Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Nefertiti (Michelle Moran)

Moran, Michelle - Nefertiti1

★★★★★★☆

Title: Nefertiti
Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
First published: 2007
Edition: Paperback, published by Quercus in 2008

At the tender age of fifteen, Nefertiti marries Akhenaten, the Prince of Egypt, her dreams coming true as she rises to fame and fortune. Bathed and decorated by a team of body servants, her natural beauty is enhanced until she becomes mesmerizing. She is soon the darling of the people and her husband’s closest confidant. But when her husband breaks with a thousand years of tradition, defying the priests and the military, it will take all Nefertiti’s wiles to keep the nation from being torn apart.

🏝🛕☀

It had been a while since I read historical fiction set in ancient Egypt. I gobbled up these kind of stories as a teenager and reading this one I remembered why. The idea of pharaohs and queens and temples is such a powerful one.

The author manages to weave a story full of intrigue and thirst for power in this novel, written from the point of view of Nefertiti’s sister. We follow her from the time Nefertiti marries the younger pharaoh and through her eyes we see how Amunhoteb/Akhenaten let’s Egypt fall apart as he changes allegiance to a single minor deity and makes everything about the glory of himself rather than the glory of Egypt.

Only few facts are known about the reign of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, but the author wrote a compelling story based on scarce knowledge. It feels believeable. I wish there was a bit more description of the world, the streets and the buildings. The novel did not quite make me see the world they were living in, but it did make me feel it.

I would definitely read other books by this author and I would love to read more books set in the ancient world again.

6 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: East,West (Salman Rushdie)

Rushdie, Salman - East,West

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: East,West
Author: Salman Rushdie
Genre: Fiction/Short Stories
First published: 1994
Edition: Paperback, published by Vintage in 1996

‘Nine stories that reveal the oceanic distances and the unexpected intimacies between East and West.’ 

I found this short story collection in a charity shop a while ago. I had never read anything by Salman Rushdie and thought it would be a good way to see what he was all about. I think I am glad I read this, but it left me rather cold in the end.

The collection in split into three section: East, West and East,West. I quite enjoyed the stories in the East and East,West sections, but the stories in West really did nothing at all for me. My favourite section was the East, West, probably because clashes of culture are such a fascinating subject. My favourite stories in the collection overall were the first one, Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies, ad the final one, The Courter.

Culture, human nature, identity and belonging have big parts to play in a lot of these stories. Although the writing itself was really good, there were too few stories that I got sucked into that I cannot say I actually liked this collection as much as I had hoped. The stories simply did not give enough.

Having said that, I would like to give a full novel by the author a try, because he is clearly a very good writer.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)

Angelou, Maya - I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

★★★★★★☆

Title: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Author/narrator: Maya Angelou
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Autobiography
First published: 1969
Edition: Audio

The cadence of Maya Angelou’s voice really helps tell her story and I am very glad that I decided to listen to this on audio.

This is both a story of survival and triumph. It is a story of being black in America in the mid twentieth century and it also questions what it means to be a woman.

The author tells us about growing up, from a small child until sixteen. She survived some truly horrendous events and my heart broke whilst I was listening to her relating what happened to her. No child should have to go through what she has been through. And yet, despite the many serious issues she touched on during this memoir of her young life, I did not find this a depressing listen. I could hear the heart and courage in her story and it was kind of empowering. I simply opened my heart to this young girl.

This was a great listen and I highly recommend the audio book. I am looking forward to listening to more of her audio books. I would really like to read some of her poetry as well.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: It Only Happens in the Movies (Holly Bourne)

Bourne, Holly - It Only Happens in the Movies

★★★★★★☆

Title: It Only Happens in the Movies
Author: Holly Bourne
Genre: Fiction / YA / Contemporary / RomCom
First published: 2017
Edition: Kindle e-book

Bad boys turned good, kisses in the rain, climbing through bedroom windows… It only happens in the movies. When Audrey meets Harry, it’s the start of a truly cinematic romance – or is it? Audrey knows that Harry is every movie cliché rolled into one. But she still chooses to let him into her heart…

This is without doubt one of my favourite YA contemporary romance/romcom kind of books that I have read.

I loved main character Audrey so much. The first half of the book was absolute perfection to me. Audrey clearly struggled between her responsibilties to her parents and her simply wanting to be a teenager. On top of that she was still heart-broken over an ex that was clearly a bit of a piece of work.

I thought the way this book dealt with losing your virginity and sex realistically and very well. Too many of these books are way too romaticized and that is exactly what this book is criticizing, mostly by looking at movies, but at the same time the same applies to too many romance books, YA and adult both.

Throughout the book also deals with the divorce of Audrey’s parents and the repercussions of that on the mental health of her mother and on Audrey’s own ideas of love.

The book lost me a bit in the third quarter, but thankfully it finished strongly. I really enjoyed this book and I do feel that this is the kind of book that teenage girls should be reading. The heroine is realistically strong, but flawed as well. The male lead is even more flawed, but you kind of like him anyway, just like Audrey does.

The ending gives a strong message that hopefully would empower teenage girls reading this book.

Also, bonus points for mentioning ‘Before Sunrise’ which is one of my favourite movies of all time.

This was so close to 7 stars if not for that 3rd quarter.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Dinner (Herman Koch)

Koch, Herman - Het Diner

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: The Dinner (Het Diner)
Author: Herman Koch
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
First published: 2009
Edition: Paperback, published in 2011 by Anthos (in Dutch)

It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse – the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

This was definitely an interesting book. The synopsis suggests that the book is set during one evening. This is not quite right. There are flashbacks that flesh out the story.

The narrative is not so much about what is being said, but also about what is being left out. which is an interesting tactic. All the characters, from the parents that are having dinner in a posh restaurant to the sons of these couples, are vile. Seriously, all of these people have issues! I don’t mind unlikeable characters, but these really took the biscuit.  Don’t even get me started on the fact that these people are discussing some very sensitive information about their sons a dinner in a restaurant. It seems absolutely ridiculous to me.

Yet, I did enjoy this book and the revolting characters. It was strangely fascinating. I grew up in The Netherlands, where this story is set, and I returned to live here five years ago, and my conclusion is that this book is incredibly Dutch.  I am glad I decided to read it in its native language because of that. The way these people interact, think and talk feels very Dutch to me.  I just recognise too many people I have known here in these characters ( Luckily there are many lovely Dutch people in real life!). Is that weird or worrying?

Did I love this book? No, in the end there was nothing to root for, which is a bit of an issue for me. The ending was unsatisfactory, but I am not sure how I would have preferred it to end. The ending does seem right for the tone of the book.

If you enjoy an uncomfortable slow book, you could do worse than chose to read this book.

4 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: About A Boy (Nick Hornby)

Hornby Nick - About A Boy

★★★★★☆☆

Title: About A Boy
Author: Nick Hornby
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
First published: 1998
Edition: Hardback, published by Victor Gollancz i 1998

At thirty-six, Will is as hip as a teenager. He’s single, child-free, goes to the right clubs and knows which trainers to wear. He’s also found a great way to score with women: attend single parents’ groups full of available (and grateful) mothers, all hoping to meet a Nice Guy.

Which is how Will meets Marcus, the oldest twelve-year-old on the planet. Marcus is a bit strange: he listens to Joni Mitchell and Mozart, looks after his mum and has never owned a pair of trainers. But Marcus latches on to Will – and won’t let go. Can Will teach Marcus how to grow up cool? And can Marcus help Will just to grow up?

*

I am not sure what I expected from this book. I have read a couple of Nick Hornby books before and did not quite love them. This is my favourite one by him I have read so far.

There is something very basic about this story and that is exactly what makes it so good to me. It is just a story about people and relationships, especially friendships, and how making genuine connections with people changes and strengthens you. I liked how the connections were forged. They were not forced, but evolved naturally.

I really enjoyed seeing the changes in both Marcus and Will throughout the book. Whether the portrayal of Fiona’s depression is realistic I am not sure. I kind of feel it is a bit strange that none of her friends really mentions seeking professional help as an option. I feel like Fiona’s mental health problems should have been explored more. Now it simply felt as a plot device. Maybe it was.

That issue aside, I enjoyed this book. It was not too heavy (which admittedy  it may have been if the above had happened), and I had fun with the characters.

I have seen the movie before, but I think I prefer the book, though the casting was spot on! I never knew the part Kurt Cobain plays in the book.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart (Holly Ringland)

Ringland, Holly - The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

★★★★★★★

Title: The Lost Flower of Alice Hart
Author: Holly Ringland
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Australian fiction
First published: 2018
Edition: Paperback, published by Pan Macmillan in 2018

After her family suffers a tragedy when she is nine years old, Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her estranged grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak. But Alice also learns that there are secrets within secrets about her past. Under the watchful eye of June and The Flowers, women who run the farm, Alice grows up. But an unexpected betrayal sends her reeling, and she flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert.

This story quickly stole my heart. Page after page it buried itself deeper into my soul.

Alice’s story and those of her female lineage gave me a lump in my throat and a heavy feeling on my chest. Honestly, I cried several times. And yet, the setting of this story, in the uniquely Australian landscape with its distinctive flora and fauna, made me smile as it evoked so many beautiful memories of the time I spent there many years ago.

I loved the way the author used the various native Australian fowers to tell this story. The illustrations and details on every flower at the beginning of every chapter added a nice something extra.

The author has a great way of laying bare the human psyche, in all its flawed glory. I really loved Alice as a character. I felt really close to her, even if she was actually quite stand-offishly written. Her grandmother June was another character that was deeply troubled and my heart ached for her.

There was a great weight to this novel and yet I turned the pages easily, wanting to keep reading. I felt really connected to this novel for some reason. The subject matter was heavy, but I did not find the book itself bleak or depressing.  Domestic abuse is a red thread throughout this book, so if that is a trigger for you, keep that in mind.

I found a new favourite.

7 out o7 stars

Books · Reading Challenges

The Reading Rush TBR

This is probably my favourite readathon and one of the few I participate in. Check out the website for more information.

There are 7 prompts. I will choose a couple of books for each challenge, so I can sort of decide to double up or not:

1. Read a book with a cover that matches the colour of your birthstone.
Choice 1: The Dinner (Herman Koch) – I have this one in its original language, Dutch (Het Diner). It appears to be a very polarizing book, but I have been meaning to get to it for ages. It’s on both my 2020 TBR and my 20 Books of Summer TBR
Choice 2: Flames (Robbie Arnott) – I have heard such good things about this book. I keep meaning to read more Australian fiction.

2. Read a book with a title that starts with ‘The’.
Choice 1: The Dinner (Herman Koch) – see challenge 1
Choice 2: The Lost Flowers of Alice Heart (Holly Ringland) – More Australian fiction. I have had this book on my shelf for a couple of years, but have not gotten around to reading it yet,.

3. Read a book that inspired a movie that you have already seen.
Choice 1: About A Boy (Nick Hornby) – Enjoyed the movie and I am curious what the book is like.
Choice 2: The Black Stallion Returns (Walter Farley) – Used to love this movie and this middle grade series as a child and have been meaning to re-read for ages. Maybe I could even watch the movie again!

4. Read the first book you touch.

Will do this to decide what book to read first.

5. Read a book completely outside your house.
Choice 1: Hyperbole and a Half (Allie Brosh) – a graphic novel seems perfect for this kind of challenge! I have heard good things about this one.
NO SECOND CHOICE

6. Read a book in a genre you’ve always wanted to read more of.
Choice 1: Hyperbole and a Half (Allie Brosh) – I always mean to read more graphic novels.
Choice 2: The Black Stallion Returns (Walter Farley) – This is a middle grade book in a series I used to love as a child and I would like to re-read it. I hardly ever read middle grade these days.

7. Read a book that takes place on a different continent from where you live.
Choice 1: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart (Holly Ringland) – see challenge 2
Choice 2: Flames (Robbie Arnott) – see challenge 1

*

Now, normally I would be ambitious and choose a different book for each prompt, but I want to keep things low pressure for myself, so I will probably end up doubling up some of the challenges. I have 6 books on my list! Very unlikely that I will get to that number though. I would be very happy with 4.

The most likely books I will read are The Dinner (for birthstone and ‘the’), About A Boy (movie), Hyperbole and a Half (for outside and genre) and finally The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart (continent). I expect the easiest read to be Hyperbole and a Half and the most intimidating read is The Dinner.

Fingers crossed 😉

Are you participating? What does your TBR pile look like? Please link your TBR below.

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Queenie (Candice Carty-Williams)

Carty-Williams, Candice - Queenie

★★★★★★☆

Title: Queenie
Author: Candice Carty-Williams
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary
First published: 2019
Edition: Hardback, published in 2019 by Trapeze

Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.

♥♦♥

I had high expectations going into this novel. I had heard so many good things about it. That always leaves me a bit nervous, but I did not need to be. This book was very good indeed!

What can I say about our main character Queenie? She makes you laugh, she breaks your heart and yet all the way through I rooted for her. She is a very flawed character, with low self-esteem, who makes very bad decisions. She is a frustrating character for sure and you will want to yell at her, but hold your judgement. We get to know her, little by little, throughout the book, and through knowing her past we come to understand her and the reasons why she is the way she is.  She may well be one of my favourite fictional characters. Maybe, because in one or another I think everyone can identify with Queenie, or has been able to identify with her in the past. 

The book deals with mental health issues, racism (both blatant, casual and subtle), cultural issues and sexual and emotional assault. These are heavy subjects and I could feel the weight through them throughout the book without being brought down. That is a rare book that can balance those scales.

The light in this book comes through Queenie’s friendships. They are so precious.

I would highly recommend this novel. I loved it and I think you will too.

6 out of 7 stars

#20booksofsummer

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The One (John Marrs)

Marrs, John - The One

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The One
Author: John Marrs
Genre: Fiction/Thriller/Speculative
First published: 2016
Edition: Kindle e-book

A simple DNA test is all it takes. Just a quick mouth swab and soon you’ll be matched with your perfect partner the one you are genetically made for.

That’s the promise made by Match Your DNA. A decade ago, the company announced that they had found the gene that pairs each of us with our soul mate. Since then, millions of people around the world have been matched. But the discovery has its downsides: test results have led to the breakup of countless relationships and upended the traditional ideas of dating, romance and love.

💔💗💞

This was such a compelling read. I was hooked from the beginning, though it lost a little bit of steam towards the middle, but ended on a high note.

The concept of this book worked so well. It was easy to imagine that DNA-matching could be a thing. Let’s hope not!

I really enjoyed the writing. The story follows five different people and their experiences as they find their ‘Match’. Will any of them end up happy? The stories were all very different from each other apart from the fact that nothing was what it seemed and I loved that about this book.

It lost me a little bit just at the beginning of the final third, but luckily I was dragged back in quickly enough to really enjoy the ending. The blip may have had something to do with me reading for too long!

Overall, this was a very enjoyable and surprisingly quick read. I had trouble putting it down for sure. Yet, I have to say I did not completely love it. There were a few things that were too obvious. However, I will definitely be reading more from this author.

There is something very ‘Black Mirror’ about this book and if you enjoy that TV series, you will love this.

5 out of 7 stars