Recent Summer Reading

Even though I’m on summer holidays, it’s been a busy two weeks, catching up on various appointments and cleaning and decluttering house. I never have time for spring cleaning, so it’s always put off to the summer. Nevertheless, as the city empties and days shorten, despite the hot weather, snatching a half hour on the deck with a book is my go-to relaxation time. Recently, I read two books, one distinctly unrelaxing but worthy and the other, most relaxing, the 4th in a Victorian murder-mystery series: Judy Batalion’s The Light of Days: Women Fighters of the Jewish Resistance and Jennifer Ashley’s Murder In the East End. (more…)

Review: C. S. Harris’s WHEN BLOOD LIES (Sebastian St. Cyr #17)

When_Blood_LiesI’m elated C. S. Harris continues to give us a St. Cyr mystery annually and that I can devote uninterrupted time to reading it because it’s summer holidays for this schoolmarm! And #17, When Blood Lies, did not disappoint; au contraire! I think it’s one of the best of the series, mainly because Harris finally arrives at completing certain story arcs she’s carried over the entire series. And, in her clever way, still leaves us with unanswered questions and the possibility of further revelations. Nevertheless, it still felt like we arrived at a new place for one of our favourite investigating couples, Sebastian and Hero, his wife. Be warned: if you haven’t read the series and wish to, some of the discussion to follow may spoil it for you, so read from book #1 and come back! (more…)

Audiobook Review: Roni Loren’s FOR YOU AND NO ONE ELSE (Say Everything #3)

For_You_No_One_ElseI knew I was taking a gamble listening to Roni Loren’s For You and No One Else for two reasons: one, I’ve struggled getting through a romance at all these days; and, two, I did not enjoy the first in the series, Yes and I Love You. I can’t say anything about #2 because, having been burned by #1, I didn’t read, or listen to it. And that’s the main reason why I settled on this one: I could listen to it, maybe that would help get some of my romance mojo back. It did and it didn’t. I enjoyed it, think it’s likely the best of the series, can safely assume contemporary romance fans will enjoy it, but I still grew impatient with the genre’s flaws and won’t be rushing out to read as much romance as I used to. But maybe, just maybe, I can take the genre in small doses, preferably aurally. 

To start, for some background and context, the novel’s blurb:

“Eliza Catalano has the perfect life. So what if it actually looks nothing like the story she tells online? As a therapist, it’s part of her job to look like she has all the answers, right? But when she ends up as a viral “”Worst Date Ever”” meme, everything in her Instagram-filtered world begins to crumble.

Enter the most obnoxiously attractive man she’s ever met—and a bet she can’t resist: if she swears off social media for six months, Beck Carter will teach her the wonders of surviving the “”real world.”” No technology, no dating apps, no pretty filters, no BS.

It seems like the perfect deal—she can lay low until her sudden infamy passes, meet some interesting new people, and maybe even curate this experience into a how-I-quit-the-online-dating-racket book along the way. But something about Beck’s raw honesty speaks to Eliza in ways she never expected. She knows he’s supposed to be completely hands-off…but as complex feelings grow and walls come tumbling down, rough-around-the-edges Beck may be exactly what Eliza needs to finally, truly face herself—and decide who she really wants to be.” (more…)

Audiobook Review: Audrey Magee’s THE COLONY

ColonyI didn’t know what I was getting when I decided to listen to Audrey Magee’s The Colony and, to be honest, I was leery, having read “somewhere” that her prose is lyrical and breaks down, in a good way I assume was suggested, from the weight of her weighty themes. What I listened to, however, was less experimental, but more compelling and thought-provoking. Because listening doesn’t come as easily as silent reading, I had to work hard to follow the events and understand the characters. Stephen Hogan’s narration was excellent, clear, articulated, and with a particularly engaging gruffness to Magee’s Englishman painter, known only as Mr. Lloyd. (more…)

I Read Jo Baker’s LONGBOURN

LongbournI’m almost scared to write another gushing review: what is happening that I can’t discern anything negative in my last five reads, stellar all?!

Jo Baker’s Longbourn, the story of Pride and Prejudice‘s barely-glimpsed servants, manages to stay true to Austen’s romance and create a world, characters, and stories running parallel to the original and yet wholly unique. It is quite the achievement, both homage and uniquely itself, beautifully written and with only, at most, one forgiveably faltering section.

One of Longbourn‘s greatest strengths is its rich characterization of servitude’s silent shadows: Mrs. and Mr. Hill, the two housemaids, Sarah and Polly, and footman, James Smith, how their lives intertwine in profound and interesting ways, how fully-formed their stories are, for example, the as lovely-if-quieter romance between Sarah and James as the ones occurring “upstairs”. I also loved how Baker made Wickham more villainous than he appears in P&P, but in keeping with what we learn about him via Austen. Ultimately, however, it is in the richness, the tragedy and joy, of the servants’ inner lives and relationships that the novel’s strengths lie.     (more…)

I Read Mick Herron’s SLOW HORSES (Slough House #1)

Slow_HorsesGah, this was good; I devoured it in a two days. After the first chapter, I promptly ordered the series. I am a sucker for good writing: clever, adept, no gimmicks, nothing *shudders* lyrical, clean, direct, and sarcastically witty, “noir-ish” dialogue. Herron’s writing is all of these things and equal to it is his deft hand at characterization and pacing, no sagging middles, or info-dumps. Everything unfolds in steady detail, BUT Herron also does something de rigueur in crime/thriller/spook fiction: no matter how seedy, rough, or disreputable his spies are, they have a moral core, battered but apparent “when the chips are down”. (I can see from review-blurbs, Herron is likened to Greene and LeCarré; frankly, I find their books a slog, but didn’t have that response to Herron.) 

Speaking of disreputable, the spooks who people Herron’s world are disgraced and exiled, who didn’t cover themselves in glory for “crimes of drugs and drunkenness and lechery; of politics and betrayal; of unhappiness and doubt; and of…unforgivable carelessness” (15). At their head, in the home of the exiles, in Finsbury’s “Slough House”, “an administrative oubliette where, alongside a pre-digital overflow of paperwork, a post-useful crew of misfits can be stored and left to gather dust,” (16) Jackson Lamb reigns, an overweight, lumbering slob with reserves of sly cleverness, sudden bursts of physical prowess, and a sharp, sarcastic tongue. What we learn is that like his “misfits,” at core, he possesses some, if not spark, glowing ember of moral rectitude. Like Diogenes, with similar unsavory personal-hygiene habits, the greatest cynic is the greatest moralist, disappointed in the world, expecting and finding the worst in humanity, but not in himself, and in Lamb’s case, his disgraced team.      (more…)

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Tove Ditlevsen’s THE TROUBLE WITH HAPPINESS

Trouble_HappinessFrom listening to Tove Ditlevsen’s short story collection, translated by Michael Favala Goldman and narrated by Stine Wintlev, I can safely conclude the trouble with happiness is it’s elusive and unlikely. Certainly, the characters in these stories make conventional choices about achieving happiness, marriage, children, a modest income, simple, easy, no? No, says Ditlevsen, and she’s right, these choices aren’t simple, aren’t likely to offer bliss and satisfaction; except Ditlevsen, it’s not “unlikely” she’d attach to the likelihood, it’s that they lead to disappointment, a sense of uneasy drift through life, a constant feeling of listless depression, which permeates her world and the people in it. (more…)

“Not waving, but drowning…”, Stevie Smith said it best…

It’s been ages, dear friends and readers, since I wrote a blog-post. I played with the idea of shutting down the blog entirely. Life has been dealing lemons and I had a hard time making lemonade: nothing utterly shattering, just the slow erosion of my house and caring for an aging parent. Add a full-time demanding job and the spinster’s lot to carry it all and the result is not much reading and certainly no blog-posting. None of that is going to change any time in the near-future, so I thought a tiny post with a paltry number of books and even fewer thoughts about them was better than continued silence. So, here it goes. I read two whole books since April: Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent and Margaret Kennedy’s The Feast and a more disparate reaction to two books I haven’t had in ages. (more…)

A Singular Thought on a Garbled Novel…Emily St. John Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN

Station_ElevenIt was fascinating reading St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven after Sarah Moss’s The Fell, to compare a writer with much talent, little purpose, and lack of control over her material with one of equal talent, clear purpose, and control of her material.

If you’re not familiar with Station Eleven, its plot is one great big jumble of narrative threads with a large cast of characters. I think the GR blurb does the best job of describing it:

Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lake region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

This makes it sound way better than it actually was. I’m not sure they’re “risking everything for art and humanity,” or surviving the way travelling players did in the late middle ages (not sure about the history there), grubby, as much sacrificing for art as eking out a living. As for “suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding,” I’ll give Mandel this: she sure can write and kept my interest for the most part. As the novel went on and I couldn’t see the point of it, her conceit did wear. (more…)