timjones's 2009 reading part 2

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timjones's 2009 reading part 2

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1timjones
Edited: Jan 2, 2010, 4:57am

Part 1 is at http://www.librarything.com/topic/52771

Here are the books I've read so far. #s 1-24 are reviewed in the Part 1 thread. #s 25 onwards are listed, and some of them are reviewed, below.

0. Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
1. Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
2. The White Road and Other Stories by Tania Hershman
3. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
4. The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron's Daughter by Benjamin Woolley
5. From Elfland to Poughkeepsie by Ursula K. Le Guin
6. A Good Walk Spoiled by J. M. Gregson
7. Swings and Roundabouts : poems on parenthood, edited by Emma Neale
8. Believers to the Bright Coast by Vincent O'Sullivan
9. Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages by Bill Watterson
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
11. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, by Rob Hopkins
12. Improbable Eden: The Dry Valleys of Antarctica by Bill Green (essays) and Craig Potton (photographs)
13. The Six Pack Three: Winning Writing from New Zealand Book Month
14. Speaking in Tongues by L. E. Scott
15. Thornspell by Helen Lowe
16. Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard
17. Father India: How Encounters with an Ancient Culture Transformed the Modern West by Jeffery Paine
18. George Gordon, Lord Byron: selected poems
19. The Discovery of India (Abridged Edition) by Jawaharlal Nehru
20. In a Fishbone Church by Catherine Chidgey
21. Cretaceous Dawn by Lisa M. Graziano and Michael S.A. Graziano
22. The Lakes of Mars by Chris Orsman
23. Winter Study by Nevada Barr
24. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
25. Time of Your Life (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Vol. 4) by Joss Whedon
26. India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha
27. A Dream In Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu
28. The Sword in the Stone by T H White
29. Tom by Mark Pirie
30. Banana by Renee Liang
31. Nearest & Dearest by Mary Cresswell
32. The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall
33. The Summer King by Joanna Preston
34. made for weather by Kay McKenzie Cooke
35. The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel
36. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
37. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
38. Letters from the asylum by John Knight
39. The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia (4/5) (reviewed)
40. A House on Fire by Tim Upperton (4/5)
41. The People's Act of Love by James Meek (4/5)
42. Dressing for the Cannibals by Frankie McMillan (4/5)
43. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Predators and Prey, Season 8, Volume 5, by Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson et al (4/5)
44. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa (4/5)
45. Watching for Smoke by Helen Heath (4.5/5) (reviewed)
46. The Coldest March by Susan Solomon (3.5/5) (reviewed below)
47. Curved Horizon by Ruth Dallas (3.5/5)
48. The Abominable Snow-Women by Dorothy Braxton (3.5/5)
49. The Last Church by Lee Pletzers (see review link below)
50. The Year of Henry James by David Lodge (4/5)
51. Feeding the Dogs by Kay McKenzie Cooke (4/5)
52. Sorry, I'm A Stranger Here Myself by Peter Bland (3.5/5)

2timjones
Jun 8, 2009, 7:49am

25. Time of Your Life (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Vol. 4) by Joss Whedon et al



I enjoyed reading this issue, but it was still the least satisfying volume of the series so far. It consists as usual of a four-issue arc followed by a standalone one-shot. "Time of Your Life" is an appropriate title: the main arc takes Buffy forward in time, while the one-shot takes her back to Season 1, in a print realisation of the never-completed Buffy: The Animated Series.

The one-shot is superb, but, despite some interesting moments and Dawn's star turn as a ... spoiler alert ... centaur, the main arc didn't engage me. It plunges Buffy into the world of future Slayer Melaka Fray, and little concession is made to people like me who haven't read the Fray comics. The action - leaping from air-car to air-car - would have looked great on TV, but in the confines of a comic it was underwhelming.

Not the team's best work, then, but it hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for the Buffy: Season 8 comics as a whole. (3.5/5)

3timjones
Jun 25, 2009, 8:18am

26. India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

This is a superb book. In clear, measured prose, Indian polymath Ramachandra Guha (author of other excellent books on topics as diverse as cricket and environmentalism) outlines and explains the complicated political, economic, diplomatic, environmental, military and cultural factors which have transformed the India of 1947, newly independent and riven by Partition, into the India of today. The book is particularly strong on the ways in which democracy has taken root in India. It's long - my edition ran to 771 pages, plus copious notes - but so clearly written that it is not a chore to read. If you are at all interested in India, or in modern history, I highly recommend this book. (5/5)

4timjones
Jul 7, 2009, 8:48am

27. A Dream In Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu

A Dream in Polar Fog tells the story of how an outsider, Canadian John MacLennan, comes to live with, and gradually become part of, a settlement of indigenous Chukchi people living on the Arctic coast of Siberia, during the years 1910-1917. Yuri Rytkheu, himself Chukchi, uses the outsider MacLennan as our introduction to the life of the Chukchi, and to the encroaching threats that Western ships and Western ways pose to their way of life and their hunting grounds.

MacLennan is forced to cross the barrier that separates white explorer from native when he is badly injured in an accident. His acceptance of, and acceptance into, the Chukchi culture is gradual and sometimes problematic, but his marriage to Pyl'mau and the birth of their children is a key factor in making him decide to stay.

Along with the observations on the ways in which cultures and both clash and cohere, there is an exciting story of death, sacrifice and survival here. If you are at all interested in either life in the polar regions, or the relationship between indigenous people and colonisers, this book is worth reading. (4.5/5)

5arubabookwoman
Jul 8, 2009, 9:12pm

I'm glad to hear you liked A Dream in Polar Fog. I've yet to get to my "polar" book for Reading Globally.

6timjones
Jul 9, 2009, 6:19am

Thanks, arubabookwoman. I haven't read very many books so far that I learned about first from LT, but that is one of them!

7timjones
Jul 9, 2009, 6:39am

28. The Sword in the Stone by T H White

This enjoyable, whimsical telling of the life of King Arthur before he became King Arthur is marred by jarring shifts of tome between rather ponderous humour, anachronistic modern references, wonderful nature writing and interpolated tales of an improving nature. I understand that T H White revised and deepened the story when he incorporated it in "The Once and Future King", but I found this version enjoyable and irritating in about equal measure. It does contain some terrific description and fine imagery, and so, in the end, I liked it more than I disliked it. I think. (3/5)

8urania1
Jul 9, 2009, 10:19am

Tim,

I think the anachronism is deliberate. Merlin is born backwards in time. If you like King Arthur retellings, Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills are good. Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is amusing as well, but . . . there are anachronisms. Leonard Wibberly also wrote a funny King Arthur book.

9timjones
Jul 10, 2009, 1:40am

I picked up that Merlin lives backward in time, and therefore that the anachronisms in his case are not only deliberate but effective in showing this to the reader - I was thinking more of various authorial intrusions on the narrative. Tolkien does likewise at times in "The Hobbit", but avoids doing so in "The Lord of the Rings".

To be fair, "The Sword in the Stone" was T H White's first book, and was written for children - but I still found it off-putting.

10timjones
Edited: Jul 15, 2009, 8:00am

29. Tom by Mark Pirie (4/5)

Full review on my blog at http://bit.ly/5tUxr

11timjones
Edited: Aug 15, 2009, 8:00am

30. Banana by Renee Liang
31. Nearest & Dearest by Mary Cresswell
33. The Summer King by Joanna Preston
34. made for weather by Kay McKenzie Cooke

The pressure of life and events has finally got to me - I can't keep up any more with attempting to review every book I've read this year! So here's a quick rundown on the last few books I've read.

Poetry:

"Banana" is a great little chapbook by Renee Liang. It's hard to get hold of, but I recommend it if you get the chance.

"Nearest & Dearest" is a collection of humorous poetry (rare in NZ, and nice to see) by Wellington-region poet Mary Cresswell, whom I interviewed here:

http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/07/interview-with-mary-cresswell.html

In manuscript form, Joanna Preston's "The Summer King" won the Kathleen Grattan Award, New Zealand's most lucrative award for poetry. The published collection shows Joanna's mastery of poetic form and structure, and there are some memorably vivid images. I interviewed Joanna (aka LT member joannasephine) here:

http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/07/interview-with-joanna-preston.html

"made for weather", by Kay McKenzie Cooke, is a collection I really loved. Here's my brief review:

This is a lovely collection of poems about life, landscape and growing up in the far south of New Zealand. It's intensely evocative for me, because I lived in or visited many of the places Kay McKenzie Cooke writes about in my own childhood, but I think this book would appeal to people who don't share these experiences - especially those who grey up in the country, or who enjoy poetry that is sure-footed,thought-provoking, and full of life.

12timjones
Edited: Aug 15, 2009, 7:21am

32. The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall
35. The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel

Fiction:

"The Carhullan Army" is a feminist dystopia set in the Lake District of the UK, a few decades in to the future, when climate change and peak oil have combined to collapse British society into a sub-Orwellian autocracy. The protagonist escapes (surprisingly easily) from this society and makes her way to the all-woman farm Carhullan, high in the mountains. It turns out that Jackie, the leader of Carhullan, has more on her mind than remaining separate from the system: she wants to destroy it.

This book has a lot of good points: the description of the landscape and of the the workings of the farm are both excellent. But the ending, which should have been dramatic, is botched, so rushed that most of the impact of the climax is lost.

This book has been compared with The Handmaid's Tale, but I think a much closer comparison is with Suzy McKee Charnas's superb Holdfast Chronicles series - Walk to the End of the World and its sequels. Unfortunately, despite its promising start, The Carhullan Army is nowhere near as good.

"The Law of Love" is a real curate's egg. A multimedia novel, containing a CD of songs listened to by the protagonists, it mashes up reincarnation, space travel, humour, tragedy, rape, revenge, politics, satire and the history of Mexico into a story which is almost always entertaining, but never very involving. Definitely worth a read, but don't expect more than flashes of brilliance.

13timjones
Aug 15, 2009, 7:43am

Coming up:

In fiction, I've just started reading The Turn of the Screw for my book group. I have a book to review which I can't say too much about yet, and I have got hold of a copy of Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, which I am looking forward to reading tremendously.

In poetry, I have a couple of collections to review for my blog, and Tim Upperton, whom I interviewed at

http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/interview-with-tim-upperton.html

has kindly sent my a copy of his collection "A house on fire" which I think I'll enjoy a lot.

On the writing side of the ledger, I've got to the 2/3 mark of my novel, and have taken a couple of weeks off to work on short stories. I'm also involved in a couple of writing events in Wellington, which, like most such things, are fun, but hard work to organise:

http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/voyagers-sets-sail-with-great-crew.htm... (17 August)

and

http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/fantastic-voyages-writing-speculative.... (17 September)

14charbutton
Aug 15, 2009, 8:18am

I've just finished The Turn of the Screw for my book group! I thought it was a skillfully constructed thriller.

15tomcatMurr
Sep 11, 2009, 12:58am

oh that's a great book!! Really really creepy!!!

What did you think of it Tim?

16timjones
Sep 11, 2009, 7:51am

Thanks for your comments, charbutton and tomcatMurr.

I'm afraid to say I was disappointed in The Turn of the Screw. I didn't expect to be, and when I went along to my book group's discussion of it, I held back, thinking that everyone else would have thought it a masterpiece - whereas, in fact, no-one liked it very much!

The chief problem for me was that James' clotted writing style stood between me and the story. I didn't have a problem with the ambiguity of the book, but for me, the ambiguity of the story would have been better expressed through a much less circuitous writing style. I fear I will never be a Jamesian!

17timjones
Sep 11, 2009, 7:56am

This message has been deleted by its author.

18timjones
Oct 25, 2009, 6:13am

This message has been deleted by its author.

19timjones
Edited: Oct 25, 2009, 6:21am

Netherland (my #36) is a fine novel - well worth reading, and it sits along side Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise as the two best novels I've read this year. Only a slightly unsatisfactory ending keeps it to 4.5 rather than 5 stars.

20timjones
Oct 25, 2009, 6:20am

I've just added the most recent batch of books I've read, all of which struck me as being worth 4 stars out of 5! I must read something exceptionally good, or bad, soon.

The People's Act of Love was heading for 4.5 or maybe even 5 stars for most of its length, but the final section included a major plot twist which I found unconvincing and unnecessary, and which detracted, for me, from what was otherwise a very fine novel.

21charbutton
Oct 25, 2009, 7:29am

>16 timjones:, I can see what you're saying. I think it's a well-executed example of a serialised thriller and is interesting because of that. It's too easy for us to spot those elements - the children have come from mystical India, James links the story to famous gothic tales - but I'm sure that contemporary readers were less bothered by this.

I'm going to see an operatic version of Turn of the Screw next week; it will be interesting to see how the story is presented.

22timjones
Oct 26, 2009, 6:00am

#21 That operatic version does sound intriguing, charbutton - I'll be interested to hear what you think of it.

23charbutton
Nov 2, 2009, 6:07pm

Well, the opera version of T of the S wasn't quite as good as I had hoped. My companion for the evening summed it up well with this comment: 'Opera's a really blunt tool for telling a story'. Because the ideas of the book have to be conveyed in much fewer words, the development of atmosphere feels rushed and heavy-handed.

The subtlety and ambiguity of the story is lost. The 'ghosts' are given lines to sing which makes them feel much more real than in the book and there is no hint that they could be figments of the governess's imagination.

The actor/singer playing Flora was older than the one playing Miles which gave some of their interaction a weird sexuality which I certainly didn't detect in the book. There was also a sexual subtext to the relationship between Miles and Peter Quint which was much stronger than in the book.

However, I'm no opera buff and everyone around us seemed to really enjoy it!

24timjones
Nov 3, 2009, 2:39am

I'm sorry it wasn't a better experience, but thanks for letting me know about it. I'm no opera buff either, but my brother-in-law is - I must ask him whether he has seen or heard this particular opera.

25timjones
Nov 6, 2009, 5:45pm

I reviewed my book #39, The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia, for Issue 2 of the excellent Belletrista, here:

http://www.belletrista.com/2009/issue2/reviews_10.php

26tomcatMurr
Nov 8, 2009, 11:19pm

was it Ben Britten's opera of the turn of the screw? I know of no other......

27charbutton
Nov 9, 2009, 3:29am

Yes it was. It got 5 stars in the Guardian so I apparently don't understand opera at all!

28avatiakh
Nov 16, 2009, 8:28pm

Hi Tim - I enjoyed your review of The Secret History of Moscow but I ended up not totally enjoying the book when I read it earlier this year, didn't seem to have a purpose for me and I wasn't that taken with any of the characters. Have you read The Stranger by Max Frei? I have it home from the library at the moment and just wondered.

29timjones
Nov 17, 2009, 5:53am

#28, avatiakh: I'm glad you enjoyed the review, if not the book! I haven't read "The Stranger" - do you think I would like it?

30timjones
Nov 19, 2009, 3:27am

46. The Coldest March by Susan Solomon

A fascinating but not entirely convincing history of Scott's polar expeditions, and in particular his attempt at the South Pole in 1911-12 which led to the death of all five members of the Polar Party.

Scott has been viewed as everything from a tragic hero to a inexcusably ill-organised bungler. Using modern meteorological evidence, Dr Solomon makes a strong case that the deaths of at least four of these five men were due to factors beyond Scott's control, and in particular the unseasonably cold weather (even by Antarctic standards) that his party encountered during the final stages of their return in March 2009. Yet she raises enough examples of Scott's impulsiveness and his tendency to operate at or over the margin of safety to suggest that this gallant but inexperienced leader's flaws played a major part in his and his companions' fate.

Despite these reservations, this book is well worth reading if you are interested in polar science or exploration, or in the thin line that divides success from failure when operating in extreme conditions. (3.5/5)

31rebeccanyc
Nov 19, 2009, 11:44am

I really enjoyed The Coldest March for many of the reasons you alluded to, including the combination of modern science with information from the diaries of the explorer themselves. I found it thrilling.

32avatiakh
Nov 19, 2009, 2:56pm

#29, I haven't read it yet but just wondered as Frei is Russian and it's a dark fantasy that has been popular in Europe.

33timjones
Nov 20, 2009, 6:01pm

#31, rebeccanyc: I think that I would have had a more positive reaction to the book if I hadn't already read quite a lot about that period of Antarctic exploration. The scientific information about the abnormally cold temperatures experiences by the returning Polar Party in March 1912 was very interesting, but I felt that she made too many excuses for Scott's failures as an organiser, while properly acknowledging his courage, persistence and personal magnetism.

(It continues to annoy me that Scott, who planned poorly and persistently failed to allow a big enough margin of safety, is lionised, while Amundsen, who was meticulously well-organised and did everything possible to get his party there and back alive and in relative comfort, is disregarded, at least in the English-speaking world! I think this topic brings up some personal issues for me ...)

#32, aviatikh: It sounds good! I'll add it to the to-look-out-for list.

34timjones
Nov 23, 2009, 5:52am

45. Watching for Smoke by Helen Heath

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover ... for full review, see

http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/11/book-review-watching-for-smoke-by-hele...

(4.5/5)

35timjones
Edited: Dec 21, 2009, 5:45am

49. The Last Church by Lee Pletzers

I review this New Zealand horror novel on my blog:

http://bit.ly/6vhS8E

36timjones
Edited: Jan 1, 2010, 12:41am

So, I read a book a week in 2009:

1. Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel (cartoons)
2. The White Road and Other Stories by Tania Hershman (short stories)
3. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (novella)
4. The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron's Daughter by Benjamin Woolley (nonfiction-biography)
5. From Elfland to Poughkeepsie by Ursula K. Le Guin (criticism)
6. A Good Walk Spoiled by J. M. Gregson (novel-detective)
7. Swings and Roundabouts : poems on parenthood, edited by Emma Neale (poetry anthology)
8. Believers to the Bright Coast by Vincent O'Sullivan (novel-literary)
9. Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages by Bill Watterson (cartoons)
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (novel)
11. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, by Rob Hopkins (nonfiction)
12. Improbable Eden: The Dry Valleys of Antarctica by Bill Green (essays) and Craig Potton (photographs) (nonfiction)
13. The Six Pack Three: Winning Writing from New Zealand Book Month (fiction/poetry anthology)
14. Speaking in Tongues by L. E. Scott (poetry)
15. Thornspell by Helen Lowe (novel-fantasy)
16. Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard (novel-romance/historical)
17. Father India: How Encounters with an Ancient Culture Transformed the Modern West by Jeffery Paine (nonfiction-history)
18. George Gordon, Lord Byron: selected poems (poetry)
19. The Discovery of India (Abridged Edition) by Jawaharlal Nehru (nonfiction-history)
20. In a Fishbone Church by Catherine Chidgey (novel-literary)
21. Cretaceous Dawn by Lisa M. Graziano and Michael S.A. Graziano (novel-SF)
22. The Lakes of Mars by Chris Orsman (poetry)
23. Winter Study by Nevada Barr (novel-thriller)
24. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (novel-literary)
25. Time of Your Life (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Vol. 4) by Joss Whedon (graphic novel)
26. India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha (nonfiction-history)
27. A Dream In Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu (novel-literary)
28. The Sword in the Stone by T H White (novel-fantasy)
29. Tom by Mark Pirie (verse novel)
30. Banana by Renee Liang (poetry)
31. Nearest & Dearest by Mary Cresswell (poetry)
32. The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall (novel-SF)
33. The Summer King by Joanna Preston (poetry)
34. made for weather by Kay McKenzie Cooke (poetry)
35. The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel (novel-magic realism)
36. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (novel-literary)
37. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (novella-ghost/horror)
38. Letters from the asylum by John Knight (poetry)
39. The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia (4/5) (novel-fantasy)
40. A House on Fire by Tim Upperton (4/5) (poetry)
41. The People's Act of Love by James Meek (4/5) (novel-historical)
42. Dressing for the Cannibals by Frankie McMillan (4/5) (poetry)
43. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Predators and Prey, Season 8, Volume 5, by Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson et al (4/5) (graphic novel)
44. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa (4/5) (novel-bildungsroman)
45. Watching for Smoke by Helen Heath (4.5/5) (poetry chapbook)
46. The Coldest March by Susan Solomon (3.5/5) (nonfiction-history/exploration)
47. Curved Horizon by Ruth Dallas (3.5/5) (literary autobiography)
48. The Abominable Snow-Women by Dorothy Braxton (3.5/5) (nonfiction-exploration)
49. The Last Church by Lee Pletzers (novel-horror)
50. The Year of Henry James by David Lodge (4/5) (memoir/criticism)
51. Feeding the Dogs by Kay McKenzie Cooke (4/5) (poetry)
52. Sorry, I'm A Stranger Here Myself by Peter Bland (3.5/5) (literary autobiography)

In a few days - perhaps to kick off my Club Read 2010 thread - I'll take a look at this list and see if I can draw any conclusions.

37timjones
Jan 2, 2010, 4:45am

I have blogged about what I read in 2009 here:

http://bit.ly/5gDbBC

and selected my favourites of the year here:

http://www.librarything.com/topic/78444#1688661

And that wraps it up for this thread!