Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Autumn of Silent Escapist Reading

Hi everybody! :) As you've probably noticed, I haven't been in the mood to post for the whole autumn. I've also sucked at commenting and participating in events, and I'm truly sorry for this. I'm not sure what's happening to my reading habits, but my attention span is still very short, and now I shun from classics and big books and often pick books on a whim. I don't like it, as I usually enjoy being organized (and it's a pity I'm not finishing any of my challenges, the year has started so well!), but I can't do anything about it. Also, I'm reading much less now and am much more likely to play a game or watch a movie/series instead. Well, I hope it's just a short period...

Nevertheless, I HAVE been reading and I have missed blogging in the short moments of activeness. So it feels good to finally write a post :)

For starters, I've decided to make a small recap of what I read this autumn in the format of mini-reviews. These are really good books, and most of them are, I guess, unknown to many readers, so let me tell you more about them! :)

Title: Y: The Last Man
Author: Brian K. Vaughan
First published: 2003-2008
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

This 10-volume comics was October's book of choice for Coursera Fantasy and Sci Fi book club, and I loved it so much! It tells about a sudden epidemic of unknown origin which results in wiping out all the male population on Earth. All except Yorick and his monkey Ampersand. See? How can one NOT love a story with a plot like this? :) Add some great humor, kick-ass characters, amazing plot, beautiful pictures and an oh-so-great finale - and you get Y: The Last Man.

In my book: An awesome, awesome story. Read it.



Title: Spectrum
Author: Sergei Lukyanenko
First published: 2002
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: ★★★★★

This is my favorite Lukyanenko book, and I've read them all! :) It is also a standalone novel rather than a part of the series, which I also appreciate. Unfortunately, it is not translated into English yet, although it is very popular in some European countries. US publishers are just soooo bad at seeing further than the ends of their noses. As nearly every Lukyanenko book, Spectrum features a very likable hero stumble over some mystery of the universe and forced to make difficult decisions. The book is very clever and philosophical and yet packed with action and suspense and great world-building. I'm very glad I've re-read it!

In my book: This novel is like an old friend which, when you meet after a long time apart, never fails to keep you up all night while discussing philosophical problems and drinking wine :)


Title: Hard to Be a God
Author: Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky
First published: 1964
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

Another great Russian Sci-Fi novel, Hard to Be a God is also an old favourite. It tells about a historian from Earth doing research on a "medieval" planet. He poses as a noble and has to observe and cautiously encourage progress without getting too involved and unnaturally changing the course of history. But pretending to be someone else for so long is not easy, and with obtaining more relations it's hard to stay impassive during a shocking twist in the planet's historical course. Re-reading the novel as an adult dimmed my initial impression of it a bit, as the moral became much more obvious. But it's a great book nevertheless!

In my book: Still very relevant and makes you think a lot. And the main character is great.


Title: Night Watch
Author: Sergei Lukyanenko
First published: 1998
Add it: GoodreadsBook Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

As I've already mentioned, Lukyanenko is great, and luckily this book is translated into English, so it is an introduction to his writing for many readers. Which is a pity, because in my opinion it is not his best book, and the continuation of the series gets worse. I've read three out of (already) six books and don't intend to continue. The first one is still good though, if only a bit simplistic. The idea is that there are magicians between us, and they have two guilds: the Light and the Dark (I know, so obvious!) and they have some kind of a pact which ensures that they don't destroy each other. So it's "battles for souls" mixed with political plots to get round the pact.

In my book: Rather fun if you don't get sick of this whole Light/Dark opposition stuff.


Title: The Last Wish
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
First published: 1992
Add it: GoodreadsBook Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

You can already tell this autumn was full of Eastern European fantasy/sci-fi, right? :D Well, here's a super-popular polish fantasy saga, which inspired a computer game, dozens of spin-offs, fanfics, etc. I even have two friends who participated in role-playing games based on The Witcher world. The book is a collection of short stories telling about separate adventures of a Witcher - a guy specifically trained to kill different evil supernatural beings. I loved how Sapkowski took different Slavic fairy tale tropes and turned them into an entertaining and sometimes funny heroic saga.

In my book: An iconic novel, Slavic fantasy at its best. Recommended!


Title: The Master and Margarita
Author: Mikhail Bulgakov
First published: 1967
Add it: GoodreadsBook Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

This is a classic of Russian lit, which is unlike any other book. For most of high school students in Russia this is the only book they like from the school program, even though I bet none of them understand much of it. To tell you the truth I can't say I understood everything even after this re-reading, and I hope I can say that I'm now a more experienced reader then I was in the 11th grade :) Anyway, the novel is a satire about early Soviet era, and is set in Moscow in the 1930s. But it also has a plot line which tells about Pontius Pilate and the two intertwine through Master - a writer with a difficult fate, who wrote a story about ancient Jerusalem. The architecture of the novel, the beautiful language, the characters, the scaring hilarity of the dialogues, the macabre mood of it all - Bulgakov IS the real Master, and I can't possibly over-recommend this book :)

In my book: Just read it, OK? Nothing more that I can say :)

That's it! I have a couple of stand-alone reviews coming (hopefully soon) and I'm thinking about doing some year overview. We'll see if I have time and enthusiasm for that :)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (Review)

Title: A Farewell to Arms
Author: Ernest Hemingway
First published: 1929
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This was a Classics Club Spin title, and I should have read it by October 6. I did, but I didn't manage to review it in time. Well, better late then never, right? :) 

Before A Farewell to Arms I had only read Hemingway once and didn't like it. But I told myself that that was so because I was little and not that into fishing :) So I've decided to give him another try. I wish I haven't. 

The whole problem is the writing. It just doesn't work for me. It is somewhat abrupt and gloomy and doesn't hold my attention. Also, you can always feel that something horrible is going to happen and it's too much of a pressure for 300-something pages. I freely admit it may be completely my fault I didn't like the book. I'm very easily bored by books lately, but still, considering the gripping events happening in there, it's too dull. 

Another major problem was the protagonist's relationship with the nurse. I think it was sick, the way she diminished herself and told that she didn't matter and all she wanted was his convenience. The guy knocked her up, come on! She has some rights. Overall, a depressive book without likable characters... I'm not sure I'll ever pick Hemingway up again.

In my book:
Don't know what people find in it.

The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov (Review)

Title: The Gift
Author: Vladimir Nabokov 
First published: 1938
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

I picked this novel on a whim while I was at home for holidays. It was just looking at me from the shelf, and I am a fan of Nabokov, you know :) However, this is not a Nabokov I would recommend. 

It's beautifully written, and some of the quotes I loved so much that I re-read them several times, but the plot is very difficult to follow, because frankly speaking there's no plot to talk about. Although we should not forget that Nabokov hated searching for connections between art and real life and explaining books through the writers' experience, the novel seems to be autobiographical. It revolves around one of the thousands Russian emigrants living in Berlin after the revolution. He's a writer, and the story switches between describing his life and his works. The border between the two is very vague. You read about how the protagonist walks in the street and the next thing you realize you are in the middle of his novel. It's embarrassing and complicated, even for those who (like me) enjoy unusual writing. 

Moreover, somewhere in the middle of the novel the main hero decides to write a book about Chernyshevsky, and that is where Nabokov kicks over the traces. The rest of the book is a dive into Chernyshevsky's life and one big attempt to prove that he was a worthless writer. It was interesting up to some point, but it was just too much. The ending is beautiful in its uncertainty and symbolism, but somewhat crumpled because it comes after so much Chernyshevsky.

In my book:
Not recommended, unless you are really into this whole Nabokov vs. Chernyshevsky thing

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Readathon Updates

17.43, Prague time zone

It's the fourth hour of the readathon, and I slept two hours out of these four. Well, it's Saturday, so I'm not even ashamed that much :) I've just finished Spectrum by Sergei Lukyanenko, and it totally blew my mind! I've forgotten how awesome it is, so yay for re-reading! Now I'm gonna finish off the comic books and then concentrate on Malory. That's if nobody calls me for drinks in the city :)

Hope everybody is enjoying it as much as I am!

21.34

It's Saturday evening, and I come to the office in hope of finding someone who can make me coffee there (I'm still scared of our coffee machine) and indeed meet my supervisor there (in case you are wondering, yes, it's completely normal to find people there at odd times, as our research group is awesome!) The coffee machine is broken, but we start discussing what papers we've read and some workshop plans, and then I leave after 2 hours with a couple of new papers to read... So much for reading non-stop today :) On the bright side, I've finished the 8th collection of Y: The Last Man comics, and it's so exciting! I hope to finish it in a couple of hours. See you then!

00.58

Just finished reading Y: The Last Man... The end is so sad and yet it's so cool... I'm really glad I was introduced to this comics!

Now on to some serious reading! Time to finally pick up the Malory chunkster! No more excuses!

11.55

Hi everybody! Guess what? I fell asleep after just like 10 pages of Le Morte D'Arthur, and didn't even set an alarm clock... :( Malory is just sooo sleepy! Okay, I have 2 more hours, and I'm determined to dedicate them to this chunkster!

Readathon Plans


In a couple of hours starts Dewey's readathon and I thought I would post my reading plans for the day (and night). And then we'll see if it goes according to these plans :)

1) Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory - I'm shamefully behind on this one, and I really don't want to lose it with the readalong. Because I'll never read it on my own.

2) Finish Y: The Last Man comics - only 2.5 collections left, and I can't wait to know how it'll end!

3) Spectrum by Sergei Lukyanenko - I started to re-read it while I was searching for a next month's book for my Sci-Fi book club. It's not translated into English, so it's obviously not the choice, but I couldn't resist diving into it again!

4) Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning by Christopher Bishop - I need this for my work, and it's very, very difficult. But if I hit some effective brain work time, I'll struggle through a section or two.

OK, here it is! Now I'm going to have breakfast with a friend and then I'll go straight to reading! Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (Review)

Title: The Girl with All the Gifts
Author: M.R. Carey
First published: 2014
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

The only important thing you should know about The Girl with All the Gifts is that you must read it. Really, you will not be disappointed! The problem is, I don't want to tell you anything about the plot to convince you, so you'll just have to believe me :) You see, knowing anything about what's happening will spoil your experience of the first couple of chapters, in which it is masterfully and gradually revealed. So don't read the blurbs either!

But I'll say that the book surprised me greatly, in a good way. The ideas, the ending, the characters - all awesome! The POV is constantly changing, and this makes for a very dynamic writing. The Girl with All the Gifts makes you question some of basic human assumptions, and the finale will blow out your mind.

One of the inevitable drawbacks is that the book is very graphic, and sometimes it's just too much. Maybe it's my active imagination, but a couple of scenes were so disgusting I wanted to puke. But in this case it's a necessary evil, resulting from the matter of substance.

In my book:
Oh so good! Read it!

P.S. I am very pleased with the new course Coursera Fantasy and Sci Fi book club has taken (where everybody interested is welcome, BTW!). Before, we voted for the book to read each month, and it resulted in good, but somewhat predictable choices. We read books everybody had heard about, and there was no discovery of new titles. Now, however, a member is appointed (with his consent, of course :) ) each month to choose a book and lead a discussion. The Girl with All the Gifts was the first book chosen this way, and I'm so glad I was encouraged to read it! This month we are reading a wonderful comic book, and next month I'm leading the discussion, and I also plan something great which I hope everybody'll like :)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Seduction by M.J. Rose (A Rant)

Title: Seduction
Author: M.J. Rose
First published: 2013
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I haven't participated in Plagues, Witches and War Historical Fiction Book Club for quite some time now, and this was definitely NOT the book to encourage my further participation. It's so full of bullshit from the beginning! There are Celts, spiritualism, reincarnation, Jungian therapy, suicides, Satan with his deals, myths, personality disorders, drugs and what not. It's as if the author tried to just put everything she knew in the book, and it's even not much, at least concerning myths. The worst thing however is that the author is SERIOUS about all this stuff. I like a bit of mysticism, but I like it to be more subtle. There should be some reasonable explanation for everything happening, even if the atmosphere suggests that there's not. But the book demands the reader to actually believe in reincarnation. Seriously?

Why two stars still? Well, the writing is good. I think the author has made a descent attempt to mimic Hugo's writing, or at least 19th century writing. So when the heroine was not in a fit or in the middle of a discussion or action that didn't make any sense, I could even enjoy the flow of words.

In my book:
Bullshit, full stop.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Review)

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
First published: 2007
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This short novel tells a story of a boy growing up on a cemetery after the murder of his parents. He is brought up by ghosts and has adopted some of their ways, but he still craves for a company of the living kids. However, it is not safe for him to leave the cemetery, as the murderer is still out there.

Gaiman's supernatural stuff is still not my cup of tea. Although the ghosts were cute and Silas mysterious and impressive, the Jacks were weird and vague. I also didn't dig ghouls and the gate and everything inside. But Gaiman CAN write kids, there's no doubt of that. Bod's thoughts and feelings are so real! This feeling of not being told anything, however capable of understanding you think yourself... It's familiar to everybody who remembers being a kid, I guess. Learning responsibility is also a major aspect of Bod's growing up, which is indeed very important.

Plot-wise the book seems to be for children, but there are certain graphic scenes of bloodshed that hint that the target audience is grown-ups. It's a bit confusing, but not new for me, as it's the same with Stardust.

In my book:
More suitable for kids which are not afraid of a bit of killing :)



Monday, September 15, 2014

The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov (Review)

Title: The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories
Author: Isaac Asimov
First published: 1976
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

Asimov is really popular for his robot stories, and this book consists of them. These stories are ones I haven't read before, so I was intrigued. But what I didn't expect and didn't expect to enjoy was the way the stories are connected. Between them are author's interludes telling how and why each story was written, and these interludes are witty and clever and very enjoyable. They allow the reader to have a look at how this whole writing business works, and I find it fascinating.

The title story is the longest and one of the most impressive ones, but it's not that the collection has one main idea or is in any way organized so as to comprise one coherent narrative. It just contains stories written during two years, and this is the only reason they are put together. Reading The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories made me want to re-read I, Robot, which I don't remember well, and which contains the first of Asimov's robot stories.

In my book:
Not a starter Asimov book, but definitely recommended if you are already into his robotics.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Lectures on Russian Literature by Vladimir Nabokov (Review)

Title: Lectures on Russian Literature
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
First published: 1981
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

The great Russian-American writer lectured on Western and Russian literature at Cornell University in the middle of the 20th century. His lectures were unlike any other professor's lectures, as he was fond of reading big chunks aloud, paying a lot of attention to minor details instead of "big ideas". For him structural beauty was very important, and his analyses are really outstanding. His lectures were published later and in spite of some discontinuity arising from the format in which they were initially presented, they are very enjoyable to read.

What I liked most about the book is that Nabokov is very irreverent towards "the great luminaries of literature". He is not in awe of them in the least and he has every right not to be. If he thinks that an author has a structural problem somewhere in a story or that an author has left some loose ends, he says it! On the subject of authors he doesn't like he can sometimes be a little too rough, but as I've said, he has every right to it, so it doesn't irritate me as a reader. Anyway, this is a welcome change from the ecstatic literature teachers at school.

I was very pleased that on some matters Nabokov and I totally agree. For example that Dostoyevsky is too obsessed with mental disorders, and unnecessary so! Nabokov even counts the diagnoses through all Dostoyevsky's books. Yes, he's not of a good opinion of him. Another victim of Nabokov's merciless wit is Gorky, and again I completely agree! Gogol, Chekhov and Tolstoy, on the other hand, get a lot of love. I'd recommend Nabokov's commentary to Anna Karenina to everybody reading the book, as he makes it very easy to imagine how things happened. He goes into everything from Oblonsky's timetable to how the sitting in the trains was organized at the time. Nabokov's take on Gogol is also very fresh and interesting.

It's not necessary to read ALL of the mentioned works to enjoy this book, only the main ones which get the most attention. It can be a good idea to have these lectures on your shelf and read a corresponding lecture after finishing the book it is about.

In my book: 
A great read for everybody interested in Russian literature
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