Books · Poetry · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(Poetry) Book Thoughts: Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? (Mahmoud Darwish)

Exquisite prose that touched my heart even if I did not quite understand

★★★★★★☆

Title: Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? (original title: لماذا تركت الحصان وحيدًا)
Author: Mahmoud Darwish (translator: Jeffrey Sacks)
Genre: Poetry
First published: 1995 (in Arabic) / first English translation: 1999
Edition: Paperback, published by Archipelago Books in 2006

At once an intimate autobiography and a collective memory of the Palestinian people, Darwish’s intertwined poems are collective cries, songs, and glimpses of the human condition. Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? is a poetry of myth and history, of exile and suspended time, of an identity bound to his displaced people and to the rich Arabic language. Darwish’s poems – specific and symbolic, simple and profound – are historical glimpses, existential queries, chants of pain and injustice of a people separated from their land.

***

There is something about Arabic poetry that touches me deeply. Maybe it is the words used, maybe the symbolism and metaphores, the imagery, the different emotions…. I am not entirely sure. All I know is that it touches my heart.

I will not pretend to understand what this poetry book is trying to say, but the imagery and the words are beautiful. At times they moved me to tears or made me smile. I got themes of displacement, the human effects of war, home, insecurity, transience and love in its many forms… Yes, I admit that much of it went over my head. I often did not understand the metaphores or symbolism. And you know what? I am ok with that. It only means that I will need to let it simmer and I will want to return to it at a later date, to drench myself in these exquisite words again. Maybe then I will gleam something different from them. Maybe then I will grasp some of the deeper meaning. Or I may just enjoy the beautiful prose.

Whatever the author is trying to say, it means something to me. Maybe it does not matter whether I got their meaning exactly, I felt something, and when a poetry book does that it makes me happy. I do not need to understand implicitly. I just need to feel it.

I definitely want to read more from this author.

6 out of 7 stars

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 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Blood and Bone (Paula Dombrowiak)

A rockstar romance with more serious undertones

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Blood and Bone
Author: Paula Dombrowiak
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Fiction / Adult Romance
First published: 2020
Edition: e-book, kindly provided by the author

Jack O’Donnell’s life was teetering on the edge. Forced, as a teenager, to make a decision that would change his life forever, he left his hometown to pursue a music career with collaborator Mia Stone. Living in a van by the beach was not the glamorous Los Angeles lifestyle they had envisioned but sparked the most creative time of their lives. Making it big was all they ever wanted but when it happened, friendships were tested, hearts were broken, and lives were changed forever.
Erin Langford is a seasoned journalist tasked with writing a feature on Jack O’Donnell. Being at the right place at the right moment puts Erin in a unique position to get the story, but at what cost? Having preconceived notions about Jack’s rock star image, she learns there is more to a story than just the headlines. 

🎸🎹🎸

I agreed to read and review this book because there are two things I love most of all: books and music. This is a fiction book about music. Nuff said.

Now, I always find adult romance very hit and miss, particularly when it comes to rockstar romances. They just make me cringe far too often. Yet, the synopsis of this one sounded good, so I wanted to give this one a try. I am glad I did, because I actually felt the story portrayed within these pages is really well told.

The (anti)hero’s story was very well developed and his messed-up character completely made sense in the arc of his story. His complicated relationships with his ex-wife and his bandmate Mia were well told. I definitely cared about his story.

I think Erin’s character felt a little flat in comparison. I really did not get much of a feel for her at all, which was ashame. Whereas the attraction between Jack and Mia was very well written indeed, I just did not feel that the tentative relationship between Jack and Erin had much depth.

The author did a great job in large parts of the book in writing tension and connection in particular, but the intimate scenes were less successful. There was one scene with dubious consent that was glossed over a bit too quickly, which I was a little uncomfortable with. However, I will say that this book focuses far more on the backstory than on the actual sexy times, which is something I did really appreciate.

Overall, I did enjoy this romance and I would recommend it if you enjoy a rockstar romance. It is a good one.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Palace Walk (Naguib Mahfouz)

Simultaneously expansive and claustrophobic

★★★★★★☆

Title: Palace Walk (original Arabic title: Bayn al-Qastayn)
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Translator: William Maynard Hutchins
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction / Classic / Middle East
First published: 1956 (in Arabic)
Edition: Paperback, published by Black Swan in 1994

Set against the backdrop of Britain’s occupation of Egypt immediately after World War I, Palace Walk introduces us to the Al Jawad family. Ahmad, a middle-class shopkeeper runs his household strictly according to the Qur’an while at night he explores the pleasures of Cairo. A tyrant at home, Ahmad forces his gentle, oppressed wife and two daughters to live cloistered lives behind the house’s latticed windows, while his three very different sons live in fear of his harsh will. 

***

When I went in search of Middle Eastern classics this was one that came up time and time again. Now I have finished it, I can see why.

I thoroughly enjoyed this often claustrophobic tale of a family living in Cairo around 1919. It starts out sketching the family situation. The father, who is strict with his family, but fun-loving and outgoing at nighttime with his friends and lady lovers. The mother and two daughter, who do not leave the house without his permission, and his sons, each struggling to find a place under his tyranic roof.

Most of the book concentrates on the domestic situation, but as tensions rise in Cairo in 1919, politics starts to penetrate even this most closed-off of households.

This is a beautifully written saga set in a place and time very different from what I am used to. The characters felt very human, with strengths and flaws. My ignorance of this period of history in Egypt and its customs did not inhibit my enjoyment of this book. In fact it was fascinating.

The translator must have done a great job, because it flowed really well. This was not quick read and I did not expect it to be, but it was one I thoroughly enjoyed. There were only a few places where my attention wavered, but I was always pulled back in quite soon.

There are two more books in the Cairo Trilogy and I will definitely read those, because I want to know how the story of this family continues.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 27 January 2021

It is the last WWW of January 2021 already. I can see the bulbs are already starting to grow in the garden in a first glimpse that spring will be here in not too long. I can’t wait. It’s been a long wet winter already.

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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 am I currently reading?

I am only reading one book at the moment, which is Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. It’s a Middle Eastern classic and the first book in the Cairo Trilogy. I am halfway through Palace Walk and I am enjoying it a lot. It feels quite sweeping and quite claustrophobic at the same time. It’s really well written and the translator seems to have done a very good job! The book was published in Arabic in the 1950s, but it is set in 1910s Cairo and centres around one family. So far, so good! I definitely want to pick up the other two books in this series.

What have I finished reading?

It has been a very productive week, readingwise!

First of all, I finished all three of last week’s reads. Things The Grandchildren Should Know, by Eels frontman E (Mark Oliver Everett), was a book about a tragic life with a good outcome, but I never warmed to the author. He came across a little bit aloof and not that likable. It is a good memoir though (5*).

I finished listening to Greenlights, another memoir of sorts, this time by actor Matthew McConaughey. This was a joy to listen to. It as a very dynamic memoir with lots of life advice and bumper sticker wisdom. (6*)

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke was a novel I picked up on my Kindle at random and I absolutely loved it! It was strange and mysterious and just absolutely lovely! (7*)

I also read a little book called How To Write One Song by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. It was an excellent guide on how to motivate yourself to be creative. This was specifically about songwriting, but really it could apply to any creative craft. It was really well written and thought out and it was a joy to read. (6*)

Finally, I read John Cooper Clarke’s poetry collection Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt, which I really loved as well. I just really enjoy his poetry and its gritty wisdoms. His use of words is second to none.

What will I read next?

I have a single NetGalley book I should get to, which is Off The Charts by Kat Goldman. I hardly ever request books from NetGalley these days, but this one sounded right up my street!

I have been reading so many music books recently and I have been enjoying it a lot.

Books · TBR Review

20 for 2020 TBR: Review

I am so glad I have managed to read al 20 books that were on my 2020 TBR. The list included fifteen works of fiction and five non-fiction books. I will likely have a similar ratio for my 2021 TBR. I do think that having this yearly TBR focused my reading and actually made me read the books I wanted to read. That may not make sense, but it really did help me. I will be setting my 2021 TBR shortly.

These were all books I really wanted to read, but there were quite a few I ended up not loving. Of the 20 books three were 7-star reads, ie new favourites, which were How To Stop Time by Matt Haig, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland and Wilding by Isabella Tree. Both will appear in my ‘favourite books I read this year’-list, I am sure. To my surprise beside that I only had five 6-star reads. The rest of the books i rated 5 stars or lower (seven 5-star reads, four 4-star reads and one 3-star read). I had definitely expected to lover more of these books.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett was the first book I read off this TBR and the last one was The Book of Lost Things, which I finished last week. Both of these were disappointing reads at only 4 stars.

I will be taking nine of these books off my shelf to find new homes for.

2021

I have a feeling my 2021 TBR will be looking a bit different, I should be completing and posting that one before the end of the year. Again, all the books on this TBR will be books I actually already have on my shelves.

I am still deciding whether to set a 2021 series TBR or not. I really did not read that many series in 2020. I managed to complete a few, so I am not complaining, but I definitely did not read/complete as many as I had hoped. Still, I would love to get back into reading more fantasy. I may start with reading some standalone fantasy books and completing the ones I am already books into.

What books are likely to be on your 2021 TBR?

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 25 November 2020

This reading week has been kind of slow, but I don’t think I mind too much.

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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 am I currently reading?

I am about halfway through The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. I am reading quite slowly right now, but I am enjoying it. It’s a light read so far and it’s fun. I love that there are characters from all sorts of classic (monster) literature in there.

I have also started listening to Black and British by David Olusoga. I am a couple of chapters in and it’s so interesting. This is a long audio book (25 hours!) and it may be interrupted by something else, so I may be in it for the long haul. However, I really like it so far. So much information on a subject I sadly know too little about.

I did also pick up Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, but I have not read on yet, favouring fiction for actual reading right now. I will probably pick it back up in the coming week.

What have I recently finished reading?

I finished my previous audio book, which was I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke. I loved that one. He is such good storyteller and his voice is so distinctive. I would highly recommend the audio book. I will be diving into some of his work soon.

I also finished In Lucia’s Eyes by Arthur Japin almost a week ago. It was an enjoyable read, but to be honest it did not really stick at all.

What will I be reading next?

I am really in the mood for some more poetry, so there may be some of that coming. Not sure what yet. I have a few poetry books that I could pick up.

Books · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: I Wanna Be Yours (John Cooper Clarke)

★★★★★★☆

Title: I Wanna Be Yours
Author: John Cooper Clarke
Genre: Non-Fiction / Autobiography
First published: 2020
Edition: Audio book & hardback, published by Picador in 2020

Poet Laureate of Punk, fashion icon, TV and radio presenter, social and cultural commentator. At 5′ 11′ (8 stone, 32 inch chest, 27 inch waist), in trademark suit jacket, skin-tight drainpipes and dark glasses, with jet-black back-combed hair and mouth full of gold teeth, John Cooper Clarke is instantly recognisable. As a writer his voice is equally unmistakable.

John Cooper Clarke is one of those people, who is such a cultural phenomenon, yet I did not know that much about him. When I heard that he was publishing this book I was very excited to read it. I am glad I did. It was a joy to listen to him tell his story. He has such a recognisable voice and way of speaking.

This is a pretty straightforward autobiography, but it is well-told and has a sense of humour that is very on point, but not too overdone. This is a man who has been there done that, but always seems to have been unapologetically himself. I love that. He talks us through his years trying to make a career for himself and gaining some success and recognition. He also talks us through his time as a heroine addict and recovery. Life has clearly not always been sunshine and roses, but though he talks about the low points, he does not linger on the negative.

The title of the book is the title of perhaps now his most famous poem, thanks in part to the Arctic Monkeys, who turned its words into a song, which is on their AM album. But there is so much more to this man than that poem. He is a fascinating individual, but at the end of the book he actually seems like someone you would enjoy having a drink with, who has stories to tell, but who knows life and happiness cannot be taken for granted, who can laugh at himself and root for others.

The book itself never becomes oversentimental, but always stays focussed on telling a life story worth telling and on the positive side of life. This and his wonderful turn of phrase is this autobiography’s strength in my opinion.

I would highly recommend the audio book. It gives you such a sense of who this man is. I am looking forward to (re)exploring some of his work.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Poetry · Reviews

(Poetry) Book Thoughts: Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass (Lana Del Rey)

★★★★★★☆

Title: Violent Bent Over The Grass Backwards
Author: Lana Del Rey
Genre: Poetry
First published: 2020
Edition: Hardback, published by Simon and Schuster in 2020

“Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass is the title poem of the book and the first poem I wrote of many. Some of which came to me in their entirety, which I dictated and then typed out, and some that I worked laboriously picking apart each word to make the perfect poem. They are eclectic and honest and not trying to be anything other than what they are and for that reason I’m proud of them, especially because the spirit in which they were written was very authentic.” —Lana Del Rey

🌸🌸🌸

I bought this poetry book on a whim. I have been listening to the author’s music quite a lot lately. It always touches me, so I figured maybe her poetry would as well. It did.

There is something very lyrical, but real and heartfelt about her prose. It took me a few poems to get used to the rhythm and feel of her writing, but by the end I really loved it. I loved how her poems are irregular and almost jarring at times. It made sense in the themes of this work, which seems to be an exploration of life and self and maybe acceptance as well, her place in this immediate world she is existing in.

I enjoyed this thoroughly and the photographs scattered throughout and the way her typed pages are printed in the book give it a great feel. The hardback was a joy to read.

I definitely want to listen to her reading this work, but as a poetry book it already hit the right spot for me.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Call Me By Your Name (André Aciman)

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Call Me By Your Name
Author: André Aciman
Genre: Fiction / Romance / LGBTQ+
First published: 2007
Edition: Paperback, published by Atlantic Books in 2017

A romance blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.

*

I have only very hesitantly put this novel in the category of romance, because it is not actually a very romantic book. It is about ‘a’ romance, but the way it is presented is not necessarily romantic.

I wanted to read this novel after seeing the movie (which is very good by the way), but I cannot deny that I was slightly hesitant. This appears to be one of those really polarizing books, where people either absolutely adore it, or hate it. As is not unusual, I fall somewhere in between. It is slightly pretentious, but I that is one of the things I happen to like about it. It is pretentious, because our narrator, Elio, is a rather precocious, dramatic seventeen-year-old. It would be weird if it was not pretentious! It made it more believable for me.

Let me start of by saying, despite reviews, there were no scenes in here that made me feel uncomfortable. Yes, there were some rather ‘interesting’ bits, but nothing too offensive or too shocking. I was just slightly bemused at times by the goings-on.

The book is the kind of the stream-of-consciousness novel that I really enjoy, and I am not sure why it did not quite hit the sweet spot (pun possibly intended). I enjoyed the writing, though there were sentences here and that may have caused me to raise an eyebrow. The drawn-out ending was a bit unnecessarily in my honest opion, but it did not bother me too much.

This may be one of those books that gets better on a second reading, so I hope to do that in the future.

5 out of 7 stars