Nickelini Reads in 2018
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2018 Books Read
29. The Reindeer People: Living with Animals & Spirits in Siberia, Piers Vitebsky
28. The Cruel Stars of the Night, Kjell Eriksson
27. The Dark Heart of Italy, Tobias Jones
26. Island Beneath the Sea, Isabel Allende
25. Perfume, Patrick Suskind
24. A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Tolz
23. Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese
22. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Paul Torday
21. Summer of the Bear, Bella Pollen
20. For Solo Voice, Susanna Tamaro
19. Lonely Planet: The Italian Lakes
18. The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, Rumer Godden
17. Up at the Villa, W Somerset Maugham
16. Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
15. The Alps: a Human History From Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond, Stephen O'Shea
14. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4, Sue Townsend
13. Just My Type, Simon Garfield
12. At Hawthorn Time, Melissa Harrison
11. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Farrente
10. In Search of Mary Shelly, Fiona Sampson
9. The Perfect Nanny, Leila Slimani
8. Gorsky, Vesna Goldsworthy
7. Mental Traps, Andre Kukla
6. Touch, Adania Shibli
5. Isobars, Jeanette Turner Hospital
4. The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
3. The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben
2. The Shape of Water, Andrea Camilleri
1. The Detour, Gerbrand Bakker
Nationality OR origins of author:
Italy - 3
Germany - 3
United Kingdom - 11
Australia - 2
Canada - 2
Mixed or Unknown
Female - 14
Male - 14
Mixed or Unknown - 1
2007 x 2
2010 x 4
2012 x 2
2015 X 2
2017 x 2
2018 x 2
Italian - 3
German - 2
English - 19
Travelling with Books (where the book takes me)
Wales & Rotterdam 2010 / Sicily 1994 / Forests of Central Europe & North America / Warwickshire, 1947 / Australia & Canada, 1990 / Palestine / London 2000s / Paris 2016 / England, Switzerland, Italy Romantic era / Naples, 1950s /Village in England, 2016 / Leicestershire, England, 1981-1982 / The Alps, 2014 /India, 1923 & 1974 / Florence, 1939 /Lake Garda, Italy, 1962 / Italian Lakes, 2018 / Italy, 1980s / Scotland, Bonn, & Berlin, 1979 / London, Scotland, & Yemen, 2007 / Ontario, 1960s & 70s / Australia 1960s-2000 / France 1700s / Haiti & New Orleans 1700s / Italy 2003 / Uppsala, Sweden 2003 / Siberia 1988-2002
This was the pic at the top of my thread January - July, and I still love it, but it feels wrong right now:
I spent Christmas Day 2017 in Switzerland's capital, Bern. It's currently my favourite European city. (I'll probably change this picture in spring.)
2017 reading: https://www.librarything.com/topic/245600
UK: 18 (58%)
Canada: 4 (13%)
US: 2 (6%)
(1 book = 3%)
Year First Published
2006 x 2
2008 x 2
2010 x 3
2011 x 2
2014 x 2
2015 x 6
2016 x 2
Different authors: 31/31 books
New to me authors: 22/31 books
Travelling with Books (where these books took me):
England, 1813 / Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, London, Paris, LA, 2015 / England, Georgian era / Iceland, 1883 / Remote cold island, after WWII? / Sussex, 2010 / Yemen, 2008 / Wales, 2014 / Rome, 2006 / Japan, post-WWII / Buckingham Palace, 2010 / Cincinnati, 2013 / Pedras Negras, Mexico, 1910-1917 / Dorset, 1940-2008 / Insane asylum, Spain, 1939 / London, 2011 / Nagasaki, 1950s / Athens, 2014/Vancouver, 1945-2005/Tuscany, 2004/Southcoast England, 1953/ England, 1950/Yorkshire, 2005/England, 2006 /New York City & Mumbai, 1992 - 2016/ mythical rural England, 1560-1960 /Northumberland, 2016 /Switzerland, 2008 / Regency England, 1812 /, Montreal, 1900-2015 & WWII France /Zurich, 2015
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson (expected it to be twee, it wasn't)
Reasons She Goes to the Woods, Deborah Kay Davies
The Behaviour of Moths, Poppy Adams
Cooking With Fernet Branca, James Hamilton-Paterson
Human Croquet, Kate Atkinson
Daydreams of Angels, Heather O'Neill
The Followers, Rebecca Wait
Hausfrau, Jill Alexander Essbaum
Because my reading time is so limited, I abandoned any book that didn't work straight off. So no list of my worst books for this year, although early on I had to read China Rich Girlfriend for my book club. It was horrid and I've quit my book club since.
I have very few reading plans. Mostly my plan is to keep reading books. I see my reading tastes changing, which is probably fairly normal for anyone with a variety of interests and changing life priorities. In the 90s, I read a lot of non-fiction about career, home renovation and child rearing, and a little true crime. I did read novels, but nothing that really stood out. Then in the 2000s, I went to university as a mature student and explored literature -- classics, award winners, the esoteric. From 2008 onwards I ripped through the 1001 books you must read and similar lists, and the back catalogues of the prize lists. And now I'm losing interest in all of that. Not sure where I'm going next. I feel a possible renewed interest in historical fiction (as long as there are no boring battles or government machinations), or perhaps going back to much younger days when I loved mysteries. Who knows what 2018 reading will be? Hope to meet back here this time next year and see what happened in my reading life.
Will stop in from time to time to see what you are reading!
Cover comments: I think this is pretty awesome
Comments: A Dutch woman retreats to an isolated farm house in Wales with only hints as to why. Did she ruin her marriage and career? Is she just working on her academic paper? Is she ill?
This is a highly atmospheric book, and for most of it I enjoyed it very much. But somehow by the end I started wondering what the point of the whole thing was.
Why I Read This Now: I tend to read a lot of British books, and I was in the mood to read something from another part of Europe, so I picked up this book from a Dutch author. Ha ha jokes on me -- it was set in Britain.
Rating: for most of the book I thought it was 4 - 4.5 stars, but in the end I gave it 3.5. This is low compared to most reader ratings.
Recommended for: people who like quiet novels.
Cover comments: I like it a lot
Comments: This 1994 book has nothing to do with the current popular movie of the same name.
First in the Inspector Montalbano mystery series, it's a murder-mystery set in Sicily. I really have nothing to say about this, other than it was was a dud and I'm not sure why I even finished it. At times I thought the problem might have been the translation, but there were too many times I thought "what?" that it can't possibly all be the tranlator's fault.
Why I Read This Now: I want to try to read more mysteries this year. I hope they're not all like this.
Recommended for: people who want to read books set in 1990s Sicily.
Rating: 2 stars. There was an occasional scene or paragraph that was interesting.
Off the top of my head, generally-speaking, Jane Harper's Dry is out in paperback now and is reliably good. She has a new book coming out shortly so it might be a new series.
Really good questions. I had to think about it a bit. I think what I'm looking for is a bit of a puzzle to solve, and also a compelling story to get swept up in. Maybe a bit of a psychological thriller. When I was a kid I read all the mysteries in the library, and I remember really liking Phyllis Whitney, Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. By the time I was 20 I think I'd read all the Agatha Christies. Years ago I used to enjoy Patricia Cornell, Nancy Taylor Rosenberg, John Grisham, and Stephen King (the last 2 not what I think of when I think of mysteries, but they sometimes fit the bill).
Some I've liked in recent years include Kate Atkinson, The Thirteenth Tale, and Tana French. Some I've really disliked include The Glass Key, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Sherlock Holmes, Smilia's Sense of Snow, Shadow of the Wind, The Eyre Affair.
I will watch the thread you steered me to.
I think of myself as someone not liking mysteries but then I see we have similar tastes from your last post. I adored The thirteenth tale and did not care at all for Miss Smilla's feeling for snow.
So I'll be following your reading!
The treatment of characters is a mixed bag--among the regulars there are quite a few annoying stereotypes, but the changing supporting cast can be marvellous. The former really began to grate on me with the seventh or eighth book (frankly I think the series should have ended about there) and by now feels like self-parody. Even worse is the impression that later books have more misogyny (of course a dose of that and everyday sexism must be taken for granted from the start), with women not only being the most frequent victims, but also the crimes getting more sadistic. I wouldn't be surprised to hear Camilleri's getting help with these, actually (he is over ninety). I stopped reading them for a while and only received the 2016 installment a few weeks ago. At this point it's more a gesture of sympathy for Camilleri than interest in the series.
However, the first "leg" of the series is something I can see myself revisiting, which is not usually the case with so-called mysteries.
That's probably why I gave it 2 stars instead of 1. I'm not strictly an outsider -- my husband is Italian and still has many friends and most of his family there, and I've been a bunch of times. I like the parts that made me think "only in Italy" or when something explained or illustrated something I'd seen in Italy that I'd found odd.
Cover comments: delightful
Comments: Non-fiction books usually have a subtitle, but this one has two: The Hidden Life of Trees; What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World. And that pretty much sums of what you'll find in this book. In brief, trees have amazing networks that they use to help each other, which is one of the reasons why a lonely tree planted in the middle of a parking lot usually looks sickly. It doesn't have its plant peeps to help it out.
Trees play the long game-- their decades are our hours. The way they've developed and adapted over millions of years is fascinating.
Recommended for: anyone interested in trees (although the focus is Central Europe where the author is a forester, and North America, where he has professional ties to the rain forests of Western Canada. If your particular thing is South American trees, or Australian, it's not quite as pertinent).
Rating: 4.5 stars. At times it was a bit of information overload, and somewhat repetitive, but I read it bits at a time over several months. Not a perfect book, but enjoyable.
Why I Read This Now: I'm a great lover of forests -- not sure there's anywhere I'd rather be, so when this book shot through the best seller lists in 2016, I had to have it.
Fun fact: This is Pando, a grove of Aspens in Utah, and one of the oldest and largest living organisms in the world. Each of the 47,000 trees in the grove are genetically identical and grow from one massive root ball that is at least 80,000 years old (some scientists think much, much older than that). Scientists also say that it's dying. I've been to Utah a few times and didn't know this existed, but if I ever go back, it's on my list.
>26 Nickelini:, The Hidden Life of Trees sounds so sad. I too now feel bad about the lone crepe myrtle in my tiny front yard! It seems like it might be a good one for an audiobook for me.
I'm sure you've probably gotten a million recommendations for crime/mystery thrillers by now, but some that I have really enjoyed:
-- The Frieda Klein series -- I accidentally started this series last year with what was then the most recent book Dark Saturday because I didn't realize it was part of a series. Once I realized, I quickly read all the books and found most of them pretty enjoyable. They focus on a psychotherapist who helps the British police solve crimes and becomes the target of a serial killer herself. She's a fascinating, prickly person and there's an interesting collection of supporting characters who grow and change throughout the series. Unfortunately, the first one was only a three star read for me, but the subsequent ones have been mostly four stars.
-- For standalones: If you liked The Thirteenth Tale, you might also like The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase. It's a similar kind of "secrets from the past"/kind of Gothic-y story. You might also like The Lying Game, by Ruth Ware, which is about secrets among a group of boarding school friends who have grown up. Have you read anything by Megan Abbott? She writes two kinds of mysteries -- I've only read her contemporary ones, but most of them are sort of domestic susspsense type books involving friendships between teenage girls (though I wouldn't say they are young adult books), some sort of death/mystery, and the essential unknowability of other people.
Cover comments: love, love, love this cover. The colour is similar to my favourite red pencil crayon: Faber Castell Polychromos Pale Geranium Lake, with same colour edges. It's an odd choice, however, because I think it makes this look like a girly book, and it most definitely is not a girly book. This edition is one of the Books Are Beautiful series published by Vintage Anchor Emblem Canada especially for Chapters & Indigo bookstores:
It also has a pleasing texture and opens nicely, unlike the visually similar Vintage series that came out of a Britain a few years ago-- their colours weren't as nice, the covers had an oily texture, and the tight binding made the books stiff to open. I like how this publisher took Vintage's idea and improved all aspects of it.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Comments: I finished this a few days ago and have struggled with what to say other than "I really liked this."
Set in 1947 Warwickshire, the narrator Dr Faraday tells of attending to a house call at Hundreds Hall estate -- a place where his mother had once worked as a servant, and where he had visited on Empire Day as a child. This is a nuanced and clever novel of his deep attraction to the house, and it's crumbling demise, and the demise of the genteel family and their class in post-war Britain. Also, there's a poltergeist. Or is there?
Many people describe this book as super creepy, but I'm not easy to creep, so I'd describe it more as "atmospheric."
I found the book long, and a bit slow -- although I was always happy to pick it up and read it -- I just sometimes thought "nothing is really happening here." But it was a purposeful slow build, and the last third was excellent. The last paragraph of the book explains the "who" of the mystery, but now I feel I have to go back and reread it to learn the "how."
Recommended for: a reader looking for an intelligent state-of-the-nation type story set in a decaying spooky mansion. The writing is also lovely.
Why I Read This Now: I've been meaning to get to this Booker and Orange prize nominated book for ages. I also love novels set in country houses.
Indeed! "With the minimalist aesthetic, a retail price of $16.95 per book, and a print run of 5,000 copies for each title, Random House of Canada is clearly angling for consumers who prize bold design and collectors’ items “ a market that Indigo Books & Music has also tried to capture in rebranding itself as a lifestyle boutique"
Random House of Canada taps into trend of books doubling as decor: https://quillandquire.com/book-news/2012/10/18/random-house-of-canada-taps-into-...
I was tempted to buy them all, but restrained myself because there were some I'd read and didn't want to read again, or owned with a different cover, or just wasn't interested in reading. I think I only have 11 of the 30.
I organize books by colour within their bigger categories. Because I love art and literature equally.
I had never thought of organising my shelf by spine color. I wonder how it would look like! But so many of my books are just regular paperbacks with white spines... The science fiction shelf is the one that has the most diversity.
Hum. Now that I had a closer look I have the impression that most of my books in French have a white spine, or a black one because of one specific science-fiction collection of which I own a significant number, and that most of my coloured-spine books are books in English. I'm too lazy to count though. :p
Cover comments: love this cover that uses "Blackboys at Brampton Island" by Aussie artist Anne Graham. Also love the typeface used for the title.
Why I Read This Now: this was in a pile of books I was moving, and I flipped open to the centre and read the short story "The Chameleon Condition," which I really enjoyed.
Comments: This book has fifteen short stories in 177 pages, which makes for the length of short stories I usually like (as opposed to the 60 and 70 page short stories that are closer to novellas).
An uneven group of stories, mostly set in Australia with a few in Canada. Has some interesting things to say about racism, sexual abuse, bad mothering, and grief. A few of the stories, like "the Chameleon Condition," were magical realism, which I found fun. Most of the stores weren't MR. Even with the realistic stories, quite often I found myself feeling baffled.
Jeanette Turner Hospital is an Australian author who has spent enough time living in Canada that she often is included in CanLit "best of" lists. I learned about her through a book on writing and she was noted as a fabulous writer who aspiring writers need to read and learn from. Hmmmm. M'okay, maybe. I really liked some of what I read here, some of it came across as trying too hard to be literary, and some was gibberish. I felt that my bachelors degree in English literature wasn't enough and perhaps I needed a masters degree to really get this book. There certainly is lots to study and unpack, but first she needed to make me care.
Rating: A few of the stories I really liked, a few I couldn't finish, and that makes for a solid 3 star read.
Recommended for: someone with a masters in Australian literature?
Cover comments: simply gorgeous and perfect in every way
Comments: This collection of vignettes tells the story of a little girl living in Palestine. The novella is made up of the sections "colors," "silence," "movement," "language," and "the wall," and those sections are further broken down into numbered sections. The writing is highly evocative and often sumptuous. All together though, I found it cold and distant. Beautiful, but not really my thing at this time of my life.
Recommended for: readers who love poetic, literary work.
Why I Read This Now: I've wanted to read it for years.
Rating: 3 stars.
Cover comments: solid cover for a book of this subject
Why I Read This Now: This is actually a reread for me. I read it right when it was first published,and took copious notes. But 12 years later, I don't remember where I put those notes, so I bought a copy and reread the whole thing.
Comments: The old saying "never put off until tomorrow what you can do today" can be absolutely horrible advice, and it was the only thing I remembered from reading this book before.
"Mental traps are habitual modes of thinking that disturb our ease, take up enormous amounts of our time, and deplete our energy, without accomplishing anything of value for us or for anyone else in return." So goes the theory of philosophy and psychology professor Kukla. In summary, he identifies these traps:
1. persistence - continuing to work on projects that have lost their value, throwing good money after bad
2. amplification - perfectionism - not every task demands 100% effort
3. fixation - worrying falls into this category
4. revision - focus on the attainment of missed goals - that ship has sailed
5. anticipation - the trap of starting too soon, over work, working in vain
6. resistance - holding on, the 'let me just' disease
7. procrastination - the burden of unfulfilled agendas
8. division - multi-tasking
9. accelerations -- rushing through things
10. regulation - routine without reason
11. formulation - believing something only because it seems true
Obviously there is a lot more to each of these -- I'm just making notes for myself here.
If you don't want to read the book but learn how to escape mental traps, the answer is living in the moment.
Rating: 4 stars. I've marked up my copy, so when I want to think about his in the future, I just need to pull the book off the shelf.
Recommended for: people interested in this sort of philosophy-psychology
Thanks for the review, this book seems interesting!
Cover comments: Hmmmm. Fine, although it doesn't really describe the book. Looks like ChickLit, which it isn't at all. I do like the turquoise thread that is in the shape of the River Thames where it winds through London. A nice gesture.
Rating AND Why I Read This Now: 4 stars. This is exactly what I needed -- I was reading a novel and a non-fiction book, and enjoying both, but at the same time struggling with them and feeling like I was in a boat with a weak motor trying to go against a strong current. I just needed a break with a readable, interesting book. This fit the bill.
Comments: On a one level, and it's a big one, Gorsky is a retelling of The Great Gatsby. This time, the story is moved to recent-day London, and Gatsby has become Gorsky, a Jewish-Russian oligarch. The narrator is Nikola "Nick" Kimovic, a Serbian intellectual who moved to England in the early 1990s rather than be pulled into the civil war. He finds a job working for a floundering bookshop hidden in the side streets of Chelsea, where he meets Gorsky, and the Daisy-inspired Natalia, a beautiful Russian woman from Gorsky's past who is now married to the very English Tom Summerscale, who is also a cad. So many Great Gatsby parallels, but other stuff too. London is also a character itself here, and Goldsworthy has some fabulous bits about the city, especially its weather, especially the Novembery bits (which appear to be identical where I live in Vancouver).
Gorsky was nominated for that women's prize -- the one that was called The Bailey and before that the Orange, and who knows what it will be next.
Vesna Goldsworthy immigrated from Yugoslavia to England, via France. She wrote this novel in English, her third language.
I'm pretty sure I learned about his book from Simon at Savage Reads. His recommendations are pretty good.
Recommended for: I recommend this widely, because I really enjoyed it and it was a breezy read while still having some good writing and not being too light. Readers who give it poor reviews seem to be big Gatsby fans, which I definitely am not. I read "it doesn't inform the earlier novel," and I get that, but because I'm not a Gatsby fan, I don't care. The other caveat I have is for people who don't like to read about the useless indulgent uber-wealthy. They can be a bit exasperating. I'm sure the narrator, Nick, would agree.
Cover comments: Pretty good, I guess. The nanny is described as wearing a peter pan collar several times, so it gets that right. Also, I think the faceless torso helps to add to the mystery suggested in the title (although this is only the North American title--I believe the British publish this as Lullaby, which is a direct translation of the original French).
Comments: I finished this book a week ago but LT was down and then I got busy and forgot I hadn't added it here, so I hope I remember what I wanted to say.
As most reviews point out, right from the first paragraph we know that the children die, and so this is not a who-done-it but a why-done-it. But even without reading that first page, just picking up the book in Costco and reading the title, I knew that this was a book about a nanny who was NOT perfect. There is no novel in a story about a perfect nanny, if such a person even existed. I was intrigued -- how was she not perfect? What happens?
A couple with two small children, living in a cramped apartment in Paris, need to hire a nanny when the mother decides to go back to work. They feel very lucky to find Louise, who at first makes their life easy. But Louse has struggles of her own, and things take a strange and dark turn. The scene with the chicken carcass is one of the more chilling scenes I've read in quite a while.
Why I Read This Now?: I'm struggling through two other books, and when I get to a certain point, I reward myself by reading something that isn't a struggle (See Gorsky, above). I needed a compelling, interesting book and this one scratched that itch.
Recommended for: finding this at Costco tellls me that it's expected to appeal to a broad audience, even though I'd never head of it. The cover blurb compares it to Gone Girl, which I've not read, and Gone Girl fans seem to dislike this book. So if you hated Gone Girl, maybe you'll like The Perfect Nanny.
Also recommended for people who like character studies, and people who like books set in Paris.
Leila Slimani is a Moroccan immigrant, now living in France and married to a Frenchman. The Perfect Nanny won the Prix Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary prize).
Rating: 4 stars, maybe a bit more.
>60 AlisonY: Yes, a decent thriller, but in the psychological sense, not the action sense. From what I can tell it's only North America where it's The Perfect Nanny -- all the Euro versions seem to be some version of Lullaby. Had I seen it with that title though, I'm not sure I would have been interested. I have to say the title grabbed me --obviously the nanny did something. What did she do?
>65 RidgewayGirl: I find Costco a lot more miss than hit, and I bought it in late January. Good luck, maybe your Costco is different than mine
Cover comments: pretty good, matches the title
Rating: Overall I was disappointed with this, but I maybe I'm not being fair. When I sought this out, I was looking for a historical fiction treatment of Mary Shelley and couldn't find one, but this had just been published in the UK so I ordered it instead (I don't think it's even out yet in North America). It's a pretty standard biography, stuffed with facts, end notes, and an extensive bibliography, but perhaps lacking in the storytelling I was looking for. 2 stars.
Comments: Despite my 2 star rating, this book had some strong points. It was extensively researched. Some parts were very well written. The author liked to go off on tangents, and sometimes those tangents were unique and fascinating.
Mary Shelley has to be one of the more interesting people out of literary history -- the child of radical philosopher William Godwin and pioneer feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft (who died from complications of the birth) who eloped as a teenager with already-married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and then went with him to Europe to hang out with other Bohemians, including Lord Byron. That's all pretty interesting, but before she was 20, she also wrote Frankenstein, the first science fiction novel, and introduced us to the monster we've seen in a zillion versions (the Bugs Bunny one being my favourite), and also created the first mad scientist character.
Unfortunately, In Search of Mary Shelley was for the most part a slog. The author writes in a way where she buries the topic, on both the sentence and the paragraph level. A sentence will start going one direction, and then there's a comma and whoosh! off we go somewhere else, comma, change direction, some other words, comma (repeat), and oh here we are discussing _______. Now that I knew WHAT she was talking about, I'd have to reread to figure out what the point of the whole thing was. There were also simple editing errors, for example: ". . .and early victims of Highland clearances, across the Atlantic to new lives in Canada and North America . . . " Ugh. As a whole, the structure and writing were rather choppy and Sampson jumped around, assuming that the reader either knew the story already or remembered some point she mentioned earlier.
I also wanted more about the summer of 1816, known as the "year without a summer," due to the volcanic winter caused by the Mount Tambora eruption in Indonesia. It was the 5th deadliest disaster in British history (Jane Austen survived this too, but I don't think I've heard it mentioned anywhere in relation to her). This was the summer where Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley spent the gloomy summer in Switzerland visiting Lord Byron, who came up with the ghost story challenge that led to Frankenstein. There wasn't enough about this huge event in their lives.
Recommended for : someone looking for a biography of Mary Shelley with citations and lists of sources.
Why I Read This Now: This is a bit of a new area of interest for me -- I read Frankenstein about 15 years ago and hated it, and when I studied Byron and Percy Shelley at university and they didn't do much for me. But Percy Shelley died at a place I've often been in Italy, and now I've been to Switzerland, and both these places do not feel "English literature" to me, so I wanted to learn more.
>71 janeajones: I've seen the trailer -- I'm going to look out for it. My theatre tends to play only space movies, sequels, action heroes and kid's movies, so I'll probably catch it later. Or I can try one of the theatres on the other side of the city that bring in the more interesting films. They only play a few days though, so I have to be watching.
I also went through the "romance reading" phase, and I was reading 1-2 books a day in the summer. For while it was business books. I seem to keep going back to mystery novels though, and lately have been re-reading some books I read years ago and enjoyed.
Cover comments: a google search will show you how much this cover has been discussed. Of course, yuck, but I'm not going to say anything else because it's all been said before. I love Europa Editions, but they have some ugly covers.
Rating: This is a fine book that I just didn't much care for: 3 stars.
Comments: Perfectly readable, but I found the beginning to be disturbingly violent, and then I got pretty bored and came close to not finishing it. I forced myself to read the last 70 pages, and I have to admit the final scene was very good.
Why I Read This Now: I was in search for a book that had some flow and after abandoning two others, this one clicked. It certainly isn't a difficult read.
Recommended for: I thought everyone loved this, but looking at reviews I see opinions are all over the place. So I'm not sure. I certainly know people who loved it, so give it a try.
Will I read the sequels? I almost never read series, even when I like the first book. So it was never likely that I would continue with these, but I did want to know what happens to characters so I looked up the synopsis for each future book -- definitely don't want to read them. They sound like a soap opera.
I see more and more good critics about Lullaby / The perfect Nanny, but yours pushed me over the top and I've wishlisted it. Luckily my library has it in e-book format.
Cover comments: one of those covers that I like the more I look at it.
Rating: a solid 4.5 star read. I expect this will make my list of best books of 2018.
Comments: Jack walks the back roads of England, picking up day jobs on farms when he can. He has spent most of his life outdoors and although completely harmless, his unconventional life is seen by a threat by most people. Having recently done a spell in prison for apparent trespassing, he's determined never to be confined again. Jaimie is a young man who still lives with his parents in the small village of Lodeshill, where he works indoors in windowless warehouses. He appreciates his deep roots to the land and the people of the area, but is aware of the changes going on around him. Kitty and Howard have recently retired-- their two adult children are off on their own and so they left their life in suburban London to follow Kitty's dream of living in an English village. She develops as a painter and makes friends in the village, while Howard makes a half-hearted effort to satisfied -- they don't agree on much. The novel opens with a car crash and then goes back over the month of May leading up to the accident, jumping between the characters and their backstories.
I liked this a lot. It had a familiarity to it that was comfortable, but was also strongly different from anything I'd read before. The main difference from other books is how the author brought in nature elements to everyday scenes. I loved these. She also brought in historical elements and how people living in Europe today are treading paths historical and ancient. I live in a corner of the world where the oldest buildings are maybe 130 yrs old, so I delight in this aspect when I visit Europe, and I like how Harrison gave nods to the ever-changing uses for the land. There's a lot going on here, and I'd like to read it again because I'm sure I missed some interesting connections.
At Hawthorn Time was nominated for the Orange/Bailey's/Women's prize and the Costa award. This is yet another excellent recommendation from Simon at Savidge Reads.
Why I Read This Now: Because it was hawthorn time (May, here in Vancouver and in England in the story).
Recommened for: people who like books with strong nature elements will love this, but there's a lot going on if that's not your thing. If you need a straight forward linear storyline, this won't be for you.
Cover comments: very nice design when viewed up close
Comments: When I started this book I found it fascinating, but about half way through I found it bogged down -- too repetitive, too much info on the font designers and not about design, and the organization was a mish-mash. There were some fabulous bits that unfortunately in my mind been overtaken by the bits where I thought "what is the point?"
Some bits that I liked: the chapter "We Don't Serve Your Type," was a nice surprise. It was about Comic Sans, and everyone knows that Comic Sans is the worst. I was expecting the regular hate on for this font. But it isn't, in fact, terrible when used for its designed purpose. The problem with Comic Sans is that it's been misused.
I like how between chapters he did a piece on one particular font--those were always interesting. There was even one about an old typeface called "Dove" which is named after a pub in Hammersmith that I've been to -- those sorts of connections always tickle me.
Rating: 3.5 stars. A solid "okay." There were lots of illustrations, but it actually needed a lot more examples of what he was talking about.
Why I Read This Now: I've wanted to read this since I bought it in 2013 but never found the time. Now I was working on my latest online photo album (I use Picaboo, but Shutterfly is a more common company), and I was going through the font selection to find one that said "Switzerland." Well, that's obvious, isn't it? Helvetica! Or maybe Swiss? Geneva? What was it with the Swiss and their dislike of serifs? I Googled, but came up blank. Then I remembered this book, and looky there: a chapter titled "What Is It About the Swiss?" It's like he was writing for me. From his conversation on Helvetica: "So what is it that sets Helvetica apart? On an emotional plane it serves several functions: it has geographical baggage, its Swiss heritage laying a backdrop of impartiality, neutrality and freshness (it helps at this point if you think of Switzerland as a place of Alps/cow bells/spring flowers rather than Zurich and its erstwhile heroin problem). The font also manages to convey honesty and invite trust, while its quirks distinguish it from anything that portrays overbearing authority. . . " and later he notes "People who use Sans Serif fonts like Univers tend to value their safety and anonymity." Hmmm. He might be on to something.
I've always found Helvetica to be a snore, but for this project, clearly I can use nothing else.
Recommended for: You know who you are.
Great review and I love the last sentence you know who you are. There is also a documentary called Helvetica. Have you seen it?
Cover comments: a fine cover for this 1994 edition
Comments: An entertaining look at one confused young man's look at growing up in Thatcher-era Britain. Adrian fancies himself an intellectual, but is cringingly naive with his misinterpretations of the world. As he acknowledges near the end of the novel, "I am an intellectual but at the same time I am not very clever."
The Secret Dairy of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 is on the Guardian 1000 list under Family & Self.
Recommended for: a wide audience. For those who sniff dismissively that this is a YA novel, I point out that a lot of the humour will be missed by the younger reader as it takes a certain level of maturity and life experience to get it all. But you definitely need a sense of humour to enjoy this book.
Rating: 4 stars
Why I Read This Now: This year I've been making my way through the very long A Fraction of the Whole, and although it's very good, I just can't stay in its world every time I want to read, so I have to spell it off with something else. At page 40 of Adrian Mole I realized that they are very similar books. So now I need a new book to break with . . .
Cover comments: Hello! Yes, I love this so much! I'm currently creating a Picaboo album of my December trip to Switzerland and am using vintage posters for each location we visited, so "yes I said yes I will Yes" I love this cover. (I actually havn't read Ulysses but to me this quotation has always been an emphatic YES, which is what I mean by probably miss-using it.)
Rating: I loved this book, but have to acknowledge its flaws, so I'm giving it something in the 4 - 4.5 range. Maybe 4.27?
Comments: Stephen O'Shea -- Canadian-raised, lived 20+ years in France, now inexplicably living in Rhode Island -- loves the Alps and sets off on a road trip to tackle the highlights and passes to zig-zag across borders to explore what humans have done in this fascinating (but kinda ignored*) region of the world. He covers France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, but not Liechtenstein.
Unlike my recent trip to Switzerland-Germany-Liechtenstein-Austria (and my family continued on to Italy, when I had to come home for work) where we were going from place to place and went through innumerable, endless tunnels, O'Shea went up and over passes. His idea is that ever time you go over a pass, culture changes. And that's what this book was all about.
Enjoyable, fascinating, entertaining. He visits key locations, goes off on tangents and explores aspects of why the spot was important in our collective history (Mary Shelley and the Romantic movement of literature and art, James Bond in 7 Bond films, mountain climbing and winter sport, or the Nazis in Bavaria).
*by ignored, I realize that the Alps are a top tourist attraction, but it's not so easy to find a variety of good fiction set there. Trust me, I've now been searching for 9 months, and yes, there are a few monumental literary works, but don't get me started on how they don't fit the bill of what I'm looking for. If you have a non-grim, contemporary, readable suggestion, speak up now.
What I Loved: Most of it.
Loved his collective nouns for groups of bikers (NOT cyclists) from various countries -- "a tulip of Dutch riders," "a waffle of Belgian bikers," "a schnitzel of Austrians," "a pilzner of Czech," and "a bratwurst of Germans." (Bending this rule, as my husband left on his 100km cycling trip with friends yesterday, I wished his "maple syrup of Canadians" safety).
What I Didn't Like: This NPR review says everything I thought, but with more finesse: https://www.npr.org/2017/02/23/515433617/this-trip-through-the-alps-is-a-little-...
This book really needed pictures. I realize that in publishing, this is a whole new pay grade. Still, I wanted to SEE what he was describing. My smartphone and Google were close by.
Maps. Yes, there were some, but they were .... grey. His route was on the surface illogical and crazed (going for the passes and all), and the maps provided didn't illustrate where he was going. I think this doesn't matter to those who aren't geography geeks such as I am.
Liechtenstein: seriously? You miss this country? Unforgivable. He was close (I have to give him extra marks for going to St Gallen, which is a footnote in the travel guides, but where I was centred and well-worth visiting). Liechtenstein would have been an afternoon, and would have been perfect trivia for this book -- WHY? does it exist? Been there since .... hundreds of years, the castle is 12th century. The royal family is very interesting (African-Liechtensteinese princess, HELLO? Mixed-race heirs to-boot). And then the ski resort where Princess Di learned to ski -- there's so much material here for a book such as this. Missed opportunity.
BTW, I've visited something like 28 countries, and Liechtenstein is near my top favourites. Makes Switzerland look like a bit of a dump, frankly.
Other than that, the book was bit repetitive with his up and over passes and fear of heights. But that's a quibble. I guess he just didn't go off on a tangent on some of the things about Switzerland and the Alps that I wanted to learn more about. How can I find fault with him not reading my mind?
Why I Read This Now: I discovered this book in the English language section of the university town of St Gallen, Switzerland, and REALLY wanted to buy it, but it was 35 Swiss francs ($46 Canadian, 26 pounds sterling), which seemed really pricey for something I could order at home. I put it down and found a pristine used copy at Russel Books in Victoria, BC for $14 (Russel Books is The Best). But I wanted to read it ever since I discovered it in that book shop in Switzerland last December.
Recommended for: readers who enjoy travelogues that go off on tangents, and are interested in the Alps.
Note: After reading this book, I'm in the process of planning my vacation for next summer: the Italian Alps and Italian Switzerland. (I'm always looking to explore Europe, but for my husband, that always included "....and my family and friends in Tuscany," which makes every European trip so much more expensive. We are hoping that George Clooney will let us stay at his place in Lake Como, and that will help with costs for sure.) Any tips on this are invited.
>97 RidgewayGirl: LOL. Getting stuck in one of those 15 km long tunnels would not be fun. My husband said he notice how horrible and dilapidated Italy looked when he crossed from pristine Switzerland. It didn't help that it was winter.
I will also be in the Alps with my family starting this Wednesday. The French Alps are my favorite mountains in the world -- both in beauty and just the sheer amount of wonderful moments I've spent there -- and I'm so happy to be back after an absence of four years.
Cover comments: The individual elements are lovely, but the arrangement is lacking. The main purple colour is very nice (my book is a perfect shade, but my screen shows almost black), and I think there just aren't enough purple books. The painting is fabulous, and was done by the author's husband, C.S.H Jhabvala.
Comments: This beautiful short novel tells the story of Olivia, a young English wife in 1923 India, who is terribly bored and hot while her husband works long days, and who takes up with the local prince, called the Nawab. Woven into this story is another one set in the 1970s, where the granddaughter of the jilted husband visits India to find out more about her step-grandmother, and who's own story mirrors that of Olivia.
The country of India is itself a character in this novel, and the I particularly liked the critique of the western counter-culture travellers who descended on India in the 60s and 70s in search of enlightenment.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was to Polish parents in Germany, and escaped to London when she was 12. In 1951 she married an Indian architect and lived in India for more than 20 years before moving to New York City.
Heat and Dust won the Booker Prize, and the author is the only person ever to have won both the Booker Prize and the Academy Award, which she won twice for her work with Merchant Ivory as screenwriter for the film versions of A Room With A View (one of my all time favourite movies) and Howard's End (also an excellent film).
The year Heat and Dust won the Booker, 1975, there was only one other book short listed: Gossip From the Forest by Thomas Keneally. Apparently of the 83 books submitted, these were the only two that were prize worthy. Hmmmm.
Why I Read This Now: I think the title appealed on a hot day, although this has been in the top 50 of my TBR pile for a while because I adore Merchant Ivory.
Rating: 4.5 stars -- some readers have commented that this is hardly memorable, and it may not be, but I was always happy to pick it up and I found it rather enchanting.
Recommended for: readers who like books set in India and don't mind that the main characters are English. Probably politically incorrect in 2018, but I won't tell anyone if this is you.
Note: The author wrote the screenplay to the Merchant Ivory film of the same name, with Julie Christie playing Anne (the 1970s traveler), Greta Scacchi as Olivia, Christopher Cazenove as her husband, and Sashi Kapoor as the Nawab. I'm off to watch it now . . .
Cover comments: this whole book design is lovely, and it even feels nice. The painting used on the cover is "the Villa Scassi, Genoa" 1904 by Maxfield Parrish. Fits perfectly.
Comments: Set specifically in the summer of 1939 just outside of Florence, this is the story of the young English widow Mary and what can happen after one bad decision. Highly readable, and a very quick 209 pages. This is my first Somerset Maugham* and a pleasant surprise. (*touchstone being bizarre)
Rating : 4.5 stars, perhaps an extra star there because this is exactly what I was in the mood for.
Why I Read This Now: it's been in my TBR for 9 years, and it wouldn't wait any more. Maybe because I'm dreaming of summers in Europe . . . if I can't be there, at least I can read about summer in Europe.
Recommended for: hmmm, not sure. It's a breezy read without being simple and predictable.
Note: The last book I read, Heat and Dust, was made into a film, with a screenplay written by the author. It was different from the book, but stuck close to the story. I now see that Up at the Villa was made into a movie in 2000 with the beautiful Kirsten Scott Thomas, and Sean Penn as the cad. I'm going to watch it now, but from the trailer I can see that they changed the book and it looks like they turned the story into a moral lesson. Hmmm.
>102 Nickelini: This is a Maugham I had not heard of, so will look as it sounds like the right kind of summer book. Oh to be in Genoa, or just outside Florence.
Sigh. Indeed. Next year is a milestone anniversary, so my husband and I are planning a wonderful trip to the Italian Lakes (an area we've never done). But he has family and friends in Tuscany, so of course we will end up there too.
Cover comments: I wasn't sure if I liked this or not, but yes, I do. It's a bit brash, but on inspection, it mostly works. Also, colour is good.
Why I Read This Now: After visiting Up at the Villa, I wasn't in the mood to leave villas in Italy yet. Also, I'm currently planning a trip to the Italian Lakes, so this fit my mood.
Rating: Soooooo much wrong with this book, and despite straining my eye muscles from rolling them back in my head so much, I still really liked it: 4 stars.
Comments: I can't describe this better than the back cover: "When their mother leaves the country to be with her lover, Hugh and Caddie's seemingly perfect life falls apart. Devastated, the children travel alone to the Villa Fiorita on Lake Garda, determined not to leave without her. On arrival, they can tell Fanny and Rob are deeply in love, and their mother is happier than they have ever seen her."
Fourteen-year-old Hugh and twelve-year-old Caddie show up unannounced at mummy and her fiance's borrowed villa, and everyone is unhappy. After a bunch of things happen, in all his wisdom, Rob decides that what this stressful situation needs is for his ten-year-old, Italian-raised, daughter Pia to come visit. Yeah, who'd guess that would complicate things? (insert yet another eye roll).
What I loved: The setting of the villa two kilometres above Malcesine on Lake Garda is stunningly drawn, and the side trip into Milan was magical. The whole setting was my favourite character in the book. It made me very excited about my trip next year.
I also liked that it wasn't predictable. I had some ideas where it was going and turned out to be wrong.
What I disliked: Oh boy. This book is seriously dated. The misogyny!
Then there are the characters, none of which I liked. I guess Rob is the character I disliked the least -- at times he was the voice of reason, but then other times he was a selfish, mid-20th century jerk. The mother -- Fanny -- had her okay moments, but she was too much of a drama queen and pearl-clutcher to get much support from me.
The children are really the focus of this novel, and each of the three is a piece of work. Hugh is perhaps realistically portrayed, in that any 14 yr old boy could be expected to be a surly brute in this situation. His ideas of women bode poorly for his future. No doubt he grew up to be a rapist.
For the first half of the book, every time Caddie was in the story (which is most of it), I pictured a 7 or 8 yr old, and then her age would be mentioned and I'd be pulled right out of the book. She was a complete baby -- naive, ignorant, whimpering, but also supposed to be the plucky brave one. Ugh! It got better after I remembered that I've actually known some 12 year olds who were actually that babyish, so it wasn't as unrealistic as I'd been thinking. At this point every time I noticed this, I'd imagine one particular girl I knew playing Caddie and it was all good. And at times Caddie was quite likeable (especially near the end
As for Pia, well, Pia is two years younger than Caddie but acts two years older. She is petite and smooth and sophisticated, and makes freckled Caddie feel pale and lumpy (I've been there -- not a good feeling). Pia is also sanctimoniously Catholic and the epitome of a prig. Not a redeeming quality in this character.
I was also irritated by how Godden wrote the story with quickly shifting viewpoints and timelines. To me it seemed like just plain bad writing, but in the "Introduction," Anita Desai praises it: "Her ability to write from both an adult's and child's point of view and alternate between them rapidly and frequently is a hallmark of her writing and in The Battle of the Villa Fiorita she performs this feat with a practised ease," and then goes on to describe this ".... almost like a kaleidoscope, shifting between their varied attitudes and emotions so that each is illuminated in turn and the patterns keep changing." Okay, I can see that. But it first struck me as a fault.
I'm sure I read a few of Rumer Godden's children's books when I was younger, but the only adult book I've read is Greengage Summer. I liked that one better, and certainly wasn't as critical as I've been with this one. Yet I did like this, and may read it again some day.
This is the third book in a row I've read that was made into a film. It looks like the 1965 "The Battle of the Villa Fiorita" was changed a lot, or maybe it's just the names. The English movie producer fiance is here played by Italian actor Rossano Brazzi, and is named "Lorenzo" -- not sure where this upper middle class English woman meets a suave Italian in her little village culture, but okay . . . Fanny has become Moira and is played by Maureen O'Hara (who I know from the original "Miracle on 34 Street"), and Pia is now Donna, and is played by Olivia Hussey who went on to become Juliet in the Zeffirelli "Romeo & Juliet". I've watched a few minutes of "The Battle of the Villa Fiorita" on YouTube and I will pass on watching any more.
Recommended for: You know if you're the type for this. It's on the Virago Modern Classics list.
Cover comments: yep, that's what I want to see on my trip! All good.
Why I Read This Now: Planning a trip for next year, and finding out I actually have to book some parts of it now (or earlier), and so needed this info immediately. And no, I didn't read every word, just the bits I need.
Comments: For my past European travels, I've relied on books by Rick Steves. I've found that for my last trip and this upcoming one, the wonderful Mr Steves doesen't cover the info and places I need. But Lonely Planet does! Becoming a fan of these guides.
Colour pictures, lots of maps, details on the sights. Now I know where to find cable cars to the tops of the mountains above the lakes, for example. Although it suggests places to eat, it doesn't cover places to sleep. This book also covers Milan and Verona. And Ticino, Switzerland which is at the north end of the lakes and where I plan to go also, so I thankfully won't have to also haul my Lonely Planet Switzerland along.
Rating: not sure if it's fair to judge a guidebook until after the trip, but I'll say this is solid 4 star.
This is what I see when I close my eyes at night (I just noticed this is the same spot as a bove from a different angle and time of day):
* No touchstone suggestions for the English or Italian titles.
Cover comments: At a glance, it's a fine cover. However, it's entirely misleading to the contents of the book. This cover says "nice story" & "quintessential women's fiction" and that is just WRONG. So, despite being aesthetically pleasing, it's a bad cover.
Comments: The five short stories in this collection all share unreliable narrators (a favourite of mine) and an unflinching look at trauma. Apparently Susanna Tamaro is a popular author in Italy, but these stories could be set anywhere.
This collection starts powerfully and then slides to a wilted ending. The first story, "Monday Again," was the best. A children's book publisher sees life as a happy fairytale. Obviously, she missed the real meat of the Brothers Grimm where parents abandon their children in the forest to be abandoned by wild beasts, or Cinderella's stepsisters hack off pieces of their feet to fit the glass slipper. In her cheerfulness she attempts to cover the brutal reality of her life. (*5 stars*)
The second story, "Love," is an intense story of a young girl taken by gypsies to work as a street thief. Horrific but fascinating. (*4.5 stars*) The third story, "A Childhood," is the coming of age tale what happens to a boy raised in neglect, abuse and perhaps mental illness. A bit too rambling, but still excellent. (*4 stars*)
The author lost me on the last two stories, however. "Beneath the Snow," was the most traditional of the lot. It's about a woman looking back on her life when she had been a 16 year old in WWII who fell in love with a deceptive American soldier, and then had her baby taken from her at birth. (*3 stars*) The final story, "For Solo Voice," was a long stream of consciousness tale of whoa and regret from a Jewish Italian who had survived repeated trauma throughout her life. But had she survived? I had to sift through a lot of words to find anything of interest or meaning in this one. (*1.5 stars*)
Rating: 3.5 stars. Too bad about the last two stories.
Recommended for: brave readers who can look at the raw wounds of life. If you're looking for a book that fills your craving for a literary trip to Italy, move on because Italy isn't even mentioned in the the first three stories, and is almost non-existent in the others.
Why I Read This Now: I had a stack of possible books, and read page one of each. This one grabbed me.
cover comments: I rather like it for itself, but it doesn't really describe the book
Comments: It's the summer of 1979, and Letty is reeling from the sudden death of her soulmate and husband, and struggling to hold her family together -- there is sensible late-teen Georgina, who is going through new feelings her mother is clueless about; Alba the angry middle child who rebels against everyone and everything; and innocent 8 year old James who has some unnamed cognitive disorder that makes him understand the world in a literal and odd way. So Letty flees with her children to the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, her lifelong safe place.
Her husband worked for the British government in Bonn, and had constant secret dealings with East Germany. His death by fall from a building is viewed with suspicion. Did he commit espionage and then suicide? Was he murdered? How did he come to fall to his unexpected death?
And what about the escaped from the circus grizzly bear on the island? How is it speaking to young James? Is his lost father inhabiting the bear?
Short chapters and shifts between threads keep this story moving to a satisfying ending that wraps them all together.
Rating: Somewhere between 4 & 4.5 so I'll tip up to 4.5 stars.
Recommended for: people in the mood for a good story more than stunning prose and deep thoughts.
Why I Read This Now: A good friend recommended this, so I ordered it from England as it was a bit of an unusual book to find here on the west coast of Canada. I haven't heard of it or the author anywhere else. When I thanked her for it, she said that she stumbled on to it too but didn't say how (I'll ask her next time I see her). She spent some time in the Orkneys a few years ago so maybe she picked it up in Scotland.
Cover comments: lovely. What's not to like about this?
Why I Read This Now: my copy is physically small --- one of the few mass market paperbacks I own. I needed a book I could tuck into my backpack now that I'm commuting to work.
Comments: I picked this up years ago for free and I'd heard vague comments that it was good, but I wasn't especially interested in read it because I know enough about salmon to know they don't belong in Yemen and in fact, the whole idea of that is just dumb.
Silly me! That's the point of this satirical novel. Dr Alfred Jones lives a small, quiet life as a fisheries scientist in Britain. He finds himself coerced into assisting a wealthy Yemeni sheik with his pet project of introducing salmon fishing to the Yemen. Seeing potential for political gain in this, the prime minister gets involved too. The novel is told through emails, memos, reports, PR releases and diary entries. This technique can be fun to read, but is never truly realistic in terms of what people actually write in diaries, reports, etc.
For some reason, I was particularly amused by the correspondence with his wife Mary about their loveless marriage. I don't know why I liked this because Mary was a completely one-dimensional character, with that one dimension being "unrelentingly unpleasant."
The novel started out strong, then got flabby and a bit boring in the middle, and then finished with an interesting flourish.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Recommended for: a reader looking for a bit of a light break and some humour in a story.
cover comments: I am neutral about this cover
Comments: Saul Indian Horse is an Objiwe boy who grew up in the forests around the Ontario-Manitoba border. When he is 8 yrs old, he is forced into a residential school. Despite the brutality of his life, he learns to play hockey and is a talented athlete. Throughout his teens, he uses hockey as an escape from his horrors. Unfortunately, the racism he experiences from other players and fans sours him, and he ends up living a nomadic life doing temporary labour jobs and falling into alcoholism. By facing his demons, he overcomes and starts a new/old life.
Indian Horse was defended in 2013 Canada Reads, and was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Why I Read This Now: book club
Recommended for: a broad audience and anyone who doesn't know about a black mark on Canada's history -- the residential school.
Rating: Indian Horse is a solid "good read." It's compelling, very well written, and moves along thanks to short chapters. Personally for me there was way too much hockey, so I take off half a star for that. 3.5 stars.
Cover comments: My edition has a slightly darker olive cover. This is part of the 2012 Books Are Beautiful series published here in Canada. Lovely to look at, delightful to hold . . . but in this case there is text-dense pages with narrower margins and smaller print.
More from Books Are Beautiful:
Comments: Some of my favourite books are Big Books --- Anna Karenina and Bleak House, for example. And I read Stephen King’s The Stand at least four times. So when I say “I hate big books,” clearly I don’t mean ALL big books. Just most of them. I appreciate a tightly written 200 page novel, 300 if the author wants to ramble a bit. My main complaint with long books is that I usually just don’t want to be in the world the author created for that many hours, especially now since life has cut back on my reading time. I like to get into a book, enjoy it, and get out, and then bring on to the next one. The other problem with every long book is full of filler that shows the lack of a strong editor. The upside is that with A Fraction of the Whole, I discovered more about myself and my distaste for long books.
Before we go further, I’ll say that there was a lot to love about A Fraction of the Whole. There were sentences and paragraphs that were among the most beautiful and clever that I’ve ever read. There are sections that tell a great story ---one that is both heartfelt and entertaining. Whether you read critical reviews or reader reviews, you’ll see that people love this book, and deservedly so. But for me, it was just too much. I read and read and read and didn't feel like I was getting anywhere. I’ve been reading this book since March. That’s 7.5 months.
What It’s About: Jasper Dean, living sometime recently in Australia, tells his story growing up with his manic father Martin, who’s lived his life in the shadow of his criminal brother Terry. Terry Dean is the most popular criminal in Australia since Ned Kelly. Individually, these three characters continually try to improve the lives of those around them by gambling on some off-the-wall scheme, but it always turns in to bad (sometimes tragic) unintended consequences.
What I liked: as I already said, great writing and storytelling.
Why I Struggled:
1. The singular voice—definitely my biggest problem with A Fraction of the Whole. Some parts are told by Jasper, some by Martin, but they both have the exact same voice. And it’s always slightly frenzied. Although the voice could be very, very funny, overall, I found it tedious. Note to self: perhaps for long novels, look for 3rd person narration and a variety of characters.
2. My edition was only 561 pages long due to formatting, but normal editions are well over 700 pages. It’s rare that a book needs to be that long. This should have been divided into at least three novels, maybe four. Further pain ensued because the various breaks are random—this book has 7 numbered sections of length varying from 200 to 50 pages. Within these sections there are randomly spaced subsections. Long sections always make any book a slog, in my experience. Give the reader’s eyes and brain a bit of a breather, and often we can’t wait to jump back in. Don’t make us wade through wet concrete.
3. I was around 100 pages in before we heard from a female character. That just bores me. Also, at one point, Jasper and Martin have girlfriends, and I was several pages into a vignette about one of them and thought I was reading about the other ---I came up short when there was a comment about her being in her 30s, and I was all “hold on, she’s 17!” I had to go back and reread with the other character in mind, and I realized that they were basically the same person with a different hair colour. Was this part of the theme of the son reliving the father’s life in every way?, or was it the author’s complete inability to write real female characters? I’m going to say the later.
4. The characters were always desperate for money, but somehow they managed to eat and have a home to sleep at every night without really saying how. I don’t know, maybe Australia just has a robust welfare system. I don’t actually believe that.
Other Things to Say: A Fraction of the Whole was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, which is pretty damned impressive for a first novel, especially when the author isn’t British (no slag against British writers, but instead an observation that we colonies don’t make the list every year, so all the better. Good job, Steve Tolz!).
Rating: Mixed. 3.5 stars. I think that it took me most of the year to read, but that I still finished (I abandon books in a heartbeat), says something. Not sure what it says, but something.
Recommended for: Reviews tell me most people like this more than I did, I despite my protests, I’m not sorry I read it. I just would have been satisfied at any 200 page section.
Why I Read This Now: I had just finished the longish Books Are Beautiful The Little Stranger and thought I’d tackle another long book from that series. I had to take a lot of breaks and read other things in between.
Well, I did read about 17 books in between. I just got tired of the same voice for so many pages. If you're one to like long books, that might not bug you as much as it did me. It really was very good -- I just think I'd have loved 200 pages of it.
Ah, I see. I feel like I’m the only reader who doesn’t love long books. Nice to hear I’m not alone. If you have time please share your other reasons for not liking them.
There is something to the idea that if you're going to commit to a long book, it just better be good!
Cover comments: Pretty good, I guess. It's the movie tie in cover, which isn't awful as those go. Doesn't really capture the feel of the book, but does capture the meaning.
Rating: 4.5 stars.
Comments: Well, this was different. I liked that.
Originally written in German, but set entirely in 1700s France, Perfume is the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenoulle, who mother birthed him into a pile of fish guts and immediately abandoned him. He has no scent at all himself, but a supernatural sense of smell, being able to discern scents from even a distance and to store them in his memory. Rising out of the stench of 18th century Paris, he attaches himself to the perfume trade. But his lack of personal smell mirrors his lack of humanity. Smell is all and everything for Jean-Baptiste.
The only thing I have to add is that the whole bit about sultry young virgins having magical scent was sort of ..... ugh and snore at the same time. Obviously written by a man. Do better, male writers! But then again, this was 1986, so ....
Readers who don't like description probably won't like Perfume, but I thought there was some fine writing (and translating). Two of my favourite parts, from the first chapter:
"In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlours stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench of sulphur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneriers, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. people stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease. The rivers stank, the marketplaces, stank, the churches stank, the stank beneath the bridges and in the palaces. The peasants stank as did the priest, the apprentice as did his master's wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the queen like an old goat, summer and winter. For in the eighteenth century there was nothing to hinder bacteria busy at decomposition, and so there was no human activity, either constructive or destructive, no manifestation of germinating or decaying life that was not accompanied by stench.
And of course the stench was foulest in Paris ..... "
(I'm betting that the author read the opening of Dickens' Bleak House). I also love:
"...Grenouille's mother, who was still a young woman, barely in her mid-twenties, and who still was quite pretty and had almost all her teeth in her mouth and some hair on her head and--except for gout and syphilis and a touch of consumption--suffered from no serious disease, who still hoped to live a while yet, perhaps a good five or ten years ..."
Why I Read This Now: Many readers describe this as "creepy," and it's also classified as a crime novel, two things I like to read in October. Didn't really scratch my creepy itch, and not what I think of as a crime novel. YMMV.
Perfume is also on the 1001 and Guardian 1000 lists, and while I'm not actively reading those, I do like to check off some books now and again.
Recommended for: hard to say-- one of those polarizing books with readers at both ends of the scale with valid points. If based on the above bits, you think it sounds good, and you like dark, give it a try.
cover comments: I love this cover--gorgeous piece of art by Ana Juan. It wraps around the back and the cover flaps--I especially adore the blue dragonflies that you don't see on the front. One of my favourite covers of the books I've read this year.
Why I Read This Now: I love to read books pertinent to where I'm travelling, and "1700s Haiti" was the closest I could find to "2018 over-the-top mega resort in the Bahamas".
Comments: A work of historical fiction that follows the life of Tete, a slave, and her owner Toulouse Valmorain. The first half of the book is set in what is now Haiti, in the late 1700s and the time leading up to the Haitian Revolution and slave rebellion, and the second half is after they escape to New Orleans.
I studied the Haitian slave rebellion at university and it's a fascinating episode in history. I would have liked to have seen a bit more about it in the book, rather than just these characters who are in the periphery and flee fairly early on.
This novel was an easy read, but it took me a whole month to get through it as I'd get bored and wander off to do something else or fall asleep.
Rating: Island Beneath the Sea is one of those books that readers rate much higher than the critics. I'm with the critics on this one -- it's a good book, but not great. It seems to me that Isabel Allende has her ardent fans and I'm just not one of them. I know my book club loves to read her (we have one coming up in January that I'm skipping). This is my 4th Allende, and I will go back and finish House of the Spirits, but then I'm absolutely done with her.
Recommended for: readers who like straight-forward historical fiction and readers who know nothing about the Haitian Revolution.
For some reason, Isabel Allende books always end up with "magic realism" tags on LT, which drives me nuts. None of the 4 Allende books I've read have had any magic realism. So if you're one of those people who avoids MR, don't shy away from her writing. Yes, House of the Spirits is a key MR text, but that doesn't mean everything she writes is magic realism. Sheesh! (stepping off my soap box now).
I feel asleep on this book too and never finished it. I just thought it was so boring. I used to say I was an Isabel Allende fan but with this book I realized that I just like a few of her books. And yes, there is most certainly no magical realism.
Thank you for reassuring me I'm not alone with these opinions.
Cover comments: perfect for this book
Comments: Jones is a Brit who moved to Parma where he teaches at the university and now has an Italian family. This is a look at the real Italy -- not the Italy that tourists see -- and why it is the way it is. Much of what he discussed was familiar from my 4 trips there, and my husband's conversations with his Italian family and friends. He loves Italy with all it's festering boils, and shows that it is bureaucratic, frustrating, marvellous, corrupt, historic, confusing, beautiful, and has incredibly interesting people.
There's an fascinating and lengthy section on Silvio Berlusconi, and I was amazed at how much was said here where you could replace "Berlusconi" with "Trump" and make a true sentence. Except before their political stints, Berlusconi was actually wealthy, and owned a winning football team and owned and controlled media. So not as much of a loser as Trump, although at the time we couldn't imagine anyone worse.
Recommended for: anyone moving to Italy, or who thinks they'd like to live in Italy.
Rating: A worthwhile book, but many times there was simply too much detail for me, and some chapters had lengthy sections in italics (I never did find an explanation for those); this resulted in my doing some skimming here and there. 3.5 stars.
Why I Read This Now: I started reading it months ago and I can't remember why I picked it from all my Italy books, but in general I'm reading books about Italy to prepare for my trip there in 2019.
cover comments: Not great, but it does suit the book
Comments: I don't know when the Scandi-crime thing took off, but when the English translation was reviewed in the Vancouver Sun in 2007, this is the first book I had ever heard of in the genre. I was intrigued. Since then, I've only ever read Smila's Sense of Snow, which I 3/4 hated and 1/4 thought was pretty cool. So I'm late to this Nordic Noir thing.
The Cruel Stars of the Night got off to a bit of a choppy, slow start. Too many characters and I didn't really know who they were or what they were doing. It was clear very early on who the serial killer was -- not because I'm a brilliant detective, really any reader is going to see this. Then the last 100 pages or so got really page-turningly good. Yeah, Ann Liddel, the protagonist did not one but two really stupid things (and several other minor stupid things), but I cringed and just got swept up in the story. But then the ending just sort of ended. I mean, I can guess likely outcomes, except
The part that was good was indeed very good. And I loved the Uppsala, Sweden setting. I'll definitely read more in this genre.
Rating: Hmmm, not sure. A lot of it was 3.5 stars, then the last good bit was 4.5 and the ending was back down to 4 tops.
Why I Read This Now: It's been on my TBR since 2007, I like to read books from northern places in winter (although this book was set in autumn, so there goes that plan).
Recommended for: Who knows? Reader reviews tend to be similar to mine. Not fabulous, but a good read. If you're stuck somewhere with nothing to do and this book is there, you'll love it.
** I just noticed something: there's a scene where a character is in an area called Erik-something, and there were several people in the scene with the surname Eriksson, and the character grumbles about too many Erikssons. Ha ha, that's the author's last name too.
cover comments: a somewhat uninspired cover, although not awful or anything. Based on the info in the book, I can imagine something better.
Why I Read This Now: I read a glowing review of this book when it was published, and it immediately went on my wish list. I found a copy in 2008 and never got around to it because it's size was daunting. Do I really want to read 400 pages about reindeer herders? I started it on winter solstice, and figured if I wasn't in the mood to read about reindeer over Christmas, the mood would never strike.
Comments: Piers Vitebsky is an anthropology professor at Cambridge, and probably the world expert in indigenous people of Russia. This book covers what he learned from getting special permission to live with and study the Eveny people during the last 5 or so years of the Soviet era, up to around 2002.
The first thing I noted is that 3000 year old carved stone shows reindeer in flight. I've long been fascinated by the ancient and buried origins of the folklore, fairy tales and even Biblical stories that our culture thinks are just what we know. So while Santa and his flying reindeer seem to be only with us for 100 years or so, the flying reindeer didn't just pop out of nowhere.
I've long been fascinated by the indigenous people of Russia (and also Japan), and also am interested in the archaeology of this region (the later not covered in this book). The Reindeer People explores a specific minority, and definitely covers more than I need to know on the subject, but over all it kept my attention, I learned a lot, and it was mostly very interesting. By the time the author got to study these people, they had already gone from thousands and thousands of years of life with only gradual changes. to the Soviet era with drastic cultural change. He was with them through the fall of the USSR with even more change and this text was published in 2005. I wondered what was happening with these groups now, and at one point quite late, one of his Eveny guides says something along the lines of "when this is read in 2020 and we're all gone ... ," as if it's a given fact, or as noted in another spot, "The Eveny are a footprint in the snow, and when the snow melts they will disappear." I read this in late 2018 and now I need to know.
For a non-fiction book of somewhat academic purpose, it's highly readable. I particularly loved this description of a forest he visited: "...sheltered in a grove of huge larches rising vertically more than 150 feet above shallow roots which splashed over the permafrosted earth like knotted veins. The lower 100 feet of each trunk were almost bare. The breeze, imperceptible at ground level, was picked up and amplified by the feathery branches which swayed and brushed against each other in the top third. Their movement sometimes rippled down to the base, but on the ground it was completely still between their enormous, shuddering trunks and we walked like insects between stems of grass while an agitated climate hissed above us. Larch needles, reddish beige int he dull light, fluttered down like clouds of small insects. Each stone rising up out of the stream to meet them was encrusted around the brim with little splinters of ice."
Another bit I found amazing was this: "Tolya, too, had a brush with death by radiation as a child. One day in the 1950s the sky went red all day long, as if it were on fire, and a strange grey snow fell on the ground. A group of children played with this 'snow', which did not melt. Later, they became burned where it had touched their bodies. The other children died, but Tolya, with his extraordinary life-energy, lived and still has the marks today. This must have been fallout from Soviet atomic bomb testing, but this was not known until the late 1980s."
Recommended for: anyone who thinks this might be interesting.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Here are my stats
Total read: a sad and paltry 29
Fiction: 72% (21 books)
Non-fiction: 28% (8 books)
This is a fairly typical split between the two.
Female authors: 48% (14 books)
Male authors: 48% (14 books)
mixed/unknown: 4% (1 book)
This is a change, as I usually read from 55%-65% female writers.
Nationality of authors:
UK: 44% (13 books)
Italy: 10% (3 books)
Germany: 10% (3 books)
Canada: 7% (2 books)
Australia: 7% (2 books)
1 book each (3%) for:
I usually read mostly UK books, so that's usual, but then the next 2 highest percentages are Canadian and US, and then Ireland. In 2018 I read only 2 Canadian authors, and no USA or Ireland authors. (My first read in 2019 is Irish, so fear not)
New to me authors (writers who I've never read before--let's explore fresh voices!): 25/29 (86%)
Different authors - 100% (I didn't read the same author over and over again)
Most Memorable Reads
At the end of the year, I like to look at the books that stuck in my mind. Maybe I gave them a so-so review, but I remember them vividly. And then there are the books I don't remember so well, other than a nice memory of reading them. So the usual star rating system is ignored here.
Looking back over my reading year, I would recommend the vast majority of what I read. Because my reading time is so limited, if a book is not working for me I move on quickly. Therefore, I read very few I don't recommend. But if there is one book that stands out this year, it should be A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, because it took 6 months out of the year. But it's not-- for some reason, the most outstanding book when I think back over the year was The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden, which I generously gave 4 stars because despite everything, I liked it. And somehow, my semi-hate reading it is my best memory of 2018, but obviously there was something there.