Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Awakening by Kate Chopin - Book Review #60

Thursday, July 29, 2010
The Awakening
by Kate Chopin

This story of a woman's struggle with oppressive social structures received much public contempt at its first release; put aside because of initial controversy, the novel gained popularity in the 1960s, some six decades after its first publication, and has since remained a favorite of many readers. Chopin's depiction of a married woman, bound to her family and with no way to assert a fulfilling life of her own, has become a foundation for feminism and a classic account of gender crises in the late Victorian era.

I still don’t have a solid opinion on The Awakening by Kate Chopin and I’m not sure if I will have anytime soon. If Edna, the main character of the novel, was a hero who fought the battle against society and traditions that couldn’t have been won at her time then she deserves our applause. Or maybe she was just a spoiled, bored and rich woman who didn’t know what she wanted and didn’t see what she had then she deserves our reproof. Or there could be a third option – she was, as her husband suspected, mentally ill, in this case we should pity her. I’m turned between these three possibilities.

It could be the first possibility. She could have being feeling trapped without any alternatives of becoming her own person with her own interests and being focused on her own desires and goals. I could see how impossibly hard it would be for a woman to achieve something like this at the end of the 19th century.

On the other hand I couldn’t help to notice that despite how absent her husband always was, the moment this metamorphose started to happen to Edna he tried to be attentive and then just left her alone, as doctor advised, and let her do whatever she was pleased to do, but she still wasn’t satisfied. It seemed like she wanted something and she wasn’t satisfied, because she didn’t have it. Then she got it, but she wasn’t satisfied again or anyway. Some might call it a search for oneself, I call it – capriciousness. This brings me to the second possibility – her being spoiled and bored.

And there is the third possibility of Edna being mentally ill. No, don’t get me wrong I don’t think that she was crazy just because she didn’t want to be a perfect housewife. It is her mood swings and how she ended everything makes me conjecture that she was a bipolar.

Despite my undecidedness on Edna’s character, I still think that The Awakening was a great work that influenced a lot of feminist fiction that followed it. The whole time I was reading The Awakening I had a feeling that I’ve already read it, but I’m more than sure that I haven’t. I guess I had this feeling because the events and feelings described in The Awakening, by our time, have become a cliché, which proofs how influential this book has been. Kate Chopin’s writing is clean, light and easy readable. Also The Awakening can be a good study case for symbolism. I will give you just one quote, but this book is full of symbolism:

She put her arm around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.”
In conclusion, I think that The Awakening, one of the earliest feminist novels, is worth of reading to at least see and try to comprehend the beginning of the movement in fiction.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Numbers by Rachel Ward - Book Review #59

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
by Rachel Ward

Whenever Jem meets someone new, no matter who, as soon as she looks into their eyes, a number pops into her head. That number is a date: the date they will die.

Burdened with such an awful awareness, Jem avoids relationships. Until she meets Spider, another outsider, and takes a chance. But while they’re waiting to ride the Eye Ferris wheel, Jem notices that all the other tourists in line flash the same number. Today’s number. Today’s date. Terrorists are going to attack London. Jem’s world is about to explode!

Numbers was one of those books that I neither could read, no could abandon. I was reading this book for probably over a month. I read a couple of chapters, put it down, pick up another book, finish it and then return to Numbers again, after that rinse and repeat.

I was expecting this book to be something different than it turned out to be. No, synopsis didn’t lie – the first third of the book was precisely what synopsis described. I just imagining “Jem’s world is about to explode!” completely different than it was.

First third of the book was so completely sad and not just romantic sad when you brush of the single glittering tear from your cheek, but soul ripping sad. It was that type of awful realism that doesn’t have any sparkle of hope in it. Jem’s life was a true nightmare and not only because of her “gift”, but also because of her family situation.

After terrorist attack I stopped feeling sorry for Jem and Spider, I become angry at them. Each and every their move or decision was making me furious. I literally wanted to grab them on their lapel and shake them, until I would be able to put some sense into their heads. I could somehow justify Jem’s and Spider’s actions, they were after all just scared teenagers. However, Spider’s grandmother’s actions, on contrary more like inactions, made me outraged. I usually don’t care that much for which decisions fictional characters make. The only reason I could think about why I cared this much in case of characters from Numbers is because this book actually touched something deep inside me and definitely didn’t leave me apathetic.

The ending was predictable, nevertheless lamentable with clear and cliché message that the best thing you can do about prophesies or prediction is don’t know them, so you won’t act trying to stop them from coming true.

Rachel Ward is without a doubt an excellent writer. However, I’m not sure if her work is for me, so I’m still undecided if I’m going to read the second book in the series - The Chaos, because by synopsis it sounds much more dreadful than the first one and now I know that Ward is most certainly able to deliver terror and despair.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

White Cat by Holly Black - Book Review #58

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
White Cat
by Holly Black

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers -- people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail -- he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

White Cat was my first experience with Holly Black’s books and I have to say it didn't leave me disappointed. I picked up this book because of multiple reasons. First of all, it is about con artists. One of my favorites is stories about big fraudulent schemes. Second, these con artists are involved in magic, they are curse workers. Third, from the synopsis it seems like Cassel is not an angel, but rather a dark figure in the story and he is a main character. It is quite unusual to find main characters in YA novels that are not good to the bone. Mostly all of them are and they only think that they are monsters or villains. Per synopsis Cassel actually killed his best friend, so he is a truly bad guy.

White Cat turned out to be a very fast read. It took me hours to finish this book. I guess the main reason for this – I didn’t want to put it down.

I’m not sure if Holly Black planned this book as a mystery, because if she did – she failed– I guessed the whole story quite early in the book. However, I really doubt that Black could have failed so completely, considering how celebrated author she is. I think Black wanted the reader to be aware of the story much more than Cassel himself, so the reader could follow Cassel’s reactions to the unfolding mystery, rather to mystery itself.

The most enjoyable part for me was the world Holly Black created. It seems quite an original idea, at least for me. White Cat’s world is almost like a real world with one tiny detail - there are curse workers in this world that can change your whole life by a touch of a hand and only gloves and amulets can protect you. That tiny detail changes everything, creating sort of parallel universe to the one that we know. I liked Holly Black showing how history as we know it changes by the influence of curse workers’ existence and changes even more because curse working is illegal.

There are not too many YA book from male point of view, which by itself is already making White Cat an original book. But of top of this, Cassel voice sounds closer to a teenage guy then in most of the books, where male protagonists sound like thirty years old woman, as far as I can judge.

I also appreciated Holly Black’s research in Russian folklore – mentioning of Kashey The Undead, Russian contemporary culture – mentioning of bratki – Russian gangsters and, of course, I loved the last name she picked up for one of the curse workers family – Russian family – Zacharov – which can be translated as to bewitch. I hate when authors writing about something they have no clue about - using wrong names, claiming that some nationality have this and that cultural traditions when in fact that nationality never heard about anything like that, using incorrectly foreign language without at least tiniest understanding what this or that word means. So I was glad to find out that Holly Black is not one of those authors and she does her homework.

I would recommend this book to pretty much any teenager or adult who likes con artists mixed with paranormal. I will be definitely reading the next book in this series - Red Glove that will be released on April 5th 2011.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson - Book Review #57

Monday, July 26, 2010
The Girl Who Played with Fire
by Stieg Larsson

Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander—the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire.

As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

I have been thinking for two days how to write this review and each time I was trying to come up with actual words it started to sound like I hated this book and it was a worthless piece of crap, which completely contradicted with my feelings and thoughts about second installment of Millennium series - The Girl Who Played with Fire.

So I would like to start from saying that I really enjoyed reading this book. As I wrote in my review on first book in this series – Salander is my type of characters and I was very happy to see that she is the center of attention in second book. It was quite interesting to dig into Salander’s past, trying to figure out who she truly is and how she turned out the way she is now. Her obsession with Fermat’s theorem is a complete cliché, but still enormously cute. Her versatility opens up at whole new level in the second book. It seems like Stieg Larsson endued Salander with everything possibly and, surprisingly, the variety of her skills didn’t seem to be impossible or unrealistic.

However, despite how mostly fast paced this book was and how irresistible Salander appeared, I could not help to not overlook the flaws, which mostly not Stieg Larsson’s fault, but rather a poor editing job, in my opinion. First, the book starts very slow. For at least two hundred pages nothing much is happening. We are given a lot of background, sex preferences and stories about all imaginable characters, despite how tiny or almost none role they are going to play in the story. I appreciate Larsson’s attention to details and desire to show in-depths of all events, but I think it could have been done while telling the story itself and not separately. Second, Larsson’s tendency to repetition sometimes can be really annoying. I could see how he was trying to tell the story from different points of view to show the reader the big picture, but, in my opinion, it could have been done better and gentler, without actually repeating the whole paragraph and passages. And the last, but not least, the ending left much to be desired and at least was unfair to the readers. In my opinion, this is not the ending of the second book in the series - it is the ending of the first part of the second book. The book ended on culmination, without tying any ends and without any closure.

Nevertheless I enjoyed this book. I probably liked it less then the first one. However, despite everything, Stieg Larsson left me no choice and I’m definitely planning to read the third and the final book in the series - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Island of Dr Moreau by H. G. Wells - Book Review #56

Friday, July 23, 2010
The Island of Dr Moreau
by H. G. Wells

A shipwreck in the South Seas, a palm-tree paradise where a mad doctor conducts vile experiments, animals that become human and then "beastly" in ways they never were before--it's the stuff of high adventure. It's also a parable about Darwinian Theory, a social satire in the vein of Jonathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels), and a bloody tale of horror.

Somehow The Island of Dr Moreau passed me completely, I haven’t heard about it until quite recently. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of H. G. Wells. I always loved movies based on his books, but the books themselves bored me to tears when I was a child. So I wasn’t really excited to read it. However, the synopsis sounded interesting, the novel seemed to be very short and the thought that there is something by H. G. Wells that I have never read made me pick up the book.

I didn’t think that the book written in late 19th century could terrify me at parts like none of the contemporary book ever could. Some of Well’s descriptions, such as animal screams during vivisection, were very disturbing. Also the scene when Prendick (the main character and the narrator of the story) is first time in the woods made me become completely still, stop breathing and read with unbelievable speed.

In The Island of Dr Moreau, Wells arose some provoking themes, still not only dated and relevant for our time, but much more the part of our reality, when bioengineering, cloning and various genetic experiments not only around the corner, but have already arrived, than it was in Wells’ times. My respect to Wells for how masterfully he was able to sew into the fiction some quite serious scientific and moral discussions.

I really enjoyed the end of the book, when Prendick has returned to England and was trying to find humanity in people around him and how he was trying to come to terms with what he has experienced on the island.

I have no regrets for reading The Island of Dr Moreau. I would recommend it to anyone who has never read it. It made me rethink my attitude towards Wells and maybe I will be rereading some of his books that I read when I was a child and didn’t like.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ivanhoe by Walter Scott - Boom Review #55

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
by Walter Scott

Set in the twelfth century, during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, Ivanhoe tells of the love of Wilfred of Ivanhoe for the Lady Rowena, his father Cedric's ward. Cedric, who is dedicated to the liberation of the Saxon people from Norman oppression and to the revival of the Saxon royal line, intends Rowena - a descendant of King Alfred - for the oafish Athelstane, and he banishes his son. Ivanhoe joins King Richard on his crusade in the Holy Land, and eventually the two men return secretly to England - Ivanhoe to regain his inheritance and the land of Rowena, Richard to secure his kingdom from his scheming brother John who has ruled in Richard's absence.

Walter Scott was a father of historical fiction. He also "had first turned men's minds in the direction of the middle ages," as per John Henry Newman. No one else before Scott described in such details and fictionalized medieval England. Most of the things that we know, read in the books, see in the movies about England of that era was inspired by Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. And that is definitely more than achievement and for that I’m eternally grateful to the Scott’s talent, dedication and creativity.

However, let me tell you, it is a heavy burden to read Ivanhoe with all the knowledge nowadays person have about medieval England and the irony is – if it wouldn’t be for Ivanhoe, maybe our impression about that historical time period would be different or we wouldn’t have known as many detail as we do now. So at times I found myself completely bored with insanely detailed descriptions in Ivanhoe, especially at the beginning of the book, first hundred pages were a drag. I was seriously thinking about abandoning Ivanhoe.

The thing that made me laugh was how self-involved most of the characters are in this book. How father didn’t recognize his son, how woman didn’t recognize love of her life, how when five people stand in one room talking and two suddenly leave, the remaining three didn’t notice that until much later. I think Walter Scott considered his readers to be not smart people at all, because after giving so many, so obvious clues about who was who he still drags that “mystery” for two hundred more pages and after that revealing it the way that it sounds like it should be a complete surprise for a reader. It is a definite surprise for all other characters, which brings me back to the complete self- involvement or stupidity of these characters.

Sometimes Ivanhoe was reading like some play with really bad actors that are so stiff and nervous that the only thing they can do is pronounce their lines like robots with unrealistic intonations and feelings.

To tell you the truth I didn’t much like Ivanhoe as a character. I used to love him when I was a child. He was a gallant knight – a dream come true. However, this time I was rereading the book, I liked the villain Brian du Bois-Guillbert much more. He might have been evil, but at least he was an open minded, unlike every other character in this book. He, a Templar, was willing to sacrifice everything for Rebecca, a Jewish girl. And who was Ivanhoe – a loyal and gallant, but completely close minded man, who was out of the picture during the most part of the story. Somehow from my childhood I didn’t remember that Ivanhoe was wounded for the most of the book, which made me wonder now why Scott called his book – Ivanhoe, because even Robin Hood played a larger role in the story.

In conclusion I have to say is that I have a very mixed feelings about Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe – I hated some parts of the book so much that I didn’t ever want to lay my eyes on it again and I loved other parts so much that I didn’t want this book to end.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Geek Abroad by Piper Banks - Book Review #54

Monday, July 19, 2010
Geek Abroad
by Piper Banks

Looking for love in all the wrong countries?

Miranda Bloom's life has never been better. She finally has an almost-quasi-boyfriend, Dex McConnell, the star lacrosse player of Orange Cove High. But when holiday break rolls around, she jets off to visit her mother in London, and Dex suddenly seems to lose all interest in her. Then there's Henry, the very cute and very available British guy who complicates matters by making it clear that he's very interested in Miranda.

Things don't get easier for her when classes start back up at Geek High. Between the dreaded Math Team competitions, an annoyingly love-struck best friend, and a stepmother who seems to delight in making Miranda miserable, it doesn't take a genius to see that the semester ahead is going to be tough.

I was disappointed in the second installment of Geek HighGeek Abroad. It still had all the reasons, as about the first book, why I shouldn’t have liked it and also new ones piled up on top.

First of all, by the title – Geek Abroad, I safely assumed that the whole book will be set during Miranda’s winter vacation in London. Unfortunately, barely the first third of the book is set in London. Also, during Miranda’s vacation nothing really happening. The only point is – Dex - her almost-quasi-boyfriend seemed to lose the interest in Miranda. And do we really need to spend a third of the book to make this point?

Second, during at least a half of the book, maybe more, nothing is happening. At first, as I already said, Miranda is in London where she is roaming the streets, retelling to us events from the first book – Geek High and getting as usually angry at her mother for not spending time with her. After Miranda is back to Florida and her classes started, again nothing much is going on either. She is going to her classes – Math, Modern Literature, Geology, etc. She is interacting with her friends and she keeps retelling us all the details from the first book.

I should’ve given up on the book at that point, but I had not more than hundred pages to go, so I decided to stick with it. And oh boy, I’m glad I did, because otherwise I would have missed unforgettable experience of Math competition (it was sarcasm). Don’t get me wrong – at the last third of the book, things started to happen, plot started to move, which made me think that unfortunately Piper Banks had a story for only a third of the required length of the book. So there was nothing really wrong with a story per se by that point. What shocked me was the kind of questions that has been given on that Math competition. Ok, I understand that this competition is between all the schools that like to participate and most of these schools are regular public schools. Let’s assume that the situation with the math in regular schools is so bad that those questions might present a challenge to most of the participants. However, I could not believe that supposed fifteen-sixteen years old math geniuses from Geek High had any difficulty answering a fourth grade questions that resulted solving simple linear equations.

I was under impression that I’m about to read a chick-flick that involved some smart teenagers set in London. Unfortunately, only one of these conditions stayed true – it was a chick-flick and not a good one. I’m still undecided if I would want to give a chance to the third book in the series.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice - Book Review #53

Thursday, July 15, 2010
Interview with the Vampire
by Anne Rice

Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly erotic, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force–a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses. It is a novel only Anne Rice could write.

I don’t know when I first heard about vampires, but I know when I first fell in love with them. It was a spring of 1995. My friend told me she heard her parents talking about a movie – a movie about… *whisper* vampires and one of the vampires in that movie was… behold…Tom Cruse! At that point my friend was a determined fan of Tom Cruise. She had posters and pictures of him from magazines all over her room. I didn’t care much about Cruise, but I was interested in vampires. Somehow we knew that parents will not allow us to watch Interview with the Vampire, so one lucky day when my friend’s parents weren’t home, we snuck out the video cassette from her mother’s night stand with Interview with the Vampire and watched with wide eyes open and barely breathing out of excitement, mystery and beauty of the eternal life.

And that was a point when I fell in love with vampires. Until a couple of years ago, I never knew that the movie was based on a book, silly me, and there were the whole series by Anne Rice about vampires. I don’t really remember how I found out about the book, but as soon as I did I bought a fat volume which contained first three books from The Vampire Chronicles series. I immediately started reading it, read somewhere around one third of the book and closed it, just to find it never opened again two years later on my nightstand. I couldn’t remember why I never finished it, so I decided to give the book another try.

Bram Stoker started the vampire lore, Anne Rice reinvented it. So I thought it was my responsibility to read at least the first Anne Rice’s book - Interview with the Vampire. I finished it only by sheer determination. I was reading 10-30 pages at a time the whole time wanting to close the book, finally closing it and never wanting to open it again. I went through all the possibilities why I didn’t want to read it. Was it because of Anne Rice’s writing style? No, it was imaginative, beautifully descriptive and moving. Was it because of the story? No, it was quite entertaining. Was it because I knew the story too well from watching a movie multiple times? But it never stopped me before. And I kept pushing myself to read just a little bit more and one more paragraph and one more page. Until somewhere close to the end of the book, I decided that probably I wasn’t in the mood for Interview with the Vampire, because I ran out of reasons why I didn’t want to read it. And as soon as I came to this conclusion the realization struck me as a thunder – I couldn’t read Interview with the Vampire, because I hated Louis and his non-stop whining. Blah-blah-blah my poor brother, blah-blah-blah how beautiful everything was, blah-blah-blah how unhappy I was, blah-blah-blah how I straggled, blah-blah-blah how I hated Lestat, blah-blah-blah how I needed answers to my questions, blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah… I hate people like this and I hate characters who whine all the time even more.

I read somewhere that Interview with the Vampire is a Catcher in the Rye for goths. Louis is trying to figure out who he is, what he is and why he is. However, the huge difference is that Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye is trying to find himself without whining, despite Louis whose sole purpose, as it seems, is to whine and feel sorry for himself. What struck me the most, *might be a spoiler alert* that Anne Rice made a whiner out of my favorite, ruthless Lestat *the end of might be a spoiler*. At least she didn’t do that in the movie.

My advice is – watch the movie, if you haven’t, and skip the book. Interview with the Vampire is one of those rare cases when a movie if much better than the book.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Geek High by Piper Banks - Book Review #52

Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Geek High
by Piper Banks

At this school, everyone's a geek. And Miranda Bloom still can't fit in...

Miranda is a math genius with divorced parents, an evil stepmother, and no boyfriend in sight. She can't even fit in with the other geeks at the Nottingham Independent School for high-IQ students, because they actually have useful talents. Miranda, on the other hand, is known as "The Human Calculator," which doesn't amount to much when people have, you know, their own calculators.

Then Miranda gets stuck planning the school's Snowflake Gala. And as she struggles to find a date and drum up some school spirit at Nottingham-aka "Geek High"-she finds that who you are means more than where you fit in.

I know too many reasons why I shouldn’t have liked this book, but despite all of them I did. It was completely predictable, full of clichés and unrealistic. It didn’t have any real problems. The main character is supposed to be a genius, but in most of the cases was acting like a stupid person (ok, ok, I know that person can be intelligent, but at the same time not wise, however Miranda’s inferences were truly stupid sometimes and not unwise).

However, I guess I’ve read it at precise moment when I really needed something like this book – a brain candy, check your brains out at the door. And despite what I’ve already said here, this book is really not that bad, it has some really good qualities – it is sweet and honest, it is cute and sometimes funny. It was quite solidly written with a simple but a thought through plot. And it made me feel like I felt in my childhood after reading a fairytale – a highly implausible story that makes you smile and believe in all the good in the world.

Geek High is a YA version of Chick Flick. I’m not sure if I would recommend it to adults – there are a lot of Chick Flick books for adults to choose from. However, I would definitely recommend it to teenage girls as a relaxing, fun summer read. I, myself, will be definitely reading a second installment in Geek High series – Geek Abroad.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - Book Review #51

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under -- maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

I’ve started to read The Bell Jar for the plot, but turned out I’ve read it for the language. Somehow the plot stopped matter to me, even though I was still interested in it. And I found myself simply enjoying the melody of Plath’s prose, the rhythm of her words, while my eyes were gliding through pages. I think if I wouldn’t have known that Sylvia Plath was a poet, I would have guessed it, because her use of the language is exquisite. She wrote so beautifully, it makes me sad that her life was so short and she was able to finish only one novel. I would like to give you three sentences as an example:

I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.

The tropical, stale heat the sidewalks had been sucking up all day hit me in the face like a last insult.

I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence, and go to sleep under that beautiful big green fig tree.

The Bell Jar reminded me at some point of Catcher in the Rye and Feminine Mystique. I guess the time when these books were written, the setting’s time and also some themes and motives are resembled The Bell Jar. It also reminded me of some movies that were either set in 50th-60th and dealt in some way with breakdown and insanity. However, despite that resemblance, I still believe that The Bell Jar is absolutely unique and original.

I guess you really have to live through something like this to be able to guide the reader through all of the emotions and thoughts of a character who is experiencing a breakdown. And living through wouldn’t always be enough, you would also have to have Plath’s talent to be able to put it into words. Sylvia Plath not only made me understand what was happening to the heroine, but also she made me feel, feel everything that Esther felt, see everything that she saw and also live through all of that. And that was made with such intensity that I think no one would be able to stay indifferent.

I think The Bell Jar has something for pretty much everyone - interesting and coming alive scenes of 50th - for those who is interested in that period, an insightful view into insanity – for those who is curious about this subject and the beauty of the language – for those who enjoys original metaphors, unforgettable simile and analogy, for those who believes if words are arranged in correct order, you can hear a melody like no other.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland (Translator) - Book Review #50

Friday, July 9, 2010
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland (Translator)

Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch--and there's always a catch--is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.

So I gave in to another bestseller that I had no interest in for years. And I did it because pretty much one phrase that my husband said: “You are going to love Lisbeth Salander.” And, oh boy, he knows me so well, because I did, I’m most certainly did! Salander is my type of a character. She is smart, resourceful, full of surprises, a bit crazy, unaccepted by society, but not caring about this, with almost no moral restrains and she is a kick-ass. Even though I wouldn’t call her a main character, she is the main reason I liked this book.

Multi-layered plot was another reason why I liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is not a book you would call simple or easy. Larsson mixed together so many issues and topics – from Nazis to sexual sadism, from religious fanaticism to shady business dealings, from violence against women and creepy perverts to dysfunctional family secrets. I guess I just got too tired of one dimensional characters and plots that why Larsson’s colorful multi-layerness was more than welcome.

Family secrets theme was another thing I couldn’t resist. Family secrets that has been lurking though decades, generations and even centuries? Yes, please! The family tree with countless uncles, grand-nieces and other siblings? Fat photo-albums full of faded, back-and-white tragedies, happiness and enigmas? Yes, please! And finally, the family members that are ready to take these carefully guarded secrets to the grave? Oh yes, yes, please!

What else made me like this book? It’s humor. Some scenes are absolutely hilarious. I ‘m not going to mention anything in particular, not to spoil for those who haven’t read this book yet, thought I’m sure there aren’t many; I will only mention one sentence. However, you would need to read a book to understand the humor. Mikael Blomkvist’s book dedication: “To Sally, who showed me the benefit of the spot of golf.” It is a short and simple dedication, but there is so much more in it!

There were also some moments in this book that annoyed me. First of all, I don’t like the format of the novel when one story if wrapped around another one. First, author is making me interested in one story, then drops it in the middle and starts a new one. I’m getting into the second story and staying with it till the end. At this moment I feel like I’m done with this book, but… wait a second, dear reader. Do you remember the first story I dropped in the middle? Yes, the one that I got you hooked up with. So I need to finish it now. And we are back to the first story. I can’t even explain why, but it annoys me a great deal. I guess I don’t like starting a new story when the initial is not finished.

Second, some moments in the middle of the book were dull and repetitive, so they made the story drag. In my opinion, it could have been cut out.

Third, characters’ names and places were so close to each other that sometimes it was hard to follow the story. Thanks god, for the family tree diagram, to which I was referring constantly. Henrik, Harriet and Harald who lives in Hedeby, close to Hedesad. Gottfried, Gustav, Gregor, Gerda. Berger and Birger. So you got the picture.

And the last, but not least I kept wondering why, oh why the book was titled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Ok, Lisbeth has a dragon tattoo, but she is not even a main character and her tattoo certainly doesn’t play any role in the story. Then I found out the original title – Men Who Hate Women – and that title made so much more sense. This is an example why I don’t like reading translations and if I have a chance, I will always choose an original, because translators sometimes bring their creativity where it is not needed.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a kick-ass book with a kick-ass female character. What else can I ask for? I can’t wait to read second and the third book in this series.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov - Book Review #49

Thursday, July 8, 2010
I, Robot
by Isaac Asimov

"They mustn't harm a human being, they must obey human orders, and they must protect their own existence...but only so long as that doesn't violate rules one and two. With these Three Laws of Robotics, humanity embarked on perhaps its greatest adventure: the invention of the first positronic man. It was a bold new era of evolution that would open up enormous possibilities - and unforeseen risks. For the scientists who invented the earliest robots weren't content that their creations should remain programmed helpers, companions, and semisentient worker-machines. And soon the robots themselves, aware of their own intelligence, power, and humanity, aren't either." As humans and robots struggle to survive together - and sometimes against each other - on earth and in space, the future of both hangs in the balance. Human men and women confront robots gone mad, telepathic robots, robot politicians, and vast robotic intelligences that may already secretly control the world. And both are asking the same questions: What is human? And is humanity obsolete?

I, Robot is a collection of the short stories that deals with development of robots, in which Isaac Asimov formulated, now known to everybody, the Three Laws of Robotics. Since then these Laws were used by almost every since-fiction author that dealt with robots in their stories. I cannot start to wrap my mind around what a genius Asimov was to devise these Laws. As my husband said, Asimov should have been given a Nobel Prize for this.

Almost every story in this collection is a puzzle, mystery of why robots acting one way or another. The Three Laws or their manipulations are used to resolve these puzzles. Asimov wasn’t one of the greatest writers in a matter of writing style or composition. His style can sometimes reads as rusty or awkward. However, Asimov still managed to create entertaining and solid stories that despite being more than fifty years old, still read dated and with a great pleasure.

What caught my eye was how good Asimov was able to show the frustration of the humans, trying to deal with robots that for some reason don’t do what they are supposed to do. I even caught myself thinking: “Oh God, you read this and then you think twice before deciding if you need robots or not.” However, some moments of character’s frustration made me laugh out loud.

Another appealing factor about Isaac Asimov writing is that his stories don’t sound like physics, biology or chemistry textbook, unlike most other since-fiction writes from 1940th-1960th. He was actually able to fictionalize his scientific views. He is not talking down to the reader, not trying to teach the reader something. He is simply telling a story, which by itself is educational, but not in a blunt, straightforward way. Asimov doesn’t try to shove the knowledge into your throat; he is trying to entertain you.

Isaac Asimov’s stories are classics of the science-fiction classics. If you like sci-fi, you most definitely have read it. If you are not a sci-fi fan, I still advise you to try reading I, Robot, because it is not one of these pretend-to-be, trashy, god-knows-why-called sci-fi that repulsed so many readers from wonderful, unforgettable, dreamy and heroic, true since-fiction.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher - Book Review #48

Wednesday, July 7, 2010
by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron is a prison unlike any other: Its inmates live not only in cells, but also in metal forests, dilapidated cities, and unbounded wilderness. The prison has been sealed for centuries, and only one man, legend says, has ever escaped.

Finn, a seventeen-year-old prisoner, can’t remember his childhood and believes he came from Outside Incarceron. He’s going to escape, even though most inmates don’t believe that Outside even exists. And then Finn finds a crystal key and through it, a girl named Claudia.

Claudia claims to live Outside—her father is the Warden of Incarceron and she’s doomed to an arranged marriage. If she helps Finn escape, she will need his help in return. But they don’t realize that there is more to Incarceron than meets the eye. Escape will take their greatest courage and cost far more than they know.

Because Incarceron is alive.

Are you ready to explore the possibilities? Are you ready to build the world using only tiny clues? Are you ready to do that by yourself without someone guiding you? And are you ready to do all of that while in the middle of fast paced and action packed story? If you are, Incarceron is for you. If you like the story to be chewed out for you, if you like that everything is explained to you - Incarceron is not for you.

When I started to read Incarceron, I thought I had a good understanding about the world it is set in and the characters. However, every ten pages Fisher threw some clues, some facts that made me rethink the whole world, its structure, characters and their motivations. It was an amazing ride. Fisher kept me on my toes, making me flip pages like crazy, just to see what happens next, just to see how she is going to twist the plot once again to rock my world.

I read that a lot of people were confused with Incarceron and didn’t like it because of that. I can see why and how this can happen. But for me it felt like Fisher was challenging her readers - challenging to think, to analyze, to try to make a sense out of the events while the initial conditions keeps changing and evolving.

Incarceron is classified as a YA book, probably because the main characters – Finn and Claudia are seventeen years old. I always was against classifying books based on the age of the protagonist. And I disagree with classification in Incarceron’s case. First of all, neither Finn, no Claudia ever felts like teenagers to me. Based on their maturity, decision making and reactions I would give them twenty –twenty-five years. Second, the story isn’t about contemporary teenagers and their problems. It is a since-fiction/fantasy, so I think it might be interesting for the wide age group.

When I finished Incarceron, the thought that I would have to wait for a year to read a sequel – Sapphique - hurts as hell. So I went to and bought the British edition. I just couldn’t stop reading it. No wonder Times called it –“One of the best fantasy novels written for a long time”.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris - Book Review #47

Sunday, July 4, 2010
Dead to the World
by Charlaine Harris

When cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse sees a naked man on the side of the road, she doesn't just drive on by. Turns out the poor thing hasn't a clue who he is, but Sookie does. It's Eric the vampire--but now he's a kinder, gentler Eric. And a scared Eric, because whoever took his memory now wants his life.

I think my apologies to Charlaine Harris are in order. I don’t think my reviews on first three books of Sookie Stackhouse series were too harsh, but I definitely didn’t give all the credit to Charlaine Harris she is entitled to.

First of all, I was thinking that all cute little details about Sookie Stackhouse world are belong to HBO and Alan Ball. Such details as vampire blood is used as a drug by some, or if a human will drink a vampire blood that vampire would be much more aware of this human whereabouts and feelings. I was thinking this because these details weren’t in first two books, but they were in the first season of True Blood. I was wrong these are the ideas that belong to Charlaine Harris. It’s just seems like when HBO was making a TV show, they read all the Sookie Stackhouse books that were available at that moment, which definitely makes sense, and presented us already developed world with all the details that they could get from all the books. Charlaine Harris, on the other hand, was developing her world gradationally, from one book to another, adding new details to her world in every book.

Second that I would like to apologize for to Charlaine Harris, is how I was bashing her imperfections in writing style and in story creation/development. None of us is perfect and only those of us who work on our mistakes can reach as close as it possible to the perfection and Charlaine Harris is definitely working on her mistakes. For me it looks like, before starting her next novel Charlaine Harris was reading all the criticism on her previous book, or she saw flaws by herself, and was trying to fix imperfections in her next book. For instance, at the end of the third book I had a thought (probably not much of a formed, solid thought, because I didn’t mention it in my review) that it is becoming annoying how in every book Sookie has at least one near-death experience. So what the fourth book is started from? Sookie is tired that she gets beaten up and almost dies every time, so she makes a New Year Resolution not to get beaten up or harmed physically in any other way. There are also many other examples like this one.

I don’t want to discuss the fourth book – Dead to the World – in details. I just want to say that I’m falling deeper and deeper for Sookie Stackhouse series and I’m off to order fifth and sixth books.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

If I Stay by Gayle Forman - Book Review #46

Thursday, July 1, 2010
If I Stay
by Gayle Forman

In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen¬ year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make.

“Sometimes you make choices, sometimes choices make you.” If I Stay is a beautiful, soul touching book, written in one of my favorite formats – all events takes place in twenty four hours. There is also a large amount of back story, which is not told chronologically, but with a connection to the events that are happening during these twenty four hours.

Gayle Forman’s writing style is superb, flawless, and perfect. It’s… no, I won’t say anything beyond that. There is truly nothing else to say, plus I don’t think I will be able to make a justice to that anyway.

However, what actually makes this book a great one is honesty. Gayle Forman is honest to the reader in her writing. Characters’ feelings are honest. Their reactions are honest. Nothing is overblown or undervalued, everything just right – honest.

Music plays big part in this story. There are references on some great classical pieces. And if you are going to read this book, my advice to you – listen to these pieces while you read. When you will come across the reference – find it on, put it on and keep reading. In my opinion, these references are not just randomly thrown into the story, but carefully chosen by Forman and they enchant the story a great deal.

If I Stay is a moving story about love – love to the family, romantic love, love to the music and love to life. It is a story about choices that we constantly facing on our route of life and also about the most important and the most difficult choice. It is a story about immortality, in a way, about family connections, about who we actually consider a family. If I Stay is a reach and multi-layered story, but also it is beautifully simple.