Thursday, December 31, 2015

December (second half) 2015 Reading

According to Goodreads I more than met my goal of 200 books this year (read 209). Nice, but not too difficult--I do love retirement! The other goals, the challenges, reviews, blog entries, etc. pretty much fell by the wayside. I'm not especially concerned about that. I don't feel compelled to review or otherwise blog about every book I read. But I do try to make some brief comments. When I look back at this blog for March through June of this year, I'm sorry that I didn't say something about all those books. Spring was difficult this year. Sigh.

On to my final reads of the year and a kind of New year resolution: When I really like the cover art, I will try to give the artist credit and a link (if I can find one).

25246901Paris Nocturne; Modiano, Patrick;Phoebe Weston-Evans (Translation) 
After the Circus; Modiano, Patrick; Mark Polizzotti (Translation)
Not going to attempt any mini-review or comment other than it's Modiano and Modiano's Paris, which I love.
Library books.
Left Cover Photo:  Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Stockbyte/Getty Images; Right Cover illustration: Paris at Twilight. Getty Images  Mel Curtis

22542595 My Documents; Zambra, Alejandro; Megan McDowell (Translation)
Short stories. I liked most of them. "I Smoked Very Well" is a gem. "Thank You" is a quirky tale about a kidnapping and theft in Mexico City.  The final story was the one I liked least, a good story but the sex element was too graphic. Library book.

Contents: Part 1. My documents -- Part 2. Camilo -- Long distance -- True or false -- Memories of a personal computer -- Part 3. National institute -- I smoked very well -- Part 4. Thank you -- The most Chilean man in the world -- Family life -- Artist's rendition.
An appropriate cover design by Sunra Thompson

 Blue Bamboo: Tales, Dazai Osamu; Dazai, Osamu; Ralph F. McCarthy (Translator)
The stories are good. Many are based on folk tales and other traditional literature--including a retelling/continuation of Rapunzel. My copy, from publisher via a win on Tony Malone's 2013 January in Japan event. It's about time I got around to reading it. Actually I started reading it in August; I often set story collections aside to intersperse with other reading.

Cover: 'Bamboo and chrysanthemum under the moon' by Hara Zaichū (1750–1837); Ota Collection, Fukuoka Art Museum.
Why does it bother me that the cover of a book with "blue" in the title is green? See note under online reading below.


Postcards from the Past; Willett, Marcia
After their respective marriages end, a brother and sister return to their childhood home to a comfortable retirement near friends. Their contentment is disrupted when postcards start arriving from a half-brother they haven't seen or heard from for 50 years. A nice story about good people facing unpleasant memories. There are also some nice dogs and maybe too much description of trivial objects and peripheral characters. Library book.

This charming cover is by Vitali Komarov, a Russian born artist who lives in the Czech republic.

Newport; Morrow, Jill
I didn't get much of a sense of place or time with this. It is set in Newport, Rhode Island during the 1920s but it could have been set in any wealthy enclave at any time. Secrets, seances, sinister siblings, and a few surprises. An OK read. Library book.

Cover has a soft gold sparkle which doesn't show up in the web image.  Photograph by Hungarian photographer Peter Zelei /Getty Images


Infinite Home; Alcott, Kathleen
I had no idea that I wanted to read this book. I picked it up from the library new book shelf the other day and devoured it! Perfect! Well developed characters and elegant writing. I am tempted to end my year with this one, but I picked up several other books that day and....Library book.

Jacket design by Alex Merto

6488280Istanbul Noir (Akashic Noir); by Ziyalan, Mustafa (Editor), Spangler, Amy (Editor)
As with many anthologies some of these stories are better than others, but they all give a sense of place. Of course, because it's noir, the place can be bleak, scary, and downright creepy. I've had this book on my Kindle for over a year, reading it in various waiting rooms. Finally finished it the other day while my car was being serviced. This series is great waiting room stuff--makes the time go quickly. 
Contents: Lust & vengeance. The tongue of the flames / İsmail Güzelosoy; Hitching in the Lodos / Feryal Tilmac; The stepson / Mehmet Bilâl; An extra body / Bariş Müstecaplioğlu; Pushing limits, crossing lines. The smell of fish / Hikmet Hükümenoğlu; All quiet / Jessica Lutz ; Around here, somewhere / Algan Sezgi̇ntüredi; The spirit of philosophical vitriol / Lydia Lunch; In the dark recesses. One among us / Yasemin Aydinoğlu; Black palace / Mustafa Ziyalan; So very familiar / Behçet Çelik; The bloody horn / Inan Çetin; A woman, any woman / Tarkan Barlas; Grief & grievances. Ordinary facts / Riza Kiraç; Burn and go / Sadik Yemni; the hand / Müge İplikçi.
Cover Photo: Deniz Oğurlu Other Daughter; Willig, Lauren
Rachel, a young Englishwoman, is trying to make ends meet as a governess in France. Called home when her mother dies, Rachael discovers that she is not who she thought she was. She takes up a disguise in order to meet the man who she believes deserted her and her mother. Everything backfires but, of course, it all works out in the end. A pleasant, undemanding diversion with some interesting twists. A little bit better than the other book I read by this author (That Summer). Library book

23341590 Day Four (The Three #2); Lotz, Sarah 
I liked this, but not as much as I liked The Three. The cruise setting was great for a horror story (almost as good as the Ikea-like setting for  Horrorstör).  This is more a paranormal/disaster story than it is horror, but the whole genre thing is a mishmash of definitions. Another novel set on a drifting, lost ship is George Barr McCutcheon's West Wind Drift (1920, available on Project Gutenberg). A very different kind of story, but there are a few parallels--enough to make me think of it whilst reading this one.

Library book. 

didn't get cover info

 Non Fiction

Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession; Bostridge, Ian
This is an amazing discussion of a Schubert song cycle, about the meaning of the words (by Wilhelm Müller), the music, and the Romantic movement.
Library book.
25733877Jacket design is by Peter Mendelsund -my favorite cover designer.

Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry; Goldberger, Paul
Interesting, but not critical either of Gehry's life or his work. Author is a friend of Gehry.
Library book.

Cover:  Photograph by Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty; Drawings by Frank Gehry early sketch of Walt Disney Concert Hall; Cover design by Peter Mendelsund

Online reading 

The next two were read in conjunction with reading The Art of Flight by Sergio Pitol (George Henson Translator), which has a critical essay, "The Great Theater of the World," discussing the Galdós novel. The next essay is on Chekhov, it may take me a while to finish this book--one thing leads to another.

The Court of Charles IV: A Romance of the Escorial; Pérez Galdós, Benito; Clara Bell (translation).
Read online at the Internet Archive

The Young Lady's Consent  Translator/Author: Christopher O. Kidder; Publication: University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations a translation of El sí de las niñasis a play by the Spanish playwright Leandro Fernández de Moratín.This translation is the only one I could find. It has problems, but at least it gave me an idea of what Pitol and Galdós are talking about.

From the BBC a fascinating piece on archaeology in the Orkney islands:  Were These Remote Wild Islands the Centre of Everything? Illustrated with beautiful photographs. Makes me want to go there.

My question about the cover of Blue Bamboo led me to this Wikipedia entry:  Distinction of blue and green in various languages

Arabic Literature (in English) offers links to some poetry in translation: 
A Holiday Gift: Ten Poems from Iman Mersal 

Stories from post World War II japan always interest me. Here from From The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus  is Muddy River by Miyamoto Teru; Translated and with an introduction by Andrew Murakami-Smith. This story won the Dazai Osamu (s Blue Bamboo, above) literary award in 1977. It is set in Osaka in the 1950s. The 1981 film Doro no kawa (Muddy River), directed by Oguri Kōhei, is based on it. There is a discussion of the film (illustrated with stills) on Cinema Talk. I'd like to watch this film, but it doesn't seem to be available with English sub-titles. It is on YouTube in Japanese. There are sub-titles available separately online, but coordinating them with a video is not ideal.

 New (to me) words:  
kintsuba: a regional name for a sweet treat made of a batter and filled with sweet bean past (or other sweet filling). More general term: Imagawayaki.
ragworms:  Nereididae, a family of polychaete worms, about 500 (mostly marine) species. They may be commonly called ragworms or clam worms. Used as bait.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Books Are Fun

I think these gifts from my daughters will assure a good year of reading. The bears are actually attached to  bookends with mock books titled "Books are Fun."
  Smart bears.
Mr Mac and Me; Esther Freud    
Dora Bruder; Patrick Modiano, Joanna Kilmartin (Translation)
Bound in Venice: The Serene Republic and the Dawn of the Book; Alessandro Marzo Magno    
The Tea Lords; Hella S. Haasse, Ina Rilke (Translator)    
A Meal in Winter; Hubert Mingarelli, Sam Taylor (Translator)    
Blood of the Vine: Season 1 - CD of French TV series based on the The Winemaker Detective Series 

And on Kindle

Martian Goods & Other Stories; Noelle Campbell, Laurisa Reyes (Editor)   

The Method: And Other Stories; Tom Vowler

Monday, December 14, 2015

December (first half) 2015 Reading

Variety is the theme for my early December reading:


Tram 83; Mujila, Fiston Mwanza; Roland Glasser (Translation)
Set in a made-up African city-state somewhere in the Congo region. Gritty tale of a mix of locals, ex-pats, and wanderers: the exploiters and the exploited. A great read. Personal copy. 
Providential; Channer, Colin
This book of poetry is difficult for me. I've read several books set in the Caribbean area, but none that contain so much in the Jamaican vernacular. Because it is poetry, it is a little harder to pick up meanings from context than it is with a prose narrative. But the writing has a definite rhythm and several of the poems read almost like short stories. I keep returning to it and enjoy it more with each visit.
Free advance review copy of this book from the publisher through the LibraryThing early Reviewers program.

Thirteen Ways of Looking; McCann, Colum
Short fiction. The title story is a novella (158 pages) set in New York City. Then there are three short stories, one set in Ireland, one in New York/London, and one in an author's head as he attempts to write a short story. All four have Irish roots and all were fine reading. Library book.


Snow in Amman: An Anthology of Short Stories from Jordan; translated and edited by Ibtihal Mahmood and Alexander Haddad
I like this selection of eleven stories. Some are very dark and violent. Not a lot of humor (but some irony) here. There is an interesting introductory essay, but I wish there was more information about the authors of the stories. Personal copy

Where You Once Belonged; Haruf, Kent
I don't know why I've never read any Haruf, but I really liked this. I'll try some more.
Love this cover! It really fits the story, which is set in a small town in Colorado.
Library book.


Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories; Leonard, Elmore
Some reviewers are suggesting that this is for hardcore Elmore Leonard fans, an interesting read for seeing his development as an author, blah, blah, blah. Of course it is all that but it can still stand alone as a collection of good stories, especially for those who like their westerns and crime fiction in small doses. Library book.

Days of Awe; Fox, Lauren
This book deals with serious matters: friendship, death, marriage, mother/daughter relationships. At times it's funny because the protagonist often covers up her emotions with sarcastic (sometimes witty) observations, often voicing aloud remarks that she should keep to herself. Chick Lit? Women's Fiction? I'm not sure what the distinction is. Is one more serious than the other? Is Chick Lit more frivolous? Are these categories made up by men?  Library book.


Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's; Scotti, R.A. 
A really great story. But it's not fiction. It's full of intrigue, scandal, quarrels (both large and petty), financial irregularities, power struggles, and amazing achievements. You can't make this stuff up. Library book.


Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation across Two Centuries; Rogers, Elizabeth Barlow
This is a discussion of several notable books on gardens and gardening. It gives background information on the authors and an overview of the writings, with many excerpts and some illustrations. It is highly readable (more readable, I suspect, than some of the books covered). One doesn't have to be a gardener to appreciate this gem. Library book.

Christmas in Connecticut; Smith, Diane
Lots of pretty pictures and Connecticut lore from a local writer who has done a series and some specials for Connecticut Public TV. Book was published in 2001, but here in the Land of Steady Habits most of the annual displays and events are still observed. Since I'm a newcomer (only been here for fourteen years) I'm still learning the local customs. Library book.

Online Reading

My last read of the year and my first read of the new year may both be by Patrick Modiano.  I put in library requests for three of his titles. Meanwhile here is a special treat  from the Yale University Press blog: Patrick Modiano on Childhood  an excerpt from Pedigree: A Memoir by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti.

The website Arabic Literature (in English) has: 5 By and About Edwar El Kharrat, 1929-2015 

And here is a new online lit magazine: Litbreak "an online literary journal that publishes fiction, book reviews and essays of five hundred to five thousand words and poetry. We may also include thousand word excerpts from new novels or other material."

Two Stories by Lauren Becker from WhiskeyPaper are paired with links to related songs. The link for Exactly is Nina Simone's rendition "Exactly Like You" (Jimmy McHugh-Dorothy Fields). Victoria Williams singing "Crazy Mary" is the choice for Collecting. This is a new-to-me online magazine, one I will follow.

A short story from The Log Goblin, by Brian Staveley. With a wonderful illustration by  

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

November (second half) 2015 Reading

Still working my way through the books from the library. I actually managed to also read a couple of publisher donations to my TBR pile.

Some good stuff here (and a few disappointments, or was I just in a bad mood). Still, none were total duds. 

The best:

Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World; Editors: James Thomas, Robert Shapard , Christopher Merrill
I did seem to be in the right mood for some flash fiction. I really like short stories, but the very short, short ones sometimes annoy me because they are often not stories at all. This collection is superb, with master writers and top-notch translators. There is also a final section about flash fiction. Library book.

The Things We Don't Do; Neuman, Andrés; Nick Caistor & Lorenza García (Translation)
These stories are sharp, a delight to read. Some are rather dark, dealing with murder, maiming, and suicide. There are two clever views of psychoanalysis (Juan, Jose and Outside no birds were singing), which interestingly are in different sections of this thematically arranged collection. The final section is a special "bonus track, " a collection of  short statements about writing short stories which works well as a guide to reading, as well as writing, short stories. Book from my personal library.

Avenue of Mysteries; Irving, John
Not a disappointment, I loved everything about this novel. Library book.

All Our Worldly Goods; Némirovsky, Irène; Sandra Smith (Translation)
With so many World War 1 & 2 books being written now, it's interesting and rewarding to read one that was actually written during the period. Written during WW2, published in French in 1947, and in English translation in 2008. Library book.

Thirteen Guests: A British Library Crime Classic; Farjeon, J. Jefferson
Another reprint of a great vintage mystery (this one from 1936) from the British Library/Poisoned Pen Press. An assorted cast of characters at a country house, a hunt, murder, clever sleuths, and a touch of romance. Free advance review copy from Poisoned Pen Press, the US publisher.

The rest:
Flambé in Armagnac (Winemaker Detective Mysteries #7) ; Alaux, Jean-Pierre, Balen, Noël; Sally Pane (Translation)
Very light reading. Fun setting and they certainly eat well (and drink well too, the detective is not a policeman, he's an insurance investigator, and has no qualms about having a nip while working). This is the only book I've read in this series. It's a stand alone, and there aren't a lot of references to prior cases. I received a free review copy from the publisher through a LibraryThing giveaway.

Along the Infinite Sea; Williams, Beatriz
Love and intrigue in wartime (WW2) France and Germany carries over to the United States in the 1960s. Some characters are related to ones in other books by Williams, but this is a stand alone. I liked this one much better than The Secret Life of Violet Grant, which is the story of one of the sisters of a main character in this book. Free review copy from publisher.

A Triple Knot; Campion, Emma
This has been sitting in my TBR pile for a while. Every so often I get in the mood for one of these historical fictions about England's past royalty--this one is about Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent. Every time I finish one I think that I won't read another because they all have started sounding too much alike: the books, the heroines, the wars, the intrigues, etc. Some are better than others and this one is one of the better ones, not great, but good enough for a diversion. Free review copy from the publisher.

Numero Zero; Eco, Umberto; Richard Dixon (Translation)
Way too convoluted unless you know Italian politics and like conspiracy theories (or spoofs thereof).  Library book. 

The Japanese Lover; Allende, Isabel; Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson (translators)
A bit of a disappointment. It just never seemed to get off the ground. Library book.

Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise; Hijuelos, Oscar
Beautiful writing, but I struggled at times to stay with it. Library book.

Between Two Fires: Intimate Writings on Life, Love, Food, and Flavor; Esquivel, Laura; Stephen Lytle (Translator)
Somehow having a cockroach give instructions for one of the recipes did nothing to feed my nostalgia for preparing or eating Mexican food. (A cockroach as narrator? What a novel idea!) The book was just too folksy for me. Library book.