dinsdag 31 maart 2015

Aldous Huxley: Island

Hi again

I couldn’t resist and started reading this the moment I got it.
Island by Aldous Huxley has 286 pages and I bought it at De Slegte.

“In Island, his last novel, Huxley transports us to a Pacific island where, for 120 years, an ideal society has flourished. Inevitably, this island of bliss attracts the envy and enmity of the surrounding world. A conspiracy is underway to take over Pala and events begin to move when an agent of the conspirators, a newspaperman named Faranby, is shipwrecked there. What Faranby doesn't expect is how his time with the people of Pala will revolutionize all his values and -- to his amazement -- give him hope.”

The ideas Huxley puts forth as the basis of his Utopian Island of Pala are profound and based on thorough thinking and a great knowledge.
Even though we all know it’s not possible, it is a pleasure to read about this possibility and to embark on a daydream/deep thinking about it. How would I organize it? What is important in my opinion? What part has science in it? What roles should work and industry play in daily life?
There isn’t much of a plot however, so don’t read it expecting that. A fault I made at the beginning of the novel. It took me some time to get into the novel because of these wrong expectations.
What you can expect is a novel that will make you think about our society, the way people behave and the way we treat our world.
This novel is almost an essay or a frame for Huxley’s ideas about his ideal society. It is a succession of discussions or descriptions about this society and how it works.
The great thing is; Huxley makes it seem possible. So why doesn’t it exist? According to Huxley it’s because we don’t want to make it work.

A very thought-provoking novel for everyone who’s in the mood for something like this.
Definitely recommended.

Happy reading!
Helena

zondag 29 maart 2015

Philip K. Dick: The Man in the High Castle

Hi

I read the Science Fiction Classic; The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. This won the Hugo Award in 1963.
It has 249 pages and I got it second-hand.

“It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.”

The focus on these minor characters in a world where everything is so different from ours shows us the magnitude of this world. The Nazis terminated almost all life in Africa and this is just mentioned in passing by one of the characters. Oh my word. I gasped reading this. And it is mentioned so casually!
The final use of I-Ching in this novel will keep you wondering about what’s real and what’s not.
The writing isn’t beautiful or elegant. It’s short and to the point.
It’s bleak and gloomy but also full of suspense and intrigue, vivid and ultimately; chilling.

Happy reading!
Helena

donderdag 26 maart 2015

Ira Levin: The Boys from Brazil

Hi

This review is about The Boys from Brazil, a novel by Ira Levin.
I read Rosemary’s Baby years and years ago; when I saw this one in a second-hand store I had to have it.
It has 258 pages.

“Alive and hiding in South America, the fiendish Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele gathers a group of former colleagues for a horrifying project—the creation of the Fourth Reich. Barry Kohler, a young investigative journalist, gets wind of the project and informs famed Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman, but before he can relay the evidence, Kohler is killed.”

Oh my word. I did not see this coming. When everything finally clicked (somewhere around page 170) I had to put the novel aside for a moment to digest the plot. I mean, it’s a huge revelation.
It is a real page turner. It’s smart, it has an optimistic note underlying the whole novel, it’s something out of the ordinary.
The prose and the characters aren’t that good. But the story is.
And it’s still a chilling plot because it’s not so far-fetched anymore as it was back when it was written.

A relaxing read that is quite different and makes you think for a moment.

Happy reading!
Helena

dinsdag 24 maart 2015

Neil Gaiman: Smoke and Mirrors

Hi again

I read this collection of short stories over the last week. A few stories here and there to catch a break from reading something more serious (H.G. Wells and Jane Austen).  
This collection has a total of 388 pages and I ordered it from The Book Depository.
You can find all my Neil Gaiman-reviews here.

“In the deft hands of Neil Gaiman, magic is no mere illusion... and anything is possible. In this, Gaiman's first book of short stories, his imagination and supreme artistry transform a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders -- a place where an old woman can purchase the Holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under "Pest Control," and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad tracks. Explore a new reality -- obscured by smoke and darkness, yet brilliantly tangible -- in this extraordinary collection of short works by a master prestidigitator. It will dazzle your senses, touch your heart, and haunt your dreams.”

I loved how the short stories are preceded by an introduction which has a paragraph about the idea behind each story and the reason for writing it. This helps to put them into context. Some stories are so very different from what I’m used to read by Gaiman that I was very glad to have these explanations.
I loved and/or enjoyed most of them. Some are funny, mysterious, ingenious, speculative, dark or pensive. They are all very different.
Obviously, there are a few stories I really didn’t enjoy.

It’s a nice collection. Entertaining, fast and diverse. Perfect for those short, empty moments or as a break from another novel.

Happy reading.
Helena

Sunday!

maandag 23 maart 2015

Bookhaul: Fnac and De Slegte

Hi

I finally had time to browse a bookstore last Saturday! It felt so good to see what’s new on the shelves and what else is available.

Here are the books I got:


New books! Lovely books!

Happy reading.
Helena

zaterdag 21 maart 2015

H. G. Wells: The War of the Worlds

Hi again

The War of the Worlds is H. G. Wells’ best known work.
My copy has only 189 pages and I ordered it from The Book Depository. This is a reread for me as I read it before in Dutch when I was much younger.

The Earth is being watched by aliens from Mars. They existed long before the human race and because of that we’re way behind in our evolution compared to them. The Martians know this, and they need a new planet to populate. Which means that our Earth is the obvious choice.
Our protagonist (again without a name) sees an explosion nearby and he decides to investigate. Obviously he’s not the only one with that thought. Once they reach the crater however it is clear that there is life inside the cylinder. Some men decide to move closer but they get incinerated by the Martians’ heat ray. The next day these Martians are working on something in their cylinders.
More cylinders crash on earth and the same happens close to those craters; people get incinerated and a lot of smoke and noise follows.
After a few days, the Martians leave their cylinder safe and sound in their newly fabricated tripod wherein they start destroying everything around them.
Wells makes a parallel between the Martians and their superiority over humans and the humans’ perception of their superiority over animals and the Earth.

The novel is about chaos and how a structured society can erupt into total anarchy.
Even though we think we are the superior ones because we are intelligent and in control over our Earth. In reality, we are only tolerated on this earth by its real master; nature.
The novel read as an objective retelling by an unknown protagonist who can represent every human on this invaded earth, thus making it very close to home. This protagonist gives us a very dry and rather boring description of the ravage. It is a bit scary, but it’s boring because we see no action. Our protagonist is hiding throughout a big part of the novel.
Wells focuses more on describing the ruins they left behind than on the Martians themselves. It could be because it would be easier for us to imagine how a body is laying dead on the ground then how this Martian tripod looks. But I really missed those details; it felt too far away to me, too disconnected. This novel lacks emotion and even suspense. It is a dry report in the paper.

I didn't enjoy this novel as much as his other works. This means that I wouldn’t recommend you to read this one first. It is a must-read of you enjoyed his other works, but if you’re just starting out, read something else first.

Happy reading.
Helena

donderdag 19 maart 2015

Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

Hi

Sense and Sensibility is Jane Austen’s first published novel but the second novel she wrote. This is my second time reading it.
It has 405 pages and a very beautiful cover.
You can find all my Jane Austen reviews here.

“Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor's warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.”

I think this novel is not just an argument for more sense or more sensibility but for a balance of both. Happiness is only possible when one learns to accept both sides.
Jane Austen’s writing is sassy, ironic, witty and subtle. The way she conveys her criticism of the disagreeable characters is (when reading carefully), very, very funny; especially in the introductions.
Mr. Palmer is another perfect example of her subtle humor. By reading his papers, Austen mocks the overly dramatic and irrational women in the novel.
Willoughby is a unique Austen villain. Next to faults, he has merits. He gets a chapter to explain himself and he gains more depth in it. As far as I remember, this is the only time she does that.

The ending is a bit too perfect in my opinion. I know, all her novels end well, but this one is a bit too perfect, a bit too convenient.

Happy reading.
Helena

Sunny afternoon!

zondag 15 maart 2015

Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter: The Long Earth

Hi again

This review is about The Long Earth; the first novel in the The Long Earth Series; a novel written by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett.
The book has 425 pages and a very beautiful cover.

 “1916: The Western Front. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of no-man's-land gone? For that matter, where has Percy gone?
2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Police officer Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive--some said mad, others allege dangerous--scientist who seems to have vanished. Sifting through the wreckage, Jansson finds a curious gadget: a box containing some rudimentary wiring, a three-way switch, and...a potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way humankind views the world forever.”

I enjoyed this novel; it is something very different from what I’m used to reading.

I thought it a very absorbing, interesting and easy read. The writing style is absolutely engaging with easy to understand information and lovely references to other cultural works, it’s very accessible. The story itself is quite fast paced.

The authors show us what these Long Earths could mean for families, politics and the world economy. And that’s a fascinating and promising idea that is cleverly worked out in this first novel in the series. It made me think about our existence on Earth and our possible futures.

The different POV’s made the idea behind the novel more real because we could see it from very, very different perspectives. A child doesn’t see the same possibilities as a politician for example. This way we know what’s going on back at Datum Earth and at other Earths.

I didn’t care for the ending though.
Other than that, I liked the novel; I just didn’t really love it.

Not an amazing novel but I am very interested in finding out where this series will go.

Happy reading.
Helena

vrijdag 13 maart 2015

José Saramago: Blindness

Hi again

Here’s my review of Blindness by José Saramago.
I got this novel as a gift from my niece Anneke.
It has 310 pages.

“A city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides her charges—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and their procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing.”

Oh my word. I have never, ever read anything quite like this before.
Reading this novel is a real experience.

The novel is bleak, grim, raw, claustrophobic, brutal and hard.
The narrative changes from stream of consciousness to seemingly objectivity and back again. This made me uneasy, it adds to the sense of loss, of panic and of uncertainty.
There are no names either, making it even more strained.
It’s never boring, it is brutal but it’s also insightful and truly fantastic.

Thank you so much Anneke! I can’t wait to buy another work of his and devour that as well.

Happy reading.
Helena

donderdag 12 maart 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett

Hi

Sir Terry Pratchett passed away.

It was my father who got me hooked on this series.
He loves it so much he has every Discworld novel in English and in Dutch; even going so far as to reading them at the same time sometimes.
He used to read to my brother and me before we went to bed. As we grew older we still loved these moments so my father kept on reading to us, but he chose YA or adult novels like Harry Potter and the Discworld Series.
Those moments were my introduction to Terry Pratchett.

Older, I read them myself. By the time I was thinking about my own place with my boyfriend, I realized I would have to let those novels behind. And that’s when I started collecting them myself.

Terry Pratchett marked the start of my interest in Fantasy.

Thank you sir, for all you’ve given us.
Thank you for those wonderful and hilarious novels with a ring of truth in them.
Thank you for all the hours well spent reading them, away from everything else.

Helena
My dad and me on my wedding day, getting our priorities straight. 

maandag 9 maart 2015

George R. R. Martin: A Clash of Kings

Hi

This review is about the second part in the A Song of Ice and Fire series; A Clash of Kings.
It won the Locus Award and was nominated for the Nebula Award.
The copy I read has 873 pages.
You can find my review on the first part here.

I like the different point-of-views in the story. It’s a big world with a lot happening and because of these multiple POV’s we get to see so much more of it.
But I hated that every time the POV changed to someone else, and then changed back to the first person a certain amount of time had gone by. We missed so much because of that.
And this ties in with the biggest problem I have with this novel. We miss all the action!
A letter arrives to tell us of a battle, there’s talk about a battle that happened, a servant tells us someone disappears. No idea how Robb won his battles because we see nothing of him in this novel. Where the hell does Tywin come from in the end? Oh, we don’t know because we don’t read about him. Stupid Sansa sleeps during the battle.
Well I want to read about the battles. I want to read how they escaped.
The small bit of action we get is over before we know it happens. Renly’s death takes only a couple of sentences for instance.

It’s terribly boring. Very little action, endless talking, food, dress and more talking, going somewhere, hanging out somewhere and even more talking.

We read about too many characters and names we don’t care about and who add nothing whatsoever to the story. Reading ten names in a row serves no-one.

It’s tiresome and tedious in the sense that everything going bad for everyone is tiresome. Not one plotline has some good in it. ‘Everyone always loses’ is tiresome and very, very predictable.

I still stand by my review of A Game of Thrones, so I won’t repeat the problems I wrote about it that review even though they’re here as well.

Happy reading.
Helena

zondag 8 maart 2015

Bookhaul: A Gift!

Hi

My husband and I have been together for seven years. To celebrate we went to a nice restaurant and we exchanged gifts.
One of the things I got is this very fitting novel I've wanted to read for ages.


  • Ken Kesey: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Thank you Brecht!
On to much, much more years together.

Happy reading.
Helena

donderdag 5 maart 2015

Bookhaul: Fnac

Hi

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was so fantastic I just had to have this one.


I hope I'll enjoy this one as much.

Happy reading.
Helena

zondag 1 maart 2015

Wrap Up: February 2015

Hi

February was a difficult reading month. Everything started out well, but by the 15th I reached a Reading Slump and I had a hard time enjoying books.
I couldn’t concentrate on a novel, didn’t feel like reading, wasn’t interested in reading and didn’t feel like blogging.

In the end I read a total of 1990 pages in 7 books.

Here are the novels I read this month:
What did you read this month?

Happy reading!
Helena