Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Transcription (Kate Atkinson)

I must have missed something…

★★★☆☆☆☆

Title: Transcription
Author: Kate Atkinson
Genre: Fiction / Historical
First published: 2018
Edition: Paperback, published in 2019 by Back Bay Books

In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever.
Ten years later, now a radio producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

***

I was disappointed with this one to be honest. I absolutely loved Life After Life and was looking forward to reading something else by this author. Unfortunately, the premise sounded way more exciting than the execution of the plot.

I often like quiet books, but throughout this novel I was just waiting for something to happen and it never really did. The characters did not come alive on the page and neither did the storyline. I cannot help feeling like I missed something.

There is still something about the writing that I enjoyed, but the story itself just did not do anything for me and to be honest, I just don’t have much more to say about it.

This one was not for me, but maybe someone else will get more out of it.

3 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Nobody Ever Asked Me About The Girls (Lisa Robinson)

So you’re going to be nasty about women in music, are you?

★★☆☆☆☆☆

Title: Nobody Ever Asked me About The Girls
Author: Lisa Robinson
Genre: Non-Fiction / Music / Culture
First published: 2020
Edition: Hardback, published by Henry Holt in 2020

Lisa Robinson’s interviews with and observations of fabulous female pop and rock stars, from Tina Turner and Alanis Morrissette to Rihanna, show how these powerhouse women, all with vastly different life experiences, fell in love with music, seized their ambitions, and changed pop culture.

***

Last year I read There Goes Gravity by this author, which I did not love, but liked well enough and which was interesting. I love reading books about music and pop culture, and figured I don’t read enough books about women in music. From the premise of this book this seemed like a good place to start. Oh boy, was I wrong…

The author is well-respected music writer, so I am not sure why, throughout this book, she just comes across very bitter and so negative. I don’t know her reasons for being so venomous about so many women in music, but she came across incredibly dismissive of many of them. Obviously, you cannot like all artists. God knows I don’t, but sometimes she seemed to lash into them with no other reason than just plain dislike. I mean, I couldn’t give two hoots about the artists she slagged off, but it just came across bitter and unnecessary. It was odd to me.

Nobody is asking her to sugarcoat everything, but some bits in this book really left a nasty taste, which I really did not appreciate. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, but there is never a reason to be nasty. If an artist has made it big despite not having the greatest of voices? Still show some respect – they have worked hard. There’s no need.

I had expected more from this book and was very disappointed by the tone it took. Maybe it was my fault for expecting a book to champion all those female musicians/singers/artists that are normally overshadowed by their male counter parts. This was definitely not that. It was ever so slightly redeemed by the last couple of chapters being less bitchy, but overall, this really was not for me and I would not recommend this book at all.

2 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Middle East (Bernard Lewis)

A very useful overview of an historically turbulent region

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years
Author: Bernard Lewis
Genre: Non-Fiction / World History
First published: 1995
Edition: Hardback, published by Scribner Book Company in 1996

In this immensely readable and broad history, Lewis charts the successive transformations of the Middle East, beginning with the two great empires, the Roman and the Persian, whose disputes divided the region two thousand years ago; the development of monotheism and the growth of Christianity; the astonishingly rapid rise and spread of Islam over a vast area; the waves of invaders from the East and the Mongol hordes of Jengiz Khan; the rise of the Ottoman Turks in Anatoia, the Mamluks in Egypt and the Safavids in Iran; the peak and decline of the great Ottoman states; and the changing balance of power between the Muslim and Christian worlds.

***

I have been reading quite a few novels set in the Middle East, or with a Middle Eastern inspired cultural setting, in the last couple of years. This book had been sitting on my shelf for about three years, but I figured it was time to read it. I love history, but I do tend to find books about history intimidating and I am not quick to pick to them up. I am glad I did finally read this, because I learned a lot.

Yes, the writing is reasonably dry, but to be honest, it’s a history book, a book that condenses 2000 years of turbulent history into less than 400 pages, so there is a lot information cramped in there. I think therein lay both its strength and its weakness. For me personnally it was very useful to have this big overview of what happened and influenced this region over these 2000 years. It helped me see why the region is in such turmoil still and also which bits of its history are the most interesting and fascinating to me.

This book was published in the mid-nineties, and many major events have had huge impact on the region since and turmoil continues to shape that part of the world. Obviously that chunk of history, the last fifteen years, are missing, but that did not make this book any less valid or interesting for me.

The author clearly looks at the region from a European/Western point of view, which I guess is fair as the author is British, but every now and then the viewpoint is overwhelmingly western and made me want to read the same history, but from a viewpoint from within the region. I wonder how different it would be. Obviously many of the facts would be the same, but the slant may well be different.

I do feel like have a better understanding of everything that is and has been going on in the Middle East and I feel much wiser for having read this book. It also made me realise I want to read books about world history. More about the Middle East, but also about other regions of the world that I do not know that much about. That even goes for Europe, to be honest. There is so much to know and so much to learn.

I would recommend this book if you don’t want to zoom in on a particular conflict or aspect of politics or culture, but are looking for an overview of the history of this part of the world. It is definitely worth reading. Just keep in mind that it is not necessarily without bias.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Love Heart Lane (Christie Barlow)

An enjoyable winter romance set in a Scottish Highlands village

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Love Heart Lane
Author: Christie Barlow
Genre: Fiction/ Contemporary/Romance
First published: 2019
Edition: Kindle e-book

When Flick Simons returns to the small village of Heartcross she only expected to stay for a few days. The white-washed cottages of Love Heart Lane might be her home, but the place holds too many painful memories, and of one man in particular – Fergus Campbell. When a winter storm sweeps in, the only bridge connecting the village to the main land is swept away! As the villagers pull together, Flick finds herself welcomed back by the friends she once left behind. And as the snow begins to melt, maybe there is a chance that Fergus’s heart will thaw too…

❄❄❄

Sometimes you just need some light reading and for the most part this is exactly what this was. There was a sweet second-chance romance and a whole bunch of characters I enjoyed.

This one did start stronger than it ended, but I enjoyed it as a whole. A couple of plot devices towards the middle felt a little unnecessary, even if I understood why the author chose to use them. Unfortunately it really took a little bit of enjoyment out of the book for me.

As a whole, I liked the writing and it read away just as easily as I needed it to. The setting was nice and the relationship between Felicity and Fergus was for the most part believable. Felicity did annoy me at times, but I liked most of her characterisation.

Despite this not being a Christmas romance – it takes place just after New Year – it starts off very wintery and it was perfect for this time of year.

I would definitely read more in this light romance series, as I did enjoy the author’s writing. It was never too cute and there were no eyerolls on my part! I just did not enjoy some of the plot devices as much.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Poetry · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(Poetry) Books Thoughts: The Crown Ain’t Worth Much (Hanif Abdurraqib)

Powerful, so powerful, yet so vulnerable

★★★★★★☆

Title: The Crown Ain’t Worth Much
Author: Hanif Abdurraqib
Genre: Poetry
First published: 2016
Edition: Paperback, published by Button Poetry in 2016

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s first full-length collection, is a sharp and vulnerable portrayal of city life in the United States. A regular columnist for MTV.com, Willis-Abdurraqib brings his interest in pop culture to these poems, analyzing race, gender, family, and the love that finally holds us together even as it threatens to break us.

***

There is something so raw and heartfelt about this author’s work. I love how it is powerful and vulnerable at the same time. Angry, and sad. Hope and hopelessness hand in hand. The world is both beautiful and incredible, ugly and unfair.

Throughout this collection of poetry, with poems written and musings written over a decade or more, there’s a thread of being black in America, of being young and black. Of the dark cloud of danger that runs through the black lives he knows.

Often these poems read like streams of consciousness, a unspooling of love, fear, anger, bitterness and a touch of nostalgia. His experience is not me. I am neither black, male or living in a big city in the US. His is not my world. Yet, in the end this world is mine and these words, these emotions, these feelings matter so much and should be heard and read. I do not think it matters who you are or where you are. If you don’t feel these words. If they don’t touch you… Then I don’t understand.

Something that Hanif Abdurraqib and I have in common, what drew me to him in the first place, is his passion for music. He weaves it through all his prose and poetry. It’s always there in the background, soundtracking his thoughts. I love that it does, as it does the same for me.

I would encourage anyone to pick up this author’s work. He’s an incredibly emotive writer writing so naturally about important issues. Highly recommended.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Architect’s Apprentice (Elif Shafak)

A very enjoyable well researched tale set in Istanbul

★★★★★★☆

Title: The Architect’s Apprentice
Author: Elif Shafak
Genre: Fiction / Historical
First published: 2013
Edition: Kindle e-book

Sixteenth century Istanbul: a stowaway arrives in the city bearing an extraordinary gift for the Sultan. The boy is utterly alone in a foreign land, with no worldly possessions to his name except Chota, a rare white elephant destined for the palace menagerie. So begins an epic adventure that will see young Jahan rise from lowly origins to the highest ranks of the Sultan’s court. Along the way he will meet deceitful courtiers and false friends, gypsies, animal tamers, and the beautiful, mischievous Princess Mihrimah. He will journey on Chota’s back to the furthest corners of the Sultan’s kingdom and back again. And one day he will catch the eye of the royal architect, Sinan, a chance encounter destined to change Jahan’s fortunes forever.

🐘🐘🐘

There is something about Elif Shafak’s writing I loved in the first book by her I read (Forty Rules of Love) and it is the same thing I love here. Her writing is full of detail and descriptions and yet manages not to get bogged down in them.

Here she spins a tale set in 16th century Istanbul, weaving fact and fiction together expertly. In her note at the end she explains why she chose to change some actual events and yes, it works. It works really well.

In many Middle Eastern tales love rarely ends in happily ever after. Maybe to have love and lost has more poetry to it than just to love. I think more than a touch of this premise runs through this story as well. I really enjoyed our main character’s journey as he goes up in life, as we follow in him through the years, even decades.

Love in many forms run though this story; Jahan’s inappropriate love for a sultan’s daughter, the love for his white elephant Chota and the love for his master, the royal architect.

And in the meantime we learn about the mosques in the city, why they were built and for whom. I loved the details about the building work.

Interestingly enough, kind of by coincidence I was reading a non-fiction book about the history of the Middle East as I was reading this one and it really helped me grasp some of the historical context.

I plan to read more from this author soon. I really enjoy her writing.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Creation Stories (Alan McGee)

This should have been so much more interesting

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Creation Stories
Author: Alan McGee (audio narrator: Phil McKee)
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Music
First published: 2013
Edition: audio book

Alan McGee’s role in shaping British culture over the past thirty years is hard to overstate. As the founder of Creation Records he brought us the music that defined an era. A charismatic Glaswegian who partied just as hard as any of the bands on his notoriously dissolute label, he became a star himself.

📻🎶🎸🥁

Alan McGee’s story really is quite interesting, but I do not think he did himself justice in writing this book. Maybe he needed a better ghostwriter, because what should have been a fascinating book was just a reeling off of highs and lows and names.

I know I am being hard on this book, but I have read parts of McGee’s story from a different perspective and found it really interesting. I figured it would be great to hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Now, I understand that McGee is pretty no nonsense and maybe that is exactly what this account of his life is. I am not sure. It just did not really do much for me.

Creation Records were a phenomenon in the 90s, synonymous with Oasis and some other decent 90s bands like Primal Scream. In a way they were a part of my youth, Alan McGee with it. This was the reason that I picked this up.

Oddly, the bits that I found most interesting in the book were his early years in Glasgow and the final years with The Libertines and into his stepping back from the music business. Those middle years, spanning the 90s especially, was a bit of a mess, both for him in his life and the book. Maybe art does reflect life, I am not sure, but it did not flow well at all. I found it very jarring and disjointed.

Of course, the man is free to tell his story whichever way he wants. I just feel that there were opportunities missed here and I found that incredibly frustrating. Hence I am being hard on this one.

Disappointing, but there were interesting bits and McGee’s life is a story worth telling.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Elatsoe (Darcie Little Badger)

Completely original, completely amazing

★★★★★★★

Title: Elatsoe
Author: Darcie Little Badger
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Fantasy
First published: 2020
Edition: Hardback, published by Levine Querido in 2020

Imagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream. There are some differences. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day. Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.

🐶🏡🐶

I have found my favourite Young Adult novel. The story felt so original and the writing was just the perfect tone for it.

I did have high hopes for this novel, as it sounded right up my street. I am so glad that it was. There is something about the characters and the story itself that just hit all the right spots.

The novel manages to walk on that fine line between feeling light hearted and easy to read and actually dealing with some pretty dark subjects. That is a tricky thing to do, but the author manages to do that so perfectly. Grief, family, friendship, connection, racism, the atrocities of history are all touched upon without every being overwhelming.

Also, it was so refreshing to read a YA book without a romance in it, with a focus on family and friendship.

The type of story this is does expect you to just submerge yourself into this world the author has created. If that is something you struggle with, this may not be for you. I love this kind of story. I don’t need everything explained. I was happy just to be in this world with the characters.

There was something truly magical about this book and I absolutely loved it. Also, the hardback feels so good in my hands, so heavy and sturdy! The illustrations by Rovina Cai are absolutely gorgeous as well. Overall, a wonderful reading experience.

7 out of 7 stars – a new favourite!

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Essex Serpent (Sarah Perry)

This simply felt rather rudderless

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: The Essex Serpent
Author: Sarah Perry
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 2016
Edition: Paperback published by Serpent’s Tail in 2016

Moving between Essex and London, myth and modernity, Cora Seaborne’s spirited search for the Essex Serpent encourages all around her to test their allegiance to faith or reason in an age of rapid scientific advancement. At the same time, the novel explores the boundaries of love and friendship and the allegiances that we have to one another. The depth of feeling that the inhabitants of Aldwinter share are matched by their city counterparts as they strive to find the courage to express and understand their deepest desires, and strongest fears.

🐍🐍🐍

This is one of those books that I feel I should have loved, but I simply did not. The story that enfolded within its pages just did not move me as much as I feel it should have done. It started out so strong and it just fizzled out for me.

The writing is in parts lovely and I enjoyed the period setting. I enjoyed the descriptions of Essex and the natural world, but it was not enough for me to keep being invested in the plot, which seemed to meander a bit without aim.

Initially the characters did really endear themselves to me. Now, I am a big fan of character led stories, but as the story went on, I just no longer understood their actions and thoughts. I lost them somewhere along the way

This is one of those novels that I can see some people will love, but for me it just did not quite do enough plot and character wise. I need one of the two!

This one was just ok for me.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Rough Magic (Lara Prior-Palmer)

This could/should have been so good…

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Rough Magic
Author: Lara Prior-Palmer (Audio Narrator: Tamaryn Payne)
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir /Travel
First published: 2019
Edition: Audio / Hardback published by Ebury Press in 2019

The Mongol Derby is the world’s toughest horse race. An outrageous feat of endurance across the vast Mongolian plains once traversed by the army of Genghis Khan, the Derby sees competitors ride 25 horses across 1000km, and it’s rare that more than half of the riders make it to the finish line. In 2013 Lara Prior-Palmer – nineteen, wildly underprepared and in search of the great unknown – decided to enter the race. Finding on the wild Mongolian steppe strength and self-knowledge she didn’t know she possessed, even whilst caught in biblical storms and lost in the mountains, Lara tore through the field with her motley crew of horses. She didn’t just complete the race: in one of the Derby’s most unexpected results, she won, becoming the youngest-ever competitor to conquer the course.

🏇🐴🏇

This is one of those books that feels like a missed opportunity. At its heart, the story of a nineteen-year-old girl winning a 1000km horse race through Mongolia is the stuff of adventure books and it deserved to be written like just that: an adventure. Instead, the author chooses to present herself as a privileged millennial.

I know that sounds harsh, but I liked this book. It was the tone and the places where the author chose to put the emphasis that bothered me. I do not think the narrator helped things. She sounded snarky and maybe a softer, more gentle narration may have helped the book.

In the end, I did enjoy the listen overall. It was interesting to learn about how this race is run and the kind of characters that participate. Sometimes, the author even wrote quite nice paragraphs. In a way that was more frustrating as I felt if she had waited a bit to hone her writing skills, which she clearly has, this would have been a much better book.

It certainly was not a bad book and I did not dislike it. The style of writing and the somewhat smug tone just bothered me. I will pass this book on to a young horse lover, who will probably enjoy it more than I did.

4 out of 7 stars