Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Everything I Read in April, 2023 (in brief)


All reads are pictured except for 16 Words, an ebook. Flatlay image at bottom. 

42. Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden (Tomorrow #1) - Ellie invites her friends for a week in the Outback during a holiday and they have a delicious time fending for themselves, lying by the river, and checking out the area known locally as "Hell". But, when they return, they discover that Australia has been invaded, their families taken prisoner. Should they retreat to their new home in the Outback and hide or do their part to fight the war? An explosive YA series with my favorite gutsy heroine of all time. Ellie and her friends are amazing. I'm excited to finally get around to rereading this series.

43. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh - Paul Pennyfeather is studying for the clergy at Scone College, Oxford, when an unfortunate event occurs and he's sent down (kicked out) for indecent behavior. But, he's British so he bucks up and finds a job as a master at a school in Wales. From there, he works as a tutor and then falls in love; then, he has an even steeper fall from grace. I said, "Oh, poor Paul," a lot while reading this book, but the ending is very satisfying and now I really want to read more Waugh. 

44. The Urban Sketching Handbook: Drawing Expressive People by Róisín Curé - The author mentioned this book in a free workshop I was taking (her class was one of my favorites) so I grabbed a copy. Curé talks about how to quickly sketch what you see and tips on how to finish up the bodies of people who don't stick around quite long enough, as well as how to paint with a minimal palette and things to observe like the way the light creates a crown at the top of a head and washes out color on the body. If you're interested in urban sketching, I highly recommend it. 

45. A Man and His Cat #3 by Umi Sakurai - The third in the manga series goes further into detail about all of the main characters: Mr. Kanda, Fukumaru (the cat), his dearly departed wife, and his best friend. We learn why he teaches instead of doing piano performances, Fukumaru's kittenhood, and a little about his best friend that makes him seem less the villain and more an immature guy but a loyal buddy. I loved this particular entry. 

46. Tell Me the Truth About Love by W. H. Auden - Lots of rereads, this month. I heard Tom Hiddleston reciting "Funeral Blues" recently and that made me crave some Auden. Fortunately, I already had Tell Me the Truth About Love on my shelf. Some of the poems in this slim collection are actually kind of funny. Some perplexed me. Nothing beats "Funeral Blues" for moving, emotional poetry, though. And, oddly, even Tom Hiddleston (who is fabulous) doesn't hold a candle to John Hannah's reading in Four Weddings and a Funeral. I can't even watch the clip on YouTube without tears. 

47. Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost, Ed. by Gary D. Schmidt, Illus. by Henri Sorensen - The "Poetry for Young People" series is wonderful: poems by well-known poets with a brief explanation and gorgeous illustrations. I wish I'd bought them all when they came out. I got one or two for review, at the time, and bought at least one more but that's all and now they appear to be out of print. I am a Frost fan so I reread this one, now and then. I love the explanatory paragraphs. While Frost's poetry is very straightforward, the introductory writings add a bit of depth and meaning to Frost's words. 

48. Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly by Murray Bail - I bought a battered (and very grubby) used copy of this book after reading the exhibit book my husband brought back from Canberra, where I sent him to view the Sidney Nolan collection. I wanted a book specifically about the Ned Kelly paintings, which wasn't what I got from the exhibit book, although it was fascinating. In Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly, the essays describe Ned Kelly's life and why Nolan chose to tell his story through paintings but how some of his paintings were actually about himself. The two books are quite different and I'm glad I read both. 

49. I Felt a Funeral in My Brain by Will Walton - Author Andrew Smith recommended I Felt a Funeral in My Brain on Facebook and I've found his recommendations are generally worthwhile, so I bought a copy and then . . . it didn't click. 3 or 4 years later, I picked it up again and loved it. Avery is 16, gay, a poet with an alcoholic mother and a grandfather who is also hiding an alcohol problem. His grandfather is like Schrodinger's cat in this book . . . he's dead, he's alive, he's dead. That's because it leaps around in time and is written in what feels like an experimental form. It's a bit of a head trip but it's about grief, addiction, being LGBTQ, poetry, and just being a 16-year-old trying to make sense of everything. Another great recommendation. I'm glad I finally read it. 

50. The Cats of Roxville Station by Jean Craighead George - My Side of the Mountain by this same author is one of my childhood favorite books. So, I was surprised how much I disliked The Cats of Roxville Station. In the beginning, it sounded like it was going to be a sweet story about a feral cat colony that hangs out at a train station where an old lady feeds them. A little boy is drawn to one of the cats, Ratchet. Ratchet has been abused and dumped so the natural expectation is that the boy will slowly gain her trust and adopt her. But, the boy's foster mother is a cat hater and, the author being a naturalist, much of the book is dedicated to the hardships of feral life. What ruined the book for me was the sheer quantity of cruelty and death. At least two people try to poison all of the cats (and do succeed at killing some of them) and when Ratchet has kittens, a tomcat eats some of them. This is an early middle grade book. It would have traumatized me to read this as a child and it's kind of haunting me now. Not for sensitive cat lovers. 

51. Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson, Ed. by Frances S. Bolin, Illus. by Chi Chung - Yet another reread. National Poetry Month is always a good excuse to revisit volumes of poetry that are sitting on the shelves. Emily Dickinson is not one of my favorite poets, but there are certain poems or even just lines (like "Hope is the thing with feathers") that resonate with me, so I haven't counted her out entirely. And, I do love this children's series, which I feel makes poetry more accessible. In this particular volume, words that children may not know within each poem are defined and there's an excellent intro about the poet. 

52. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch - The first in a series that I find a bit difficult to define. Paranormal, crime procedural, fantasy . . . all of the above. A constable in London discovers he has a special ability when he interviews the witness to a murder and the witness turns out to be a ghost. And the murder is only the beginning (there's a lot of murder in this book). I loved the history, the setting, the magic, and the author's sense of humor. I bought this book in a London charity shop about 7 years ago and liked it enough to order the next three in the series. 

53. Scout Stories #2 by Nick Carr (zine) - The second zine by a location scout, in which he shares more anecdotes from his time scouting. He tends to butt up against a lot of irascible homeowners who are either irritated by nearby film sets, have to be convinced to let a movie or series shoot happen on their property, or are fine with whatever filming is to be done, but it'll cost. I'm really enjoying these zines and wish he would just publish a big, fat book of his anecdotes but the zines will do. 

54. Toast by Nigel Slater - I read about Toast in The Guardian and added it to my mental wish list, a few months ago. When the announcement came out about Book Depository's closing, I decided to go ahead and order it. What I liked about the book was how his family influenced his love of food, desire to cook, and choice of profession. I don't think I've ever read about a more incompetent or less interested cook than Slater's mother and his stepmother's cooking was quite the opposite. Both were fascinating characters. What I disliked about the book was that it grossed me out. There were far too many horror stories of what people do in restaurant kitchens and way too much about his sexual experiences (not necessarily where he was involved, but a good bit of walking in on people or sheer voyeurism). 

55. Cat Massage Therapy #1 by Haru Hisakawa - I'm almost embarrassed about the fact that I bought such a silly manga, but the fact of the matter is that it made me smile. A young man is tense due to training at work and enters a massage parlor, where he finds that the manager is a cat. Cat massage involves a lot of toe beans and purring to vibrate people into relaxation. There are also several trainees who do some of the massage (kittens). The young man feels so much better that he asks the manager and trainees to accompany him to work to help his coworkers relax, as well. Goofy and adorable. I doubt I'll continue on with this particular series but I'm going to keep this book for rereads when I need a mental break and a smile. 

56. Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry, ed. by A. Rampersad and M. Blount, Illustrated by Karen Barbour - An anthology of African American poetry from as early as the 18th century, including both well-known poets and some not as widely read. Includes an introduction describing the evolution of African American poetry, intros to each poem, and vocabulary that explains the usage of some of the words in the context shown. I originally intended to donate this book (which I received for review in 2014) but decided I couldn't part with it. I love the poetry and it serves as an excellent resource for exploring African American poetry further by introducing the reader to a wide range of poets. Another reread and the last of this series on my shelf. I totally enjoyed revisiting this series. 

57. 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and "The Red Wheelbarrow" by Lisa Jean LaBanca Rogers, illustrated by Chuck Groenink - I was thinking about poetry when I happened across this book and discovered that I had enough credits to mostly cover the ebook edition. Then, one night when I couldn't sleep I decided I might as well read and chose this book specifically because of National Poetry Month and the fact that I was tired enough that I wanted to read something simply worded. The story of Williams, a physician who wrote poetry when not treating his patients, and how he came to write "The Red Wheelbarrow", I confess I was so sleepy when I read it that I'm uncertain whether the author was imagining how it may have happened or knows the actual story behind the poem. Regardless, it's a lovely story with beautiful subtly-colored illustrations and it made me want to read the volumes of poetry by Williams that have been languishing on my shelf. 

58. Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis - A Brazilian classic set in the 19th century. Dom Casmurro is a cynical nickname that the neighbors have given him, indicating that they think he behaves above his station and is a curmudgeon. He is alone, living in an exact replica of his childhood home, and reflects on his life. I must have glanced at the Goodreads description calling it a "classic tale of adultery". I disagree. While the story eventually leads to adultery, it's primarily about the narrator's love story, his enduring friendship with a fellow seminary student, and how ultimately betrayal and unbearable jealousy leads to bitterness and separation. But, while the story begins and ends on a melancholy tone, most of it is light and it's frequently quite funny. A common tale, beautifully told. 

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