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I know this is something you are not used to seeing on here (even though I did share book reviews back in 2015, all of which you can find by searching Recent Reads), but I do try to make time to read more, and I know many of you are too and now that I am on holiday, I feel like I am getting there!
My goal for 2020 are 14 books (the average pledged on Goodreads is 58!), and while it might look as if I am flying through that challenge, you need to keep in mind that I read half of these while on holiday in Sweden.
Oh, and my current „Want to read“ list still features 181 more, which means that with 14 books a year it will take over than 14 years to get through…
Sounds like my queue to stop rambling and get on with the reviews, so you and I both can get back to reading some more!
Book Review: The 33rd marriage of Donia Nour by H.Z. Ilmi (Get yours here)
I think it is important to know that the author writes under a pseudonym and is, by profession, not a writer. That might explain why some people call the language used „unsurprising“ and „bland“, a view I do not share.
It is however not a book I would recommend you read for its linguistic beauty, it is the dystopian, but oh-so realistic picture it paints that makes it a must-read for me.
In Egypt in 2048, a new system has replaced the current one, closing the society off to the rest of the world. Consumerism cloaked in religious phrases rule, and it becomes apparent that all rules are meant to be broken by the ones with money and power.
Donia Nour, earning money as a side hustle through having her hymen „repaired“ and then selling herself off for 24 hour weddings as virgin, tries to escape to an „outside world“ she isn’t entirely sure exists. That of course goes horribly wrong just as she is about to reach her goal, and with the help of a system critic of current times (that meets her through time travel and alien ships – don’t ask) she becomes the head of a rebellion.
I didn’t read this book as criticism of the Islam, but rather as critical of a system and consumerism based on the authors own religion, but easily replaceable with any other religious belief.
Seeing that I am not a Muslim though, maybe anyone that is might want to chime in here?
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Blood of Elves (The Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski (Get yours here)
Quite different from the first book reviewed, but I do love me some Fantasy literature! And of course this one made it on my list after watching the first series of „The Witcher“ on Netflix (which I loved, despite some shortcomings in the story – the grunting ill-tempered bloke wielding the sword made up for it by taking his shirt off).
The book tells a different story than the series, it starts later in the story and reflects back on some of the things that took place beforehand that are topic of Netflix version. It also goes much more in depth about story, feelings and internal motivation, which is why I think it is great accompanying read.
While many people call the book slow as opposed to the first two, both collections of short stories about the adventures of Geralt, the Witcher, I actually like this kind of fantasy. It offers more than slaying dragons, it actually introduces us to the world and the political intrigues happening around the main characters, setting the foundation of the story to unfold.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Alles wird hell by Julia Jessen (Get yours here)
This book is only available in German, as it is the first of a young German author, but I enjoyed it a lot.
It follows Oda, from being an insecure teenager up until the day she dies, as she discovers who she is, what she wants from life and then, later on, that what she will become is not entirely up to herself.
She isn’t always likeable, making out with her brother-in-law on his wedding day, but she is entirely relatable. The author focuses on her teenage years, when she tries to make sense of her family and herself, on her early 40s, when she wants a second child, but her husband refuses, and on her time as an old woman, standing by said husband as he ends his own life suffering from terminal cancer.
In the end we are with her as she dies, leaving us without an answer to he question the book poses: How are we supposed to live out lives?
A sad book indeed, and one that stuck with me for weeks after reading.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The Girls by Emma Cline (Get yours here)
A word of warning first: This book contains very graphic descriptions of violence and sex, so if either (or a combination of both) put you off, this is NOT the book to read.
I have been told this book is based on (or a rip off, depending whom you ask) the Manson murders, which I admit I barely know a thing about. But knowing this was (ever so slightly) based on a true story made it a captivating, yet deeply unsettling read.
We follow Elvie, a 14 year old girl, neglected by her freshly divorced parents and struggling to find out who she is, as she meets Suzanne, a slightly older woman she is attracted to. She follows her to „The Ranch“ where she slowly gets absorbed by a cult and its charismatic leader. While she remains an outsider – she always goes back home for some periods of time – she offers insights into the cult and many small and careless cruelties that were almost worse for me than the extremely bloody crime at the end.
Heartbreaking, especially if you have children of your own.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The invention of nature: Alexander Humboldts New World by Andrea Wulf (Get yours here)
Non fiction for once, and a gift by my godmother.
Though no stranger to me by name, I didn’t know much about Alexander von Humboldts life and work before reading the book. While in general I am much more into fiction than biographies, I found this a very current read despite talking about a man living 250 year ago.
Humboldt was very vocal about men destroying nature through exploitation, about the damage colonialism was doing to the non-European world and about the horrible thing that is slavery, all topics that are very relevant today.
It was however not the easiest read and I sometimes lost interest and had to hold myself accountable to reading on, especially in the second half talking about Humboldts life after his travels.
Unlike others have pointed out the different chapters about the people whose work Humboldt influenced (Darwin, Marsh, Haeckel) were very interesting to me, as they helped me put his work into perspective and see how despite not being well known his influence still is strong today.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Get yours here)
One of the books I could barely put down even though actually very little happened and you knew how things were going end right from the start.
The book looks at the relationship between a mother and her children, between the siblings and between this family and another woman, also mother to a daughter, that leads a life completely different to what they are used to.
It also focuses on the fact that what is right isn’t always the right thing to do and how easy it is to misunderstand one another and how carelessly we hurt each other without even realizing.
For me the main topic though was on mother/ child relationships, portrayed in a very raw and honest way, which sometimes hurt so much it made me sneak into my childrens bedroom at night just to hug them. It raises the question where a child truly belongs, if giving birth makes you the right mother for a child or if someone else might be a better match and, last but not least, confronted me with my biggest fear, probably the biggest fear any parent knows: Losing your child.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (Get yours here)
Again not an easy read in terms of topic, but easy to get lost in.
The story about a family packing up and moving to Alaska, where every mistake can kill you, is beautifully written and slowly reveals the demons they tried to run from, but carried within them, while at the same time making you fall more and more in love with the rough and wild landscape that is Alaska.
It is also a tribute to the love between a mother and her daughter, bordering on co-dependency sometimes.
Physical abuse and the toxic relationship between the victim and the abuser is portrayed in a honest way, no sugarcoating, which can make it hard to read for someone that has been in an abusive relationship and might even be a trigger.
The only thing I wasn’t completely happy with was the ending – I am not going to spoil anything here, but for me it felt a little too much like a fairy tale and kind of didn’t fit in the raw and honest way the book portrayed life and human fate beforehand.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson (Get yours here)
My favorite book out of all of them, and one that made me write down little snippets in my notebook to reread in the times to come, as the sentences were so beautiful and so true at the same time.
It is a story we have all experienced, either first hand or in a friend. Someone falls in love with another person that is clearly not as invested as they are or, as in this case, barely even worth their attention.
Still the story is absolutely captivating, following the thoughts of the main protagonist as she tries to explain the rejections and turn them into something positive, like the classic: „I am too quick/ needy/ scared him away“ explanation women frequently have, blaming themselves.
It is beautifully written, in a simple yet clear speech that made every page a delight.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (Get yours here)
Yes, I know I am late reading the book (and no, I haven’t watched the film either), but better late than never – at least now I have formed an opinion about it…
But I can’t give this book a rating, I really can’t.
Was it the worst book I ever read? No. I finished it within just a few days, picked it up with great pleasure and of course I cried, several times.
Was it the best book I ever read? No. The writing was okay, but not outstanding, the characters in some aspects very stereotypical, the sexual assault story in Lous past felt unnecessary, and quite a few plot twists could be anticipated.
I am however not able to read this book without reading what actual disabled people have to say about it and the message they feel it transports.
Is only an able bodied life worth living?
Is the action filled physical life Will led before his accident the only one that his current situation can be measured against, and is it so obvious that his present needs to loose?
I don’t have the answer, I can’t have it, because I am not disabled nor do I have someone close to me living with a severe disability. It is not my place to judge that, and I couldn’t enjoy the book without constantly thinking about it, and I wouldn’t read it again.
Rating: not able to rate it
After You by Jojo Moyes (Get yours here)
After how I felt about the first book, why did I bother reading the second one? Because I had the time and already brought it with me on holiday. I also hoped that this one, without the ableism debate going on in my head, would be much more enjoyable.
Well, it wasn’t! Don’t get me wrong, the book was mildly entertaining, perfect for a mindless read on a sun lounger near a pool (which was not the holiday I was on, but that is hardly the books fault). What annoyed me so much though was that every bit of character development from the first novel apparently had disappeared again.
Let’s look at Lou for example. After Will told her to get a life and pieced her back together, she yet again is completely lost until another man (not just any man, a tall and gentle paramedic that in his spare time grows his own vegetables and builds a house from scratch – *eye roll*) steps into her life and saves her. Not that I mind a white knight on a horse, but isn’t she able to figure at least one thing out herself?
And then Will daughter that comes into her life, aged 16, with quite a bit of difficulties (again) related to sexual assault. Yes, sexual assault is common and source of trauma to a lot of women, but it is NOT something to serve as mildly interesting plot twist with not much of an afterthought as the story unfolds!
Treena, the sister, is used to transport the message that a woman with brains will never attract a partner, especially if she already has a child – what exactly does the author want to tell her female readers here? Not that you need a man to be happy, but not having one is apparently a great source of disappointment to Treena, and just hammers down the point that men apparently are for woman like Lou, not able to figure stuff out for themselves and constantly in need of saving, not for the clever and independent ones among us.
Lous mother on the other hand goes on a feminist awakening journey, maybe as a sad attempt to counteract the message the rest of the book is giving? Whatever the authors intention though, I didn’t get them. The whole thing seems unnecessary, as if a few pages needed to be filled, and left me wondering why on earth someone would bother to tell me this.
If you are slightly drunk on a sun lounger and know your brain will not take much challenge, this is a nice pass time. If you however expect anything more, save your time.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Have you read anything I reviewed here? Or do you have recommendations what I should add to my list? Not that it needs expansion at this point…