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Latest Acquisitions (March 2023)

A photograph of a stack of books against a blurred bookshelf background. The books stacked are Warsan Shire's Bless The Daughter Raised By A Voice In Her Head, Raven Leilani's Luster, Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half, and Peng Shepherd's The Cartographers. Two book covers are superimposed on either side of the stack, they are Orlando Ortega-Medina's The Fitful Sleep of Immigrants and Amanda Prowse's All Good Things.

Another reason for excitement last month: I started getting myself back into the swing of things in regards to new books. I went to Netgalley to look up the details of Lisa See’s Lady Tan’s Circle Of Women and picked up a ‘read now’ book; I responded to an email; I bought a few of the books I had come across on my various quick looks at news during the last couple of years.

There’s a book left off this list – Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights. I accounted for it last week… and I may have forgotten to add it to the stack when taking the above photo. (For transparency’s sake I will note the image above is a composite as I have the books at the sides in ebook format.)

Amanda Prowse: All Good Things – This is the ‘read now’ book, which I chose because of a slightly-relatable fact: at least until a few years ago, Amanda Prowse was one of the few big authors to visit Southampton for a signing, and this made me make a note to read one of her books one day. As we all know, putting an author on your to-be-read, especially without naming a book, is a sure-fire way to ensure you remember them only sporadically. I saw the book, I remembered, and I’m doing it now. This is effectively from the publisher for review.

Book cover of Amanda Prowse's All Good Things

Daisy Harrop has always felt like she exists in the background, and since her mother stopped getting out of bed, her life has come to a complete standstill. Daisy would give anything to leave the shabbiest house on the street and be more like the golden Kelleways next door, with their perfectly raked driveway and flourishing rose garden…

Winnie Kelleway is proud of the beautiful family she’s built. They’ve had their ups and downs – hasn’t everyone? But this weekend, celebrating her golden wedding anniversary is truly proof of their happiness, a joyful gathering for all the neighbours to see.

But as the festivities get underway, are the cracks in the ‘perfect’ Kelleway life beginning to show? As one bombshell revelation leads to another and events start to spiral out of control, Daisy and Winnie are about to discover that things aren’t always what they seem.

Brit Bennett: The Vanishing Half – I have read a little about Brit Bennett; she’s a name I’ve seen around a lot, and I could do with becoming reacquainted with prize shortlists again, in this case the Women’s Prize for Fiction. (This book won the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction in 2020.)

Book cover of Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Orlando Ortega-Medina: The Fitful Sleep Of Immigrants – This will be the fourth book by the author I’ve read, and it’s his third novel. I have read it, and would say it’s the most accessible of his books yet; the others are all excellent but this one has more mainstream appeal. From the author for review.

Book cover of Orlando Ortega-Medina's The Fitful Sleep Of Immigrants

Attorney Marc Mendes, the estranged son of a prominent rabbi and a burned-out lawyer with addiction issues, plots his exit from the big city to a more peaceful life in idyllic Napa Valley. But before he can realize his dream, the US government summons his Salvadoran life-partner Isaac Perez to immigration court, threatening him with deportation.

As Marc battles to save Isaac, his world is further upended by a dark and alluring client, who aims to tempt him away from his messy life. Torn between his commitment to Isaac and the pain-numbing escapism offered by his client, Marc is forced to choose between the lesser of two evils while confronting his twin demons of past addiction and guilt over the death of his first lover.

Peng Shepherd: The Cartographers – I came across the author and fell in love with the cover of this book (I’ll note it was the US edition, which has a library on it) and simply kept it in mind. It’s time.

Book cover of Peng Shepherd's The Cartographers

Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.

But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable and exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence… because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one – along with anyone who gets in the way.

But why?

To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret and discovers the true power that lies in maps…

Raven Leilani: Luster – For a while, I was seeing Leilani’s name everywhere and The Guardian in particular seemed rather taken with her work so while I was away from books and reading I noted her name down for when I was back.

Book cover of Raven Leilani's Luster

Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.

Warsan Shire: Bless The Daughter Raised By A Voice In Her Head – A couple of weeks ago I read about the line-up for this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize, was happy to see poetry included, and got Shire’s collection very soon after. Award-nominated, current, poetry, and a new-to-me poet? Yes please.

Book cover of Warsan Shire's Bless The Daughter Raised By A Voice In Her Head

With her first full-length poetry collection, Warsan Shire introduces us to a young girl, who, in the absence of a nurturing guide, makes her own stumbling way towards womanhood. Drawing from her own life and the lives of loved ones, as well as pop culture and news headlines, Shire finds vivid, unique details in the experiences of refugees and immigrants, mothers and daughters, Black women, and teenage girls. In Shire’s hands, lives spring into fullness. This is noisy life: full of music and weeping and surahs and sirens and birds. This is fragrant life: full of blood and perfume and shisha smoke and jasmine and incense. This is polychrome life: full of henna and moonlight and lipstick and turmeric and kohl.

What books have you bought/borrowed/acquired recently?

 
January, February, And March 2023 Reading Round Up

Given that my start back into reading and blogging only happened mid-March and I chose to start with a 1053-page book, I shouldn’t be surprised I only finished one book, and that a different one entirely. Having not accounted for the reads from this quarter at all, however, it seems less damning; I finish this quarter with two books. Let’s go.

Both books are works of fiction.

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Amita Parikh: The Circus Train (2022) – Following the travels through WWII Europe of an international circus, this book looks closely at the lives of Lena (who has Polio), her illusionist father, and a stowaway Jewish boy, as they try to remain out of the Nazis’ interests, and continue their trade, whilst growing as people. There’s an interesting controversy here where Parikh looks at a Polio-free life for Lena that is in fact supported by mid-1900s medical treatment.

Lisa See: Lady Tan’s Circle Of Women (2023) – A fictionalisation of the life of a woman doctor in 1400s China (fictional because we know so little of her apart from the medicine). Absolutely superb.

This past half of a month (March) has been about getting back into reading properly. I currently have two books on the go and working on finishing at least one of them quickly (simply because it’s not over a thousand pages like the other). And for the first time in ages, I have a basic reading list to follow for the next few weeks.

What have you read recently?

 
More Musings On My ‘Starting Books Problem’ (This Is A Bit Of A Practise Post)

Two years ago I said this:

“I want to try and work past an issue I have where the feeling of being daunted by starting a new book (all those pages ahead of me…) means that it takes me time to get into the book. I need to get better not only at just starting and getting past the first pages – after which the issue disappears and I’m away – but also a (potentially) related issue, which I’ve spoken of before, where I never really take in the first page or so. Yes, this, despite my interest and focus on first lines.”1

I didn’t really think about anything much to do with books beyond trying to keep my podcast going in the last two years but what I do know is that the above topic is very relevant right now because a couple of days ago I sat down to read Voyager, struggled, and got annoyed with myself that I have this problem. So I’d like to try again.

When I think about it more, this problem extends; I have trouble getting past the first few pages in one sitting. I’ve the issue of the first page (usually), and then the issue of the extra daunting nature of the first few pages as a whole, up to 20 pages in fact. It’s one thing to think about reading, to blog, to write, to create social media posts and podcasts, and another entirely to actually read. Reading is, in its way, lonely and isolating (though I would say in general not2 – it’s just that act of sitting down and reading when you’re not reading aloud). I don’t know why 20 pages (every so often 30) is the boundary which, once crossed, I’m away, but it is.

Trying to get back to the book world and, particularly, right now, into what readers are thinking and feeling about books, I’ve noticed that more and more people are citing the problem of a dwindling attention span. And that attention span seems shorter every several months I read about it, no matter who from. Critical reading seems more in jeopardy, too. Social media is great, and I’m enjoying the difference of TikTok, but it’s certainly making its mark. However, I think just as much to ‘blame’ is the increased connectively in terms of connecting to other readers, which I know sounds awful of me to say because it’s so much easier now to find other readers than it was and I’ve benefited from making friends online who read; I had friends who read before, but we never spoke about books (I tried!) But that connection, wonderful as it is, ironically means we spend more time talking about it (or watching it) than doing, because, as said, to watch and talk is to interact, and to read, whether beside another reader or not, is still a bit of a solo bubble.

I think I need to suggest to my friend another read-a-long…

And that’s going to have to be my conclusion because this has to be the most ‘musings’ musing post I’ve ever written and I think it’ll take a bit of time before I’m my old self at this whole thing again!

Footnotes

1 2021 Goals and 2020 Data
2 I’ve written about it on Andrew Blackman’s blog, with a follow up on my own blog.

 
Second Half Of 2021 And Both Halves Of 2022 Film Round Up

I didn’t actually watch any films in the first half of 2022, which is just as well in a way because this list is long enough and took ages to compile… and there’s me worrying last year about the fact I had gone six months without a film. I’m sill watching Cary Grant, I’m still watching cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies. And I’m finding that the last few years have been stellar for superhero-in-some-way-or-form stories. (Shazam! will be on the next list I create and I loved the heck out of it.)

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The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer / Bachelor Knight [UK title] (USA, 1947) – Pretty fun throughout but there are a couple of absolutely hilarious scenes about three quarters of the way in that make it a winner.

Big Hero 6 (USA, 2014) – A genius scientist child, Hiro, takes over the creation of a medical care robot his equally-genius brother had been making before he died; Hiro keeps at it, animating the robot and later teaming up with others to fight a bad guy. Pretty darn entertaining with a lot of heart.

Bill (UK, 2015) – A fictionalised comedic film about the younger years of Shakespeare created by the people who made the Horrible Histories TV series and Ghosts. Ergo it’s bonkers, makes little sense, and is hilarious.

Charming (USA, 2019) – Prince Charming bewitches every women and this will only end on his 21st birthday, but then he meets the thief, Leonore, who isn’t bewitched by him at all and that means the spell may be broken. The only problem is she isn’t interested in him. Great premise, fell to stereotypical stuff too quickly.

Crazy Rich Asians (USA, 2018) – Nick takes his girlfriend Rachel to Singapore for the wedding of his friend; this is when she learns her boyfriend is incredibly, incredibly wealthy and when his mother finds out he’s dating someone without money… One of the best films I’ve ever seen – great cinematography, soundtrack, acting, and so on; I now get the hype about the book and hope to read it at some point.

Free Guy (USA, 2021) – An NPC in the world’s biggest MMORPG goes rogue when he meets a kick-arse female character who, it turns out, is a human player’s character. No longer is his repeated daily routine enough – he wants to be with the cool guys. Loved every moment, and it was wonderful to have a woman front and centre in both the game itself and in the gamer’s chair.

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GoldenEye (UK, 1995) – James Bond, enough said. I’m not the biggest fan of the films, too predictable for me, but it was interesting from a film history perspective.

Happiness Season (USA, 2020) – Harper invites her girlfriend Abby to spend Christmas with her family; it’s only once they’re on their way that Harper tells Abby she hasn’t told her family she’s gay. The premise and general atmosphere had a lot of promise, but it always seemed very possible that the family were going to be fine with Harper’s sexuality and the reality of her ‘friendship’, which made it go a bit too slowly. That said, the end was great, and Dan Levy was hilarious.

Kindergarten Cop (USA, 1990) – A cop goes undercover as a teacher to catch a drug dealer and discovers he loves teaching a heck of a lot. Fun!

Late Night (USA, 2019) – A woman whose late night show is dropping in the ratings hires a new member of staff based on their gender and race in order to hopefully freshen up her programme; Molly is her new Indian-American hire but Katherine isn’t sure it’ll work. Not particularly funny, no real effort given to showing why Molly is perfect for the job (she’s in theory a great writer), not very good.

Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House (USA, 1948) – The family lives in too small a home; Mr Blandings buys a home that supposedly needs a bit of fixing only to find the place is falling apart and they must work on it. Pretty unique and enjoyable; the house in the film was created by the production company to market the film and they in fact made many all over America. The buildings mostly still exist today, some are homes, others offices.

My Favourite Wife (USA, 1940) – Ellen’s ship is lost so, years later, Nick marries again, only Ellen’s not dead and she’s on her way back home. Pretty good, and the second wife is a nice person which makes it better.

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The Personal History Of David Copperfield (UK, 2019) – Young David goes to stay with the Peggotty family and when he gets back and his mother is married again he ultimately ends up having to leave due to his step-father and aunt; this starts him on a course of moving between and through various situations whilst he grows up. I haven’t read the book yet so I can’t comment on that aspect but the film was okay; sometimes funny, and the actors were all brilliant, particularly Dev Patel who made a perfect Dickens hero, but overall it just missed the mark a bit.

The Secret Life Of Pets (USA, 2016) – An owner gets a second dog and the two don’t get on, but they are forced to reassess when, away from their owner, a cat takes their collars and they loose that identification. I struggled with the personification of the rabbit but other than that it was good.

The Secret Life Of Pets 2 (USA, 2019) – This time the dogs are with their owner but they’ve got to keep an eye on her new little guy and his well-being. This was much more fun.

Sense And Sensibility (UK/USA, 1995) – The Dashwoods have to change their lifestyle when their house is given to their father’s son from a previous relationship, with the daughters looking to marry to help their three-person family carry on. Not so strangely, I felt similarly about this as I did the book, which is to say I quite liked it but not overly much. It’s still the Bennets for me.

Spies In Disguise (USA, 2019) – A top spy makes some mistakes and in order to try and get himself back in the game agrees to team up with a young inventor. He’s not sure about this inventor and he is right to be so – the young man accidentally turns him into a pigeon. Deterred yet not deterred, the spy wants to continue working even if he can no longer do anything human. The trailer was hilarious, and the whole film provides; brilliant fun.

The Thomas Crown Affair (USA, 1999) – A woman joins the case of a missing artwork, not caring that the men already working on it aren’t sure about her, and goes on a date with the main suspect, a billionaire who knows all, whilst working to bring him down. Saying anything more risks spoiling it – fab film.

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The Christmas Chalet (USA, 2019) – A chalet is double-booked by a single man and, then, a single mother and her daughter. They each can’t go anywhere else so they’ll have to get along. Doesn’t require all your focus.

Christmas In Evergreen (USA, 2017) – A woman wishes for a great Christmas, using what turns out to be a magic snow globe, but instead of it helping her long-distance relationship she finds love elsewhere when the daughter of a single father, both making a short stopover in the town, makes a wish with the snow globe too. Not great chemistry, but it ‘did’.

Christmas Wishes And Mistletoe Kisses (USA, 2019) – Abby helps decorate a regular Christmas tree and the owner of the business sees it as reason to suggest Abby tries for the job of decorating for a businessman’s party. Nick isn’t sure she’s right for the job… and I agree with him as very little effort is put into showing that she’s a good decorator, both in terms of the tree and the party. Which completely spoils the whole thing.

I’ve said enough here, I’ll leave it there. Let me know any recent films you’ve watched that you’d recommend.

 
Reading Life: 20th March 2023

A macro photograph of the side of a blossom

In posting this (writing it, too) the next day on my former schedule I’m not going to say I’m back to how I was before just yet – this is far too early to say – but I am going to try. The rabbits have a diagnosis and daily medications, and one of them has developed a way of telling me when she starts to feel ill so it is far easier to stop it getting to the level of a vet appointment; so whilst it’ll be lifelong for them, the daily stress has mostly gone away and with it the fog that was a constant in my head. Mental space is entirely underrated.

I’ve taken baby steps towards getting back into reading, if it can be called baby steps when you make your first ‘official’ read of the new practise a 1053 page book. It was accidental, in a way – in looks it is about 700 pages – but given it’s Outlander book three, Voyager, and I find the series a pretty easy read, I’m not too daunted. And not surprised the publisher opted for very thin paper to keep the heft down.

I unintentionally (well, accidentally but not quite on purpose while being conscious enough of it… I think I know why the US has created ‘on accident’) spoiled a bit of this book for myself by reading about Claire and Frank’s relationship on the Outlander subreddit and finding out something about Jamie which I wrongly assumed would happen in later books… it ended up happening within about 10 pages during my next period of reading. But it’s given me something to think about.

Absolute credit for my reading and general ‘getting back into this habit’ consistency the past week has to go to my friend who is a keen reader herself. She also gave me a wonderfully detailed introduction to TikTok, in particular BookTok, and I’ve created an account. Only one post so far but I have ideas. I’ve realised that TikTok may be the answer to those ideas I’ve had that were never enough for a blog post unless I wanted to bore everyone, but were too much for social media in years gone by unless I wanted to try and subvert the instantaneous, scrolling nature of it. If you are on there, do let me know. I for some reason can’t follow people properly yet – I’ve been able to follow 3 and that’s it – but this appears to be a bug that’ll hopefully be fixed. Unsurprisingly I’m @carnelianvalley

And on the note of TikTok, I decided to get Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights. Gong is one of the biggest, if not the biggest author on the platform and I badly need to get back into knowing what is going on in the book world at the time it happens. I’m looking forward to it – Romeo and Juliet in 1920s China, yes please!

Let me know what you have read recently that you would recommend, particularly newly published books!

 

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