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

Favourite Books by Women in Translation

August is Women in Translation Month, the perfect time to read translated books written by female authors. For those looking for suggestions of appropriate books to pick up during the next month, there are four that stood out the most for me from the ones that I’ve read in translation so far.

Bear in mind that, as my mother tongue is Portuguese, I don’t read Lusophone authors in translation. But if you are looking forward to reading books originally written in Portuguese during August, you can find many blog posts with recommendations on this blog or ask any questions you may have in the comments section!

 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The South Korean novel The Vegetarian is an impressive, affecting and disconcerting exploration of abuse, mental health, desire and rebellion against social conventions. Yeong-hye has always been a dutiful wife. But one day a disturbing dream leads her to become a vegetarian, which deeply upsets her family. Although she is the main character, the story is not told from her point of view. Readers are presented with the perspectives of her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister, who all have distinctive voices. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation – from ‘The End of the Affair’ to ‘Catch the Rabbit’

I’ve been meaning to take part in the bookish meme Six Degrees of Separation, created by Kate from Books Are My Favourite and Best, for a long time. This month I’m finally joining in, despite being (fashionably) late! What does it consist in? Every month Kate chooses a book and we just need to add other six, each having a link to the previous book in our chain.

This March, the initial book is The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, which I don’t know much about, as I haven’t read it. Set in London during the Second World War, it seems to be about an affair gone awry. After Sarah ends her relationship with Maurice Bendrix, he hires a private detective to follow her.

Another book set during the Second World War and that I also haven’t read yet is Transcription by Kate Atkinson. In 1940, the 18-year-old Juliet Armstrong starts working at an obscure department of the MI5, whose purpose is to monitor fascist supporters. Continue reading

Exploration of Motherhood in Books

Depicting mothers has always been a challenge that authors were willing to accept throughout history, particularly in adult fiction. They can be portrayed as the “ideal” mums, the ones that get everything right and do no wrong, but more often than not the most interesting mothers are those who are struggling in some way, that have conflicting feelings towards motherhood, that are afraid of failing, or that try incredibly hard to protect their offspring, occasionally to no avail.

In the latest years, I read some books that made me ponder on the importance that motherhood plays in stories. The mothers in Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, Circe by Madeline Miller, The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, The Muse and The Confession by Jessie Burton are all dissimilar. Nevertheless, they have a huge relevance in the plot of the novels they are a part of, even when they are not the main characters.

If you have not read the novels I mentioned previously, I warn you that I’ll allude to some occurrences that may be considered spoilers. Continue reading

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

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

‘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

‘História de Quem Vai e de Quem Fica’ (‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’) by Elena Ferrante

My rating: 4 stars

Elena and Lila’s friendship is at the forefront of the first two books in the Neapolitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name (about which there will be spoilers), despite both also featuring various social considerations. In História de Quem Vai e de Quem Fica (Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay in the English translation), on the other hand, Elena Ferrante chose to focus mainly on Elena’s personal tribulations and on various political issues. Nevertheless, for the most part, it is still as engaging as the previous novels.

The book starts with Elena remembering the last time that she saw Lila before her disappearance. She hopes that Lila will somehow discover that she is writing their story and will reappear, since she has forbidden Elena to ever write about her. She then turns her attention to the last event from the previous book, more than 40 years beforehand. After encountering Nino Sarratore at the presentation of her book, they went out for dinner with other two companions. She started doubting her capabilities again. She didn’t know enough about the topics that they were discussing – the political situation in Greece, the prominence of the students’ movement throughout Europe – which led her to feel inadequate.

Although she was not particularly attached to Naples anymore, she returned there for a while to stay with her family. She spent her time gathering information about what was happening around the world, while dealing with both the positive and the negative reviews of her book. People from the neighbourhood were only interested in asking her about the spicy parts, which vexed her. Continue reading

Favourite Books I Read in 2019

2019 was a complicated reading year. I read various praiseworthy novels, short story and poetry collections. In terms of genres, my reading was as varied, featuring classics, literary fiction, fantasy and myth retellings, for example. So far, I’ve read 34 books and will probably finish another one in the following days. However, I decided not to finish eight books, a number higher than ever before, if I’m not mistaken.

This was also the year when I chose to reread a book again after probably decades without doing so. Thus, I had to decide whether to include rereads in my favourite books of the year or not from now on. I decided against it. This post only includes books that I read for the first time during the year, irrespective of date of publication.

I don’t tend to rate books with five stars very often, because they need to be completely flawless for that to happen. This year I only rated one book with five stars, and it was the one that I reread – O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) by José Saramago. The majority of the books that I rate with four stars are still great, though. Some of the five books that I selected as my favourites of 2019 are indeed almost perfect, in my opinion. In reverse order, they are: Continue reading

Book Series – What I’m Reading

Reading book series is a great way to become fully immersed in a fictional world. I’m currently sinking my teeth into five book series and, until I finish at least one of them, I don’t plan to start a new one. Whenever I complete a book series, the plan is to replace it with another one of those on my wish list. I’m only mentioning on this post the series that I’m not caught up on (reason why the list below doesn’t feature A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin) and that I want to finish.

 

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

This is the first trilogy in a larger fantasy series set in the Realm of the Elderlings. So far, I’ve only read the first book, Assassin’s Apprentice, which is set in the Six Duchies, a land ruled by the Farseers. Fitz, the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, is trained as an assassin and in the traditional magic of the Farseer family – the Skill. Not only is this book full of court intrigue, it also delves into various human emotions.

After finishing this trilogy, I’ll certainly read the other series set in the same world. Although I considered the possibility of reading all the series featuring Fitz first and only afterwards picking up the remaining ones, I’m now more inclined to read them in order of publication. Continue reading