Piles of Reading

Been a tough couple of months and while the reading has continued the blogging has not. So this will be a massive catch up. For 2017 I read 60 books and for 2018 I am aiming for 55.

City of Crows - Chris Womersley
Set in France in 1673, the plague is sweeping across the populace. Charlotte has suffered the loss of her husband and three children. She is determined to protect her Nicolas and they seek sanctuary in Lyon. on their journey they are attacked, with Charlotte left to die and her son taken by slavers. She summons a man to assist recover her son and they travel to Paris. There is witchcraft involved and plain old self-serving individuals who make things difficult.
I have to admit that it is difficult to find the words to convey my thoughts on this book. I enjoyed the rich details, the layers of French society and culture that is revealed. The characters are well crafted and carry their own emotional baggage. I was really immersed in the pages.
Yet the ending left me bereft as it did not work for me. Maybe the build up had me expecting something else. For others it maybe be perfect and I appreciate that.

Womersley really can take you into a world, he has a masterful way with descriptions and creating complex characters.

What Happened? Hillary Rodham Clinton

The USA Presidential campaign was watched with great interest around the world. You had two candidates from opposite ends of the political scale. In losing, some will say unexpectedly others that it was inevitable, without doubt it was campaign that shattered all the ground rules.
Hillary Clinton is either loathed or loved and there seems to be little in between. In this memoir of recounting the campaign and aftermath, Clinton looks at this and other quandaries she faced. Like how do you get your message across, how do you combat a sea of negativity and false allegations? How do you battle an opponent who spews out such hatred and is not called out on it? Clinton also tries to understand how she went in with policies, outcomes, jobs, hope but it was not enough.
There is a great deal of self reflection and pondering the alternatives.

At times I found some of the recounting of all the plans she was going put into place, all the charitable work of the Clinton Foundation repetitive. However, as a book that looks at the changing dynamics of political campaigning it is a worthwhile read.

The Girls - Emma Cline
Emma Cline’s The Girls is a fictional re-telling of the Manson Murders. What Cline does rather cleverly, is not the obvious choice as one of the main characters a member from the group but she makes her protagonist 14-year-old Evie Boyd. Evie skirts around the edges of this dark tale giving both insight and ignorance to what is happening.
Cline’s writing is lyrical as you are swept along this journey, always knowing what is going to happen but never sure of how and when it will be fully revealed. There is a level of tension that is persistent throughout the narrative. Where you always want to know how and when that conclusion is coming.
Evie as the narrator is a wonderful conundrum as she talks to you both as a 14 year old and as a more mature woman. Witnessing the events unfold; you understand why she was so easily seduced by this captivating group of women. You are also devoid of the some of the reason behind what occurred. Evie has rose-coloured glassed on when it comes to Suzanne, Russell and the other members of the group. It takes a stranger in Tom, to make Evie see for the briefest moment the reality of the situation. Even then, it is not enough to deter Evie from seeking acceptance.
Suzanne is the other central character and while primarily limited to only Evie’s view, you are able to capture the charisma of the character. However, she is one messed up woman and while there are hints, it is never fully explored as to what Suzanne links herself so strongly with Russell. This gives the reader something to mull over, to examine Suzanne’s actions and reasons. Not spelling it out means you get to think.
Russell is background, making fleeting appearances and allowing you to question why a group of people would commit so wholly to this man. Why they salivate over hearing his words, being graced with his company of a man that seems unhinged.
What Cline has done is put a story on the page that lets you questions human behaviour. Makes you think about the how and why people can be swayed to do unspeakable acts by another. This is delivered with some clever writing.

180 Seconds - Jessica Park

Allison is a mess. In and out of foster homes and not finding stability until late in her teens. To say she carries a great deal of personal baggage is an understatement. Allison is fully walled up and it is going to take Thor's hammer to make a crack in them. The support Allison has comes from Steffi and her adopted father Steven. Allison is getting by one step at a time.
It is a chance meeting with a local social media star Esben Baylor that throws Allison's controlled world into a tailspin.
Kudos to Park as she has taken an experiment of two strangers facing each other for three minutes and not talking and created an engaging story. The crucial chapter of the face-off is deftly handled and keeps you enthralled.
The characters all have a ring of authenticity and lift of the page. I did find some of the dialogue in the second part of the book being used more to explain things and thus slowing the pace down.

Park has weaved a realistic story with characters that are relatable. No one is perfect, no one has their shit together and all of them hope they can get through it together.

The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
This is just an amazing collection of short stories by Daphne du Maurier, she certainly is a master in bringing about the nuances of characters and creating intriguing interactions.
The collection is a little bit uneven but there are some absolute corkers. The first story No Motive seemed like it was tailor made for a TV detective to solve.
Some of the stories like The Supreme Artist and The Lover are more character studies and I enjoyed them. I really loved Adieu Sagesse as a bland man is bored with his position and desires to escape.

These will not be for everyone but I enjoyed Du Maurier's writing style and observations on character.

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

I have both of Kostava's previous works and have really enjoyed them. I have found her writing to be poetic and with an ability to bring together characters and landscape seamlessly.
In the Shadow Land, Alexandra Boyd travels to Bulgeria. She is seeking to find solace after the death of her brother. Just arrived at the hotel, Alexandra accidently collects the baggage of another person. Realising what she now has is precious to the owners, she seeks to return the item with the assistance of taxi driver, Bobby.
What follows is an exploration of a time in history that was dark and still has tendrils in the future.
Kostova can write with such beauty and I found myself lost in this world she has created. As I read through the pages I was taken into Bulgeria and on this wonderful journey. Yet, I found myself not absorbed, not carried away and I really struggled to figure out why. For me it came down to Alex and Bobby, as I just want not drawn into their world. I did not connect emtionally to the journies that those two characters were undertaking. However, the character of Stoyan Lazarov was where the story really gained it's momentum. His tale was heart wrenching and poignant. It was in his story that Kostova that is at her best as a writer, as Stoyan is a character that lifts off the page.
At times the book seemed to be written almost in two parts and then stitched together. While Alexandra and Bobby's story was interesting at times it was more like they were acting as my personal travel agents, taking me for a tour around Bulgeria. After a while I wanted to be more engaged with their adventures but just struggled to make that connection.
Kostova can write and there is so much wonderful in this book. The problem is more mine in that I was expecting too much.

Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem by Gloria Steinem
Now normally at this point I would have a paragraph giving a brief overview of the book. I am going to stray from that course and just launch in.
As I read this book I became more and more depressed. Why? Steinem does an incredible job of cataloguing just about every single research project, essay, opionion, survey, experiment that explains why you should feel inadequate. It is mind boggling how much money and time has been wasted by groups of people trying to determine how they are more superior than anyone else. I found myself not feeling uplifted at all but shaking my head every couple of pages in total disbelief.
Look Steinem does a sterling job in deconstructing the rubbish and rips into some of the downright stupidity that is pedalled as fact. She does an incredible job in finding and offering alternatives that provide optimism and hope.
This is a really good read, hard going at times due to some of the topics, Steinem finds the light at the end of the tunnel and rushes you towards it.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Vance's book Hillbilly Elegy has been touted as many things, a window into Trump's success, a study of white poverty, an expose on drugs in middle class America and so on. For me this was simply a book about family and the difficulties they face and of a young man trying to straddle living in two different worlds.
I am not conversant with those who are considered 'hillbillies' and I do not feel confident in making any observations on what ails that demographic. Also it is easy to come to sweeping generalisations about 'them' and 'us'. I will endavour to avoid that trap. 
Some of the situations Vance describes, I have seen similar in Australia. A group of people trapped in a cycle of poverty and welfare dependency who are angry at the Governments for not providing them with opportunities. The ability to break out of the cycle becomes difficult, alsmost near impossible. It can be done but for those who succeed, they find themselves with a foot in both worlds and that is even harder to negotiate. 
There are other reviews here on Goodreads that go into greater deal to articulate some of the deeper issues listed through out the book. 
I enjoyed the read, I enjoyed Vance's reflections on his family and his concern's for their future