For some reason, I don’t take in and linger on books I listen to rather than read, making it harder to write a review so I will keep them all on this page.
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki ***1/2 19/11/22 Audible
This is a long book with big ideas and concepts in it – what is real?, Can objects talk to us?, What role can books play in our lives?, alongside a mother and son trying to establish a life on their own after thier husband/father was run over by a chicken truck whilst high.
I don’t often get irritated by characters but Anabelle, the mother, did irritate me – her smothering, singing nursery rhymes to her 14 yr old son, Benny, and sinking deeper and deeper into depression and hoarding until she can’t be seen.
There is a fine cast of characters who come to Benny’s rescue and eventually his mother’s as well.. Although you can see the end coming from a long way off, it is still a relief when it gets there.
This book is about life on the edge: the financial edge, emotional edge, mental well-being edge and in places it tips over to the other side. It is a book about objects – holding on to them, listening to them and letting them go. And it is a book about grief and loss, a book of stories – how we all have them although they m ay not always be able to save us. There is a lot to discuss in this book so it would make a good book club choice. When I read that Ozeki was a film-maker, a Zen priest and a teacher of writing, I could see that all in this book.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker **** 1/10/22
This is the story of The Iliad not told from a women’s point of view but is a woman’s point of view of war and being on the losing side and it just happens to be the Battle of Troy that is used. The women are silenced through enslavement, rape, humiliation, hardship, grief and loss and daily violence. There are several instances for the men where they realise that there is a fate worse than death – that is to be kept alive by the conquering army and used.
This is a raw, earthy story with the language to match. I wasn’t so sure about the use of the second voice for the men that started about half-way through the book. Did we need their point of view or was it just to retell events rather than how the women feel? I enjoyed this and might now listen to some of Natalie Haynes’ retellings and Madeline Miller’s.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee ****1/2 02/09/22
A wonderful family saga spanning three generations of Koreans who lived in Korea and were then exiled in Japan and treated as second class citizens. This is the story of the women and how they held the family together with their resourcefulness and sheer hard work. I have to say that I learned a lot about Korea and its history through this book including when the north became a separate country and persuaded some Koreans to go back only for them to disappear.
Food also features heavily in the book both in terms of dishes and how cooking was used to create a living, from the bed and breakfast where the workers used to sleep some on the nightshift and some on the dayshift to having a stall and selling kimchi. Running throughout the book is also the shadow of one man who was the father of Sunja’s baby who looked out for her and ensured that he supported her when he could even when she didn’t want him to. This book was an excellent listen. If I had a choice I would listen to Pachinki first and then Crying in H Mart second.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner ***1/2 29/08/22
This is a grief memoir about Zauner’s mother and how she reconnected with her mother and culture through food and cooking. Zauner hints at a difficult teenage time and maybe beyond and how she and her mother were just starting to connect again when she died. She did take time to care for her mother over her last 6 months and that was not easy. But like so many of us, she only truly came to understand some of her mother once she had died, as her mother said always keep 10% of yourself back, and you can’t help but think more than 10% was kept hidden by her mother.
In all honesty I hate smother mothers and I did feel like Zauner’s was a bit like this – wearing in your new boots for you, telling you how you want your food and a million other little things that just make me cringe. I understand that this was her mother’s way of showing her love but I find it too clingy and involved.
Zauner does relate very well about how long it took for success as an artist, she has a band, takes and it is not without irony that she tells how the songs which set her off on tours and gave her some success are those she wrote about her mother. That is, her mother who didn’t really want her daughter to be in a creative role but to be ‘secure’. And now to add to her creative talents, Zauner can call herself an author. She deserves it.
Dogstar Rising by Parker Bilal **** 24/08/22
This is the second book in the Makana series and very good it was too. Set in Egypt whilst solving a murder. the book looks at religious differences, rising hate between Muslims and Copts, the criminal world and banking with death and violence and the use of young boys as a criminal gang. Egypt was described well and the book had a sense that it couldn’t really be set anywhere else and deal with all the issues that it did.
By Her own Design: The story of Ann Lowe, Society’s best kept secret by Piper Huguley ***1/2 06/08/22
This is a true story but fictionalised to imagine the conversations and emotions of the characters involved. Ann Lowe designed and made dresses for high-society women, a black woman who had not finished school but who had learnt to sew at her mother and grandmother’s knees. She was remarkable in that she went to design school, although had to sit in a separate classroom to the rest of the students and who was twice divorced. But she made that famous wedding dress for Jackie Onasis. It is a truly remarkable story but I did start to get a little annoyed by the number of times I heard the ‘who’d have thought that a little black woman . . .’.
I didn’t know this story and it was one worth listening to.
The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn read by Olivia Vinall **** 13/07/22
This was a wonderful story set before and during WWII in Dorset. Cristabel and her siblings are feral and with Cristabel being the eldest, all follow her. A Russian artist arrives and stays in a cottage in the grounds of the house and encourages Cristabel in her artistic endeavours including putting on a play in which all the children and some of the locals play a part.
Acting is a key theme in the book – her step-mother Rosalind acts to attract attention, her step-father Willoughby acts as a father and an adventurer but also it is a coming of age story and about a young girl finding her voice. The book didn’t get 5 stars because although it is well written there were no surprises or tension. You could always guess what was going to happen but it was an enjoyable listen whilst sewing.
The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst *** 1/2 02/07/22
I didn’t realise it but this is the 9th book out of a series of 15 called The Night Soldiers so there are plenty more where this one came from.
I didn’t listen to this book other than when I was cleaning so unlike The Christie Affair, it didn’t grab me enough to just listen to it. However, it is the sort of spy novel I enjoy – detail, subtlety and slow in pace. It tells the story of a newspaper man working on an anti-fascist paper read in Italy but also of love for a woman that he needs to get out of Berlin. In fact, this is a book about love – love for a woman, for his country and not wanting it to fall to the fascists and love for the freedom to say and write what you want.
I knocked 1/2 a star off the rating because I was so surprised by the non-ending. There was an ending in terms of the woman he was in love with but not of the paper and his impending work as a British agent unless that is all picked up in the next book.
I will read the whole series eventually and have added it to the books in series page.
The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont ***** 14/06/22
This was an excellent book which I listened to whilst I was sewing. It manages to bring together Christie’s real life disappearance for some days, a Christiesque problem and the wrong-doings of the Catholic Church as far as mothers and babies were concerned into one riveting story.
The book is structured around the days of Christie’s disappearance but jumps backwards and forwards in the narrator’s life. I loved the bit at the end of the book where the writer acknowledges that she can have any ending she wants and so chooses the ending. This device lets us know that the writer has been present the whole time choosing what happens and so we know not to take what is in the book as the actual facts that happened during the disappearance.
I loved it! And, I also loved the dress I made as well.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride read by Dominic Hoffman ***1/2 07/06/22
I didn’t read this book for ages because it just didn’t appeal to me from the title and cover. However, listening to it, it was a better book than I thought so as they say, never judge a book by its cover!
This is the story of a black community based around a church and housing project in Brooklyn and the consequences of one of its Deacons going out and shooting a local young man, Deems Clemens who used to be a great pitcher in baseball. The characters, of which there are many, are richly drawn with backstories that are believable and at the start are separated into two stories that eventually converge.
The interesting thing about the story is that you as the reader know the answer to the problem before the characters do so you almost feel like shouting at them in parts. They have to be led to the solution by ghosts and very old ladies with some sleights of hand from the main characters in terms of what actually happened to them.
This book is a comedy but there is a dark undertone throughout and which peeks through every now and then. There is suppressed anger and an acceptance of things that shouldn’t be, including the ants. The ants have a section all to themselves, swarming around the housing and moving further and further each year until someone manages to stop them with fire. It may be a metaphor for drugs on the estate and the whole story being told and it shows the relentlessness of life and surviving.
In listening to the story I have missed out on the fantastic sentence constructions that the reviewers talk about, some a page long. The crafting of the author is much harder to appreciate through sound rather than seeing the words written down.
Shibumi by Trevanian ***** 01/06/22
This was an excellent story, I listened to it whilst I was gardening, cleaning and doing nothing. I came across it because I had read Satori by Don Winslow which is a prequel to this book.
This is a thriller written in the 70s but is really a discussion about the differences between Americans (they don’t come out of it well) and Japanese with Trevanian referring to the Americans as merchants because everything is based on money. The British don’t come out of it well either coming across as bumbling. Hey ho! There is a really good description about mysticism or what in yoga we would refer to as being at one with the cosmos and all there is and about the sense of somebody near you that you can’t see or hear. However, the story is about The Mother Company that runs MI5, CIA etc and a bungled job that allows someone to escape to Nicholai Hel (the hero) and who then takes his revenge.
Hel is the typical hero speaking 6 languages including Basque which he taught himself in solitary confinement in prison, practising the martial art where you use everyday objects to kill people and being a brilliant player of the board game Go. These are all skills you need in this type of story.
I wish I had read this book and it may be that when I finally have nothing to read I will return to this and get the book.