“De-stashing” is a yarn-hobby term for when you get rid of yarn, either by selling, trading, or giving away. I have a bunch of mass market paperbacks in reasonably decent to good condition that I’m finally letting go. I’ve been doing this for years and it’s time to say goodbye to another batch.
These are all romance novels, mostly historical. A lot of them have been digitized, but not all, and some you may not have heard of. I got rid of a couple dozen Marion Chesney Regency Trads quite a while back, but I held on to one series and to her books written under the Jennie Tremaine label:
The Tremaine books are mostly Edwardian-set, which is unusual in the historical romance/trad genre, and they are often hilarious.
I also reluctantly decided to let go of my Georgette Heyer paperbacks. Some are in dire shape and they’re going in recycling, but these are all OK and certainly readable:
Argh, I’m a day late. But the “short shorts” prompt for January is my friend. I meant to read all of Jeannie Lin’s newest release for this month but I ran out of time and only had time for the first story. Even this brief return was enough to remind me why I like Jeannie’s work so much.
“Big Trouble in Old Shanghai” is the first in a 3-story collection set in her Gunpowder Alchemy world, and the connection is made in the title of the collection: Tales From the Gunpowder Chronicles. I read the previous two novels and one of the short stories when they came out and really enjoyed them. They’re not straight romance, rather they are wuxia-inspired adventure tales with romantic elements, but they are written with the same careful attention to the historical context of all her stories.
I was halfway through the story before I realized that the title was a riff on Big Trouble in Little China, the 1986 adventure film directed by John Carpenter starring Kurt Russell as Jack Burton. Lin says in her author’s note that the American main character here, Dean Burton, is a tip of the hat more than a recreation of the movie Burton. The narrator and main protagonist is Ming-fen, a young woman who works in the Western concession zone of Shanghai. She has only her elder brother, Ren, after her parents were exiled as traitors by the Manchu Dynasty. Shanghai is roiling with rebels plotting to overthrow the Manchu, and Ren turns out to be smack in the middle of it. Ming-fen has no love for the Manchu rulers, but she doesn’t want to get caught up in rebellions that are bound to leave hundreds if not thousands of innocent people caught in the middle.
But when rebels stark attacking, she’s forced into running for her life. Ren has armed her with a red sash, which signals that she is sympathetic to them, and she is slowly trying to make her way back to her home and hopefully safety when she falls in with Dean Burton, an American businessman she knows from the Dragon’s Den bar where she works. She becomes embroiled in Dean’s furtive activities in ways I won’t detail because the story is best read without spoilers.
In the hellscape that has been 2019, my reading was a bright spot. I didn’t read as much as I did in 2018 and I failed a bunch of challenges, but I enjoyed what I read. I broadened my reading horizons and revisited old favorites. I’m not going to make a Top 10 list, but here are some books and patterns that stood out to me.
I read 70 71* books this year. The first half had me on pace to read 100 again, but by summer I was mired in work stuff, and my vacation and other travels were less reading-friendly than usual. Fall semester was even worse, and there were stretches where I barely read at all. Given those developments, 71 books feels like an accomplishment. And last year I wondered if I’d read too many books, because I want to remember what I read. Anyway, the total number is fine. I didn’t have a total books goal, so what I read is what I read. I’ve been cataloguing them at LibraryThing, so you can see the full range of my 2019 reading there.
Of the 71, the majority were 4 stars or above. That isn’t great for a reviewer’s distribution, but for a reader it’s satisfying. Apart from a couple of lists with a range of types of books (TOB) and challenges (especially the Romance TBR Challenge) I tended to pick books I expected to like. As opposed to when I was reviewing for Dear Author, I didn’t feel as if I had to cover a particular swath of the genre.
I read more books in translation than I have in the past, in part because I followed the Man Booker International award in the spring. I also read a few more translated mysteries by Japanese authors, and I paid more attention to translated Quebecois fiction. And I continued to buy books from Fitzcarraldo, who publish quite a bit of translated fiction.
My standout translated novels were The Sound of Things Falling, Soldiers of Salamis, At Dusk, and Life in the Court of Matane. I still have Songs for the Cold of Heart, Dupont’s Giller shortlisted book, in the TBR and plan to read it soonish. A friend strongly recommended Vasquez’s The Sound of Things Falling, and I have two more Cercas novels in the TBR (and he has a new one coming out this year). And while I DNF’d two highly regarded translations, I think I’ll revisit both of them, because I may have just read them at the wrong time.
My reread through the Smiley novels continues, and this was a big one. I’ve never revisited The Honourable Schoolboy after the initial read, and I’m pretty sure I powered through it way too quickly on my way to Smiley’s People, because I remembered very little of the story. This installment is highly rated by most reviewers, although Clive James panned it in the NYRB when it first came out. And he’s not wrong about the “elephantiasis, of ambition as well as reputation” that seems to undergird the novel. But I agree with the majority who praised it. Yes, it’s baggy and long and there are a multitude of storylines. But it’s not that way only (or even primarily) in order to produce a novel that is more than “merely entertaining” any more than The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is merely entertaining.
The novel takes a while to get going. We are first introduced to a group of foreign journalists in Hong Kong, who are hanging out and speculating about the sudden rolling up of the British government office there. We then move to Tuscany, where the Honourable Jerry Westerby has rented a small house, taken up with a young woman he refers to as “the orphan,” and is desultorily writing a book. There’s a surfeit of local color and stereotypically colorful characters in both settings, and I had to force myself to keep going. But then Westerby receives a telegram that send him back to London, the Circus, and George Smiley. The Circus is in dire straits after the discovery of Karla’s mole in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the atmosphere is funereal. But Smiley and his much shrunken band of investigators discover, during their wrapping-up operations, that there may be an important Moscow agent operating in East Asia. Jerry Westerby assumes the guise of a journalist and heads off to Hong Kong, while in London Smiley puts together a team of Soviet and China hands (the former led by Connie Sachs) to pore through the records and connect whatever dots they can find.
In addition to the main two storylines, there are a number of subsidiary ones involving the raft of characters le Carré introduces. He builds a thick context with backstories not only for them, but for even minor figures who appear once or twice. Westerby’s mission is to trace the movements and relationships around Drake Ko, a prominent and powerful Chinese businessman in Hong Kong whose interests extend into China. This leads him to Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, and other sites of the Vietnam War. Ko’s mistress, Lizzie Worthington, provides an avenue to other associates, and since she is beautiful, mysterious, and in jeopardy, Jerry naturally falls in love with her.
Meanwhile, back at Cambridge Circus, Smiley and his group are doing battle not only with the British foreign policy establishment (readers will note the reappearance of several characters from TTSS), but also with the Americans, known to the British as the Cousins. The Cousins were in the background before but now they are front and center, and le Carré brutally depicts the way the balance of power has shifted between the two nations and their intelligence operations. Britain is barely hanging on in Hong Kong while the US owns the Southeast Asian theater, for good or ill. Smiley is constantly battling unholy alliances between ambitious and amoral members of each side, who use the opportunity to advance personal rather than collective goals.
In a comment to one of the posts on our Fen Rivers Way walk, Ros pointed out that The Nine Tailors was set in the Fens and described it as one of the best descriptions of the area she knew. I had completely forgotten that not only did Sayers set novels in the area, Lord Peter Wimsey’s brother is the Duke of Denver. As in Denver the town and Denver the sluice. Good grief, how did I not remember this? TheHusband did, but we didn’t talk about it on the path.
I pulled out my copy of The Nine Tailors a couple of weekends ago and started reading. It has been described as one of Sayers’ best novels, even the best by some. All I remembered about it was that there was a lot of information about bell ringing and bells played a major role in the story. But as soon as I started reading I realized how much more than that it was. Sayers spent part of her life in the Fens and was very familiar with the villages and the agricultural life of the area, and it shows.
Lord Peter and and his man Bunter have an automobile accident on the way to a house party during the holidays and wind up in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul. They are put up by the vicar and his wife and Lord Peter becomes drawn into the vicar’s (and the village’s) central passion, which is bell-ringing. The church is famous for its bells, and on New Year’s Eve Lord Peter helps out the village’s group of bellringers in their effort to set a new record.
On their way out of town after the car is repaired the two encounter a man who is looking for work, speak with him briefly, and go on their way. Lord Peter notes his condition and the discrepancies between who the man says he is and what his appearance suggests, but thinks little more about it until he is contacted by a young member of the village for help in identifying a body that was buried where it shouldn’t have been.