Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (2019)

Picked this up at the library the other day after having seen it mentioned on quite a few book bloggers’ sites and, at the same time, wanting to add another POC author to my reading life.

This is, apparently, Candice Carty-Williams’ first novel although it looks like she has a background in publishing as well. So – did I enjoy this read? Not sure that “enjoy” is the best word but it was a fast read and a pretty good one. I’ll say that.

The narrative revolves around the central protagonist, Queenie, a 25-year-old first generation Brit who is single, living in the UK with Jamaican parents. As the plot moves forward, we get to see how Queenie lives and works and from the POV of this particular reader, it read very smoothly overall.

Reading some of the reviews, countless people had compared Queenie to a more brash Bridget Jones in many ways, but I don’t think this is an accurate impression. Queenie is a much more hardened character than Bridget ever was.

She straddles both the Jamaican immigrant culture as well as the culture(s) of her friends and has to deal with insidious cuts and asides (racial and otherwise) in her newspaper workplace.

It seems as though she has her life fairly together for a twenty-something woman in the 21st century, but the one piece that is significantly awry for her is her love life where there is one terrible decision after another. (There is a lot of unprotected sex in this book. Fair warning, if you want it. If not, carry on.)

And I just kept wanting to pull Queenie aside EVERY time she went to bed with someone and tell her that she didn’t have to do this. But I couldn’t and it was actually made even harder to be patient with her as she came across as consistently unlikeable in many ways: she’s selfish at times but perhaps Carty-Williams’ goal with her was to provide a more human character who makes human mistakes. I’m not sure.

This was well written overall. Carty-Williams handles the narrative effectively. I just wish that I had liked (and respected) Queenie a little more.

The Long March – Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (1998)

Chahta hakia hoke: We are Choctaw.

With Cathy at 749Books focusing on All Things Irish this month, I’ve been pulling some Irish-related titles from the shelves and in doing so realized that I know shockingly little about Irish history. So – wanting a quick primer on the Emerald Isle, I read this title. (I also have another FANTASTIC novel that I’m finishing up but that’s a different post.)

This read was about the terrible potato famine that occurred in 1845-1847. The juvenile title covers how the Choctaw people in Oklahoma collected money from their tribespeople to send to the Irish during their time of need…

Despite having lived close to OK for many years, I was not familiar with this event of the Choctaws supporting the far-away Irish so my interest was piqued when I saw the title on my library website.

Even better – it was a kid read which meant two things: (one) it’s probably really well explained (assuming the author is good) and (two) it wouldn’t take long to read and learn. I was right on both counts.

The protagonist, Choona, a young Choctaw boy, is familiar with the terrible Great March (or the Trail of Tears) which his tribe had been forced to undertake when their lands were taken away from the tribe, and as the reader learns (along with Choona) of the overlaps between these two displaced peoples, s/he also learns the importance of being true to yourself and others.

(In fact, there is such a connection between the Choctaw tribe and Ireland that Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, was inducted as an honorary tribal chieftain.)

So – what was good about this read? Well, it was really well researched by Fitzpatrick and she had worked closely with her Choctaw contacts, both the actual Chief of the Choctaw tribe and the Executive Director of a non-profit that works with the actual tribe. This automatically added authenticity and drive to the book for me, at least.

Additionally, the artwork was stupendous. Fitzpatrick, the author, is also a professional illustrator and it was obvious that she had taken great pains to reflect Choctaw life and people accurately and with care. I wonder how she had come across this story originally, as I haven’t heard of it before now. I’m really glad that I’ve learned about this as it’s a really interesting story.

Fascinating (to me) note: According to this title, the state name of Oklahoma (actually Okla Homa) is Choctaw for “Red People”.

Germinal – Emile Zola (1897)

In the fiery rays of the sun on this youthful morning the country seemed full of that sound. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating slowly in the furrows, growing towards the harvests of the next century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth.

I’ve finally finished up a never-ending read of Zola’s Germinal and in honor of this experience, I thought I’d show the review-related haiku that I made up:

“There is a lot of mining.

It is cold and dark.

Things don’t go well for anyone.”

Crikey. This was a dark book – and “dark” in several different ways as well. It follows the lives and times of a village whose livelihood revolves around a company mine, and in so doing, Zola integrates his (many many MANY) thoughts on politics and socialism and the rights of workers.

It’s well written, that’s for sure, but from my own readerly perspective, the man really needs an editor to cut some text for him in the long run. (I am certain that he could have said the same thing but in fewer words.)

So, although I can’t say that I actually enjoyed this read, I am glad that I’ve read some more Zola now. (I enjoyed his other read, The Ladies Paradise here.)

More of a [raw] broccoli book than anything but glad I read it. Probably won’t read it again. 😉

New TBR Shelf: March 2021

The new TBR shelf for March 2021.

(Left to right on the shelf):

  • In Search of London – H.V. Morton. (Loved his In Search of England not too long ago so hoping for more of the same.)
  • From Holmes to Sherlock – Mattias Bostrom (NF). A deeper dive into the world of Sherlock Holmes and the fans worldwide.
  • Notes from Walnut Tree Farm – Roger Deakin. (NF/nature writing.)
  • The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin. (NF/aspirational.) (Read in progress.)
  • Journal of a Solitude – May Sarton (NF/memoir.)
  • Republic of Lies – Anna Merlan (NF/current events.)
  • The Iceman Cometh – Eugene O’Neill. (Play.) (Tried to read it but yowzer. So much whining so it was a DNF. Still, gone and out of the house now.)
  • Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell. (F.)
  • The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, A Detective and a World of Literary Obsession – Allison Hoover Bartlett. (NF/history.)
  • Microbe Hunters – Paul de Kiruif. (NF/science.)
  • Londoners – Craig Taylor. (NF/travel.) (Read this. Enjoyed it. Review here.)
  • Outrageous Acts and everyday Rebellions – Gloria Steinham. (NF/autobio.)
  • What Every Body is Saying – Joe Navarro. (NF/social sci.)
  • Freddie & Me – Mike Dawson. (GN/bio.)
  • Tales of a Female Nomad – Rita Golden Gaiman. (NF/travel.)
  • The Best American Travel Writing 2020 – Robert McFarlane. (NF/travel.) (DNF. For some reason, McFarlane and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on “good writing”.)
  • The Winds of War – Herman Wouk. (F.)
  • The Crow Trap – Anne Cleeves. (F.)

The usual rules and guidelines apply: I don’t have to stick this list of titles if I find another title to look at and these are just suggestions. Other plans: read more from my TBR and continue to read a wide range of topics and authors (including a push for POC/BAME authors/topics).

The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells (1897)

Having a hankering for some more classics reading and wanting something that wasn’t a huge long commitment, I found “The Invisible Man” by H. G. Wells on the library shelves. I noticed that the edition was a special commemorative 100-year anniversary edition as well (with great production values) so it jumped into my hands. And goodness me – it was a good read.

I would imagine that there are many readers out there familiar with at least the general idea of this story: a man invents a way to control the field of optics (in physics) and then becomes invisible. Imagine the power and the glory for someone who can’t be seen by others…

This science fiction story was originally published as a serial in 1897, although Wells expanded it into a novel that was published later on that same year.

The protagonist, the invisible man in question, was a man called Griffin who was, incidentally, an “albino” medical student (along with the challenges inherent in having that condition) so when he started messing around with light refraction in the human body, he was very focused on making his own life easier (as well as changing the scientific world around him.) He has designs on power for when he had his invisibility and tries the initial experiment on a cat, who actually does become invisible (except for its spooky eyes). 

(And this is a real physics thing, apparently – not the making-yourself-invisible in real-life just yet but if everything else in the human body is invisible and can’t be seen, theorists think that the only thing that can’t be invisible would be the retinas of the eye. Fascinating if off-putting to think about.)

Wells did a really good job of explaining the physics behind this theory and after reading it carefully, I think I finally understand how it could work, so kudos to Wells for his step-by-step explanation of this. (If I can understand it, so can you.) 

So back to the novel: Griffin arrives as a visiting scientist to the small village of Iping in Sussex. He boards at a small rooming house with an inquisitive landlady and ends up setting up a lab in one of her rooms. (These experiments cause several accidents but Griffin is sanguine about these costs and just instructs the landlady to add it to his bill. Problems arise when she asks Griffin for the money – he doesn’t have it which leads to some of his behavioural choices later.)

What takes this plot up a notch is that Griffin quickly learns that life is lot more complicated when you are invisible. It’s starts off all fun and games (and power) but quickly becomes pockmarked with issues. 

If you are invisible and eat your lunch, your food is visible in your stomach until it is absorbed into your body. If you get cold, you will want to put clothes on (and who wants to be naked?) so once you are wearing these items, you’ll be visible again (through the outline of the clothing). What about sleeping? Where will you go? And can you manage your new life alone or will you need help?

And as life changes for Griffin in his new form, he gradually becomes more and more unstable and more and more violent. He has a quick temper anyway, but the frustrations of living as an invisible man are overwhelming and he starts to fight and physically hurt people.

Others in the village learn of his situation but start to view him as a scary bogeyman-type of person, more of an urban legend than a human… The chase is afoot. 🙂

He gets scared and hungry, and so he travels to a nearby town with a man called Marvel who Griffin enlists to help him. Griffin had burned down his original bed-and-breakfast home (to spite the landlady) but in doing so, he had burned down his laboratory. Only his three notebooks had survived so he asked Marvel, the assistant, to track down these books since they have the solution to how, Griffin believes, that he can get his life back and stop being invisible. 

However, others are also on the case (with evil designs on the info contained therein) and so there is an adventurous chase that occurs – all very Boys’ Annual type of story.

This was fun but I was taken aback by all the violence by the Invisible Man. I had no idea he had these tendencies but it was a hard life, if you’re honest. (He did do it to himself, that’s true, but still…) 

Does Griffin ever get his life back? Does he ever become visible again? Is there happiness for him?

I’m not going to say but rather encourage you to read this novella for yourself. Just steel yourself for the ongoing fights and arguments but they are part of the story and integral to the plot. 

I’m glad that I have read this and now I’m curious about Well’s other works, including “The Time Machine” (1895) (this one is actually on the physical TBR I saw this morning) and “The Island of Doctor Moreau” (1896). Have you read any of these? 

Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy (1874) – Reread

I was just thinking about doing a classic read of some kind, when it struck me that I was in a rather of a Thomas Hardy mood so dug around and came up with “Far from the Madding Crowd.” 

At the same time, I was also reading “A Country Child” by Alison Uttley (1931), a semi-autobiographical (perhaps) title that includes lots of seasonal rurally-located vignettes of life in an English village through the eyes of this young girl (although the character has a different name than the author – so perhaps not as autobiographical as I thought? No one seems to know. 

So, I had these two rural-focused turn-of-the-century small-village tales going on at the same time and it was a little confusing to keep them straight at times. (My fault.)

They were both individually good solid reads though so all wasn’t lost. I just kept on having to sort out who was whom when I tracked back and forth between the two titles. (But minor problem in the end. I still enjoyed both of the reads!

This will be a short post as it turns out that “Far from the Madding Crowd” was a reread (although it had slipped my mind that I had reviewed it earlier here), and suffice to say, I enjoyed the experience.

Onward, ever onward, my friends. 🙂

Warm books for a cold day…

I was just thinking about an earlier post I had written which listed some cooler book selections for readers who live in a hot climate and since today is a little cool for here, I thought I would flip that script and do warm books for those who live in a cooler climate and are looking to raise their body temps a little!:

What do you think? Do you have any ideas of any other book titles to add that can spirit readers to a warmer place?