Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

READ THE WORLD – Fiji: Memoirs of a Reluctant Traveller by Sudesh Mishra

A poetry collection about travelling and the places and people a traveller encounters.

This is an incredibly short poetry collection at 52 pages and every poem is a dizain stanza – meaning it has ten lines and each are a complete poem. Though, because of the theme of travelling some feel more connected than others. Also, the order of the poems does seem like a conscious choice as some really flow well together.

The poems I enjoyed the most were the ones about the travelling experience; whether that was by plane, train, or bus. I haven’t been to any of the places mentioned in the poems so while they did paint a good picture, I couldn’t connect with them. However, I could relate to the poems where it was full of gripes about travelling and how with each mode of transport there are different things a person experiences. They captured the monotony of travel really well.

There’s nothing else I can really say about this poetry collection because it’s so short. Each poem gives a snapshot of a place or an experience and some of them work better than others for me.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Autumn 2021 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is what books we’d like to read over the next few months. I love setting a vague TBR and then seeing whether or not I actually get to them any time soon.

The City Where Dreams Come True by Gulsifat Shahidi
A collection of four short stories about Tajikistan’s civil war and the effect it had on the people. I have The City Where Dreams Come True and The Cost of Sugar on Kindle Unlimited and as I don’t really use that service much it’d be good to read them soon as then I can unsubscribe from it.

The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod
The Cost of Sugar has definitely been on more than one TBR but maybe now is the time to finally read it? It follows two Jewish stepsisters, Elza and Sarith, descendants of the settlers and their pampered existences become intertwined with the fate of the plantations as the slaves decide to fight against the violent repression they have endured for too long.

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo
I read and really enjoyed King of Scars earlier this month so Rule of Wolves is definitely one I want to get to ASAP. I have the audiobook but might get the ebook too as I’m not sure which way I want to read it.

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
I got The Wolf and the Woodsman via Illumicrate a few months ago and the cover is one that really stood out to me. Like many books on my TBR I don’t know much about it but I think it’s got a creepy forest and a fairy tale vibe – both are things I tend to enjoy.

Armenian Golgotha by Grigoris Balakian
This is a bit of an intimidating book as it’s a chunky non-fiction about a country’s genocide and it probably will be a book I need to take time with as it’s such a heavy topic.

The Scents of Marie-Claire by Habib Selmi
My Tunisia book for the Read the World Project, The Scents of Marie-Claire tells the story of the extraordinary relationship between the Tunisian-born narrator and the French Marie-Claire

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
A Spare Life has been on one of my seasonal TBR’s before and I did start it but didn’t get too far into it so would actually like to finish it.

Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix
I love the Old Kingdom series so am really looking forward to the latest instalment and am interested to see what this prequel adds to the story. I reread Sabriel last month for the first time since 2015 and will be continuing rereading the series until Terciel and Elinor is released in November.

The Desert and the Drum by Mbarek Ould Beyrouk
The Desert and the Drum is the first novel ever to be translated into English from Mauritania and is about a woman who leaves her tribe and tries to find her own path.

Chaka by Thomas Mofolo
Chaka is a mythic fictional retelling of the story of the rise and fall of the Zulu emperor-king Shaka.

What books are you hoping to read soon?

READ THE WORLD – Belize: Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell

Fourteen-year-old Beka and her best friend Toycie (who’s seventeen) are on the cusp of adulthood. They have family, school and boys to contend with as their home and everyone they know have to deal with the political upheaval as Belize strives towards independence.

Beka Lamb is set in the early 1950s and at this point Belize was a British colony. Throughout the novel there’s mentions of different political parties, how products coming from different countries mean different things, and Beka’s grandmother is heavily involved and up to date with the meetings that are happening in town. I knew nothing of Belize’s history before reading Beka Lamb and the way the politics of the country are interwoven in the story made things easy to understand and gave context to the reasons why characters said and did certain things. Having the story be from Beka’s point of view meant that there was almost a naivety to it at times as she had a lot of growing up to do.

As well as the political upheaval Beka’s family are living through there’s also how the Catholic church is a dominating presence in their lives – especially Beka and Toycie’s as the school they go to is run by nuns. The influence the women at the school have over them and the wider society can’t be underestimated. When Beka’s father asks them for help or even understanding when a situation arises, they refuse saying it’s a slight upon the school and their values.

The friendship between Beka and Toycie is the really heart of this story. Even though there’s three years between them they are really close and help each other in different ways. Toycie can help Beka with her school work while Beka will be a sometimes-reluctant alibi when Toycie wants to sneak out to see a boy. The differences in their homelives are glaring but also shows how strong their friendship is as there’s no resentment from Toycie. Beka lives with her parents, young brothers and her grandmother and while not well-off they don’t struggle financially. Toycie on the other hand lives with her aunt and she does struggle to provide for Toycie and is clearly living below the poverty line.

Beka Lamb is a pretty standard coming of age story; Beka tries to find her voice, do well in school, and stop lying. Having this story set in Belize and in a time of political and social upheaval adds extra layers to Beka’s story and while some thing’s are universal, others are deeply personal. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino

When Tess and Eliot stumble upon an ancient book hidden in a secret tunnel beneath their school library, they accidentally release a devil from his book-bound prison, and he’ll stop at nothing to stay free. He’ll manipulate all the ink in the library books to do his bidding, he’ll murder in the stacks, and he’ll bleed into every inch of Tess’s life until his freedom is permanent. Forced to work together, Tess and Eliot have to find a way to re-trap the devil before he kills everyone they know and love, including, increasingly, each other.

I’ve been getting the book-only Illumicrate subscription for the past six months and this is the first book I’ve actually read from them. That’s not necessarily anything against the books from previous months (especially as I’m just generally not reading as much as I used to) but as soon as I read the blurb for The Devil Makes Three and looked at that beautiful but dark cover, I really wanted to read it as soon as possible. Thankfully, for a book I’d never heard of before and had just piqued my interest – I really did enjoy The Devil Makes Three.

The atmosphere in The Devil Makes Three is incredibly vivid. Even before the devil makes an appearance there’s a sense of foreboding and bleakness to both Tess and Eliot’s lives. As the story progresses you learn more about the two of them and how their relationships with their parents are strained for different reasons. Each of them are going through tough times and with Tess especially it’s made her hard and prickly. She’s been betrayed by the people (her parents) who are supposed to care about her and put her and her younger sister Nat first so she now finds it incredibly difficult to trust and rely on other people. This means that she tries to deal with what’s going on with the devil on her own before opening up to Eliot about what’s been happening to her.

The things Tess ad Eliot experience after the accidentally release the devil are truly creepy and terrible. Things they experience blur the line between dream and reality, making events even more unsettling as they (and you as the reader) are never entirely sure what’s real. There is a bit of gore in The Devil Makes Three but it’s not over the top and instead it’s ink that’s used to give you nightmares. Honestly never thought of ink as creepy/evil but the way it’s described here, how it moves and bleeds from pages and almost devours people, it’s really quite disturbing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a creepy/horror story and The Devil Makes Three was really very good. The ending was a little sudden and I’d have liked to see more of the consequences of Tess and Eliot’s actions on people in their wider sphere who were affected, but overall, it’s a gripping and atmospheric read. 4/5.

Magical Readathon: Orilium – The Novice Path

The Magical Readathon is the brainchild of Gi at BookRoast on YouTube and this edition of the month-long readathon will take place in September. Previously it was a readathon based on the exams in the Harry Potter universe but now Gi has truly outdone herself and created a whole new world with its own history, magic, university, and people. Her video announcing the prompts for this readathon and how this world works is fantastic and that along with all the documents she’s made to support this world will answer any questions you may have.

As this is a whole new world, this readathon is like an introduction to it all. Instead of being thrown straight into the university exams, this readathon is based on the journey to the Orilium Academy. There are seven prompts on that journey but you only have to complete two of them in order to successfully reach the Academy but naturally you can try and complete them all. As the Magical Readathon has a no doubling up rule that means you have to read two books to “pass” this readathon.

There are also prompts to help build your character who will be attending the Academy next year when the next Magical Readathon happens in April. You don’t have to complete the character prompts in September, they can be used to build another TBR later this year, as long as you’ve completed the character prompts by April 2021.

So, onto my TBR. As usual I’ve found books that match up for each of the prompts and the character prompts so either I have a lot of choice or I can push myself and try and read ten books in September. Not sure how likely that is when I’m lucky to read four books in a month at the minute.

The Novice Path Entrance: Read a book with a map
Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn
This has a map on the end pages so that totally counts in my mind. Plus this is the first book in a series and if I read this book, the sequel can fit another prompt.

Ashtorn Tree: A book that keeps tempting you or is at the top of your TBR
Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell
This is one of my most recent purchases and it’s a coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old Belizean girl. Like with past Magical Readathon TBR’s, I’m trying to have a mix of Read the World Project books and YA/fantasy that’ll give me a varied TBR.

The Mist of Solitude: Read a standalone
The Purple Violet of Oshaantu by Neshani Andreas
All I know about this book is that it’s about a woman, who was an unhappy wife, and after her husband dies, she’s expected to weep and not talk ill of the dead but she refuses. Thus, making her a pariah in her village.

Ruin of the Skye: Read a book that features ghosts, a haunted house or supernatural elements
It’s Behind You by Kathryn Foxfield
This is the only book that even has a mention of ghosts in the blurb. I’m not sure if the ghost is actually real as the premise is a spooky reality TV show.

Obsidian Falls: Read a thriller or mystery
Dr Mabuse by Norbert Jacques
I’m pretty sure this falls under the mystery umbrella as the titular character is a criminal and maybe even a super-villain – it’s listed as a mystery on Goodreads anyway. I’m not really sure but it was first published in 1921 and the character was apparently the embodiment of the rising Nazi Party.

Tower of Rumination: Read a 5-star prediction
Hawkeye: Freefall by Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt
It’s always a good idea to have a comic on a readathon TBR and as Clint Barton is one of my favourite characters ever, there’s a very good chance I’ll end up loving this comic.

Orilium Academy Arc: Read a book with a school setting
Weeding the Flowerbeds by Sarah Mkhonza
This is a memoir about Mkhonza’s childhood at a boarding school where growing up is takes place under strict hostel rules in the seventies.

Character prompts

Background – Wilding: Read a book that’s largely set in a forest/outside
An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
This has been on my TBR loads of times so maybe this’ll finally be the time I read it. The title pretty much explains it and I think a lot of this book will be set outside as it follows Kpomassie’s journey to Greenland and his experiences there.

Province – Kerador: Read a book in an ongoing series
Monstrous Design by Kat Dunn
And here’s that sequel I mentioned. I don’t really read series and often when I do, they’re finished so these are the only books I have for a series where there’s books still to be published. Not sure if it’s going to be a trilogy or more.

Heritage – Elf: Moon or stars on the cover or in the title or, Human: Read a contemporary or non-fiction book
Cadence of the Moon by Oscar Núñez Olivas OR Milena & Other Social Reforms by Olja Knežević
As I don’t know if I fancy being an elf or a human, I’ve got a couple of books to choose from. Cadence of the Moon is about a serial killer in Costa Rica (this could also fit Obsidian Falls prompt if I change my mind) while Milena & Other Social Reforms (which I have as an ebook) is about a young woman who lands the job of being the president’s interpreter.

Are your taking part in the Magical Readathon next month? I hope to be sharing my progress on Twitter as an extra motivational tool.

READ THE WORLD – Ecuador: On Friday Night by Luz Argentina Chiriboga

Translated by Paulette A. Ramsay and Anne-Maria Bankay.

Susana grows up with her parents living next door to the Manns family – Susana and her parents are Black, the Manns are white. She spent her childhood playing with Jamie and Margarita next door and as she becomes a young woman, she’s unaware of how their father, Marvin, becomes infatuated with her.

I think On Friday Night is one of those books that would’ve worked better for me as an audiobook. That’s mainly down to how this book was written. It was written in both the first and third person and it took me a long time to realise the when it was in first person it was from Susana’s point of view. There’s no chapters or line breaks or anything to help show when the narrative has gone from one character’s point of view to another; it could change from one paragraph to the next. This made it difficult to follow to begin with, especially as there was no blurb on my copy of On Friday Night so I had no idea what the story could be about before starting it.

All I knew before starting On Friday Night was the author Luz Argentina Chiriboga is known for writing about the Afro-Hispanic cultural identity and that certainly came into play in this book. Susana’s family comes from a working-class background but Susana is smart and is able to go to university and get a job working at the bank where Marvin Manns is the manager. The Manns are Hispanic and much more affluent. There’s a blurring of the lines when Susana, Jamie, and Margarita are children as they just like having neighbours to play with but as they grow older there’s more frequent comments about Susana being Black, even from Margarita.

This cultural and class divide is even stronger once Marvin makes his feelings about Susana known. Their whole romance and situation just felt very messy to me. He’s at least thirty years older than her, she’s the same age as his children so any respect for her as a mother figure would be impossible to find, and while he is besotted with her, he also is quick to believe other people’s lies about her. I don’t know if it was down to the story, the writing, my brain or a combination of all three but at times I really didn’t understand what was going on with some characters motivations and choices. At one point Susana and Marvin break up and I was really unsure how they ended up back together as he never seemed to apologise for his accusations.

Besides from the “love story” between Marvin and Susana there’s the history of their parents that’s mentioned – again without any type of indication that we’re going to suddenly go into the past – and Susana’s first love who is a conman. Susana is so naïve in many ways and it can be frustrating to see how she reacts to different situations. I mean, at one point she truly seems to believe she could be a mother to Jamie and Margarita when she’s the same age as Jamie and maybe a year or two younger than Margarita.

The writing style in On Friday Night really didn’t really work for me but once I’d got my head around it, the story was fairly easy to follow – even if the point of view changes still got me every now and then. This all made a 150-page book take me longer to read than it should. If there had been line breaks or anything to make the reading experience easier, I probably would’ve enjoyed the story more. Though the whole relationship dynamic between Susana and Marvin still often made me feel uncomfortable.

READ THE WORLD – Cape Verde: The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio

Translated by Jethro Soutar.

Serrano is an isolated village where a so-called madwoman roams. One day a young woman is found in the forest by Jerónimo and though the villagers are suspicious of this foreigner Jerónimo falls in love with her. When she gives birth and then disappears, Jerónimo raises and loves her daughter who he names Filipa. Years later the two are estranged and as Filipa becomes a business woman in the city, the village of Serrano is under threat by plans to build a dam. As villagers are forced to move, will Jerónimo and Filipa be able to reconnect?

The Madwoman of Serrano is a book that slowly grew on me and the last couple of chapters surprised me when there were some impactful moments there that I wasn’t expecting and actually made me realise how invested I was in some of these characters.

I think what I struggled to begin with with The Madwoman of Serrano was the narrative structure. It bounces between different characters points of view (not that confusing) and different time periods (what did throw me). To begin with there was no mention of Jerónimo and then when he does meet the mysterious woman, after that the time shifts from decades in the future where Filipa is an adult with her own teen daughter, to back when she’s five years old, to when she’s a teenager and back again. Tracking Filipa’s age is one of the only ways I could try and orientate myself. Especially once I realised what was happening because when it went from an adult-Filipa point of view chapter to a Jerónimo point of view I’d think they were in the same time period until there’s mentions of young-Filipa who appears to be mute, still living with Jerónimo in the village.

The village of Serrano are full of people who are not happy and seem to relish in the misfortune of others. They don’t like Filipa when she’s mute, the men of the village judge the women and the women can be mean towards anyone else they see as lesser than. The madwoman, a woman who is probably seen as mad as she’s independent and wise and perhaps a bit magical, lives at the edge of this society. She strikes up a friendship with young Filipa when no one but Jerónimo cares for her, which in turn does make Filipa more shunned as what sane child would spend time with a madwoman.

The Madwoman of Serrano does a good job of showing the toxicity of the small town (or in this case village) mentality, and how the patriarchy can harm the men as well as the women. Though the midwife of the village is the most important figure, men in the village see sex as their right and will beat any woman who refuses for whatever reason.

Some of the characters in the village are so horrible it’s a wonder that someone like Jerónimo manages to be so kind – though he’s not always kind, how he treats his wife is horrible but does feed into how the people of the village, the men especially, never talk about their emotions.

The Madwoman of Serrano is a strangely captivating book once I’d gotten my head around the time jumps. Slowly backstories are revealed and minor events mentioned in passing chapters before suddenly have meaning The Madwoman of Serrano is mostly a story about family, and the family you choose whether that’s friends or adoptive family. There’s also the idea of fate having a hand in characters lives, and there’s the odd unexplainable moment that can only be put down to magic.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Titles or Covers That Made Me Want to Read/Buy the Book

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. As the title suggests this week it’s all about the book covers or titles that stood out to us and made us either buy them or make a note to check them out later.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
This is a book I got from a friend who was unhauling a load of books years ago (probably 10 years ago?!). She posted the titles of the books she was getting rid of an this title just leapt out at me and had to claim it. I read it so long ago I can’t really remember anything about it but I do know it was a memoir.

The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior by Nahoko Uehashi.
As I said in my WIT Month TBR post, these two were complete cover buys. I saw The Beast Warrior first as it was on one of those stands in the bookshop and after reading the blurb and realising it was a sequel hunted on the shelves to see if the first book was in stock and luckily it was and it was just as beautiful.

Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey
I got this from City Lights bookshop in San Francisco when I was on holiday there. I could’ve spent hours in that shop as there was certainly a lot of treasures to find but this one is what stood out to me. It’s a queer retelling of Peter Pan and was unlike anything I’d read before.

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
Another cover buy because the naked hardcover was just stunning and I loved how the dust jacket complimented it.

Uprooted by Naomi Novak
I loved the colours and the illustration on this cover. Pity I didn’t like the story inside it so much.

The Secret Fire by C.J. Daugherty and Carina Rozenfeld
This was both a cover buy and a title buy. The title intrigued me and the cover was simple but effective – still haven’t read it yet though.

Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell
This was another cover and title buy. I liked how simple it was and how the colourful silhouette stands out. The title was intriguing too.

Sekret by Lindsay Smith
I found this cover and the font used to be simple but striking. I did try reading Sekret a couple of times but couldn’t get into it so unfortunately, I unhauled it recently. It’s a shame when the cover doesn’t live up to the book inside.

Five Ghosts Vol. 1: The Haunting of Fabian Grey by Frank J. Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham
One of my favourite cover buys when it comes to comic books. Loved the story and the art style and I’m so pleased this cover caught my eye.

Would any of these book titles or covers have made you want to pick them up?

Women in Translation Month 2021 TBR

August is Women in Translation Month, which was started by blogger Meytal Radzinski, and a readathon that I like to take part in. As well as dedicating the whole month to reading books by women in translation there’s also a specific readathon hosted by Jennifer from Insert Literary Pun Here, Matthew Sciarappa and Kendra Winchester over on YouTube.

The Women in Translation readathon is a weeklong from Saturday 14th – Friday 20th August (midnight-midnight in your time zone) and there’s two prompts and a group read. The group read is Minor Detail by Adania Shibli (translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette) and the prompts are:

  • Read something that’s not a novel – poetry, an essay, manga, short stories, non-fiction, whatever as long as it’s not a novel
  • Read something that was in a language that is new to you – if you do tend to read translated works then think of a language you haven’t read from for a number of years or just have read very few works from that language.

I’d already picked out the books on my TBR that were from women in translation before the prompts were announced, so while all these books are novels, I could maybe complete the “new to you language” prompt as I very rarely read works from Japan and I believe A Spare Life is translated from Macedonian and I don’t think I’ve yet to read anything that was originally in that language.

All these books aren’t just for the weeklong readathon but are instead what I plan to hopefully read during the whole month of August. I’m slowly getting out of my year-long slump and hopefully this gives me a little extra push.

The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano
These two were cover buys a couple of months ago and how could I not when they are so gorgeous! This is a YA duology about a girl who discovers she can talk to the huge, majestical beasts of her world and becomes entangled in politics and war as she tries to keep herself and the beasts safe.

The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio, translated by Jethro Soutar
This is one of the books where it seems difficult to summarise in a couple of sentences. The titular character lives in an isolated village where she appears to babble nonsense but maybe she tells the future especially when the life of a man from the village and the businesswoman who he raised when she was a little girl become connected to the fate of their home.

The Madwoman of Serrano was both the first novel by a female author to be published in Cape Verde and the first to be translated into English.

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated by Christina E. Kramer
Starting in 1984 in communist Yugoslavia, A Spare Life is the story of twins Zlata and Srebra who are conjoined at their heads from their childhood to young adults as they try to decide whether to go through with the dangerous surgery to separate them.

On Friday Night by Luz Argentina Chiriboga, translated by Paulette A. Ramsay and Anne-Maria Bankay
Honestly, I don’t know what this book is about as the back cover is all about the two translators and doesn’t have a blurb. Internet searches tell me that Luz Argentina Chiriboga is known for writing about women and the challenges they face as well as Afro-Hispanic cultural identity so I expect those themes may be in this book.

The Fury and Cries of Women by Angèle Rawiri, translated by Sara Hanaburgh
I have the ebook of this and I believe The Fury and Cries of Women follows Emilienne’s life through her university studies, marriage, children, work, and how she tries to search for what feminism means to her while dealing with cultural expectations and the taboos of sex and motherhood.Angèle Rawiri is Gabon’s first female novelist.

That’s six books written by women in translation that I’d ideally like to read next month. While I do appear to be coming out of my reading slump if I can read at least three of these I’ll be happy. Plus, four of these books are for my Read the World Project which is always helpful.

Are you going to try and read any books from women in translation in August? If you’d like any recommendations then be sure to check out @WITreadathon and @Read_WIT on Twitter.

READ THE WORLD – Chad: Told by Starlight in Chad by Joseph Brahim Seid

Translated by Karen Haire Hoenig.

This very short book, it’s less than 80 pages, contains fourteen short stories.

I found the experience of reading Told by Starlight in Chad really interesting. The writing style is simple and because the stories are the kind that tell the history of a place or a people or are like a fable, even though they weren’t stories I knew, the beats were often familiar. They’re the sort of stories that could’ve been told for generations verbally before being written down as many of them contain some sort of moral or lesson.

There are stories to do with religion, creation, and vengeful gods. There are stories that seem to be based on real historical events – I had to do some googling as there were names of cities and regions of Chad mentioned, how they were created or who ruled them, and they weren’t names I was familiar with. I learnt about the Wadai Empire thanks to this book. An area to the east of Lake Chad that covered present-day Chad and the Central African Republic that was ruled by a sultan in the seventeenth century.

A lot of the stories have an almost fairy-tale quality to them. There are wicked stepmothers, talking animals, giants, kings and princesses. Some stories are sad but most end happily or with those who have suffered getting some sort of justice.

Told by Starlight in Chad is a collection of stories that are like folktales and I found them very easy to read. I also found it interesting to see how while the stories weren’t ones I knew, the kinds of messages they had were ones I learnt from different stories growing up. So while the narrative was different, the morals are universal.