‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr

My rating: 4 stars

Novels set during the Second World War tend to appeal to me. So, it was with high expectations that I started reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It explores how people are still capable of acts of kindness even when they are taught to hate and be violent. Through the use of alternating timelines, the reader is introduced to Marie-Laure and Werner, who have their lives affected by the brutality of war.

The narration of the story starts in 1944. Half of western France has already been liberated from the Nazi grip, but Saint-Malo is still under an air-attack. Marie-Laure, a blind 16-year-old girl, lives at rue Vauborel and owns a model of the city. Werner Pfennig is at the time a private in the German army who is staying at the Hôtel des Abeilles.

We then travel back in time. Ten years earlier, Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father, who works as a locksmith at the Natural History Museum. One day she does a guided tour at the museum and is told the story of the Sea of Flames, featuring quite a valuable diamond. She is losing her eyesight and one month later she is blind. The way in which going blind affects Marie’s daily life is meticulously described. Continue reading

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Christmassy Books on My Wish List

I’m not usually a seasonal reader. Reading a book set in summer during winter or vice versa doesn’t bother me at all. So, I never seem to have on my shelves the books deemed appropriate for a specific time of the year. To the best of my knowledge, I currently don’t have one single book on my to-be-read pile that is set during Christmas time. However, I have some on my wish list. I just haven’t bought them yet, and to be honest don’t know when I will.

 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted by three spirits, who teach him the true meaning of Christmas, in this book by Charles Dickens. Until watching a Doctor Who Christmas special inspired by this story a few years ago, I had no interest to read it, but I then became quite curious to know more about the source of inspiration for that episode.

 

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

I was introduced to this book by a fellow blogger, but I really can’t remember who, unfortunately. It is a compilation of letters written by J.R.R. Tolkien to his children in which he pretends to be Father Christmas. Continue reading

Book Haul – November / December 2017

I don’t know if you remember, but I was trying not to buy any more books until the end of the year. Obviously, I was unsuccessful! I blame Black Friday and other random discounts. I probably won’t even manage to get to some of the books mentioned below during the following twelve months or so, thanks to a reading plan I have for next year (I’ll reveal it on a future post about my bookish resolutions for 2018). But it’s really hard to resist a bargain.

So, without further ado (and pointless excuses), these are my most recent acquisitions:

 

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is one of the authors I plan to read a book by every year. So, I needed to buy a new one for 2018. It was quite easy to choose Alias Grace, because I’m rather curious about the TV series adaptation and don’t want to watch it before reading the book. Inspired by the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Upper Canada, it delves into the story of Grace Marks through a “tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery”. Continue reading

Bookish Christmas Gifts Ideas

Christmas is coming, and I thought some of you may be in need of some ideas for bookish gifts to either offer your dear ones or to ask Santa Claus for. Expect not only books but also other items which are in one way or another connected with them. Some of them I own, while others are on my wish list. Not that I expect many book related gifts, as nowadays people offer me other things, since they are not sure about which books I already own.

 

Books

A book with a beautiful cover is always a fantastic idea for a Christmas gift. Even if the person already owns that book, it may not be in particular stunning edition. For Jane Austen lovers, I hugely recommend the Vintage Classics Austen Series. I have Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey in these editions, but you can get all of her main novels wrapped up in gorgeous covers with French flaps.

But if you don’t know anyone who is a Jane Austen fan (which I doubt), you may have a friend who loves Russian classics. The Vintage Classics Russian Series features many books I’m also looking forward to reading and that may appeal to many people. Anna Karenina and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky and The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov are some of the books in this series. Continue reading

Books I Recently Didn’t Finish

Life is too short to force yourself to read books you’re not enjoying at all until the very end. Although I sometimes persevere to the last page of books I’m not really liking as much as I expecting to, I only do so when I sincerely hope that they will get better or the ending will surprise me. I hadn’t DNF’d a book in quite some time, probably years. But this month I already didn’t finish two: The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell and The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino.

I’ve had The Road to Wigan Pier (more precisely the Portuguese translation titled O Caminho para Wigan Pier) on my shelves for quite some time, and to be honest I was not that excited about it. I didn’t choose it myself. It was an offer from a bookshop for buying a certain number of books there. As I was trying to read more non-fiction in November, I decided to finally pick it up. But the writing style was not grabbing my attention, and I wasn’t that interested in the subject being covered neither. The book delves into the life of the English working class in the 1930s, which could be a fascinating topic, if the first pages focused on just a couple of specific people and were more insightful.

The other book I didn’t finish this month, The Castle of the Crossed Destinies, is a collection of short stories based on interpretations of tarot cards. I was expecting the stories to feature characters based on the cards’ drawings, but I thought the plot would be taken a bit further. However, after reading the first two stories and having a glimpse through the others, it felt like we were just being presented with possible meanings for the cards being picked up by random people at a hostel, which used to be a castle, instead of being told a proper story. Continue reading

‘The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria” by Janine di Giovanni

My rating: 4 stars

Janine di Giovanni has covered many wars throughout her career, and her experience writing about such a complicated subject is noticeable in The Morning They came for Us: Dispatches from Syria. This is a non-fiction book specifically about the brutality of the civil war that is tearing Syria apart. But, as she remembers the readers, this is a war that shares many characteristics with other armed conflicts, like the one that took place in the former Yugoslavia.

Throughout the book we are presented with stories from the places the author went to in Syria and snippets from conversations she had with its inhabitants, mixed with quite important general information about the civil war. There are various mentions of sexual violence being used as a war tactic to cause fear in the population, of cases of torture of opposition members by the officers loyal to the Assad regime, of how children suffer immensely during the war, both physically and psychologically, and of the divisions between the different ethnicities and religions.

At first, I thought that the book should have featured right at the beginning a chapter dedicated to the inception of the war, how it all started with peaceful demonstrations (slogans, marching, chanting), which then gained a more violent nature. Such information is presented throughout the book connected with people’s stories, though, and that ends up working quite well, at least for someone who is already familiar with what happened in Syria through the news. Continue reading

A Playlist for A Reading Session

When I was at school and university, I always did my homework and studied while listening to music. I didn’t pay much attention to the song lyrics and the melodies on the background helped me to focus on what I was doing more easily. I started listening to music while studying when I was about 10 or 11. At the time, I listened to a lot of pop, but my music tastes have changed a lot since then and now my music library is comprised mainly of indie and alternative rock artists.

However, while reading fiction books, I tend not to listen to music as much and actually prefer a quieter environment, since I believe that helps me to get immersed in the story. To be in an almost silent location can sometimes be a challenge, though. I do like reading while I’m on trains, as it’s a great way to pass the time, but some people can make a lot of noise, mainly those who insist on listening to music or podcasts out loud with no regard for others.

So, to avoid having to endure the noise other people make while I’m reading, I’ve just created a playlist on Spotify to listen to while I’m enjoying a good book. It features music with no lyrics, because maybe without the temptation of paying attention to them it will be easier for me to immerse myself into the world of a book while listening to something I chose to. Continue reading

Favourite Books with a Historical Backdrop

Whenever I’m book shopping, one of the many things that catches my attention is the time period in which a story is set in. I tend to like books which either the entirety or only part of the action takes place at the time of an important historical event. These are books whose fictional characters and events end up being embroiled in a real historical episode in one way or another, and that can be labelled as historical fiction or not.

I categorise as historical fiction the books that not only are set in the past, but which were written by authors who were born after the time period in which their novel unfolds. In these cases, authors don’t have a first-hand experience of the period they depicted in their novels. Books with a historical backdrop, on the other hand, can be written by authors who lived during the time period the story is set in or not. But, and more importantly for this distinction, besides depicting the manners and other details about a particular time period, these books feature an important real historical event. So, for me, a novel with a historical backdrop is not necessarily historical fiction.

After explaining how I describe books with a historical backdrop, I can now reveal which ones are my favourites. Continue reading

Dracula - Bram Stoker

‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker

My rating: 4 stars

A fictional collection of diary entries written by various characters, some documents, news pieces and many letters was assembled to tell a worldwide famous story about a powerful vampire. Although this was my first time reading Dracula by Bram Stoker, I was familiar with both the story and the names of the characters thanks to the numerous film and TV adaptations available.

The first character we are introduced to is Jonathan Harker, who is invited to Transylvania by Count Dracula to advise him on a prospective London home. During his journey, he encounters many superstitious people, leaving him with a sense of unease. When he arrives at Count Dracula’s castle, he has a horrible feeling about the place.

Jonathan spends part of his time there speaking with the Count and finds interesting that he already knows so much about his future house in London. But he’s also intrigued by the lack of mirrors in the rooms, the Count never eating with him and the absence of servants in the castle. His subsequent discoveries about the Count deeply terrify him. However, he can’t return to England without his permission, as he is locked in the castle. When the Count finally allows him to leave, Jonathan is psychologically traumatised. Continue reading

Portuguese Poets in Music

Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 sparked a (sometimes heated) debate about whether song lyrics can be considered poetry or not. Although I don’t have a strong opinion on the subject, I tend to believe that song lyrics can be regarded as poetry, as long as they are intricate, profound and convey a stimulating meaning through the rhythmic qualities of the language. The difference seems to be that usually song lyrics are regarded as popular while poetry is considered to be erudite.

Some Portuguese artists and bands mixed the two concepts by setting to music the works of famous poets. The two cases that immediately sprang to mind were Fernando Pessoa and Florbela Espanca. But there may be more examples that I don’t know of.

Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) has had various of his poems used as song lyrics of diverse music genres – Jazz, Indie-Pop and Fado. Early this year, Salvador Sobral sang during a concert a song, Presságio (composed by Júlio Resende), whose lyrics are a poem by Fernando Pessoa. Continue reading