Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis de Bernières)

Just chopping onions, really

★★★★★★☆

Title: Corelli’s Mandolin
Author: Louis de Bernières
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction
First published: 1994 (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin)
Edition: Hardback, published by Pantheon

In the early days of the second world war, before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece, Dr Iannis practices medicine on the island of Cephalonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he imparts much of his healing art. Even when the Italians do invade, life isn’t so bad—at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of “Heil Hitler” with his own “Heil Puccini”, and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. Love is complicated enough in wartime, even when the lovers are on the same side. And for Corelli and Pelagia, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate the minefield of allegiances, both personal and political, as all around them atrocities mount, former friends become enemies and the ugliness of war infects everyone it touches.

***

When I started reading this one I was not sure what to expect. It is a modern classic, but I hardly knew anything about it. It took me a while to get into, but in the end I loved it.

I struggled to get into this book. It took me half the book to get into the writing and the story, but I flew through the second half. The writing style felt rather odd at the beginning, but once I got used to it, I actually really enjoyed it. It’s quite witty and dry and not without a touch of silliness. Yet, the book deals with heartbreaking events. Though the author admits that the book is not accurate when it comes to what happened on this particular Greek island, there is no doubt that the most grotesque atrocities were committed during WW II in Greece. Parts of this novel were harrowing to read. My heart broke several times over.

The story at its heart, about love that grows despite everything, is bittersweet, but made my heart glow. Maybe a part of me wishes that the ending had been a bit different, but maybe this ending was just right.

In the end I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would after the first quarter, especially since novels set in wars are not normally my bag. I would highly recommend this novel, but is not for the faint of heart. I do feel it is very much worth reading and the unusual tone of the writing only enhanced its story in the end.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 28 July 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 am I currently reading?

No progress on The Masnavi by Rumi this week, but I am sure I will get back to it soon.

I am reading Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières. That one is on my Summer TBR and it’s a bit of a modern classic. I am about halfway. I am enjoying it, but for some reason it takes quite a bit of effort to read. There is something weird about the writing style for me. I am not sure what I expected from this one, but I am liking it. It’s just a bit slower going than expected.

I have also not made that much progress with Life by Keith Richards on audio. I have just not taken much time listening to audio this past week.

What did I recently finish reading?

I only finished one book, which was The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho. That one was a recent charity shop buy. It was fine. Just not one I will remember.

What will I be reading next?

I will probably look at my Summer TBR and choose something from that. I’m still quite in the mood for historical fiction, so I may stick to that genre for now. Which one should I read?

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)

My heart, people, my heart!

★★★★★★★

Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction / Mythology
First published: 2011
Edition: Kindle e-book

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

***

So yes, I will admit that I finished this book in floods of tears, a hallmark of a very good book in my humble opinion.

I had read Circe by this author and loved it, so I had been meaning to read this one for ages. I heard so many people raving about it! I do not know why it took me so long to finally read it.

As soon as I read the first page I knew I would love it. The writing is beautiful and the connection and relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is touchingly written. I admired Patroclus’ love and loyalty, even if Achilles annoyed quite a bit sometimes. What that boy needed was a really good slap. However, his flaws and the way Patroclus deals with them (or does not deal with them as the case may be), is what makes this story so compelling.

I loved how this story took well-known myths and shaped them into something fresh and beautiful to read. The ending broke and healed my heart at the same time – it was so perfect. The author has a great touch with words and weaves an incredible emotional story that will hold a bit of my heart for quite a while.

If you have not read this one yet, read it! It’s a thing of beauty.

7 out of 7 stars

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

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Listening to the Animals (Noel Fitzpatrick)

Emotional, but inspiring

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Listening to the Animals: Becoming The Supervet
Author/narrator: Noel Fitzpatrick
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Animals
First published: 2018
Edition: Audio/Hardback, published by Trapeze in 2018

We will travel with him through difficult school years and a very non-traditional career-path from farm animal practice in rural Ireland to the most advanced hospital for regenerative medicine anywhere in the veterinary world. We will hear in his own words the inspiration behind the inventions and techniques he has developed and the incredible lengths he has gone to in order to save the animals on his operating table, and we will begin to understand the emotional roots of his professional impetus. As heart-warming and life-affirming as the TV show with which he made his name, Noel’s memoir is a story of love, hope and compassion, and about rejoicing in the bond between humans and animals that can make us the very best we can be.

This was a book gifted to me and it took me a couple of years to decide to read it. I ended up going with the audio book, narrated by the author. I completely understand why my mother-in-law gave it to me. I love animals. I always have some around me. I wanted to be a vet when I was younger.

Yes, this book is about the journey the author went on from a young boy on a farm to being the ‘Supervet’ and having a state-of-the-art veterinary practice and a TV show, but it is about much more than that. Battling the odds is a major theme throughout the book, whether it is bullying or trying to make progress in medicine and science, making impossible things possible. This is clearly a man who has always worked very hard for what he believed in and his drive has brought him success, but also loss.

The author is clearly a very sensitive, beautiful person and his empathy shone through. However, there are times when I felt the book was a little too personal and emotional and that is unusual since I am a very emotional creature myself. Maybe it is because I am very sensitive myself that I felt uncomfortable at times, maybe it was too close to the bone. Maybe it was his emotional delivery on audio, which felt a little dramatic at times. I am not saying he should have done it differently, just that it did not always work for me.

I expected to love this book more than I did. I definitely thought it was interesting and inspiring, but for some reason I did not end up quite loving it. However, I did like this book and I would recommend it if you are interested in animals and their stories, as well as the life of a vet, or if you need that final push to persevere with something. You could just watch the TV show if you are more interested in the veterinary side rather than his personal story. Some of the animal stories in here were on the TV show.

This is not a book I would have necessarily bought for myself, but I am glad I read it.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Beach Read (Emily Henry)

Henry, Emily - Beach Read

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Beach Read
Author: Emily Henry
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary Romance/Chick Lit
First published: 2020
Edition: Kindle e-book (Penguin)

January is a hopeless romantic who likes narrating her life as if she’s the heroine in a blockbuster movie.
Augustus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale.
January and Augustus are not going to get on.
But they actually have more in common than you’d think:
They’re both broke.
They’ve got crippling writer’s block.
They need to write bestsellers before the end of the summer.

💞📔❤

I so wished I loved this as much as everyone else seems to. I really liked the sound of this, but for me the story fell a bit flat in places.

I liked our female lead January well enough, but male lead Gus left me completely cold. His actions too often baffled or annoyed me right up to the end. I just did not get him at all.

There are things I definitely liked, like the fact that both leads came with baggage and there was more to this story than simply the romance. The tension between our two leads was really well written in places, and I do love a bit of good tension!

Some of the side characters were really fun, but I felt they were a bit underutilized The overall writing was fine. I just felt that some things took too long to be wrapped up and then they were wrapped up in the blink of an eye.

So, yes, I have mixed feelings about this one. In the end it just left me a bit ‘meh’ and I doubt this is a romance that I will remember.

If you like the sound of this one, please do read it, because a lot of people absolutely love it. It just was not for me.

4 out of 7 stars

 

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 5 August 2020

As predicted, these past seven days have been much slower readingwise, but I am enjoying my reading and that is what counts!

***

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 currently reading Beach Read by Emily Henry (just like everyone else it seems!). I am almost halfway. It’s ok. I am not completely loving it, but I think it depends on where it goes from here. I am not really that into either of the main characters.

Henry, Emily - Beach Read   Kendi, Ibram X - How To Be An Antiracist

I am listening to How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi. I am so impressed with this book. I love how Kendi is taking his own experience and perspective and how he is the applying that to the world at large. I love how much passion is in his narration for the audio book. I am finding I am hanging on his every word in a way that I maybe would not have done if I had read the physical version. A very important book for sure and one I just know I will come out of wiser. I am about halfway into this one as well.

What did I recently finish reading?

I only finished two books since last week:

Rushdie, Salman - East,West    Marillier, Juliet - Tower of Thorns

Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier (Blackthorn & Grim, book 2): I adored this and I am reading the final book this month I hope! 6*/7

East,West by Salman Rushdie: This is a short story collection that was just ok for me. 4*/7

What do I think I will read next?

I want to read Nefertiti by Michelle Moran next. I have not read a book set in ancient Egypt for years and years and it used to be one of my favourite subjects. I am really looking forward to this one.


I also want to finish another fantasy series if I can. I am not sure whether I will go with the final book in the Blackthorn & Grim series (Den of Wolves) or Darkdawn (Nevernight trilogy by Jay Kristoff). I definitely feel in a fantasy mood.

If I can finish a few of my fantasy series this August, I will. I am keen to start some new ones!

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel)

Mantel, Hilary - Wolf Hall

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction /
First published: 2009
Edition: Paperback published by Fourth Estate in 2010

Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell – a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

***

I am so conflicted when it comes to this book. Whilst I recognised it’s incredible construction and the meticulous research that must have gone into it, it left me rather cold and I struggled to get through it.

The subject, Thomas Cromwell, is an interesting character, but somehow I felt I always stayed at arm’s length. I never quite felt that I was in his mind or that I knew what he was about. Maybe that was the intention, but it did not really work for me.

I found the writing impressive overall, but a bit dense and a little confusing at times. This is such a grand book, filled with characters from history we already think we are familiar with, but it is angled at quite a different viewpoint than the one we are used to. I thought I would love it and I am disappointed that I simply did not. I did not quite enjoy the experience of reading it the way I thought I would. At times it felt like a bit of a slog.

I am, however, glad I finally read it. I just wonder whether I read it at the right time. I will keep this on my shelves as it is one of those books I may read again in the future to see whether it will sink in more than it did this time.

Would I recommend it? Yes, I think I would, but with the side note that this is a book that takes quite some reading and will definitely not be for everyone. It was a bit dry and dense at times, but I think the overall story and writing is impressive enough to deserve to be read.

4 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