Book Recommendations Based on Other Books

After enjoying a book, it’s common to want to read similar ones. They don’t have to necessarily have an almost equivalent plot or include characters who have the same personalities, but it’s appealing when they share a couple of features. Wanting to read comparable books is also a good opportunity to discover ones that are not as renowned. Having three worldwide famous books as a starting point, I have three book recommendations for you. They are not necessarily unknown or obscure, particularly not in the countries that their authors are from. However, they are not as universally celebrated.

 

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante ⇒ Nada by Carmen Laforet

The first book in The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, is well known and loved by many. It explores the first years of Elena and Lila’s convoluted friendship. They are two underprivileged girls who met at primary school in a problematic neighbourhood in Naples. As we are being presented with their story, we also learn more about the Italian society of the time, since Elena Ferrante explored themes connected with equality, class, social mobility and the role of education.

Other novel that isn’t only character focused, but that also delves into social issues is Nada by Carmen Laforet. The main character is Andrea, a young woman who is trying to lead an independent life in Barcelona, the city she moved to in order to attend university. She struggles to reconcile her family’s poverty with the way of life of her new friends. It is an involving read about female friendship and a broken family. Continue reading

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First Books to Read by My Favourite Authors

The first book we choose to read by some authors may end up having a significant impact on whether we decide to continue to explore their work or not. When someone asks us to recommend a first book to read by one of our favourite writers, we surely want to mention one that will make that person want to continue to read their books. Which should we recommend? The first one we read? Our favourite? Or some other? I tried to answer these questions regarding my current favourite authors: Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen, José Saramago, Eça de Queirós, Jessie Burton and Margaret Atwood.

 

Daphne du Maurier: Jamaica Inn

When we fall head over heels in love with the first book we read by an author, it’s difficult not to keep comparing our subsequent reads by them to it. That’s what happened to me with Daphne du Maurier and the magnificent Rebecca. For that reason, if you still haven’t started exploring Du Maurier’s work, I recommend starting with Jamaica Inn instead. It’s a great novel that will make you want to continue reading her books, while still having her best book (in my opinion) to look forward to.

Jamaica Inn is atmospheric and mysterious. After the death of her mother, the main character, Mary Yellan, went to live with her aunt Patience, who was married to Joss Merlyn. He was the new landlord of Jamaica Inn. Mary soon realised that her uncle was involved in some kind of criminal activity. Throughout the book, there are various instances which shine thanks to a tangible sense of menace. The believable characters and realistic dialogues make the book captivating. Continue reading

Books Told from Different Perspectives

Narrators are an essential part of all novels, novellas and short story collections. They can either be one of the characters or mere fictional observers that take no part in the action. Some books even have more than one narrator, the story being told from different perspectives or points of view. Those perspectives can be conveyed in a variety of ways – via a first-person narrator; an omniscient narrator, who knowns everything about all of the characters; or a third-person narrator who adopts the point of view of a specific character.

I’m always drawn to books that feature chapters narrated from different perspectives, presenting a compelling mix of voices. From the ones that I’ve read and enjoyed, despite not all being favourites of mine, there are seven that immediately sprang to mind.

 

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

At the beginning of the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, Robert Baratheon is the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and sits on the Iron Throne. After the death of his Hand, he invites his old friend Lord Eddard Stark to assume the suddenly vacant role. Peace is fragile, though, since the lords of Westeros are playing dangerous games and the exiled Targaryens want to take back their father’s throne. The intricate characters and the enthralling plot turn this book into a compelling mix of fantasy and political machinations. It is told in the third person from the perspectives of various characters: Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and six members of the Stark family – Ned, Catelyn, Bran, Sansa, Arya and Jon Snow. Continue reading

Books Set in Different Time Periods

There are various ways to create a compelling and intriguing narrative. One of them is to write a story taking place in different time periods, that is to say to pen a book whose chapters are set in various identifiable years, or even centuries, more often than not alternatively. Such books can sometimes be more mysterious and seem more complex than ones that are mainly set during the same time period throughout and that just feature flashbacks and prolepsis within chapters. From the ones that I’ve read and enjoyed to varying degrees, five immediately sprang to mind.

 

The Muse by Jessie Burton

An enthralling and atmospheric book, The Muse by Jessie Burton is a novel that delves into racism and explores the unequal treatment of women. Two time periods are connected by a mysterious painting. In 1967, Odelle Bastien, who moved from Trinidad to London, starts working as a typist at the Skelton Gallery. While at a wedding party, she meets Lawrie, who has a painting to sell. In 1936, Olive Schloss arrives at a house in rural Spain and wonders how to tell her parents that she has been accepted to do a Fine Arts degree.

 

The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel

The many chapters of The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel are set in different years, some of them being 1999, 2005 and 2008. Vincent lost her mother when she was only 13 years of age, so she had to go live with her aunt for a couple of years. Her half-brother also had a complicated life, having spent several years in rehab. Her life changes thanks to an encounter with Jonathan Alkaitis, a New York financier, at the hotel she works in. Continue reading

Five Books Set in London

Regardless of time period, London is always an appealing setting for a book. From streets booming with life to the quieter parks where mischievous squirrels thread, London has a plethora of places that are perfect for complementing a gripping story. After having visited the city a good few years ago, I became even keener on reading books taking place there. If you’re looking for books set in England’s capital, there are five that I enjoyed to varying degrees and that I definitely recommend, despite them not being necessarily favourites.

 

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

It’s a warm day in June and Clarissa Dalloway is getting ready to host a party. Via a stream-of-consciousness style and a third-person narration, readers are presented not only with her contemplations, but also those of her husband, her daughter, Peter Walsh and Septimus Warren Smith, as well as their interactions. In Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf also painted an alluring picture of London and its inhabitants, creating an authentic sense of time and portraying the socio-economic conditions of the population.

 

Saturday by Ian McEwan

London is almost a constant presence in Saturday by Ian McEwan, thanks to the many mentions of its streets. A demonstration against the Iraq war in February 2003 makes Henry Perowne, the main character, muse on personal satisfaction, the meaning of his life and the protest itself. Continue reading

Book Club Recommendations – Books Worth Discussing

Spending a couple of hours just in the company of a good book feels like heaven for many readers, including me. But reading doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. The most sociable readers have always the option of joining a book club either in person or online to discuss previously agreed books and have a lively, but respectful, debate.

Generally-speaking, any book is a good book to choose to read for a book club. However, some are bound to spark a more spirited discussion than others. It’s important to choose books that are interesting to muse about, that make readers think, maybe arrive at different conclusions, or look at the characters from different perspectives. I have five recommendations that I believe are good options to read in a book club.

 

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Although Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is full of fantastical elements, it focuses on very human experiences. This book, which is ultimately about memory and traumatic experiences, has as main character Piranesi, who lives in an immense house surrounded by the sea. He joins the Other twice a week to discuss their endeavours to discover some unknown knowledge. His emotions are portrayed with a meaningful subtlety. For such a short book, it provides many topics for discussion. How do memories influence our perception about ourselves? What clues about the ending did readers find? What did readers discern about what was going on in that world at various stages? Continue reading

Five Books Set in Italy

Italy is one of the countries I dream of visiting. How amazing would it be to be able to spend a month travelling around such a stunning place that exhales history in every corner? While I save money to one day go on that adventure, I content myself with reading books set there, either in their entirety or just partially. There are five books set in Italy that I read in recent years and that I wholeheartedly recommend, despite not considering them perfect nor necessarily favourite books of mine.

 

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

The casual humorous tone and the subtle irony of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim make a simple plot shine. A group of women decides to rent a small medieval castle in Italy during the month of April. Their reasons for that are different, but those charming holidays will make all of them see their lives in a new light. The evocative descriptions of their surroundings are wonderful.

 

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The first book in The Neapolitan Novels is merely the initial taste of the story of a convoluted friendship that will last for years. Elena and Lila have lived in the same neighbourhood in Naples for a significant part of their lives. As readers learn more about the two friends, they also get a thought-provoking picture of Italian society, since their story is complemented by reflections on class, equality, social mobility and the role of education. Continue reading

Books to Read in a Weekend

The weekend is the perfect time to sit down, relax and spend a great couple of hours reading a book. If that book is shorter than 200 pages, it’s even possible to read it in full during only one weekend. Even if you are a content slow reader like me, who is not bothered anymore about not being able to read for many hours in a row, sometimes it just feels fulfilling to finish a book in two days. I haven’t managed to read many books in a single weekend, to be honest, but you could certainly read the following books in only two days (or even one).

 

Os Armários Vazios (Empty Wardrobes) by Maria Judite de Carvalho

When Dora Rosário’s husband died, she mourned him for 10 years. She couldn’t have anticipated how her outlook on life was about to change. Empty Wardrobes is a story about how three women let their lives be influenced by men. As it has an unreliable narrator, readers are forgiven for constantly questioning whether the characters actually acted in the way we are being told that they did.

 

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

A story about the decisions made by the women in the life of Chris Baldry, The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West features believable characters and various visual descriptions of the natural settings. After a long time without having news from Baldry, his wife and his cousin received the visit of Margaret Allington. She told them that he was in hospital with no memory of the last 15 years. Continue reading

Books in Portuguese for Language Learners

When we are learning a foreign language, it’s important for us to immerse ourselves in it as much as possible. One way of doing so is by reading books in that language. However, when we are not yet fluent in a foreign language that may seem like a daunting experience, particularly as we may only have heard of books for more proficient readers. An easy option is to read the translation of a book we’re already familiar with. But what if we are looking forward to reading books that have been written by native speakers?

If you have just started learning Portuguese, my first language, or are considering the possibility of learning it, there are four books that I recommend. They were written with a young audience in mind, but they are not too childish. Three of the books were written by Portuguese authors and one by a Brazilian. There are many differences between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese when it comes to not only pronunciation, but also vocabulary and grammar. So, the nationality of the author is something to bear in mind if you’re only interested in one of the main variants.

 

O Cavaleiro da Dinamarca by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen had Danish ancestry, so it’s not strange that she chose the main character in this short story to be from Denmark. A knight who used to live with his family in a forest decided to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. His journey is the main focus of this tale. Continue reading

Pairs of Books to Gift this Christmas

Are your dear friends and family members eager to receive books this Christmas? One of the options that will make them love you even more is to present them with two books that share some similarities, so they can compare and contrast. Some of the books I’m about to recommend are on the surface obviously very much alike. However, they are not carbon copy of one another. Not only do their authors have disparate writing styles, but the details of the plot also end up making them unique in many ways.

 

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Both Burial Rites and Alias Grace are fictional books inspired by real-life occurrences – two women are considered guilty of murdering two people each. But did they? In Burial Rites, Hannah Kent presents the touching and poignant story of Agnes, whom was sentenced to death after being considered guilty of killing her lover, Nathan, and Pétur in Iceland in the 19th century. While awaiting the day of her execution at the house of one of the officers in the district, she is visited by Assistant Reverend Thorvardur and tells him her version of events.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood focuses on the role that Grace Marks played in the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. While in prison, she receives the visit of doctor Simon Jordan and recalls various moments from her life until then. Grace’s inner thoughts and reminiscences are strikingly turn into words. Continue reading