Thursday, 30 October 2014

Friday Memes and Zipes' Magic Spell

I can't believe another week has already passed! Although I got some bad news this week, I also managed to get two of my applications out and get a head-start on my assessments, so overall I'd say it was a pretty good week! So, let's focus on some memes! Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question comes from Take Me Away... and is:

What books would you give to newbies in your favourite genre? (Ex. I'm a newbie to high fantasy and EVERYONE said to ease into it with the Throne of Glass series!)

Oh God, I'm a high fantasy fan and I still haven't read the Throne of Glass series! So yes, I'm not the best person to go to for recommendations because there will be a lot of books thrown at you, not all of which are actually in the  genre you requested. Most of my recommendations would be classics because I personally love finding out what the roots of traditions are. So if the genre is Gothic I'd give you Dracula or Frankenstein, whereas if you're looking for Romance I might go for North and South (although I still haven't read that one actually). When it comes to "newer" genres such as Urban Fantasy I might actually give you some Otherworld books, although I myself have only read one!

So yes, please don't ever ask me for specific recommendations because there are so many books.

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. We're still on the Halloween theme because, thank God, October isn't over yet. I'm going to savour this last day of October because for me the start of November means the end of the year. So, this week's question is:

Halloween Edition: You can go trick or treating with any fictional character (book or film). Who would you go with?

I am loving these questions. Last week's was amazing because I loved imagining myself hunting ghouls with my team of female ghost busters. But this one might be even better!! I haven't really ever gone trick or treating, I don't think it's that much of a tradition in the Netherlands. However, the idea of it is great. So, who would I want to go with? There are different criteria here to consider. I mean, it has to be someone who can not complain about the cold, who can appreciate dressing up in terrible costumes, who'll be fun to hang out with all night... I think I'm going to have to go with Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter books. She is absolutely awesome and we'd have a lot of fun!

Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted, respectively, over at Rose City Reader and Freda's Voice. This week I'm using a book which I took out of the library after really enjoying Marina Warner's Once Upon A Time. I am really starting to develop an interest in fairy tales and the scholarly work behind them, so Jack Zipes was naturally the place to go to. So these teasers are from Breaking the Magic Spell.

'One of the more recent books about folk and fairy tales has declared that fairy tales are fantastically 'in'. Everywhere one turns today fairy tales and fairy-tale motifs pop up like magic. Bookshops are flooded with fairy tales by Tolkien, Hesse, the Grimm Brothers, Andersen, C.S. Lewis, and scores of sumptuously illustrated fantasy works.' p.1
The book actually starts with an anecdote about Einstein recommending fairy tales as a way of nurturing your child into a genius. It was a bit too long to share, so I went with what came straight afterwards. He is so right, fairy tales are everywhere!

'The topos of the golden age had a socio-psychological significance for them which was intended both to affirm their radical visions and critiques and to compensate for the voids in their everyday lives.' p.56
I picked this sentence on purpose just to share my pain with you. Academic writing can be impossible to read unless you sit there for 10 minutes reading it out slowly, one word at a time. I bet it makes more sense when you've actually read the chapter this line is in, but at this point there is just too many concepts to really deal with.

So, how is your Friday looking? Who do you want to take trick or treating and which books would you recommend from your favourite genre?

Harry Potter Moment of the Week - Spying like Snape

Thursday means Harry Potter and with all of Daniel Radcliffe's amazing statements about sexualisation in the media, his mad skills at rapping and let's not ever forget Emma Watson's great work on promoting feminism. So, let's get back to the memes. Harry Potter Moments of the Week is hosted by Leah over at Uncorked Thoughts and today we're deciding:

Could you ever double as a spy like Snape?

I think, if I had to, I could. This is very easy to say when you don't have to, but I definitely think that if circumstances forced me to that I would. I mean, although Snape's motives are still quite questionable and I'm still not quite sure how I really feel about him, I do think it took a large amount of courage to do what he did.

Just imagine having to live day in, day out, knowing more than you're supposed to know. Everyone around you living on the assumption you are on their side, fighting with them. And in the meantime you are actually pretending to side with the enemy. And how do you know which side to pick, how do you not become convinced the other side is actually the better choice?

I guess in the end my answer is no. I don't think I could. I feel like I have to choose a side and stand for it because I couldn't pretend to not show exactly how I feel.

Ok, I went on a small rant there but there's just so many questions here!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Review: 'Spring's Fall' by Harambee Grey-Sun

I requested this book from Netgalley because I was quite intrigued by its premise. I wondered how Harambee Grey-Sun would combine different poems together to create the story of a man. Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion that Spring's Fall wasn't for me.
This book is a freak. Possibly a mistake from its very conception. A long story comprised of forty-six short-shorts, all of them in verse. A concept album in musical words. A postmodern musical on the page. This is an experiment. A frankenpoem. A HyperVerse. A collection very much out of step with most of its contemporaries.
Spring’s Fall is the story of one young man crossing the burning bridge between innocence and experience, a coming-of-age epic about fitting in and falling out, finding oneself and losing oneself, and discovering the meanings of life, love, and identity. Readers will follow Sevin as he ambles around his hometown one last time, reminiscing about the moments that made him into the young man he’s become. He reimagines, not only his own thoughts and feelings, actions and words, but also those of the girls and women who made a significant mark on him. 
Rejecting the “rules” of what contemporary poetry should be, Spring’s Fall is unapologetically unfashionable, written in the spirit of the complex-but-imperfect music many of us hear and sing to our insecure selves in adolescence. 
Not an easy read, but it’s not nearly as challenging as growing up.
I personally always preferred old-school poetry with strict rules regarding rhyme and alliteration, but Maya Angelou and Emily Dickinson showed me the beautiful things that can be done when one bends the rules or maybe even completely ignores them. In the synopsis, they state that Spring's Fall doesn't follow 'the "rules" of what contemporary poetry should be', even rejects these rules. I found that Spring's Fall is relatively in line with contemporary poetry rules and is, in that sense, nothing extraordinary the way the synopsis presents it to be. This book of poetry suffers, I think, from the wrong marketing, In the three paragraphs above, Spring's Fall is praised into the sky as the deepest, strangest, absurdest and yet realest book of poetry you could ever discover. Perfect for those among us who feel like they are the only one who feels this way and will never be understood. However, many of the things Grey-Sun describes are quite relatable and as a consequence you're unfairly left wondering what the big deal is. Had the synopsis been different I probably wouldn't have been as dissatisfied with Spring's Fall as I now am.

There is something about the initial poems which is quite entrancing. Without wanting to seem base, it is quite comparable to how reality tv etc. can draw you in and refuse to let you go. As the reader you want to know more, see more, etc. And because the synopsis promises such revelations as have never been read before you're constantly left wanting more. The poem also grows quite self-indulgent, which the introduction also makes plenty clear. To often I find poetry to be very forced. It feels as if the poet sits down and wonders how he can make a normal experience as abstract and lofty as possible in order to sound deep and intelligent. The reason I love Dickinson and Angelou is because they keep their poetry so close to home, close to the heart. Grey-Sun seems to want to fly without having the wings to do it and it's a real shame because there are parts of Spring's Fall which over some real promise. A down-point was the author's prose "explanations" of his poetry. Whether he was trying to be helpful or thought that he needed to explain his poetry to us, I don't know. But poetry should be able to speak for itself.

Personally, I also found the idea of him re-imagining the thoughts of the women he dates very off-putting. Although I'm not offended by any of it, the attitude of seeing one-self as the centre of everyone's universe is just not quite palatable to me. Especially because the main character doesn't necessarily come across as the best kind of guy. However, I don't want to be too negative about Spring's Fall. There are some really beautiful passages which really lift the poems up. It shows that Grey-Sun feels quite deeply about his story and that is always a good thing. If Spring's Fall had been subject to less up-front praise, I might have been less disappointed.

I give this collection...

2 Universes!

Spring's Fall's poetry is modernist and might fit well as a YA read. Grey-Sun's style is at times very abstract and this means that quite often you tend to lose empathy. The poetry doesn't completely sweep you away, however it can make for a nice read. Just ignore the raving praise the synopsis bestows on it, because it will only create expectations which aren't met.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Tuesday Intros & Teaser Tuesday - 'Tarkin' by James Luceno

Tarkin (Star Wars)I am feeling like work is slowly but surely starting to drown me, but land is in sight so it can't be too bad. I am awaiting potentially bad news regarding an application for a PhD in America so the whole day will be murder for my nerves, but I guess that's part of it as well! So let's get onto these memes and distract ourselves from everything else that is not a book! I'm using one book for both of these this week, which I have been wanting to start for ages. Be ready for the sci-fi to come your way! Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .
Bestselling Star Wars veteran James Luceno gives Grand Moff Tarkin the Star Wars: Darth Plagueis treatment, bringing a legendary character from A New Hope to full, fascinating life.
He’s the scion of an honorable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly . . . and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.
Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel—by intimidation . . . or annihilation.
Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin—whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy . . . and its enemies’ extinction.
'A saying emerged during the  early years of the Empire: Better to be spaced than based on Belderone. Some commentators traced the origin to the last of the original Kamino-grown soldiers who had served alongside the Jedi in the Clone Wars; others to the first crop of cadets graduated from the Imperial academies.' p.1
See, to me all of the references here make sense so I am immediately drawn into what is happening here. However, I can imagine that if you don't watch Star Wars or now its rough chronology then this would just be confusing.

'"Your point?""Only that we face a hopeless task in trying to establish a rendezvous while the pursuit is in progress."Sidious swiveled the chair slightly.' 53%
I doubt this is a spoiler so I decided to pick it because I quite like the second sentence. I can just imagine the completely done expression on the face of the person saying it. Also, Sidious swiveling in his imperial chair is always a good thing!

I'm really excited to start reading this one because I need more Star Wars in my life. It has a soothing effect and is just awesome. Also, a great text for some inspiration.

So, how about you? What are you introducing, what are you teasing?

Monday, 27 October 2014

Review: 'Once Upon A Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale' by Marina Warner

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Children Into Swans, a book by Jan Beveridge in which he explored many of the roots and shared traditions of Northern-European folklore and legends. My main criticism of the book was that I felt that its limitations to Northern-Europe meant a lot of valuable insights were lost. Warner here writes a similar book for fairy tales but also includes Southern European, Asian and Russian examples.
From wicked queens, beautiful princesses, elves, monsters, and goblins to giants, glass slippers, poisoned apples, magic keys, and mirrors, the characters and images of fairy tales have cast a spell over readers and audiences, both adults and children, for centuries. These fantastic stories have travelled across cultural borders, and been passed down from generation to generation, ever-changing, renewed with each re-telling. Few forms of literature have greater power to enchant us and rekindle our imagination than a fairy tale. 
But what is a fairy tale? Where do they come from and what do they mean? What do they try and communicate to us about morality, sexuality, and society? The range of fairy tales stretches across great distances and time; their history is entangled with folklore and myth, and their inspiration draws on ideas about nature and the supernatural, imagination and fantasy, psychoanalysis, and feminism. 
Marina Warner has loved fairy tales over her long writing career, and she explores here a multitude of tales through the ages, their different manifestations on the page, the stage, and the screen. From the phenomenal rise of Victorian and Edwardian literature to contemporary children's stories, Warner unfolds a glittering array of examples, from classics such as Red Riding HoodCinderella, and The Sleeping Beauty, the Grimm Brothers' Hansel and Gretel, and Hans Andersen's The Little Mermaid, to modern-day realizations including Walt Disney's Snow White and gothic interpretations such as Pan's Labyrinth
In ten succinct chapters, Marina Warner digs into a rich collection of fairy tales in their brilliant and fantastical variations, in order to define a genre and evaluate a literary form that keeps shifting through time and history. She makes a persuasive case for fairy tale as a crucial repository of human understanding and culture.
Fairy tales are, as some of my more frequent readers may know, a favourite of mine. I loved reading fairy tales as a child and the fascination never quite wore off. In many ways I think it also informs my choice of study. However, they are a contentious subject, especially considering the influence they have been given in children's lives. I really enjoyed the way Warner handled the pedagogic aspects of fairy tales and how the traditions within fairy tales and especially fairy tale adaptations work and were changed over time. I think Warner manages to strike a tone that is educative without being pedantic. We all know those books that treat the reader like they're stupid. Everyone knows fairy tales, but only few have a good oversight of how the Grimm's brothers actually crucially changed aspects of them.

For me one of the most interesting things about this book was the amount of attention Warner paid to how different centuries responded differently to fairy tales. Whereas the Victorians tried to soften them up as much as possible to be accessible to children without potentially teaching them something, the trend nowadays in to find the darker sides of fairy tales and explore them. Similarly to how many movies are currently focusing on the dark and the bad, we do the same with fairy tales and find plenty of material. It even bleeds into music, if one wants to think of the interesting choice of 'I've Got No Strings' as the trailer soundtrack for the new Avengers trailer.

I have seen a few reviews online which complain about the fact that Once Upon A Time is not actually a fairy tale but, as the cover says, a short history of fairy tales. I can't really tell what they were expecting, but personally I feel the book did exactly what it said on the cover. By this point I have read quite a lot on fairy tales, folk lore and myth & legends, so many of Warner's ideas weren't ground-breaking to me. However, as an introduction and a general summary of the tradition of fairy tales and the study of fairy tales it serves very well. One of the best things about books like these are often the bibliographies. The authors do a whole mountain of research for their books and then present the reader with succinct summaries with the possibility of branching out.

I give this book...

4 Universes.

I definitely recommend this book to people who are interested in reading something about fairy tales. If you're looking for fairy tales themselves, pick up a copy of the Grimm's fairy tales at the library. Warner's writing style is informative without making the reader feel inadequate and Once Upon A Time is bound to wet your appetite for more about fairy tales.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Friday Fun - 'The Song of Achilles' by Madeline Miller

I am a bit late with this post, so I'll be scrambling through all the posts over the weekend, hopefully! I was terribly behind with university work this week because I spent last weekend in Germany with my mother for her birthday. But the next two days are going to change everything! I will be so prepared! But for now I'm going to focus on blogging.

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee and this week's question was submitted by Howling for Books:
Characters, sometimes our favourites, die during books. If you'd get to choose, who'd you bring back?

My mind immediately went to the Harry Potter books and then I got stuck because who, out of all the people who died, would I want to bring back? I first thought of Remus Lupin, then, of course, Fred, then I wanted to bring Lilly back. So I'm stuck and I might just have to move to a different book.

I would really like to bring Boromir from The Fellowship of the Ring back.

He, as a character, just had so much potential and I want to see him be able to redeem himself. He always had a heavy burden on his shoulders, which you don't really find out about in the first book, and he was trying to do what was best. I think he could have been an invaluable ally during the rescue of Merry and Pippin, Helms Deep and the Battle of Pelennor. Also, his death is absolutely horrid although it is also heroic. He just deserves to live, dammit!

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week is Halloween Edition and I am loving this week's question:
Book Blogger HopYou accidentally unleashed ghouls from a novel and they are now running amok. What fictional hero (book or film) would you like to help you defeat the ghouls?

First of all, releasing ghouls from a novel really does sound like something that would happen to me.I would love to set up a female ghoul-hunting squad a le Ghost Busters, comprising of me, Hermione from the Harry Potter books , Leia from Star Wars and Jessica Lange in whichever character she prefers from American Horror Story. Admittedly in my mind this is taking on the look of a film noir and we spend a lot of time planning and scheming in seedy jazz bars, drinking gin and being elegant while also murderous. I fear those ghouls would be out there for a very long time...

I'm using a book I bought around two weeks ago and still haven't opened although I keep being pestered by people to read it and cry over it. This book is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Apparently this is one sad book, but I'm scared to begin because although I love Greek mythology I am very antsy about adaptations. I just love the traditional myths too much! Book Beginnings is hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda over at Freda's Voice.

'My father was a king and the son of kings. He was a short man, as most of us were, and built like a bull, all shoulders. He married my mother when she was fourteen and sworn byt he priestess to be fruitful. It was a good match: she was an only child, and her father's fortune would go to her husband.He did not find out until the wedding that she was simple.' p.1
I decided to include the first couple of sentences, because I liked the revelation that came at the beginning oft he second paragraph. It's a good way of setting the reader up on the wrong foot, but I also quite like Miller's factional tone. So far so good!

'And I? I was shy and silent with all but Achilles; I could scarcely speak to the other boys, let alone a girl.' p.56
I think we can all see quite clearly where this book is heading. Having translated the original Greek, I do know there are, let's call them undertones, and I have no problem with those. I just hope Miller works them out properly rather than clunking them into the story. But judging by all the tears that are being shed about this book online, I have a feeling she does it very well.

So, those are my answers. I am now actually quite excited about reading The Song of Achilles! What character do you want to bring back from the dead? And who's in your ghoul-busting squad?

Have a good weekend everyone :)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Review: 'A Storm of Witchcraft' by Emerson W. Baker

I really enjoy reading non-fictional historical books. I think one of the main "tasks" of books and literature is to educate and therefore there is nothing more important than well-written books on history and culture. Witchcraft is also a major interest of mine because I think it is absolutely fascinating, especially how it interacts with history.
Beginning in January 1692, Salem Village in colonial Massachusetts witnessed the largest and most lethal outbreak of witchcraft in early America. Villagers--mainly young women--suffered from unseen torments that caused them to writhe, shriek, and contort their bodies, complaining of pins stuck into their flesh and of being haunted by specters. Believing that they suffered from assaults by an invisible spirit, the community began a hunt to track down those responsible for the demonic work. The resulting Salem Witch Trials, culminating in the execution of 19 villagers, persists as one of the most mysterious and fascinating events in American history. 
Historians have speculated on a web of possible causes for the witchcraft that stated in Salem and spread across the region-religious crisis, ergot poisoning, an encephalitis outbreak, frontier war hysteria--but most agree that there was no single factor. Rather, as Emerson Baker illustrates in this seminal new work, Salem was "a perfect storm": a unique convergence of conditions and events that produced something extraordinary throughout New England in 1692 and the following years, and which has haunted us ever since.
Baker shows how a range of factors in the Bay colony in the 1690s, including a new charter and government, a lethal frontier war, and religious and political conflicts, set the stage for the dramatic events in Salem. Engaging a range of perspectives, he looks at the key players in the outbreak--the accused witches and the people they allegedly bewitched, as well as the judges and government officials who prosecuted them--and wrestles with questions about why the Salem tragedy unfolded as it did, and why it has become an enduring legacy.
Salem in 1692 was a critical moment for the fading Puritan government of Massachusetts Bay, whose attempts to suppress the story of the trials and erase them from memory only fueled the popular imagination. Baker argues that the trials marked a turning point in colonial history from Puritan communalism to Yankee independence, from faith in collective conscience to skepticism toward moral governance. A brilliantly told tale, A Storm of Witchcraft also puts Salem's storm into its broader context as a part of the ongoing narrative of American history and the history of the Atlantic World.
Salem and its witch trials are a major part of not only our entertainment but also of our history without us really being aware of it. As a European, Salem isn't part of "my history" perse and it has never really been taught in my schools. The closest I have come to learning about it was when I read The Crucible. However, witch trials and the persecution of witches was a major issue in Europe during the Middle Ages and it has always fascinated me how something as "unreal" as witchcraft could be a palpable threat to enlightened people. Baker really astutely remarks that for 17th century people witches were as real as bakers or butchers. Although we might take this with a grain of salt, it is still important to realize the differences in thinking that exist between their and our time. A Storm of Witchcraft is full of these little gems of sudden insight which Baker carefully works towards. It makes it a very interesting and engaging read.

Unfortunately Baker sometimes seems to lose himself in the details. There is so much information that he has collected that at times chapters get clogged up and lose their thread. Although he always manages to pick it back up, some chapters can be a hard read. Especially when it comes to the people involved, the endless names become quite confusing. Although Baker does well in showing the scope of those afflicted by the witch trials, it can be very hard to follow and at some points you just give up on trying to remember exactly who is being discussed. But as I said, Baker usually picks the thread back up after the information dump and brings the chapter to a clear resolution. What the multitude of "characters" are good for is precisely for showing how widely these witch trials impacted not just Massachusetts but all of America.

As the synopsis says, Baker argues for the coming together of a whole range of events that led to the eventual witch trials. As such, it is one of the most convincing and interesting theories I have read so far. I am in agreement with Baker than big historical events are always a product of their time and therefore of the surrounding factors all coming together at once. The history of the town of Salem itself was also something completely new to me. Baker's insights into Puritanism, the conflict between the Native Americans and the Americans and the tense relationship with England were all really interesting and formed the highlights of the book for me. A Storm of Witchcraft is definitely a fascinating insight into the complexity of something now usually referred to simply as temporary madness. I also really enjoyed his analysis of how the legacy of Salem changed throughout the years and how, in some ways, Salem came to stand for exactly that which the Puritans most feared into 1692.

I give this book...

3 Universes.

I would definitely recommend this book to those of you who are interested in knowing more about Salem and the witch trials. If you are just interested in something a bit sensational and a bit educational at the same time, Baker's book isn't for you. It asks for a lot of attention and patience, but those virtues are rewarded by very rewarding insights. Overall, this book kept me interested throughout and I am very glad with my extra knowledge.