Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top Ten Topics that Instantly Make Me Take Interest in a Book

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the people over at The Broke and the Bookish and today's topic is "Top Ten Words/Topics that Instantly Make Me Want to Buy/Pick Up a Book".
I haven't participated in TOP 10 meme for a while, but this week's topic caught my interest.
Without further ado:
1.  Time folding - Mixed up timeline - One book, different times - Multiple POVs
Basically, the messier the better :p I have huge attraction to narratives that are non-linear, cut, mutilated, folded, and then put back together.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, The Hours by Michael Cunningham (TBR), Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (currently reading)
2.  Epistolary novels
Stories presented in form of letters, notes, e-mails, telegrams, newspaper accounts, text messages, diary entries, transcriptions, et cetera. I find that intriguing.
Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, Dracula by Bram Stoker (TBR)
3.  Stories set in a mental institutions - Mentally challenged characters
Not sure what that says about me... :p
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (multiple POVs with one of the narrators being a mentally challgened young man), Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
4.  (Later) Soviet Era - Concentration camps
It probably has something to do with the fact that I hail from a post-Soviet country.
Stalin's Cows by Sofi Oksanen, Gulag by Anne Applebaum (non-fiction), Sakhalin Island by Anton Chekhov, a bunch of books in Estonian that I'm not even going to list
5. Genies - Jinn
This is a new discovery, but the jinn I have encountered in books so far are hilarious. Snarky, patronising, with chill-out attitude and in general, very very funny. Books with some jinn definitely pique my interest (I might even have to search for some!)
The Bartimaeus books by Jonathan Stroud, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
6.  Androgyny - Mixed up genders
Since I prefer taking people as persons instead of dividing them into men and women, I think that is why such books interest me.
The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (TBR)
7.  Snowy, icy, cold environments
As is appropriate for the child of the North. And suitably, I am not very attracted to books set in very warm places (deserts and such).
Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg, A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
8.  A Touch of Magic
So, these are not necessarily classic fantasy, and not even full-on magic realism books, but those that kind of look like your average next door contemporary/fiction story but with a little hint of magic.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, almost anything by Haruki Murakami, The Magus by John Fowles, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (TBR so I assume it's one of those books), Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (TBR)
9.  Highly disturbing possible scenarios for future
Basically what I mean here are classic dystopias (not young adult ones, which I know are hugely popular, but I haven't read them).
1984 by George Orwell, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
10.  Odd/non-conventional/funny family dynamics featuring over-the-top quirky characters
Really nothing to add, hilarious families like those we have seen in TV (like Wes Anderson films, Arrested Development).
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (I want to re-read that one NOW!), The Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny, Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, Franny and Zooey (and the whole Glass family) by J. D. Salinger

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mini-thoughts: "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult, "Beautiful Creatures" by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Both these books are way out of my comfort zone. You know how once in a while one gets this urge to try something "else" or "different"... Like stop eating meat, or wear a dress instead of jeans. Or read a Jodi Picoult novel or something called young adult literature.

"My Sister's Keeper" sounded like an interesting premise enough to give it a go, a family of four has a child that is really sick, so new child is planned to basically become an organ donor for the older child. Once the new child develops some kind of ability to think for herself, she decides that is not the kind of life she wants for herself and decides to sue the parents.
The novel is written from the perspective of multiple narrators, and in this case, there were waaaayyy too many narrators. I couldn't see the need behind some of them at all, they didn't really contribute much anything. I wonder if may really be true in this case that the use of multiple narrations is a sign of lazy writing? So, that kind of started annoying me a lot by the end. I could also sense that this book had the desire to pull a lot of emotion out of a reader, but it just didn't happen for me. Possible "it's me, not you" situation here because I am a cold and cynical person to begin with (sinister laughter), but on the other hand there have been stories, way more subtle and with less shock-prone plots, which have made me have more tender feelings, so I am just not sure... Anyhow, I knew beforehand that there will be "a shocking twist" in the end, and I wasn't really a fan of that, or in this case it left me puzzled whether the twist was just there to add more shock value, or what.
On a more positive note, premise as such does make you think of a bunch of moral and ethical questions, and reading parents' thoughts on why they did what they did and what they were thinking was a bit more interesting.
End verdict: I got confirmed that such books are not for me. I don't need to be shocked through actions; I'd rather be shocked in a more subtle manner.
500 pages
"Beautiful Creatures" was my first attempt to explore the fairly popular young adult sub-genre, and off the bat I want to make it clear that I had the best intentions for this book. So far, there has been nothing pulling me towards young adult novels (and that did not change with this book), but I was curious to see what is this kind of paranormal stuff so many people are talking about.
It's a romance, there are paranormal powers presented, and a family of witches, set in a small southern city in America (where nothing ever happens - of course). Writing was nothing special (or actually it was occasionally out-right bad towards the end), and I entertained myself trying to figure out how this kind of "two-people-working-on-same-book" could work. I didn't figure it out. There was awful lot of repetition (thanks, Ethan, we got it during the about first 10+ pages that Lena has black hair, it does not need to be repeated on every page). About half of the cast of characters was fairly stereotypical - the main protagonist who gets involved in odd happenings, his extraordinary and "different" love interest, the popular guys n' girls at school, the funny sidekick-best-friend, overprotective and narrow-minded soccer mums, the list goes on. Lena's bunch was actually more interesting, along with their house, uncle Macon Ravenwood and his dog Boo Radley. (Oh, right, Ethan was also "different" because he had read "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Catcher in the Rye" and probably a few other books - by the way it was described apparently no other people in the town didn't even know what books are). Lena was one of those girls who liked to express her thoughts in poetry, occasionally, and if it was a deliberate move by authors, then they succeeded in this outstandingly - the verses were awful. Which is actually believable, because that's how it tends to be with girls that age (yea I remember those days).
So, overall, I was not a happy reader with "Beautiful Creatures", but I would give an extra point for a few characters and especially for Boo Radley (who was truly awesome).
563 pages

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Review: "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple

Bernadette Fox is notorious.
To Elgie Branch, a Microsoft wunderkind, she's his hilarious, volatile, talented, troubled wife.
To fellow mothers at the school gate, she's a menace.
To design experts, she's a revolutionary architect.
And to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, quite simply, mum.
There were so many things about "Bernadette" that I generally enjoy. Good! humour - oh, yes (Semple has written for "Arrested Development" - one of the few truly funny TV-shows). Those who have seen the show can probably guess what you'd get with the book - crazy funny characters and situations that border on tragic and hilarious. The whole Fox family is just loveable (although all the other characters in the book would probably argue with that :p). Bernadette herself made me go "aww" constantly - she is witty and talented and at the same time quite sociopathic (she hires an online assistant from India to "run" errands for her such as booking tables in diners and ordering medicine from the next-door drugstore); her relationship with Bee (who she actually named Balakrishna in the hospital right after birth - apparently that was just a slight mishap caused by being overwhelmed by the whole giving birth experience) is so adorable and even though the IT-genius-husband-dad-Microsoft guru (isn't it nice to see how not everything is about Apple, still?) Elgie seems to have weaker connections to this marvellous duo of females at first, he does fit in, just the way that his own crazy character and their whole family synergy enables.
Secondly - it is an epistolary novel (well not all of it, but mostly). And I love that form of writing. It allows reader to be a bit more distant and not getting all the characters' feelings and motifs punched in the face. And if you put together humour and epistolary writing... It can be (and in this case is) really, really funny.
Also, there is Antarctica. Being younger, I devoured Peter Hoeg's "Smilla's Sense of Snow" (the book full of snow, ice, and footsteps on white planes)*, so it came as no surprise to me that I truly enjoyed the setting of Antarctica in this book.
And did I mention characters? I might have, but I will again. Aside from the Fox family, there is a whole crew of people that we get to know through their e-mails (mainly). And not everyone that seems vicious at first ends up being such in the end.
Or maybe the main reason why I loved "Bernadette" (both book and character) so much was that I could recognise myself in this family. I could see how I would be a Bernadette, too. The kind of person you either love or hate (because they are quirky, way too straightforward and can come off as selfish. Oh and let's not forget giving the middle finger to all the "lovely expectations of the society").
I think this is a very good story, but not definitely something that you want to write a lot about; it is the kind of book you want to read, instead. I know it is a definite re-read for me, some time in future.
* The title of the book in English is actually "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow", and "Smilla's Sense of Snow" is the title of the film. However, it is quite obvious how the first is so clumsy, whereas the latter is spot on with all the alliteration and what not. So I stubbornly call this book "Smilla's Sense of Snow".
321 pages

Review: "Life After Life" by Kate Aktinson

Practice makes perfect.
/p. 468/

It's difficult to read "Life After Life" and not think about the movie "Groundhog Day". I finished this book less than an hour ago, and I feel the need to write about it, right away (writing slump 0 - awesome books 1).
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
That one-sentence blurb alone triggers a flood of thoughts. It's like having a small version of good ol' Doc Emmett Brown on your shoulder, warning not to meddle with the time paradoxes, or the outcome may be disastrous. Only, in this book, there is no "physical" time travel (as much as such a thing is possible) - something I would label as an active notion, but the subtle ideas of reincarnation (a passive notion) and the constant feeling of déjà vu. Ursula Todd, the girl living life after life, never encounters herself in the time, but she encounters her own actions, and notices how it can take the smallest of change in the route of events to change the future completely.
I think that such "time-folding" technique is something that can easily fail in the hands of many writers, but Kate Atkinson is so crafty. The story just flows, it is one of those devourable books. Her writing is simple and easy to understand, but behind those simple sentences there is so much to feel. And think about. The characters are so vivid and many of them grew to my heart, even if they did things I did not approve. I could still see where they were coming from. Sylvie, the Mother, is a good example. If transferred into today, I think I'd call her a "soccer mum", but she was a very complicated character, often moody and hard to understand. Yet I liked her. (Or maybe I should say I liked reading about her? Not sure to be honest.)
It is a book of what if-s. What if a certain incident had not happened on your 16th birthday, or it had happened somewhat differently? How would it change everything that was to come afterwards? What if Hitler never came to reign? What if he happened to die before the time? Even though the first thing to come to mind is that it would have ended in something good, you'd have to consider the possibility that it would have ended in something even worse (although I realise that "something worse" than II WW is difficult to grasp). And it takes one to the more philosophical, vaguer paths - is there happiness without misfortune, and isn't it so that bad things can turn out good, only you do not know it yet? And how much power should a single individual possess when it comes to changing the course of events? I am by no means nothing close to a history expert, but if I think of Hitler, Stalin and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union, and then think that what if someone had, say, shot Hitler in 1930, and then think of Stalin and the plans he had for the world... regardless of horrors of the Holocaust and everything else, to put it very simply - if Hitler had not ended up as a "meat shield" for Stalin, draining a lot of resources from both Germany and Soviets, it is actually possible that the history might have ended up even uglier...
But that is digressing. "Life After Life" is awesome because of all the thoughts it makes you think, of all the doors and windows it opens in your mind. Despite the temptation to "finally get it right", I don't think it's possible because "right" is one of the most relative subjects there is, changing in time and space. I think what I personally take with me from this book is amor fati -
"It means acceptance. Whatever happens to you, embrace it, the good and the bad equally. Death is just one more thing to be embraced, I suppose."
/p. 426/
477 pages

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Brain Food, VI

I haven't written about books I've bought/received for a long while, so there is... horror! two piles to show at once now. Some of those I have even finished already, hehe.

From top to bottom:
* Hilary Mantel, "Wolf Hall" - was an impulse buy, but since I'm going through the longlist of this year's Women's Prize, and Mantel is in it with the sequel to the "Wolf Hall", the purchase has worked itself out quite fine.
* Sinclair Lewis, "Arrowsmith" - a Classics Club book that I got to read for the Spin event in March. Finished it, liked it. Might try out some more Lewis in future.
* Scott Addams, "God's Debris" - something that can be called "a mind exercise" by the author of Dilbert. The premise of this slim book seems very intriguing, I love literary mind games. Won it a while back from a giveaway.
* Ken Follett "The Pillars of the Earth" - another brick, which I can't wait to start! It's something about building a cathedral in 12th century and I have faith it's going to be a-we-some.
* B. N. Peacock "A Tainted Dawn" - another piece of historical fiction (I really do intend to make my grand foray into the genre). Travelling by the sea and military conflicts. I won this book.
* Susan Wise Bauer "The Well-Educated Mind" - it's a book that is supposed to help us read and interpret classics. If it will manage to make me ask more questions about books, and seek more answers - good.

Women's Prize 2013 books:
* Gillian Flynn "Gone Girl" - read it in a few days, had some issues, but I think it's a good book for people who are after fast-paced writing and story twists. I personally am more focused on the depth and style of writing, which is why plot-based novels ain't quite my thing, but I'm glad I read it (bought it before I knew it was longlisted for WP). But, I don't expect I will try other of Flynn's works any time soon, if at all.
* Elif Shafak "Honour" - set in London, Istanbul and a Kurdish village, I'm looking forward to this one, but I will probably read the other books from this pile first.
* Francesca Segal "The Innocents" - I see family drama. Expecting this one to be a hit or a miss.
* Barbara Kingsolver "Flight Behavior" - I haven't read any Kingsolver and I want to love her, so I am very, very apprehensive towards this book.
* Kate Atkinson "Life After Life" - reading this one now, and loving it so much. Almost don't even want it to end. Fascinatingly structured novel.
* Maria Semple "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" - read it, loved it, need to write about it. The humour! But then again it is no wonder considering that Semple has written for Arrested Development, one of the funniest TV-shows there is :)

Saturday, April 6, 2013


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