Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Review: 'The High Druid's Blade' by Terry Brooks

The High Druid's Blade (The Defenders of Shannara #1)Here I am with another fantasy-read from Orbit, who have been putting out some amazing fantasy books lately. Many thanks to Orbit for allowing me to be part of the blog tour for The High Druid's Blade and providing me with the copy of the novel.

Pub. Date: 28/04/2015
Publisher: Orbit
Legend has it that Paxon Leah is descended from the royals and warriors who once ruled the Highlands and waged war with magical weapons. But those kings, queens, and heroes are long gone, and there is nothing enchanted about the antique sword that hangs above Paxon’s fireplace. Running his family’s modest shipping business, Paxon leads a quiet life—until extraordinary circumstances overturn his simple world . . . and rewrite his destiny. When his brash young sister is abducted by a menacing stranger, Paxon races to her rescue with the only weapon he can find. And in a harrowing duel, he is stunned to discover powerful magic unleashed within him—and within his ancestors’ ancient blade. But his formidable new ability is dangerous in untrained hands, and Paxon must master it quickly because his nearly fatal clash with the dark sorcerer Arcannen won’t be his last. Leaving behind home and hearth, he journeys to the keep of the fabled Druid order to learn the secrets of magic and earn the right to become their sworn protector. But treachery is afoot deep in the Druids’ ranks. And the blackest of sorcery is twisting a helpless innocent into a murderous agent of evil. To halt an insidious plot that threatens not only the Druid order but all the Four Lands, Paxon Leah must summon the profound magic in his blood and the legendary mettle of his elders in the battle fate has chosen him to fight.
This was the first novel I have read by Terry Brooks, whose Shannara-series are loved my fans all around the world. The High Druid's Blade is the first stand-alone novel from Brooks in almost twenty years and as such might be a great place for me to get into the world of Shannara. The novel introduces the reader to the character of Paxon Leah, who within the first few chapters goes on a rescue mission for his sister Chrys and discovers the existence of magic. This beginning was almost too fast, with not enough time given to the reader to truly get settled in with the characters and start caring for them. When Chrys is kidnapped the reader doesn't really know her yet and as such it is hard to care for her. It's similar for the main character, who is not given quite enough time to really be explored by the reader.

What Brooks excelled at were the short bursts of history and culture he infused into the narrative. They were interesting and well-written and showed how much Brooks has worked on the world of Shannara. However, this mainly made me more interested in reading Brooks' other books rather than continuing with The High Druid's Blade. I somehow didn't find myself really engaging with the narrative of the book or caring much about the characters. They were interesting, but along with the plot, they followed very typical paths within the fantasy genre. Things seem relatively easily resolved as Paxon goes on his way and I felt that at times the tension was lacking. As such, The High Druid's Blade is definitely marketed best for younger readers who are getting into fantasy.

I am a huge fan of Fantasy-literature, yet mainly find myself enjoying what is called 'high fantasy', a term which mistakenly suggests an inherent difference in quality to 'low fantasy'. Urban fantasy is a great example of what is called 'low fantasy' because it takes place in a real or relatively realistic world, whereas high fantasy is set in a completely fictional realm, a la the Disc-world in Terry Pratchett's books. Another example of high literature is The Lord of the Rings in which Tolkien not only creates different lands but also different languages, cultures and thousands of years of history. The reason I bring this debate up is because at times I was wondering in which of the two categories to put The High Druid's Blade. Although technically classed as 'high fantasy', the Four Lands are identified as Earth after a nuclear war. Magic exists besides technology and both supplement the other. Personally I thought this was really interesting, but it also meant I didn't completely sink into the world the novel was creating because I was thinking too much about it.

I give this book...

3 Universes.

The High Druid's Blade is a fast-paced, interesting read which hits a lot of high points Personally I was expecting a bit more, yet this novel is meant for younger readers. I would recommend this book to lovers of Fantasy.

Tuesday Intros & Teaser Tuesdays - 'The Undeground Girls of Kabul' by Jenny Nordberg

I'm reading an absolutely amazing book from Netgalley at the moment, The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg. I requested it ages ago and never really got to it
An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl
In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh(literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom. 
The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents' attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults. 
At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America's longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.
It sounds amazing and from what I have read so far, it is as interesting as the blurb promises.

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted over at A Daily Rhythm.

'Prologue:The transition begins here.I remove the black head scarf and tuck it into my backpack. My hair stays in a knotted bun on the back of my head.' 2%
'Chapter one:'"Our brother is really a girl."' 2%
I liked both of these beginnings. Although the beginning of Chapter 1 is a bit more eye-catching, the prologue was a great way of settling the reader in with the main character.
'Similar to Carol's take on the subject, it made a certain sense to Nancy: "Segregation calls for creativity, she told me."' 7%
I'm not very far into the book yet as you can see and I didn't want to jump ahead. Also, I thought this teaser was really interesting because I definitely think it's true. When people are suppressed they find ways around it.

Have you read this book? And what do you think of it?

Monday, 27 April 2015

Review: 'The Awakening' by Kate Chopin

There are moments in your life where you're browsing through a bookstore and you find a book that you simple can't not buy. I had a moment like that when I found this copy of The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Not only is the cover stunning, but this book is also on my 100 Classics list.

Pub. Date: 2014
Publisher: Canongate
First published in 1899, this beautiful, brief novel so disturbed critics and the public that it was banished for decades afterward. Now widely read and admired, "The Awakening" has been hailed as an early vision of woman's emancipation. This sensuous book tells of a woman's abandonment of her family, her seduction, and her awakening to desires and passions that threatened to consumer her. 
Originally entitled "A Solitary Soul, " this portrait of twenty-eight-year-old Edna Pontellier is a landmark in American fiction, rooted firmly in the romantic tradition of Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson. Here, a woman in search of self-discovery turns away from convention and society, and toward the primal, from convention and society, and toward the primal, irresistibly attracted to nature and the senses.
The Awakening is recognized as one of the earliest landmarks for feminist literature. Part of what made it special for its time was that it describes women's issues without being condescending about them. Chopin gets right to the heart of the issues for many women in her time and does so through beautiful prose. Even nowadays, a novel completely dedicated to a woman's spiritual growth, without it being a guide book or a 'how to be happy'-kind of manual, is rare. With The Awakening Chopin unconsciously opened the way for a lot of female authors to express themselves and express women's problems in their own right. Chopin was raised in a house with three generations of independent women: her widowed mother, her grand-mother and a great grand-mother. Herself widowed early in life with six children depending on her, it seems fate that Chopin wrote a novel such as The Awakening

Although the basic plot of The Awakening seems relatively straight-forward, there is a lot of intricacy in it. The idea of a woman awakening, realizing how restrained she is and how free she could be is hard to explain without sounding either over the top or melodramatic. The beauty of The Awakening lies in the fact that Edna's awakening is completely natural. The awareness that she gains of herself as an independent human being is one which most people nowadays can easily relate to. However, for her time it was something unusual to dedicate a whole novel to. I thought I'd share a beautiful passage with you which showcases Chopin's brilliant writing style.
'There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day.' p.144

As you may be able to gather from the passage above, Chopin's writing style is very descriptive while remaining realistic. The focus on the novel lies on human behaviour and how that shows the complexity of social hierarchy and relationships. As such, Chopin can't rely on telling the reader how her characters "feel". She has to show us. She does this by tapping into roles which everyone is familiar with, those of the mother and wife. She also brings in her own experiences of the Creole lifestyle, however, which adds a new layer of restriction onto her female character yet also allows for the reader to see two different cultures and their respective rules next to each other. On a side note, casting her characters as being descended from France allowed her to get away with her writing since she was describing characters and lifestyles that could be put aside as "foreign".

Censored after its release, The Awakening was considered immoral by many of its, predominantly male, critics due to its depiction of female sexuality and Edna's rejection of stereotypes. On the other hand, there were also positive reviews which hailed Chopin's novel as ground-breaking. I myself have always been interested in books which seem to cross this contemporary boundary  being considered right and wrong. On the one hand they highlight contemporary social issues and are commended for that, but on the other hand they cause a lot of furor and arguments. Especially the idea of a woman abandoning her husband and children was very controversial and led to a lot of discussion. The reason literature is so fascinating to me is exactly because of this quality that books have, to influence people, to change their minds and to inform them. The Awakening is one of those novels, one which can make its reader take a moment to really think and consider. And not just women. It is a novel for those who are alive and painfully aware of it.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Chopin's The Awakening is a great novel in many different ways. Not only is it lyrically beautiful in its descriptions, it is interesting and engaging. Despite being written over a hundred years ago, some of the novel's topics are still relevant and fascinating. I'd recommend this to readers of realist fiction and women's fiction. 

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Weekly Overview

This has not been the productive and life-changing week that I would've liked it to be. I'm still struggling with some of my university work and I have a test I need to revise for which is killing me. However, I still find what I do interesting, so that is good! I also didn't get as much posted this week as I'd like but that's what next week is for!

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #4)
So, that was my week. How did your week look? Happy with what you posted?

This post is linked with the Sunday Post over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Follow Friday and 'The Heir of Redclyffe' by Charlotte M. Yonge

I haven't done half of what I planned to do this week but I'm just going to hope Fate carries me through! Please Lord... Anyways, it is also Friday which means there's some great memes out there which you can join in today! The first one is Follow Friday, hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question was suggested by The Paperback Princess:

How did you  come up with your blog title and address? Does it have a special meaning for you?

Great question! Initially I started my blog as a way to write down some of my thoughts on the books I read for school. I chose the name because I realized there were so many books out there that I hadn't read or even heard of. For me, the title works on two different "levels". On the one hand, there is a whole "universe" out there which is full of books and stories which I want to read. When I see my blog title it reminds me to expand the search for my next read to include something different. On the other hand, words can craft whole universes. Authors create lives, galaxies and beauty through words and I never want to forget how magical words are.

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

Does the title of a book make or break your choice to read it?

I wouldn't say a book's title is a 'make or break' factor, yet I have to admit that if a title is utterly dreadful I am less likely to pick a book up. Wait.... let me start again. Although a title isn't necessarily a 'break' factor, it is most definitely a 'make' factor. If a book has an intriguing title I will definitely pick it up and read the back. It is one of the first things that grabs my attention. Also, and this is slightly awkward to admit, if a title is terrible I might be to embarrassed to talk about it, in which case I won't be mentioning it to anyone!

This week I'm using another 100 Classics read which I have wanted to start for quite some time. It's The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte M. Yonge.
The Heir Of RedclyffeFirst published in 1853, The Heir of Redclyffe was among the most successful novels of the century, equalling even the work of Dickens and Thackeray in popularity. The story of a clash of personality between well-born cousins, Guy Morville and Philip Edmonstone, the plot focuses on Guy's spiritual struggle to overcome the darker side of his nature. Philip's sinister insinuations about Guy's character almost thwart Guy's marriage to the gentle Amy, yet despite their bitter feuding the novel reaches an unexpected and dramatic conclusion that vindicates romantic virtue, self-sacrifice, and piety, epitomizing the period's nostalgia for an idealized chivalric past. Adopted by William Morris and Burne-Jones as 'a pattern for actual life', Guy was a popular role model of noble virtue, while Amy is the ideal Victorian wife - redeemer and inspirer, support and guide. The Heir of Redclyffe is a virtual paradigm of the trends of thought which characterized the middle decades of the nineteenth century. It is deeply marked by the influence of the Oxford Movement, an aspect explored by Barbara Dennis in her Introduction to this unique critical edition.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice.

'The drawing-room of Hollywell House was one of the favoured apartments, where a peculiar air of home seems to reside, whether seen in the middle of summer, all its large windows open to the garden, or, as when our story commences, its bright fire and stands of fragrant green-house plants contrasted with the wintry fog and leafless trees of November. There were two persons in the room - a young lady, who sat drawing at the round table, and a youth, lying on a couch near the fire, surrounded with books and newspapers, and a pair of crutches near him.' p.3
I like this beginning. Setting is majorly important for me and when a novel is quite clearly centred around a house I like getting a feeling for the place. I like Yonge's description of the house and how she shows it to us in different seasons.

'"He expostulated with all his might; but at nineteen he could do little with a determined sister of twenty-seven; and the very truth and power of his remonstrances must have made it leave a sting."' p.56
I feel slightly sorry for this younger brother since he should not have to try and convince his sister. On the other hand, this woman should be able to do as she pleases. I feel like this book will get me quite worked up.

So, that is my post for today! How important are titles to you? And what was the inspiration for your blog title?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Review: 'Clash of Iron' by Angus Watson

Clash of Iron (Iron Age, #2)I'm very excited to be part of the blog tour for the exciting sequel to 2014's Age of Iron by Angus Watson. After loving the first book in the Iron Age trilogy, I couldn't wait to get back into this story and find out what had happened to the multitude of characters in Watson's Britain. The blog tour was organised by Orbit, thanks to them for providing me with a copy of the book. This review may contain spoilers for Age of Iron!
The second book in Angus Watson's epic Iron Age fantasy trilogy.   
LEADERS ARE FORGED IN THE FIRES OF WARIron Age warriors Dug and Lowa captured Maidun castle and freed its slaves. But now they must defend it.
A Roman invasion is coming from Gaul, but rather than uniting to defend their home, the British tribes go to battle with each other -- and see Maidun as an easy target.
Meanwhile, Lowa's spies infiltrate Gaul, discovering the Romans have recruited British druids. And Maidunite Ragnall finds his loyalties torn when he meets Rome's charismatic general, Julius Caesar.
War is coming. Who will pay its price?
One of the things I especially enjoyed about Watson's writing was his ability to treat these medieval characters like all others. This may sound like something that shouldn't be noteworthy, yet when one thinks about how the  earlier ages and its people are portrayed, then Watson's Iron Age trilogy is a breath of fresh air. He treats all of his characters with what is almost perfect equality. Whether we're talking about men or women, Brits or Romans, Christians or pagans, everyone in Clash of Iron comes across as truly human. They have good sides, bad sides and they can be persuaded to either side by a good argument. Largely this characterization is due to Watson's writing style. If you're expecting the kind of writing that usually passes for "early", this is not it. Watson doesn't fall into easily-used cliches but just has his characters speak like every-day people. Although it can be strange at times to hear these characters talk so normally, it definitely adds to the charm of the book.

Clash of Iron continues at the same fun and fast pace that Age of Iron did. Rather than rely on the character building he did in the first book, Watson continues to develop his characters and show the reader different sides of them as their roles change. Especially the introduction of the Romans really brought a new perspective to the novel and added a whole new level to the narration, alongside some pretty major historical figures. The first part of Clash of Iron struggles at times to keep up the tension and the pace which I had hoped for. Watson managed to quickly and successfully build tension in Age of Iron yet with the removal of a major bad guy, a new source of tension has to be found which takes some time to establish. Occasionally it felt like there was too much extra detail which could've been cut to progress the speed of the narrative. Although this detail is also what allows the novel to feel so settled in its time-period, it can make the over 500-page strong book feel clogged.

In my review for Age of Iron, I said that my favourite character was Lowa, the warrior turned fugitive turned queen. I loved the freedom that Watson gave her and how her gender wasn't the defining aspect of her character. He continues developing this great character in Clash of Iron by making her deal with new situations and characters. Although I disliked the relationships between her and some of the other characters in the book, overall I loved her story. Her relationship with Dug was one which the reader can't help but get invested in, especially if previously having read Age of Iron. Due  to the large number of characters, a lot of time is spent on moving between different characters to explain their experiences and journeys. Personally I enjoyed this, but it also means that at times the novel seems to lack a strong main character.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

As a sequel Clash of Iron definitely does its job. Watson continues his interesting character development while also broadening the scale of his narrative even more. These novels are unlike any Fantasy series I have read due to Watson's charm and bold choices. Aside from this, Clash of Iron ends in a way that makes me desperate for the next installment! I recommend this to fans of Fantasy reads and Historical Fiction.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Pulitzer Prize Winners 2015 - Letters and Drama

HomeYesterday the winners of this year's Pulitzer Prizes were announced on Youtube by Pulitzer Administrator Mike Pride. Established in 1917 by Joseph Pulitzer and administered by Columbia University, the prizes are awarded yearly to work in twenty-one different categories. Each year 102 judges are selected by the board and put into separate juries for each of the categories. Great authors, poets and playwrights such as Robert Frost, William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams have been awarded in the past.

Below are the works which have been awarded in the Letters and Drama categories. Aside from these, there are also prizes in Music and Journalism (Investigative Reporting, Commentary, Criticism, etc.).


All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)
All the Light We Cannot SeeMarie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

The Motherfucker with the Hat & Between Riverside and Crazy  by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Praise for Guirgis:"A bold, highly articulate and deceptively compassionate Stephen Adley Guirgis drama about the peaks, valleys, minefields and revelations of addiction in an urban underclass."—Chicago Tribune on The Motherfucker with the Hat
"Completely compelling . . . Galvanizing but not importunate. You could cry (I did), but you are always free simply to laugh instead."—New York onBetween Riverside and Crazy
"His empathetic, poetic tales of ex-cons, addicts, and other men whom society would label losers return us, again and again, to a world that Guirgis, by virtue of his particular religion—the church of the streets—illuminates with the bright and crooked light of his faith."—New Yorker

Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People  by Elizabeth A. Fenn (Hill and Wang)
Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People

Encounters at the Heart of the World concerns the Mandan Indians, iconic Plains people whose teeming, busy towns on the upper Missouri River were for centuries at the center of the North American universe. We know of them mostly because Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1804–1805 with them, but why don’t we know more? Who were they really? In this extraordinary book, Elizabeth A. Fenn retrieves their history by piecing together important new discoveries in archaeology, anthropology, geology, climatology, epidemiology, and nutritional science. Her boldly original interpretation of these diverse research findings offers us a new perspective on early American history, a new interpretation of the American past.
     By 1500, more than twelve thousand Mandans were established on the northern Plains, and their commercial prowess, agricultural skills, and reputation for hospitality became famous. Recent archaeological discoveries show how these Native American people thrived, and then how they collapsed. The damage wrought by imported diseases like smallpox and the havoc caused by the arrival of horses and steamboats were tragic for the Mandans, yet, as Fenn makes clear, their sense of themselves as a people with distinctive traditions endured.
     A riveting account of Mandan history, landscapes, and people, Fenn’s narrative is enriched and enlivened not only by science and research but by her own encounters at the heart of the world.

Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesdays - 'Verily, A New Hope' by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #4)I have no chills left, if I ever had any to begin with. Last night I became one of the happiest people on Earth when my dad bought my family tickets to next year's Star Wars Celebration Europe in London!! I genuinely can't wait. After this weekend's amazing live feed from Anaheim, I realized I simply had to go to a SWC and when they announced that the next one would be held in London it was like fate had intervened for me!

I have cried, I have laughed hysterically and then I just stared at the wall for a bit. I am now calm and in honour of that calm I am using a Star Wars book for today's memes. Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted over at A Daily Rhythm. This week I'm using Quirkbooks' Verily, A New Hope, Ian Doescher's Shakespeare adaptation of A New Hope.
Inspired by one of the greatest creative minds in the English language—and William Shakespeare—here is an officially licensed retelling of George Lucas's epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying...pretty much everything.
Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations—William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.
'C-3PO"Now is the summer of our happiness made winter by this sudden, fierce attack! Our ship is under siege, I know not how. O hast thou heard? The main reactor fails! We shall most surely be destroy'd by this. I'll warrant madness lies herein!"
R2-D2:"-Beep beep, 
Beep, beep, meep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, whee!"
C-3PO:"We're doomed."'
I just love how much it is still like Star Wars. I mean, this is pretty much exactly how the scene goes in the film and yet Doescher has managed to maintain its spirit while writing in a completely different style. Writing in iambic pentameter requires a certain style and tone, and it takes some skill to adapt it naturally!


'Obi-wan:"Forsooth, a great disturbance in the Force /Have I just felt. 'Twas like a million mouths /Cried out in fear at once, and then were gone, /All hush'd and quiet - silent to the last. /I fear a stroke of evil hath occur'd. /But thou, good Luke, thy practice recommence."' p.88-9
This is one of my favourite scenes from A New Hope. Anyone who says George Lucas only writes awkward dialogue doesn't know how to appreciate his ventures into mythology. 

So, what are you introducing and teasing this week? I will try to keep my fangirling over Star Wars under control but I can't make any promises!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Weekly Overview

I have spent another week back at University, trying to get back into work-mode and back into Anglo-Saxon. I have almost finished my dissertation which I am really excited about and I have reviewed some amazing books this week! I have also been trying to expand what I post about. I do the occasional analysis post but I would love to get some more diversity in here, while of course keeping up with the reviews.

So, that was my week! Next week I will put up a post about a giveaway I'm planning! It will be restricted to the UK, unless you want to pay the shipping costs yourself, but I have a bunch of books that I want to get rid off and preferably give nice homes with book lovers!

This post is linked up with the Sunday Post over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer!

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Risk of Ignoring the Prequels - Star Wars

With the release of the second The Force Awakens teaser trailer this Thursday, Star Wars has once again positioned itself as a major Force to be reckoned with. I myself was swept right along by the excitement and will spend the weekend in a state of ecstasy while watching the live feed from Star Wars Celebration: Anaheim. In the excitement on Thursday, however, there were a number of extremely bittersweet moments for me, starting during the opening panel with JJ Abrahms and Kathleen Kennedy. It seems that not a single conversation about Star Wars can occur without subtle, or not so subtle, shade being thrown at the prequel films (The Phantom Menace, The Attack of the Clones, The Revenge of the Sith). And after mulling it over, and over, I have realized I can't be the only Star Wars-fan who is wondering why and questioning what this will do to the fandom.

I am a Star Wars fan, always have been and always will be. Born in the 1990s, my first real experience of the frenzy surrounding Star Wars came with the release of the Prequel Trilogy (PT). I had watched the Original Trilogy (OT) films with my family before then, but I could never have imagined how many people loved these films besides us. With the release of these new films, I suddenly became part of a wider community and found my own passion and excitement reflected by millions of people around the world. I reveled in the speculation around what would happen and eagerly anticipated the release of each trailer and each film. It felt glorious. Unfortunately in the years following the release of the PT, my memories have soured under the utter disapproval that is daily strewn across the Internet about the PT films.

When the OT films came out they were unlike anything many people had seen before. The viewers identified with the characters, fell in love with Star Wars and carried that love and passion with them their whole adult lives. The expectations for the PT films were so high that a let-down was almost inevitable. On the one hand I completely understand that not everyone can like, or love, everything. People are bound to dislike aspects of the films or disagree with some of the choices made by the director and writers. However, in the case of the PT films something else has happened. Many fans of the OT films seemed to decide to completely turn against the PT films, bashing them on every occasion and denying there was a single redeemable feature about them. Since I grew up with the PT films I simply love them. For me, they are as much Star Wars as the OT films are. My father, who saw the OT films in the cinema, loves the PT equally. I find the hate that these films receive almost impossible to understand and I will hopefully explain why below.

One of the main things that is always brought up, even during SWC: Anaheim, is the increased use of CGI in the PT films in contrast to the practical effects in the OT films. With the announcement that he had "returned" to using practical effects, JJ seemed to be tapping into the opinion of some fans over the fact that the PT films look "too new", have "too much green screen" and are "fake". As you may be able to guess, I disagree. George Lucas always used special effects to enhance what he filmed, even in the OT films. The fact is that more practical miniature models were created for the PT films than for the OT films. Planets such as Kamino were largely built as miniature models and major sets were still built for scenes in Tatooine, Naboo, Mustafar etc. Considering how many films nowadays rely on CGI or how films such as Avatar are praised for their use of CGI, I simply don't understand why people dislike this aspect of the PT films so much. (Hop over to the The Force.net forums for some amazing BTS-photos of the PT sets btw.) Besides this, it makes a lot of sense for the PT films to have a newer look. During the second PT film the Clone Wars starts, which leads to much of the disrepair and roughness people love so much. But the PT films are set in a pre-war time, which was more prosperous, and focuses on a group of characters which work at the very heart of the Republic. A natural consequence is that everything which is eventually broken down is still standing and shining in the PT films.

What is Gained in Translation?

The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales
Source: Goodreads
In recent years English has become the 'go to' language for the whole world. Not just in business but also in popular culture, English is the language which many people communicate in on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Personally I think that this has led to the mistaken idea among some that everything worth reading has been written in English. I myself currently study English literature, live in England and speak English all day. As an almost natural consequence I find myself reading almost exclusively English books. It may come as a surprise then that I am not, in fact, English.

Born in Germany and raised in the Netherlands, most of my childhood was spend reading, and being read to, in Dutch and German. Not only were there the famous fairy tales, but also beautiful books by Tonke Verdragt, Michael Ende, Thea Beckman and many more. Mobing to the United Kingdom at sixteen, I found that many of my childhood books had never been heard of or if they had been, only in passing. The starkest example of this gap in shared experience for me came from talking about the Grimms' Fairy Tales. As a child I had spent hours with my nose buried in the original versions, whereas many of my English friends had only read the (severely) altered and translated versions. When I mentioned the step-sisters' cut off toes in Cinderella my friends stared at me in horror. Similar responses were triggered when I dared tell them of the fairy tale 'Donkeyskin'.

What was interesting to me about this difference was that despite Germany and the United Kingdom being so close together, we had very different experiences of the same tales. And all of this was down to translation. I realized that translation was a crucial part of the growing globalisation in the world. Stories such as the Grimms' Fairy Tales are an integral part of Germany's cultural history and also give you a sense of the country's "feel". Although the Grimms themselves did plenty to change the fairy tales, they had lost something in translation. In a similar way, Finland's ancient book of mythology, The Kalevala, is one which isn't widely available in translation. What does it mean when a country's stories can't be read and understood by others?

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)
Source: Goodreads
As mentioned above, globalisation has made major leaps in the last decade or so. It is easier than ever to contact people halfway across the world and to do business with them. When it comes to blogs like my own, I would love for it to be understandable to everyone, no matter what country they're from. I make it my aim to read books from all over the world, largely in translation since I only speak a limited number of languages. I want to understand different countries and cultures, and read as much as possible from as many countries as possible. Simultaneously, I think it is very important to state that literature, no matter where it comes from, is important. A book from Kenya written in Swahili originally should be able to reach the same kind of platform as a book written originally in English. As such, translation is key in making sure no one culture overshadows another. When it comes to this I think that making the effort to be inclusive, whether you do it like me by reading books from all over the world or using translation software, such as Smartling, which translates your content into a number of languages. Businesses and publishers should be aware of the importance of their content being available to people all across the world.

Although I myself have limited experience in doing business with people from other countries, I have done a fair share of traveling. While doing so, I have always tried to read stories from the places I was visiting, whether it was ancient myths while visiting Athens or The Shadow of the Wind while strolling through Barcelona. Doing so has always allowed me to recognize traditions, understand their origins and appreciate the differences which exist between cultures. The importance, and the good, of translation, then, lies exactly in this. Rather than considering it as appropriation, translation allows a book and its content to effectively spread to different countries. Literature and language are the lifeblood of culture and without them it is impossible to truly create understanding between cultures and countries. Translation, especially into English but also English into different languages, is crucial in allowing literature to reach people all over the world. I myself have recently read a number of amazing books from authors all over the world, including South-Korea, Japan, Columbia and France, yet these books aren't ones I easily found in bookstores around me. I think it is now time, in this global day and age, that publishers and businesses become aware of the massive audiences that are out there for them if they think to tap into them.

How do you feel about translation? Do you think it's important to be able to read stories from different countries easily?

Friday Memes and 'Invisible Cities'

This week I have been trying to focus on work and university work but I've still managed to get some reading and blogging in though so yaay me. I also have a question, one which I feel like I should bold! I want to potentially host a giveaway of sorts for people in the UK, where I put up a list of books and if you want one you comment and I'll put it aside for you. Does this sound good? Anyone be up for that? I realize a lot of you are from the US or elsewhere, but I simply can't afford to send books all over the world :( Let me know what you think!

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

Here's €/£/$ 100,000. Buy something. Anything at all! What would be the first thing you choose, and why?

This is a torturous question since I don't have £100,000. What I probably would do was put aside some money for my Masters, my PhD and my sister's Bachelor degree. That would be a sensible thing to do and definitely would have some money left afterwards. If I got it NOW I might try to buy a ticket to the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, since they released a new teaser trailer yesterday and I basically need to be there. After that I might save some money to later invest into a house that has a library space!

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

Ending a book I loved is sad and beginning a new one is apprehensive for me. What about you?

Aaah, I definitely recognize this apprehension Elizabeth! I recently finished The Awakening by Kate Chopin and it really gripped me. When I actually read the last page and put it to the side I wasn't quite sure what to pick up next and how to get into it if my mind was still buzzing with The Awakening. Usually when this happens to me I simply have to "tough it out" for a few pages, by which I mean that I simply have to start reading the next book and wait until it grips me. Usually it does happen after maybe the first chapter, but what also helps is to maybe take some time off reading if a book has really shook you.

Invisible CitiesThis week I'm using a book which I've borrowed from my step-mom (thanks!) which I have been wanting to read for ages! This book is Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities!
“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” — from Invisible Cities
In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo — Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts his host with stories of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. As Marco Polo unspools his tales, the emperor detects these fantastic places are more than they appear.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice.

'Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his.' p.5 (first page)
I love the frame story of Kublai Khan, I think he is a really interesting figure and who doesn't love Marco Polo? Calvino's writing is beautifully descriptive and imaginative. I can always "see" what he is trying to say!

'When he enters the territory of which Eutropia is the capital, the traveler sees not one city but many, of equal size and not unlike one another, scattered over a vast, rolling plateau.' p.56
I love the whole idea of this novel, a collection of travel stories which show us how humanity works. Besides that, it is simply stunning prose and wickedly funny and sharp at times.

So, what would you do with £100,000? And can you pick up a new book straight after really loving one?

I hope everyone enjoys their weekend and maybe check out a post I just wrote about translation!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Review: 'In the Beginning was the Sea' by Tomás González, trans. Frank Wynne

I picked this novel up on a whim after reading the blurb. There was something fascinating about it and the idea that it was based on a true story also intrigued me. I am incredibly happy to have picked up this novel and discovered a new author for myself! Thank you to Netgally for providing me with a free copy of this novel.

Pub. Date: 24/02/2015
Publisher: Steerforth Press/ Pushkin Press
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.
Pushkin Collection editions feature a spare, elegant series style and superior, durable components. The Collection is typeset in Monotype Baskerville, litho-printed on Munken Premium White Paper and notch-bound by the independently owned printer TJ International in Padstow. The covers, with French flaps, are printed on Colorplan Pristine White Paper. Both paper and cover board are acid-free and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.
In the Beginning was the Sea is a really interesting read. On the one hand the reader is kept on the outside, observing J. and Elena as they live, and ruin, their lives, while on the other hand the reader can't help but become affected by what they do. J. and Elena buy their farm, or finca as it's referred to in the book, and want to live a life away from the materialism and fakery of the materialism that surrounded them in the city. Naturally, things don't go as they had planned. González has the ability to write about the nastiness of humanity and life in a tone that is beautifully calm, making the tragedy of his characters seem both inevitable and due to willfulness. A major part of this novel is the idea of reinventing yourself, of choosing a new lifestyle and adapting to your surroundings. The novel plays with the way in which the story of J. and Elena is told which presents the reader with a sense of doom about their journey.

There is something about In the Beginning was the Sea that doesn't feel comfortable. González was inspired for this book by his own brother's life, yet the book is largely devoid of overt sentimentality. There is something almost cruel in how the narrator deals with his characters, the lassitude with which he pictures their rise and downfalls. The reader knows much more than the characters do and as a consequence the book almost feels like a detective novel at times. The ending is, if not clear, at least expected, and it's fascinating to see how González works his way towards the end at his own leisure. The contempt shown by the main characters is one that is returned to them and in the end the reader is simply left wondering how it got to this.

Despite this being González's first book, the writing is stunning and has a clear voice. His descriptions of the finca and of the sea are beautiful and emotive and more than anything bring out the ecological fantasies of the main character. What I really enjoyed was how he would foreshadow certain events but then not reveal anything about them. González manages to keep the reader right on the edge while bathing them in beautiful imagery and writing. Frank Wynne does an amazing job at translating González's prose. Especially enjoyable were the words he left in Spanish, such as 'finca' and 'hermana', which added a lot of flavor to the book. For a long time he was known as 'the best-kept secret of Colombian literature', but it is long overdue that his books are being translated.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

In the Beginning was the Sea is a novel that I won't quickly forget it. Reading it was almost addictive in a strange sense and after finishing it I still hadn't made up my mind about it. It will keep you on the edge of your seat for as long as it lasts, largely due to González's stunning prose. The book will leave you with questions but also with a sense of understanding which is hard to explain. I would recommend this to fans of realist and Spanish fiction.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Dublin Literary Award 2015 - Short List Announced

IMPAC 2015 logoThe Dublin Literary Award is one of the most interesting literary awards out there, in my opinion. Libraries around the world get to nominate books, including translations from other languages, which means it is a great opportunity to discover new books and authors. One of this year's judges, Daniel Hahn, wrote a really interesting post about this aspect of the award, called 'Letting In Foreigners'.
'The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, launched by Dublin City Council in 1996, is the world's richest literary award for a single title, with a prize of €100,000, and is open to fiction published both in English and in other languages and translated into English. In the event of a win by a book in translation, the prize is split 75:25 in the author's favour.' (Source: Foyles)
Due to the fact it is one of the few awards that allows books to be entered in translation, it always receives a huge number of entries, leading to a huge variety in who has received the prize. The long-list for this year's nominees were announced in November, which included Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and today marked the announcement of the ten-strong short-list! 

Americanah  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.
Horses of God  by  Mahi Binebine, trans. by Lulu Norman (French)
On May 16, 2003, fourteen suicide bombers launched a series of attacks throughout Casablanca. It was the deadliest attack in Morocco’s history. The bombers came from the shantytowns of Sidi Moumen, a poor suburb on the edge of a dump whose impoverished residents rarely if ever set foot in the cosmopolitan city at their doorstep. Mahi Binebine’s novel Horses of God follows four childhood friends growing up in Sidi Moumen as they make the life-changing decisions that will lead them to become Islamist martyrs.
Harvest  by Jim Crace
In effortless and tender prose, Jim Crace details the unraveling of a pastoral idyll in the wake of economic progress. His tale is timeless and unsettling, framed by a beautifully evoked world that will linger in your memory long after you finish reading.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North  by Richard Flanagan
Richard Flanagan's story — of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle's wife — journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. 
K  by Bernardo Kucinski, trans. by Sue Branford (Portuguese)

A remarkable novel written by the Brazilian journalist Bernardo Kucinski. K is the story of a father who searches desperately for his daughter, ‘disappeared’ during the military dictatorship in Brazil. The father is himself a refugee from Poland in the 1930s. He is racked by feelings of guilt—that because he was immersed in his Yiddish writing and scholarship, he did not really know his daughter or the danger that threatened her.
Brief Loves That Live Forever  by Andrei Makine, trans. by Geoffrey Strachan (French)
In Soviet Russia the desire for freedom is also a desire for the freedom to love. Lovers live as outlaws, traitors to the collective spirit, and love is more intense when it feels like an act of resistance.
TransAtlantic  by Colum McCann
Colum McCann demonstrates once again why he is one of the most acclaimed and essential authors of his generation with a soaring novel that spans continents, leaps centuries, and unites a cast of deftly rendered characters, both real and imagined.
Someone  by Alice McDermott
An ordinary life—its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion—lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott’s extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of After This. Scattered recollections—of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age—come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott’s deft, lyrical voice.
Sparta  by Roxana Robinson
Conrad Farrell has no family military heritage, but as a classics major at Williams College, he has encountered the powerful appeal of the Marine Corps ethic. “Semper Fidelis” comes straight from the ancient world, from Sparta, where every citizen doubled as a full-time soldier. When Conrad graduates, he joins the Marines to continue a long tradition of honor, courage, and commitment.
I think it's a great set of books that have been chosen this year. I love to see the variety of countries and cultures that is addressed in this selection and to see that almost half of the authors are women, not including the translators. The point of literature is that people get to tell their stories, but more importantly that people get to find their stories within books. Representation and diversity are crucial and it is great that an award such as the Dublin Literary Award gives attention to books which otherwise might not get as much attention. It is important to see books from so many different parts of the world can still hit close to home with everyone.

I am determined to read Horses of God soon since I think it is incredibly topical at the moment. Similarly, Brief Loves that Live Forever sounds really interesting and will be one I will hopefully be reading soon. If you want to find out more about the Dublin Literary Award, hop over to their website. To read more about the books or buy them, go to Goodreads or Amazon.

Which of these books strikes you the most? Do you have hopes one of them will win?