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June 2018 Reading Round Up

It’s 28c here. We’ve had only a couple of minutes of light rain, once, this past month, and on a sunny weekend if there’s no trip out planned then I like to be reading outside. Suffice to say I’ve been reading quite a bit.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Laura Pearson: Missing Pieces – When Phoebe dies, aged three, the resulting grief has a massive impact on her four surviving family members. A very good book that looks at different modes of grieving and the way communication and support is paramount.

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Marian Keyes: The Break – When Amy’s father-in-law dies, her husband tells her he needs a break from their marriage, a several months-long trip where he will be free… but he’ll return after that. This is a long book but there’s a fair amount of other commentary going on and Keyes ensures her characters work through their issues.

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Nicola Cornick: The Lady And The Laird – Lucy writes erotic letters for her brother’s friends when they require help wooing the women in their lives, but when her brother asks for her help she doesn’t realise that she’s throwing a spanner in the works for the wedding of the man she kissed many years ago and he must marry in order to gain his inheritance. Very good regency romance, full of communication and low on angst.

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Patrick Gale: A Place Called Winter – Sent on from an asylum to a treatment/retreat centre, Harry must look into his hazy memories to work out why he is no longer on his pioneer-era Canadian farm. It’s tough to sum up this book in one sentence – it’s an epic turn-of-the-century novel about a man whose affair with another man is discovered, and he must leave his family in order to not be exposed.

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Valeria Luiselli: Faces In The Crowd – A translator in Mexico chronicles her own life, her past and her work, and writes a book about a Latin American poet for whom she has ghostwritten some translations. As confusing as it sounds, this is a book in a book in a book, but has a lot of interesting literary elements to enjoy.

I enjoyed everything I read this month. The Pearson was the best on a personal level because her book is set in Southampton and that was a lot of fun to read through. Literary-wise, the Cornick was good for its use of communication and perfect balance of conflict and general story, and the Gale reminded me, in atmosphere, of Anna Hope’s work – the wonderful historical story full of important detail with great characters to match.

I’m currently reading Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and Özgür Mumcu’s The Peace Machine, and then I have some review copies to get to. Hoping to keep my annual trend of many books in July going this year, too.

What are you reading?

 
May 2018 Reading Round Up

May was quite the busy month. With packing, then a wedding/holiday to go to, an event, and various other things (including the birth of some baby rabbits I had to go and visit, because you can’t not), I haven’t finished as many books as hoped. But I do have a few books on the go and completed Marian Keyes’ tome on the 1st June, so that technically counts. I got my library books back on the return date and took them out for another month, adding an older Nicola Cornick book into the mix (she’s our next author; older books are hard to come by). So here is what I finished in May. Most likely June will have quite a few books to speak of.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Charlotte Lennox: The Female Quixote – As an isolated child, Arabella educated herself via the fiction books that belonged to her mother and, upon the arrival of her cousins and her entrance into society she finds conducting herself in the same manner as the histories she believes to be real very difficult. A parody of Cervantes’ classic, Lennox’s book was written and is set in the 1700s so there is much drama and fainting (or wish for fainting) but it’s pretty fun.

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Manu Joseph: Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous – On the day of election results, social media prankster, Akhila, comes across a crumbled apartment building in Mumbai, a victim of an earthquake, and offers to help the rescue team get to a man buried in the rubble; he’s mumbling about a potential terror attack in progress. Quite good, but more of a report than a fully-fledged piece of fiction.

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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 the neglect of her parents. A search for identity where the reader is more privy than the character, this is an excellent book full of vignettes, humour, and boasts an interesting writing style.

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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.

Tough call as to a favourite this month – both Wang’s and Gyasi’s books were fantastic; as Wang’s in particular will be on my ‘best of’ list I should probably choose that, though in all likelihood, Gyasi’s may be on the list too.

Quotation Report

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.

Whilst 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.

Earlier this year I began reading books from the 1700s almost on a whim – I read one and then just thought I might read another. Now I’m on my fourth book, Frances Burney’s Evelina with no thoughts as to when I might ‘stop’ or which to read next. It has meant that I’ve read both the 1700s Charlottes I spoke of last year (my plan to read five classical Charlottes) which leaves me with one remaining – the Victorian Charlotte Mary Yonge. It’s also given me a crash course in a number of literary subjects I hadn’t expected, as evidenced by a few recent posts. All this to say, this month I’ll be reading 1700s fiction. I’ve also a couple of review copies to get to and I’m hoping to finish Claire Fuller’s upcoming Bitter Orange and those library books.

What are your favourite books of the year so far (of those you’ve read, regardless of when they were published)?

 
April 2018 Reading Round Up

A month of much better weather, Brits putting on the shorts and firing up the barbeques at the first higher temperatures. In the south we had our hottest April day on record for many years, a complete contrast to the snow of March. In reading, it was a month of authors beginning with ‘C’, entirely by accident. Whilst carrying on with my 1700s reading – and I’ve another on the list to start afterwards – I read Claire Fuller’s work in preparation for the restart of my conversation events. After having moved venue twice due to closures, I’m hoping I’ve found a good place in Cobbett Road Library, a community/local not-for-profit run hub.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Charlotte Smith: Emmeline – An orphan is finally visited by her uncle after a lifetime of neglect; the man brings his son who falls in instant infatuation with her and so begins a journey of getting away from suitors and finding her own way. Not so good in the context of today, but excellent in its historical context.

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Claire Fuller: Our Endless Numbered Days – At nine years old, Peggy’s father kidnaps her from London, taking her to a remote place in Germany and telling her the world has ended when it hasn’t. A story of isolation and the effects of extremes, that ends with a nod to magical realism.

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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 will be on my best of list for this year, it’s an utterly fantastic book – very well written, well plotted, and the literature aspect is incredibly compelling.

No guesses which my favourite was!

Quotation Report

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’.

It’s getting to that time of year when shortlists are publicised in earnest and many books are released in time for the longest of days. I’ve got a lot on my list to read (Fuller’s Bitter Orange, Manu Joseph’s latest) and looking forward to it. But first I have to finish the Charlotte Lennox; at 1/3 of the way in, I’m starting to wonder if anyone is going to point out to the main character that her ideas of gallantry and death are based on ancient mythology and cannot be applied to the real world…

Which new releases are you looking forward to?

 
March 2018 Reading Round Up

Snow when everything should be growing; the pre-Easter days; it’s been a funny March. On the first, minor, snow day there seemed to be a collective decision across the city to use bin lids to scoop up what little snow there was in an attempt to make snowballs. It didn’t work, so it was quite nice to have the second patch of days where there was more of it. It was actually kind of nice being stuck inside on the days of ice, forced to do housework or hobbies. Britain doesn’t really know how to ‘do’ snow, particularly the south, so everything kind of stops. My rosemary plant shrugged and carried on flowering; the garlics have formed a support group.

I had a minor reading celebration a few days ago when I reached 75% of the way through Emmeline. The book has got better but still, I’m looking forward to finishing it. March was a month wherein a read a fair amount but much of it was tied up in the tome.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Dorthe Nors: Karate Chop – A collection of very short stories that each have some level of creepy/menacing atmosphere to them. Pretty good; some are stellar.

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Nicolai Houm: The Gradual Disappearance Of Jane Ashland – A woman wakes up in a tent in a Norwegian National Park, knowing how she got there; scenes from the past couple of months show how she came to be in such a place. This is a novel about grief rather than a thriller – though it has an element of that – and a very good one at that.

The Nors was good but the Houm was better. As it happened both were review copies from the same publisher; it’s been a Pushkin Press, Scandinavian translated fiction month.

I’m not yet sure what I’ll be reading once I’ve finished Emmeline – I’m in a bit of a classics phase and it’s somewhat accidental. I’ve been looking at the remaining Charlottes on my list – Yonge and Lennox – and may continue from there, but I downloaded Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko recently, and kind of want to read that. Has anyone read her work?

What happens where you live on snow days? Or, if you don’t get snow days, what happens when you have unexpected weather, whatever that means where you are?

 
February 2018 Reading Round Up

In the first few days of March each year, I listen to a couple of versions of Les Eaux de Mars, a happening that has come to mark for me the coming of spring. But this time I woke up, saw the snow, and realised that the tradition would have to wait. The children on my street are playing; they’ve managed to cobble together small snow balls from snow that melts as soon as it touches your skin, and are skidding along the pavement in lieu of being able to sled. Schools might be closed for safety reasons, but as our last proper snowfall was in 2013, it’s nice to think closures have afforded them an experience of weather we so rarely get.

As it has been in past years, this February was another success for me in reading, in relation to previous months. I didn’t read as much as I have in other Februarys, but it’s a vast improvement on the last 3 or so months; whilst I actually read similar numbers in those other months, it was mostly forced. I’m in a classics phase at the moment; I’ve finally finished Twelve Years A Slave – not a difficult book but daunting – and read my first Wharton. And I’ve started Charlotte Turner Smith’s minor tome, Emmeline which is proving difficult – my review is going to have to be in two parts: one in the context of the time, a second in the context of today. Romance has been a big help in getting over my lengthy slump and I’ve a few more ready to read, to be turned to when easier reading is required.

The Books
Non-Fiction

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Solomon Northup: Twelve Years A Slave – Northup’s account of his time as a kidnapped freeman from northern states America, when he was taken into slavery in the south. Absolutely worth reading.

Fiction

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Edith Wharton: The Age Of Innocence – A man engaged to a young woman he believes he loves falls for her cousin, who has separated from her husband; society wants rid of her. Fantastic.

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Jessie Greengrass: Sight – A woman, pregnant with her second child, ruminates on the time she was first deciding whether or not to have children and looks on her time as a grieving daughter, as well as a subject for her psychoanalyst grandmother. Super.

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Shannon Stacey: What It Takes – A newly divorced woman moves from her rich, restricted home, to the campsite at the Kowalski’s Northern Star Lodge to find out who she is as an individual, but meets a very eligible friend of her employer’s family. It’s moving towards the ‘I can’t keep going and write about the saga family’s plumber’ situation Stacey spoke about, but it’s still good.

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Sherry Thomas: The Luckiest Lady In London – A rich man with a history of childhood neglect marries a poor woman who is looking for a husband who can provide for her family, and of course neither imagines they might fall in love. The thing I like most about this book is the way the author gives a firm nod to the concept of a romance novel needing a conflict but does not drag it out, creating instead other, less device-like, ways to keep the story going.

In terms of literary enjoyment this has been an excellent month. Every book was very good; even the one that wasn’t quite so good, the Stacey, was still fun to read. At a push I think my favourite would be the Wharton – the mastery of the set up and its execution…

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.

Looking into this new month I’m hoping to start a few books that will be released in the spring and carry on with the classics.

What are you reading?

 

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