RSS

Category Archives: Books

{Review} No Word from Gurb – Eduardo Mendoza

¡Hola a tod@s!

I’ve been meaning to read and review Spanish books for caffeinatedlife’s Everything España: a 2014 Reading Challenge but as of last month had made as many steps towards doing so as Russia has towards backing out of Ukraine.

Today this changes! Today, I review!

And it’s a fairly good book I’m reviewing too: No Word from Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza

Blurb (from back of book)
A shape-shifting extraterrestrial named Gurb has assumed the form of Madonna and disappeared in Barcelona’s back streets. His hapless commander, desperately trying to find him, records the daily pleasures, dangers, and absurdities of our fragile world, while munching his way through enormous quantities of churros. No stone is left unturned in the search for his old pal Gurb.

Will Barcelona survive this alien invasion? Will the captain ever find his subordinate? Are there enough churros in Barcelona to satisfy his intergalactic appetite?

Review
I suppose that this novel counts as a Space Opera on some level. There are aliens and there is strangeness and a lot of hilarity. I also like this novel much more than I feel that I should as I’m the only person I know who has thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

So why did I find it highly entertaining? Possibly because of the commander’s ridiculous transformations into different people, from Delia Smith to Miguel de Unamuno (as he felt fitted the situations) were brilliantly timed and made me grin a fair amount.

Possibly because the narrator’s portrait of Barcelona as it prepared to take its place on the world stage in the early ‘90s was interesting and amusing. The comments on Cataluña and especially Barcelona- provided a snapshot of the region at an exciting period in its development and capturing the grittiness as well as the glamour of it. For some reason as I was reading this, I could imagine Almodóvar (in his younger years) adapting and directing this with much more sex, a few more gender-bending moments, more drugs and even more dog poo.

Not entirely sure whether people who aren’t au fait with or interested in this particular era will enjoy it as much due to some of the references made to specific events and places in the text.

Overall
This was a good start to the Everything España challenge. It was snappy and funny and aimed at people who’re particularly fond of their references to different and occasionally obscure people.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 9, 2014 in 2014 Reading Challenges, Books

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

WWW Wednesdays:


Happy Wednesday, world!

Thanks shouldbereading for hosting this awesome meme!

I’ve just realised that apart from the odd review, I don’t really talk about the books in my life. So ‘ere we go…

 

 

 

What are you currently reading?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
It’s one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for donkeys’ years but never got hold of a copy until last night. I’ve just finished chapter 5 and am amazed at how readable it is (so far).

What did you recently finish reading?

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett.
A fun, quick and easy read. It’s Pratchett, after all!

What do you think you’ll read next?

Temeraire by Naomi Novik.
Fantasy AND ships AND dragons? That’s me sold.

Feel free to post a shortlink to your WWW Wednesday and I’ll see what you’re reading. 🙂

 
11 Comments

Posted by on July 9, 2014 in Books, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

{Review} The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden – Jonas Jonasson

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through goodreads in return for an honest review.

This also ties in nicely with Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge 2014 (Sweden).

Prior to this, I’ve read a few a few Swedish books that have offered a commentary on various aspects of African and Swedish politics (namely the Wallander series) and – for the most part- found them pleasant but occasionally tangential and difficult to follow. The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden has raised the bar in this field and in spite of a few snicks was a really rather good read.

Blurb
On June 14th, 2007, the King and Prime Minister of Sweden went missing from a gala banquet at the Royal Castle. Later it was said that both had fallen ill: the truth is different. The real story starts much earlier, in 1961, with the birth of Nombeko Mayeki in a shack in Soweto. Nombeko was fated to grow up fast and die early in her poverty-stricken township. But Nombeko takes a different path. She finds work as a housecleaner and eventually makes her way up to the position of chief advisor, at the helm of one of the world’s most secret projects.

Here is where the story merges with, then diverges from reality. South Africa developed six nuclear missiles in the 1980s, then voluntarily dismantled them in 1994. This is a story about the seventh missile . . . the one that was never supposed to have existed. Nombeko Mayeki knows too much about it, and now she’s on the run from both the South African justice and the most terrifying secret service in the world. She ends up in Sweden, which has transformed into a nuclear nation, and the fate of the world now lies in Nombeko’s hands.

Review
Opening in South Africa at the time of the Apartheid, this novel gently educated me about aspects of the regime of which I’d previously been unaware whilst mocking that system of government. It’s left me with a yen to find out more about a regime I still can’t believe existed in the late 20th century.

Little nuggets of information about the political situations of South Africa and a plethora of other countries are slipped in every chapter, which helped to provide extra context for the story and illustrated points made throughout. The information about George W Bush Jr’s decision to take Nelson Mandela off of the list of terrorists in 2008 was eye-opening, even though the country has a habit of being slow to change its foreign policies.

PoG
Seriously, Polish people still need visas to be able to even pass through the country and it’s not even a formality. Polish friends of mine have been unable to get flights to South America simply because they have to transfer in an airport in the US. They’re unable to spend a couple of hours in one airport simply because members of their families have moved out of Poland and are now living in other countries, such as Germany and the UK. Apparently this means that they will try to remain in the US instead of going to whichever other Latin-American country they’ve managed to get a summer scholarship to study in. As you can tell, this is a pet peeve, hence the Paragraph of Grumbling (PoG).

Back to the review
Both the protagonists’ and political situations were treated in the same seemingly light-hearted but deeply satirical way. My erstwhile flat-mate had problems enjoying the story because of this but I found it got the necessary horror and despair of the various situations across without putting the reader off by being bitter about these things. But then I’m the sort of person who, if I can’t laugh and try to brush off some of the really horrible situations, will end up rocking in a corner with what little faith I have in humanity shattered.

The characters were varied if stereotyped, which helped the humour of the piece. The one issue I really had was the pacing of the story from part of the way through chapter 17 to chapter 21. As the action was inevitable but the build-up took a little too long, the resulting situation felt a tad anti-climatic.
Note on the translation: though I obviously can’t compare it to the original text, Rachel Willson-Broyles’ translation was a pleasure to read. The humour and nuances in the text were conveyed wonderfully and the text felt… perfectly, really. 🙂 According to some serious duckduckgo-ing, she’s translated a fair amount of exciting Swedish novels, including at least one of Arne Dahl’s crime series (that has been adapted for TV and is a darn good show). Am hoping to find other translations of hers on a local library shelf. 🙂

Overall
I heartily recommend it to anyone who’s never been particularly interested in South Africa’s political situation from the ‘60s onwards. And to people who have a dry sense of humour. And to those who dislike racism. That’s actually a fairly large number of people now that I think about it.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 8, 2014 in 2014 Reading Challenges, Books

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

{Review} The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna

Read for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge 2014 (Finland)

Back in 2012 when I started this blog, one of the first books I reviewed was Paasilinna’s A Charming Mass Suicide. Weird as it may sound, I needed to read that book at that stage of my life. I was afraid to try to read any of his other works as I didn’t know if they’d strike the same chord as A Charming Mass Suicide.

Two years later, in a completely different country and forced to sit in a chair for most of the day (I’ve sprained my ankle and my goodness does it HURT), one of my house-mates lent me The Year of the Hare to pass the time.

Did it live up to the high standard Paasilinna set with ACMS?

Blurb from the publisher’s site
Vatanen the journalist is sick of his job and fed up with city life. One summer evening while he is out on an assignment his car hits a young hare on a country road. Vatanen goes in search of the injured creature, and this small incident becomes a life-changing experience as he decides to break free from the world’s constraints. He quits his job, leaves his wife and sells his possessions to travel in the wilds of Finland with his new-found friend. Their adventures take in forest fires, pagan sacrifices, military war games, killer bears and much more.

Review
As you may have gathered from my reviews of Nothomb’s “A Life Form” and Kurkov’s “Death and the Penguin

How can you say ‘no’ to this cover? Seriously! How?!

”, I do rather like my books to have a little dash of the unexpected in them. Luckily for me, The Year of the Hare definitely delivered the goods here.

I don’t know if I was reading this ‘right’, but my overwhelming impression was that this is the story of a man who decided that he wanted a simpler life and then spent the course of the novel finding out just how hard it is to lead that sort of life when you factor in interacting with the rest of the world.

That is a horrific over-simplification of a beautifully crafted story but I’m going to stand by it. Each chapter moved from one strange (and sometimes surreal) scene to the next and the penultimate chapter introduced a rather amusing twist on the book as a whole. No spoilers, I promise!

The section set in the USSR was particularly amusing, especially when contrasted with the action of the last few chapters. Sort of wondering if the bear was allegorical for the USSR…

Any theories on this one are welcome. 🙂

Overall
If you’re after a quick read with a plot that’ll stay with you for a while, then this is the book for you. Likewise, if you’re finally standing up to external pressures and trying to live the sort of life you’ve always hoped to, then you may find that this book makes you feel better about all the moments along the road when you end up falling flat on your face and feeling like an eejit.

As before, this Paasilinna novel found me at just the right time in life. 🙂 I sincerely hope we keep meeting like this.

In the meantime, if you have read any Finnish novels and enjoyed them, please tell me the titles?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 4, 2014 in 2014 Reading Challenges, Books

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Post 16 – Most thought-provoking book

As ever, thanks to Blogs of a Bookaholic for creating this challenge.

Goodness I’m sleepy but can’t bring myself to get into bed yet as I feel as though I’ve not achieved anything today. A sad state of affairs that I hope to rectify by blogging. As you’d expect, a post about A Clockwork Orange comes with a trigger warning.

Well, my little droogie friends, this takes me back to my teen years and one of the most disturbing but brilliant books I’ve ever read: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. The post-’86 version with a 22nd chapter, that is. Even now I have more thoughts and questions about the issues raised in the novel than answers.

Incidentally, “Ultraviolence” is the working title of Lana del Rey’s new album…

So what about this dark, gratuitously violent dystopian world is thought-provoking? Well the horror of the droogs’ violence (and later the government’s as they ‘treat’ Alex) made me wonder about which type of violence is ultimately more terrifying: that of gangs or of a state’s. I felt that A Clockwork Orange explored the necessity of free will and freedom of choice humans need in order to feel human. What methods should a government be allowed to use in order to ‘control’ criminals?

Does choosing to persistently be violent mean that one forfeits one’s right to non-violent and fair treatment later? My initial instinct is to say that the law and those who endeavour to abide by it, should be above violence. That we should avoid to continue that cycle of it and aim to eliminate it.

Yet after the violence of the first 7 chapters, in which among other things, the droogs beat up a man, rape a woman and two 10-year olds (in the former case, she died of injuries caused by the gang-rape, in the latter cases they were injected with drugs beforehand), it’s impossible not to have a gut response to those actions, and not want to wish them pain, however brief, in the hope that they’ll stop hurting others.

But then hurting people sounds like a horrible thing to do and would surely mean that their violence would only beget more violence.

It made me wonder about redemption- is it possible to change one’s character and to live a ‘full life’ with the shadow of one’s earlier actions looming behind a curtain somewhere?

One final (slightly happier and slightly less thought-provoking) aspect of the novel was the droogs’ slang, Nadsat. Language can date pretty darn quickly and can put me off an otherwise awesome novel when I’m reading for pleasure. Burgess felt that slang was pretty important in languages and so it’s interesting to work out how he created slang that I felt worked really well within the novel- Russian, the main language it was based on added extra associations with a certain totalitarian state that was kicking around at the time of the book’s publication- and that still feels alive enough when read.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Post 15 – A character who you can relate to the most

As ever, thanks to Blogs of a Bookaholic for creating this challenge.

Golly gosh, this is another difficult question to answer. The only character I can think of who I can relate to is Pippi Longstocking.

Is that wrong?

I mean, I’m not saying that I have “the strength of 10 policemen”, am unable to read and write or that I’m a princess of a tropical island (especially not the last one- I’m not a fan of the Colonialist perspective, even when it appears in a nonsensical story). However there are a couple of similarities.

Firstly, I am intensely loyal to my friends. In the past, I’ve left places I’ve really wanted to be in order to spend time with a friend who’s texted or called to say they’re feeling sad or lonely. Also, whilst I do ridiculous and sometimes slightly dangerous things, such as spinning fire, hitch-hiking and accepting sweets from strangers (even now, in my twenties, strangers still offer me chocolate and sweets in the street and, like the 5 year-old I am, I accept and talk to them about their lives for a little) I would never let my friends get into any threatening or dangerous situations.

Secondly, whilst I don’t embellish tales about my travels, I will happily craft an exciting adventure story out of the closest words to hand (think goths in love cutting down trees in order to show their feelings for each other, “My love for you is beautiful, natural and decomposing little by little every day, Enyamina”. Or, “did you know that a spider created the first harp? Let me tell you about it. Well, one day in the cloud forest in Montezuma, I came across an angry crab spider…”).

There’s also a chest of drawers back at home that contains an assortment of interesting objects that I’ve collected, magpie style over years of adventures that I seem to get sucked into, even when I’m not looking for them. Sometimes they even come in useful. 🙂

So yes, that’s today’s post.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Post 14 – A book that made you cry

As ever, thanks to Blogs of a Bookaholic for creating this challenge. 🙂

Here’s a little secret that only people like my closest friends; Tavi, Ellie… and a couple of cinemas-worth of people know: I cry really easily over books, films (although to a lesser extent now), poetry and songs.

Each book’s a new friend to me and so the characters’ concerns and endings can haunt me for days, weeks or even years- on a day walk last Sunday I started to well up simply because I saw a green light at the harbour and was reminded of a quote from the Great Gatsby:

“I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.”

It’s not only the sad moments that make reduce me to tears. Happy endings and the promise of forever – na zawsze, kochanie – can also do the same, although those are happy tears and come far less frequently.

So yes, I’m ridiculously sentimental, to quote Fitzgerald again (I’m in a Fitzgerald mood today, apologies to all), “a sentimental person thinks things will last, a romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t.”

It is that quote that’s guided me in my choice of book today.

Letter From an Unknown Woman – Stefan Zweig

‘To you who never knew me… my child died yesterday’.

The story:
on his birthday, a famous writer receives a letter from a woman he does not know but who has loved him since she was a girl. As her life ebbs away at each stroke of her pen, he learns about a love he never believed could exist.

I read and reviewed this novella back in March 2012 and goodness, it was heart-breaking to read. Imagine loving someone for the whole of your life and knowing that they’ll never really notice you, even when you’re conversing with them. Even if you spend the night together, for them it’ll be meaningless. Even if you send them a bunch of their favourite flowers on their birthday every year, they won’t ever care to find out who they’re from.

OK, I’m welling up just thinking about this story. Time to get on with less unhappy things. 🙂

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Post 13- A book that disappointed you

As ever, thanks to Blogs of a Bookaholic for creating this challenge. 😀

There are those books that have been on my TBR pile since the first moment I heard the title whispered reverentially by a fan of said book. Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov was one of them.

It is also, sadly the subject of today’s post.

This was through no fault of the book or its author and I know exactly why I was disappointed by this one and am taking slow baby steps towards improving myself so as to thoroughly enjoy it the 2nd time around.

How many times have you seen a penguin at a funeral?

Blurb (from goodreads as it’s unbiased)

Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life. But when he opens the newspaper to see his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly turns to terror. He and Misha have been drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape.

So how on earth could a book like that disappoint me? It’s about a journalist who has a pet penguin. A penguin that runs around in a happy, splashy way, eats fish and ends up working as a professional mourner for goodness’ sake! Place a penguin in front of me and you could brain-wash me into doing almost anything.

Well firstly, it’s because of the title and yes, that sounds fatuous but really, it is the case: that title is a hard act to follow.

In the words of Alice from the Vicar of Dibley: “The title says it all

Secondly- and most importantly- I was disappointed because I didn’t understand what was going on sub-textually (is that even a word?). I’m English, so subtext is basically as important as the actual text, if not more so. As y’all know, satire’s all about the subtext and due to my paucity of knowledge about Ukraine’s political system, lots of bits that I’m pretty certain are dead funny and spot-on just soared over my head like a pair of large helium-filled balloons or some other large, soaring creature that sounds more majestic than a humble balloon.

The current political situation in Ukraine’s given me the push I needed to get started on reading up about their political and bureaucratic systems and I aim to be able to understand a little more (OK, a lot more actually) of what’s going on in the next few months.

Expect a euphoric review in the next year or so. 🙂

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Post 12 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t

Goodness, this is a tough one as my TBR pile is, let us say, extensive. And that list’s made up solely of books I could think of off the top of my head. Every book I read seems to serve as a letter of introduction to at least a dozen more and—oh, you know how it goes!

At this precise moment in time, the book I’ve wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t is the remainder of the Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope. I powered through the first three after watching the BBC adaptation (with Alan Rickman playing the odious Rvd. Obadiah Slope) but never got around to finishing the series for some reason. :/

Alan Rickman as Rvd. Obadiah Slope. Is it wrong to fancy his eyebrows just a little bit?

So why do I want to read the rest of the series? Well, Trollope wrote rather satirically about the abuses of power within Cathedral and Hospital Trusts in the fictional cathedral city of Barchester (which he purportedly based on Salisbury). A dry subject, you may think, but when approached with Trollope’s wit and brilliant characters the subject becomes as intensely exciting as… well… as an Anthony Trollope novel can make it, which is to say; very exciting indeed!

In addition to the afore-mentioned ecclesiastical power struggles, there are also love stories that tug the heart strings, various financial problems and class struggles. It’s all so quintessentially English as the majority of the ‘drama’ does not unfold through peoples’ words but instead through the softly said understatements and the unspoken.

Darn, I want to finish that series now. :/

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Post 11 – Favourite classic book

As ever, thanks to Blogs of a Bookaholic for creating this challenge.

OK, first things first; I cannot do this question the same level of justice as the creator of this challenge. Click that. I’ve even included the link a 2nd time, just in case you don’t fancy scrolling up a few millimetres to click the 1st link.

Read it. Fall in love with Wuthering Heights either for the first time or all over again.

And now, for my favourite classic. As I mentioned before, I have two favourite classics, one book of poetry, In Memoriam A.H.H. by Tennyson and one novel. As I’ve already blogged about the former, this post is going to be about the latter. So, without further ado, allow me to present the book that I fall in love with again every time I read it: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

So what makes this classic so awesome-sauce? I think it’s because (and forgive the analogy) at the end of the day, I like my books like I like my men– no naughty jokes please!- not just interesting and entertaining but also with some substance; something that will make me aware of the world around me and appreciate my own situation.

It is here that Gaskell really delivers the goods: she was an author whose writing addressed burning contemporary social issues and problems that appeared because of industrialisation. As the wife of a minister in Manchester, Gaskell would have been able to move amongst different social echelons and would undoubtedly have seen and heard the arguments and concerns of both the masters and hands about whom she wrote.

Many of the problems she mentions have yet to be solved, despite the hope expressed that ‘young industry’. If anything, I worry that in some instances, the situation has actually got worse. One example of this is the lack of power of many unions in the UK nowadays. Whereas the Union in North and South is a formidable opponent with the power to cause strikes that seriously affected industry but also won support for their cause (living wages that kept in line with inflation), when unions occasionally attempt the same action for exactly the same reason in this day and age, they are frequently mocked and denigrated, especially by the younger generation.

What I’m trying to say is what Gaskell wrote 159 years ago: ‘the union is a great power: it’s our only power’ and this power seems to be diminishing as people forget that, “It’s the only way working men can get their rights, by all joining together. More the members, more chance for each one separate man having justice done him.”

Well I got carried away there…

The icing on the cake is the romance between Mr Thornton and Margaret Hale. It’s approached so beautifully that some sections gave me goose-bumps and the sexual tension at some points made me go a little fluttery.

They start off as two good in people in their own rights, even though they have different outlooks on life, different experiences and somewhat different values and become- it is implied- the sort of couple that will bring out the best in each other.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: