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 clich├ęs. 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.
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