Monday, 28 March 2011

Mini Reviews

Last week my computer wasn't working, so surprise-surprise I got tons read! It's shocking how much of a time-suck the Internet is. I'm just posting mini-reviews about these books otherwise I'll never get around to them, and to be perfectly honest I'm not sure how I could write full length posts about some of them *War and Peace*.

Baltasar and Blimunda by Jose Saramago read for my around the world journey (the countries have to touch and I aim if possible to read at least 2 books from each country).
This book has a Gabriel Garcia Marquez feel to it, which was great for me as I love him. In the foreground of the story was the love between Baltasar and the seer Blimunda - she has the ability to see 'inside' people if she hasn't eaten in the morning. Their love exists through the Inquisition and the creation of a flying bird capable of transporting humans.
No matter what happens it is their love for each other which wins over the whole story, and it isn't a mushy type of love, although one which is all consuming.
I loved this and would happily recommend it to other readers of magical realism.

War and Peace by Tolstoy I've been reading this as part of a read-a-long on goodreads since new years day, and although I got lost in the middle when I went on holiday I finally managed to catch up and get it finished.
I was shocked at how much the 'Peace' sections read like a soap opera. I was expecting a huge cast of characters but these sections focused primarily on three families and their interwoven love lives, tangles and disputes. You saw families grow, change and develop with the war creeping up in the background.
The 'War' sections I found a little harder at the start, as their seemed to be tons of characters in these bits and I couldn't figure out who was who. These sections became more manageable and enjoyable as I got to know characters and as the war seemed to be more localised so I had a firmer idea of how things were progressing. The pace also picked up.
I gave this read 4 stars as I really enjoyed it, but thought that Tolstoy should lecture and make less direct social comments, and I was disappointed in the second epilogue. We read the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation which I really liked, I had started with a different translation before and gave up after 5 pages! Next up for the group read-a-long is Les Mis, which I started yesterday.

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Oe this book was sent to me as part of my reading through the 1001 list/s (in fact all 4 of these reads were 1001 list books) and I'm sad to say I really didn't enjoy it.
A group of delinquent children are evacuated out to Japanese villages to escape the impeding war. Once their rumour of a plague spreads and the villagers abandon them so they are left to fend for themselves - similar to Lord of the Flies.
This book got great reviews from other people but for me it didn't hold together, it seemed that the author tried to hard to write as a teenage boy - they were obsessed with genitalia, which I know teenage boys are, I teach enough of them, but not to this extent. And some of the language just seemed to modern and the pace plodding.

Last but by no means least The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid my favourite read of the week. Most people have already read and raved about it so a very quick summary: the book is spoken as if it is part of a conversation, but you only hear from one speaker. He tells is from Pakistan but tells of his time in America and all that it offered to him. And all that changed after 9/11.
His voice and syntax perfectly create the voice in your head; his relationships, successes and views create him as a 3 dimensional character in a way that I haven't read in ages. And your uncertainity about a few areas of the text and style create a book you'll be thinking about long after.
This is one of those books I'll probably end up recommending to everyone and buying people as gifts.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Sunday Salon: Short Story Quest

As part of the Once Upon a Time V challenge I'll be posting reviews of short stories at the weekend set in a fairytale, mythical, fantastical or folkloric world. Recommendations are always much appreciated, as are comments.

photo credit
Ardour by Jonathon Keats
I read this interpretation of the Russian snow maiden Snegurochka whilst I was reading a bunch of Russian fairy tales this week, see this post I wrote yesterday, this had to be my favourite so I thought it deserved its own post.
Each winter the peasants tell the same story of the sightings of the beautiful girl in the woods, a girl covered in just a light dusting of snow who quickly disappears from sight. Each man craves to seduce her, for not only does she offer perfection and mystery she also is the release from the harsh winter into spring. Any man able to find and seduce her, and thus allow the fields to be harvested and the snows to melt, is rewarded by the king with a year off of work.
Yet one year Ardour goes from the desired to the hunted. For, suddenly one year she turns on the men and allows no one to seduce her. The winter draws on season after season, bringing with it hunger, death and disease, she has become a vengeful monster out to wreak havoc.
The king offers rewards of a life time escape from work, but no man is able to tame her until an unlikely Prince comes along.
This story’s telling was beautifully woven, and reminded me of the early African folk tales when stories were told to explain the things that man did not understand such as the passing of the seasons. This is certainly a story I’ll be coming back to read time and again, as with all good fairy tales.
The story can be found in the collection My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me’, ed. Kate Bernheimer.

In my search for the Snegurochka I found this cool website where they write and publish free retellings of fairytales. Go check it out.

Once Upon a Time Challenge: Russian Fairy Tales

I've been missing for the past week or so as my laptop needed fixing, but I'm back now! Having a laptop meant I read a lot more (I finished 4 books in a week!), so I'll post in a few days my thoughts on what I read. But more importantly, being laptop free didn't stop me signing up for a challenge.
The Once Upon a Time challenge has to by my favourite in the blog-o-sphere. I have participated in 3 (I think), and it certainly has influenced my reading habits and tastes.
Now, I've gone a little mad a signed up for Challenge the Third, to read one book from each category: Fantasy, Myth, Folklore and Fairytale. As well as Short Story Quest(see below) and to Quest the Fourth to read two non-fiction books.
I now have two stacks beside my bed, spanning way more than the amount of books I need to read, and I'm eager to get started.

photo credit (great illustrations here to check out)
Russian Fairy Tales:
As an eager ex-university student I find myself embroiled in little mini studious tasks from time to time, the Once Upon a Time Challenge seems to have provoked a few of these this year. One is the desire to learn about some of the traditional myths, as well as myths from around the world. The second, which is what I am focused on at the moment, is to look at fairy tales from specific countries.
So this week I found myself focusing on Russian fairy tales and retellings. As with all good fairy tales I found a good mix of wicked step-mothers, violence (‘Good Girl’s and Where it Gets Them’ (1) was an incredible mix of horrific violence and jealousy) and wit as well as a few recurring figures. Baba-Yaga appeared in several of the fairy tales that I read; this witch-like character is feared by all. In ‘The Baba-Yaga’ (1), our heroine is sent by her step-mother to her aunt’s house, knowing that her aunt is a baba-yaga she seeks advice and manages to escape being turned into a tasty meal. Likewise, in ‘Vasilissa the Fair’ (1) she is also sent by her step-mother and sisters to the baba-yaga, this time in search of light. She to seeks advice, this time from a doll, and is helped by the spirits to beat the baba-yaga’s trick and escape home into the arms of the tsar.
This beautiful Vasilissa character also turned up in another story, so I’m wondering if she is a common Russian fairy tale character. In ‘Vasilisa, the Priest’s Daughter’ she is beautiful, but not your average young maiden. She hunts, rides horses like a man and drinks Vodka and so is given the male nickname Vasily. Meeting the King one day on his travels he is perplexed over whether she could really be a female and so invites her to his house for various trials to test her femininity. As in all good stories, wit and female cunning prevails over male desperation.
This story is a modern interpretations of Russian fairy-tales, in the first ‘Baba Iaga and the Pelican Child’ (2), the pelican child lives deep in the woods with Baba Iaga, a cat and a dog. Kept hidden away they are told never to open the door while Baba Iaga goes to work. Yet it is she who unknowingly lets evil through the door in the guise of a painter of birds. This story had such a sad ending, but thankfully in true fairy tale style, bad endings are replaced with happiness and knowledge.
I have one more Russian fairy tale to share but I’m saving that for tomorrow’s Short Story Sunday. In the next few weeks I’m on the look out for German, Nordic, South American and African fairy tales, if you know of any good ones which are online, please let me know below.
Have you got any favourite fairy tales?
(1) Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, Angela Carter.
(2) My Mother she Killed Me, My Father he Ate Me, ed, Kate Bernheimer

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

I pledge....

to try and read for 24 hours on April 9th 2011. That's right, I'm signing up for the Dewey's 24 hour read-a-thon again this year. The last one I missed as my laptop had died on me, but in previous attempts I've read for about 17 hours, as well as blogging and joining in with the bits and pieces happening on line.
Why do I participate? I love the knowledge that we are all doing the same thing across the world no matter where we are, as well as the contact with other bloggers and discovering new blogs.
What do I read? I normally take the opportunity to read some of my shorter books, plus some YA and graphic novels. I have managed to tackle 6 books before, and that will be my aim again this time. Worringly, I have already been looking at books on the tbr pile and thinking that'd be good for the read-a-thon.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Two Quick Reviews

After my reading drought I seem to be suddenly racing through books, having finished two since Sunday evening - and its not even the holidays!

Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun is a book which has sat on the tbr pile for a good year and a half, I was sent it from a Korean bookcrosser along with Korean sweets and socks back at christmas 2009.
The novel is based on the life of a young Korean street girl who has abandoned her abusive father and destructive mother for a life of uncertainty, poverty and danger on the streets of New York.
With a fast paced style, a young voice and a cast of teenage street kids this reads like a YA novel. The friendships with Knowledge, a non-using drus dealer, Benny; the boyfriend who takes everything he can get and Tati the dramatic friend we meet a whole host of characters showing the various ways an abusive/unloved childhood can shape a persons view. A novel I'd recommend to those who like the YA style and are looking for a break from vampires for a while.

Pereira Maintains by Javier Cercas was another quick read but completely different to the one above. Set in 1930's Portugal, Pereira has escaped from political reporting to the cultural page of a small less read newspaper. Despite being a journalist we quickly see that his head is buried in the sand, and the political disruption and upset of Portugal passes him by, whilst his head is stuck in books and art.
Despite his attempts to keep out of the way of the censors, corrupt police and political underground he manages to step on peoples toes through his choice of literature, his friendship with a young radical journalist and his meetings with frinds.
This book was a really easy read which I enjoyed, however I think it would have had much more impact had I known any thing about Portugese history. It was nice to read a 1001 book which I enjoyed after my recent run of poor choices.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Sunday Salon: Reading is beating me

Very quickly, today is the last day to enter my draw for a copy of The Blind Assassin over here.

I'm really struggling with my reading at the moment, I'm either in a grump so just not enjoying great books, its either that or I'm not picking great books off my tbr pile.
I started mid week reading Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I was hoping that I'd enjoy this as everyone raves about him (although I didn't really enjoy The Great Gatsby which everyone else seems to love).
The book is meant to be partly autobiographical and charts his relationship with his wife - which bizarrely started off with her having a breakdown and he was a pyschologist used to flirt with her through letters to bring her out of herself. He moves on to detail the affair he had and his struggle with this affair.
I didn't get on with the narration of this book, or his clear lack of love for the women he had an affair with. The whole thing felt like he was trying to explain his behaviour.

After this I moved onto Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas, another 1001 read which has been on the TBR pile for many years. The 4 star rating on amazon, the synopsis and the gorgeous cover all had my hopes up high. But this was another book which floundered for me - it was a 'true tale' which the author spent a large percentage of the book describing how he discovered the story and the events after publishing this story.

Both these books I believed would be novels and both turned out to be based on true stories and had fairly dry narration. I've read a few pages of my next read, thankfully it looks like a real novel this time.

This afternoon I'm off to Colchester, one of the oldest towns in England. I'm taking my camera to get a few snaps of the cobbled streets and then meeting some local bookcrossers to chat and swap books. The pub we are meeting in is an OBCZ (official bookcrossing zone), so hopefully will have a set of shelves with free books that I can browse and leave some of my own books on.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011


Just a few more days to apply for my giveaway.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G Wells

This month I'm trying to focus all my reading time on 1001 books in the attempt to reach my target of 40 for the year. I started with The Island of Dr. Moreau as it is a bookring which I need to get moving to the next reader.

Prendick accounts his time on an island of nightmares. He finds himself turfed out of the boat he is travelling after the captain is scared off by the other passengers on board. These passengers help Moreau to an island which they inhabit.
Trying to be secretive about the happenings on the island they attempt to keep the truth from Prendick, but he begins to notice small anomalies, like the hairy pointed ears of one of the servants and the howling of animals.
Exploring, Prendick discovers animals who can talk, walk like men and obey the orders of the man who brought him to there.

I'm not a sci-fi fan, but having read and enjoyed Wells at university I was expecting to enjoy this - and in places I did. However there were many times when I was tempted to give up, if it had been a longer book I doubt I would have read to the end. I was often confused as to what was happening, and didn't really get along with the dry narrative voice of the tale, which never managed to strike in me the horror of these animals.

World Book Night Giveaway

It's World Book Night tonight, and as a way to encourage reading 1,000,000 books are being given away. 25 titles have been picked and volunteers have been given 48 copies of the title they selected to give away.
I was lucky to be selected and picked up 48 copies of Margaret Atwood's fantastic 'The Blind Assassin' to give away. I'm offering mine to some of the more able readers at school, the teachers and a few bookcrossers. I will also be wildrealeasing some of these novels and handing some out over the next few days.

PLUS I have 2 to give away through my blog. One to a UK blogger and one to an International blogger. For a chance to win just leave a comment below with your email address.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Top Ten Books I just had to buy....which are still sitting on my shelf unread.

1. Love by Toni Morrison, I read one of her books and just has to have a few more..a good 5 years ago.
2. The Peacock Throne, Loved the cover and couldn't resist buying it but have had no compulsion to read it since.
3. The Mad Woman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar because I wanted to feel like a university student again.
4. A Human Being Died that Night, Eva wrote a great review so I ordered it straight away.
5. Affinity, Sarah Waters once I read one of her novels I had to read them all. I've since read 2 of her books which she has published since this purchase.
6. Don Quixote a desire to be more 'well read'.
7. Peter Pan, J.M Barrie because I just 'had to' have this edition.
8. The Bible, because I was told literature students would need one, never used in the 12 years since then.
9. Yellow Dog, Martin Amis because I thought he was an author I should read.
10. The Brothers Karamzov because I thought as a literature student I should read Dostoevsky.

This meme can be found over at The Broke and the Bookish