Thursday, September 30, 2010

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers - Book Review #91

Thursday, September 30, 2010
Some Girls Are
by Courtney Summers

Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard--falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High... until vicious rumors about her and her best friend's boyfriend start going around. Now Regina's been "frozen out" and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn't come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend... if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don't break them both first.

Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be.

Courtney Summers fast and furious becoming my favorite contemporary YA author. I read her debut novel Cracked Up To Be somewhere at the beginning of this year and it was awesome. Her second novel - Some Girls Are – is equally fantastic. I couldn’t put the book down. No, literally, I couldn’t.

The reason I love Courtney Summers’s works that much is how honestly she manages to talk about most difficult, most awful and the ugliest issues teenagers (or anyone at that matter) are going through. Not only Summers’s voice is honest, she is also telling her stories without giving her personal opinion, without making any moral statements and definitely without shoving this statement into reader’s throat. She is only stating facts and letting readers decide for themselves what they saw in the story, what lessons they learn if any… And this is precisely what makes a great book for me.

I never was in The US High School, so I can’t really tell, if what Courtney Summers is writing is somehow resembling truth or not. Nevertheless, I myself was in High School, even if it wasn’t in The US and I can tell you these schools are not that different, there are still teenagers who attend them. However, I heard a lot of stories from different people and it is seems to me that Summers’s stories quite possibly could have happened, if didn’t, in the real life. And this is a real horror. Do you think movies or books about maniacs serial killers are horror? Do you think stories about vicious paranormal creatures are horror? Read Courtney Summers and think again.

I’m usually quite hesitant to recommend any books to the people I don’t know very close. However, I would recommend Courtney Summers’s books to literally anyone, to any person on the street. I believe that any person either this is a man or a woman, teenager or senior citizen, rich or poor, lawyer or backer – anyone can find something in Summers’s books, because they are not really about teenagers or high schools, they are about people and relationships between them.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Candidates (Delcroix Academy) by Inara Scott - Book Review #90

Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The Candidates (Delcroix Academy)
by Inara Scott

Dancia Lewis is far from popular. And that's not just because of her average grades or her less-than-glamorous wardrobe. In fact, Dancia's mediocrity is a welcome cover for her secret: whenever she sees a person threatening someone she cares about, things just...happen. Cars skid. Structures collapse. Usually someone gets hurt. So Dancia does everything possible to avoid getting close to anyone, believing this way she can suppress her powers and keep them hidden.

But when recruiters from the prestigious Delcroix Academy show up in her living room to offer her a full scholarship, Dancia's days of living under the radar may be over. Only, Delcroix is a school for diplomats' kids and child geniuses--not B students with uncontrollable telekinetic tendencies. So why are they treating Dancia like she's special? Even the hottest guy on campus seems to be going out of his way to make Dancia feel welcome.

And then there's her mysterious new friend Jack, who can't stay out of trouble. He suspects something dangerous is going on at the Academy and wants Dancia to help him figure out what. But Dancia isn't convinced. She hopes that maybe the recruiters know more about her "gift" than they're letting on. Maybe they can help her understand how to use it...But not even Dancia could have imagined what awaits her behind the gates of Delcroix Academy.

Mysterious boarding school on the hill behind tall heavy iron gates with secret passages and full of most talented kids from all around the country. Full scholarship and open doors to the bright future. The only thing is required from you is to take a pledge to use your talents only for the good. Two gorgeous and mysterious guys. No parental control whatsoever. Also throw a very powerful paranormal talent on top of this all and you will get a first installment The Candidates of Delcroix Academy series. What's not to like? This is precisely what I thought when I was picking up this book.

And it began just the way I expected. Inara Scott’s description of Delcroix Academy and its inhabitants might be a cliché, but still made me shiver. Dancia’s paranormal talent – telekinesis – made me long for such a power. An electric shock from the simple handshake made my eyes pop. A guy asking for help to run away from the car driven by an obvious liar in a black, can’t-see-through sunglasses made me want to turn pages faster.

It’s all started fabulous. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. As you can see in my above described disposition, I was ready to love this book and I really wanted to, but I couldn’t. After initial fifty or so pages it became very boring and dull, everything that has been mentioned already went over and over again in rounds. I gave up counting how many times Dancia told anyone or thought that she doesn’t belong to Delcroix Academy, how she was mediocre and not good at anything. It seemed like Inara Scott was dragging and beating out the mystery about Delcroix Academy’s purpose for too long.

There were two things that annoyed me more than anything else in the book. First of all - Dancia’s age. I couldn’t believe she was only fourteen years old. She acted and reasoned too mature for her age. I understand, she could be a mature person, considering that she lost her parent when she was very young. However, I find it quite unbelievable that even a mature person wouldn’t at least rarely act for her age and Dancia never did. Second, I couldn’t believe how easily Dancia left her beloved, very old and helpless in some areas grandmother and went to live in Delcroix Academy. She only rarely mentioned that she was worried about her grandmother, but she never throughout the whole book didn’t do anything to show that worry. It seemed like she was only remembering about grandmother when she needed a lift from school to home on the weekends.

To summarize The Candidates wasn’t a bad book. It just needed a bit more work and a bit more plot for its size. The writing style wasn’t something glorious, but wasn’t horrid either. Unfortunately, this book turned out to be as Dancia, the main character, thinks about herself – just mediocre.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Book Review #89

Tuesday, September 28, 2010
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
by Ken Kesey

Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is the seminal novel of the 1960s that has left an indelible mark on the literature of our time. Here is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the awesome powers that keep them all imprisoned.

This was one of the hardest books for me to go through. However, it stands out from all other books I had difficulty reading. It wasn’t boring. It wasn’t dragging. The subject wasn’t uninteresting to me. It wasn’t difficult to read because of its language.

The thing is - I watched the movie some five or so years ago and I remembered it too well, even though I watched it only once. So I knew too well how it’s going to end and this knowledge as pressing on me like a huge cement block. With every page I read, I knew that I was getting closer and closer to that inevitable, shattering, devastating ending. I knew that and I couldn’t bring myself to read another page to bring this moment closer.

I didn’t have any delusions that book might end somehow differently than the movie. However, I still was rooting for McMurphy to make different choices, for everyone else to stick up to him, for Big Nurse Ratched to be different. But like Chief Bromden said it couldn’t have went any other way. What happened would have happened anyway, no matter what.

Despite the fact that I could only bring myself to read a couple of pages a day, I still liked this book. It has such a power stored inside its covers, like an explosion wave that blows you out, destroying everything on its way, once you open the book and read a word. This is the book about the difference between sanity and insanity. This is the book about the difference between freedom and slavery and where the line dividing these two lays. This is a book about choices between coping with situation and rebelling over it or maybe you will choose the third option of creating your own little world and living in it closing out everything from outside.

What else can I add? Read it, think about it, discuss it! This book will make you look differently on the choices you made, making and will make.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe - Book Review #88

Monday, September 27, 2010
The Pit and the Pendulum
by Edgar Allan Poe

In The Pit And The Pendulum author Edgar Allan Poe weaves the story of a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, tried and condemned to death and locked in a horrific torture chamber to meet his doom at the hands of his sadistic keepers.


I’m not the biggest fan of Edgar Poe. On the other hand I didn’t read too many of his works to make a decision if I like his works in general or not. Somehow, I never saw or felt his stories as a horror. I just never was really scared by his stories. I understand why other people view them as horror, but never actually felt this way myself. Though, I always considered Edgar Poe’s stories as mysteries. I was never able to guess correctly how any of stories going to end.

It bothered me for some time why I wasn’t horrified by Edgar Poe’s prose, like most of the people were. For quite some time I was blaming it on my not too good of a fantasy. I was thinking that I can’t really imagine thing that Edgar Poe was describing, these events somehow didn’t become real enough to me to be scared of.

After reading The Pit and the Pendulum, I think, I finally understood why I wasn’t afraid. I think it has to do with Edgar Poe’s writing style. For instance, The Pit and the Pendulum is written from the first person point of view, in cases like this I usually expect a more personal approach to the story – sometimes messy, sometime illogical, sometimes stupid. However, in The Pit and the Pendulum, the voice of the main character, the person from which point of view the story is told, sounds to me as too calm and too objective, too rational for the person who is in the unknown pit and the death is lurking just around the corner. His voice sounds too rational to me because of the way he describes things – in full details. It seems like the hero himself is not paralyzed with the fear or taking by despair, because he can clearly see and evaluate the situation. No, I can give him a benefit of the doubt and consider that he is an extraordinary person who can act calm and rational in such situations, which would mean that he is not scared and can get out if this situation. So why should I be scared for him? I’m not, I’m confident in such rational hero. I believe he will find his way out of this situation.

Besides the fact that I don’t consider it to be a horror, I still enjoyed The Pit and the Pendulum. The mystery part was great, as usual for all Edgar Poe’s stories. The story was so short that it seems like it doesn’t give you enough time to try to figure thing out. However, I think time is not the issue here, because Edgar Poe gives multiple clues to the reader during the story. Somehow, my brain and my eyes just decide to ignore them until the very ending when everything is revealed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse - Book Review #87

Friday, September 24, 2010
by Hermann Hesse

In the shade of a banyan tree, a grizzled ferryman sits listening to the river. Some say he's a sage. He was once a wandering shramana &, briefly, like thousands of others, he followed Gotama the Buddha, enraptured by his sermons. But this man, Siddhartha, was not a follower of any but his own soul.

Born son of a Brahmin, Siddhartha was blessed in appearance, intelligence & charisma. In order to find meaning in life, he discarded his promising future for the life of a wandering ascetic. Still, true happiness evaded him. Then a life of pleasure & titillation merely eroded away his spiritual gains until he was just like all the other "child people," dragged around by his desires.

I started to read Siddhartha only because of… let’s say a reason (it is too long to explain and, besides, it is irrelevant). The important thing, I would probably never read it if that reason didn’t arise. Unfortunately, that reason turned out to be not a reason at all, but a big misunderstanding. However, since I’ve started reading the book already and it was a tiny one, I decided to stick with it and finish it.

Before starting reading Siddhartha, I had a vague understanding that it was about eastern philosophy or based on eastern philosophy. And this is precisely why I wasn’t planning to read this book. I’m either too smart or too stupid for the eastern philosophy (maybe both at the same time) or I’m too western and materialistic for that. Either way, half of the time it makes me laugh and another half of the time I’m rolling my eyes, thinking that it is too obvious and wondering why it has to be even mentioned.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I didn’t change my opinion after finishing Siddhartha. I can’t say I hated it. No, I was completely indifferent towards it. I heard a lot of people saying that it was a challenge for them to go through this book. It wasn’t the case for me. Siddhartha seemed too simple and too predictable to me; too obvious. I was bored through the whole book, with the exceptions when big revelation moments happened. At these points I was laughing, because I couldn’t bring myself to share the hero’s astonishing enlightenments.

In conclusion, my suspicions were confirmed – this book just isn’t for me. I somewhat envy people who see this book as eye-opening. For me, it read like same old same.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater - Book Review #86

Thursday, September 23, 2010
by Maggie Stiefvater

The cold.
Grace has spent years watching the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—watches back. He feels deeply familiar to her, but she doesn't know why.

The heat.
Sam has lived two lives. As a wolf, he keeps the silent company of the girl he loves. And then, for a short time each year, he is human, never daring to talk to Grace...until now.

The shiver.
For Grace and Sam, love has always been kept at a distance. But once it's spoken, it cannot be denied. Sam must fight to stay human—and Grace must fight to keep him—even if it means taking on the scars of the past, the fragility of the present, and the impossibility of the future.

First time I read the synopsis of Shiver I got the impression that this book is not for me. Somehow the idea of love between mortal girl and a werewolf seemed sick to me. Think about it, you are in love, and I mean romantic love, with a dog… The only thought about it made me shiver. Don’t get me wrong I’m not against paranormal romance. I’m fine with mortal – vampire, mortal – fairy, mortal – almost any other paranormal creature love. However, the idea of werewolves or shapeshifters and a mortal is not for me. If you must say, I’m discriminating against them.

However, after a while since the release of the book, I kept hearing more and more positive reviews and none of them mentioned that this romance made people sick. I got curious how Maggie Stiefvater managed this slippery, as it seems to me, topic of love between a girl and a dog. I have to say that she didn’t disappoint me on this account. Somehow when Grace was kissing Sam, I didn’t think about him as a dog, only as a flash and blood human.

I really enjoyed Maggie Stiefvater’s prose. No, it wasn’t perfect, at times it was even rusty; however her sentences sometimes were very lyrical. Her metaphors sometimes were unexpected and beautiful, such as “the smell of unread words”.

I also found her ideas on werewolves quite original. There were no full moon that influenced a person to change into wolf; it was a temperature around and also a body temperature. I never heard anything like this and found it making a lot of sense. For me winter and a wolf somehow come together.

Unfortunately, despite all the good things I mentioned, I was bored through the most part of the book. It either I didn’t care about characters enough, or there were too much of Maggie Stiefvater’s lyricality and not enough action for me – I don’t know. The thing that I know – my mind kept wondering around and I couldn’t focus on events in the book.

I knew that Shiver is a first book in the trilogy when I started reading it. However, when I finished I was really surprised that there will be two more books, because the first one wrap up so nicely that, in my opinion, there were no need for the second one. It is like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty or any other classical fairytale that ends with “And they lived happily ever after”. Does this ending call for the second part? It doesn’t. Is it possible to write the second book, following the first one that ended like that? It sure is. So I will read the second book –Linger–just out of curiosity – what else can Maggie Stiefvater add to the story of Grace and Sam.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin - Book Review #85

Tuesday, September 21, 2010
by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Before Brave New World

Before 1984...There was...


In the One State of the great Benefactor, there are no individuals, only numbers. Life is an ongoing process of mathematical precision, a perfectly balanced equation. Primitive passions and instincts have been subdued. Even nature has been defeated, banished behind the Green Wall. But one frontier remains: outer space. Now, with the creation of the spaceship Integral, that frontier -- and whatever alien species are to be found there -- will be subjugated to the beneficent yoke of reason.

One number, D-503, chief architect of the Integral, decides to record his thoughts in the final days before the launch for the benefit of less advanced societies. But a chance meeting with the beautiful I-330 results in an unexpected discovery that threatens everything D-503 believes about himself and the One State. The discovery -- or rediscovery -- of inner space...and that disease the ancients called the soul.

A page-turning SF adventure, a masterpiece of wit and black humor that accurately predicted the horrors of Stalinism, We is the classic dystopian novel. Its message of hope and warning is as timely at the end of the twentieth century as it was at the beginning.

What would you get if you mix philosophy and mathematics and use exclusively logic, at times so precise and undeniable that it can be compared to mechanics to tell the story? You would be a masterpiece We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

It is a very short novel. I would probably even call it novella. However, every word in this short text is important. The words in We not just there to fill in the space, they are bricks that build this story. You take out one and might miss the point, or worth you might ruin the whole story. Almost every sentence can be used as a quote. Almost every paragraph can be used as an epigraph.

"There is no final one; revolutions are infinite."

"You're in a bad way! Apparently, you've developed a soul."

"Along the blade of a knife lies the path of paradox—the single most worthy path of the fearless mind ..."

"The speed of her tongue is not correctly calculated; the speed per second of her tongue should be slightly less than the speed per second of her thoughts -at any rate not the reverse."

"Those two, in paradise, were given a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. There was no third alternative"

These are just some quote, maybe not my most favorite ones, but I read We in Russian and don’t have an English translation on hands to give you more, which maybe not a bad thing, or I might ended up quoting the whole book, sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase.

I heard that a lot of people criticize Yevgeny Zamyatin’s writing style. I would have to disagree with that. First of all We is epistolary novel. In my opinion this make a story even more personal than if it is written from the first point of view. At the beginning of the story the writing style is rusty, almost mechanical. It reads like a collection of mottos approved by One State and Benefactor. However this is not Yevgeny Zamyatin’s writing style, it is D-503’s writing style - this is his notes. As story progress and the main character, D-503, evolves, so does his writing style. So based on this I would have to say that Yevgeny Zamyatin’s writing style is superb, because he was able to show the transformation of the character not only in the character’s actions, but also in character’s writing.

At first I found We’s ending to be devastating and heartbreaking. However, after I thought about the ending from the D-503 point of view I came to the conclusion that maybe it was the best ending for him in the giving circumstances, despite its devastating and heartbreaking nature.

There are a lot of things and at the same none at all that I can say to give We a justice it deserves. There are a lot of said before me and I’m sure there will be said even more after me. We is a timeless story about timeless issues that will never lose society’s interest. If you never read it, my advice would be to do so. Even if you won’t love it the way I did, it will most definitely give you food for thought.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford - Book Review #84

Monday, September 20, 2010
Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters
by Natalie Standiford

The Sullivan sisters have a big problem. On Christmas Day their rich and imperious grandmother gathers the family and announces that she will soon die . . .and has cut the entire family out of her will. Since she is the source of almost all their income, this means they will soon be penniless.

Someone in the family has offended her deeply. If that person comes forward with a confession of her (or his) crime, submitted in writing to her lawyer by New Year's Day, she will reinstate the family in her will. Or at least consider it.

And so the confessions begin....

For some reason I expected that this book will be largely dealing with aftermath of confessions. Maybe I thought that the confessions themselves won’t be as interesting as the reactions on these confessions. When I started reading the book, I got the feeling that my initial expectations were wrong, so I flipped through the pages and understood that confessions would be indeed the main focus of the story as the title told me.

When my expectation isn’t met, despite how silly or unreasonable they might be, I’m getting upset. I’m starting to blame the book, the author, even though not in a title, not in a synopsis, not in any interviews with author or publisher there weren’t anything that might have given me a reason for my expectations. And after all, it seems, they are, my expectations, nothing more but my fantasy. Every time it happens to me, I’m trying to be reasonable. After confirming that it wasn’t an author who misled me and indeed it was my fantasy, I’m trying not to take it on a book or on its writer. I’m trying to be objective. I honestly do! Unfortunately, I rarely succeeded.

So imagine my surprise that despite all of this, I ended up liking the book. I even had to admit that the structure Natalie Standiford chose was probably much better for the story then the one I imagined. What I liked the most about Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters was the writing style. First of all, it read like something teenage girls might have written. And second, Natalie Standiford did a great job to define voices of each three Sullivan sisters and to make them distinct. It almost felt like I read three separate books, by three different authors. Each individual voice helped to define each sister. Natalie Standiford didn’t have to tell the reader what temper each sister had, she made it known through how and what that particular sister was talking about.

I also liked the ending of Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters. I will lie if I will say that I didn’t see something among these lines coming, however through the entire story I had doubts that it might end somehow differently.

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters is one of these books that unfortunately will not create a sensation among most of the YA readers, because the real value of the book, not in the flashy characters or unbelievable settings, it is in the writing craft itself and Natalie Standiford is an exceptionally skillful in that.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger - Book Review #83

Friday, September 17, 2010
The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)
by Kody Keplinger

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn't think she's the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She's also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her "Duffy," she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren't so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

I would never picked up this book neither because of the synopsis (it sounded boring), not because of the cover (it is too generic), no because of the author (I’m trying to stay away from teenage writers. I have yet to see the one worth reading for someone who is older than thirteen). I read it because of rapturous reviews I saw. They said it is cynical, wit and smart and funny. They say Kody Keplinger is a new generation voice. I can’t say anything about new generation voice, however about cynical and wit – alas, I couldn’t find it.

What I found – was a teenager who was offended through her whole life, who spent too much time crying into her pillow, trying to come up with a phrases and wit remarks that she could have answered to her offenders. And one day this teenager decided to write down all these smart and cynical phrases she came up with and could never used in the real life, making herself a main character of her book.

No, making yourself into the main character of the book is not a bad thing. The bad thing is that all she imagined while crying into the pillow is completely unrealistic and cliché at the same time. The plot and dialogs turned out to be farfetched and predictable. I knew down to every word what would happen in the next pages, while I was reading.

Another thing that ruined and made this book even more childish then it already was - non-stop cursing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against cursing. I think it is a great way to express your emotions or accent your point of view. However, when cursing is just for the sake of cursing itself, when it is not imaginative (Dexter’s sister and many other examples that I can’t remember right now), but blunt, like an old fisherman talk (fucking this, fucking that), it is reads vulgar and getting old too fast.

The only good thing I could find about this book was its solid structure - the begining, the middle and the end (unfortunately, I don’t know whose credit it is - Kody Keplinger or her editor). Thus is already a good thing, because apparently some authors right now (older than Kody Keplinger, if it makes any difference) can’t even do that. Unfortunately, The DUFF lacked any characterizations, characters were so plane, cardboardish and one dimensional, that I don’t even want to get into this. Plot was completely predictable. Dialogs were unrealistic. However, The DUFF was still a novel, not a mindless rant.

Despite my negative review, I think Kody Keplinger has a chance to become a worthwhile author. There is nothing in her prose that cannot be adjusted with a simple, old fashion practice and life experience.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Book Review #82

Thursday, September 16, 2010
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The mysterious Jay Gatsby embodies the American notion that it is possible to redefine oneself and persuade the world to accept that definition. Gatsby's youthful neighbor, Nick Carraway, fascinated with the display of enormous wealth in which Gatsby revels, finds himself swept up in the lavish lifestyle of Long Island society during the Jazz Age. Considered Fitzgerald's best work, The Great Gatsby is a mystical, timeless story of integrity and cruelty, vision and despair.

From the first words, from the first sentences of The Great Gatsby I started to feel the melancholy and anguish of the whole universe pressing on me. At first I couldn’t really understand what made me feel like that. I wasn’t even sure if it was the book to blame. However, further I was reading, more tangible this feeling was becoming. It grew from a tiny atom into a huge sphere, covering me entirely. And what was a vague vision at first became more and more clear picture of the circus or carnival later. Carnival at the dark, when lights are flashing, music is playing and you could hear laugher all around the place; where children are caring balloons and everybody eating cotton candies; when actors and clowns are performing with smiles and it seems like even animals have wide grins on when they are jumping through the numerous hoops. However, when all the lights have been turned out long time ago and all visitors are gone, the completely different picture can be seen in the rays of the daylight. You can see how rotten and rusty everything is; you can see that the tent of the fortune teller that looked like a mysterious sanctuary at night, now all in patches and mouse holes. You can see actors and clowns without make-up and understand that smiles you remember was nothing more but a professionally painted patches of color. You notice tiered and miserable animals inside of the dirty cages. Now you can see the true and honest face of the carnival, without any tinsel or glamour. This is, in my opinion, what The Great Gatsby really is about.

The Great Gatsby is a tiny and very simple on the surface, but at the same time so powerful and multi-layered. It tells quite a simple story, however it also create unforgettable atmosphere. That’s why I couldn’t answer right away where this melancholy I felt was coming from. It wasn’t because of the actions that happened in the story. It was because of the thoughts that these actions catalyze in me, it was because of the story’s atmosphere.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was undoubtedly a genius, who was able to show in simplicity the most complicated subjects. And I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere deep in The Great Gatsby, in its core essence the answers to the never answered questions can be discovered.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare - Book Review #81

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Clockwork Angel
by Cassandra Clare
Magic is dangerous—but love is more dangerous still.

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length . . . everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world. . . . and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

I have a confession to make – I like Cassandra Clare’s books. They are my cozy escapes, brain candies. I’ve read a lot of bad things about Cassandra Clare herself, about her writing, her characters, her plots, you name it. Usually I see the point of the people who are writing these bad things, sometimes I agree with what they are saying, but nevertheless I still like her books.

I’m not insisting that her books are something phenomenal or they are my favorites, because they are not. They are not even my favorites from all the books I read this year. Clockwork Angel is not my favorite from all the books I read this month. Despite that, I like her work and I will be reading next book she publish.

I was trying for some time to nail down why I like her books, if in agree with and see most of the flaws that others is pointing out. The first thing I thought, when I started reading Clockwork Angel, characters were almost a complete copy from The Mortal Instruments characters. Her plot is predictable; nothing that happened in Clockwork Angel didn’t even remotely take me by surprise. Her writing is far from being superb. I know that I usually don’t forgive these flaws to other writers or to other books and I’m writing about them in my reviews, but somehow I forgive them to Cassandra Clare. What makes her or her books so special? What gives her this immunity status?

I came to conclusion that it is the world she created that make me oversee and forgive everything else. Her world is not original. It seems like she put it together from different elements out of classic sci-fi, fantasy, TV shows, moves, etc. However, she created a perfect combination, at least for me, from these elements. It seems like she didn’t left out anything that I like from sci-fi and fantasy; and didn’t include parts that I wasn’t really fond of. Her world is the one that I would love to visit; her world is the one I would love for it to be real.

Monday, September 13, 2010

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare - Book Review #80

Monday, September 13, 2010
City of Glass
by Cassandra Clare
To save her mother's life, Clary must travel to the City of Glass, the ancestral home of the Shadowhunters -- never mind that entering the city without permission is against the Law, and breaking the Law could mean death. To make things worse, she learns that Jace does not want her there, and Simon has been thrown in prison by the Shadowhunters, who are deeply suspicious of a vampire who can withstand sunlight.

As Clary uncovers more about her family's past, she finds an ally in mysterious Shadow-hunter Sebastian. With Valentine mustering the full force of his power to destroy all Shadow-hunters forever, their only chance to defeat him is to fight alongside their eternal enemies. But can Downworlders and Shadowhunters put aside their hatred to work together? While Jace realizes exactly how much he's willing to risk for Clary, can she harness her new found powers to help save the Glass City -- whatever the cost?

Love is a mortal sin and the secrets of the past prove deadly as Clary and Jace face down Valentine in the final installment of the New York Times bestselling trilogy The Mortal Instruments.

When I was reading City of Glass the above synopsis still was a true one – City of Glass was “the final installment of the New York Times bestselling trilogy The Mortal Instruments”. Now they changed it to the third installment, at least on So when I flipped the last page I was left with a one raised brow and a lot of confusion – there were so many plot lines that haven't been resolved and even new one was added at the end of the book, reminding hooks for the next installment. I couldn’t believe that any writer and/or editor can be so sloppy, leaving out so many loose ends. So my initial impression about City of Glass was quite disappointing. In a month or so, after I finished this book, I found out that there is going to be another book in these series and then, I think in August, I hear that there is going to be a total of six books in The Mortal Instruments series. Do you want to know my reaction?

I was furious. I hate when something like this is happening. I’m fine when it is unknown how many books will the series include. I’m fine when it is announced that there is going to be ten, thirty or tree books in the series (the number is not important to me). However, I hate the series are constantly expanding, every time announcing another book as a final one.

Other than that, I enjoyed the series. I’m not saying there weren’t any flaws, nothing is flawless. At times it dragged, at time it didn’t make much sense. However, in general I liked the world Cassandra Clare is created. It wasn’t too original, but it was colorful and appealing.

I think City of Glass could have been a good last installment, if Cassandra Clare, or whoever it was, didn’t decide to expand it. It would be a solid, logical ending (if she would write 20-50 more pages wrapping everything loose up). Alas, we have tree more books ahead of us. I’m not certain yet, but I think I still will be checking out these upcoming books, maybe Cassandra Clare can prove me wrong and show me how expanded at the last moment series can be a decent one.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - Book Review #79

Sunday, September 12, 2010
Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

“The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning, along with the houses in which they were hidden. “

Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires. And he enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnights runs or the joy of watching pages consumed by flames, never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid. Then Guy met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think. And Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do...

I decided to reread Fahrenheit 451 because of the couple of reasons. First, the upcoming Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read made me think about it. Second, since the first time I read it as a requirement for the school in the fifth grade, I couldn’t remember anything about it, except that it was about book burning.

On the surface it certainly was about book burning and no wonder I didn’t get anything else out of it in the fifth grade (my god, who is in their sane mind made this book a requirement for the fifth grader?). Fahrenheit 451 is a great and tiny book, yet it contains the world of wisdom. In the depth, Fahrenheit 451 is about so much more – it is about degraded society, like one of the characters pointed out – the government doesn’t do anything that people isn’t already calling for; it is about hard choices and tough decisions, when you should or shouldn’t cross the line, where is that line, does it even exists; it is about search for the truth and certainly it is about books and why they are so important for the society.

And really, why books are important? They are always subjective, they don’t give you any answers, not revealing the ultimate truth, which does not exists anyway, unless 42 satisfies you. For me the importance of the books is they make me think. Their subjectivity raises discussions and as French say - De la discussion jaillit la lumière - Out of discussion springs forth the light. I’m always shocked and puzzled when another person tells me that he or she doesn’t read for pleasure. I’m puzzled because I can’t understand where they are getting their food for thought. I’m shocked, because somehow when people tell me about that, they are always wearing that proud satisfaction on their faces, same as you would have if you tell people that you won Olympics or Nobel Prize. What are they are proud about – is still the question I cannot answer.

So read, my friends, think and dream; and don’t let anyone or anything ever dictate you what you should or should not read, what you should or should not think.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - Book Review #78

Saturday, September 11, 2010
by Daphne du Maurier

"Last Night I Dreamt I Went To Manderley Again."

With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten—a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house's current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim's first wife—the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca.


This was my first encounter with Daphne du Maurier in general and with Rebecca in particular. I didn’t watch the movie, I never even heard about it. And I didn’t know anything about the book either, at least I couldn’t remember a thing. So I guess I was lucky to have a clean slate, I was lucky to be able to experience this story without literally any spoilers, which is very unusual, considering how apparently popular this book is. I don’t know what kind of experience I would have with Rebecca if I would have heard something about its plot, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be as grand as the one I had. So if you are lucky enough as I was and haven’t heard anything about this novel and didn’t see the movie – stop reading now, run, grab the book and close yourself in the room alone without internet access and any communication devises. And read, curled up at your favorite place, eye-popping satisfaction is guaranteed.

For these of you who have read Rebecca already, or decided to keep reading my review despite my advice, spoiling the first-hand experience you might have had, I will tell you about my first acquaintance.

I started reading the first sentence with a quite, whispering, confidential voice in my head. The one you use to tell scary stories to kids in the middle of the woods, in almost complete darkness with only a bonfire lightning up round-eyed faces, creating intricate shadows all around you. I don’t know why I started reading with such a tone, I guess there is something unseen, something that calls for the secretive whisper in the simple, yet so powerful first sentence: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The beginning of Rebecca was so captivating and enchanting that I couldn’t take my eyes off the lines of text in the book, I think I even was holding my breath as long as it was possible for me, then breathing in again and flipping pages with trembling fingers, while my eyes were wide open. In a while enchantment dispersed, not because Daphne du Maurier’s writing became less captivating, but rather because it lost its novelty to me and because I became eager for something to happen. Unfortunately nothing did, not for a while. I still was enjoying du Maurier’s vivid characterizations, however I was sure that I already knew everything there is to know about characters and I wanted some action. By that point I started to become disappointed with the book and a thought entered my mind that it would be very hard to finish this book if it continues in this manner. As soon as I thought about that, the events started to unfold, first with preparation for the ball. Unfortunately, the event occurred just before the ball was quite predictable to me, so my disappointment grew, but I will lie to you, if I won’t tell that I was ecstatic to be proven wrong about everything I thought of this novel by the first plot twist that came shortly after the ball. I absolutely didn’t see that coming, not a hint, not even a vague trace of idea and I must admit that usually books don’t surprise me like that. I usually have at least some suspicions and variations of how a plot will develop and in most of the cases I'm at least remotely correct with my suspicions. Rebecca was completely different. Daphne du Maurier managed to lull me. After the first twist, events started to unfold with such a speed and so completely unpredictable to me that I again was caught in the state of holding my breath and staring in the book with such wide eyes that they began to hurt.

The most delightful thing about Rebecca is that the twists were quite natural, nothing extraordinary, or paranormal, or unexplained in them. Du Maurier’s leads the reader into the trap only using her masterful techniques. This is, in my opinion, the clear sign of a great book. The moment twists revealed to you the only thing you can say is: “Why, yes… of course, how could I not see that, it makes such a perfect sense.”

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier made an unforgettable impression on me and I most definitely will be reading her other works in the future.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - Book Review #77

Friday, September 3, 2010
by Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

Do you know the feeling of sad silence when you finishing the last book in the series? The quite emptiness of leaving friend – moving to another city, state, country; the end of an era; stiffness in the throat; the heart ache and some tiny contracting hole in your chest? And your whole life just suddenly divided with invisible, but impossible to deny line on the before and the after. Everything that you carefully build and created is behind that line and there is no coming back. The only road you have is to move forward finding new books – friends, building and creating your new surroundings. Do you know this feeling of something ending, something that you loved and cherished for a long time? I do. However, my experience with The Hunger Games ending wasn’t like that at all.

I never was a big fan of The Hunger Games. I picked up the first book only out of curiosity – what so many people are so excited about? It wasn’t a bad novel, but I can’t say that I was in love with it and couldn’t imagine my existence without it. The second book – Catching Fire left me disappointed. So naturally I wasn’t one of these people who were counting days and hours before Mockingjay – the last installment – is released. Still I didn’t stay completely indifferent, because I pre-ordered it three days before the release and I started reading it the next day it arrived – as soon as I finished my previous book.

So what can I say? It was ok. No, I still don’t think that this is the best thing since sliced bread and I’m still not the biggest fan. I guess that’s why I don’t have this separation anxiety and my live didn’t get divided on before and after. Probably that’s why I’m not either angry or happy with the ending, though I found it unrealistic and utopian (utopian ending in the dystopia book, isn’t it ironic?). I accepted Suzanne Collins’s reasoning of the ending she choose and I actually liked that she gave us, readers, rationalizations and didn’t left us in front of the fact- this is what it is and it is this way, because I’m the writer – like a lot of authors do.

I will always remember this book as one of these books when I wasn’t on the same train as millions of people, feeling sort of left out on the platform, watching the speeding out train in the smoke and the dust and always wondering what did I miss; always curious about the hole in myself that might have being filled in with something if I were on that train. So it seems no matter where you are – on the departing train or on the platform – you will still be always left out with the hole, the emptiness of something ending…

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - Book Review #76

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is an American classic, adored for Louisa May Alcott's lively and vivid portraits of the endearing March sisters: talented tomboy Jo, pretty Meg, shy Beth, temperamental Amy. Millions have shared in their joys, hardships, and adventures as they grow up in Civil War New England, separated by the war from their father and beloved mother, "Marmee," blossoming from "little women" into adults. Jo searches for her writer's voice and finds unexpected love...Meg prepares for marriage and a family...Beth reaches out to the less fortunate, tragically...and Amy travels to Europe to become a painter. Based on Louisa May Alcott's own Yankee childhood, Little Women is a treasure -- a story whose enduring values of patience, loyalty, and love have kept this extraordinary family close to the hearts of generation after generation of delighted readers.

Little Women is idealistic story about sublime family. There is an army of fans of this novel and I don’t think I ever met anyone who didn’t like this book. It is named one of the greatest stories for children. It is praised, glorified and celebrated for generations. Countless movies, plays, operas and musicals are created bases on this novel. Thousands of reviewers in numerous publications and in internet are singing glorifying hymns to Little Women and Louisa May Alcott. So what else can I possibly add to this undying roar of voices? – Only my opinion. Unfortunately, it is completely different from the majority.

It took me three weeks of whining, hair-pulling, head-banging and swearing to finish this book. And once I finished it, I had only “Thanks god, it’s over” to say. Little women, in my opinion, is not a novel, rather a collection of short stories, connected by chronology and same characters, but not much of a plot. Each of these short stories examines some moral aspect, using main characters to illustrate the consequences. Each story ends with the moral admonition directed to teach a lesson to the reader. This is done with blunt straightforwardness, pretty much shoving these moralizations into the reader’s throat. Little Women is not a novel; it is a handbook on how to raise obedient, highly moral, but completely boring, without a thought of their own and with a blank eyes daughters.

While I was reading without analyzing what I was actually reading, Little Women read like a cute little story. However, once I allowed myself to think, this novel instantly was making me sick. Every sister is so eager to get rid of their flaws. Everyone loves each other until death. The first kiss of Meg after the marriage is to her mother. Laurie is exchanging, at least somewhat interesting, Jo to completely shallow Amy. Jo’s, what looked like, a forced marriage. Why Louisa May Alcott couldn’t leave her single? And many other moments that I found quite controversial. Maybe if I read this book when I was a child, I would have viewed it differently. However now I’m just glad I finished it and I don’t think I would ever come back to it.