It’s time for the third check-in for the 2020 Book Bingo reading challenge. Wondering what the challenge is? Check out this post where I lay out all the rules for the 2020 Book Bingo reading challenge, and then come back here and jump right in!
After last quarter’s rather dismal reading tally – just 4 books, all excellent though – this quarter was rather stupendous! I read 10 books this quarter, making it a total of 18 books read this year. So here’s a quick roundup of the books I read this quarter, along with the bingo squares I checked off.
In the backdrop of war: Against the Loveless World – Susan Abhulhalwa
Nahr has been confined to the Cube: nine square metres of glossy grey cinderblock, devoid of time, its patterns of light and dark nothing to do with day and night. Journalists visit her, but get nowhere; because Nahr is not going to share her story with them.
What can I say about this book? Abhulhalwa’s Mornings in Jenin brought alive the full measures of the atrocities committed by the Israeli’s against the Palestinians. This book takes it a step further, shining a light on the plight of Palestinian refugees who have made a life in a different country. You can read the full review here. I cannot recommended this book highly enough!
Listed on the Booker: The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
Briseis was a queen until her city was destroyed. Now she is slave to Achilles, the man who butchered her husband and brothers. Trapped in a world defined by men, can she survive to become the author of her own story?
Discover the greatest Greek myth of all – retold by the witness history forgot.
This retelling of the epic Iliad puts a woman’s perspective on the cost of war front and center. Most of us would have learnt about the battle of Troy; a majority of us would have watched the Brad Pitt starrer Achilles. That’s the only point of commonality – because though this novel is about the battle of Troy and though Achilles does play a role in the story, this isn’t his story. This is the story of the women who are the casualty of war. It’s about how they survive.
If you enjoy historical fiction and epic retellings, you will love this book.
Found in translation: The Empress – Laura Martínez-Belli
The Empress is quite an interesting historical novel about the tragic reign of Empress Carlota of Mexico. In 1863, at the behest of some influential Mexicans, Napoleon III installs a foreign monarch in Mexico to squash the regime of Santa Anna. Maximilian von Habsburg of Austria accepts the emperor’s crown. But it is his wife, the brilliant and ambitious Princess Charlotte, who throws herself passionately into the role.
Known to the people as Empress Carlota, she rules deftly from behind the scenes while her husband contents himself with philandering and decorating the palace. But there’s an undercurrent of unrest in Mexico, and Napolean III refuses to hear Carlota’s pleas for help, forcing her to return to France to gain an audience with the emperor and ask him for the help that was promised them.
But when Carlota’s closest aides turn against her, the Empress finds herself increasingly isolated, maddeningly defenseless, with both her own fate and that of the empire at stake.
I didn’t know much about this period of 19th century Europe or about the politics of Mexico around this time, so this was quite an interesting read. I suspect the translation may not be as good as the original, and I found the reading a bit dry and dull in parts. Despite that, it was a very interesting read. Carlota’s love for Mexico, her efforts to do well by the people shine through, and make her betrayal by her closest aides and family all the more tragic. This novel also offers quite an in-depth perception of the women of the time, their views on Mexican and European politics, and an interesting glimpse their everyday lives.
If you enjoy historical fiction, give this one a go.
Cult classic: The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford – her assigned name, Offred, means ‘of Fred’. She has only one function: to breed. If Offred refuses to enter into sexual servitude to repopulate a devastated world, she will be hanged. Yet even a repressive state cannot eradicate hope and desire. As she recalls her pre-revolution life in flashbacks, Offred must navigate through the terrifying landscape of torture and persecution in the present day, and between two men upon which her future hangs.
Atwood wrote the novel in 1996, but it felt like she had picked up recent headlines to weave together the story of Offred’s pre-revolution life. Chilling, disturbing, and immensely thought provoking, if you haven’t read this yet, you absolutely should! Highly, highly recommeded!
Dystopian world: The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third: Aunt Lydia. Her complex past and uncertain future unfold in surprising and pivotal ways.
With The Testaments, Margaret Atwood opens up the innermost workings of Gilead, as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.
With the sequel, Atwood explores how political ideologies can change the lives of normal, everyday people in devastating ways. The formation of Gilead; how the Aunts were chosen and the laws written down; the way Gilead was governed, the lives of its people regimented “for their own good”. When you look at the world we are currently living in, with the rise of the right wing and the almost fanatical belief in a certain world view, The Testaments is like a warning bell – do we really want to go down this route?
Highly, highly recommended. You don’t have to read The Handmaid’s Tale to read this book, but you really should.
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In a land far far away: The Glamourist – Luanne G. Smith
The second book in the Vine Witch series is just as enchanting as the first. Elena Boureanu, the vine witch of Château Renard, has been cleared of the crimes she was accused of in book 1 of this series. Just when she thinks that she can now settle in to the vineyard, the truth of her own bloodlines comes back to haunt her. As does her friend, Yvette Lenoir.
Abandoned as a child in turn-of-the-century Paris, Yvette Lenoir has longed to uncover the secrets of her magical heritage and tap her suppressed powers. But what brave and resourceful Yvette has done to survive the streets has made her a fugitive. With a price on her head, she clings to a memento from her past—what she believes to be a grimoire inherited from the mother she never knew. To unlock the secrets of her past, Yvette trusts in one woman to help solve the arcane riddles among its charmed pages.
Elena can’t ignore a friend on the run. Joined by a cunning thief, the proprietor of an enchanted-curio shop, and a bewitching black cat, Elena and Yvette are determined to decode Yvette’s mysterious keepsake. But what restless magic will be unleashed? And what are Yvette and Elena willing to risk to become the witches they were destined to be?
If you read the first book in this series, you will love this one too. Fantasy fiction fans will not want to miss this, either. Highly recommended!
Reliving days of fairytales: The Master Magician – Charlie H. Holmberg
Throughout her studies, Ceony Twill has harbored a secret, one she’s kept from even her mentor, Emery Thane. She’s discovered how to practice forms of magic other than her own—an ability long thought impossible.
While all seems set for Ceony to complete her apprenticeship and pass her upcoming final magician’s exam, life quickly becomes complicated. To avoid favoritism, Emery sends her to another paper magician for testing, a Folder who despises Emery and cares even less for his apprentice. To make matters worse, a murderous criminal from Ceony’s past escapes imprisonment. Now she must track the power-hungry convict across England before he can take his revenge. With her life and loved ones hanging in the balance, Ceony must face a criminal who wields the one magic that she does not, and it may prove more powerful than all her skills combined.
This is the last part of The Paper Magician trilogy and it’s an absolute delight for lovers of YA and whimsical fantasy fiction. Read the entire series; you can thank me later!
A book about food: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen – Lucy Kinsley
In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe―many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of Lucy’s original inventions.
A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a graphic novel for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.
Foodies, this one is for you! I loved Kinsley’s illustrations; her delightful food-related stories from her growing up years; and the recipes interspersed throughout the novel. Highly recommended!
Philosophically speaking: The Book of Ichigo Ichie – Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles
Every moment in our life happens only once, and if we let it slip away, we lose it forever-an idea captured by the Japanese phrase ichigo ichie. Often used to convey that the encounter is unique and special, it is a tenet of Zen Buddhism and is attributed to a sixteenth-century master of the Japanese tea ceremony, or ‘ceremony of attention’, whose intricate rituals compel us to focus on the present moment.
From this age-old concept comes a new kind of mindfulness. In The Book of Ichigo Ichie, you will learn to use all five senses to anchor yourself in the present.
Every one of us contains a key that can open the door to attention, harmony with others, and love of life. And that key is ichigo ichie.
This was a delightful read, especially for these strange times we find ourselves in. Though I’ve long practiced mindfulness, I enjoyed the philosophy behind the Japanese tea ceremony, and some of the exercises and tips that the authors presented in this book. Practicing Ichigo Ichie is a beautiful way to stay mindful, fully present, and to enjoy the fleeting, even seemingly insignificant, moments of life.
Your choice: Deep Work by Cal Newport
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.
I finally got around to reading Deep Work, only to realize that I already use a lot of these concepts as part of my art practice. But then, I suppose it’s easier to go deep when you’re engaged in a craft that doesn’t rely on technology in the first place. Newport shares some interesting studies while making his very compelling case for intense focus, and shares actionable steps that we can take to focus more deeply on our work.
Although the book is geared towards “knowledge workers” – basically anyone in a corporate job these days – these concepts can easily be adapted and applied by anyone in almost any field. Some of the concepts here would be excellent for those doing a depth year, for example, or for writers, artists, or anyone pursuing any creative practice.
Your turn! Tell me how your reading goals are going. What were your favorite reads of the year? And don’t forget to share your blog posts or Instagram posts or even your (public) Goodreads shelves in the comments below!