Favourite Books with a Historical Backdrop

Whenever I’m book shopping, one of the many things that catches my attention is the time period in which a story is set in. I tend to like books which either the entirety or only part of the action takes place at the time of an important historical event. These are books whose fictional characters and events end up being embroiled in a real historical episode in one way or another, and that can be labelled as historical fiction or not.

I categorise as historical fiction the books that not only are set in the past, but which were written by authors who were born after the time period in which their novel unfolds. In these cases, authors don’t have a first-hand experience of the period they depicted in their novels. Books with a historical backdrop, on the other hand, can be written by authors who lived during the time period the story is set in or not. But, and more importantly for this distinction, besides depicting the manners and other details about a particular time period, these books feature an important real historical event. So, for me, a novel with a historical backdrop is not necessarily historical fiction.

After explaining how I describe books with a historical backdrop, I can now reveal which ones are my favourites. Continue reading

Authors I Want to Read Every Year

There are some authors that I really want to read more books by, in order to get even more familiar with their work. So, I decided that I’ll try to read at least one book by each of the authors mentioned below every year, starting in the next one, since 2017 is fast coming to an end. I don’t intend to read the entirety of their back catalogue, but there are quite a few books by these writers on my wish list.

While I’ve only read one book by some of these authors, I’ve read various by others. However, all these writers have one thing in common: the books I have read by them left me curious enough to continue delving into their published work. I may even end up reading more books than I’m currently planning to, since some of these writers are still alive and continue to work on new material.

There are obviously more authors that I want to read additional books by, but these are the most predominant ones on my wish list. The only way I believe I’ll ever get to read them all (and at the same time continue to enjoy books by other writers) is if I commit to read at least one once a year.    Continue reading

Ian McEwan: A Problem of Unpredictability

Whenever I think about buying a book by Ian McEwan, I ponder very carefully before finally making a decision, because I’m never quite sure if I’m going to enjoy it or not. I have read a total of seven books by the English author, who was born in 1948. While some I genuinely liked, others I really regretted buying and ended up giving them away.

Ian McEwan has won several awards since he became an author. The first one was the Somerset Maugham Award for the collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites, published in 1975. He also won the Man Booker Prize in 1998 with Amsterdam.

My four favourite books written by Ian McEwan have one thing in common: an important historical or more current event is used as the background for the main plot. This is the case with The Innocent, Atonement, Saturday and Sweet Tooth. Continue reading

Favourite Love Stories

To celebrate Valentine’s day, I decided to reveal some of my favourite love stories featured in novels. I usually don’t read books that focus solely on a love story with nothing more happening throughout the plot besides the couple trying to get together or solve any problems they may have. I enjoy books featuring loves stories, but they have to be accompanied by a compelling plot, witticism, an interesting historical background, an epic adventure, or an array of complex characters.

I will try not to reveal many significant plot points about the books I am about to mention, but in order to convey my thoughts on some of the relationships I can’t completely avoid spoilers. So, if you haven’t read the following books and really don’t want to know too many things about them, it’s better not to read the short texts under my choices.

In no special order, these are some of my favourite love stories featured in books: Continue reading

The Time and Place Book Tag

The Time and Place Book Tag was created by Jen Campbell more than a year ago. I decided to do it, rather belatedly, after considering the possibility of giving away my three horrible Jane Austen’s Wordsworth Classics editions, but deciding to keep them because I associate two of them to a specific time and place in my life.

I decided then to do a blog post about the books that I remembered reading at a specific point in my life. However, I recalled having already seen a similar content around and, after some research, I rediscovered Jen’s video on YouTube. The Time and Place book tag consists on choosing 10 books from our shelves that we associate with a specific time and place in our lives, and explain the story behind the choices and what the books are about. I’m going to cheat a bit, since I’ve only chosen seven books.

 

Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I bought these two novels in an independent bookshop in Soho when I was visiting London back in 2010 and read them one after the other. So, my memories of buying and reading them are quite similar. One day I was strolling through the streets of Soho with my friends and some weeks later I was back in Portugal commuting from University to home, after attending my master degree’s classes, while enjoying these two novels by Jane Austen. I clearly remember those being rainy days, when I had to wait for trains for ages. Continue reading

Favourite Historical Settings

If you had the chance to take a look at my shelves, you probably wouldn’t be able to establish what my favourite book genre is. In fact, I don’t tend to read a single genre. My reading taste covers fantasy, literary fiction, mysteries, classics, sci-fi, poetry… As I read different types of books, it is not a specific genre that catches my attention when I go book shopping. One of the many things that makes me curious about a book is its historical setting. I particularly like stories that take place during the Second World War and the Portuguese “Estado Novo”.

Some of the fiction books that tend to catch my eye are written by contemporary authors but are set around the time of these important historical events. Generally speaking, such books tend to examine real concerns through a fictional story. They help us remember that it is crucial not to make the same mistakes again, that humans are capable of both boundless monstrosities and great deeds (there are always those who rebel against the dark authoritarian regimes), and that war has an ugly face and terrible consequences.

The “Estado Novo” was an authoritarian corporatist regime, considered to be fascist, that lasted from 1933 to 1974 in Portugal. It was established by António Oliveira Salazar and, as many other dictatorships, had a political police force, in order to control dissidents, not only in Portugal, but also in the African colonies. Especially during the 1960s, many Portuguese evaded the country, for example to France, in order to avoid being called to fight in the colonial war or just to look for a better life. Some of the books that I read during the latest years have this reality as an historical setting. Continue reading

‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan

My rating: 3 stars

The Children Act by Ian McEwan is a short novel, around 220 pages, which not only conveys a fictional story but also portraits the work performed by a leading High Court judge. For people who have a strong interest in the legal world and system, this may be quite an attention-grabbing book. However, I found the number of legal cases mentioned, which were not directly related to the plot, to slow down the development of the story being told.

At the centre of the plot is Fiona Maye, a leading High Court judge who has in hands the case of a seventeen-year-old boy, Adam, who is refusing a blood transfusion for religious reasons. She has to decide whether or not to allow the doctors to go ahead with the medical procedure that can save his life against the wishes of both the boy and his parents. To make a more informed decision, she decides to visit Adam in the hospital. That was for me the most powerful moment in the book. There was something quite special about seeing these two people, from a different age range, bond over a shared interest in music and poetry – a connection which has consequences later on in the story.

Fiona is quite successful in her work, but her marriage is not faring so well. Her husband intends to have an affair with another woman, and makes her aware of this, since they haven’t been having much of a sex life. They end up having a row and he leaves home.  One of the things Ian McEwan fully achieves in The Children Act is to take us along and make us care about Fiona’s considerations regarding her life, such as how she ended up not having children and how the strong relationship she first had with her husband started to deteriorate. Continue reading