floremolla roots again

Diskutera2022 ROOT CHALLENGE

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floremolla roots again

Redigerat: jun 30, 2022, 7:36 pm

Back for a sixth year of reading my own tomes. Previous efforts here:


Sticking with a goal of 40 for 2022. ROOTS are books, e-books or audiobooks, acquired before 1 January 2022. Also included are books loaned to me, gifted to me, or left in my home by other people. Plus books for coursework, now that I’m a student again ;)

Redigerat: dec 31, 2022, 8:47 pm

1. Case Study (hardback) by Graeme Macrae Burnet, 276pp. 02.01.21
2. The Hidden Life of Trees (audiobook) by Peter Wohlleben 15.01.22
3. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (audiobook and paperback)
4. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (audiobook and paperback)
5. Another World by Pat Barker (paperback)
6. Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (paperback)
7. by Paul Auster (audiobook and paperback)
8. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (paperback)
9. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (audiobook)
10. The Magus by John Fowles (revised edition paperback - had to abandon audiobook as it was original edition)
11. Garden Design Details by Arne Maynard (hardback)
12. Garden Design - a Book of Ideas by Heidi Howcroft and Marianne Majerus (hardback)
13. A History of Britain: Volume 1 by Simon Schama (audiobook - unabridged version)
15. What Maisie Knew by Henry James (audiobook and paperback)
16. The Go-Between by LP Hartley (paperback)
17. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl (paperback)
18. The History of Landscape Design in 100 Gardens by Linda Chisholm (hardback)
19. Burmese Days by George Orwell (audiobook and paperback)
20. The New Perennial Garden by Noel Kingsbury (hardback)
21. Designing with Grasses by Neil Lucas (hardback)
22. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (audiobook)
23. The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis (paperback)
24. Trees for Small Gardens by Frank Knight (paperback)
25. Gardens are for People by Thomas D Church (softback)
26. Asian Gardens - History, Beliefs and Design by Tom Turner (hardback)
27. Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth (audiobook and kindle edition)
28. The History of Garden Design: the Western Tradition from the Renaissance to the Present Day by Janet Waymark, et al. (softback)
29. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
30. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
31. The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan
32. Last Orders by Graham Swift
33. Greenmantle by John Buchan
34. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
35. Ben Lawyers and Its Alpine Flowers (National Trust for Scotland publication) Duncan Poore, et al.
36. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
37. Summerwater by Sarah Moss
38. The Fell by Sarah Moss
39. Architectural Foliage by Jill Billington
40. Basic Design: the Dynamics of Visual Form by Maurice de Sausmarez

Redigerat: dec 14, 2022, 10:47 am


1. Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (library e-book)
2. Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart (library e-book)
3. Snow by John Banville (paperback)
4. O, Caledonia! by Elspeth Barker (paperback)
5. Goldengrove, Unleaving by Jill Paton Walsh (paperback)
6. Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor (paperback)
7. Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason (paperback, borrowed)
8. A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry (paperback)
9. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (audiobook)
10. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (audiobook)
11. A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul (audiobook)
12. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

dec 31, 2021, 4:52 pm

Happy you are back with us!

dec 31, 2021, 4:57 pm

>4 cyderry: Thanks very much, Cheli - I hope to be better organised and more engaged this year! ;)

dec 31, 2021, 4:59 pm

Yay, welcome back!! Hope you have a great reading year :)

dec 31, 2021, 5:03 pm

dec 31, 2021, 5:17 pm

Hooray, welcome back! Hope the course books aren't too, well, coursey IYSWIM, and there's plenty of reading for pleasure too!

dec 31, 2021, 5:29 pm

>8 Jackie_K: Thanks Jackie - loving the books, even the technical stuff, and could look at pictures of gardens all day! ;)

jan 1, 2022, 3:54 am

Hi Donna, Good to see you here with the ROOTers again.

Happy ROOTing and Happy New Year.

jan 1, 2022, 2:30 pm

Happy new year, Donna!

jan 2, 2022, 9:43 am

>10 connie53: thanks, Connie, it’s good to be back and, as always, good to see you here!

jan 2, 2022, 8:05 pm

Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet, 276 pp.

The author, Burnet, recounts how he was contacted by a stranger after writing a blog post about Collins Braithwaite, a controversial 1960s psychotherapist he had been researching. The stranger wished to send him a series of notebooks, written by his cousin, a young woman, who had attended therapy with Braithewaite. The notebooks, he averred, contained allegations of a most serious nature including murder.

Thus the frame story is set up and the book comprises chapters alternating between the notes of the young woman and Burnet’s research on Braithwaite.

The young woman - whose name we never learn - attends therapy under an assumed persona with the aim of finding out what happened to a previous patient. But her notebooks reveal a fragile personality and soon her very Self, comes under threat.

Difficult to say more about the premise of the book without revealing too much. It was absorbing and interesting, and despite the subject matter, not without humour.

It does however get darker as it progresses not unlike Burnet’s Booker prize-nominated His Bloody Project, ( which similarly blurs the lines between fact and fiction )

I enjoyed the background detail of 60s London and the cast of recognisable characters, including the actor Dirk Bogarde and controversial Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing.

4.5/5 for creativity and research.

jan 2, 2022, 10:02 pm

>13 floremolla: This one's on my TBR; I really liked His Bloody Project.

jan 3, 2022, 3:00 am

A Happy New Year of reading, Donna

jan 3, 2022, 2:15 pm

>14 rabbitprincess: yes I liked it a lot, RP, and I’m always happy to see successful new Scottish authors coming through.

>15 Robertgreaves: thank you, Robert!

jan 3, 2022, 5:12 pm

Welcome back, Donna!! Great to follow your reading again.

jan 3, 2022, 6:18 pm

>17 detailmuse: thanks, MJ! Glad to be back.

My 2021 thread had been so neglected it was easier to wait and start at a new year than try to update it :/

jan 3, 2022, 8:46 pm

Ah, a BB with your first ROOT! I really like His Bloody Project but my library doesn't have the one you just read. Is it a recent book?

Good luck with your ROOTing and your course work!

jan 4, 2022, 5:09 am

So happy to see you again, Donna. Happy reading!

jan 4, 2022, 4:51 pm

Good to see you back. I really enjoy reading your reviews!

jan 4, 2022, 5:03 pm

>19 Familyhistorian: thanks, Meg! This latest book was published in the latter half of 2021, I think - a Christmas present from my daughter, and it’s signed too, which always gives me a thrill!

>20 MissWatson: thank you Birgit, it’s nice to be back!

>21 Henrik_Madsen: thanks, Henrik - glad you like the reviews and it’s kind of you to say so.

jan 4, 2022, 5:45 pm

Happy ROOTing in 2022, Donna, I hope the books treat you well.

jan 8, 2022, 4:22 pm

>23 FAMeulstee: thanks Anita, I hope so too!

Last year I listened to 16 audiobooks on Audible, (I subscribe to one credit per month) and also six free from the library. I received my 2021 stats from Audible today:

16,193 mins of literature and fiction
2,824 mins of romance
1784 of sci-fi & fantasy

Averaged 45 mins per day
Binged for 453 mins on March 7
Little Dorrit was my longest listen at 40hours 22mins
Queenie the shortest at 9hrs 45 mins

I like to get my money’s worth out of my Audible credits so usually choose longer books.

I added 14 new titles and now have 127 titles in my library. 42 are unread/unfinished, so I’ll aim to listen to at least 10 audiobooks ROOTs this year.

jan 9, 2022, 10:47 am

Donna, how did you manage your books when you moved? -- moved or donated them?

jan 9, 2022, 1:15 pm

Belated Happy New Year, and a great reading year as well. Cheers!

jan 9, 2022, 7:34 pm

>22 floremolla: That's a nice present, Donna. My library doesn't have it yet. I'll have to keep an eye out.

jan 23, 2022, 10:11 am

Hi Donna! Happy New Year! Happy rooting!

Redigerat: jan 24, 2022, 8:32 pm

>25 detailmuse: it was a saga, MJ! I had a cull - just over 100 books donated to charity shop. Started packing the rest into large boxes. Realised the boxes weighed a ton and I couldn’t move them. Bought smaller boxes - still too heavy. Eventually bought document boxes and they were the right size but not robust enough for the removals process - they started to burst at the seams. The removals men weren’t amused. One asked me if I’d ever considered getting a Kindle. Still, I’m glad I kept them :)

>26 rocketjk: Thanks for the good wishes!

jan 24, 2022, 8:36 pm

>27 Familyhistorian: one of the benefits of my daughter buying me a book as a gift is that she gets to read it after me. The difficulty is if she starts reading it before me, takes it home to her own place, and forgets to return it!

>28 karenmarie: thanks Karen, it’s good to be back!

jan 31, 2022, 12:04 pm

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Wohlleben is a German forester and forest scientist, as well as a writer. In this book he sets out to share the results of research which could (and should) change the way we think about trees and forests, and our relationship with them.

I’m in two minds about this book. I’ve been a dendrophile since the late eighties when I worked in tree protection woodland strategy with the landscape section of a city planning department. I worry about tree welfare the way some worry about cats and dogs.

I like the broad scenario Wohlleben posits whereby trees communicate with each other, but my gut reaction to some of the detail was that I wasn’t convinced by some of what he read into the research. Where he saw trees making almost conscious decisions, I felt he’d made an unwarranted leap of deduction, and I saw chemical/biological reactions.

He has received considerable criticism from the forestry industry for perceived flights of fancy - to be fair to Wohlleben the industry has a vested interest in keeping the status quo.

Ultimately I agree wholeheartedly with the main thrust of the book, that we need to manage trees, woodlands and forests more ethically - and sometimes just leave them alone to get on with their business, the by-products of which we and our planet happen to depend upon for our future survival.

I have the hardback book but downloaded the audiobook for convenience. I listened to some of it while walking in the woods, which felt very apt. 4/5 for stimulating much-needed debate about ethical forestry.

jan 31, 2022, 12:07 pm

A couple of non-ROOTS:

Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

Detective Martin Beck is assigned to the case when a young woman is found brutally murdered in the Göta Canal and the police have nothing to go on to identify the body, or the killer.

Some time later, Interpol flags up a missing young American woman and so begins a long detailed investigation requiring Swedish and American authorities to work together.

First published in 1965, this novel moves at a much slower pace than contemporary crime fiction. The main protagonist, Beck, has a little marital strife going on, but no quirky character flaws: just the usual, being disposed to attend to his work rather than his family.

I liked this reminder of the pre-digital age: the glacial pace of communication, the reliance on feet on the ground to do the detecting, and the humanity of Beck and his colleagues, when faced with a dead young woman of loose morals. This was a library ebook of four Beck novels; I’ll try to make time to read the others. 4/5.

Nine Coaches Waiting by MaryStewart (audiobook)

Young English governess Linda Martin travels from London to the remote Chateau Valmy in the French Alps, to look after nine year old Phillipe de Valmy, who is the heir to a large estate. Linda is an orphan who was sought specifically for the role by the little boy’s aunt.

Linda hasn’t been entirely honest with her new employers and finds herself already on edge when she meets Léon de Valmy, Phillipe’s arrogant and unpleasant uncle, and his astonishingly handsome son Raoul. Just as Linda begins to settle in to her new employment, a dark secret is revealed to her, putting her, and her young charge in peril.

Nine Coaches Waiting was recommended to me by a book group friend many years ago - it was a great favourite of hers.

It’s divided into nine parts - or Nine Coaches - each of which opens with a literary quotation that sets the scene. The Nine Coaches are reflected in nine vehicles in which Linda travels and shares her thoughts. The book title itself is from the play The Revenger’s Tragedy, attributed to Thomas Middleton - a quote from which plays through Linda’s mind as travels to her new job - it alludes to a young woman believing she is going to a life of luxury but is in reality being lured to a dalliance with a devilish character.

Not for nothing is Mary Stewart known as ‘the queen of romantic suspense’; this is a very well written romance novel with a well crafted plot, a plucky heroine, and a bit of tension-inducing menace along the way. I rather enjoyed it; I wouldn’t say it’s dated so much as a period piece and some of it felt surprisingly contemporary. As an audiobook, it’s well narrated and easy to follow (except for the odd bits of rapid French - my reading is better than my ear!). Good for a long road trip or cooking dinner since it didn’t require 100% attention, though I shall have to borrow a hard copy of the book because the literary quotes went in one ear and out the other. 4/5 for good old fashioned enjoyment (my friend will be pleased I liked it).

jan 31, 2022, 12:14 pm

A total of two ROOTs for January. Slightly distracted by non-ROOTs but, on the plus side, I’m almost halfway through the big fat audiobook that is Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain.

Need to focus on some deep ROOTs now - I don’t have the excuse of new year torpor any longer.

jan 31, 2022, 1:45 pm

>31 floremolla: I loved Wohlleben's book, Donna, when I read it a few years back.
On an unwarranted leap of deduction: the problem I have with only seeing chemical/biological reactions, is that it describes all life (including us) in only technical ways. And I think there is more to it. I have never objected to antromorphizing, and research shows more and more that animals also have emotions. Not exactly the same, but yet somehow near. See books by Frans de Waal. I can imagine trees have similair traits in some ways. Wohlleben might take it a bit far, but I like the way he thinks.

>33 floremolla: I hope you enjoy The Magic Mountain!

jan 31, 2022, 2:07 pm

>32 floremolla: I read Nine Coaches Waiting in 2019 and enjoyed it very much. My note reads "Catherine Morland (of Northanger Abbey) would have eaten this up with a spoon!"

jan 31, 2022, 3:57 pm

>31 floremolla: I think you and I had a similar reaction to The Hidden Life of Trees, Donna, although you were slightly more generous with your stars than I was! Recently I read Robert Macfarlane's Underland, and his chapter on the forest canopy, the wood wide web, etc, was everything that I had hoped The Hidden Life of Trees would be. It's also really made me want to read Merlin Sheldrake's Entangled Life.

jan 31, 2022, 4:49 pm

I loved Nine Coaches Waiting too!

mar 1, 2022, 5:55 pm

>34 FAMeulstee: Anita, I agree, I just didn’t think the case was made sufficiently rigorously in Wohlleben’s book. I’m an inveterate stickler for wanting ‘proof’. Having said that I accept it’s eminently possible there are elements or forces still to be discovered :)

>36 Jackie_K: Two books I’ve been meaning to read, Jackie - now firmly on my wish list!

mar 1, 2022, 6:02 pm

>35 Caramellunacy: yes, well observed, it’s a very Gothic piece of work!

>37 rabbitprincess: it certainly seems to be a beloved book, and one that readers go back to. I was surprised how much I liked it because I’ve never read romantic novels!

Redigerat: okt 31, 2022, 7:48 pm

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Though her family were once well-to-do, Lily Bart is an impoverished young woman, dependent upon the charity of her elderly aunt after the demise of her parents. Having reached her 29th birthday she is only too aware of the need to marry well - all the more so since she has a taste for the finer things in life.

Fortunately for Lily she is beautiful, charming and smart, and her presence is in demand in society.

As Lily’s star rises and falls over the ensuing two years, her friend Lawrence Selden proves a dependable support, and even a possible love interest. But Selden’s income cannot keep Lily in the manner she desires. Meanwhile she falls foul of rumour, gossip and betrayal from members of her society circle - will Lily manage to regain the position she craves in society, or will she realise that Selden’s love is worth more?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. New York society at the beginning of the 20th century is depicted in all its caprice and vindictiveness. Lily however is not the shallow person one might expect. Indeed she declines to expose both her friend and her enemy when it would be in her own interests to do so.

A gripping story that has much to say about the lot of women of that era compared with their male counterparts.

As an audiobook it made for a very satisfying listen while I was engaged in a sewing project. I chose Eleanor Bron’s narration for her beautiful tone and clear delivery (she’s actually English but her gentle American accent sounded convincing to me). 5/5 stars.

mar 1, 2022, 6:07 pm

Another World by Pat Barker

Geordie, 101 year old veteran of The Somme, is dying, but memories of a horrific secret threaten to turn his last days into a nightmare.

Meanwhile his grandson Nick is struggling in his marriage, his relationship with his stepson and his relationship with his own teenage daughter. To top it all his new family home appears to have a violent sinister presence.

This novel is set in the last years of the 20th century when only a few veterans of WWI survived. They became minor celebrities, and so it was with Geordie, whose life and war service was being documented by a social history researcher.

While Geordie is a sympathetic character full of grace and integrity, the rest are more difficult to like: a squalling baby, a disturbed boy, a sulky teenager, and parents Nick and Fran who don’t know how to communicate with each other.

The discovery of a disturbing painting on the wall in the new house leads to a threatening supernatural presence. Though for one of the younger characters the feral children on the nearby estate instil greater and more immediate terror.

Poor old Geordie is having a terrible death too - painful, drawn out, and racked by nightmares.

Except for Geordie, I found this book an unedifying read - it’s gritty and uncompromisingly grim, a spotlight on some of the worst aspects of modern society. Perhaps the contrast was the point Barker was making, but it felt crudely done. 3/5 stars.

mar 1, 2022, 6:09 pm

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

It’s 19907 and young German, Hans Castorp, arrives at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, to spend three weeks with his tubercular cousin, Joachim.

Before he can leave however the sanatorium’s chief doctor, Behrens, diagnoses - or persuades Castorp - that he has a fever and ought to stay a while longer. So begins a long period during which the world of the sanatorium and its residents becomes Castorp’s world and normal life becomes ‘other’.

I loved this novel. It began with a satirical portrayal of the type of establishment and the sorts of people one might find there, the foibles of the residents and their petty disagreements and debates.

It moved on to Castorp’s growing interest in health and sickness and falling in love with a female patient who reminded him of a boy he’d once loved in his childhood.

As weeks become months and years, into the mix come a variety of characters from all over Europe, most notably Setembrini (an Italian humanist) and Naphta, a Jewish Jesuit, who debate politics energetically and thus educate Castorp.

Some of the most striking things about the novel, I thought:

The omniscient narrator who often addresses the reader to make snide comments about the characters or to comment the the state of events (reminded me very much of the narrator in Vanity Fair).

The long passages where the author, through the narrator or the characters, digresses onto diverse subjects which underscore the themes of the book - time being a recurring motif, but also health/illness, music, political ideologies, alienation and spiritualism (to name but a few).

As the book draws to an end time speeds up - the first year in the sanatorium takes up a substantial part of this 750 page tome, but subsequent years are shorter till the final chapters hurtle towards the ending, the speed adding to the shock of the final pages.

5/5 stars. I listened to the audiobook, ably narrated by David Rintoul. It’s one of the very few I might well listen to again.

mar 1, 2022, 6:15 pm

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

In 1870s London, Dublin newspaper journalist Bram Stoker takes up a position as manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London. There he must deal with the capricious owner, lauded actor Henry Irving, and his growing feelings for leading lady Ellen Terry. Against a background of Victorian poverty, Jack the Ripper menacing the streets, and the prosecution of Oscar Wilde - and torn between devotion to the theatre (and his beloved actors) and a failing marriage - Stoker tries to realise his ambition to become a writer of novels and plays.

This is one of those novels that fictionalises the lives and relationships of real life historical characters. I thought O’Connor did a good job of fleshing out the main characters - Stoker, Irving and Terry - making them as colourful as you would expect theatrical types to be. However, I’d like to have heard more of Stoker’s intelligent and feisty wife.

He also conjured up a character in the Lyceum theatre itself - a huge rickety old building in which the main characters, at the height of their success, live among the scenery and rehearsals.

There’s also a good cast of supporting characters, one of whom, Harks, undergoes a curious transition of gender, which fits with the general undercurrent of sexual fluidity and sexual repression throughout the book.

For the most part I enjoyed the story - despite being frustrated by ill-advised actions and life choices made by the characters - and there were some nice sentimental scenes towards the end as Irving, Terry and Stoker all succumbed to age and the final curtain. Sadly Stoker never got to see his Dracula become a success in his lifetime.

A couple of minor dislikes: a tendency by the author to over-describe, often with long lists of semi-rhyming phrases; and the introduction of a supernatural element that felt superfluous. Both of these felt like padding to me; I didn’t feel they added anything. I’d rather a book was shorter than be jolted out of the reading experience by extraneous material.

On the plus side, I learned a bit about Stoker and his cohorts and enjoyed the audiobook narration by Barry McGovern, for his clear reading and gentle Irish accent. 4/5 stars.

mar 2, 2022, 4:44 am

>43 floremolla: That sounds very intriguing!

mar 2, 2022, 5:05 am

>44 Caramellunacy: yes, I don’t have any particular interest in the theatre, and hadn’t heard of Irving or Terry, but they lived quite unconventional lifestyles for their times!

mar 10, 2022, 6:10 pm

>29 floremolla: I can relate to your experience with book moving. I remember similar grumbles from the movers about my books when I moved in here in 2009. There is a potential move in my future and the amount of books has grown exponentially since I moved in.

mar 24, 2022, 8:43 am

Hi Donna, just popping in to see how you are doing and what you are reading. Waving at you.

mar 31, 2022, 4:09 pm

>46 Familyhistorian: oh yikes, Meg! I hope you’ve plenty of helpers on hand that day! :)

>47 connie53: thanks for popping by, Connie! It’s been a bit quiet in here. I’m still reading in my downtime but my studies have taken up a lot of my time and I’m barely a third of the way through my course. Good to still be here though!

mar 31, 2022, 4:22 pm

No ROOTs completed this month but that’s because I chose another BFB, Paul Austen’s - an audiobook and 1070-page-paperback combo, which I’m enjoying. Also halfway through Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own on audiobook.

Other than coursework books (which I’ll list at some point) the only book I finished was a relatively new one, borrowed from my daughter - Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason.

A journey through an undiagnosed psychiatric condition, where the protagonist leaves a trail of destruction behind her, throughout her adult life, before finally getting the help she needs. A good read I thought; my daughter wasn’t impressed.

apr 22, 2022, 1:50 pm

Hi Donna!

>29 floremolla: Moving books. Sigh. Our next move will be to downsize. Frankly, I envision putting overflow books into air conditioned storage, labeled with my location tags so I can go to them if I need particular books. I'm not sure that will actually happen, but it's fun to think that I'll be able to keep all my books, at least for a while.

>32 floremolla: I got rid of my mass market paperbacks of Mary Stewart a long time ago, but re-bought hardcovers some time before joining LT. You make me want to re-read them.

>42 floremolla: You almost make me want to read this one. Not quite yet, but perhaps I won't cull it quite yet.

apr 22, 2022, 3:14 pm

>43 floremolla: Sorry I've not visited in so long, Donna - hope you're doing well. I haven't read this one, but did read O'Connor's Star of the Sea years ago and thought it was excellent. Bleak, but excellent.

apr 30, 2022, 6:35 pm

>50 karenmarie: hi, Karen - I hope you don’t have to give up your books if you’re not ready to. I definitely wasn’t, but I suspect if I downsize further I’ll have to cull significantly. My hope is that my daughter wont be long in getting to the stage of upsizing - she’s expressed an interest in taking my books, so fingers crossed the collecting will not have been in vain!

I hope you’ll get around to The Magic Mountain at some point - I thought it worked well as an audiobook and found myself laughing out loud at times at the droll humour.

>51 Jackie_K: hi Jackie, don’t apologise, I’ve been notable by my absence for a while now! Too many distractions.

I enjoyed Star of The Sea too. It’s bleak as you say, but I thought his next book Redemption Falls was bleaker still. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it, though I’m assured by a friend that it’s a worthwhile read (the clue being in the title - redemption!).

apr 30, 2022, 6:39 pm

Only three ROOTS completed during April - by Paul Auster, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Wolf, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles.

All very different but all good reads and I'll write my reviews (such as they are) soon :)

maj 1, 2022, 8:44 am

>53 floremolla: Oh, I'll be interested to see what you think. I've got two of those on the TBR.

maj 12, 2022, 4:29 pm

Having a good time catching up on your reading! Am interested in that Auster -- I have a fondness for his writing that exceeds my ratings for the books. And The Magic Mountain gets bumped up in my wishlist every time Ann Patchett recommends it, and now you :)

jun 5, 2022, 6:35 am

Hi Donna. I've been neglecting the ROOTers for some time. Live, sunny days, babysitting the grandkids and doing volunteer work for the library at Lonne's school. And reading of course. Today is a rainy day with some thunderstrokes. A perfect Sunday for reading al those neglected threads.

jun 30, 2022, 8:44 am

>55 detailmuse: sorry for such a belated response, MJ! I’ve been trying to focus on my coursework, but in all honesty I’m not very productive now that summer is here and real, actual gardening is taking over my time. With all I’ve been learning about plants, I’ve started experimenting with propagation and adding bulbs and different annuals and perennials into the mix and finding it time consuming. In a good way! I enjoy losing track of time, alone with my thoughts.

Will have a catch up with threads soon.

>56 connie53: ah, no one is more neglectful of the ROOTers than I, Connie! Life is pulling me in different directions - apart from my studies and hobbies, I’m mostly supporting my children and my parents with practical help. Thankfully my parents are both mobile and still mentally agile but I’m aware of their age and wanting to spend time with them while it’s still possible.

I hope things are working out well for you - will check in on your thread soon!

Redigerat: jun 30, 2022, 8:48 am

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Set in Ireland in the 1940s this novel follows the life and times of Cyril Avery, who begins life as the illegitimate child of a teenage mother, and is adopted by a rather bizarre couple, who make it plain to everyone he is their ‘adopted son’. As Cyril grows up he learns to be mistrustful and makes few real friends. Life is complicated further for him when he realises he is attracted to other boys.

Boyne tackles several of the taboos of life in 1940s Ireland - illegitimacy, adultery, homosexuality - including the double standards of adulterous politicians and lecherous priests. To that extent I felt at first that the book was rather cliched, however, it’s a long story, and as it progresses, characters from the early chapters have important roles to play later and the settings shift to Europe and America bringing interesting new characters. There are scenes of violence and heartbreak - ultimately it’s a story of good versus evil but also the possibilities of redemption. 4.5 stars.

I listened to this on audiobook, excellently narrated by Stephen Hogan.

Redigerat: jun 30, 2022, 8:49 am

What Maisie Knew by Henry James

Maisie is only a little girl when her parents, Ida and Beale Farange are divorced. The court decides that Maisie should live six months with each, alternately. So begins the rest of her childhood, with various nannies and governesses who teach in different ways, and parents who, despite fighting ferociously for custody of Maisie, actually want to spend very little time with her. As the time nears for each ‘handover’ the parents’ hatred for each other spills over into manipulation and deceit. Maisie has to negotiate the ups and downs with each parent, each childminder, and eventually the lovers/new spouses of her respective parents.

This wasn’t what I’d call an enjoyable read. In fact, it could possibly be quite triggering for someone who’d been the child of an unpleasant divorce. But it was a very insightful commentary on family and society and I felt myself rooting for Maisie when all the adults around her displayed the most appalling self-regard and neglect of the child. A big question was to what extent Maisie would become artful and manipulative herself or would she have the resilience see through the adults’ faults and make her own peace with the world.

I got tired of the tit-for-tat malice between the parents - I think this is down to the fact the book was originally serialised and would have had to provide tension at regular intervals. 4 stars.

I listened to this on audiobook, excellently narrated by Maureen O’Brien.

Redigerat: jun 30, 2022, 8:51 am

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was invited to give lectures at women’s colleges in 1928 and this essay was based upon those notes. The title speaks for itself. Woolf rues the fact that if women are to have freedom of artistic expression they need to have some of the privileges that have allowed men to dominate art - one of which is ‘a room of one’s own’, which is a metaphor for having time and space and material means to support oneself such that the requirements and duties of family life do not obscure the opportunities.

The post-WWI era saw the emergence of women beginning to break free from social and familial expectations. Woolf’s feminist treatise also extends to the impact of poverty, thus cementing its position as political statement. The publication of A Room Of One’s Own sparked debate about inequality, in artistic circles and beyond.

I was surprised by how modern Woolf’s thoughts were and while some things have changed, obstacles are still to be overcome for those less affluent or otherwise disadvantaged (eg by colour, religion), such as access to further education.

I listened to this on audiobook - its format makes it a good travel audio for listening in short bursts. It also contained some of her short stories, at the end, which were more relatable than her usual modernist/stream of consciousness style. 5 stars for having the chutzpah to stand up and say her piece publicly.

Redigerat: aug 1, 2022, 6:20 pm

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

Set in coastal Dorset in the mid-to-latter half of the 19th century, this novel traces the development of a relationship between a privileged young man, Charles - who is affianced to a sweet young woman, Ernestina - and Sarah, a woman whose behaviour has made her an outcast. According to local gossip, Sarah is a fallen woman, having had an affair with a French Lieutenant who then abandoned her, she walks the coastline and the harbour, staring out to sea, waiting vainly for his return. Such is her effect on the moral integrity of the local population, an intervention is staged, whereby the local minister arranges for her to be employed as a servant by a pious, but rather unpleasant woman. Charles’s intrigue leads him to forge a relationship of sorts with Sarah, against the disapproval of the community and, not least, his fiancé. Eventually, everything Charles is, and has, is jeopardised.

I saw the eponymous movie in the 80s when it was released and couldn’t make head nor tail of it. I rewatched it having read the book and it not only made perfect sense but reflected the book very well, albeit the story itself was almost a subplot. I loved the book for several reasons. The story itself - despite the alternative endings - was hugely satisfyingly with several unforeseen twists and turns and a definite ‘will they, won’t they’ vibe. The omniscient narrator drawing modern (albeit the 60s) parallels with societal mores, often with a deal of humour. And just John Fowles’ ability to make the whole an incredibly rich read, with introductory quotations for each chapter and a wealth of information about that particular time in history in that particular place (one he knew so well as Lyme Regis was his home) - from the mundanities of everyday life to the vagaries of the class system. A 5 star read.

Redigerat: jun 30, 2022, 8:55 am

The Magus by John Fowles

Emboldened by having read The French Lieutenant’s Woman, I tackled The Magus, which has been on my shelf, unfinished, since the 80s. Nicholas Urfe is another privileged young protagonist. An incorrigible ladies’ man’ who has just broken up with Australian, Alison, who might just have been the love of his life if he hadn’t been so snobbish about her lack of refinement. Unsettled and seeking a diversion he decides to take a job teaching at a boys’ school on the Greek island of Phraxos. Before setting off, he meets up with the previous incumbent to get the low-down on the post. The unlikeable ex-army chap, Mitford hasn’t much useful to say but leaves Nicholas with a warning; ‘beware the waiting room’, and he refuses to expand upon this. Nicholas duly takes up the post but soon becomes bored on the sparsely populated island. His interest is therefore piqued when he hears about a very rich and enigmatic character who owns half of the island, and may, or may not, have been a collaborator when the island was under German occupation during WWII. One day he sets off to find the man and sets in train a life-changing course of events.

Written in the 1960s but heavily revised a decade later (I read the revised version) this was another rich offering from Fowles. The purpose of the enigmatic Conchis’s role in manipulating Nicholas doesn’t become clear until much later - and even then I wasn’t convinced by the reasoning. However…again Fowles’ skill in original writing, gift for authentic detail, playing with tension, unfolding twist after twist, and presenting the reader with an ambiguous ending (that makes one question why we seek particular types of ending) made the journey very satisfying for me. 5 stars.

Note: I intended to alternate between audiobook and paperback but the audiobook wording was different, so can only assume it’s not the revised version.

jun 30, 2022, 8:47 am

Painting Wild Landscapes in Watercolour by David Bellamy

This is a beautifully illustrated book which I’ve read from cover to cover but haven’t yet utilised the practical advice given: use of good quality materials (especially the paint) and how to use them, lighting your studio, the importance of developing good drawing skills, and - best of all for the learner - some step by step examples.

He’s very much of the ‘plein air’ school of painting - no copying of photographs for Mr Bellamy. I’ve very limited experience of that but he gives useful practical tips, so I just might take some pastel pencils on holiday to Orkney next week as a start!

Redigerat: jun 30, 2022, 8:57 am

Two inspiring books about garden design:

Garden Design Details by Arne Maynard with Anne de Verteuil

Arne Maynard is a renowned international designer with many prestigious projects and awards behind him. Consequently he is much sought after by an affluent clientele and is mostly associated with reinvigorating the gardens of country homes with multi-hectare grounds. Certainly his style is most sympathetic to ‘sense of place’ but he also has an expert eye for opportunities for the introduction of architectural structure, sculpture, land art, and those clever little details that make a design bespoke. I love the projects in this book but realistically will never have a country estate to play with, nevertheless it’s useful for drawing inspiration for use at a smaller scale. 5 stars.

Note: Anne de Verteuil is a garden designer in her own right but also a gardening writer and journalist whose contribution isn’t expressly described but, presumably, she assisted with some combination of writing/editing/publication!

Garden Design - A Book of Ideas by Heidi Howcroft and Marianne Majerus

Heidi Howcroft is an English landscape architect and writer who also works in Germany, from where there are always interesting developments and influences in garden and planting design. Marianne Majerus is one Europe’s foremost garden photographers.

Together they’ve produced an illustration-packed book that is not just about plants but also the component parts of a garden - structures, enclosures, steps and ramps - all very tasteful and life-stylee. Which is not to be dismissive, since anyone making a significant investment in their garden is bound to want it to reflect their lifestyle, or aspirations. It’s very much a broad-brush skim over the subjects, with a few slightly more in depth case studies, but, as it says in the title, it’s a book of ideas, and it works well in that role. 4 stars

jul 1, 2022, 3:39 am

>61 floremolla: Oh, I recently found this in the charity shop and bought it because I have fond memories of the movie. Looks like a worthwhile read!

jul 1, 2022, 1:27 pm

Nice to see you Donna! I'm glad you're getting your fingers in the mud and smelling the flowers for real rather than just seeing them on the page! It sounds like this course has really sparked your creativity.

jul 5, 2022, 4:12 pm

A lovely mix you've read -- none of which I have, except the Woolf. You've left me in a pleasant state.

jul 5, 2022, 4:25 pm

Always lovely to hear from you! Glad that you're having fun in the garden and learning a lot in your courses :)

jul 19, 2022, 9:13 am

>57 floremolla: Hope to see you there, Donna.

aug 1, 2022, 6:45 pm

Thank you all for the nice messages :)

Another month has passed and I haven’t visited any threads - been busy on multiple fronts, all enjoyable!

So just popping in briefly to log my July reading and will review them soon: The Go-Between by LP Hartley, The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl and The History of Landscape Design in 100 Gardens by Linda Chisholm.

Two non-ROOTs: Snow by John Banville and O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker.

Redigerat: okt 26, 2022, 4:41 pm

Where did August go?!

I did find time to read and complete A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry, Goldengrove Unleaving by Jill Paton Walsh and Burmese Days by George Orwell but only the last was a ROOT.

However, my garden design tomes count as ROOTs and this month I’ve delved into Designing with Grasses by Neil Lucas and The New Perennial Garden by Noel Kingsbury both of which are really inspiring.

I’m currently reading Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor and on audiobook I’m two thirds of the way through Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety, which I’m listening to on audiobook. Neither is a ROOT.

Two thirds of the way through the year - I need to get my ROOTing skates on!

sep 16, 2022, 9:35 am

Hi Donna. Just looking at what you have been reading.

>71 floremolla: Where did August go indeed. And summer went to quickly too. Here it's now a very rainy, stormy and cold Friday.

okt 26, 2022, 4:46 pm

>72 connie53: the weather here is rainy and windy, though quite mild for the time of year at 15 degrees C today. It’s sad that the wind has taken the leaves, they were especially colourful this year - something to do with the unusually long dry spells we had in summer, I’m told.

Just checking in to update my reading and say hello!

okt 27, 2022, 6:18 am

Hi Donna, glad to see you here! I've enjoyed the autumn leaves too this year, although the rain has made them all soggier and spoilt the effect a bit! I remember 3 years ago we went for a holiday in the Highlands at this time of year (so a few months pre-pandemic), and the colours were incredible.

okt 31, 2022, 7:46 pm

>74 Jackie_K: thanks, Jackie! I had a lovely walk yesterday around the edge of Crieff, and today at Drummond Castle Gardens. The colours were stunning, even this late in the year. I feel the better for communing with nature (I might even have hugged a tree after making sure no-one was about).

okt 31, 2022, 7:57 pm

A History of Britain: Volume 1 by Simon Schama

This volume covers the period 3000 BCE to the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603.

It begins with the early Orcadians and the surprisingly civilised settlement of Skara Brae, through Roman occupation of Britain, the Norman Conquest, the emergence of the nations of Britain, the Plague and the life of Good Queen Bess.

Unsurprisingly it’s a bit English-centric but it’s written in a very accessible style, as if told by an avuncular enthusiast. A great contrast to the dreaded history lessons of my school days where I struggled to stay awake.

Since I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, a lot of my history ‘knowledge’ (I’m embarrassed to say) comes from fiction. So I was surprised and delighted to find I recognised a lot of the characters and events and actually knew more than I thought I did.

As to accuracy, I can’t say, since I’m no expert, but it seems to me (having also read Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome that, where there’s no solid evidence, there’s a lot of conjecture and opposing beliefs.

Nonetheless it was well narrated by Stephen Thorne and I enjoyed listening while weeding a massive garden in the Trossachs, during a hot spell in July. I’ll forever associate Elizabeth I with willow herb. 4 stars

okt 31, 2022, 7:58 pm

The Go-Between by L P Hartley

During a long hot summer in 1900s England, 12 year old Leo is invited to stay with the family of a school friend, Marcus Maudsley. Leo discovers that Marcus’s family is rather upper class and some of its members are larger than life. He particularly falls under the spell of Marcus’s beautiful older sister, Marian. When Marcus is laid low with an infectious disease, Leo must amuse himself, with forays into the countryside, where he meets someone who, ultimately, will change his life for ever.

An interesting quote about LP Hartley is included in the short foreword to the effect that Hartley was not only an acute observer of people and the social scene, but this was “…transformed by the light of a Gothic imagination that reveals itself now in a fanciful reverie, now in the mingled dark and gleam of a mysterious light and a mysterious darkness…”. This is true of this novel.

The book begins with the famous line “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. Now in his sixties, Leo has found the courage to open a box of childhood memories and begin to come to terms with the events of the summer of 1900.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Day to day life in a late Victorian country house is beautifully evoked in details of the clothing, the domestic arrangements, the social scene and class distinctions.

We first meet Leo in school, where he has to draw on his quick-wittedness to avoid being bullied, and we get a sense of a young boy with a powerful imagination that is inclined, sometimes, to stretch to the Gothic. But he is also naive, so when he is asked by his new friend, farmer Ted Burgess, to take a letter to Marian and ensure it’s given to her privately, Leo has no questions or qualms. So begins his role as ‘go-between’ but it also puts a barrier between him and the rest of the Maudsley family, as secrecy is key.

I only had one issue with this novel - I found the ending a bit ‘Gothic’ and the impact on Leo a bit extreme . But that’s likely just my perspective from the foreign country of 122 years later. 5 stars.

okt 31, 2022, 7:59 pm

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

In Boston, in 1865, a group of scholars is nearing completion of their translation of Dante’s Inferno. This will be America’s first translation of the controversial tome and there are those who are against it, not least scholarly colleagues of the group. As the translation nears completion, a series of murders rocks the city. It’s not long before parallels are observed between the modes of deaths and the fates of Dante’s characters. The group struggles to complete their book, fight off those who would have it destroyed and find a cold blooded murderer who is likely to strike again.

This was a well-written and inventive (if gruesome);crime novel, based around some real-life characters and a real-life work of translation. The main characters - the group and the city’s first mixed-race police officer - were well drawn and likeable, and there was a genuine building of tension that kept me riveted till the end. 4 Stars.

okt 31, 2022, 8:00 pm

Burmese Days by George Orwell

In a remote provincial town in 1920s ‘British Burma’*, U Po Kyin, a corrupt Burmese magistrate, is plotting to destroy the reputation of a local Indian, Dr Veraswami. Appalled by false allegations made against him by Kyin, the doctor approaches his friend John Flory, hoping Flory’s prestigious position as a European white man will help him clear his name.

Flory himself must tread a fine line between his growing friendship with the Indian and his place in the expatriate community, which revolves around the local European Club. At 35 he is also growing tired of his mistress and is in need of a wife with whom to share the beauty of Burma, so the arrival of pretty blonde Elizabeth Lackersteen seems like the answer to his prayers.

This was Orwell’s first novel and very much based on his experiences of living in Burma in the ‘20s while serving in the police. So much so that he was required to change names because some of the characters would have been instantly recognisable to expats in Burma!

At the European Club there are rivalries, affairs and petty squabbles, but matters come to a head when word comes from the overarching European Committee that a local ‘native’ must be given membership of the Club. The fact is that, except for Flory, the members are entrenched racists to a man (and woman). And even Flory has his limits.

I listened to Burmese Days on audiobook and found the extreme racist language very hard to listen to. Similarly the rules and regulations governing the impoverished colonised peoples versus the automatic prestige given to the exploitative whites repelled me (I felt ashamed to be British - and Scottish since there was a particularly repugnant Scot among the expats).

But despite exposing the base elements of humanity Orwell still weaves a successful and intriguing story with a surprisingly emotional (for me) ending. 5 stars.

okt 31, 2022, 8:03 pm

The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis

Retired Malcolm, Charlie, Peter and their wives are surprised to hear their old friends Alun and Rhiannon Weaver are coming home to Wales after several decades in England. Alun has gained modest success as a poet and writer and is keen to position himself as successor to Brydan, a Welsh poet of national importance. While Malcolm, Charlie and Peter muse over what the return of the Weaver’s means, their wives also speculate about the once-beautiful Rhiannon and philandering Alun. As the Weavers settle in to their old locale, friendship is eclipsed by rivalry, and some dwell on what might have been.

Kingsley Amis is in good form with this Booker-prize-winning novel which throws a light the reactions of a group of sixty-somethings to the return of friends who - on the face of it - have achieved a bit of wealth and status on the back of exploitation of their Welsh heritage.

There is much drinking and ribbing among the men. Much drinking and jealousy among the women - Amis was always reputed to be a misogynist/womaniser, and the character of Alun is possibly an alter ego of wishful thinking. But the man could write comedic gold, in this case capturing the ennui of ageing in a dead-end town. His irreverent descriptions of people and places, and the embarrassing and absurd scrapes his characters get into, had me laughing aloud at times.

Unexpectedly - as if to counter his reputation - it’s not hatred but love he puts at the heart of this novel, and not just romantic love, but family love. And I felt he dealt kindly with the embarrassing problems of ageing. A really good read that evoked a range of emotions - 5 stars.

okt 31, 2022, 8:09 pm

Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

This is a Booker prize-winning novel from 1992. Set out in two books - the first covering the period 1752-53, the second ending in 1765.

In Book One, an entrepreneurial father and son, William and Erasmus Kemp, build a ship and become embroiled in the ‘triangular trade’ - that is, they transport alcohol, textiles and novelty goods to Africa, to trade for slaves, then transport the slaves to the Americas, from where they return to England with sugar, tobacco and cotton.

William arranges for a nephew, Matthew Paris, to accompany the ship, as ship’s surgeon, to the great annoyance of Erasmus, who hates his cousin with a vengeance.

As the ship sets sail with a press-ganged crew, under the terrifying Captain Thurso, Paris’s values and sensibilities come under great strain. While bound for the Americas with its first cargo of slaves, the ship is becalmed for a lengthy period; pestilence and violence erupt, with unforeseen consequences.

Book Two focuses on the efforts of Erasmus to exact revenge for those consequences.

This was a thought-provoking read. The ‘sacred hunger’ is “profit….which justifies everything, sanctifies all purposes”. Unsworth’s objective was to highlight greed and the extent of man’s inhumanity to man to achieve his desires.

The characters are well drawn, the crew members representative of all the poorest regions of the United Kingdom, their behaviour driven by poverty and need to survive. A surly captain, haunted by superstition, easily driven half mad with fury, surrounded by cruel henchmen.

Matthew Paris (a keen scientist as well as a surgeon) has had his own tribulations, having been imprisoned for claiming the Earth was created more than six thousand years ago; during his imprisonment his wife had died in childbirth. As a nephew of the owner, his presence aboard ship is fraught with suspicion and enmity, but he also has time to ponder his own conscience and philosophical questions of man’s motivations:

“Nothing a man suffers will prevent him from inflicting suffering on others. Indeed, it will teach him the way … Was it always wrong then to believe that the experience of suffering would soften the heart?”

This is not an easy read - there is misery and cruelty aplenty even before the slaves are on board - but Unsworth’s extensive research makes for fascinating descriptions of life aboard ship and the machinations of the slave trade.

I found Book One unputdownable, but the plot of Book Two necessitated a lot of ‘traders pidgin English’ which disrupted the flow of the prose, I felt. Nonetheless, the story powered on to a dramatic conclusion ( though not tying up all loose ends, so I was pleased to find that Unsworth completed a sequel, called The Quality of Mercy, his last novel before his death in 2012).

The narrator, actor David Rintoul, dealt expertly with the wide range of accents. 5 stars.

okt 31, 2022, 8:22 pm

Wow! A series of excellent reviews, there! Thanks for those.

nov 1, 2022, 4:55 am

Thanks for these great reviews, Donna.
It is encouraging that the last three were 5 star reads, as those are on my MountTBR.

nov 1, 2022, 5:29 am

>82 rocketjk: Thanks, Jerry, I find writing a review helps me process what I’ve read. Very glad if it’s of use to others!

nov 1, 2022, 5:45 am

>83 FAMeulstee: thanks, Anita. The last three are from lists such as 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. I cherry pick from these lists rather than follow them slavishly.

I’ve been diverted from my ROOTing by a recent list from a Sunday Times article called 40 Best Books of the Century (although I notice they call it 50 Best Books on their website, and in fact it contains 100 books!). I picked up a few of those - including A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, both of which I’ve enjoyed enormously and will review separately as non-ROOTS.

I’ve also picked up some gems from my local charity book shop this year, the best of which have been O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker, Goldengrove, Unleaving by Jill Paton Walsh and Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor. I’d heard good things about the first of these and it didn’t disappoint. The others are by authors whose work I’ve enjoyed before, and again they didn’t disappoint. All in all I’ve had some great reading/listening this year!

nov 1, 2022, 10:39 am

>84 floremolla: "I find writing a review helps me process what I’ve read."

Yes! Good point. It's interesting how often you can come up with new realizations about a book you've just read while you're gathering your thoughts to write a review, or even, sometimes, mid-stream.

nov 6, 2022, 4:12 pm

>85 floremolla: Oh, Olive Kitteridge! What a prickly woman, I loved it and the sequel, Olive Again. Actually, I think I loved it even more after seeing the four-part series with Frances McDormand.

nov 17, 2022, 5:47 pm

>87 detailmuse: hi MJ! I hope you’re well? enjoyed Olive Kitteridge too. I did think she was almost an anti-hero(ine), she appeared not to make allowances for anyone - but when she did show emotion it was all the more powerful for that. I must look out for the series, I can imagine Frances McDormand in the role. I’ve got the sequel lined up for when I need that kind of read :)

dec 6, 2022, 11:26 am

>75 floremolla: Tree-hugging! I had to smile about that remark. I can see you do it secretly.

Great reviews, Donna.

dec 6, 2022, 3:50 pm

Hi Donna, hope you're snuggled up nice and warm with good books as the cold temperatures really take hold!

dec 22, 2022, 5:07 am

Hi Donna, I want to wish you al the best for 2023 and Happy Holidays!

dec 30, 2022, 8:18 am

Hi Donna!

Alas, it's line in the sand and onward to next year's threads, I'm afraid. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be a better LT friend.

dec 30, 2022, 11:04 am

Happy new year when it comes, Donna, I hope you've had a lovely holiday period and are feeling suitably replete (I know I am!!).

dec 31, 2022, 7:45 pm

Thanks all for the lovely messages, and happy new year to you too!

dec 31, 2022, 7:46 pm

Belatedly updating my ticker and adding my reviews…

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A novella, comprising mainly the rantings of a nameless protagonist, a retired male Russian civil servant of the mid-1800s. The early part is a monologue attacking various concepts, such as determinism, and bad mouthing other Russian writers, but the later parts comprise several stories which throw light on the speaker’s reasoning/state of mind.

A lot of references went over my head (thankfully Wikipedia gave some insight). I tholed (ie, suffered/put up with) the book for a while before I began to get into it. The protagonist had a mixture of bad luck and unfortunate character traits, especially envy and inability to keep his mouth shut. He made enemies of everyone. No-one seemed to like him and he seemed impervious even to love (although perhaps in the telling of the tale he was retrospectively regretting what he’d missed).

This book was my husband’s and has been on our (now my) shelves since the 80s. The audiobook was available free on Audible so I took the easy route and listened rather than reading. Unfortunately it doesn’t get the book completely off my TBR pile as it also contains another novella, The Double, which I’ll have to read when I feel ready to tackle Dostoyevsky again. The audiobook narrator was quite good considering it was a freebie. Hard to rate since it wasn’t an enjoyable read, but it is a classic and much of the references to Russian history and literature were lost on me - 3.5 stars seems appropriate.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

This book comprises a series of notes written to himself by Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, between AD 161 and 180. The notes were intended to guide him in his mode of living, in how he considered himself and other people, and the human relationship to the wider context of a short lifespan in a vast universe.

Much as I appreciated a lot of MA’s insights, I couldn’t help thinking ‘another free audiobook with another ranting male protagonist!’. In this case the protagonist was coming from a place of utmost privilege. I admired his capacity for considering all men equal…until I realised that didn’t apply to women, who had to be kept in their place. Or slaves.

There were a lot of observations that might seem a bit cliched by today’s standards - ‘memento mori’, live each day as if it’s your last, be kind, etc, but he was insightful for his time. I admired his ability to stand back and look at his life, emperor as he was, as ultimately merely a speck in the cosmos. Impressive that he wrote these thoughts down and tried to live by them. (Don’t feel I can rate something written almost two millennia ago with any sense of proportion, so I won’t try.)

dec 31, 2022, 7:47 pm

Summerwater by Sarah Moss

A short novel set during a wet day in summer in central Scotland in a cabin park that has seen better days. Twelve people (including families and couples) sit unhappily in their their cabins, all watching the comings and goings of each other. All of them have issues - the girl who’s not sure her boyfriend really loves her, the teenage boy who can’t stand to be with his family, a female runner who dices with death every time she runs. There’s also a family of immigrants whose noisy party music has disturbed the whole camp. By the end of the day, death will have visited the cabin park….

I hadn’t heard of Sarah Moss - she’s an English writer but caught the Scottish holiday scene and characters very well ;) The story moves along at a good pace, never flagging or sagging, and there are twists and turns I didn’t see coming. A lighter read than I would usually choose myself, but the characters are well drawn (she really gets inside their heads), there’s some insightful commentary about society and politics of the UK today, and I enjoyed it enough to read a second one (these fall into the ROOTs category of ‘books left at my home by other people’). 4 stars.

The Fell by Sarah Moss

Set during the Covid-19 pandemic, this short novel focuses around a single mother and her son, living on the poverty line, owing to her job in a cafe being suspended. Tired of scrimping and feeling the depressive effects of extended lockdowns, Kate decides to break curfew (and the law) and make a quick hike up the hills behind her home. However her decision sets in train events that will impact on herself, her son, her neighbour and emergency personnel.

Again, well drawn characters, and commentary on society and politics. Well structured but it felt padded out towards the end. Not a satisfying read in some respects, but brought back memories of the pandemic and the fears that life would never go back to normal and we’d never be able to socialise again. 3 stars.

dec 31, 2022, 7:50 pm

Architectural Foliage: Shape, Form and Texture of Foliage Plants in Garden Design by Jill Billington

According to the blurb, this book “illustrates the wide variety of foliage plants and shows you how to create a visually satisfying garden with year round interest”.

The author is a well respected garden designer/writer/lecturer, based in London. Having spent almost a week in London last month, I can relate foliage gardening to a particular type of London garden - smart Victorian town houses in affluent areas, with shallow front gardens mainly given over to topiary and/or evergreen shrubs. Ideal for working professionals who don’t have time to faff about with plants and gardening but who want a low maintenance garden that has clearly been ‘designed’.

I’m especially fond of topiary and evergreen shrubs but more recently prefer to see them as punctuation in a landscape of herbaceous perennials, annuals and bulbs. Fortunately this book offers far more than evergreens and is divided into sections that delve into various subjects such as forms created by mass foliage, plant association and foliage with architecture.

This is masterclass in styles and groupings and the power of the unexpected or disruptor element (the prima donnas of the plant world as well as the mundane reed) to bring vitality to the landscape.

Of course a working garden designer must be able to provide what the client wants. I like that the author acknowledges personal taste is hard to overcome but she supplies strategies for getting the best out of planting design. 5 stars.

Basic Design: The Dynamics of Visual Form by Maurice de Sausmarez

A classic best-selling primer offering a clear authoritative introduction to the basic elements of the plastic arts, and a must for teachers and art students alike (according to the blurb). The term ‘plastic arts’ being used here for all the visual arts involving materials that can be carved or shaped.

This is relevant to garden design in that the discipline involves the creation of masses and negative space, using hard and soft landscaping materials.

Whenever I’m in doubt on a subject I like to go back to basics/deconstruct what I know. The ‘design’ element of my garden design course isn’t coming to me as naturally as I’d hoped - not least because the design exercises are based on 2D plans of sites with no context. This should push me towards more abstract shapes but I find it difficult not to want to impose order and symmetry.

The language of this book is quite esoteric to my non-art-school-educated mind but it has several helpful aspects, firstly, lots of practical exercises to get the creative wheels turning (especially 3D with drinking straws and cardboard boxes, doweling and card). I’d quite enjoy making models but these days (the book was written in the 80s) they can largely be replicated with 3D design software. Secondly, it’s reminding me of some key principles about the importance of proportion, contrast, etc, and also the transient elements of time and movements of the sun/shadows. Thirdly, to really look and see when analysing your subject - I’m too guilty of skimming over what I see in the landscape. Must try harder!

It was worth wading through. 4 stars.

Redigerat: jan 1, 2023, 6:18 pm

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Warning - content may be triggering.

Vanessa is a bright girl who persuades her parents to let her try for entry to a private residential school. Though successful she feels something of an outsider, especially when she falls out with her roommate.

The novel opens with Vanessa in her thirties, still an outsider, obsessively checking a social media post by a woman she knows. The post is inspired by the ‘Me Too’ movement and accuses a teacher at the school of inappropriate sexual conduct. The woman has previously contacted Vanessa, asking her to add her own accusations. Vanessa refuses. She believes that what she had with her teacher was love.

This is an uncomfortable read. The teacher in question is a literature professor, an aficionado of Nabokov’s Lolita, and lures underage girls in with subtle grooming techniques that soon become forceful. The adult Vanessa struggles to reconcile her own experience with those of the girls now making accusations.

The author flits skilfully between the world of the adult Vanessa and that of the teenage Vanessa, illuminating the techniques of the predator - targeting the outsider and making them feel special, dropping them when they reach maturity - and the damaging effects such manipulation and abuse can have on the victim. A worthwhile read. 5 stars.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The first in the Neapolitan Quartet of novels follows the intertwining lives of two Italian girls, Elena and Lila from their early childhood to old age. My Brilliant Friend covers the earliest period from when they are primary school age and playing with dolls, until their early adulthood, having followed the twists and turns of their education, their relationships and adventures along the way.

My Brilliant Friend is not only a portrait of female friendship but also portrays life in Naples of the 1940s. It also touches on universal themes of friendship, competitiveness, envy, poverty and ambition. Told mostly from Elena’s point of view, it deftly captures the ebbs and flows of friendship and the forces that combine to make people take the paths they choose in life.

I enjoyed the early part of the book much more than the latter part. I loathed female rivalry as a teenager so I didn’t enjoy reading about the envy and scheming of teenage girls’ relationships. I decided to just read the plots summaries of the other three books - don’t feel I’ve missed anything by not reading them (there comes a point when you have to be pragmatic). 4 stars.

Last Orders by Graham Swift

Following the death of one of their pub cronies (Jack) a group of men travel from London to Margate to scatter his ashes. The novel allows each character a first person narrative and as the day trip to Margate unfolds, so do the stories of Jacks relationships with his buddies and their relationships with each other. The story reveals lies and subterfuge, infidelity and ungratefulness, prejudice and cheating, but also a glimmer of redemption.

This novel reminded me a little of The Old Devils (reviews above) a novel about a similarly aged bunch of men, with all their long-standing resentments and hang ups. The Old Devils was however lighthearted with just a few dark episodes, whereas Last Orders felt the opposite. In fact there weren’t many lighthearted elements to it at all. I thought the characters were mainly unlikable and I didn’t like the violent episodes. But that didn’t stop the story being quite affecting (indeed it features in many ‘best novel’ lists) - it made me realise how far society has come on some issues. 4 stars.

Redigerat: jan 1, 2023, 6:14 pm

The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan

Set in Edinburgh in 1822 at the time of an impending visit from King George IV, which happens to coincide with the relocation of Edinburgh’s botanical gardens from its original site in Leith Walk to a more extensive site at Inverleith Row (a process that started in 1820 and took three years to complete).

The paths of two very different young women cross in the course of a few months. Newly-widowed Elizabeth arrives from London to reside at the charity of her late husband’s upper class family. And Belle Brodie, a vivacious young woman from an equally upper class background who has chosen to have an independent living, which she finances by having two married lovers.

Both women have a great interest in the botanic gardens, particularly when it is revealed that a plant which flowers only once in a century is expected to bloom imminently. Elizabeth’s interest is as a botanical artist, but Belle has secret designs on the flower.

This novel was written as a commission to celebrate Edinburgh Royal Botanical Gardens’ bicentenary. I didn’t know this till I read the end pages, but it might account for the fact I never really felt convinced by the book, despite the evident research (which by the end was being shoehorned in). It had a feeling of haste about it and just lacked some element, or spark, which I imagine might have been there, had it been a non-commissioned work, inspired by a true love of the subject. A bit disappointing as this was a birthday present and, on the face of it, should’ve been right up my street. 3.5 stars - to be fair, there was a lot of research!

Greenmantle by John Buchan

The second of four sequels to The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle finds the hero, Richard Hannay, early in WWI recovering from injuries received at the western front. From there, he is summoned to the Foreign Office and given the option of doing some intelligence work rather than be redeployed to the front. This he accepts though feeling it’s unlikely he’ll come out alive.

The matter at stake is a rumoured Muslim uprising, being engineered by the Germans and their Turkish allies. The only intelligence he’s given is a slip of paper with the words ‘Kasredin’, ‘cancer’ and ‘v.I’, written by a now deceased spy. He duly sets off with his friend Sandy as back-up.

Published in 1916, the book is very much of its time. There’s some jolly good adventure stuff where Hannay and Sandy evade the enemy through a combination of subterfuge and disguise, and they travel extensively from the Netherlands to sail the Danube, through Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade, to reach their rendezvous at Constantinople, travelling onwards to Erzurum, as Hannay tries desperately to unravel the clues from the slip of paper.

There are some good set pieces and quite a neat ending but any enjoyment was spoiled by racist language, including the ‘n’ word, and just the whole rotten privileged attitude of the coloniser. This is one of the older books in my library and belonged to my mother-in-law (though a nicer person you could not meet!). Given my father-in-law was an army officer (Royal Army Medical Corps doctor, stationed variously in Gibraltar, Germany, Kenya and the Malay Peninsula), and given how much loss their families suffered in WWI, I imagine she enjoyed it as an action adventure novel without questioning the context.

Don’t feel I can properly give this book a rating except to say that I listened to it on audiobook and the narrator, Robert Whitfield, was very good.

jan 1, 2023, 3:41 am

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Set in America, in a future where children are ‘lifted’, ie, genetically modified, to increase their intelligence, and AI has reached a point where children have their own AFs (Artificial Friends) to help and guide them, this novel explores a dystopian society only a short technological and societal hop away from our own.

It’s told through the first person narrative of Klara, an AF - not the latest model but one noted for its intelligence and acute observational skills. Klara is bought for Josie, a rather sickly teenager, by her fiercely protective mother.

Klara observes and analyses the relationships around the child - between Josie and her mother, Josie and her friend Rick, and among her peers. While Klara is super-intelligent, she is also naive in some respects, for instance, she believes that the Sun is a sentient being and pleads with him to improve Josie’s health.

As Klara begins to find her place in Josie’s life she also begins to suspect the mother’s motives towards her daughter.

The tensions in the world Ishiguro has built are not unlike our own and he tackles perennial subjects such the class system (‘lifted’ children v. non-‘lifted’, the unemployed v. the employed, AFs v. humans) ghettoisation of cities, air pollution. Also the extent to which parents will go to give their child societal advantage - even if it involves life threatening genetic modification.

I found the character of Klara emotionally affecting in her interpretation of human behaviour, acceptance of her status (as barely above a vacuum cleaner to some people, and to others a threat to their jobs) and willingness to do anything she can to safeguard both Josie’s life and her future happiness.

Quite a powerful book in an understated way, in how it touches on inequality and ethical issues - and reminiscent of both Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day, with sacrifices made, respectively, at the alters of technological progress and of lives in service to others. 5 stars