Books from July to December (Music, comedy, erotica, Russian greats)

Yup, this post is looooong overdue. Over these past few months, I’ve read the following funfunfun books:

18. Vikram Seth – An Equal Music (11 July)
19. Stephen Fry – The Liar (2 Aug)
20. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – The Communist Manifesto (3 Aug)
21. Leo Tolstoy – Resurrection (7 Aug)
22. Fyodor Dostoevsky – Netochka Nezvanova (9 Sept)
23. Sue Monk Kidd – The Secret Life of Bees (18 Sept)
24. Kit Rocha – Beyond Shame (30 Nov)
25. Miles Jupp – In and Out of the Kitchen (3 Dec)
26. James A. Grymes – Violins of Hope (6 Dec)
27. Euripides – Electra and Other Plays (7 Dec)

An eclectic selection, perhaps, but books are books are books. ♥

18. Vikram Seth – An Equal Music (11 July)

18-equalBlurb: A chance sighting on a bus; a letter which should never have been read; a pianist with a secret that touches the heart of her music… An Equal Music is a book about love, about the love of a woman lost and found and lost again; it is a book about music and how the love of music can run like a passionate fugue through a life. It is the story of Michael, of Julia and of the love that binds them.

Plot: There were a few predictable moments throughout the novel, but also some surprises. I enjoyed both, and was happy to let the plot carry me—a mark of great story-telling!

Characters: Unfortunately, the two main characters (Michael and Julia) really, really bugged me—which might say something about Seth’s wonderful characterisation, without which I wouldn’t have come to understand them so well, and end up disliking and disapproving of them so much. In many ways, their feelings for each other just seemed extremely naïve, and their subsequent actions were too selfish and inconsiderate for me to stomach. I did, however, love the other three characters in Michael’s string quartet—each of them was very endearing to me, and I felt I connected with and supported them a lot more (which in turn made me frown on some of Michael’s decisions and actions even more).

Themes: The book is about the world of classical music and musicians, and goodness me, Seth captures it all so beautifully and truthfully. Although I wasn’t particularly invested in the central love story, I still continued to enjoy the novel because it was about music as much as love, and the interplay between the two. There was also a strong element of continual self-discovery and growth in these adults, which I also loved.

Language: Many of the music-centred novels I’ve read tend to use a great deal of flowery language (perhaps to capture the essence of music in words), but An Equal Music was quite restrained. I found that very refreshing, and enjoyed Seth’s prose very much.

Overall: Despite my dislike of the two main characters, I still loved this book, and would happily recommend it to any musicians or classical music enthusiasts. Seth creates a world that is rich, detailed, and honest—it’s possibly the best music-related novel I’ve read so far!

For those who like numbers: 4.5/5


19. Stephen Fry – The Liar (2 Aug)

19-liarBlurb: Stephen Fry’s breathtakingly outrageous debut novel, by turns eccentric, shocking, brilliantly comic and achingly romantic.

Adrian Healey is magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life; unprepared too for the afternoon in Salzburg when he will witness the savage murder of a Hungarian violinist; unprepared to learn about the Mendax device; unprepared for more murders and wholly unprepared for the truth.

The Liar is a thrilling, sophisticated and laugh out loud hilarious novel from a brilliantly talented writer.

Plot: I didn’t pay too much attention to the main plot, which was a little too thriller-y for my liking, but I certainly enjoyed the adventures, and thought the ending very clever and entertaining.

Characters: The protagonist Adrian is a complete swot, and I kinda liked that about him.

Themes: Despite the novel’s overall hilarity and utter irreverence, there were some moments of insight about the current state of English society, and the related struggles of growing up—but of course, those moments would be followed promptly by hilarity and irreverence.

Language: Fry’s biting wit alone is worth the read—I read most of this on trains from Prague to Dresden, and there were several moments of cackling that may have disconcerted my fellow passengers…

Overall: This isn’t my typical go-to genre, but I’m glad I picked it up. I didn’t adore the novel, but found it very entertaining, a pretty good read, and a perfect accompaniment on my travels.

For those who like numbers: 3.9/5


20. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – The Communist Manifesto (trans. Samuel Moore; Penguin) (3 Aug)

20-communistDescription: Marx and Engels’s revolutionary summons to the working classes—one of the most important and influential political theories ever formulated.

Overall thoughts: After The Liar, I then read some Marx and Engels…which was an interesting endeavour on my way from Germany back to the Czech Republic. I thought it contained some noteworthy points, and I can certainly see why it became such an influential text. If I have time in the future (lolololol), I’d like to read up on the development of Marxism some more.


21. Leo Tolstoy – Resurrection (trans. Rosemary Edmonds; Penguin) (7 Aug)

21-resurrectionBlurb: A wealthy Russian prince, serving as a juror in a murder trial, recognises in the accused a girl he has seduced in his youth.

The novel that grows out of this tragic incident is, like War and Peace, a vast panorama of Russian life. But here it is the life, not of the aristocracy, but of the teeming underworld that Tolstoy reveals in all its diversity. Prince Nekhlyudov is one of Tolstoy’s greatest self-portraits, and it is his mature vision of a society rotten at the heart that stands out in this, his last great novel.

Plot: What. A. Novel. The majority of it was excellent—and I feel I can’t say much more than that, because one should definitely read and experience Resurrection for oneself—and though I wasn’t too sure about how it ended, it was certainly congruent with Tolstoy’s own circumstances. Go read it.

Characters: Top-notch, especially in their development and raw humanity. Go read it.

Themes: There was so much about class divisions, the corruption of nineteenth-century Russian society, the parts we are all relegated to play… Go read it.

Language: Although in translation, I found the writing simply wonderful. One day, I would love to learn enough Russian to be able to read Tolstoy in the original… Why not aim (ridiculously) high? But for now, I’ll just say: Go read it.

Overall: Resurrection has cemented the truth that my heart does indeed belong to the nineteenth century. I had the pleasure of reading this while on a four-night retreat tucked away in Bohemian Czech Republic, during which I took in the sun and basically read, wrote, ate, and slept—and it was glorious. If you’re at all into long, heavy novels of the later nineteenth century, go read Resurrection.

For those who like numbers: 4.7/5


22. Fyodor Dostoevsky – Netochka Nezvanova (trans. Jane Kentish; Penguin) (9 Sept)

22-netochkaBlurb: Netochka Nezvanova—“Nameless Nobody”—recounts her formative years in vivid, anguished detail. After her father’s death, her mother marries a failed musician, who believes himself to be a neglected genius. On the edge of insanity, he exploits the child, ruins the family and abandons Netochka Nezvanova when her mother dies. Though rescued by a wealthy family, the abuse continues in a more subtle form, condemning Netochka Nezvanova to remain for ever an outsider, a lonely spectator of a glittering society.

Although Netochka Nezvanova was never completed, the themes and issues which dominate the later novels are all here: the extreme suffering of the individual, the spiritual plight of the outcast, the inspiration of madness and the atonement of sin.

Plot: Beautifully paced and detailed, with the right amount of the despairing and unjust to tug those heartstrings, but not so much to nauseate. Simply put: I would very much like to read more, but alas, that’s a conversation to have with Fyodor at one of those imagined literary dinners…

Characters: I really liked Netochka, and wanted to follow her journey. She had a good balance of innocence and insight, and was so full of emotional sincerity that my heart broke for her in several places. I also had great pity for both her parents, and especially her father, given the circumstances.

Themes: Suffering and inequality—your typical nineteenth century Russian literary themes, which I find still resonates with today.

Language: I loved the moments of simplicity in Netochka’s narration, which very nicely complemented the sheer amount of detail otherwise. Really, I ought to learn Russian at some point…

Overall: Netochka Nezvanova is Dostoevsky’s first, unfinished attempt at a novel, where the parts he had written were intended to serve as the beginning of a much larger work. And golly, there’s certainly enough potential here for more of everything! As much as I enjoyed it, I found the experience rather sad because I’d formed attachments to characters and places that will remain unresolved in perpetuity.

For those who like numbers: 4.2/5


23. Sue Monk Kidd – The Secret Life of Bees (18 Sept)

This was recommended to me by my friend Lisa, who knows all about good, contemporary books. Thank you, Lisa!

23-beesBlurb: Lily has grown up believing she accidentally killed her mother when she was just four years old. Now, at fourteen, she yearns for forgiveness and a mother’s love. Living on a peach farm in South Carolina with her harsh and unyielding father, she has only one friend, Rosaleen, a black servant.

When racial tension explodes one summer afternoon, and Rosaleen is arrested and beaten, Lily is compelled to act. Fugitives from justice, the pair follow a trail left by the woman who died ten years before. Finding sanctuary in the home of three beekeeping sisters, Lily starts a journey as much about her understanding of the world as about the mystery surrounding her mother.

Plot: Very engaging and well-paced, especially with the revelation of Lily’s past. I particularly liked the novel’s ending, which I thought was beautiful and befitting.

Characters: Ah, the characters! They were my favourite part of the novel, and I absolutely loved everyone. Of particular note is Lily’s father, who, although generally unlikeable, still generated quite a bit of sympathy from me—so much of who someone becomes is dependent on circumstances, many of which are beyond one’s control, and this novel portrays that very well.

Themes: Racism and racial divides form the book’s central themes, which I thought were handled wonderfully. As with the characters, I understood why and how the state of Southern society in the 1960s impacted on ways of thinking and behaviour. I particularly liked following Lily’s journey as she matured and grew into herself.

Language: I enjoyed the writing, but nothing about it really struck me.

Overall: I read this on several 50-minute train rides while in Sydney (my parents live far-ish from the city centre), and thoroughly enjoyed those train rides—there must be a correlation! Although the novel won’t exactly leave a massive and ever-lasting impression, I did like it, and am glad I read it.

For those who like numbers: 4/5


24. Kit Rocha – Beyond Shame (30 Nov)

I don’t often read erotica outside fanfiction, but I needed some letters for my alphabet challenges, and my friend Maria recommended it to me because both the title and author fit the bill, and because she’d loved it super duper much. Funnily enough, a few months after I’d received the recommendation (and had gotten the ebook), I discovered that two of the fans and supporters of Regency Love are actually Kit Rocha! Mmm, coincidences!

24-beyond shameBlurb: All Noelle Cunningham has ever wanted is a life beyond–beyond the walls of Eden, where only the righteous are allowed to remain, and beyond her stiflingly restrictive existence as a councilman’s daughter. But only ruins lie outside the City, remnants of a society destroyed by solar storms decades earlier.

The sectors surrounding Eden house the corrupt, the criminal—men like Jasper McCray, bootlegger and cage fighter. Jas clawed his way up from nothing to stand at the right hand of Sector Four’s ruthless leader, and he’ll defend the O’Kane gang with his life. But no fight ever prepared him for the exiled City girl who falls at his feet.

Her innocence is undeniable, but so is their intense sexual attraction, and soon they’re crossing every boundary Noelle barely knew she had. But if she wants to belong to Jas, first she’ll have to open herself to the gang, to a dangerous world of sex, lust and violence. A world where passion is power, and freedom is found in submission

Overall: For an awesomely brainless fun book, I thought Beyond Shame tackled some rather interesting and important points about sexuality, society, and morality. Add to that some well-developed characters and an engaging plot, and I certainly see why Maria enjoyed it enough to recommend. Even with its predictably (or perhaps because of it? Gotta love brainless down-time!), I enjoyed it well enough, and would happily suggest it to readers of erotica.

For those who like numbers: 4/5


25. Miles Jupp – In and Out of the Kitchen (3 Dec)

I found this audiobook available from my local fun library, and since it’s a radio play, I didn’t quite know what to expect (or if this even counts for my challenges). But it provided a very entertaining few hours, so I have no regrets!

25-kitchenBlurb: The hilarious sitcom written by and starring Miles Jupp, featuring the entries and recipes from the kitchen diary of cookery writer Damien Trench. In these four episodes, Damien decides to do a radio programme about the French bean, accepts a job for a supermarket’s online magazine, deals with a crisis affecting his Umbrian holiday villa and is offered a chance to front his own TV show. Meanwhile, his partner Anthony decides to get fit, resolves to start the “courgette diet” and finally gets his long-awaited job interview. Recipes include “Marvellously Moist Muffins”, easy Wiener Schnitzel, “pilchards al limone” and a tastebud-tantalising Beef Oxford.

Overall: I was listening to this while waiting for a friend outside the Belfast Christmas Market, and cackled loud enough to turn heads. I still regret nothing.

For those who like numbers: 4.6/5


26. James A. Grymes – Violins of Hope (6 Dec)

I’ve made it a point to procure a book every time I travel, and when I saw this at a bookshop in Berlin in August, immediately thought it a perfect fit. Fast forward a few months, and I decided on this as my travel companion during my weekend in Vienna—a second, perfect fit.

26-violins of hopeDescription: The violin has formed an important aspect of Jewish culture for centuries, both as a popular instrument with Jewish classical musicians and as a central part of social life, as in the Klezmer tradition. But during the Holocaust, the violin assumed extraordinary roles within the Jewish community. For some musicians, the instrument was a liberator; for others, it was a saviour that spared their lives. For many, the violin provided comfort in mankind’s darkest hour, and, in at least one case, a violin helped avenge murdered family members. Above all, the violins of the Holocaust represented strength and optimism for the future.

Today, these instruments serve as powerful reminders of an unimaginable experience—they are memorials to those who perished and testaments to those who survived. In this spirit, renowned Israeli violinmaker Amnon Weinstein has devoted the past twenty years to restoring the violins of the Holocaust as a tribute to those who were lost, including four hundred of his own relatives. Behind each of these violins is a uniquely fascinating and inspiring story. Juxtaposing these narratives against one man’s harrowing struggle to reconcile his own family’s history and the history of his people, this insightful, moving, and achingly human book presents a new way of understanding the Holocaust.

Overall thoughts: I think timing is paramount for reading a book like this, and reading Violins of Hope while on a weekend break to Vienna was, as I’ve said above, simply perfect. Since the chapters are centred on a particular violin, I would take breaks on my Viennese musicians pilgrimage by stopping at a café, and read a chapter along with tea and cake. Although I didn’t like the writing and took issue with some of the structure, the stories themselves were extraordinary and well-researched, and evoked a range of emotional responses from despair to gratitude. If you’re interested in reading a different take on either classical music or the Holocaust (or both), then this is definitely a book for you.

For those who like numbers: 3.9/5


27. Euripides – Electra and Other Plays (trans. John Davie; Penguin) (7 Dec)

27-electra euripides

Description: Written during the fierce struggle for supremacy between Sparta and Euripides’ native Athens, these five plays are haunted by the shadow of war—and in particular its impact on women. In Electra, the children of Agamemnon take bloody revenge on their mother for murdering their father after his return from Troy, and Suppliant Women depicts the grieving mothers of those killed in battle. The other plays deal with the aftermath of the Trojan War for the defeated survivors, as Andromache shows Hector’s widow as a trophy of war in the house of her Greek captor, and Hecabe portrays a defeated queen avenging the murder of her last-remaining son, while Trojan Women tells of the plight of the city’s women in the hands of the victors.

Overall thoughts: Well, Euripides certainly knows how to write about women—their strengths, shortcomings, struggles, and sometimes chilling practicality and brutality. Admittedly, I found some of the writing a little hard to follow and kept getting distracted, which might be because I’m more used to Shakespearean drama. I’d love to see some of these plays staged, though, and think they’d work much better acted out (though I’m no Ancient Greek expert).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *