Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Call of the Wild by Jack London - Book Review #45

Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The Call of the Wild
by Jack London

An unusual dog, part St. Bernard, part Scotch shepherd, is forcibly taken to Alaska where he eventually becomes leader of a wolf pack.

I read Jack London, well, tried reading anyway, when I was at school and I hated him. I started to read some of his novels and countless short stories and I haven’t finished any of them, except one – Hearts of Three. For years I kept wondering why Hearts of Three was so much different from all Jack London‘s other novels. Then I found out that someone asked Jack London to write a screenplay, giving him a plot and he ended up writing a novel. That put everything on its places. That answered the question why Hearts of Three always felt for me like it wasn’t Jack London’s.

Anyway, couple of days ago, I was thinking what to read next and decided to give the real Jack London another try, so I picked up The Call of the Wild. I was able to finish it without any struggles, unlike when I was in school, and I didn’t hate it, like I used to, which definitely surprised me. Still, I wouldn’t say that I’m in love with Jack London’s work.

I’m a cat person. It is not like I hate dogs, I’m just sort of indifferent to them. So the whole idea about the book being told from the dog’s point of view didn’t excite me that much. However, I was surprised how believable, at least for me, Jack London was able to do that. It is undeniable that he humanized Buck (main character - the dog) a bit, but still, all the way through, it actually felt like the dog himself wouldn’t be able to tell this story better then London did. While I was reading it, it felt like I was looking at the world from the dog’s perspective. I especially appreciate all the small details, like when Buck learned to dug himself into the snow to be warmer or like he figured out to bite the ice out with his teeth, when it collected between his toes. I think these tiny observations what made this story so real.

Overall, I’m glad I gave Jack London another chance. I’m not sure if I will ever be his fan, but now I can definitely say that I appreciate him. I still don’t like how brutally he described the reality, but I guess it is not his descriptions what was brutal, but the reality itself that he described. And if I prefer to close my eyes and hide my head in the sand, the human and animal suffering in the northern climate or the Gold Rush will not disappear or become less real.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Club Dead by Charlaine Harris - Book Review #44

Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Club Dead
by Charlaine Harris

There's only one vampire Sookie Stackhouse is involved with (at least voluntarily) and that's Bill. But recently he's been kind of distant - like in another state distant. Bill's sinister and sexy boss Eric has an idea where to find him, which is why Sookie ends up in Jackson, Mississippi, mingling with the under-underworld at Club Dead. It's a dangerous little haunt where the elitist vamps can go chill and chow on some prime flesh. But when Sookie finally finds Bill - caught in an act of serious betrayal - she's not sure whether to save him, or sharpen some stakes.

The Sookie Stackhouse series are definitely not a great literature by any means. However, it doesn’t make it any less enjoying. Charlaine Harris is getting better from book to book. In her third Sookie Stackhouse novel – Club Dead, it feels like she finally getting a grasp of her characters and story telling. It still has flaws, but those flaws didn’t stop me from breathing through the novel and enjoy it.

I was really happy that Bill was out of the picture through almost the whole book. Though, it is funny that just a thought about him still annoyed me. Erik wasn’t quite as dangerous as he was in first two books and he’s shown his softer side, which I was hoping he didn’t have. However, I still liked him the most. Sookie is still her old self, self educated from trashy romance and mystery novels, spends too much time thinking about her body part and her hideous clothes, completely immoral in her actions, but so highly moral in her thoughts. And I love her for that, she humors me enormously.

I’m not going to encourage anyone to read or not to read these series. It might not be for everyone. Charlaine Harris won’t teach you anything, her books will not open your eyes on some life shaping or altering issue. Her books also will not give you an original or deep philosophical perspective on anything. This is not the point of her books. The point is – pure entertainment.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin - Book Review #43

Monday, June 28, 2010
Eugene Onegin
by Alexander Pushkin

Eugene Onegin (1833) is a comedy of manners, written in exquisitely crafted verse, about two young members of the Russian gentry, the eponymous hero and the girl Tatyana, who don't quite connect. It is also the greatest masterpiece of Russian literature - the source of the human archetypes and the attitudes that define and govern the towering fictional creations of nineteenth century Russia and one of the most celebrated poems of the world.

This time I decided to reread Eugene Onegin in English translation. First, I tried James E. Falen’s, then Walter Arndt’s and finally Vladimir Nabokov’s. I didn’t read any of them fully, just a half of the first chapter and I gave up, ending up switching to original – Russian version and finishing it. I will not be telling you what so many before me already said - Eugene Onegin has to be read in Russian as it was written. In my experience everything needs to be read in the original language if you are able to do so. It is especially crucial for the works in verse. I wouldn’t say that I hated these translations that I tried. I wouldn’t also give you an advice to learn Russian before attempting to read Eugene Onegin, as Nabokov did. I just think that everybody should read Eugene Onegin, despite the fact if they can do this in Russian or not. I personally preferred Falen’s version, because he managed to preserve the Onegin stanzas and deliver the meaning as close as it would’ve been possible, I guess.

In my opinion, the Onegin stanza is a first and foremost that makes Eugene Onegin a masterpiece. It’s so transparent and light that your eyes are flying through the lines and there is not a word on which you could choke, which could make you stop and reread what you’ve been trying to read. Pushkin’s verse is absolutely effortless and reads like a most natural thing in the world.

The story itself is trivial and as old as the world. However, I believe that no one before or after Pushkin was able to tell it the way he does it. No one was able to make this drama as ironical and cheerful as Pushkin’s genius.

There is not much I can say to make a true justice to the Eugene Onegin. If you haven’t read it, I beg you, give it a try, because you are missing a lot. It is short and reads very easily, so it won’t take you more than 2-4 hours and I promise you will get an enjoyment that would last much longer.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - Book Review #42

Sunday, June 27, 2010
Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

 When the bar is set as high as it was in The Hunger Games, it is almost impossible for author to deliver the second book up to the expectations of the reader. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Suzanne Collins failed to do so with Catching Fire.

In the first hundred pages, I was more than sure for two or three times that the ground author was laying at that point is going to be a direction the whole book will go to. No, I don’t claim I thought I had a whole book figured out. I was just sure I knew the direction. And as soon as I was thinking this, Suzanne Collins fast-forwarded this plot line in a couple of paragraphs and ended it, moving to the next line, which once again I was considering the book direction. I probably should be satisfied with this, because it was unexpected, but for some reason it annoyed me a great deal. It felt like the author herself couldn’t decide on the plot of the book and was writing everything that was popping into her head, then unsatisfied for some reason, wrapping up and moving to the next point. Or this way Suzanne Collins was trying to get to her point and just didn’t know any better how to make those nine months to pass.

However, putting aside this seesaw, what did we get as a plot for the second book in the Hunger Games series? **drum-roll, thundering sound of the kettledrum** We got the same plot as in the first book. No, it is told differently, but essentially, it is still the same. And this is all the excited and dedicated readers were waiting for. I’m only relieved that I wasn’t one of them, because I feel sorry for them, expecting a new development of the story, a new perspective on the events , a resolution of at least some of the plot lines and getting the first book over again just in the new cover.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say that I absolutely hated Catching Fire, no it wouldn’t be true, I just expected so much more out of it. I still have to give a credit to Suzanne Collins – I couldn’t put Catching Fire down. However, this is probably not because how interesting and original was the plot for me, but rather because of how she is building her books and what kind of reader I am. When I have to put the book down, I prefer to stop at the end of the chapter and Collins always ends her chapters with cliffhanger, so it makes it very hard to stop there.

I heard in many reviews that people think that the cliffhanger the author left at the end of the book is inhuman, impossible, unfair to the readers, etc. It didn’t feel like this for me, probably because I stopped caring for the characters and got tired of Collins teasing me with something new and exciting, but delivering same old same.

I’m not yet divorced, I’m just separated with Suzanne Collins’ work, so I probably will be reading the last installment of The Hunger Games series – Mockingjay, but this time I’m not expecting much.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos - Book Review #41

Thursday, June 24, 2010
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
by Choderlos de Laclos

Love . . . sex . . . seduction. Of the three, only the last matters. Love is a meaningless word, and sex an ephemeral pleasure, but seduction is an amusing game in which victory means power and the ability to humiliate one’s enemies and revel with one’s friends. So it is for the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, two supremely bored aristocrats during the final years before the French Revolution. Together they concoct a wildly wicked wager: If Valmont can successfully seduce the virtuous wife of a government official, Madame de Tourvel, then Madame Merteuil will sleep with him again. But Madame Merteuil also wants Valmont to conquer the young and innocent former convent schoolgirl, Cécile Volanges. Can he do both?

I saw and loved all three known to me movie adoptions of Les Liaisons Dangereuses - Dangerous Liaisons, Valmont and Cruel Intentions multiple times. However, I was really hesitant to read the book because of multiple reasons. First of all, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an epistolary novel and I never had a good experience with this type, they are simply not my cup of tea. Second, from movie adaptations I knew the story so well that I was simply afraid I will be bored. Nevertheless, I decided it was time to face this scandalous, marvelous and well know throughout centuries novel that Marie Antoinette kept under her bed.

I should probably start by saying that I always loved this story. I considered it to be one of the most beautiful and enigmatic stories, despite the fact that this novel doesn’t have any heroes (only anti-heroes) and there is no happy ending for anyone. The thing that I admired the most is intrigues created by Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont. They seemed to me like a spider web, almost invisible, but sticky and impossible to get out of. Or like a Venetian lace – stunning with its beauty and inconceivable to untwist.

Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont are both so deliciously sinful – it is impossible not to like them. In particularly, I like Valmont for refraining from using any types of violence in his seductions – he wants his victims to come to him willingly and with love. Cécile de Volanges is comically naïve. Chevalier Danceny always seemed to be annoying to me. Madame de Tourvel is fragile and also naïve, but not like Cécile in a childish way, but rather in sentimental way. Madame de Volanges – Cécile’s mother is completely clueless. From the movies I also considered her arrogant and evil, so I was surprised to find out from the novel that at some point she considered Danceny as a husband for her daughter and it changed my opinion about her. All these characters were masterfully created by Choderlos de Laclos with the level of psychological analyze. It is amazing how Choderlos de Laclos could see people to reproduce all the depths and complexity of the characters in letters.

Another astonishing thing is how Choderlos de Laclos managed the voices of the characters. Letters from different people did sounds actually different, even in translation. And these voices of the characters were a base on which reader could start building the impression of the personalities.

Undeniably, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a piece of art. Some readers consider the fact that this novel was written in 18th century to be a flaw of the novel, but I completely disagree, because I almost don’t know contemporary writers, who can manage, develop and illustrate the voices and the personality of the characters as well as it was done by Choderlos de Laclos in more than two centuries ago.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters - Book Review #40

Wednesday, June 23, 2010
By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead
by Julie Anne Peters

Daelyn Rice is broken beyond repair, and after a string of botched suicide attempts, she's determined to get her death right. She starts visiting a website for "completers"-

While she's on the site, Daelyn blogs about her life, uncovering a history of bullying that goes back to kindergarten. When she's not on the Web, Daelyn's at her private school, where she's known as the freak who doesn't talk.

Then, a boy named Santana begins to sit with her after school while she's waiting to for her parents to pick her up. Even though she's made it clear that she wants to be left alone, Santana won't give up. And it's too late for Daelyn to be letting people into her life. Isn't it?

I don’t know why I picked this book – the cover, the expectance of strong emotions, some sort of revelation, maybe something else. I don’t know why I picked this book, but I did and so I read it. I don’t know what I expected from this book, because I don’t know why I picked it. So I finished reading it, closed it and stare at the cover. What I was feeling? What did I think about it?

I felt frustrated and sick. The first thought that entered my mind – I’m so sick and tired of weak and whinny characters. It felt like the most bulling to Dealing was done … by herself. She is the one who constantly calling herself names. She is the one who is putting abusive and offensive words to other people’s mouths (not literally, but for her, I’m sure, it make an impression that other people said that). Ok, I agree that Daelyn had some unpleasant incidents, but she never fought back. She never defended herself, never told anyone to bring some reinforcement. She never told anything to her parents, nevertheless, she is sarcastic about their cluelessness all the time. She is going on and on how they never were there for her. No, I agree that parents have to be more attentive to their children, but they are not a mind readers and in my opinion, Daelyn’s parent really tried and tried differently. The only thing she needed to do is give them a hint.

Daelyn is right when she thinks that there are winners and losers, and I would add that no one canceled the natural selection. I know it might sound harsh, but civilization already made life too comfortable for people and almost reduced the natural selection to zero. Therefore, we have more and more these spineless people, who cannot do as much as ask for help, who is destroying themselves willingly and systematically. Yes, I said it, willingly! Because I truly believe if it wouldn’t be for bulling, Daelyn would have found some other reason to kill herself.

Ok, I will not be bashing Daelyn or this book anymore, because it might be a good guide of how NOT to do. And I don’t mean, dear children, please do not bully each other, because children always did and they always will, and not only children. I mean, please, fight for yourself, stand your ground, ask for help and you can be a winner as well. I know it is probably easier said than done for someone, but have a spine, have some dignity and self-respect, because if you are not respecting yourself, no one will!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - Book Review #39

Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins

Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

I’m probably the last person to read this book. I heard a lot about it when it first came out, then when the second book came out I heard even more. However, there was nothing that interested me in this book. Synopsis seemed blunt, the cover not catching and even hundreds of positive reviews didn’t convince me to read it. Another turn-off for me was that this book was classified as dystopian and I seriously don’t like dystopia, not in any form, not even in YA book. That was a ground on which I stood… until the April 2010 when I started to think how I choose books that I read and decided to give a chance to some books that I never had any interest in, but so many people had a high praise for. One of these books was a The Hunger Game.

When I started reading it my suspicions how awfully sad full of absolute desperation this novel would be only became stronger. Somewhere at the beginning it made me think about Germinal by Émile Zola. Yes, I know that Germinal is not a dystopia and The Hunger Games doesn’t have any resemblance to it, but I guess it was mines and hunger that linked these two books for me. The thoughts about Germinal made me really want to give up The Hunger Game and when I read to the scene when Peeta gives Katniss a loaf of bread I almost did give it up, because it made me cry. And I mean literally cry, not just a think how sad it was, not just a small sob. No, I was actually crying with huge tears rolling down my cheeks. I’m not the person who cries easily, I think I can count books that made me cry on the fingers of one hand. So you can see it was a big deal. I even put the book down. However, in a while I remembered about giving a chance to the books I think I will not like and decided to finish it, even if it will make me cry throughout the whole book.

I’m glad I didn’t give up. The Hunger Games turned out to be not full of absolute desperation, but on the contrary full of hope. I couldn’t put this book down and once again I mean literally, not figuratively. I was constantly thinking I finish this chapter and this is it, but one chapter became two, after that a three and so on, until I realized that I was almost four in the morning.

The Huger Games was absolutely hypnotizing and breathtaking. Somewhere in the middle of the book I realized that it didn’t have any dialogs, at least not for a while. It was only a description of what Katniss saw, thought and did. This realization pinned me down to the floor, because I think like Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?” Ok, it might not be saying much good about me, but the truth is I’m getting seriously bored in very short time from long descriptions in the fiction books. However, with The Hunger Games I wasn’t bored and more than that, as I already said, I couldn’t put it down. It didn’t have any dull moments throughout the whole book.

To summarize, what turned out to be, a rant, rather than review, I have to say that even though the idea of the book is not even close to be an original, Suzanne Collins created a stunning, magnificent and unforgettable peace of fiction.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Karma Club by Jessica Brody - Book Review #38

Sunday, June 20, 2010
The Karma Club
by Jessica Brody

"Personally, I’m tired of waiting for the universe to get off its butt and start fixing stuff. I don’t want to wait around for Mason to get what’s coming to him. Or Heather Campbell, for that matter . . . I want to be there to see it happen."

Madison Kasparkova always thought she understood how Karma works. It’s that mysterious, powerful force that brings harmony to the universe. You know—do good things and you will be rewarded, do something bad and Karma will make sure you get what’s coming to you. A sort of cosmic balancing act.

But when Mason Brooks, Maddy’s boyfriend of two years, gets caught tongue-wrestling with Miss Perfect Body Heather Campbell, and absolutely nothing happens to either of them—except that they wind up the hot new couple of Colonial High School, it seems like Karma has officially left Maddy in the lurch. That’s why Maddy and her best friends, Angie and Jade, decide to start the Karma Club—a secret, members-only organization whose sole purpose is to clean up the messes that the universe has been leaving behind. Whether they’re modifying Heather Campbell’s acne cream as part of “Operation Butterface,” or righting a few wrongs when it comes to Angie and Jade’s own slimy exes, they know they’re just doing what Karma should have done in the first place. They’re taking care of one another.

Sometimes, though, it isn’t wise to meddle with the universe. Because it turns out, when you mess with Karma, Karma messes back. Now Maddy must find a way to balance her life for good, even as everything around her seems to be toppling to the ground.

The Karma Club is a sweet, good and charming mood booster. This is a book you want to read if you were dumped. This is a book you want to read if your life is going the opposite direction, you want it to go. This is a book you want to read if just in a bad mood. And finally – this is a book you want to read!

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say I’m head over hills in love with this book. However, I have to acknowledge that Jessica Brody created a solid and very enjoyable novel. From the first pages, I was pleased with Jessica Brody’s writing style. It was clean, well edited, but also imaginative and rich. In particular, I liked her chapter titles. To begin with, I love book that have titled chapters and not just “Chapter 1.” Unfortunately is doesn’t happen too often nowadays. However, not only Jessica Brody titled her chapters, she also managed to do that in a creative manner that on one hand doesn’t spill out what’s going to happen, but on the other hand does make perfect sense and can be clearly explained after the chapter is read.

The other thing that I really liked about The Karma Club were references Jessica Brody made to the pop culture and popular movies, such as Graduate, Pretty Woman and Back to the Future, to name a few. Those references were totally in place, in my opinion, and didn’t take over the scene, but only enrich it with deeper meaning.

It was a pleasant surprise to me that The Karma Club is a standalone novel and not a part of the series. Don’t get me wrong, I love some of the series, it is just lately it seems like almost every new book that is written in YA genre is a first installment of the god-knows how log series.

Unfortunately, I cannot call this book perfect. But hey, what is actually out there that is perfect – everything has its own flaws. The Karma Club has some shaky plot points.


For instance in the scene where Angie and Jade is getting in the Heather Campbell’s house to replace her face cream, Angie is asking to use a bathroom, to open a window for Maddy to get in. Why can Angie herself replace her cream? Why they need to get though all this troubles to get Maddy into the house? Another issue is a result of a poor research. Maddy’s last name is Kasparkova and she is telling us that she get this last name from her great-great-…-grandfather who emigrated from Russia in 1912. Kasparkova is a Russian last name, however, Russian last name have a different endings for males and females. For instance, Kasparkova is a female version and Kasparkov would be a male version. So if she inherited it from her great-great-…-grandfather through her father, their last names should have been Kasparkov so is hers. I just doubt that her parents gave her a female version of the last name, since they are a too far away from their Russian descendants.

End of spoilers!!!

Another thing that I consider a flaw of the novel – some hints on the plot developments were too obvious, at least for me. For some reason I could see them as good as if they would be in bold red flashing letters. However, it just might be my own problem and I was just too attentive to details.

Despite all the flaws, that I was able to dig out, I truly did enjoy the book and I would recommend it primary to the YA readers, but also to adults who is interested in the light, cheerful and just purely good novels.

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris - Book Review #37

Living Dead in Dallas
by Charlaine Harris

When a vampire asks Sookie Stackhouse to use her telepathic skills to find another missing vampire, she agrees under one condition: the bloodsuckers must promise to let the humans go unharmed.

It is amazing how writing style can improve with practice. The second book in the Sookie Stackhouse series - Living Dead in Dallas – is an example of such an improvement. Charlaine Harris’ use of the language has become significantly better and more enjoyable.

The composition structure of the novel certainly has some originality in it – one story wrapped up around another one. However, I’m not certan if it is working in favor of the novel. With the structure like this the book is losing its momentum, because at the point where culmination should exists, we have the end of the inner story and then we are picking up the outer story where we left it off at the beginning of the book. It didn’t spoil my impression, but left me out with a feeling that I’ve started to read one story about Sookie, left it unfinished, then read another one and finally finished the first one.

Sookie surprised and somewhat disappointed me by the sparks of the intellect she shown. However, mostly she is still dingy and emotionally unstable and I, surprisingly, still love her for that – I guess she entertains me great deal with her flaws. Bill is becoming more and more dull, creepy and annoying. I even have a thought somewhere during the book that probably Bill should have meet his unfortunate ending and Sookie can move on with Eric.

Eric was my favorite in this book. He was hilarious, especially in the orgy scene. I think this character has a great potential, if Charlaine Harris will decide to develop him. I was longing for more Eric, for more scenes with him and, hopefully, I will get it in the third book.

In general, I enjoyed the second book, much more than the first one and hopping for great things to come. Now I cannot wait for the shipment with third and fourth book to arrive, so I can lay hands on them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris - Book Review #36

Friday, June 18, 2010
Dead until Dark
by Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life-and one of her coworkers checks out....
Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn't such a bright idea.

I don’t know what kind of impression would this book make on me if I didn’t watch True Blood first and I guess I would never know now. I loved True Blood. Alan Ball and HBO are as usually amazing, juicy and mind blowing. But back to the book…

I wasn’t always happy with Charlaine Harris’ writing. Sometimes I would put the book down and exclaim: “No, this woman cannot write!” Especially the action scenes were written, to put it gently, somewhat peculiar. For whatever reason her writing wasn’t flowing for me, but I rather was choking on it. Nevertheless, I always picked up the book and continue reading.

I cannot say anything how good or not was the suspense, because I knew from the TV series who was the killer. However, I definitely enjoyed the mix of paranormal and suspense. It actually surprised me how much I fell in love with the world created by Charlaine Harris. For me, it was an original point of view on the world where vampires were out (out of the coffin).

But mostly I was surprised how much I loved Sookie with all her imperfections and flaws. I never thought I could like a character as unintelligent and simpleton as Sookie was. I thought her lack of style, her simple mindedness and the only interest of sunbathing would enormously bother me. But I loved Sookie with all her southern odor, possibly because she was so unexpectedly original to me.

I’m grateful to Charlaine Harris for the ajar door to the wonderful and crazy, so familiar and completely unpredictable, colorful and unique world. And I’m off to read the second book.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald - Book Review #35

Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots
by Abby McDonald

Can a boy-hungry Jersey girl survive the wilds of Canada with her eco-identity intact? A witty new YA novel from the author of SOPHOMORE SWITCH.

Jenna may hail from the ’burbs of New Jersey, but Green Teen activism is her life. So when her mom suggests they spend the summer at Grandma’s Florida condo, Jenna pleads instead to visit her hippie godmother, Susie, up in rural Canada. Jenna is psyched at the chance to commune with this nature she’s heard about — and the cute, plaidwearing boys she’s certain must roam there. But after a few run-ins with local wildlife (from a larger-than-life moose to Susie’s sullen Goth stepdaughter to a hot but hostile boy named Reeve), Jenna gets the idea that her long-held ideals, like vegetarianism and conservation, don’t play so well with this population of real outdoorsmen. A dusty survival guide offers Jenna amusing tips on navigating the wilderness — but can she learn to navigate the turns of her heart?

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots is the story about growing up and leaving the teenage maximalism behind, about understanding what you truly believe in, about avoiding extremes and finding compromises. It is also about family, friendship and sexuality. Of cause this book doesn’t cover any of these subjects completely, which, to begin with, is impossible. However it touch these subjects, some more, some less, like in life, where you are passing by a lot of different things and issues and you are touched more by ones and doesn’t notice others.

I expected this book to be funnier, then it was, but it didn’t spoil my impression. Instead I was pleasantly surprised that it had a moral, which wasn’t pushed down to the reader’s throat, but was gently, however quite visibly delivered.

Despite the fact that the title and the synopsis of the book clearly state that romance will be playing one of the main roles in the story, I completely disagree with that. I wouldn’t call Jenna a boy-hungry and it was refreshing to find out that she has other interests and responsibilities then boys and romantic relationships.

I really enjoy how Abby McDonald decided to end the story. It wasn’t a fairy-tale ending – “and they lived happily ever after”. No, Abby McDonald didn’t write a fairy-tale, she wrote a first stepping stone to the formation of Jenna’s personality. Abby McDonald did not resolve all of the problems that Jenna was facing, but she gave us the glimpse of the Jenna’s future, which might not be all rainbows and puppies, but the author also gave us a solid reassurance that Jenna will go through all of the obstacles and it will only make her stronger.

To summarize, Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots might look like a light and uncomplicated summer read for the teenage girls, but it also gives the reader some food for thought.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter by Yasunari Kawabata - Book Review #34

Friday, June 11, 2010
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
by Yasunari Kawabata

An Oriental classic of the early Heian-period retold by a Nobel Prize winner about a supernatural being found by a bamboo cutter and brought up as his daughter. He urges his "daughter" to marry but she sets fantastic quests to her suitors. All fail. Eventually she reveals she is from the Palace of the Moon and departs.


The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is a cruel and sad, but also, at the same time, it is deeply romantic and poetic classical Japanese fairy tale. Like most of Japanese works it is full of colorful and versatile symbolism that makes you think and rethink every line of the tale.

The characters and the story itself are not as important as the language with what it has been written, the writing style. Even in translation it reads like a melodramatic song, like a purl of the river, like a birds singing, like a rustling of the leaves.

The thing that made me wonder – why there are so many tales from different parts of the world that involve a young and beautiful girl who asks a young men to prove how much they love her by sending them “go there, I don’t know where and bring me that, I don’t know what”. Why this is a prove of love? Or maybe it is as my husband suggested – the girl just trying to get rid of the men? If so, why these tales promote such a cruelty?

Nevertheless, it is a lyrical, well structured tale and I only wish that I could be able to read it, not in translation, but in original language to fully understand and see the whole beauty and symbolism of this story.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne - Book Review #33

Thursday, June 10, 2010
Around the World in Eighty Days
by Jules Verne

In Around the World in Eighty Days, Phileas Fogg rashly bets his companions £20,000 that he can travel around the entire globe in just eighty days, and he is determined not to lose. Breaking the well-established routine of his daily life, the reserved Englishman immediately sets off for Dover, accompanied by his hot-blooded French manservant, Passepartout. Traveling by train, steamship, sailboat, sledge, and even elephant, they must overcome storms, kidnappings, natural disasters, Sioux attacks, and the dogged Inspector Fix of Scotland Yard to win the extraordinary wager.

Around the World in Eighty Days is a fabulous adventure full of suspense set during the heights of British Empire. This is the story about honorable, heroic and ingenious gentlemen for whom it seems to be no obstacle that cannot be overcame. It is about friendship and loyalty, about gentle and beautiful lady, remorseless enemies and of cause the race against the time. This is all flavored with cultures around the world and spiced with grand crime. What can be better?

I didn’t like Jules Verne when I was a child. The only book of his that was able to finish was Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea out of countless that I started to read. One of the unfinished in my childhood book was Around the World in Eighty Days. I didn’t like Jules Verne, because of his encyclopedia- like descriptions that bored and annoyed me. Jules Verne’s books for me never were a fictional works, but rather textbooks wrapped up in fiction. Nevertheless, despite his descriptions of steamboat and what kind of mileage it can do or the percentage of salt in the lake, I loved Around the World in Eighty Days this time I read it.

It is undeniably curious to look at the world with the eyes of the person who lived in 1872 and while doing so you could not agree more with Phileas Fogg that the world has definitely shrank. Even though the tremendous research that Jules Verne must have done to write this book is recognizably valuable, I think that the characters he created deserve much more attention.

Phileas Fogg is rational and punctual, the person of habits, for whom nothing, as it seems, can be unexpected, interesting or amazing, except for his goal and his habits. Passepartout – a full of life and humor, a person with a brave and open heart. These two quite opposite characters complete each other nicely and enchant sometimes too dry descriptions, bringing story to life.

To everyone who hasn’t read this – read it! Read it yourself. If you have children – read it to them and bring alone an atlas, it should be fun for them to follow Phileas Fogg and Passepartout’s journey around the world.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy - Book Review #32

Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The Cinderella Society
by Kay Cassidy

When the Prom Queen becomes your fairy godmother…

Sixteen year old outsider, Jess Parker, gets the chance of a lifetime: an invitation to join a secret society of popular girls dedicated to defeating the mean girls of the world. The Cinderella Society guides all new recruits through its top secret ultimate life makeover. It’s all part of preparing them to face down the Wickeds and win. Determined not to let the Cindys down, Jess dives in with a passion. Finally, a chance to belong and show the world what she’s made of.

… be careful what you wish for.

Jess’s transformation wins her the heart of her dream crush and a shot at uber-popularity. Until the Wickeds–led by Jess’s arch enemy–begin targeting innocent girls in their war against the Cindys, and Jess discovers the real force behind her exclusive society. It’s a high stakes battle of good vs. evil, and the Cindys in power need Jess on special assignment. When the mission threatens to destroy her dream life come true, Jess is forced to choose between living a fairy tale and honoring the Sisterhood… and herself.

What’s a girl to do when the glass slipper fits, but she doesn’t want to wear it anymore?

When I first heard about The Cinderella Society I was expecting a pure and unleashed Girl Power spilling out of the pages. And what did I get? A self-help book retold for brain-damaged.

From the begging of the book I couldn’t get away from the feeling that The Cinderella Society reminded me of closely controlled sect. To almost every question Jess asked she got the answer that she doesn’t have clearance for that. She was also watched all the time and told what she’s supposed to do and what she isn’t, what she supposed to think and what was wrong. This all reminded me of brain-washing. And when they started to talk about The Battle… my verdict was final – this sort of organization cannot represent the good in the world and probably will be unwind somehow in the end by Jess. Oh, how wrong I was. Turned out that The Cinderella Society is a society of hypocrites, proclaiming their main goal to be a freedom of the Reggis (regular people, not member either of The Cinderella Society or Wicked group) from the control of the Wickeds (the opposition of The Cinderella Society - Cindys), but at the same time controlling their members.

The thing I couldn’t understand was why the group that focused on girls’ empowerment was called The Cinderella Society. Cinderella wasn’t even a bit close to self-empowered character. It seems like either author herself realized that, or someone pointed out to her, but fortunately we get an explanation why the group was called The Cinderella Society. Unfortunately, this explanation is at least unsatisfying and mostly lame.

And don’t even get me started on the names – Cindys and Wickeds, Charmings and Villains, Reggis. I mean how pathetic is this?

The scene that I liked in this book was when Jess is going against Cindys’ rules, while trying to do what she really believes in. Regrettably, after that she is returning to the Cindys with a tail between her legs, apologizing. They take her back, patting her on the head and telling her not to worry, everyone makes mistakes and promising to train her (read - brain-wash).

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone, maybe with exception of twelve years-old girls with extremely low self esteem. Though, I’m still not sure if this book will do more damage than help.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey - Book Review #31

Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Guardian of the Dead
by Karen Healey

In less than a day I had been harassed, enchanted, shouted at, cried on, and clawed. I’d been cold, scared, dirty, exhausted, hungry, and miserable. And up until now, I’d been mildly impressed with my ability to cope.

At her boarding school in New Zealand, Ellie Spencer is like any ordinary teen: she hangs out with her best friend, Kevin; obsesses over her crush on a mysterious boy; and her biggest worry is her paper deadline. Then everything changes: In the foggy woods near the school, something ancient and deadly is waiting.

Karen Healey introduces a savvy and spirited heroine with a strong, fresh voice. Full of deliciously creepy details, this adventure is a deftly crafted story of Māori mythology, romance, betrayal, and war.

I was really excited to read this book, because by its description it sounded like a good suspense novel. Unfortunately, the suspense part only lasted until the middle of the book, when all the Māori legends reviled and explained. From that point the book just become messy and … well, I have to say it – disgusting. When I found out what patupaiarehe has to do to achieve immortality… well, that was too much for me. Also the scene when Mark introduces his grandfather to Ellie was quite nauseating as well. Maybe the reason for my disgust as that I wasn’t really into Māori and their mythology, maybe I’m just ignorant and the New Zealand culture was too much for me, either way, I really had to push myself to finish this novel after the first half. So synopsis turned out to be quite misleading, at least I expected something completely different from this book.

I have to agree that despite all of that the idea for the book is quite original. At least, I never read anything that involved New Zealand legends. I also have to admit that it was exceptionally well written. Additionally I admire Karen Healey for all fundamental research that she performed to write this book.

Therefore, probably this book isn’t bad at all. It seems like it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I would recommend this book to anyone who is tired from same old same paranormal themes in YA books, for someone who is looking for something new. But beware you will be stepping into the unknown, partially disturbing, sometimes shocking Māori world.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - Book Review #30

Monday, June 7, 2010
Gone with the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell

Novel by Margaret Mitchell, published in 1936. Gone With the Wind is a sweeping, romantic story about the American Civil War from the point of view of the Confederacy. In particular it is the story of Scarlett O'Hara, a headstrong Southern belle who survives the hardships of the war and afterwards manages to establish a successful business by capitalizing on the struggle to rebuild the South. Throughout the book she is motivated by her unfulfilled love for Ashley Wilkes, an honorable man who is happily married. After a series of marriages and failed relationships with other men, notably the dashing Rhett Butler, she has a change of heart and determines to win Rhett back.

Since I was a child, if Gone with the Wind was playing on TV, I was running towards it like there is no tomorrow. So by the time I actually dared to pick up the book, I knew the skeleton of the story by my heart. That’s why actually, it took me so long to start reading it – it is a very long book (over 1000 pages) and since I knew the main points of the plot, I was afraid it would get boring for me. Surprisingly, I was wrong.

After I finished reading the book, I understood that the movie was just a very compressed plot summary. Only after finishing the book, I understood how wrong I was that the movie is giving that unforgettable feeling of lost South. And I finally understood that this book could not be shorter, it would be almost illegal to make this book shorter, it would reap the reader out of unbelievable experience, out of seeing, sensing and feeling the South, no one can ever see or feel again.

I think what makes this book so great is that the story was directly integrated in the history, in the Civil War, into Southern civilization. I wasn’t just coexisting next to all of that, it was living and driven and shaped by these events. This story is packed with tiny historical facts that you would never find in your text book, the historical facts that you need to dig out the archives to get, the historical facts you could have only gotten from the eyewitnesses of that time. That why I’m so enormously grateful to Margaret Mitchell for all the research, for interviewing these eyewitnesses that still were alive and for writing it all down for generation to come to enjoy and savor. Margaret Mitchell’s contribution even greater, because she collected facts and wrote the story from the Confederate’s point of view, from the point of view of the side that lost, because you would never find some of the attitudes or visions in the textbooks that are controlled by the winner’s side (winners are always glorious aren’t they?).

I always loved Scarlett, I adored her. She probably was my role-model. For me, she is an example of truly strong female character. I read how she has been called an anti-hero, most of people see her as selfish, she even described in the novel itself as not beautiful and stupid. However, these qualities can always be regarded differently, from other point of view. And then you can see Scarlett as charming, goal-orientated, driven, strong and fearless person. What not to like? I also always loved Rhett, probably for the same reasons as I loved Scarlett – he is an almost complete resemblance of her, just in the male form. I used to think about Melanie as Scarlett saw her – weak and incapable, though I changed my mind with time and now I agree with Rhett, she is truly a lady. However, even this realization didn’t make me like her. And I always hated Ashley, his weakness and melancholy, his dreaming and absolute incapability to exist in the real world, his indecision and incertitude was always driving me crazy. And I could never see what Scarlett saw in him. It took me years to realize that she wanted him, only because she couldn’t get him and at that point I almost fall out of love with Scarlett, though finally deciding to allow her one weakness - Ashley.

I could never understand why the ending of Gone with the Wind is considered to be tragic. No, I agree that at the end there is a lot of tragic events occurred, but the last paragraph, in my opinion, is an undeniable example of sparkling optimism. Even the last sentence is a pure optimism – Tomorrow is another day!

I would like to encourage as many people as possible to read this book. Don’t be alarmed by its size, if you like a good story, you will breathe through it in no time and will be left with a sore feeling of parting with beloved characters, with mesmerizing settings and with unforgettable, glorious and dreamy, lost forever South.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë - Book Review #29

Sunday, June 6, 2010
Wuthering Heights
by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights", Emily Bronte's only novel, is one of the pinnacles of 19th-century English literature. It's the story of Heathcliff, an orphan who falls in love with a girl above his class, loses her, and devotes the rest of his life to wreaking revenge on her family.

This is one of the most disturbing novels I’ve ever read. I kept hearing that Wuthering Heights is one of the greatest romantic stories, so naturally that what I was expecting when I picked it up. Are you kidding me? If this is a romance then I don’t understands a thing about romance. In my opinion, this book is about ferocious revenge, hatred and child abuse with narcissistic, self-involved, vicious characters and nothing more.

I hated each and every one of this novel’s characters. They all deserve each other. At some point when I completely failed to understand as least one of them, I decided that they all must be insane because of the ongoing intermarriages and complete isolation down at England’s moors. Some people say that the trigger in this story is Heathcliff, but I completely disagree, all other characters have such a collection of qualities that they would torture each other without a Heathcliff even being there.

What else can I say? I didn’t like it, even though it made a great deal of impression on me. Maybe I just didn’t understand it, maybe one day it will came to me what so many people like in this novel… maybe… maybe not… and maybe it is just an overrated personal drama of Emily Brontë.