Saturday 25 October 2008

High Fidelity - Nick Hornby

I loved this book so much, I giggled all my way through it. I had seen the film but it was enough time ago not to see the differences and make too many comparisons. This was pure pleasure reading.
It's not really a story. It's more a window into the mind of a 30 something guy, Rob, who is not ready to be an adult yet, but feels like his life is slipping away from him. The trigger to everything is his girlfriend Laura breaking up with him. He starts remembering his past top five break-ups, in chronological order, and try to find an answer to his current situation. My favourite of his break up is probably the first one, with Alison Ashworth. They were only twelve or thirteen and their relationship, based on snogging in the park, lasted only three days:

What did I think I was doing? What did she think she was doing? When I want to kiss people in that way now, with mouths and tongues and all that, it's because I want other things too: sex, Friday nights at the cinema, company and conversation, fused networks of family and friends, Lemsips brought to me in bed when I am ill, a new pair of ears for my records and CDs, maybe a little boy called Jack and a little girl called Holly or Maisie, I haven't decided yet. But I didn't want any of those things from Alison Ashworth. Not children because we were children, and not Friday nights at the pictures, because we went Saturday mornings, and not Lemsips, because my mum did that, not even sex, especially not sex, please God not sex, the filthiest and most terrifying invention of the early seventies.

At page 4 I was in love with the book already. Not that I sympathize with the guy at all. But it was fun to read into his mind. It felt so real sometimes I had to remind myself that this was not a memoir but fiction. He made me laugh a lot, but I couldn't help to be annoyed sometimes, because I could put myself into all his girls' position and totally see their point of view!
Poor Penny Hardwick who was dumped because she wouldn't let be touched, but was secretly mad for him. She only needed more tenderness.
And what about his pining for Laura? It's all a matter of ego:
I'm unhappy because she doesn't want me; If I can convince myself that she does want me a bit, then I'll be OK again, because then I won't want her, and I can get on with looking for someone else.


But despite all this, he is irresistible. The writing is irresistible, his snobbish obsession with music is irresistible. His friends and employees, Dick and Barry, are irresistible. The whole package.
Of course Nick Hornby knows his Rob is a bit of a tosser, but it's probably why he feels like a real person who's trying to analyse the reasons why he manages to mess up his love life all the time.
Some of the most insightful conclusions about Life come from Rob's relationship with music:
What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person? People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives."

Some other conclusions, like the one about unrealistic expectations that pop music puts into young impressionable minds, I think are due to Rob not having found real love yet, otherwise he'd know what those romantic songs talk about:)
But I should stop arguing with him as if he was a real person! I wish he was, so I could have a proper chat with him about some stuff :p

So, to put an end to this messy review...You should read this book. Even if you are not a music nerd, or 30 something, or a man. You're in for a brilliant read.

other blog reviews:
Books I done read
Where lemon melt like lemon drops
Trish's reading nook
Know any more? Please let me know!

Friday 24 October 2008

The Resistance - Gemma Malley

I was extremely excited when The Resistance came out. I was looking forward to it since reading the first installment, The Declaration. But, alas, its sequel didn't live up to the expectations at all. It wasn't near as gripping as the first book. It was mainly focused on Peter, instead of Anna. Anna actually makes her first appearance only after maybe fifty pages! (I borrowed the book so I can't check now, but trust me, it took way too long for her to appear). It also dedicates too much time to scientific speculations about Longevity and its role in the world. The book was going to be called Longevity+, and although I preferred The Resistance as a title, imagining actual actions of resistance from the Underground, I have to say that the previous title would have been more appropriate. Almost the whole story revolves around the concept of Longevity, with its supporters praising its virtues to the (initially) skeptical Peter, and the resistance doing nothing more than sporadically and basically ineffectively attacking some vans. I was also annoyed by the way Malley treated her characters, showing us their absolute commitment to a cause in the previous book and then portraying them as relatively easy to be convinced that they might have been wrong. Maybe I'm being too harsh. To be fair, Peter and Anna are only teenagers, and although they acted almost like adults at the end of The Declaration they're still young, unexperienced and probably not so hard to manipulate. But I expected more from them, so it wasn't pleasant to watch Peter and then Anna capitulate.
On top of that, I grew increasily uncomfortable about the whole good versus evil issue. I'm ok with moral versus immoral, freedom versus repression, justice versus injustice. But when angels and demons are mentioned I start to shift uneasily on my seat. Gemma Malley made it a matter of religion, or the lack of one. According to Peter's grandfather, Longevity has suppressed the need of the people to believe in God. They are not mortals anymore, so they feel like gods themselves. This, it is implied, is what's wrong with their world. The devils are running it and they're not afraid of God anymore. The Declaration could have been read in many ways. I saw the similarities between the Surplus and the immigrants in the real world, with the way they are despised and accused, but they are also needed to do the hardest jobs. Someone else might have interpreted differently and see the lack of religious views. Fine. Now, though, it was all less subtle. It was definitely a battle of Science versus God, and it didn't go down well with me.

Other blog reviews:
Jen Robinson
Karin's Book Nook

Monday 20 October 2008

Mini reviews to catch up + Cybils long lists

I really can't wait to catch up on my reviews so that I can start writing about books as soon as I finish them. I don't like doing this, but I've neglected them for too long and now I need to cheat a little.
The first mini review is for The curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon
This was a good and fast read. It was an interesting and rare trip into the mind of an autistic teenager, with Asperger's syndrome. I personally didn't know anything about the syndrome and didn't do any research beforehand. I knew I was going to learn about it through the book which is my favourite way of learning new things. But for some reason this book didn't stay with me for long. It didn't touch me the way it should. I read it quickly and with interest, and I liked it, but not immensely. Maybe I should blame the hype, its being a bestseller that people rave about. Would I have discovered it before anyone else, I might be raving about it right now. Instead I find myself thinking coldly about it. Could have been the maths that put me off? Did the constant scientific, rational, logic way of thinking of Christopher Boone, the protagonist and autistic teen, leave me at a distance? It definitely had a role. Sometimes I even skipped a couple of pages, those with calculations and formulas. But it also added to the sense of authenticity that I felt reading it. Obviously I don't know how an autistic person might think, but it felt real. Probably too real. Sometimes I find myself in the middle of a crowd and think "how would Christopher react now?". Walking in the streets alone, finding the train station, buying a ticket, taking a train to London. That's Christopher's hardest task in the story, almost unreachable. I felt sorry for him, and then worried and then proud. Only I never felt close to him, and that's probably why I didn't enjoy it completely.

Next mini review is for Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

"You know when you tell people Mum is dead and they give you stuff?"
Anthony nodded.
"Well, I told God."
I pulled back the box and Anthony saw it - a big bag stuffed with money. His face glowed. He says now that it's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. He was so happy just then.
"And it's from God, you reckon?"
I nodded.
"Well, he really wanted to cheer us up.
This is a Carnegie Medal winner,which are usually wonderful reads and they always work for me. This one was no exception. Its basic idea is simple: "what would happen if two kids found a bag full of money? how would they spend it? how would the money change their life?". Its simplicity is complicated by the made up fact that Britain is about to abandon sterlings and adopt the Euro. So now the kids need to spend the money before Euroday, when all pounds will loose their value. They will find out that is not that easy to do it. They can't invest it in real estates like the older brother Anthony would like to do, they can't change it into euros without an adult, they can't give it away to charity without raising suspicions, as Damien finds out.
Damien is the storyteller, and that's what make this book so charming. He is a kind heart, naive like only 7 year-olds can be. His main aspiration in life is to become a saint and tries everything he knows to be one, including sleeping on the floor and have a hermitage by the train track, made out of cardboard boxes. He is so obsessed with saints that he actually sees them. And they talk to him, give him advices, even help him. We never know if these are visions or not, I just accepted them as a touch of magic in this surreal tale about something very tangible as money.
Very often I find myself reflecting on whether money has an actual value or whether people never stop to think that it really doesn't. Especially when you have more than you need. You think it'd give you whatever you want and you'd be happy. But as Coraline, another wise literary child, said, "what then?". I personally prefer the longing than the having. If I had all the books that I ever wanted, for example, there wouldn't be anything left to wish for. And that'd be boring. But I'm letting myself being rhetoric (money doesn't bring happiness blah blah blah) while I'm supposed to review the book. Which is anything but rhetoric. It talks about the value of money exploring all the possibilities and then it lets the character draw their own conclusions:
We thought the money was going to take care of everything, but we ended up taking care of the money.
A funny, original, moving story that will also make you think.

The last mini-review for this round is James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

First of all, I have to say I can't believe this book was even challenged to be banned in some schools! It's completely ridiculous. From The forbidden library:

Challenged at the Deep Creek Elementary School in Charlotte Harbor, Fla. (1991) because it is "not appropriate reading material for young children." Challenged at the Pederson Elementary School in Altoona, Wis. (1991) and at the Morton Elementary School library in Brooksville, Fla. (1992) because the book contains the word "ass" and "promotes" the use of drugs (tobacco, snuff) and whiskey. Removed from classrooms in Stafford County, Va. Schools (1995) and placed in restricted access in the library because the story contains crude language and encourages children to disobey their parents and other adults.

Some people are just ludicrous. Anyway, this was a fantastic read! Totally crazy, highly imaginative, wickedly funny. A real treat. It was Roald Dahl's first book for children, and although I can't say it's my favourite, it's definitely worth my time. The insects that James meets inside the peach are a bunch of nut-crackers, and thus adorable! The story makes no sense whatsoever, but I don't think it needs too. It's entertaining, it's happy and phantasmagoric. And completely suitable for all children!


And now a quick mention of Cybils: The nominations are closed now, and the long lists of all the books that we nominated are up!
The judges are now reading all those books. I can't think of a better job, although quite exhausting too. There's so many of them. I'm really curious to know which ones will make the short lists!

Sunday 19 October 2008

Read-a-thon: Final Meme

Ahhhh. I'm after shower, I washed up and tidied a bit around and now it's time to do a wrap up of these very intense 24 hours of reading and blogging. I really enjoyed myself but if there's something I want to improve next time is the amount of reading. I think I took too many breaks and could have read another book easily. Also I should probably drink more coffee so I could stay awake more. I did 19 hours, I could have done all of them if I were a bit more caffeinated! I loved blogging about my reading straight after finishing a book. It helped to process what I had read and to prepare the ground for the next one. I think I should do that more often! Now for the questions...

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Hour 15. It was 3 a.m., didn't have enough caffeine in me and decided it was time to sleep a bit. I set the alarm for 9 a.m. but I was already awake at 8!

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Definitely Coraline by Neil Gaiman, all the Dangerous Angels series by Francesca Lia Block, and also Oranges in no man's land by Elizabeth Laird, because it's very short but satisfying.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

It was perfect the way it was.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I was amaze how quick the new posts for each hour went up. There were prizes for everything which was great, and the support from the bloggers was always there. Loved it.

5. How many books did you read?

Four, but the first I had already started before the read-a-thon. So 3 and a half.

6. What were the names of the books you read?

The white tiger by Aravind Adiga, Oranges in no man's land by Elizabeth Laird, Cherokee Bat and the goat guys by Francesca Lia Block and Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

Cherokee Bat and the goat guys. But the rest were good too.

8. Which did you enjoy least?

The white tiger, for various reasons, but it kept my interest up so I didn't hate it.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

I wasn't one but I think Nymeth had a good idea about having a cheerleader assigned for certain blogs, although you will probably need a lot more cheerleaders to cover all the blogs the whole time. I wouldn't mind being one next time even for one hour!

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

Very likely! If I can I will. I want to be a reader, but I could do some cheerleading as well, for an hour or two.

Read-a-thon: and the fourth book is down too! (Coraline)

I couldn't have asked for a better fourth book. Neil Gaiman has yet to disappoint me and I hope he never will.
I started this late last night and it was just the right amount of creepiness for the hour. Then I had to take a little break and kept going in the morning. But the kind of day I woke up into was still perfect for the atmosphere. It was grey and cloudy and the wind made rustling noises through the leaves in the garden. It kept me in the right mood the whole way through.
Coraline is the tale of a brave young girl who has just moved in to a old big house with her parents. She loves to explore the unknown surroundings and discover new hidden places. But one day, when the rain is lashing outside, and there's absolutely nothing to do at home, she decides to open the door in the dusty drawing room, ignoring the warnings of the circus mice and the message in the tea leaves. The door should only open into a brick wall, but this time it shows a dark corridor. The moment she steps in, Coraline falls into the trap of a mysterious creature...
Coraline is an adventurer though, and is ready to accepts the challenge, when her other mother, with buttons for eyes and bony long hands wants to keep her in her house forever. With the help of a sarcastic cat and her sharp intuition Coraline fights back with all her strength in this dreamlike, deceptive and truly creepy parallel world.
The initial quote at the beginning of the book tells us what this is all about:
Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us than dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

G.K. Chesterton

So, although scary and dangerous, Coraline's adventure is also an encouragement to *not* to be afraid of monsters in the dark. Monsters want you to be afraid, so that they can control you. The moment you challenge them, you're already a step ahead.
I know that if I had read this when I was a child I would have been frightened to death. But it's likely I would identify with Coraline and try to be brave against the shadows in the cupboards or under the bed. After all she is only a little girl, small for her age, like I was, and she made it.
Of course now I'm not afraid anymore, I'm all grown up and rational now...yes, of course...sure.

Being brave against monsters is not the only lesson to learn from Coraline, though. At one point she says something very wise:
"If you stay here you can have whatever you want."
Coraline sighed "You don't understand, do you?" she said. "I don't want whatever I want! Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn't mean anything. What then?"

Yes, what then? a simple but plain truth.

Read-a-thon: back after a short nap...

...of 5 hours!!! I really needed it. Actually, my alarm was set for an hour later, but I must be impatient to keep reading my book...(and, man, my dreams were WEIRD!)
How's everybody going? here is morning, 20 past 8 to be precise, and it's time for a nice cup of coffe and some Coraline!:)

Read-a-thon: I finished my third book! (Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys by Francesca Lia Block)

Oh it's getting hard here, but I'm still enjoying reading so I'm holding on. It's almost 2 a.m and it's time for some pot noodles and a mini-review update.

This is the third book in the Dangerous Angel series. I loved Weetzie Bat and Witch Baby so I had no doubt I would adore this one too. I was right.
There's something about Francesca Lia Block's writing that belongs to a magical world. I think she's a fairy in disguise, or she must have known a hippy fairy once who taught her to write like this. This book feels like a urban magic tale. Just read this passage, about Cherokee and Raphael, after making love for the first time:

"It was different. It was light-filled red waves braking on a beach again and again - a salt-stung fullness. It was being the waves and riding the waves. The bed lifted, the house and the lawn and the garden and the street and the night, one ocean rocking them, tossing them, an ocean of liquid coral roses."

Liquid coral does she come up with these images?
All her writing reads like a beautiful, colourful and shimmering poem. Or a song about young love, and young fears, about music and jealousy and the excitement of creating something powerful but dangerous as well.
I'm happy there's still two books to read, I could never get enough of this!

Saturday 18 October 2008

Read-a-thon: second book down! (Oranges in no man's land by Elizabeth Laird)

I can't believe it's already hour 9! I'm getting slightly sleepy but no way I'm going to sleep soon, I still lots of reading ahead. I had a lovely microwaveable dinner of turkey with mash, carrots and stuffing, and now I'm sipping my first cup of coffee. Time for my second update!

What a great short read Oranges in no man's land was! I knew I was going to like Elizabeth Laird. Just looking at the books she has written makes me love her. A Little Piece of ground set in Palestine. Or Kiss the Dust set in Iraq. And this in Lebanon during the civil war. She writes for children about difficult matters, that even adults feel uncomfortable about. Judging by this short wonderful story, she does it with a lot of heart and intelligence.
Oranges in no man's land is the story of Ayesha, a ten year-old girl living in Beirut as a refugee with her granny and her two little brothers. Her father is always away looking for job, and her mother was killed during a bombing raid. After her mother's death, they had to move into a communal building, sharing a big flat with other refugees. Here she meets Samar, a deaf girl the same age as her and the two become friends despite the difficulties in communication. Then one day Ayesha's granny falls sick and Ayesha makes a very brave decision. She will have to cross the invisible green line that divides the city, to reach the doctor who has the medicine to save her granny. But crossing the green line means passing two checkpoints and walking through the no man's land in between. Can a little girl survive all this?

Despite the war subject, or maybe due to it, the story is full of small (and big) gestures of kindness. A checkpoint soldier cuddling a baby, a fruit seller offering an orange for free to a girl, a doctor offering help without thinking twice. The refugees shared their house generously and almost felt like a great family. In a war zone life is not kind, but in this strangely uplifting tale, it's kindness and generosity that made a difference and saved a woman's life. That and the reckless courage of a little 10 year-old girl.

This was my first book my Elizabeth Laird and it certainly won't be the last.

Read-a-thon: One book down!(The White Tiger)

Wow, I loved being the blogger of the hour together with Chris!
So many of you, thanks so much especially for the Halloween's party suggestions. Some very cool ideas there, I will have to try some.

I've just finished The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. I believe this is the first time I blog about a book I've just finished. I normally have plenty of time to think about what to write. So I'd say I skip "normal" reviews for this Read-a-thon and will just give you a general feel of the book.
The White Tiger was an unusual read for me. At first I had no idea how it was going to be like. You don't get the idea of what the book is going to be about till after few pages...At first you can only understand that an Indian guy is writing a letter to the China's Premier, Wen Jiabao (I had to google his name to check if he is actually the Chinese's Premier!) telling him about the truth about India and about Entrepreneurship. Through a series of seven letters, written during the night, The White Tiger tells him his story. Of how he became the man he is now, an entrepreneur in Bangalore, after being born from a poor family, on a small village along the river Ganga. Of how he managed to escape the Darkness (that's how the area along the river is called) and become the driver of a rich man. And of how he manipulated his future and became a business man.
This is not a pleasant read. It's about the darkest side of India. Its corruption, its poverty, its contradictions. For a while I wasn't sure when the book was supposed to take place. I supposed a long time ago. But then mentions of Internet, Harry Potter and mobile phone brought me back to reality. This is the 21st century India. Not a forgotten past. This is how things work now. I know it's a work of fiction, but as the author said, his fiction draws from the reality he experienced. I hope it wasn't in any way autobiographical though, but only inspired by what he saw.
I could never identify with the narrator. Although you might feel pity for him and for his fate that made him grow up in such poverty, he is a repulsive man, most of the time. He is sly, selfish, unpleasant, a liar with little heart for anyone except himself. He is not the worst man that you'll encounter in the book, no. Unfortunately. The book is full of rich corrupted men who would do anything to keep their power, poor helpless people who can't do anything to change the system, and rich cowards with no guts to say no to what's going on around.
So, it's hard to blame Balram, the narrator, for what he does to liberate himself.
I've read this book was anti-capitalist. It probably is because of the way it reveals India's dirty secrets and because it blames everything on the rich. It didn't have any answer to what could be done, though. It couldn't, because who told the story didn't want to change the system, but only find a safe spot in the world for himself. But you can tell where the heart of the writer is.
So, in conclusion, it was an interesting read. Not my favourite, but definitely worth it. I can't tell if it deserved to win. I haven't read the others and I'm not sure I will.
It sure helped me to understand India a lot more. It felt so drenched in reality I almost forgot it was fiction. It also had the merit to be easy to read. No struggling through the prose here, just straight to business. That's why I could finish it so fast.

That's all. I think I'm ready for something much much lighter now! It's getting dark already here and it's only ten to 7...but still many hours to go!

other reviews:


Michelle at 1More Chapter

Marie at The Boston Bibliophile

Susannah at 7th Decade Thoughts

Karen at Bookbath

Mystic Wanderer at What I Am Reading

Dovegreyreader Scribbles

Raidergirl at An Adventure in Reading

Redhead Ramble

Read-a-thon: Introduction Meme

I just noticed this Introduction Meme,which is a perfect way to start talking about this reading binge I'm doing :)

Where are you reading from today?
From my house in Dublin, Ireland. I mostly read on the couch and on my bed.

3 facts about me …
In general? totally unrelated? hmmm
1) I love sushi. I could eat it everyday. But I won't have any sushi today, unless some serious cravings hit me and I will call the sushi place for a speedy delivery.
2) I've recently started teaching Italian and I've enjoyed it very much. Hopefully I'll manage to get a qualification and do it more extensively in the future.
3) I have to organise a Halloween party in the bookshop for the kids. Any ideas for games?

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
As many as I will need. I have some books that I plan to read but that can change anytime. So far I've chosen 7, plus the book I'm reading now which is The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, the winner of the 2008 Booker Prize. I'm almost finished. I'm not sure if I'm enjoying it, but it's definitely not boring, in a strange way.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
No, just to have fun. I'm not going to count the pages, only the books I'll finish. I plan to enjoy my full day of reading that's it!

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time?
I'm a newbie! Even though I've spent many days in my old happy days of long summer holidays, doing just this, but probably not 24 hours.

Ok back to the White Tiger!

Tuesday 14 October 2008


Yes, I signed up! A while ago actually. It's almost time, I can't wait! I'm seriously doubting I'll stay up all night, as I'm noticing me getting sleepy before midnight lately, but we'll see. I don't drink coffee normally, so that should help to keep me awake...
I'm already thinking of what books to read. I'd like to stick to short books, so that I can finish quickly and then start another soon after. I'm not a very fast reader, so if I choose a longish one I might have to say at end "err...I've only read one...but it was long, you know!"

For now I have:

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
L'odore della notte (the scent of the night) by Andrea Camilleri
Cherokee Bat and the Goat guys by Francesca Lia Block (and possibly Missing Angel Juan and Baby be-bop if I'm in the mood.)
Oranges in no man's land by Elizabeth Laird
Keep going with Tapping the Dream Tree by Charles de Lint, I'm really enjoying it, surprisingly since it's short stories.
In the hand of the goddess by Tamora Pierce

I'm also considering borrowing something from the library, any suggestions?
I'm thinking Nation by Terry Pratchett, but it might take up most of the time. Although it might be worth it.

Also, for Carl's RIP mini challenge. If I'm still awake at that early hour...what could I read that I already have? Is the Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter creepy enough to qualify? It'd be good cause it's short stories.
I don't think I own anything else appropriate.

Oh I wish I hadn't read the Graveyard Book so I could read it again...*sigh*

Monday 13 October 2008

Picture Book Monday: "The Great Paper Caper" by Oliver Jeffers

Ok, resistance is futile. I have to review this book. I'd have rather feature a new unknown author or illustrator, but Oliver Jeffers keeps producing such great books that I can't just ignore him. Basically all he has done is in my favourite list:
How to catch a star, Lost and Found, The Incredible Book Eating Boy are just masterpieces. The Way Back Home was nice too. And now this:

"A thrilling tale of mystery, crime, alibis, paper planes, a forest, and a bear who wanted to win."

The story is this:
Things are not as they should be in the forest. Branches have been disappearing from the trees mysteriously. All the inhabitants are puzzled. The owl, the duck, the beaver, the pig, the fawn and the boy. They all start accusing each other but they all solid alibis. So they decide to get to the bottom of things and find the culprit...

As usual Oliver Jeffers uses bare, almost stylized illustrations, that manage to be so surprisingly expressive. I mean, he draws sticks for legs (with no feet), dots for eyes, the boy's body is a rectangle and basically everything looks like is being sketched. And yet they are enriched by small details, humour, imagination and originality, that bring everything to life.

The story is a mystery with a final important message: "save the trees". But also "learn how to make great paper planes"!
I love its autumn feel, it's just perfect for the season.
Also for a picture book with fairly little text it introduces some big words like "alibi" and "prosecutor".
And as if all this wasn't enough, Oliver Jeffers added a little extra which should make a lot of kids happy. The dust jacket (which doesn't appear in the picture of the cover that I found) is a paper plane manual in disguise! Once you take it off it reveals an even better cover and the jacket can be read and then used for making a plane,but I haven't tried it cause I've only borrowed the book :)
Oh and it also has instructions on how to make more paper after you've finished using the plane, which should be very interesting.

For "All Ages +", as the back cover says.

Friday 10 October 2008

"Take it easy": my dream bookshop

Yesterday I started daydreaming about the day when I will open my own bookshop...and I thought it was so good I had to share. It would be called "Take it Easy", and its name would reflect its mission: a place where we take everything the easy way. Absolutely no uniforms. Individualism in dressing would be encouraged, as well as in the hairdos, make up and everything else. Staff behaviour should be friendly and open but not sales driven. Customers should feel like they're stepping in their own place, like a second home, where they're welcome but not pushed to buy or to make conversation. The shop and the shelves should be neat and tidy but the shelves and the walls would be customised by the staff and the customers: stickers, accessories, any kind of decoration. All the posters would be hand-made, painted by a member of staff recruited for their artistic skills. Or any of us should try out our artistic senses.
Then, and here I think it's the best part, the sections wouldn't be your regular, traditional ones. Well, yes, I would retain maybe the main "Fiction" or "Biographies" for examples. But the main features should be sections like "Books to keep you awake at night" , "Unputtadownables", "Banned books you should read", "Future Classics", "Non-sappy romances", "Gates to the Otherworld", "Books you shouldn't bother, you're warned"(I'd say that'd be a small section, but yuu always have those people who always want to do the opposite of what they're told...), "Comfort reading", "Recommended by customers" and others...
Then I'd have a section for the dead stock (unreturnables) with a mailbox beside it for people to leave whatever they think the book is worth ( inspired by Hay-on-Wye!).
I imagine the shop itself to be very colourful. Also, if there's enough space, I'd like it to have a small coffe-shop, run by the staff at turns. I don't want a different company inside it. I would hire someone to bake organic and fair-trade cookies, muffins and cakes. And pancakes in the morning. This idea is stolen straight from my other dream job which is a coffe-shop with lots of other things going on, but that's another story. If I can't have that one, I'd have a bit of both in them. So, in my "Take it easy" bookshop, there would be regular gigs in the evening, with locals or emerging bands, and obviously book launches as well!
To encourage the building of a community of people I would offer free coffee or cake to anyone who writes a review for our newsletter/magazine. Also I'd have bookclubs, make-and-do clubs, knitting clubs, and lots of other stuff.
It'd be AWESOME!
Now, who's willing to put the money in? :P
No? Ok then, I'll keep dreaming:)

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Fire and Hemlock - Diana Wynne Jones

It took me ages to review Fire and Hemlock. I just didn't feel ready. I loved it, but I wasn't sure what to say about it because the book lost me completely towards the end, and it almost gave me a headache. So, how can you say you enjoyed a book, if it gave you a headache, you might ask? Well, first of all, I loved it immensely till the last 50 pages, more or less. Then I kept reading but I had no clue what was going on. That was partly due to my ignorance. If I knew a little about the ballads of Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin it would have helped really a lot. So, my advice to those who haven't read it: Don't be scared, but do a bit of homework first. It'll be worth it.

The book tells the story of Polly, who, at 19 years old, realises that something is missing from her memories. Something very important that a picture called "Fire and Hemlock" suddenly brings back to her mind, after many years. Going back to when she was 10, Polly starts remembering about that day when she gate-crashed a funeral at that big mansion, near her grand-mother's house. There she had met Tom Lynn, and together they had slowly started something quite extraordinary. Then she had done something terrible, and Tom had disappeared from her life.
The narration starts almost at the end, and goes backwards to tell how Polly met Tom, and how their friendships created a whole sets of adventures while interfering with long established other-wordly recurrencies...

What I found most compelling about this story is that it's not fast-paced like so many fantasies for children. I think some writers think that kids today are too hyperactive, therefore they need to keep their focus constantly by adding one action scene after the other. But this superfast rhythm leaves no space for actually savouring the characters, finding a cosy place beside their lives and getting attached to them so that you never want to leave them. Which is exactly what Diana Wynne Jones does in this book. Easily and gently, her writing lulls you into the characters' world and without even realising it, it conquers your complete attention.
The story follows Polly growing from childhood into adolescence, showing her difficult relationship with her impossibly selfish mother and her absent father, her school activities and her normal day-to-day life. Her adventures are always linked with the real world, and often the magical happens in subtle ways. It's not a green-lights-flashing from-the-sky sort of magic. But it's there, and it gets more and more real by the page.
After all Diana Wynne Jones herself stated: what I wanted to do really was to write a book in which modern life and heroic mythical events approached one another so closely that they were nearly impossible to separate.Exactly what I meant to say, but better.

Her relationship with Tom is beautiful and complicated. At the beginning it feels a bit uncomfortable. After all she is only 10 and he is much older, although it's never properly specified. But after a while it just becomes part of the story. Tom is great fun, playing along Polly and making up their hero stories through their letters. And Polly has all the freshness and wild imagination of childhood. I love the fact that Tom sends books to Polly. It has an important meaning to the story, but it also shows Jones's literary loves: The Golden Bough, Lord of the Rings, The three musketeers, The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe, The Sword in the stone, Five Children and it,The Wizard of Oz, etc...
Then as Polly grows older the relationships starts to take a different, but I'd say, inevitable course, and that's when everything changes.

There's so much in this book, a review is not enough. It's literally packed with references, and it's so well structured is astonishing. Everything is there for a reason, everything means something, although I couldn't quite tell you what.
Nymeth has kindly directed me towards an essay that the writer wrote about this book, which I found extremely exciting.
You see, I've done literature in college, where you had to read essays after essays of people speculating on other people's writing. But here I had the actual writer analising her work just like a scholar! Exactly like it. Saying "this was there because I wanted to represent this and that"or "Polly's name means this and that" or even "The whole book's pattern refers to this other book...".
So much for just a story for children.
But don't be put off. Yes, it's complicated. Yes, it has many layers. But it can also be enjoyed just for the story, without knowing much about anything else. It still is completely gripping.
It's a fantasy story with a true heroine, smart and brave, who ultimately fights to win her love. A must read.

ps: here is the link to the essay, scroll down till the end of the page. It's easier to read if you print it. But DON'T read it before the book, it contains MAJOR spoilers!

other blog reviews:
Geranium's Cat

Got any more?please, let me know, I'd be glad to add it to the list!

Monday 6 October 2008

Cybils 2008 - time for the nominations!

Being too tired to post a review for Picture Book Monday I'd like to remind you about the Cybils 2008 and the fact that they're accepting your nominations now!
Cybils stands for Children and Young Adult Bloggers literary awards. Awesome, isn't it? All you have to do is pick one book (only) for each category (which include Fantasy and Science Fiction, Fiction Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade Fiction, Non-fiction: Middle Grade and Young Adult, Non-fiction Picture Books, Poetry, Young Adult Fiction, Easy Readers) and post it in the comments. Go do it now!

Sunday 5 October 2008

100 most frequently banned or challenged books of the 21st century (2000-2007)

In researching reviews for Huckleberry Finn to add to my review below I realised that I had just reviewed one of the most banned books of all time, during Banned Book Week! and I haven't even mentioned it! And I haven't even had a single post about it! ( I know it's only in the US, but I can be supportive, can't I?)
So, even if the week was officially over yesterday, I want to make up for it by doing this little meme about the most frequently banned books of the 21st century (I can't believe we're still talking about banned books in the 21st century......).
In bold the ones I have read. In purple those already in my wish list.

1. Harry Potter (series) - J. K. Rowling
2. Alice (series) - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War - Robert Cormier
4. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
6. Scary Stories - Alvin Schwartz
7. Fallen Angels - Walter Dean Meyers
8. It's Perfectly Normal - Robie Harris
9. And Tango Makes Three - Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
10. Captain Underpants - Dave Pilkey
11. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
12. The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison
13. Forever - Judy Blume
14. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
15. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
16. Killing Mr. Griffin - Lois Duncan
17. Go Ask Alice - Anonymous
18. King and King - Linda de Haan
19. Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger
20. Bridge to Terabithia - Catherine Patterson
21. The Giver - Lois Lowry
22. We All Fall Down - Robert Cormier
23. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
24. Beloved - Toni Morrison
25. The Face on the Milk Carton - Caroline Cooney
26. Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson
27. My Brother Sam is Dead - James Lincoln Collier
28. In the Night Kitchen - Maurice Sendak
29. His Dark Materials (series) - Philip Pullman
30. Gossip Girl (series) - Cecily von Ziegesar
31. What My Mother Doesn't Know - Sonya Sones
32. Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging - Louise Rennison
33. It's So Amazing - Robie Harris
34. Arming America - Martin Bellasiles
35. Kaffir Boy - Mark Mathabane
36. Blubber - Judy Blume
37. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
38. Athletic Shorts - Chris Crutcher
39. Bless Me, Ultima - Rudolfo Anaya
40. Life is Funny - E. R. Frank
41. Daughters of Eve - Lois Duncan
42. Crazy Lady - Jane Leslie Conley
43. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Katherine Patterson
44. You Hear Me - Betsy Franco
45. Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
46. Whale Talk - Chris Crutcher
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby - Dav Pilkey
48. The Facts Speak for Themselves - Brock Cole
49. The Terrorist - Caroline Cooney
50. Mick Harte Was Here - Barbara Park
51. Summer of My German Soldier - Bette Green
52. The Upstairs Room - Joanna Reiss
53. When Dad Killed Mom - Julius Lester
54. Blood and Chocolate - Annette Curtis Klause
55. The Fighting Ground - Avi
56. The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
57. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred Taylor
58. Fat Kid Rules the World - K. L. Going
59. The Earth, My Butt, And Other Big Round Things - Carolyn Mackler
60. A Time to Kill - John Grisham
61. Rainbow Boys - Alex Sanchez
62. Olive's Ocean - Kevin Henkes
63. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
64. A Day No Pigs Would Die - Robert Newton Peck
65. Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
66. Always Running - Louis Rodriguez
67. Black Boy - Richard Wright
68. Julie of the Wolves - Jean Craighead George
69. Deal With It! - Esther Drill
70. Detour for Emmy - Marilyn Reynolds
71. Draw Me A Star - Eric Carle
72. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
73. Harris and Me - Gary Paulson
74. Junie B. Jones (series) - Barbara Park
75. So Far From the Bamboo Grove - Yoko Watkins
76. Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
77. Staying Fat for Sarah Burns - Chris Crutcher
78. The What's Happening To My Body? Book - Lynda Madaras
79. The Boy Who Lost His Face - Louis Sachar
80. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
81. Anastasia Again! - Lois Lowry
82. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
83. Bumps in the Night - Harry Allard
84. Goosebumps (series) - R. L. Stine
85. Shade's Children - Garth Nix
86. Cut - Patricia McCormick
87. Grendel - John Garner
88. The House of Spirits - Isabel Allende
89. I Saw Esau - Iona Opte
90. Ironman - Chris Crutcher
91. The Stupids (series) - Harry Allard
92. Taming the Star Runner - S. E. Hinton
93. Then Again, Maybe I Won't - Judy Blume
94. Tiger Eyes - Judy Blume
95. Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel
96. Nathan's Run - John Gilstrap
97. Pinkerton, Behave! - Steven Kellog
98. Freaky Friday - Mary Rodgers
99. Halloween ABC - Eve Merriam
100. Heather Has Two Mommies - Leslea Newman

What's so amazing is that so many of these books promote tolerance, acceptance of diversities, humanity. They have been banned for what they stand AGAINST. That's what bugs me mostly. I'm against censorship full stop. I once had an argument about whether it was right to sell Mein Kampf or not in the bookshops. I thought it would go against my principles to deny the right to read that book, even if it obviously encourages racist and violent attitudes. This said, I wouldn't have been THAT surprised if it was in a list of banned books. Same for other books that realistically encourage racism, fascism, antisemitism or homophobia (I'm sure there are, only I can't think of any now). But these books above do the exact OPPOSITE! So it's not just a figure of speech. Censorship really causes blindness.

Saturday 4 October 2008

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

I really wanted to like this one. I really did. I tried hard, I promise. I absolutely adore Tom Sawyer, so much that I can safely say it would make my top 10 of all-time favourites. That's why I wanted to like this too. But probably I should have picked a better time to read it, when my mind didn't keep wondering somewhere else. And that isn't a small issues when the book you're reading is written in 19th century American English. When I was concentrated enough to follow the story I did enjoy it. At least till the storyline shifts away from Huck and starts focusing on two annoying crooks, who call themselves the Duke and the King. I hoped they would get out of the way soon enough, but they were still there when I "temporarily" put it aside for something else.

I'm sure it's not even necessary to tell what the book is about. Most of the people know it is about Tom Sawyer's friend Huck, who escapes on a raft with his runaway "nigger" friend Jim, to avoid being pestered by his drunk father. Following the river, they get into all sorts of adventures, including getting involved in a family feud and in several elaborated scums with the King and the Duke.
It was never easy to get into the flow of the story. I picked up some of the southern accent at the beginning, and I was able to read Jim's accent as well, but it was never relaxing.
But I love Huck, so I kept going. He is so careless and peaceful. All he needs is a raft, a pipe and a starry sky to feel happy. No rules for him, no manners or schedules. All he wants is to be free and be left that way. I also admire how he instinctly helps Jim even if he thinks he shouldn't. He feels guilty but still can't bring himself to betray him.
He is only a kid but he has this spontaneous wisdom that allows him to deal with the most unexpected situations with incredible ease. He knows that the King and the Duke are fakes, but he lets them believe he doesn't so not to hurt they're pride.
He is one of the most tolerant character in literature I've met. He is the epitome of the longing for freedom. You have to love him for that.

So excuse me Huck if I couldn't finish to read your adventures. I know you will take care of yourself, I trust you. I just hope you ditch those two little scumbags because they really aren't worth your time.

Other blog reviews:
Becky's Book Reviews
Tower of Books

Let me know if you've reviewed it too!