Books

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

READ THE WORLD – Malta: In the Name of the Father (and of the Son) by Immanuel Mifsud

Translated by Albert Gatt.

After the funeral, a grieving son starts reading the diary his dead father had kept during the Second World War. As he turns each page, searching for a trace of the man he remembers, a portrait of an individual unfolds; a figure made both strange and familiar through the handwritten observations, the yearnings and the confessions.

At under 70 pages this novella manages to be impactful and almost whimsical at the same time. It can be a little hard to follow at times as the unnamed narrator tends to jump back and forth in his memories of his father. Sometimes he’s recounting a story of when he was a young child, and what he felt in that moment, while in others he’s then looking back on an event with through the eyes of his adult self, offering a different perspective to the one he had as a child.

The first chapter was the most interesting to me as that contained extracts from the father’s diary from when he joined the British army, in the King’s Own Malta Regiment in December 1939 at age nineteen. A lot of it was just the everyday goings on of life in the army but the diary is the springboard for the son’s thoughts about his father’s time in the military and how that shaped him as a man.

What it means to be a man and how soldiers and men don’t cry is a big factor. How the father’s attitude towards his son for any perceived weakness, how the son likes the feeling of tears running down his face, and how he only ever saw his father cry twice and both times his father had tried to hide it from everyone. It’s clear to see how this strict masculinity has affected the son and caused him to rethink certain elements of himself. It’s something he also muses about, masculinity and the role of a father, when he has his own son.

One thing that was a bit unusual, was how the narrator would bring in quotes or ideas from different writers and theorists and then relate them to his father and his memories of him. This little novella had footnotes with references to textbooks and it made the reading experience a real mix of things.

With the theory stuff it sometimes seemed academic, then there was the historical aspect, giving a brief rundown of the political landscape in Malta and how his father interacted with it, and then there’s the family and relationship history making it a condensed memoir. All these elements means that when reading it, there’s a distance to In the Name of the Father (and of the Son). It’s like the narrator is looking through the fog of memory, trying to work through his grief and thoughts. It’s an interesting and thoughtful reading experience and one that cant help but leave you feeling a little melancholy. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Tonga: We Are the Ocean by Epeli Hau’ofa

We Are the Ocean is a collection of essays, fiction, and poetry by Epeli Hau’ofa, whose writing over the past three decades has consistently challenged prevailing notions about Oceania and prescriptions for its development.

I found We Are the Ocean fascinating. It’s been a long time (since my uni days) since I’ve read academic essays, so I was a little apprehensive how I’d find these but quickly I realised my fears were unfounded. These essays were very readable and Hau’ofa’s voice came through clearly. As a lot of the essays were originally speeches at conferences, or adapted from a speech, that easy, conversational voice came through a lot.

I found these essays really interesting. I’ll readily admit I know little to nothing about the Oceanic region and the various island nations in that part of the world, so I learnt a lot from these essays. A lot of them were about the anthropology, history and financial structure of the countries in the Oceania/Pacific region. The relationship between the smaller island nations and Australia and New Zealand were a big part of it. How the trade worked, and how culture had been shared between the various countries and how people’s identities in some of the island countries were shaped by the influence of Australia and New Zealand rather than major western countries like America.

It was all super interesting and understandable because there was also talk of self-fulfilling prophesies as young people are told things like you’ll never amount to much in your home country unless you get an education abroad – so then is it of little surprise why the people in charge of banks, government etc aren’t fully educated in their home country. In fact, there’s often people of European, Australian, and New Zealander decent in positions of power due to colonial history.

The talk of anthropological studies and how historically anthropologists have been white and European and when they came to these countries, they made their own observations and didn’t think to make the effort to consult the native people who were experts in their own traditions. Hau’ofa being one of the only anthropologists from that region means he feels a great weight of responsibility of expanding the textbooks and the whole area of study.

The couple of short stories in this collection are kind of satirical and because they come after the majority of the essays it means you can pick up more of the references to the things and attitudes Hau’ofa is highlighting.

We Are the Ocean was incredibly interesting and easy to read. If you’re interested in history, social and cultural studies and how that all can interact to a person’s or country’s identity then this collection of work is for you. I learnt a lot from it and I’m please I read it. 5/5.

SERIES REVIEW: Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

As I said in a recent TBR post, though I read and enjoyed Six of Crows years ago I never finished that duology and I’d never read the original trilogy that started this Grisha’verse. Thanks to the trailer for the Shadow and Bone Netflix show, it got me reinterested in this series and now I’ve read the trilogy for the first time – and plan to reread Six of Crows and then read Crooked Kingdom for the first time. And then at some point I’ll probably also read the other duology in this world that has my new favourite character in it.

Set in a fantasy world inspired by Imperial Russia, Shadow and Bone sees Alina Starkov, a mapmaker in the army, suddenly learn she has a dormant but extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. She’s whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling, and soon she learns nothing is what it seems as she may be in more danger than she realised.

Shadow and Bone is my least favourite in the trilogy. I think it’s partly because it’d been a while since I’ve read fantasy, and while it’s still a genre I like, just getting in that YA fantasy mindset took some time. Also because of general internet osmosis, I knew going into it who was the big villain so I was kind of just waiting for that to be revealed too.

That being said, I think it did a great job of introducing the really interesting magic system. I liked the fact that while the Grisha are powerful, they have their limitations. They aren’t all powerful in all types of magic, there’s three different types of magic and they each have the skills for one type. How the magic and the history of this warring country is woven into the story is done well as there never seems a moment where you’re just listening to a history lesson. A lot of the time, you’re learning about things the same time as Alina is. This continues throughout the next two books and it makes the story all the richer for it.

The dynamic between Alina and the Darkling gets more interesting in each book but its here that all that important foundation is set. Their relationship verges on creepy a lot of times in the book before characters intentions are clear, and it gives their interactions an unsettling edge. Their powers compliment one another so they often appear to have the whole two sides of the same coin deal going on.

I gave Shadow and Bone 3/5.

Siege and Storm is my favourite in the trilogy. It feels like almost non-stop action and even when it’s not there’s more political intrigue as Alina learns to navigate the court and starts to become a leader which is just as gripping.

I thought the pacing in Siege and Storm was excellent and how it introduced new characters and new aspects of this world was nicely done. Here you see more of the technology of this country, not only are there pirate ships but also these aircraft which are unlike anything we’ve seen in these books before. The mixture of technology and science/magic in this world is really interesting.

Also, Siege and Storm introduces one of my favourite characters I’ve read in a long, long time – Sturmhond. He is clever and charming but also ambitious and ruthless, and I pretty much loved everything he said. As you learn more about him you see how he’s a man of many faces. He’s almost a chameleon as he can fit in in any social or political situation and often can get people to agree with him. I just loved him a lot.

I gave Siege and Storm 5/5.

Ruin and Rising is a near perfect end to this trilogy. Like Siege and Storm, I read it in two sittings because I was instantly pulled into the story because of the characters and the cliffhangers at the end of each book. While Alina has formed various bonds over the course of the previous two books, in this one there’s almost a family of choice trope happening as Alina and her small band of survivors fight to stick together and to do the right thing. The final act almost seemed to feel rushed. Throughout the book Alina had been working towards one goal but then that changed suddenly and, while there were possible hints in the previous book her original goal had still been an overarching theme, it made the final showdown seem more of a Plan B and it didn’t quite have the same effect.

I gave Ruin and Rising 4/5.

Overall, I really enjoyed this trilogy. Alina is a great and believable heroine. She acts to things how you’d think any sane person would react, she’s constantly learning from her mistakes and evolving into a powerful leader as she accepts and relishes in her newfound power. The rest of the characters are great too. As I’ve said, Sturmhond is my favourite but how some of the secondary or minor characters are allowed to develop is really cool as you see sides to them you wouldn’t have expected to begin with. While Alina’s closest relationship is with her best friend Mal, there’s a lot of good dynamics and friendships between female characters in these books which I always appreciate.

The Grisha trilogy is, on the whole, fast-paced, action-packed, and has compelling characters and a vivid world. I can see why these books have become so well loved and I’m definitely looking forward to the Netflix show.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Spring 2021 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week is a TBR of the books you’d like to read in the next few months. These are my favourite kind of Top Ten Tuesday posts as I like to go back and see how often the same books appear on my TBRs and if/when I actually read these books. If you’ve been to my blog before you might recognise some of these books because I’m pretty sure they have been on TBRs before. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump these past few months, but I hope to get out of it and reading more soon.

Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
I read Six of Crows years ago and with all the buzz of the Netflix show coming next month it made me want to finish that duology and give the original trilogy a go. I finished Shadow and Bone at the weekend and I’m kinda cheating with this TBR as I’m now over a third way through Siege and Storm so I think I’m going to finish the series soon.

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
Tome Topple, a readathon focussing on books 500 pages or more, started yesterday and my copy of A Spare Life is 490 so that’s close enough! Once I’ve finished the Grisha trilogy I hope Tome Topple will give me the motivation to read A Spare Life.

Shepherd of Solitude: Selected Poems, 1979-2004 by Amjad Nasser
While I’m still not a huge lover of poetry, I do like how quick poetry collections are to get through so they can be a good way to kickstart my reading when I’m in a reading slump.

The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod
I think it’s taken me a while to get to this as it’s an ebook and I go through phases of reading books on my kindle, and it’s been a while since I’ve actually picked up and charged my kindle.

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
This book has been on various TBR’s a few times now and I do still really want to read it! Like a lot of non-fiction, I think I get a bit intimidated by the idea of it but I know once I start reading it I’ll be really into it.

Angel Mage by Garth Nix
Angel Mage is another chunky book I hope Tome Topple will give me the motivation to read.

Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo
This is the first novel from Madagascar to ever be translated into English and it’s set in the nineteenth century and it’s about the relationship between a slave and his master’s daughter. Think this is another one I haven’t picked up even when I intended to because it’s an ebook and haven’t been in an ebook kinda mood for a while.

Hawkeye: Freefall by Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt
I love Hawkeye and this is the most recent bindup of a Hawkeye story and I cant wait to read it.

Palestine +100: Stories from a century after the Nakba by Basma Ghalayini
Like with poetry, I think short story collections are good way to help me out of a reading slump and a way to read something, even if it’s just one short story, each day.

What books are you hoping to pick up soon?

Books of 2021

It’s about time I finally started this post. Here are all the books I read this year. My main reading goal for this year is to focus on my Read the World Project and hopefully finish it but not sure how that’s going to go as I have a bit of reading slump going on. You can find out more about what I’m reading on my Twitter and Goodreads.

Without further ado, here’s what I read in 2021! Any titles with asterisks are rereads and if it has a link, that goes to my review.

January:
The Equestrienne – Uršuľa Kovalyk
The End of the Dark Era – Tseveendorjin Oidov

February:
To Best the Boys – Mary Weber
In Praise of Love and Children – Beryl Gilroy
Selfie and Other Stories – Nora Nadjarian

March:
The Ladies are Upstairs – Merle Collins
Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo
Siege and Storm – Leigh Bardugo
Ruin and Rising – Leigh Bardugo
We Are the Ocean – Epeli Hauʻofa

April:
– Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo
In The Name Of The Father (& of the Son) – Immanuel Mifsud

Currently reading:
Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo

Books read: 12/52
Books reviewed: 11/26

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten Books I’ve Recently Taken Off my TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week is a “Spring Cleaning Freebie”. Some of the suggestions for that vague theme were books you’re planning to get rid of for whatever reason, book’s you’d like to clean off your TBR by either reading them or deciding you’re not interested, books that feel fresh and clean to you after winter is over.

As I recently went through my books (again) and was very harsh with myself over what books I actually still want to read and what ones I want to keep because I liked them a lot – I cut down my seven boxes of books, graphic novels, comics and uni textbooks to just three boxes. I was very impressed with myself. Here are ten of those many books that I decided that I’m no longer interested in reading and have taken them off my TBR, ready to take to a charity shop when they open again.

Sekret by Lindsy Smith
I tried this, only read a chapter or two, couldn’t get into it so put it down and just don’t want to give it another go.

Nevernight by Jay Krstoff
This is another book that I DNF’d a long time ago and have finally decided that I’m not interested in it.

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
I bought a collection of classics maybe eight years ago and this was one of them. I think I read two or three of them but I was finally honest with myself that I’m not going to read any of the others, including this one.

Fractured and Shattered by Teri Terry
I read Slated way back in 2016. I enjoyed it then so I bought the next two books in the trilogy but then never continued on with the series. It’s been so long since I read Slated that I’d have to reread that in order to read the rest of the trilogy and I’m just no longer interested in it.

Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox
I had a phase when I was a teenager of collecting and reading autobiographies. This Michael J. Fox one is one I bought then, and I just never read it.

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva
I can’t remember the reason why I bought this book; I must’ve liked the sound of it when I bought it but now I’m no longer interested.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
I love the original Bourne movie trilogy, so I thought I’d try the book. Think I bought it when I was in university so that’s almost ten years ago and I’ve never even picked it up, so it was time to give up on that idea.

Tuck by Stephen R. Lawhead
This is the last book in a Robin Hood retelling trilogy where I read the first two, Hood and Scarlet, but never got around to finishing the series. This is another case where it’s been so long since I’ve read them that I’d have to reread the first two, and I don’t have copies of the first two books anymore so that’s just not going to happen.

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon
Another sort of spy/crime thriller that I bought for some reason and have then never really wanted to read.

Are there any books you plan to spring clean off your TBR?

READ THE WORLD – Grenada: The Ladies are Upstairs by Merle Collins

The Ladies are Upstairs is a collection of short stories. The first is about Rain Darling and the following ten follow Doux Thibaut who from the 1930s to the new century negotiates a hard life on the Caribbean island of Paz. As a child there is the shame of poverty and illegitimacy, and there are the hazards of sectarianism in an island divided between Catholic and Protestant, the rigidity of a class and racial system where, if you are Black, your white employer is always right. When Doux is an old lady moving between the homes of her children in Boston and New York, she wonders whether they and her grandchildren really appreciate what her life has taught her.

The first story, “Rain Darling”, is about fifty pages long and sees three women travelling to a hospital to see another, that being Rain. It then goes back and forth between Rain’s present in the hospital and her past from childhood to teen years to adulthood and how one secret shatters her whole world. Rain’s life is a sad one, stuck with an aunt who doesn’t care or nurture her, forcing her to leave school at a young age even though Rain is bright, not being able to be with her mother, sister or her beloved father. It’s really quite depressing.

What makes Rain’s story even sadder is how it’s juxtaposed with Doux’s. They both live lives that have ups and downs but how they, and their families, respond to those hazards of life is vastly different.

Doux is headstrong even as a child and will stand up for herself. She’s also smart and capable but she has teachers and family who support and encourage her. Looking at Rain and Doux it’s easy to see how vastly different a child’s life can be if they have people who care about them. There still may be issues like money, and Doux’s mother can be strict, but the fact that Doux gets to have an education and then goes to have a family of her own shows how life can be a little easier when you’ve got a firm foundation from childhood.

The ten short stories about Doux follow her as she grows up. In most she’s the main character and the story is from her point of view but in some it’s about the people around her including her children and even her midwife. There are also some stories that get a bit creepy which I wasn’t expecting. They’re like short horror stories as a woman finds an abandoned child on the street at night who is not what they seem or a woman who disappears from a car. It’s those kinds of supernatural tales that are passed on as something a friend’s uncle saw once and they’re quite disconcerting after the more standard family drama type stories.

Both Rain and Doux live in Paz, a stand in for Grenada, and the way the landscape and towns are described paint a vivid picture in your head. The fact that characters speak patois and other colloquial languages make them seem more real. Also, how language and speech patterns change over time, especially in Doux’s stories that span sixty or more years, helps show how people and society changes.

The Ladies are Upstairs is an interesting short story collection and consuming Rain and Doux’s stories back-to-back make each of them more layered and interesting.

READ THE WORLD – Cyprus: Selfie and Other Stories by Nora Nadjarian

A collection of twenty-five short stories that are narratives about women on journeys of self-discovery.

First of all I want to give a shout out to the publisher, Roman Books. I love a pretty cover as much as the next person, but the actual packaging of the book was something I don’t think I’ve had before. It’s a cover that feels really nice to hold, it’s all buttery and smooth and I just really liked that and don’t think I’d ever really noticed the texture of a book before.

Anyway. Onto the contents of the book!

Twenty-five stories in a 88 page book means some are super short. I think the longest was seven pages, a few were only a page in length and the rest were somewhere in between. A lot of them certainly packed a punch while being so short. The writing in a lot of them have a dreamlike quality to it. It would lead you in one direction and in the final sentence or paragraph would reveal something that would make you look at the whole story differently. It’s really quite impressive as that was often all done in less than three pages.

The stories are all about or from the points of view of women. Some are written in first person, others in third, and they are all about love, loss, and relationships. Whether it’s romantic relationships or familial ones, it shows the different aspects of women’s relationships and how they can change depending on age. “Origami” is about a ten-year-old girl learning that her father left her and her mother before she was born and how that reshapes her entire outlook on both her parents while “Lemon, Stars” is about two sisters.

A lot of the stories have a melancholy tinge to them, and some are downright sad. “Mrs Gaslight” is, as you might be able to guess from the title, about a woman in an emotionally abusive relationship, and how even if her sister sees the problems, she refuses to. It’s the second story in the collection and I think having it so soon into the book makes it even more impactful.

Selfie and Other Stories is a well-written and interesting short story collection. It’s been a long time since I’ve read short stories that are this short and I’m always impressed how the author can create an atmosphere in so few words.

READ THE WORLD – Guyana: In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy

After false starts in teaching and social work, Melda Hayley finds her mission in fostering the damaged children of the first generation of Black settlers in a deeply racist 1950s Britain. But though Melda finds daily uplift in her work, her inner life starts to come apart. Her brother Arnie has married a white woman and his defection from the family and the distress Melda witnesses in the children she fosters causes her own buried wounds to weep. But though the past drives Melda towards breakdown, she finds strength there too, especially in the memories of the loving, supporting women of the yards.

In Praise of Love and Children is a story about love. Not romantic love, though some secondary characters are in relationships, but familial love. The love Melda does (or doesn’t) feel from certain members of her family are a big part of this story, likewise how she has a huge capacity to love the many children she fosters. Some might be only for a few weeks while others find a home with her for years.

I’m not sure how to write about this without coming across ignorant and/or racist but I’ll give it a go. When Melda moves to London and stays with her older brother Arnie she meets his girlfriend Trudi (who later becomes his wife and mother of his child), a white woman who had escaped to Switzerland after her family was killed in Germany when she was a teenager. Melda has an instant dislike for Trudi and it’s clear it’s because Trudi is a white woman and Melda feels she is turning Arnie into something he is not and distancing him from their family. I found those passages hard to read as Melda has a visceral hatred for Trudi. It took me (a white woman) by surprise and it did make me a little uncomfortable. After thinking about it though, I think it made me uncomfortable more because it surprised me. I hadn’t really seen this hatred in a book like this before. I think it’s because in media – films, books and TV – that’s set in the past, so often the Black characters are shown to be the better people in the face of racism, they turn the other cheek or do their best to ignore it and not interact. In In Praise of Love and Children Melda isn’t passive, she knows her own mind and is unafraid to show hostility towards Trudi, even when at times it seems like Trudi is generally trying to be friendly towards her future sister-in-law.

It’s interesting because the conflict between Melda and Trudi becomes this underlying element throughout the whole book. While it is tied to Melda’s view on white people, it’s also tied to how she sees and feels about her family. Family is very important to her and while she believes that the children must always defer to the parents and they are their family first, with Arnie he starts to see Trudi as his priority rather than his parents and siblings that are either in London or New York.

I’ve read books, and seen a lot of film/TV, set in post-segregation America but I haven’t really experienced as much media about Black Britons post-WWII. Starting out set in the 1950s and spanning nearly two decades, In Praise of Love and Children is a small snapshot into life in Britain for the children of what we now call the Windrush generation. People from former British Empire and Commonwealth countries, especially those in the Caribbean, were encouraged to come to the UK to live and work and make a home here. There’s the little racist comments Melda hears about the few Black children in her class from the white headteacher or other staff, and there’s the mention of the culture shock parents have in bringing up their children without the support of a wider community that they had in their villages back home. There’s a line I really liked, and it can (unfortunately) be applied to people looking for a better life for themselves and their family today: “Immigrant workers went from having a firm identity – of family, village, island or religion – to having only a nominal one: foreigner.”

I ended up really enjoying In Praise of Love and Children. I thought Melda’s capacity for love after growing up being abused by her mother was admirable. There’s flashbacks to her childhood and the care and support she got from the women of the yards near her childhood home, was enough to help her when her mother’s love wasn’t there. She is a principled character and may verge on cutting of her nose to spite her face territory, but she is also caring and just. For a pretty short book (it’s under 150 pages) In Praise of Love and Children manages to pack an emotional punch as Melda tries to discover who she is and make a success of her dream to foster and care for such troubled children. 4/5.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Purple, Yellow, and/or Green Book Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. In honour of Mardis Gras today, this week’s theme is to share book covers that are purple, yellow, green or a combination of the three. Turns out I don’t have many purple books but yellow and green ones are more common on my shelves.

Allah is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono
To Best the Boys by Mary Weber
Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Rania Mamoun

Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin
Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn
Trout, Belly Up by Rodrigo Fuentes
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Are there some really obvious purple, green or yellow books that I’ve completely forgotten about?