It’s been long enough since I’ve posted pt. 1 of my book recommendations, so here we are again with fresh reading ideas. Hopefully you’ll find something that tickles your fancy, but as a reminder: I post a weekly book recommendation on Facebook and Instagram under #erraticbookwednesdays, as well as in my weekly newsletters, so you’re welcome to sign up for those or connect with me on social media.
And now, without further ado, let’s talk books:
#1: T. Vermes ‑ Look who’s back
The first recommendation in this batch is Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes. It’s a brilliant German comedy novel full of irony and social criticism from the most unexpected source: Adolf Hitler, who mysteriously resurrects in Berlin in 2011 and becomes a TV star. He narrates his observations of the modern world through a hilarious and surprisingly authentic Hitler lens, all while everyone around him thinks he’s a method actor who never breaks character. There’s also a movie (Er ist wieder da) and it’s honestly a bit disconcerting to find yourself sympathising with Hitler.
#2: M. Atwood ‑ Alias Grace
Next up is Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. It’s a historical fiction mystery, where a young woman is convicted of murdering her employer and his mistress. She claims to have no memory of it and a psychiatrist sets out to find out if she’s innocent, evil or insane. The book is based on real events and the character of Grace is wonderfully complex, but if there’s one word to describe this novel, it’s elegant. There’s something smooth and graceful about the writing and the whole story, even as it explores all the social injustices and double standards of its time, as well as mental illness and Grace’s troubled mind, which are relatively heavy topics. There’s a really good TV series with the same name as well.
#3: W. Moers ‑ 13.5 Lives of Captain Bluebear
This one is a bit on the lighter side, but it’s one of my favourites and absolutely worth your time. The 13.5 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers is a wonderfully imaginative story about the many lives of a blue bear in the fantastic land of Zamonia. He’s found in a walnut shell as a child, attends a school where intelligence is an infectious disease, goes on to become an explorer of enchanted forests, the leader of phantasmagoric desert towns, a lie gladiator in a city with invisible people and so on. It may sound like a story for kids, but the whole book is a very intelligent mix of lunatic, epic fantasy full of satire and humour, complete with the author’s illustrations of all his crazy creations, so it’s something all adults should read as well. If we live in crazy times, we might as well read crazy, heart-warming books too.
#4: R. K. Ryals ‑ In the Land of Tea and Ravens
Calling all tea lovers and tessomancy witches, this one is for you! There are very few romance books I’ve read that I’ve actually loved, and In the Land of Tea and Ravens by R.K. Ryals is one of them, with a touch of the paranormal. It’s about a young woman with a mystical family heritage, who keeps watch over an ancient, battered tea mug in a house guarded by ravens, and a man who chooses to get to know her despite the town rumour that women from her family drive men insane. The story is written in an eerie, poetic way, full of symbolism, secrets and a bit of magic as both characters try to overcome their troubled pasts and navigate their relationship against all odds. It’s not very soppy or sexual and it’s a wonderful book for tea lovers, as it all “began and ended with a cup of tea”. Personally, I wouldn’t mind another cup of tea from the author.
#5: U. Eco ‑ The Name of the Rose
This one is very well known, but I’ve noticed a lot of people haven’t actually read it, so I’m here to encourage you to do it after all. It’s The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, which is a historical mystery novel about monks and crime. Imagine Sherlock Holmes and a more naive, younger Watson doing their thing in the 14th century, featuring medieval theological philosophy, archaic logic, symbolism, forbidden manuscripts, the threat of the inquisition and of course, 7 brutal murders. To be fair, the book is quite slow paced and full of trivia, but so are the original Holmes novels, and to me the intelligence and level of knowledge are what makes it interesting.
#6: N. Novik ‑ Spinning Silver
Personally, I’m a sucker for fairy tales and Spinning silver by Naomi Novik is a fairy tale novel for adults, with evolving characters, complex plot and all that magical, suspenseful atmosphere we loved in fairy tales as children. The main character, Miryem, is the daughter of a Jewish moneylender incapable of collecting debts. When she takes on her father’s job, she draws the attention of a foreign ice king, who traps her into a deal: she either turns his silver into gold and becomes his queen, or dies. Turns out, Miryem has magic and lands herself a husband she doesn’t want, much like some other women who get caught in the political and societal web of the historical man’s world and are forced to navigate it together. The novel is full of Eastern European folklore and is a loose retelling of Rumpelstiltskin with all the main motives and symbolism, but also deals with darker, historical antisemitic themes, all neatly combined by Novik’s incredible atmospheric writing.
#7: G. G. Márquez ‑ The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor
The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel García Márquez is a novella recounting a real-life event as told to Márquez by the sailor back when he was a journalist. Its full title is The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor: Who Drifted on a Liferaft for Ten Days Without Food or Water, Was Proclaimed a National Hero, Kissed by Beauty Queens, Made Rich Through Publicity, and Then Spurned by the Government and Forgotten for All Time, which literally tells you everything you need to know, but it’s a quick and enjoyable read in Márquez’s signature writing nonetheless (about 100 pages). The story itself was actually a major scandal in Colombia at the time, because the boat was loaded with illegal cargo and the surviving sailor became a huge thorn in the military dictatorial government’s side, so the press took a huge risk by running it.
#8: G. Carriger ‑ The Parasol Protectorate series
What would you get if you crossed Jane Austen with steampunk, murder mystery, vampires, werewolves and other fantasy creatures? The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, which was first recommended to me by one of my former flatmates. This is an absolutely hilarious, witty take on Victorian London (not Regency, but still rather Austen-like and surprisingly historically accurate for the genre), featuring Miss Tarabotti, a woefully independent spinster heroine whose father is not only dead, but Italian too. She’s soulless, which grants her some unique abilities, sticks her nose into every suspicious occurrence and likes to whack people into minding their manners with her parasol. Now, technically these books are paranormal romances and can get quite steamy, but I liked that the main plot was more concerned with solving the mysteries than the romance.
#9: J. Wright ‑ Slack Wyrm comics
This recommendation is a comic, featuring dragons obviously. I think comics are not only fun, but also great when you’re too busy or tired to read whole books and perfect for learning a new language. The ongoing Slack Wyrm comic by Josh Wright about a lazy dragon who just wants to be left alone, but keeps getting pulled into adventures, is one of my favourite online ones. It’s also in book form now, so go check it out and enjoy the irreverent and nonsensical antics of the laziest dragon out there, even if just for a few minutes.
#10: A. A. Milne ‑ Winnie the Pooh
Next is a classic we all know and love: Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne. The lovable bear probably needs no further introduction and trust me when I tell you that you’ll enjoy his adventures even in your adult years. I feel like we could all learn some chill wisdom from him, so go give it a (re)read when you have time!
#11: J. R. R. Tolkien ‑ Letters from Father Christmas
This one came up during the holiday week, so it’s Christmas themed: Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien, one of my favourite writers. This one is a heart-warming collection of letters Tolkien wrote to his children as Father Christmas straight from the North Pole. It’s one of his lesser known books, which is a shame, because the stories in the letters are vibrant, imaginative and full of mischief and adventure. Featuring escaping reindeer, scattered presents and a very clumsy polar bear, it’s a glimpse into a more relaxed, less serious version of Tolkien and a great read for those of us who still believe in a bit of Christmas magic.
#12: R. Bradbury ‑ Fahrenheit 451
For the first #erraticbookwednesdays weekly recommendation of 2021, I decided to highlight a rather important classic: named after the temperature at which book paper catches fire, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury follows the journey of a fireman, tasked with burning illegal books and the houses of people who hoard them.In this dystopian future, books were increasingly abridged to compensate for shorter attention spans and censored to account for their outdated, offensive content to minority groups, until they were deemed obsolete, outlawed altogether as sources of bad thoughts and replaced by other media. Firemen were recruited for society’s peace of mind, until one of them fights back and starts rescuing books in an effort to rebuild what was lost. Written in 1953, this novel is perhaps more relevant than ever in today’s era of cancel culture, misinformation and social media addiction and I believe it’s something all of us should reflect on as we enter the new year.
#13: W. B. Yeats – The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats
Let’s talk poetry for a minute: when was the last time you read a poem? I’m actually quite picky with my poetry and usually like longer, epic poems or deep ones about nature. One of my favourite poets is William Butler Yeats, a 20th century Irish wordsmith whose works are my reading pick for this week. Since I know most of you won’t bother reading his whole collection, I want to point out my personal favourite, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, which is famous for a reason. In fact, you can even hear Yeats himself reading it on YouTube here, so go check it out, it literally takes a minute.
#14: P. V. Brett – Demon Cycle series
Last one for this batch of book recommendations is the Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett, a super imaginative, modern take on hero fantasy. Set in a sort of medieval, feudal world where demons known as corelings rise out of the ground to pester humans every night, the series follows a group of select characters as they become entangled in the quest to save humanity and get rid of the demons forever. First and foremost among them is the Warded man, who is searching for the lost runes of protection against the demons and is willing to cross any line to achieve his goal – which is why he eventually goes too far. I really loved the world building and the often surprising and complex character development, which was consistent with the harshness of the world and the ambition and selfishness of men. If you’re into epic fantasy with lots of grey moral choices, crazy worlds and superb plots, this one definitely delivers.
So, what do you think? Have you read any of these books or will now? Let me know!
P.S.: You can see my attempt at a basic embroidered bookmark in the cover photo, I’ve been experimenting with these over the weekends and I even started an embroidery project – here.