50 Book Challenge 2018 Part Six
southeastdweller · 05/06/2018 08:12
Welcome to the sixth thread of the 50 Book Challenge for this year.
The challenge is to read fifty books (or more!) in 2018, though reading fifty isn't mandatory. Any type of book can count, it’s not too late to join, and please try to let us all know your thoughts on what you've read.
The first thread of the year is here, the second one here, the third one here, the fourth one here, and the fifth one here.
How're you getting on so far?
CluelessMama · 11/06/2018 09:46
The thread has moved on a bit and I'm playing catch up, but Chessie - can I ask what a 'Russian doll' is in a novel? You mentioned it in your review of the B A Parris book, and I'm intrigued. Thanks!
ChessieFL · 11/06/2018 10:32
Clueless Russian dolls are usually wooden and it’s where you get several dolls nesting inside each other - in this book the smallest from a set of Russian dolls kept popping up in various random places.
TooExtraImmatureCheddar · 11/06/2018 11:56
Stronghold, Melanie Rawn
Finally finished! As a series, this needed a damn good editor. There were some good characters and an original magical premise, but the plot was meandering and sprawling and overblown. The cast of thousands with similar names also detracted - authors take note, make sure key characters have suitably different names! I kept mixing up Sioned and Sionell and reading a whole page before suddenly realising that I had the wrong one. Ditto minor characters called something like Elsen and Elred (can't remember, not memorable enough). In general, the villains were the better characters - Rawn was clearly trying to develop her villains to avoid accusations of one-dimensionality. Pity she didn't apply to that to her heroes! I did like some of this. I just think it would have been much better condensed and with a lot of extraneous waffle cut out.
EmGee · 11/06/2018 13:08
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. This is quite a nice read. It focuses on Katherine (whom I suspect is on the spectrum) who is a nursery assistant and lives with her father (a brilliant scientist) and teenage sister, Bunny. Her father is very keen for her to meet his assistant, a brilliant young man who is in the US on a visa that is about to run out. Lots of dialogue in this book, some of it quite funny.
Eventide by Kent Haruf. This is the second in a trilogy which takes place in rural Colorado. I won't say much as it could spoil it for anyone who hasn't read the first book Plainsong. I will just say that I can heartily recommend Haruf. He died in 2014 and to quote Pan Macmillan, his UK publisher, his “beautifully restrained, profoundly felt novels reflected a man of integrity, honesty and deep thoughtfulness”.
One of my favourite writers.
- The Marble Collector by Cecila Ahern. Read while travelling but found myself skimming through a lot of it. To give her credit, while her style is what I would term 'chick lit', she is brave enough to tackle deeper and more serious issues in a sensitive way. She reminds me a bit of Marian Keyes.
EmGee · 11/06/2018 13:08
Typo - should be Cecelia
Dottierichardson · 11/06/2018 16:06
Terpsichore I’m always really excited to find a classic author I enjoy, who’s new to me, so I’m quite envious. I might even like Hardy if I tried again, it’s depressing how studying books can end up leaving such a negative impression sometimes. On doom - Jude is the one to avoid, I remember The Mayor of Casterbridge as being a strong novel and Far from the Madding Crowd as less downbeat than the others. I know exactly what you mean about Austen, it was so hard to avoid her for a while that it became impossible to read the novels anymore, although I do love Emma, I may reread Mansfield Park at some point, it’s the one I remember least, and hasn’t been so frequently adapted.
EmGee I read Plainsong because someone lent it to me, it wasn’t, on the surface, the kind of book I’d normally go for, but I was really taken with how beautifully, lyrically written it was. I didn’t realise it was a series, so will have to look out for the others. Just had a large library haul though, so a bit overwhelmed for choice. For some reason the library goes for weeks without having things I want then loads arrive at once.
Terpsichore · 11/06/2018 16:18
I'm back rather sooner than I expected on account of having raced through 42: The Expendable Man - Dorothy B. Hughes
Wow - this is a stonker of a page-turner, by a thriller-writer who had some success in Hollywood...her novel In a Lonely Place became a classic film noir (and she put in time working for Hitchcock too). The Expendable Man was her last book, published in 1963 and reissued by Persephone; I think I must have picked it up secondhand (as I usually do whenever I see a Persephone I haven't got), and it's been sitting in the tbr pile.
Dr Hugh Densmore, an up and coming young intern, is driving to Phoenix for his sister's wedding when he picks up a bedraggled hitch-hiking girl, very much against his better judgment. It turns out that he was right to be wary....and I can't say more than that because there's a massive plot twist which turns everything on its head. Such a clever, thought-provoking book. And it would make a brilliant, if horrifying, film.
ScribblyGum · 11/06/2018 17:29
AliasGrape and splother The Lesser Bohemians was one of my audiobook DNFs a few weeks back. I couldn’t get on with listening to the internal dialogue/stream of consciousness style. Should I try it again in standard book format do you think or give it up as a Not For Me job?
MegBusset · 11/06/2018 17:46
He Died With His Eyes Open - Derek Raymond
The first of Raymond's quartet of Factory crime novels, a brutal and compelling piece of British noir against the seedy background of 70s Soho. Recommended for fans of James Ellroy and the like.
RemusLupinsBiggestGroupie · 11/06/2018 19:00
Had a lovely email from my eldest last night: "Hi. I've been re-reading Jane Austen and feel the need for more Regency romance in my life. Which Georgette Heyer shall I start with?" A mark of parenting success there, methinks!
Re: Tess - for me, it worked far better as a teenage read than an adult one. As an adult, I just found them all annoying. As a teenager, I got really caught up in the pathos of Tess' situation.
Jude is devastating and frustrating in equal parts.
Susan in Jude and Angel in Tess are both on my list of, "central characters who need a really good shake*. Jude is too, come to think of it.
Toomuchsplother · 11/06/2018 19:58
Scribbly I can't imagine coping with Bohemians as an audiobook! It does get easier to read the prose and you find as the young girl is in a more settled emotional state the prose becomes more standardised.
Parts written from the male characters point of view are also generally less chaotic. I thought it was a very clever book.
Emgee I didn't realise that Plainsong was part of a trilogy. I will look the others up.
Last night I resolved not to buy anymore books, can't see that lasting!
ScribblyGum · 11/06/2018 20:17
Thanks splother that’s good to know, it’s had so many good reviews. I'll give it a go as a physical book. The audiobook gave me wtf is going on eye creases.
Dottierichardson · 11/06/2018 20:28
No Place to Lay One’s Head by Francoise Frankel – first published in 1945 then out of print until rediscovered recently, this is Frankel’s memoir of her life up to, and during, World War 2. In 1921, spurred on by her love affair with books, Frankel moved to Berlin where she opened a foreign-language bookshop. Her bookshop thrived, slowly taking on the quality of a salon, with readings, plays and cultural events - her description reminded me of Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare & Co. In 1935, when the practice of labelling certain authors and books as degenerate became more widespread in Germany, Frankel’s situation started to deteriorate, not just because of her shop but because she was Jewish. Frankel was forced to flee to France and much of her story details her fight to stay alive and hidden.
I thought this was an evocative, well-written memoir: the style ranges from lyrical to breathless, although when describing some of the most harrowing events Frankel switches to a more formal approach, perhaps in an attempt to cope with the horror of what is happening around her? I think Frankel’s story is possibly enhanced by background knowledge of France during the war, there are no appendices or additional contextual material on the historical background to events. I found this hard to put down although I kept being reminded of related things I’ve read such as Carmen Callil’s excellent exploration of Vichy France Bad Faith, Caroline Moorehead’s A Train in Winter, the Paris sections of Julie Orringer’s wonderful novel The Invisible Bridge, for me Frankel’s eye-witness account of France during the war really brought to life the events they could only describe at a distance. I was fascinated by the details of Frankel’s everyday life, the people she knew, and the vivid images of wartime France this recreated, as well as by Frankel herself. I know that war memoirs and diaries are increasingly being published but I thought that this one, was with its intimate account of life as a refugee, was worth reading and, in many ways particularly relevant today.
CluelessMama · 11/06/2018 20:44
Chessie - thank you!! I'm now laughing out loud and feeling like an idiot - I know what those kind of Russian dolls are, for some reason I thought in your review you were talking about some kind of clever literary device that I hadn't heard of!!
ChessieFL · 12/06/2018 09:01
93. All That Remains: A Life In Death by Professor Sue Black
Professor Black is a forensic anthropologist - her job is basically to identify the deceased, usually where the death has occurred in suspicious circumstances. I thought this was a really interesting book. In as much as you can say you enjoyed reading something that talsk about death, I did really enjoy it. However, it's not one for those sensitive to death - she talks about things in a very matter of fact way and some of the stories are very sad, particularly those relating to children. However, her respect for all those she's dealt with does come through - she's not flippant at any point. If you are interested in finding out more about this type of work though I highly recommend it. If you like crime books like Val McDermid this will give you a new perspective - Black has provided advice to McDermid before. Definitely worth a read.
bibliomania · 12/06/2018 09:28
Snap, Chessie - I'm a couple of chapters into All That Remains and am enjoying it. I find her tone reassuring - a mixture of matter-of-fact and respectful. I'm also enjoying hearing the voice of a woman in her 50s demonstrating her professional competence in a career she is passionate about. Good antidote to chicklit...
Got a bit derailed by X and Why, by Tom Whipple, which I'm loving. It's a popular science book about how gender affects reproductive strategies, and it's funny and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.
Tarahumara · 12/06/2018 09:31
Adding All That Remains to my list, thanks both. On a similar note I would highly recommend With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix.
whippetwoman · 12/06/2018 11:26
55. Kudos - Rachel Kusk
I am a fan of her novels and her writing style and I liked this one, although I felt it wasn't quite as good as the first two in the trilogy.
Having read around, I realise these novels are described as auto-fiction. They describe the life of a writer, Faye (Cusk I guess) and this one is set at a literary festival somewhere in Europe. Very little happens - the book consists of people explaining situations and trying to reason out their lives. This is NOT plot led and the characters exist simply as a means to describe the human experience (of mainly women). I liked the sense of dislocation in this book which I think mirrors the sense of dislocation of Britain, or being British, with the rest of Europe. Or something like that! Only read if you like books in which literally nothing much happens. I'm quite a fan of them myself.
I read The Lesser Bohemians and thought it was very good indeed but I did want to shake the main character for most of the book.
Ellisisland · 12/06/2018 14:18
This thread is moving so fast!
44. Not That Bad - Edited by Roxanne Gay
This is an essay collection by various female authors that explore rape culture. Whilst some of the stories are about incidents of assault and rape, there are also other essays that are interesting around the way rape is considered. For example, one of the first essays is about when the author is a young college lecturer. She reviews a short story, written by a student and she asks the student why he wrote the rape in his story (a man having sex with an unconscious girl on a beach) he responds that it was a true story about the first time he had sex with his girlfriend. Another time a student gave her a creative story about a young student raping his female professor, and then grinned at her whilst she had to read it in front of him. I found these essays really interesting.
45. Wild Embers by Nikita Gill
Poetry collection. As with any collection there are hits and misses but overall some really powerful words in here.
46. The Shining by Stephen King
Started to read this ages ago and ended up not finishing it. Started again and loved it. Really atmospheric and genuinely creeped me out.
Currently reading Circe by Madeline Miller at the moment and really enjoying it.
Tanaqui · 12/06/2018 15:55
Which Heyer did you recommend Remus? Start with a good one and then risk future disappointment? Or an average one with the peaks to look forward to?!
52) Remember Me by Sophie Kinsella. More chick lit- am a tad stressed at the moment and this is all I am up to! Not my favourite of hers but sufficiently entertaining.
RemusLupinsBiggestGroupie · 12/06/2018 17:17
I recommended The Talisman Ring because it's v cheap on Kindle and great fun; Bath Tangle and The Grand Sophy.
Piggywaspushed · 12/06/2018 19:50
Wanted to do a mid point report in on This Thing Of Darkness.
Darwin has hidden behind the enormous elephant thing on the deck and then got pissed, uttering the immortal 'I don't think that went particularly well'
BellBookandCandle · 12/06/2018 20:48
@exexpat - I prefer the Dr Dee books to the Merrily ones. I'm quite aghast that there are only two.
I am fascinated by the Tudor period and the way in which magick/witchcraft/charms/superstitions were accepted (or not), so the Dr Dee books really caught my fancy.
I only have them on kindle (they were 99p bargains) otherwise I'd have been happy to post them.
ChillieJeanie · 12/06/2018 22:07
- Kim Newman - Angels of Music
Kim Newman specialises in taking well known literary and other characters and putting them into his own fantasy creations, like with his Anno Dracula series which features the Diogenes Club (where Mycroft Holmes hangs out in the Sherlock Holmes stories), various other vampires, Jekyll and Hyde, etc. Angels of Music is a sort of variation on Charlie's Angels with the rarely-seen head of the investigative agency being Erik, the Phantom of the Opera. The book is a series of short stories featuring different sets of Angels working for the Opera Ghost Agency - the first three being Christine Daae, Irene Adler, and Trilby. Set against them are a variety of evil geniuses and villains, and it's really good fun.
Dottierichardson · 13/06/2018 01:42
34 Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday – this is quite a deceptive novel, it appears to be about one thing but is really about something quite different. It’s had a lot of publicity outside the literary pages because Lisa Halliday famously had an affair with Philip Roth, when she was in her twenties and he was at last 50 years older. The book is divided into three sections, the first ‘Folly’ appears to tell the story of that relationship. However, the female character’s name Alice, as well as explicit references to Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass pointed to a different approach to what story is being told. ‘Folly’ takes place a few years after 9/11, although it represents a relationship that mirrors Roth’s and Halliday’s, the story seemed equally (perhaps more so) a device for the exploration of a range of issues, some exclusively literary, others more broadly political. So, over its course the novel contained reflections on: the process of writing, who writes and about what, as well as Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’ – what’s already been written in the same tradition and its impact on writers starting out. It also examined the act of reading and related questions about identification and the possibility of empathy. Alongside these concerns there were those of relations of power: gender, West versus East, age versus youth, who we can/can’t speak for and so on. Some of these considerations were explicit, others embedded in the text, still others only became clear in the book’s final section. Influence, for example, was partially represented by the books that Alice’s lover, Ezra, gives her, all ones he might have read when younger, none of them recent works. They’re all part of a particular Western canon, the authors predominantly male, predominately white. Alice starts to think in ways that are filtered by these- she reads about Primo Levi’s time in Auschwitz and the set up in the gas chambers, and in the following scene, when a blackout causes New York’s air conditioning to fail, she notes that the heat is ‘seeping and sinister…like gas filling a chamber’; her unsettling comparison seemed designed to provoke questions about her capacity as a reader (and budding writer) for empathy and understanding.
The whole of the first section is littered with small phrases, snippets of scenes that are clues to the novel as a whole: all of these took on even more significance when the first section ended and everything abruptly switched. The setting moved from New York, and from Alice’s distanced, third-person perspective to a first-person account by a totally different, seemingly unrelated character. The structure of the novel, and the way that ideas are introduced, meant that it demanded close reading, the second section alluded to elements of the first section, which could easily be missed – I probably missed a lot. The third section tied the preceding parallel narratives together but, again, only if read very carefully.
Ultimately, I thought it was a very clever, very elegant and complex literary work, unlike other novels I’ve read recently I thought that Halliday’s style and approach worked almost seamlessly. In many ways it’s quite a conventional, self-consciously ‘academic’ piece which I don’t tend to like in fiction form. My usual response is - if you want to write an essay in novel form, why not just write an essay? (One of the reasons I dislike Rachel Cusk’s recent work so much.) However, Asymmetry manages to be both novel and idea, it was so well constructed and written and teased out so many contemporary issues – some of which I can’t mention without spoilers – that despite my resistance I was won over by it. I particularly liked the sense that Halliday was aware of her own contradictions, including being open to the possible accusation of ‘self-indulgence’, as well as the way she defuses any claims to representing universal experience. In addition to some of its central ‘political’ and literary concerns, Asymmetry invoked debates over gender as well as ‘cultural appropriation’ - such as the controversy sparked by some of Lionel Shriver’s recent comments and articles. I thought it was a really impressive novel.
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