Birds Without Wings – Louis de Bernieres

Birds Without Wings – Louis de Bernieres

“Man is a bird without wings and a bird is a man without sorrow.”

I adore Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The first time I read it was on holiday, sitting in the sun listening to the birds and the crickets, the scents of oranges and lemons filling the air. I am taken back every time I reread it.

However, this is not a review about Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. This is a review about a less well known book by the same author- Birds Without Wings. I didn’t read this on holiday, because I have none of the nostalgia when I reread it. Instead, it is unsettling.

Louis de Bernieres weaves intensely real stories about incredibly believable people. His settings (this one is set in Anatolia) are compelling and I was left with the impression that I had physically been there. But, Louis de Bernieres takes these people, who you come to love, and these settings, where you can see yourself living, and smashes them up, leaving you heartbroken.

Of course, the smashing is done artfully and poetically. He is mimicking the destruction that occurred during World War I. He turns it into many intimate and devastating personal stories,    reflecting the huge loss of life during that conflict. He manages this, in my opinion, better than that other master of war stories, Sebastian Faulks.

At its heart, this is a love story, as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is. It is as raw and desperate and bittersweet as love can be.

7.9/10

Birds Without Wings

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Brushstrokes in Time – Sylvia Vetta

Brushstrokes in Time – Sylvia Vetta

“I come into this world

Bringing only paper, rope, a shadow.”

My Bank Holiday Monday has not quite gone the way I expected it to. I had planned a Spring clean, preparations for the coming week at work, perhaps a walk. None of this has yet happened. I have instead read, from start to finish, Brushstrokes in Time by Sylvia Vetta.

The story, based (heart-wrenchingly) on real-life events, is set in China and spans decades, through the 1950s to the 1990s. Prior to reading this book, I had not considered life in this period as particularly difficult in China. I was born in 1988, and this struggle has been invisible to me before now. Of course, I have seen the image of the solitary man in Tiananmen Square holding up the tanks, but I didn’t know the reasons for this, nor had I considered the human stories behind it.

As with all my reviews, I do not wish to give the plot away here (the joy of reading a story is discovery, surely?) but to briefly overview – we follow a young woman who just wants to experience the joy and beauty in the world. Perhaps unwittingly, she becomes a scapegoat for a regime which is violently and embarrassingly lacking in self-confidence by this time.

By the time I finished reading, I (normally stone-hearted, as anyone who knows me will tell you) was wiping tears from my face. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the story is that our main character was relaying her life story to her daughter, born in America and unaware of the struggles her immigrant mother had faced.

A truly human story, in equal measures enlightening and disheartening. I read this story as an ebook but will be purchasing a physical copy for my bookcase so I don’t forget it.

8.5/10

Brushstrokes in Time

Top 10 Non-Fiction Books To Expand Your Mind

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“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”
― Charles William Eliot

The value of non-fiction books is so often overlooked in favour of other, more instant sources of knowledge (cough…internet…cough), but sometimes there is nothing so beautiful and thought provoking as a non-fiction book. In no particular order, here are my top ten non-fiction books for expanding your mind. Get learning!

1. A History of the World in 100 Objects – Neil MacGregor

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Beautifully presented, easy to read, and we learn about the civilisations of the world, from ancient history to modern day. The objects are intimate, strange and tell such wonderful stories about our predecessors.

A History of the World in 100 Objects

2. Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

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Explains statistics in laymans terms and somehow, amazingly, makes them exciting, interesting and endlessly entertaining. An excellent way to learn about how statistics are used both correctly and incorrectly.

Freakonomics

3. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson

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Although outdated now, this book should be read by all- it led to the understanding most of us have about the effect we as a species has on our planet. Particularly pertinent due to high profile climate change deniers!

Silent Spring (Penguin Modern Classics)

4. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking

Stephen hawking a brief history of time

After I had read this, I felt like my brain had doubled in size. I just understood so much more. Incredible facts and theories about the universe we live in.

A Brief History Of Time: From Big Bang To Black Holes

5. The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt

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In our modern society, we often look back on Nazi Germany and wonder how it happened, because we wouldn’t vote for that. This important book, written just after WW2 highlights some disquieting similarities to our world now.

The Origins of Totalitarianism

6. The Story of Art – E. H. Gombrich

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A beautiful book which will give you a background to the most admired works of art in the world. Make sure you get a recent edition which will include some modern art too.

The Story of Art

7. A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

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‘Feminism’ is so often seen, ridiculously, as a dirty word. Read A Room of One’s Own to see why it is necessary. A quick read, but an important one.

A Room of One’s Own (Penguin Modern Classics)

8. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

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Widely dubbed as the first ever true-crime book, Truman Capote meticulously picks apart and examines the lives of a murdered family, and looks into the motivation behind the horrific crime.

In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences (Penguin Modern Classics)

9. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks

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Oliver Sacks recounts the tales of patients with neurological disorders. Endlessly fascinating and desperately human stories.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

10. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – Christopher McDougall

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An amazing eye opener about the capabilities of the human body! If you want to learn what your body can do, this book is a brilliant place to start. Truly inspiring.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Enjoyed this? Why not have a look at 30 books to read before you’re 30.

La Bête humaine (The Beast Within) – Zola

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“As if one killed by calculation! A person kills only from an impulse that springs from his blood and sinews, from the vestiges of ancient struggles, from the need to live and the joy of being strong.”

If you haven’t read any Zola, you must! His characters are always flawed, gritty and real, forcing their way through life with the odds against them. Rather than focusing on the privileged and rich, Zola’s lens is on the underbelly of society – the poor, the ones whose struggles are more desperate and difficult.

In La Bete Humaine, Zola offers a character with a hereditary madness – at many points during the book, Lantier heads out with the intention of murdering a woman. Zola perfectly depicts the all consuming desire Lantier feels.

This is not all, though – Lantier, filled with rage and passion, is not the only character with a ‘beast within’; he is far from the only one in the book with murderous intentions. The other characters, rather than being ‘mad’, are selfish, jealous and grasping, trampling over others to achieve their goals.

This is not a cheerful story. None of Zola’s are. But it is a work of art; passionate and brutal.

9/10

 La Bete Humaine (Penguin Classics)

30 Books To Read Before You’re 30 (part two)

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This is part two of my list of 30 books to read before you’re 30 (the big day is coming around all too quickly for me…). If you haven’t read part one, you can find it here. So, without further delay, here are numbers 16 – 30:

16. The Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemingway

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This is a beautiful, calming story which really put my life and petty worries into perspective. A joy of a book.

The Old Man and the Sea

17. Animal Farm – George Orwell

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” – need I say any more? Everyone has heard of this novel, and everyone should read it.

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (Penguin Modern Classics)

18. Dracula – Bram Stoker

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What a story! This book chilled me to the bone and showed me the true power of horror writing.

Dracula: The Original Edition

19. Jane Eyre -Charlotte Bronte

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This book is here – not only because I love everything by the Brontes – but also because it taught me how I didn’t want to behave in a relationship. I saw Jane as a pushover, and knew I could never act that way – though even so the ending makes my knees weak!

Jane Eyre (Wordsworth Classics)

20. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

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I couldn’t include Jane Eyre without the antithesis Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth taught me to be brave and speak my mind, regardless of what friends and family might be saying.

Pride and Prejudice (Wordsworth Classics)

21. The Book Thief – Marcus Zusac

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A stunning but absolutely heartbreaking story. I read it when the book came out and it has stayed with me ever since – although I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it again.

The Book Thief (Definitions Young Adult)

22. Ulysses – James Joyce

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This looks daunting because of its length, but the stream of consciousness made me feel for the first time ever as though I was in someone else’s head. Disquieting!

Ulysses

23. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

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Beautiful and moving, this book made me think deeply about love, the futility of war, parenthood and numerous other themes.

Birdsong

24. MacBeth – William Shakespeare

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My favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, this is rife with action, exciting characters (who doesn’t know about Lade Macbeth or the witches?) and plenty of memorable quotes. Everyone should read at least one Shakespeare play, and this is the best.

Macbeth (Wordsworth Classics)

25. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis American Psycho

Oh, what a book. This taught me that a book can be far more entertaining than a horror movie. Review here.

American Psycho

26. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

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This book should be part of the National Curriculum. As it’s not, read it before you’re 30.

The Diary of a Young Girl: Definitive Edition

27. The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch

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The last lecture Randy Pausch gave before he died, this will make you rethink everything and realise what you truly value in life.

The Last Lecture

28. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

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An honest depiction of mental illnesses and their effect on everyone. Review here.

Norwegian Wood

29. Les Liaisons Dangereuses- Choderlos de Laclos

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This book is not just here for the story – it’s also for the political and social outrage and change words can cause. Banned in many countries, it eventually led the way to a societal shift on how sex and adultery were understood.

Les Liaisons dangereuses (Oxford World’s Classics)

30. The Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling

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I couldn’t write this list without including Harry Potter, and I couldn’t choose between those books either. They all have to be here. I grew up with these, and they have shaped the person I am today.

Harry Potter Box Set: The Complete Collection (Children’s Paperback)

I hope you’ve enjoyed the list. Let me know if you think there are any I’ve missed!

30 Books To Read Before You’re 30 (part one)

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With my 30th birthday looming soon, I’ve compiled a list of the books I think are important to read before you’re 30. Some are on the list for the intellectual development they provide, some simply for the pure joy of their entertainment. In no particular order, here is part one…(part two here)

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams

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Laugh out loud funny! This is one of those books I finished and went straight back to the beginning. I read it as an angst filled teenage whilst listening to Kashmir by Led Zeppelin – perfection.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

2. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

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Heathcliff 😍 The ultimate anti-hero, but such a real and gritty character. The Story is as bleak as the moors it is set on – truly heartbreaking.

Wuthering Heights (Wordsworth Classics)

3. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

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When I got my first job, my boss gave me this book as a gift and it completely changed how I view people, relationships and confidence. Although it’s a bit cheesy now, it’s a must read!

How to Win Friends and Influence People

4. The Beautiful and Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald

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I spent a lot of time during my poor early twenties wishing for a lottery win. I thought it would solve all of my problems – I wouldn’t believe anyone who said any different. This was the book which made me realise life with money isn’t automatically better.

The Beautiful and the Damned

5. Once – Morris Gleitzman

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This book truly made me understand proper human suffering – witnessing the Holocaust through the eyes of a Jewish child. A must read for anyone. Review here

Once (Once/Now/Then/After)

6. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

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Thought provoking, heart breaking and truly unforgettable.

Never Let Me Go

7. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

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A dystopian society which could easily happen. A must read for any feminist. Your vote counts. Review here

The Handmaid’s Tale (Contemporary Classics)

8. Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers

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This book caused a huge shift in my thinking. I saw there was no point in being frozen in place by imagined anxieties and fears. Feel the fear, and do it anyway!

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway: How to Turn Your Fear and Indecision into Confidence and Action

9. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

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I read this book as a privileged white teenager. Although I knew racism was bad, I wasn’t able to consider the effects it could have on a person until I read this book.

Invisible Man (Penguin Modern Classics)

10. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

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I never knew books could be so twisted and dangerous until I read this book…it opened my eyes to a whole new world of literature and the vile depths of human imagination.

The Wasp Factory

11. Inferno -Dante

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The beauty of the language in Dante’s Inferno is truly worth a read. Hugely entertaining and twisted.

Inferno

12. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

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We are sold an image of war which is different to the reality. The fact that soldiers may be scared and trying to escape the front line was frowned upon when this book was published. A must read.

Catch-22: 50th Anniversary Edition

13. The Catcher In The Rye – J. D. Salinger

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A coming of age novel really, this is a quick read and such a good one. Rarely does a character come to life like this.

The Catcher in the Rye

14. Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

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An immersive fantasy tale – recommended for any age.

The Lord of The Rings (Based on the 50th Anniversary Single volume edition 2004)

15. Gormenghast – Mervin Peake

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This series is so often overlooked, it’s a tragedy! One of my mum’s favourites, it always reminds me of her. Important for any fantasy fan.

The Gormenghast Trilogy

Ready for part two? Click here!

The Turn of the Screw and The Aspen Papers – Henry James

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“Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was. But I gave myself up to it; it was an antidote to any pain, and I had more pains than one.”

Ok, this is technically two books but seeing as they are both so good, I feel I can review them together.

I may be more inclined towards these stories that I would have been, due to the memories I connect to them. I read them for the first time on holiday in Barcelona. We had hired a flat in a beautiful area with the most picturesque balcony, which had rusted iron railings entwined by such pretty flowers. On that holiday, I woke up early each morning, made filter coffee and sat on that sunny balcony reading this book, the sounds, smells and sights of Barcelona battering my senses. Heaven. The book has a little suntan now.

Enough about me and back to the book. The Turn of the Screw is often credited with being one of the first proper horror stories, as we know them now. It is genuinely creepy. The scariest part for me was imagining Victorians sitting around their fireplaces in the long, cold winter evenings reading these stories to one another. They must have been terrified! Even sitting on my warm balcony in Barcelona, I found the hairs on my arms standing on end.

The main reason these stories are so good is the suspense and mystery. Will we ever find out what is haunting the children? (I won’t ruin it for you).

There are better Victorian novelists, but if you are interested in horror stories, I would recommend reading this to understand the inspiration behind many of them. If you’re just after an entertaining ghost story – again, look no further!

7.5/10

The Turn of the Screw & The Aspern Papers (only £1.99 here! A bargain for a great read!)

Do you have any suntanned books? Any books which remind you of a special place? Let me know in the comments!