Tuesday, January 15, 2019

ONCE UPON A RIVER




Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org


Once Upon A River, Diane Setterfield, Atria Books, 2018, 460 pp

Like countless other readers who loved The Thirteenth Tale, I impatiently awaited this new novel. I did not expect to be disappointed but I had somehow forgotten the precise effect Diane Setterfield has on a reader. She makes me feel I am drowning in story though I always stay afloat.
So much to love in this novel. The setting in and around an ancient inn on the river Thames in the mid 18th century. The way every character is as unique as the various people one meets in life. The mystery of a small girl child who appears at first to be dead by drowning but comes to life. 

Best of all, the story itself, a story made of stories, that twists and turns like the Thames, that ends with every loose end tied up and with everyone getting what they deserve and sometimes with what they wished for.

This is a short review for me but I don't want you to waste time reading my words. I want you to have time to read this wonderful novel. I was indeed bewitched.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER




Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org


My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Doubleday, 2018, 192 pp
 
 
Do you follow the annual Tournament of Books, hosted by The Morning News? I have participated in it to varying degrees since 2010. I don't always read all the books in play (16+) but I enjoy following the results. Best of all, I have discovered some pretty great undersung authors.
 
When the list of books came out for the 2019 Tournament I had only read five of them. I am planning to read several more by March when the fun begins. That is how I came to read this one.

My Sister, the Serial Killer is set in Nigeria, written in English by its Nigerian author. It has been called a satire. I can see that it is somewhat tongue-in-cheek as far as society in Lagos goes. The story is over the top improbable but its underlying angst was not what I would call funny.

Two sisters still live at home, daughters of an abusive, now deceased father, and a delusional mother who spoils the younger sister and has charged the older one with protecting her. The big secret between these sisters is that the younger, when she tires of a boyfriend, just kills him. No remorse, no sense of having done anything wrong. The older helps her get rid of the bodies and the evidence. After the third murder, that younger sister qualifies as a serial killer.

The chapters are short and cinematic, but each packs plenty of action and emotion while filling in the back story and creating convincing characters.  I read it because it was short and readily available on my library's eBook service.

Surprise! It was a super fun read even though the story is serious.


(My Sister, the Serial Killer is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

A KIND OF ANGER









A Kind of Anger, Eric Ambler, Atheneum, 1964, 311 pp
 
 
Summary from Goodreads: Six weeks ago, Lucia Bernardi fled the Swiss villa where her lover was murdered—and then she vanished. No one can find her: Not the police, who want her for murder; not the tabloids, who want her for her story; nor the real killers, who desperately want the papers she spirited away from the scene of the crime. Disgraced reporter Piet Maas stumbles upon Lucia, in hiding in the south of France. There he must decide whether to publish her story—reviving his career but guaranteeing her death—or to join in her perilous extortion scheme, and risk both their lives for the promise of profit.
 
 
My Review:
This is the third Eric Ambler espionage thriller I have read. It was the best of three. I like Ambler because he is less dour than Le Carre, less trashy than Ian Fleming, and less serious than Graham Greene. His stories fall a bit outside the usual Cold War plots.
 
Although the book is over 50 years old, it has some chilling similarities to current times. No social media but the tabloids complicate the plot. A Kurdish revolutionary scheme with connections to oil magnates. A protagonist whose failed literary journal haunts him.
 
Lucia as the femme fatale is smart and operates in a moral gray area. Can she and her sympathetic journalist pull off their extortion caper and cause competing political zealots to lose on both sides?
 
Good stuff! 

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

THE LOST QUEEN




Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org


The Lost Queen, Signe Pike, Simon & Schuster Inc, 2018, 515 pp
 
 
My first book finished in 2019 is a wonder of romantic historical fiction set in sixth century Scotland. I first came to know of Signe Pike eight years ago when I read her lovely memoir Faery Tale, wherein she went on a journey to honor her recently deceased father as well as to determine whether or not fairies are real.
 
That endeavor led to her continued research on Celtic history and folklore. The Lost Queen is the first in a trilogy about a Queen lost to history. She includes new historical research into the origins of Merlin and King Arthur.

I have always loved books about the Arthurian legends and particularly about the clash between the old Celtic religion and Christianity as it was brought to the British Isles by the Romans. Here we have a new look at the roots of those legends and plenty of clashes!
 
In the ways of coincidence in my reading, I had recently read Julian by Gore Vidal which features a similar clash of Christianity with the Old Religion of Greece and the Middle East, defining the life of a short-lived Roman Emperor. In our time we are experiencing an ongoing clash between Islam and Christianity. All so fascinating to me.

Languoreth is the titular queen in this novel, though she is not yet a Queen. Here we learn of her early life as the daughter of a petty king under the High King Tutgual. The lands where these men rule are near the Firth of Clyde and today's Edinburgh.

Languoreth has a twin brother, Lailoken, who is being trained as a Wisdom Keeper or as we call them today, a Druid. Their bond is deep and Languoreth longs for the freedom he has compared to her destiny: to be married into some royal family so as to protect her family lands and ally her father with more power. Naturally she falls in love with a Celtic warrior but must marry a prince.

If you have read The Mists of Avalon you will feel right at home in The Lost Queen, even though it is set almost a century earlier. If you have read Outlander you are familiar with the blazing romances that can catch fire between adventurous individuals of older days.

Reading this book is to be swept into a romantic adventure filled with thrilling history. There is enough enchantment to make you wish you could have lived there and then.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

JANUARY READING GROUP UPDATE









Taking stock here at the beginning of a new year, I see that I am a member of 5 active reading groups. Two meet every month and the other three are usually bi-monthly. I continue to be enriched by our discussions and, truth be told, these groups are the core of my social life. I have also found true friends with whom I interact with on a regular basis. I have been in reading groups for a couple decades now and though there are pitfalls in such an enterprise, a good group is invaluable. 

Some of my groups take time to look over the past year and vote on our most successful and loved book. Here are the results:
Tina's Group: The Weight of Ink
One Book At A Time: Silver Sparrow
Bookie Babes: The Child Finder
Happily I am in complete agreement with those picks.

What were the best reads/discussions you had in 2018 in your reading groups, either IRL or on-line?

The January line-up is small and I have doubts about the One Book At A Time choice. I have already read and discussed The Bookie Babes selection in at least two other groups but it is a book that surely provokes discussion. I am looking forward to the pick for Molly's Group.


One Book At A Time:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org
 
 
Molly's Group:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org
 
 
Bookie Babes:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org
 
 
Have you discussed any of these in groups or read them? What are your groups discussing in January?

Saturday, January 05, 2019

HORSE LATITUDES




Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org


Horse Latitudes, Morris Collins, Dzanc Books, 2019, 308 pp
 
 
This was the last book I read in 2018. It has an interesting publishing history. Since it was the December, 2018 release for the Nervous Breakdown Book Club, the author was interviewed on the related Otherppl podcast, where he talked about that history.
 
Morris Collins wrote Horse Latitudes during the first decade of this millennium and had it published by MacAdam Cage, an indie publisher located in San Francisco. Immediately after publication the company went out of business so no promotion was done. In 2016, Dzanc Books, another indie, agreed to reissue the book and it will finally be released in January, 2019. The reality of the life of a new author!

The horse latitudes are two belts of sub-tropical high pressure that circle the earth at 30-35 degrees north and south latitudes. The book is set in and around Guatemala which lies in the northern of those belts.

Ethan, a young New York photographer, flees to Central America after his marriage ends in his wife committing herself to a mental institution. He is filled with guilt and loss and figures a change of scene might do him good.

You know that advice about not making major decisions in the midst of a huge life upset? Ethan makes several disastrous decisions and lands himself in the middle of an impending revolution in a Central American country. He agrees to find the missing sister of Yolanda, a sex worker he met in Mexico.

I found Ethan's story engrossing. Following United States CIA interference in Central America, supposedly to fight communism but in actuality to protect American business interests, from the 1950s and on to today, most of those countries have been politically, economically, and socially destroyed. In fact, those policies are a main cause of the immigration disaster (can you say "wall?") we are experiencing today.

While this is a nightmarish story of an innocent, inexperienced white American male in the jungles and decimated towns of the region, it is also a psychological and political thriller. It might be a tad too ambitious and overwritten but not since Gore Vidal's Dark Green, Bright Red have I read such a horrifying and politically astute novel. I could not put it down.


(Horse Latitudes is available for pre-order in paperback from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

TOP 25 BOOKS READ IN 2018




My Bookshelves


I had a great reading year. I surpassed my overall goal to read 144 books. I completed a self-created challenge to read a book a month from the last 12 years of my TBR lists. I also read a book a month from my Nervous Breakdown Book Club subscription. I fell short in terms of reading as much as I had planned from my ongoing, unending challenge known as My Big Fat Reading Project.

As far as these favorite 25 books go, I made my decisions based on not only how much I loved the books but on how much they challenged me to learn new things, to understand myself and others more completely, and to savor the many ways that stories can be told.
 
My new 2019 challenge is to read a book a month set in another country by an author who lives there and writes in their own language. For me that means the book has to be translated into English. I have made a tentative list, subject to change as the year unfolds.

I will put the stats at the bottom of the list. Stats are fun and enlightening but can also be boring. Feel free to skip them.

All the books on the list have been reviewed here on the blog.

All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews
Appassionata, Eva Hoffman
The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden
Becoming, Michelle Obama
The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch
Call Me Zebra, Azareen Van de Vliet Oloomi
Circe, Madeline Miller
Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich
Gold Dust Woman, Stephen Davis
The Golden State, Lydia Kiesling
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
How To Be Both, Ali Smith
The Ice Palace, Tarjei Vesaas
Lake Success, Gary Shteyngart
The Map of Salt and Stars, Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner
Miss Burma, Charmaine Craig
The Overstory, Richard Powers
The Power, Naomi Alderman
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, Cherise Wolas
The Secret River, Kate Grenville
Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones
Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik
Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver
The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish


Stats: 146 books read. 135 fiction (not counting poetry and plays). 86 by women. 11 nonfiction including history, biographies and memoirs. 50 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 11 translated. 

Were any of the books on my list also favorites of yours?

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for visiting my blog and most especially for leaving comments. I maintain this blog as a labor of love. The best reward is your comments.