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[personal profile] readingrat

No competition for [ profile] flywoman, whose literary recs I greatly enjoy.

Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries (***)
A much hyped story of star-crossed lovers during New Zealand’s gold rush in the 19th century, with a supernatural element. (I didn’t even know there was gold in New Zealand before reading this book.) The further I got, the more I liked the book, mostly because the chapters got increasingly terse and understandable. Nevertheless, much of the book passed by me without leaving much of an impression. The author structured the book according to an astrological pattern that eluded me (I’m not a fan). In order to abide to that structure, she made the initial chapters incredibly long-winded, and introduced almost all the characters within a few pages without managing to get me involved in them. As a result it took me ages to figure out who was who. The historical background, however, was fascinating, and although I’m not a fan of deus ex machina supernatural elements, the lovers’ plight got to me.

Terry Pratchett, The Fifth Elephant (***)
Set in Pratchett’s Discworld; funny, but not stellar; what else does one need to say? (It’s not like I can remember what the convoluted plot was about, but it featured werewolves, vampires, goblins, etc. and made very little sense.)

John le Carré, The Night Manager (****)
Read in anticipation of the BBC mini-series, I liked it a lot more than I expected to, preferring it to the series (of which I didn’t manage to watch all episodes for practical reasons.) I figure most of you know what it’s about. If not, it’s the story of a young hotel manager who is planted as a mole within a weapons dealer’s organisation, only to be abandoned/betrayed by the secret services who planted him there. The book is a lot bleaker than the series.

Jeanette Walls, The Silver Star (***)
I read this because I read and enjoyed Walls’ autobiography in 2015. This book is about sisters who, like Walls, have to fend for themselves and don’t always manage. It’s nice, but not a book I’d necessarily re-read.

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (***)
An excerpt from the novel featured in my primary school English reader; the memory kept me from reading the book when I was a teen. But after liking Middlemarch I decided to give it a shot. The protagonist, Maggie Tulliver, is caught between her family’s (especially her brother’s) expectations and restrictions and the needs of her own emotional nature. Disaster strikes when she falls in love with her cousin’s betrothed. I felt sorry for Maggie, always striving for approval, but not enough to like her or the book particularly.

Matthew Thomas, We Are Not Ourselves (**)
I think this is supposed to be a study on what dementia does to a family. It was rather long-winded, however, and I found it difficult to sympathise with the dementia patient’s wife or son.

Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons (****)
Teen literature at its best. No idea how I came across the book, but I was caught up in it at once. It deals sensitively with bereavement, abandonment, and teen drama.

Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (****)
Worth reading, although I have to admit that I’d be challenged to recall any of the fifty rules. Since I can’t remember them, chances are that they haven’t really influenced my writing.

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (****)
One of those ‘It was lying around, so I read it’ books, but this time I hit lucky. I found it well written, and the central conflict — is it okay to kill in order not to be killed oneself? — is one that will never get old. (Until a few years ago Germany had compulsory military service for young men, so the question is one that every male of my generation had to answer for himself.)

Naomi Novik, Uprooted (**)
Fairy tale-like set-up in which a village has to give the local wizard an annual (?) tribute of a young girl. This year’s girl, however, has few lady-like attributes. Instead she has slumbering magical talents that the wizard harnesses for his plans. The heroine wasn’t half bad, I suppose, but if she hadn’t had those magical powers she’d have been useless as a character. Being a hero/-ine is pretty easy if you’re special, I guess. (In your face, Harry Potter!) In addition, the writing was sub-stellar: the book reached its first climax much too early, and then had to pile it on to keep the tension level up.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (***)
Kid was watching the film (Johnny Depp, etc.), I was watching with half an eye and thinking, ‘What is going on? I don’t remember any of this from the books!’ So, I decided to read them again. Erm, yes. I still don’t know what the hype is about. Too many magic mushrooms, Mr Dodgson?

Martin Schleske, Der Klang (German) (****)
A present from a friend who was very eager for me to read it, so I did. A luthier meditates about the similarities between his craft and life as a Christian. It was a tough but rewarding read.

Stefan Zweig, Schachnovelle (German) (****)
Two very different chess players chance to meet on a sea journey and, yes, play against each other. The novella is a treatise on the nature of vocation, addiction and art. Not bad, but perhaps a bit dated.

Tracy Chevalier, Girl With a Pearl Earring (*****)
I saw the film on TV and decided to read the book, which I can strongly recommend. It’s probably the best novel of initiation with a female protagonist that I’ve ever read. Set in the 17th century, it tells the story of a young maid in the household of Vermeer, a Dutch painter. The maid, Griet, although undoubtedly talented and highly capable, is a prisoner of her gender and her class. IMO the book is a brilliant study on how patriarchy works: the men in the novel, no matter what their social position, all exploit Griet, while the women collude for fear of losing face or power.

Octavia Butler, Blood Child (*****)
[ profile] yarroway kindly recommended Octavia Butler, so I started off with this novella on the friendship between a humanoid race and an alien one. It asks where symbiosis ends and parasitism begins, but refuses to provide an answer. I found it a harrowing, disturbing, rewarding read. I can only recommend it, but be warned: it isn’t ‘feel-good’ reading material. Anyway, I’ve started the new year with another novel by Butler, Dawn.

Robin Hobb, Assassin’s Apprentice (***)
Another attempt to find a prolific fantasy writer whom I like. Let’s just say that it took me two-thirds of the book to realise that I’d read it before. Not that it’s bad — else I wouldn’t have stuck with it to the end twice — but it clearly isn’t memorable. I might read the sequels (though perhaps I've read them already too?) As the title says, it's about an apprentice assassin who gets caught up in the politics of his master's court. The upside: very few supernatural elements. (You're probably wondering why I read fantasy if I don't like the fantastical. I sometimes wonder, too. I think my issue is that fantasy writers tend to make/bend the rules of their world to suit their plot, instead of laying down a coherent set of rules and then sucking up the consequences.) The downside: very flat characters. You're either good or evil in this world. Third possibility: you're stupid. Another downside: the book is rather upbeat about assassination as a profession. Yes, our hero has a few qualms, but that's about it. Moral conflict? Not much. This book and Bloodchild play in completely different leagues.

Paul Torday, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (*)
I don’t know what I was expecting, but certainly not this. This is probably meant to appeal to the male version of Jojo Moyes readers. The premise sounds good: scientist is persuaded/coerced into supporting a project that introduces salmon into a Yemeni wadi. The characters are flat as cardboard, the protagonist’s wife is a particularly vile caricature of a career woman . . .  Forget it, the book isn’t worth the words I’m wasting on it.

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life (***)
A woman born at the beginning of the last century ‘re-lives’ pivotal moments of her life, changing them so that her life and history change accordingly. It isn’t clear whether all these lives co-exist or whether her choices retrospectively cancel out the other lives, and I guess it doesn’t really matter. Initially fascinated, I kinda lost interest somewhere along the way.

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (**)
I’m afraid you’ll have to read the Wikipedia summary or the Cliff Notes on this one, because there isn’t really much of a plot and I didn’t understand or like the book — which surprised me because normally that kind of book is totally my cuppa.
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