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Category: reading

Book-related thoughts

This is a grab-bag post of things I’ve been mulling over.

Goldsmith Prize: My favorite fiction prize was awarded to a very deserving book. Yes, Lucy Ellmann won for Ducks, Newburyport. There were other novels that I would have been happy to see win, e.g. Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything, but Ellman’s work is such an amazing accomplishment. I’ve only read 50 of the 1000+ pages so far but even that short section made it clear to me that something important was going on. This doesn’t change my general attitude to prizes, but I’m very glad that both Ellmann and her publisher, Galley Beggar, will reap the financial rewards that come with a major prize.

Also, reading Ellmann’s interviews as she did her Booker publicity tour has been a hoot. She is completely unapologetic about her dedication to Literature with a capital L and to her belief (one I share) that too many men fail to take women’s work seriously. A man writing a 1000-page book about whatever is brilliant. A woman writing a 1000-page book about a middle-aged married woman in suburban Ohio who bakes pies and thinks about the world around her is doing something weird and unnecessary. Some of the more prize-obsessed readers I follow online were distressed by her answers to questions. She was insufficiently respectful of readers, etc. My reaction: You go, Lucy. You write what you want and you treat the publicity tour crap however you want. It deserves very little respect, frankly, and if writers of literary fiction can’t write what they want and expect readers to come to them, we are truly doomed as a civilization. Which we probably are anyway.


Jeannie Lin has a new book out! It’s a collection of short stories set in the same world as the Gunpowder Alchemy series. It’s her first publication in quite some time, and she made the difficult decision to keep the ebook off Amazon. Lin talks about it at AAR and more extensively at her blog (buy links are at the bottom of her post). This is a major instance of putting your money where your mouth is, given how thoroughly Amazon dominates the book market, especially in the US. Kudos to AAR for hosting her explanation, although of course they don’t miss the opportunity to point out that they make all their money from Amazon (as most blogs with referral links do) and will continue to keep that relationship. And of course there’s that one commenter who spends many, many words explaining how important and wonderful Amazon is for self-published authors. Great place to make that pitch, author-person.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for October: Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley

I know, I know, it’s November so I’m really late, but I did read it (late in October but still October!). So here you go.

Kearsley is one of my favorite authors, but shockingly, I haven’t read all of her available books yet. This one has been in my print and ebook TBR piles for years. TheHusband read it quite a while ago and liked it a lot, but I kept saving it for later. The theme of this month’s challenge is Paranormal/Romantic Suspense, and this novel is at the edge of RS, but Wendy is always saying readers don’t have to follow the categories. Anyway, it’s mysterious and somewhat suspenseful and while it deals with the past, it’s not a timeslip or two-era storyline.

Kate Murray is a Canadian journalist living in London. She is just finishing up covering a trial when an old man approaches her and says he has an important story. She brushes him off, politely but still a brushoff, and as he’s walking away he is hit by a car and dies. Her remorse leads her to try and find out more about the man, Arthur Deacon, and the story he wanted to tell her, which was about a long-ago murder. She has a couple of strange encounters in England which put her on her guard, but it’s when she goes back to Canada that the story really heats up. Her beloved grandmother turns out to have some tantalizing bits of information that fit into Kate’s puzzle, but there are any number of people who don’t want that information to come out.

Kate becomes determined to search for the truth of what Deacon was telling her, a search which takes her back to Europe and to sites of events during World War II. She learns much more about her grandmother’s wartime life as a young single woman, which includes a stint in New York City working for the Canadian version of MI-6, and she finds that she is connected to Arthur Deacon in ways she could never have anticipated. Along the way she meets a mysterious man who is also seeking information on Deacon and the events he described, and they keep running into each other while they are conducting their respective interviews and searches for documentary evidence. Is the man a threat or on her side? It takes a while to find out and I wasn’t sure at all what was going to happen.

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Nobel and Booker prizes 2019: You had one job!

The Nobel Prize for Literature was announced last week and the Booker Prize for Fiction was announced yesterday. Both organizations awarded two winners, for different reasons. The Nobel double award was made up of the 2019 prize and the delayed choice of the 2018 prize, the latter having been suspended because of the discovery of corruption and worse on the part of (some members of) the committee and its allied participants. The Booker two-fer resulted from the jury’s inability to reach a decision on a single winner despite having an odd number of jurists, which rules out the possibility of a tie vote. Its decided, against both the stated rules and the exhortations of the Booker organization, to flout their terms of reference. Good times all around.

The Nobel committee awarded the 2018 prize to Olga Tokarczuk, who seems eminently deserving of the recognition. So are a lot of other authors, but that’s always the case. And hey, if the Nobel crowd can get the number of women up to 15 by choosing Tokarczuk, I’m all for that.

But then there’s the 2019 winner, Peter Handke. I have read none of his written work, although I’ve seen some of the films for which he’s written the screenplays, and they are superb. But in the Year of Our Lord 2019, why are we giving an award to someone who spoke sympathetically at Slobodan Milosevic’s funeral? Who was skeptical that massacres of Muslims by Serbs in Bosnia were actual massacres, and posited that there may not have been a genocide? It’s one thing to separate the art from the artist to recognize great art, it’s another to elevate and celebrate the artist for an entire body of writing, which is what the Nobel does.

The Booker jury’s decision is simpler and less, well, stomach-churning. A massively popular and critically acclaimed novelist, one who has been frequently mentioned for the Nobel, was recognized for a sequel novel which no one believes is as good as the original (which itself was shortlisted but did not win in its Booker year). She shares the prize with Bernardine Evaristo, whose book has been widely acclaimed by critics and Booker-focused readers, and who is highly regarded but not that well known by the reading public (much like Anna Burns, last year’s winner).

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for September: A Spanish Affair by Helen Brooks

I read this at the very beginning of the month and had planned to read something else for the challenge, but work keeps intervening and I’m way behind on all my non-required reading. Luckily, this entry on the Harlequin TBR fit September’s challenge, which is “Kicking It Old School,” i.e., a romance published ten or more years ago. A Spanish Affair was first published in 2001, so it definitely qualifies. I like Brooks’s Presents books as a rule; they mix sweet and steamy in a way that works for me. The heroes and heroines tend to fit the Presents formula but are not OTT. This particular novel falls on the sweeter side, by a lot, and it felt almost Burchell-like in terms of the plot, characters, and romance.

Cover of A Spanish Affair

Georgie has left her job to come and take care of her recently widowed elder brother Robert and his two young children. Robert’s business was neglected during his late wife’s final months and it’s now teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Georgie is combining PA and other office duties with childcare, and she’s in the office when a badly needed client comes in. The client, our hero, is Matt de Capistrano, who gets off to a bad start with Georgie when he overhears her disparaging him before she’s even met him. But to give him credit, he sets that aside and deals straightforwardly with Robert and the potential business deal they are considering. Matt makes some calls which enables Robert to continue taking on customers and Georgie swallows her initial reaction to help out her brother.

Matt finds Georgie charming despite her hostility, as one does when one is a Presents hero. He works with her and also pursues her, and she rebuffs him, as one does when one is a Presents heroine. But they continue to be thrown together, including by Robert, who befriends Matt, and by his children, who find him as charming as George eventually will admit he is.

The story cooks along in a workplace-romance, getting-to-know-you way. Then there is a sharp turn and acceleration to the romantic storyline, which is precipitated by Matt’s need to go to his family home in Spain (he is half Spanish, half English). Georgie learns more about his background and family, Matt deals with his feelings for Georgie, etc. etc. All too quickly they have their realization, retreat, return to each other, and HEA.

Overall I enjoyed this quite a bit. There’s nothing terribly unusual happening, Georgie is one of those sensible, pretty, and quietly competent heroines, and Matt’s Spanish-ness is quite dialed down from the usual “Latin Lover” approach, which I appreciated. It was just the timepass I needed when I read it, and it reminded me of how often Helen Brooks writes satisfying categories.

A Spanish Affair is #373 on the Harlequin TBR.

Thoughts on the Booker Shortlist and the Giller Longlist

Yes, it’s awards season again. Labor Day is over and my library holds are coming in with a vengeance, what with all the Big September Releases. The Booker shortlist and the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist are coincidentally released on the same day. I woke up to the Booker news, which had been announced at 10am BST, and then waited for the Giller announcement to be delivered from St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador at 8:30am my time.

The Booker shortlist:

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
  • Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

I’ve only read one of the six (the Obioma, which I reviewed here). That seems unusually low for me, but I do own three of them and have a fourth coming from the library in two weeks. And I’d read five of the seven longlisted books that didn’t make it. I will probably not read the Atwood any time soon. I read The Handmaid’s Tale back in the 1980s and still have my ancient mass-market paperback edition. It made a big impression on me then but I haven’t wanted to revisit it, and I had no interest in the TV adaptation. So I’ll wait for the reviews and word of mouth to see if I want to read the sequel. The Rushdie is getting mixed reviews, but I’m curious about it and I got in early on the library hold list so I can at least sample that before the winner is announced.

I was sorry not to see the Luiselli on the shortlist, especially after listening to her talk about it and read from it at the National Book Festival. My reading and reviewing of it was shaped by my knowledge of her personal life and Alvaro Enrigue’s work, but the panel I attended helped me separate that from the text, and the further away from it I get the more I think it is an excellent novel. But there are plenty of US awards coming up, and I’m sure it will be in consideration for at least some of those. Of the others, I don’t have strong feelings about their omissions from the shortlist. I enjoyed the Braithwaite and the Lanchester entries but they each had shortcomings and I don’t see them as Booker winners., I think the Barry, which I have finished and need to review, is stronger but a bit slight compared to some of the other entries. And I was the outlier on the Porter from the beginning.

On to the Giller longlist:

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