Holiday reading October 22

I’ve been a way for a fortnight in France but of course I have been reading. Rather than write a post for each book, I am going to continue my holiday round-up of everything I have read or listened to in one post.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriella Garcia *** BorrowBox

I tried to read this book but couldn’t get on with it and so left it. Then a friend told me about BorrowBox that our library has where you can borrow audio books – cheaper than my Audible habit. It is very easy to use but new books are booked out for months to come – there must be just one copy so I’ll get Stone Blind by Natalie Hayes on the 22nd of March 2023! Looking around for something that was available now, I found this book and thought I would give it another go but listening to it this time. And, yes. I did manage to finish it.

It is the story of three generations of Cuban women leaving Cuba for different reasons and tells of their lives and traumas starting in the early 19th century with women rolling cigars for a living listening to french literature whilst working.

Garcia says that the book started as short stories that she extended and joined together and for me that is exactly what the book felt like. it was a bit disjointed – jumping forwards and backwards between stories. There was however much relevance with today as we listen on the news to how we treat refugees and the lives of undocumented people in America.

Moskva by Jack Grimwood ***** BorrowBox

I found this whilst looking through the books on BorrowBox for something that was available now. An excellent book and perfect to listen to whilst knitting. Major Tom Fox is sent to Moscow as a punishment 6 months after his daughter had died, only to find that the ambassador’s daughter had been kidnapped. The story ties together the past and present by involving people who were present in Stalingrad WWII and what they are up to now. The book moves backwards and forwards between the present and past well and although the ending was expected, it demonstrated compassion in a harsh world.

The Painter’s Friend by Howard Cunnell ****1/2

In the bio at the back of the book Cunnell mentions that he writes poetry and you can tell in this novel. Incomplete sentences and descriptions of places through the lens of colour.

The forest was deeper that it seemed from the outside. The dog ran away from me. Flashes of Red. Into the trees. Across the invisible line between any forest I might come to know, and the place where she was born.


The pale places in the sky grew larger, and the wide river appeared out of the dark, soft grey at first, then shining to reflect the rising sun. Fragile colours blooming so that the dog and I, standing in the bow, in the join between the river and thesky were bathed in immense peach and golden washes. Sounds – waking voices, birdsong, the indefinite mysterious sounds made by creatures who lived on or under the water – all of these echoed across the river. Softly, we were reached by the edges of the hot day to come.


This is the story of a working-class painter, Terry Godden, who leaves his rented room and takes up residence on the river in an empty and damp boat and joins the community who are threateded with eviction.

This book is about so much (too much maybe):

  • what happens when developers move into a community
  • art as activism
  • community
  • how artists are treated by gallerys and middlemen and where the money goes
  • the companionshiop of dogs
  • life on the edges – finding your tribe
  • the death of a child and the community’s response

It is definitely a book for a book club discussion and here are some of the questions that arose as I read the book.

  • The front cover mentions that this book is an incendiary story about class. Is it?
  • Art as activism is very relevant at the moment, e.g. the tomato soup on a Van Gogh painting. Does the means justify the end? How radical or effective is the activism in the book?
  • The writer is also a poet. Could you tell? What did you think of the writing?
  • There are all sorts of reasons why people end up on the edges of society. Where do they go when they are moved on?
  • Were the characters familiar, likeable, unexpected?

The sky became a sweeping wash of tangerine and coral pink. Infills of deep purple that would soon dominate. A fairground sky.


Portrait of a Thief by Grace D Li ** Audible

This was a book of two halves – the plot and the writing. At its heart it is a heist thriller based on five Chinese – American students who are invited to repatriate some of China’s great works that are dotted in museums around the western world. Each student is an expert in a field such as drag racing or software engineering and all their skills are called upon at some point in their quest. There is the intervention of another group who are also trying to steal art and a father who works for the FBI in the art theft world. This all leads to an ending which is unexpected if a little neat. I found the plot very convincing and entertaining. Some of the themes were about beauty, art and what it means to be a child of an immigrant.

The writing, however, left me quite cold and I thought it needed a bit more editing. You know it’s not good when you start a tally chart of how many times the sunset or sunrise are referred to or the sharp angles of the cheekbones or jawlines of the students and in this respect it is disappointing. If you are looking for different similes and metaphors for describing times of day or the sky, this book is your bible!

skies like chinese paintings, all pale light and tentative lines

This is a good one. Not all were like this.

The clouds were so fluffy they almost looked false.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell ***1/2

This books does what is says in the title and although the blurb says how funny it is, I only smiled once or twice – just the sort of person Bythell would hate!

What did come over loud and clear is the destruction that Amazon has caused the bookselling industry and particularly independent booksellers who just can’t compete.

I remember sometime ago the owner of a furniture and tea shop we frequent asking me to guess how much money he took a week. It is always busy so I suggested about £10,000 and he laughed. On a good week they can take about £1000. It comes as some surprise to see tht on some days this bookshop has very few customers and takes little money – Feb 7th, 4 customers and till total £67.

This bookseller has diversified and sells walking sticks, antique furniture, has what is called the Random Book Club and a bed in the shop that can be hired out during Wigtown Book Festival.

It is an interesting insight into an independent bookseller’s life and shop.

Nights of Plague by Orhan Parmuk ***1/2

Blimey – this is a challenging book.

It took me ages to realise that the narrator is female despite the introduction to the book which says so. At its most simple it is the story of a plague (bubonic) in the early 1900s on a mediterranean island called Mingheria which is invented. The thing is, the book could have been written about Covid in the 2020s with very few changes.

Quarantine is a labour of unity and collaboration.


Someone should have told No.10 this.

It describes the spread of the disease, the difficulty in asking people to quarantine and the enforced isolation. It also shines a light on how crises such as this can show up the cracks in society that are hidden such as the difference between the muslim and christian population’s response to the plague on the island and explores nationalism, what we see and what is the truth and finally the death of the Ottoman Empire. If I knew more about Turkey and its battles between traditionalism and modernism, secular and Islamic society, I would say that really this is what the book is about.

There are many writerly deceits in this book starting with the academic discovery of a series of letters (again imaginary) that form the basis of the book. In parts the book feels like a detective novel, a folktale and sometimes like a history text book or guide. There is quite a bit of repetition and I can’t work out whether this is deliberate or not.

This is a looooonnnng book and requires some stamina but I bet it gets on a longlist for a book award next year.

Pleasantville by Attica Locke ****

A legal procedure novel based around voting and the dirty play that goes on behind the scenes. Written in 2015 but very relevant as I write this on the day of the mid-term elections in 2022. Deep down, as usual, it is all about money and proving that you can have an impact on/manipulate the results of voting.

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