Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Exit West (Mohsin Hamid)

An intriguing novel that I wish had done a bit more

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Exit West
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Genre: Fiction / magical realism
First published: 2017
Edition: Kindle e-book

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, thrust into premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As violence and the threat of violence escalate, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through  . . .

***

I have been meaning to read this one for a good while. The idea of the story just sounded intriguing to me. I enjoyed this one, but the execution left me a little frustrated at times.

The commentary on migrants and using the doors to move people between countries and continents was so interesting. I really liked that angle. The writing however, though I respected it and found it easy to read, just felt a little distant. It felt rather clinical and it is not a style I prefer. That is not to say that I did not like the book. I definitely did. I just felt like I wanted to go a little deeper into the relationship between Nadia and Saeed and this version of our world they live in.

The world and society changed a lot in the background of this novel, but you never quite get an idea of how it changed or how it works. On one hand I kind of like that, because it focuses on two specific people and their very limited focus. However, there are other points of view sprinkled throughout that give a bit more information and I found it frustrating that they were not explored a bit more.

I did enjoy this one and I would definitely read more by this author, but I did find I may have wanted a bit more from a storyline I really liked.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Gold Dust (Ibrahim al-Koni)

You have to in a certain frame of mind for this one

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Gold Dust
Author: Ibrahim al-Koni (Libya)
Translator:
Elliot Colla (from Arabic)
Genre: Literary Fiction
First published: 1990
Edition: Paperback, published by Hoopoe in 2020

Rejected by his tribe and hunted by the kin of the man he killed, Ukhayyad and his thoroughbred camel flee across the desolate Tuareg deserts of the Libyan Sahara. Between bloody wars against the Italians in the north and famine raging in the south, Ukhayyad rides for the remote rock caves of Jebel Hasawna. There, he says farewell to the mount who has been his companion through thirst, disease, lust, and loneliness. Alone in the desert, haunted by the prophetic cave paintings of ancient hunting scenes and the cries of jinn in the night, Ukhayyad awaits the arrival of his pursuers and their insatiable hunger for blood and gold.

🐪🐫🐪

This is exactly the kind of oddball book I expect to like, being about a man and his camel. And yes, I did like it, but I did not love it. I am not sure whether it was the book or just my current mood.

What I did love about this book was how natural the way the main character cared about his piebald camel came across. It felt authentic and I believed it. However, every now and then the story itself lost me and it would take a page or two to be pulled back into the narrative. I found myself a little too easily distracted, but that could well be due to me being a bit scatterbrained at the moment.

I do think this is a novel I will re-read at another time and that will grow on me on said future re-read.

I am not quite sure who to recommend this book to, but if you like the sound of a novel about a man hanging out in the desert with his camel and making bad decisions, this may well be for you!

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The House with the Golden Door (Elodie Harper)

Just as good as the first one!

★★★★★★☆

Title: The House with the Golden Door (Wolf Den Trilogy #2)
Author: Elodie Harper (UK)
Genre: Fiction / Historical fiction
First published: 12 May 2022 by Head of Zeus
Edition: E-ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

The life of a courtesan in Pompeii is glittering, yet precarious… Amara has escaped her life as a slave in the town’s most notorious brothel, but now her existence depends on the affections of her patron: a man she might not know as well as she once thought.

***

After having read (and loved) The Wolf Den last month, I was very eager to read this one. I am glad to say it did not disappoint. Maybe it was a touch less eventful than the first book, but it just worked for me.

I loved being back with Amara as she negotiates a tricky tightrope of love and life as the concubine of her rich patron. Of course things never go smoothly and it is harder to leave her life at The Wolf Den behind as she initially thought.

There is something very human about the way the author writes Amara’s story as she goes through to day to day life. You feel her anxiety, her hopelessness AND her hope. You feel like you are in Pompeii, like you understand the lives these slaves and she-wolves lead. How trapped they are. I even felt like I understood Felix in one way or another, the way his vileness was created in his past.

As it is supposed to, the love story in this one is heartbreaking and it is hard to see a happy outcome. Yet you hope along with Amara that there will be one day.

If you have not yet started this series, what are you waiting for?!

6 out of 7 stars

You can find my rather rambly reading diary whilst I was reading this one here.

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Spring (William Horwood)

A mess of a book with interesting characters that I still enjoyed!

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Spring (Hyddenworld #1)
Author: William Horwood
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
First published: 2010
Edition: Hardcover, published by Macmillan in 2010

It has lain lost and forgotten for fifteen hundred years in the ancient heartland of England – a scrap of glass and metal melded by fierce fire. It is the lost core of a flawless Sphere made by the greatest of the Anglo-Saxon CraeftLords in memory of the one he loved. Her name was Spring and contained in the very heart of this work is a spark from the Fires of Creation. But while humans have lost their belief in such things, the Hydden – little people existing on the borders of our world – have not. Breaking the silence of centuries they send one of their own, a young boy, Jack, to live among humans in the hope that he may one day find what has been lost for so long. His journey leads him to Katherine, a girl he rescues from a tragic accident – it’s a meeting that will change everything.

***

I have very mixed feeling about this one. This was a re-read and unfortunately I don’t think it got any better on re-read. However, I find saying whether this is a good or a bad book a very complicated matter.

Here’s the deal: the story itself is really quite interesting, but the execution is not great. This is probably a combination of the author and the editor not doing a good enough job (in my opinion). Sometimes it feels very bitty with abrupt scene changes that are confusing. Also, some bits are drawn out and others are a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of affairs. I just found it very patchy.

However, the picture it paints of the Hyddenworld and its characters is well done. Inbetween the lines, I liked this story quite a bit. Though at the end I did not enjoy the execution that much, I am still curious to see where it is going, so I will definitely read on in the series. The idea of a world living in tandem with the real world has been done before, but I still enjoyed this idea of these peoples Horwood describes in this book. I loved how he integrated the Henges, etc, and some English folklore. I just wish everything was bit more explained.

It kind of feels that this book was written by an experienced writer, who forgot about the audience he was writing for, and a publisher that did not put enough effort in to point out this fact. To me it basically felt like a first draft that should have been fleshed out here and there, that needed the kinks ironing out still. Sometimes it felt like an adult book, sometimes like a Middle Grade. It’s like it just did not know what it wanted to be.

I guess despite my criticisms I still enjoyed it and since I am still keen to continue the series, it was good enough.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Horses Never Lie (Mark Rashid)

A horsemanship book that doubles as a really good read!

★★★★★★☆

Title: Horses Never Lie
Author: Mark Rashid (Narrator: Dan Lawson)
Genre: Non-Fiction / Horsemanship / Memoir
First published: 2000
Edition: Audio book & Paperback, published by Skyhorse in 2015

With this sensitive, thoughtful approach, Rashid challenges the conventional wisdom of “alpha leadership” and teaches the reader to become a “passive leader”—a human counterpart to the kind of horse other members of a herd choose to associate with and to follow. Applying Rashid’s principles and techniques helps cultivate horse personalities that are responsive and dependable regardless of the rider. Reliving Rashid’s experiences with him, you will come to feel the same sort of compassion and appreciation for your horses that you do for the people in your life.

🐴🐎🐴

Now, I understand that this book should only be interesting to someone who is interested in horses (which I am – I own three ponies), but I actually feel it is worth writing about. Because this is a book for a very specific audience, I will keep this short, but it was interesting and helpful to me, so I wanted to touch on it anyway.

Because the way it is written and the way it looks at both equine and human behaviour, this is far from just a simple training guide, I think the audience could be a bit broader than just people looking for horsemanship books. Parts of it read as a memoir, and the author does a great job taking the reader through his own experiences and observations with excellent storytelling skills.

This book makes its point of ‘passive leadership’ through a number of examples that the author has come across, either with horses he himself worked with or clients who came to him with horses that had certain issues. He looks at the way the ‘problem horses’ behave and links it back to the way the people trying to train it project themselves and how that links back to the horse’s preceived problems.

I enjoyed this both as an inspiration to try and build a better partnership with my own beloved equines and as a book and reading experience. I enjoyed the audio book, but I also love the little illustrations in the paperback. If you own or work with horses, or even if you are just interested, I would highly recommend this one.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Upstream (Mary Oliver)

Such a soothing collection of memories and musings

★★★★★★★

Title: Upstream
Author: Mary Oliver
Genre: Essays
First published: 2016
Edition: Paperback, published by Penguin in 2019

 A collection of essays in which revered poet Mary Oliver reflects on her willingness to lose herself within the beauty and mysteries of the natural world and the world of literature. Emphasizing the significance of her childhood “friend” Walt Whitman, who inspired her to vanish into the world of her own writing, Oliver meditates on the forces that allowed her to create a life for herself out of work and love.

***

There is something about Mary Oliver’s writing when she does these essays that just works for me. I liked the little poetry I have read by her, but felt more touched by these brief insights into her life and mind.

Most of the essays centre around some aspect of nature and the way she connects to the natural world around her, which is always a subject that I appreciate. However, there are also a few that centre around authors that have inspired her in some way, such as the aforementioned Walt Whitman. I read those with interest as well. Overall this is a very strong collection that I enjoyed very much. Her passion for her subjects is so clear.

There was something very calming about reading this collection of essays. I consciously did it in stops and starts, but whenever I picked it up I loved it.

I need to read more of her poetry.

Highly recommended!

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Hex (Jenni Fagan)

Sometimes it does not take 400 pages to tell a good story

★★★★★★☆

Title: Hex
Author: Jenni Fagan
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 2022
Edition: Hardcover, published by Polygon in 2022

IT’S THE 4TH OF DECEMBER 1591.
On this, the last night of her life, in a prison cell several floors below Edinburgh’s High Street, convicted witch Geillis Duncan receives a mysterious visitor – Iris, who says she comes from a future where women are still persecuted for who they are and what they believe.
As the hours pass and dawn approaches, Geillis recounts the circumstances of her arrest, brutal torture, confession and trial, while Iris offers support, solace – and the tantalising prospect of escape.

***

At 101 pages, this is only a short novel, but it packs a good punch. It does so quietly with pose and melancholy.

The novel imagines the last night of the life of a maid accused of being a witch in 1591. The story takes a real person and a hanging that actually happened, and shows you the humanity of the girl accused and the inhumanity of those who put her there.

It actually took me about thirty pages to get into the story, but once I got into it I absolutely loved the way this was written. I felt my heart break for this poor girl, locked in a cell, degraded and tortured into admitting she and others were witches. My heart ached for her.

Using Iris as a means to tell her story was a nice touch. I did not always understand her part, especially in the beginning, but in the end it all made absolute sense to me.

Highly recommended as a short impactful read. This short read was part of Darkland Tales, a series of books in which Scottish authors reimagine stories from Scotland’s history and folklore.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Becky Chambers)

Just a lot of fun

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
Author: Becky Chambers
Genre: Science Fiction
First published: 2015
Edition: Paperback, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2015

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. 

***

This was an enjoyable read. It’s science fiction, but a lighter kind of read. I definitely appreciated that.

I immediately enjoyed the characters and the conversations and relationships between them. I thought it was fun to see how different species related to each other considering differences in cultures and nature.

The plot itself was ok. It was a good framework for getting to know our characters. It did not blow me away, but it served its purpose quite well. Some of the story was pretty predictable, but I did not really mind in the end.

The writing was pretty solid, if a bit patchy. Some scenes felt a bit drawn out, whereas elsewhere I had to go back a page, trying to figure what the hell just happened. Overall, I enjoyed the way the author wrote this story. The way the narrative jumped from one character to another was a bit jarring at times, but I think that was just a me-problem, because I did not always realise!

Yes, this is a space book, with space tech and aliens, but I would recommend this one to non-scifi readers as well. It’s an easy book to get into and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Wolf Den (Elodie Harper)

Just what I was in the mood for!

★★★★★★☆

Title: The Wolf Den (Wolf Den Trilogy #1)
Author: Elodie Harper
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 2021
Edition: Paperback, published by Head of Zeus in 2021

Amara was once a beloved daughter, until her father’s death plunged her family into penury. Now she is a slave in Pompeii’s infamous brothel, owned by a man she despises. Sharp, clever and resourceful, Amara is forced to hide her talents. For as a she-wolf, her only value lies in the desire she can stir in others.

***

Sometimes you read a book at exactly the right time. That is how this one felt for me. It is a wonderfully written historical fiction novel, and it was just what I needed. It worked wonderfully as an escape, into the seedy side of Pompeii in this instance.

Amara is an easy character to like and relate to. Her feelings and her character make sense as do her actions. What can you do when you are a slave and a prostitute? You do not have much choice, and most of the novel was exactly about that. The lack of choice and looking for a way out.

I enjoyed the relationships between the women, not only friendship, but also rivaly. I never felt it went over the top. Their relationships with the men that rule their lives are far more complicated and heartbreaking.

The author brought Pompeii in Roman times to life very well. I believed I was in the city and following Amara as she tried to make the best of a bad situation.

I can’t wait to read the next book in this trilogy.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Well of Ascension (Brandon Sanderson)

Despite some minor frustrations a strong middle book

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
First published: 2007
Edition: Paperback, published by Gollancz in 2009

Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a healthy new society in the ashes of an empire.

***

Having been introduced to this world in the previous book, The Final Empire, I was excited to continue to follow these characters on their journey. This middle novel did live up to my expectations. The few relatively minor issues I had with it do not pertain to the actual over-arching plot. They simply had to do with the way Sanderson chose to tell this story and the points of view and how he used them.

Let me preface my niggles with my praise of the world that Sanderson has created here. It is interesting and feels original. Not necessarily the city and the landscapes, but certainly the magic system and peoples. Maybe it could have done with a bit more cultural detail, but that is simply a personal preference thing. His world building still really works for me and so does most of the storytelling.

However… Sometimes some of the main characters lagged behind to us, the reader, in learning the truth. This can work very well as a storytelling device, but I did not love it here. I preferred to have found out somethings with the characters rather than through a point of view that felt a little superfluous. It did not stop me from enjoying the story, but it was something I noticed a few times and which took me out of the story for a little while. The purpose was probably to make the reader feel helpless as the main character was misled. I just was not the biggest fan of that plot device.

There were some other small niggles I had with mainly the lack of common sense displayed by the characters at time, but despite these small frustrations I still really enjoyed this book and the overall story. I am looking forward to reading the last book in the trilogy soon. I have an inkling about where it is heading, but no doubt I will be proven wrong. We’ll see!

5 out of 7 stars