I started this because it was named to the Man Booker Prize longlist in 2016, and I was hearing good things about it from some of my reading friends.I started this because it was named to the Man Booker Prize longlist in 2016, and I was hearing good things about it from some of my reading friends. Despite not being named to the short list, I decided it was worth finishing.
I feel two ways about this novel. On the one hand, there is some very violent stuff in this book. Rape and murder and guiltless violence all around. There are frequent derogatory words directed at other races and women. But on the other hand (and forgive me but there really is another hand here!) the writing is stellar. Specific, descriptive, captivating writing that pulls you in immediately, into this gritty godless world of mid 19th century whalers and seamen. Compared to the other gritty disturbing unlikeable book that made the shortlist, Eileen, I felt this was stronger on all accounts - the unlikeable characters seem to be a product of their environment, the story has momentum to it, and everything comes to a close. There isn't an idealistic thread in the entire thing, unlike certain books about whaling and seamen written by authors living during that actual time period. Life is hard, people are faulty, and nobody even agrees on the good of humanity.
I'm not sure I'd recommend it to every reader. But to be transported to a world of outlaws at sea, this is the place....more
I only just read The Last Unicorn this past year, a book that enchanted me and my imagination. I was excited about this novel because the descriptionI only just read The Last Unicorn this past year, a book that enchanted me and my imagination. I was excited about this novel because the description and cover caught my attention. This was definitely a summer read because the season is central to the story.
I don't want to give a lot away but this is an interesting blend of mythology and real-life, present-day settings and characters. This was a difficult combination, and the characters are just as bewildered as I was as a reader (this isn't a criticism, please read on). The flight attendant and her longtime partner have had a routine for decades; he has helped be a father figure to her daughter, a woman who struggles to maintain relationships. They live on an isolated island in the Puget Sound, near Seattle. When a beautiful, enchanting, alluring woman appears they find themselves thrown off guard, offering her a place to stay for free, professing love, and even the island acts unusually with a longer summer, music and plants producing unusually well. This seems all positive at first but of course there is an underworld to it, starting with the man who seems to never get off the ferry.
Thanks to the publisher for the chance to read this book early!...more
I wish I could remember who recommended this book to me. I think it was someone in Litsy. If you are out there, thank you! I had not heard of Gladys TI wish I could remember who recommended this book to me. I think it was someone in Litsy. If you are out there, thank you! I had not heard of Gladys Taber and her gentle nature writings. I would call them gentle, as nothing specifically "happens" most of the time, and in this one she chronicles life from her home (Still Cove) in Cape Cod, as a woman living alone with dogs and cats. It was published in 1971, and feels of that time. I wonder how much of the island feels the same as it had to Gladys - I suspect that there are a lot more homes for wealthy people but still the same old problems with nature.
In some ways it feels timeless (the seasonal food places, which was definitely still true on Block Island in the 21st century when I went there) and in other ways it is definitely of its time (she blames having to lock her door on "hippies.") I wish I could have read it while ON Cape Cod, a place I haven't been, but in some ways I have visited it with Gladys....more
I get all the Elizabeths with the four-letter last names confused, and I thought I had tried Elizabeth Hand already. Nope. (It was probably ElizabethI get all the Elizabeths with the four-letter last names confused, and I thought I had tried Elizabeth Hand already. Nope. (It was probably Elizabeth Bear but there is also an Elizabeth Moon.) When Jeff VanderMeer gave a glowing review to the most recent Cass Neary book, I felt I missed something and got the first book in the series immediately.
Fantastic. Darker and grittier than I expected, loved Cass, loved the hint at potential supernatural elements that may just be the side effect of a drug-addled mind (or maybe not), love the setting of bleakest remotest island Maine in the winter, love the art elements. I got up early and went late to work so that I could finish it. I haven't needed to read a book straight through like that for a long time. Only sleep got in the way.
You could probably hand me a phonebook from a cold weather island location and I would devour it. In this book the author writes about several placesYou could probably hand me a phonebook from a cold weather island location and I would devour it. In this book the author writes about several places along the "sixty degrees north" parallel, with the unique fact that he comes from one of them. So he is writing about home and family (with the recent loss of his father) alongside the remote and unforgiving landscapes.
One of the cities he visits (Turku, Finland) is where one of my uncles is from. And I had yet to read anything set in the Shetland Islands, and they are now inching toward the top of the list of places I really want to see.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy through Edelweiss....more
"As every Antarctic traveler knows, once you being to fear the ice, the relationship changes forever."
From the beginning of this novel, you know that"As every Antarctic traveler knows, once you being to fear the ice, the relationship changes forever."
From the beginning of this novel, you know that there will be a ship that sinks near Antarctica. The narrator, Deb, is an ornithologist specializing in Adélie penguins, who spends several months a year tracing penguin migration, counting numbers of chicks and survivors, etc. In between research tasks she gives tours and talks to tourists who have come to the end of the earth.
Along the way, she falls in love, with a man who seeks out isolation and danger for his own reasons. She sees her life and her love for him through the lens of her unique world - the ship, the ice, the birds.
"Today I'm looking at an entirely new skyline - the icebergs have split and shifted, floated and collided and melted - not unlike Keller and me over the past two years. We're all still here, only different."
Everything is metaphor but I loved it entirely. I don't usually like romance all that much but put a love story inside a cold, bleak place and make the stakes high and I'm all in!
Thanks to the publisher who provided a review copy of this book through Edelweiss. And for confirming that I could read from and quote from that copy....more
Máni Steinn is a young gay man in Reykjavik, in 1918. The novella is really a capture of a moment in Iceland's history when the cinema is new but alsoMáni Steinn is a young gay man in Reykjavik, in 1918. The novella is really a capture of a moment in Iceland's history when the cinema is new but also instrumental in spreading the deadly Spanish flu. This is the last year of non-independence for the island country....more
This book has everything I can ask for when I read a work of what I like to call creative non-fiction - she interweaves her own experiences (past andThis book has everything I can ask for when I read a work of what I like to call creative non-fiction - she interweaves her own experiences (past and present) with conversations with people within those experiences and multifaceted research. The writing is vivid and brings me into her world of ice and cold. The way she captures isolation, the effect a landscape has on a person, the thoughts that go through your head when you are trapped at the bottom of the world - it is very powerful. If it were not an advanced reader copy I'd be adding a bunch of quotes to this review to show what I mean.
I received a review copy of this from the publisher with a very short window, so I had to move it above other books. But I will be sad to see it expire. This is a definite purchase for my cold-weather-island shelf at home, one I think I would dip into again to read about the cold. Perhaps it can replace Anna Karenina as my summer antidote book!...more
This was one of the books recommended to me in my romance novel reading quest. I can see why, as it is set on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and the cThis was one of the books recommended to me in my romance novel reading quest. I can see why, as it is set on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and the central character is a woman finding herself and love after a bad breakup. She stays with her great-aunt on the island, and finds a journal from 1943, one which seems to have something important inside.
This was more complex than many of the contemporary romance novels I read but still had that taste of ultra-convenience when it came to the right people being thrown together at the right time. (I'm still chafing against the borders of genre conventions.) ...more
I bought this book on impulse on my first trip to a new bookstore downtown (M. Judson) because it checked off quite a few boxes for me - librarian asI bought this book on impulse on my first trip to a new bookstore downtown (M. Judson) because it checked off quite a few boxes for me - librarian as main character, set on a cold weather island, and put out by an indie press. It sounded like something that would be right up my alley!
The book is told over the course of the year, broken up into seasons, which of course do set the pace for an island. Summer reading, summer patrons, empty winter, etc. This is not a small island as there are tourist cabins but also normal people, and the woods, where Mayumi spends quite a bit of time.
"It began at the library."
Mayumi is in a sexless connectionless marriage and when she feels an attraction for a high schooler that comes into the library, she acts on it and ends up in a relationship with him for a while. As I've said in a previous review this year, I'm not titillated by this type of relationship (and that review was about a college student!). In this book it just reads as strange, not sexy. There doesn't seem to be a mutual attraction, just that he is doing what she says. Since Mayumi is reading Lolita throughout the book I do wonder at the connection, but having never read Lolita I can't really comment.
The relationship starts without buildup except for in her head. It seemed completely unrealistic. I notice that the author works in a library on a cold weather island... yeah, you can't help but wonder the connection, ha. It almost reads as an impulse the author had, didn't follow through on, and decided to play out as a novel, and that would actually explain why some parts of it don't feel very situated in reality.
And this little quote makes me wonder if I'm right, and this is in the beginning!
"Then it was like reading of love in a book. One feels the many pleasures without inflicting any pain. In the end, no one is hurt or saved but the solitary reader. When one closes the book, life resumes. The husband continues to irritate, the child continues to breathe heavily in her sleep...."
What does ring true are the depictions of isolation and grief that occur in smaller parts of the novel. Those parts are more memorable and powerful, in my opinion.
The book isn't all bad even if the central story makes me uncomfortable - the description of the island and the seasons transported me as a reader. The character of Mayumi and her lack of roots in any one place comes across very convincingly. I love how she tries to work out her feelings and emotions through the books she is reading, and I definitely wrote down a few titles to read.
This is the first novel by Tseng. I'm still happy I picked a book I knew nothing about, something I want to do more often....more
I started this book during a speed dating project and decided to try to finish all those books I dated and decided to keep and finish before the end oI started this book during a speed dating project and decided to try to finish all those books I dated and decided to keep and finish before the end of 2015.
This is a fascinating account of one year in a life of the first white American woman to travel to the Pribilof Islands. Her granddaughter created this book through her diary, letters, and some artifacts (there are drawings, paper, and ephemera pictured throughout the book.)
The only reason Libby even travels to these islands is to accompany her husband, who after struggling to make ends meet accepts a government position to oversee the seal industry; the United States having only recently purchased Alaska from Russia. Libby gives the best overview in a letter to her parents:
"The poor dear ladies of Czar Alexander II's court must be weeping in their caviar because they no longer can have so easily the sealskin coats they loved so much and must content themselves with the lowly mink and sable. But old Alexander needed money for his impoverished treasury after the Crimean War, so he sold us Alaska, and these islands came with the purchase, as you remember - $7,200,000!"
The journey TO the Bribiliof Islands in 1879 was harrowing enough, leaving from San Francisco and stopping only once in the long chain of what was then called the Onalaska Islands. Libby was a woman who rarely took ill, but was completely out of commission with seasickness (along with most of the people traveling.)
"I have... begun to question whether those who have written so beautifully of the sea were ever on it."
But the journey was just the beginning. Life on St. Paul's Island was incredibly isolated, with a diet primarily of seal and whatever else they transported in. Entire chunks of the year would not allow shipments in and the winter of 1880 is quite harrowing.
"The sea is frozen for miles. The ice holds the surf in bondage so that there is no longer the boom and wash of waves breaking below us. The silence, except for the keening of the winds, is ominous. It is the silence of death."
It was interesting to read her diary and her letters side by side because often she is leaving out the greatest challenges when she writes home - those of survival and problems in her marriage. She was honest in her diary in a way that really gives an insight into how she was feeling and what was really going on. ...more
This book is not a copy of Station Eleven but I kept thinking as I listened to it that the same people who liked Station Eleven would love this book.This book is not a copy of Station Eleven but I kept thinking as I listened to it that the same people who liked Station Eleven would love this book. I think this one is better because it is more realistic and doesn't try to tell such a broad story. Set in a post-disaster Washington (state), it is looking more at a community that has been rebuilding after an eco-disaster triggered by earthquakes. The central character of Lucie returns to the island where her father was killed to reconnect with her childhood best friend, who lives as part of the community.
I loved Alexis M. Smith's first book, Glaciers, so I was excited to see what she did next. This one is more complex in the sense that it is about more than just a relationship between two people, and somehow it is the relationship in this novel that was less than satisfying. I think part of my issue was in listening to the audio, trying to grasp the distinctions between 2014 and 2016, so close together. There are some parts of story that seem to be telling the meeting of Lucie and her park ranger boyfriend, but then the majority of the story is later on, during the time where she reunites with her friend. I'm not sure why it needed to go back and forth, and it made both relationships a bit disjointed.
The setting of the novel, on the other hand, is stunning. An imagined San Juan island close to the Canadian border with its ruined landscape. An exploration of how mycology might restore a damaged environment. Anyone who loves the northwest or cold-weather islands (like me) should read the novel just for the placeness alone. I got a sense that the author had done some... research... on the mushroom element. Ha!
I listened to the audio, narrated by Emily Rankin. Most of the time she does a fine job, although she does the low whisper in some sentence endings that seems to be a new trend for female narrators. I prefer all my words to be spoken.
Thanks to the publisher who provided a review copy of the audio! I have been waiting to see what this author did next for a while....more
I received a copy of this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Cold weather island story? Sign me up!
There are a lot of elements in thI received a copy of this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Cold weather island story? Sign me up!
There are a lot of elements in this book that made me think it would be pretty enjoyable - World War II but set in Scotland (tired of WW2 but okay, never read a Scottish take on it), the highlands (my ancestral home), Loch Ness, Canadian lumberjacks and wartorn barkeeps (lots of beards.) It was easy to read, and I finished it in an evening.
Will I remember it later? Probably not. I think the author tries to do too much and should have focused more. The details about the war are thrown in from time to time but have little to do with the core characters, except to explain their status. There are hints of feminist protest over Maddie's marriage and mental health, but it is touched on in a way that only makes her seem hopeless. Her husband is completely unlikeable and I hated her for placating him; I would have liked more nuance there.
There are slight elements of local lore and the main character's experience with it but I think MORE of this would have been better. I actually think Gruen writes better in that mode (with the romance) than in the historical fiction mode. The other strength comes from the relationships between the female characters, all of whom are more developed than the men - the mother-in-law, the women at the inn, Abby's maithar - I think if the book had come closer to a historical novel about women like The Thrall's Tale it would have felt richer. The author skims the surface of many things but there are hints of good stuff here. This might be one of those instances where were it not for deadlines and making a living, it might have been a good idea to step back and say, "Hey, this isn't where I thought I was going when I started, but these are the best bits," and write it again. I would have also liked to see more of the story after the ending....more
Neil Gaiman is an excellent teller of stories, and I usually enjoy his audio. This is an entertaining short story, not as twisty as some of his, but I liked the musical interludes and accompaniment. He seems to be writing several stories set in the Hebrides and this was a nice trip there.
I'll have a longer review of the set of stories soon!...more
This book tries to do many things - it has a hint of dystopia, not very fleshed out. It is somewhat biographical about Orwell, but only to explain whyThis book tries to do many things - it has a hint of dystopia, not very fleshed out. It is somewhat biographical about Orwell, but only to explain why the main character ends up on the Isle of Jura. It talks a bit about advertising and tries to connect it to Orwell's 1984. Written differently, I think the advertising guy fleeing to the Hebrides could have been a compelling story except...
This is a book about whiskey. The author talks more about whiskey - the different varieties, how they taste and smell, oh the peat, oh the caramel - than any of the rest of those topics combined. I think he should consider writing a "Whiskey of the Hebrides" book since that seems to be the true fascination. It watered down (har har) the rest of the novel....more