April to July(-ish): 8 funfunfun books

It seems real life has gotten in the way of reading and “reviewing” again… And so, here’s what I’ve read since March (I know, I know–but better late than never!):

10. Marian Keyes – Watermelon (25 April)
11. Roberto Bolaño – Antwerp (25 April)
12. Cicero – On the Good Life (trans. Michael Grant; Penguin) (3 June)
13. Lois Lowry – Messenger (5 June)
14. Ruth Ozeki – A Tale For the Time Being (12 June)
15. Sarah Quigley – The Conductor (27 June)
16. Anne Bishop – Murder of Crows (28 June)
17. Evelyn Waugh – A Handful of Dust (3 July)

10. Marian Keyes – Watermelon (25 April)

10-watermelonBlurb: Claire has everything she ever wanted: a husband she adores, a great apartment, a good job. Then, on the day she gives birth to her first baby, James tells her that he’s having an affair.

Claire is left with a beautiful newborn daughter, a broken heart, and a body that she can hardly bear to look at. So, in the absence of any better offers, she decides to go home to her family in Dublin. Sheltered by the love of her quirky family, and the attention of an incredibly attractive younger man, Claire gets better. A lot better. In fact, so much better that when James slithers back into her life, he’s in for a surprise.

Overall: After having read two very disappointing chick-lit books, I’d decided to stay away from the genre…until a friend very strongly recommended Marian Keyes, citing her as one of the most influential figures in chick-lit, and a very good writer to boot. I was sceptical, but found a few titles in the local funfunfun library and picked up Keyes’ debut. Having had my bad experiences with chick-lit, I wasn’t expecting much, and told myself I could put down Watermelon if I didn’t like it.

Fortunately, it turned out to be a lot better than expected. The plot was very predictable, but I didn’t mind that because the characters were interesting—especially the members of Claire’s family. I think I also enjoyed it a lot more because I understood all the Irish and Dublin references, and was basically cracking up every time Keyes made a quip that was spot-on. Some of the narrative style and internal monologues got a little repetitive and uninteresting, but I got to the end and can say it was a pretty fun read. I’m no hankering to pick up another chick-lit any time soon, but if I do get the inclination, I’ll definitely be going for another one by Marian Keyes.

For those who like numbers: 3.9/5


11. Roberto Bolaño – Antwerp (25 April)

11-antwerpBlurb: Antwerp is Bolaño intensified and distilled. As his friend and literary executor, Ignacio Echevarria, once suggested, it can be viewed as the Big Bang of his fictional universe. It is the birth of Bolaño’s enterprise in prose: all the elements are here, highly compressed, at the moment when his talent explodes. It’s a short book, with short chapters, each like a prose poem, and from this springboard—which Bolaño chose not to publish until 2002, more than twenty years after he’d written it—he plunged into the unexplored depths of the modern novel for which he is now revered. In fifty-six sections, the fractured narration moves in multiple directions—spliced together with an experimental crime novel set on the Costa Brava are voices from a dream, from a nightmare, from passers-by, from an omniscient narrator, from “Roberto Bolaño”. This is a deep and meditative work—in Bolaño’s words, “radical and solitary”—the result of a highly personal wrestling with the form of the novel itself. The author sets out to ensure, wilfully, that this is a novel like no other—for “rules about plot only apply to novels that are copies of other novels”—and the aim is nothing less than to find in the written word a powerful and sustaining life force: “Of what is lost, irretrievably lost, all I wish to recover is the daily availability of my writing, lines capable of grasping me by the hair and lifting me up when I’m at the end of my strength.”

Overall: I only picked this up from the library because my best friend lives in Antwerp, and I happen to like the city very much (and mmm the waffles!). I didn’t know anything about Bolaño (or Chilean fiction in general), but was happy to read the novella with an open mind. Unfortunately, apart from a few lovely passages, I didn’t really like the book—it felt too “artsy” and disjointed, which really isn’t my type of thing. I can objectively appreciate his writing and postmodern style, but it’s just not for me.

For those who like numbers: 2/5


12. Cicero – On the Good Life (trans. Michael Grant; Penguin) (3 June)

12-good lifeBlurb: For the great Roman orator and statesman Cicero (106-43 BC), “the good life” was at once a life of contentment and one of moral virtue—and the two were inescapably intertwined. This volume brings together a wide range of his reflections on the importance of moral integrity in the search for happiness. In essays that are articulate, meditative and inspiration, Cicero presents his views on the significance of friendship and duty to state and family, and outlines a clear system of practical ethics that is both simple and universal. These works offer a timeless reflection on the human condition, and a fascinating insight into the mind of one of the greatest thinkers of ancient Rome.

Overall: When I have a spare hour or two, I love being able to spend it on broadening my mind and strengthening my soul with some classical philosophy—and Cicero sure does deliver. My favourite sections in this collection are his reflections on social life and on friendship, and I wanted to share a passage from the latter here:

And so friendship is quite different from all the other things in the world on which we are accustomed to set our hearts. For each and every one of those other objectives is specifically adapted to some single purpose—riches, to be spent; power, to secure obedience; public office, to win praise; pleasure, to enjoy oneself, good health, to be free from pain and make full use of one’s bodily endowments. Friendship, on the other hand, serves a great host of different purposes all at the same time. It whatever direction you turn, it still remains yours. No barrier can shut it out. It can never be untimely; it can never be in the way. We need friendship all the time, just as we need the proverbial prime necessities of life, fire and water. I am not speaking of ordinary commonplace friendships, delightful and valuable though they can be. What I have in mind instead is the authentic, truly admirable sort of relationship, the sort that was embodied in those rare pairs of famous friends.

For those who like numbers: 4.5/5


13. Lois Lowry – Messenger (5 June)

13-messenger Blurb: For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man known for his special sight. Village was once a place that welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. Matty has been invaluable as a messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the treacherous Forest with his only weapon, a power he unexpectedly discovers within himself.

Overall: After really enjoying The Giver and following that up with Gathering Blue, I was excited about Messenger, the third in Lowry’s quartet. Although the plot was rather predictable, I loved how Lowry once again brings her world to life, albeit from a different perspective this time. When I got to the end, I was very eager for the final instalment—it feels like something big is going to happen in Son!

For those who like numbers: 4.2/5


14. Ruth Ozeki – A Tale For the Time Being (12 June)

I picked up this one from the funfunfun library, and goodness, once I’m finally “settled down” and don’t have an expiration date for living halfway across the world, I will buy this for my own collection.

14-time beingBlurb: Within the pages of this book lies the diary of a girl called Nao. Riding the waves of a tsunami, it is making its way across the ocean. It will change the life of the person who finds it.

It might just change yours, too.

Overall: Wow, what a book. I loved almost everything about it: the characters, the portrayals of two different societies and worlds, the beautifully rich Japanese culture, the story-telling, the prose, and goodness me, the characters and cultures! Yes, I’m repeating myself, but no, I don’t care because the novel was amazing, and if you’re at all interested in a pretty accessible and absolutely stunning piece of literary fiction, then look no further.

(The only qualm I had was with certain bits near the end, but they’re relatively minor things. That, and I rarely give books the full 5 stars.)

For those who like numbers: 4.8/5


15. Sarah Quigley – The Conductor (27 June)

15-conductor Blurb: The crackle of a tannoy breaks the expectant silence…and, during a pause in the boom of artillery shells, music washes over the city of Leningard.

The defiant symphony infiltrates ruined homes and empty streets, echoing beyond the besieged walls to the very heart of the German forces. Its composer is Shostakovich, Leningrad’s most famous son. But this is only partly his story.

This is the story of a man caught in the white heat of obsession. A man who galvanised a ragged orchestra of half-starved musicians into an act of resistance and hope that would inspire an entire city. This is the story of Karl Eliasberg. The Conductor.

Overall: Good books about classical music are few and far between, while great books about classical music are practically non-existent. This wasn’t great, but it was good, offering an interesting perspective on Shostakovich and the processes of composition and conducting. One thing I really loved was how it introduced a musical and cultural dimension to the struggles during WWII. I will never be a fan of Shostakovich’s music or his ‘Leningard’ Symphony, but I certainly appreciate his achievements more now.

For those who like numbers: 3.8/5


16. Anne Bishop – Murder of Crows (28 June)

16-murder-of-crows Blurb: As a human residing among the Others of the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader, Simon Wolfgard, wonders whether their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or of a future threat.

Now the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

Overall: Yay it’s Anne Bishop! I’ve been waiting over a year to read this, and now I have to wait many more months to read the next instalment… (I know it’s currently out in hardcover, but I’ll be getting the paperback edition.) I loved the introduction of new characters and cultures in this world she’s created, and I’m really excited about discovering what else she has in store. The protagonist is still quite Mary Sue, and some of the plot points would probably be groan-worthy, but none of that matters much because the book’s just so much fun.

For those who like numbers: 4.2/5


17. Evelyn Waugh – A Handful of Dust (3 July)

17-handfulBlurb: After seven years of marriage, the beautiful Lady Brenda Last is bored with life at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that is the pride and joy of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. Brilliantly combining tragedy, comedy and savage irony, A Handful of Dust captures the irresponsible mood of the “crazy and sterile generation” between the wars. The breakdown of the Last marriage is a painful, comic re-working of Waugh’s own divorce, and a symbol of the disintegration of society.

Overall: I decided to branch out to 20th Century British fiction on a friend’s recommendation, and am very glad I did. In addition to the excellent dialogue and social commentary, I was struck by a sense of movement away from the 19th Century and towards today’s “polite” English society—it felt like a bridging of sorts (and I suppose it very much is), and I enjoy that aspect thoroughly.

For those who like numbers: 4/5

One thought on “April to July(-ish): 8 funfunfun books

  1. I adore Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies and I really need to read more of his work. I might have to go pick up some of his books the next time I’m out shopping (including this one).

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