The Thirteenth Tale is one of the better books I’ve read or listened to in the past few years. Not so much for the story -- which is very, very good -- but because of the writing. Several times in the latter half of the book I caught myself saying “wow” out loud because of the way Setterfield crafted a sentence or the way she described something. Or even what she described. Like this:
“His voice had the unmistakable lightness of someone telling something extremely important. A story so cherished it had to be dressed in casualness to disguise its significance in case the listener turned out to be unsympathetic.”
So simple: Who hasn’t tried to be casual about something of great importance to them? But, who has ever written about it?
Anyway… this book is supposedly “written in the Gothic tradition, with echoes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.” I don’t know what any of that means, but perhaps it might help you decide if you’re interested. Briefly, the story involves one of the best-loved novelists in England’s history -- Vida Winter -- tabbing little-known researcher Margaret Lea to write her biography after a long lifetime hiding her secrets. It’s a story within a story: Told from Margaret Lea’s perspective, Miss Winter’s life story is woven within the larger tale of Lea dealing with the cantankerous old lady. It’s somewhat hard on Lea because Miss Winter believes “A birth is not really a beginning. Our lives at the start are not really our own but only the continuation of someone else's story.” And so she begins with the very strange story of Isabelle and Charlie Angelfield…
Let me leave you with one last bit of Setterfield’s writing -- and why I try not to start a new book until I’ve properly digested the previous one:
“Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes -- characters even -- caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.”
The story was interesting enough to hold my attention (three stars isn’t a bad rating, after all). Guy moves into an apartment and begins to notice some very strange things about the building. Guy and neighbors start to compare notes, and decide to investigate. But I think it could have been far better. In journalism terms, the author “buried the lead.” It wasn’t until the latter part of the book that it hit me this could have been Stephen-King-esque if he hadn’t waited so long to bring elements from the last part of the book into the story.
Polar Star features the same detective from Gorky Park: Arkady Renko. This time he’s working on the “slime line” of a fish-processing ship in the Bering Sea, and is called into action to investigate the murder of a fellow crewmember. I found the description of life on the ship very interesting, but I wasn’t all that taken with the actual plot. The narration was good.
I saw one description of The Virgin Suicides as a “haunting yet wickedly funny tale.” Hmmm, not so much on the funny part. The novel revolves around five suicidal teenage sisters and their rather strange parents. It was pretty good early, but then really lagged after that.
I like the narrative style, which was from the point of view of a group of neighborhood boys who were so obsessed with the sisters that they conducted interviews and collected memorabilia in the years after in an attempt to piece together what may have been going through the girls’ minds.
Great narration from Nick Landrum. Recommended for Eugenides fans, though I liked Middlesex much more.
I thoroughly enjoyed every book in Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series, and was surprised to find this one brings us back to Mid-World. You could say it’s just a way for King to tell a couple of stories using familiar characters, but it’s clever and tightly woven and it works well. You need not have read the other Dark Tower books to enjoy this one, but having done so will make this a richer (and even nostalgic) experience.
Early in this book, Roland and his ka-tet encounter one of the strangest types of storms known to Mid-World -- a Starkblast. Riding it out inside a fire-lit cabin, the gang asks Roland for a story, and he responds with two…one nested inside the other.
King himself narrates this audiobook, and while serviceable, really makes me long for Frank Muller and George Guidall.
Anyway, if you miss Mid-World and you’re ready to once again walk the Path of the Beam, “Once upon a bye, before your grandfather’s grandfather was born”…
I didn't expect to get nearly as much out of this book as I did, but it's thoroughly enjoyable and educational. You can probably find it free in some formats, or as an audiobook here on Audible.
Outstanding. I sometimes think about how I’ll rate a book as I’m reading or listening, and for the first part I had a four-star rating in mind. But the characters and plot just developed so well that I frankly spent the second half of the book in awe of Dickens’ abilities. Full of quotable quotes and beautifully descriptive writing, the only quibble I have is with some of the (too) amazing coincidences that play out, but they wind up being what you want to happen anyway.
This is the third Neil Gaiman-recommended book I've listened to recently (Light and Pavane are the others) -- and it will probably be the last. I haven't really found any of them inspiring in the audiobook format. This one has a pretty good premise, but the story seems to get sidetracked with unnecessary stuff, and the ending was anticlimactic.
An alternate history of 20th century England, where giant semaphore towers are the main means of communication. The book is divided into six "measures" and a coda. It took me a while to get into it, but overall I enjoyed it.
I'd call this a wildly imaginative thriller. Look into it if you like thrillers. And wild imagination.
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