Book Series I’ve Recently Finished

Starting a book series can be a daunting experience, particularly when it is longer than three books and they are massive. When a series doesn’t have a clear direction, a well thought out beginning, middle and end, it can feel like the author is only still writing it because it was originally successful. It becomes a chore to read book after book just to get to the end of a story that we lost interest in mid-way through. However, some book series, in spite of our original reservations, prove to be a delightful journey to a new world or an immersive exploration of realistic characters.

I’ve recently finished four book series that were, overall, a joy to read. They are all very different from one another, despite two of them falling into the fantasy genre.

 

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb wrote five fantasy series set in the Realm of the Elderlings. The Farseer Trilogy is the first one. Set mainly in the Six Duchies, a kingdom ruled by the Farseers, it has as narrator and main character the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, Fitz, who is for the most part a convincing character and not an unflawed hero. He was both trained as an assassin and in the traditional magic of the family – the Skill. He also soon realised that he could establish a close bond with animals. Though for a while he didn’t know what that meant, he had the power of the beast blood – the Wit. This is a story that delves into court intrigue, lust for power, the difference between duty and self-indulgence, while also believably exploring various human emotions. Continue reading

‘Provavelmente Alegria’ by José Saramago

My rating: 4 stars

José Saramago is renowned for his novels, but he also wrote plays, poetry and short stories. Provavelmente Alegria, which has not been translated into English yet as far as I’m aware, is one of his three poetry collections. The majority of the poems featured in this collection don’t have a blatant message, their meanings need to be unearthed, each word dissected. For that reason, my interpretations may be different from those of other readers. But isn’t that part of the magic of reading poetry?

Human beings and our myriad of emotions take centre stage in this collection. In various of the poems, there’s either a contrast between people and nature or a communion between the two. ‘Ainda Agora é Manhã’ is a visual description of the sun rising in the morning and how it differs from the sorrow felt by a person. ‘Paisagem com Figuras’ also features descriptions of nature, which surrounds a couple. When they hold hands, the place turns into paradise. ‘Ao Centro da Esmeralda’ establishes a correlation between the human body and natural elements, such as the moon, the sun, the green grazing land. One of the shortest poems in the collection, ‘Flor de Cato’, meaningfully compares the human heart with the flower of a blossoming cactus.

My favourite poem from the collection is ‘Na Ilha por Vezes Habitada’, which draws a parallel between humans and an island. Though we live through good and bad moments, our connection with the land offers peace of mind and makes life worth living. Continue reading

‘Assassin’s Quest’ by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 stars

The Six Duchies and their neighbouring territories may be part of a fictional world, but they truly come to life in Assassin’s Quest, the last book in The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. Although the pacing is not always perfect, it has a well-defined direction since the beginning, which isn’t the case of the previous instalment, Royal Assassin. Through Fitz’s narration, it delves into the difference between duty and greed for power, a theme already touched on in the first book in the trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice. Such an immersive read is a welcome invitation to continue to explore the Realm of the Elderlings.

In the prologue of the book, a much older Fitz muses about his past, what he suffered at Regal’s hands and the kindness that Lady Patience, his father’s wife, showed him on many occasions. He is still unsure about whether he should have thanked Burrich and Chade for what they did or not. The role of narrator is then assumed by a younger Fitz. He recalls how he escaped his prior predicament, and readers are reminded of the final events of the previous book.

Fitz resented never having been able to make his own decisions. But was this true? Chade tried to make him see that he had always done that. If he had strictly followed the orders he had been given, events wouldn’t have taken place in the way they did. He had always acted as a boy. It was time to grow up, though. Burrich decided that it was best for them to follow separate paths. Continue reading

Last Ten Books Tag

A week ago, I saw the Last Ten Books Tag on Marina Sofia’s blog (I couldn’t unearth who the original creator was) and decided to give it a go, although I don’t tend to do tags very often. I always struggle to come up with answers for numerous of the questions asked on tags for some reason, so forgive me if my replies are not particularly remarkable and insightful.

 

Last book I gave up on

This one is easy! I gave up on War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy early on in January after reading less than ten chapters. In 1805, Anna Pavlovna organised a soirée where various characters discussed not only their lives, but also Napoleon and his political and military movements. I just couldn’t memorise whom any of the characters were or their connections with one another. For that reason, I lost all interest in this massive novel, which I had been meaning to read for years.

 

Last book I reread

After deciding not to finish War and Peace, I figured that it was a good idea to read an old favourite. I reread Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and loved it as much as the first time around. The dystopian society it portrays is well known for its telescreens and being ruled by the Party, whose face is the Big Brother. Winston, the main character, works in the Ministry of Truth, where he rewrites past information. His life gets progressively more complicated as he becomes involved with Julia. Continue reading

3-Star Books I Kept Because of a Specific Feature

A few years ago, I decided against keeping on my shelves all of the books that I read. First, I gave away almost all of the books that I read when I was a child and a teenager. I only kept the ones that I assumed I would still enjoy if I ever read them again as an adult. Then I decided to only keep the books that I enjoyed or loved, that is to say the ones that I rated with either four or five stars, plus some special three-star reads.

You may be wondering what makes a three-star book special. It has to fall within at least one of a couple of categories: having been almost a 4-star read, which was the case of Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors and The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis; being part of a collection, such as the Penguin English Library, or of a book series which I enjoy in general; or featuring a specific element that stood out to me because of how well it was crafted. I also used to keep 3-star books by authors whose work I overall cherish, but I only do so now when they fit into one of the previous categories.

The eight books below stood out from other 3-star reads because they feature a character that I loved, an interesting structure, an intriguing narrator, a tangible array of feelings or one strand of many that I highly enjoyed. Continue reading

Favourite Book Covers VI

It has been almost two years since I last shared with you a few of my favourite book covers. Since then I added to my shelves various books that were not only worthy reads, but whose covers are also a feast for the eyes. All of them are paperback editions, which is unsurprising. I mostly only buy paperbacks, as they are cheaper, lighter, and I have a complicated relationship with dust jackets.

Let’s get a good look at my five new favourite covers!

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Cover design: Leanne Shapton

Publisher: Vintage

Collection: Vintage Classics Austen Continue reading

‘O Último Voo do Flamingo’ (‘The Last Flight of the Flamingo’) by Mia Couto

My rating: 4 stars

Magical realism elements are ubiquitous in Mia Couto’s work. In O Último Voo do Flamingo (The Last Flight of the Flamingo in the English translation), the Mozambican author mixed local superstitions and folklore with social and political denunciations, while presenting various distinctive characters.

The narrator of this novel is a translator from Tizangara who at the time of the events was at the service of the village administrator. In the first years after the civil war, five of the UN Blue Helmets who were overseeing the peace process exploded. Their bodies weren’t torn to shreds. They just disappeared, their penises being the only body part that could be found. As an Italian man was to arrive to investigate what had happened to the soldiers, the administrator, Estêvão Jonas, called on the narrator to be his translator.

Although the narrator didn’t speak Italian, Jonas didn’t consider that to be a problem. He just needed to have a translator as all important people. Thankfully Massimo Risi had a basic grasp of the language. What he couldn’t understand was the people, their local customs and superstitions. The beliefs and behaviours of the inhabitants of the village were puzzling. He became particularly interested in Temporina, a woman with a young body and a much older face. He was eager to be successful on his mission, however. He was seeking a promotion after all. Continue reading

‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell

My rating: 5 stars

The dystopian society that George Orwell created for Nineteen Eighty-Four lays bare his extensive knowledge about totalitarian regimes, history and political philosophy. Having read it for the first time in Portuguese more than a decade ago, I cherished (re)reading it now in English and recalling why it remains a critical book. It makes absolutely and flawlessly clear how authoritarians operate by showcasing various of their techniques, while also being a prescient novel concerning the possibility of mass surveillance.

Winston, the main character, was a 39-year-old man who worked at the Ministry of Truth in London, a city part of Airstrip One, one of the most populous provinces of Oceania, which was perpetually at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia. His job was to reconstruct the past. He changed the texts of news pieces, books, posters and pamphlets so they, irrespective of what happened, continued to suit the interests of the Party, whose central face was the Big Brother, a black-haired man with a moustache.

Freedom was less than a faint memory. Houses came equipped with telescreens that could never be completely turned off. Not only did they transmit information, but they also recorded images and sounds. Through them, the Thought Police could hear and watch everything that occurred nearby. People’s only loyalty should be to the Party. Love and desire were detrimental feelings, so the only purpose of marriage was to conceive. Winston had been married for little more than a year, but his wife left him as she couldn’t become pregnant. Continue reading

Most Disappointing Books of 2020

As much as I would love to enjoy all of the books that I pick up, that is sadly not the case. Although I liked the vast majority of the books that I read in 2020, some of them were definitely disappointing. Two of the three books mentioned below I didn’t even finish, seeing that I had no hope that they would grip me at any point. This is (obviously!) not an attack on any of the authors. I even liked all of the other books that I read in the past by one of them. It’s impossible for a book to impress all readers. Just because I didn’t cherish reading these books, it doesn’t mean that others won’t.

 

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The main character of this novella, Edna Pontellier, is a married woman with two children who started to break with conventions after becoming infatuated with another man. Despite understanding the importance of this book as a work of early American feminism, I didn’t like it. The resolution is not satisfying and even seems to contradict the questions raised throughout. There aren’t also enough details, the characters are not fully fledged, and the writing style is for the most part dull.

 

Lillias Fraser by Hélia Correia

I was so eager to like Lillias Fraser by the Portuguese author Hélia Correia that I even tried to read it twice. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working for me, so I decided not to finish it for good after a second attempt. Partially set in Scotland in 1746, it has as main character Lillias, the daughter of Tom Fraser. Having had a vision of her father dying, she ran away during the battle of Culloden. She then managed to leave Scotland with the help of Anne MacIntosh. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – December 2020

On the first day of 2021 (Happy New Year!), I look back on my favourites from the last month of 2020! Today I’m sharing with you a book, a set of YouTube videos, a blog post and a Christmas dessert.

I finished three books in December and enjoyed all of them. But my favourite was História da Menina Perdida (The Story of the Lost Child in the English translation) by Elena Ferrante. The last book in The Neapolitan Novels continues to focus on Elena and Lila’s convoluted friendship, while also delving into the complex relationship between mothers and daughters and the Neapolitan society of the time. Thanks to its conversational writing style, it is for the most part highly engaging. Although on some days I didn’t feel like picking it up, when I did, I could read it for long periods of time, something I struggled to do last year.

Throughout December, I watched even more YouTube videos than usual, mainly because of Vlogmas (this is when YouTubers post videos almost every day on the run-up to Christmas). I don’t have one specific video as a favourite, having liked various of the videos created by Lauren and the Books and Lauren Wade. Continue reading