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

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.

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.

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!

NOTABLE READS OF THE DECADE

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Every December lists sprout up as weeds after rain – Best Reads of the Year and the like. This year has an added category: 10 Best Reads of the Decade. Lonesome Reader’s post on the topic http://lonesomereader.com/ inspired me to hunt through my collection of tatty notebooks, and apply some thought. Ten books? One per year? Nah. I’ve listed the books that inspired, entertained, or informed me and made an indelible impression because of the stellar writing or their emotional impact or their intellectual content.

 
I read some magnificent novels: The Overstory- Richard Powers; the haunting A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara; the intriguing Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov ; the elegiac Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; the unsettling House of Leaves – Mark Z Danielewski; ;and in the decade I discovered Australian Tim Winton’s work. For which I am grateful!]
Memoir provided some startling reads, namely Educated by Tara Westover and The Glass Castle by Janette Walls.
Non-fiction :Noah Yuval Harari’s Sapiens and Ken Moji’s The Little Book of Ikigai provided food for thought as did The Swerve – Stephen Greenblatt.

 
These ten books added to my life one way or another. The gift of sight, books and reading are treasures.

 

OCTOBER 2019 READING ROUND-UP

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This has turned out to be a mostly non-Fiction month of reading. Not planned; happenchance.

 
The two best reads were The Swerve and Tim Winton’s Coastal Memoir. In my eyes, he can write no wrong. I swear if I found a copy of TW’s grocery list, I’d read it with rapt attention. An enchanting 113 pages about TW’s discovery and love of the ocean. I loved the book so much I’m on the lookout for my own copy.

 
As for The Swerve – well, Stephen Greenblatt won the National Book Award for this fascinating combo of history and philosophy. The section I most enjoyed were the chapters about the rascally Renaissance Popes. My word! They make modern scandals pale by comparison. As for the philosophy, Greenblatt recounts the gist of Lucretius’ mind-blowing ideas, from his poem On the Nature of Things. Plenty to think about, on many levels. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucretius

 
Amazon.com kept begging me to buy C J Box’s Western crime novels, so I borrowed one from the Library. Nope. Not for me. My heart belongs to Craig Johnson and Walt Longmire. And there’s the end of it. Absaroka County for me.

 

FICTION

Ivy & Abe – Elizabeth Enfield. A love story with a difference. Ivy & Abe work through different incarnations experiencing permutations of love & couplehood.

Open Season – C J Box . Crime in Wyoming, but DNF .

 

NON-FICTION

The Swerve – Stephen Greenblatt. Dazzling, explosive.

Land’s Edge . A Coastal Memoir. – Tim Winton. What a marvelous read!
The Biology of Belief – Bruce H Lipton PhD. Accessible ideas about biochemistry, genetics, and Epigenetics. DNF

 

AUGUST 2019 READING-ROUND UP

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If you are a regular reader of my lit blog, you will have seen my rave review of the Tim Winton book earlier in August. I remain in the stratosphere of reading joy over the book. I’d like to read it again, to savour the language, the writing. TW is a superb masculine, muscular writer. He manages to avoid being macho, like my bete noir, Ernest Hemingway. I find his books so satisfying in terms of story, characters, setting, and powerful writing. Oh, that I could turn out the prose that he does. Not in this lifetime, not in a million years.
I read a much anticipated book  The Pine Islands, nominated for the 2019 Booker prize. It has an imaginative premiss resulting in a fresh, and unusual story – Japan and the Japanese seen through pedestrian German eyes. Middle aged Gilbert Silvester has an unsettling dream, prompting a midlife crises; he precipitately flees to Japan where he sets out to follow the footsteps of wandering seventeenth century poet, Basho’s  pilgrimage to the pine islands of Matsushima. En route he encounters Yosha, who’s looking for the best location to kill himself. They form an unlikely travel duo, covering Japan via rail. It’s a strange book, and one I will re-read later. I enjoyed the descriptions of the countryside, and I liked the book format, with its lovely blue and white crane design end papers. You’ve probably got to be a haiku fan, or a Japanophile to truly love the book.

I am very keen to read and promote South African books but can’t recommend Eve Mazzas Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch. Suzelle DIY announces on the cover: “A scandalous, saucy page -turner”. Whilst I would never have suspected SuzelleDIY to have hidden literary depths, she’s hit the nail on the head. Pun intended. Two chapters in, drowning in booze, bodies, sex and sleaze, I abandoned the book. Not for me. Not to my taste. You can’t win ‘em all.

FICTION

The Shepherd’s Hut – Tim Winton. Brilliant. 10 stars wonderful. Reviewed on this blog.
The Pine Islands – Marion Poschmann. Translated from German by Jen Calleja. An unusual book, wonderfully imaginative. Surreal, but engaging.

The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village – Joanna Nell. Charming Australian novel about life, love, secrets, makeovers, families and golden years romance. A relaxing, easy read.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jan-Phillip Sendker. An unusual and beautiful love story set in Burma. Sensitively and well written. Recommended.

Heaven, Hell and Mademoiselle – H C Carlton. The fashion world of Paris in the 1960s, written by an insider. An enjoyable blend of Sex in the City and The Devil Wears Prada. Viva the House of Chanel!
Don’t Run Whatever you do. My Adventures as a Safari Guide – Peter Allison. Young Aussie spends seven years in Botswana; title says it all. Narrow escapes and tall stories. Wildlife enthusiasts will love this one.

 
Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch – Eve Mazza. DNF. Did not enjoy.
Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney. Another DNF.

NON-FICTION
My Experimental Life – A J Jacobs. Quirky American Jewish writer tries Extraordinary life experiments, one per month, on himself! For example, one month he Outsources his Daily Life (basic daily tasks that can be accomplished on line) to two Indian companies. Hilarious. And his long-suffering wife deserves a medal.

The Shepherd’s Hut – Tim Winton

 

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What a story! What a book! What a writer!
Yes: I’m in rave mode.
Yes: I’m a Tim Winton fan.
If you’ve never tried him, I double dare you to read a book by this major Australian writer.
The Shepherd’s Hut is a coming of age story, a story of harshness, brutality, the landscape, Australia in all its gritty sunbaked elemental nature – the scrub, the roos, the emus, the flies, the sun, the salt pans, the thirst, the heat, the stars, the bush. Life and Nature – raw, beautiful and terrible. And it all unfolds in this heart-breaking page turner. Runaway teenage boy Jaxie, stumbles upon outcast exiled Fintan; with unexpected results. The story shows two shattered lives colliding and briefly intertwining, changing their life paths forever. The ending packs a wallop of a surprise, and the final pages end on a hopeful note, linking neatly with the opening.

 
Tim Winton is that rare writer who can switch from action and harshness to tender passages, with a smooth segue that effortlessly carries the reader onwards, without an uncomfortable changing of gears, to a different emotional plane.
This is a book you simply have to read. Fintan and Jaxie will remain with me for a long time to come.

 
AFTERWORD
When is the Nobel Literature Prize Committee going to start reading, considering, this marvelous writer?  Has he been ignored because he’s too Australian? Too rude, crude, down and dirty Australian perhaps for their refined, delicate European sensibilities? A man who has published over twenty books for adults and children, won umpteen literary prizes, been on the Booker lists (twice); and translated into many languages. A substantial body of work, surely, if this is the deciding criteria? Yoo-hoo, Stockholm: wake up!

AUGUST 2018 READING ROUND-UP

 

 

 

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Another varied reading month. I was away on a 12 day break, and had the time to read more than I usually do. What a pleasure! As ever, my print input during the month has been wildly varied. I’ve decided to revamp my monthly review format, no star ratings, but divisions into Fiction/Non-Fiction/YA, books listed in my order of enjoyment.
I rashly visited the Kloof SPCA Bookshop and emerged with five wonderful bargains, one of them being Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, a book I’ve long wanted to read. Plus two Carl Hiaasen crime novels. He is, without a doubt, my favourite crime writer. Why? Because he’s entertaining and makes me laugh. All that gloomy, bleak Scandi Crime genre leaves me stone cold (pun intended).

 

I know this is heresy, but after reading my first full length Ali Smith novel, I’ve decided she’s not for me. She’s awarded and applauded , but not all writers are to every reader’s taste, and that’s the way life goes.

DNF – did not finish; YA – Young Adult

FICTION

The Power – Naomi Alderman. Dystopian feminist novel. Great premise, gender roles are reversed, women have the upper hand. Off to a cracking start; a confusing, disappointing ending. Regardless of which gender has the upper hand, humanity manages to muck it up. A disturbing and challenging read.
Shampoo Planet – Douglas Coupland. Published 1992 – on being 20 years old and dealing with life in the USA, the gap between hippie 60s parents and their wannabe cool cynical 80s kids. Funny, social commentary. I enjoy Douglas Coupland. You either do or you don’t.

How to be Both – Ali Smith . This was almost a DNF , I skimmed through the last fifth at King Shaka Airport, whilst waiting for my flight. I didn’t enjoy the novel’s fragmented writing style or it’s two part story structure.
DNF – City of Saints and Madment – Jeff Vandermeer. After reading three quarters of the book, I gave up. Consulting Wikipedia and Goodreads reviews I discover JV is at the forefront of the Weird writing movement and post-modern metafiction. I enjoyed the first section for its lush descriptive writing but the remainder of the book: no. Too fragmentary, too clever by half. On the one hand, I can admire JV’s startling imagination, his inventiveness and his output but on the other hand, I prefer a more conventional narrative form. To each their own!

YA
Flush – Carl Hiaasen. Another Florida crime romp. A brother & sister combo succeed in bringing an enviro-wrecking greedy businessman to justice. Good fun. A quick easy read on a 2 hour flight Cape Town/Durban.
NON FICTION
Wabi Sabi for Writers – Richard R Powell. An invaluable resource for writers who want to write about the natural world, or compose Haiku. I shall be re-reading the book for many years to come. Highly recommended.

Working with Karma – Gill Farrer-Halls. Another Kloof SPCA bargain. Big format, glossy paper and plenty of pics; informative content. A useful book to work through, and keep for reference.