Night fell as death rode into the Great Library of Summershall.
I’m sure Margaret Rogerson hadn’t planned on setting such a dramatic scene with just the first sentence. It’d have been Death or DEATH otherwise, of course. Anyway, let’s not go off on a tangent.
I wanted some easy, accessible fantasy and Sorcery of Thorns didn’t disappoint. It even looks to be a stand-alone! And even though it’s YA pretty by the book (unlikely hero who’s Different, a dark and mysterious love interest, a funny sidekick), it doesn’t become a bother. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, the tempo is high and there’s plenty of twists and turns to keep you entertained.
Elisabeth Scrivener (I know) was left as a baby at one of the Great Libraries and grew up in one. Books are magical creatures, but those that manage those powers are kind of feared and frowned upon. So of course, she ends up with a sorcerer after an accident, and magic becomes a large part of her life.
The clear love of books gets Sorcery of Thorns an extra star: if it wouldn’t have been so dangerous, I would have loved to have a look around in its libraries.
Sorcery of Thorns, Margaret Rogerson, Margaret K. McElderry Books 2019
According to family legend, Ferguson’s grandfather departed on foot from his native city of Minsk with one hundred rubles sewn into the lining of his jacket, traveled west to Hamburg through Warsaw and Berlin, and the booked passage on a ship called the Empress of China, which crossed the Atlantic in rough winter storms and sailed into New York Harbor on the first day of the twentieth century.
The amount of times I thought ‘this would have been more interesting with a female protagonist’ was more than ten. The amount of times I wondered if Paul Auster has any kind of editing team or editor is even higher. Seriously mate, if you need fifteen-plus item lists to get to almost 900 pages, consider aiming a bit lower in page number.
Oh, and definitely change that ending.
What did I like about this story about a young Jewish boy growing up in fifties – sixties – seventies’ USA? Well, it’s one big ‘What if’ story. Every chapter starts with a new Ferguson, but some of them die, some of them grow up to be sterile, some have parents that divorce, some get into accidents. And Paul Auster shows the impact of all these internal and external factors on a human life.
But besides that, he shares a visual description of every woman in the boy’s life, and of every sexual encounter and masturbation session. And then there’s the lists.
If I’d be more aggressive about this time wasted, I’d create an abbreviated version of this book; instead I just want more ‘What if’-stories that won’t repeatedly tell me about a boy’s first erection.
4 3 2 1, Paul Auster, Faber & Faber 2017
Even in Los Angeles, where is no shortage of remarkable hairdos, Harry Peak attracted attention.
You had me at libraries, you from time to time lost me about the focus on not just the Los Angeles Public Library (so okay, it’s one of the main plots), but especially the background of the possible culprit and fluffy descriptions of ever person involved in any way. I would rather have seen book covers, if Susan Orlean felt like she needed to add some visuals.
But still: there is so much love for books and libraries and librarians that you almost feel yourself slip into that world that is more than only centered on books. Libraries are miniature societies, and Orlean shows it well.
So, if you’re about books, architecture, and American history through librarians – this is the book of your dreams. If just any of these categories do it for you: consider it as a bit of an encyclopedia; read a few chapters from time to time. That way, you’ll always have some time left to visit your own library.
The library book, Susan Orlean, Simon & Schuster 2018
Why did Mindi want an arranged marriage?
And yes, the erotic stories are shared. Just because of the title, I expected comedy, some coming of age and Learning Life’s Lessons, but I got much more. It’s a credit to Jaswal’s writing that I wasn’t disappointed by that, sooner the opposite.
Yes, there’s definitely comedy, and main character Nikki (Mindi’s sister) needs to discover what she wants to do in live and how she’ll do that without hurting her Punjabi family (and surroundings, in a way). This is definitely a story about the two lives immigrants/children of immigrants live, but it’s never just that. Nikki thinks she’s going to teach the widows Creative Writing, the widows prefer to share their creativity in another way.
Alongside that is a plot line that at first might feel tacked on. Missing girls, bitter feuds, really? But then it all starts to connect and this isn’t just a comedy any more, this is an all too realistic calling card to look at misogyny. Suddenly the tempo is picked up and the reader has to juggle several plot lines colliding.
But as mentioned before, Balli Kaur Jaswal does it well. Making this novel all-round entertaining and informing.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal, Harper Collins 2017
The strange woman standing on Hope’s main street was so ordinary it was almost scandalous.
Cutely annoying, not annoyingly cute (which I think is weird to say as both a negative or positive critique, by the way). And I say this because the main character takes her time with growing a spine and taking her place in the world, and that her surroundings are one-dimensional small town cliches for a while. This book needs a bit of your patience.
But darn it if it doesn’t turn out to be adorably charming, with just the right amount of quirk to save you from having to roll your eyes.
A Swedish tourist visits a small American town and stays. She comes alive, the town comes alive around her. There’s plenty of love for books, and a belief that there’s a book for everyone. There’s romance, on different levels.
And just like that, the fish-out-of-water plot turns into love-for-life. Life lessons for everyone, cuteness all around, a novel like a biscuit with unexpected great tasting filling.
The Readers of Broken Wheel recommend, Katarina Bivald, Chatto & Windus 2015
In a single year, my father left us twice.
This was work. I don’t know how I managed to read two similarly build up novels (the other one being Disappearing Moon Cafe), but this one was the tougher of the two. Maybe because the comparison material was so recent. Both left me wondering how I’d like something contemporary written by an Asian actor.
Anyway, time moves every way but chronologically in Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Keep your head with you, because there’s a lot of characters going through a lot of things. The most brutal one, probably Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and the horrors of Tiananmen Square.
These aren’t light, bright stories. There seems to be no end to what a family can be put through, and the small, mythology-like side steps only make the difference starker. How did anyone come out alive?
It’s a novel to take in in small doses, to learn and see through another set of goggles.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien, Granta 2016
How on earth could I have let them talk me into it?
Now this is a book that deserves my time, that very probably already landed a spot on my end of the year book list. A book like a four course meal, every dish not just bright and good looking, but a new experience in taste. This is Eat, Pray, Love in one country, Chocolat for book lovers, an encyclopedia for emotions for those that can’t recognise them.
This might be the first male mid life crisis I have rolled absolute no eye over. Nary a blink. Because what else to call it, the discovery of a gross mistake leading him to throwing away twenty years of his life?
Luckily, Nina George looks out for the lost Jean. Both travel, country and people help him, without it ever feeling too convenient, too easy or not human enough.
I’m glad I read this.
The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George, Crown Publishers 2015