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Read-a-Thon Update the First

October 18, 2014

Once I got to Debi’s, she handed me the Fly By Night book, so I ended up starting with that. However, between snacks, pets needing laptime, and frollicking with Thistle in their backyard, I must admit I haven’t done too much reading. I’m on page 82 and enjoying it very much so far though! It’s perfect for a slightly sleep-deprived, fibro-addled brain: engaging, fairly light, but still smart and witty.

And I should probably get back to reading! I hope everyone else is having a grand day. :D

No photos this time as I didn’t realise Debi’s laptop doesn’t recognise RAW files, which is my camera’s default. But I’ll switch to JPEG and try to include some in the next post!

Dewey’s Read-a-Thon

October 18, 2014

My laptop currently doesn’t connect to the internet, my desktop has a 23″ screen that makes it a less than ideal travelling companion, and very soon I’m headed to Debi’s house, so I probably won’t be updating terribly often. :) But I’ll steal Debi’s laptop to check in occassionally!

P1130296I unintentionally began the read-a-thon yesterday, when I stayed up into the wee hours to finish Checkmate, the last of the Lymond chronicles, and my favourite. I’m still in a dramatic flare-up too, so I slept in today, missing the opening hours of the read-a-thon, and since I’ve gotten up I’ve been getting ready to head over to Debi’s. So I haven’t actually read anything yet! But as in all of the other read-a-thons, my day began with a giant mug of tea and buttered everything bagel. I’m pretty sure I’m going to start with Tanith Lee’s White as Snow, as I’m in a dark fairy tale sort of mood.

I’ll do the opening survey,  even if it is about four hours late! :)

 

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Upstate New York (the Great Lakes region), and I could not be more thrilled to say that, after a year and a half of hoping to move up here! I moved a bit over a month ago, and I wake up happy every day. Today is deliciously overcast, perfect for reading and enjoying hot beverages.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

All of them! I’m mainly reading ebooks today, due to the arthritis, so whatever’s on my Nook is fair game. I’m also bringing along White as Snow and Done Wrong in physical form. Unfortunately I was too ill to get to the library this week, so I don’t have any specific read-a-thon books, but Debi chose a book for me to read today (after I book bullied her into promising to read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, hehe), so I’m excited about that. I just can’t remember the title!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I’m so fortunate: as Debi’s hosting the read-a-thon, all I have to do is show up and graze on everything! I’m sure it will all be delicious. :) I’m bringing a kuchen though from a great local bakery, and I must say I’m quite excited. Especially since that’s such a New York thing; I’d never heard of them before!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I’m chronically ill, so I lead a quiet life. Reading lets me transcend that. I love to read all kinds of books, but I’m especially committed to making sure my reading is diverse: I seek out marginalised authors. I have an adorable little grey dog, who loves nothing better than curling up next to me as I read, unless it’s going with me on a walk in the woods! Aside from reading, I love to knit, walk, take photographs, and spend time with trees. I’m experiencing my first autumn in several years and cannot wait for a northern winter.

Reading Snapshot: October 16th

October 16, 2014

P1130285I’m still experimenting with sustainable blogging habits, but I love the idea of casually chatting about my reading when I’m not quite up to full-blown analytical posts.

I’ve been in a flare up for awhile, which brings with it a fussier mind. That means that nonfiction takes even longer than usual, and I seem to long for fiction instead. So I’ve been dipping into and out of the two nonfiction books I have going right now, instead of reading them systematically as I would if I felt better. Isn’t it interesting the way our brains work? Some nonfiction I read for comfort, primarily, for whatever reason, what I suppose one would call creative or personal nonfiction written by terribly clever and thoughtful middle-aged women (see: Barbara Brown Taylor, Kate Morton, et. al.), but most of the time I’m reading it because of curiousity. It’s more difficult to sustain that curiousity during a flare up: rather than wanting to explore the whole world I just want to curl up protectively around my vulnerable middle.

Which leads instead to a lot of comfort fiction reading. I’ve been spending much of the my time this week with frighteningly witty, fair haired aristocratic men whose emotional and personal lives are terribly complicated. To whit, Lord Peter Wimsy and Francis Lymond. I’ve known Peter for years, although I hadn’t read this particular novel (The Unpleasantness of the Bellona Club) before, being under the impression it was a short story collection that I’d already covered in the collected stories. It felt like such a gift to discover a new Wimsy novel! Of course, it didn’t have Harriet, who tore my heart out yet again when I treated myself to rereading their cycle earlier this year (Gaudy Night remains one of the best novels I’ve ever read and I’m saving the final one for holiday rereading), but it was still Peter, with the attendant cleverness and occasional moments of vulnerability that make your heart catch. I realised after reading this, a very early book in his career, that I thought of him completely as a real person: I wanted to reach into the book, to comfort him and whisper of the future. It’s interesting how some characters transcend their books; I think it happens most easily in a series, as we get to know the characters so extensively, but I’ve had it happen with standalone novels too. I think it’s one of the most powerful things about reading, to be honest.

Francis Lymond is similarly real to me, and I refuse to believe I wouldn’t encounter him if I time travelled back to sixteenth century Scotland. I only recently met him for the first time, but this year I’ve been rereading his six books, and thank goodness I’m now at the cream of the fifth (The Ringed Castle) and close to the sixth, which is my very favourite. Dorothy Dunnett is not kind to him, and at times I think she’s indeed willfully sadistic, but I can’t tear myself away from her writing. Even in a reread, during which I of course already know what’s going to happen, I find myself feverishly turning pages, crying at least once a book, and holding my breath the whole time in case it disturbs Lymond’s precious balance. It’s funny: this year I’ve been rereading a ton, the way I used to before blogging, and I truly love it. Luckily, I’m able to suspend my disbelief, and somehow doubt that the ending will be the same this time: if it’s a happy ending, I worry that it will somehow be thwarted. If it’s a sad one, I hope that this time things will go differently. This is irrational of course but leads to much more reading enjoyment.

In between consorting with these difficult men, I’ve given myself fantasy breaks: a fairy tale retelling in Thorn and a terribly contemporary urban fantasy in Tantalize. As you might imagine, Thorn had me on much firmer ground than Tantalize! Sadly, my hands are beginning to protest, so I shall save that for another time.

I can’t close this post without mentioning my audiobooks, though, as they’ve become constant flare up companions, getting me through walks and difficult hours when I can’t hold a book, whisking me away without protest. Even if I can’t take pretty photos of them, as they’re all e-audiobooks and hiding in virtual space! Just in the past week and a half, I’ve been to a planet emerging from feudal isolation (Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold), explored the unexpected way life unfolds for two women who come of age in 1930s China (Shanghai Girls by Lisa See), solved a mysterious murder in Buckinghamshire for the second time (Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie), gotten to know a black brother and sister living in the South before the Civil Rights era, whose close relationship to each other might or might not be enough to heal them (Home by Toni Morrison), and now I’m back in rural Virginia, exploring laylines and other dark supernatural happenings in The Dream Thieves, the sequel to The Raven Boys. Who knows what the next week will bring?
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Oh, I almost forgot! I shall be read-a-thon-ing on Saturday, in a very relaxed way (aka with sleep), with Debi. Let’s face it: spending most of the day submerged in books is not exactly rare for me, but it will be fun to do it again as a community. I’ve been too exhausted to put together a special reading list, so it’s a good thing I have so many excellent books out from the library at the moment! ;)

Library Loot: October 10th, 2014

October 10, 2014

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Video

Titles Mentioned

  • The Missing Class by Katherine Newman & Victor Tan Chen
  • The Bright Continent by Dayo Olopade
  • After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection by James West Davidson & Mark Hamilton Lytle
  • Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen
  • Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  • Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody
  • Love Marriage by VV Ganeshananthan
  • Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, trans. by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
  • Novels and Stories by Zora Neale Hurston
  • The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy
  • The Quick by Laura Owen
  • The Dancer and the Thief by Antonio Skarmeta
  • The Satanic Mill by Otfried Preussler
  • The Wall by Marlen Haushofer
  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers
  • I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
  • Summer World by Bernd Heinrich
  • The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

E-Books

  • Thorn by Intisar Khanani (actually I bought this one for 99 cents, but as I rarely buy books, I thought I’d include it in the list!)
  • I’ll Ask You Three Times: Are You OK? by Naomi Shihab Nye
  • What Happened to Sophie Wilder? by Christopher Beha
  • Confronting the Classics by Mary Beard
  • China in Ten Words by Yu Hua
  • Imago by Octavia Butler
  • Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (audio)
  • Home by Toni Morrison (audio)
  • Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (audio)
  • Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold (audio)
  • Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (audio)
  • Dolly by Susan Hill (audio)
  • Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie (audio)

I couldn’t take advantage of most of your excellent audiobook suggestions, as the audiobook area of the library was closed for renovations. I will next week though and hopefully have some books on CD to show you as well!

Also, I apologise for the lighting. I’ll have to figure out the best place/angle to record the videos at, but I was quite tired and couldn’t be bothered to fuss with it before recording. As you might have guessed from my lack of posting, I’m in a bit of a flare up. But at least that leaves plenty of time for reading!

Audiobook Recommendations?

October 6, 2014

I’m going to tap into the hive mind of the book blogosphere and ask for everyone’s favourite audiobooks, or favourite books that you know are available in audio. ;) Between the walking, and sorting, and knitting, and cooking, I’ve been running through hours of them, and I’d like to have a big long list to sort from. I’m open to nonfiction and fiction, and as always POC authors are much appreciated (since they’re proportionally smaller and thus more difficult to randomly run across).

Thanks in advance!

September’s Reading

October 2, 2014

As I only managed proper posts on two of my September reads, and I simply don’t want an extended backlist haunting me so soon after my blogging return, I will talk about several books today.

P1130149I’ve read three of my R.I.P. choices and abandoned a fourth (Before the Poison by Peter Robinson) due to incompatibility. Let’s start there. Anna Dressed by Blood by Kendare Blake was a quick little horror read, aimed at the YA market. It stars Cas Logan, now a worldwise seventeen year old, who for four years has been hunting and ‘killing’ ghosts who in their turn kill people. Rather like an extreme form of pest control, I suppose? His father had the same occupation, which killed him when Cas was young, and his obliging mother is a white Wiccan who runs a mail-order business so that they can move around at the drop of a hat to where the ghosts are. They move to a Canadian town known for a ghost named “Anna Dressed in Blood,” and Cas begins the same process he’s been doing for a while: integrate into school, find the ghost, get rid of it. But this time, he’s strangely drawn to Anna. And there are other threats looming.

There are quite a few things I liked about this book: the pacing was good, the writing helped tell the story & gave Cas a unique narrative voice, Blake wasn’t afraid to go for horrific scenes but the gore was not ultimately nightmare-inducing, and I really like that the most popular girl in school, a well-off blonde of course, turns out to be smart, funny, kind, and loyal. Oh and I loved the relationship between Cas and his mom, and how he’s not afraid to think about how much he loves her. Blake weaves in some philosophical issues related to Cas’ calling (what happens to the ghosts? should that matter to Cas? should he get involved with people when he knows they’re going to move? etc.) I enjoyed my reading experience. However, ultimately I wanted something with a bit more weight. I’m also not keen on teenage soul mate storylines, so that probably affected how I viewed the book. I can see myself reaching for the sequel when I’m in a flare up, and prefer lighter books, and I will certainly follow Blake’s career: I think she’s a good author already in this debut and has potential to become very strong. I can only hope she grows into that potential. I’d happily recommend this to those who enjoy light, entertaining fiction.

P1130146Then I read Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke , which certainly fulfilled any longings I might have for a heavier book. It weaves together themes of motherhood and daughter-hood and wifehood, fatal genetic illnesses, international adoption, middle age and more, all while telling a story that starts eerie and become more so with each page. And it’s set on Christmas, making even the fabled ‘white Christmas’ seem sinister! I found myself finishing it all in one sitting, making poor Thistle wait an extra hour for her walk, because I *had* to keep reading. I’ll definitely be reading more of Kasischke in the future, as I think she’s an incredible writer! The entire novel takes place during one Christmas day, and entirely within the head of Holly Judge, a middle-aged adoptive mother and middle class American, who seems just a bit off, but easily recognisable too. There are many flashbacks, as Holly ponders various events related to her Christmas preparations, or just goes off in a daydream as we all tend to when doing mundane tasks. She and her daughter Tatiana are alone, as her husband has gone to pick up his parents at the airport, and much of the story deals with the struggles they face now that Tatiana is a teenager, and Holly wonders how to be the best mother. This book is really a virtuoso performance, and I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys psychological suspense not liking it. It’s weird and morbid and ultimately tragic of course, and the appended report as the final page makes a perfect ending. I don’t think I’ll tell you anymore about it, or provide a plot summary, as it’s best to discover it for yourself. Go on, you know you want to. ;)

P1130145My most recent R.I.P. read was The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino, which to be honest I think would have worked better for Once Upon a Time and the mythology category. This makes sense, as it’s part of the Canongate myth retellings series, but I expected a much darker fantasy than I got, based on Kirino’s other books. I suppose the storyline itself is dark: set on a poor, isolated island, it features outcast families, policies that kill babies born without permission and, if they get too numerous, the elderly, and a pair of sisters, one of whom is destined to be a light priestess, given the best of the island, while the other is destined to live alone near the dead, impure, as the dark priestess. But the narrator takes such a detached tone of voice, that these end up resonating more on an intellectual level than a deeper one: Kirino explains this early because her narrator is already dead, and speaking as a ghost who doesn’t feel as the living do, but the detachment reminded me a lot of other Japanese authors I’ve read, to be honest. Anyway, my favourite part was on the island, because Kirino does a great job of making it feel claustrophobic and terrifyingly tradition-bound while at the same time the narrator, as an inhabitant of the island, remains unaware that this is not normal. Her sense of place is excellent: the realm of the dead, and the horror and anger of the goddess who must now reside there, are well done as well. I didn’t care for the second half, in which the narrative perspective shifts to a god who has taken human form, quite as much. The themes of love and betrayal, and the power relations between men and women in a patriarchal tradition, are well explored though, and that made up for the not quite as compelling story. I’m glad that I read this, and it makes me want to read more of Kirino, but it didn’t quite touch my soul, if that makes sense.

The rest of my fiction reading this month consisted of rereads, which is something I want to discuss in another post. So I’ll tell you about a couple of nonfiction titles, and then we’ll be set!

P1130144Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold is an incredible piece of nature and conservation writing, all the more so for its foresight. Leopold was born in the 19th century and joined the Forestry Service as young man: he later became a wildlife management professor who spent his weekends on a little farm and its surrounding wilderness in Wisconsin. This book was published with writings he’d been working on in the 40s, although he himself died in 1949. It’s full to the brim with moments of beauty, a fierce intelligence and land knowledge, and a deep commitment to preserving the wildness of the land and its creatures in the face of modern society’s wish to do anything but. Again and again, he emphasises the importance of ecosystems as a whole, and examines how past human actions to eliminate one species have resulted in the destruction of entire habitats. It’s a bit painful, reading sixty years later, to see some of his hopes for the future, as the actions he laments in the 40s have become commonplace on a far vaster scale now. Anyway, he also made me feel like an utter dilettante for my childlike enjoyment of the woods, but as I am a dilettante that’s probably not a bad thing. ;) Ultimately, I loved peeking into his inner self as he goes around nature, and having a view of what that kind of passion and experience and knowledge sees in things that the rest of us wouldn’t even notice. If you enjoy nature writing and haven’t read this, you definitely should. I plan to reread it in the future and am glad I have a copy on my shelves.

P1130148Finally, a fun popular history that I’d been saving on my shelves: Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown. I’ve read all of her previous books & loved the Iceland focused ones, so I was excited to read this. It’s a biography of Snorri, the Icelandic author of the tales from which we know the Norse gods, and of course it incorporates a lot of Norse mythology and Icelandic context into the telling. I love how Brown writes: here’s a typical passage, selected pretty much at random:

The Norse gods are not omnipotent. They’re not even always dignified. sometimes their job is not to rule the universe but just to make us laugh, as in the story of the god Thor’s encounter with the giant Utgard-Loki. No other source tells this tale. Snorri might have made it up.

We can imagine him regaling his listeners with it, as they sat around the feast hall sipping horns of ale. He might have read aloud from his work in progress, the Edda. Or he might have told the tale from memory, like an ancient skald.

Brown tells the story over the next three pages, so I can’t type all of that out, but it’s in the same enjoyable, conversational style. I was truly fascinated to learn that so much of the Norse mythology today can be traced back solely to the writings of one man, and he lead a terribly intriguing life on Iceland, during its saga era. Of course if you’ve already read some of the sagas or know anything about Icelandic history, this book will be fun, but I also think it would be a wonderful introduction to any newcomers. It’s a fascinating subject and Brown’s style makes it even more enjoyable: her genuine interest and love for Iceland and Norse myths shines through.

I’ve been at this post for ages now on and off this afternoon, and I’m sure reading it will take ages, so I’ll end now and get Thistle to the woods for our afternoon ramble. September was an excellent reading month for me, and I hope October will be the same. So far it’s definitely proven so! I just finished the very enjoying The Duke’s Children this morning and am in the middle of two excellent nonfiction works (The Argumentative Indian and The Needle’s Eye). And I’m off to the library tomorrow for even more books: my cup overfloweth. I hope autumn is treating you as well.

I thought it'd be fun to photograph all the books I read at least part of in September. Of course, the ebooks (both print and audio) aren't well represented: I'll have to see if I can figure out a solution to that.

I thought it’d be fun to photograph all the books I read at least part of in September. Of course, the ebooks (both print and audio) aren’t well represented: I’ll have to see if I can figure out a solution to that.

Field Notes, vol 13

September 30, 2014

It’s about time I introduced you to my new apartment! It’s a sweet little studio in a building built in the 1920s, filled with sunlight all day, and just right for me. I love it dearly. I’m not quite done arranging it, especially as I’ve yet to put anything on the walls, but I trust you can overlook that. It showed up a bit in my video from last week, but that angle is not its best advantage: the pictures I’m showing you now are more true to life. In my opinion anyway. If you mouse over the photos, captions should appear, and clicking will enlarge a picture. Also, I have these in a gallery template that works best if you’re looking at the blog instead of in a feed reader, so please click through. I realised after uploading these images that I forgot to photograph my walk in closet, kitchen, or the beautiful view from my windows. I’ll have to do another post then, but for now, welcome to my apartment!

I love the apartment for its own sake, but I also love it for being so near a hundred acres wood. Thistle and I visit almost every day, so last Saturday I took along my camera to share it with you. My soul relaxes every time I’m here: I connect with forests, particularly the deciduous kind, in a way I find difficult to explain. But this tree love has been with me since childhood, and its strength has much to do with why I uprooted my life, left behind my family who I deeply love, and am now a resident of the northeast. Not pictured, but just as important: the chipmunks are bustling about, preparing their larders for the long winter, as are the grey squirrels. Robins are everywhere, chirping, pecking at the ground, and rushing into the trees when you get too close. Occasionally you might notice the woods are strangely silent: look up, and if you’re lucky you’ll find a hawk.


It’s funny: the woods are still green, but the sidewalks of my neighbourhood are covered in rustling yellow leaves, as trees begin to turn there not half a mile away. I’ll have to take some photographs of my neighbourhood too, as I also go on daily walks through it. It’s a sweet place that makes me smile, all the more so as I enjoy the feel and smell of leaves crunched underfoot.

I intend to tell you about my reading too, but I need to limit my typing as my hands have been sore lately. So I shall be back tomorrow to do so. I just didn’t want to delay this post any more! I hope you enjoyed the peek into my new surroundings.

Library Loot: September 26th, 2014

September 26, 2014

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Video

Titles Mentioned

  • Anna Dressed by Blood by Kendare Blake
  • Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
  • Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn
  • Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
  • Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • Before the Poison by Peter Robinson
  • Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  • White as Snow by Tanith Lee
  • The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino
  • Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke
  • The Lottery: the Adventures of James Harris by Shirley Jackson
  • Done Wrong by Eleanor Taylor Bland
  • Spirits of the Ordinary by Kathleen Alcala
  • The Women’s History of the World by Rosalind Miles
  • The Needle’s Eye by Marla Miller
  • Dreams of Africa in Alabama by Sylviane Diouf
  • Space Chronicles by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Summer World by Bernd Heinrich
  • The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

Remember I haven’t made a video in over a year, but it was fun to be ‘chatting’ with y’all about library finds again. I can’t make these posts as elaborate as I used to, due to the arthritis, but hopefully the video on its own is somewhat helpful, and the list should let you look into any book that catches your eye!

A R.I.P.-ing We Will Go

September 24, 2014

Quite belatedly, I’m officially joining Carl’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX event. I’ll be doing Peril the First, or at least four books. I drew up a rough list on Monday, after poking about other people’s plans, and doing a bit of independent research for more POC author options, and yesterday celebrated my first visit to my new library by gathering a little stack. I had to be sensible, and not gather a giant stack, as I get around via my feet and the bus now. ;)
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With the addition of four that I was able to check out as ebooks, and one freely available in public domain, here is my list, with the categories I’m guessing they fall into:

  • Before the Poison by Peter Robinson (suspense)
  • Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (horror)
  • White as Snow by Tanith Lee (dark fantasy)
  • The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (dark fantasy)*
  • Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke (suspense)
  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson (suspense)
  • Done Wrong by Eleanor Taylor Bland (mystery)*
  • Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson (dark fantasy)*
  • Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (horror)*
  • Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (dark fantasy)
  • Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (supernatural)*
  • Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe (gothic)

It can be a bit of a challenge to turn up genre POC authors, so in case anyone else also tries to read diversely & wants to join in the R.I.P. fun, I thought I’d also list a few of my past favourites for easy reference (I’ve also starred which ones on my list this year are POC). This is off the top of my head, and by no means comprehensive, but it’ll give you a start at least! And all of these books I really enjoyed, and in many cases passionately loved, of course. Oh and I have to mention one that isn’t by a POC author, but deals beautifully with GLBT issues & mental health stuff, while also being one of the creepiest, addictive, most fascinating meta-fiction books I’ve read in quite awhile: The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan. So good! And manages to make mermaids terrifying. I must do a post on it, but until then, you should add it to your lists.

lavinia-portraitRIP92751Thriller/Suspense

  • Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie
  • Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber
  • Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Gothic

  • True Murder by Yaba Badoe (not published in the US but easily available from Better World Books: it’s worth it!)
  • Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez

Dark Fantasy

  • The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin

Supernatural

  • The Vampire’s Beautiful Daughter by S.P. Somtow
  • The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • The Between by Tananarive Due (The Good House, also by her, is one of the creepiest haunted house stories I’ve read, but it was too much into the horror genre for my tastes. If you don’t mind horror though, that’s a good one to try!)

Mystery

  • A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (darker)
  • Dead Time by Eleanor Taylor Bland (darker)
  • The Young Widow by Cassandra Chan (lighter)
  • The Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee (lighter)
  • Death at Rainy Mountain by Mardi Oakley Medawar (lighter)

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate (thoughts)

September 22, 2014

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate
I loved Martha Southgate’s debut novel, The Fall of Rome, and I’ve been meaning to read more of her ever since. This past weekend, I checked out The Taste of Salt electronically, loaded it up on my Nook, and curled up. I wasn’t disappointed: although short, this is a compelling read that left me with tears in my eyes at the end. The emotions are just so raw, and somehow made more powerful by our narrator’s determinedly detached voice.

That narrator would be Josie Henderson, raised by ambitious parents in a middle class black neighbourhood in Cleveland, who has loved the ocean since her ocean-free childhood (Lake Erie wasn’t enough for her), and is now a successful marine biologist. At the point the story opens, she’s in her later thirties, feeling professionally more solid after years of working to establish herself in a field dominated by white men. As things have come together in work, though, they’ve fallen apart in her personal life: her father was an alcoholic throughout her childhood, and now her brother is also an addict. She mainly copes with this by avoiding her family, but when her mom directly asks her for help, Josie’s forced to return to Cleveland, dredging up old memories in the process.

The book reveals itself in bits and pieces, but it reads as if Josie is keeping a diary for herself, trying to figure out what exactly is going on and how she feels about it. The format is of a traditional novel; I’m talking more about tone. She is very much a scientist, steeped in objectivity and data gathering, and her voice reflects that. It’s interesting too: as a child she read fairly extensively, due to her parents’ influence, but she never became a bookworm, and now as an adult she prefers reading ‘useful’ nonfiction and rarely touches novels. So the way she speaks about the events is almost deliberately free of many storytelling devices, the kinds of things I would unconsciously use in describing my own life, simply from a lifetime of novel reading. The times she does attempt to add more narrative, she prefaces it with musings on it as a device. I’m very impressed with how Southgate manages to pull this off, because I’m sure she’s a reader in her own life. I love it when the narrative voice is an integral part of the story, and it certainly is here. Occasionally the point of view shifts to other characters, and their tones and diction are all different and easily identifiable (one of my readerly pet peeves is when a novel has multiple narrators that all sound the same): it makes for excellent reading.

I was also fully invested in all of the characters: Josie of course, her parents and brother, her husband, and later her coworker all lived vividly in my mind. I cared about what happened to them, and I empathised with them all. This is another testament to Southgate’s authorial ability, as I’m not generally terribly empathetic to characters whose bad decisions make others miserable. While my little plot summary might make this sound like an ‘issues’ novel, really it’s a novel about the humanity within each of us, and how we try to reach out to each other, and how sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. I loved it, and I hope that more people pick it up, especially those readers who read primarily white authors. While The Taste of Salt is very much a universal story, it is grounded in Josie’s experiences as a black woman, and those specifics are important. Which is not to say I recommend it as a ‘black novel’, rather as an excellent book that will encourage empathy among all those who read it, a quality we can always use more of. Anyway, I do hope Southgate has a new novel in the works; as it is, I only have one remaining (Third Girl From the Left).

P.S.: I really don’t care for the cover, not due to its aesthetics, but because of how it fails to relate to the book. I don’t think it captures the spirit of the book at all, because of its very prettiness. This is a novel that consistently dives beneath the surface of things, and I think the cover does a disservice.

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