Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

Rosamund Pike did a splendid job narrating this favourite

★★★★★★★

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen – Narrator: Rosamund Pike
Genre: Fiction / Classic
First published: 1813
Edition: Audio book

 Jane Austen called this brilliant work “her own darling child” and its vivacious heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print.” The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr. Darcy, is a splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austen’s radiant wit sparkles as her characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb comedy of manners of Regency England.

***

I have been meaning to re-read Pride and Prejudice for years. It has been a favourite book a long time. I finally decided to revisit it as an audio book and I chose the version read by Rosamund Pike. She played the eldest Bennet sister Jane in the 2005 film and her voice suits the story very well.

It is no wonder that this book is such a favourite with many of its readers. It has a charm and a romance to it that many modern authors could still learn from, but it is also funny and such a great character study. These story was written over 200 years ago, but in many ways it still feels relevant and it is very easy to read.

Every time I read it, and if I have read it about four or five times by now, I find something now. This time it came at the end when I realised Lizzy and Mr Darcy are actually snobs. That made me giggle, but they are still one of my favourite literary couples.

I just love the feel of this book. It’s well paced, it never lags and you cannot help but love Elizabeth and Jane as the sensible sisters in a rather silly family. And of course, Mr Bennet always adds a bit of dry humour. What can I say? I simply love the way Jane Austen manages to write such vibrant characters.

I highly recommend this audio book. It was a joy to listen to.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Palace of Desire (Naguib Mahfouz)

A bit of beauty and more than a bit of debauchery in Cairo

★★★★★★☆

Title: Palace of Desire (original Arabic title: Qasr al-Shawk)
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Translator: William Maynard Hutchins
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction / Classic / Middle East
First published: 1957 (in Arabic)
Edition: Paperback, published by Black Swan in 1994

Having given up his vices after his son’s death, ageing patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad pursues an arousing lute-player – only to find she has married his eldest son. His rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination as they test the loosening reins of societal and parental control. And Ahmad’s youngest son, in an unforgettable portrayal of unrequited love, ardently courts the sophisticated daughter of a rich Europeanised family.

***

I had been looking forward to reading this second book in the Cairo Trilogy, as I really loved Palace Walk. I was not disappointed.

The feel of this one is quite different from the first book. Whereas the first book really gave me a feeling of restriction, this one felt like it was looking for ways to be free. Free in body, but also definitely free in mind.

It mainly follow the three men of the family, the father, now a man in his sixties, and his two sons, Yasin and Kamal, as they live their lives in 1920s Cairo. The writing reflects whose thoughts and actions we are following and is quite introspective. My favourite perspective was Kamal’s, as he had such a romantic, but also inquisitive soul. His reflections were the most philosophical and I really enjoyed that. His musings on love were exquisite.

There is something about the writing that I really love. Yes, in many ways it is of its time and place, but there is also something very current and readable about it. I did not feel like I was reading a book that was written in the 1950s. There were passages in this book that were truly very beautiful and that made me smile, simply because the prose was so beautiful. Of course, I partly have the translater to thank for that, but still.

I do wish that the female characters from the first book would have gotten more page time and because of that I did not quite love this book as much as the first one, but I still really enjoyed it. A female perspective would have just added something extra that it kind of missed here and there.

It did take me a while to read the book. I do not think this is the kind of book to rush. I did not find it dense at all, but it definitely demanded attentive reading. I guess I did not really want to miss anything.

All in all, a worthy sequel to the first book and I am looking forward to reading the final book in this trilogy.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Poetry · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(Poetry) Book Thoughts: The Flowers of Evil (Charles Baudelaire)

Melancholy perfection

★★★★★★★

Title: The Flowers of Evil
Author: Charles Baudelaire
Translator: Anthony Mortimer
Genre:
 Poetry / Classic
First published: 1857
Edition: Paperback, dual language edition, published by Alma Classics in 2016

Judicially condemned in 1857 as offensive to public morality, The Flowers of Evil is now regarded as the most influential volume of poetry published in the nineteenth century. Torn between intense sensuality and profound spiritual yearning, racked by debt and disease, Baudelaire transformed his own experience of Parisian life into a work of universal significance. With his unflinching examination of the dark aspects and unconventional manifestations of sexuality, his pioneering portrayal of life in a great metropolis and his daring combination of the lyrical and the prosaic, Baudelaire inaugurated a new epoch in poetry and created a founding text of modernism.

***

I always find it hard to discuss poetry. I don’t know enough about poetry, technically speaking. I only know whether a poet’s work speaks to me or not. Well, I can confirm that Baudelaire’s poetry speaks loud and clearly. It speaks loud and clear in melancholy tones that I came to love.

The format of most of the poems is quite simple, but I can imagine how controversial the content of these poems must have been when they came out. For modern eyes they do not shock, but it was a different world back then. My modern eyes (and ears) much enjoyed reading this. His imagery is beautiful and the rhythm of his poems, mostly classical forms, just work so well.

The subject matter range from love to destruction and everything in between. There is deep sadness, despair, but also moments of admiration and yes, love. Considering his life (there was a helpful biography at the back), these poems make sense in that context. Yet, even before I knew anything about his life, his poems just clicked for me.

These poems are easy to read, but take a little bit more time to digest, just the way I like them. I will definitely be dipping in and out of this book, reading a poem here and there, in the future.

I don’t quite think this will be for everyone. The imagery can be a little crude and it does deal with sex and prostitutes rather a lot, but as a document of the time and as poetry, I thought this was exquisite.

I loved that this is a dual language edition, with the original French poem on one side and the English translation on the other. I did refer to the French versions every now and then and the rhythm felt much the same, so I can only surmise that this is a pretty good translation!

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Where The Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)

Slow start, but I ended up crying my eyes out

★★★★★★☆

Title: Where The Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
First published: 2018
Edition: Kindle e-book

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

***

It took me a little while to really get into this book, but I ended up loving it.

I love the way the marsh is like a whole other person in the story. It embraces our main character like nothing else does. She is it and it is her. There is something incredibly beautiful about the way the author described Kya’s connection to her surroundings. I love the sense of place in this.

However, there is so much sadness as well. My heart broke for her more times than I can count. My heart strings were severely tested!

The story hops between the chronical story of Kya’s life and a time line in which a murder takes place (1969) and the aftermath of that. I thought both were well done and I definitely cared about what happened to Kya.

I will the story did not grab me right away, but about a third in I was hooked and I ended up loving it. I did feel the ending was a bit overdone, but it did not take away from my enjoyment of the overall story.

If you have been wondering whether this is worth reading, I honestly think it’s a great book. It may not be for everyone, but I definitely want to check out more by this author.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Notes on a Nervous Planet (Matt Haig)

A very relatable view on anxiety in a crazy world

★★★★★★☆

Title: Notes on a Nervous Planet
Author/Narrator: Matt Haig
Genre: Non-Fiction / Mental Health
First published: 2018
Edition: Audio book

The world is messing with our minds.
Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our body mass index.
– How can we stay sane on a planet that makes us mad?
– How do we stay human in a technological world?
– How do we feel happy when we are encouraged to be anxious?

After experiencing years of anxiety and panic attacks, these questions became urgent matters of life and death for Matt Haig. And he began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him. Notes on a Nervous Planet is a personal and vital look at how to feel happy, human and whole in the twenty-first century.

***

Honestly, I got more out of this book than I expected. I love Matt Haig as a fiction writer, but this was my first non-fiction book by him. This book centres around anxiety and how the world around us influences our mental health.

I only have mild anxiety myself, but I found a lot of the things Haig talked about in this book incredibly relatable. I liked the way that he normalises anxiety and talks us through what impact the world around us has on us human beans and our amazing minds.

Although he discusses ways to combat anxiety, it is clear that he knows that there is no easy fix. In fact, he still suffers with anxiety himself. He does give us an insight in what has helped him and what may help others.

He discusses all the things that influence are mental well-being in this modern world, such as social media, horrible news stories, etc, but also acknowledges that it is incredibly hard to step away from these influences. The world is designed to keep us needing, keep us wanting, and in the end it gets us.

I love the way he rattled off lots of lists. It reminded me of the beginning and end scenes of the movie Trainspotting and I found it strangely satisfying, especially on audio, which is the way I consumed this book.

Despite the serious subject, this was a light book to get through. Matt Haig has a great tone to his work and I found it very friendly and easy-going. I think this book will be very useful for those who suffer with mental health problems. It normalises it and makes you realise you are definitely not alone.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Wilder Girls (Rory Power)

For me this just did not do enough

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Wilder Girls
Author: Rory Power
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Horror
First published: 2019
Edition: Paperback, published by Macmillan in 2019

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit. It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

***

It took me way longer to read this than it should have done. It was not a difficult book to read at all, but I just had trouble concentrating on it. Whether it was 100% due to the book I am unsure, but it failed to grab me sufficiently to suck me in.

The story itself is interesting and I did care about the characters, but at the same time I felt that I was never quite able to see their world through their eyes. I felt the author never quite gave me enough to hold on to. Maybe this is deliberate, I am not sure, but it meant that I simply failed to get lost in the story. The emotions never quite felt honest and real enough. Maybe this is because I mainly read adult books these days, but for me this was missing something in that regard.

The chapters seen from Byatt’s point of view seemed a little pointless and I do wonder whether the story would have been more effective if we had seen some events from Paretta’s point of view instead.

Although I would describe this as horror and there were some gruesome scenes, I did not find it scary or that tense. It was mysterious for sure and wonderfully weird in places, but it just did quite do enough for me and left me feeling a little deflated and unsatisfied.

If you like the premise, it is definitely worth reading, but personally I wanted a bit more from it.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Ayoade on Top (Richard Ayoade)

If life is getting you down, read this!

★★★★★★☆

Title: Ayoade on Top
Author/Narrator: Richard Ayoade
Genre: Non-Fiction / Comedy / Satire
First published: 2010
Edition: Audio book

At last, the definitive book about perhaps the best cabin crew dramedy ever filmed: View From the Top starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Ayoade argues for the canonisation of this brutal masterpiece, a film that celebrates capitalism in all its victimless glory; one we might imagine Donald Trump himself half-watching on his private jet’s gold-plated flat screen while his other puffy eye scans the cabin for fresh, young prey.”

***

This is one of those books that on the surface appears completely pointless, but at the same time I am so happy it exists, because it would brighten anyone’s day.

Jokes at the expense of a flop of a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow? Oh, god yes, sign me up!

I have known Richard Ayoade as a comedian and cinema genius for many years and he is one of those people whose dry wit just works for me. Although in many ways this book is very much just a stand-up comedy routine, it still absolutely worked.

He roasts this particular movie with such an unrelenting barrage of precision ammunation that I cannot help the fact I want to watch this clearly very crap movie right now!

He lost me a couple of times on his meanders, but overall I honestly thought this was very funny. I listened to the audio book read by Ayoade, and of course he delivers it the way it ought to be. This may have coloured my final judgement, but if you are familiar with Ayoade, I am pretty sure if you read it on the page you would recognise his voice in it quite easily.

I would definitely recommend this if you just need a bit of light entertainment in your life. This was a hoot and a half. I wonder what Gwyneth thinks…

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Thinking on my Feet (Kate Humble)

The joy of listening to this lovely book

★★★★★★☆

Title: Thinking on my Feet
Author/Narrator: Kate Humble
Genre: Non-Fiction / Mental Health / Travel
First published: 2018
Edition: Audio book/Hardback, published by Octopus Books in 2018

‘I’ve discovered that going for a daily walk has become as essential to me feeling good for the rest of the day as that first cup of tea. But I would argue that all I am doing is responding to a natural need we all have. Humans have always been migrants, the physiological urge to be nomadic is deep-rooted in all of us and perhaps because of that our brains are stimulated by walking. I solve all sorts of problems, formulate ideas, work things out to that gentle rhythm of self-propelled movement.’

***

This is the second book by TV presenter Kate Humble that I have listened to. There is something very soothing about both the way she tells her stories and the way she narrates them.

This is a diary style book about a year of walking, both close to her home and as far away as the Arctic Circle and Rwanda. She lays direct connections between the act of walking and mental well-being. She talks about the effect walking has on her own mind as well as those of others, talking about inspiring people she has met along the way for who walking has made a big difference to their lives.

I really enjoyed this one, especially on audio. It was very calming and it made me realise that I do not walk enough these days and I need to change that.

I would highly recommend this book if you enjoy a book about nature, a little bit of mental health and a lot of inspiration to get walking again.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Secret History (Donna Tartt)

This took some reading, but it was worth it

★★★★★★☆

Title: The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / Literary Fiction
First published: 1992
Edition: Hardback, published by Alfred A Knopf in 1992

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

***

When you go into a book you have certain expectations, sometimes on the quality of the book, or the amount of time it is likely going to take to read it. In case of this book all my expectations turned out to be correct. Ahead of it, I was intimidated by this book, eventhough at just over 500 pages it is not that big. I was right though. It took a lot reading for me, but in the end I am very glad I read it, because the writing is pretty incredible.

First of all, none of the characters in this book are likeable, yet, hell, did I care what was happening to them! That is very clever writing indeed. The plot, though it centres around a murder, is not incredibly exciting, but somehow it works. It really works.

The relationships between these unlikeable characters in this book was often more unlikeable than the actual individual characters. The way they used and abused each other was integral to this story. I felt frustrated with every single character at various points and that definitely really pulled me into the narrative.

I am terrible at analyzing books, so I won’t even try, but cannot remember the last time I read a book that was this dark, this well written, so dense, but such a joy to read.

I did feel it went on a bit unnecessarily in places, but overall the wordiness felt almost like another character in the book.

Was I right to be intimidated by this book? Yes. Am I glad that I did not let that stop me from reading it? Definitely. So yes, if you want to read this book, just do it, but make sure you have the time to devote to it.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

WWW Wednesdays: 17 March 2021

***

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?

Reading is quite slow at the moment, but I am reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I am about halfway. It’s very good, but it feels quite dense and takes quite a lot of reading for me.

I am listening to Thinking on my Feet by Kate Humble on audio. It’s a very soothing kind of listen. It’s about walking and nature and it makes me feel very calm.

I am also reading The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire. This is French poetry, but I don’t know enough French, so I am reading the English translation. I am not that far in, but I like the poems. I am just having trouble concentrating on them at the moment, so I have not read any for a few days. Hopefully I will go back to them once my mind has settled a bit.

What did I recently finish reading?

I finished Dominicana by Angie Cruz, which was ok for me (4/7*). I liked the overall story, but not the writing. I also finished Listening to the Animals by Noel Fitzpatrick on audio. I liked that one, but did not quite love it (5/7*).

What will I be reading next?

Not entirely sure. It depends how drained I feel after finishing The Secret History. I am also not sure what audio book to pick u next. I want to start walking again once the weather improves, so I may well be listening to more audio when that happens. There is a chance I may tackle a long classic that I have been meaning to read, but not sure yet.