When the Going Gets Tough … The Tough Clear The Decks

The idea of staying home and reading my way through my TBR and knitting my way through my yarn mountain is really appealing right now, but sadly I do have to earn a living.

Ah well!

I’m going to be positive, and press on with my Clearing The Decks Project – 100 books have been lodged in my home library to be read or ditched and then leave the house – it’s very therapeutic!

I cleared half a dozen in January, but then I had a little break to read Virago Modern Classics  and now in February I’m losing myself in Victorian novels. Well I have to read the keepers too!

But I’m still hitting the home library for things to read in between, and advice would be very welcome. This latest selection to be introduced has a fair few “why on earth did I but that” books, so I really don’t mind if it’s negative.

Please tell me –  which books did you like – or not like? Which would you like to know more about?

The Priest of Evil by Matti Joensuu

“After a strange succession of deaths at Helsinki tube stations, the police are baffled: no one has seen anything and the tapes from the CCTV show nothing. Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpaa of the Helsinki Violent Crimes Unit has seen more than enough of the seamier side of human nature in his career, but the forces of evil have never before crossed his path in such an overwhelming fashion. It emerges that his adversary is a deluded but dangerous character living in an underground bunker in the middle of an uninhabited Helsinki hillside. Detective Sergeant Harjunpaa must now face his most terrifying case yet.”

I bought this in a secondhand bookshop with last year’s Orbis Terranum Reading Challenge, but then I read Tove Janssen for Finland instead. Maybe this year?!

Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

“Stuart, A Life Backwards, is the story of a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer and illustrator (‘a middle class scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander) and a chaotic, knife-wielding beggar whom he gets to know during a campaign to release two charity workers from prison. Interwoven into this is Stuart’s confession: the story of his life, told backwards. With humour, compassion (and exasperation) Masters slowly works back through post-office heists, prison riots and the exact day Stuart discovered violence, to unfold the reasons why he changed from a happy-go-lucky little boy into a polydrug-addicted-alcoholic Jekyll and Hyde personality, with a fondness for what he called ‘little strips of silver’ (knives to you and me). Funny, despairing, brilliantly written and full of surprises: this is the most original and moving biography of recent years

I read a magazine article, I was intrigued and so I picked up a copy of the book in question. Not my usual sort of thing, but sometimes, I think, you have to read something completely different and you have to look at life’s harsher realities.

Never Eat Your Heart Out by Judith Moore

“A culinary memoir recollects the strange, good, and terrible dramas of the author’s life and places them in the context of the realm of food, from childhood mud pies and bridal dinners to the experiments created during an affair.”

This one caught my eye in a charity shop when I noticed that it was a US edition – not something we see to often in Cornwall – and I do like culinary memoirs so it came home. but now I look more closely I’m really not sure.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

“Twenty-three-year-old Zhuang (or Z as she calls herself) arrives in London to spend a year learning English. Struggling to find her way in the city, and through the puzzles of tense, verb and adverb; she falls for an older Englishman and begins to realise that the landscape of love is an even trickier terrain…”

Already read, and written about here. An interesting book, but one I can let go. The project works!

Book Lover by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack

“One woman’s passion for books and search for romance lie at the heart of this touching and funny novel about literature and longing in Los Angeles. ‘Women do different things when they’re depressed. Some smoke, others drink, some call their therapists, some eat!And I do what I have always done — go off on a book bender that can last for days.’ Whenever she’s in crisis — her marriage ends, her career stalls, her fantasy man shows signs of human frailty — Dora (named after Eudora Welty) escapes into not one, not two, but a carefully selected stack of books, shutting the door on the outside world until she emerges from her book binge strong enough to face her problems. Books have always been her saving grace, sheltering her during a difficult childhood and arming her with lessons and epigrams that are right for nearly every situation. But life is more complicated than a-book-a-day, and people — like her ex-alcoholic mother and judgmental sister — aren’t as compliant as beloved characters in a novel! Whether she’s being seduced by a quotation-quipping Quixote, or explaining death to a child by reading from ‘Charlotte’s Web’, Dora is Every-reader, and her charming story, shot through with humour and humanity, will delight anyone who’s ever sought solace in the pages of a book.”

I can never resist books about books, but I can’t hold on to them all.

Fault Lines by Nancy Huston

“Narrated by four children from different generations of the same family, “Fault Lines” is a tale of a present haunted by the past. Moving from California to New York, from Haifa to Toronto and Munich, its stories unwind back through the years until, reaching the Holocaust, the devastating secret at the heart of the family’s history is finally revealed.”Fault Lines” is a riveting and poignant novel in which love, music and faith rage against the spectre of evil. Domestic in focus, epic in scope, and with powerfully drawn characters, it is an irresistible showcase for Nancy Huston’s talents.”

I recognised Nancy Huston’s name when I saw this on the Orange Prize longlist a few years ago. I loved the mark of the Angel, and  so I put fault Lines on my BookMooch wishlist. It took a while, but eventually a copy turned up.

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

“Some secrets are too terrible to reveal . . . Some crimes are too unspeakable to solve . . . Painter’s Creek, Ohio may be a sleepy, rural town with both Amish and ‘English’ residents, but it’s also the place where a series of brutal murders shattered the lives of an entire community over a decade ago. When the killing stopped, it left in its aftermath a sense of fragility, and for the young Amish girl, Katie Burkholder, a realization that she didn’t belong. Now, 15 years, two dead parents and a wealth of experience later, Katie has been asked to return as Chief of Police. Her Amish background combined with her big-city law enforcement expertise make her the perfect candidate. Katie is certain she has come to terms with the past. Until the first body of a slaughtered young woman is found in a pristine, snowy field…”

It was 50p and the library sale shelf, so what could I do?!

A Tale of Two Sisters by Anna Maxted

“They were the best of friends, they were the worst of friends … Lizbet and Cassie are close, yet far apart. After a clueless upbringing (their parents’ basic childrearing beliefs: ‘play a trombone, see a monkey, get some fresh air’), the two sisters strike out in opposite directions, both desperate to escape… Cassie is skinny, clever, charismatic, successful – every right-thinking girl’s worst nightmare. The one flaw in her quality-controlled life may be her marriage – and if there are any other flaws lurking, Cassie has them covered. Lizbet is plumper, plainer, dreamier – more concerned about the design on her coffee cup than whether she can afford her new house. She works reluctantly for Ladzmag, desperate to make her name as a writer, but stuck writing embarrassing articles on sex. Her one achievement is her relationship with Tim, who thinks she’s cute not stupid for asking why Jesus has a Mexican name. Despite Cassie being the favoured child, she and Lizbet have managed to stay friends. Perhaps because – as Cassie says – they’ve always wanted different things. But that’s about to change. Confronted by challenges that they never asked for, forced apart by mistakes not their own, will Cassie and Lizbet ever realise the real meaning of sisterhood, or will true nature ruin everything…?”

A charity shop bargain. Anna Maxted writes a nice line in what I would call serious, grown-up chick lit. Does that make sense. The sort of book I would have devoured in my London commuting days but doesn’t call so loudly now I’m in Cornwall.

The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi

“Six buried arms. Six missing girls. A team led by Captain Roche and internationally renowned criminologist Goran Gavila are on the trail of a serial killer whose ferocity seems to have no limits. And he seems to be taunting them, leading them to discover each small corpse in turn; but the clues on the bodies point to several different killers. Roche and Gavila bring in Mila Vasquez, a specialist in cases involving children, and Mila discovers that the real killer is one who has never lifted a finger against the girls – but merely psychologically instructs others to do his work: a ‘subliminal killer’ – the hardest to catch…”

I spotted this one in the library and noticed that it was a bestseller in Italy, so I brought it home. The opening chapters were interesting, but I wasn’t really in the mood for a long crime novel, so when I saw a copy in the library sale i bought it and put it aside for the right moment. But now I’ve read some fairly critical reviews I’m really not sure …

The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalldr

“On the day of Charles and Diana’s wedding, Rebecca Monroe’s mother locked herself in the bathroom and never came out. Was it because her squidgy chocolate log collapsed or because Rebecca’s grandmother married her first cousin? Can we never know why we do what we do?”

Another charity shop bargain, and once again the sort of book I would have happily read on a London commute and am less sure about now I’m in Cornwall.


And that’s the end of this batch – advice please!