Tag Archives: books

5 ‘To Read’s This Autumn

Is it just me, or are there SO MANY great looking books out right now?!  The literary world seems to be booming this Autumn and it’s totally fantastic for all of us book worms.  My Amazon basket (yes, I’m sorry, I sold my soul to the devil) is absolutely full of new titles waiting to be ordered and my pile of ‘to read’ books gets longer and longer every day.  I decided share a taster of the books that are on my list in a blog post here to help me to organise my thoughts as well as give some reading inspiration to you if you are looking around for something new to read.  There is quite a mixture here – fiction and non-fiction, old and new – so I hope you will find something that sparks your interest as it has mine!

 

Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami

I am huge fan of Murakami’s dark, twisted, fantasy style of writing so I was  really excited to read this new release of his.  Having just finished it, I can say that it definitely lived up to its expectations – it is a masterpiece.  This is a small collection of short stories, all about men who, for many different and interesting reasons, do not have women in their lives; one is a widower, another is a house-bound invalid, there’s even a character who has gone through some kind of metamorphosis and woken up completely alone and in a man’s body (could that be any more Murakami?!).  Murakami has a very unique way of storytelling; the urges and curiosity of his characters propel the narrative forward and involve us as readers.  Sometimes he even tells stories within his stories, creating this kind of wonderful meta which feels so addictive – once you begin a new story, it really is hard to stop.   It’s interesting too, how the book progresses darker and darker and how the stories connect to each other and evolve.  It’s gritty and sexual and weird and I love it.

Still Life – Louise Penny

I spent a lot of time in Canada this summer where everyone was talking about Louise Penny.  I’m not sure why, but I avoided her work for a long time… it was probably due to the very fact that she seemed to be so popular and I usually don’t tend to get on with fashionable trends.  However, I finally decided to hop on board of this hot new Canadian author’s train, and I’m glad I did because I’ve just finished the first novel in her Inspector Gamache series and loved it! This is a story about the lovable and endearing Chief Inspector Gamache, always to be found in his tweed coat and hat and with a fondness for brioche, and his investigative team from Montreal, who find themselves in the tiny Quebecois village of Three Pines, inhabited by the likes of artists and poets, after a mysterious murder has occurred.  If you like crime fiction, you will love this book, but even if, like me, you don’t normally go for this genre, I highly recommend this novel for its adorable characters, heartwarming sentimentality and cosy feeling.  It’s a real page turner, perfect for Autumn, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

Indivisible By Four – Arnold Steinhardt

Although, as I am a musician (and particularly a violinist with a passion for string quartet playing), this book has a true relevance to me, I think it could be an interesting read for anyone who likes auto-biographical accounts of special historical lives.  Written by the first violinist of the infamous Guarneri Quartet, it tells the story of these four players, their backgrounds, how they came to be together and what playing in this hugely successful string quartet for so many years was really like.  Reading this book is like getting the scoop from the inside, and it gives such a wonderful insight into these characters and what they got up to.  Steinhardt really was an incredibly gifted writer, as well as an amazing musician, and the humour and joy with which he recounts his stories of his quartet life bring such charm to his book; it doesn’t feel at all stale or heavy-going, as these kinds of books often do.  I’m only a chapter or two into this book but I highly recommend it.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

This is the new release from this author, probably most famous for his book, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’, and it promises to be just as heart-wrenching and emotional.  What I know about it so far is that it is set in post-war Ireland, where homosexuality is still illegal and is about a man who struggles with his identity in this society.  What I also know about this book is that people have called it life-changing, the BEST book they have EVER read, the most deeply meaningful read of their lives and the best book of 2017.  I don’t know if it’s because of my Irish connection that I felt drawn to this book, or the fact that it has been compared to Angela’s Ashes, which is a book that I absolutely loved, but I feel totally compelled to read this book this Autumn.  I’m ready for some powerful writing, tears of laughter and joy and that adrenaline that a great book gives you.

No Is Not Enough – Naomi Klein

In my last blog post, I asked lots of important questions about what we should be doing in the world of today, full of social discrimination and fake facts, with the privilege that we were given at birth – you can read it here.  These were questions that I really don’t have any answers to – I just don’t know what to do in the face of social austerity and it’s frightening.  But my lovely aunt recommended to me that I try reading Naomi Klein, and immediately I thought, if anyone has answers to these kinds of questions, it must be her!  I haven’t read any of Klein’s work before but I have heard her speak in interviews and I think she offers some great insights into what is going on in politics, the terrible social problems of today and how we can treat them and act in ways that could improve the state of current affairs.  Klein is all about putting ideas into action and this is exactly what I want to get on board with, and I think the first step to this is educating ourselves which is why I believe it is extremely important to read as much as possible by people who really get it.

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June: Freya Chooses…

Over past the few weeks I have made many wonderful discoveries that have given me real joy and added value to my life.  I know that these ‘Freya Chooses…’ posts are largely personal to me, but I so enjoy reading similar kinds of blog posts, where bloggers write about what they have been loving recently, or about small ways in which they have been able to improve the quality of their lives; I love taking inspiration from other people and am just a bit nosy about the kinds of things that make others happy!  So, here are just a few of the things that I have LOVED throughout the past month!

Bonjour Tristesse & A Certain Smile, by Françoise Sagan

I actually had this book of two short novellas by Sagan sitting on my bookshelf for a few years without realising it!  A moment came about recently when I had finished my current book and was waiting for the new one to arrive.  At a loss, with nothing to read, I turned to my bookshelf and found this absolute gem!  I really didn’t know anything about Sagan and her writing, but I fell in love with these stories, which were published when she was only nineteen!!

The first, Bonjour Tristesse, is probably her most famous work.  It is about the relationship between a daughter and her father, who live a carefree and somewhat hedonistic lifestyle, full of love, sexuality, passion, and contemporary political attitudes. This all gets sharply interrupted when the girl’s father suddenly decides to remarry, creating huge conflicts that result in some shocking consequences for both characters.  Although I adored this novel, it was the second one in the book, A Certain Smile, which I totally devoured.  In many ways it is a quieter, slower, more intense story and for me, this is what drew me in and got me immediately hooked.  It is about a young French girl, living and studying in Paris, full of her own ideas about life and love, although a little bored with her own lover and situation.  An older, married man comes into her life and shows her emotions and feelings which dramatically change the direction of her life, in many complicated ways.

These stories are simply beautiful, witty in that charming French way and very, very emotional.  They are so sweet, yet they have a way of tugging on your heart.  I’m so glad I found this book on my shelf, and I definitely recommend getting a copy!

Seattle

I recently got the chance to visit Seattle for the first time, and I just loved the city!  I wanted to write about it here as, for me, I never really considered Seattle as serious contender for one of the cities at the top of my list of places to travel in the U.S. – those spots are always filled by cities like New York or San Francisco.  But I have to say that this is SUCH a fantastic city, and if you have the opportunity to visit the States, definitely consider taking a trip there!

Seattle is a very vibrant city that has a drive; it’s busy, it has a hustle and bustle, everybody is out there, doing their own stuff.  There is a lot going on, in its business as well as culturally, but it doesn’t have the chaotic, stressed feeling of New York!  Seattle has all the ‘busy-ness’ but still with that wonderful, relaxed, west-coast vibe, and it’s just great.  There are so many cool little corners in the city too; great markets, coffee shops, bookstores, cool little international shops, and many, many, fantastic micro-breweries (if you are a beer fan, this city will be your heaven).  And all of this is set in an incredibly beautiful part of the world; the mountainous backdrop and ocean views follow you all around the city.

Dvořák Cypresses, Performed by Miró Quartet

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to hear a performance given by some of my current FAVOURITE musicians, the Miró Quartet, of a piece I had never heard of: a set of songs called ‘Cypresses’, arranged for string quartet, by czech composer, Antonin Dvořák.  This was originally a song cycle for voice and piano, set to poems by Czech poet, Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky,  that Dvořák composed when he was just 24 years old and later transcribed for string quartet.  At this time in Dvořák’s life, he had fallen deeply in love with one of his students – a love which, unfortunately, was not returned.  Although I have not heard entire work in its original form, I found the string quartet arrangement to be incredibly beautiful and totally capturing of Dvořák’s sad and passionate feelings of unrequited love.  There were so many truly special moments in the music, moments of darkness and light, intimate melodies, sounds coming from within the heart of the quartet – this was truly spellbinding.  It seems weird to me that this is a work that is not performed more often… but I am so glad that I got the chance to hear it and I really recommend looking it up if you don’t know it!  My particular favourite was song/poem number 9:

‘Thou Only, Dear One’

Oh, you my soul’s only dear one,

Who will live in my heart forever:

My thoughts circle around you,

Even though cruel fate separates us.

Oh, If I were a singing swan,

I would fly to you, and with my last breath,

Sing my heart out to you,

Ah, with my last breath.

What beautiful words, and music!  On that note, I have to also say that the Miró Quartet are absolutely wonderful, as people and as musicians.  They live and breathe the music in a way that make it come alive and I found this very inspiring.  This is a quartet of big personalities which shine through in their playing; their audiences love them and it’s easy to see why.  I can’t wait to work with them again in a couple of weeks time!

Catch my last Freya Chooses… post here!

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What I’ve Read So Far 2017

For me, the summer season is always a very active time in my reading life.  Whether it’s because reading is, in my opinion, the BEST accompaniment to travel, or something enjoyable that you can do outside whilst enjoying the beautiful weather, or just because you might have some free time on your hands to simply be able to read – I always find that I reach for my book much more during the summer months.

In lieu of this, over the past couple of weeks I have been endlessly browsing the internet for some potential reads to fill my summer days and I have discovered that personal recommendations written by real people with real opinions make a book much more irresistible (or not) to me.  In case any of you feel the same way, I thought I would put a selection of the books that I have read and enjoyed so far this year into a blog post, so that you might be able to take your own reading inspiration from it!  Enjoy!

 

The Secret History

-Donna Tartt

This book is categorised as a psychological thriller, but I found that it also contained so many Romantic elements!  It tells the story of a group of young, eccentric students, living and studying in New England and wishing to break free from all social norms.  Together, and under the guidance of their mysterious yet devoted professor, they explore the boundaries and limitations of humanity and what is right and wrong.

I was totally hooked on this book.  I found the way that Tartt uses her narrative to create such suspence to be really clever and very addictive; the way the book evolves from beginning to end is staggering, and somehow reminds me of a kind of decent into hell.  It is a dark story, beautifully written and totally compelling.

 

 

The Neapolitan Novels

  1. My Brilliant Friend
  2. The Story of a New Name
  3. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
  4. The Story of the Lost Child

-Elena Ferrante

I have spoken about my experience of reading these four novels on my blog before, and all I can say is that these are some of my most favourite pieces of writing ever.  I have never felt so touched, high as a cloud, depressed, questioning of my own life and choices or simply in awe of any book before.

Ultimately, this is one recounted telling, from start to end, of the lives of two heroines, Lila and Elena, from the beginning of their childhood friendship, right up until the present day.  Their stories take us through their lives, with all of the difficulties and challenges that they face in different situations; what it means to be a woman, suppression, political angst, breaking free from their roots, marriage and children, love, friendship… The books are so packed full of emotion, passion, intelligence, and I don’t think I have ever gone from loving to hating one character so much and so often as I did with Lila.

Some people have said that it is a good idea to read other books in-between these novels, which I might concur with, just to feel part of the real world again, although in reality I absolutely could not take a break from book two to book four!  Reading these books was one of those life events that I won’t forget.

 

The Animators

-Kayla Rae Whitaker

I really enjoyed this artistic and powerful novel.  The story is about two female animators who meet in art school in New York, one of them being the reckless, outgoing and exceptionally talented one, the other being more inwardly troubled, quiet and introverted.  They develop a strong connection to each other, out of respect for the other’s work and also through each feeling like a somewhat of a ‘misfit’ or an ‘outsider’ in this world, and decide to make a long-lasting business partnership.  Together, they create stunning and hugely successful animated movies based on their own lives and experiences, which bring up all sorts of personal issues for each of them, and for me, this is really what gave the book such depth.  The story ended up being about so much more than art, but about relationships and sexuality, told through the wonderful subtleties of this incredible art form.

I found the story to have a rich and capturing narrative, and the book gave me a huge appreciation for animation and the work that animators do, which I really had no idea about before reading this.  It is such an intimate and sad novel, but also totally heart-rendering.

 

All The Light We Cannot See

-Anthony Doerr

This poignant and heartfelt war novel is told from a slightly different perspective than what you normally get from this genre.  Set around World War Two, we follow two different stories, told inter-connectedly alongside each other, from two different sides of the war.  The first is about a young, blind, French girl and her father, who is the keeper of keys at a museum in Paris.  We fall in love with this pair immediately and become very emotionally drawn into their experience of the war in France.  The second story is about a young German orphan boy and his sister, who live in an orphanage in Germany.  The boy ends up in a special, elite, Nazi school, and here Doerr portrays some hideous and revolting events that went on from this side of the war through the eyes of this boy, somehow making it feel even worse.

Although, of course, the life of each child is completely different, and they each experience incredibly different versions of war life, they are also somehow connected and, on reading the book, you feel very much the bond between the two.  Doerr cleverly draws on the innocence and confusing emotions of children from both sides of the battle, making it an exceptionally touching and refreshing read.  I would definitely recommend this book.

 

All Grown Up

-Jami Attenberg

I was really interested to read this book, as I had not seen or heard of anything like it before.  The story focuses on a woman in her middle age, who has chosen not to marry or have children and her struggle to find her own identity in our society that doesn’t yet know how to categorise or view women who choose this direction in their lives.  I found it really brilliant how the story unfolded right within the inner workings of the mind of this woman – it felt like we got a real window into her thoughts and struggles and this made it even more captivating and revealing.

I think a book like this is highly relevant right now, whether you are a woman or a man, a feminist or not – this book makes a point which is something we can all think about.  The ‘old spinster’ view of single women in their 50s and 60s, who don’t have children, just doesn’t apply; it’s old-fashioned and out-dated and reading this book really made an impact on me and how I thought about this issue.

 

Swing Time

-Zadie Smith

This book tackles issues of race, class division, politics and gender stereotypes.  It’s about two girls, growing up on council estates in ‘rough’ London.  They each struggle with the challenges of their social contexts, but find a connection and a ‘place’ for themselves within dance.  For one girl, dance is a way to achieve a form of success, a chance for her to express herself and to be good at something.  For the other, it’s more of an exploration of her ethnicity, all about body shapes and rhythm which intrigue her.

Although I went through several different phases of being really engrossed in the book and not loving it so much, overall I found to be quite a powerful read and I would definitely be interested to check out more work from this author.  I found Smith’s writing style to be very vibrant and colourful, it’s almost effortless reading.

Reading this book has also made me very aware of social issues, particularly focusing on minority groups, which, for some reason, were escaping my reading choices.  I would really like to expand my reading to explore and discover much more in this category, especially any books written by authors from social minority backgrounds, so if you have any recommendations for me, please let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

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