the same reasons and am coming to her later in life as well. My brother used to rave about her and finally one year he gave me one of her books for Christmas. She really is telling our story, isn't she. Perhaps when we were young, we weren't ready to hear it.
I believe that "dysfunctional" is the new "functional," and the only truly unusual family is the normal one.
I think you have a good point!
Agree about Munro!
17. The Sun Over Breda by Arturo Perez-Reverte. This is the third in the Captain Alatriste series and I am happy to say that it is much better than the second book. This story is about the Spanish army in the Netherlands and the fight for Breda. The descriptions of the battles and the hardships faced by the men are very realistic. You, the reader, also get a sense of the kind of fighting that led to the Spanish victory.
18.I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I understand that this book was written in 1949. It does read like a period piece although well written. So - I did like it and the heroine Cassandra. However, what set me off ( on a bit of a rant ) is the attitudes of the time. The father - considered a genius writer- is forgiven for really neglecting his children. In fact, I believe that today such behaviour would land him in court for child abuse. ( the family never has anything to eat and exisited on the real kindness of others.) The daughters saw marriage to a rich man as their only way out. Cassandra was bright , but " left school" and lived an aimless existance in an old castle. I know that the behaviours would be considered normal -or near normal at that time- but.. end of rant. I liked the book but the attitudes made me grit my teeth.
I looked at the reviews for I Capture the Castle. Most loved it and compared the plot to Jane Austen's work. I guess that I can see the Cinderella qualities in the book. Interesting!
I know what you mean about attitudes changing with the times. I recently read the Newbery winner, When You Reach Me which takes place in Manhattan in the 1970s. I had trouble accepting that they allowed middle school students to leave the grounds at lunch time.
I know- sometimes it is hard reading books with attitudes and actions that are not accepted today.
19.. A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva. The author writes a good thriller. What more could I ask for- spies, a good story line, interesting history of the Holocaust, and a fast moving pace. Silva has this genre down to an art and I look forward to reading more in the series
It's interesting to see how attitudes change, and I agree, sometimes hard to put aside today's attitudes while reading.
On a lighter note, I recently read Couples by John Updike where there were a number of extra-marital affairs going on, and everyone would sneak off to pay phones to call their lovers -- no cell phones!
A good example is John Buchan's Richard Hannay books; they are excellent thrillers, but, being written in the teens and '20s (I think), definitely reflect the attitudes of that time to indigenous peoples and people of color. As long as you can ignore that, accepting that that was the way it was then but we've changed, you can enjoy some excellent books.
Edited for clarity
20. Cary Grant : A Biography by Marc Eliot. I picked up this book from my TBR pile. It had been given to me when I just got out of the hospital. I was in a mood-didn't want to read my Early Reviewer book just yet- (Stalin and friends play a big part). As a biography, the author didn't solve any mysteries ( he never saw any FBI files on Grant) but did a not too bad job on the story. I found out about some gossip on 1930's and 40's actors-who knew what was said about Gary Cooper! I am now refreshed and ready to read some more substantial work!
21. Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan. This first bookl by the author is very sad. It is a satire on the mental health system in England. The narrator has been in the system her whole life. "N" goes to a day programme at a hospital. She is asked to show a new person- Poppy Shakespeare- around. Poppy protests that she should not be there. The story of how Poppy got to the mental health unit and how she tries to cope is bizarre. Well written.
22. The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips.This was a fun read. Secret murders, opposing digs in Egypt, lies and characters that don't tell the truth or do- I enjoyed every twist and turn in this novel. I found that in order to figure out what really happened, you, the reader, have to look for the clues that might be dashed off as an aside. Recommended.
Sounds like you have been doing some interesting reading. I am now going to have to put two more books on my wish list thanks to you. :)
I have The Egyptologist floating around my house somewhere. I need to find it.
I am anxious to read more books by Arthur Phillips. I have Angelica and am trying to bookmooch Prague.
23. Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar. I really like this author's short stories. This book relates the conflicts and loves of new Russian immigrants living in New York. Each story is linked with a recipe or food item.And the author has a section of recipes at the end of the book which is very amusing.I have read all of Vapnyar's books. Her first and third are the best-short stories. Her second book, a novel- I wasn't so happy with.
I have had Angelica on my wishlist for ages, but it is a difficult book to find.
abebooks.com has it. Abe has everything. I'm not affiliated with them in anyway...I'm just a very satisfied customer!
Me too! I don't think I've ever looked for anything there that they didn't have.
24. Italian Fever by Valerie Martin. Valerie Martin writes very interesting books. I really liked Property. Italian Fever is not as very good as Property but still is worth reading. A mediocre writer of best selling books dies in a small village in Italy. His assistant , Lucy is sent to deal with the funeral, and his belongings and papers. Lucy stays in the house that the author had lived in and tries to resolve some unanswered questions about the author's life. An affair with the handsome but married translator and a raging fever help Lucy find herself as well as find the answers. There are also some nice descriptions about the effect of real art as Lucy sees the work of Bernini in Rome. A good read!
25. The Dutchman: a historical mystery by Maan Meyers. This novel is the first in a series of historical novels that use the members of one family throughout history in New York. ( starting with New Amsterdam in this book) Pieter Tonneman is trying to solve a murder during the time the English have blockcaded New Amsterdam,The historical information is very interesting. The actual plot does become a little melodramatic. I guess that I have read better books.
26.. The Kingsbridge Plot by Maan Meyers. This historical novel is the second in a series that follows one family through the history of early New York. I did like this book better than the first. The murder plot was enhanced by real history of the almost poisoning of George Washington in 1775. The history ,as in the first book, was interesting. The plot line and characters were better. An interesting but not fabulous read.
27. Zoli by Colum McCann. After reading Let the Great World Spin, I realized that I had one of McCann's books in my book tower. So I read Zoli. It is an accomplished novel about a Roma woman from Slovakia who is a noted singer and poet. Zoli tells the horrific story of her life- her family killed just before World War Two, her travels and life in the communist state where her image is used by the government,and her survival alone. The story is told by Zoli and two other narrators- an Englishman who collected her poems for publication, and a nameless journalist. McCann says in his author's note that he was inspired by the book by Isabel Fonseca-Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey. I did read that book many years ago and it does give a good sense of the lives of the Roma people. McCann's book never goes to the melodramatic but gets dangerously close. He does use part of the real life story of a singer Papusza. I think that this book does not have the " magic " of Let the Great World Spin. It is a good read but I am glad that McCann's more recent work is better.
I have recently read LTGWS and after reading your recommendation, will look for Zoli. Thanks for the good words! The Romas have always been intriguing to me.
I have recently read LTGWS and after reading your recommendation, will look for Zoli. Thanks for the good words! The Romas have always been intriguing to me.
I would recommend the Isabel Fonseca book as well.
28. Granta 57 India! The Golden Jubilee I got around to reading this old issue of Granta- I like Granta for the variety of writing. In this case, great memoirs of living in India and excerpts of fiction by Indian and British authors make this issue a good reference for Indian history and literature.
29.Prince of Fire by Daniel Silva. Sometimes when I am in the middle of deciding what to read next, I pick up a mystery. This book was a quick read in the world of spies and lots of revenge.
30. The Journal of Helene Berr translated by David Bellos. Helene Berr was a young French woman who lived with her parents in Paris. She kept a diary of her thoughts from 1942 until she was arrested in 1944. Helene Berr wrote about her boyfriend, Gerard who had left France to fight with the Free French, and her increasing doubts about their relationship. After breaking off the engagement, she met another young man,Jean. The diary records their meetings as they both go to classes at the Sorbonne. Helene became involved with a group that was trying to place orphaned Jewish children with families. Her life as recorded in the diary is a very cultured one- playing the violin in groups with friends, going to lectures, and dealing with some very terrible times. Helene's father was an industrialist who was arrested and sent to Drancy concentration camp; he was released after his firm paid a large ransom. Helene's brothers and sisters did leave Paris- she stayed with her parents and thought of leaving much too late. She was killed in Bergen Belsen five days before it's liberation. The diary is of a very thoughtful young woman, intelligent and despairing over the events of the time. A very good read.
31. Old Filth by Jane Gardam. I read this book in honour of Orange July- Gardam 's book was on the 2005 Orange Prize shortlist. I started the book for a second time-the first time I was not drawn into the story. On the recommendation of a friend whose taste I trust, I started again.A retired 80 year old Judge who spend his professional life in Hong Kong, is reliving his past after his wife dies. Sir Edward Feathers was known as Old Filth-failed in London try Hong Kong. However the book really deals with this man's early life in England and his present understanding of his past relationships.Born in Malaysia-his mother dying just after birth- and shipped to England to be brought up, Feathers never had a real relationship with his father. Gardam cleverly adds details about Feather's wife and aunts that give the reader added information on the deceits that shaped Feathers life. This is a beautifuly written book.
>57: I loved that one too. I have her latest here tbr. You are really going great guns here with cleaning up your shelves! Must get cracking here...I've been backsliding.
32. In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War by Tobias Wolff. I had read Wolff's about his childhood -This Boy's Life and was eager to read his next memoir. This series of linked short stories take place during the Vietnam war. Wolff had joined the army and was stationed as a liaison officer with the Vietnamese army. The descriptions of the situations in battle and the relationships with the people and soldiers sound similar to the current situation in Afghanistan. Wolff provides the reader with a vision of survival, destruction and in some cases, the funny and bizarre episodes that mark his time in Vietnam. Highly recommended.
33. Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama This novel is about a young girl in southern China in the 1920's who is given by her parents to the silk industry. The family is poor. The daughter, Pei, will live at a girls house and work in the silk factory-giving her earning to support her family. The story follows Pei as she grows up and makes friends. I learned a lot about the condition of the factories and the young girls who worked there. The author also writes about the practice of young women who give up marriage and live independently. This was Tsukiyama's first novel. I think that her later work becomes more complex. A satisfying read.
34. Dreamers of the Dayby Mary Doria Russell. Imagine an American middle aged woman ( by the narrator's own description) who takes a trip to Egypt in 1921. She meets and travels with Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell and a few other notable politicians. This historical novel that explains the creation of some of the Middle East countries, is also a coming of age for the heroine, Agnes. All of Agnes' relatives have died in the influenza epidemic. Having been repressed and guided solely by her late mother, Agnes really breaks out of her old life as a teacher and determines that she wants to visit Cairo and perhaps the mission where her late sister taught. Travelling with a small dog, Rosie, Agnes meets Col. Lawrence and a German spy, Kurt Wielbacher. The story is interesting and a pleasure to read. The only aspect of the book that I did not like as much was the last chapter. ( no spoilers here). Recommended.
35.. Gulag: A Historyof the Soviet Camps by Anne Applebaum. It is hard to begin. The author has written a very complex and complete history of the Gulag labour camps in Soviet Russia from the 1920's to the dissolution of the system in the early 1990's. She chronicles the structures, the kinds of camps and, carefully based on hundreds of interviews, memoirs and documents, relates how people lived and died. The figures are numbing. Where there is no evidence, ( any memoirs from the punishment camps) Applebaum writes about what she has found from the existing archival material. In the beginning I found the tone of the book very objective and perhaps a little dry. I had a more emotional response after reading The Whisperers. However, after finishing the book and looking at the figures of those jailed and killed as well as reading about Stalin's plan( carried out) to obliterate various ethnic peoples, I did feel numb. Applebaum writes with a very businesslike tone until the last chapter. Her conclusion about the problems of not remembering and it's effect on the Russian people and the rest of the world is an important appeal. Applebaum's last sentences are worth repeating.
"This book was not written "so that it will not happen again," as the cliché would have it. The book was written because it almost certainly will happen again. Totalitarian philosophies have had, and will continue to have, a profound appeal to many millions of people. Destruction of the "objective enemy", as Hannah Arendt once put it, remains a fundamental object of many dictatorships. We need to know why- and each story, each memoir, each document in the history of the Gulag is a piece of the puzzle, a part of the explanation. Without them, we will wake up one day and realize that we do not know who we are. page 514
36. The Fun of It:Stories from The Talk of the Town: The New Yorker Edited by Lillian Ross.
This compliation of the short pieces from the columns of the New Yorker Magazine serve as a social history of New York and in some way, the United States. The pieces are whimsical, cover politics, sports and celebrities. It is interesting that the book finishes in 2000. The dark times of the events of Sept.11 and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would change the tone of any commentary on everyday life. This book is a good introduction to life in the 20th century in the U.S
37. Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff. These short stories do have echoes of the author's memoirs. The stories are about people in ordinary circumstances, living in small towns in the U.S.. The style is expert but I found myself reading about too many similar situations. This is to be expected in short story collections. I just wasn't sure whether it was the author or me.I might be short-storied out for a while.
38. The King's Gold by Arturo Perez-Reverte. This is the fourth novel in the series on Captain Alatriste. It is interesting that the author writes about one situation but describes the life and specific place in great detail. In Seville in 1626 after returning from the siege of Breda, Alatriste is asked to take a dangerous job for the king. He will recruit a group of mercenaries and ambush a ship that is carrying gold back from the Americas. This gold will be prevented from falling into the hands of corrupt ministers. In the course of the story , the reader learns of the celebrations in prison before a thief is excuted , and of the sanctuary provided by certain churches to undesirables. I still think that his third book in the series-The Sun Over Breda was better but this one was a good read.
39. Other Colors: Essays and a Story by Orhan Pamuk. I have been reading this collection of stories, reviews,essays and memoirs-Pamuk included his Nobel Prize acceptance speech- for the past three weeks. I really like the variety in Pamuk's books. In fact he is one of the essayists whose work I admire for the opinions and craft. ( W.G. Sebald, George Steiner and Cynthia Ozick are the others). In this book Pamuk writes about the place of Turkey and the country's relationship to both East and West. He also covers his politics and the background of his books. There is a nice variety of work. This has been an enjoyable read that I will return to because of the quality of opinion and language.
Pamuk's book sounds really nice. I'll have to look for it as I enjoy that sort of read. I loved his novel Snow and really don't know why so many others had trouble getting through it. I remember reading his Nobel prize acceptance speech and also being impressed by that.
When I was in Portland, Maine last month I found a nice used copy of the book for my brother. (Portland has two -that I saw- good used book stores.
40. Sweetsmoke by David Fuller. This novel is a very entertaining mystery/historical fiction story about a Cassius Howard,a slave in Virginia during the civil war in 1862. Cassius is a carpenter who discovers that a woman who once saved his life has been murdered. He resolves to find her killer although his life is bound to the tobacco plantation of his owner. How Cassius tracks down the killer and witnesses part of the civil war battles and the inhumane actions of master to slave make this book very interesting.
41. Defiance by Nechama Tec. Nechama Tec is a historian who interviewed many of the survivors of the Bielski Partisan group and wrote this book about their story. Three brothers, Tuvia, Zus and Asael Bielski, do not go into the ghettos in Western Belorussia in 1941. Instead they flee to the forests and establish camps where any Jewish person is welcome. Unlike many of the partisan groups in the area, the Bielski group accept those who cannot necessarily fight. In fact although some of the members do fight with some of the other groups, the Bielski Otriad or partisan detachment provides workshops that help the other fighting groups. The leader, Tuvia, has good relationships with the important Russian partisan commanders and is able to withstand any opposition to his organization. The Bielski Otriad has to move quickly when the Germans try to attack them-they escape through a swamp. This thorough account of this group is well documented and easy to read. Tec examines all aspects of this partisan group including uncomfortable stories of executions and the treatment of women in the partisan groups in this area.Recommended for those readers with an interest in World War II history.
43. Taking Pictures by Anne Enright. The first ten short stories in this book were funny and witty. The last number of them seemed a little tedious. So I liked and disliked the book for that reason.
Man, don't you hate it when you run into uneven collections... unless you figured out her humor pattern in the first ten so the last failed to amuse.
72> I saw the movie version of 84, Charing Cross Road, and just had to have the book. Good to know it's good as well!
44. Every Past Thing by Pamela Thompson. Sometimes I read a book because of the cover. The painting on the front of the book is by Edwin Romanzo Elmer. " Mourning Picture" is sort of surreal. This is a portrait of Elmer's family outside of their house in the country. Their daughter, Effie, positioned in the left foreground and larger than life, died when she was 10 years old. Her parents sit in the middle ground of the painting on the extreme right dressed in black. Their house, in the background is set in a beautiful landscape. Effie is shown beside a tame sheep and and a small cat. It is a beautiful painting.
The cover was the best part of the book. I should have put the book down after 50 or so pages but I didn't. I was curious about the story. Elmer and his wife Mary did spend some time in New york City, The book covers a week with narrative by Mary and Elmer. Here is the problem. I think that I know what the author wanted to do. She used a very descriptive, somewhat poetic writing style. However Anne Michaels does it so much better. There were interesting revelations about Elmer's family and his relationship with his brother Samuel. Was it worth reading a narrative that was in some small part confusing. I don't know.
I will continue to use this thread and have a goal of 25 books off the shelf for 2011.
Happy New Year!
well- here is my first book-
1. Fludd by Hilary Mantel. I really like Hilary Mantel's writing. Every book that I have read has a different "voice". This slim volume is a satire on the Roman Catholic Church and England in the 1950's. The fictitious village of Fetherhoughton is hysterical. The priest, Father Angwin, has lost his faith but in a good way although he does see devils. The bishop wants him to become more modern. A curate arrives to help the priest but who is he? Wayward nuns, buried saints, and more enliven this story. A good read to start the year.
2. The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton.I just finished this book- hmm- interesting-but puzzling. I have read that it is postmodern. What I do think is that the structure and plot are obscure and the characterizations are right on the mark. That observation is based on 30 years of teaching and seeing everything! Two stories are linked. A music teacher was having a relationship with a student in a girls' high school. First year students at a drama school use this incident as the subject for their year end project. The casual cruelty of the students and the narration of a saxophone teacher tie both stories together. The author certainly gets the insecurities of adolescents. I found the ending a little obscure.
3.Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday. This first novel is a satire and has nice character studies. The story is about a Sheikh from Yemen who wants to create a salmon river and fly fishing in his country . He asks an agency that connects with the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence and eventually the Prime Minister's office. A scientist, Alfred Jones is really forced to consider this task. He eventually takes it seriously as a result of talking to the Sheikh about belief. The story is told through memos, diary entries and interviews. The novel is about politics, and also the power of faith. Nicely told and entertaining.
3.Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva. Every once and a while, I need a mystery to read. This one I had started a month ago and just picked up to finish- ( I had a minor tantrum over my disappointment with reading The Lacuna and had to read a mystery-more on The Lacuna later this week). The author is a good writer-very clear and usually has good plot development in his work. I found that this paricular book's plot was a little weak in that the solution or rescue depended on a character who seemed to come out of the blue at the end of the book. However when I need a mystery, I will continue to read this spy series.
Are you saying that you have already read 4 books this year? Boy, it seems so many are off to a wonderful start this year. I am still on my first.
4. Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb. I really enjoyed this book.Gibb writes about an unusual young woman. Abandoned after by her wanderlust English parents were killed in Morocco,Lilly was raised as a devout Muslim at the shrine of a Ethiopian saint. Finding herself in Ethiopia as a result of turmoil in Morocco, she becomes part of a family and embraces Ethiopian culture. Eventually she becomes involved with a doctor who sends her out of the country just after the fall of Haile Selassie. The novel switches back and forth from Lilly's story as a nurse in London in the 1980's and 90's and her life in Ethiopia in the 1970's. i learned a great about the politics and culture of Ethiopia and the nature of suffering by the exiles. Gibb had been named one of 21 writers to watch by the jury of the Orange Prize. I have to agree and will be reading more of her work.
5. The Fahrenheit Twins by Michel Faber. This is an accomplished book of short stories about bizarre people and circumstances, ordinary souls in stressful situations and some violent episodes. I can admire the skill of the stories but not particularly like them.
6. A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess What an amazing book! The dizzying flow of language and the chaotic atmosphere of Elizabethan England provides the background of this novel about the playwright and spy, Christopher Marlowe. Burgess really brings to life the murky plots by the Queen's spy master Walsingham, the theatres and actors,and the messy loves and disputes of Marlowe-no angel himself. Burgess describes a London and Cambridge where arguments about literature, heresy, politics and theology are held in disreputable and filthy taverns and lodgings. This is a masterwork that the reader has to navigate carefully to appreciate the language. Not for everyone I think.
Torontoc> Dead Man sounds interesting. Do you think Burgess kept true to what history we know about the period? I know there were all sorts of stories about Marlowe, one of them being that he was also Shakespeare or some such ridiculous thing.
The relationship with Shakespeare was really not part of this novel- I think that I would have to read more to make a judgement about the facts( that we know) of Marlowe's life. It seems to me that the facts seems murky- but worth pursuing! I now have to find a good history or biography-
Yes, a biography on Marlowe should be interesting. All I know for sure is he apparently was a trouble-maker.
I have A Dead Man in Deptford in my pile; hopefully I will get to it soon.
A very interesting book on Marlowe is The Reckoning by Charles Nicholl; it reads like a murder mystery. Not a great deal is known about Marlowe's life in general, but a recent book is The World of Christopher Marlowe, which tries to make up for the lack by giving a picture of his surroundings.
And for something *completely* different, I highly recommend the fiction book The Armor of Light by Melissa Scott. It's set in an alternate world where three things are different from history as we know it: Philip Sidney did not die at Zutphen, Christopher Marlowe survived the brawl at Deptford, and magic works. The author absolutely nails the nature of the period, in particular the political uses of masques - I think she must have been reading some of the same books I have! In particular, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals 1450-1650 by Roy Strong.
I hope you get to it very soon. Odors like that are really hard to get out of books.
Baking powder wouldn't baking soda on the other hand may help. However I would try activated charcoal.
91 Staffordcastle> Oh noes!!! You're making me add books to my wishlist! I will drown under it some day.
thank you for the suggestions! - more books to put on the wish list. I am resigned to large book towers and wish lists.
7.Peeling the Onion a memoir by Gunter Grass.
I gather that this memoir of Grass's early life from childhood to his early writing days in the 1950's provoked some controversy. Grass's prose seems to blend his life with some of the incidents in his novels. He pleads bad memory as he describes some of the events that shaped his growth. Grass was born in Danzig and did join the Waffen-SS as a teenager. His experiences as a soldier at the end of the war and his internment as a POW in an American camp are followed by his work as a stone cutter, and then his life as an art student. I found that the beginning of the book was a little hard to follow as Grass used his experiences as a source for his novels or was it other way round? The later sections of the book work better for me. The last chapters really speed up his description of his life up to the publishing of The Tin Drum. I get the impression that more is to follow. An interesting read. Probably the shocking part for the reader is his disinterest at the end of the war of the facts of the Holocaust. He was being honest about his feelings as a young man and I think that this is what made this book controversial.
Nice review. Sounds a bit scary, perhaps more honest than the average person likes? I've been curious about The Tin Drum but haven't read it yet.
I didn't read The Tin Drum but did see the film- stunning!
8. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland. The author has written some outstanding books about artists. I really enjoyed The Forest Lover-about Emily Carr and her first that I read Girl in Hyacinth Blue. This book concentrates on the people and the circumstances behind the creation of Renoir's masterpiece, ( I have seen it in Washington and it is fabulous) Luncheon of the Boating Party. The artist paints 14 distinct personalities who are just finishing lunch at the restaurant La Maison Fournaise. The sitters were all friends and supporters of Renoir. Vreeland uses the voices of many of these people to narrate the chapters in the book. The reader learns about the politics, the role of women and life in the theatre. I found the details of this history very interesting. At first I thought that the dialogue was a little stilted. But as I continued to read,I enjoyed the descriptions of painting. I think that the reader would best have a little knowledge of the history of the Impressionist painters in order to appreciate most of the references to paintings and artists. At the end of the book I realized that I enjoyed it more than I did at the beginning. I do think that Vreeland's dialogues were better in The Forest Lover but I have to say, this novel adds to the reader's knowledge of this very important time in the history of art.
Not to tempt you BUT...she was at Girlfriend's Weekend in Jefferson, Texas a couple of weeks ago. If you're not familiar with it, it's an annual gathering of Pulpwood Queens bookclubs (there are something like 400 of them). Kinda of a big hair and blue eyeshadow literary festival. I know it's hard to conceive but it's great fun. She discussed her new book, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, which is about the WOMAN who designed the Tiffany lamps. And yes, even though I'm trying to book diet, I did buy it. One of the neat things about Girlfriend's Weekend is that there are many authors there but those with egos need not apply. These authors are part of the crowd unless they are speaking and I had an opportunity to talk to Susan when we both went to the kitchen for snacks!
The book on Tiffany sound interesting!
9. A Wall of Light by Edeet Ravel. This novel completes a trilogy written by this Israeli/Canadian writer. The book was a finalist for the Giller Prize sometime in 2005-6. Ravel is a writer of engaging characters. The setting is Israel where each chapter reveals a diary or story of one of three characters- Anna, an actress writing to her married lover in Russia from her new home in Tel Aviv in 1957, Sonya, her daughter writing in the present about her relationship with her brother Kostya, Anna's older son and a dual search for her lover and her father,, and Noah, Kostya's son writing at various stages of his life. The story of Sonya, a deaf mathematics professor gives Ravel an opportunity to describe the complexity of Israeli life. I liked the first two books that she wrote and have one more on my book pile or tower.
10. A Journeyman to Grief by Maureen Jennings. This latest Inspector Murdoch mystery set in 1896 Toronto continues the stories of life and murder at the end of the 19th century. Jennings also make sure that the reader learns of a number of issues of the time- the use of cocaine in " cures" for alcoholism and the interest in the "physiology of fear" by some medical experts. This story concerns two murders committed as revenge. A former slave comes back to Toronto to find those who sold her into slavery thirty-eight years ago. This is a fast paced story that I enjoyed.
Jennings has also been one of the produces of the TV series based on her novels of Murdoch. I like the series although there are some differences in characters.
11. The Film Club by David Gilmour. David Gilmour's teenage son was doing so badly in school that he made an interesting deal with him.Jesse could drop out of school, live with him no questions asked about work, if he watched three films a week with his father. This is the story of the time Gilmour and his son watched films ( the list is at the back of the book) and their relationship. The dialogue that the two had with each other reveals growth, understanding and love. A really nice memoir about growing up and a parent's perception.
12.The Book of Spies :an Anthology of Literary Espionage edited by Alan Furst. I like a good spy story.This collection edited by one of my favourite spy authors serves to remind me of some really good novels.The excerpts from books by Somerset Maughm. Eric Ambler, Anthony Burgess Graham Greene and more are very different in style. I now want to reread some books and look at one that I haven't read. (Reread Ashenden by Maugham and read John le Carre and Eric Ambler)
I'll have to put this on my wishlist. Friends of Maugham is doing a group read of Ashenden right now.
I had no idea that the Murdoch Mystery's came from a book. Wow!! I would like to get my hand on a few of those. Thanks for sharing
13. March Violets by Philip Kerr- part of the Berlin Noir trilogy. Kerr has written a series of excellent detective stories featuring the detective Bernie Gunther. A former policeman who is now a private detective in 1933 Berlin, this story has him looking for a stolen necklace that turns into a more sinister plot. Burned bodies, corrupt industrialists and important papers lead Gunther through the underbelly of Berlin and the rising power of the Nazis. A great read.
14. The Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr. The second in this series has Gunther joining the police again to lead an investigation into the murders of school girls and the influence of some members of a Nazi subculture. This time the year is 1938. Gunther has been a private detective looking into a blackmailing when his partner is killed. The tow plots do merge as the killings are part of a larger plan to discredit Jews. Very well written.
15. A German Requiem by Philip Kerr. This third book in the series of mystery thrillers takes place in 1948 Vienna. The private detective, Bernie Gunther has survived the war and is trying to make a living in Berlin. He is asked by a Russian officer to locate someone who might help a German who has been charged with killing an American officer. Gunther finds that his case leads him to a German Nazi organization who are giving information to the Americans- although they are also whitewashing the backgrounds of certain prominent Nazis. Gunther eventually finds an elusive officer -Heinrich Muller-who was supposed to have died at the end of the war. There are double crosses, much killing and an interesting ending. I have enjoyed this series and am looking for the next books.
16. Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth by Edeet Ravel. This is the fourth book by Ravel that I have read. I do like her style. Ravel handles the subject of the children of Holocaust survivors in this novel. It is the story of Maya and her friendship with Rosie, Patrick and Anthony. All have parents who survived the Holocaust and the resulting damage shapes the lives of the these young people. Ravel's story of how these teenagers coped in the late 1960's and early 70's in Montreal is well told. A sad but excellent read.
17. Shadow Maker The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen by Rosemary Sullivan. I really enjoyed this biography of MacEwen . The author was able to interview the poet's contemporaries and knew her as well. Gwendolyn MacEwen really survived a difficult childhood.( mother who was in hospitals with mental illness, a doting father who had an alcohol problem) She set out at age nineteen to be a writer and poet and she did. Teaching herself Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, MacEwen explored her many interests in mythology and a number of cultures. She wrote about 20 books and did survive as a writer although Sullivan tried to find out what early trauma led MacEwen to destructive tendencies in her life. MacEwen's disastrous marriage to poet Milton Acorn and her later relationships and travels all find a place in her work. Sullivan integrates information and analysis of MacEwen's wonderful poetry into the story of her life. Margaret Atwood was a good friend of MacEwen and lent her collection of letters and recollections to the author. This book was hard to put down.
18. Irving Layton A Portrait by Elspeth Cameron. Working with an author on their biography must be like walking on a tightrope. You have to balance the trust that the subject gives you andaccess to papers, interviews and friends with your own judgement. I wonder what went through the mind of biographer Elspeth Cameron who was asked by Irving Layton to write his biography.Cameron has written a very critical volume. She knew a number of Layton's colleagues She acknowledges Layton's importance to the development of Canadian poetry in the 20th century and the poems that she feels are landmarks. Cameron does not spare the reader with the accounts of Layton's ego, bad behaviour, and treatment of fellow poets, his five wives and his children. Cameron states that Layton did not edit his work well and published matarial that should never have seen the light of day. At the same time, Layton did work very hard supporting three households with work as a teacher in a Jewish school in Montreal and as a lecturer at Sir George Williams University. He was a tenured professor at York University in Toronto for over 10 years. Yet the contradictions pile up- admired by his students as an excellent teacher, criticized by his friends for seducing female students and having bad judgement in encouraging some younger poets, and supported by people like Leonard Cohen. Layton was all passion and bombast and yet he was the pre-eminent poet in the 1950's and early 60's in Canada. Apparently he hated this book and wrote the author many insulting letters. Cameron uses this book to give an overview of poetry in Canada and Montreal in the years of Layton's writings. The books ends in 1995. Later Layton was diagnosed with Alzheimers and died in his early 90's. In a way, his life was as he wanted to live it ,with the excess and opinions that were not popular. I did like the book . Was Cameron fair to her subject? I don't know. The questions that I think of relate to artists behaving badly. Do we put up with outrageous behavior because of theri talent? ( Think of Picasso) Or should we be more critical of their day to day life? Apparently Layton wrote his own book- I must look out for it.
18. The Mitfords Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley. I had read most of Jessica Mitfords books-including her Hons and Rebels and A Fine Old Conflict. The book of letters by and to the fascinating six Mitford sisters reveals their love for each other ( mostly) inspite of widely differing political opinions. The book was edited by Diana Mosley's daughter-in-law Charlotte. She does try to interpret the reasons for some of the actions of her mother in law and her sisters. Whether that opinion is justified is up to the reader to decide. Some of the letters are about day to day activities and some about thoughts on previous actions that caused some grief. Nancy was the novelist who lived in France. Diana had left her first husband and married Sir Oswald Mosely, the English Fascist leader. Deborah, who did become the " centre" for all the sisters, was the Duchess of Devonshire and responsible for remaking Chatsworth. Jessica eloped and went to live in the United States. She was a Communist
( eventually gave it up) and wrote a landmark expose of the American funeral industry. Unity, probably one most controversial sister, went to live in Germany and met and admired Hitler. When England and Germany declared war, she shot herself. Unity did survive but lived a limited life with her mother until she died in 1948. Pamela the sister who did not write many letters in this collection , was a true eccentric and lived in Switzerland for a few years before returning to England. Today, reading the letters of women who were not schooled by their equalling unusual parents, the contemporary reader may be shocked by the casually held opinions on various people.They knew world leaders and literary giants of their time. Certainly, Diana's defence of her husband and his political party,and her thoughts on Hitler ( she was a supporter of Hitler and brushed off most of his actions in the war) seem very objectionable today. Charlotte Mosely explains that most of the sisters, with their contradictions and feuds, hid their vulnerability under humour. Mosely's commentary throughout the book provides a focus and explanations for some of the sisters' actions. A very interesting read of a very different world.
re # 18, I loved this book. The Queen Mum will forevermore be "Cake" now.
The Mosely family is still pretty interesting in a repulsive way. The son of Oswald and Diana was the head of Formula One racing and was caught at a Nazi-themed sex party. I listened to him interviewed afterwards in which he defended his father as brilliant and not at all fascist, that that was all his mother and he blamed the press for making his wife unhappy, when they publicized his extra-curricular activities. But I'm sure they are all perfectly charming. He does have a very upper class sort of English accent.
I can see where the attitude comes from if your read Diana's letters. It seems to me that this upper class family was in a world of their own- although- they were familiar to so many politicians!
Cyrel - really interesting comments on the Mitfords. I think that's all I need, thank you!
19. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls. The author calls this book a "true-life novel". She writes as if it was a novel but the story is about Walls' grandmother, Lila Casey Smith. Walls was going to write about her mother but realized that Lila had a wonderful story. This book is a testament to gutsy women. Lila Casey Smith was raised on farms in Texas and later lived briefly Chicago and then in Arizona.She was a schoolteacher, put herself through college, " broke" wild horses, learned to drive a car and fly a plane. With her husband , she managed large ranches. Lila Casey Smith was a survivor. This well written book is a tribute to her.
20. The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning. I have to thank rebeccanyc for reading and reviewing this book- last year? I think that although the trilogy is made of three connecting novels, it read well as one continuing story. I loved the history of Rumania and the run-up to World War II. Manning's description of the characters of British men and women living and working in cities about to be taken over by the Germans and her astute portrayal of the marriage of Guy and Harriet Pringle made this book a great read for me. ( all over 1000 plus pages!)
I have The Balkan Trilogy sitting on my shelves, I hope to get to it sometime this year. Now I know I have an enjoyable read ahead of me, plus the bonus of clearing such a "fat" book from the shelves!
21. The Levant Trilogy by Olivia Manning. ( made up of the following novels that really work together as one book and story-The Danger Tree, The Battle Lost and Won, and The Sum of Things.) I really enjoyed reading The Balkan Trilogy and was eager to read the next set of novel that comprised the sequel. Harriet and Guy Pringle have been evacuated to Egypt during the early years of World War II. The author not only relates their story but introduces a new character, Simon Boulderstone, In alternating chapters, the reader learns about Simon's role in the war and his adventures in the desert. Harriet is really the focus in Egypt and her disillusionment with her husband. I did enjoy this book for the characters and the history of the war in this area of the world.
22. Tinkers by Paul Harding. I read this book for my book club meeting. I must admit that while I can appreciate the artistry of the writing style and the imagery, this was not my favourite book. I don't mind sentences that go on forever- in fact W.G Sebald used them very effectively. This is a very " impressionistic' story of a man dying and his memories of his life and his father as well as his father's recounting of his life. The two stories do meet at points.
I'm guessing I'd have the same reaction to Tinkers as you did. It sounds like it tries to much?
Hmm - good question- I would say that the sentences are quite wonderful- but I was not in the mood to appreciate them? But I did like reading W.G.Sebald who did the same thing- ( I swear one book was composed of one very long sentence!)
Long sentences, well done, doesn't bother me. I can read Faulkner, and he's the king of the long sentence. It just sounds like it perhaps has too many stories going on, so the "impressionistic" could also mean fuzzy and plotless. But I haven't read it. Maybe he's a fantastic storyteller and manage to make something that sounds very mundane, exciting.
I'll let you know what the reviewer at my book club meeting has to say.
23.The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. This is a wonderful story set in Japan in the late 1930's. A young Chinese man is sent by his family to his grandfather's beach house in the Japanese village of Tarumi. Stephen has TB and his father, who lives in Kobe asks that he leave Hong Kong and recuperate in Japan. During his time at the small house, Stephen meets Matsu a servant who takes care of him and later Sachi, Kenzo and Keiko. Stephen learns of their relationships and history and becomes a more mature person as a result. Tsukiyama's prose is accomplished and her insights into the human psyche are worth reading in this book.
I'm glad to see your comments on The Samurai's Garden. It's on my TBR and although I've treasured some of her other books this one has languished. I've got to move it up so that I get to it this year.
24. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. I really enjoyed the style of this excellent novel by O'Neill. Time past and present merges into the narrative by main character, Hans van den Broek. It is as if the reader were sitting down with this man and listening to the story of his life in New York and London. Van den Broek, a transplanted Dutchman lives at the Chelsea Hotel just after the World Trade buildings destruction. His wife has returned to England with their son and Hans has met Chuck Ramkissoon through his interest in cricket. The stories of both men and the difficult relationship with Hans's wife, Rachel are woven into the narrative of dreams lost and the settlements that people make. A truly engrossing book.
Netherland is a book I just have to get. It sounds great. Thanks for the post.
The more that I think about it, the more I really liked Netherland. I will have to read more by this author.
25. The Collected Stories of Joseph Roth translated by Michael Hofman This collection of Roth's stories are in a way a history of the era. Roth's concerns are with people and villages in forgotten corners of the old Austrian -Hungarian empire. The ideas and lives of women and men and the problems of life seem dated to the present day reader. The well crafted stories and fragments are a vital record of a past life in Europe.
26. The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru. I was overwhelmed by the nature of this book and the theme of identity, the satire , and the accurate and deadly views of empire, colonization and class. Wow! What a book! Pran Nath is half Indian and British. When the identity of his white father is made known to his family, he is thrown out of his house in Agra. Eventually Pran is taken Fatehpour, when he is to seduce a British major. However, he makes his way to Bombay, escapes and eventually takes on the identity of an Englishman. Pran becomes Jonathan, goes to Oxford and does become the white man that he had hoped to be. However, Jonathan is really not very perceptive. A major crisis leads him to examine who he is although the reader is not very clear as to Pran/Jonathan's fate. We do know that above all else, he is a survivor. Definitely a good read.
#26 sounds like it goes through a ton of twists! Sounds interesting.
Yes- it is really worth reading- the twists are amazing and filled with the historical part that I like.
27. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. Every once and a while, I think about books that I read many years ago. This is one of them. I found this book at a church booksale up in the Muskoka region last summer. Written in 1909, the plot and thoughts of the author are very dated by today's standards. However, the idea of an independent woman and interests in nature were probably very forward thinking at the time. The story is sentimental and the characters all redeem themselves at the end. In a way, it is an optimistic view of life and I enjoyed reading the book and knew of the context and innocence of the early twentieth century.
One of my very favorites, torontoc. My grandmother gave me her copy when I was about 14. I adored it from that moment on.
28. Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore. This is the first in the series of three books on Jody-the new vampire, her boyfriend Tommy and the host of wonderful characters living in San Francisco. Part screw ball comedy and satire, this story was fun to read. I think that of the three books, this one ranks second- ( with the second book the best and the last-the last.)
29. Still Here by Linda Grant. I really enjoyed this book by Linda Grant. She takes on the voices of two people- Joseph, an architect building a hotel in Liverpool and Alix, returning to Liverpool when her mother is near death. Grant uses the opportunity in her story of these two people to work in histories of Jews in Liverpool, the Yom Kippur War, Jews in pre and post war England and the firebombing of Dresden. What people keep secret in their lives is an important theme. Grant writes a good story. Her description of personalities is acute.
30. Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs. I read this mystery as I was curious to see whether I wanted to continue reading this series. I must admit that I was entertained by the fast moving plot and interesting information. However I found the ending a little disappointing. I might continue with the rest of the books at another time.
I stopped reading Reichs around that book. I miss the quality of her early books, but there are too many other books to keep reading a series that has jumped the shark.
32. Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall I heard about this book on LT and had it sitting on a book pile for a while. It is a beautifully written story narrated by an interesting yet unstable young woman. Kitty is the daughter of an eccentric artist. She has four older brothers who live very different lives. Her older sister disappeared when she was very little and her mother was killed in an accident. Kitty is married but lost a child late in her pregnancy. She lives in a separate apartment from her husband. The book relates the story of her life during a period when she makes some very bad choices probably as a result of losing her baby. As well, her family gives her some jarring news as well. Morrall writes about damaged souls and their effect on the people around them. Very good book.
33. Sorry by Gail Jones. This Australian writer has created a very sensitive story of a very disfunctional family living in the outback of Western Australia. Perdita is the neglected child of two mismatched parents. Her father is a failed anthropologist who dreams of great work. He married a woman , Stella who retreats from life by reciting Shakespeare and ignoring her daughter. Stella spends time in a mental health facility at various points of the story. The reader learns quite early that the father sexually abuses Aboriginal women. As well, he seems to have been killed by Mary, the young woman who comes to care for Perdita when her mother is sent away to an institution.. At that point Perdita begins to stutter. She may have been a witness to the murder. We do find out the true story and the sacrifice made by Mary. In fact the title "Sorry" has a double meaning not only in the story but in real life as the author points out in a note . A very complex set of relationships are skillfully handled by the author in this excellent novel.
34. Cod: A biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky. I previously read the author's book on Salt. This informative book gives the history of not only this fish but the catching methods, explorers who discovered fishing areas in North America, and of course the politics. Cod have been fished out of many areas and whether they " will come back" is an unanswered question. The book also includes recipes old and new and interesting quotes. The design and illustrations are quite nice as well.
35. The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox. What a wonderful melodramatic read! Cox created a proper Victorian plot with hidden heirs, unattainable inheritances, revenge plans, and more. Edward Glyver, the narrator, searches for his true identity. He finds out that his supposed mother was part of a plan to hide the child of her good friend, Lady Tansor. Glyver is really the son of Lord Tansor who in turn is trying to make Phoebus Daunt, his heir. Of course Daunt is Edward's enemy. For a story full of revelations of crime, unrequited loves and betrayals, Cox's style is clear and a pleasure to read. I look forward to the sequel.( which I have in my book pile.)
36. The Glass of Time by Michael Cox. I had this sequel to Cox's The Meaning of Night and was curious -so I read it next. Again -wonderful Victorian Melodrama. This novel is about the mysterious young woman, Esperanza Gorst, who is placed as the personal maid to the Baroness Tansor. Esperanza, or Alice as she is known to the inhabitants of Everwood is an orphan brought up in Paris by her guardian. She is to spy on her mistress- the love and betrayer of Edward Glyver (see the last book). This well told story of secrets, more killings,and sinister characters ties up the plot from the last novel and introduces more letters,and explanations of past behaviours. I knew what the revelations would be way before the plot got around to solving the mysteries. That is the only fault. However, the reader should want to appreciate the style. I do like the title of the academic who supposedly introduce both books as manuscripts from the university's library-Professor of Post-Authentic Victorian Fiction. That says it all!
37. The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt. This slim volume of memoirs was written under very unusual circumstances. The author had ALS and would die in August 2010. These memoirs of Judt's life and ideas are dated in the text as May 2010. In a way it is hard to find fault with the author's ideas as this book is a farewell with the important milestones in Judt's life remembered and imagined as "arranged" in a Swiss chalet of memory. ( as Judt recalls in The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan Spence, a book that I read a number of years ago) Definitely worth reading as a memorial to an important historian.
38. Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom I like this author's short stories better than her last novel. The book's selections are mainly grouped around two couples- William and Clare and then Lionel and Julia.William and Clare are married to other people but are friendsThey eventually leave their spouses and marry. The fall out from their relationship forms the theme of many of the stories. Julia is Lionel's stepmother and their relationship is traced over the years. No one in these stories is perfect but the writing and personalities created are striking. I enjoyed the insights that Bloom gives the reader in her work.
39. Tales of the Lost Ten Tribes by Tamar Yellin. I had mixed feelings about this book of short stories. The theme is based on the ten lost tribes of Israel although the stories are about nameless narrators who are rootless. The first story is the best- a young person( male? female? ) is entranced with a visiting uncle who styles himself as a traveller and adventurer. He creates much tension in his brother's house. The rest of the book relate the stories of the narrator and the people met- themselves " displaced" to quote the back of the book. The prose is accomplished but the atmosphere is always grim. I didn't get the idea that the narraor was supposed to be the same person until the last story. I'm on the fence about this book.
The Memory Chalet is on the top of my list. It sounds like something that everyone ought to read. Thanks for sharing.
40. Waiting by Ha Jin. This novel gives the reader a sense of life in China under Mao. An army doctor has waited about 17 years before he can divorce his wife. Never really living together, Lin really married Shuyu so that she would take care of his mother and father while he was away at his hospital assignment. Lin became involved with a nurse, Manna Wu, who did wait for him. The story of their relationship and the boundaries that determined what they could and could do, reveals a world that western readers might have very little understanding. The end is not quite satisfying to me, but the story is very powerful.
41. .Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk by Boris Akunin. Book number 100 is a mystery featuring one of Akunin's heroines-the nun Sister Pelagia. The Bishop Mitrofanii hears about a ghost at a famous monastary, New Ararat. He send two spies to find out what is happening and both meet terrible fates. Sister Pelagia decides to disguise herself and solve the mystery. There are more killings, kidnappings and wierd characters. Akunin tends to get a little wordy at the beginning but the plot is fun to read and guess the ending. A fun read.
I love monastery mysteries, even though I still can't imagine that many people being killed off in a monastery!
mm- me too!
42. The Horse Boy: A Memoir of Healing by Rupert Isaacson I saw the documentary of Isaacson's trip to Mongolia to heal his son and saw the author speak. I found the book about a year later. Both book and film were very moving. Isaacson and his wife Kristen had a autistic son, Rowan who seemed to respond more positively when he rode a horse near their home. He also had a good reaction when confronted with "shamans" from Africa who Isaacson was helping. The author decided to take his family to Mongolia toride horses and see shamans there. He arranged for the trip to be filmed. The trip was quite an undertaking- with healing cermonies by groups of shamans,and arduous trips on horseback over mountain ranges to meet a specific shaman.Rowan also had the experice of riding a reindeer who belonged to one of the remote groups that the family met. During this trip, Rowan made his first friend, a little boy who was the son of the guide. Isaacson's narration of this experience was very interesting and very honest as he wrote of his doubts and then belief in the work of the healers. Rowan did improve and shed his destructive behaviours gradually. The author writes of his work in establishing a ranch for autistic children in Texas to help them relate to the world. Certainly this story is inspiring.
The Horse Boy sounds interesting. I'll have to find the documentary.
43. The China Lover by Ian Buruma. Sometimes when a respected writer of politics turns to fiction , the results are mixed. Buruma takes the true story of a Japanese woman whose exploits are the stuff of fiction and writes about her life.He uses three narrators from the life of Ri Koran or Yoshiko Yamaguchi or Shirley Yamaguchi. The structure is not very clear from the beginning but improves as the story of this Japanese actress- who makes films for the Japanese when they control most of China and then for Americans when they control post war Japan-progresses. The true story of this woman does seem like a bad soap opera. She marries the respected sculptor Isamu Noguchi at one point and later supports the Palestinian cause as a reporter and later as a politician. Buruma's narration doesn't really give the reader a sense of the real personality of this woman although her story is compelling to read.
44. Death by Design by Barbara Nadel. I had not heard of this series about a Turkish police inspector,Cetin Ikmen, but enjoyed this book. The inspector and his team find an illegal factory in Istanbul that employs slave labour who make famous label knockoff leather bags. They also find a young man who kills himself with a bomb. Fearing that there is a plot to bomb an unknown place in London, Ikmen is asked to go undercover in London to find out more about the plot and the people behind it.The resulting story is fast and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. A detective series that I think that I would like to read.
45. When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. This is the first book in a trilogy about the Plantagenets.The war that involved the factions who favoured Stephen or Maude as the ruler of England is the subject of this historical novel. Penman writes well about the endless changing of alliances and the misery of continuous war.
Wow, Cyrel--that's awfully few words to describe a very, very long book! :-)
Mmm- yes -there are a lot of ambushes and escapes by both sides!
A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel. I am always admiring of the different voices that Mantel uses in her novels- Moral and ethical dilemmas are main themes in this story of faith and the lack of it. Ralph and his wife Anna live with their four children in Norfolk. Ralph runs the family trust that manages a half way house in London and other charity concerns. The story of their life of poverty as they sacrifice for others and the hidden secret of the tragedy of their brief sojourn in Africa propel the plot. Discovery and the changes in their children's lives as they grow up are important sections of the story as Ralph and Anna face a crisis in their relationship. A very good read.
48. A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche. The subject of this novel is the massacre that took place in Rwanda. The author, in his preface, states that he did use real people's stories and their names, Very well translated from the French by Patricia Claxton, the reader follows the life of Bertrand Valcourt, a Quebecois film producer working in Kigali, Rwanda. His love for a woman he meets-Gentille , their relationship and his friendship with other Rwandans as they confront the coming disaster ( a better term would be holocaust or planned mass killings) make up the plot. The author/narrator has very critical words for the UN appointed soldiers and their superiors, the Belgian and French governments, and the Rwandan government officials. The descriptions of the torture, rapes and killing are graphic.Threaded through this narrative is the story of AIDS and how so many were infected and dying. This is not an easy book to read. Another theme tied in to the AIDS theme is the role of sex-there is lots of it.
Definitely worth reading although I would also recommend Senator- then General -Romeo Dallaire 's memoir as well. -Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
I own both of those, but I haven't found the courage to read them yet. For me that rates right up there with reading about the Holocaust or slavery--too much pain!
You are right- both books were hard to read- you have to be in the right mood- and that's why the book was on my shelf for a while!
49. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. Lovely historical novel about two women in Lyme , England who discover new fossils and bones of unknown creatures. Mary Anning is the one who finds the most important bones and skeletons. Elizabeth Philpot is the middle class woman who champions Mary and does collecting herself. Although Mary provides some of the most important discoveries of the early nineteenth century in natural science, both women are held back by the perceived role of females and their place in society. A very nice read.
I really enjoyed Remarkable Creatures too. I thought there was a lot of interesting stuff going on.
50. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. What a terrific book! I know that many LT readers reviewed this book long ago but I just finished it. Skloot narrated not only the story of the Lacks family but made the science of cells and medical research understandable. The treatment of Henrietta Lacks for her cancer and the aftermath of the work done with her cells ( and without her knowledge) was fascinating. The injustice of her family not knowing is heartbreaking. However, the balance of the advances made in medical discoveries through the use of the HeLa cells was a revelation to me. I hope that Skloot continues to write on these topices.
51. Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin. Le Guin takes the story of Lavinia from Vergil's Aeneid and gives her a personality and story. In the poem she is just a silent player. Lavinia narrates the story of her life as the daughter of King Latinus and later the wife of Aeneas. She is portrayed as wise and capable of making good decisions. Le Guin has animated a section of the great historic poem and saga of early Latin times and "written the women in".Highly recommended
52. To Siberia by Per Petterson. ( translated by Anne Born. I have to groan when I write about this book.-dysfunctional; family, intense brother and sister relationship ( the brother is very bold but clumsy in his caring for his sister), gloomy weather in Danish Jutland and the time just before and after World War II. This story of a young woman whose dreams are thwarted by time and circumstance, and her worship of her brother who does fulfill part of his desire was very depressing. I kept on thinking of the Scandinavian detective that Kenneth Branough played in a BBC series- so gloomy and bleak.
53. Losing Nelson by Barry UnsworthThis novel is really about obsession. The narrator is a middle aged man living as a recluse in London. Charles Cleasby's life is taken up with his reenactments of Horatio Nelson's battles and his writing of a book on the life of his hero. He rarely leaves the house except to go to the Nelson Club, and forgets to eat. His only company is a typist, Miss Lily who comes to help him with his book. The reader is given brief clues of why Cleaseby is so obsessed by the idea of Nelson as a true hero. Miss Lily questions about the motives of Nelson and brings Cleasby uncomfortably down to earth in their sessions. The reader learns much about the tactics and details of Nelson's battles. The event of Nelson's life that Cleasby has problems dealing with is the action that led up to a massacre in Naples. Cleasby cannot believe that his hero would be part of a dishonourable event.I was not satisfied with the ending of the book. I can believe the action taken could happen in a metaphorical way but not the way it was written.
54. Them: a memoir of parents by Francine du Plessix Gray. The author has had a most remarkable life- her mother, Titania du Plessix had been the muse of a noted Russian poet,was born in Russia, lived in France and then the United States and her stepfather, Alexander Liberman was a noted artist and art director for Conde Nast. Francine's father had been shot down while fighting in World War II. Her mother and soon to be stepfather arranged for the family to leave France and be admitted to the United States in 1941. Titania became a noted hat designer for Saks and Alex rose to a top position in the publishing world. The author's life was not really normal- sent off at times to live with various relatives and friends , Francine du Plessix Gray relates the complicated stories of both parents, their strengths and weaknesses, and the famous people who they socialized with. The author writes about the lives of her parents with a painful objectivity. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award- it was a good read.
55. Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi. This graphic novel is the story of the sad life of the author's uncle ,a noted musician. whose private life problems led him to commit suicide. As with her previous work, Satrapi's style is very stark, with black and white artwork and blunt dialogue.
56. The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. This is a well written set of short stories that feature a young woman , Jane Rosenal, as she grows up. The stories expertly relate the heartbreak of first loves, unsuitable love and the loss of a parent. Both sad and funny, the author gives us a young woman who learns about relationships. I enjoyed this set of stories.
57. School for Love by Olivia Manning. I was interested in reading more of this author's works after I finished Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Triology. This early book is very interesting. Manning is able to give the reader very perceptive character study of the immature young boy, Felix- an orphan boarding at a distant relative's house, Miss Bohun, in World War II Jerusalem. Miss Bohun, herself is described by Jane Smiley, in the good introduction, as " in the English reviews of the novel ...to such great literary monsters as Miss Havisham.." Miss Bohun tries to run the lives of all the inhabitants of the house- she does do some major damage to a number of lives. The writing describing helplessness of the the characters and the growing up of Felix is skilled and accurate. I did enjoy the book and will be on the lookout for more of Manning's early work.
58. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Now I decided to clear out Mount TBR and chose this book. I don't know- From a not bad story of a young teenager confronting cliques and a mysterious teacher/mentor- it turned into a bizarre story of espionage. I also found myself skipping some of the precocious meanderings of the main character in order to get on with the story. In the end a disappointment
Drood by Dan Simmons. Simmonds has perfected the " unreliable narrator". This novel about the friendship and rivalry between the writers Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens chronicles their last decades. Collins is the narrator who is the friend and co- writer of scripts and some short stories with Dickens. The reader knows that Collins takes a lot of laudanum and later morphine to deal with his pain from gout. Wilkie describes the tragic event when a train carrying Dickens went off the track at Staplehurst and many people were horribly wounded and killed. Dickens met a strange man named Drood helping the dying and went on an odyssey to find this person. Dickens dragged Collins through the worst underground slums of Victorian London. From this initial voyage, Collins also began looking for the supernatural being who haunted Dickens. The story concerns plots against both writers, events and murders which may or may not have taken place, stories about early forms of hypnotism and the unusual living arrangements and relationships that both men had with women. A thriller with plot changes, the author uses many of the real events connected with both writers to construct his complicated plot. A fascinating and satisfying read! ( although it is 771 pages long)
I have been ill. I hope it's not too late to wish you the happiest holiday season and all the best in the new year.
Your comments on Drood are very interesting. However, the length on that one still scares me away. Maybe one day.
Thank you- Happy New Year!
I found Drood very appealing and read it on a trip-
62. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. What can I say about my reread of a wonderful book that is like " comfort food"? I had stopped reading another book that was getting very silly and decided that the best way to get over bad plots was to reread a great novel - and I did! A great way to finish the book reading year.
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