Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: In The Presence of Absence (Mahmoud Darwish)

A truly incredible poetic memoir

★★★★★★★

Title: In The Presence of Absence (original title: في حضرة الغياب)
Author: Mahmoud Darwish (translator: Sinan Antoon)
Genre: Non-Fiction / Poetry / Memoir
First published: 2006 (in Arabic) / English translation: 2011
Edition: Paperback, published by Archipelago Books in 2020

By one of the most transcendent poets of this generation, a remarkable collection of prose poems that explores themes of love, pain, isolation, and connection. In this self-eulogy written in the final years of Mahmoud Darwish’s life, Palestine becomes a metaphor for the injustice and pain of our contemporary moment.

***

I read this beautifully written poetic memoir over the span of a few weeks. I did not want to rush it. I wanted to take in every word and to let them sink in.

I have never read anything quite like this before. The author wrote this remarkable second-person narrative, that is part poetic prose and part memoir. I have read one of his poetry books before, which I loved, but this was a different beast altogether.

The author touches on many memories and thoughts, on emotions and on the plight of the refugee and the displaced and exiled. It is a voice that is not heard enough. I started reading this book before the flare-up of the conflict between Israel and the Palestines, but in the past couple of weeks it has only become more poignant to me. The issues this Palestinian poet wrote about have still not been resolved and probably never will be. I will include a page in which he talks about his arrival in Gaza and how he felt whilst he was there.

I am not sure how I can express how I felt about this one. All I can say about this self-eulogy is that it touched me deeply. It is so beautifully written and the way he addresses himself throughout made it feel very personal and intimate. I really felt like if I was reading the innermost musings of his heart as he was pondering the end of his life.

An incredible piece of writing and I hope more people will read this, wherever they are in the world. It will enrich your life.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Then She Ran (Charlie Gallagher)

It was fine… Just not my thing.

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Then She Ran
Author: Charlie Gallagher
Genre: Fiction / Crime Thriller
First published: 2018
Edition: Kindle e-book

On a lazy Sunday morning, Jenny Harris is shaken awake by her panic-stricken boyfriend, Joseph. Their baby daughter lies asleep on her chest. ‘We’ve got to go!’ Joseph screams. In their hotel room, Jenny hurriedly wraps her tiny baby up. All their belongings are left behind. There’s no time. Joseph’s panic is contagious. Jenny sprints with her family from the hotel. And it’s clear that they are being chased. Their pursuers are indiscriminate and they are deadly. Her boyfriend falls, caught up in the carnage, but he manages to give her one last message: RUN!’

***

This took me way longer to read than it should have done. To be fair to the book, this is not a genre that I generally reach for, but I thought I would give this one a try. It was ok.

The opening chapter was pretty exciting and fast paced and I thought I would fly through it. Unfortunately it soon kind of stalled. I would not say that it ever became boring exactly, but it definitely lost a bit of momentum and I found my attention drifting to other things.

I do not have an awful lot to say about this novel. The writing overall was fine. The resolution was fine. There was nothing that particularly bothered me and if you like this kind of detective/crime/murder mystery novel, you will probably get on with it pretty well.

I would be hesitant to pick up another book from this author, but this has more to do with the genre than the quality of the writing or the characters. It was fine, but it just did not grip me the way I needed it to.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 12 May 2021

My reading week has been nothing if not patchy! Every day I mean to finish my book and every day I don’t! Oh dear. Fingers crossed I will be a bit better in doing so in the next few days. However for now:

***

WWW Wednesdays’ home is at Sam’s blog Taking On A World of Words. Check it out! (It’s her birthday today, so wish her a happy birthday!)

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 Then She Ran by Charlie Gallagher on my Kindle. It’s a book that has been sitting on said Kindle for two or three years and I felt kind of in the mood for something thrillery/crimey. I am over halfway and when I actually sit down to read it, it’s very easy to read, but for some reason I don’t feel the urge to. I am not entirely sure whether it is the book or my mood.

I am also still reading In The Presence of Absence by Mahmoud Darwish, which I am still loving. I am not in a rush with that one. It’s one to savour and I’d rather read two pages a day properly than rush through it. My mind has been too scattered these last few days to do it justice, so I will let it sit until my brain has the capacity to take it all in.

Finally, I have started listening to M Train by Patti Smith on audio. I have that book on my shelves, but I really enjoyed listening to Patti Smith’s Just Kids a while back and I love listening to her talk. She writes very eloquently and it’s just a joy. This one is less coherent than Just Kids. There’s a lot of musing and descriptions of mundane things, but I kind of like that. So far, so good.

What have I recently finished reading?

I finished a Middle Grade book, which was DarkIsle by D A Nelson. It was fine. It had some interesting bits, but I was not the target audience and I did not love it. However, my daughter might like it, so I have put it in her bookcase to see whether she will pick it up and if she does, what she will think of it. However, she is re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (again), so it may be a while.

I then read Down Among The Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire. This is the second book in the Wayward Children series and I definitely enjoyed more than the first book. I may read the third book soon.

Finally, I finished an audio book, which was By The Pricking of my Thumbs by Agatha Christie. That one was so much fun to listen to and it was the right choice for my mood at the time for sure.

What will I be reading next?

I have a few books I definitely want to get to soon. There is Lady Sings The Blues, which is Billie Holiday’s autobiography, which I will be reading for my book club shortly. I am looking forward to that one.

Also, I got a request for a review for a book called A Lullaby in the Desert by Mojgan Azar. The author approached me and on reading the synopsis of the book I immediately decided to buy the book for myself rather than accept a free copy. It sounds like an important read, which the author told me deals with ‘women’s rights, fighting for freedom from oppression, social conflict, and the dangers pushing so many to flee their homelands to become refugees’. However, this is a heavy subject and I want to be in the right frame of mind to read this.

I also bought myself a Talia Hibbert Romance novel on my Kindle for 99p, which I may read if I feel like I need something light.

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: By The Pricking of my Thumbs (Agatha Christie)

Turns out Agatha Christie books on audio are the way to go!

★★★★★☆☆

Title: By The Pricking of my Thumbs (Tommy & Tuppence)
Author: Agatha Christie Narrator: Hugh Fraser
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
First published: 1968
Edition: Audio book / Paperback

When Tommy and Tuppence visit an elderly aunt in her gothic nursing home, they think nothing of her mistrust of the doctors; after all, Ada is a very difficult old lady. But when Mrs. Lockett mentions a poisoned mushroom stew and Mrs. Lancaster talks about “something behind the fireplace,” Tommy and Tuppence find themselves caught up in a spine-chilling adventure that could spell death for either of them.

***

This was a rather random choice for me as far as audio books go, but I actually enjoyed Agatha Christie’s writing a lot in this format.

I had never read a Tommy and Tuppence mystery before, but I really had fun with this older husband and wife sleuthing duo. There was definitely something a bit witty and dotty about them and I kind of loved them for it.

If I am being picky there were a few bits in this story that did not make all that much sense to me, but I loved the overall feel of it. The narrator did an excellent job and I felt that did add to my experience of this story.

I love how simple Agatha Christie mysteries feel, but I actually had not guessed the ending, so that was kind of cool.

All in all, this was a good experience and I am likely to listen to some more Agatha Christies this way when I am not sure which audio book to pick. It really works

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Down Among The Sticks and Bones (Seanan McGuire)

A whimsical tale well told without too much fuss

★★★★★★☆

Title: Down Among The Sticks and Bones
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult/ Fantasy
First published: 2017
Edition: Hardback, published by Tor in 2017

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices. 

***

I picked this one up on a whim to read as I felt like I needed something short and easy to read. I had been putting off reading this one as I was never as enamoured with Every Heart A Doorway as everyone else seemed to be. I liked it well enough, but it did not blow me away by any means. However, I should not have worried. I enjoyed this one quite a bit more.

I liked the concept of twins being born into the same family, but acting and behaving different because they were treated differently by their parents. The commentary on raising children with preconceptions and prejudice (nature v nurture) in mind is fair and, though of course exaggerated, spot on.

The personal journey both the girls go on once they have gone through that door was interesting. They could not form a bigger contrast to each other and I think that was well done.

This was very easy to read and pretty much read like a dark fairytale, but I did not find it too whimsical. It was just right in that respect.

I do feel like in some places I wished the story had been fleshed out just a little more, but on the other hand I kind of enjoyed the concise writing. It suited the feel of the story very well.

I am much more keen to continue this series than I was after the first book and that can only be a good thing. I enjoyed this.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Children's Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: DarkIsle (D A Nelson)

A fun middle grade fantasy that did not quite hit the mark for me

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: DarkIsle
Author: D A Nelson
Genre: Fiction / Middle Grade / Fantasy
First published: 2007
Edition: Paperback, published by Strident in 2008

Ten-year-old Morag is being held prisoner. When a dodo and a rat accidentally rescue her, she is drawn into their dangerous and life-threatening mission to retrieve an ancient stone used to protect their northern homeland.

***

I am not entirely sure where this book came from, but it was on my shelves and asked to be read. And actually, this was a cute Middle Grade fantasy story and I enjoyed it well enough.

The whole story feels quite light and reads away very easily. A dragon, a rat and a dodo? Yes please! It has just the right amount of adventure. However, the writing style did not really do anything for me and I feel like it could have had a bit more oomph. The characters were fun, but could have done with a tiny bit more fleshing out. The main problem I had, was that every now and then something would happen that did not feel quite right for the larger feel of the book. Obviously, I can’t go into that, because, well, spoilers, but it was something that really pulled me out of the story a couple of times, which was a shame.

I will pass this book onto my almost 9-year-old daughter and I hope she will enjoy it. I think she would and she is the target audience. I won’t continue this series, but she may.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 5 May 2021

***

WWW Wednesdays’ home is at Sam’s blog Taking On A World of Words. Check it out! (It’s her birthday today, so wish her a happy birthday!)

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 currently reading a middle grade book, which is DarkIsle by D A Nelson. It’s not blowing my mind, but I am enjoying it and I will pass it one to my daughter to read once I am done with it.

I am also reading In The Presence of Absence by Mahmoud Darwish. It is hard to explain what this book is. It kind of appears to be his life story written in prose told to himself. He wrote it when he knew he was dying. I have never read anything like it. It is beautiful and I am savouring every page. I know it will make me cry. There is something about his writing that hits me right in the feels, even in a translated work.

Finally, I am listening to an Agatha Christie on audio. I have gone for By The Pricking of my Thumbs, which is neither a Marple nor a Poiroit. It centrest around an elderly sleuthing couple. I am enjoying the listen.

What did you recently finish reading?

I am still reading slowly and I have only managed to finish one book, which was Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo. It was a good one though!

What will I read next?

I am not entirely sure yet. I have some heavier reads I want to get to, but I think I will be better off keeping to light reads for now. Nothing too taxing on my brain. My brain too quickly loses focus at the moment. I do need to read some books from my 2021 TBR, so I may have a look at that when choosing my next read.

Balancing My Books · Books · Monthly Reading Wrap-Up

Balancing My Books #4: April 2021

This was an odd reading month for me. There were a couple of weeks that I hardly read. I’ve been learning to play guitar and that has taken up quite a bit of my precious reading time. However, I enjoyed all the books I did read, even if there were not so many. Definitely a month of quality over quantity. I think that’s fine by me!

OWNED TBR AT THE START OF 2021
Hardbacks/Paperbacks: 330
E-books: 183

Owned TBR on 1 April 2021
Hardbacks/Paperbacks: 
324
E-books: 
182

So let’s see what happened this April:

Books read: 7
Hardbacks/Paperbacks TBR: 
4
Hardbacks/Paperbacks 2021: 
1
E-books TBR: 1
E-books 2021: 1
Audio: 2 (both of which I own in physical form)

BOOKS ACQUIRED:
Hardbacks/Paperbacks: 3
E-books: 0

I have a list of books I’d like to buy, but I am restraining myself for now. Since starting this project I have definitely been more conscious about buying books. It helps that the charity shops are not freely open yet. I did buy the follow-up to The City of Brass, as I want to continue that series. I also bought Music & Silence by Rose Tremain, which I have been wanting to read for a while. And finally I bought another book by Mahmoud Darwish, as I enjoyed his poetry so much. This one, In The Presence of Absence seems to be a poetic autobiography of sorts. I have read the first chapter and it already almost made me cry!

I hope I can read all of these in May

Physical TBR Balance Sheet
Start 2021: 330
Start April: 224
Acquired: 3
Read: 5
Balance: 322

E-book TBR Balance Sheet
Start 2021: 183
Start April: 182
Acquired: 0
Read: 2
Balance: 180

APRIL REVIEW

Looking back at these reading month, I read more older books that usual. Two classics in the shape of Pride and Prejudice and The Flowers of Evil. The latter is poetry. Two of the books (The Flowers of Evil and Palace of Desire) were translated works. A lot of historical fiction as well. There was nothing I did not enjoy and I even found a new favourite. Seven books is not that much for me, but I would still say this was a really good reading month.

Although Pride and Prejudice was a re-read, I had counted it on my physical TBR as it had been a good few years since I read it.

I must note that I did start listening to Scar Tissue by Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, but I hated it so much that I gave up after a few chapters.

BOOK OF THE MONTH

My book of the month was the only poetry book I read, which was The Flowers of Evil by French 19th century poet Charles Baudelaire. I absolutely loved it. Some of the poetry in there was exquisite. Pride and Prejudice may have taken it, but that was a re-read and I already knew it was a favourite.

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Clap When You Land (Elizabeth Acevedo)

A story of grief and family well told

★★★★★★☆

Title: Clap When You Land
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Contemporary
First published: 2020
Edition: Kindle e-book

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…
In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.
Separated by distance-and Papi’s secrets-the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

***

I have been feeling very restless and I have been finding it hard to concentrate on reading. However, this one was so easy to read and the story so engaging that I found it hard to stop reading this one. The story is told in free verse and with the pages less dense than what I am used to, it was perfect for my scattered brain at this particular moment.

This is the second novel I have read by this author, the first being the fantastic The Poet X, which I absolutely loved. There is something about her writing style, about the rhythm of her words and the deceptive power behind them, that feels like a warm hug. It was exactly what I needed right now.

The story deals with grief and revelations in the aftermath of the death of a father and does this with sensitivity and restraint. The use of the language was just on point. The idea of secret families is always an intriguing one and this one was very well executed without being overdramatic. I found both our main characters very easy to relate to and I found myself caring about them both. It did not quite touch all the heartstrings, but I did empathize with these girls very easily.

The ending was satisfying to me and it amazes me that the author is able to tell such a good story with relatively few words. Looking back at my reading experience there were moments that I wished it was a bit more fleshed out, but overall I loved this very much.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Fire From Heaven (Mary Renault)

Good read, but took me a while in my current state of mind

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Fire From Heaven
Author: Mary Renault
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction
First published: 1969
Edition: Paperback, published by Virago Press in 2014

Alexander’s beauty, strength, and defiance were apparent from birth, but his boyhood honed those gifts into the makings of a king. His mother, Olympias, and his father, King Philip of Macedon, fought each other for their son’s loyalty, teaching Alexander politics and vengeance from the cradle. His love for the youth Hephaistion taught him trust, while Aristotle’s tutoring provoked his mind and Homer’s Iliad fueled his aspirations. Killing his first man in battle at the age of twelve, he became regent at sixteen and commander of Macedon’s cavalry at eighteen, so that by the time his father was murdered, Alexander’s skills had grown to match his fiery ambition.

***

I don’t think this was the best time for me to read this book, as although it was not heavy or complicated, the writing style did not make it easy reading for me. It took me a long time, and I found myself easily distracted from it . That does not mean I did not enjoy it. I did, but it never quite sucked me in.

The book tells the story of Alexander The Great and the subject really appealed to me. The book is well written and it feels believable. Actually very little is known about Alexander The Great before he rose to power. The author did a great job of sketching a version of his life before. She handles his relationships with care and never strays far into emotions. Although I generally like a more emotional read, I feel it suited this story better not to.

There were a lot of names and normally that does not bother me, but in my slightly scattered brain state right now I found a little trying to keep track of who everyone was.

I definitely want to read more from this author and particularly in this series. I like the time period and setting and she clearly knew how to write a good story. I just may have to pick it up at a better time. I may even re-read this one at some point.

5 out of 7 stars