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!

lunes, 21 de julio de 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I'd Want With Me On A Desert Island

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 Characters I'd Want With Me On A Desert Island

Challenge Progress

I can't believe that the first half of the year has already gone by! Time does fly. I guess it's time to have a look at how I'm doing regarding reading challenges.

not my gif

Everything España, hosted at Caffeinated Life

When I signed up, I was aiming at 4 books, the Tourist level. Well, I've already finished three books and I'm about to finish the fourth! I've also reviewed all of them on the blog. Yay! Instead of stopping here, I might go on to try and complete the Frequent Traveller level (up to 9 books).

Reading Outside the Box, hosted at The Cheap Reader

I've read 13 out of 25 books, which is more than half! I still have to review some of them, but I'm so proud of myself for making the effort of reading outside of my comfort zone. This is the challenge that got me hooked on audiobooks, and for that I will be forever grateful. 

I'm still in need of great self-published books, so please leave your suggestions in the comments!

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted at Roof Beam Reader

This is proving to be the hardest challenge of all. I chose my list with care to have a mix of current and classic, and long and short reads. Unfortunately, I've only read 3 out of 12 books. After all, all of those books are unread for a reason - either I find them too daunting or not shiny enough for my short attention span. I'm working on the list, though! I don't think I will complete this challenge by the end of the year, but at least I'll have made a good dent on my TBR pile.

The Classics Club

I didn't participate in the last spin. I'm not very involved in the 12 Months of Classic Literature, or the general conversations happening both at the club headquarters or on twitter. For all of this I hang my head in shame, but I'm hoping to change this soon.

Regarding the list itself, I've made little progress. I've read 4 books out of 52, three in the category of Domestic Fiction and one in Classic Genre Fiction, and I've reviewed all of them on the blog. I thought I was doing better, but that is because I'm reading more classics overall - I've also read three more books that weren't originally on the list. That wasn't my goal exactly, but it's not a bad side effect.

domingo, 20 de julio de 2014

Currently | Ill again

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

This is our current weather. And those are my feelings about it. Again, not my gif. 

I'm back from my holidays! Unfortunately, I forgot my camera at home. Oops. My sister took some amazing pics that I hope to have at some point. This year. Or maybe next.

Time: 21:07

Place: At home

Eating & Drinking: Again, Six Herbs herbal tea (hibiscus, lemongrass, elmleaf blackberry, rose hip, mint, and lemon beebrush). It's becoming my favorite for the summer season.

Reading: I managed to finish The Puppet Boy of Warsaw and read a good chunk of Fireflies, by Spanish author Ana María Matute, who recently passed away. I'm sad I didn't get to read any of her books before.

Writing: Not that much. But I'm listing some blogging ideas, so I hope I'll have something to write soon.

Watching: Does sea watching count? No? I haven't watched much TV except for MasterChef (and I'm not really proud about it), and I'm not excited about the summer cinema line up, so there.

Listening: Back to Welcome to Night Vale. I missed this weird show. I'm really running behind, though! (Chapter 17, "Valentine", for those of you who are curious).

Loving: I got a tan! I spent some days by the sea! It was glorious.

Hating: The awful weather back home. It was 8ºC (or 46 F) yesterday evening. It feels like winter, and consequentially, I got a cold. I feel so sleepy and tired.

jueves, 3 de julio de 2014

A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin

Summary (from Goodreads):
Spanish cover of A Dance with Dragons

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, Daenerys Targaryen rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way east—with new allies who may not be the ragtag band they seem. And in the frozen north, Jon Snow confronts creatures from beyond the Wall of ice and stone, and powerful foes from within the Night’s Watch. In a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics lead a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, to the greatest dance of all.

The fifth installment of A Song of Ice and Fire (ASoIaF from now on) has been a big disappointment. It is obvious from my periodical status updates that reading this was a chore, and I'm grumpy because I'm spending more time talking about it now. However, I feel I should explain why I disliked this so much given the overall high ratings it has received.

A Dance with Dragons (ADwD) is the second part of sorts of A Feast for Crows (AFfC). Together, they are a bridge novel between two plot-filled books. By definition, there can't be big things here, and we won't get resolution on any of the bigger issues (the Others and Dany conquering Westeros, namely). However slower, one would expect a certain amount of plot or character development to happen between these pages. But it wasn't the case with A Feast for Crows, and it's even more patent in this latest novel.

ADwD is terribly long, at 1125 pages. If we add the 976 pages of AFfC, we get 2101 pages of giving characters enough time to get where they must. I've read shorter sagas. Unfortunately, half of those pages could have been cut short, since they don't serve to advance the plot or do character development. What do they contain, I hear you ask? Repetitions of token sentences, repetitions of events from different points of view, recapitulations of the disgraces fallen upon every character, useless points of view (Jaime? Quentyn? Asha?), long lists of feasts, long lists of Houses, long lists of heraldry, and sad attempts at cliffhangers. Oh, and pissing, shitting, and fucking. Apparently, grim and realistic now really means detailed about bodily functions. I miss the older novels, when it meant avoiding relying on magic and other epic fantasy clichés, and reflecting the most disturbing aspects of medieval times. This book is long-winded.

Aside from uninteresting trivia, we are graced with long stretches of Westeros and Essos sociopolitical history, presented in the way I hate the most: by a character who randomly decides to give a speech on something completely unrelated to what is happening right then. Martin infodumps us at every turn, mainly through Tyrion no less, who used to be one of the most interesting characters. On top of that, I think that the fifth book of a long-running epic fantasy series is really not the time for world building. It feels jarring. 

Of course, Martin had to do something while he embarked almost every character on an Interminable Journey (the rest were on Hero's Journey, Learning about Themselves and/or Magic and Magical Creatures in order to Be a Hero in the future). And they actually were interminable, since not even one single character arrives at their destination. (By the way, that means that the start of book six will have people traveling, once again. Why does Martin hate his fans so much?) This novel is becoming more clichéd than it used to be. Since the engrossing shenanigangs aren't here, the plot devices are much more noticeable. Sadly, Martin's prose is not good enough to cover them.

You know what else he needed to keep the reader's attention while the main characters were on their way to fulfilling their destiny? Why, more characters of course. And new subplots who have zilch to do with anything else happening on this world. For example, a new claim to the Iron Throne. Or a silly prince with his own self-contained story. Or a chapter by every minor character, ever. One of the greatest assets of ASoIaF, the multiple POVs, has turned into its greatest danger - a disjointed, fragmentary narrative which is, plain and simply, boring. It feels like filler. Epic fantasy should never be boring. And our dear old characters, like Dany, Cersei or Tyrion? So out of character it hurts. AFfC was said to be the worst book on ASoIaF to date, since it featured the less exciting POVs. That meant building a certain amount of anticipation for ADwD, an anticipation that wasn't rewarded with the corresponding exciting subplots.

Why is this book necessary? I don't know. Either the story is out of control or Martin feels like cashing on his fans' loyalty. Or maybe he was this kind of writer all along and just had a great editor. I am sad to see ASoIaF in this dark place, but I've invested too much time on these characters to abandon them mid-series. I'll still be reading The Winds of Winter when it comes out. At this point, I'm just trusting the HBO writers to do it better.

Others said it better: Marie Brennan's review, Marie Brennan on long fantasy series (a five-star post, worth reading even if it isn't directly about ASoIaF), Shara's review, Lianne's review.

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