Bookshelf – What I’m Reading #1
In between the books I’ve been reading on pregnancy and now parenting, I’ve been tackling my “to be read” book list this summer, which includes 30+ books I have on my heaving bookcase and many many more on my Amazon wishlist! I pick up books that capture my interest here and there when I browse Daunts Books, Waterstones and Foyles, or local charity shops or used book stores, where I’ve made some wonderful finds to add to the ever-growing TBR pile. The trouble is finding the time to read them all!
I expect to gradually slow down over these next two months, so this is the perfect time to catch up on these reads before my life gets busier than ever. In this regular feature, I’ll share my latest reads, the books I’m currently reading and what’s next or new in the TBR pile.
Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the ‘Cemetery of Lost Books’, a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles that have long gone out of print. To this library, a man brings his 10-year-old son Daniel one cold morning in 1945. Daniel is allowed to choose one book from the shelves and pulls out ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Julian Carax. But as Daniel grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julian Carax and to save those he left behind.
This is a beautifully written book set in the time of revolutionary and post-revolutionary Barcelona amid horrific war crimes and uncertainty. It’s a mystery thriller with romance, humor and tragedy and a group of characters with captivating stories. Halfway through the book, as the mystery begins to unravel and secrets are being revealed, I just didn’t want to stop reading. You gradually begin to discover the truth behind each person involved in the mystery, and soon Daniel’s own life becomes intertwined with Julian Carax’s. It’s an outstanding novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and highly recommend. I now have two more books to add to the TBR pile, the next books in Zafón’s “Cemetery of Lost Books” series: The Angel’s Game and the recently released The Prisoner of Heaven.
Santa Teresa, on the Mexico-US border, is an urban sprawl that draws in lost souls. Among them are three academics on the trail of a reclusive German author; a New York reporter on his first Mexican assignment; a widowed philosopher; and a police detective in love with an elusive older woman. But there is a darker side still to this fictional town. It is an emblem of corruption, violence and decadence, and on from which, over the course of a decade, hundreds of women have mysteriously, often brutally, disappeared.
Published posthumously, more than a year after the author’s death, 2666 is a 900 page tome broken into five parts. The first part, “The Part About the Critics”, follows four professors – from England, Italy, France and Spain – linked in their study and pursuit of a reclusive German author, Benno von Archimboldi, which eventually leads them to Santa Teresa, the Mexican border town where a serial killer is operating. We begin to have an inkling of the dark mysteries plaguing the town in the second part, “The Part About Amalfitano” – which tells the back story of a local professor who hosts the foreigners during their visit, who is concerned that his daughter will fall victim to the Santa Teresa serial killer(s) – and the third, “The Part About Fate” – which follows the story of New York based journalist Oscar Fate, who is dispatched to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match and becomes interested in the continuous spate of unsolved murders. The fourth, and longest part, “The Part About the Crimes”, is nearly 300 pages of descriptions of the hundreds of murders, usually involving rape, reported from the beginning of 1993 to the end of 1997. Interspersed with these descriptions are the stories of those attempting to solve the murders. The final part, “The Part About Archimboldi”, takes us back to follow the life of Hans Reiter – as a child, as a World War 2 soldier and as an adult living in post-war Germany.
I found it a challenge to be drawn into this book and didn’t feel that it picked up until I was well into the second part. At times I’d lose concentration when I felt like the story was rambling on, and it took some perseverance to get through certain sections that appeared to have no meaning, in order to unravel the mysteries of Santa Teresa that the author progressively reveals. Each part is a separate novel in and of itself, however, they are all connected with a common theme, unsolved mysteries and every now and then, discreet details that had me going back to re-read certain sections. You’re left with many unanswered questions, but what rings very true, for many similar towns around the world, is the appalling corruption, violence, desperation, poverty and, at times, disregard for human life displayed in Santa Teresa, all a reflection of Bolaño’s view of the modern world.
“Seek and ye shall find.”
With these words echoing in his head, eminent Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon awakes in a hospital bed with no recollection of where he is or how he got there. Nor can he explain the origin of the macabre object that is found hidden in his belongings. A threat to his life will propel him and a young doctor, Sienna Brooks, into a breakneck chase across the city of Florence. Only Langdon’s knowledge of hidden passageways and ancient secrets that lie behind its historic facade can save them from the clutches of their unknown pursuers. With only a few lines from Dante’s dark and epic masterpiece, The Inferno, to guide them, they must decipher a sequence of codes buried deep within some of the most celebrated artefacts of the Renaissance – sculptures, paintings, buildings – to find the answers to a puzzle which may, or may not, help them save the world from a terrifying threat. Set against an extraordinary landscape inspired by one of history’s most ominous literary classics, Inferno is Dan Brown’s most compelling and thought-provoking novel yet, a breathless race-against-time thriller that will grab you from page one and not let you go until you close the book.
I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s books and this ended up being my least favorite of the Robert Langdon series. It’s an easy read and I was still interested in getting through it, but I didn’t feel as captivated or intrigued as I did with The Da Vinci Code or even Angels and Demons.
As a health journalist and mother-of-three, Lucy Atkins is familiar with both the medical aspects of childbirth and baby development, and the reality of day-to-day life as an exhausted first-time mum or dad. In her feisty, humorous style, she begins with that first mind-blowing day and addresses the issues unique to the first-time parent who stares at their newborn and thinks “Where are the instructions?”
Anticipating the questions and concerns of all new mothers–Why does my baby cry so much? Will I ever lose all this weight? Am I a bad parent because…?–the book provides practical advice and level-headed reassurance. It addresses the needs of the baby and, very importantly, those of the parent during the first year of their baby’s life.
There will inevitably be at least one parenting book on my Currently Reading list for a while! Last week our antenatal classes began and I wanted to start reading up on what to expect with our newborn baby alongside what we’re learning in our classes. I just picked this up yesterday and read the first chapter, “Hello! The mind-blowing first few days”. The book is full of information in an easy to read format, with some bullet point lists and images showing step-by-step how-tos. This looks like it will become an invaluable resource for both my husband and me that I imagine we’ll be going back to over the next several months!
For anyone who has been to Italy, the fantasy of living the Italian life is powerfully seductive. But to truly become Italian, one must learn the language. This is how Dianne Hales began her journey. In La Bella Lingua, she brings the story of her decades-long experience with the the world’s most loved and lovable language together with explorations of Italy’s history, literature, art, music, movies, lifestyle, and food in a true opera amorosa – a labor of her love of Italy.
This book popped up in my “Amazon Recommends” list. I love travel writing and I am interested in reading about the evolution of the Italian language, which Dianne Hales traces through history and country’s literature and culture to reveal the meaning behind common phrases and slang. What a change from the mysteries and thrillers I’ve been reading recently!
From the “To Be Read” Pile
The Secret History of Costaguana, the second novel by Juan Gabriel Vásquez to be published in English, is José Altamirano’s riposte to Joseph Conrad. It is a big novel, tragic and despairing, comic and insightful by turns, told by a bumptious narrator with a score to settle. It is Latin America’s post-modern answer to Europe’s modernist vision. It is a superb, joyful, thoughtful and rumbustious novel that will establish Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s reputation as one of the leading novelists of his generation.
Young Rachel Kalama, growing up in idyllic Honolulu in the 1890s, dreams of seeing far-off lands, but at the age of seven Rachel’s dreams are shattered by the discovery that she has leprosy. Forcibly removed from the family, she’s sent to an isolated leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. In exile Rachel finds a family of friends to replace the family she’s lot – but loss remains a constant shadow as Rachel watches those she loves succumb to the ravages of leprosy. Moloka’i is a story of hope, dignity, and the strength of the human spirit.