zondag 30 november 2014

Bookhaul: Gifts

Hi

I got new books!
And I totally forgot to write a post about them.

These books were gifts for my graduation back in August (I admired them on the shelf but forgot to write about them).


Happy reading!
Helena

vrijdag 28 november 2014

Agathe Christie: The ABC Murders

Hi

This short review is about The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie. The main character in this book is her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
This novel is 331 pages long and I got it second-hand.
You can find my other review of a Patrick Rothfuss novel here.

 “There's a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card he leaves beside each victim's corpe the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught - until he makes the crucial and vain mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans.”

Agatha Christie writes fluent and her novels are very easy to read.
This one differs from her usual pattern of having a murder followed by two rounds of questions and the reveal while everyone is present. We are chasing the murderer in this novel.
The narration is very different from her other works. This novel jumps back and forth between Hastings telling the story from Poirot’s point of view and the occasional third person narration.
The characterization is great; the humor is to the point and it’s a very fast read.
But, in my opinion, it's not one of her best works.

Happy reading.
Helena

dinsdag 25 november 2014

Ernest Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea

Hi again

This is my review of The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.
I got my book as a gift from my brother and his girlfriend. They bought it for me (and my father got the same book) when they were on holiday in Cuba. A very thoughtful gift.
It won the Pulitzer Prize and was cited by the Nobel Committee as contributing to the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway.
This novella has a beautiful cover and it is only 84 pages long.

“The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway's most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal -- a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.
Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.”

This seems to be a very simple story. It was my first time reading it and I will definitely read it again to understand it better.
Santiago is struggling against defeat though he refuses to give in. It’s a novel about respect, courage, determination, will and hardship.
The marlin he catches and Santiago himself are very close in character. Both are unyielding, proud and honorable. Both are not willing to give in to the ultimate defeat; death. Knowing that at some point they’ll die; both are fighting for their lives. Santiago sees in the marlin a worthy opponent.
I did not feel sorry for Santiago as he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. It’s not about pity; it’s about respect for the marlin and Santiago.
This novel makes you think about humanity and your place in the world.
Not a word is misplaced, there’s not a character too much and not one unnecessary scene. With the bare minimum he shapes this astoundingly beautiful novel. The prose is simple, straight-forward, restrained and yet powerful.

I need to reread this novel to write a more thorough review. But this will do for now.

Happy reading.
Helena

maandag 24 november 2014

Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451

Hi

This review is about one of the great Dystopian classics; Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
It won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award and the Retro Hugo Award.
My copy has 159 pages.

“Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.
Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.
When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.”

I didn’t love this novel. Not that it's bad, I just expected more of it.
The novel is strictly theme- or plotdriven. Every scene and character has a function. It is too straight-forward for my tastes.
I did love the characters and the story. The story is wonderful. It’s fast, unsettling, realistic and absorbing. Guy starts out as a gullible slave to the system. But things happen and he grows into someone else, he grows into a new role.
The prose is a bit tricky but once you get used to the paradoxes about living while being mind-dead etc. it is a good novel.

I could go on and one about the themes and the messages in this novel, but I won’t, I’ll be quick.
To me, this novel is about the dangers of conformity, the importance of real knowledge instead of biased knowledge fed to us. How changes can be man-made instead of ordered by the government. About censorship, suppressing individualism and the consequences of too much stimulation.

Happy reading.
Helena

zaterdag 22 november 2014

Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore

Hi

This review is about Kafka on the Shore; a novel by Haruki Murakami. This is my second Murakami novel. My copy has 505 pages.

 “Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father's dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghostlike pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle. Murakami's novel is at once a classic quest, but it is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. “

This was a very strange novel. There are parts of it I loved and parts I had to push myself to read further. The first half of the novel flew by. The second part however was too long; it was a much slower read and a bit boring at times.
This is a very inventive novel, something unlike anything I have read before.
Most of the chapters about Kafka were wonderful. I was quite intrigued by him and I wanted to know more about him. He’s a strange boy and I loved him in the first part. Right up until he starts sleeping with miss Saeki.
Reading about Tanaka was a different experience. The scene where those cats were killed was superfluous and unnecessary. What was the point of that? There is no freaking point to this scene whatsoever. But Tanaka is a wonderful character. Him, I loved more by the end notwithstanding the surreal and incomprehensible events around him.
Murakami could have cut 100 pages easily because the novel was a bit tedious.
The way Oshima talks, his self-importance and his sermons about ‘important stuff’ were just annoying. It felt forced, contrived and a way for Murakami to show off his knowledge.
And every word about sex Murakami wrote was bad. And I mean really bad. He could have won the Bad Sex in Fiction Award in my opinion.
I don’t mind reading a novel without a completely rounded and satisfying ending. This makes you think about the novel. But this? So many things we never learn, so many situations never explained, characters never revisited. There were too many loose ends. What caused the children to faint? Who killed Kafka’s father? Was it Tanaka used by Kafka or Kafka himself? What about The Boy Named Crow? What about this prophesy Kafka’s father made? To me, it feels as an uncompleted novel. Or rather as a test by Murakami about how much stuff he can put in one novel and people will still love it.
And all those supernatural elements are never explained on how to interpret them. How does it all fit together? Is it meant as a surreal novel with supernatural elements or are we supposed to interpret it as is?
The main feeling I have after reading this book is ‘maybe I do not understand this novel at all’ or ‘maybe this is just a bad novel’.
I loved both the protagonists, the novel itself; not so much.

Happy reading.
Helena

Time to relax.

zaterdag 15 november 2014

Khaled Hosseini: And the Mountains Echoed

Hi

This novel was highly anticipated. I Loved Hosseini’s previous work so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one.
But, I knew reading this would be a very emotional journey, and you have to pick the right time for that.
My copy has 466 pages and I pre-ordered it from bol.com.

“Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and stepmother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal wintersOne day the siblings journey across the desert to Kabul with their father. Pari and Abdullah have no sense of the fate that awaits them there, for the event which unfolds will tear their lives apart; sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand.
Crossing generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos, with profound wisdom, depth, insight and compassion, Khaled Hosseini writes about the bonds that define us and shape our lives, the ways in which we help our loved ones in need, how the choices we make resonate through history and how we are often surprised by the people closest to us.”

This novel is about utter loneliness, how people change, how one decision can affect a whole family and those around them.
Ultimately, it’s a story about love. Love for a sister, a father, a friend. The things we do for love. And the things we don’t do.
The prose is beautiful! Such wonderful words and sentences, I wanted to take it all in. The picture he paints us is fascinating, absorbing and yet very painful. He really is a master storyteller.
Unlike Hosseini’s previous work; And the Mountains Echoed is written from the perspective of multiple characters. Every chapter is told by a different character. They are all intertwined though they might not know it themselves. It sounds wonderful, but it ultimately didn’t work for me. The characters didn’t get enough time to develop; they are clearly defined, but they lack depth and fullness. This made the novel less gripping, touching and compelling. It did however give us a better understanding of the whole country and not just the poor living in Kabul during the war. And every character has a very moving story to tell.

It is a wonderful novel, I just liked it better with the focus on less characters.
I’m left a bit unsatisfied. Like I’m waiting for more, as if the story isn’t finished yet.

Happy reading.
Helena

Enjoying this very much.

woensdag 12 november 2014

Yoko Ogawa: The Diving Pool

Hi again

I finished this collection of three novellas’ on Monday but I couldn’t write a review about them.
These are strange and disturbing stories and I still don’t know whether I liked them or not.
My copy is in Dutch and it counts 158 pages and it won the Shirley Jackson Award.

“A lonely teenage girl falls in love with her foster brother as she watches him leap from a high diving board into a pool--a peculiar infatuation that sends unexpected ripples through her life.
A young woman records the daily moods of her pregnant sister in a diary, taking meticulous note of a pregnancy that may or may not be a hallucination--but whose hallucination is it, hers or her sister's?
A woman nostalgically visits her old college dormitory on the outskirts of Tokyo, a boarding house run by a mysterious triple amputee with one leg.
Hauntingly spare, beautiful, and twisted, The Diving Pool is a disquieting and at times darkly humorous collection of novellas about normal people who suddenly discover their own dark possibilities.”

All three novellas’ have a detached, alienated and very, very lonely protagonist.
They don’t know why they are doing what they are doing and they don’t seem to understand the consequences of their actions, they are adrift. And in their isolation they try to reach out to others without knowing how. This leads them to cruelties both large and small. They get bitter and lost in their own world where there is no empathy for them.
She has a subtle, detached writing style. We are observing the characters and while we do so we get glimpses of their emotions, but only glimpses. It’s bleak and cold.
The stories are deeply unsettling and downright creepy.
Definitely not masterpieces. But unique and they have been turning around in my mind for two days now.

Happy reading.
Helena

maandag 10 november 2014

Bookhaul: Boekenbeurs

Hi

My father and I went to the Boekenbeurs in Antwerp last Saturday. It is a yearly tradition we keep very, very high.

Excepting Jung Chang, I only got books by Flemish and Dutch writers.

Here are the books I got:


Happy reading.
Helena

zondag 9 november 2014

Neil Gaiman: American Gods

Hi

American Gods is my 5th Neil Gaiman novel.
My copy is the new, extended edition with the author’s preferred text and it has 736 pages.
I got it from Book Depository.
You can find my Neil Gaiman reviews here.

The book won the 2002 Hugo, Nebula, Locus, SFX Magazine and Bram Stoker Awards. My hopes were high!

“Days before his release from prison, Shadow's wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.
Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You'll be surprised by what - and who - it finds there...”

Gaiman put a lot of thought into this novel. He didn’t simply pile everything that interests him into the novel. And he has a very, very broad interest. His ability to fill a novel with small and seemingly unconnected tidbits of information is amazing. To truly appreciate this novel; you need a certain level of understanding about myths, religion and basically almost every topic imaginable.
The true King; the writer who has been doing this for ages is obviously Terry Pratchett but Neil Gaiman definitely succeeds in this too.
What’s so wonderful about this is the amount of layers to discover in the novel; hints to later events, details about the god and its religion. I'm sure I will discover more on a second/third/… read.
Even without all this knowledge you can definitely just sit back and enjoy.

Shadow is endearing. He is gentle, easygoing and not much of a thinker. He is quiet and steady. Basically, he is the perfect protagonist for such a crazy story.
The story is ambiguous. It’s not simply black and white, good versus evil or old against new. It does start out this way but when you read further and think about it, it is not that clear who’s good and who’s bad. Or whether either of them are.
It is certainly a big book but I just didn’t care. It didn’t feel like a big novel, hard work or a never-ending story.
It is energetic, joyful, witty original, new, unique and imaginative. It is dark, engaging, thought provoking and weird in the very best way.
I loved it. One of the parts I enjoyed the most is the part where Shadow moves to the very Stephen King-esque and seemingly idyllic town of Lakeside.

Read it. Just read it.

Happy reading!
Helena

 Me time!

donderdag 6 november 2014

The 100-pages Rule

Hi

I wanted to write a quick post about my 100-pages Rule. This was mentioned last month when I wrote about two novels I didn’t finish.

When I was a teenager and I started reading adult novels; I wanted to find out what I liked and what not. Obviously, I came across a lot of books I didn’t enjoy in any way whatsoever.
My father told me to hang on and keep reading because he knew this certain book to be good.
And he was right about some of them.
Some books do get better further in. One or two chapters aren’t enough to judge the book by.
But sometimes they do not get better and it’s a frustrating task to finish them; spoiling the enjoyment of reading in the meantime.
That’s why I created this Rule to keep in mind.

I have to read at least 100 pages of a novel before I can decide to put it away. That way, the writer has time to interest me in his story. If he can’t captivate me in 100 pages, I’m pretty sure he won’t in the next 300/400/…
That way I won’t have to struggle to finish it and I can spend my time reading something I really like.
The Rule is a bit different for really small books. Books with less than 300 pages can only be put aside after I’ve read at least A Fourth of the Book.

I hope this cleared some things up!

Happy reading.
Helena

maandag 3 november 2014

Wrap Up: October 2014

Hi

Here I am again with my monthly wrap up.

I had a mixed reading month.
I did very little reading in the first two weeks of October because my grandfather passed away.
And I started two novels I hated so much I didn't even finish them.
I read a total of 1714 pages exactly.

Here’s the list of the books I read last month.

•   Terry Pratchett: Night Watch
•   F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
•   C. J. Sansom: Dark Fire
•   Arnon Grunberg: Tirza


And here is the book I tried to read.

•   Stan Nicholls: Bad Blood: Weapons of Magical Destruction

I hope you had a good reading month!

Happy reading.
Helena