When I came out of prison my hair was white.
When we don’t learn from history something something repeat something something. Who would have thought that a book about fascism would be all too relevant again in the twenty-first century? Look, it even has women and children being brainwashed through children and ‘good people’ while parroting that above all “it’s about patriotism!”.
The title can be interpreted in two ways, I realise only now. Protagonist Phyllis returns to England when the second world war is just a spot on the horizon. She joins her sisters in a world of high(er) society, and so what if there’s stories about a very charismatic Leader whose party will take care of making Great Britain greater (I kid you not)? Parallels, anyone?
The time-hopping kind of spoils how Phyllis’ story goes, and I would have appreciated more focus on details about this “patriotic” party and their place in society. Now it’s mostly a slice-of-life look of a certain people and how easily they step into the “we just want the best (for people like us)” trap. A study of humanity – and their refusal to learn from history.
After the Party, Cressida Connolly, Viking Press 2018
On that day in 1914, a young girl banged on the door of the Hôpital de la Miséricorde in Montreal.
Boy, does this author love her metaphors like a dog likes a bone. Don’t use them as a drinking game, you will end up in the hospital. Even though it’s becoming quite noticeable after a while, I have to admit that they add to the fairy-tale like feeling this story already has. The development and rise of orphans in Great Depression North America, involving clowns and mobsters, maybe they deserve a metaphor every other sentence.
Main characters are Pierrot and Rose and share the chapters whenever they are together or apart. They’ve got very different views on life and what they want from it; making the fairy-tale like feeling disappear before it can give a (happy) end.
Besides that, there’s the surroundings this plays out in. Montreal with its alive snow, New York with the buildings full of possibilities and risks. It’s all written very visually, which neatly distracts from the small plot holes or just hiccups it provides. This story is pretty and enticing; everything else is subordinate to it.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill, Riverhead Books 2018
The maesters of the Citadel who keep the histories of Westeros have used Aegon’s conquest as their touchstone for the past three hundred years.
Are you in need of more Westeros now the TV-show is so close to ending and the book series it might be based on might never finish? Do you love dragons and politics in your fantasy? Boy, do I’ve got a recommendation for you. For those that are looking for fantasy and just grabbed the newest book your library had on offer? Hm-mweh.
George R.R. Martin has always been a bit Tolkien-light when it comes to his descriptions over show-don’t-tell. Fire & Blood is Martin gathering all those descriptions he probably ever used to spend time on one Westeros family: Targaryen (yes, I know we can discuss if they’re a Westeros family). Remember from the Bible those family trees lists that went on forever? That’s Fire & Blood, just with more descriptions added of how people look and from time to time how people (brutally) died in one of the many fights and wars.
Is that a bad thing? That depends on what you want from this book. This isn’t an epic telling; it’s closer to an encyclopedia with some prose added (and repetitive at that; there really couldn’t have been more side steps to other countries and families instead of hearing how another sibling-pair marries each other?). Do you just want more of Martin’s Westeros (I did)? This will work for you, as long as you don’t read it too much in one go – mentioned repetitions will really start to show. And those dragons? Well, they’re … pretty?
Fire & Blood, George R.R. Martin, Penguin Random House 2018
In the dusky haze of evening a ruddy-cheeked newsboy strode along Fifth Avenue proclaiming the future.
Remember The Rules of Magic? I’ve got a similar book-from-the-nineties-feeling with this one. Or maybe it’s just the nineties that make me remember the nineties? This story doesn’t even play out in the nineties, so we might never know. On to witches!
This is New York in the nineteenth century, which certainly was part of the appeal for me as well, and luckily for me does Ami McKay spend time on giving the city room in her story as well. It’s enough of another world from the New York city we know (through media and fiction), that a magical element seems to fit almost right in.
The three main characters are quite charming as well, even though I would have enjoyed learning more about the older two. There’s also something to say about how the author decides to completely commit to magic instead of keeping the implication and illusion of it, but it doesn’t sour the story of the three women. All in all, like the book mentioned in the first paragraph – none of this is mind-blowing and groundbreaking – but it is sweet and easily enjoyable.
Witches of New York, Ami McKay, Alfred A. Knopf 2016
I fling open my bedroom curtains, and there’s the thirsty sky and the wide river full of ships and boats and stuff, but I’m already thinking of Vinny’s chocolaty eyes, shampoo down Vinny’s back, beads of sweat on Vinny’s shoulders, and Vinny’s sly laugh and, God, I wish I was waking up at Vinny’s place in Peacock Street and not in my own stupid bedroom.
Even though his motives are getting more familiar with every book you read by him – does this man love time travel and parallel worlds – I can’t ignore a David Mitchell offering.
As per usual, there’s seemingly random people connected in seemingly random ways, throughout time and space on earth. It all starts on the thin line between ‘Is there something out there’/people’s delusions, but – as Mitchell does – it erupts into some very fantastic science fiction closer to the ending. Don’t bother with this story if you prefer your stories doubting, this author likes to jump around over that line.
But there’s just something about how he creates his characters and their surroundings that makes me want to follow along. So, yes, carry on, doing what you do. For the time travel/’consider this afterlife’/’it’s all connected’ fans, you can’t go wrong with this author.
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell, Alfred A. Knopf 2014
I must leave this city today and come to you.
I typed and deleted the start of this blog for about four times. It’s an impressive story, a frustrating one, not a happy one but a hopeful one? Here’s me scoring high on cliché bingo.
So, okay. Stay with Me is about a Nigerian couple that can’t conceive and because offspring is very important, is offered (‘offered’) a second wife to make sure offspring does happen. But this is liking saying Lord of the Rings is about some rings, there’s much more to it.
It’s not just a slice of life, it’s a slice of culture. It’s for everyone who isn’t familiar with Nigeria and Nigerians, a look behind the scenes. Yes, we all have relationships and romances, but how, why, and in what way? What sacrifices are desired (by the partners, their families, their surroundings), and who are you if you’re not parents of a child/children?
I was warned beforehand that the subject could get pretty heavy, and there have been times I cursed out outdated ideas and the people still clinging to them. But as an anthropological view, as a psychological view, and to freaking root for Yejide.. this story has a strong pull.
Stay with Me, Ayobami Adebayo, Alfred A. Knopf 2017
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
I understand why this is quite award-friendly. I also understand why it didn’t win a lot. With these vague comments out of the way, let’s get to the story.
Lee Israel is an author that writes biographies not a lot of people – and definitely not her agent – care about. Instead of trying to find a job that will make her enough money to take care of her bills and sick cat, Israel digs in and tries to continue with making money from her writing. She’s complimented on completely disappearing behind the person’s voice she writes a biography about so that’s what she does: disappear. With her research and writing skills, she starts a very profitable business of embezzling letters from dead celebrities. With her lack of people skills and restraint … let’s just go with ‘it doesn’t end well for many people involved’.
The entire movie looks and feels a bit grubby, stubborn and unwilling to get out of the rut Lee Israel put it in. Israel herself isn’t a likeable character, but she isn’t exactly unlikable either. That’s probably largely due to neither Melissa McCarthy and the writing worrying about showing her ugliness. This is a sad creature, and her friend/fellow criminal isn’t much better off. Maybe you don’t completely root for them, but the ending will leave you tender.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? Fox Searchlight Pictures 2018
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
My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon.
Adoption isn’t an easy subject, but the historical story line of Before We Were Yours shows at the very least how it definitely shouldn’t be handled.
There are two story tellers in this novel about an “orphanage” that basically stole children from poor people and sold them to rich families. One is the girl and her siblings that go through it, the other connected to her through different generations. This element sometimes makes it a little bit Lifetime-ish, although her motivations for discovering more are at first more political than personal. ie the sob story starts later into the story.
Weaved in between these two is a romance that isn’t quite necessary, but not horribly done either. I feel like the subject is what elevates this novel from being just another one of the paperbacks your gran reads and pushes upon you because it’s “so exciting”. It’s an easy, accessible read, but the horror of the “orphanage” and the reality on which its based, is what gives the story its pull.
Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate, Penguin Random House LLC 2017