Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TOP 5 Most Favourite Books - Book Kaleidoscope Day 5

Book Kaleidoscope 2013 is hosted by Fanda at Fanta Classiclit. In here we will recapture our favourite moments, memories and experiences from fiction read in 2013. And lists! There will be lists. Who doesn't love a list?

The topic for Day 5 is TOP 5 Most Favourite Books, which is quite self-explanatory.

I read 65 books this year, out of which 33 were written by male authors and 32 by women. I couldn't be happier with this ratio as one of my goals this year was up the number of books I read written by women (Women's Prize long- and shortlist helped a great deal here). I read about 20 classics from my Classics Club list (actually more, since in January I hadn't joined with the Club yet), and I am also very happy with that number. It has been such a successful reading year!


5. Germinal, Emilé Zola

Germinal packs such an emotional punch that I can't even. I read it in the first half of the year and certain scenes are still so vivid in my head as if I had read it yesterday... Also, Zola has such a way with words. Everyone needs to read more Zola. One of the two favourite classics this year.
It's also one of my own favourite reviews I wrote on a book this year.

4. The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

THANK YOU BOOK BLOGGERS! I read four books by Jasper Fforde this year and his witty, clever, dry-humoured style is definitely my jam! Thursday Next books especially feel like those written for people with literary ADD (excuse the comparison but I think it's pretty accurate).

3. A Dance With Dragons, George R.R. Martin

It's probably not my favourite out of Game of Thrones books, but it is still so very good when compared to most other books. I didn't find it dragging or slow-paced at all (common complaints I had heard beforehand). I hope Martin finishes the series in my lifetime.

2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

No review (yet?). This is one of the very few books that got a few tears out of the ol' cynical myself (seriously, I don't cry when reading books - no matter how sad they are). This book is packed with philosophical material and highly quotable passages, although it is not the kind of book I would recommend to everyone - I can see from a mile away how some themes that Kundera explores may just be boring for some people (living in a Communist society) or may upset some (the topic of sexuality and men-women relationships are extremely complex in The Unbearable Lightness of Being) - I think one needs a very open mindset to enjoy this book for what it is.

1. Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

Back in April I dared to allow myself think "This just might be the best book I will read the whole year", and so it was. The thing is, I wasn't even in a particularly good condition when reading Life After Life - I was just in the middle quitting the ADs and thus feeling physically awful crappy (like constant vertigo and nausea crappy), but this book managed to keep me sane and distracted for many hours. I am also particularly happy that I really liked a highly hyped book - this is very rare for me! (Might have something to do with the fact that when I read it, I didn't yet have any knowledge of the hype at all...)

Simply put, Life After Life is a beautiful book. It is so elegantly written and weaved by Kate Atkinson, who uses a bit of an unusual technique (time-folding), which could easily go wrong/repetitive/majorly annoying.

The review I wrote on Life After Life is also one of my personal favourites among my own reviews this year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mini-reviews #4

This is my attempt to wrap up all the reviews from this year, which I have not yet written. With these done, I will still have a few Classics Club books to write about (very conflicting ones for me - The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which is the second best book I read this year, and The Turn of the Screw, to which I gave 1 star...)
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
I wanted to love this book and I didn't. When reading Thursday Next books, I sometimes had this feeling that Fforde has too many ideas and that he is trying to cram them into a too small of a space, but in case of Thursday Next books, there is always this thread, this link that keeps me on the story and does not let it linger away - the literary references. In Shades of Grey, there was just too much of everything and at times too little of explanations and motives. I still appreciate this book as another witty story from one of my favourite authors, but it does not compare to Thursday books for me.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Whoa, what a surprise there! I never planned to read this book, but as I saw it for a ridiculous price (2 dollars or something) in Kindle store and vaguely remembered this book being loved by fellow bloggers, I bought it, and read it, and - liked it a great deal. The Sisters Brothers is full of this kind of dark humour that some of us particularly enjoy (me included) and the character of Eli Sisters was just... so good.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden
This is a piece of non fiction that is extremely hard to read and write about. North Korean concentration camps are considered prisons with no way out, but this one man managed to escape and tell the world what goes on in the camps. I feel I must warn that people with very sensitive nervous system should be extremely careful before picking this book up, although on the other hand I feel like every Citizen of the World is obligated to know and acknowledge what goes on in totalitarian countries.

Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien
I'm one of 'em Tolkien fans, so not even going to pretend not to be biased here, but I also truly think this is a very good piece of children's literature. It's full of charming creatures (some of them a bit scary, but only a little!), a little bit ridiculous wizard, travelling to the Moon (be still my beating heart) - in conclusion, Roverandom kept a silly smile on my face the whole time I was holding it in my hands. The book contains a few drawings by Tolkien himself, a super nice treat for fans.

UFO in Her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo
This was another spontaneous read, I snatched this book during TBD 25-hour sale for some ridiculous price and was drawn by the fact that this is a translation from Chinese. UFO in Her Eyes is a weird book presented in strange formats - mostly interviews, but also e-mails, drawings (maps), notes and reports. Despite of what may seem as a bit of a gimmicky presentation, the subject matter is serious - a very primite village in China, which suddenly gets an opportunity to use some funds to carry out innovations, and how that affects the life of "regular" people. Also an interesting thing about this book is that since all the formats of narrative are so subjective, I found myself constantly asking if I can trust everything that is being said.

Parasite by Mira Grant
Parasite is an intriguing horror-dystopian story about what happens when people's habits on hygiene go overboard and someone gets an idea to develop a parasite (tapeworm, in this case) that would cure humans from all diseases. Of course, not all the things go as the scientists have planned... Even though Parasite has highly interesting premise, it fell more into the "meh" category for me. It had its strengths (I have read many books with worse character presentations for example), but I completely failed to form any kind of emotional attachment to any of the characters.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This book has gotten a lot of buzz since The Goldfinch was published this year and I bought it out of pure curiousity. Almost all the characters in this book are extremely dislikeable, but that didn't stop me from immensely enjoying the book itself - it was just gripping. I would not want to befriend those folks, but it was very interesting to observe their psychological troubles and downfalls. I expected to get a very captivating, well and intelligently written whydunnit, and that is exactly what I got, hence

Bout of Books 9.0 [readathon]

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 6th and runs through Sunday, January 12th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 9.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team
I missed Bout of Books 8.0, but I'm back for the 9th edition! What better way to start off a new year, really :) 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Reading Challenges 2014 - Chunkster, Foodie and Eclectic

I have already signed up for two reading challenges for 2014:
I don't want to take on too many challenges, so I decided to settle with a nice number five.

Chunkster Challenge 2014

This year e-books and audio-books are allowed, so this is partly the reason why I am joining in, I will definitely be reading some big books on my Kindle reader.
Head over to this web site to learn about the challenge, sign up and see who else is taking part.
I will not be setting any goals for this challenge, but in the end of the year it will be nice to see how many chunksters I've tackled. I just made statistics on 2013 and based on the rules of the challenge (that a chunkster is book with 450 pages or more - 450 is not enough for me personally, it would have to be at least 500 pages), I read more than 20 chunksters (out of 64 books read), so hoping something similar for 2014.

1. Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol (462)
2. The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch (537)
3. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (543)
4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (734)
5. The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss (662)
6. The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson (537)
7. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell (510)
8. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (487)
9. American Gods, Neil Gaiman (592)
10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (870)
11. Hyperion, Dan Simmons (482)
12. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (596)
13. Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch (628)
14. The Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons (517)
15. The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters (499)
16. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (595)
17. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling (652)
18. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling (759)

Foodies Read Challenge 2014

More information on the challenge can be acquired from Foodies Read 2014 web page.
Although food related books are not only limited to non-fiction, I personally will be aiminig for those non-fiction foodie books I've been eyeing for a while. I will aim for the level 2: Pastry Chef (4-8 books).

1. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
2. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

Eclectic Reader Challenge 2014

This one's not as straightforward as the other ones, so it will be fun to choose books for this challenge. Head over to this Book'd Out's post to learn more!
The categories for this challenge are:

1. Award Winning - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (several awards - like Man Booker Prize for 2009)
2. True Crime (Non-Fiction) - The Devil in the White City by Lars Erikson
3. Romantic Comedy - The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
4. Alternate History Novel - Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde (Thursday Next #4)
5. Graphic Novel - Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
6. Cosy Mystery Fiction - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
7. Gothic Fiction - Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
8. War/Military Fiction - War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
9. Anthology - no idea yet.
10. Medical Thriller Fiction - Symbiont by Mira Grant (Parasitology #2; expected to be published November 2014)
11. Travel (Non-Fiction) - Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson
12. Published in 2014 - The Martian by Andy Weir

A few categories were especially difficult to fill out, like Romantic Comedy and Medical Thriller fiction, or Anthology - which I have not payed much attention before.

If anyone has a recommendation of anthologies related to food, fantasy or sci-fi - please let me know!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

TOP 5 Best Book Covers - Book Kaleidoscope Day 3

Book Kaleidoscope 2013 is hosted by Fanda at Fanta Classiclit. In here we will recapture our favourite moments, memories and experiences from fiction read in 2013. And lists! There will be lists. Who doesn't love a list?

The topic for Day 3 is TOP 5 Best Book Covers:

Rank five covers of books you have read in 2013. Pick the edition that you really read, but if you read ebook, at least pick the one that you used for your post. Tell us why you think them gorgeous.

This was a difficult choice. I bought so many books this year, and so many of them had very nice covers. But here is my selection of five:

The Eyre Affair

I fell hard for the covers of this series, and I am utterly bummed that I haven't managed to find book number two with the matching cover. I have purchased books up to number five, and I love the design of Thursday Next series. It has a great retro feel, the rainbow-coloured car is so cool, I like the font of the title and the worn edges.

The Golem and the Djinni

Even though I was not the biggest fan of Helene Wecker's debut, there is something about this cover that appealed to me greatly. Mostly the colour of the night sky - so pretty.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

A bit of an unexpected choice - this cover became my favourite after I had finished the book. When I look at it, it seems to transfer the feels that I got from reading the book perfectly (the sound of planes above, the smell of moist soil in Spanish forests...)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 

The only reason I finally decided to get Harry Potter books and read them were those new Scholastic covers. It's hard to choose a favourite among them, but I will go with the first one, as this is the one I first saw and it made a strong impression on me. I think the cover wonderfully captures the atmosphere of the alley and the book series.

Ship of Magic

Even though I own the small paperback copy of this book, I love the cover - it's all golden and shiny and has nice textures on it, and again, I like what has been done to the edges. I have the whole Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb in the same design and I love these covers.

Looking at it now, I think I might have a thing with some kind of a vehicle on cover... (a ship, planes, a car? HP number two with the flying car on the cover was almost in the list as well...)


The next topic: TOP 5 of your own criteria. I am not yet sure whether I will post about this topic, it mainly depends whether inspiration strikes or not.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

TOP 5 Most Memorable Quotes - Book Kaleidoscope 2013 Day 2

Book Kaleidoscope 2013 is hosted by Fanda at Fanta Classiclit. In here we will recapture our favourite moments, memories and experiences from fiction read in 2013. And lists! There will be lists. Who doesn't love a list?

The topic for Day 1 is TOP 5 Most Memorable Quotes:

Do you have any quotes that touched you deeply or reminded you of something special? Pick five that are most memorable to you, rank them, and let us know why they’re special to you.

Difficult topic much? I had four clear frontrunners, and then a bunch from which I had to pick the fifth one.


I was always stuck between feelings of inferiority and superiority.
/Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel/

Though this quote carries near zero poetic value, it struck me hard, because - the story of my life. The quote is spoken by character Ushikawa, a kind of investigator who is described as grotesquely ugly.


I like people who read actual books. [...] Book-readers are just as willing as anyone else to start out with the weather, but as a general rule they can actually go on from there.
/Stephen King, Bag of Bones/

This trail of thoughts is just so witty and *modest cough* true at the same time. I wasn't the biggest fan of Bag of Bones, but I loved the literary themes that came up in the story once in a while.


"How hard it is - without the showplace of the stage - to teach wit to teenagers. I despair that another fall is almost upon me and once again I shall strive to make my Grade Ten girls notice something in Wuthering Heights besides every little detail about Catherine and Heathcliff - the story, the story; it is all they are interested in!"
/John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany/

*sigh* This is just... I have always set plot and story secondary during my reading process, and when I stumbled upon this quote I felt happy understanding and also a bit of "ZOMG John Irving let's form a secret club of people who do not think plot and romance are the highlight of books".


Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!
The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!
It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.
/Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, translated from Czech by Michael Henry Heim/

I knew that I have to pick one quote from this book because it was full of the stuff you just want to write out, read again and again, and remember forever. Milan Kundera is the perfect dark poet, and this quote I picked simply because I think there is way too much kitsch in the world.


And my favourite, favourite, many times memorised quote from the year:

That tomorrow should come and that I should be there.
/For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway/

This sentence is seemingly so simple and yet those ten words form in a way that sounds so poetic, so sad, and so hopeful at the same time. Thank you, Ernest. I shall always remember this.


The next topic: TOP5 Book Covers

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

C_Club #16: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cranford was my book-to-read for the fourth Classics Spin. It was my first Elizabeth Gaskell book and I have heard good things about Wives and Daughters and North and South, whereas opinions on Cranford tended to vary a bit more, so I was a bit hesitant to start my Gaskell reads with this book. However, there was no reason for concern -  I loved Cranford.
From the back of the book:
A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such torubling events as Matty's bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical.
Cranford is a strange of a place, inhabited mostly (only?) by women:
In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad. /p. 5/
These vignettes are written in simple, approachable style and with a great amount of humour and wit. There are several funny scenes depicted, my favourite was the one including a lace, a cat and a vomit inducing substance (use your imagination!). However, Gaskell's message is deeply social, for me the themes of wealth and gender came out as the sharpest. How was it at the time when wealth and status meant everything to be poor and still try to be a part of the "society"? She also makes humorous remarks on men throughout the book:
"I don't mean to deny that men are troublesome in a house. I don't judge from my own experience, for my father was neatness itself, and wiped his shoes on coming in as carefully as any woman; but still a man has a sort of knowledge of what should be done in difficulties, that it is very pleasant to have obe at hand ready to lean upon." /p. 149/
I liked Cranford so well that I got the craving to pick up North and South, which has been on my classics shelf for some months now. I am currently reading it and enjoying a great deal.
I would recommend Cranford if you want to read a classic book and don't necessarily require an intense plot development: this book is kind of slice-of-life, very humorous and insightful, and in that sense meets its purpose very well.

TOP 5 Book Boy/Girl Friends - Book Kaleidoscope 2013 Day 1

Book Kaleidoscope 2013 is hosted by Fanda at Fanta Classiclit. In here we will recapture our favourite moments, memories and experiences from fiction read in 2013. And lists! There will be lists. Who doesn't love a list?

The topic for Day 1 is TOP 5 Book Boy/Girl Friends:

From all the books you have read throughout the year, rank five male characters (if you are female) or five female characters (if you are male) you love the most. Tell us the reason, and it would be great if you use images to describe them (if the book has been made into movie, you can share photo(s) of the best actors/actresses to perform them).

Well. I started this by dividing a blank page into two in my notebook and marking down possible candidates... and came up with a bunch of feisty women in literature whereas my "boyfriend" column only consisted of Owen Meany, Alex Woods and Eli Sisters... I guess I have to be a rebel and go with girlfiends even though I'm female - I can't help but to appreciate a good heroine! :)

Dina starts out as the girl next door (literally), but as the time and the plot continues, she really rises to shine next to the other (mainly male) characters. Alif would probably be in a lot more trouble if it wasn't for Dina, who managed to be very level-headed in intense situations. Dina is a Muslim and takes her faith very seriously, and that just gives her that extra layer of depth.

Marian Halcombe
It took me a little time to find the quote that likely accompanies this illustration of Marian, as spoken by Walter Hartright:

I looked from the table to the window farthest from me, and saw a lady standing at it, with her back turned towards me. The instant my eyes rested on her, I was struck by the rare beauty of her form, and by the unaffected grace of her attitude. Her figure was tall, yet not too tall; comely and well-developed, yet not fat; her head set on her shoulders with an easy, pliant firmness; her waist, perfection in the eyes of a man, for it occupied its natural place, it filled out its natural circle, it was visibly and delightfully undeformed by stays. She had not heard my entrance into the room; and I allowed myself the luxury of admiring her for a few moments, before I moved one of the chairs near me, as the least embarrassing means of attracting her attention. She turned towards me immediately. [...] She approached nearer - and I said to myself (with a sense of surprise which words fail me to express), The lady is ugly!

Nice going there, Walter :p Marian is awesome though, she has brains in their proper place, she is also witty, extremely clever and resourceful - as much as women of the time could be. One can clearly see Marian is way ahead of her time, she's independent and probably doesn't need no man to lift her self-esteem. As I wrote in my initial review of The Woman in White, "she would not go without food or butt naked, that's for sure", and I stick to it.

Thursday Next

It's not easy to find an image of Thursday from the Internet, let me tell you. In the end I settled with this:

This is a Czech cover for Lost in a Good Book.
Looks like a comic book, and Thursday is scary-

Who would like to meet Thursday on an empty alley at night time? Not me! True, she is a bit hot-headed, but then again you are allowed to be if you have resources to get out of the messes your hot-headedness gets you in. Thursday is no fainting maiden; in fact, she is the one who has to save her husband from major trouble (I have become used to it being a bit of the other way around...)
Masami Aomame

A nice piece of fan art with Aomame and Tengo;
again, it's difficult to find any images on
these characters.
The reason I didn't love 1Q84 was nothing to do with characters, who were expectedly unique, bizarre, quirky and humane altogether - the trademark of Haruki Murakami. After solitary and not so happy childhood of being raised in religious-to-extremes family, 30-something Aomame becomes an assassin... of a sort. I won't say anymore, it's best to discover the details on that from the book itself. Another significant facts: she has weird attraction towards balding, middle-aged men; she casually decides to tackle Proust's In Search of Lost Time (as you do), and she is lonely. Very very lonely. (Surprising, eh?)
Lucy Snowe

I don't think I've ever met a character studied to such depth as Charlotte Bronte's Lucy Snowe. Her life is clearly a miserable one, yet you do not pity her. Most of Lucy's life takes place inside her (which is likely why this novel is near impossible to adapt faithfully), oh, the kind of emotions she has! But only a little of that is visible to a bystander. I recognised myself in Lucy more than once, her sarcastic remarks and inner thoughts made Villette such an enjoyable read.
The next topic: TOP5 Most Memorable Quotes

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Snippets #15

... or how Robert ruined Christmas. We have ferry tickets to Estonia for tomorrow, but it's yet unsure if we will be able to visit my parents and relatives for the holidays because - yes, Robert is sick.
When I fully realised it yesterday morning, I just sat and thought it must be my own personal holiday curse. Mammu fell ill in August, when our vacations began, and needed to be given medications three times a day, so that was all that we did during summer vacation. Now it's Christmas holidays and Robert is sick. It's so absurd I don't even know what to think.
I don't even know what's wrong with him other than that he just doesn't eat and doesn't play and is not his normal self. We took him to the vet yesterday (they should have some programme for regulars, really...), the initial examination didn't indicate what might be the problem, nor did the blood work.
I'm really tired of pets being sick, and wish this year was over already!
On more bookish notes, I finished A Christmas Carol this week, a lovely buddy read we had with Sam and Christine. I've also been reading The Quantum Thief for a while now - it is a mind-blowing book but unfortunately quite difficult to follow, especially if your mind is occupied with a lot of worrysome stuff. I also started The Road by Cormac McCarthy - a happy Christmas read this is not. I'm kind of craving for some nice classics book and have been thinking of North and South for more than once now, maybe I'll pick that up during the holidays.
That was my depressive Sunday post - forgive me for being gloomy during holidays. I hope Robert will start feeling better soon, that would be like, a little Christmas miracle and the biggest gift I could get.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

C_Club #15: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Again, I find myself in the situation of having to write something coherent about a hugely famous story. I don't remember having read A Christmas Carol before, at least not in its full length, but it's hard to not know about the story because of film adaptions.
I also started the book this time around with a warm and fuzzy feeling that I had got from a book I read back in summer - in A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) there is a scene where some of the cast prepare to perform the play of A Christmas Carol on stage; in the book this piece of storyline carries a strong importance and there are humorous bits that surround it, and remembering that made me smile instantly when I picked up Dickens' novella.
It's been a long while since I read anything by Dickens - I read David Copperfield in my teens, and I attempted A Tale of Two Cities earlier this year, but it didn't happen, mentally I wasn't ready. However, A Christmas Carol is not difficult to read or follow. It is built in a quite simple and straight-forward manner - description of the life of Ebenezer Scrooge as it is at the given moment, meeting the ghosts of the past, present and future, and then it is back to the given moment, only Scrooge is transformed after his experiences.
A Christmas Carol tells about the importance of being nice, shortly put. In the beginning, Ebenezer Scrooge is lost, in a way; he does not come off as evil, rather he does not see the point in being nice. He doesn't see many things - he is yet to realise that hoarding wealth is quite pointless if you do not have a good idea of what to do with it or people to enjoy it with. What I found interesting is that he didn't actually need a lot of convincing in the book; right from the beginning, when he encounters the ghost of his former business partner, you can see that he is actually very eager to change. Having the opportunity to see, whilst invisible, how others take him for a hopeless person comes as kind of enlightenment, it looks like he has never even given a second thought of how his rational ways may seem to other people.
The final bit of the book has very different tone from the bleakness of the beginning; it is a chapter full of light, that celebrates hope and the way a human can change. Maybe it is true that in essence, a human being is good by nature, just that there are several factors and experiences on the path of life that can alter this goodness into being hidden, or being something else. Scrooge is determined to set his affairs right and most of all it felt like the huge burden had been taken from his chest, as if he didn't even want to be the kind of person he was, and he was genuinely happy to change.
I guess such a book could be taken as a bit cheesy, but whether one thinks that or not, I think the message of the story is simple and in its right place, and one we all need to remind ourselves (and the others) from time to time: that it is important to be nice, and moreover - it is never too late to change.
I read this book with Sam and Christine.
Find Sam's review here:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Russian Literature 2014 Challenge

This year in Russian literature was a big round zero for me. I am not even sure how this happened - I love Russian authors? But it did happen and something needs to be done, so I will join o's Russian Literature 2014 challenge.
There are four levels of participation available, I'll go with number two, 4-6 books.
Here is the list of what I'm planning to read (in alphabetical order):
1. The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevski - a re-read of one of the best books ever.
2. Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol - I'll read it in Estonian, as I have a very old copy (from 1949) on my shelf.
3. Invitation to a Beheading, Vladimir Nabokov - I am so excited for this, I think Nabokov writes so beautifully and the premise of Invitation to a Beheading seems to bear resemblances to the world of Kafka (and I love Kafka!), so this could possibly turn out really good for me.
4. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - tackles a tough topic, I'm hoping for a powerful read out of this one.
5. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy - yep, 2014 will be the year for this.
6. We, Yevgeni Zamyatin - a sci-fi classic from 1924.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

C_Club #14: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Let me just start by saying how refreshing this book felt in our era of glittery sparkling vampires, synthetic blood and "coming out of the coffin". In the preface of this Penguin Classics edition of Dracula, Bram Stoker lists characteristics of a vampire:
'power of creating evil thoughts or banishing good ones in others present'
'goes through fog by instinct' and 'can see in the dark'
'insensibility to music'
'Painters cannot paint him. His likeness always like someone else'
'could not Codak [photograph] him - comes out black of like skeleton corpse'
'No looking glasses in Count's house - never can see his reflection in one - no shadow?'
'never eats nor drinks'
I think it would do good for some modern authors to go re-view the roots of vampire literature.
On to the book though, I don't suppose the plot needs much introduction, as this is a very famous, well-known story. It is an epistolary novel - never a bad thing. Actually, I don't think the epistolary format was executed to the perfection because the voices of different narrators, who wrote their personal diaries of the events, did not come out as particularly recognisable; at some point they tended to melt into one big mass and I had to re-check who was narrating.
In the same vein, the characters generally were not super extinguishable and different from each other, it was more like "the good" against "the bad" Count Dracula. Portrayal of Dracula himself I found fascinating in this book, as he does make quite powerful appearances early on (t'is some truly spooky stuff there), but he is never really viewed too closely, which can probably lead to some people feeling that there is not enough Dracula in the book. I am not one of those readers, as I feel we are given quite a good picture from the perspective of Van Helsing and others; it's not like they get into a fist fight with Dracula right away, he is more like this subtle, hidden terror, which I think is even scarier than something full on, because since it's a bit hidden, a lot of the fear itself comes from recipient's emotions.
Portrayal of Van Helsing made me chuckle, truly - originally he is not your young handsome stud kinda dude; he is described by Mina Harker as "a man of medium height, strongly built, with his shoulders set back over a broad, deep chest and a neck well balanced on the trunk as the head is on the neck" and even though his exact age is not indicated, he cannot be in his early youth because he has a deceased son and a long career behind him. Let me also note the fact that by far the most irritating text in the book comes out of his mouth - half patronising and flowery, and the fact that he just seems to keep talking. I found it highly amusing that the famous vampire hunter is really a tad annoying.
Mina Harker has all the makings for a kick-ass heroine, if only she wasn't controlled by the straps of her time. There was a scene particularly ironic, where the menfolk felt the need to "protect" Mina, and what resulted from this - you probably know what I am talking about if you have read the book.
I think the end of the book/culmination has likely triggered many a controversial opinions and, as a modern reader, I can see why. However, since I was fully immersed to the ways of that particular time while reading Dracula, the ending was not anticlimactic for me; if anything it felt like a natural course of things and something more out of "the realm of real possibilities" rather than "just another movie sequence".
All in all, I was thoroughly entertained while reading Dracula, and I am very happy that I've finally finished this piece of cult literature.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review: A Trick of the Light by Loiz Metzger

Mike Welles had everything under control. But that was before. Now things are rough at home, and they’re getting confusing at school. He’s losing his sense of direction, and he feels like he’s a mess.

Then there’s a voice in his head. A friend, who’s trying to help him get control again. More than that—the voice can guide him to become faster and stronger than he was before, to rid his life of everything that’s holding him back. To figure out who he is again. If only Mike will listen.


/From Goodreads/
I don't have a whole lot to say about this book, but this doesn't mean it's a bad book. I think that when we think or talk about any kind of eating disorder, majority of people think of girls (or women). This book focuses on eating disorder from a male point of view, and for this it is kind of unique. (Apparently, 10% out of 10 million people with eating disorders in USA are male, and that is not that small of a number.)
The writing is not exceptional but it is okay, the characters are not magnificently explored, but again, they were okay for me - it looks like A Trick of the Light was generally somewhere between "meh/okay" category. There was one thing that irked me and it was the fact that the whole dialogue was written like this:
Mike: "Things have been kind of weird at home."
Tamio: "Yeah? How so?"
I don't know if it is kind of a stylistic intention or not but for me it pretty much translates into a bit of lazy writing.
Other than that, I think this book is good for the age group it's targeted to (I'm guessing teenagers), it was a super fast read and made me think of a problem I regularly had not given any thought at all, which is that boys as well can develop eating disorders for pretty much the same reasons as girls (depression, problems at home, social acceptance, etc. etc.)

Monday, December 2, 2013

C_Club #13: Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Villette was the Classics Spin #2 pick for me back in the summer, which means that I read it a while back so everything that happened (or didn't happen) in the book is not that fresh in my mind anymore; however, as this is a remarkable book in several ways, I want to write about it nevertheless.
This is not a happy book. Nor is it a particularly easy piece to read. But it is a good book and the kind that sucks you in if you manage to switch off everything around yourself and dedicate your time and energy to the text on the pages. If you know French a bit I'd say you are in a good place, there is a lot of French used in the book and it can be a bit distracting to keep browsing to the notes in the back of the book all the time. I speak no French at all.
Lucy Snowe is a character of the kind I have not met before in a book, I think. Her life is kind of sad; she is not blessed with wealth nor looks and she does not have much of family or friends. She is a governess, and an intelligent woman and with wise views, with curiousity towards the world and her own inner self. There are plenty of battles shown, of what is going on inside Lucy's head although if you would be looking from outside, you would probably not describe her as a passionate person. Lucy is very independent in her thinking and she does not want to rely on anyone or expect anything from anyone. In ways she can be very strict in her views (the whole topic of religion), but on the other hand she accepts the diversity and differences that the life creates (or does she sigh sadly and just take it as inevitability?) in a very mature way:
Religious reader, you will preach to me a long sermon about what I have just written, and so will you, moralist, and you, stern sage: you, stoic, will frown; you, cynic, sneer; you, epicure, laugh. Well, each and all, take it your own way. I accept the sermon, frown, sneer and laugh; perhaps you are all right: and perhaps, circumstanced like me, you would have been, like me, wrong.
/p. 173/
The longer we live, the more our experience widens; the less prone are we to judge our neighbour's conduct, to question the world's wisdom: [...]
/p. 343/
Lucy does not come off the kind of dreaming, romatic woman that is often encountered in literature. She can be rather snarky and blunt in her narrative:
Independently of romantic rubbish, however, that old garden has its charms.
I got the impression that she is a very sensitive person, but at the same time quite defensive towards the world. She is very self-reflective, but also, as a narrator, not completely reliable because she does not reveal everything at once.
The ending of Villette is controversial and although I would like to talk about it, I better not because, well, spoiling. It's the kind of ending that makes some people angry because perhaps they do not get what they were after when reading this book, but I personally loved it. I think it is the type of ending that respects the intelligence of the reader.
If you read Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and loved it, I would encourage you to pick up Villette, but whether and how much you would enjoy it is unknown. It is a very different book, much deeper and darker, and more difficult to follow; if you like Jane Eyre mainly because of romance, then I am not sure you will get the exact same thing from Villette; however, if you like well-written and deeply character-driven books then this one is an excellent choice.