31 Aug 2011

September tomorrow - a list of autumn reads

Tomorrow is September 1st which means that today is the last day of summer 2011... This summer has just sped past, I wonder what happened? It feels like it only just began and now suddenly it is all grey and rainy again! I spent most of the summer on crutches, hobbling along as graciously as possible (which is not very graceful, I must admit) but now I am finally off crutches and hopefully I will soon be back in stilettos. Though it will be painful, it will also be such a victory.Anyway back to the subject of autumn because autumn has a lot of things going for it - beautiful colours, days where the sky is so blue that it is almost unbelievable and days that are made for reading inside with a cup of tea.
In honour of autumn here is a list of some great autumn reads:

"I Am Charlotte Simmons" by Tom Wolfe.
The book about ambitious country girl Charlotte Simmons who gets a scholarship to a prestigious university but struggles to fit in with the privileged kids who are used to money buying them everything. Charlotte arrives at university in autumn and the seasons seem to be a strong metaphor for Charlotte's inner life in this book. A great read for a long, rainy Sunday.

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
As these follow the school year, they all start in autumn and especially the first four books have a real sense of seasons changing that I enjoyed.
(btw. I've gone with the Danish cover as we've all seen the English/American ones so many times)

And here are a couple that I haven't read but that sound like great autumn-y reads (descriptions from amazon):

"The Autumn Castle" by Kim Wilkins
Berlin in autumn: Christine Starlight is living in an artists' colony in the crumbling urban shadows of the old east. Her lover Jude is a painter; his beauty and patience help her bear the chronic pain that is a legacy of the car crash that crippled her and killed her beloved parents. Out of the blue comes a crimson-haired beauty, who presides over a land where a witch dwells in a well, a wolf is the queen's counsellor and fate turns on the fall of an autumn leaf. For a brief span, the lands of faery and mortal man march hand in hand and Queen Mayfridh has taken the chance to seek out Christine, her childhood friend. But dealings with faeryland are never simple: as Christine yearns for Mayfridfh's world, where mortals feel no pain, so Mayfridh in turn is becoming addicted to Christine's, where there are tastes and textures and the danger of forbidden love.

"Autumn Term" by Antonia Forest
Twins Nicola and Lawrie arrive at their new school determined to do even better than their elder sisters, who had all distinguished themselves. But things don't turn out quite as planned. This story about twins going to a new school is the first title in Antonia Forest's well-loved series about the Marlow family.

29 Aug 2011

Review: "The Folk Keeper"

Sometimes a book that is not written for us, as in not written for our age group, gender etc. etc., can be just the right book for us. I came across one such book just the other day: the children's book "The Folk Keeper" by Franny Billingsley. This is a fantasy/fairy tale/adventure children's book, a short but sweet and touching tale of Corinna who keeps her gender a secret as she works as a folk keeper in the orphanage where she lives. A folk keeper as in indispensable part of a large household as he is the one who keeps the folk, a mythic people living in the ground who will spoil the harvest and kill the animals if they are not kept happy and content. It is a dangerous job but one that Corinna values - it is her identity. So when she is offered a different life as a folk keeper in a larger household, an estate, she goes there to seek her fortune. What she doesn't know is that she will find more than her fortune, she will find her destiny.

This one is an easy one to review because it is a really sweet children's book. It had me captivated even though I should probably have read it when I was ten or twelve, not 26, and it captured my imagination and took me on a trip to Corinna's world. A really good book for teenagers with great imaginations and a love of fantasy.

Read it if: You had a dungeons and dragons phase in your teen years or if you just enjoy good fantasy fairytales.

24 Aug 2011

7 reasons to read "The Rivers of London"

7 reasons to read "The Rivers of London" by Ben Aaronovitch (there are many more than seven by the way!)

Reason 1 - page 103
"I'm just going to have a chat with this troll", said Nightingale
"Sir", I said, "I think we're supposed to call them rough sleepers."
"Not this one we don't", said Nightingale. "He's a troll"

Reason 2 - page 142
I agreed that being part of something real was indeed wonderful, but it would be groovy if she could tell me what she'd seen. I actually used the word "groovy" and she didn't even flinch, which was worrying on so many levels.

Reason 3 - page 178
A London copper doesn't like to intrude on a traveller camp with anything less than a van full of bodies in riot gear - it's considered disrespectful otherwise.

Reason 4 - page 202
"We think he is hiding in Walthamstow," she said. Many would say that was punishment enough.

Reason 5 - page 229
"You really are the most extraordinarily gullible young man", she said, "What on earth are we going to do with you?"

Reason 6 - page 265
The trouble with the old boy network is that you can never really be sure whether it's switched on or not, and whether it's operating in your interest or some other old boy's.

Reason 7 - page 320
Nobody likes a riot except looters or journalists.

21 Aug 2011

Wuthering Heights - from the arty to the insulting...

Now this post will be focusing on "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë, however, not the content or style of the book but the covers that it has been given. I've said it before and I'll say it again: covers are so important. They are what attracts us to books that we have never heard of and just spot in the bookshop. Here are some example of the covers that "Wuthering Heights" have been given...

The arty, edgy one which I have to admit I quite like:

The cheesy and down-right insulting one (please notice the badge saying "Bella and Edward's favourite book!!! PLEASE spare me):

The boring one with the sheep (?!? need I say more):

The classic, emotional cover - which is really rather pretty:

The hardcover hottie:

What are your thoughts on the covers?

16 Aug 2011

But why?

Some books are just perfect for being made into epic films that add another dimension to the book. And some are just not... And it is a bit of a rule of thumb if you ask me that if a book doesn't work as a book then it probably won't work as a film. I know there are exceptions (not that I can think of any right now but I am sure they are there) but usually I would think that a good book has a better chance of a becoming a good movie than a bad one. Which is why I do not understand why on earth "Gods Behaving Badly" by Marie Phillips is now being made into a movie!

It has been a while since I read this one but when I read it, I absolutely disliked it. Really disliked it. The premise that it is a bunch of Greek gods and goddesses are living in a crumbling house in modern-day London is interested and though it is a bit tacky, I thought that it could probably be a fun read if executed elegantly. Turned out it was about as elegant as an elephant in a shop full of antique china. Not a pretty picture and not a good book. So why has somebody rounded up a cast including Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken and John Turturro and why is it being filmed?

If someone in the movie industry is reading this blog: there are many, many books out there that are so much more worthy of being filmed than this one (in my opinion at least). So why not pick up the rights for "Purge" by Sofi Oksanen (see last post), "The Pregnant Widow" by Martin Amis (review coming soon) or "The Darkangel" by Meredith Ann Pierce?

14 Aug 2011

Review: "Purge"

Finding Finnish author Sofi Oksanen's novel "Purge" in a second-hand bookshop for a few pounds was a real find! It's been on my TBR ever since I read a review of it in the Sunday paper and when I bought it, I couldn't keep myself from reading it immediately because I was so curious about the story.

This is a dark novel on several levels with two stories intertwining, both very dark tales of women whose lives have not been easy. Aliide Truu is an elderly lady living in an old farmhouse in the Estonian countryside. She lives in a rather old-fashioned way and is largely self-sufficient and withdrawn from the world. So one day when Aliide finds a young woman outside her house, a woman in strange Westernized clothes who behaves really strangely, she is obviously suspicious. There is something about the woman though, that means that Aliide can't just leave her to her destiny so she takes her in, feeds her and chats with her while trying to figure out what has happened to this young woman, Zara, to leave her in such a difficult situation.
Aliide's and Zara's stories are very dissimilar. One is the story of living in a country where communism pervades everything. Where husbands spy on wives and village men rape girls to torture their parents. It is such a strong, emotional story of lives being torn apart, love having to give up when faced with such strong adversity, it is raw and painful to read, yet impossible to put down. And this is something that Aliide's story shares with Zara's story. Zara's story is about being a trafficking victim, about a naive, young girl who has always been deprived of the Western luxury who jumps on the chance for a new start in the West and ends up losing everything except her life. It is as painful and raw as Aliide's story even though the two stories are very different. It almost physically hurts to read it.

The strengths of "Purge" are many. It is not sugarcoated, everything is exposed, all human flaws are there in plain view and even the main characters that as a reader, I sympathized with, are full of flaws. Another strength is the historical aspect. As a historical story, it works really well because it envokes an Estonia of the past (luckily) that is so different from modern-day Estonia, yet gives you a better chance of understanding Estonia and the other countries that suffered during the dark days of communism and Stalin. It is truly a scary read on so many levels, from the explicit violence and the vulnerability of the women in this story to the political environment and the men that will do anything for money, power, status or a casino.

A quote to give you a taste of "Purge":
"too many people had dirty flour in their bags, and people with filthy fingers are hardly enthusiastic about digging up the past . . . those who poke around in the past will get a stick in the eye."

This is one of the best novels I have read in 2011 and I will definitely re-read it and buy it as a present for many of my friends.

Read it if: You enjoyed the movie "The Lives of the Others" or if you love your books to leave you with a lot to think about.

11 Aug 2011

Role models from the pages: Ronja The Robber's Daugther

When I did the Top Ten Tuesday list about underrated books, I included Ronja the Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren. I am not sure why this one popped into my head when I was doing the list - I haven't read it for ages, years, yet it is a book that I love. "Ronja The Robber's Daugther" is a children's book by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren and it was first published in 1981, a few years before I was born and I had it read to me several times as a child. What I love about this book is the strong, independent Ronja, daughter of man's man, head honcho robber Mattis. Whereas many of Astrid Lindgren's books have been set in a very safe, idyllic Sweden, Ronja is set in a much more dark version of Sweden - a bit like "Mio, my Mio" or "The Brothers Lionheart".

When Ronja is born into a clan of robbers living in a castle in the forest, her father Mattis the chieftain is ecstatic. His arch-enemy, Borka, chieftain of a rival clan, does not have such a fine daugther. What Mattis doesn't know is that Borka's son, Birk Borkason will play a big role in little Ronja's life. She grows up, only child in a clan of robbers, and one day she meets Birk and through a daring game they become friends. It is unthinkable that Mattis's daughter should be friend with a Borka, so they keep it a secret until the day when their friendship is tested by the rivalry of their family and Ronja and Birk have to choose between family feuds and friendship.

What is so amazing about this book is the many emotions that it manages to capture and convey. Ronja and Birk are strong characters and Ronja is a real role model for girls if you ask me. The main conflict is between childhood and adolescence - Ronja has to admit to herself that the father she idolizes is not perfect and that eventually she will have to break free if she wants to live her own life. It has such a strong message about family values, friendship, love and tolerance and all of this is wrapped up in a beautiful tale full of robbers and faeries and magic and nature.

Ronja the Robber's Daugther is the perfect role model for tween girls - her big heart, courage and independence is a far cry from Barbiefied values. Ronja lives wild, appearances don't count in her world - it is all about values and making choices. So if you are looking for the perfect present for an 8 year old girl, do buy her "Ronja the Robber's Daughter".

The picture shows the Danish cover as I remember it from my childhood. I love the colours and the darkness of the forest in the background.

8 Aug 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated books - must reads!

The topic of this week's Top Ten Tuesday is Underrated Books as in books you can't believe aren't more popular, books that are more obscure and so on. I love this topic. There are so many books that I can't believe aren't getting more hype or that I love but that have not received the acclaim that I think they deserve. So here we go - don't forget to pop by The Broke and The Bookish to join in!

10) The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Many of you know the musical and have probably seen either that one or the film - but have you read the book? Otherwise, I can highly recommend it. It is a short but great story about Christine Daaé with the amazing voice, her childhood sweetheart and the opera phantom who is in love with her. It is not your typical love story but it is a really sweet and sometimes scary story.

9) Ronja, the Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren
One of the best children's book ever about the strong, independent girl Ronja who lives in the forest. If you haven't read it yet, you have to get it now. It is a classic.

8) Havana Real by Yoani Sanchez
This is a non-fiction book, a collection of blog posts from the Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, giving us a glimpse into the life of a family in Cuba who are struggling to make ends meet even though they are among the well-off. Yoani is a really cool woman with a strong voice and lots of opinions. Amazing book, was completely unable to put it down once I had started it.

7) The Exception by Christian Jungersen
A deeply disturbing book about adult bullying the work place. The point-of-view keeps changing between the characters which makes it really difficult to be black and white about who are the evil ones and who are the good ones. It is a bit of a thriller, a suspenseful read that deserves many readers!

6) Namedropper by Emma Forrest
This was one of my favourite YA books when I was a teenager. It is a coming-of-age story about a Viva whose world seems to be populated with characters - from the gorgeous best friend Treena to her gay uncle Manny with the Liz Taylor obsession this book takes us from North London to California and back as we follow Viva learning a thing or two about life. It is full of pop culture references and my 15 year-old self loved it.

5) Dewitt, Helen: The Last Samurai
Ludo is a gifted child, a child prodigy, a kid for whom learning is the best way of entertaining himself. So while his mother struggles to keep up with the five-year-olds wish to learn Japanese and make enough money to get them through the day, Ludo wonders who his father is. A really beautiful book with great characters that you cannot help but love.

4) Stolen Spring by Hans Scherfig
This on is a Danish classic, a must-read on the Danish high school curriculum and for a very good reason: it is a real treasure! A literary feast of amazingness! It is the story of a group of school boys in a very disciplined school where the teachers use their powers to degrade the students - especially the latin teacher Blomme is a real nasty piece of work and the book centers on the mystery of his death. If you are a fan of classic school novels from early 1900s, then this one is for you.

3) The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce
Forget about Twilight and House of Night and all those paranormal romance vampire books that are flooding the market at the moment. This is as much of a vampire classic as Bram Stoker's Dracula, if you ask me, except they aren't vampires - they are vampyres, darkangels that feed on souls. When Ariel's mistress, the beautiful Eoduin is taken by a darkangel, she follows her to try to free her from the vampyre's clutches.

2) Nordkraft by Jacob Ejersbo
If you liked the film "Trainspotting", you will love this book. Ejersbo's novel is a masterpiece about living a hard life full of drugs, alcohol and abuse on the bottom of society. This is a book about the people we see on the street and that makes us thankful for our lives. It is so gripping and thought-provoking that it moved me to tears.

1) The Sopranos by Alan Warner
One of my favourite books (it has been for years) is this fantastic tour de force about a group of Catholic school girls on an outing from their small village to a larger town for a choir competition. The amount of mischief (doesn't cover it at all!) they get into is disturbing - getting drunk, getting their uniforms stolen... it is all just the beginning of the adventure.

Review: "Girl, Missing" by Sophie McKenzie

Review in short: great books for tweens and teens. I guess you'd like a bit more detail though? So here it comes, a full review of Sophie McKenzie's young adult book "Girl, Missing". The girl in question Lauren is not actually missing. She is living in London with her parents and she has always known that she is adopted. This has never really been an issue for her - what is an issue, however, is the fact that Lauren is very much becoming a teenager with all the mood swings and the feelings of being misunderstood and not fitting in. Luckily Lauren has a great friend, Jam, who is always there for her through thick and thin. So when Lauren finds a picture online that looks strangely like her as a toddler, she of course tells Jam. Trouble is, the picture is on a website about abducted children. Years ago a toddler in USA disappeared, a girl with almost the same name as Lauren and almost the same looks... Soon Lauren and Jam are on a transatlantic hunt to find out the truth about the toddler on the picture and about Lauren's childhood but someone definitely doesn't want Lauren to unearth the secrets of the past and it all gets dangerous...

Had I been 13 or 14 years old I would have absolutely loved this book. As it is, I am probably too old for it - nah, definitely too old for it - and I have to say that I found it hard to sympathy with Lauren. Her teenage moodiness and mood swings and her general being unfair to her parents and to Jam is pretty exhausting if you ask me. I understand but it is tiring! Luckily she realises her own selfishness at some point but it is a little late for me, I must say.

Read it if: You love contemporary quality YA or if you are 14 years old.

5 Aug 2011

A little bit of a Princess Bride

"The Princess Bride"... such a divine little whimsical title. "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman. A divine book! Whimsical, no more like satirical but absolutely delicious. I will be reviewing it soon but here's a little something to share the "The Princess Bride" love:

"I need your advice," she interrupted. "What can I do to improve my personal appearance."
"Start by bathing," her father said.
"And do something with your hair while you're at it," her mother said.

p. 59

She did her best thinking then. Not that her best thinking ever expanded horizons. Still, she told herself, she was not a dummy either, so as long as she kept her thoughts to herself, well, where was the harm? (p. 90)

From his position at the point of the Armada, Prince Humperdinck stared up at the Cliffs of Insanity. This was just like any other hunt. He made himself think away quarry. It did not matter if you were after an antelope or a bride-to-be... p. 165

By 5:48, Buttercup felt quite sure she would be dead. p 305

4 Aug 2011

Review: "Eleven"

I really can't remember how "Eleven" by Mark Watson ended up on my TBR list. Don't misunderstand me, I am glad it did, it is a good read but it is just not the kind of book that I would normally pick up. I must have read a review of it somewhere and decided that it deserved a try. Anyway I took it with me when I went to London on a two-week vacation (I know, luxury! I am staying with my boyfriend so no expensive hotel bills but lots of great homecooked meals, the perfect vacation - now back to the review).

"Eleven" is whimsical and its special trademark is that though it features one main character there are a bunch of minor characters and they are all essential to the plot. The minor characters are the story, really. However, first let me tell you about the main character with the strange name Xavier Ireland. This is not really Xavier's real name, he left that behind years ago when he moved from Australia to London to start a new life after a very traumatic event that I for spoiler-related reasons won't tell you about... So now he is Xavier, working in London as a nighttime radio host advising sleepless Londoners on everything from true love to the meaning of life (I know - quite a demanding job!). His colleague Murray is not only Xavier's producer but also his close friend who is constantly in need of help from Xavier and Xavier is there for him. Actually Xavier is quite a helpful guy, however, one day he walks past a bunch of boys bullying and beating up a boy but though he does try to stop it, he doesn't really do anything and definitely not enough. So the boy gets beaten up and from this event other events spiral that eventually lead back to Xavier.
And then there is the speed date that Murray persuades Xavier to join him for and where Xavier doesn't find a date but instead finds a cleaning lady, Pippa. Pippa turns out to be a real power girl who takes over his life while cleaning his messy (...read: disgusting) flat and asking him questions about what actually happened in Australia so that the reader finally understands what has led Xavier to where he is in his life.

"Eleven" is basically a book about domino effects - about how things that seem hardly noticeable in the end lead to big, life-changing events. It is slightly whimsical in the approach to fate and apparently (or so I've been told) it is reminiscent of "One Day" by David Nicholls. I quite liked this book though I have to say that I found it a bit on the light side. I would have liked to explore the characters of Xavier and Pippa more - especially Pippa because I really really liked her. She has this approach to life that if all she can be is a cleaning lady, then she is going to be the best cleaning lady that she can and I really like that about her and for me, it was Pippa who made the book.

Read it if: You like philosophizing about why things happen or if you listen to a lot of night-time radio.

2 Aug 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Good trends, bad trends

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish and I love it! This week is really interesting - it is Top Ten Trends You Would Like to See More or Less of!
So here's my list:

See more of:
1) Books being promoted in the blogosphere! I think it is so great the bloggers share their love of books and promote books that maybe wouldn't get the attention they deserve if it wasn't for the blogosphere. We love great authors and wonderful books and sharing that love is beautiful!

2) Young, female authors writing literary fiction and getting acknowledged for their hard work and talent - such as Téa Obreht, author of "The Tiger's Wife"

3) Authors being translated to English. There are so many great authors out there and they deserve to be translated - one example is Sofi Oksanen's fantastic novel "Purge" that has been translated into English and is really popular.

4) Dystopian and steampunk, great imaginative genres that deserve more attention and more bestsellers.

5) Wrapping up classics in beautiful, tasteful, cool covers such as these below. Personally I would really love for E. F. Benson's "Mapp and Lucia" to be given some more attention.

See less of:
1) Vampires and werewolves. Enough is enough people. I don't care if they are sparkling or have tattoos, I don't want anymore of them for a while. Please come up with something else to write about.

2) Less focus on incest/pedophilia as romance/love relationships. Though I really liked "Repeat It Today With Tears" by Anne Peile and liked "Tiger, Tiger" by Margaux Fragoso, I really do not like this topic...

3) Paranormal romance... girl and vampire, girl and werewolf, girl and angel... it is becoming ever so slightly tiring.

4) Celebrity novels, ghostwritten by some poor guy/girl who really needed the money. I am not talking about real biographies from politicians etc. but Katie Price as an author? Really? That's just plain wrong.

5) Awful covers that try to sell a book as something it isn't (...or try to trade off Twilight, such bad taste!!)

1 Aug 2011

Review: "Horns"

I don't know how to explain what type of book "Horns" by Joe Hill is - I can't really think of any other books quite like this one. It is really different from most other books that I have read and I had no real expectations when I started to read it. I had read a decent review of it, thought the plot sounded interesting and wanted to give it a go and so I did. Joe Hill, the author, has a bit of a parental heritage to live up to as he is the son of no other than Stephen King and I have to say that probably that is where my only real expectation came from. I somehow expected the book to remind me of Stephen King and I am happy to report that it didn't though I know that some readers disagree with me on that one. Joe Hill has his own voice, his own language and style so even though the plot sounds like something that King could have thought up, it is treated in a way that is all Hill. Love it.

The main character of "Horns" is Ignatius William Perrish, Ig, is a normal guy at least in his own eyes and at least until the day he wakes up with... horns! Out of nowhere he has grown a pair of horns that doesn't only make people stare but also makes them divulge all of their secrets. From the embarrassing to the downright evil and cruel ones. Suddenly Ig finds that the people he thought he knew are very different from the way he perceived them and that the people he thought he loved maybe don't love him. It is a rough awakening. Especially because the horns reveal what Ig really doesn't want to know - they everybody think he killed his ex-girlfriend, the only girl he has ever love and the only real good thing in his life.

I won't say much more about the plot here because I don't want to create spoilers or reveal too much. What is so great about this book is that it manages to combine the serious and the humorous in a very elegant way. Ig, who is already shut more or less out of society due to the suspicions that everyone have about him, become completely shut out yet gets a much better understanding when he grows the horns. Suddenly he is able to see the most vile sides of humans and this means that he gets completely new perspective on everything that happens around him. The love story part is touching and the ending was amazing - I feared that the ending wouldn't live up to the plot but it did, it more than did. However, the book is so funny. There are a lot of scenes that made me smile and laugh - Ig's family is horrible, really horrible. Especially his grandmother! Ig himself is great as a main character because even though he is flawed and even unkind at times, especially when it comes to girls, he is very easy to feel sympathy for and to like.

Read it if: You liked Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita" or loves the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil".