In my mailbox is a meme that can be found over at The Story Siren, intending to share any books bought/gifted/borrowed over time. I’ve decided to post these on Wednesdays sporadically, with the intention to share what I’ve got my hands on recently. Thanks to primarily Goodreads and Amazon for blurbs and covers. The cover images link to the books’ Goodreads page.
I’m going over a couple of weeks this week so I guess I’ll do one and put the rest under a cut. It’s a pretty beefy list, but never fear, these were all finds from the charity shop so I’ve only spent about £3 on all of these altogether. And yes, I’ve been a bad blogger this past week, could really do with shared topics for book bloggers, general bloggers, I don’t know, whatever might be out there.
Also, this ‘In My Mailbox’ might be my last one for a little while, it really depends on whether or not I see anything interesting in the charity shop now that Christmas is over.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Lisa See
In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
I can’t remember if this one was recommended to me, or if I just stumbled across it on Goodreads and thought it was interesting, but it was definitely a novel from my Amazon wishlist and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m quite interested in the Chinese culture, and this historical fiction novel looks very interesting.
The Red Tent – Anita Diamant
The red tent is the place where women gathered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and even illness. Like the conversations and mysteries held within this feminine tent, this sweeping piece of fiction offers an insider’s look at the daily life of a biblical sorority of mothers and wives and their one and only daughter, Dinah. Told in the voice of Jacob’s daughter Dinah (who only received a glimpse of recognition in the Book of Genesis), we are privy to the fascinating feminine characters who bled within the red tent. In a confiding and poetic voice, Dinah whispers stories of her four mothers, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah — all wives to Jacob, and each one embodying unique feminine traits. As she reveals these sensual and emotionally charged stories we learn of birthing miracles, slaves, artisans, household gods, and sisterhood secrets. Eventually Dinah delves into her own saga of betrayals, grief, and a call to midwifery.
This one was definitely recommended to me by a friend. Ordinarily, fiction focusing on religion in this way, or even the struggles of women, doesn’t tend to grab my attention. However, as I said, it was recommended to me and I will always make an effort to take a look at a book that comes with recommendation at some point in time. I might not have got hold of this one so soon if I hadn’t spotted it in the charity shops, but I did, and I’ll give it a go.
Innocent Traitor – Alison Weir
Lady Jane Grey was born into times of extreme danger. Child of a scheming father and a ruthless mother, for whom she was merely a pawn in a dynastic power game with the highest stakes, she lived a life in thrall to political machinations and lethal religious fervour.
Jane’s astonishing and essentially tragic story was played out during one of the most momentous periods of English history. As a great-niece of Henry VIII, and the cousin of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, she grew up to realise that she could never throw off the chains of her destiny. Her honesty, intelligence and strength of character carry the reader through all the vicious twists of Tudor power politics, to her nine-day reign and its unbearably poignant conclusion.
So this book wasn’t even on my wishlist when I spotted it, most of the books I buy from the charity shop are, but when I bumped into a lady who I knew back when I was about 12 (she worked as support staff in my school at that time with a girl I used to sit with) in the shop while I was working, well, we got talking a little and as she was leaving she spotted it on the shelf and said, “Ohh, that Alison Weir book is a lovely read, it’s about Lady Jane Grey.” That was as good a recommendation as I could have got. Since I was 8 years old, I have been fascinated with the medieval period of English history, in particular, the Tudors, and my nanny always told me when I was growing up that Lady Jane Grey lived in Bradgate Park and was Queen for nine days. Of course, it’s highly likely that she wasn’t born in Leicester at all but in London, even so, I find it all fascinating and I have to read this.
Grass for his Pillow (Tales of the Otori #2) – Lian Hearn
With Grass for His Pillow, Book Two of the Otori trilogy, we return to the medieval Japan of Hearn’s imagination – a land of harsh beauty and deceptive appearances.
In a complex social hierarchy, amid dissembling clans and fractured allegiances, there is no place for passionate young love. The orphan Takeo, who has been taught the ways of the warrior class by Lord Otori Shigeru, has now been claimed by the Tribe; held by them against his will, he is condemned to work as an assassin an enforced occupation that his father sacrificed his own life to escape. Meanwhile, Takeo’s beloved Shirakawa Kaede, heir to the Maruyama and alone in the world, must find a way to unify the domain she has inherited, as she fights off the advances of would-be suitors and hopes against fading hope that Takeo will return to her.
Both Takeo and Kaede must draw upon their unusual talents and hidden strengths, and make their way in this tale of longing, ambition, and intrigue. A mythical adventure of self discovery, Grass for His Pillow acutely probes the conflicts between duty and passion, violence, and compassion, deception and truth.
I’ve technically broken one of my cardinal rules of book buying here: never buy more than the first in a series until you know you like the author, this way, you can guarantee that you won’t waste money on books you’ll never read. Of course, I say this and then buy so many books I can’t get through them but still. I think it’s a good rule. As with the rest of the books I’m listing today, I found it in the charity shop and I figured, though I haven’t read the first one yet, and it’s in hardback (I much prefer paperbacks, they’re so much easier to hold), it’s still 50p for the second in a series, and I’m actually quite confident that I’m going to like the series as well. So I put it in my pile, and hopefully I’ll get around to reading Across the Nightingale Floor soon.
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from the final days of Afghanistan’s monarchy to the atrocities of the present.
The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption. And it is also about the power of fathers over sons – their love, their sacrifices, their lies.
The first Afghan novel to be written in English, The Kite Runner tells a sweeping story of family, love, and friendship against a backdrop of history that has not been told in fiction before, bringing to mind the large canvasses of the Russian writers of the nineteenth century. But just as it is old-fashioned in its narration, it is contemporary in its subject – the devastating history of Afghanistan over the past thirty years. As emotionally gripping as it is tender, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful debut.
This is just one of those books that for a while I kept hearing about and being told I should really read it because it’s fantastic. I suppose I’ve been conditioned to remember this, and when I saw it on the shelf, it went into the pile. I’ve never read any Middle-Eastern fiction before, so I don’t really know what to expect, but now it’s on my shelf, I can read it.
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years, from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding, that puts the violence, fear, hope and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives, the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness, are inextricable from the history playing out around them.
Propelled by the same storytelling instinct that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship. It is a striking, heartwrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love, a stunning accomplishment.
So I broke my rule twice, because yes, it also includes only buying one book by that author until I know I like their writing style. Makes sense, right? But this is another highly rated fiction novel that I have come across on Goodreads, added to my wishlist, and spotted for 25p. Same goes for this one as for The Kite Runner: I don’t really know what to expect. I hope I like them, but I’m not convinced until I try reading them.
Paradise Lost – John Milton
In Paradise Lost Milton produced poem of epic scale, conjuring up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos and ranging across huge tracts of space and time. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked Adam and Eve at the centre of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man. Written when Milton was in his fifties – blind, bitterly disappointed by the Restoration and briefly in danger of execution – Paradise Lost’s apparent ambivalence towards authority has led to intense debate about whether it manages to ‘justify the ways of God to men’, or exposes the cruelty of Christianity.
Paradise Lost was mentioned so much during my English Literature A Levels that I determined that I’d read it one day, especially considering how often the name came up whilst studying Blake. I saw it in the charity shop and was so so happy, mostly because I hadn’t really thought to buy it recently, but also because I picked up one of my “must read before I die” books for 25p.
The L-Shaped Room – Lynne Reid Banks
Pregnant by accident, kicked out of home by her father, 27-year-old Jane Graham goes to ground in the sort of place she feels she deserves – a bug-ridden boarding-house attic in Fulham. She thinks she wants to hide from the world, but finds out that even at the bottom of the heap, friends and love can still be found, and self-respect is still worth fighting for.
Another one I’m not really sure what to expect with, but I heard about it from ‘The Book Show’, apparently it’s an acclaimed novel, and I’m willing to give it a go. It does seem to be a little bit about women’s issues, which I’m not always interested in, though I’m not entirely convinced that that is all there is to this novel.
Atlantis – David Gibbons
From an extraordinary discovery in a remote desert oasis to a desperate race against time in the ocean depths, a team of adventurers is about to find the truth behind the most baffling legend in history. The hunt is on for…
Marine archaeologist Jack Howard has stumbled upon the keys to an ancient puzzle. With a crack team of scientific experts and ex–Special Forces commandos, he is heading for what he believes could be the greatest archaeological find of all time—the site of fabled Atlantis—while a ruthless adversary watches his every move and prepares to strike.
But neither of them could have imagined what awaits them in the murky depths. Not only a shocking truth about a lost world, but an explosive secret that could have devastating consequences today. Jack is determined to stop the legacy of Atlantis from falling into the wrong hands, whatever the cost. But first he must do battle to prevent a global catastrophe.
I would love for this story to become a kind of alternative history fantasy novel with well written plot points, but I’m devastatingly worried that it will simply be: expedition finds ancient secret, other (possibly racist) expedition knows about it, some kind of fight to the death between them, with a kind of The Mummy-esque feel to it. Still, it was so cheap that I thought I’d give it a go. It might not be that bad. Famous last words, eh..
Oh, and the fact that on the back, it’s being called “The Da Vinci Code for a new generation.” really worries me a little bit. Why did I buy this one again?
How to be a Pirate (How to Train Your Dragon #2) – Cressida Cowell
Follows the further adventures and misadventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III as his Viking training continues and his father leads a stranger and the Hairy Hooligans to the Isle of Skullions in search of a pirate’s treasure.
Funnily enough, I might have been the most excited to come across this one. I’d found #1, #3, and #4 in the shop previously, but I didn’t catch #2, apparently it was still in there, I presume it was from the same bag I’d found the others in, so hooray, I don’t have to Amazon this one! I fell in love with How to Train Your Dragon after seeing the Dreamworks movie, I imagine the books have the same charm as the Horrible History books (which I am actually considering looking into collecting.. again).
So what about yourself – have you got hold of any books this week? Do you have any thoughts on the books in this post?