First Line Friday — Becoming

I didn‘t post anything since last Sunday. That‘s what happens, when you read a doorstopper, listen to a longish audiobook at the same time and watch too much TV.

I am still reading Revelation by C.J. Sansom and listening to Becoming by Michelle Obama for my #ReadPOC2021 challenge. I would like to finish both of them in January, but I am doubtful. Work is pretty stressful right now and I tend to watch more TV and read less, when that happens. Disney+ is quite entertaining… 😝 I am enjoying WandaVision and The Mandalorian. And then there is The Expanse on Netflix…

Anyway, I give you the first paragraph of Becoming:

„When I was a kid, my aspirations were simple.  I wanted a dog. I wanted a house that had stairs in it— two floors for one family. I wanted, for some reason, a four-door station wagon instead of the two-door Buick that was my father’s pride and joy. I used to tell people that when I grew up, I was going to be a pediatrician.“

From the book

I liked the first part of the book. I am about halfway now and we reached the part where Barak Obama is starting some serious campaigning, which I find less interesting.


First Line Friday is a meme created by Hoarding Books. Feel free to head over there, have a look around, grab a book and post its first line in the comments there and in your blog.

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#ReadPOC2021 — February: By a Scientist

So, finding something that interests me for February is going to be a tough one. Scientists that fit the bill are seriously under-represented. Or I am very oblivious, take your pick. I am leaning towards space and the universe at large, natural history, Earth‘s history, the oceans, … I suppose it could be a memoir or biography of a scientist falling under the BIPOC heading.

What is this challenge, you ask? My original post is here. For an explanation and the general rules please go to the actual webpage of the challenge, hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media.

Back to February. I have been meaning to read something by Neil deGrasse Tyson for a while. Or maybe get an audiobook. I would like to listen to him narrating it himself though, which does not give me a lot of options. It would mean reading either Astrophysics for People in a Hurry or Letters from an Astrophysicist. That one sounds like fun. They are both fairly short though.

In my search of other authors I came across this list: Finding My Climate-Conscious Tribe: Black Nature Lovers and Writers. PlanetWalker (2005) by environmentalist John Francis looks interesting. From the book blurb:

“When the struggle to save oil-soaked birds and restore blackened beaches left him feeling frustrated and helpless, John Francis decided to take a more fundamental and personal stand—he stopped using all forms of motorized transportation. Soon after embarking on this quest that would span two decades and two continents, the young man took a vow of silence that endured for 17 years. It began as a silent environmental protest, but as a young African-American man, walking across the country in the early 1970s, his idea of “the environment” expanded beyond concern about pollution and loss of habitat to include how we humans treat each other and how we can better communicate and work together to benefit the earth.“

Another interesting list: Celebrating Black Environmentalists during Black History Month. I ended up browsing cooking books though, which is not really what I was looking for… Still, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty sounds good. I am really tempted, after browsing through the preview. From the book blurb:

“Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.“

And several other lists and blog posts lead me to Lauret Savoy and her book Trace. From the book blurb:

“Through personal journeys and historical inquiry, this PEN Literary Award finalist explores how America’s still unfolding history and ideas of “race” have marked its people and the land.“

“A provocative and powerful mosaic that ranges across a continent and across time, from twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to a South Carolina plantation, from national parks to burial grounds, from “Indian Territory” and the U.S.–Mexico Border to the U.S. capital, Trace grapples with a searing national history to reveal the often unvoiced presence of the past.“

Still, those three books are more memoirs and histories than something I would lump under the heading scientific non-finction. So, I am stumped. I am open to suggestions!


The prompt and page for January is here: Books by Women of Color to Read for #ReadPOC2021.

And I picked up Tudor England…

Book 4, Revelation by C.J. Sansom

„The high chandeliers in the Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn were ablaze with candles, for it was late afternoon when the play began. Most members of Lincoln’s Inn were present, the barristers in their robes and their wives in their best costumes. After an hour standing watching, my back was starting to ache, and I envied the few elderly and infirm members who had brought stools.“

First paragraph

I read the first chapter last night and just embarked into chapter two. No corpses yet! My old edition has 629 pages. This will take a while! Bizarrely, the book smells of Christmas cookies… 🍪

Another doomed tower…

Tower of Mud and Straw
by Yaroslav Barsukov

Rating: 2 out of 5.

“Minister Shea Ashcroft refuses the queen’s order to gas a crowd of protesters. After riots cripple the capital, he’s exiled to Owenbeg, a duchy bordering the kingdom of Duma, to oversee the construction of the biggest anti-airship tower in history. Shea doesn’t want the task, but sees it as the only way to reclaim his life.“

We start our trip on an airship. And we come in contact with advanced, „other“ technology. It doesn‘t really fit the bill for Steampunk, but is reminiscent of it at first.

The prologue was very clunky and hard to get into, heavy on adverbs. Luckily, once the main narrative started, the story telling got a lot smoother. However, part two started just as clunky as part one. 

I had a hard time picturing the settings. The prose was very flowery, but not as descriptive as I would’ve liked. The language was very modern despite the fantasy setting, which is unusual and did not sit particularly well with me. I also felt as if I was missing part of the story or a prequel.

The author packed a lot into 200 pages. I didn‘t mind that so much. I actually think he could have done a more thorough job with the world building, even in such a short book / novella. The pacing felt off for me as well. Telling so much of the backstory in paragraphs alternating with the present storyline so far towards the ending did not flow well. 

The idea was intriguing, but I never really got immersed in the storytelling or connected with the characters. I did not like the style and skimmed the last part of the story. Sorry, this wasn‘t for me. Pretty cover though! Maybe I have to try and re-read this another time, when I am more in the mood for such a meandering style.

I received this free e-copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!


Can be found and read online and for free here:

Tower of Mud and Straw I: The Duchy

Tower of Mud and Straw II: The Adversary

Tower of Mud and Straw III: The Tulips

Tower of Mud and Straw IV: The Tower


Historical backlog

In the 2000s I read the first two Shardlake books, followed by book 3 in 2011.

The Shardlake series is a series of historical mystery novels by C. J. Sansom, set in the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century. The series’ protagonist is the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, […]. Shardlake works on commission initially from Thomas Cromwell in Dissolution and Dark Fire, Archbishop Thomas Crannmer in Sovereign and Revelation, and Queen Catherine Parr in Heartstone and Lamentation. The seventh book, Tombland, was published in October 2018.

Wikipedia

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake, #1)
by C.J. Sansom

This is the first one of the Matthew Shardlake books. It was very, very good! Good suspense, pretty gory, I kept going “Ewwww!” Sansom likes to be descriptive and he does it well. Not only for yucky, violent moments, but also descriptions of characters, smells, sounds, sights and situations. Very good.

Dark Fire (Matthew Shardlake, #2)
by C.J. Sansom

Pretty solid historical crime novel. Very atmospheric. I wonder how anybody ever managed to live in London long enough for it to develop into my favourite city on the planet. The stink and disgusting sights described are priceless. The crime story was sufficiently tricky for me not to guess who-dunnit until the end. Every now and then it got a bit tedious, reading about Shardlake riding from one interview to the next interview to the next interview to the next interview…. Did I mention that he was riding around London a lot? And across it? And along it. And…. you get the picture.

Sovereign (Matthew Shardlake, #3)
by C.J. Sansom

Mysterious things are afoot in the town of York. A conspiracy of major proportions is tucked away somewhere. 

As usual with Sansom, the story is alive with the sounds and smells of Tudor England. Descriptions are excellent. It’s easy to get immersed into his world, you can almost feel, taste and especially smell it.

We walked to Stonegate as the sun rose up and the city came to life, keeping under the eaves as people opened their windows and threw the night’s piss into the streets.

Page 122 of my edition

There is a surprising amount of swearing going on for historical novels.

When I read his books, it always makes me sad to contemplate how many beautiful things Henry VIII destroyed with his dissolution.

I keep jumping back to the computer to read up on historic events and characters mentioned in the books, it’s always a very educational experience for me.

The whole question of succession regarding Richard III, the princes in the tower and the War of the Roses has always confused me a lot and now I get something else confusing thrown into the mix.

The last 200 pages dragged on a bit for me. At times Sansom’s books seem to be a little too cosy, until the next twist hits you and the plot moves back to nail biting suspense.


And although I rated these novels between 4 and 5 stars, I never continued the series. I wasn‘t in the mood anymore for historical crime novels. Book 4, Revelation by C.J. Sansom, has been sitting on my shelf since 2015. One of my personal challenges for this year is to tackle my TBR pile. So, maybe this year, let‘s see if I still like Shardlake!

Books by Women of Color #ReadPOC2021

Bloodchild
by Octavia E. Butler

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A human colony living as little more than slaves, joined to an insectoid race as hosts to their eggs and larvae. Gruesome imagery. Alien comes to mind. The „conception“ is a much gentler event though, even sensuous. Love, possesiveness and self-sacrifice are themes. 

Butler voices her surprise in the afterword, that readers see this as a story of slavery. But are we looking at symbiosis or at a parasitic relationship? Is it really consent in a situation, where your personal rights have been curtailed and there are no equal rights? I think not. 

Interesting. And worth reading. I will have another look at Dawn, which I have been circling for a while.


This is my entry for January of the BIPOC challenge I joined this year. My original post is here. For an explanation and the general rules please go to the actual webpage of the challenge, hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media.

The prompt and page for January is here: Books by Women of Color to Read for #ReadPOC2021

My original choice was The Gilded Ones (Deathless, #1) by Namina Forna, but I read that in December already. I am also currently listening to Becoming by Michelle Obama, but I am very slow with audiobooks, so I might not finish in January.

Nice rom-com to start off the year

Written in the Stars
by Alexandria Bellefleur

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I do not believe in horoscopes or that the stars determine my fate. So Elle does not have an easy start with me in this queer rom-com debut. A social media astrologer? Give me a break! And Darcy, an actuary, her terrible blind date, is a total bitch (at first). Gorgeous though. Anyway, here we are. Circumstances get in the way. Or maybe the stars? And we are off into a fake relationship, to get the annoying relations of each other‘s backs. My favourite romance trope! We all know where this is headed! The question is, will the trip be fun. Or will there be much overwrought and pointless angst between adults too stupid to talk to each other?

This actually developed quite nicely and was very readable. It was well written, I liked the style, it was relatable. I liked both characters well enough. From a personality standpoint I am more like Darcy, so the slightly chaotic Elle made me roll my eyes a few times. 

Brendon was nice and will come around again with his own story in the sequel. I would have wished for a more in-depth resolution of Elle‘s family situation, but that would probably have transcended the scope of this rom-com. 

The sex scenes were pretty graphic and also well-written.

We got the required drama and faulty communication towards the end, which I could have done without. I did not actually like this part (more than usual) and knocked off a star for it. I can‘t quite put my finger on it. It didn‘t match the tone of the rest of the book and was too rushed. I actually skimmed a little on the last few pages, because I just wanted this stupid part of every romance to be over with and get to the HEA. Which was very short, aka we were lacking a proper ending IMO. Pity, that we never got to the magic date of New Year’s Eve, the termination date those two had originally planned for the end of their fake relationship. That would have been a nice epilogue. Besides that this was a good one.

Oh, this is supposed to be a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I didn‘t see it, to be honest. Ok, one of the main characters is called Darcy and is opposed to romance, other than that… *shrugs*

Will I read the sequel? Maybe, if I am in the right mood. Would I recommend this to a friend? Yes, pretty likely.

Author interview on Goodreads

Miss Evolution at work…

Nachrichten aus einem unbekannten Universum: Eine Zeitreise durch die Meere
by Frank Schätzing

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Schätzing usually writes SciFi thrillers, so this non-fiction was a detour, albeit into the realm dealing with the universe at large. There is a speculative element in these „news from an unknown universe“. He takes us on a tour from the Big Bang to the near future. Schätzing calls this „Humans and the oceans, a peculiar relationship, marked by love, hate, ignorance and romanticism.“ He shows us how oceans work and life evolved and where all this water came from in the first place. Why evolution took the route it took. We get a look at the mechanics of the Gulf stream, the movements of tectonic plates, the structure of the world‘s oceans and their inhabitants, to the creation of waves, how our moon came to be, its effects on our planet, to the evolution of bacteria, plankton, bigger fish and whales and ultimately the struggles our seas are facing today. „Miss Evolution“ is the driving force in this book.

I am not a fan of Schätzing‘s flippant tone and his habit of anthropomorphising everything. I understand that he wants to make this entertaining and fun for the reader. But I found it annoying, his assigning of all kinds of human emotions and motives to sponges, fish and whatever appeared on the page, usually with a comical comment at the end of a paragraph or chapter. And Miss Evolution ticked me off.

The book is nicely done, with unusual page layouts and nice illustrations and photos. I struggled a bit with the odd black pages with white print. The contrast was crap and I had a hard time with the small and dense font already anyway.

I didn‘t learn a lot of new things, however this is a nice primer into our evolution, Earth‘s geological history and the development of life in the oceans. So, if you‘re looking for some pop-science with a funny writing style and don‘t mind the anthropomorphising, this might be for you.

Belated First Line Friday — Written in the Stars

This is my current read:

Written in the Stars (Kindle Edition)
by Alexandria Bellefleur

And these are the first three sentences of the book:

There was only so much chafing a girl could handle, and Elle Jones had reached her limit. Dodging strollers in front of Macy’s splashy holiday window displays and hustling to make it to the restaurant on time had caused the creep of her lace to quicken until her brand-spankin’-new underwear functioned more like a belt than the boy shorts they were. She could practically taste her spring-fresh laundry detergent.

Don‘t I know that feeling! This book is pretty good, as contemporary romance goes.

Yes, this is another meme, created by Hoarding Books. Feel free to head over there, have a look, grab a book and post the first line.

Classics

I bought myself a MacMillan Collector‘s Library edition of Jane Eyre in 2018. Cute little hardback…

Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I put my re-read of this classic on hold back then, I was not in the right mood for it.

My review from 2008: (pretty sure I read it before, but I could be delusional)

I expected to be bored. Classics usually do that to me. Especially, when I know the story already quite well through various movie adaptations. But this I liked quite a lot. I did a little skimming in the beginning and occasionally throughout the book, when it got a little too slow for my taste. Jane feels relatively modern and the language, although necessarily old-fashioned, wasn’t too stilted. I could have done without the episode with St John. That part of the book felt like a filler to me and I don’t remember seeing it in any of the various TV adaptations I have watched over the years.


Not such a successful classic read was Jane Austen. Quite embarrassing, probably, as everybody seems to love this book.

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I give you this, written and posted first in 2015:

Maybe I would have been better off just watching that BBC miniseries. 12% into the book I was wondering what all the fuss is about. People meet for dances and have meaningless conversations about who could marry whom and which girl is plainer or prettier than the other. Really? Boring! Where is the plot?

Eventually I was skimming through more and more conversations that did not interest me, although some semblance of a shallow plot eventually emerged. 

At 25% I gave up. I didn’t care why Darcy is despicable or not or which daughter is going to marry what gentleman.

Out of curiosity I read the last two chapters and they left me just as indifferent. This may be a famous novel, but it went straight over my head. I did not connect with any of the characters and the descritpion of society back then just rubbed me the wrong way on every page. Not for me, sorry. Off to finally watch Colin Firth and to see if the story works better for me that way…

Now, in 2021, it might be time for another attempt? We‘ll see.