I’m trying to read more books this month as January and February have been a slow start. Currently reading The Meaning of Witchcraft by Gerald Gardner, which led me down an interesting rabbit hole about spiritualism and witchcraft.
This is a lovely book. I had read it before but I like reading things for a second time as you get more details. My favourite character is Sadie. She wants to remember their life in Berlin and her relatives who died in the Holocaust. Jack Rosenblum wants to forget his former life and become English. Eventually they reach a compromise, with the help of the lovely countryside of Dorset, and the villagers of Pursebury Ash (a fictional stand-in for the village where the author’s grandparents lived). It’s a poignant book about belonging and memory and longing.
It’s the 1950s — not a good time to be LGBT+. It’s the McCarthy era — not a good time to have Chinese ancestry in San Francisco. Tue main character is both Chinese and a lesbian. This brings conflict with her family. When she eventually ventures into the Telegraph Club — a lesbian club — to see Tommy Andrews (male impersonator, who kind of reminds me of k d lang), she’s the only Chinese person there. This is a poignant, beautiful book: a queer coming of age story, and a brilliantly drawn portrait of Chinese San Francisco in the 1950s. This is in an era when the San Francisco police were deeply intolerant of LGBT+ people. It also illustrates the widespread racism against Chinese people. Bit of a slow start with this book but it was very good and I highly recommend it.
Absolutely awesome book. The author found lots of archive photos of Indigenous people, posted them online, and gathered the stories behind the photos. Many of the photos had never been seen by the communities that they were of, although in many cases the photographers did at least write down the name of the person and the First Nation that they were from. What’s also great about this is that Paul Seesequasis has selected photos of people doing ordinary things, but also some extraordinary stories. The book is about Indigenous life and resilience, which is wonderful. It doesn’t pull any punches on the subject of the slaughter of the Inuit People’s dogs, or the residential schools, or other terrible colonial policies, but it’s not specifically about those things. It’s about the continuity of Indigenous lives, cultures, and communities. The writing style is straightforward and engaging too.
This is an amazing book. The start was a bit slow, but once it gets going, it’s gripping. It’s beautifully written and the historical detail is mostly excellent (only one howler — St Paul’s did not have a dome before the Great Fire of London, it had a tower). The author has meticulously researched the Sephardic Jewish community of Amsterdam and their history. She also asked Rebecca Goldstein (who is an expert on Spinoza) to check the philosophy bits. I highly recommend Goldstein’s book Betraying Spinoza; it’s fascinating. I initially didn’t like the modern characters, Helen and Aaron, but once you realize why Helen is the way she is, and once Aaron warms up a bit, you might come to care about them. The academic politics are accurate, too. And I liked the two Patricias, the librarian and the conservator. The 17th century characters are well drawn and fascinating. I especially liked Ester and Alvaro. This is primarily a book about people who want things but cannot have them, and what they do in response to that situation. It’s about life and people and books, and the life of the mind. I’d already figured out the big reveal at the end but was glad to have it confirmed, but there’s another good twist at the end that I did not see coming.
Empire of Lies, by Raymond Khoury
This was an excellent exploration of the concept of alternate history and time travel. It’s gripping, the characters are believable (for the most part) and when the action really gets going, it is unputdownable. There were a couple of things that were slightly less believable and which could have been fleshed out more: the mysterious inscription from Palmyra, and Kamal’s character arc. That said, I loved the character of Nisreen and thought she was admirable. The alternative universe was fascinating, and the character of Ayman Rasheed was well drawn and very believable. If you like time travel, alternate universe stories, and/or you’re a history buff, then I’d recommend reading this. I also like that it presents various different forms and types of Islam, and doesn’t stereotype it.
Empire of Wild, by Cherie Dimaline
This is an amazing book. Cherie Dimaline’s writing will grab you and not let go. The characters are unforgettable, the story is raw and atmospheric and gripping. The love of Joan and her family is a beautiful thing. The underlying politics and culture of the story are entirely contemporary and on point. By the end of the book, you’ll believe that the rogarou is out there. You’d better have your bone salt ready.