APRIL 2019 READING ROUNDUP

 

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Coincidentally this month, I read two life-accounts by women raised in religious movements outside the mainstream (the Westover and Janzen books) which provided a stark contrast to each other. The bleak Westover book v.s. the cheerful Janzen account. I now realise why the Westover book was such a hit in 2018 in the USA. I must confess I was shocked that these events could and did take place in the fairly recent past. Had the setting been in the Pioneer days of the Wild West, the story wouldn’t have been so remarkable, but in the late 20th century ? An entirely different era, and therefore shocking.

Another twinned read: two space themed books. The Latimer South African Space romp, and the deeply thoughtful Matt Haig survey of humanity. Joanne Harris summarized the Haig novel as The Man Who Fell to Earth meets the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Very neatly and accurately put.

And now we come to The Binding – Bridget Collins. I was dying to read the Fantasy novel, partly seduced by the gorgeous cover, and plunged in. But: about a quarter way through, the story took a different turn into the realms of faux-Victorian erotica. Its described as a Gothic novel, and it is. The writing is vivid, the characters memorable, and I must confess to being swept away. I cannot say more, lest I stray into spoiler territory. I suspect it was the cross genre direction of the novel that threw me. I’m still not sure if I enjoyed it or not! I’d love your views on the novel?

You already know my weakness for reading cook books, don’t you? Plus my addiction to MasterChef Australia ? So when I spotted a second hand copy in my local indie bookstore – Books Galore, Sunningdale  – we all know what happened next, don’t we? Worth every cent. As the sub-title says: 204 Recipes you’ll want to Cook Again and AGAIN. And Matt Preston on the cover, with a roguish twinkle in his eye. What I loved most about the book was his entertaining text, prefacing most recipes. Warm, down to earth, with jolly little quips and asides. I think I put on 2 kg just reading the damn thing. It was a worthwhile splurge.

 

FICTION
The Binding – Bridget Collins. Fantasy novel; more of a love story, despite the magical elements in the story. Unusual cross-genre story.

The Space Race – Alex Latimer.  South African Afrinauts set off to conquer new worlds. Fun read debut novel. Very authentically S’Affrican!
The Plains – Gerald Murnane. Difficult and challenging literary novel by renowned Australian author.

Happiness for Humans – P Z Reizin. A laugh-out-loud easy read: what if your AI project set you up with the perfect date? AI meddles in the real world with hilarious results.
The Humans – Matt Haig. A thought provoking look at our species via the cool eyes of an alien visitor. Quirky, elegiac, wonderful. High on my Re-Read Soon List.

NON-FICTION
Mennonite in a Little Black dress – Rhoda Janzen. Cheerful memoir of a Mennonite childhood plus a sobering reflection on a 15 year bad marriage.
Educated – Tara Westover. Shocking account of a brutal childhood, bravely overcome in early adult life.

Fast, Fresh and Unbelieveably Delicious – Matt Preston. Pasta with Personality, Teatime treats, and Matt Preston in all his twinkly glory, sans wildly colourful suits, but plus lovely recipes. Yes please: I’d love to come over for tea. Or any food event in your house!

MARCH 201 READING ROUND-UP

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My read of the month was undoubtedly The Overstory by Richard Powers, award winning American author. As ever, I am catching up on the Back List. This time it was well worth the wait. I’m in rave mode about the book. See my mid-March update post : https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/726
Brit spy writer, Mick Herron does it again in London Rules. I’m an unabashed fan of his Jackson Lamb series. Lamb is repulsive in every possible way. He’s the slovenly, cruelly manipulative, lying boss of the reject spies department, housed in a suitably dreadful building called Slough House. Its refreshing to have a bunch of White Hats who could not possibly be put into the category of Squeaky Clean – no, amend that to any degree of clean, physically, mentally or careerwise. And yet, they succeed. In their own lunatic, hamfisted way. Herron gives us modern, urban life in London. It’s so authentically gritty you want to wash your hands after reading the book.
I took a short excursion to Venice, via Donna Leon’s latest Guido Brunetti mystery The Temptation of Forgiveness. I always enjoy her Venetian crime novels, as much for the setting and the characters as for the unfolding of the solution to the crime. In this case, all I will say is the solution to the drama was unexpected and there were some skilful red herrings planted en route.
And then there was my introduction to the wild, post-modern world of Donald Barthelme. 45 short stories, like nothing I have ever read before. Stunningly original. The closest I can get to describing my startled reaction is: imagine if the Surrealist artist Salvador Dali were to write stories? Displaced familiar objects, airborne human organs, distorted images, weird landscapes, we’ve all seen his work. And now for something completely different – read DB’s short stories prepare to be entertained, stunned, diverted and a hundred other emotions besides. If you’re in a Reading Rut, this is the shock treatment cure!
FICTION
The Overstory – Richard Powers. Magnificent novel about the role of trees and humans on earth. Absorbing and engrossing. Not to be missed.
London Rules – Mick Herron. Terrific spy/terror attack novel . Suspense filled, and vastly entertaining. Recommended.

Down Cemetery Road – Mick Herron. #1 in Zoe Boehm series. Patchy in plot and characters; not in the same league as London Rules.

The Temptation of Forgiveness – Donna Leon. Venice, and the calm thoughtful mind of Guido Brunetti. Recommended.

The Convent – Maureen McCarthy. Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, Australia, plays a pivotal role in four generations of women. Intriguing and enjoyable.
Flying to America – Donald Barthelme. 45 hitherto unpublished short stories by one of America’s foremost post-modern writers. Extraordinary doesn’t do justice. Wow! Recommended.

DHL DELIVERY TO MY DOOR ON THURSDAY
Two books by the Australian writer Gerald Murnane, a writer I ‘ve long wanted to read. I’ve seen him labelled as Australia’s greatest writer, so I’m keen to try him. The books are slender, so I’ll probably read at least one in April.
And leaving the best until last The Binding by Bridget Collins. A reviewer on the first page says : The Binding is a dark chocolate slice of cake with a surprising, satisfying seam of raspberry running through it. (Tracy Chevalier). My mouth is watering, both lit and met; I can’t wait to dive in! watch this space in April!