Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 24 February 2021

***

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 are you currently reading?

I am reading an actual bookie book, an e-book and I am listening to an audio book at the moment.

The paperback is The City of Brass by S A Chakraborty. I bought this one on a whim last week. I am still in the mood for Middle Eastern inspired books, but I fancied something a bit different. This one has glowing reviews and I have heard good things, so despite the fact I should not be starting a new series (oops), I started this one. I am only a few pages in, so not much to tell yet.

My Kindle book is Your Song Changed My Life by Bob Boilen. I am reading this one for my music book club. I am a few chapters in and it is kind of eclectic and interesting. I hope I will end up liking it.

Finally, I am listening to Listening to the Animals by Noel Fitzpatrick, the Supervet. I love nature and animals and I have not been reading these types of books enough lately. My mother-in-law bought the hardback copy of this for me a couple of Christmasses ago, but I did not get round to reading it. It’s a memoir, so I thought the audio book read by the author would be the way to go. He is a bit dramatic reading it, but I I am liking it so far.

What did I recently finish reading?

I finished Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, which I enjoyed plenty enough, but did not quite love (5 out of 7 stars). I finished an audio book, which was Chronicles by Bob Dylan. That one was kind of interesting, but simply did not excite me (4 out of 7 stars). Finally, I read Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, which I absolutely fell in love with (7 big stars!). I am pretty sure that one will end up on my end of year list.

What will I be reading next?

I am not entirely sure yet. There are several books I want to pick up soon, but I have no definite reading plans.

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Hamnet (Maggie O’Farrell)

Oh, this writing is so beautiful

★★★★★★★

Title: Hamnet
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
First published: 2020
Edition: Hardback, published by Tinder Press

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

I put off reading this book for far too long. My expectations were so high and I was so afraid I would be disappointed. Now I wish I had read it sooner, as this is a truly beautiful book.

Its story is fictional, but the touchstones to actual historical figures gives it a gravity it may otherwise not have had. From the beginning you are aware that Hamnet will die and the whole story appears to build to that moment, which creates low-level tension from the start. But then after the fact all the feelings and emotions crashed over me in waves. Grief is written in such a beautiful heartwrenching way that I found myself sobbing for pages and pages. Call me weird, but I kind of love it when a book overwhelms with emotion.

Despite all the tears, I did not find this a depressing book. At its heart it is a story about family, about love, and simply about life. The author brings the past to life in exquisite detail and I relished the passages in which she describes the most mundane of chores or actions in beautiful prose. I think O’Farrell’s writing here is truly inspiring.

I love this book with all my heart and I am so, so glad I finally read it. I would highly recommend this.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Chronicles (Bob Dylan)

I have read too many memoirs lately that were better

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Chronicles, volume one
Author: Bob Dylan Narrator: Sean Penn
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Music
First published: 2004
Edition: Audio book

Through Dylan’s eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. Dylan’s New York is a magical city of possibilities — smoky, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships. Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough. With the book’s side trips to New Orleans, Woodstock, Minnesota and points west, Chronicles: Volume One is an intimate and intensely personal recollection of extraordinary times.

🎸🎙🎵

Either I have memoir fatigue or this one is simply not as good as many other music biographies I have read over the last year or so. Either way, I enjoyed this one, but I doubt it will stick in my mind very long.

Bob Dylan is one of those characters in music that we all think we know, but actually know little about. That certainly was the case for me. I absolutely went in with a preconception of who this man was and I think during the reading (listening) of this book, a lot of those preconceptions went out of the window. I like that. I like it when you get something you did not expect, when you come out of a book with a better idea of who a person is. This did do that, kind of.

However, despite the fact that the author can write a bloody good sentence every now and then, overall I just did not love the style in which this was written. It felt disjointed and the flow did not suit me. It did not grab me in the way that other memoirs have done. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it, and I still learned something, but it just did not move me in any way and it did not connect with me.

I do still think this is a good memoir. If you like Bob Dylan or you are just interested in what he has to say, this is worth reading and you will probably enjoy it as I did, but if you’re not that interested in him as a person, I doubt this one will do a ton to thrill you.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Girl With A Pearl Earring (Tracy Chevalier)

A quietly atmospheric novel, but something was missing…

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Girl With A Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction
First published: 1999
Edition: Paperback, published by Harper Collins in 2003

Griet, the young daughter of a tilemaker in seventeeth century Holland, obtains her first job, as a servant in Vermeer’s household. Through Griet’s eyes we see the complicated family, the society of the small town of Delft, and life with an obsessive genius. Griet loves being drawn into his artistic life, and leaving her former drudgery, but the cost to her own survival may be high. 

***

This book had been lingering on my shelves for a while and I finally picked it up. It was an easy read. It was well written and atmospheric, but I did not love it.

I think everyone knowns the painting this book is based on. It is one of the most famous paintings in the world. This fictional account of its birth is not based on much fact, as little is known about the painter or the painting itself. However, the author brought the time period to life with skilfull writing. The quiet tension between Griet and Vermeer is well written. Overall, this is a quiet sort of book and generally I like a quiet book, but I found something was missing, like the pearl in the painting. There is something niggling at me.

I enjoyed reading this book, but I did not find it particularly memorable. I am glad I finally read it and I would like to read more from this author.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Currently Reading · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 17 February 2021

***

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 are you currently reading?

I am reading Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. It has been on my shelf for ages and I have heard good things about it. I am about 100 pages and I am enjoying it so far.

I am listening to Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, which is ok so far. I am not blown away by it, but there are times when his turn of phrase is gorgeous. His overall manner of telling his story is not grabbing me though. Sean Penn is doing the narration. I wonder whether it is the narration I am not connecting with. I have the paperback, so I could pick that up instead… But I need an audio book…. Oh well…

What have I recently finished reading?

It’s been a good reading week quantity wise, not so much quality wise… I finished three books, which were A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke (5/7*), Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (4/7*) and finally my audio book There Goes Gravity by Lisa Robinson (5/7*). I liked all of them, but did not love any of them, which is always disappointing. That has been pretty much been the trend this whole February.

What will I read next?

I will start reading Your Song Changed My Life by Bob Boilen (from NPR Tiny Desk Concerts) at some point this week as my next musical book, probably at the weekend. For my next physical book I want to pick one up from my 2021 TBR. I am thinking either Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell or Flames by Robbie Arnott. I need a book to love!

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Ninth House (Leigh Bardugo)

An good plot, but frustrating characters

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Ninth House
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fiction / Urban Fantasy
First published: 2019
Edition: Kinde e-book

Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

***

This was such a frustrating read for me. In the end I really liked a lot of the actual plot and story, but the execution was patchy for me.

I had enjoyed the author’s books before, so an adult fantasy book by this author sounded like a good thing! It could have been and it kind of was, but I am not sure how to feel at the end of this book.

It took me a while to get into this one. After about a hundred pages I even considered not finishing this book, but in the end I am glad I persisted. Slowly but surely I warmed to the story, if not quite the characters. The plot ended up being strong enough to carry me forward into the book.

There was things I definitely liked about this one. The plot itself and the story were strong, but the characters… Yes, they were patchy. It was not that I did not like the characters at all, but the way the narrative was written made the characters feel too disjointed. The main character Alex was not set up enough for my tastes and too many of the other characters felt unexplored. I found it frustrating, especially recognising that the story itself was so good and I actually enjoyed it on a whole.

I do feel that some bits set out in synopsis and in the beginning of the story were not explored any further, which was disappointing. Why set plot points up and then ignore them? Maybe they will be in future books. One hopes they will!

I did not think I would want to continue in this series until the final fifty pages or so. Now I definitely want to read on. Oh, the frustration!

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: There Goes Gravity (Lisa Robinson)

Hitting all the right keys, but not quite the right chord for me (bad pun alert)

★★★★★☆☆

Title: There Goes Gravity
Author/Narrator: Lisa Robinson
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Music
First published: 2014
Edition: Audio book

Lisa Robinson has interviewed the biggest names in music–including Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Patti Smith, U2, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Jay Z and Kanye West. She visited the teenage Michael Jackson many times at his Encino home. She spent hours talking to John Lennon at his Dakota apartment–and in recording studios just weeks before his murder. She introduced David Bowie to Lou Reed at a private dinner in a Manhattan restaurant, helped the Clash and Elvis Costello get their record deals, was with the Rolling Stones on their jet during a frightening storm, and was mid-flight with Led Zeppelin when their tour manager pulled out a gun. A pioneering female journalist in an exclusive boys’ club, Lisa Robinson is a preeminent authority on the personalities and influences that have shaped the music world; she has been recognized as rock journalism’s ultimate insider.

🎤🎸🎹

This was an interesting listen. The author has been a renowned music journalist for many decades and in this memoir she documents a number of her most noteworthy encounters. From Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to Eminem and Michael Jackson, she covers iconic artists with passion and a casual flare that bring her stories to life. I think the audio narration definitely helped, as her voice was very lively whilst relating her tales. However, sometimes I found myself completely uninterested in the details she was relating to me.

I would say there was a lot of name dropping, but then what else would a book like this be about? I can hardly criticize it for that. However, sometimes it felt a little much. I think it was in the way of telling the story. It came across little smug every now and then. She has plenty to be smug about, I would have given an arm and a leg to see/do some of the things she has seen/done (though definitely not all!) and I have no idea why it bothered me, but occasionally it just did. The tone was just a little bit off for me.

Surprisingly I found the later chapters on Eminem and Lady Gaga the most interesting. Maybe because being a long time ‘rock and roll’ fan, I have heard some version of the other stories before.

This was a good listen and very enjoyable in places, but unfortunately it lost me in others and I did not quite love it.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: A Bright Ray of Darkness (Ethan Hawke)

A lot of raw cynicism with a tiny bit of humanity thrown in

★★★★★☆☆

Title: A Bright Ray of Darkness
Author: Ethan Hawke
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
First published: 2021
Edition: Hardcover, published by William Heinemann in 2021

A bracing meditation on fame and celebrity, and the redemptive, healing power of art; a portrait of the ravages of disappointment and divorce; a poignant consideration of the rites of fatherhood and manhood; a novel soaked in rage and sex, longing and despair; and a passionate love letter to the world of theatre.

***

Ethan Hawke is one of my favourite actors, but I had never read any of his novels. This one caught my eye and I thought I would give it a go. I did not love it and yet it did not disappoint me. It was exactly what I expected it to be.

To me, this feels like a very male book, which kind of makes sense, as this is a book about a man who is trying to find grip in the world after a relationship breakdown. His outlook on the world is pretty cynical and from a very masculine perspective, but it works in the context of this particular story.

The book is about a movie actor trying his hand at a Broadway Shakespeare play. Write what you know, I guess! It spans the run of the play. It feels most believeable and is gorgeously written in places and made me cringe a bit in others. The main character is not particularly likeable and I wanted to give him a good shake a few times, but I kind of found myself rooting for him at the same time.

Is this particular movie actor a good writer? Yes, I think he is. If you have seen interviews with him, you will know exactly what this book is like. It is eloquent enough and kind of raw and intense. Very masculine and cynical, but a little bit of warmth does run through it.

The style of this book was not quite for me, but it is a good novel. If you’re intrigued by it, read it.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

WWW Wednesdays: 10 February 2021

It’s a cold and snowy morning, and I have a bunch of chores today, so let’s get my WWW done nice and early! 🙂

***

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 have an hour to go on my audio book, which is There Goes Gravity by famed music journalist Lisa Robinson. It has been a pretty good listen and includes chapters on a range of musicians, from The Rolling Stones to Eminem.

I am reading Ethan Hawke’s book A Bright Ray of Darkness. I’ve got a signed copy of that one, which is kind of fun. I am not quite halfway, but it is kind of exactly what I expected, smart and kind of sleazy. I am liking it though. If you have seen more recent interviews with him you know exactly what this book is like. It’s about a Hollywood actor doing a Shakespeare play on Broadway. Write what you know, I guess…

What did I recently finish reading?

I finished two books, both of which did not quite hit the mark for me. The first one was Paris by Starlight by Robert Dinsdale. That one has some gorgeous magical passages in it, but overall the vibe was a little off for me. I also read The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn, which is the second book in the Bridgerton series. It was a romp and I enjoyed it, but I am done with that series for now. It’s not quite my jam.

What will I be reading next?

Audio book wise I will probably go back to Chronicles by Bob Dylan. My fiction books will most likely be Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, as I already read the first chapter of that one.

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Viscount Who Loved Me (Julia Quinn)

A fun but forgettable romp

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: The Viscount Who Loved Me
Author: Julia Quinn
Genre: Fiction / Historical Romance
First published: 2000
Edition: e-book

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes to not make the best husbands–and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate’s determined to protect her sister–but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony’s lips touch hers, she’s suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself…

***

I am not sure I have that much to say about this book. It was fun, but it certainly did not blow me away, which is fine. I was in the mood for something light and it fitted the bill.

I did enjoy both lead characters probably bit more than the first book in the series. But what is the thing with this series and daddy issues?

This is one of those novels that is not particularly good, but that is awfully entertaining! I would definitely classify this as a light read, a romp even. There is nothing sophisticated about it, but it is fun. I think I did enjoy this one more than the first book in the series. The story felt a bit lighter and fluffier and the characters were far more amusing!

The writing was a bit uneven and every now and then felt a little contrived. There was one point there was a thunderstorm going on, but the author talked about moonlight shining on someone’s face. I mean, how? It’s usually cloudy during thunderstorms… Nevermind.

Although I had fun with this novel, I do not think I will be continuing in this series.

4 out of 7 stars