Sunday, 21 December 2014

Weekly Overview

This hasn't been an amazing week, blog-wise. I only managed to get a few posts up, two of which were admittedly reviews though, which is pretty good. But then I did go and see The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies thrice, which is always a sign of success, and I managed to catch the train down to London to get ready for the Israel trip. So while the personal life is largely good, the blog suffered a tiny bit.


So, that was my week. I'm heading off to Germany on Tuesday but will be on a blogging hiatus from Thursday when I take of to Tel Aviv early in the morning! 

How was your Week? Do you have an overview post? Leave a link in the comments!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Review: '100 Skills for the End of the World as we Know It' by Ana Maria Spagna

I requested this book because I really think I need to work on my skills before the end of the world! Thankfully 100 Skills is a great way to make you into a a regular Robinson Crusoe!
What skills will you need after a global catastrophe? Whether it’s the end of oil, an environmental disaster, or something entirely unforeseen, Ana Maria Spagna outlines 100 skills you’ll find indispensable for life after the apocalypse. Once the dust has settled, you’ll need to know how to barter, perform basic first aid, preserve food, cut your own hair, clean a chimney, navigate by the stars, stitch a wound, darn socks, and sharpen blades. You’ll also want to build a stable and safe community, so you’ll need to master the arts of conversation, child raising, listening, music making, and storytelling. This fascinating and entertaining book, full of quirky illustrations by artist Brian Cronin, will provoke surprise, debate, and laughter while it provides a road map to greater self-reliance and joy, whatever the future brings.
This book is  very accessible and readable. Manuals about anything can be very dreary and long at times. Just page upon page of advice, half of which isn't useful or relevant and lacking any kind of order. Thankfully 100 Skills suffers from none of those problems. Spagna clearly spent a lot of thought on which skills to include and how to describe them. How much can be said about daydreaming or about lumbering without becoming repetitive and too didactic? By keeping her descriptions and examples short and too the point, with the occasional joke thrown into the mix, Spagna makes sure that the skills are both interesting and fun.

Spagna writes very clearly and precisely. On the one hand she has to actually describe the skills and on the other hand she has to keep the reader slightly engaged. What I think she decided to go for was to create the kind of book that you can flick through, open up on random pages and have a short read, rather than a book which is read continuously. Reading about one skill after the other might get tiresome eventually, whereas 100 Skills works best when it is occasionally picked up. Brian Cronin's drawings are great and offer some humorous asides to the different skills. They are very colourful as well, which kindly distracts you from the fact you're preparing for the end of the world.

To a certain extent I had hoped for a bit more humour in this book. When I requested it I thought it might be a crack book, in the sense that it would recommend hoarding on spam because that's exactly what you want to eat during the apocalypse. Instead, I accidentally learned something while reading through this book! It was fascinating to see how many options humanity has to provide for themselves if we could not rely on electricity etc. The wide variety of skills upon which our society relies is quite astounding, especially when it comes to provision of food etc. Although I won't spontaneously start keeping bees or become a blacksmith, 100 Skills has definitely made me very aware of how many processes go into maintaining the life most of us lead at the moment.

I give this book...

3 Universes.

I really enjoyed flicking through this book and teaching myself about the different skills needed to survive the world. Unfortunately there isn't a lot to keep the reader completely fascinated for the whole book, but as a coffee table book 100 Skills is definitely recommendable. Cronin's drawings go beautifully with Spagna's writing, creating something that's not only interesting but also beautiful to look at.

Friday Memes and 'In the Beginning was the Sea'

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowIt's Friday and it's my last Friday in England! Well, at least for 2014. I can't wait to take off on Tuesday, first to Germany and then to Israel. This will be one of the more exciting Christmasses (surely this is not a word?) of my life, I believe. Let's get onto some memes, for the last time this year.

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question was suggested by Take Me Away...:

Do you have a go to genre when you're happy, sad, or angry?

As such, I don't. I have go to genres in general, i.e. I tend to make a grab for Classics or Fantasy whenever I want to read something. However, when I am sad or upset I definitely go for fantasy because I want to go to a completely different world and forget about everything else. When I'm very relaxed I like to dip into the occasional romantic/chic-lit book so as not to put too much pressure on my brain and just have a fun time.
Book Blogger Hop
Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question came from Samantha over at Bakey's Book Blog.

Do you write a review for every book you read or only review copies from publishers?

I try to mix reviews for Netgalley/publisher books with my "own" books. Since I tend to request or accept similar kinds of books my blog would be filled with just one type of review if I didn't try to mix it all up a  bit. A really good help is the Classics Club  for which I made a list of a 100 classics I want to read, which means that occasionally I read/review one of those. And sometimes, like this week, I review a book I was recommended by another blogger (Tracy at Cornerfolds), Splintered, or gifted by my dad, The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman.

Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively. This week I'm using a book I was just accepted for on Netgalley: In the Beginning was the Sea by Tomás González. I absolutely love the cover!
The young intellectuals J. and Elena leave behind their comfortable lives, the parties and the money in Medellín to settle down on a remote island. Their plan is to lead the Good Life, self-sufficient and close to nature. But from the very start, each day brings small defeats and imperceptible dramas, which gradually turn paradise into hell, as their surroundings inexorably claim back every inch of the 'civilisation' they brought with them. Based on a true story, In the Beginning Was the Sea is a dramatic and searingly ironic account of the disastrous encounter of intellectual struggle with reality - a satire of hippyism, ecological fantasies, and of the very idea that man can control fate.
'The luggage was transported on the roof of the bus. Two leather suitcases containing their clothes,a  trunk containing his books, and her sewing machine. Their belongings were surrounded by bynches of plantains, sacks of rice, blocks of unrefined sugar cane wrapped in dried banana leaves, and other suitcases.Elena and J were heading for the sea.' p.7 (beginning of first chapter)
I really liked the last sentence so I decided it had to be part of the BB. I really like the description, it's both so detailed and yet quite atmospheric.

'That night Gilberto and Elena had their first serious argument. J. knew it had something to do with the counter, but never quite understood how it had started.' p.56
Isn't that always what happens when you have an argument, that halfway through the actual reason you're fighting has disappeared?

So, those were my memes and teasers! Do you have a go to genre and do you mix between 'for review' and 'casual' books? And what do you think of In the Beginning was the Sea?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Harry Potter Moment of the Week - Minerva McGonagall

Term is over, Christmas is nigh and I have a mighty need for Harry Potter! Now that I'm at home and I have a TV and DVD player at hand I feel like a HP movie night is in order, especially since I need to recover from the trauma that is and was The Battle of Five Armies. I have not recovered from my two screenings so far and I don't know when I will, to be honest. But another post about that later. Harry Potter Moment of the Week is hosted by Leah over at Uncorked Thoughts. This week's question is:

Best Minerva McGonagall line?

How do you choose just one? There are so many amazing moment from this absolutely amazing character! I'm going to resort to listing, since there is no way I am going to put just one line down. McGonagall is one of my favourite HP characters because J.K. wrote her perfectly. She is clearly an authority figure and, unlike Dumbledore, she wasn't a complete Harry-fangirl, but, again unlike Dumbledore, I always thought she would sacrifice everything to keep those safe she loves. Ok, I'm going to try not to get emotional over McGonagall while you enjoy the following lines:

  • 'We'll leave you to deal with the monster, Gilderoy. Your skills, after all, are legend.' - Chamber of Secrets (I think she knew all along.)
  • 'They are supposed to be out of bed, you blithering idiot.' - Deathly Hallows
  • 'I will not have you, in the course of a simple evening, besmirching that name by behaving like a babbling, bumbling band of baboons.' - Goblet of Fire
  • 'I've always wanted to use that spell!' - Deathly Hallows
  • 'BOOM!' - Deathly Hallows

Round of gratuitous applause for the genius that is McGonagall and the beauty that is Maggie Smith's performance.

What is your favourite McGonagall line? Did you also fail and make a list instead?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Review: 'Splintered' by A.G. Howard

Splintered (Splintered, #1)This book I one I spotted over on Cornerfolds and Tracy was really enthusiastic about it which really made me want to read it! And I am so glad I took the indirect recommendation because Splintered was a great read.
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
Adaptations can be tricky. They can be hit and severe miss and often it depends on whether the author manages to reinvent or add to the story. Stories such as Alice in Wonderland are the kind of stories which facts are known: she falls through a hole, there is a rabbit and bandersnatches. I myself have, as of yet, not read any of Lewis Caroll's Alice books so I only had a very rudimentary understanding of the story. Howard, however, managed to shift everything I knew about it and make it into something completely new. Splintered uses Lewis Caroll's books as a starting point and then writes a story that feels completely original. Howard clearly put a lot of thought into working out her own Wonderland and it really shows in  her descriptions of the world her characters live in. The descriptions are some of the strongest parts of the book for exactly that reason. Howard's Wonderland is genuinely different from any world I have read recently and are beautifully dark and Gothic.

There is a great grungy and gothic feel to the book. Although at times it feels like Howard overdoes
it a bit with presenting her main character as "edgy". Alyssa is, in some ways, your typical teenager. She is balancing her social life with personal issues and manages to fall into some typical YA traps such as self-esteem issues, love triangles and worried parents. On the one hand this alls truck me as very typical, but on the other hand Howard added in little snippets which made Splintered still really fun to read. At times I wanted a bit more "power" out of Alyssa, but on the other hand I felt that most of her actions are quite well-explained. I loved how active her role was in getting herself out of the situation she found herself in, despite having people around constantly trying to save her. The other "normal world" characters apart from Jeb are almost non-existent which is understandable considering most of this book is set in Wonderland. Perhaps Howard was almost too indulgent with her characters in the sense that it's all so pretty that we almost forget to look at everything else. Overall there was nothing that I thought was ridiculous and there are definitely well-used tropes that Howard writes better than a lot of other authors.

A first book in a series always has to struggle with setting up characters and plot lines for the sequels. With Splintered I didn't have the feeling that Howard was only stringing the reader along until she hit a cliff-hanger. The use of the supernatural in this book is also something I really enjoyed. Although there is an element of discovery to it there is no unnecessary drama around it. There are some great dynamics in the book, between different characters and between different ideas. Splintered makes you want to disappear off to Wonderland, not because it's pretty but because it's so exciting! There's something quite riveting about the world Howard creates and it's amazing that she managed to come up with something so different from the source material I am hoping more of her Wonderland will be worked out in the next book, Unhinged. Guessing by the title, I see bad things in Alyssa's future. I can't wait to read it.

I give this book...

3 Universes.

I really enjoyed Splintered, although I'm withholding my final judgement until I've gotten to the next book. I really want to see how the different arcs develop that Howard set up in this book and I hope that it continues to be so inventive. I would definitely recommend this to readers of YA and those who like adaptations in general.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Friday Memes and a Lonely Postman

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowIt's the end of the Autumn Term and I am sincerely worried about how fast time is moving. I will be sending my own children off to university soon if time keeps accelerating this way! But I am looking forward to having some time off so I can focus on my essays without lectures interrupting me. But onto some memes!

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question was suggested by Liberamans:

Do you have a favourite place to read?

Good question! One of my favourite places to read is in bed! There's nothing better than curling up in bed with a book and not having to move to go to sleep. Last year I didn't have a bedside light so I couldn't actually read in bed without having to move eventually. Now I could just not move between waking up and going to sleep and enjoy my books. If I'm not at home I prefer to read in cafes. Having a cup of coffee or a cup of tea while you're reading is great and I really enjoy taking a break from reading once in a while and do some people-watching. It has actually happened once or twice that something that happened around me mirrored something that happened in the book I was reading, which made me feel like I was in 'Inception'.

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question was suggested by Emily over at Follow the Yellow Book Road:

How many books do you read in a week? How many hours do you spend reading a day?

This is actually quite a difficult question because it really depends on my kind of week. I'm not going to include reading I do for university, so no papers or novels for modules, and if I cut those out there's actually not that much time left. I have days where I read a lot because I decide to fill the gap between lectures not with work but with pleasure and then I might even read a whole book in a day. On average I'd say I leisure-read for about two hours a day and in a good week I can finish two or maybe three books. But all of that work is undone if I am stressed and then nothing will get read for two whole weeks!

For Book Beginnings and Friday 56, hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice respectively, I am using The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault which I reviewed on Wednesday. I really enjoyed this book, which my dad gave me last Friday. It's such a nice thing when parents get presents right!

'Swirling like wateragainst rugged rocks,time goes around and around.
Beech Street, rue des Hêtres, was for the most part lines with maples. Glancing down the road, one saw a double row of four-or five-storey apartment buildings, with outside staircases providing access to the upper floors.' p.1
Thériault combines both prose and haiku in this book and it works together beautifully! What I also really like about the beginning is the attention to the streets, since the main character is a postman it is logical that this is something he'd pay attention to but it's remarkable to notice how many authors seem to forget about what their characters would find interesting.

'The basic cause of the miracle wasn't particularly important to him, as long as it worked and he could keep writing to Ségolène, as long as he could dream about her playing the flute on the bank of the lazy river, charming snakes as in that painting by Henri Rousseau, then dozing on a bed of greenery while wildflowers wrapped her in live petals and forest animals mounted a jealous guard by her side.' p.56
I love the continuity of the prose, if that makes sense. Thériault just keeps going with the imagery, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the character's imagination. Also, I think the nature imagery is quite interesting, how the woman is related to plants and wild life in this character's mind. Sorry, that was the English student in me coming through.

So, this was my meme-post! It's been a long week, yet it's a shame it's over! So, where do you prefer to read? And how much do you think you read a week?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Review: 'The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman' by Denis Thériault, Liedewy Hawke

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely PostmanI was given this novel by my father on Friday for our Sinterklaas celebration and I thought it looked simply gorgeous. I mean, that cover alone deserves some reflection. And then I found myself on a train journey back and this book simply felt perfect.
Bilodo lives a solitary daily life, routinely completing his postal rounds every day and returning to his empty Montreal apartment. But he has found a way to break the cycle—Bilodo has taken to stealing people's mail, steaming open the envelopes, and reading the letters inside. 
And so it is he comes across Ségolène's letters. She is corresponding with Gaston, a master poet, and their letters are each composed of only three lines. They are writing each other haikus. The simplicity and elegance of their poems move Bilado and he begins to fall in love with her. 
But when tragedy strikes unexpectedly one day, Bilodo is faced with the prospect of being deprives of the one fulfilling part of his life. Confronted with the awful possibility of losing his beloved's poetry for ever, to what lengths will he go to protect his obsession?
Thériault's haunting writing vividly conjures up the reality of one man's life and fate, with all its tragic, comic and beautiful moments.
I really enjoyed the narration, which remains completely with Bilodo throughout the novel. I have read a lot of books recently which switch narrators and although this is a nice way of allowing the reader an insight into all the different characters, it also means that none of the characters become your guiding point, if that makes sense. Bilodo is there for the reader to cling onto in a slightly fantastical tale and the reader cannot help but become deeply attached to him. However, Thériault also makes sure that the reader manages to keep enough distance so that they can take in the whole story. Bilodo is not always shown from his best side, which makes him a very human character, and also the characters around him are both "good" and "bad" at different times.

What I absolutely adored about this book was the way Thériault manages to combine prose and haikus into a style that seems coherent and wholly his. The prose allows him to set up his characters and the plot, while the haikus get deeper into the emotions and themes of the novel. I have never read a lot of haikus and they have mainly been something I have had to study in school. The Peculiar Life is the first time I have genuinely enjoyed reading them and 'got' them. They really add to the story and are truly beautiful. It was also great to learn more about this kind of poetry, what the thought behind it is and what its form means! It means that after finishing the novel you haven't only read a fascinating story but also know more.

There is something magical about a book which completely takes you away for some time and brings you to an ending which is both perfect and leaves you wondering. There are a lot of things about The Peculiar Life which will leave you questioning a lot of things, in the right way. What about all these other characters or the world Bidolo lives in? I think it's a sign of a great novel when the reader becomes so immersed that all he wants to do is know more and not stop reading. Thériault pulls the reader in with just enough information and by immersing the haikus into the narrative there is something very elusive about the narrative. Props have to be given to Liedewy Hawke for an amazing translation. Not only does she manage to translate the French into English but also the haikus are stunning, which in itself already originate from a different language.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

Thériault's writing is captivating and his mixing between prose and haiku makes reading The Peculiar Life of A Lonely Postman quite a singular experience. Not only is the plot interesting but it will also keep you on the edge of your seat. I don't think there is a specific person for who I'd recommend this since it seems to stretch across a lot of genres There is some romance, some mystery and a lot more. I am very happy that my father gave me this book and I would love for someone else to experience it!