Archive for Big Readers A place for discussing books and all things bookish.
 


       Big Readers Forum Index -> What are you reading?
Castorboy

What are you reading in 2016?

Margaret Forster takes us on a tour of the houses she has lived in beginning with a council house in Carlisle through to the last one in London in Hampstead. She calls it a personal inquiry into the meaning of home and how each house has an effect on our lives. The unsurprising title says it all My Life in Houses. I am drawn to family experiences of where they have lived. One that I read and appreciated was Penelope Lively’s A House Unlocked describing her grandparents’ home in Somerset.
Sandraseahorse

After reading "The Ice Twins" which is set mainly on a Scottish Island, I'm now reading P.D. James's "The Lighthouse" which is set on an island in the Bristol Channel.  

I found it a bit slow at first but now Dalgleish and Co. are on the island and the first murder has happened, it's starting to become the perfect book to curl up with on a dark winter night.  I've entered a sort of mental hibernation where I can't take anything very intellectually challenging at the moment.
Joe McWilliams

As usual, I'm not sure what to say about what I'm reading, which is The Mountain Shadow, by Gregory David Roberts. It's certainly ambitious, occasionally implausible, but on the whole irresistible. Leaving all else aside, I am always eager to pick it up again, a standard many of the books I read do not meet.

TMS is the sequel to Roberts' Shantaram, the semi-autobiographical tale of an Australian escaped convict who lands in Bombay and makes a life for himself there as a slum 'doctor' and later as a sort of disciple of an Afghani mafia don.
Repelling and fascinating at the same time. I can't explain it or justify it. I don't want it to end.
Mikeharvey

I rather like trying Victorian novelists who were once famous and are now neglected.  Like Gissing, Mrs Humphrey Ward and Meredith.  So I've just started Charles Kingsley's early novel 'YEAST- A problem'.  It's too soon to comment, but it's certainly exuberantly written.  No, it's not about baking....

I'm also going to try Margaret Oliphant.
Castorboy

Frank Barrett in his travel book Treasured Island describes, with tongue in cheek, literary tourists who visit places and houses associated with writers as suffering from a strange obsession. As a sufferer himself he knows there are hundreds of thousands of us who enjoy the experience. Thanks to Mike who mentioned this book last month.
Joe McWilliams

I've started another novel by the Spanish writer Arturo Perez-Reverte. I really like this guy, by which I mean his writing. The Queen of the South tells the story of a Mexicana drug lord operating in the south of Spain, having run from cartel killers in her home country, as the unlucky girlfriend of a drug pilot who had lost the faith of his bosses. Perez-Reverte pulls no punches in evoking that brutal, venal world. Believable and repulsive.

Just getting into it and along comes a well-worn copy of Witness, by Whittaker Chambers, dug up in some musty corner of the provincial capital by the helpful ladies of the Peace Library System. Chambers was one of those ardent American communists in the 1930s who lost faith when he figured out how Stalin was cynically pulling the strings from afar - or so I have read. 'Witness' is his story of what he saw. I'm told I'll have to read it first.

Also on the way is the first of the 'Longmire' novels by modern western writer Craig Johnson. Friends have been saying good things about him.
Caro

I am reading Lady Anna by Trollope which I think Michael has read recently.  I don't think I like it as much as others of his I have read - it is a bit repetitive so far.
Joe McWilliams

Congratulations on reaching 2,710 posts, Caro, and good luck with your Trollope.
I know nothing at all of Trollope, not even what era he belongs to.
Gul Darr

Hi Caro. It's lovely to have you back on the board and I hope you're making good progress. I loved the Barchester Chronicles, but haven't read any of Trollope's other books.
I forgot to say that I'm now reading The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which was the 2014 Man Booker Prize winner. I managed to accidentally scan it at the supermarket self-service checkout this lunchtime and had to get an assistant to cancel it from my shopping basket!
Chibiabos83

I'm gearing up to start The Last Chronicle of Barset next week. It's been a long time coming but I can't wait.
Sandraseahorse

I've enjoying Patrick Gale's "Notes From An Exhibition."  I was worried that dealing with the subject of a bipolar artist it would be depressing, after the dreary (IMO) "Waterland" but I've found it both moving and funny.

The shifts in time and characters' viewpoints were slightly confusing at first but I've now really got into it.
Castorboy

A collection of short stories of which a quarter are really short ie less than five pages – just long enough to cope with in the spell of sweltering weather we’re enjoying. Tim Jones is a NZ writer who in 2008 published Transported, and made the long list for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Not a prestigious award, I imagine, but it would looked good on the mantelpiece if open fires are still fashionable in the 21st century.
Castorboy

Prolific Kiwi author Fiona Kidman has written her third book of short stories with the title of The Foreign Woman from the first story. Naturally she has given the main emphasis to the lives of ordinary women and their feelings in situations in the south of the North Island.
Caro

I am re-reading one of my favourite non-fiction books, Invisible Crying Tree, the letters between a farmer and a prisoner in for life for a murder.  It is by Christopher Morgan and Tom Shannon, but put together and edited by Morgan, the one on the outside.  Tom is thoughtful and intelligent and gives an insight into prison life; his spelling is kept as in the original letters, so their is always there, and mistakes abound but sometimes he manages to spell correctly some quite difficult words: he manages 'sartorial splendour' for example.  It's a long time since I last read this - it was written in 1992. I don't remember how it finished and I might check google to see what has happened to them since.
Caro

I see that Chris Morgan had an obit in the guardian and it said they were an unlikely pairing with Morgan a gentleman farmer and an old Etonian and Tom an orphan with a propensity for violence.  With the proceeds from the book Chris set up a fund to teach literacy in prisons which after a slow start has been picked up and is now common throughout Britain.

And Tom spent 30 years in jail (though the judge had recommended eight) - he wouldn't engage with the parole hearings and felt he deserved to be in prison for life having killed his friend in a drunken rage.  He was released last year aged 77, and put into a home.  It wasn;t certain if he'd be able to stay there longterm or not.
Joe McWilliams

That sounds interesting, Caro, and makes my prison story seem rather trivial - that being the Count of Monte Cristo, who as we know spent 14 years in solitary confinement for crimes of which he was innocent.
It's a great old story but the sheer length of it must put a lot of people off. The scale of Dumas' ambition, not to mention his skill in pulling it off boggles the mind.
Gul Darr

I'm now reading Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and loving the gentle, reflective narrative voice.
Joe McWilliams

Notwithstanding what I said elsewhere (about my post-Monte Cristo malaise), I have started Joseph Boyden's The Orenda, a novel of early Canada. This book caused quite a sensation here at home; I can't tell you why, but I aim to find out.
Boyden, who is Metis, has made a name for himself with stories that deal with the clash of cultures in the New World in a way that perhaps has not been seen. The Orenda has a reputation for being quite harsh. That's all I know.
Caro

I am interspersing The Captive Wife by Fiona Kidman with a light detective novel by Ngaio Marsh, Singing in the Shrouds.  It is a traditional tale with a limited cast of possible murderers set on a cruise ship, with 9 passengers.  Her detective Roderick Alleyn comes on board incognito and tries to find out things without interviewing the suspects.  It is a fun read, though Marsh has her own snobberies; the less educated and more working class couple are shown as common and out of their depth.
Chibiabos83

I'm reading the Iliad. So far (i.e. not very), so good. Brilliant, in fact.
Gul Darr

Today I started The Return of John MacNab by Andrew Greig. A bit of a contrast to Gilead!
Joe McWilliams

I've picked up and am racing through Robert Goddard's Sea Change. Cracking plot, but I find it's well below his best, for complexity and believability. Set during the infamous South Sea Bubble of 1720 or thereabouts.
Castorboy

Gul Darr wrote:
Today I started The Return of John MacNab by Andrew Greig. A bit of a contrast to Gilead!

I had a quick glance at John MacNab just to refresh my memory of the plot before I read TRoJM. An excellent novel enjoyed by others on the Board, and their comments are on the Andrew Greig Author topic. The same characters appear in a sequel.
Joe McWilliams

Never heard of Greig. Wikipedia says he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1972. Nice work for a 21-year-old.
Chibiabos83

God forbid that anyone should ever question the accuracy of Wikipedia, but if you follow up the citation you see that what Greig actually received in 1972 was an Eric Gregory Trust Fund Award from the Society of Authors. There was no Nobel Laureate for Peace in 1972 ('71, Willy Brandt; '73, Henry Kissinger), but apparently the prize didn't default to Andrew Greig.
Sandraseahorse

I wonder if his Wikipedia entry has been hacked.  Wikipedia says that he married a stripper but on his own website he says that he married a respected novelist.
Chibiabos83

The categories may not be mutually exclusive.
Castorboy

Could you name a respected novelist who was also a stripper, male or female, of course. Laughing Unless you count novelists who strip away and expose the injustices of life!
Caro

No comment on the above discussion, fascinating though it is: I just wanted to talk about the Ngaio Marsh book I am nearly finished before I go away for a couple of days tomorrow.  It is a light murder mystery but typical of Marsh, who is a NZ writer with attitudes and heart rooted in England, it is full of literary references many of which I can't place and some Latin phrases which she doesn't translate and I have forgotten most of the Latin I ever knew.

But she does make one faux pas: she has one of her characters saying he now feels a box of birds.  The passengers on the ship are all English and I learnt from using this phrase once on a message board that people in England don't know or use it. It means he is feeling fine.

And I have spent the last half hour checking out Orson Welles' film adaptation of Othello which the passengers on the ship watch and the detective Roderick Alleyn finds "flabberghasting", which I presume means he didn't approve of it.  It has quite high ratings on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes - have any of you seen it?  Michael, perhaps?
Mikeharvey

It's so long since I saw Welle's 'Othello' that I can't remember what it was like.  Heavily cut I expect, and probably self-indulgent...
Castorboy

Two Cheers for Democracy is miscellany of essays, articles, and broadcast scripts by E M Forster written between 1936 and 1951. I‘ll probably read the review of Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant first, although pieces on Tolstoy and Proust have also caught the eye.
Sandraseahorse

I'm a quarter of the way through Melvyn Bragg's "The Maid of Buttermere" but I'm finding it hard going - not helped by the fact that I've a heavy cold.  So I've switched to Ian Rankin's "Exit Music" and I'm making far better progress.  It is about the murder of a Russian dissident poet.  There is a reference to a poetry reading attending by Scottish poets, including Andrew Greig, who was mentioned on the previous page of this thread.  (He's the one married to a stripper/distinguished novelist).
Castorboy

Sandraseahorse wrote:
 So I've switched to Ian Rankin's Exit Music and I'm making far better progress.  It is about the murder of a Russian dissident poet.  There is a reference to a poetry reading attending by Scottish poets, including Andrew Greig, who was mentioned on the previous page of this thread.  (He's the one married to a stripper/distinguished novelist).

There isn't one of the latter in the novel but it does reveal an ingenious ending which is well up to the Rankin standard. The even better good news is that there are at least another two Rebus novels published.
Joe McWilliams

I never took to Rankin at all. Not sure why. But then I'm going off Robert Goddard too, having endured two turkeys in a row. Maybe I should just fall back on the 19th century for good.

Having said that, passing through the library this afternoon I noticed an attractive dust jacket winking at me from a shelf and the next thing I knew I was walking out with Yann Martel's latest under my arm - The High Mountains of Portugal. This will give me something to do while I contemplate the risk/reward trade-off in abandoning/continuing with Joseph Boyden's The Orenda.
I am not in love with the latter. It troubles me. Some would say that's because it lays bare my complicity in the subjugation of the noble savage North American by my European ancestors. I would say there might be something to that. I would add that Boyden could have tried a bit harder to make the narration by a 17thC adolescent Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee, if you prefer) girl sound more of the period. Or what I would like to be appropriate to the period.

The High Mountains of Portugal.
I like the sound of that. I wonder what it is.
Caro

I started the first Rebus novel but I didn't far into it before deciding I didn't like it or Rebus.  I like my detectives to have a more moral compass; perhaps Rebus does, but it didn't show in the first few pages.
Mikeharvey

I have tried a couple of Rankin novels but was unable to finish either..
Castorboy

Part of the appeal is that I have Scottish heritage, I like Rankin's use of the vernacular, and I have made a number of visits to Edinburgh, not unfortunately, at festival time. We used to travel through the Northumbrian countryside on a daytrip ticket via the railway.
Castorboy

I have broken my six month aversion to a non-crime novel with a 1950’s one which seems to have kept its popularity ever since. It’s The towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay and has been languishing on my shelves for years. Still topical with the opening pages about Turkey, religious rivalries, and the perils of travel.
Gul Darr

Castorboy. I am now racking my brain, trying to remember who used to rave about The Towers of Trebizond, back in the days of the original Big Readers forum...
Chibiabos83

It was Ann Murphy, though I think E/V is also a fan.
Castorboy

Plus chris and Sandraseahorse thought well of The towers of Trebizond. I am enjoying the satire of the opening pages which are packed with all kinds of information about the fifties. Definitely a book to concentrate on with sentences of half a page or near that!
Caro

I am nearly finished I Do Not Come To You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani.  It is from the point of view of a young Nigerian man, the child of well-educated parents, Anglophiles.   They have high principles but are living in poverty.  Kingsley is desperate for money to court his girl, but even though he gets to work for his uncle Cash Daddy, her mother gets her to marry a richer man.

Cash Daddy is a 419er - that is, he is involved in the Nigerian email scams and Kingsley finds he has a talent for this.  Though most people ignore these emails they have enough hits to make Cash Daddy a rich man.  And Kingsley gets enough of the benefits to help his family to the distress of his mother who suspects what he is doing. His father had died of a stroke (!) earlier. Now Cash Daddy has decided to run for governor and has found himself in police custody, presumably because his main opposition has dobbed him in.  I don't know what happens next - Kingsley has met his former girlfriend and she is not happy with her husband, and tells Kingsley he has wasted his degree in Civil Engineering.

It tells the story of life in Nigeria, and shows how corruption works to benefit people.  Kingsley's parents are incorruptible but not able to get enough money together to get their children proper food and education.  I don't know how it ends but suspect there is no easy solution to this.  Cash Daddy, uneducated, is able to buy everyone and provide for everyone, family and community. He is generous with his money, and it is hard to condemn him, even though his lifestyle is very flashy and he uses prostitutes,etc. I am enjoying it lots really.
Joe McWilliams

Oh dear, doesn't that just make you feel lucky to live in a place like New Zealand, or Canada, Caro? The weight of such moral dilemma would crush me, I'm sure.
Perhaps it's not as bleak as portrayed in such stories. Perhaps it is.

It makes my current read seem trivial, as dramatic as it is. It's 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place' (renamed '127 Hours' by the movie people), the story of the young hiker who spent five days trapped by a boulder in a canyon in Utah before finally amputating his arm.
I must say I was not interested in this story, having heard about it when the film came out. Another risk-taking adrenaline junkie who got what was coming to him, was about what I thought, and many others probably. But that dissipates once you get to know the guy. It is powerful stuff. I can't stop thinking about it, or being surrounded by strange feelings, which speak to the power of the narrative.
Caro

Yes, we seem to get dozens of these stories on the radio or television.  Bear Grylls has a lot to answer for.  I heard after the man died trying to replicate a journey to the North (or was it the South?) Pole someone saying that the original explorers would have used whatever props they could have and he didn't understand the desire to make things so hard.  They are very courageous though.  And determined.
Joe McWilliams

I'm reading All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, a Second World War story, with intersecting threads. A mysterious Eastern diamond the Nazis are seeking, a blind girl who lives in the house in St. Malo where it may (or may not) be hidden, a gifted orphan boy from the Ruhr who ends up trapped in a hotel basement in St. Malo after the American bombs fall. A secret radio transmitter in an attic. There are shades of other stories here; I had a strong deja vu experience when the gemstone was introduced, finally realizing it was another version of 'The Moonstone,' which I read last year. And the malnourished orphan boy with a genius for fixing radios but nevertheless destined for the coal mines being summoned to a rich person's house to fix a radio is pure Brothers Grimm.
It is charming, though. Oh, and I see now it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Doerr is the author of the non-fiction Four Seasons in Rome, which I found fun, but not brilliant.
Joe McWilliams

Moving right along..... I am working my way through a dense, difficult book by Arturo Perez-Reverte, called The Painter of Battles.
Difficult, because it deals with complicated and uncomfortable moral questions arising from the wars the two principal characters and antagonists have witnessed and participated in. I would describe it as bleak, unsentimental, unstinting, but compelling.
The painter of battles is a retired war photographer, who may be dying, who is painting the interior of a seaside tower with some sort of apocalyptic vision of humanity at war, reflecting what he's seen, including, perhaps, some personal tragedy. Along comes a victim of civil war in the Balkans, who blames the photographer for his own tragedy.
'I've come to kill you," he says, but doesn't show any signs of doing it. Instead, he hangs around. They talk. The painting continues. The tension rises. The painter reflects on his experiences and on human nature. His conclusions are dark. The Croatian keeps showing up, wanting to learn more about the man he intends to kill.

The author was, in fact, a war correspondent; perhaps he comes by these gloomy reflections honestly.
Sandraseahorse

I've just started Arnold Bennett's "The Old Wives' Tale".  Only 1 per cent into my Kindle read but I'm enjoying it and my spirits have lifted after the dreadful slog of "The Maid of Buttermere."
Joe McWilliams

I'm afraid I have no idea how many percentage points of The Known World, by Edward P. Jones, I have read. : )
I do note that by some strange coincidence, it is the second Pulitzer Prize-winning novel out of my three most recent reads. Worth noting perhaps because it provides a bit of extra motivation to pick up the book (choose it over the television, in other words), when I might not otherwise feel like it.
Damned hard to keep track of who's who in the early going. Interesting, but uneven, as the author can't seem to make up his mind whether he's writing a novel or presenting little history lessons. He frequently jerks the reader out of a story about black slaves and slave owners in mid 19thC Virginia and rambles on about things he found out about these people or people like them in the archives. Odd way to tell a story, to me, but the Pulitzer people must have liked it well enough.

Meanwhile, the local library is tracking down a copy of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man for me. It was news to me Ellison was an African-American writer; I knew the name, and was reminded of it the other day when it came up in a crossword puzzle.
Mikeharvey

Love 'The Old Wives' Tale'....and other Bennett novels, especially 'Riceyman Steps'...
Joe McWilliams

Have abandoned the above (for now) in favour of Colm Toibin's The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe.
Toibin's fiction has pleased me; I expect no less from this. His summation of his boyhood experience of 'the church': Grandeur, majesty and unrelieved boredom. By the time he reached university, he believed nobody took religion seriously, and was astonished to find two thirds of his classmates with ash daubed on their foreheads one day in his first year. This book is some sort of investigation, I suppose.
Joe McWilliams

Not having a childhood acquaintance with the mysteries of Catholicism, Toibin's The Sign of the Cross is for me a mere curiosity. I imagine it could be much more meaningful, troubling, irritating, encouraging, discouraging (you name it) to one who had. Toibin was raised Catholic, rejected it and yet here he is, devoting much time and travel visiting shrines, interviewing priests, parishioners, penitents and processionists, trying to figure it out, reflecting on Catholicism in Poland, France, Spain, Lithuania as it contrasts with what he grew up with.
One thing it isn't at all is funny. Then this: He's in Bavaria, attending church services both Catholic and Protestant, comparing them - wishing, in spite of himself, the Catholics would pick up the pace.

I had been to the Cathedral two or three times over the previous few days, but the ceremonies were dull, and the singing insipid. All my hopes were on this Midnight Mass, even though it was being held at nine o'clock, which was not promising. In Enniscorthy, the Saturday Mass had been changed from twelve o'clock to nine as well, because, it was said, there were always drunks at the back shouting up slogans and causing havoc when the Mass was at midnight.
There was an old story, in fact, about a Midnight Mass in Enniscorthy years ago when a man got very enthusiastic when the priest was inviting people to renew their baptismal vows. 'Do you renounce Satan and all his works and pomps?' the priest asked the congregation. 'I do, the fucker!' the man shouted.
Caro

I'm also reading about Ireland, a country I know very little about.  I wrote that I was about to start it in the non-fiction thread.  Now I am about halfway through, and I am learning about the geography of Ireland, the mythologies, the tinkers, horse fairs (still taking place in 1991), the Famine, the farming methods, the peat bogs, the religion, the feuding.  I was brought up a Presbyterian, so Catholicism is foreign to me too.
Joe McWilliams

Yes, Keneally. Sounds interesting. Some writers are good at making Ireland seem both miserable and delightful. The humour helps. I liked Frank Delaney's Ireland very much. People seem tired of hearing about Angela's Ashes, but I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind laughing and crying, often at the same time.
And Roddy Doyle. Oh my goodness, I don't know when I've ever laughed so much.

Colm Toibin doesn't seem to do humour, the above excepted.
Caro

I wrote quite a lot about my new book How the Girl Guides Won the War by Janie Hampton, and lost it all somehow.

This is a non-fiction book, which I had never heard of before. I have really only read the intro which talks of the Guides work during WW II.  It included collecting sphagnum moss to dress wounds, growing food on allotments, in one week they raised 50,000 pounds to buy ambulances and a olifeboat which saved lives at Dunkirk, they dug shelters, they helped evacuated children leave cities they fed bombed out families, they sent messages by semaphore and helped on farms.  

In August 1939 200 British Guides were selected to attend the first world gathering of 5800 girls in Hungary.  The girls from Poland came issued with maps sewn into their uniforms so if they lost their haversacks they could find their way homw. (At the last minute only older Rangers went from Poland.)  If Poland was invaded while they were away, the girls were to make their way over the Carpathian nmountains on foot.

The author said she, as a 60s hippy and former Guide, had intended to write a satire about Guides and Guiding but the more people she spoke to the greater her respect for the movement grew.  I haven;t got very far through this at all but I think it will be a good read about something I didn't know anything about.
Sandraseahorse

I am enjoying "The Old Wives' Tale."  I found it a little slow to start with but nothing like the tedious slog of "The Maid of Buttermere."  I loved the episode of the elephant dropping dead during Wakes Week.  This instantly becomes a must-see attraction (in which Bennett cleverly interweaves a plot development.)

My initial reaction to the dead elephant sensation was the patronising response that it was a big deal to people in Victorian times as they hadn't got much else in the way of entertainment and then I remembered how beached whales these days soon become selfie sensations.
Caro

The 19th century had their own forms of entertainment - fairs, dancing and music of their own making, bear baiting and dog fighting, horse racing, educational night classes, and people generally lived in very close contact with neighbours on top of each other, so many opportunites for chatting, magazines and newspapers telling of the latest discoveries and exploration.

Just a different form of entertainment from the 20th C, with television, the internet, radio, and music surrounding us.  And all those cat videos!  

I don't know if your reaction was patronising, Sandra, though.  Just natural, I would have thought.  It's so difficult not to be patronising, isn't it?  I was reading a book the other day about a child's tragic death and she found so many reactions of people trying to be comforting patronising.  The trouble is people don't like feeling pitied.  I find it patronising when I go to the local resthome to give my husband some respite, and the very young staff members call me "dear" which to me sounds as if they consider me old and doddery with the assumption that if you are physically less than perfect you haven't got a brain.   Even if you have got dementia or similar there's no real reason to be treated as less than a person.
Sandraseahorse

I'm sorry that you feel patronised in the rest homes, Caro.  I think if anyone called me "dear" they would get a very salty response.

On the subject of dead elephants, I was reminded of an awards ceremony I attended in the 80s when the guest speaker, Geoffrey Rippon, (a former minister in Ted Heath's government) said he was once asked to give legal opinion on the case of an elephant that had dropped dead during a circus parade through a high street.  The local authority said the circus should foot the bill for the dismembering and removal of the dead creature  but the circus said as the animal had dropped dead on a public highway, it was the council's responsibility.  I can't remember who won in the end.
Castorboy

In the last two weeks I have been offered help by a middle-aged woman to load the groceries in the car, a young twenty something woman who wanted to carry some chairs, and an elderly lady of my age who helped me out of the car. I declined the help courteously but at the time I was quite flattered!
Castorboy

Looking for something humorous, I picked up Mapp and Lucia, a story of social rivalry in a small seaside town. The clever writer is E F Benson and it is the first of a series
Jen M

Joe McWilliams wrote:
I'm reading All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, a Second World War story, with intersecting threads. A mysterious Eastern diamond the Nazis are seeking, a blind girl who lives in the house in St. Malo where it may (or may not) be hidden, a gifted orphan boy from the Ruhr who ends up trapped in a hotel basement in St. Malo after the American bombs fall. A secret radio transmitter in an attic. There are shades of other stories here; I had a strong deja vu experience when the gemstone was introduced, finally realizing it was another version of 'The Moonstone,' which I read last year. And the malnourished orphan boy with a genius for fixing radios but nevertheless destined for the coal mines being summoned to a rich person's house to fix a radio is pure Brothers Grimm.
It is charming, though. Oh, and I see now it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Doerr is the author of the non-fiction Four Seasons in Rome, which I found fun, but not brilliant.


I have also started this book, which I found slow to get going, but once I settled into it I started to like it, although there are some disturbing episodes.   I am not quite half way through and have had to put it aside to read a book group book and give myself the chance of finishing it before the meeting.  

This is Ten Days by Gillian Slovo, set in London during a very hot summer, when the death of a disturbed teenager while being arrested results in riots.  It is told from the point of view of three characters; a woman who lives on the run down estate where the teenager died, the newly-appointed police commissioner, and the Home Secretary, who has ambitions to become Prime Minister.  I'm enjoying this one, too, but am still going to struggle to finish it by the book group meeting.
Caro

I am also reading a bookclub book - Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.  It is a rather gruelling story about the French purging of Jews in July 1942.  We see this from the pov of a 10-year-old girl Sarah, who has locked her brother in a cupboard and promised to go back and let him out, not realising her family is being taken away for good.  She escapes from the holding place when she is separated from her parents and finds shelter finally with some kind rural couple.  The soldiers find another girl there who escaped with her but they don't find Sarah.  That is as far as I have got.

Interspersed with this is a modern story of a woman, aged 45, an American who has lived in Paris for 25 years and has married a handsome Parisian who expected her to have his children.  She has managed to produce one living one and had three miscarriages.  His snide tongue  has begun to be less charming.  She is working as a journalist and is asked to do a feature on Vel' d'Hiv where the families were held.  She is shocked when she realises that is where her in-laws lived.  

This book has been made into a film and I don't know how they filmed it.  It has the sort of structure I don't really like - with one chapter from the past and the next one from the present.  The book deals with an important and apparently hidden aspect of French history, but I am not sure the writing is quite as brilliant as the storyline; it's certainly adequate but it doesn't have any poetic qualities or language playfulness or literary devices.  

I suppose lots of you will have read this or seen the movie.
Joe McWilliams

Never heard of it or the movie, Caro. But now I have.

I continue to plod through Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. I must say it does not live up to its premise - at least not yet. It turns out to be the story of a young, black man with oratorical gifts, making his way in New York City in the 1930s (or what appear to be) after being thrown out of college, a victim of injustice. He finds purpose and employment  in a political organization called 'The Brotherhood,' which seems very much like the Communist Party, although it's never called that. It seems very likely to end badly.
The notion he is 'invisible' because of the colour of his skin, after establishing that premise at the start, does not really come into it. Not that attitudes towards race do not play a part in his experience. Confusion and frustration are rampant.
Castorboy

The Quarry is the last novel by Iain Banks who died in 2013 of cancer. It is one of those novels where a dying man summons his ‘friends’ to his country house to hear his home truths about them. My OH had read Stonemouth even though it wasn’t her kind of book. So I thought, to be fair, I should try this writer who I had heard of but never read. The opening pages are narrated by the dying man’s 18 year-old son who suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Chibiabos83

I'm reading Alan Hollinghurst's novel The Folding Star. About halfway through, and it's most engrossing.
Joe McWilliams

I'm reading Paul Scott's 'The Raj Quartet,' starting with 'The Jewel in the Crown.' I find I'm eager to meet my friends (and others) from the just-finished TV series. It's likely I would find it a bit of a chore without that sense of anticipation. So far, it's all to do with a character, Edwina Crane, who was at most a rumour in the show. She never appeared. In the book, 30 or so pages in, no one else has.
The book is very heavy -  not good for a fellow with arthritic mitts. How heavy? Heavy enough to cause the leaves to separate from the spine this morning when I knocked it off the end table.
chris-l

I think the fact of beginning with a character who did not have a prominent role in the TV series has helped me to concentrate on the text, without having to strain to recall the appropriate scene. So far, I am enjoying what I have read, and find that through the character of Miss Crane, Scott is building up a picture of the society of late-Colnial India, with its many prejudices of race and class.

I share your dismay at the physical size of the book. I suppose it would have been easier to read the individual novels, but I, like you, am working with what I have. I don't think I will be taking it on holiday with me in a couple of weeks from now. I am not flying, but nevertheless, the sheer weight and bulk make it an unsuitable travelling companion!
Joe McWilliams

Happy holidays, Chris. I'm happy to have someone to share the journey through this book with - though I promise no lengthy or insightful observations on it. I'm enjoying the early going in the book too, more so as it goes along. I think Scott does a good job of scene-setting. It's actually a bit frightening, thinking of the lurking potential for violence - frightening to me because I once gallivanted around India as a young fellow, oblivious as can be.
Castorboy

Another E F Benson. The sequel to Mapp and Lucia is called Lucia's Progress, and is quickly into the familiar lives of the Tilling eccentrics.
Sandraseahorse

I'm reading John Julius Norwich's "Sicily".  In his usual way the author managed to be both informative and gossipy.
I do find that with more than 2,00 years of history crammed into 350 pages, it is a bit rushed at times.
Joe McWilliams

Engrossing, to borrow Chib's term from above. That's what The Jewel in the Crown (first of The Raj Quartet) is, in spite of certain difficulties.
Engrossing, complex, disturbing, challenging.
One reason it's challenging is the author's penchant for lengthy passages presented in the form of reports from a distance (in time, at least) from the events being described. I find I long for dialogue, but page after page none appears. It is certainly rich in atmosphere, but I feel disengaged - as if viewing the story from a distance, rather than being involved.
Yet in spite of this, it is engrossing. Scott does a good job of evoking the unfathomable moral complexity of the situation. It is actually frightening to contemplate.
Joe McWilliams

The Raj Quartet is more of a project than a book. It will be the most time I've spent between two covers, by far. Two weeks now, more or less, 400-odd pages read and perhaps five times as much remaining. Whew!
I may take a breather after the first of the four.

Having said all that - this is easily the richest piece of work set in the British Raj period that I've read. Any period.
Caro

I have started our bookclub book for this month, only giving myself a week to read it.  But it is an easy read - The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall, a Vish Puri mystery.  On the front page is a quote by Alex. McCall Smith saying "These little books are gems", Which probably indicates they are well-written light books, like his. I am enjoying it, though wondering about the whether some of the characters are real or not.  He talks a lot about Indian cricket and corruption and some of the people mentioned are famous cricketers, but others I wonder about.  Surely he would risk being sued if they were real.
Castorboy

I would think only if a famous cricketer was actually taking bribes or cheating in a game that had been played in real life. There would have to be a statement that so and so was doing something dodgy. As always, context is everything and a reputable writer has to be careful with their use of real people in a novel.
Joe McWilliams

I read a Vish Puri mystery. 'Light' reading, as you say, Caro. Or as Mr. McCall-Smith says. It was fun but did not make me want to read another.

I broke away from The Raj Quartet to read (more like 'skim') a book by Rubin Carter, the former boxer who spent 19 years in prison for a triple murder he didn't commit. Oddly enough, it has something in common with Paul Scott's epic on the British Raj - themes of tribalism, contempt, distrust and so on, between races, the rulers and the ruled. In Carter's case, in 1950s and 1960s America. There's a deep, disturbing ugliness he exposes - a justice system that delivers anything but justice to the wrongly convicted. Just like what happened to Hari Kumar in Scott's story.

Carter is no Paul Scott, but his stuff is raw and real. He was brought to life on film by the brilliant Denzel Washington.
Caro

We have just had a similar case here with NZ $2.5 million being paid in compensation to Teina Pora who had spent 21 years in jail for a crime he didn't commit, but confessed to as a 17 year old with foetal alcohol syndrome.  The police investigation seems to have been badly flawed, and a review of it in 1999 just called for a retrial.  For more information see http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/8...-involved-in-the-case-against-him
Joe McWilliams

There's a pattern there, Caro. Carter talks about it in some detail, presents examples, cites research on innocent people from whom police have extracted confessions. Mostly young, scared and gullible. Canada has had its episodes as well, much as we would like to believe the 'system' is fair and works.
Castorboy

From this distance it seems as if Britain has endured hate demonstrations, a proliferation of posters, double-speak from politicians, the dumbing down of the proletariat, a spell of civil unrest – no wonder I am racing through the classic 1984.
Joe McWilliams

Castorboy, does this mean you have abandoned The Raj Quartet? Do I stand alone?
Sandraseahorse

I'm reading "The Fire Child" by S.K. Tremayne.  The early chapters were very reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca"; a young woman, married to a widower with a large house in Cornwall, feels insecure compared to his glamorous first wife.

Then the novel starts to develop its own style.  The widower's son says he can see his deceased mother and talks to her regularly. He begins to make predictions, which come true, and then tells the second wife that she will be dead by Christmas.  All these claims he makes when she is alone with him.  Is he psychic?  Is there something suspicious about the first wife's death?  Or is the second wife deeply disturbed and possibly the boy is at risk from her?

I've no idea at the moment but I know I want to keep reading.
Castorboy

Joe McWilliams wrote:
Castorboy, does this mean you have abandoned The Raj Quartet? Do I stand alone?

No, No, on the contrary - I have posted a note here.
Caro

I am making my way through Cat Among the Pigeons, a memoir of Cath Tizard, NZ's first female Governor General, and former Mayor of Auckland.  She was/is a very popular woman who was knighted.  She was formerly married to Bob Tizard, a Labour Party minister.  It is written in an easy style, and shouldn't take me too long.  It is our bookclub book.

And I have a hankering to read Great Expectations for a while now.  I know I have at least one copy of it but it is outside in our shed, which I am no longer able to get into, and my husband said he doesn't know where it is, so I borrowed a copy of it from my son.  I am just about to start it; it will take me ages to get through it, the best part of a year, I expect.
Mikeharvey

Once you start Great Expectations you wont be able to put it down.
Have you got a Kindle? You can download ALL Dickens at very little cost..
Caro

I don't have a Kindle, Michael.  I think I prefer actual books - and I have so many unread ones.  But I just felt I wanted to read Great Expectations, and so far I am really enjoying it.  I am having to alternate it with my bookclub one though, but as it is a non-fiction memoirthey don't clash.  I think Dickens is excellent at portraying childhood and its worries.  David Copperfield was very good too in this respect, and Dombey and Son managed to get inside Florence's mind as a child desperate for her father's love too.  Is it Nicholas Nickleby that also has a child's eye view of school superbly done?

And Dickens has a lovely turn of phrase and ability to describe things beyond the obvious.  His sister Mrs Joe's first appearance gives a vivid picture of her: "had such a prevailing redness of skin that I sometimes used to wonder whether it was possible that she washed herself with a nutmeg grater ionstead of soap." This is followed by a desciption of her apron during the course of which he says, " She made it a powerful merit for herself and a strong reproach against Joe, that she wore this apron so much.  Though I really see no reason why she should have worn it at all: or why, if she did wear it at all, she should not have taken it off, every day of her life."
Mikeharvey

Kindles are wonderful for access to books - complete works  which are out of print by authors such as George Gissing, Arnold Bennett, Wilkie Collins.

I'm reading 'Dombey & Son on BOTH Kindle and a beautiful Folio edition. A chapter each alternately.  But I mostly use Kindle for modern stuff, otherwise available more expensively in paperback.
Sandraseahorse

I've begun reading  "A Place Called Winter" by Patrick Gale.  As I mentioned previously on this board, this was a book I ordered mistaking it for another book by Patrick Gale which was set in Cornwall.  This is set in Canada.  It's a bit like picking up a cup you think is tea and then finding it's coffee; a slight jolt but then you start to enjoy it.  I'm now starting to enjoy this.
Caro

Where are you all? Is there something on in Britain that I am unaware of - other message boards have been very quiet too.  Or has the Brexit vote demoralised you all?

I am making my way quite quickly for me through Great Expectations. Have finished Part One and have met Herbert Pocket and his feckless family.  Great fun.
Joe McWilliams

I'm here. Nothing distracting me, but summer, Caro. Yesterday I went fishing. Today I picked wild blueberries. On the whole, the berry-picking was more fruitful.

I am reading 'Clara,' also called 'Patient Number 7', by Kurt Palka. It is quite good, and by that I mean I am enjoying it. Set in Austria in the 30s and 40s.
I have three books ordered from the library (inter-library loan), but I don't remember what they are. I expect it will be a pleasant surprise.

Carry on
Caro

This isn't what I am reading or even what I will read: it is the library books I got out today. If I get one of them read I will be doing well, but I got out 5.  They are Burnt Norton by Caroline Sandon,who lives there in a house that inspired TS Eliot's Four Seasons, though this book is a novel.
Then Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangel, a French writer described on the blurb as "one of the most fascinating writers of her generation".  The latest Maeve Binchy which hasn't been reviewed well, but I enjoy her.  

And The Soldier's Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally.  Thomas Keneally is a very well respected Australian author and this is the first in a series apparently, a crime novel set soon after the penal colony was formed there in 1788.  And then I got out a local family history.

So we'll see.  I am nearly finished my bookclub book, though of course that means there will be a new one to read, but I don't usually start them immediately.
Chibiabos83

I read Mend the Living a few months ago and was really impressed. Thoughts on the April thread, in case you want to compare notes if you read it.
Joe McWilliams

Started and rejected two books today...oh dear. I was probably disposed to dislike The Billionaire and the Mechanic. It seemed a snoozer of a premise and then turned out to be poorly written. I guess I'll never know the whole story about how a chance encounter between Larry Ellison and a guy with a radiator shop revolutionized sailboat racing. Oh well. Now I have the awkward task of returning it to the friend who lent it to me. He probably thought it was fabulous.

After chucking that one, I noticed The Book Thief on a shelf. Where did that come from? Turns out from me, to my wife, on the occasion of her **** birthday.
I read a few pages. But no patience for Death as the glib narrator. Sorry, Mr. Zuszak. I'm sure you meant well. The fault is mine.
Caro

I think you should persevere with The Book Thief, Joe.  It was our bookclub's favourite of the year, and topped the whole country's bookclub favourites for a number of years (there are more than 1000 bookclubs in NZ uner the Workers' Education Association banner where each bookclub gets to choose 25 books for the year and gets given 10 of these).

What did your wife think of it?
Joe McWilliams

I notice you didn't say what you thought of The Book Thief, Caro. My wife didn't like it either and put it aside. I guess she never told me to spare my feelings.
It's within reach. Perhaps I'll try again, since you encourage me. It didn't help that the movie was so unlikeable, but I shouldn't blame the book for that.

In the meantime, I've started re-reading Robert Wilson's The Blind Man of Seville, which I rate quite highly in the crime/thriller genre.
Joe McWilliams

Ripping through Gerry Conlon's 'Proved Innocent,' better known as 'In the Name of the Father.' Not much to say, except that it is surprisingly well written, and produces a sickening feeling about how easily justice can be perverted.
Caro

I really liked The Book Thief, Joe.  I had forgotten it was narrated (in part?) by Death.  I think of it as the young girl's story.

I have started Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal.  I am finding it hard-going, but have been encouraged by Gareth's words.  I have just started it and have only got to the accident which I think killed Simon's (the main protagonist) two friends.  There are a lot of medical terms which the author does say are used by doctors for quick information "the power of the succinct", the author says.  But she uses words that I don't know the meaning of in her descriptions too. Simon "sportsd a Maori tattoo as a pauldron" is an example.  And an example of a NZ icon being used in a novel!  "Prognathous jaw" is another.  Every event or comment is expanded by judicious use of words.  Their surfing, the cold, the drive, the doctor's car, the patients, everything.  And not in ordinary words, either.  Long sentences, full of unconnecting words and phrases.  

I will keep going but soon I need to start our bookclub book which also looks a bit difficult. The Song of Achilles,a novel mostly about Patroclus, I think.
Chibiabos83

I had to read it slowly, Caro. You have to put the work in, but I think it rewards it. I think the switching around of narratives keeps it interesting. Some of the scenes border on farcical; I wasn't surprised to read it's being made into a film.

On the other hand, I liked Mend the Living, but I LOVED The Song of Achilles. Easier to read too, I think.
Caro

Thanks for that, Gareth.  Pleased to hear how much you liked The Song of Achilles.

I think Maylis de Kerangal must have spent some time in New Zealand.  Apart from the mention of Maori tattoo earlier spoken about, there is also mention of "taonga" the Maori word for "treasure", and just now I have come to a page that talks of the father possibly going bak to New Zealand to the Whanganui River and Tongariro Volcano, and she mentions waka, ie "canoe".
Caro

I am getting through The Song of Achilles, and so far so good.  Achilles and Patroclus have grown up together as boys, though Achilles' mother is a goddess, Thetis, who is a sea goddess.  Every time she appears she is snakelike, cool and slippery.  I used to be very fond of Greek mythology as a child, and read about it constantly in the Pears' Cyclopedia in condensed form.  I think it appealed to my two abiding loves - children's names (especially girls') and family relationships.  I loved learning about who parented whom etc.  But I have mostly forgotten it.  And have never read The Iliad or the Odyssey.  Though at university we read in Latin Book Two of Virgil's Aeniad, which was about the siege of Troy, though mostly I remember it being about Dido and Aeneas.
Sandraseahorse

I put "The Riceyman Steps" by Arnold Bennett to one side for a moment; I'm about half way through and enjoying but I felt like a break.  I'm now reading "Crying With Laughter" by Bob Monkhouse.  I know he wasn't everyone's favourite comedian but I found him intelligent and interesting and his autobiography has some lively anecdotes; including how he once nearly set fire to himself when his Liberace-style suit with lights exploded on stage.
Caro

I have started reading our next book club choice which is by Fannie Flagg.  Author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which I haven't read but was a big hit when it came out.  This is called The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion.  I am enjoying it a lot so far.  It hops between events in 2005 and before and during WWII.  

SPOILER ALERT:





Seen mostly from the pov of Sookie, a married woman worrying about her ott mother, who has been the force of her life for many years, so it is a shock to find she is adopted, and comes from a Polish background.  This is as far as I have got, but Sookie feels her life has been a sham, and she doesn't know who she is at all. Except she is probably illegitimate.

Her previous life has been so dominated by her mother that she has no real sense of herself.  Sookie has spent the last couple of years marrying off her daughters, Dee Dee, Ce Ce, and Le Le (!) in "themed" weddings, which have been a big drain both financially and emotionally.  That is as far as I have got, so I am not sure what the title refers to, though Sookie's original family was of 4 girls and one boy.  So I presume it is to do with them.
Caro

I've put aside the Fannie Flagg, not wanting to finish it too soon before our meeting, in case I forget it before then.  Now reading Cecilia, a memoir by a former Australian nun, Cecilia Inglis, that I was recommended as a warm, attractive read.  So far so good, though some of the practices of the convert have made me cross.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> What are you reading? Page 1, 2  Next
Page 1 of 2
Create your own free forum | Buy a domain to use with your forum