By Lisabet Sarai
It’s rare than I am reading only a single book. I like to have several options available, depending on my mood —and whether the cheap tablet I use for e-reading has exhausted its battery or not. Right now, though, I seem to have taken this habit to extremes. As indicated by my Goodreads profile, I am currently in the midst of eight different books.
A quick survey will give you a feeling for the diversity of my reading tastes.
Blindsided by KD Grace
This erotic novel, the sequel to her stunning paranormal tale In the Flesh, focuses on Susan Innes, a writer with the ability to change reality through her stories. In the previous book, Susan willingly became a vampire in order to imprison the demon who has possessed her within her eternal body, and thus save the life of her best friend. This choice binds her to her vampire maker, Alonso Darlington, as well as to Alonso’s lover Reese Chambers and delinquent angel Michael Weller. All these characters serve the interests Magda Gardner, the Gorgon – hence the series title, The Medusa Consortium.
As you may gather, the relationships in this tale are complicated—perhaps too complicated. What I love about KD Grace’s stories is her ability to convey unconventional visions of erotic connection. Officially, Reese is Alonso’s lover and Michael is Susan’s, but there are flows of erotic energy among all the characters, sometimes expressed physically and sometimes not. Susan is the hub of a compelling, arousing psychic polyamory.
I also like the unpredictability of KD’s books. She shares with her scribe Susan a sort of blind faith in her own authorial intuitions. Because she allows her tales to unfold without trying to force them in particular directions, her work is often surprising–though sometimes a bit chaotic.
The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 11 edited by Maxim Jakubowski
This book dates from way back in 2013. I have been reading (slowly) my author’s copy, dipping into the volume when I want something quick before bed.
Unfortunately, I’ve become rather jaded over the years. It’s a rare erotic story that really excites me, from either a literary or a sexual perspective.
The Dust that Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernières
I’ve read a number of books by this author, who may be best known for his novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. De Bernières has a compassionate but unflinching view of history, writing about ordinary people caught in the throes of war and social upheaval. The Dust that Falls from Dreams is a fine example, chronicling the impact of World War I on several English families. His descriptions of life in the trenches of France or the horrors of working as a nurse at a wartime hospital shrivel the heart and turn the stomach. Still, there’s a good deal of humor in this book, which in some ways makes the darkness of war stand out more clearly.
A warning about de Bernières: don’t expect all his characters to survive. This book has romantic subplots, but not every character gets a happy ending, even when well-deserved.
Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes
My husband picked this up at a used book sale. Aside from that fact that it was an Oprah Winfrey pick, I knew nothing about it. However, I’m really enjoying this rich, poetic novel about the quirky inhabitants, black and white, of a small Mississippi town in the fifties. The characters feel very real in their confusion, especially teenager Valuable Korner and her long time friend Jackson.
This is a book about race and prejudice, about family, about history, and about the magic that can be found in the land and in the human heart. An unexpected treasure!
After the Banquet by Yukio Mishima
Having been deeply impressed by Mishima’s astonishing book The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, I was looking forward to this novel, about an independent businesswoman who loses herself by falling in love. However, the book feels stiff and artificial to me, though the prose is artful and the imagery compelling. Perhaps this is a problem with the translation; one never knows, when reading a book originally composed in another language, whether a translation has faithfully captured the author’s intent. Another possible problem is my lack of knowledge about social structures in post-war Japan, which play an important role in the plot.
A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
I don’t watch television, but I am totally hooked on the Game of Thrones books. I tend to ration myself, reading them only on long plane flights. They’re perfect for that situation: hundreds of pages, lots of action, fascinating characters, but not too taxing intellectually. I can appreciate them even when groggy with jet-lag!
On my recent trip to Europe, which included two twelve hour flights, I finished the first half of this volume, the last of the series that is currently available. Now I’m fighting to keep myself from picking it up and reading the rest. I know I should save the second half for my next international voyage, because I doubt the next book, The Winds of Winter will be out anytime soon.
Because I tend to read these novels with large time gaps between binges, I have some trouble remembering all the event details. However, it’s really the characters that keep me coming back. Rarely have I encountered such skill in weaving good and evil into the same individual. I also love the subtle but fascinating bits of magic, and the vividly portrayed differences between cultures and religions in the incredibly complex world Martin has created.
When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. I lived and breathed Middle Earth. I even wrote my high school senior thesis about it. Someone wrote that Martin’s world is Tolkien for adults. There’s definitely some truth to that statement.
Travels in Siam, Cambodia, Laos and Annan by Henri Mohout
Henri Mohout was one of the first Europeans to explore Southeast Asia. A naturalist and talented photographer, he undertook several expeditions in that region during the eighteen fifties. He is probably best known as the person who “discovered” the ruins of the ancient Cambodian empire of Angkor, which had been buried in the jungle for centuries.
This book was compiled from his diaries, written during those travels. Given my personal familiarity with the area, I was eager to read about his experiences. Unfortunately, it is a bit difficult to match his geography to the geography I know. Some names have changed, and in some cases, his chronicles are clearly in error—not surprising given the lack of maps and other reliable information.
Though Mohout was warmly entertained by local monarchs and chieftains throughout his journeys, he sometimes voices rather annoying, Euro-centric opinions about the peoples native to the region. Still, it’s fascinating to realize how difficult it was for him to travel through the forests and along the rivers in the thinly-populated area. He was obviously a courageous and (for his time) open-minded individual.
By the way, I downloaded this book from the Gutenberg Project, so I don’t have a cover. If you’re seeking some cheap (that is, free!) and often fascinating reading, check out the thousands of titles they have made available.
Humor and Language Practice
After I wrote the first draft of this post, I realized that I’m actually reading yet another book: a French pulp novel entitled Le Privé de Bangkok by Carlo Pickint. Before you get too impressed by this, understand that I’m really just muddling through, with significant help from my dictionary.
Living as I do in a town frequented by international tourists, it’s common to find non-English books in the used bookstores. My DH, whose French is better than mine, started picking up trashy French spy novels for fun and practice. This is one of his acquisitions. It’s lively, wickedly funny, and fairly difficult for me, largely because of all the slang it uses (which doesn’t always appear in the dictionary). I’m particularly enjoying it because it’s set in Bangkok, familiar territory, and I recognize many of the author’s sly observations as very true.
Each session with this book, I can read only half a dozen pages. It will be a while before I’m finished!
By the way, this book is not on Amazon. Not even amazon.fr.
I find that somehow comforting.