‘In the Labyrinth of Drakes’ by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 stars

The adventurous Isabella may be a woman in a fantasy setting, but the challenges she had to face to be accepted as a dragon naturalist mirror those from the real world. In the fourth instalment of The Memoirs of Lady Trent, In the Labyrinth of Drakes, Marie Brennan continues to explore various current themes, such as women’s rights, social classes and the ethics behind scientific methods. As those who have read A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents and Voyage of the Basilisk already know, this series has evident anthropological, scientific and social components.

Thomas Wilker, an old-time colleague of Isabella’s who participated in all her exploits, was offered a place as a dragon naturalist at the Scirling Royal Army. Seeing that he would only accept the position if Isabella joined him, she became their employee as well. It wasn’t easy for the army to accept a woman in their midst, however. Their mission was to go to Akhia to discover how to breed dragons. Their bones are light but immensely strong. Although they decay really fast after a dragon’s death, there is a method for preserving them. In order for the army to have a steady supply of bones, dragons had to be bred. Killing the ones in existence wasn’t a viable solution, as that would only lead to their extinction.

In Akhia, a couple of reunions awaited Isabella. The first one was with her brother Andrew, who was in the army and asked to be sent there to see her. She was delighted to be able to spend some time with him again, since he was one of the few relatives that she truly loved. She also encountered an old friend, which resulted in renewed gossip that almost created further complications for her work. Isabella, fortunately, didn’t always behave in a way that was deemed socially acceptable for a woman. Continue reading

Writing the Seasons with Books: Summer

I’m a true believer that books don’t have to be read at specific times of the year. As long as the story is immersive, it doesn’t matter if it’s hot outside and snowing in the book. So, instead of recommending books that are appropriate for each season, this year I’m writing the four seasons with books. For that purpose, I take a look at my shelves and select books with titles beginning with the letters of the name of the season that is just starting. After doing that for spring, the time has come to welcome summer!

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This novel focus on five connected characters – an actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend and a young actress who is a member of the Travelling Symphony. The plot moves back and forth in time, before and after the spread of a deathly virus. Despite all the negative aspects that resulted from it, some cultural activities managed to subsist.

 

Uma Vida à Sua Frente (The Life Before Us) by Romain Gary

The only book that I’ve read by Romain Gary so far is narrated by Mohammed, a young boy who was being taken care of by Madame Rosa, a Jewish woman who was a former prostitute and Auschwitz survivor. It delves into their relationship and strong bond. Continue reading

Favourite Posts of Three Years of Blogging

Yesterday was my blog anniversary! Three years have passed since I published my first blog post – a review of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. To celebrate, I decided to share with you three of the posts that I enjoyed writing the most for various reasons. They are examples of part of the type of content that you can read on my blog and are in no particular order. The titles link to the posts, in case you are interested in reading them.

 

Discovering Fernando Pessoa around Lisbon

In 2018, I started a new category of posts about bookish places. I hoped to write one feature each month about either a special bookshop, a library, a museum associated with books or a specific author, etc. I’ve only written two so far, though. But I particularly cherished writing the one about the places connected with the life of Fernando Pessoa in Lisbon. It includes photos and even a (very shaky) video that I edited specially for it.

 

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

It was a challenge to write a review of Rebecca that conveyed how much I loved it. In the end, I think that I managed to fully express my appreciation for such an atmospheric and mysterious story, which is full of compelling characters. Continue reading

‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 4 stars

Robert Galbraith being a pseudonym of J.K. Rowling is one of the worst-kept secrets from this century. Using this new alias, she wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first book in the crime fiction series Cormoran Strike. Not only does it feature a possible murder that needs to be solved, but its main character is also enigmatic and intriguing. Discovering more about the private detective C. B. Strike is part of the allure of this novel, which also delves into the drawbacks of fame.

Cormoran Strike’s life was chaotic. At 35 he was deep in debt, hadn’t had a job in weeks and had just left his girlfriend, Charlotte. He was also receiving death threats. Amongst all this maelstrom, a recruitment agency sent him another temporary assistant. Twenty-five-year-old Robin had recently become engaged and the possibility of working for a detective was just another reason for her to be happy. Although Strike wasn’t expecting the agency to send anyone else after the last temp had left, he decided that Robin would stay for a week.

Surprisingly, a client arrived at the office. John Bristow chose him as a detective because his long-deceased brother had been friends with Strike at school. He wanted him to investigate the death of his sister, Lula Landry, a famous model who had fallen from a balcony in Mayfair three months previously. The police assumed that she had committed suicide, but John firmly believed that she had been pushed. Strike reluctantly accepted the case. He was in dire need of money after all. Continue reading

Favourite Books of the Last Five Years

Before I created this blog, almost three years ago, I started rating the books that I read on a spreadsheet in 2014. I’m not sure why I decided to do it, but it was also around that time that I started watching videos about books on YouTube. Today I want to share with you my favourite books since then, which means of the last five years.

I haven’t selected a book per year. The books below are, instead, my favourites from the whole period in no particular order.

 

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

King Robert Baratheon sits on the Iron Throne and invites Lord Eddard Stark to be his Hand. But the fragile peace is in peril. Not only are the Lords of Westeros playing dangerous power games, but the exiled Targaryens also want to retake their father’s throne. The first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series is written from various points of view and is full of political machinations. The plot is enthralling and the characters are complex and multifaceted. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – May 2019

Another month, another instalment of my monthly favourites! Today, you can expect a long exposition about my favourite TV show. But, fear not, before that I’ll reveal my favourite book and songs from May. I don’t want to bore you to death if you’re not even remotely interested in the show in question.

May was a complex reading month. I read the final pages of a book that I didn’t like and read in their entirety another three. Regarding the latter, I had conflicting feelings about A Cidade de Ulisses (City of Ulysses) by Teolinda Gersão and liked both The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante and The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier. After some contemplation, I think my favourite was The Story of a New Name. It is the second book in the Neapolitan novels and continues to follow the lives of the friends Elena and Lila. I wholeheartedly recommend this compelling story about female friendship, which is full of conflicting emotions. It also features reflections on class, equality and social mobility.

Music-wise, I loved two new songs by The Black Keys, ‘Eagle Birds’ and ‘Lo/Hi’. Rock songs that we can dance to are some of my favourites, and these are just great for that. I’m really excited to listen to the new album in full. Continue reading

‘A Cidade de Ulisses’ (‘City of Ulysses’) by Teolinda Gersão

My rating: 3 stars

Lisbon has served as inspiration for numerous books. In A Cidade de Ulisses (City of Ulysses in the English translation), the Portuguese author Teolinda Gersão mixed the history of the city with a story about love and the visual arts. At first, this is an enthralling read, thanks to a rhythmic prose and various stimulating considerations. However, the fact that it tries to juggle various elements means that the events that are explored at each given time are not always the most interesting.

The narrator, Paulo Vaz, was invited to take part in an art exhibition about the city of Lisbon. Years before he had thought about doing something similar, but it never came to fruition. It was a project he had with a woman he loved, Cecília, whom part of the text is addressed to. He recalls their relationship, their conversations, sexual attraction and experiences. He was a graduate teaching assistant at the university she was studying in. They shared a love for art and discovering Lisbon. Cecília believed that love was simple and joyful. The narrator, on the other hand, considered that it also comprised sadness and melancholy.

It’s not only his relationship with Cecília that Paulo Vaz explores. He also remembers his parents. His father had never accepted his decision to become a painter, and his mother lost part of herself by continuing in an unhappy marriage. Their strained relationship still haunts the narrator for various reasons that are exposed later on. Continue reading

‘The House on the Strand’ by Daphne du Maurier

My rating: 4 stars

If proof was needed of Daphne du Maurier’s capability to successfully combine different genres in a single book, The House on the Stand could attest to that. It is a mix of sci-fi and historical fiction that overall is used to tell a story about drug abuse and its consequences. As occasionally happens with novels which feature more than one strand, it isn’t gripping in its entirety, but the narrator’s struggle to face his addiction to a past that he never lived in rings true and is noteworthy.

The narrator, Richard (Dick) Young, travelled in time after trying a new secret drug created by his long-time friend Magnus, a Professor at the London University, whom had convinced him to stay at his house in Cornwall during the holidays. While he was in the past, his eyesight, hearing and sense of smell were heightened. He only lacked his sense of touch. As Magnus had informed him, he wasn’t aware of his body touching the ground or objects. He could walk and sit but couldn’t feel it. He had also been warned not to touch living beings from the past, because the link would break. This is all gradually explained by Dick while he recalls walking around in the past.

When he returned to the present, he felt nauseous. He craved a beverage, but Magnus had warned him not to drink alcohol immediately afterwards. Soon after, his friend called to know if he had tried the drug. They concluded that they had both gone to the lane to Tywardreath in the 14th century. 600 years separated the past from the present. Magnus had tried the drug beforehand and had also seen a horseman, who a prior called Roger, a girl and a monk. Their experiences were connected with a medieval priory which had once been part of Tywardreath. Continue reading

‘História do Novo Nome’ (‘The Story of a New Name’) by Elena Ferrante

My rating: 4 stars

Elena Ferrante’s ability to write a compelling story about female friendship is impressive. In História do Novo Nome (The Story of a New Name in the English translation), words flow so effortlessly that even the most common events in the characters’ lives are gripping. As in the first and previous instalment of the Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend, which I’ll be spoiling, there are various reflections on class, equality and how even through education it’s difficult to achieve social mobility.

The narrator and main character, Elena, recalls that in the spring of 1966 her friend Lila asked her to keep a box containing eight notebooks, making her promise never to read them. She was afraid her husband would discover them. Elena read them, though. What she learnt is used to give more information about the events she didn’t witness and to summarise what happened to Lila in the first book – the story she wrote as a child; how she wasn’t allowed to continue studying after primary school; her father not liking the designs of her shoes; and her displeasure when Marcello Solara arrived at her wedding party wearing the shoes that she had designed and that her husband, Stefano Carracci, had bought.

The relationship between Elena and Lila was not the best at the time. The following November, Elena threw the box into a river. Her curiosity was making Lila’s life invading hers, and she couldn’t deal with that anymore. She then starts recalling what she experienced immediately after her friend’s wedding. She felt that she should live her life in the same way as Lila – to accept life in the neighbourhood, marry Antonio, abandon school and stop trying to achieve a better life. The following weeks she wandered around Naples instead of attending classes but told no one. Continue reading

‘The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin

My rating: 2 stars

Unfortunately, a beautiful cover doesn’t always wrap up a captivating story. The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin had the potential to be a good book, but its premise isn’t well developed, it lacks atmosphere, and the writing style is far from appealing. Two women with growing feelings for one another try to discover why people are going missing all over London in 1831. The reason behind the disappearances is interesting. If the sole focus of the novel had been on that mystery and the plot hadn’t been so meandering, this could at least have been a satisfactory read.

The main character and narrator, Hester, lives in London with her father’s former gardener, Jacob, and his wife, Meg. Both her parents died, her mother in childbirth and her father of typhoid fever. Her current neighbourhood is plagued by poverty, a condition she desperately wants to escape. She is trying to find her cousin Edward, whom she believes can get her a job outside of London. While looking for him, she is run over by a carriage. Inside is Mr Calder Brock, a 25-year-old physician. He takes her to his home to tend her injured leg. A couple of days after, he insists on taking her with him to the country where he will continue to provide her proper medical care.

That isn’t his only purpose, however. Mr Brock also plans to prove through her that even poor people from the gutter can be educated. He is to join the board of ‘The London Society for the Suppression of Mendacity’ and wants to change people’s perception of poverty. The maids warn her to be careful with Miss Rebekah, his sister, because two girls that were working for her have recently disappeared. Continue reading