September 24, 2016

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Review)

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
First published: 2014
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

To put it shortly - I was not impressed. And I really expected to be! I like sweet, touching, feel-good books about how people become their better selves through a series of unlikely events. And I thought that The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry would be something like The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It aspired to but it wasn't even close.

So the story tells about the life of the titular A.J. Fikry, a bookshop owner, who is going through a tough period in his life after his wife's death. Everything changes when he finds a girl left in his bookshop the night before her mother commits suicide. Then, of course, he can't bear to part with the girl, adopts her and she grows up in a bookshop and becomes a wonderful nerd, just like her new father. So what can go wrong with such a sweet plot? Well, everything.

The writing is kinda sketchy and pretty obvious. You cannot help rolling your eyes at some social situations, wondering how dumb everybody must be to behave like that. Things happen episodically and fast, and I guess we should be thankful for that because not everybody has enough patience to read 200 more pages of awkward, non-charming courting full of sloppy literary references. Some moments are so intentionally tear-jerking that I got really pissed off. I mean, I like to cry over a book, but only because it's naturally and beautifully sad, not because the author had decided to cram a lot of tragic stuff and stupid pathos on three pages.

There are a couple of nice twists in the plot, and that's why it's still two stars, but overall the time you'll spend following the 2-dimensional characters is just not worth it.

In my book: A notoriously unsuccessful attempt for a touching and sweet novel.

September 22, 2016

TWEM Starting Line

This post marks the starting line of my reading from the lists in The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. The first three books arrived yesterday, and I've already started Don Quixote. It's huge. I didn't expect it to be so huge! But I'm not too intimidated because it should be funny and also I know that with the notes I can keep it all together.

Wish me luck and join me in reading TWEM books! And tell me, were you intimidated when beginning with TWEM, if you're doing/have done the lists? I mean, those are not very easy to read titles!

September 20, 2016

Lock In by John Scalzi (Review)

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
First published: 2014
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

I'm a sucker for science fiction that is clever and consistent, and after introducing just one (albeit major) change into our lives, goes all the way through with it to imagine where the ripples on the water would go. In Lock In the world is suffering from an aftermath of a global virus which causes about 1% of the people that has survived it to get "locked in" into their brain without being able to move.

There are millions of people in this state all over the world, and the world has adapted to them: they have a virtual space to hang out into, they can buy special robots in which they can put their minds and function close to normal, they can even occasionally hitch-hike in minds of special facilitators. And when one of these facilitators is caught at a crime scene, nobody is sure if he was with a client in his head and if he's guilty.

Lock In dives into so many interesting social and political problems, and yet manages to stay a gripping and action-packed detective novel, where a charming dynamic duo of FBI agents will do their best to solve the crime while keeping you at the edge of your seat. I read the book in one day, and it was a gorgeous day full of intrigue!

In my book: Lock In lives up to all the hype it's getting! One of the best books of the year, for sure!

September 19, 2016

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

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
First published: 2003
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

This unassuming little book turned out to be much more complex and touching than I had expected it to be. It starts as a detective story: Christopher finds his neighbor's dog killed with a garden fork one night, and being a fan of Sherlock Holmes stories, he decides to find out the truth. Christopher is really good at deducting, so he would be perfect for the job, if only he was not afraid to talk to people because he has Asperger's.

In the course of his investigation, Christopher encounters various obstacles, like his father telling him to mind his own business, people calling the police, and Bad Days, when he sees 4 yellow cars on a road to school. The investigation is stalled, and then it turns out to be something else completely, and the storyline goes where you don't expect it to go AT ALL. Well, at least it took ME by surprise. Maybe you're less easy to impress :)

I don't know if the author has some first-hand experience communicating with people who have Asperger's, but it certainly seems so. At the very least the book is very well researched and rings true in every sentence. Christopher's train of thought is totally alien and fascinating, but it also makes a lot of sense if you think about it. I don't wonder someone like him has problems communicating with people, we're indeed weird, unpredictable and too grabby. And the book also shows people who are OK talking to Christopher, and it doesn't take that much - just a little patience and consideration. I surely think that even if Christopher won't be able to become an astronaut as he dreams, at least nothing prevents him from getting a degree and becoming a scientist. I believe in him!

In my book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a very touching and true-ringing novel, that will not leave you unaffected.

September 18, 2016

The Tolkien Tag 2016

Let's get the PARTY started!! A Tolkien Blog Party, no less! And although there's no "of special magnificence" tagline this year, it's still mighty exciting! Thanks for hosting, Hamlette!

So here's to Bilbo and Frodo, and here are my answers to the tag questions:

1. How many books by J.R.R. Tolkien have you read?

Ummm... all of them? Well, maybe except the latest Arthur translation. But I will, you'll see!

2. Have you seen any movies based on them?

And again - all of them. Although, as you can probably guess, I was not a big fan of the latest two.

3. Are there any scenes/moments that make you cry?

I'm an easy crier, so LotR gets me every time, especially with the ending and all of the deaths. Having a drink and some napkins for a LotR movie night is a must! Don't remember if I cried while reading, though, I haven't done it in a while.

4. Are there any scenes/moments that make you laugh?

Oh well all of them with Merry and Pippin. They are just so cute! Gandalf is also one for an occasional good joke.

5. Have you ever chosen a Middle Earth name for yourself? If so, what is it?

Well, it's still with me on every web page that requires a login. It's Arenel - a slightly modified version of Aredhel Ar-Feiniel, who has a breathtaking story in Silmarillion.

6. Who would you want to party with/marry/fight to the death? (pick three characters)

I want to party with the hobbits, obviously! They are the best at the business! For marrying none other than Aragorn is an option, I love him deeply! <3 I wouldn't want to fight anybody to death there, they are all so tough! I'm pretty sure it is my death we'll be fighting to, so what's the difference?)

7. When was the last time you visited Middle Earth, via books or movies?

I bought a beautiful illustrated version of LotR a couple of years ago, and I read maybe half of the first book then. 

8. Do you consider Gollum to be a villain? Why or why not?

It was obviously Tolkien's intention to convince the reader that he's not evil. So I trust the Professor on that one.

9. How would you sum up what Tolkien's stories mean to you in one word?

A safe place that's always there when I need it.

10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

I'm the worst at remembering quotes, but I did learn some poetry from LotR by heart. Here's my favorite one:

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door

Not the "I'm Back" Post

Hi, wonderful people that are (hopefully) still here somewhere! No one will actually believe me if I say I'm back for good here this time. I've lost my credibility when I did exactly this a year and something ago, and then disappeared again what? 5 posts after? So let's just say that I'm not promising anyone (including myself!) anything and we'll see how it goes!

I'm at the point of life where I've again started to get excited about books, and I can see my friends and colleagues trying hard not to roll their eyes when I'm gushing about a new fave of mine. And of course, I can feel the itch to put my thoughts to a virtual paper in hope of finding like-minded readers out there on the vast Internet.

A lot has happened in my life since I wrote last. I climbed a volcano at night in Indonesia, visited a Google conference in London and circled Majorca on an 18th century rigged ship. I got depression, gained 10 kilos and now already lost 7 of them (fingers crossed to losing the rest, working on it!). I've started learning Arabic for no reason and got to really enjoy it. I'm nowhere close to even figuring out what I want my PhD to be about and whether I want it at all. I've started a webpage called 80 days & counting (get the reference, fellow book nerds?) about traveling with my best friend, and myriads of technical problems and writer blocks after we still don't hate each other. Maybe we should marry!

Although I still live in a rented flat that is actually on sale at the moment, I keep buying books, and 3 levels of my IKEA shelf are now occupied with paper happiness. Wherever I go, I leave some space in my suitcase, because I realize I'll definitely stumble on a bookshop on the first day of my travels and then will have to throw out toothpaste or something equally necessary to fit in just one more book. I may have a problem here. Especially London was bad, as you can imagine :) Anyway, here's my precious:

I know it doesn't look like much to happy house owners, for example, but the thought of transporting them to a new place when I inevitably have to move scares me.

Anyway, what I plan to do now is to just write about whatever great books come my way, without feeling compelled to catch up on last year reviews or anything. But I do want to catch up with my favourite bloggers that are still online, so expect a visitor) I've been participating in Emma Watson's feminist book club Our Shared Shelf since the beginning of this year, so probably some posts will be about books for it. Anybody else following their program? I've cleaned the challenges slate here on the blog and refreshed the design. Hopefully you like the new one more! Ah, and I'm starting The Well-Educated Mind reading as soon as my Don Quixote arrives. I even have a journal! :)

So that's that, thanks for still being here, let's see how this "homecoming" goes!

November 26, 2015

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

Title: Use of Weapons
Author: Iain M. Banks
Rating: ★★★★★

This book, guys! It is so awesome I feel totally unequal to writing a review that would give it credit. But I'll try. It is my first Iain M. Banks novel, and I already know that I will read all of his books! Because wow!

The setting is a space-opera-style future, where the galaxy is dominated by the all-controlling Culture. It has something of the decadent late Roman empire smell to it, and being much more advanced technologically than the other nations, Culture also feels responsibility for all that is happening in any corner of the galaxy. Inevitably, they start meddling in another planets' affairs "for their own good" and "to prevent bigger evil". You can tell nothing good can ever come out of that right? Well, again, that depends on the definition of "good" :)

Anyway, as direct interference would not be subtle, Culture has special agents (and if you immediately think James Bond, you're not too far off :)), who infiltrate the planet in question and solve the problem. They are genius commanders and diplomats, trained in all possible arts of war, and besides they can live almost forever, their employer being able to resurrected them after any accidents... Zakalwe is one of them, and some say he's the best of them. He is also a very troubled man, and the reader needs to dig deep into his past to understand who he really is... only to have the last pages turn all your notions upside down in the most wonderfully brutal way.

The plot unravels in two directions: to the past and to the future. As we see more of Zakalwe's present actions, we also learn more about his past that brought him to this point in his life, and understand him better. Hopping between the past and present can be a bit confusing in the beginning, but when you get used to it, you cannot bear to stop reading. And I had an urge to re-read the whole thing immediately after I finished, to appreciate and admire again the complex architecture of the novel, in which every little thing matters and adds to the picture.

August 5, 2015

CYAN and Other Stories by Alina Cvetkova (Review)

Title: CYAN and Other Stories
Author: Alina Cvetkova
Rating: ★★★★☆

I now know a person who’s published a book! Exciting, right? The release party was two weeks ago, and it was also the first one I’ve ever participated in. I can confess I enjoy this kind of bookish socializing a lot! Drinking and readings and some performance - what can be better?

The book itself is a collection of short stories written in English and translated into Spanish, both versions included in the edition. Now, English is not Alina’s mother-tongue, but it’s so good it makes me green with envy, in a good sense, of course. I do know how hard it is to make what you write look effortless, and her writing is that and even more. I’m competitive as hell and always hate it when somebody wields a (foreign) language better than I do. Unless of course it’s a guy, and then it’s super-hot.

But I digress.

The stories are very short, sometimes only a page long, and vary in style on a range from Kafka to Nabokov in his German years. My favorite were the short Kafkaesque stories, weird and shocking. When you miss a metro stop not even because your are reading, but because you’ve just finished a story and are contemplating it, you know it’s a good one. The longer and more “normal” stories, even though sometimes a bit disconnected, parade a huge number of “Oh how true, I couldn’t have nailed it better!” moments. I really like these random observations, especially when they confirm your own and don’t sound banal at the same time.

I should probably mention that most of the stories are set in Barcelona and convey a rather specific mood prevailing in the city. I’m not a big fan of Barcelona right at the moment, because I got robbed on Saturday (a common thing here, but still you never think it’ll happen to you), but I expect this mood to pass and get back to a blissful feeling of love I normally have towards this city. Anyway, although some of the stories could have happened anywhere, for others Barcelona is a necessary and vibrant background, which adds a lot to the pleasure of reading them.

I must confess I was a little skeptical about the book, because it is of course a very amateurish crowd-funding endeavor and a first book at that. I was even prepared to (shock!) lie about how I liked it, because it’s a nice thing to do if an author is your friend. But really, I don’t need to, because the book is actually very good. So if you happen to be in Barcelona or just want to treat yourself to a piece of clever sunny weirdness, you can buy a copy HERE.

July 31, 2015

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Title: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Author: Rachel Joyce
Rating: ★★★★☆

When you move to a new city/country/place it’s hard to immediately make it feel like home. I’ve found that books help that a lot. So even though my suitcase space is extremely limited, and I’m staying in Barcelona for just 3 months, I’ve already bought 3 books in a wonderful second-hand bookshop Hibernian, which you should totally check out if you happen to be in Barcelona and are a book freak :) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of the books I immediately decided on buying, because I’ve heard only good things about it. Quite predictably, I was not disappointed.

The plot is reminiscent of that of The Pilgrim’s Progress (which I hated) but is much more secular and “modernized”. Harold Fry is an elderly man who once gets a letter from an old friend with whom he lost connection long ago. The friend writes that she’s in hospice with terminal cancer and sends her goodbyes. Harold, instead of penning a sufficiently compassionate and polite answer, decides to walk all the way from the south to the north of England, believing that while he’s doing this, his friend will live and wait for him. Being alone in the wild makes him re-think a lot of things in his life and he meets a lot of different people on the way and gives an ear to each of them. At home, his wife, shocked by his sudden departure, has her own thinking to do. After all, their family has been through a lot.

Sometimes the tone of the book verges on being too pathetic, but generally it’s casual enough to not irritate. Certain places are very touching, and there’s also a well-done unreliable narrator(s) aspect to the story. I love that! I also tend to enjoy the type of narratives in which protagonist meets all kinds of incidental acquaintances. It always amazes me how interesting people are if you approach them without prejudices and with an open mind.

July 26, 2015

(Already Traditional) Mini-Reviews, Part 2

Looking at these two bunches of mini-reviews, you can probably tell that I have not been much into serious lit this spring and summer :D But come on, sometimes mind-blowing Sci-Fi is just a better choice than those daunting 19-century chunksters :) 

Title: The Name of the Wind 
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I should listen to Riv more. She read it last year and wrote that the book is not as good as Goodreads and other reviews would you believe. It’s not that I don’t trust her opinion (I’m yet to discover a book on which our opinions differ significantly), but I still felt I have to read a book which gets so much hype. And well… I can see why people love it so much, but as for Riv, it also fell flat for me. I loved the magic system and the part at the university, but then the love story began and it was just so adolescent and ridiculous… And don’t even get me started on the pointless 200-page hang out in the forests with the draccus or whatever this thing is called. I also expected the book to have an ENDING, but apparently it cannot be read as a standalone novel. If the author thinks that would make me read the rest of the series… Um, no. Good writing and gripping plotline would do that, not failing to round-up a story even a little bit before the end of the first volume.

Title: The Night Circus 
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Rating: ★★★★☆

This novel should be made into a movie immediately! It screams for big screen special effects. Although the writing does an amazing job creating all this effects in your own head. Very atmospheric! Plotline… well, it exists, but it’s not the main point of the book. I feel that the characters and their relationships could have been written better, but as I’ve said, the book is amazing as it is!

Title: The Passage 
Author: Justin Cronin
Rating: ★★★★☆

The book reminds me a lot of The Girl with all the Gifts, although it should be vice versa, as The Passage was written before The Girl. That makes it two zombie apocalypse books that I’ve read and liked during this year, so I guess never say never? I don’t know what I expected from The Passage, but it was gripping and beautifully written and I spent more than one night not being able to put it down instead of getting some healthy sleep.

Title: L'amour dure trois ans (Love Lasts Three Years) 
Author: Frederic Beigbeder
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I’ve never read the guy before and most probably will never read him again. There is no literary merit in the book, the characters are just papier-mashe masks without any depth and the ideas are questionable in the least. It reads fast and there are some catchy phrases and aphorisms in it, but the novel gives you a feeling it was written to provide facebook status updates to people who like to put quotes there.

Title: The Universe Versus Alex Woods 
Author: Gavin Extence
Rating: ★★★★★

I loved this book!! It’s so poignantly sincere and kind… But not in a way SPECIFICALLY designed to jerk tears out of you. Everything is described very matter-of-factly and that’s why it’s so relatable and realistic. Alex is the best, really. The way he thinks is precious and I guess our world would be a much better place if everybody followed the same logic.

Title: Lexicon 
Author: Max Barry
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I think my biggest problem with this book was that I had unrealistically high expectations. I’ve always been intrigued by NLP techniques and I thought this novel would be about it. Instead, it’s much more fantastic and hard to believe. Also, I did not understand what was happening until I reached the middle of the book. In some cases it can be intriguing, but here it was rather irritating. Also, the ending was just… Meh. I don’t get it, really.

Title: Ancillary Justice
Author: Ann Leckie
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This novel is like a riddle: at first you don’t understand what is happening and get lost in a lot of new words and alien references, but then without any explicit explanation it all kinda starts making sense, and you feel the world taking shape around you, gradually and imperceptibly. It is a beautifully written book, and the idea is awesome, but somehow this time I do not appreciate not understanding what’s happening for such a long time. Have I mentioned my attention span tend to be really short lately? So I don’t have enough patience for this kind of story

So what so do you think about these books? Do you agree or disagree with my opinions? I'd like to hear both :-P

I'm preparing some longer reviews next, as my reading is getting back to normal pretty fast. Stay tuned and have a nice weekend!
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