Books to Read in a Weekend

The weekend is the perfect time to sit down, relax and spend a great couple of hours reading a book. If that book is shorter than 200 pages, it’s even possible to read it in full during only one weekend. Even if you are a content slow reader like me, who is not bothered anymore about not being able to read for many hours in a row, sometimes it just feels fulfilling to finish a book in two days. I haven’t managed to read many books in a single weekend, to be honest, but you could certainly read the following books in only two days (or even one).

 

Os Armários Vazios (Empty Wardrobes) by Maria Judite de Carvalho

When Dora Rosário’s husband died, she mourned him for 10 years. She couldn’t have anticipated how her outlook on life was about to change. Empty Wardrobes is a story about how three women let their lives be influenced by men. As it has an unreliable narrator, readers are forgiven for constantly questioning whether the characters actually acted in the way we are being told that they did.

 

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

A story about the decisions made by the women in the life of Chris Baldry, The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West features believable characters and various visual descriptions of the natural settings. After a long time without having news from Baldry, his wife and his cousin received the visit of Margaret Allington. She told them that he was in hospital with no memory of the last 15 years. Continue reading

Margaret Atwood: The Gift of Writing Books Highlighting Women

To pick up a book by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood and to discover a female protagonist doesn’t come as a surprise. The many struggles faced by women are a common theme in her books, irrespective of them being categorised as literary, historical fiction, dystopian or myth retellings. The female characters born solely of her imagination or inspired by real-life events are more often than not memorable, which is not only the result of a believable characterisation, but also of an alluring writing style.

Born on 18 November 1939 in Ottawa, Margaret Atwood is the author of eighteen novels, fifteen books of poetry and ten short story collections, having also written non-fiction and children’s books. So far, I’ve read seven of her books. Her work has been translated into more than 30 languages. Moreover, she has also taught English Literature at various Canadian and American universities.

It’s not wrong to say that she is one of the most celebrated Canadian writers. The extensive number of prizes that Atwood has won and been nominated for is not a coincidence. She has been the recipient of the Booker Prize twice. In 2019, she shared the prize with Bernardine Evaristo, causing an uproar. Awarding the Booker to The Testaments may have been unfair. The accolade that The Blind Assassin got in 2000 I consider much more suitable, however. Continue reading

Pairs of Books to Gift this Christmas

Are your dear friends and family members eager to receive books this Christmas? One of the options that will make them love you even more is to present them with two books that share some similarities, so they can compare and contrast. Some of the books I’m about to recommend are on the surface obviously very much alike. However, they are not carbon copy of one another. Not only do their authors have disparate writing styles, but the details of the plot also end up making them unique in many ways.

 

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Both Burial Rites and Alias Grace are fictional books inspired by real-life occurrences – two women are considered guilty of murdering two people each. But did they? In Burial Rites, Hannah Kent presents the touching and poignant story of Agnes, whom was sentenced to death after being considered guilty of killing her lover, Nathan, and Pétur in Iceland in the 19th century. While awaiting the day of her execution at the house of one of the officers in the district, she is visited by Assistant Reverend Thorvardur and tells him her version of events.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood focuses on the role that Grace Marks played in the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. While in prison, she receives the visit of doctor Simon Jordan and recalls various moments from her life until then. Grace’s inner thoughts and reminiscences are strikingly turn into words. Continue reading

‘The Door’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 stars

Poetry is a powerful medium to explore a variety of themes. In the collection The Door, Margaret Atwood delves into trauma, mourning, war, the destruction of the natural world, the healing power of nature, and the role of poets. If some poems are crawling with an ironic tone, others are more emotive. Gothic elements are also complemented with more matter-of-fact features.

The trail of devastation that human beings are leaving behind is touched on in various poems. That is the case of ‘It’s Autumn’ and ‘Bear Lament’. The destructive power of fossil fuels certainly served as inspiration for ‘Gasoline’. We know that using it can lead to disaster, but we seem to be enchanted by its properties.

The natural world, on the other hand, is painted almost as a form of redemption. ‘Enough of These Discouragements’ can be read as an illustration of some people’s hypocrisy. While humanity seems to yearn for some peace through the depiction of nature, the actions of some reveal a tendency for violence and destruction. Continue reading

‘Moral Disorder’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 stars

All the short stories in the collection Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood focus on the life of the same woman, Nell, and her relationship with her family. Particularly when the stories are told in the first person, they are enthralling and immersive. The more stories we read, the more we learn not only about Nell, but also about her partner, sister and parents. Their personalities become gradually clearer, and their tribulations are more often than not tangible and authentic. The least gripping stories are the ones narrated in the third person.

The collection opens with the story ‘The Bad News’. It focuses on an old couple who has a different outlook on the news that they read and listen to. Only later in the collection do readers learn that Nell is the woman telling some of the stories, including this one, and the protagonist of the collection. Albeit short, the story paints a clear picture of the couple’s personalities and their long-lasting relationship. It’s duly sarcastic at times.

The moods of the characters are as palpable in ‘The Art of Cooking and Serving’. The narrator recalls how, when she was a child, she knitted clothes for the sibling that her mother was carrying. She had to help with many of the chores, because her mother had to spend a long time resting. Hers was a high-risk pregnancy. Despite a long time having passed since the events, the confusion and fear the narrator felt is tangible. It was after that moment that she decided to exist not only to serve others, but also to become more independent. Change is a main topic in ‘The Other Place’ as well. The narrator recalls how she kept moving from one place to another as a young adult and the people she met along the way. Continue reading

Books I Want to Read Until the End of 2021

There are only three full months left in 2021, and I’m falling behind in my reading challenge. In order to complete it, I will have to finish the eight books that I’m truly eager to read until the year is over. The list features both novels, short story collections and poetry. Some authors are new to me, while others are old acquaintances. Some books are massive, others are tiny. In terms of genres, they are as diverse.

 

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I’ve only recently started reading The Luminaries and don’t have a strong opinion about it yet. As I don’t think I’ll DNF it, though, it is one of the books I want to finish until the end of the year. Set in 1866, it follows Walter Moody as he arrives in New Zealand to try his luck at the goldfields and to search for his father, who disappeared from Scotland. At the Crown Hotel, he encounters a group of twelve people who are discussing a series of crimes.

 

Não Se Pode Morar nos Olhos de um Gato by Ana Margarida de Carvalho

Set at the end of the 19th century, this novel by the Portuguese author Ana Margarida de Carvalho has been on my wish list for years. The time has come to finally read it. After the abolition of slavery, a boat illegally carrying slaves sinks near the coast of Brazil, but a group of people manages to survive. They are the main focus of this book, which seems to be most of all a character study. Continue reading

Authors I Want to Read Every Year – A Rethink

I don’t ever want reading to feel like a chore. When in 2017 I wrote a post about the authors that I wanted to read every year, I didn’t expect to constantly have to check it a couple of years down the line in order to make sure that I would have enough time to read books by those authors. The fact that I was almost forcing myself to find the time is certainly a sign that I am not truly eager to read books by them. A rethink is obviously needed!

My list of authors to read every year featured Margaret Atwood, Charles Dickens, John Burnside, Ian McEwan, Daphne du Maurier, José Saramago and Mia Couto. From these authors, there are only three that I feel I would have picked up books by this year if it were not for the list – Daphne du Maurier, José Saramago and Margaret Atwood. Unsurprisingly, these authors are some of my favourites of all time.

Why am I not as excited to read books by the other authors as I was before? I don’t have a definite, single answer. In the cases of Charles Dickens and John Burnside, it’s probably because I was disappointed with the latest books that I picked up by them. Mia Couto’s novels were starting to feel a bit samey to me, though I enjoyed them all. And I’ve always had a difficult reading relationship with Ian McEwan, having enjoyed some of his books and disliked others. Continue reading

Favourite Authors of All Time

There are authors whose work we, as dedicated readers, want to continue to explore for years to come. We treasure almost all of the books that we read by them and, thus, cannot wait to pick up again a few more of the novels, poetry or short story collections that they wrote for our enjoyment.

My favourite authors of all time are those whose work I’m constantly recommending to other readers, even though I didn’t equally love all of the books that I read by them and don’t think that all of them are perfect. I have read three or more books by the authors below, and their work has a special place in my heart.

 

Daphne du Maurier

I fell in love with Daphne du Maurier the moment I read Rebecca, my favourite book by her followed by Jamaica Inn. Her work doesn’t fit neatly into one genre, comprising both historical fiction and sci-fi, for example. But both her novels and short stories tend to be atmospheric, enthralling, gripping and slightly mysterious. The characters that she created are vivid and many unforgettable. I’ve read nine of Daphne du Maurier’s books so far! I haven’t finished exploring her work yet, though. I still have at least eight of her other books on my wish list. 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

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 stars

To describe a book as a page-turner is usually a compliment. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood has that gripping power of highly compelling reads, but it lacks emotion, details and character exploration. Set in the same fictional world as The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s nowhere near as affecting as its predecessor. Although it offers interesting insights about the inception and disintegration of Gilead, the prose is not poignant enough and the plot is too predictable.

The story is told from three different points of view – Aunt Lydia, Agnes Jemima and Daisy. Secretly, at the Ardua Hall’s library, Aunt Lydia, who was introduced in The Handmaid’s Tale, decided to write about her role within Gilead and her memories concerning the inception of the regime. Before the establishment of Gilead, she had been a family court judge. She recalled how her life quickly changed afterwards. What she had to endure was brutal. But now she was a crucial element within that repressive and puritanical state, which divided society into very defined roles. Her importance was such that nine years before, she had been given a statue.

Agnes Jemima is a girl who grew up in Gilead. The man whom she believed to be her father was a Commander. Readers are aware from the very beginning that he is not her biological father, though, since the woman whom she thought was her mother, Tabitha, used to say that she chose her as her daughter. After Tabitha’s death, when Agnes was around nine years old, her father married another woman, Paula, and a Handmaid was brought into the house, which meant that they wanted to have a child. This was when Agnes discovered that the people she had always called mother and father weren’t really her parents. Her real mother had tried to take her across the border to Canada, but they were caught. Continue reading