Books · Currently Reading · Sunday Summary

Sunday Summary: 3 July 2022

Happy Sunday!

What are you up to/What have you been up to this weekend? I am finally having a relatively quiet weekend, which is nice! The week ahead is pretty busy though…

Here is some book stuff, TV stuff and music stuff that has been keeping me busy!

READING

I am reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It was one of the books on my 2022 all-ebook TBR. It’s been living on my Kindle for a while, ever since I picked it up for like 99p or something. I have read a couple of Neil Gaiman books and thought I’d give this one a go, because it sounded so weird. We have tried to watch the Netflix show, but never got past the first episode. Mainly because I had no idea what was going on. I am just over halfway in the book and I still have no idea what’s going on. I think I am enjoying it. It does take quite a bit of reading for me. You know how you sometimes fly through the pages of a book? This is not one of those for me. I have to read it quite consciously. Maybe that’s a good thing. I am not sure, but it makes it quite slow going. The book is almost 675 pages long, so I hope there is a pay-off in the end. However it ends, I think I will be glad to tick this one off my TBR.

Have you read American Gods? What did you think?

The only other book I am reading at the moment is Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin. I have this one in a lovely Penguin paperback, but I decided to listen to it on audio, which I think was the right decision. The narrator is doing a great job and I am enjoying the subject and the way the author chooses to talk about these trees. It’s very much part travel writing and nature writing, which I love. I find nature based books like this very relaxing to listen to.

Incidentally, both American Gods and Wildwood have an average rating of 4.11 on Goodreads.

I am already looking at what I might be reading next and I think I may pick up The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. I picked that one up from a charity shop at some point and I think I may be in the mood for it. That may change though… We’ll see…

The other options is a big fantasy book, but I am reading a big fantasy-type book now, so I feel like I need to read something different inbetween. Though American Gods mainly has a contemporary setting and is kind of more magical realism feel I guess.

As for my next audio book when I get to it – I hope this week – I think I may actually take a deep breath and dive into Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I have always been really scared of Dickens, but I found a version narrated by Matt Lucas and I think he would do a good job.

TV & FILM

What have I been watching? I have not watched many movies at all. The only movie I watched was Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which is a French movie and it was a gorgeously shot slow movie. I liked it a lot. It reminded me of Call Me By Your Name in the way the natural sounds was utilized. It is set in 19th century France I think. I enjoyed it a lot.

Series wise, we have recently finished a few. We watched The Time Traveler’s Wife, which both me and my husband enjoyed quite a bit. I haven’t read the book and I don’t think I have any interest to, but the series was a fun time.

We also finished watching Obi-Wan Kenobi. We both enjoyed it a lot. I thought Ewan McGregor was great as Obi-Wan again. I love him so much as an actor. I though the focus of the series was interesting and the actress that plays little Princess Leia was fantastic!

We still have one episode to go of Stranger Things, I think, and we just watched the first episode of The Umbrella Academy.

If you can recommend some series that are on Prime, Netflix or HBO please let me know!

MUSIC

I went to three gigs during June and they definitely guided what I listened to these past few weeks.

The first one I saw was Arooj Aftab. I saw her in beautiful venue in Amsterdam, which used to be a catholic church, but is no longer functioning as such. She was amazing. She had one guy with her who played double bass and a lady who played the electric harp, who was suitably electric!

Then I saw two gigs in a row and both happened to be Belgian musicians. The first was a young Belgian guy called Tamino. He was absolutely fantastic – so so good. It was the first time seeing him in live and I already bought tickets to see him in the autumn. He was incredible live, as was his band, which includes Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood. I was going to put a live video here, but they are all quite old, as he only just appeared from the Covid abyss again. Instead I will stick in the video for one of his new songs – and a beautiful video it is too!

Finally I saw Belgian band Balthazar for the third time this year. I never meant to see them three times, but it just ended up that way. It looks like they will go on an extended break after the summer so despite three times being a bit overkill, I enjoyed every single time, as they are just such a fun time live. I always come away feeling completely destressed and happy. Afterwards me and my friend ended up sitting outside in a square for a couple of hours just having some cocktails, snacks and chatting. It was a late night, but a fun one! Always good when you combine live music with time spent with good friends.

I also binged quite a lot of the Glastonbury and Pinkpop Festival content.

Here are some of my favourites from that:

Kendrick Lamar

Little Simz

Sam Fender

Phoebe Bridgers with Arlo Parks

Inhaler (who I saw live a month or two ago)

***

I will leave things here for now. These were the cultural things I needed to get of my chest!

Is there anything you want to share? Music you have been listening to? Books you think everyone should read? A series or movie you really enjoyed?

SHARE AWAY!

Balancing My Books · Books · Monthly Reading Wrap-Up

Balancing My Books #18: June 2022

June was a terrible, terrible reading month, but it was definitely quality over quantity. I just had a lot on. I had some beautiful experiences this month. I saw one of my favourite musicians live for the first time, which was just an incredibly magic experience. That was also the first time I went to a concert by myself. Imagine that, I have been going to gigs/concerts for over twenty five years and this was the first time I went by myself. Crazy! It just happened to be one of the best gigs I have ever been to, so I am glad I did. It took me a good week to come down from that!

Anyway, reading time was few and far between. I did not feel slumpy at all – I was just busy. I wrote last month that I thought June would be a more settled month. Boy, was I wrong! I won’t make any such promises for July. I can hope though!

PHYSICAL TBR:

Start 2022: 300
1 June: 314
Acquired: 0
Read: 3
Balance: 311

DIGITAL TBR:

Start 2022: 177
1 June: 169
Acquired: 0
Read: 1
Balance: 168

So no books acquired this month – that’s good!

JUNE READING REVIEW

I only read five books in total, which is not much at all for me. I read three physical books, one e-ARC and one audio book. Two of the physical books were longer and one was only 70 pages. I did not listen to much audio either, so I only managed one shorter audio book, which I did enjoy.

  1. A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons (Kate Khavari) 6* e-ARC
  2. We Are All Made of Stars (Rowan Coleman) 7* paperback
  3. Revelation (Russell Brand) 6* audio
  4. Music & Silence (Rose Tremain) 5* paperback
  5. In Praise of Shadows (Junichiro Tanizaki) 7* paperback

That’s it. Just those.

BOOK OF THE MONTH

I had two 7* books, which were very different from each other. Maybe I will go with We Are All Made of Stars. It was just a lovely story and it warmed my heart. It’s a bit of a tearjerker, but so well done. I loved it!

July Reading Plans

I have two books in progress. I am a third into American Gods by Neil Gaiman on my Kindle. I read this one on the train whilst I was travelling. I am enjoying it…. I think. The other one is Wildwood by Roger Deakin, which I am listening to on audio. This is a non-fiction book about trees and I am enjoying it a lot. I am almost halfway into that one.

I don’t want to make too many plans for my reading, as the last couple of months have been slow. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is part of my plans and I would like to finally finish the Mistborn Trilogy, but that’s as far as I want to plan right now.

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: In Praise of Shadows (Junichiro Tanizaki)

An absolute joy to read

★★★★★★★

Title: In Praise of Shadows
Author: Junichiro Tanizaki
Translators:
Thomas J Harper / Edward G Seidensticker (from Japanese)
Genre:
 Non-Fiction / Essay
First published: 1934
Edition: Paperback, published by Vintage in 2001

This is an enchanting essay on aesthetics by one of the greatest Japanese novelists. Tanizaki’s eye ranges over architecture, jade, food, toilets, and combines an acute sense of the use of space in buildings, as well as perfect descriptions of lacquerware under candlelight and women in the darkness of the house of pleasure. The result is a classic description of the collision between the shadows of traditional Japanese interiors and the dazzling light of the modern age.

***

This was such a nice surprise. This is an essay, only 60-something pages long, pretty much solely about Japanese aesthetics and the author’s views relating this to Japanese and Western cultures when it was written in the 1930s.

Of course some views are dated, but overall this read very easily and it was just beautiful. Really beautiful and sometimes funny as well. You could definitely call this aesthetic writing. I loved the descriptions and the clear longing the author gets across as he longs for some the old ways, for example when shadows were still appreciated.

I will definitely seek out one or more of this author’s novels, because this was simple and beautiful. It did not need to do anymore.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Music & Silence (Rose Tremain)

Greed and desire in 17th century Europe

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Music & Silence
Author: Rose Tremain
Genre:
 Fiction / Historical Fiction
First published: 1999
Edition: Paperback, published by Vintage in 2020

Peter Claire is an English lutenist summoned to Denmark to join King Christian IV’s royal orchestra. Designated the king’s “Angel” because of the purity of his physical beauty, Peter falls helplessly in love with the lovely companion of Queen Kirsten, the king’s adulterous wife. The young musician finds himself dangerously torn between loyalties, ensnared in the deep-seated unrest of a royal court where the forces of good and evil, of harmony and dissonance, are ensconced in a battle to the death.

***

I had meant to read this one for a while, but did not pick it up until this month. As I closed the book after the last page I searched my brain how I felt about and I think it is one of those novels that will take a little while to truly form an opinion on.

For now I will say I enjoyed it, even if part of it left unsavoury taste in my mouth. Not because the content is shocking or unsavoury, more that there are quite a few characters in this book that are either unlikable, have mental health issues, or are simply not the most pleasant characters to follow. Now, I don’t mind this generally, but here it felt both at times very clever and sometimes just not quite necessary.

I enjoyed the setting in 17th century Europe and the writing really is very good. If you asked me what this book was about, I would say it was about greed and desire and a little about love. Just a little.

I would recommend this one for sure and I would read more by this author. I am just not quite sure whether I truly loved it yet. Come back to me in a few weeks.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Revelation (Russell Brand)

A frank and casual look at how spirituality and the sacred can change a life

★★★★★★☆

Title: Revelation: Connecting with the Sacred in Everyday Life
Author/Narrator: Russell Brand
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Spirituality
First published: 2021
Edition: Audible Original audio book

Unsparing of himself, and with insights that are sure to resonate with any listener, Revelation sets a context for our need for the sacred – especially now, given current societal fragmentation and the dearth of mitigating social and political ideas. 

***

I picked this up from on Audible quite randomly. It must have been on offer, maybe a buy one get one free job. I wouldn’t have spent a credit on it. That sounds rude, but let me explain. I have a kind of odd ‘relationship’ with Russell Brand. I have been familiar with him for a long time, from back when he was that leather clad comedian with the crazy hair, like Essex’s answer to Jack Sparrow. I have no doubt he is very smart and I think he can be very funnyindeed. However, he can also be pretty obnoxious and pretentious. I am pretty sure he knows that as well!

I am actually glad I listened to this. I picked it up in the end because the subject matter appealed to me. I do not come from a religious background and I would describe myself as agnostic. I think the angle Russell takes on this subject suits my own sensibilities and therefore it worked for me.

It’s a bit of a memoir, but it also talks spirituality and philosophy. It was an interesting five hours for me and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Russell’s voice is good to listen to and though the narrative is a bit all over the place, I just enjoyed the ride.

This is an Audible Original and there is no physical version of this, but I think there should be. Although this may have been done a bit ad hoc during Covid times, many of the ideas sound well thought out. Not necessarily for this book, but just in his own everyday life. It made it feel very honest and very real.

I would definitely pick up more from Russell in the future. I enjoyed this.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW: What I am reading on 15 June?

It’s been a while. My reading has been too erratic to document to be honest, but I am feeling like I am getting back in the swing of things. I am also looking forward to seeing what all of you are reading, cause I haven’t checked my reader in ages, so I have been missing all your posts! * need to do better

It’s a lovely sunny day today. Apparently it’s going to be very hot tomorrow and the day after. Not good for doing anything apart from reading, so fingers crossed for catching up.

Anyway, on with the show.

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?

***

What am I currently reading?

I am reading Music & Silence by Rose Tremain. It’s one I have been meaning to read since I bought it last year, but it’s reasonably sizable and I felt a bit intimidated by it. I decided I did not care and that I just felt like reading it. I am only 20 pages in, as I was out all day yesterday, but so far so good. It’s historical fiction centering around a lute player in the royal court of Denmark.

I am listening to Revelation: Connecting with the Sacred in Everyday Life by Russell Brand. This is an Audible original I think. I think I got it as an extra when there was a buy one get one free offer on Audible and nothing else spoke to me. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Russell Brand. Sometimes I think he’s a pretentious git and sometimes I feel like he’s talking lot of sense between his big words. So it is with this audio book. There’s some fluff, but overall the subject matter interests me and I like hearing to him speak. He’s clearly very passionate about it and I am pleased for him that he managed to turn his life around so completely. And, to be fair, a lot of what he is saying here makes sense to me. All in all, I am enjoying the listen.

I am supposed to be reading Spring: an Anthology for the Changing Seasons (edited by Melissa Harrison), but I have made no progress in that. I do hope to get that one read this month. Otherwise I will keep it till next spring.

What did I finish reading?

I finished A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari, which was a rare NetGalley e-ARC. It’s a historical mystery set just after the first world war and I actually really enjoyed it. It was a light read and just moved along at a nice clip.

After that I read We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman. God, I loved that book. It’s a tearjerker; one of those dealing with disease, death and love, but it was so well written, so beautifully done, that it just worked. It’s not the kind of book I want to read too often, but it was just what I needed I think.

Those two books were polar opposites, but I enjoyed them both and they helped me find my mojo back,

What will I be reading next?

Well, I have a ton of books still left on my Spring TBR due to me hardly reading for the past month or two. There is no way I will be able to read them all, especially since many of them are big books. Ah well, I will just read what I feel like when I finish my current read.

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: We Are All Made of Stars (Rowan Coleman)

Soppy books are normally not my thing, but….

★★★★★★★

Title: We Are All Made of Stars
Author: Rowan Coleman
Genre:
 Fiction / Contemporary
First published: 2015
Edition: Paperback, published by Ebury Press in 2016

Stella Carey has good reason to only work nights at the hospice where she is a nurse. Married to a war veteran who has returned from Afghanistan brutally injured, Stella leaves the house each night as her husband Vincent, locks himself away, unable to sleep due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During her nights at the hospice, Stella writes letters for her patients containing their final wishes, thoughts and feelings – from how to use a washing machine, to advice on how to be a good parent – and usually she delivers each letter to the recipient after he or she has died.

***

No, indeed, earjerker is not my genre and yet, there is something about the way this author writes that just works for me. It never feels like drama for drama’s sake. The stories told in this book (there are several interlinked) feel like they need to be told, like they are important.

There are a few stories that intertwine throughout the book and they all deal with death in one way or another. With dying, death of a loved one, mourning and moving on. Now, this is not a subject I tend to seek out and neither am I a sucker for books that make me cry. However, this one did make me cry, quite a bit, out of sadness, compassion, but most of all hope and love.

I am aware all of that sounds very soppy indeed, but I honestly feel like this book was so heartwarming, so honest, but also raw sometimes. It did not shy away from really heavy subjects, but the author has such a lovely touch, that I could still enjoy the read. And I did enjoy it, a lot. In fact, I think this was a fantastic read.

This was my second novel by this author. The first one I read, The Summer of Impossible Things, was magical realism and had time travel! This one was firmly rooted in the real world. I loved both a lot.

I am very happy to know that there are plenty more books by this author to read, so I am sure I will be reading more in time.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons (Kate Khavari)

Thoroughly enjoyable and just mysterious enough

★★★★★★☆

Title: A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons
Author: Kate Khavari
Genre:
 Fiction / Historical Mystery
First published: 7 June 2022 by Crooked Lane Books
Edition: e-Arc, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

London, 1923. Newly minted research assistant Saffron Everleigh attends a dinner party for the University College of London. While she expects to engage in conversations about the university’s large expedition to the Amazon, she doesn’t expect Mrs. Henry, one of the professors’ wives to drop to the floor, poisoned by an unknown toxin.

***

This was a pretty effective and fun mystery set in the aftermath of WW I. It took me a little while to read, but that is by no means down to the novel.

This was an enjoyable read for me. I like the characters quite a bit and I was very happy with the way the romance was not taking over from the mystery elements, but was just right. I felt for Saffron as she had to navigate a male-dominated environment, but liked how she was able to hold her own most of the time.

The mystery itself was interesting, even if Saffron and Alexander’s way of investigating was a bit gung ho at times.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable historical mystery set at a botany department at a 1920s London University.

6 out of 7 stars

Balancing My Books · Books · Monthly Reading Wrap-Up

Balancing My Books #17: May 2022

May was a very odd month for me. I had a lot of messy house maintenance stuff and weekends with friends and family, which took up a lot of time. I also ended up watching far too much of the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial (don’t ask!). Beside that, I was also writing quite a bit. Between all of that it took away precious reading time. So, this month was a month of few books and mainly a bunch of short ones. I wouldn’t quite call it a reading slump, as I just had a lot of stuff on. I am confident June will be a more settled month.

PHYSICAL TBR:

Start 2022: 300
1 May: 313
Acquired: 6
Read: 5
Balance: 314

DIGITAL TBR:

Start 2022: 177
1 April: 172
Acquired: 0
Read: 3
Balance: 169

I read the two shortest books I acquired this month, but that did not help me much. Any normal month I would have easily read more than I acquired this month, but not this month! At least my digital TBR went down!

MAY READING REVIEW

I read 8 books in May, which is not to be sniffed at, though admittedly one was a relatively short poetry collection and there was a children’s book as well. That was kind of cheating, but it doesn’t matter really. Overall the books I did read were good, but there were a couple that stood head and shoulders above the others.

  1. When We Found Home (Susan Mallery) 4* ebook
  2. The House with the Golden Door (Elodie Harper) 6* NetGalley e-Arc
  3. Gold Dust (Ibrahim al-Koni) 5* paperback
  4. Exit West (Mohsin Hamid) 5* ebook
  5. The Horse That Swam Away (Walter Farley) 5* hardback
  6. The Life of Olaudah Equiano (Olaudah Equiano) 5* audio & paperback
  7. The Island of Missing Trees (Elif Shafak) 7* hardback
  8. Open Secret (Rumi, Moyne, Barks) 5* paperback

BOOK OF THE MONTH

Although I loved The House with the Golden Door, my favourite read of the month was The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak. She’s an author whose books I tend to love and I plan to read other books by her sooner rather than later. There is just something about the way she crafts her characters and their stories. It just works.

Books · Children's Books · Poetry · Reviews · Short Ones

May Short Ones: some Rumi poetry & a Walter Farley children’s book

May was a tricky month for me reading wise and I chose to read a few shorter reads under 100 pages. They don’t quite merit full reviews, so I will just talk about them in this short post.

Open Secret: Versions of Rumi by John Moyne and Coleman Barks (1984)

★★★★☆☆☆

This is a selection of Rumi’s work chosen and translated/interpreted by Moyne and Barks. I enjoyed the poetry, but it did feel a bit disjointed and did not quite work for me as a whole. I have read the first two books of The Masnavi and want to read more of Rumi’s more accessible poetry, but I am struggling to find a collection that works for me. I will keep this and dip in and out of it again, but on first reading I was not that impressed.

***

The Horse That Swam Away by Walter Farley (1965)

★★★★★☆☆

This is a children’s book by the author of The Black Stallion series and that is exactly why I read this one; sentimental reasons, comfort. It is a lovely story about a boy living in Florida with his family and his horse Tena. Tim loses Tena when she is playing with a porpoise in the sea. I enjoyed the story. I’d say it’s for 7-10 year olds. Is it the best thing I have ever read? No, but it was cute and does talk about the beauty of nature, even if a loggerhead turtle does het wacked across the head!