Monday, December 31, 2018

My Life According to the Books I Read in 2018

I've read a 100 books this year! That's a record!

So, plenty of material to fill out my-year-in-books-I-read end-of-year wrap up meme, created by Christine at The happily ever after. Or so I had thought, but I also tried to showcase my favourite books of the year while making sense and being more or less truthful, which turned out quite a challenging combination.

Nevertheless, here we go:

Describe yourself: Prisoner by Annika Martin

How do you feel: A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert 

Describe where you currently live: Creative Incentives by Kit Rocha

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Point of Contact by Melanie Hansen

Your favourite form of transportation: Grounded by R. K. Lilley

Your best friend is: Promises by Marie Sexton

You and your friends are: The Dirty Ones by J. A. Huss

What's the weather like: The Hunger by Alma Katsu

What is life to you: Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge

Favourite time of day: A Midwinter Night's Dream by Tiffany Reisz

Your fear:  A Royal Mistake by Elizabeth Davis 

What is the best advice you have to give: Archangel's Prophecy by Nalini Singh

Thought for the day: Victorious by Marie Force

How I would like to die: A Happy Death by Albert Camus

My soul's present condition: Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels 

Have a great New Year's Eve and I wish you all a happy 2019 with lots of good books!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Virtual Advent Tour 2018: Favourite Holiday Movies

I am again participating in Virtual Advent Tour, hosted by Sprite at Sprite Writes.

This year I decided to share some of my favourite Christmas movies, because who doesn’t like to bundle up in a warm blanket with some hot beverage of your choice and watch something sweet or funny or touching or all of the above combined?

The first Christmas movie that always comes to my mind and that I never find boring is the first Home Alone (1990) movie, mostly hilarious, but poignant at times.

Love Actually (2003) is all of what I mentioned above, funny and sweet, sometimes sad and thought provoking, and most of all simply showing the state of being human.

In While You Were Sleeping (1995), a lovely comedy about accidentally finding love and a family, the road to happiness is paved with good intentions and a few blunders.

Artistically well-made movies sometimes fail to emotionally resonate with me, but The Holiday (2006) is wonderfully heart-warming and fun story about finding love and friendship.

A tale of the Christmas truce of 1915, Joyeux Noel (2005) is a touching and poignant reminder that we are all only people no matter the artificial sides we choose to divide us.

What are your favourite holiday movies?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Dirty Ones by J. A. Huss

NOTE: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those above the age of majority.

A group of students at an elite college is pushed into an unusual – let’s call it adventure in their senior year.

Ten years later someone writes a book about it that tells the truth. Or does it? As they reconnect to uncover the book’s author, they fall into a spiral of memories, intrigues, and convoluted relationships, both past and present.

The plot that unravels completely blew me away, in particularly the twist near the end. 

I can best describe The Dirty Ones as a psychological erotic mystery thriller, the least emphasis being on erotic, although it sure contains some filthy smut. But whatever you expect from this book, I promise you are going to be wrong. A good kind of wrong, though.

Overall, this world and story of this book are opulent, sensual, emotive, and above all very human and will certainly stay with me for a long time.

The Dirty Ones was my first book from J. A. Huss, but I will surely return to her for quality writing, vivid imagery, and fantastic storytelling.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Vow on the Heron (Plantagenet Saga #9) by Jean Plaidy

The Vow on the Heron depicts the reign of Edward III, starting and ending similarly in disgrace and with an impoverished country, but with a tumultuous journey in between.

Beginning as a puppet boy-king, Edward III rose from his early failures of youthful inexperience as a great military leader, often likened to his grandfather Edward I and most notably remembered for staring the Hundred Years’ War with France.

What I liked the most about his life was that he had a really good marriage and family life and was for the most part a faithful husband and a good father, which seems to be an exception more often than not when it comes to historical rulers of whichever country.

As usually with Plaidy, The Vow on the Heron is written in a simple but evocative language that makes what could be a boring history rather interesting, although it could be edited a bit more meticulously.

Overall, this was a quick and easy but compelling read.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Alpha (2018)

DIRECTOR: Albert Hughes; CAST: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Marcin Kowalczyk…

SUMMARY: During the last Ice Age, a friendship forms between a boy on the verge of adulthood and a wolf.


Although I’m more of a cat than a dog person, Alpha was one of my must-see films of this year ever since I had seen the first trailer and it did not disappoint.

A coming-of-age story follows a developing bond between an injured boy and a wounded wolf in a suspenseful and oftentimes poignant arc that comes to a heart-warming conclusion.

The film is filled with stunning visuals and some breath-taking action; CGI is not half-bad, either. And, with a fictionalised backdrop and taken with a grain of salt as to historical accuracy, Alpha could have nevertheless been one of the versions of how people domesticated wolves.

My only ‘complaint’ is that with around an hour and a half the film could have been longer; I would not mind watching more of Keda and Alpha’s adventures at all.

RECOMMENDATION: The film contains hunting and other animal injuries, so you might want to be careful if you are sensitive to that (but all ends well for the main protagonist.) Other than that, Alpha is an engaging film that is perfect for watching on one of these dark winter nights when you need something to make you feel good.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Swooping Magpie by Liza Perrat

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS. 

Sixteen-year-old Lindsey crushes on her teacher, dreaming of escaping a cold home with a violent father and an intimidated, emotionally absent mother. 

But when she ‘seduces’ him – although the man, nearly twice her age, who turns out to be a truly despicable character, should very well know better – and gets pregnant, her in many ways sheltered world of wealth comes crashing down along with her dreams.

On the cusp of sexual revolution, pregnancy outside of marriage is still a taboo, unmarried mothers shamed and shunned, sent away to have their children put up for adoption. 

In one such home for unmarried mothers, Lindsey is faced with a different reality of poverty and exhausting work, coming face to face with people she used to look down upon but who become her only friends when everyone else turns their backs on her and from whom she learns not only about suffering she couldn’t imagine before but also about perseverance.

Initially a deluded girl who stubbornly sticks to her pipe dream with her head in the sand, Lindsey made me pity her, but I soon started empathise with her, being reminded of how hard it must have been for women in the time where they were dependent on men, purposely kept in the dark about the facts of life, with sex education non-existent, then shamed for the consequences of actions often not of their own design, lied to, manipulated, and finally coerced into giving their children up for adoption.

Set against the backdrop of women’s emancipation movement, Liza Perrat depicts these issues as well as the challenges of the aftermath of losing the children they are not allowed to grieve for as their sole existence is shameful and best to forget in the eyes of society, such as depression and suicide attempts, in a multi-faced way that inspires a whole range of raw emotions in the reader, but most of all an admiration for women like Lindsey and her friends.

Thus, The Swooping Magpie is above all a testimony of women’s strength. With a collection of colourful characters and an exquisite Australian setting, it is a truly gripping and quick read (I finished it in two days) and might be, in my opinion, Liza Perrat’s best work to date.

Thanks to the author for kindly sending me a copy of The Swooping Magpie in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Beren and Lúthien by J. R. R. Tolkien

The story of Beren and Lúthien is one of the three central stories of Tolkien’s Elvish history, presented in this book in a new light, revealing the process of Tokien’s writing and how it evolved from its earliest concept to the latest, though never quite finished version.

Edited by Christopher Tolkien, Beren and Lúthien is actually a collection of various versions, accompanied with a commentary on their conception and development and the reasoning behind it, following by now a familiar approach when it comes to Tolkien’s posthumously published works.

As such, it comes out rather academic – perhaps overly so – to a reader only interested in a ‘story’.

However, I found Beren and Lúthien extremely readable and even refreshing and I loved rediscovering the already familiar story from The Silmarillion with its different and new angles through both in prose and verse. Although Tolkien’s poetry does at times seem awkward, it is in most places highly evocative and yet again shows Tolkien’s skill. The latest written verses in particularly make you think about what he could have done if he had had more time.

I was, nevertheless, a little ‘disappointed’ to learn that Tolkien was apparently not a cat person (just kidding, LOL.)

All in all, Beren and Lúthien was an enjoyable and quick read that only rekindled my love for all things Tolkien.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Someone Else’s Fairytale (Someone Else’s Fairytale #1) by E. M. Tippetts

The concept of Someone Else’s Fairytale – a movie star falling for the one girl whose dream isn’t a hot movie star falling for her – was intriguing, but that was also all.

However, it kept me reading through to the end, which earns it half a star more than it would have for the plot and the characters. Because this was one of the dumbest stories I have ever read. And there were so many annoying things.

Of course the male BFF is actually pining for the main character in a romantic way. Or is she pining for him? I don’t know. Because clearly men and women can’t be ‘just’ friends. Right.

The said BFF also presumes to tell the protagonist who she shouldn’t be friends with and how often she should talk to them. Red flags rising my hackles all around.

Then, Chloe, from whose POV the story is written, sounds awfully immature, despite being through quite an ordeal in childhood and apparently having to take care of herself. She is 21, but her actions and even more her reasoning are those of a 15-year-old. As someone who basically had to grow up at 14, I couldn’t at all relate to her childishness – and it shows the author clearly wrote neither from experience nor from sufficient research.

But most of all, the story is just bland, as in, there isn’t any story – only enumeration of this and that which happens, and the reader knows the main characters will get a HEA anyway. There is some drama due to Chloe’s past, but it doesn’t really serve the story, although it is rather interesting on its own, and I think the author would have had more success with it if she had written a YA thriller about that ordeal instead of this ‘romance’.

The characters are equally bland. There are hardly any descriptions (and I don’t mean hair/eye colour, height and whatnot; there aren’t even any mannerisms and such that make up a person(ality)), unless you count  unfavourable ones of the supposedly hot movie star. And while leaving physical appearances up to the reader’s imagination can work out marvellously, this isn’t the case in Someone Else’s Fairytale. Hence, everyone seemed just words on paper, dead, and I felt no connection to any of them.

Which brings me to the last and worst: the story was feeling-less. It is supposed to be a romance, but I couldn’t feel a thing reading it. Angst? Love? (Who am I kidding?) Tension? Happiness? Sadness? Anything? Nope, nothing. A phone book makes me feel more.

At least it was free on Kindle.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Siberia (2018)

DIRECTOR: Mathew Ross; CAST: Keanu Reeves, Boris Gulyarin, Ana Ularu…

SUMMARY (from IMDB)When an American diamond trader's Russian partner goes missing, he journeys to Siberia in search of him, but instead begins a love affair.


I watched this film the other day due to coming across some salacious gifs on Tumblr and I had some time to kill and wasn’t in the mood for anything from my lengthy back log of thought-provoking films I need to catch up with.

Though-provoking much, however, Siberia isn’t, since it follows a predictable template of an-American-vs.-Russian-mob thrillers, except perhaps in deciding for the less Hollywood-like ending of the two possible options in that sort of movies.

Keanu Reeves is a good actor, but he doesn’t do a particularly outstanding job in Siberia, perhaps due to the character he plays, who felt rather bland to me.

The one thing that does stand out once for a change in a Hollywood production is the casting of Russian and other actors with a great grasp on the language for the majority of Russian characters as well as using Russian for more than just a few standard catch phrases, all of which I highly appreciated.

RECOMMENDATION: Overall, Siberia is a rather mediocre film, employing all the typical (and overdone) tropes of the genre. It includes cheating and forced consent (the latter not between the main characters, fortunately), so beware. Reeves’s “stellar” performance in certain E-rated scenes and the very mediocrity, however, make it a good movie to kill some time and/or unwind with. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

NOTE: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those above the age of majority.

Based on true events – which I didn’t know – The Hunger is a fictionalised story of a group of pioneers, known as the Donner party, travelling westward, with an added supernatural element.

The journey through a harsh terrain and in inclement weather conditions is full of hardships, exacerbated by bad choices made out of ignorance – sometimes wilful – and stubbornness of incompetent leadership.

The people at first appear to be mostly strangers, but the connections, past and present, between them slowly unravel over the course of the story, unveiling their diverse backgrounds, views, ambitions, and experience. With superstition and distrust abound, it doesn’t take long for the tensions to arise between such a collection of people and in-fighting to begin, culminating in fear that overrides reason and leads to the group’s ultimate demise.

For there is something else trailing the party. Hunger. And not just the one caused by the dwindling supplies.

There is something evil watching, lying in wait, splitting the group into smaller parts to make them an easier prey. Something with teeth and claws. A pack of wild wolves, some say. Monsters from natives’ myths. Or perhaps the monsters are just men. Might be neither. Might be all of the above.

The answers, all through to the final one, are never quite what you would expect, as nothing is ever black and white. And in that lies the true horror of The Hunger.

Masterfully told, The Hunger is eerie and gory (I wouldn’t recommend reading either on an empty or a full stomach; pick some healthy middle), but also wondrously poignant, showing the best and the worst of people when faced with evil, without and within.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Buy Me, Sir by Jade West

NOTE: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those above the age of majority.

Buy Me, Sir takes obsession and deception on a whole new level with the amount of creepy stalking Lissa employs in order to get Alexander in her panties. It is downright scary, but also astounding and kind of awe-inspiring, especially with the sort of devotion she takes what she gets.

Lissa's mindset, combined with Alexander's dark sexual preferences and personal and domestic issues and a couple of despicable antagonists, provide for a highly intense, suspenseful story – so much so I needed to take a good three-weeks-long break right in the middle before continuing reading.

Thus, and with the help of a handful of other colourful characters, Jade West spins a multi-layered, well-rounded plot that digs into the depths of both main protagonists and draws a painful, but incredibly beautiful story that has you rooting for the couple 100%.

And to make it all better it delivers the kind of ending they deserve and that makes all the pain they - and the reader – go through worth it.

Count on Jade West for a well-written and well-developed dark romance.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Hostage (Criminals & Captives #2) by Annika Martin & Skye Warren

NOTE: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those above the age of majority.

Cover of Hostage
Hostage was so good that I took a break for a week at about three quarters in so it would last longer, because I didn’t want it to end too soon.

Although we knew about Stone’s history from Prisoner, getting his point of view was equally if not still more devastating as we saw how he, being the eldest, took upon himself the responsibility of taking take care of the others, both in the past and in the present, and doing the dirty work himself so others wouldn’t have to.

And then there is Brooke, seemingly a spoilt rich girl who has everything, but who lets us see behind that façade from the get-go and gives a reader a lot of food for thought regarding how much of the ‘happiness’ and ‘wealth’ some people have could be just putting up appearances and following the invisible rules of the elite .

Brooke, somewhat naïve and innocent to an extent, with her highly-regulated life, and the hardened, disillusioned Stone, stripped of any notions of ‘propriety’ couldn’t be more different. And yet, they complement each other and fit together perfectly.

As Brooke puts it herself, she is a good influence on him and he is a bad (but in a good way) influence on her – while she shows him he doesn’t have to be a monster and can still have a life beyond vengeance, he teaches her how to stand up for herself and be her own person, and they both help each other see a way to live a life not predetermined by their past or other people and stay true to themselves even as they change each other.

Hostage takes place over several years, encompassing the time before and after Prisoner and brings the story to a wrap. Hence, although I would love to see other guys’ stories, I would also be fine with the series ending here, as the ending is very satisfactory and actually even more so than I had expected going in.  

Other qualities I praised in Prisoner – great writing, vivid side characters, real stakes, truly dark elements, and organic development of the romance among others – are also present in Hostage.

All in all, Hostage was what very few sequels are – even better than the first book, and I cannot recommend this duet enough to the lovers of dark romance.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Heroes of Tolkien by David Day

 The cover of The Heroes of TolkienI wanted to like this book, but instead I had to fight the urge to chunk it against the wall much too often. Nevertheless, there were some good things among the bad and the ugly.

The good:

  • Fancy binding and paper and gorgeous illustrations; it is visually a beautiful book.
  • The included charts can be useful, especially as a quick reminder of various relations (but you can’t rely on them for spelling and dates.)
  • Some intriguing takes and interesting comparison with various mythologies and real historical events/personages (although the latter is basically calling Tolkien’s work allegory, which he was strictly and explicitly against, without actually calling it so) and I have learnt some new things about the sources of Tolkien’s ideas and etymology and was reminded of some things I had forgotten. 
  • But mostly, it just made me want to reread actual Tolkien’s works yet again.
The bad:

  • The Heroes of Tolkien is a misleading title, since the book only deals with a selection of the most notable heroes from Tolkien’s works.
  • Equally misleading is the blurb, promising an examination of the complexities of Tolkien’s portrayal of good and evil and then doing no such thing.
  • The subject matter is dealt with superficially, without any in-depth insight into Tolkien’s heroes, so if you expect that, you will be disappointed and better off going for The History of Middle Earth (although I have yet to read it myself.)
  • The writing is all over the place, jumping from one topic to another, with out-of-place asides, and often repetitive. The effect is that of a collection of notes on historical, mythological, and literary similarities and connections, rather than a cohesive treatment of the subject in the title.
The ugly:

  • Many factual errors, confusing the reader and thus rendering the book useless as reference.
  • Day cannot keep the names straight – I know, it is hard with there being so many of them, but if one is writing a book about Tolkien’s heroes, I would consider getting the names right the bare minimum.
  • The Silmarillion in particularly is not Day’s strong point, but the book does improve with Parts VI and VII when he gets to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so perhaps he should have just stuck with those.
On the whole, I found The Heroes of Tolkien mostly a pretty package with insubstantial content, since it is not informative enough for beginners without some pre-existing familiarity with Tolkien’s work and feels lacklustre to someone who is a bit of a Tolkien nerd like me.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Prisoner (Criminals & Captives #1) by Annika Martin & Skye Warren

NOTE: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those above the age of majority.

This was finally a dark romance that met all my expectations and more.

For starters, the plot with its twists and turns was well-thought through and made sense as did both main and other characters’ choices – there was a good reason behind every decision and outcome.

It was actually dark, as in the criminals really were criminals, and there was kidnapping, murder, and very dubious consent involved, among other things.

And yet, the solid development of the romance angle made me root for Abby and Grayson so hard from the very beginning, because their connection was virtually tangible on all levels, from physical to intellectual and spiritual, and they (as well as other characters) felt alive, fleshed out in all their badness, goodness, and everything in between, with their backstories getting slowly revealed in exquisite pieces in just the right spots over the course of the story.

I loved Abby, who is smart and brave, but also very aware of her anxieties and limits. And my heart broke for Grayson and his ‘crew’ even when they were darn terrifying. And speaking of his crew, they are such a rich ensemble of supporting characters that aren’t just stock chess figures but come to life on the page even with their limited time and roles – and I am so looking forward to reading more about them (as I see there is at least one more book already out, and hopefully more to come.)

And, as the cherry on top of it all, the book is not just well, but beautifully written.

The ending is not your traditional hearts-and-flowers HEA, but is still very much a happily-ever-after in a way that fits these two characters (even if not one we would want to imagine for ourselves.)

So, both gutting and heart-warming, this is an exceptional, clever story which I would highly recommend for those not of faint heart who want a look at the dark side of romance.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Happy Death by Albert Camus

As a sort-of preconception of The Stranger, A Happy Death is also its flip-side in which Mersault gets away with pre-meditated murder (as opposed to what we could say is, if I remember correctly, involuntary manslaughter in The Stranger.)

While Mersault of A Happy Death is not yet the alienated and detached Mersault of The Stranger, for he still possesses the ability to be affected and to form attachment, the early seeds of absurdism are present in his quest of finding happiness.

In accord with his – for the lack of a better word – victim’s claim that money cannot buy happiness but it can buy time, which is essential for the pursuit of doing what you want and enabling one to be one’s true self, Mersault discovers that one can only find happiness with oneself, in the very solitude of being oneself.

However, that is easier said than done, as having time does not guarantee happiness per se. To be happy requires being the will to be happy, to immerse oneself in the present, in the here and now, and arrange the time one has to that purpose.

And that state is what Mersault manages to achieve and does in the end meet – although an outside observer would call it all but one – a happy death.

I must say I find these concepts both mind-boggling and intriguing but also agreeable – to an extent; they certainly give one food-for-thought and the desire to revisit them and this novel as well as its eventual and more famous successor.

Additionally, A Happy Death (as well as The Stranger, as far as I remember), has a certain ease of language, and I found myself liking the style very much; I particularly loved how Camus uses the wording and pacing to illustrate various settings and Mersault’s states of mind.

My edition came with a lengthy afterword, providing literary analysis I disagree with on several points.

Chiefly, it simplifies Mersault motive for his act of murder merely as greed (and jealousy, which I couldn’t see at all), whereas I saw it at least in equal part as an act – albeit certainly not selfless – of some kind of mercy that can be basically considered euthanasia of the man who per his own admission did not want to live the life he had but lacked the courage and strength to end it himself. (To be clear, I am not exonerating Mersault’s motives, I just think they are more complex that Mr. Sarrocchi would want the reader to believe.)

I also do not think the discrepancies between the autobiographical elements of Camus’s life and their imperfect alignment in fiction should be held against the novel. After all, complete truthfulness to real life is not the measure of quality of fiction.

And lastly, according to Mr. Sarrocchi, A Happy Death supposedly failed as a novel in terms of form and composition, which must have been the reason it was not published at the time of writing and was later reworked.

Nevertheless, to conclude, I think that in 80 years since the novel’s conception (and 45 since the aforementioned critique’s) the literary landscape has changed enough that we, new readers, can appreciate A Happy Death from a different perspective and with the experience of the present time which Camus’s work seems to resonate with perhaps better than it did with the time of its origin.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

 Brave New World cover
Note: This review contains SPOILERS.

After overcoming the initial shock of Huxley’s brave new capitalist eugenics utopia, I kept asking myself through most of the book what Huxley was high on and reminding myself that he was into experimenting with hallucinogens at the time and thus he might have actually been high on something.

While I have so far liked what I have read of contemporary dystopia, I have found the ‘old’, classic dystopia, such as Brave New World or, also recently read, Animal Farm much less likeable. On the other hand, I tremendously enjoyed Verne’s Paris in the Twentieth Century. So perhaps the fault is in these specific books.

It is strange how all these authors of the past viewed the future, which has in the meantime become our present in some cases, as a world of complete ‘moral’ disintegration of society that is entirely submitted to the ‘values’ of capitalism, consumerism, and (to an extent) technological advancement, rejecting emotion, art, and personal freedom.

And yet, I don’t see – or foresee – these bleak visions coming true. Granted, the 17th century after Ford of the Brave New World is still quite a bit ahead. Nevertheless, I think we can safely hope – as we see the very elements (or similar ones) of the scientific progress mentioned in these stories having already become our reality without most of the ‘predicted’ accompanying societal degradation – humanity will never come that far, or better said, fall that low. Maybe it is because, as a self-identified pessimistic idealist, I think individual people can be horrible (as well as others can be amazing), but I have faith in humanity as a whole.

But I digress.

To return to Brave New World, this strangely hopeless (and implausible) vision of the distant future (despite its utter ‘stability’ and overall ‘happiness’ of its inhabitants) was not even the major reason for my dislike of this book.

My biggest complaint is that Huxley keeps picking up various characters’ stories and not finishing them, save one, and what we see of them just seems under-developed, going against all the most important rules of writing a good story – at least by modern standards. I daresay that if any contemporary author pitched this story, it wouldn’t get published without some major additional work.

For example, when we first meet Bernard and Lenina, they both act ‘queer’ for the ‘civilised’ society of the book’s universe, seeking solitude, lacking lovers, or being too attached to a single one – and nothing comes out of it, apart from their trip to the reservation.

We can only guess that Lenina finds the experience so terrible that she decides to fully immerse herself in what is considered proper behaviour in the ‘civilisation’– but that is just a guess, as her change of heart is abrupt, never explained, and her past ‘queerness’ is never mentioned again. (Shouldn’t she be able to at least somewhat understand or compare her, albeit past, fleeting feelings, to Bernard’s or even John’s?)

Bernard and Helmholtz, who remain ‘queer’ and dissatisfied with the ‘civilisation’, get sent to an island for that reason – and we learn that that is actually more a reward than a punishment because islands are where people can be more individual than within the rest of the society – but that is the end of their story. Whereas, I would be very much interested in how they fare afterwards and whether they can realise their selves better there, outside of the ‘civilisation’.

And finally, there is John, the ‘Savage’. I’ll just mention the two things that irked me the most, besides the blatant racism typical of Huxley’s time.

Firstly, John forgetting about Linda when she dies. Sure, he remembers her. What I mean is: this is a man who was raised on a reservation, who is used to the human customs as we know them (mostly), who must have surely been used to something akin mourning and funerals, and he just walks out of the hospital? He doesn’t even suggest a funeral? I assume he has been told what happens to the dead, but he just accepts it? This goes completely against his character.

And secondly, how he ends up: yes, sure, in line with Huxley’s racist, capitalist, eugenics beliefs, whoever cannot adapt to his brave new world can only be driven to death by both their internal and external demons. What a pile of equine excrement.

To top it all, the writing itself, sometimes verging on stream of consciousness, is not anything to laud, either.

Hence, in conclusion, for all that Brave New World may be a classic (I'm only giving it two stars for that reason) – and it certainly has an intriguing concept that could provoke much thought, but lacks in execution and development – it just did not work for me.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Animal Farm by George Orwell

As I understand it, the entire story of Animal Farm is one giant cynical metaphor for a failed communist utopia (because a communist utopia is a fail all of itself). It includes all the most representative tropes from mindless masses (animals) and propaganda (Squealer) to class enemies (upper class/management/capital owners), both outside (humans) and inside (Snowball and other ‘traitors’) ones, and everything in between.

In addition, its allusions to the strife between the West and the East, reminiscent of the Cold War that was yet to begin at the time of writing and publishing the book as well as the story’s cycle from capitalism to communism and back (as it happened in the 1990s) are also quite visionary.

As such, Animal Farm is a very clever work of fiction.

However, coming from one of those ex-communist countries, I also feel more than a little offended by its cynical satire that mocks the silly, blind working-class people, comparing them to animals.

The insult is somewhat softened only by the fact that the story also shows that neither the capitalist masters nor the new ‘people’s’ leaders have actual working people’s best interest in mind but only their own and would therefore ally themselves with each other despite whatever contrary principles (that can always be twisted to suit them) they otherwise preach to the people ‘below’ them.

Next, the final outcome of the story implies that the working masses are incapable (too stupid and meek) of the self-managing they long for; since they are only capable of (blind) loyalty and obedience, they should clearly submit to the will of their betters (of which the better ones are the capitalists, of course).

In that point, Animal Farm also serves as a warning/anti-communist propaganda, which makes sense, given the time of its conception: there is no hope in defeating capitalism, no recourse for lower and working classes to free themselves of governance and better their positions/lives; quite the contrary, they should be grateful for their lot in the capitalist world.

Personally, I think both capitalism and communism are failed systems and we need to find an alternate viable option that would allow people both individual expressions of their aspirations as well as offer protections to the underprivileged and limit their exploitation by the privileged (what social state is supposed to be if it wasn’t all too often hijacked/strong-armed by capitalism.)

But, I strongly resent the Western media’s portrayal of people from (ex-)communist countries that reduces them to half-starved idiots decades and more behind times, which isn’t true and has, majorly, never been, not to mention that the so-called ‘Eastern Bloc’ has never been a uniform, one-dimensional entity and there have been vast differences between, for example, USSR and Yugoslavia.

Hence, I have mixed feelings about Animal Farm; I could give it either 4-5 or 1 stars, so I’m giving it sort of median 3. Still, it is a highly thought-provoking story that is quick and easy to read (and also fun at times if it doesn’t make you mad) and as such I’d recommend it as well-worth to read.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Pet (Captive Prince short stories #4) by C. S. Pacat

Note: This review contains SPOILERS.

SUMMARY (from Goodreads): Pet follows the rise of Ancel at the poisonous court of Vere. Set during the events of Captive Prince.


Pet turned out to be one of those why-haven't-I-read-it-sooner books for me, because I wasn't particularly interested in Ancel, but I should have known better.

Not only did C. S. Pacat ruin me with Laurent/Damen feels despite them appearing in the story only in that single horrible scene (you know which one) yet again but also managed to make me feel for Ancel.

On first impression, Ancel appears to be driven by ruthless ambition alone, but beyond that it is survival itself that drives Ancel to master selling himself in order to climb the social ladder to the top; and who can blame him for that? The path is, however, paradoxical, because the higher one gets in the Veretian society and the more means for a (luxurious) living one obtains, the more one's very life is in danger.

In addition to the familiar atmosphere of intrigue, we see through Ancel's eyes how ingrained the oppressive concept of 'pets' is in pets themselves, most notably at his utter disdain for Erasmus and his predicament/distress, which with only his own experience to judge the matters by makes perfect sense (despite, obviously, being wrong.)

I really liked Berenger's character and the somewhat surprising tones of the relationship between Ancel and Berenger.

And finally, I loved the ending for the rather unexpected positive turn that looks into a hopeful (hopefully!) future, knowing the path of the main series. But at the same time I am also a bit mad/sad/frustrated that this is The. End. Darn.