Fabulous Fantasy from Naomi Novik.

Spinning SilverSpinning Silver by Naomi Novik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished Spinning Silver last week. I can’t bring myself to take it back to the library just yet. Such a wonderful story, so well written. There are a lot of characters and sometimes I was a bit confused as to who did what to whom – but I puzzled it out in the end!

Naomi Novik is an amazing storyteller. I’m not sure how she keeps track of all the plot lines. Ursula K. Le Guin says of Naomi Novik that her writing is “vividly believable”. I don’t know if she’s talking about this book Spinning Silver in particular or another title – it doesn’t matter because it is true of this book and also Uprooted.

I would recommend Spinning Silver to any reader who enjoys fantasy. So good.

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Fabulous Fantasy from Naomi Novik.

Review and discussion: China Miéville, The Last Days of New Paris.

The Last Days of New ParisThe Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ursula K le Guin says, “You can’t talk about Miéville without using the word “brilliant”. I concur!

Falling into a maelstrom best describes my reaction to this book. The whole notion of Surrealism has fascinated me for many years. I am probably, along with most people, familiar with the work of Salvador Dali. However, reading The Last Days of New Paris reveals so many more of the Surrealist artists, writers, and sculptors. Their creations take form and manifest in the story. The creations are the story.

This is a new universe. It is terrifying and unpredictable.

Once again, Miéville confounds me with his wit, intelligence, and his vocabulary. Here are a few that I had to research. I have put them in context and followed with the definition and some explanation.

Vocabulary

“He spoke in passé simple and imparfait: he was never other than ambiguous about whether what he was telling me a story, though his explanations of the city’s quiddity, of its history, his descriptions of the streets and landscapes of New Paris, were completely vivid” (pp174-175).

Quiddity: 1 [mass noun] chiefly Philosophy the inherent nature or essence of someone or something.
2 a distinctive feature; a peculiarity. In scholastic philosophy, “quiddity” (/ˈkwɪdɪti/; Latin: quidditas)[1] was another term for the essence of an object, literally its “whatness” or “what it is”.

“About New Paris itself, he never spoke with anything other than the most wrenching oneiric.” (pp176).

Oneiric: adjective, formal relating to dreams or dreaming. The study of oneirology can be distinguished from dream interpretation in that the aim is to quantitatively study the process of dreams instead of analyzing the meaning behind them.

“I would ask questions, and he might answer and our interaction became an interview of excursuses, at times for an hour or more, before returning to the main track of Thibault and Sam’s journey through the ruins of New Paris” (pp176).

Excursuses: noun, a detailed discussion of a particular point in a book, usually in an appendix. • a digression in a written text. (It is worth looking excursuses up in full. I wish I’d had this word in my vocabulary when I was writing my thesis)!

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Review and discussion: China Miéville, The Last Days of New Paris.

Review: Messenger of Truth

Messenger of Truth (Maisie Dobbs, #4)Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another wonderful story from Jacqueline Winspear. Although #4 in the Maisie Dobbs series, the book is perfectly able to stand alone. The only book in the series that I feel should be read in sequence, is the first one: Maisie Dobbs.

Shelved as a detective novel in my local library, Messenger of Truth is also a book that covers historical and social aspects of the the time between the Great War and the Second World War. Taking place in 1931, the great depression (1929-1939) is documented here with empathy and sadness. In regard to another novel I read recently, White Houses by Amy Bloom, the great depression in the United States of America is also, albeit briefly, shown in the light of returned service men and women suffering inhumanity and cruelty at the hands of the government. However, I found Messenger of Truth to be more gritty and stronger than Amy Bloom’s book. Winspear addresses the minutiae of life in the historical context. She shows the clothes, the food, the decor – all in focus.

I have to say, I have learned a lot from Maisie Dobbs – about all sorts of things.

I still have a couple of books in the Maisie Dobbs series before I catch up with the latest one.

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Review: Messenger of Truth

Review

White HousesWhite Houses by Amy Bloom

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The expectation is of serious scholarship, I don’t know why. The reality is not quite there. White Houses is a pleasant read with some interesting insights and historical value. Overall, the story is fairly shallow. Eleanor Roosevelt’s character is not well defined and comes over as shadowy and soft. This left me asking, “Who was this woman?”. The Narrator, Lorena Hickok, is defined in a far stronger light.

I wanted more from this book.

As any regular readers may have realised, I do not offer a synopsis of a book. Rather, I write about the impression the book made on me.

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Review

Review of David Guterson’s East of the Mountains

East of the Mountains Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999

This is the story of a voyage of personal discovery. I needed to read this book and reading it on Yoga Retreat in Bali was exactly right.

Briefly, Ben givens is 73 years old – the same age I am now. He is a retired heart surgeon of some renown. He has terminal cancer of the colon. Thank heavens I do not. This is his physical journey that takes him through parts of the American West that I’ve never heard of, but now I feel I know. We’re talking about the Columbia Basin of Central Washington State.

The spiritual journey is difficult, more difficult than the physical although both are harrowing. If I relate the story to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, I find that there are some allegorical similarities. Where the symbolism in East of the Mountains reflects the hardships and the enlightening moments, the reader is able to identify with Ben Givens more so than one may with Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. This reader was able to identify, maybe not all readers.

Memories of death, fear of pain and the reality of pain stalk Ben Givens. His medical background as a specialist heart surgeon gives him practical insights into the progress of his own mortality. This is not necessarily a good thing.

The disconnect between Ben Givens’ love of his two hunting dogs and his killing of birds and animals gives me pause for thought. His saving of lives in his career as a heart surgeon serves to emphasise the incongruity. There is a complexity in this story. There are stories within stories, narrative within the narrative. I believe a slow, intense reading of the book is required to retrieve full meaning.

Apart from anything else, I learned some interesting historical facts about this area of the United States. For example, in the early days, African camels carried freight in the area. And “Rich kilted Scotsmen ran ten thousand sheep herded by indomitable miniature dogs and by men who spoke the Basque tongue”. (Page 66).

Above all, there are strong women in this story. All the women are strong, all of them.

 

Review of David Guterson’s East of the Mountains

Review, such as it is, of the charming book, The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared

Jonas Jonasson's The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Trivia-On-Books)Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a quirky book from Jonas Jonasson. It puts me in mind of A Man Called Ove and I thoroughly enjoyed that. Something about Nordic authors – the books are either bleak and terrifying, such as The Keeper of Lost Causes or witty and charming like this one. That is not to say there isn’t violence and cruelty in the story, but there is an underlying joy of life. Maybe, because I am older, the age of the main character draws me in. It makes me realise that life goes on.

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Review, such as it is, of the charming book, The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared

Oyster – repost of Review

OysterOyster by Janette Turner Hospital

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There were times when I thought, “I can’t continue”. Oyster is best taken in small doses. Janet Turner Hospital is a master of her craft. She draws you in and shakes you up. The horror of some scenes – and they are ‘scenes’ – hurt me physically.
Oyster is set in outback Queensland, in the throes of drought. Outer Maroo, an off the map settlement in an off the map location, and the strangest population of any settlement anywhere.
If I put on my academic’s hat, I’d say this was postmodernism at it’s peak, but that’s a personal opinion.
Strangely, since I read the book, I keep coming across references to Quilpie (which does exist) and other ‘real’ places in Outback Queensland that are mentioned in the book.
If you’re up for the challenge, I encourage you to read this book!

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Oyster – repost of Review