Unexpected Surprising Books

Occasionally, when we start reading a book, we’re already expecting to be surprised by some event, outcome or revelation. We may not know what that surprise will be, but we know it’s coming, possibly because there may be some mystery awaiting to be solved. The books mentioned below have the particularity of featuring surprises that I was not expecting at all for various reasons. I could have chosen a few more, but these were the first that sprang to mind.


The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The first reason why I was surprised by Jessie Burton’s debut novel was that I knew close to nothing about the plot before buying it. I just had fell in love with the cover. However, after reading the first chapters, the main mystery seemed to be the identity of the miniaturist who sends Nella small replicas of people and objects from her daily life that she didn’t order. So, it was with great astonishment that I realised that many other and more interesting surprises had been awaiting me.


A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Through a non-linear narrative, A God in Ruins introduces the reader to the life of Teddy Todd. Despite desiring to be a poet when he was younger, he ends up becoming a bomber pilot during the Second World War. I got immersed in his life and became quite interested in his relationship with his family. The revelation near the end of the book saddened me and took me completely by surprise. Continue reading


‘O Homem Duplicado’ (‘The Double’) by José Saramago

My rating: 4 stars

José Saramago really knew how to play with words and convey a socially relevant message without overlooking the plot. O Homem Duplicado, The Double in the English translation, is mainly a book about the human condition, in the sense that delves into how people want to feel like they are unique and so struggle to come to terms with being equal to others and not particularly original.

Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, the main character in this novel, is quite a peculiarly named History teacher at a secondary school in an unidentified city. He has been suffering from depression, since he got divorced and started to live alone. One of his colleagues, a Mathematics teacher, advises him to watch some films, so he can get distracted from his troubles. He takes his colleague advice and goes to a store to rent a VHS tape.

After watching the film that was recommended to him, he realises that the actor who played the short role of a hotel receptionist looks a lot like him, despite having a moustache and a different hairstyle. He then remembers that the film was actually released five years before and goes looking for a photograph of himself from that period. When he finds one, he sees that at the time he also had a moustache and the same haircut as the actor. The two of them look exactly the same after all. This discovery affects Tertuliano Máximo Afonso profoundly, although deep down he knows it is nonsensical to feel that way. Continue reading

My Least and Most Viewed Reviews

Book reviews are the type of posts I most like to write for this blog, and they are also the ones that take me the longest to complete and edit. Nevertheless, they tend to have less views than the rest of the content on my blog. At least this is the perception I have. I don’t analyse my blog statistics thoroughly and frequently, thus there is a slight possibility that I’m wrong.

But this is something that has been intriguing me lately. So, I took a quick look at my blog stats to discover the reviews with the most and the least number of views. The titles of the books mentioned below link to the full reviews.


My Three Most Viewed Reviews

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The reason why I think this is my most viewed review is that it was published around the time when The Power was announced as the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2017. Told from various points of view, it delves into what happened when women discovered they had the power to electrocute other people with their hands. I quite liked the premise but didn’t enjoy the execution as much. Continue reading

Graphic Novels, Comics and I

Many children and young adults seem to love comics and graphic novels. But I wasn’t much of a fan when I was younger. I recall buying Disney comics in the summer to read on the beach and almost always never finishing them. If I remember correctly, my main problem was having to read the dialogues on the speech balloons, maybe because the font and the panels were too small. I much preferred reading illustrated novels.

However, some graphic novels and comics have been catching my eye since the beginning of last year, and I even ended up reading two in order to realise if my feelings towards this way of telling a story had changed. The first one I read was The Black Project by Gareth Brookes. Its main character is a really ingenious boy who wants to create his own girlfriend. I was a bit disappointed by the ending and the lack of colour, although it was rather funny at parts. Afterwards, I decided to read The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg and quite liked it. This graphic novel about the power of love and storytelling made me appreciate much more the conveying of ideas through images combined with text and other visual information.

I discovered then that there are various genres of graphic novels, including fiction, non-fiction and anthologies, and that they differ from comic books, because these are periodicals, while the first ones are single works. I was also wrong to think that all pages featured the same amount of small squared panels with drawings and speech balloons inside. Many graphic novels and comics have drawings occupying full pages, or panels in a variety of sizes and formats. Furthermore, the illustrations can be much more appealing than I first thought. I’m not particularly tempted to read those with simple drawings in black and white. Instead, I prefer a wide-ranging palette of colours. Continue reading

‘The New Sorrows of Young W.’ by Ulrich Plenzdorf

My rating: 3 stars

The New Sorrows of Young W. by the German writer Ulrich Plenzdorf has the particularity of being narrated by a dead teenager, who takes the opportunity to recall the ultimate months of his short life. Since we know from the outset that Edgar Wibeau died on a 24th of December, the interest of this novel lies in discovering more about the events preceding his death, which was caused by an accident involving electricity.

The book has quite an interesting structure. Edgar’s father is trying to understand what happened to his son, whom he didn’t see for many years. So, we are presented with his conversations with various people, the first of them being Edgar’s mother. These exchanges are interrupted by Edgar who, after his death, comments on what they are saying, offering further explanations and correcting them when they’re wrong, although only the readers can hear him.

We learn that Edgar had been an apprentice at a factory, but he quitted and ran away from home. He went to Berlin at first to apply to an arts school. Despite being turned down, he remained in the city. He didn’t contact his mother but sent some recorded tapes with citations from a book (The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) to his friend Willi. Continue reading

Favourite Books Written by Women

Ahead of International Women’s Day, on 8th March, I put together a list of my favourite books written by women. Although I believe that unintentionally I still read more books by men than by women, it wasn’t difficult at all to come up with these five magnificent books by female authors. In fact, I could have mentioned many more books than the ones below, but I wanted to keep the list short.

In no special order, these are some of the books written by women which were a delight to read:


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

One of the most captivating books I’ve ever read, Rebecca was my first foray into Daphne du Maurier’s work. It is narrated by an unnamed woman who recalls meeting Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo. She accepted to marry him, and they went to live at Manderley, his family home. There, the shadow of his deceased first wife, Rebecca, was even more present. Apparently, she had exceled at everything, so the narrator’s doubts and insecurities became overwhelming. The characters are complex, and the prose is utterly atmospheric. Continue reading

‘The Tobacconist’ by Robert Seethaler

My rating: 4 stars

I have read a few books set around the time of the rise of Nazism in Europe and the Second World War in the latest years. Nevertheless, The Tobacconist by the Austrian author Robert Seethaler still managed to surprise me, because it mixes the growing of hatred in politics with a story about sexual awakening and the state of bewilderment caused by falling in love for the first time.

In the summer of 1937, Franz Huchel lived with his mother in the village of Nussdorf am Attersee. They could afford to live in a cottage near the lake, since she was in some sort of relationship with Alois Preininger, a rich man from that area, and every month he gave her a sum of money. But, when Preininger died, Franz was forced to accept to go work for a tobacconist, Otto Trsnyek, in Vienna.

At his establishment, Otto sold newspapers, stationery and tobacco products. He believed that the secret of a good tobacconist was to read all the newspapers every day, and to understand the aroma, the scent and the taste of cigars. The main problem of the cigar business, according to him, was politics. His assessment of the situation of that time could also be unfortunately applied to present day. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – February 2018

February is the shortest month of the year and there is still an entire day left, nevertheless I already have some favourites to share with you. I was hoping to read many more books this month than I did in January, but a rather exasperating cold prevented me to do so. Therefore, I ended up dedicating the majority of my free time to other interests.

I started watching Peaky Blinders on Netflix and, so far, managed to finish the first two seasons. To be honest, I was not expecting to like it as much as I did. It’s as an action crime drama focusing on the Shelby family, who ran a gang called the Peaky Blinders in Birmingham after the First World War. Cillian Murphy and Helen McCrory are superb as Thomas Shelby and Polly, respectively. The soundtrack is also fantastic. It comprises contemporary songs, mainly from rock bands and artists like Nick Cave, Arctic Monkeys and Royal Blood, which surprisingly fit rather well with the pace of the story. I also got some Sherlock Homes vibes from it, not in the sense of trying to figure out who was responsible for a crime, but of looking forward to discovering how Thomas managed to solve the complicated problems he was involved in.

After a really long time without truly loving a film, I spent two great hours watching The Shape of Water. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, it tells the story of how Elisa, a mute woman who worked as a cleaning lady at a government’s laboratory in the 60s, fell in love with an amphibian creature that was being kept in a tank. If you haven’t watched it yet, you really have to. The premise may seem strange, but the feelings depicted are totally convincing, mainly thanks to Sally Hawkins and her fantastic performance. Continue reading

‘The Life of Hunger’ by Amélie Nothomb

My rating: 4 stars

Amélie Nothomb is not merely the author of The Life of Hunger, she is also its narrator and main character. Nevertheless, this is not a non-fiction book. It is a fictional memoir which introduces a girl and a young woman permanently hungry, not only for food but for almost everything life can provide. As the daughter of a Belgian diplomat, she experienced various forms of hunger in different cities – Japan, Peking, New York, Bangladesh.

At the beginning of the book, Amélie remembers the moment when she received a parcel from a gentleman national of Vanuatu, a small and remote island, where the population has never known hunger. They’ve always had plenty of natural resources, more than enough for the short number of inhabitants. In this context, she defends that in the West we have the habit of overeating, because we see hunger in the streets. Also, we have a “keen” appetite, as we work in order to have money to buy things.

But the hunger Nothomb writes about is also connected with the aspiration of constantly having something present, and with the endless existence of something to do and to pursue. Since she was really young, she has always wanted more from games, books, toys, stories. She aspired to infinity, including from sugary things, although her mother tried to thwart her. Continue reading

Favourite Portuguese Authors

Do you want to start reading (more) books by Portuguese authors, but don’t know by whom specifically? I have some recommendations for you! Before deciding to write about this topic, I had never reflected on whom would make their way onto a list about my favourite Portuguese writers. So, I was surprised to realise that all of them had already passed away. This doesn’t mean that I don’t read and enjoy books by more contemporary Portuguese authors. I just didn’t like all of the books I read by them, as was the case with the following four so far.


Eça de Queirós

If you are a fan of classics, then Eça de Queirós (also spelt ‘Queiroz’) may be the author for you. Born in 1845, he wrote some of my favourite Portuguese classics – Os Maias (The Maias) and O Crime do Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro). His books are rich in instances of social criticism and irony. Some of the thoughts he put onto the page are still quite relevant today. In case you want to know more about his work, I wrote a more in-depth feature on him when I first started this blog.


José Saramago

José Saramago is the only Portuguese writer to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature so far. His writing style is pretty recognisable. In the majority of his books, you won’t find any quotation marks. The dialogues and the characters’ thoughts are differentiated from the rest of the text by using a comma followed by a capital letter. But as soon as you get familiar with the style, his books become quite readable and flow really well. Continue reading