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{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.

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

 

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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

 

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{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.

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

 

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{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

 

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{Review} The Dark Side of Light – K. L. Jordaan

My flat-mate won a copy of this book off of goodreads and put it in our communal bookshelf. The cover looked interesting, if slightly New Age-y and so I borrowed it.

Blurb (from goodreads)
An inspiring tale about birth, death and the fraction in between we so loosely term life. Falling into an abyss of questions and seldom having the privilege of sensible answers, life gets lost in translation. Sam’s journey into the wasteland of imagined life takes a wild twist when Luke joins her.

Review
So… Firstly, if a novel purports to have an answer “to the question of the secret of life”, I expect it to deliver either scientific evidence that cannot be refuted or a coherent, logical theological argument that can be followed by the reader, even if said reader disagrees with the conclusions of such a piece.

Sadly the arguments lack coherency and jump from one impossible starting point to a perplexing conclusion that seems impossible to have come about from the facts presented. One such example begins with the statement that Eve was made of one of Adam’s rib bones and from this one statement draws the conclusion that this alone is proof that “our bodies were designed to live forever”.

Sam later concludes that the reason people no longer live for hundreds of years (as they used to according to some sections of the Old Testament) is that in the 21st Century, people have stopped believing they can live forever. Even after setting aside my own beliefs on this matter, I found this particular argument to be weak. Surely a purely Creationist conclusion (-and I’ve gone for Creationist here as it seems in keeping with the earlier literal interpretation of parts of Genesis- that sin’s presence in the world has shortened our lives) is at least easier to explain than the ‘loss of belief in our immortality’ line.

Sam’s hypothesis that ‘incorrect’ beliefs hold humanity back from achieving its full potential does not just apply to the length of human lives but also to other more scientific things such as being able to breathe in space. All we need do is “[f]orget what you’ve been told” and we should be able to breathe whilst orbiting the Earth.

This leads me to the second disappointment in this text. To say it in the most terribly British way, the science is at times a little off. Explosions, for example, were poorly explained. Tides on the other hand were well researched and accurately explained. This did however make the other scientific inaccuracies stand out more.

Thirdly, the language of the novel was, at best, unclear at times with some images that did not really work, such as “a smile played hide and seek on his perfectly formed lips” and some typos, such as “the elevator began it’s decent” that had me reaching for my post-it notes and a pencil. In addition to this, there were many instances when conflicting ideas that seemed to undermine previous passages were included. This could have been intellectually stimulating if presented in a Luis Buñuel La Vía Láctea way but a seeming lack of structure and purpose removed any potential thesis.

Finally, the adult Sam did not convince as a character. Whilst presented as an intelligent woman who desperately wanted answers to questions that had burnt away in her brain for years, she did not seem to have gone looking for these answers. Her arguments showed a lack of extended reading, quotes and sources that I’m certain a character such as hers would have accumulated over the years.

Overall
I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it is to write original and challenging philosophical texts and have a great deal of respect for K. L. Jordaan for attempting to write and publish a thought-provoking book. Nonetheless, I feel thoroughly disappointed with it.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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{Review} Doll Bones – Holly Black

I received a free copy of this book as part of a goodreads giveaway. Huzzah! 😀 By way of thanks, here’s a review.

As Doll Bones has won many prizes, such as Kirkus Review’s Best Book, School Library Journal Best Book, Booklist Editor’s Choice Books for Youth and People Magazine Best New Kid’s Book (among others) this review’s going to go towards this year’s Eclectic Reader Challenge.

Blurb
Zach, Poppy and Alice’s friendship is centered around the imaginary world they’ve created together and have been playing in with their toys for as long as they’ve known each other. When Zach turns 12, his father bins his toys in the hope that this will help him to grow up and become manly, the distraught boy ends his friendship with the girls. Poppy has other ideas and attempts to re-start the game by creating what seems to be an irresistible quest line for the three of them to play. One that involves the Queen- a bone china doll that has long scared the three.

As the three try to set the Queen free, the lines between the real world and the imaginary blur and Zach, Alice and Poppy end up on a journey they’re not sure they’ll be able to complete.

Review
First things first: the cover and illustrations are gorgeous and complement the story well with their atmospheric shading (for the illustrations) and the dead-eyed stare of Eleanor-the-doll (on the cover) and so deserve special mention. The artist’s portfolio can be found here.

I started out with high hopes for this book and, for the most part, Doll Bones delivered. From the beginning, Black juxtaposed the grandness of quests and stories that take place in other books and the realm of the imagination with the often humorously anti-climatic reality of ‘real world’ adventures.

Despite ticking all the right boxes to fit the ‘paranormal bildungsroman’ category, I personally didn’t find the story too bone-chilling, nor the main character’s development to be too profound. However a younger reader (aka. one of the target audience) would probably be able to enjoy the mild spookiness without being truly terrified.

The only part that really jarred was the love/ romance element. Yes, it created a convenient motive for one of the character’s actions which in turn moved the story along. Yes, Zach’s evident discomfort at finding out about Alice’s feelings for him went a long way towards making its inclusion feel more realistic but it still felt too forced to sit comfortably with me. Additionally both Poppy and Alice felt rather underdeveloped (read: a little bland and indistinguishable from each other) as characters.

Overall
Whilst well-written, this wasn’t entirely my cup of tea. Nonetheless younger readers may be interested in this as it touches on some of the changes that adolescence brings. I’d be interested in reading more of Black’s work in the future as it was an enjoyable read, if not one that I’ll be raving about to others.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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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.

 

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