Rachel Rubin – Okie from Muskogee

Okie

Maybe my rating is not a fair one because I wasn’t able to listen to the album. All I can say is that this was a well researched piece about Haggard’s life, his hillbilly roots and his rise and influence on other country musicians.

I assume if you are a Haggard fan do check this out.

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5 Bite Sized Books

A handful of books you can read in an hour

Last week I focused on doorstop novels and this week I am going to talk about those slim novels you breeze through but give you a ton to think about. All the books in this list are under 80 pages but I will guarantee that you will lose yourself while reading them.

Saegh Hedayat – The Blind Owl

Blind owl

This simple tale of madness is a stunner. Never have I read about craziness in such a manic way. The story itself is about a painter who suffers from nightmares that any mortal would dread dreaming. The book itself truly terrifying at times but it is an addictive read in fact Hedayat will make you feel that you are part of the painter’s nightmares and that is pure genius. What also makes it special is that despite the fact that it was published in 1936 the book has a contemporary edge to it.

Mikhail Bulgakov – The Heart of a Dog

HOD

 

A scientist places a corpse’s testicles and pituitary gland inside a dog and the end result is the most bizarre allegory of mankind you will ever read. If you find Bulgakov’s classic Master and Margarita too daunting, then start here for a quick overview of Bulgakov’s philosophy.

Jim Dodge – Fup

Fup

Jim Dodge is known for is weirdly surreal novels but Fup is slightly down to earth. It’s about a man who rears a monstrous duck from birth. That’s it. However the story is so much fun that you will read it many times for Dodge’s straightforward narration for a slightly bizarre situation.

Chay Collins – Tumours

Tumours

You can read my review here , Just to tell that you have NEVER read anything like this. EVER!!!

William Maxwell – So Long, See You Tomorrow

so long

One of those novellas that will blow your mind. A child witnesses a murder and documents the reasons why the event happened. It’s told in non chronological order and in the most economical writing styles ever committed to paper. This tale is mesmerizing in both it’s beauty and cleverness. Your reading life will have a gaping hole in one does not read So long see you Tomorrow. True!

Joanna Cannon – Three Things About Elsie

Elsie

Joanna Cannon forms part of a movement called ‘Up Lit‘ , which consists of books that are optimistic. Personally that does not bother me. What I care about is if the story is unpredictable an well written. In this aspect, Cannon succeeds.

The story focuses on Florence, an 84 year old living in an old age home, One evening she falls and retells a series of events that happened to her and her best friend Elsie over the past few months.

As always when old people are mentioned the dementia trope is used and Florence does suffer from this. In fact the book starts with a new addition to the home and Florence thinks that he is a person who a played a role in her past.

The rest of Three Things About Elsie is a sort of murder mystery. As Florence is an unreliable narrator, Cannon includes different characters in the narrative and us readers see the same event from their perspective.

Through the murder mystery Cannon proves how even the most insignificant detail can have an effect on one’s destiny and shape it. All the characters have some connection with each other and Cannon pulls this off well. I also liked the fact that at some points I was surprised and Cannon did not take a conventional route.

However the book is not perfect. At times it gently echoed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (well I guess the character Ms. Honeyman is a tribute) and there’s one sequence when the old age pensioners gang up and go on an adventure, which felt a bit Enid Blyton at times BUT then in retrospect this adventure is slightly deceptive but obviously I can’t say why over here.

On the whole Three Things About Elsie is a well structured novel that is a quick  and pleasant read. It’s the sort of  book you would give someone who is in their late forties. It’s not offensive and neither does it insult one’s intelligence and has a feel good factor. It may not change your world but it will make it better for a couple of days.

 

Chay Collins – Tumours

Tumours

I will say this straight away. There is NOTHING like this book!

At times I was reminded of Jeff VanderMeer, Hunter S Thompson, Thomas Pynchon and William Burroughs but honestly  these are petty comparisons.

Basically the book is a surreal journey into some unknown land, all culminating in a hotel but Collins really goes all out. Within this brief novel there’s blank pages, experimental text, delightfully surreal sentences and violence galore. It’s the busiest book I have ever read. It’s also the most inventive book I have ever read.

Tumours is as fresh as a newly caught fish, as fresh as that new gadget you pull out of the packet, as fresh as your annoying neighbours kids. Utter, Utter brilliance.

Chay Collins has created a one of a kind novel that will open your eyes to two things. One is that the boundaries of a novel can still be pushed and two is that I am glad that small presses are able to take risks and take on monumental novels such as tumours. I do urge all out there to read this book. It is genuinely life changing.

Many thanks to Ampersand Publishing for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review

Esi Edugyan – Half Blood Blues

HBB

Half Blood Blues is an example of how a reread can change lots of things.

I read the novel back in 2011 but I did not absorb a thing. In fact I don’t remember anything so I thought it should be reread.

I’m glad I did.

Half Blood Blues is a well constructed story. One that is about a jazz band who live in Berlin during the first year of the second world war and then they forced to go to Paris in order to record a song with Louis Armstrong. This does not work out and eventually the band’s gifted trumpeter is arrested by a band of Nazis’ and never seen again. The bassist of the group thinks he is the cause of the arrest and lives with the guilt all his life, until 1992, where the drummer receives a letter of the trumpeter’s existence and asks the bassist join him.

The novel is not told in chronological order. It jumps back and forth, between the years 1939,1940 and 1992. Edugyan is an amazing writer so at no point does anything become confusing. The book flows and, I think, it should be read in one sitting in order to get a feel of the novel. Wonderful sentences, memorable characters and, although the plot is slightly predictable, it is interesting in piecing everything together. I also liked the way the book ended, the way life is compared to a vinyl record.

The four star rating was because I did feel it to be a bit overlong and I could see some things happening beforehand but don’t let this be a deterrent as Half Blood Blues is one of those novels that should be read.

Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca

R

Generally I disagree with 90% of Booktubers opinions, however there are times when the majority of these YouTube critics actually praise something so much that I check out the book and understand why they like it so much. Rebecca is one of those books.

What can I say about this book? Daphne Du Maurier’s most famous novels needs a couple of books to dissect it properly! but here’s my meagre review.

An unnamed narrator is whisked away from her holiday as a companion by the recently widowed Maxim deWinter to his worldly mansion, Manderley. The problem is that the aura of his previous wife Rebecca still is present. This leads the narrator to believe that Rebecca was a superior human being and that she is just second place. Later on in the book we readers discover that things are not as they seem.

That’s the simple summary but oter questions arise. Like is Manderley a character in the novel? A LOT of importance is given to this house so it plays a central role in the novel.

Are the narrator and Rebecca alike?

Is Rebecca’s influence beyond the grave?

There are other inter-textual nuances: the color red, the question of male superiority? the ethics of certain actions? and more. This is a rich novel which requires more than one reading to grasp all the hidden meanings.

I can praise Rebecca in other ways. Du Maurier’s cinematic writing style has a contemporary feel, this novel could have been written last year instead of 1938. Out of the four protagonists: The narrator, Maxim, Rebecca and the house , two are not even living and Du Maurier makes them alive. Not to mention the secondary characters, who are believably written and merit importance as well.

Without hyperbole I can safely say that Rebecca is a classic to end them all

Julian Barnes – The Noise of Time

TNOT

So far Julian Barnes is a hit or miss author with me. I thought The Sense of an Ending and Flaubert’s Parrot were great but I loathed Arthur and George and I thought History of the World in 10 1/2 had its moments. Luckily I did like The Noise of Time but I don’t consider it Barnes’ best.

The novel focuses on three occasions when the composer Dimitri Shostakovich encountered the Russian government, or as it is called in the book, The Power. The first one is when he was about to be denounced for his controversial opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District via an accusation that he was plotting to kill Stalin, but his interrogator was arrested.

The second encounter is when Stalin asked him to go to the US and give a speech

The third one happens post Stalin and Shostakovich is asked to join the communist party.

I guess each encounter is a snapshot of what Russian politics and culture was like at the time. At first it was a reign of terror which softened but still gave out little sparks of fear now and then. We readers also get a picture of Shostakovich, his loves, losses and eccentricities. Ultimately though the main question is whether art is for the people, personal pleasure or for the state. Barnes gets this message across in a semi humorous manner.

The Noise of Time is solid. At 180 pages it is a steady read. There aren’t any frills but Barnes does tell a well crafted tale. Since I know nothing about Shostakovich, bar the pieces of music Kubrick included in Eyes Wide Shut, it was fun reading about his life as well