Friday, 26 July 2013

Magical Friday

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowThis week I actually have time to answer the Follow Friday, hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee, question, so here we go:
What do you do with your books after you are done reading them?

I desperately try and find a place for them somewhere in my room. If I didn't like the book, it's more likely that I will lose it because I don't like seeing "bad" books next to my favourites on a bookshelf, it just feels wrong, slightly sacrilegious even. I don't really read library books, although maybe I should, so I can't return them either.

With E-books I just leave them on there, although I fo shift them from collection to collection. Don't laugh, but I have a 'New Netgalley' and an 'Old Netgalley' collection, and when I've read and reviewed a book it moves from the former to the latter, unless I hated it in which case I archive it and never look at it again.

And there's also time for the Book Blogger Hop, which I haven't done in aaageees! Now hosted by Billy Burgess over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer, here's the question:
How do you organize your books to be read?

If they're E-books, I have loads of different collections on my Kindle. Two of them are for Netgalley books, another just called '2013 Reviews', another 'Desperately TBR'. Sometimes I think I have too many different folders, but since I usually read several books at the same time I hop from one collection to the other. With hardcovers I put them in a very visible place, and that's as far as that organisation goes. The oldest ones go on top, so I read them first, but that's it.

This week I am using a book I just finished for Book Beginnings (Rose City Reader) and Friday 56 (Freda's Voice) and it's 'The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic' by Emily Croy Barker. I absolutely loved it and the review will be up tomorrow!

'Much later, Nora would learn magic for dissolving glue or killig vermin swiftly and painlessly or barring mice from the house altogether, but that morning - the last normal morning, she later thought of it - as she padded into the kitchen in search of coffee, she was horribly at a loss when she saw the small brown mouse wriggling on the glue trap in front of the sink.'
I absolutely love magic, that shouldn't be a surprise, and this book is just really fun. Nora is a great character and really pragmatic, in a good sense of the word, even though the BB might not seem like it. But who isn't at at a loss when faced with a random mouse?

'"What did he do yo you?" Moscelle said quickly."I don't know, exactly," said Nora, "but I couldn't tell how many legs a horse has.""Is it a riddle?""No, I just didn't know.""Oh, darling, you know how many legs a horse has, don't you?""Four," Nora said carefully.'
It's perhaps a bit long, but I just thought this part was really funny because when it happens, Nora just seems so affronted by the fact she can't remember how many legs a horse has! There's quite a lot of humour in the book, which made it really fun to read!

So, how about you? What do you do with your books? And which one did you pick for the memes?

Friday, 19 July 2013

Review: 'Goat Mountain' by David Vann

I requested this novel on Netgalley, not quite sure whether it was the right kind of novel for me. Sometimes a premise just draws you in and you wonder where the author will take the story. And this book had a hell of a surprise for me.
Three generations of one family – a grandfather, father and son – and a family friend set off on an annual trip to their hunting grounds: 640 remote acres along one side of a mountain. A wild and idyllic spot, miles from anywhere. But all is not as it should be. Upon arrival, they spot an intruder, a poacher, lurking by their cabin. ‘Come and take a look’ the father says. His son peers through the rifle scope till he spots the man, steadies his breath, lines up the crosshairs... Set over the course of one hot and claustrophobic weekend, Goat Mountain is the story of a family struggling to contend with a terrible crime, its repercussions and the slow descent into hell. 

From the first page on I knew this novel would be drastically different from any I have read recently. Vann's writing style immediately transports you into the immediate action of the novel, despite the fact that it is a flashback for the protagonist. Every action, every sound and smell is right there, happening in front of you. Sometimes it is so present that there almost seems to be too much happening, which creates the amazingly claustrophobic feeling some novels manage to produce in their readers. The sense that you cannot escape the novel, that it will not let you go. Even if you put it down, you will think about it until you pick it up and finish it. As a result, I read 'Goat Mountain' within half a day. As the family's trip escalates, the tension grows and it is palpable in the way Vann writes. I have never hunted, never gutted a buck, but now I feel like I have witnessed it, seen it with my own eyes. There is something so real about the way Vann writes that the experiences these three generations go through seem realer than what is happening around you while you read.

As can be seen from the cover and partially from the premise, Vann takes on the massive literary trope that is the devil, hell and religion in general. There is one "moment" in the novel in which Vann chronicles, what I think to be, one of the best descents into the darkness of humans. Although the entire novel deals with this, the passage manages to address a lot of different fears and thoughts in a style that seems incredibly intimate and close. The fine line between what we consider human and animalistic and how easy it is to cross that boundary is something I find majorly interesting and is analysed perfectly in this novel. What seperates a human being from an animal and can you be both or is there no return from becoming an animal? 

This novel will raise many questions, probably more than it answers, but I think this is where part of its value lies. Some novels manage to answer every question you could possibly have and then, when the novel finishes, that's it. There's nothing else to do and you can move on to the next novel. And then there are those novels that will make you think, lie awake and wonder what could have gone differently, what would have changed as a consequence and what that would have meant. Personally, I prefer the last kind. Novels that manage to stir something that then refuses to be forgotten and has to be thought about, even if only in quiet moments.

I give this novel...


I don't think this is a novel for everyone. There is a certain darkness to it I don't think everyone can appreciate. The questions raised cannot just be forgotten because they don't just concern the characters but you, as the reader, as well. I will definitely reread this novel, and I do recommend it to those who think they can deal with being questioned about their own nature. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Review: 'The Humans' by Matt Haig

I got this novel through Netgalley because I thought the premise sounded really interesting and funny. And I am certainly glad I read it. 
It's hardest to belong when you're closest to home . . .
One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world's greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears. 
When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he's a dog. 
Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife's eyes?
Initially, it was the premise of the book that drew me in. Although I am a sci-fi fan, I usually stay away from its fiction because it often tends to be rather samey. But mentioning Emily Dickinson in your premise is bound to draw me in. What made me continue reading after the first couple of chapters was the tone and style of Haig's writing. The humour seemed effortless, which is commendable considering the huge amount of work that seems to go into the jokes in some novels. I found myself laughing out loud at the simple phrasing of some sentences. Occasionally it was the kind of laughter where you find someone has managed to capture exactly the awkwardness or emotion of an experience you yourself would rather not find written down, yet still find fascinating. At other times it is the pure happiness at something honestly funny. What makes this humour special is the fact that only after having read the sentence or paragraph, do you realise the truth behind some of the statements you previously sniggered at.

Many authors try to capture what we like to call humanity in their novels and they don't always succeed. It quickly becomes obvious when they try to hard to analyze feelings while pretending the analysis is an accident. A complete lack of observation, however, is equally frustrating. It was clear from the onset of the novel that human nature would be questioned in 'The Humans' and I did find myself wondering in the first chapters how Haig would manage to keep the reader interested throughout. The first chapters are, quite naturally, slower than those that follow. The reader has to get used to the characters and plot and the author wants to get to the actual story. But just as the main character has to settle into the human world, the reader has to settle into the world created by the author. Once we accept that an alien might actually find his way to Earth, his puzzlement over an understandably confusing Cosmopolitan seems much more natural. From there on, Alien Andrew's progress in the human world is not only endearing but also revealing in itself and truly managed to hold my attention. Although the plot in itself is nothing too shocking, the way it is written and what it triggers inside the reader is why I enjoyed this novel so much.

The confusion of the main character, which lasts for much of the novel, is not only funny but also quite understandable. I also often ask myself why I drink coffee. However, it is the human characters in this novel that I found truly interesting most of all. The way they interact with Alien Andrew and his apparent "amnesia on anything normal or human" was oddly comforting, the same way that looking at a picture of your family is. There are the occasional oddities and the family member you wish would just straighten themself out, but overall it is safe and normal. By managing to create such a backdrop for Alien Andrew's Discovery of Humanity, the discovering becomes much less standard and more natural. Rather than picking up on each human pattern of behaviour and declaring it oddly adorable, his investigation becomes similar to looking around a familiar room and wondering why the true purpose of each object never seemed so strange yet obvious to you. 

Looking at something as familiar as your own life and seeing it as new is only really possible through the eyes of an other. Haig's Vonnadorians seem to be what we'd like to be and at the same time complete opposite of us humans, logical and capable of seemingly everything. Although we never see their world in action, it seems like a theoretically superior world, which means the main character's perspective is one of looking down. And it is surprising that it is exactly through this perspective that the beauty of the human World shines brightest. Yes, human lives usually are a complete chaos of emotions, but Haig writes down exactly what I have been telling myself for years. It is this up and down, the experiencing of pain and sadness next to happiness and joy, that makes joy and happiness all the more radiant and beautiful. Without one the other could not be and that is what a purely logical approach misses out on. Appreciating the fact I am outing myself as a geek, this is why Spock or any other "logical" character always shows emotion in any (Star Trek) series or movie, because every character's development, no matter how small their human side, ends in realizing exactly this idea.

I give this novel...


I enjoyed this novel immensly and have to admit I almost raced through it. From the moment I started reading, I did not want to put it down. Haig manages to capture something that is intrinsically human, namely the ability to be surprised and to feel experiences, rather than observe and it makes for a beautiful reading experience. This is a great novel to take along on a summer holiday. Its humour keeps it light while its message is bound to strike close to the heart. Also, the dog is great.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Friday's Memes

It's another Friday and that means it's time for memes. I don't have much time today, so only Book Beginnings (Rose City Reader) and Friday 56 (Freda's Voice). This week I have decided to use the Qur'an. This week, the Ramadan started and I want to start learning Arabic next year, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to look at two bits from the Qur'an. No disrespect is intended, in case anyone feels offended. So here we go:

'In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy! Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds,the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy, Master of the Day of Judgement.'
As you may know, this is part of the daily prayer for Muslims. Although it may sound formulaic to some, I quite like the different titles. They are not very different from the praises given to God, only now they are all in the same sura rather than spread through an entire psalm, for example. Also, I think this sounds beautiful in Arabic, but that's to the side.

'But as for those who seek refuge with people with whom you have a treaty, or who come over to you because their hearts shrink from fighting against you or against their own people, God could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you. So if they withdraw and do not fight you, and offer you peace, then God gives you no way against them.'
I really like this part. In the previous sentences, the Qur'an says not to take as allies or friends those that stray from God and that if they turn against you, you can retaliate. It may seem like a harsh position to take, but I feel it is counterbalanced by these sentences. It says that once the other lays down his arms and seeks refuge and peace, you have 'no way' to attack or harm them. I think that is beautiful and I think many people forget about these parts of the Qur'an when they try to come up with reasons why Islam is worse than Christianity.

So, which book did you chose today? Leave a link to your post and I'll come check it out!