Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (Review)

Title: The Eyre Affair
Author: Jasper Fforde
First published: 2001
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I've been eager to read The Eyre Affair for a long time, especially after Riv's recommendations, and I'm glad I finally did! However, the book turned out to be less awesome than I had expected. There may be spoilers ahead, as I wanted to discuss certain things in particular, but I don't think they are dangerous for you, as most plot twists are kinda obvious long before they happen.

The most fascinating thing about The Eyre Affair is the setting: the world is so similar to ours, but not quite. For one thing, literature is super-important! People are not divided into politically left or right, but according to their opinions about Shakespeare's identity. And the fights between the sides are much more heated! Time travel and other incredible things are an every-day matter in this world. And Crimean War has been going on since 1800s. Sounds menacing in the light of the recent events... But I digress. Exploring this world was like visiting Wonderland—you never know what will happen next. But it's also a problem, as I like to know how a fictional world operates. When some difficult situation is resolved with some plot twist you couldn't imagine was possible, well... I call it cheating.

The plot itself was a bit weird, as the main bad guy's motives were hard to grasp, but everything to do with Jane Eyre plot is awesome! The explanation of that strange plot twist fits so well into the story! No “Gothic romance convention” can explain Jane hearing Rochester calling for her quite as well!

I really liked the main character. She's kinda cool, if maybe too militaristic to my taste. Which makes the sugar-sweet ending so much worse. I mean, seriously, they just go and live happily ever after? After all their problems and 10 years apart? I don't believe. I'd also like to have more witty dialogues in the book. You have so many awesome characters—let them speak and amuse the reader! Which brings me to the main reason why I gave the book just three stars in spite of great plot, characters and world-building: the writing. It just didn't grip me. I could put the book down in the middle of some dangerous situation and go make some tea. Although I like tea, it's not a good sign at all.

In my book:
It's a nice summer read, especially if you wish to be able to put the book down and actually enjoy the summer around you.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov (Review)

Title: The Luzhin Defense
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
First published: 1930
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

Nabokov may be one of my favourite authors, although I can't say I've read a lot of his works. But his writing... You fall in love with it immediately. If you've read him, you know what I mean. He's also from the Russian emigrant culture, which he describes to perfection. There's this bitter feeling of having no place to call home, of not belonging anywhere, of being lost and unsure of anything in all his works that I can really relate to. I also admire him because he wrote in two languages - Russian and English, and Lolita he written in both. How cool is that? Anyway, I had high expectations for The Luzhin Defence, and I was well rewarded.

The story revolves around the life of an outstanding chess player, starting with his miserable childhood and building up to a major emotional breakdown. There's nothing more to say about the plot, as it's a very psychological book. The main character is not likable, but the workings of his brain are so unique that it's totally impossible to put the book down. The woman that appears in his life is (to me) an even more interesting character, as her choices explain so much about the nature of a woman's love.

I couldn't help being reminded of Zweig's Chess Story while reading The Luzhin Defence. I know, they deal with slightly different things, but they are both about chess and madness, so I think it's fair to compare them. And my verdict is that in spite of my love to Nabokov, Chess Story was more gripping and intense. Nabokov's character background is more profound, but Zweig's madness description is more engrossing and impressive. But certainly both are awesome books, and I'd recommend both to anybody.

In my book:
Another great Nabokov novel. Highly recommended.


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams (Mini Reviews)

Title: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Author: Douglas Adams
First published: 1979
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

By now, I've read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy three times, and it still makes me laugh and love it, because it's so awesome! Why? Well, here are some reasons: Marvin, Vogon poetry, a towel, mice, Alpha Centauri regional planning office which we didn't have the responsibility to visit, fjord design and of course 42 and Don't Panic! Seriously, I think it's the most brilliant book ever! Nothing more to add, so let's discuss the second one now.

Title: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Author: Douglas Adams
First published: 1980
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Unfortunately, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe falls short of the awesomeness of the first book. First, there are so many repetitions of the stuff from The Hitchhiker's Guide, that it made me really impatient. Can't Adams think of something new? Well, there are new things in the book, like the restaurant itself, but somehow they are not funny, and most of them are too bitter and even mean. Also, the plot is much more action-packed, and it's a bad thing, as I enjoy the dialogues much more than running. There's also some conspiracy plot which didn't make much sense for me. I'd be happier with their wandering meaninglessly across the galaxy encountering some hilarious things.

Overall, I will not be reading the further books anytime soon in order not to spoil the impression from the first book, which you can bet I'll re-read again, more than once :)

Quotes:

"... here's something to occupy you and keep your mind off things."
"It won't work," droned Marvin, "I have an exceptionally large mind."

It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level

"we're having a great time. Food, wine, a little personal abuse and the Universe going foom."

It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85% of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N'N-T'N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian 'chinanto/mnigs' which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan 'tzjin-anthony-ks' which kill cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.
What can be made of this fact? It exists in total isolation. As far as any theory of structural linguistics is concerned it is right off the graph, and yet it persists. Old structural linguists get very angry when young structural linguists go on about it. Young structural linguists get deeply excited about it and stay up late at night convinced that they are very close to something of profound importance, and end up becoming old structural linguists before their time, getting very angry with the young ones. Structural linguistics is a bitterly divided and unhappy discipline, and a large number of its practitioners spend too many nights drowning their problems in Ouisghian Zodahs.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Review)

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
First published: 2008
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

It was time for me to check what all this hype was about, so I finally coped with my suspiciousness towards the books labeled "YA" and did it! And I was pleasantly surprised, as I actually really liked this book!

First, let me say that the whole concept of the show is amazing. Modern show-business techniques are hyperbolized by being applied to a totally monstrous show concept, and the result is that this monstrosity looks totally plausible. The rest of the world-building had some problems (Specialized districts? Seriously? I'd like to see your logistics.), but the show backstage and organisation is just awesome. The only problem is that because of the first person narrative and the existence of two more books in the series reader knows who'll win. There is some twist in the end, but I could see through it. It didn't bother me much though. The writing is so dynamic, that the narrative never gets boring.

Surprisingly enough, the "teenage feeeeelingz" aspect was also not dull. Pretend love for show? Much more interesting than a normal love triangle. I'm only slightly frightened that there will be more of this triangle in the further books, so I'm hesitant to start them. Apart from that, the relationships on the arena were all quite plausible. Katnniss's trail of thought was interesting to follow as she tried to survive and do the right thing.

In my book:
A fast, entertaining and not stupid book to bury yourself in for a couple of evenings.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - A Rant

Note: I know many people totally love this book, so if you think me ranting about it would spoil your day, don't read the review :) That's precisely why I've put "A Rant" subtitle to the post header.

Title: Outlander
Author: Diana Gabaldon
First published: 1991
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

With an impressive 4.13 rating on Goodreads and so many recommendations, I expected this book to become my new favourite. There's time travel, Scotland, a strong female character, hot scots... I like all these things, but somehow them being put together by Gabaldon resulted in total crap. Well, maybe not TOTAL, but we'll get to it. Let's begin with the bad stuff, OK?

First, the book is sooo long! Generally, I love long books, but there'd better be something actually happening on all those pages. OK, there are a lot of adventures, battles and other things, all right, but they are all so monotonous! By the middle of the book I had an urge to yawn every time Jaime was hurt or Claire was abused. Again. Besides, this brings me to the next point: the abundance of unsettling and disgusting descriptions. I do realize that the time was not pretty, but some scenes in the prison and afterwards were totally unnecessary. Not that I cared by that time. In the second half of the book there were several action sequences in which I had no idea what was happening... And I didn't want to re-read to make sense of them. It's still a mystery to me how the prison escape was managed and how getting high on opium and fighting cured blood poisoning in the end.

My next problem with the book was sex scenes. I like me some good steamy sex in a book, and I do admit that some of them actually WERE good, but not for 200 pages non-stop! I'm not kidding, there's a part in the book in which they hardly do anything else. Again, I got bored. Besides, some stuff really disturbed me. Remember the scene when they have sex near the body of a soldier killed by Claire just before? Or that sex after a month on the verge of death. Seriously???

Even with all the aforementioned problems the book would be OK if I liked the characters. But Jaime is just some sickly-sweet ideal of a man, who everybody older than 12 years old should understand doesn't exist, and Claire... I didn't really care for her. I can't figure out why, but probably because her reactions to things happening around her are so unbelievable that I can't think of her as a real person.

Now to the positive moments, as promised :) The book is obviously well-researched and gives a nice overview of life in Scotland at that time. Although I'm not a specialist and I may be wrong here. Also, the dialogues are usually good and witty, and some even made me smile. Hmm.. That's probably all. Not much :)

In my book:
If you are not into hard-core "women's fiction", skip it! Spend some time NOT wanting to punch the characters in the face instead :)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Language Freak June Update


Hi everybody! How are you doing? Sorry about being so late with this update, I've had my mom visiting me, so I was never at home, always sightseeing! :) My leg muscles are so sore! Nevertheless, I've read half of my first Czech book! It's sooo boyish... I'm already tired of fights.

Our participants have been doing great this month! Let's see what we have accomplished!

First, let us welcome our new participant, alwaysopinionatedgirl who'll be reading in French!

And now reviews by language! Note that June reviews have been marked by NEW!

Chinese
Frog is Sad by Max Velthuijs (Carola @ brilliant years)

French
Nuits de Juin by Victor Hugo (Cleo @ Classical Carousel) - NEW!!!

German
Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai by Heinrich Heine (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)
Krabat, by Otfried Preußler (Carola @ brilliant years) - NEW!!!
Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood) by The Brothers Grimm (Cleo @ Classical Carousel) - NEW!!!

Russian
Magpie Beloboka (Anja Kasap @ Reading 2011 (and Beyond))

Spanish
Corre, Perro, Corre - P.D. Eastman (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)

Please, let me know if I've forgotten anything. June has been hectic and sometimes I had to skim through my RSS feed, although I did try to stop by and comment :)

Seems like we are making a nice progress altogether! Good luck next month to everybody!


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Long-(over)due Mini-reviews

Title: Watership Down
Author: Richard Adams
First published: 1972
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I've heard so many great things about this book, that I was more than a bit disappointed with it. It just didn't grip me. Adams can write adventure all right, but I didn't get why it had to be rabbits? They behave exactly like people anyway, so what's the point? For me it didn't work, as I couldn't care much for just a pack of rabbits, however well-elaborated their characters might be. I know, I'm a monster :) But I've hated tear-inducing books about "poor animals" since my childhood :) The rabbit language was also not very well-developed or necessary. What I did like was the rabbit mythology. The parts when they tell stories were my favorite!

The biggest problem of the book is the lack of any female characters. The whole plot is about "getting some does", but even when they appear, they don't play any role at all and are very passive. OK, OK, maybe it's supposed to be so with the rabbits, but they behave like humans, so it still irritates me. Also, all the philosophy is just... meh!

In my book: Maybe more suitable for children than adults. Or for much less cynical than me adult animal lovers :)


Title: The Warden
Author: Anthony Trollope
First published: 1855
Add it: GoodreadsThe Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I read it for Chronicles of Barsetshire Readalong, and it was due in March, but I couldn't finish it until May, although it's a fairly thin book. What can I say? It was just so dull! I didn't care a twopence about moral dilemmas of a countryside priest and all the ecclesiastical politics around it. Trollope is really witty in some small scenes, for example his commentary on family life made me giggle a couple of times, but the plot is just so long-drawn and anti-climactic, that most of the time I used the book to fall asleep fast.

In my book: A classic soporific.


Title: The Republic of Thieves
Author: Scott Lynch
First published: 2013
Add it: GoodreadsThe Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

I picked this book out of despair - no story could hold my attention this horrible May, and I thought if this one couldn't, I was doomed. Well, Lynch haven't disappointed me: I was involved in the book, as much as it was possible at the time. However, I do think it had some problems. First, both plots (there's a flashback, as usual) are far from being original. Election and theater, really? They DO work, because both are amazing sources of plot devices, but I kinda thought Lynch was above it... Also, I didn't get the whole thing about the bondsmagi, including the last cataclysm and Locke's "secret". WTF????

I was most excited to finally see Sabetha, but I was a bit disappointed here too. No, she IS every inch as cool as I've imagined her, but her and Locke's relationship is so fucked up it becomes tiresome. Also, I'm glad there are always enough of great female characters in the series, but her "female in a male world" problems are a bit exaggerated here, I think.

In my book: Still great, but a bit less amazing and a bit darker than the previous books.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Wazzup?

Hi everybody! It's I! Do you still remember me? :) A short update, mostly not about books. I know, I know, this blog is supposed to be about books, but lately books haven't been happening in my life as regularly as shit :)

1) I've just defended my thesis. It was good! Also, half an hour later, I failed the state exam. It was so bad, I can't even! I got the worst possible question. Apart from being ashamed as hell (my boss was in the committee), I'll have to do it all again in August. I realize that it's not the end of the world, but the perfectionist in me is crying and cursing. What's worse is that my mom is coming for graduation, and there will be no graduation for me. What a shame!

2) I've just got back from a great vacation at home! All my dear friends, small touristic trips, parties... Wonderful, just wonderful! I needed it! No surprise that I was not so well prepared for the state exam... One place we've visited was a marble quarry where they dug stuff to build all the pretty buildings in St.Petersburg. It's very beautiful!



3) I've got an invitation to a Cambridge research group for a couple of months. If they solve the visa problem somehow (and it's not that trivial with my nationality!) and if I finally pass this bloody exam, I'll go there. Maybe it's a sign that life is slowly becoming slightly better? :)

4) I haven't been reading a lot this month, if only you don't count lecture notes :) I'm nearly done with Outlander, and oh my god is it trashy! If I ever finish it, the review will probably be a huge rant, so get ready! I have no idea what to read next, maybe I'll pick up the Hitchhiker's Guide books - the "Don't panic" message would be really appreciated right now :) Or I might finally pick up a book in Czech!


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese (Review)

Title: Starship Grifters
Author: Robert Kroese
First published: 2014
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

I have been given this book for review by Lori, and I must say she's great at choosing appropriate reviewers :) I really enjoyed Starship Grifters!

Usually I would complain that the book lacks depth. You know, The Hitchhiker's Guide, which it is compared to, is about "life, universe and everything"; Starship Grifters is not. It's just some funny adventures of some crazy characters in a totally unbelievable universe. But just because of this it's just a perfect book to read when you are in the end of the semester writing your diploma, your long-term relationship is fucked-up and you undergo an unpleasant and expensive medical treatment. There was literally nothing that could make me laugh or even engage me enough to care, but this book could!

The first amazing thing about the book is that the story is being told by a robot! A nearly-intelligent robot that shuts off every time there is a danger of generating an original thought. How awesome is that? I can also tell that the author apparently knows something about artificial intelligence, as the technical descriptions were very accurate. It pleases a scientist inside me :)

The second amazing thing is all the craziness of what's happening in the book. There's no telling what'll happen next, but you'll surely be surprised. There are some funny and sarcastic commentaries on certain easily recognizable real-life characters and situations, but the book is still far from being satirical. The dialogues are funny and made me giggle a couple of times, and the final plot twist is really good.

I had some problem with the main character, though. Rex is very, very crazy, and although sometimes it's great, sometimes he becomes insufferable. I think that was the point, but somehow he is still the most unbelievable character in the book for me. However, his martini "thing" was classy! And his character made me sympathize with his robot even more :)

In my book: Starship Grifters is a farce, full of cliches and unbelievable stuff. But it's very funny and just great for raising your spirits, even at times when you are totally unable to concentrate on everything.

P.S. Look at the cover! It looks like a battered copy of a classic sci-fi paperback! I love that!


Language Freak May Update


Hi, darlings, and welcome to the first monthly update post for Language Freak Summer Challenge! (BTW, it's still not late to sign up, if you wish!) How are you all doing! Me? Not so well, but it's hardly my fault :( I'm counting more on July and August to complete my goals. But some of the participants have already read a lot for the challenge! Let's see what was reviewed in May:

Chinese
Frog is Sad by Max Velthuijs (Carola @ brilliant years)

German
Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai by Heinrich Heine (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)

Russian
Magpie Beloboka (Anja Kasap @ Reading 2011 (and Beyond))

Spanish
Corre, Perro, Corre - P.D. Eastman (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)

Wow! 4 books, four languages already! You guys rock! :) Good luck with achieving your goals and don't forget to check out the posts of your fellow readers :) See you in the end of June! 

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