The Library Book by Susan Orlean

This was a great read. If you like books (and since you’re reading my blog post, I’m presuming you do) and libraries, this is a book for you!

I’d seen some reviews and synopses where it mentioned the Los Angeles public library fire of 1986 and I had thought, oh wow a book just about this library fire? I hadn’t known that this huge fire had occurred – it burnt hundreds of thousands of books and damaged many more – so that already had me intrigued. So I thought it would some kind of investigative reporting about the fire. It wasn’t exactly. And I was thankful it wasn’t.

We are told about the terrifying fire. How it burned for hours, hit 2500 degrees (!), had more than 3 million gallons of water dumped on it

Orleans discusses a variety of related issues like book burning in history. And how, as part of her research, burnt a book herself. Her research into the history of the Los Angeles Public Library is really interesting and thorough.

But for me the loveliest – and saddest – parts of the book was when Orlean talked about visiting the library with her mother. How her mother used to take her to the library as a child and as a teenager. How her mother had thought that being a librarian would have been the job for her. But sadly her mother had been suffering from dementia. I loved how she wrote the book for her mother, and shared her mother’s love for libraries with fellow library lovers and readers of this lovely book.

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realise it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share, one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it–with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited–it takes on a life of its own.”

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Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill #bookreview

Happy sigh. I adore the work of Katie O’Neill – she of the lovely Tea Dragon Society!

In this book, a young girl and her dad visit her aunt who lives on a small island that’s been hit by a storm. Lana discovers a baby aquicorn, a kind of seahorse-like creature and she nurses it back to health. It is a tale of loss and grief – Lana is learning to cope with the death of her mother. And also one of the environment – the underwater creatures’ homes are being destroyed by overfishing and pollution. And all accompanied by O’Neill’s gorgeous vibrant illustrations

Recently read: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

A middle grade fantasy filled with a hint of danger & darkness (Morrigan Crow is a Cursed Child, blamed for local misfortunes, doomed to die on her 11th birthday), plenty of charm & humour (a giant talking cat does the housekeeping). Also there are trials to get into the Wondrous Society and even after I’ve finished the book I still haven’t the faintest idea what the society is about, but I’d love to join it any day (where’s my invitation?)

Holiday reading: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

A quirky book for holiday reading that was ultimately a bit disappointing. I really loved how it talked about music and the small community feel of the street. And I loved Frank’s devotion to his record store. It was charming at times but the plot line just took too long to get going and I never quite felt that “happy sigh” feeling when a good romance happens. So for me it’s a 3.5 ⭐️ read.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A Flynn

“Queasy as I was from the bumping carriage, with the stink of horse and mildew in my nose, with the gibbet and the meat pie and the innkeeper’s rudeness still vivid, the Jane Austen Project no longer seemed amazing. What I’d wanted so badly stretched like a prison sentence: wretched hygiene, endless pretending, physical danger. What had I been thinking?”

I’m so thoroughly pleased with this book. I hadn’t really heard much about it but was attracted by the title when browsing the library’s ebook catalogue. It’s an intriguing storyline, going back in time to retrieve (i.e. steal) a manuscript from Austen herself. One that wasn’t published in her time. Rachel and Liam are well prepared and well researched. Rachel is a doctor and has worked in disaster areas and Third World countries. But nothing could really prepare her for this.

But eventually, with mishaps often skirted by their use of their back story – that of a brother and sister who grew up in Jamaica and who have only for the first time stepped into England – they get used to life in the 18th century. It’s especially hard for Rachel – she’s the doctor but has to let Liam play the doctor (of course women couldn’t be doctors at the time). The plan is to befriend Henry Austen, Jane’s brother, and somehow weasel their way to Jane.

The chief danger of time travel, aside from the obvious physical risks to travelers themselves, was of somehow changing the past so as to decisively alter the future you’d come from, setting in motion some version of the grandfather paradox.

Time travel is always such a fascinating idea. What do their actions change, for example, the simple hiring of their staff, or when Rachel saves a young climbing boy from a horrendous future by paying his employer and letting him live in her household?

I wasn’t that big a fan of Rachel at first. She seemed a bit tactless at times but she eventually grew on me. I like the way Flynn brought the Austen family to life, especially Jane, sharp and intelligent, an acute observer initially wary of Rachel.

I tend to stay away from any Jane Austen spinoffs (if that’s the right word) but I really enjoyed this one. I mean of course every time travel story leads to many many questions and possibilities but I feel like Flynn handled it all really well.

TLC Book Tours: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

 

 

Another Brooklyn cover

Jacqueline Woodson is best known for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. 

Her latest book, Another Brooklyn, isn’t in verse but it somehow reads like it is. 

In other words it is lyrical and it is stunning. 

Running into an old friend on a train triggers memories, both good and bad, for August, who is in Brooklyn to bury her father.

In 1973, aged eight, August, her four-year-old brother and her father move from Tennessee to Brooklyn, New York, after her mother starts hearing the voice of her dead brother Clyde, who was killed in the Vietnam War. In a new city, a new apartment, August and her brother are friendless, unsure of themselves. But she soon falls into a group of three girls: “Sylvia, Angela, Gigi, August. We were four girls together, amazingly beautiful and terrifyingly alone.”

And they navigate their world of growing up as girls, trying to find their place in this world, in 1970s Brooklyn, with absent mothers, drugs, uncertainty, and changing times. 

Another Brooklyn is a collection of memories and a wonderful freeflow of vignettes past and present. 

I may not have grown up in 1970s Brooklyn but a story like this, told with such grace and power, with brevity and confidence, just carries the reader in, fills her with emotions, and doesn’t let go. 

 

 

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops!

Jacqueline Woodson AP

Jacqueline Woodson is the bestselling author of more than two dozen award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children, including the New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. Woodson was recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Find out more about Woodson at her website, and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr.

TLC Book Tours: The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

 


Don’t you love it when a book just completely takes you by surprise, just wows you and leaves you sitting there, unable to stop thinking about what you read?

All I knew heading into The Summer Guest was that it was by Alison Anderson, who translated Muriel Barbary’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog which is such a fantastic book that I hope you have read (or will now go and read!).

Its synopsis begins:

What if Anton Chekhov, undisputed master of the short story, secretly wrote a novel—a manuscript hidden long ago that might have survived?

And that may have plenty of people going ooh. And… here is where I admit to you that I have not read Chekhov’s stories. This probably will appall some of you. You’re wondering, what business do I have reading this book?

antonchekhovBut here’s the thing, it’s not all that  important to have read Chekhov’s work to enjoy The Summer Guest. Sure, you may have a better understanding of things but it’s ok. I still really liked reading the book anyway. And it has also made me want to read Chekhov now, whom, you have to admit is quite a dashing man.

The Summer Guest unfolds from three different perspectives.

We have the diary, a newly uncovered diary from the 19th century, written in Russian by Zinaida Mikhailovna, a young woman trained as a doctor but recently blinded by an illness. She keeps the journal to fill her hours, now that she is unable to work. Anton Chekhov and his family rent the guesthouse on her family’s country estate and they become friendly.

Then we have Katya Kendall who runs a small publishing company with her husband Peter in London in 2014. Their business isn’t doing well so they hope that this diary by Zinaida Mikhailovna will help get them back on their feet. Their marriage isn’t doing very well either.

Ana Harding is a translator who lives in France, and who once worked with Katya’s company. Her Russian “was perfectly adequate, but she didn’t go looking for translations from Russian; they found her.” She takes on the project, as she had no reason to refuse, a job is a job, she needs the money. But she soon “befriended the diarist in that odd way translators sometimes have,  if they are lucky, of knowing their authors through a text, of inhabiting their identity and seeing through their eyes”.

Anderson, as a translator herself as well as a novelist herself, fully understands the difficulty of being one.

“She had had enough of being invisible, of slipping inconspicuously behind the more glamorous author whose photograph beckoned from the back cover of a book they had both written. As translator, she mused, she was no more than the lining of the dust jacket. This substance she craved – beyond meaningful texts, beyond creativity – should lead to an identity.”

There are long excerpts from the diary, observations about country life, conversations between Anton and Zinaida, Zinaida’s reminisces about her life. But there is also talk about alcoholism, consumption and other problems of 19th century Russia. And of course, the sad fact that Zinaida, the young and intelligent Zinaida, is wasting away from her illness.

In the bed I inhabited a warm, safe place. The sound of my breathing lulled me into memory: childhood. Papa, before. With us still. Outings to the islands on the river. Games in the field. Snowdrifts against the house where we hid. Sleigh rides. The thaw, Easter. The kulich and paskha and brightly colored eggs: the days of feasting and dancing. The priest blessing the house. The visitors, telling us how we’d grown.

The Summer Guest is a quiet novel. It is gentle and feels like it should be read sitting on a riverbank, under the shade of a willow tree, with some cold lemonade swigged from a bottle and strawberry sandwiches wrapped in brown paper. But gentle does not mean easy or simple. It has such beautiful, elegant prose, a well-constructed plot, complex characters and an ending that made me sit up and rethink the whole story. It may not be a book that you race through, but it is a book that stays with you, that makes you consider the importance of translators. And now I am so completely intrigued by Anton Chekhov, who, as Alison Anderson writes in a blog post:

“Chekhov had a very interesting love life, but one which could only be supported by speculation and conjecture, since many of the more explicit letters he wrote were destroyed either by his sister Masha in her task as guardian of his literary estate, or by Soviet academics.”

 

Juicy…

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on the tour

Alison Anderson APALISON ANDERSON, a native Californian, works as a literary translator in the Swiss Alps. Her many translations include the Europa edition of Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Ingrid Betancourt’s memoir, and the work of JMG De Clezio. She has also written two previous novels and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship, as well as fellowships at the prestigious MacDowell Colony and the Hawthornden Retreat for Writers.

Find out more about Alison at her website.