Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The Giver - Lois Lowry

I'm so grateful to the "Something about me" challenge because it gave me the chance to discover some of the best books I've read this year and maybe ever. "The Giver" is one of these.
I don't know about "Brave new world" or the film "Pleasentville" and I've never read "1984" by George Orwell, only excerpts in school. But as far as children's literature is concerned this is an extraordinary book. It kept me glued to it for hours. I had to know how this world worked, what were its secrets, what would happen to its protagonist. It was a real page-turner. It wasn't a simple read though, like others have said. It was quick, but it made me think about it for days. It was scary in a deep, subtle way. It raised strong, elementary emotions, and it made me shiver trying to imagine how a world like that would be possible.
The story is set in an indefinite far future, where society is organised in small communities, all designed with the same scheme: everything and everyone have to be up to the standards of the community. Everything is regulated by fixed and almost unchangeable laws. Individuality is not an option and neither is free will. This is the price that humanity have chosen to pay to avoid hunger and violence and war.
Families, called family units, are not decided by love or anything else but a Community Council which finds the right match for every person, thus creating the perfect harmony in the unit. Children are also regulated by a scheme: one boy and one girl, born by a group of birth-mothers, are allocated to one family who requests them.
At first this system seems to be the most organised way of living. There's no struggle for survival because everything is provided, everyone is kind and equal, though some "assignments"( not jobs) are less honourable than others. Everything is tidy, and quiet and peaceful. But there's something eerie is this peacefulness.
You can feel that something is not quite right. Hints are given here and there: people being mysteriously "released" (and you can guess pretty quickly what that means), an impersonal Voice that speaks through a microphone and gives orders and warnings. Even a rule that might sound positive and open-minded, the sharing of dreams in the morning and of feelings in the evening, has something mechanical and disturbing about it.
And then you start asking questions: where are the books, the writers, the artists? Will there be an assignment specifically for them? Because certainly they can't live without them.
"Stories are the most important thing in the world. Without stories, we wouldn't be human beings at all.” said Philip Pullman and so I kept reminding myself.
But it's not till Jonas, the boy who's the main character, has his first wet dream, or the Stirrings, as his parents would call it, that you realise how controlling and de-humanising this society is.
Shortly after Jonas' life changes completely when he is selected as the new Receiver of Memory. And here I stop. I've already said too much. I'll leave it to you to find out what that means. If you've never heard of it, like me before, then you shouldn't be spoiled with more informations. If you've read it, I'll like to discuss it with you in the comments!
Thanks to Sarah Miller for choosing it. Here she says why. I think I would relate to her very well. Like her I was amazed by it and somehow shocked, and I also believe in happy endings, always:)

other blog reviews:
Jill at The well-read child
Kristi at Passion for the page
Stephanie's confessions of a book-a-holic

Friday, 24 August 2007

Lucky Star - Cathy Cassidy

I don't know what to think about Cathy Cassidy's books. A part of me thinks they try too much to be kids-friendly. They are filled with cute drawings, trendy music and clothes. Plus the author introduces every book herself and she sounds like a teenager, using words like fab and fave. I don't know if I like this attitude. But again, her books are not written for me, but for someone more than ten years younger. Darla's post on her blog Books and other thoughts made me rethink about this a lot. I know Cathy Cassidy is popular and most of the kids who read her will find her cool and friendly.
So, the other part of me really enjoyed Cassidy's latest novel. The only other book I've read by her is "Driftwood". I liked it, and I was actually surprised by that. I still had that feeling that she pushed the niceness too far, but overall, I would recommend it to 10 to 13-14 year-old kids.
Lucky Star was way better though. It helped that it featured the cutest literary stray ever: a little white dog with a pirate patch and a bandana, called lucky. That's what made me go on reading.
Also, for a change the main character was a boy, Mouse, who at 14 already has a troubled past which he would like to forget. His graffiti art helps him to escape the grey reality of his school and of the rough estate flat where he lives with his ex-junkie mother. His life is destined to change the day he meets confident, posh and pretty Cat. This is the lovely, romantic story of their friendship, of their picnics on bus-stop rooftops, of star maps and fireworks. But it's also a story about painful memories and lies, about injustices, and about the importance of fighting back against them.
I liked the characters and their unlikely relationship, I liked how the story was very real but also full of hope and positive thinking. And I just adored Lucky the pirate dog:)
Read it if you want a quick, cute and easy read. Or if you have kids (not just girls) give it to them, I'm sure they'll like it.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Indoctrination

When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)

I was very well nurtured as a child. Both my parents are big readers, and all my houses (cause I've changed lots) have always been full of books. I remember when I started school the first thing I wanted to learn was reading. And sure enough I was the fastest reader in my class. Big books in our library were only for me:D

I don't remember my parents reading me bed-time stories. But they must have, 'cause at age 4 I knew my favourite picture-books by heart. I know that one day I let my granny think I could read, because I knew every single word in them! I still have all my favourite books as a child. One actually belonged to my dad so it's really old!and almost destroyed. I don't know why I loved it so much, it was so sad. It was about a girl with white hair who was living with an evil step-mother. One day she meets a circus boy and decide to run away with the circus people in their caravan. I only remember the ending, where the two kids die of cold in a hollow tree. I remember asking my mum to read me that book over and over. She must have been sick of it.
Then came the feminist picture books, about a girl, Isolina, who wanted to see the world. Or about the little mermaid who decided that all that pain wasn't worth it for a man and decided to go back to the sea with her sisters. Those were wonderful.

After 5, when my parents split up, I had two different experiences with books. In my dad's house in Sicily I read almost all of my dad's childhood books, like Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, the Paul street boys (wonderful, I'm not sure if it's well known in the English-speaking world) and Peter Pan.

My mum instead used to buy me lots and lots of books, first picture books than novels. She had an open account in our local bookshop, and she used to spend way to much money there. So I don't remember a time in my life where books weren't present.

One of my fondest memory is in my dad's girlfriend house where I lived for few years as a teenager. Girlfriend was also a huge reader and had this MASSIVE living room with 3 or 4 couches, and shelves full of books. We kids weren't allowed in but I often used to sneak inside just to choose another book. I discovered Remarque, and Maugham, and other Italian authors. I had so much time for reading!
Those were the times *sigh*

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

The Complete Booker Project

The Complete Booker

I've joined this VERY ambitious project, whose aim is to read every single book that won the Man Booker Prize. The good thing is that there's no time limit, and that it's shorter than the other Pulitzer project :P
I really like the idea of reading all those books that are supposed to be the best in their year. I don't read enough adult books, many people could say, so this way I'd be able to say, proudly "Hey, I don't read only children's stuff, I've read this and this and they all won The Booker Prize!"

The first book I'll read is Paddy Clarke ah!ah!ah! by Roddy Doyle, which I guess is a compromise between adult and children's fiction. I also loved The Barrytown trilogy by Doyle so I'm sure I'll enjoy this one too.

But I was wondering, is there anyone who started the same kind of project for the Carnegie Medal or the Newbery? That'd be great too, I might start one of the two,if nobody does before me...

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Chocolat - Joanne Harris

I'm not a huge fan of chocolate. I knew it already. I'm more into those very unhealthy and very artificial pick 'n mix sweets, or cheesecakes or apple crumble, or ice-cream. But you don't have to love chocolate to enjoy this book, and I'm the living proof. I didn't crave for truffles or for easter eggs while I was reading it. In fact, it took me a while to get into it, but it won me eventually.
At first I was annoyed by Harris' use of the past and the present tense at the same time. I would have preferred if she sticked to one of the two. I know I'm a bit fussy, but I really tried not to be bothered by it. In the end, it was Vianne and her little daughter that made me love the book. Vianne is such a charming character, I was really fascinated by her, and even more maybe by her daughter Anouk, so wild and confident and understanding, the way only 6 years-old kids can be.

The story is a well-known one: Vianne, a traveler, decides that Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, a small town in the French countryside, with its sad and grumpy faces, is in serious need of a bit of magic. But young Father Reynaud doesn't think so. It's just the beginning of Lent and he feels that the opening of a tempting Chocolate shop will tackle his authority and control over his "herd". Vianne Rocher is obviously ready for the challenge. All she needs is time, cause she has more than a special gift. She can read into people's soul and tastes, guessing exactly which one is everyone's favourite. Her kind and welcoming manners will do the rest. Slowly she manages to break the wall of hostility bringing a whole new approach to life for many people in the community, which involves cherishing pleasure, joy and friendship.

It's crazy how much the book is different from the movie. I thought I knew what to expect, but I was wrong. The movie was a light fairy tale. The book is much more complex than that. It tells us of Vianne's past, of her fears and nightmares and of her pagan beliefs, so brave to be shown in such a small and religious community. It also tells the story from the opposite perspective of the priest, which didn't do him any good, anyway! To those who might be offended by Harris's description of a Christian priest, I might say that she didn't invent anything. Yes, she chose one of the worst examples that could be, but it serves the story so well and it's also so true. Life is supposed to be enjoyed. Chocolate (or cheesecake for me) is there to help!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Monogamy

One book at a time? Or more than one? If more, are they different types/genres? Or similar?

(We’re talking recreational reading, here—books for work or school don’t really count since they’re not optional.)

Mainly I'm a monogamous. But occasionally I do cheat and read other books, leaving the other behind for a while. I don't like it, and I wouldn't do it as a general rule. I used to do it a lot and I would end up leaving some of the books unfinished, cause I was too engrossed by the others. If my attention is grabbed by one I might lose interest in the other, even forget about it. Also I think the best way to enjoy a book is to be totally absorbed by them. Something that can only be done once at a time.
That said, it happens sometime, of course. When you're a bookseller and see new books every day, shiny and tempting, it's hard to say "you stay there and wait for your turn". So what I do is try and be quick, so I can move on to the next. If I really can't wait, then I read it in the shop, without buying it, or even bringing it home. So I know that my current reading is still in charge and that one is only a distraction, a whim, that won't last long...

Monday, 13 August 2007

Second edition of the Bookworms Carnival is On!

Check it out! It's hosted by Reading is my superpower HERE
It's got plenty of interesting articles and new blogs to discover:)
The theme this time is "Surviving the dog days of summer". I personally LOVE my summer, when it's hot and the only thing you can do is swim in the sea and lie on the beach. Or alternatively drive your moped around town going to eat an ice-cream, or ice-yogurt which is even better. I love summer nights, when you can forget about coats and scarves and enjoy the breeze, and maybe visit one of the thousands festivals around Italy, celebrating all sorts of food.
But THIS summer I couldn't live all this, except for three very short weeks. Because I'm stuck in fecking Ireland, where summer is not a proper summer and where it rains all the bloody time!!! What the hell?? Anyway, I can't do anything about it. Good thing is I also like reading in bed so that's my summer reading:P

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Witch Baby - Francesca Lia Block

I'm falling in love with Francesca Lia Block! "Witch Baby" is just as refreshing and magical as "Weetzie Bat". Even if Witch Baby is not as care-free as her almost-mother, her story is written with the same fairy tale-y touch. Light as a feather and full of meaning at the same time.
Witch Baby doesn't feel she belongs anywhere. Her almost-family love her but they don't understand her. She doesn't understand herself either, because she doesn't know who she is. She keeps asking everybody the ultimate questions ("What time are we upon and when do I belong") but nobody has the answers she is looking for. She tries to capture the world in her photographs. She never cries but she always wants to. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, but she is only a baby, a black lamb without a herd, expressing everyone else's anger and pain. But she is also a pancake dancer stowawitch, and the most slinkster-cool jamming drummer girl ever.
Franscesca Lia Block has a talent in mixing the words and playing with them, creating a dazzling flow of colours and feelings I'm never tired of. Her characters are such an unlikely group of friends,but also so real. Her stories are about finding ourselves and our true love, about family and death and friendship. Universal themes told with a unique style that is like a bowl of cherries: addictive.

Monday, 6 August 2007

"Book to movie Challenge"

When I started this blog I had no idea of what challenges were, didn't even know they existed! But now I'm hooked, and I'm afraid I'll get addicted like so many bloggers:P
Now this is my second only, but I can see it coming! This one is easy enough, just choose 3 books that have being made into a film and read them between September 1 and December 1 (three months). It's hosted by S.M.S. Book reviews. I have checked my TBR list and I found 3 books perfect for this challenge:

1) Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt - Film by Alan Parker (1999)

2) I'm not scared (Io non ho paura) by Niccolò Ammaniti - Film by Gabriele Salvatores (2003)

3) Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson - Film(tv) by Beeban Kidron (1990)

If I'm allowed to pick books that haven't been made into films yet I also would like to read
- Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and
- Percy Jackson and the Lightning thief by Rick Riordan
before they come out:-)

Saturday, 4 August 2007

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

I picked this book from Soleil's list for the "Something about me" challenge, because I had a vague notion of Sylvia Plath being a famous feminist poet of the "second wave", studied in universities courses and worshipped by many. I don't usually read poetry so I thought her only novel might be a good way to know her.I thought the story of her life might be inspirational. But her life have been so depressing that I had a hard time finishing the book. Every situation, setting, atmosphere, was so gloomy and unwelcoming. If that's how she perceived life, I understand why she took hers. I'm glad I finished it though. The most interesting part is the last one, when her "insanity" brings Esther/Sylvia in different asylums and shows us the way doctors used to deal with "madness" at that time. It was obvious to me that she wasn't in any sense mad. She was depressed, insecure, unhappy, living constantly under a bell jar, feeling trapped. But all they could do was giving her electroshocks and injections. Not one of the doctors tried to listen to her, or even understand her. That was irritating, discouraging and very disturbing.
I felt it was a necessary read to do, but I didn't enjoy it, and I'm happy I'm done with it.