What’s In a Name? Challenge Completed

WhatsinaName14

I’ve completed this year’s What’s In a Name? Challenge hosted by Andrea at The Carolina Book Nook. The challenge was to read a book in any format (hard copy, ebook, audio) with a title that fits in each category.

Here are the categories and the books I’ve read:

  • A precious stone/metal: Who Killed Ruby? by Camilla Way – a tense and emotional mystery.
  • A temperature:  Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves – the 7th Shetland murder mystery – the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress is found in the debris of a flood.
  • A month or day of the week: Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck – with eccentric and funny characters, wit, humour, irony and a touch of farce and surrealism.
  • A meal: The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies – historical fiction set in Ceylon in the 1920s.
  • Contains the word “girl” or “woman”:  The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea – historical fiction set in set in Iceland in 1686, a story of suspicion, love and violence.
  • Contains both the words “of” AND “and”: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford – historical fiction set in Seattle, a bitter sweet story of commitment and enduring hope.

I enjoyed reading all of them and it is so hard to choose a favourite! So, it has to be a tie between Sweet Thursday and  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

Sweet thursdayI read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row five years ago. At the time I didn’t know he’d written a sequel – Sweet Thursday. So when I discovered it, as I’d loved Cannery Row I wanted to read it. Written in 1954, I think it’s just as good, set in Monterey on the California coast the 1950s after the Second World War when the cannery had closed down.

Sweet Thursday’ is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday – one of those days that’s just bad from the start. But ‘Sweet Thursday’ is sunny and clear, a day when anything can happen.

I was delighted to find that there is just as much humour and generosity within its pages. Some of the same characters are still there, Mack, Hazel and friends who live in the Palace Flop-house (a dosshouse) and Doc too. There are some new characters, notably Suzy at the house called the Bear Flag, the local brothel. Dora who ran the Bear Flag had died and it has been taken over by her sister Fauna (previously known as Flora). Lee Chong had sold the grocery and it is now owned by a Mexican called Joseph and Mary Rivas.

I loved the opening of the Prologue:

One night Mack lay back on his bed in the Palace flop-house and he said, “I ain’t never been satisfied with that book Cannery Row, I would have went about it different.”

And after a while he rolled over and raised his head on his hand and he said, “I guess I’m just a critic. But if I ever come across the guy that wrote that book I could tell him a few things.”

Doc returned from the war to his laboratory, Western Biological Laboratories, now run down, covered in dust and mildew. He’d left Old Jingleballicks, in charge and he’d neglected it. But his heart is now longer in his work and the ‘worm of discontent‘ is gnawing at him – he feels a failure.

Whisky lost its sharp delight and the first long pull of beer from a frosty glass was not the joy it had been. He stopped listening in the middle of an extended story. He was not genuinely glad to see a friend …

What am I thinking? What do I want? Where do I want to go? There would be wonder in him, and a little impatience, as though he stood outside and looked in on himself through a glass shell …

Doc thought he was alone in his discontent, but he was not. Everyone on the Row observed him and worried about him. Mack and the boys worried about him. And Mack said to Fauna, “Doc acts like a guy that needs a dame.”

So they decide that Suzy is the answer. But Suzy, an independent spirit who isn’t much good as a hustler, doesn’t think she’s good enough for Doc. The schemes for getting the two of them together seem doomed from the start, ending in a disastrous party, when all Mack and Fauna’s good intentions seem to backfire. But this is not a tragedy, although at times it has touches of melancholy. Hazel, one of my favourite characters in the book, takes matters into his own hands. Although he appears to be slow and stupid, his problem is not that he lacks intelligence, but is that of inattention, as he just watches life go by. After the party he put his mind to thinking about what had gone wrong. And then he goes on a Quest …

Mack, in the Prologue, sums up for me what I like in a book. After saying that he likes to have a couple of words at the top of each chapter that tells what the chapter is about he says:

‘Well, I like a lot of talk in a book, and I don’t like nobody to tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. and another thing – I kind of like to figure out what the guy’s thinking by what he says. I like some description too,’ he went on. ‘I like to know what colour a thing is, how it smells and how it looks, and maybe how a guy feels about it – but not too much of that.’

This is what you get in Sweet Thursday, great dialogue, great sense of location, eccentric and funny characters, wit, humour, irony and a touch of farce and surrealism, along with plenty of philosophy. I loved it.

This was my Classics Club Spin book for May, but I was late finishing it! It’s also one of my TBRs and a book that qualifies for the What’s In a Name challenge.

 

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced today. It’s number …

19

which for me is Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by May 31, 2019.

Sweet Thursday

I added this book to my Classics Club list after reading Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, a book I loved. I’m hoping it will be just as good,

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

In Monterey, on the California Coast, Sweet Thursday is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday – one of those days that’s just bad from the start. But Sweet Thursday is sunny and clear, a day when anything can happen. Returning to the scene of Cannery Row, Steinbeck brilliantly creates its bawdy, high-spirited world of bums, drunks and hookers, telling the story of what happened to everyone after the war. There are colourful characters old and new, all united by love, laughter and tears: Fauna, the latest madam at the Bear Flag brothel, Doc, still there for everyone else but feeling strangely sad himself, and Suzy, the new hustler in town who might just be the girl to save him.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

WWW Wednesday: 19 September 2018

IMG_1384-0

WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

East of Eden

I’m still reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It’s the story of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly re-enact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. I’m glad to say that I am now totally absorbed in Steinbeck’s book. Adam and Cathy’s twin sons have been born in appalling circumstances and I have become very fond of the Hamiltons and Lee, Adam’s Chinese servant.

I’ve recently finished:  

The Clockmaker’s Daughter

The Clockmaker’s Daughter due to be published on 20th September 2018. It’s set in the 1860s at Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames where a group of young artists led by Edward Radcliffe are spending the summer and also in 2017 with Elodie, a young archivist in London, who finds a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river. It’s a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss.

I am really not sure what my reaction to this book is. I need to sort out my thoughts before writing my review.

My next book could be:

I have all sorts of ideas about which book to read next and am undecided. It could be any of the books I listed in yesterday’s post or A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale. I’ve borrowed this from the library and have already renewed it several times – so I will have to read it soon, or return it unread. I loved his Notes from an Exhibition.

A Perfectly Good Man

Synopsis

Devastatingly moving and full of psychological insight, A PERFECTLY GOOD MAN is a warm, humane Cornish novel from the bestselling author of A PLACE CALLED WINTER

‘A convincing, moving account of man’s struggle with faith, marriage and morality’ Sunday Times

On a clear, crisp summer’s day in Cornwall, a young man carefully prepares to take his own life, and asks family friend, John Barnaby, to pray with him. Barnaby – priest, husband and father – has always tried to do good, though life hasn’t always been rosy. Lenny’s request poses problems, not just for Barnaby, but for his wife and family, and the wider community, as the secrets of the past push themselves forcefully into the present for all to see.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

WWW Wednesday: 12 September 2018

IMG_1384-0

WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

The Clockmaker’s DaughterI’m reading Kate Morton’s latest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter due to be published on 20th September 2018. I’m enjoying it very much so far. It’s set in the 1860s at Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames where a group of young artists led by Edward Radcliffe are spending the summer and also in 2017 with Elodie, a young archivist in London, who finds a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river. It’s a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss.

East of Eden

I’m also reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It’s the story of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly re-enact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. I like Steinbeck’s writing, particularly the opening description of the Salinas Valley in California, but so far I’ve not found the book as absorbing as The Grapes of Wrath, which I loved, but then I’ve only read up to page 125 (612 pages in total) and am just getting used to the leisurely pace of the novel.

I’ve recently finished:  

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore, non fiction about Mary Eleanor Bowes who was the richest heiress in 18th century Britain. She fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney and found herself trapped in an appallingly brutal marriage, terrorised by violence, humiliation, deception and kidnap, and fearful for her life. It’s full of detail and reads more like a novel than non-fiction .

Dead Woman Walking

Another book I’ve finished recently is Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton. I loved it – very clever plotting, great characters and set in an area of Northumberland that I know quite well (a bonus). It begins with a balloon flight that ends in disaster and only Jessica survives as the balloon crashes to the ground, but she is pursued by a man who is determined to kill her. I love this kind of book, full of suspense and surprises and one that draws me within its pages.

My next book could be:

Cold Earth (Shetland Island, #7)

Ann Cleeves’ 7th book in her Shetland series, Cold Earth because I really want to read her 8th book, Wild Fire which was published last week, only to discover that I haven’t read Cold Earth yet!

Synopsis

In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main Lerwick-Sumburgh road and sweeps down to the sea.

At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and peaty water smash through a croft house in its path. Everyone thinks the croft is uninhabited, but in the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. In his mind, she shares his Mediterranean ancestry and soon he becomes obsessed with tracing her identity.

Then it emerges that she was already dead before the landslide hit the house. Perez knows he must find out who she was, and how she died.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

‘… in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.’

The Grapes of Wrath

Shocking and controversial when it was first published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic remains his undisputed masterpiece.

Set against the background of dust bowl Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, it tells of the Joad family, who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel West in search of the promised land. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and broken dreams, yet out of their suffering Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision; an eloquent tribute to the endurance and dignity of the human spirit. (Amazon)

I loved The Grapes of Wrath. It’s a book that totally surprised me by how much I loved it and I’m sure that whatever I write about it will not do it justice – my post merely skims the surface of this brilliant book. My copy has an Introduction by Robert DeMott, who is an American author, scholar, and editor best known for his influential scholarship on John Steinbeck and in it he writes that The Grapes of Wrath is the greatest of Steinbeck’s seventeen novels.

Steinbeck’s aggressive mixture of native philosophy, common sense politics, blue-collar radicalism, working class characters, folk wisdom, and home-spun literary form – all set to a rhythmic style and nervy, raw dialect – qualified the novel as the ‘American book” he set out to write. (page 1)

Cannery Row was the first of Steinbeck’s novels that I read and I thought then that Steinbeck’s style is perfect for me. With both books I felt that I was there in the thick of everything he described. His writing conjures up such vivid pictures and together with his use of dialect I really felt I was there in America in the 1930s travelling with the Joad family on their epic journey from Oklahoma to California. What a long, hard journey with such high hopes of a better life and what a tragedy when they arrived to find their dreams were shattered, their illusions destroyed and their hopes denied.

I liked the structure of the book with chapters advancing the story of the Joad family’s journey interspersed with general chapters about the current situation in the country giving snapshots of living conditions. But it’s the landscape and the characters (so many of them) together that made such an impression on me. I liked all the details Steinbeck gives, for example how everything, no matter how small has meaning and memories attached, how to decide what to leave and what to take as the Joads packed up to leave their home. Their belongings and their land is their whole being:

How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it. They sat and looked at it and burned it into their memories. How’ll it be not to know what land’s outside the door? How if you wake up in the night and know—and know the willow tree’s not there? Can you live without the willow tree? Well, no, you can’t. The willow tree is you. The pain on that mattress there—that dreadful pain—that’s you. (page 93)

Throughout the book, Steinbeck shows the inhumanity of man to man and also the dignity and compassion, the essential goodness and perseverance of individuals against such appalling conditions and inhumane treatment. Inevitably, I found myself comparing it to the situation today with the influx of migrants and refugees and the problems of illegal immigrants.

Steinbeck’s first wife, Carol chose the novel’s title from Howe’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ –  Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord, He is trampling on the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored… , which in turn is taken from the Book of Revelation Ch14:19-20: ‘So the angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes, and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.'(NIV)

~~~

This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into the category of a book with a ‘fruit or vegetable‘ in the title. It is also one of my TBR books (a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018) and also a book on my Classics Club list.

  • Format: Paperback
  • Print Length: 476 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics 2000 (first published 1939)
  • Source: A present
  • My Rating: 5*

WWW Wednesday: 13 June 2018

IMG_1384-0

WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

The Grapes of WrathOn Beulah Height (Dalziel & Pascoe, #17)

I’m making good progress with The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and I’m still loving it.The Joads have arrived in California and it’s not what they expected – too many homeless, hungry people desperate for work being moved on from place to place. Steinbeck’s writing is detailed and richly descriptive. I feel as though I’m on the road with the characters.

I’m also reading On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill, crime fiction about missing children in a Yorkshire village. A little girl took her dog out for a walk early one morning and didn’t come home. Three little girls had disappeared 15 years earlier and their bodies were never found. I’ve read nearly half the book and as usual with Hill’s books I love the characterisation, the humour and his use of dialect. It’s the first of my 10 Books of Summer.

Recently finished: Come a Little Closer by Rachel Abbott – definitely creepy and disturbing. It’s the first book of hers I’ve read, but the seventh one she’s written. It reads well as a standalone. It’s described as a psychological thriller and the characters are certainly unstable, stressed and in complex and dangerous relationships. I gave it three stars on Goodreads – maybe that’s being generous, as I’m not at all sure I did ‘like’ it.

Come A Little Closer (DCI Tom Douglas #7)

Synopsis:

They will be coming soon. They come every night. 
  
Snow is falling softly as a young woman takes her last breath. 
  
Fifteen miles away, two women sit silently in a dark kitchen. They don’t speak, because there is nothing left to be said. 
  
Another woman boards a plane to escape the man who is trying to steal her life. But she will have to return, sooner or later. 
  
These strangers have one thing in common. They each made one bad choice – and now they have no choices left. Soon they won’t be strangers, they’ll be family… 
  
When DCI Tom Douglas is called to the cold, lonely scene of a suspicious death, he is baffled. Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she get there? 
  
How many more must die? Who is controlling them, and how can they be stopped?

I may write more about this book once I’ve sorted out my thoughts about it.

Reading next: Stalker by Lisa Stone, due to be published tomorrow 14 June.

Synopsis:

Someone is always watching…

Derek Flint is a loner. He lives with his mother and spends his
evenings watching his clients on the CCTV cameras he has installed inside their homes. He likes their companionship – even if it’s through a screen.

When a series of crimes hits Derek’s neighbourhood, DC Beth Mayes begins to suspect he’s involved. How does he know so much about the victims’ lives? Why won’t he let anyone into his office? And what is his mother hiding in that strange, lonely house?

As the crimes become more violent, Beth must race against the clock to find out who is behind the attacks. Will she uncover the truth in time? And is Derek more dangerous than even she has guessed?

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

My Wednesday Post: 9 May 2018

There are two memes I take part in on Wednesdays:

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I have three books on the go at the moment,  – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, from my TBR shelves.  I’m only up to chapter 3 so far but I’m enjoying his descriptive writing so much as Tom Joad returns to his family home in Oklahoma during a drought as a storm blew up and dust clouds covered everything. Tom, convicted of homicide has just been released from prison after serving four years of a seven year sentence.

I’m also reading Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander, a novel set in Germany during the Second World War, about the life of Magda, one of Hitler’s food tasters. See yesterday’s post for the opening paragraph and synopsis. I’m in chapter 6 at the moment when Magda sees photos taken by an SS officer at Auschwitz, that show that Hitler is lying about how the Reich is dealing with Jews and prisoners of war near the Eastern front.

The Summer Before the War

The third book I’m reading is The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, about the  summer of 1914, set in Rye in East Sussex when spinster Beatrice Nash arrived to teach at the local grammar school. Her appointment was the result of Agatha Kent’s and Lady Emily Wheaton’s wish to have a female teacher as a Latin teacher. I’m in the middle of chapter 5 in which Beatrice is at Lady Emily’s annual garden party with the school governors, the Headmaster and staff and some of the local dignitaries. I’m finding it rather slow-going so far.

The last book I finished is Belinda Bauer’s latest book Snap, one of my NetGalley books. It’s crime fiction about Jack and his sisters and what happens to them after their mother is murdered. Belinda Bauer’s books are so original, full of tension and suspense. I’ll write more about it in a later post.

What do you think you’ll read next: I shall probably read The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott next, or if not next then by the end of the month as it’s the book chosen by my book group for our May meeting.

The Inheritance

Synopsis:

Written in 1849, when Louisa May Alcott was just seventeen years old, this is a captivating tale of Edith Adelon, an impoverished Italian orphan who innocently wields the charms of virtue, beauty, and loyalty to win her true birthright. Her inheritance, nothing less than the English estate on which she is a paid companion, is a secret locked in a long-lost letter. But Edith is loath to claim it _ for more important to her by far is the respect and affection of her wealthy patrons, and the love of a newfound friend, the kind and noble Lord Percy. This novel is Alcott writing under the influence of the gothic romances and sentimental novels of her day. The introduction considers early literary influences in the light of Alcott’s mature style

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

As soon as I began reading Cannery Row I thought I could be in for a treat – this is the opening sentence:

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.

There are some books that begin well and then tail off so I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of those. There are some books, just a few, that have everything, rich descriptions of locations, wonderful characters and a storyline, even though in this book it’s really a series of stories with a thread running through to connect them to the whole, that grabs my attention and makes me want to know more. Cannery Row is just such a book.

I knew nothing about the book before I began reading (it’s my book group choice) and that made it even more enjoyable. Steinbeck’s style is perfect for me, I could see Cannery Row itself, a strip of Monterey’s Ocean View Avenue, where the Monterey sardines were caught and canned or reduced to oil or fishmeal, along with all the characters – no, it was more than that -I was there in the thick of it, transported in my mind, whilst I was reading and even afterwards as I thought about the novel.

The characters include a group of down and outs, lead by Mack, whose well intentioned actions usually end in disaster for himself and others. Then there is the shop keeper, Lee Chong, who also owns the Palace Flophouse where he lets Mack and the boys live, Dora, a woman with flaming red hair, the madam who runs the Bear Flag Restaurant, Doc who lives and works at the Western Biological Laboratory and Henri the painter who is building and never finishing a boat. There is humour and tragedy, meanness and generosity, life and death all within Cannery Row‘s 148 pages.

I loved this description of Cannery Row:

Early morning is a time of magic in Cannery Row. In the gray time after the light has come and before the sun has risen, the Row seems to hang suspended out of time in a silvery light. The street lights go out and the weeds are a brilliant green. The corrugated iron of the canneries glows with the pearly lucence of platinum or old pewter. No automobiles are running then. The street is silent of progress and business. And the rush and drag of the waves can be heard as they splash in among the piles of the canneries. It is a time of peace, a deserted time, a little era of rest. Cats drip over the fences and slither like syrup over the ground looking for fish heads. (page 64)

This paragraph continues in the same vein for almost a whole page. For me it conjures up such a vivid picture of the place, its light and sound and the sentence comparing the movement of cats dripping and slithering like syrup is just perfect.

It’s not just a visual delight, the book contains many gems, the frog collecting expedition and the party scene that end in chaos and wreckage, and the words of wisdom from Doc. Here is just one example:

‘It has always seemed strange to me,’ said Doc. ‘The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness and honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants  of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire, the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.’ (page 107)

This is the best book I’ve read so far this year and one I shall read again. I loved it and I definitely want to read more of Steinbeck’s books (I may have read, or at least started to read The Grapes of Wrath when I was at school and didn’t appreciate it at the time – the opening seems so familiar!).