There aren't many things I dislike as much as discovering a new favourite in a book that isn't already on my shelves. Because I know I'll have to retu...moreThere aren't many things I dislike as much as discovering a new favourite in a book that isn't already on my shelves. Because I know I'll have to return it, and I'd rather not do so until I own it myself.
"Once On A Moonless Night" is such a book. If you're into fast-moving plots and suspense, this is not for you. It is quiet and poetical, and even during dramatic moments, there is a sense of the inevitable that pulls you through and lets you look beyond day-to-day grievances.
There is an overarching romance, and yes, even a mystery plot about an ancient scroll, but really for someone not from China it is a great exploration of culture and of a different sense of being. There are better stories out there for taking you on a wild romp, but very few that can capture the same quality and will make you savour the ride as much.
The best advice I can give you is to read this for the writing or, even more so, for the feeling of reading it. And take your time to do so. (And don't borrow it, otherwise you might be as frustrated as I am.)
"Calligraphy may well be simply an artistic version of another form, that is the ideograms which make up the poem, but then not only does it reflect the character and temperament of the artist but . . . also betrays his heart rate, his breathing."
Short English review: Retelling of Rumpelstiltskin in the modern world. Category: totally underrated German books. Nice story, great writing.
---------...moreShort English review: Retelling of Rumpelstiltskin in the modern world. Category: totally underrated German books. Nice story, great writing.
------------ Ich bin irgendwann mal im Buchladen über dieses Buch gestolpert und weiß gar nicht mehr genau, warum ich es eigentlich mitgenommen habe. Wegen dem Cover sicher nicht, denn das ist zwar schick, aber auch unglaublich nichtssagend. Dann stand es ein ganzes Weilchen bei mir im Regal herum, wie es Bücher eben so tun, bei denen ich mir nicht so ganz sicher bin. Bei einer Umräumaktion (okay, bei einer Wir-fangen-eine-zweite-Reihe-im-Regal-an - Aktion) ist es mir dann wieder in die Hände gefallen, und ich hab dann doch einmal den Text auf der Rückseite gelesen. 'Hmm, Rumpelstilzchen, interessant', dachte ich, und ließ es in der ersten Reihe stehen, ohne mich weiter damit zu beschäftigen. Irgendwann hatte ich dann einmal Langeweile und hab es doch mal aufgeklappt - und mich sofort verliebt.
Ganz ehrlich, das war mieses Marketing wenn ich jemals welches gesehen habe, denn dieses Buch ist echt toll. Vielleicht nicht für jedermann, aber für junge Erwachsene, die einen Hang zur Nacherzählung von Märchen haben (und davon gibt es wirklich viele), ist "Der geheime Name" genau das Richtige. (Für meine Oma auch, also spielt das Alter scheinbar keine Rolle.)
Es gibt kein riesiges Sortiment an Charakteren, aber das braucht es auch nicht. Fina, unsere Protagonistin, ist frisch und lebendig genug, um den Leser in die Geschichte hineinzuziehen, und ihr männlicher Gegenpart ist ebenfalls interessant, wenn auch zu Beginn recht ungewöhnlich. Der teilweise recht ruhige Stil passt sehr gut zur Moorlandschaft, und wie man über einen stillen Sumpf schaut und bei jeder Luftblase zusammenzuckt, so wartet man auch hier immer gespannt auf die Katastrophe, die bestimmt schon hinter dem nächsten Gestrüpp lauert. Die Beschreibungen lassen das Moor lebendig werden, und auch wenn das nicht immer unbedingt erwünscht ist (gerade wenn man wie ich nachts um drei darüber liest und ohnehin schon Geisterstunde herrscht), kann man sehr gut mit Fina mitfühlen.
Das Ende ist schön abgeschlossen (endlich mal ein Einzelband), auch wenn es mich ein wenig betrübt, dass ich noch nichts Neues von der Autorin gesehen habe. Oh, und ich habe eigentlich mal auf eine Geschichte gehofft, in der es Rumpelstilzchen gut geht, aber ich bin mit dieser Variante auch zufrieden (und das sagt schon einiges).
Oh, und das Marketing war ***. Aber das sagte ich ja schon.(less)
Eins möchte ich gleich vorausschicken - das wird nicht das objekti...moreGerman book, German review. For other reviews, see 238 books in 238 days. -----------
Eins möchte ich gleich vorausschicken - das wird nicht das objektivste Review, das ihr jemals gelesen habt. Ich liebe Christoph Marzi, seit meine beste Freundin mir zum ersten Mal Lycidas in die Hand gedrückt hat, und bisher hat mich noch jeder seiner Romane auf seine ganz eigene Art angesprochen. Egal welches Buch, es war noch immer das richtige Buch zur richtigen Zeit und so auch diesmal.
"Bücher haben eine Seele. [...] Keiner muss die Seele eines Buches suchen. Die Seele des Buches findet den Leser. Das tut sie immer."
Faye ist jemand ganz nach meinem Geschmack. Sie ist eigenständig, wenn auch manchmal total verpeilt. Sie liebt Bücher und Musik, und sie liebt es, vor sich hinzuträumen. Sie hasst es zu telefonieren und herumgegängelt zu werden, und bei Leuten, die sie gut kennt, ist sie auch manchmal schon recht vorlaut. Faye nimmt die Welt im Ganzen war, und sie sieht überall Geschichten. Das macht ihre Welt lebendig, und es ist leicht, mit ihr früh zum Buchladen zu eilen und beinahe selbst außer Atem zu geraten.
Als Faye Alex kennenlernt, ist sie sofort von ihm fasziniert - und schon bald entwickeln sich lange geschriebene Unterhaltungen. Oft sieht man nicht viel mehr als die Texte, die sich die beiden schicken, aber das genügt dann auch schon. Man fühlt mit Faye mit und kann sich bald ihre Reaktionen selbst ausmalen. Alex hingegen ist ein Mysterium, nicht nur für Faye sondern auch für den Leser, und tatsächlich habe ich bald ebenso wie sie versucht, hinter sein Geheimnis zu kommen. (Was natürlich Unsinn ist, wenn es so einfach wäre, das ich es hätte sehen können, wäre auch Faye schon eher draufgekommen.)
Mitten durch die Liebesgeschichte fliegen die bunten Herbstblätter in Brooklyn, und New York erblüht auf jeder Seite neu. Auch Filme, Bücher, und - natürlich - Musik finden immer wieder Eingang in die Erzählung, und schon bald hatte ich meine Playlist für den Herbst zusammengestellt.
Ohne das Ende vorausnehmen zu wollen, möchte ich hier mein Faible für in sich abgeschlossene Romane bekunden - die gibt es heutzutage in diesem Genre leider viel zu selten. Dazu ein tolles Setting, Charaktere mit denen ich mich gut identifizieren kann, viel Musik, hin und wieder etwas Humor, und Christoph Marzis unverwechselbarer poetischer Stil - das ist mein Zauberbuch für diesen Herbst, und es wird auf meinem Nachttisch bleiben, bis die Tage so eisig werden, dass "Lycidas" wieder seinen angestammten Platz einnimmt :).(less)
With some books I wonder whether I am too young. Whether I lack the necessary experience to formulate an opinion on a certain topic. I do believe that...moreWith some books I wonder whether I am too young. Whether I lack the necessary experience to formulate an opinion on a certain topic. I do believe that I have the right (and indeed the obligation) to consider things that have not yet happened to me, because I can get to know myself better - and form fuller opinions - if I know my point of view on certain things. But books like this make me wonder whether there are things that are just too far outside of my world for me to comprehend.
Jodi Picoult shows us a family with one daughter slowly dying of cancer, one daughter conceived to help out her sister, and one son who is forgotten. I can understand (or can try to understand at least) the kids' viewpoints. Brother Jesse is the eldest and is cast aside so his parents can focus on their daughters. He loves his siblings and his parents, but is royally pissed off and has noone to reign him in. Daughter Kate is dying of cancer. She suffers from her sickness and her mother's overprotectiveness, and she has a strong but difficult relationship with her younger sister. Daughter Anna suffers under Kate's sickness and her own importance as well, and then has to stand up on her own despite being only thirteen years old.
The kids I understand. It's the parents who are a problem for me. Father Brian is obviously supposed to be a good guy, firefighting hero and relatable dad and all, but he rarely stands up to his own wife, even though he must see her influence on the kids. And mother Sara is a completely different problem.
I don't know how I would react if I had to make the choice that Kate's parents had to make. (I probably wouldn't have the choice, I doubt this procedure is allowed in Germany.) But what I do think is that I would try and not tell my other child every day that she is meant to save her sister. Sara doesn't let her family live a normal life in the here and now. I do understand that she worries a lot, and I wonder why there is no help from outside. Allowing the creation a saviour child, and then not offering sufficient psychological help seems like a tremendous oversight from my point of view.
I do "enjoy" the exploration of the topic. Jodi Picoult tries to cover a lot of viewpoints, and tries not to comment on what is the "right" choice to make. The writing was alright (not awful, but it didn't stand out either), but there were some seriously unnecessary subplots. I like the flawed characters, especially Brian and Sara, because I can learn a lot from them (if only what not to do), but there are some corny thigns along the way and some useless things in the characters' histories, that could have been left out. (Or could have been done less cheesy and constructed.) And I'm not even talking about the ending.
All these irritations made it hard for me to get through the book and to stay emotionally attached to the characters despite the complexity of the problem, which is why I'm rating this book three stars.
Salem Falls is the only other book by Jodi Picoult that has survived on my wishlist, but I won't be rushing out to get it anytime soon.
I love books that are a bit outside of our usual genre classifications. "Marina" has been described as a lot of different things, and while "Gothic ho...moreI love books that are a bit outside of our usual genre classifications. "Marina" has been described as a lot of different things, and while "Gothic horror" fits best, it was the author's love for Barcelona and for his characters that resonated the most.
Óscar is a lonely student who likes exploring the hidden parts of the city. The girl Marina becomes his guide to new adventures, and she and her father become his family. The dynamic between those three (and their adorable cat) is one of my favourite things in this book. After a while, Germán and Marina become like a family for the reader as well.
The mystery that Óscar wants to unravel leads him deep into an old, long forgotten part of Barcelona. The people he meets are from another time, living in their own stories and inviting him in only very reluctantly. All of them are great characters, all of them have some sort of wisdom to share, and all of them are a living proof of Marina's words. "We only remember that which has never happened."
There are passages where you are breathlessly following the action and are desparate to find out what will happen next. And there are passages that live through the beauty of the language. In most cases, such a passage will describe Barcelona. The city comes to life, and sometimes feels more real than the events that are taking place there.
When I cried during the last few chapters, it was only partly because of the story itself. My tears were also caused by the fact that I knew I would have to leave this magical world and its characters behind. And if I'm being honest, I envy those readers that still have the entire journey ahead of them.
This is the third (or fourth) book by Kristin Hannah that I've read, and it is by far the longe...moreReview can also be found at 238 books in 238 days. -----
This is the third (or fourth) book by Kristin Hannah that I've read, and it is by far the longest. And - to get the bad things out of the way - it didn't need to be that long. It's meandering quite a bit, and even though I love Kristin Hannah's writing, I had to deduct points for that.
Nevertheless, it is still a good book (as usual), and one that will make you cry (as usual). It's also set in Washington (you know what) and it tells the story of strong women in difficult situations (...). It's also got a lot of music. This is the first time I actually remember Kristin Hannah naming a song, but the songs that the two best friends Tully and Kate have picked for themselves, especially "Dancing Queen", make quite an impact on the story. And as these are songs that I myself relate to as well, they made it easier for me to be drawn into the story.
As for the characters, I could relate to both our protagonists. (As usual again.) Tully tends to be more impulsive and stupid, while Kate is held back by her own insecurities. Yet both of them are incredibly strong, and especially in the moments that they have together, you can feel their combined power. What I did have some trouble with - and I suspect this is the cultural thing - is the concept of a "BFF". I'm not saying I don't have a best friend, but I have never felt the need to vocalize it that strongly, and more importantly I have never felt pressured into doing something just because we're friends. I couldn't help thinking that both Kate and Tully would have encountered less problems if they'd had other "BFFs" as well.
That being said, this book probably won't make a "Best Of"-list of my favourite Kristin Hannah novels. But as we're talking Kristin Hannah, this really is just moaning on a high level. I still adored the writing, I cried my eyes out, I loved the characters and I'd read it again. (less)
Like many others, I stumbled upon this book when someone sent me the book trailer. I've always had a policy of looking for pretty book covers, because...moreLike many others, I stumbled upon this book when someone sent me the book trailer. I've always had a policy of looking for pretty book covers, because to me they signal that someone cares about the book in question. And when the publisher cares enough to create such a beautiful trailer, then I should surely be in for a treat.
The trailer reminded me of a Tim Burton movie, and this shaped my expectations a lot. And as it turns out, that was a good conclusion to jump to. Because "The School for Good and Evil" is a fairytale - with all the fun and magic, but even more so also with all the strangeness and brutality that go with it. It has always been fascinating to me that children like fairytales so much when they're so extremely scary, and "The School for Good and Evil" fits right in.
The book starts out on a humorous note. Our two main characters - pretty Sophie and outcast Agatha - are introduced. Both are slightly over the top, as are the town's other inhabitants, and this makes the beginning a lot of fun to read. Take this random quote for example:
Agatha: "If you say anything smug or stuck-up or shallow, I'll have Reaper follow you home." Sophie: "But then I can't talk!"
It is obvious from the beginning that Sophie has no chance in hell to end up in the School for Good, and so the next few chapters when the two of them are taken and discover their schools are a fun exploration of Chainani's incredibly creative ideas. What with Agatha's lack of belief in the reality of fairytales and the sarcastic comments on some of the more famous stories ("These are prince and princess [...]. They died of starvation on their honeymoon because they didn't pay attention in classes."), it is obvious that the author has a lot of love for fairytales, but also sees the funny side.
When the first really scary thing happens and the two friends try to find their way back home, things take a turn for the worse. The last third more or less reads like a nightmare. It's a trainwreck and you can't help but keep reading and hoping everything turns out fine in the end. Using a random quote to illustrate this as well:
"Do you know how I know?" Her face darkened with sadness. "Because I'll only be happy when you're dead."
Agatha and Sophie are both affected by their schools and what happens around them. Agatha is built to be the sympathetic character, but somehow I love Sophie's Evil-ness as well. The supporting characters are almost always likeable and very individual as well, which makes it easier to keep track of them, because there's quite a lot going on for a middle grade book.
Although I could guess parts of the plot early on, there were quite a few things about the ending that managed to surprise me (or break my heart). And happily, this book actually has an ending. You can read this as a standalone and won't miss a thing. (You probably won't, because you liked it so much that you will read the next one, but still. You could. Theoretically.)
What with the publication of the second book only happening next year, and the film being planned for the year after that, you could kill some of the time on your hands by visiting the book's official website and finding out which school you would belong to. I am apparently 73% Evil and proud of it. (I'm also 100% Slyth, so you might have guessed that.)
The Oxford English Dictionary says that "atonement" means "the action of making amends for a wrong or injury".
In the case of this novel, the wrong ha...moreThe Oxford English Dictionary says that "atonement" means "the action of making amends for a wrong or injury".
In the case of this novel, the wrong has been committed by Briony, an aspiring writer who was 13 years old at that point and spends the rest of the book trying to make amends for one fateful day. Her sister Cecilia and Cecilia's friend Robbie are the injured parties in this case, and they too spend the remainder of their lives under the shadow of what happened with Briony.
All of these characters are flawed (and their supporting cast is even worse), but all of them slowly grow on the reader. It is easy to misjudge things as a child, it is easy to be pigheaded, it is easy to be wild in your youth and to turn against the people that want to deny your own identity. This makes all three of them relatable, and while a not-so-happy ending is predictable from the start, you want to be a witness to how these lives unfold.
This is helped by an interesting setting - showing times before, during and after WWII -, and great writing. When I open a book to a new chapter and it starts
"In the early evening, high-altitude clouds in the western sky formed a thin yellow wash which became richer over the hour, and then thickened until a filtered orange glow hung above the giant crests of parkland trees; the leaves became nutty brown, the branches glimpsed among the foliage oily blackand the dessicated grasses took on the colour of the sky. A Fauvist dedicated to improbably colour might have imagined a landscape this way [...]"
, then I will be pulled deeply into the story with no chance of resurfacing until I've finished it.
There are also storytelling tricks, but since they are used to enhance the story and build the characters rather than for the sake of having them, I actually quite like them. (Plus, there is one huge trick, not one hundred, so it is easy to understand what is happening. It just goes to show that tricks are something for masters to do, otherwise they won't work.)
What is interesting to me is how many English stories I have read in which a mistake in a character's youth (albeit a quite severe one) will define their entire life. I wonder what it is with English novelists and the obsession with constantly having to pay for mistakes and rarely being allowed a fresh start.
There are two things I didn't know about "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children", when I first started reading it which would have been useful t...moreThere are two things I didn't know about "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children", when I first started reading it which would have been useful to know.
#1: This is the first book in a series. And you can tell from the ending. You can tell fifty pages before the ending actually, when stuff just keeps piling up and there's no room to resolve all of it. That's what got me suspicious, and I wish I would have known that before I started because I was hoping for a standalone.
#2: There is a reason why Goodreads listed this as "Horror" alongside "Paranormal" and "Historical Fiction". I have nothing against mixed genre books, au contraire, but I like to know about it before I start reading. (And if there are usually only photographs next to the pages where said photographs are mentioned, I do NOT want to see a drawing of a monster five pages after it happened - when I've just gotten over the fact how horrific it was.)
It's not the author's fault that I didn't know, but I wished I'd known it, so I thought I'd better inform other potential readers.
As for the story itself, it was interesting (and a great read) but way too short. Protagonist Jacob barely has time to work through his moods (and he has a lot of them), so he seems like he is constantly redeciding his own path. This doesn't help you grow attached to the character, and it makes Jacob seem rather weak. Considering that this book only has 350 pages, with large print and a load of pictures, it could have been stretched out without being too long, to allow Jacob and the others room to grow. If he goes from seeing a monster to convincing himself that it was all in his imagination to "I have to travel to investigate what's happening" over the course of twenty pages or something, that is too fast. There are other characters with the same problem, but I don't want to spoil anything. The "love story" is too quick as well, especially considering all the problems that go with it. (In all honesty, if you want character building in such a novel, go and read "I am not a serial killer").
I like the way Ransom Riggs included vintage photographs. They enhance the story and give you a feeling of the places that you wouldn't get otherwise. (Maybe that's why it's so short. Someone thought the photographs would be sufficient.) They fit well into the story that was built around them - so well, in fact, that I failed to come up with other reasons to take such pictures. (I still haven't come up with a reason to collect them either, but all those archives will certainly have been very useful to the author.)
I'm a bit miffed at the ending (quite a bit actually). As with the entire book, things happen too fast, and there's no resolution to be found anywhere. Jacob makes a decision - apparently without really considering the consequences, and then things will continue in the next book, without plans or anything, just with the notion that it will be extremely dangerous. I wonder what will happen in the next book, but I'm almost afraid to read it. Because if it is that short again, we might not get to see the consequences of Jacob's decision, and since he didn't have time to grow on me, I'm more invested in characters that might be abandoned completely.
Still, I liked the setting (Welsh islands are great!) and I enjoyed the story despite its shortcomings, so I will probably read the next part.
"The Things We Do For Love" describes the lives of several women and their positions on m...moreReview crossposted to 238 books in 238 days. -----------------
"The Things We Do For Love" describes the lives of several women and their positions on motherhood. Angie was a career-oriented woman before she focused everything on her wish for a child, which has never been granted. Following a divorce, Angie returns to her small hometown and to the family restaurant. Her mother is the prototype of an Italian mom - traditionalist, overbearing and stubborn, but also loving, giving and protective. Angie's oldest sister is a mother herself, but she would rather have Angie's career instead. Her other sister hasn't been able to maintain a stable relationship, but has nevertheless gotten the kids Angie always wanted. Into this strange mix comes Lauren, a teenager who has always wanted a mother to look out for her, but spent her life looking out for her unreliable mom instead.
All of these women have their own issues with the choices they made, although thankfully not all of them feel the need to dwell on their problems all the time. The focus lies on Angie and Lauren, and while the ending is probably easy to guess at from page 50 onwards, it's their journey that counts. Both have a lot to work through, and it irks me a bit that it seemed that Lauren had much more to deal with, yet Angie got more in the end. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story and it got me thinking about my own positions, so that counts. (More on the outcome in a spoilery bit at the end of this review.)
The writing was beautiful - as usual ;) - and I will remember this book for a long time. Because
"Memories didn't live on streets or in cities. They flowed in the blood, pulsed with your heartbeat."
**** (view spoiler)[I did think that the book ended quite abruptly. Lauren had made a decision, but the last chapter seemed to reverse some of that. In my head, Angie helps her work through her trust issues and David comes back after studying. It would break my heart if he didn't. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Review (and pretty pictures of the Olympic National Forest) crossposted to my 238 books in 238 days challenge blog. ------
The first book by Kristin Han...moreReview (and pretty pictures of the Olympic National Forest) crossposted to my 238 books in 238 days challenge blog. ------
The first book by Kristin Hannah that I've read, On Mystic Lake, didn't resonate with me at the time. I was a bit disappointed by that, because for some reason I'd always thought I would love her books. I've read a lot of books since that incident last summer, and somehow my reading interests have grown enough to be able to care about the subject of that book - but I've never picked it up since, for fear of still not liking it. However, there are a lot of Kristin Hannah's books on my shelves (have I mentioned that I was sure I would love them?), and when I told myself that I had to read more books I already owned, it was clear that I would pick one of her books as well.
I've picked "Magic Hour" because I have been interested in feral children ever since we talked about Amala and Kamala in school. The child in this novel, Alice, is definitely built on a well researched background, but she is also a character in her own right. The scenes from her point of view are fascinating to read, as the author switches from describing the things around Alice to relaying her thoughts with a stripped down vocabulary, all without breaking the flow of the scene. By the end of the book I felt so strongly for her that I didn't care much for whether or not the reveal of her past was interesting or unexpected, as that seemed beside the point. The characters around Alice grow to love her, and the reader does as well.
I was happy that the other characters didn't just focus on Alice, but had lives of their own. Sure, child psychiatrist Julia really focuses on the child and even acknowledges the fact that she shouldn't get that close to a patient, but even Julia has troubles and moments of happiness besides Alice. The other lead character, Julia's police chief sister Ellie, has her own problems to work through as well, and while that might seem to some as the introduction of clichéd romantic subplots, I felt it was important to have those to balance Alice's story.
As for the writing style - well, I was right when I thought I would love Kristin Hannah. I've had the inexplicable feeling of being at home again, which is always a good sign for me. I felt transported into the Olympic National Forest, and could almost feel the rain on my skin while I was reading. (What is it with Washington that makes it a setting for moody books??). I'll definitely re-read this book, but for now I am content to go back to Mystic Lake, and then work through all those other books on my shelves. I'm glad that I didn't give up on Kristin Hannah after that first try last summer; I would have missed out on something I am going to cherish.(less)
What we have here is something that happened to me only twice before - once with...moreReview crossposted to my "238 books in 238 days" challenge blog. -----
What we have here is something that happened to me only twice before - once with David Mitchell, and once with Stefan Heym. A clear case of "What a great book! I don't like it."
"Great book" in this case refers to the interesting premise of describing the small world of two (or three) poets within and around an asylum in intensive detail. Even if you disregard the other "inmates", those are complex characters with complex relationships. The switching viewpoints (between Clare, Tennyson, Allen, Allen's daughters and some others) allow you to see the events that are unfolding through different eyes - and honestly, since none of them are reliable and live somewhere in their own head, it is really important for the reader to think about this and make up his or her own mind. It is also interesting to visit a place that influenced a lot of works, as that can leave an impression on you when you read those works again.
"I don't like it!" means two things here. As with the Mitchell and the Heym books previously mentioned, I couldn't get into the writing style. I'm not saying it's bad, I'm just saying it is totally not right for me. Foulds kept describing things I had no interest in at all, left out things I really would have wanted to see, and his pacing and some word choices felt off as well. Thinking about those two other authors, I suspect this isn't a problem a lot of people will encounter, and it shouldn't put you off reading this.
The other thing (and this might be important to you) is the fact that Foulds describes the real life of well-known poets. I don't know about you, but when I read poems I form an image of the author in my head, and so historical fiction won't work for me unless the character the author develops has something in common with the one I created in my head. For me, this didn't work here, and especially with John Clare I switched to simply ignoring who he was while reading this. (less)
This seems to be one of the books where every reader finds a different aspect to...moreReview crossposted to my 238 books in 238 days challenge blog. -------
This seems to be one of the books where every reader finds a different aspect to love.
There are endless descriptions of life in the Alaskan wilderness. Trees, snow, the hard soil, long horse rides to reach the next settlement. The troubles of long winters, with repetition of food, darkness and time that doesn't seem to pass. The difficulties of first settlers, working endless hours and yet struggling to make ends meet. What most people left out of their reviews but I loved was the fox that accompanied the child. There's a cute fox, people. You need to tell me about the cute things to get me to read something ;).
There are a lot of themes in the story of the elderly couple. They come from different backgrounds, the husband more suited for life in Alaska than his wife. They don't talk a lot anymore, and you don't feel much love between them. They're used to each other, and live their lives around each other instead of together.
Their lack of children is obviously one of the main themes in the book. You can see both of their thoughts, but it didn't really resonate with me. Then again, I don't have children (yet), and I've never desperately wanted to. And I also don't live in the 1920s, where having children was expected of a couple. The moment when the old woman's longing was most clear to me was when she drew a picture of the Snow Child. It's just a short passage, but it conveys a lot of longing.
With each stroke of the pencil, it was as if Mabel had been granted her wish, as if she held the child in her arms, caressed her cheek, stroked her hair. She drew the gentle curve of the child's cheekbones, the peaks of her small lips, the inquisitive arch of her blond eyebrows. Self-contained, wary and brave, innocent and knowing ... something in the turn of her head, the tilt of her eyes, hinted at a wildness Mabel wanted to capture, too. All these details she took in and memorized.
Then of course there is the inclusion of the Russian folk tale. I was pleasantly surprised when Eowyn Ivey didn't just use the idea of the tale, but actually had Mabel researching the folk tale for herself. I enjoyed the quotes in between chapters, and Mabel's sense of awareness, that came with knowing the story. It gave her decisions more gravity, and helped to illuminate her background which was unusual for a settler at the time.
I have to say that I'm not completely sold on the path the story took towards the end. It seemed to drift off into a family drama, which wasn't what I had set out to read. There is also my personal issue with retelling a Russian folk tale and doing it like it was done here. I don't know if the author made specific choices to be different when she chose the non-Russian setting, or whether she preferred a lighter tone, or whether she tried for the original way but didn't quite pull it off. In any case, there is a deep melancholy that is ingrained into Russian folklore in my mind, and it was missing here. And I don't mean dealing with troubles, because the wish for a child causes enough sadness for the protagonists. But throughout this book there is something between hope and indifference, and it felt too light for me. But that is just me, and if you didn't grow up with Russian tales, you might not notice.
You should definitely give it a try if the book interests you; it may not end up on your favourites shelf, but it is definitely worth the read. I also love the Eowyn Ivey's recommendations for other retellings of this tale, I love it when an author is passionate about a subject. (less)
German book, German review. For other reviews (in English), you can check out my blog: 238 books in 238 days. ------
Für mich war "Zu den Anfängen" ganz...moreGerman book, German review. For other reviews (in English), you can check out my blog: 238 books in 238 days. ------
Für mich war "Zu den Anfängen" ganz klar das richtige Buch zur richtigen Zeit. Ich mag langsame Bücher, in denen dem Leser erlaubt wird, sich richtig auf die Geschichte einzulassen. Ich mag Fantasy-Romane, in denen man sich auf einzelne Charaktere konzentrieren kann, auch wenn das Schicksal der ganzen Welt auf dem Spiel steht. Und ich mag Poetisches - Gedichte, sprechende Namen, Erzählungen, bildhafte Sprache, alles was eben so dazugehört.
All das hat "Zu den Anfängen" zu bieten. Zu meiner großen Freude gibt es auch Kapitelüberschriften - das ist etwas Unbedeutendes, aber es gefällt mir, wenn ich das Inhaltsverzeichnis aufschlagen kann und mich anhand des Titels erinnere, was in einem Kapitel geschehen ist. Im Anhang finden sich eine Karte und ein Glossar. Dies hab ich zunächst übersehen, habe aber auch so ohne Probleme in das Buch hineingefunden. Ich habe gelesen, dass einige Probleme mit den kurzen Sätzen hatten; mir ging das nicht so. Ich ahb mich beim Lesen irgendwie ein bisschen heimisch gefühlt; als hätte ich schon Erfahrungen mit der Autorin gesammelt.
Mir gefällt, dass E.L. Greiff viele Themen eingearbeitet hat, ohne dabei belehrend zu wirken. Am Ende wirkt die Grundeinstellung des Buches selbst wie ein Wasserfluss - Dinge geschehen eben und man sollte sie geschen lassen. Erst wenn ein wirklich gravierendes Hindernis auftritt, wird mit aller Macht dagegen vorgegangen.
Das Buch ist nicht wirklich abgeschlossen, trotzdem kommt man Ende etwa bei einer Atempause an und ist nicht zwanghaft auf den nächsten Band angewiesen. Das finde ich bei ersten Bänden immer sehr positiv, dennoch bin ich kein Fan der dreimonatigen Wartezeit bis zu Band 2. (less)
"The Yellow Birds" offers glimpses into a young man's time in the U.S. Army serving in...moreReview crossposted to my 238 books in 238 days-challenge. -------
"The Yellow Birds" offers glimpses into a young man's time in the U.S. Army serving in Iraq and surviving back home.
Kevin Powers has been lauded for his poetical writing style to contrast the gritty reality of war. And it is true, there is a dreamlike quality to his writing, even though it feels sparse. We get impressions of the things he sees, but there isn't much talk about feeling. There isn't a lot of action (certainly less than I would have expected), instead we get to experience sleep-deprived boys waiting for something, anything to happen, and yet knowing that it probably won't matter anyway.
""How many times have we been through that orchard, through this town, sir?", a PCF from third squad asked. "The army?" "Yes, sir." "This makes three." "All in the fall?" "Yeah, seems like we're fighting over this town every year." [...] "Maybe they'll make it an annual thing.""
I had often wondered what motivated boys to enlist, and for our two main characters the answer is frighteningly simple - there wasn't much else to do. For the author himself it was a way into university. It is hard for young boys and their parents when they know that they've made the right choice in the circumstances, yet there is no way to prepare for what might happen.
The narrative of "The Yellow Birds" jumps around in time. I don't know if I care much for the mystery surrounding our soldier's friend but I suppose it is necessary to create a plot that helps the reader to follow a journey. What it means though is that we get to see the lives of the families back home, and even our main character trying to understand ordinary life again after he is discharged. His thoughts move too fast for him to be able to talk, and at one time he literally goes on for pages without a break. This section felt more heartbreaking than the scenes of war; possibly because I can understand not being able to master your own thoughts, or possibly because, even after all the pictures I've seen on the news and descriptions I've read in books, I'm still unable to comprehend the reality of war.
Our main character knows that his experiences will make him an outsider, even when he's still fighting in Iraq. He would seem like Frodo, saving something for others when that same thing has been lost to him, if he was still able to feel enough to make sense of it.
"I was an intruder, at best a visitor, and would be even in my home, in my misremembered history, until the glow of phosphorescence in the Chesapeake I had longed to swim inside again someday became a taunt against my insignificance, a cruel trick of light that had always made me think of stars. No more. I gave up longing, because I was sure that anything seen at such a scale would reveal the universe as cast aside and drowned, and if I ever floated there again, out where the level of the water reached my neck, and my feet lost contact with its muddy bottom, I might realize that to understand the world, one's place in it, is to be always at the risk of drowning."
I wonder if writing this book helped Kevin Powers to deal with his own demons. I hope it did. There's been a lot of praise for it, and rightly so. There's been even more talk in the press about the reasons behind this war, and I feel it is important to push the politics to the background for a few moments and see real people whose lives have been afflicted by it. I can't help but think what would have happened, and how soldiers would be treated back home, if the war had not happened thousands of miles away. When our main character gets back to the U.S., he does a short psych evaluation, and then goes back home, meeting people who see him as a hero or people who are angry with the enemy on his account. He is detached from all that, just wants to be forgotten, and it seems to me that that is just too easily done.
"I'd been trained to think war was the great unifier, that it brought people closer together than any other activity on earth. Bullshit. War is the great maker of solipsists: how are you going to save my life today? Dying would be one way. If you die, it becomes more likely that I will not."
"The thing is, this is how everything that's been built up in Icelandic culture is bungled; folk go abroad and learn some damned rubbish that has nothing to do with Iceland, but try in the name of the latest fashion to do everything they can to spoil and wreck the distinctive features that have developed here."
This is my second book by an Icelandic author after a less than successful experiment last year with Halldòr Laxness' Iceland's Bell. (My review can be found here.) And maybe farmer Bjarni's statement above is also true the other way round, seeing how this book didn't work for me either.
Bjarni reflects back on his life, and his love affair with Helga. There is a sense of the inevitable, like life couldn't have happened any other way. And it felt a bit miserable to me when I read it, even though Bjarni comments on how he feels he's done alright. This is the same feeling I got from Laxness' story, and I can't help wondering whether it is something about the Icelandic literature that I don't get. "Reply to a Letter from Helga" comes with annotations about quoted works from Icelandic history, and I don't like the sound of those either.
That being said, one can learn a lot (A LOT!) about rural life in Iceland. Bjarni was born to be a sheep farmer, and his love for the country life goes far enough that he uses farming metaphors even when describing his lover.
"The vision of you naked in the sunbeams was refreshing to the eye, like a blossom on a bare cliff ledge. I really have nothing to compare to this sight. The best I can think of is when the Farmall arrived, when I pulled the crate and cardboard off the tractor and beheld the shining glory that would revolutionize our lives. See how paltry I am in my mind, dear Helga, likening you, young and naked, to a tractor."
If you can deal with that, then I suppose it is a good book for you, because you will get to experience life within a tiny Icelandic farming community, from WWII through to installing televisions in the countryside. And the annotations are really informative as well, and allow for a deeper experience of the book once you've gone through them. But for me, that was not enough to make me like it.
--- This is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here.(less)
This is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. --------
I spent a long time thinking how I was going to rate thi...moreThis is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. --------
I spent a long time thinking how I was going to rate this book and I am still not sure about it.
Overall, it is an average read. It might make a nice choice for a book club as it's a nice story and interesting themes are explored, but it is not particularly moving or fascinating. Indeed, few of the characters really stood out, and I was never really gripped by the mystery of what had happened. This puts it at three stars.
The author works with nonlinear storytelling (you see the notes on a painting and then get a story for it), and although the idea is great, it's not perfectly realized. The chapters have no real beginning or end. They work just well enough as character studies but as they don't seem to end and just stop somewhere, they don't help to keep the reader turning the pages. This makes three stars, maybe 3.5 considering I love the idea of creating a book out of smaller stories.
Then there is our "main character" Rachel Kelly, who is a painter with a bipolar disorder. She's extremely relatable, and Patrick Gale does a great job of writing her viewpoint through both extremes of her emotions. (Little wonder that Stephen Fry liked it.) The other likeable character - her husband Antony - is a simple man, and on his part we can see his love for his wife, but also his deep struggles to understand her moods, and bring up kids and live a normal life while at the same time having to watch over his wife as well. Those two are great characters, and if you wouldn't enjoy the rest of the book, they justify its existence. This means probably around 4.5 stars, because a serious, non-judging depiction of mental illness is important.
All in all, this more or less makes a rating of something close to four stars. As I said, the read itself probably only earns three of those, but maybe it just wasn't right for me and other people were gripped. I probably wouldn't read another book of his, and that puts it down to 3.5 again. But I've already said I've had a hard time deciding on something.
There is one final thing I have to say though, and that is a "thank you" to the author Patrick Gale. The "notes" that accompanied Rachel's painting in the exhibition and that frame the chapters are incredibly well-written. They show how the choices of an artist reflect in the art, how the circumstances can change certain expressions, and how the smallest things can deeply affect the way a life goes. These short paragraphs alone have been the highlight of this book for me. They're the reason it found a place on my favourites shelf, and they're the reason I've rounded up from 3.5. Because they served as an inspiration for me.(less)
This is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. --------
Two years ago I've first read a book by William Trevor....moreThis is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. --------
Two years ago I've first read a book by William Trevor. It was called "Love And Summer", and I was rather bored while reading it, as you can see from my review here. I also gave it five stars. I've reread that book a lot since then, and I've slowly come to love William Trevor's gift for precise sentences, unhurried storytelling and taking a story all the way to its conclusion. These traits are at work in "Two Lives" as well; I have felt at home from the moment I started reading it. (And I haven't been bored; I guess I've grown up a little.)
Reading Turgenev In contrast to "Love and Summer", where a young woman has an affair that goes nowhere, Mary's courtship in this "novella" is much more adult, and the results are much more complex. It isn't hard to see why Trevor's characters would read Russian literature with an emphasis on nature and rural living, considering their own background. It's easy to assume that big problems only arise when there is something big at stake, but here love and life are enough to risk sanity for. The structure of the book, which combines two narrative threads, is confusing at first, but works out beautifully in the end, and I am sure I will enjoy it a lot when I re-read this story.
My House in Umbria I've recently read Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger" (2*), and, like this novella, it features someone describing him-/herself as uneducated telling the story of his/her life. Both characters make their own sarcastic observations about their lives, both are unapologetic for what has happened. The only difference is that one of them (this one) is well exectuted. The other isn't. Mrs Delahunty is a believable character even when her imaginations take over, and her struggles are understandable and real. Moreover her own comments have an impact on the story and the reader. Independant of that, the subject matter is quite interesting as well and, as this is the first of Trevor's stories that I've read that isn't set entirely in rural Ireland, I was also intrigued to see whether he could write about another country as well as about his own. He can.(less)
I've previously read I Am Not A Serial Killer and enjoyed it very much even though I'm not a horror fan. You can read my review here if you want to. What I enjoyed most was the writing style, and so I had high hopes when I switched to a series in a genre that I actually like.
I was not disappointed. Along with the good writing, Partials offers an interesting premise, a lot of science, and a lot of action. It's not necessary as fast-paced as other post-apocalyptic novels (Kristen Simmons' Article 5 comes to mind), but it offers enough twists and turns to keep the reader's interest for the entire time.
The characters are great and, as with "I Am Not A Serial Killer", I loved the dialogue. I also liked the diversity, and the great names that came with that. There's one exception to the great-character-rule, which is our main character's boyfriend Marcus. I'm sure he's supposed to be nice, but I can't stand him and his obnoxious attitude and I sure hope there's less of him in the next book.
What stood out above all the action and science and whatnot where the questions this book posed. Right from the start the main character Kira is interested in the politics of her small community. She has a strong sense for what should be done for the sake of mankind, but her conflicting emotions make her question herself and the system in place. There is never an easy way out for her, and I actually quite liked it when she developed a thought that might not fit into her prescribed world view and tried to push it away. She's sixteen, and even though her circumstances forced her to take adult responsibilites early on, she still has to find her own answers and goes about that as most young people would. It is fascinating to watch, and impossible not to form your own opinions as well, and I like it when a book accomplishes that without ceasing to be entertaining.
Seeing how this doesn't really work as a stand-alone even though the major plotline is resolved, I can hardly wait for the next part. And I don't have to, Fragments is out already :).(less)
This book is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. ----------------
"Glamour in Glass" is the follow-up to "Sha...moreThis book is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. ----------------
"Glamour in Glass" is the follow-up to "Shades of Milk and Honey", and if you haven't read that, I would urge you to go and read it first. Firstly because you would otherwise miss out on a great story in a setting that has been described as "Jane Austen with magic", and secondly because the author doesn't bother that much with explaining things again. I actually liked that, and the fact that I could remember everything that was necessary is further proof that the first book was great. And proof that I may have read the cute scenes more than once :).
The first review I've read for "Glamour in Glass" said that the book goes political, and in doing so loses all the Austen spirit of the first one. I was actually delighted by that because I don't read that many romance novels, and I was a bit worried how the story would develop in book two. And that reviewer was right, there is a great deal more politics here, war-mongering, spying, lying and the like. Not to mention all the travelling that leads to our heroine Jane broadening her horizons. Where that review went wrong, however, was in saying that this makes it less like Austen. Jane Austen was famous not only for her romances, but for her observational skills, her characterisations and her accurate description of the upper classes. And while "Glamour in Glass", much like its predecessor, lacks Austen's biting wit, everything else was still present. It was fascinating to watch Jane work out the intricacies of the life around her, and how she might best use it to her advantage.
Jane herself is a strong female character without having to tell you so all the time, which is my favourite kind of feminism. Despite her openness she is rather traditionalist in some views though, and that endeared her to me all the more. I would broadly count myself as open-minded, and I don't like every new development either, so this made her a very realistic character. The themes Mary Robinette Kowal covers in this book are some which aren't often seen in the fantasy world, but I was enchanted even throughout the most mundane conversations, and so I thought about marriage, its implications and other spoilery topics without realising it.
The next book, "Without a Summer", is already out in hardcover, and I can hardly wait for the paperback version. (I will have to though; I hate it when books in a series don't fit together.) The reviewer who didn't like this probably won't like the next one either, since the book description promises a look at the social and economic challenges of the period. For me, who loves Gaskell's "North and South" much much more than any of Austen's works, this promises to be fantastic. Hence the 4-star-rating, I have to give Mary Robinette Kowal room to grow :).(less)
This is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. -----------
Once again, I find myself not really knowing what to...moreThis is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. -----------
Once again, I find myself not really knowing what to say about a book depicting the aftermath of the Cambodian Killing Fields. Contrary to "The Disappeared" (*) however, Madeleine Thien's protagonist is not a young Canadian girl in love, but a woman that has escaped Cambodia as a child and is now being haunted by memories.
Janie has built a life for herself, working at a Brain Research Centre, and having a husband and a son. She is good at not remembering, but working through an old friend's research breaks down her walls, and the trauma comes through. The author clearly knows a lot about brain science, which makes this a bit difficult to read, but medical conditions, unlike her past, are something that Janie understands.
"[...] Hiroji received a letter from a man recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I have been wondering, the man wrote, how to measure what I will lose. [...] Is there one burst of electricity that stays constant all my life? I would like to know which part of the mind remains untouched, barricaded, if there is any part of me that lasts, that is incorruptible, the absolute centre of who I am."
When Janie finally remembers small fragments, it is not always clear what she remembered, where the reality of a child mixes with its wished, or where the trauma has added explanations to make it easier or hidden experiences that cannot be relived. Janie herself must deal with losing parts of herself, and must try to find the part of her that can remain be incorruptible.
It is a heartbreaking journey into a violent and disturbing past, and yet through all the horror you can feel Janie's love for her home country. It is remarkable to realize this while reading, and I think it is wonderful that the author managed to let all the conflicting emotions shine through.
The cover of my edition is absolutely beautiful, but I would not comment on that had I not tried to do some research on the Killing Fields and come up with this picture which shows a commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of victims at Choeung Ek. I still think the cover is beautiful but now it is hard to look at while knowing a little more about the history of it all.
I don't really know what to say, except that this didn't turn out to be what I expected it to be when I picked it up.
I do like Hape's sense of humour...moreI don't really know what to say, except that this didn't turn out to be what I expected it to be when I picked it up.
I do like Hape's sense of humour, but there weren't many laugh-out-loud moments in the book. I was interested in the Way of St. James and the culture and people along the way, but despite Hape speaking both Spanish and French, I felt that the observations fell flat. And the reminiscing about his past or thinking about his spirituality was not as gripping as I might have hoped.
I wouldn't *not* recommend it, but I would recommend tons of other travelogues or memoirs before I get anywhere near mentioning this. (less)