Friday, 28 August 2015

Friday Memes and a Haunting

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow
It's Friday and it's almost the end of August. Why does time seem to go so fast? There is seriously no need for September to already be happening! Before I start procrastinating about the idea of time, let's get our meme on! Feature and Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee and this week's question was suggested by Journey Through Fiction:

Share a random quote from the book you are currently reading!

I'm reading Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities on the down-low next to everything else so I thought it might be fun to share a quote from his book.

'If you choose to believe me, good. Now I will tell how Ovctavia, the spider-web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm's bed.' p.67
I love the description of the city suspended above a void.

The Haunting of Hill House Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice respectively. This week I'm using The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which I saw recently. I love Shirley Jackson so I thought it might be fun to share!

The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre
First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
'No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.' p.1
Well, that is one hell of a beginning! Not only is the first opening line very suggestive of something going very wrong, the hint in 'whatever walked there' makes me think that there is something that will go very wrong.

'She shivered and sat up in bed to reach for the quilt at the foot. Then, half amused and half cold, she slipped out of bed and went, barefoot and silent, across the room to turn the key in the lock of the door; they won't know I locked it, she thought, and went hastily back to bed.' p.56
I wonder why she's amused! She is in a cold house, where she has to lock the door so 'they' can't get in! Who are they? It looks like within 56 pages quite a lot will happen.

So, that's me done for Friday! Does The Haunting of Hill House sound like your kind of book?

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through: Chapters 1-10

My struggles with Les Misérables are very well-known to my friends, especially those who had to sit next to me while we watched the film adaptation of the musical. After seeing the film again last weekend I decided that something of the book's magic had to have been lost in the transition from book to musical, from French to English, and then from musical to film. So the time had come for me to dig into the novel myself and form a proper, informed, opinion. And since it's such a whopper of a novel I thought it would be fun to do a read-through. This is my first ever attempt at a read-through so hang in there as I find myself in it. I will read ten chapters a week and, every Thursday, write a post about them! I'd love it if anyone else wanted to join in or just comment along the way! Les Misérables is also one of my 100 Classics list which I put together for The Classics Club.

Plot Summary:
In the first chapter we're directly introduced to Bishop M. Myriel. Victor Hugo makes it really easy for the reader to like this guy since he seems to be utterly amazing at being a bishop. Kind, generous and calm, Myriel just seems to take everything in his stride, be it a nonsensical Senator or highway robbers. It is rather difficult to write a character that is truly good because it comes off as a caricature very quickly. Rather than try to convince us of Myriel's goodness himself, Hugo "shows" us by closely detailing his actions, budget, etc. It also helps that Myriel has a sense of humour which shines through every once in a while.

A surprising amount of things happen in these ten chapters without anything actually happening at all. Next to M. Myriel we're introduced to his sister and housekeeper, get to explore some religious philosophy with the previously mentioned Senator and find ourselves in the company of a member of Convention. What these chapters do successfully, though, is show the importance of kindness and charity, while also setting up the idea that sometimes people are forced to do terrible things out of necessity.

Feel of the Chapters:
So far the tone and feel of Les Misérables has been extremely relaxed. When you've only seen the film you expect the whole book to be one long, miserable journey up the mountain of tragedy and sadness. But in the first ten chapters this book has practically been a stroll through sunshine valley. On the one hand this is great because it has made the reading so far quite fun. The chapters are short and sweet, more like diary entries than complete chapters. On the other hand I am now worried for what's to come. If it's this good now, without any of the actual main characters having been introduced yet, then surely all the misery is still waiting for me and will come like one blow after the other.

General Thoughts:

  • I was not expecting to like reading Victor Hugo's writing style this much. Although it is quite dense, using a lot of words and preferring long sentences, it is very readable, even enjoyable. Hugo will tell you a lot, in a short space of time, but it is all relevant. 
  • Victor Hugo also has a very strong authorial voice. He will pop in to the narrative whenever he pleases and make a comment, either about the characters or where the plot seems to be going. He'll tell you what is relevant, what is only an anecdote, etc. and infuses the whole with a sense of humour as well. 
  • The character I have enjoyed the most is the member of Convention. For some reason I wasn't expecting Victor Hugo to be so sympathetic towards the Revolution or be such an advocate for the opposing parties to putting their differences aside and working together towards the greater good. I loved the debate between the Conventionist and Myriel, it was probably my favourite part of the ten chapters.
  • One final thing, why hasn't the actual plot started yet? Although I'm enjoying the relatively light tone of the story so far I do want to meet the actual main characters soon. Since I have already seen the film and therefore now the basic plot there are a lot of details and extra plot lines I know nothing about but which I really want to get to.

Something Interesting:
The French Revolution is one of my favourite periods in history because there's so much happening in those years. The upheaval of a whole society is fascinating and I was hoping that Les Misérables would teach me something new about it. What popped out to me in these chapters was the Convention and the year 1793, which was the year in which the Terror started. Marie-Antoinette was executed in this year and during the whole Reign of Terror, which lasted until mid 1794, more than 16,000 people were executed by guillotine and another 25,000 by summary execution. That's something to lift the spirit, no?

Favourite Quotes:
'Err, fall, sin if you will, but be upright.' Ch.4
This sounds like a motto to live by. You're bound to make mistakes in your life but as long as you make your choices consciously and in the moment you don't have to regret them.
'We have caused the fall of the old world, and the old world, that vase of miseries, has become, through its upsetting upon the human race, an urn of joy.' Ch.10
I just love the beauty and tragedy of this quote. It's from the member of Convention, of course, but not only do I love some of the expressions in it such as 'vase of miseries' and 'urn of joy', but the whole idea of Revolution and toppling the old world gets me excited!

So, overall, I found myself really enjoying the first few chapters of Les Misérables. I did have to take a moment to accept this truth because I had sort of been waiting for Hugo to confirm my suspicions and have written a dreadful book.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Miserable Intros and Teaser

Les MisérablesHave you ever done your best to not read a book? Disliked the movie adaptations of it and been vocal about that? Well, I have a number of books like that which I am determined not to read because what I know of them makes me slightly miserable. One of these books was Victor Hugo's famous Les Misérables. Everything I'd heard of it suggested that it was indeed rather miserable and I found the recent movie adaptation to be rather over-the-top. I only really care for the barricade and for Javert and until this weekend that didn't seem enough to pull me in. But Channel 4 seemed to have other things in mind for me when it showed Les Misérables on Sunday. By the end of the night I was thinking about how much more there has to be to the story than the film and musical show. So I decided it was time for me to get over myself and actually dig into this book. Long story short, I am using Victor Hugo's Les Misérables today in the hope to get myself more geared up to actually start it.

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean - the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. In Les Misérables Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them onto the barricades during the uprising of 1832. 
Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait which resulted is larger than life, epic in scope - an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.
Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted over at A Daily Rhythm.

'In 1815, M. Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of D—— He was an old man of about seventy-five years of age; he had occupied the see of D—— since 1806.Although this detail has no connection whatever with the real substance of what we are about to relate, it will not be superfluous, if merely for the sake of exactness in all points, to mention here the various rumors and remarks which had been in circulation about him from the very moment when he arrived in the diocese. True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.' p.1
Although the first paragraph is rather official sounding, I do like the tone of the second paragraph. It's always interesting when the author involves himself with the story so directly and tries to direct the reader towards what is most important. And that last line is simply true! We all care for what others say about us, to the extent we're willing to change what we do.

'The mouse which had been caught was a pitiful specimen; but the cat rejoices even over a lean mouse.' p.264
That sounds like it could come from a proverb! Hint, this is about the Thenardiers. I just thought it was a fun line and if there are more of these in the book I may actually enjoy it!

'Magnon was a sort of fashionable woman in the sphere of crime.' p.1594
As I skipped ahead in search of a good teaser I saw this one and how could I not share it. I wish someone would say this about me.

Have you read Les Misérables? And if you did, did you like it?

Monday, 24 August 2015

Review: 'The Marriage of Opposites' by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman has become one of my favourite authors in the last year or so. Her The Museum of Extraordinary Things was beautiful in its dreamy fantasy, whereas Property Of made my heart race. When I saw Hoffman had a new book coming out I knew I simply had to read it. Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Pub. Date: 04/08/2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro—the Father of Impressionism.
Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.
Building on the triumphs of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, set in a world of almost unimaginable beauty, The Marriage of Opposites showcases the beloved, bestselling Alice Hoffman at the height of her considerable powers. Once forgotten to history, the marriage of Rachel and Frédérick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.
Hoffman's writing is among my favourites. Her descriptions and characterizations always seem imbued with life and genuine affection. In The Marriage of Opposites there is plenty of both descriptions and characters. The novel starts with Rachel, a girl who is becoming a woman and is expected to take her role within her community. Hoffman beautifully describes Rachel's dislike for the rules and regulations that come both from being a woman in the 1800s but also for the way her religion influences her life. At times Rachel isn't the most likeable of characters, almost too headstrong, but at other times Hoffman makes the reader care and feel for her intensely. As such, Hoffman has created a beautiful main character in Rachel, who really carries the story of the whole novel. Although The Marriage of Opposites also switches between the point of views of different characters, it does so very clearly and always with a purpose. If the next part of a story really needs to be told from a different perspective than Hoffman doesn't shy away from doing so.

A real strength of The Marriage of Opposites is the multi-generational aspect of the story. This is a component of much of Hoffman's writing, such as Practical Magic, and always adds to the power of the story. It is interesting to see how events impact a family over a longer period of time, how things that happen to the grand-parents affects what happens to the grandchildren. By allowing stories to take place over years Hoffman is able to let her characters actually live and develop, to change over time and to play a continuous role. It is a much more realistic representation of family life than you get in many novels. What also adds to this is the continuing sense of cultures clashing. Whether it's the Creole culture of Adelle or the Jewish religion of Rachel and her family or the Parisian je ne sais quoi, there is a constant meeting of lifestyles and ways which is very interesting. Hoffman judges none of the cultures in her novel but also doesn't shy away from showing their good and bad sides. There is a beautiful mixing and co-existing of cultures in The Marriage of Opposites, which really lifts this book up.

In The Marriage of Opposites Hoffman tells the tale of the Rachel Pomié, mother to the artist Camille Pissarro, one of the key figures in the Impressionist movement. As such, the novel has the ungratefuly duty of showing the way in which in which this painter may have seen the world. The way Hoffman describes the nature on St. Thomas, the smells of food or the vibrancy of Paris draws the reader straight into her characters' world. The way Hoffman describes the world around her, both by drawing the reader's attention to colours and by the strong theme of stories or narratives that runs through the novel, makes it come to life for the reader. Hoffman's fluid and enthusiastic writing means the novel races past you and is very difficult to put down. 

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed reading The Marriage of Opposites. Technically historical fiction, the novel does really well in sticking to the key facts of Rachel's life while never not allowing the novel's story to develop on its own as well. I'd recommend this novel to fans of Historical Fiction and Women's Fiction.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Weekly Overview

So, I haven't done one of these in a while so in this post I'll cover the last two weeks. It's been a really strange time because two weeks ago I was in France, one week ago I was in Germany and this week I'm in London. I feel like my blogging has really suffered as a consequence of the weirdness of the last two months. I mean, I checked and i only managed to review four or five books a month in June and July... that's not good... Anyways, I'm working on changing that, also because I need to get back into a productive patterns before I start my MA in September!

Ok, enough whining, let's get to the actual post!

So, that's what I put up in the last two weeks. Not terribly impressive but I guess it could have been worse. This post is linking up with the Sunday Post over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Friday Memes and John Muir

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question was suggested by the brilliant Elizabeth over at Silver's Reviews:

When you read a book that isn't for review, do you still feel the need to write a review of it?

It depends on what kind of book it is. If it's a guilty pleasure read that I'm only dipping into because I want to shut off for a while, then usually no. If it's a book such as the one that I am using for the memes below, then I might consider a review because it's sort of linked and also a book that I might want to recommend. Because int he end it all comes down to that. If it's a book I want to recommend to others, I will write a review for it.

The Mountains of CaliforniaToday I'm featuring a book I found in a slightly strange way. I had never heard of it or the author before until I read about it in a different book, A Sudden Light by Garth Stein. The main character was in love with this book and I decided I simply had to read it. That book was The Mountains of California by John Muir.
John Muir’s ebullient spirit and love of nature infuse these accounts of visiting Yosemite Valley, Kings Canyon, sequoia groves, and Mount Whitney. Blending keen observations of flora, geography, and geology, the natural forces that shape the landscape, and the changing seasons, Muir paints a timeless portrait of the wilderness he called “the Range of Light, the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain chains I have ever seen.” Also included are visits to two famous Cascades peaks, Mount Shasta and Mount St. Helens.
Book Beginnings is hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda over at Freda's Voice.

'Go where you may within the bounds of California, mountains are ever in sight, charming and glorifying every landscape. Yet so simple and massive is the topography of the State in general views, that the main central portion displays only one valley, and two chains of mountains which seem almost perfectly regular in trend and height: the Coast Range on the west side,t he Sierra Nevada on the east.' p.1
I do like the tone which Muir strikes, this mix between love and respect for mountains. I'm hoping the book isn't all too technical because there's a reason I dropped Geography before the end of high school.

'In the morning everything is joyous and bright, the delicious purple of the dawn changes softly to daffodil yellow and white; while the sunbeams pouring through the passes between the peaks give a margin of gold to each of them. Then the spires of the firs in the hollows of the middle region catch the glow, and your camp grove is filled with light. The birds begin to stir, seeking sunny branches on the edge oft the meadow for sun-baths after the cold night, and looking for their breakfasts, every one of them as fresh as a lily and as charmingly arrayed. Innumerable insects begin to dance, the deer withdraw from the open glades and ridge-tops to their leafy hiding-places in the chaparral, the flowers open and straighten their petals as the dew vanishes, every pulse beats high, every life-cell rejoices, the very rocks seem to tingle with life, and God is felt brooding over everything great and small.' p.56
I know this was only supposed to be a line or two but how can you cut a description like this short? It's absolutely beautiful and I now know why Garth and his characters loved this book so much. You can just feel Muir's love for California's nature shining through in these passages and, I never thought I'd say this, I'm now slightly desperate to visit California.

So, that's me done for today. Have you ever visited California?

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Intros and Teasers - Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged'

Atlas ShruggedI'm getting ready to buy my copy of Ayn Rand's Ideal and in order to prepare I have decided to finally read Atlas Shrugged. I absolutely loved The Fountainhead but have always been intimidated by the sheer size of Atlas. But it's time and I'm using the lovely Tuesday memes to drag you along with me.

This is the story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world and did. Was he a destroyer or the greatest of liberators?
Why did he have to fight his battle, not against his enemies, but against those who needed him most, and his hardest battle against the woman he loved? What is the world’s motor — and the motive power of every man? You will know the answer to these questions when you discover the reason behind the baffling events that play havoc with the lives of the characters in this story. 
Tremendous in its scope, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life — from the productive genius who becomes a worthless playboy — to the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own destruction — to the philosopher who becomes a pirate — to the composer who gives up his career on the night of his triumph — to the woman who runs a transcontinental railroad — to the lowest track worker in her Terminal tunnels. 
Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

'"Who is John Galt?"The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum's face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still—as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him.' p.1
I love this opening. At this point you have no idea who John Galt is and why he would be relevant. Eddie Willers himself doesn't know either but I really like the description of the 'causeless uneasiness within him'. I think everyone has that feeling every once in a while and I love seeing feelings described accurately.

'An inexplicable kind of distaste, part fastidiousness, part boredom, stopped him whenever he tried to consider it.' p.31
I love how Rand plays with words, analyses feelings and describes them. Her characters aren't always likeable but quite often they are recognizable.

So, that's me. I really love the way that Rand writes, it's very honest. I am quite excited for Atlas Shrugged now, seeing what's coming up soon. Which book are you reading?