JANUARY 2019 READING ROUNDUP

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Early January saw me feasting on Stories, an anthology edited by Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio. The anthology was a Library Book Sale buy, for a mere ZAR10.00 and what value I found for my ten Rand’s purchase! The book is old and worn, published in 2003, and clearly much read, and I’m sure enjoyed, by many others. And now entertaining me.
I’m delighted to have been introduced to the spy novels featuring the awful Jackson Lamb – surely one of the world’s most horrible bosses ! But highly readable and vastly entertaining. I’ll be looking out for more Mick Herron novels.

 
On the non Fiction side I read a deeply moving, beautifully written memoir by Australian actress and writer, Ruth Cracknell. It’s a sensitively written, thoughtful account of a forty-one year love story and its difficult ending.

 
At long last I’m getting to grips with my Kindle. Apart from the relief of expanded print size, there are the downloadable Samples, so useful, when you’re undecided whether you should buy an e-book. So I’ve included a Samples section in the monthly Reading Roundup.

 
January is the month when we are exhorted to clear up our lives and – shudder – our bookshelves. British writer Deborah Levy feels strongly about this and writes how : Marie Kondo can’t have my bookshelves
I have reached a stage where many of my books no longer speak to me, but I won’t be persuaded to part with Jack Kerouac or Colette  ..    an article in The Guardian.
Did you chuck or cherish your books in January? I didn’t Kondo my bookshelves, but I did chuck out some. I realise that if an unread book has been languishing on my shelf for years, then I’m probably never going to get around to it. Big moment of truth!

FICTION
Stories – All New Tales – Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. An anthology of imaginative fiction by some of the world’s best known authors. The whole shebang from horror to humour and pretty much everything in between. Recommended.

Spook Street – Mick Herron. Stylish, very English spy story set in modern London. Funny and gripping. Reviewed on this blog: https://thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/17/spook-street-mick-herron/

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz. Terrific crime novel, written by acclaimed Brit writer. Highly Recommended. . Reviewed on this blog: https://thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/29/the-word-is-murder-anthony-horowitz/
The World my Wilderness – Rose McCauley. Re-issued by Virago Classics; great writing and characterisation. Shows the effects of WWII on one young girl. Worth reading. Lighter than it might sound. Recommended.

 

NON-FICTION
The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics – Vickie de Beer & Kath Megaw. The focus is on feeding a Type 1 Diabetic child. Clearly presented easily accessible layout. Informative, practical and useful.

Journey From Venice – Ruth Cracknell. Memoir. A long awaited pre-retirement holiday in Venice turns into a travellers’ nightmare. Achingly personal yet restrained. Recommended.

KINDLE E-BOOK SAMPLES
The Library Book – Susan Orlean. NF. She’s one of my favourite writers. And I love books about Books & Reading. So – a big fat Yes, to buy later in the year.
The Lonely City – Olivia Laing. Moody. Introspective, arty – a Maybe.
Blackfish City – Sam Miller. SF. Fantastic world-building, but no thanks.

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THE WORD IS MURDER – Anthony Horowitz

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Despite the fact I’m not a huge fan of thrillers, Anthony Horowitz had me hooked. His story of the murder cunningly constructed – BTW, all I can say is without writing a Spoiler: there’s an enormous red herring, a whale sized red herring, at the heart of the murder story. More than that I must not say. If you’re looking for a challenging murder puzzle, look no further.

 
Leaving the crime aside, I enjoyed the semi-autobiographical perspective of the novel. What do I mean? Horowitz has chosen to use a First Person narrator i.e. himself. He explains how he is hired by the enigmatic detective, Hawthorne, to write a book based on the crim Hawthorne is investigating. Despite his misgivings, because Hawthorne is a difficult man, Horowitz agrees.

 
So he tells the story in a very personal way, giving us his reactions to unfolding events, as he follows Hawthorne around London hunting down leads and clues. Interspersed with the events, are Horowitz’s thoughts, plans, misgivings about the book he is supposed to be writing; he worries whether he has made the correct choice in taking on the job. He gives us fascinating insider anecdotes on his past writing career, notably as writer for the BBC series Foyle’s War.

 
I loved the episode where Horowitz is in a face to face meeting with Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings Fame) and Steven Spielberg ( major movie fame!) and Hawthorne barges in, disrupts the meeting ( and, incidentally, Horowtiz’s prospective future career as a writer for Spielberg!) and manipulates the writer into leaving immediately with him.

 
The tone of the narrative is personal, confidential and flattering because we’re privy to a very successful writer’s angst about his writing and his career. Let it be noted that Anthony Horowitz is highly successful  – so I think his angst may have been misplaced.

 
To me the book read as a blend of fiction (the crime) and fact ( Horowitz the writer) so perhaps I should label it as ‘faction’. Whatever we choose to call it, it was a terrific read and I can highly recommend it.

 

A LITTLE BOOKISH BYTE *

 

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Why, oh why, do people write comments in novels and short story collections?

 
A recent Book Sale buy, a short story anthology, has heavy underlinings in green felt-tip, plus awestruck comments elsewhere on the quality of the writing, liberally sprinkled with exclamation marks.

 
By all means annotate non-fiction textbooks or reference books, if these are going to be keepers on your shelf. Or, even in treasured poetry anthologies which you know you will keep on your shelves, and have been carefully detailed in your Will to follow you in to the grave or the fires. But works of general fiction that you will probably donate or give away? Sorry, no!

 
I do wish you wouldn’t. Its visually distracting, that heavy, coloured wobbly underlining and really, I neither care nor agree with your notes about the ‘stunning’ or ‘amazing’ prose. Grrrhhh.

 
You may visualise me adjusting my bi-focals, and polishing my Fuddy Duddy Book Nerd Badge.
** You will note the emphasis is on BITE.

SPOOK STREET – Mick Herron

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24 pages into the spy thriller I thought : this reminds me of those dreary John le Carre spy novels. If this doesn’t improve I’m abandoning it. Page 30 is the deadline.
Whilst I read many of the JlC spy novels I don’t know that I enjoyed them that much. Half the time I didn’t have a clue what was going on – they were so vague, so murky, so is he/ or isn’t he? However, the Mick Herron Spy Thrillers came highly recommended, so we put a couple into the Milnerton Library Book Club.
And I’m so glad we did! I can’t wait to read the next one! Because – suddenly – the story took off and I was hooked, breathlessly turning the pages.

 
Herron’s style is very English – wry, dry, witty . There’s no 007 boobs and bullets stuff here. It’s all London in the rain (it never stops raining throughout the novel) and the workers in Slough House – the reject spies, the psychopaths, the drunks, the deranged, lurching along under the command of the ghastly Jackson Lamb – find themselves embroiled in the enigma when one of their own is killed – or is he?

 
There’s a rogue ex-CIA spy up to no good in France – if I write more, it’ll be a spoiler. There’s a retired top dog who’s gone cuckoo (dementia; if you read the novel, re-read my review; there’s a pun here) . What do you do with elderly spies, suffering from dementia, who know far, far more than is safe for them, us, and everybody?

 
Herron shows the morally murky world of spydom where solutions to sticky problems are always pragmatic and expeditious. They have to be. The ending of the novel is in the same vein.

 
Highly recommended. I can’t wait to read the next one!

OH! THOSE BOOKISH NEW YEAR PROMISES!

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Some of the book bloggers I follow are rashly committing themselves to public promises and revealing their personal reading plans and promises. Reaching a target of 100 books during the year is a common theme, ditto entering x-number of Reading Challenges. Entering Goodreads annual reading challenge is another recurring theme.
Others are vowing to limit their number of book purchases, or lay waste to their TBR shelves (not before time in some cases; I recently read about a book addicts whose 1300 book TBR shelves were proving a traffic hazard within her house.). Adds a perspective to my own modest TBR shelf.
Others are determined to write book reviews of every book they read; good luck with that one, is all I can say! But: each to their own.
Another blogger asked: when did reading become a competitive sport? Good question!
I shall continue to meander peacefully amongst the Backlists, with a very occasional foray into Booker Short List territory. One cannot keep up with the Latest, Hottest, Raveworthy new novels. It’s a physical impossibility.

 

I read for pleasure, and always have done. If I’m looking for information, I hop on-line, and hey presto! Thank you Wikipedia or Google.
But I am prepared to publicly reveal that I will briskly abandon boring books. My time and my eyesight are too precious to waste. More than this – no, that’s between me and my Reading Diary, in which I record my bookish thoughts and stats. When the spirit moves me, that is.

 

My motto for 2019 is: Relax! Read and enjoy!

DECEMBER READING ROUND-UP 2018

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After the effort of reading the big Robert Galbraith novel, Lethal White, in record time, I was overtaken by the usual Silly Season hurly burly of shopping, planning, and socializing which didn’t leave much reading time.

 
Despite it’s misleading title, Himmler’s Cook proved to be a historical novel, ranging from the Armenian genocide in the early 1900s up to the current decade, focusing on the colourful life of Rose (the cook ), who survived by whatever methods she could, to live to age 105. What kept her going so vigorously for so long? Vengeance! Forget about the Christian virtues!

 
Consulting my Reading Diary I discover I haven’t reached any of my optimistic 2018 targets. I despatched 9 from the TBR pile and not the target 12. And of course I didn’t stick to my promise of buying only a measly 18 new books. My additions to the bookshelves totaled 25. Not so bad, really. In my defense, I donated many books to my local Library, so a Noddy Badge for this one. However, I was indeed ruthless about abandoning boring books. The latest casualty was my first Helen Oyeyemi novel : Boy, Snow, Bird. I know she’s widely read and admired, but I simply lost interest in the book. Sometimes one does!

 

So: I have written up a new Reading Diary for 2019, and have made my annual list of Reading Promises to myself. Actually, they serve as guidelines and reminders, more than anything else.

 
My dear daughter gifted me with an Amazon gift voucher, so tomorrow I shall be carefully selecting as many titles as I can possibly cram into the money, to read on my Amazon Kindle.

Wishing you all a splendid, enjoyable and wonderful reading year in 2019 !

FICTION

Lethal White – Robert Galbraith. Reviewed on this blog. https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/682
Himmler’s Cook – Franz-Olivier Giesbert. Story proves you should never upset the cook – this cook took revenge! Historical novel with a difference. Life in France, then WWII Berlin and the Nazis, then the USA. A long & lusty life!
The Lonely Desert – Sarah Challis. An easy read with an unusual background – the Tuareg in Mali. Dorset-born Clemmie falls in love with a Tuareg and choses to stay with him. Holiday reading!

Rotherweird – Andrew Caldecott. A 5-star historical Fantasy, blending Elizabethan history with modern day; written by a QC so well written and intelligent, but still entertaining. I’m looking forward to Book 2. Ken Mogi

 

Helen Oyeyemi

NON-FICTION
The Little Book of Ikigai – Ken Mogi. My big Life Changing Book of 2018.  Review to follow.

DNF
Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi

HITS & MISSES 2018

It’s that time of year again. List time! I must admit I enjoy other readers’ reading lists. I’ve gained insights and inspirations over the years, so thanks to all the list-makers. I hope you find a few new authors & ideas in my list.

 
2018 has seen me reading more non-fiction, and certainly more short story collections. It’s been noticeable how many short story collections are being published. A few years back the big publishing thing was essay collections. Some of which I bought and enjoyed, notably Rebecca Solnit. Now it’s trend time for short story collections. Prompting delicious dithering on my part, choosing which new books to buy with my December book voucher gifts.

Unhampered by on-line challenges I’ve flitted happily around the Garden of Genres, and had a wonderful reading year. I hope you did too!
Happy reading!

 

THE HITS

MY BOOK OF THE YEAR
The End of the Day – Clare North

BEST HISTORICAL
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

BEST COMIC NOVEL
Less  –  Andrew  Sean Greer

BEST LITERARY NOVEL
Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

MOST ORIGINAL READS IN 2018
Golden Delicious – Christopher Boucher
The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel

BEST SOUTH AFRICAN NOVEL
Bonemeal for Roses – Miranda Sherry

BEST SHORT STORIES
Memory Wall – Anthony Doerr

NOTABLE SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
The Paper Menagerie – Ken Liu
Difficult Women – Roxanne Gay

GREAT READS
A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
The Pigeon Tunnel – John le Carre
The Song Collector – Natasha Solomons
The Sudden Appearance of Hope – Clare North
Lethal White – Robert Galbraith

NON-FICTION
Wabi Sabi for Writers – Richard Powell
The Lost Empire of Atlantis – Gavin Menzies

MEMOIR/NATURE WRITING
Mountains of the Mind – Robert MacFarlane
Why do Birds Suddenly Disappear? – Lev Parikian

PHILOSOPHY
The Little Book of Ikigai – Ken Mogi

BEST FOODIE BOOK
District Six Huis Kombuis : Food & Memory Cookbook – Tina Smith

THE MISSES
City of Saints and Madmen – Jeff vander Meer
How to be Both – Ali Smith
Postcard Stories – Jan Carson

LETHAL WHITE – Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling

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Now I’m a Cormoran Strike fan, but when I was handed  #4 in the series, my heart sank. 649 pages is a solid brick of a book, and I’m kinda over books like bricks. Give me a light, nifty novella and away I go.  However, I girded my literary loins and plunged in.

Two days later, I emerged, with sprained eyeballs and a happy smile on my face. Yup: she’s done it again. JK Rowling tells one hell of a story. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

The book is a convoluted who-dunnit, set against the background of the British upper classes (politics, Westminster,  family feuds, money, wives, horses  – upper class Brits, so naturally there’s horses)  and in the end all is revealed.

But perhaps  of more interest is the on-going  personal relationship of Strike – the battered Afghan war amputee –  now a private detective in London, and his assistant/partner, Robin who is miserably married to an accountant. Things are not going well. Not for Strike, hampered by his war injury and a sinking bank balance, nor for Robin struggling to maintain her marriage which was a non-starter from the words ‘I do’ at the altar. At first I wearied of the on-going romantic tension between Strike and Robin – after all, this has been going on since Book #1 and I’m beginning to think oh for goodness sake! Enough already!  But then JKR swept me away and I stopped grumbling.

BTW, JKR does a fair bit of grumbling herself, having a jolly good go at the arrogance and greed of the British elite. She mercilessly parodies their accents, snobbish  social networking, their family nicknames and their penchant for  preposterous names. Who names their child Torquil, for heaven’s sake? Or how about Peregrine, shortened to Pringle  – which immediately reminded me of the crisps.

And on the topic of names: I didn’t care for the title. Because I live in a country with a shark patrolled coast, it reminded me immediately of the fearsome creatures. Ultimately, the title is relevant, but it jarred for me.

At the other end of the social spectrum there’s a sub-theme featuring a working class, leftie, politically correct, socially anarchic protest group which Robin infiltrates undercover. Reading those sections of the book I felt  I was witnessing JKR’s personal  political credo. To which she is fully entitled, of course. My trawling of Wikipedia revealed her as holding centre-left views, and I thought this might account for the parody of the upper class Brits in the novel.

All in all, a wonderfully meaty read, crammed with unforgettable characters. Like Strike’s long-time ex-girlfriend Charlotte – beautiful, heavily pregnant with twins, and desperately trying to reel him back in; not to worry that she’s married  … details, details. With which fascinating tidbit I will leave you. You’ll have to read the book.

Enjoy!  I did.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._K._Rowling#Politics

NOVEMBER 2018 READING ROUNDUP

 

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I finally crossed another book off the TBR list, The Road to Oxiana, although I only managed to stagger through four-fifths of the journey. There were two DNFs in November, but I’m copacetic about this. One of my 2018 Reading Resolutions was: I will not continue reading boring or unappealing books. It’s a waste of valuable eyesight & reading time!
I finished another TBR Basket Case by my favourite funny-man, Carl Hiaasen. For me not one of his best crime novels , because there was a huge secondary thread to the story, an impassioned rant about the fate of small town newspapers once a mega-media house takes them over; the decline of journalism, the focus on profit, and celebrity so-called news. Hiaasen is a long-time journo on a Miami Herald and Tribune Content Agency, and his hobby-horse rears up largely in this Florida crime caper.
Spurred on by other Lit-bloggers enthusiasm for novelist Muriel Spark, I tried one of her novellas. Whilst I can admire her sharp satirical pen, I didn’t enjoy it.

FICTION
Bad Monkey – Carl Hiaasen. 5 star fun on every page of this crime caper. Reviewed on this blog: https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/674

Basket Case – Carl Hiaasen. Murder with a music industry background. The usual wonderful snappy dialogue and deadly funny phrases.
The Good Father – Noah Hawley . The trauma of a father discovering his son has killed the next President of the USA. Literary thriller.
The Finishing School – Muriel Spark. A novella exploring jealousy and obsession. Not for me.

NON-FICTION
A Cook’s Tour – in search of the Perfect Meal – Anthony Bourdain. A great travel & food read. Reviewed on this blog: https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/669

On Leopard Rock – A life of adventure – Wilbur Smith. Autobiography of one of the world’s most successful and popular adventure novelists. Reviewed on this blog: https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/664

The Road to Oxiana – Robert Byron. Dense scholarly detail about Byzantine architecture, art & history. DNF
Country Driving – Peter Hessler. Journo follows road alongside Great Wall of China. DNF.

POETRY
The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry – Ed. J D Mc Clatchy. What a treasure trove. A marvellous anthology that I return to, again and again.

 

BAD MONKEY – Carl Hiaasen

 

My favourite Crime writer has done it again! A great story, colourful characters, zippy dialogue, an off-beat ex-cop (demoted to local health inspector – oh the pain!) an exotic setting (the Bahamas) and never a dull moment.

 

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There’s fraud on a gigantic scale against Medicare – a scooter scam, to be precise. Then there’s a revolting voodoo hag, who’s a nymphomaniac. There’s an equally revolting monkey, reputed to have starred in a Johnny Depp pirate movie. Plus there’s a witless sex-mad drop out, working on his tell-all celeb dairy, relating his steamy affair with his former schoolteacher. He finds her via Facebook . Said ex-teacher being one of the disgraced detective’s ex-lovers. He’s currently in love with a sexy Cuban pathologist. Complications abound.

 
Toss in a scheming wife in cahoots with her scary husband – and he’s really scary. The action doesn’t stop. The laughs keep on coming. Hiaasen had me laughing out loud by page 5. He’s the only crime writer I can think of who makes his readers laugh.

 
But besides all the merry mayhem, Hiaasen continues to beat his eco-warrior drum on the topic of greedy land developers who couldn’t care two hoots about the environment or the rights of local people. The wonderful thing about Hiaasen is that he doesn’t cram his eco- campaigns down your throat, or bash you over the head with his soap box, but the issues are there as a strong undercurrent. He’s a very skilful writer, is Mr H.

 
He’s also on a mission about ghastly misdemeanours in the kitchens of many seafood eateries in South Florida. Truly toe curling and gut turning! If you’re touring Florida, avoid the seafood! Correction: Probably safer to subsist on crackers and beer until you leave.

 
He finishes off the convoluted tale in a thoroughly satisfying way. All the baddies and low-lifes get their true desserts, not necessarily by being hauled off by the cops. Sometimes its better to have the baddies eaten by sharks or other useful garbage disposal devices.

 
Altogether a highly entertaining and enjoyable read. Perfect for holiday downtime. I’m just getting in a little early practice.