Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Snippets #3

I didn't write the weekend post last week because I was just. so. tired. Physically and mentally, as I had been away from home for 7 days and at home only one day in between.
Selection of roofs from Prague Old Town.
For four days we were in Prague for a city vacation. It was pretty much all I expected it to be - gorgeous architecture, cheap prices, excellent beer, lots of meat and sausages, hordes of tourists, but also things I did not expect, like constant 33 degrees (C) of heat with no merciful breezes. Overall I am very happy with the trip and also glad to report that I survived my first ever two plane rides. I put up a very selected collection of photos here.
After Prague came the Midsummer's weekend, which was spent traditionally at the summer cottage by the lake. It's an idyllic place in the middle of nowhere, just a lot of forest, the lake, house, sauna, fishes to catch, boat rides to take, food to barbeque, books to read, all the relaxing stuff.
Mammu with her new friend.
After that I've just been trying to get back to the work rhythm and pace. There will be three more weeks of holidays in August for both of us, which is definitely something to look forward to.

Robert with his new friend.

I've been reading but not really finishing a lot of books... In Prague I read City of Dark Magic, which is the only book I've managed to finish this month. I'm almost done with The 5th Wave (will finish it today) and I have a bit left of my Classics Spin book Villette, but this will be left to the beginning of July. Somehow my mind has just been too scattered to read in big amounts, or even to write about it. But more about bookish affairs in the end-of-the-month post!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Top Ten Books I Have Read This Year

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the people over at The Broke and the Bookish and today's topic is "Top 10 books I've read this year". According to my Goodreads statistics, I've only read 28 books this year, but I can still easily make a Top 10 because most of them have been really nice reads. I don't participate in TTT a lot because most of the topics are not that captivating for me, but this one I felt is a really good one. 

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson has been the number one read in 2013 for me for quite a while now. What can I say - I loved this elegantly written time-folded story, full of interesting and life-like characters.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson - this clever story with fantastical elements was such a pleasant surprise! Never did I expect it would captivate me so. And let's not forget the jinni.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple - quirky, fast, captivating epistolary novel with hilarious and accessible characters. So funny.

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin - I heard many complaints about this one before I read it in the beginning of the year; however, I liked this one more than a few previous books in the series.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - big thanks to all who said good things about this book, it will be the series I will definitely continue with.

Germinal by Émile Zola - a haunting book, beautifully and descriptively written. There are scenes in Germinal I am not sure I can ever get out of my head.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - this was the first book I finished this year, and what a start to the reading year of 2013. Atwood's text is almost mesmerising.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - one of the best re-read experiences I've ever had. After plowing through this novel in high-school, all I remembered now was a bunch of guys all named Aureliano or Jose Arcadio, and a strange girl who ate soil. This time I devoured this book - such beautiful language (I read it in Estonian and it is one of the rare cases when I can say that the translation was absolutely brilliant), and my faith to magical realism has been restored.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins - four words: fantastic characters, Marian Halcombe.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - even though it is not one of my favourite books, I listed Jane Eyre because it was a very successful re-read experience. I saw completely different things than back when I read it at the age of teens. There is so much more than just questionable romance in this novel.

Useless statistical list: that makes - 
- one fantasy series book;
- one simply an awesome book;
- three Women's Prize contestants;
- five classics books. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Spine Speak #2: Happiness Is...

Spine Speak is hosted by Kimberly  over at Bookmark to Blog.

The topic this time is "Happiness Is" and for this one I actually picked  two books from my boyfriend's shelves, just because they felt kind of fitting (the second and third, in case it is not obvious :p).

Happiness is...
the divine comedy in the elegant universe;
relativity of honour and persuasion;
the unbearable lightness of being.

The books that I used: 

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe
Albert Einstein, Relativity
Jane Austen, Persuasion
Elif Shafak, Honour

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sunday Snippets #2

Robert giving an approval certificate to the suitcase.

We are flying to Prague on Sunday morning and will return late at night on Wednesday. After that there will be a few days to recover and we'll head off to the family summer cabin to celebrate the Midsummer's holiday.
Next week will be such a busy week. But also awesome, no doubt.
I found a new fav tea - strawberry ginger green tea.
So this week has just gone by and book-wise I haven't gotten anything done. It's 15th and I haven't finished a single book this month. One thing, I have been in a slump, but not in the bad, inevitable slump - rather my focus has just shifted a lot because there has been a lot to do. And if I have a lot to do, my concentration level is really low, but I know it happens and it's nothing tragic; once life settles down again it'll get better.
I am half-way through Villette and half-way through Outlander, both I am enjoying very much and I regret I cannot given them the full attention they deserve. I started with The 5th Wave, in hopes of getting some light, low-brain-activity-required read in the mix, and it meets that criteron pretty well (I haven't yet learned to appreciate a lot of things about modern young adult literature, but I do appreciate that they are such fast reads :p). I will probably have more reading time during the Midsummer weekend, so I am hoping to finish off some books.
To Prague I am taking two other books (that will then make 5 books I read simultaneously but hey let's pretend it's normal) - City of Dark Magic and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, just because they are Prague and stuff. It does sound a bit crazy, 5 books, but it's a crazy month.
There is still a lot to do, like pack and prepare cats and eat and stuff, so I will head off now, wishing happy and sunny reading week to everyone.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday Snippets #1

I've been toying with the idea of a weekly Sunday post for a while now. Mainly because so many other bloggers, who I read regularly, do it, and those posts are always very interesting glances into their lives. Lives somewhat outside the books, that is :) 

Often I feel like writing a blog post, but not necessarily a book review. It actually takes me quite a bit of composing myself to write a book review - no idea, why. So, sometimes it would be nice to simply chat and not feel the literary pressure. 

So, since I like talking (obviously), I will start my own Sunday Snippets, featuring (likely) what I did that week, maybe some culinary experiments, probably also photos of the kitties, or anything else I might find worth noting down. I'll try to be coherent, and fiddle with these Sunday posts to find the kind of format that suits the best for me, but will apologise in advance over possible ramblings, because I do get digressed very easily.

Pancake experiement from this weekend - I used only eggs and banana. Served with fresh strawberries, raspberries and honey. I dare say, these are better than "regular" pancakes :)

This was a good week overall. A few weeks ago I started eating Paleo, after long time of self-contemplation and being stressed for eating very unhealthily at times. To put it short, I've dropped all grain, dairy and processed foods from my menu and basically only eat meat (fish, seafood, etc), veggies, fruits, eggs. And other tidbits, like coconut milk, but counting all would take too much post space :) I've been making three meals a day (at least) from scratch since I began, and I feel awesome. I've eaten more vegetbles in a few weeks than I ate in months' time before that, I don't feel any hunger thanks to my sugar levels being in balance and not jumping up and down like before, and I feel overall awesome for giving my body healthy foods.

Robert enjoying the sunny Sunday on the couch.

Book wise, I am in a bit of a difficult place right now. I have been reading both, my Classics Club Spin book "Villette" and Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" this week, but I didn't finish any books. I am mentally in a bit of a tough place (long story, but basically it has to do with AD withdrawal effects), so it's hard to concentrate at times, but I do enjoy both the books and  I'm doing my best and reading a little bit every day, even if not in huge amounts. 

Watched this week: 
"Iron Man 3" in the movie theatre.
"Food Matters" at home (a doc about how food matters and how it is a cause - and a cure - for many illnesses). 

C_Club #8 - "The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood

This is my third Atwood-novel; earlier I have read "Oryx and Crake" and "The Handmaid's Tale". "The Blind Assassin" won Man Booker Prize in 2000 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (The Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction as of next year) in 2001.
"The Blind Assassin" is a clever book. The story is told through a first person narrator, through a novel chapters and through newspaper cuts. I suppose this makes it an epistolary novel. And it is also a story within a story, so overall, a complicated story-telling technique, which should please people (such as myself) who enjoy cut-up and sown-back-together narratives and don't mind time- and focus-jumps.
The story starts most intriguingly: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." The first person narrator is Iris Chase, and her younger sister Laura, who is described to commit suicide on the first page, is the author of the novel within the novel. The rest of the cast varies, though in general, we are dealing with mostly non-likable characters here. And as it has become quite common in literature, the house servants (in this case Renie and later her daughter) are those with the most sense in their brains and feet strongest on the ground.
Iris herself can be difficult to relate to. From the beginning she has this attitude of "Woe to me, the life takes over and there is nothing I can do about it". To an extent it is understandable, due to the situation of her family - mother is dead (no female role model there for her and her sister), father is struggling to keep up the family business, and Iris is expected to marry off wealthy in order to save the business, which she does, thinking that what else could she do in life anyway. Laura has a bit more encouraging attitude, she actually thinks it plausible that a woman could go and search for a job (which she does at one point), and she is generally much more vibrant, though also a lot more sensitive creature. Compared to Laura, Iris did come off rather phlegmatic most of the times.
It's difficult to write about the plot because there are twists and turns and surprises around the corner, but they are written masterfully and with a lot of elegance by Atwood. The story grows naturally page after page (for many it develops too slow, no doubt), and when something is revealed, it actually makes an impact on the reader. I was fascinated by the three channels of storytelling - the first person, the novel and the newspaper cuts. It kept me on toes all the time because I sensed that Iris herself is probably not the most reliable narrator, and the story within story also keeps you asking how much of it was fiction and how much was taken directly from the life events. So ironically, the newspaper exerpts, although neutral, cold and distance, can be the most reliable source of information here.
"The Blind Assassin" was very different from the other two novels by Atwood I have read (both of which were set in dystopian world) and I liked it a lot - the story was solid and I loved the writing. Margaret Atwood is definitely one of the most charming authors, language-wise, I have read. And will continue reading.
Why is honeymoon called that? Lune de miel, moon of honey - as if the moon itself is not a cold and airless and barren sphere of pockmarked rock, but soft, golden, luscious - a luminous candied plum, the yellow kind, melting in the mouth and sticky as desire, so achingly sweet it makes your teeth hurt. /p. 300/
Now I got a craving for yellow plums :)
521 pages

Monday, June 3, 2013

Review: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Edit to begin with: this was supposed to be a post of mini-reviews on three books, but after I had started with "Alif" and had happily typed away three long paragraphs, I realised it's just not going to happen.

This G. Willow Wilson's novel was in this year's Women's Prize longlist and I wouldn't have minded if it had also been in shortlist. "Alif the Unseen" had so much speaking for it: exciting setting, lovely characters, fantastical elements depicted in a realistic world, the theme related to information technology that I find super intriguing: is it possible to create a programme that is able to identify each user's "computer handwriting"? Oh, and there's a map. And a book. And neither of those are a bad thing when it comes to reading a novel.
 I was extremely impressed with the way that author transferred fictional (probably?) online-chats into the text. Bottom line: they are not consistent. The chat may begin with one or both parties starting with proper capitalisation and use of punctuation marks, but as the conversation progresses (and possibly becomes heated/more nervous), people start skipping punctuation and capital letters, and it was attention to these kind of details that I loved finding in this book.
I'll be the first one to admit slight obsession with the jinn. When it comes to mythical/fantastical creatures, I usually maintain my composure. Dragons are nice and I approve their existence in the book-world, but to me they tend to be just characters, like any other. However, it has not been the same regarding the jinn ever since I read Jonathan Stroud's hilarious "Bartimaeus" trilogy, which, I'm afraid, changed my view on jinn forever. I like my jinn to be witty, snarky, moody, curious, passionate and overall patronising towards the "smaller" being - man. But behind all that, I also want the jinn to remain good-hearted, kind of like big brothers towards humans, and this is exactly what I got with Vikram in "Alif". Even though Alif himself and Dina were both very solid for me (as were the side characters), Vikram was the main character for me in this book. 
Alif creates this computer programme, which is able to recognise people behind the screen based on their "handwriting" when they type. I find this extremely intruiging, because already there are things invented like for example "personal" adds, which seem to pop up based on the pages you have visited, or the book recommendations based on the books you have listed you have liked. Alif's programme Tin Sari takes it a step further and it just makes you think once again, where is it that we are heading with all these developments in technology, automation and robots.  
The language is accessible but crisp and fresh, and the dialogue can oftentimes get quite snarky:
"I don't want foreigners involved in my business. Djinn are one thing but I draw the line at Americans." /p.114/
"No," said Dina. "We don't burn books."
"Who's we?"
"People with an ounce of brain." /p. 350/
"I know it's common for old people to complain about the modern moment, and lament the passing of a golden age when children were polite and you could buy a kilo of meat for pennies, but in our case, my boy, I think I am not mistaken when I say that something fundamental has changed about the world in which we live. [...] Revolutions have moved off the battlefield and on to home computers. Nothing shocks one anymore." /p. 366/
I chuckled a lot when reading "Alif" :)
In all, "Alif the Unseen" is a delicious mixture of modern-time Middle East, fantastical creatures, loveable (but not cheesy!) characters, a mysterious book and intriguing questions, all wrapped in good paced and humorous language.  Highly recommended.
427 pages

Sunday, June 2, 2013

18th Century English Literature Reading Event

It's June! And it's also 18th Century English Lit reading event, hosted by O from Délaissé. Click here to see the master post.

I picked "Moll Flanders" by Daniel Defore as my novel to read this month. For some reason I did not add "Robinson Crusoe" to my Classics Club list back when I was putting it together; I guess the prospect of being stuck on a deserted island didn't appeal to me at the time. So Moll it is.
In the back of my copy it says:
"Based on the first edition of 1722, this volume includes a chronology, notes on currenty and maps of London and Virginia in the late seventeenth century."
From "Moll Flanders".
Image from here.
If there's something I love, it's the maps in the books (and I believe I am not the only one here). And indeed - there are three maps included in the end fo the book - "London in the late seventeenth century", "Smithfield market and vicinity" and "Chesapeake Bay (Virginia and Maryland in 1680)". Oh, look, the book just got a lot tastier :)
I am worried (but not overly) about the language. Browsing through the first few pages I already noticed excessive use of the capital letters, which concerns me. May it be noted that in general, English uses capital letter more often than my native tongue - for example, in Estonian (and Finnish), langages (and much more, like holidays) are not marked with capital letter, but instead "inglise/englanti", so this is why abundant use of capitalisation can confuse me.
I shall start with "Moll" after I finish my current classic, "Villette" (which is going very smoothly at the moment). I am positive I will be able to finish "Moll" this month and write the review by the end of the month (so not to repeat what happened to "Germinal" - I finished the book but it took me a long while to write about it).

Daniel Defoe.
Image from here.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Closing the lid of May

May - what an overall successful and pleasant month. So much happened. Spring finally arrived, my Finnish classes ended for this half-a-year, we were reading lots during Bout of Books 7.0, I made some important health-related decisions that should promise for better future. I am happy with you, May!
What I read in May 2013:
* M. Atwood "The Blind Assassin" (Classics Club big list)
* D.L. Bogdan "The Forgotten Queen" 
* B. Kingsolver "Flight Behavior" (Women's Prize shortlist)
* R. Bradbury "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (Classics Club big list)
* J. Fforde "The Eyre Affair"
* H. Wecker "The Golem and the Djinni"
* G.G. Marquez "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (Classics Club big list)

This is my boyfriend reading one of Martin's books. With
Robert. What lovely emotion on this photo.
Page count: 521 + 315 + 436 + 290 + 373 + 484 + 337 = 2756 pages

I think 7 books is the most I've done during blogging since the beginning of the year, so thanks a lot, Bout of Books!
In Classics Club May Meme post I set down the three classics I wanted to read in May. Well, I only read the Atwood book - I didn't really get into Conan Doyle and Dickens at all, so I didn't force them - the better time will come. However, I did read three CC books in May, which I am very happy with. And also enjoyed all of them, so that is a good thing too (I really have to catch up with the reviews, though...)
Okay, plans for June (and what a busy month this will be).
* Classics Spin #2 Summer Edition - I get to read "Villette" by Charlotte Brontë. I am excited! "Jane Eyre" is such a famous book, but it's also a story a bit overly chewn by the world by now, so I am so so curious to discover the later works of Charlotte. I started the book last night after I finished "One Hundred Years..." (very suitably on the last day of May) and read a few pages; I don't have opinions yet but it's definitely Charlotte's style there.
* O from Délaissé is hosting 18th Century English Literature Event for June - even though it will be a super busy month  for me, I wanted to take part because I am scared of the 18th century English lit and I am especially scared of Defoe and "Moll Flanders", which I picked to read. So hoping that reading with the rest of the classics-loving folk will make it easier!
* We are going to Prague this month for four days (this is like my dream destination for a city holiday ever). I am slightly obsessed with Prague and I want to read two books around the time of the trip - Magnus Flyte's "City of Dark Magic", which is set in Prague, and re-read Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", one of my favourite books from high-school reading programme (oh yes, we got to read some interesting books there :) ).

Robert got tired :)
It will be also the Midsummer's holidays this month, coinciding with my week-long vacation from work. We will likely be heading to boyfriend's parents' summer cottage in the middle of nowhere - which is actually the most perfect place for reading, ever (the forest, the lake, the nightless nights of Finland - this one day of the year when sun doesn't set).
Also, Women's Prize winner for this year will be announced on 5th of June, which is already next week - I really want to know which book wins.