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My first-ever book set in Trinidad and one of the few from the Caribbeans. Right now can only think of Wide Sargasso Sea and (partially) Captain Blood.

wellDon’t be fooled by the covers, that indicate a lighter type of story than this really is!

Went into the book without knowing anything except it’s nominated for the Audies 2016. It turned out to be a great surprise and one of those reading experiences enhanced by the audiobook.

The story begins in the 40s and mostly follows Marcia Garcia (can still hear the narrator in my mind saying  Má-cia-a Gá-cia), that at sixteen meets Farouk Karam, a Trinidadian policeman of Indian background. They set of on a stormy relationship that we follow throughout many years.

There’s a lot of topics running through book – social and racial status, matriarchal families, immigration – but it doesn’t feel crowded or overwhelming. It’s easy to become emotionally invested in Marcia and her family, and the two narrators (Bahni Turpin and Ron Butler) play a huge role in that. Their colorful narration perfectly fits the story and adds something to it. For a while I was talking to myself in their accents.

The main reason why I didn’t give it a 5/5 was that the second part was mostly an illegal immigration story set in the USA. I wish the author had just focused on Trinidad. It’s learning about the island, it’s people, culture, food and history that makes the book so unusual and special. Strangely enough, the strong sense of place is lost when we jump to the much more familiar Manhattan.

If you know of any more good books set in the Caribbean please let me know!

 

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Other thoughts: BookNAround, (yours?)

armchairaudiesRead for Armchair Audies 2016
Literary Fiction & Classics category

If you ask any Portuguese kid of the 80s about their favorite cartoons, there’s a high probability many will say either Dartacão or D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers (manga version). Chances are they might also start singing the songs.

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Because of them my hopes for the canon were really up. I was expecting an adventure tale to rival Scaramouche and Count of Monte Cristo, with fun, heroic, lovable characters and wicked villains. What I got was one the biggest literary disappointments of my life and the destruction of my childhood ideals.

In the book, the Musketeers turn out to be selfish irresponsible dandies of limited intelligence who take advantage of women, hit their servants, and kill and maim at the slightest provocation to their precious honor. They’re more concerned about buying gear and horses than fighting injustice and helping the oppressed.

In the midst of all these disappointments, the biggest one was Athos. He was my favorite, my Musketeer crush. He was the leader and yet very discreet, the most mysterious, with hints of a secret past with Milady. Even in the live-action movies he was always one of the most developed characters (also: Keith Sutherland and Matthew Macfadyen). In the book he surrenders his leadership 5 minutes after meeting 18-year-old D’Artagnan, he wants Milady dead at all costs without any grey areas, and there’s this chapter about one day in his life that goes more or less like this: “woke up early, was bored, played dice. Lost my horse, lost D’Artagnan’s horse, lost D’Artagnan’s diamond ring, lost my saddle, won saddled back, lost all my equipment, divided my servant into 10 parts and played with that. Won servant back, and the ring, and D’Artagnan’s horse. Lost my horse. Shall I bet D’Artagnan’s horse again?”

This, my friends, was a big blow for the 8-year-old in me! Where are my heros?!

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Then there’s a strange unbalance in the way Dumas arranges the plot. The famous adventure to get back the Queen’s diamonds takes a few chapters, but then there’s endless descriptions of what the boys do to get money for their armors.

Let’s just talk a bit more about Milady (some spoilers). For Dumas she’s the She Devil, the Temptress. She was put in prison the convent and had the audacity to escape by seducing a priest! How is that different from the way D’Artagnan used Kitty or Porthos the lawyer’s wife? They all used other (innocent?) people for their gains. About her marriage to Athos: in his own words, she always behaved in a dignified way and never betrayed him. She didn’t tell him about the convent and the branding, but considering what he did when he found out (not even a question before wanting to kill her), I’d probably hide it as well. After that episode Athos is presumed dead, so technically she’s not a bigamist! There’s also no proof that she murdered her second husband. She manipulated Felton to get out of jail. Also, for such a cunning survivor her obsession with revenge at the cost of her freedom and life felt really out of character. When they finally capture Milady she doesn’t even get a fair trial but is judged by “her peers”, meaning, the musketeers and Lord de Winter. They only need the word of her first husband’s brother that just… shows up?, but everyone ignores that his version contradicts Athos’ account.

Excuse Milady for being smart and resourceful. At least she killed for France and to survive, not because someone insulted her horse or whatever, as someone else I know…

Anywhoo, I’m persuaded that the reason we love the Musketeer so much is because no one really cares about the book and just enjoys the great (if not faithful) adaptations out there.

Also, in the manga version, Aramis was a woman in disguise, and I’ll never forgive Dumas for not including that.

The-1938-ClubSimon and Kaggsy started a Club where bloggers review books published in the same year during the same week. I read Pablo Neruda’s 20 Love Poems and a Desperate Love Song for the 1924 Club last year but then life happened and I never posted anything. This time around I read Pomfret Towers for the 1938 Club.

I made the HUGE mistake of reading Invitation to Waltz (1932) right after Pomfret Towers. They’re both from the same period, both deal with a party at a big English country house, both follow shy girls maneuvering their way through a crowd of Characters. In my mind they’ve almost completely merged, so I had to really concentrate to write this post :S

pomfretIf you enjoy the likes of Dorothy Whipple, Barbara Pym or event P.G. Woodhouse you’ll like Thirkell. Her social criticism comes less from sharp wit than outright comedy (often of errors). Her characters are a bit exaggerated but never really cartoonish: the self-centered artist, the middle-age writer of very successful formulaic romances, the young social butterfly, the snooty butler, the crusty Lord of the house, his kind but depressed wife. There’s dancing, shooting parties and changing for dinner, so Downtown Abbey and Gosford Park fans will feel right at home. It’s also set in Barsetshire, the county created by Trollope. (Doesn’t it give you a comfy feeling just thinking about it?)

On the whole, I don’t think Thirkell worries too much about realism. She set out to produce a fun, light book that probably had her chuckle to herself while writing it, especially during her jabs at the publishing industry. It was predictable, full of happily-ever-after endings and a pleasure to read.

I was about to write that for a 30s book there’s almost no reference to the past war or hints of the one to come, but then realized something: the whole plot is triggered because the son and heir of the Pomfret Towers aristocrat is killed during the war. This is why his wife is depressed and mostly away from home (she  returned temporarily so the weekend party is in her honor), it’s why the moms are trying to get their daughters to cross the path of the distant-cousin-cum-heir, and why the cousin worries about the pressure of that’s to come and attempts to educate himself on the ways of a country gentleman.

So in a way that must have been the reality of 1938: the war can be a distant memory, but it changed everything and still has very clear impacts on the present.

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Other thoughts: Shelf Love, Iris, Books & More, Desperate Reader, (yours?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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

armchairaudies

Read for Armchair Audies 2016
Literary Fiction & Classics category

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?

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The obligatory coffee ceremony

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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).

shopping

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.

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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.

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