READING ROUND UP JUNE 2020

indexI didn’t spend much time between the pages this month, due to ongoing eyesight problems, but I did read two print books : The Tim Winton memoir, and a re-read of Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant – Confessions of Cooking for one and Dining Alone; edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. It’s a collection of writing by foodie writers, and a perfect dipper (pun intended).
Other than this, it was the Kindle and the world of e -books, mainly Cozy Mysteries. A happy discovery was the Kirsten Weiss CMs. A prolific writer she has produced several series, and I preferred the Tea & Tarot mysteries She writes well and is thoroughly entertaining.
Another happy discovery was Whitney Dineen’s series ‘Relatively’ where Scottish heritage collides hilariously with the American mid-West; a feisty, trouble-making Granny McTavish makes a welcome change to the world of Cozies.
I read other Cozies, all e-books, but some were not to my taste, while others were too formulaic to merit a mention.

FICTION

Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides. E-book. Twisty, very dark psychological novel with a shocking end reveal. In retrospect, the main character motivation was less than credible, but I must admit to being engrossed nonetheless.
(Steeped in Murder – Kirsten Weiss e-book)Gorgeous sunny, colourful Californian coastal settings, with a dash of Tarot readings threading through a Cozy Mystery set this book a step above others in the genre. For once, a well written cozy. Enjoyable.
Hostage to Fortune – Kirsten Weiss (e-book). #2 in the Tea & Tarot series. Also enjoyable.

Relatively Normal – Whitney Dineen and Relatively Sane – WD. (e-books) Quirky and funny.
The Wizard’s Butler – Nathan Lowell (e-book). The title hooked me. It got off to a good start, but lost momentum and the ending provided more questions than answers. Disappointing.

NON-FICTION

The Boy Behind the Curtain – Tim Winton. Fascinating insights into the man behind the fiction. A dedicated environmentalist, lifelong beach/surfer devotee. One of the best non-fiction reads of 2020, thus far. Not to be missed if you’re a TW fan, and NTBM if you’re interested in nature writing & the environment.
Zhoozsh!Jeremy & Jacqui Mansfield – a cheerful and slapdash cookbook, more of a family photo album, presented in a scrapbook format. The recipes feature simple, quick and one-pot dishes using (mostly) basic ingredients. Gourmet cooking – nope; camping cooking – yup. Have another dop* seems to be JMs catchphrase! Like I said: cheerful!*dop – tot/ drink

READING ROUND-UP – APRIL 2020 & MAY 2020

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Theoretically, Lockdown is the perfect time to read – provided you can summon up the energy and concentrate. And then write up a blog review. In April I just didn’t manage it.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PAST TWO MONTHS
Literary Novels: The Bear – Andrew Krivak
Short Stories: A Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin
Memoir: Cat Chat – Helene Thornton.
Humour: The Sophie Katz mystery romance series – Kyra Davis

 

What a marvelous book The Bear is! Its an account of the last two humans remaining on earth, post-apocalypse. We’re not in Mad Max territory. The story concerns a man and his young daughter, living a hunter-gatherer life ruled by the need for survival by living in harmony with the seasons, and the natural world. The characters are un-named, which adds to the mythic quality of the story. The father tells his daughter stories, about their own personal history, the stars, and stories about everything he knows. Which she in turn passes on. To whom? To the Bear. At the end of the human race, the last human regains the long-lost   gift of speaking to the animals. At last, all are in harmony.
The tone is quiet, sober, and elegiac. The ending had me in tears. Don’t be misled: this is not a miserable, depressing book. This may well be my Book of the Year, and I urge you not to miss it.
Lucia Berlin’s collection of stories. Is set in (mostly) TexMex and the SF Bay area, about women who struggle with alcoholic and drug dependent men, or their own alcohol dependency, plus poverty etc. The American underbelly well and truly exposed, but lightened with moments of grace, humanity, compassion, humour and the clarity of the writing. Rave rave rave. Don’t miss this collection!

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews was a terrific spy story. The perfidy of the Russian spymasters knows no bounds. Written by a man who claims many years service with the CIA – I’m surprised he was permitted to publish the book, it certainly has the flavour of truth about it. A cracking story. Despite the violence, deception, backstabbing and the tragic ending, I enjoyed the book.

 

The Barbara Kingsolver novel Unsheltered, was a heavy read. The inequalities of contemporary American capitalist, consumer society are contrasted with Communist Cuba’s s egalitarian life. A parallel story about a forgotten female Victorian botanist Mary Treat, who once lived in the same house (now crumbling into collapse) inhabited by the modern family. I dislike books with parallel story lines, which was the format of the novel. An unmitigated tale of family trauma and woe. I was not in the mood for BK’s issue driven approach. Not a good choice for Lockdown Reading.
I parked Ducks, Newburyport, after struggling with my unfamiliar Kindle and the stream of consciousness, unpunctuated, 1 000 page, narrative. I’ll have another crack at it when I’m less agitated and feeling stronger.
Once I came to terms with the Kindle, I explored the world of Cozy Mysteries. The books ranged from highly entertaining to horribly bad with a hefty slice in between. See below.

FICTION
The Bear – Andrew Krivak. Described as an adult fable, but more mythic so far as I’m concerned. Beautifully written. Post-apocalyptic story of the last two humans on earth, and the natural world they live in. An unusual and thoughtful book. Highly recommended.
Red Sparrow – Jason Matthews. Uber-authentic spy thriller, written by retired long-time CIA official. A chilling thriller. You’ll be on the edge of your seat, and devastated by the ending. Recommended for thriller fans.
Unhoused – Barbara Kingsolver. Another hefty issue-driven novel, relating the many trials & tribulations of a middle-class American family struggling against poverty, insufficient wages, poor health care etc etc. Nothing but challenge & disaster piling up one after the other; a tale of unmitigated family trauma and woe.
The Art of Purring – David Michie. Basic Tibetan Buddhist teaching woven into a sweet story about HH the Dalai Lama’s Cat.
Pretty Is as Pretty Dies – Elizabeth Spann Craig. E-book. My first excursion into the world of cozy mysteries. Octogenarian Myrtle Clover solves two small town murders, lightened by touches of humour and quirky characters. A quick, easy read.
Sex, Murder and a Double Latte – Kyra Davis. Entertaining murder story, where the baddie copies plots from a novelist’s books. Novelist is the narrator and she’s in his sights. Urban setting, San Francisco, plenty of pizzaz. Also featuring an archetypal Jewish mother and a black, gay hairdresser. I intend to read more in the series.
Sex, Murder and a Double Latte – Kyra Davis . E-book
Obsession, Deceit and Really Dark Chocolate – Kyra Davis. E-book
Lust, Loathing & a Little Lip Gloss – Kyra Davis. E-book
Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights – Kyra Davis. E-book ; All four books are entertaining, sassy, sexy, fun reads. I can’t wait for my next Sophie Katz read!
Sweet Masterpiece – Connie Shelton. First in a long series of cozy mysteries, featuring a female sleuth who bakes as a hobby, and cleans up deceased estate house & crime scenes for a living. An Okay Read , but lacking the sparkle and naughty fun of the Kyra Davis Sophie Katz novels.

 

SHORT STORIES
A Manual for Cleaning Women,. Collected stories of Lucia Berlin. Powerful, harrowing, brilliant exposure of America’s underbelly and the world of Latinos and the American Tex-Mex area. E-book.

NON-FICTION
Cat Chat – by Helene Thornton. LINK a delightful memoir of life and love in middle years; set in Provence so bags of good food & wine, Gallic charm and the happen -chance acquisition of a second husband and nine cats. Charming. Recommended read for cat lovers and Peter Mayle Provence fans.

MARCH 2020 READING ROUND UP

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I’ve found another book to add to my list of Desert Island Books: The Broken Road From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos. It’s the long-awaited final book in Patrick Leigh-Fermor’s trilogy, and compiled posthumously by his Literary Executors and editors, Colin Thubron (another brilliant travel writer) and Artemis Cooper (PLF’s biographer). I would go to great lengths to pack this Travel classic, it’s a gem. I reviewed the book separately in March, on this blog.

Words on Bathroom Walls – Julia Walton. Thanks to our Book Club Challenge, I tackled this diarized account of 16 year old Adam’s struggle with schizophrenia and an experimental drug. Normally, I would have avoided such a book, but I bravely dived in and what do you know? I had a wonderful read. Sometimes its good to leave that cosy Comfort Zone. And I ticked the Challenge Boxes: Made Into a Movie, and Debut Novel.
I realised I never read any poetry in February, so I pulled out a book at random from my shelf of Poetry books and found a slender red book in my hand, The Lemon Tree – Tatamkhulu Afrika. I remember buying it at a Poetry meeting in the Natale Labia Museum, down in Muizenberg, organized by that indefatigable champion of local poetry, Gus Ferguson.  In fact, the collection was one of his publications, from Snailpress.  Tatamkhulu was present, and read some of his work.  I have a faint memory of a tall, skinny old white man, who was – to my astonishment – a Moslem; this was unusual in the mid 1990s. He told us a charitable Moslem family had taken him in, and he lived in an outbuilding on their property – again, highly unusual for South Africa at that time. Re-reading his elegant, quiet poems about his life I wish I’d paid more attention at the time. Too late now.

FICTION
Badger on the Barge & other stories – Janni Howker. Short Stories.. A focus on adolescents; set in Britain. Perceptive and unusual.
Words on Bathroom Walls – Julia Walton. A diarized account of 16 year old Adam’s struggle with schizophrenia and an experimental drug. Very enlightening & a good read. Recommended.
The Distance – Zoe Folbigg. An entertaining light read. He’s in Mexico, she’s in Arctic Norway. Will these twin souls ever get together? It’s a cyber-Skype romance, and I enjoyed it.
An Open Swimmer – Tim Winton. His debut, prize winning novel. A coming of age story, moody and male but also filled with wonderful descriptions of sea, fishing, and coastal bush.
Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens. An unusual story of a lonely abandoned child who grows into a shy reclusive woman, rooted in her marsh wilderness in North Carolina. Superb descriptions of marsh life birds, animals, marine creatures. Engaging human actors, a mystery, and a real kicker of an ending. Recommended.
NON-FICTION

The Broken Road. From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos – Patrick Leigh-Fermor. A travel classic brimming with history, colourful detail and characters. A must-read for Travel fans and lovers of good writing.

POETRY
The Lemon Tree – Tatammkhulu Afrika.

AN ADDITION TO MY LIST OF DESERT ISLAND BOOKS

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The Broken Road. From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos – Patrick Leigh-Fermor.
I’ve found another book to add to my list of Desert Island Books. I would go to great lengths to pack this Travel classic, it’s a gem. It’s the long-awaited final book in Patrick Leigh-Fermor’s trilogy, and compiled posthumously by his Literary Executors and editors, Colin Thubron (another brilliant travel writer) and Artemis Cooper (PLF’s biographer).
As a very young man, in his late teens/early twenties PLF walked through many of the Balkan countries aiming for Constantinople/Istanbul; he always referred to the fabled city as Constantinople.

 
The walk takes place starts in Rumania, then moves south into Bulgaria, and he lands up at the shores of the Black Sea, at the end of December 1934; almost in Constantinople, but not quite. This is where his travel diary ends. Thereafter he moved on to a pilgrimage for over a month at Mount Athos , in Greece. I didn’t read this section, because the Library was hounding me to return the book.
Can you believe that in the mid-1930s he could walk at will in the mountains and through valleys in the rural Balkans, sleeping outdoors, or occasionally with friendly rural folk in farm cottages, subsisting on about two shillings per day? And, please know, he drank and smoked with gusto, and ate well. Granted, there were days when he ate frugally on a hunk of stale bread and some raw onion. Probably a good thing he was walking in remote areas! But this said, he often remarks on the smells he encounters: human sweat, wood smoke, animal dung – we’re very precious about smells these days. Europe in the 1930s either poured on vast quantities of cologne, or else, simply didn’t notice the background odours.
His diaries, anecdotes and reflections are fascinating. They’re crammed with detail about the different ethnic groups he meets; snippets of centuries old historical background, Turkish conquests, long-forgotten wars, countries that vanished off the map post-WWII when Europe was divided by the Allied victors.
The overall picture is a brilliantly coloured tapestry of folk dress, fezzes, embroidered waistcoats, Turkish turbans, horse riders, village taverns and squares, simple home grown food and wine; communicating sometimes in broken Bulgarian, or fluent French or limping German, or seriously limited Bulgarian ( no spika da Eenglish in 1930’s Bulgaria) he mixed with British diplomats as he moved around. He visited the haute mond of Bulgarian society, via introductory letters and social contacts, and the even more elevated haute mond of French-speaking ,cultured, intellectual, Bridge playing Rumanian society, and by complete contrast, with traveling Gypsies, shepherds, fishermen and ordinary folk.
There’s a wonderful description of him being chauffer driven in his hosts’ Packard limo, swathed in a fur rug, to explore the town where he goes drinking in a humble tavern and later, homeward bound in the Packard, passes a drover herding his cattle who recognizes PLF as his drinking companion of a scant hour previous!
The world was a wonderful melting pot in those days, before it became homogenized under the deadening hand of Post-War Communism and Coca Cola, and Capitalism on the other. I wish I’d been there and seen it for myself, but at least PLF wrote down his vivid verbal snapshots, which is better than faded sepia photos.
He writes marvelously and at length about his precious travel notebooks and enumerates their invaluable contents, upon which the book is based. And oh! the drama, when a madman steals his rucksack containing the vital notebooks! Fortunately the missing rucksack is tracked down, but the saga played out over long, tense hours.
If you enjoy travel books and superb writing, then make sure you read this book!

FOUR BOOK BONANZA!

 

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I’m sharing the joy: look what arrived today. Four long anticipated books that I ordered on-line in mid February, arrived this morning. Yipee!
I debated long and hard over what treats to buy. I chose books that I’d seen reviewed and praised to the heavens:
There, there – Tommy Orange. Highly acclaimed American debut novel; follows twelve characters from Native communities all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. The complexities and challenges of urban Native Americans in contemporary society.
Bear – Andrew Krivak . A moving post-apocalyptic fable for grown-ups, was Ursula le Guin’s verdict. Other critics raved about the elegance of the writing.
The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick.  She was long recognized as one of the great literary critics of the twentieth century …. Her elegant, erudite often witty essays and reviews … was Joyce Carol Oates verdict.
Essays – Lydia Davis . …. Beautifully formed, thought-provoking playful and illuminating, these pieces are a masterclass in reading and writing … says the dust jacket.
None  were available on our retail bookstore shelves, so I blew the budget in one glorious, indulgent  blowout. That’s my book buying over until at least August.

 
I enjoy Lydia Davis fiction, so wanted to read  her essays. I sat down to sample her Chapter headed Thirty Recommendations for Good Writing Habits and was instantly enthralled – pure gold, I tell you, pure gold. My tea turned lukewarm, the time sped by and I read on. I reached the end of the chapter, inserted two Post-it notes at useful sections and hugged the book. Even if that’s the only chapter I read in the entire book, it was worth every cent.

 

As for the other three books, I can’t wait to read them. Don’t bother contacting me, I shall be incommunicado for some time to come as I explore  in this literary treasure trove.

FEBRUARY 2020 READING ROUND-UP

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Rave rave – The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I was swept away by her follow-up to The Night Circus, a book, which in retrospect, I didn’t enjoy nearly so much as her latest. See my separate review, 17 Feb, on this blog: https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/842.

The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti, an award winning Italian novel, was an unusual read. I tend to forget about the northern Italian regions, being more familiar with the central (Rome) and Southern regions. My mental associations with Italy are stuck in stereotypes: food, wine, sunshine, agriculture, scenery, antiquities, fashion. But Eight Mountains is set in the North – the Alpine areas. The narrator starts with his boyhood, his moody, uncommunicative, mountain-mad father who drags him up high altitude mountains, never mind that his son suffers from altitude sickness! Despite this off-putting start, as a young man Berio finds himself longing for the mountains and eager to escape his city life. He returns to the tiny village of Grana and reconnects with Bruno, his boyhood friend (his only friend). On his father’s death, Berio inherits a tiny mountain property above Grana, and he, together with Bruno, spend months restoring a ramshackle mountain cottage. Bruno has always remained in the mountains, and is content to do so.
And so the book goes on. It reads like a memoir, but is in fact a novel. Essentially it’s a story of male friendship, father-son relationships, a coming of age story, finding one’s place in the world, and the mountains. An unusual read, not a contender for my Top Reads list, but a solid novel nonetheless.

 
Although I’m a Clare North fan, her dystopian fantasy 84K defeated me yet again. I can take only so much bleak, and after the glorious Morgenstern fantasy, the contrast was too jarring. Sorry: this is one I’m going to have to wave goodbye to.

 
Kira Salak’s  account of her 600 mile solo paddle in a kayak, up the Niger to fabled Timbuktu is a Travel Writing classic. Breathtaking fortitude, bravery, and a deeply felt inner journey as she encounters Mali, its people and its mighty river. She was inspired by the earlier explorations of Mungo Park, the Scottish explorer in the early 1800s. Another example of mans’ insatiable desire for knowledge and adventure. And, (in the case of Mungo), it must be admitted, for the discovery of gold, and the acquisition of territory for the British Empire.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mungo_Park_(explorer)

FICTION

The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern. Wonderful read for me: a 10 star Fantasy novel.
The Eight Mountains – Paolo Cognetti (translated from Italian). Prize winning novel, mountains, men and male friendships. Different.
The Sentence is Death – Anthony Horowitz. Another workmanlike whodunnit from a first rate crime writer. Very enjoyable.
Small Kingdoms and other stories – Charlaine Harris. YA crime – a quick, easy read, but shockingly casual about crime and violence.
84K – Clare North. DNF . Bleak dystopian tale set in Britain.

NON-FICTION

The Cruellest Journey – Kira Salak. Adventure/travel writing in Mali – by kayak down the Niger River to Timbuktu. “A real life Lara Croft!” is one frequent title bestowed on Salak.

How to Read a Novelist – John Freeman . A fascinating collection from the reviewers articles interviews and essays. Quick-dips into 50 of the best-known current novelists. Enjoyable.

RE-READS
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott. I have finished re-reading this classic on life and writing, with the utmost enjoyment. If you’ve not read the book, then do so immediately!

THE STARLESS SEA – Erin Morgenstern

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I was hooked from the moment I read the gold title, and read page 1. I am unapologetically in rave mode. If you didn’t enjoy the book, then read no further.

For me it was a ten star Fantasy read. Never mind Goodreads miserable 5 star top accolade.

When I reached The End, I immediately turned back to the beginning to reacquaint myself. I didn’t want the story to end; it swept me away, for 494 glorious pages. I never noticed the length. It probably took me a week to read, because the writing is so lush that it was good to read slower, and savour the prose.

The back cover is an abstract design, reminiscent of brocade: rich colours interwoven with gold thread, forming a dense, gleaming fabric. I felt as if I was reading brocade.

The book is a dazzling amalgam of fantasy, myth and fairytale, books, libraries, hidden underground worlds, magic doorways that are portals other realms and times; there are star crossed lovers, time loops, oh! and cats! It doesn’t get any better than this.
I will be buying my own copy.

JANUARY 2020 READING ROUND UP

 

Iimages (2)enjoy Australian novels and was looking forward to The Dry, Jane Harper’s debut crime novel, which was well reviewed. However, the book did not work for me chiefly because there was so much emphasis on the twenty year old death of a local teenage girl, which was – in the mind of the investigator – linked to the current heinous crime of a family murder. Other Australian novels have conveyed a vivid sense of the land, the life, the seasons, notably Tim Winton’s books; the Dry didn’t offer much in this direction. It portrayed small town Australia at its worst. I didn’t find any of the characters appealing either. In short: a disappointment. To be fair, the denouement did come as a big surprise when I finally discovered ( as I said, the book is overlong) whodunnit.

 
I thought I’d give Nick Petrie’s Light It Up a try and what a hectic ride/read that turned out to be! Non-stop action from war vet ex-Marine Peter Ash against the background of Denver’s legalized cannabis industry. The shenanigans involved the vast cash payments being transported, not the actual weed. A thrilling read.

 
For years I’d been intrigued by the title Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.  I enjoy books about books, and had mistakenly assumed the novel stemmed from a writing group or literary magazine. I was wrong. Shy Swedish bookstore assistant travels to USA to meet a fellow reader, only to discover her hostess has died. She remains in the boring small town, and opens a bookstore using her hostess’s library for stock. A somewhat improbable plot, but this is fiction, and its called literary license. For me, the title was the best part of the book. After the initial shocking opening, the plot was predictable.

FICTION
Forever and a Day – Anthony Horowitz. 007 revisioned in style: plenty of action, fast cars, beautiful women, sadistic villains, deadly plots. Great quick read.

 

The Queen of the Night – Alexander Chee. Epic historical novel, set in France 1867 onwards. Will appeal to opera fans, historical buffs and lovers of sagas.

 
The Dry – Jane Harper. Australian crime novel. Bleak and over-long. Small town Australia at its most unappealing.
Light It Up – Nick Petrie. Non-stop action thriller, cash heists, dangerous war vets, mercenaries, and a terrific female lead who looks after herself fearlessly. Recommended.
Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend – Katarina Bivald, translated by Alice Menzies. A Swedish tourist, a boring small town in middle America, a predictable plot. Not a rave read, but okay.

 

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie. I enjoy quirky books & this one is a 5-star weird, wonderfully engaging read. Dysfunctional families, the evil pharmaceutical industry, and Veblen who talks to squirrels. No, really. Recommended.

 

NON-FICTION.

Re-reads: Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott. I’m slowly re-reading her classic non-fiction advice on writing, and life. Enjoying chewing over each leisurely chapter. I seldom re-read, but this exercise is proving fruitful.

WARM FUZZIES WITH THE CHRISTMAS CATS

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Lesley Anne Ivory is the illustrator, par (or should I say ‘purr’) excellence, when it comes to cats. As some of you already know, I’m a cat fan of note. So it was a foregone conclusion that I would enjoy her little book of Christmas Cats. Not only did I enjoy it – I loved every page, and returned I the book with the utmost reluctance to my friend who lent it to me.
The small book is charming, delightful, heartwarming; each page shows one of the artist’s cats depicted in scenes of an English countryside Christmas – snow, holly, distant churches, twinkling yellow lights. It’s a nostalgia fest de luxe, and its gorgeous. One of the things I enjoy about Lesley Anne Ivory’s cat paintings is that they are meticulous portraits of these graceful animals, and not  caricatures, or stylised images. Each cat’s personality is evident in each portrait.
I particularly enjoyed the neat borders around each portrait, decorated with holly, robins, rosy red apples, pine cones, red, white and green Christmas stockings – all the much loved trimmings of a traditional Northern Hemisphere Christmas.
I read the book after Christmas, in mid-January which was a pretty good time to have an attack of the warm fuzzies don’t you think?

 

P.S. Give yourself a treat and Google  for Images – LAI  ; you have a feast  in store. Enjoy!

DECEMBER 2019 READING ROUND UP

 

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I never read Elizabeth Strout’s best seller Award winning novel My Name is Lucy Barton; after my excursion into Anything is Possible, which uses Lucy Barton as a reference point in the linked stories, I have crossed the Lucy Barton off my Want to Read List. I was staggered by the revelations that came out of the Anything is Possible stories! For goodness sake: the setting is the American Mid-West, the land of rolling cornfields, Mom and apple pie, not the cesspit of dark family secrets underlying one small, dusty, obscure town! My gosh: are there no normal families in Middle America? After my nasty shock between the covers of Anything is Possible (and she wasn’t kidding!) I have no desire to explore further.
Prior to the Strout, I’d read Zinzi Clemmons’ What We Lose, and had very mixed feelings about this novel. To me, it read more like a memoir than anything else, but then that’s a common feature of first novels. I wasn’t crazy about the experimental formatting, but on the plus side, was relieved the chapters were so short. The novel explores the dual strands of heritage and identity (Thandi’s Mum is a South African Coloured* woman, married to a successful American black) as played out in South Africa and Philadelphia. I found the section about Winnie Mandela opportunistic. The novel was praised to the skies both here and abroad, but I am not a member of that praise singing choir. However, I have to admit it was refreshing to read about Thandi’s wealthy, successful Coloured relatives living in Sandton which makes a change from the usual trope of downtrodden disadvantaged people.
*Please note in SA the term ‘Coloured’ refers to people of mixed race.
After these two unsatisfactory reads, Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet came as a relief, followed by joy. What a marvelous read! Set in Australia (of course), two rural families migrate to Perth at the end of WWII, and we follow their struggles, triumphs and tragedies to start over as city people. The book has been described as a masterpiece, and I agree. It’s a keeper, it has everything, vivid characters, ordinary people you can relate to, and also picnics: which I am partial to myself. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for many years, and it was worth the wait.
Finally I tackled Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jokha_al-Harthi;  a complex novel written by an Omani born but Western educated woman. I found the book challenging because it did not have a linear timeline or story line but notwithstanding the difficulties, I gained a tiny insight into the patriarchal society and kingdom, its history and its culture and traditions. An intoxicating blend of history, magic, myth and the arrival of the 21st century. The book made a refreshing change from the usual Western publishers run of the mill offerings.
Only four book reviews this month; what with Silly Season events, shopping and traveling I didn’t have that much time to read. But that’s okay: my TBR shelf waits patiently. Watch this space.
Wishing you a peaceful, happy New Year filled with more marvellous books.

FICTION
Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout. I discover Middle America holds its quota of dark hidden family secrets. A well written novel, but I did not enjoy.
What we Lose – Zinzi Clemmons. So-so novel about an American girl coming to terms with her South African heritage, her mother’s death, and life in general. Again, I did not enjoy.
Cloudstreet – Tim Winton. Another 5-star read. Epic Australian family saga, unforgettable characters. Loved it.
Celestial Bodies – Jokha Alharthi. My first Omani novel – a complex story of 3 Omani girls dealing with patriarchy, tradition and the incursions of the modern world. Very different. I’m glad I tried the book and equally glad I’m not an Omani woman!