Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (Theodora Goss)

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
Author: Theodora Goss
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Fantasy
First published: 2017
Edition: Kindle e-book

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes. But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

🦾🦿👤

This novel was a fun time for sure. It is one of those light-hearted books that takes a lot of the familiar and blends it into a kind of cozy mystery.

The author has taken a number of characters from novels, such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Frankenstein, the Sherlock Holmes series and Dracula and uses the reader’s familiarity with these characters to weave a new story. This one features an all-woman cast, apart from Sherlock and Watson and a few side characters, and throws them into a big adventure with a mystery to solve.

This was one of those novels that was a joy to read, including the amusing commentary from the characters themselves that are sprinkled throughout, but I am not sure it will stick in my brain for very long. Its tone was quite light and amusing.

I would happily read the next book in this series if it comes on my path, but i won’t go out of my way to continue this series.

5 out of 7 stars

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 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: In Lucia’s Eyes (Arthur Japin)

★★★★★☆☆

Title: In Lucia’s Eyes (Orginal Dutch title: Een Schitterend Gebrek)
Author: Arthur Japin
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 2003
Edition: Paperback, published by Vintage in 2006

Amsterdam 1758, and a man is artfully seducing a woman. He is, to all appearances, Monsieur le Chevalier de Seingalt; she is a courtesan, well-known in Amsterdam for the fact that she never removes her veil. He sets her a challenge: if she can find a woman who has suffered after falling in love with him, she is entitled to resist his charms; if not, she should play his game. What Seingalt doesn’t know is that he has already met the veiled woman many years ago, in another life. 

It was only when I started reading this novel that I realised that it was by a Dutch author. Had I known, I would have read it in its original language. I enjoyed the translation regardless, though I was not sold on the narrative completely.

This is actually a fictional account of the first love of Giacomo Casanova, Lucia. The author takes the facts (as recounted in Casanova’s autobiography) and imagines what her life may have been like. He does a credible job of weaving a fascinating, but tragic tale, into a story of first love and ruin.

I enjoyed much of the book, but at times I simply did not quite ‘stay’ in the story. I understood Lucia, but I never quite felt like I knew her. She always stayed kind of aloof for me. I also did not find Casanova quite convincing. The ending was bittersweet, but kind of perfect, and made up for parts of the story that did not quite work for me. It did have some beautifully written passages, which makes me inclined to re-read this in Dutch at some point.

On the whole this novel read away easily and I enjoyed the read. If you like historical fiction that is not too heavy or lengthy, this may be a book worth reading.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Power (Naomi Alderman)

★★★☆☆☆☆

Title: The Power
Author: Naomi Alderman
Genre: Fiction / Dystopian / Speculative fiction
First published: 2016
Edition: Paperback, published by Penguin in 2017

All over the world women are discovering they have the power. With a flick of the fingers they can inflict terrible pain – even death. Suddenly, every man on the planet finds they’ve lost control. The Day of the Girls has arrived – but where will it end?

⚡⚡⚡

Right. I will keep this short. Let me start by saying I had high hopes for this novel. Unfortunately for me, it just did not float my boat.

The idea and the plot seemed quite strong at the beginning, and there were times that I could almost get into the book, but something always seemed to pull be straight back out of the story. I did not get on that well with the writing. I found it dry and just not that engaging. I really had to push through the middle especially. The characters did not grab me enough to feel invested in their individual stories.

In the end I was not quite sure where the story was trying to go. Wherever I wanted it to go, it did not get there. I think I can see why people do like this book, but it clearly was not for me.

If you enjoy dystopian stories, it may be worth giving this a try. You may get on with it better than I did.

3 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Broken Wings (Kahlil Gibran)

★★★★★★★

Title: The Broken Wings (الأجنحة المتكسرة)
Author: Kahlil Gibran (Editor: Will Jonson) Pages: 44
Genre: Fiction / Classic / Poetry / Novella / Tragedy
First published: 1912
Edition: Paperback, independently published in 2014

With great sensitivity, Gibran describes his passion as a youth for Selma Karamy, the girl of Beirut who first unfolded to him the secrets of love. But it is a love that is doomed by a social convention which forces Selma into marriage with another man. Portraying the happiness and infinite sorrow of his relationship with Selma, Gibran at the same time probes the spiritual meaning of human existence with profound compassion.

Apparently it only takes 44 pages to break my heart. Oh, my word. This was the most beautiful and tragic story I have read for a long, long time.

There is so much love contained within these pages and the writing is so exquisite, it filled my heart with emotions and then proceeded to shatter it into a thousand pieces.

Written at the beginning of the twentieth century it nevertheless has a lot of modern sensibilities and the author’s views on how society treated (and unfortunately still treats) women. I feel that between his beautiful lines of prose this was very much a social commentary on the lack of choice women experienced, as well an ode to the strength as well as helplessness of love and the human spirit.

This poetic novella touched me deeply. I am not ashamed to say I cried my eyes out. Beautifully sad.

I have a longer work by this author on my shelf, but I do not think my heart can handle it just yet.

7 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

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Forty Rules of Love (Elif Shafak)

★★★★★★★

Title: The Forty Rules of Love
Author: Elif Shafak
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction / Philosophy
First published: 2009
Edition: Paperback, published in 2015 by Penguin

Ella Rubinstein has a husband, three teenage children, and a pleasant home. Everything that should make her confident and fulfilled. Yet there is an emptiness at the heart of Ella’s life – an emptiness once filled by love. So when Ella reads a manuscript about the thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, and his forty rules of life and love, her world is turned upside down. She embarks on a journey to meet the mysterious author of this work.

This was the right book at the right time. There were time I actually hugged this book. The words contained within it mean a lot. This is one of those novels that is thought provoking, but in a very gentle way. It makes you think, but it does not do so in a forceful manner.

I am of no religion, but I am fascinated with religion and spirituality and this book touched on both, with part of it set during the famous poet Rumi’s life in the 1200s and house wife Ella’s world in the late 2000s. Through the eyes Rumi and Shams and various people they encounter, this novel looks at Sufism during that time and what it meant to follow those teachings. Then through Ella’s attachment to Sufi author Aziz she starts seeing the world with fresh eyes and realise it is never too late to start on a new path, not necessarily through Sufism, but simply by letting ourselves follow our hearts.

I thought this book had some beautiful passages and messages that I know will stay me for a long time. The story made me feel a lot of things in a good way. I do not think this book is for everyone. It has a very specific tone, which I am not sure quite how to explain. It is kind of spiritual, but for me it never felt too much so. I am not that familiar with Sufism or indeed Rumi’s life, so I have no idea whether it is portrayed correctly.

Honestly, I loved this book from start to finish. I will definitely be reading more books by this author.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Truly, Madly, Greekly (Mandy Baggot)

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Truly, Madly, Greekly
Author: Mandy Baggot
Genre: Fiction / Women’s Fiction / Romance
First published: 2014
Edition: Kindle e-book

Sun, sea and a sexy stranger – a whole lot of fun just got a lot more complicated
Capable, confident and career-driven, Ellen had her dream job and a marriage proposal from boyfriend Ross. Life was good, her future set. Until it wasn’t and everything fell apart… Whisked off to the beautiful island of Corfu to plan her sister Lacey’s big, fat, Greek wedding, Ellen is hoping some time out will help clear her head and heal her heart. But letting go of her past is not going to be easy.

I felt like reading a random romance novel and I picked this one. I had read one of the author’s Christmas romances before and enjoyed it, so thought I would give one of her summer romance novels a try. After all, it is autumn, there are serious things going on in the world and we all need a bit of sunshine in our lives right now. Why not go on holiday to Greece in your mind?

I liked both characters in general. The romance between Ella and Yan was fine. I liked that this book did not involve some high and mighty male lead. In fact, Yan was probably my favourite character. I liked how the author wrote his way of speaking in. It was consistent throughout. I liked that he was Bulgarian and just doing a job in a foreign country to get by.

Ella…. What to say about Ella. I liked her well enough, but I found her story line a bit iffy to be honest. However you dress it up, she committed a serious crime and I feel to use it in a plot in this way… Yeah, not sure about that one.

I felt the romantic tension enough to enjoy it. It was not overdone. The ending was cute. There is not much more to say.

I still like Mandy Baggot’s writing, but the story left a little bit of a weird taste in my mouth so to speak. It was just fine.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Good Omens (Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman)

★★★★★★☆

Title: Good Omens
Author: Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
First published: 1990
Edition: Hardback, published by Gollancz in 2014

A somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon are not particularly looking forward to the coming Rapture. They’ve lived amongst Humanity for millennia, and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle. So if Crowley and Aziraphale are going to stop it from happening, they’ve got to find and kill the AntiChrist (which is a shame, really, as he’s a nice kid). There’s just one glitch: someone seems to have misplaced him.

👿👼

I had been meaning to read this one for a while. I watched the mini series a while ago and really enjoyed it, so I finally made the time to read the novel.

I already knew I had liked books by both authors, so I was hopeful I would enjoy this one. I was surprised to find that it took me a little while to get into, but once in I really enjoyed the read. It was just the kind of humour I enjoy and it made a nice change from what I have been reading.

The friendship between angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley is so endearing. Neither quite fits in with their own people. Both do their own thing, living their own lives, and they enjoy their earthly home and its inhabitants, so when their beloved earth is theatened by Armageddon, they clearly will have to stop it. I really loved the interplay between them.

My least favourite characters were probably the witchfinder Shadwell, Newt and Anethema. I can see that they were necessary for the plot, but they did not really add that much in my humble opinion. Adam and his gang definitely had their moments, but I did not really feel that invested.

I thought its contemporary setting was great as was the interpretation of the antichrist. I do like a novel that is a bit tongue in cheek without being overly heavy handed. It was truly joyful in places. So yes, I really loved this novel, but it did feel a bit meandering at times. It definitely could have been a bit shorter. However, it is the kind of novel I will definitely want to read again and my issues with it are minor.

I am so glad I finally picked this up.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

(audio) Books: Let Love Rule (Lenny Kravitz)

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Let Love Rule
Author/Narrator: Lenny Kravitz (with David Ritz)
Genre: Non-Fiction / Autobiography / Music / Memoir
First published: 2020
Edition: Audio book

“My life is all about opposites,” Lenny writes. “Black and white. Jewish and Christian. The Jackson 5 and Led Zeppelin. I accepted my Gemini soul. I owned it. I adored it. Yins and yangs mingled in various parts of my heart and mind, giving me balance and fueling my curiosity and comfort.”

🎸🎵🔥

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Lenny narrating the story of his youth. This is only a short memoir at under 300 pages and it covers Lenny’s life up till the release and touring of his first album Let Love Rule.

Lenny Kravitz is one of those artists that I have always liked, but that I have never really looked into. When this book came up for a book club I was actually really excited. The choice to go for the audio book was an easy one, as I already knew he had a voice that would work great for audio. I was right. His voice is so soothing to listen to.

He tells his story with a lot of heart and sincerity. He does not shy away from showing the wrong choices as well as the right ones. He paints a picture of a young man, who always knew he wanted to be a musician, but who took a while to find out who he actually was.

The narrative centres around relationships; with his parents and extended family, with friends, with girls, but also with faith. A lot of it centres around love in one way or another and it is this that makes it such a heartwarming memoir.

The memoir ends just when Lenny’s career starts to take off and I am sure there will be another book to tell that story. I kind of wish this was a bigger book that included his future career. On the other hand, the birth of his daughter and his first album makes a good conclusion to a story of a man finally finding himself.

I love that the name of the co-author is on the cover. I do not care who wrote what or who actually wrote the story. It is well told, in writing and in the narration, and I loved it.

6 out of 7 stars