Books

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

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I Hope Santa Brings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. As Christmas is just a few days away this week it’s all about what books you’d like to receive from Santa – or just generally what books you’d like to come into your life soon.

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
Set in 1984, A Spare Life follows twins who are conjoined at the head, their life as they grow up considered freaks by even their family, and how they struggle to decide if they want to be surgically separated from one another.

Running by Natalia Sylvester
I saw Rincey from RinceyReads post about this book on Instagram and that sparked my interest.

Selfie and Other Stories by Nora Nadjarian
I love a short story collection to help me out with my Read the World Project. This one seems to be stories about women, in love, in confusion, in isolation – seems very fitting for 2020.

The Equestrienne by Uršuľa Kovalyk
A coming-of-age story of a teenage girl who lives in a small town in the east of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and finds friendship and confidence by joining a riding school.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
A video from MyNameIsMarines is what brought this book to my attention. Think it’ll be one of those hard-hitting books but a good one.

In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy
This is set in 1950s London and follows a Guyanese woman who, without an extended family support system or an understanding of her new home, finds comfort in her work with troubled children of fellow black settlers

Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie
This is one that got a lot of hype on Twitter when the character dynamics were likened to Finn and Poe from Star Wars, but the gayness is text rather than subtext. It’s been a long time since I’ve read some proper sci-fi, space adventures.

In the Forests of Freedom: The Fighting Maroons of Dominica by Lennox Honychurch
This is a non-fiction book about who the Maroons, escaped slaves, of the Caribbean island of Dominica challenged the colonial powers in a heroic struggle to create a free and self-sufficient society.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
I’ve heard good things about this book (my pal Ellie from Curiosity Killed the Bookworm even recommended it to me recently), it’s an alternate timeline where women are a lot more involved in the space programme.

The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye
The Radiance of the King is among the earliest major works in Francophone African literature and another book for my Read the World Project. It follows Clarence, a white man, who’s been shipwrecked on the coast of Africa and demands to see the king.

I hope you all have as good a Christmas/break as you can in these unusual times, and you get some great books.

READ THE WORLD – Zambia: The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

Narrated by Adjoa Andoh, Richard E. Grant and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives – their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes – form a symphony about what it means to be human.

I shall preface this review by saying it took me over two months to listen to this audiobook. Audiobooks are something I tend to listen to when I’m out and about and as I’m not going anywhere due to a pandemic it took me lot longer to read this book than normal. I think this probably did affect how much I enjoyed The Old Drift as it’s such a sprawling generational epic that I’d sometimes forget characters names between times I was listening or find it difficult to remember the different familial connections.

The Old Drift is a generational story, and it is interesting how three generations of three families can keep encountering one another in different ways and in different times. There’s romance and conflicts and just passing freak meetings, and often younger generations have no idea that their parents or grandparents may have met in some capacity before. Characters hear stories about things that as the reader you’ve already seen from someone else’s point of view and you realise that while some characters in these families might not meet themselves, they may have mutual friends or even passing strangers who have talked to them both at some point or another.

People in all three families go through love and loss, have children, and jobs and while there are universal struggles or life events The Old Drift does a good job at showing how their different backgrounds can have an effect on things. One family is descended from Italian immigrants/colonisers and one of their children then marries an Indian hairdresser. Another family is descended from a Black Zambian and a white English blind woman who ran away with her husband back to his home country. And the third family is Black, born and raised in Zambia. Due to their differences in wealth and education these families have very different lives and attitudes. One odd thing does connect them all and that’s hairdressers. A lot of the major life events for these characters happen in a hair salon or because of a hairdresser.

There’s a sci-fi element to The Old Drift I wasn’t expecting. As the story gets to the twenty-first century, there’s the technology we know, iPhones and drones for example, but then there’s advanced tech imbedded in people’s hands so they can use their had like a phone. It has a torch in a fingertip and their palm is a holographic touchscreen connected to the internet. It’s a bit jarring having these futuristic elements after previously appearing to be very true to the various periods of history these generations of characters have been living through – the AIDS epidemic plays a big role in many characters lives when the story gets to the 1980s.

There’s so much going on in The Old Drift that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who and how they’re connect, nevermind finding meaning and some sort of thread to follow through this story. Seeing events from different characters points of view, some more in depth than others, lets you see how different people react to events, how it can be a big deal for some and barely a memory for others, but this can get a little repetitive.

I’m really not sure what else to say about The Old Drift. It is an impressive debut novel and one a may have found easier to follow if I didn’t have such huge gaps between picking it up. There’s a lot of tragedy in these characters lives and maybe it’s because you only see snapshots of their lives at different times but there certainly seems to be more sad moments than happy ones. This, along with how long the book is and the often lyrical narrative, does make The Old Drift a bit dense and hard to get through.

READ THE WORLD – Federated States of Micronesia: My Urohs by Emelihter Kihleng

A short poetry collection from Pohnpeian poet, Emelihter Kihleng.

I think this was a very interesting collection. A lot of the poems were almost short stories or small snapshots at life, and I feel I learnt things about the Federated States of Micronesia from these poems, which is an achievement considering how short they are. For instance, I never knew about the connection between the Federated States of Micronesia and America, that many people live or work or have connections to Hawaii especially. In the poem “Destiny Fulfilled?” it covers how people from the various islands joined the US Armed Forces and its “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq. I also liked how it gets its title from a Destiny’s Child album and uses lyrics from the song “Soldier” to show the differences between pop culture and actual war.

I liked how the poet had footnotes in the poems, explaining a word or phrase that was in a different language, or adding context when a poem is inspired by real events. I believe Pohpeian is the language used throughout the collection, with many of the poems being in a combination of English and Pohpeian. Some are like a dialogue between two characters and there’s the English translation after each phrase, while in others it’s just the odd word or line that’s not in English.

The poems in My Urohs are about the people, the culture, the food, and the connections and differences between people who live on different islands in the Federated States of Micronesia and their different languages, stories and culture. It’s an interesting little collection and a great insight into a place I’d only ever heard of and knew nothing about.

My TBR: 2020 Edition

It has been a long time since I’ve done this, almost five years in fact. I last shared all the physical books on my TBR in January 2016, the time before that was April 2014 – so really this is long overdue. Please don’t go and compare my TBR now to my TBR in 2016 or 2014 as I’m sure there’s going to be books here that were on my previous TBR’s and that’s just embarrassing.

This time I’m going to share the physical and digital books, whether that’s on audio or my kindle, I have in my possession. I have to say earlier this year I did go through my bookshelves and unhauled over twenty books so this TBR could’ve been worse! Though I’ve also had my birthday since then and was gifted more books, so it probably evens out.

Before I start I just wanted to flag I’ve currently got a giveaway of boxes of bookish stuff happening on my Twitter, it closes on 22 November so check it out if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

This list is split into four sections; audiobooks, books I have with me in my flat, kindle books, and books that are at my mum’s place. I do not have room for all my books, so my mum is kind enough for me to keep the majority with her. Every now and then I take the books I’ve read but want to keep to hers and then pick up more books I’ve yet to read to bring back with me.

Any books with an asterisk * symbol are books for my Read the World Project.

Audio:
I do get audiobooks from my library, either via RBdigital or BorrowBox, but these three are via Audible as I do sometimes get a subscription/extra tokens if there’s a good deal on and then stock up there.
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell* – I’m currently reading this
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (more…)

Friday 56: The Good Girls by Sara Shepard

The Friday 56 is a weekly feature hosted by Freda’s Voice. The aim is to share a few sentences of a book (whether it’s one you’re currently reading or not) so other people might be enticed to pick it up.

Here’s the rules:
– Turn to page 56 or 56% in your ebook
– Find any sentence – or a few, just don’t spoil it
– Post it
– Add the URL of your post to the Linky on Freda’s most recent post

Julie just nodded, but Parker glared at the woman, puffing up her chest. “Actually, I was planning on setting fire to the house, thanks. And maybe doing heroin in your bathroom. That cool?”

That was from page 56 of the paperback edition of The Good Girls by Sara Shepard which I am currently reading.

READ THE WORLD – Kyrgyzstan: Jamilia by Chingiz Aïtmatov

Translated by James Riordan.

Jamilia’s husband is off fighting at the front. She spends her days hauling sacks of grain from the threshing floor to the train station in their small village in the Caucasus, accompanied by Seit, her young brother-in-law, and Daniyar, a sullen newcomer to the village who has been wounded on the battlefield. Seit observes the beautiful, spirited Jamilia spurn men’s advances, and wince at the dispassionate letters she receives from her husband, while she also draws closer to Daniyar.

Jamilia is a very short book at around 90 pages and it’s just one long chapter. Jamilia is told from Seit’s perspective and he narrates the story in the first person. It’s a simple story in terms of plot, a young woman in a small farming community potentially finds a better and stronger love while her husband is away, and in terms of writing. The writing is so simple that it often reads like Seit is sat with you, telling you the story. That come partly the tenses as sometimes the narrative voice knows more than the present-Seit would.

Considering this book was published in the 1950s, Jamilia herself could almost be described as a manic pixie dreamgirl. Seit is infatuated with her, as are a lot of the other men in the village, and as it’s from Seit’s point of view, you never really get to see much of Jamilia’s personality or her hopes, dreams and desires. You just see her through Seit’s eyes, and his judgement is clouded by his own feelings for her.

Jamilia is one of those books that even though it’s so short it took days to get through. I think that’s because of a few things. One, the story didn’t really grab me, I thought there’d be an illicit romance and more drama when there really wasn’t and it was just a series of events in these farming peoples lives. Two, I thought it’d be from Jamilia’s point of view so you could see her conflict about being drawn to a man who wasn’t her husband and have more of an insight into her seeing she is the titular character. And three, the writing style was so simple it ended up being boring so even when there was something different happening in the plot, I wasn’t really engaged with it.

Looking at Goodreads a lot of people seem to really like this book so maybe I’m in the wrong, or it could be down to the translation. Either way I’m glad to have now crossed off Kyrgyzstan from my Read the World Project.

Non-Fiction November TBR

As well as November being Sci-Fi Month it’s also Non-Fiction November. It’s a readathon/challenge hosted by abookolive, steakuccion, Infinite Text, Curious Reader and The Book Bully and the main point of it is to read more non-fiction than you normally would that month.

There are four one-word prompts to help shape your TBR if you fancy using them. They are Time, Movement, Buzz and Discovery. You can interpret these anyway you want to, and you don’t have to use them.

I have 11 unread non-fiction books; more than I thought I did to be honest. I’ve picked out four books that I’d like to make a priority next month. Somewhat unintentionally it’s a mixture of books for my Read the World Project and books that are feminist.

What Would Boudicca Do?: Everyday Problems Solved by History’s Most Remarkable Women by E. Foley and B. Coates
This was a gift from my best friend. It looks like one of those fun non-fiction books where you can learn about real people but in a tongue in cheek way as it uses these interesting historical women as ways to give you advice on your own life. This could fit the “Discovery” prompt as I don’t really know anything about Boudicca or some of the other women included in it.

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
This will be my book for Togo in my Read the World Project. It’s Kpomassie’s autobiography. He discovered a book on Greenland when he was a teenager and from then knew he had to go there. An African in Greenland follows his journey from Togo to Greenland and his adventures among the Inuit. This could easily fit the “Movement” prompt.

Child Soldier by China Keitetsi
Another book for my Read the World Project and this one’s Uganda. I think this will be a very tough read as it’s an autobiography about Keitetsi’s life on Uganda and as a National Resistance Army child soldier. This could also fit for “Discovery” as I don’t

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies) curated Scarlett Curtis
This is a collection of essays from a wide range of celebrities including, actors, writers and activists all talking about what feminism means to them and how they started to call themselves feminists. This would fit the prompt “Buzz” as it’s a book that I saw a lot of hype about when it was released a couple of years ago.

I think An African in Greenland and Child Soldier will be my priority during Non-Fiction November but I should be able to read the other two as well as they are essay collections rather than narrative non-fiction so I could read an essay or two a day.

Are you taking part in Non-Fiction November? What’s the last non-fiction book you read? I’ve read five non-fiction books so far this year and my favourite so far is Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble by Graham Hunter.

READ THE WORLD – Greece: Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki

Translated by Karen Van Dyck.

Living in a big old house surrounded by a beautiful garden in the countryside outside Athens are Maria, the oldest sister, as sexually bold as she is eager to settle down and have a family of her own; beautiful but distant Infanta; and dreamy and rebellious Katerina. Over three summers, the girls share and keep secrets, fall in and out of love, try to figure out their parents and other members of the tribe of adults, and worry about and wonder who they are.

The majority of Three Summers is told from Katerina’s perspective and in the first person. Though there are the odd chapters from other characters perspectives, mainly the other two sisters, and those are written in the third person so it’s easy to tell when you’re momentarily stepping away from Katerina’s viewpoint.

Three Summers is set in the 1930s before the Second World War and the sisters do all seem to live an idyllic life. At the start of the novel, so during the first summer, they are twenty, eighteen and sixteen. They spend their time lying in the fields, talking to one another about their thoughts and dreams, and also generally getting the attention of the young me they know. They also think about their separated parents and other family dramas. They live with their mother, aunt and grandfather while their father, who is both a banker and an inventor, lives in Athens.

I found Three Summers quite slow going. At times that suited the story as it evokes the feeling of lazy summer days where the days blur into one, but on the other hand it made it more difficult to connect with the characters and on the whole I didn’t really care about them.

Maria was the sister that was the easiest to understand, she knows what she wants and decides who and when she’s going to marry quickly. Infanta is more reserved and at some points I wondered if she was written to be asexual or aromantic because of how distant she was towards the young man who clearly likes her. It could have been natural shyness or nerves but some of her reactions to strong emotions sometimes seemed more extreme for that. Katerina is more bold than her sisters and her curiosity and actions often made her mother despair. She doesn’t seem to fit in this family and while she does say she falls in love with a neighbour, it’s hard to tell if she really has and she’s not using him as a gateway to adventure.

The writing in Three Summers is quite flowery and paints vivid pictures of the old house and the surrounding countryside, but that sort of thing isn’t really for me and it wasn’t keeping my attention by the end of book. Maybe it’s because I did find myself skim reading the last section of the book, which was about the events of the third summer, but I did find it difficult to keep track of some of the friends and neighbours, how they were connected to the sisters and what they thought of them.

Because it’s set just across three summers and is more of a slice of life type story, there are some things that are open ended and potential relationships not yet pursued which is a little frustrating but that’s the nature of this kind of story. Three Summers is a coming of age story and it’s one that fans of period dramas may like a lot. It has the will they/won’t they relationships but with more of a stiff upper lip as young women weren’t allowed to be forthright with their wants in the 1930s.

WWW Wednesday – 21 October 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words. It’s a simple meme where you just have to answer three questions:
– What are you currently reading?
– What did you recently finish reading?
– What do you think you’ll read next?

I think it’s a great way to share my recent reads as I don’t review everything I read and often the reviews I do post are behind what I’m actually reading.

What I am currently reading
Jamilia by Chingiz Aïtmatov
I thought I would’ve finished this by the time I needed to post this WWW Wednesday but work got in the way so I’ll no doubt finish it tonight before bed. It’s a very short book at less than 100 pages and is set around World War One in a small village in the Russia/Kyrgyzstan area and is about a wife of a solider who is working the land while her husband is at war.

 

What I recently finished reading
The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
This book was set during the LA Riots in 1992 and I thought it was really good. It’s thoughtful and impactful and while I didn’t always like the main character, I thought her confusion and impulsiveness was understandable. If you like The Hate U Give I’d recommend The Black Kids for something along a similar vein but is set in recent history and around real events.

 

What I think I’ll read next
The Good Girls by Sara Shepard
I read The Perfectionists last week and really enjoyed it and while I new it was a first book in a series I didn’t quite realise that it was going to end on such a cliffhanger so naturally I had to buy the sequel immediately. Definitely looking forward to seeing if/how the five teen girls prove their innocence for multiple murders.

FRIDAY 56: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The Friday 56 is a weekly feature hosted by Freda’s Voice. The aim is to share a few sentences of a book (whether it’s one you’re currently reading or not) so other people might be enticed to pick it up.

Here’s the rules:
– Turn to page 56 or 56% in your ebook
– Find any sentence – or a few, just don’t spoil it
– Post it
– Add the URL of your post to the Linky on Freda’s most recent post

“Sometimes my parents got mistaken for their own assistants, or people think they’ve stumbled into the wrong meetings, or their assistants think they know better than my parents do and it becomes a whole thing, even though both of them are amazing at what they do, or they wouldn’t have gotten to where they are to begin with.”

That was from page 56 of the paperback edition of The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed which I am currently reading.