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
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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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX

Art used for banners is the property of Abigail Larson
It's this gloomy and depressing time of the year again (although in my part of the world the weather has already been autumnal for the whole August), and Carl is hosting his annual event for reading all things scary, including mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, Gothic, horror and supernatural genres. If you are interested, HERE is a sign-up post.

I'm in a bi-i-i-ig reading slump right now, so I'll aim low and take up only Peril the Second level, which involves reading only two books. And here's what I'll (hopefully) read for the challenge:

I bought them half a year ago at a used books sale and it's high time to finally read them! I think I'll start with Gaiman, 'cause it's thinner and because I've recently regained my faith in him after several issues of Sandman.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Language Freak Summer Challenge: Finish Line!

Hi, sweeties! Summer is over (can you believe it??) and it means it's time to wrap up this year's Language Freak Summer Challenge!

We did it! We've read quite some books in many (9!) different languages, and hopefully have brushed up our language skills and got more motivation to study! I truly admire your effort and thank you for your participation! I'd be happy to have you all as participants next summer!

As a host, I want to apologize for not being active enough myself, but this summer was not the best time in my life, so I slacked a lot. I'm so grateful for the enthusiasm of other participants, which kept the challenge rolling and helped me find motivation!

As usual, I'm giving you a grace period until Sept. 7. to finish your reviews. I'll add them to this review list at the end of next week. So if you've read something and haven't had time to write about it, use the time :)

Below, as usual, are all our reviews sorted by language. Note that August reviews have been marked by NEW!!! Please check that all your reviews are there and I haven't forgotten to include something!

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

Hoši od Bobří řeky (Boys from Beaver River) by Jaroslav Foglar (me) - NEW!!!

The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano (English) (Dutch) (Anja Kasap @ Reading 2011 (and Beyond))  - NEW!!!

Nuits de Juin by Victor Hugo (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)
Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)
Délicieusement Cru par Judita Wignall (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)
La Parure (The Necklace) par Guy de Maupassant (Cleo @ Classical Carousel) - NEW!!!
La Canne de Jonc - Alfred de Vigny (Anja Kasap @ Reading 2011 (and Beyond)) - NEW!!!
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (alwaysopinionatedgirl) - NEW!!!

Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai by Heinrich Heine (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)
Krabat, by Otfried Preußler (Carola @ brilliant years)

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (Carola @ brilliant years)  - NEW!!!

Ferdinandus Taurus - Munro Leaf (Cleo @ Classical Carousel) - NEW!!!

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

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

Thank you for your participation and see you next summer!

Hoši od Bobří řeky by Jaroslav Foglar (Review)

Title: Hoši od Bobří řeky (Boys from Beaver River)
Author: Jaroslav Foglar
First published: 1958
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

It's a shame, really, but I've finished only one book for my own Language Freak challenge, and I had been planning on finishing at least four! Well, life happens. This only book is in Czech, and it was far from enjoyable. I finished it only because I had borrowed it from a friend (more than a year ago!) who told me it was his favourite book when he was a boy. I can't see how this book can be somebody's favourite, but at least now I can give it back with clean conscience.

The book is essentially a propaganda of the "soviet pioneer" ideals. For those of you not familiar with the movement, they are somewhat like scouts. So there is this young man who apparently has no job and nothing else to do except to entertain and brainwash boys. He takes them on a short trip to the forest and tells them some weird story about a frontier guy who was very sporty and cool, lived in a forest, was friendly with Indians and then died. And the guys become eager to be more like him, to which end they spend all summer camping in the nature trying to pass this man's tests of their strength, knowledge, good behaviour, courage, etc. The book even has specifications for these tests in the end of each chapter, so that the reader can do them himself.

Brainwashing is very strong in this book, and you know I can't stand it. So I was eye-rolling most of the time. I can't see why the author couldn't be more subtle with introducing his agenda. Moreover, I may be too spoiled by the modern world, but this leader of the group is a weirdo. Why is he doing all this? Who pays him? Where does he get money? How come he settles up a sect, and none of the parents are worried? How can they let their children go off for the whole summer to live with this man? I would soooo not trust him with my child!! Another problem of the book is an utter absence of girls. They are not mentioned ONCE! Not in school, not in the streets, the boys don't even think of them. It's as if no girls exist at all. First, is it even possible or healthy? Second, why can't girls also participate in all the "adventures" and try to become sportier, cleverer, etc.? Discrimination!

In my book:
I know I picked it up only to practice my Czech, but I'd prefer it to me more literature than propaganda.

P.S. I'll probably add a review in Czech here some time soon, but I'll need to first check it with my Czech teacher :)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Review)

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
First published: 2011
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

As an avowed geek, I couldn't just go past this book, but I was not sure if I'd like it. You see, what often happens when I read about technology is that I see how implausible it is, and it spoils everything for me. The drawbacks of being a programmer. So I'm always hesitant to pick up books set in a virtual reality or having a lot of computer stuff in them. But I've decided that millions of geeks can't be wrong, and took the risk :) Needless to say, I never once regretted it!

As you have probably heard, the plot revolves around the death of the creator of OASIS - a huge immersive MMORPG which has become the only solace of the humankind after some massive ecological disasters. In his will he tells that his fortune is to be passed to whoever finds the Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in OASIS. Given that the guy is a sociopath with a fixation on the 80th, the egg hunters have to study his areas of interest (which is everything from vintage text games to movies to music) for clues.

The author is clearly an expert on the retro stuff he mentions. I can't claim to know much about the 80th, because I'm too young for that, so I probably didn't catch half of the references while reading, but Cline's descriptions of the old pop culture phenomena are really accurate. I don't doubt he has played all the mentioned games himself. The structure and the rules of OASIS are also very believable, and I couldn't find any major flaws that would make me moan "come on, nobody would program THIS!"

The main character is of course a socially weird teenager whose interests and friends are all online. Of course, he finds the first clue and of course there is a girl. Well, at least her avatar is female. And of course there are bad guys with a lot of resources who are also immensely stupid. This probably gives you a good picture of the plot and anybody can figure out how the book ends :) But don't be too rush to judge! There are some unexpected plot twists, and it's gripping and believable, and it's still a pleasure to see that gun hanging on the wall firing exactly when you expect it to.

I would have gladly given it 5 stars if not for some minor plot inconsistencies that my obsessive nature just couldn't ignore.


Stuff which I had problems with:
1) Nobody could find the first clue for 5 years, and their only problem was that they couldn't figure out where to start searching. And the answer is so obvious it was the only thing I guessed on my own before the "big revelation" was made. Seriously? How is it even statistically possible that several million people haven't guessed something I figured out in 2 mins without any previous knowledge?? Could it be something really difficult instead?
2) Wade is a user. OK, he may be good at fixing hardware he finds in trash. But he's NOT a programmer. It's never mentioned that he is. HOW COME he became a brilliant hacker overnight just to break into a very well protected corporate network?? It's NOT possible!!! You can play games online really well, but that doesn't make you a network security expert
3) After their failure to get info out of Wade, why did they not threaten other scoreboard leaders? They knew where they lived, right? Instead they went to Japan and messed with the guy who was on the fourth position and was not a threat. It would be much easier to track Art3mis. Only the author had to keep the main hero's crash safe...
If you have some explanation for this, please share! :)


In my book:
A great book to make your geeky second (or first) nature happy! Recommended to anyone who has played a computer game at least once in his/her life :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Le Morte D'Arthur Readalong!

Today I want to draw your attention to a wonderful readalong hosted by Jean at Howling Frog Books this late autumn! Le Morte D'Arthur is a classic, and a very thick one, so it's a great idea to have company to read it. If you are interested, please head to the INTRODUCTION POST to learn more about the book and join the fun!

I can't wait to start! :)

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (Review)

Title: The Prince
Author: Niccolò Machiavelli
First published: 1532
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I don't know why I picked The Prince in the first place: I'm not a fan of political writing or non-fiction, but the mood stroke me and I downloaded it. The book is very short and, although it was written in the 16th century, very accessible. It's essentially a self-help for rulers, stating what are the best ways to gain and retain power, how to approach different problems and to manage different social strata of the kingdom.

Machiavelli is unscrupulous and ruthless, but his methods seem to be really effective. Anyway, what do a hundred dozen dead people mean if it leads to a greater prosperity of the kingdom? :) It is difficult to support his views from the modern point of view, but it's very interesting to explore his reasoning anyway.

Machiavelli was writing The Prince at the time when Italy didn't have a common ruler, and powerful families, the Pope and foreign kings all competed for influence in different regions. Along with the classical examples taken from Roman history Machivelli also uses contemporary situation to explain his views, which makes the book a great source of historical information. Luckily, I was a bit acquainted with Italian politics of the time (thanks to The Borgias! -_-), so it was much easier for me to make sense of what was being referred to. But no previous knowledge is necessary to be able to enjoy the book. (Although if you go and binge-watch The Borgias, you will not regret it!)

In my book:
An essential classic, especially if you are interested in history, philosophy and politics.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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