Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Fellowship is Finished!

Literally. My March follow-up post for the LOTR Read-Along, hosted by Lorren at The Story Girl, contains SPOILERS.


The last part of The Fellowship of the Ring is one of my favourite parts of The Lord of the Rings. Escaping the orcs of Moria, the fellowship finds refuge in Lothlórien, an enchanted forest from where no one comes out unchanged. There is “the heart of Elvendom on earth” where ancient things still live and time passes differently.

There is a lot of poetry included in this part of book, hinting at ancient people and events, which makes a reader more and more curious about the Elves and their history. I enjoyed the poetry very much. The following sadly beautiful verses particularly speak to me:

I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew:
Of wind I sang, a wind there came and in the branches blew.
Beyond the Sun, beyond the Moon, the foam was on the Sea,
And by the strand of Ilmarin there grew a golden Tree.
Beneath the stars of Ever-eve in Eldamar it shone,
In Eldamar beside the walls of Elven Tirion.
There long the golden leaves have grown upon the branching years,
While here beyond the Sundering Seas now fall the Elven-tears.
O Lórien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream, the River flows away.
O Lórien! Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined the golden elanor.
But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?

Lórien is ruled by Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel. Galadriel is a strong, wise woman, a High Elf from ancient times and she is a likable character, although she is surrounded by an aura of mystery. 

The Company gets time to rest and regain their strengths back in Lórien, but is also tested, because Galadriel can read their secret wishes and tests what would they do if she made those wishes possible to come true.

Nevertheless, accordingly to the Elves’ custom, the Company does not get advice. They are left to make their decisions on their own. In Lórien and after leaving it, a reader witnesses Aragorn weighing between going with Frodo till the end of his Quest or with Boromir to help defend his rightful kingdom. Aragorn never doubts his strength or his rights as the heir of Elendil. However, I think this weighing between the possible roads was probably mistakenly interpreted as Aragorn doubting in himself by the LOTR film trilogy makers, which resulted in presenting Aragorn a weak exile who refuses to follow his fate, and I disliked that.

There is also great example of a paradox between what people say and do. Boromir calls men such as himself true in their hearts, men who cannot be corrupted by the Ring. Yet, it is him who actually is influenced by the Ring, desiring it to the extent which makes the Fellowship fall apart in the end. This is an illustration about how evil wants to convince people it does not exist, which is its greatest victory.

However, even though the Fellowship ends up scattered, the road goes on. So, I’m looking forward to The Two Towers and continued battle between good and evil. Even though it is all happening in a remarkably strange, invented world, I like the LOTR because of the realistic lessons I can draw inspiration from to help me face the harsh present world.   

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Seasonal Blog Makeover

This is just a short post to let you know I've been feeling spring-y today and decided to spring-ify my blog's looks a little.

As you can see I went for young-grass green and warm earthly tones. I love it, it reminds me of a smell of newly ploughed fields and dewy meadows in the morning.

What do you think about it?

Do you stick to one blog look or change it? What makes you change your blog look - season, tiredness of the same appearance or something else?

P.S. By the way, I have trouble writing these days, but I'm on a reading spree, so I'll eventually write a stack of reviews.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Blogger Hop, March 25 – 28, 2011

Book Blogger Hop is 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

“If you could physically put yourself into a book or series…which one would it be and why?”

MY ANSWER:

The Lord of the Rings, of course. I love the world Tolkien created, its stunning landscapes, peoples and languages. The hobbit way of life would fit me perfectly. I’m much of a stay-at-home, peace and nature loving person. The Shire seems a delightful place to live in. I wouldn’t mind being an Elf either. Or a citizen of Gondor, living in the beautiful Minas Tirith / Minas Anor (preferably after Sauron is destroyed). 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Booking Through Thursday – Serial


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Series? Or Stand-alone books?

This is a serious dilemma. I read both stand-alone book and series, although I have noticed I have been reading an awful lot of series lately. That is probably because it is difficult to come across a stand-alone book these days. Every decent book I pick up is a part of a series. It has started getting on my nerves.

I have several problems with series.

Firstly, they take a lot of time.

Secondly, I borrow most of the books I read from the library and it takes ages to get a hand on the next book in a series. If I start reading something, I like to read it through. It is unnerving to have to wait to read on, especially when I like the book/series and want to find out what happens next.

Thirdly, some series are apparently written just because the first book in the series was popular and the author wants to milk some more money from it. So, he or she writes some more books, dragging on the subject, not knowing which direction to pursue, just to write another book. A mild case of this kind of a book is Eclipse. Although I love The Twilight Saga, it is obvious to me that Meyer had no idea where to lead the story and how would Bella finish up when writing the Eclipse. There are of course much worse cases, such as the middle books of Benzoni’s Marianne series which could be two or three books shorter. 

Naturally, there exist compelling series, where nothing is redundant and I only wish them to continue. For instance, Iggulden’s Emperor series (the reviews of which you can find listed on My Reviews page) could continue, I would definitely like to read on about Octavian’s rule, etc. Also, short series, such as trilogies, written to actually tell the story are great. I also like series, where books can be read as stand-alone, such as many of Nora Roberts’ trilogies.

I think there should be more stand-alone books. It just does not get better than a well-rounded book with a conclusive ending. That kind of books which does not leave the reader unsatisfied and longing is the most enjoyable.

To conclude, both stand-alone books and series are enjoyable if they actually say something. I take delight both in stand-alone books and series, in any case it all depends on the content.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cambridge Wizard Student Guide: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Richard McRoberts

Cambridge Wizard Student Guide The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Cambridge Wizard English Student Guides)SUMMARY: The Guide contains chapter summaries and character analysis with quotes, information about autism, sample essay questions and sample essays.

MY OPINION:

My review is based on the helpfulness of this student guide to ESL high schools students.

I think this book is somewhat useful to ESL students with advanced knowledge of English and above average grades. Those students might use the guide as a quick reference book to refresh their memory. The same goes for teachers in this case. Essay samples might be helpful to those same students in terms of showing them the level of writing they should aim to achieve.

Apart from the above, the guide has little use. The summaries are too general to be of any real help and character portrayals and other analysis too demanding for students struggling with mediocre and low grades.

RECOMMENDATION: I am somewhat disappointed by this book. Its main value is in serving as a reference book, but both teachers and students would have to use other resources when approaching Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeSUMMARY (from Goodreads): Christopher is an intelligent youth who lives in the functional hinterland of autism – every day is an investigation for him because of all the aspects of human life that he does not quite get. When the dog next door is killed with a garden fork, Christopher becomes quietly persistent in his desire to find out what has happened and tugs away at the world around him until a lot of secrets unravel messily.

MY OPINION:

The first time I started reading this book (I have just re-read it), I thought Christopher is a rude, troublesome kid, even worse – psychopath as a friend of mine called him. But that was only in the beginning. As I read on and learned more and more about Christopher and his way of thinking and the way his mind functions, my prejudices vanished making way for understanding.

Haddon’s writing in the first person point of view makes the readers put themselves into Christopher’s place and see the world as he does. In this way the problems he has to face become clear. The readers can see themselves from the opposite side, from the viewpoint of a person with Christopher’s disability and it may not be a nice sight. However, this is precisely the essence of Haddon’s book – to make the readers aware of their attitude towards people like Christopher, and, even more importantly, to make them open up to learning how to change their attitude and improve their interaction and relationships with autistic people.

Christopher’s story is also an inspiration for not letting a disability hinder a person’s life. Christopher does not give in to the stereotypes about what he is able or not able to do, he has dreams and plans, and he works hard to achieve them. He is a courageous person who surpasses his fears and difficulties to do what he decides to.  

RECOMMENDATION: This book is a window into the world of an autistic person and a mirror to the rest of us at the same time. It is a very educational and inspiring book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

England’s Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch

England's Perfect Hero (Lessons in Love, #3)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): Lucinda Barrett’s best friends ended up married to the men to whom they delivered their “lessons in love”. So Lucinda decides to choose someone who definitely needs lessons, but someone who will not complicate her life. And that person is definitely not Robert Carroway.

Robert is nothing if not complicated, and though he is a brother of a viscount, he rarely goes about society, and finds the weather and hat fashions ludicrous subjects for discussion. Robert is attracted to Lucinda’s unpretentious ways, her serenity and her kindness. When she chooses someone for her love lessons, Robert offers to help her deliver her lessons, but sets out to convince the woman he has fallen for to take a chance on love ... and on him.

MY OPINION:

This was a nice relaxation read, interesting enough to read it smoothly through but not too complicated to spend too much energy contemplating it.

Lucinda is a pleasant girl, well-mannered, very attentive towards her old father and generally a likable character. She is polite, compassionate, able to think for herself, but I had a feeling there was something missing. Perhaps it was her calculated choosing of a man who would make a good husband from purely practical reasons, or it was her too quick a surrender to Robert, or perhaps her slow acknowledgment of her feelings and her naïve trust into her father.

I am fine with the heroine having faults, after all faults make a character intriguing. However, I have problems with the fact that her choices and her change are not supported with enough arguments to make her completely credible.  

Despite the slight weakness of Lucinda’s character, the book is well worth reading for the sake of Robert Carroway. He is a suffering figure, an ex-soldier who returned home wounded both physically and mentally from the Napoleonic wars. The memories of war torture him and cloak him in darkness, so he stays at home and rarely speaks, which earns him a reputation of a lunatic in the society.

Lucinda is the first person who treats Robert with compassion and sympathy but at the same time does not tip-toe around him as his family members do. Their re-encounter is what firstly encourages him to try to return to life again. Robert’s journey from his seclusion and his emotional pain to revival and love is very well developed. It is compelling to observe the struggle between his fears and the pure effort of his will he has to put in to regain his life.

In the end, England’s Perfect Hero is both an easy book you read to unwind and an absorbing life story with some well written laughable scenes.

RECOMMENDATION: If you want to read a book which doesn’t take a lot of your time and effort, but still captures your imagination, this is just the kind of book I recommend. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Face of Death

Red Writing Hood is a weekly meme hosted at The Red Dress Club. I haven’t done this for a while, because I had been so busy. This week's assignment was to write a short piece, either fiction or non-fiction, about something ugly - and find the beauty in it. I don’t know if I quite nailed the prompt but I found it really inspiring and this came out of it.

 

The cold was cutting through the bones. The trees were creaking, their black, rotting trunks towering up menacingly. The barren branches offered no shelter from the breathing frost whirling sinister mists above the ground. Under a thin layer of snow twisted roots were crawling as snakes.

Infrequent sunrays which pierced through the mists were now and then reflecting from the icy rubies in the creek. The stream was quiet, the water was frozen together with the spots of blood in crimson gleam. A pair of legs was sticking out of the ice, the water half frozen back above where the rest fell in.

Men and horses were scattered on the bank. During the night mud and blood consolidated into a reddish brown rock. A black horse was lying on it side, eyes wide open, guts gushing from its corpse. Another one not far away had a skull split down the middle, legs coiled in their deadly spasm.

The limbs of men on the ground were all unnaturally bent, some almost severed by the sharp blades of the enemies. Two bodies were hung on a nearby tree, their mouths ajar in the eternal last gasp for air. The stained uniforms were stripped of insignias, the faces covered with wounds and dirt, some unrecognizably crushed with heavy boots.

A lock of wheat-coloured hair glistened golden at the touch of light. A young soldier was lying on his back, his broken right hand strangely curved, his uniform bloody on his chest, a long wide cut on his neck, the ground all rusty red underneath him.  

His handsome face seemed untainted. The pale skin was flawless, as smooth as ever. His hair was set aside from his face as if someone had just combed them. His eyes were all but closed, sparkling blue behind the eyelashes, as though he had been only pretending to sleep. Fine wrinkles formed round his lips, curved to smile any minute.

But Christopher was gone. A searing pain surged through her body. She abruptly opened her eyes. It took her a while to realise she was in her bed. It was only a dream. She rubbed the tears from her eyes and tried to calm the thudding of her heart. A terrifying thought sent chills down her spine. What if it wasn’t just a dream?

Book Blogger Hop, March 11 – 14, 2011

Book Blogger Hop is 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.

“If I gave you £50 (or $80) and sent you into a bookshop right now, what would be in your basket when you finally staggered to the till?”

Book Blogger Hop

MY ANSWER:

That’s a difficult question. Most probably these:


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Blood Brothers, The Hollow, The Pagan Stone (Sign of Seven Trilogy) by Nora Roberts; 

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Key of LightKey of KnowledgeKey of Valor (KeyTrilogy) by Nora Roberts;

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oh, and if there was any money left I'd grab a book or a few of them from Kresley Cole's Immortals after Dark series (you can read my review of A Hunger Like No Other).

UPDATE: I've only learned of this morning's earthquake. My thoughts and prayers goes to people in Japan  and I wish safety to all the people alongside the coasts. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Booking Through Thursday – Multi-Tasking


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Do you multi-task when you read? Do other things like stirring things on the stove, brushing your teeth, watching television, knitting, walking, et cetera?
Or is it just me, and you sit and do nothing but focus on what you’re reading?
(Or, if you do both, why, when, and which do you prefer?)

Reading usually sucks me in, so I can’t do anything else alongside it. Sometimes I have TV on, but reading takes all my attention and I have no idea what is happening on TV. The same is with eating. If I read while having breakfast or dinner I forget to eat and it takes ages for me to finish the meal (the physical one, but my mind hunger gets sated at least).

As for doing anything else: if I'd walked while reading, I'd probably trip over, oh and don't put a book anywhere near me while I'm cooking or else there might be a lot of work for the fire department, and so on, you get the idea. When I'm reading it's just me and the book world and I become totally oblivious of all the rest. 

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

The Winter GhostsSUMMARY (from Goodreads): The Great War took much more than lives. It robbed a generation of friends, lovers and futures. In Freddie Watson's case, it took his beloved brother and, at times, his peace of mind. In the winter of 1928, still seeking resolution, Freddie is travelling through the French Pyrenees. During a snowstorm, his car spins off the mountain road. He stumbles through woods, emerging in a tiny village. There he meets Fabrissa, a beautiful woman also mourning a lost generation. Over the course of one night, Fabrissa and Freddie share their stories. By the time dawn breaks, he will have stumbled across a tragic mystery that goes back through the centuries.

MY OPINION:

The Winter Ghosts is an overwhelming book. Kate Mosse masterfully recreates historical periods. Her beautiful language puts the reader right into the place and time it describes. Mosse’s writing makes you feel as if you were there, walking side by side with Freddie, seeing what he sees, hearing what he hears, and feeling what he feels.

Freddie is too young to have participated in The Great War, but it takes its toll on him anyway. In the late 1920s when everyone wants to forget and move on, he cannot do so. He is unable to get over his brother’s death. Nobody understands his grief, his holding on to the past. Freddie is restless, desperately clinging to his brother’s shadow, incapable of facing life as other people do. His situation is the most painful of all, because he is, in his own words, terrified to remember and to forget at the same time.

Then Freddie arrives to the French Pyrenees and immediately senses this world is closer to his heart than any other place. Mosse gives vivid descriptions of natural scenery and the sad, mysterious atmosphere hanging over the land. In this environment where the past mixes with the present, Freddie meets Fabrissa. As she is the only one who can understand his sorrow, he is the only one who can understand her. Freddie, who walks a thin line between his own past and present, is the only one susceptible enough to uncover the tragic secret of her past and help Fabrissa and her people find their peace.

I could not put this book down. I really enjoyed the combination of two historical periods, the lifelike depictions of the surroundings, and the ever-suspenseful hints at something beyond human perception.

RECOMMENDATION: The Winter Ghosts is a breath-taking book about sorrow and love. Everybody who likes to read about history and its secrets would definitely enjoy it. 

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Next Three Days (2010)

SUMMARY (from IMDB): Lara Brennan is arrested for murdering her boss whom she had an argument with. It seems she was seen leaving the scene of the crime and her fingerprints were on the murder weapon. Her husband, John would spend the next few years trying to get her released but there's no evidence that negates the evidence against her. And when the strain of being separated from her family especially her son gets to her, John decides to break her out. So he does a lot of research to find a way.

DIRECTOR: Paul Haggis; CAST: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks,...

MY OPINION:

What superficially appears to be another man-in-action film, it is actually a genuine story about people facing difficult times both as a family and as individuals. The film has there focuses.

Firstly, it is about to what extent we believe in the people we love and what would we be willing to do for them.

Secondly, it is about the kind of reality we choose to live in. Do we just accept the most common reality, the reality other people thinks it “the right one”? Or do we dare to change the reality we dislike into what we want it to be? Also, is what we see and other people see more or less real of what we want to believe in our head?  Although the film only hints at this complex issue, it certainly makes you think about it.

Finally, the film expresses a criticism of judicial system. Objectivity is necessary for the law to function. But what if all the “objective” evidence does not correspond to the truth? The Next Three Days is a film about coincidences ruining someone’s life. Everyone, just as Lara Brennan, can be convicted on circumstantial evidence if it cannot be proven false. The presumption of innocence may not always work.

Overall, the film is a bit slow at times, but it gives a lot of food for thought. 

The Gods of War (Emperor #4) by Conn Iggulden

The Gods of War (Emperor book 4)SUMMARY: The fourth and the last book in Emperor series is about Caesar’s final years. This time Caesar faces the worst opponent ever – Rome itself. But Pompey, the dictator, flees to Greece to gather an army to stand against Caesar’s loyal legions which follow him through Greece to Egypt.

MY OPINION:

Power corrupts people. Pompey, once and ardent defender of the republic and an advocate of the division of authority, becomes unwilling to renounce his dictatorship. Instead of showing Caesar upon his return form Gaul the deserved respect, he sends to him and indecent summon to come to Rome alone. Caesar, aware of the danger he would face obeying the order, refuses to do so. He leads his legions across the river Rubicon and Pompey escapes to Greece. After Caesar is elected a consul and re-establishes the rule of the law in Rome, he follows him, leaving the command of the city to Mark Antony.

The wish for power alone corrupts people, too. Brutus, Caesar’s best friend, is always living in his shadow, knowing there can be only one leader. But Caesar’s putting Mark Anthony in charge of Rome, spills the cup of Brutus’ envy over. Brutus cannot understand what is clear to the reader: that Caesar could not leave him behind in Rome, because he needs him at his side. Brutus’ hurt pride turns him into a traitor. However, when they meet in battle on the opposite sides and Caesar wins, he forgives Brutus and pardons him for his reason. But, for Brutus, this is even more unbearable than death.

Caesar’s clemency to his enemies proves him a generous and noble man. He does not want to become like his predecessors Sulla and Pompey who sowed death among their opponents. He has a vision of a different kind of world, but not even he can escape the curse of power.

I believe the final downfall for Caesar was Egypt, where he saw kings being worshipped as gods. This and the beautiful Cleopatra poisoning him with the wish for an empire for their son made him blind to the fact that Rome turned into the same corruptive and dangerous city as it had been in Sulla’s and Pompey’s time.

It was sadder to read this book than the rest of the series, because I knew I had been approaching the tragic end. But the book is, as the other three, beautifully written, full of suspense and a great insight into the characters’ mind.

There is an extensive appendix at the end of the book, explaining the reasons for including or excluding particular historical facts and their fictionalization. Iggulden also provides additional historical data, which is very interesting to read.

RECOMMENDATION: This book appropriately rounds up Emperor series. It is a gripping historical read.  

Friday, March 04, 2011

Book Blogger Hop, March 4 – 7, 2011

Book Blogger Hop is 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: 

 “Who's your all-time favourite book villain?”

Book Blogger Hop

MY ANSWER:

My favourite book villain would answer this question somewhat like this:

“Its usss, my precious, usss. When we get my precious back, we’ll be the Masssster, yesss, my precious. Then those nasssty men will pay for what they’ve done to usss. Yesss, they will, my precious. Gollum, Gollum.”

Gollum/Sméagol is such a great character J.R.R. Tolkien created in The Lord of the Rings. The Gollum parts are so enjoyable and entertaining because of his specific language. His villainy is very cunning, and his evil plans elaborated very much to the point. He is an absolutely selfish creature, so much possessed by the power of the Ring that not even Sauron cannot control him anymore. Thus, his obsession with the Ring in its maliciousness makes Gollum unintentionally do some good, too. All of these features make Gollum/Sméagol a lovable character.  

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Field of Swords (Emperor #3) by Conn Iggulden

Emperor : The Field of SwordsSUMMARY: The third book in Emperor series accompanies Caesar on his conquests from Hispania, through Gaul, and to the edge of the then known world – Britannia.

MY OPINION:

There is not much I can say about this book I have not already said for The Gates of Rome and The Death of Kings.

In The Field of Swords, Caesar is an already accomplished army leader whose charisma turns his enemies into his allies and makes his armies win even the most impossible victories. Caesar essentially acts with good intentions although his actions are sometimes morally questionable. Caesar has undying fidelity of his armies and undivided admiration of the masses, however, his desire for power grows.

This book, as well as the previous two, is focused on the relationship between Caesar and Brutus. Their friendship is as strong as ever, but small grudges are slowly accumulating towards what would become the inevitable end.

Iggulden portrays Caesar multi-dimensionally, yet with all the flaws in his personality I find Caesar a sympathetic figure. Besides, Iggulden’s writing is so gripping, I ran to the library to borrow the next and the last book in the series right after I’d finished The Field of Swords, despite knowing what end to expect. 

RECOMMENDATION: As the other books in the series, this is an excellent historical read, bringing the history to you in an appealing wrapping.
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