Unexpected Pairs of Books

Books can be of completely different genres, tell an incomparable story, feature characters with overall contrasting personalities and still have at least one element in common. The following three pairs of books are unexpected, because at first sight they couldn’t be more dissimilar. However, there’s one characteristic that unites the books in each pair. What can connect three classics or modern classics to three fantasy books? While you are about to discover the correlation between two of the pairs, regarding the other one you will have to read the books!

 

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin + Os Maias (The Maias) by Eça de Queirós

I cannot directly tell you what the connection between A Game of Thrones, a fantasy novel, and the Portuguese classic Os Maias (The Maias in the English translation) is, because it is a massive spoiler for one of these books. I’ll just give you a brief summary of their premises instead. At the beginning of A Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon is the king who sits on the Iron Throne. After the death of his Hand, he invites Lord Eddard Stark to assume the role.  However, since the lords of Westeros are playing dangerous power games, families want to keep secrets hidden, the exiled Targaryen’s want to retake their father’s throne and a legendary threat is lurking behind the Wall, peace may be at an end.

The classic by Eça de Queirós, as the title suggests, revolves around the misadventures of the Maia family. After the end in tragedy of the relationship between Pedro da Maia and Maria Monforte, Afonso da Maia becomes responsible for the upbringing of his grandson, Carlos, who later becomes besotted by Maria Eduarda. Besides being a family story, the book also shines a light on the vices of the higher classes and the cultural discussions of the 19th century. Continue reading

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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

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

‘Os Maias’ (‘The Maias’) by Eça de Queirós

My rating: 5 stars

As the title suggests, Os Maias (The Maias in the translation into English) by Eça de Queirós focuses on the misadventures of the Maia family. However, this Portuguese classic, which I read for the first time around nineteen years ago, has much more to offer, since it’s also a superb portrayal of the vices of the higher classes in the 19th century and of the cultural discussions of the time. The ironic tone and some of the behaviours of the characters make this a recurring funny novel, despite it not lacking sadness as well.

The Maia family went to live at Ramalhete, a house at the Janelas Verdes neighbourhood in Lisbon, in the Autumn of 1875. Ramalhete had remained uninhabited for years, but now that Carlos was finishing his studies at the University of Coimbra, his grandfather Afonso wanted them to move there. They were the last two members of their family. Thanks to a valuable flashback, readers learn why.

When he was younger, Afonso da Maia, who was a supporter of liberalism, lived for a while in exile in the outskirts of London, as the absolutist King Miguel I had taken over the Portuguese throne. While he cherished living there, his wife struggled. Being surrounded by Protestants only made her Catholicism grow stronger. She started to hate everything that was English and sent for a priest from Lisbon to be responsible for their son’s education. The family ended up returning to Portugal when absolutism came to an end. The health of Afonso’s wife had been deteriorating, though, and, when she eventually died, their son, Pedro da Maia, was shaken by sadness and mourned her with intensity, behaving erratically. 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

‘Human Acts’ by Han Kang

My rating: 3 stars

Suffering is a constant feeling in Human Acts by Han Kang. It is a book about how an uprising in South Korea and the actions of an authoritarian government affected the lives of various people throughout the years. Told from several points of view, it could have been more impactful had it focused on fewer perspectives and intertwined them more closely.

At the beginning of the book, the municipal gymnasium in Gwangju is being used to keep the bodies of the civilians who were killed by the South Korean army during the popular uprising of 1980. The narrator of the first chapter indirectly addresses a character who is looking for his friend’s corpse and, not having been successful in finding it, ends up staying at the gymnasium to help. He was with his friend during the uprising but fled when the army started shooting.

Each chapter has a distinct narrator. The second chapter is told in the first person by the soul of Jeong-dae, who was killed during the uprising. His body and those of many victims were thrown into a pile. He wants to know who killed him and his sister. Five years later, Kim Eun-Sook, an editor at a publishing house, is slapped seven times by a police detective who wants to know the whereabouts of a translator. Through a third-person narration, we learn how she was also affected by the uprising. The first-person narrator of the following chapter is a man who was a prisoner. He was one of the students who was part of the uprising and, in 1990, is recalling what he remembers from that time to a professor. Continue reading