Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson - Book Review #135

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Before I Go to Sleep
by S.J. Watson

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

This book created a major hype over the summer. It was on almost all must read lists. There weren’t a day passing without someone mentioning it. Before I Go to Sleep was promoted as fast, nail-biting, edge-of-the-chair-sitting thriller that you won’t be able to put down.  On top of everything its main subject was amnesia – one of my favorite subjects. So naturally, I couldn’t walk pass this book – I had to read it. Alas, it didn’t live up either to my expectations, nor to its promotion for me.

First of all I want to get out on the open that Before I Go to Sleep wasn’t a bad book. It had an incredibly good pace, almost too good to be true. The story was always moving forward, no slacking or backtracking. Not the story, but its pace was precisely what made it a fast read and what was preventing me to put it down. The story is a whole different…hmmm…conversation.

First aspect that I didn’t like about this book was that the story was simply way too predictable to me, so unfortunately I cannot join the club of people screaming: “OMG I totally like didn’t like see it coming!!1!” It didn’t even take me first fifty pages to be certain on how it is going to end, down to almost every detail.  Second, Before I Go to Sleep was one of these books that had facts and events conveniently falling into place at precisely correct moment, our main character didn’t even have to do anything, everything was there for her when she needed it to move the story forward. From previous statement, here is a third aspect that I didn’t like – a very weak incapable character. I understand that Christine's situation is beyond being simply bad, however for me it is more reasons to act, to try changing something, to be at least a bit more aggressive in finding out at least something, to demand proof of everything from everyone and cross check these facts. Unfortunately, the only thing Christine does is sits and writes in her journal. Though I have to admit that her tactic to sit on the bank of a river and wait seems to work out well for her. After all, her enemy's corpse did float by.

The bottom line is if S.J. Watson will write something else, I will check it out, because he seems to be a talented writer, he just needs to work a little bit harder on his story. I would recommend this book for these who wants a fast read and will not scrutinize events in the book, but will just follow the author’s lead without any questions asked. If you are in the mood of something like that - Before I Go to Sleep will be perfect for you; if not, read something else.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Top Ten Books Whose Titles or Covers Made Me Buy It - Top Ten Tuesday #6

Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

I judge books by their cover or title all the time. I know that it is childish and silly. I know that I’ve been wrong too many times, but I still cannot help it – I do that. I guess it is understandable. If you didn’t come to a bookstore for the specific book, you have too many options and if you don’t know anything about books on a shelf, the only way you can narrow your options down is by cover and title, unless you are very persistent and will go through each and every book, reading synopsis. So I can safely assume that at least half of the books that I own, I picked up because of their cover or title. It doesn’t mean that I buy or read every book with the cover I liked, it only means that I will pick an unknown to me book up with appealing to me cover or title from a bookstore’s shelf to examine it and make further decision if I want to read it. Here are top five books I picked up because of tier cover and top five that I picked up because of their title.

Top Five Books Whose Covers Made Me Buy It.

1. Fallen by Lauren Kate. One of the most gorgeous covers I’ve ever seen, hiding one of the most awful books I’ve ever read. The main thing that I love about this cover is color scheme - all shades of blue. I also loved the dead forest on the background with tangled branches and crows.  I like the pose of the model, that she is shown in the profile and we don’t see her face. I do not like faces on covers.

2. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. I’m a very big fan of black and white photos and if they have a touch of read, it is becoming something that really mesmerizes me. This is precisely the reason why I picked up this book and why I liked Sin City (the movie). 

3. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff. I loved the foggy background and Victorian looking perambulator standing under the tree on the carpet of dead leaves. And certainly the center of attention is a knife, scissors and other utterly inappropriate tools hanged above perambulator as if it was a baby mobile.

4. Outlander (20th anniversary edition) by Diana Gabaldon. I missed outlander when it was first published – I was too young and no one in my family read it, none of them ever were into romances. One day I was browsing B&N site and saw this gorgeous deep red and gold cover. It was simplistic from the first sight; however it had beautiful ornaments on the background.

5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I love books. I love old books with yellow pages and moldy covers. I love books on my books’ covers. ‘Nough said.

Top Five Books Whose Titles Made Me Buy It.
  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Before I knew anything about Gabriel García Márquez, I heard this title. I think it was in some movie or TV series, I don’t really remember now. I think I was around eight or nine years old. But I remembered the title, somehow it sounded magical and poetical. Now that I know and love Gabriel García Márquez and his works, almost every title of his books sounds like that to me. Listen to this, read it out loud: Love in the Time of Cholera, The General in His Labyrinth, The Autumn of the Patriarch, etc.
  2. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. I read it only once in Russian translation. In Russian, the title was a bit different – Singers in a Blackthorn – a literal translation of Russian title in English. For me, to sing, means you are happy and to sing in the middle of a bush full of thorns (bad surroundings or unpleasant circumstances), means that even in something completely devastating there is always a light, there is always a hope and so is happiness. For me this title was very metaphorical.
  3. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin. I was always interested in amnesia and in the process how humans collect and store their memories.
  4. The Devil Wear Prada by Lauren Weisberger. I really liked the mix of paranormal with the name of fashion designer in this title. Even though the book turned out to be something utterly different from what I expected from the title, I liked it. I watched the movie later and even though I love Meryl Streep, I didn’t like the movie as much.
  5. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I liked this title because it invoked something primitive, something primeval in me (bones), mixing it up with something civilized, something refined (city).
While I was thinking about today’s topic, I came across some books which titles repelled me from buying/reading these books, either ever, means I still didn’t read them; or for quite a while, means I needed a lot of convincing to pick a book up. And even though I know that I probably got titles of half of these titles, if not all, wrong, they still repel me. So as a bonus, here are these books:
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I never liked stories about animals. When I was in the elementary school, we were made to read a lot of stories about animals, and not the ones in which animals are humanized, but the naturalistic ones. They were boring and tedious for me. Water for Elephants title made me think that this book is going to be not only about animals, but about care for animals, as in bringing water to elephants. I wasn’t too far off in my assumptions.
  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I do not like self-help books and by its title this is what I thought this book is going to be. I do not like when one person is teaching me how to live my life. I do not like when any religion is imposed on me (the pray part indicated that to me). I have enough of religious solicitors coming to my house, offering to save my soul, so I don’t need that in books as well.
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This title made me think about looking for help, asking for help, which essentially means being helpless, not providing help, for some reason. I do not like reading about helpless characters, about passive characters. I want to see characters who make the difference, who fights for their happiness, even if they are losing at the end.
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This title made me think that the book is going to be focused on a passive wife, a wife that sits and wait for her husband to come home, waits for her husband to notice her, waits for her husband to start her life. I do not like when women portrayed  like this in fiction, even though I know that there are plenty of women like this in the real life, I just don’t like reading about these women.
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green. I already wrote about this book last week: “I was thinking that Alaska in the title was referring to the state Alaska (silly me). So when I was thinking “Looking for Alaska (the state)”, I was imagining something of Jack London’s style and I really never liked it. ”
Do titles or covers make a big influence on your decision to read/buy a book?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - Book Review #134

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now... 
From goodreads.com

I read a fair share of dystopian novels in my time. Some of them were better, others were worse, but none of them ever looked at least remotely real to me. Yes, I could see where authors were coming from – what flaw in our society they choose to explore, but I could never really believe that it might go that far, it might become so grotesque. The Handmaid's Tale was different.

Not only the world created in The Handmaid's Tale was believable, it is very realistic. Maybe the US have a way to go to reach The Handmaid's Tale reality, but other countries not only almost there, but have been there for decades and centuries. Women’s roles are very limited and assigned. They are not allowed to work, have property or money.  They are denied education and not allowed to read. Sounds familiar, isn’t it? (I don’t want to point fingers at anyone here, just stating facts as I know or see them.)

"There is more than one kind of freedom...Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it." 

The only unrealistic part of The Handmaid's Tale for me was how fast new reality took over. I guess the problem might be in the narrator Offred. She is passive, she only tries to get by without fighting and she is broken. However, she can clearly remember how it was before. This is very hard to understand, for me personally.  On the other hand, I can see how Offred is a perfect narrator for this story. She is not your regular dystopian rebellion; she is just another human being with human longing for simple happiness, not a battle.

“I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name; remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me.” 

For me personally the most terrifying thing was always a silence. It also goes the other way – when I’m truly scared, I don’t scream or cry – I’m going completely silent. The Handmaid's Tale made me feel this terrifying silence of the world down to my spine.  Even stores’ signs are silent – they only have pictures no words. In most of the dystopian books main character at one point or another running into the issue who he/she can confide to, but in The Handmaid's Tale this desperation, inability to trust, to talk to anyone is shown the best.

“All you have to do, I tell myself, is keep your mouth shut and look stupid. It shouldn't be that hard.” 

The Handmaid's Tale might be a difficult book to read for some. The narrative is switching from past to present without much of notification. The ending is ambiguous, which might be viewed by some as unsatisfying. The Handmaid's Tale is also considered by few as an offensive book to women. For me it was perfect: the switches in the narrative came smoothly and were at the right places of the story; the ending was opened for hope. As for it’s been offensive, I would agree with that, however I don’t think that this book should be viewed in this light. I think it should be viewed as a warning, same as all dystopian books meant to be. I think it should be read by all women and most of men.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again For the First Time - Top Ten Tuesday #5

Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again For the First Time

A couple of weeks ago the topic of Top Ten Tuesday was Top Ten Books I Want To Reread. That topic and today’s one might only sounds the same, but for me actually mean two very different things. Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time not necessary mean that I will ever reread these books. I might've even tried rereading them at some point, got disappointed and never finished rereading. Books I Want to Reread, for me, means that I want to reread these books, even though I know I would not feel the same, have the same impression as I did when I was reading them for the first time. So without any further ado, I’m presenting Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time, in no particular order. 

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Even though this book is known to almost everyone in US it was very hard to find in Russia some years ago. It was first published in Russia in 1960 in a national literary magazine. I’m not sure if it was ever published in a book form in Russia until recently, however it was impossible for me to find Russian translation ten years ago. I went high and low, searching for Russian translation – no libraries had it, none of my relatives had it, no friends of my relatives, not friends of friends of my relatives, not even neighbors of friends of friends of my relatives. Finally, my, at that time boyfriend, now husband, was able to find a Russian translation for me – a pirate document in the internet. That was my first experience with The Catcher in the Rye and even though the quality of the document left much to be desired (translation itself was good, thanks god), I read it in one sitting and loved it enormously.  A few years ago, I found and bought the first US edition. I reread it and even though I still love The Catcher in the Rye, the experience was very different from the first one. 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Another book that widely popular in US and for some reason is known to a few in Russia. I first heard about this book when I already was in US and I read it for only one reason – everyone here seems to know this book and I had no idea what they were talking about. After I finished it, I remember that I was unable to read anything else for a month, nothing seems to be good enough, and everything else seems pale and boring. 
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I read it only once when I was fifteen or sixteen, but I still remember what an impression this book made. Only Nabokov could have written such a beautiful book on such ugly and controversial theme. 
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. This book made me “Whoa!” (an exclamation of surprise) not once. Now I know the plot, so sadly I wouldn’t go “Whoa!” even once. I wish I could read this book again for the first time. 
  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. This one has one of the best twists in the entire book history, in my opinion.  
  • The Eight by Katherine Neville. I heard about this book for the first time just about the time when the second book The Fire was about to be published – twenty years after The Eight was first published. I was walking around my favorite bookstore and noticed it. I was a bit hesitant to read it for the first time (book is twenty years old and I never heard about it – it must be not very good, was my thoughts). However, after starting to read synopsis: “A dabbler in mathematics and chess, Catherine Velis…” I knew that I’m going to like this book. My love to mathematics is only a bit lower then my love to books, so it is pretty high and even though I myself never played chess seriously, I was always fascinated by people who does. With this book, it is not as much as I want to read it again for the first time, I want to discover it for the first time, discover something so unexpectedly that I would love so dearly. 
  • Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. Should I even bother to say something about it? 
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green. I’ve been hearing and seeing the title of this book for years, until only this year when I finally read it. I didn’t know anything about this book with an exception of its title and an army of fans who was considering this book one of the best ever. I’ll tell you the truth, the title was the thing that was stopping me from reading this book for years. I was thinking that Alaska in the title was referring to the state Alaska (silly me). So when I was thinking “Looking for Alaska (the state)”, I was imagining something of Jack London’s style and I really never liked it. So it only took me about four-five years to overcome my prejudice and read what now became one of my favorite books. 
  • Some Girl Are by Courtney Summers. I discovered Courtney Summers almost two years ago and immediately fall in love with her first book Cracked Up to Be. Some Girl Are made my favorites list. Her books are the most brutal, honest and nail-biting out of all YA I’ve ever read. 
  • Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer. Yes, I loved Twilight Series (second and third book the most) first time I read it, with exception of fourth book – it made me sick. It is only later, when I tried to reread this series all the flaws started to stare at me from the pages. It happened before the whole internet joined into Hate Twilight frenzy. This is precisely why I want to reread it for the first time again – I don’t want to see these flaws. I want to swallow it whole again without actually tasting it and be left with pleasant, however vague, aftertaste. I want to read it without analyzing, scrutinizing or thinking.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Book Review #133

Wednesday, October 5, 2011
 Tender Is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set on the French Riviera in the late 1920s,Tender Is the Night is the tragic romance of the young actress Rosemary Hoyt and the stylish American couple Dick and Nicole Diver. A brilliant young psychiatrist at the time of his marriage, Dick is both husband and doctor to Nicole, whose wealth goads him into a lifestyle not his own, and whose growing strength highlights Dick's harrowing demise.
From goodreads.com

Scott Fitzgerald began writing Tender Is the Night in 1925 – the time of roaring 20th, Scott Fitzgerald’s time. It was finished and first published in 1934 – the time of Great Depression, John Steinbeck’s time. So I guess it is somewhat natural that the book met a lot of negative reviews, most based on: “We have nothing to eat here, we are dying from hunger and you are writing about rich bored people, who are shopping, laying on the beach and going to parties on the French Riviera, while still desperately unhappy.” And I guess we all can see the critics’ point of view, however, I cannot deny seeing Fitzgerald characters’ as well.

From the first sight, it is hard to like Tender Is the Night’s characters – they are rich, they have no high purpose in life, they are wasting their time and complain a lot. On the other hand, if we stop judging them (from our purposeful, no time wasting and every second dedicated to help others less fortunate then ourselves point of view) and really try to put ourselves in their shoes, we will realize that we are really not that different from these characters: we are too trying to make right choices and we are too living with burden of consequences from wrong ones. We are, same as Tender Is the Night’s characters, very rarely looking at our lives from the perspective of how much more fortunate we are comparing to other people. We all are too busy with our own pain to notice someone else’s. Then why would we blame Dick, Nicole or Rosemary to be an unworthy characters, to be unlikable? They are very realistic and drawn with brutal honesty.

For me, the major role in understanding and sympathizing with these characters played Scott Fitzgerald writing style. If Tender Is the Night wouldn’t be in Fitzgerald’s prose, it would be just a whiny story about some rich brats. These characters broke my heart. They are so desperately unhappy, trying to understand why. How could we not be compassionate to them? I just couldn’t dismiss the book on the grounds of it being about shallow, rich people with dumb problems. I had to take these characters into my heart; I had to try stopping my tears from falling on the book’s pages for their shattered lives.

There is a polemic going on, from the time Tender Is the Night was first published, between critics on which Scott Fitzgerald’s book is superior - The Great Gatsby or Tender Is the Night. I can’t say which camp I belong to. I had a big space in my heart for The Great Gatsby and now Tender Is the Night has joined it. (Should I make it even more clear how much I loved it?)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Top Ten Book Endings That Left Me with My Mouth Hanging Open - Top Ten Tuesday #4

Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Book Endings That Left Me with My Mouth Hanging Open

The Broke and Bookish comments on today’s topic: “because of the cliffhanger or because it the ending was MINDBLOWING, etc.” I choose to mention only books with mind blowing endings and not to talk about cliffhanger endings for number of reasons. First of all, I’m sick and tired of series (each and every book nowadays is a part of some series and a number attached to it – 2, 6, 50, 1000 – yeah sometimes it feels that some series consists of thousand installments). Second of all, most of contemporary series’ writes are completely misunderstanding the definition of cliffhanger. To end an installment on a cliffhanger doesn’t mean to end it in the middle without any closure whatsoever, to end it as if you were writing and then got tired or got enough words and decided to stop. It also doesn’t mean that this current installment shouldn’t have a climax and should end just before one, in this case the book is not complete, and you just have first so many chapters. To end an installment on a cliffhanger means to end it in suspense. It still means that a book should have the beginning, the middle and the end, only in case of a cliffhanger, the end shouldn’t only wrap up the story, but also reveal something new, something suspenseful. But enough about this, let’s talk about ending that blew my mind away.

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. The whole book was mind-blowing for me. However the ending made me shiver, not because of a fear, but because of the excitement. The circle is now complete – this is the only thing I will say about this ending, to do not spoil the book for these that haven’t read it yet, but planning to do so.
  2. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This story has one of the most forceful endings. You didn’t see that coming, however it all makes sense and because of that you want to live in the different, better world where such things would not only be senseless, but would also be impossible.
  3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. I watched the movie before I read the book, completely unintentionally; I didn’t know what I was doing. The movie’s ending blew me away and I couldn’t believe that this is the end. I didn’t want to believe that this is the end, even though it made sense.  It turned out that the movie is closely based on the book, so the end was the same. And even though I already knew how it will end, it still left me speechless, because in case of the book it was final, it was set in stone, it was how Ken Kesey wrote it and no space for interpretations or assumptions was available.
  4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – one of the most controversial and powerful endings that I’ve ever come across off.
  5. Atonement by Ian McEwan. As most of the readers, I swallowed the bait Ian McEwan so masterfully planted and didn’t see that coming at all.
  6. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. The power of this ending lies for me in the Edith Wharton’s flawless writing style. There were no surprises, only pure beauty of words.
  7. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Only after completing this list I realized that I have two books by John Steinbeck here. However I couldn’t remove either of them. This guy definitely knew how to end his stories.
  8. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. The story is pretty much the same as with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I kept thinking that maybe I misunderstood something in the movie, however book proved that it is exactly as I saw and understood in the movie. I guess I’m just too big of a sucker for happy endings.
  9. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. The story begins same as for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Shutter Island. I watched the movie first. However, in this case I didn’t start reading the book to confirm or rather to disprove my apprehensions. I started to read The Stepford Wives, because the end in the movie didn’t make much sense to me. The book’s mind-blowing ending lay in complete opposition of the movie’s and instantaneously made sense.
  10. Almost any book by Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie is one of very few authors whose mysteries I could never guess correctly. I can have multiple guesses on who did what to whom; however these guesses are usually wrong. I read almost every book Agatha Christie ever written, because she always surprises me and nothing ever is as it seems in her stories.

So which book endings blew you away and why?