51FKlSmZa3L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_It was a fascinating read, this story of a family’s breakdown after a mad man casts a prophecy. On one hand it reads like a Greek tragedy, or at least like something based on mythological, folkloric or even biblical traditions. There’s a healthy amount of foreboding, nature-relate metaphors and “you as your own worst enemy” themes. This  feeling is re-enforced by the way the story is told by 10-year old Benjamin, looking back on events. It could’ve easily become heavy-handed, but Obioma always threaded on this side of compelling.

On the other hand, there are incredibly sweet and funny moments. Then the whole thing becomes a coming-of-age story of four brothers growing up in a small Nigerian village, getting into scrapes and going on adventures. There was also a satisfying amount of background into the political landscape of Nigeria in the 90s, which I knew nothing about.

The narrator did the book justice (Nigerian accent helped!) and I could clearly hear both the sadness and the joy in his voice. He managed distinctive characters without using lazy falsettos for the women and farcical voices for men. I’m ready to bet he’s a strong contestant for this Audies category.

For those of you who’ve read it: have you noticed the use of formal English and fancy words? “These people greeted our parents (…) with a boisterous effulgence of geniality.” At points I thought it was just the father’s way of speaking, but the narrator does the same. In the story there’s an explanation on how Nigerians use different languages for different purposes, but I can’t help but wonder: was it a deliberate effort by the author to… Write English Literature?

I’m surprised this is a debut novel and I look forward to reading more by Obioma!

***

Other thoughts: The Worm Hole, Shelf Love, Entomology, Becky’s Books, Word By Word (yours?)

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Read for Armchair Audies 2016
Literary Fiction & Classics category

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It’s that time of the year again! Since the first edition, the Armchair Audies has been one of my favorite book blogging events. I’ve discovered lots of great reads but unfortunately, have yet to put my money in the winner – maybe this year? I’ve also noticed that this time around all books I searched for were available to me on Audible.com, while in previous years there were lots of annoying country restrictions.

I was really torn between categories. History, Female Narrator, Male Narrator, Fiction, and Sci-fi looked really interesting, but I’ll go with Literary Fiction & Classics. (Still a bit confused about the difference between fiction and literary fiction.)

Several reasons for the choice: a couple of them were already under my radar, there’s a nice diversity in the writers, narrators, topics and geographical setting, and none are sequels.

So these are the books I’ll listen to by mid-May:

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  • The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, read by Chukwudi Iwuji
  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, read by Kieron Elliot
  • Little Big Man by Thomas Berger, read by Scott Sowers, David Aaron Baker, and Henry Strozier
  • Sweetland by Michael Crummey, read by John Lee
  • ‘Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma, read by Ron Butler and Bahni Turpin

Are you joining?

Haven’t done much blogging or reading but for a good cause. My organization is organizing a big event in Addis and I was there recently for prep work. It was a busy time, but still managed to do some tourist stuff. Will return in a couple of weeks and plan to explore the Ethiopian jazz scene, which I’m told is one of the best in the world.

Have you been? Any recommendations?

Coffee

The obligatory coffee ceremony

mountain

Saw many women carrying huge piles of wood down Entoto Mountain and asked to give it a try. Didn’t manage a single step. Actually, it took all my strength to just stand. My respect to these ladies. At least I gave them something to laugh about.

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Ate A LOT of injera bread. This picture was taken at the Lucy restaurant, named after the celebrity Australopithecus in the nearby museum (highly recommended).

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Some shopping may have been done…

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Reading Dorothy Dunnett at the Kaldis Cafe.

Moments from a work-related field visit:

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ALWTASAPWhen this one started making the rounds and seducing everyone it touched, it seemed so much up my alley I was afraid to start if for fear of disappointment.

In the end, although I’m not completely head-over-heals in love, I really liked it, and it leaves me with the warm, fuzzy feelings so many reviewers described. Also: that cover!

In the tradition of Firefly, the story follows a crew of space tunnelers (it’s complicated) that accepts a commission in… a small angry planet far far away. Most of the team is human, but there are others as well, including a sentient AI and a doctor/cook that made me think of Alice’s Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar.

There’s not a lot of action in the book, which is refreshing for a sci-fi set mostly in starships. Its power comes from how Chambers introduces us to these characters and then let’s us watch them interact. When two non-humans interact it especially brings out Chambers’ amazing world-building where no detail is neglected: from biology to politics, from relationships with other species to matting habits, from language to family structures. Everything makes sense and I want to extend a big thank you to the people who backed her Kickstarter project and allowed her to spend 2 years just thinking about these things.

But the best scenes come when humans interact with other species. There’s a lot of sci-fi out there about “what it means to be human”, but right now I can’t think of another one that does it so well and poignantly (edit 30m later: maybe the closest is Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow). It reminded me of the times people praised the sound of Portuguese and I wish I could hear it from the outside. Well, this book made me look at humans from the outside and gave me hope. There’s this one conversation in particular that is genius, where two aliens have a hilarious rant about us.

Another unusual thing about this book is that the human race actually manages to evolve! This happens mostly because we 1) were forced to exodus after destroying Earth’s environment, 2) only to be saved when we ran into another species by chance and 3) later joined the Galactic Commons, where humans are a minor and rather uninfluential species. You see, we evolved by eating a well deserved dose of humility pie!

In general, Chambers’ universe is a good place to be and a welcome antidote to the dystopias and alien invasion stories that dominate sci-fi. This is a less sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic universe that actually feels realistic.

The only thing that felt not quite right was the captain’s style of leadership. Doing what he does, under those conditions, I’d expect someone… stronger? He was born in the Exodus Fleet so is a pacifistic that hates guns, but that’s not why I’m questioning his authority. At times he was just too unprepared. It also got me thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of having a boss that’s your buddy, especially in potentially dangerous environments. Would have loved to discuss this in a bookclub!

I’m still amazed that Chambers manages to put so much in just 518 pages, and although I really welcome the sequel already in the making, part of me wishes that she’d made it a stand-alone: contained and strong. But I get it, it’d be a waste of good characters and world.

So, don’t pick up A Long Way if you’re looking for a science-focused space-opera with lots of laser guns and thingy-propellers, but go for it if you’re in the mood for a character-driven novel with lots of food for thought. It’s also the perfect book to recommend to sci-fi virgins or resistants.

***

Other thoughts: A Dribble of Ink, The Speculative Scotsman, Eve’s Alexandria, Dear Author, Awesome Audiobooks, Boomerang Books, The Android’s Conundrum, Rambling of an Elfpire, Common Touch of Fantasy, Kalanadi, Kitty G, Books and Pieces, Mercy’s Bookish Musings (yours?)

 

 

This is my plan for #comicsfebruary.

Some old- and new-school super-hero stories, some high-brow Franco-Belgians. Some fantasy, some sci-fi, one memoire, one just plain… literary?

Are you joining the fun?

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From Venice to Caffa, from Antwerp to the Gold Coast of Africa, merchants anchored their ships and unloaded their cannon and flipped open their ledgers as if in twenty years nothing had changed, and nothing was about to change now.

Last night I finally begun the last book of Dorothy Dunnett’s House of Niccolò series. I’d ended my previous read two days ago and still hadn’t found the right time to pick up Gemini. But last night, at around 9:30PM, when David was finally asleep and the husband was out for a concert, I made myself comfortable with a rare after-dinner Coke, got the two Companions, put the BBC on mute for company, and finally was able to engaged my brain 100% – Dunnett never asks for (or deserves) anything less.

This means I’ll soon end my first-time reading of her historical series. I’ve been postponing this moment since I first begun The Lymond Chronicles (Niccolò‘s sequel in plot but prequel in publication date) back in 2009 and my reading life was changed for ever. From then on, every historical fiction (every fiction really!) will always be compared to these books.

Two chapters in and the Companions had already failed me in translating the Middle Scots opening quote, there was a line to be discussed with other fans in the yahoo group (“He had met other husbands like this. Men who could sail but not navigate.“) and I got the sudden urge to eat oysters. It’s going to be a ride.

I already know that for the rest of my life I’ll always be re-reading Dunnett and will always find something new to awe me, but first-time readings are special. The end of Gemini will be the end of an Era and I’m feeling rather emotional about it.

My almost 3-year-old’s approach to literature is 1) make us read a book until the pages are falling off and we’re eyeball-stabbing sick of it and only then 2) move on.

These are his most recent fads:

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Handa’s Surprise by Eileen Browne

A hit from the start, it’s a story about a girl from somewhere in Africa that decides to surprise a friend in a neighboring village with a basket of 7 fruits. It’s sweet and funny and we love the drawings – so vibrant and full of color (you can almost hear the insects buzzing).

We also have the new in the series – Handa’s Hen – but David hasn’t graced it with the gift of his attention.

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Hora de dormir – À procura do meu pijama by Yoyo Studios

This would translate into Time to sleep – Looking for my pajamas and it’s his current favorite. Not because of the story or the art… he just likes to push and pull the little gimmicky pieces.

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wildWhere the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

A classic and well deserved. I suspect he likes to read it in the days where he’s been wild himself. That first image of Max standing on a pile of books, but look especially familiar. But the thing that really grabs David’s attention, is that Max’s name written on the side of the boat is hidden from view when he returns.

With English books I do automatic translation, but am always uncertain how to translate “Wild Things” – “Bichos Selvagens”? “Coisas Selvagens”? Portuguese-speaking readers: any thoughts?

 

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Un, deux, trois… la grenouille c’est moi ! by  Carlo Alberto Michelini

One, two, three… I’m the frog! This is probably my favorite of the bunch (or the one I don’t almost know by heart?). There’s a certain trippy feel to the book, from the slightly surrealistic poems to the animal’s eyes.

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O Alfabeto dos Bichos by José Jorge Letria

For months we read nothing but The Alphabet of Creatures. Every. Single. Night. One letter at a time, no exception and most definitely no skipping! (I’m honestly a little baffled by the preference -not a bit fan of either the text or the illustrations, but there’s no accounting for taste :P). It caught him at his ABC phase, where it seemed he wasn’t able to say (or sing) anything else except the alphabet. Thanks Tania, for the gift – it’s one of his favorite toys ever!

An honorable mention to Where Is the Green Sheep?, that despite being a favorite is always left behind on our visits to Lisbon…

Any other recommendations? What do your toddles like to read?

Finally got my hands on Lumberjanes because I’m nothing if not a slave to your recommendations.

I get the love: the art is fresh, the girl-power theme is amazing, it’s laugh-out-loud funny at times. It’s all that so it deserved a bit more… depth. It felt really short mostly because its 24 pages are action-oriented and don’t leave much room for character development or exploration of their world.

In stories about a group of people I immediately find a favorite. In Lumberjanes I had some difficulty making that call – there’s just not much that distinguishes them (apart from Ripley being The Crazy One). In the end I went with Jo because she had books and pictures of stars and planets in her bunk:

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To be fair, it’s only the first in the series and there’s a hint of background stories to come, like Molly’s fear of her family being informed about their adventures. But I can’t help but compare it to another very short, very popular, first-in-the-series, action-packed, kick-ass girl gang comic that takes the time to tells us (and make us care) about individual characters: Rat Queens.

The world-building in Lumberjanes also left me a bit confused: Magic? Fairy tales? Greek mythology? All? Two weeks after reading it I’m left with a vague sense of The Goonies meets Chamber of Secrets with a bit of Percy Jackson.

All this to say that I really had fun and will definitely pick up the next one in the series. I just wish it went a bit deeper with the story and its people, even if it’s “just” a first volume.

I’m ready for the rotten tomatoes to fly now… *ducks*

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I’ll skip the stats this year for lack of time, but still wanted to record for posterity a general impression of 2015 and make 2016 reading goals.

2015 was a good one, professionally probably the happiest I’ve ever had, but also did great travelling and really enjoyed family life (it helps we’re back to almost normal sleeping patterns…).

The highlights:

  • Watching David grow – how fascinating to see him become a little boy!
  • Visited 3 new countries: Lichtenstein, Morocco and Senegal (other travelling highlights: Edinburgh and Paris with BBFs, south of Portugal and Genova with family)
  • The Dave Matthews Band concert in Lisbon this fall was one of the best of my life
  • My quiz team was top-3 in the yearly Quiz League
  • Working on the inception of the Sustainable Development Goals

(see 2014, 2013 and 2012)

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It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a good reading year really makes a good year in general. To get me back into blogging and pre-David reading performance I joined lots of challenges and other community activities and managed to complete every one of them. This includes:

  • The Armchair Audies – always one of my favorite book blogging events
  • Jay’s Deal Me In Challenge – one short-story per week the whole year. Also a good challenge, although I didn’t blog much about it. Two quick thoughts: 1) German classic short-stories are great and want to read more of them and 2) modern short-stories are obsessed with infidelity!
  • The Re-Read Challenge – very worth while, led me to some of the year’s best
  • Graphic Novel Challenge – 2015 was my comics/GN year. Read an average of 2 a month.
  • Books in Translation Challenge – 12 books (one a month, yay!), written in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, French, Spanish, German and Italian.
  • Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – It was an interesting one to join, although I ended up with the feeling it didn’t really challenge me much, as most of the books that ticked the boxes were already in my TBR. I’ll take that as a good sign!
  • Sherlockian Month
  • German Literature Month
  • A More Diverse Universe
  • Finding Ada

And looking back at my 2015 plans:

  1. Continue to re-read, 100 Years of Solitude and Emma a priority: re-read both and 3 others
  2. Read more sci-fi: read 15 sci-fi books, 9 more than in 2014. Highlights: The Martian, Saga, Station Eleven
  3. Read more in Portuguese, Spanish and French: read 2 in Portuguese (+1 than 2014), 4 in French (=) and 2 in Spanish (+2).
  4. Read the only two Brontë sisters’ books I’ve never read: fail in both
  5. Finish several series: fail in all but Narnia
  6. Participate in more blogging events: success – see above!

Plans for 2016

  1. Continue to re-read, at least at the same rate as 2015. Consider His Dark Materials, Atonement, Harry Potter, Lord of the RingsA Short History of a Small Place, some by Guy Gavriel Kay.
  2. Continue to read in different languages and in translation, also at least at 2015 rates
  3. New try: read the only two Brontë sisters’ books I’ve never read (Shirley and The Professor)
  4. New try: finish several series (The Tea Rose, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The House of Niccolo, The Dark is Rising)
  5. Less challenges, but more read-alongs/bookclub books, recommendations welcome!

Happy 2016 everyone!

 

Happy New year everyone! I have a good feeling about 2016 🙂

Things have been a bit quiet around here, but work then laziness happened. Still, I read a lot: 104 books, which puts me back to pre-Baby levels (comics and travelling for work helped).

I gave 8 books 5-out-of-5 stars, one less than last year. The resolution to re-read more payed up (3 of the list) and I’m also happy about their variety: historical, classics, children’s, crime, 2 not written in English, 6 by women, 4 audiobooks.

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Rosa, minha irmã Rosa by Alice Vieira
A favorite from my childhood that brought me to tears. It’s about a 10-year-old girl adjusting to a new-born sister. Unfortunately, there’s only translations from Portuguese to Spanish and Hungarian.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The plan was to re-read it ahead of Go Set a Watchman, but that one is still on the TBR. I just didn’t have the courage to ruin Atticus…

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
Still a beautiful book and once again, 15 years after, I’m awed by Márquez’s genius.

Saga Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
What’s there to say about the series that hasn’t been said before? All the hype was well deserved.

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Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
One of those book where the brilliancy of the author just shines through. A gentle story with hidden depths.

Desolation Island by Patrick o’Brian (Aubrey & Maturin #5)
Aubrey and Maturin travel to Australia with a hold full of convicts. Shenanigans ensue. Five books into the series, the quality remains.

Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith
The surprise of the year and the most underrated book I’ve read in a long time. Also, the best audiobook of the 36 I listened to last year, closely followed by:

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
I was expecting to like it, but not love it. It pushed all the right buttons and proved once again that just because it’s genre, it can have just as much characterization as the best literary fiction. It was the book that got me more emotionally involved with the characters, and that’s saying something when Maturin and Finch are on the list.

Honorable mentions:

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John mandel
  • We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Busman’s Honeymoon (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #11) by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman

Currently reading

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