miércoles, 24 de septiembre de 2014

Night Film - Marisha Pessl

Summary (from Goodreads):

Everybody has a Cordova story. Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn't been seen in public since 1977. To his fans he is an engima. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father.

On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty.

For McGrath, another death connected to the legendary director seems more than a coincidence. Driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid.
The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lost his grip on reality.


Marisha Pessl's Night Film has been marketed as an scary thiller. I enjoyed the book, but let me tell you something: it is neither thrilling nor scary. The story starts with the dubious suicide of Ashley Cordova soon after investigative reporter Scott McGrath has a ghostly encounter with her. Convinced that Ashley was trying to reach out for help, Scott starts investigating her death. There are also personal motives fueling this decision, since the enigmatic Stanislas Cordova had destroyed Scott's reputation some years before her daughter's death, and Scott can't help but think the two events are somehow related.


The starting point of the book is quite intriguing. Was it really a suicide? What happened to Ashley Cordova? Who is Stanislas Cordova and why is he so secluded? Is it all linked to a series of children abductions which happened during the eighties? And yet, with such a cool mystery, the story never picks up its pace, never grips the reader. The novel mixes dark magic, curses, drugs, and cults. [A little note here: if you are going to use Spanish because your character have a Hispanic background, double check the grammar and the spellings. Spanish is my native language, and the mistake-ridden sentences were driving me mad. Also, Cordova wouldn't be a Spanish surname, much less a Catalonian one.]

Pessl offers a choose your own ending approach - a sane, logical and safe ending, or a magical one. I saw this from a mile, and this is not because I'm good at picking up clues - the investigation is really convoluted in this novel. It is because the clues mean nothing to the real mystery, which is if Scott is living his life or a film version directed by Stanislas Cordova himself, and this is so blatant it isn't even a mystery. Yup, Ashley's death is not really that important. As a mystery, Night Film is a very ineffectual one.

It is clever, though. Marisha Pessl is quite clever and she knows it, so the story can be indulgent at some points. She has constructed a story of layers upon layers, and a whole mythos about the fictional cult director Stanislas Cordova, which is by far the most interesting part ot Night Film. Each of his films has a plot and some relevance to the overall story - Pessl has created a dozen of stories within the bigger story, and these fictional films are things I would like to see, but with my hands covering my eyes. They felt more interesting than Ashley Cordova's death or Scott's crumbling life. Pessl has also created a convincing world around the director, complete with a secret network, secret clubs, a scary mansion, and magazine articles on his life. These felt a bit gimmicky, but they eventually added something to a story that would have been slightly clichéd otherwise. On the other hand, I hated the app which supposedly adds extra content to the book. It honestly didn't work well in my phone, and I didn't want to wait for the app to work to be able to continue with my story. If a novel isn't well-paced in the first place, don't add a cumbersome obstacle which will harm the pace even more. Just saying. I ended up not caring about the extra content.

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

miércoles, 17 de septiembre de 2014

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

Summary (from Goodreads):

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

Gone Girl was last year's summer hit novel, but I never found the time to read it then. Partly because I didn't want the hype to guide my reading. So I waited a whole year to read it on my own terms, and I'm glad I did.

Before starting the novel, I knew it was about the disappearance of Amy Dunne, half of a dysfunctional marriage, and that I was in for a surprise. So I knew that things wouldn't be as simple as they seemed at the start of the novel. And yet I can't say knowing this spoiled the story - I really couldn't stop reading, and I didn't foresee the ending. This was a page-turner like no other I have ever read.

Gillian Flynn has created horrid characters - both Amy and Nick have their own set of very important problems, and I wouldn't like to meet them in real life. Reading the dissection of their crumbling marriage is like watching a train wreck. It is awful, but you won't stop looking. With every page, it gets worse, but more gripping - Gillian Flynn has masterfully created two characters you love to hate. It is the first time that a story about another middle/high-class mess of a marriage has kept me on edge. I raked my brain over the to-ing and fro-ing, over Nick's lies and Amy's diary and clues, and I loved the ending. While it is true that it is a bit anti-climatic, specially for such a well-written thriller, it is smart, a Mexican stand-off of sorts. I am curious about the new ending Flynn has written for the film, because I was quite happy with this one.

I also liked the descriptions of life in North Carthage, Nick's relationship with Margo, his fear of becoming his father, the poverty and the abuse and the precarious situation of the people living in this town, the Amazing Amy stories, and the vacuous New York friends. Everyone has their own very believable voice, and everyone has their own bleak story. Gillian Flynn definitely knows how to write, and I can't wait to get my hands on her backlist.

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

viernes, 12 de septiembre de 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

In "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still struggling to adapt to the modern world, but he is better adjusted than at the end of "The First Avenger", and he is getting up to date with historical events and pop culture. He still misses the friendships he lost - the scene with Peggy was one of the most heartbreaking, as was his visit to the Smithsonian exhibit about Captain America and Bucky Barnes.

At S.H.I.E.L.D. everything continues as it always has, but the Captain is starting to have trouble trusting Nick Fury's orders, which is a first for this super soldier. His superior is definitely not telling him the whole story, and everything gets more complicated when Nick is killed by a mysterious man who goes by the name of Winter Soldier.


In a quest to uncover what is really happening at S.H.I.E.L.D. and whether Hydra was defeated during World War Two, the Captain enlists the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).

This film is definitely darker than "The First Avenger", and leads the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to a more serious place than other Avenger films - corruption within S.H.I.E.L.D., questioning authority, and facing bad choices. We see everyone opening up - it is wonderful. At the same time, the Captain doesn't lose his kindness and his silly one-liners.

The lack of women in the MCU has been widely criticised, but it seems that they are finally doing something about it! They still have a long way to go, although I'm glad this movie is a starting point - women have played more prominent roles than in the past. Besides Black Widow, we have two agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who have more or less important parts in the development of the events. I just hope they continue exploring women heroes and superheroes in the next films of the MCU, so that we can finally have a film focused on a superheroine.

miércoles, 10 de septiembre de 2014

The Pillow Book - Sei Shōnagon

Summary (from Goodreads):

Japan in the 10th century stood physically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world. Inside this bubble, a subtle and beautiful world was in operation, and its inhabitants were tied to the moment, having no interest in the future and disdain for the past. In a small diary, a young courtesan of the Heian period gives her account of the Japanese courts of the day, providing perspective on a unique time in Japanese history. In a place and time where poetry was as important as knowledge and beauty was highly revered, Sei Shōnagon's private writings give the reader a charming and intimate glimpse into a time of isolated innocence and pale beauty.

The Pillow Book is a collection of lists, random thoughts and specially moving events jotted down by the Japanese Lady Sei Shōnagon. The structure of the book was not exactly my favourite, since the little snippets were all over the place. They were not organised chronologically or thematically, and that made for a confusing reading experience at times. However, that is the only quibble I had with this book.

Sei had a very sharp mind, and her observations of 10th-century Japanese court are a wonderful and enjoyable glimpse to the past. Her style is very delicate, excepting the pieces about the working and middle classes, for whom she had a blind disregard. Her snobbery was often comical, as when she went on a pilgrimage to a temple and would not stand praying near commoners. Aesthetics was very important in the life of medieval Japanese aristocrats, and many rituals were followed to focus on the beauty of mundane things. She even talks about how a lover who leaves the bed in the morning too fast spoils the whole beauty of the affair. It was worse if he did not write the 'morning letter', which was a missive sent immediately after the man arrived home the next morning expressing his love and his marvel at the grace of his lover. Or if he wrote it with bad calligraphy or in the wrong paper. Letters and poetry were extremely important in the court, to the point were both abilities could make or destroy a career.

The Pillow Book has shown me how surprisingly liberal Japanese nobility was regarding sex and women rights, at least judging by our standards. It was common for a high rank woman to have several lovers, and her own palace. Working at the court meant a high degree of independence that could not be easily attained in the provinces, so girls were encouraged to serve the Empress at least for a short period of time, in order to be more worldly. I also enjoyed the customs and legends, but my favourite pieces were definitely the lists - lists of beautiful things, lists of things which make a clean impression versus things which make a dirty impression, lists of appropriate subjects for poetry, and many more. It amazed me, for its beauty and its oddity. I really enjoyed reading this book - it has been a refreshing read.

lunes, 8 de septiembre de 2014

55 Quirky Questions for Readers

I saw this at Luna's Little Library a couple of weeks ago and it looked interesting, so I'm giving it a try. The questions originated from The Literary Lollipop.

1. Favourite childhood book:
Any tale by Beatrix Potter. I had (and still have!) one of those fancy Complete Tales edition, and might have read it hundreds of times. I had a penchant for traditional fairy tales (The Snow Queen and The Vain Little Mouse were some of my favourites). I also loved Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, and Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree StoriesHarry Potter also has a special place in my heart, but it wasn't so much a childhood book as a book I grew up and matured with.

2. What are you reading right now?
Saplings by Noel Streatfeild.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None at the moment.

4. Bad book habit:
I crack the spines. Please don't throw stones at me. It really bothers me when you can't open a book and read it properly. You know, when you have to tilt your head just so in order to read the very last words on each sentence of the left page and the very first words on each sentence of the right page. What is the use of pristine books if I can't read their content? I think that's why I like dust jackets so much - they hide the mess after I'm finished.

miércoles, 3 de septiembre de 2014

Nada - Carmen Laforet

Summary (from Goodreads): 

Eighteen-year-old Andrea moves to Barcelona to stay with relatives she has not seen in years while she pursues her dream of studying at university. Arriving in the dead of night she discovers not the independence she craves, but a crumbling apartment and an eccentric collection of misfits whose psychological ruin and violent behaviour echoes that of the recent civil war.

As the tension between the family members grows in claustrophobic intensity, Andrea finds comfort in a friendship with Ena, a girl from university whose gilded life only serves to highlight the squalor of Andrea's own experiences. But what is the secret of the relationship between Ena and Andrea's predatory uncle, Roman, and what future can lie ahead for Andrea in such a bizarre and disturbing world?


Nada is hard to review, especially given how slim it is.

I have wanted to read this novel for quite some time - it is a Spanish classic written and set in the aftermath of Civil War, a period of history I don't know much about, too recent to be objectively taught at Spanish schools. After all, people from the previous generation lived a good chunk of their lives under a dictatorship, and the country still bears some wounds from the War.

Nada is a good window to the past. While Civil War is not at the focus of this story, it looms over the characters like a storm. Andrea, newly arrived in Barcelona from the country, is a war orphan. Her relatives are all marked by the war, one way or the other. Her stay at the family apartment on Aribau is marked by all kind of shortages, contributing to the dense and asphixiating atmosphere that permeates the novel. Hunger takes on a predominantly role in Andrea's life, informing her life choices and sparking the conflicts with her family. Andrea debilitates day after day of that first year in Barcelona. She doesn't exactly mature, but wilts in that claustrophobic ambiance. She feels it is impossible to extricate herself from that thick tangle of miseries, and so the wide-eyed innocent girl thirsty for knowledge and life experiences gives way to a wiry young woman who ruminates over every thought and every feeling. The novel goes inward, instead of forward, yet it never fails being intriguing.

Family secrets are as abundant as food is lacking. Andrea is determined to avoid them at all costs, until her friend Ena casually meets Andrea's uncle, Roman, a former violinist prodigy with a history of violence. Ena comes from a different social class - she is wealthy and bright. She is the only ray of light in Andrea's life. Understandably, Andrea wants to save Ena from the curse that is her family. She is desperate to keep Ena unsullied, yet Ena can't help to feel fascinated by Roman. The tension between the three was electric, and it kept me glued to the pages. The rest of the characters are powerful expressions of the different forms of desolation and shame that were ever present in Spanish postwar landscape - her self-righteous aunt Angustias, her suffering grandmother, the crumbling marriage of Juan and Gloria, the petty maid Antonia, and Andrea's circle of friends composed of rich boho artists wannabes who hypocritically laud poverty. All of them unforgettable, all of them sad.

Laforet dissected every aspect of this alienated family, writing one of the best existentialist novels I've ever read. She is able to fully immerse in the story and carry the reader with her. I really felt oppressed while reading Nada. When I finished the book, it was like gulping for fresh air after being underwater for too long. And that is what I liked best about it.

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

lunes, 1 de septiembre de 2014

August in Review

August has been a great month regarding personal life. My job position has changed for the better (I start my new job tomorrow!), I've been on holiday, done bookish things, and read a lot. Unfortunately, it hasn't translated well into the blog. It hasn't been completely abandoned, though:



What did I really finish during August, then?



19. Le Soleil d'Olympie by Jean Séverin (1967, YA historical fiction)
20. Nada by Carmen Laforet (1944, existentialist novel)
21. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012, thriller)
22. The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon (1002, memoir)
23. Night Film by Marisha Pessl (2013, thriller)
September will be a month for changes. Aside from the new position, I'm going to move to a slightly bigger place (more space = more books!). I don't know exactly how much reading I'll get done, and I don't want to turn reading into a stressful activity, so there are no specific goals for this month - just have fun reading! Some of the books I'm planning to get out of the TBR list are:
  • The 19th of March and the 2nd of May by Benito Pérez Galdós
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
  • The Arachnids by Félix J. Palma

domingo, 31 de agosto de 2014

Wigs on the Green - Nancy Mitford

Summary (from Goodreads):

Nancy Mitford’s most controversial novel, unavailable for decades, is a hilarious satirical send-up of the political enthusiasms of her notorious sisters, Unity and Diana.

Written in 1934, early in Hitler’s rise, Wigs on the Green lightheartedly skewers the devoted followers of British fascism. The sheltered and unworldy Eugenia Malmain is one of the richest girls in England and an ardent supporter of General Jack and his Union Jackshirts. World-weary Noel Foster and his scheming friend Jasper Aspect are in search of wealthy heiresses to marry; Lady Marjorie, disguised as a commoner, is on the run from the Duke she has just jilted at the altar; and her friend Poppy is considering whether to divorce her rich husband. When these characters converge with the colorful locals at a grandly misconceived costume pageant that turns into a brawl between Pacifists and Jackshirts, madcap farce ensues. Long suppressed by the author out of sensitivity to family feelings, Wigs on the Green can now be enjoyed by fans of Mitford’s superbly comic novels.


Once more, I found myself enjoying one of Nancy Mitford's comedy of manners. While I don't think Wigs on the Green is her best novel, this Mitford sister always succeeds at engaging and entertaining the reader with the convoluted to-ing and fro-ing and the witty banter between characters. Here she might have gone a little bit over the top with romantic tangles, but her acid humor makes up for it:
She listened calmly while the suggestion was being made, and then said that it was too unlucky, but Queen Charlotte's dress was now finished, and could never be altered to fit Lady Marjorie, as there were no means of letting out the seams on the hips and round the waist.[...] Poppy said at the time to Mrs Lace that as she looked exactly like Queen Charlotte, she was quite right to keep the part. Unfortunately, owing to its target's total ignorance of English history, this Parthian shaft went wide of the mark.
One thing I love is that her set of main characters is usually more or less small, and thus a manageable one, but she finds the way to sneak in other characters from previous novels as secondary characters, as is the case with MP Captain Chadlington and Lady Brenda. Isn't it great to get updates on the lives of characters you cared about before? I get giddy when I spot the references.

The best part of Wigs on the Green is that it serves as a small window to the past, to a pre-WWII UK, when Nazis weren't yet a threat. I have to say I cringed at some of the statements making light-hearted fun of Hitler, but I live in a post-WWII world. And it is surprising how easily the British nobility accepted and even welcomed fascism. Of course, the Mitford family is a good example as any, and Nancy Mitford didn't even try to disguise she was using her own sisters as characters. The young Eugenia Malmains is a slightly more histrionic version of Unity Mitford, while Diana might have inspired Poppy. I wonder whether the pacifist artists had traces of Jessica. It is no wonder that the publication of this novel caused a riot inside the Mitford family. While it is generally accepted that Nancy was making fun of her sisters, I don't think she was really aiming at hurting them. Strained as their relationship was, they still were the Mitford sisters, in unison. After all, the divorce of Poppy/Diana doesn't have bad consequences, and the Union Jackshirts/fascist triumph in a way. In the end, Nancy retired Wigs on the Green from the market, and it hasn't been republished until recently.

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

miércoles, 20 de agosto de 2014

The Classics Spin #7 Winner

The spin number is 17! That means the winner is The 19th of March and the 2nd of May by Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós! 


The Third of May 1808 - Francisco Goya
Source: Wikipedia Commons

I'm really happy about this result, since it is one of the books I most wanted to read. It is the third novel on the National Episodes saga. I've reviewed the first two this year (here and here, in case you are interested). Unfortunately, they aren't translated into English (yet?), so I don't think many of you classics clubbers will have read this one. And that is a shame!

lunes, 18 de agosto de 2014

Bout of Books 11: Goals & Updates

Bout of Books

It is my first Bout of Books readathon, so I will concentrate on reading and reviewing and won't be too hard on challenges. I know my goals are unrealistic, but I want to push myself. If I don't complete them, it will still be a better week than usual.

I will be updating this master post every day with the number of pages read and the number of books and reviews I complete. Let's go!

Read:

1. Finish Night Film
2. Finish The Arachnids
3. Read from one or more of the following: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, The Age of Miracles, Kraken, Like Water for Chocolate, or any other from my TBR.

Review:

1. Any books finished within Bout of Books
2. Second batch of mini-reviews
3. Wigs on the Green, by Nancy Mitford
4. Nada, by Carmen Laforet
5. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
6. The Pillow Book, by Sei Shōnagon


Day One - Monday

Number of pages I've read today: 22
Total pages I've read: 22 
Number of books I've read today: I've read from Night Film
Total number of books I've read: 0

Other: Listed and linked my goals

Day Two - Tuesday

Number of pages I've read today: 58
Total pages I've read: 80 
Number of books I've read today: Once again, I've read only from Night Film
Total number of books I've read: 0

Other: I'm realizing Night Film isn't such a page turner as I thought it was. It isn't a thriller, exactly. I want to know what happened to that Ashley Cordova girl and unravel the mystery surrounding Stanislas Cordova, but I'm in no hurry to do so. Bad readathon material. Boo. I think I'm changing my goals to 1) Make a dent in Night Film and 2) Finish The Arachnids.

Day Three - Wednesday

Number of pages I've read today: 30
Total pages I've read: 110 
Number of books I've read today: Just Night Film
Total number of books I've read: 0

Other: I'm more interested in Night Film every day, but it is definitely a slow book - not good readathon material.


Day Four - Thursday

Number of pages I've read today: 68
Total pages I've read: 178 
Number of books I've read today: 48 from Night Film and 20 from The Arachnids
Total number of books I've read: 0

Other: Tried to read more of The Arachnids today. Problem is I'm reading it with the BF, and we take frequent breaks. I've also started organizing my reviews.

It is time to admit that it is me who is not good readathon material this week. I quit readathoning, and will be reading at my own pace. Maybe I will be better off next Bout of Books!

sábado, 9 de agosto de 2014

Currently | On Holiday

shamelessly stole got this idea from Kim, who blogs at Sophisticated Dorkiness. She reviews the most amazing books, so go read her blog!



Alice in Wonderland pop-up book, by Robert Sabuda.
Source [x]

So I've had quite a busy week at work and at home. I had a good reason to procrastinate on the blogging front though - I'm going on an impromptu holiday starting today! It was rushed, thus the lack of reading, blogging and commenting, and the surge of work to leave everything in perfect condition until I'm back. Unfortunately, I fantastically failed The Monster Thons. I had so many plans. Boo. It also means I won't be around for the next week or so, since I plan on not having access to any kind of Internet connection. I will tweet if I find wifi, and will try to get up-to-date with comments and your blogs as soon as I'm back.

Time: 9:23

Place: Breakfast table at home

Eating & Drinking: Japanese green tea and white chocolate cookies

Reading: I have just finished Nada. I was glued to the book! Loved it! Although love might not be quite the right word. The review will be up in a couple of weeks. I'm now starting Gone Girl, which is kind of the perfect holiday reading material. I know I am a year behind the hype. I tell myself it helps me choose which books are worth my time. In reality, I'm just a sucker who can't read as fast as I'd like.

Writing: Zilch! I should have written some reviews, but oh well. Who cares when it is August!

Watching: Misfits, Misfits, Misfits. Why didn't I get to watch that show before? It's so good.

Listening: Nothing. The headphones stopped working and I lost my little earpiece. Bummer.

Loving: The holiday rush. That feeling of an upcoming adventure, the planning, the reading time, I mean, traveling time.

Hating: The A/C broke at work, and it won't be getting repaired for a while. It is So.Hot. I melt.

viernes, 8 de agosto de 2014

The Classics Spin #7

It is the seventh edition of the Classics Spin for the Classics Club! I almost didn't publish the list on time! As it is summer, I decided to indulge and listed the books I'm most intrigued about twice, to increase the chance of getting them in the spin. Don't judge me, my brain is too fuzzy to face the hardest classics on my list. Who wants to read Joyce in August? Not me.

5 classics I'm neutral about:
1. A selection of Anton Chekhov's Tales
2. The Call of the Wild - Jack London
3. The Last of the Mohicans - James Fenimore Cooper
4. The Currents of Space - Isaac Asimov
5. Robot Dreams - Isaac Asimov

5 classics I'm intrigued about:
6. The Hound of the Baskervilles - Arthur Conan Doyle
7. The 19th of March and the 2nd of May - Benito Pérez Galdós
8. The One Thousand and One Nights - Anonymous
9. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
10. The Guermantes Way - Marcel Proust

5 Persephone classics:
11. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Winifred Watson
12. Saplings - Noel Streatfield
13. The Victorian Chaise Longue - Marghanita Laski
14. Minnie's Room - Mollie Panter-Downes
15. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd


5 classics I'm intrigued about x2:
16. The Hound of the Baskervilles - Arthur Conan Doyle
17. The 19th of March and the 2nd of May - Benito Pérez Galdós
18. The One Thousand and One Nights - Anonymous
19. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
20. The Guermantes Way - Marcel Proust

Let it spin!

jueves, 7 de agosto de 2014

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw - Eva Weaver

Summary (from Goodreads):

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw is the story of Mika, a Jewish boy who inherits a coat from his grandfather and discovers a puppet in one of its many secret pockets. He becomes a puppeteer in the Warsaw ghetto, but when his talent is discovered, Mika is forced to entertain the occupying German troops instead of his countrymen.

It is also the story of Max, a German soldier stationed in Warsaw, whose experiences in Poland and later in Siberia's Gulag show a different side to the Second World War. As one of Mika's puppets is passed to the soldier, a war-torn legacy is handed from one generation to another.


Anyone who has read this blog for any period of time will know that I love WWII reads. So, when I heard of The Puppet Boy of Warsaw I immediately added it to my wishlist. A novel about the Warsaw ghetto and a Gulag is a winning combination in my book, since Gulags aren't discussed as much as the Holocaust in literature. A novel which tells the story from the point of view of both factions is a rare gem, and it could have been the perfect way to explore the feelings of Germans regarding the Holocaust.

Unfortunately, it was a disappointment. It started out great, with the childhood of Mika, the main character, but the author kept adding characters on top of characters, until it was obvious that the intended scope was too big for the meagre plot. From Mika's grandfather to Mika's grandson, and the muddled family history of a German soldier who was in the ghetto, The Puppet Boy of Warsaw spans six generations, four countries and roughly a century, in just 300 pages. While it could have worked in theory, it felt unfocused and all over the place.

On the other hand, the novel is extremely well-reserached. I learned a lot about the Warsaw -Ghetto Uprising of 1943, and the author weaved Mika into the revolution seamlessly. However, that was the only high point of the whole novel for me. The Puppet Boy of Warsaw was excessively simplistic, and the author took on a didactic and moralising tone that felt awfully patronising. Readers don't want to be told that war is bad, they need to be shown so. This is a recurring theme in the novel - we are always told how wonderful a puppeteer Mika is, but we are never shown any of his performances. The sequence would go something like this: someone is sad and needs some cheering, Mika does his thing, everyone who watches is awed and feels fantastic all of a sudden. What exactly Mika said or did, nobody knows. After countless repetitions of this nonsense, I couldn't help but feel that the puppeteering, which could have been very innovative, was just a boring gimmick.

The story had promise, but it fell short. Maybe in the hands of a more skilled author it could have been a good novel. And yet it will have a broad public, since it is one of those books that make you feel awful if you don't cry with its characters. I feel bad, because I really wanted to like this, but that was the last nail in the coffin. WWII was devastating enough as it was without the need to be emotionally manipulative with your readers.

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

jueves, 31 de julio de 2014

Fireflies - Ana María Matute

Summary (from Goodreads):

Fireflies, although set in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, could readily take place in a bellicose situation anywhere in the world. It contains an exposé of the chasm between generations, between rich and poor, between materialism and idealism. This novel has a socioeconomic and psychological relevance that leaves the reader pondering the consequences of war and the nugatory effects of imposing status quo values on adolescents who are in search of their own truth, their raison d'être. The story centers on the lives of two adolescents from opposite levels of society whose redemption lies in their short-lived mutual love.

Spanish writer Ana María Matute passed away last month. Her decease got a lot of media coverage in Spain, since she was one of the most acclaimed novelists of the country. This sad event made me realize that I had never read anything by her, much to my chagrin. I picked the first book that caught my attention from the library display and started reading it almost immediately.

Fireflies surprised me for its lyricism. It is clear from the first page that the author crafted her sentences with care. It is a pleasure to read something so beautifully written. This novel is a good example of Spanish modernism, starting with a stream-of-consciousness introduction of the main character, Sol, an introverted teenager who has just finished boarding school when the war breaks out. Sol is very detached from the material world she belongs to, and looks at society, specially at bourgeoisie, from a confused distance. 

The intimist prose clashes with the subject at hand, Spanish Civil War. When Ana María Matute wrote this book, in 1955, the effects of the war were still looming over the population. It was even dangerous to write about it, since the winning faction established a dictatorship. Therefore, the story never really explores the political conflict and never takes a side. Instead, it focuses on the devastating consequences a war has on people at the bottom of the ladder. In the three years the war lasts, Sol and her family lose every one of their possessions, a working-class family comes to live with them, she starts teaching basic reading and writing skills to workmen in order to get food tickets, and falls in love with a poor boy who is in hiding to avoid being sent to the front. With every step into poverty, Sol discovers something about her, about the woman she is about to become and the world she is going to live in.

I don't want to spoil the novel, but the ending is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever read. Without resorting to cheap tricks or being emotionally manipulative, the ending left me breathless, reflecting on the pointlessness and absurdities of war.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to find this book in English. There was a translation published on 1998 [the one I'm linking on the summary], but I can only find used copies on Abe Books, and those are over 50 dollars. WorldCat says that some college libraries and NYPL store some copies. The Everything España challenge is making me realize how hard it is to share Spanish literature with people who don't speak Spanish. There is a serious shortage of readily available translations of our best writers. Honestly, it is frustrating.

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

martes, 29 de julio de 2014

Top Ten Tuesdays: Authors I Own the Most Books From


Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week they will post a new Top Ten list that anyone can answer. All you have to do is link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post and add it to the Linky widget.

Top Ten Authors I Own the Most Books From


I don't own lots of books (yet), so I couldn't even make a top ten list this week. Boo. I give you my little list in order:

With 6 books, J.K. Rowling and Amélie Nothomb
J.K. doesn't need explaining - I own the hardcovers for the first five books and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The boyfriend owns the rest, but we haven't completely merged our libraries yet. That's too much of a commitment. Although we bought our first book together. But I digress.
Amélie Nothomb is one of my favorite authors ever. I discovered her through required reading for my French class and have been in love ever since. While her most famous novel is Fear and Trembling, I would argue her best is The Enemy's Cosmetique.

With 5 books, George R.R. Martin and Anne Rice
I own all of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels that have been published, and an embarrassing high number of The Vampire Chronicles novels. Even when I was yong and had no better judgement, I knew I should have stopped before Memnoch.

With 4 books, Neil Gaiman and Virginia Woolf
I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman, but only own four of his books - Coraline, The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Anansi Boys. I am planning to get more of his books and do a Gaiman marathon at some point.
I got four of Woolf's novels as a Christmas gift in those beautiful Penguin Modern Classics editions, but have only read (and loved) Mrs. Dalloway.

Both Maggie O'Farrell and Kate Morton write similar books - leading women as main characters, different historical POVs which end up converging, and big family secrets. I prefer O'Farrell's stories, though. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox blew me away.
Philip Pullman is the author of His Dark Materials, a trilogy which had a great impact on me as a young reader. I reread it from time to time, and I still find something new to love about it.


...And finally a slew of authors with just two books. Who's on your list this week?

lunes, 28 de julio de 2014

Postmodern Literature in July


The seventh installment of the Twelve Months of Classic Literature is Postmodern Literature.

It is difficult to define Postmodern Literature, since it encompasses wildly different books and authors. However, they share some common techniques, like metafiction, magical realism or intertextuality. While I haven't read many of the postmodern classics, I've read some postmodern books. As the month is almost finishing and I haven't had time to read and review a classic in this category, I decided to put together a list with my favorite works of postmodern literature


1. Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes
2. Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami
3. A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki
4. Watchmen - Alan Moore
5. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
7. Fictions and The Aleph and Other Stories - Jorge Luis Borges
8. Maus - Art Spiegelman
9. The Victorian Trilogy - Félix J. Palma
10. The Messenger - Markus Zusak
11. Europa - Romain Gary
12. Pedro Páramo - Juan Rulfo
13. Sleepwalking Land - Mia Couto
14. Agnes - Peter Stamm
15. Strange Pilgrims - Gabriel García Márquez


Unfortunately, there aren't many classics on my list. Any good recommendations?

jueves, 24 de julio de 2014

Minireviews #1: In which a blogger tries to catch up with her reviews, or books about young people

Remember what I said about the blogging slump? Anyway, during these months I've realised that unwritten reviews make me dread blogging and reading new books. But blogging is fun! And my towering piles of books demand to be read! Solution: a batch of mini-reviews.




Book 1: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

A  mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is the first book in a fast-paced YA saga about teens with special abilities. I think the best praise I can give to this book is that a) it kept me awake during Dewey's Readathon, and b) I really want to read the second book, Hollow City.

My only quibble with this novel is that it relies way too much on visual cues. As every review out there points out, Miss Peregrine's includes a collection of weird, vintagey photos with a very eerie feeling about them. These photos, along with the cover, can give the wrong idea about this book, since it owes more to superhero comics than to gothic horror tales. On top of that, the writing style can be too juvenile at times. When the storytelling fails, the images are not a good substitute, and they can be gimmicky. However, I did enjoy the whole affair.

On the other hand, I really liked how a simple zero-to-hero story can be so interesting with the right mythology, and the parallelisms between Nazis and Hollows versus Jews and Peculiar Children are fantastic. It is a good exploration of identity, of what it means to be true to one's nature.

Book 2: The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle's great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.

This is the year I've become a fan of audiobooks. I usually listen faster than I read, so I think it's a great medium to revisit old childhood favorites, like The Secret Garden. Besides, the Librivox version read by Karen Savage is pure bliss.

The story itself is a bit naïve - a couple of neglected children who are rude little creatures become adorable, healthy, well-mannered kids thanks to willingness and the power of nature, and a depressed man comes back to life, as if it were. On the other hand, it has some of the best characters that ever were, the kind who feel like friends. Who didn't love Dickon and his sage mother, Martha Sowerby? Or dear old Ben Weatherstaff? It is beautifully written and very entertaining, as any tale should be. The story fills you with magic and awe, and the descriptions of the secret garden and the beautiful flowers are darling. I remember wanting a garden myself when I read it for the first time, although my thumb is more brownish than green. At the end, I was holding my breath once more despite knowing how it ends. I really enjoyed re-reading The Secret Garden

Book 3: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

It's not a secret that I'm a fan of Neil Gaiman, and I've enjoyed everything I've read by him, including The Graveyard Book. I think I've even enjoyed it more this second time around. The story of the little boy who lives in a graveyard and whose name is Nobody is endearing and sad at the same time. It can be read as a collection of adventures full of awesome mythology, but it also can be read as a coming-of-age novel and the bittersweet experiences that it entails. It is geared toward a young audience, but it never feels patronizing. The vocabulary is complex, but understandable, and the book has something to offer to mature readers, too. Once more, I didn't want to leave the world that Mr. Gaiman had created, and was sad to turn the last page.


Have you read these books? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

miércoles, 23 de julio de 2014

The Letter R

Linda at Silly Little Mischief did The Letter Meme and she gave me letter R! Here are my answers:

1. Favorite book with the letter R: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. It is such a fun book!




2. Favorite author with the letter R: This is a tie between J.K. Rowling and Pat Rothfuss. Both amazing fantasy writers in their own way.


 


3. Favorite song with the letter R: I don't have all-time favorite songs. I have a few bands I've been listening forever, but they don't have any songs I truly like starting with R. So I'm gonna pick the strongest two from my current playlist, Royals by Lorde, and Ride by Lana del Rey.



4. Favorite film with the letter R: Reservoir Dogs, hands down. I love Tarantino's movies, and his first one is spectacular.


5. Favorite object with the letter R: Um, I've been scratching my head with this one for a while. My rain boots? My reading log? Ha, I don't know what to say.

Let me know if you want a letter, too!