woensdag 30 september 2015

Bernhard Hennen: De Elfen

Hi

This is my last review of the month.
I got De Elfen secondhand and in Dutch. As far as I know they have not been translated into English.
This first novel in the German series Die Elfen has 670 pages.

I started this novel around the 7th of this month and he struggled to get it finished by the end of this month to be able to include it in my Wrap Up.

This definitely wasn’t my cup of tea.

It’s so very old fashioned. There’s nothing new in here even though it is a rather young and new series.
The plot is predictable, the whole thing is rather dull and the characters are not thought out at all.
Noroëlle especially is very superficial and she is the woman with the most lines in the whole novel! I feel ashamed in Hennen’s place for writing such a weak, insipid female character.
The others are shallow and very predictable in their roles as elves or men.
The plot is rather ridiculous, superficial and just quack.
And the whole novel in general feels too simple or weak to be interesting. It’s not even remotely suspenseful but it is so forced.
B O R I N G!

I felt disconnected and not engaged at all while reading this. Not impressed at all.

Because I own the other three books in the series (I had to buy them together) I will attempt to read at least the second one before deciding to get rid of them or not.

Happy reading and I’ll see you tomorrow for my monthly Wrap Up.
Helena

Pumpkin soup while (finally) finishing and reviewing this one before the end of the month.

dinsdag 29 september 2015

Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose

Hi again

Second review of the day.
Why you ask?
Because I was too lazy/reading too much to start reviewing right after I finished a novel at the beginning of the month. Hence an extra review today. And this is also why you get a big book today and an even bigger book tomorrow.

The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco has 522 pages and this is my third time reading it. My first time doesn’t really count because I was too young to appreciate it fully.
My book also has a big postscript by Umberto Eco about the novel and writing itself.  It also has a translation of all the Latin passages.

 “The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon - all sharpened to a glistening edge by wry humor and a ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey.”

Interestingly I’ve only read two Eco novels and never felt the need to read more of his works.

The Name of the Rose is basically a medieval murder mystery. Basically.
The mystery and the plot is very gripping and engrossing. You just can’t put it aside once you’re into it. You want more and more, you want to know who’s next, what to do and how.
But don’t read it if you want a quick, suspenseful detective novel. Because this is not it. This is (not quick and) so much more than that. The first hundred pages were seemingly written to scare away the readers who aren’t committed to this kind of novel. Once you get into it though, you will fly through!

I love the voice of the narrator and I think it was a very smart choice of Eco to choose Adso as his narrator instead of the obvious choice; Brother William.
This way, the novel isn’t chaotic like it must be in William’s head and there is a reason for explaining the whole mystery to someone else. Adso is not the one to solve it so he wants to know why. I find that a lot of novels do the explaining just to get it over with and not as part of the story. Eco makes it part of the story by not choosing the ‘detective’.

The plot keeps on thickening as more people get murdered. It reminds you of how senseless and how unpredictable evil can be. Because try as you might, there’s no scheme or predictability behind it.

The novel is set in a time where traditionally trained people could learn from new theories by people like Brother William. He is inventive, he watches everything like a hawk and he will make sure of his theories by trial and error. It’s the difference between faith and reason or between deductive and inductive reasoning. And I loved that.

I love the details, the thought that must have gone into it, the historic details and knowledge, the elaborate discourses and the descriptions of the lifestyle of these monks. This truly is an epic story.

I also liked all the religious info and debates. It kind of made me even more of an atheist then I already am. It’s very interesting and you get to know where some of the dogmas and the (sometimes contradictory) theories come from.

Aside from all else, this is also a book about books. Beautiful, handcrafted books, unique books, the knowledge in books and the power of reading.

I loved it again.

Happy reading and I’ll see you tomorrow for my last review this month.
Helena

Muriel Barbery: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Hi

This is my second time reading this novel by Muriel Barbery.
I got it as a gift from my husband a few years ago and it has 315 pages.

 “We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.
Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.
Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.”

I loved it just as much as the first time.

The novel is philosophical but not overly so, sentimental, it’s still accessible, it’s charming, it’s moving and it’s bittersweet.
It’s an ode to every form of art out there.

Paloma is wonderfully pretentious. She is intelligent, humorous, sweet, well-read, sophisticated and still down-to-earth. And she’s surrounded by a family who feel too good, too comfortable in their high tower.
Renée is my favorite though. She’s smart, witty, very funny and oh so lovable.
Monsieur Ozu is a real gentleman, he’s generous, charming and he has an open demeanor.
I thought the characters all very real and genuine.

The ending is amazing and perfect for this story.

This is such a lovely novel and definitely worth your time.

Happy reading!
Helena

maandag 28 september 2015

George Orwell: 1984

Hi

This must be my third time reading 1984 by George Orwell.
The book has 342 pages story, 21 pages introduction by Thomas Pynchon, a 5-page note by Peter Davison and 13 pages appendix. And I read all of them since it’s been a long time.

“Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.”

Obviously, I love this novel or this wouldn’t be my third time reading it.

1984 is a very political novel. Big Brother is maybe not seen the whole time but he is felt throughout the novel. Every page screams fear of BB.
The novel feels uncomfortable, nervous and even panicky. You almost feel breathless while reading it. It’s frightening, very intense, bleak and utterly depressing. 1984 is such a powerful novel.

The society in general is very well constructed. Every detail is thought off and worked out to enhance the people’s beliefs and trust.
Orwell is an amazing world builder.

The whole system of spies and child spies especially is utterly terrifying. The idea that your own child could deliver you to the Thought Police just because he/she truly believes you are a traitor.

Winston starts with a small act of defiance, but even this act could mean death. And as the story goes on, he takes greater and greater risks.
Some might find Winston’s relationship with Julia unbelievable but I like to see it as two very, very lonely people who at long last find someone with the same beliefs.

The novel does slow down though in the second half of the book and that’s a bit of a shame. It’s still thrilling and engrossing and horrifying (the torture!) but it’s definitely slower and that’s mostly because of the book. And then the last 30 or so pages were too fast because I wanted more of them!

My heart bleeds every time Winston becomes a traitorous bastard. And I hate him for it every time. But I understand it too and that makes it so amazing.

Unless we watch out, we will become soulless, thoughtless robots.
Media changes the way we see things.
Think for yourself and don’t just accept.

Remember the past and remember your past.

Happy reading.
Helena

zondag 27 september 2015

Isaac Asimov: Foundation

Hi

This is my review of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. This book is made up as a cycle of five interrelated short stories. And these are part of the series called the Foundation Series.
my book has 296 pages and I got it from The Book Depository.

“For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future -- to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire -- both scientists and scholars -- and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.
But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind's last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun -- or fight them and be destroyed.”

I think I would have enjoyed this more if I had read the two novels before this one. Some readers and critics see Foundation as the first novel in the series; others think this is the third novel.
So I’ll order Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation and see how I’ll like it then before going on with it.

This is a very enjoyable, easy and entertaining read.
It seems full of action and adventure, but it all happens out of view and that makes it rather boring at times. But not overly dull because it stays entertaining throughout.
It’s very well written with understandable prose and an easy to follow structure.
Very political in its setup but those are some of the more interesting parts.

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." This can be seen as the major theme throughout every story. And by means of manipulation and lies each protagonist succeeds in getting what he (always a man) wants.

The characters aren’t that well drawn out. I would have loved to get to know them better. But that’s partly due to the original setup of the separate short stories I think.
A writer has to show the story instead of telling it. In this case, Asimov relies too much on dialogue and instead of showing us what happens he glosses over it.
And the whole world is too much ‘today’ even though it is set in the far future. It’s in space, but other than that there aren’t that many differences between our world, here and now and these future worlds. And I find that a bit hard to believe.

In my opinion this is a very enjoyable read, but it does have its flaws.
I definitely feel like I would need to reread this after the two preludes if I want to continue the series.

Happy reading.
Helena

Time to enjoy these two!

zaterdag 26 september 2015

Cartoon


Terry Pratchett: Thud!

Hi everyone

I was in the mood for another Discworld novel.
It’s been more than a month of bed rest so far (not counting the two days I did work) and I’m bored out of my mind. Books like this are helpful because even if I’m feeling bad, I know I’ll love the book.
This book has 438 pages and you can find all my reviews of Terry Pratchett's novels here.

“Koom Valley? That was where the trolls ambushed the dwarfs, or the dwarfs ambushed the trolls. It was far away. It was a long time ago.
But if he doesn't solve the murder of just one dwarf, Commander Sam Vimes of Ankh-Morpork City Watch is going to see it fought again, right outside his office.
With his beloved Watch crumbling around him and war-drums sounding, he must unravel every clue, outwit every assassin and brave any darkness to find the solution. And darkness is following him.
Oh . . . and at six o'clock every day, without fail, with no excuses, he must go home to read 'Where's My Cow?', with all the right farmyard noises, to his little boy.
There are some things you have to do.”

As always I would tell you to start with the first novel in the Discworld Series though you can read a lot of the novels without reading the ones before. However, this novel is not a good one to start with because you’d miss a lot of references and stuff in the past.

I absolutely loved Thud!

The story definitely is about a lot of recurring and new important themes. What makes art, art? It’s about war, religious intolerance, extremism, losing and keeping traditions, prejudice, racial intolerance, the dangers of drug use and new technology.
As always, Pratchett does a pretty amazing job of keeping the story light and funny while still giving a moral message to the reader. It never becomes boring or preachy.

Vimes is one of my favorite characters in the Discworld. And in this book he shows us a whole new side of him in his love for Young Sam and his fabulous wife Sybil. His interactions with Gooseberry are laugh-out-loud funny and this clearly refers to modern technology on our Round Earth. He is a truly, deeply conflicted man; wanting to do what’s right and believing himself to be scum and not wholly worthy of his luck and happiness. He has an amazing sense of right and wrong and he refuses to be a part of foul play in any sort of way. He actually is someone to admire or at least someone I would love to have as a friend.
And I love Vimes and Sybil as a couple.

Every character is very well worked out and we get to know them better in this stressful period of Discworld history. We know them all so well, it’s like they’re my friends. Pratchett shows us what it’s like to be a vampire or a werewolf, we understand the hatred between dwarfs and trolls, we admire Sybil for her actions and we fall in love with Carrot’s charm and sweetness.
Detritus has really surprised me in a good way in this book whereas Angua shows us a petty side of herself.
And Wilikins! And sweet Cheery! And courageous Pessimal! And Colon! And Nobby!
So many characters I love.

The whole troll/dwarf argument, war or way of life was spectacularly, clearly and believably written. Seeing how it even creeps into The Watch and influences everyone is amazing. It’s difficult for the non-dwarf and non-troll characters to stay clear of taking sides and even as a reader you want to just knock their heads together and start working as a team and living in unison.

The amount of details about the city and daily life in Ankh-Morpork make me feel like I’m a fly just watching over everyone’s shoulder. Such a real and believable world.

The children's book ‘Where's My Cow?’ has also been released and is on my wish list.

Happy reading!
Helena

vrijdag 25 september 2015

S. J. Watson: Before I Go To Sleep

Hi

I’m waiting for S. J. Watson’s second novel ‘Second Life’ to come out in pocket so in the meantime I decided to read his first novel ‘Before I go to Sleep’ for the second time.
The book has 372 pages.

 “As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I'm still a child, thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me...
Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love--all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story.
Welcome to Christine's life.”

The one problem with rereading a thriller is that the mystery is known to the reader so the thrilling part in very much toned down. Some novels aren’t worth rereading because of that.
This one really was worth the reread.

                * SPOILERS! *

It’s still fascinating to follow Christine’s journey from complete amnesia to remembering smaller and bigger events.

It’s amazing to see how Ben has worked it all out. Every detail, everything she could ask about has been changed to fit his story. Very disturbing if you think about it.
The big question is why he would do all this. And that’s the reason I couldn’t get this novel out of my head; it’s so realistic. The whole situation seems so normal and so every day. It’s frightening how real this seems.

Christine finds out Ben lied to her about a few things and at first his reasons for lying are perfectly understandable. It’s only later when we find out more that we realize something more is going on. And that’s when it becomes creepy and suspenseful.

The ending was a bit rushed and convenient so that was a bit disappointing. 
But it doesn’t negate the wonderfulness of the rest of the novel. Very engrossing, fast, clever, thrilling and beautifully written book.

Happy reading!
Helena

donderdag 24 september 2015

Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles

Hi

The Martian Chronicles is my second book by Ray Bradbury.
I got this beautiful edition from Bol and it has 241 pages.
It’s hard to believe that this story was first published in 1950. It doesn’t feel like a 65 year old novel most of the time.

“The Martian Chronicles tells the story of humanity’s repeated attempts to colonize the red planet. The first men were few. Most succumbed to a disease they called the Great Loneliness when they saw their home planet dwindle to the size of a fist. They felt they had never been born. Those few that survived found no welcome on Mars. The shape-changing Martians thought they were native lunatics and duly locked them up.
But more rockets arrived from Earth, and more, piercing the hallucinations projected by the Martians. People brought their old prejudices with them – and their desires and fantasies, tainted dreams. These were soon inhabited by the strange native beings, with their caged flowers and birds of flame.”

This book is a collection of short stories that go together; not just because of the general themes (Mars, race, life, death, religion, loneliness, fear, politics and colonization) but also because of the timeline and the feeling throughout the book.
The stories give different perspectives of life on Mars. Obviously these stories refer to humans on Earth’s colonization past.
So every character lasts for only one chapter/story in which he/she is part of the greater story about Mars.
Each story is very different from the ones before even if they are about something similar (landing on Mars for example) and this makes for an engrossing and interesting collection full of thought-provoking stories.

The stories are very easy to read because of the simple but effective and quite beautiful prose and style used.

This whole collection is weird, definitely disturbing, spooky, very good and full of cynicism and bitter irony.
I couldn’t try to tell what my favorite story is. There were so many I absolutely loved.

But it’s a shame Bradbury didn’t give us a strong female character in this book. Still, it’s a product of its time so that’s not really surprising.

Happy reading!
Helena

woensdag 23 september 2015

Kate Atkinson: Life after Life

Hi everyone

Life after Life has been on my bookshelves for a long time.
It has 611 pages of story and 5 pages note by Kate Atkinson herself.

“On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual.”

I really enjoyed this book and I’ve already put some of Atkinson’s other works on my wishlist.
This is a very clever novel. It’s full of details about daily life and it gives us a really good impression of politics and society. It’s as if you’re then and there.
But you have to keep track of which ‘when’ you are.

The beginning was difficult to follow. It took me some time to get into it. The novel started out rather boring and not very special. After about 150 pages it got better.
It’s not like she repeats herself because the same event as the time before is now witnessed by someone else or is just a tiny bit different.
It was just not very interesting.

Ursula is a wonderfully, rounded character. I loved her more and more as the novel progressed. Especially once she figures out that she can prevent some things from happening. And as she grows older, she realizes she has to take society, morality and other people into account. Or as she says it: "I'm very interested in the moral path, doing the right thing".

A lot of other characters like Sylvie, Pamela and Izzie are very well realized too. They are important in every storyline and we get to know them a bit better with every lifetime.
I grew more attached to them every time.

One thing that was a bit of a miss to me was Ursula’s sixth sense. In some stories she does develop one and she tries to act accordingly to prevent certain events. But in other storylines she doesn’t seem to remember anything from her other lives. In my opinion, Atkinson should have done the same for all the storylines.

The book ends up being an advocate for women’s rights. Marrying for love or for gratitude are never the same, women can have a profession too and the height of our lives should not be a marriage and children. Thank you Kate Atkinson.
It also shows us that our identities aren’t hardwired or fixed but changed by environment and circumstances.

This is a wonderful, fascinating, marvelous, thought provoking and interesting read.
Definitely recommended!

Happy reading.
Helena

dinsdag 22 september 2015

Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Hi

This is my review of my second time reading The Picture of Dorian Gray. This book has 2 pages preface by Oscar Wilde himself, 231 pages of story and 9 pages by Peter Ackroyd about Oscar Wilde.

“In this celebrated work, his only novel, Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde's most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.”

I love this novel.

Wilde’s prose is so, so beautiful! It flows like an amazing waterfall; without interruption and ever going further but still easy to read and straightforward.

The plot is perfectly paced and it brings us from an amiable young man to lies, pain and despair.
The story is sinister, dark, compelling, incredible, atmospheric, engaging, cynical and gripping; it’s devoid of any form of hope or true love and friendship.

"Be careful what you wish for" has never been truer than it is in this classic novel.
This society is just generally self-obsessed; they’re vain, they only think about their appearance and their social standing. Hey? That’s true for today’s society too!
Dorian only thinks about himself and his pleasure and social standing without any regard for other people, society or morality. He’s selfish and shallow.
Wilde’s characterization is amazing. There are only a few characters and two important ones actually and they are very clearly actualized.
Lord Henry is the most despicable character ever. If you see Basil as the Voice of Good then Henry definitely is Dorian’s Voice of Evil. He’s cruel, vile and hateful towards women.

This story is also about the Beauty bias. This means that beautiful people are easier forgiven and more loved. And that’s definitely true for Dorian.
‘Each of us has heaven and hell in him’ and Dorian needs to accept that.

Happy reading!
Helena

maandag 21 september 2015

Jack Kerouac: Lonesome Traveler

Hi again

Lonesome Traveler is a collection of short stories of 157 pages. I say collection, but it’s also an autobiographical work about his travels and the jobs he held.
I got it as a gift.

“As he roams the US, Mexico, Morocco, Paris and London, Jack Kerouac breathlessly records, in prose of pure poetry, the life of the road. Standing on the engine of a train as it rushes past fields of prickly cactus; witnessing his first bullfight in Mexico while high on opium; catching up with the beat night life in New York; burying himself in the snow-capped mountains of north-west America; meditating on a sunlit roof in Tangiers; or falling in love with Montmartre and the huge white basilica of Sacré-Coeur – Kerouac reveals the endless diversity of human life and his own high-spirited philosophy of self-fulfillment.”

I enjoyed this book very much. 

It’s a very beautifully written collection; philosophical, funny at times, sweet and thoughtful.
The most banal stuff and everyday events become something special as Kerouac writes about it.
You can feel his love for these normal things like a simple walk in his inspiring, elegant prose.

There’s not much more to say about it.

Happy reading.
Helena

zondag 20 september 2015

Rachel Klein: The Moth Diaries

Hi

The Moth Diaries has 262 pages and I got it at the Boekenfestijn.

“At an exclusive girls' boarding school, a sixteen-year-old girl records her most intimate thoughts in a diary. The object of her obsession is her room-mate, Lucy Blake, and Lucy's friendship with their new and disturbing classmate. Ernessa is a mysterious presence with pale skin and hypnotic eyes. Around her swirl dark secrets and a series of ominous disasters. As fear spreads through the school, fantasy and reality mingle into a waking nightmare of gothic menace, fueled by the lusts and fears of adolescence.
And at the center of the diary is the question that haunts all who read it: Is Ernessa really a vampire? Or is the narrator trapped in her own fevered imagination?”

I didn’t enjoy this book all that much.

The novel is made up as if we’re reading a diary. And it really feels like a maze full of a teenager’s thoughts and wishes. But this specific teenager, our unnamed main character, is clearly delusional and a bit of a stalker.
She’s also funny, very smart, a bit morbid and never really likeable.
And as all the other girls in school she’s self-absorbed and doesn’t really care about her classmates (except for Lucy).
From the start it is clear that she really is an unreliable narrator. Our protagonist seems unpopular and without friends but her diary entries show us that she thinks otherwise. As the novel progresses, her diary entries become increasingly disturbing and delusional. Still, a part of us keeps thinking that it might be real. So what is the truth and what’s not? What is brought on by her loneliness, her need for contact with Lucy, her reading of vampire novels and her drug use?
Enessa clearly is a wildly attractive and interesting girl. She’s also tragic and very different from our main character and other girls in school. So maybe there is some truth in our main character’s thoughts.

But it is too much of a school novel for me. There’s too much drugs, sex, smoking and philosophy to be realistic and the characters are too young and too shallow.
Also, I thought the novel dragging and too slow to be able to keep my attention.

All in all, it is a very different vampire story from what I’ve read and if you’re into supernatural novels this might be something for you.
The novels’ focus lies more on eternal youth and what that really means than on the bloodlust.

Happy reading and I’ll see you tomorrow.
Helena

vrijdag 18 september 2015

Jane Austen: Emma

Hi

This is my review of my reread of Emma by Jane Austen.
The story is 476 pages and it has a 10-page essay by David Lodge.

“Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protégée Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work.”

I enjoyed Emma very much, more so then my first time reading it. I got more out of it because I could see more then Emma’s flaws, Mr. Knightley’s preaching and almost every other character’s nagging and complaining. 

Emma is very different from Austen’s previous novels. Emma is a woman who doesn’t need to marry because she has financial stability. There’s no pressure for her or her family to find her a man with enough money.

But because her life and company is so dull, she has to imagine things to do to keep her mind occupied and thus comes to matchmaking and inventing drama.
Emma can get away with her meddling, her snobbism, condescending remarks and manipulating of Harriet because she’s rich but also because she’s sweet, loving, devoted, cheerful, intelligent, witty, funny and innocent and she really does mean well.
Emma matures and grows as the novel progresses and that’s one of its main appeals. You see her change right before your eyes into someone you would want as your friend.

I abhor Frank though. Frank is not a nice character. He abuses Jane to others even though they are engaged and he tries to ‘seduce’ Emma and thus causes her pain intentionally. Emma is not in love with him, but that doesn’t change his intentions and his actions to being for fun or harmless. I think he would have done the same thing even if he believed Emma did have feelings for him. He only cares for what he wants.

Mistakes in communication, flawed characters, natural, clear dialogue and very human emotions make this a very realistic novel.
And it reads so easy!

Happy reading!
Helena

Finishing this beautiful couple.

donderdag 17 september 2015

Christopher Priest: The Islanders

Hi

The Islanders is a rather recent novel by Christopher Priest. It has 325 pages and an introduction of 11 pages by Chaster Kammeston (a character in the book).
I got it from Bol.

“A tale of murder, artistic rivalry, and literary trickery; a Chinese puzzle of a novel where nothing is quite what it seems; a narrator whose agenda is artful and subtle; a narrative that pulls you in and plays an elegant game with you. The Dream Archipelago is a vast network of islands. The names of the islands are different depending on who you talk to, their very locations seem to twist and shift. Some islands have been sculpted into vast musical instruments, others are home to lethal creatures, others the playground for high society. Hot winds blow across the archipelago and a war fought between two distant continents is played out across its waters. The Islanders serves both as an untrustworthy but enticing guide to the islands; an intriguing, multi-layered tale of a murder; and the suspect legacy of its appealing but definitely untrustworthy narrator. It shows Christopher Priest at the height of his powers and illustrates his undiminished power to dazzle.”

I enjoyed this actually.

The book is made up as a traveling guide to a large, partly yet uncovered group of islands with a chapter per island. So in essence this is a collection of short stories. I liked this setup very much.
Some of these stories are very boring, consisting solely of a description of the general make up of the island, nature, law, currency etcetera. Most of them have some kind of story though with characters and actual things happening. And most of these chapters are amazing.
So it’s either a boring chapter containing absolutely nothing interesting or a chapter where something happens but I don’t care about it or it’s a brilliant chapter about a murder, a man working in a theater, drones, very creepy little monsters (thryme) cave research …

It took me at least 100 pages to figure out that there is a thread through all these seemingly unrelated stories. There is one big mystery about a murder and then some smaller ones.

Some parts of these mysteries are not clearly worked out and I am left with quite a few questions. Obviously I won’t talk about those questions because those would be spoilers and you really need to read this novel without any sort of spoiler.
But I have so many questions left unanswered. Now I don’t care of a story is not neatly wrapped up at the end of a book but here I’m the one on the mainland and the answers are somewhere on the islands. That’s how far I am from a real solution.

I liked his writing style; clear no frills, humorous. The book reads easy and engrossing except for those boring island entries.

Happy reading!
Helena

woensdag 16 september 2015

Herman Koch: The Dinner

Hi

The Dinner is a novel by Dutch writer Herman Koch. It is translated into English but I obviously read it in Dutch.
It has 301 pages and I got it at the Boekenfestijn.

 “A summer's evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness - the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened... Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on camera, and their grainy images have been beamed into living rooms across the nation; despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified - by everyone except their parents. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.”

This was a page turner; the prose is easy to read and the story is very intriguing.

It all starts with a normal couple going to a restaurant with the man’s brother and sister-in-law.
Gradually, as the story enfolds, you lose all respect for the characters; as you get to know them, you become fearful off them.
The main character (Paul) starts out as a suburban teacher, loving father and husband but he changes into a masochistic, brutal and violent man. He always was an unreliable narrator but he becomes increasingly unstable too.
And that’s how this horrible, cruel event they are talking about came to be. If you beat the school director to pulp what kind of example is that for your son? But if you cover this up, what do you mean to say to him by that?

Their decision in the end is awful and horrible but also very human; it makes you lose a bit of hope for humanity though.
This is definitely Koch delivering us social criticism on the way parents behave towards the responsibility of their children’s actions.
I don’t have kids yet, but I think every parent wants to instill at least a minimum of morals and accountability in them. And I would like to think that I would set an example by my own actions.
But in the end, this is a ‘what if’ discussion; something you can only think about because you didn’t go through it. And unless you go through it, your answer will never be your ultimate truth or action.

This novel is about nature vs. nurture, love and morals, protecting your child, the extent to which we can blame parents for the misdeeds of their children and the nature of evil and love. It’s about mental illness and the right to deny treatment but also the need to be in control of one’s own actions.

I have a few criticisms though.
Why would they  discuss something like this in a crowded restaurant where everyone on the tables next to them is able to hear them?
Chapter 13 about peeing and penises is pretty unnecessary and just meant to provoke the reader.
And I was disappointed Koch seems to blame Paul’s mental illness for a lot of his actions. I think that sends the wrong message.

Happy reading and I’ll see you tomorrow.
Helena

dinsdag 15 september 2015

Mitch Albom: The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Hi

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is my second novel by Albom.
This tiny gem has only 208 pages and I got it from The Book Depository.
You can find my other review on a Mitch Albom novel here.

“Eddie is a wounded war veteran, an old man who has lived, in his mind, an uninspired life. His job is fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, a tragic accident kills him as he tries to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakes in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a destination, but an answer. “

I loved it.

It made me reflect about my life, the people I will meet in ‘heaven’ (I’m an atheist) and what they will teach me.
It’s about appearances; how you can be sure about the way something happened and why but it’s only your point of view and everything means something else to every other person involved in even the smallest way.

A small gem that made me think about life, death and the purpose of it all.
It’s very accessible, easy to read and short.

Happy reading.
Helena

maandag 14 september 2015

Richard Yates: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness

Hi

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness is my third Richard Yates novel. I got it from The Book Depository and it has 221 pages.
This is his first collection of short stories.
You can find all my reviews on the novels I’ve read by Richard Yates here.

“Richard Yates's unflinchingly realistic stories explore loneliness, but they don't neglect failure, cruelty, and heartbreak. Most of the stories feature men who have been disappointed, somehow, by their inability to fulfill the promise of their youth.”

I love Yates and even though I found the quality of these short stories mixed I still enjoyed this collection very much.

Each story speaks of someone who doesn’t feel as happy as he/she should or could be.
Every one of them attributes this unhappiness to their job, their marriage or certain circumstances they find themselves in even though most of the characters are not entirely blameless (aren’t we all?).
Ultimately each and every one of them is lonely in one way or another. Maybe they aren’t really noticed, they might be dissatisfied with life, they are men needing their wives income to sustain themselves or teachers who are despised by their pupils; they are all lonely, unhappy, flawed and deluded people.
These stories are about loneliness and all its faces, with or without other people.
This is apparently a theme in a lot of Yates’ work. And I know I’m not even halfway through reading his work I can say that I’m pretty sure I will read a lot more on this topic in his other novels.
But I love this.

It is written as if I’m there. Every conversation rings true, every situation is realistic and every character is fully rounded.

This novel made me feel so sad, so grateful for what I have but also so full of sorrow for what I’ve lost. There’s seldom any form of hope in his work.

I loved this collection.

Happy reading!
Helena

zondag 13 september 2015

Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project

Hi

After NOS4R2 yesterday I wanted something lighter so I decided to go for a completely different novel. The Rosie Project has 327 pages and 6 pages of interview and acknowledgements.

“The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.
Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.”

Don’t expect beautiful prose, an intricate plot, well-crafted characters or any real surprises in this novel.

This is a real feel good story.
It is a nice, funny, relaxing read and it was just what I needed.

The last 50 pages fell flat for me though. Don started acting completely out of character and I just couldn't feel for him that way. I didn't care anymore.

Happy reading.
Helena

zaterdag 12 september 2015

Joe Hill: NOS4R2

Hi

This review is about my first novel by Joe Hill; NOS4R2.
The book has 686 pages and I got it at the Boekenfestijn. It was nominated for the 2013 Bram Stoker Award.

“Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.
Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.”

This is one creepy novel. At some points I felt very uncomfortable reading this.
It’s frightening, thrilling and even full of emotion at some points.

Vic’s inner battle is described amazingly. What part of it is her sanity/insanity? What was a delusion? What was ‘learned’ in therapy? What is part of the price she has to pay for her traveling?
I loved her relationship with Lou and Wayne. Vic is a complex person and she is very well depicted. Some of these parts about their relationships made emotional and that’s saying something for me and for a horror novel.
Vic is a very well realized character. As are Lou and Wayne. But Vic especially is very believable with her courage, her love and her flaws.

Manx is a horrible character because he believes he is right, he believes that he is helping these children and giving them a place where they can be truly happy. And these beliefs make him so creepy. He has depth rather than just being a bad man.
Bing, his assistant is even worse. My word he creeped me out. I felt so uncomfortable and almost humiliated reading his thoughts.

I loved Hill for making fun of clichés and referring to Doctor Who, Firefly and other SFF and Stephen King (his dad) classics.
It is a very well constructed novel. The story is creepy throughout and I like that. It’s not boring up to a point; this is creepy the whole time.

Overall, the book is a bit too long. Most events drag a bit too much and I think he should have shortened it a bit. Not much, but the middle section especially was a bit too slow.

There is one important inconsistency that really bugged me. People with these sorts of gifts need a certain vehicle for their gift to work. But Vic’s bike gets thrown away. And later Vic can use a motorcycle to get access to her Shorter-Way-Bridge. That is not right, she should have lost this power or she should have found the bike again. This is just too convenient for the writer.

What makes this a special horror novel is that it tackles mental illness. And I am Joe Hill very thankful for that.

Happy reading and I’ll see you tomorrow for something completely different.
Helena


Creepy novel and healthy snack.

donderdag 10 september 2015

Bookhaul: Book Depository

Hi
Around the same time Bol was having a sale on a bunch of books on my wishlist, so was The Book Depository.
Difficult choices right?
Managing to read 19 books last month made me decide to just go ahead and buy the books I wanted.

So here’s what I got:

With every Book Depository order you get at least 1 bookmark; and I never thought about including a picture of them but on seeing these I just had to show you how gorgeous they are.

Can’t wait to read these novels! Some of them have been on my wishlist for a very long time. What would you recommend me to read first?

Happy reading!
Helena




woensdag 9 september 2015

Robert Jordan: The Great Hunt

Hi

This is the second book in The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
I am slowly rereading the whole series and I plan to read one book every other month.
This one has 701 pages.

* SPOILERS AHEAD! *

First of all, the prologue was really enticing.
 After that, it got boring. The first half of the novel reads fast, but nothing really happens.
Fortunately, it does pick up.

The characters are better worked out in this novel. Most of them are more realistic and human. Though Matt is still an idiot and Nynaeve can be a sulking child. And everyone is still stubborn. But we know more about them and they are more than stubborn, proud or smart.
The sheer magnitude of the world becomes apparent in this novel. The different races, cities, countries, customs etc. are amazingly brought. I love a good, solid, wide world in Epic Fantasy. This is a world I can believe in. Especially with all the details we get, and I love the details! It makes it so much more real.
The simple prose makes it easy to read. It’s almost too simple, but it doesn’t feel like I’m reading a YA or children’s book, it’s just very fast and easy to read.

Rand’s point of view is almost non-existent and this makes you wonder where he is and what he is doing.
I loved reading from Fain’s point of view. He’s so different from every other ‘bad guy’ and that makes him very interesting.

Reading this for the second time takes away the surprise. But not as much as you might think. This is such a huge series so it has been a few years since I read it. I forgot a lot of the minor plot elements, I forgot about a lot of the characters where their loyalties lie (darkfriend or not) and I forgot about specific scenes.
The biggest pro of rereading this is understanding the foreshadowing and hints Jordan gives us. And there are a lot of those.

I am enjoying this reread a lot.

Happy reading!
Helena

My husband's bread pudding and a book.

maandag 7 september 2015

Robert Louis Stevenson & Lloyd Osbourne: The Ebb-Tide

Hi

The Ebb-Tide is the second story in the book. It has 146 pages and at the end of the book there are three contemporary reviews for a total of 13 pages.
You can find all my Robert Louis Stevenson reviews here.

“Published in 1894, the year of Stevenson's death, this novel tells of three unscrupulous men entrusted to deliver a cargo of champagne aboard a ship whose crew has died of smallpox. The three embark on a drunken voyage, only to discover an island whose sole European inhabitant, Attwater, has amassed a fortune in pearls.”

I really didn’t care for this story; it is boring, it’s all over the place and it’s hard to grasp what’s actually happening.

Meh.

See you next time.
Helena

This happened.

zondag 6 september 2015

Robert Louis Stevenson: Treasure Island

Hi

Treasure Island is the first story in this beautiful Penguin English Library book which I got from the Fnac.
This story has 220 pages.

You can find all my Robert Louis Stevenson reviews here.

“The most popular pirate story ever written in English, featuring one of literature’s most beloved “bad guys,” Treasure Island has been happily devoured by several generations of boys—and girls—and grownups. Its unforgettable characters include: young Jim Hawkins, who finds himself owner of a map to Treasure Island, where the fabled pirate booty is buried; honest Captain Smollett, heroic Dr. Livesey, and the good-hearted but obtuse Squire Trelawney, who help Jim on his quest for the treasure; the frightening Blind Pew, double-dealing Israel Hands, and seemingly mad Ben Gunn, buccaneers of varying shades of menace; and, of course, garrulous, affable, ambiguous Long John Silver, who is one moment a friendly, laughing, one-legged sea-cook . . .and the next a dangerous pirate leader!”

Treasure Island was an enjoyable, easy read.
It’s full of adventure, betrayal, courage, pirates, mutiny and murder.

It’s clearly written for kids and boys especially and I think this must be one awesome novel for them. As a 26-year old woman I didn’t think this anything special but it was entertaining.

Happy reading.
Helena

zaterdag 5 september 2015

Eleanor Catton: The Luminaries

Hi

This gigantic book has been on my shelf ever since I got it right after it won the Man Booker Prize in 2013.
My book has 834 pages.

Because I know I will reach my goal of reading 100 books in 2015 I can now make time to read a few bigger ones.

 “It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.”

I had a mixed experience reading this one.

It started out very, very boring, way too slow and just not interesting. I just couldn’t get into it and I put it aside to do something else quite a few times. Especially her overuse of the face-to-face talk/interview was getting dull.
It got better after about 200 pages, it was still slow but it got better. It was never a page-turner.

The novel has a hell of a lot of characters; the character list in the book proved to be very useful. Some of these characters barely feature in the novel. Of those first 13 men only a few are important. She only did that to show us once more her ’12-based-novel’.

I don’t like these gimmicks in general. Everything to do with the number 12 in the structure of the novel and the chapters getting halved each time; that’s all just to show us how clever she is and how she wrote a novel for ‘smart’ people. That astrology angle was worst of all. It’s supposed to make the novel unique and oh so special but I just didn’t care for it and it adds basically nothing to the overall plot. Astrology is quack in my opinion anyway.
This is all to show her skill in writing a complex, multi-layered novel.

I did like the writing style itself. Very Charles Dickens, Sarah Waters-esque.
Catton’s characterization was amazing. Anne especially is a wonderful, well-rounded character.
Her descriptions in general are near perfection. I could feel myself being there.
It didn’t feel realistic though how those 19th century people would care so much about a drunk and a prostitute. And that’s what the story is based upon.

The ending was a bit too neatly wrapped up; every possible tiny question was perfectly answered. I don’t need that. It felt too forced that way.
It’s a complex, amazingly constructed, non-linear story. For all its technical perfection, it lacked emotion. I didn’t really care for the story or any of the characters and that’s a real shame.

So, I think it’s clear I found it hard to write this review and to think about my opinion on this and why I feel this way about the novel.
Some novels just do that to me.

Happy reading.
Helena

vrijdag 4 september 2015