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April 2019 Reading Round Up

I did fairly well this month, all told. I’ve still got a number of books ongoing but I finished the two below and am not too far from finishing two more. In related news, my sister asked me if I’d like to look through her historical fiction before she unloaded a number of boxes to the charity shop and it was very exciting to see her collection included old Anya Setons and Jean Plaidys (she also had an unopened bundle of Maggie Stiefvater. I’m considering a special acquisitions post. (On this note, she had a copy of Castle Dor attributed to Daphne Du Maurier, and whilst I didn’t take it has an interesting backstory. It seems to be news to most people – it’s actually the completion of a draft by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (‘Q’); Du Maurier was given it by his daughter. Although it’s based on an interesting story – Tristan and Isolde – readers have stated that due to a seemingly hands-off approach to the initial draft, it’s very noticeable where Du Maurier comes into the picture, and unfortunately this leads to a disjointed text with a beginning that’s very much at odds with the values suggested in Du Maurier’s own books.) Books aside, April has otherwise been good, a busy but fun Easter, and many days without rain – being able to have breakfast outdoors has been wonderful.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Anne Melville: The House Of Hardie – Two sets of siblings in late 1800s England work towards their wishes for life which mostly go against the norms of the day. It feels repetitive considering my last post was the review, but ‘fantastic’.

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Orlando Ortega-Medina: The Death Of Baseball – The night of Marilyn Monroe’s death, a Japanese American boy is born and as he grows older he finds a particular kind of kinship with her; meanwhile a devout Syrian American Jewish boy is struggling with extreme, dangerous, compulsions. This is out in June and I’m reviewing it then so for now I’ll just say if you like psychological thrillers and films from Hollywood’s golden age, you’ll appreciate it.

Quotation Report

In The House Of Hardie the irony of women having the strength to get through multiple births is noted alongside the expectation that they also be completely afraid of mice. Noted also is the fact an education is important in moving up in the world, and that novels ending with wedding ceremonies doesn’t account for the wedding being a beginning.

May will be about finishing more of my current reads, and I’m likely to choose one of my sister’s books to add to the list.

What are you currently reading?

 
March 2019 Reading Round Up

March was pretty good: I didn’t finish many books but I’ve been reading a fair amount. I started the month with an easy re-read and that really helped; reading something you already know meaning less things to keep in mind and work out and as speed is something I struggle with it was very beneficial.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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D H Lawrence: Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Unhappy with her life and marriage, an upper class Lady begins an affair with the estate gamekeeper as English social structures start to change. As full of sex as commonly believed, but also about the affects of industry; lengthy chapters and philosophising make this difficult but it’s a good read in terms of its place in the literary world.

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L M Montgomery: The Blue Castle – A woman still living at home, stifled by her dysfunctional, critical, relatives, abandons all to live the way she wants following a sobering diagnosis. Fantastic.

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Sofie Laguna: The Choke – A young girl from a bad background struggles to live her life despite her inability to understand what’s going on around her. A brilliant look at the cycle of abuse.

This was a high-quality month: The Blue Castle was obviously known, but I was pleasantly surprised just how much I enjoyed them – The Choke presented itself as interesting but is a lot better than it looks, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover had more to recommend it than I’d thought it would. I’d probably say the Montgomery still wins, but that’s partly because I’ve history with it; the Laguna deals with the extreme side of the same ballpark subject, so to speak, and is exceptional in its handling of it.

Quotation Report

Lawrence, on the changing nature of England:

“I consider this is really the heart of England,” said Clifford to Connie, as he sat there in the dim February sunshine.
“Do you?” she said, seating herself in her blue knitted dress, on a stump by the path.
“I do! This is the old England, the heart of it; and I intend to keep it intact.”
“Oh yes!” said Connie. But, as she said it she heard the eleven-o’clock hooters at Stacks Gate colliery. Clifford was too used to the sound to notice.

I’m currently almost half-way through Belinda and recently started The Death Of Baseball; both are over 400 pages so I knew I’d probably not finish them before April (Belinda is tough going) but I plan to chip away at the page count of both over the next couple of weeks.

What’s a recent favourite book of yours?

 
February 2019 Reading Round Up

Linen trousers and a t-shirt outside in British late February when the earliest opportunity had previously been mid-March… it has been lovely but also very worrying. I digress.

My literary February was all about classics. Looking at my shelves after each finished final page I attempted a contemporary novel, but nothing worked. Polly Clark’s Larchfield had to go back to its space, only a few pages read, and even the last Sherry Thomas book I have waiting for me, in all its easy-reading goodness, didn’t get my attention. Instead I found comfort in the mid-1800s; I thought it might be time to explore the world of the youngest Brontë writer and that proved correct, and later L M Montgomery’s famous series – written in the early 1900s but set in the 1860s and onward – drew me. I’ve often thought I might like to read the Anne novels, yet reckoned it might stay an idea unfulfilled – I think that would’ve been fine in regards to the first book, but the second is not to be missed.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Anne Brontë: Agnes Grey – In order to help her family, a young woman becomes a governess, but finds a lot of problems in the world of the wealthy that she did not expect. The plot isn’t particularly thrilling but it’s well-written, an easy read, full of memorable paragraphs, and sports a nice romantic thread.

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L M Montgomery: Anne Of Green Gables – The Cuthbert siblings arrange for an orphan boy to be sent to them to help on the land, but when they receive a girl instead, they decide to keep her despite her inability to stop talking and her penchant for daydreaming. It doesn’t really go anywhere, prefers to work in cycles of events, but it’s an easy, fair, read.

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L M Montgomery: Anne Of Avonlea – Details the years following Anne’s childhood as she steps into her role as a teacher. A much better book: it’s got the same atmosphere of the first, but the plot here is more thought-out and interesting.

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Monica Ali: Brick Lane – When Nazneen was married to Chanu, he took her from Bangladesh to Britain with the promise of a better life, but they continue to reside in the flat the council gave them and Nazneen wants a little more from life. There needed to be a lot more to this book – everything in it has been done before and it’s quite frustrating when it starts to look like it’s going somewhere only for Ali to drop the subject soon after she’s begun (this happens a number of times).

The second Anne book pipped Brontë to the post at the eleventh hour; I loved the grown-up Anne and Montgomery seems to have got into her stride in regards to creating fun characters.

Quotation Report

In Anne Of Avonlea a woman, so fastidious about her house, lays newspaper down not only on her floors but all the way down the garden path, and requests her visitors to wipe their feet before treading on it. And, unrelated to this, a little boy wonders why male angels can’t wear trousers; he’s the very same boy who later pulls up his plants by the roots to see how they are getting on at the other end. Unsurprisingly, his twin sister’s garden is more successful.

The plan for March is to read at least one more classic and get to a review copy that I was sent in January that is published in April – Sofie Laguna’s The Choke. I also have an Elizabeth Chadwick on the go which I’d like to make more of a priority, and I will most likely keep reading Montgomery: I’d like to read the next Anne book, and having started the series I’m very tempted to return to The Blue Castle.

I have been away – update me on your reading!

 
January 2019 Reading Round Up

For the most part, January was a very busy month – Christmas clean up, improvements; I kept going with the books I was already reading and, knowing I’d likely not finish those by February, added easy novels for a sense of achievement. I’m reading quite a bit for discussion posts – it’s a lot of pages in total, just no entire books to speak of.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Eloisa James: When Beauty Tamed The Beast – Having unintentionally caused high society to think she’s pregnant, unmarried Linnet is sent to the home of a notoriously difficult doctor who cannot give his father a grandchild. Strictly okay – works best if viewed wholly in the context of its inspiration, both the original story and the use of Hugh Laurie’s Doctor House.

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Eloisa James: The Duke Is Mine – Betrothed to her father’s friend’s son since birth, Olivia accompanies her twin sister to the house of the Duke of Sconce in order to aid their pairing, but finds herself drawn to the Duke herself. This is loosely based on The Princess And The Pea; it’s alright, but has a similar problem as the previous book in terms of hero.

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Gail Honeyman: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Lacking social skills, Eleanor lives on the fringes of life, getting through the week by going to work, watching television, and drinking a lot; over the course of the book we see how her life has been shaped by a traumatic childhood and a lack of support going forward. An utterly fantastic book.

In Honeyman’s novel, I believe I’ve found one of my ‘best of 2019’ books already. I wasn’t personally keen on the way the weekly phone calls were resolved, but everything other than that I loved, and objectively the resolution does work well.

For February, other than a vague plan to read the Kelby I listed previously, I’m staying away from lists. I’ve found I’m doing that ‘all the books’ thing where getting excited about what you can read means you don’t actually start; the less books I have in mind, the more I might read.

What has been your favourite book so far this year?

 
2018 Year Of Reading Round Up

This year I read a total of 40 books, though I’m considering it 39 as one was a re-read of a novelette, and I’m not sure I read all of it. 39/40 isn’t a good number for me really, but the year saw a few changes, not least the addition of two rabbits to my home and time. (I’m happy to report that rabbit time is now at a more normal level.)

I had a lot less trouble choosing my 5 ‘best of’ books this year. Granted, I read fewer books so there was less competition, but I also just found it easier – I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to get easier – the more one reads and all that.

As always, books that have been reviewed include a link in the text. From here until my personal favourites list, all books are rated as objectively as possible. If you want to skip the objective list, click here to view my personal favourites.

The Best Of The Best

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah – A Nigerian student leaves behind the love of her life to study in America, where she discovers that she is now ‘black’. This book is fairly complex, summing it up difficult, but it’s incredible, albeit that the heroine isn’t particularly great (the hero’s fine).
Claire Fuller: Swimming Lessons – Gil sees his long-lost wife outside the bookshop and injures himself trying to catch up with her; alongside the narrative of the family coming together to help him are the letters Ingrid wrote to Gil about the lie of their marriage, that she slips in between the pages of relevant novels. This is an utterly fantastic book – very well written, well plotted, and the literature aspect is incredibly compelling.
Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad – Two slaves run away from the plantation and board an underground train to a less southerly state where life is likely better. Fantastic.
Weike Wang: Chemistry – The unnamed narrator has been proposed to by her boyfriend twice and can’t find it within herself to say yes; there’s a lot of confusion – she’s struggling with her PhD and is unconsciously still suffering from parental neglect. A search for identity where the reader is more privy than the character, this is an excellent book full of vignettes, humour, and it boasts an interesting writing style.
Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing – As the slave trade continues in Ghana, one sister is ushered into marriage with a white man at the ‘castle’ whilst her unknown half-sister is taken into slavery to be shipped to America; we follow both women’s decedents as they tackle their pasts. A wonderfully written book that succeeds in writing short pieces about various characters without you ever feeling lost.

5

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4.5

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4

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3.5

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3

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2.5

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2

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  • Ben Okri: The Famished Road
My Personal Favourites

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I finished the books I’d carried over from the previous December – the Northup and Sullivan. The only real target I’d set was to add to my diversity stats, and this I achieved. Otherwise, I read a fair number of classics and newer popular books – I’m counting Outlander somewhere in between those times – and finally read books by Ben Okri, Hiromi Kawakami, Colm Tóibín, and Sylvia Plath.

I also read from a slighter wider variety of sources, incorporating the library in a more concrete fashion than the drips and drabs of previous years. Approximately eight books were from the library, which is over double what I’d thought before looking at my reading notes.

Quotation Report

In The Age Of Innocence a man of great means but lack of general awareness as according to his station in the novel, laments the absence of independent thought of his beloved and looks forward to the opportunity he will have to educate her… to a certain point… she shouldn’t be too knowledgeable after all. Whilst in the same book, a few chapters later, the author of it all produces this fun line:

She sang, of course, “M’ama!” and not “he loves me,” since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.

In Swimming Lessons, Claire Fuller posits that ‘writing does not exist unless there is someone to read it, and each reader will take something different from a novel, from a chapter, from a line. A book becomes a living thing only when it interacts with a reader’.

Hilarity and heartbreak in Chemistry:

At the gate, he goes through his repertoire of tricks – sit, lie down, crawl, play dead, roll over, high-five, sit, lie down, crawl, play dead, roll over, high-five. I ask him to please be dignified about this, but I have not yet taught him that command.

In The Female Quixote, Arabella’s cousin and suitor agrees to read her favourite books at his peril – it just so happens her favourites include the (still) longest fiction book published, all 13,000 pages of it.

A thought from The Nakano Thrift Shop worth mulling over:

When it comes to old things, whether buying or selling, why is it that people act so cautious?… With something brand new, they have no problem just ordering it from a catalogue, no matter how expensive.

This is another occasion wherein paraphrasing the quotation just won’t work. Here it is in full, from The Underground Railroad:

Yet when his classmates put their blades to a colored cadaver, they did more for the cause of colored advancement than the most high-minded abolitionist. In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man’s equal.

And lastly, as I mentioned on Wednesday, if you travel to 1740s Scotland, as one does, remember that disinfectant doesn’t yet exist. Failure to remember may result in a humorous exchange not unlike that experienced by one Claire Randall, an Outlander, whose requests for various disinfectants resulted in blank stares until she asked the clansmen for alcohol and received a jovial response.

In the next few days I’ll be setting out my reading goals for the year. I’m looking forward to more historical fantasy – I might currently be eyeing up the George R R Martin box set that’s on the desk beside me.

What was on your best of list for 2018?

 

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