‘Within the Sanctuary of Wings’ by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 stars

The tale of how Isabella became a famous naturalist around the world thanks to her discoveries about dragons comes to an end in Within the Sanctuary of Wings. As in the four previous books in The Memoirs of Lady Trent series, Marie Brennan mixed an adventure with anthropological, scientific and cultural elements, creating a fantasy world and society that occasionally resemble our own. The relationships between the characters are not as explored as in other instalments unfortunately. Isabella’s newest discovery, however, is one of the most exciting.

Isabella was nearly forty at the time of the events that she is recalling. Once, while she was in her home country, Scirland, she was approached by a man who claimed to had found the body of a dragon of an unknown breed at the Mrtyahaima mountains in the Dajin continent. Mr Thu Phim-Lat was an exile who had been a mountaineer. In exchange for more information, he wanted Isabella to help his people, the Khiam Siu, to establish an alliance with Scirland’s government against the Taisên.

Mr Thu didn’t provide any substantial proof of his claim. He only had a pair of scales and the notebook that he used to sketch what he had seen. That was enough to arouse Isabella’s curiosity, though. Her desire to go there only increased when Mr Thu revealed that he also believed that there might be another specimen in the same area. Although there was no guarantee that a dragon could actually be found there, Isabella, Suhail and Tom headed to the highest mountains in the world. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – March 2020

I’ve been trying to avoid mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic on this blog, but I’ll have to do so this time, seeing that this month was awfully strange because of it. March seems to have lasted for ages. However, I don’t have many favourites to share with you. I haven’t read much in my spare time, sadly. I’ve spent too much time watching unremarkable films that just happened to be on TV instead.

From the few books that I’ve read, my favourite was O Bebedor de Horizontes by the Mozambican author Mia Couto. It is the last instalment in the trilogy Sands of the Emperor and focuses on what happened to the characters in the aftermath of the Portuguese offensive against Ngungunyane, the emperor of the State of Gaza. Although Imani is still the main character, it’s given more relevance to some historical figures. As in the first book, Woman of the Ashes, it delves into racism and colonialism.

Seeing that all gigs in Portugal have been cancelled, a group of artists decided to give short, one-person concerts live on Instagram. I watched a couple of them and particularly liked the one by David Fonseca. I’ve seen him live a few times, but it still warmed my heart when he sang ‘Borrow’. He then uploaded the performance on YouTube. Continue reading

Authors I Discovered Thanks to the Bookish Community

Blogs and YouTube channels mainly focused on books are a fantastic resource for readers, if I can say so myself. Thanks to various bloggers and youtubers, I discovered some authors whom I had never heard of before and whose books I also haven’t seen displayed in bookshops in Portugal since then.

When I started thinking about authors that I learnt about thanks to the bookish community, six names immediately sprang to mind. But this is by no means an exhaustive list.

 

Daphne du Maurier

It may be a surprise to some of you to see Daphne du Maurier’s name on this list. But, being from Portugal, she was a complete unknown to me. It was thanks to either Lauren from Lauren and the Books or Simon from SavidgeReads on YouTube that I decided to read the magnificent Rebecca. Since then, I’ve also read Jamaica Inn, The King’s General, My Cousin Rachel, The House on the Strand and The Birds and Other Stories. Her work is, generally speaking, atmospheric, full of vivid characters and sprinkled with mystery. Continue reading

‘O Bebedor de Horizontes’ by Mia Couto

My rating: 4 stars

O Bebedor de Horizontes is the last instalment of the trilogy As Areias do Imperador (Sands of the Emperor) by the Mozambican author Mia Couto. One of the main differences between this book and the previous two, Mulheres de Cinza (Woman of the Ashes in the English translation) and A Espada e a Azagaia, is that it gives more prominence to some historical figures, although Imani continues to be the main character. The novel is at its best, in fact, when it focuses on her more personal experiences.

Set in 1895 and 1896, mainly in Mozambique, it explores the aftermath of the Portuguese offensive against Ngungunyane, the emperor of the State of Gaza. The narration in the first person by Imani, a young woman from the Vachopi tribe, is complemented by a variety of letters sent to her not only by Germano, but also by other characters, such as Bianca. We learn that within the Portuguese military there’s a conflict between Mouzinho de Albuquerque and Álvaro Andrea. Germano believes Andrea to be a much better person overall. But it’s Imani who has to deal with both of them.

The style of the prose changes slightly depending on what is being conveyed. When Imani is reporting on what other characters did, the writing style is more straightforward, less embellished. On the other hand, when she is being more introspective or recalling her own experiences, words come together more graciously and metaphors abound. Continue reading

Read in Translation, Want to Read the Original

As those of you who have been following my blog for a while probably already know, my first language is Portuguese. The first fiction book that I read in its entirety in English was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, because I didn’t want to wait for the translation. It was only after 2010, however, that I started reading the original versions of English books more recurrently. Nowadays, I don’t read the translations of books originally written in English anymore. Not only is it a great way to practise my English reading skills, but ordering books from the UK is also cheaper than to buy them in Portugal.

There are three books by English authors that I read the translation into Portuguese, but that I’m eager to read the original version of.

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I read the Portuguese translation of Pride and Prejudice, titled Orgulho e Preconceito, more or less 13 years ago. The heroine of the novel is Elizabeth Bennett. Her mother is eager to marry all of her five daughters. Elizabeth is playful, intelligent and witty, but she also makes quick judgements about people. One of them is Mr Darcy. The misunderstandings between the two of them are also a consequence of his prideful nature and of the importance he gives to social status. The believable characters are accompanied by great moments of satire. Continue reading

‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark

My rating: 4 stars

Whether they desire it or not, some teachers can be a huge source of inspiration. The title character of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark derived great satisfaction from the influence that she had over her pupils, particularly the group of girls known as the Brodie set. Throughout this novella, Miss Brodie looms large, despite the story almost never being told from her perspective. Such an interesting and problematic character called for a slightly longer book.

A group of girls (Monica, Rose, Eunice, Sandy, Jenny and Mary) at Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh was known as the Brodie set. Jean Brodie was their teacher when they were at junior school in the 1930s. Although her teaching methods were not, overall, well regarded at the school, she believed herself to be in her prime. She was interested in art and particularly loved painting. But she also had a strong admiration for Mussolini’s troops. The girls were noticeably under her spell, and Miss Brodie didn’t want to lose her influence.

The plot jumps in time. Readers get to succinctly know what the Brodie set were up to when they were around 10, 16 and then as adults. When they were 16 years old, Miss Brodie asked for their help, as there was a plot at school to force her to resign. Before she died, she kept questioning whom amongst her girls had betrayed her. What was behind the betrayal starts getting revealed without details, being only briefly mentioned, and only afterwards it’s further explored. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – February 2020

March has already begun, but this post is still about February. During the shortest month of the year, I spent some of my free time reading books, watching TV series, listening to music and perusing through amazing blogs. And the time has come to share with you my favourites!

My favourite book from the ones that I read in February was Ensaio sobre a Lucidez (Seeing in the English translation) by José Saramago. It is an allegory that explores the complexities of democracy through an engaging prose. In the capital of an unnamed country, 83% of voters decided to vote blank in the local elections. As a result, the government isolated the city, whilst trying to uncover a reason behind the “epidemic” of the blank vote. While many of the characters are purely symbols, others feel like real human beings.

I had been waiting for the release of the second season of My Brilliant Friend for a while. Not only wasn’t I disappointed, I also enjoyed it more than the first one. As in the books by Elena Ferrante (I’ve only read the first two so far), the story of the friendship between Elena and Lila is gripping. The acting is also flawless. The only aspect that I’m not a huge fan of is the voice-over narration, which, nevertheless, annoyed me far less than in the first season. It helps the adaptation to be faithful to the books, but it’s something that I don’t tend to like on TV. Continue reading

‘The Awakening’ by Kate Chopin

My rating: 2 stars

The importance of The Awakening by Kate Chopin as a work of early American feminism is undeniable. I didn’t cherish the reading experience, however. Published and set at the end of the 19th century, this novella touches on interesting issues, such as women’s need for independence, but they are not turned into an immersive story that brings the characters to life.

The main character, Edna Pontellier, was married and had two children. During the summer holidays, she became drawn to another man, Robert. Subsequently, she started to overlook conventions and to question why, until then, she had always done everything that her husband wanted.

The writing style didn’t enthral me. Readers become aware of what the characters did and felt but without any sort of detail and depth. Everything is just exposed on the surface level. For that reason, the characters don’t feel fully fledged. Although their features are stated, they are not striking, since their states of mind are not wholly explored. Edna’s tribulations, as she tried to give a new impetus to her life, are only occasionally arresting. The other characters are just mere decoration pieces. Continue reading

‘Ensaio sobre a Lucidez’ (‘Seeing’) by José Saramago

My rating: 4 stars

Various books by José Saramago can be categorised as allegories. Ensaio sobre a Lucidez (Seeing in the English translation) is certainly one of those. It delves into the complexities of democracy, how people need to find a way to express their dissatisfaction and how even democratically elected governments don’t always treat citizens with the respect they deserve. Set in the same location as Blindness, it pulls readers in thanks to an engaging prose, even if some of the characters are not fully fleshed out.

On a day of local elections, rain was heavily pouring down in the capital of an unnamed country. As no one was appearing to cast their votes, the people responsible for the polling station number 14 decided to call the ministry. They were informed that the same was happening at the majority of all the other polling stations in the city. When the rain started to stop, they became confident that voters would finally appear. And they were right. After four o’clock in the afternoon, there were long queues to vote. It was almost as if everyone had decided to vote at the same time.

Although abstention wasn’t as high as first feared, the counting of the votes revealed that more than 70% of the people in the capital had voted blank. For that reason, the government decided to repeat the election a week after. When the day came, long queues quickly formed. In order to understand if voters were planning something, spies were deployed to the polling stations. The votes were counted – 83% voted blank! Continue reading

High-rated Books I Didn’t Like

If there are books with a low rating on Goodreads that I liked, there are also high-rated ones that I didn’t enjoy. The last time that I checked, the four books listed on this post had an average rating of more than four stars, but I either didn’t finish them or rated them with two stars. No book can ever please everyone!

 

Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich

This non-fiction book was nothing but disappointing. Although it has an average rating of 4.43 on Goodreads, I couldn’t rate it with more than 2 stars. It’s a collection of testimonies about the nuclear disaster in Ukraine in 1986, which also strongly affected Belarus. The author interviewed displaced people, soldiers, doctors, scientists and people who returned to a village that had been evacuated. It raises interesting questions, but they’re never fully explored. The statements are not edited, analysed nor contextualised with further information.

 

The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov

When I decided to read this book, I wasn’t entirely sure about what to expect. I hadn’t heard much about it beforehand. I can now only describe it as a compilation of snippets from the narrator’s past, the life of this family and Bulgarian history, which the author tried to connect with the myth of the Minotaur. I rated it with 2 stars, as it is excessively rambling and mentions a myriad of themes that only rarely are interesting. Many people seem to like it, though, as it has an average rating of 4.09. Continue reading