MARCH 2022 READING ROUND-UP

On the whole, I’m not a fan of crime fiction.  However, this said, there are a few crime writers whose work I do enjoy. Donna Leon is one of them.

She has created a wonderfully human fictional detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti who works for the Questura in Venice and shrewdly unravels a variety of  crimes.  I enjoy the meticulous detail, for example: what Brunetti is wearing,  or eating for dinner on a particular day –  tiny family details; the route of the vaporetto, or his rapid walk through the calle and over the many bridges; the Venetianness of it all.

I’ve noticed in both this month’s Leon novels,  that she’s not averse to taking a swipe at Italy’s cumbersome legal and bureaucratic structures, always expressed in cool, clinical terms. No soapboxing here, just critical reportage with a touch of cynicism. Her novels are multi faceted, one of the qualities that makes them so readable.

Throughout the many novels the same characters appear, familiar as ever, but with light touches of difference that make each read enormously enjoyable. Donna Leon provides her audience with a completely rounded story and for me, that’s the standout quality that brings me back again and again. And, as I often state: I don’t read crime. But I will, if its written by Donna Leon.  

FICTION

The Night Circus -Erin Morgenstern. Magical Fantasy. See my review 13 March 2022. https://thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/2022/03/13/re-visiting-the-n

La’s Orchestra Saves the World – Alexander McCall Smith. WWII, Britain, gentle and philosophical . People exhibiting fortitude and courage during wartime.

Trace Elements – Donna Leon. Commissario Guido Brunetti, Venice,  an eco crime. Excellent, as ever. Authentic detail.

Doctored Evidence – Donna Leon. Commissario Guido Brunetti, Venice; the  title cleverly hints at the unravelling of the motive of the murder of an unpleasant old woman.

The Map of Salt & Stars – Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. The 1001 Tales from the Arabian Nights and Al-Idrisi, the legendary mapmaker, melded with modern story of refugee family from the current Syrian war. History, myth, fantasy and the modern mingle and mix. Exotic and unusual.  

Weather – Jenny Offill. Brilliantly minimalist, no doubt, but not for me.

The Rules of Magic – Alice Hoffman. An enchanting family saga about a magical (literally) family. Herbalism, magical powers, animal familiars, tragic doomed loves, ancient historical family feuds. A jolly good read.

Ness – Robert Macfarlane & Stanley Donwood. Mythic prose poem. Nature overcomes human madness. Wildly unusual.

Unusual uses for Olive Oil –   Alexander McCall Smith. The gravely serious exploits of Prof. Dr von Igelfeld, recorded by that  comic genius, Alexander  McCall Smith. Priceless.

Hex – Rebecca Dinnerstein Knight. Bright sharp writing, but neurotic, obsessive narrator with supporting cast of solipsistic characters. Enjoyed the writing but not the book.

NON-FICTION

The Bookseller’s Tale – Martin Latham. Rave, rave ….. See my review 24 March 2022,https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/1429

READING ROUND UP NOVEMBER 2021

FICTION

Transcription – Kate Atkinson. The murky world of spies in Britain, during WWII and into the post-war cold war period. The opaque, nothing is as it seems atmosphere and characters kept me glued to the pages. This was a read-in-one-sitting book. Recommended.

A Shot in the Dark. A Constable Twitten Mystery – Lynne Truss. Lynne Truss is a British columnist, writer and broadcaster. She’s produced a hilarious whodunnit, set in Brighton, that combines cosiness with cake, a series of murders, whilst  taking  a satirical swipe at  police procedure. Its such good fun that you don’t even notice the wildly improbable plot. Highly enjoyable.

Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers. The life stories of five characters, Exodans living in the Fleet i.e. a huge colony of human migrants  in space. The book explores  not only the philosophical ideas of an exodus from dying planet earth and  re-starting in space, but also the logistical minutiae of surviving generationally in space.  Many fascinating ideas chanelled through the 5 disparate characters: one older woman, two middle aged women  , one  young male adult, and a teenage boy. Not to mention a many tentacled Harmagian cultural anthropologist on a visit. I’m a fan of Becky Chambers’ approach to SF.

To be Taught if Fortunate – Becky Chamber. A novella relates the story of  four astronauts on a 4-planet space exploration mission ,that ends starkly despite  their success. Thought-provoking and philosophical. Recommended.   

Transient Desires – Donna Leon. Good old Comissario Guido Brunetti is still solving crime in Venice, this time in the brutal world of human trafficking. Donna Leon always delivers an atmospheric, flavourful whodunnit and this book ticked all the boxes. Enjoyable, despite the grim subject matter.

The Tearoom – Gretchen Haley. Tubby Reddy is a cook, a husband, father, a dreamer in the little coastal town of Usendleleni, Kwa Zulu Natal.  He ‘s in love with Yogi, who works in his kitchen; he dreams of another life with her, away from his volatile, pious wife Lynette. He’s waited patiently until both his kids are adults, and is poised to start  living his dream life , but …. You will have to read on. An original novel, featuring the KZN Indian community. The bittersweet ending was bravely authentic  – life seldom provides neat, tidy solutions. Recommended.

The Victory Garden – Rhys Bowen. A feel-good read set in WWI Britain. Middle class  Emily joins the Land Girls to her parents’ horror, and gains independence, a lover, a knowledge of gardening and herbs, and ultimately freedom on her own terms. Plus wartime romance and tragedy. An enjoyable light read.

NON-FICTION

The Library Book – Susan Orlean. What a marvellous book! It relates the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, a seemingly  dull topic but as Adrian Liang, Amazon Editor, says: Orlean can peer through the keyhole of a seemingly picayune topic and see endless fascination on the other side of the door.  Every page offered colourful anecdotes, library history both local and global, plus a detailed account of the devastating fire that swept through the Library in 1986 inflicting devastation in its path. A must read for readers and book lovers.

P.S. The book is worth reading for the history of eccentric journalist, adventurer, Charles Lummis who was appointed City Librarian in 1905 – despite having no prior training in the field! The Library Board  summarily dismissed the current City  Librarian, Mary Jones, simply because she was a woman – infuriating to read this! However,  Lummis proved to be a mixed blessing. To describe him as a colourful character is an understatement. The Library Board should have stuck with their female Librarian!

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Fletcher_Lummis

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!

 

MARCH 2018 READING ROUND UP

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In March I managed to read one from my big TBR pile; only 9 more to go to hit my 2018 target of 12 reads. It was the Murakami short stories. You either enjoy Murakami, or you don’t. Rather like pickled onions! That said, if you’ve never tried Japanese writers, then this is the book to sample , to see if you like the  genre. Murakami is famous as a novelist, but his short stories are equally brilliant.
I did a QD (Quick Dip) into Neil Gaiman’s version of traditional Norse mythology. He sails into the stories with gusto – a satisfying read if you enjoy super-hero reads.

Ratings: 5* – Outstanding! 4*+ – Good to very good; 3* – average; 2* – run-of-the-mill; 1* – dismal; zero * – no comment. DNF – did not finish; NF – non-fiction QD: quick-dip

4* Gravel Heart – Abdulrahazak Gurnah . An intricate family story set on the Indian Ocean Island of Zanzibar and modern London. Highly recommended. Reviewed on this blog.

3* The Lightkeeper’s Daughters – Jan Pendziwol. Canadian novel about a family living on an isolated island in Lake Superior; twins, identity, the accidents of fate. Reviewed on this blog.

3* The Digested 21st Century – John Crace. Longtime Guardian columnist’s amusing parody/satire on modern life. Reviewed on Goodreads.

3* The Elephant Vanishes – Haruki Murakami. Short storieszfrom the Japanese master of the surreal.
Reviewed on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/edit/9555

3* Earthly Remains – Donna Leon. Another satisfying mystery with Commissario Brunetti, featuring Venice, the lagoon, and ecology. Reviewed on this blog.

DNF: Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman. A splendid re-telling of traditional Norse myths.

EARTHLY REMAINS – Donna Leon

 

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I seldom read crime, but occasionally I’ll read one of Donna Leon’s Venetian novels.  She has a wonderful knack of portraying Venice and its inhabitants  that conveys all the characters and foreign atmosphere the reader could ever want; no need to  buy expensive air tickets to Italy, just read one of her crime novels!

As ever, this story features her detective, Commissario Brunetti who – after doing something stupidly rash – lands up in hospital and thereafter on two weeks sick leave, which he chooses to spend in a family villa, on the island of Sant’Erasmo, one of the largest islands in the laguna.  He plans to  go rowing on the lagoon, rest and recover. Which he does, to his benefit and enjoyment until … but I’ll stop here lest I spoil the story.

Unlike most of her Venetian novels, there’s hardly any detail about Brunetti and his family. I’ve always enjoyed the domestic  accounts of what the family eat for lunch and dinner, and what his kids are doing. This time the story focuses on Brunetti, the lagoon, the islands, and ecology.

I dislike crime novels that focus on graphic violence, or forensic gore. Or, for that matter, heavy psychological Scandinavian gloom. Donna Leon avoids these pitfalls and always gives the reader a good story.  She does so yet again in this book.

Heartily recommended.