Tuesday, May 02, 2017

A Flurry of Wonderful Books

Life has been busy these days and I haven't done a good job of blogging about books finished, so here's a catchup post.

H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald - when I first heard about this non-fiction memoir, I thought I wanted to read it, but then I read mixed reviews, but ended up loving the audio version, as read by the author.  For me, it was a perfect mix of bird info (and I love hawks in particular, though not the fanatic that Helen is), personal memoir (Helen trains a goshawk as a means of dealing with her grief over her father's sudden death), and literary bio (Helen discusses the life and hawking experiences of T.H. White, author of The Once and Future King as a context for understanding and explaining her relationship to Mabel, the goshawk she acquires and trains).  I thought the premise and structure and writing were all excellent.  I listened to this book while driving 200 miles a day for a week to be with my 93-year old mother while she was hospitalized for some serious complications to the whole aging process and I found that this book helped calm me down, took me out of my own worry, and helped me focus on making good decisions during that very hard week.

My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier - I read this with the GoodReads Tuesday Book Talk group and though it was reread, I had read it so long ago that I couldn't remember most of the details beyond the broad outline of the story.  DMM is not only a master of the psychological thriller, she is also a master of reader manipulation.  I find it interesting that both of DMM's masterpieces, this novel and Rebecca, are essentially designed to make the reader forgive a murderer for his deed.  There's a new movie version that is about to be released and I'm on the fence about whether I want to see it.  It is an oppressive, frustrating story, and I'm not sure I'm in the mood for that right now.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead - an excellent novel, innovative, compelling, and well-written.  That said, I'm still struggling with how I feel about the construct of the Underground Railroad itself.  In this novel, the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad--with tracks in tunnels, physical stations, and physical locomotives and cars.  In a way, pushing the story into a fantasyland instead of keeping it in a historical context almost seemed to eclipse the accomplishments of the people who implemented the historical Underground Railroad.  I need to think about this book some more, but reading it was an incredible experience.

After Flodden, by Rosemary Goring - part of my Reading Northumberland reading project, this time I read about the aftermath of the Battle of Flodden in 1513 in which the English annihilated the Scots. I found it very readable with a wonderful cast of characters (it is a novel) who illuminated this period of English/Scottish border history for me.  I've got the sequel to this book, Dacre's War, on order and hope to read it later this month.

Castle, by David Macaulay - a children's book but one that explains the basic structure and function of the the various parts of a typical medieval castle.  I loved the illustrations and the clear, interesting text about the building of a castle and its walled town in Wales.

Happy May and happy reading!


  1. OK, I give up. I'm officially adding My Cousin Rachel to TBR. You will think I'm making this up, but in catching up on some of the blogs I read, yours is the third in a row to mention this book. It's a sign.

  2. Those are some great reads; I read My Cousin Rachel last year and liked it a lot...not that it's a happy story, but because du Maurier's writing is so good. :)

  3. Hm, I did not exactly feel inclined to forgive the murderer in My Cousin Rachel ... though we did gain insight into his mind, it was more disturbing than exonerating. But I think it's one of those books where everyone can have a different opinion of what happened!

  4. It sounds like you have recently read some very good books.

    Everyone is talking about The Underground Railroad these days. Your uneasiness with the fantastical elements is something that I have felt just by reading summaries of the book. It seems an odd mix of elements. In the end, I should just read the book and see what I think of it.

  5. H is for Hawk has long been on my radar so I am glad to hear you enjoyed it. I will also see if I can get it on audio from the library.

    The allegorical aspects of The Underground Railroad really worked for me. I really want to dive into some of Whitehead's backlist now!

  6. Nice reviews! I like what you have to say about the Underground Railroad book; I haven't read it yet, but I feel a bit dubious on messing with History in such a way. Also I've forever wanted to read the H Is for Hawk book; it seems excellent. I just need to make time for it. The audio read by the author would be perfect.

  7. Thanks for the list of novels. Daphne DuMaurier is someone I must read. I figure I will start with Rebecca which I have heard great things about. I was thinking about reading The Underground Railrooad which has gotten rave reviews but you make a very good point about how its more a fantasy novel about an historic event and I too find that problematic, as you say it overshadows tne very real accomplishments of the Underground Railroad Movement which is remarkable and inspiring story all by itself.

  8. McCaulay's books are always so good! Yours is the 2nd review of H Is For Hawk that I've read today that raved about the audio - I'm wishing I had it in audio instead of print.