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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.


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.


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.

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!

4 thoughts on “FEBRUARY 2020 READING ROUND-UP

    1. I got more out of my slow re-read than I did the first time around. Loved it. And as for the kayaking story, it has remained with me, and also been added to my 2020 Reading highlights list. What an amazing woman Kira Salak is.

      Liked by 1 person

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