Category Archives: Top Ten Tuesday
Books That Make Me Hungry is the topic in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. I’m not going to guarantee that every book I list will have you salivating but maybe that’s a good thing. After all I don’t want to be responsible for causing waists to expand stomachs to bulge!
Late Harvest Havoc by J P Alaux & N Balen. Lets start in the country of gastronomy and fine wines. This novel is part of a crime series set within the vineyards of France. The two amateur detectives get to sample lots of wine but they also do a lot of eating. If caisson de porcelet rôti aux épices douces or sour cherry terrine takes your fancy, this is the book for you.
The Gourmet by Barbery, Muriel. I’m sticking around in France for my second book. If your tastes run to more refined dishes, then you’ll enjoy the items described in Barbery’s novel where the greatest food critic in France. is on a quest to decide what is the most delicious food he has ever eaten. Cue lots of descriptions of dishes he’s loved, from Pan roasted breast of Peking duck rubbed with berbère to grilled sardines and garden fresh tomatoes.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton Let’s move north to Amsterdam where in the seventeenth century, local inhabitants resorted to eating sugar in secret to avoid the strictures of the city’s Calvinist burgomasters. Burton’s main character loves eating marzipan and sweetened dough balls flavoured with almonds and ginger.
The Dance of the Seagull by Andrea Camilleri If the splendid setting of Sicily isn’t enough to attract you to Cammilleri’s Inspector Montelbano series, then maybe his copious references to food, will. The Inspector seems to do his sleuthing as a side line from eating. He’s either wolfing down meals his housekeeper has prepared for him or dropping into his favourite local trattoria to for some pasta, calamari, mussels, sole, shrimp.
The Dinner by Herman Koch This is a pretty dark novel but there are some unexpectedly funny scenes in an upmarket restaurant. Two brothers meet for dinner in Amsterdam to discuss their reaction to a horrid crime committed by their 15 year old sons. Every item on the menu is described in minute detail by the oleaginous maître d’hotel. He doesn’t just tell them how each dish is cooked, he wants to explain the provenance of all the ingredients.
The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch Sometimes gourmands can get a bit up themselves. Charles Arrowby, the protagonist of Murdoch’s Booker Prize winning novel, thinks he has a refined palate. His “felicitous gastric intelligence” leads him to concoct some rather bizarre meals. How do you fancy “baked beans and kidney beans with chopped celery, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil.“? Nope, me neither.
One Moonlight Night by Caradog Prichard Food of a much humbler variety features in Prichard’s tale of poverty, sickness and hard work in a North Wales community. His narrator, a young boy growing up with a widowed mother, is hungry in the way small boys are always hungry. Money is tight but he’s very happy with bread and butter and lobscouse (a traditional dish in North Wales that is akin to a lamb and vegetable stew).
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer The bizarre title of Mary Ann Shaffer’s first (and only) novel suggests the society members exist on a poor man’s diet. But in fact the club is a smokescreen for the real menu of illicit roast pig.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. Food can be fun as Ransome shows in his series about the adventures of groups of children in the Lake District. In the first book the Walker children camp on a small island in the middle of a lake, eating something called pemmican (which seems a bit like SPAM) with potatoes. Sounds basic but they’re also kept well supplied with cakes and other treats from their mother.
Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton Let’s finish with a childhood favourite. Five on a Treasure Island is the first in Blyton’s Famous Five series. I don’t remember any of the plots but I do remember that the kids always seemed to be on holidays and always seemed to be scoffing cream buns and ginger ale. Much more to my taste that SPAM and potatoes!
I’m not a big reader of series so it’s been a challenge to reach the magical 10 for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic: Authors I’ve Read the Most Books By.
Maybe I made it too difficult by setting a threshold where in order to make the list, I decided I would limit myself to authors I read as an adult. Plus I had to have read at least five of the author’s works. I ended up with just eight names.
They are a mix of contemporary authors and those from the literary canon of past centuries. Some are authors whose full body of work I would love to read. Others are favourites from past years that have not lasted the course because my reading tastes have changed. I wonder whether this list will change again in the future. Maybe I should repeat the exercise five or ten years from now .
One important thing to mention however. This list is simply a record of authors I’ve read most often, not the authors I consider my favourites. There’s no George Eliot for example. Putting the list together I realised I still have three of her novels to read: Daniel Deronda, Felix Holt and Romola. I sense a little reading project might be in the offing.
By the time I came across Louise Penny’s crime fiction she had already published eight titles in her series set in Quebec. Her setting in the tiny village of Three Pines won me over, as did her protagonist, Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. She’s published a total of 15 books in the series – 16th is due out later this year – of which I’ve read eight. My favourite? That’s a hard one. I think I’m going to go for How The Light Gets In.
My first experience of Atkinson was via her debut novel Behind The Scenes at the Museum which chronicled the lives of six generations of women. I’ve since gone on to read six more of the the 10 books she’s had published. Some of these were not to my taste (I couldn’t finish Life after Life and really disliked Transcription) but when she’s on form, she’s highly enjoyable. Her Jackson Brodie series of detective novels (adapted into the BBC series Case Histories) is first class and like her many other fans I was delighted when she returned to this series in 2019 after a 11 year gap, with Blue Sky.
There was a time when I lapped up everything written by McEwan. But in recent years my interest has waned significantly. The turning point was Saturday published in 2005 which I found tedious and pretentious. I’ve read seven of his novels. From his early years, I enjoyed Black Dogs and The Innocent. Of his more recent works, my all time favourite is Atonement.
Another author I no longer enjoy as much as I did. I’ve read six of his novels. The best of those from the twentieth century is I think Brazzaville Beach which tells the story of a woman who is in Africa researching chimpanzees. This century, the outstanding novel has been Any Human Heart, a tremendous story of one man’s life; his attempts at a literary career, several marriages and meetings with a host of famous people. Nothing Boyd has published since has come anywhere close to the quality of that novel and the most recent one I read, Love is Blind, was just awful.
If you’d asked me in the 1980s whether Graham Greene was one of my favourite authors, you’d have been met with an unequivocal answer in the negative. He’d been on the syllabus for my final English literature module at university and I had unwelcome memories of having to rush through his books. But time has moved on and I’ve come to more deeply appreciate his work, particularly those labelled his “Catholic novels.” My favourite is The Heart of The Matter which portrays a fundamentally decent man taken down the path to a crisis of conscience and despair.
I’ve barely touched the surface with Zola’s work. I’ve read seven of his novels; Thérèse Raquin, a dark novel of murder and adultery and six of the 20 titles in his Rougon-Macquart cycle. I’ve yet to read one that hasn’t impressed me with its multi-faceted portrayal French society and life in the nineteenth century and its undercurrents of passion and ambition. My favourite is the novel I read first, Germinal, but L’Assommoir, the story of a working class woman in Paris, is a close second.
Like so many readers I was introduced to Dickens at an early age via Oliver Twist. It took me a few decades to warm to him. Yes he can be frustrating (he does so like to digress) and yes his plots are highly dependent on coincidences, but boy can he tell a good yarn. I’ve failed to finish two: Bleak House (I’ll return to it one day) and A Tale of Two Cities). Of the eight novels by him that I have finished, my favourites are Great Expectations (the first encounter by Magwitch and young Pip is unforgettable) and Dombey and Son (especially for its breathtaking scene involving a train).
When I read Jane Austen as a teenager I was puzzled by descriptions of her as a supremely ‘witty’ author. I couldn’t see anything approaching wit in what I was reading. It wasn’t until I read her as an adult that the penny dropped and I fell in love with her writing. I’ve read all her novels bar one, Lady Susan. Last year I read one of her unfinished works, Sanditon, when a new Oxford World Classics edition was published to coincide with a TV adaptation. She’s an author I feel I can return to again and again and still find something new to enjoy. My favourite? I never tire of Pride and Prejudice but the quieter, more thoughtful Persuasion, has the edge.
After months of cancelled or delayed launches, there are signs that the publishing industry is ramping up for a mega season of new titles.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is on the theme of “Top 10 Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020” which gives me a chance to talk about some of the books that have caught my attention. I suspect there will be many more temptations coming my way when publication dates get firmed up but for now, here are the books I’m keen to buy and read.
The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott
Arnott’s latest novel is described as “A gorgeous, playful and casually brutal novel about war and ecological precarity, about the endurance of legends and the dark magic to be found in our natural world.” Here we have a tale of two women: one who has chosen to live a secluded life among the mountains of a country turned upside down in a coup. The other is a soldier who comes in search of a legendary creature. Their lives entwine, pushing them both to consider what they love and what they fear.
Publication date: July 2 from Atlantic Books
The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin
This debut novel created a buzz when it was published in hardback in the US last year. I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about it once the paperback is issued. Chia-Chia Lin has written a tragic tale of a Taiwanese immigrant family struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. Their 10-year-old son contracts meningitis but survives. When he recovers from his near fatal coma, he learns his younger sister died from the same condition. Chia-Chia Lin explores the anguish and repercussions of this and the way that the American dream is undermined by reality.
Publication date: July 2 from LittleBrown
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams
Lexicographical intrigues form the basis of this debut novel that swings from the nineteenth century compiler of a new Encyclopaedic Dictionary to a present day digital editor. The novel touches on questions of intellectual integrity and the fragility and absurdity of language. I have a feeling this book is going to expand my vocabulary. It’s already introduced me to mountweazel which apparently is a fake entry deliberately inserted into a dictionary or work of reference.
Publication date: July 16 by Cornerstone
A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville
Inspired by a real life story, A Room Made of Leaves takes us to a penal colony in eighteenth century New South Wales. It’s a shock to the system for 21-year old Elizabeth, the newly-arrived wife of the colony’s new Lieutenant. Accustomed to the greenery and peace of her native Devon, she finds Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, plots and rumours. To survive both the place and her reckless husband she has to draw on strengths she never imagined she possessed. The sense of place created in Grenville’s earlier novel The Secret River , was one of the reasons I enjoyed that book so much. I’m hoping the new novel will prove equally atmospheric.
Publication date: August 6 , 2020 from Canongate
The Mission House by Carys Davies
If you haven’t yet sampled the work of this young award-winning Welsh author, I hope you’ll be tempted by The Mission House. It’s set at a British hill station in South India where a man takes refuge in the local mission. He is befriended by the Padre in the adjacent presbytery and begins to form close bonds with the Padre’s adopted daughter. As the relationship develops religious tensions threaten to escalate, putting the mission in danger.
Publication date: August 6 , 2020 by Granta
The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel
It’s six years since Mandel’s last novel Station Eleven, a book which helped me overcome an aversion to dystopian fiction. Now she’s back with a novel that weaves together the stories of a bartender at a five-star glass-and-cedar palace on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island; the New York financier who owns the hotel and a shipping agent who is shaken by a message he sees at the hotel. The publishers describe the novel as a story of “greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.” I’m counting the days until this comes out…..
Publication date: August 6 from Pan Macmillan
Summer by Ali Smith
This is the fourth and final book in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet which began with Autumn in 2017. I’ve been buying each book as it was published but wanted to wait for the quartet to be complete before I started to read them. Summer, like its predecessors, uses an interplay between the recent past and modern day society to examine love, time, art, politics/
Publication date: August 6 by Penguin Books
English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks
The only non-fiction title in my list, this is a chronicle of the life of three generations of farmers on a small farm in England’s Lake District. Rebanks, best known as the author of The Shepherd’s Life, uses the book to reflect on the decline of traditional agriculture and the changing nature of rural landscapes around the world.
It’s a topic very close to my heart because of plans to evict a farmer on the edge of our village, rip up all the fields and build yet another business park.
Publication date: September 3 from Penguin
Those Who Know by Alis Hawkins
Originally scheduled for a May launch, this third book in the Teifi Valley Coroner’s series will now be released in September. Those Who Know sees the coroner and squire Harry Probert-Lloyd and his under steward John Davies once more set out on the path of justice when they are called upon to examine the body of a radical and pioneering schoolteacher. I read the first book in this series – None So Blind – a few years ago and loved the chemistry between the two main characters.
Publication date: September 24 by Dome Press
Snow by John Banville
I’ve enjoyed John Banville’s literary fiction, including his Booker Prize winning The Sea, but I’ve never read any of the crime fiction published under his pen name Benjamin Black.
The Snow is his first crime novel to be published under his own name. Until now he has kept his crime and literary output completely separate, evento the extent of writing the former with a pen and typing the latter. I wonder why he’s decided to change course?
The publishers describe The Snow as a “chilling, 1950s-set, murder mystery”. It begins with the discovery of the body of a parish priest in the Library at Ballyglass House, the County Wexford family seat of the aristocratic, secretive Osborne family. Detective Inspector St John Strafford arrives from Dublin to investigate he is met with a conspiracy of silence as the snow continues to fall.
Publication date: October 6 from Faber
Do any of these take your fancy? Or are there some other titles you are eagerly awaiting later this year?
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover .
Though its many, many years since I experienced a hangover, I can still remember the symptoms. The disturbed sleep; the thudding headache and the feeling of nausea.
No-one really goes out drinking with the intention of getting a hangover do they? No more than I ever deliberately choose books that I think will give me a hangover feeling. But some of them do provoke those unwelcome reactions.
I’m thinking here of books that have complex plots or complicated structures or are written in a very dense style.
How Late it Was How Late by James Kelman
Appropriately this Booker Prize winner begins with the protagonist Sammy waking up in a lane after a two-day drinking binge. It would have been challenging enough to understand because everything that happens to this guy is told in stream of consciousness style. But its made even more challenging because the story is rendered in a working class Scottish dialect. (Imagine a drunken rant by Billy Connolly and you might get the picture). I struggled my way through just over 100 pages but then decided I’d had enough.
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
This was a clever novel of two characters and three versions of their lives. The chapters switch between the different versions of the couple but at the exact same point in time. It was a fascinating approach to narration but I did find it confusing initially and had to take notes to keep each couple and each version clear in my head.
Midnights Children by Salman Rushdie
Rushdie’s much-lauded novel falls into the category for me of “impressive rather than enjoyable.” It had such a dazzling array of allusion and digressions plus political references I didn’t understand that reading it felt like wading through mud. I could read only a couple of pages a night.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
A beautifully contrived novel with two time zones and two settings that incorporates several themes. One of them considers the elusive nature of time:
In the time it takes to say now, now is already over. It’s already then. Then is the opposite of now. So saying now obliterates its meaning, turning it into exactly what it isn’t. It’s like the word is committing suicide or something.
Maybe not the best thing to read late at night when the brain wants to shut down. But worse was to come – a section that baffled me was an explanation of a thought experiment called Schrödinger’s Cat which tries to explain how a being may be simultaneously both alive and dead.
The books in this group are all books that were so engrossing I had to keep reading, even though it was far beyond lights out time.
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Boy am I glad I’m not reading this right now. It’s premise of a flu virus that is so virulent it wipes out 99% of the world’s population would be rather too close for comfort to the current Coronovirus outbreak. It does make you worry about how you’d cope in a world where everything you know no longer exists.
The North Water by McGuire, Ian
Long listed for the Man Booker 2016, this is a fast-paced novel that pulls no punches about the brutal and bloody business of whaling in the 1840s. It leaves no doubt that this is a business in which only the most nimble, selfish and ruthless men will survive.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
I imagine there are English lit students beavering away even now on comparative essays involving The Hours and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. That wasn’t what kept me awake however. The Hours is simply a brilliant novel of three generations of women who all, in different ways, suffer issues of mental health and alienation.
Horror stories or tales with graphic violence are absolutely not to my taste. Sometimes however you can’t avoid an element of violence or passages which are not for the faint-hearted.
The opening chapters of Alex are gruesome; definitely not for the squeamish. But just when you think you can’t bear to read any more, Lemaitre masterfully brings us some relief in the form of the police hunt for a girl who’s been abducted. If it hadn’t switched gear I couldn’t have continued reading.
Lullaby by Leïla Slimani
The beauty of Lullaby is that it contains the suspense of violence without forcing us to confront its reality. We know right from the beginning that a nanny kills two children in her care. The interest isn’t what she did but why.
Pure by Andrew Miller
The smell of stench and decay is impossible to avoid when you read this book. Set in Paris the book introduces us to an engineer charged with removing the graves from a cemetery in the city. But the stench of corruption and evil presages what happens a few years later when the Revolution is in full flood (or should that be full blood?)
I fell out of the habit of doing the Top Ten Tuesday posts but let’s see if this week’s topic re-ignites my enthusiasm.
In a week that includes St Valentine’s Day, it’s appropriate that the topic is is: a Love Freebie. I’ve chosen books with the word love in the title. or a word associated with that emotion. The first group are books I’ve read (links are to my reviews) and the rest are ones that are on my shelves waiting to be read.
Nina Bawden, A Little Love, a Little Learning
By far the best of the three books I’ve read by Nina Bawden. It’s about a family whose unremarkable life is disturbed by the arrival of an old friend with an insatiable appetite for gossip.
William Boyd, Love is Blind
Not one of Boyd’s best unfortunately. It’s a tale of the obsessive love of a Scottish piano tuner for a Russian singer. But it moves at a very slow pace and it quite repetitive. It was hard to get enthused about whether the piano tuner gets his girl in the end.
Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate
This is meant to be a very witty novel about the daughter of a wealthy family who wants to marry a very unsuitable man. Her mother wants her to marry someone wealthy. I’d say its more slightly amusing than sparkling with wit.
Since I have only three books that strictly speaking contain the word love, I’m going to exercise some creativity with my next two choices.
Andrew Taylor, Bleeding Heart Square
The heart is meant to be the organ of love isn’t it? This isn’t really a hearts and roses kind of tale however, it’s set in a grubby corner of London where Oswald Mosely blackshirts roam the streets.
Brian Moore, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
A terrific novel about a lonely down at heel spinster in Ireland who desperately wants to find love and a husband. Her lets her imagination run away with her with a desperately sad consequence.
Let’s see what I have on my TBR that fits the brief.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
I know this is highly regarded. I know Marquez is a Nobel prize winning author. But I have tried three times to read this book and have failed every time. I’m going to give it one more go but if the experience is repeated, it’s going in the bag of donations to a charity second hand bookshop.
Nadeem Aslam, Maps for Lost lovers
I can’t even remember buying this book let alone recall anything about it. Goodreads came to my rescue and told me that ostensibly it’s about the murder of a pair of lovers. But in fact its a dissection of working-class Pakistani immigrant communities that have settled in the north of England over the last 40 years. Anyone read this? If so, is it worth reading?
Toni Morrison, Beloved
One that it seems ‘everyone’ has read. I’ll get to it – sometime…..
Thorne Moore, Mother Love
The second novel by this Welsh author. I bought it after enjoying her debut A Time For Silence. It’s a psychological thriller involving three women. One horrified to be pregnant again, one who is desperate to adopt and the third who is terrified her baby will be taken from her.
Hanne Ørstavik, Love
This is the shortest book I have on my shelves. It was chosen as part of my subscription to the Asymptote Book Club. I have high hopes for this based on my experience of another of Ørstavik’s books – The Blue Room – which was also a Asymptote Book Club choice. According to The Guardian, Love, is “an eerie, devastating little book about a mother and son in the far north of Norway.” Maybe not the kind of book associated with romance but then love doesn’t always turn out happily does it?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. To join in, just visit her blog.