Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 20 October 2021

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WWW Wednesdays’ home is at Sam’s blog Taking On A World of Words. Check it out!

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you will read next?

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WHAT AM I CURRENTLY READING?

My main book is The Empire of Gold, the third book in the Daevabad series by S A Chakraborty. I am only about 80 pages in and it’s a 800-page book, so it may take me a while!

I just picked up a cozy Halloween mystery for bedtime reading, which is Murder Any Witch Way by H M Howell. That should be fun. I felt like I needed something light.

Finally, I am listening to This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin on audio during my chores. It’s very interesting and connects nicely with Moonwalking With Einstein, which I read/listened to not long ago. It’s all about how the brain works and in this case the way the brain processes and recognises music. It’s fascinating to me, as after all music is life. To me anyway!

WHAT DID I RECENTLY FINISH READING?

I finally seem to have my reading mojo back, which is a wonderful feeling. Since last week I finished The Quarter by Naguib Mahfouz, which is a collection of very short stories that I enjoyed quite a bit. I also finished The Sport of Kings by C E Morgan. That one I feel very on the fence about. There were things I liked about it and it had a lot of interesting commentary on issues, but overall it was just a bit too dark for my liking. Finally, I read October, October by Katya Balen. This was a middle grade story that was just incredibly beautiful and heartwarming. I gave it a full 7 stars and I would highly recommend that one to everyone.

WHAT WILL I BE READING NEXT?

Not entirely sure. There are some books I would like to get to soon, but I guess it depends how long it takes me to read The Empire of Gold. I may finish my audio book, in which case I may start one of my Non-Fiction November reads. I will do a TBR for that later this month.

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: October, October (Katya Balen)

Emotional, beautiful, heartwarming

★★★★★★★

Title: October, October
Author: Katya Balen
Genre: Fiction / Middle Grade / Contemporary
First published: 2020
Edition: Paperback, published by Bloomsbury in 2021

October and her dad live in the woods. They sleep in the house Dad built for them and eat the food they grow in the vegetable patches. They know the trees and the rocks and the lake and stars like best friends. They read the books they buy in town again and again until the pages are soft and yellow – until next year’s town visit. They live in the woods and they are wild.
And that’s the way it is.
Until the year October turns eleven. That’s the year October rescues a baby owl. It’s the year Dad falls out of the biggest tree in their woods. The year the woman who calls herself October’s mother comes back. The year everything changes.

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Wow. That is all I thought when I finished this book with tears in my eyes.

I do not tend to read Middle Grade books very often and I initially bought this book for my daughter, but something about it made me want to pick it up and read it myself. Boy, am I glad I did. This is a wonderfully written novel that wrenches your heart and then warms it so beautifully.

It is written from October’s point of view. It’s her eleventh birthday and it is the day her world falls apart. Being in her mind and following her through a year of personal growth was a privilege. I loved every page. I felt her anguish and her doubt.

I loved the way the author paints with words and manages to let us see this world, the woods, even London, through eleven-year-old naive eyes. The story itself breaks your heart, but the ending is tremendously satisfying and I closed the book with a warm heart. What more do you need?

I thoroughly recommend this book to young and old alike, though I think it will take my daughter another couple of years to appreciate it. She’s 9 now and though she can read this, I don’t think she would be ready for this emotional rollercoaster just yet.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Sport of Kings (C E Morgan)

An ugly book with beautiful imagery

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: The Sport of Kings
Author: C E Morgan
Genre: Fiction / Literary / Historical
First published: 2016
Edition: Hardback, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2016

Henry Forge has partnered with his daughter, Henrietta, in an endeavor of raw obsession: to breed the next superhorse, the next Secretariat. But when Allmon Shaughnessy, an ambitious young black man, comes to work on their farm after a stint in prison, the violence of the Forges’ history and the exigencies of appetite are brought starkly into view. Entangled by fear, prejudice, and lust, the three tether their personal dreams of glory to the speed and grace of Hellsmouth. A spiraling tale of wealth and poverty, racism and rage, The Sport of Kings is an unflinching portrait of lives cast in shadow by the enduring legacy of slavery. A vital new voice, C. E. Morgan has given life to a tale as mythic and fraught as the South itself—a moral epic for our time.

This book was a bit of a journey. That was the first thing that came into my mind when I read the final page. A bit of an experience. Whether it is an altogether positive one, I am not so sure. It left me feeling a bit unpleasant and uncomfortable, but there is no denying that the author created a journey.

When I read the first third or so, I thought this book could end up being one of the best books that I read this year, but as the story grew grimmer and darker and more drawn out, it just fizzled out a bit for me. Normally I don’t really mind unlikable characters, who do bad things, but really in this novel there were so few redeeming qualities in the second half of the book that it just turned into a bit of a negative spiral.

We see generations of a single rich family and their relationship with the world around them. The books is full of racism, prejudice and not to mention rape and incest. It’s not a lighthearted read by any means.

I do think the backdrop of horseracing makes a commentary on that industry that is certainly partially valid. It shows both the beauty and the ugly side of a sport ruled by the rich. But the main thing the novel does in my opinion is showing the ugly side of humanity and there is a lot of it.

This author sure can write. There are beautiful passages and observations in this book worth reading. I just feel that in the end this story was not for me. It just grew darker and darker and filled me with dread, and not in that nice suspenseful way.

Will I read a book by this author again? Maybe. There were definitely things I liked. I just did like the way it made me feel in the end.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Quarter (Naguib Mahfouz)

Very short stories of everyday life in Cairo

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Quarter
Author: Naguib Mahfouz (Translator: Roger Allen)
Genre: Fiction / Short Stories
First published: 2018 (in Arabic)
Edition: Hardback, published by Saqi Books in 2019

Meet the people of Cairo’s Gamaliya quarter. There is Nabqa, son of Adam the waterseller who can only speak truths; the beautiful and talented Tawhida who does not age with time; Ali Zaidan, the gambler, late to love; and Boss Saqr who stashes his money above the bath. A neighbourhood of demons, dancing and sweet halva, the quarter keeps quiet vigil over the secrets of all who live there.

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After having enjoyed the author’s famous Cairo Trilogy I happened across this small book of (very) short stories.

These are more vignettes, some leaning towards flash fiction, but I enjoyed them in their compact glory. All of these stories are centred around a single area in Cairo: The Quarter. The stories are simply told, but still have heart. It’s a talent for sure to tell so much in so few words. Sometimes I did feel the stories were a bit too economical with words, but overall I enjoyed them.

These stories were found after the author’s death in 1994 and were not published until 2018. The book also includes his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which was very interesting to read and it also includes some of these stories in Mahfouz’s original handwriting, in Arabic, which was a nice touch. I am sure I will read more of his novels in the near future. I enjoy his writing a lot and it shows me a different world.

This is a lovely book to have on my shelf and I enjoyed the experience of reading it.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 13 October 2021

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WWW Wednesdays’ home is at Sam’s blog Taking On A World of Words. Check it out!

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you will read next?

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What am I currently reading?

I am reading The Sport of Kings by C E Morgan. This book is on my 2021 TBR and it’s been glaring at me. It’s quite a big book and it felt a bit daunting to start. I have the hardback and it’s so heavy! I started it yesterday and I am about 85 pages in. I am enjoying it so far, even if it deals with quite heavy subjects. At the moment I am in the 1950s in Kentucky. There is a lot of racism and family drama.

Because it is such a big heavy book I can’t really read it in bed. So, for my bedtime reading I have The Quarter by Naguib Mahfouz. I read his Cairo Trilogy earlier this year and I found this short story collection. The stories are very short indeed, but I have been enjoying them.

Finally, I have started a new audio book. I am listening to This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin. It takes a scientific approach to looking at what happens to our brains when we listen to music. It sounds fascinating!

What did I recently finish reading?

I finished a short story collection, a modern classic and an audio book over the past week. I really enjoyed the short story collection, which is Salt Slow by Julia Armfield. Apparently she has a novel out next year and I can’t wait to read it! I also enjoyed my audio book, which is The Border by Diarmaid Ferriter. This is a non-fiction book that looks back at the political and human cost that the border conflict in Ireland has caused over the past hundred years. I found it very interesting. Finally, I finished A Small Town in Germany by John le Carré. I did not get on with that one at all. It was not bad exactly, but it really was not my kind of book

What will I be reading next?

I am not entirely sure. I have a TBR game at the moment, but I did get a couple of new books in this week that I would like to read as soon as I can. One is a short story collection called The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez and the other a novel called The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin. I hope I can wrangle them out of my game somehow. The game has been kind to me lately!

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: The Border (Diarmaid Ferriter)

An informative and easily digestible history of a complex issue

★★★★★★☆

Title: The Border: The Legacy of a Century of Anglo-Irish Politics
Author: Diarmaid Ferriter
Genre: Non-Fiction / History / Politics
First published: 2019
Edition: Audio book/Hardback, published by Profile Books in 2019

For the past two decades, you could cross the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic half a dozen times without noticing or, indeed, turning off the road you were travelling. It cuts through fields, winds back-and-forth across roads, and wends from Carlingford Lough to Lough Foyle. It is frictionless – a feat sealed by the Good Friday Agreement. Before that, watchtowers loomed over border communities, military checkpoints dotted the roads, and smugglers slipped between jurisdictions. This is a past that most are happy to have left behind but might it also be the future? The border has been a topic of dispute for over a century, first in Dublin, Belfast and Westminster and, post Brexit referendum, in Brussels. Yet, despite the passions of Nationalists and Unionists in the North, neither found deep wells of support in the countries they identified with politically.

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This was far more interesting than I perhaps thought when I started this book that centres about the politics around the Irish border. Fearing it to be a bit dry I decided to go for the audio book in the end. I think this was the right choice.

Of course I knew something about the ‘border problem’, having lived the UK for ten years. My husband is English and we listen to English radio and in the turbulent period since the Brexit vote I was aware that the issue of the Irish border had come up once again. Also, I was aware of some of the conflicts of the past, but I felt I wanted to know a bit more.

This book was exactly what I needed on the subject. It told me the hard facts, the politics, but also the human problems that the ‘border problem’ created over the years. It has been a subject of much heat and discussion in Ireland, but has the British government ever quite cared enough?

On paper, yes, this book was quite dry, as it dealt with facts and dates and chronicles the border’s turbulent history, but the way it was narrated by Aidan Kelly brought it to life for me. I found myself listening quite attentively.

I found this book very interesting and well told. It did what I wanted it to.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: A Small Town in Germany (John le Carré)

Is it bad that I just didn’t care?

★★☆☆☆☆☆

Title: A Small Town in Germany
Author: John le Carré
Genre: Fiction / Mystery/ Espionage
First published: 1968
Edition: Paperback, published by Penguin in 2011

West Germany in the 1960s is a simmering cauldron of radical protests. Amid the turmoil Leo Harting, a Second Secretary in the British Embassy, has gone missing – along with more than forty Confidential embassy files. Alan Turner of the Foreign Office must travel to Bonn to recover them. As he gets closer to the truth of Harting’s disappearance, he will discover that the face of Cold War Europe – and the attentions of the British Ministry itself – are far uglier that he could possibly have imagined.

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I feel bad giving this book a low rating, but I really did not like it all. Going in, I had the sneaky suspicion that this genre of book, espionage thriller kind of stuff, was not for me, but I had never read one, so figured it was worth a shot.

From the start I just never got into this story. To me it felt dry and uninteresting. I did not really care what was going on. I had a vague curiosity to see what happened to this man who had disappeared, but throughout the book it slowly seeped away. I just did not care in the end what was happening.

I kept hoping it will pull me in at some point, but it just never did, which makes me kind of sad. I am not sure whether it is just this spy book that did not work for me or whether the genre as a whole is one I should skip. This is a very popular writer, but I guess he just is not for me.

I am not saying this is not a good book – it just really was not for me. I did not hate it, I am just completely indifferent to it, which may be worse!

2 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Salt Slow (Julia Armfield)

One of the best short story collections I have read

★★★★★★☆

Title: Salt Slow
Author: Julia Armfield
Genre: Fiction / Short Stories / Magical realism
First published: 2019
Edition: Hardback, published by Picador in 2019

This collection of stories is about women and their experiences in society, about bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of its characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession and love. Throughout the collection, women become insects, men turn to stone, a city becomes insomniac and bodies are picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sea side towns are invaded and transformed by the physical, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to the bodies of its inhabitants. Blending the mythic and the fantastic, the collection considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new.

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Every time I read a good short story collection I realise I don’t read enough of them. I like the experience of doing so though!

These stories are weird. Very weird. Surreal and dreamlike, but based on our world and our time. The writing is wonderful and I felt like I was being trapped in someone’s weird brain. Few things are properly explained. They just are.

I find it hard to pick a favourite story. I actually liked all of them and loved most of them. The stories are all different, but the feel of them is very similar and it feels like a coherent collection. They make sense together.

If you like weird and wonderful stories with that dream/nightmarish feel, you will love this.

The author has a novel out next year and I cannot wait to read it. I am sure it will be amazing!

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Currently Reading · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 6 October 2021

Just typing this up whilst listening to some Lana Del Rey this morning. It’s very autumnal outside and I am in a Lana kind of mood.

My reading is up and down and I am just letting it rollercoast as much as it wants to!

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WWW Wednesdays’ home is at Sam’s blog Taking On A World of Words. Check it out!

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you will read next?

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What am I currently reading?

I hvae just started two books and I am about to start another on audio today, which I will add here as well. I have started Salt Slow, which is a short story collection by Julia Armfield. I have only read the first story so far and it was wonderfully odd and kind of gruesome. For my regular novel I have started A Small Town in Germany by John Le Carré. I have never read his books, and I figured it’s about time. I put this one on my 2021 TBR as an impetus to read it. I am only on page 20 and I am not sure I will get into it. I hope I will!

Finally, my new audio book will be The Border: The Legacy of a Century of Anglo-Irish Politics by Diarmuid Ferriter, another book that is on my 2021 TBR. I mainly put this on this year’s TBR, as it partly deals with current affairs (Brexit) and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the longer I put it off, the less relevant it will become. I do find it an immensely interesting subject, so I am actually excited to find out more.

What did I recently finish reading?

I finished my audio book yesterday, which was Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. That one is a memoir of someone exploring the world of competitive memory training. It was interesting.

I also read The Memory Game by Nicci French. That was just ok for me. I would read more by them. I knew a few people who are addicted to their books, including my mother!

Before that I read Deerskin by Robert McKinley, which is a fantasy novel that deals with some rather dark subjects. It was just ok for and did not quite work in my opinion.

What will I read next?

I am not sure. I will roll the dice in my TBR game and see what will come up. I have a few more books on my 2021 TBR that I need to fit in before the end of the year,but apart from that I have no fixed plans!

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Moonwalking With Einstein (Joshua Foer)

Fascinating in places

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Moonwalking With Einstein – The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Author: Joshua Foer – Narrator: Mike Chamberlain
Genre: Non-Fiction
First published: 2011
Edition: Audio (& Paperback, published by Penguin in 2012)

Joshua Foer used to be like most of us, forgetting phone numbers and mislaying keys. Then he learnt the art of memory training, and a year later found himself in the finals of the US Memory Championship. He also discovered a truth we often forget: that, even in an age of technology, memory is the key to everything we are. He takes us on an astonishing journey through the mind, from ancient ‘memory palace’ techniques to neuroscience, from the man who can recall nine thousand books to another who constantly forgets who he is. In doing so, Foer shows how we can all improve our memories.

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This is one of those books I picked up randomly in a charity shop ages ago and it sat on my shelf for a few years.

In the end I listened to this on audio and I think that was the best way for me to ‘consume’ this book. On the page, I am not sure I would have been as invested as by having someone tell it.

The subject matter is interesting and there were bits I found really interesting. The idea of memory palaces is definitely intriguing and I found the memory training ideas in general quite fascinating.

However, I did feel that I did not care that much about the idea of memory competitions and competitive memorising at all. My interest did wane a bit during those bits.

I am glad I read this book and I think I will have my husband read it as well, as I think he would be interested. Maybe more interested than I was. It is that kind of book. It has some fascinating content and if you are interested in the brain and the way we remember things, this may well be for you. I just wished it had expanded on different bits.

5 out of 7 stars