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

Favourite Books I Read in 2020

In theory, the fiasco that was 2020 afforded us far more free time for reading. Nevertheless, I managed to read not only fewer books, but also fewer pages than in the previous year. The only reason for that is that I found it difficult to focus on whichever book I was reading for long periods of time, having had to shorten each reading session significantly. On the bright side, I enjoyed the vast majority of the books that I have read.

So far, I have read 29 books in their entirety and will certainly finish the one I’m currently reading before the end of the year. Almost all of the books that I decided to pick up were novels and novellas, but I also read a couple of short story and poetry collections (I didn’t review all of them, though). My reading was also varied in terms of genres: literary fiction, classics, fantasy, myth retellings, historical fiction… Two of the books that I read were not new to me. After reading their translations into Portuguese years ago, I decided to finally read Atonement by Ian McEwan and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen in the original. I loved them as much as I did the first time.

However, only taking into consideration the books that I’ve read for the first time in 2020, irrespective of date of publication, my favourites, in reverse order, are: Continue reading

‘Sulphuric Acid’ by Amélie Nothomb

My rating: 4 stars

Full of impactful moments of dark humour, Sulphuric Acid by Amélie Nothomb is a satire on reality TV which questions why people choose to watch it even when it involves nothing but suffering. It highlights how easily viewers forget that the people whom they are watching are fellow human beings and emphasises the importance of holding on to what makes us an individual person, such as our names.

Another reality-TV show was about to begin. It would have been just more of the same had it not been set in a death camp and called Concentration (the Nazi imagery is prevalent throughout the book). Anyone could be a participant, or more precisely a prisoner. People, young and old, were picked at random on the streets and then piled into a cattle-truck. Pannonique was “selected” while strolling around the Jardin des Plantes.

More care was taken when choosing the guards. Zdena, who was given the post of Kapo, had to fill in a questionnaire and prove that she could beat and insult people. None of the principles of the show shocked her. While at the camp, she developed an obsession with Pannonique. She beat her regularly and wanted to know her real name, since prisoners at the camp were only known by numbers and letters. Pannonique, who soon became a star thanks to her beauty and the assured way in which she behaved, was the prisoner CKZ 114. Continue reading

‘História da Menina Perdida’ (‘The Story of the Lost Child’) by Elena Ferrante

My rating: 4 stars

The first three books in The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante – My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (about which there are spoilers ahead) – cast light on Elena and Lila’s convoluted and fascinating friendship. The last instalment in the series, História da Menina Perdida (The Story of the Lost Child in the English translation), is no exception in that respect. However, it also heavily focuses on the complex relationship between mothers and daughters, all while painting a clear picture of the Neapolitan society of the time.

In this forth instalment, the story resumes the moment after Elena left her husband, Pietro Airota, and went with Nino Sarratore to Montpellier, where he had to attend a congress. While there, she phoned Pietro, whom informed her that the two girls didn’t want her to be their mother anymore. That hurt Elena. Nevertheless, when she returned to Florence, her daughters welcomed her with enthusiasm. Their reaction wasn’t as cheerful when, after a while, she told them that she needed to go to Naples.

Elena’s life was in turmoil. Her little book was going to be published in France, she wanted to separate from her husband, and also needed to decide on a place to live with her daughters. The last thing that she wanted was to meet up with Lila again. While she was in Naples, though, Lila insisted on talking with her and Nino. They met at a café and then went to the Solara’s shoe store, where awaiting Elena were the friends from her old neighbourhood. Elena came to believe that Lila didn’t exert as much power over her as she used to when they were younger, although she feared that Nino could still be interested in her. Continue reading

Book Haul – December 2020

A long time has passed since I wrote my previous book haul. I bought some books between then and now but never in bulk. As I was reading them almost immediately after buying them, I didn’t feel like sharing them with you on a post before reviewing them. This month, though, I decided to order seven books from the UK (before the Brexit transition period ends to avoid them potentially ending up in Customs next year) and they all arrived at the same time!

 

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries is one of the four massive books that I plan to read during the first half of 2021. Set in the 19th century, it has as main character Walter Moody, who decided to try to make his fortune in the goldfields of New Zealand. He becomes involved in the mystery surrounding various unsolved crimes. Although I wasn’t impressed by the TV adaptation, I decided to give the novel by Eleanor Catton a whirl.

 

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

It is decided! The first book that I’ll read next year is the colossal War and Peace! Now that I’ve finally bought it (in a stunning Vintage Classic Russians edition, which sadly arrived damaged), I can’t delay picking it up anymore. As Napoleon’s army marches on Russia, the lives of a group of young people change forever. Hopefully, I’ll enjoy it as much as Anna Karenina. Continue reading