Down the TBR Hole #14

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 – including me – have on Goodreads.  It’s a while since I did one of these but I think the fact that my To-Read shelf on Goodreads now totals 1,116 books (although 321 of them are books I own copies of that are waiting to be read, as if that makes it any better) means 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 Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West (added 2nd November 2013)

The lives of the talented Aubrey children have long been clouded by their father’s genius for instability, but his new job in the London suburbs promises, for a time at least, reprieve from scandal and the threat of ruin. Mrs. Aubrey, a former concert pianist, struggles to keep the family afloat, but then she is something of a high-strung eccentric herself, as is all too clear to her daughter Rose, through whose loving but sometimes cruel eyes events are seen. Still, living on the edge holds the promise of the unexpected, and the Aubreys, who encounter furious poltergeists, turn up hidden masterpieces, and come to the aid of a murderess, will find that they have adventure to spare.

Verdict: Keep – Apparently based on the author’s own childhood, this is one I’m still interested to read.

Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates  (added 25th November 2013)

Bellefleur traces the lives of several generations of this unusual family. At its center is Gideon Bellefleur and his imperious, somewhat psychic, very beautiful wife, Leah, their three children (one with frightening psychic abilities), and the servants and relatives, living and dead, who inhabit the mansion and its environs. Their story offers a profound look at the world’s changeableness, time and eternity, space and soul, pride and physicality versus love. Bellefleur is an allegory of caritas versus cupiditas, love and selflessness versus pride and selfishness. It is a novel of change, baffling complexity, mystery.

Verdict: Dump – Despite the reputation of the author I’m no longer interested in this one, especially as I now realize it’s the first in a series.

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates  (added 1st December 2013)

New Jersey, 1905: soon-to-be commander-in-chief Woodrow Wilson is president of Princeton University. On a nearby farm, Socialist author Upton Sinclair, enjoying the success of his novel The Jungle, has taken up residence with his family. This is a quiet, bookish community – elite, intellectual and indisputably privileged. But when a savage lynching in a nearby town is hushed up, a horrifying chain of events is initiated – until it becomes apparent that the families of Princeton have been beset by a powerful curse. The Devil has come to this little town and not a soul will be spared.

Verdict: Dump – Sorry Joyce, this one’s going as well as it’s book five in the series mentioned above. And, although I love the cover, it’s also nearly 700 pages long.

Ace, King, Knave by Maria McCann (added 1st December 2013)

Behind doors is another story. Behind doors you can do what you like.

Sophia – rational, demure, and hiding a ‘little weakness’ – has recently married the charismatic Mr Zedland. But Zedland has secrets of his own and Sophia comes to suspect that her marriage is not what it seems. In cramped rooms in Covent Garden, Betsy-Ann shuffles a pack of cards. A gambler, dealer in second-hand goods, and living with a grave robber, her life could not be more different to Sophia’s – but she too discovers that she has been lied to.

As both women take steps to discover the truth, their lives come together through a dramatic series of events, taking the reader through the streets of 1760s London: a city wearing a genteel civility on its surface and rife with hypocrisy, oppression and violence lurking underneath.

Verdict: Dump – Goodness knows how I came across this one.  The period setting sounds interesting but not enough to convince me I want to read it. 

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (added 10th December 2013)

Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote’s comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human. The book that made Capote’s name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative.

Verdict: Keep – I can’t believe I haven’t read this before now and I still want to. 

All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (added 10th December 2013)

More than just a classic political novel, Warren’s tale of power and corruption in the Depression-era South is a sustained meditation on the unforeseen consequences of every human act, the vexing connectedness of all people and the possibility – it’s not much of one – of goodness in a sinful world. Willie Stark, Warren’s lightly disguised version of Huey Long, the one time Louisiana strongman/governor, begins as a genuine tribune of the people and ends as a murderous populist demagogue. Jack Burden is his press agent, who carries out the boss’s orders, first without objection, then in the face of his own increasingly troubled conscience. And the politics? For Warren, that’s simply the arena most likely to prove that man is a fallen creature. Which it does.

Verdict: Keep – I was on the fence about this one but in the end decided it should stay since, unfortunately, it still seems surprisingly relevant.

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West (added 10th December 2013)

The Day of the Locust is a novel about Hollywood and its corrupting touch, about the American dream turned into a sun-drenched California nightmare. Nathanael West’s Hollywood is not the glamorous “home of the stars” but a seedy world of little people, some hopeful, some despairing, all twisted by their by their own desires – from the ironically romantic artist narrator, to a macho movie cowboy, a middle-aged innocent from America’s heartland, and the hard-as-nails call girl would-be-star whom they all lust after.

An unforgettable portrayal of a world that mocks the real and rewards the sham, turns its back on love to plunge into empty sex, and breeds a savage violence that is its own undoing, this novel stands as a classic indictment of all that is most extravagant and uncontrolled in American life.

Verdict: Dump – I’m not sure a story involving empty sex and savage violence appeals, even if it is set in Hollywood. 

Island of Ghosts by Gillian Bradshaw (added 27th December 2013)

Ariantes is a Sarmatian, a barbarian warrior-prince, uprooted from his home and customs and thrust into the honorless lands of the Romans. The victims of a wartime pact struck with the emperor Marcus Aurelius to ensure the future of Sarmatia, Ariantes and his troop of accomplished horsemen are sent to Hadrian’s Wall. Unsurprisingly, the Sarmatians hate Britain – an Island of Ghosts, filled with pale faces, stone walls, and an uneasy past.

Struggling to command his own people to defend a land they despise, Ariantes is accepted by all, but trusted by none. The Romans fear his barbarian background, and his own men fear his gradual Roman assimilation. When Ariantes uncovers a conspiracy sure to damage both his Roman benefactors and his beloved countrymen, as well as put him and the woman he loves in grave danger, he must make a difficult decision – one that will change his own life forever.

Verdict: Dump – As a historical fiction fan, the setting of Roman Britain is appealing but I’ve never heard of the author.

Harvest by Jim Crace (added 27th December 2013)

As late summer steals in and the final pearls of barley are gleaned, a village comes under threat. A trio of outsiders – two men and a dangerously magnetic woman – arrives on the woodland borders and puts up a make-shift camp. That same night, the local manor house is set on fire.

Over the course of seven days, Walter Thirsk sees his hamlet unmade: the harvest blackened by smoke and fear, the new arrivals cruelly punished, and his neighbours held captive on suspicion of witchcraft. But something even darker is at the heart of his story, and he will be the only man left to tell it…

Told in Jim Crace’s hypnotic prose, Harvest evokes the tragedy of land pillaged and communities scattered, as England’s fields are irrevocably enclosed. Timeless yet singular, mythical yet deeply personal, this beautiful novel of one man and his unnamed village speaks for a way of life lost for ever.

Verdict: Keep – A book nominated for both the Booker Prize and The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has got to stay really.  Plus it has some positive reviews from book bloggers whose opinion I rate.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (added 8th January 2014)

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa – a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants – life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life – or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

Verdict: Keep – This is probably one of the few books by Sarah Waters I haven’t read so of course it’s staying.

The Result – 5 kept, 5 dumped.  Would you have made different choices? 

Yet More Tales From My TBR Pile

bookshelf
Today I’m once again directing the spotlight on a particular section of my To Be Read Pile – review copies I’ve received from authors. I’m currently closed to review requests but, before I pulled up the drawbridge so to speak, I’d already amassed quite a few books sent to me for review by authors.

I’ll confess I’ve not made as much progress as I would have liked and some of the books have been languishing there for quite some time. Therefore, in highlighting a few of the books in my author review pile, I’m hoping to assuage my guilt at the length of time they’ve been there, reassure their lovely authors that I haven’t forgotten my promise to read and review them, and perhaps tempt other readers into adding them to their own TBR piles.


The Artist and the SoldierThe Artist and the Soldier by Angelle Petta

Two young men come of age and fall in love against the backdrop of true events in World War II.

It’s 1938. Bastian Fisher and Max Amsel meet at a Nazi-American summer camp, Siegfried. Neither boy has any idea what to do with their blooming, confusing feelings for one another. Before they can begin to understand, the pair is yanked back into reality and forced in opposite directions.

Five years later, during the heart of World War II, Bastian’s American army platoon has landed in Salerno, Italy. Max is in Nazi-occupied Rome where he has negotiated a plan to hire Jews as ‘extras’ in a movie—an elaborate ruse to escape the Nazis. Brought together by circumstance and war Bastian and Max find one another again in Rome.

Exploring the true stories of Camp Siegfried, a Nazi-American summer camp in New York and the making of the film, La Porta del Cielo, which saved hundreds of lives, The Artist and the Soldier is intense, fast moving, and sheds light on largely untouched stories in American and Italian history.

DiscontentsDiscontents: The Disappearance of a Young Radical by James Wallace Birch

Fame as a social activist and graffiti artist brings Emory, a jobless millennial, the wrong kind of attention. He’s wanted by the police. And he’s tricked his beautiful but emotionally-fragile girlfriend, Carolyn, into thinking he’s just a normal guy.

When Emory meets Fletcher, a rich baby boomer, he and Fletcher embark on a plan to cause mayhem. But soon, Emory suspects someone is trying to destroy him, Fletcher, and their plan. Unsure of who to trust, can Emory betray his ideals to save himself? And can he pull it off while keeping Carolyn in the dark?

Artist Soldier Lover MuseArtist, Soldier, Lover, Muse by Arthur D. Hittner

Freshly graduated from Yale in 1935, Henry J. Kapler parlays his talent, determination, and creative energy into a burgeoning art career in New York under the wing of artists such as Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh. The young artist first gains notoriety when his depiction of a symbolic, interracial handshake between ballplayers is attacked by a knife-wielding assailant at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington.

Yet even as his art star rises, his personal life turns precarious–and perilous–when his love for Fiona, a young WPA muralist, collides with his growing attraction to the exquisitely beautiful Alice, an ex-chorus girl who becomes his model and muse. Alice is the girlfriend of Fiona’s cousin, Jake Powell, the hotheaded, hard-drinking outfielder for the New York Yankees whose jealousy explodes into abuse and rage, endangering the lives of all three.

While Henry wrestles with his complicated love life, he also struggles mightily to reconcile his pacifism with the rabid patriotism of his Jewish-Russian emigre father. As war draws near, Henry faces two difficult choices, one of which could cost him his life.