‘The Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 stars

An engaging mix of mystery and family drama, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood tells the story of two sisters, Iris and Laura, and how their lives were shaped by social expectations, patriarchal attitudes and historical events. The novel, which covers many decades, consists of various parts that slowly complement each other and help answer the question that is raised at the very beginning – what was the real motive behind Laura’s fate?

Laura Chase, the sister of the narrator, drove a car off a bridge ten days after the end of the Second World War. Two witnesses saw her turn the car deliberately. However, when giving Iris the news, the police officer was respectful enough to say that it could have been an accident. And, according to a news piece from 1945, after an inquest, it was indeed surprisingly considered to be an accident, since apparently Laura suffered from severe headaches, which affected her vision.

The novel contains within it a first-person narration by Iris, various news pieces and a short book written by Laura. Many decades later, Iris, who regrets not having done everything that she could for Laura, is writing an account of what happened and sharing her recollections about past events. Her ancestors owned various factories, mainly of buttons. Her mother died when she was nine years old and Laura was six. After that, they grew very close. The family was also affected by what was happening around the world. The First World War, the Great Depression and their social and political repercussions left their mark. Continue reading

Most Disappointing Books of 2019

Every year there are books that I hope to at least mildly enjoy but that end up being disappointing for a variety of reasons. 2019 was sadly full of those books. And they were not disappointing in the sense that I only didn’t love them as much as I was expecting to. I truly didn’t like them. Some I read in their entirety and rated with two stars, while others I decided not to finish, as I had no hope to start enjoying them at any point.

First, there were three books that I read until the very end but that I didn’t like.

 

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

Two women, Hester and Rebekah, who are developing feelings for one another, try to discover why people are disappearing around London in 1831. The premise sounded promising. However, there is no aura of mystery throughout the book, in part because the descriptions are soulless. The plot is unjustifiably meandering. Some events are completely unnecessary for the clarification of what is supposed to be the main mystery. And there is also too much telling and not enough showing. I only kept reading because I was mildly curious to know the reason behind the disappearances. Continue reading

Other Favourite Stories of 2019

Books are undoubtedly the protagonists of this blog. However, I also consume stories, be they fictional or not, through other forms of media. So, I like to annually compile and share with you my other favourite stories, which are usually TV series and films. From the ones that I watched for the first time in 2019, I have four favourites.

 

Game of Thrones – Season 8

The last season of Game of Thrones was surely divisive. I’m part of the seeming minority (or maybe of the less vocal majority) who liked it immensely. I’ve discussed the reasons behind my enjoyment in significant detail on my monthly favourites of April and May, so I’m going to avoid spoilers and be brief this time.

Season 8 is visually stunning, atmospheric and emotive. Not only did I cry, but I also laughed. The acting is outstanding, the camera work is fantastic, and the score is perfect. I don’t think that I’ve mentioned it before, but I loved the final montage. The actions of the characters, in my opinion, result fully from their personalities and are a consequence of their life experiences. Although there is one occurrence that, at first, feels slightly anticlimactic, everything makes sense. I would have liked it to be one or two episodes longer (I think I’ve used the term ‘a couple of’ before). They were not necessarily needed for a fitting telling of the story, but I selfishly wanted more interactions between the characters. Their state of mind would have been even clearer. Continue reading

Bookish Resolutions for 2020

My resolutions or goals for 2020 concerning reading and the content that I create for this blog are mostly a continuation of or an improvement on what I’ve been doing for a while. I deliberately decided not to challenge myself too much and made sure to avoid setting goals that I could lose interest in. Only one of my resolutions is wholly new and may have a small impact on my book buying habits.

Regarding the number of books that I want to read, I’m keeping my goal at 35. However, I’m hoping to either surpass that number or read more pages than last year by selecting the books that I want to read more carefully. One of the reasons why I finished fewer books in 2019 than in 2018 was that I spent too much time forcing myself to read books that I ended up deciding not to finish, because I was either not enjoying them or they were not what I had expected.

I also want to finish three of the book series that I’m currently reading. Two of them will certainly be The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan and As Areias do Imperador (Sands of the Emperor) by Mia Couto, since I only have one book left to read from each. The other will probably either be The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb or The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. Continue reading

2019 Bookish Resolutions’ Evaluation

At the beginning of 2019, I set some goals for the year ahead regarding my reading, this blog and the social media that I use (not exclusively) for bookish purposes. The time has now come to evaluate whether I have met them or not.

I read in their entirety 35 books, the exact number that I had set as my minimum for the year. Although I read four fewer books than in the previous year, I read around 1300 more pages, according to Goodreads. And this is without counting with the eight books that I didn’t finish for various reasons.

Another of my resolutions was to reread at least one of my old favourite books. I reread O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) by José Saramago and loved it as much as the first time. Despite it not being an old favourite, I also reread Hamlet by William Shakespeare at the end of December, after buying a new edition. I am still not a huge ‘rereader’, but I don’t feel like I’m ‘wasting my time’ anymore, even though there are still a large number of books that I’m eager to read for the first time. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – December 2019

I pondered not to write a post about my favourites from December, as I only have one book to share with you. I watched a few films and started watching a couple of TV series on Netflix, but they were all a huge disappointment.

The most impressive book that I read this month was A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Set in London and Paris during the eighteenth century, before and right after the French Revolution, it is an engaging but demanding novel to get immersed in. Lucie Manette discovers that her father is not dead. With the help of Mr Jarvis Lorry, she takes him from Paris to England. During the journey, they meet Charles Darnay, who years later falls in love with Lucie. Their love story develops almost on the background, as social upheaval takes over France and has consequences on the lives of the characters. Overall, this is a thought-provoking book about how people who fought against tyranny can become tyrants themselves.

Next year, my monthly favourites will probably be slightly different, causing this lack of favourites not happen. But I’ll expand on that on my bookish resolutions for 2020. Continue reading

Favourite Books I Read in 2019

2019 was a complicated reading year. I read various praiseworthy novels, short story and poetry collections. In terms of genres, my reading was as varied, featuring classics, literary fiction, fantasy and myth retellings, for example. So far, I’ve read 34 books and will probably finish another one in the following days. However, I decided not to finish eight books, a number higher than ever before, if I’m not mistaken.

This was also the year when I chose to reread a book again after probably decades without doing so. Thus, I had to decide whether to include rereads in my favourite books of the year or not from now on. I decided against it. This post only includes books that I read for the first time during the year, irrespective of date of publication.

I don’t tend to rate books with five stars very often, because they need to be completely flawless for that to happen. This year I only rated one book with five stars, and it was the one that I reread – O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) by José Saramago. The majority of the books that I rate with four stars are still great, though. Some of the five books that I selected as my favourites of 2019 are indeed almost perfect, in my opinion. In reverse order, they are: Continue reading

‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad

My rating: 3 stars

Human beings are capable of many brutal actions, and colonialism is a good example of that. In Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, readers get a glimpse of a time where Europeans exploited African countries. Unfortunately, overall, the story feels hasty and undetailed. Although there are various moments of brilliance when it comes to the prose, the characters and the plot are mostly uninteresting.

The narrator of this novella is one of the men aboard the Nellie, which is sailing the Thames. But almost the entirety of the book consists of a monologue by Marlow, who recalls his time somewhere in Congo years before. While there, he searched for a man who was in charge of an ivory trading post, Mr Kurtz.

Despite the plot being generally monotonous, there are some interesting remarks about life and vivid descriptions of the nature and ambience. The last couple of pages feature a realistic portrayal of grief. And Marlow also described colonialism in accurate, condemning terms. Continue reading

Writing the Seasons with Books: Winter

This year I decided to write the four seasons with books. Thus, at the beginning of each of the previous seasons (Spring, Summer and Autumn), I selected books from my shelves whose titles begin with the letters of the name of the season in question. The time has finally come to do the same for Winter!

When I had the idea for this sort of series, I didn’t expect that it would be so difficult to find on my shelves books with titles beginning with certain letters. In order not to pick Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier again, I had to cheat slightly this time, as I’ve done in past seasons for other reasons.

 

Winter by Ali Smith

Told from the perspectives of Sophia and Art, her son, this book, which is part of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, delves into how dissimilar world views can cause rifts between family members. Art was supposed to take his former partner, Charlotte, to spend Christmas at his mother’s house. As she left him, he decided to pay a young woman to go with him. Although the plot is not outstanding, the characters are compelling. Continue reading

‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 stars

Love in its various forms is enfolded in an account of how those who fight against tyranny can become tyrants themselves in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. As the characters travel between London and Paris in the eighteenth century, readers are presented with a picture of the society of the time. Although this is a challenging and difficult novel to get immersed in, it ends up being engaging, since it raises stimulating questions.

In 1775, Mr Jarvis Lorry, a clerk at Tellson’s bank, had to accompany Miss Lucie Manette to Paris on a critical mission. Her father, who was long thought dead, had reappeared, and Mr Lorry’s assistance was fundamental to identify him. Monsieur Manette was hidden in a room at a wine-shop. He was making shoes, a skill that he had learnt while imprisoned for many years without a trial. Doctor Manette not only didn’t remember his time in prison, he also didn’t know who Mr Lorry and Lucie were. Mr Lorry managed to recognise him, though. And, as soon as it was possible, they took him to England.

Five years later, the three of them were called as witnesses at the trial of a man, Mr Charles Darnay, who had taken the same boat as them from Calais to England when they left France. He was acquitted after a successful defence by Sydney Carton, who looked very much like him. From that moment onwards, their paths became intertwined. Charles Darnay fell in love with Lucie Manette, who was kind and compassionate. But he was not the only one developing feelings for her. Continue reading