Archive for June, 2018


An Unquiet Mind

by Kay Jamison

This is a book that fulfills prompt 16. A book about mental health

I really enjoyed this book.
I liked that it was part memoir part science. It is a raw and powerfully honest look at Jamison’s life and her illness, but rather than just being an emotional experience of it, Jamison has the benefit of scientific knowledge.

For me it was a perfect combination because I like memoirs and I am fascinated by mental health.

This book educates but it also entertains. It is filled with facts and knowledge but never feels like a textbook because it is always related to Jamison’s personal life.

I feel like anyone who has bipolar as well as anyone who knows and interacts with someone who does, should read this book. I feel enlightened and better able to be a good friend after this book.

Worth reading if the topic interests you even remotely

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Master Harold…and the boys

by Athol Fugard
This is my book for 44. A book tied to your ancestry. That this is my ancestry does not fill me with pride but as a white South African I need to own it.
My ancestors were shitheads in many ways. Before they were colonizers of Africa I do not know where they came from – all over Europe probably.
And considering the fact that it was not the cream of society’s crop that were sent to new lands, I am probably from the dregs of European society.
But less about me and more about the book, that is a play
What a moving play this is
It had me crying in public and haunts me still.

As a white South African of a certain age, Master Harold is pretty much my people. He certainly is some of my uncles!
And while I do not want that to be my ancestry, it is what it is.

Every single white South Africans should read/listen to/watch this play
Because Hally is who we all are and who we have to never allow to be again.

A stunningly simple play with three characters and one setting, the complicated relationships between Sam, Willie and Hally stand out in stark contrast to the blank background. I am not sure if the past that propels them and the future that sucks them forward is as evident to non-South Africans as it was to me, but the position they are in history fills me with dread.
We know what is likely to be coming; we know the power that shitty little teenager has; we read between the lines of the relationship between the men and the boy.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this tale could be viewed from a place where it is all history ad no longer relevant. But I stand here in 2018 and feel like other nations are just picking up where we left off 20-odd years ago.

Such a powerful story so simply told.

Bravo bravo bravo

by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This is my book for 13. A book that is also a stage play or musical. There was a Broadway Show! I can only imagine how delightful it was!

I didn’t read this book as a child and I absolutely loved it
I loved the innocence of it – there is no sexual awaking or weird grown up love for a kid or any of the other creepy shit you find in so many olden days kids books.
There was filial love, sibling love and the innocent love little kids have for each other. But mostly there was a sense of belonging.
I found it very sweet and quite moving

I have read reviews in which the idea that the Magic was religion is suggested. I didn’t think that for a moment.
I thought it was the energy of nature, the power of believing in your self, and the support and love of those who care about you. With those three things on your side, you can do anything.
And I think that that is a most wonderful message for kids and adults alike to read.

Beautiful book

P is for Peril

by Sue Grafton

This is my book for 40. Your favourite prompt from the 2015, 2016, or 2017 POPSUGAR Reading Challenges. Prompt 27 in 2016 was A Murder Mystery

Sadly this is my first thumbs down of all the books I have read for this challenge. There have been a few DNF that do not even feature, but this one I finished.

I read on in blind hope I’d finally like the book. But to no avail.

My first ever Sue Grafton and I am really hoping I just got a bad one
I slogged through this book because everyone loves a Grafton
But I found the characters thin and 2-dimensional, predictable and cliched

And how unaware is Kinsey! If she were a real life PI she’d be dead if she behaved like this
I didn’t think her brave or smart – I thought she was dumb and asking to get murdered

But I have enough people I trust who love Grafton that I will return to the alphabet just to make sure
but right now – D is for disappointed

by Martha Wells

This was my book for  Book 27. A book set on a different planet.
(It could also work for 21. A book with your favourite colour in the title)

I found this book very moving – A cyborg security unit who has named itself MurderBot is not particularly interested in its job and kind of just bounces from group of humans to group of humans. More interested in watching series on the media feed (soapies in our language) than even informing itself about the current group of humans, suddenly it is treated as a valuable team member.
This confuses MurderBot as it is not what it expected at all.
And suddenly there is connection and plotting and a sense of responsibility for each other.

A most likable story with quite the sassy sarky main character
I will read more of Wells and am quite excited that this is Book 1 in a series

by Edward F. Murphy

This is a book set in the decade I was born in – the 60s. So if you are as old as I am, its an option for Book 36. A book set in the decade you were born
It tells the story of the first battle of Khe Sanh, also known as “the Hill Fights”, part of the seventy-seven-day siege of Khe Sanh.

The author is a Vietnam War historian, and this book is based on first-hand interviews and documentary research.

And I found it
Harrowing
Frightening
Very very sad

I cannot image the horror and terror of being engaged in battle and having your weapon jam and refuse to shoot, of having to hunker down in a hole in the ground randomly throwing grenades at anything that makes a noise outside because your fellow marines are all dead so any noise is trying to kill you, of using poor stock because the army cut corners, of running out of ammunition mid battle.
As if war is not bad enough, to be fighting a battle poorly equipped must be unfathomable.
But that is what these men did – they fought, they hung on, and they won.

That these youngster were fighting this war in the first place is horrendous, and then that they were expected to do with such rubbish support should surely be criminal.

I am glad that books like this exist, for while he war was questionable, the courage of the men sent to fight it was not.
Sadly, it will probably and up in the ‘least we forget’ pile of things we seem to have completely forgotten already

When will we learn?

by Christopher Andersen

I just read this book because I needed a book that included a royal wedding for another challenge and could not force myself to read some trashy romance involving a princess, however short it promised to be (the read, not the princess). However, it could fulfill criteria  48. A microhistory.

I quite liked this book, slightly to my surprise
The beginning threw me a bit because it imagines a future that has happened yet, and it made me question how accurate the rest was. But as soon as I started recognising events covered, I got into the factual basis of the rest of the books.

It does cast Camilla and Kate as ruthless and mercenary, along with Kate’s mother. Bagging a rich husband seems to have been a pretty one tracked plan for them. Apparently Kate and her sister were called the Wisteria Sisters because they were “highly decorative and terribly fragrant with a ferocious ability to climb”.

Camilla is particularly painted as nasty and manipulative. I do wonder if she is or if this is just how we like to view women who wield any power they have, even if it is over the future King of England.

That the British Monarchy has had to deal with some real upsets, and make huge changes just to continue exiting, is covered in detail. And that these three women have a great deal of power over where it goes it evident.

Whether the monarchy is even needed any longer is a separate question, but this book was an interesting look at these three role players.

The House on the Strand

by Daphne Du Maurier

This is my book for 23. A book about time travel.

In this time travel tale a man hops back 600-odd years in time to the same place, geographically, he is in modern times. Dick Young has left his job and is unsure of his next step in life when a friend uses him as a human guinea pig testing his time travel potion.

As Dick returns to the reality of the early 1300s he becomes involved in the lives of the people then. He cannot engage with them at all, but rather is an invisible viewer – and sometimes a rather frustrated one.

In addition to two narratives which are both engaging, this story also looks at how moving between time might disrupt the traveler’s connection with their own time. The futility of the interest Dick has in people who have been dead for 600 years is interesting to watch. Not dissimilar to how people get obsessed by fictional characters, Dick finds himself wanting to spend more and more time in the past, at the expense of his present day relationships.

Personally I loved the way the changes in geography were described. I love the idea of the streets I walk in once having been fields, or homes; sites of monumental events and mundane life. The dangers in walking in the geography of 600 years ago while actually physically being in the now has its perils though – where fields once were may now be roads, rivers and dangerous drops.

I was much more invested in the modern time story but have read reviews where others readers felt the past time story was more engaging. I don’t think it matters which hold the readers attention as together they are a finely crafted story.

2054

by Wijeratne, Lawrence, Werbeloff and Rice

I read this collection for 42. A cyberpunk book

What a wonderful collection of independent story stories that give a gentle nod to each other.

In Deep Ocean Blues by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne we are dropped into a world far beneath the surface of the ocean where perceptions of the self are questionable, and the beeps of machinery seem like legitimate emotions. Wijeratne manages, very quickly, to create a sense of loneliness and a sense of aloneness in the reader that the protagonist Parul must have felt too. It is because of this empathy with her that the event of the story are believable to the reader.
Deep Blue Oceans left me feeling sad and a bit adrift.

In The Memory Hacker, JT Lawrence looks at the idea of memory and whether losing and/or regaining them is necessarily something worth doing. If our memories make us who you are, do we lose something of ourselves if they are lost (or erased)? And if past you erased memories, would present you trust that decision enough not to undo it? These are the questions I was left pondering after this tale. When Talia is told she had given birth previously, but had no memory of it, she travels down a path many of us would probably follow.

Lawrence always manages to create futuristic worlds that feel so likely it is frightening.

Melting Shlemiel by Jason Werbeloff is a peculiar story combining religion, sexuality, and tough decisions in an odd future. When Shlemiel discovers a secret venue in which to reveal himself, both physically and emotionally, to others, it changes everything. When this sanctuary also becomes important to the nation as a whole, he has to decide whether to keep it safe for himself, or risk losing it by sharing it.

The premises of the story are unusual, but the quandary he finds himself in is very easy to relate to. We all think we would do right by the greater number of people, but if i were really in his position, I am not sure what I would do. To give up personal freedom for the freedom of others is truly noble and this story had me questioning my own nobility, or lack thereof.

The final story in this quadruple deliciousness is The Camille by Colby R. Rice. An interesting look at a world where nanotechnology has gone to the nth degree, where technology can do pretty much everything.
Besides the narrative (which is hard to discuss the narrative without spoilers) this story had me questioning how aware any of us are of the ultimate repercussions of anything. What seems like a good idea now, such a nanotechnology or any single personal decision and action, may spiral so far out of control as to create completely unexpected results. I felt that this story, of the four, was the most a cautionary tale. One we won’t heed.

All in all, a very good collection of stories, all really worth reading. And a good way to be introduced to these four authors if you haven’t already read them. In every single case, these stories will make you want to explore the author’s other works.

Rain

by Karen Duve
My goodness what a weird book. Good weird, mostly, but certainly weird.
The narrative is about a man who agrees to write the biography of a thug and to do so moves to a house with his young wife. It rains non-stops and everything is wet, all the time. When the writer, Leon, doesn’t do what the thug wants and expects, things go sideways.
And boy do they go sideways. Everything goes sideways.
 
Duve has a very interesting turn of phrase and I often found myself smiling (almost outloud) at the way some things are articulated. I have to assume that it is all Duve and that the translator just did an amazing job within Duve’s words, and didn’t add any quirk in of her own.
(If anyone can and has read this book in any of the other 8 languages it can be found – please let me know if this is the case.)
 
But alongside the sad cake women and perky pointer men, there are scenes in this book that had me rearing up away from the page. Duve can create a scene a little too well when it is a gruesome scene. But I guess that’s the price the reader pays for all the wonderful, well crafted images.
 
Although not the focus of the narrative, I liked the exploration of the relationship of Martina (Leon’s wife) with Leon and its parallels to her relationship with her father. Only that daughter would be this wife.
 
I am not sure I would blanket recommend this book because the challenging scenes may be too much for some more delicate readers. But if you think you can appreciate the bizarre and feel that if justice is served then you can stomach the evil, read this book.
 
One small thing – slugs are a character and metaphor throughout the story – and the cover art has snails on it! That annoyed me because it is a silly mistake so easily avoided. Slug and snail are the same word in the original German so I think this is a translation issue causing the new text not to match the existing cover. Oh well. I’ll pack my pedant away
 
a solid 4 1/2 stars from me