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.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron

SUMMARY (From Publisher’s Weekly): One frigid Midwestern winter night in 1988, a ginger kitten was shoved into the after-hours book-return slot at the public library in Spencer, Iowa. And in this tender story, Myron, the library director, tells of the impact the cat, named DeweyReadmore Books, had on the library and its patrons, and on Myron herself.

MY OPINION:

The story about Dewey is not just a story about an ordinary cat. I am a cat person. If we asked Dewey he would probably say he was a people cat. We learn that and much more form the heart-warming writing of Dewey’s – no, not owner – care-taker rather, Vicki Myron.

Her story about Dewey is nice, touching, sometimes emotional, but foremost realistic. Dewey is not an ordinary cat but he is not a supercat either. He is a smart, sociable cat, confident, regal, moody, and picky about the food. Dewey can enlighten people’s lives, but he has his own habits and whims, he is cat-like naughty, he has health problems, he is a real living creature. Consequently, Myron’s story about Dewey is not only about him, but also about the real world he lives in.

Therefore, Myron writes about Iowa: its history from the settlement on, its landscape and people and their economic and social situation through time. She also writes about herself and her life, her own personal battles and achievements. Dewey is a strong, bright spark in everything. Thus, as I was reading Myron’s book, I felt just as if I had been there and knew Dewey and experience the life she describes.

The greatest value of the story about Dewey is a testimony about how the little things, such as an abandoned kitten can make a very big difference in people’s lives, even if just for a moment. It is a story about bright and dark sides of life and about how people can make it through difficulties a bit more easily if they stick together than on their own. The book in an inspiration to everyone to lookout for something small which can make your day a little bit better.

RECOMMENDATION: Tissues needed for cat lovers.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Food of Love by Anthony Capella

SUMMARY (by the publisher): In Anthony Capella’s delicious debut novel, Laura, a twenty-something American, is on her first trip to Italy. She’s completely enamoured of the art, beauty, and, of course, food that Rome has to offer. Soon she’s enamoured of the handsome and charming Tommaso, who tells her he’s a chef at the famed Templi restaurant and begins to woo her with his gastronomic creations. But Tommaso hasn't been entirely truthful - he’s really just a waiter. The master chef behind the tantalizing meals is Tommaso’s talented but shy friend Bruno, who loves Laura from afar.

MY OPINION:

The Food of Love contains everything you need for relaxation, yet it is not cheap. It seems Capella has figured out a perfect recipe for a light but satisfying meal. You take one American, a love triangle, plenty of good Italian food, some humorous cross-cultural misunderstandings, mix it all together, spice it up with some stereotypes, and it is bound to be delicious. But Capella makes it a little different from what one would expect.

To start with, Laura is not a typical American girl. Instead of being just a wide-eyed, nagging tourist, she is open to experience another culture to full extent, unlike her fellow students and professors who prefer to stay safely behind the fences of the way of life they are accustomed to. Her willingness for exploration and adventurous spirit also make her vulnerable, especially since she is somewhat naïve. So, she learns all the wrong phrases to say to a boy, which is a source for a good laughter many times throughout the book.

Tomasso is a typical Italian playboy who uses foreign girls for short affairs. When meeting Laura, he genuinely believes she might change that. But he quickly starts making mistakes. Sensing his charm and looks will not be enough to seduce Laura, he lies about himself and asks his best friend to help him with his amazing cooking. From that moment lies accumulate over lies, and there is no way out of the labyrinth of deceit to be seen on the horizon.

Bruno is a shy, self-conscious man with really bad self-image, although or exactly because he is only an average-looking Italian. Therefore, he does not dare to approach Laura. He is satisfied by loving her from afar and making her happy with his delicious meals. Of, course, Tomasso’s and Bruno’s fraud eventually grows out of proportions and falls apart. The lesson of the book is that the truth always gets out.

When the truth unravels and Tomasso leaves Laura, she is appalled and seeks solace and safety in a relationship with her professor and in the comfort of the familiar American ways. Similarly, Bruno escapes to the countryside with a tail between her legs. But, Capella’s characters are not soap-opera characters who could sulk and hold a grudge against one another for ever. They are very much life-like characters. They find strength in their mistakes to improve themselves, to grow, to become better people.

Bruno finds his way back to Tomasso and finds out that his friend, who was always hungry for attention, turned his business ruin into success. Wanting to continue his career, he stumbles upon Laura again. This time his attempt to enchant her with food does not work. A nervous Laura, stripped of her appetite, finds herself liking Bruno just for who he is. And they all lived, perhaps not happily ever after, but with a promising future. That is a real life, too. The best quality of The Food of Love is exactly that it comes very close to what can happen in real life.

Speaking of real life, there is something else very realistic in Capella’s book. The descriptions of the recipes, the cooking, and all the food are detailed, but not boring. Capella’s culinary descriptions are so vivid you can see, smell, and taste everything you read about. This is the cherry on top of an excellent summer dessert.

RECOMMENDATION: When you want something easy, but not trashy, to read, this is the book for you. Warning: Don’t read it when you are hungry!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jerusalem by Andrea Frediani

JerusalemSUMMARY (by the publisher): Jerusalem is one of the greatest historical stories about early Christianity and the cruel crusade wars.

MY OPINION:

I was surprised when finding out that this book hadn’t yet been published in English. I normally review the books written in English or translated into English. But I will make an exception for this one, because it really is that good.

The plot of Jerusalem is very complex. There is a frame story which takes place in 70 AD, when a young boy is trying to sneak into demolished Jerusalem under Roman attack to retrieve the scripts of Saint Jacob, Jesus’s brother. The main story is set in the time of the first crusade.  The true agenda behind the first crusade is to find the previously mentioned scripts which could endanger the existence of the Catholic Church. Within the main story we follow the lives of eight heroes involved in the crusades.

Frediani manages to combine all these fragments into a cohesive unit very well. The transitions between the frame story and the main story and between the focuses on each of the eight individual characters are smooth, perfectly paced and in the right places. Detailed descriptions of military strategies are complemented by vivid illustrations of cruel battles and inhuman brutalities of the crusaders. The harsh scenes are afterwards softened by personal quests for redemption and noble, selfless actions of the main heroes and heroines. Interwoven throughout the plot are the most intriguing issues of the Christian faith.

Personally, I think the war and romance themes in Jerusalem are just a camouflage which Frediani uses to cleverly disguise his views about Christianity, especially about the Catholic Church. However, the writer is very tactful about expressing his sometimes quite heretic opinion. Frediani doesn’t want to insult anyone, instead, he pleases everyone. Those who think the Catholic Church misinterprets Jesus’s teaching and exploits it for its own benefit can find a confirmation of their belief in this book just as the true followers of the Catholic Church.

Furthermore, in the world after 9/11 Frediani tries to reconcile the Western (the Jewish and the Christian) and the Eastern (the Islamic world) through the conversations of the main characters set in Jerusalem nine hundred years before where they discover common points in their beliefs. Doing that, Frediani reminds the reader of the sad fact that the situation in the world and especially in Jerusalem today is no more different than it was two thousand or nine hundred years ago. In some parts of the book I had a very strong feeling of being asked a question: why doesn’t anyone do anything to change it?

Overall, Jerusalem is an extraordinary work for its complex plot, excellent style and the very powerful topics it opens. Basically, Jerusalem is a criticism of any religious fanaticism.

RECOMMENDATION: A must read book, but you need to be sure in your beliefs and have a strong stomach.

The Twilight Saga and The Host by Stephenie Meyer

  
SUMMARY: The Twilight Saga (by wikipedia):  Bella Swan moves from Phoenix, Arizona to live with her father in Forks, Washington to allow her mother to travel with her new husband, a minor league baseball player. After moving to Forks, Bella finds herself involuntarily drawn to a mysterious, handsome boy, Edward Cullen. She eventually learns that he is a member of a vampire family who drinks animal blood rather than human.
The Host (by the publisher): Our world has been invaded by an unseen enemy. Humans become hosts for these invaders, their minds taken over while their bodies remain intact and continue their lives apparently unchanged. Most of humanity has succumbed. When Melanie, one of the few remaining "wild" humans, is captured, she is certain it is her end. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, was warned about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the glut of senses, the too-vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind. When outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off on a dangerous and uncertain search for the man they both love.

MY OPINION:

I wrote about The Twilight Saga and The Host in a joint post at my other blog a while ago. My opinion about the books hasn’t changed since then, so here it is:

That Meyer Woman Is Just My Kind of a Genius

Obviously, I am a fan of Stephenie Meyer. However, this was not always taken for granted. Two years ago, when I first heard of a new teenage vampire romance fascinating the crowds, I found the very thought of reading it just sickening as I had been dealing with unnerving high school students at that time. But, then…

Then I came across of a colleague’s copy of New Moon lying on a desk in the teachers’ room with the appealing front cover up and the rest is history. You see, when I see a book, especially if it looks good, “it’s like a drug to me” and I simply have to pick it up, turn it around and read the back cover. I did that and I was hooked. I had no rest until I managed to buy the books and then I could not read them fast enough. Since then I have reread the saga several times both in English and in Slovene and I have just finished reading The Host. Again, I have been amazed. Basically, there are three reasons why I am so overwhelmed by Stephenie Meyer and her work.

Firstly, I like her inventiveness. Of, course, stories about vampires are not new at all, neither is the idea of alien invasion of human bodies. Yet, Meyer manages to combine several familiar bits and pieces, alters them, adds her own inventions and turns it all into something completely unpredictable but brilliant.

Next, through her work, Meyer expresses an idealism which is very unusual for modern age. The moral rules of the worlds she creates in her works are utterly inclined to the perfection of being good. Her protagonists firmly believe in this idealism and strive to achieve the highest possible state of goodness.

At last, Meyer’s idealism stands side by side with her optimism. No matter how many and how serious obstacles must her protagonists face, no matter how complex conflicts or impossible twists are there, everything always ends well. Unexpected or strange perhaps, nevertheless her works always have and-they-happily-lived-ever-after endings.

Contrary to these reasons, some people would disagree with me. They would say that Meyer ruins old concepts such as vampires, but I think it is merely because these people are either afraid of novelties or jealous because they themselves cannot come up with anything similarly remarkable. They would say her idealism is unattainable, but it is probably because they are too weak or too lazy to try to live up to such idealism. They would also say Meyer’s optimism is corny, but on my opinion they just do not have the courage to work towards their own happiness.

Over all, I find Stephenie Meyer’s work inspiring. In our modern world which despises the ideals and lacks hope, people need something to remind us that everything is possible. Being surrounded by an opposing atmosphere, it is very hard to be so inventive, idealistic and optimistic. Only a genius can do that. Stephenie Meyer definitely is a genius. Why is she my kind of a genius? Because I can entirely relate my beliefs to her work. Besides, I enjoy the daring new courses of her stories. I hope she will not change.


RECOMMENDATION: The Twilight Saga is, apart from maybe Twilight, NOT to be read by teenagers. In my opinion The Twilight Saga conveys, beneath the superficial theme of forbidden teenage romance, very complex issues and concepts which teenagers with raging hormones and lack of experience cannot fully comprehend. The Host is not a traditional science fiction, so you might like it even if you are not a science fiction enthusiast.

Grace and Truth by Jennifer Johnston

SUMMARY (by goodreads)Sally, an actress, has just returned from a long European tour to her house in Goatstown, and looks forward eagerly to seeing her husband, Charlie, again. When Charlie announces that he's leaving her, Sally, devastated and furious, makes him pack his bags at once. But maybe, she wonders later, she really is too hard to live with? Weighed down by the unspoken secrets of two generations, and hoping for some glimmer of comfort, Sally turns to her grandfather, the frosty old Bishop she has never really known.

MY OPINION:

Sally is a neurotic actress, who is despite her professional success an unhappy person. She is eternally restless and at the same time “whacked” because she feels as if she was only half of a human due to her unknown father. She doesn’t understand the motives for her mother’s silence about her father and her depression which led to her suicide. Sally is deeply burdened by the secrets she doesn’t know, by having practically no family and by uneasy relationship to her only relative, an old Church of Ireland Bishop, her grandfather.

Nevertheless, Sally is, just as her mother in the past, unable to do anything about her feelings of alienation and unhappiness until her husband Charlie announces he is leaving her. This is a trigger which sets Sally on her way to a new life. She decides to visit her grandfather who spends his days writing memoirs about his honourable work. There relationship is loose and distant but, as their encounters become more frequent over a short period of a few weeks, it seems that they will overcome their awkward, reserved attitude towards each other.

Sally is surprised by finding out her grandfather closely follows her career and has seen many of her roles on stage. She discovers that he, too, had an aspiration to become an actor, but was not allowed to follow his dreams. A bond finally forms between them. Then he hands her a booklet of memoirs he was prompted to write by her renewed visits. These are only for her to read.

The Bishop’s memoires finally reveal the deepest family secrets Sally has always wanted to know. Now, she wishes she had never read the booklet. But only for a while. Because the truth brings her grace at last to find strength in herself. The truth enables Sally to forgive her mother for her silence. The truth makes it possible for Sally, just as well as for the reader, to see that the Bishop’s high and honourable attitude and all his work were just a cover-up for his many sins and unhappy soul. Therefore, upon Sally’s last visit to the dying Bishop she can part from him with forgiveness.

Johnston’s novel portrays the danger of overprotective and possessive parents who leave their children in ignorance. SPOILER: If the Bishop’s wife was more educated about the nature of marriage, she wouldn’t have been frigid and wouldn't have rejected her husband. If she hadn’t almost completely excluded the Bishop from their daughter Ruth’s life, he would have been able to be a father to her and I think it would have been much less likely for him to indulge into an incestuous relationship with Ruth. END OF SPOILER

In Grace and Truth the overprotective and controlling parents cause their children’s misery. Ignorance just adds to that misery. If Sally’s mother was strong enough to reveal the truth at least to Sally, Sally’s if no one else’s life would be a whole lot different and, I dare say, happier.

RECOMMENDATION: If you don’t mind drawing conclusions and searching for the meaning underneath what is written by yourself, this is the book for you.
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