One of the things I loved the most about the year that is about to end (and I have to say it was a pretty slow year, not moving particularly smoothly) is the fact that I got a bit of my brain back and had some energy and time for reading. Yay me! Don’t expect to see any “heavy” literature on my list. That was reading at night before I crush on the pillow, while spending the day dealing with a preschooler and baby, who tandem feed and hate sleep.
I am a fast reader though, so from March till now I ‘ve gone through 15 books, even with marmalade instead of a brain. To keep this post short and sweet, I’ll keep the descriptions short and be blunt when it comes to what I thought of the books, to save both you and me time.
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
If you love dystopian stories, you will love this one. I later found out they turned it into a movie too, but I haven’t seen it. It’s very hard to talk about the plot without using any spoilers, but it has a lot to do with organ transplants, life and death. There’s also a love story or two in there, but they are not the focal point of it all. I loved it. I found the plot pretty predictable (but I am pretty good at sensing what will happen next) but I loved the prose and style. I highly recommend it.
A Week In Paris, Rachel Hore
I was confused about this one. I found the beginning very wordy and was almost compelled to abandon it (and I am not the person that abandons books). But it could very well be my low level of concentration. I stuck with it however (’cause I am no quitter, remember?) and I am glad I did. The plot is interesting, there are quite a few twists and in the end all the details and descriptions of settings and characters manage to suck you into the story. I like that it takes place in two different eras (WW2 and the present) and it does give persuasive descriptions of the living conditions during the war. I ‘d say it’s the perfect book to read during lazy summer afternoons.
The Boy In The Stripped Pyjamas, John Boyne
If you are looking for a feel-good book, well, read another one. It’s a book about the Holocaust and two completely different perspectives of it, as experienced by two boys. One living inside and another living outside a concentration camp. A friendship develops between the two and you will cry and cry and cry. I LOVED the ending. It’s an ending that really reminded me of ancient tragedies. The writing style was great throughout the book, but the ending was just something else. It does give you an insight into the life of the people that suffered in camps, but the writer doesn’t go the easy way and over-use the horror of it all to move the reader. I highly recommend it. It has also been turned into a film, which I ‘ve also not watched.
Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman
I knew I would love this one, just because I love Gaiman’s prose. Good Omens is one of my favorite books of all times. I also love mythology and I am one of those people that even though don’t really believe in ghosts, afterlife or zodiac signs, I am afraid of the dark, love to read astrological maps and own a tarot deck. So yes, mythology is my thing. The book is a collection of amazing stories full of love, hate, treason, creation and destruction. I adore the way Gaiman presents the ancient Gods as having such a great sense of humor. It was really enjoyable.
I know people went crazy with the Thor movie and so many loved to hate Loki and I might actually see it now that I am more acquainted with the legends behind it (not to confuse you, that movie is not based on the book, just on the same mythology).
The Best Of Adam Sharp, Graeme Simsion
Before reading this one, I had read The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect by the same author and I found them both hilarious, moving and relatable on many levels. I must say that even though The Best of Adam Sharp was enjoyable to read, it reminded me a bit too much of the two previous books. The clash between the two main characters, the traits of the protagonist, they kept reminding me of Rosie and Don Tillman. And I read this one in English while the other two in Dutch, which means I struggled a lot more with them, but still enjoyed them much more. I’d say it’s a good, relaxed read, but if you have already read other Simsion books, don’t go for this one. I have a better choice following.
Two Steps Forward, Graeme Simsion, Anne Buist
Now, this one I really loved! If you love to travel, you are going to enjoy this too. It is set along the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim route going from France to Spain. On the way the two main characters meet all sorts of different people that have arrived on the Camino from different paths of life. It really made me want to embark on a pilgrimage as well and I did find myself counting how many years it would be till I could take the kids with me and Nikos (or leave them with the grandparents to do the trip on our own). The plot was not full of twists but the great atmosphere and the sceenes made up for it.
Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney
People seem to love this book. It has awesome reviews and passionate fans and literary critics write good things about it too. Well. It was not for me. Most likely because reading “being young, about doing drugs and about music” when you have two very young kids and haven’t gone out for drinks in the evening after 19:00 for the past five years doesn’t help to get into the mood. I just couldn’t relate. And don’t get me wrong, I have very clear memories of my own wild days, still I didn’t find it relatable. Do books have to be relatable to be good? No. But I didn’t enjoy the prose of this one either. Maybe I should give it another go in a few years, when I will be less grumpy and cranky.
Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple
Meeeh… (I know I should never write and publish a book after the reviews I am doing, because Karma will smack me in the face. But it’s ok, I don’t have the perseverance to do it anyway). The book follows a day in life of a working mother, struggling with all the things the average parent struggles and maybe juggling a couple more balls. I know I just complained about the previous book not being relatable. And this one was very relatable, but I still didn’t enjoy it. Oh God, I AM grumpy! Looking back, trying to figure out why I didn’t enjoy this book, I’d say it’s because I felt I was being forced to feel things, to identify with the heroine to say “that’s right! That’s how my life as a parent and woman trying to succeed in today’s world feels like”. And I don’t like being forced. Apparently HBO thinks it’s good enough to make a series out of it, staring Julia Roberts.
The Children Act, Ian McEwan
A fantastic book with an original plot, very interesting characters that really come to life and wonderful writing style. I just found out it was turned into a movie starring Emma Thompson (I love her), so I ‘ll watch it for sure. Without spoiling it, the book is about a judge, a Jehovah’s witness and a blood transfusion. Just read it, you won’t regret it, I promise.
Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg
I am in love with both the book and the movie. I first saw the movie when it came out, 1991, age 6. There were no parental guides back then, certainly not in Greece. Strangely enough, I still remember scenes from that first time. This year one of my very best friends (hi Patri 🙂 ) gave me the book as a present. It is unlike anything you will ever read. It’s a book about love, friendship, minorities, injustice, kindness. I love how the plot unravels on many layers, both in the present and the past. The characters come to life and you fall in love with them from the first pages of the book. I watched the movie again after reading the book and I still find it a great movie, though they have chosen to change a part of the book ending. I liked the book ending better, but it’s still worth watching.
Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
I ‘ve read Foer’s Eating Animals a few years ago and I really liked his thought process and way of expressing his stream of thought and making his research accessible to the reader. So when I found this one in the English section of our (Dutch) library, I thought I’d give it a go. I am very glad I did. It is a wonderful book with a very original way of unravelling the plot and it really does illuminate many parts of both Jewish history during the war and the human psyche in general. I see that’s also become a movie but I haven’t watched it yet, so no opinion on that. But the book is really worth reading. It is tender and funny and tragic at the same time, just like humans are. It is also autobiographical (fictionalized but based on Foer’s own search for his roots).
The Castle In The Pyrenees, Jostein Gaarder
I am quite confused about this one too. Apaprently Gaarder is very highly regarded and a bestseller author. I found the book at my parents’ camper this summer. My mom told me she didn’t think it was great but the only other book at the camping was a Paulo Cohelo one, so this one would have to do… (her words, don’t shoot the messenger :D). The book is written in the form of e-mails. So the two basic characters are exchanging e-mails about something they experienced many years ago in the mountains. Apparently one of them thinks there is a strong metaphysical meaning attached to it while the other is very much against the idea. There are quite a few pages in the book dedicated to presenting the two character’s world views which at times is interesting but some times it gets rather boring too. The plot is fine and not too predictable. When I finished it I thought it was not really my type of book but then I found myself thinking about it and thinking over the story and concepts in it quite often the following weeks. So I guess there is something about it that makes it stick with you. I don’t feel I wasted my time reading it in any case.
The Greek Ones
I know the vast majority of the followers of this blog are English speakers (native or not), but I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning the Greek writers I enjoyed reading this summer.
Γκιακ and Γρα-Γρου are very different from each other but both very well-written (and illustrated, when it comes to the second one, that has also a soundtrack). They make you feel uncomfortable, the way art probably should (Guy Debord would agree with me, I think). They upset you and stir something into you in different ways. Γκιακ -an amazingly well-researched book especially when it comes to the linguistic aspect of it- is all about the cruelty of war and how quickly it transforms us into monsters (or uncovers the monster within). Γρα-Γρου is… well, it is very very Greek. In its references and atmosphere and all the things we love and ache for. I really wish it would be translated in English and then I’d gift it to all my foreign friends. As for the naughty girls (Τα Άτακτα Κορίτσια), I enjoyed reading it but I can’t say it stuck with me. I read it 2 months ago and I can’t remember a single story. I really did enjoy the prose though so I think I will go back and read it again at some point.
Feel free to share your review if you ‘ve read any of these books or recommend other ones in the comments here or on facebook.