Monday, January 31, 2011

Out of Darkness

There was a lot of walking, but I have at least come out of the dark for now. It’s all about The Lord of the Rings. I am participating in LOTR Read-Along, hosted by Lorren at The Story Girl.


Reading LOTR again is for me as taking a walk down the familiar path one more time. I stop on the favourite parts to enjoy the view, hurry through some plainer gaps, marvelling at rediscovered beauties here and then.

It is wonderful to follow this story of loyalty, friendship and self-sacrifice, to read about strong characters that always retain their integrity in the fight against evil.

I enjoy very much the pieces of poetry and Tolkien’s wonderful language and feel my will strengthened by some of his great morals. Here is one of my favourites:

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For not even the very wise can see all ends.”

So, here I am, just finished journeying in the dark on page 432 out of 531 of The Fellowship of the Ring and am on the way leading closer to the lands of the Enemy… 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Blogger Hop, January 28 – 31, 2011

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.

 Book Blogger Hop

This week’s question is “What book are you most looking forward to seeing published in 2011?  Why are you anticipating that book?”

MY ANSWER:

I'm sure many great books will be published this year, although I have no idea which. The one exception I do know about and I'm really looking forward to is Jean M. Auel’s The Land of the Painted Caves. This is the sixth book in Earth’s Children series, which I love, so I am interested in what happens next, although I read there is a lot of repetition and not much happening. But, I like Auel’s style and her broad knowledge of the prehistoric era, so I’m very excited about this book.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Death of Kings (Emperor #2) by Conn Iggulden

The Death of Kings (Emperor)SUMMARY: After fleeing Rome, Julius Caesar serves on a ship where his military career starts climbing higher and higher. When he is released by the pirates who had been holding him and his comrades for ransom, he forms an army to get his revenge. Far away, Marcus Brutus makes his own career, forming another army from the remnants of the Ceasar’s uncle’s legionaries. Upon Julius’ return, the two friends must join their forces against the biggest enemy they had met so far – Spartacus’ rebellious army of slaves.

MY OPINION:

In this engaging sequel to The Gates of Rome, Iggulden presents the beginnings of Caesar’s military and political career. Being taken hostage by pirates, Caesar has a lot of time to plan how to avenge his uncle and regain his status.

The Death of Kings is a dynamic book, Caesar’s dealings with the pirates, assembling an army after being released and his battles in war and at court alternating with the life of his family and friends. As his military and political ambition and achievements grow, his family and his friends who used to be a source of his strength are more and more pushed in the background.

As Caesar’s charismatic personality of a leader begins to take shape, his relationships with other people become more and more lose, slowly isolating him in loneliness. The discrepancies endangering the bonds between Caesar and his best friend Marcus deepen. Every success brings him new enemies, while the admiration of the masses increases.

The Death of Kings gives a believable insight into the life of Julius Caesar and the development of his personality. It is a gripping book I could hardly put down.

RECOMMENDATION: The Death of Kings is a perfect book for people who are interested in history, but are bored by facts alone. Iggulden fictionalizes and dramatizes historical events to give them greater appeal. However, at the end of the book, he gives an account of fictionalized and dramatized events and their actual version, which gives the book and additional value.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Confession: Reading Bad Books

I wanted to write down my opinion on reading heretical and other so-called bad, inappropriate, immoral books, but having little time, I decided to double the challenge and kill two birds with one stone. So, I’m joining my thoughts with this week’s Red Writing Hood prompt – to write a piece using only dialogue.

 Red Writing Hood

“I want to make a confession, Father.”
“Speak, my child. I’m listening.”
“I often read books the Church says are bad or even heretical.”
“Oh, well, my child, if you know you’re not supposed to read such books, why do you read them? Those books corrupt you mind and taint your soul.”
“With all due respect, Father, I disagree.”
“How is that?!”
“I don’t think such books cause any damage to either my mind or my soul. On the contrary, I think I benefit from reading them.”
“What do you mean? Benefit?”
“Er, those books make me learn a lot about God and people.”
“You can learn the whole truth about God from the teachings of Mother Church. Everything else just confuses you and weakens your faith.”
“I wouldn’t say so. Er, I admit reading those books is a kind of a test for my faith. They make me think, but as I think about what is said in them, my faith only gets stronger.”
“It is very dangerous to think like that, my child. This tests, as you call them, are too big a temptation. You shouldn’t be reading things that might tempt you into unchristian thoughts or actions.”
“But, Father… Didn’t God give us free will to decide for goodness by ourselves? Whatever I read, I see what people should and shouldn’t do and I can distinguish by myself what is right or wrong. Isn’t it more valuable if I chose to be good and what to believe on my own than just blindly follow the rules?”
“My dear, that may have been so until now. But, eventually, you will give in the temptation. So, you’d better avoid this kind of reading in the future, will you?”
“Er, I… I can’t promise you that, Father.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, my child. You see, this is a sign of the Devil’s work already. I can’t give you absolution if you don’t intend to reform, then.”
“That’s all right, Father. I don’t mind. I leave that to God.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Labyrinth (Languedoc Trilogy #1) by Kate Mosse

Labyrinth (Languedoc Trilogy, #1)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): July 2005. In the Pyrenees mountains near Carcassonne, Alice, a volunteer at an archaeological dig stumbles into a cave and makes a startling discovery - two crumbling skeletons, strange writings on the walls, and the pattern of a labyrinth; between the skeletons, a stone ring, and a small leather bag.

Eight hundred years earlier, on the eve of a brutal crusade to stamp out heresy that will rip apart southern France, Alaïs is given a ring and a mysterious book for safekeeping by her father as he leaves to fight the crusaders. The book, he says, contains the secret of the true Grail, and the ring, inscribed with a labyrinth, will identify a guardian of the Grail. As crusading armies led by Church potentates and nobles of northern France gather outside the city walls of Carcassonne, it will take great sacrifice to keep the secret of the labyrinth safe.

MY OPINION:

The story of Labyrinth evolves around an ancient myth of The Holy Grail, supposed to give an eternal life, but it does not concentrate solely on it. Labyrinth is a story about two women and their intertwined destines in an everlasting conflict of three sides: those who want to protect the secret of the Grail, those who want to exploit it, and those who want to destroy it. 

Apart from one or two inconsistencies, the plot flows nicely, easily passing from one theme to another, despite its complexity. Mosse perfectly balances the past and the present, myth and science, personal lives of people and historic events. Both past and present are interwoven with suspense, danger, and suffering. In contrast to the most horrible aspects of life stand goodness, love, and sacrifice.

Labyrinth is an action-packed story, there is lots of events description from the persecution of Cathars and their everyday life to Alice’s flight from those who hinder her uncovering of secrets. Through a very intense motion of events, Mosse pays just the right amount of attention to the characters, which are skilfully developed.

I really liked the portrayal of Alaïs and her husband Guilhem and their relationship. I found the growth of both characters very lifelike. Their strength and sacrifice is a bright spot against the dark times.

Alaïs is an extraordinary character for her time. Belonging to the privileged, she lives in a protective environment, but she pays attention to those who are less fortunate than her. She is, contrary to the custom of the period, an educated woman, she knows how to read and write and she thinks on her own. She is a skilled healer, always ready to help others, especially her father whom she loves very much.

She also loves her husband, Guilhem, who returns her feelings. Yet, he is foolish enough to let himself be seduced into treachery. His betrayal, both personal and ideological, hurts Alaïs very much and puts an obstacle between them. Recognising his mistake, Guilhem devotes his life to redeem himself in the fight for good, which eventually earns him Alaïs’s forgiveness and reunites them.

Mosse depicts the cruelty of the Crusaders (and modern day villains) and the suffering of Cathars (and Alice and her friends) so realistically it made the book difficult to read at times. The harsh parts are softened with illustrations of loyalty, love, and friendship. Reading Labyrinth was an emotional experience for me. It got me sucked into the book, which really makes up a good book.

RECOMMENDATION: Labyrinth has it all: history, romance, suspense, mystery, myth and danger. There are some explicit description of violence and some controversial religious views. It is a wonderful book for everyone who is neither too squeamish about the first nor bothered by the latter. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Blogger Hop, January 14 – 17, 2011

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.

Book Blogger Hop

This week’s question is “Why do you read the genre that you do?  What draws you to it?”

MY ANSWER:

There is something interesting in every genre. I read historical fiction because that is an easy way of learning about history, it really intrigues me and after having read a historical fiction book I often go and check the facts and I learn a lot in this way.

I love reading romance because I can relate to the characters and their feelings and in a way experience their happy endings.

I also read travelogues and memoirs because I get to know a lot about people and places.

Fantasy and paranormal intrigues me because I can discover all kinds of new strange worlds and thus have adventures on my own.

And so on and so on … you get the idea… every genre has something that interests me. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Persuasion by Jane Austen

PersuasionSUMMARY (from Goodreads): At twenty-seven, Anne Elliot is no longer young and has few romantic prospects. Eight years earlier, she had been persuaded by her friend Lady Russell to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a handsome naval captain with neither fortune nor rank. What happens when they encounter each other again is movingly told in Jane Austen’s last completed novel. Set in the fashionable societies of Lyme Regis and Bath, Persuasion is a brilliant satire of vanity and pretension, but, above all, it is a love story tinged with the heartache of missed opportunities.

MY OPINION:

Persuasion is the first book by Jane Austen I have read since I tried Emma in high school and could not make past the first few pages. Maybe it had been because of the translation or I just had not been up to it then. I read Persuasion in English and after getting used to the writing style in the first two chapters, I could not believe I had been intentionally avoiding Austen for such a long time.

As already mentioned, it takes some time to get used to the language of the late 18th/early 19th centuries. However, when I got past this I found the book very enjoyable, both for the plot and the characters as well as for its language and writing style.

Anne Elliot is a character I can easily relate to and sympathise with. Being the middle child, she gets little or no attention from her father, despite being the most sensible and pleasant one of the three Elliot sisters. She is a quiet, good-natured person who would do anything to please everybody. She even gives up her love to indulge her family’s pride.

Her older sister Elizabeth is very much like her father who appreciates her above all of his daughters. She shares his feelings of pride and social value; nowadays we would call them snobbish. Mary, Anne’s younger sister, is in addition to being proud, also eternally unhappy; she is always complaining, she longs to be in the spotlight and I think she is a hypochondriac.

A major theme in Persuasion is social status. Every character is constantly concerned with what is or is not proper for a person in his or her position. Concerning social position, characters are generally narrow minded, which is a real obstacle for love which wins only by improving one’s social position in  order to become an appropriate match. This was actually the only thing that bothered me in this book.

Another compelling feature of Persuasion is its historic testimony about socially acceptable behaviour in the past. I find it especially intriguing how little time and chance young people had to get to know each other and fall in love. Otherwise, the plot flows smoothly, there are beautiful descriptions of scenery, and some unexpected twists continue gripping the reader’s interest throughout the book.

RECOMMENDATION: Persuasion is a timeless book which deals with topics important at any point in history. I think anyone could find it to be an interesting read. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Something New

I just want to let everyone know I started another blog. As I say in my profile, I like watching films and TV practically as much as reading. Since I like to have thing more or less neatly organised and categorised if possible and I have wanted to have a place where I am able to express my thoughts about films, TV series and alike, I decided to create a new blog just for that.

I have no idea how on earth will I manage both, but at least now I have it ready for when I might need it. You are welcome to check out Beyond strange new pictures

Friday, January 07, 2011

Book Blogger Hop, January 7 – 10, 2011

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.

Book Blogger Hop

This week’s question is “What book influenced or changed your life? How did it influence/change you?”

MY ANSWER:

There were many books which influenced and changed me. Everything I read makes me think about the issue it tackles and shapes my personality in that way. So, it is difficult for me to point out just one.

In my teenage years, no matter how strange it may sound, WW II novels thought me to think on my own, to look beyond stereotypes and prejudice. Those novels showed me that everything was not black and white (as the officials in my country wanted us to believe) and that everything can and should be considered from different points of view.

More recently, I might say the most influential and life-changing book has been The Lord of the Rings. It made me rethink human nature and the concepts of good and evil. I find Tolkien’s writing most inspiring. 

Red Writing Hood - Alphabet

I decided to try out something new in this brand new year, so here is my first post for the Red Writing Hood, a wonderful meme hosted at the red dress club. This week we had to write a piece of prose or poetry, each sentence starting with the next letter of the alphabet.

 

Agitated she stood by the window. Blind of worry, her eyes were staring outside while her spirit was searching for him in the wastelands of the world.

Christopher appeared in her dreams tonight. Dawn awakened her from a mixture of bliss and dread. Exhilaration filled her seeing him again. Frightfully, she felt at the same time as if he was saying goodbye. Grief was slowly creeping inside her to replace anxiety. Her long waiting was now coming to an end. In the distance, she heard the doorbell rang.

July 10th, said the calendar on the wall. Knowing what news had arrived, she slowly forced herself to go downstairs, hesitating for a moment before she answered the door. Letting them in the hallway after muttering greetings while none of the two men possessed the courage to look her in the eyes, she waited impatiently to hear what they had come to tell her.

Madam,” started the one with the rank of a lieutenant, finally looking at her expressionless face, telling her that Christopher had died for his country in the line of duty. Numbly she showed them out and closed the door behind them. Over her face silent tears were pouring.

Panting like an old lady she clambered back upstairs to her bedroom. Quietly she slipped into an armchair, drifting into memories. Remembering Christopher, from the time they had first met to the day he had last left, strengthened her intention. She had had a plan this day should come.

The vial had been kept in the bedside table drawer for a long time. Unwaveringly she took it out now and swallowed down all of its content; afterwards, setting the vial aside, she laid onto her bed. Visions entered her mind once the substance was beginning to take effect, drying the tears upon her face. Weight left all her soul and body as she sank into a comfortable, peaceful void.

Xylophones sounded in the air and out of the distant light which was getting brighter and brighter there was a familiar figure approaching. Yearning, she hurried forward, seeing him smile, reaching out his right hand to her. Zephyr blew softly through her hair, harps hummed, warmth overflowed her when their fingers touched and time stopped. 

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Dark Mysteries of the Vatican by H. Paul Jeffers

Dark Mysteries of the VaticanSUMMARY: The Catholic Church is the oldest and the most influential institution in the world. Its secretiveness has always been accompanied by lies, scandals and conspiracies. Dark mysteries of the Vatican include everything from the plot against the Templar Knights to sympathising with the Nazis, from exorcism to the Church’s view upon aliens and the end of the world.

MY OPINION:

At the beginning I have to say that this book was not what I had expected it to be. I had supposed it would either be gravely discrediting the Vatican or ardently defending it. However, Jeffers does neither of these.

Dark Mysteries of the Vatican is predominantly a factual book. It provides a lot of evidence acquired through a thorough research. Jeffers is a very objective author. Whichever myth, secret or rumour he focuses on, he tries to resolve it by stating factual proofs from various documents, including the vast quantity of material from the Vatican archives.

The most interesting parts of the book to me were those about the book prohibition process and murders and the history of the Catholic Church, from which I actually learned something new. Generally there was only few data surprising or new to me, but it might be just because I have been always interested in the Church and I knew a lot about it prior to reading this book.

Also, I felt at times the book is even a little over packed with data and in other places lacking information. The latter is understandable due to a very limited access to some Vatican documents. What has always been most intriguing for me and is still left unsolved is the question why the Church is so reluctant to make public the documents which could clarify some confusing issues or in particular cases possibly clear its name, unless those documents would be unfavourable to the Church, or it might be somehow for our own benefit.

All in all, Jeffers’s objective, fact-based approach is praiseworthy, although it has one flaw as I see it, which is that it hardly provides any conclusive answers. Nevertheless, it is not necessarily a bad thing, since everyone can come to their own conclusions according to their beliefs and in this way the book avoids offensiveness, which is very important dealing with such a delicate subject matter.

RECOMMENDATION: If you are interested in all the mysteries about the Vatican and the Catholic Church and you are not too squeamish about scandalous insinuations, this is definitely the book to read, but do not expect to get any final answers. Instead, you will get a lot of factual evidence upon which you can form your own opinion.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Austen Personality Quiz

I was a bit bored today, but I didn’t feel like doing anything serious, so I took this nice Austen Heroines Quiz. So, to tell something more about me, this is what came out of my totally honest answers:

You are Anne Elliot of Persuasion! Let's face it; you're easily persuaded, particularly when friends and relatives try to use "the Elliot way" against you. But this doesn't mean that you don't have conviction. Actually, your sense of duty is overwhelming. And though you won't stick your neck out too often, you have learned to speak up when it counts. To boot, you know how to handle sticky situations. You love deeply and constantly.”
My reaction was: Wow! It’s fascinatingly accurate. This is exactly me. 

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2011 Challenge(s)


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:

  • 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)
  • to read 3 of Harry Potter books  (yes, I have managed to skip those, too, until now)
  • to read 50 books between January 1st – December 31st 2011 (I think I can manage one book a week)
  • to clean-up 10 books from my TBR shelf (they count among the 50)
  • rereads don’t count
  • books not written in English and not translated into English don’t count either

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

CHALLENGES RECORDS:

3 books by Jane Austen:


3 Harry Potter books

50 books:

Books are listed in order of reading; those reviewed are linked to their reviews and also listed under My Reviews tab. The books not counting (rereads, non-English) are in italics and numbered separately, but I list them here to keep track of the total number of the books I read. 

  1. Dark Mysteries of the Vatican by H. Paul Jeffers
  2. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  3. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (from my TBR list 1)
  4. The Death of Kings (Emperor #2) by Conn Iggulden
  5. Tongue in Chic by Christina Dodd
  6. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
  7. A Hunger Like No Other (Immortals After Dark #2) by Kresley Cole
  8. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (from my TBR list 2)
  9. The Field of Swords (Emperor #3) by Conn Iggulden
  10. The Koran
  11. The Gods of War (Emperor #4) by Conn Iggulden
  12. The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse (from my TBR list 3)
  13. England's Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch 
  14. Blood of My Brother by James LePore
  15. Playing Easy to Get by Sherilyn Kenyon, Jaid Balck and Kresley Cole 
  16. No Rest for the Wicked (Immortals After Dark #3) by Kresley Cole
  17. Sepulchre by Kate Mosse (from my TBR list #4)
  18. Club Dead  (Sookie Stackhouse #3) by Charlaine Harris 
  19. Random Magic by Sasha Soren
  20. Dead to the World  (Sookie Stackhouse #4) by Charlaine Harris
  21. Lament (Books of Faerie #1) by Maggie Stiefvater
  22. Ransom My Heart by Meg Cabot
  23. Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon (from my TBR list #5)
  24. The Awakening (The Vampire Diaries #1) by L. J. Smith (from my TBR list #6)
  25. The Tsarina's Daughter by Carolly Erickson (from my TBR list #7)
  26. The Struggle (The Vampire Diaries #2) by L. J. Smith (from my TBR list #8)
  27. Fatherland by Robert Harris (from my TBR list #9)
  28. The Fury (The Vampire Diaries #3) by L. J. Smith (from my TBR list #10)
  29. The Reunion (The Vampire Diaries #4) by L. J. Smith
  30. The Luxe (Luxe #1) by Anna Godbersen
  31. The  Alarming History of European Royalty by Karl Shaw
  32. The Lowlands of Heaven by F. J. Dagg
  33. It Must Be Love by Rachel Gibson
  34. Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night (Immortals After Dark #4) by Kresley Cole
  35. Fallen (Fallen #1) by Lauren Kate
  36. Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5) by Charlaine Harris
  37. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  38. Nightfall (The Vampire Diaries: The Return #1) by L. J. Smith
  39. Shadow Souls (The Vampire Diaries: The Return #2) by L. J. Smith
  40. Soldier of Rome: The Legionary by James Mace
  41. Midnight (The Vampire Diaries: The Return #3) by L. J. Smith
  42. Ballad (Books of Faerie #2) by  Maggie Stiefvater
  43. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pulmann
  44. London's Perfect Scoundrel by Suzanne Enoch 
  45. Wake Unto Me by Lisa Cach
  46. A Great Place for a Seizure by Terry Tracy
  47. The Inspector General by Nikolai Gogol 
  48. The Vampire Lestat (The Vampire Chronicles #2) by Anne Rice
  49. A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
  50. The Pillars of Society by Henrik Ibsen
  51. The Queen of the Damned (The Vampire Chronicles #3) by Anne Rice
  52. Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
  53. The Expected One (Magdalene Line Trilogy #1) by Kathleen McGowan
  54. Surviving with Wolves by Misha Defonseca
  55. Phantom (The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters #1) by L. J. Smith*
  56. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún by J. R. R. Tolkien
  57. Sire (The Vampires of St. Troy #1) by Thomas Galvin 
  58. Vision in White (Bride Quartet #1) by Nora Roberts
  59. Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)  by Kresley Cole
  60. Flight of the Falcon by Susan Geason

*written by an anonymous ghost-writer

Books not counting for the challenge (and reasons):

  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (reread)
  2. Die Verbotene Frau (original title in German, read it in Slovene)
  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (reread)
  4. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (reread)
  5. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer (reread)
  6. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (reread)
  7. The Stranger by Albert Camus (reread)
  8. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (reread)
  9. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (reread)
  10. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (reread)
  11. Za narodov blagor by Ivan Cankar (Slovene book and author, most probably not translated into English)
  12. Limonada Slovenica by Vinko Moderendorfer (Slovene book and authour, not translated into English)
  13. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (reread)
CHALLENGES WRAP-UP:

·       3 Jane Austen novels: I read two, but I will keep reading them, because I started to like her writing. ü

·       3 Harry Potter books: failed miserably – read zero. I think I’ll keep those waiting for a while longer, but I might get to them some time. X 

·       50 books: I read 60 books. ü

Total books read: 73


I also read 13 books which I did not count in the 50 books challenge because they were either rereads or not written and/or translated into English.

Rating stats – according to my Goodreads ratings, though I rated several books with half-stars:

Did not rate: 1
* not strange: 0
** a little strange: 3
*** strange enough: 17
**** very strange: 30
***** beyond strange: 9

I must say I feel good about reaching and surpassing (some of) my reading goals this year. It has been a good reading year.

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