lunes, 31 de agosto de 2015

What I learned on vacation

I am back! I don't want to boast about my vacation too much (isn't that insufferable?), but I wanted to have a quick recap of what I did. As it isn't book-related, I'm going to keep this short, I promise. Did you know that traveling is my other big passion in life? Books and travels is where all of my money goes.

View from the hike trail in Ponta de São Lourenço
My SO and I went to Madeira for ten days. It's a quiet island, but a bit too touristy during the summer. The city was crowded. Fortunately, nature is just around the corner (even literally sometimes). It's beautiful. And the food was delicious. Portuguese cuisine is one of my favorites - the meals are wholesome and satisfying. It's like comfort food with even better taste.

So what did I learn on vacation?

1. Airports stress me way too much. My solution? Why, reading, of course. Fortunately I brought the perfect book to introduce me to Madeira - O Último Cais, by local author Helena Marques. 

2. Renting a car is less difficult than I thought. Driving said rented car comes more naturally than I thought.

3. Scuba diving is magical. I had a living seahorse in my palms! This is something I want to repeat, and maybe at some point get my diver's license. If I can control my anxiety. Breathing underwater freaks me out.

4. Whales are very interesting creatures. Did you know part of Moby Dick was filmed in Madeira? I'm starting to not dread the book so much.

5. I could live on fish and fruit. Such a variety of fish, and so tasty. And the espetadas were awesome, too. Bolos do caco and bolos de mel were the cherry on top. I find myself randomly craving bolo do caco - I will have to learn how to bake it. I've also discovered I don't dislike cauliflower if it's cooked the right way! Portuguese cooks are magicians.

A levada in Madeira

6. My frail, untrained body is capable of way more than I thought. The diving equipment weighed about 40% of my body mass and I was able to haul it from the cabin to sea all by myself. It was around 20 meters max, and all the while I was thinking my back would break, but it turns out it didn't! I was sore the next day, but very proud too.

7. I was also able to walk for miles. The island is very steep and has lots of beautiful walking paths and hiking trails through it that run parallel to artificial water canals, so we really did a lot of walking. I got quite strong legs after the ten days!

domingo, 9 de agosto de 2015

Currently | Feeling the Holiday Rush

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 going to be the quickest update I've ever written. My holidays started this Saturday (yay!) and I'm going on vacation in a few hours. I don't think I'll be around for a week or so, so sorry if I don't answer back! I will catch up after I return.

Time: 00:22

Place: Laying on my couch

Eating & Drinking: Nothing yet, but we're about to have burritos for a very, very late dinner.

Reading: I've been trying to clean my slate of currently reading books. Two weeks ago I was reading 9 books. Crazy! This week I finished The Lightning Thief and Bailén, and DNF'd The Innocents Abroad because I was halfway through and it felt like a tedious chore. I zoned out every time I tried to listen to it. I'm still working on Conrad Aiken's Complete Short Stories, and loving them so far, but I'll be reading something more lightweight on the plane.

WatchingVeronica Mars and Breaking Bad.

Listening: My summer holiday playlist.

Promoting: Luna's Paper Towns giveaway. Run, because it ends today!

jueves, 6 de agosto de 2015

Magic Study (Study #2) - Maria V. Snyder

With her greatest enemy dead, and on her way to be reunited with the family she'd been stolen from long ago, Yelena should be pleased. While she is eager to start her magic training, her days as a poison taster have changed her in many ways, and it appears that even her own brother would want to see her dead. But she can't go back to Ixia, where a death sentence awaits her.

I loved Poison Study quite a lot, definitely more than I expected. It was entertaining, complex, diverse, political, romantic. It was everything a good book should be. Of course, I had high expectations for Magic Study. I was really interested in learning about Sitia: Sitian government, as opposed to Ixian military dictatorship, magic, clans, the Zaltanas. Unfortunately, I still want to learn about all of this, even after reading a whole novel with a plot that hinged on the differences between Sitia and Ixia. As you can guess, Magic Study didn't deliver.

The world building, which was so luscious in the first novel, is here a mere afterthought, just a background for Yelena's adventures. This was a huge letdown, but I could have overlooked this if Snyder had devised a complex and satisfying plot, which she didn't. What's driving me mad is that she had every element to make it work, but ended up discarding a very interesting political intrigue and an elaborate magic system in favor of simplistic episodes that went for a cheap thrill. It worked at the pace level, but I felt I had consumed empty reading calories. 

While oddly entertaining, everything boiled down to Yelena being reckless, then kidnapped, then turning down help to try to understand her abilities better. And it seems like Yelena can do pretty much everything. There are limits to her abilities, but there is always a workaround to what she can't do. I'm sad to say she is becoming a Mary Sue. The story felt repetitive and trite, and the insterspersed flashbacks from Poison Study broke the narrative pace. We know this is book number 2. Trust your readers and don't spell everything out for them.

Also, where is Snyder's ability to make me care about secondary characters? Dax, Kiki and Moon Man are nice, and Cahill Ixia could be interesting, but you couldn't tell one from the other if you had to rely on their voices. This is surprising, considering the extremely well-written characters from Poison Study. I miss Ari and Janco. Even Valek, who appears in Magic Study, is just a sad shadow of the Valek we met in the first Study novel.

I really hope this is Sequel Syndrome, but I fear the series is veering into FWP (fluff without plot) territory. Nevertheless I enjoyed it, maybe more than it can be gleaned from this review. It was a letdown compared to Poison Study, but it still was a good book. I will be reading Fire Study - I just don't need to read it with the same urgency I felt before Magic Study.

martes, 4 de agosto de 2015

Top Ten Tuesdays: Fairytale Retellings

I haven't participated in The Broke and The Bookish TTT for a while, but I couldn't let this topic pass by. Fairytale, folktale and myth retellings is my favorite fantasy subgenre ever. I AM SO EXCITED. It took me ages to whittle this list to a decent number. It was so hard. There are so many good retellings!

In an effort to limit myself to the actual topic at hand, I decided not to include retellings of "modern" stories, like the wonderful Alice in Wonderland retelling, Splintered by A.G. Howard. I also didn't include retellings for European folktales, like Frances Hardinge's Cuckoo Song, or Sylvia Townsend Warner's Kingdoms of Elfin. As I still had quite a big list, I decided to use this TTT to highlight less well-known books, and didn't include popular books like Marissa Meyer's Cinder or Joan D. Vinge's Snow Queen.

So, without further ado, here goes my list of Top Ten Fairytale Retellings!

lunes, 3 de agosto de 2015

Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro

Judging by Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro is indeed a master of the short story craft. In this collection, there are nine shorter short stories and a longer one, almost a novella. Astoundingly, I feel as if I had read ten novels. She has an uncanny ability to plunge the reader into the world of her stories with a swift turn of phrase by which landscapes and lives and years are condensed in one sentence. To illustrate what I mean by this, see the start of Some Women:
I am amazed sometimes to think how old I am. I can remember when the streets of the town I lived in were sprinkled with water to lay the dust in summer, and when girls wore waist cinches and crinolines that could stand up by themselves, and where there was nothing much to be done about things like polio and leukemia.
In a couple of sentences, Munro paints a clear image of the setting. And then she masterfully ends the story with this flawless sentence:
I grew up, and old. 
Apparently simple, yet I had never read something so beautifully crafted. And her prose is as deceiving as her subject matter. She writes mainly about women in a closed environment. At first sight, the stories seem domestic, provincial. She has been dismissed for being a women's writer, and for being a regionalist. But, actually, that makes no sense. Her women, who seem variations of the same woman at different times, with different ages and placed in different circumstances, are essential. She might use a smaller scope than most, but she achieves universality even with more ease. These stories are packed with hard truths and feeling, and they require some time to settle and unlock their whole meaning. They are stories full of tragedy, and vitality. Some also have humor. Some have fairy-tale magic in them. 

Above all, they are stories to reread and ponder.

domingo, 2 de agosto de 2015

July in Review: A collection of links

July has been a good month. I've recovered my will to blog, read, and go out. As of right now, I'm also baking again!

summer sunsets in the mountains

What did I read?
Back in March I lost track of number of pages I had been reading, and I also kind of gave up on my reading challenges. I don't know whether I want to go back, honestly. I don't want to stifle my renewed reading mojo. But I can still show you what I read this month:

Virgin River · Magic Study
It might not seem too much, but I'm proud because both are romance novels, which mean I'm fighting against my snobbery, and because I'm reading again with regularity. That alone means the world to me.

On the blog...
I reviewed quite a number of books. I'm catching up with past books because this blog was started with the objective of keeping a book journal of sorts, and I didn't want to forget about my reads. Sorry for the review spam :/