Thursday, December 30, 2010

End of the Year Wrap-up 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010
2010 is almost over, so I decided to take this opportunity to post a mere statistics on what happened to me on a reading front during this year. In total, I read 148 books in 2010, about 50000 pages (sounds insane, isn’t it?). I never before scrupulously tracked all the books that I read for the whole year, but I believe that I usually read around 100 books a year, so it seems like I did great in 2010. My least read in month (if calculating number of titles), turned out to be January 2010 - I only read three books. The reason, as I see it, was houseguests that we had during January and the enormousness of Under the Dome by Stephen King. The most read in months turned out to be June and August, both tight at 16 titles. Out of the 148 books read there were eight rereads, all other I read for the first time, or at least I believe so (I'm not a big fan to reread books, as you can see).

Some books I read in 2010 made a huge impression on me and they would stay with me for the rest of my life; others were terrible beyond any reason. However, in general, I’m very satisfied with 2010 readings.

I didn’t write reviews on all the books that I read I 2010, even though it was my desire. I hope to do better next year, but can’t promise anything …

I didn’t join any challenges in 2010 and I’m not planning to do so in 2011. For me to join any challenge is to make plans; and to make plans is to restrict yourself. I’m not a big plan maker, I’m a person of mood. Because of this I could not make any prediction on 2011, I could not even be sure that this blog will still exists by the end of 2011. To my astonishing surprise it survived almost a year. This might be a good sign or not... Who knows?

Happy New Year everyone! I wish you a year of pleasant, but completely unexpected surprises. I certainly hope that my 2011 will be like that.

January 2010

1. Julie & Julia by Julie Powell
2. My life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
3. Under the Dome by Stephen King

February 2010

1. City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
2. Blue is for Nightmares by Laurie Faria Stolarz
3. White is for Magic by Laurie Faria Stolarz
4. Silver is for Secrets by Laurie Faria Stolarz
5. Red is for Remembrance by Laurie Faria Stolarz
6. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
7. Cracked up to be by Courtney Summers
8. Fallen by Lauren Kate
9. Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg
10. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
11. Heist Society by Ally Carter
12. Wake by Lisa McMann
13. Fade by Lisa McMann

March 2010

1. The Only Wiccan Spell Book You’ll Ever Need by Marian Singer
2. Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey
3. The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard
4. Book of Shadows (Sweep 1) by Cate Tiernan
5. The Coven (Sweep 2) by Cate Tiernan
6. Blood Witch (Sweep 3) by Cate Tiernan
7. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
8. Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
9. Incarceron (Incarceron, #1)by Catherine Fisher
10. Dark Magick (Sweep 4) by Cate Tiernan
11. Numbers by Rachel Ward
12. Awakening (Sweep 5) by Cate Tiernan
13. Envy (Luxe Series #3) by Anna Godbersen
14. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
15. Spellbound (Sweep 6) by Cate Tiernan

April 2010

1. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
2. My Soul to Lose (Soul Screamers, #0) by Rachel Vincent
3. My Soul to Take (Soul Screamers, #1) by Rachel Vincent
4. Sapphique (Incarceron, #2)by Catherine Fisher
5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
6. Splendor (Luxe Series #4) by Anna Godbersen
7. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
8. Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt
9. Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott
10. A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker
11. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
12. Geek High (Geek High, #1) by Piper Banks
13. All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab

May 2010

1. Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover (Gallagher Girls, #3) by Ally Carter
2. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
4. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
5. The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison
6. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
7. Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken
8. Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
10. Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey
11. Inkheart (Inkheart, #1) by Cornelia Funke
12. King Solomon's Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
13. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
14. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

June 2010

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
3. The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy
4. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
5. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter by Yasunari Kawabata
6. Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald
7. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
8. Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
9. The Karma Club by Jessica Brody
10. By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters
11. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos
12. Catching Fire (Hunger Games, #2) by Suzanne Collins
13. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
14. Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
15. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
16. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

July 2010

1. Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris
2. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
5. Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice
6. Geek Abroad by Piper Banks
7. Ivanhoe by Walter Scott
8. The Island of Dr Moreau by H. G. Wells
9. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
10. White Cat by Holly Black
11. The Awakening by Kate Chopin

August 2010

1. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
2. Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
3. The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells
4. Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz
5. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
6. The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen
7. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
8. The Christopher Killer by Alane Ferguson
9. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
10. Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris
11. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
12. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
13. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
14. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
15. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
16. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

September 2010

1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
3. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)by Kody Keplinger
6. Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford
7. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
8. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
9. The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
10. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
11. The Candidates (Delcroix Academy)by Inara Scott
12. Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

October 2010

1. Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
2. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
3. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
4. The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
5. The Shining by Stephen King
6. Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel
7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
9. Nevermore by Kelly Creagh
10. Mini Shopaholic (Shopaholic #6) by Sophie Kinsella
11. Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
12. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
13. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
14. All Together Dead (Sookie Stackhouse #7) by Charlaine Harris

November 2010

1. Moscow to the End of the Line by Venedikt Erofeev
2. Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
3. The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez
4. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
5. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
6. Linger (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #2) by Maggie Stiefvater
7. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
8. From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8) by Charlaine Harris
9. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium #3) by Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland
10. Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales
11. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
12. Crescendo (Hush, Hush #2) by Becca Fitzpatrick
13. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
14. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter #1) by J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator)
15. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2) by J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator)

December 2010

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter #3) by J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter #3) by J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator)
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter #5) J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator)
4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter #6) by J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator)
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter #7) by J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator)
6. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Blogger Holiday Swap - Gifts

Friday, December 17, 2010
Today is a good day and I’ll tell you why. I received my first Christmas gift of the year. This was not just a gift, but the gift from Book Blogger Holiday Swap Secret Santa. I barely could contain myself not to tear the box. I couldn’t lose even a second to look for my box knife or take off my jacket and shoes, so I opened the box within an instance, using a kitchen knife. Immediately my house was full of Christmas aroma - ginger and apples; and I could swear that this fragrance made me hear Christmas bells and snow falling outside my window (even though it is 76 degrees outside).

The box contained three beautiful books:

In addition, there were a bar of handmade spicy apple and peaches soap and a box of Snappy Ginger and Herb Tea.

Thank you Secret Santa for all your beautiful gifts and Happy Holidays to you too.

I also would like to express my gratitude to the Book Blogger Holiday Swap's hosts - great job guys and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Quote of the Day

Friday, December 10, 2010
Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.

Jessamyn West

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Quote of the Day

Thursday, December 9, 2010
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.

Arnold Lobel

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - Book Review #122

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle

Everyone in town thinks Meg is volatile and dull-witted and that her younger brother Charles Wallace is dumb. People are also saying that their father has run off and left their brilliant scientist mother. Spurred on by these rumors, Meg and Charles Wallace, along with their new friend Calvin, embark on a perilous quest through space to find their father. In doing so they must travel behind the shadow of an evil power that is darkening the cosmos, one planet at a time.

As I mentioned not once in my reviews, I didn’t grow up in the USA. So not once I came across books that are widely popular in the USA, but completely unknown to me. It is either these books were never translated to Russian for some reasons, or if they were, they weren’t very popular in Russia because of cultural or some other aspects. A Wrinkle in Time is one of these books that I never heard of when I was in Russia and I kept hearing pretty much from everyone in the USA. So I just had to check it out what all these people are talking about. I just had to read the book that considered by many as their most favorite childhood story. I just had to read the book that got so many praises and awards; and even though it was published some forty years ago, it is still being read and loved by every next generation as much as by previous one.

My brief research showed that A Wrinkle in Time was never translated in Russian, at least not until quite recently. After reading this book, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t too surprised. It seemed to me that Madeleine L'Engle was a Christian writer. Of course, I’m only judging by one book and it might not be a case for her other novels. However, A Wrinkle in Time most definitely was written from a Christian point of view with a lot of references to “God”. That fact alone would have banned this book from USSR instantaneously. On top of it, A Wrinkle in Time was written during the Cold War times and as far as I know, books that were written at that time and especially by American writers weren’t even considered to be translated in Russian.

A Wrinkle in Time is a children’s book, so for adults that never read it before it probably will seem as sweet, cute and silly. I always believed that for a person to truly love a children’s book, it needs to be read first in the childhood. Otherwise, a person can learn to appreciate a children’s book, consider it to be a great book, but never truly love it.

Either it is for that reason, or maybe because of the cultural differences (Christian theme annoyed me quite a bit), but I can’t say that I love this book or that I will ever want to reread it on my own account. However, it doesn’t mean that I think it was a bad book. It is indeed a very good book for seven-twelve years old children. Madeleine L'Engle doesn’t talk down to the reader, like a lot of children’s books writers do. It is a compelling story that includes some interesting scientific theories, which explained quite well; fascinating adventures; thrilling danger; a fight against evil forces and it has very good meanings underneath it all – love, friendship and family. Even though these meanings are presented under Christian sauce, it doesn’t make these meanings less valuable or less universal. Plus Madeleine L'Engle doesn’t shove it into a reader’s throat, she doesn’t lecture a reader on this either, however it is still there and visible.

I would recommend this book for every child of age group seven to twelve and I would also recommend to every parent to advise this book to their children. I’m sure that in A Wrinkle in Time children will find a friend for life.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick - Book Review #121

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Crescendo (Hush, Hush #2)
by Becca Fitzpatrick

Nora Grey's life is still far from perfect. Surviving an attempt on her life wasn’t pleasant, but at least she got a guardian angel out of it. But Patch has been acting anything but angelic lately. He’s more elusive than ever and, even worse, he’s started spending time with Nora’s arch-enemy, Marcie Millar.

Nora would have hardly noticed Scott Parnell, an old family friend who’s moved back to town, if Patch hadn’t been acting so distant. Even with Scott’s totally infuriating attitude Nora finds herself drawn to him – despite her lingering feeling that he’s hiding something.

Haunted by images of her murdered father, and questioning whether her Nephilim bloodlines has anything to do with his death, Nora puts herself increasingly dangerous situations as she searches for answers. But some things are better left buried, because the truth could destroy everything – and everyone – she trusts.

I read Hush, Hush – the first installment of Hush, Hush series about a year ago, when it was released. By the time I opened Crescendo – the second novel in the Hush, Hush series, I couldn’t remember anything about Hush, Hush except that I read it in one sitting, it was about fallen angels and I seemed to enjoy it. The fact that I didn’t remember any of the plot from the first book, made the beginning of the second novel sort of confusing for me. So I put away Crescendo and read prologue and the last chapter of Hush, Hush, which gave me at least the vague idea of the plot. And I set off reading Crescendo, thinking that details will come to me.

Either I significantly grew up in this year since I read Hush, Hush, or I just blocked out all details of the first book, because it wasn’t good and in a while assumed that I liked it, or maybe the second book – Crescendo was just… hmm… not as good as the first book. I’m really not sure what is the reason and, to be honest after Crescendo, I don’t really want to reread Hush, Hush to be able to form my opinion based on the facts and not on the vague ideas, but Crescendo read like a very bad fanfiction.

Nora – the main character – was completely unstable, to put it mildly. Her actions and reactions were so bizarre that I couldn’t even blame it on her being a teenager. The only base I could came up with for her behavior was that she is probably very disturbed at least. The scene when Nora and her friend Vee park the car in the tow away zone and later found their car with a stopper on the wheel, what did Nora decide to do? She decided to steal her ex-boyfriend’s car, parked nearby, because she didn’t want to talk to him, asking for a ride, she didn’t want to walk home, and she didn’t have anyone else to call to pick her up. So certainly the car stealing is the only reasonable way to go in this situation (this is sarcasm, for these that aren’t sure).

Crescendo was a string of idiotic decisions and absurd reactions. The whole mystery of the book was built on unreasonable lack of communication: Nora didn’t want to ask Patch anything, because… well because if she would, there wouldn’t be a story; and Patch didn’t tell anything tot Nora, because… well, for the same reason. And in my opinion, plots that are based on things like that are so weak, they don’t even deserve to be called plots at all.

It’s been almost two weeks since I read Crescendo and already details start to fade from my memory. I guess my brain just not capable of holding on to such nonsensical events. Well, at least in case of this book, unlike Hush, Hush, I would have a recording of my opinion on it in the form of this blog post, so I later on I won’t be able to delude myself that I actually liked the book.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut - Book Review #120

Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Cat's Cradle
by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's Cradle, one of Vonnegut's most entertaining novels, is filled with scientists and G-men and even ordinary folks caught up in the game. These assorted characters chase each other around in search of the world's most important and dangerous substance, a new form of ice that freezes at room temperature. At one time, this novel could probably be found on the bookshelf of every college kid in America; it's still a fabulous read and a great place to start if you're young enough to have missed the first Vonnegut craze.

I’m definitely too young to be able to catch the first Vonnegut craze. Plus I didn’t grow up in the USA. So I have never read any Kurt Vonnegut’s books before. I heard a lot about him. We even had him in the Foreign Literature class, however I was fifteen and too busy with my social life to pay any attention to Vonnegut or his books. So here I’m, after reading him for the first time. And what did I think?

There are two major themes in Cat's Cradle, in my opinion: first, science and its great inventions in the hands of irresponsible idiots; and second, religion as panacea. In Vonnegut’s version the end of the world will not come because of the madman, pressing big red button. No, the end of the world will happen because of the careless people (in this case, children of one of the great scientists, who invented an atomic bomb) who came across the substance – Ice-nine – that they should never be allowed within a mile and in the pursuit of their own happiness they distribute the substance across the world. Angela gives it away to the American government in exchange of handsome husband. Newt gives it to the USSR for a fling with Russian ballet dancer. And Franklin gives it to "Papa" Monzano, a dictator of the small island country, for an exchange for position of Major General. So now the deadly dangerous substance is in the hands of two "Super power" countries and one madman.

Another theme is a religion – Bokononism. Vonnegut created one of the best, one of the most thought -through fictional religion that I have ever come through in the books. This is a religion that based on lies, create lies and not afraid to admit it. Bokononism presented in Cat's Cradle as panacea, as something that makes the life worthwhile, as lies that gives purpose of life.

In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in his cosmic loneliness.
And God said, "Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done." And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close to mud as man sat, looked around, and spoke. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely.
"Everything must have a purpose?" asked God.
"Certainly," said man.
"Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God.
And He went away.

Cat's Cradle was written in 1963 – in the middle of the Cold War and just after the Caribbean Crisis (The Cuban Missile Crisis). The thought about the end of the world was very hot at that moment. It is still relevant in our time. However as far as I understand, people are no longer as scared shitless as they used to be of the “end of the world” idea. Maybe, in our days, we don’t need black humor and satire to talk about the end of the world, but I’m sure that in 1963 this was only possible way to discuss it without putting people into deep depression for the rest of their lives.

While reading Cat's Cradle, I could definitely see Vonnegut’s genius and satire that I heard so much about. And I could definitely appreciate what themes he is bringing up and how he does it. Unfortunately, Cat's Cradle didn’t touch me deeply, so I would either fall utterly in love with it or hate it mercifully. Maybe the problem is that I’m not from the Cold War generation. Maybe I’m stone-hearted and thick-skinned. Or maybe I just don’t care much about the whole world. Despite that, I’m still glad I read Cat's Cradle and I will be surely reading more of Kurt Vonnegut, if not for love or hate than for educational purposes.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales - Book Review #119

Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Mostly Good Girls
by Leila Sales

The higher you aim, the farther you fall….

It’s Violet’s junior year at the Westfield School. She thought she’d be focusing on getting straight As, editing the lit mag, and figuring out how to talk to boys without choking on her own saliva. Instead, she’s just trying to hold it together in the face of cutthroat academics, her crush’s new girlfriend, and the sense that things are going irreversibly wrong with her best friend, Katie.

When Katie starts making choices that Violet can’t even begin to fathom, Violet has no idea how to set things right between them. Westfield girls are trained for success—but how can Violet keep her junior year from being one huge, epic failure?

With Mostly Good Girls I got precisely what I expected, which is always a good thing for me. Mostly Good Girls was a light, humorous, fast read, with no complicated issues. This is a chick lit for YA.

Mostly Good Girls is a very fast read. One moment I was cracking the cover open and the next thing I knew – I was on the last page. It is not only because this book falls into the short side, it was also quite compelling for me, and the writing was light and unobtrusive.

Even though Mostly Good Girls didn’t have a strong plot line (or should I say – didn’t have much of the plot at all: it was more of the line of events only tightened up together by same characters), it was full of light humor, not satire or irony. For me, Mostly Good Girls read like a book of comical scathes. It was so ludicrous sometimes that it almost reminded of a farce, full of improbable situations.

Unfortunately, characters were mostly plain and full of clichés. Because of an inexistent plot, characters didn’t move forward, neither went though some serious changes during the course of the novel. Even though, Violet – the main character, not once voiced out her goals, I didn’t really notice her moving eagerly toward them. Nevertheless, this doesn’t spoil the novel much, making it what it meant to be – a brief, uncomplicated fling.

I would recommend this book to any female in pretty much any age group, who is looking for quick mood boost and stress relieve that requires no mental work.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson - Book Review #118

Monday, November 29, 2010
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium #3)
by Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland (Translator)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1) review.
The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium #2) review.

Lisbeth Salander—the heart of Larsson’s two previous novels—lies in critical condition, a bullet wound to her head, in the intensive care unit of a Swedish city hospital. She’s fighting for her life in more ways than one: if and when she recovers, she’ll be taken back to Stockholm to stand trial for three murders. With the help of her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, she will not only have to prove her innocence, but also identify and denounce those in authority who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer abuse and violence. And, on her own, she will plot revenge—against the man who tried to kill her, and the corrupt government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life.

Once upon a time, she was a victim. Now Salander is fighting back.

I’m very glad that my husband talked me into reading Millennium series. As I wrote in my review for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I wasn’t even planning to look twice on this series, mostly because of the first book’s synopsis, until my husband read these books.

Even though, I enjoyed The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest very much, I still had same issues with the third book as I did with the first two. It started slow for me and for the first fifty or so pages I actually had to push myself to read it. At some points of the novel, Larsson’s past as a journalist and non-fiction writer was easily recognized and this is one of the first times he was trying himself in fiction writing. By the third book, I got used to Swedish first, last, cities and streets names and it made the process of reading a lot easier than previous books. However, I’m still not able to pronounce at least half of the names, so my talking about these books resembles a gibberish puzzle (constantly using instead of proper names “this” and “that”).

I was a bit disappointed that Salander spent the most part of the book in the hospital and was mostly unable to use her extraordinary talents. Synopsis of the third book promised us that Now Salander is fighting back. Unfortunately, it seems like most of the fighting was done by Blomkvist and Säpo. So I didn’t get enough of Salander, the girl who has become one of my favorite fiction characters.

I still consider the first book in the trilogy to be my favorite one, nevertheless, the third book come very close and almost made a tie. Some parts of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest made me do a surprised “Whoa!” – as an example, the scene with Zalachenko’s “departure”. I absolutely adored dynamics of the questioning in the courtroom scene– superb writing that created a very powerful motion.

In each of three books, Larsson began new part with interesting information. In the first book, it was statistical information. In the second book, it was mathematical definitions. And in the third book, Larsson supplied reader with historical facts on the subject of female solders throughout the centuries. I really enjoyed this special touch of the books.

Overall, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest was a satisfying ending of the delightful series. It got very close to the fairy-tale ending with a huge pink bow on top of it, where everyone got precisely what they deserved. However, I still got a feeling that Larsson might have being leaving some loose ends for the possible sequel. Unfortunately, Stieg Larsson is dead. At the end of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the realization that I was about to finish reading the last Larsson’s book made me very sad.

Millennium series is a serenade to women, their powers and abilities, their place in society. This is a declaration against violence and discriminations towards women. I’m still scratching my head why in the USA Millennium series were promoted as men’s books. So first of all, I recommend this series to all women and only after that to men who are not afraid of strong women.

P.S. The great parody on Millennium series from The New Yorker.

Friday, November 19, 2010

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris - Book Review #117

Friday, November 19, 2010
From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)
by Charlaine Harris

The supernatural community in Bon Temps, Louisiana, is reeling from two hard blows - the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the man-made horror of the explosion at the vampire summit the month before in the up-north city of Rhodes. Sookie Stackhouse is safe but dazed, yearning for things to get back to normal. But that's just not happening. Too many vampires - some friends, some not - were killed or injured, and her weretiger boyfriend, Quinn, is among the missing.

It's clear that things are changing, whether the Weres and vamps of her corner of Louisiana like it or not. And Sookie - friend of the pack and blood-bonded to Eric Northman, the leader of the local vampire community - is caught up in the changes.

In the ensuing battles, Sookie faces danger, death... and, once more, betrayal by someone she loves. And when the fur has finished flying and the cold blood flowing, her world will be forever altered.

From Dead to Worse is the eighth installment in the Sookie Stackhouse series and so far this is my favorite one. Sookie is on the roll. Her life is full of events, as never before: she has to deal with newly discovered family members; she has to keep her obligation to her brother; she has to deal with weres and vampires; don’t forget to throw witches in the pot. I don’t know how the supernatural world would survive without Sookie. And on top of this she has to protect herself from attempts on her life; and still sow up and do her job as a cocktail waitress. However, no love life for our Sookie, I hope she will catch up on this department in future books.

I love this book despite the fact (or maybe because of) it can’t be really called a novel. It doesn’t have one distinct plot line. It consists of multiple short stories put together. So the eighth book doesn’t have a gradational build up for the climax and it doesn’t have one big problem and its resolution at the end. However, it worked wonderfully for me. A lot of loose ends that have been left from previous seven books were tightened in.

I think this was the first time since the beginning of the series, when Sookie is portrait as a truly strong character. It seems like our Sookie is not longer just not-too-smart, wildly smiling cocktail waitress with a bad wardrobe who is ready to jump into any danger without as much as a thought. In this book, she actually made some smart and well thought through decisions. I only hope it will stick on her.

What else can I add what I haven’t said already in my previous seven reviews. It seems like I really like Sookie series and it is not just a fling. This series is here to stay in my life and I’m off to get the next book - Dead and Gone.

P.S. Why did they have to change the size of the book in the middle of the series? The eighth book is couple of inches taller and wider. Now it doesn’t look too good on my shelf with previous Sookie books.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On the Road by Jack Kerouac - Book Review #116

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
On the Road
by Jack Kerouac

On September 5, 1957, Viking published Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road. Few books have had as profound an impact on American culture. Pulsating with rhythms of late 1940s/1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac's classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be "Beat" and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event "set them free."

Based on Kerouac's adventures with Neal Cassady, On the Road tells the story of two friends whose four cross-country road trips are a quest for meaning and true experience. Written with a mixture of sad-eyed naïveté and wild abandon, and imbued with Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz, On the Road is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope, a book that changed American literature and changed anyone who has ever picked it up.

Freedom, open road, the wind on your face, hair flying back, new cities, new people, new experiences, new adventures – sounds good, right? Three wives left penniless, countless children scattered all over the US, grown man running to his elder aunt for another fifty bucks over and over again, destroyed lives, broken hearts and all for kicks – sounds not too good.

I have a mixed feeling about this book. Somehow I’m certain that I would love On the Road if I would have read it when I was sixteen and so, I would have stayed devoted to it though all my live. But I haven’t read it at sixteen, I read it some years later and now I couldn’t help but notice more than just a freedom of the road; I couldn’t help but notice all the ugly things.

On the Road is probably the only book whose characters I truly hated. Dean Moriarty (aka Neal Cassady) – a self-centered, chauvinistic pig, who doesn’t have a shred of respect, who doesn’t care about anything or anyone; the only thing that he cares about is kicks. And this character is a role model for generations and generations of men? It’s utterly disgusting. Sal Paradise (aka Jack Kerouac) – a wuss and a wimp; coward, looser and sissy, who can only tag alone with Dean Moriarty and admire him, while the second one is spitting on him; who is forgiving everything to the pig - Dean Moriarty, just to see what other kicks he can come up with; and when the situation is hard and money all gone, Sal Paradise doesn’t know any better than to run to his aunt for help. Some men, some role models, huh?

Despite the fact that I hated all characters, I have to admit that initial idea of freedom, new experiences and adventures, does sound appealing. Truman Capote once commented about On the Road: "That isn't writing; it's typing." However, I think that Kerouac’s “typing” style worked out good for the subject matter – the road. The road, same as Kerouac’s style doesn’t have a plot, it only has incidents and accidents; the road doesn’t have the beginning and doesn’t have the end; it doesn’t have any distinct direction – you are the one who has to choose it. The road just exists from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye can reach.

In conclusion, if Kerouac’s On the Road “is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope”, I don’t want to do anything with this freedom and I want to live my life without such hope.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater - Book Review #115

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Linger (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #2)
by Maggie Stiefvater

In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

I picked up Linger, as I said in my review of Shiver, just out of pure curiosity - what else can Maggie Stiefvater add to the story of Grace and Sam. Linger was on my desk for months, every time moving to the bottom of the to-read pile, when new books were added there, until I finally was in the mood for something completely insignificant that requires no brain activity and would be simply a time passer. And this is precisely what Linger turned out to be.

All the problems that arose for the characters in Linger seemed to be farfetched and forced – just something to write about. Sam acted even more gay than he was in Shiver and I kept wondering when we will finally get out of the closet and stop pretending to love Grace as his girlfriend. Grace was still boring and plain, so plain that I sometimes was completely forgetting about her existence. Isabel was much more significant character than Grace, even though quite far from interesting as well. Cole was a bit of fresh air in this insignificant cast of unnoticeable characters – at least he had some personality.

The only really interesting aspect for me in Linger was further unveiling of werewolves’ origins: is it a disease, how it works, is it curable. I still enjoyed, at times utterly bizarre, Maggie Stiefvater’s original takes on werewolves.

This time, with Linger, Maggie Stiefvater didn’t wrap the story into the happy ending and finished the book on a cliffhanger. However, it is hard to pretend that any sensible person couldn’t guess how this story is going to end. The only mystery is details.

Conclusion: Linger was what I expected it to be – mindless, numb time passer. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to call Linger a bad book. I’m just trying to describe it as what it was for me. And I’m a strong believer that each and every book can find its audience whether in different people or in the same people in different moods or at different periods of their lives. So…nothing to see…moving along…

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy - Book Review #114

Monday, November 15, 2010
The Black Dahlia
by James Ellroy

On January 15, 1947, the tortured body of a beautiful young woman was found in a vacant lot in Hollywood. Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, a young Hollywood hopeful, had been brutally murdered. Her murder sparked one of the greatest manhunts in California history.

In this fictionalized treatment of a real case, Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, both LA cops obsessed with the Black Dahlia, journey through the seamy underside of Hollywood to the core of the dead girl's twisted life.

Cherchez la femme” is a phrase that became international. It is a phrase that has thousands of meanings; can be used and was used in thousands of different situations. However, at the same time it still has the same and the only meaning: “Cherchez la femme.” Ellroy wasn’t the first and not going to be the last author to use this phrase, to build pretty much the whole plot on this phrase. In Ellroy’s The Black DahliaCherchez la femme” radiates with different meanings at every point of the story and still, every time, it stays the same, old, overused, cliché phrase. Paradox? – Most certainly.

I expected to love The Black Dahlia – a fictionalized version of world known, horrific, unsolved murder. So many people loved the book and so many described it as glue that will hold you to your chair until you are done and as a fastest page flipper until the very end. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see anything special in this book – some parts were interesting, some were boring; sometimes I couldn’t stop reading, other times I was finding every excuse not to read it.

There were some aspects that I liked about the book: it was very atmospheric; I learned a lot of 40th slang, in particular 40th cops’ slang. There were also aspects that drove me away from this book: for some reason I didn’t care enough about characters; the book started very slow and it took sixty pages for plot to start unveiling; I didn’t feel any suspense until the almost very end – the whole story read like unconnected, isolated events. No, at the end, fortunately, they all come into one whole piece (the moment when the book actually became glue and a page flipper).

Bottom line – The Black Dahlia turned out to be precisely what it was: suspense, noir, detective story, nothing more – nothing less. It was nothing very significant, however it wasn’t awful either. If you are into noir fiction or you are interested in fictionalized version of Black Dahlia case, check this book out. For everyone else, I would advise to pass on this book. Paradox? – Certainly not.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff - Book Review #113

Friday, November 12, 2010
The Replacement
by Brenna Yovanoff

Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.

Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

I wanted to read this book since I first saw the cover, sometime in February. Isn’t it creepy-gorgeous in somewhat disturbing way? At that point of time I couldn’t find any information about the book: no synopsis, no rumors, only the cover and the title. Despite that, The Replacement immediately went into my to-read list. Later on when the synopsis was finally available, my excitement for the book went down. Tattooed princess? Living dead girls? Fatal allergies to iron and blood? And the only thing he wants is to be normal and spend time with his crush? It sounded like just another, not too good, YA paranormal. However, when the book was finally released I was in the mood for “just another, not too good, YA paranormal”, so I picked it up.

From the ten thousand foot view, my suspicions were confirmed. However, after a closer look, I found discrepancies with “just another YA paranormal”. The Replacement is getting points from me for… no, not originality of the plot, but reinvention of old, and still can be called as forgotten, fairy lore. And more points to The Replacement for being a standalone novel, not a part of another never-ending series. Well, of course, you can never be sure and the author can always make a series out of standalone novel. However, I really hope that Brenna Yovanoff won’t do that with The Replacement.

Everything else, unfortunately, falls into the mediocre category.

Characters were mostly boring and clichés, with an exception of Mackie Doyle, whose characterization was confusing. He presented as a freak and loner, however he has friends, who are not freaks and loners; and girls (plural!) are interested in him.

Brenna Yovanoff’s writing sometimes read as forced and mouthful. Her selection of words at some points reminded me of the scene from Friends, when Joey is writing a letter of recommendations on Monica and Chandler to adoption agency and to sound better he replaced his words with smarter ones.

Bottom line is The Replacement was an OK book. It has its flaws and has some good qualities. Since it was a debut novel for Brenna Yovanoff, I hope we will see more and better works from her in the future. I will probably keep an eye on her upcoming works.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez - Book Review #112

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
The Autumn of the Patriarch
by Gabriel García Márquez

“Over the weekend the vultures got into the presidential palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside”

As the citizens of an unnamed Caribbean nation creep through dusty corridors in search of their tyrannical leader, they cannot comprehend that the frail and withered man lying dead on the floor can be the self-styled General of the Universe. Their arrogant, maniacally violent leader, known for serving up traitors to dinner guests and drowning young children at sea, can surely not die the humiliating death of a mere mortal?

Tracing the demands of a man whose egocentric excesses mask the loneliness of isolation and whose lies have become so ingrained that they are indistinguishable from truth, Márquez has created a fantastical portrait of despotism that rings with an air of reality.

I dreaded the moment when I would have to write a review on The Autumn of the Patriarch, because I’m so out of my league here, trying to describe the genius of Gabriel García Márquez. However, I’m unable to stay silent, unable not to mention probably one of the greatest and unique books I’ve ever read, one of the books that blew me away, one of the books that showed me that there could not be any other limitation in the literature other than author’s own abilities; and if an author is not afraid to break shackles that his own mind or society put on him, even the sky is not a limit.

It is probably the writing style that makes this book so unique. Márquez broke all the rules here: there are not paragraphs; there is hardly any punctuation: sentences run for five – ten pages, there are not quotes to distinguish the dialogs; Márquez switches the point of view multiple times in one sentence and sometimes in one line. I won’t lie to you, his technique intimidated me at the beginning. I was imagining that it will be a very frustrating and confusing experience that will drag for a while, despite the fact that the book it not long at all. However, what could have been a recipe for the disaster in any other hands, turned out to be an unforgettable delight in Márquez’s.

It took Márquez seven years to write The Autumn of the Patriarch and I’m surprised it didn’t took him seventeen – to write in such style and still make everything crystal clear for the reader: whose point of view it is, what time is that, did someone said it, or it is the General talking to himself in his own head. Márquez achieved impossible with The Autumn of the Patriarch, he managed to put in words and on the paper person’s thoughts and experience of the world as they are – we rarely think in full, grammatically correct sentences; we almost never experience the world in distinguished paragraphs; and we never put conversations in quotation marks in our head.

General of the Universe, the usurper, the patriarch, the dictator and the main character of the novel is another Márquez’ stunning achievement. In General Márquez united the characteristics and abilities of the world known dictators – Stalin, Castro, Mussolini, Kim Jong-II and many others, dead or alive. Through the whole story at one point or another, I could see one of these faces staring at me from the pages. Márquez also showed us the other side of probably any dictator’s character – the weakness, paranoia, inability to most of the human emotions and loneliness (complete and overwhelming). Márquez combined in General the best and the worst of the human nature, making it impossible for readers to have one defined emotion toward him (hate or pity) and also making General a real person, not some one-dimensional caricature.

There are so much more in this novel that can’t be explained or described. There are so much more that everyone should experience and feel for themselves. At times, The Autumn of the Patriarch read like a dream, completely distant and enchanted. At other times, it reminded to me Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights. And at all times it was an unforgettable experience. I would recommend this book to everyone, who is not afraid of the challenge, because this book can be quite demanding sometimes when Márquez is drowning you in words, metaphors, similes and magical realism as whole. I would recommend this book to everyone who wants an amazing, breathtaking, overwhelming and magical experience. After all this is the only book that describes how the sea is sold, put on the ship, moved to another location and what left after in its place.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Come one, Come all!
It's Book Blogger Holiday Swap!

I found it on Linus's Blanket and loved the idea. You can read about it and join the fun at the Book Bloggers Holiday Swap. Hurry up, the sign up ends on November 14, 2010.

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig - Book Review #111

Chess Story
by Stefan Zweig

On a cruise ship bound for Buenos Aires, a wealthy passenger challenges the world chess champion to a match. He accepts with a sneer. He will beat anyone, he says. But only if the stakes are high. Soon, the chess board is surrounded. At first, the challenger crumbles before the mind of the master. But then, a soft-spoken voice from the crowd begins to whisper nervous suggestions. There are perfect moves and brilliant predictions. The speaker has not played a game for more than twenty years, he says. He is wholly unknown. But somehow, he is also entirely formidable!

Chess Story, also known as Royal Game, is a very short – fifty to one hundred pages, depending on edition, novella. This was the last work of Stefan Zweig, published posthumously, after he and his wife committed double suicide in Brazil, exiled from Germany by Nazis.

Chess Story glued me to the chair until I finished it. This is a quite unique story and it manages to stay unique without leaning towards the bizarre angle – everything in this story is realistic, everything is tangible.

Chess Story is a novella about two people: the world chess champion – an extraordinary person in quite ordinary situation; and a lawyer – a very ordinary person who was forced into the extraordinary situation. This is the story about human limitations. This is the story about survival and what it takes. This is the story about dark secrets and painful mysteries from the past. And of course, this is the story about chess; about excitement, passion and vehemence that this game (or is it more than a game) evokes.

"And are we not guilty of offensive disparagement in calling chess a game? Is it not also a science and an art, hovering between those categories as Muhammad's coffin hovered between heaven and earth, a unique link between pairs of opposites: ancient yet eternally new; mechanical in structure, yet made effective only by the imagination; limited to a geometrically fixed space, yet with unlimited combinations; constantly developing, yet sterile; thought that leads nowhere; mathematics calculating nothing; art without works of art; architecture without substance - but nonetheless shown to be more durable in its entity and existence than all books and works of art; the only game that belongs to all nations and all eras, although no one knows what god brought it down to earth to vanquish boredom, sharpen the senses and stretch the mind."

The narration is overwhelmingly excellent – it will make you shiver.

I loved this story so much, that I recommend it to everyone. I believe that every person will be able to find something for himself in this short, but powerful novella.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Moscow-Petushki by Venedikt Erofeev - Book Review #110

Monday, November 8, 2010
by Venedikt Erofeev

In this classic novel of Russian humor and social commentary, a cable fitter is fired from his job after accidentally sending out detailed graphs charting his coworkers' productivity against the amount of alcohol they consumed.

Moscow-Petushki, also known as Moscow to the End of the Line, Moscow Stations and Moscow Circles is a pseudo-autobiographical prose poem about a cable fitter, intellectual and alcoholic – Venichka – who was fired from his job, for the graphs creation of his and his coworkers’ productivity against the amount of alcohol they intake. After he is fired, Venichka decided to travel from Moscow to the 125 kilometer (77 miles) away town – Petushki, to visit his lover and a child.

The whole novel is set during Venichka’s travel. While on the train, he drinks and engages in conversations with different people and with himself, discussing the wide variety of subjects from politics to religion, from philosophy to literature, from recipes to make different alcoholic “cocktails”(from eau de toilette, nails polish and other products that contain alcohol) to the meaning of life. As novel progress and as more Venichka drinks, novel becoming more and more surrealistic, hallucinogenic and dark.

Some view this novel as a sarcastic overview of the soviet life during late 60th. Other, consider it to be a cry for help, a cry for changes in the system and in the everyday life. I will not get into discussion on this, because I don’t think that this novel can be easily classified. For me it was hilarious and tragic, illuminating and devastating at the same time.

I really enjoyed Erofeev’s humor, which was based on paronomasia, or play on words. The grace, with which he interlaces words into most elegant and unobtrusive humor, was amazing and captivating. It is hard for me to judge, but I think that the novel in general and its humor in particular, might be hard to understand for people who is not closely familiar with everyday life of regular Russian people during late 60th, with policies and views of same period, with Marx’ and Lenin’s quotes and with Russian literature.

Moscow-Petushki also seems like a very hard to translate novel. First of all, it is prose poem, so it has a specific rhythm and pace. Second, it seems to me that in hands of not very good translator a lot of nuances of the humor might be lost (or maybe these nuances even untranslatable). I read this book in Russian and I didn’t check any translations, so I can’t really comment if a good job or not was done or not.

I loved Venedikt Erofeev’s Moscow-Petushki. It might be the best Russian book that was written at the crack of 70th. I would recommend this book to the Russian literature enthusiasts and to the satire lovers. For everyone else? – Only in case you are really interested.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris - Book Review #109

Thursday, November 4, 2010
All Together Dead (Sookie Stackhouse #7)
by Charlaine Harris

Betrayed by her longtime vampire love, Louisiana cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse must now not only deal with a possible new man in her life-the oh-so-handsome shapeshifter Quinn-but also contend with a long-planned vampire summit. With her power base weakened by hurricane damage to New Orleans, the local vampire queen is vulnerable to those hungry for a takeover. Soon, Sookie must decide what side she'll stand with. And her choice may mean the difference between survival and all-out catastrophe.

Ah Sookie, Sookie… Can’t live with you, can’t live without you. As I already said not once in my previous reviews of earlier books of Sookie Stackhouse series, these series are not a great literature, at any stretch of the imagination. However, these books are definitely entertaining so much that I’m willing to forgive all the holes in the plot, all the imperfections in characters development, all the insanity in the story and far from perfect writing style. I keep reading this series, because after a long tough day, when my brain and my limbs are numb and I just physically can’t think or do anything anymore, these books are the perfect solution not only to relax your body and brain, but also to boost your mood.

All Together Dead is a seventh installment in the long running series about cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse living in normal (real) paranormal (there are so many creatures, humans just have not idea exist) world. The seventh book started very slow for me. It seems like Charlaine Harris was just touching basis with all the secondary characters and updating the reader on their latest live events. Unfortunately, neither these characters, no these events didn’t play any role in the story, so I couldn’t care less about them.

However, I really enjoyed the culmination of the story. Somehow it felt more realistically dramatic than culminations in the previous books, which read like a child’s make-believe play. The climax and Sookie’s decisions at the end showed how much she grew as a person in the light of these events. No, she probably still is not acting or thinking like an adult, but at least she is much less clueless, as she used to be.

Overall, I’m continuing to enjoy Sookie Stackhouse series. After All Together Dead, I’m more than ever curious to find out how the story will unravel and I already have the eighth book on my desk, waiting for me to read it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw - Book Review #108

Wednesday, November 3, 2010
by George Bernard Shaw

Written in 1912, Pygmalion quickly became a legend in its own time. The characters, situations, and dialogue Bernard Shaw supplies are rich, ebullient, and unmatched in wit as the infamous Henry Higgins prepares to "make a duchess of this draggletailed guttersnipe.”

Thus begins this classic tale as Shaw pokes fun at smugness and priggish conventionality. Who can forget professor Henry Higgins with his passionate interest in the science of phonetics and the improvement of British speech, or of course, poor Eliza Doolittle, who is one of the great heroines of the 20th century?

Get ready to enjoy the greatest Shaw romp of them all as Higgins prepares to transform a common flower girl into a creature "the king of England would accept as royalty.”

When I was around six years old, my mother took me to see Pygmalion for the first time. It was most likely my first adult play that I saw. At that time I didn’t know what Pygmalion meant, who was George Bernard Shaw and what was phonetics. I saw Pygmalion play countless times performed by different troupes. I saw different movie adaptations. And very fast the story became one of my favorites.

After each play we saw, while we were walking along the sea coast line in downtown, my mother told me something new about Pygmalion. It was from her I learned that phonetics was a study of human speech sounds. She was the one who told me that Shaw’s Pygmalion was loosely based on Ovid's tale about sculptor who created an ivory statue of a beautiful woman, fall in love with it and begged Venus to change the statue into the real woman. The more my mother was telling me about that play, the more I was falling in love with it.

However, I have never read Pygmalion until now. And I couldn’t deprive myself of this satisfaction, even though plays are not meant to be read – they are meant to be performed and watched. I remembered almost every line, I remembered even intonation with which actors were delivering that line and I still couldn’t stop reading or laughing. When I reached the end of the play, I was shocked that I actually didn’t remember the original ending of the play. The whole time, while reading, I was thinking about My Fair Lady’s variation of the ending. The whole time during fourth and fifth acts, I could not believe that Bernard Shaw will end his play the way I remembered; I could not imagine how could he, under such circumstances. And of cause he did not. Even though George Bernard Shaw wrote a story based on Ovid's tale, he added a feminist twist: at the end his beautiful statue refuses to be his creation.

This wit, enlightening and brilliant story has been entertaining generation after generation since its first production in 1914 and I believe it will continue doing so for countless more generations to come.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Perfume by by Patrick Süskind - Book Review #107

Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
by Patrick Süskind

In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift-an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the "ultimate perfume"—the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.

I read Perfume because I loved the movie and also because the world of smells is very important to me. I quite often use olfaction to distinguish or remember events, people or feelings. No, I cannot smell people like Jean-Baptiste Grenouille could, though I usually remember their perfume, or smell of soap; I can remember the scent of the blossoming jasmine outside of my window while I was talking to someone on the phone; or perhaps the smell of ozone just before the rain starts and odor of wet dirt after it is over while I was reading some book on lanai.

My only problem with scents was always my inability to actually describe it. So my descriptions usually go as: it smells like a dream; it is a smell of victory; this is the scent of late March; or this is how the mid summer afternoon smells. Maybe because of this my inability I was so much impressed with Perfume. Patrick Susskind’s skill to describe smells (any smells – pleasant or utterly disgusting) is amazing. He could not only make me understand what he was talking about, he actually made me smell it.

"Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it."

Perfume is probably the only book that deals with scents on such level. The scent is a main character in this novel, not Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who is merely a this scent‘s guide to our world. That’s why I disagree with the second part of the book title (The Story of a Murderer). No, Grenouille did commit murders, but only to achieve his goal, which completely unrelated to these murders. Patrick Süskind not revealing anything about murder victims: we don’t know who they were, what their interests were, what they dreamed about, who they loved or hated; in most cases we don’t even know their names. In this situation it is almost impossible to care about these victims as people, we made by Süskind to only care about their scent, same as Grenouille does.

I enjoyed the ending of the book beyond any reason – an utter grotesque on one hand, and on the other, something breathtakingly beautiful:

“For the first time they had done something out of Love.”

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the world of fragrance. Süskind did a tremendous research to deliver us the knowledge how the perfumery business worked in eighteen-century, including detailed descriptions of different techniques. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading something completely original. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for strong emotions, because Perfume undeniably delivers that.

"He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White - Book Review #106

Monday, November 1, 2010
by Kiersten White

Weird as it is working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, Evie's always thought of herself as normal. Sure, her best friend is a mermaid, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals' glamours, but still. Normal.

Only now paranormals are dying, and Evie's dreams are filled with haunting voices and mysterious prophecies. She soon realizes that there may be a link between her abilities and the sudden rash of deaths. Not only that, but she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.

So much for normal.

It either I was on the roll when I was picking up a bunch of YA paranormal romances lately or the genre itself, finally, has being getting some good works. Either way, I’m happy to report that Paranormalcy have a solid plot, interesting characters and gorgeous boys. It is undeniably cute and definitely paranormal down to the bone.

Paranormalcy is a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gallagher Girls series (I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You) and something else that I can’t really pin point. A vague resemblance to this two works doesn’t make Paranormalcy any less original or enjoyable. Kiersten White managed to combine strong heroine who can kick some serious paranormal asses from Buffy and the whole secret agency with lots of cool gadgets extravaganza form Gallagher Girls, add some romance and humor (Evie's fascination with lockers) and present us with something completely new – an YA paranormal chick lit.

My only concern with Paranormalcy was that the plot and events in the book were too lightheaded. There was not enough urgency and villain wasn’t bad and scary enough. It seemed like there was no serious threat to Evie and she was shielding herself out of issues almost during the whole story (I mean, I can understand her: what was going on – wasn’t really her problem. Why should she give up everything and run towards the danger?). And almost at very end Kiersten White, finally, made Evie face problems that were piling up and not only face them, the author also made these issues Evie’s issues. Unfortunately, the resolution to the problems was too easy.

However, overall, Paranormalcy was very enjoyable, relaxing and cute read. I can’t wait to read the sequel – Supernaturally. I would recommend this book to every chick lit, YA and paranormal romance genre lovers. I think that so far Paranormalcy might be one of the best works in this cross gender mix.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella - Book Review #105

Friday, October 29, 2010
Mini Shopaholic (Shopaholic #6)
by Sophie Kinsella

Nothing comes between Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) and her bargains. Neither act of God nor budget crunch can shatter her dreams of wall-to-wall Prada. Every milestone in her well-shopped life (travel, long-lost sister, marriage, pregnancy) inspires new vistas to explore in the name of retail therapy. But now she faces her greatest little challenge yet: Becky’s two-year-old daughter, Minnie.

While motherhood has been everything Becky dreamed it would be—Baby Dior, Little Marc Jacobs, and Dolce & Gabbana for toddlers—adorable Minnie is wreaking havoc everywhere she goes, from Harrods to her own christening. Her favorite word is “MINE!” and her penchant for Balenciaga bags, Chanel sunglasses, and online purchases has no rival under age five.

Becky is at her wits end. On top of this, she and her husband Luke are still living with her parents. Thankfully it appears house buying attempt number four is a go! Until a huge financial crisis causes panic everywhere, and nobody wants to shop—not Becky’s personal shopping clientele, not her friends, nobody. And with Luke in the doldrums, it’s time for Becky to step in—with a party: A surprise birthday party for Luke (on a budget) is the perfect antidote to everyone’s woes. At first.

Will Becky manage to keep the party of the year a surprise? Can she hire jugglers, fire-eaters, and acrobats at a discount? Will enlisting the help of Luke’s unflappable assistant to convince him to have another baby realize her dream of matching pom-poms? Will Minnie find a new outlet for her energetic and spirited nature (perhaps one with sixty percent markdowns)? She is, after all, a chip off the old shopping block. And everyone knows a committed shopper always finds a way.

I think that Confession of Shopaholic was one of the first books I read in chick lit genre and Shopaholic series is definitely my favorite. I’m suspecting that the only reason why I read so many chick lit books is that I was looking for something that would at least remotely resemble it and be at least as half as funny as Sophie Kinsella’s books. For years I’ve been looking for something like this, and I think, now I can say with all the confidence that there are no contemporary authors that can make me laugh out loud and as much as Sophie Kinsella can.

Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) is probably one of my favorite characters ever. She is adorably inappropriate; she is hilariously clueless; and she is completely ingenuous. She is so full of energy, crazy ideas and good intentions – it is overwhelming. I could never guess her next actions or words. My brain just doesn’t work this way. I’m always trying to come up with something reasonable and believable; and these are two qualities that Becky is lacking completely.

Mini Shopaholic was a great addition to the series. Sophie Kinsella is one of the rare authors whose books don’t become worse with each next book in a series. I was very happy with the ending of Mini Shopaholic, which almost directly indicated that we should expect another book about Becky.

I think that there is no reason for me to recommend this book to anyone, because if you like chick lit, you most definitely heard and read Sophie Kinsella’s books and you won’t miss this one; and if you haven’t, you are most likely from another dimension. However, I’m sure that even in another dimension or another universe people have heard about Sophie Kinsella, because she has a talent to make even nuclear physics hilarious.