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review 2019-02-22 23:08
"Travels With My Aunt" by Graham Greene - An amusing entertainment that becomes something more ambiguous
Travels with My Aunt - Graham Greene
My wife and I both had vague but positive memories of having read "Travels With My Aunt" way back in the last century so we decided to give the audiobook version a try and refresh our memories.

 

Tim Pigott-Smith is the narrator and he gives a wonderful performance, providing just the right voices for the very wide range of characters in the book and getting the comic timing absolutely right.

 

The book has a strong, humorous start, as our hero encounters his septuagenarian aunt for the first time at his mother's funeral. She makes quite an impression, her larger than life unashamedly Boheme style serving to highlight the dreariness of her nephew's I-used-to-be-a-bank-manager-but-they-made-me-retire-in-my-fifties-and-now-I-tend-dahlias-and-try-not-to-go-quietly-insane way of life.

 

It's such a long time since I read this that I'd remembered some of the incidents from Aunt Agatha's life as short stories, without associating them with this book. She has some great stories and has had much practice in telling them. They reminded me of sherbet lemons, brittle and shiny on the outside but with a sugary-yet-bitter centre that leaves you wanting more.

 

I suspect my (much, much) younger self also failed to work out what exactly our hero's aunt did for a living until much later in the book than it became apparent this time. I was probably as slow as her somewhat dense nephew to work it out.

 

The first couple of journeys with his aunt, physical journeys and journeys into her remembered past, sparkled. Then we hit the 1960s version of the Orient Express and took a trip to Istambul. The train was drab and dreary and seemed to sap the energy from the chapters describing it.

 

The pace picked up again in Istambul but the novel never really recovered its sparkle. It is from this point on that our hero starts to lose his innocence.

 

In the hands of another writer, this stripping away of innocent assumptions and conclusions could have been joyous for everyone involved, with our hero being liberated from a conventional life by a life-affirming aunt. It seemed to me that Graham Greene decided to story in a different direction. Our retired bank manager has always followed the path of least resistance. Once this meant living up to the expectations of his employer and his clients, now it means living up to the expectations of his Aunt. His level of agency remains the same.

 

While I found the ending quite credible, I also found them dispiriting and slightly sleazy. It's as if Greene couldn't help adding the perception of sin to what could have been innocent fun.

 

I'm glad we re-read the book. I enjoyed listening to Tim Pigott-Smith but I found the book a bit patchy and slightly disappointing.
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review 2019-02-22 21:38
Review: "Shades" by Jaime Reese
Shades - Jaime Reese

It took me FOREVER to finish this book. With 344 pages, it was at least 150 pages too long. It was a struggle to finish.

 

The story was 30% plot and 70% internal monologues (pining ones in the first, schmaltzy love declarations ones in the second half).

 

 

This book also had some of the most far-fetched and ridiculous plot twists that I’ve read in a long time.

 

For example, that island? The hell? Am I supposed to take this seriously?

 

 

This was my first book by this author and even though I’m not totally put off by her storytelling, I probably won’t read another book from her in the foreseeable future.

 

I’m giving this book a really weak 3 stars-rating, because even though I wasn’t really enjoying it, the writing wasn’t that awful or offensive to justify a lower rating. But this author is in serious need to improve her storytelling.

 

 

 

~ 3 stars ~

 

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review 2019-02-22 18:30
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, narrated by Robert Glenister
The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

This was a fun listen!

 

Nothing new was covered really, it's your typical private dick kind of story. What made it special for me were the main characters Robin and Cormoran himself. Their chemistry was interesting and I look forward to seeing what happens between them in the next book.

 

I borrowed this audio from my local library. Libraries RULE! 

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text 2019-02-22 15:00
Around the World in 80 Books Mostly by Female Authors: Master Update Post

[World map created with Mapchart.net]

 

The aim: To diversify my reading and read as many books as possible (not necessarily 80) set in, and by authors from, countries all over the world.  Female authors preferred.  If a book is set in a location other than that of the author's nationality, it can apply to either (but not both).

 

On the map I'm only tracking new reads, not also rereads.

 

The Books:

Africa

Nigeria

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Purple Hibiscus (new)

 

Egypt

Elizabeth Peters: Crocodile on the Sandbank (new)

 

 

 

 

 

Americas

USA

Michelle Obama: Becoming (new)

 

Canada

Stef Penney: The Tenderness of Wolves (new)

 

Brazil

Clarice Lispector: The Hour of the Star (new)

 

 

 

 

 

Asia

China

Xinran: The Good Women of China (new)

 

Japan

Shizuko Natsuki: Murder at Mt. Fuji (new)

 

North Korea

Hyeonseo Lee: The Girl with Seven Names (new)

 

Sri Lanka

Michael Ondaatje: Anil's Ghost (new)

 

 

 

 

 

Australia / Oceania

Australia

Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock (new)

 

 

 

 

 

Europe

United Kingdom

Lorna Nicholl Morgan: Another Little Murder (new)

Stephen Fry, John Woolf, Nick Baker: Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets (new)

P.D. James: A Taste for Death (revisited on audio)

Agatha Christie: The Big Four (revisited on audio)

Elizabeth Ferrars: Murder Among Friends (new)

Barbara Pym: Excellent Women (new)

Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites (revisited on audio)

Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler? (new)

Nicholas Blake: A Question of Proof (new)

Joy Ellis: The Murderer's Son (new)

 

Ireland

Tana French: The Witch Elm (new)

 

Greece

Stephen Fry: Mythos (new)

Madeline Miller: Circe (new)

 

Sweden

Astrid Lindgren: Die Menschheit hat den Verstand verloren: Tagebücher 1939-1945 (A World Gone Mad: Diaries, 1939-45) (new)

 

France

Emmuska Orczy: The Elusive Pimpernel (new)

 

 

 

 

 

The "Gender Wars" Stats:

Read to date, in 2019:

Books by female authors: 20

- new: 18

- rereads: 2

 

Books by male authors: 5

- new: 4

- rereads: 1

 

Books by F & M mixed teams / anthologies:

- new:

- rereads:

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review 2019-02-22 14:54
Not So Clever, After All
The Elusive Pimpernel - Emmuska Orczy,Joanna Ward

Ye gods! the irony of it all! Had she not been called the cleverest woman in Europe at one time? Chauvelin himself had thus acclaimed her, in those olden days, before she and he became such mortal enemies, and when he was one of the many satellites that revolved round brilliant Marguerite St. Just. And to-night, when a sergeant of the town guards brought him news of her capture, he smiled grimly to himself; the cleverest woman in Europe had failed to perceive the trap laid temptingly open for her."

Totally with you there, M. Chauvelin, I'm afraid -- Marguerite is behaving like the worst of literary history's headless TSTL chickens here.  This is one of the books that really should have captured me, because it is from this book (not from the first one) that the creators of virtually all screen adaptations of The Scarlet Pimpernel (and its sequels) have drawn a plethora of the screen "Pimpernel's" signature attributes and plot highlights, or almost all of the things, anyway, that go beyond the central features of his dual identity and his league's activities: The "demmed elusive Pimpernel" ditty, the attempt to draw Sir Percy into a duel by creating a scandalous scene at a social gathering involving Marguerite, the explicit entrapment of Marguerite (and / or her brother) in order to entice Percy to travel to France (where a trap will be laid for him in turn -- and where he will have to save one or both of the St. Justs in addition to completing the venture that is actually taking him there), the use of a treacherous French actress, and the suggestion of a fencing duel between Sir Percy and Chauvelin in a fortress on the Channel coast, with Blakeney's yacht Daydream waiting in the waters off shore, ready to take him and Marguerite back to England at the end.

 

Unfortunately, however, this book only worked for me up to about the halfway point (or actually, only a little before that even); i.e., as long as Marguerite was displaying at least a modicum of wit.  The moment she basically allowed her brain to shut down and decided to heedlessly run after her husband, with no idea (nor really any way) how to help him on his mission to France and every probability of making his life about a million times harder, the whole thing turned into a pretty consistent groan fest.  It also didn't exactly help that there is a whole lot of telling instead of showing going on in the second part of the book, as well as scenes and dialogue that don't exactly advance the plot -- this is not an exceptionally long book, but the final (or, well, next to final) part still dragged interminably.  All of which is a shame, as the book starts with a lot of wit and panache, and Sir Percy himself is, once again, in great form.  So, three stars for the beginning, for the Pimpernel himself, and for the odd scene here and there in the second part.  Others might give even a less favorable rating, but I just can't bring myself to go any lower than this for one of my all-time literary heroes (though I do seriously hope Marguerite will recover her wits in the next book).

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