Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Things The Grandchildren Should Know (Mark Oliver Everett)

Fascinating memoir that did not quite hit the right spot for me… Whatever that spot may be!

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Things The Grandchildren Should Know
Author: Mark Oliver Everett
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Music
First published: 2007
Edition: Paperback, published in 2009 by Abacus

How does one young man survive the deaths of his entire family and manage to make something of his life? Mark Oliver Everett’s upbringing was ‘ridiculous, sometimes tragic and always unsteady’. The insecure son of a misunderstood genius of quantum mechanics, he somehow survived this and ensuing tragedies, channelling his experiences into his critically acclaimed music with the Eels.

***

I wish I loved this book more than I did. This is life story of a man better known as E, of the band Eels. He has had a pretty rotten life to be fair, none of his own choosing. I really enjoyed bits of it and found other bits jarring and uncomfortable.

Although the books is full of tragic events that happened to the author, it was not those that made me uncomfortable, but rather the way he described some things, especially other people. I am finding it hard to pinpoint what exactly bothered me, but something did, repeatedly.

But there were also large parts of the book that did work for me and I loved the bits of lyrics sprinkled through the book and their relevance to the story he is telling.

Now, I did not know much (or, well, nothing) about E going into this book, apart from a few Eels songs, and it was fascinating to read the kind of life he has led. How he ever got through it without turning to drugs or alcohol seems a miracle to me. Instead, he turned to music and it seems to have saved his life.

I did like this book and I warmed to it in the end. I would recommend this one to people, even if you are not that familiar with the author’s music.

I will go and listen to some of his music now.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 20 January 2021

Can you believe we’re three weeks into 2021? Time seems to move so fast and yet so slow at the same time. We are in Lockdown still here and I am home schooling my daughter for at least another two weeks.

***

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 listening to actor Matthew McConaughey’s memoir Greenlights. I am enjoying that one a lot. He is definitely an interesting guy with interesting views on life. This is a memoir/life advice book and feels quite unique. I decided to listen to this one because he has such a good voice to listen to and I had seen him talk about it somewhere. It sounded like a good read, and it is.

I am reading another memoir as well. Things The Grandchildren Should Know is the memoir of musician Mark Oliver Everett, also known as E of alternative band EELS. This is a guy that had a very turbulent life that I knew next to nothing about! I only picked this one up because of a book club. I am halfway. There are things about the writing I don’t particularly like, but his life story is sad, but kind of fascinating.

Finally, in desperate need of some fiction I have started Piranesi by Susanna Clarke on my Kindle last night. I am only a few pages in. It’s definitely intriguing!

What have I recently finished reading?

I have finished reading The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali, which is mostly historical fiction set in Tehran, Iran. It was a tearjerker for sure, but I loved it so so much! My first 7-star read of the year.

Unfortunately it was followed by a less impressive book, which was Greenmantle by Charles de Lint. I only gave that one 2 stars. This is a late 1980s fantasy book and though the characters were ok, it was rather sexist and the weird combination of mobsters and fantasy creatures really did not work for me.

I also read The Love Poems of Rumi, which is a collection of Rumi’s poems translated by Nader Khalili. I read this after Rumi was referred to in The Stationery Shop. It was the second book in a short while that touched on Rumi, and I felt I wanted to look into his work. This collection was not great, but it really felt like it was the translation that ruined the poems for me. I ordered a different work by him that is supposed to be a more faithful translation. I decided not to rate this one, mainly because I did not feel it was a good reflection of Rumi’s work.

What do I plan to read next?

I am not entirely sure. I am really enjoying stories set in the Middle East at the moment, so I may pick up something else set there. Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz is on my 2021 TBR, so I may decide to read that one. This one is set in early 20th century Egypt.

Books · Poetry · Reviews

(Poetry) Book Thoughts: The Love Poems of Rumi

The trouble with translations…

☆UNRATED☆ (for now)

Title: The Love Poems of Rumi
Author: Rumi (translated by Nader Khalili)
Genre: Poetry
First published: 1998 (originals written in the 13th century)
Edition: Hardback, published by Wellfleet in 2015

 Included in this book is a collection of Jalal al-Din Rumi’s passionate love poems, translated by Nader Khalili. Beautifully designed and illustrated throughout, you’ll become spiritually inspired by the words in this book. Perfect for lovers, dreamers, and poets, the poems from this 13th century theologist will leave you wistfully peaceful.

***

Yes, I fell for the package. This is a nice looking volume with gilded edges and all that jazz.

After reading a few books that mentioned Rumi’s work in a smaller or larger extent, I felt compelled to pick up some work by him. I now feel that this volume was not the right choice to dive into his work. The translation feels very clumsy and does not flow well.

The longer poems definitely feel more coherent than the shorter ones, but still the translation kept bothering me. At times a poem would touch my heart, but then some clumsy wording would ruin it for me.

I have now researched the most faithful translations of Rumi’s work and I will definitely try a different translation instead.

I will leave this unrated for now. I did not hate it, but it did leave me unsatisfied.

UNRATED

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Greenmantle (Charles de Lint)

Mobsters and fantasy do not mix!

★★☆☆☆☆☆

Title: Greenmantle
Author: Charles de Lint
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
First published: 1988
Edition: Paperback, published in 1992 by Pan Fantasy

Not far from the city lies an ancient wood, forgotten by the rest of the world, where mystery walks in the shape of a horned man wearing a cloak of leaves. And, when this man touches your dreams, your life will never be the same again.

***

The above synopsis simply did not prepare me for what this fantasy novel was about. I am not sure what this book wanted to be to be honest. The mixture of a mobster/criminal storyline and fey-type fantasy characters really did not work that well for me. The contrast of the two elements was too jarring for me.

I did sympathise with the two main characters, one a young girl and the other a retired mobster dude, but it was not enough to save this story. It was also a pretty sexist book and it was pretty clear throughout that it was written by a man and probably for men as well. Women were very much objectified. And showing a young girl lecherous scenes… Erm… no.

It was not all bad and the story definitely held some interesting concepts, but it was not enough to redeem its flaws. It did not work for me.

2 out of 7 stars

Books

Top Reads of 2020

I have ten books I rated 7 stars in 2020, which means these were my favourites of the year. I will put them in alphabetical order of the author’s name, while I muse on which is my actual Book of the Year.

The Poet X (Elizabeth Acevedo) Fiction – YA Contemporary (verse)

How To Stop Time (Matt Haig) Fiction – Time Travel

Callanish (William Horbrook) Fiction – Animal

The Broken Wings (Gibran Kahlil) Fiction – Classic – Novella – Middle East

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (Charley Mackesy) Fiction – Picture Book

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart (Holly Ringland) Fiction – Contemporary – Australia

Mix Tape (Jane Sanderson) Fiction – Contemporary

The Forty Rules of Love (Elif Shafak) Fiction – Historical – Middle East

Just Kids (Patti Smith) Non-Fiction – Memoir – Cultural

Wilding (Isabella Tree) Non-fiction – Natural World

There are two non-fiction books in this list. I had expected there to be more to be honest, as I tend to rate non-fiction books quite high. Patti Smith’s Just Kids was a great audio book and a beautiful and tragic story of the friendship between Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti Smith is such a great writer. I immediately bought the physical book and two of her other books, which I hope to read in 2021. Wilding was the author’s experience of turning an estate’s landscape back to some sort of wilderness. It was so interesting and very engagingly told.

My 7-star fiction reads are a bit of a mixed bag, but reflect what I was reading in 2020. I think Mix Tape was my biggest surprise, but the characters just touched me. Both The Broken Wings ( a novella) and The Boy, The Mole, the Fox and the Horse had me in floods of tears. Both are so so beautiful. Callanish was a re-read and just as magical as I remembered. The others were simply perfect reads for me in their respective genres.

I tried to pick a favourite…. but looking at this bunch of books my mind whirls. I have no idea which one I would pick. I love each and every one of these books so much. So I am not picking a favourite. These are all my favourites of 2020.

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Stationery Shop (Marjan Kamali)

My heart is heavy, but so warm…

★★★★★★★

Title: The Stationery Shop
Author: Marjan Kamali
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
First published: 2019
Edition: Paperback, published by Gallery Books in 2020

Roya, a dreamy, idealistic teenager living amid the political upheaval of 1953 Tehran, finds a literary oasis in kindly Mr. Fakhri’s neighborhood stationery shop, stocked with books and pens and bottles of jewel-colored ink. Then Mr. Fakhri, with a keen instinct for a budding romance, introduces Roya to his other favorite customer—handsome Bahman, who has a burning passion for justice and a love for Rumi’s poetry—and she loses her heart at once. Their romance blossoms, and the little stationery shop remains their favorite place in all of Tehran.

***

When a books has me in floods of tears at the end I know it has been a good one. This one… was everything I wanted it to be.

We follow Roya, a 17-year-old girl, as she falls in love in a stationery shop in 1950s Tehran and her journey from there. Throughout the book I love her character so much and through her you could not help but love Bahman just as much. I felt such a deep empathy for both. I understood Roya’s character development and I could feel her joy, pain and despair throughout the pages.

I really enjoyed the setting in a country in a time period I knew so little about. It felt volatile and tension-filled, yet Roya and Bahman’s romance brought a bit of calm and light amid all the unrest. I liked how this books concentrated its efforts of emphasising the deep connections between people. It made the love story feel very honest and real and it was made me feel it so deeply.

There is so much tragedy within these pages, but it never overwhelmed me. My heart was heavy at times, but there was always hope and despite the fact I could hardly see the last however many pages because of leaking eyes, it was an absolute joy to read this book.

I would highly recommend this book. It is an emotional read, but not a hard one. It is just very beautiful indeed. I will treasure it.

On a side note, I really ought to read some Rumi.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Duke and I (Julia Quinn)

A fun romp with a dubious hero…

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Duke and I (Bridgertons #1)
Author: Julia Quinn
Genre: Historical Fiction / Romance
First published: 2000
Edition: Kindle e-book

Recently returned to England from abroad, Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings. intends to shun both marriage and society—just as his callous father shunned Simon throughout his painful childhood. Yet an encounter with his best friend’s sister offers another option. If Daphne agrees to a fake courtship, Simon can deter the mamas who parade their daughters before him. Daphne, meanwhile, will see her prospects and her reputation soar.

***

So many people are reading this right now because of the Netflix TV show, but apparently it piqued my curiosity as well.

I won’t lie, I enjoyed most of this book. It was a lively read that definitely classifies as ‘a romp’ in my book. Was I as enamoured with it as most people seem to be? No, but that is absolutely fine. I still had fun reading it. I just had a few issues.

My main issue was with the Simon character. Although I kind of understand that he is supposed to be this brooding sexy hero, to me he just came across as a bit of an arse to be honest. I get it, he has this complicated background, which makeshim this said arse, but I still did not feel it justified just how much of a selfish oaf he was, not to mention violent.

I did enjoy Daphne’s character and I thought she was great lead. Spirited, steadfast and sweet. Her actions made sense to me. The whole dynamic in the Bridgerton family was so endearing and that was definitely the highlight throughout this book.

I am not going to compare this to the TV show as it is quite different. I don’t think one is better than the other, just different.

So, yes, I enjoyed it, but Simon… not so much.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl (Carrie Brownstein)

Awkwardness makes a good memoir…

★★★★★★☆

Title: Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl
Author: Carrie Brownstein
Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir/Music/Culture
First published: 2015
Edition: Audio book

Before Carrie Brownstein became a music icon, she was a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest just as it was becoming the setting for one the most important movements in rock history. Seeking a sense of home and identity, she would discover both while moving from spectator to creator in experiencing the power and mystery of a live performance. With Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and her bandmates rose to prominence in the burgeoning underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s.

***

I picked this up for a book club and I am so glad I did, because this was such an honest and raw memoir and I ended up enjoying it so much.

Although I was familiar with the author and her band Sleater-Kinney, they were not a band I listened to when I was young in the nineties (yes, I am that age!). Nevertheless, I was excited to read this, mainly as you do not get a lot of memoirs that deal with a smaller indie band who never actually made it that big.

Carrie tells her story about her life in Sleater-Kinney from a very personal point of view. She talks about her experience of life in a band with sometimes painful frankness, from navigating relationships and friendships whilst on tour and of course the making the music itself. She is well versed in the effect touring and playing live day after day has on the mind as well as the body and does not sugar coat anything. Life in a touring band is far from glamorous, unless you’re, well, Pearl Jam.

I think this is the most relatable ‘rock memoir’ I have read, It does not involve any alcohol or drug abuse and no ego stroking, and is probably the closest to what it’s like for most of the bands I enjoy listening to. There is little glamour or riches, and only sheer love for making and playing music that makes it worthwhile.

I am glad I decided to listen to this, because I really connected to the author’s tone in this memoir. I really enjoyed this and if you are interested in Sleater-Kinney, or even Brownstein’s later TV show Portlandia, do give this a try. It would be worth your time.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Midnight Library (Matt Haig)

Matt Haig is quietly a genius

★★★★★★☆

Title: The Midnight Library
Author: Matt Haig
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Magical Realism
First published: 2020
Edition: Hardback, published in 2020 by Canongate

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

***

I have not read a Matt Haig book yet I did not love and this one is no different. Somehow his books always touch on a subject that feels strangely familiar and relevant, or touch on a philosophical concept I have given thought to myself at some point. I love that.

In the case of this novel, I think we have all wondered what our lives would be if we made that particular decision or if we had not done something, or not disappointed someone. This novel follows Nora as she finds out all the answers to the what-ifs after an attempted suicide.

The strength of this book is in the humanity of it. It feels very life-affirming. I think many (if not all) readers will be able to identify with Nora in one way or another. The author clearly understands depression and the weight that regret places on our shoulders. Maybe this was his own way of working through his own regrets. I am not sure. It definitely made me think a lot and made me realise how important it is to live in the here and now. I loved the philosophical side of it all.

This book was not quite perfect for me. Sometimes Nora’s lives felt a bit far-fetched, but maybe that does not matter. Maybe my own parallel lives could be just as unlikely! It did also feel a little predictable and not wholly original, but in the end I guess that did not really matter.

This book definitely lived up to its hype for me. A really excellent read that also worked wonders for my mental well-being. I feel very zen after finishing it.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Charlotte (Helen Moffett)

A classic re-telling that did not quite hit the right spot for me.

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Charlotte
Author: Helen Moffett
Genre: Historical Fiction / Retelling
First published: 2020
Edition: Kindle e-book

Everybody thinks that Charlotte Lucas has no prospects. She is twenty-seven years old, unmarried, plain, and seemingly without ambition. When she stuns the neighbourhood by accepting the proposal of buffoonish clergyman Mr Collins, her best friend Lizzy Bennet is angry at her for undervaluing herself. Yet the decision is the only way Charlotte knows to provide for her future, and marriage will propel her into a new world, of duty, marriage, children, grief and ultimately illicit love, and a kind of freedom.

💍📕🧾

This was my first read of 2021 and it was a little disappointing. When I heard there was a novel detailing the life of Charlotte Lucas from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice I was intrigued. I always thought she would be an interesting character to explore a bit more.

This novel’s attempt to do just that falls short for me and it has nothing to do with whether or not it showed the life I envisioned for her. For a while I enjoyed it, but as it went on I simply enjoyed it less and less. I cannot really pinpoint what the problem was. Maybe it simply did not ring true. Maybe the characters’ actions just did not quite work for me. It simply did not do enough to keep me interested.

As far as books based on classic novels go this one really was not bad. I definitely think this one will work for many people, but it simply did not quite float my boat. I wish it had.

4 out of 7 stars