Beautiful Book Collections

Who doesn’t like to have their shelves full of books with matching spines and covers? There is something extremely appealing about a collection of books whose covers share the same specific elements, style, or design. Books within a collection, or series, can either have all been written by the same author or by different authors who share certain characteristics, such as having lived within the same time period or having penned similar books in terms of genres and themes.

Whenever publishers announce a new collection of books with highly appealing covers, I always do some research to know more about the plots and the authors’ writing styles. I may feel like buying plenty of books from a given collection, but I usually only tend to really do so if I’m also interested in the story. Throughout the years, there have been a few collections that I bought books from.

At the moment, the most predominant one on my shelves is the Penguin English Library collection of classics. I do love the stripy spines and the simply but beautifully illustrated book covers. I find the little drawings placed throughout the covers quite charming. I’ve written a post solely on this series some time ago. You can read it here, in case you want to know more about it. Continue reading

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‘Dear Mr. M’ by Herman Koch

My rating: 4 stars

To tell a captivating story is not an easy undertaking. When an author decides to pen two intertwined stories told from different perspectives in one single book, the task becomes even more complex. But Herman Koch achieves that almost flawlessly in Dear Mr. M, while mixing a crime story with a reflection on writing, fiction, and the need to choose the right elements in order to create a compelling plot. This is no fast-paced thriller. It uses a murder to explain the necessary differences between fiction and reality.

The book starts with an extended letter to Mr. M, a renowned writer, from a neighbour who is in a way spying on him and his wife. He details everything he knows about Mr M’s movements. It seems that he is aware of all his steps and is obsessed with him and his family. For that reason, the first chapters have quite a creepy feeling to them. It’s slightly uncomfortable how the neighbour is able to paint a picture about what happens at Mr. M’s home from the sounds he hears. When he doesn’t know exactly what is happening, he comes up with informed guesses. But some things he is sure about, like him having a daughter and his wife being much younger than he is. Both of them are away at the time he is writing.

The neighbour is a reader of Mr. M’s books and knows that he is not as famous as he once was. In fact, he sees him as a mediocre writer. Right from the beginning he makes his reservations about his talent quite clear. Continue reading

Favourite Short Books

Medium-size books are usually at the top of my preferences. I love to fully immerse myself in the characters’ world and find that easier when a story lasts for longer than just a couple of hundred pages. Nevertheless, shorter books can also be utterly compelling and stimulating. I consider a book to be short when it is less than 250 pages long.

If you are looking for some quick reads (albeit not necessarily easy ones), you may want to try some of my favourites. I decided not to include short story and poetry collections in the list below, seeing that they overwhelmingly fall into the less than 250 pages category.

 

The Dumb House by John Burnside

The Dumb House is short but not sweet. It is a twisted story revolving around Luke, who has performed a cruel experiment on his own children. We know this from the outset, and the following pages are an account of how he got to that point and why. While reading, I was in awe of the writing style. Continue reading

My Summer Reading Plans

Summer is just around the corner and, although I’m not much of a seasonal reader, there are some types of books that I tend to read during the hottest season. For no particular reason other than that I associate them with past holidays, I’m more inclined to read fantasy, adventure and funny books during summer. Below are some of the books that I plan to pick up throughout the following months. The weather has been extremely erratic in Portugal (it has been awfully cloudy and much cooler than usual), but I can already imagine myself reading these while the sun shines on a blue sky!

 

The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirahk

Seeing that this is a book about the arrival of outsiders into a forest full of ancient traditions, myths and legends, I believe that it must have at least some fantasy or magical realism undertones. I’m not really sure what to expect from it, though, since I had never heard of this book before searching for Estonian authors online.

 

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

I don’t know much about the plot of this book by the Swedish author Jonas Jonasson, but I’ve heard that it features quite a few funny moments. According to the blurb, it follows Nombeko Mayeki, who is on the run from a secret service. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – May 2018

Another month has come to an end, and, as it’s now usual, I have some favourites to share with you. Carry on reading to discover which books, TV show, songs and shoes (a novelty) have enliven my month of May!

I read three books last month – S.: A Novel about the Balkans by Slavenka Drakulic, Nada by Carmen Laforet and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I would recommend all of them, but the one I appreciated the most was S.: A Novel about the Balkans. It tells the story of S., a woman who was repeatedly raped during the Bosnian war, while delving into a variety of extremely important and still relevant issues.

In spite of having only watched the first three episodes so far, I decided to choose the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale as my favourite TV series from May. I’m particularly relishing knowing more about the past of some of the secondary characters. For those who haven’t watched the first season or read the book yet (I recommend you do both), it is set in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian, repressive and puritanical state established in the US, where some women are used by men to breed. Continue reading

‘S.: A Novel about the Balkans’ by Slavenka Drakulic

My rating: 4 stars

S.: A Novel about the Balkans may be short, but it’s far from being an easy read. Slavenka Drakulic, a Croatian novelist and journalist, examines a real war and its consequences through the fictional story of S., a woman who was forced to adapt to her new situation in order to survive the conflict in Bosnia. This book is both an account of what happened to her during the war and her perception of other people’s feelings.

When the story starts, it’s 1993 and S. has just given birth to a baby boy at a hospital in Stockholm. That child was not desired, though. She had been repeatedly raped in Bosnia during the war. When she found out that she was pregnant, it was already too late to have an abortion, and she had no choice but to carry the pregnancy to term. There seems to be this idea in society that women are spared during wars, because the majority tend not to actively fight. However, as this book illustrates, they are far from being safe from atrocities, quite the opposite.

In the following chapters, readers are taken back in time to the early summer of 1992, the year when S.’s life changed forever. She was 29 years old and a teacher in a small village in Bosnia, living in an apartment within the school perimeter. One day, S. is removed from her home by a soldier, who takes her to a gym where Muslims are being gathered. The men are then killed, while the women are made to enter buses without knowing their destination. A sense of disbelief takes over them, leading to numbness. Continue reading

Authors I Want to Give A Second Chance to

To delve into the work of an author for the first time is both a thrilling and unnerving experience. While to read a book by a writer we are familiar with feels like returning home, to immerse ourselves in the work of an author new to us is a foray into uncharted territory. Although sometimes we end up discovering a new favourite, it is also possible to get highly disappointed. Below are some of the authors whom the only book that I read by didn’t impress me much (I rated it with either 3 or 2 stars), but to whom I want to give a second chance.

 

Ali Smith

I made my first foray into Ali Smith’s work with Autumn, the first book in a planned seasonal quartet. The plot isn’t easy to explain, because it wanders amidst the flow of the characters’ thoughts and reminiscences. It delves into the bond forged between Daniel Gluck and Elisabeth Demand, as well as into some current events, including Brexit. I was left with quite mixed feelings, being both in awe of the way Ali Smith managed to craft some sentences and bored by the lack of plot development.

At first, I thought that I wouldn’t want to read Winter, the second book in this collection of standalones, but so many people have been praising it that I’ve changed my mind. Continue reading

‘Nada’ by Carmen Laforet

My rating: 4 stars

The evening after I finished reading Nada by the Spanish writer Carmen Laforet, I was under the impression that nothing exceptionally memorable had happened plot-wise throughout the book. That sensation is not really accurate, though. Andrea, the main character in this novel, had a year full of new experiences, but the way in which they are narrated made them feel almost ordinary, when in fact much changed in her life. This is the story of a young woman who was trying to become independent. Being an orphan living on a meagre pension, she struggled to reconcile poverty and hunger with her friends’ way of life.

Andrea arrived in Barcelona alone to start anew and attend university. Although she felt anxious, she quickly became enchanted by the city. She was staying with close relatives at their house on Aribau Street. At the time of her arrival, seven people lived there already – her grandmother, her aunt Angustias, her uncles Román and Juan, plus his wife Gloria and their son, and Antonia, the housemaid. One of the allures of this book is to discover the characters’ personalities and back stories while reading, so I won’t say much about them. But, from early on, it became apparent that there was a conflict between Juan and Román involving Gloria.

The first character Andrea had to learn to deal with was Angustias. She was authoritarian, seemed to be fairly conservative and kept trying to repress Andrea. These characteristics can be inferred from her actions and are not straightforwardly penned. In fact, that happens with the other members of the family as well. It was via their interactions with Andrea that I started forming my own opinions about them, which made me feel involved in the story. They all seemed to be on the verge of madness to some extent. Continue reading

Bookish Snobbery and Literary Fiction

I consider myself to be quite an eclectic reader when it comes to book genres. What I look for in a book is competent writing, engaging prose, remarkable characters, and an interesting plot. These elements can be found in a variety of genres. However, some authors and readers seem to put literary fiction on a pedestal and disregard genre fiction. That for me reveals a high level of snobbery. I’m not trying to say that readers should like every single book genre there is, that is virtually impossible. But there is a huge difference between not enjoy reading a specific genre and considering that all books from that genre are worthless.

When I say that I don’t like a certain genre, it is a matter of personal taste and not of quality. For example, nowadays, I almost never read Young Adult novels, because I tend not to enjoy reading books whose main characters are teenagers, particularly when they are younger than 17 years old (Harry Potter being one of the few exceptions). Nevertheless, I recognise that they can be extremely enjoyable for a lot of people and that they can even convey critical messages.

Personally, I appreciate both literary fiction and a variety of genre fiction (fantasy, dystopian, mystery…), because, as Jessie Burton put in on Twitter, “my favourite genre is a Book with Incredible Prose That Stops You with Astonishment, Characters You Think Might Walk Through The Door and Story that Makes You Miss Your Train”. Such books can be branded as both literary fiction and genre fiction. Continue reading

Favourite Not So Popular Books

A long time passed since the day I started blogging and the moment when I created my Goodreads account at the beginning of this year. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to finally decide to set it up, though, because I’ve been finding it quite useful. Besides being a good tool to keep track of the books that I own but haven’t read yet (previously I only used a spreadsheet to list the books that I had read), it also made me realise that some of the books I really liked haven’t been read by that many people.

Some of the books that I really cherish have less than two thousand ratings on Goodreads. So, in comparison with other books, they are not particularly popular. Nevertheless, they are still really worth reading. These are the five that I wish more people would read:

 

The Dumb House by John Burnside

The Dumb House by John Burnside deals with quite uncomfortable topics, but that didn’t prevent me from being in awe of the way sentences were crafted. From the outset we know that Luke has performed a cruel experiment on his own children. He was fascinated by the tale of the Dumb House, so he wanted to know whether language was learnt or innate. His obsession not only with that story but also with the matter of life and death and the existence of a soul takes him down a dark path. Continue reading