“November comes / And November goes, / With the last red berries / And the first white snows. / With night coming early, / And dawn coming late, / And ice in the bucket / And frost by the gate.” ~Elizabeth Coatsworth
October flew by and I only managed to read and review a few of the books on my ever-growing pile(s). I’m participating in NaNoWriMo again this year (my tenth!) so I fear I may not be able to review much this month either. But I couldn’t let these recent titles go unheralded until such time as I am able to review them properly.
My Own Devices
I first heard Dessa as the musical guest for the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, or as us citizens of the tiny desert town call it, “the weather.” I’m not much of a rap or hip-hop person but her lyrics were so clever and intelligent, and her music had heart. She is a genuine artist and this memoir, which I’ve started, is infectious, honest, hilarious and self-effacing. It seems there is nothing Dessa can’t do. And I’m fine with that.
from the publisher: Dessa defies category–she is an intellectual with an international rap career and an inhaler in her backpack; a creative writer fascinated by philosophy and behavioral science; and a funny, charismatic performer dogged by blue moods and heartache. She’s ferocious on stage and endearingly neurotic in the tour van. Her stunning literary debut memoir stitches together poignant insights on love, science, and language–a demonstration of just how far the mind can travel while the body is on a six-hour ride to the next gig.
I adored The Essex Serpent. Not only did I enjoy it, I thought it was a brilliant piece of writing. I’ve started her follow-up, Melmoth, and I’m liking it, but the style is very different and it’s a slower read. I’m just going to take my time in finishing and reviewing this one.
from the publisher: It has been years since Helen Franklin left England. In Prague, working as a translator, she has found a home of sorts—or, at least, refuge. That changes when her friend Karel discovers a mysterious letter in the library, a strange confession and a curious warning that speaks of Melmoth the Witness, a dark legend found in obscure fairy tales and antique village lore. As such superstition has it, Melmoth travels through the ages, dooming those she persuades to join her to a damnation of timeless, itinerant solitude. To Helen it all seems the stuff of unenlightened fantasy. But, unaware, as she wanders the cobblestone streets Helen is being watched. And then Karel disappears. . . .
A Well Behaved Woman
Therese Anne Fowler
A novel based on the Alva Vanderbilt, and the society she lived in, from the author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, I felt sure I would be captivated instantly. I’m only a few pages in but so far it is only mildly appealing. Alva is portrayed as rather ditzy but I’m hoping she will grow as I keep reading.
from the publisher: Ignored by New York’s old-money circles and determined to win respect, she designed and built nine mansions, hosted grand balls, and arranged for her daughter to marry a duke. But Alva also defied convention for women of her time, asserting power within her marriage and becoming a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. With a nod to Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, a glittering world of enormous wealth contrasted against desperate poverty, of social ambition and scorn, of friendship and betrayal, and an unforgettable story of a remarkable woman.
I was really rooting for this one to win the Man Booker Prize this year (it was shortlisted). I am enjoying it so much. Its story is full of adventure and its characters have real heart. It’s simply a joy.
from the publisher: George Washington Black, or “Wash,” an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is terrified to be chosen by his master’s brother as his manservant. To his surprise, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning–and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.
A Tale of Two Murders
I know a bit about the Edith Thompson / Freddie Bywaters case, but so far the author’s telling is gripping. Thompson (no relation) gives amazing historical context and writes in a style that is fresh and unsettling, in a good way.
from the publisher: On the night of October 3, 1922, as Edith and her husband, Percy, were walking home from the theatre, a man sprang out of the darkness and stabbed Percy to death. The assailant was none other than Bywaters. When the police discovered his relationship with Edith, she—who had denied knowledge of the attack—was arrested as his accomplice. In shattering detail and with masterful emotional insight, Laura Thompson charts the course of a liaison with thrice-fatal consequences, and investigates what a troubling case tells us about perceptions of women, innocence, and guilt.