Some good reads from pre-blog days, and what I thought about them then… #10

While I recover from my Auster-thon and finish some more books by other authors, here’s yet another selection from my master spreadsheet of capsule reviews of books I read pre-blog – this batch is from 2007, and there’s still plenty more where these came from! (Buy at Amazon links are all affiliate links, I’ll earn pennies if you click through and make a purchase).

My Goodness: a cynic’s short-lived search for sainthood by Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is known for his caustic wit and scathing reviews in which he holds no hostages and has many favourite targets. In this humorous volume, he decides to stop being Mr Nasty and become Mr Nice; to stop writing nasty things about people, to espouse good causes, do random acts of kindness and selfless acts of beauty, to be philanthropic and help make the world a better place.

Oh yeah! Who are you kidding – hence the subtitle – a cynic’s ‘short-lived’ search for sainthood. He doesn’t find it easy, and this is where the humour lies: he deliberately goes out of his way to make it difficult – be it finding a greener way to do dry-cleaning, to which animals are the neediest of adoption. However luckily for the readers, he still manages to keep taking the p*** out of all his favourite targets – Sting and the rainforest, Ben and Jerrys, Jackson Browne and his shade-grown fairtrade coffee, ex-President Jimmy Carter etc – but in a gentler way that still lets you know what he really thinks.

An enjoyable read, but one that started running out of steam by halfway. It did pick up towards the end when he gives us a series of lists, including one of people he wants to apologise to … typically Queenan, he then makes us laugh by giving us all the reasons why.

[Ed: Sweet – in those days I still used asterisks for p***, nowadays reserved only for the ‘c’ word! Love Queenan’s books. Originally published in 2000. BUY at Amazon UK]

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

There has been controversy over this novel when the author admitted she’d never been to Canada. Frankly this really doesn’t matter – the novel is a great achievement and a damn good read.

Tenderness has facets of many genres, from murder mystery to romance, western or quest; these plot elements are combined with a large cast of characters. Set in and on the edge of the Canadian wilderness, where it is, it seems, always winter, we immediately warm to the central character of the feisty Mrs Ross who sets off to find her boy who goes missing after a local trapper is found murdered.

There are perhaps, too many subplots, and we only get tantalising glimpses of our heroine’s back story … we never find out how she got out of the asylum, married and got to Canada. Other characters, like the searcher, Sturrock, don’t get enough space to shine, though she does better by the Company man Moody, and the tracker William Parker. I look forward to reading more from this promising author.

[Ed: I enjoyed her third novel Under a Pole Star a lot. Tenderness was published in 2006. BUY at Amazon UK]

Stillriver by Andrew Rosenheim

A tale of small-town America, dysfunctional families, growing-up, loves gained and lost, homecoming and murder.
The central characters of Michael, who returns home from England when his father is murdered, and Cassie, his lost teenage sweetheart, are engaging and well developed, with a supporting cast of slightly stereotypical others – but what small-town American novel doesn’t have those?

A page-turner and easy read, but the revelations that gradually reveal the turmoil behind the murder are dealt out in rather a lot of pages. As a thriller, it’s a bit saggy; as a family saga it’s a good read.

[Ed: Can’t remember much about this one. First published in 2004. BUY at Amazon UK]

A short history of tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Having resisted this novel for ages, my book group chose it so I had to read it. It turned out to be a quick and easy read, full of characters who, while being all different sterotypes, were nevertheless mostly engaging. I found it hard to hate Valentina, the Ukrainian chav, and felt rather sorry for Nadia’s dad (who I envisaged as like the little old guy in the Simpsons); naturally the two sisters really irritated me. I would describe it as moderately chucklesome rather than hilarious, but an enjoyable read.

[Ed: I have a couple of others by Lewycka on the shelves, ought to read them. I love the fact the the cover is deliberately skewed. First published in 2005. BUY at Amazon UK]

Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness

Everyone says what a great comic novel this is … I found it to be deeply unfunny! Susan Sontag’s introduction goes on about how brilliant it is but I found it turgid, clunky and slow. The very stylised writing made it hard to get into, although it did pick up in the second half.

A typical fish out of water scenario – the Bishop’s aide is sent to investigate the state of Christianity in a remote Icelandic village, and encounters odd people and odd goings on. It’s like an unfunny comedy version of the ‘Wicker Man‘ without the sex and violence, and a bit of a Frankenstein/ghost story thrown in for good measure.

[Ed: We still talk about this one at Book Group (we read it back in 2007). Translated by none other than Magnus Magnusson himself! BUY at Amazon UK]

Have you read or would you read any of these?

6 thoughts on “Some good reads from pre-blog days, and what I thought about them then… #10

  1. A Life in Books says:

    Wasn’t that controversy around Tenderness of Wolves odd? Did some reviewers think writers of historical fiction, for instance, have time travelling skills unbeknownst to the rest of us, I wonder, or perhaps they hadn’t grasped that there’s this thing called research. I was quite grumpy about it at the time as you can probably gather!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      She was the first to admit it was research rather than going there that I can remember, and got the collective stick for it!

  2. Laura says:

    I’ve read The Tenderness of Wolves and A Short History of Tractors. Neither made a deep impression on me, but I remember that my dad loved Tractors and thought it was hilarious! He does have a penchant for stereotypes…

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