A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (Vintage) - I had heard so much about Anne Tyler's work that I was slightly disappointed to read her take on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, titled Vinegar Girl which, in my opinion, simply failed to deliver. So I was pleasantly surprised when I devoured 300-pages-long A Spool of Blue Thread within a week (while going to work and studying for my uni classes) and enjoyed every bit of it. The leading family of the whole story, the Whitshanks, looks like a family united by sweet memories and laughter. Yet as the plot travels back in time to Baltimore in the 1920s and then back again to the 21st century, four generations of lives slowly unfold and the realities of jealousy, disappointment and silenced secrets reveal that not everything is as harmonious as one might think at first glance. Tyler possesses a wonderful ability to depict those little, human details that make her book so reliable, leaving you to gasp for air when coming across certain passages (no spoilers though). And yet, somehow there is actually no real drama, just life lazily rolling and flowing on the pages in front your eyes. But to keep it a bit more down to earth, I also read her more recent work Clock Dance and was not even half that interested in its characters compare to, now my beloved, A Spool of Blue Thread.
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (Sandstone Press) - The story set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman follows three sisters as they fall in love, hold on to their hopes and live their disappointments, all along the changes happening in their homeland. It took me some time to properly start enjoying it as there are about five different narrators delivering the history of one family and people involved in it. But once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. Alharthi skilfully reflects on the history of the country facing turbulent times of change, attempting to redefine itself after the colonial era. But it is a political novel just as a family saga, with the writer putting alongside each other four generations of one family, where each member has his very own personal outlook on how to approach life. If you want to discover other than British or American writing, and you are craving for something else than an easy-to-predict plot, I can only recommend the latest winner of the Man Booker International Prize.
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (Fitzcarraldo Editions) - As mentioned above, I have been trying to read books by more international authors and hence I came across this treasure by well acclaimed Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk. A narrative full of airports, short reflections and long personal stories, including the story of Chopin's heart. Do not expect a coherent story line but rather snippets that, when put all together, form a beautiful mosaic of life. But more about my love for Tokarczuk here.
Normal People by Sally Rooney (Faber&Faber) - I know, everyone loves her writing and originality. A kind of fresh voice when it comes to millennial fiction. Well, the thing is, I find Rooney to be a very talented writer and a well-articualted activist (becoming a strong and important voice during the abortion referendum in Ireland). However, when it comes to both of her books, Normal People as well as Conversation with Friends, I never had *THAT* moment when reading them. Normal People is a story about two young people from different social backgrounds who are, nevertheless, inevitably drawn to each other. It has strong parts, it opens up important yet silenced topics such as depression among young people and the feeling of not fitting in. But it does not leave me speechless as, for example, A Spool of Blue Thread does in its strongest moments...
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (Harper Perennial) - I would strongly recommend this to anyone who is a book lover or just wants to learn something new without getting bored. The author herself, a bold and independent university teacher, gathers every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics in her living room. What seems as a simple book club, discussing masterpieces such as Lolita or the work of Henri James and Jane Austen, quickly becomes a safe place where the women can freely share their opinions, passions and fears. Although I have some common knowledge about the Islamic Republic of Iran, this real life story lets you into the households and minds of those who wanted more from their lives than following the strict laws and being scared for their lives.
The Party by Elizabeth Day (4th Estate) - Oh boy, how much I love Elizabeth Day. Firstly I came across her psychological crime fiction The Party, but recently I have been obsessed with her podcast How to Fail with Elizabeth Day (I can only strongly recommend this - she chats with famous people about their failures which make you feel slightly better about your self - aka, we are all humans, even the brilliant Phoebe Waller Bridge). So, the book! The tale about social climbing in the 21st century British posh society, about love, loyalty and betrayal with a pinch of British sense of humour, you name it and you get it. The narrative takes off at a police station where Martin, the main protagonist, recounts what happened at a party that went terribly wrong. Slowly, you travel in time, following Martin back to his university years and a secret that has changed everything. It is not as good as Gone Girl, needless to say, but it makes a strong case about friendship as well as how much you can actually trust the main narrator's version of the story...
The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor (Penguin) - I devoured this book within 24 hours (yes, I kept reading till 2am, when my eyes gave up on me) and it made me too scared to leave my room to go to the bathroom (yes, I am that type of person when it comes to horrors and thrillers). The novel starts in 1986, when young Eddie gets an idea from his teacher to draw a chalk man to leave messages for his friends. What starts as a fun game eventually turns into dark, unsolved secret... So when thirty years later now adult Ed receives a letter containing nothing but a chalk and a drawing of a figure, he knows that the past is coming to haunt him in his present. It is thrilling, the plot is build up well and most importantly, it does not lose on its pace as it moves to the final chapters, revealing a rather unexpected twist. A good summer read as well as a chilling winter book.
The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder - I swear that whenever I read anything written by Scandinavian writers, I am amazed how far you can stretch the limit of imagination (just have a look on The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen and you will understand me). Jostein Gaarder, the Norwegian author celebrated for his bestselling book Sophie's World, had been pretty unknown to me until my stepmom gave me this book for my birthday. It tells a story of a boy who with his dad sets on a journey to Greece to find his mom and bring her back home. That still sounds normal, but just before you come across the part with a glowing golden fish, magically tasting liqueur and a disappearing gnome.
Trilogy (Outline, Transition, Kudos) by Rachel Cusk (Faber & Faber) - I heard so much about this trilogy that I simply could not resist getting myself a copy. I can honestly say I most enjoyed Cusk's second book, Transit, while the other two left me rather mildly interested, fully enjoying one chapter while in the following one I would have to force myself to get through. Seeing all of the rave reviews made me wonder if maybe I had missed on something in the books since I did not fall in love with them as much as the critics - although I do agree with them when giving Cusk credit for coming up with a new way of narrating a story (the main character, a freshly divorced writer, moves to London with her two sons and through the stories of other people she encounters, she eventually outlines and reflects on her very own life). My minor disappointment made me then reflect on the question of what a good book actually is? How come I do not always agree with the literary critics and rather enjoy reading a book that is not necessarily praised by everyone? Another prime example of this can be the Man Booker Prize. I always try to read the annual winners, yet the winning books from the last two years, by Anna Burns and George Saunders respectively, left me rather unsure about my overall impression (not saying that they are not well written, but they simply did not capture me). Anyway, back to the work of Cusk - if you want a slow read with a lot of reflections on life, definitely go for it. I believe that one day I will revisit it and, maybe that time, I will fully fall in love with it!
Milkman by Anna Burns (Faber & Faber) - Following my reflection on what a good book is in the previous paragraph, I bought this novel as a reaction to Burns' win of the Man Booker Prize 2018. However, I have not finished it yet, struggling to follow her long sentences (almost like a stream of consciousness narrative style).
Van Gogh's Ear by Bernadette Murphy (Vintage) - If you live in Amsterdam, or even if you just come for a quick visit, you will definitely come across Van Gogh and his museum (never mind that he never properly lived in Amsterdam as that he spent the majority of his artistic life in France). The museum has much to offer, but if you want to learn a bit more about his life and what (might have) happened that night when he cut off his ear, treat yourself to this book. Murphy follows Van Gogh's steps and slowly, piece by piece, puts together a mosaic of his life, revealing up until now unknown details.
Creative Inspiration by Vincent Van Gogh - edited by Kelly Shetron (September Publishing) - Because of my newly discovered love for Van Gogh's work, I bought this collection of his thoughts on creativity, art and life in general. The short snippets taken from his letters and diaries are accompanied with his sketches which I personally absolutely adore (definitely more than his famous sunflowers, I have never liked those).
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (Penguin) - I have never been a really big fan of short stories, but this collection of Lydia Davis' work dating all the way back to the end of the 20th century has made me readjust my assertion - I am not a fan of short stories, except some special cases, and the entire collection of the short stories by Davis! They reflect on everything, from a professor failing to learn German to two lovers reflecting on their relationship. No need to read it all at once but rather keep it on your night stand and just dive in time to time, whenever you feel like it.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami (Penguin) - Also, speaking of short stories I should probably add Murakami's collection containing some pretty crazy ones. What I love and almost hate about Murakami is the way in which he finishes almost all of the stories with a cliffhanger. Just give me a clear ending, please! Anyway, his language is beautiful as always (bravo to his translators), his topics and ideas make you think and maybe leave you a bit confused. But that is Murakami, take it or leave it.
Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (Atlantic Books) - Since I lived in Amsterdam for almost a year, I had to read something by a Dutch writer, right? I came across this novel by Herman Koch, the writer especially know for his masterpiece The Dinner. Marc Schlosser is a doctor to the rich and famous in the Netherlands. So when he and his family gets invited to a summer house of his patient, a popular actor Ralph Meier, he does not see why not. But before the suntan fades away, the actor dies and the medical board accuses Schlosser of negligence. Ralph's wife, however, says Marc murder him. The book was well translated, it was easy to read, but I have no reason to actually go back to it. An easy summer read that will be ideal for your vacation and then to be passed on.
The Break Down by B. A. Paris (HarperCollins Publishers) - So, how do I feel about this one... B. A. Paris is well-known for her mysterious thrillers such as Behind Closed Doors. And yet, I cannot count myself as her fan. Cass Anderson, the young, happily married protagonist of the book, did not stop to help a woman in a car in the middle of dark woods. Now, the woman is dead and Cass cannot stop thinking of that night. Consumed by guilt, she also starts forgetting little things, which quickly escalates to some embarrassing moments. My only problem with this book was how much Cass was doubting everything and especially herself over the course of the plot as her memory seems to be getting worst and worst. And I mean, you can successfully convey the feeling of confusion as a result of your fading memory without making your reader hate the protagonist (Still Alice by Lisa Genova about a Harvard professor with the early stage of Alzheimer's disease can be a prime example, and I loved every page of it). But here Cass simply looks dull and I had very little to no compassion for her problems. The conclusion is good, but I simply struggled to get there...
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (Penguin Books) - I read Simsion's popular The Rosie Project about four years ago and loved every bit of it. So coming across his second book following lives of Don Tillman and his wife Rosie back in October '18, it is quiet possible that I simply had different expectations or that my reading taste changed since the last time Simsion's writing had made me laugh till I cried. The plot is unexciting, predictable and it simply drags on instead of admitting to itself that it has nothing new to add to the overall story. While in the first book Don's Asperger's syndrome opens up reader's eyes and helps him see what the syndrome looks like in everyday life, in the second book the writer makes Don look like an idiot.
P.S. Back in November 2018 I also read Felix Culpa by Jeremy Gavron (Scribe) and Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard (Harper Perennial). But somehow, these books have not left that much in me so I am unable to give you a proper review here.