February Reading

Continuing the theme from January Reading, I read the three Kate Fansler crime novels that I hadn’t got around to in January:

Cross, Amanda:

  • The Theban Mysteries
  • Honest Doubt
  • The Edge of Doom

Theban was one of the earlier novels in the series that I missed, because I didn’t own it in paperback. I’ve now got an e-book version. Quite a fun read, with a rather scurrilous idea: the elite girls’ school Kate went to in her youth keeps a couple of Dobermans on the roof. They patrol the school at night to discourage break-ins and seemingly scare someone’s mother to death. Kate is asked to find out the truth about the death.

Honest Doubt is the second to last in the series and is a little strange for a Kate Fansler novel. The story is told in the first person by a woman private eye who consults with Kate, as she (the private eye) is investigating the suspicious death of a hated university professor. Kate hardly appears, which is disappointing, but the private eye is appealing too, if in a different way. She’s has strong opinions, is somewhat (very) defensive of her fatness and talks a lot about how people underestimate her because of it and her age.

Edge of Doom is the last book in the series. In it Kate finds out that she is the product of an affair of her mother’s. She gets to know her biological father, who may or may not be a criminal. There are many discussions about nature vs nurture. It’s not one of my favourites — Kate seems off her game and rather passive, maybe due to the shock of finding out the truth about her parentage.

Now I only have the Kate Fansler short-stories left to read — I hope they are better than Honest Doubt and Edge of Doom. These last two books in the series weren’t as good as the earlier ones.

Something completely different was Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. It tells the story of two African half-sisters and their descendants. One sister marries a British slaver (who has a white wife in England) while the other one is sold into American slavery. The stories of the descendants in Africa and America are fragmented and episodic, told in alternating chapters. The fragmentation of the stories mirrors the loss of family suffered by the slaves. The reader gets the fullest picture not available to the protagonists, as they don’t know what happens to their relatives. It’s a powerful look at effects on the people in the slave trade on the slaver and slave side. The stories are so fascinating that the single chapters could have been novels in themselves. I enjoyed the book.

For my Ursula K. Le Guin project, I read:

  • Powers
    A good ending for the Annals of the Western Shore.
  • Rocannon’s World
    I blogged about this one here.

I’m very interested in memoirs and autobiographies of all sorts and I got a bit side-tracked from my Le Guin reading project by these two:

  • Westover, Tara: Educated: A Memoir
  • Rigg, Nina: The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying

The first one, Educated, was so gripping that I read it in one sitting. It’s the story of the author’s growing up as the youngest in a family of seven, with a Mormon fundamentalist and survivalist father. It’s a strong and moving description of the good and the bad in growing up off the grid in such a family, with the bad gradually overtaking the good as Tara grows up. One of her brothers starts becoming horrifically abusive, which her parents refuse to acknowledge. Through education, Tara finds another life, but this leads her further and further away from her family and Mormonism. In the end, she breaks off contact with all of them except the two brothers who also managed to escape from under the father’s authority. It’s sad, because despite all the hardship and hurt there was love within the family. Even the abuser was himself subjected to horrifying hurts in his life due to the father’s obsessions. Most members of the family survived terrible, life-changing injuries with just rudimentary home care. The author shows the loving as well as the hateful sides of all the family members, so they all seem human and worthy of compassion and redemption (which doesn’t happen). The language is poetic, with lovely nature descriptions.

This book will be one of the most memorable reads of this year, I can see that already — I can’t recommend it enough.

Bright Hour spoke to another one of my interests — I’m sort of obsessed with reading about death, how to think about it and how to face it. How to live wholly and die well. This book is a very good addition to my collection on the topic — it also mentions other relevant books that I’m aware of but haven’t yet read. The author tells short sketch-like episodes from her life after she is diagnosed with breast cancer (jumping backward and forward in time). Very poetic and thought-provoking. She’s a descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, so she includes interesting quotations from his works and stories from his life (and death). Sadly, the author died before the book could be published.

I’m still reading Don Quixote and Middlemarch, but I’ve fallen behind on the latter. I’ll catch up soon, I hope. I might go into detail about my impressions on these classics in a later post.

I can also recommend a short story that I found online, via a blog I follow: Harrow, Alix E.: A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies. It’s a lovely story about the awesome powers of books and their keepers.

One weekend in February I spent reading a lot of Harry Potter fanfiction – a topic for another post, as I’m running out of time, if I want to post this one today.

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