jueves, 29 de enero de 2015

The Children of Húrin - J.R.R. Tolkien

Summary (from Goodreads):

There are tales of Middle-earth from times long before The Lord of the Rings, and the story told in this book is set in the great country that lay beyond the Grey Havens in the West: lands where Treebeard once walked, but which were drowned in the great cataclysm that ended the First Age of the World. In that remote time Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in the vast fortress of Angband, the Hells of Iron, in the North; and the tragedy of Túrin and his sister Niënor unfolded within the shadow of the fear of Angband and the war waged by Morgoth against the lands and secret cities of the Elves. 

Their brief and passionate lives were dominated by the elemental hatred that Morgoth bore them as the children of Húrin, the man who had dared to defy and to scorn him to his face. Against them he sent his most formidable servant, Glaurung, a powerful spirit in the form of a huge wingless dragon of fire. Into this story of brutal conquest and flight, of forest hiding-places and pursuit, of resistance with lessening hope, the Dark Lord and the Dragon enter in direly articulate form. 

The earliest versions of this story by J.R.R. Tolkien go back to the end of the First World War and the years that followed; but long afterwards, when The Lord of the Rings was finished, he wrote it anew and greatly enlarged it in complexities of motive and character: it became the dominant story in his later work on Middle-earth. But he could not bring it to a final and finished form. In this book Christopher Tolkien has constructed, after long study of the manuscripts, a coherent narrative without any editorial invention.

The story of Túrin and Niënor is set during the First Age, well before the happenings of The Lord of the Rings, long before hobbits appeared on Arda, the Earth. As such, it shares a good deal of narrative style with The Silmarillion, in that it is part of a bigger epic that tells of the origin of Middle-Earth as we know it and seeds a conflict that will last lifetimes. For such a slim book, it has quite an epic scope. Notwithstanding the place of The Children of Húrin in Middle-Earth history, Tolkien chose to tell the bigger story through the lives of two simple humans, Túrin and Niënor, as he had done before with Beren, and with Tuor. Their key actions in the war against evil, against Morgoth, are due to a fate created by Morgoth himself. He cursed Túrin and Niënor to punish their father, Húrin, who was proud enough to stand against him and defy him.

The plot reveal itself could be spot from a mile, since it draws heavily from Anglo-Saxon epics and Greek tragedies, but it was still cool to see how Tolkien, with his classical education, had taken bits here and there to lay the foundations of a very complex universe. And it is still cooler to see the repercussions of this narrative (and the rest of the Middle-Earth universe) on fantastic literature. As an example, the fate suffered by Húrin is very similar some of the Chandrian lore from Patrick Rothfuss' The Kingkiller Chronicles.

The actual text of The Children of Húrin was composed from three different sources: two poems dealing with different parts of Túrin's life, and a narrative outline. While the editing work is mostly unnoticeable (which means that Christopher Tolkien is an awesome editor and obviously took lots of pains to see that his father work was restored with care), there is a distinct transition from the 'too-epic-to-care-for-individual-characters' to a more personal narrative, which I think is due to it coming from different sources. But this transition is seamless and does not feel forced or artificial at all.

Verdict: Not to be missed by any Tolkien fan, since the sad story of Túrin is referenced in Tolkien's magnum opus. Just one warning: keep tissues near. Even though the chapter titles give everything away, the death of certain characters fell like a blow on this reader.

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

lunes, 26 de enero de 2015

V-Day Books

This is just a super quick announcement: Since the next major holiday is a celebration of love, I decided to try to spend February reading about love.

pic belongs to bookswithdylan
i'm nowhere near so talented and would never pretend to be

I'm going to venture into romance for the first time ever and I will not cheat with classics this time. Thankfully, Maria Helena from marelden kindly recommended a good book to start: Robyn Carr's Virgin River. I see Robyn Carr is a super famous romance author and she has lots of books, so I won't run out of reading material if I enjoy this series!

As far as I know, most romance deal with heternormative relationships, but I also want to explore other kinds of love that don't get as much representation in mainstream media: LGBT.

A possible reading list (that I will completely fail to follow, no doubt, specially taking into account my terrible record of following lists and commitments):

  1. Virgin River - Robyn Carr
  2. A Rogue by Any Other Name - Sarah MacLean
  3. Blue is the Warmest Color - Julie Maroh
  4. Paper Towns - John Green
  5. Rubyfruit Jungle - Rita Mae Brown
  6. Fingersmith or Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters
  7. The City and the Pillar - Gore Vidal
  8. The Secret Lives of People in Love - Simon Van Booy

If you want to join me, please do so! It will be great to discuss what we read and discover new books. 

jueves, 22 de enero de 2015

The Mystery of the Black Jungle (Pirates of Malaysia #1) - Emilio Salgari

Summary (from Goodreads):

Few can live in the Black Jungle, a desolate place teeming with wild dangerous beasts. Yet it is among its dark forests and bamboo groves that the renowned hunter Tremal-Naik makes his home. For years he has lived there in peace, quietly going about his trade until, one night, a strange apparition appears before him - a beautiful young woman that vanishes in an instant. Within days, strange music is heard in the jungle then one of his men is found dead without a mark upon his body. Determined to get some answers, the hunter sets off with his faithful servant Kammamuri, but as they head deeper into the jungles of the Sundarbans, they soon find their own lives at risk; a deadly new foe has been watching their every move, a foe that threatens all of British India.

When I was a child, I was a fan of Sandokan, both the cartoons and the TV mini series starring Kabir Bedi. I am also a fan of classic adventure novels, as cheesy as they are. It was only a matter of time to get my hands on The Mystery of the Black Jungle, the first book on The Pirates of Malaysia series, which deals with Sandokan and his crew.

Well, I finally did, and I didn't love it. 

I actually have mixed feelings about this one. Even for a  classic adventure, the characters are rather flat and every little mystery that conforms the plot is really very illogical. Tremal-Naik, the hero, is too impetuous and empty-headed to be a proper main character - he is not a good adventure leader. Kammamuri, his servant, is a far more interesting and intelligent character. Unfortunately, he only appears in the first half of the novel. But honestly, at some point Tremal-Naik faces an horde of enemies armed with some sort of gun and his knives. And what does he do? Discard the knives, discharge his gun in a lake, and start hitting thugs with the gun butt. Not the best plan there, pal. As readers, we are supposed to ascribe his lack of brains to his sudden infatuation with Ada (who, according to classic adventure novel standards is the only female in the whole book, nothing more than a love interest/object). The same flat characterization can be found in Suyodhana, the main antagonist. But it all just comes across as comical, when it should induce tension. On top of that, the (rather ludicrous) central conflict wouldn't exist if one of the characters hadn't randomly decided to change his name. The rushed ending, anagnorisis included, spans only about a page and a half.

Fortunately, although The Mystery of the Black Jungle has very many problems, it isn't devoid of virtues. For one thing, the representation of POC is by far the best I've encountered in a novel of this time and age. They are varied. It's amazing how something so simple can feel so refreshing. They aren't all Indians and that's it - Salgari respectfully describes changes in skin tone, facial hair, eye shape and colour, and how these features were usually associated with people from different geographical areas. At some point, Tremal-Naik even uses the racial prejudices of a white man as an advantage to carry out a risky plan, and it pays out. These descriptions don't feel out of place, since Salgari was describing what was considered an exotic place to Europeans who hadn't travelled all that much. He also makes a point about the peaceful coexistence of different religions, and shows customs from an 'inside' point of view, trying to make a Western reader understand that something which can seem barbaric or ridiculous to us is just a religious or superstitious custom as good (or bad!) as those present in Europe. He sometimes slips unrespectful comments or expresses disgust at some traditions, but Salgari was definitely quite open-minded for a 19th-century Italian man. And he doesn't stop there. He makes his characters very vocal about British colonialism - how they were destroying traditions and standardizing everyone to fit in their mold of savages in order to rule more easily over India.

At the end of the novel, I was thankful for the purposeful ambiguous ending and for its political stance, but it definitely wasn't a very entertaining read.

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

lunes, 19 de enero de 2015

In defense of the Goodreads Reading Challenge

So the Goodreads Reading Challenge has been getting a bad reputation lately. For those of you who don't know what on Earth that is: you pledge to read a number of book this year and Goodreads keeps track of your progress. Easy peasy. But we've doing this for ages with spreadsheets or good ol' paper! you cry. We even had to update a reading log in primary school! How is this innovative and/or worth of so many think pieces?

Good question. Goodreads is not doing anything new here. It was intended as a motivational tool to encourage members of the bookish community to read more - it inspires you to read more when you are in the dreaded Reading Slump (I always picture it like that swamp where Atreyu's horse got stuck), and cheers you if you read more than you thought you would. Detractors are right in that reading is not about quantity, but quality - how much you engage with the book, the fun you have reading, or the new thoughts derived from the experience. It really doesn't matter if you read a book or a hundred, as long as you get something out of the book. We all know that at heart, else we wouldn't be readers in the first place.

What's the problem then? Well, your challenge page also shows your friends' challenges and their progress. Apparently, this turns type-A readers into monsters who thrive on schadenfreude, or something. I'd never use this feature to compete with my friends - since reading is not a competition in any way, except maybe with myself. I like to cheer on them and see the awesome books they are reading (and selfishly get recs). In my humble opinion, the use you make of the features Goodreads offers depends solely on you, on how you think about literature and life at large. If you envision reading as a competition or as an activity to make you look smart, then let's just say the challenge is not for you, but the smear is un-called for. Don't get me wrong here: if you don't want to put any kind of pressure on yourself, or don't want to attach any meaning the number of books you've read, that's perfectly okay. But don't think less of those who do.

I've always been a slow reader, and get distracted by shiny new things every minute. On top of that, I've recently undertaken a job where intense brain activity is expected. When I get home, I tend to favour easy and fast-rewarding activities - like Tumblr, Discovery Channel, or Fast Heroes Saga. It is often daunting to pick up a book, but after I've read for a while, I feel I have employed my time better. I've truly gotten my mind away from work and had lots of fun while at it. I'm not gonna lie - the Goodreads Reading Challenge has had a great part on my reading success. I needed motivation, and the challenge was akin to a personal trainer. It made me read more, and it made me read better. And I bet that's the case for thousands of readers.

jueves, 15 de enero de 2015

The 19th of March and the 2nd of May - Benito Pérez Galdós

The Classics Spin has helped me continue with my little reading project: reading the 46 National Episodes written by Benito Pérez Galdós. These novels are a series of historical fiction books set in 1805-1880 Spain, and important Spanish literature classics usually studied during high school. Unfortunately, they haven't been translated into English. I reviewed the first two here and here. My spin book was the third Episode, El 19 de marzo y el 2 de mayo, or The 19th of March and the 2nd of May

The main character and narrator is still Gabriel de Araceli, but he has grown quite a lot since we first met him as a rascal in Trafalgar. He is now working in Madrid and in a committed long-distance relationship with Inés, the little seamstress, who is now living with her uncle in Aranjuez. In one of his visits to Inés, Gabriel is unable to leave Aranjuez because a mutiny has been started to overthrow the King, Charles IV, in order to put his son Ferdinand VII in the throne. The Prime Minister Manuel Godoy is held responsible for the recent power concessions to France and prosecuted for his supposed crimes against the Kingdom.

Gabriel serendipitously finds himself in a privileged position to witness the mutiny, until he is forced to flee because of his connections to the Minister. In the meanwhile, Inés' uncle and aunt, Mauro and Restituta Requejo, take Inés with them back to Madrid. While they feign good-will towards their niece, Gabriel discovers they are only interested in the fortune she is going to inherit as the only heir to a countess, a fact Inés is not aware of. As he can't bear that someone wants to take advantage of Inés, he embarks in a mission to rescue her from her cruel relatives, infiltrating in their house pretending to be a mere servant.

Does all of that sound convoluted? Because it is. The whole time I spent reading this, I felt as if I was reading a novelized version of a soap opera: the characters are flat and everything is contrived. Not in vain are they called National Episodes! The first half of this novel left me cold and a little bored - it was a bit of a slog after the first two. Inés, who was quite an interesting and wise character in the second novel, has become not only a mere object of Gabriel's love, but also a Purity Sue. Gabriel is diving head-first into jerk territory, hiding Inés true identity from her in order to "protect" her, and manipulating a rival for his own ends.

Fortunately, the second half of the novel left me with a better impression. During their stay with the Requejos the political situation has worsened. Napoleon is forcing every member and heir of the Royal Crown to abandon Spain, and has sent lots of troops to supposedly help the Spanish Army to keep order after the mutiny. People are finally realizing that what Napoleon truly wants is to conquer Spain, and riots break up exactly the day Gabriel frees Inés. Once again, Gabriel finds himself part of an important historical event, the Dos de Mayo Uprising, magistrally reflected by Goya in his paintings.

The last scenes of the novel describe the fierce and desperate fight of the unarmed Spanish people against the French Army, their shattered hopes and their bitter defeat. I learned a lot about the history of the Malasaña neighbourhood, where most of the battles were held, and about the role of women in the few victories of the day. At the end, when everyone left alive was held captive and executed by a firing squad, my heart was breaking with an overdose of sadness.

Here's hoping that the fourth novel, Bailén, is a brilliantly written as the last part of this book.

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

lunes, 12 de enero de 2015

2014 Challenges Wrap Up

Last year, in an effort to read more and more varied, I joined several reading challenges. A year has elapsed, so how go did it go?

The Classics Club
I've read 7 out of my 52 pledged books, and I should finish by September 27th, 2018. If I want to read all of those classics, I need to make a greater effort! However, I've read 12 additional classics this year. I suspect I'm suffering a case of avoiding my list. I know I'm trying to ration my domestic fiction, while my more daunting books are needing extra preparation. I know I can do this!

Everything España
7 is the magic number once more. I aimed for four books, and almost doubled the number. I'm really proud of this one!

Reading Outside the Box
23 out of 25! Yay! I'm counting this as completed, since there were only two categories left: self-published, because I had no idea of what to read, and picture books. I've read like a dozen picture books with my niece this year, but I don't keep track of them, and I don't blog about them. Technically, I only had one category left unread, and that is a big success in my book!

2014 TBR Pile
This was an utter flop. It was the third or fourth time I've tried using this challenge to try to tame my unwieldy TBR pile, but I just read half of them. I have books on that list that I'm dying to read, but their inclusion in the challenge automatically made them feel like a chore. I've spent a year avoiding them! 
I also like having a TBR pile around the house - 2015 is my first year with a reliable income, which means that in the past I wasn't always able to instantly buy whatever I wanted to read, and the library doesn't always have the titles I feel like reading available. My source of books were always my parents, but we live in different cities and getting enough books to sustain me between visits is not an easy task. I am a mood reader, so having a physical TBR pile to choose books from actually facilitate my reading habits. Why would I want to get read of it then?
This challenge was never meant for me, but I'm thankful that it has let me know myself better!

However, I've been consistently bad at reviewing the books I've read. Several things contributed to this, but I plan to start 2015 with a clean slate - be prepared to undergo a flood of book reviews soon!

domingo, 11 de enero de 2015

2014 End of Year Book Survey

2014 reading Stats

Number of Books You Read:
38 according to Goodreads, which is more than I read in 2013! Yay!
Number of Re-Reads:
Surprisingly, 6. I would've never said I was the re-reading type!
Genre You Read The Most From:
Sci-Fi & Fantasy, or what I like to call 'speculative fiction'

Best in Books

1. Best book you read in 2014?
Saplings, by Noel Streatfeild
2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn't?
It's Hard to Be Hip over Thirty and Other Tragedies of Married Life, by Judith Viorst
3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014?
Lazarillo de Tormes, in a really good way. I had tried reading it before and couldn't get into it, but I really liked it this time around.
4. Book you "pushed" the most people to read (and they did) in 2014?
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
5. Best series you started in 2014? Best sequel of 2014? Best series ender of 2014?
Series starter: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
Sequel: Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez
No series ender for 2014
6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?
Favorite new-to-me authors were Carmen Laforet, Veronica Schanoes, Ana María Matute, Charles Vess, and Ken Liu
7. Best book from a genre you don't typically read or that was out of your comfort zone?
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach. I don't read that much nonfiction, but books like this one make me wish I did
8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
Definitely Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl
9. Book you read in 2014 that you are most likely to re-read next year?
Hm, I don't really think I'll be re-reading any of 2014 books in 2015
10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?

11. Most memorable character of 2014?
Lázaro de Tormes, Nobody Owens, the whole Watchmen cast, Miss Peregrine, Amy Dunne, Stanislas Cordova, the Wiltshire children, Beleg Strongbow, Romeo, Juliet, and Mercutio.
12. Most beautifully written book read in 2014?
Ana María Matute's Fireflies, followed by The Age of Miracles and A Tale for the Time Being
13. Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2014?
El voto femenino y yo, by Spanish women rights activist and politician Clara Campoamor. The title would translate to 'Women's suffrage and me'
14. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read?
Watchmen, by Alan Moore. I knew I'd like it, yet I never seemed to find a moment to finally start it.
15. Favorite passage or quote from a book you read in 2014?
“Pleasing things: finding a large number of tales that one has not read before. Or acquiring the second volume of a tale whose first volume one has enjoyed. But often it is a disappointment.” ― Sei ShōnagonThe Pillow Book
“In life there are two things which are dependable. The pleasures of the flesh and the pleasures of literature.” ― Sei ShōnagonThe Pillow Book
“You're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it.” ― Neil GaimanThe Graveyard Book
16. Shortest and longest book you read in 2014?
Shortest: Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon - 20 pages
Longest: A Dance with Dragons - 1152 pages
17. Book that shocked you the most?
Romeo and Juliet. I wasn't expecting so many sex jokes for a play essentially known for its portrayal of tragedy and doomed love.
18. OTP of the year?
Yuan and Jing from Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon, Mary Lennox and Dickon from The Secret Garden, and Deborah and Ruthie from Burning Girls
19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year?
Beleg and Túrin from The Children of Húrin, Nao and her grandmother Jiko from A Tale for the Time Being, and Nobody Owens and everyone at the graveyard from The Graveyard Book
20. Favorite book you read in 2014 from an author you've read previously:
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. Although I'm cheating here, since it was a re-read. My favorite new-to-me book from a known-to-me author would be Watchmen
And my favorite new-to-me book from an also new-to-me author would be Saplings. How can a book be so beautifully written, engaging, thought-provoking and heart-breaking?
21. Best book you read in 2014 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else or peer pressure:
I was a lone wolf this year and did not listen to anyone, apparently
22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014?
Mercutio, the sharpest and wittiest tongue of Verona
23. Best 2014 debut you read?
I'm always late after the hype, so no debuts for me
24. Best world-building or most vivid setting you read this year?
Night Film
25. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2014?
Saplings made me really sad
27. Hidden gem of the year?
El voto femenino y yo
28. Book that crushed your soul?
29. Most unique book you read in 2014?
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, it's like the first millenium version of a blog
30. Book that made you the most mad (doesn't necessarily mean you didn't like it)?
It's Hard to Be Hip over Thirty, which I read in a matter of hours but made me rant for weeks

Looking Ahead

1. One book you didn't get to in 2014 but will be your number one priority in 2015?
The Map of Chaos, the third book in Félix J. Palma's Victorian Trilogy, which was published late November in Spain. I got my copy in October and really wanted to read it, but it never happened. I'm reading it right now and it is not letting me down!
Keep your eyes peeled for it, because it will be out in June!
2. Book you are most anticipating for 2015 (non-debut)?
Armada by Ernest Cline (author of Ready Player One)! I am SO EXCITED about this one. SO EXCITED!! I've become a hyperactive squirrel.
Also on my list: V.E. Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic, Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning, and Megan Mayhew Bergman's Almost Famous Women
3. 2015 debut you are most anticipating?
I don't have what's needed to be up-to-date with debuts, so I wouldn't know what to answer
4. Series ending or sequel you are most anticipating in 2015?
It would be really cool if Pat Rothfuss published the ending to the Kingkiller Chronicle, but I don't think it's going to happen. It isn't so terrible since I still haven't read the Auri story. I will also survive on stories (and the HBO show) regarding ASOIAF.
And you all should be excited about The Map of Chaos!
5. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading and blogging life in 2015?
I want to read more regularly again, which I think will help with blogging regularly. I'm even thinking of scheduling reading and blogging times!
I also want to read things I want to read and not things I feel I should read, so I won't be big on year challenges this year that make me put up a book list. Even if I put every book I'm most eager to read on that list, I would find a way to ignore them. I like thematical challenges, though, so I would love themed monthly challenges or readathons (for a moment there a 'g' slipped) suggestions, if you have any! I think I will participate in Non-Fic November, and probably will do Women History Month in March, but that's all I have for now. Tell me more, please!
Finally, I'd like to change my blog design and have a prettier blog. Simpler, maybe. This is definitely out of my current skills, but I'm working on it already. I'd also like to find a new way to review books - I'm kind of bored of my current reviews, so why would anyone read them? But I can't seem to find a good way to do this. Again, any suggestions would be great!