Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Overview and 2011 Reading Challenge(s)

It’s the last day of 2010, high time to do some re-counting, so here it is:

v    started book blogging: in July 2010
v    reviews written: 16
v    total posts published on this blog (the present included): 33
v    books read: between 20 to 30, I read some books before starting book blogging and forgot their titles, I also read some books not written English and not translated into English

Tracking the record of what I have read is my sore point, because I tend to remember the story but forget the title and the author. So, I decided to give myself a little challenge. I know there are many appealing challenges hosted by other book bloggers which I am tempted to join in but I am reluctant to do so because I am the kind of person who would then feel not just motivated but obligated to meet the whatever challenge’s goal and I am afraid reading would become a job instead of joy.

Therefore, I am setting my own personal challenge, which is:

v    to read 3 books by Jane Austen (shame on me, I have read only a few pages of Emma years ago and couldn’t force myself to continue, but I really like the films and series made after her books, so I’m giving her another try)
v    to read 3 of Harry Potter books  (yes, I have managed to skip those, too, until now)
v    to read 50 books between January 1st – December 31st 2011 (I think I can read one book a week)
v    to clean-up 10 books from my TBR shelf (they count among the 50)
v    rereads don’t count
v    books not written in English and not translated into English don’t count either

That’s it. Keep your fingers crossed. Whichever challenges you join in or set for yourself, I hope you meet the goal. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Manual of the Warrior of Light by Paulo Coelho

book cover of 

Manual of the Warrior of Light 

by

Paulo CoelhoSUMMARY (by FantasticFiction): Within each of us is a warrior of light. Each of us is capable of listening to the silence of the heart, of accepting failure without letting it get us down and of holding onto hope even in the face of weariness and depression. Values like love for all things, discipline, friendship and learning to listen to our own hearts are the arms with which this warrior confronts the battles we face in the name of personal growth and in the defence of the light. On every page there is an inspirational thought, which can be read as part of Paulo Coelho's whole philosophy or used form the basis of a daily meditation. This text is a guide to the process.

MY OPINION:

I find this book a little difficult to review, because it consists of so many short fragments. It is, as the title suggests, a kind of a guide for self-improvement and personal growth. Manual of the Warrior of Light cannot be read as a book from the beginning to the end, but perhaps as a meditational aid read by sections.

The book contains a short frame story about a boy trying to be able to hear the bells of a drowned temple, which I believe is a metaphor for being able to listen to our conscience and being in touch with the Universe or with God.

Embedded in the frame story are numerous motivational quotes, thoughts, and advice about leading a life of a good person. Many of these are contradictory to one another. I guess this is because people and the world itself are full of contradictions. I believe contradictions are essential to existence: light and darkness, safety and danger, good and evil, etc. could not be distinguished for what they are without the existence of their opposites.

Therefore, despite being paradoxical, many thoughts in Manual of the Warrior of Light are truly inspiring. Some, however, seem to me as clichés. Nevertheless, I like the philosophy behind the book, and I will definitely pick it up to read a segment or two from time to time.

RECOMMENDATION: This is the book you read by sections when you need an encouraging thought to give you motivation and strength for being a good person and fighting for your beliefs.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

How Twilight (Almost) Ruined Twilight for Me




Last week, the dark, cold winter made me want to read something dark and mysterious, and as I had been planning to do this for some time I decided to reread The Twilight Saga. Unexpectedly, although I should have been prepared for this, upon starting reading I was shocked by two things. Firstly, I was amazed to (re)discover how much the book is better than the films. And secondly, I was rather devastated by how seeing the films has ruined my reading experience.

Naturally, as an avid reader, I have always preferred book to film, because I have always gained much more from reading a book than watching a film. Considering The Twilight Saga, I somehow managed to forget that, so it was a surprise to me how much more the book offers. I read the books a few years ago and later I saw the three films. Nevertheless, rereading was almost as reading the books for the first time, (re)discovering details as well as the big picture. So, in this aspect, rereading surprised me in a positive way.

However, seeing the films I find it difficult rereading the books. I am the kind of a reader who can imagine what I read about very vividly and I sort of create my own film in my head while reading a book. This worked beautifully the first time I read The Twilight Saga. Now, after seeing the films, it literally saddened me that I am unable to recall my vision which was substituted by cinematic visualisation which is very difficult to block out.

Therefore, rereading The Twilight Saga for me is a struggle in which I’m trying to revive my previous experience. Yet, no matter how hard I try, success is only partial, that is why this rereading feels to me like mourning for the images which have been lost forever. At the same time, to my relief, it also feels like an adventure of hunting for forgotten treasures.

As I mentioned before I hadn’t expected seeing the films would have such a disturbing impact on my reading experience, because this rarely happens to me. This is why I started thinking about the reasons behind it. I believe the discrepancy of such proportions between reading the books and seeing the films occurs because of mis-targeting the films. The marketing has been launching the films as romance intended for teenage audience. But, in my opinion, the themes examined in The Twilight Saga demand viewers mature enough to comprehend the basic existential issues the Saga deals with.

All the same, I am still enjoying rereading The Twilight Saga. Rereading it, makes me remember again all the things it can be appreciated for (I wrote about that in The Twilight Saga and The Host by Stephenie Meyer). Despite everything, I’m still looking forward to the Breaking Dawn films; hopefully, they will bring a good conclusion to the Saga as far as cinematic adaptation is concerned. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Blogger Hop, December 17 – 20, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books. It is a great way of discovering new blogs and meeting fellow book bloggers, talking about books and authors and sharing our love for literature.

This week’s question is “What do you consider the most important in a story: the plot or the characters?”

MY ANSWER:

It is impossible to decide between the importance of the plot and the characters. The plot is what grabs my attention first, but it looses the appeal if there are no interesting well developed characters, and vice versa: intriguing and complex characters can still not make up for a bad plot or lack of it. So, an enjoyable book must have both strong plot and characters. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lord of the Rings Read-Along


Irena kindly directed me to Whitney’s post at She Is Too Fond of Books about this fabulous Lord of the Rings Read-Along hosted by Lorren at The Story Girl. I would probably never find it by myself, so thanks to Irena for reminding me and to Whitney for posting about it and, of course, to Lorren for the idea.

As a huge, huge Tolkien fan, I am joining in, naturally. I have read and re-read the Lord of the Rings and some other Tolkien’s books several times, but I will love it once more.

Here is the schedule:
January - March 31, 2011: The Fellowship of the Ring
April - June 30, 2011: The Two Towers
July - September 30, 2011: The Return of the King
October - December 31, 2011: Any other book by or about Tolkien!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Gates of Rome (Emperor #1) by Conn Iggulden

Emperor: The Gates of Rome: A Novel of Julius Caesar (The Emperor Series)SUMMARY (by the publisher): From the spectacle of gladiatorial combat to the intrigue of the Senate, from the foreign wars that created an empire to the betrayals that almost tore it apart, the Emperor novels tell the remarkable story of the man who would become the greatest Roman of them all: Julius Caesar. The Gates of Rome introduces an ambitious young man facing his first great test. In the city of Rome, a titanic power struggle is about to shake the Republic to its core. Citizen will fight citizen in a bloody conflict – and Julius Caesar will be in the thick of the action.

MY OPINION:

The Gates of Rome describes Caesar’s childhood and growing up. As Iggulden explains, there is not much data about the early stage of Caesar’s life. Yet, Iggulden combines the existing data with fiction in the way which gives us a credible and compelling story about the influences that shaped one of the most important people in history.

In The Gates of Rome we first meet Caesar as Gaius, an energetic son of a rich and powerful senator. Gaius is very protected, well cared of, careless boy, full of naughty and childishly innocent ideas to occupy himself with in his free time. In his childhood ventures, he is accompanied by a friend, a bastard son of a prostitute, Marcus. Marcus provide a different view on the life for Gaius, he shows him the insecure world of those without privileges. The dissimilarity between Gaius and Marcus is depicted in the different ways they are being treated by Gaius’s father and their teachers. Their friendship, however, is strong as a brotherhood would be. They are utterly loyal to each other, they support and help each other despite the occasional fights and misunderstandings. Their friendship is what keeps them going when hard times come, which they face first together, then eventually separated, but even a long distance apart, the knowledge of one another’s existence help them persevere.

Thus, Iggulden presents the relationship between Gaius and Marcus as, if not the most important influence on Caesar’s life, certainly as the most constant one. Just as delicately as Iggulden tackles Marcus’s influence on Gaius, he deals with other influences. He shows the reader the impact the powerful consul Marius, Gaius’s uncle, and his disregard and exploitation of the law for his own benefits might have on his young nephew. Iggulden colourfully describes the landscape and infrastructure, everyday life, the training and studies, the mentality behind the political tactics and intrigues, and the love which eventually enters Gaius’s and Marcus’s lives.

Additionally, Iggulden does not forget to remind the reader of the cruelty of the world. He vividly describes the brawls between boys, the brutal training and battle techniques, the gladiator fights, the slave rebellion, the civil war and the encountering with hostile barbarians. Iggulden describes fighting and killing in detail, both in terms of technique and weapons and in terms of consequent injuries, all of which he illustrates precisely in all its bloody horror. It takes a strong stomach to read several quite numerous parts of such descriptions.

Reading The Gates of Rome, I thought of how cruel and scheming the old world used to be until I realised as I was thinking about it that the world hasn’t really changed. Instead of paper and messengers on horses, we have media and modern means of communication, and instead of swords, daggers and fists, we have automatic guns and nuclear missiles, but basically the humanity has not improved: it is still much about personal gain achieved by politics, intrigue and warfare. In this aspect, The Gates of Rome is a kind of a mirror for modern people to look at ourselves and at what we have made of civilization in more than two thousand years.

RECOMMENDATION: This is definitely a book for people who are interested in history in all its splendour and squalor. It convinced me to definitely read the rest of the series. It contains some explicit violence, so I would not recommend it to very sensitive readers. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Blogger Hop, December 10 – 13, 2010

Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books. It is a great way of discovering new blogs and meeting fellow book bloggers, talking about books and authors and sharing our love for literature. 

This week’s question is “What is the thing you like most about reading book blogs?  Is it the reviews, author guest posts, articles, giveaways, or something else entirely?”

MY ANSWER:

Everything. I especially like finding out what I have in common with other book bloggers, and it’s great to share our passion for reading be it the reviews, articles, or anything else. 

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Holiday Tag

Jillian at Random Ramblings came up with this great idea about The Holiday Tag. You just copy and paste the questions and answer them yourself. Then post it somewhere, be it on your blog, as a comment, …, do whatever you like. Don’t forget to mention who tagged you, and of course, try to tag other people also. I hope Jillian doesn't mind me resembling her as far as the tagging is concerned: if you are reading this, consider yourself to be tagged. I will tag some bloggers specifically down below.

1. When do you usually know and feel that it's finally the holidays?
When we get snowed in (for a few hours, not for too long:)), it’s freezing outside, the houses glitter in Christmas lights – that’s Christmas, all right.

2. What do you want for Christmas this year?
Some peace and quiet and a lot of time for writing. How immaterial of me, isn’t it?

3. Do you go all out with decorations?
We have a Christmas tree and we set up a Nativity Scene as it is customary in my country.

4. What are you doing Christmas eve?
My mom and I (it’s just the two of us) have our own traditional Christmas dinner with sauerkraut and sausages. Then we bless our home with holy water and incense and we pray the entire rosary. It’s a great Catholic tradition in my country and although fewer and fewer people stick to it, because they think it’s old fashioned, I like it a lot. It makes my Christmas even more joyful. Then, of course, I go to Midnight Mass and participate singing in the church choir.

5. What are you doing Christmas day?
After the Morning Mass, I usually just spend time with my mom, doing nothing, eating, watching TV, listening to Christmas music,…

5. It's Christmas time. What are you reading?
That’s easy. Tolkien, particularly The Lord of the Rings. It’s my usual re-reading (I lost the count at 6th) in those long winter nights.

6. Favorite movie to watch during the holidays?
There are more then one: While You Were Sleeping, Joyeux Noel, Love Actually, The Santa Clause and all Home Alone movies.

7. Favorite Christmas song?
I really can’t think of just one, there are too many.

8. Favorite holiday drink?
Apple compote: we cook apple slices in water with sugar, cinnamon and cloves. It's delicious, refreshing and smells divine. 

9. How is your Christmas shopping going?
I haven’t started yet. I am more of the last minute inspiration Christmas shopper, so I still have time.

10. If you could spend Christmas day anywhere else, where would you spend it?
Somewhere in the Alps in a cottage with a fireplace and a lot of snow all around.

11. Any holiday traditions?
I like to attend the Christmas Novena evening Mass from 16th to 24th December.

12. Favorite thing about the Holidays?
Everything, but especially the feeling that time passes a bit more slowly than usually.

If you read this, you are tagged, but in particularly I tag:
and
Cristina at Once Upon a Time.

I’ll wish happy holidays to everyone later again, but for the early starters: have fun and enjoy!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Ripe for the Picking by Annie Hawes

Ripe for the PickingSUMMARY (by goodreads): Annie Hawes is an Englishwoman who has lived in a tumbledown cottage in the Ligurian hills in Italy for about a decade. In Ripe for the Picking she picks up the story of her book Extra Virgin to recount more of her adventures among the locals.

MY OPINION:

In Ripe for the Picking, Annie Hawes does not just pick up the story from where she finished Extra Virgin, but also its style, language and tone, altogether functioning very refreshingly. Again, she adds somewhat educational insight into coexistence of two cultures. This time it is about family life, love, relationships and repairs.

Describing her settling into the Ligurian lifestyle and the troubles, misunderstandings and twists it brings, Hawes retains the objectivity she established in Extra Virgin. Despite so much similarity with Extra Virgin, its sequel is not familiarly boring as someone might fear, but familiarly interesting. Although there is nothing very new, the story flows nicely and steadily captures the readers’ attention throughout the book, mainly because of the strong main storyline.

Basically, there is not much more to say about Ripe for the Picking that I have not yet said about Extra Virgin. Yet, Ripe for the Picking still offers some more of the same and it is probably what a reader might expect and also enjoy.  

RECOMMENDATION: Anyone who liked Extra Virgin and wants some more of the same relaxation type of atmosphere reading is bound to like Ripe for the Picking, too.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Snail Speed Reading

Lately, I have become very slow at reading; it drags and drags before I finish a book. So, I started thinking about how my reading habits have changed.

In my school days, not so long ago, and well trough university I used to read really fast. I usually read a book in one sitting. But, then I used to have three or four hours time a day I could afford to do nothing else but read.

At present, however, due to a lot of commitments and other interests besides reading, I am not able to read for hours. Naturally, I could read just a couple of pages a day for a quarter or half an hour, but I hate to start and stop reading somewhere in the middle. I like to “fall” into the book. I dislike reading little by little. One or two sittings are what I prefer or three or four if a book is very thick, and on consecutive days. I am really bothered if I cannot read a meaningful unit of a book, which means at least a chapter. Therefore, if I do not have enough time to read 50 or 60 pages, or to finish a chapter, I feel reluctant to even start. So, sometimes I do not read a page for days and my reading is progressing very slowly these days.

What about you? Do you like to read all at once and as fast as you can, or just little bits day by day?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How Well Read Are You?

I saw this at This Miss Loves to Read and considered it very interesting.

"The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here."

Instructions:

•Copy this list.
•Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.
•Italicise the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.
•Tag other book nerds.
•Highlight the ones that you have but haven't read.

So, here is my list:

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The King James Bible
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) – George Orwell
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
Emma -Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Dune – Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (own, haven't read)
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Inferno – Dante
Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
Germinal – Emile Zola
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession – AS Byatt
Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Watership Down – Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

That’s 19 books read from the list, well enough, I think. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Extra Virgin by Annie Hawes

Extra VirginSUMMARY (by the publisher): A small stone house deep among the olive groves of Liguria, going for the price of a dodgy second-hand car. Annie Hawes and her sister, on the spot by chance, have no plans whatsoever to move to the Italian Riviera but find naturally that it's an offer they can't refuse. The laugh is on the Foreign Females who discover that here amongst the hardcore olive farming folk their incompetence is positively alarming. Not to worry: the thrifty villagers of Diano San Pietro are on the case, and soon plying the Pallid Sisters with advice, ridicule, tall tales and copious hillside refreshments...

MY OPINION:

What I liked about this book the most was that, even though Annie Hawes writes about her own experience, her writing is very objective. She does not give in to the temptation of many memoirs’ or travelogues’ writers to only describe themselves and their own culture as the norm and everything else as strange or ridiculous. In her writing about Ligurian life and customs, Hawes includes just the right amount of self-criticism, often accompanied by sarcasm, altogether functioning funny and refreshing.

Thus, Extra Virgin is not just an entertaining book about Hawes’s experience, but also a documentary about a clash of two very different cultures and a proof that differences can complement and enrich people. At first, Hawes and her sister find Ligurians strange and visa versa, and both sides have difficulties understanding one another. Yet, through many funny social mistakes and misunderstandings they get to know each other, and each new resolved mystery about the others’ crazy behaviour brings them closer. 

Generally, Hawes’s writing is a testimony about coexistence of two cultures, both benefitting from it. Two modern English girls learn a lot about farming and get plentiful skills in self-sufficiency and survival, meanwhile they are the first signs of modernization which improves the farmers’ lives, but does not enslave them. 

Overall, Hawes joins modern and traditional, urban and rural, fast and slow rhythm of life into a living the readers can grow fond of and maybe even wish to experience by themselves. I know I do.

RECOMMENDATION: Would you like a short recess in the warm Italian sun? Reading Extra Virgin is the closest thing to it. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

SuitefrançaiseIrèneNémirovsky2004.jpgSUMMARY: Suite Française actually consists of two novels. The first novel, Storm in June, describes the intertwined lives of a diverse group of Parisians, from a snobbish author, a banker and a priest to orphans, an aesthete and a loving lower-class couple, in a chaotic exodus from the comfort of the city to the safety of the countryside, only hours ahead of the advancing Germans. The second novel, Dolce, focuses on the life in a farming village under German occupation in 1941, describing peasant farmers, their pretty daughters and small town collaborationists and their coexistence with the Nazis.

A NOTE: Before my review of Suite Française I must make a note on its background and its author. After all, I mostly read this book because of this. Irène Némirovsky was a French writer of Ukrainian Jewish origin who converted to Catholicism. She planned Suite Française as a series of five novels, which she began writing in 1940. She was arrested by the Nazis in the summer of 1942 and transported to Auschwitz, where she was killed in a gas chamber. Five decades later, her daughter discovered the manuscript which she had up to then been mistaking for her mother’s diary too painful too read, and published it titled Suite Française together with Némirovsky’s outline for the series and the correspondence between Némirovsky, her husband, her publisher and other people immediately before and after her arrest. 

MY OPINION:

Suite Française took me a lot of time to read, mostly because of the great number of characters Némirovsky tackles. Rather than focusing on military or political aspects of war, Némirovsky focuses on social matters, most of all on personal experience of the war. She describes in detail the turmoil of fleeing from the Nazis, from logistic confusion on the roads to emotional chaos within people. The fear and haste are presented as well as hesitation and indifference, different people react differently: some are very organised and rational, others irrationally cling to objects which are precious to them or mourn the homes they left behind. Some people are constantly accompanied by worries for their absent beloved or are helping their companions in need, others are selfishly looking only after themselves and complaining over the circumstances.

On top of everything Némirovsky adds precise portrayals of the setting in French landscape outside Paris. The descriptions of the countryside are noticeable in the second part, Dolce, where the chaos recedes under the orderly occupation. Again, Némirovsky concentrates on relationships between people, their living conditions, their work, food, their personal predicaments, losses and victories. These presentations are completed by careful depictions of the surrounding environment: a village, fields and forests.

The novels are loosely connected at first, but later in Dolce the continuation becomes evident by the re-introduction of some of the characters from the Storm in June. However, at the end the feeling of incompletion returns, naturally, since it was supposed to be continued by another three novels. Instead, the publisher included Némirovsky’s outline for the rest of the series, which partially satisfies the thirst for the information about what happens next, but also leaves the reader feeling sorry that Némirovsky was unable to finish what she had planned. I think it would make all together a great work if I judge by the opening masterpiece.

Finally, the reader can witness the uncertainty and growing sadness reading the included correspondence. At first, the letters are hopeful; their writers believing in justice and that everything will work out. Then, we see the slowly growing fear and desperation and, eventually, the heartbreaking acceptance of an inevitable tragic end for Némirovsky.

Therefore, Suite Française can be divided in two parts: the fictional first part with Némirovsky’s novels and the non-fictional second part with all the documentary material. Both together make a great book testifying about one of the darkest eras in history. The value of the book is great also because it was started simultaneously with the unravelling of the Second World War without the possibility of its author knowing its outcome. Yet, I think Némirovsky was prophetic with the outlined titles for the rest of the series: Captivity, Battle, Peace.

RECOMMENDATION: Suite Française is an invaluable book both for the complex and well developed Némirovsky’s novels and its historic documentation. It is not an easy reading but I would recommend it to anyone who would like to read about a personal experience of the Second World War. 

Book Blogger Hop, November 12 – 15, 2010 and Challenge Results

Book Blogger Hop
Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books. It is a great way of discovering new blogs and meeting fellow book bloggers, talking about books and authors and sharing our love for literature.

Last week Jennifer proposed a challenge for the hoppers. We had to find one new blog we really wanted to follow, try to get to know the blog and its writer and contribute five comments to five different posts.

I failed at the challenge completely, shame on me. I have very little time to spend blogging and reading other blogs (far less time I would like to have) and, in addition I had such a bad cold last weekend I hardly managed to turn on my computer. Still, it sounds like a bad excuse. So, I only visited a few blogs by the hop, but I did not find anything that would hook me to “actually” follow, which was the real purpose of the challenge, anyway. I posted 3 comments to two of the blogs I already follow, but that’s all. However, even if the challenge was a disaster for me, I stuck to the principle to follow a blog for real or not at all.

This week’s question is “If you find a book that looks interesting but is part of a series, do you always start with the first title?”

MY ANSWER:

Sometimes I just miss the fact that the book is a part of a series and I start with the book I came across even if it is not the first in the series. I did that this September, when I was hooked on a book, having no idea that it is a part of a series. I was well into the book before I find out it is a sequel, but I read it through. Now, I am waiting to get the first book from the library and then I will review both. 

Monday, November 08, 2010

Dark Angel by Mary Balogh

Dark Angel by Mary BaloghSUMMARY (by the publisher): Jennifer Winwood arrives in London with her cousin, Samantha Newman, for their come-out Season. Jennifer is particularly excited because finally the marriage that has been arranged between her and Lionel, Viscount Kersey, will become a reality. It seems to her that she has loved him forever, and she assumes that he loves her. Gabriel, Earl of Thornhill, has just returned to England after a long stay in Europe, where he fled after a scandalous elopement with his father's pregnant wife. He is not in high favour with the ton, but when he sees that Lionel is also back in town, he is willing to risk further trouble for himself by causing harm to his old enemy in any way that presents itself...and Lionel has a new fiancée.

MY OPINION:

Dark Angel is a fairly short typical chick lit book. It is a light reading, but well written for this genre. Of course, a reader gets exactly what one should get from such a book: a predictable plot and, with one exception, plain characters.

The title of the book cleverly refers to both of the main male protagonists. We have the angelic, handsome, blonde, blue-eyed Viscount Kersey, who is a paragon of gentlemanly decency. On the opposite side there is the notorious, devilish enfant terrible of the ton, dark and badly behaved Earl of Thornhill. The good guy and the villain, but which is which? SPOILER: Naturally, the angel turns out to be the villain and the villain proves to be the good guy, which the reader learns right at the beginning. END OF SPOILER.

The main female protagonist is, logically, unaware of the fact that the things are not what they seem to be. She is a typical naïve, innocent, young countryside girl. She is also beautiful and smart, but her innocence and naivety prevent her to see the truth before it is almost too late. Due to her being inexperienced she, does not recognise love when she feels it. On the contrary, she forces herself to stay faithful to her immature girlish admiration of Kersey, the feeling she mistakenly confuses with love.

I really liked the portrayal of Earl of Thornhill, because his character is actually a complex one. He has a bad reputation, which is at first completely undeserved, but he almost earns it by his later actions, although unintentionally. Moreover, he is a vindictive personage, who intends to exploit Jennifer in order to carry out his vengeful agenda. Yet, in the course of putting his plan into action, he changes from a man who does not believe in love into someone who would do everything to protect the woman he loves. His character is typical of the genre, yet surprisingly well developed.

Another good side of Dark Angel is the portrayal of the ton. The author realistically describes the social norms and standards of acceptable behaviour of the time, as well as she manages to express a distinctive criticism of its hypocrisy, gloating joy, and double standards of morality between the lines.

RECOMMENDATION: This is a book for taking a recess and is the right one for someone who does not want to read something too corny. 

Friday, November 05, 2010

Book Blogger Hop, November 5 – 8, 2010

Book Blogger Hop
Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books. It is a great way of discovering new blogs and meeting fellow book bloggers, talking about books and authors and sharing our love for literature.

This week’s question is “What are your feelings on losing followers? Have you ever stopped following a blog?”

MY ANSWER:

I started book blogging in August and just began getting followers when I had major problems with the Internet connection and my computer, so I was forced to stop blogging for a couple of months. I resumed blogging last week and discovered I had lost a follower and I was a little sad. I have also just started discovering new book blogs, so I do not follow that many blogs to stop following any of them.

Otherwise, I agree with Jennifer, I also believe it is important to follow you actually want ot follow in-dept, not just for the sake of a number, and the same goes for the followers of my blog. Even if I felt sad about losing a follower I cannot and do not expect people to follow me if they do not like my blog. I do not want follower just to make the number. Neither do I try hard to please the followers. I just write what I think, especially since I started blogging to practice writing in English. This way at lest I will know who likes my writing because of my way of thinking not some pretence.


I also have very little time for blogging, so I will try to participate in the challenge, but probably with one of the blogs I already follow. 

Thursday, November 04, 2010

La Cucina by Lily Prior

book cover of 

La Cucina 

A Novel of Rapture 

by

Lily PriorSUMMARY (by Fantastic fiction): La Cucina combines the sensuous pleasures of love and food, simmering in the heat of a Sicilian kitchen. Rosa Fiore is a solitary woman who has resigned herself to a loveless life, and expresses her passionate nature through her delicious cooking. Then, one day, she meets an enigmatic chef, known only as l'Inglese, whose research on the heritage of Sicilian cuisine leads him into Rosa's library and into her heart. They share one sublime summer of discovery, during which l'Inglese awakens the power of Rosa's sexuality, and together they reach new heights of culinary passion. When he vanishes unexpectedly, Rosa returns to her family's estate to grieve for her lost love only to find a new fulfilment, as well as many surprises, in the magic of her beloved cucina.

MY OPINION:

I rushed through this book as if I was running through the hail storm looking for safety. What a relief when it was over! This is one book I really did not like.

The promising title and summary are, as far as I am concerned, not justified by this book. I was bored reading it from the beginning to the end. The writer wants to tell a simple woman’s life and love story, but fails to create suspense. In an attempt to make the story more interesting, Prior introduces some elements of grotesque which eventually turn out just disgusting. I usually do not mind grotesque or disgusting, but in La Cucina it just comes out inappropriate and (still!) boring.

La cucina (the kitchen) is hardly worth mentioning. Prior does not succeed to present the Sicilian cuisine in an appealing way. In addition, in Prior’s book the kitchen as a place represents an unhealthy substitute for love. When Rosa is sad, lonely or scared, she finds escape in her kitchen, cooking and eating. It reminded me of modern anorexic and bulimic girls all the time.

Yet, there is one good thing about this book:  the style. Prior writes in a way a middle-aged, simple, rural, Italian woman would be telling the story by herself. Through the language I could imagine Rosa, her thinking and her feelings. That was the only reason I kept reading the book through the end.

RECOMMENDATION: Maybe it is just me who does not like this book, so if you generally are an easy cuisine-and-romance type of a reader, you might give it a try.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Books in Numbers

It is time for me to start paying up my debts. A while before my moving and my total blackout from blogging I promised in I Can't Believe How Many Books I Have to count my books and calculate an approximate number of books I read so far. Here it is. I counted only fiction books.

Today I owe exactly: 101 books counting only fiction.
Books given away during moving (because of lack of space for them: one third, so approximately 33
Books I used to own but gave them away in the past: also approximately 30

That makes 164 books I used to own or still own. If that is about five per cent of all the books I read then I read somewhere about 3,000 books. Ok, I will be modest and say 2,500. Not bad for two decades of reading. I believe it is an honest number since I used to devour books in large quantities when I was younger. What about you? Can you say how many books you have read?

Monday, November 01, 2010

I'm Back!

Finally. And of course I owe a huge apology to my followers for not posting anything for such a long time. I am very grateful you have not stopped following my blog. I am really sorry for not being able to keep up with posting, but I have good reasons.

Namely, I moved from one place to another and had to re-establish my ISP service, and it took more than a month. When I finally got access to the Internet again, my computer chrashed down and I lost all the data including some pre-prepared posts. Just my bad luck. It took ages to get a working computer again.

But the worse thing was that I had so much work to do with the formalities that I had time to neither read nor write. I really hated it all. Nevertheless, things are starting to return back to normal, so I hope I will be able to keep my blog up to date from now on.

Again, sorry for the blackout and thanks for remaining my loyal followers.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Change of My Rating System

When I started this blog I found it difficult to decide how to rate the books I would review, because my opinion can vary a lot form book to book. I thought my rating system should be somehow connected to the title of my blog. Besides, I wanted to do it in an original way but didn’t quite succeed. So, I have been thinking about it ever since and I have finally come up with something I like.

From now onwards the book I review will be rated and labelled as follows:

* NOT STRANGE: it means the book is barely readable and a waste of time,
** A LITTLE STRANGE: it means the book is not bad, it has some good points, you can survive reading it, but I would not recommend it,
*** STRANGE ENOUGH: it means the book is interesting,
**** VERY STRANGE: it means the book is good, compelling, and I would definitely recommend it,
***** BEYOND STRANGE: it means the book opens a whole new world to the reader and is a life-changing must-read.

If I rate the book with two labels it means I think it is somewhere in between both ratings. 

I think this kind of rating is distinctive and suits my way of reviewing best. What do you think? Does it work for you or do you have any suggestions for improvement? 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Exterminate All the Brutes by Sven Lindqvist

Exterminate All the BrutesSUMMARY (by the publisher): Sweden's Sven Lindqvist provides a unique study of Europe's dark history in Africa, written in the form of a travel diary. Lindqvist examines the legacy of European racism, setting Conrad's Heart of Darkness in context and helping us to understand that most terrifying of Conrad's lines "Exterminate all the brutes".

MY OPINION:

Regarding racism, genocide and the Holocaust, I think at one point of their life everyone has asked themselves the question: how could this happen? In Exterminate All the Brutes Sven Lindqvist provides a comprehensive answer to this very question. To explain the development of European racism Lindquist takes a reader on a triple voyage.

The first voyage is a description of his own journey across the Sahara. Following Lindquist on his route from the north of Africa southwards the reader becomes familiar with the current situation in Africa. Lindqvist presents the people, their economic and social situation, the traditions, their mentality, the political circumstances and the corrupted and exploitative officials.

The second voyage is the red line of Lindqvist’s book, namely, constant references to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Lindquist uses Heart of Darkness to illustrate the main topic of his book, the journey from the first sprouts of racism in Europe to its escalation in the twentieth century.

The journey through the history of racism in Europe is the third voyage in Exterminate All the Brutes. It starts with the establishment of European colonies in Africa and continues with an account of the economic interests which drove European countries to usurp larger and larger territories of the African continent. Lindquist explains how Europeans wanted to justify their conquest of African territories and how their racist philosophy reached its peak in the Holocaust.

Thus, Lindqvist elaborates on a demanding topic step by step. He gives plenty of examples and illustrations. His style is despite the very serious topic easy to understand.

RECOMMENDATION: This is the book for everyone who wants to learn about the background of racism in Europe because it states the facts in a clear and appealing way.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Gift by Julie Garwood

Sprednja platnicaSUMMARY (by the publisher): A child bride, Sara Winchester had grown into a winsome beauty, joyfully anticipating the day when her husband Nathan, Marquess of St. James, would return to claim her at last. Charmingly innocent, she dismissed the ancient feud that divided her and Nathan's families... and she was totally unaware of his past exploits as the notorious pirate, Pagan. The man who now stood before her was perplexing, arrogant and powerfully handsome... a warrior-gentleman whose gentle touch aroused her to the wildest, deepest pleasures of love. Nathan had never bared his soul to any woman, but he was soon utterly beguiled and exasperated by Sara's sweet, defiant ways. Aboard his ship, The Seahawk, she was brave, imperious and determined to win his heart completely... yet upon their return to England, her love would be sorely tested as a most desperate conspiratcy sundered them from one another. Now, as their future trembled in the balance, they would discover the true destiny of their passion... for all time!

MY OPINION:

I will try to keep this review short, because I do not have much time to write these days. I read this book last month and I liked it very much. The Gift is a romance, but as other similar Garwood’s books, it is just the right mix of romance and adventure and it sticks close to what could happen in real life, which is good also.

The characters in The Gift are a little different than in other romances. Sara is a strong, confident girl who has her own opinion and does not let herself to be tricked into any kind of misunderstanding. Unfortunately for her, she is sometimes a victim of her innocence and honesty, but she manages to sort everything out, anyway. What adds to Sara’s charm is her clumsiness which causes some laughable situations.

Nathan is all what a main male character in a romance book should be. He is handsome, strong, honest, a little dangerous and even vulnerable. When reading about the situations Sara’s clumsiness or ignorance cause, I was compelled to feel sorry for him. Nathan has a patience of a saint which finally enables a happy ending for both of them.

RECOMMENDATION: A must-read for all romance lovers. It is a light reading, but it is also witty and excels by what I call a typical Garwood style. 

Friday, August 06, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: August 6-9, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

It’s Friday and time for hopping again! The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted by Jennifer atCrazy-for-Books. Its intention is for book bloggers to hop to other blogs, spread the word about their blogs, talk about the books and authors and make new friends. Each week, there is a question to answer.

This week's question is: Do you listen to music when you read? If so, what are your favorite reading tunes?

My answer:

I prefer silence when I read, so I don’t listen to music then. I block out the entire world out when I read anyway. Sometimes, I have a TV on when I read, but I usually don’t register anything.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

I Can’t Believe How Many Books I Have

I was doing some packing yesterday because I am moving to another flat when it hit me: is it possible I have so many books?! Four large boxes and it seems there are going to be at last two more. How did this happen?

One reason I am shocked is that I am really careful with money and I don’t spend it on a lot of books. Most of the time, I just borrow books from the library or from my friends. But, I guess the books just piled up.

I received some books as a gift from my parents for birthdays or as a reward for excellent year reports during schooling. I bought really few books, only those life-changing books I couldn’t live without. Yet, the result is just as a friend of mine prophesized a while ago: the majority of the stuff to move will be my books.

Another reason for my astonishment is my very approximate estimation that I own probably less than five percent of all the books I have ever read. I don’t have time for counting now, but I am definitely going to do so while unpacking. I wonder how many books there really is. I will do the maths and try to get a rough number of the books I read.

So, I will let you know about the outcome after all the commotion around the moving settles down. 

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Monkey House by John Fullerton

The Monkey HouseSUMMARY (by fantasticfiction): A dramatic story set in Sarajevo. Rosso is the detective inspector trying to find a murderer in a city at war, and Luka is the local crime boss exploiting the misery of the city's inhabitants. Tanja is a young woman who is loved by both men and facing an agonizing conflict of loyalties.

MY OPINION:

The Monkey House is about four days in the life of the chief police inspector Rosso in besieged Sarajevo during the Balkan wars. Fullerton literary throws the reader into the world of chaos, an inferno where a human life is worth nothing. He describes in detail the horror, the cold, the hunger and, above all, death. Death is everywhere. There is nobody to trust to; even a friend is an enemy.

Fullerton explains quite well the atmosphere of inevitability. He explains how injustice and pain pass over through centuries of human memory, how everything is intertwined in the Balkans, how revenge is sought and executed over and over again, which doesn’t allow the people to find a way out. The indifferent international community offers no solution either since there is nothing economically interesting in Bosnia. The fact that the international community doesn’t help, nor does it let people defend themselves, only emphasises the feeling of hopelessness.

In this environment it seems pointless to try to resolve a homicide. There is after all only one more dead body among so many. Not to mention that the deceased is a Serbian woman. These facts are pointed out several times to Rosso by people who want to convince him to stop investigating. Nevertheless, Rosso persists. Maybe he wants to redeem himself for the sins of his father, a WW II war criminal. Or, Rosso’s labour is just an attempt to retain the last bit of order, the last bit of morality and ethics.

Despite the chaos and the inferno, Fullerton shows the reader that not all goodness is lost. There are still people who try to help other people. There are people who are reliable, people who tell the truth, people who sacrifice themselves for other people. Even justice prevails, although only for a short period of time. These are the things which are still worth fighting for. This is why a spark of hope still remains.

RECOMMENDATION: The Monkey House offers a correct insight into one of the most terrible episodes in the recent history. Don’t be fooled thinking it is just a book. Remember: this was real; even more, the reality was worse than one can think. 

Monday, August 02, 2010

Tim by Colleen McCullough

TimSUMMARY (by the publisher): Mary Horton is content with her comfortable, solitary existence . . . until she meets Tim. A beautiful young man with the mind of a child -- a gentle outcast in a cruel, unbending world -- he illuminates the darkness of Mary's days with his boyish innocence. And he will shatter the lonely, middle-aged spinster's respectable, ordered life with a forbidden promise of a very special love.

MY OPINION:

Even nowadays, mental illness is still considered to be a taboo topic by many people. If nothing else, people feel uncomfortable talking about mentally challenged people just as they feel awkward being around them. Imagine how much more conspicuous people must have been about this topic in the mid 1970-s when there was a lot less known about mentally challenged  people. Nevertheless, Coleen McCullough courageously dealt with the topic in her first novel, Tim, published in 1974.

In her novel, McCullough portrays two very atypical characters. On one hand, there is Mary, an independent, self-sufficient, educated, successful and rich business woman in her forties. She is very strong on the outside, but she has enclosed herself from feeling any emotion and operates on a very rational level. She is an up-tight old maid who is very reserved. She doesn’t have friends and pays a lot of attention to propriety.

On the other side, there is Tim, a mentally challenged young man who cannot read. Yet, his condition still enables him to support himself by physical work in a small construction company. Tim is also, in Mary’s words, the most handsome man she has ever seen. His family is loving and supportive and they deal with him in the best way they can. However, they do not have either patience or knowledge to help him make the most of himself. His parents taught him to fear and avoid women in order to protect him from being exploited and hurt. Nevertheless, they cannot fully protect him from suffering. People make jokes in his presence and his colleagues play sometimes very dirty pranks on him, but Tim is not upset because of the jokes and the pranks. What makes him suffer is that he doesn’t understand the point.

When Mary meets Tim, she has no idea he is a mentally challenged person. Learning about his condition and seeing his extraordinarily handsome appearance makes her want to help him. Mary, being an educated woman, starts teaching him how to read and count and finds out that Tim is capable of understanding and thinking about much more than everybody else thinks. He only needs a lot of time and patience.

Just as Mary’s knowledge and reason help Tim make progress, Tim’s innocence and simplicity help Mary learn how to open up, smile and relax. As their bond grows stronger, some people around them are far from being understanding. Therefore, Mary is faced with a choice either to disappear completely from Tim’s life or find a solution best for Tim. McCullough thoroughly explores the pros and cons of either choice and finally shows the reader that if a person is open to possibilities, there is much more to life than you can imagine.

RECOMMENDATION: This is a wonderful novel about human nature and how there is strength in every person’s weakness. Read it if you want to see how strange, yet simple, paths can life take.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Books and Moods

I am a person who reads a lot. I read a lot of different genres, too. But not any book is good for any mood. This is how it works for me.

If I am sad, I really must read romance. It just makes me feel better right away. This is also because when I am sad, I am also tired and my brain just cannot gather the strength to read a “difficult” text either in style or in topic. Besides, if I am sad I need some reassurance and what could be better than an almost prefect little world with a happy ending. An exception from the said is poetry. Some very deep, sad or existential poetry makes me cry and consoles me at the same time.

Next, when I am angry I like to read anything to do with history, from historical romance to non-fictional documentary texts about history. This includes reading about war, especially the Second World War. This kind of reading helps me channel my anger and frustration into the past, I guess, and helps me stop being angry at whatever upsets me in the present.

I read science-fiction and fantasy when I am full of energy or when I feel adventurous. I think it is because science fiction and fantasy actually make me travel into a whole other world and people tend to need energy for long-distance travels, don’t we?

Finally, I have to be in a really good mood and in a peaceful state of mind to read some “heavy” literature, such as classics, biographies or some profession-related literature. I believe the reason why I need to be happy and emotionally strong to read such a book is that one needs to be focused when reading such literature. Also, some content in this kind of literature can be very irritating and it is best that one is calm when reading it.

Naturally, I make exceptions occasionally. I read a war novel when I am sad or a romance when I feel adventurous, etc., but generally I read according to what is written above. So, what about you? Does your reading of a particular genre depend on your mood or not?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: July 30 - Aug 2, 2010

Book Blogger Hop


Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books. Its intention is for book bloggers to hop to other blogs, spread the word about their blogs, talk about the books and authors and make new friends. Each week, there is a question to answer.

This week's question is: Who is your favorite new-to-you author so far this year?

My answer:

My favourite new-to-me author this year is Anthony Capella. He was born in Uganda and graduated from St. Peter's College in Oxford with a First in English Literature. I've so far read two of his four novels (the forth, The Empress of Ice Cream, is actually coming out today): The Wedding Officer and The Food of Love, I have only reviewed the latter so far. I like how he goes about serious issues in a unique light-but-not-so-light style. He is also a very vivid narrator, which I also find superb. 
       






The Wedding Officer                                      The Food of Love 

I am new to book blogging, so I haven't posted a lot yet, but hop by and see what I 've done so far. I've also got some beginner probems with technicalities, such as the layout of the posts. As you can see, the spacing just doesn't obey me:) I hope that doesn't scare anyone away:) So, feel free to coment on that too, any advice would be apreciated also.
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