Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: In The Presence of Absence (Mahmoud Darwish)

A truly incredible poetic memoir

★★★★★★★

Title: In The Presence of Absence (original title: في حضرة الغياب)
Author: Mahmoud Darwish (translator: Sinan Antoon)
Genre: Non-Fiction / Poetry / Memoir
First published: 2006 (in Arabic) / English translation: 2011
Edition: Paperback, published by Archipelago Books in 2020

By one of the most transcendent poets of this generation, a remarkable collection of prose poems that explores themes of love, pain, isolation, and connection. In this self-eulogy written in the final years of Mahmoud Darwish’s life, Palestine becomes a metaphor for the injustice and pain of our contemporary moment.

***

I read this beautifully written poetic memoir over the span of a few weeks. I did not want to rush it. I wanted to take in every word and to let them sink in.

I have never read anything quite like this before. The author wrote this remarkable second-person narrative, that is part poetic prose and part memoir. I have read one of his poetry books before, which I loved, but this was a different beast altogether.

The author touches on many memories and thoughts, on emotions and on the plight of the refugee and the displaced and exiled. It is a voice that is not heard enough. I started reading this book before the flare-up of the conflict between Israel and the Palestines, but in the past couple of weeks it has only become more poignant to me. The issues this Palestinian poet wrote about have still not been resolved and probably never will be. I will include a page in which he talks about his arrival in Gaza and how he felt whilst he was there.

I am not sure how I can express how I felt about this one. All I can say about this self-eulogy is that it touched me deeply. It is so beautifully written and the way he addresses himself throughout made it feel very personal and intimate. I really felt like if I was reading the innermost musings of his heart as he was pondering the end of his life.

An incredible piece of writing and I hope more people will read this, wherever they are in the world. It will enrich your life.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Then She Ran (Charlie Gallagher)

It was fine… Just not my thing.

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Then She Ran
Author: Charlie Gallagher
Genre: Fiction / Crime Thriller
First published: 2018
Edition: Kindle e-book

On a lazy Sunday morning, Jenny Harris is shaken awake by her panic-stricken boyfriend, Joseph. Their baby daughter lies asleep on her chest. ‘We’ve got to go!’ Joseph screams. In their hotel room, Jenny hurriedly wraps her tiny baby up. All their belongings are left behind. There’s no time. Joseph’s panic is contagious. Jenny sprints with her family from the hotel. And it’s clear that they are being chased. Their pursuers are indiscriminate and they are deadly. Her boyfriend falls, caught up in the carnage, but he manages to give her one last message: RUN!’

***

This took me way longer to read than it should have done. To be fair to the book, this is not a genre that I generally reach for, but I thought I would give this one a try. It was ok.

The opening chapter was pretty exciting and fast paced and I thought I would fly through it. Unfortunately it soon kind of stalled. I would not say that it ever became boring exactly, but it definitely lost a bit of momentum and I found my attention drifting to other things.

I do not have an awful lot to say about this novel. The writing overall was fine. The resolution was fine. There was nothing that particularly bothered me and if you like this kind of detective/crime/murder mystery novel, you will probably get on with it pretty well.

I would be hesitant to pick up another book from this author, but this has more to do with the genre than the quality of the writing or the characters. It was fine, but it just did not grip me the way I needed it to.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: By The Pricking of my Thumbs (Agatha Christie)

Turns out Agatha Christie books on audio are the way to go!

★★★★★☆☆

Title: By The Pricking of my Thumbs (Tommy & Tuppence)
Author: Agatha Christie Narrator: Hugh Fraser
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
First published: 1968
Edition: Audio book / Paperback

When Tommy and Tuppence visit an elderly aunt in her gothic nursing home, they think nothing of her mistrust of the doctors; after all, Ada is a very difficult old lady. But when Mrs. Lockett mentions a poisoned mushroom stew and Mrs. Lancaster talks about “something behind the fireplace,” Tommy and Tuppence find themselves caught up in a spine-chilling adventure that could spell death for either of them.

***

This was a rather random choice for me as far as audio books go, but I actually enjoyed Agatha Christie’s writing a lot in this format.

I had never read a Tommy and Tuppence mystery before, but I really had fun with this older husband and wife sleuthing duo. There was definitely something a bit witty and dotty about them and I kind of loved them for it.

If I am being picky there were a few bits in this story that did not make all that much sense to me, but I loved the overall feel of it. The narrator did an excellent job and I felt that did add to my experience of this story.

I love how simple Agatha Christie mysteries feel, but I actually had not guessed the ending, so that was kind of cool.

All in all, this was a good experience and I am likely to listen to some more Agatha Christies this way when I am not sure which audio book to pick. It really works

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Down Among The Sticks and Bones (Seanan McGuire)

A whimsical tale well told without too much fuss

★★★★★★☆

Title: Down Among The Sticks and Bones
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult/ Fantasy
First published: 2017
Edition: Hardback, published by Tor in 2017

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices. 

***

I picked this one up on a whim to read as I felt like I needed something short and easy to read. I had been putting off reading this one as I was never as enamoured with Every Heart A Doorway as everyone else seemed to be. I liked it well enough, but it did not blow me away by any means. However, I should not have worried. I enjoyed this one quite a bit more.

I liked the concept of twins being born into the same family, but acting and behaving different because they were treated differently by their parents. The commentary on raising children with preconceptions and prejudice (nature v nurture) in mind is fair and, though of course exaggerated, spot on.

The personal journey both the girls go on once they have gone through that door was interesting. They could not form a bigger contrast to each other and I think that was well done.

This was very easy to read and pretty much read like a dark fairytale, but I did not find it too whimsical. It was just right in that respect.

I do feel like in some places I wished the story had been fleshed out just a little more, but on the other hand I kind of enjoyed the concise writing. It suited the feel of the story very well.

I am much more keen to continue this series than I was after the first book and that can only be a good thing. I enjoyed this.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Children's Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: DarkIsle (D A Nelson)

A fun middle grade fantasy that did not quite hit the mark for me

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: DarkIsle
Author: D A Nelson
Genre: Fiction / Middle Grade / Fantasy
First published: 2007
Edition: Paperback, published by Strident in 2008

Ten-year-old Morag is being held prisoner. When a dodo and a rat accidentally rescue her, she is drawn into their dangerous and life-threatening mission to retrieve an ancient stone used to protect their northern homeland.

***

I am not entirely sure where this book came from, but it was on my shelves and asked to be read. And actually, this was a cute Middle Grade fantasy story and I enjoyed it well enough.

The whole story feels quite light and reads away very easily. A dragon, a rat and a dodo? Yes please! It has just the right amount of adventure. However, the writing style did not really do anything for me and I feel like it could have had a bit more oomph. The characters were fun, but could have done with a tiny bit more fleshing out. The main problem I had, was that every now and then something would happen that did not feel quite right for the larger feel of the book. Obviously, I can’t go into that, because, well, spoilers, but it was something that really pulled me out of the story a couple of times, which was a shame.

I will pass this book onto my almost 9-year-old daughter and I hope she will enjoy it. I think she would and she is the target audience. I won’t continue this series, but she may.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Clap When You Land (Elizabeth Acevedo)

A story of grief and family well told

★★★★★★☆

Title: Clap When You Land
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Contemporary
First published: 2020
Edition: Kindle e-book

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…
In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.
Separated by distance-and Papi’s secrets-the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

***

I have been feeling very restless and I have been finding it hard to concentrate on reading. However, this one was so easy to read and the story so engaging that I found it hard to stop reading this one. The story is told in free verse and with the pages less dense than what I am used to, it was perfect for my scattered brain at this particular moment.

This is the second novel I have read by this author, the first being the fantastic The Poet X, which I absolutely loved. There is something about her writing style, about the rhythm of her words and the deceptive power behind them, that feels like a warm hug. It was exactly what I needed right now.

The story deals with grief and revelations in the aftermath of the death of a father and does this with sensitivity and restraint. The use of the language was just on point. The idea of secret families is always an intriguing one and this one was very well executed without being overdramatic. I found both our main characters very easy to relate to and I found myself caring about them both. It did not quite touch all the heartstrings, but I did empathize with these girls very easily.

The ending was satisfying to me and it amazes me that the author is able to tell such a good story with relatively few words. Looking back at my reading experience there were moments that I wished it was a bit more fleshed out, but overall I loved this very much.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Fire From Heaven (Mary Renault)

Good read, but took me a while in my current state of mind

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Fire From Heaven
Author: Mary Renault
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction
First published: 1969
Edition: Paperback, published by Virago Press in 2014

Alexander’s beauty, strength, and defiance were apparent from birth, but his boyhood honed those gifts into the makings of a king. His mother, Olympias, and his father, King Philip of Macedon, fought each other for their son’s loyalty, teaching Alexander politics and vengeance from the cradle. His love for the youth Hephaistion taught him trust, while Aristotle’s tutoring provoked his mind and Homer’s Iliad fueled his aspirations. Killing his first man in battle at the age of twelve, he became regent at sixteen and commander of Macedon’s cavalry at eighteen, so that by the time his father was murdered, Alexander’s skills had grown to match his fiery ambition.

***

I don’t think this was the best time for me to read this book, as although it was not heavy or complicated, the writing style did not make it easy reading for me. It took me a long time, and I found myself easily distracted from it . That does not mean I did not enjoy it. I did, but it never quite sucked me in.

The book tells the story of Alexander The Great and the subject really appealed to me. The book is well written and it feels believable. Actually very little is known about Alexander The Great before he rose to power. The author did a great job of sketching a version of his life before. She handles his relationships with care and never strays far into emotions. Although I generally like a more emotional read, I feel it suited this story better not to.

There were a lot of names and normally that does not bother me, but in my slightly scattered brain state right now I found a little trying to keep track of who everyone was.

I definitely want to read more from this author and particularly in this series. I like the time period and setting and she clearly knew how to write a good story. I just may have to pick it up at a better time. I may even re-read this one at some point.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: In The Days of Rain (Rebecca Stott)

Fascinating and well written without relying on sensationalism

★★★★★★☆

Title: In The Days of Rain
Author/Narrator: Rebecca Stott
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Cults
First published: 2017
Edition: Audio book / Hardback, published by Fourth Estate

As Rebecca Stott’s father lay dying he begged her to help him write the memoir he had been struggling with for years. He wanted to tell the story of their family, who, for generations had all been members of a fundamentalist Christian sect. Yet, each time he reached a certain point, he became tangled in a thicket of painful memories and could not go on. The sect were a closed community who believed the world is ruled by Satan: non-sect books were banned, women were made to wear headscarves and those who disobeyed the rules were punished. Rebecca was born into the sect, yet, as an intelligent, inquiring child she was always asking dangerous questions. She would discover that her father, an influential preacher, had been asking them too, and that the fault-line between faith and doubt had almost engulfed him. Rebecca gathers the broken threads of her father’s story, and her own, and follows him into the thicket to tell of her family’s experiences within the sect, and the decades-long aftermath of their breaking away.

***

This book had been staring at me from my book shelves for a while and when I was picking up a new audio book I decided to go with this one. I think the audio book was a great choice for this one.

Religion is a subject that has always fascinated me. After all, it shapes the lives of so many people around me. Yet, I am always a bit hesitant when it comes to reading about cults/sects. Often these kind of books feel too sensationalised and that is not really my kind of thing. I felt this book was not that. The author’s voice in this feels conflicted still with the indoctrination she grew up with and her current beliefs. However, this is also a book about her relationship with her father and his relationship with the Brethren, the strict Christian church he was born into. This book also looks at the the history of the Brethren through the experiences of her own family.

I thought this book was really well written and thought out. The perspective was always very clear. This is the author’s perspective and her father’s, and they clearly feel this is a story that needed to be told. Their experiences with this particular church are harrowing at times.

Living in a country amongst several Christian belief systems, some of which are very strict indeed, I can see how religion permeates every aspect of their daily lives. Like I said, this has always been so strange, but fascinating to me. The way the author wrote this story was interesting and informative. It satisfied my curiosity, without straying into sensationalism, like so many of these books do. Neither did I find it overly emotional.

I really enjoyed this book and if the subject matter appeals to you, I would highly recommend it.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday: 14 April 2021

I skipped last week for some reason. I don’t think I finished anything then anyway, so I guess it does not matter. And I am super late again today! Anyway, happy Wednesday evening!

***

WWW Wednesdays’ home is at Sam’s blog Taking On A World of Words. Check it out! (It’s her birthday today, so wish her a happy birthday!)

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 currenly reading?

I have just started Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault last night, so I am only 6 (!!) pages in. I was choosing a new book and just kind of felt like reading a fiction book about some ancient civilization. This one centres around Alexander The Great.

I am still listening to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It is nice to revisit this wonderful novel as an audio book. Rosamund Pike does a great job reading it. She brings a lot of life to it. I only have an hour or so to go, so I expect to finish it in the next couple of days.

What did your recently finish reading?

I finished Palace of Desire, the second book in the Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz, just yesterday evening. I really love Mahfouz’ writing a lot. It took me about two weeks to read, which is long for me, but I don’t mind. I enjoyed it and I will order the third book in the series soon.

What will I be reading next?

It’s time to pick up another non-fiction book. I am just not quite sure which one yet. I have a couple of music books I want to read, but I also have some other books I would like to get to soon. I will probably decide later today.

As for fiction, I will probably pick up something from my 2021 TBR next.

Books · Poetry · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(Poetry) Book Thoughts: The Flowers of Evil (Charles Baudelaire)

Melancholy perfection

★★★★★★★

Title: The Flowers of Evil
Author: Charles Baudelaire
Translator: Anthony Mortimer
Genre:
 Poetry / Classic
First published: 1857
Edition: Paperback, dual language edition, published by Alma Classics in 2016

Judicially condemned in 1857 as offensive to public morality, The Flowers of Evil is now regarded as the most influential volume of poetry published in the nineteenth century. Torn between intense sensuality and profound spiritual yearning, racked by debt and disease, Baudelaire transformed his own experience of Parisian life into a work of universal significance. With his unflinching examination of the dark aspects and unconventional manifestations of sexuality, his pioneering portrayal of life in a great metropolis and his daring combination of the lyrical and the prosaic, Baudelaire inaugurated a new epoch in poetry and created a founding text of modernism.

***

I always find it hard to discuss poetry. I don’t know enough about poetry, technically speaking. I only know whether a poet’s work speaks to me or not. Well, I can confirm that Baudelaire’s poetry speaks loud and clearly. It speaks loud and clear in melancholy tones that I came to love.

The format of most of the poems is quite simple, but I can imagine how controversial the content of these poems must have been when they came out. For modern eyes they do not shock, but it was a different world back then. My modern eyes (and ears) much enjoyed reading this. His imagery is beautiful and the rhythm of his poems, mostly classical forms, just work so well.

The subject matter range from love to destruction and everything in between. There is deep sadness, despair, but also moments of admiration and yes, love. Considering his life (there was a helpful biography at the back), these poems make sense in that context. Yet, even before I knew anything about his life, his poems just clicked for me.

These poems are easy to read, but take a little bit more time to digest, just the way I like them. I will definitely be dipping in and out of this book, reading a poem here and there, in the future.

I don’t quite think this will be for everyone. The imagery can be a little crude and it does deal with sex and prostitutes rather a lot, but as a document of the time and as poetry, I thought this was exquisite.

I loved that this is a dual language edition, with the original French poem on one side and the English translation on the other. I did refer to the French versions every now and then and the rhythm felt much the same, so I can only surmise that this is a pretty good translation!

7 out of 7 stars