AlisonY: 2019 - Rash and Random Reading

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AlisonY: 2019 - Rash and Random Reading

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1AlisonY
Editado: Fev 22, 2019, 5:01am



Hi there,

For those who haven't visited my thread before, I live in Northern Ireland with my husband and 2 kids, now 11 and 9. I enjoy reading mainly literary fiction - classic and modern - with the odd thriller and non-fictional title thrown in every now and again.

Outside of reading, I enjoy a bit of Iyengar yoga, and am a little bit obsessed with oggling great interior design.

Last year I read 41 books, the best of which were:

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
The Sea House by Esther Freud
My Struggle: Book 4 by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Beloved by Toni Morrison

My 2018 thread can be found here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/294081

This year's reading aims? Lots of random titles. Going where the prevailing reading winds take me.

2AlisonY
Editado: Abr 9, 2019, 10:24am

2019 Reading Track

January
1. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates - read (4 stars)
2. Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood - read (5 stars)
3. Back to Basics: The Education You Wish You'd Had by Caroline Taggart - read (3 stars)
4. Unnatural Causes: The Life and Many Deaths of Britain's Top Forensic Pathologist by Dr Richard Shepherd - read (4.5 stars)
5. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben - read (3 stars)
6. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy - read (4.5 stars)
7. Alexandra by Valerie Martin - read (4 stars)

February
8. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald - read (4 stars)
9. Hymns to the Night by Novalis - read (4 stars)
10. A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert - read (3 stars)
11. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay - read (4 stars)
12. The Accidental by Ali Smith - read (4 stars)
13. The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst - read (4 stars)
14. Decorating with Style by Abigail Ahern - read (4 stars)

March
15. The Great Lover by Jill Dawson - read (4 stars)
16. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen - read (4 stars)
17. The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas - read (4 stars)
18. Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty - read (3.5 stars)
19. I'm a Joke and So Are You: A Comedian's Take on What Makes Us Human by Robin Ince - read (2.5 stars)
20. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson - read (2.5 stars)
21. Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis - read (4 stars)

April
22. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - read (5 stars)
23. Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence - And How You Can Too by Gary Vaynerchuk - read (2 stars)
24. Educated by Tara Westover - read (3.5 stars)
25. Autumn by Ali Smith - currently reading

3arubabookwoman
Jan 2, 2019, 2:50pm

I love the painting! Is it of the Giant’s Causeway? I see a hint of that in the geometric shapes on the shore.
I enjoyed The Children’s Book last year too, and I’ve started Book 5 of Knausgaard’s series.

4dchaikin
Jan 2, 2019, 2:55pm

Happy 2019 Alison!

5AlisonY
Editado: Jan 2, 2019, 4:39pm

>3 arubabookwoman: the picture is by Scott Naismith and it's of the Isle of Skye in Scotland. I randomly came across him on Pinterest - I love the colours and vibe of the seascapes he does.

Here's another gorgeous one:



Look forward to hearing what you think of Book 5. I'd love to read that some time this year too.

>4 dchaikin: thanks Dan - and to you too. Hope this is a great year for you and the family.

6Simone2
Jan 2, 2019, 4:43pm

Happy new year Alison! Looking forward to another year of following your bookish thoughts!

7ELiz_M
Editado: Jan 5, 2019, 9:07am

>3 arubabookwoman:, >5 AlisonY: Thank you, I was going to ask about the painting, too.

I also love the title of your thread. :)

8AlisonY
Jan 5, 2019, 1:34pm

>7 ELiz_M: thanks! I wasn't sure about the 'rash' (although to be fair it's quite true), but by the time I got around to trying to change it my 10 minute title editing window had expired so rash it is for 2019.

9NanaCC
Jan 6, 2019, 7:11am

I’ve starred your thread, Alison. The paintings are beautiful.

10AlisonY
Jan 6, 2019, 11:05am

>9 NanaCC: thanks Colleen. They're really gorgeous seascapes, aren't they?

11Caroline_McElwee
Jan 6, 2019, 1:34pm

Hi Alison, moving my cushion in, I lost track of several threads last year.

Loving the Naismith art.

I made my first trip to Northern Ireland last year. My father was raised in a Limavady, but we never got there. He died last year so we took a pilgrimage, staying in Belfast, stopping off at The Giants Causeway, and visiting Limavady.

Happy 2019 reading.

12AlisonY
Jan 7, 2019, 4:02am

>11 Caroline_McElwee: Hi Caroline, welcome! Sorry to hear about your fairly recent loss. I hope the weather was kind to you on your trip to NI. It's changed a lot in the last 10 years, and we're finally starting to get our act together on tourism. I notice a lot more visitors in the city now when I'm in Belfast for work.

13lisapeet
Jan 7, 2019, 6:32am

I like your concept of the prevailing reading winds... that's about what I subscribe to as well. Feels like reading is one of the few major aspects of my life where having a no-plan plan works, so I'm all in for that.

Also love the paintings! I'm really attracted to bold use of color when it's done well, and not just color for color's sake, and those two are great.

14AlisonY
Jan 7, 2019, 9:07am

>13 lisapeet: Hi Lisa, we're all loving these paintings. It's funny how some artists just do something that works.

Yes, I'm quite enjoying random reading these last few years. It's nice just coming across a book unplanned and being pleasantly surprised. My first year on CR I did stick to a plan of 50 books I wanted to read, and it was good ticking off a lot of titles that had been passing me by for years, but my head has to be in the right place for that kind of reading.

15avaland
Editado: Jan 7, 2019, 10:15am

Love the paintings, and the thread title (hard to resist). Interesting you have started the year (or a crossover from last year?) with a JCO novel. I have read about 40 of her books now, but have not read this one, nor Blonde (considered her masterpiece). I'm finding her hard to read in the current political climate here (although I did read her latest novel, and wasn't too excited about it).

16AlisonY
Editado: Jan 7, 2019, 11:29am

>15 avaland: thank you! Yes, I started We Were the Mulvaneys at the end of last year, and I'm about halfway through. This is only my second JCO book - 40 is a significant read from one author! So far I'm enjoying it - I find a good family saga hard to resist.

Blonde seems fairly hard to get hold of these days, as I remember looking for it myself a while back.

Will post a review soon when I'm done with this one.

17NanaCC
Jan 8, 2019, 7:32am

Blonde was wonderful...just saying....

18SassyLassy
Jan 8, 2019, 11:00am

Echoing avaland here: love your title and art.

Someday I will try JCO again. I can't even remember which book I read, but it left such an impression I have never read another. Then again, if I pick one up now, I amy be hooked. Waiting to hear what you say.

19AlisonY
Jan 9, 2019, 9:24am

>17 NanaCC: it seems to get good reviews. Interestingly it seems to have been reprinted in 2018 in the UK - I definitely remember it only being available as old, expensive copies a few years ago. I'll be tempted to pick it up if it pops up in the Oxfam book shop.

>18 SassyLassy: thanks Sassy. I'll reserve my judgement until the last page, but so far so good. Probably not going to be my book of the year, but it's good enough from an enjoyment factor.

20AlisonY
Editado: Jan 11, 2019, 9:15am



1. Review - We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

I'm a sucker for a good old family saga, and I'm glad to say that JCO didn't disappoint with this one.

Set in the 1970s, the Mulvaneys are the epitome of the perfect all American family. Michael Snr. runs a successful roofing company and is a stalwart of the business associations and circles of Mt. Emphraim, a small country town. His wife Corinne, a farmer's daughter, runs a hobby antique business from their picture postcard farmhouse, but is at her happiest when gathered around a noisy dinner table with their four children. The four children are all achievers in their own right and popular at school. In short, they are a happy family.

JCO takes her time allowing us to settle in with this rambunctious, close family, before an event happens which shatters the Mulvaney family harmony. I won't spoil it for anyone who might read it in the future, but it's one of those sad unravellings which as a reader you can see doesn't have to be that way.

I enjoyed this novel, as I think it portrayed well the potential frailty of even the strongest of family relationships, and how they can be turned on their head in a way that could never have been foreseen.

I doubt it will be my book of the year, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

4 stars - an enjoyable, page-turning read.

21NanaCC
Jan 11, 2019, 8:02am

>20 AlisonY: I think this was one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to many years ago when I was still working. I remember enjoying it, but don’t remember too much about it. I’m glad you enjoyed it too.

22AlisonY
Jan 11, 2019, 9:15am

>21 NanaCC: I did enjoy it, Colleen. I'm not sure it's special enough to be on the 1001 books list, but I enjoyed it.

23rachbxl
Jan 11, 2019, 9:37am

>21 NanaCC: That’s exactly what I was going to say. I remember really enjoying it, but can’t remember much about it (and I’m now racking my brain to recall what the event which shatters the family’s happiness might have been...) Glad you liked it too, Alison.

24lisapeet
Jan 11, 2019, 10:36am

>20 AlisonY: Another that's been on my pile forever. I like JCO on family dynamics, so I'll have to bump that up.

25AlisonY
Jan 11, 2019, 11:05am

>23 rachbxl: I'm a sucker for a saga!

>24 lisapeet: This was really good on family dynamics. I think she really realistically portrayed how the closest family relationships can fall apart as a result of something from left field. I enjoy that kind of relationship psychology in fiction.

26rachbxl
Jan 11, 2019, 11:56am

>25 AlisonY: me too!

27AlisonY
Editado: Fev 22, 2019, 4:42am



2. Review - Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood

I've had this book on my 'to read' list for three years now since I read a storming review about it when it was first published. At last I came across a copy of it last week in my local secondhand shop, and it lived up to the hype.

In this novel Naomi Wood creates a fictionalised account of the four marriages of Ernest Hemingway, portraying a man who loved his wives deeply yet who loved women in general too much to ever commit to monogamy. Four sections are narrated by each of the four wives, and it's an interesting angle through which to explore the heyday of that era and the personal life of one of the literary greats. The book takes us from Hemingway on the cusp of success in Paris to his final marriage when he begins to feel washed up as an author and ends up taking his own life.

The dramas of a third person in each marriage are played out amidst a fabulous social backdrop that includes the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Wood portrays him as a good looking man with incredible charisma, whose wives are (mostly) so infatuated with him they're desperate to overlook his indiscretions if he'll only stay with them.

This book works on so many levels. The crowded marriages are made up of complex relationships between the philandering author, the wives and the mistresses, who all become inevitably, reluctantly intertwined with each other. The affairs never stay secret for long in the wild, arty social circles in which Hemingway moves, and the famous Lost Generation are every bit as fascinating as the Bloomsbury Group were in London. It's also a fly on the wall account of the making and downfall of a darling of the literary world, and of the immense challenges of being married to a genius and dealing with the emotional swings that such temperament brings.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and flew through it over the weekend. There's something about those arty social sets from the early 20th century that's so absorbing, and it's prompted me to push some of Hemingway's work up on my to read list.

5 stars - a fabulous page-turner. Don't be put off by the chic lit-esque cover.

28dchaikin
Jan 14, 2019, 12:47pm

I’m curious about the truth behind all this. Reminds me I should read A Movable Feast.

29AlisonY
Jan 14, 2019, 1:45pm

>27 AlisonY: I would call this a novel of fiction based on a true story. I did a bit of reading up on it online whilst I was reading it and the key base facts all tie up about the marriages and mistresses and his writing. For sure she has then created a fictional narrative to portray what was going on behind closed doors.

It's great as a piece of pure fiction, and good enough research to bring real life events to life.

30RidgewayGirl
Jan 14, 2019, 9:09pm

You've got me with Mrs. Hemingway.

31AlisonY
Jan 15, 2019, 3:17am

>31 AlisonY: hope you enjoy it if you get your hands on a copy.

32AlisonY
Jan 15, 2019, 3:35am



3. Review - Back to Basics: The Education You Wish You'd Had by Caroline Taggart

I've had my eye on Caroline Taggart's work for a little while, as I was interested in her books on the likes of grammar and the classics. Back to Basics: The Education You Wish You'd Had is a book that aims to cover the basics and key facts across a number of subjects, covering English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, French and Religious Studies (the Bible). It's supposed to be a little bit tongue and cheek, and an aid for brushing up on stuff you learnt x years ago at school and can no longer remember anything about.

It's a quick read, and was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Some subjects, such as geography, history and the sciences, I enjoyed as Taggart pulled out a number of interesting different subject areas within each. The history chapter was a (very) short chronicle of the most important things that have happened in history (AD), and I found that an interesting refresher as I always struggle to remember that stuff.

The Maths chapter seemed to quickly jump in and out of a few different areas which I didn't feel worked too well (maybe just me - I'm more of an Arts person), and the English and French sections felt mostly far too simplistic if you'd studied these for any length of time at all at school.

Interesting enough for a quick read on my commute, but I won't be rushing back to Taggart.

3 stars - interesting snippets of info to jump in and out of.

33Simone2
Jan 16, 2019, 2:12pm

>27 AlisonY: Mrs Hemingway sounds really interesting. Thanks for reviewing it!

34Caroline_McElwee
Editado: Jan 17, 2019, 6:24am

>27 AlisonY: wishlisting Alyson. I read The Paris Wife which was very good.

>28 dchaikin: I love The Moveable Feast Dan, which reminds me I need to replace my copy, as it's not where it should be.

35AlisonY
Jan 17, 2019, 7:43am

>33 Simone2: I think you might enjoy it, Barbara.

>34 Caroline_McElwee: noting The Paris Wife - also looks good.

36RidgewayGirl
Jan 17, 2019, 7:43am

>28 dchaikin: Were I have to pick a single favorite book, Daniel, it would be A Moveable Feast.

37AlisonY
Jan 17, 2019, 8:28am

>34 Caroline_McElwee:, >36 RidgewayGirl: For someone who's not read anything by Hemingway, is A Moveable Feast the best place to start?

38NanaCC
Jan 17, 2019, 11:19am

I forgot to duck when I came in the door, and you’ve hit me with Mrs. Hemingway. Thank you, I think. ;-)

39Caroline_McElwee
Jan 17, 2019, 11:26am

>37 AlisonY: The Moveable Feast isn't typical Alison, because it is autobiagraphical. I'm not sure I've read enough to recommend the 'best' place to start to be honest, maybe others have a better view.

40RidgewayGirl
Jan 17, 2019, 11:44am

>37 AlisonY: I'd recommend trying some of his short stories, especially from earlier in his writing career to see what you think of him.

41Simone2
Editado: Jan 17, 2019, 2:09pm

>37 AlisonY: I am not too big a fan of his work but my favorite is The Old Man and the Sea.

42AlisonY
Jan 17, 2019, 3:18pm

>38 NanaCC: lol! Darn those book bullets!

>39 Caroline_McElwee:, >40 RidgewayGirl:, >41 Simone2: thanks. I think I've had Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises on my 'must read' for a few years as a starting point to Hemingway. I've not rushed to read him to date - I get the impression he's a Marmite read.

43japaul22
Jan 17, 2019, 3:23pm

>42 AlisonY: I get the impression he's a Marmite read.

Yes, and I'm a "hater". :-)

I've only read some short stories, A Farewell to Arms, and The Sun Also Rises, but that was enough.

44AlisonY
Jan 17, 2019, 4:40pm

>43 japaul22: I'm intrigued - what's mostly turning people off Hemingway's style?

45Caroline_McElwee
Editado: Jan 18, 2019, 1:30pm

I think it's mostly the machismo Alison.

46rhian_of_oz
Jan 18, 2019, 10:50am

>42 AlisonY: I've never seen/heard the expression "Marmite read" but I'm assuming it means people either love it or hate it :-).

47AlisonY
Jan 18, 2019, 1:29pm

>45 Caroline_McElwee: hmmm - that doesn't make me want to overly rush to read him.

>46 rhian_of_oz: Marmite is a very bizarre British yeast product spread that you put on toast and the like. It's an 'acquired' taste. I'm fairly sure more people dislike it than like it. So if something is described as Marmite you're exactly right - it means it's one of those things people either love or hate - no middle ground.

48RidgewayGirl
Jan 18, 2019, 1:29pm

>44 AlisonY: What Caroline said, but also his style is pared down and deliberately simple. This was innovative and very, very different from what had gone before a hundred years ago, but of course, now it's established and not to everyone's literary tastes.

49japaul22
Jan 18, 2019, 2:59pm

>45 Caroline_McElwee:, >48 RidgewayGirl: Yes to both of these things for me. The man just cannot seem to write believable women who are whole themselves - I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking "of course a man would write a woman that way" a lot. And his style isn't really for me either. I appreciate what he did with the innovation of his writing style, but I don't particularly enjoy it.

You really might like his writing though, Alison. We have similar tastes in many books, but we differ on authors like Yates and Updike - Hemingway might suit you in a similar way.

50AlisonY
Jan 19, 2019, 8:15am

>49 japaul22: funny, I was thinking the same thing. I've always been drawn to Yates and Updike, and the latter's books are definitely full of machismo. I'm certainly not drawn to that aspect of them as authors, but if the writing and the characters are good enough I see it as an expression of what that era was like, and that social perspective interests me even if I don't agree with it.

>48 RidgewayGirl: I think I'll have to read something and figure out for myself whether I like him or loathe him. Surely he can't be any worse than the laddish bore fest that was Jack Kerouac?

51ELiz_M
Jan 19, 2019, 2:37pm

>50 AlisonY: I think Hemingway was much better at short stories than novels. So, I would recommend the Nick Adams stories, mostly collected in In Our Time.

52rhian_of_oz
Jan 20, 2019, 4:36am

>47 AlisonY: My mother is English so I'm familiar with Marmite (I'm a hater). I love Vegemite which made it into Sweden's Disgusting Food Museum!

53AlisonY
Jan 20, 2019, 9:39am

>51 ELiz_M: thanks for the heads up. I'm not generally great with short story collections, but I'll take a look at that one.

>52 rhian_of_oz: Vegemite is definitely up there with Marmite on my yuck list!

54AlisonY
Jan 20, 2019, 10:20am



4. Review - Unnatural Causes: The Life and Many Deaths of Britain's Top Forensic Pathologist by Dr Richard Shepherd

Dr Dick Shepherd is a senior forensic pathologist in the UK, most lately well known for a TV programme in the UK in which he explains the autopsies and hence reasons for death of famous names. Whilst I find the premise of that programme distasteful for using people's deaths to create TV enjoyment, I admit to being wholly hypocritical; when I've happened to switch on in the middle of it from time to time it's been absolutely fascinating.

So too is this book. For starters, it's well written. Shepherd backdrops his professional stories with insights into his personal life, in particular the challenges of leaving the job on the doorstep when he comes home to his family, and the toll that his and his wife's demanding careers took on their marriage. Whilst for some this may be unnecessary mass market fodder, I felt this helped to answer that obvious question of 'how does someone do this as their job every day?'

There wasn't a dull story amongst the many told in this book. Some were murder cases where Shepherd explains how the body held the truth about what had actually happened to cause death (was that person attacked or were those self-inflicted knife wounds? Was that wife really defending her own life or cold bloodily murdering her husband?). Shepherd developed a specialism in stabbing wounds and also in the deaths of prisoners under police or prison restraint, and whilst at first glance these sound like gruesome subject matter, the forensic science was so incredibly interesting I found it compulsive reading.

He was also involved in some terribly sad high profile tragedies, including the Hungerford disaster, the sinking of The Marchioness, the Bali bombing, Stephen Lawrence's murder and the Clapham Rail disaster. Whilst all incredibly sad tales, the perspective of a pathologist in supporting in such incidences was again fascinating, particularly the insights into the difficulties of coping with so many bodies after a major disaster when grieving relatives want quick answers.

Shepherd also increased his notoriety when he was assigned as pathologist on the inquest of the death of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed. Although he did not perform the original post mortems, he was called in to review the original French post mortem reports which contained some inconsistencies which were feeding mass conspiracy theories.

Does this book capitalise on the sad deaths of many people? Undoubtedly yes. However, in its defence, real names are only used for those deaths which were already public knowledge, and where post mortem details had already usually been made public. I carry a bit of an unhealthy fear of death and get highly stressed at funerals, so I'm trying to educate myself around the topic a little more in hope that knowledge alleviates some of my terror. I knew very little about what happens to bodies after death, and it was interesting to become more informed around this. By using these high profile cases to explain some of his cases, it helped me put into context some of the public outcries that developed after these tragic deaths.

In all, a wholly fascinating read from start to finish. Some of the cases may not be known well outside of the UK, but I don't think that would detract from how interesting the science and pathology challenges are.

4.5 stars - definitely majorly ticks a box as a 'science for the unscientific' read. I'm just taking away half a star as the cover says he's Britain's top forensic pathologist - I get the impression that he's one of a number of senior pathologists, but that was probably his publisher more than him.

55Caroline_McElwee
Jan 20, 2019, 11:22am

>54 AlisonY: hmm as a long time 'Quincy' fan as a kid, and 'Silent Witness' now, that could be one for me Alison. I don't think I've come across his programme.

56AlisonY
Jan 20, 2019, 11:46am

>55 Caroline_McElwee: it was on Channel 5 four or five years ago, Caroline - 'Autopsy'. It was 100% sensationalist, but horribly fascinating too. I think we caught part of one on Amy Winehouse and another on Michael Jackson from memory.

The book is great - I devoured huge numbers of pages in one sitting, whereas with some non-fiction reads I can only dip in and out of them in short bursts.

57dchaikin
Jan 20, 2019, 5:17pm

>54 AlisonY: Well, I got through Mary Roach's Stiff on audio, not sure I could manage this though. Still, interesting.

58AlisonY
Jan 21, 2019, 3:47am

>55 Caroline_McElwee: it's not especially gruesome in detail, Dan. Perhaps more interesting to a Brit though, as we grew up with many of the tragedies he's attended being in the national news.

59AlisonY
Editado: Jan 25, 2019, 5:02pm



5. Review - The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben

I know i'm on my own here as lots of Club Readers loved this one, but I had a love/hate relationship with this book.

On the positive, undoubtedly there was a lot of interesting information in this book about the 'laws of the forest', from the critical role that fungi play to how trees help to sustain each other. However, there were a number of things that didn't work for me.

Firstly, it seemed at times that Peter Wohlleben seemed to see no division between scientific facts and things he believes to be true. He may well be right, but I'd rather know that something is a fact rather than an opinion.

Secondly, I can see what he was trying to do in weaving fantasy and storytelling into this book to bring alive the magic of the forests, but it started to grate on me after a while that nothing could be described simply in the context of botany or entomology or forestry. I don't think we need to humanise trees or plants or insects to make them interesting. It's interesting enough to understand the science of how trees protect each other in adverse weather by virtue of their positioning in relation to each other, for example - I don't need to think of them as a family protecting each other.

Finally, there seemed to be a lot of repetition to fill the book. What was interesting the first time around became dull and a slog the third or fourth time I read about it.

3 stars - my enjoyment level was probably more on a 2 star level, but I'm awarding an extra star for the base facts which I did enjoy learning about.

60VivienneR
Jan 26, 2019, 10:50am

Just dropping in to say I'm enjoying your reviews and all the discussion here. I was brought to a halt by "marmite read" until I realized it meant the love it or hate it response. I have to add I love marmite and vegemite, in fact I don't see any difference between them, but don't tell >52 rhian_of_oz: or my Aussie friends that.

I love the colourful art opening your thread.

61rhian_of_oz
Jan 26, 2019, 11:23am

>60 VivienneR: Hehe you must be part of an elite group ;-).

62VivienneR
Jan 26, 2019, 11:36am

>61 rhian_of_oz: My Australian friend either brings or mails Vegemite to me (none available in this area of Canada) because she was horrified to hear I was obliged to use the more obtainable Marmite. :)

63AlisonY
Jan 26, 2019, 12:44pm

Hey Vivienne! We miss you!

64VivienneR
Jan 26, 2019, 1:04pm

Glad to hear it, Alison! One of these days I'll get a thread up and running. Real life slowed me down this month.

65Caroline_McElwee
Jan 26, 2019, 2:09pm

>59 AlisonY: doesn't look like I need to add that volume to my tree book collection Alison.

66AlisonY
Jan 26, 2019, 2:23pm

>65 Caroline_McElwee: I wouldn't go by just my review, Caroline. Most people at CR who read it loved it. It just wasn't for me.

67Caroline_McElwee
Jan 26, 2019, 2:30pm

Well as I have three new tree books in the pile Alison, I'm catered for at the moment.

68dchaikin
Jan 26, 2019, 6:56pm

>59 AlisonY: that review has me thinking you should read Lab Girl...no, that's wrong, based on that review you should absolutely not read Lab Girl...hmm, now I can't decide. I like your points, still curious about the book, but sometimes that extra stuff, the anthropomorphic alternate perspective just runs my blood the wrong way, sometimes I can't do it.

>64 VivienneR: glad you have a thread coming

69AlisonY
Jan 27, 2019, 12:23pm

>68 dchaikin: Lab Girl looks interesting, but I can see how it might stray into the same mode that wound me up a little in this book.

70dchaikin
Jan 27, 2019, 4:46pm

>69 AlisonY: was mostly humor in mentioning Lab Girl. She does mention a little about trees and ecosystems as pertain to her research, but mostly she talks about her life and what it's like being a professor in the sciences in the US lately with such limited funding and limited respect for woman with original ideas. So, not a good book to learn about tress.

71rachbxl
Jan 28, 2019, 5:38am

Hi Alison, I just saw on the What are you reading now? thread that you’re reading Hot Milk, which I read towards the end of last year. I look forward to seeing what you make of it (I wonder if I missed something, as I didn’t quite get it).

72AlisonY
Jan 28, 2019, 7:09am

>71 rachbxl: loving it so far. I should be finished it in a couple of days time.

73AlisonY
Editado: Jan 29, 2019, 12:23pm



6. Review - Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

I wasn't sure what this book was going to be about, and now I've read I'm not even sure I can explain it well.

At a plot level, Sophie is a young woman spending the summer months in Almeria in Spain caring for her mother whilst they try to get a diagnosis for a mystery psychosomatic condition that affects her ability to walk. However, this novel is really about emotion, and the change that being amongst these new surroundings and unexpected people brings.

This novel really worked for me. Levy establishes not only an acute sense of place, but also manages to evoke so well the heightened senses that Sophie experiences from her physical and emotional environment. It's a melting pot of inescapable heat, of noise (from the dog at the diving school that's perpetually chained up), of pain (from repetitive jelly fish stings), of complex sensuality and of rising frustration from being carer to a mother who's determined to suffer and not find any enjoyment of life. The pressure from these elements steadily increases until they result in a new emergence in Sophie, one where she is bolder in calling out those in her life for what they really are, and where she seeks to experience without needing to understand or to know where any of it is heading.

I think an onslaught on the senses is very difficult to convey in a novel, but Levy nails it in Hot Milk. I know some people think this is a hugely overrated novel, but I think it's for this exact achievement that it has earned its plaudits. There was a tinge of Anita Brookner for me in this novel, but with more light at the end of the tunnel than Brookner normally allows.

A great read. I felt the movement from Almeria to Athens for a short part of the novel broke the spell a little, so for that I'm taking away half a star, but hugely enjoyably otherwise.

4.5 stars - powerfully emotive.

74VivienneR
Jan 29, 2019, 2:05pm

>73 AlisonY: Great review. I've recommended it to the library and put it on my wishlist.

75AlisonY
Jan 29, 2019, 2:18pm

>74 VivienneR: I think people were divided over whether it was worthy of a Man Booker nod, Vivienne, but I enjoyed it.

76dchaikin
Jan 29, 2019, 8:59pm

Almeria and Athens both sound nice to me. Nice review, Alison.

77AlisonY
Jan 30, 2019, 4:57am

>76 dchaikin: thanks Dan. I enjoyed the heat of both places when there's frost on the ground outside.

78Simone2
Jan 30, 2019, 4:51pm

>73 AlisonY: Great review. I loved this one too.

79auntmarge64
Jan 30, 2019, 10:10pm

Loving the reviews!

80AlisonY
Jan 31, 2019, 4:55am

>78 Simone2:, >79 auntmarge64: thank you, thank you!



7. Review - Alexandra by Valerie Martin

It's a long while since I read Property by Valerie Martin - so long that I couldn't overly remember what her style of writing is like. Alexandra was a quick read, but it pulled me in very quickly and I enjoyed it.

Claude is a middle-aged accountant who's been bumbling along with a middle-aged widow, filling a void yet depressing himself in the process as he really doesn't like her. On one of her must-do nights out in the city he comes across Alex (Alexandra), much younger than him and very much an enigma. So far, so middle-aged guy cliché. Circumstances concerning Alex put Claude in a 'stick with the old or throw caution to the wind' scenario, and the novel plays out how that turns out.

Whilst the plot of this novel is verging on chic-lit territory in places, Valerie Martin is a good writer - she knows how to spin a good yarn, and I zipped through this in a couple of sittings as she had me hooked early on. The ending was a bit anticlimactic, but otherwise an enjoyable (but probably fairly forgettable) read.

4 stars - good summer holiday reading fodder.

81AlisonY
Fev 3, 2019, 9:34am



8. Review - The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

Set in the late 1700s in Germany, The Blue Flower is a fictional account of the life of Fritz von Hardenberg, who would later become known as the romantic poet and philosopher Novalis. Born into a noble, pious family, young Fritz's future has already been mapped out for him; he will follow in his father's footsteps in the Salt Mines Directorate. Yet as he studies, Fritz's predisposition for thought and romanticism leads to him becoming utterly entranced with the 12 year old Sophie whom he believes to be his muse.

The Blue Flower was a lot more 'readable' than I'd expected. Whilst Fitzgerald plays with Fritz's elevated thinking (which touches on humorous madness at times), there was so much more to this novel than simply being an account of the early life of this renowned man of literature and philosophy. With well researched historical detail, we are swept back to the times of eighteenth century nobility in Germany, as von Hardenberg breaks all the expected rules of his position and intellect in his pursuit of this vacuous child from a lower class family.

4 stars - first class historical fiction that swept me away with it.

82lisapeet
Fev 3, 2019, 10:17am

>81 AlisonY: Oh, definitely noted that one. That looks to be up my alley.

83NanaCC
Fev 3, 2019, 11:06am

>81 AlisonY: Hmm. I have this one on my shelf. I may need to pick it up one of these days in the near future.

84Caroline_McElwee
Fev 3, 2019, 11:08am

>81 AlisonY: hmm, could be due for a reread this year Alison.

85AlisonY
Fev 3, 2019, 11:45am

>82 lisapeet:, >83 NanaCC: I certainly enjoyed it - hope you do too if you get to it. Jennifer (japaul22) put this on my radar last year.

>84 Caroline_McElwee: are you a good re-reader? I'd love to go back over some old favourites, but I have FOMO over all the books I've not got to yet.

86Nickelini
Fev 3, 2019, 12:08pm

>59 AlisonY:

I liked The Hidden Life of Trees much more than you did but I still agree with all your points.

87Nickelini
Fev 3, 2019, 12:17pm

>81 AlisonY:

I have a bunch of Penelope Fitzgeralds to read, and the Blue Flower was at the bottom of the stack. But now you've bumped it to the top.

Have you read her before? I think my favourite so far was The Beginning of Spring.

88AlisonY
Editado: Fev 3, 2019, 1:28pm

>86 Nickelini: I think it just wasn't my thing.

>87 Nickelini: no, this is my first Fitzgerald read. There were blurbs of some of her other titles at the back of this edition, and some of them sounded great.

89ELiz_M
Fev 3, 2019, 1:35pm

>85 AlisonY: I think Thorold read this a few years ago in tandem with either a bio of Novalis or a book authored by him. So, I have a it on a mental "future paired reads" list. :)

90AlisonY
Fev 3, 2019, 5:04pm

>89 ELiz_M: that's a great idea. Kind of wish I'd done that as it frustrates me reading a fictional account of someone I'm not overly familiar with, as I naturally want to parallel the fact with the fiction.

91Caroline_McElwee
Fev 4, 2019, 5:21am

>85 AlisonY: Yes Alison, I do reread maybe 6-7 books a year. You never read the same book twice. Some books I've reread a number of times. I know the conflict though between rereading and reading something previously unread. It depends what I need at the time. The particular feeling an old favourite offers sometimes wins.

92japaul22
Fev 4, 2019, 8:05am

I'm glad you liked The Blue Flower! It's my favorite kind of historical fiction because it still feels literary and inventive and brings the characters/time period to life.

I'm also a rereader - I probably reread 5-6 books a year. These are mainly classics but not always. I figure 5-6 books is a pretty small percentage of my reading since I read 70-80 books a year and they are often my most enjoyable reading.

93AlisonY
Fev 4, 2019, 8:32am

>92 japaul22: thanks for The Blue Flower BB!!

There are definitely a few books I'd love to reread, but I'm definitely hung up with my FIMO attitude. Maybe if I got through a few more books every year I'd slot some back in. I'd love to reread some books from my youth in particular that I don't think I was mature enough to fully appreciate at the time (like you, many of them classics).

94Simone2
Fev 5, 2019, 8:55pm

The Blue Flower sounds great. I have to admit I’ve never read Novalis. I did read a Penelope Fitzgerald though. The Bookshop , I loved it!

95thorold
Fev 6, 2019, 1:09am

>81 AlisonY: >89 ELiz_M:
Glad you liked The blue flower! My joint review of it and Heinrich von Ofterdingen from 2016 is here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/220694#5573150

Offshore is my favourite Fitzgerald so far, but The bookshop was another I enjoyed very much.

96AlisonY
Editado: Fev 6, 2019, 7:58am

>94 Simone2: I love it when I discover a new (to me) author. Looking forward to reading more by her.

>95 thorold: thanks so much for sharing a link to your excellent review. I definitely felt a little frustrated to have finished a fictionalised biography of sorts without having read anything non-fiction about Novalis to match it to. I was interested in the afterword in Fitzgerald's book to learn that his period of writing was really very short - only about five years or so.

I'm not sure I could work through an entire novel from the German romanticist period, but I think I'll read Hymns to the Night as a short undertaking so that I can understand better something of his work.

97AlisonY
Editado: Mar 15, 2019, 5:58am



9. Review - Hymns to the Night by Novalis

Reading Mark's (Thorold's) excellent review of Heinrich von Ofterdingen inspired to me read something by Novalis, as I felt frustrated to have enjoyed The Blue Flower whilst remaining completely ignorant about Novalis and his writing. As German Romanticism isn't my thing I know I'd struggle to read a longer piece by him, so Hymns to the Night seemed perfect as it's relatively short and rounds off The Blue Flower reading nicely - Novalis wrote this in his grief over his child-fiancée's death. Happily there were lots of free versions of George McDonald's translation available on line, so I got to this much sooner than expected.

It's hard not feel for poor Sophie (Novali's muse), as not only did she die an early death at the age of 15, in life she seemed to be entirely vapid and lacking in anything remotely interesting to say. All the more bizarre that someone with Novalis' / von Hardenberg's brilliance should fall for this dull little child (and apparently her physical beauty was nothing to write home about either). Here's an extract from her diaries which give you an idea of Sophie's intellect:

March 1. Today Hartenberch visited again nothing happened.
March 11. We were alone today and nothing at all happened.
March 12. Today was like yesterday nothing at all happened.
March 13. Today was repentance day and Hartenb. was here.
March 14. Today Hartenber. was still here he got a letter from his brother.


Scintillating stuff. Anyway, beauty is in the eye of the beholder so they say, and Novalis obviously saw something in the young Sophie that eluded everyone else.

I was delighted to enjoy Hymns to the Night much more than I expected. Given how hard and inexplicably Novalis loved Sophie in life, it was unsurprising that his mourning of her should be nothing short of dramatic despair in the romantic tragedy of it. Yet this account of his pull to the night as he mourns her was nothing short of beautiful. A short mixture of prose and poetry, Novalis describes how in grief he is drawn to the night, when he feels much closer to Sophie through the mysterious spirituality of the darkness than he does in the cold light of day when his loss is most keenly felt. I expect that many who have lost someone close might argue that the night-time is the hardest part of the grieving day, when the sense of loss and isolation is at its most intense, but Novalis finds comfort in the single night-time dream that brought his Sophie once more 'to life', and the keenness of that spirituality which he feels only in the darkness.

Hymns to the Night mixes both religious spiritually with his spiritual sense of Sophie reaching out to him through the stars. It is fatalist writing, with Novalis comforted by his inevitable journey to his grave and the life beyond where love endures and pain is left behind. In the interim (which, bless him, wasn't long to wait), he writes of this heavenly comfort that the night-time brings:

Once when I was shedding bitter tears, when, dissolved in pain, my hope was melting away, and I stood alone by the barren mound which in its narrow dark bosom hid the vanished form of my Life, lonely as never yet was lonely man, driven by anxiety unspeakable, powerless, and no longer anything but a conscious misery;--as there I looked about me for help, unable to go on or to turn back, and clung to the fleeting, extinguished life with an endless longing: then, out of the blue distances -- from the hills of my ancient bliss, came a shiver of twilight -- and at once snapt the bond of birth, the chains of the Light. Away fled the glory of the world, and with it my mourning; the sadness flowed together into a new, unfathomable world.

4 stars - even for non-poetry lovers like myself, this is prose to romantically immerse oneself in. Indulgent reading out loud is mandatory.

98thorold
Fev 6, 2019, 10:30am

>97 AlisonY: Definitely for indulgent reading aloud!
Sometimes books like this make you think “I wish I’d read that when I was 16” - but this one is probably the opposite. It feels like a book that shouldn’t be allowed to get into the hands of anyone who might be inclined to take it seriously.

I’m sure you could have a lot of fun with all that weird mother-imagery if you were at all inclined to Freudian readings, though. What is going on there? Sometimes he’s cutting the umbilical cord, sometimes he seems to be trying to climb back in.

99AlisonY
Fev 6, 2019, 11:06am

>98 thorold: Freud would have a field day with Novalis - all that motherly yearning and then stalking a dumb 12 year old who didn't know any better. "But it's my art, you see". We'd call him something else today, and it most certainly wouldn't be artist that we'd start with.

I agree wholeheartedly that this is not work to be taken too seriously. I did think it beautiful in an over-dramatic way (I can imagine there were plenty of woe-is-me throwing himself on the grave moments), but you can't help but think what a bloody idiot at the same time despite his intelligence. Brains and no common sense, as my mother would say.

100haydninvienna
Fev 7, 2019, 1:20am

>97 AlisonY: , >98 thorold: Fascinating. I'm by no means a German scholar but I've been fascinated by the idea of Novalis ever since seeing him mentioned in one of C S Lewis's essays, which I must have read more than 50 years ago. Just sort of dissolving off into a kind of mysticism, like a non-religious version of Jakob Boehme.

101AlisonY
Fev 7, 2019, 5:10am

>100 haydninvienna: I believe Novalis was very much influenced by Jakob Boehme. I am most definitely not a scholar of this type of literature either, but I enjoyed the short read I did of his work, taking it as I interpreted it, rather than how it probably is supposed to be properly interpreted.

102AlisonY
Editado: Fev 7, 2019, 8:08am



10. Review - A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert

Set in a small town in the Ukraine in 1941, A Boy in Winter fuses the stories of three main characters together. One is a German engineer who has been sent to the town to oversee the building of new roads, yet who hates everything the German forces stand for. Another is a young farm girl whose intended has deserted the Red Army and has now reluctantly volunteers for the German police. Lastly, there is a young Jewish boy who has run away with his younger brother before the troops came to round up all the Jews in the town.

There are many great Holocaust and WWII fictional works out there, but for me this isn't one of them. Seiffert wanted to set the atmosphere of the times, with people from different backgrounds wary and suspicious of each other and as a result avoiding interaction. Yet the characters didn't just lack engagement with each other - they lacked engagement with me as a reader as well. These were horrifying times, yet I couldn't connect to what they were going through. The plot felt rushed and uneven, with peak plot points being reached too hurriedly before the characters and their back stories had been developed out properly.

I get what Seiffert was trying to do, blending the stories of characters from three very different positions in the war who ultimately at heart were all decent people. However, the writing was as cold as her winter setting.

3 stars - fine to pass time with, but not a book I'll think back on again.

103RidgewayGirl
Fev 7, 2019, 12:17pm

>102 AlisonY: Oh, that's unfortunate. I was impressed by The Dark Room.

104AlisonY
Fev 7, 2019, 1:49pm

>103 RidgewayGirl: it may just be me - others seemed to enjoy it.

105Simone2
Fev 8, 2019, 5:45pm

>102 AlisonY: That’s too bad. Like >103 RidgewayGirl: I was very much impressies by The Dark Room. But I have to admit I read other books by her and none were as good as that one.

106AlisonY
Fev 9, 2019, 3:22pm

>105 Simone2: it was just lacking for me, Barbara.

107AlisonY
Editado: Fev 9, 2019, 4:23pm



11. Review - This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Diaries by Adam Kay

So, after 75 people before me at the library were done with this, I finally got my hands on a copy of this book, which has sold a million plus copies and counting. Was it worth the wait? Well, yes - I thoroughly enjoyed it. Will it be the best book I've ever read. No. But that's fine.

Adam Kay is now a screen writer in the UK, but for seven years he was an NHS doctor in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology (or, as he and his colleagues call it, 'brats and twats'), working his way up to Registrar (a couple of rungs on the ladder below Consultant). This is Going to Hurt is based on his diaries from those years, following his journey from lowly House Officer to when he hung up his stethoscope for good.

Kay is a funny man, and it's a very British comedic account of the NHS at its very worst and best. The anecdotes are hilarious, yet they're tinged with sadness as Kay shines a light on just how severely under pressure our public health service is, with doctors working ridiculously long hours often in states of severe sleep deprivation. At best, it's a system that completely undervalues and exploits its best assets. At worst, it's fatally dangerous. Who would allow a pilot to fly 400 passengers counting his sleep in the last few days on one hand? For some reason that's OK if you're a junior doctor (i.e. below the rank of consultant) and performing life and death procedures. Mental health care and support for those doctors totally burnt out and/or suffering from PTSD? Zero with a capital Z.

This book makes me slightly terrified of the next time I need medical intervention. Firstly, never, ever get seriously ill on 1st August, the day Junior Doctors start work (otherwise affectionately known as Black Wednesday, when hospital death rates spike), or on the days of the year they all rotate en masse to a new department and hospital. I believe the NHS is working on changing this, but still - I wouldn't risk it. Stay at home with your slippers and a glass of whiskey. Secondly, if you have the misfortune to be already on a ward and are going to have something serious like a heart attack, definitely do your best to hang on until morning when everyone comes back on shift and you're not stuck with the single (very) junior doctor looking after all the wards by him/herself.

We're very lucky to have a free public health system, but it is straining at the seams to say the least. I know many people who work within the NHS, and the amount of expenditure wastage is criminal, whilst elsewhere spending on key areas is insufficient. Having read Kay's book, I now feel a little less sore about being left for four hours in stage 2 labour with my first child before I was brought into theatre. The doctor who eventually dragged my blue and floppy baby out was likely 5 hours beyond the official end of their shift and on their umpteenth emergency of the day. Thankfully, all turned out OK, but not everyone is so lucky.

Anyway, I digress. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was hilarious, interesting and shocking in equal measure, and I love how Adam Kay doesn't give a toss about keeping NHS lids firmly on - it's all out there, warts and all.

“But it’s a Saturday night and the NHS runs a skeleton service. Actually, that’s unfair on skeletons – it’s more like when they dig up remains of Neolithic Man and reconstruct what he might have looked like from a piece of clavicle and a thumb joint.”

4 stars - a fun read (although possibly not if you're about to have a baby or go in for a gynae operation in the near future).

108dchaikin
Fev 11, 2019, 12:40pm

>107 AlisonY: hope it gets the right kind of attention...well maybe for the next election. Enjoyed catching up. I’ll skip A Boy in winter, but will think about Novalis.

109Jim53
Fev 11, 2019, 8:27pm

>20 AlisonY: I've had this sitting around for quite a while, after throwing it in the bag at a library book sale... maybe I'll actually read it.

110AlisonY
Fev 12, 2019, 1:42pm

>108 dchaikin: Novalis was interesting. You might enjoy him.

>109 Jim53: If you enjoy a good family saga then We Were the Mulvaneys is an enjoyable read.

111AlisonY
Editado: Fev 14, 2019, 12:30pm



12. Review - The Accidental by Ali Smith

Ali Smith has left me discombobulated with this novel, which I have to admit is the calling card of a great writer.

That's not to say I completely loved it; for the first quarter or so I had to make a big effort to stay with it, mostly because I didn't like the characters. The horrible adolescent daughter. The depressed teenage son. The can't-keep-it-in-his-pants stepdad. The pathetic mother. And the setting of a miserable summer rental in an ugly village in Norfolk. So far, so bleak. In fact, it was that gritty British bleakness and the detachment of the family members from each other that turned me off this novel the first time I attempted to read it (and abandoned it).

Once the mysterious Amber appears, it starts to gather pace into an edgy psychological read, and we're thrown all over the place trying to figure out who she is and what she's doing in the middle of the family. That's done very well - she confuses the hell out of you as a reader for a while.

The writing was very, very good, but at times the conscious playing with narrative form irritated me, like Smith was trying so hard to intellectualise and get on that Booker list. And whilst she was clever at getting into the adolescent Astrid's head, often I found it an annoying 12 year old head to be in.

All in all, if you'd ask me would I read another Smith at the end of the first half I'd probably have answered no. But the second half was brilliant and had me reeled right in, desperate to find out where on earth it was all going. So yes - I probably don't love Ali Smith just yet, but there's enough there to tempt me to look at her latest novels if they come my way.

4 stars - clever and unsettling. I'll be thinking about this one for a while.

112VivienneR
Fev 14, 2019, 7:00pm

>107 AlisonY: What a great review! I remember reading something similar about 40 years ago, so I guess not much has changed.

>111 AlisonY: I was bitterly disappointed with this one, especially after reading Autumn, which I loved. Maybe, like you, I need a second try.

113RidgewayGirl
Fev 14, 2019, 8:10pm

My introduction to Ali Smith was with Hotel World which, at the time, was so different from anything I'd read that the author earned my devotion from there on.

114lisapeet
Fev 14, 2019, 9:45pm

>111 AlisonY: That really makes me want to read it. This is going to be the year that I dip into my Ali Smith stash, at any rate.

115AlisonY
Fev 15, 2019, 3:18am

>112 VivienneR: thanks Vivienne - a naturally funny man doing a gynae and obstetrics job is always going to be trouble!

Everyone seems to have rated Autumn very highly, so I'll have to give it a go when it comes my way in the secondhand bookshop.

>113 RidgewayGirl: is Hotel World a novel or short story collection?

>114 lisapeet: I'm still a little unsure about it, but the good parts were so good I think they outweighed the aspects I wasn't keen on.

116rachbxl
Fev 15, 2019, 3:33am

>73 AlisonY: Enjoyed your review of Hot Milk. I kind of suspected that your reaction was the intended result, but it didn't work for me, though maybe it was the right book at the wrong time. I read it not because of the Man Booker endorsement, but because I enjoyed Swimming Home a few years ago. I couldn't remember anything about Swimming Home by the time I read Hot Milk, other than the fact that I'd read it, but on looking up a synopsis just now I was reminded that it was similarly disturbing, elliptical, like walking on quicksand.

117RidgewayGirl
Fev 15, 2019, 8:57am

118AlisonY
Fev 15, 2019, 9:31am

>116 rachbxl: I can definitely see why Hot Milk might not grab everyone. I haven't ready anything else by Levy, so I'll keep an eye out for Swimming Home. Her style reminded me a little of some of Esther Freud's writing.

>117 RidgewayGirl: thanks!

119dchaikin
Fev 17, 2019, 3:15pm

>111 AlisonY: "playing with narrative form irritated me, like Smith was trying so hard to intellectualise and get on that Booker list" - I get the impression this is actually how she likes to write, almost something she has to reign in. But, regardless, I do hope you try Autumn, which is quick read. Mark (thorold) recommended readers start with How to be Both - which is actually where I started based on his recommendation and it worked. So, a second....hmm, I guess actually a third option for you.

120AlisonY
Fev 18, 2019, 3:12am

>119 dchaikin: thanks Dan. I think I will read more by her - she's just not on my 'favourite author' list just yet.

121AlisonY
Editado: Fev 22, 2019, 1:50pm



13. Review - The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

With Alan Hollinghurst novels you always know roughly what you'll get - a story revolving around gay men moving in wealthy upper class social circles in London, and absolutely fabulous writing.

This is the fourth Hollinghurst I've read now, and is up there as one of my favourites, possibly only beaten by The Line of Beauty. It's a modern family saga with the enigmatic David Sparsholt as the thread that links it all together, starting off at Oxford University in the early part of WWII and moving through the decades up to present day London. Although David Sparsholt is at the core of each of the five sections of the novel, at the same time he's merely an accessory to the plot. We're teased by Hollinghurst into wanting to delve more into his story, but he only allows us partial hints here and there, which somehow reflects the private mystery that is the man himself.

From the second section onwards, the novel unfolds from the perspective of his son Jonathan. I'd been hugely enjoying the first section set in 1940s Oxford, and would have quite happily languished there for the remainder of the book. The move in the next section to the 1960s and the distancing of the main thrust of the story from David Sparsholt initially broke the spell for me a little as I'd been enjoying the period setting of the first section, but I took it for what it was and enjoyed Jonathan's moving through the decades as a painter in London who becomes connected with his father's old Oxford acquaintances.

The Sparsholt Affair is a great alternative modern day family saga, centred around the awkward father / son relationship between a gay man keeping up a life of heterosexual pretence - despite having been scandalously outed decades before - and his openly gay son. The two men are from very different eras with vastly differing acceptance of homosexuality, their shared sexuality the elephant of truth in the room that David Sparsholt can never acknowledge to allow their relationship to fully flourish.

All in all, another great Hollinghurst read. I still would have liked to have stayed more with David Sparsholt as the main character and to have become more fully immersed in his story, but this wasn't the point of the story that Hollinghurst wanted to tell. A fabulous writer, Hollinghurst captures acutely the mood of the moment across the ages, from the necessary subtleness of gay flirtations in the war era to the 'out and proud' modern day London gay scene.

4 stars - a wonderful writer who will always be one of my favourites.

122Nickelini
Fev 22, 2019, 9:39am

>121 AlisonY:
That sounds good. I’ve never even heard of it but I’ve liked others by him and agree he’s a great writer.

123lisapeet
Fev 22, 2019, 10:30am

>121 AlisonY: I have a friend who always referred to the previous book as Line of Booty. I've meant to read some Hollinghurst for a while—if nothing else, I'm totally captivated by the title of The Swimming-Pool Library without knowing much about it.

124AlisonY
Fev 22, 2019, 11:18am

>122 Nickelini: it's his latest one - it came out mid 2018 in the UK. I've yet to get to The Folding Star or The Spell - have you read either of those? The general consensus seems to be that they're the weaker of his books, although I'll give The Folding Star a go when I get my hands on a copy.

>123 lisapeet: Line of Booty isn't too far wrong! It's a great read, though. I would start with either The Line of Beauty or The Sparsholt Affair if you're going to give him a go at some point. His writing's perhaps not for everyone as he can a bit explicit at times, but I think he's just fabulous.

125lisapeet
Fev 22, 2019, 11:42am

>124 AlisonY: I'm totally fine with explicit. Thanks for the rec—I think Line of Booty may be it.

126VivienneR
Fev 22, 2019, 1:44pm

>121 AlisonY: Great review! You have reminded me that I've got a Hollinghurst on the shelf.

127AlisonY
Fev 22, 2019, 1:51pm

>126 VivienneR: hope you enjoy his writing as much as I do.

128Caroline_McElwee
Fev 22, 2019, 5:19pm

>1 AlisonY: I like the new reading room up top Alison.

129AlisonY
Fev 23, 2019, 4:59am

>128 Caroline_McElwee: wouldn't it be something to have a reading spot like that. Swoon.

130dchaikin
Fev 25, 2019, 1:37pm

Nice review. No Hollinghurst on my shelves. I should correct that, I’m interested.

131AlisonY
Fev 25, 2019, 4:54pm

>130 dchaikin: I love his writing, Dan, but he wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea.

132Nickelini
Fev 25, 2019, 8:08pm

>124 AlisonY: I've yet to get to The Folding Star or The Spell - have you read either of those?

I've only read The Swimming Pool Library and The Stranger's Child, both which I thought were terrific. I own The Line of Booty but it looks so big so I haven't tackled it yet (I don't tend to like long books)

133AlisonY
Fev 26, 2019, 4:03am

>132 Nickelini: I think you're in for a treat if you read it. I felt it moved at more of a pace than The Swimming Pool Library did.

134AlisonY
Editado: Fev 27, 2019, 4:32pm



14. Review - Decorating with Style by Abigail Ahern

I am worryingly obsessional about interior design and waste far too many hours a week coveting design accessories and rooms on Instagram and home decor websites. Abigail Ahern is one of my Instagram staples; whilst I don't 100% share her eclectic interior taste, I get what she's doing and admire her bold use of dark colours and interesting accessories and furniture. She's pretty big now in UK interiors, and was a forerunner in the trend for faux indoor botanicals.

This book has been on my Amazon wish list for a few years now, so I was delighted that my library now have it in stock. It was a quick read with some great photography. Nothing overly knew for someone obsessively devoted to pouring over interiors pictures on a daily basis, but some good tips to remember (no more than 4 colours in a room scheme.... go big with accessories, no matter how small the room (in fact especially if the room is small).

4 stars - interesting read if dark and quirky interiors are your thing.

135AlisonY
Editado: Mar 15, 2019, 6:03am



15. Review - The Great Lover by Jill Dawson

The Great Lover is a fictional novel based upon the life and loves of the WWI poet Rupert Brooke.

Brooke was part of the influential artistic circles of the day, mixing with the likes of Virginia Stephen (Woolf) and Lytton Strachey, and ringleader of his own influential group of socialites at Cambridge - many of them members of the Fabian Society - who became known as the Neo-Pagans. Renowned for his good looks and boyish charm (W. B. Yeats famously referred to him as "the handsomest young man in England") Jill Dawson has woven a fabulous fictional novel around his love interests and search for self.

Whilst the Cambridge friends and lovers are all based on factual research, in this novel Dawson creates a fictional love interest with a maid Nell who works at the Orchard Tea Rooms in Grantchester where Brooke stayed and spent a lot of his time over a number of years. She uses Nell and Brooke's voices to narrate the story, and whilst their part of the story is purely fictional, they are an instrument to tell an imagined account of many of the real aspects of Brooke's friendships and love interests, some of which is taken from actual letters Brooke sent around this time.

I've mostly found Jill Dawson to be a strong writer who excels in weaving great fictional stories out of nuggets of factual stories from the past, and The Great Lover was another very enjoyable read. Rupert Brooke is the out and out star of the show in this novel; Dawson conveys a very vivid picture of his magnetic attractiveness mixed with geniality and boyish good humour, of his pull and popularity amongst the Cambridge set, and his dark doubts and insecurities around his literary talent, sexuality and understanding of love.

Having finished the novel I almost feel like I'm going to miss being in his company - for me that's great writing.

It's not a perfect novel - despite only being 300 pages long I found it slow to engage me for a while, but once I became immersed in Brooke's world and social circles I wanted to stay there longer as a fly on the wall.



4 stars - closer to 3.5 for the first part of the novel, and much nearer to 4.5 by the end. Jill Dawson remains on my list of unsung modern favourites.

136Caroline_McElwee
Mar 2, 2019, 6:50am

>135 AlisonY: I really enjoyed this too Alison. I read it with my local book group a couple of years ago.

137thorold
Mar 2, 2019, 7:00am

>135 AlisonY: Thanks for that, sounds interesting! - noting it for when I finally get to Rupert Brooke.

138AlisonY
Mar 2, 2019, 7:16am

>136 Caroline_McElwee: I really enjoy her writing, Caroline. I've always felt she's never really got the following that she deserves.

>137 thorold: I'm quite tempted by a Rupert Brooke biography now having read this. I find the English literary circle from that period fascinating, and he seems to have been an interesting character.

His poem 'The Great Lover' concludes this book, which was a wonderful ending to the novel.

139japaul22
Mar 2, 2019, 7:21am

Jill Dawson sounds like an author I would enjoy and I've never heard of her before. Thanks for the recommendation!

140AlisonY
Mar 2, 2019, 8:23am

>139 japaul22: I think you would enjoy some of her books, Jennifer. I really enjoyed Wild Boy, although it's been a long time since I've read it - I wonder would I still love it as much now as I think your reading tastes can change over time. Watch Me Disappear I seem to remember I didn't love just as much, but it was OK. Fred and Edie was enjoyable, but I think The Great Lover was better.

141NanaCC
Mar 2, 2019, 8:28am

>135 AlisonY: This sounds like one for my wishlist, Alison.

142AlisonY
Mar 2, 2019, 3:28pm

>141 NanaCC: I hope you enjoy it, Colleen, if you get your hands on a copy. Like I said, it's not perfect, but I eventually really got into it.

143AlisonY
Mar 5, 2019, 8:52am



16. Review - How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

Clay Christensen is a successful business consultant and business school academic at Harvard Business School. The premise of this book came from an end of year speech Christensen gave at HBS which he was widely lauded for, based around the idea that his young students venturing out into the world should set out clearly for themselves the goal on what they will truly measure the success of their life.

Drawing from this speech, in this book Christensen aims to take a number of key learnings from business and to apply these to life in general, family relationships included.

I'm not quite sure that the book lived up to what I had expected from the title in that it was more about causality and repeatable business patterns. I would say the taking these learnings and applying them to the wider parts of your life beyond business and career perhaps made up only 20% of the book. However, having said that, I found lots of unexpected gems of inspiration out of this book for our own business, such as finding the true reason why someone hires your resources (be that product or service) rather than the reason you think they're buying (or not buying) from you, and some valuable lessons from large company failures, such as Blockbuster's catastrophic failure to stop Netflix from stealing their business from right under their nose.

Clayton Christensen is clearly a very smart but also very nice man - his integrity comes across in this book, and he has some interesting thoughts on successful career people and why they often only realise too late in life that they've focused on the wrong thing (i.e. career) and lost what really matters (i.e. family and friendship).

I wouldn't recommend this book if you're not involved in business - I don't think it would be an overly helpful general take stock of your life type book. As a business book, however (which is not what it's intended to be), I found it very useful and unexpectedly inspirational. I also liked the fact that it didn't go into the in depth minutae that so many business books go into - there were enough short nuggets there just to prompt your own thinking.

For anyone who hasn't already given up reading this review, there's a Tedx Talk on this topic which I'm going to check out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvos4nORf_Y

4 stars - not what I thought it was going to be at all, but very useful nonetheless.

144AlisonY
Mar 8, 2019, 2:13pm



17. Review - The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas

In typically spare Nordic literary style, The Birds is a short novel by one of Norway's most revered classic authors. The main protagonist is Mattias, a man who suffers from learning difficulties and who lives with his spinster sister Hege in a small Nordic town. Although it may not be his only mental condition, Mattias certainly seems to display strong autistic traits.

This is a very beautifully written book, but one that I found hard to enjoy at times precisely for the very reason it's such an accomplishment. Although written in the third person, Tarjei Vesaas puts us smack inside Mattias' mind; we endure his daily social struggles and awkward interactions, and the impact of the huge emotional upheaval he faces when a major change threatens to upset the normalcy that is his life with Hege.

As a reader we feel somewhat for Hege whose life has been so limited by their situation, but the real honesty is in experiencing what it's like to be Mattias. I can honestly say this is probably the first time I feel like I've had a proper insight into how a person with such a condition might feel and how they experience the world at large. Mattias was incredibly frustrating to be around at times from the third person perspective, but we also acutely feel his anxiety, his alternative way of thinking which skews the relative importance of things, and his fear.

4 stars - perhaps not the most enjoyable book I've ever read given its subject matter, but a fantastic achievement nonetheless.

145Caroline_McElwee
Mar 8, 2019, 3:54pm

>144 AlisonY: Adding to my list. I really loved his Ice Palace, Alison.

146AlisonY
Mar 8, 2019, 4:36pm

>145 Caroline_McElwee: it was excellent but I'm not entirely sure I can say I enjoyed it.

147Simone2
Mar 10, 2019, 3:07am

>144 AlisonY: Excellent review. I really loved this book.

I’m catching up (you’ve been on a roll) and enjoyed your review about Hollonghursr. I still need to read this one but it’s good to know it’s almost as good as The Line of Beauty!

148AlisonY
Mar 10, 2019, 2:11pm

>147 Simone2: you've been on a roll : I know - quite surprised myself! I can't imagine I'll be able to keep it up the whole year!

149Simone2
Mar 14, 2019, 2:48pm

I hope you will! I’ll look forward to your reviews. That picture on top of this thread, is that your house?? It’s beyond gorgeous!

150AlisonY
Mar 14, 2019, 3:10pm

>149 Simone2: no, alas it's not my house. I wish - what a fabulous reading nook.

151AlisonY
Editado: Mar 15, 2019, 5:55am



18. Review - Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

Gerry and Stella, an older Irish couple, take a long weekend break to Amsterdam. For Stella it's a purposeful trip to investigate the potential of a life-changing decision she wants to make, spurred on by Gerry's relentless heavy drinking.

I was a little disappointed by this novel. MacLaverty writes in quite a bleak style, and whilst I'm quite up for a good dollop of angst in a novel I find hopelessness much harder to tolerate. He also has a style that involves commenting on every minutiae of what his characters are doing, which I grew weary of from time to time.

My other irk was that I didn't like the fairly one-sided portrayal of the Troubles in the novel. Given that he'd decided to place his characters as now living in Scotland (mirroring his own life), I felt the backdrop story from their earlier life in Northern Ireland was somewhat unnecessary and brought politics into a book which was essentially about love and disappointment. Stella's back story was quite sensationalist, and I think the plot line in Amsterdam would have carried the novel sufficiently without it.

3.5 stars - readable enough, but not a favourite by any stretch.

152Caroline_McElwee
Mar 14, 2019, 5:30pm

>151 AlisonY: Agreeing Alison. There had been such a gap between his novels, and I so wanted to love it, but it was a like, rather than love.

153AlisonY
Mar 15, 2019, 5:55am

>152 Caroline_McElwee: It's my first book written by MacLaverty - I don't think I'll be rushing to check out his earlier work.

154AlisonY
Mar 15, 2019, 6:13am

I'm suffering from terrible midlife brain fog at the moment as my hormones rush to evacuate the building (sorry if that's TMI). Reading over my reviews this year to date I've spotted some terrible grammatical horrors and completely random word confusion which I've now fixed with a blushing face.

Please turn a polite blind eye to further such horrors. This could continue for some time.....

155Caroline_McElwee
Editado: Mar 15, 2019, 7:38am

>153 AlisonY:. I liked his early work Alison: Cal, Lamb, both were turned into fine films. I think I have Grace Notes somewhere, still unread.

Interesting, I let Midwinter Break go, as it didn't come up to expectations, but your mention has brought quite a lot of it back to my mind. Maybe I will revisit sometime.

>154 AlisonY: It happens to us all.

156AlisonY
Mar 17, 2019, 6:49pm



19. Review - I'm a Joke And So Are You: A Comedian's Take on What Makes Us Human by Robin Ince

Robin Ince is an English comedian, but I have to admit not one that I'm familiar with. I believe he's done a lot on the live comedy circuit and the likes of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but more latterly is known for his radio work. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to getting my hands on this fairly new release, as from The Times review it sounded really interesting, and the Amazon reviews - although only in double figures - were very favourable.

What did I think I was going to get out of this? Perhaps an alternative introspection on some of the most common human frailties, such as anxiety. However, I'm afraid I don't share the plaudits on the jacket cover. If I was a stand up comedian, then yes - no doubt I'd find this book particularly interesting, so perhaps that's where the fellow comedian glowing recommendations are coming from. Ince looks at many of the common emotions and characteristics that fuel comedians, such as how they find their creativity, the difficult marriage of the on-stage persona versus the real persona, and imposter syndrome. Whilst it was all well written, I have not been, nor am I planning to be any time soon, a stand up comic, therefore I can't say I overly care too much about why comedians feel the need to follow that line of work and their emotional issues (which - spoiler alert - are exactly the same ones the rest of us face). Would we devour a book on the human frailties of insurance underwriters? I therefore don't see why I should be any more interested in comedians just because some of them are well known and have bigger egos to polish.

I'm not sure who this book is for, beyond those employed in the arena of comedy (that's possibly where the 43 mostly rave reviews on Amazon come from). The last chapter was probably the strongest, in which Ince looks at death and grief and examines how comedians differ in their approaches to how they use comedy to deal with (or not deal with) the death of a close relative, but it wasn't enough to win me back.

2.5 stars - well written but just mind-numbingly uninteresting for large swathes for me.

157AlisonY
Editado: Mar 23, 2019, 6:08am



20. Review - The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson

I picked up a bunch of business books last weekend at the secondhand bookshop and have learnt a valuable lesson - whilst fiction books still remain relevant even if published 20, 50, 100 years ago, the same cannot be said for business books, particularly those orientated around digital businesses. Note to self - check the publication date next time!

This would have been a great read had I read it in 2006 when it first came out, but 13 years later it is outdated as technology has moved so quickly. To Chris Anderson's credit he was pretty much on the ball in this book about the extent to which the internet would affect our shopping habits for music, television and movie media and general products. By 2006 many of these patterns had already started to emerge, but were nowhere near developed to the extent they are today. For example, he refers to Blockbuster in this book, which hadn't yet been completely killed off by the market shift towards Netflix.

It was still an interesting read, as the long tail (i.e. finding hugely successful markets at the niche end of shopping habits) is what's made zillions of dollars for Jeff Bezos and lots of smaller entrepreneurs. Very simply, although less people buy certain goods at the long end of the tail (on a graph of purchasing habits), when you aggregate the numbers of those people times the number of niche products they're interested in purchasing it creates a huge overall market, and online stores (which aren't limited by physical shop shelf space) have enabled businesses to capitalise on that.

Still some interesting points to take from the book at a general business level, but it's just too outdated for where we've moved on to (Instagram wasn't even a twinkle in someone's eye in 2006, and Etsy and YouTube were just getting going). I think there's a more up-to-date version of this book that would have been a better read.

2.5 stars - interesting and well written, but just dated.

158dchaikin
Mar 24, 2019, 10:53pm

>154 AlisonY: - ooh, don’t read my reviews. Mistakes everywhere. And when I catch them, it just means there are a bunch more I didn’t catch.

I’ve been a little awol, so enjoyed catching up. Wish you well with your business plans. Don’t be Blockbuster. !!

159AlisonY
Mar 25, 2019, 4:28am

>158 dchaikin: thanks Dan! I'm drawn to business books at the moment as we're in the health tech space which is just at the beginning of the digital revolution curve but is very slow to adapt to change. That makes it difficult for young companies like ours to get a foothold in even though we can see very clearly where health will get to. No Willy Wonka-esque golden tickets just yet in any of the books I've read recently, but I live in hope!

160AlisonY
Mar 26, 2019, 5:15am



21. Review - Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis

Somehow I've had a bit of a run on medical non-fiction books this quarter (all of which have been hugely interesting, even to someone who could only manage a C in GCSE Biology).

Adventures in Human Being is written by a British GP who takes us on an interesting jaunt through the human body from tip to toe. Francis has an interesting approach of mixing modern medical knowledge with occasional forays into medical practices and superstitions from the past or from other geographies (such as how different cultures over the ages have treated afterbirth).

For most of the body parts he tells us about a particular case he dealt with affecting that body part - some are funny, whilst other are sad realities of common deaths (such as the elderly lady who dies after breaking her hip in a fall). Some others are a hypochondriac's nightmare (the young gardener who ends up in intensive care after pricking her finger on a rose bush).

This was a book nicely handled for the non-scientific reader - chapters just the right length, and a nice mix of the clinical and the emotional impact of those clinical diagnoses on the affected patients.

4 stars - I wonder if I could scrape to a B now in that GCSE....

161NanaCC
Mar 26, 2019, 9:41pm

>160 AlisonY: Top marks for your review. :-)

162lisapeet
Mar 26, 2019, 9:44pm

>160 AlisonY: I like the cover a lot, too.

163VivienneR
Mar 26, 2019, 10:03pm

>154 AlisonY: No need to blush. It's something that happens when we use a keyboard in haste. Zap off a quick comment and die with shame later. I've done it often too. I'm sure most people overlook those sort of errors just as they overlook autocorrected words (autocorrect is the worst invention ever!).

>160 AlisonY: Great review! It sounds interesting and I learned a new word: colcaneus. It's always a good day when I learn a new word.

164AlisonY
Mar 27, 2019, 5:24am

>161 NanaCC: lol - thank you, Colleen. My Biology teacher would be so proud!

>162 lisapeet: it's a great cover. It's hard to see in the small pic I've put up, but parts of the body are written in words all through the anatomy.

>163 VivienneR: thanks Vivienne. And yes - it's a very interesting book. Obviously he's only covering the tip of the iceberg in terms of bodily afflictions, but I think the ones he focused on were interesting. I found the chapter covering kidney failure and transplants particularly interesting.

165pmarshall
Editado: Mar 27, 2019, 2:50pm

>27 AlisonY::
I will add it to my list. I have read of the wives separately it will be interesting to have them together. I also added Unnatural Causes.

166AlisonY
Mar 27, 2019, 4:49pm

>165 pmarshall: hope you enjoy it. I really loved Mrs Hemingway.

167AlisonY
Abr 2, 2019, 9:08am



22. Review - A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Oh boy. I wonder if I can think about this book again to write this review without sobbing halfway through.

Despite its vastness (720 pages), if you haven't read it I feel that I don't want to give you any clues whatsoever as to what it's about. I don't want to spoil a single page for anyone else (and incidentally, those 700 odd pages galloped past faster than plenty of 200 page novels I've read). All I will say is that it's beautiful, harrowing, joyful and heartbreaking in equal measures. It's a book of extremities - the worst of life, the best of life, and the unending depths of love.

Who would like this book? Well, I'm tempted to say anyone who has something ticking inside them. (And if you read it and don't sob ridiculously at some point I'd suggest you pull that little ticker out of your chest and give it a shake to check it's still working). This is a book that will squeeze out every last bit of emotion from you. That it can do that and sustain itself for so many pages says everything about the quality of the writing.

That's me done. I'm too emotionally depleted to think of anything else. Just read it.

5 stars - lock yourself away for a few days with a large box of tissues and prepare to be very moved.

168AlisonY
Abr 2, 2019, 9:35am

I should add that some of the scenes are quite graphic and disturbing. If that's not your bag then maybe I shouldn't give such a sweeping recommendation to all.

169RidgewayGirl
Abr 2, 2019, 10:35am

>167 AlisonY: When I read this, I thought for the first 300 pages or so, that I was reading the best book I'd read in a long time, but as the book went on, I began to feel emotionally manipulated and by the time I was done, I was angry with the book. I'm glad that you were able to carry that initial excitement through the entire book.

170AlisonY
Abr 2, 2019, 12:09pm

>169 RidgewayGirl: I think a number of the reviewers on Amazon felt similarly to you on that score. I enjoyed it right to the end, but she definitely aimed to not just pull on the heartstrings but to yank it right out of your chest.

171lisapeet
Abr 2, 2019, 6:10pm

>167 AlisonY: I'm another who felt really manipulated by A Little Life, almost violently so, and pissed off at the book after. But I did read it all the way through, avidly. Kind of couldn't-put-it-down-even-though-you-really-wanted-to. Very polarizing book, for good reason.

172VivienneR
Abr 3, 2019, 1:24pm

>167 AlisonY: I love your review - so much enthusiasm! However, I think I'll pass, heartbreaking stories have too much of an effect on me, and for too long.

173AlisonY
Abr 3, 2019, 1:27pm

>172 VivienneR: I get it, Vivienne. It's definitely one that leaves you with a hangover for a while.

174AlisonY
Editado: Abr 9, 2019, 10:22am



23. Review - Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence - And How You Can Too by Gary Vaynerchuk

I was hoping this would be a great marketing book for our B2B orientated business, but alas not. Not only was it very B2C orientated, it was also everything that I despise about certain parts of business, or should I say certain people involved in business.

To give Mr. Vaynerchuk his due, he's a multi-millionaire so he's been successful at what he does. He understands the different social media platforms inside out, and how each should be worked in a different way. But I do wonder how he managed to get his head out of his own arse for long enough to write this book. It reminded me of all the reasons I stay away from the self-promoting fake-altruistic sham that LinkedIn has become.

Yes, there were a few interesting insights here and there, but I was constantly distracted from the real life examples of people 'crushing it' by the repetitive reminders that 'oh by the way, they 'crushed it' after reading Gary Vaynerchuk's first version of this book written in 2009'. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. I care less.

And then there was the 'crushing it' phrase itself. What a tosser.

If you polish your ego regularly on the hour and can think of nothing better than spending 16 hours a day developing your personal brand on social media, look no further than this book. Otherwise, pick the fluff out from between your toes or something else instead.

2 stars - crush him

175thorold
Abr 3, 2019, 5:13pm

>174 AlisonY: Well, to his credit, he motivated you to write that, so he can’t be all bad :-)

176AlisonY
Editado: Abr 3, 2019, 5:28pm

>175 thorold: busted! You think I'm on LT because I like reading books - just wait a few months until I start pushing my bookmarks business on you all... (cue maniacal social media laughter)

177VivienneR
Abr 3, 2019, 5:44pm

>174 AlisonY: I'd hazard a guess that your review is better than the book!

178AlisonY
Abr 5, 2019, 3:24am

>177 VivienneR: I'm sure a lot of people would love it. In fact going by the reviews on Amazon they do. But I just can't bear that kind of business persona, so he and I were never going to see eye to eye in this book once I got the measure of him (about 2 lines in).

179AlisonY
Abr 9, 2019, 10:20am



24. Review - Educated by Tara Westover

I'm developing a bit of a split personality over this book. The sprite on one shoulder (let's call her Good Read Sprite) thinks it's very good - a well written page-turner and an interesting insight into life in a rural American survivalist family, which hitherto I didn't know much about. But the other sprite (let's call her Cynical Sprite), feels a little played, and having chewed over this for a day it's Cynical Sprite's thoughts that are winning through.

I'm not questioning whether the events that Westover writes about occurred or not - I expect that they did, and that there were many traumatic instances in her childhood and adolescence - but when I compare it to other Misery Lit titles this book feels very self-pitiful, and in some areas I suspected that Tara's viewpoint only uncovered part of the story, which supported how she wanted to position the overall narrative of her life.

For instance, on education she wanted the reader to believe that she had had next to nothing in the way of education before she sat her college exam. It seemed incredible that she could reach such stellar heights against such insurmountable odds, but then we read that 6 out of the 7 children went on to some level of higher education. When I read further around the subject, I discovered that both her mum and dad attended at least a year of university classes each, which Westover failed to mention anywhere in this book. Also, one brother (who I recollect she was close to in the book) has since questioned the accuracy and one-sidedness of a number of her recollections. He admits that their parents were extremists and that things happened to hurt Tara, but he points out that he has a different interpretation of some things that happened within the family. Tara would like us to believe that this is because her family are all indoctrinated by the family's very strict faith and controlling nature of her bi-polar father - yes, that's entirely possible, but equally her can-do-no-wrong self-positioning in this book made me begin to lose my trust in her as a narrator of her story at times, and to wonder what the full story was.

Westover also positions her mother's hugely successful business as a random happenstance that happened to some poor, uneducated hillbillies on the back of treating her father's injuries. That felt very glossed over, and again by sowing that doubt in my mind I further questioned how fully accurate the rest of the memoir was.

In all, I'm very conflicted by this book. I don't feel that we ever got to meet the real Tara - we meet the version of Tara and her story that Westover wanted to portray, and it didn't feel wholly authentic to me. Clearly I'm in the minority on this as I know the world and his wife loved this; I did really enjoy reading it, but I'm not sure I overly liked Tara in the end, which is very surprising as I usually root straight away for the underdog in this type of book. Her story was fascinating, but I think I would have sympathised with her difficult family upbringing much more if she'd let a bit more of the true Tara through.

3.5 stars - a really good read, but I was left with too many niggling questions.

180Nickelini
Abr 9, 2019, 12:33pm

>179 AlisonY: Clearly I'm in the minority on this as I know the world and his wife loved this

Yep, count me in as one of those wives. That doesn't mean I disagree with anything you say here.

Her family's facebook pages are open and I browsed through them. They say she's lying, but they also have a lot of hallmarks of people I don't trust. And her close brother that seemed pretty normal? His family photo tells me he's anything but.

So who knows? She does admit in the book where her memories are different from what others say happened, and where her memory doesn't make sense. Which is the nature of memories. And different people see things differently even at the moment things are happening. So sure, I take it with a grain of salt. But I also don't think she's fabricating her story either.

Wish you could have been at my bookclub meeting when we discussed this. Your voice would have been interesting and welcomed.

181AlisonY
Abr 9, 2019, 1:11pm

>180 Nickelini: And her close brother that seemed pretty normal? His family photo tells me he's anything but.

That did make me chuckle. It's somewhat bizarre that her family have kept their FB pages open.

Perhaps that's another aspect of the book I didn't like; I know Knausgaard talked about his family in graphic detail in the My Family series, but somehow they didn't seem so accessible to the world. By keeping her family name so public you can look them up on social media in seconds like you say, and even Google Earth shows you easily where they live (and incidentally, it's nothing like you would imagine from her recounting in the book - I looked). Perhaps they operate a complete house of horrors and deserve it. Perhaps not. Certainly she went for the jugular exposing them in such a bright light like that.

182kidzdoc
Abr 9, 2019, 1:44pm

Great review of Educated, Alison. All of the reviews I’ve read on LT have been glowingly positive, so I appreciate one that is more critical of the book and its author. I purchased a copy after it was chosen for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize longlist, so I’ll probably read it later this year.

183AlisonY
Abr 9, 2019, 3:05pm

>182 kidzdoc: Thanks Daryl. It's definitely an enjoyable read - it was the accuracy of it as a memoir that I was unsure of.

184kidzdoc
Abr 9, 2019, 4:04pm

>183 AlisonY: I'll keep your comments in mind when I do read it. One formerly active member of LT, who I usually see when I visit London, loved Educated, and since she and I agree on our opinions of books at least 90% of the time I'll definitely get to it, by next year at the latest.

185lilisin
Abr 9, 2019, 10:03pm

Great review of Educated. You and I share the exact same opinions but you expressed them better (which is probably why no one commented on mine). I hated that I had just read a 400 page book about Tara but still knew nothing about her. I hated how she points out her father's bipolarism but never suggests to herself that she might also have it. All in all, while well written (although a little jumpy and half-hazard at parts) and it certainly caught my attention, I just couldn't trust any of it.

186AlisonY
Abr 10, 2019, 4:01am

>185 lilisin: for me, you hit the nail on the head with the word 'trust'. I only read the first part of your review when you posted it as I was nervous of spoilers as I was still mid book, but I've read it fully now and I agree wholeheartedly with you.

187japaul22
Abr 10, 2019, 7:55am

Interested in the discussion on Educated. I just bought it to read during some extensive travel I have coming up. I thought it sounded like the kind of book that would be engrossing and help pass the time on a long flight. Sounds like even if you don't love it that might be true?

188AlisonY
Abr 10, 2019, 8:42am

>187 japaul22: oh it's definitely a page-turner, and perfect reading fodder for a long flight. Don't let my review put you off - I did enjoy it, but I'm just sceptical about its full authenticity.

189sallypursell
Jul 10, 2019, 4:32pm

Hi, AlisonY! I came by to thank you for visiting me at my 2019 thread.

190AlisonY
Jul 10, 2019, 4:48pm

>189 sallypursell: no problem, Sally. Always nice to see what other people are reading who have similar reading tastes.

191sallypursell
Editado: Jul 10, 2019, 11:44pm

>179 AlisonY: The arch side of me said this: "Well, the unreliable narrator is very much in fashion."

And I offer you this poem on the nature of memory:

Knap the sensoria; sheer by the parallax
Bright sharp shards of circumstance.
Images imaged.

I give you instruction:
Excise by your privy lens; choose;
Make memory of a memory,
An edit of edits.
Fables enfabulate; Impose your Story;
That's if you know who you are.

Sally
Este tópico foi continuado por AlisonY: 2019 - Rash and Random Reading II.