November 26, 2015

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

Title: Use of Weapons
Author: Iain M. Banks
Rating: ★★★★★

This book, guys! It is so awesome I feel totally unequal to writing a review that would give it credit. But I'll try. It is my first Iain M. Banks novel, and I already know that I will read all of his books! Because wow!

The setting is a space-opera-style future, where the galaxy is dominated by the all-controlling Culture. It has something of the decadent late Roman empire smell to it, and being much more advanced technologically than the other nations, Culture also feels responsibility for all that is happening in any corner of the galaxy. Inevitably, they start meddling in another planets' affairs "for their own good" and "to prevent bigger evil". You can tell nothing good can ever come out of that right? Well, again, that depends on the definition of "good" :)

Anyway, as direct interference would not be subtle, Culture has special agents (and if you immediately think James Bond, you're not too far off :)), who infiltrate the planet in question and solve the problem. They are genius commanders and diplomats, trained in all possible arts of war, and besides they can live almost forever, their employer being able to resurrected them after any accidents... Zakalwe is one of them, and some say he's the best of them. He is also a very troubled man, and the reader needs to dig deep into his past to understand who he really is... only to have the last pages turn all your notions upside down in the most wonderfully brutal way.

The plot unravels in two directions: to the past and to the future. As we see more of Zakalwe's present actions, we also learn more about his past that brought him to this point in his life, and understand him better. Hopping between the past and present can be a bit confusing in the beginning, but when you get used to it, you cannot bear to stop reading. And I had an urge to re-read the whole thing immediately after I finished, to appreciate and admire again the complex architecture of the novel, in which every little thing matters and adds to the picture.

August 5, 2015

CYAN and Other Stories by Alina Cvetkova (Review)

Title: CYAN and Other Stories
Author: Alina Cvetkova
Rating: ★★★★☆

I now know a person who’s published a book! Exciting, right? The release party was two weeks ago, and it was also the first one I’ve ever participated in. I can confess I enjoy this kind of bookish socializing a lot! Drinking and readings and some performance - what can be better?

The book itself is a collection of short stories written in English and translated into Spanish, both versions included in the edition. Now, English is not Alina’s mother-tongue, but it’s so good it makes me green with envy, in a good sense, of course. I do know how hard it is to make what you write look effortless, and her writing is that and even more. I’m competitive as hell and always hate it when somebody wields a (foreign) language better than I do. Unless of course it’s a guy, and then it’s super-hot.

But I digress.

The stories are very short, sometimes only a page long, and vary in style on a range from Kafka to Nabokov in his German years. My favorite were the short Kafkaesque stories, weird and shocking. When you miss a metro stop not even because your are reading, but because you’ve just finished a story and are contemplating it, you know it’s a good one. The longer and more “normal” stories, even though sometimes a bit disconnected, parade a huge number of “Oh how true, I couldn’t have nailed it better!” moments. I really like these random observations, especially when they confirm your own and don’t sound banal at the same time.

I should probably mention that most of the stories are set in Barcelona and convey a rather specific mood prevailing in the city. I’m not a big fan of Barcelona right at the moment, because I got robbed on Saturday (a common thing here, but still you never think it’ll happen to you), but I expect this mood to pass and get back to a blissful feeling of love I normally have towards this city. Anyway, although some of the stories could have happened anywhere, for others Barcelona is a necessary and vibrant background, which adds a lot to the pleasure of reading them.

I must confess I was a little skeptical about the book, because it is of course a very amateurish crowd-funding endeavor and a first book at that. I was even prepared to (shock!) lie about how I liked it, because it’s a nice thing to do if an author is your friend. But really, I don’t need to, because the book is actually very good. So if you happen to be in Barcelona or just want to treat yourself to a piece of clever sunny weirdness, you can buy a copy HERE.

July 31, 2015

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Title: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Author: Rachel Joyce
Rating: ★★★★☆

When you move to a new city/country/place it’s hard to immediately make it feel like home. I’ve found that books help that a lot. So even though my suitcase space is extremely limited, and I’m staying in Barcelona for just 3 months, I’ve already bought 3 books in a wonderful second-hand bookshop Hibernian, which you should totally check out if you happen to be in Barcelona and are a book freak :) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of the books I immediately decided on buying, because I’ve heard only good things about it. Quite predictably, I was not disappointed.

The plot is reminiscent of that of The Pilgrim’s Progress (which I hated) but is much more secular and “modernized”. Harold Fry is an elderly man who once gets a letter from an old friend with whom he lost connection long ago. The friend writes that she’s in hospice with terminal cancer and sends her goodbyes. Harold, instead of penning a sufficiently compassionate and polite answer, decides to walk all the way from the south to the north of England, believing that while he’s doing this, his friend will live and wait for him. Being alone in the wild makes him re-think a lot of things in his life and he meets a lot of different people on the way and gives an ear to each of them. At home, his wife, shocked by his sudden departure, has her own thinking to do. After all, their family has been through a lot.

Sometimes the tone of the book verges on being too pathetic, but generally it’s casual enough to not irritate. Certain places are very touching, and there’s also a well-done unreliable narrator(s) aspect to the story. I love that! I also tend to enjoy the type of narratives in which protagonist meets all kinds of incidental acquaintances. It always amazes me how interesting people are if you approach them without prejudices and with an open mind.

July 26, 2015

(Already Traditional) Mini-Reviews, Part 2

Looking at these two bunches of mini-reviews, you can probably tell that I have not been much into serious lit this spring and summer :D But come on, sometimes mind-blowing Sci-Fi is just a better choice than those daunting 19-century chunksters :) 

Title: The Name of the Wind 
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I should listen to Riv more. She read it last year and wrote that the book is not as good as Goodreads and other reviews would you believe. It’s not that I don’t trust her opinion (I’m yet to discover a book on which our opinions differ significantly), but I still felt I have to read a book which gets so much hype. And well… I can see why people love it so much, but as for Riv, it also fell flat for me. I loved the magic system and the part at the university, but then the love story began and it was just so adolescent and ridiculous… And don’t even get me started on the pointless 200-page hang out in the forests with the draccus or whatever this thing is called. I also expected the book to have an ENDING, but apparently it cannot be read as a standalone novel. If the author thinks that would make me read the rest of the series… Um, no. Good writing and gripping plotline would do that, not failing to round-up a story even a little bit before the end of the first volume.

Title: The Night Circus 
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Rating: ★★★★☆

This novel should be made into a movie immediately! It screams for big screen special effects. Although the writing does an amazing job creating all this effects in your own head. Very atmospheric! Plotline… well, it exists, but it’s not the main point of the book. I feel that the characters and their relationships could have been written better, but as I’ve said, the book is amazing as it is!

Title: The Passage 
Author: Justin Cronin
Rating: ★★★★☆

The book reminds me a lot of The Girl with all the Gifts, although it should be vice versa, as The Passage was written before The Girl. That makes it two zombie apocalypse books that I’ve read and liked during this year, so I guess never say never? I don’t know what I expected from The Passage, but it was gripping and beautifully written and I spent more than one night not being able to put it down instead of getting some healthy sleep.

Title: L'amour dure trois ans (Love Lasts Three Years) 
Author: Frederic Beigbeder
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I’ve never read the guy before and most probably will never read him again. There is no literary merit in the book, the characters are just papier-mashe masks without any depth and the ideas are questionable in the least. It reads fast and there are some catchy phrases and aphorisms in it, but the novel gives you a feeling it was written to provide facebook status updates to people who like to put quotes there.

Title: The Universe Versus Alex Woods 
Author: Gavin Extence
Rating: ★★★★★

I loved this book!! It’s so poignantly sincere and kind… But not in a way SPECIFICALLY designed to jerk tears out of you. Everything is described very matter-of-factly and that’s why it’s so relatable and realistic. Alex is the best, really. The way he thinks is precious and I guess our world would be a much better place if everybody followed the same logic.

Title: Lexicon 
Author: Max Barry
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I think my biggest problem with this book was that I had unrealistically high expectations. I’ve always been intrigued by NLP techniques and I thought this novel would be about it. Instead, it’s much more fantastic and hard to believe. Also, I did not understand what was happening until I reached the middle of the book. In some cases it can be intriguing, but here it was rather irritating. Also, the ending was just… Meh. I don’t get it, really.

Title: Ancillary Justice
Author: Ann Leckie
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This novel is like a riddle: at first you don’t understand what is happening and get lost in a lot of new words and alien references, but then without any explicit explanation it all kinda starts making sense, and you feel the world taking shape around you, gradually and imperceptibly. It is a beautifully written book, and the idea is awesome, but somehow this time I do not appreciate not understanding what’s happening for such a long time. Have I mentioned my attention span tend to be really short lately? So I don’t have enough patience for this kind of story

So what so do you think about these books? Do you agree or disagree with my opinions? I'd like to hear both :-P

I'm preparing some longer reviews next, as my reading is getting back to normal pretty fast. Stay tuned and have a nice weekend!

July 21, 2015

(Already Traditional) Mini-Reviews, Part 1

As promised, here's the first batch of long-due mini-reviews :)

Title: The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Is it me or has Sir Arthur lost some of his flair for awesomeness after the first three short story collections? I guess he’s not to blame, as *spoiler alert* he honestly tried to kill Sherlock and not write about him anymore, and had only caved to extreme public pressure to resurrect him. Anyway, I don’t even remember any of the stories that stand out in this particular book… And some are repetitive of the ones in the earlier collections. Still, Sherlock is adorable, and anything about him is a great comfort read.

Title: Zoo City
Author: Lauren Beukes
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

This was January choice for Coursera Fantasy and Sci-Fi Book Club, and it was the first book we read together that I didn’t like. Maybe Southern African English and excessive use of slang words are to blame, but I never understood what was really happening in the book and WHY it was happening. You see, when you commit a crime there, they give you an animal mascot(?) that you can’t be separated from. “Animalled” people are considered lower class and live in some kind of slums. They are despised and also feared, as animals sometimes give them supernatural powers. Now I could have told you more, but as I’ve said, I’m clueless as to what the plot is and why this imaginary world functions like it does.

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Rating: ★★★★★ 

Oh, this book! If you think of it, the society structure is rather ridiculous and it’s hard to imagine how people can end up living like this, but the writing is so brilliant that the story totally makes sense and you don’t want to see any plot holes. Not much HAPPENS in the book per se, because things are not supposed to happen to a handmaid, but the descriptions and musings of the protagonist are so engrossing that you literally can’t put the book down. And the ending… Oh, I just love the ending!

Title: Changing Places
Author: David Lodge
Rating: ★★★★★

This is a very funny novel that just GETS academia life! Two professors, one from US and one from UK are on an international exchange program and have to spend half a year in each other’s shoes. Hilarity ensues as they battle cultural differences and discover their new selves. Ah, there’s nothing like a funny book about professors :)

Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Rating: ★★★★☆ 

An award winning hit, and yet I don’t wait a couple of years before reading it? Weird! But everybody in my feed was praising this novel, and besides the premise is awesome! There has been an epidemic, and 10 years after it the few people that are left alive are reduced to scavenging, hunting and primitive lifestyle in general. However, for some “survival is insufficient”, so a theater on wheels is travelling across Canada, performing what do you think? Shakespeare! Who apparently never goes out of fashion. The writing is beautiful, magical even, but the plot, although converging satisfactory in the end, is not without lapses. Like what about that menacing and pointless Prophet? I just don’t buy it.

Title: The Rosie Project
Author: Graeme Simsion
Rating: ★★★★★

Ah, what a sweet book! Apart from being hilarious, it’s also very optimistic and good-humored. It just makes you feel good, especially if you are partial to weird scientists and happen to know a lot of them, even though such grave cases of social awkwardness are unlikely to exist in real life.

Title: The Lives of Tao
Author: Wesley Chu
Rating: ★★★★☆

This is a very enjoyable and fun read. A tad bit too much pathos in the end to my taste, but the dialogues! They are awesome. Also, I can’t help wishing for an all-knowing and wise alien sitting in my head and pushing me to greatness. Maybe then I’d actually run in the mornings!!

Title: Москва - Петушки (Moscow to the End of the Line)
Author: Venedict Erofeev
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

I just wish it was possible to format the part of my brain that remembers this book. It’s really postmodernist and unusual… for the first 5 pages. Then it gets repetitive, boring and straight mad.

So that's it! A really mixed bag of books, some being awesome 5-star ones and some ending up on my hate list... Part 2, covering my reading adventures from the end of April to current time is coming soon :)

July 20, 2015

Hello again :)

Hello dear internet people if you are still here somewhere :) It feels like it’s time to start blogging again and it seems like I might have enough time and energy for it in the coming period of my life. I haven’t been here for half a year and A LOT has happened in this time, most of the changes being very welcome.
  • I’ve finally started renting a room in the city instead of staying in the dorms. So yay washing machine, I hope I’ll never have to wash my clothes with my hands again. My neighbours are kinda crazy, but whatever, there is a park nearby and the city center is close. I’ve also bought a sofa and a table and feel very grown up now!
  • I’ve fallen in love and it felt like getting back to life after a long period of being emotionally impotent. It didn’t work out and there were some bad feelings but I’m grateful anyway. I feel like my palate is cleaned now before the real stuff :)
  • I’ve moved to the sunny Barcelona for a 3-month internship and I love it SO MUCH here!! The sea is a 5 min walk away from my new office, and the people here are so awesome and relaxed! Besides, my Spanish is getting better now that I’m actually using it. There's a pic of the awesome Costa Brava below to give you a glimpse of the awesome area I'm living in now <3
Of course I was reading during this time, but there was so much stuff happening in real life that more often than not I felt like I couldn’t concentrate on the things I read about and ended up not caring about stories which would otherwise have greatly intrigued me. But some great books have come my way since I last had enthusiasm to share my thoughts here, so it would be unfair not to share the experience with you dear readers. That’s why I already have a collections of mini-reviews prepared for posting in the nearest future, and I hope the local second-hand bookstore (Hibernian, if anyone is curious) will provide me with more awesome reading material soon :)

February 8, 2015

One Day by David Nicholls

Title: One Day
Author: David Nicholls
First published: 2009
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

I don't usually read romance novels, and I was a bit sceptical about this one, especially as I knew how it all will end from the movie (which is great, BTW). But surprisingly enough I really enjoyed the novel. And even cried a bit, because I tend to get all tearful in all the intended places... I'm very easy to manipulate that way. Maybe that's why I don't read romance often. Anyways...

The plot spans nearly twenty years of the very complicated will-they-won't-they relationship of a "librarian type" girl and a "golden boy". Somehow they can't let go of each other while building their so very different lives separately and with all the wrong people.

The characters are a bit cliche, but their dialogues are great and funny. You can feel how well they work together and you just want to punch them in the face and tell them to stop being stupid and be together already. They are cute, really, although irritating too. That's why they feel so real. It is also palpable how they grow up through the novel, from irresponsible 20-years-olds to 40-something with the household problems and children.

In my book:
Want romance? Here's the quintessential romantic book, and a pretty good one at that.

January 26, 2015

My Precioussss...

Hi sweeties! It has just arrived, and I want to share with you the best birthday present ever! I bought it myself, because if you don't treat yourself to awesome things, who would? :)

This is the 60th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings in hardcover with illustrations by Alan Lee!! It weighs 2.5 kilos and is breathtakingly beautiful!

And here's how happy I am about it!

Happy birthday to me from me, hehe :)

January 16, 2015

Never Let Anyone Recommend You A Book...

...even if you like the person very much. I've always followed the rule, and recently I've been reminded, WHY exactly. The guy that recommended me Wizard's First Rule is smart and funny and educated and generally great and I have zero idea how is he able to read and re-read (for sanity's sake!) this series and find it interesting and elaborate and philosophical. Should I be worried? :D

Title: Wizard's First Rule
Author: Terry Goodkind
First published: 1994
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Let's go through why it was bed with the help of bullets, OK?

  • It's long. Soooo long. When I saw that the book is over 800 pages, I braced myself. I reasoned that I've raced through much bigger books in several days, and this one is fantasy so it should be fine. It was not fine. It was slow from the beginning. What made things worse, I could see through everything which was going to happen, so there was no reason for me to be anxious about reading further. 
  • Usually I'm OK with some cliches. The (ignorant but very smart and super-tough and good-looking) chosen one - fine. A weird wizard - fine. A girl with a secret with which the main hero falls in love but can never be together because of reasons - fine. Nothing is new under the sun anyway. But OMG, can there be at least SOMETHING original? The bad guys were so cartoon it was impossible to take them seriously. And of course they can't delegate tasks and need to kill everybody themselves. While riding a dragon. And with no reason whatsoever. 
  • There's so much unnecessary sickening detail! I'm OK with it if it's really necessary. I read and enjoy Martin, after all. But I saw no reason for introducing anybody like Mord-Sith to the story for example. Especially because what follows is 50 pages of torture description. It's as if the author enjoys it and wants to shock public, is all. No benefit for the plot...
  • And here we come to the plot. It's a mess. There is magic in the book, and it works interestingly. It is all explained and you expect that you know the rules. But then you suddenly discover that everybody can be saved by something that JUST HAVEN'T BEEN MENTIONED BEFORE and it changes everything. It doesn't happen once, it happens always. It's cheating and it's not fair. I will not even mention the good timing of everybody, who appear exactly in the right moment to save somebody in grave need
  • It's repetitive. The dialogues are good and funny and clever, but every dialogue eventually comes to discussing the Machiavellian notion of the end justifying the means and reminding everybody around that they can't hesitate to kill, even the closest friends, if they may pose a danger to their objective of killing the Bad Guy. Seriously, I can get how tragic it is just from a couple of repetitions.

As I've mentioned, I liked the dialogues, and political games were very believable, but this was not enough to redeem the time I spent facepalming the plot and the characters.

January 4, 2015

2014 End of Year Book Survey

I've been pondering which format I want to adopt for my review of 2014 reading, and found this wonderful survey HERE. I thought it's a great idea to participate, even though I may skip some questions :)

Number Of Books You Read:

81. Not too shabby, but there were quite a few comics, so it's not as much as it seems. But considering all the stuff that happened this year, I'm still proud of myself! :)

Number of Re-Reads:

6. That's actually a lot for me, as I don't re-read often. But sometimes you just need some comfort reads!

Genre You Read The Most From:

Oh, that's difficult! I don't keep track of genres, but I think Sci-Fi and Fantasy are leading :)

Best Book You Read In 2014?

Not counting re-reads and sequels, here's the leader board:

Goldman, William: The Princess Bride

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Here are the two biggest disappointments of this year:

Gaiman, Neil: American Gods

Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014?

I think it was The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. Because I don't usually read "zombie" books, but this one was amazing!

I've also discovered two great comics: Sandman and Y: The Last Man. I loved both and now I don't look down to comics any more!

Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2014?

Easy! The Martian by Andy Weir! Two of my colleagues have already read and loved it and several more are still reading! :) It spreads like plague!

Best series you started in 2014? Best Sequel of 2014? Best Series Ender of 2014?

I've read the first of Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive series, The Way of Kings, and I'm hooked up enough to continue reading!

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?

The most beautiful was the cover to The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch:

Most beautifully written book read in 2014?

The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov and Amsterdam by Ian McEvan. They are not called classics for nothing!

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read?

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins! I guess the hype frightened me...

Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

The longest is, of course, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, and the shortest is Historia Brittonum by Nennius

Book That Shocked You The Most

I read books 4 and 5 of A Song of Ice and Fire this year, so guess who shocked me most ;) 'cause he always does.

Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Locke and Jean in The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch!! They are SO AWESOME.

Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Definitely The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson! I have no idea how can one imagine a world like this

Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Again, The Martian by Andy Weir! The guy is awesome!

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2014?

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan. Ah, the ending!

Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

I can't decide between Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Seduction by M.J. Rose. Both incredibly stupid!

So here's how my 2014 looked like reading-wise :) I'm grateful for all the good discoveries of the year and all the time I spent engrossed in a great story. Hope 2015 will be even better! :)

January 3, 2015

Catching Up On 2014 Reviews

Hi everybody and congratulations on the New Year! :) I hope your holiday season was as fun as mine and you had a good rest and quality family time!

Today I've come back from my trip to Sofia to see a very good friend and fellow fantasy geek. It was awesome! We cooked, made cocktails, discussed everything in the world and binge-watched the director's cut of LOTR. What can be better? :)

Yes, there's Balrog on the screen :)

Now I finally have some time to wrap up year 2014, and I'll start with mini-reviews of the rest of the books I managed to read in the end of the year. Then I'll probably try to catch up on over-500 posts in my RSS feed... Oh well, maybe not :)

Title: Amsterdam
Author: Ian McEwan
First published: 1998
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

I started to read Amsterdam on my way to Amsterdam, but didn't finish it until a week after the trip. And it's OK, because it's not about the city at all :) I have always been curious about Ian McEwan, and I can say I've enjoyed his writing a lot. He is a great psychologist, and his descriptions of thoughts and feelings of the two main characters felt so real it was hard to believe it's only fiction. But as if to mock a reader who by this point already trusts McEwan as a great expert in human nature, there is such an unbelievable twist in the end of the novel that it left me embarrassed.  

In my book:
Great writing and character study.

Title: The Way of Kings
Author: Brandon Sanderson
First published: 2010
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

For the first 100-200 pages of this huge novel, which is part of even huger series, I had no idea what was happening and wanted to stop reading. I survived, though, and it appeared it was worth the time and struggle, as by the end of the book I was quite unable to put it down. The greatest thing about the book is the world-building. There's a totally different biology, physics and social structure, and it's all very fitting and works well together... but not before you really get into it. And this doesn't happen very soon. Strictly speaking, it wouldn't hurt if the book was shorter, but as I've said, in the end I came to appreciate it anyway :)

In my book:
Worth the time, but make sure you have a lot of it at hand before starting this mammoth :))

Title: High Fidelity
Author: Nick Hornby
First published: 1995
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

The intro, where the main character recaps his past heartbreaks is awesome! I've even read it twice. Then, however, some music records nerdiness starts (as the narrator is a fan and owns a record shop), which I can't appreciate due to my utter lack of knowledge or interest on the subject. Overall, the writing is great, and at times the novel is very funny, but when you think of it, the main character is really very sad and unlikable, and the ending is kinda... meh.

In my book:
Fun and entertaining, but makes you think nevertheless. Just skip the music parts :)

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
First published: 2009
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I think I might have loved this book if I read it at the age of 12 or so (I loved children's detective novels!), but for a grown-up there's not enough of mystery or character depth or humor. It's a sweet little novel, and the main heroine is pretty bad-ass, but it's not very gripping overall.

In my book:
Pick up for a total brain relax or as a present to your kid.
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