This book's average rating is 4.47 as I write this and I'm rating it 2 stars. Where did I go wrong?
It's been a while si...moreUm, I think I missed something.
This book's average rating is 4.47 as I write this and I'm rating it 2 stars. Where did I go wrong?
It's been a while since I finished so I won't be able to get too specific.
First of all, I didn't particularly care for the writing style. Something about his writing reminded me of H. P. Lovecraft, who I also don't fully appreciate, so that was a negative. I found it to be a little...overwrought at times. I don't think it was the translation because there were many translators throughout the collection and the style was pretty consistent. And then I think Borges is just way too smart for me.
I could see that there was all this philosophical stuff going on in the subtext of his writing, but I didn't care enough to stop and think about it and try to figure out what he was really saying. I was just trying to wrap my head around a world that was created in imagination and then starts to slowly creep into the real world. Or trying to determine which of two characters was the dreamer and which was the dreamed. Or were they the same? And why did this head injury leave this character with a Phenomenon-like memory and intelligence? And what the heck is the point of trying to see if you can perfectly re-write Don Quixote by accident? And if I lived in a never-ending library, would I seriously spend all my time searching for the one book with the answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything (Thanks, Douglas Adams) or would I just sit down with the books I had and leave others to the searching? I think my reaction to this book answers that last question.
I just didn't get it.
Maybe if I had taken everything at face value I would have been happier with the book as a whole. It was just so obvious that there were so many layers of meaning in Borges's writing that I wasn't able to do that.
I'm obviously in the minority so don't let me turn you off. If you're interested, go ahead and give it a try. I'd like someone to explain what I missed.(less)
Renée is the concierge of a very upscale Parisian apartment building. To the families who reside there, she is the very embodiment of all that a conci...moreRenée is the concierge of a very upscale Parisian apartment building. To the families who reside there, she is the very embodiment of all that a concierge should be: she's overweight, she eats smelly food, watches tv all day, and has a spoiled cat. Most importantly, she doesn't have any thoughts about anything except perhaps her immediate duties and what she's cooking for dinner that night. Inwardly, she is a brilliant woman, a reader and thinker who stays in her position because it gives her time to read all the books she wants, exposing herself to different schools of philosophical thought. She also feels that being concierge is her place in the world and she should stay in it.
Young Paloma lives with her wealthy family in Renée's building. Paloma has decided that she is going to commit suicide and burn down her apartment when she turns thirteen next summer. She doesn't feel particularly suicidal but she's looked around at all the adults around her and realized that they're living a lie; they tell children they can grow up to be whatever they want and do whatever they want, but all she sees are adults who look trapped in lives that make them miserable. She's decided to get out of the rat race early.
I hesitated over this book for a long time. I'd somewhere picked up the idea that it involves a lot of Philosophy, which I read as Big, Boring Thoughts That Have No Practical Application to Anyone's Life. Is that bad? Probably. But I came across it in Will Schwalbe's memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club and it piqued my interest. When I needed a short book to help me finish up my own Books in Translation challenge this year, I finally got brave and gave this one a try.
I didn't love it but I definitely enjoyed it. There were philosophical sections that I had to skim as my eyes glazed over, but way less than I had feared. Even in those, I could pull out a few ideas that I really liked. I can't quote any of them, but I liked them.
I identified with Renée to a certain extent. She has almost a pathological need to keep up her crusty concierge appearance, which I did not relate to, but in reserving her true self for her close friends and family? That I get. Her life slowly changes through the book and I was happy to see it happening because I liked her a lot. She's terrified but she goes with it. We eventually learn why she has lived her life the way she has and it broke my heart. I was not at all happy with the ending of the book, but I can see why it had to happen that way.
I liked Paloma too but I couldn't help feeling like she just needed to get out of her own head a little more. Easy for me to say, I know. She just loved wallowing in Big Ideas and looking down on her family (who were pretty awful, at least from her point of view). She's super-intelligent but she needed some kid time. Unfortunately, most of the kids her age are out shopping or listening to music or doing drugs or other things that she has no interest in, so that leaves her with herself for company and too much time in her own head.
The translation by Alison Anderson seemed to be very well done.
If you've been hesitating to read this one, go ahead and give it a try. There is some philosophy but I mostly saw it as a story of two lonely people slowly changing their lives. And that's a story I enjoyed.(less)
Fermín Romero de Torres is finally getting married. He's got one problem though--he's living under an assumed name. He has absolutely no proof that he...moreFermín Romero de Torres is finally getting married. He's got one problem though--he's living under an assumed name. He has absolutely no proof that he legally exists. How is he supposed to get married without all the paperwork to prove that he is whom he says he is? As he explains this to Daniel Sempere, his history is finally explained in more detail, as well as his tie to David Martín, hero of The Angel's Game.
Eh. It was better than The Angel's Game but still a long way from The Shadow of the Wind. I love Fermín, so I enjoyed delving into his story, painful as that was. But the plot felt like filler between books. It feels like there has to be a fourth book in this loose series and The Prisoner of Heaven is just a placeholder. There were some revelations that clarified a few points and set up some definite conflict for future books, but there wasn't enough going on to justify an entire book. At least it was short.
I also missed Ruiz Zafón's gorgeous writing. It didn't even feel like the same author/translator team, although it was. It was just a story, pure and simple. I didn't feel any desire to mark any passages at all. I don't know who fell down on the job here, but it just wasn't up to the standard I've set for this pair.
I'll give The Cemetery of Forgotten Books one more try, but I'm starting to wonder if The Shadow of the Wind was just a fluke. I sincerely hope not. (less)
Twinklestar, the last reindeer, panics in a thunderstorm and sends Santa's caravan plunging toward the ground. After making sure everyone is okay, Nik...moreTwinklestar, the last reindeer, panics in a thunderstorm and sends Santa's caravan plunging toward the ground. After making sure everyone is okay, Niklaus Goodfellow, the last real Santa, realizes that he has come to earth in a territory controlled by the evil new head Santa, Gerold Goblynch. Niklaus is on the run from Goblynch and his cronies, trying to maintain the real meaning of Christmas despite Goblynch's greedy schemes. The caravan is broken and it will take Niklaus's elves a while to fix it. Not to mention that no one can find Twinklestar because he's invisible.
Niklaus befriends two of the neighborhood children, Ben and Charlotte. They try to help Santa and protect him from Goblynch and his henchmen. They also try to spread the Christmas spirit.
I listened to this on audio, read by the author. I had a little bit of a hard time understanding her German accent. I had to pay very close attention. Also, her voicing for Matilda, Niklaus's angel assistant, was way irritating--very high-pitched and bossy. Admittedly, Matilda was a bossy little soul, which would have irritated me enough without the ear-piercing pitch.
There is a good message about the true meaning of Christmas here. Ben and Charlotte learn about friendship and standing up for what you believe in. There's even a little message for parents about maintaining a sense of Christmas wonder.
I am definitely not the target audience for this book. Children will probably like it more than I did. It would probably be nice for them to think about children helping Santa. The little adventures, like searching for Twinklestar and making snow, will be more exciting for them. I can't really recommend the audio, but the print version will be fun for the younger crowd. (less)
Primo Levi was a young Jewish man living in Turin, Italy when he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Due to a combination of luck and calculation, he...morePrimo Levi was a young Jewish man living in Turin, Italy when he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Due to a combination of luck and calculation, he survived.
I truly, truly hate to give any Holocaust memoir less than five stars. They are all important and they should all be read.
Somehow I never got drawn into this book. It took me two weeks to read a book that is 190 pages long. Crazy, right? I can't put my finger on what my problem was. Bear with me as I try to work it out.
Maybe it's that I'm more of the "feeling" personality type and Levi seems to be more of a "thinker." He does have some very astute observations to make about humanity. I started to lose interest in a chapter titled "The Drowned and the Saved." This chapter was almost like a primer for how to survive in such horrific conditions. I have concluded that I wouldn't make it. I don't understand anything that resembles economics. So descriptions of schemes to trade 1 piece of bread for a coupon that somehow turns into 4 pieces of bread left me scratching my head. I don't get it. My eyes glazed over.
I did finally get more interested in the very last chapter, "The Story of Ten Days." This felt more personal to me. Levi and some fellow prisoners are trying to survive in the abandoned camp until the Russian army arrives. They immediately lose the "survival at all costs" mentality and start to look out for each other again.
In looking back through this book for my review, I see a lot of passages that seem pertinent and that provide a lot of food for thought. Maybe this was just a bad time for me to read this particular book? I don't know.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that most of this memoir was a little too analytical and distanced. When it got more personal, I tuned in, but then it was finished.
Again, I still recommend this and all other Holocaust memoirs. I personally just didn't click with the style of this one.(less)
The Professor is a brilliant mathematician who suffered some brain damage in an automobile accident years ago. He can remember his entire life up unti...moreThe Professor is a brilliant mathematician who suffered some brain damage in an automobile accident years ago. He can remember his entire life up until the accident, but afterwards, he only has a memory of the past 80 minutes. Luckily, his sister-in-law steps in to help care for him. She hires housekeepers to come in to his little cottage and cook his meals. Needless to say, the Professor scares off many of these women. But then The Housekeeper comes along. She's something of a specialist in difficult cases. She is patient with the Professor and introduces herself to him every morning, respects the days when he is thinking, and generally wins him over again every day.
This is an elegantly-written novel. There aren't any wasted words, but it is still beautifully written. Every word seems to be chosen with care.
I can't say that a lot happens in the story itself. There's no big, romantic love, no adventure, no heartbreak. But the story is beautiful too.
These are characters that I learned to care about. The Professor is overwhelmed by the world and seeks solace in his orderly numbers. He obviously has a huge heart. He adores the Housekeeper's son, and really all children in general. The Housekeeper is a single mom doing the best she can and finding the time to care for and about this slightly damaged man. They are both lonely and they find each other and they form their own unique kind of family. It's a beautiful story and I loved it.
Quite a bit of the book revolves around mathematics. Don't let that put you off. The Housekeeper tells the story, and she is not a mathematician. None of that is overwhelming.
I wouldn't change a thing about the book, but I do have to say that I am curious about the Professor's past. The Housekeeper finds an old photo that brings up a lot of unanswered questions. And I just get the feeling that there's some kind of tragedy that led to the Professor's intense concern for children's safety. I'm happy to leave my questions unanswered though. The Housekeeper and her son learn to care for the Professor just as he is, without any concern for his past, so it feels right that the past stays in the past.
The translator, Stephen Snyder, obviously did an amazing job. This kind of writing is rare from authors who write in English. It takes a very talented team of author and translator to produce it in a translation.
For a quiet, beautiful, feel-good book about friendship and families, pick this up. (less)
In the interest of avoiding spoilers for the second book, I'll just say that this picks up immediately after that awful cliffhanger of an ending in T...moreIn the interest of avoiding spoilers for the second book, I'll just say that this picks up immediately after that awful cliffhanger of an ending in The Girl Who Played with Fire.
So much has been said that I don't feel like I have a whole lot more to contribute. I (mostly) raced through the book, frantic to find out how big this conspiracy was, how far they would go, whether or not they would finally get caught, and how it would all go down.
Salander wasn't quite as large a figure in this one, for obvious reasons if you've been reading the trilogy, so I missed her. She was still the same old inscrutable, fascinating Salander in the parts she was in. She's growing though. I wish Larsson had been able to write more books about her so we could see how she ultimately turns out.
Three things bothered me. One was the setup of Salander's initial location. Vague enough? That would never happen here in the US. Not where I work anyway. Can you say armed guards (at the least) and different floors? So I'm left wondering if Larsson took an easy way out to steer the book where he wanted it to go or if Sweden is that different. Surely not.
At the very beginning, there's a whole lot of telling and not much showing. We're told what Blomqvist and the police got up to in the few hours immediately after the end of the second book. Why not just write that part as actual scenes happening in real time? It probably wouldn't have taken up much more space and there was certainly enough happening to have kept my attention.
I have had a problem with the amount of detail Larsson includes throughout the entire series. This last(?) installment is no different. I do not care about the history and structure of the Swedish version of the CIA. Tell me there's a group operating outside the rules and I'll fill in the blanks. I don't need pages and pages of details. Neither do I care what each character chooses to wear on a given day.
That said, I was happy with the way things ultimately turned out. I was cheering out loud in Gianinni's big scene and in Lisbeth's final confrontation. I was worried that things would not wrap up well since Larsson died and had huge plans for a series, but things are tied up very neatly in the end.
I'll give a nod here again to Reg Keeland's excellent translation.
If you've read the rest of the series, you know you're going to read this one. I think you'll love it.(less)
When Max's family moves to the beach to avoid being caught in the city during a war, they don't realize that worse trouble is going to find them.
First...moreWhen Max's family moves to the beach to avoid being caught in the city during a war, they don't realize that worse trouble is going to find them.
First of all, I think the name Roland should be retired from fiction forever. It is impossible for me to read it without seeing The Gunslinger. When the character is supposed to be a normal seventeen-year-old boy, you see the problem I had.
Anyway, I found it hard to pinpoint the age group of this book's audience. I didn't realize it wasn't for adults until I started reading it. The writing itself is easy enough for a middle-grade book. But there are a few things that happen that pushed it up into YA territory for me. I don't have kids though, so maybe I'm just naive about what kids read. If I'm not, I'm afraid this will struggle to find the right market.
Not realizing this wasn't an adult book, I was disappointed when I didn't find Ruiz Zafón's gorgeous prose inside. I just adore his writing.
The story itself was suspenseful and engaging. I was curious what was going on almost from the beginning and found myself reading more and more just to try to get to the bottom of things. I think kids who aren't too afraid of things that go bump in the night will enjoy it.
As an adult reader, there were a few things that happened that I just didn't buy. I don't know any seventeen-year-old boy who is going to willingly start hanging out with a thirteen-year-old. Not without seeing his sister first. :-) I don't think the kids would have been left alone like they were. And I had problems with the storyline surrounding Roland.
As always, hats off to Lucia Graves for an excellent translation.
I had problems with the book. So what? I'm definitely not the target audience. I think kids reading it will probably mostly accept it for the spooky story it is and enjoy it. (less)
In Persepolis 2, we pick back up with Marjane as she arrives in Austria. She has a hard time adjusting to life in Europe, and after a few years she fi...moreIn Persepolis 2, we pick back up with Marjane as she arrives in Austria. She has a hard time adjusting to life in Europe, and after a few years she finds herself back in Iran. Then she feels that she doesn’t fit in anywhere. To paraphrase, she’s too Iranian for Europe and too European for Iran.
Overall, I enjoyed this more than the first book. I missed her frequent conversations with God, but I found it easier to relate to troubled teenage Marjane than activist child Marjane. I was busy playing with Barbies when I was ten, not trying to figure out how I could sneak out to political rallies that frequently ended in shooting. Anyway, I felt that since Marjane had lived in Europe at this point, she had some interesting observations to make about how Westerners treat Iranians and the differences in our cultures. It seems that she’s able to see the good and bad on both sides. As an American, it was interesting for me to see what she thinks of Americans and Brits and to see how she thinks the Iranian government manages to keep such strict control over the people.
Marjane herself could be a little whiny, but she is a teenager--I managed to overlook it. I did love the way she would just speak her mind sometimes. I would always catch myself holding my breath as I turned the pages, waiting to see if she had gone too far and really gotten herself in trouble this time. Her grandmother was great. She was always good for a laugh, or at least a healthy dose of reality.
I believe there was a different translator for this volume, and I didn’t like this translation as well. I can see that it would be hard to find a way to work with at least three languages and effectively say what Satrapi was trying to say. But I really think there should have been a way to do it without including the frequent footnotes. Easy for me to say, right?
Again, I felt like she just stopped when she felt like it at the end. There was a resolution, but when I turned the last page and realized it was the last page, I was left thinking, “What?!?! But what happened after that?” It looks like she’s written a Persepolis 3, but my library doesn’t have it. Looking on here, I can’t even tell if it’s been translated into English yet. I’ll be looking for it though.
I recommend this for anyone who wants to continue the story that began in Persepolis, and also to anyone who wants a little more understanding of Iranian culture. Don’t let the graphic novel format put you off.(less)
Two young men, children of parents that the Communist government in China deems enemies of the state, are basically exiled to a remote mountain for "r...moreTwo young men, children of parents that the Communist government in China deems enemies of the state, are basically exiled to a remote mountain for "re-education." Their parents' "crimes" don't even warrant the word; they're basically just too educated for the government's comfort. The teens find a harsh life waiting for them on the mountain. They must plow fields and dig in mines and haul human waste around. If the local party leader is upset with them, he makes their lives even more miserable.
They eventually meet a local tailor's daughter. The little seamstress, as she's known, is the most beautiful girl on the mountain. One of the teens of course tries to win her heart. He takes a novel approach and starts telling her stories out of Western literature, in an effort to make her better company for himself. And so time passes as the boys wait to see if their period of "re-education" will ever end.
This is so hard for me to review! I had some issues with the boys throughout. Luo, the one who tries to win the girl, is basically a nice guy but--c'mon. He's trying to "improve" the little seamstress? So she'll be a better girlfriend? Who does he think he is? I was listening to this so maybe I misunderstood something, but I really don't think so. But then--I got to the ending. And I loved it. And that's all I can say.
I also loved B. D. Wong's narration. He has a nice voice and a nice delivery. If my library has any more audio books that he's narrated, I'll gladly give them a try.
I enjoyed the imagery in the book as well. It was very short, maybe 4 hours, and enough happened to keep my attention, but at the same time I feel like I can clearly picture this misty Chinese mountain and these harsh rural villages. As someone who likes to use way too many words when writing, I'm impressed when an author can pull this off. And especially considering that the book is a translation. Ina Rilke did a fabulous job with that.
I don't think I've ever heard of Chinese re-education, but what a horrible, effective practice. Take the kids who are going to have the best opportunities at education, and embracing new ideas, and y'know, revolutionary ideas, isolate them and send them out to the wilds to suffer under the hands of uneducated peasants, and you've kind of shut down any immediate governmental threats. Sure, you're probably setting up big trouble for the future, but you've bought yourself time to plan for that. Sheesh. Whose mind comes up with this kind of bs? Can you imagine?
At this length, I would recommend anyone give this book a try. I was surprised and very pleased at the end and I think most readers will be too.(less)
A brief overview of world religions and their various branches within the framework of a story about a teenage boy with a mysterious illness. It felt...moreA brief overview of world religions and their various branches within the framework of a story about a teenage boy with a mysterious illness. It felt more like nonfiction, but it was interesting to learn about religions that I know little or nothing about.(less)
I just don't even know where to start with a synopsis here without giving anything away.
I enjoyed this one so much more than the previous, The Girl...moreI just don't even know where to start with a synopsis here without giving anything away.
I enjoyed this one so much more than the previous, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that I was left wondering if I just read that one at the wrong time or if Larsson really improved that much between one book and the next. Or maybe it was just the background framework of economics. Whatever it was, this was way, way better than I expected, and I'm glad it was chosen as one of my groups' monthly reads. In all honesty, I would probably never have gotten to it.
Once I got into the story, and it did take a little while, I couldn't stop reading until I got to the end. And what an ending! When does the third one come out in the US? Not soon enough, that's for sure! Talk about a cliffhanger!
Salander is just as inscrutable as ever, but she's starting to learn that she shouldn't take her relationships with others for granted. I was so indifferent to the first book that I wouldn't have continued with the series if I hadn't been curious to find out more about Salander. I'm glad I continued and got this payoff. The important parts of her personal story are revealed, and they are every bit as shocking as I expected them to be.
This would have been five stars except for a few things. The first section--55 pages in my copy--doesn't seem to have a real bearing on anything else. I'm left wondering if it will tie in to the third book, or if it was just a long example of how much Salander "hates men who hate women." Also, there were parts that could easily have been edited out. The thing that bothered me the most was when Salander goes furniture shopping. It's two pages of an IKEA shopping list. Two pages doesn't sound like much, but it's so detailed and so unimportant! Who cares?!? Unless you have IKEA's entire collection memorized, it's just filler that needed to go!
I knocked the translation in my review of the first book. The same guy translated this one, but I think he's improved a lot. There were only a couple of things that reminded me that I was reading a translation, and they were so small I can't even remember what they were. Overall, though, for a thrilling read with a complex, troubled intriguing main character, pick this up. You just might want to wait until after the release of the third one though. You will be dying to pick it up as soon as you finish this book.(less)
David Martín is a writer of penny dreadfuls who is offered a huge sum of money to write a book for a French publisher. He can't find any evidence that...moreDavid Martín is a writer of penny dreadfuls who is offered a huge sum of money to write a book for a French publisher. He can't find any evidence that the publisher actually exists though, and violent things start happening to David's friends and colleagues.
I was rocking through the first half of the book, loving Ruiz Zafón's writing, and then I just stopped caring a little over halfway through. I'm not entirely sure what happened. I think I got sick of having absolutely no freaking idea what was going on. Yeah, I knew who the publisher was, but I didn't know how that was going to tie into everything else. I read this using this really cool post-it-flag bookmark my husband gave me, because I knew that I would probably have tons of quotes I loved in here. The last one is at page 324 out of 531 pages. There's no big event that I can find there, I think that's just where I ran out of patience.
I loved Ruiz Zafón's previous book, The Shadow of the Wind, and I have a feeling that a re-read would bump that one up to five stars. I missed having a Fermín. There wasn't really anyone to give any lightness or grace to the story. It was all darkness and despair. The relationship between David and Isabella gave a few lighter moments, but he ended up hurting her feelings more often than not, so those were pretty limited. This is sort of a companion to Shadow, and I had a hard time figuring out how and when they fit together. I was confused about how this Sempere was consistently described as being shy and sort of boring, when that wasn't the guy I knew from Shadow. This young Sempere is the father in Shadow.
I have to say, my hat is off to the translator, Lucia Graves. She did one heckuva job translating this. The story might have lost me a little, but the writing is still lyrical, and that has to be as much to her credit as to the author's.
Maybe I should have put this aside and tried it again later when I realized that I had started to lose interest. I don't think that would have made a difference though. It's still a dark, Gothic novel that fans of that genre will still probably love. I just preferred The Shadow of the Wind much, much more.(less)
Journalist Mikael Blomqvist has just been found guilty of libel and sentenced to 90 days in jail and slapped with a huge fine. He needs to take a brea...moreJournalist Mikael Blomqvist has just been found guilty of libel and sentenced to 90 days in jail and slapped with a huge fine. He needs to take a break from journalism for a while, so when a former industrial tycoon asks him to write a family history while investigating a 40-year-old mystery, Mikael takes him up on the offer.
I'll be honest here. I've been in a bit of a reading slump for a couple of weeks. I'm just tired from work and even reading takes more energy than I have. So that might be why I didn't fall in love with this, like so many of my friends here have. But I don't think that's entirely it.
One of the biggest things that I think knocked this down a few stars for me is the fact that if I think you're about to start talking about Finance, Investment, Economics, or anything like that, my eyes start to glaze over and I start hearing you the way we hear Charlie Brown's mother: "Wa wa wah wa wah...." Yes, it really is that bad. There's not a lot of that here, but since my tolerance hovers around zero for that kind of thing, a little was too much for me. I still don't have a clue what Salander got up to at the end of this. I needed it spelled out in small words.
But speaking of Salander, I am hopelessly intrigued by her. She was really the big draw of the book for me. Asocial, a little goth, super-intelligent, mysterious, and with a preternatural ability to sniff out someone's deepest, darkest secrets, I always wanted to know more about her. There are little clues here and there, but we don't find out too much of her personal story. I'm hoping that we'll learn more as the trilogy goes along.
The mystery was pretty good. I didn't really know who did it until I was supposed to know. Unfortunately, when the obvious mystery wraps up, another one sort of starts up for the last hundred pages and I dislike it when authors do that too. It did all make sense together in this book, but I like to keep it to just one mystery at a time. There was one HUGE coincidence that provided one of the breaks in the case. Coincidences feel like weaknesses in mystery stories. Maybe not, but this one felt like the author had dug himself into an unsolvable hole and this was the only way he could dig himself out. I didn't care for that either.
The translation from the Swedish was very good and very British. We're talking "gaol-bird" instead of "jailbird" and minor phrases like that. There were some things that didn't make sense, but they were just little things. I like to understand everything though, so this bothered me a little. I'm just talking about abbreviations like "an intern straight out of JMK." Not a huge deal, but I would have preferred to get a name there instead of the abbreviation. And there was this too: "one main street, appropriately enough called Storgatan." ??? Why is that "appropriate"? Not a big deal, but I think that could have just been left out since it wasn't going to make sense to probably 95% of his English readers. Maybe other translations have this kind of thing too, but since I can only really remember reading translations from Spanish, and I do have a basic understanding of that language, I may have overlooked them.
Be warned that there is one scene that is pretty brutal. It felt a little gratuitous except that it gave us a little more insight into Salander's character. I really could have done without it though.
Overall, this was just okay. I could have put it down at any point and never picked it up again. I did enjoy reading about Salander, so I'll pick up the next book. I don't have terribly high hopes for it, but I do hope that we learn more about her.(less)
When Michael Berg is 15, he has an affair with Hanna Schmitz, who is over twice his age. The affair does eventually come to an end, but their lives ar...moreWhen Michael Berg is 15, he has an affair with Hanna Schmitz, who is over twice his age. The affair does eventually come to an end, but their lives are intertwined afterwards.
This book should have been passionate, challenging, and emotionally wrenching. But I just felt too distanced from everything. I’m trying to decide if this is because it’s told from Michael’s point of view and he’s a detached kind of guy, but mostly I don’t care. I see what it could have been versus what it is and I’m frustrated.
I think the big conflict at the heart of the novel was supposed to be condemnation versus understanding and how hard it is, or even impossible, to feel both at the same time. I think I was supposed to question what I would have done in each character’s place, but I was too aggravated with Michael to have room for introspection. I was too busy wondering if the jackass was ever going to grow some balls and help Hanna out. (Sorry, Mama. But it’s true.) I wanted to smack him. He let her down in so many ways and somehow always found a way to make it her fault. Hanna wasn’t perfect either. In fact, they destroyed each other in round about ways, when they really could have been each other’s salvation. That may have been part of the point of the book also, but that’s not my kind of thing. I’m a die hard fan of the happy ending.
Readers not requiring too much of an emotional attachment to their books will like this one. I think if I were that kind of reader I would definitely have enjoyed it more and been willing to think more about the conflicts it contains. But I’m not and so I’m left disliking it.(less)
This is primarily the story of Anna Karenina's troubled affair with Alexey Vronsky. It's also the story of Konstantin Levin's search for love and trut...moreThis is primarily the story of Anna Karenina's troubled affair with Alexey Vronsky. It's also the story of Konstantin Levin's search for love and truth in society.
While reading this book, I kept wishing that I could just read a "good parts version" as William Goldman called The Princess Bride. I kept getting bogged down in Tolstoy's reflections, mostly through Levin's eyes, of how decadent, silly, redundant, and complicated life in the upper class of 19th-century Russian society was. There would be pages and pages of a tangent that could have been an essay called "What's Wrong With Agriculture in Russia." I didn't care. There were also pages and pages of Levin watching an election and having no idea what was going on. If he didn't get it, there's no way that this 21st-century American woman is going to. Those parts just seemed to drag on and on and on.
But the story itself was beautifully written and really made me think. I'm all for women's rights, but I would catch myself thinking, "What a selfish, ungrateful woman!" And then I would think, "Well, if it weren't for women like Anna pushing the limits of acceptable behavior, you wouldn't enjoy the freedoms you do today." And then I'd go right back to thinking, "I can't stand her! She wants everything her way!" I'm not really exaggerating. I really had this internal dialog going on throughout almost every scene that featured Anna. I think part of the problem for me was that her husband was a good man, she just didn't love him. So I was torn between how Anna was hurting him and her quest for love.
I was worried about reading this, not necessarily because of the size, but because I wasn't sure how difficult it would be to understand. I really didn't have any problem with that. It was very readable-- except for when I was falling asleep during the tangents. The thing that really got me at first were all the names! I kept hearing that all the characters' names in Russian literature would get me confused, so I was sort of prepared, but I wasn't really expecting it to be as bad as it was. Almost every character, no matter how minor, was named. The major characters had several names and nicknames. It got so bad that I just had to laugh when I read that Levin had cows--cows!--named Pava, Berkoot, Hollandka, and a dog named Laska. The cows were never mentioned again. Ugh! But someone pointed me to Oprah's Book Club discussion of Anna Karenina. There was a character bookmark on there that I printed out and it helped tremendously. There were just a few spoilers on it though.
The ending was weak. Tolstoy built up and built up to this crashing climax, and then he spoiled it by rambling on for another twenty pages about Levin's search for faith. That really ruined the ending.
Overall, though, I don't regret reading this, but it was one of the very few books that left me wishing that I had found an abridged version. (less)
Meggie Folchart and her father, Mo, find themselves on the run from a mysterious man that Meggie knows only as "Capricorn." Capricorn is chasing after...moreMeggie Folchart and her father, Mo, find themselves on the run from a mysterious man that Meggie knows only as "Capricorn." Capricorn is chasing after them, trying to steal a book that they own, and he won't stop at anything to get it.
First off, let me say that I'm about 20 years older than the reader this book is written for. I enjoyed it, but I didn't fall in love with it. The big thing that kept me from giving it five stars was that I felt a little bit like the plot moved around in circles. I found myself thinking, "Are we really back here again?" It seems to me that with some creative editing/storytelling the plot would have moved along nicer and the book wouldn't have been quite so big. That was really the only bad thing for me though.
This was the first of a trilogy, but it tied up everything pretty well. There weren't any major cliffhangers that left me feeling like I will never be able to wait to find out what happens next.
The translator did a fantastic job. If I hadn't known that this was originally written in German, I would never have guessed. Everything flowed along very smoothly.
I really liked the characters. The bad guys were really bad, but the good guys were a little more complicated. Meggie and Mo could be a little cranky, and Elinor was always cranky, but she had a softer side too. This all made them seem real and more likeable.
There were tons of quotes in here that I loved:
"Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly."
"If you take a book with you on a journey...an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it...yes, books are like flypaper--memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.
And these quotes included from other books:
"What do those children do without storybooks?" Naftali asked. And Rob Zebulun replied: "They have to make do. Storybooks aren't bread. You can live without them." "I couldn't live without them," Naftali said. Isaac Bashevis Singer--Naftalie the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus
"For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to this agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails...and when at last he goeth to his last punishment, let the flames of hell consume him for ever." Curse on book thieves, from the monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona, Spain.
I think young booklovers will love this book, and older booklovers will enjoy it.(less)
After following the Northern Alliance troops around Afghanistan and reporting on the fall of the Taliban, journalist Åsne Seierstad finds herself in K...moreAfter following the Northern Alliance troops around Afghanistan and reporting on the fall of the Taliban, journalist Åsne Seierstad finds herself in Kabul. She stumbles upon a bookshop and goes in. She and the proprietor, Sultan, hit it off at first and she is invited to spend a little time with his family. She thinks she has found an enlightened Afghan man and asks him for permission to live in his house for a while and write about everyday life in an Afghan household. She finds out that some of his politics and beliefs are more liberal than one would expect, but he still very much rules his family with iron authority.
3.5 stars but I can't bring myself to round up.
There was one chapter that I loved, "Billowing, Fluttering, Winding." Seierstad sets out to make the reader experience life inside the burka, and I felt that she pulled it off very well. I felt closed in and like I had blinders on. I felt like I had to physically turn my head to see anything around me. I felt lost in a sea of mostly-anonymous burkas. The only way to differentiate between other women was by the bits of their shoes that were peeking out. When the narrator loses track of the other women she's with, I realized how hard it was going to be to find them. It was beautifully, effectively done, and it's worth reading for that chapter alone.
I like that the author included a list of the 16 decrees that the Taliban broadcast when they took power. Some of them weren't really all that surprising, but others left me shaking my head in puzzlement. "Prohibition against the washing of clothes by river embankments." What? Are they afraid that women are going to have a "wet burka" contest or something? I don't understand that one. And then there's a chilling appeal to women at the end. I won't quote it here, but it's basically about how "Oh, we're making these rules for your own safety. But if you break them, you and the head of your household will be severely punished, and you're going to hell in a hand basket."
I hope I don't sound callous when I say this, but I started off horrified by all the stories that were being shared, but eventually I became desensitized. It's hard to feel bad for the man who is translating and putting himself in harm's way to try to feed his family, when family members literally killed a woman who had brought them "shame" pages earlier, for something that Westerners would only gossip about until the next juicy tidbit came along.
There are a lot of heart-breaking stories in here. I felt very bad for Sultan's youngest sister, Leila, and her subservient role in the family. She is basically a slave but it's obvious that she's an intelligent young woman who wants more out of life.
It's shocking to me that this is actually a middle-class family. It's mentioned that Sultan is a cheapskate, but there are something like 13 family members living in a 2 or 3 room apartment. It sounds fairly squalid.
I "enjoyed" reading about life in Afghanistan, but it left me feeling a bit hopeless as well. Maybe things have gotten better since this was published in 2002, but somehow I doubt it. From an outsider's point of view, the whole society is fundamentally broken, and it won't get fixed until those living on the inside want to change. There's not really any sign of that in this book.
Pick this up if you want to experience life in a culture that feels very different from our own, and gain a little understanding of a country that is so often cast in the role of "the enemy" on television. (less)
Aurora del Valle lives with her maternal grandparents until she is five years old. After her grandfather's death, she's taken to live with her paterna...moreAurora del Valle lives with her maternal grandparents until she is five years old. After her grandfather's death, she's taken to live with her paternal grandmother, an acute businesswoman in a world that is still unrelentingly ruled by men. This fierce woman, Paulina, has a soft spot in her heart for her only granddaughter and gives her the best of everything. But Aurora suffers from debilitating nightmares that no one can explain.
Even though this novel was written in first person, I felt as if I were watching the story unfold behind glass. I never got pulled into the story completely. I was never particularly interested in Aurora. I was more interested to see what scheme Paulina would come up with next in late-nineteenth century America and Chile. She was the only character who really came to life for me. I would love to read a book about her life. Anway, I was really just kind of ambivalent to the whole thing, to the point that it was even hard for me to write a summary. I guess I can say mainly that the point was to explain how important our roots are. Even though Aurora is safe and secure with Paulina, she doesn't have much of a connection to anyone else and she doesn't really know any other family. As she matures and eventually finds out more about her mother's family, she seems to come to a kind of peace. But all that wasn't really enough to keep me turning pages.
What I did really enjoy was Allende's language. She's a beautiful writer, even in a translated edition. These South American writers seem to have that down. They're making me want to practice my Spanish more and learn to read them in the original language! I can only imagine how much more impressive these books would be in the original Spanish.
Anyway, if you're looking for a book that's big on language but, to me anyway, a little weak on plot and characterization, this is an excellent choice.(less)
Daniel Sempere's father takes him to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books when he's ten years old. One of the cemetery rules is that on your first visit, y...moreDaniel Sempere's father takes him to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books when he's ten years old. One of the cemetery rules is that on your first visit, you choose a book, take it with you, and protect it forever. Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Daniel falls in love with this exquisitely written book and is puzzled when he find out that very few copies of the book ever sold and that his copy is one of the few still in existence. He sets out to find out more about the author of the book that he loves so much, never dreaming of the secrets he will uncover over the next ten years.
I don't think I've ever read many, if any, books by Spanish authors. So I'm reading along, starting to fall under this book's spell, and I all of a sudden started thinking about the movie "Pan's Labyrinth." Then I started worrying that maybe that brutal kind of sucker punch that happened at the end of the movie was a trademark of Spanish writers in general. And I think that affected the way I read the rest of the book. I think that if I ever go back and re-read it, I will enjoy it more. But this time around, I was afraid to let myself get too attached to anyone. Weird, I know. I wish that hadn't happened.
All in all, this was a really good book. It had that melodramatic feel that I've loved in Jane Eyre and The Thirteenth Tale. There were several twists and turns that grabbed me and almost shouted, "This isn't going where you think it is! Pay attention!" When I could let go of my weird "Pan's Labyrinth" thing, I caught myself wandering through the house, holding the book so I could read it in one hand, and haphazardly doing chores with the other. I used to do that all the time when I was little, but it doesn't happen all that often now.
I didn't feel all that much for most of the characters, but I loved--possibly a tiny SPOILER here--broken, brilliant, valiant Fermín. He tried so hard to overcome what he saw as his weaknesses. He was loyal, he was funny, he was chivalrous. He and Daniel had this whole "Scent of a Woman" thing going on that I loved. Fermin: "The female heart is a labyrinth of subtleties, too challenging for the uncouth mind of the male racketeer. If you really want to possess a woman, you must think like her, and the first thing to do is to win over her soul. The rest, that sweet, soft wrapping that steals away your senses and your virtue, is a bonus." What woman could resist a man like that? Not this one!
The book was pretty dark overall, but there were a few scenes where small kindnesses made all the difference to someone that just broke my heart. Whether it was the wise-cracking beggar breaking down in tears after being given a bath, or the shy boy who asks Daniel to be his friend. Just looking back through those scenes makes my heart ache for the people who just need something so small.
The translator did a great job. A few phrases here and there rang a little false when I read them, but mostly I would never have guessed it was a translation.
I found several quotes that I liked:
"Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart."
"The moment you stop to think about whether you love someone, you've already stopped loving that person forever."
"What destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it."
"Making money isn't hard in itself... What's hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one's life to."
Someone "says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day."
I did enjoy this, and I think that readers who like that whole Gothic melodrama style will enjoy it also.(less)