Second Quarter of 2020 in Books

One day in May Andy said, we’ve blown our book budget, we can’t buy any more books till next year… I’m going to list the books in the order I read them. I’ve been selective of which book I read alongside which book (since I now have a bigger book collection by blowing our book budget). At the moment, I read one book in bed and one in the living room. I try to read one thick and one thin; one whose protagonist is a man and one a woman; one speculative novel and one non-speculative, to have some variety. And we (I) have increased the book budget. What budget?

The stars below are my Goodreads ratings (out of five). I rarely give a book five stars. There are a dozen five-star books in my over 150 book collection on Goodreads and you probably have heard me talking about them already because those are the ones that I can’t help talking about. By the way, if you’re on Goodreads too, please find me, I’m kind of lonely there.

One more quick note, all my Kindle books are Daily Deal purchases. That feature leads me to new places (some wonderful, some rubbish) and brings me a daily dilemma and delight to no end. In addition to the books below, I got Conversation with Friends, A Gentleman in Moscow, When Breath Becomes Air, Home Fire, all for 99p. I’m the happiest girl.

April

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel ****

Historic fiction. I watched a few interviews of Mantel talking about the writing of the Cromwell books and found them really interesting. For example, why does she use the present tense? ‘There didn’t seem to be any choice… young Cromwell is looking at this and we’re right behind his eyes.’ Why do Cromwell, Anne Boleyn and all the other people, feel extraordinarily contemporary? ‘They were just living in the moment. They didn’t know they lived in history. They’re more people than characters. Those are just clothes not costumes.’ Absolutely brilliant. Looking forward to reading book three and trying to put it off at the same time because there will be no more after book three. No more story because Cromwell will be dead.

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer ** (Kindle)

Speculative fiction. It might be well written and groundbreaking but it’s not my cup of tea. About human survival in a hostile environment as well as a war between an alien creature and a flying bear. This is not a very comprehensive summary. See my full review here.

A Shepherd’s Life by W. H. Hudson ***

Non-fiction. Borne was so weird I felt like I had to read something extra-ordinary to balance it out. A Shepherd’s Life is non-fiction on a shepherd’s life on the Wiltshire Downs and the general life stories of the ‘nobodies’ in the country in the 1900s. A quiet read. Did exactly what I hoped it would do: rid the weirdness of Borne from my brain and fill it with the beauty of nature and everyday life. See full review here.

The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis **

Speculative fiction. I periodically try reading C. S. Lewis. This was my most recent effort. It’s a fiction book discussing the idea of heaven and hell. It’s very clever as Lewis always is, in terms of how effective the writing is and how much depth each allegory has (the whole story is like a giant allegory). I still found it hard especially in the second half of the book. See full review here. I feel bad giving Lewis two stars, but I don’t think he would care.

May

I read a LOT of Kindle Samples in May. Have to say again how great that feature is (in addition to the Daily Deals). You can see if the story’s promising and get a feel of the writing style by sampling 10% of the book – if the book is a door stop, the sample can go up to ten chapters – without worrying about the shop assistants’ stares and feeling your knees bending the wrong way (standing too long).

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy **

Fiction. A new author for me. A story of mother and daughter relationship. Dream-like. I understand what the story is saying on the surface but not sure if I’m missing something implicit but important therefore missing the point of the book. See review here.

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin ****

Brilliant fantasy (review here). Will be reading the second one in the trilogy soon.

Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry ****

Christian non-fiction. Compact and informative. It’s written by a Christian pastor who experiences same-sex attraction himself and it’s written for Christians who know very little about the subject. The focus is personal, not political. I’d say it’s for caring and loving friends, not for debates. It responds to many common questions like ‘Surely same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?’ ‘Isn’t the Christian view of sexuality dangerous and harmful?’ ‘Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?’ and gives concise and Scripture-based answers. The most helpful of all? “God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe. It is the same invitation to find fullness of life in God, the same offer of forgiveness and deep, wonderful, life-changing love.” I would read if Allberry writes a longer version on this subject.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo ***

Fiction. First of the Women’s Prize 2020 shortlisted books I read. Loved the first section of the book best. There were some highlight moments in that section that compelled me to read them out loud to Andy. The rest was less impressive. See review here.

The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12 by Dale Ralph Davis ****

Christian non-fiction. I’m going to write a separate post about my Bible reading adventures. But just briefly, after my solo trip into the Book of Revelation, I set off to the land of Psalms. I invited Davis to be my guide and this is the first book from his Psalms collection. (The journey in the land of Psalms is going to be a long one but I already have the Book of Hebrews in mind for the next destination and I’d like to invite Jen Wilkin to be my guide. What do you think?)

The Secret History by Donna Tartt ****

Fiction. It seems that the longer it’s been, the better I love it. Which is rare. This might well end up on my top books for 2020 by the end of the year. When I posted the full review on my Facebook, I wrote this, “this verse kept popping into my head when I read this book: What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” The charm hides the darkness. But the darkness is human and real in each one of us.

June

June was not a good month in terms of reading. I expected a few hyped-up books to be great, but I was disappointed a lot. I’ve read three Women’s Prize shortlisted books so far and I’m not enthusiastic about reading the rest of them, except The Mirror and the Light obviously, as I explained here already. And three books in, I still believe The Mirror and the Light will be the best.

One more book I have been reading every day before bed is A Gentleman in Moscow. I’m not including it here because I haven’t finished. But that’s a brilliant one.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell **

Historic fiction. Second of the Women’s Prize 2020 shortlisted books I read. Don’t like. See my full review here.

A New Day by Emma Scrivener ****

Non-fiction. Looking back to lockdown one day, I could say, people learnt new languages and kept their gardens meticulous. But I learnt about mental health issues for the first time and this book was my introduction. See full review here.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss ** (Kindle)

Fantasy. I feel really guilty about giving such a rant about it. If you’ve been reading my book reviews, you’d know that it’s rare! I’ve been thinking about it since I finished writing the review and I haven’t changed my mind about it. The story might be worth reading. But my opinion about the main character remains – I don’t like him. Apologies again to fans and the author.

Pray Big by Alistair Begg ***

Christian non-fiction. A small and easy book on prayer. We need to watch our attitude: we are to be humble and dependent if we want to ‘pray big’ or to pray in a godly way at all. We need to reflect on the content of our prayer: do we ask for food and clothing more than for God’s Kingdom? One thing stands out in this chapter: the author wishes himself and us all to stop saying ‘be with…’! In the next five chapters, the author explains what some of the bullet points of ‘kingdom prayers’ are. This book reminds me a lot of Don Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett***

Fiction. The life story of two siblings. The storyline plays a supporting role. What stands out for me most are the characters. Each one is distinctive and I really love the sister Maeve. See review here.

Weather by Jenny Offill*

Fiction. The third of the Women’s Prize 2020 shortlisted books I read. I have no idea what she’s on about and I’m not even going to try writing a separate post dedicated for it. It’s mostly the internal monologue of a woman, who is a wife, mother, sister to a man who has mental health issues (addiction?), daughter to a woman in poverty but zealous in religious work, librarian, personal assistant to a minor-influencer. I admit I’ve never read books like this before so I’m clearly inexperienced. Not in a hurry read another one of this kind either.

Happy reading everyone!

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