Friday, 30 May 2008


Aaaayges ago Melody tagged me for this meme that has been around a while, but I haven't done yet, so I'm doing it now!:D
It's the 1 2 3 pages meme.

here it goes:
1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

The Book is There's an egg in my soup by Tom Galvin. It's about the adventures of an Irishman in Poland in the 1990's. I just started it but it seems like I will enjoy it, even though I have no idea what to expect. Just to learn a bit more about Poland, I guess.

Page 123 - fifth sentence:

The dating game was all very old-fashioned. It kind of reminded me of tales of my parents, how they first met up and what they did on dates - sharing a single of chips, sitting and watching the river flow by, that sort of thing. In the background, of course, always lurked the mother, rather unfairly represented as the ogre figure that had to be dodged, bribed or softened up at all times.

Hmmm, I'm only at page 39, but I definitely want to get to the "date" part now :P

Now 5 people?? I have no idea!!! Let's see...

I tag: Mariel, Ranay, Alix, Trish, Alessandra.

Good. Done!

Now Nymeth tagged me for another meme which will take a bit more time, but I want to do it because it's interesting even though I've no idea what I'm going to write!

Its the 6 Random Things about Myself:

1) Today I've done some gardening for the first time in my life! I tried to have some pots on my balcony some years ago, but it never worked. Today, with my mum's input, who came to visit for few days, I've actually planted something in a real garden, and I'm pretty excited about it. They are all aromatic plants - mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme and rocket - which I will hopefully be able to use in my cooking, or for healing potions...finally feeding my "witches" ambitions :D

2) I think that quitting biting nails is harder than quitting smoking. I've basically quit smoking this year, but I've tried endless times to stop biting my nails, with no proper results. My fingers are awful looking...

3) I have a bike named Deirdre that is now lying abandoned in town, locked on a bicycle railing, because I've lost the keys and haven't thought about a way of releasing her. It's been sitting there for 9 months now...

4) The children's section that I look after in the shop is more than 100 square meters. It's the biggest in Ireland.

5) When I was a child, about 9-10 years old, I decided I had to learn to write with my left hand. My dad encouraged me because he said that very intelligent people like Leonardo Da vinci could write with both hands. So I was practicing in a notebook, coping texts from books, and having lots of fun. I never managed to master my left-hand writing till perfection, but I got pretty good. I stopped at some stage because I realised it was pointless.

6) I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up. In primary school I wanted to be in order: an astronaut, a writer, a builder. Then in middle school a writer again, a translator, an interpreter, a bookseller. In secondary school a flight assistant. In college a scholar, a translator and an editor. Now? I want to open my own special café. I would make my cakes and tarts, have concerts, a library made by the people, internet, big comfy couches, film shows, exhibitions, parties... I'm still thinking about the name.

I can't think of anyone else to tag so I would tag the same people as above, but only if they feel like and have time to do it. All the rest of you, feel free to do it, it's fun! except that it takes ages to think of something to write :P

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

About Andrea Camilleri and Inspector Montalbano

I’ve been busy lately and I had to skip my “Picture Book Monday” for the first time, even though I had the perfect book! But I’ll leave it for next week:)

Today the spotlight is on Andrea Camilleri and his most famous creation, inspector Salvo Montalbano. His most recent book in the series is called Il campo dei vasai, which was a good one, even though I didn’t think it was one of his best. It hasn’t been translated in English yet, anyway, so there isn’t much point in reviewing it here. What I want to do now is talk about the series in general and explain why I love it so much.

I’ve only discovered Montalbano two years ago, when I was living in Urbino studying for my MA and sharing a lovely country house with another Italian girl. She introduced me to the TV show which is based on the books and I was immediately hooked. Tuesday night became our special night. If anything bad happened on Tuesdays didn’t matter, because there was always Montalbano to watch in the evening!

One day I decided it was time to read the books.
It’s a strange phenomenon, in Italy, the popularity that Camilleri’s books have achieved. His books became popular only when he was almost 70. He had worked on tv and theatre but never managed to be successful as a writer, until, in 1992, Sellerio, one of the most revered Italian publishing houses, decided to give him a chance. His first Montalbano book, The shape of water was a major success and from then on he established himself as a bestseller author.

The peculiar thing about his books is that they’re written in a mix of Italian and Sicilian, his native dialect (or language, someone would argue). I would have thought this to be a problem for those readers not familiar with Sicilian words and expressions, but obviously it’s not. I feel privileged because I can speak and understand Sicilian, since my father is from Sicily and I’ve spent many years there. But how other people can fully understand it, is a mystery to me!
This said, the books are not only well-crafted mysteries, but, more importantly for me, they are a great way to go back to Sicily for a while and enjoy its language, its food, its sense of humour. Yes, what I love most probably about these books is that they’re incredibly funny. Sometime when I read them I can’t stop myself from bursting out laughing, sometimes really loudly! Or I just giggle throughout the whole book, making people around me really curious or really embarrassed.

I consider these books comfort reading. They don’t deal with comfortable issues, but I love meeting the same characters again, laughing at the same jokes - or at new ones. I know that the usual stunningly-beautiful-woman-looking-for-help will make her appearance, leaving Montalbano to struggle between his moral values and his lust. I know that Catarella will mess up names, that Montalbano will go for a swim no matter the weather, that Livia, his girlfriend, will be obnoxious and jealous, and that Fazio will collect his lists of names, dates of births and addresses when looking for informations…
The only thing that I’m not comfortable with is that Camilleri is subtly but unmistakeably sexist. The most obvious example is the way he portraits Livia. Nobody likes her, for good reason. Why does she have to be so annoying? Sometimes I’m amazed at how much she is impossible to bear. She is not the only annoying female character. Often women are mischievous (The Paper Moon, La vampa d’agosto, Il campo dei vasai etc…) or cruel, adulterous. Always, in some way, guilty.
But if you are not bothered by this, or if you manage to ignore it, Camilleri touches important issues such as immigration, exploitation of children and women by illegal organisations, mafia, political corruption. And Montalbano is always on the people’s side, often challenging the authorities he is supposed to represent in order to defend true justice and real values.
I particularly appreciated what Montalbano (and Camilleri, I take it) had to say about the riots in Genoa during the protests against the G8 in 2001. He wanted to resign, because he was ashamed by what his colleagues did at the Diaz school, breaking in during the night, beating up the protesters who were sleeping there and accusing them of having weapons. Later on it was proved that the weapons that were found were actually brought there by the police itself. It was a vicious and extremely violent attack on innocent people, that hasn’t been properly investigated yet. A lot of these protesters were transported to Bolzaneto prison and there physically and verbally abused. It was a shame committed by those who are supposed to protect us, and I was really happy when Montalbano took a stand against it.

So now you know why I love these books. I can’t imagine how much is lost in translation, but they are still worth reading. The tv series is also very well done. i like all the actors, and of course they are the faces I imagine for the characters when I read the books. Recently an Italian newspaper has released the DVDs, so now I own the whole collection :)

Monday, 19 May 2008

Picture Book Monday: "The Mousehole Cat" by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley

Today’s feature is a delightful tale that would make a perfect bedtime story.
Inspired by a Cornish traditional festivity, Tom Bawcock’s Eve, it tells the story of Mowzer, a cat living in a small harbour called Mousehole, because of its narrow entrance. Mowzer lives in an old cottage overlooking the harbour, and has her own pet, old fisherman Tom.

Old Tom was very well behaved. He never spilled the cream when he was filling her saucer. He always stoked the range to a beautiful golden glow. He rocked the rocking-chair at just the right speed. He knew the exact spot behind her left ear, where Mowzer liked to be tickled.

They live happily until one year a terrible winter arrives and The Great Storm-Cat takes control of the sea. For days and days the fishing boats can’t go out fishing, leaving the town with no food. When even the last vegetables and salted pilchards are eaten, Mowzer and Tom know that they have to do something before everyone starve to death.
That’s when they decide to challenge the fierce Great Storm-Cat and try to save their town.

This is a moving and inspiring tale of courage and love. A pleasure to read aloud, so elegantly written and illustrated. It’s different from the picture books I’ve reviewed so far, because it sticks to the traditional way of presenting a picture book: one page for the text and one for the illustration. This suits perfectly the mood of the story, which is a reinterpretation of an old folk tale. Nicola Bailey did a wonderful job in decorating every page with strips of images from the sea, creating a book that’s both stylish and comforting. The illustrations are warm and soft, almost tactile. The text is utterly charming, telling the story from the cat’s point of view and presenting the sea storm as a big angry cat, who can be soothed with singing and purring.
It’s also a great introduction to Cornish food and culture. At some point the author tells us the mouth-watering weekly menu of Mowzer, with exotic (for me) but promising names. And at the end, we’re told that ever since the day Mowzer and Tom saved the village from the famine, the people of Mousehole hold a fish-feast on the night before Christmas Eve, to remember their deeds. And every year people from all over Cornwall come at Christmas to see the town all lit up with thousands lights shining their message of hope and a safe haven to all those who pass in peril of the sea.
Browsing the internet, I found out that it’s actually true. I never heard of Tom Bawcock's Eve nor of Mousehole, but now I really wish I can go visit the harbour one day, it looks like a beautiful place!

This picture book was named Illustated Children's Book of the Year, was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal and shortlisted for the Smarties Book Prize and the Children's Book Award. It's been made into an animated film, which I can't find on the internet so I might buy one day on Dvd, and it has also being staged as a ballet on theatre.


That's it, today I'm off to Italy for three days, I'll be back at the end of the week. My blogaversary is coming up soon and I'm thinking of hosting another giveaway!

Saturday, 17 May 2008

War for the Oaks - Emma Bull

I’m really glad I came across this book. It sounded good, it looked good, it was recommended by Neil Gaiman. It was about fairies and rock and roll. It had to be good!
It took off slowly, because despite the great start, it takes a while to get into the story. But once you’re in it you would never want to get out.

This is the story of the singer and musician Eddi and how, one night, she finds herself unwillingly thrown in between a fairy war. The Seelie and the Unseelie Court are about to start their seasonal field battles, but they need a human to do it. Without, they wouldn’t be able to kill each other, while a human presence would allow the spilling of blood on both parts. That’s what the Phouka tells Eddi, after having moved into her house and declared himself her bodyguard. Eddi doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Someone has already chosen for her, and nothing she does or says can get rid of him. So now she is stuck with a Phouka who can change into a dog and looks like Prince, while her band has just fallen apart and her boyfriend has decided to act like a complete idiot.
Likely, she has her friend Carla, who smokes like a chimney, but is always there when she needs her.
The story for me started to get interesting when Eddi, following the Phouka’s advice, decides to start a new band. That’s when I realise that this book was as much about music as it was about fairy wars. In fact, music is a key element in the story, not just a background addition. Some of the best-written scenes are music scenes. I had to use youtube a lot to help me with the song references because I didn’t know any of them! David Bowie, Joan Jett, Prince, Kim Carnes… You can definitely feel that it was written in the 80’s.
But even if you don’t know the music, you can still enjoy the writing..

Then, in precisely the right place, the bass came in. It began as if the Rocky Mountains had begun to walk. It sounded like the voice of the magma under the earth’s crust, and it picked up the whole song and rolled it forward like water exploding out of a breaking dam. They were suddenly tight, all four of them, as if they were a single animal and that monster heartbeat was their own

Emma Bull constantly surprised me with her way of finding new ways of describing things and emotions. Her writing was lyric, funny and moving, always at the right times. Her description of the Folks was really believable, so detailed and rich, that it wasn’t hard to picture them in my mind.
But what I loved most was probably the Phouka. I loved his chivalry, his courtly manners, his “humanity”, his sense of humour. I would have loved to have him as a bodyguard…
It’s true, though, that I loved all the main characters, and even some of the side ones, like Meg the brownie. I was really sad to part from them at the end.

This is one of the first examples of Urban Fantasy and it deserves to be read just for that. But it’s so much more. It’s rock and roll, romance, magic, battles, surprises, fun. It’s everything I want from a book.
This edition has also an introduction written by Emma Bull herself, about the futility of introductions and about what this book means to her. There’s also an appendix with the screenplay. Because it’s true, it would make such a good movie!

other blog reviews:
needs more demons or not
Eloisa and James

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

May Bookworms Carnival is up!

... and I didn't sumbit anything, damn it! It's such a cool theme this month: urban and contemporary fantasy. I will definitely browse all the submissions with great pleasure. I wanted to post my review of War for the oaks by Emma Bull but I didn't find the time. It's such a good book and one of the first (or The first?) urban fantasy ever written and I really really REALLY enjoyed it.
Next month's Carnival will be exciting as well, whith Fairy Tales being celebrated at Things Mean a Lot!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Weekly Geeks #2 wrap up!

I'm late again, I don't think I'll never be able to post my weekly geek on time...
I've really enjoyed this experiment and I'm gonna keep it for the future, too. I think it's a simple and fun way of connecting us all, and give us the opportunity to read more points of view. I do sometimes choose to read a book just because of one review, but more it's always better. The first few days I've gone through some blogs and looked for common reviews, but as much fun as it is, this links-crossing takes a lot of time, so I won't do it that much in the future.
I've also come across Maw's great idea of a Blog reviews' database! It sounds like a lot of work, but I do hope that it will become a starting point for anybody looking for non-professional reviews of a particular book or author. Whenever I will feel like I'll go there and search for common reviews or just look for some possible good reads.

I won't participate this week though. I don't feel the need to go and revisit my childhood's reads because I feel like I do that every day in work. Looking after the kids sections and giving recommendations, I usually choose the books I enjoyed as a child. I also read way too many YA and children's books so, let's face it, I've never left childhood...Or maybe I have for a while,but now I'm back there, and I don't have much intention of leaving it again:)

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Picture Book Monday: "Flotsam" by David Wiesner

This picture book was number 1 in the New York Times bestseller list some time last year, and that’s why it attracted my attention. I waited and waited for it to be released here, but eventually I gave up and ordered it from the States. I ended up buying it for my collection because it gave me the shivers the first time I read it.
The illustrations are not stunning at first. They are beautiful, but ordinary…or so it seemed to me. Then I started reading it and I was completely captivated by the idea and the magic that springs from its pictures.
It doesn’t have words, which I think it’s one of its charms. It doesn’t need them. It tells the story beautifully without descriptions, just with the flow of its images.
It’s about a boy, who finds a strange camera on a beach, and brings its film to be developed. What he sees in the pictures is the secrets of the underwater world. Incredible photos of walking starfish islands, mechanical fish, little towns made with shellfish built on sea-turtle’s backs, octopuses reading books in living rooms…

But what really made me go “wow!” was the last picture. At a first glance it’s only a girl holding another picture of a boy in her hand. But when examined closely with a magnifying glass and then with a microscope, it shows that the boy in the picture is himself holding a picture, of someone holding a picture, of someone holding a picture…till it reveals a sepia photograph of a boy, probably dating back to the 1920’s, standing on the shore of a beach, somewhere in the world. The underwater camera had travelled the world and time, showing fantastical shots of the mysterious universe beneath the oceans’ surfaces, and every boy or girl who had found the camera had taken a photograph of themselves holding the previous founder’s picture in their hand. Isn’t it an amazing idea? It left me dreaming for a while, thinking of this little object travelling, taking pictures of a world we are only allowed to dream of, and then appearing on beaches, and revealing its secrets.
The story is not only utterly original and compelling. It’s also skilfully illustrated, with deceptively simple watercolours, that unravel like a movie and leaves you breathless. No wonder it’s a Caldecott medal winner.
Recommended to every dreamer and sea-lover across the world.

Visit David Wiesner's publisher's website.

And if you want more reasons to pick up this book, watch the promotional video:)

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Finding Violet Park - Jenny Valentine

(Published in the US as Me, the Missing and the Dead.)

Lucas is almost sixteen when the story starts and he has just met Violet Park. In a cab office, on a shelf, in an urn. Yes, because Violet Park is dead, her remains where left in a cab years ago, and now her urn sits on a shelf, waiting for someone to come and collect it. Lucas finds himself inexplicably drawn to Violet, as if she had asked him for help.
Lucas loves making lists in his mind, and one of the first he makes is a list of all the good reasons to make friend with a dead lady in an urn:

1. A dead old lady would never be judgemental or lecture me like every other female on the planet.
2. If I decided to find out about her she might turn out to be the coolest most talented bravest person I’d ever heard of, and I might sort of get to know her without the hassle of her actually existing.
3. I would get to rescue her and I never did that for anyone before, and it sort of makes you need them too in your own way.
4. A dead old lady would be easy to like because she couldn’t leave any more than she had already.

That’s why, despite being aware that a boy of his age should be more interested in bringing home living girls instead of old dead ladies, he rescues her.

This story is not just about finding out who Violet Park is, though. The mystery of the old lady left in a cab is the background theme, but while Lucas finds out more and more about Violet, we get to know him and his family, which is what I loved most about the book.
Lucas’s dad disappeared when he was barely eleven, leaving him, his frustrated mother, his five year-old brother and his rebel teenage sister to cope with life without him. But Lucas has never lost hope to seeing him again, and instead of being angry at him for abandoning them, he idealises him. He wears his clothes and talks about him as if he were the greatest man in the world.
In the meantime his mother struggles to come to terms with her faith, wishing every day that she could go back in time and make different choices. While his sister avoids confronting reality by leading a reckless life.
The only one in the family who’s happy and carefree is Jed, the 5 year-old mascot, who everyone adores and cuddles.

It occurs to me that all most people do when they grow up is fix on something impossible and then hunger after it ... Jed doesn’t do it. He lives in the present tense only. I don’t think he’s any good at all at things like the past or the future. Even today and tomorrow and yesterday trip him up. Jed says yesterday when he means six months ago and tomorrow when he means not now. Also, when you’re going somewhere with Jed, he instantly forgets that you’re headed from A to B. He just spends ages looking at snails and collecting gravel and stopping to read signs along the way.
Jed is clueless about time and that means Jed is never sad or angry about anything for more than about five minutes. He just can’t hold on to stuff for long enough.

I love this passage because in few simple words it explains the so-called ”power of now” that everybody’s trying to achieve. And Lucas’ little brother, just by being a normal 5 year-old, with no concerns about past and future, already has that power. That’s why I love children so much, and it shows just how much we can learn from them.

Then there’s the grandparents, Pansy and Norman. They live in sheltered housing, and they’re hilarious. Pansy has theories about everything, she swears without actually saying the word, just mouths it, she is passionate about football but never learned the rules. Norman has being having tiny strokes that messed up his memory and now he doesn’t know his arse from his elbow. He can hardly remember he has two grandsons, but he and Jed have a great relationship. They laugh at Lauren and Hardy films and play Meccano together.
They are also allowed to take the dog out together, which is about the only time for both of them they get to go anywhere without a responsible adult.

I realise I’ve been quoting this book a bit too much but I can’t help it because it’s just so good almost every line is worth quoting.
This is a great example of what realistic young adult fiction should be. It has smart, quick, witty writing. It has a quirky theme, and yet its main character is someone anyone could relate to. It has a group of main characters so good you’re sad to let them go at the end. And finally, it has a mystery to solve, and a surprise ending that’s both satisfying and bittersweet. Not to mention the wonderful, irresistible cover, which attracted me at first like a bear to a jar of honey…

It’s a very quick read that leaves you wanting for more. That’s why I can’t wait to read Valentine’s next book Broken Soup. I looked for the author’s website, but she doesn’t seem to have one. I found out she lives in Hay-on-Wye though, which is known as the Town of Books! I’ve been wanting to go there for ages, it sounds and looks like Bookworm Heaven…Anyway, I found this short interview with a nice picture, so better than nothing!

other blog reviews
A Rainbow of books
three legged cat
Vulpe Libris
Darla at Books and Other Thoughts

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Classics Challenge 2008

Oh yeah, another challenge! But to be honest I haven't joined too many and I was actually looking forward to something like this, to give me an excuse to read all those classics that are calling me from the shelves of bookshops and libraries (yes, because I don't already own them, but they are urging me to read them so badly) so here we are. Thanks to Trish we now have a Classics Challenge!
The rules are as follow:

* OPTION 1: Read FIVE classics.

* OPTION 2: Read FIVE classics from at least THREE different countries

* OPTION 3: Read FIVE classics with any combination of at least THREE different countries and TWO different genres (see above for genres).

* Cross-posting with other challenges is allowed (and encouraged!); Audiobooks are fine; books must be finished after July 1st to count for the challenge although re-reads are acceptable.

* Lists don't have to be set in stone; you can change your selections at any time.

* Have Fun. Oh ya...there will be a drawing for a prize or two. To be entered you must complete any one of the above options. You do NOT need a blog to participate.

I will be opting for the first choice. Read 5 classics, full stop.I already have a list with more than 5 titles, but as usual I'll write them down and then choose when the challenge actually starts in July...Plenty of time! Actually too much time, I wanna read them now! But I suppose they will make perfect summer reads so the wait will be worth it.

What I want to read:

- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Handmaid's Tail by Margaret Atwood

Those above must be read with those covers and no other. I know, it's shallow, but what can I do.
Then I also might read:
- The Borrowers by Mary Norton
- Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
- 1984 by George Orwell
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'engle
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I still have to look around to decide which cover I prefer for these...

Monday, 5 May 2008

Picture Book Monday: "The Red Tree" by Shaun Tan

This is one of the most beautiful, artistic, moving and complex picture books that you could ever come across. I’m not afraid to call it a real piece of art, because that’s what it is.

Shaun Tan is an incredibly talent artist, who’s becoming quite known thanks to his wonderful picture book/graphic novel, The Arrival, which made the New York Times 2007 notable children’s books list.

The Red Tree is just as good. It doesn’t tell a story, it describes a feeling. Depression, loneliness, anxiety, sadness…It arrives suddenly one morning, and nothing makes sense anymore. It comes in the form of black leaves, or of a gigantic fish. It makes you feel like you’re trapped in a bottle in a desert beach. The world feels like a cubist collage. You are overwhelmed by your troubles, which collapse over you all at once. Wonderful things pass by but you don’t notice them. You forget who you are or what’s your place in the world.
Until suddenly something lights up in your heart and happiness find its way in. It’s the red tree. A beautiful thing that appears in your room one day out of nowhere and makes you feel like life is worth living again.

Every page in this book could be looked at as one single painting, with its own title: “Darkness overcomes you” “nobody understands” “The world is a deaf machine” “without sense or reason”… Shaun Tan uses surreal images and symbols to give form to something so complex and intense that is hard to describe in words. So, surrealism becomes the only way to represent it, to express that sense of oppression and fear that has no reason but it’s all too real.

It’s a hard topic to choose for a children’s book. But I know that children too are sometimes victims of this deep illogical sadness, and a picture book that shows these feelings and give them visual shape could probably help them to understand them better, and give them hope. Because no matter how sad you are, there will always be a red tree waiting to touch your soul.

I would recommend it for adults as well, because in its simplicity (it’s a picture book) and yet in its incredibly poignant paintings, it goes at the heart of the problem, showing that everybody at some point experiences these feelings, but fortunately they won’t last forever.

Visit Shaun Tan's website for more informations on his eclectic works and to look at his wonderful illustrations.

Weekly Geeks #1 and #2

So I'm really late here. Weekly Geeks has started and I haven't had the time to post anything about it!
But I have been reading new blogs and I want to write something about them:

In the Louvre
it's a lovely blog. It has a gorgeous graphic design, and the blogger, Michelle, is a very eclectic artist. She has a section for her artistic creations and some stuff is amazing! I loved the modified book and the house.

Bottle of Shine aka The Deus Ex machina complex (and other theories) is a hilarious and crazy blog. I love it! She is also the creator of the tl;dr challenge.

where troubles melt like lemon drops
has a delicious title, first of all. And a beautiful header. Her rating system is brilliant too. She doesn't have exactly the same taste in books as me, but it's interesting to read different perspective.

That's it. I plan on keep discovering new blogs by going through the list of of participants, you can never know too many booking bloggers:)

Now for Week #2
If you've reviewed a book that I have written about you can leave a comment here, or on the specific review and I'll add a link to it. Easy Peasy.
I really like this idea, and I think I would be adopting it in the future, as long as people will let me know they've also reviewed that book.
On my right sidebar you can see the list of books I've read and reviewed. There's also a link to the books I've read in 2007, so feel free to have a look and come back here to tell me if you've reviewed any of those!

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Tales from Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin

I don’t usually read short stories. But this collection might have changed my mind.
Ursula K. Le Guin is possibly my absolute favourite author and she has confirmed it with these stories. I waited a long time to read them and now I regret it.

I would have a hard time to choose which one I liked most of these five stories. They were all beautiful and meaningful in their own respect.

The first, “The Finder”, is more of a novella than a short story. It tells of how the school of wizardry on Roke was founded, about three hundred years before the Earthsea novels. The Archipelago was going through a difficult and chaotic time. Wizards were selling their powers to the highest bidders, causing plague and famine. The common folk considered all magic to be black, and those who practised and taught it to be the source of all troubles. When a child was born with the gift, the family did anything they could to hide that power, afraid that their son might be taken away, or killed by the “Crafty Men”.
That’s why when Otter starts to show sign of magic, his father tries to beat it out of him, in vain. His powers are recognised by Hound who takes him to the old mines of Samory, where he becomes a finder of cinnabar, or quicksilver. The powerful wizard Gelluck takes him under his wings and fills him with his talks of power and Greater Good. He shows him how the metal is refined using slaves, who work till their death, with no hope of survival, to achieve a pure and powerful substance. It’s thanks to one of these slaves, a woman called Anieb, that Otter defeats the wizard and leave the mines. Then one day he hears about an island where a group of people, called the Women of the Hand, live in peace using magic and wisdom and decides to find it.

Whoever read the Earthsea novels knows that school of Roke can only be accessed by men. Wizards are men, while women’s magic is considered to be the lowest form. “Weak as women’s magic” is a common saying. With this tale Ursula Le Guin explains how this came to be.
How, ironically, it was a group of wise women who founded the school , together with the Finder. Only women managed to keep magic sacred under the chaotic Dark Times. Without them, Roke would have never existed. And yet men managed to grab that power from them and make it exclusively theirs. They established new rules and acted as if nothing was ever different.
It reminded me of a theory offered by the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. According to Gimbutas before the arrival of patriarchy, pre-indoeuropeans lived under a matristic system . They didn’t know any metal weapon and lived in harmony with the seasons. Then men with iron and horses came and destroy this society. They took their goddesses and transformed them, making them wives and daughters of their male gods. They brought war and violence and patriarchy.
I don’t know if Ursula Le Guin had this in mind when she wrote this story, but I can’t help to find the two fascinatingly similar.

“Darkrose and Diamond” is a love story, pure and simple. It tells of a gifted young man who is destined to become a magician, but turns his back to magic for the sake of love. It’s probably the less powerful story of the group, but still wonderfully written and highly enjoyable.

“The Bones of the Earth” is a short one and very peculiar. Only Ursula Le Guin could have pulled this off so beautifully, giving it a profound meaning and substance. It’s about an old wizard and his assistant Silence, and how together they manage to save their town from an earthquake. It doesn’t sound like a great plot but it ended up being really moving and even subtly humourous.

“On the High Marsh” is one of my favourite, because it smells of the spirit of Earthsea. The semi-deserted countryside, the eerie marshes, the windswept lands. In the midst of all this appears the figure of a man, a wizard, probably travelling in disguise. He comes to a house in the marsh and a kind woman offers him hospitality. This story is great because it mixes the mystery of the wizards, with the simplicity of the rural world. It describes a gentle and shy friendship between the healer and the woman. And it shows that the change’s in man’s life may be beyond all the arts we know, and all our wisdom.

The last story “Dragonfly” is supposed to be a bridge between the last book in the Earthsea trilogy and The other wind. That’s why I’m looking forward to reading The other wind as soon a possible.
Dragonfly tells the story of a beautiful and tall young woman who tries to challenge the established system and, in doing so, finds out her true self. It’s a rather long story and until the end I didn’t know I would have liked it so much. Dragonfly is a strong-minded heroine, impulsive and probably naïve. I liked her temperament and her wild nature that allowed her to go against centuries of rules. I’m not sure I completely understood the story, but that doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful and it has the feeling of a legend or myth. Just like the rest of them.

Le Guin’s writing surprises me all the time for its ability to capture me almost instantly, even though it’s not easy nor quick. It feels ancient and poetic. In other words, it’s powerful.

I will always be in awe of Ursula Le Guin and eternally grateful for giving the fantasy genre such depth and artistry.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

The Declaration - Gemma Malley

In the year 2140 humanity has found the secret to immortality. Thanks to a mix of drugs and cell renewals, Death for illness or old age is only a memory. But if nobody dies anymore, new births are a danger, a luxury that earth can’t afford. That’s why each person who decides to take Longevity, the cure for eternal life, has to sign a Declaration and swear never to bear a child.
Of course, though, not everybody agrees, and the children of those who disobey are labelled as Surplus. In some countries Surplus are simply put to death as soon as they’re found out. In civilised Britain, Surplus children are sent to Grange Hall, where they are taught to hate their parents for being selfish and learn how to be Valuable Assets for their society.

Anna is a Surplus. She shouldn’t exist, but she does. She was brought to Grange Hall when she was two and a half, and since then she’s known that there was no place for her in the world. She has been told that in order to repay Mother Nature for her parent’s sins, she has to become Useful, and learn how to be submissive and dutiful, so that in the future she could be a good housekeeper the Legals.Now she’s almost fifteen and a Pending, meaning that soon she will be sent away to become a house servant. She’s worked hard to be good and learn her place in the world.

But one day Peter arrives and changes everything. He insists on calling her Anna Covey and on telling her that her parents love her. Anna at first is angry at him for challenging everything that she believes in, for not showing respect for the Legals and not Knowing His Place. But secretly she’s fascinated by his talks of the Outside and of the underground movement. And then one day Peter is taken away and her world is turned upside down.

The first thing I need to say before discussing it, is that this was an incredibly gripping novel. I found myself reading while walking on the street, and it doesn’t happen often! Last time I tried, it was with the Thirteenth Tale but after few steps I stopped. I didn’t stop with this, probably because it’s an easier read, or maybe just because the prints is bigger and easier to follow!
I also cried, suddenly, at the end, during an extremely moving scene, for which I challenge anybody here to remain unmoved.

Like The Giver, The Declaration makes you think. A lot. Gemma Malley has taken our modern obsession with youth and the science’s constant attempts to lengthen our lives, and has stretched it to the extreme. What would actually happen if we could really live forever?
The book explores the possible answers on many levels. It focuses on the Surplus, those who are born illegally and don’t have any rights to exist, except for serving the Legals and for doing the jobs nobody else would want to do. They are slaves, cheap labour in the best circumstances, that the system needs to provide comfortable lives for the rest of the population.
I found myself thinking about their conditions a lot and finding many similarities with the people we call clandestine. The illegal immigrants, who would do any kind of job to be accepted into our societies, who don’t have a right to exist until they have a piece of paper that grants them that right.
They are a necessity, they serve the economy, but we regard them as a nuisance, an issue to be solved, a threat.
Surplus reminded me also of the Jews during the Holocaust. Especially since the main character is called Anna, and writes a journal which she hides behind the bath. She was found hidden in an attic just like Anne Frank, and like her, she was deported into a detention centre.
Grange Hall reminds me more of a Magdalene laundry more than Auschwitz. But the idea is the same.
It’s a story that deals with a lot pain and loss, with tough choices and important moral issues. It is not a happy book. It’s depressing to think how these kids wouldn’t have any hope in life, any dreams, to look forward to. It made me really angry and really sad, and also really scared towards the end. It triggered many emotions and many questions. And I loved it for that.

Ma sure to visit the book's website for a preview, interview with author and more.
I’m pleased to know that Gemma Malley is already working on the sequel. The bloomsbury website say the title would be "Longevity+".
But some other sources say it will be called "The Resistance".
I much prefer the second one. Sounds really promising. I can’t wait!

other blog reviews:
Reader Rabbit
Bookwyrm Chrysalis