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Search tags: more-historical-than-fiction
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review 2017-12-14 22:21
First fiction by Baldwin.
Go Tell It On the Mountain - James Baldwin

First he wrote, and first I've read, though I did read The Fire Next Time and Notes of a Native Son previously.

 

As with his non-fiction, the man's ability to put together a perfect sentence, and then string those sentences together into a heart-stoppingly beautiful paragraph, and then do it again is never not going to amaze me. Same with his insight and how he can pin characters like insects and examine their make up to the minutest level. Everything he says about people feels true to people I've known, even though I've known exactly zero black evangelicals in the 1900s. Someone could probably say something keen about how universal the specifics are, and that someone would probably be Baldwin, it isn't me.

 

The structure felt a little unbalanced, and I would have liked the last act to be a little longer. We start out following the life of a boy living in New York, then after getting to know him flashback to his parents' generation for most of the rest of the book. What we learn informs how everyone was acting in the first part, but then it never really comes back around and the conclusion is left open (which may be the point). However, each section was very strong on its own merits. I'd like to read at least the first section again to see how it all fit together.

 

Did anyone else think that the main character had a major crush on the male youth minister? Or was that just me reading in that it was semi-autobiographical?

 

I'd like to read more of Baldwin's fiction, but am less interested in Sad Gays than I probably should be. Anyone have recs?

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text 2017-12-14 15:15
Reading progress update: I've read 6%.
For Castle and Crown - Sian Ann Bessey

After Updraft, I wanted to read something on the lighter side. So I pushed my current TBR aside and started this one. 

 

It's a Netgalley find, a historical fiction with some romance. An easy read.  Enjoyable so far.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi at 7 p.m. !!!

 

I'm more than a little excited. 

 

 

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review 2017-12-13 21:39
The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig
The Post-Office Girl (New York Review Books Classics) - Stefan Zweig

This is an odd novel, which makes sense, since it was left unfinished at the author’s death. It is a blistering look at economic inequality, set in Austria after WWI and examined through the stories of characters whose circumstances appear to prevent them from ever getting ahead.

Christine is a young woman who was born middle class, but has lived a life of drudgery since her teenage years, when her family lost both money and menfolk to the war. Out of the blue, a rich American aunt invites her to spend two weeks in a Swiss resort, where she flourishes. But on returning home, she is left hating her working-class life, and soon meets a disaffected war veteran who, through many long speeches, provides the intellectual basis for her discontent.

The first half of the book was a lot of fun to read; after an initial slow start, I was quickly absorbed by the story and eager to learn what would happen next. The second half is interesting and brings Zweig’s themes to the forefront, though it is much darker. The end is ambiguous, leaving the characters’ fates up in the air. It is well-written and engaging throughout. The characters feel three-dimensional and realistic, though I wondered in the second half whether Christine is representative of the way an actual Austrian woman in the 1920s would have thought, or only the way a man at the time would have envisioned one (to her, even an active decision to have sex is necessarily an act of submission, and she claims that as a woman she can’t undertake bold action herself, though she can do anything if following her man). And there are a few rough edges and loose ends: I wondered what Christine could have talked about to the moneyed international jet set, which she does constantly and with great animation; without TV or Internet, and without revealing any details of her life, they seem entirely without common ground. I also wondered why she never thought about following up on

(view spoiler)

the older man who was interested in marrying her; she may not have realized that, but he stood by her and invited her to visit his castle,

(spoiler show)

which she for some reason never considered as an option later.

But at any rate, this is a short novel and a very engaging read. It moves fairly quickly and the translation is excellent. A pleasant surprise. 

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review 2017-12-11 23:55
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 9 Reads (Winter Solstice / Yaldā Night and Yuletide)
The Poetry - David Shaw-Parker,Christina Rossetti,Ghizela Rowe
Goblin Market - Christina Rossetti
A Christmas Visitor - Anne Perry
Colour Scheme - Ngaio Marsh,Ric Jerrom
Colour Scheme - Ngaio Marsh

Book themes for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night: Read a book of poetry.

Book themes for Yuletide: Read a book set in the midst of a snowy or icy winter.

 

Holiday Book Joker as Bonus Joker: A book set on Winter Solstice (or Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere)

 

  

 

Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night Read: Christina Rossetti: The Poetry

A wonderful reading of some of Christina Rossetti's best-known poems by David Shaw-Parker and Ghizela Rowe, including her long narrative The Goblin Market, which I also own (and reread, for the occasion) in a delightful hardcopy edition illustrated with images by Christina's elder brother, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Not holiday reading per se (and The Goblin Market is decidedly dark), but still very fitting poetic complementary material for the holiday season.  Highly recommended!

 

  

 

Yuletide Read: Anne Perry: A Christmas Visitor

Anne Perry's Christmas novellas are spin-offs of her major Victorian series (Thomas & Charlotte Pitt, and William Monk, respectively), featuring supporting characters from those series as their protagonists.  A Christmas Visitor is the second of those novellas, and its protagonist is Henry Stanhope, a mathematician friend of William Monk's.  Stanhope travels to the snow-laden Lake District to spend Christmas with the family of his longstanding friend Judah Dreghorn; only to discover that just prior to his arrival Judah has apparently slipped on a set of ice-sheeted stones crossing a brook on his estate.  What initially looked like an accident, at closer inspection is revealed to be murder, and while everybody's favorite and allegedly most likely suspect is soon found, it falls to Henry to find out what really happened.

 

Perry's writing is very atmospheric and captures the Lake District, 19th century rural society, and the Christmas spirit to perfection -- I loved this story right up until its very end, which (even for a Christmas book) struck me as overly moralizing and sentimental on the one hand, and just that decisive bit too neat on the other hand.  (Readers not enamored of mysteries hingeing on certain points of law might be turned off on those grounds)  Still, for a quick read to get into the spirit of the season (and be served up a nicely-plotted mystery into the bargain), I could hardly have done better -- and the stellar reading by Terrence Hardiman contributed greatly to my enjoyment.

 

  

 

Winter Solstice Book Joker Bonus Read: Ngaio Marsh: Colour Scheme

One of my favorite mysteries from Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn series, here served up in an unabridged reading by Ric Jerrom.  The story is set in Marsh's native New Zealand and begins on Summer Solstice, which is Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and thus makes the book eligible for this particular holiday's book joker.

 

The mystery is set at a spa hotel near a hot springs / mud pot / small version of Yellowstone National Park type of area, where a gentleman who has made one enemy too many (i.e., your classic Golden Age murder victim) one day is found to have fallen into a boiling hot mud pot.  (He may or may not also have been a German spy -- the story is set in the 1940s -- but this is one of the rare exceptions of a Golden Age mystery with that kind of angle that is blessedly devoid of "5th column" shenanigans, and where the war background is actually used skillfully to demonstrate how WWII affected daily life even in seemingly remote New Zealand.)  Also present at the spa is, inter alia, a star of the British stage and screen (unabashedly based on Sir Laurence Olivier) -- secretary in tow -- as well as, arriving on the day after the "accidental" death that very probably wasn't an accident, a Mr. Septimus Small, whom none of the other denizens of the spa manage to figure out, and who soon inspires the wildest conjectures as to his identity and occupation.

 

Upon revisiting the mystery -- thanks in no small part to Ric Jerrom's excellent narration and portrayal of the characters -- I found the story's inner logic (and the path to the solution) decidedly more obvious than when I first read it a few years ago, but then again, this time I knew where the whole thing was headed and, consequently, I was not as distracted by minutiae as the first time around.

 

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review 2017-12-10 12:39
Stone Circle
Stone Circle - Kate Murdoch

 

 

In Renaissance Italy in the village of Pesaro, Seer Savinus is looking for someone who shares his talents for divining the future so he is able to cultivate the next generation and Seers.  Savinus' daughter, Guilia is talented, however, women in the trade are simply not respected.  Savinus decides to hold a competition.  One of Pesaro's noble family's son, Nichola Valperga competes as well as a servant in the Valperga household, Antonious.  Antonious has far more ability in the field and is recognized right away by Savinus.  Nichola has limited ability, but Savinus agrees to apprentice Nichola as the secondary apprentice out of respect to the noble family.  From the start the two young men are at odds, Nichola can not stand that a servant has a position above him and Antonious can not understand Nichola's haughty nature.  Tensions rise as Giulia's affections towards one apprentice emerge and jealousy leads to violence.  

Stone Circle immersed me into 16th century Italy and the alchemy practices of the time.   I was surprised to learn the esteemed role that Seer's played in the society and that they were often employed by nobles to learn the best time for special events to take place and even who they should marry.  Savinus was my favorite character, wise and conscientious in his choices, helped along by his psychic abilities. Antonius and Nichola were typical young men, but their strained relationship demonstrated the division between classes at the time.  I was waiting for one of them to compromise on their differences as so many of the adult characters suggested.  Guilia was an interesting character for me, I really wanted her to take a more prominent role in her father's practice rather than simply be a love interest; however she did show insight and grow as she realized the apprentices true nature.  Jealousy was a theme throughout the story, and it was one that had dire consequences.  It was interesting to see that even with magic and alchemy all of your problems could not be fixed.  Overall, an engrossing story that mixes history, magic and romance. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

 

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