Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 24 February 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 are you currently reading?

I am reading an actual bookie book, an e-book and I am listening to an audio book at the moment.

The paperback is The City of Brass by S A Chakraborty. I bought this one on a whim last week. I am still in the mood for Middle Eastern inspired books, but I fancied something a bit different. This one has glowing reviews and I have heard good things, so despite the fact I should not be starting a new series (oops), I started this one. I am only a few pages in, so not much to tell yet.

My Kindle book is Your Song Changed My Life by Bob Boilen. I am reading this one for my music book club. I am a few chapters in and it is kind of eclectic and interesting. I hope I will end up liking it.

Finally, I am listening to Listening to the Animals by Noel Fitzpatrick, the Supervet. I love nature and animals and I have not been reading these types of books enough lately. My mother-in-law bought the hardback copy of this for me a couple of Christmasses ago, but I did not get round to reading it. It’s a memoir, so I thought the audio book read by the author would be the way to go. He is a bit dramatic reading it, but I I am liking it so far.

What did I recently finish reading?

I finished Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, which I enjoyed plenty enough, but did not quite love (5 out of 7 stars). I finished an audio book, which was Chronicles by Bob Dylan. That one was kind of interesting, but simply did not excite me (4 out of 7 stars). Finally, I read Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, which I absolutely fell in love with (7 big stars!). I am pretty sure that one will end up on my end of year list.

What will I be reading next?

I am not entirely sure yet. There are several books I want to pick up soon, but I have no definite reading plans.

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Hamnet (Maggie O’Farrell)

Oh, this writing is so beautiful

★★★★★★★

Title: Hamnet
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
First published: 2020
Edition: Hardback, published by Tinder Press

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

I put off reading this book for far too long. My expectations were so high and I was so afraid I would be disappointed. Now I wish I had read it sooner, as this is a truly beautiful book.

Its story is fictional, but the touchstones to actual historical figures gives it a gravity it may otherwise not have had. From the beginning you are aware that Hamnet will die and the whole story appears to build to that moment, which creates low-level tension from the start. But then after the fact all the feelings and emotions crashed over me in waves. Grief is written in such a beautiful heartwrenching way that I found myself sobbing for pages and pages. Call me weird, but I kind of love it when a book overwhelms with emotion.

Despite all the tears, I did not find this a depressing book. At its heart it is a story about family, about love, and simply about life. The author brings the past to life in exquisite detail and I relished the passages in which she describes the most mundane of chores or actions in beautiful prose. I think O’Farrell’s writing here is truly inspiring.

I love this book with all my heart and I am so, so glad I finally read it. I would highly recommend this.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Randomness

Pointless Post: Goodreads Awards 2020

I never pay much attention to the Goodreads end of year awards, mainly because I read what I read and I am not always that current with the books I read. I have read the book that won the overall award (The Midnight Library by Matt Haig) and that kind of sparked my intrigue. I thought it w/c/ould be interesting to have a look at the actual lists, since I haven’t yet for exactly the reason I said in that first sentence. I thought it may be fun to see whether I have read any of them and what my thoughts were if I did. I will only look at the adult fiction books, as I hardly read YA or Middle Grade and the non-fiction I tend to read is unlikely to appear on the lists.

WARNING: This may be a complete dud of a post

Best Fiction

Ok, this is a good start (not). Of the 20 books listed I have read exactly one; The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I have liked all the books I have read by him, so it is no surprise I liked this one. I read it in January this year and though I loved it, it was not even my favourite book of the month. I gave it 6 stars (out of 7). I do have My Dark Vanessa on my Kindle and I am definitely interested in reading that one maybe a few others.

Mystery/Thriller

Now, I knew this isn’t a genre I go to a lot. I do enjoy a thriller/mystery, but I just do not tend to read for them. Therefore it is no surprise that I have only read one of the twenty books listed. Coincidentally this was the winning book, which is The Guest List by Lucy Foley. I enjoyed it well enough and ended up giving it 5 out of 7 stars. Of the other books in this list there are none that jump out that scream for me to read them. As I said, not a go-to genre for me.

Historical Fiction

There is an ongoing theme here! I have not read any of these, but I am reading Hamnet at the moment, which I am really enjoying by the way. I have been reading more historical fiction lately, but not necessarily anything recent. I am fussy with historical fiction and looking at this list there are not that many I am interested in.

Fantasy

Yes, the trend continues. I have read one of these, which is Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. This is also possibly my favourite book of the year so far (7 gorgeous stars for this one!). I read it in January and adored it. There are a few books in this category I would be interested in reading for sure, especially The House in the Cerulean Sea by T J Klune.

Romance

Guess what? Yes, I have read one, which was Beach Read by Emily Henry and I was not a fan. I gave it 4 out of 7 stars only. I do like a romance, but I do not go out of my way to read popular romances.

Science Fiction

These books are all alien to me! I haven’t read any of these, though there are a few I may be intrigued by. Not enough to pick them up though. Science Fiction is a genre I read but rarely.

Horror

Nope, not one of these I have read. Like Science Fiction, Horror is not a genre I reach for. If one comes on my path, I am happy to read it and I may even love it every now and then, but I rarely buy it. I think the last horror I read was probably Bird Box, which I did love by the way…

Poetry

I have been reading more poetry in recent months (though still not a lot). I have read one of these, which is Lana Del Rey’s Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass, which I loved. This is definitely the category I am most likely to come back to for ideas for picking up more contemporary poetry. There are several here that look interesting to me.

CONCLUSION:

Not a surprise, but I am rubbish at reading popular books. Was there a point to this post? No, absolutely not. It did not accomplish anything at all, apart from my own amusement at how many books I haven’t read. Did it flag up books I would like to read in the future? A few, but most of those I was already aware of, apart from the poetry category, which is the most interesting to me.

In the end this was a completely pointless endeavour, but I will post it anyway. My apologies for wasting your time!

Have a great reading week. x

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Chronicles (Bob Dylan)

I have read too many memoirs lately that were better

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Chronicles, volume one
Author: Bob Dylan Narrator: Sean Penn
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Music
First published: 2004
Edition: Audio book

Through Dylan’s eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. Dylan’s New York is a magical city of possibilities — smoky, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships. Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough. With the book’s side trips to New Orleans, Woodstock, Minnesota and points west, Chronicles: Volume One is an intimate and intensely personal recollection of extraordinary times.

🎸🎙🎵

Either I have memoir fatigue or this one is simply not as good as many other music biographies I have read over the last year or so. Either way, I enjoyed this one, but I doubt it will stick in my mind very long.

Bob Dylan is one of those characters in music that we all think we know, but actually know little about. That certainly was the case for me. I absolutely went in with a preconception of who this man was and I think during the reading (listening) of this book, a lot of those preconceptions went out of the window. I like that. I like it when you get something you did not expect, when you come out of a book with a better idea of who a person is. This did do that, kind of.

However, despite the fact that the author can write a bloody good sentence every now and then, overall I just did not love the style in which this was written. It felt disjointed and the flow did not suit me. It did not grab me in the way that other memoirs have done. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it, and I still learned something, but it just did not move me in any way and it did not connect with me.

I do still think this is a good memoir. If you like Bob Dylan or you are just interested in what he has to say, this is worth reading and you will probably enjoy it as I did, but if you’re not that interested in him as a person, I doubt this one will do a ton to thrill you.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Girl With A Pearl Earring (Tracy Chevalier)

A quietly atmospheric novel, but something was missing…

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Girl With A Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction
First published: 1999
Edition: Paperback, published by Harper Collins in 2003

Griet, the young daughter of a tilemaker in seventeeth century Holland, obtains her first job, as a servant in Vermeer’s household. Through Griet’s eyes we see the complicated family, the society of the small town of Delft, and life with an obsessive genius. Griet loves being drawn into his artistic life, and leaving her former drudgery, but the cost to her own survival may be high. 

***

This book had been lingering on my shelves for a while and I finally picked it up. It was an easy read. It was well written and atmospheric, but I did not love it.

I think everyone knowns the painting this book is based on. It is one of the most famous paintings in the world. This fictional account of its birth is not based on much fact, as little is known about the painter or the painting itself. However, the author brought the time period to life with skilfull writing. The quiet tension between Griet and Vermeer is well written. Overall, this is a quiet sort of book and generally I like a quiet book, but I found something was missing, like the pearl in the painting. There is something niggling at me.

I enjoyed reading this book, but I did not find it particularly memorable. I am glad I finally read it and I would like to read more from this author.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Currently Reading · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 17 February 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?

***

What are you currently reading?

I am reading Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. It has been on my shelf for ages and I have heard good things about it. I am about 100 pages and I am enjoying it so far.

I am listening to Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, which is ok so far. I am not blown away by it, but there are times when his turn of phrase is gorgeous. His overall manner of telling his story is not grabbing me though. Sean Penn is doing the narration. I wonder whether it is the narration I am not connecting with. I have the paperback, so I could pick that up instead… But I need an audio book…. Oh well…

What have I recently finished reading?

It’s been a good reading week quantity wise, not so much quality wise… I finished three books, which were A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke (5/7*), Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (4/7*) and finally my audio book There Goes Gravity by Lisa Robinson (5/7*). I liked all of them, but did not love any of them, which is always disappointing. That has been pretty much been the trend this whole February.

What will I read next?

I will start reading Your Song Changed My Life by Bob Boilen (from NPR Tiny Desk Concerts) at some point this week as my next musical book, probably at the weekend. For my next physical book I want to pick one up from my 2021 TBR. I am thinking either Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell or Flames by Robbie Arnott. I need a book to love!

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Ninth House (Leigh Bardugo)

An good plot, but frustrating characters

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Ninth House
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fiction / Urban Fantasy
First published: 2019
Edition: Kinde e-book

Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

***

This was such a frustrating read for me. In the end I really liked a lot of the actual plot and story, but the execution was patchy for me.

I had enjoyed the author’s books before, so an adult fantasy book by this author sounded like a good thing! It could have been and it kind of was, but I am not sure how to feel at the end of this book.

It took me a while to get into this one. After about a hundred pages I even considered not finishing this book, but in the end I am glad I persisted. Slowly but surely I warmed to the story, if not quite the characters. The plot ended up being strong enough to carry me forward into the book.

There was things I definitely liked about this one. The plot itself and the story were strong, but the characters… Yes, they were patchy. It was not that I did not like the characters at all, but the way the narrative was written made the characters feel too disjointed. The main character Alex was not set up enough for my tastes and too many of the other characters felt unexplored. I found it frustrating, especially recognising that the story itself was so good and I actually enjoyed it on a whole.

I do feel that some bits set out in synopsis and in the beginning of the story were not explored any further, which was disappointing. Why set plot points up and then ignore them? Maybe they will be in future books. One hopes they will!

I did not think I would want to continue in this series until the final fifty pages or so. Now I definitely want to read on. Oh, the frustration!

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Reading Diary

Reading Diary: 13-15 February 2021 (mainly Ninth House)

WARNING: pretty frustrating, but boring reading blog ahead! 😂🤣

SATURDAY, 13 February 2021

08.37 – Well, it’s a wintery weekend. It’s very cold outside. The fire will be roaring pretty much all day. I think it’s time for a weekend of lots of reading.

I am reading Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House. I am about 100 pages in and I am not loving it, so I need some motivation to keep going. If it does not improve soon, I will have to DNF it, but I hate DNFing books! It feels like a waste of my reading time if I don’t finish a book, especially if I am already over 100 pages in. I did enjoy Bardugo’s Grishaverse trilogy, so I still have a flutter of hope I will end up liking it.

I may pick up a poetry book alongside, or some short stories. I’ll see.

Finally, I should be finishing my audio book today, which is There Goes Gravity by long-time music journalist Lisa Robinson. It’s been a good one, if a bit smug at times.

But first I will take my two ponies outside into their winter wonderland and go for our weekly shop.

10.54 – It’s finally time to get some reading in. My aim is to read about 150 pages of Ninth House today. I really hope I will start enjoying it a bit more.

12.21 – I did not get a ton of reading done so far, about 30 pages. It is picking up a bit, so I am hopeful now 🙂 ! I am getting more of a feel for our main character now a bit more of her history is explained. The first 100 pages of this book though…. Not strong. I guess it’s supposed to make you intrigued, but it just made me feel uninterested. Anyway, there is a chance I may like this after all, so fingers crossed. It really depends on where the author takes the story from here.

It’s lunchtime. We have a few outdoor chores to do after lunch, but I am hoping to read quite a bit later.

18.23 – It’s been a while since my last update earlier and I am afraid not THAT much reading got done. We spent some time cutting back trees and bushes from the ice now the water surrounding our house is frozen over. After that I did a bit of skating with my eight-year-old daughter. Dinner is in the oven now and I just had twenty minutes of reading. I think I started on page 104 this morning and I am on page 163 now, so there definitely is some progress! The story has definitely gotten a lot more interesting, but I am certainly not in love with this story yet. It’s fine. I just find the characters way too uninteresting for some reason. Neither Alex nor Darlington are floating my boat in any way and the story so far is… mediocre. There is still time to win me over!

23.38 – I am about to go to bed. I clearly overestimated the time I would have for reading today. It has been a busy, tiring day and I am off to bed. I enjoyed today, but I only managed to get to page 174 so far. It’s still 70 pages, which is not to be sniffed at! But alas, I had planned to read double that! I guess tomorrow is another day, but my goal to finish this book on Monday is very unlikely now. It does not matter of course, but still. Fingers crossed for a better reading day tomorrow. I will try to read a bit more once I am in bed, but I feel pretty shattered.

Nighty night!

SUNDAY, 14 February 2021

9.32 – Good morning, folks! Oh, gawd, it’s Valentine’s Day… I have never liked Valentine’s Day. Me and my husband have never celebrated it. What’s romantic about overpriced Valentine menus and oversweet cards? It seems couples can argue like cats and dogs the rest of the year as long as you buy a bunch of roses onVD…. No thanks. It’s supposed to be for secret lovers anyway, not established couples. Just mean to say, today is like any other day in the James household. We love and respect each other and show it every day of the year.

Anyway, grump and part-lecture over! Let’s get back to the books. I am definitely finishing my audiobook today. I will go back to Chronicles by Bob Dylan after that for now.

I did not end up reading much in bed last night. I was soooooo tired. I will start Ninth House on page 182 and I will see how far I get today. I don’t have a lot on and I plan to just relax, so who knows, if the story starts to grab me I might read quite a bit.

13.45 – I read a bit. I on page 243 right now, so I read 60 pages so far today, which is pretty good. Guys, I am still not quite feeling this book. It feels like the build and the characterisation are all out of sync. I know people love this book, so it must work for a lot of people, but it’s not working for me. But I am halfway, and I am not hating it, so I will continue. It’s just… so far I am disappointed.

15.05 – Got some good reading time in. I got to page 299. I am frustrated with this book still. The story is so interesting but it feels so fractured! Considering the story, maybe it is meant to feel that way, but it is not working for me. Grrrrrrrr!

18.17 – About to have dinner. I am making a Indian type fish curry with rice. Yum! Just a quick note that I finished There Goes Gravity by Lisa Robinson. Another read (listen in this case) that I did not quite love. That seems to be the pattern this month. I have not read one single book yet I truly loved. And given how I feel about Ninth House right now, that one will get stuck and 4 or 5 stars as well. Where are my 6 and 7 star reads this month? Hiding? January was such a good reading month and this month everything is just falling a bit flat. Clearly I have been picking the wrong books! I have a few books that I suspect I will absolutely love, so I am tempted to pick up one of those up once I finish Ninth House.

MONDAY, 15 February 2021

11.37 – NOW PLAYING: BBC 6 Music (radio)

I was supposed to finish this blog post yesterday, but I was so tired I did not end up doing so. Oh, well, an extra reading diary day it is. I have already taken my daughter to the dentist this morning and just took the ponies to their wet snowy paddock. The snow has been on the ground for a week, but it is raining pretty much all day today and it’s disgusting out there. I am about to read for a bit until lunch. I am starting on page 351 today. I have a small hope I can finish the book today. Looks like I have about 120 pages to go, so it’s doable. I hope it finishes strong.

15.24 – NOW PLAYING: Someone New (album) by Helena Deland – I LOVE this album!

On page 391, so not too bad. About 80 pages to go. I cannot help think this book could have been so good if it did not feel so bitty! I am enjoying the overall plot, but not the flow of the book. The flow seems completely off to me. And the whole Yale setting seems underexplored. I wish I could love this book more. I feel like I am being very negative. I don’t mean to be, and I certainly don’t dislike the book. I just feel it underperforms, if that makes sense… Probably not… Most people seem to love it a lot more than I do! I must conclude it’s just me. 😂

17.57 – NOW PLAYING: Young Chasers (album) by Circa Waves – This one makes me happy!

Well, I have finished Ninth House. Drat, it had an ending that means I want to read the next book. Well played, Leigh Bardugo! To be fair, I did warm to the novel as it went on, even if I did not end up loving it. I probably will continue the series. I will go and write my thoughts on it in a moment. I think it will be 4 out of 7 stars in the end, which is not too bad. There was so much to like, but it also made me feel frustrated. It did get better along the way.

I will leave this blog here. I will probably not read anything more until I go to bed now. Anyway, I added the music I was listening to throughout today. Just because… you know… It sets a mood 😉

Have a good week y’all!

Books · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: There Goes Gravity (Lisa Robinson)

Hitting all the right keys, but not quite the right chord for me (bad pun alert)

★★★★★☆☆

Title: There Goes Gravity
Author/Narrator: Lisa Robinson
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Music
First published: 2014
Edition: Audio book

Lisa Robinson has interviewed the biggest names in music–including Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Patti Smith, U2, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Jay Z and Kanye West. She visited the teenage Michael Jackson many times at his Encino home. She spent hours talking to John Lennon at his Dakota apartment–and in recording studios just weeks before his murder. She introduced David Bowie to Lou Reed at a private dinner in a Manhattan restaurant, helped the Clash and Elvis Costello get their record deals, was with the Rolling Stones on their jet during a frightening storm, and was mid-flight with Led Zeppelin when their tour manager pulled out a gun. A pioneering female journalist in an exclusive boys’ club, Lisa Robinson is a preeminent authority on the personalities and influences that have shaped the music world; she has been recognized as rock journalism’s ultimate insider.

🎤🎸🎹

This was an interesting listen. The author has been a renowned music journalist for many decades and in this memoir she documents a number of her most noteworthy encounters. From Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to Eminem and Michael Jackson, she covers iconic artists with passion and a casual flare that bring her stories to life. I think the audio narration definitely helped, as her voice was very lively whilst relating her tales. However, sometimes I found myself completely uninterested in the details she was relating to me.

I would say there was a lot of name dropping, but then what else would a book like this be about? I can hardly criticize it for that. However, sometimes it felt a little much. I think it was in the way of telling the story. It came across little smug every now and then. She has plenty to be smug about, I would have given an arm and a leg to see/do some of the things she has seen/done (though definitely not all!) and I have no idea why it bothered me, but occasionally it just did. The tone was just a little bit off for me.

Surprisingly I found the later chapters on Eminem and Lady Gaga the most interesting. Maybe because being a long time ‘rock and roll’ fan, I have heard some version of the other stories before.

This was a good listen and very enjoyable in places, but unfortunately it lost me in others and I did not quite love it.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: A Bright Ray of Darkness (Ethan Hawke)

A lot of raw cynicism with a tiny bit of humanity thrown in

★★★★★☆☆

Title: A Bright Ray of Darkness
Author: Ethan Hawke
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
First published: 2021
Edition: Hardcover, published by William Heinemann in 2021

A bracing meditation on fame and celebrity, and the redemptive, healing power of art; a portrait of the ravages of disappointment and divorce; a poignant consideration of the rites of fatherhood and manhood; a novel soaked in rage and sex, longing and despair; and a passionate love letter to the world of theatre.

***

Ethan Hawke is one of my favourite actors, but I had never read any of his novels. This one caught my eye and I thought I would give it a go. I did not love it and yet it did not disappoint me. It was exactly what I expected it to be.

To me, this feels like a very male book, which kind of makes sense, as this is a book about a man who is trying to find grip in the world after a relationship breakdown. His outlook on the world is pretty cynical and from a very masculine perspective, but it works in the context of this particular story.

The book is about a movie actor trying his hand at a Broadway Shakespeare play. Write what you know, I guess! It spans the run of the play. It feels most believeable and is gorgeously written in places and made me cringe a bit in others. The main character is not particularly likeable and I wanted to give him a good shake a few times, but I kind of found myself rooting for him at the same time.

Is this particular movie actor a good writer? Yes, I think he is. If you have seen interviews with him, you will know exactly what this book is like. It is eloquent enough and kind of raw and intense. Very masculine and cynical, but a little bit of warmth does run through it.

The style of this book was not quite for me, but it is a good novel. If you’re intrigued by it, read it.

5 out of 7 stars