Random Book Quiz Round 46: Women’s NonFiction

This coming Monday marks International Women’s Day, which seemed like great inspiration for a round. But, there was a slight problem: last week’s round was also dedicated to women authors. Whilst scrabbling for another idea, I noticed Round 45 was dominated by fiction. A thought was sparked, a lightbulb switched on above my head and this round was born. Since last week we looked at fiction, today’s round is all about non-fiction written by women, a category that I sadly don’t read enough of. Whilst I have read plenty of non-fiction by male authors, I can’t say the same for their female counterparts and that is something I would like to redress. So perhaps this wee list of nonfiction books will be the kick up the bum I need. There are 10 nonfiction works below, but can you guess the authors?

1.Becoming

2. Vanishing Cornwall

3. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

4. The Argonauts

5. Shaking A Leg

6. This Is Just My Face

7. The Second Sex

8. H Is For Hawk

9. A Room of One’s Own

10. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.

Answers for Round 45

  1. Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  2. Jean Rhys
  3. Octavia E. Butler
  4. Willa Cather
  5. Barbara Pym
  6. Zadie Smith
  7. Ursula K. Le Guin
  8. Nella Larsen
  9. Zora Neale Hurston
  10. Charlotte Bronte

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 Longlist Predictions

The beginning of March signals two things: spring is on its way and the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction will shortly be revealed. This year the list will be announced on 10th March (we have to wait until the 20th for spring) and I thought I would try and predict the sixteen titles. I say ‘predictions’; some of them are definitely wishes, books I keep meaning to get to but for one reason or another haven’t.

This is the third year I have done a predictions post, and also the hardest. I really struggled to narrow the choices down; there have been so many great titles over the last 12 months, but I have finally done it. Here are the Top Five that just missed the cut, the ones I will be kicking myself over if they’re included:

  1. The Shadow King – Maaza Mengiste
  2. Burnt Sugar – Avni Doshi
  3. Insatiable – Daisy Buchanan
  4. Outlawed – Anna North
  5. Little Gods – Meng Jin

It seems kind of odd to be leaving two critically acclaimed Booker nominees off my main list, but I’m going for it. Out of the sixteen books that appear on my list I have read…none of them. Not yet anyway. Fingers crossed by the time the shortlist comes out, restrictions will have eased and my library will be open so I can nab copies. But enough of my ramblings, let’s dive into the predictions.

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett

Two African American identical twin sisters run away from home at sixteen and as adults live very different lives. One sister passes for white, with her white husband knowing nothing of her past. The other lives in the small community that she tried to leave with her black daughter. The sisters’ lives are about to collide as their daughters meet. Everyone probably has The Vanishing Half on their list; it would be a surprise if it wasn’t longlisted. It has been a critical and commercial success, and the timely subject matter makes it a sure bet for this year’s Women’s Prize.

If I Had Your Face

If I Had Your Face – Frances Cha

This debut novel focuses on four friends – Kyuri, Miho, Ara, and Wonna – who all live in the same apartment block in Seoul. The women are attempting to navigate through a world defined by impossibly high standards of beauty and sexism, determined to make better lives for themselves. If I Had Your Face has also been getting rave reviews, and is one of the novels I’d really love to get to. It also seems sadly relevant to our current beauty-obsessed culture, one that is another uncomfortable but necessary read.

Transcendent Kingdom

Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi

Gifty is a neuroscience student at Stanford University, specialising in depression and addiction. Her brother Nana died of a heroin overdose and her mother is now suicidal. Whilst Gifty is attempting to use her research to explain and treat her family’s problems, she increasingly finds herself drawn to her childhood faith. Gyasi’s debut Homegoing was a massive hit on release – how was that never nominated? – and Transcendent Kingdom promises to be just as impactful. I love family dramas, plus the conflict between science and religion intrigues me, making it one I want to get to ASAP.

Love After Love

Love After Love – Ingrid Persaud

Mr Chetan, following the death of a colleague, moves in with widower Betty and her son Solo. Over time, the three become family until one night Solo overhears his mum reveal a devastating secret. He runs away to New York and lives as an undocumented immigrant, leaving his family behind in Trinidad. However another secret, this time Mr Chetan’s, also threatens to upset everything. Love After Love won the First Novel Award at the Costa Book Awards earlier this year, and it could very well make the Women’s Prize longlist too. Again, I would be surprised if it didn’t make it.

The Mermaid of Black Conch

The Mermaid of Black Conch – Monique Roffey

Speaking of the Costa Book Awards, we have The Mermaid of Black Conch. Scooping both the Best Novel and overall Best Book, this book is set on the fictional Caribbean island of Black Conch. Aycayia is a beautiful woman cursed to live as a mermaid, who is one day entranced by a fisherman and his song. David is singing to himself whilst waiting for a catch when he spots Aycayia. As well as the Costas, The Mermaid of Black Conch has also been shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize and Folio Prize, and longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize, so it’s safe to say the novel has been very well-received. I could see it easily adding the Women’s Prize longlist to its’ growing list of accolades.

My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

In 2000, fifteen year old student Vanessa has an affair with her English teacher Jacob Strane. Seventeen years later, a former pupil of Strane’s accuses him of sexual abuse and reaches out to Vanessa, who always believed she willingly engaged in the relationship. She is now forced to question the events of her past, and how the man she loved and admired might not be what she believed. My Dark Vanessa is one of my riskier choices. I don’t have an exact UK release date but, more importantly, the subject matter is bound to divide people. Would the judges be willing to risk alienating some readers? I have no idea. I included it here though because, again, its’ disturbing topics are painfully relevant.

Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid

One night, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her black babysitter Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to a supermarket. There has been an incident at the Chamberlain house and she doesn’t want Briar to see it. However, at the supermarket Emira is accused of kidnapping Briar by a security guard and fellow shopper. Alix attempts to redress the situation, but ends up causing more pain. This is another of my riskier choices, again because of the UK release date. If it is eligible, I can see Such a Fun Age making the cut as it has been a massive success and being longlisted for the Booker last year. It is divisive: people either love it or hate it. Admittedly I am currently only 50 pages in, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far and can’t wait to see what side of the fence I fall on.

Sisters

Sisters – Daisy Johnson

Sisters, you will be shocked to discover, is about a pair of sisters. July and September were born just ten months apart and are inseparable. However, when they move with their mother to the coast they begin to drift apart from each other. A sense of unease begins to permeate the house, and events in the girls’ pasts start to be uncovered. I read Daisy Johnson’s debut Everything Under a couple of years ago and really liked it. I found her writing to be lyrical and evocative, so I have no doubt Sisters will also be expertly written. The plot also sounds interesting, so could definitely make the longlist this year.

Mrs Death Misses Death

Mrs Death Misses Death – Salena Godden

Mrs Death is fed up doing her job for all eternity, and decides to find someone to vent her frustrations and write down her memories. She settles on Wolf Willeford, a troubled writer, and together they travel across space and time to witness death and discuss the past and present. Along the way, a friendship forms between the unlikely duo and their relationship starts to facilitate hope in the pair of them. This sounds so unique and original, even if it doesn’t make the list I’ll still read it. However, I really hope it does, as it would be nice to see more experimental work on the list. I know accessibility is one of the criteria for the prize, which might count against Mrs Death Misses Death, but the universal themes and dynamic central relationship might balance it out.

Exciting Times

Exciting Times – Naoise Dolan

Ava leaves Dublin to work in Hong Kong as an English teacher. However she is finding life dull, stuck teaching wealthy children and actively avoiding roommates. But her situation changes when she is caught in a love triangle between British banker Julian and Hong Kong lawyer Edith. Who will she decide to be with? Exciting Times appeared to be everywhere at the tail-end of 2020, drawing comparisons to Sally Rooney. This made me reluctant to pick it up, which was unfair of me. I have heard nothing but praise from those that have read it, and I’m a sucker for a good love triangle. Maybe the judges are too?

Kololo Hill

Kololo Hill – Neema Shah

In Uganda 1972, the Amin-government announces a horrific decree: all Ugandan Asians must leave within ninety days. They can only take what they can carry, leave their money, and never return. We follow newlyweds Asha and Pran , as well as Pran’s mother Jaya, as they are forced to leave the only home they’ve ever known and seek refuge in the UK. Will they make it? And will they be able to settle in Britain if they do? Again, this is one I would read regardless if it makes the longlist. The story of refugees fleeing is very apt in the current political climate, and I’m sure parallels can be drawn between the 1970s and today. It’s also tackling a period of history many might be unaware of, so I’m hoping the Women’s Prize gives Kololo Hill and its story a boost.

Luster

Luster – Raven Leilani

Edie is a twenty-something black woman struggling to make it as an artist. She begins an affair with Eric, a married man whose wife has agreed to an open marriage. Slowly, Edie finds herself integrating into his small family, becoming friends with both his wife and adopted black daughter Akila. I’ve seen this described as uncomfortable and painful but also thought-provoking and brutally honest. Leilani’s black humour seems to have split opinions, but it would be interesting to see a more humorous book on the longlist. It’s critique on race and relationships also makes it sound topical and an excellent book to debate about.

A Burning

A Burning – Megha Majumdar

Set in present day India, A Burning follows three characters and how their lives become intertwined. Jivan is a young girl who is falsely accused of a terrorist attack because of a tactless comment she made on social media. PT Sir, one of Jivan’s teachers, joins a right-wing political party and his ascent becomes linked to his pupil’s fall. Finally, Lovely has an alibi that would help clear Jivan, but could potentially cost her everything she holds dear. This sounds brilliant, combining thriller elements with a scathing critique on class and power, and what people will do to achieve them. I can’t think of anything quite like it at the moment, and I hope to read it sometime this year. It feels very fresh and original with a really great plot.

The Pull of the Stars

The Pull of the Stars – Emma Donoghue

Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital where pregnant women are quarantining together after becoming sick with a new flu. Her life is about to change with the arrival of two outsiders – Doctor Kathleen Lynn and volunteer helper Bridie Sweeney. Over the course of three days, the women’s lives begin to intertwine and alter. Donoghue is no stranger to the Women’s Prize, having won the award for the brilliant Room. Whether that helps or hinders her chances this year remains to be seen, but I think The Pull of the Stars has a good chance of being nominated. Mainly due to the subject matter. Admittedly, reading about a pandemic in the middle of a pandemic might be a bit much for some, but the themes surrounding women’s bodies and how they are treated makes it a very apt choice for the prize.

The Harpy (Paperback)

The Harpy – Megan Hunter

Lucy and Jake live a seemingly normal life, with their children with Lucy giving up her career to raise the kids and settle into a new routine. One day, she receives a call that shatters her world: a man telling her that his wife has been having an affair with Jake. After confronting him, the couple decide to stay together but on one condition: she is allowed to hurt him three times as punishment. He doesn’t know how or when. As the novel progresses, Lucy starts to change both mentally and physically. This one I’m not sure about. Thematically, I can see it on the longlist but the problem is the word count. The Prize has a very strict word count and, because The Harpy is a slight book, it might be disqualified because of this. Hopefully not, as the blend of gothic, magical realism, and literary fiction makes it a very unusual and thought-provoking work.

No One Is Talking About This (Hardback)

No One is Talking About This – Patricia Lockwood

Last, but certainly not least, is No One is Talking About This. The novel is split into two sections. In the first, our protagonist is a social media starlet, travelling the world to meet adoring fans. She goes to panels and conferences, discussing the Internet or ‘the Portal’ as she appears to deem it. The longer she stays in the Portal, the more convinced she is that a group of voices are dictating her thoughts. The second part of the novel sees her receiving texts from her mum, urging her to come home. This feels like a very satirical attack on social media and Internet culture, something I’m becoming more interested in. The Portal sounds like something that belongs in science fiction, and I love novels that blend genres and experiment. I haven’t read Lockwood’s previous work, but I have heard nothing but good things.

And that is it! My predictions for the 2021 Women’s Prize longlist. Like I mentioned, this year was particularly difficult. I’m sure I will be editing and re-editing this list until it gets published, suddenly convinced a book I’ve missed will make it.

Let me know if you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned, and who you think (or hope) will make the longlist.

Random Book Quiz Round 45: Female Authors

In the US, UK, and Australia, March is Women’s History Month, when we honour and highlight contributions made by women across the globe, both past and present. It therefore seemed apt to have a round dedicated to female authors just before the month kicks off. So down below are 10 books, all written by women. But can you tell me the author?

  1. The Yellow Wallpaper

2. Good Morning, Midnight

3. Kindred

4. My Antonia

5. Some Tame Gazelle

6. Swing Time

7. The Left Hand of Darkness

8. Passing

9. Their Eyes Were Watching God

10. Shirley

Answers for Round 44

  1. Toni Morrison
  2. Charles Dickens
  3. Anthony Horowitz
  4. Mark Twain
  5. Roxane Gay
  6. Sarah Waters
  7. Emily Bronte
  8. Stephenie Meyer
  9. James Baldwin
  10. Danielle Steele

Monthly Round-Up: February 2021

As February disappears into the rear view mirror, I thought I would look back at the books I’ve read this month. I only have three to mention:

Fawn’s Touching Tale by Irene Wineman Marcus and Agnes Wohl

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Three is probably the least amount of books I’ve finished and reviewed in awhile, and there are a couple of reasons why. Firstly, I have picked up a couple of bigger books recently (500+ pages) and I am really enjoying them, but it means they are taking a lot longer to complete. Hopefully they’ll be finished in March so I can discuss them then.

The second reason is I’ve DNF’ed When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant. This was incredibly disappointing as I had included it in my 3 Books I Need to Read in 2021, and I loved Grant’s novel The Dark Circle when I read it way back in 2017. But I struggled to get into this at all. It got to the point I was making any excuse I could to avoid reading it; I just couldn’t force myself pick it up. I won’t write a whole review for the book since I never completed it and that wouldn’t be fair, but I think my issue was with the main character Evelyn. There was a detachment between her and the reader which made it difficult to engage in her storyline, plus I found her to be a bit flat. The only personality trait I could see was self-absorption, which again did nothing to interest me. Even now though, after typing this, I still feel a bit bad. The book obviously has some literary merit – it is a prize-winner – plus I’ve already sunk two weeks of my life into it. It seems foolish to give up. But my heart sinks every time I think about reading it.

To sum up: I don’t know what to do about When I Lived in Modern Times but I’m putting it down for now.

Despite this, I really enjoyed the three books I finished. ‘Enjoy’ is possibly the wrong word: it’s hard to describe stories about child abuse, warfare, and loneliness as enjoyable. But I found all three to be very well-written and gripping, and was definitely sucked into their respective worlds. February has been the month of ‘quality over quantity’.

Films Watched in February 2021

Like my reading, I don’t have a huge amount of films to discuss. However, my local independent cinema has recently launched their own streaming service, which is great as it means I get new films and also get to support them and their work. Everyone’s a winner. Coupled with the Glasgow Film Festival kicking off at the end of February, March’s round up is going to be stuffed with movies. But before I jump ahead, let’s review the two films from Feb.

Pieces of a Woman (dir: Kornél Mundruczó)

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The story follows Martha Weiss (Vanessa Kirby) whose life is shattered when her home birth ends in tragedy. Isolated from family and friends, she attempts to grapple with her grief alone. Kirby won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at Venice last year and has gotten plenty of awards buzz, all of which is well deserved. She is amazing as Martha, and the birth scene is probably one of the most tense and heart-breaking sequences I’ve seen in years. I was holding my breath the entire time. Unfortunately, after this scene the film starts to drag. There were moments which felt unnecessary to the plot and the pacing therefore became uneven. The film grinds to a halt right in the middle of the runtime and, after such a heart-wrenching opening, it was infuriating. There is also a scene later in the film which I hated. Without going into it, the scene felt very manipulative and contrived; it would never happen in real life. It was the epitome of ‘Hollywood Oscar bait’ that people talk about, nothing more than a vehicle for Kirby to cry and be dramatic than add any emotional depth or drive the plot forward. I was rolling my eyes during it. So sadly, despite Kirby’s excellent performance and the important subject tackled, Pieces of a Woman fell flat.

Malcolm & Marie (dir: Sam Levinson)

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Film director/writer Malcolm (John David Washington) and girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) return from the premiere of Malcolm’s latest movie to await the critics’ reviews. During the course of the night, arguments erupt and the truth about their relationship is revealed. Now, I like John David Washington and Zendaya. I like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I like stories that have only a handful of character and/or take place over a specific period of time. Therefore, I would love Malcolm & Marie, right? Sadly not. The constant bickering and revelations became exhausting by the end, to the point I ceased to remember what the main points each character’s arguing for. It just descended into screaming matches for the sake of screaming matches. Also the reveals about Zendaya’s character just made me think of Rae in Euphoria. Understandable, since director Levinson and many of the film’s crew also work on the series. But Marie and Rae’s troubles are so similar that they felt recycled, like Levinson couldn’t think of another topic so borrowed from the show. It also means I never felt Zendaya was pushed as an actress as Marie. Come to think of it, neither was Washington, though they both tried to make the film engaging. In a similar way to Pieces of a Woman, Malcolm & Marie has great performances and a great premise, but never quite works.

And that is it for February! Let me know which books and/or films you’ve enjoyed this month!

Random Book Quiz Round 44: Author Anagrams II

Whilst not being particularly good at solving them, I love anagrams. I love working things out, trying to make a seemingly random jumble of letters create a word. And usually when I do the anagram rounds on this quiz they are about books. But this time I’ve turned my attention to the authors themselves. Down below are 10 writers: unscramble the letters and guess who they are.

Good luck!

  1. Iron Monitors

2. Archness Licked

3. Oozy Thain Thrown

4. Karma Twin

5. Anexa Gory

6. Arrest Awash

7. Bel Enormity

8. Ernie Pees Thyme

9. Jaw Mandibles

10. Delineates Elle

Answers for Round 43

  1. Time
  2. Lost
  3. Boys
  4. Lovely
  5. Eat
  6. History
  7. Rosie
  8. Spy
  9. When
  10. Words

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste review

Beginning in 1935, Maaza Mengiste’s Booker shortlisted The Shadow King, details the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. Orphan Hirut works as a maid for childhood friend Kidane, and his often the target of his wife Aster’s anger. When war is declared, Kidane begins to mobilise his troops and the women follow to act as cooks and nurses though Aster insists they fight in combat. Meanwhile, Italian war photographer Ettore Navarra arrives in Ethiopia working under the ruthless Colonel Carlo Fucelli. All their different narratives collide as the conflict intensifies.

Before beginning the review I wanted to add: the book was a lot different that the impression I had going in. From the blurb I had assumed Hirut would be our main protagonist, and that the story would focus on her and her life as a soldier. This isn’t the case. Yes, Hirut is a principal character but we also spend a lot of time with Ettore, as well as chapters being dedicated to Kidane, Aster, Fucelli, and even Emperor Haile Selassie. Instead of being a character study, the book has a much wider cast and therefore the book has a much bigger scope. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy The Shadow King – I really did – but I had different expectations going into it. I’m not sure if anyone else had a similar experience with the book, but I thought I would mention it here.

What I really admired about The Shadow King was the depth Mengiste’s gives her characters. As mentioned above there are several key figures, but Mengiste takes the time to develop each one and make everyone feel fully-fleshed out. This results in them being flawed characters, and the reader’s feelings for them change throughout the novel. Even now having finished the book, I’m not sure how I feel about many of them. Aster was perhaps the only character whose motives I never entirely understood, but that’s a minor quibble. The characters also seem to mirror one another at points, which creates a nice contrast. Without giving away too much, Kidane and Ettore become both the oppressor and the oppressed as the war rages on; their dual roles as perpetrator and victim making their chapters fascinating to contemplate. The reader wavers between sympathy and disgust for the two men.

Mengiste also discusses the burden of history, especially in regards to family history. Kidane believes he should be a noble warrior like his father; he grew up listening to tales of war and glory as a kid and he feels the weight of expectation resting on him. Yet he does things that totally question his idea of nobility, which appears incredibly toxic. We also see Ettore and Fucelli’s relationships with their fathers, and their anxieties as a result. This fits in with the bigger worry that some of the characters have: how will I be remembered? Not necessarily just by family, but in history as a whole. The notion of legacy and the many pitfalls it can lead into was a really interesting theme to explore and one Mengiste tackles successfully.

When browsing the positive quotes covering my edition, one word is repeated: ‘lyrical’. If I had to sum up The Shadow King in one word, that is the one I would use. Mengiste’s writing is stunning, so beautiful and evocative that you are in the midst of war with these characters. Her word choice and metaphors are original and really clever, often forcing me to reread them just to absorb them fully. Despite the grim storyline, the novel flowed like poetry. It also contains one of the best written battle scenes I’ve witnessed in a long time. Her constant switching of perspectives and the confusion of the characters all help to make the reader disoriented, never quite certain of what is happening. It was really effective in conveying the sense of being in battle, which also made the reader more sympathetic to the characters’ plights.

Whilst The Shadow King wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, I did still enjoy it. It has made me want to discover more about the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and the people involved in the conflict, given it’s a subject I know embarrassingly little about. I also loved the complexity of the characters – I would have happily have read more about them – and the gorgeous language which forced me to keep reading. The novel is an extraordinary achievement and fully deserves the praise it has been receiving, including its’ Booker nomination.

The Shadow King is published by Canongate and you can find more information here.

Random Book Quiz Round 43: Missing Words Part II

Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day – still time to get your last-minute pressie if you need to! – I’ve dedicated this round to romance. Below are 10 books that have the word ‘love’ or something romantic in the title, but I have left a word out. Can you guess the word and complete the title?

  1. Love in the ___ of Cholera

2. Love’s Labour’s ____

3. To All the ___ I’ve Loved Before

4. The _______ Bones

5. ____, Pray, Love

6. The _____ of Love

7. Love, _____

8. The ___ Who Loved Me

9. What We Talk About _____ We Talk About Love

10. Love and Other _____

Answers for Round 42

  1. Jane Eyre
  2. Bathsheba Everdene
  3. Anna Karenina
  4. Catherine Earnshaw
  5. Daisy Buchanan
  6. Scarlett O’Hara
  7. Jack Twist
  8. Clare Anne Abshire
  9. Bridget Jones
  10. Eowyn

3 Books to Read for Chinese New Year

As I’m sure many of you know, Friday 12 February 2021 marks the Chinese New Year. And what better way to mark the forthcoming Year of the Ox than by suggesting books either written by Chinese authors or about the country itself. Admittedly, my knowledge of Chinese literature is embarrassingly slim; I’ve only read a handful of texts from China. It is something I would like to rectify so, if you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments below. But I shall stop rambling on and dive into the books!

Red Sorghum – Mo Yan

I feel this is a very famous one to start with, as both the novel and the film adaptation were successes. It follows the Shadong family across different generations, focusing particularly on the grandparents and grandson. War is everywhere: Japan is occupying areas of northern China, which happens during the Chinese Civil War (1923 – 1950) and the Shadongs must fight tooth and nail to stay alive. Be warned before going in: there are disturbing scenes of violence in the book. Yan paints a very realistic picture of a country at war with others and itself, and he isn’t afraid to dive into gory details. Yet Red Sorghum is beautifully written – the writing has a lyrical, almost ethereal, quality to it. There were moments that read like poetry, the language was that beautiful and evocative. After putting the novel down, the story stayed with me for weeks afterwards. Definitely one for historical fiction fans.

The Seventh Day – Yu Hua

Yang Fei is an orphan who stumbles through life, always searching for his place in society but never quite finding it. One day he is killed in a tragic accident but, due to there not being enough money and no one bury him, he is forced to roam the afterlife. During the first week of his time there, he meets the souls of people he’d lost and this forces Yang Fei to reflect on the life he had. The Seventh Day feels like a spiritual (no pun intended) predecessor, or just a great companion piece, to George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. Both novels have this wonderful mixture of pathos and humour, making them bittersweet reading. There were times when I felt pity towards Yang, even though his observations did make me laugh. As with Yan, Yu Hua’s imagery is stunning, particularly the gorgeous natural landscape of whatever purgatory Yang finds himself in. But the beautiful imagery and language is offset by Hua’s often scathing critique of Chinese society, and the problems he sees plaguing the country’s citizens. I really enjoyed this one on my first read, and plan to reread it soon.

Chinese Thought: From Confucius to Cook Ding – Roel Sterckx

The last book I wanted to mention is one that is currently on my TBR – Chinese Thought. This a non-fiction in which Sterckx takes us through centuries of Chinese history (as the title would suggest). He looks at literature to culture to philosophy to highlight how ancient China thought about the world and its position within it. He also looks at how ancient Chinese beliefs influence aspects of the Western world today. I’ve never read a non-fiction dedicated to Chinese history, and Chinese Thought feels like a good place to start. It seems to be covering a wide variety of topics and touching on key periods of the country’s history. Also, Sterckx is a Professor of Chinese History at the University of Cambridge, which makes me feel like I’m in safe hands when it comes to up-to-date research and critique. As I mentioned before, one I would really like to get to.

And that’s it! Let me know your book recommendations or thoughts in the comments below, or even if you’re celebrating Chinese New Year yourself!

Random Book Quiz Round 42: Literary Couples

With Valentine’s Day next week, I thought it would be fun to dedicate the next two rounds to romance. Today I’m focussing on famous couples from novels; one character is written below and you just need to guess their other half. As always, there are 10 characters below so let me know how many you get! Also: bonus points if you can name the novels too!

  1. Edward Rochester

2. Gabriel Oak

3. Count Alexei Vronsky

4. Heathcliff

5. Jay Gatsby

6. Rhett Butler

7. Ennis Del Mar

8. Henry DeTamble

9. Mark Darcy

10. Faramir

Answers for Round 41

  1. The Importance of Being Earnest
  2. The Crucible
  3. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  4. Doctor Faustus
  5. A Doll’s House
  6. Medea
  7. Macbeth
  8. Long Day’s Journey into Night
  9. The Three Sisters
  10. Antigone

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman review

It won’t take a genius to work out the subject of film historian Scott Eyman’s latest work. Beginning with Grant’s death in November 1986 at the age of 82, Eyman flashes back to Bristol at the turn of the 20th century where a young Archie Leach is growing up. We follow Leach as he morphs into Grant and embarks on an acting career following years in vaudeville. I’ve always discussed my love of film history here (I’m sure many readers of this blog are now sick of it) and Cary Grant has always been a favourite of mine, so it was a no-brainer when I decided to pick up Eyman’s biography.

And I’m glad I did because Eyman does a stellar job of bringing Cary Grant to life. He astutely dodges a pitfall that many biographers have fallen into: he doesn’t put his subject on a pedestal. He is clearly a fan of both film in general and Grant himself – it radiates off every page – but he never attempts to justify or redeem his hero when he behaves badly. Instead, Eyman simply presents Grant as he was, flaws and all. Yes, he was charming, handsome and charismatic with seemingly the world at his feet. But he was also troubled, tight-fisted, narcissistic and at times downright cruel. Eyman portrays both the good and the bad (and the ugly) in his text, and never shies away from discussing darker aspects of Grant’s character. This feels like a very honest biography of Grant and one that captures his humanity. As I mentioned above, I am a fan of Grant and I’ve felt I gained more insight into the man.

Eyman is also a wonderful storyteller, very witty and engaging. He interacts with the different sources and provides his own thoughts on both Grant and his movies. He also doesn’t condescend to the reader. This helps to make the biography less staid, less formal; it feels more like you’re listening to a friend’s gossip. Eyman really connects with his reader and is able to provide a ton of information in an accessible manner. Another aspect I enjoyed is Eyman doesn’t just focus on Grant. He also provides us with stories about the people and studios Grant worked with throughout his career. The book is richly detailed – a testament to Eyman’s research – and evocatively about Hollywood during this period. You understand the world in which Grant lived, which also adds to the greater understanding of his character. Grant may be the main draw when picking the biography up, but Eyman is one that makes you stay until the very end.

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise left me with two desires. One: find and watch all the Cary Grant films I can on the biggest screen possible. Two: find and read some more of Scott Eyman’s writing. This is one of the best biographies I’ve read in a while; it is both engaging and informative. Eyman really tries to discover the real Cary Grant behind the Charade (that pun was Notorious-ly bad. I’m sorry). He approaches his subject through a critical and historical lens, but always remains empathetic. Any film fan will love this book as it’s a great tribute to one of the biggest movie stars Hollywood has produced. Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise is, well, brilliant.

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise is published by Simon & Schuster and you can find more information here.