Down the TBR Hole #13

This meme was created by Lia at Lost in a Story as a way to tackle the gargantuan To-Read shelves a lot of us have on Goodreads.  I haven’t done one of these in a while but the fact that my To-Read shelf on Goodreads now totals over 1,000 books has made me think it’s long overdue.

The rules are simple:

  1. Go to your Goodreads To-Read shelf.
  2. Order on ascending date added.
  3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  4. Read the synopses of the books
  5. Decide: keep it or should it go?
  6. Repeat every week until the entire list has been filtered (hmm, quite a few weeks then!)

The ten who need to demonstrate their worth this time are:

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (added 23rd October 2013)

In 1920s London, Virginia Woolf is fighting against her rebellious spirit as she attempts to make a start on her new novel. A young wife and mother, broiling in a suburb of 1940s Los Angeles, yearns to escape and read her precious copy of Mrs Dalloway. And Clarissa Vaughan steps out of her smart Greenwich village apartment in 1990s New York to buy flowers for a party she is hosting for a dying friend.

The Hours recasts the classic story of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway in a startling new light. Moving effortlessly across the decades and between England and America, this exquisite novel intertwines the worlds of three unforgettable women.

Verdict: Dump – I’m pretty sure I added this after I finished reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf but I think I might just watch the film instead.

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato (added 25th October 2013)

1681 – Glassblowing is the lifeblood of the Republic and Venetian mirrors are more precious than gold. Jealously guarded by the murderous Council of Ten, the glassblowers of Murano are virtually imprisoned on their island in the lagoon.

But the greatest artist of their number, Corradino Manin, sells his methods and his soul to the Sun King, Louise XIV of France, to protect his secret daughter . . . Centuries later his descendant, Nora Manin, escapes an unhappy life in London, determined to apprentice as a glassblower in the city of her ancestors. Passionate and gifted, her famous family name places her in danger within the ancient foundries when timeles rivalries rise to the surface. As she finds new life and love in Venice, Nora’s fate becomes inextricably linked with that of Corradino as the treacherous secrets of his life come to light.

The Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorato (added 25th October 2013)

It’s 1729, and the Palio, a white-knuckle horse race, is soon to be held in the heart of the peerless Tuscan city of Siena. But the beauty and pageantry masks the deadly rivalry that exists among the city’s districts. Each ward, represented by an animal symbol, puts forth a rider to claim the winner’s banner, but the contest turns citizens into tribes and men into beasts—and beautiful, headstrong, young Pia Tolomei is in love with a rider of an opposing ward, an outsider who threatens the shaky balance of intrigue and influence that rules the land.

Verdict: Keep x 2 – I imagine I added both of these after finishing another of the author’s books.   I’ve read and enjoyed her books, most recently Crimson & Bone, so these two have got to stay.

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood (added 26th October 2013)

Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumout is many things. Orphan, soldier, diplomat, spy, lover. And chef. This is his story.

We meet Jean-Marie d’Aumout as a penniless orphan eating beetles by the side of a road. His fate is changed after an unlikely encounter finds him patronage and he is sent to military academy. Despite his frugal roots, and thanks to wit and courage in great measure, he grows up to become a diplomat and spy.

Rising through the ranks of eighteenth-century French society, he feasts with lords, ladies and eventually kings, at the Palace of Versailles itself.

Passion, political intrigue and international adventure abound in Jean-Marie’s life, yet his drive stems from a single obsession: the pursuit of the perfect taste. Three-Snake Bouillabaisse, Pickled Wolf’s Heart and Flamingo Tongue are just some of the delicacies he devours on his journey toward the ultimate feast.

But beyond the palace walls, revolution is in the air and the country is clamouring with hunger of a different kind.

Verdict: Dump – Goodness knows how I came across this.  It sounds weird in a way that might be interesting but I’m not going take the chance.

The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin (added 26th October 2013)

For fifty years after Dr Watson’s death, a packet of papers, written by the doctor himself, lay hidden in a locked box. The papers contained an extraordinary report of the case of Jack the Ripper and the horrible murders in the East End of London in 1888. The detective, of course, was the great Sherlock Holmes – but why was the report kept hidden for so long? This is the story that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote. It is a strange and frightening tale…

The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of the Great Detective in India and Tibet by  Jamyang Norbu (added 27th October 2013)

In 1891, the British public was horrified to learn that Sherlock Holmes had perished in a deadly struggle with the arch-criminal Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Then, to its amazement, he reappeared two years later, informing a stunned Watson, ‘I traveled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhasa.’

Nothing has been known of those missing years until Jamyang Norbu’s discovery, in a rusting tin dispatch box in Darjeeling, of a flat packet carefully wrapped in waxed paper and neatly tied with stout twine. When opened the packet revealed Huree Chunder Mookerjee’s (Kipling’s Bengali spy and scholar) own account of his travels with Sherlock Holmes.

Now for the first time, we learn of Holmes’s brush with the Great Game and the world of Kim. We follow him north across the hot and duty plains of India to Simla, summer capital of the British Raj, and over the high passes to the vast emptiness of the Tibetan plateau. In the medieval splendor that is Lhasa, intrigue and black treachery stalk the shadows, and Sherlock Holmes confronts his greatest challenge.

Verdict: Dump x 2 – I love the original Sherlock Holmes stories and also enjoyed Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk and Moriarty but I don’t think I’m inclined to try any other retellings for the time being however imaginative sounding the premise.

Rustication by Charles Palliser (added 31st October 2013)

It is winter 1863, and Richard Shenstone, aged seventeen, has been sent down — “rusticated” — from Cambridge under a cloud of suspicion. Addicted to opium and tormented by sexual desire, he finds temporary refuge in a dilapidated old mansion on the southern English coast inhabited by his newly impoverished mother and his sister, Effie. Soon, graphic and threatening letters begin to circulate among his neighbors, and Richard finds himself the leading suspect in a series of crimes and misdemeanors ranging from vivisection to murder.

Verdict: Keep – I really enjoyed the author’s previous book, The Quincunx, although it was a whopper of a book. This one is shorter, thankfully.

Baudolino by Umberto Eco (added 31st October 2013)

It is April 1204, and Constantinople, the splendid capital of the Byzantine Empire, is being sacked and burned by the knights of the Fourth Crusade. Amid the carnage and confusion, one Baudolino saves a historian and high court official from certain death at the hands of the crusading warriors and proceeds to tell his own fantastical story.

Born a simple peasant in northern Italy, Baudolino has two major gifts-a talent for learning languages and a skill in telling lies. When still a boy he meets a foreign commander in the woods, charming him with his quick wit and lively mind. The commander-who proves to be Emperor Frederick Barbarossa-adopts Baudolino and sends him to the university in Paris, where he makes a number of fearless, adventurous friends.

Spurred on by myths and their own reveries, this merry band sets out in search of Prester John, a legendary priest-king said to rule over a vast kingdom in the East-a phantasmagorical land of strange creatures with eyes on their shoulders and mouths on their stomachs, of eunuchs, unicorns, and lovely maidens.

With dazzling digressions, outrageous tricks, extraordinary feeling, and vicarious reflections on our postmodern age, this is Eco the storyteller at his brilliant best.

Verdict: Keep – I loved The Name of the Rose and I’m drawn to the historical setting of this one.  Plus, there is the mention of Prester John which, to a Buchan fan like me, is an immediate draw as it’s the title of one of his books (which I’ve just reread as it happens).

Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties by Renee Rosen (added 31st October 2013)

America in the 1920s was a country alive with the wild fun of jazz, speakeasies, and a new kind of woman—the flapper.

Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”

As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entrée into a world filled with bootleg bourbon, wailing jazz, and money to burn. She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.

The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles toward one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Verdict: Dump – I can’t recall what made me add this but I’ll confess I’m quite attracted by the historical setting.  However, I have a feeling it might be a bit too much of a historical romance for me and my decision is probably influenced by some less than enthusiastic reviews.

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West (added 2nd November 2013)

In 1860, as a young girl of 17, Lady Slane nurtures a secret, burning ambition—to become an artist. She becomes, instead, the wife of a great statesman and the mother of six children.

Seventy years later, released by widowhood, and to the dismay of her pompous children, she abandons the family home for a tiny house in Hampstead. Here she recollects the dreams of youth, and revels in her newfound freedom with her odd assortment of companions: Genoux, her French maid; Mr. Bucktrout, her house agent; and a coffin maker who pictures people dead in order to reveal their true characters. And then there’s Mr. FitzGeorge, an eccentric millionaire who met and loved her in India when she was young and very lovely.

It is here in this world of her own that she finds a passion that comes only with the freedom to choose, and it is this, her greatest gift, that she passes on to the only one who can understand its value.

Verdict: Keep – This is a book on my Classics Club list so it has to stay.

The Result – 5 kept, 5 dumped.  Would you have dumped any of the books I’ve retained or kept any I’ve removed?

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8 thoughts on “Down the TBR Hole #13

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