Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

I’ve borrowed Demon Copperhead from the library and I’ve started reading it – even though I’m currently in the middle of two other books. As it’s had such good reviews, I’m a bit worried that it won’t live up to all the hype for me. It’s a retelling of David Copperfield, which I read earlier this year.

My Book Beginning:

First, I got myself born. A decent crowd was on hand to watch, and they’ve always given me that much: the worst of the job was up to me, my mother being let’s just say out of it.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

Finally Miss Barks turned round with her elbow on the back of the seat and said let’s talk about where we are going. I’d be staying with a gentleman named Mr Crickson that took kids for short-term only. He had boys there now. The Cricksons had been regular fosters until his wife passed away, and now he just took in the odd hardship case.

So, I’m guessing Miss Barks and Mr Crickson are the equivalent characters of Mr Barkis and Mr Creakle in David Copperfield. I have a feeling I should not approach this book as a retelling of David Copperfield, or I’ll be forever comparing the two and not really reading it as a book in its own right, as it were.

Synopsis:

Demon’s story begins with his traumatic birth to a single mother in a single-wide trailer, looking ‘like a little blue prizefighter.’ For the life ahead of him he would need all of that fighting spirit, along with buckets of charm, a quick wit, and some unexpected talents, legal and otherwise.

In the southern Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, poverty isn’t an idea, it’s as natural as the grass grows. For a generation growing up in this world, at the heart of the modern opioid crisis, addiction isn’t an abstraction, it’s neighbours, parents, and friends. ‘Family’ could mean love, or reluctant foster care. For Demon, born on the wrong side of luck, the affection and safety he craves is as remote as the ocean he dreams of seeing one day. The wonder is in how far he’s willing to travel to try and get there.

Suffused with truth, anger and compassion, Demon Copperhead is an epic tale of love, loss and everything in between.

~~~

What do you think? Have you read it, or are you going to read it? Do you like books that retell classics?

The Black Mountain by Kate Mosse #NovNov22

Week 4 in Novellas in November is Contemporary novellas (post 1980)

The Black Mountain by Kate Mosse (136 pages) 3*

This is a Quick Reads publication – a series of short books by bestselling authors and celebrities. They are designed to encourage adults who do not read often, or find reading difficult, to discover the joy of books. I like the long novels Kate Mosse writes, so I wondered what this short novel would be like.

It is historical fiction set in May 1706 on the northern part of the island of Tenerife, where Ana and her family live in the shadow of a volcano, known locally as the Black Mountain. It’s also a murder mystery – Ana’s father Tomas had apparently committed suicide, but Anna just can’t accept that and reading the letter he’d left she is convinced it was murder. She is determined to find out the truth.

Legend says the mountain has the devil living inside it and when the devil was angry he sent fire and rocks up into the sky. However, there has been no eruption for thousands of years and no one believes it is a threat. Sometimes the earth trembled and shook but the sky never turned red. Until, that is two days after Tomas’ death. He had seen the signs that the mountain was about to erupt and had tried to warn people – but they didn’t want to know. When more tremors occur, and grey ash starts falling Ana realises the danger signs are increasing and she needs to warn people that they must flee before the volcano erupts and destroys their world.

I enjoyed this novella, reading it quickly, feeling almost as though I was also in danger as the Black Mountain threatens to erupt and wondering if Ana would discover the truth about her father’s death in time for her to escape.

The Black Mountain is based on a real historical event. The town of Garachio erupted from May 4 to 5, 1706, which was disastrous not only for the town but also for the entire archipelago. Its port concentrated a large part of the international trade that linked the island with Europe, Africa and America.

~~~

I’ve read a few of the Quick Reads. Here’s a list of all the available titles.

Two Short Reviews: Coffin Road by Peter May and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Two more short reviews as I try to catch up on the books I’ve been reading. Both are excellent books, each one with a great sense of location and descriptive writing bringing the scenes and characters vividly to life.

First, Coffin Road by Peter May, is a standalone novel, set on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. I read it because I loved his Lewis trilogy. There are 3 strands to the story. There’s a mystery surrounding a man, washed up during a storm on a deserted beach on the Isle of Harris. He is wearing a life jacket, is battered and bruised – and has no idea who he is or where he is. The only clue to why he is living on Harris is a folded map of a path named the Coffin Road and following the route marked on the map he finds some hidden beehives that are familiar to him. In the second strand DS George Gunn investigates the murder of a bludgeoned corpse discovered on a remote rock twenty miles to west of the Outer Hebrides. And thirdly, a teenage girl in Edinburgh is desperate to discover the truth about her scientist father’s suicide.

It is fast-paced, almost impossible to put down, and full of intrigue and mystery. Each strand of the story kept me guessing, wondering what the connections between them were. It’s tense with the sense that time is running out for all the characters and I wasn’t sure whether any of them were reliable narrators or were who they appeared to be.

In addition the bees have a major role in the story. All the facts about the bees slot seamlessly into the story and I learned quite a lot about bees that I didn’t know before, especially their role in climate change.

The Wonder is a very strange story. It’s uncomfortable reading, but I felt I just had to read it. And although it moves at a slow pace I read it quickly in large chunks. It is tense, full of atmosphere and just like Coffin Road, I found it almost impossible to put it down, such is the power of Emma Donoghue’s storytelling.

The plot is simple: it is set in a small village in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s. Eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, Lib Wright, trained in the Crimea by Florence Nightingale, and a nun, Sister Michael are hired by a committee of influential locals to spend two weeks observing her to make sure she is not being fed secretly.

Lib observes Anna in scrupulous detail, noting Anna’s symptoms. At first she seems a healthy little girl but as the two weeks go by she develops worrying symptoms – downy cheeks, scaly skin, blue fingertips, and swollen lower limbs and hands. Lib begins to realise that it is not just a question of how Anna is managing to exist without food, but also why. What is motivating Anna to persist in saying she is not hungry and doesn’t need to eat? The answer seems to lie in her religious beliefs, and maybe religious hysteria is playing a part as well as the clash between medical science and faith. But is there more to it? Lib wonders about the family’s relationships and the effect of Anna’s brother’s death just a few months before Anna stopped eating.

As Donoghue explains in her author’s note The Wonder is an invented story, inspired by almost fifty cases of so-called Fasting Girls in the British Isles, Western Europe and North America between the 16th and 20th centuries. A film of the book is available on Netflix, but I don’t think I could bear to watch it.

Talking About Detective Fiction by P D James #NovNov22

Week 3 in Novellas in November is Short Nonfiction.

Faber & Faber| 2010| 160 pages| Paperback|My Own Copy| 4*

From the birth of crime writing with Wilkie Collins and Dostoevsky, through Conan Doyle to the golden age of crime, with the rise of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, P. D. James brings a lifetime of reading and writing crime fiction to bear on this personal history of the genre. There are chapters on great American crime writers – the likes of Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett. James also discusses many of her favourite famous detectives, from Sherlock Holmes to Philip Marlowe.

P.D. James, the bestselling author of Death Comes to Pemberley, Children of Men and The Murder Room, presents a brief history of detective fiction and explores the literary techniques behind history’s best crime writing.

I do like reading books about books and as crime fiction is one of my favourite genres I wanted to read Talking About Detective Fiction by P D James. In December 2006 she was asked to write the book by the Bodleian Publishing House, in aid of the Library. It’s a personal account and being a short book doesn’t go into much detail about any of the writers. It’s an overview of mostly British authors, with just one chapter, entitled Soft-centred and Hard-boiled in which she writes about the differences between the hard-boiled school of American fiction and some of the Golden Age writers.

I’m familiar with the work of most of the authors in this book, but there are some James mentions I haven’t read, such as Dashiell Hammett, who wrote short stories featuring the Continental Op and Sam Spade, who also appears in one full-length novel, The Maltese Falcon. James’ favourite of the hard-boiled writers was Kenneth Millar, who wrote under the pseudonym of Ross Macdonald, novels featuring private detective Lew Archer. But she didn’t give the details of any of his books.

The structure of the book is rather loose and meandering. Although it is divided into eight chapters, the works of some, such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers appear in several chapters spread across the book as a whole. The book needs an index to draw the separate entries together! I think the parts I enjoyed the most are those in which James writes about her own methods of working, and the chapter on Telling the Story: Setting, Viewpoint and People.

There is a short bibliography and list of suggested reading at the end of the book. Throughout the book there are several cartoons, which add an amusing touch.

Finally, you need to be aware if you haven’t read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that without any warning, she gives away not just a little spoiler, but the identity of the murderer! I was amazed!

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

Today I’m featuring one of my TBRs books Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, a book I bought four years ago and promptly forgot about it. Earlier this year I thoroughly enjoyed reading State of Wonder and then remembered that I hadn’t read Bel Canto. I’ve just started reading it.

My Book Beginning:

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

The crowd on the floor pulsed with needs. Some had to go to the bathroom again. There were murmurings about medications. People wanted to stand up, to be fed, to have a drink of water to wash the taste from their mouths.Their restlessness emboldened them, but there was this as well: eighteen hours had passed and still no one was dead.

Synopsis:

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honour of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxane Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has mesmerised the international guests with her singing.

It is a perfect evening – until a band of gun-wielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots, intimate friends, and lovers.

What do you think? Would you read it?

Top Ten Tuesday: “Aww” Moments In Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is Favorite “Aww” Moments In Books (Share those sweet/cute moments in books that give you warm fuzzies.) Well this was hard as I don’t read much romantic fiction so I’ve twisted it a bit to include books that moved me to tears. And that was hard too as there aren’t many books that do that. But anyway, here’s my offering today and I’m amazed I found ten – maybe I do like romantic fiction after all:

Saving Missy by Beth Morrey – a special book, full of wonderful characters, ordinary people drawn from life, about everyday events, pleasures and difficulties. the joys that friendship can bring, and the love and companionship that a dog can give you. It moved me to tears.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – the sacrifice that Sydney Carton made to save Charles Darnay from the Guillotine, with these words, which close the book: It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. It just loved this the first time I read it as a teenager – still do.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford  – another book that brought tears to my eyes, a beautiful book moving between two time periods, the early 1940s and 1986, set in Seattle, about the friendship betweena Chinese American boy and a Japanese American girl.

The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker is a romantic novel with a touch of magic about it. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would – a novel about friendship, family relationships, love, caring for others and the importance of finding your own inner strength.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – left alone, Kya survived with help from Jumpin’, the general store owner, who lived in Colored Town and his wife, Mabel, and also from Tate, an older boy who taught her to read and write. It’s a story of survival and the power of love combined with a murder mystery, which didn’t actually bring tears to my eyes, but one I enjoyed.

Star Gazing by Linda Gillard – Marianne who has been blind from birth falls in love with Keir, a solitary Highlander and geophysicist, who works on the oil rigs, but who spends his time on shore at his house on Skye. The locations in Star Gazing are just beautiful, described so vividly you could almost be there. Marianne falls in love with Keir and with Skye and I loved this book.

Atonement by Ian McEwan is another book that moved me to tears, even reading it for the second time when I already knew the story. It is a captivating story of the use of imagination, shame and forgiveness, love, war and class-consciousness in England in the twentieth century. The depiction of the Second World War is both horrifying and emotional as British troops were withdrawn from France in 1940.

Persuasion by Jane Austen – I’m including this as it is one of those books that does give me an “aww” feeling telling of Anne Elliot’s constancy in her love for Captain Wentworth. I switch between this book and Pride and Prejudice as my favourite Austen novel – I love watching Elizabeth Bennet’s realisation that she loves Mr Darcy.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – it is ultimately about life and death, love and friendship, loyalty and the fight between good and evil. There is humour, sadness and suspense. Above all it is about growing up and the excitement and expectations that Bod has about life. Quite simply it touched me.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is one of the most moving books I’ve read and I was emotionally drained by the end of the story. It tells of two French sisters and their experiences during the occupation of France in the Second World War. I was in tears at the sadness and pathos of it all.

The Island by Victoria Hislop: A Short Post

I have been struggling to write posts recently. I haven’t been able to settle down to writing after finishing a book, either because I’m too eager to read the next book, or like Heavenali I’ve been so distracted and mithered by other things going on in my life, mostly minor that shouldn’t really bother me, but do, that I am finding it hard to concentrate on writing.

So, that is why I haven’t written about a number of books I read earlier this year. Some of them are books that qualify for the Wanderlust Bingo CardThe Island by Victoria Hislop, The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkien, The Night of the Mi’raj by Zoë Ferraris and Coffin Road by Peter May. These aren’t the only books I’ve read that need to write about, but it’s a start.

The first one I’m writing about is The Island by Victoria Hislop, her debut novel and one of my TBRs. It’s been on my bookshelves for years and I did start reading it soon after buying it, but I didn’t get very far and put it back on my bookshelves. Since then I’ve read three other books by Victoria Hislop and enjoyed them so I decided to try it again, especially as it fills the Island Square (set in Greece) on the Wanderlust Bingo card. I began reading it in August, when I took it away with me, visiting family, but didn’t find much time to read it and had to set it to one side. After I returned home I went on to read other books until October when I picked it up once more.

It is historical fiction set in Plaka on the island of Crete and in Spinalonga, a tiny, deserted island just off the coast of Plaka. I wasn’t very sure I would like it when I read the first chapter about Alexis Fielding longing to find out about her mother’s past. Sofia had never told her anything about it and all that Alexis knew was that Sofia had grown up in Plaka, a small Cretan village before moving to London. She gave Alexis a letter to take to an old friend, Fotini, promising that through her she will learn more. And once Fotini entered the story I was hooked as she told what had happened to Sophia’s grandmother, Eleni and her daughters, Anna and Maria after Eleni caught leprosy and was sent to live on Spinalonga.

Beginning before the Second World War the story moved between Plaka and Spinalonga and I loved all the details of Elena’s life on Spinalonga, but then when the narrative moved on to describing her daughters’ lives I began to lose interest. Instead of a fascinating historical novel about leprosy it changed into a historical romance, which I didn’t enjoy as much as the earlier part of the book. Overall, I think it’s too long and drawn out, and the ending is a bit too neat. So I’m giving this book 4*, combining 5* for Eleni’s story and 2-5* for both the beginning and the ending.

I’m hoping to write similar short posts for the other three books.

Maigret’s Memoirs by Georges Simenon Translated by Howard Curtis

Week 2 in Novellas in November is Novellas in translation and a Maigret book is an obvious choice for me. But Maigret’s Memoirs is not your usual Maigret mystery. This a memoir written by Simenon writing as his fictional character, Maigret.

Penguin Classics| 2016| 160 pages| My Own Copy| 4*

I can still see Simenon coming into my office the next day, pleased with himself, displaying even more self-confidence, if possible, than before, but nevertheless with a touch of anxiety in his eyes.’

Maigret sets the record straight and tells the story of his own life, giving a rare glimpse into the mind of the great inspector – and the writer who would immortalise him.

‘One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century . . . Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories’ Guardian

‘A supreme writer . . . unforgettable vividness’ Independent

The original French version of Maigret’s MemoirsLes Mémoires de Maigret, was first published in 1950. An English translation was later published in Great Britain in 1963. It is unlike any of the other Maigret novels. It’s a fictional autobiography by Georges Simenon writing as Maigret, beginning in 1927 or 1928 when Maigret and Simenon, calling himself Georges Sim, first ‘met’. I don’t recommend reading if you haven’t read some of the Maigret mysteries.

I enjoyed it – it’s a quick entertaining read as Maigret looks back to his first ‘meeting’ with Sim. He fills in some of the background of his early life and talks about his father and how he first met his wife, Louise. Simenon had written 34 Maigret novels before this one and Maigret took this opportunity to correct some of Simenon’s inaccuracies. I recognised some of the books – I’ve read 11 of his first 34 books.

One of the things that irritated Maigret the most was Simenon’s habit of mixing up dates, of putting at the beginning of his career investigations that had taken place later and vice versa. He’d kept press cuttings that his wife had collected and he had thought of using them to make a chronology of the main cases in which he’d been involved. And he also considered some details his wife had noted – concerning their apartment on Boulevard Richard Lenoir, pointing out that in several books Simenon had them living on Place des Vosges without explaining why. There were also times when he retired Maigret even though he was still several years away from retirement. Madame Maigret was also bothered by inaccuracies concerning other characters in the books and by Simenon’s description of a bottle of sloe gin that was always on the dresser in their apartment – that was in actual fact not sloe gin but raspberry liqueur given to them every year by her sister-in-law from Alsace.

Simenon drops facts and information piecemeal in his Maigret books and one thing I particularly like in Maigret’s Memoirs is that it is all about Maigret, but I did miss not having a mystery to solve.

The Darkness Manifesto by Johan Eklöf, translated by Elizabeth DeNoma

Virgin| 3 Novmber 2022| 205 pages| Review Copy| 3.5*

How much light is too much light? The Darkness Manifesto urges us to cherish natural darkness for the sake of the environment, our own wellbeing, and all life on earth.

The world’s flora and fauna have evolved to operate in the natural cycle of day and night. But constant illumination has made light pollution a major issue. From space, our planet glows brightly, 24/7. By extending our day, we have forced out the inhabitants of the night and disrupted the circadian rhythms necessary to sustain all living things. Our cities’ streetlamps and neon signs are altering entire ecosystems.

Johan Eklöf encourages us to appreciate natural darkness and its unique benefits. He also writes passionately about the domino effect of damage we inflict by keeping the lights on: insects failing to reproduce; birds blinded and bewildered; bats starving as they wait in vain for insects that only come out in the dark. And humans can find that our hormones, weight and mental well-being are all impacted.

Johan Eklöf, PhD, is a Swedish bat scientist and writer, most known for his work on microbat vision and more recently, light pollution. He lives in the west of Sweden, where he works as a conservationist and copywriter. The Darkness Manifesto is his first book to be translated into English.

~~~

Until I read The Darkness Manifesto: How Light Pollution Threatens the Ancient Rhythms of Life all I knew about light pollution was its effect on the night sky, how artificial light impairs our view of the sky, the stars and the planets. But I hadn’t realised just how much it adversely affects our environment, wildlife and our own health. This book is full of fascinating facts about the impact that darkness and the night have on all living creatures, including ourselves.

Artificial lighting today makes up a tenth of our total energy usage but most of it is of little benefit to us, spilling out into the sky. Animals cannot distinguish between artificial light and natural daylight which means their circadian rhythms are disrupted, sending body clocks awry, disrupting our sleep.

There is, of course, the need for safety and security, and Eklöf cites several examples of places around the world that have projects that promote darkness, and have established light pollution laws, such as France where there are regulations to limit how much light, and what kind of light, can be emitted into the atmosphere. The light needs to be adapted to suit the needs of both animals and humans.

Eklöf ends his book with his Darkness Manifesto, urging us to become aware of the darkness, to protect and preserve it individually by turning off lights when not in a room, and letting your garden rest in darkness at night; to discover nocturnal life; to observe the different phases of twilight and how the sun gives way to the moon and stars; and to learn more about the darkness and its importance for the survival of animals and plants. He also asks us to inform local authorities about the dangers of light pollution. To my mind the current energy crisis is another reason to reduce our use of lighting and electricity.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Would like to Start (Maybe)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is Series I’d Like to Start/Catch up on/Finish, and because I listed some of the book series I’m still reading in an earlier post, I’ve decided to look at some series I might like to start reading.

Liveship TradersShip of Magic by Robin Hobb

Siri Paiboun The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill

John ShakespeareMartyr by Rory Clements

Detective Joe SandilandsThe Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleverly

The Mistra Chronicles The Walls of Byzantium by James Heneage

Harry Bosch The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

Inspector Albert Lincoln – A High Morality of Doves by Kate Ellis

Tom Hawkins The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

DI Nikki Galena Crime on the Fens by Joy Ellis

Flavia Albia –  The Ides of April by Lindsey Davies