All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

(Extremely) Mini Reviews {11} – What I’ve Been Reading Lately

on October 30, 2020

I realised there’s a few books sitting there in my reads that I haven’t actually written anything for and I thought I’d just whip up another of these posts to try and include a few of them. A lot of them were actually read a little while ago so my recollections are probably a little vague now!

Actress
Anne Enright
Vintage Digital
2020, 269p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This is the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O’Dell, as told by her daughter Norah. It tells of early stardom in Hollywood, of highs and lows on the stages of Dublin and London’s West End. Katherine’s life is a grand performance, with young Norah watching from the wings.

But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine’s past, or the world’s damage. As Norah uncovers her mother’s secrets, she acquires a few of her own. Then, fame turns to infamy when Katherine decides to commit a bizarre crime.

Actress is about a daughter’s search for the truth: the dark secret in the bright star, and what drove Katherine finally mad.

Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives. A scintillating examination of the corrosive nature of celebrity, it is also a sad and triumphant tale of freedom from bad love, and from the avid gaze of the crowd.

I was curious about this because Enright had won a Man Booker or whatever it’s called these days and this book was also long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. She was also taking part in the Melbourne Writers Festival and this happened to be available through my local library at the right time. I was able to read this before her MWF session, which was my preference just in case the sessions talked a lot about things best left unspoiled.

This was okay. It was interesting in the way it was told, from the perspective of the daughter of an actress, who was kind of this person on the outside looking in. I enjoyed a lot of the narration of Katherine’s early life coming into acting, especially around London and Dublin and found her an interesting character in many ways. But I also felt that for me, it kind of lost its way a bit the further I got into it. However there was enough in the writing that I would read more of Anne Enright.

6/10

Book #150 of 2020

Readhead By The Side Of The Road
Anne Tyler
Vintage Digital
2020, 192p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. He measures out his days running errands for work – his TECH HERMIT sign cheerily displayed on the roof of his car – maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime and going for runs (7:15, every morning). He is content with the steady balance of his life.

But then the order of things starts to tilt. His woman friend Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a ‘girlfriend’) tells him she’s facing eviction because of a cat. And when a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with another surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle.

Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.

I had never read Anne Tyler before but I had heard some amazing things about her writing. I’m not sure this one was the best one to start with, but it was the only one available through my local library so I decided to try it. Like Actress above, this was just okay for me. It started off quite promising, I was sort of interested in Michah and his somewhat very compartmentalised life but the arrival of the past actually ended up making me lose interest. And it wasn’t long enough for me, I found it a bit unsatisfying – like the previous one, perhaps not the best choice for starting, maybe there are others out there by Tyler that I will like more.

6/10

Book #157 of 2020

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing
Jessie Tu
Allen & Unwin
2020, 293p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Growing up is always hard, but especially when so many think you’re a washed-up has-been at twenty-two.

Jena Chung plays the violin. She was once a child prodigy and is now addicted to sex. She’s struggling a little. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing family demands, those of her creative friends, and lots of sex. Jena is selfish, impulsive and often behaves badly, though mostly only to her own detriment. And then she meets Mark – much older and worldly-wise – who bewitches her. Could this be love?

When Jena wins an internship with the New York Philharmonic, she thinks the life she has dreamed of is about to begin. But when Trump is elected, New York changes irrevocably and Jena along with it. Is the dream over? With echoes of Frances Ha, Jena’s favourite film, truths are gradually revealed to her. Jena comes to learn that there are many different ways to live and love and that no one has the how-to guide for any of it – not even her indomitable mother.

This was another book I read before the Melbourne Writers Festival as Jessie Tu was also the focus of one of the sessions that I’d booked into. This book sounded really interesting – and her session at the Festival was amazing, I really enjoyed it. But….even though the book was well written, I have to admit, the subject matter wasn’t always particularly for me.

There’s a lot in here about loneliness, about grief and longing and unfulfilled or untapped potential. The main character is incredibly destructive – addicted to sex, constantly searching for the high I think she gets from being with someone, and she’s willing to put herself into some pretty dangerous situations in order to achieve it. She’s also for a large part of the book, involved with an older man in what seems to be a borderline abusive relationship that seems to cause her a lot of grief but that she seems to struggle to break away from, but it was never really made clear why she was so enamoured with this person. I enjoyed Jena a lot more as a character when the action moved to New York and I felt like I got the focus of her music, of her playing ability, of her actually wanting something and achieving something.

There’s some very strong racial representation here which was fantastic and I felt like the complexities of being the offspring of migrants was explored well, as was Jena’s prodigious talent but a lot of the more gratuitous stuff left me cold.

6/10

Book #161 of 2020

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing is book #57 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Loner
Georgina Young
Text Publishing
2020, 247p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Set in Melbourne, Loner is a humorous and heartfelt exploration of new adulthood. Lona kills her days by sneaking into the dark room at her old art school to develop photographs. She kills her nights DJ-ing the roller disco at Planet Skate. She is in inexplicably, debilitatingly love with a bespectacled Doctor Who-obsessed former classmate, and in comfortable, platonic love with her best friend Tab. Lona works hard to portray a permanent attitude of cynicism and ennui but will her carefully constructed persona be enough to protect her from the inevitable sorrows and unexpected joys of adult life? Loner re-examines notions of social isolation experienced by young people, suggesting sometimes our own company can be a choice and not a failing. 

I really enjoyed this – I thought it was something I could really relate to, even though I’m now much older than Lona. I loved the setting in Melbourne and the little touches like Lona’s job working as a DJ in a roller disco. For many people, leaving school and beginning that next phase of your life is really difficult and Lona is navigating that – things aren’t working out, she’s stopped going to her university. She is also stretching her wings by moving out, finding a job that will help pay the bills, that sort of thing. She’s met someone she likes. The chapters are very short, which gives it a quick feel and there’s a lot in here that reminded me of my own first forays out of my parent’s home.

7/10

Book #162 of 2020

Loner is book #58 in The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Dreams They Forgot
Emma Ashmere
Wakefield Press
2020, 228p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two sisters await the tidal wave predicted for 1970s Adelaide after Premier Don Dunstan decriminalises homosexuality. An interstate family drive is complicated by the father’s memory of sighting UFOs. Two women drive from Melbourne to Sydney to see the Harbour Bridge before it’s finished. An isolated family tries to weather climate change as the Doomsday Clock ticks.

Emma Ashmere’s stories explore illusion, deception and acts of quiet rebellion. Diverse characters travel high and low roads through time and place — from a grand 1860s Adelaide music hall to a dilapidated London squat, from a modern Melbourne hospital to the 1950s Maralinga test site, to the 1990s diamond mines of Borneo.

Undercut with longing and unbelonging, absurdity and tragedy, thwarted plans and fortuitous serendipity, each story offers glimpses into the dreams, limitations, gains and losses of fragmented families, loners and lovers, survivors and misfits, as they piece together a place for themselves in the imperfect mosaic of the natural and unnatural world.

Unfortunately, short stories are just really not for me. I’ve almost never found one that I like but I keep being tempted by them. These are in many ways, written very well but they just don’t speak to me. I am always left wanting more or wondering what happened next and in some cases, wondering what on earth actually happened. Sometimes they’ve very ethereal and mysterious. Perhaps the way I read as well, doesn’t particularly suit this mode of storytelling – I’m very much a read in one sitting type of person, I like to begin and finish. These might be much better dipped in and out of, really taking the time between each one to mull the prose over and sink into the ins and outs of what’s being told.

Book #180 of 2020

This was book #69 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

The Lying Life Of Adults
Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
Europa Editions
2020, 336p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Giovanna’s pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks. Giovanna, he says, looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true? Is she really changing? Is she turning into her Aunt Vittoria, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father clearly despise? Surely there is a mirror somewhere in which she can see herself as she truly is.

Giovanna is searching for her reflection in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and Naples of the depths, a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves from one to the other in search of the truth, but neither city seems to offer answers or escape.

Named one of 2016’s most influential people by TIME Magazine and frequently touted as a future Nobel Prize-winner, Elena Ferrante has become one of the world’s most read and beloved writers. With this new novel about the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, Ferrante proves once again that she deserves her many accolades. In The Lying Life of Adults, readers will discover another gripping, highly addictive, and totally unforgettable Neapolitan story. 

I loved the Neapolitan Quartet and I was really excited for this, Elena Ferrante’s next book. However – I didn’t love this at all. In fact I struggled my way through it, constantly bored with the plot and the characters. A couple of times I considered DNF’ing it but in the end I persevered until I got to the finish. Honestly I just didn’t care about anything that was happening here.

3/10

Book #197 of 2020

Binti (Binti #1)
Nnedi Okorafor
Tor
2015, 96p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive. 

Going to be honest here – I chose this book to read because I’m pretty behind in my Reading Women Challenge and I also didn’t have anything that qualified as Afrofuturism/Africanfuturism, which was one of the prompts, so I had to buy something. A few people recommended this in the Goodreads group and it’s really short – only 96p. It’s the first in a trilogy and so in order to make a bit of progress, I decided to read this.

It was really good – despite the lack of length in the story, it felt incredibly well rounded and the characterisation and description of setting were very well done. Binti is the first of her people to be offered a place at a very prestigious university and she has to basically turn her back on everything she knows in order to accept it, almost running away in the middle of the night. On the way there, the ship is attacked by these alien creatures – and Binti is one of only two left alive. She can communicate with them and so she makes a sort of bargain, in order to preserve her life.

I’m really tempted to go on with the other 2 instalments, they’re probably quite short too and I’m keen to know what happens next for Binti.

8/10

Book #209 of 2020

Binti counts towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. It’s the 18th book I’ve read and ticks off prompt #7 – Afrofuturism or Africanfuturism. This leaves me with 8 books to go for this challenge, which is definitely going to be a real struggle!


One response to “(Extremely) Mini Reviews {11} – What I’ve Been Reading Lately

  1. Extremely mini reviews! Love it!

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