October 19, 2016

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon Sign-Up.

As nothing particularly exciting is going to happen around here this weekend, I plan to SIT AND READ with Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon! Seriously, I think this is the first time I might actually be able to fully participate in this famous and awesome readathon. I'm excited, and I plan to get prepared well: cook the food, shut down facebook and get some good sleep the night before.

Here's a picture of books I'll have to choose from this weekend:

I have the WEM monster by Cervantes, from which I hope to read some chapters, the gripping Cronin masterpiece that I'm already half-way through and hope to finish, and three rather thin books to keep things lively around here. I'm especially excited about Simon, I've read great reviews! Where to you think I should start?

I plan to update my reading progress on Goodreads, which is also shared on Twitter. And maybe I'll do some hourly challenges here if my internet connection behaves. And we'll see how many hours out of 24 I'm able to read)) I'm excited!!

Drop me a link to where you'll be updating if you're planning to participate too!

October 16, 2016

The Circle by Dave Eggers (Review)

Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
First published: 2013
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

Are you afraid of Google? If you think of it, the amount of information it knows about you is pretty unsettling. But the majority of people are OK with that because it makes their lives easier in so many ways. I personally am one of them. But what if people continue being OK with everything it introduces and as a result, they end up abandoning their right to privacy completely for the sake of safety and transparency? It's a 21st century kind of Utopia, and one very easy to imagine.

The book starts with Maya's first day on a shining high-tech campus of a huge search engine / social network / everything company called the Circle. She can't be happier to land the job, although the demands are pretty high. She integrates more and more into company's life while disintegrating from her friends and family. Eventually, she becomes the center of the big changes in the company's policies and services.

I really enjoyed the writing. Well, maybe "enjoyed" is a wrong word, let's say it was very appropriate. It was unstoppable and hectic, as constant updates and notifications are. You can feel how excruciating being always online and worrying about it can be. Everything is happening in the real world and then of course the immediate flow of comments and likes comes. You can feel the irritation growing inside you as you are always told what's happening on the virtual plane too. And it is really great writing, because this is exactly how the characters' brains work - always paying attention to the flow of reactions on the Internet.

I liked how Eggers explored a lot of possible consequences of every new technology, it is all very believable. Sometimes what was happening was a tad bit over the top though, so no fifth star here, but a great read nonetheless.

In my book: A perfect read for both technology junkies and those who are wary of this whole new online thing.

October 8, 2016

All That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon (Review)

Title: All That Is Solid Melts into Air
Author: Darragh McKeon
First published: 2014
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

I've just returned from an Italian holiday! Love this country: food and Renaissance are both amazing! Before the journey, I had thought for quite some time about what I wanted to read on the trains, and had decided on probably the least holiday-themed book ever. But somehow, it fitted perfectly. The thing is, I went on this trip with my mom, and we always have these heated discussions about politics and Soviet Union. She's often resentful of me being so negative about the whole period. I guess she's nostalgic of the era of her crazy young life, or maybe the propaganda is so ingrained into your brain that you can't easily get rid of it. I try to listen to her, but I can't but remember all the facts that I've read and that are painting a very different picture than what she remembers. The picture this book paints, for example, is not pretty. It is true and painful and urgent and shows exactly what was wrong with the social system in Soviet Union at the time of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

I'm usually skeptical about non-soviet authors writing about soviet times. True, there is such thing as research, but I didn't believe you could write based on research as believably as if you'd lived it. Well, this book proves me wrong. Every little detail rings true, beginning with the mundane stuff like living arrangements to the unsaid fears deep in the people's minds. The writing is very vivid and precise, and it lulls you into the atmosphere of the book so that it's very difficult to put down.

I admit I didn't know much about Chernobyl meltdown before reading this book, just the basics. As it turns out, the catastrophe was much more horrible than I could have imagined. And the most horrifying thing is not radiation itself, it's how the system prevented any kind of effective counter-actions. There was even no backup plan or emergency procedure, because preparing them would mean admitting the plant could fail, and that's just unthinkable, right? If you just imagine how many lives could have been spared if they actually counted for something! Medical advice was ignored to honor subordination and save the face of the officials and the nation and people were treated.. well, in the same way as people were always treated in Soviet Union.

In my book: A very powerful book that shows the big picture of the catastrophe and the small, individual picture of the lives of the people caught in its whirlwind. Really stunning!

September 24, 2016

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Review)

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
First published: 2014
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

To put it shortly - I was not impressed. And I really expected to be! I like sweet, touching, feel-good books about how people become their better selves through a series of unlikely events. And I thought that The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry would be something like The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It aspired to but it wasn't even close.

So the story tells about the life of the titular A.J. Fikry, a bookshop owner, who is going through a tough period in his life after his wife's death. Everything changes when he finds a girl left in his bookshop the night before her mother commits suicide. Then, of course, he can't bear to part with the girl, adopts her and she grows up in a bookshop and becomes a wonderful nerd, just like her new father. So what can go wrong with such a sweet plot? Well, everything.

The writing is kinda sketchy and pretty obvious. You cannot help rolling your eyes at some social situations, wondering how dumb everybody must be to behave like that. Things happen episodically and fast, and I guess we should be thankful for that because not everybody has enough patience to read 200 more pages of awkward, non-charming courting full of sloppy literary references. Some moments are so intentionally tear-jerking that I got really pissed off. I mean, I like to cry over a book, but only because it's naturally and beautifully sad, not because the author had decided to cram a lot of tragic stuff and stupid pathos on three pages.

There are a couple of nice twists in the plot, and that's why it's still two stars, but overall the time you'll spend following the 2-dimensional characters is just not worth it.

In my book: A notoriously unsuccessful attempt for a touching and sweet novel.

September 22, 2016

TWEM Starting Line

This post marks the starting line of my reading from the lists in The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. The first three books arrived yesterday, and I've already started Don Quixote. It's huge. I didn't expect it to be so huge! But I'm not too intimidated because it should be funny and also I know that with the notes I can keep it all together.

Wish me luck and join me in reading TWEM books! And tell me, were you intimidated when beginning with TWEM, if you're doing/have done the lists? I mean, those are not very easy to read titles!

September 20, 2016

Lock In by John Scalzi (Review)

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
First published: 2014
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

I'm a sucker for science fiction that is clever and consistent, and after introducing just one (albeit major) change into our lives, goes all the way through with it to imagine where the ripples on the water would go. In Lock In the world is suffering from an aftermath of a global virus which causes about 1% of the people that has survived it to get "locked in" into their brain without being able to move.

There are millions of people in this state all over the world, and the world has adapted to them: they have a virtual space to hang out into, they can buy special robots in which they can put their minds and function close to normal, they can even occasionally hitch-hike in minds of special facilitators. And when one of these facilitators is caught at a crime scene, nobody is sure if he was with a client in his head and if he's guilty.

Lock In dives into so many interesting social and political problems, and yet manages to stay a gripping and action-packed detective novel, where a charming dynamic duo of FBI agents will do their best to solve the crime while keeping you at the edge of your seat. I read the book in one day, and it was a gorgeous day full of intrigue!

In my book: Lock In lives up to all the hype it's getting! One of the best books of the year, for sure!

September 19, 2016

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Review)

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
First published: 2003
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

This unassuming little book turned out to be much more complex and touching than I had expected it to be. It starts as a detective story: Christopher finds his neighbor's dog killed with a garden fork one night, and being a fan of Sherlock Holmes stories, he decides to find out the truth. Christopher is really good at deducting, so he would be perfect for the job, if only he was not afraid to talk to people because he has Asperger's.

In the course of his investigation, Christopher encounters various obstacles, like his father telling him to mind his own business, people calling the police, and Bad Days, when he sees 4 yellow cars on a road to school. The investigation is stalled, and then it turns out to be something else completely, and the storyline goes where you don't expect it to go AT ALL. Well, at least it took ME by surprise. Maybe you're less easy to impress :)

I don't know if the author has some first-hand experience communicating with people who have Asperger's, but it certainly seems so. At the very least the book is very well researched and rings true in every sentence. Christopher's train of thought is totally alien and fascinating, but it also makes a lot of sense if you think about it. I don't wonder someone like him has problems communicating with people, we're indeed weird, unpredictable and too grabby. And the book also shows people who are OK talking to Christopher, and it doesn't take that much - just a little patience and consideration. I surely think that even if Christopher won't be able to become an astronaut as he dreams, at least nothing prevents him from getting a degree and becoming a scientist. I believe in him!

In my book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a very touching and true-ringing novel, that will not leave you unaffected.

September 18, 2016

The Tolkien Tag 2016

Let's get the PARTY started!! A Tolkien Blog Party, no less! And although there's no "of special magnificence" tagline this year, it's still mighty exciting! Thanks for hosting, Hamlette!

So here's to Bilbo and Frodo, and here are my answers to the tag questions:

1. How many books by J.R.R. Tolkien have you read?

Ummm... all of them? Well, maybe except the latest Arthur translation. But I will, you'll see!

2. Have you seen any movies based on them?

And again - all of them. Although, as you can probably guess, I was not a big fan of the latest two.

3. Are there any scenes/moments that make you cry?

I'm an easy crier, so LotR gets me every time, especially with the ending and all of the deaths. Having a drink and some napkins for a LotR movie night is a must! Don't remember if I cried while reading, though, I haven't done it in a while.

4. Are there any scenes/moments that make you laugh?

Oh well all of them with Merry and Pippin. They are just so cute! Gandalf is also one for an occasional good joke.

5. Have you ever chosen a Middle Earth name for yourself? If so, what is it?

Well, it's still with me on every web page that requires a login. It's Arenel - a slightly modified version of Aredhel Ar-Feiniel, who has a breathtaking story in Silmarillion.

6. Who would you want to party with/marry/fight to the death? (pick three characters)

I want to party with the hobbits, obviously! They are the best at the business! For marrying none other than Aragorn is an option, I love him deeply! <3 I wouldn't want to fight anybody to death there, they are all so tough! I'm pretty sure it is my death we'll be fighting to, so what's the difference?)

7. When was the last time you visited Middle Earth, via books or movies?

I bought a beautiful illustrated version of LotR a couple of years ago, and I read maybe half of the first book then. 

8. Do you consider Gollum to be a villain? Why or why not?

It was obviously Tolkien's intention to convince the reader that he's not evil. So I trust the Professor on that one.

9. How would you sum up what Tolkien's stories mean to you in one word?

A safe place that's always there when I need it.

10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

I'm the worst at remembering quotes, but I did learn some poetry from LotR by heart. Here's my favorite one:

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door

Not the "I'm Back" Post

Hi, wonderful people that are (hopefully) still here somewhere! No one will actually believe me if I say I'm back for good here this time. I've lost my credibility when I did exactly this a year and something ago, and then disappeared again what? 5 posts after? So let's just say that I'm not promising anyone (including myself!) anything and we'll see how it goes!

I'm at the point of life where I've again started to get excited about books, and I can see my friends and colleagues trying hard not to roll their eyes when I'm gushing about a new fave of mine. And of course, I can feel the itch to put my thoughts to a virtual paper in hope of finding like-minded readers out there on the vast Internet.

A lot has happened in my life since I wrote last. I climbed a volcano at night in Indonesia, visited a Google conference in London and circled Majorca on an 18th century rigged ship. I got depression, gained 10 kilos and now already lost 7 of them (fingers crossed to losing the rest, working on it!). I've started learning Arabic for no reason and got to really enjoy it. I'm nowhere close to even figuring out what I want my PhD to be about and whether I want it at all. I've started a webpage called 80 days & counting (get the reference, fellow book nerds?) about traveling with my best friend, and myriads of technical problems and writer blocks after we still don't hate each other. Maybe we should marry!

Although I still live in a rented flat that is actually on sale at the moment, I keep buying books, and 3 levels of my IKEA shelf are now occupied with paper happiness. Wherever I go, I leave some space in my suitcase, because I realize I'll definitely stumble on a bookshop on the first day of my travels and then will have to throw out toothpaste or something equally necessary to fit in just one more book. I may have a problem here. Especially London was bad, as you can imagine :) Anyway, here's my precious:

I know it doesn't look like much to happy house owners, for example, but the thought of transporting them to a new place when I inevitably have to move scares me.

Anyway, what I plan to do now is to just write about whatever great books come my way, without feeling compelled to catch up on last year reviews or anything. But I do want to catch up with my favourite bloggers that are still online, so expect a visitor) I've been participating in Emma Watson's feminist book club Our Shared Shelf since the beginning of this year, so probably some posts will be about books for it. Anybody else following their program? I've cleaned the challenges slate here on the blog and refreshed the design. Hopefully you like the new one more! Ah, and I'm starting The Well-Educated Mind reading as soon as my Don Quixote arrives. I even have a journal! :)

So that's that, thanks for still being here, let's see how this "homecoming" goes!

November 26, 2015

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

Title: Use of Weapons
Author: Iain M. Banks
Rating: ★★★★★

This book, guys! It is so awesome I feel totally unequal to writing a review that would give it credit. But I'll try. It is my first Iain M. Banks novel, and I already know that I will read all of his books! Because wow!

The setting is a space-opera-style future, where the galaxy is dominated by the all-controlling Culture. It has something of the decadent late Roman empire smell to it, and being much more advanced technologically than the other nations, Culture also feels responsibility for all that is happening in any corner of the galaxy. Inevitably, they start meddling in another planets' affairs "for their own good" and "to prevent bigger evil". You can tell nothing good can ever come out of that right? Well, again, that depends on the definition of "good" :)

Anyway, as direct interference would not be subtle, Culture has special agents (and if you immediately think James Bond, you're not too far off :)), who infiltrate the planet in question and solve the problem. They are genius commanders and diplomats, trained in all possible arts of war, and besides they can live almost forever, their employer being able to resurrected them after any accidents... Zakalwe is one of them, and some say he's the best of them. He is also a very troubled man, and the reader needs to dig deep into his past to understand who he really is... only to have the last pages turn all your notions upside down in the most wonderfully brutal way.

The plot unravels in two directions: to the past and to the future. As we see more of Zakalwe's present actions, we also learn more about his past that brought him to this point in his life, and understand him better. Hopping between the past and present can be a bit confusing in the beginning, but when you get used to it, you cannot bear to stop reading. And I had an urge to re-read the whole thing immediately after I finished, to appreciate and admire again the complex architecture of the novel, in which every little thing matters and adds to the picture.
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