Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson)

Bryson, Bill - A Walk In The Woods

★★★★★☆☆

Title: A Walk in the Woods
Author: Bill Bryson Audio narrator: William Roberts
Genre: Non-Fiction / Travel
First published: 1997
Edition: Audio book + paperback, published by Black Swan in 2015

In the company of his friend Stephen Katz, Bill Bryson set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.

🐻🐻🐻

I felt like I needed a fun sort of listen and this definitely scratched that itch.

Bill Bryson’s story of trying to hike the Appalachian trail with his friend Katz was a fun time. In true Bill Bryson style I learned all sorts of useless information about the trail and the areas and towns they travelled through.

This was not as wonderfully ridiculous and interesting as some of his other books, but it was still a joy to listen to. The narrator did a really good job as well.

if you do not like Bill Bryson’s observational sense of humour this will not be for you. He rarely speaks about other people in a positive way. I don’t mind that. It’s very tongue in cheek and it did amuse me. The things that annoy him are the same things that would annoy me. There is a fair bit of fat shaming, which at times made me frown, but overall it was an enjoyable listen.

This is definitely not one of his best books, but it was still very enjoyable.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Dear Martin (Nic Stone)

Stone, Nic - Dear Martin

★★★★★★☆

Title: Dear Martin
Author: Nic Stone
Genre: Fiction/YA/Contemporary
First published: 2017
Edition: Kindle e-book

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

I read this novel in one day, very rare for me! I just needed to continue reading. It felt important and all too relevant.

This novel deals with topics that unfortunately are all too current; racial profiling, police brutality, injustice and white privilege. It does so with elegance and conviction. The main character Justyce is easy to like. He tries so hard and yet he is always confronted by the fact that no matter what he does, he is black and therefore people, white and black,  will be prejudiced.

I really enjoyed the way this was written. Some as letters that Justyce right to Rev. Martin Luther King diary style, some as scenes from a play and some as a normal novel, in present tense. It really worked well. I loved the friendships in this book and the slowly developing relationship. I was also impressed by the way race and racism was handled with a careful hand that (unfortunately) most likely spoke from experience.

I would whole-heartedly recommend giving this book to your teen sons/daughters, cousins, pupils to read to get a better understanding of what it is like to be a black teen in a white man’s world.

I only wish it was longer and I will definitely look into other books by this author.

6 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Among The Boat People (Nhi Manh Chung)

Chung, Nhi Manh - Among The Boat People

★★★★★★☆

Title: Among The Boat People
Author: Nhi Manh Chung
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir
First published: 2019
Edition: Paperback, published by Autonomedia, courtesy of the author

Nhi Manh Chung lost her mother Lieu, her brother Kwok Chieu, and her younger sister Bao to the ravaging dark sea while trying to escape Vietnam. Finally settling in New York, her hardships gradually ease as she works her way through college, marries and works as a bilingual teacher. Here she writes her own story, revisiting her past. 

When I was contacted regarding this book, I knew immediately I wanted to read it. There is something about first person experiences that I love to read about. In a way, I feel like every time I read a memoir like this, my world expands a little bit and I love that feeling.

This is only a short book, but it tells a rich story of a life ever evolving. Nhi tells us about growing up in post-war Vietnam, escaping the communist regime and losing close family members in the process, her arrival in New York and the life she built for herself there, teaching immigrant children. She does so in very much her own voice. This is not a particular eloquent polished memoir, but I think that is exactly what lends it its character and power. It is what I loved about this. It reads like you just met an incredible person and they are now relaying the story of their life to you. As in conversation, her memories flow from one into another. Recounting one experience will remind her of another and so she builds the picture of her life and those whose life touched hers and whose lives she touched herself.

This book highlights the plight of refugees and the perilous lengths a person would go to in order to find a better life. It also touches on the Amerasians, children born from US soldiers and Vietnamese women, that arrived in the US, ostracised in their own country, in the hope to find their home in the USA.

Is this a really well-written book? No, the author is not a natural writer, but she does not need to be. Had it been heavily edited, I think it would have lost something. I really enjoyed reading this book and I hope others will as well.

6 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Born To Run (Bruce Springsteen)

Springsteen, Bruce - Born To Run

★★★★★★☆

Title: Born To Run
Author/narrator: Bruce Springsteen
Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography/Memoir
First published: 2016
Edition: Audio book

Bruce Springsteen describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as “The Big Bang”: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band.

🎶🎸🎶

As far as musician autobiographies go, this is one of the best I have read/listened to. I expected it to be good, as it kept being recommended to me. Now, Bruce Springsteen is someone I am familiar with. I grew up with his songs on the radio, but I had never really taken the time to listen to his music or to find out anything about him. I think that makes my thoughts on this book pretty unbias.

Through this book I have gotten to know Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band.  I have learned what makes him tick, how he built his career and how much he loves doing what he does. There is so much passion in this book. However, it does also touch on more issues, such as his depression and his difficult relationship with his father. I also loved hearing him talk about his family life and how much of a doting dad he is, clearly so proud of his kids. Here is a rockstar, who knows how good he is, but also understands he is privileged to have gotten where he has gotten and never forgot where he came from.

I loved listening to him tell his own story. That is why I decided to listen to this memoir. Listening to an artist tell his own story is to understand the art that he creates and the person behind the facade.

I will definitely be listening to a whole lot of Bruce Springsteen’s music in the weeks to come.

Even if you’re not a fan, I would highly recommend this audio book. He is a born storyteller.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: English Animals (Laura Kaye)

IMG_20200619_143656_1

★★★★★☆☆

Title: English Animals
Author: Laura Kaye
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary/LGBT  Pages: 357
First published: 2017
Edition: Paperback, published in 2017 by Abacus

When Mirka gets a job in a country house in rural England, she has no idea of the struggle she faces to make sense of a very English couple, and a way of life that is entirely alien to her. Richard and Sophie are chaotic, drunken, frequently outrageous but also warm, generous and kind to Mirka, despite their argumentative and turbulent marriage. Mirka is swiftly commandeered by Richard for his latest money-making enterprise, taxidermy, and soon surpasses him in skill. After a traumatic break two years ago with her family in Slovakia, Mirka finds to her surprise that she is happy at Fairmont Hall. But when she tells Sophie that she is gay, everything she values is put in danger and she must learn the hard way what she really believes in.

I am little bit disappointed in this book. I had high expectations, I guess.

It started of pretty  strong. I liked Slovak main character Mirka a lot and the situation she found herself in was so eccentric and kind of amusing. I was sure I was going to love this book. And then, somehow, I did not quite love it as much, even if I still liked it well enough.

I did love the setting, but I wanted a bit more of a feel for it. In the beginning there was so much description, but then that sort of petered out, which was a shame. It set up the differences between the characters so well and then did not quite follow up on the fact that Mirka was changing over time. The change felt kind of too sudden and unexplained.

I guess I did not really like the way the relationships (romantic and otherwise) progressed in this book. It made me want to give everyone involved a big slap, and not in a good way.

Having said all that, I did like the writing overall and I did actually like the book. I simply did not love it.

If you hate taxidermy, then do stay far away from this book. It is not something I am at all interested in, but I kind of liked it as a plot device in this book.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Wild Beauty (Anna-Marie McLemore)

McLemore, Anna-Marie - Wild Beauty

★★★★★★☆

Title: Wild Beauty
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genre: Fiction / YA / Magical Realism  Pages: 339
First published: 2017
Edition: Paperback, published in 2018 by Square Fish

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

I love these kind of stories, where you kind of feel like you’re in a dream. When the story touches reality just enough to have roots, but takes you on a journey far away from your daily life.

IMG_20200615_142932I enjoyed the way the author wove her tale and how she managed to bring these fantastically timeless characters to life. I liked the way a queer girl fitted so easily into this narrative. How natural it was to love a girl in this novel.

This was my first book by this author, but it will certainly not be my last. I love this kind book that uses language almost as another character to set a scene so vividly that I can get immersed in it.  Although the tale touched on some heavy and dark topics, I still felt it was a fun easy read that brought so much colour into my life whilst I was doing so.

If you like colourful, whimsical novels, this one is definitely for you and I highly recommend it!

6 out of 7 stars

 

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 17 June 2020

 

***

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 currently reading Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore. Despite the fact that I haven’t been much in a reading mood the last couple of days, I am really enjoying how weird and whimsical it is.

McLemore, Anna-Marie - Wild Beauty       Springsteen, Bruce - Born To Run

I am also still listening to Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born To Run. I have about 4 hours to go and I expect to finish it this week. I still enjoy listening to him tell his story. I even listened to some of his music this week, something I never consciously did. I definitely appreciate him a whole lot more.

What did I recently finish reading?

I finished Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West, which felt like an important powerful book. It was heart-breaking, but there was a strength in the characters that shone through.

Littlemore, Clare - Drift       West, Catherine Adel - Saving Ruby King

I also read Drift, the third book in the self-published dystopian Flow series by Clare Littlemore. I enjoyed that one and it formed a nice contrast with the previous book I read.

Cheek, Kater - Witch's JewelWhat do I think I will be reading next?

I am not entirely sure. I have a book I would like to read for review this month, which is  Witch’s Jewel by Kater Cheek. It depends whether I am in the mood for that one. I may read something else first. I have no idea what yet! Maybe something else from my 20 Books of Summer list.

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Drift (Clare Littlemore)

Littlemore, Clare - Drift

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Drift (Flow #3)
Author: Clare Littlemore
Genre: Fiction / YA / Dystopian  Pages: 347
First published: 2019
Edition: Paperback, self-published

Quin believed that a life away from The Beck would make her happy, but as disputes surface and rebellion is threatened, Quin quickly realises that their new home isn’t the sanctuary she had imagined. And when one of her fellow citizens is willing to go to desperate measures to save those he loves, he puts the entire community in danger.

This is the third book in the Flow series. I wish this series was more widely read, because it is well-written and a bit different without being ‘out there’.

It is hard to talk about this book without spoiling the two previous books, so I will keep it pretty brief and will not touch on the plot apart from the above exerpt from the synopsis.

I love the author’s writing style. It is easy to read, uncomplicated, but still intelligent, which I really appreciate. As far as this particular book goes, it feels a little on the slow side, but I still really enjoyed it.

The struggles of our main character Quin were interesting in this book. I enjoyed getting to know the new characters and the new setting with her. I particularly like Quin as a main character as she feels very normal. She could be anyone, but at the same time she is brave and caring. Yes, I like her.

Where the book lacks a bit is description. I have to admit I do like a bit of flowery writing and this book has none of that. For example, we are never told even what the characters look like – at least not in this book. It does not bother me particularly, but it was something I noticed and it made it feel a little clinical in places.

I will definitely be reading the next book. If you like a bit of dystopian YA every now and then, please do check out this series, because it really is pretty good!

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Saving Ruby King (Catherine Adel West)

West, Catherine Adel - Saving Ruby King

★★★★★★☆

Title: Saving Ruby King
Author: Catherine Adel West
Genre: Fiction / Hard-Hitting Contemporary
First published: to be published 16 June 2020 by Park Row
Edition: NetGalley e-ARC, kindly provided by the publisher

When Ruby King’s mother is found murdered in their home in Chicago’s South Side, the police dismiss it as another act of violence in a black neighborhood. But for Ruby, it means she’ll be living alone with her violent father. The only person who understands the gravity of her situation is Ruby’s best friend, Layla. Their closeness is tested when Layla’s father, the pastor of their church, demands that Layla stay away. But what are his true motives? And what is the price for turning a blind eye?

There could not have been a more urgent time to read this novel. It touched on so many of the issues that have been highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement and the tragic death of George Floyd, another black man killed by those that are supposed to uphold the law.

This novel is set on the South Side of Chicago and centres around two families that are tightly connected. Both families harbour secrets, but one knows love, the other only pain.

This was not an easy read. It was not supposed to be. It was a hard-hitting, often painful read that made my heart shrink with sorrow for the people at the core of the story. The book touches on domestic abuse, incest, racism and suicide, but so worth every bit of heartache I felt whilst reading it.

This book does what so few books do. It looks at events from a number of perspectives. It does not excuse domestic violence, but it does show how hard it is to break a cycle of abuse. You also do not often get the point of view from an inanimate object, in this case a church building. I thought this tool was well-utilized to tell this particular story. It brings a whole new meaning to ‘if walls could talk’.

Overall, I was impressed with this novel. It felt very human and very necessary. The characters felt very real, as did their stories. Highly recommended.

6 out of 7 stars

Since this novel feels so relevant to this, please check out blacklivesmatter.com and see what you can do to help. If you’re in Europe, check out the European Network Against Racism

Books · Poetry · Reviews

Poetry Review: In The Dark, Soft Earth (Frank Watson)

Watson, Frank - In The Dark, Soft Earth

★★★★★☆☆

Title: In The Dark, Soft Earth
Author: Frank Watson
Genre: Poetry   Pages: 232
First published: to be published 7 July 2020
Edition: E-book, kindly sent by the author

Vignette verses explore the workings of love, nature, spirituality, and dreams with sprinklings of tarot symbolism and jazzy blues. Together these verses contemplate the subtle underpinnings of a soft earth.

*

Poetry is very personal. Something one person loves, may not work for another. Poems that do not work when you read them internally, may suddenly make sense when you read them aloud.

This collection for me was a little bit hit and miss. There were poems I absolutely loved, like the title poem, which really struck a chord. But there were some that just felt like a collection of sentences that did not necessarily make sense to me as a whole. At times the poems went somewhere I really did not expect and sometimes that worked, but at other times they lost me completely.

I found I especially loved the poems that had imagery of music and nature. Those crept into my heart and i found myself thinking about afterwards. I also really enjoyed the series of poems under the heading of An Entrance to the Tarot Garden.

There was some phrasing that felt a bit repetitive. I am not sure whether this was deliberate, but it was something I noticed a little too much, especially in the first half.

Would I recommend this collection? I think I would. I did feel there was a deeper meaning to these than I have not quite grasped on first read. This is a poetry collection I will come back to at some point in the future.

An example of one of the shorter poems I really liked in this collection:

jazz notes

jazz notes
blue totes

cold air
and sudden stares

as bebop blew
the ragged zoo

of thin-skinned moats
and sinking boats

until we knew
our time was through

5 out of 7 stars