Wednesday, 31 August 2011

War and Peace: Book Nine

Spoilers below.

Prince Andrew goes to Petersburg to look for a reason to challenge Anatole, but the latter has gone to Turkey. So Prince Andrew goes there only to find that Anatole has gone back to Russia.

Napoleon and his troops enter Russian soil. Emperor Alexander sends a letter asking him to remove his troops. Alexander’s adjutant tries to get Napoleon to agree so that they can continue the peace talks, but he refuses. We are given a lot of opinions about the impending war from random people in the Russian camp.

The war is on.

Rostov is back out in battle, but is starting to get disillusioned.

Natasha is depressed, so her mother and Petya go to Moscow to be with her. She is beginning to take comfort in religion.

Pierre is secretly in love with Natasha.

Petya wants to join the army.

This chapter was really dull, mostly due to all these random people’s opinions on the war, Napoleon and Emperor Alexander. I don’t understand why we are given all this information in such detail. This is where I would have liked an editor to just ask Tolstoy to cut it out – and by that I mean delete all the opinions and people, not stop.

Or maybe I meant stop.

There’s a point where Natasha goes to church and Tolstoy writes out his sermon, and I’m thinking for why? Couldn’t he just have said that Natasha is moved by it? Why all the words? Or when Petya runs off to see the Emperor. There’s just so much stuff that I don’t want or need or understand.

And the names, the names, the names – oh my word, all these names.

I do love me some Tolstoy, but this ‘book’ was full of too much – everything was just too much. Now, what I did like (what I always like) is Tolstoy’s observations on human nature and his penchant for thinly veiled insults. I mean, this:

“Pfuel was one of those hopelessly and immutably self-confident men, self-confident to the point of martyrdom as only Germans are, because only Germans are self-confident on the basis of an abstract notion – science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. The German's self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth – science – which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.” - p. 505

It’s for little quips like that that I put up with all the dull opinions of people I haven’t the slightest interest in.

I’m more than halfway through, 56% to be exact, and although this chapter was a bore, I’m still eager to find out how it’s all going to end. However, I’ve now completely lost interest in the war (because every time it’s brought up it’s in the form of all these opinions) and somehow most of the characters are getting a tad whiny. Hopefully this was just a temporary glitch and we’ll be back to business as usual from this point forward.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Blessings by Anna Quindlen (4/5)

The back says: This powerful new novel by the bestselling author of Black and Blue, One True Thing, Object Lessons, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life begins when a teenage couple drives up, late at night, headlights out, to Blessings, the estate owned by Lydia Blessing. They leave a box and drive away, and in this instant, the world of Blessings is changed forever. Richly written, deeply moving, beautifully crafted, Blessings tells the story of Skip Cuddy, caretaker of the estate, who finds a baby asleep in that box and decides he wants to keep her, and of matriarch Lydia Blessing, who, for her own reasons, decides to help him. The secrets of the past, how they affect the decisions and lives of people in the present; what makes a person, a life, legitimate or illegitimate, and who decides; the unique resources people find in themselves and in a community – these are at the centre of this wonderful novel of love, redemption, and personal change by the writer about whom The Washington Post Book World said, “Quindlen knows that all the things we ever will be can be found in some forgotten fragment of family.”

I say: I only picked this up because I needed a Q author for my A-Z Author Challenge, and I’m glad I did because I fell in love with the way Quindlen writes. There’s something unassuming about her prose that makes it almost achingly beautiful at times.

More than the story itself, I liked the way she carefully carved out the characters, especially Mrs Blessing. She starts out as this mean ‘get off my lawn’ old-timey sort of lady, but as we are presented more and more details of her past, we discover that there’s so much more to her than that. Although I can’t really say that her past is of an extraordinary kind, it’s the usual lost love, bad choices, disappointments, etc, there’s something in the way that Quindlen presents it that made me ache for her.

And the same goes for Skip.

The story itself was nothing extraordinary or spectacular, and the end was nice, and gentle. I liked it.

3/5 for the story itself and Quindlen’s writing bumps it up to a 4.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Mmm… Monday: Maya Angelou, Part the First

It’s one of those days when we think of things that otherwise lay hidden. And who better than Maya Angelou to remind us that whatever we uncover, we’re not alone...

They Went Home
They went home and told their wives,
that never once in all their lives,
had they known a girl like me,
But... They went home.

They said my house was licking clean,
no word I spoke was ever mean,
I had an air of mystery,
But... They went home.

My praises were on all men's lips,
they liked my smile, my wit, my hips,
they'd spend one night, or two or three.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

War and Peace: Book Eight

Spoilers below.

Pierre is once again disillusioned and goes back to Moscow and his old life of indulgence.

Old Bolkonski, Princess Mary and Mademoiselle Bourienne go to Moscow, were the old man treats his daughter badly. She has now given up hopes of marriage.

Boris is trying to marry well and is courting the two wealthiest heiresses, Julie and Mary. He finally proposes to Julie after Anatole starts paying her attention. She accepts.

Anatole’s father forces him to Moscow to find a good match due to his expensive living. There he continues to party and flirt. He is secretly married, but abandoned his wife to live like a bachelor.

The Rostovs go to the opera where Anatole shows Natasha great interest. He soon tells her that he loves her and writes her a letter proposing to elope together. Sonya finds the letter and confronts Natasha. After a quarrel Natasha writes Princess Mary saying that she can’t marry her brother, Prince Andrew. She agrees to elope with Anatole, but on the night of the elopement Sonya confesses to the lady they live with and the plan is intercepted. They decide not to tell Count Rostov. Pierre is asked over to the house and upon hearing the news reveals that Anatole is already married. In anger he forces Anatole (pays him off) to leave Moscow, and he returns to Petersburg. Natasha tries to commit suicide, and the town in abuzz with the rumour of the elopement.

Prince Andrew returns to Moscow and says he’s fine with everything. Natasha asks Pierre to tell Andrew that she’s sorry.

This is the most exciting ‘book’ thus far. Just packed with so much drama, it’s like a soap opera. Natasha is getting on my last nerve at this point with her stupidity and I have to remind myself that she’s just a teenager. Princess Mary is also starting to annoy me and I do not understand Mademoiselle Bourienne at all. I’m still rooting for Prince Andrew, and Pierre is now getting more of my sympathy and like.

I have now read 49% and I do not want to put this down.

Quote of the Week

"It often requires more courage to read some books than it does to fight a battle." 

- Sutton Elbert Griggs

Saturday, 27 August 2011

War and Peace: Books Six and Seven

Spoilers ahead.

Book Six:

Prince Andrew awakens from his gloom, and is appointed to the Committee on Army Regulations.

Pierre is somewhat disillusioned by the Freemasons in Russia, so he visits his brothers abroad to learn more. He returns and presents changes which are dismissed. In his ensuing depression he agrees to reconcile with his wife.

The Rostovs have money problems so old Rostov applies for an official post in Petersburg.
Berg marries Vera.

Prince Andrew is smitten with Natasha at a ball, asks for her hand as is accepted. However old Bolkonski says they have to wait a year for the wedding, so the engagement is kept a secret. After six months abroad old Bolkonski says they can marry when he’s dead.

Meanwhile Mary dreams of going on a pilgrimage, but dares not leave her father or nephew.

Book Seven:

Nicholas Rostov is called home to help manage the family’s affairs.

They go on a boring hunting expedition.

Old Rostov resigns because the post is costing him too much money and his wife tries to get Nicholas to marry the rich heiress Julie to secure their wealth. He refuses because he is now in love with Sonya. A huge fight breaks out leaving the countess ill in bed. Nicholas returns to the army and old Rostov, Natasha and Sonya go to Moscow to sell their estate.

Not much to say about these two 'books', except that I could easily have done without a lot of what was written. Names, names and more names – there are so many names in this book that I can’t even begin to know what to do with.

Probably nothing because I won’t read about 80% of them again, but even so…

I'm now 44% in and still enjoying it.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

BTT: History

Sometimes I feel like the only person I know who finds reading history fascinating. It’s so full of amazing-yet-true stories of people driven to the edge and how they reacted to it. I keep telling friends that a good history book (as opposed to some of those textbooks in school that are all lists and dates) does everything a good novel does–it grips you with real characters doing amazing things.

Am I REALLY the only person who feels this way? When is the last time you read a history book? Historical biography? You know, something that took place in the past but was REAL.
I’m currently reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, so that’s history. Earlier this year I read a short story about Wallis Simpson that I really enjoyed, but I don’t seek out historical fiction - if I stumble upon it I’ll read it (but that happens rarely).

In my youth I recall reading some novel about who even knows what, and it ended with the Archduke Franz Ferdinand being shot, and I thought oooh, and started reading fiction that incorporated the events leading up to World War I, but not necessarily about the war. I also had a period of reading about World War II (both the events leading up to it and the Holocaust), the famine in Sweden, and slavery.

In terms of history in general I’m most interested in warfare, and when it comes to reading about it I prefer textbooks with clear explanations of military strategy rather than a fictional account of what may have happened at battle. I don’t want to read about how the soldiers had no shoes and torn jackets, I want to know how the war was fought, won, lost and why – facts stacked upon facts.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel Without Letters by Mark Dunn (4.5/5)

The back says: As Ella Minnow Pea writes to her cousin with the latest news on the small, quiet island of Nollop, little does she imagine the crisis ahead. The letter z has fallen from the statue of Nevin Nollop, revered author of the sentence ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ – and the island’s rulers interpret this as a sign of divine displeasure and ban its use in any form. In a novel composed of correspondence, the loss of z is inconvenient; but far worse is to come as more letters fall and more are banned, until only l, m, n, o, p remain…

I say: This was such a delightful little read, especially since I love words. The main reason I bought this was because I wanted to see how far Dunn would pull off the correspondence with only the letters l, m, n, o, and p and he did it with flare.

Can I say flare and still be serious?

More than the play with language I loved the, not so subtle (not that it was supposed to be), political allegory in the banning of the letters. Although I’m a big lover of subtlety, laying it on quite thick, as in Animal Farm by George Orwell, somehow forces you to take a look at the issues at hand; in this case totalitarianism, censorship and civil rights. In the end I suppose you take away from the novel as much as you want, but the author has still managed to make you take something with you, without banging you over the head with it.

It’s a thin line, I guess, but Dunn manages it perfectly.

I really feel like it’s quite pointless to expect anything but perfection from anyone who presents their book as “a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable”, and then starts off by explaining what those “big words” mean.

Aside: I think I may have fallen in love with it right then and there.  

I really like the way Dunn set up the correspondence between the characters; it didn’t feel contrived at all, but flowed along nicely. I was getting a bit nervous towards the end when nearly all of the letters had fallen off and kept wondering how Dunn would proceed, but he surprised me with a quite ingenious solution.

4.5/5 because the end felt a bit rushed and I wish Dunn had spent a little bit more time on the events leading up to it. It was a little too ‘in the nick of time’ for my liking.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Mmm… Monday: Thomas Hardy, Part the first

My literary nemesis, as I like to call him, Thomas Hardy will have the honour of being read today. I’m not going to get into my love/hate for this man, he is a really good writer, he just writes characters that completely piss me off (as if on purpose). After Jude the Obscure received such critique when it was first published, Hardy refused to write another novel (thank heaven, although by the time he got to Jude his writing had improved to the extent of not making me violent) and focused instead on poetry. Which is a good thing, since I greatly prefer his poetry to his novels. It’s quite amazing how concise the writing in his poetry is compared to his novels.

But enough about that, and onto today’s poem:

Neutral Tones

We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod,
--They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.
Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles solved years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro--
On which lost the more by our love.
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing….
Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree,
And a pond edged with grayish leaves.

I love this. Just absolutely love it. The reason I chose this for today is because of the lines “The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing / Alive enough to have strength to die”. That second line gets me every time, it’s so heartbreakingly beautiful.

In a way, I am grateful to the stuffy British population of the late 19th century, for without their religious zeal, this perfection may never have been created. And they said nothing good ever came from the burning of books*.

*Some Bishop allegedly burned his copy of Jude the Obscure.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Quote of the Week

"We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate."

- Henry Miller

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams (5/5)

The back says: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, one of his masterpieces, conveys his work of the dark, primitive elements that lurk beneath the superficial civilisation of the American South. One hot summer night in the house of the Mississippi Delta’s richest cotton-planter, a family imprisoned by the past is torn apart by the revelations of feelings of lust, greed and envy.

I say: First off, I know that there are a lot of people who feel/think that a play should be seen on stage, and not read, but I have never had any issues with that. Yes, a do agree that a play is at its best on stage – after all, it’s written for it – but I prefer to read a play the first time around, much like I prefer to read the book before I see the movie.

But to each their own.

Big Mama and Big Daddy have two sons, Gooper and Brick. Gooper is married to Mae and they have five kids and another on the way. Brick, who is an alcoholic, is married to Margaret and they have no kids since he refuses to sleep with her. Big Daddy’s dying of cancer, but the kids haven’t told him and Big Mama, who both think that he’s fine. Gooper is intent on having his father leave him the plantation in his will since his brother is not capable of taking care of it. The play takes place on Big Daddy’s birthday and in the end, of course, everything comes out in the open.

I suck at synopses, so we’ll have to settle with that.

Having said that, I absolutely loved this play. This is the first I’ve read by Williams, and it really just blew me away how seemingly effortlessly he managed to pinpoint the exact issues (and flaws) each character had. Not straight away, of course (where’s the fun in that), but by delicately unravelling their histories and highlighting their impending dooms until they all lay dissected and exposed before me. I have an edition with two different third acts; apparently one was Williams’ original, and the other was the one that was performed on Broadway after his director suggested some changes. I preferred the original third act because it was clear and concise, whereas the Broadway version sort of muddled things up a bit. I don’t like that Big Daddy was brought back on stage (as it were) because I felt the significance of leaving him out, same as they were doing while discussing his illness, was lost with him coming back. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Big Daddy – he had some of the funniest lines in the play – I just didn’t see the necessity in bringing him back.

The other two people I liked were Brick and Margaret, for completely opposite reasons. Brick because he was so broken and so confused, and even though he had turned to the drink, he was still trying, I think, in his own little way. I know that it looks like he’s given up on everything, and maybe even he thinks he has, but there’s a tiny spark of hope/doubt left in him that made me like him. There’s a reason for his drinking that he’s trying to work himself out of, in a sense, and if he had truly given up, he’d just stop thinking about it.

Margaret, on the other hand, I liked because of her sheer determination. As she puts it herself:

“What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? – I wish I knew... Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can...” – p. 26

Brick, in his frustration later on pleads:

“Then jump off the roof, jump off it, cats can jump off roofs and land on their four feet uninjured!” – p. 31

But the thing is that she’s not looking to get away ‘uninjured’, she’s looking to keep what she has and will gladly suffer the consequences. This is actually made clearer in the Broadway third act, a bit too clear if you ask me; I like my subtlety.

I’m nearing the verge of essay territory here (and I still have so much to say), so I’m just going to conclude by saying that it’s been years since I studied English Lit at uni, and we never did Williams, so my interpretation may be way off base with general opinion, but I don’t really care. We make of things what we will. Williams himself said:

"The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man’s psychological problems. I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent – fiercely charged! – interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis." – p. 75

And he does it so well.

Friday, 19 August 2011

War and Peace: Books Four and Five

Obviously, these little write ups are full of spoilers. I haven’t mentioned it before, but there. I said it now.

Book Four:

So, Nicholas Rostov returns home with Denisov. He promises his sister Natasha that he will honour his promise to marry Sonya, yet he doesn’t feel ready yet and wants to live.

Helene is cheating on Pierre with Dolokhov.

The old Prince Rostov throws a dinner party where Pierre challenges Dolokhov to a duel. Pierre shoots him, separates from his wife and runs off to St Petersburg.

Prince Andrew returns home (after everyone thinking he’s dead) in time for the birth of his son, but his wife dies during labour.

Dolokhov recovers from being shot.

Nicholas Rostov is made adjunct.

Dolokhov falls in love with Sonya and asks her to marry him, but she refuses. She’s in love with Nicholas. Dolokhov beats Nicholas at cards and the latter has to ask his father to help pay the debt of 43 thousand roubles.

The soldiers go back to war.

Book Five:

Pierre meets Freemason Bazdeev at the station, and when he gets to Petersburg joins the order. Prince Vasili comes to Petersburg to urge Pierre to reconcile with his daughter, but Pierre tells him to go and moves to his estates in Kiev. Society again turns on Pierre.

Boris is now an aide-de-camp and upon returning to Petersburg becomes “an intimate” at Helene’s house (she moves back to Petersburg, obviously).

The old Prince Bolkonski is made commander in chief and Prince Andrew takes a position as marshal under his father so that he doesn’t have to go back into battle. He moves out of his father’s house, although his son remains there being taken care of by Princess Maria.

The soldiers at war are starving, so Denisov steals provisions from the infantry. On his way to trial for the theft he is shot in the leg and sent to hospital. Nicholas Rostov visits him and is asked to take a petition to the Emperor on Denisov’s behalf. He does that by going to Boris, who is now associating with the French, much to Nicholas Rostov’s displeasure, he tries to get the letter to the Emperor by other means.

The preliminaries of peace are signed by Emperor Alexander and Napoleon.

And that marks the end of the first volume, spanning from 1805 – 1808.

I have so many thoughts floating around in my head that I don’t really know what to do with. I’m seriously rooting for Prince Andrew. There’s a point where he and Pierre talk about life and how to best conduct it that was really poignant, and made me change my previous view of him completely. He’s obviously a changed man after his failure at war and the death of his wife, but this

"I only know two very real evils in life: remorse and illness. The only good is the absence of those evils. To live for myself avoiding those two evils is my whole philosophy now." – p. 299

And then Pierre chimes in with his Freemasonic beliefs. I do feel a bit sorry for Pierre, who is once again being taken advantage of by pretty much everyone, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen to him (and his wife) in the future.

So yeah, I’m obviously still enjoying it. There are a few instances of Tolstoy focusing on things and people that have nothing to do with the plot, and I could do without that. I like his observations on Russians and Russian life in general – as well as his commentaries on military life.

I’ve read 34% - and enjoyed pretty much all of it, thus far.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

War and Peace: Book Three

Pierre is now a count and everybody suddenly loves him, Prince Vasili steals from him, and Anna Pavlovna is trying to set him up with Helene, Prince Vasili’s daughter. He falls in love with her at a party, and after going through the motions for a short time, they marry.

Prince Vasili then tries to marry off his son Anatol to Princess Maria, much to the anger of her father, Prince Bolkonsky. Maria refuses when she finds out that her companion Mademoiselle Bouvienne is in love with him.

Nicholas Rostov is promoted to officer and falls in love with Emperor Alexander.

Boris goes to Prince Andrew to see if he can help him become an adjunct.

Denisov is promoted to major.

Prince Andrew confesses that he is only interested in fame and glory.

Chaos ensues on the battlefield; the Russians lose and are forced to retreat. Prince Andrew is wounded and taken prisoner by Napoleon.

I'm really getting into this now, since the characters are being more and more fleshed out and the plot is thickening. All the lives are tangled into each other, and I'm very much liking the way Tolstoy is weaving them together. I'm also inching towards that point of attachment to some of the characters and suspicion against other. I may start reading at home as well at this point, because I want to know what's going to happen and the weekend is coming up, and no office then.

In short, starting to slowly fall in love with this.

Or maybe not love - I'm infatuated.

I’ve currently read 23.9% of the book – yup, still calculating.

BTT: Fluff

You’ve just had a long, hard, exhausting day, and all you want to do is curl up with something light, fun, easy, fluffy, distracting, and entertaining.
What book do you pick up?

I’m drawing a blank. I seriously haven’t the slightest idea, since I don’t particularly like fluff, but maybe a YA novel.
If push comes to shove…
The thing is, if I did have a long, hard, exhausting day, fluff is the last thing I’d turn to. I’d pick up my favourite book Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman, read select passages and dream myself away.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

En Liten Chock av Johanna Lindbäck (4/5)

Baksidan säger: Gustav hoppades på tre saker när han började gymnasiet:
1) En flickvän, eller en tillfällig tjej att ha sex med, åtminstone en gång.
2) En massa nya kompisar med samma intressen som han, det vill säga inte sport.
3) En ny personlighet.

Nu är det bara ett par månader kvar till studenten och Gustav har nästan gett upp hoppet. Men så får klassen en vikarie i engelska, Eva. Hon har glittrande ögon och röda kinder och vet ingenting om den normala Gustav. När Gustav börjar prata med henne glömmer han nästan bort det själv. Och mitt i alltihop bildar han och Elin en pakt. De ska göra något oväntat något som gör dem mindre missnöjda med sig själva och sina förutsägbara liv. Något som gör att de slipper dö av tristess och leda. Det drar ihop sig till en liten chock...

Jag säger: Jag tyckte oväntat mycket om den här. Av någon anledning hade jag förväntat mig en typisk tonårsbok, så jag blev positivt överraskad när jag snabbt insåg att det inte var så.

Jag gillade Gustav riktigt mycket, och undrade ett tag vart alla de fanns när jag gick i skolan; sen insåg jag att jag var ganska så mycket den kvinnliga versionen av Gustav så det hade kanske inte gått för sig.

Gustav har kompisar och är inte alls mobbad, som jag nästan trodde av beskrivningen. Han är blyg och ganska tillbakadragen runt nya människor. Hans mor gick bort i cancer några år innan och hans Amerikanska far flyttade till Sverige för att vara där för dem. Jag gillar hur Lindbäck hanterade deras ömtåliga situation; inte bara för att det är en tonåring och en vuxen, kulturkrock, och sorg, utan också att för att det fanns så många andra känslor som behövde komma fram.

Det var trovärdigt och nästan lite vackert.

Detta gäller även den lilla chocken som Gustav och Elin skulle ställa till med. Det finns ofta en risk att författare överdriver saker, men jag gillar att det var litet nog att funka i verkliga livet, men stort nog att vara omvälvande i deras liv.

Det här är den andra boken jag läser av Lindbäck, och den var välskriven och snabbläst, så jag kommer troligtvis att plocka upp hennes andra verk någon gång i framtiden.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares (4/5)

The back says: Not everyone believes in the existence of ‘the one’, the love of our life that we are destined to find, but Daniel knows it’s real. How could he not?

He has the gift of ‘the memory’, the ability to recall past lives and recognise the reincarnated souls he has known. He has spent centuries meeting and falling in love with the same girl over and over and over again. Life after reincarnated life, generation after generation, he and Lucy have been drawn together – and though he can never tell her, he remembers it all.

But the force that draws Lucy and Daniel together also inevitably draws them painfully, sometimes fatally, apart. Now, he has started trying to stop her from falling in love with him, to protect her from the heartbreak he knows will follow.

I say: I fell in love with this after I read the first sentence; "I have lived more than a thousand years." And it lasted up until the last few chapters, and completely dissolved when I realised this is the first in a planned trilogy.

Of course.

All books are trilogies these days, and I really need to start research prior to reading.


I love the premise of this novel, and I love the way the novel was laid out. However, the writing left a lot to be desired, probably because it's meant to be a YA novel (according to the library, but not Ann Brashares' website). For a story this beautiful I would have wanted a more beautiful prose. Brashares manages it a few times, but mostly it unremarkably hobbles along. The second thing that sort of bothered me was that Lucy's character was never fleshed out properly. She kept going on and on about how she was Lucy and not her previous lives, and yet Brashares didn't bother showing us how she was different.

Or maybe she was just a boring person.

The third thing was the whole 'vendetta' business. I'm thinking that Brashares needed something to keep people interested in her sequels (since a love story can't just be a love story, there has to be some sort of adversary in the picture) and this was it. Well, rather than being interesting I found it annoying and extremely forced.

What I did like about the novel was how Brashares presented the whole aspect of souls and memory. A lot of the things Daniel explained echo some of my own beliefs, and it was nice to read a novel where the writer seems to have thought of almost all of the issues surrounding it. I also liked Daniel and Ben and the way we got to follow Daniel through the most significant episodes of his life. I especially like the way she treated the life he lead before the present one and the way that made him rethink how he had been living so far.

It's such a shame about the ending.

I won't be reading the sequels (I always say that and then wind up doing it anyway) because I'm not interested in anything else that may happen to these people. What I wanted was a nice love story with a twist, and I almost got that. As far as I'm concerned the story ended the way it did - miserably and ridiculously so, and that's that.

I want to give this a 3/5 because of the ending, but at the same time everything apart from that (and the writing) would be a 5, so I'm compromising it into a 4.

Spoiler question and the reason why I'm so disappointed after the jump…

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: Book Two

The men have gone to war and Tolstoy spends a great deal of time and detail on the battles. We’re introduced to a lot of new characters, and I’m honestly not sure of how much attention to pay them. Because I don’t have a map at hand, I’m finding the detailed information of the battlefields a tad confusing. Napoleon has made an appearance (well, he’s been spoken of and sent a letter), Rostov is hurt and seemingly abandoned and all the others are still alive and fighting (more or less).
Since I’ve studied was, I’m finding this very interesting (although there are a few irrelevancies going on, mostly random people’s conversations that have nothing to do with anything), there have been a few witticisms and I'm quite eager to see what will happen next, so I carry on.
I’ve currently read 16.8% of the entire book - yes, I do calculate these things.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Mmm... Monday: Kobayashi Issa, Part the First

Today has been the day from hell. So I’m going to let Kobayashi Issa haiku it, put on a DVD and hope to wake to a better tomorrow.

“Never forget:
we walk on hell,
gazing at flowers.”

Except I got a scratch on the right lens of my glasses today, so I can’t even see the flowers. Sad face.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Quote of the Week

"We are too civil to books. For a few golden sentences we will turn over and actually read a volume of four or five hundred pages."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan (3.5/5)

The back says: There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister’s face when she and Elias left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the horde as they found their way to the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.

Annah’s world stopped that day and she’s been waiting for him to come home ever since. Without him, her life doesn’t feel much different from that of the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Then she meets Catcher and everything feels alive again.

Except, Catcher has his own secrets – dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah’s longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it’s up to Annah – can she continue to live in a world drenched in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return’s destruction?

I say: This is the third and final part of this dystopian trilogy and, quite frankly, it couldn't have come soon enough. I've already spoken about Ryan's writing previously, so it seems a tad redundant to repeat myself. However, and very thankfully,

this was the most exciting of the three.

We're in the
Dark City now, where all the action seems to be. However, sometimes there was so much action it was exhausting. There was one instance at the end where I seriously thought 'just die already so this can end'. It feels like Ryan was stretching it way too far (as she's done previously) and that bothered me.

A lot.
We're introduced to a new person, Annah, Gabry's twin sister and this girl is just so stupid. I really don't like calling characters (or people in general - objects are fine) stupid, but there really is no other word. She's not naive - she can't be - because she's been in the Dark City most of her life, and yet she's constantly making stupid decision after stupid decision. I can't even begin to recall how many times she almost died as a result of her stupidity.

Ooops, was that a spoiler?
At this point, does anybody even care...?

If you don't (or do) more spoilers after the jump.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: Book One

Third time lucky, I hope, since this is the third time I’m starting to read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. The problem I’ve had the two previous times is that I have a Wordsworth Ed. Now, I love these editions because they are cheap as chips, but the writing is so damn small it becomes extremely tedious after a while. Also, it’s so thick I can’t read it lying down – my favourite position. So, what I have done now is downloaded the same edition so that I can read it on the computer at work (because I hardly have anything to do these days anyway).

Because this thing is 946 pages (imagine how small the writing is) I’ve figured that a jillion things are going to happen, so I’m going to do little write ups after each ‘book’ – there are 15 in total (devided into three volumes), and an epilogue in two parts - just to keep track of everything.

Book One:
We’re introduced to a lot of people and I think I’ve got a somewhat clear understanding of who the majority of them are and how they relate to each other (there’s a nice little family tree type thingy in this book should I forget or get confused). There have been two dinner parties, Count Bezúkov has died and left his illegitimate son Pierre his fortune (legitimising him after his death), his daughters a little something and Prince Vasíli nothing. Men are going off to war and there are various little happenings that I really can’t even begin to type up, so I’ll return to them if they become relevant in the future.

I’ve laughed out loud twice, so far, which I found, for some reason, a tad unexpected, but since I like Tolstoy’s writing, it's coming along swimmingly.

For now, I’m only reading at work, so I have no idea how long it’ll take me to finish it. The men are going to war and I think it’s somewhere around here that I have quit previously. We’ll see how far I make it this time.

I’ve currently read 8.9% of the entire book – yes, I do calculate these things.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (4/5)

The back says: Inside its glass dome, the One State is a place of mathematical precision, a community where everything is everyone’s and integrity, clarity and unerring loyalty reign over all. D-503, Constructor f the Integral, is an honest number, ashamed of the hairy hands that link him to a barbaric ancestry. It is this forbidden legacy that torments him by making him lust, that allows him to imagine, that has given him a soul. Consumed by his sickness and obsessed with the seductive and mysterious I-330, D-503 is led by his new lover outside the Wall, where he colludes in a plot to overthrow the Benefactor. As the Benefactor retaliates by ordering a state-administered Operation to return order to the perfect world, D-503 finds himself fighting for the primitive and natural state of chaos – and rebelling against all that he once held true.

I say: I only heard about this a few months ago and since I've developed a distinct love for dystopian literature lately, I was excited to read what is said to be the very first in the genre. Somehow it left me a tad disappointed, and I think that's because I wanted to love it from the get go –

which I didn't.

The first thing was the writing. Now, I get that D-503 is a mathematician and isn't used to writing and that was very well conveyed, but it was still hard for me to read. However, on the flip side of this, there were instances where his words were downright beautiful, and even poetic in a sense - and that, I loved. So it was a bit of a struggle some of the time and an absolute joy at others.

The plot in itself was good, but it is here that my problem arises: because I read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley before We (both were hugely influenced by it), I was reluctantly comparing them to this. Since both the other works are written in a manner that is more appealing to me, with a quite defined plot (if I may), I was slightly 'twitchy' when reading this. This whole business with I-330 leaving him her pink slips and him not knowing what was going on, but silently accepting, then rushing off to the tunnels, and then what lay beyond the wall.

It just didn't resonate with me at all.

I did, however, love the ending.

Absolute perfection.

On a philosophical level, this is a masterpiece - no doubt about it. The reason I love dystopian novels is because they make me think, and the issues encountered in We will keep my mind occupied for a few. Somehow I wish that I had read this before the others in the genre because I feel like I would have appreciated it more, but alas, I was not that insightful. It's like falling in love with the cover version of a song and only afterwards hearing to the original.

So yeah, I want to give this a full 5/5 but I'm having to dwindle it down to a 4 because of the above mentioned. I'm really looking forward to reading this again, though, because I have a sneaky feeling it'll be better the second time around.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (4/5)

The back says: Audrey Niffenegger’s spectacularly compelling second novel opens with a letter that alters the fate of every character. Julia and Valentina Poole are semi-normal American twenty-year-olds with seemingly little interest in college or finding jobs. Their attachment to one another is intense. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. From a London solicitor, the enclosed letter informs Valentina and Julia that their English aunt Elspeth Noblin, whom they never knew, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions to this inheritance: that they live in it for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the estranged Elspeth and Edie, their mother.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders the vast and ornate Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Radclyffe Hall, Stella Gibbons and Karl Marx are buried. Julie and Valentina come to know the living residents of their building. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword-puzzle setter suffering from crippling obsessive compulsive disorder; Marijke, martins devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbours, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including – perhaps – their aunt.

I say: I picked this up because I loved The Time Traveller’s Wife, also by Niffenegger, because I wasn't too interested in the story. Maybe that’s the reason it took me a while to get into the novel. The narrative kept switching between the twins, Robert, Martin and Marijke and I understood that the reason we were following them all was because they all lived in the same house and their lives intertwined, but in the beginning it all felt a bit forced, to be honest.

Or perhaps I should say that it took a while to get all the introductions done.

Up until the twins moved into the house it was a tad mundane, but then came the twist – that I was waiting for, because I refused to believe that the person who wrote The Time Traveller’s Wife would just settle for a novel about a house. I’m not going to reveal the twist – if it’s even a twist (maybe it’s just in my head) – but I’m really appreciative of the way Niffenegger handled it because it could easily have turned the entire book into a farce. It was delicately handled in the beginning and even quite beautiful at times, but as the story progressed it became more and more sinister.

In the most disturbing of ways.

I sort of saw the beginning of the end coming but didn’t want to believe it, so when it did happen I was so disappointed. Not in the book, mind you, but in the characters. However, Niffenegger tied it all up nice and neatly (more or less) with a nice dose of poetic justice.

What I didn’t like about this novel was probably the twins and Robert; I just couldn’t get my head around either one of them. They simply didn’t seem believable to me – well maybe Valentina at times – so that was a huge hindrance. On the other hand, I do like Niffenegger’s writing, which boarders on poetic at times, and I simply adored Martin. I was also really intrigued by the information about Highgate Cemetery – Niffenegger is a visual artist and guide there, so that’s probably why she managed to create such an intimate atmosphere around it (aside: I love cemeteries and visit them every now and then to look at headstones and such).

Monday, 8 August 2011

Mmm... Monday: Sylvia Plath, Part the Second

I’m feeling some sort of way today and so I thought it’d be quite soothing to read some poetry. However, being that it is Sylvia’s name day today, I thought I’d read some Plath poetry.

Not a good move.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Sylvia, but her poetry was not meant for days like this. Instead of pulling me out of this funk, she’s making me think about life (which is the last thing I want to do right now). Nevertheless, I’ve settled for this poem for today.


My thoughts are crabbed and sallow,
My tears like vinegar,
Or the bitter blinking yellow
Of an acetic star.

Tonight the caustic wind, love,
Gossips late and soon,
And I wear the wry-faced pucker of
The sour lemon moon.

While like an early summer plum,
Puny, green, and tart,
Droops upon its wizened stem
My lean, unripened heart.

It’s all quite self-explanatory.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes #1) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (4/5)

The back says: In 1887, a young Arthur Conan Doyle published A Study in Scarlet, thus creating an international icon in the quick-witted sleuth Sherlock Holmes. In this, the first Holmes mystery, the detective introduces himself to Dr. John H. Watson with the puzzling line "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive." And so begins Watson's, and the world's, fascination with this enigmatic character. Doyle presents two equally perplexing mysteries for Holmes to solve: one a murder that takes place in the shadowy outskirts of London, in a locked room where the haunting word Rache is written upon the wall, the other a kidnapping set in the American West. Quickly picking up the "scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life," Holmes does not fail at finding the truth - and making literary history.

I say: I remember loving Sherlock Holmes as a child, but yonks later I hardly remember anything about him apart from what little is prevalent in popular culture. Therefore it was a sheer delight to fall in love with him again.

Because fall in love I most definitely did.

I like Doyle’s writing; it’s very straightforward and with those typical British witticisms that I love. Somehow I’ve had this picture of Dr. Watson as somewhat silly, but that may have been my mind playing tricks on me – he was none of the sort, in fact, quite far from it. He came across as your typical Brit, and I liked him.

Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand, is absolute perfection.

I loved everything about him; his self-assurance, his arrogance, the slightly belittling way he treated the other detectives – and even Dr. Watson. The novel was loaded with great quotes (as well as references to literature – which is always a huge plus with me).

I don’t usually (or actually, ever) read detective or mystery novels, so this was a stretch for me. To be honest, I didn’t even bother trying to figure out who the murderer was and why because this isn’t Murder, She Wrote where even I can figure it out within five minutes. So colour me confused when we got to the second part of the mystery that took us to the American West.


Doyle tied it together in an impressive and quite impossible way. Maybe people who are used to these types of stories wouldn’t have been as impressed, but as a novice I thoroughly enjoyed it. More than anything though, it was Doyle’s writing and the way he treated the relationship between Dr. Watson and Holmes. So I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the books, if only to get to know more about Holmes.

Quote of the Week

"Books are delightful society. If you go into a room and find it full of books - even without taking them from the shelves they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome." 

- William Ewart Gladstone

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Epic Fail

I’m supposed to be on a book buying ban this month. I say ‘supposed’ because I just broke it.

Six days in.

This has got to be some sort of record – even for me.

It all started with me going off to the thrift store to drop off 25 pairs of shoes that I haven’t worn in years (shoes and books are my posion). The plan was to drop em off and leave. (Un)fortunately I popped round the book shelves. Now, because I live in Sweden the majority of books are in Swedish and it’s rare to find books in English that aren’t Joan Collins or About A Boy by Nick Hornby (I swear, every used book store in my city has at least 2 copies of that book). I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, which is a part of my 100 Classics Challenge, so I thought I might as well buy it...

and six more books.

I was trying to justify this slip by the fact that 5 of the books were brand new, so it was a bargain, but I need no justifications.

I need self-control.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1/5)

The back says (actually, I borrowed this from the library and as it was a cloth covered edition, so I got the synopsis from The narrator is a young governess, sent off to a country house to take charge of two orphaned children. She finds a pleasant house and a comfortable housekeeper, while the children are beautiful and charming. But she soon begins to feel the presence of intense evil.

I say: This was painful to read. Just plain painful. It was so boring that this was actually my second attempt. I got as far as 10 pages a few months ago and just put it aside –

I should have left it there.

The writing was pretentious, for lack of a better word, the story uninspiring and the characters a damn nuisance. The whole thing takes itself too seriously for my liking; it’s as if Henry James is doing everything in his power to convince us that this is a scary story and that there might be some evil lurking about. However, I was so blinded and bored by the hyperbole I often forgot what the hell I was supposed to be reading about.

So. Much. Agony.

I was seriously counting down the pages during the entire read, and if it wasn’t for it being on my 100 Classics Challenge I wouldn’t have gotten further than the initial 10 pages.

Now, I know that this is considered to be one of the greatest ghost stories ever (or something to that effect) and that James wanted the reader to wonder whether or not there was evil about, or if the governess was mad, and what the deal was with the seemingly angelic kids. I honestly couldn’t care less. I just wanted it to end, and when it did it was with a giant WTF!?


That ending…

Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I can’t believe I cared enough to even go ‘huh?’


This is the worst thing I’ve read all year, and easily makes it into my worst reads ever in life.