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  1. Yesterday
  2. Shine out, fair Sun, with all your heat, Show all your thousand-coloured light! Black Winter freezes to his seat; The grey wolf howls, he does so bite; Crookt Age on three knees creeps the street; The boneless fish close quaking lies And eats for cold his aching feet; The stars in icicles arise: Shine out, and make this winter night Our beauty's Spring, our Prince of Light! George Chapman - 'Shine out, fair Sun, with all your heat'
  3. The Collected Stories of Carson McCullers, Carson McCullers
  4. O Sorrow, cruel fellowship, O Priestess in the vaults of Death, O sweet and bitter in a breath, What whispers from thy lying lip? "The stars," she whispers, "blindly run; A web is wov'n across the sky; From out waste places comes a cry, And murmurs from the dying sun: "And all the phantom, Nature, stands— With all the music in her tone, A hollow echo of my own,— A hollow form with empty hands." And shall I take a thing so blind, Embrace her as my natural good; Or crush her, like a vice of blood, Upon the threshold of the mind? In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 3 By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  5. Last week
  6. It might still be - I'm just one opinion. See what others think...
  7. My IRL book group is reading News of the World about a retired Texas Ranger who is hired to return a girl who had been kidnapped by Indians from her point of "rescue" in North Texas to her family in San Antonio, Texas (about 300 miles). The book takes place in 1870, but almost exactly follows the "back way" that I take when I drive to San Antonio. I read the book a couple of years ago and really liked it, but wasn't inclined to read it again. Instead, I focused on our "extra credit" book, The Captured, which is a non-fiction account of the lives of these kidnapped children. This is a fascinating book. The author had a great uncle who was one of these children, as, apparently, did many of the German families that settled in Central Texas (generally referred to as the Texas Hill Country), around Austin and San Antonio. The Germans settled on the frontier, which is why it feels like they are targeted, but it also ended up inhibiting their interaction with the U.S. Government, where everyone speaks English and these children and their families did not. But what is the most interesting is how quickly the kidnapped children integrated into Indian life and did not want to come "home." The most famous of all is a woman named Cynthia Ann Parker, who was "rescued," but essentially died of a broken heart. The author does not spend a lot of time on her because all Texans know her story (she was the mother of Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche chief), but goes into great detail about many of the other children who were kidnapped. The most interesting part for me was why they didn't want to come home and what characteristics they all displayed during the remainder of their lives that they had essentially learned during their time with the Indians (the one who lived the longest just died in 1950). This was very thought-provoking for me since I am adopted and I thought about what it would feel like to be taken from my family and returned to strangers whose only connection to me was genetic (most of the children barely recognized anyone they were returned to). It is excruciating to contemplate and I felt very sorry for these children, sometimes young adults when they were "rescued." It's easy to understand why their families, so heartbroken by their loss, wanted them back, but they almost never really adjusted and some of their family members realized that they should have just been left where they were. I have recommended this to all of my friends, but especially those I know who are descendants of the German settlers in the Texas Hill Country (also a friend whose family were German settlers in Oklahoma). Sidebar: most of the early settlers in Texas were Czech and German and their influence is obvious everywhere you go, but especially in Central Texas (Wurzfests everywhere, kolache shopes, etc.). And boy did they have hard lives!
  8. Oh dear, this sounded right up my alley until the description of the second part. Thank you for being so honest in your reviews.
  9. Sisters is a difficult book to review because there is a massive potential spoiler that must be avoided; and without referencing it, the review is really not getting to the point. But being obliged to post a review in exchange for early access to the title, needs must. July and September are sisters and the novel concerns a move from comfortable Oxford to the Settle House in an undisclosed northern location, probably somewhere near Whitby. Most of the novel is narrated by July, the slightly younger of the sisters (if you assume they were named for their birth month, this could place them only ten months apart and in the same UK school year). They are close (at lease according to July) almost to the point of telekinesis. At times, July feels as though they are the same person. Yet September seems to have an unhealthy and dangerous controlling influence over July. They are both somewhat emotionally stunted, turning to one another for company and friendship rather than building links with their fellow school students and this is not to their advantage. They are described as being very young for their age. Then there is Sheela, the mother. Sheela narrates a couple of small sections. She is a writer although she hides this talent well in her sections. She is an emotional wreck. Her life in Oxford has been uprooted; the sisters have driven her to making a bolt for the Settle House. This is one of those novels that Has a gentle and straightforward first half and then things go weird. And, as I often do, I think the straightforward section was more successful. It created some beautiful characters, a quietly unsettling scene and hints of darkness. Then when the weirdness starts, the lucidity evaporates and events are referenced in obviously and deliberately opaque terms. It really feels like a cop out. Writers from past times - Sheridan Le Fanu, for example - had no difficulty in creating strangeness while remaining quite lucid. Sarah Waters manages it in modern times. The strangeness should come from the ideas rather than the language. And Daisy Johnston was managing it perfectly well in the first half. Sisters is a short novel but the second half (from Sheela’s first narrative onwards) feels painfully long. ***00
  10. Nia is a young Welsh woman who has dropped out of Oxford and is working in Vesuvio, a cheap Italian restaurant in London. She is of mixed Welsh and Indian heritage, but she is firmly a UK national. Shan, working in the same restaurant, is Tamil and having his application for residency processed. He is not allowed to work. He dreams of bringing his family over from Sri Lanka. Most of Nia and Shan’s co-workers are undocumented or illegal workers, always keeping one ear open for an Immigration Service raid. The linchpin for the story is Tuli, the owner of Vesuvio. Tuli is a curious character. He loans money and pays debts; he facilitates people trafficking; he employs illegal workers. He could be seen to exploit desperate people, but equally, he is able to persuade himself and others that he is some kind of saviour figure rescuing those in the time of greatest need. It’s never clear to the reader which side of the divide he falls, or even whether there really is a divide. Is that a metaphor for all of us - liking to do good but essentially looking after ourselves? The structure of the novel can seem a bit clunky. Nia and Shan narrate separate sections, and for much of the beginning their stories don’t really intersect - so a dual storyline. Then when they do converge, the chopping from one perspective to the other makes the novel feel a bit blocky when it might have been smother to be able to keep popping back and forth in paragraphs. There is also a fairly significant plot issue where Shan is required to be unable to seek treatment from the health service. But, having applied for residence, he surely would have had access to proper healthcare... Nevertheless, the story is engaging and Nia, as a terminal underachiever, is an engaging character. I have met Nias. Shan is harder to know. Although there is a bit of backstory, it doesn’t quite define Shan as a person, more as a refugee. I suspect that like Nia, Shan was supposed to come across as a man with way more potential than he could use in a pizza joint, and that we could compare the different journeys that had brought them to this pass. Shan’s route being one of ambition and a desire to improve his situation; Nia’s as one of running away from opportunity. You People does have plenty to think about, not least in considering the scale of investment that families are prepared to make for a journey of illegal migration and what seems to be a precarious and impoverished existence. But I think there is a deeper story to be told in terms of how people like Tuli reconcile their morals with their deeds. ****0
  11. The quirky female narrator in a Northern Ireland novel is not a new thing but it’s often an enjoyable thing. Big Girl is Majella O’Neill, an underachieving young woman of stout proportions who is squandering her considerable academic potential by working six nights a week in her local chip shop. The small town is Aghybogey, a thinly disguised version of Castlederg in County Tyrone. So Majella keeps a list of all the things she doesn’t like, including sub-categories. She also keeps a much shorter list of things she does like, many of which are related to food. She uses these lists to narrate the story of a week following the murder of her grandmother. Given that her father has disappeared ten years ago, Uncle Bobby died while priming a bomb 16 years ago, and her mother is a non-functioning alcoholic, this presents Majella with an opportunity to become an adult and master of her own destiny. Or she could just keep working for the Hunters in the fish shop. In truth, not much happens during the week; and what does happen is glossed over by Majella as she focuses her thoughts on the foibles of the chip shop regulars, hating alcohol (because of what it is doing to her mother and her home life) and looking for bedding. She drinks a bit, has sex a bit, and eats fish suppers. The charm is in her cynical, comical way of looking at the world, mixed with tragedy that she resolutely refuses to take her place in the real world, instead just hiding behind routines and tics. This is a really good evocation of small town Ulster, told in a local vernacular that will bring a smile to those who know it and frustrate them those who don’t. The self-segregation of the two halves of the community (the Protestants would only dare come to A Salt and Battered in daylight, even though it serves better chips than the Protestant chip shop); the relatives away across the water; the stories of what you did in the war... If there’s something that sets this apart from similar semi-comic Northern Ireland novels it would be the rural setting west of the Bann allowing for ludicrous ideas like the poshy-woshy Omagh accent and thinking of Strabane as urban. I just wish Michelle Gallen had done something a bit more with Majella. The story is mostly back-story. The story of the dead grandmother, although acting as a McGuffin, never really takes off and I’m not sure there’s any real character development. This means that some of the repetitiveness of Majella’s life does seep into the text. There are only so many ways of ordering a fish supper or having banter with your work colleague as you put the chips in the fryer. So four stars rather than five. Oh, and I read an advance copy. I do hope the final version is more consistent in the name of Johann-Pol, or Johann-Paul, or Yawn-Pawl, or Yawn-Paul... ****0
  12. Daughters of Twilight The special tactical teams had been trained for normal encounters with flesh and blood… not supernatural beings. A quiet little city in the Midwest town of Waterloo, Iowa is about to come to life… with angels! When an earthquake measuring seven hits Waterloo, a huge black pyramid shaped tower pushes it’s way up through a corn field in Blackhawk County spinning the city into the national spot light. It’s thought that the “Black Tower” is dormant, but when special tactical teams are sent inside to investigate, special team member Dane Coles is confronted by the impossible…a beautiful creature that has been cursed and cast down into oblivion within the Garden of Eden, using the ‘Black Tower’ as a doorway to the surface…

    Daughters of Twilight

    The special tactical teams had been trained for normal encounters with flesh and blood… not supernatural beings. A quiet little city in the Midwest town of Waterloo, Iowa is about to come to life… with angels! When an earthquake measuring seven hits Waterloo, a huge black pyramid shaped tower pushes it’s way up through a corn field in Blackhawk County spinning the city into the national spot light. It’s thought that the “Black Tower” is dormant, but when special tactical teams are sent inside to investigate, special team member Dane Coles is confronted by the impossible…a beautiful creature that has been cursed and cast down into oblivion within the Garden of Eden, using the ‘Black Tower’ as a doorway to the surface…


  14. 'Tis mute, the word they went to hear on high Dodona mountain When winds were in the oakenshaws and all the cauldrons tolled, And mute's the midland navel-stone beside the singing fountain, And echoes list to silence now where gods told lies of old. I took my question to the shrine that has not ceased from speaking, The heart within, that tells the truth and tells it twice as plain; And from the cave of oracles I heard the priestess shrieking That she and I should surely die and never live again. Oh priestess, what you cry is clear, and sound good sense I think it; But let the screaming echoes rest, and froth your mouth no more. 'Tis true there's better boose than brine, but he that drowns must drink it; And oh, my lass, the news is news that men have heard before. The King with half the East at heel is marched from lands of morning; Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air. And he that stands will die for nought, and home there's no returning. The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair. A.E. Housman - 'The Oracles'
  15. This novel held my interest until about two thirds of the way through when I started to get rather bored: the hometown chapters were for me more involving.
  16. Earlier
  17. Any thoughts on the conclusion? A little ambiguous to me.
  18. Hast thou a charm to stay the morning-star In his steep course? So long he seems to pause On thy bald awful head, O sovran BLANC, The Arve and Arveiron at thy base Rave ceaselessly; but thou, most awful Form! Risest from forth thy silent sea of pines, How silently! Around thee and above Deep is the air and dark, substantial, black, An ebon mass: methinks thou piercest it, As with a wedge! But when I look again, It is thine own calm home, thy crystal shrine, Thy habitation from eternity! O dread and silent Mount! I gazed upon thee, Till thou, still present to the bodily sense, Didst vanish from my thought: entranced in prayer I worshipped the Invisible alone. Yet, like some sweet beguiling melody, So sweet, we know not we are listening to it, Thou, the meanwhile, wast blending with my Thought, Yea, with my Life and Life's own secret joy: Till the dilating Soul, enrapt, transfused, Into the mighty vision passing—there As in her natural form, swelled vast to Heaven! Awake, my soul! not only passive praise Thou owest! not alone these swelling tears, Mute thanks and secret ecstasy! Awake, Voice of sweet song! Awake, my heart, awake! Green vales and icy cliffs, all join my Hymn. Thou first and chief, sole sovereign of the Vale! O struggling with the darkness all the night, And visited all night by troops of stars, Or when they climb the sky or when they sink: Companion of the morning-star at dawn, Thyself Earth's rosy star, and of the dawn Co-herald: wake, O wake, and utter praise! Who sank thy sunless pillars deep in Earth? Who filled thy countenance with rosy light? Who made thee parent of perpetual streams? And you, ye five wild torrents fiercely glad! Who called you forth from night and utter death, From dark and icy caverns called you forth, Down those precipitous, black, jagg Hymn before Sun-rise, in the Vale of Chamouni BY SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
  19. A History of Britain in 21 Women - Jenii Murray
  20. "1) I don't know if Celia got it. It could go either way. I go back and forth. Probably what the author wanted. 2) I hope Celia got it also. Henry could have just been shot. Instead, she conspires with CIA hitmen to poison him and then stay around for the ride. She even asked him several times if he was OK, knowing he was dying. How disingenuous. Henry likely deserved it because his actions led to the deaths of 120 people. But, he did it to save her life. If confronted with the situation, but instead her children were at risk, we know damn well what she would have done. What would any of us do? 3) I think she did retire, but this "event" will propel her back into the CIA. I think she misses the rush and who knows, maybe she'll start screwing around with Karl with a K, another loathsome character.
  21. Agent 21: Reloaded - Chris Ryan
  22. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk
  23. A satisfying haul from Christmas Book tokens and money Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman A man called Ove by Fredrick Backman Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig Le Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman The Librarian by Salley Vickers The Afterwards by A F Harrold Girl of Ink and Stars by Karen Millward Hargrave The Binding by Bridget Collins The Girl who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook
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