There's an ever growing pile of books I want to read…
So, let’s start out slowly shall we. There’s a lot of reading to be done and hopefully, at some point, I’ll have a nice sidebar with a picture of everything on the to-read pile (updated as things are read) but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
Let’s start with the things that are currently in progress and the things I have queued to read immediately afterwards. This isn’t set in stone – sometimes I just don’t feel like reading the book I had planned and sometimes I receive or buy a book that has to be jumped to the front of the line (usually before I even finish the books I’m in the middle of) but it’s at least some kind of plan.
Being read right now:
The Blind Goddess by Anne Holt
Almost a year ago, I picked up a copy of Anne Holt’s 1222 in an airport to read on the plane and wasn’t blown away by it. I loved the idea: it’s a drawing room mystery set in a hotel in the middle of nowhere after a train crash and the detective is a paraplegic lesbian. It sounds awesome, right?
My problem was that I just couldn’t connect with the main character. There wasn’t a lot of time spent on developing her and elements of her past were mentioned with no kind of context to help you understand their relevance.
It was a while before I actually discovered that 1222 was the sixth book about Hanne Wilhelmsen and happened to have been been translated first. No wonder, I thought to myself, Anne Holt has had six books to develop this character and I’ve missed all of that.
The Blind Goddess is book one and seems promising so far. I don’t know whether it’s unique to Anne Holt or a particular Norwegian style or just a quirk of translation but her writing comes across as very sparse and clean. I quite like it, actually, but I can see how some people might not. I’ll let you know how I feel once I’ve finished it.
The anonymous man smiled, but not in the least derisively. It was more an expression of gentle sympathy with the exhausted policeman, as if he wanted to indicate that it was nothing personal. He had no intention of saying anything at all, so why not just put him in a cell and have done with it? The smile was almost friendly, and he held it unwaveringly, in silence. The duty officer misunderstood. Needless to say.
Titanic Thompson by Kevin Cook
Titanic Thompson was the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) hustler of his day. He never made a bet he couldn’t win and, I have to say, I think he must have had balls of steel because some of the people he hustled would definitely have killed him for it.
You can tell while you’re reading that Kevin Cook must have had a lot of respect for Titanic too because his admiration comes through very clearly in his writing. This book reads more like a novel than an autobiography and Titanic is most definitely the hero of the story. You can’t come out of this book without wishing that you could have known him.
Despite the bias, or perhaps because of it, this is a beautifully written and incredibly entertaining book. If you’re looking for an enjoyable biography or want to immerse yourself in the world of speakeasies and card-sharps, you should definitely pick it up but just like Titanic himself, you shouldn’t trust it to tell the whole truth.
He blew into town like a rogue wind that lifted girls’ skirts and turned gamblers’ pockets inside-out. Tall and thin with a bland mask of a face, he had close-set eyes that looked a little dead, at least until he offered you a bet. Then those dark eyes sparked and he smiled like he had good news.
“Are you a gambling man?” he’d ask. “Because I am.”
Alvin was his name, but nobody called him that. They called him “Titanic.”
The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams
I’ve been carrying this around and reading it in small segments for a while. It’s not awful but I am finding it quite hard work. Part of the problem is the incredibly tiny font, which I hope will be less of an issue in the finished version, and the other is that Bobby Dollar just isn’t someone I particularly sympathise with.
Bobby is an ‘advocate’. He works for heaven and attempts to convince the beings who judge human souls that his clients deserve to go to heaven while ‘the Opposition’ argue that they should be condemned to hell. When a soul goes missing, Bobby suddenly finds himself in all kinds of trouble with both heaven and hell. It’s an interesting conceit and works well for me.
Bobby Dollar the Angel is a manly man and noir hero and he’s drawn to ‘The Countess’, demon seductress and femme fatale. This is where the story started to lose me, since I don’t really empathise with Bobby. He reminds me of an angelic Harry Dresden and so far seems a little shallow. Perhaps I’ll change my mind before the end. I’ll let you know.
On the negative side, we’re among the few angels who actually have to deal with the Opposition on a day to day basis, really get to know them, and it’s pretty much as unpleasant as you’d think. For one thing most of the Hell-folk take the struggle really, really seriously. They’re kind of like student government nerds with fangs. They’ve been at war with Heaven for millennia and they intend to beat us someday.
I’ve just noticed that my proof says that it’s not for sale or quotation. I hope they’ll forgive me for putting those four sentences in here. They may not be what appears in the finished book.
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
This reminds me of an old fashioned fairy tale book and it’s designed that way on purpose. It’s beautifully illustrated at the beginning of each chapter, there’s a map on the front and end papers and gold detailing on the spine beneath the dust jacket. I noticed all these things and decided to buy before I realised that it was written by Chris Colfer from Glee. I hate the show but he seems pretty adorable, so I can look past that.
I’m only four chapters in and the story so far is very obviously a first novel. The dialogue is occasionally clunky, people scream when they should be saying, the exposition is both obvious and heavy and the style and spelling are very American.
So why am I still reading?
If you look past those problems, there’s something good here. I can tell. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Perhaps it’s that I think it might get better or perhaps it’s that I like what he’s doing with the original fairy tales. Either way, this book has potential and even if I end up disliking it, I think Chris Colfer should keep writing because I’d probably pick up another book by him if I happened upon one.
Snow White took a seat on another stool in the cell. The Evil Queen waited a moment before beginning, and Snow White’s anticipation grew.
“Your story will forever be romanticized,” she told Snow White. “No one will ever think twice about mine. I will continue to be degraded into nothing but a grotesque villain until the end of time. But what the story fails to realize is that a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told. Everything I have done, my life’s work and my crimes against you, has all been for him.”
Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman
Francisco Goldman wrote this novel as a fictionalised account of his marriage and his reaction to the tragic and untimely death of his wife, Aura. It really belongs more in biography than fiction and my heart just breaks for him as I read. I know how devastated I’d be if my husband died and you can tell from the text that he really loved his wife.
Reading this book, you are invited into Francisco’s grief and his guilt for surviving and you experience it as if it were your own. He does such a good job of bringing Aura to life in his description and using her notebooks and journals that you feel as if you also have lost a good friend.
I first heard about this book from one of my customers who had read a review in the newspaper and asked me to order a copy for them. I liked the look of it so much that I bought a copy myself. Although I haven’t finished it, I have no problem recommending it to you, but maybe buy yourself a box of tissues to keep handy while you read.
Another complication of the long commute was that she regularly got lost. She’d absentmindedly miss her stop or else take the train in the wrong direction and, engrossed in her book, her thoughts, her iPod, wouldn’t notice until she was deep into Brooklyn. Then she’d call from a pay phone in some subway station I’d never heard of, Hola, mi amor, well, here I am in the Beverly Road Station, I went the wrong way again – her voice determinedly matter-of-fact, no big deal, just another overscheduled New Yorker coping with a routine dilemma of city life, but sounding a touch defeated anyhow. She didn’t like being teased about going the wrong way on the subway, or getting lost even when she was walking in our own neighbourhood, but sometimes I couldn’t help it.
To read next:
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
Ned Beauman wrote ‘Boxer, Beetle’, which I’ve been meaning to read for years and somehow never got around to.
I was ridiculously excited to receive my proof of this even before it was long listed for the Booker Prize (in fact, let’s just not talk about the Booker Prize). The cover is just beautiful and the story involves time travel, which I am a total sucker for. Or should that be ‘for which I am a total sucker’.
This has now been released and is available to buy in hardback.
First Sentence (bearing in mind that my copy is a proof and things may have changed):
When you knock a bowl of sugar onto your host’s carpet, it is a parody of the avalanche that killed his mother and father, just as the duck’s beak that your new girlfriend’s lips form when she attempts a seductive pout is a quotation of the quacking noise your last girlfriend made during sex.
Mr Fox by Helen Oyeymi
I almost bought this in hardback in a bookstore in Seattle but decided that I could neither afford it nor fit it into my luggage. I’m actually very glad that I waited because look how beautiful this cover is. Look at the curls and the bow tie and the red lipstick. Is it just me or is there something beautiful about women in suits?
This book is set in 1938 and author St. John Fox is visited by his muse, Mary Foxe, who reproaches him for the way he treats his female characters.
I can’t wait to read this. It’s had excellent reviews and includes the type of magical realism that I particularly enjoy.
From Page 2:
She drew up a chair from a corner of the room, picked up my globe and sat opposite me, spinning oceans around and around on her lap.
So thats a little sampler of what i’ll be reviewing soon and what I’m thinking about reading next.