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?
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